My Oldest Pieces of Outdoor Gear

Travelling Lines Adventure Stories

For the duration of lockdown, I’m putting out weekly creative prompts. You can join in too here. I send them out on a Monday morning and you have a week to respond in whichever medium you like. Search #adventureprompts for other people’s work.

This week’s prompt was:

“What is your oldest piece of outdoor gear? How long have you had it? Tell its story.”

Well reader, it turns out I have a lot to say about this!


Gear and Memories

I’m not 100% sure which item is actually the oldest. It’s a toss up between three:

  • My 60L rucksack (Vango Sherpa)
  • My Camelbak (2L)
  • My Gaiters (Outdoor Designs)

This is, of course, discounting things that aren’t “proper” outdoor kit – i.e. weren’t designed specifically for an outdoor activity. That saves me from writing about a lovely little backpack that I used to use as a kid for walking and funnily enough still have! Or my “wizard hat” from when I was 2… you get the picture!

All three of these items are things that I still use regularly today. I got them all within a year of eachother, if not 6 months, when I first started walking seriously aka started Ten Tors. That year was 2007. At the time of writing that makes them 13 years old. Which also gives me the happy realisation that soon they’ll have been in my life longer than they’ve been out of it. Awwww!

The Camelbak

Out of the three, my Camelbak probably has the shortest story. Since I got it, it has come on basically every single walk I’ve been on. Certainly every overnighter. It’s been across the UK from Snowdonia to the Lakes, Scotland to the Yorkshire Dales, the South Downs, Ireland – and of course days uncountable on Dartmoor. Basically whenever I need water on the hill, I take it.

See that tube? There it is! And in fact in most of my mountain pictures!

Considering that, and the general level of abuse I give my gear, it’s in incredibly good condition. I have gone through three bite valves though. My original didn’t have a lock (yes – that’s how old it is!) and was inline with the pipe. By the time I’d ripped the first mouth piece, accidentally chomping on ice, Camelbak had made right-angle the standard. Bleugh. Eventually I discovered they still did military ones straight, with a lock, so bought the replacement. Although that was only after breaking a cheap knock-off version within days.

The other notable thing about it? I’ve never actually cleaned it. Yup really. The chlorine tabs used to cancel out the mould taste. But then a few years ago the coating on the inside of the tube started to perish. Every mouthful or so I’d spit our a bit of plastic. Luckily, this took the mould with it, so I had a freshly clean section of tubing. Wait – tell a lie, maybe I did try to clean it. At the height of the plastic spitting, I distinctly remember pulling out a whole load of pipe coating with a crochet hook… Does that count as cleaning?

What it looks like when your Camelbak starts peeling from the inside.

Anyway. Now, several years on, it’s back to mouldy again. I keep meaning to clean it – honestly, I do! I have the tiny brush tool and everything. I just never quite get around to it… If you’re wondering it tastes mostly fine. I’ve never used anything other than water in it (and chlorine!) so it’s never a sticky mess. Just every now and again it tastes a bit off – and then hits you with a back-of-the-throat aftertaste.

Vango Sherpa Rucksack

Ah the memories with this rucksack. I got it (I’m fairly certain) for my 13th birthday. I’m not sure what normal teenagers get for their birthdays, but this bag was exactly what I wanted. For the first time ever I could carry my own tent and sleeping bag and everything – not that I actually owned any of those things yet! But I always wanted to carry the bag when we went on “expeditions” as a family. My own bag not only meant Ten Tors, but it meant a nomadic sort of freedom. Which is, perhaps kind of what all teenagers do want for their birthday.

The famous bag, looking pretty new in 2008. Complete with Paddington Bear and no patches… yet!

The bag was probably the size of me when I got it. I remember having to have the adjustable back panel right down near the bottom of the range. I used it for the duration of my Ten Tors career and, right up until the end of my first year at university it was the only rucksack I owned. To say that university was a culture shock is a bit of an understatement. I grew up in a world where you only went on long walks and you always carried full kit (aka everything you needed for an overnight camp) even if you were only doing a day walk. A Dartmoor Plodder always trains with full kit.

Interjection story:

This reminds me of a very telling tale. On my first ever Outdoor First Aid course they asked what to do if someone in your group goes down with hypothermia. Having had to deal with this a couple of times I enthusiastically answered: you get your roll mat out, insulate them from the ground, put them in a sleeping bag, call of help, get a hot drink on… The instructor said, “Okay, but what if you’re out on a day walk.” And my brain went, “You get your roll mat out, insulate them from the ground….”

Me in the Lakes with a very empty, very large rucksack

Back from the tangent

Yes, I did get it ripped out of me at university in the Hill Walking club. Not least because I was the fresher with the enormous rucksack, but also because I was from somewhere “flat”. But I put up with that sort of stuff well. People also kept mistaking me for a Scout because I had patches on the rucksack. Most walking events on Dartmoor give you a rucksack patch or a medal for completing. By this point I was strategically placing the patches to cover up the holes! In fact, before every Ten Tors event, I would have a ritual of doing a pass over the rucksack sewing up all the holes I could – as if that would somehow look more presentable!

Around university time was when I started using it for heavy lifting. I carried all my stuff up to university in it, plus a hold-all with wheels. Yes, I had very little stuff as a Fresher, but I came up on my own on the train. Nowadays, it’s still my go-to bag for carrying lots of heavy kit. It is so comfyIt’s been as far south as the Maritime Alps in France and as far north as Durham – if not to Scotland. I used it to carry all my food and kit for 10 days on All the Tors. And of course I still use it for overnight camps all the time.

