Lessons learnt

Rather than some lengthy gear evaluations, I’m going to use this post to make some short comments on the gear I took to the Lakes, which will, hopefully, be useful.

Shorts: I normally take shorts or zip off trousers. On this trip I didn’t and regretted it, especially on Saturday. It reinforces the message of be prepared for all weathers in the UK from freezing to heat wave!

iPhone GPS: I was really impressed with this. I was sceptical that it would work without a phone signal but it was quicker than my Garmin Gecko at signal acquisition. There are free apps to get grid references, but I used some 1:50,000 OS mapping software (Outdoors GB by Road Tour, National Parks, £14.99). It was very helpful to see where I was on the map and a combination of iPhone and compass should be enough for most situations. The ability to magnify the map for roads and paths to clarify details was also very helpful. One drawback is that using the GPS drinks the battery.

Integral Designs Hot Socks: I used these as bivi socks instead of my fleece lined ones. They are lighter, warmer and more comfortable than my fleece ones. They weigh 120g and are available at Ultralight Outdoor Gear. If you suffer from cold feet, these are well worth considering. I think they have an advantage over down as getting damp is not an issue.

Scarp 1 tent: I continue to be impressed by the Scarp. The two key features are space and stability. It’s also very easy to pitch and suffers much less from condensation than the Akto and Laser Comp.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus: Brilliant pack. So comfortable and flexible. Love it.

Pod compression sacks: I got these from Bob and Rose. They are excellent for minimising the bulk of sleeping bags and clothes. I may get a couple more.

Merino vs. Synthetic: For the first time in ages, I took synthetic base layers instead of Merino. I used a short and a long sleeve Xstatic  top from Berghaus (uses a light Polartech fleece) and a Rohan Ultra T. While I love Merino, I have to say the Xstatic was very impressive. The advantage over Merino is that it dries so fast. While wearing it, any sweat is almost instantaneously evaporated (very good on the two hot days). As an experiment I washed the short sleeve T in Codale Tarn and pegged it on the tent. Within an hour it was dry. I used the Rohan T for sleeping. It has a lovely silky feel and was surprisingly warm. The Ultra boxers were also good. My other undies were Haglofs. Anti-smell was good on all of them, at least as good as Merino. I am now much less sure that Merino is the best for base layers.

Neo Air with silk cover: This worked brilliantly. It’s much more comfortable than without and seems to add significantly to the insulation (which is good in the first place). Interestingly, back at base camp, I used an Exped Downmat 7 and it didn’t feel as warm. The Neo Air was also great for making uneven pitches comfortable. The slight deflation during the night is still a bit disconcerting, but doesn’t affect the comfort. Extra weight is 100g.

Exped pillow: This is the new champion. At 89g, it’s almost half the weight of the Ajungilak pillow. It has a well designed inflation/deflation system (unlike the Ajungilak). It has good neck support and packs very small. Pillow problem solved.

Repackaging Real Turmat meals: If you use RT meals, it’s well worth doing this. It makes packing much easier. I was also very pleased with my pouch snug system. The base plate is a good idea as it enables more heat retention when on the ground rehydrating and also provides a handy bit of insulation under the pouch when you are eating if you are balancing it on your knees. BTW, yet again, RT proved that it is the king of dehydrated food.

Montane Marathon Jacket: Most people go for the Featherlite Smock or the Litespeed jacket, but the Marathon jacket is worth considering as an alternative. The main advantage is the vents on the sides, which stop overheating. Shame it doesn’t have a hood or a pocket.

Headtorch: It was a waste of time carrying one. I had a small keyring LCD torch anyway. In summer months I’m not going to bother with a headtorch.

Salomon XA + cap: I really like this cap. It’s got great ventilation and the removable neck flap is brilliant for sunny weather. Rarer than hen’s teeth, though!

Paramo 3rd Element jacket: It may not be the lightest Paramo, but it’s the most versatile. Yet again, this proved to be a great piece of gear. The ability to use it as a gilet lifts it above normal jackets. It’s very comfortable in a wide variety of conditions.

Salomon Fastpacker GTX boots: I know you are getting bored with me telling you how good these are but…. They are so good. Even on Saturday, when it was touching 30c, my feet didn’t overheat. Sure, they would have been more comfortable in mesh trainers, but what other Goretex lined boot could cope with those conditions? They are very secure and grippy on all ground. In high summer, trail shoes may be better, but apart from harsh winter conditions, these boots are ideal. They even take the sting out of road walking.

Haglof LIM Barrier Pull-on: Light (262g) and perfect as a warm layer. The fabric is beautifully soft. Also rarer than hen’s teeth and now discontinued.

