Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Insights from a comparison

3rd December 2008

Buying outdoor gear is an expensive habit to to acquire, which is why I gamely try to keep the collecting to a minimum. Nevertheless, that does nothing to stop wish-lists from growing and seeing shiny kit featured in magazine reviews is no help either. Of course, expert gear reviewers are in an enviable position with their ability to compare different manufacturers’ attempts to cater for a particular need. That gives them a level of insight unavailable to the rest of us with those ever tightening constraints on purchasing power and all those other calls on our time limiting our explorations. Even with the insights of experts, we still need to discover what is right for ourselves and that can mean the occasional mistake from time to time. Speaking for myself, I am lucky to say that most of what I own is of the silent stalwart variety rather than attracting my reservations. Maybe, reading those gear reviews is useful after all…

When it comes to the minority that I mentioned above, my Scarpa boots come to mind but another piece of kit that fell into the same category is a Karrimor Cougar rucksack that I bought a few years back. To be fair, it served me reasonably well on numerous Scottish outings including sessions along the West Highland Way and the Rob Roy Way along with weekend visits to Lochaber. Being a heavy duty article, there is a weight penalty of next to 3 kg before anything goes into it and that is where my concerns start. Add to that its harness feeling a little like a cage while you have it on you back and a hip belt that gives a neutral performance and the penalty points rack up, especially when compared to something like an Osprey Atmos 50. It also took some time to fine tune the back system so that it worked more to my liking and that’s somewhere the Atmos scores too.

Those reservations about the comfort, fit and weight of the Karrimor got me thinking about alternatives for August island hopping trip. While my Atmos 50 has an Tardis-like ability to carry more than you’d expect of it, I thought that using it for a whole week might be a little limiting; according to BPL.com, the Exos has eerily reminiscent talents and would be on my list if I was looking at a rucksack for a week-long trip again. However, the Exos was in the future so I ended up settling on another Osprey, an Aether 60, for load hauling duties in its place and that of the Karrimor. The Aether, definitely a lighter article than the Karrimor, did whatever I asked of it, even if it was that little bit bulky (compression straps on the ‘sack do make things much more manageable though) for day walks and some of those really did take me across some rough country. When fully loaded, the hip belt worked well so long as it was done up tight, a behaviour typical of these packs if comments made by BPL.com are to be believed. The back system again gave me no cause for real complaint either and the weights being carried really tried it out, especially on the Tuesday of my sojourn on Harris.

I have to say that the Aether still seems to suit me better than the Cougar but there’s one insight that I have gained from using both: you need to be acclimatised to whatever weight you plan to carry or your progress will slow. It could also make you gradient-shy like I was on a weekend away with the Cougar and left a walk up Ben Vrackie for another time; the damp aspect of the day provided additional impetus for my decision. For sake of clarity, I am talking about weights of up to 20 kg here rather than anything more than that. So, for that future longer trip away to sample hill country, I plan to more acclimatised to the weights that I will be carrying and that perhaps preposterous thought of carrying the Karrimor on shorter training walks and it well loaded may come into play yet. Another idea is to plan for posting things home as I go. From my experience of spending a week of island hopping in August, maps come to mind because I was moving around from place to place but there can be other things being carried needlessly too. Organising parcelling and making time to visit a post office without it impacting on time in the countryside are probably the tricks to master with this one.

It may have meant spending a more money than I might have liked but I think that I learned something useful from using two different rucksacks for multi-day hiking. No doubt, there is more to be learnt and that comment applies to more than rucksacks. For instance, who knows what my footwear explorations could yield yet? I may even start to view my Scarpas in a new light.

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