The Cambrian Way (well almost)

For the last two years I’ve had the focus of doing the TGO Challenge for my backpacking year. This year I was vetoed from going again because my wife didn’t want me to be away for two weeks at a time. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking what to do this year.

The Cambrian Way has been on my mind for about three years, but doing it in one go entails too much time. It might well be beyond my physical capabilities as it is probably the toughest long distance walk in the UK, stretching for 291 miles with nearly 24,000m of total ascent.

I started to look at doing it in sections. Tony Drake’s guidebook divides it into three sections: Southern (Cardiff to Llandovery) 108 miles, Central (Llandovery to Dinas Mawddwy) 78 miles, Northern (Dinas Mawddwy to Conwy) 88 miles.

The trouble with trails is they feel like straight jackets, so I started playing around with the route. I didn’t fancy Cardiff to Abergavenny that much, so I decided I would start at Abergavenny (good rail link). Next I decided that I’d skip the Black Mountains and go from Abergavenny to Crickhowell to pick up the Cambrian Way proper there. This gives me a nice introduction of around five days to Llandovery over the Brecon Beacons. Llandovery is a good break point as it has a railway station.

I think I will extend the Central section to Barmouth rather than stop at Dinas Mawddwy. This makes the section about 100 miles. While I’ve mapped it, I’ve not divided it up into days, but expect it to take about 7/8 days. Barmouth is a convenient break point as it has a railway station. It also makes the next section a convenient block.

The Northern section from Barmouth to Conwy is about 68 miles, but is the toughest in terms of terrain and ascent. My rough plan at the moment is to do this in six days, but possibly to add an extra “slack” day. I shall save this for the last of the three sections, probably in August.

If I get the urge to complete the whole Cambrian Way and nothing but the Cambrian Way, then I might do the Cardiff and Black Mountains section in September. I’m not really a box ticker at heart, so I’m not that bothered. On the other hand it would be nice to complete the whole walk.

One significant advantage of doing the Cambrian Way in stages is that it gives me some flexibility in timing. I had pencilled in a couple of trips to Scotland but travel takes more planning. Unfortunately my mother is seriously ill, so I need to be sensitive to what is happening with her.

At the moment my tentative plan is Abergavenny to Llandovery in June, Llandovery to Barmouth in July and Barmouth to Conwy in August. I’m also hoping to camp all the way. I need to do some more detailed planning, particularly on the central section, which looks logistically challenging (8 days food?). I’ll do some more posts later in the year to let you know how I’m getting on.

Exped Thunder 70 mods

It’s a rare bit of gear that doesn’t suffer some modifications. Here’s what I’ve done to my Exped Thunder 70 pack.

1) Shoulder strap daisy chain. I used quite thin (10mm) grosgrain so I can attach lightweight items to one shoulder strap if I want.

2) Shoulder dry pocket attachment. Like my Lightwave Ultrahike, I’ve sewn a piece of webbing so I can attach a Berghaus dry pocket camera pouch.

I could put a camera in the hip belt pockets, but it would be unprotected, so I prefer this arrangement.

3) Hip belt map case loops.

 As an alternative to attaching a map case to the shoulder strap, I’ve seen two grosgrain loops on one hip belt pocket. Two shock cord loops with cord grips secure an Ortlieb map case.

To ensure the loops are securely attached, the top seam is sewn to the zip backing. Logically it would be better to have horizontal loops rather than vertical but they might tear the fabric of the pocket.

All quite simple, but adds to the utility of the Thunder.

Exped Thunder 70

I’ve been searching for a high volume but light rucksack for possible treks in Northern Scandinavia and/or Greenland. There’s a chance that I might be able to do these in a couple of years time if I’m lucky. These sort of treks require 7-10 days of food, which takes up a fair bit of space, hence the need for a 70 litre rucksack.

I came across the Exped Thunder 70 recently and it looked just the job. Chuck in a discounted deal and I pulled the trigger. It’s very well specified and put together, but weighs a very reasonable 1.6kg (verified on my scales). I paid €220 (£166), which is good value for a quality rucksack.

The adjustable back system means that the fit can be adjusted precisely. I loaded it with a couple of sleeping bags and it seems to carry well. There’s a substantial hip belt which fits nicely. The actual sack itself is a single compartment with a top opening. However, the main sack can be accessed by twin vertical zips to make it into a panel loader. While not strictly necessary, it’s a nice feature.

There are stretch hip belt pockets as well as stretch side and back pockets. The material for these seems to be a bit more robust than average. The double lid pocket is a good size with external access as well us under the lid. Inside, there’s a hydration sleeve with port exits.

It’s a very well thought out pack with some good details. Most of the straps have neat Velcro keepers and metal Rapide hooks rather than plastic side release buckles. The side compression straps should help to control the volume of the sack for smaller loads. All in all, it looks a pretty good pack. Hopefully, I’ll be able to try it out soon.

