I’ve just returned from the annual shindig by the Backpackers Club, which took place in the beautiful surroundings of Ashford-in-the-Water, near Bakewell.
Judging by the array of digital cameras on display, I have a feeling that other bloggers will offer a more comprehensive account of the day. Being a rather poorly prepared correspondent, I actually left Manchester without my camera. For pics and views see the whitespider1066 blog.
Nevertheless, I feel it’s still a worthwhile exercise to give my impressions of this event, and some thoughts on the gear on display.
To give you a flavour of this get together, it essentially feature a handful of familiar suppliers in the lightweight backpacking market and, importantly, the opportunity to see demonstrations of the gear, have a poke around in lightweight tents, and essentially make your own mind up. It’s a free event, too, and some club members quite rightly opt to camp and make a weekend of it.
However liberating the Internet is, particularly for more marginal pursuits such as lightweight backpacking, there’s no substitute for actually seeing the stuff and this is where the show really scores.
The most pointed example of this had to be the demonstrations of lightweight alcohol stoves by the folk from Backpackinglight.co.uk. Credit must go to that ever-enthusiastic podcaster Bob Cartwright for understanding the correlation between showing folk how stuff performs and money in his till!
His demonstration of the White Box and the Vargo Triad stoves was excellent. If, like me, you have been sceptical of these little brew-makers, think again. The pictures on various websites don’t do them any justice.
The White Box, although taking a couple of minutes to get going, really does kick out a lot of heat. As Bob acknowledged, it is not a stove to use lightly in a tent if the weather’s poor. The size and ferocity of the flame also necessitates a large pot. However, you will be supping your tea or tucking into your dehydrated curry far more quicker than with the Triad.
That said, and to quote the demonstrator, the Vargo is a much more ‘subtle stove’. The heat may not be as intense, but it is far more controlled. To illustrate the last point, a good blow will put the Vargo out. Covering with a cup or pot will kill the White box. Failing that, call the fire brigade!
The Vargo also impressed me by the way you can embed the lower legs in the grass for stability and pour any excess meths back into the bottle when the stove is cool. It’s a duel fuel unit too as you can flip it over and use Esbit tablets.
An effective windshield for both stoves can be small given their low profile, such shielding being more critical for the Vargo.
Weight is about the same for both, the White Box coming in at around 30g, the Vargo 28g.
You could argue that both these stoves are a more sustainable cooking choice, too. There’s no throwing empty gas canisters away, meths burns more ‘sustainably’ – if you believe what you read – and the White Box is a recycled aluminium container. Both are cheaper to run, the fuel is widely available, and the stoves are so simple they won’t develop faults.
You might have gathered that I didn’t leave empty handed… I’m now a proud owner of the Vargo Triad and I’ll give some feedback using this stove at a later date.
There were plenty of tents on display, always a favourite of mine. The new Go-Lite Shangrila range took price of place down by the main exhibition hall. These single-skin, floorless shelters have much to offer it seems. The Shangrila 2 pitches with two walking poles and offers acres of space for very little weight… 708g.
Of course, you would need to add with weight of a light ground sheet and/or bivvy bag but this shelter set still offers a great deal for one sizable individual (me) or two for the weight. Bugs will be a problem in some areas, unless you use the nest. The weight advantages then start to become negligible for solo backpackers though.
On its own, it may be an option for me in a bid to cure the headroom problems of my much-loved Akto. Price is a very reasonable £99.
Also on show were the Shangrila 3 (a reworking of the popular Go Lite Hex), the 4 and a simply enormous version, which I think was the 6-person or the eight-plus. I didn’t get the opportunity to check as it was drawing so much attention from the crowd.
The tents appear to be very well made and stable. They are also available in a far subtler sage-green colour, too. Up at the campsite and the tent display field (yes, there was more) a range of minimalist Black Diamond and MSR tents was on show alongside the more established Terra Nova Lasers, Solars, Voyagers and Quasars and some Vaude models.
The latter manufacturer included their new Power Space III and a variation on an old favourite, the Hogan XT. These are not super-lightweight by any stretch of the imagination, but they would make great basecamp shelters and appear bombproof.
Big Agnes Seedhouse tents in various sizes were also pitched and the prompted sceptical comments from some who felt uncomfortable with the amount of mesh on the inner for UK conditions, and the steepness of the door.
These are very long shelters but the apparent headroom advantages are negligible due to the sharpness of the main curved ridgepole. You can view a video by the Hike Lite guys on how to pitch the Seedhouse on You Tube.
Tents are always a compromise, but I think these well made shelters have to be worth a look if you’re looking for a new solo backpacking tent.I was more interested in the Big Agnes Sleeping Bags on show.
Impressed with my Three-wire Bivy, I might be in the market for a minimalist summer sleeping bag and like the idea of their sleep system, which integrates the back pad with sleeping bag – not dissimilar to the Rab Quantum Top Bag idea.
The model the tickled my fancy is the Big Agnes Pitchpine, which comes in at around 500g in the long version and it rated at 5 deg C. It has down on the top and a sleeve/fixing straps on the bottom to secure it to your sleeping pad. A hoodless design, it also has a natty little pouch for a folded fleece to create a pillow. The one that didn’t overly impress me, though, was the price: £240. This seems steep when compared to the Rab.
Back at the hall the Alpkit guys were doing a roaring trade with their discount gear and the Expedition Foods stand had samples for people to try.
Fearing that my wallet would be the only truly lightweight thing resulting from the day, I went for a wander down the Wye and watched some trout and grayling sipping flies off the surface.
No doubt helped by the spring sunshine, this had been a worthwhile trip and credit should go to the Backpackers’ Club and the exhibitors. Some may feel that the show needs to be bigger, but that would dilute its spirit.
As it stands, it’s worth the trip and next year I’ll be bringing my pack and camping out…