It is getting onto winter in the UK. Winter is a time that I hate as I take no pleasure in long nights or damp, grey and cold nights. Years ago I decided that I was a child of the sun and that hibernating animals have got the right idea. But I had a bit of a “Road to Damascus” moment recently.
I was in a large outdoor gear shop the other day and, from where I was standing, I could see a lot of the advertising material for the products and something stuck me that I’d never noticed before. All the promotional guff had the same message that boiled down to “Nature is our enemy”. I’m sure you’ll have seen the same things:
- Rain is something to be avoided at all costs by using some wonderful membrane,
- Night time must be banished with ever-more powerful headtorches,
- Wind will destroy your tent unless you have the Acme Geodesic Super-Mid,
- You’ve got to go further, faster, lighter because…….,
- Cold is something to be terrified of so use the latest down jackets, sleeping bags and other bits of kit.
And so forth indefinitely. Well, it struck me in a flash that, in the main, it is complete hokum designed to prise cash from your wallet. The whole point of backpacking is not to go further, faster but to savour the world. I know of no backpacker who is at war with nature. They love it and respect it but they don’t want to fight it.
Undeniably, being cold and wet is a miserable experience and, equally undeniably, those factors can kill. Despite having very good gear I have experienced hypothermia twice (and it is not pleasant) but all waterproofs will event leak or stop venting to the same effect – once wet you get cold. Likewise, really high winds can batter tents to smithereens but we don’t often get extremely high winds in the UK – if your shelter can stand a 40-50mph wind in summer then it can in winter. Even so I accept that if you’re doing a polar expedition or whatever you will need kit that can stand up to a lot of beating.
But for the most of us hiking and backing are not extreme sports; we walk between destinations, pitch a shelter, cook, sleep, get up and repeat. Provided we have some common sense and carry a spare set of warm, dry clothing, a decent sleep system and shelter we will be fine. Especially if that common sense tells us not to camp on a high summit in gale force winds but to take shelter lower down. Even better if that same common sense says “Hang on, this weather isn’t too good so lets do a different route or abort the trip”. Surely we should have the brains to look at the weather forecast and not take a shelter designed for high summer out into the hills in gale force winds?
So I have decided to stop being influenced by all the stuff I read in magazine reviews, see in shops and pick up from forums, web sites and other sources. Although I’m not advocating the abandonment of good shells, warm layers and a decent shelter I’m not going to fight nature anymore. Rather I will accept that I will get wet and/or cold, realise it is fine to sit in the dark and rely on common sense to deal with those problems and allow me to embrace winter as a friend. So, a sea change in attitude in that I will go with the flow rather than glower throughout the winter. I really am going to try and enjoy the long nights, the cold and the damp.