Before I write up my daily notes on my truncated TGO Challenge, I’ll do a quick gear roundup. Overall, my gear choices worked well. There are a few changes I would make on a future Challenge, which I will address at the end.
Shelter and sleeping.
The Scarp was excellent. The combination of strength and roominess is almost unbeatable. Two porches are great with the ability to store wet gear in one and cook in the other. The inner is also a decent size. Something else to consider is that for a decent size tent it has a compact footprint compared to say a Trailstar. On one pitch, I might have struggled to pitch a larger tent. Condensation was also well controlled. Someone took a SL2 without an inner and regretted it as condensation soaked his sleeping bag. I had no problems at all.
After all the angst over a sleeping mat, I took the Exped Synmat UL. It was impeccable. Comfortable, warm and compact when packed. Sleeping bag was an Alpkit Pipedream 400. I wore clothes inside as usual and it was fine. One thing I did a couple of times was to use the hood of my Minimus down jacket instead of the hood of the sleeping bag. I found this combination warmer and more comfortable.
The Mariposa was excellent. My total weight was between 12 and 14kg with food and water. It is very flexible for loading and incredibly comfortable to carry. I used the Exped pumpsack that came with the new Exped Downmat UL as a dry bag. It kept my sleeping bag and spare clothes completely dry. It is also very handy to pump up the sleeping mat. Other stuff sacks were a combination of cuben and silnylon. I’m going to get a few more cuben stuff sacks. Not only will it chop a few grams off, the closures are so tight, they are almost dry bags. On stormy Sunday, I used an Integral Designs silynlon pack cover and it was invaluable to keep my pack and contents dry. One thing I do is to put an adjustable strap around the middle to stop it billowing, which worked well.
Stormy Sunday was a good test for waterproofs. The high winds and torrential rain was about as bad as it gets. My RAB Drillium overtrousers were superb. On Sunday, I wore running tights underneath. When I took them off at lunch time I was completely dry. Stunning. The OMM Cypher smock was almost as impressive. I was slightly damp on my chest and lower back, but that was only to be expected. The hood is superb. The deep chest zip is great for venting. I even liked the thumb loop cuffs. Sleeves are nice and long to hide your hands. Gaiters were MLD event. Perfect and very light.
My umbrella was a star. When it’s not too windy, it’s great to use an umbrella to create a dry microclimate so you don’t have to use a hood. It also keeps the shoulder straps and back pad of the pack dry. It’s great for showery weather. Instead of continually putting on and taking off waterproofs, just put up your umbrella. We had quite a lot of short lived hail showers, for which an umbrella was ideal.
The other unusual item I carried was waders. I’ve cut the buckles off, which has reduced the weight to a very acceptable 260g. Unlike Drywalkers, they reach to the top of the thighs and made out of robust nylon with rubber non-slip soles. I used them three times. The ability to slip them on and cross burns dry shod and warm is priceless to me. In Scotland you will always be faced with problematic stream crossings. Even if you use trail shoes, they are also worth considering as they keep your legs warm, meaning there is little incentive to rush a crossing and compromise safety.
I freely admit I tend to take more clothes than many lightweighters. I like to have one set of “tent” clothes that stay dry. I also like to be sure I can cater for both cold weather and sunny conditions. The conditions were somewhat cooler than usual (coldest for 300 years!). I took my PHD Minimus down jacket which has become an essential. The hood was very useful both to keep warm with the jacket but also as a closer fitting “hood” for my sleeping bag. I also took my Haglofs LIM Barrier smock, which was very versatile as a warm layer for walking and in the tent or sleeping.
Most of my walking was in a Smartwool merino base layer, Patagonia R1 fleece pullover and Montane lite speed jacket. This generally worked well. My Velcro cuff mod on my lite speed jacket was brilliant as when it warm I could push my sleeves up to cool down. The R1 fleece seems to be better than conventional fleeces at regulating a consistent body temperature. Thin merino was also ideal for the conditions.
My Rohan Pacific shirt added a bit of dash in hotels, but was a bit cool for sleeping in. It has a lovely silky feel and the creases fall out miraculously. My one mistake was not taking a long sleeve base layer, so I bought a Haglofs Actives merino zip top in Kinlochleven. It was great both to walk in as well as sleep. I used Under Armour boxer jocks underwear, which are now my favourites.
I was very happy with my Salomon Fastpackers. I got one small blister, which I think might have been caused by some grit. While they wetted out after a while, so by the end of the day my feet were damp, but I was always comfortable. When paths were dry, they dried out very quickly.
My canvas M&S shoes were great for hotels and added a bit of comfort and style at a modest weight cost (175g). Walking socks were Smartwool medium hiking socks, which are the most comfortable I’ve used. Liner socks were Bridgedale coolmax (excellent), M&S merino (excellent) and M&S silk & merino (good except a toe seam, which rubbed a bit). Tent socks were Chocolate Fish possum wool, which are lovely and soft and warm.
I took my Rocky goretex over socks which were useful in camp to keep my socks warm when it was breezy. Also they kept my socks dry when I needed to use my boots at the end of the day in camp.
What would I change?
I was unsure about whether to take Paramo. Rather than taking a fleece and wind proof, I think I would take my Third Element jacket. I would still take a hard shell and use the gilet part of the Third Element under the hard shell. A number of people complained that Paramo wetted out on stormy Sunday. On the other hand, Paramo was ideal for the days with showers and a cold wind. On those days, I missed it, but I can’t trust it for very wet and windy days.
The second thing I would consider is taking my fleece bivy boots. Although they weigh 160g, they are great for drying out wet socks. Just slip them at the end of the day and they suck away the moisture and keep your feet warm. I think they are worth considering.
I didn’t take a long sleeved base layer, which was a mistake. Fortunately I was able to buy one. If the weather had been warmer, it wouldn’t have mattered much.
Aside from that, I’m not sure I’d change anything. I was very happy with the combinations. While a base weight at around 11kg is slightly more than ideal, the level of comfort and safety suited me. Some were carrying very low base weights of 6-7kg, which wouldn’t suit me as levels of comfort and warmth would be compromised. I was also told of one Challenger who was carrying 26kg!
It seemed to me that while I wasn’t the lightest, I was at the lighter end of the spectrum. Personally, I wouldn’t compromise on a decent tent (one that will stand up to really bad weather), a comfortable rucksack, a good sleeping mat or some warm clothing. The trade offs between, comfort, safety and weight are different for everyone, but I think I got it about right for me.