Climber sitting on snowy slope

My Most Useful Bit Of Outdoor Gear

By Tom Hoyle

As an outdoor enthusiast it is easy to get obsessive about gear. It's important to have the correct equipment for whatever activity you are doing, and that can vary massively depending on whether you are mountaineering, sport climbing, climbing alpine rock, ice climbing, ski mountaineering, etc. Having the right set of gear enables the day (or days) to go smoothly, if all the other variables like weather, partners and conditions all align too. Conversely, forgetting, breaking, or losing a crucial bit of gear can have disastrous—even life-threatening—consequences.

The gear we use varies from highly-technical and massively expensive, to modest and simple. While reviewing the newest waterproof-breathable three layer climbing jackets, wickedly curved ice tools or technical climbing boots might be the most eye-catching, there's some really basic kit out there that is very important and useful every time you go out. The piece I'm talking about today comes with me whether I am going summer cragging, ski mountaineering or up alpine rock. I use it almost every time I go out and though thankfully it hasn't had to yet, one day it might even help save a life. Best of all, this item was free and it weights close to nothing.

I am talking about a bit of foam. My bit of foam came free on attendance of the Seoul Street Art Festival. It's a folding four panel design, each panel is 31x9.5x0.5cm, so it folds out to 38x31cm of half a centimetre thick foam. 

Mostly I just use this foam for sitting on. If I'm at the crag, it offers a moderate increase of comfort over sitting on rocks, tree branches or the ground. In these circumstances, I often leave it doubled up to have a smaller area, but a bit more padding. I am frequently complemented by other rock climbers on my useful bit of foam and I don't hesitate to respond by extolling all of its virtues. It just lives in my pack and comes out whenever lunch is calling.

You might be thinking, 'you're old and soft, you don't need that'. But when heading into the mountains, the humble piece of foam becomes even more useful. Sitting directly on snow or cold ground can not only be uncomfortable, but it can also rapidly change your temperature and get you wet and harder to warm again. The foam is easily deployed for even a short break and is far better than sitting on a spare item of clothing, or having to empty out your pack and sit on that, or the rope. 

In the case of an accident in cold conditions (and as most people know it doesn't even have to be  cold), insulating the injured person from the ground is crucial. There are lots of ways of doing this and on any serious trip someone should have equipment for keeping a victim warm, such as a full foam-style thermarest, bothy bag, or other means. But if everyone has one of these small bits of foam, then the job is mostly done by pooling them together. Did I mention they weigh basically nothing? We carry first aid kits and PLBs that weigh more and aren't generally used outside of the emergency they are designed for. The modest square of foam is useful all the time and in an emergency, it really makes sense to have one. 

Many climbers know this already and have such a thing, or another solution. If you don't, I highly recommend sourcing your own. Many people have moved on to fancy space-saving inflatable mattresses these days, but you probably have an old bit of 'snow foam' floating around somewhere. Cut it to a useful size, roll or fold it up and add it to your everyday gear. The folding design is a bit more useful in terms of not taking space in your pack. Mine often lives in the sleeve for a hydration bladder, partly so I know where it is and it is easy to get to, but also protecting my back from pointy pack objects and even protecting the cool contents of my hydration bladder from my hot back.

If you don't have such an item and would like to see NZAC make them available through our webshop, send us a message and let us know.