In the last six months I seem to be reaching a point where a bunch of my favorite gear, the stuff I love to use and have recommended without reservation, is wearing out. Given that this process is for most (myself included*) quite rare and usually gradual and therefore apt to avoid direct attention, it seems valuable to discuss a bunch of things in detail, for future reference.
Like pants and socks, shoes are semi-disposable gear. Which is not to say that preventative reinforcement with Seam Grip isn’t a good idea, one which will give you a hundred or more additional miles out of a given pair.
*Recent experience as convinced me that, regardless of how often or how broadly I might get out in the wild, I am relative to the majority of folks quite easy on my gear. I have habits cultivated at an early age concerning good maintenance, and they’ve been ingrained for the years before LB came along and made unpacking far more arduous. They also reflect the many years before I bought most things at an industry discount or bro deal, and are a good idea because even at half off a good down jacket or hard shell is quite expensive. By my standards at least.
My favorite piece ever? Darn close, certainly. In the first year, as wear marks accumulated on the blade edges, I assumed the fiberglass blades would eventually delaminate into oblivion, but nearly six years in that seems no closer than it was after six months. Those blades are damn tough. What has happened is that the center joint has loosened just a hair, something which was vastly accelerated by strapping them outside the pack for most of this trip (as they just didn’t fit). The lesson here is twofold; use a pack big enough to fit all your gear with a bit of wiggle room, and that when I replace my paddle it will probably be due to preference rather than a structural issue. Which certainly makes it one of the better gear investments one could make.
When I went to Alaska to do the Wilderness Classic in 2011 I fortuitously had at my disposal every WPB shell under 9 oz that was then on the market. The Ozo was an easy choice, and to this day I’ve yet to find a hard shell I like as much. Despite a thinness in the shoulder membrane visible the past few years, it has always kept me dry (enough). And it still does, but the DWR can no longer get itself up to snuff, spray on or wash in or whatever. WPB without a good DWR does little good, so as of a month or so ago the Ozo is officially retired.
Thermarest Prolite XS
I’ve been quite mean to this pad for the past six years. Far more often than not it’s been used directly on the ground, and very often as a packraft seat. In 2014 I put a small hole in it, which was easily patched with Aquaseal. On the most recent trips it’s deflated quite a bit during the night, enough to be both uncomfortable and cold. I haven’t yet put it in the tub, but I expect it to be riddled with unpatchable microholes. Given that degree of reliability, I’ll probably buy another, and soonish. Ridgerests on slickrock are no fun.
Seek Outside LBO
(This applies to all shelters made from quality sil.) Currently the LBO is pitched in the backyard, weathering graupel and 25 mph gusts, with a few dots of silnet hopefully drying. I put it up for LB and I to play in, and noticed three tiny holes, two seemingly from stove embers and one from the abrasion of a low lying stick. Aside from these this 3+ year old shelter might as well be brand new. So long as I don’t let sand kill the zippers, I expect the LBO to last for a decade or more, and or UV to kill it, which points to the importance of picking good shelters that will grow with you and suit many needs. This ‘mid weathered (and well) the worst storm I’ve ever been in, and I currently think it’s the best one SO makes. The peak height to footprint ratio is just right, tall enough to shed wind and snow (especially the later, the Cimarron is a bit short for me)) but not so tall relative to the width that achieving optimal stake angles in loose soil is problematic (4 man). It’s small enough to fit a lot of places, but big enough for the three of us and gear. Point being, it makes sense to do homework and get what you really want, whomever you buy from.
Gossamer Gear grips
My perfect trekking poles are hanging tough, but the grips are going to have to be replaced well before anything else. Getting a good glue plug that will resist pressure over years is the key, something I did better with one pole than the other. I’ll publish an improved tutorial when I replace them, but the state of these goes to show why most companies go with more durable, and much heavier and less comfortable, grips.
Western Mountaineering Ultralite
Our Ultralite is 12 years old, and while it’s been used a ton in that time, M and I haven’t come close to putting the nights in a thruhiker, or guide or other professional would in the same time. Down can be washed often, which is needed to preserve down loft, but that washing does come with a cost. The Ultralite isn’t quite a full as it once was, and that before I singed a bunch of holes on a wood stove back in January. The Ultralite isn’t close to the end of it’s life, but at some point (5 years?) the loft and warmth won’t quite be there and it will be to be replaced. Again, a great investment and one I would make again without hesitation.