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I have always wanted to do this and today is just as good a time as any so here goes. Please feel free to chime in with your comments or additions. Just please, keep it civil and friendly. It’s just a stupid list everyone, okay.
# 10 Internal frame backpack: In the not so distant past you either had an canvas or cotton duck alpine style rucksack or an aluminum frame backpack. They were uncomfortable, heavy and down right awkward to wear and pack. Now we have ergonomically designed packs that are light weight, well fitted, and are cogent to pack. Many are well fitted to the hiker and offer a myriad of design features, accessories and colors to suit even the most discriminating taste.
# 9 Mummy style sleeping bags: I think this was a spin off technology from the boy’s with the 10th Mountain Division in Colorado during WWII. Compared to the traditional "cowboy" style sleeping bag, the mummy offers comfort and range of motion to the occupant and at the same time saves on volume and weight. With the advent of new light synthetic fabrics and fills, the weight is considerably reduced over canvas and cotton duck and they compact to almost nothing saving on valuable space in your pack. You can also burry your head completely in a mummy bag which is difficult at least with a traditional straight style sleeping bag.
# 8 Solo tents: In the past, almost all tents were at a minimum “two” person affair, often heavy and complicated to set up. Again with the advent of synthetic fabrics and light weight alloys, many practical one person or Solo tents are out there on the market today. These super light tents afford the occupant ample space to stretch out while sleeping along with secure stowage of gear from any marauding night stalking critters looking for an easy meal. They also segregate those hikers who snore like a banshee and alow others to get a full nights rest.
# 7 Digital technologies: If there was a peace dividend from the space race we can all agree on it was the development of digital technology. If it weren’t for this singular development none of our hi-tech gadgets like smart phones, digital cameras, mp3 players, digital sports watches, and a whole list of other gizmos, would not be possible.
# 6 Lithium Batteries: Lithium has done for battery technology what dieselization did to the railroad industry after WWII. Instead of dozens used during a thru-hike, the number can be counted on both hands.
# 5 LED technologies: LED or Light Emitting Diode is another technology that has totally transformed thru-hiking. Remember those crude incandescent, heavy steel flashlights that if you forgot to turn off would drain your precious D call batteries? Not anymore, and with only three AAA size lithium batteries, you can burn all night long and have energy to spare in the morning.
# 4 The Water Bladder: Someone had their thinking cap on when they contrived the water bladder or camel. I still have nightmares about pulling my Boy Scout canteen out of its cover, taking a swig, then wrestling for fifteen minutes trying to stow it. Now with the camel, you just take the nozzle into your mouth; take a draw of cool refreshing water without breaking your stride. Incredible!
# 3 The Spork: Yes, the humble Spork! Who ever invented the Spork should receive a Nobel Prize for engineering or whatever equivalent that is appropriate. It truly has contributed significantly to the thru-hiker life style. It is sleek, original, ergonomic, utilitarian, and just plain genius.
# 2 Synthetic fabrics: If you started thru-hiking after 1980, you don’t remember leather, wool, canvas, cotton duck, denim or any of the natural fabrics used to make equipment and clothing. They were heavy, stiff, and hard to dry out if they got wet and sometimes deteriorated significantly from moisture. Synthetic fabrics are another peace dividend from the space race that gave us such innovations as nylon, cordura, polyester, and rayon just to name a few. Synthetic’s are durable while light in weight, fast drying and offer production to harmful UV radiation from the sun. Just about every piece of equipment or clothing found on a thru-hiker today contains synthetic materials instead of natural fibers.
# 1 Titanium: This alloy has totally revolutionized thru-hiking more than any other innovation over the past hundred or so years. Besides its non-corrosive properties, Titanium is super light weight, strong, and can be used in a multitude of applications from cooking gear, accessories, hardware, tent poles, stakes, etc… No longer does a thru-hiker have to carry enormous weights on their backs from items made of iron, steel or aluminum. Titanium, in this humble hiker’s opinion, is the number one innovation of the outdoor adventure community since the invention of the sulfur stick match. Pure and simple, Titanium has reshaped and transformed just about every aspect of outdoor equipment; from conception, design, manufacturing to marketing this miracle alloy has made it all possible. Fin.