Anti-Gear Hero

Ed's pack from the rear
Ed's and his 1970s Kelty Serac.

I like to talk about gear. A lot. Sometimes, though, I'm fearful of forgetting that gear is a means to an end. The “end” is different for all of us. For some, it's lying on a thick pad, sipping a freshly brewed espresso, and eating jam straight from a glass jar. For others, it's skipping light across the land, with bars as fuel and bivy sack for shelter. It's easy for me to forget transcendent backcountry experiences, though, when admiring some shiny new titanium spork, or an amazingly light Cuben fiber pack. And, in these moments of forgetfulness, I think of Ed Talone.

Ed is a former colleague who quit his DC job, went to Florida, and started hiking north. Many would be satisfied to complete either the Florida Trail, or the Alabama Pinhoti Trail, or the Appalachian Trail, but Ed has strung them together all the way from Dry Tortugas National Park to Maine, and as I write, he's drinking tea at my apartment and contemplating heading north on the International Appalachian Trail.

Ed's backpackpack is a 1970s Kelty Serac external frame. When I picked Ed up at the trailhead, I struggled to lift the pack (only partially loaded) into the car. The frame is so wide I needed to turn it sideways to get it through my front door. From a distance, Ed appears to be a refrigerator box on legs.

Ed Front
Ed's pack, rear view.

At first, I'd offer advice and suggest that Ed use stuff sacks, rather than old shopping bags, or trade his tent in for a tarp. More than once I've asked, "Perhaps you'd consider a trail shoe, Ed, rather than a ratty pair of Keds?" I even made the mistake of suggesting Ed dispense with his beloved Kelty and consider an internal frame pack.

“I don't know any hikers that talk about gear less than me,” Ed says, and quickly loses interest in the conversation. He doesn't necessarily disagree, and sometimes talks about getting newer gear, but for Ed, it's all about the journey.

There's no way I would hike with a frame pack, a spare pair of sneakers, and a radio that weighs more than a pound. When beginning hikers ask my opinion, I typically steer them to lighter gear choices. On a spectrum, Ed and I occupy nearly opposite ends. Ed makes it work, and I can't deny that, despite his lack of interest in gear, he's hiked roughly 3,800 more miles than me this year.

I won't stop drooling over the “latest and greatest” gear, nor will I stop writing about it or testing it, but when I feel that I'm forgetting that it's all a means to an end, I'll think of Ed, lumbering through the mountains, rivets rattling as he goes.

 


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Comments

Guyz
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October 10, 2011 at 8:45 a.m. (EDT)

I hope to meet Ed on the trail!  I like the lighter gear, but I always can make it work: just to be out there:)  Good insight Seth.

Rick-Pittsburgh
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October 10, 2011 at 9:09 a.m. (EDT)

This actually made me think a bit. Ed is spot on. Truthfully the latest and greatest is awesome(trust me when it comes to gear I am like a kid in a candy store) but its all about the means to an end.

I too get consumed by gear at times and lose focus of what it is all truly about. 

Thanks for sharing this one Seth. Made me kinda chuckle to myself and think at the same time. 

philipwerner
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October 10, 2011 at 9:29 a.m. (EDT)

Gear doesn't make the journey. Ed's got his priorities right. Plus people who walk that much can carry a refrigerator and not even notice it.

whomeworry
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October 10, 2011 at 9:59 a.m. (EDT)

Eds Unite!!!

Why suggest he convert to an internal frame pack, particularly given the heavy weight of his kit?  And why make the blanket policy of never using an external frame pack?  I own both types, and find they each have their application. 

Like your Ed, the only new gear I have was purchased to replace lost or worn/broken gear.  The two exception are my canister stove and CRE LED head lamp.  I use the canister stove when convenience trumps the need for the performance characteristics of my MSR Firefly.  The new head lamp simply is a quantum leap in performance over old bulb and 1st generation LED lights.

Ed 

BigRed
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October 10, 2011 at 11:57 a.m. (EDT)

I guess this is partly why I buy almost everything from whatever's available on sale at the time that I need something. I'd love to always get the latest and the best, but the difference between that and "good enough" -- in function, weight, or style, often just isn't worth it to me. Sometimes it doesn't work out and I end up with too much of a bargain, but by and large I can make do with second best (or sometimes even less). We need more Eds to remind us of all this.

