Durable gear

Jouni Laaksonen 28.5.2018

We live in a world of disposable things. That is extremely sad, and everyone can fight against this culture. The Earth Overshoot Day was 2nd August last year, and maybe this year already in July. We use the resources Earth regenerates in a year in seven months!

We often want to buy the cheapest product, and very often it is not the most durable one.  On the other hand we hikers like lightweight gear, and thinner material is usually not as long-lasting as a bit thicker.

However, a very lightweight product can be extremely durable if it’s good quality. It is not the cheapest in it’s category, but if you recognize quality, go for it. A durable piece of equipment is not only sound eco-wise, but also money-wise. Let’s say a durable sleeping mattress costs 25 euros and a cheap one 5 euros. The durable one is still in use after 20 years, whereas the cheap one gets broken in, say, two years. So, in 20 years the cheap ones cost double what the more expensive one costed.

Two weeks ago I wrote a gear review and insisted I’m not a gear geek. Of course I have accumulated a large amount of many kinds of outdoor gear during the decades, but my way of thinking is: If I have a product that works, I’m not searching for a new design with the trend colors or some new feature. When a piece of equipment starts to wear out, I try to repair it. When it finally breaks down beyond repairing and I have to buy a new one, I try to get a durable, but lightweight one.

A problem of gear reviews is always how to know whether a product is durable or not. Even if you test the gear for half a year or one year, you don’t really know which of the test products will be in good shape after ten years. And a ten year long test period is not reasonable since many of the brands and models you started testing would not be sold when the test is over.

Let’s see some examples from my own hiking gear with a lifetime of 20 years or so. Many of these brands are still around, though not with exactly same models. Some of these I have bought or acquired by pure chance, sometimes I have recognized quality when I was buying the product.

 

Clothing

My oldest outdoor clothes that are still in heavy use are Ullfrotté socks and Odlo fleece baselayer shirt. Both are bought in 1990’s, though I think only one of the original three pairs of wool blend socks are still without holes. I’ve bought more of the same variety, for 20 years of age is quite unbelievable in my mind for socks.

Dur_JouniNaamaKorsatupa

Over 20 years old white Odlo fleece.

Dur_UllfrotteSukat_4394

Lower sock is a 20 years old Ullfrotté. It has worn thin, but there are no holes yet. Still completely useful. The upper one is two or five years old Ulfrotté sock.

The Odlo fleece looks worn, and somewhere along the decades it’s sleeves have got a bit shorter than they used to be, but still I take it with me every single time I head out for multi-day treks. It is very lightweight, simple, and extremely durable. Today I would not buy fleece, but a shirt of same weight and thinness of merino wool. In 1990’s I didn’t think about the environmental problems of fleece.

Speaking of socks, I must also mention Bridgedale. When I conducted my first rubber boot test in 2001 magazine Erä got me half a dozen pairs of Bridgedale liners and half a dozen pairs of thicker hiking socks.  The idea was that every pair of boots would be tested with same kind of socks. I got to keep the socks after the boots test. The liners were durable when you consider how thin they were, I used them over a decade. They are all gone now, however. Of the thicker hiking socks I still have three pairs in good shape. Three have worn out, but this is very good achievement as I use the socks a lot in wintertime hiking.

In 1999 I acquired Halti Drymaxx winter jacket and pants. The jacket has not been waterproof for many years any more, but otherwise it is good. (Well, cuffs are very worn, and I have needed to fix the zipper a bit.) I use both jacket and pants every winter on my multi-day treks. Also my nameless leather mittens (bought 2003) have been trustworthy companions all the time.

Dur_UmpihankihiihtajaItakairassa_0488

Halti jacket and pants. Järvinen forest skis, Exel ski poles. And, oh yes, Savotta Paljakka sledge has seen lots of use since 1999, too. December, sun is below horizon all the day.

 

Hardware

I bought two RidgeRest closed-cell sleeping mattresses 1997 and 1999. They are still in heavy use in every overnight trek. I also often pack one of them when day hiking, to serve our family as a warm and dry place to sit on. Though I have to admit I bought a self-inflating mattress a couple of years ago, since older bones do not seem to enjoy sleeping on hardish platform as much as younger ones. But I bought a thin and short (read lightweight) one, and I always pack both the closed-cell and self-inflating one. The former is indestructible and easy to use also on short rest stops during the day, the latter gives more comfort.

