Time for… some gear

If you think that outdoors blogs and websites shouldn’t tackle the subject of gear then I’m going to disappoint you I’m afraid.

My garage is filled with all manner of stuff but I maintain that all of it gets used, be it for lightweight backpacking expeditions or luxurious, fortnight-long car camping forays to the mountains.

Recently, though, I have read widely about lightening up and, like many, have systematically tried to cut the fat from my backpacking kit. This process is on-going, but my approach is not based on out and out minimalism. There are other criteria that are just as important: I am 6ft 6ins tall, which restricts the gear that I can use, and I look for equipment that is adaptable so I can tailor my approach to weather conditions etc.

If nothing else, I hope what follows will appeal to folk out there who, like I, am keen to read the experiences of others before parting with pennies… well pounds, really, and usually lots of them.

Hilleberg Akto pitched at Crowden CampsiteTent: Hilleberg Akto (£260 if you’re lucky, 1.5kg, lighter if you strip it back, change stakes etc)

So much has been written about this fantastic little tent that I’m not sure I can add much. Costly, yes, but it’s superbly made, light, and very strong if pitched correctly.

Internal sleeping space is excellent for us mutants and I can stretch out with no fear of touching the ends of the inner. It’s wide enough, too, and has a great porch for cooking in bad weather. And having spent a week in it on a trip along the West Highland Way last year, I can say with confidence that it is midge proof. One wild camp along the shores of Loch Lomond was in the middle of a midge convention, but the little blighters couldn’t find a way into the inner tent despite the swarming around the tent’s ‘chimney’ vent at the top of the door.

The other appealing thing about this shelter is the option to pitch the outer only. So, when wet, the inner can be stowed separately in your pack, and the outer can be used as a single skin shelter.

It does have a few drawbacks, though. Condensation can be a problem. I can’t really sit up in the inner at the central apex without ultimately troubling my chiropractor, and things are only marginally better when the inner is unclipped and rolled back.

All things considered, though, it’s still the best all round solution on longer trips when I may be presented with a range of conditions.

This year I will be looking at alternatives… possibly a bivvy/tarp or tarp tent combination. I’m sure I’ll be able to save weight with such a set up and increase the flexibility.

On those starry nights we all yearn for, I can use the bivvy alone, or use the combo should conditions be poor.
A tarp tent allows the rig to be used in campsites too should I fancy a bit of civilisation and a shower.

I’ll do some more research on this and post with my conclusions later.

Mountain Equipment Co-op Merlin Sleeping BagSleeping Bag: Mountain Equipment Co-op Merlin, large. 730g (£100, depending on exchange rate, and if you’re in Canada as you won’t want to pay the import tax)

Another tricky one it you’re lanky as lightweight bags from major manufacturers seem to shrink to save those all importnt grams .

However, my MEC Merlin bag was a real find when I was on an RV trip in Canada last year. The Mountain Equipment Co-op is a great store and it’s a great shame we have nothing like in the UK. You have to join for a nominal fee to make purchases and their own gear is good quality – from what I observed in the Calgary store – and great value for money.

The Merlin bag shell is polyester (now a recycled material) and is filled with top quality down – it lofts brilliantly. It’s rated to –3 deg C although I think it will go lower (I am a warm sleeper).

The extra large version fits me perfectly and weighs in at 730g. Not ultralight, granted, but a good compromise for warmth, weight and comfort.

Go Lite Pinnacle reviewPack: GoLite Pinnacle. (£90, 710g)

Packs are (yet) another area where being tall is a pain. Adjustable backpacks, like my old, heavy Berghaus, were always a compromise and if the back was long enough, the harness was never right.

For those of you not familiar with the GoLite Pinnacle, it’s very minimalist. There’s no frame, very thin padding and no lid, having just a drawcord closure.

However, after a bit of e-mail tennis with the guys at backpackinglight.co.uk, I took the plunge, not least because the large version of the pack seemed to fit my back dimensions.

The Pinnacle is made from super tough Dyneema fabric and has a capacity of 72 litres. It’s very adaptable, though. The volume can be reduced by a simple system of clips, so it’s my daysac too. There’s a pocket on the front that’ll swallow waterproofs and the two capacious mesh side pockets for maps, Mars bars and water bottles (although there’s also an ample hydration bladder sleeve inside). And, yes, you can access the side pockets easily when the pack is worn, meaning that the lack of hipbelt pockets is not a real problem.

The Pinnacle weighs around 700g, which is about a third of my old Bergy. It won’t carry massive loads, but is adequate for the kit outlined here, and then some.

The only warning I would give for this pack is that it takes a bit of thought and experimentation in packing. Bob at backpackinglight.co.uk was keen to point this out before I parted with the cash.I tend to fold my full-length Thermarest in three and slide this down the back of the pack. This not only increases the padding, but gives the pack a little more structure. The remaining gear can be packed in a conventional way, by and large. The lack of lid and pockets may feel curious at first but you soon don’t miss them.

