Anyone that is familiar with investments knows about the concept of diversification.  Basically, it is the idea that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.

I apply this concept to my equipment and clothing as well.   This is especially true on long trips when your body will be undergoing changes due to the new stress of carrying a pack every day, being perpetually cold, probably wet, and living on insufficient calories.

Sock diversification

My first example of diversifying gear is with socks.  Try as I might, I’ve not been successful in reducing my the number of socks I carry below three pairs.  When I’ve tried using only two pairs, I usually end up wearing wet socks a lot.  During a stretch of wet weather, where humidity is high, it is difficult to get a pair of thick socks to dry, even inside a sleeping bag.

Three pairs of socks seem to be my minimum number.  That said, I don’t carry three pairs of the exact same socks.  I carry at least two different brands.  If I start having a foot problem, I may be able to remedy it by wearing the softer socks, or the firmer socks, or the slightly thicker socks, etc.  Sometimes a pair of socks will just seem right due to a particular reason halfway through a trip.  But the next trip, that may not hold true.

For example, feet often swell over the course of a trip.  Altitude is another factor that can cause swelling.  Early in the trip, at lower altitudes, a thick, firm sock will often be comfortable.  After a week of lugging a heavy pack over talus and scree, your feet may have increased in size substantially due to swelling.  Having a softer sock, or a slightly thinner sock could be the key to alleviating any discomfort.

Layer diversification

My second example is diversifying your layers.  I don’t use all wool, or all down, or all fleece, etc in my clothing system.  Different conditions often seem to favor certain layers more than others.  This is especially true as your body goes through the changes that living outdoors has a tendency to cause.

This involves tradeoffs in terms of weight.  A wind layer plus a light fleece sweater offers more options than a single softshell jacket, or a light down or synthetic filled mid-layer.  Two garments offer the potential of three layering combinations (item 1 worn alone, item 2 worn alone, or both items worn together), as opposed to the single possibility of one garment.  The downside is that two garments will usually be heavier than a single garment.

Sleeping bag and belay jacket insulation diversification

For most conditions, I like to have a down sleeping bag and synthetic insulation in my belay jacket.  Should something bad happen, like an unplanned swim in a glacier fed river, having something that will insulate while wet is essential.

I’ve chosen to use down sleeping bags most of the time while using synthetic clothing is due to two key reasons.  First, while moving, I may not have the choice but to sweat in my layers.  If I’m in my harness, pack, roped up, carrying the extra coils of rope, slings, and a rack, while climbing a glacier, stopping to add or remove layers isn’t very practical.  If I guessed wrong and the weather ends up warmer than expected, I’ll be sweating in my layers.  Down doesn’t deal with all that moisture when you stop to belay and have the chance to throw on that belay jacket over the wet layers.  So I use synthetic clothes.  It is harder to keep clothing dry.

The second key reason is that it is easier to keep a sleeping bag dry with the use of some garbage bags while it is inside the pack.  And, because a sleeping bag is a major piece of equipment, the weight savings by going with down instead of synthetic is substantial.

I do, however, occasionally go with all synthetic.  If the conditions are going to be around freezing most of the time, and I plan to do things like sleep in the open, in snow caves, etc where it will be nearly impossible to stay dry, I ditch the down bag and take something synthetic.

Conclusion

There are several ways to diversify gear to give yourself a lot more options during a long backcountry trip.  Diversification can increase your safety and comfort over the course of time.  Taking different brands of socks, a variety of layers, and using different types of insulation prepares you to handle the changes in weather, conditions, and physiology that occur during extended duration trips in the backcountry.

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