Sometimes a piece of kit comes along which becomes so much a part of you, that it’s more like a comfort blanket or childhood teddy bear than a rufty tufty piece of outdoor gear.
The Buffalo Belay jacket has been one such piece of kit, and so much more. But sadly after 20 years of faithful and devoted service it’s entered a final chapter of decrepitude, and it’s now time to say a fond farewell to the old chap.
I bought my Belay jacket back in 1994 for summer of alpine climbing in the Alps, a credible replacement for a Javelin fibre pile I’d had since the age of 13. The Javelin jacket back then was a prized procession of any aspiring young adventurer, having kept Doug Scott toasty on his infamous high altitude bivvy on the south summit of Everest in 1975. The most I’d managed with it was a few frosty nights on Ilkley moor in a survival bag.
But the Belay jacket would turn out to be my Javelin, albeit through slightly less hair raising adventures than Mr Scott (or his polar namesake). Through the 90’s and into the new Millenium it accompanied me on climbing trips to the Alps, to Patagonia, Alaska, Nepal, the Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan, the Pamirs in Tajikistan, and beyond. And every time I’ve worn it I’ve it’s given me an innate sense of comfort and safety. It is without a doubt the most comfortable, practical and worn piece of outdoor clothing I’ve ever owned.
If truth be known I never used the Belay as it was intended, as a second layer to the Buffalo Mountain Shirt. I tried that combo once and I felt like the Michelin man trapped in a sauna set at max. Too much warmth can be an uncomfortable thing. No, I simply wore it over a base layer.
Come rain, snow or sleet I never felt the cold once. As somebody prone to overheating, I never raised a sweat either. There’s something about fibre pile and pertex that just works. Perhaps it’s because the deep pile isn’t dense that it traps the warmth, but doesn’t hold perspiration against you.
But the years have taken their toll, it’s colour has faded from a once vivid cobalt to a grubby shade of lilac, and my wife has decreed that she will no longer be seen in public with me sporting it.
And perhaps she is right, maybe it’s time to let the old dog die. After being washed over 200 times the pertex is now so thin that it rips like tissue paper, and the zipper pull has long since vanished, replaced with a piece of baking string. It has become the Bagpuss in my wardrobe : an old, saggy belay jacket, baggy, and a bit loose at the seams, but
Emily John loves it.
Indeed as the years have flown by, less and less of the jacket remains, particularly the pile. The Belay has never been the last word in ultralight, but after 20 years it crept towards it slowly. Weighing it today I notice it has lost 80 grams of it’s original weight……down the plug hole with the soap and suds.
Perhaps it was fated that I should reach the momentous decision to ditch the old boy at Christmas. My wife, noticing my pain and anguish at the impending binning, had a quiet word in Santa’s ear. Santa had a quiet word with my mother in-law, and she bought me a new youthful replacement. Some things are never bettered.
So here’s to another 20 years of adventure with my Belay. Now all I need to do is find somewhere to hide the old one in the back of the wardrobe where it can keep it’s head down.
Did you really think I could part with it ?