With the Sirocco, Petzl has taken the trend of lightweight gear almost to absurdity. After eliminating as much as possible, what is left is brilliant.
I began climbing in earnest in my thirties. Yes, I had spent time in an ROTC program in the Mountain West, where we abseiled from towers (using a figure-eight backed up with a fireman’s belay!) and practiced moving across class III terrain. But it wasn’t until years later that I bought my first shoes, chalk bag and harness. One of the decidedly few advantages to beginning a sport like climbing in middle age was that I never thought twice about wearing a helmet for sport or trad routes. Long past the need to “look cool” (now a woefully unattainable goal in any case–just ask my kids), and conscious enough of my own mortality to want as safe a climb as possible, a helmet proved–forgive me–a no brainer.
I didn’t play contact sports in school, and I grew up long enough ago that nobody wore helmets when riding their bicycle, so between ROTC and a few other brushes I’ve had with the military, my idea of a good helmet was something heavy and, well, heavy. Think one of the old Joe Brown helmets. But as I began researching helmets, and as I handled them in the local outdoor equipment store, I realized that my days of heavy headgear were behind me. And with the Sirocco, French climbing gear manufacturer Petzl has taken the trend of lightweight gear almost to absurdity. After eliminating as much as possible, what is left is brilliant.
When your job moves you around the world every few years, you get pretty good at organizing a house-full of stuff to be packed, shipped and unpacked at its destination. In the fifteen or so years my wife and I have been living this life, we’ve had a remarkably strong track record of getting the things we want and need to our new home. There is luck involved, too; one hears tales of cargo ships sinking, condemning all of a family’s possessions to The Deep. To make a long story short, we’re pretty good at this.
Then, imagine my displeasure when, after searching the last few not-fully-unpacked boxes we brought with us to Japan, I discovered that my trusty old pair of Asolo backpacking boots were nowhere to be found. Now, they’re not lost and gone forever; I used them a few times during our last stint back in the States, so they doubtless sit safely packed into one of our boxes in long-term storage.
So, when I decided to get back into hiking again after a hiatus, I spent some time online researching boots. But a number of sites, especially those preaching the lightweight and ultralightweight backpacking gospel, said boots were passé, that they didn’t really give support to one’s ankles anyway, and that shoes were the In Thing. I was skeptical, but as I read more, I found that even more mainstream sites were encouraging hikers to consider a low-cut shoe for hiking and light backpacking. Part of the rationale stems from a study by the U.S. Army that finds that among the soldiers studied, “Weight alone appeared to account for 48-70% of the added energy cost of wearing boots.” And that science is backed up by a considerable amount of anecdotal reporting from hikers who have made the switch. So I thought I would give it a try.
Note: The events of this post took place June 21-22, 2014.
Friend-and-coworker J and I set out for Shinjuku Station to catch the 8:00 am JR Chuo Line Limited Express Super Azusa 5 train bound for Nagano Prefecture. With 36 platforms and 200 exits, we eventually make our way to the waiting train, only to learn that we cannot purchase reserve seats at the platform, so standing it is until enough commuters deboard and unreserved seats open 100 minutes into the two-hours-and-change trip.
Hefting our packs and trekking poles, we move quickly out of Chino Station, scanning a building across the street for where our guidebook tells us the bus stops. The bus only runs a few times a day, and missing this one will keep us here for long enough to make sure we won’t reach our goal before nightfall.