Not everything long-kept in use is a thing I’m particular about, in the “this is my favorite pen” brand of particularity. A lot of long-kept-in-use stuff is just because of my philosophy on trash - to try to use things completely and as long as possible. This really applies to outdoors gear.
An example: The other weekend we were climbing Mount Olympus - it's a 40+ mile round trip, so the weight of the things you carry matters. My friend and climbing partner Eva asked me why I had the style of sleeping mat I do, and not one of the 1+ pound lighter designs that are now available. Did I really love the kind I had? What was special enough about it that I would carry twice as much extra weight, so often on trips?
The answer was just that the new style just wasn’t in existence when I bought that one ten years ago. I didn’t choose against the other type, I just kept sticking with one that I have that works well.
Eva and I on Snow Dome on Mount Olympus
Sure, I’m a little skeptical of the new style of mats, which seem to get holes easily and make crinkling sounds when you lay on them. But cutting off a pound from your base weight is huge. I’d like to do that at some point, when a quieter new-style one comes along and I have a long trip as an excuse to make it worth it. But the mat I have is good enough to not be worth replacing. At the same time, it isn’t something I’m particular about - it’s not this mat and nothing else.
But in case you're not a gear nerd/into climbing, ultralight is totally a “thing”. There sites like LighterPack to help you categorize your various trip type’s packing lists and optimize weight. There are many forums and reddits dedicated to comparing the merits of near-identical pieces of gear down to the GRAM! And lots of gear review sites and magazines that focus on how light stuff is. Especially thru-hikers on trails like the PCT or Appalachian Trail and alpinists care a lot about weight.
It really does make a difference to bring less stuff, and lighter versions of the stuff you do bring.
Last year when it was time to replace my climbing helmet I paid $25 more and got one that was a whole half pound lighter than my previous one. So decadent. (Although it's a little hideous so I have mixed feelings. Nobody looks good in helmets though, right?)
The pursuit of lighter gear has led to creative solutions like sewing our own two person sleeping quilt (now they are much more commercially available, but ten years ago they were rare, and cost twice as much as they do now - so we used this pattern/kit). Who needs the zipper part of a sleeping bag anyhow? Over time I found myself cutting more and more unnecessary pieces off of my old backpacking pack to save weight. As I've replaced gear that wears out, I've looked for lighter stuff.
(Don’t worry! I haven’t yet gone so far as to cut my toothbrush handle off yet… and I generally bring my kindle along to have something to read.)
Thankfully, I generally don’t have gear envy of just plain newly purchased gear. This is not hard to do, because climbers take great pride in scruffy, patched old gear. There’s a saying that you never trust a climber with new gear.
BUT: If you didn't gather from all that… There’s this ambient “it could be lighter” potential better-ness about gear that is a siren song I try to resist, and my main technique is cultivating my love for old gear.
How old can I get my gear?
Can I use this ice axe and these crampons for as long as I climb?
If we take care of our WhisperLite stove, it should last us for the long run. Obviously there are some pieces of climbing protection (ropes, webbing, slings, helmets and especially) where the goal is to take them to the end of their safely rated lifetimes. And textile-based gear (and outdoors clothes) can only take so much patching before their very fabric deteriorates. Look at my hiking t-shirt from the past 4 or 5 years… I'm hoping for at least one more climbing season out of it.
And have a look at this much loved pack from 2008. You can see the light through the threads of the bottom.
Retired that pack last month… but even still it lives on! The summit pack I replaced it with this year didn’t have a waist belt (why!?) so I sewed the waist belt from that old pack onto the new one.
Everlasting gear. (Just like the book An Everlasting Meal, except instead of food, it's stuff!)
My everlasting gear techniques:
- Cleaning and air drying after each trip - especially important for the big three: 1. Tent 2. Sleeping bag 3. Boots/shoes. (Tip: the sleeping bag likes to lay out in direct sunlight for a few hours after a trip, if possible.)
- Trying to mend things as soon as I notice a small hole/broken-ness, to catch it before it gets un-repairable
- Mending the butt of pants
- Patching holes in hats, bags, stuff sacks, gaitors, sleeping bags, puffy jackets - often Gear Aid Tenacious Tape, but sometimes it is better to sew. And duct tape, in a pinch.
- Cutting up old packs/bags and scrapping them for parts like zippers, toggles, any un-tattered fabric
- Using the cleaning kit for the MSR Whisper Lite stove (especially after we run it on straight up gasoline, instead of white gas)
- Backflushing our water filter
- Sending our MSR Hubba Hubba tent back to MSR for repairs on the poles, zippers, and fly (The tent of Theseus! Going strong for 11 years of heavy use!)
- Tracing off a rough pattern from existing gear and making something similar, but including all the changes I wish I could have made to the original design
- Buying the solid thing sometimes if a slightly lighter but way less hearty version exists
- Buying used gear when we can find it (some of our trad rack, and my crampons)
- Budgeting for gear together with Adam during our annual budgeting - we make a list of the things we plan to buy or replace in the coming year - this helps us think critically about what we really need and what’s the best use of money - ie when the helmets reached the end of their rated lifetime, then it was time to get the ultralight option
- Replacing the wear parts (ie, textile/webbing) on mostly-metal gear like ice axe leashes
- Sending complicated repairs off to the company that made them
- Storing things properly - sleeping bags in big stuff sacks so they have room to be all fluffy, for example.