All posts by Robin

Virtual TGO Challenge

While I wasn’t on this year’s TGO Challenge, I share the disappointment of its cancellation as I was looking forward to following the experiences on social media of Challengers as they cross Scotland. Some of us are doing a virtual crossing by posting pictures of previous Challenges day by day under the hashtag #virtualTGOC on Twitter. I’m mashing up my 2014, 2015 and 2017 crossings. There doesn’t seem much point in doing a blog post as you can find my trips on my Trip Diaries page above.

However, for a bit of fun, I thought I’d put together a gear list for a crossing. As far as possible, I’ve selected gear that I haven’t used on the Challenge so far. I’ve put a list at the bottom of the post. The bottom up base weight is just over 8kg. You probably need to add about 500g for stuff sacks and odds and ends.

For the big three, I’ve selected my Tramplite pack. I toyed with taking my Atom Packs Mo, but it might be a bit small. The Tramplite is a great pack and the extra volume has no weight penalty and is useful for carrying extra food. Although it has good hip belt pockets, I’ll take my Alpinelite belt pack too.

For a shelter, I’ve chosen the X-Mid but with the Valley and Peak Ultra Bivy. I’m really impressed with the X-Mid. I’d love if it had a solid inner, but in the absence of one, I’d use the Ultra Bivy. I think the supplied mesh inner would be ok, but I think the extra protection and warmth of the Ultra Bivy is worth it, especially if there are cold winds.

I’m going to cheat and have my As Tucas Foratata quilt, which I used on my 2017 crossing as I don’t have a real alternative. My WM Ultralite is probably overkill and 340g heavier. For a sleeping mat, I’ve just bought a Nemo Tensor Alpine mat. It provides higher insulation than a Thermarest X-Lite as well as being slightly wider at the foot end and feels more comfortable and less noisy. It also has a (much) better valve.

For footwear, I going with Inov-8 Roclite 320 boots. It’s a little bit of a risk as they let a bit of damp through when I tried them in the Lakes. However, I’ve put some Silnet on the toe mesh which should help and I’ll take some Dexshell waterproof socks as a second line of defence. Spare shoes are Saucony Hattoris, sadly no longer made. Wiggy’s waders are worth the weight for any stream crossings, a slight cheat, as I’ve taken them before. Gaiters are essential for bogs, so my new Montane Outflow gaiters come along.

I’ve never used the Paramo Third Element on my Challenges, so that’s an obvious choice, especially as it converts into a gilet. For me Paramo, is ideal for Scotland as a highly water resistant soft shell. I like having a windproof too and a Montane Featherlite smock weighs next to nothing but adds flexibility. In addition to Paramo, I like having a lightweight hardshell if there’s heavy rain and high winds as Paramo can be overwhelmed, so the Alpkit Gravitas jacket is an obvious choice, although I’ve not worn it in really testing conditions. I’ve not used my Berghaus Paclite overtrousers on the Challenge, so they are an obvious choice.

I like gridded fleeces and normally I’d take an Arc’teryx Delta LT fleece, but I’ve chosen the Patagonia R1 which is slightly heavier and warmer. A Rab interval T and a Patagonia Capilene Cool T are my thin base layers which work well in most conditions. A Rohan Union Polo is my merino base layer if it’s cold. I’d take a shirt for if it’s warm and for hotels. The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is a great shirt. For sleeping I’ve selected a Smartwool merino crew. I like to have clean sleepwear, so it’s a luxury I’m happy to carry.

For warmth, my old Rab Generator jacket is difficult to beat. Being synthetic, damp is less of an issue than for a down jacket. I’ve been really impressed with the Mountain Equipment Kinesis trousers, which are light and warm, handy for around camp and to supplement my sleeping quilt if necessary. For walking trousers, I’d normally wear Montane Terras. However for this exercise, I cheated slightly and chosen the Terra convertibles rather than the ordinary version.

I now have an iPhone 11 to replace my old iPhone 6. As the camera is so good, I’ll chance using that rather than a dedicated camera. I swapped my reliable Snow Peak GST 100 stove for the Alpkit Kraku to save a little weight. Apart from that all the other gear is pretty much what I’ve used over the years.

A full list is below. Hopefully that’s provided a little entertainment in this never ending lockdown. Let’s hope we can get some backpacking done in the second half of the year!

