Gear General Walking

Durability, Cost and Weight – choose any two. My top 10 tips for finding the right balance for long-distance backpacking.

Over the years I have striven to keep the base weight of my hiking gear as low as possible, but I think I have reached a limit, where durability is valued more than weight. That plays into the cost equation too; I do not want to replace items too often. Finding the balance is key to building a kit list that will stand the test of time. Here are my top tips, with scores out of 5 for durability, weight and cost:

  • WALKING POLES are very durable, but they can break from fatigue fractures after time. This has happened to me twice, and the trick is to keep the joints clean and free from the dirt and dust that accumulates. I have also found that non-adjustable poles can be supplied at the ideal length are stronger, but this is an issue if you use them as tent poles. My current pair (Leki RCM Micro) weigh 360g and are exactly the length I need (130cm). I paid £100 for them in 2021 and they are so light I forget I am using them at times (durability 5, weight, 5, cost 3).
Well worn Meindl Bhutans ready for quite a few more miles
  • I have a separate blog post on BOOTS vs TRAIL SHOES Boots are made for Walking and my conclusion is to wear my Meindl Bhutans for the vast majority of my long-distance walks. They last 3,000-miles vs 1,000-miles for trail running shoes, meaning 3 x £100 a pair vs £180 for boots. Boots are durable in rough conditions such as sharp rocks and rough vegitation and keep my feet dry at all times. More importantly, they keep their performance to the end of their life far better than trail running shoes (Boots: durability 5, weight, 3, cost 3) (Shoes: durability 2, weight, 5, cost 2).
  • WATERPROOFS are not used as often as you may think, and mine spend a great deal of time in the pack. I do not use them as a windproof, and walk in a baselayer with a light gilet in 3-season conditions. Light weight waterproofs are not durable enough when hacking through woods and wear quickly with backpack straps and hip belts. This impacts waterproofness so I choose more durable jackets for long-distance walking that I know will keep me dry when the heavens do open. They last longer too. I am currently using an Endura MT500 Mountain Bike Jacket which was a reasonable £170 compared to the £300+ your can spend. (durability 4, weight, 4, cost 3)
Endura MT500 Mountain Bike JAcket with a long tail – useful
  • BASELAYERS – merino wool is king. I would be ashamed to mention how long I can spend in a icebreaker top without washing it. They may fade in sunlight and develop a few holes, but they become good friends during long trips and critical do not smell anywhere near as bad as man-made fibre alternatives. Wool is heavier, specifically when wet, after trying performance fabric alternatives I always come back to merion wool for it comfort (durability 5, weight, 3, cost 3).
  • SLEEPING BAGS – buy a silk liner, such as JagBags, to keep you sleeping bag clean. This is important if you use a down bag, to avoid washing it too often. The silk liner also means you can select a slightly lighter, more packable bag. It is easy to clean the liner and it dries quickly. I am a big fan of quilt sleeping bags, which are comforable in a wide range of temperatures. I am still using a Feathered Friends UL30 Long Quilt that is still going strong after 8-years and probably 200+ nights (durability 5, weight 5, cost 3).
Terra Noven Photon 1 and trusty MultiMat (c. 1980s mat)
  • TENT – how my Terra Nova tents have stood the test of time (Proton 1 and Competition 2), both bought as seconds 4-5 years ago is a mystery to me. They seem flimsy, but I have yet to need a repair and they have kept me dry through a few storms. They are light, durable a deserving of the term ‘investment’ as they have saved me a considerable amount in accommodation fees. When the materials become too baggy I will need to find a replacement and I am wavering between the MSR and Big Agnes options. (Terra Nova tents now 8+ years old: durability 5, weight, 5, cost 3)
  • SLEEPING MATS – a closed cell foam mat is indestrucable, if you pay for the right quaility. Many mats wear to quickly, but the original Multimat is still intact. If it rains I use it under the tent groundsheet and slide it out to cook, or to kneel on when I am packing up. I always carry one, and then use Thermarest sleeping mats of various vintage. I have yet to get a puncture by being meticulous in checking the ground before pitching (durability 5, weight 5, cost 4).
  • MICROFIBRE TOWEL – I carry 2 or 3 microfibre cloths, measuring 40cm square and use them as towels, glass cleaners, dishcloths and sweat towels. They are light, easy to clean and cheap as chips. I do not use the large towels you find in camping stores as these do the job effectively, even after a hot shower I can dry off quickly and then clean the microfibre with the soap that remains on the nalgene mini-bottle (durability 4, weight 5, cost 5).
  • BACKPACK – my early heavy backpacks were donated to one of many ‘Gift You Gear’ charities. I have worn out my Go-Lite Jam50 as it is one stitch too many from repair. I am now using a AtomPack Mo50, which seems as indestrutible as my heavy Cordura packs of old (durability 4, weight 5, cost 3).
AtomPacks Mo50
  • PLASTIC BOTTLE – I carry one indestructible Nalgene 1-litre bottle, in certain knowledge that it will not leak or break. It is heavy vs. plastic drinks bottles, but I prefer refilling with tap water / filtered stream water to purchasing bottled water. If I need extra capacity I carry a foldable 2-litre Platypus bladder and fill up before wild camping, or when the weather is hot, sometimes using a drink tube. My Nalgene bottle is over 10-years old at least (durability 5, weight 4, cost 4).

My advice is to spend good money on the ‘Big 4’ items: Tent, Backpack, Sleeping Bag and Boots. The extra cost is worth it in the long term in terms of performance, meaning durability and weight. This is probably 70% of the cost of all you equipment, and a genuine investment in terms of comfort and accommodation savings. The cost will soon be forgotten and replaced with an appreciation of quality.

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