Seth Levy (Seth)
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October 10, 2011 at 12:29 p.m. (EDT)

Whome - I suppose most of the reasons that I've encouraged Ed to get a lighter pack is that I have good reasons to believe that, most of the time, most people benefit from lighter loads.  There are some people, and some circumstances that require a frame pack.  For instance, with very heavy loads (70+ lbs), few internal frame packs can do a good job of distributing the weight.

Of course, I can't discount the probability that I recommend a lighter pack to Ed because it works for me, and I (as do many others) often fall prey to a prejudice in favor of my own ideas and experience!

Since I wrote this article, Ed has walked nearly 120 miles!

Bill S
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October 10, 2011 at 1:05 p.m. (EDT)

Gee, Seth, you would argue with Norman Clyde about his carrying all those books.


Norman_Clyde.jpg

I only met Norm a couple times, though his main hangout was my favorite part of the Sierra, the Palisades. And that was because he spent a number of summers as the caretaker of Glacier Lodge at the end of the road from Big Pine at the trailhead for the Palisades. He was a schoolteacher in Independence for a few years (he was fired in 1928 because he fired a pistol in the air to scare off pranksters on Halloween night).

Clyde did many first ascents of peaks in the Sierra along with numerous new route. The link, written by Walt Wheelock, is probably the most accurate biography in brief of Clyde. You can also read more about Clyde on Wikipedia

Clyde's pack always seemed to contain a full library. Yet, as in the photo, even with the huge weight, he always walked erect (one of the benefits of an external frame pack!).

alan
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October 10, 2011 at 1:41 p.m. (EDT)

Great article.  External frame packs work just as well with light loads as they do with heavy loads.  You can keep the pack and lighten your load in other ways.   For most trail backpacking external frame packs work just fine, it's only on off trail terrain or bushwhacking that you start to notice a difference.  Vintage Kelty external frame packs are not particularly heavy, I have plenty of internal frame packs which are heavier.  The biggest problem I have is filling up packs which are too large for the trip I am taking.  One of the very convenient aspects of external frame packs is the ability to lean the pack against a tree, have it stand up and access the pockets for gear.  Externals are also easy to load and it is easy to strap things to the frame.

Ed you are spot on in terms of the quantum leap of LED headlamps.  Years ago I went on a trip and everybody except me had an LED headlamp.  I got done with the trip and bought an LED headlamp immediately.  An amazing difference from a non-LED headlamp.

mikemorrow
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October 10, 2011 at 4:14 p.m. (EDT)

Great read. I have 3 external frame packs, and I'm a BIG fan of them. Also my go to winter tent is now a 1970s sierra west tent. As far as lighting candles just cant be beat.

Robert Rowe
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October 10, 2011 at 4:51 p.m. (EDT)

I'm firmly in the vintage 'camp' with gear.  (Although, I DO acquire some more modern offerings).

Old (1970s) Kelty external-frame pack (have three of them), 1970s and 1980s Fabiano and Scarpa FGL boots, 19?? Eddie Bauer Kara Korum down sleeping bag (-30 degrees F ?), Ventile hooded long-jacket, and-so-forth.

I still have and use this stuff.

I benefited greatly when I began doing this, by living in Nu Yawk, and acquiring my early gear from the stand-alone store, the famous Abercrombie and Fitch outfitters in Manhattan.   This place outfitted for African safaris and Himalayan climbs,  Arctic and Antarctic ventures,  for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, John Huston (the movie-maker), Clark Gable, various East Indian Maharajahs, Sir Edmund Hillary,  T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"),  etc.   Expensive?  Yup.  Before the days of debit cards.   Cash $$ tawked.

My daughter made me take her to the nearby Hammacher and Schlemmer toy-store whenever I went to the A & F place.

I didn't hike in sneakers, like your boy, Ed.   But, I DID in US Airborne Paratrooper boots ( before I discovered the joys of Italian FGL boots.

Different strokes for different folks.

~ r2 ~

Erich
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October 10, 2011 at 7:53 p.m. (EDT)

Very true Seth. As with some other posters, I have Kelty frame packs( B4s from the mid sixties) a McKinley bag from the year I joined REI(1963) and a Petzel LED headlamp. While I enjoy the quest for lightweight gear, I will opt for durability over light weight. My sojourns often take me into the Canadian bush for weeks or more, so durability is utmost.

