Sunday, 22 November 2015

Lightweight versus ultralight; part 2

We're just home from a two nighter on Kinder; I say Kinder, but the Kinder massif would be a better description since we never went near the summit. It was very much a not-far-not-fast trip but served a very specific need. We had to check if our new Terra Nova Polar Lite 2 Micro would serve for our trip on the Kungsleden in arctic Sweden next August. We've both used it solo, accompanied by Tilly, our lab and it's just fine, but what about with the two of us. For a number of reasons, we've not camped together in a tiny tent for six years, though we've done lots solo.

We had a good time, if slightly challenging and, during the weekend, I fell to considering more on the lightweight versus ultralight issue (before reading further, best if you first read this post). With that in mind, what follows is the tale of our weekend, along with more musings on the gear I use, its weight and, my clumsy attempts to justify my/our choices.

We leave the dogs in safe hands with daughter & son-in-law and set off, in darkness, for a short coupla miles up onto the south-western fringes of Kinder; a location close to a never-dry pond to facilitate easy water collection. It's drizzling and the forecast is for cold, wind and snow. I opt to wear my beloved Paramo Aspira smock (which appears to have disappeared from their range now). In milder weather I normally cycle-tour or backpack with Berghaus Paclite but, in my opinion, nothing beats a Paramo jacket in bad conditions. For over 10 of my 27 years in mountain rescue we used Paramo jackets, shirts and trousers, so I've a good amount of experience with this stuff to draw on. I figured the extra weight of the jacket was balanced by the need to wear (and carry) fewer insulating layers since, being a "traditional" Paramo top, it effectively functions as a jacket and fleece combined. Underneath this I'm wearing a Wed'z X Warm pullover/shirt, bought from Decathlon a couple of years back. Made from 80% ployester and 20% wool it provides a cosy base layer which, thanks to the wool content, resists stink from sweating. It's meant for skiing but I find it good for winter hillwalking. You might also like to hear they're still available for the princely sum of £14.99. And, dare I say, I find them better, for me, than Paramo!

Legwear? Well in cold conditions for backpacking, I like my Rohan Striders. Mine are a few years old but the new ones are essentially the same; warm, hardwearing and stretchy AND, importantly, quick drying, what more could you want? Lighter? Not in winter, not in my book; but each to their own. I could wear my Paramo Cascadas or my old, faithful Paramo Alta trousers but they get mucky quite quickly due to their incompatibility with gaiters (please don't ask why wearing gaiters OVER waterproof trousers is a no-no), which becomes a problem in a small tent. So, instead, I'll stick with my Berghaus Paclite overtrousers (yaay, something light at last, I hear you say)  since they suffice when needed, but are light and low-bulk in the rucsac when not, and also can be shoved, along with gaiters, under the flysheet of the tent while camping. I also wear my new Sea to Summit Feathertop gaiters, which seem up to the job so far.

If you're interested, I'm also wearing Rohan Cool Silver Briefs which, again, resist stink but are cheaper than merino. I wore these, successfully, for days on end on my LEJOG cycle tour.

To keep my hands warm'n'dry, Sealskinz waterproof gloves, but I have fleece gloves and light, Goretex, shell mitts in my bag too, as a back up, in case my Sealskinz get sodden.

So, donning my Paclite pants, I'm still cosy as we reach our camp for the night. Up goes the tent and Chrissie organises our kit while I filter water from the pond using our trusty General Ecology First Need XL Elite water purifier (note, purifier NOT filter). Now this is where I may err on the controversial; you have been warned. This purifier has served us well for maybe 18 years and has NEVER let us down. I should say, up front. I HAVE contracted giardiasis from drinking water from a crystal-clear stream, deep in a Yorkshire cave system, so I need no lessons on the prevalence of giardia in the UK. Furthermore, Chrissie and I still believe there is no other portable purifier on the market anywhere which removes quite as many nasties as this does, and yes, I include the latest ubiquitous filter so many of you are presently using, which-I-will-not-name. We've studied the data from all the available filters on the market and none takes out as many chemicals and viruses as the First Need. Also, you try using said-ubiquitous-filter to get water from a puddle; it won't do it. You need water deep enough to submerge a container to collect the water first, thereby filling said container with mucky water. We NEVER do this, since our trusty First Need needs only sufficient depth of water for its small pre-filter to suck from.  And, should the pump fail (which it never has) you can use the carry bag as a gravity feed for the purifying filter. So, yes, it's heavy, yes, it's expensive, yes, you need to replace the cartridge once a year (approximately) but hey, I like to drink clean water, without a fuss. There; that'll put the cat among the pigeons ... I'll go and hide.

Tucked up inside the tent, my light, IcePeak down jacket goes on over my Aspira and dinner's soon on the go, courtesy of our, recently purchased, Jetboil Minimo. Real coffee, using an ages-old MSR Mugmate coffee filter and we're soon tucking into some re-packaged Pot Noodles. Retiring to our bags we're warm an' cosy. We'd deliberately brought our "spring/autumn" bags with us, Chrissie's Rab Neutrino 600 and my Rab Ascent 700 since we're hoping these will suffice for arctic Sweden in August (Chrissie found her winter bag too much in Sarek this August). The wind direction altered by at least 90 degrees during the night. I'd estimate at least 40mph wind gusting through the night, side on to our tunnel tent, but no damage was done and, in the morning, we emerged to a decent covering of snow (none on the snow-shedding tunnel tent) and bright, blue sky; perfection.

