Tuesday 16 August 2011

Getting Back Into Gear

It’s often the case that, having reached a significant goal or fulfilled a long-standing ambition, the immediate aftermath is something of an anti-climax. You don’t mean it to be that way, it’s just that’s how it is. Ordinary life doesn’t quite match up to the exhilaration of that special time, and it can be hard to be enthused to the usual extent by the things that you normally enjoy.

Such has been the case for me since our return from Albania. It was an absolutely fantastic week – one that will linger long in the memory – and, thinking back to that wonderful country, scenery, culture and people, I am often possessed of a faraway look when I really should be concentrating on something else entirely.

Since returning, our walking has been low key and local. Other obligations – family visits, a stag night, the start of the new football season – have contributed to this, but there has definitely been an underlying lack of ambition about our walking in the last two or three weeks. Sure, we have pottered around a bit, getting some fresh air and exercise and adding a few miles to our total, but we’ve done nothing particularly challenging or noteworthy in recent weeks to warrant blogging about it.

Instead, I’ve taken the opportunity to re-evaluate some of my recent gear purchases. These are not especially technical reviews and, as I don’t have the luxury of a sponsorship deal (ha ha!), confined to what I have bought for myself in an attempt to upgrade my kit in the light of new innovation and past experience.

Like many outdoor enthusiasts, I enjoy reading gear reviews, but I often find them shrouded in technical talk and with little base in the real world: for example, reviewers claiming £400 jackets are good value – easily done if you don’t actually have to fork out for it yourself. Comparative tests such as the magazines provide can be helpful, but are only part of the story.

I also don’t like it that perfectly good gear is rejected out of hand because it doesn’t conform to some reviewers’ particular world view, and in this I am thinking mainly of the lightweight brigade who seem to dominate the review landscape (you know who you are!). Ten or twenty years ago, the issue of weight was a justified call; nowadays, there is tons of gear that conforms to the lightweight ideal and in the main it is simply an exercise in shaving a few grams off here and there, or to be able to claim, at least for a while, that it is the lightest version available.

To call a waterproof shell jacket at 500g or a pair of leather boots at 1400g “heavy” – and I have seen both with my own eyes in reviews during the last year – is, frankly, ludicrous.

I also believe that most readers of reviews are not high-altitude mountaineers, extreme LDP walkers, or super-nerdy, lightweight back-packers, but ordinary people happy to do day walks or maybe a week or two walking or trekking on holiday who just want to know if something is good or not before splashing out their hard-earned cash.

So I have tried to offer a “real world” outlook to my gear reviews, and also add in an element of long-term performance that is often missing from magazine assessments by revisiting the reviews at intervals. Are my initial opinions still justified? Does it still do what it claims after 6 months? Is the durability good? Especially given the price?

Having done a fair bit of walking over 30+ years, in all sorts of conditions – both in the UK and abroad – I think I can at least bring that experience to bear when assessing a product broadly speaking designed for the purpose. And, if I help you choose a good buy or avoid an expensive mistake, so much the better.

To see them, click on the "Gear" tab at the top of the page and scroll through.

Anyway, see what you think and I hope you enjoy them.