I firmly believe in the integrity of a manufacturer’s design. I’ve heard of sweaty days and restless nights spent perfecting it. I know the designs are rigorously tested and presented to the masses for review, redesign, review, redesign, review, and final touches. The designers are experts in their field, passionately dedicated to their craft, and I imagine them to be fiercely proud and protective and divinely so. You shouldn’t molest their products. They are perfect. It is because of this reverence that I have taken gear modification (molestation) so poorly in the past. A small suggestion from a friend that I trim, as in “with scissors“, the exorbitant amount of strapping on my Osprey pack made me gasp. “But, it’s new,” I’d said. “New and expensive.” And I was sure that every strap had a designed purpose, a sling for an ice axe, or grip for my IPod, and that if I hacked at it, I’d be losing a very important feature, possibly a life or death one. So you can just imagine how I felt when my partner, Colin, decided that the best possible fate for my very wounded Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad was many many patches and an experimental modification that involved cutting a good length off of it and resealing it to make it even MORE ridiculously light than it already was. I didn’t know if I could bear to watch. It was only because of the gorgeous generosity of others that have offered to rig me with a new pad that I could breathe, let go, and allow the transformation to take place under the same roof as I. Armed with a step-by-step instructional video put out by Steve Evans, a man who does this type of thing and worse to gear all the time, he began.
The hardest part was the beginning. It was an emotional, no-turning-back gesture. The pad that cradled me on my very first days of backpacking, that I loved and protected as child, that has lain in the soil of two continents, that I cried and dreamt on, that .. okay enough.. The scissors were brought to it and curiosity about what the inside looked like eventually commandeered my emotionalism…
And so that ‘s what the inside of a NeoAir looks like. Just like you suspected. No different than a mylar birthday balloon,an expensive elongated mylar balloon. I have a very secret fascination with the construction of things and have taken working objects apart to play with them well into adulthood. The process began to waken that aspect of my personality, and I began to be fascinated and participate. Tables were cleared and furniture tossed into the kitchen to make room for the procedure. Makeshift tools were created. It was time to blow the dust off the iron and plug it in.
Measure, cut, clean, and iron. That’s the procedure. Steve explains it in such a way as to fill a 10 minute video, but it’s really just those four steps. It seems too easy to work, too basic. What if we ironed it too long and melted the structure of the fabric into oblivion? What if we cut along an important seam? What if a microscopic piece of inner fuzz wedged itself between the newly created seam forming an air vent? The thing had enough patches already. Would we be able to patch the seam if it didn’t work out? We were quiet and eerily still for the ironing part.
It didn’t take long. We allowed the seam to cool before inflating it. Night had fallen, we hadn’t eaten, and the moment of truth arrived. It was time to inflate.
It looked perfect! With engineer-like precision, Colin had crafted a new seam that was uniform and professional in every sense. The designers would be proud and accept him as an equal. But could you lay on it?
Yes, you could lay on it. It survived the initial testing and looked lovely all lemony and intact like that. Colin took it with him when he left, to do more testing on it. I imagine he will place large pieces of furniture on it, expose it to extreme fluctuations of temperature and weight distribution and other atrocities I can’t bear to watch happen to a now functioning piece of gear. But I think it is safe to declare it a successful reincarnation! It can now begin its new life as a half-length NeoAir sleeping pad weighing in at the pea-shell lightness of (drumroll) 158 grams!! And consequently, I now have a modified attitude on messing with one’s gear. I just might trim those pack straps after all.