How light is too light?

So, how light is too light?

Well, there are no rules to answer this question, because everybody has their own variation on the theme. Another factor to consider is how fit for purpose an item is – I know that a particular jacket has lasted me a while now, but I’ve also had comments about a similar jacket lasting one day (but that was on an ascent of Eiger by one of the best climbers in the UK…).

Our choices tend to reflect where we’re heading to and what the weather forecast is for that place for the next 5 – 10 days after checking the BBC’s weather pages on bbc.co.uk…

Everything that’s packed reflects practicalities and the surroundings we’re encountering. If Caroline’s hiring a bike during the trip, then she’s usually packed her biking clothes as they are multi-purpose items. There may be smart stuff in the bags or there may be rugged stuff, or a combination of the two that can be mixed and matched.

What we haven’t done is go down the ultra, ultralight route when it comes to our clothing or footwear choices. The kit is light, but not too light because I’ve had first hand experience of kit that was quite simply too light to be useful.

I’ve had two occasions when trouser fabrics have failed on their first or second outings. In one case, I’d put the trousers on straight from the bag and then kneeled down to lace up my shoes.

The fabric on the knee instantly failed leaving what was then a fashionable rip across the knee  – great if you’re a fashion conscious fifteen to thirty something, but not if you’re over thirty and are heading into the hills…

The second occasion was on another pair of trouser’s second outing – a four hour walk in the Wicklow Mountains over mild terrain with no stiles or walls to climb. The trouser fabric had worn through on the inside of both thighs, leaving holes in the trousers that were quite visible to all and sundry.

Both sets of trousers were pre-production models, one from a small manufacturer and the other from a quite well respected one. Both companies were informed of what happened and in both cases, the garments were pulled from the respective ranges without ever reaching the shops.

I’ve had similar problems with footwear in the past, but like the trousers mentioned above, such problems have typically occurred on pre-production samples sent out to the press or company testers for appraisal and feedback.

In one case, the shoes were really comfortable and great in dry conditions, but when it rained, grip levels simply disappeared. One pair of shoes wore through on the heel lining whilst one pair of boots were great on grass or soft surfaces, but when I hit the stony path that led back into Ambleside, I could feel every stone that was under the sole of those boots.

On production models, such things are a rare occurrence as if there’s a problem with any kind of product, the journalist or company tester will contact the brand in order to ask for their comments and incorporate the feedback into any reviews that appear in the press or whatever. It’s not in a brand’s interest to put out kit that isn’t up to scratch as sales can suffer and the brand’s name can be tarnished in the eyes of the customer or, more importantly, the potential customer.

It’s one of the reasons why I don’t go for the lightest or the newest kit on the market. I prefer to have items which combine lightness with good longevity potential and buy items which have been around for a while rather than rushing straight in to buy the latest pieces of kit.

If a product has been around for a while and has just undergone colour changes, then it’s usually a good sign that the item is sound, sorted and more than fit for purpose. Take a look at gear forums on a few different sites and see what the user comments are about a specific item or ask questions yourself about a particular product that you’re interested in.

There may be trolls around, but most posters on such sites will give honest opinions on products they’ve bought and used in anger. Use the information gleaned from the sites and magazine reviews and make your mind up.

Pay attention to any comments about the longevity of the products that are mentioned – are they still fit for purpose or have there been any problems? And try to buy from a bricks & mortar shop too rather than online as you should be able to pick the brains of the salesperson as to whether the item is fit for purpose and if they’ve had any problems with it.

So then, how light is too light?

We’re content to travel on hand luggage wherever we go to now. Others need a bit more, others need a bit less.

Caroline and I have both checked into four or five star hotels with minimal luggage – i.e. the kind of outdoor briefcase made by Haglofs or Vango – containing just what we needed for an overnight stay. Basically it was one change of clothing each, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorants, a comb each and our respective talk and text phones.

No Kindles, no computers, no tablets and no smartphones. Why because it was five years ago and apart from my Apple iBook that I’d left at home, we didn’t have any of the other tech items I’ve mentioned in that last sentence.

Did it bother either of us? No. Did we conform to the dress codes of the respective hotels we stayed in? Oh yes, and we were both smarter than some of the golfers staying in one hotel when we hit our respective tables in the dining room.

I remember reading a piece in the CTC (Cycle Touring Club) magazine a few years ago about the strategies used by several cyclists when they went off touring. One pair got their kit for a two week ride down to what could fit into two bottle cages for everything they needed for the trip.

Now that is travelling light, but I have recently heard of someone who goes one better than that.

The person in question carries a bare minimum of stuff whilst travelling. If they’re heading towards relative’s houses then there’s a chance that there’s a change of clothing there. If they have heading to friends houses, then it’s been alleged that they have tried to borrow a change of clothing for the night or whatever – including underwear!

What I don’t know is how many times they have been told to ‘Sod off’ and had to go commando, but I have heard that there may have been occasions when pants have gone in the bin rather than the washing machine once the visit’s over!

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About Keith Rickaby

Fiftysomething writer and occasional photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now firmly based in't Yorkshire...

One response to “How light is too light?”

  1. keith rickaby says :

    Thanks Joe – it’s my second round of posting on TT. left earlier in the year and went back on after a few months break…

    Keith

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