We breakfast on our home-prepared, instant porage (courtesy of Aldi) supplemented with Nido, full-fat dried milk, tea and coffee then pack up for a wander. Plodding through the snow towards Kinderlow End our feet are warm and dry inside our Altberg Tethera boots (3 season, but who's counting). Supplemented by gaiters, our feet are kept dry as we splash through streams and mud. I sometimes wear Keen Targhee II trail shoes for day walks and am slightly tempted to try them for summer backpacking but today they'd have been useless. There'd be no overlap with my gaiters and the snow would've meant cold, wet feet which could prove uncomfortable, if not dangerous. No, I like warm, dry feet thank you.

On we go at a very leisurely pace. We stop for lunch and a brew with the Jetboil. Very warming, very psychologically beneficial. Then we're off to the valley of the Kinder River to seek out a spot for our second night. It doesn't take long and, still in warming sunshine, our shelter's up again and water filtered (sorry, purified) from the fast-flowing river. Then, cosy inside for copious brews and plenty of time to assess the tent. It's adequate we decide, but, in common with most two-person tents, once our Neoair XTherm mats are in place (mine's a rectangle, Chrissie's a mummy; two rectangles WOULDN'T fit) there's just a little floor space at the foot or head. We cope ... we get on well ... mostly. I prepare instant meals in the porch and we find space there for boots. We leave rucsacs outside, under their lightweight, silnylon rain covers.

We cope ... everything works ... but ... we come to the conclusion that, for our week-long Kungsleden journey, given it COULD rain every day, we'd prefer to have a little more comfort, a little more breathing space. So, presently, our tent of choice will be our Terra Nova Polar Lite 3; the three person shelter we bought for the two of us plus both our dogs. It's a much roomier tent ('course it is Geoff ... it's three person mate) and will see us carrying around 1.75kg each as opposed to 1kg each with this tiny tent, but that's still less than the 2kg we carry when using this solo, with a dog. But that's our current thinking ... it may change. Interested to hear thoughts ... no, not a tarp! We don't do tarps! So, now on our agenda, another dogless trip with the Polar Lite 3 ... just an excuse for more fun.

Our second night out is fuppin' cold. Chrissie gets up for a pee around 2am to find a 2 litre Platypus completely frozen ... solid! We saw -7 degrees in our cold hollow. Inside, we're both cosy and warm but I've weakened and, unusually for me, I'm still wearing my Wed'ze shirt and merino long johns, though no socks. Some of this is laziness, I reckon I'd have prob'ly been ok in my usual nude state but, what the heck.

We amble back into the village on a cold, misty morning and treat ourselves to a slap-up breakfast, for lunch, in the excellent Millie's Tearoom; highly recommended (that's Hayfield, in case you didn't know).

A fun, lazy weekend of evaluation. And for our friends who were worrying, we didn't kill each other ... I made sure she had no sharp implements on her ...

As before, no evangelising is intended (ok, maybe on one subject), the real message being - do what's comfortable for you, but, whatever you decide, get out there and enjoy life and the big, wide outdoors.

As ever, your comments are welcome, so long as their not delivering slugging punches.

Smile, it's all fun.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Famous Four go on a Little Adventure

Off they went in the little sleepy-van.
Off up the hill and down the other side.
Off up the lanes 'til they got to ... a quiet place,
Where they snuggled up together in the little sleepy-van and went to sleep.

In the morning, they woke ... and stretched ... and made some tea and toast,
Which was nice.
Then, they put on warm clothes and went for a wet and windy walk.
It was fun.

When they got back to the sleepy-van they were tired and wet and hungry,
So they had tea and cakes,
Which was nice.
Then, off they went again in the little sleepy-van.
They went up the hill and down the other side.
They went down the lanes 'til they got to ... a quiet place.

They found a friend, in a little pointy house.

He seemed nice, so they invited him for tea and cakes in the sleepy-van.
He brought another friend.
They were worried there might not be enough tea and cakes,
But there was,
Which was nice.

After tea the two friends went back to the pointy house,
Leaving the Famous Four to snuggle up together in the little sleepy-van and go to sleep.
It was very cosy.

In the morning, they woke ... and stretched ... and made some tea and toast.
Then they all put on warm clothes and went for a walk.
This time, it wasn't wet.
This time it wasn't windy.
It was really, quite nice.

They found some brackety, fungusy things, growing on trees.
They looked very interesting.

It was a lovely walk.

When they got back to the sleepy-van, the friends went for a snooze in their pointy house,
While the Famous Four ate tea and cakes ... quietly ... secretly.

But they saved some for their friends, who came and shared later.
They laughed ... and barked ... and told funny stories.
Then, as it got dark, the friends went back to the pointy house,
And the Famous Four snuggled up together in the little sleepy-van, and went to sleep ... again.

In the morning, they woke ... and stretched ... and made tea and toast.
Then they put on their warm clothes, and went for a walk ... again.



They ran and skipped and talked and laughed.
This time, it was a little bit warmer,
So, along the way, they had a picnic,
Which was nice.

Then they set off back to the sleepy-van ... and the pointy house.

And, of course, it was time for tea and cakes.
They'd had such fun.

But soon it was time to wave goodbye to their friends in the pointy house,
And set off, up the hill, and down the other side,
And along the lanes,
All the way back to their house in the valley.

When they got there, they were so tired,
They snuggled up together in bed and went to sleep,
Dreaming of their next adventure.

And our sincere condolences to all those who were affected by the events in Paris, while we were just having fun. Rest in peace and God bless.