There are many items for the outdoors. A person can go to their local REI and purchase an espresso maker (The Italians go “How cute”at your backpacking espresso maker. And then proceed to tell you about the ISS espresso maker one of their astronauts brought up.), a toaster for your stove, and even camp showers.
This article is not about those items or similar. We all have luxury items that may make no sense to one set of people but are perfectly fine for others. Heck, I would not mind a camp shower for a post-trail luxury item. …
This article is about items that seem popular for some unfathomable reason. Something that makes as much sense as a fish on a bicycle.
I present my very biased list for for three-season backpacking. And it is something out of my own experience. Others may have different takes. However, after twenty years of backpacking, I doubt I’ll change my mind at this point… 🙂
Chest pockets on outdoor jackets – Hell any jackets. I am not talking about wide and deep Napoleon pockets. A map can be put in those pockets, a phone, Chapstick and so on. It is usually placed below the chest and above the stomach. Logical placement, utilitarian idea and useful.
No. I am talking about those tiny little pockets that seem popular on all kinds of jackets allegedly for the outdoors. They are awkwardly placed so a sternum strap covers the pockets and are generally hard to reach, they aren’t very big and don’t seem to hold much at all. Why are these chest pockets, and where they are placed, so popular? I can *almost* see them for around town. But I am presumably wearing clothing with pockets. And if I put a set of keys, my wallet, a pocket knife, etc. in this pocket, and the pocket bulges out and feels awkward. I have owned different down jackets, fleeces, softshells and rain gear over the years. Many with chest pockets. And I have yet to use these tiny, useless and impractical pockets.
Lots of buckles, straps and zippers on packs – I love simple gear. Gear that works, does the job and you do not have to think about too much. It is, as Dave C. says: “Shit that works“. But when a lightweight gear manufacturer “matures” as a company, they seem to forget the lightweight backpacking is not just about going light. Going light is also about simplicity. Lightweight backpacking is more than numbers on an Excel spreadsheet. It is about simplifying time spent in the outdoors. Less time is spent futzing with the gear and more time is spent using the gear to enjoy the outdoors.
So why do more and more alleged lightweight packs have multiple buckle, cinch points and so on? My daypack of choice has a simple cinch, flap and buckle closure. Awesome. As a counter example, I went back to the ULA CDT and took a five ounce weight penalty over another pack I was using for a while. The ULA CDT pack is more versatile and also has a simple and quick design. If I am futzing with a pack, the five once weight savings ain’t worth it to me.
Tall gaiters – Tall gaiters were very popular once upon a time. Worn with shorts and leather hiking boots, no backpacker worth their salt would venture into the vast wilderness without them. Throw in a 6000 cubic inch pack and the uniform was complete!
For three season backpacking, these tall gaiters make little sense. Sure, I can see maybe using them for bushwhacking. And winter use no doubt. But a low pair of gaiters will work better for most people in many situations.
But people still rock these long gaiters more than you would think.
I can already see the comments. People will say how they trekked through the Central American jungle with a machete in hand and their long gaiters saved the day. They were able to run through the jungle, avoid a large boulder, escape people who wanted to kill them and then hop on their waiting float plane and fly away to safety.
But the majority of people are hiking on a well maintained and typically well-marked trail.
Why long gaiters? Why?
Pack Covers – Another item popular in the past that should just (mainly) go away. Pack covers trap water, are one more piece of gear to worry about and lose. Additionally if a pack cover is not secured correctly, it can get snagged by a tree or blown away. Pack covers perhaps make more sense when using packs that are made of heavier material. These types of packs will soak up a lot of water and become heavier. But when even mainstream manufacturers are using lighter and less water absorbent pack material that dries quickly, a pack cover makes little sense. Yet many pack covers are still sold and used on trails. A trash compactor bag lining the pack is much lighter, less expensive, not going to get snagged and is arguably more effective.
Pack covers do make sense if the pack is made of heavier material. And a blaze orange pack cover for hunting season is found useful by many people, too. Otherwise? An analogy about a fish and a bicycle comes to mind..
I’m a Gen Xer in my early 40s. And like me, this group has some Rhode Island roots. Plus the song is still damn good…
So here is a completely biased list of useless gear items based on my experience. What’s on your list?