Bikepacking the West Highland Way

I shared the train journey to Glasgow with two coast-to-coast road riders who alighted at Carlisle. Their interest – and that of the train steward – in the ECR and it’s ‘ridiculous’ tyres set a tone that would resonate for the whole trip.

Unable to find anything that palatable on the Trans Pennine Express service save for a questionable cup of coffee, I carb loaded at Glasgow station on croissants while consulting Viewranger for a suitable escape route.

I’d walked out of this fine city before using the satisfactory Kelvin and Allander walkways. These seemed fair game for the bike too although I was soon distracted by blue signs drawing me to alternative bikeways.

ECR on the slight detour from the West Highland Way after Mudgock Wood
ECR on the slight detour from the West Highland Way after Mudgock Wood

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Approaching shelter enlightenment: The GoLite Shangri La 3 and Ookworks BigNest

I’ve had my GoLite Shangri La 3 for a couple of years and, when I bought it, I thought I’d reached the end of my search for a spacious, lightweight yet weatherproof shelter.

Camp near Pike o Blisco
Camp near Pike o Blisco

My height is a real disadvantage when it comes to tents. Many lightweight backpacking tents are too short and, given I like to sleep in my back, my feet or head are normally squashed into the ends of the shelter inner, forcing the fabric onto the outer where it becomes damp overnight.

My Hilleberg Akto is a solution of sorts. However, while the tent is long enough for my 6’6″ frame, its pitiful headroom is a real pain (literally) on longer trips

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Birthday bimble in the Dark Peak

To mark my 40th birthday this week it seemed appropriate to go for a wander at the weekend. In the interests of blogging symmetry, I opted for another long-ish walk home from Edale. The weather was pretty grim and I had some real trouble with the boots I was wearing. I’ll have a grumble about these along with other kit observations at a later date. For now, here are some pics…

Leaving Edale and the rain stopped, for five minutes.


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The curious incident of the sheep and cake in the night

With such a glowing mountain forecast promising excellent visibility over the weekend, I headed to Cumbria on Saturday morning and got the bus to Keswick.

The plan: To walk from Keswick to Ambleside along a high-level route, taking in Helvelyn and camping up high somewhere.

After enjoying one of those all too rare mountain days of distant views and liquid early autumn light, I found a flattish, dry spot to bed down for the night.

Apologies for resorting to kit talk, but it’s significant for this tale. I was using my Go Lite Shangrila and Big Agnes bivvy bag combo. My first thought was to simply bivvy, although the wind was cold and, all things considered, felt the additional protection of the Shangrila would make the camp that bit more comfortable.

I pitched and had dinner followed by a couple of substantial nips of Aberlour.

The light receded and I bedded down for the night, zipping into the bivvy to help fend off the nighttime chill.

I drifted off into a fitful sleep to be awoken with the tent bathed in moonlight and the curious sensation of movement around my head outside the bivvy.

As consciousness slowly flooded in, I sat up with a start to find the head of a Herdwick wedged underneath the flysheet, eyes staring at me expectantly.

Nose twitching, my uninvited guest grabbed hold of a small plastic bag containing three pieces of homemade fruitcake and withdrew.

In the head torch beam, I watched the sheep, bag in mouth, disappear over some boulders to enjoy a midnight feast.

I cursed the burglar and then my own stupidity for leaving the cake out. I offer this as a cautionary to all you single-skin shelter users.

2010 Go Lite range

The 2010 Go Lite range is now available to view on the company’s website.

This includes an even lighter Shangrila range and new sleeping bags, including quilts made of recycled material.

I am interested in trying one of the down quilts in future and the lighter nest for the Shangrila makes it increasingly viable.

However, a half nest would still be the best solution for me so I’ll wait to see if a promised version from a third party manufacturer sees production in a couple of months time… no surprises for guessing who that is.

Edale ‘figure 8’ – Kit thoughts

Go Lite Shangrila/Big Agnes Bivvy Bag combo

After a couple of false starts, this was the inaugural trip for my new shelter combo. First impressions are good… I like the way it packs into two reasonably small stuff sacks as this enables me to pack my Go Lite Pinnacle more effectively, giving this minimalist pack some ‘structure’ .

Pitching was straightforward, even without the guide of the hexagonal groundsheet. I fastened my two walking poles together with the Backpacking Light pole connector (see below), and adjusted the height to mid breast bone (I’d judged this against the pole supplied with the shelter).

Then, I simply marked the centre position of the rig with a peg and measured the remainder by approximating a series of triangles, in effect (view the method here).

A bit a fiddling, and the Shangrila was drum tight.

I positioned the Big Agnes, unrolled the remainder of my sleep system and placed my stove and various bits and bobs to hand.

