Buffalo Belay Jacket – Farewell old faithful friend

Looking from Camp 2, Korzhenevskaya Peak

Looking from balcony Camp 2, Korzhenevskaya Peak

Sometimes a piece of kit comes along which becomes so much a part of you, that it’s more like a comfort blanket or childhood teddy bear than a rufty tufty piece of outdoor gear.

The Buffalo Belay jacket has been one such piece of kit, and so much more. But sadly after 20 years of faithful and devoted service it’s entered a final chapter of decrepitude, and it’s now time to say a fond farewell to the old chap.

I bought my Belay jacket back in 1994 for summer of alpine climbing in the Alps, a credible replacement for a Javelin fibre pile  I’d had since the age of 13. The Javelin jacket back then was a prized procession of any aspiring young adventurer, having kept Doug Scott toasty on his infamous high altitude bivvy on the south summit of Everest in 1975. The most I’d managed with it was a few frosty nights on Ilkley moor in a survival bag.

But the Belay jacket would turn out to be my Javelin, albeit through slightly less hair raising adventures than Mr Scott (or his polar namesake). Through the 90’s and into the new Millenium it accompanied me on climbing trips to the Alps, to Patagonia, Alaska, Nepal, the Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan, the Pamirs in Tajikistan, and beyond. And every time I’ve worn it I’ve it’s given me an innate sense of comfort and safety. It is without a doubt the most comfortable, practical and worn piece of outdoor clothing I’ve ever owned.

If truth be known I never used the Belay as it was intended, as a second layer to the Buffalo Mountain Shirt. I tried that combo once and I felt like the Michelin man trapped in a sauna set at max. Too much warmth can be an uncomfortable thing. No, I simply wore it over a base layer.

Come rain, snow or sleet I never felt the cold once. As somebody prone to overheating, I never raised a sweat either. There’s something about fibre pile and pertex that just works. Perhaps it’s because the deep pile isn’t dense that it traps the warmth, but doesn’t hold perspiration against you.

But the years have taken their toll, it’s colour has faded from a once vivid cobalt to a grubby shade of lilac, and my wife has decreed that she will no longer be seen in public with me sporting it.

And perhaps she is right, maybe it’s time to let the old dog die. After being washed over 200 times the pertex is now so thin that it rips like tissue paper, and the zipper pull has long since vanished, replaced with a piece of baking string. It has become the Bagpuss in my wardrobe : an old, saggy belay jacket, baggy, and a bit loose at the seams, but Emily John loves it.

Indeed as the years have flown by, less and less of the jacket remains, particularly the pile. The Belay has never been the last word in ultralight, but after 20 years it crept towards it slowly. Weighing it today I notice it has lost 80 grams of it’s original weight……down the plug hole with the soap and suds.

Perhaps it was fated that I should reach the momentous decision to ditch the old boy at Christmas. My wife, noticing my pain and anguish at the impending binning, had a quiet word in Santa’s ear. Santa had a quiet word with my mother in-law, and she bought me a new youthful replacement. Some things are never bettered.


The new Buffalo Belay. Available in any colour requested by the paramilitary.

So here’s to another 20 years of adventure with my Belay. Now all I need to do is find somewhere to hide the old one in the back of the wardrobe where it can keep it’s head down.

Did you really think I could part with it ?

5 thoughts on “Buffalo Belay Jacket – Farewell old faithful friend

  1. Such great photographs. That trip must have a lasting impression. Chuck the old one out, you know it makes sense. (He says having an equally old buffalo smock that was ripped by barbed wire and glued together using shoe goo.)

    • Cheers Alan. Yes, plenty to look back on. The photo’s were taken from a number of high altitude climbs I did when I had the lungs and time for it. Careers have a lot to answer for, they sometimes crumple your dreams if you give them too much importance. But glad to have found backpacking again…full circle as they say.

  2. Great post. It is so hard to chuck out loved old kit. My first down sleeping bag bought in 1975 only went recently and I foolishly sent my Dachstein Mitts, bought to take to the Alps in 1977, to a charity shop recently. And I now regret it as nothing seems to match them in the cold and wet. The itchy woollen balacalava will never go, though, and still finds its way into my day sack on some cold days. I never owned buffalo kit -doesn’t Needle Sports in Keswick still stock it? And I’d forgotten about Javelin fleece jackets -great thick, uncomfortable things. Superb photos by the way.

    • Still have my Dachstein Mitts, indestructible. I think my oldest piece of kit remaining must be my Shinabro paraffin stove, now knocking on for 35 years old, complete with the obligatory dent in the brass fuel chamber. Can’t believe I used to backpack with a stove that weighed as much as an anvil.

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