Travel Tap: I can’t understand why anyone would bother to use anything other than a Travel Tap for water purification. It’s so simple and fail safe. I’ve tried tablets, the MSR MIOX and Steripen and they are no competition. There’s no unpleasant taste and it filters out all the nasties. It also doubles as a bottle and is virtually indestructible. I know a lot of people don’t filter water high on the fells, but I would rather be safe than sorry. I’ve seen too many dead sheep in streams. I am also getting quite wary about how hygiene conscious a lot of hill users are. I’ve not encountered this yet, but it makes you very wary.

Tea bags: I remembered to take them! I use Twinings White Tea bags (which is really green tea). I love these and you don’t have to faff around with milk powder as you take it without. White tea is not as astringent as green tea. I even had a brew on a couple of lunch stops. With these and bag meals, I’ve perfected the art of having zero washing up. I also put them in my first aid kit, as befits a tea addict.

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14 thoughts on “Lessons learnt”

    1. My mother made it from a silk sleeping bag liner (backpackinglight.co.uk). I have the short Neo Air so she just shortened the silk liner and used some velcro to close the end.

  1. Hi Robin. Many thanks for this–it’s always very interesting and helpful to know how other people got on with particular items of kit.

    Which Exped pillow did you take? I’m still using the Ajungilac but if there’s something that might suit me better then I’m keen to give it a try. I found two different ones on the Exped site and wasn’t sure which one you meant.

  2. Travel Tap – yep a great bit of kit, the real value being it has a multiple use as every bit og kit in a pack ideally must have to keep weight low

  3. Interesting to read your views.

    Haven’t heard of the Hotsocks before. I must say that I think camp footwear is a problem. I use mock Crocs which are light but do take up a lot of space. Perhaps worth thinking about?

    I still like merino but then have to take care washing afterwards. I do use the Rohan T shirt at home – am wary of them getting stinky after a couple of days.

    1. I don’t like Crocs. My camp shoes (if I take any) are Nike Mayfly trainers (250g per pair). They fold flat and you can even walk in them, although the tread pattern is not very deep. I think the hot socks are more for colder trips, but they are nice!

  4. I often do a “lessons learnt” at the end of a hillwalking weekend, or LDP week. I agree that the iPhone is an amazing and versatile piece of kit. At 155g, it is perhaps the most useful item I have. The GPS is instant (unlike any GPS system I have ever seen or, indeed, my old BlackBerry) and the compass is always spot on. When I am solo walking, I am often listening to music so the iPhone is handy anyway. I have a Silva compass as well and an OS 1:25,000 map so I never rely on it solely, but it has yet to be wrong! I even have Lofty Wiseman’s SAS Survival Guide on there in full – really interesting read at night.

    Just ordered a GG Gorilla – I had a look at Mountain Laurel Designs and Six Moon Designs, as well as the Ohm, but the Gorilla just seems ideal for me. Last one at Winwood Outdoor so let’s hope it comes through and be ready for a review soon.

    I also tried to get hold of the Haglöfs LIM Barrier pull-on but they were like gold dust – instead I bagged a Patagonia Nano Puff pullover and that will be my insulation layer from now on. Never used a down/primaloft top before so looking forward to seeing how it does – certainly packs down small…

    1. Agreed on the iPhone. Hope you like the Gorilla. It’s very similar to the Mariposa. I’ll be interested in how the new yoke feels. I’m sure the Nano Puff will be as good as the LIM Barrier. Even though they are thin, they are surprisingly warm and much better than an equivalent weight fleece.

  5. Thank you for the review. Your comments on the iPhone may have hastened my purchase of something similar. I don’t own any kind of mobile so it had not occurred to me that you could have books on there.

    I tried a Real Turmat meal and did not like it at all. Salt was the problem. Serious quantities. Definitely not for anyone with blood pressure issues. Also it contained more pasta than I am prepared to tolerate for that price. But if these remarks do not dissuade, I can vouch for the superb service of Outdoors Grub Ltd – the same standard as Bob and Rose, from whom they sought advice.

    There is one big problem with merino. It doesn’t want to wear out. Mine probably aren’t as good as when I bought them several years ago but they aren’t far off.

    Best wishes, John

  6. Any thoughts on the Deuter Futura 32l (+4) pack over the Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus?

    I bought a travel tap and so far am impressed! Can you definately draw water from any fresh water source and safely drink it? Let’s say filling from tap water in Egypt?

    Any commetns are most welcome…..

    1. I don’t have the Deuter Futura 32, although a very long time ago I had an earlier version. By the look of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_KtHU2hPDI , it hasn’t changed much. 1600g for a 32L pack is rather heavy. The Mariposa is around 700g with a foam pad. It also has substantially more volume (max c. 60L, 46L in main body). To my mind, the Mariposa is for multiday backpacking, whereas the Futura is primarily a high spec day sack.

      On the original Futura, I found the frame at the base dug into my hips. If you want a sprung back, the Osprey Exos is a much lighter pack.

      According to Drinksafe Systems, the Travel Tap will filter any fresh water, however contaminated. http://www.drinksafe-systems.co.uk/worldwide-testing.php

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