So is lightweight new? When did people first get interested in ‘going lightweight’ whether for polar exploration, cycling, mountaineering, backpacking or adventure racing? It is not new, in fact it is over 100 years old. 13 years ago, just after completing Invisible on Everest , we were approached by TRAIL magazine to write a short piece on the 10 most significant lightweight innovations of the last twenty years It was assumed that lightweight innovation began recently. ‘It didn’t’, we said, ‘ the real lightweight pioneers were explorers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts from before the First World War. The most significant lightweight innovations all pre-dated 1983 and several came before the end of the nineteenth century.
In 2005 we completed the replication of Mallory 1924 Everest clothing on behalf of Mountain Heritage Trust. We were surprised by the results and revised our view of what going lightweight means. It is less about the weight of clothing and gear and more a way of thinking. It depends on sport, the nature of the challenge and the attitudes of those involved. George Leigh Mallory and Sandy Irvine intended a fast summit day and needed to have lightweight gear to have a chance of success. Technology and materials matter too.They were using natural materials, such as silk, wool and cotton, which, used with care and knowledge, combined comfort, functionality, versatility and were exceptionally light.
Lightweight approaches to outdoor activities are not new. They didn’t begin in the 1970s and 1980s, with the arrival of backpacking. Imagine a waterproof cape weighing around 150 grams that would fit in your pocket. It sounds like a candidate for super-light gear review. But it was made in 1855 using rubberised silk, it wouldn’t have breathed, but it was exceptionally light. Then Burberry came along at the end of the nineteenth century – light, wind-proof and it breathed. The Victorians and Edwardians then were the original lightweighters. They included people like the polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, cycle-camper Thomas Holding and Alpinists Philip Hope and W.Kirkpatrick. The inter-war Everesters such as George Leigh Mallory, Sandy Irvine and George Finch also used lightweight techniques, and in Continental Europe Pierre Allain developed an oiled silk ‘cagoule’ as part of his bivouac kit in the 1930s.Lightweight is a philosophy as much as a technique.
Find out more about some other lightweight pioneers :Thomas Holding who formed the Association of Cycle Camping in 1901 and designed his ingenious Phantom Kit
Lightweight Alpinists like Fred Mummery.