Gear That Refuses To Go Obsolete
New gear comes out every day. Stuff gets lighter, stronger, with more bells and whistles. Jackets sprout MP3-conduits in the hoods, and you can use a stove to recharge your iPhone. Amidst all this one-upmanship, some things that seem to endure forever. They may get re-named, or slightly tweaked, but these six pieces of gear were designed to last. They’ll always have a space in my kit.
Marmot Stride JacketKnown for over a decade as the DriClime Windshirt, the all-purpose, windproof and water-resistant jacket fits most conditions except heavy rain. It does triple duty as a windbreaker, outer layer in light mist, a midweight insulation layer and thrives from the coast to the mountains and desert. Warmer, lighter, and more wind-resistant than expedition-weight fleece, it works under a waterproof shell or as a cool-day cycling jacket. A mainstay of most outdoor kits, it’s notched its first thumbs-up review from Backpacker Magazine…back in 2001.
MSR DragonflyCanister stoves are all the rage. They’re simpler to light and they’re quiet—and I use them, too. But if I could own only one camping stove, it would be the loud, priming-required, white-gas burning Dragonfly. Unlike the others, it’s the stove for all seasons, and all expeditions. White gas functions better in high winds, at high altitudes, and for long journeys; and the fuel is efficient, and compact. I also know that I can take it apart and fix it in the field—something I’ve done many times over. Sure, it’s loud. Big deal.
The Primaloft PuffyIt comes in many forms, from the Patagonia’s 1990s’ Puffball Pullover to the slightly-lighter but very similar Nano Puff. These lightweight, puffy jackets are fleece jackets on steroids: synthetic, warm when wet, but lighter and warmer. Like the stride jacket, they have a wide temperature range and you don’t need to coddle them like down when it’s wet out. I’m always reaching for either the old school or new school version. Skiers wear them under rain shells, climbers throw them on during belays, and backpackers love the light weight and all-weather use.
The Feathered Friends Volant JacketFirst introduced when a guy named Michael Jordan was trying his hand at minor-league baseball, the Feathered Friends Volant is a to high peaks and winter what the primaloft puffy is to 3-season use. This simple but densely-packed down-filled jacket has endured for two reasons. One is that down lasts: the material stands up to the rigors of compression and recompression better than synthetics. The second reason is a simple, functional design; low on bells and whistles but high on simple durability, including a Gore Dryloft outer layer.
Steri-Pen Adventurer OptiWater filtration is situational. Water critters vary, and filling gallons for a group on an extended trip takes a different system than fast and light. But for backpacking, river-running, and international travel, nothing beats the quick and chemical-free, ultraviolet treatment of the compact and fast Steri-Pen, as long as you’re not out so long that you can’t haul the batteries. I’ve used it on backpacking and river trips, and to drink sketchy tap water in Asia. The technology may seem new to us, but ultraviolet treatment’s been used in municipal water plants for decades.
Nigel Dennis ExplorerThe Nigel Dennis Explorer is the great white shark of kayaks. Like sharks, it evolved a long time ago, got it right the first time, and hasn’t changed since the age of the dinosaurs—or, in the Explorer’s case, they started production in the early 1990s. The only change may have been the name of the company, from Nigel Dennis Kayaks to Sea Kayaking UK. The Explorer remains the classic boat for sea kayak expeditions around the world: it’s reasonably fast, very neutral in unsettled weather, and is still reasonably playful and maneuverable. Ask any sea kayaker with multiple kayaks which one they’d keep if they could only have one, and most will say the either Explorer or it’s slightly smaller sibling, the Romany.
Innovation, technology, design, and a simple lust for the latest and greatest will always be with us. But the fact that I can pull a stove, light jacket, and down coat out of the hatch of a kayak—all of which were designed in the last millennium and are still alive and well—means that some designers got it right the first time around.
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