Back in the Day

Two things struck me about the “Back in the Day” walk to Lees Paddocks last weekend:

  • How much I enjoyed the camaraderie and warmth around a proper campfire. That wasn’t a surprise.
  • Old gear from the 1970’s is not all that inferior to modern gear. That was a bit more surprising.

First the gear: In the spirit of “back in the day” I took as much of my oldest gear as I could still find. My rucksack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and billies were from the early 1970s (don’t ask why I still have all this stuff). Although my 1970s clothing is long gone I wore the equivalents as much as possible – wool shirt, King Gee shorts, Dunlop Volley sandshoes. Others did likewise to the extent that they had old gear and it was particularly pleasing to see John Counsell’s “golden tan” Paddymade japara tent as well as his Paddymade japara water bucket.

And all that old stuff was perfectly functional and comfortable, although I was slightly more aware of the H-frame pack on my back than I am with my usual rucksack. Nor is the gear heavier:

  • Japara tent (including poles, pegs & fly): 3.5 kg, about the same as our modern 4-season 2-person tent. Also a lot more spacious inside, and robust in all but the strongest winds.
  • Paddy Pallin H-frame rucksack: 2.5 kg, a little heavier than the pack I normally carry but 1 kg lighter than my big expedition pack (which actually has less capacity than the H-frame)
  • Paddy Pallin “Bogong” sleeping bag only marginally heavier than my current bag (although a fair bit more bulky but that didn’t matter with the big rucksack 🙂)

It’s interesting to realise that modern gear is only incrementally rather than dramatically improved over the old stuff despite looking very different. Having said that, the increment is sufficient that my reversion to 1970s gear will not be ongoing. Perhaps the most significant improvement is in bulk rather than weight, so that I now get away with a smaller and lighter rucksack.

One exception to the incremental gains: waterproof clothing. I’m most definitely not volunteering to exchange my modern breathable waterproofs for oiled japara.

Dean Bluff towering over our camp. Some of us were on top of that the previous weekend.

Now the campfire: Back in the day when I started bushwalking, and for many years after, the evening campfire with companions was one of the joys of the whole bush experience. Even in the snow we often had a campfire. It was a bit of a shock to me to find, when I resumed serious walking in Tasmania a few years ago, that as soon as it got cool and/or gloomy everyone would retreat to their one-person accommodation and not be seen again until morning. I was quietly thrilled on Saturday night to see almost our entire group conversing around the fire, sometimes involving everyone and sometimes a several different conversations.

I’d like to organise more walks with a campfire despite the very limited locations where it is possible. We are also thinking about hosting the occasional “campfire social” on our bush block, although that would be quite different to a walk-in event. Watch the program.

(Before you go – this is not my blog, it’s Pandani’s blog. I’d love to see posts from other club members on any bushwalking related topic you feel like writing about.)

5 thoughts on “Back in the Day

  1. The cotton japara water bucket is still in good condition with no leaks. It must be about 50 years old. Thanks for organising the weekend Peter, great fun.


  2. That’s very interesting about the differences between the nearly 50-year-old gear and today’s, Peter. Thanks for undertaking the research! I’m glad it was such a fun trip. And I agree about the campfires … I miss them too.


  3. Two thoughts on gear and campfires. Yes, gear today and tents particularly bear no resemblance to the equipment of yesteryear. In a real blow I’d much rather be in modern tent than a japara sail, though they did do remarkably well if pitched and pegged properly. But that was rarely a sure thing. Campfires do make me wistful. I’d even go back to carrying a jaffle-iron! They do make for congenial evenings, whereas now it is a quick retreat to a one-person tent and a kindle – ok, but I’d rather a real conversation under the stars. The reality though, is that fires escape, particularly where water is not readily available in abundance, which was very much the case on our recent trip to Gould’s Sugarloaf. Very dry in the west – a consequence of so much north-easterly weather this summer. In the 70s I saw hundreds of fires with Forestry, not a single one without a direct human cause. I do recall seeing a single burned tree on the west coast, a clear case of lightning strike. But the Gell fire, and more recent fires, were dry-lightning strikes that took hold in drier than normal conditions.


  4. Totally agree about the campfire. I had a lovely night on the south coast where fires were allowed. A few years ago but remember it well. Nice to have a stove these days when it really raining. The H frame packs are thankfully consigned to history.


  5. A very enjoyable read with superb photos, thank you Peter – and also for taking me places that possibly my feet won’t ever get me to!


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