With a natural lean towards simplicity, I’ve always admired the lack of variety displayed in early outdoor kit, or at least the appearance of it anyway.
Back then, whether it was winter in Scotland, summer on Exmoor, or any time of year in the Alps, the pre-war outdoor type owned a pair of boots – one pair. There seemed little distinction between the footwear deployed by the walker or climber either. Thick leather on top, thicker leather below, with nails, in a personal pattern, hammered in to provide grip. No need to worry about whether the intended route might best suit approach shoes, B2 boots or even sports sandals. Pull on those boots, lace them up, set off.
Fishing seems particularly badly hit by variety these days. Fly-fisherman alone seem to be expected to possess half dozen or more rods. This clutch might include a bantamweight wand for small rivers, a slightly longer version for larger flows, with perhaps a further three or four to cater for lakes, nymphing, sea-trout, saltwater or light salmon use. At the other end of the extreme, the angler of the 20s or 30s seemed to manage with just one. Rose-tinted spectacles? Well I’m not so sure. We still have my grandfather’s rods, all two of them.
And while today we might match each of those rods with its own dedicated reel, in that less extravagant past they seemed to manage perfectly happily with just one, of a mediumish sort of size. Should they want their silk line to float, they greased it. When circumstances dictated that it was best to have it sinking ,that grease was wiped off.
I try to follow this Spartan example. Sometimes I almost succeed. Having set off before for northern Scandinavia, the van groaning under the weight of a rod for spinning, another for salmon, an old fibreglass thing for the sea, and yet one more for trout, grayling and char, it represented something of a release when I eventually decided to take just one, a nine-foot, medium line-weight trout rod. Did I miss the others? No, not at all. At least not often anyway. It has to be admitted though, that I never could quite reach those salmon showing way out on the far side of the Laisalven.
I try to restrict myself when it comes to footwear too, aiming to take just two pairs when we head north. In the event, I usually fail again, rarely taking less than four.
I’m pretty good with sleeping bags mind you. I have just two – a summer bag and a winter one. If the mercury really plummets I sleep inside both.
When it comes to hats I keep thinking I’ve managed to find just a single version that covers (literally) every requirement. That is until the next time I set off, and find myself placing something completely different up top. At the last count, and not including motorbike or chainsaw helmets, I think I found nine. Ah well.
There is though one little kit subset where I have pretty much achieved my simplicity goal, and quite a while ago at that. It’s even quite an important one.
My first rucksack was made of canvas (which won’t come as much of a surprise to those who have read my stuff before). Built in the 50s, and ‘enhanced’, in biro, at school with a short section of Beatle’s lyrics, it’s now long gone. A fair few have followed, to be abandoned along the way for various reasons. And then, about ten years ago I bought a Crux AK47.
Considering the intended function of this rucksack, the first thing I should make clear, is that I’m very far from a true mountaineer. Yes, Susannah and I may have made our way to the top of quite a few peaks, some of them reasonably high (at least by European standards), but they have all been very simple ascents. We both like to climb high… but on as easy a route as we can find. ‘Mountain light’ might be a suitable description.
So although my Crux was designed for the gnarliest and steepest of climbs, that’s not why I chose it. Well not quite anyway. It has to be admitted though, that the qualities most sought after in a good climbing rucksack – lightness, simplicity, perfect function and reliability, all conjured up in a single bombproof package, was just what I was after.
I admit I might have been slightly alarmed at the time by the cost, but like many genuinely well-made and legitimately costly items, that rucksack has since proved to be well worth the expense.
It might not have seen quite the abuse that some of its relatives. It’s never been hauled up the Drus, or scrunched daily up tight gabbro chimneys, but it has still seen plenty of use. Apart from the most very light fluffiness of the blue haul strap at the back, I can find almost no sign of use at all.
You can sometimes spot the slight look of surprise as I head off for a walk of just a few hours on Dartmoor. I was once asked by a fellow walker why I was taking such a large rucksack. When I pointed out that my 47-litre sack probably weighed less than their seemingly small day-pack, the look of disbelief was clear. I once had to resort to the internet to prove it.
And it’s so comfortable. Rucksack makers often claim that you’ll hardly know its there. It’s rarely a claim that bears up to a field test. I really do forget the Crux is there though, even with quite a load.
And while speaking of loads I will admit to owning a very large Osprey backpacking rucksack. Bought to carry kit on a week long tramp over and away from the Pyrenees it seemed a good idea. It was. There’s no doubt the Osprey did a wonderful job. It is extremely well designed and built. But if I was to walk that route again, I’d probably ditch a few of the things I only carried because of the additional space, and take the Crux. That’s not because the Opsrey is lacking, far from it, it’s just that the Crux is brilliant.
And I never have to stand at the door, a walk before me, trying to decide which pack to take. Well almost never.
Here I will admit that I’m fortunate to own a couple of lovely canvas daypacks. As I’ve admitted, I find canvas hard to avoid. So on the rare occasion I head for town, on strolls by the river, or whenever the canoe takes the strain, I’m more than happy to take my Heistercamp or Brady Pennine. But if any real walking is involved, from 5 miles to 50, whatever the terrain I don’t even need to think. The Crux provides a permanent home to my waterproofs, along with gauntlet gloves, a thick Buff, two compasses, a whistle and my Terra Nova bothy bag. All I need do is pick it up.
It might not be made of leather and cotton duck, and I may only manage it in this one small area, but at least with my rucksack I come close to that early outdoor kit simplicity.