Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Safety In Pins.

Going ultralight involves some sacrifices.

You have to sacrifice mediocrity. Stupidity. Ruttwise thinking. Being ordinary.

Even if the ultralight (or just seriously lightweight) trend becomes an accepted part of the backpacking scene, it will still involve sitting down and thinking things through. Right there we have a limit.

At the moment we're coming to the end of a turbulent presidential election season. The economy is full of warts, and each one of those is exploding into a running sore. This is a good time for everyone to sit down and think things through from the beginning. Read, talk, think, plan, and vote.

That isn't happening. People don't do that. At most, for most, they lock onto a phrase that represents a basic prejudice, maybe hear something repeated often enough (whether true or not), and go with that. In other words, if something sounds familiar it must be good so it must be right.

Which is the opposite of critical thinking.

And is why ultralight backpacking will never be mainstream. To do it you have to do it right, and to do it right you have to think it through, and then experiment. You might get dialed in after two seasons of honest effort. Some do it but not many. I'm in my seventh year.

Doing it right is important. You can get lucky a time or two when the weather is nice and the trails are smooth, but find yourself in the middle of a ripping storm in the middle of the night with no shelter and skimpy clothes, out of food, too far from home, and then you have a new appreciation for what not right is all about.

Light backpacking takes thought and effort to get right. Get over the hump and you'll never go back. But first you have to get over that hump, and it's work.

Luckily the sacrifices are up front, in the thinking end.

"Be prepared", say the Boy Scouts. "Of course", says the ultralighter.

One part is building in flexibility. You want to take things that have at least two functions. For example, my trekking poles, which I've written about. I use them while walking and also as giant tent stakes. That's one example of dual use. (Trekking poles for me have about a dozen different uses.)

Another part of being prepared is building in redundancy. Take something that does basically one thing, but that can be used different ways. For me, safety pins.

I especially like diaper pins. The sturdiest, heaviest, most reliable.

OK, how impressive does this all sound? Not much.

Not like miracle $200 last-forever socks, or a weightless tent, any of that stuff. Not impressive but important. Like so much of real life.

I always carry a dozen or so safety pins because they do so many things.

If I get a thorn or a splinter the point of a pin can tease it out. And a pin makes a good toothpick for that one time every season that I need one.

I made a little light fabric pocket once, just enough for a map and a couple odds and ends, and pinned it to a shoulder strap. Eventually I got tired of it, and just unpinned it. No remodeling needed.

When I wash socks or a shirt my hammock line serves as a clothesline. Pins keep clothes positively attached. They can't fall into the dirt or blow away.

Likewise, during the day I transfer wet clothes to my pack and keep them out in the sun and breeze, using safety pins. In deep shade or on cloudy days my flat-brimmed hat rides back there too, kept out of the way and safe by a couple of pins. The hat stays flat out back.

When freshening up I use a small square of fleece, rinsed in water. But then it's wet. No problem. I hang it on the pack too.

Have a long webbing strap whose free end dangles? Use a pin, keep it out of the way. A pin can also lock a strap, keeping it from working loose, or keeping one of those odd bits of plastic hardware from slipping off and running away.

Every now and then you want to poke a hole in something. Big fat safety pins are good for that. Maybe you've pulled our your needle and thread for a repair and need a hole to run the needle through. But needles don't have handles. Safety pins do, built in. You can push as hard as you want on a safety pin.

Speaking of repairs, I once made a pack and had a shoulder strap start to rip loose about halfway through day three of a 14 day trip. I shoved two safety pins into it and had no more problems. The pack design turned out to be a dud. During that trip I learned all I needed to know about the design, and never had to finish the repair. Tossed the pack but kept the pins.

When zippers fail, pins are there.

You need something a little bit tighter, like a choker-type shirt collar on a cold, windy day? Add a safety pin. Remove when done.

And when I'm not using the safety pins for anything else, One of them hooks the rest together. They stay organized in my possibles bag. I organize other small things the same way.

Nice tricks. Anybody can do them. Good for first aid too.

Practically no weight.