All posts by Robin

Valley & Peak X-Mid draught screen

A little while ago, I asked Mark and Mary at Valley and Peak to make a draught curtain that I designed for my X-Mid. It weighs 31g and is made out of their bivy top material. It attaches with mitten hooks and lineloks with shock cord. It can be left in place and can go at either end. The corner near the trekking pole can either be pegged or attached to the trekking pole.

I’m really pleased with the way it’s turned out and the quality is top notch. There’s no price yet but V&P will probably put it into production soon. It’s a partial solution to the lack of on a solid inner, especially if you don’t want to buy the Ultra Bivy and want to use the mesh inner.

Valley & Peak Double J Zip Ultra Bivy

If you’ve been following the story of the Dan Durston X-Mid tent on Trek Lite forum, you will know that while the tent has received very positive reviews, there has been some frustration that a solid inner has not been made available, despite strong lobbying from its designer, Dan Durston and members of the backpacking community, particularly from Europe.

A little while ago, Valley & Peak came onto the backpacking scene with a mix of their own gear and third party specialist products. The Ultra Bivy looked an interesting product to pair with the X-Mid especially in the solid wall, double J-Zip version. After a few emails, I decided to order one and here it is!

Considering it is not specifically designed for the X-Mid, it fits really well.

It has three D rings (two at the head end and one at the foot) to secure the shock cord for support. I sewed a linelok onto the webbing at either end to give some easy adjustment. At the apexes of the X-Mid I added a loop of cord to make it easier to clip in with the supplied mitten hooks. It was very easy to setup.

I added some cord with mitten hook attachments so I could secure the corners to the X-Mid to avoid pegging out the Ultra Bivy corners separately. While this worked, you get a better pitch by using dedicated pegs at each corner, so that’s probably the setup I will go with in the future. As you can see the interior fits a full length Neo Air X-Lite. with a little bit of room at each end.

When fully zipped, there’s a reasonable amount of room, although obviously you can’t sit up. At the foot end your sleeping bag might push gently against the end as it slopes but it’s a long way from the fly sheet so shouldn’t be an issue. I’m 175cm (5ft 9in) tall and there was a decent amount of length for me. if you’re over 185cm, it might start to feel a bit cramped.

One other worthwhile tweak was to add a tie back for the roof panel so I could hitch it out of the way. I used some grosgrain and kamsnaps and it worked really well. With the roof tied back, there’s a huge amount of space in the X-Mid for gear storage and cooking. There’s very little storage space inside the Ultra Bivy, so the X-Mid is an ideal companion. I will take a section of groundsheet to put in the porch to protect stuff sacks from wet and dirt.

The groundsheet is silnylon and quite slippy, so I’ll add some SilNet stripes to it. At the head end, I specified the some ripstop mesh for the rectangular panels and ordinary mesh for the ends. I asked for a small ridge line pocket and I thought the ripstop mesh would be more robust. It also might be more resistant to and stray drops of water and when the hood is attached, it is the only part of the mesh that is exposed.

While the hood is not very elegant, it is effective in shielding the mesh from breezes and water droplets (not the X-Mid seems to be prone to much condensation with its excellent vents). I need to play about with it to pitch it better.

Weight as supplied is 226g for the main bivy and 44g for the hood. The shock cord, lineloks, mitten hooks and tie back added 25g, for a total of 295g. For comparison, the X-Mid mesh inner is 285g. Both  the workmanship and the materials appear to be top quality. Indeed Mary’s sewing is fantastic. It’s up with the best I’ve seen. Total cost was £188, which is good value for a high quality product.

If you have an X-Mid and want a solid inner for the colder months or as protection against cold winds, the Ultra Bivy provides a good solution, given that it’s unlikely a solid inner option will be offered by Drop. The Ultra Bivy is probably slightly lighter than a solid inner version would be. With the roof panel rolled back, it provides access to both the enormous porches and a wonderful feeling of space.

