Durability Does Not Mean Heavyweight
In this economy, we all want to buy backpacking and camping gear that is durable and going to last. But as consumers, we need to realize that many outdoor manufacturers overbuild their gear with less expensive and heavier materials in order to keep their manufacturing costs low and reduce their rate of product returns and customer support calls.
The Case of Tents
Take tents, for example. Manufacturers like Big Agnes, MSR, REI, and others, sell a lot of double-walled tents that are made using urethane coated nylon. The stuff is pretty indestructible with minimal care, but adds a lot of weight to a tent that could just be built using lighter weight silnylon. On top of that, tent manufacturers created this myth that you need to use a tent footprint under a tent to make it last longer and prevent water from seeping up into the floor.
Just my opinion, but these heavy duty fabrics add a huge amount of unnecessary weight to peoples’ packs and don’t have any material impact on the effective lifetime of a tent. Most people, even rabid camping fanatics, don’t use their tents more than a dozen nights a year. You need to question why a heavier tent is going to be more durable, when one made with lighter weight materials, will last just a long.
Consider silnylon tarp tents. They’re used by many Appalachian trail thru-hikers (the Samonsite gorillas of the backpacking industry) more nights in 6 months than your average backpacker would use them in a lifetime, and they standup to the abuse just fine.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t demand durable products from outdoor manufacturers. What we should demand is the use of lighter weight fabrics that have a high degree of durability and are not overly expensive. Material science has progressed beyond pack cloth and urethane coated nylon.
The good news news is that there is movement in this direction, particularly from backpack manufacturers. Mainstream manufacturers like Osprey and Mountain Hardware are incorporating lighter weight fabrics into their backpacks, in order to sell to baby boomers who are living longer but want lighter weight packs.
Equally encouraging, is the use of more durable fabrics by cottage gear manufacturers who also want to tap into the boomer market. It’s a tradeoff, but smart cottage brands are using more durable fabrics without increasing gear weight or cost to expand their sales into a new consumer base. Durability is still important, but it has to be affordable and light.
What do you think about the durability of lightweight backpacking gear?
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