Choosing your outdoor gear……..think in terms of systems.

It never ceases to amaze me how quick we are nowadays to ask the public at large for advice on purchases. On every outdoor forum you will see “l need some new boots….looking for recommendations”. Really? Well apart from the obvious fact that everyones feet are different, the uses to which they will be put will also be as unique and varied as we ourselves are……and they will have to fit in with our systems and behaviour. As buyers we seem petrified of going to a shop and asking for advice from the staff there in case they try to sell us something we don’t want. This is particularly weird as shop staff are trained to first establish your needs and wants before pointing you at anything you might want to buy!

In this blog I want to explain the importance of considering your systems when purchasing kit. Lets take stoves as an example. There are gas stoves, pressurised paraffin and petrol stoves, meths stoves, wood burning stoves, stoves that have dedicated pots, stoves that have heat reflecting bases, stoves that convert other stoves, stoves that have windshields and stoves that need wind shields.

So if you want to buy a new stove, you need to think about what it is for, are you just boiling water or cooking haute cuisine? Is it just for you or are you catering for a family of 5? How many days use will it get in a row without purchasing more fuel and how that might influence the choice. For example a liquid fuel paraffin stove is one of the heavier stoves around, but even in winter it will only use 90ml of paraffin per person per day (based on a good breakfast, three course evening meal, loads of tea and a litre flask for lunch). Therefore if you are going on a 5 day trip the saving in weight of fuel will probably offset the weight of the stove itself quite well.

Having thought about your needs, you also need to think about what you have already. I once bought my son a small cannister top gas stove and a good quality heat exchanger pot. I lit the stove filled the pot and placed it on the stove, which it immediately fell off. The two were not compatible, the supports of the stove slipped between the fins of the heat exchanger, causing the pot to tilt and spill. You see we cannot consider these things in isolation. I modified the same stove and we used it on a windy hilltop. It had been really fast at home, but on that hilltop it had an inadequate windshield, and none of those I owned would do the job, the stove was too tall…..again it needs to integrate into your system.

Sometimes a stove comes as a complete system, witness the Jetboil or the MSR Windburner, an integrated stand, fuel source, burner and pot. All you need to do is make sure your spoon is long enough! However systems like this are inflexible and only applicable to quite narrow requirement criteria, in this case where you need to do little more than boil water.

Sometimes you are doing something extraordinary and everything you buy is for that trip, and that trip only. Here you may be buying all the components of the system from scratch. Nice if you have the cash, but again you will waste cash if you fail to consider all the cooking components as a complete system.

Ok we have talked about stoves, but this concept is just as true across all gear requirements. Your sleeping bag/liner/cover/bivvi bag/sleeping mat/long-johns and vest combination for instance . Often I am serving in a well known outdoor gear shop and a customer will show me a jacket and say “will this keep me warm?” obviously I ask where and when it will be used, but equally I am asking with what base-layer, with what shell jacket etc, every item of clothing you wear or carry is part of a system…..sometimes two systems. Think about the battery in your torch…it might also fit your GPS, your camera, your radio. Sometimes we need our systems to integrate!

So look at reviews, read magazine tests, ask on forums by all means, but when you go to buy your crampons, take your winter boots and make sure the crampons fit before you leave the store, and if you use yeti gaiters take them too….it’s all part of your system.

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