Sleeping mat: Thermarest Prolite Regular(680g, £70)

This is a bit of a luxury, I guess. I know I could probably manage with a ¾ length or one of the even more minimalist options that are now available. It’s not a priority on my kit change list though. This mat has never let me down and keeps me warm in the winter. I can sleep on my side on it too in relative comfort. I might consider a shorter mat if I go for the bivvy option as placing it inside the bag will keep things in place.

Clothing:

Waterproofs:

Montane Superfly (I think!). (£100 in a sale, approx 300 g)

This jacket is quiet old and Montane have now changed the spec, improving on some of the minor quibbles I have with this.

All things considered, though, I’m happy with this jacket. It has a slightly unsual fit but is OK for me in XXL (yes, double XL!) The Event material breathes extremely well, better than my Mountain Equipment Goretex, and it’s light and packs down very small. The drawcord hem has snapped, sadly, and the ‘waterproof’ zip has no storm flap so is prone to leaking in driving (and I mean driving) rain.

For such a minimal jacket, the hood is really excellent.

Mountain Hardwear Epic Pant (£80, 205g)

I’m not a fan of waterproof trousers and didn’t own any for many years. However, they can act as a useful crud barrier on a multi-day trip, meaning that I only have to take one pair of trousers with me and still look presentable in the pub.

The Epics are long enough for me, just, are light, and have good venting zips down the side. This latter feature is important as they are not particularly breathable. Storm resistance is very good though.

Mountain Equipment Co-operative Primaloft vest. (£35 In Canada, 300g)

Another cracking product from Canada. Packs down to nothing but is a great warm layer in the tent.

The North Face TKA 100 fleece. (£20, 300g?) I’ve got a couple of these. Like all North Face gear, they fit well and are pretty well made. I got mine for £20 each, again in the sale, and I don’t really have cause to use any other fleece. Not sure what the weight is, but it’s pretty minimal.

Base Layer: Icebreaker Oasis Crew 200 (£40, 150g)

This was a Christmas present and I think it’s a fantastic! Spent the whole week in it when backpacking across Scotland and it didn’t stink… the Merino fabric is amazing. It’s comfortable when damp and dries in no time.

You can roll the sleeves up and generally abuse it and it never seems to stretch and lose it’s shape. I’m about to invest in boxers and leggings from this manufacturer, despite the expense.

Trousers: The North Face. (£40)

These convertibles are a bit too baggy from my taste but are long enough. I like to open the leg removal zips for ventilation and they dry in no time.

My pair don’t seem to be listed on TNF’s website anymore. I hope the new incarnation is just as functional.

The North Face Hedgehog GTX XCRFootwear: North Face Hedgehog GTX (£80, 900g, pair)

I became a trail shoe convert about 18 months ago when my trusty Scarpa SL’s gave up the ghost after more than 10 years’ service. My first shoe was a Keen Targhee Low, which has a fantastic sole unit, but they started to stink (I mean really stink) after four or five month’s use.

TGO’s editor Cameron McNeish had a similar problem with a pair of mids he’s tested. Keen have just released a non-membrane version, though, the Voyageur, and I will moving over to these in the summer.

The Hedgehog is a good shoe, though. TNF footwear tends to have an elongated toe box, which is good for me as I have rather odd shaped feet and long second toes (quite a bit longer that my big toe).

The XCR membrane is very waterproof (having tested many times in the gloopy peat of the Pennines) and the grip from the Vibram sole as good as you’d expect it to be.

The area where the Hedgehogs are not as good as the Keen’s is in the support. The sole unit is more geared to running than load carrying. Hence, my weight and a full lack means that the EVA wedge used in their construction is bearing many scars despite being fairly new.

I use my hedgehogs with small Goretex ankle gaiters, which I bought from Blacks…. I think they are TrekMates. They keep my trouser hems clean and the grit out of the shoes, if nothing else.

Socks: Smartwool in various thicknesses, grades. (£20 a pair)

I find these socks to be always comfortable, but the wool can make my feet itch after a long day. This is remedied by applying aloe vera cream at the end of the day. I tend to take two pairs on multi-day trips… one to wear and one to air.

Pocket Rocket, Mug and Mug Mate in an MSR Titanium PotStove: MSR Pocket Rocket. (£30, 86g)

This is pretty battered now and has been a faithful servant for a number of years. It gets very hot and sounds like a small jet aircraft when at full power! It weighs nothing and the only maintenance I’ve had to do in the time I’ve owned it is squeeze the hinges of pan supports as they’d come loose.

I know there are lighter versions of canister stoves available along with the new breed of alcohol and ezbit cookers. I haven’t tried them and it’ll take a lot for me to move away from the’Rocket.

The only drawback with this stove is the stability. I’ve knocked it over a few times, which is annoying, but I take it as a reminder not to be such a clumsy oaf.

Pot: MSR titanium. (£70 – yikes – for the set. 150g for the bit I use)

This is the larger pot out of a titanium pan set and was a present as I doubt I would have spent £70 on this kit. Seems like this will last forever, though.

Cup: Snow Peak Titanium. (50g, £20)

Does what it says on the tin! I realise that I could leave this at home and use a kettle/mug container but I like the flexibility of having another cup.

