Category Archives: gear

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: https://blogpackinglight.wordpress.com/2020/02/13/valley-peak-double-j-zip-ultra-bivy/

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: https://valleyandpeak.co.uk/collections/shelter/products/j-zip-ultra-bivy

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

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.

https://www.treadlitegear.co.uk/dcf-cuben-fiber-pole-mounted-tent-cans-366-p.asp

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

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

Mountain Equipment Kinesis Trousers

I was in two minds as to whether to blog about these but they are so good, I thought I would. The Mountain Equipment Kinesis trousers (I refuse to call them pants!) seem to be almost impossible to buy, but I was lucky to get some half price in a sale from Needlesports . They are incredibly lightweight at 225g for my size Medium. The outside material is a lightweight 30D nylon material, which, while not robust, doesn’t feel fragile either. They have a modest amount of stretch. The lining is a very lightweight fleecy fabric called Octoyarn. Combined, they are amazingly warm and windproof and very comfortable to wear.

They have two fleece lined hand pockets (they pack down into the right hand pocket) and separate leg vents, which are great to prevent overheating. The fit is quite slim with an elasticated waist band. I suspect will mainly use them as an insulation layer around camp, but in cold, windy weather they would be great to walk in, especially as they have zipped vents. They would also be comfortable to sleep in if necessary. I can’t wait to take them on a trip.

Valley & Peak X-Mid draught screen

A little while ago, I asked Mark and Mary at Valley and Peak https://valleyandpeak.co.uk/ 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 https://www.trek-lite.com/index.php?threads/iphones-in-cold-weather.7417/page-2 . 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