Disclaimer: I bought the Ultra Bivy and the X-Mid with my own money and have no relationship with Valley & Peak or Drop other than as a customer.

Video from Valley & Peak:

How disappointing!

Alpkit do some brilliant gear, but, often, you have to be quick before they disappear! Last year I bought a Presta 20 rucksack for day walks to replace my Osprey Talon 22 (mice had chewed one of the shoulder straps). I used it in September in the Lakes and again in January. I found it to be a great day sack. It was very comfortable and just the right size. Unfortunately, Alpkit appears to have discontinued it.

I added some Tread Lite Gear hipbelt pockets (the ones on the sack are a bit small) and a shoulder strap bottle holder. With those additions, it’s a fabulous little pack. It’s not particularly light at around 625g but you hardly notice it on your back. Hopefully, Alpkit will reintroduce it again in the future.

iPhones in cold weather

There’s an interesting thread on Treklite forum about how the performance of iPhones degrade in cold weather . To be fair it’s not just iPhones, pretty much any mobile phone or camera will suffer. Batteries tend to drain and phones can even shut down if it gets too cold.

I have an iPhone 6 and over the past couple of years I’ve found that the battery drains more quickly and erratically even after having a new battery fitted. Part of the problem is an old processor running newer operating systems and apps, having to work harder. Putting the phone into airplane mode and using the battery save setting helps.

A couple of times, I’ve found the battery drain quite a lot overnight, which is probably down to lower temperatures. Having an insulated pouch in which to put the phone overnight I found very helpful in maintaining battery charge on my recent trip. As I mentioned in a previous post, I used a Valley & Peak pouch which doubles as a cosy for freeze dried meals. It’s well worth considering to protect electronics and for food rehydration.

Tarptent Scarp 1 Mk3 First Outing

Over the last ten years or so I’ve probably used the Tarptent Scarp 1 more than any other tent. My original Scarp was getting a bit tatty, so when I had the opportunity to pick up a second hand unused latest version of the Scarp, I leapt at the chance. I’ve listed the main changes in the new version in another blog post, so I won’t repeat them.

I’ve been itching to try it out, so my trip to the Lakes recently provided a good opportunity to put it though its paces. As I wasn’t walking far from Brothers Water to Deepdale (four miles) and it was winter, I decided to pack the crossing poles and I was glad I did! Believe it or not, this was the first time I had used them in the wild.

My pitch was one I had used a couple of times before near the head of Deepdale, below Greenhow End. Although it’s not far from Patterdale, it has a real feeling of remoteness. I knew that some showers were due in late afternoon, so I was pitched by around 3:30pm.

In terms of pitching, the new Scarp is really no different than the older version. I had replaced the corner cord with 2.8mm MLD reflective cord, to avoid any slippage through the line locks. The main difference with the crossing poles is the new clips to attach the poles to the fly, which are a real improvement.

The biggest thing you notice about using the crossing poles is how solid the Scarp becomes. They really lock the apex of the pole arch and the corners, so it is virtually free standing. I was grateful for this stability in the early evening when the wind picked up and became very gusty. The Scarp felt rock solid. I think the double side guys also helped.

It also rained quite heavily for a couple of hours. The tent had been seam sealed by Tarptent and I’m pleased to report there was no water ingress whatsoever. One of the great things about the Scarp is it feels safe no matter the weather, which is why I used it on three of my TGO Challenges.

The biggest change between the versions is the new inner where you can adjust the width at the midpoint on both sides, so you can have as much or as little porch as you want. I pulled it out to its maximum width on one side, but there was still enough room to store my rucksack (Lightwave Ultrahike) on its side between the fly and the inner.

It was really easy to adjust the inner with a sliding buckle. On the other side, I had a normal sized porch for cooking and storage. I was a little concerned that the door material might be a bit loose and flap, but that didn’t seem to be an issue. That little bit of extra width makes a big difference in perceived roominess, especially as I had the rectangular Exped Downmat UL, which is a bit bulky.