MSR Mug Mate (£14, 28g)

Another top bit of kit from the guys at backpackinglight.co.uk and now more widely available. This small filter means I can have proper coffee in the morning and, boy, is this a treat to savour! You can also use it for making proper tea (out of pine needles, perhaps!)

I was a little worried about the durability but it’s still going strong after nearly two years. Lives inside my cup when in the pack.

Spork: I’ve got titanium and plastic ones of these, both presents. I probably wouldn’t have bought one myself , but there you are. It’s the only bit of cutlery I take (save for a tiny Swiss Army Knife that lives on a cord around my neck at all times).

Accessories:

Exped Dry sacs: up to 70g, £15

I’ve got two of these, one large for food, frist aid kit etc, and one small for my sleeping bag. They are genuinely waterproof and light and are more durable than plastic bags which I have used for a number of years. They can be quite fiddly to close sometimes as you have to get as much of the trapped air out as possible before rolling and clipping the closure.

Platipus bladders

One large (2ltr) bladder and one (1ltre) bottle. I like these and they seem pretty indestructible (they can be frozen and used as hot water bottles). Can be fiddly to clean though. But I tend to only carry water in them rather than squashes etc which would make the cleaning process even more protracted.

Backpacker Pillow, Stormlight (100g)

Got this in the sale form Field and Trek for about a fiver I think. It fits the hood of a sleeping bag and provides that little bit more comfort.

Thermarest seat (£20, 100g)

Keep this in my pocket for the bum during the day and serves as a mat extension for my head at night.

Petzl Tikka Plus headtorch: (£20, 80g)

Light, economical with batteries, and just good enough to walk at night with in emergency. Hasn’t let me down. ‘Nuff said.

UCO Candle LanternUCO Candle Lantern (200g)

A luxury on short trips give a nice comforting glow but that’s about it. There are reflectors available which might make it suitable for reading. I will replace the hanging chain with lighter wire trace when I get round to it.

Lifesystems Trekker first aid kit (£20, 240g)

An off-the-shelf kit. I’ve added a few bits and bobs to this but it seems to have everything I need (and more) on the trail. I appreciate that I could save 100/150g or so on this.

Navigation:

Garmin Geko GPS, Maps, Silva Compass, map case. I’m not a big GPS user but like to have it for confirming position. All of this weight about 300g I think) However, I am interested in the Satmap 10 idea having seen one in action. This is a pricey bit of kit though.

Luxuries!!!

These items I may take depending on the kind of trip.

Wind up radio: (150g) Fab little item this. A Chrismtas pressie from Boots, I think. Great for a fix of the Today programme in the morning and nice at night with some lightweight earphone buds is to lull me to sleep in a storm. Tend to only take it for longer trips and use it only when I am not upsetting others.

Small children’s aluminium drink bottle filled with Lagavullin: Generally for over nighters. A wee dram before bed is as good as the morning coffee! (150g)

Book: Something light and evocative. ‘The Book of the Bivvy’, perhaps, ‘The Call of the Wild’ or some racey account of climbing Everest.

Journal: This goes in the pack ahead of the book. A small Moleskine book and pen. There’s loads of nonsense in mine, which I’m now trying to knock into shape for this blog. It’s fun to look back on and it locks experiences in the memory more vividly than a camera any day.

Camera: (Canon Sure Shot A95 in a very tough CCS case) I remember taking a large Canon SLR and small tripod on a national three peaks trip once (we did it over three days and did ‘classic routes on all three mountains). The gear weighed heavy and since then I tend to forget the camera as I find photography gets in the way of the walking. However, I do use the camera on my phone quite a bit these days. It’s adequate for illustrating posts online if the light’s good.

Think that’s about it. I’m not too worked up about weighing stuff precisely, but totting this up it comes to 5.5 -6kgs base, which I guess is heavy for some of you.

As I said, the lightening up is work in progress but this is a comfortable load for me, and when water and food is in, I can go for 20 miles with no real discomfort.

You’ll note that I haven’t totted up the combined cost of all this…

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7 thoughts on “Time for… some gear

  1. You haven’t totted up the cost there, and my recommendation is that you don’t. It’s an exercise that always scares me and makes me search for justifications as to why it’s reasonable to spend so much on gear.

  2. Hi Northern WalkerI am 6’3″ and hence my search for a lightweight back packing tent has been a bit wearisome. My shortlist includes the Akto and Nallo 2. I was much cheered by your blog about the Akto, you being 6’6″ and being able to cope in the wee tent. The rest of your blog is very interesting and very well written.Dawn

  3. Thanks for the comments…I had a look at an Nallo the other day and it looks a littel bit shorter inside so my advice would be to go for the Akto if you can deal with the headroom.In other places on the blog I have mentioned that I’ve a bit of a problem with the material on the ends of the tent pulling at the stitching. However, I’m pleased to be able to report what a great company Hilleberg is… I dropped them a mail about it and they got back to the me in about 10 minutes and offered to fix it free of charge.

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