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Vintage trail gear, built to last

June 22, 2004|R.J. Secor

R.J. Secor, mountaineer and author of the Sierra climbing bible "The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails," gives retailers the willies. He buys used backpacking gear, then tests the bounds of its endurance. A few testimonials:

Mountain Products jacket: "I wear this parka while putting on tire chains, sitting around smoky campfires or riding in the back of open trucks or jeeps, traveling dirt roads in the darkest parts of central Asia or the sunniest parts of central Mexico. I wore it up to 21,000 feet on Everest in 1990." It's made of Reevair, a '60s-era material like Gore-Tex. Cost: $1, purchased from a friend in the late 1970s.

Knockoff stove: "I've burned unleaded automobile gasoline in it ever since I bought it and have never replaced the wick, fuel cap or anything else. I have used it as high as 23,000 feet, when other stoves conk out." It's a Taiwanese repro of a Svea 123R, a Swedish classic. Cost: $15 in 1983.

Lowe Alpine Systems

Expedition internal-frame pack: "Marmots chewed through the shoulder straps a few years ago, and Lowe honored their lifetime guarantee and made new shoulder straps for me at no charge." Cost: $60 in 1976.

Asolo Yukon leather boots: Lightweight hiking shoes from Target or Kmart complement the heavy-duty Yukons. "They've been resoled three times." Cost: $80 in 1979.

Holubar Royalight down sleeping bag: A 4-pounder rated to 0 degrees, it goes on treks to Mexico's volcanoes and the Sierra. "It's a down bag, but I prefer synthetic bags because they'll keep you warm even when wet." Cost: $20 in 1971.

The North Face Mountain tent: "I used it on Mt. Rainier last summer, but mostly I just use the fly as a tarp." It dates to the early '70s. Cost: $20, at a garage sale in 1995.

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The latest stuff: Does it pass muster?

The price of new backpacking gear drives Secor to garage sales to replenish his stash of old reliables, but he still sees a lot to like in the latest crop of stuff. A few first impressions:

Marmot 8000M jacket: "This is a good 20-below parka; however, I've rarely encountered 20 below. I like the DryLoft because it breathes and is great in cold weather. And the inside pockets are big enough for water bottles." Cost: $575.

Brunton Optimus Nova stove: "This is really a great stove. No plastic to crack in the cold. You can simmer as well as turn it on full blast. It compacts well and requires a minimum amount of assembly. It's lightweight and has a simple magnetic cleaning system. One disadvantage is that it has only one jet." Cost: $150.

MontBell Monoframe Diamond tent: "This is a light [2.7-pound] summer tent. The fly can be used alone, creating a self-supporting tarp. I prefer tarps because they are lighter, drier and thus warmer." Cost: $220.

Lowa Renegade II GTX Mid boots: "It's light [2.2 pounds per pair], and it has a good sole and heel. A raised heel is more important for secure footing than a lug sole. I'm not convinced that a waterproof-breathable laminate works in boots; it tends to break down rather quickly." Cost: $170.

Arc'teryx Bora 80 backpack: "I don't like compartments; they cut down on the usable space in a pack. The full-length side zipper can leak in the rain. As with most of the new internal-frame packs, it's too heavy."

Cost: $370.

Mountain Hardwear Wraith SL down sleeping bag: "I like the colors. The zipper doesn't work well. The collar will really keep you warm. I've had bad luck with waterproof-breathable bags. The moisture tends to get trapped in the insulation. I prefer a synthetic fill." Cost: $525.

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