We reached out to Chris Townshend, outdoor writer and photographer, passionate wilderness enthusiast, and regular contributor to British outdoor magazine, The Great Outdoors, for our next installment of 10 Questions.
Townshend has written over 20 books in addition to hundreds of articles, and has a new title coming out this November, Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, about his 1982 Pacific Crest Trail hike. He used the Fusion 65 on the 2 week TGO Challange across the Scottish Highlands this year.
How did you get started backpacking?
I grew up in the countryside and enjoyed playing in the fields and woods from an early age. Then I discovered hillwalking and camping and then several years later backpacking. The discovery that I could move on each day and carry my gear with me was a real revelation.
What is your favorite piece of gear?
There have been many over the years. Pacerpoles, Tilley Hat, and Caldera Ti-Tri stove have been favourites for many years. The Six Moon Designs Fusion 65 is a favourite this year.
What is your favorite hike?
An impossible question! I can’t pick just one. For really long distance hikes I guess it must be the Pacific Crest Trail which is magnificent in every way. For shorter hikes one in my home mountains – the round of the five 4,000 foot summits in the Cairngorms.
Specializing in carrying cottage-industry lightweight gear brands, the Mountain Shop in Portland, Oregon has carved a niche out of the competitive outdoor retail industry in the Pacific Northwest. The specialization that started 77 years ago with founders Everett and Ida Darr selling their custom-made sleeping bags, the Nestle Down Hike Sleeper, along with custom-made backpacks and climbing equipment, now continues with brands like Six Moon Designs, Feathered Friends, and Hyperlight Mountain Gear.
“Our best selling brands are always the smaller companies that make light-weight equipment,” said Steve Korpi, the Mountain Shop’s hardgoods buyer. “We've carried Six Moon Designs for about 15 years. We carried them when they were a fringe thing, and now it is our our dominant brand.”
Korpi should know, he has been at the Mountain Shop since 1998 and has seen the evolution of the ultralight gear philosophy grow from nonexistence to mainstream. “When I started working here over 15 years ago light-weight was rarely an aspect that people were looking at,” he explained. “The words you would hear a lot were “bomber” and “storm-proof” and even Ray Jardine mentioned in his book about that era that the gear was made to survive the worst possible weather.”
Years later when light-weight products were introduced to the market it was so far from the mainstream it was a “fringe element” in the outdoor industry. “It took a special person to use gear that [would require] more care and fits in a lightweight pack. Years ago the pendulum swung to the Ray Jardine style, to the absolute minimum,” Korpi explained.
“Recently it swung more to the middle where average people were looking for more light weight options, and today there has been a mainstreaming of lightweight. [One year] the idea of a tent that sets up with trekking poles was something only the small cottage-industry brands made, and next year it’s something just about every brand has.”
It’s almost time for the annual gathering of long distance trail aficionados, ALDHA-West. September 26-28, the Mountaineers Meany Lodge near Stampede Pass, Washington will be filled with stories, triple crown awards, and lots of laughter. A few spots are still open for the weekend (open online until Thursday, September 18 at midnight, after that it will be walk-up first come/first served until full - 5-10 spots), so register now!
“The Gathering is the place to meet the who's who of long distance hiking,” said Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa, ALDHA-West President. “This annual event is a great way to reconnect with old trail friends, meet new ones, learn about new trails, and have fun with long distance hikers from near and far.
Not to be confused with ALDHA (Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association), a group of Appalachian Trail enthuiasts, ALDHA-West is a membership organization formed, quite simply, around those interested in the pursuit of all aspects of long distance hiking. From section hikers to thru-hikers to the likes of Cam “Swami” Honan who last year gave a riviting talk of his 12 long walks (a 15,000 mile journey in 18 months), the group loves backpacking in all forms.
Fastpacking is catching on. The freedom of traveling long distances with minimal pack weight over multiple days has influenced everything from ultrarunning and alpine ascents to long distance backpacking. With technological advances in ultralight gear, like the new Six Moon Designs Flight pack series, fastpackers can increasingly hit the trails with more comfort, and can focus on making miles with ease and without compromising safety.
The term Fastpacking was first used by Jim Knight in his 1988 100 mile, 38 hour traverse of the Wind River Range. Knight reported in an UltraRunning Magazine article, “We were wilderness running. Power hiking. Kind of backpacking, but much faster. More fluid. Neat. Almost surgical. Get in. Get out. I call it fastpacking.”
A cross between backpacking and mountain running, fastpacking has increasingly been featured in the media in the form of speed records, and three distinct styles have emerged: supported, self-supported, and unsupported.
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