I bought a Fiskars ax in 1999. This Finnish company had recently started to make axes with plastic handles. I was dubious: can plastic endure heavy use? But Fiskars had a reputation of great quality and the axe looked well designed. After 19 years of very heavy use I know the handle endures. I am sure I can give the ax as heritage to my daughter when I’m old.

Dur_FiskarsKirves_6237

Especially in winter I always carry an ax with me on backpacking expeditions. And not the lightest one, but a proper one that splits a large block of easily. Fiskars ax used to look like this in 1990’s, nowadays the handle has orange in it.

My Leatherman multi-tool is now approximately ten years old. Only ten, because until then I didn’t think I need a multi-tool. Even now I sometimes hesitate: do I need to carry both a knife (as we Finns always carry when hiking) and multi-tool. Often I don’t need the multi-tool, but there have been many occassions when it has been very important. I like especially the pliers, saw, screwdriver and file. I believe this multi-tool will serve me until I die.

Kettles are durable gear. My oldest memories of a specific campfire kettle are from a bicycle tour in 1985. I remember how we boiled spaghetti in the 2,5 liters aluminium Trangia kettle on open fire beside our tent. The same kettle is still sometimes in use, when I need a larger pot. However, I more often use 1 to 1,5 liters kettles, and I prefer steel over aluminium nowadays. I expect my kettles to last a lifetime. Teflon or other non-stick materials are not infinitely durable, but steel and aluminium seem to be.

Dur_Nuotiokattila_5883

Although the old Trangia kettle has mostly been replaced by smaller steel kettles in my usage, this old one has been a trusted companion every February. It’s handy when there are four or five of us and we need to melt a lot of water after a day of off-track skiing. Another kettle is producing water faster on a gasoline stove, but as there is always a fire for warmth, light and drying purposes, this kettle is naturally using the warmth.

I remember when I saw the first Ortlieb mapcase in early 1990’s. A friend of mine had bought one, and when he told me the price, I thought I will never need as costly a product to keep my map dry. But when I saw how his mapcase endured freezing temperatures, wringing, immersion etc., I became assured. I bought one for me, too, and used it contentedly for ten years. Then it turned yellowish and started to leak. I bought a second one, which served again for ten years, and did not turn yellow any more. The third one is now in use, and I think ten years is very good achievement for such a lightweight and thin product.

Dur_Rinkka_0257

Ridgerest sleeping mattress, Savotta backpack and Ortlieb mapcase. Also Crocs sandals in the pic. They are only ten years old now, but seem to endure infinitely. Handy in camp and when wading over a river.

I bought a Savotta backpack in 1995. It is a bit large and heavy, and in the beginning of 2000’s I often chose a lighter and smaller backpack on my treks. Which reminds me I must some day write about lightweight backpacking. It’s nothing new, but I’ll add my thoughts on the conversation of this interesting subject. Anyway, this Savotta was still often in use those years, too, and nowadays it is the backpack I choose most often for longer treks and family multi-day treks. (For day hiking, weekend hiking and fast and light kind of hiking I naturally use smaller and lighter backpack.) Savotta has room for the sleeping bags of all our family, for example. My wife replaced a broken zipper, but otherwise there’s never been anyhing wrong with the backpack. I expect it to last my lifetime.

For off-track skiing I have many equipment that have served me for decades. My first Järvinen Lapponia forest skis I bought in 1994, and changed to longer ones in 1999. The shorter ones are still in use near home and the longer ones I use on every multi-day winter trek. Exel ski poles I bought in 1994, and I use them every single time I ski off-track.

 

Us consumers

Consumer. Isn’t that a horrible word? Very accurate, though. That’s what we do, consume the Earth.

Well, it’s a free world and everyone can decide him/herself whether to be worried about environmental problems or not. Everyone can choose and try to consume less. One small way is to buy seldom and buy durable.

Why so many products are not durable? Is it only because we consumers want to get everything extra cheap? Or is it also that if a company produces lifetime lasting products, it soon does not have any more clients, for nobody needs more than one of their products?

I don’t believe in this. I believe there are lots of us who want to buy durable even when it’s more expensive. Of course the outdoor product needs to be more than just durable, it has to be very good for what it is meant for, and as lightweight as possible without compromising durability.

* * *

Next week I think I’ll tell how my book is advancing.

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