Here’s a summary of the other gear I used on the Challenge and how it performed.
My modified Rab Neutrino SL 200 worked well. The synthetic base adds hugely to the warmth. It was warm enough except for a couple of nights where I added an extra layer before daybreak. I normally get cold at that time. I think the Neutrino is probably not quite as warm as my Pipedream 400. While the half zip was fine, I do prefer a full zip. It’s interesting that both PHD and Mountain Equipment have brought out hybrid bags recently. This could be a trend, with the rising price of down.
My sleeping mat was an old Thermarest Neoair short with a thin closed cell foam mat underneath. I supplemented this with the GG Air Beam frame from my rucksack under my feet. I also used a stuff sack with clothes at the end of the air bed to support my knees. Overall this was very comfortable although the old style Neoair does lose some air over time. My pillow was the Exped UL inflatable pillow inside a microfibre Buff as a pillowcase.
I toyed with the idea of taking a full length Neoair (and pump) but decided the weight saving of a shorter mat was worth it. I also appreciated the extra cushioning and comfort of an air mattress on a long trip compared with a self inflating mat like the Nemo Zor. Overall, my choices worked well, although I might get a new Neoair short in the hope that it retains its inflation better.
The only thing that went wrong with my clothing was that I didn’t proof my Paramo Vasco jacket before I left. Instead I only washed it in TechWash. This led to the material wetting out in places, although I don’t think the rain leaked through. In heavier rain I wore a hard shell, my OMM Cypher smock, which was fine. In cool weather, I do prefer walking in a Paramo jacket. The Vasco has great venting options, but in future, I think I’d take the 3rd Element jacket for the gilet option. I would couple this with my new Rab Zephyr, which would obviate the need for a separate windproof jacket.
I did take my Mont-Bell Dynamo Wind Parka and was very glad of it. It’s probably the best windproof jacket on the market with proper adjustable cuffs and good sized, mesh backed venting pockets. The hood is good and can be tabbed down using the hanging loop and the Velcro adjuster on the back of the hood (I discovered after a couple of days). Rounding off my outer wear, the Rab Drillium overtrousers were excellent. It’s a shame they stopped making these as they are by far the most comfortable overtousers I’ve ever used.
My mid layer was the Montane Oryx fleece. I’ve really liked this fleece to layer under Paramo or a windproof as the thinner side/underarm panels prevent over heating compared with a conventional fleece. However, they are not very robust. The stitching ran in a couple of places. Also, after a couple of days, it smells badly. In future, I think I’ll go back to either a merino mid layer or Patagonia capilene.
Base layers were a Rohan Ultra Silver T, a Berghaus Vapour Light SS T and M&S ultra hipsters. The M&S hipsters were excellent (no longer available). Both the Rohan and Berghaus T’s were good. Both resisted getting smelly well and both dried quickly. The Rohan T in particular was excellent, feeling like silk and dries very quickly.
From As Tucas, I had the Millaris wind trousers, the Sestrals balaclava and some bespoke unlined booties. The Millaris wind trousers are brilliant either on their own or over some long johns (in my case Arc’teryx Phase AR tights). At 75g they weigh next to nothing. The Setrals balaclava is excellent instead of a sleeping bag hood. The booties were ok, but are more of a summer item, so I’ll get some down booties from Marco for cooler months.
I took my PHD Minimus down jacket. The weather was generally mild, so I could have managed with a lighter alternative. However, you never know how cold it might be, so the Minimus was still a good option. I took a Rohan Equator shirt, which was handy to occasionally walk in and for hotels. However, I’d take the Pacific shirt instead in future as it dries even faster and has a lovely silky feel.
For water filtering, I took the Sawyer mini filter. This was brilliant. It has a good flow rate and only weighs 38g. I wouldn’t use anything else now. My Snow Peak GST stove was fine, but the piezo igniter is getting stiff so I might remove it and use a stand alone MSR one. If you have an iPhone, the Lifeproof Fre case is a great way to weatherproof your phone. I used the iPhone as a bad weather camera rather than risk my Sony WX100.
I took an umbrella (M&S collapsible, 216g) and was very glad I did. On the afternoon of day 3, it turned a miserable rainy afternoon into a minor inconvenience. For some, an umbrella is a heretical and superfluous. For me, I love it! I only used my Wiggy’s Waders on three occasions and probably could have got away with not taking them. However, if the weather had been worse, they would have been useful. Rubber gloves are another comedy item, but great for avoiding chapped hands (especially knuckles). I use them when I’m collecting water or drying off the tent to prevent the constant wetting and drying out of my skin. Split skin on your knuckles is very painful!
The Challenge message board had dire warnings of midges and ticks before we left. The midges were a non-event. I carried some lavender linen spray to spray on the tent and clothes as a midge deterrent (apparently midges hate lavender). It didn’t get used as a midge deterrent, but it was handy to spray on my fleece each day to hide the smell of sweat! I only took a small amount, but it was surprisingly useful. I had no problems with ticks, but others did. I sprayed the bottoms of my trousers and tops of my boots with permethrin. Did it help? I don’t know, but it seems to me it’s a worthwhile precaution.
What might I change?
Overall, I’m not sure I’d change much. If I was being ruthless, I could probably lose a kilo of pack weight by leaving out things like my umbrella and waders and reducing clothing. However, on a long trip, a bit of extra comfort is welcome. If I was doing a high level route, I’d need to be more Spartan. As I’ve mentioned, I think I’d tweak my clothing choices slightly, but it wouldn’t make much difference to my overall pack weight. If I wanted to reduce my shelter weight significantly, I’d have to take my cuben Duomid. I would only do that if I had a solid inner. It’s something I might consider. It would save about half a kilo, which is not to be sniffed at. I put a lot of thought into my gear choices for the Challenge and I was happy with both what I took and the combinations.
Final gear list (click to enlarge)