All posts by Robin

Tarptent Scarp 1 mk3 first look

Picture courtesy of Tarptent

I’ve had my Scarp 1 for nearly ten years now and was considering whether to buy the new updated version when someone contacted me asking whether I would like to buy their unused mk3 Scarp. After a couple of days consideration, I decided to take the plunge. While my old Scarp is still serviceable, the new Scarp has some attractive new features.

Because it’s been so wet, I’ve not set it up in the garden, I’ve only put it up in the garage with the crossing poles, so I can only give my first impressions. When the Scarp first came out there were some questions about the consistency of quality control. Obviously I can only comment on the one I have, but the quality of the workmanship seems to be of a high standard. My old one was fine but there were a few places where the stitching was untidy, but this looks very good. It has been seem sealed by Tarptent and that has been done very neatly too.

I think all the changes and improvements have been positive and worthwhile. I’ll group them into major and minor.

Major changes

  • New flysheet and groundsheet materials. These seem higher quality and more robust. The flysheet colour has changed too from a silver grey to a green grey, which I like.
  • Larger, adjustable width inner. This is genius. It gives an appreciable increase in floor area, but allows the porch widths to be adjusted as desired. I was a bit sceptical, but it’s brilliant.
  • Flysheet vents moved to above the doors. This is better than the old roof vents allowing for more adjustability and (hopefully) means that any potential ingress won’t fall on the inner.
  • Stronger, stiffer pole.
  • Two way, water resistant fly door zips. These are much better than the old conventional zips with a flap. Time will tell how robust they are but they move easily and a two way zip enhances the ventilation options.
  • Double side guying points on each side of the pole hoop. This is so much better than a single tie out and should give much better stability, much like the Hilleberg Akto.
  • Larger inner tent pockets. Much better than the small ones on the original version. It’s a shame they are only at one end.

Minor changes

  • Clips for the crossing poles. An improvement on the old glove hook ones plus the velcro attachments at the corners have been improved.
  • Better elastic attachments for the inner. These have been redesigned and have more give, so it’s less likely to be stressed.
  • Pole inserts are pockets rather than eyelets. The poles are less likely to slip out when erecting the tent.
  • Flysheet height adjuster is grosgrain rather than cord. Much neater and easier to adjust. There’s also a piece of elastic which pulls the fly edge up when the grosgrain tensioner is released, which is neat.
  • PitchLoc struts are more easily removed. These have tensioners which means the struts can be easily removed/replaced.
  • Inner tent door tie backs are now elastic rather than grosgrain, which is easier to use.

I think that’s pretty much all the changes I can see between my original and this version. Of course, I have made a couple of tweaks. I’ve changed the corner guys to thicker MLD cord. I’ve also added threshold cords to ease the strain on the doors using a linelok and some spare cord. The weight without pegs is approximately 1.45kg.

It’s unlikely I will be out backpacking before March, maybe April, so I won’t be able give it a proper test, but I’m very pleased with it. I’ll do another assessment of it when I’ve used it. Sorry about the lack of photos, but I didn’t see much point of showing it in my garage! Overall, I think the changes have made a great tent even better.

Disclaimer: I have no relationship, financial or otherwise with Tarptent

So what’s happening?

This has been my worst year for backpacking for a while with cancelled trips and my knee injury. It’s sapped my blogging mojo as there’s not a lot to say. My knee is a lot better but every time I think it’s OK, it seems to flare up again. I did actually go for a short trip to the Lakes back in September. I did a short there and back overnighter from Brothers Water to Pasture Beck (picture above). The bad news was carrying a pack upset my knee a bit. The good news is that I was able to do a couple of afternoon walks of reasonable length with just a day pack without much problem.  It looks unlikely that I’ll be doing any more trips this year. I suppose it gives my knee more time to heal. The flip side is that I’ve lost confidence in my ability to do any longer backpacking trips at the moment, so I suspect I’ll just be doing short 1-2 night trips and day walks next year until I know my knee can stand the strain. Hey, ho!

Altra King MT 1.5 and rehab

It’s been about four months since I injured my knee and it’s close to being healed. I still get the occasional twinge and I haven’t quite got full flex, but it’s very close. I’ve been doing knee strengthening exercises for the last six weeks or so and they’ve been really beneficial. If you have an injury, I recommend seeing a sports physio to get advice on exercises. I’m planning an easy backpacking trip in September to see how things go. If that’s OK I’ll do a more ambitious one in October.

As part of my rehab programme, I’ve been walking in Epping Forest regularly, usually for about an hour. I’ve had some minor problems with some inflammation in the nerve between my 3rd and 4th metatarsals in my left foot. Nothing serious, just minor discomfort. Seeing some positive reviews of Altra trainers, I thought I’d try some out. The King MT’s appealed to me because of the wide toe box, the tread and the velcro strap across the top of the shoe for extra stability.

