Progress is frequently made when someone challenges common assumptions that we may not even realize are in place. Our eyes are suddenly opened to something new, and that new thing can quickly become the norm. We often wonder, how did we live like that? A new approach can seem so obvious in retrospect.
Let's take hiking boots as an example. I remember very clearly as an eager teenage boy, listening to a guide tell me that I needed very heavy lug soled boots when I first started to hike and climb. He was of german descent, and said that heavy boots were "traveling by Mercedes", while lighter boots were "Volkswagens". That seems funny today, as so many people hike exclusively in running shoes on even the toughest off trail talus. For me, boots have their place only in winter, and even then only when crampons and steep snow and ice are a serious obstacle.
But conventional wisdom is also often reinforced. Many people have boldly set out to challenge some nugget of wisdom only to learn that maybe the wisdom was in place for good reason. There's only one way to find out if your idea falls into the "new breakthrough" category or the "dumb idea" category.
As I've been planning some challenging hikes this summer, I'm re-thinking some assumptions. I've already written that I am planning to go stoveless, but I don't consider that very bold or significant. It's simpler to go without a stove, but it poses no real risk to my safety or success.
Rain gear is another story. Nearly everyone lists it as a must have item in the mountains. Actually, I wouldn't say "nearly everyone" lists rain gear as a must have item. In actual fact, it is everyone. Every. Single. Gear. List. Ever. Made. Do I really need a waterproof jacket in the Sierra, in summertime? Let's think about it.
Summer rain in the Sierra is almost always in the form of short thunderstorms. These can be violent, cold and wet, and I've seen snow in July and August. But those are the exceptions. I will have a waterproof tarp, a dry sleeping bag, and dry clothes at all times. Do I need another waterproof layer? I will have a synthetic vest and a synthetic top with a hood (Patagonia R1 Hoody). These will keep me warmish, even if I'm soaked, especially if I am walking. In light storms, I might get a little wet. Why take two pieces of gear that do the same thing? If I get very wet and cold, I'll stop, set up my shelter and get in my bag. I'll be warm in a few minutes. I'll wait for the weather to pass, then I'll pack up and keep walking. If it stays really bad for a long time, I'll simply stay under my shelter.
On the Sierra High Route this summer I plan to be walking all the time. There will be no relaxing time in camp. I'll be walking, eating or sleeping. That changes the nature of what I need to carry. I only need gear to keep me warm while walking, which is relatively little compared to what's needed when lounging around camp. So I will also drop the puffy down jacket I bring on most trips.
I've been hiking in the Sierra for over thirty years. Looking back, the number of times I have needed rain gear to stay safe is exactly zero. None. Never. It's kept me warm and dry many times - but I didn't need it to stay safe. I have always had other options I could use to get warm and dry. If things get bad, it is very possible I might regret this choice. But I don't see a plausible situation where it could put me in any jeopardy. I'll be very aware of what I am carrying (and more importantly, not carrying), and I will act accordingly. I don't advocate that this is the right approach for everyone. Not at all. But for this trip, for me and my goals this summer, I'm dropping the jacket.
I will let you know if this turns out to be in the "dumb idea" category.