So, the good: The Shangrila gives great views though that large door and, if positioned correctly and the weather behaves, you can lie with the door open in rain and stay perfectly dry due to its size. The room is fantastic, and you can pack a sack in comfort if breaking down in a storm, leaving the shelter until last.

It rained quite heavily during the night along with a gusting wind, and I experienced no leaks or any problems of wind-blown rain getting through vents or under the side of the shelter. The tent dried very quickly too, even on this initially damp December day.

The bivvy bag kept everything dry and well shielded from any slight condensation drip (more of that later). The e-vent fabric is superb and it breathed very well (my down bag was completely dry in the morning) although the temperature differential between inside and outside the bag no doubt helped the fabric work to its full potential (Things may be different on a warm, muggy summer’s evening, although the bag does have a large net-protected vent).

The not so good: The Shangrila will benefit from having bungee cord attached to the mid-way points along each side to improve pegging stability and prevent ‘flapping’. Any lack of tension in the fly can get worse through the night as temperatures fall and the fabric slackens. These additional guys will help keep this in check.

The lack of a two-way zip is irksome, although now remedied on the 2010 model.

The pegs are a bit hard on the hands, although these will be replaced with a set if Ti stakes.

I believe the shelter would benefit from a half ground sheet, as supplied by, for keeping kit mud free. I’ll either buy one of these or take scissors and sewing machine to the full sheet I bought with the shelter.

The shelter is cold and draughty compared to a proper two-skin tent. This is not a problem when allied to a bivvy bag, but is worth bearing in mind.

The shelter does suffer from condensation as you might expect, but most runs down the steep walls to the ground. In strong winds, though, you may get a bit of a shower inside. The extra guys will help combat this, though, and it’s not a great problem when using a bivvy.

The Big Agnes bag is fine for winter trips but I feel is overkill for the summer. The hood is designed for the supplied poles, too, and can be a bit fiddly when left ‘slack’. I’ll keep on using it but would really like to replace it with one of the Mountain Laurel Designs bags for summer use.
Backpacking Light trekking pole connector

This worked superbly! I had initial reservations as the joined poles were not particularly rigid, but the shelter held true in some pretty squally, albeit valley floor, conditions.

I demonstrated the gadget to someone on the site while breaking camp and they thought it was a genius idea!

There’s an additional bonus too… by making use of a strap on the upper walking pole when in situ, you have a handy ‘airer loft’ which holds your socks next to the tent vents. Admittedly, this is the focal point for warm, moist air leaving the tent. However, if there is a good breeze, and the vents do their work, the socks will be drier in the morning… mine certainly were, even in December.

Kalenji running tights

I’ve just started wearing these as I’ve grown weary of overly baggy trekking trousers. Without going into too much detail, I also sweat rather a lot in the summer and have struggled to find underwear that ‘manages’ this moisture and avoids a large damp patch around my backside.

Not only is this unsightly, it can be the start of friction sores etc on an extended trip.

A close-fitting set up helps considerably, if you can get over your legs being ‘on show’, as it were.

These tights are from Decathlon and, allied to their running shorts, are proving to be a great combo. The tights feature vent fabric in all the right places, which actually works, and they are long enough for me, despite having a 36-inch inside leg… happy days.

They may not wear too well, as occasional rubbing caused by the action of using walking poles is starting to take its toll on the flat seams at the hips. I do miss pockets, too, although am adjusting my habits slowly!

I think twenty quid is good value for such a thoughtfully-designed product.

North Face Hedgehogs

Just a quick update… I moved away from these last year to some HiTec boots and, although these are a great alternative, nothing seems to fit my feet better than these trail shoes.

I’ve had them for more than three years now and they leak pretty badly. I’m not too fussed, because they dry fairly quickly too.

The Virbam sole has worn really well and the EVA mid section is still providing support and cushioning.

I am thinking of going for some Prophecy shoes next, as they are essentially the Hedgehogs without a liner. This all hinges on my ability to tolerate very wet rather than damp feet year round. Perhaps the solution will be Prophecy in the summer and Hedgehogs in the winter, save for when it is really snowy.

Mountain House Freeze Dried Food

I bought a couple of these in Scotland and used one for the first time over the weekend. They are very decent, if pricey at £5 a pop. I had spag bol which rehydrated quickly in the packet and tasted good. Just shy of 800 calories too for 150g of weight. More info here.

Got away!


After Armageddon-esque weather for weeks, work pressures and a bout of persistent man flu, I managed an overnighter at the weekend and was lucky enough to get some sun.

Pics, prose and some kit reviews to come… trekking pole thingumybob

When I bought my GoLite Shangrila, I asked the guys at whether it could be pitched with trekking poles. pole extender 14mmBob mailed me back and said that it couldn’t, although ‘he was working on something’.

