I think most people will agree that it will be good to get 2020 over and done with. In the main, we have been pretty fortunate not to have suffered the pain and anguish that many have endured. The lockdowns and restrictions have been frustrating but we have not suffered the deaths of anyone close us, nor has our livelihood been trashed.
My wife and I have a couple of (hopefully minor) ongoing health issues and my father has dementia which has deteriorated badly in recent months. Of course, my camper van was written off through no fault of my own, which was pretty annoying, but not in the same league as the calamities of others.
We have had some other positive events in our lives, which I don’t want to make public. From a blogging perspective, the main frustration has been not being able to go go backpacking much. With only two trips this year, it has been my least active year for some time. Let’s hope next year is better.
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I know you like a bit of a gear review, so here’s some observations on the gear I used on my recent Dartmoor trip. Most of the gear was old favourites but some were either new or newish.
Dan Durston X-Mid 1P. This is the first time I’ve used the X-Mid on a multi night trip. I still like it a lot. Although not a high mountain tent it’s pretty stable in a stiff wind. It’s got loads of room in the porches to organise gear. The mesh inner does give a modicum of defence against draughts but I used the Valley and Peak draught screen which worked really well at keeping the draught from my head.
Montane Outflow gaiters. I really liked these. At 130g for the pair, they are very light. They are quite trim and are secured with a velcro strip up the front making them very easy to put on and take off. The fabric seems to breath well. Very pleased.
Patagonia Micro Puff hoody. Surprisingly warm for a light jacket, but apart from the first night the weather was quite mild. It packs down small too. Great for around camp. In colder months I think I’d go for a down jacket though.
Bioskin hinged knee skin https://bioskin.co.uk/hinged-knee-brace-wraparound.html I was worried as to how my knee would hold up. I wore this every day and it was brilliant. It’s surprisingly comfortable and supportive, yet flexible. On the odd occasion I could feel it stopping my knee from twisting. If you’ve got a dodgy knee, it’s one way of protecting it. Highly recommended.
Rab merino 120+ leggings. These are very light at 123g and comfortable to sleep in. They worked well but I’d want something warmer in cooler months. I did miss my As Tucas Sestrals trousers around camp.
Cascade Designs folding table. Luxury but very useful. It won’t suit everyone but I liked using it rather than putting stuff on the ground.
Valley and Peak insulated pouch. Another great bit of gear that can double as an insulation pouch for keeping freeze dried food pouches warm and for keeping electronics from getting too cold at night.
My other stuff was all familiar gear. My modified GG Mariposa was excellent as usual, so was my As Tucas Foratata quilt and Thermarest X-Lite . I took OMM Halo overtrousers but didn’t use them. My Paramo 3rd Element jacket was great as most of the time I used the gilet.
Unfortunately my lovely Wellhouse Alphard camper van has gone to the great scrapyard in the sky. At the end of July it was parked outside our house when a young lad lost control of his car and crashed into the back of it. While it doesn’t look too bad, I took it to a repair shop where the owner who specialises in Alphard conversions and he said it was a write off because the floor plate was buckled and it was likely there was other damage too. Repair would be too expensive given the side unit and bed would have to be removed and re-fitted. The insurance company agreed and wrote it off. Fortunately I got a reasonable settlement. I’ll miss Alphie. I’ll probably get another camper van although I’m going to wait a bit before deciding.
Last weekend I finally got to do some backpacking after the frustration of Lockdown and some other life events. It wasn’t a terribly taxing route as I was concerned at how my knee would hold up. As a precaution, I decided to use a Bioskin knee brace, which was surprisingly comfortable and minimised any potential issues. I was joined by an old school friend, which made for great conversation, although we were so engrossed I made some minor navigsational errors. Whoops! Here’s the route:
We spent four nights on the moor with three full days walking. The first night we camped at Taw Marsh which is a great place to start as it’s only a short walk from Belstone car park. I stitched together some nice palces to camp, South Teign Head, Rattlebrook and Red-a-ven, the last being somewhere I’d not camped before and was excellent.
