Several people have asked for a gear round up after my Challenge, so here goes.
Before I go into details, I want to make a couple of observations. Firstly, I think it’s sensible to use gear that is proven rather than untested on longer walks. Everything I used had been well tested and I knew worked. Secondly, it pays to get three critical things right: footwear, rucksack and shelter. Most other things you can get away with something that is sub optimal. However, if you don’t get these three right, you’re in for a tough time. I’ll review these first in a bit of detail and do a separate post on my other gear.
Footwear: Ecco Biom Hike. These are the most comfortable leather boots I’ve ever worn. They are very flexible and well cushioned, making walking on hard tracks much easier. I did get one blister, which I think was a result of the hard forest tracks on day 4 and the road walking/LRTs on day 5. After I popped it I had no problems.
The first three days were very wet underfoot, but my feet stayed reasonably dry, apart from sweat. There were fifty retirements this year, many from foot problems. It really pays to have your footwear sorted out, whether boots or trail shoes. It’s no fun hobbling along. Different people have different solutions, but you need to thoroughly test what you wear and be confident they will work in wet conditions and on hard tracks. The Ecco Bioms were superb.
My only complaint is that I’ve worn through the heel. It seems a shame that they’ve lasted less than two years. I have a replacement pair that I’m breaking in now. I also took my Nike Mayfly’s (300g) as my camp shoes. Excellent, but they are no longer made.
Rucksack: Gossamer Gear Mariposa (new version) plus Air Beam frame. If your rucksack is uncomfortable or can’t carry your gear properly, you’re stuffed. Since I bought it, the Mariposa is the only rucksack I’ve used. It’s that good.
The Air Beam frame makes it even better. I was a bit sceptical at first as it looks a bit Heath Robinson. However, it improves the carry significantly. In particular, the thicker lumbar section makes the hip belt sit properly on your hips. The air channels make for a much less sweaty back. The pressure can be adjusted to maximise comfort. You do need to bit a bit careful that the pump bulb doesn’t detach accidentally and let the air out. At night, I removed the Air Beam and used it under my feet for more insulation.
I love the Mariposa’s various pockets for organising my gear. It just swallows gear. Apart from a small nick on the lid, there’s no sign of wear. None of the stitching has run. I can’t see anything else on the market that competes with it at the moment. It’s a great pack.
Shelter: Tarptent Scarp 1. What more can I say about the Scarp? I did seriously consider the Trailstar, but I was very happy that I chose to take the Scarp. It performed flawlessly. It goes up so quickly and easily. If you tension the corners correctly, it pitches perfectly every time.
I used trekking pole lifters this time, which improves stability and separation. One wrinkle that I’ve not seen elsewhere is to add a shock cord loop on the lifter pull out as a shock absorber.
Two porches are great for wet weather. All the mods worked well. At no time did I regret my choice and want one of my other shelters. One feature that was useful was being able to sleep with my head at either end, making the combination of slope and wind direction less critical. You might argue that it is heavier than some options, but I value having an absolutely secure shelter that I don’t have to worry about.
Nor did I have to worry about losing a trekking pole or having them stolen as happened to a couple of other Challengers. Having said that, I would still consider using the Trailstar or Duomid on the Challenge, or, indeed, the F10 Nitro Lite 200. However, the Scarp takes a lot of beating and ticks nearly all the boxes. It’s really important that you have confidence in your shelter in all conditions on a the Challenge.
In summary, one reason I enjoyed the Challenge so much was that I got the big three absolutely right. This meant I was very comfortable and removed a potential source of worry. Gear is certainly not the be-all and end-all, but getting it right can make the difference between enjoyment and endurance. In the second post, I’ll round up the rest of my gear choices and how they performed.