Duomid tweaks tested

DSC02226For my stay at Maeneira, I used my cuben Duomid with my latest mods. I recommend the apex front guy. It adds hugely to stablity and takes the strain away from the front pegging points. This means that the Duomid keeps its shape much better when either or both of the door panels are open. I simplified the the guy by using a single cord secured by a side-release linelok sewed on the grosgrain between the apex and the top of the door zip.

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Previously, I had secured one end on the outside apex loop as well, so effectively it was a double guy. On reflection, this was overkill. The advantage of my current system is the tension can be adjusted from within the Duomid and the guy can be released quickly, if necessary. If you want to copy this and don’t want to use a linelok, then it is just as effective to make a tie out from the apex loop on the outside of the shelter.

DSC02224I was also pleased with my quick release door pegging points. These mimick the Tramplite shelter. It’s so much easier to open the door now. Having two lineloks also gives flexibility to have either door panel open. By using long cords, it’s also a lot easier to tension from inside.

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Playing with stoves

My recent short stay at Maeneira gave me a chance to play about with some stoves.  Although I’ve tinkered with meths stoves in the back garden, I’ve always used a gas stove on trips. The smell of meths turns my stomach. However, the introduction of Fuel4 Bioethanol meant access to a fuel with the same calorific value as meths, but without the noxious smell.

The other issue with most meths stoves is that you either waste fuel by letting them burn out or have a tricky job pouring the fuel back into your fuel bottle. However, a number of people have been raving about Zelph StarLyte stoves, which have some absorbent wadding to contain the meths. This means they are spill proof. They also have a lid, which means you can extinguish them and store the excess fuel in the stove.

Anyway, I prevaricated about ordering one (or two) from the US. Then I came across Speedster Backpacking Products. The stoves are very similar to the Zelph ones but made in the UK. Not only that, I was attracted to the folding windshield and pot support. My order was fulfilled quickly. I was impressed with the quality of both the stove and the windshield/pot support.

DSC02214 Speedster stove

My day lazing around Maeneira meant I had plenty of time to play about with both the Speedster and a BushBuddy Ultra that I had bought second-hand on OM. As you can see above, the stove is simplicity itself. A screw top tin with some wadding and a wire mesh retainer (weight 14g).

DSC02215Speedster stove and screen

The screen is a six-sided concertina with a cutout for a pot handle and ventilation slots at the base. There are three wire fold out pot supports. It weighs 72g including a small pouch for storage. I also used a foil base (wt 32g) to avoid scorching the grass.

DSC02207Stove setup

To complete the setup, I had a Tibetan pot (wt 148g), which came with the BushBuddy. I took a pot grab, in case the handles got too hot. However, this wasn’t necessary for the Speedster setup. I took a “snuffer” to extinguish the stove, which was the top of a Trangia gel stove (wt 7g). An old tin lid would do as well. I used a Torjet lighter (20g), which has a strong flame and I carry in my toilet kit.

DSC02206Speedster stove and screen

Instead of taking the 750ml bottle of bioethanol, I decanted some into a Vargo fuel bottle, which was lighter and easier to fill the stove from a closable nozzle. So how did it do?

My first boil was in dead calm conditions and it boiled 400ml of water in less than five minutes. Not bad at all. There was next to no soot deposit and no smell either. The snuffer made it easy to extinguish as well. Later on in windier conditions, it took a bit longer to boil, emphasising how sensitive ethanol/meths fuels are to breezes. I used the Speedster several times and quite liked it.

Would I be a convert to a liquid fuel stove? I can see some attractions, but overall, I think I prefer gas. Gas is quicker and instant. It’s also easier to do more than one boil. With liquid fuel, it pays to boil all the water you need in one go. I took an Aladdin insulated mug (wt 148g) so that my post meal tea could stay hot while my food rehydrated. Bioethanol is cleaner than meths, but there’s still some soot, whereas gas is totally clean.

