Saturday, December 22, 2012

20 years of gear (and stuff)

'Tis the season to be cleaning out my draft blog posts, and I found a longish one I wrote about the gear I used to hike 750 or so miles of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer.  Here I was all excited to compare what I started backpacking with back in 1992 on the Long Trail with what I'm using in 2012 on the PCT.  But I never posted it, didn't find it that interesting, and it just sat there.  Two reasons:

-The PCT has generally good weather, so much of what you carry isn't tremendously important.  What's important is being able to walk long miles, so shoes and socks are important (for example).  But there's so much good-quality, lightweight backpacking stuff out there at this point that it would be hard to go terminally wrong.

(Aside: I think it would be fun to try to hike the PCT again using nothing but gear available from Walmart.  Really I think I could do it just fine except for water treatment and maybe shoes.)

(Another aside: Distinguish here between not mattering that much what you carry with simply dispensing with carrying much at all.  Sure, five-pound base weights are all the rage [complete with inadequate water treatment methods, borderline-useless stoves (that have a propensity to tip over and cause forest fires), uncomfortable shelter options, etc.), but of course you do so at your inconvenience/peril.)

-Improvements in outdoor gear have been iterative at best, and it's boring to compare stuff that differs only slightly.

About that second point:

If you took backpacking me circa 1998 after climbing and backpacking a fair amount, and presented me with the "cutting edge" of backpacking and climbing stuff, I'd probably make an unimpressed face.  Tents are a little lighter, and there's a lot more competition in the waterproof/breathable shell category, and...I don't know...maybe down sleeping bags are cheaper now?  Skis have changed a lot, and for the better, so there's that.

But if you took me, or probably most people, circa 1998 and presented me with a single device that served as a phone, GPS, serviceable digital camera, internet browser, MP3 player, radio, and basically pocket computer - I/we would have been absolutely blown away.

(Another aside: Yes, 1998 me was backpacking with a crazy folding modem thing that strapped onto a telephone receiver in order to send occasional emails.  It was absolutely terrible.)

So you say that's an unfair comparison - Moore's law doesn't apply to tents or sleeping bags.  But it's an interesting comparison.  It seems like the main limitation is with materials rather than designs, specifically fabric - you can't make anything much lighter than it is or it will tear, and cuben fiber stinks.

Or I could go beyond that - and sound like an idiot because I'm out of my depth - and say that Moore's law not applying to more things could be the single-most frustrating problem with the economy.  In order to boost growth enough to bring down unemployment, you need borderline-explosive growth.  The BRIC's are already baked into the cake (and appear to be slowing), printing lots of money only goes so far, and, well, too many people are making unimpressed faces rather than blown-away faces.  Which is something to think about - maybe a hike is in order.

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