The creaking sound of boots on cold snow behind me suddenly ceased. There was a moment of silence, then a muffled grunt, a thud and a string of curses, hardly intelligible except for the word “yoga.” I turned around just in time to watch a cloud of dislodged snow settle gently on Sam, whose nose was almost touching one knee, while his arms were extended upwards and past his ears, batting at the tree limb he was stuck under. A futile effort, since one branch had snagged the handle on top of his daypack as securely as an angler hooks a trout.
“You should really cut that stupid handle off,” I advised. I had often been in a similar position, and had amputated the handle. Now I slithered under the deadfall on our trails with comparative ease.
“Bring a saw … damn … pain in the …,” muttered Sam as he backed off the branch and lurched through the thigh-deep snow off the trail to navigate past the offending willow. “I don’t want to mutilate my backpack just because of a stupid tree. We need to brush out the trail better.”
“I guess so. But when have you ever carried your pack by that silly handle on top?” The doodads camping gear tends to be equipped with nowadays is a favourite pet peeve of mine. Not only do I not want a handle on my backpack, I most definitely don’t want a hole in it to thread a cable for a headset through (I refuse to call it “ear buds,” a far too organic phrase that never fails to conjure up images of unwashed body parts, ear wax, fungal infection and unwanted growth in rapid succession).
A lot of this stuff is manufactured for the legions of weekend warriors, of course. The gear is meant to lead a double life, lending an outdoorsy whiff to city life. That’s OK, I suppose – once it reaches me, usually after being pre-owned and used by somebody else, I have no qualms about hacking it into a more suitable, personalized shape.
Under the cringing eye of Sam, who can rarely bring himself to cut up his equipment, I’ve recently operated on a pair of old Gortex bib pants. Within no time, I had cut off the bib and suspenders, an utterly useless design for women with functional bladders, and transformed them into simple pants. Who wants to shed their backpack, jacket and sweater to go pee?
Now that everything is supposedly designed to save us time and effort (has anyone ever studied what people actually do with all that saved time, apart from tweeting and Facebooking?), you’d think that women’s bib pants would all come with a drop seat.
A different abhorrence to me, both in terms of wording and use, are “hydration bladders.” Clearly a case where the time-and-effort-savings-brigade has taken things too far. I can see how it would be a perfectly reasonable piece of equipment for competitive marathon runners. But to market those things to regular hikers and cyclists?
In how much of a hurry can a person possibly be that to stop and take out a water bottle would throw the whole outing into disarray? What’s so bad about the actual sounds and details of nature seeping into one’s brain during a pit stop? And yet, a lot of people seem to buy them.
One of them was walking right behind me. Scowling at the unfathomable ways of the camping gear industry and men, I motioned to Sam to go ahead and break trail. After every snowfall, we need to pack down our trails again so we can walk them without snowshoes throughout the entire winter.
As we walked, I pondered what other items might be about to burst on the market one of these days.
Perhaps a “dehydration bladder”, a discreet suction cup and tube for instant pee relief on the fly (a nice combo with women’s bib pants, actually).
Or sunglasses that your digital reader or movie viewer plugs into, so nobody needs to be bothered by the view anymore. And those glasses would necessitate insoles wired to a GPS to allow for remote satellite steering of one’s feet, since the eyes and brain would be already occupied.
Or maybe an -“Ouch!” Lost in thought, without movie glasses or GPS insoles, I had almost speared my head on a sharp branch.
Ruefully, I rubbed my scratched cheek. Whatever equipment we have, I guess it’s always limited by ourselves.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.