In terms of weight, it depends what you take. the Speedster setup of stove, screen/support, foil base, snuffer, pot and mug weighed 432g. My TGOC setup of Snow Peak GST 100, Primus windshield, canister feet, Evernew Pasta pot (doubles as mug) weighed 267g. If I substituted my Evernew 600ml pot plus MSR Mug (with cosy), the total weight rises to 344g. A 100g gas canister weighs 190g and lasts about one week. My TGOC setup with a 100 gas canister weighs only marginally more than the Speedster setup without fuel.

In the end, I think there’s not a lot in it, but for me the convenience of gas wins for most situations. That’s not to say I won’t use the Speedster again. I think it has it’s place in certain circumstances.

IMG_1484BushBuddy Ultra

 I also had the opportunity to try my BushBuddy Ultra. I was really lucky to pick up one of these as they are no longer made. The Ultra is the lightest BushBuddy, weighing 140g. It’s a simple but robust wood burning stove consisting of a double walled burner base and a pot support.

IMG_1482Three sizes of wood for burning

The first thing to do was to get some wood to burn. I graded it into three thicknesses: small twigs for kindling, medium-sized twigs to get the fire going and larger ones to feed it once the fire was established. I also had Hammaro card as tinder. I protected the BushBuddy from the wind with a fold out aluminium screen (208g) that I’d bought ages ago.

IMG_1485Lighting the BushBuddy

I had read that it can be tricky to light wood burning stoves, so I was careful to layer the stove with small twigs as kindling before adding the medium-sized twigs and tinder paper. Because the wood was so dry, it caught very easily and soon the twigs were alight.

IMG_1487All systems go!

Once the stove was burning well I put on the pot. I fed the fire with the larger pieces of wood. I didn’t do any timing, but the pot came to the boil quite quickly.

IMG_1489Success!

I was glad I’d taken a pot grab as it made removing the pot a lot easier. I found the BushBuddy very easy to use and surprisingly quick and efficient. Once the fire got going, it was also relatively smokeless (not that you would use it in a tent). There wasn’t a huge amount of soot on the pot, either.

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I can see the attractions of the BushBuddy in wilderness situations where wood is obtainable. Supplemented with a meths stove when wood is either unobtainable or wet, it would be a good choice. If fuel is plentiful, then the extra weight would be offset by not having to carry much or any fuel. Additionally, running out of fuel is less of an issue and there’s nothing to fail or break.

In summer, I could see myself taking the BushBuddy and the Speedster stove as a change. However, I think gas remains the most convenient option. It’s cleaner and  probably slightly lighter under most circumstances.

Diclosure: all products used were purchased with my own money. I have no affiliations with any of the manufacturers mentioned.

Maeneira ultra slackpack

Recently I had to fetch our daughter from Manchester Uni. Rather than go there and back in a day, I decided to visit my beloved Maeneira to spend a lazy day. Ultra slackpack? Well it’s only fifteen minutes from the car park and I spent a whole day lazing around in the sunshine. I even had a visitation from some friendly Carneddau horses who let me stroke their noses. Here’s some pictures.

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TGO Challenge 2015: Gear Roundup

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Ok, here’s a quick roundup of some of the clothing and equipment I used on this year’s TGO Challenge

Clothing

For me, the real star of the Challenge was my As Tucas Sestrals 2 insulated trousers. At 185g, they provide an amazing amount of warmth and wind protection. They were wonderful to put on at the end of each day when I was camping. The new Schoeller material is like silk and lovely against your legs. They are thin enough that you don’t overheat but plenty warm enough, even in cold and windy conditions like we had for the Cheese & Wine party. The snaps at the hem mean you can cinch them at the ankle to keep warmth in. They also have a good DWR coating so they shrug off light rain. For wearing around camp in cool or cold conditions they are brilliant. I also used them on a couple of nights in my sleeping bag for some extra warmth. Highly recommended.