I wasn’t hugely impressed by the new mesh pockets. I think more conventional rectangular ones would be better but they are fine for holding glasses and a torch. It’s a shame that they are not at both ends. I’ve fitted some removable cuben ones at the opposite end, so I can sleep with my head at either end.

I like the new fly and groundsheet materials and the fly colour. As I mentioned, on this brief test, they seemed very waterproof. The repositioned vents are also an improvement as occasionally the odd drop of water could be blown through the old roof vents.

One thing to note is the pitchloc struts are removeable and it’s worth tightening the securing buckles so they don’t fall out and the end material doesn’t flap. The new style waterproof fly zips ran smoothly and there’s no flap to catch, unlike the old fly.

Often second or third iterations of products run the risk of degrading them from the original functionality either by changing essential features or by adding superfluous features. I’m pleased to report that all of the changes to the Scarp have improved on the previous version and I wouldn’t reverse any of them.

Overall, I’m really pleased with the new Scarp. It’s still one of the best one man mountain tents on the market.

Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Tarptent

Valley & Peak Insulated Pouch and Cascade UL Table

On my recent Lake District trip I used a couple of new pieces of gear that might be of interest. I bought both from a new company, Valley & Peak who make quilts, bivies and accessories as well as selling lightweight gear from a limited number of other manufacturers. Well worth a look.

First is an insulation pouch. The original product was for storing electronic items in a cold environment so that batteries wouldn’t drain. I saw the potential of the product to double up as a cosy for freeze dried meals. I asked V&P to adjust the sizing to 25cm x 25cm rather than the original 27cm x 20cm to fit some of the wider food pouches.

It’s made out of the materials they use for their quilts. The closure is velcro. Personally, I would’ve preferred kamsnaps as velcro sticks to the possum wool gloves I was using, but it’s a minor inconvenience and I can see why velcro is better for its original use of storing electronics.

To prevent the inside getting dirty, I used a Sainsbury’s polythene food storage bag which fitted perfectly. Up until now I’ve been using a cosy made of radiator foil. There’s no weight difference (30g) but the V&P pouch is compressible and easier to store.

While there’s no discernible difference in performance, I expect the V&P pouch is better insulated. The real bonus is that you get a dual use and you can store your electronics in it (and it looks a lot nicer!). Worth considering.

The second piece of gear, which is a bit of a luxury, but weighs next to nothing is the Cascade Wild UL Folding Table. While it’s hardly essential it is nice to have the option of not putting things like food on the ground when you’re eating and to have a clean level surface to put things on. It’s funny how these little things give you pleasure. I found it a great addition to my camp kitchen. Weighing 58g (advertised 65g), it is hardly noticeable. Unless I’m going to be fanatical over weight, I’ll be putting it in my rucksack now for most trips.

Valley & Peak’s website:

Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Valley & Peak other than as a customer

Deepdale and Angle Tarn

Here’s a short slide show of my trip to the Lake District last weekend. Apart from “just getting out”, it was also an opportunity to test my new Scarp 1 and to see how my knee is healing.

I stayed at Brothers Water in my camper van for the first night, then walked to Deepdale for an overnight camp before walking back the next day. It was wet and windy overnight, but the Scarp was fine and very stable with the crossing poles. Although the temperature didn’t get below freezing in the tent, the wind was bitterly cold in the morning.

The next day I did a circular day walk to Angle Tarn and back. It was a lovely morning, although still very cold. It clouded over at midday, which made it feel even colder. It was a lovely walk though and thoroughly recommended, with great views across to Fairfield and Helvellyn.

Overall my knee is improving and apart from the odd twinge I had no problems (I did wear a knee support though). I’m hopeful that I’m close to getting back to normal although I need to do a couple of full days with a pack before I really know.