In hiking, camping and backpacking there is a constant trade-off between pieces of gear to carry. Like most things in life, there are few [if any?] perfect answers. Most of the tradeoffs deal with size, weight, functionality and dependability. The more comfortable and functional it is, then the heavier and bulkier it is. When carrying everything you need for 5 days on your back, the extra weight and size can be a deal breaker.


I started backpacking at age 11 years [1963] with the cheapest, most primitive equipment then available. I wore Sunday dress shoes for hiking boots, cotton socks, cotton khaki work pants and shirt, kapok [agricultural by-product] filled sleeping bag and a Navy rubberized canvas poncho brought home from World War II by my Dad, which I used as both a rain suit and a tent. All of this gear was dysfunctional in one or more ways and some of it was ridiculously bulky and heavy. From there I joined several different Boy Scout troops and moved up to equally heavy and bulky cotton canvas tents, steel pots and plywood framed canvas backpacks. A lot of this gear was Army surplus.

While I was in college I had a significant academic scholarship and multiple part time jobs. My bank account grew sufficiently for me to start buying state of the art camp gear. I added a super light, super warm down sleeping bag, a nylon tent and a nylon backpack. But on some items, like boots, I bought old fashioned style boots made of top grain, one piece bees waxed leather uppers, Vibram rubber soles and a Norwegian welt (the stitches were visible between the upper and the sole). These boots were bulkier and heavier than the new fashions, but they were sturdy and supportive. And they lasted forever.

As the decades have rolled past, I have continued to buy and try out the modern styles of gear, mostly lighter than their predecessors. Today the long trail through hikers [Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail] mostly go super light with running shoes for boots, hammocks for tents, compressed gas canister isobutane stoves and so on. I have tried those products and found them to be good for trotting or running down the trail; but poor for protection, bad weather and comfort. Other gear I prefer is actually lighter, but longer lasting – like a natural goose down instead of a synthetic Hollofil sleeping bag.

Now that I am in my late 60’s years of age, I have settled on mostly old fashioned and sturdy equipment, which is heavy. One of the bad trade-off is that being older, I am not as strong as I used to be. So, I have to go even slower when carrying heavier gear. That is my choice.

Examples of my old fashioned, sturdy, mostly heavy gear are: Boots: Merrell Wilderness [a style used by European Alps mountain guides for hundreds of years]. Backpack: JanSport external frame [40 years out of fashion]. Stove: sometimes a Coleman Peak one [40 year old design]; other times a wood burning stove [I invented]. Sleeping bag: Marmot down Tent: MSR Fury [no longer in production, has 6 poles and a full size, enclosed vestibule]. Gun: Springfield Armory 1911-A1 [a design invented 118 years ago]. Vehicle: Jeep Wrangler [designed 80 years ago, not as fuel efficient, aerodynamic and pretty as other modern sports utility vehicles, but built tough as a tank].

So, I am a Luddite, stuck in the past and not enamored of all the newest outdoor inventions. As a concession to safety, I do carry the most modern GPS and satellite communicator. See you on the trail!

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.