Friday, 8 June 2007

DAY 100: Rest Day Rant!

Friday 8th June 2007
Rest Day, Kinlochewe: DAY 100
A Heavy Post...

Well, a chap can get it wrong. I am back in the Kinlochewe Hotel and I have to say, their system works. The food is excellent, the staff friendly and the meals arrive on time. Before they introduced their rather strict system it had been chaotic in the kitchen but now everything is smooth running and the quality excellent. (I am on the Schiehallion and Fraoch this evening with Tomato Soup and a rare fillet on its way.)

But enough of the gourmandising!

Today I have been a slug; wandering between the Post office cum shop cum tea room and the pub and generally doing not a lot apart from the smalls and the boots and reading TGO - which had a rather brief article by Cameron on the Cape Wrath Trail - a walk that really should merit three times the space he allocated to it.

There was a good piece (strangely heavily slanted towards TGO's involvement) on the Backpacker's AGM at Bellingham that I missed by being there two days too early. It did bang on a bit about all the lightweight stuff. This seems to be the current evangelical push over at TGO HQ.

Why can't there be a bit on comfortable backpacking? (eg Exped Down Matresses)

Seriously though, on a long trip it is absolutely essential that you get a decent night's sleep; the consequences of night after night of troubled sleep on skinny mattresses could be horrendous in remote countryside - a tired walker slipping because of tiredness, or making poor decisions near the end of a long day really should be examined.

Hopelessly skinny sleeping bags, American tarps and plimpsoles are being held up to be close to Nirvana in the mag lately. Can the average reader of TGO seriously be expected to take one of these inadequate bags, wind shelters and soggy plimpsoles on a long trek through the bogs of the Highlands?

It is time that a balanced viewpoint was put forward in what is OUR magazine (the readers) rather than the Gear Manufacturers' and lightweight zealots'.

With the advent of the internet it seems that those who shout longest and loudest are the ones who seem to be getting their points of view across Currently, that platform is dominated by the 'lightweight' boys.

I am not suggesting that all the lightweight stuff is inappropriate. Indeed, if you examine the contents of my pack on this trip you will find an obscene amount of titanium and tiny electrical odds & sods (this computer for example).

I just feel that a lot of fairly young, inexperienced walkers are being duped into buying stuff that could actually be harmful to their well-being on a longish walk in difficult weather & terrain.

Each bit of kit on its own does not make a huge difference to someone's safety. However, if you combine it all together and add it into the mix of a relatively inexperienced walker, or worse still, team of walkers, then you have a potentially lethal cocktail.

So, Cameron, LW Bob, Chris T and other lightweight zealots - if you read this - take a long hard look at who your audience is, and then think hard before advocating the complete lightweight solution. The important thing I am stressing here is the audience; the readership. Not all are as experienced as Cameron and Chris and they should take care when blindly following TGO's latest direction in kit selection.

As I see it, it is far more important to be fit, slim and expereienced in the hills than it is to carry the latest lightweight tarp. TGO should be ramming this message across rather than their current lightweight gear fetish month after month.

I am about to head off into the North West Highlands for five days without resupply. I consider myself reasonably experienced yet there is no way I would be doing it following TGO's current direction of gear selection.


  1. ALan, I'm enjoying every moment of the journey courtesy of your blog. Would love to meet with you on your next rest day, now that you've made it to my 'patch'.

    Best wishes


  2. Well said that man!

    Having only yomped across Scotland with a comfortable (heavy) sac, a warm sleeping bag (1.4kg), a warm and comfy mattress plus all my other kit I cannot imagine what it would be like to freeze my wotsits off each night for the sake of saving a kg or two. I'd be plain daft to take unnecessarily heavy kit, but there's no way I'd skimp. Give me decent food, comfort and warmth every time!

  3. Hi Alan,
    As a beginner backpacker with hopes of doing long distances in the future I am very much enjoying your blog.

    I would like to defend the lightweight brigade though. I don't think I would be sticking with it if I couldn't enjoy the walking and, personally, I can only enjoy the walking if the pack I am carrying is light. I am gaining experience in my local (kintyre) hills, where I am going out to places where I am not far from home and at times when I can be reasonably confident about the weather. I am using a tarptent, a quilt, all the lightweight paraphanalia. I am also realizing, as you say, that a good night's sleep is important, and so am trying to work on how to raise the comfort levels there. I might buy a thermarest or equivalent, but I am also realizing the importance of finding the right spot to set up camp. I think the lightweight gear is simplifying things and encouraging me to think about what I am doing.

