It occurred to me, as I was zipping up my camo wind jacket against the morning chill of a recent hunting trip, that us outdoorsy types have it pretty good nowadays.
Gore-tex waterproofing, Thinsulate warmth protection, ultra-lightweight gear from boots to backpacks.
I appreciate these technological developments, because most of them didn’t exist when my ma introduced me to the wonders of the outdoors – which was often cold, wet, hot and just plain uncomfortable.
It still can be, obviously, but we’re far better equipped to deal with the elements.
Our first tent, for instance, was a canvas behemoth that weighed more than a mini-van, and was about as waterproof as a vegetable strainer.
One of the first times we coaxed my less-than-enthusiastic father to come camping, it rained (of course).
Actually, it did more than rain. It hosed. It deluged. It rivered through the tent.
Poking a cranky bear in the butt with a sharp stick would have elicited a more congenial response than what was being emoted by dad at the time. It was to be the last occasion we would share the joys of tenting with dear old pa.
We eventually upscaled to nylon pup tents. They were a vast improvement in terms of weight over the canvas warehouse. But waterproof? Technology still had a long way to go in that regard.
Ditto sleeping bags. Goose down was lightweight and warm, but in a leaky tent – well, it was like sleeping in a roll of soggy tofu.
And if you had a mummy bag, like I did, you’d wake up in the morning with the string closure knotted around your neck and the metal zipper hopelessly jammed. And there you’d be, arms pinned to your sides, fighting back the claustrophobia, imagining the searchers finding you in several weeks, fatally entombed in your nylon cocoon.
The sleeping pads were quite something, too. You could go with the standard thick foam type, but they’d only roll down to the size of a double-wide futon.
Or, you could get the thin, dense foam units, which stowed easily, and weighed only a few scant ounces.
But then you’d have a whole new appreciation for the story of the Princess and the Pea.
A tiny pine cone under one of those things was akin to trying to sleep while draped over a lawnmower.
Yet those weight savings were all-important, because although the backpacks of the day were transitioning from wood frames to aluminum tubing, the manufacturers still hadn’t fully grasped the concept of ergonomic design.
Therefore, the equation was simple: More weight equals more pain.
For me, the bliss of backpacking wore off over the years, regardless of the high-tech advances.
The only “packing” I do now is if I’m fortunate enough to get game. And in that regard, I’ve found the ultimate solution.
My two regular partners both have about a half a foot in height, and 50 pounds of muscle mass over me.
Now it’s just a matter of a friendly “Fetch!” There are still occasions when brute force trumps technology.
There is one thing about the great outdoors that science has never improved upon, nor should it.
And on one of my recent trips, I must say, I sorely missed this particular aspect.
Due to extremely dry conditions, we had to pass on a camp fire.
If you love the outdoors, you know that an evening fire is integral to the experience. There is just nothing like the penetrating warmth, and the swirling colours of a wood blaze.
Sometimes, the simplest things are best.