MYOG lumbar pad for ULA Ohm

IMG_1684I’ve found the ULA Ohm a bit sweaty in the lower back region, so I thought I’d add a lumbar pad.

IMG_1687It was really easy to make. I cut an oblong from a Gossamer Gear closed cell foam pad. Added some shock cord loops at either end, secured with some duct tape.

IMG_1686I covered it in some open weave material which I had kicking around from another project.

IMG_1688The shock cord fits behind the Ohm pockets and stays in place well. Hey presto! A lumbar pad. Along with the hip belt and frame sheet mods, I’m rather pleased with the Ohm and will be using it this summer.

Tarptent Scarp 1 mk3

Henry Shires has just announced some changes to the Scarp 1: a wider adjustable inner tent, new inner tent pockets and a stronger pole.

The new inner uses a similar system to the Moment DW so it can be adjusted to fit two sleeping mats. This means you can choose whether to have two porches or to have a wider inner with only one porch. According to a comment by Henry on the Trek Lite forum, this adds about 30g to the weight.

Although there is more than adequate interior space in the Mk2 Scarp, I can see that it might be useful to have some extra space. I like the idea of having the option of more room or a free porch.

Better inner tent pockets is a good move as the old ones were of little use. A stronger pole is also a good upgrade, although I’ve already got a stronger pole that I took from a defunct Marmot tent I used to own.

It’s great to see a manufacturer making sensible upgrades to an existing design that is already very good. I still think the Scarp 1 is one of the best tents ever made. While there is an option to buy and retro fit the inner, I think I’ll probably wait to see whether there are any other developments before considering replacing my existing Scarp. You can find my long-term review of the Scarp 1 here .

Lightweight waders

DSC01699I’ve had a couple of people ask me about my lightweight waders recently, so I thought I’d do a quick post on my experiences with them. I use a pair of Wiggy’s Waders, which I bought in 2010.

I modified them a bit by replacing the draw cord at the top with some elastic cord and cord grip and cutting off the belt clip, replacing that with a bit of cord to tie on to a trouser belt. I also use some velcro adjustable straps to secure the waders at the ankle and knee. It’s important to expel as much air as possible before you tighten the straps.

The waders are made out of medium-weight proofed nylon. All the seams are sealed and the soles are reinforced with non-slip rubber patches. They are fairly robust and should last a long time. Weight is around 300g per pair.

They were very expensive, taking into account delivery costs and customs duty. However, they are a once in a lifetime purchase and much better than Dry Walkers, which were the only competitor at the time.

Why bother with waders? Well, they are not everybody’s cup of tea. However, if you wear boots, they are a lot quicker than swapping to Crocs or trail shoes when you cross a stream or river. One tip is that I put a plastic carrier bag over my boot to stop the inside of the wader from getting muddy, which should prolong their life.

Secondly, they keep your feet and legs dry! No faffing about drying your feet and legs after a wade. Also, they save a lot of angst in rain. If you have to wade when it’s raining, the odds are that in the process of changing footwear, you’re going to get your socks wet. With waders, you don’t get that problem. On last year’s Challenge, I almost left my waders behind but was glad I took them when I had to make a river crossing in the pouring rain.

Thirdly, your feet and legs don’t get cold. This is particularly pertinent if you are in Northern Europe, especially if the water is coming from a glacier! Even in Scotland, I found that getting cold legs was making me rush stream crossings, making them potentially more hazardous.

I’ve been looking at some videos of treks around Sarek in Sweden recently. They tend to involve quite a lot of river crossings. I’ve been surprised that I’ve yet to see anyone wearing waders. For example, there’s plenty of dodgy looking crossings in this video (e.g. at 7:30 and 11:50 in video).

 I reckon they’d be a lot more comfortable and safer if they were wearing waders! Now, I’m probably going to get a volley from trail shoe users, who don’t change shoes but just wade through streams regardless. That’s fine by me, but I don’t like trail shoes, preferring lightweight mid boots.

Even with trail shoes, you could make an argument for using waders if the water is cold and the river is wide. Keeping your legs and feet warm means you are less likely to rush a crossing, making it safer.

Wiggy’s Waders are not perfect. IMO it’s worth making the tweaks that I outlined earlier. Unless you’ve got a friend in the US, they are quite expensive to import. They could be made out of lighter materials too. I can’t see why the weight couldn’t be reduced to around 200g by using lighter materials. In the end, they are too niche, so I can’t see anyone doing it. Even at 300g, they are hardly heavy weight.

As with all things in backpacking, what suits me, won’t necessarily suit you. However, for places like Scotland where there are plenty of cold water river crossings, I’ve found my waders to be virtually indispensable.

 Diclosure: I purchased my waders with my own money and have no relationship with Wiggy’s.

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