Sunday, July 18, 2010

How I Spend My Summer Vacations: Real Gear for the Real World

In many of my blog posts and commentary on other peoples blogs I make a point to speak about the historical differences between fashion design and use in the past vs. the present.  Companies often frame the discussion as "made in the U.S.A." vs. foreign import.  I think that is a silly premise.  Quality goods are quality goods if they are made well, designed well, and produced ethically. Those are the values that should be considered.  The Japanese make the best American style denim in the world.  Japan was considered one of the first enemies of domestic American jobs back in the 1970s.  The real value of well made clothing in the historical sense was its functionality, durability and beauty.  Workwear had to be made to last.  If a pair of boots cost the equivelent of half a weeks wages, those boots better last!  That is the paradigm of quality, and in Japan where living space is a premium, quality multipurpose wardrobes are the norm.  I believe this gives young Japanese both the motivation and inclination to purchase high priced well made goods!
Every summer I spend my time as much as possible in the Ontario wilderness.  I pack up my best light weight gear into my çanoe and travel overland from lake to lake and camp to camp to clear my head of lifes stresses and find solace from my urban life. 
Algonkians and Iroquois used the canoe as a form of transportation.  Native peoples and fur traders could travel from the Atlantic coast through the Great Lakes region all the way to Manitoba and James Bay.  In my province there are more than 250 000 lakes and this makes for one of  the greatest ancient natural transportation systems in the world.  In the wilderness the quality of your gear is paramount.  For one week of canoeing Nancy and I each take: 1 pair long pants, 1 shorts/swim suit, 2 short sleve shirts, 1 long sleve shirt, 3 underwear, 3 socks, 1 fleece, 1 hat, 1 rain jacket, 1 boots, 1 1940s motorcycle belt and 1 sandal.  That's it for clothing so your clothes better be good.  This trip I took my new 1970s Herman's boots I bought on Ebay a few months back.  They were incredible.  The boots have great summer traction and ankle support for portaging..but they dry out quickly and are warm and comfortable. 
My packs tend to be U.S. military issue packs.  U.S. military gear is some of the best quality out there.  After the failure of my North Face rain gear last year leading to hypothermia in October when I was rained on in my canoe for 5 hours, I switched out to military rain gear.  US Vietnam Jungle Issue ripstop pants are far and away the best tripping pants I've ever owned, they dry out in 10 minutes with body heat and are indestructible.  For summer only, my LL Bean fleecy cotton shirt is acceptable and makes a nice pillow lining too!
This year I took a Champion ringspun 70s t-shirt.  It was both reasonably warm and rip resistant.  But even better the thick cotton tended to absorb a lot of sweat and be difficult for the mosquitoes to bite through!!! My sunglasses are from the best company in the world Maui Jim.  As silly as the brand name is..their glasses have the best polarization I have seen since Revo's (you can see right through the waters surface and not canoe over rocks)...and they have the best customer service I have ever experienced.  They replaced two broken lenses on two pairs for free!   I also bring my 1920s folding reading glasses.  You never know when you are going to have to tie a fishing knot or do some other delicate work.  The truth is when you are out in the woods for a week, travelling every day there is little outside help or opportunity to fix anything.  Equipment failures are disasterous so the best quality and redundancy are your two best friends!  That is what is valued in the old vintage mindset.  Multi-use, high quality, built to last, repairable workwear.