    There will always be beginners who over stretch themselves, but this is true whatever gear they might be using. Exhaustion can lead to mistakes....whether it comes from carrying a heavy pack, by not allowing for our comfort needs at night, or by not being fit enough.

    I am inspired by your walk as I am inspired by the whole light weight philosophy. Wishing you good luck and great walking.


  4. Kit is a very personal choice, what works for one will not necessarily be right for another. It is possible to do your walk with one of those inadequate bags and skinny mattresses I did it in 2000 that way and was neither cold nor uncomfortable. It’s also possible to use this gear year round in the Highlands, I live there and do just that. I do however totally agree that possibly less experienced people are using this gear without having learnt all the skills needed to use this stuff safely. I would never recommend novices buy ultralight kit but there is a lot of lightweight kit that is perfectly suitable, this is in general what I see reviewed in TGO. I haven’t seen much specialised ultra lightweight kit being pushed, I think TGO has the balance about right at the moment for the average readership and I hope people will use their own common sense when it comes to using and selecting gear suitable for them.


  5. There is nothing wrong with going lightweight, or even ultra lightweight if that’s your thing. Many of us have been quietly getting on with it for years.

    TGO writers give their readers credit for having sufficient experience and common sense to select appropriate gear for the length of trip, anticipated conditions and their personal tolerance levels. Perhaps this aspect could be stressed a bit more, but I doubt that many novices buy the magazine anyway.

    Unfortunately a few of the more vocal lightweight enthusiasts are unable to respect any alternative view to their own – with one blogger recently relishing the forced retirement of a fellow challenger who dared to question the lightweight philosophy.

    This is a shame, as “old timers” are usually highly experienced and able to make a great contribution to any debate, but public and personal abuse is very unlikely to encourage them to engage.

    So let’s lighten up – in all senses.

    Really enjoying your trip – be sorry when you finish!

  6. Interesting rant there Alan, but a slightly odd argument methinks!

    No one you mentioned is suggesting we hand newcomers, or anyone for that matter, some ultralight gear and then be told to get on with it. Heavens forbid!

    'Look at your customers' you say, (and TGO's case - readers) and I can tell you that pretty well every single one of them is like you, they have carried too much in the past and are glad to shave off weight to make them 'less tired' and 'enjoy the trip more'. Every single one of them know their own limitations, and enjoy the controlled pleasure of reducing over burdened rucksacks, to make it easier on their backs and such like.

    You are completely right about the priority of getting fit, but you have had the luxury (in all our eyes) of such a long trip and as we spoke in Braemar, you've learned a lot about your body, your mind and your thoughts on life in the process. (It'll be interesting to see the reverse culture shock when you return to normal life)

    Sadly though, the rest of us a earning a crust, and your level of fitness is a dream to most. So everyone reading this and buying lightweight gear, are keeping the best compromise of comfort v weight in mind to suit them.

    All I and TGO are doing is opening walkers minds to a new wave of products, which may make life easier. It certainly doesn't make them less safe, and comfort is a very personal thing. Certainly some of the older guys doing the TGO with huge packs, leave me amazed, but at the end of the day it is their choice.

    I was happy with plimsols ;-)

  7. Alan - nice piece but horses for courses, but I can see your point about kit leading to overconfidence for some people.

    Personally I pick what works for me, where I intend to go, and leave the rest until I've seen it in action in the real world.

    I'd love to get a lighter pack, but it just won't stand the load/train bashing as far as I can see at present

  8. "Hopelessly skinny sleeping bags" - I've never promoted these in TGO. See my review of synthetic lightweight bags in the current issue. I don't like being uncomfortable either :-). I've also been very careful about promoting tarps (I used an Akto on the Challenge) - which I'll be commenting on in detail in the September issue. As for plimsoles, well it depends what you mean by this. If you mean trail shoes and the like then I think they are better, even for beginners. TGO isn't a novice's magazine however and we do assume readers will think about what we say. Lightweight backpacking is more enjoyable and in my view safer, as long as the equipment is adequate for the conditions. It's not a new fad either, at least not for me. I've been pushing it for over 20 years!


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