Paddington expressing how my rucksack probably always felt… On the train home from France

I love kit that can take abuse and be patched up, fixed and adjusted. This rucksack really has stood the test of time – and I intend to make it last a whole lot longer yet! I managed to rip the shoulder padding on the grim second day of All the Tors, but still haven’t fixed it yet. Guess I’ll be adding that to my furlough to do list!

My Gaiters

Still with me? Good, because this is the best story yet. I have a confession to make. There is a blog post that has been sitting in my drafts since… wait, let me find it. Last modified March 2016!! That’s four years ago people. There are some interesting things lurking in the depths of an old blog’s drafts section…

Just for fun, here’s what I wrote. Blast from Emily of the past.

Gaiters: This is your Life

“My gaiters of 9 years have finally succumbed to old age. Last week, I put my foot through them. Literally.

“The strap on the left one snapped clean in two but, not letting it dissuade me, I wore them for a good 30 miles plus and lost half the strap. So unless I can find a new one, it’s probably time to consign them to the drying room in the sky…”

I’m probably talking about this little trip I did on the Abbots Way.

“Or, more realistically, the pile of old gear in the cupboard under the stairs that you can’t quite bear to get rid of but can no longer use. (Don’t you think it feels ridiculous putting walking boots in the bin? They still look exactly like a usable shoe they’ve just got a hole in them. Surely someone might have a use for them sometime?)

“I am the kind of person who wears their gear into the ground before they think of getting a new one. My poor old gaiters have already suffered many injuries. They’re not really waterproof any more. I’m wearing through the lining where the eyelets on my boots stick out. And since I slashed a hole in the side with a pair of crampons, I’ve kind of given up on sewing them again.

“Miraculously, the elastic is still completely intact. My brother manages to snap his within a few years but not my trusty gaiters. They were made of more solid stuff.

“I guess that’s why I love them so much. They are my kind of gear. They take absolutely everything I throw at them and struggle on long past the rest. (I have just been hit by the analogy”

I guess I was hit by that analogy so hard that it knocked me out, because that’s literally where it ends. No full stop, no end of sentence…!

So you see, I’ve been meaning to consign my gaiters to the bin for a long time. Or at least I was… Let me tell you the story of why I’m still clinging on.

Redemption

To recap, I was given these gaiters when I was thirteen or just before. They were mostly to stop my trousers from dragging along the floor whilst walking. My mum was one of those “You’ll grow into it” shoppers. I actually got rid of those trousers in my early 20s when they still didn’t fit me. Anyway gaiters are a very important piece of kit for a Dartmoor girl. I once got into a friendly argument at university with a guy from Snowdonia about the importance of gaiters. He said you never needed them unless it was snowing. My remark made it into the quote book: “Well you’ve clearly never seen a bog in your life.”

Friends, Dartmoor is one enormous bog. You can expect to be knee deep or waist deep in the middle of it. Bring gaiters.

Some artful photography on DofE Bronze circa 2009

So, I used gaiters every time I went walking (I sense a theme here!) right up until university. I have some very happy memories of getting back from a weekend – absolutely wrecked – and washing my gaiters in a bucket on the back patio. A black, square bucket full of warm, black water. The sun on my back, muddy hands and the delicious smell of Dartmoor peat. I’d lay them out on the step to dry before it was my turn to get in the shower.

Then, university. I kept wearing them and only got minorly teased about them. To be fair, they had so much else to work with (!) and half the year we were in the snow anyway. On one such day – my first introduction to crampons, actually – I was told to make sure I tucked my waterproof trousers into my gaiters. Only later I found out this was so you didn’t slash your waterproof trousers by accident. I’d slashed open my gaiters and was devastated. I’d much rather have trashed my trousers or waterproof trousers. But it was done.

Over the following years I would proceed to get more slashes and rips in my gaiters. I’d catch the strap buckle in a small hole and make it bigger. However it happened, my gaiters started to become more rip than fabric. But I kept wearing them, because it just felt wrong without them. They must have looked like a fashion statement – in the same way ripped jeans are a fashion statement. They certainly weren’t keeping the water out. I do wonder what people thought of me as a Mountain Rescue trainee.

Horrendous post-callout photo, but can you see the holes? Taken circa 2017, maybe.

I tried to sew the holes back up, but there was just too much hole. I resolved – around about 2016 – that I really should get a new pair. Same again, I thought. But it turned out that Outdoor Designs had discontinued my beautiful Gortex Gaiters and replaced them with a velcro eVent version. Yuck. I didn’t want that! I looked and looked, but I couldn’t find anything as hardwearing as my trusty gaiters. So I just kept wearing them… I put my foot through both straps. I kept wearing them without straps. It was getting ridiculous. I’d stomp through deep snow only to end up with my gaiters around my knees.

Finally I decided to face my denial. I wasn’t going to get a new pair of gaiters. I was going to fix these. It really caused a shift in my attitude towards gear in general: why replace when you can fix?

So I bought ballistic cordura and steam grip and strong thread. I patched up the holes and made them (roughly) water-tight again. Almost all the holes were around ankle height or below. It wasn’t a big job. Then I managed to find the replacement straps online. Perfecto. I fitted them, but didn’t manage to cut them to size before we got another callout. So I had to take one off or risk losing it in the depths of Cut Hill. But that fixed, they are almost as good as new. Take that!

These gaiters have seen me through life. I wore them on my first Ten Tors walk. I wore them on my MR nav test. I wore them on my ML assessment – and my training! And they’ve got so much more life in them yet.