The Challenge was the first prolonged test for my Marmot Essence waterproof jacket and trousers. At just under 170g each, they are astonishingly light. I wore the overtrousers more than the jacket. The jacket was used extensively on two days, once over my Paramo Velez Light and once on its own. I was very pleased with the breathability. It doesn’t feel quite as good as three layer eVent, but I think that’s down to being a 2.5 layer rather than 3 layer jacket, where the moisture is “hidden” by the inner fabric. The material is certainly waterproof and the DWR effective with no wetting out. The thinness of the material makes the garments cooler than more substantial waterproofs. They are also quite delicate, so I’ve had to patch a cut on both the jacket and overtrousers. If you want a good value, very breathable lightweight shell, the Essence jacket and overtrousers are worth considering. The jacket is quite a trim cut, so if I were buying again, I’d go a size up. Also don’t expect them to put up with rough treatment as the material is quite delicate.

The two other things to report on are the Outdoor Research Sunrunner cap and Spectrum Sunsleeves. I liked the Sunrunner cap a lot. The vents make it more comfortable when warm and I like the detachable neck screen. I also used OR Spectrum Sun Sleeves. These convert a short-sleeved T shirt into a long-sleeved one. They have a SPF of 50 and can be pulled over the back of your hands. At 38g, they weigh nothing, but are brilliant for using on sunny days instead of sun screen. They are also quite cool (as in temperature, not looks). I really liked them.

Equipment

Virtually all the equipment I used as the same as last year. Given the wind and some poor weather, I was glad I took my Scarp 1. Talking to Bob and Rose, about the evening that we were camped in Glen Markie, they couldn’t cook inside their Vaude Power Lizard because it was flapping so much. I had no problems in my Scarp. I love being confident that it can handle anything. It also has a compact footprint and goes up in a jiffy. I used my GG Mariposa rucksack. My only criticism is that one of the shoulder straps slips and has to be tightened regularly and the material is not very water-resistant. Other than that, it’s a great rucksack.

My sleeping bag was my modified Rab Neutrino SL 200. It’s just right for the Challenge. Most nights it was fine on its own. On a couple of nights I had to supplement it with my PHD Minimus down jacket and As Tucas Sestrals 2 insulated trousers. I used my Thermarest Xlite short sleeping mat, which was very comfortable and had no issues with deflation.

My boots were Ecco Biom Hike Mids, which were perfect. Very comfortable and robust. They also were very waterproof. Sure I was occasionally a bit sweaty and I wished I’d taken an extra pair of socks, but I had no blisters. It’s a shame they’ve stopped making them.

In the end I took my umbrella and waders. I was really glad I took my umbrella. I used it for most of the day on two days. On the day to the Water of Allachy, I even rigged it so it was hands free. It made two of the days of heavy rain much more bearable. The waders were useful as well, particularly on one day when I had to wade a river when it was raining hard. If I was being super-Spartan though, I’d leave them behind.

Any failures?

I had no failures. The only disappointment was the new style Rohan Ultra T, which doesn’t seem to be as smell resistant as the old style. As a result, I wore my Montane Sportwool Terra T (polyester/merino wool blend) most of the time, which was impressively smell resistant. I might get another merino/synthetic combo base layer as they seem to combine smell resistance with fast drying.

DIsclaimer: all items mentioned were purchased with my own money.

TGO Challenge 2015: the Paramo experience

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With the adverse weather we experienced on this year’s Challenge, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experiences of my Paramo Velez Adventure Light smock.

To recap my previous experiences, I’ve worn Paramo jackets and smocks for probably twenty years. Over that time, I’ve come to regard them as highly water resistant soft shells. Like many, I have experienced conditions (heavy, sustained, wind-driven rain) where the material gets overwhelmed and ceases to be water resistant. As a consequence, I’ve tended to carry a hard shell in addition to a Paramo jacket.