When I first started cycling 30 years ago, we would joke about the new guy who would show up with the new gear and start talking about how his frame was 25 grams lighter than the next guy's frame. The common retort was that if the new guy hadn't had the farm breakfast that morning, he wouldn't had to spend x dollars for a lighter frame.

Ultimately, it is the journey that is important, not the gear.

whomeworry
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October 11, 2011 at 1:01 a.m. (EDT)

mikemorrow said:

.. As far as lighting candles just cant be beat.

Me like candles too, but:

I find candles too dim to do evening camp side chores like cooking (I always cook at night, preferring to save day light hours for other activities).   I like candles in the tent – good ambience - but it seems either me or my companion are always disturbing the candle, and getting wax everywhere, regardless of type of candle used.

Ed

Robert Rowe
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October 11, 2011 at 7:29 a.m. (EDT)

whomeworry said:

I like candles in the tent – good ambience - but it seems either me or my companion are always disturbing the candle, and getting wax everywhere, regardless of type of candle used.

Ed

 There is a type of Kosher candle sold in grocery stores  (in "Ethnic" foods sections) ... that is dripless  (and smokeless, I think).    Various sizes, including votive candles.   Some are ceremonial (can't remember  for what, exactly).   Not especially cheap; but NOT having melted wax all over everything is a good thing.

~ r2 ~

Robert Rowe
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October 11, 2011 at 8:43 a.m. (EDT)

Erich said:

 ...  the year I joined REI (1963).   While I enjoy the quest for lightweight gear, I will opt for durability over light weight ....  durability is utmost.

Ultimately, it is the journey that is important, not the gear.

 Erich ~~

WHEN did you become a hiker / backpacker / camper ?

I have a thread I started, regarding this.   1963 would be the earliest date noted (thus far).

I like your last line ( " .... the journey, etc.  .... ").  

I have often said something similar:  " The journey should be as enjoyable as the destination " .

~ r2 ~

Erich
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October 11, 2011 at 1:05 p.m. (EDT)

r2, Surely there must be some on here that began earlier than I? I had hiked before 1963(eight years old) on day hikes with my parents. That was the year we started back packing and joined REI. My first pair of boots were Danners(made in Portland), fitted by none other than Jim Whittaker, just off of Everest. They really hurt my feet so I quickly switched to Riekers(sp) a German boot. Kelty B4s, McKinley bags, Mallory flashlights, Eddie Bauer down jackets and sweaters. I started climbing and doing trips with friends by 1971. I still have a couple of B4s, the McKinley bags and the Bauer down jackets. I wore out a Kara Korum parka and wish I still had it. A long line of gear in my bins, some old, some new. Not always the lightest, but it all functions in extreme conditions.

"Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves" GL Mallory

Robert Rowe
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October 12, 2011 at 7:57 a.m. (EDT)

Erich said:

r2, Surely there must be some on here that began earlier than I? I had hiked before 1963(eight years old) on day hikes with my parents.

"Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves" GL Mallory

 

Hmmm ....

Possibly ....   BUT -- That is why in my opening lines of my post-topic in another thread,  I indicated I was interested in primarily hiking INDEPENDENT of Scouts, family, etc.   Not necessarily SOLO.

You might take a look at that post-topic, in the "BACKCOUNTRY" forum. 

Your date seems to be the earliest ... so far.

~ r2 ~

Seth Levy (Seth)
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October 25, 2011 at 9:31 a.m. (EDT)

Quick Update: Ed is making time to Van Buren ME, on schedule to end his 4,000+ mile hike this weekend.  After some creative stitching and judicious application of duct tape, both he and his pack are in good shape!

Tipi Walter
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October 25, 2011 at 11:19 a.m. (EDT)

Whenever ULers mention cuben fiber or nano doodads I think of Norman Clyde and then I strap on my similar Mystery Anvil with a similar library of books and pots and fuel and too much food and then hobble to the next campsite a few miles away. 

