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Craig backpacking in Isle Royale back in the day.

Hiking Then and Now

When it comes to gear, I don’t long for yesteryear | By Craig Romano

As someone who has been on the trail for many a mile, there are definitely aspects about the “good ole days” that I miss. Well-maintained Forest Service roads and fewer traffic backups. Better campsite availability. Fewer fees to access trails. Kennedy Hot Springs (buried by a landslide). But one thing I don’t miss is the gear.

For gear, we are hiking in the best of times. Thanks to affordable, lightweight performance gear, I am doing some of my longest and most challenging hikes now — 40 years after I first started hiking. I recall with no nostalgia how miserable I used to be backpacking with a ridiculously heavy load — often suffering through wet and cold due to inadequate gear and clothing. 

So join me as I reflect on the gear and gadgets that I don’t miss one bit — and express my gratitude for the gear that gets me out there today.

A side by side of old busted climbing boots and new trail runners.
Photos by David Nordstrom (left), Altra (right).


Then: Old footwear was heavy, hard to break in, made your feet sweat and, even with the required socks and sock liners, caused countless blisters. 

Now: I hike almost exclusively in trail running shoes and lightweight low-top boots that breathe, dry out rapidly and are super comfortable. And they require a single pair of durable, lightweight poly-blend socks.

A side by side of old external frame backpack with a newer internal frame one.
Photos by Doug Diekema (left), Julie Mahieu (right).


Then: While some old timers love their external frame packs, I don’t. They were heavy, held onto odors and chafed your back or shoulders. Durability wasn’t great either — the zippers rusted and the material broke down in the sun.

Now: I love the array of durable form-fitting packs available today — including frames for women and body-hugging running packs. You can even find waterproof packs!

Photos by Laura Norsen (left), Craig Romano (right).

Cooking Gear

Then: My old backpacking stove weighed nearly two pounds and I got quite an upper body workout priming it. 

Now: My MSR Pocket Rocket weighs 3 ounces and the isobutane-propane fuel is lighter than white gas. 

Sleeping Bags.JPG
Photos by Andrea Laughery (left), Christopher Tezak (right).

Sleeping Bags & Pads

Then: My huge sleeping bag was cumbersome and had to be attached to the outside of my pack, where it was exposed to the elements. My blue pad also used to dangle from the outside of my pack and snag bushes.

Now: My lightweight down bag squishes to the size of a water bottle and is safely stuffed in my pack. My lightweight sleeping pad is just a tad larger than my sleeping bag.

Photos by Joe Haupt (left), Biolite (right).


Then: I remember hefting flashlights and big heavy D batteries. Then I remember how excited I was to get my first headlamp, even though it was huge and the alkaline battery was heavy. 

Now: Modern headlamps put out amazingly strong light and half the time you don’t even know you’re wearing the darn thing because they’re lighter than a hat.

Photos by Doug Diekema (left), Britt Lê (right).


Then: A good ol’ fashioned map has always been in my pack — and it still is, on every trip.

Now: While I have wholeheartedly embraced GPS, maps — specifically Green Trails Maps — always come with me. A GPS can’t show the big picture of a landscape. When used with a map however, it’s a perfect combination. 

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.