My backpacking epiphany

I’ve been backpacking and wild camping for 20yrs or more and I’m 40 next year. Other than spending time with my family its what I enjoy doing the most and I find myself yearning to do it more and more. Unfortunately I don’t find the time to go out anywhere near as often as I’d like. I guess I could be a selfish sod and tell my wife and son that I’m clearing off for the weekend every other week but I don’t because I am just not like that. I love the outdoors and our fantastic British countryside. I sleep better in the outdoors than I do in my own bed more often than not.

Back in 2010 on a trip to the Lake District with my mate Marcus I reached a pivotal point in my backpacking pursuit. I had a relatively new pack which I thought was the bees knees (Deuter Aircontact Pro 70+15 – it was enormous and had a back system and padding that made my old Karrimor sack look shoddy and amateur in comparison) and some great new trekking poles (Black Diamond Trail Compact which I still use and love, even on day walks). However I was carrying about 18kgs and combined with a poorly planned diet, lack of fitness and poor planning meant that I had to discard the planned route and cut it short. I felt pretty disappointed in myself and fairly low but when I got back from the trip I vowed it wouldn’t happen again.

So came about what I like to refer to as my ‘Backpacking Epiphany‘.

I’d always thought those crazy yanks were just that (Crazy) for backpacking with such small and flimsy-looking packs and tents. I had also always found the cost of such kit prohibitive so i had to find a compromise. After a bit of research last year I decided I needed to replace my pack (3.3kg), sleeping bag (2.2kg) and shelter (2.6kg). To fund this I had to sell my old pack and the Macpac Minaret (which to this day is still the most expensive bit of kit I’ve ever bought at £300 back in 1999). With the cash from this I bought a Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 and a Vango Ultralight 600. This combination in conjunction with a Fox Basha and some Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots (to replace my big old Meindl Burma’s) shaved a massive 4kg off my pack-weight! Not only had I realized that kit weight and pack size was a problem but that I really needed to sort my diet out, particularly for backpacking. I’d always pretty much eaten only when i felt hungry rather than keeping fueled up by eating regularly and I’d burnt myself so often on previous trips that you’d have thought I would’ve realized where i was going wrong years before. Doh!

So now my pack-weight for a 3day trip is down to 12kg max and I am looking at still lighter kit. If it wasn’t my 40th next year and I wasn’t receiving a bonus from my employer for 20yrs service then I’d probably be happy to settle with the kit I have until I could afford better but I have Gear Lust (had it for years really) and Lightweight Fever! I don’t want to be a UL (Ultralightweight) geek. I want a more robust and versatile shelter than the Fox Basha, so my xmas prezzie this year is a silnylon Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar (its in the post hopefully as i type!). I want a lighter and slightly warmer sleeping system than my Ridgerest/Vango synthetic bag combo, so in May 2014 I’m ordering the NeoAir Xlite and a Thermarest Alpine Blanket (not a bag at all but a quilt, which is another step away from the ‘traditional’ and one i feel as a hot and heavy sleeper i will benefit from in 3+ season use). I also want a lighter pack because although the Blaze is a great pack I’ve realized that I was still playing it too safe and was unwilling to venture too far from the thickly padded and robust back-systems of heavier packs. Having read the reviews and blogs of such people as Martin Rye on Summit and Valley, Phillip Werner at Section Hiker and Robin at blogpackinglight I’ve decided to get rid of the Blaze and get the Gossamer Gear Mariposa.

However there is a further transition I’ve decided to make and its likely to be the biggest I’ve ever made in backpacking (other than retiring my Trangia to car camping!). All the serious backpackers (i.e. full-time as opposed to my part-time), the Chris Townsend‘s and Andrew Skurka‘s of this world long ago shed those blooming great clodhoppers, the traditional walking boot and wear trail running shoes. It was this post by Mark Roberts, this interview with Chris Townsend and this article by Andrew Skurka that initially got me hooked on the idea. Yet again common sense and logic switched a bulb on in my brain after reading what these guys had to say. The shoes the majority of these lucky people have been wearing and praising the most are Inov8 and up until i read this I’d all but decided what to ask the wife for for my 40th in March. It seems as though I’ve missed the Inov8 Party Boat (there are still some pairs of the older models of Terroc 330’s and Roclite 295’s available but the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2’s and Berghaus Vapour Claw are now top of my shortlist. Mainly because those two models are sold within a 30mile radius of where I live and so I can easily get to try them on before committing.

Even then I know that my quest to ‘Go Lighter’ is far from over. I’ll never be Ultralight and have no intention of being so. I just wanna get my weight to where it isn’t dragging me down, so i can go further or get up higher and enjoy more of the outdoors that i love so much. At least I can now enjoy the miles and choose where I want to pitch up rather than collapsing where I manage to stagger.


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