Bitter sweet

I’ve been putting some old pictures on social media to add a bit of cheer and remind us there is a world outside of lockdown. I put this one up today of a camp on my 2012 TGO Challenge in Glen Etive. It was a wonderful spot. The next day was very different: the infamous Stormy Sunday. It is bitter sweet because it was my first TGO Challenge and I had to give up halfway with a stomach bug. The silver lining was that it made my first successful crossing in 2014 even more special. In the current crisis, these are valuable memories to hang on to. These failures and triumphs are put into perspective by the pain and suffering of this epidemic. However, we can always cling on to the good memories, made more piquant by those times of trial.

Valley and Peak Ultra Bivy first night

For my last garden camp, I used the Valley and Peak Ultra Bivy with my X-Mid. As many of you will know, the X-Mid inner is all mesh, which is not always ideal in Europe in cold, wet and windy weather. One solution is to use a bivy inner like the Ultra Bivy. You can find some more pictures of my bivy and a description here:

Installing the Ultra Bivy under the X-Mid fly is very easy. I found pegging the individual corners of the bivy rather than using cords to clip to the fly sheet gave a better pitch. I’ve added linelok 3’s at either end which helps with getting the right tension for the apex shock cord. It’s almost as if the Ultra Bivy was made for the X-Mid.

I’ve never used a bivy inner before so I was interested in how it would feel. The bivy itself is only big enough for a sleeping mat and sleeping bag/quilt with a little bit of storage at either end. The large double J zip means the whole roof can be opened up. I was glad of my mod to clip the door back which tidied away the large panel neatly (I’ll do a separate post on the tweaks that I’ve made). N.B. the picture below is from my original post and I have dispensed with the yellow cord on the corners.

With the roof open, the Ultra Bivy is more like a groundsheet tub than an inner. This means that gear needs to be stored in the porches. It’s worth having a small piece of groundsheet or polythene to put your rucksack and gear on. The fact that the X-Mid has two large porches means that there’s plenty of room to store and organise gear.

I was a bit concerned that it might feel claustrophobic when the roof/door was zipped up, but this wasn’t the case. I didn’t feel shut in and it was surprisingly easy to unzip the roof panel to sit up. I used my As Tucas Foratata quilt and found that using a quilt was good as when opening the roof, then sitting up, I could slide the quilt down to the end of the bivy without any material dragging on the ground in the porch. This might be more difficult with a conventional sleeping bag. Because the bivy is relatively narrow and enclosed, it is ideal to use with a quilt as there’s no chance of draughts under the edges.

I used the V&P hood, but didn’t attach it at the apex. This provided enough draught protection but also gave a bit more ventilation and felt less closed in. I’ve added some kamsnaps to the hood for ease of attachment (again, I’ll do a separate post on this). The roof pocket was great for small items like a pack of tissues and phone.

There’s not much else I can say. Overall, I’m really pleased with the Ultra Bivy. Given that there’s no solid inner option for the X-Mid (I’d still like one!), the Ultra Bivy is a good alternative and should work well in cold, wet and windy conditions, where a mesh inner is less comfortable.

Valley and Peak Ultra Bivy:

Disclosure: I have no relationship with Valley and Peak and bought the Ultra Bivy with my own money.

Garden camp no. 2

I spent another night camping in my garden last night. This time I used my X-Mid and Valley and Peak Ultra Bivy. I was impressed with the Ultra Bivy. I’ll write a short review soon. I must be getting old. Even though it only got down to 8c, I felt a little cold. Fortunately I had some extra layers. Despite a bit more traffic noise than last week, I had a reasonable night’s sleep.

Garden camping

As we are all in lockdown and no idea of when we will get out, I decided to follow the example of a fellow blogger, Matt ( and camp for a night in my back garden.

Normally camping in our back garden would require earplugs to cut out the noise from traffic and aircraft. However, at the moment, everything is eerily quiet. The only thing that disturbed me was the noise of some cats fighting at about 3am.

I used my new Scarp. It reminded me of what a fabulous tent it is. The only problem I had was finding a spot in our garden that wasn’t sloping too much. Just for old time’s sake, I used my Alpkit Pipedream 600 sleeping bag. It was a bit too warm to start with so I used it like a quilt. As it got cooler I reverted to sleeping bag mode. It was nice to sleep outside for a night. Who knows when we will get an opportunity to do it in the wilds.