Unless it’s really hot and dry, I’m not a trail shoe user for backpacking. That said, I’m really impressed with these. The wide toe box is a revelation and more comfortable than the restrictive toe boxes of most other shoes (I haven’t got wide feet BTW). It certainly helps relieve the nerve inflammation issue as my toes can spread out, as well as improving my balance. The velcro strap looks a bit odd but is very effective in keeping my foot in place. The aggressive sole provides good grip.

Some comments suggest it’s difficult to get used to zero drop, but I’ve found no issues. There’s enough cushioning to protect your feet, but it’s still thin enough that you can feel the ground. However, even on stony ground, pebbles aren’t a problem. I experimented with different footbeds and found that the foam ones supplied with the shoes were the most comfortable.

Overall, I really like them. I shan’t be using them for backpacking unless it’s really dry and not too hilly. I can see why they would be great for trails like the PCT. Altra do a waterproof mid boot version of the Lone Peak, so I might try a pair of those some time, but they are virtually impossible to buy at the moment.

Alpinelite waist pack number 2

Oh dear! Velimir posted some pictures of a new slightly larger waist pack he had made with a front mesh pocket and a bungee cord for stowing a light jacket or a map case. I cracked and asked him to made me one. The depth has been increased from 5cm on my other waist pack to 7cm. Otherwise the dimensions are virtually the same, approximately 19cm x 10cm. Weight is 50g vs 35g. There’s a key clip inside. The mesh front pocket is stretch mesh with a snap closure and can fit an iPhone 6. The bungee cord is adjustable and will take a light windproof (photo is an Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody M) or waterproof. The webbing belt is slightly wider, 25mm vs 15mm. The material is Dyneema ripstop which is softer and less structured than the XPac of my original pack. The workmanship is first class. Very pleased.

If you are interested Velimir can be contacted at alpineliteworks(at)gmail(dot)com or through the trek-lite forum, (at)slovhike. You can see more of his work on Instagram (at)alpineliteworks.

Disclosure: I bought this waist pack with my own money. I have no business or financial relationship with Alpineliteworks.

Photos from Velimir:

Getting there

It’s been nearly three months since I damaged my knee. Recently I’ve been to a sports physio, mainly to get a programme of rehab exercises. For the last three weeks I’ve been doing strengthening exercises for the muscles supporting and controlling my knee. I definitely feel stronger and will keep doing them in the longer term. I still feel a little instability and the odd twinge, especially if I twist my knee.

The physio said the main issue is the meniscus in my knee rather than the ligament. Without a scan it’s difficult to know, but it looks like it’s only the outer part which means it should heal properly. The outer part has a blood supply, whereas the inner doesn’t and is more of a problem. I’ve had no catching or clicking, so he’s fairly confident there’s not a tear.

I had planned to be on Dartmoor this weekend, but it seemed too risky. The physio said I should be cautious about doing too much too soon and that I should not try to do too much for a month or two after the discomfort has gone. If I feel ok, I will probably do a camper van trip in Sept and do some short walks. It’s all a bit frustrating but if I’m careful, I should make a full recovery. I’m glad I don’t need an operation. Hey, ho!

Don’t believe them!

My working life revolved around economics and stock markets. Over the years I developed a scepticism of the forecasts which were constantly dished out by analysts, governments, agencies and the media. That’s not to say forecasts do not have some use, but they always need to be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. I think most people intuitively know this, which is why it is endlessly frustrating to be constantly bombarded with economic forecasts by politicians and the media as if they have any real credibility.

Until now, I’ve put these inaccuracies down to the complex nature of economies and the sometimes irrational behaviour of mankind. The economically rational man is a useful tool for theories but breaks down when it comes to the real world. However, it appears there is a far deeper and fundamental problem that makes not just economic forecasting problematic but any predictions concerning phenomena with complex interactions. I discovered this intellectual treasure recently while reading a book on human consciousness (The Physics of Consciousness by Andrew Thomas).

Since Galileo and Descartes, science has largely followed a reductionist approach to problems. Reductionism means breaking down phenomena into their constituent parts to understand how the whole system works. This approach has been extremely effective in many scientific areas from particle physics at one end to cosmology at the other. This has been mimicked in the field of economics too (although with markedly less success!).

However, when we come to understanding the human brain and the thorny problem of human consciousness, the reductionist approach becomes inadequate. We have a good understanding of how neurons work, but a poor understanding of how they work together as a system to produce consciousness. This is because they react in a non-linear fashion. The best way to illustrate this is to consider two electrical components: resistors and transistors.

Resistors are linear. The output current of a circuit with a resistor in it will vary in a linear fashion with the input current. Not only that, a complex circuit of many resistors can always be simplified to a circuit containing a single resistor. Hence, phenomena which are linear in character can be subjected to a reductionist approach. Effectively, linear phenomena can always be simplified, hence they are much easier to analyse and, generally, predicted with a high degree of accuracy.

