I was chatting to a 25 year old the other day who made a comment about the ‘good old days’ when referring back to his teens! I had to chuckle to myself thinking his good olds were 6 year ago yet mine were 43 years ago!
I started thinking about how attitudes and perceptions of time had changed over the years, and what a relative youngster today thinks as old is vastly different to what I would think is old. But then I recall myself as a teenager thinking that my parents were ancient (they were only 21 years older than me).
But one thing that has definitely changed over the years, and probably for the better, is the walking gear that I use. My first thoughts were that the only things to have changed was the advent of GPS and maybe Goretex (other brands available). Until I looked at some early photographs from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
One of the biggest changes has been in the design of rucksack. My first rucksack when I was 10 (1966) was a design left over from the war years. It was the classic ‘A’ Frame with a canvas bag attached to it with leather straps.
This was replaced in the 70’s with the tubular framed rucksack. I think the concept was that the frame was multi functional and you could add or remove various smaller bags as required. The one I owned had been made by a very popular company at the time, Cobmaster.
Both the ‘A’ Frame and Tubular Framed rucksack relied on shoulder straps to transfer the weight to the body. There was no waist support, though some did have a waist strap but this was purely to stop the rucksack bouncing around.
Clothing was light years behind the technical gear we have at our disposal today. There was no specifically designed walking clothing at this time. A ‘uniform’ of sorts was popular amongst a lot of hill-walkers, yours truly included, and this entailed lumberjack shirts , usually in red and breeches. The shirts were usually made of cotton, though occasionally you could get hold of woolen ones for the winter. The breeches were made of tweed or corduroy.
Layering, for the men, was achieved by wearing a string vest followed by the shirt and topped off with a jumper and/or a tweed jacket. The alternative to the tweed jacket was the pullover canvas cagoule with a chest pocket for a map.
For wet weather clothing the popular choose of the day was the Peter Storm Cagoule. These worked well but on a strenuous walk you could end up as wet on the inside as you were on the outside. Some had flaps on the back and mesh grills under the armpits but these did little to alleviate the effects of sweating!
Boots were heavy leather affairs which required regular doses of dubbin to keep them water proof. Some popular magazines of the day advocated that they should also have steel toe caps to offer protection to the foot! Their soles were very basic, some had a simple grip whilst other had just a plain leather flat sole.
To make them winterproof and to allow walking over packed snow and ice nails were fitted to the soles. Although crampons were available at the time, these were deemed to be for serious Alpinists and not us mere mortals here in the UK!
If you wanted to go camping the most popular tent of the day would be very familiar to hikers and campers today. The tent in question is the Vango Force Ten, whilst the materials have changed the layout is very much the same now as is was in the 70’s. The problem I recall is the it was so heavy that it had to be split between those who were sharing it.
Cookers moved on rapidly between the 60’s and the 70’s because the first stove I took hiking was a primus stove. Now for those how don’t know, these used paraffin and the main fuel but you also had to carry a bottle of methylated spirit to get the stove primed and started. When it was going it was like a rocket engine which needed a lot of care and attention because it was operating under fairly high pressure.
By the 70’s the primus had been replaced by the portable camping gas stove. These were lighter, safer and took up less space in your rucksack. The flame was not as intense as that from the primus so it took a little longer to cook the food, or maybe less time to burn it!
Finally the sleeping bag. These haven’t changed much to be honest, they are still very much the same shape and use the same materials. Maybe the only major difference is that synthetic materials are available today that were not available then. The model I had at the time was the Icelandic made by Blacks of Greenock, later to become just Blacks. Mine served me well for many years and was only replaced when it split and filled my tent with down feathers. That was after about 35 years of use!
Almost forgot – the one thing that has been part of my walking life since I started out. My Ordnance Survey Map. This has seen remarkable changes over the last 50 years. Migrating from imperial measurements to metric and the advent of waterproof paper maps allowing map reading during typical British summer.
But the biggest change has occurred in the last couple of years. We have seen the introduction of the OS Maps App, giving us unlimited access to all formats of OS maps on our smartphones. I can now plan my routes at home on my PC and access these routes from my phone whilst away from home. I can also print out the OS map segment with the route, do a fly through of the route, look at the route in 3D and find out where all the UK’s green spaces are. I still carry a map though!
Would I go back to the old gear? Certainly not. Technology has moved on a lot since my teens. Gear is lighter, dryer, safer and in relative terms cheaper. Whilst I don’t own a tent anymore, if I were to buy one I would certainly look seriously at the Force Ten again, still going after 40 odds – Vango must have got something right.