Breathability of these
modern fabrics is
variable, and depends on several external factors. Dirt, and even human
sweat, can block the porous membrane that allows moisture out making
maintenance essential, and to work effectively you need "wickable"
layers underneath......there's no point having a beathable outer layer
if water vapour gets trapped by your base layer.
Over the last 20 years
Gore-Tex, in particular, and other similar technologies have been
incorporated into almost every type of outdoor equipment from jackets
to boots, and socks to Bivvy bags. It may not always be perfect, and
experiences of breathable membranes vary from person to person, but
it's a BIG advance from the old style PU proofed nylon cagoule of the
Over the years Gore-Tex, and other breathable membranes have
taken on numerous guises with varying degrees of breathability, stretch
and wear resistance. Most breathable fabric clothing is referred to as
a "shell" and includes many of the leading mountain jackets
3. Durable Water
Repellent Treatments (DWR)
Closely related to Gore Tex and breathable membranes, DWR
is a coating
added to fabrics
at the factory to make them water-resistant. Durable water repellents
are commonly used in conjunction with waterproof breathable fabrics
prevent the outer layer of fabric from wetting out - where the
water overpowers the fabric and blocks the pores that allow water
Over time DWR coatings tend to wear off, but can be
reapplied at home using treatments added to a wash. As the
helps maintain the breathable nature of waterproof breathable outerwear
periodic DWR re-treatment is recommended to prolong the product's life.
DWR is also used as a coating for non membrane clothing to provide
lightweight waterproofs or water repllant coatings for items like sleeping
DWR gives today's outdoors enthusiast an
lightweight, showerproof, clothing where a full scale membrane based
shell is overkill.
DWR fabrics can be
rejuvinated with a
simple wash in additive
4. Global Positioning
In the 1980s there was only one way of navigating in the
- the time honoured system of learning how to use a map and compass.
Over the last ten years GPS has slowly made inroads from car based
satellite navigation to dedicated outdoors use. GPS receivers can
locate your position anywhere on the surface of the planet using a
series of orbiting satellites to pinpoint your location to within a few
Early models were notorious for losing connection to the
satellites, but modern receivers like the Satmap
can aquire and keep a signal even without a direct
of sight to the satellites. GPS has made the outdoors more accessible
while increasing safety margins by providing fast
of your location when in doubt.
The GPS market is one of the fastest
growing areas of outdoor equipment, with receivers becoming commonplace
and commonly linked to on-board digital mapping. The
technology was initially distrusted and often accompanied by a
statement that "GPS is not a substitute for map and compass", but as
the technology matures it is rapidly becoming a realistic alternative -
providing you take the same care with a GPS as you would when using a
GPS has brought map and
the 21st century
Mobile phones are taken for granted in the 21st century,
little more than 15 years ago the idea of a phone with worldwide
reception, in a truly portable format was science fiction. Mobile
were just becoming available but the handsets were the size and weight
of a brick, and the battery pack more akin to a car battery than a
Duracell. Roll the clock forward to today and almost everyone has an
all singing, all dancing, box of tricks that can send and receive phone
calls along with a multitude of other functions.
In outdoor terms the mobile phone has given increased security, or at
least the perception of it. Unfortunately this is a double edged sword,
and while mobiles have undoubtedly helped bring assistance quickly in
emergencies they've also resulted in a decrease in self reliance.
mountain rescue available from almost anywhere there's been an
increasing tendency for call outs where previously the caller would
have walked out rather than seek help. At its best the mobile phone is
a superb saftey addition to a rucksack, but with outlying areas often
proving difficult to obtain recption they're by no means infallible and
should never replace common sense and self reliance.
6. Ultralight Synthetic
For generations cotton and wool ruled supreme in the outdoor world.
Tents were either a cotton inner and outer or for those with
money cotton inner with a nylon outer. Cotton was breathable, but
didn't handle the damp well, while wool provided insulation (even when
damp) but at the expense of bulk and weight.
The late 1980s and 1990s
saw an explosion in new synthetic materials and crossovers between
different outdoor activities. Hill walkers started looking to sailing,
wind surfing and parachuting for lightweight materials - many of which
could be combined with DWR coatings (see above) or have direct coatings
The new fabrics have drastically reduced weights for major items of
equipment, with silicon coated groundsheets and flysheets for tents,
wafer thin tarps and water resistant outers for down based products.
Where a two man tent of the 80's would way several kilos, today's
ultralight tents can weigh less than 1 kilo.
The decrease in size and
weight has a knock on effect with less space required in your rucksack,
and has created a generation of lightweight enthusiasts who can head
into the hills carrying single figure kilo laden packs. With new
fabrics and the internet combined new developments in the USA have made
their way to the UK almost as soon as they're developed, and
lightweight specialist shops have sprung up to service this new and
fabrics have led to
radical new thoughts on equipment design
A space-age material that's become commonplace in the
world., titanium is another step along the ultra lightweight path. Back
in the 80's it was a futuristic and mega-expensive material
desired for its weight to strength ratio. It didn't take long for the
outdoor world to jump on the bandwagon once Titanium became widely
available at a reasonable price. If something was previously made of
metal then someone would replace it with a titanium alternative.
old style "Billy" was already being replace with lighter, aluminium,
alternatives but aluminium has a tendency to bend with relatively light
pressure and titanium offered amore robust option without adding
weight. Walk into any outdoor shop these days and you'll see an array
of titanium products from cook
The days of the old brass Primus stove (pictured above)
have long gone, and now you have gas stoves made from titanium - heat
resistant, solid and lightweight. Allied to the
of the screw top, re-sealable, gas canister camp site cooking has been
revolutionised in the last 20 years.