Tread Lite Gear tent can

We all need a bit of cheering up! I was browsing through the Tread Lite Gear website, as you do, and I spotted this beauty. Organising storage in a tent can be a bit of a challenge. This attaches to a trekking pole or tent pole to provide some convenient storage, keeping stuff off the ground. It can also double as a stuff sack, although it’s not watertight. In the picture, it has a full length Thermarest X-Lite inside. It’s simple to attach to a pole with hooks and silicone bands. It weighs 27g. As with all Paul’s stuff, it’s top quality. Well worth a look.

Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Tread Lite Gear and paid for this product with my own money.

Coronavirus and small businesses

Two weeks ago I was joking with friends about doing elbow bumps. That now seems like a different world. Now we are in lockdown for who knows how long. Søren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. That’s well worth remembering before we rush to judgement on how the crisis is being handled. Everyone is trying their best with imperfect information.

Economically this is going to be painful, with a very sharp recession in the next 2-3 quarters. However, if productive capacity is protected, the likelihood is that the recovery will be strong, as productive capacity will not have been destroyed.

Small businesses, particularly one man bands, are the most vulnerable as generally they have less financial cushion to survive. If you know someone who is self employed and you can use their service or buy their product, if you are able, now would be a good time to give them some business. We are all in this together.

Atom Packs Mo 50L and Roo

There’s a bit of a story to this pack. In December, I mailed my Mariposa to a friend to convert the top to a drawstring closure with a Y strap. Parcel Force lost it in the Christmas rush so I made a claim in January (it was insured) and ordered the Mo as a replacement. Late February, my Mariposa was returned to me claiming that it hadn’t been collected from the depot, which was a joke as my friend had phoned them to find out what had happened to it and gone through the Parcel Force complaints procedure. What a farce!

Anyway, by the time I got my Mariposa back, my Mo was being made. The 50L has a capacity of 45L in the main body and 5L in the side pockets. I chose VX21 fabric in grey, with two shoulder strap pockets and two hip belt pockets. At the same time I ordered a Roo waist pack. Details on the Atom Packs website.

The quality of the workmanship is superb. Faultless. The VX21 material feels very robust and is waterproof, so there will be no need for a pack cover. The back panel is tough 500D nylon. I’m impressed with the robust feel of the mesh, which feels much more sturdy than most, so hopefully it will be more resistant to snagging. The side pockets are a good size and tents and bottles fit easily.

I like a Y strap at the top as it’s more secure when stowing things on top of the pack. The hip belt has two adjusters on either side, which gives a great fit. Load lifters on the shoulder straps mean the fit can be dialled in and the pack hug your back better. The hip belt pockets are a good size. I’ve added zip pulls as the metal ones are quite small. I love the stretch shoulder pockets.

The frame sheet has a single strut firmly secured on an HDPE sheet with a separate foam spacer. I bent it a little more to give it more curvature. It works very well and the overall carry of the pack seems good (I won’t know for sure until I use it).

As you can imagine, I’ve already made a mod! I’ve sewn a couple of grosgrain loops on the inside and added a glove hook. Together with some thin shock cord, it I can secure a piece of folded thin foam mat inside the pack. I always take some to boost a sleeping mat and as insurance in case of puncturing an air mat.

I packed the Mo and the Mariposa with sleeping bags to make a quick comparison. The Mo is definitely a bit smaller. It’s about 3-4cm narrower and maybe 1-2cm less in depth. Additionally, the Mariposa has more volume in the pockets.

I also bought a Roo waist pack. Again, it’s superbly well made. It’s a little larger than the two Alpinelite belt packs I own. It has a handy organisation sleeve inside. It should be great for a camera and a few bits and pieces. The outer mesh pocket should be handy for a snack bar or two. I added a zip puller as, again, the metal one is a bit small.

Weights are c.950g (inc. pockets) for the Mo and 70g for the Roo. Overall, these are both very good products. The Mo should be great for most trips where bulkiness of gear and food is not an issue. For me, I suspect the Mariposa would still be my choice for something like the TGO Challenge as it has a bit more volume for food and gear. Having said that, the Mo would certainly work with some careful planning. It’s good to see small British companies like Atom Packs and Valley & Peak producing such high quality specialist products.

Disclaimer: I bought these products with my own money and have no relationship with Atom Packs