Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Equipped for the Hills

A good number of my articles tie in with my various adventures in Texas Hill Country and periodically I will either refer to some sort of equipment I use or someone will ask me about it. So, I figured I should talk a little about the best and worst of my outdoor gear.

The item that people most often comment on is my impressive-looking “Irish Blackthorn Walking Stick” from Cold Steel, a three-foot long shillelagh with a knurled haft and a polished head that was a gift from my brother Christopher (shown at right). The most impressive thing about this accessory is that it is not made from wood at all, but rather a durable, non-metallic composite. Sensing its connection at least in name with St. Patrick, my wife Diane calls it a “snake-whacking stick” and likes to carry it when we are out together.

My most useful item day-to-day, and something else numerous people have commented on, is my “Large Hip Pack” from Pantac USA, a nice black nylon satchel that perfectly holds everything I need when I am in the field, including my camera, notepads, pens, recorder, phone, flashlight, extra batteries, and even a bottle of water (shown at the right side of the picture above). This piece of equipment has served me so well since I acquired it up last summer that I actually just picked up a second one, this one tan rather than black, so that I will have one that I can use just for hiking and help keep the black one that I use for street work clean. I obtained both of these from an outfitter called Dark Threads that a number of my military and law enforcement friends use and which has served me well when I needed advice on what I should be carrying.

When I need bigger cargo capacity, I carry a “Mission Pack” from Paladin Designs, also acquired through the good advice of Dark Threads (shown at the left side of the picture above). This has two large external pouches that generally carry everything I need, although I sometimes just lazily jam the afore-mentioned Large Hip Pack in the main compartment if I am in a hurry to get out the door.

Good hiking pants are something that I have just rediscovered the importance of, and for some years have worn nothing but my most hole-ridden jeans for this purpose. (Ticks, snakes, and underbrush ensure, by the way, that I always wear long pants and never go into the woods in shorts!) My current favorite the “Elite Lightweight Operator Pant” by Woolrich, a piece of apparel so advanced it came with a little training manual! Plenty of reinforced pockets means I don’t need to carry a pack with me for most brief expeditions if I am wearing them. (And yes, thanks again to Dark Threads, which was correct in telling me that these are much more comfortable on a hot Texas day than jeans.)

Footwear is probably where I fall short the most and, as a former infantryman and lifelong hiker, I certainly know the importance of this and have no good excuse for it. In my closet is a beautiful pair of custom-made, low-quarter Limmer hiking boots, which cost me $300 and served me well on an ascent of Mount Washington, New Hampshire, several years back. I have, inexplicably, not worn them once in the year-and-a-half since I moved to Texas. I also have an old pair of high-quarter Wolverine work boots which are some of the most comfortable and reliable footwear I have ever owned and which I wore when I climbed Mount Whitney, California, back in 2002. I do wear them once in awhile but, while their upper parts are still in amazingly good shape, their bottom are pretty worn and I need to get them resoled. In practice, what I wear most often when I am outdoors is a pair of Reebok hiking sneakers, which have almost no tread left and have soles worn so thin that I can feel every rock I step on. Ridiculous.

Writers often say that they are their own primary audience and, while working journalists cannot realistically make that claim, writing this piece has forced me to look at my own outdoor equipment — and both be grateful to those who have helped me keep it up to par and to make some adjustments in the areas I have neglected. And, if it helps you to do the same, so much the better!