Bring on the anti-gravity backpacks

  Gail Binkly’s memories of hiking in the “good old days” (for her, the 1980s) ring a lot of bells (HCN, 8/4/03: When did we become such gear-toting wimps?). But does she really prefer those heavy boots made of solid rock and worn jeans that stayed wet for three days after a downpour? How she got 20 years of use from a cheap dome tent is truly a marvel, but she has forgotten what a new-gear revelation it was when she bought it. If she had slept in a tube tent and then an A-frame in the early ’70s, she might not think the dome such an ancient stalwart. Of course, all John Muir had was a tall Sierra tree and a blanket to sleep under. Now there’s “good old days” for you.

She conjures up the spirit of Edward Abbey, who must be doing cartwheels in his grave to think that he has become the outdoors standard-bearer against which everybody must compare. I don’t think it would have mattered much to Abbey whether or not he tramped around in jeans and heavy boots or nylon convertibles and all-terrain hiking shoes. Despite a published opinion on mechanical gadgets separating a “man from the world around him,” he depended on them just like the rest of us. An internal combustion engine got him to the trailhead, cameras took his photographs, bridles and other devices kept him firmly atop any horse and a stove kept his trailer warm in the winter, without which there would have been no Desert Solitaire.

Like Binkly, I too have had “some of the richest times of my life with some of the cheapest equipment,” but I was once younger than today. I still take my Luddite soul and middle-aged body backpacking. As I ponder the crowds and the ongoing challenge of locating solitude in the wild, that aging body appreciates better boots, dry pants, secure shelter, pure water that doesn’t make it sick, Thermarest pads and Crazy Creek chairs. I was once a trail-head Ned-Ludd purist sitting atop my own high horse, but, to paraphrase another acerbic American cynic, the times they are still a-changin’. I hope that when I’m finally in my dotage, there are still wild places to visit and anti-gravity backpacks to strap onto my faltering frame.

Evan Cantor
Boulder, Colorado
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