I’ve never experienced total failure, but have been quite wet occasionally. This is partly a function of how the Paramo material interacts with the material of rucksack straps and hip belt. If the strap material is absorbent, then failure through wicking is more likely. The strap material soaks up water which is then forced through the Paramo material through pressure and rubbing. Also, there are just times when the quantity of rain overwhelms the fabric and pump liner.

On last year’s Challenge, I used my Vasco jacket, which is my favourite Paramo jacket. Unfortunately, I washed it before the Challenge, but didn’t re-proof it. The result was that the outer wetted out in several places. It was ok in light rain or showers, but I didn’t trust it in heavier rain where I used a hard shell. This was my fault, not the fault of the Vasco, but illustrates that care needs to be taken in maintaining Paramo clothing.

This year, I took my Velez Adventure Light. I took the VAL instead of the Vasco because it is about 200g lighter and packs smaller when not in use. I also took a Marmot Essence waterproof jacket as a hard shell. Although the Essence is a trim fit, it still layers over the VAL if needed.

Prior to the Challenge, I took a lot of care in re-proofing the VAL. I rinsed the washing machine with a hot wash. Then I used Nikwax Tech Wash to clean the VAL. Next, I disregarded the normal Nikwax proofing instructions. Instead of using the washing machine to rinse in the proofer, I filled a bucket with water. I mixed in the required amount TX proofer and soaked the VAL in the bucket for 24 hours (agitating it a couple of times to make sure it was completely soaked). I then spun it dry in the washing machine (without rinsing) and tumble dried it.

So how did it work? Well, the weather was pretty testing. On the first Sunday, we had heavy (though not torrential) rain with a strong wind. As I was walking up the Allt Garbh and over the Bealach an Amais, the rain stung my face when I turned into the wind. At the top of the Bealach, I was nearly blown over a couple of times. Down in Gleann Fada and along the River Doe, it wasn’t as ferocious, but most of the time it was still raining, although not as heavily.

The VAL coped superbly! Apart from a little bit around the wrists, the fabric showed no signs of wetting out at all. The rain just beaded and dripped off. Apart from dampness from sweat, I stayed dry all day. My base layer was a Montane Terra Sportwool T and an old Arcteryx gridded fleece jumper (no longer made). I have to say, I was very impressed.

The next day, there was heavy rain until early afternoon, but I was using an umbrella most of the time (a good combination!), and I stayed dry, with no wetting out. The following day, from Ft Augustus to Glen Markie, it wasn’t as wet, but was very windy with squally wintery showers. For the first part I used the VAL on its own (again no wetting out).

As we got higher, it got colder, so I layered the Marmot Essence jacket over the VAL. Despite the VAL being wet to start with, this combination worked well. Within an hour, the VAL and the inside of the Essence were dry. I was also a comfortable temperature despite the biting wind.

With my faith restored in the water repellency of Paramo, I used the VAL a lot of the time. The next significant test was the very windy and sometimes wet weather from Bynack More along the Water of Caiplich. Again, the VAL shrugged off the rain.

I’ve always liked using Paramo in cool, showery conditions. The venting options and breathability make it much more comfortable than having to wear a hard shell. It also means you don’t have to keep swapping between a hard shell and wind proof.

The Velez itself is a great smock. I still slightly prefer the Vasco jacket as a design, as the floating yoke provides better venting for your back. However the Velez has better venting at the front, has a better hood and is lighter and has a smaller pack size. The VAL in combination with the Marmot Essence jacket is a similar weight to the Vasco, but provides more flexibility and warmth.

Would I use Paramo without taking a hard shell? That’s a tough one. I can still envisage situations where Paramo might fail, but with my new proofing method, I suspect these would be very rare. However, the VAL/Essence combo weighs the same as my Vasco and less than some other Paramo jackets. For walks like the Challenge, it seems a good choice to cover all eventualities. While there are lighter soft shell jackets out there, none have the water resistance of Paramo, so I think the VAL is a winner for most conditions outside summer.

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