I’ve found that the best way to avoid owning disappointing stuff is to avoid purchasing it in the first place. If a ‘good one’ will last three times as long as a cheap one, I try to get the good one, even if it costs three times as much. Price-wise, they work out about the same, but I get to enjoy a higher quality product for the entire time. The downside of this approach is that if the item lasts for decades, I miss out on technological improvements during the intervening years. I also glide over the vagaries of fashion, so there’s still a fair bit of ‘teal and grape’ among my motley assortment of tramping gear.
As a teenager, I saved up my paper round money for good quality equipment. My reasoning was that at 3am on a freezing night, I wouldn’t regret having spent the extra for a ‘proper’ down sleeping bag. If my gear lets me down, I want to feel annoyed with the manufacturer, not annoyed with myself. Down bags were supposed to last for an unimaginable (to teenaged-me) 20 years, and Macpac packs had a ‘lifetime’ guarantee.
It was with much excitement that I raided the local ATM, and headed to Tisdalls to plonk down $200 for my Fairydown Scorpion (my parents paid the other half) and $160 for my half-price fire-engine red Macpac Torre. Thirty years on, neither of them is quite as pretty (the purchases, not the parents), but they still get the job done.
After a decade of abuse — tramping in the misty Tararuas, backpacking around Europe, hauling firewood — my Torre was somewhat the worse for wear. Its harness was coming adrift, its ice-axe loops were missing, and the shock cord on the crampon patch had lost its snap. I took the pack to Tisdalls to ask if they could get a quote for repairs. A couple of weeks later, it turned up with a brand new harness, new ice-axe loops, new shock cord; all free of charge, ‘under warranty’. The wording of their warranty has changed since those days, but Macpac earned a lifetime customer that day. They may not have sold me a tramping pack in a while, but they’ve sold me plenty of other stuff to carry in it. I’ve yet to have a Macpac product wear out, although my wife may beg to differ, with regard to my battered fleece jacket.
The Torre is very roomy — plenty of space for all the stuff I need. This also means there’s usually plenty of space left over for all the stuff I think I might need. In more recent years, my knees have lost their sense of humour when it comes to popping a two-person tent in my pack, on the off-chance that I might need it. The harness is very adjustable, and super-comfortable. It was never the lightest pack on the hill, but it wears its weight well. Being made from canvas, and reinforced with buffalo hide and mahogany, it will happily float your stuff through gorges, haul your stuff through leatherwood, and be none (or at least, not much) the worse for wear.
It has a handy little pouch tucked away in the lid. It’s perfect for stashing wallets and keys, and so discreet it took me about five years to discover it.
If the Torre is packed like a sausage, getting to the stuff at the bottom can be a chore. There’s no courtesy light, and it’s pretty deep, down there. Having a single big container means everything can go in a single big pack liner, which is very convenient and helps keep stuff dry. I try to make sure the dry-bags within the bag each have a distinctive texture, so my groping fingers can find what I’m after more easily.
Fairydown bumped along for a while, reappearing as ‘Zone’, but my Scorpion has trucked along like a champion all this time. It’s warm enough without being too hot, light enough without being too tight, and very, very purple.
Being filled with down, it compresses small enough that I regularly take it even on day walks, ‘just in case’. On an unscheduled night in the bush last year, this feature meant it was in my pack, rather than in my wardrobe, and it made all the difference.
I’ve always been dubious about ‘hydrophobic’ fills and ‘waterproof’ fabrics for sleeping bags. I prefer my sleeping bag to focus on keeping me warm, and let me worry about keeping us dry. That said, if it were ever to get properly wet, it would make for a very long night.
It’s certainly met its ’20-year’ promise, however. From a winter camp below the Pinnacles on Mt Ruapehu, to the South London flat where it acted as a duvet for a year (its zip mated with that of a Macpac Azure — scandal!) I’ve never thought, ‘wish I’d got a synthetic bag’.
These days my Torre is a dull russet, and eventually, its harness will wear out again. One day the decreasing loft in my Scorpion will leave me shivering. For their replacements, I will be looking not just for a pack and a sleeping bag, but for equipment and a brand that’s going to look after me for another 30 years. When testing ourselves against the Great Outdoors, ‘being seen dead’ in a product is a very real possibility. I’m quite capable of getting myself into trouble. I rely on my gear to help keep me out of it.
(This article was amended to reflect that Fairydown New Zealand Ltd that makes bedding, is not connected to the Fairydown trademark and outdoor gear).