Thursday, January 15

Walking & Camping kit - Getting started

Back in the early 1930s there was a little act of civil disobedience whose ramifications still resound in present times. The Kinder Scout Trespass, if my recall is accurate, was a grass roots response arising from a collective of disenfranchised, and largely working class, ramblers.

After a hard working week cloistered in northern dark satanic mills many folk increasingly celebrated their free time by escaping into the hills. It was a time of a
deepening and lengthy depression with rising unemployment & a judgemental social welfare system. A time of festering discontents.

What part such social conditions had to play in the run up to the event itself is a topic for others. But it happened at a time when there were increasing numbers of people spending their time beyond the towns and out on the hills. People a generation removed from that village/countryside living of their parents. Wearing, I'd suggest, more or less the same clothing they wore each day (but maybe the older stuff) The idea of any special clothing purely for the outdoors was an idea yet to take hold. Particularly at a time when the idea of spending any 'spare' money on such a frippery would have been unthinkable.

Today, as media pundits delight in reporting on a hourly basis, we are working our way through another depression, although these days the phrase recession is more usual. Something that the sound-bite "Credit Crunch", despite its modern tag, just doesn't disguise.

So what will be the response of this modern generation?

Increasingly many free time activities seem to be balanced by the ability to pay for ever expanding, sometimes surreal, experiences. Be it bungee jumping in New Zealand or surfing in Cornwall the modern outdoor purist will quickly find that an open wallet is required to enjoy The Full Experience. Or feel some disenchantment that the true experience is out of reach.

Walking, and to a lesser extent wildcamping, continues to undergo a growing appeal for many keen to escape the daily rat race. With it comes a seemingly never ending list of gear to acquire. And for each item of apparel there is always a more expensive alternative on offer. Perhaps a better design, a reduced weight or maybe more fashionable. All at a cost. Naturally.

Stripped down to its basics a day's walking requires little more that a reasonable set of footwear, some form of rain protection, a means to carry spare kit, and a way to find one's way with a degree of confidence. Oh - nearly forgot - and the will to do it.

Think back - how many of you more experienced walkers took your first steps into the deepest wilds courtesy of kit from the local army surplus store? Ex-army boots, insoles of newspaper & as waterproof as cardboard clogs after a rainy hour. Perhaps a cycling poncho, old gabardine mac, or more likely a non-breathable plastic coated cagoule. Map courtesy of the local library. Heavy hemp material rucksack, ex -WD, a left over from school days. Compass? Probably cadged from a local scout, if you carried one at all.

As for camping - fill in your own hate-list, but lightweight tents and sleeping bags were most definitely a rarity.

Looking back - how was it for you?

I'd bet you're reading this with a wry grin and some mixed memories. But back then, as a way to get amongst the hills, and more importantly to keep coming back for more whatever those early discomforts & adventures - the gear did the job.

These days the army surplus shops of that past have mostly become outlets for cheap foreign gear. Mostly in camo green. Still an option, but in terms of price & value now competing alongside the lower end of the outdoor retail market and, increasingly, some big name retail chains.

For one recently unemployed, time rich but cash wary, keen to sample the great outdoors, having the 'right gear' shouldn't prove an obstacle. Aim right rather than high. Let experience & common sense temper the choice of outdoor kit. Try not to get morose over the never ending gear chase, but settle for good durable gear. Something that delivers at a reasonable cost.

There's an increasing tendency of name stores (e.g. Tesco - 2008 sales up) to offer budget rucksacks, tents and camping gear alongside an number of prospering budget chains offering bulk purchase bargain items (Aldi - 2008 sales up) Chosen carefully much of it is suitable for regular use. No surprise then that the likes of Blacks Leisure (2008 sales down) continue to suffer.

Meanwhile independent outdoor outlets continue to prosper despite difficult conditions, as they offer value goods, experienced advice, & positive customer service, for the aspiring, more technically demanding, consumer.

So perhaps 2009 will be the year that a different sort of social change appears. One where gear is chosen for purpose and value without the need to hop aboard the must-have/new-model-is-better roller coaster that we all fall prey to at times.

Walking is easy, despite it being a an act of semi-controlled repetitive overbalancing. We learn it early in life & continue to practice, at times with varied success, until we eventually tire of breathing.

So suitable basic budget outdoor gear, chosen sensibly, offers a simple way to get outdoors and discover that special something that spending time in wilder places often seems to bring out.

Viva the revolution?


Indeed yes John, I had a big smile when reading this. Most of what I started off with was not high tech. Basic but functional. As things stand I cannot help but think that in some respects things are coming full circle. Most of my cash is spent on actual travel, getting to the hills. Kit wise it is a case of if it works fine. Can it be repaired then it will be. my waterproof trousers are and example. They have served above and beyond but are still in use due to holes being patched and a good application of seam sealer. Forget all the new, shiny must haves, get out there and just enjoy yourself.
Couldn't agree more. Lots of the coverage of gear on the net seems to come from reviewers with seemingly bottomless pockets. Or perhaps a modern attitude to debt? Which is fine for them - but I can't follow suit.
I've kept quiet about this, but since my boots gave up the ghost and started to leak, I picked up a pair of trail shoes from Asda. £15 full whack, waterproof membrane, studded soles which have coped with everything thrown at them so far. The main draw back is the lack of cushioning, but I only find this a problem when walking on the road.
Gear can really make a difference, but it's getting out there that's most important.
That is a great post John. So many bloggers are obsessed with kit and of course the magazines rely on it for advertising revenue. Gear is a real temptation but I just can't justify it sometimes. A friend I do a lot of walking with did all his munros without a waterproof. I have stood on some hills with him in nasty weather but it hasn't seemed to bother him!
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