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.


  1. Great posts.

    Over the last 10 years I've gone from having cheapish heavyish kit to a selection of relatively expensive lightish kit. I've been through the phase of weighing everything and spreadsheets and come out the other side.

    I've competed in 3 day off road cycling events, cooking on a 10gram meths stove and sleeping in a just a blizzard bag. My entire kit including food weighing something like 4kg and taking up just 21 litres, and under those circumstances I would do the same again.

    For one or two night 2 season bikepacking or running trips (for fun rather than competing) I often sleep under a tarp or in a bivy bag with a PHD minim sleeping bag (no zip and weighs just over half a kilo). In winter I'd rather have a tent and (having spent a fair few nights without one) I maintain that a tent is significantly warmer, meaning you can take a lighter sleeping bag therefore offsetting the weight of the tent and therefore benefit from more comfort without gaining weight. In fact last winter a friend and I took a 3 person 3kg tent on a four day walking trip in wales instead of any of our 2 person 1.2-1.5kg tents, just to have a bit of extra space and comfort.

    Having suffered through a few winters using lightweight gas stoves I've just bought a whisperlite, probably weighs the same as all my other stoves put together - but hopefully will be better at melting snow.

    I think what i'm trying to say is each to there own, but for me the activity, trip duration and weather dictate kit choice.

    1. Yep, well said Neil. Interesting that you came to a similar conclusion as us for a 4 day trip. We're looking at 7 nights, 8 days in Sweden. And you're right, trip duration and weather have a very significant impact on decisions.
      Thanks for visiting.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks David. Glad you liked it. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. Hope your motorhome traveling is going well.

  3. Thanks, great insight. My Terra Nova Voyager XL is great but I often think of/yearn for either a tent that is lighter in weight - laser, or utterly weather proof - Quasar extreme versions. Kinder looks great - I was by Spurn Head in sun those days.

    1. Hi Duncan, thanks for visiting. I'd definitely recommend the Enan at a little over 1kg, for use in all but snow. It's elegant and supremely easy to pitch. More space in the porch than a standard Voyager and plenty of room inside. I had no trouble accommodating my 4 Ortlieb panniers and bar bag in tent and porch. Chrissie took it to Sarek (Swedish Lapland) in August and it coped with horrendous rain, but didn't resist an attack from arctic voles! Also, despite our slight misgivings about it's size for our two-up Swedish trip, the Polar Lite 2 Micro is looking good at around 2kg. It's a good 4 season tent and light enough for one to backpack with. I'm vague about weights cos we always upgrade pegs to MSR Groundhogs. Incidentally, did I hear that Spurn Head had become an island in all the recent rain?

  4. We took a Luxe Hex Peak F6 mid on our trip to Lapland in Sept. Nice to have a bit of extra space on longer trips, the F6 also has quite a bit more headroom than the single person HP and only 1kg each with the inner.

  5. Yeah I can see that would work. We put our TN Polar Lite 3 up in the garden yesterday; we've only used it once, back in January for both of and the lab, to remind ourselves of its size It's so huge, it's hard to believe it's carryable between two ... but it is. We're convinced this is the right way to go on a longer, potentially poor weather, trip. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Great write up Geoff. One thing I find as I grow older (more ancient?) is that I appreciate a bit of space in the tent. Can one go light and be comfortable? Well, I think so. After some faffing about I am using a Trekker tent Stealth 1.5. It can be used with trekking poles for support. However, I have gone the whole hog and now have an A pole that sits under the fly. So far it seems ok and comes in at just under a kilo. Scotland in a few weeks time with full winter kit.

    1. Yep, looks a good, interesting tent. Similar sort of weight to our Enan. That too has sufficient, comfort space for one, but it's, supposedly, not suitable for snow whereas, I suspect, yours is. Trouble with tents, there really is so much choice out there and it can be tricky to know where to start can't it? So far, we're pretty happy with our new stable of shelters though. we have trip up into the Dales week after next with our BIG tent, the Polar Lite 3 to see how that'll feel with just the two of us ie minus dogs (for Sweden). Looking forward to it. Enjoy Scotland. January?

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  8. December Geoff, Fisherfield. Going in from Poolewe. Ten days overall.

    1. Wow! Sounds brilliant. Good luck and I'll look forward to reading your blog.


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