The best examples would be the movement of planets, stars and galaxies or subatomic particles are generally linear and predictable. Interestingly, in particle physics there is a very small level of randomness associated with quantum uncertainty, but at a macro level, it has no real impact in practical terms and can be ignored. I’ve also recently discovered that over very long time frames, solar systems and galaxies can also exhibit unpredictability and chaotic behaviour!

If we take a transistor, it is a non-linear component. For a current to flow through it, the voltage has to exceed a threshold amount. Any circuit with transistors cannot be simplified and hence a reductionist approach does not work as just examining each component in isolation cannot explain how the circuit works as a whole. It turns out that our neurons are similar to transistors, although they rely on electro-chemical reactions, not just electrical impulses.

To give an indication of how complex our brains are, we have about 100 billion neurons. However, each neuron has about 10,000 connections (synapses) to other neurons. Overall, our brains have about 1,000 trillion connecting nodes. The non-linearity of neurons, the vast number of them and the incredible number of connections means that by solely looking at neurons in isolation, in a reductionist approach, it is utterly inadequate to explain how the brain works and how consciousness develops.

Complex systems give rise to what is called emergent behaviour. Emergent behaviour is where a system is more than the sum of the parts and outcomes become more or wholly unpredictable. Enmeshed with emergent behaviour is chaos theory. Here we have to take an unexpected detour into meteorology and possibly one of the most important scientists that hardly anyone has heard of: Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist at MIT.

Arguably, Lorenz is the father of deterministic chaos theory in science. He was skeptical of the appropriateness of the linear statistical models in meteorology at that time, as most atmospheric phenomena involved in weather forecasting are non-linear. Lorenz constructed a relatively simple twelve factor computer model of weather systems. Because computers in the 1960’s were crude, he made some short cuts in calculations by rounding decimal places and starting in the middle of calculations. What he found was astonishing. Incredibly small differences in starting conditions by rounding decimal places had massive impacts on outcomes, immortalising “the butterfly effect” (a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causes a hurricane in Texas).

Lorenz’s discovery showed that even detailed atmospheric simulations cannot make precise long-term weather predictions. One of his most important conclusions was that physical systems can be completely deterministic and yet still be inherently unpredictable or chaotic, even in the absence of quantum effects, which was dubbed “deterministic chaos”. Lorenz’s research explains why it is so difficult to forecast weather and other complex phenomena accurately.

Essentially there is a measurement problem and a computational problem. The measurement problem is that measurements can never be precise enough to accurately predict outcomes from any initial state. In essence, you would have to know the initial state of every single particle with absolute precision. Taking it a stage further, in quantum physics, you can only be sure of either the position of a particle or its speed but not both at the same time (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). This means that absolute accuracy in measuring the state of every individual particle is impossible.

Not only is the measurement of the initial state of a system impossible but there is never enough computing power to simulate the outcome. A recent research paper (Ringel and Kovrizhi, 2017) demonstrated that there aren’t enough atoms in the universe to contain the data for a Monte Carlo simulation of two hundred electrons (not atoms!) when studying the quantum Hall effect. If you can’t simulate two hundred electrons, how can you hope to accurately model either movements of particles in the atmosphere or the interactions of the human brain?

This brings us back to the original issue of economic models and their efficacy and accuracy. If we can’t accurately model the human brain, the emergence of consciousness or account for the impact of chaos or complexity, why should we ascribe anything more than a passing interest in economic models? That’s not to say that models are completely useless, but they do have severe limitations, especially when it comes to non-linear and emergent phenomena like the behaviour of humans and especially in the realms of economics.

Next time you see an economic forecast in the media, just remember the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”. I’m afraid that just about sums up the “science” of economic forecasting. Forecasts are fundamentally flawed, because we can never fully understand the wonders of the human brain, however frustrating that might be. All the forecasts that you see on Brexit from the OBR , Treasury or whoever are essentially wild guesses and next to worthless.

There is also a good case to be made that the issue of non-linearity and deterministic chaos is a fatal blow to the climate change/climate emergency brouhaha. If atmospheric phenomena are non-linear and emergent, then, by definition, climate has to have the same characteristics (see below*).  This means that predictions of what the earth’s climate will be like in ten, fifty or a hundred years time are intrinsically impossible. All the models are fundamentally flawed because they rely on reductive analysis and hence are virtually useless for non-linear phenomena. So next time you see predictions of a climate apocalypse, treat them with the same caution as economic forecasts.

* IPCC TAR Chap 14, Exec Summary: “…we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

I was there!

I was lucky enough to be at Lord’s yesterday for probably the most remarkable game of cricket ever played. There really aren’t any words that can adequately describe the day. Sport can be cruel but both teams were a credit to cricket and the ethos of sportsmanship that cricket embodies.