Modern lightweight stove
It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you
outdoor technology, but the last 20 years has seen enormous advances in
lighting technology. Back in 89 the best headtorch you could get was a
Petzl Zoom with halogen bulb and a big heavy flat battery cell, move
forward 20 years and todays headlights are cheaper, lighter and
Today you can pick up a head-torch for less than a fiver that
will run on a couple of AAA batteries and last a weekend, and high end
models can turn night into day. Head-torches like Alpkit's Gamma
come with multiple LED's
which can be used individually or combined and offer
coloured lights (eg red to preserve night vision) and emergency
At less than 120gm with batteries and enough power to last all
night in winter the new style lights have become indispensable and a
standard piece in most walkers' rucksacks.
Modern headtorches are
brighter and stronger than ever before
For centuries we've relied on
paper maps for navigation and route planning, and thanks to the best
mapping in the world we've been more than happy with that. In the 1990s
a new way came along as Memory Map brought mapping to the computer
desktop. It may seem like no big deal, but it opened up new
possibilities to mark planned routes non-destructively for the first
Previously you could always laminate your map if you wanted to
make temporary marks, but today's digital mapping can do this and a
whole lot more. Combining digital mapping with other new technologies
you can put maps on a portable device , and have your GPS generated
position marked live on screen. Digital maps can be marked, amended and
customised to your hearts content without damage to the original, used
to share precise route details with friends and plan your forthcoming
trips in full 3D.
Digital mapping can be combined with aerial and
satellite imagery to give photo-realistic views and printed out on
waterproof paper time after time at a fraction of the cost of buying
multiple paper based OS maps. The downside with digital mapping is the
present system of licencing - where the OS refuse to allow you to use a
map bought for use with one mapping application with another, and make
sure you can't by insisting on proprietory file types for each system.
Digital mapping helps
plan and review
your routes without damaging the original
and Blacks Organic Chocolate
In three years Green and Black's Organic Chocolate sales grew nearly
800% and became the fastest growing confectionary brand in the UK.
After a century or more of Kendal Mint Cake we had a real alternative
emergency food - and one that brings a little bit of luxury.
Kendal Mint Cake will
never be the
same since G&B hit the shelves in 2002
(An editorial confession - okay,
it's my fault that the chocolate's here. Dave was scrabbling for a
final techno-star and, erm, well, yes, it was my suggestion as the one
thing I always carry on the hill - so blame me. Jon - OM editor)
As we've seen over the last twenty years technology is
the move, and the chances are that another twenty years down the line
we'll have new gadgets and shiny things we haven't even dreamed of yet.
Mobile communication advances mean by 2029 Personal locator beacons
will probably be commonplace, with live web based tracking on the fly.
looks set to make a major impact with fabric
molecular level giving reliable waterproof clothing built in. Broadband
speeds in excess of 100Mb per second will allow live HD transmissions
of trips and expeditions, whilst improved satellite tracking will boost
safety and communication from anywhere on the planet.
The one thing we can be sure of, looking back at the last 20 years, is
that the next generation will bring as many surprises as it will bring
Discuss this story
excellent report on modern kit.
thank you dave for another interesting contribution to this fantastic website.
Posted: 14/07/2009 at 22:12
See more comments...
Um, err, nitpicking perhaps, but the article talks about the last 20 years, in which case.... breathable membranes and lightweight fabrics???
To be fair Dave does say Goretex was invented in 1980. I know I bought my first goretex waterproof in 1982. I'd say by the mid 80s Goretex was commonplace and a whole host of competing breathable coatings had hit the market in force. I can't remember quite when Sympatex first appeared.
Likewise tents and clothing. Robert Saunders and others were making lightweight nylon tents in the 70s. I can't remember the name of the tent Hamish Brown used on his continuous Munros round but it was about 1.5kg and it wasn't cotton!My first tent was a 2-person 2kg Saunders Backpacker 2 bought in 1981. What changed was the advent of flexibles poles enabling much more spacious designs - I got my first Quasar (weighing around 4kg for a 2-man, 4-pole geodesic) in 1982 - it's still a classic design (although admittedly I'm happier carrying the 2.4kg Superlite version now!)
Likewise, Rohan began the lightweight clothing revolution with polycotton classics like Bags trousers and the Pampas windproof jacket around 1980 or so - I was certainly buying their stuff by 1982, and others like Mountain Equipment soon followed suit. Also from the early 80s Rohan produced excellent breeches(!!) and salopettes in stretch Multiflex fabric - in many ways the forerunner of the recent softshell bandwagon. Helly Hansen Lifa thermal underwear was the de facto standard for baselayers (ooh, the pong! ), also de rigeur were their fibrepile jackets, and fleece appeared by about 84 or 85, including really light weight offerings like ME Ultrafleece. And Karrimor KSBs started the trend to lightweight fabric/suede/Goretex lined footwear around 83 or 84.
I guess technology moves ever onwards, but maybe for some of those 10 items the article needs to be looking back 25 or 30 years, not 20.
Posted: 14/07/2009 at 23:20