We carry what is honed thru experience and long years of humpage---and none of it matters except that we are willing to carry it and it serves us in the conditions we seek.  Most experienced backpackers have been thru the whole cycle and litany of gear choices---nights spent in bivies, blizzards under tarps, cold snaps under one pole tipi tents, bedroll camps swarmed by mosquitoes, long nights in stout guyed out four season tents.  And we've humped everything in about every pack imaginable---Kelty frames, ALICE packs, CampTrails packs, tried out the big internals like Lowes and Gregory and Mystery Ranch, we even went out with a large daypack crammed to the gills with five days worth of crap.

The "fast and light" propaganda speaks to some diehards but is a fantasy-groupthink to others, and so we need to be clear on our philosophy of packing and where we are most comfortable---fast and light or slow and heavy.  Even Andrew Skurka, the king of fast and light, carried 55-60 lbs on portions of his Alaska hike when he had to go 14 days between resupply.  Take a trip of 20+ days without resupply and you start looking like Norman Clyde.

gonzan
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October 25, 2011 at 1:16 p.m. (EDT)

Tipi Walter said:

...none of it matters except that we are willing to carry it and it serves us in the conditions we seek.

 Well said, Tipi :)

we even went out with a large daypack crammed to the gills with five days worth of crap.

 Haha! I went on a couple trips with all my stuff crammed  into and strapped all over a 1200 cu.in. camelbak. I wanted to see how little I could take, using the tiny pack to force my hand on what I could take. I don't do that anymore :)

Seth Levy (Seth)
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November 6, 2011 at 10:16 a.m. (EST)

Hi Folks, Ed is done with his walk for this year : http://www.internationalatmaine.org/pages/MaineIAT_News/0188956A-001D0211

He is now relaxing by thru-hiking the C+O Canal, planning on his Canadian hike next summer!

thetentman
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November 8, 2011 at 11:03 a.m. (EST)

I still have my TNF BackMagic external frame pack. It was a workhorse that never let me down in any way but I don't think I would ever use it again. Go Ed!

giftogab
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November 8, 2011 at 11:54 a.m. (EST)

I am a gear head. In anything I do, I find I want the new stuff. But that can work against me. For instance...I decided to start biking again and got what I thought would be a great bike to enter back in. But I wanted to save some money and try to avoid my wicked ways of buying stuff so beyond my skill that I really would not benefit from having it. So I did not pay too much attention to weight of the bike and, in fact, told myself that heavy was good. Because, after all, I was trying to lose weight and get in shape. It backfired as it was so much work I found I simply stopped riding it much. Certainly not riding enough to get any benfit that I sought when I purchased it. I did learn from the experience though and am trying to get good gear for my hiking and treking that is lighter in weight so I don't do the same thing. I am seeing myself out on the trail regularly while the heavy bike has a dusty seat.

bheiser1
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November 9, 2011 at 11:01 p.m. (EST)

Alan wrote this:

>  Vintage Kelty external frame packs are not particularly heavy, I have plenty of internal frame packs which are heavier. 

Right- my late 70's Kelty D4 weighs under 5 lbs, lighter than many modern internal frame packs on the market of comparable capacity when factoring in the frame-mounting spaces.

> One of the very convenient aspects of external frame packs is the ability

>to lean the pack against a tree, have it stand up and access the pockets

>for gear.  Externals are also easy to load and it is easy to strap things to the frame.

Good points as well.  One thing that bothers me about internal frame packs is that you need to set the pack right in the muck when you take it off.  With the external frame pack just the bottom part of the frame gets wet 'n mucky.  Not a big deal I guess, as long as you've waterproofed the contents inside, but still...

campingwithcharlie
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January 8, 2012 at 8:48 a.m. (EST)

I like to ooh and ah at new stuff for the woods but I still use the stuff I bought 15 years ago. I just can't see retiring or throwing out something that is still useful and still works. I still use my coleman peak 1 stove.

Robert Rowe
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January 9, 2012 at 9:54 a.m. (EST)

I, too, prefer to stick with tried-and-true, proven, "field-tested" gear, particularly in harsh Winter conditions.

I am presently hiking in the Black Hills of South Dakota, having hiked in "Thr Badlands" last week. Sub-zero overnights.

My 1970's vintage Kelty external backpack, 1970's Eddie Bauer down jacket (not parka), 1960's (!) era Eddie Bauer Kara Koram down sleeping bag ... are doing yeoman service.

"Take No Chances" is my mantra.

~~ r2. ~~

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