Most of the walking was pretty easy although quite wet underfoot in places. The first two days were a bit cloudy and not great for photography, but the last day we had glorious sunshine with a cooling breeze most of the time. Here’s a YouTube slide show of the trip.
While I wasn’t on this year’s TGO Challenge, I share the disappointment of its cancellation as I was looking forward to following the experiences on social media of Challengers as they cross Scotland. Some of us are doing a virtual crossing by posting pictures of previous Challenges day by day under the hashtag #virtualTGOC on Twitter. I’m mashing up my 2014, 2015 and 2017 crossings. There doesn’t seem much point in doing a blog post as you can find my trips on my Trip Diaries page above.
However, for a bit of fun, I thought I’d put together a gear list for a crossing. As far as possible, I’ve selected gear that I haven’t used on the Challenge so far. I’ve put a list at the bottom of the post. The bottom up base weight is just over 8kg. You probably need to add about 500g for stuff sacks and odds and ends.
For the big three, I’ve selected my Tramplite pack. I toyed with taking my Atom Packs Mo, but it might be a bit small. The Tramplite is a great pack and the extra volume has no weight penalty and is useful for carrying extra food. Although it has good hip belt pockets, I’ll take my Alpinelite belt pack too.
For a shelter, I’ve chosen the X-Mid but with the Valley and Peak Ultra Bivy. I’m really impressed with the X-Mid. I’d love if it had a solid inner, but in the absence of one, I’d use the Ultra Bivy. I think the supplied mesh inner would be ok, but I think the extra protection and warmth of the Ultra Bivy is worth it, especially if there are cold winds.
I’m going to cheat and have my As Tucas Foratata quilt, which I used on my 2017 crossing as I don’t have a real alternative. My WM Ultralite is probably overkill and 340g heavier. For a sleeping mat, I’ve just bought a Nemo Tensor Alpine mat. It provides higher insulation than a Thermarest X-Lite as well as being slightly wider at the foot end and feels more comfortable and less noisy. It also has a (much) better valve.
For footwear, I going with Inov-8 Roclite 320 boots. It’s a little bit of a risk as they let a bit of damp through when I tried them in the Lakes. However, I’ve put some Silnet on the toe mesh which should help and I’ll take some Dexshell waterproof socks as a second line of defence. Spare shoes are Saucony Hattoris, sadly no longer made. Wiggy’s waders are worth the weight for any stream crossings, a slight cheat, as I’ve taken them before. Gaiters are essential for bogs, so my new Montane Outflow gaiters come along.
I’ve never used the Paramo Third Element on my Challenges, so that’s an obvious choice, especially as it converts into a gilet. For me Paramo, is ideal for Scotland as a highly water resistant soft shell. I like having a windproof too and a Montane Featherlite smock weighs next to nothing but adds flexibility. In addition to Paramo, I like having a lightweight hardshell if there’s heavy rain and high winds as Paramo can be overwhelmed, so the Alpkit Gravitas jacket is an obvious choice, although I’ve not worn it in really testing conditions. I’ve not used my Berghaus Paclite overtrousers on the Challenge, so they are an obvious choice.
I like gridded fleeces and normally I’d take an Arc’teryx Delta LT fleece, but I’ve chosen the Patagonia R1 which is slightly heavier and warmer. A Rab interval T and a Patagonia Capilene Cool T are my thin base layers which work well in most conditions. A Rohan Union Polo is my merino base layer if it’s cold. I’d take a shirt for if it’s warm and for hotels. The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is a great shirt. For sleeping I’ve selected a Smartwool merino crew. I like to have clean sleepwear, so it’s a luxury I’m happy to carry.
For warmth, my old Rab Generator jacket is difficult to beat. Being synthetic, damp is less of an issue than for a down jacket. I’ve been really impressed with the Mountain Equipment Kinesis trousers, which are light and warm, handy for around camp and to supplement my sleeping quilt if necessary. For walking trousers, I’d normally wear Montane Terras. However for this exercise, I cheated slightly and chosen the Terra convertibles rather than the ordinary version.
I now have an iPhone 11 to replace my old iPhone 6. As the camera is so good, I’ll chance using that rather than a dedicated camera. I swapped my reliable Snow Peak GST 100 stove for the Alpkit Kraku to save a little weight. Apart from that all the other gear is pretty much what I’ve used over the years.