I then bumped into a chap in the Lakes who had taken a hacksaw to an old lower walking pole section and was using it to marry two Black Diamond FlickLock poles together to create one long support pole.

His solution was to remove the lower sections of the Black Diamonds and use the sawn pole section as a spigot.

‘Neat,’ I thought, ‘I’ll follow suit’.

However, just as I was about to order my new Black Diamonds, Bob’s ‘something’ became available.

The principle is the same as the sawn-off pole, but Bob’s solution is more elegant in that it uses an expander at either end and hence can be used with a range of twist lock poles with a 14mm diameter lower section. pole extender 14mm, expander joint
It works really well with my old, battered Leki Makalus, and a list of compatible poles is available on

The section does come with a health warning, though. A leaflet supplied with the pole urges caution when sliding the expanders into pole sections and care is needed.

I think it’s going to be the just the ticket, though, and at £12.99, a bargain (and for all those pole posers out there, a carbon version is available, too, for another fiver).

I’m hoping to take my new shelter ‘rig’ for a test drive this weekend and will report back.

The weather looks like it’s going to be awful… pole extender 14mm, in use

Going Shangri-la-la

Stuck on train last night coming back from London I started thinking about my new shelter purchase again and the best way to use it (well, it is a long-ish journey).

The bleeding obvious then struck me.

Rather than forking out for a nest or new pertex bivvy, I realised that I have a perfectly good, bug- proof solution in the garage.

I’ve always regarded my Big Agnes Three Wire Bivvy as a ‘mountain-top’ shelter with poles. But why not leave the poles at home and carry this and the Shangri-la for a truly versatile modular system?

It presents a couple of options: A ‘tent’ and bivvy in buggy/wet conditions or for campsites, and a bivvy-only option for those starry nights up high.

The bag weights in at 680g so the weight increase over the ground sheet is negligible – again not superlight, but an adaptable shelter which can offer all that space over a one-man tent.

Although it is a fully waterproof Event bag, it has a huge bug-protected ‘vent’ for using within the shelter so condensation should not be a big problem (the Event breathes really well, too). I also really like using the bivvy as it keeps my sleep system ‘together’.

Now I am itching to try it but the gear won’t be accompanying me to Scotland and I don’t think the other half will appreciate me wandering off to spend a night on my own.

Lakes in October, then.

Go Lite Shangri-La 3

After umming and ahhing for more than a year, I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought myself a Go Lite Shangri-La 3.

It arrived this morning from those lovely folk at after a bit of email tennis with Bob asking whether I’d fit or not without brushing the walls.

I needn’t have worried. I’ve just put it up in the garden and it’s huge.

I have bought the shelter and the Go Lite groundsheet. This is not the lightest option by any stretch but my reasoning is as follows…

This is my ‘winter’ shelter… or at least, my shelter when the bugs calm down. I have a way of combining my walking poles so will not need the hefty adjustable pole which reduces things by over 300 g.

Therefore, I have the tent and groundsheet coming in at under 1.5kg (not super light, I know) yet have all that room to do my back stretches and the added protection of a full groundsheet for the colder months.

Assuming I get on with this tent, I will investigate some bug-proof addition for next summer. Some of the US manufacturers have options here and the weights are more than acceptable.

So, first pitch and what do I think…

Build quality is good and consistent with my positive experiences using a Pinnacle pack. However, I will be sealing those seams.

The main shelter is supplied in one stuffsac with pole and a small sack of six Y pegs. The ground sheet comes in another sac.

The great news about this shelter is that it is a doddle to put up… took about five minutes.

Admittedly, the hexagonal ground sheet helps with peg placement but the technique sans groundsheet is very well demonstrated on YouTube.

Simply put, peg out the corners, put the adjustable pole into position and then tighten down the straps at the six corners… ‘simples’.

The ground sheet has bungee loops at ground level and some additional clips to raise the sides of the sheet and make a bathtub. I struggled to get this effect at first (see p
hotos) as I’d pitched the shelter low to the ground. Unhitching the bungee loops soon remedied it, though.

A full ground sheet has its draw back for wet gear, cooking, access etc, but the Go Lite groundsheet unclips easily and you can adjust the floor coverage to suit.

For all those fellow lanky folks out there, I can lay ‘width across flats’ without touching the walls and, preferably, ‘width across corners’ despite the pole obstructing a little. I’m 6’6”.

The door is large, giving great views, and secured with a light press-stud at the base. No two-way zip though, which is a shame, although I’m told that next year’s version will have one, along with another vent and improved vent ‘hoods’.

An additional tension strap also can be found at the base of the door for extra security and zip ‘protection’ – I guess .

Mid way across the base of each face is a small webbing strap to which further bungee loops can be added for more security.

I now need to experiment with different pitching heights so I’m ready for bad weather or those times when I need more ventilation.

So far, so good, though.