One of the things that I've learned over the past while is the value of lightweight gear, and the importance of only taking necessities, for the most part.I'm far from a lightweight purist - I still like my creature comforts - but it does make a tremendous difference to how fast you can move and how far you can go. My gut instinct is to over-prepare and bring anything I might ever need, but this generally leads to a heavy backpack, creaking at the seams.Anyway, here's a basic breakdown of what I'm currently working with. I have a wishlist that's fairly hefty, though!
Highlander Explorer 85
This is one of the older models, probably around 10-15 years old, which I inherited from my Dad (NB: he's not dead, it's just a turn of phrase.) It holds 85 litres (as the name suggests) and it's fairly bombproof - a good feature of a lot of the Highlander gear. It's also surprisingly light at 1.75kg - which isn't ultralight by any means, but when I weighed it I was expecting at least 2.2kg, which would be more in line with the current model. The reduced weight possibly has something to do with the fact that 10 years of air travel have gradually removed some of the features which it once had - like the ice axe fittings, the lid cords, and the chest buckle. It isn't pretty and it isn't flashy, but it sure as hell gets the job done. When it's full, the lack of compression straps mean it's sometimes a little bit like carrying a gorilla on your back, as it bounces around a bit. It's slightly waterproof, but not very. I don't really need 85l of space, and I'd love to upgrade to the OMM Villain at some point. I've also considered the Karrimor Panther 65l, periodically, but at the same weight it's not really worth it.
Vango Force Ten Helium 200
This is certainly my favourite bit of kit at the moment. The more I get used to its particular quirks and get better at pitching it, the more I love it. It should be said that it isn't at all challenging to pitch... but it takes practice and experience to pitch it well. Once you've mastered it, condensation problems vanish. The main problem I've had with it so far is that it is almost always a bit of an effort to fit the pole into both the eyelets without feeling like you're going to break the thing. However, on my most recent trip I found out that it seems to go a lot easier if you put it in as smoothly as possible without twisting it, so I'm hoping that might be the key. I opted for the 200 over the 100 primarily because the 100 seemed by all accounts to be a little too compact, and I like to have enough space to lay out my gear, and possibly even let someone else share with me in a pinch. The Tension Band System is magic - it's kept the tent solid as a rock in some pretty adverse conditions. I hope to do a more in depth review of the tent quite soon which hopefully might be useful to some people - I found it pretty difficult to find decent info on the tent online when I was thinking about buying it.
Generic Closed Cell Foam Mat
A while back I experienced for the first time the joy of a self-inflating mat - so much easier to sleep on than closed-cell. After a while I decided to buy one, and got what I thought was a bargain from Mountain Warehouse (the Iceland of the outdoors world.) It came with several tiny punctures and a dodgy valve, and by the time I'd fixed the holes and messed around with the valve it was too far gone to send back for a replacement. A couple of awful nights trying to sleep on my rucksack and folded clothes after the mat deflated convinced me that regardless of the brand, the chance of failure ruled out taking one on any kind of extended trip. So I reverted to closed-cell. My 1cm thick mat isn't quite as fun to sleep on, but I can sleep quite comfortably on it nonetheless. I've recently cut it down a bit just to reduce bulk, slicing off the corners and making it into a 3/4 length mat with an extra rectangle for my feet/sitting on.
Mountainlife Microlite 950 Sleeping Bag
Now this was a budget buy as well, also from Mountain Warehouse. It's actually done rather well so far - I felt it was a bit of a gamble buying it, and of course would have preferred down, but wanting it for longer trips (and also buying it back when I was having a few condensation problems with the Helium) I wanted something synthetic that didn't mind getting a bit wet now and again. It's rated -10c extreme and -3c to 15c comfort, but manufacturer ratings are so subjective that they don't really mean much, so I was pleased to find it kept me very toasty on some pretty cold nights. It has slightly less filling on the bottom, too, which means it probably cuts a little weight, although "microlite" is a definite misnomer as it weighs 1.4kg.
Craghoppers Kiwi Duo Convertible Trousers
I picked these up (as Americans say) from TK Maxx. I honestly love Craghoppers gear, as I've had nothing but good experiences with them These trousers dry really, really fast, so fast that I don't bother with waterproof trousers. They dry fastest in sunlight, but an hour in a sleeping bag generally dries them too. They can become shorts, but also have that effete 3/4 length option, which is always nice to have.
This is really one of the most basic, obvious pieces of clothing, but I feel it deserves a mention because I've had mine for about 5 years and it's still going strong. I've probably worn this more than any other piece of clothing I've possess (with the notable exception of some dungarees I had when I was a toddler.)
Again, nothing fancy, just bombproof Highlander gear that does what it says on the tin. Very handy in the tent because they fit the porch area almost exactly when spread out.
OMM Kamleika Smock
A more recent and long-overdue purchase. I was fed up with rubbishy sweaty cagoules. It's pretty breathable, not as much so as eVent fabric, but boy is it stretchy. It's also fun to watch the raindrops bead and bounce off it. And the orange trim on black looks fantastic.
Hi-Tec Kruger Hiking Boots
My feet really seem to like the Hi-tec lasts, so I got these recently instead of some more expensive, less comfortable boots. They're fine. Nothing too exciting. I'd really quite like to get some decent trail shoes, but the big boots make me feel like I can go anywhere (which is purely psychological.)
Campingaz Twister 270
I have the version without the Piezo ignition, which I'm fine with. It's actually a jolly decent little stove. You get a lot longer out of the cartridges if you stay away from the full blast, which has an added benefit of not deafening you. A fully open valve burning is extremely hot, but it doesn't actually give you a lot faster boil time. I use a bit of aluminium foil for a windbreak.
Anodised Aluminium Mug and Pot
At the moment I use a 500ml pot and a mug for almost everything. I have a aluminium frying pan too, but it doesn't see as much use as I'd like - I wouldn't mind some bacon butties one of these days! 500ml is about enough for pretty much every dinner I have, but I wouldn't mind something a little narrower and a little taller, with maybe a bit more volume.
Energiser 3-LED Headtorch
Man, these things really make you wonder what we did before LEDs were so available. This thing has an incredibly bright beam, also a red light for preserving night-vision, which is very handy. It runs for about 80hrs on two AAA batteries. I bought it when I lived in Dublin, so it cost me an arm and a leg, but you can get them for a lot cheaper.
I have a lot of other kit, including iPod, camera, monocular, rucksack cover, etc, but I think this list is more than long enough already. These are the basics, and as you can see there's a lot of room for improvement.