A full list is below. Hopefully that’s provided a little entertainment in this never ending lockdown. Let’s hope we can get some backpacking done in the second half of the year!
I’ve been putting some old pictures on social media to add a bit of cheer and remind us there is a world outside of lockdown. I put this one up today of a camp on my 2012 TGO Challenge in Glen Etive. It was a wonderful spot. The next day was very different: the infamous Stormy Sunday. It is bitter sweet because it was my first TGO Challenge and I had to give up halfway with a stomach bug. The silver lining was that it made my first successful crossing in 2014 even more special. In the current crisis, these are valuable memories to hang on to. These failures and triumphs are put into perspective by the pain and suffering of this epidemic. However, we can always cling on to the good memories, made more piquant by those times of trial.
Installing the Ultra Bivy under the X-Mid fly is very easy. I found pegging the individual corners of the bivy rather than using cords to clip to the fly sheet gave a better pitch. I’ve added linelok 3’s at either end which helps with getting the right tension for the apex shock cord. It’s almost as if the Ultra Bivy was made for the X-Mid.
I’ve never used a bivy inner before so I was interested in how it would feel. The bivy itself is only big enough for a sleeping mat and sleeping bag/quilt with a little bit of storage at either end. The large double J zip means the whole roof can be opened up. I was glad of my mod to clip the door back which tidied away the large panel neatly (I’ll do a separate post on the tweaks that I’ve made). N.B. the picture below is from my original post and I have dispensed with the yellow cord on the corners.
With the roof open, the Ultra Bivy is more like a groundsheet tub than an inner. This means that gear needs to be stored in the porches. It’s worth having a small piece of groundsheet or polythene to put your rucksack and gear on. The fact that the X-Mid has two large porches means that there’s plenty of room to store and organise gear.
I was a bit concerned that it might feel claustrophobic when the roof/door was zipped up, but this wasn’t the case. I didn’t feel shut in and it was surprisingly easy to unzip the roof panel to sit up. I used my As Tucas Foratata quilt and found that using a quilt was good as when opening the roof, then sitting up, I could slide the quilt down to the end of the bivy without any material dragging on the ground in the porch. This might be more difficult with a conventional sleeping bag. Because the bivy is relatively narrow and enclosed, it is ideal to use with a quilt as there’s no chance of draughts under the edges.
I used the V&P hood, but didn’t attach it at the apex. This provided enough draught protection but also gave a bit more ventilation and felt less closed in. I’ve added some kamsnaps to the hood for ease of attachment (again, I’ll do a separate post on this). The roof pocket was great for small items like a pack of tissues and phone.
There’s not much else I can say. Overall, I’m really pleased with the Ultra Bivy. Given that there’s no solid inner option for the X-Mid (I’d still like one!), the Ultra Bivy is a good alternative and should work well in cold, wet and windy conditions, where a mesh inner is less comfortable.
I spent another night camping in my garden last night. This time I used my X-Mid and Valley and Peak Ultra Bivy. I was impressed with the Ultra Bivy. I’ll write a short review soon. I must be getting old. Even though it only got down to 8c, I felt a little cold. Fortunately I had some extra layers. Despite a bit more traffic noise than last week, I had a reasonable night’s sleep.
As we are all in lockdown and no idea of when we will get out, I decided to follow the example of a fellow blogger, Matt (https://backpackartist.com) and camp for a night in my back garden.
Normally camping in our back garden would require earplugs to cut out the noise from traffic and aircraft. However, at the moment, everything is eerily quiet. The only thing that disturbed me was the noise of some cats fighting at about 3am.
I used my new Scarp. It reminded me of what a fabulous tent it is. The only problem I had was finding a spot in our garden that wasn’t sloping too much. Just for old time’s sake, I used my Alpkit Pipedream 600 sleeping bag. It was a bit too warm to start with so I used it like a quilt. As it got cooler I reverted to sleeping bag mode. It was nice to sleep outside for a night. Who knows when we will get an opportunity to do it in the wilds.