Category Archives: gear

Snow Peak Ultralight Umbrella


(Photo courtesy of Ali Ogden)

As most of you will know, I’m a big fan of umbrellas for backpacking. For the past few years I’ve been using a cheap M&S collapsible umbrella either hand held or strapped to my rucksack. If the weather isn’t too windy, it’s a great way to stay dry and comfortable. It’s also excellent for showers or intermittent rain rather than using waterproofs. Unfortunately, my brolly is starting to show its age and I’ve been looking for a replacement. M&S have changed the design, making the mechanism less robust. I have a Golite Chrome Dome, which is good but not collapsible. Enter the Snow Peak Ultralight Umbrella:

I bought it through Amazon. It is absurdly expensive (dispatched from Japan) but at 147g (on my scales including cover, 133g advertised), it is usefully lighter than my M&S brolly (214g). For such a light umbrella, it seems quite robust, much better than a Euroschirm one that I bought years ago that fell apart when I opened it. The spars are hinged so they fold back on themselves making the pack length shorter and less vulnerable to damage if the canopy blows inside out. The size of the brolly is virtually identical to the M&S one. The handle is the same length although plastic stop is smaller. I’ve added a cord lock so I can use my attachment system to my rucksack. First impressions are good. 

More pictures from Massdrop. More details from John’s Hikelighter blog. 

Old Friends: Scarp 1 and Lightwave Ultrahike 60

For my little bimble to Wiley Gill I reacquainted myself with a couple of old friends, the Scarp 1 and the Lightwave Ultrahike 60. What a pleasure! It’s about two years since I’ve used the Scarp and longer since I’ve used the Ultrahike.

I love the Scarp. It’s just the right size. Large enough to spread out all your gear, yet still quite compact. It’s so easy to pitch too. After using mids for the past two years, the extra headroom both lying down and sitting up was luxurious. I love having two porches as well. It would be nice if it was a bit lighter but it’s difficult to see how this can be achieved economically or without compromising the design. It’s certainly one of the best tents ever made.

The Lightwave Ultrahike 60 is also a great design. In particular, the split hipbelt makes for possibly one of the best carries of any rucksack. Ok, it’s a bit heavier than something like the GG Mariposa, but it is a joy to strap on your back. It’s nice to have a lid pocket too. The only drawback is a lack of hipbelt pockets. To compensate I used a lightweight Inov-8 belt pack (reversed) for bits and pieces I needed to access quickly.

Both the Scarp and Ultrahike have stood the test of time and are still in production, albeit the Scarp has been slightly modified. Where weight is not the ultimate criteria, it’s difficult to better either.

TGO Challenge 2017: Gear Part 2

Clothing

My hardshell waterproofs were an OMM Cypher Smock and Rab Drillium overtrousers, both discontinued. Both are eVent fabric and kept me dry and comfortable on day 9, when it rained all day. I also took a Paramo Quito jacket which I treat as a soft shell jacket. It’s perfect for showery, windy days or light rain. I love the large vents, long sleeves and hood. At 500g, it’s not heavy as a soft shell, more water-resistant than many competitors and is a very versatile jacket. It packs quite small as well. I’m glad I took it. My windproof jacket was an Arcteryx Squamish jacket, which is the best windproof I own. The material has a lovely feel to it. It’s decently water-resistant. It seems to breathe well while keeping out the wind. It also has an excellent hood and velcro/elasticated cuffs which can be pushed up when hot. Again, glad I took it.

For insulation I took a Haglofs LIM Barrier smock, Arcteryx Delta Zip fleece and Arcteryx Phase AR leggings coupled with As Tucas Millaris windproof trousers. The weather was very mild, so this combination was adequate. However, I did miss my As Tucas Sestrals insulated trousers and, in future, I’d take those instead or in addition to leggings. I used the leggings to sleep in but they were also useful instead of trousers under overtrousers. I’d probably take a warmer top too, either my Berghaus Furnace jacket or PHD Minimus. The Arcteryx Delta fleece was perfect. It’s a 100 fleece with a grid pattern on the face. It was very versatile. Gridded fleeces seem to regulate temperature well. The sleeves can be pushed part way up your arms, further helping temperature regulation. It’s so good I’ve bought a second one.

Base layers were Rohan Ultra silver T-shirts (2), Rohan Union merino T, M&S Ultra hipster trunks, Adidas running shorts. I love the thin Ultra silver T’s. They feel like silk and evaporate sweat so quickly. They wash and dry quickly too. Mine are the first iteration, which seem to be more smell resistant than later versions. Having two was probably a luxury. The Union merino T is excellent as well. It uses a merino/polyester fabric and dries much faster than pure merino. It seems to regulate body temperature better too. Up to a point, it’s pretty smell resistant. I was pleased with the versatility that my upper base layers gave me and they were easy to launder too. My M&S  hipster trunks are favourites (now discontinued). I prefer synthetic trunks to merino as they dry much quicker. They don’t seem to smell much either. I usually take a pair of running shorts in case I need shorts, for sleeping and as spare underwear if I need them. Would I do anything differently? Accidentally I took three pairs of trunks. I could manage with two, although having a spare was nice. I could probably manage with only one Ultra T too.

Other clothing. I took a Montane Terra Sportwool long sleeve top for around camp and to sleep in. I also took a Rohan Pacific shirt in case it was hot and for something smarter in hotels. Both are no longer made, but both are quite light and I like the flexibility/luxury of them. I used Montane Terra trousers. For me, these are just the best backpacking trousers. I had a Smartwool merino beanie that I mainly used to sleep in. During the day, I mainly wore an OR Sunrunner cap. I took three pairs of gloves and never used any of them! I took a microfibre and a Polartech  buff. The microfibre one doubled as a cover for my Exped inflatable pillow.

Trekking poles: Leki Sherpa XL

These are the best poles I’ve ever had. Incredibly strong and sturdy. Ok they weigh just over 500g for a pair but they don’t seem heavy. In fact the extra weight seems to give them better balance in your hands than lighter poles. The flick locks are better than the Black Diamond poles I have. The foam handles are really comfortable and the cloth wrist straps are comfortable against the handles if you don’t have them over your wrists (I don’t usually bother). They are brilliant for the A frame for my Tramplite shelter.

Miscellaneous.

For shoes around camp etc. I used Vibrobarefoot Ultra Pure shoes. They worked well and were surprisingly comfortable. I could’ve used them for wading in conjunction with Reed Chilleater waders if necessary, but didn’t need to. I used my cheapo M&S collapsible umbrella several times and was glad I took it. I’m impressed with the new Petzl e+lite head torch. It’s much brighter than the old version. I didn’t use it much as the hours of daylight are so long, but it’s great as a lightweight torch. The Sawyer mini filter was mainly for peace of mind, as most water in the Highlands is potable, but it’s so light that I’d rather be safe than sorry. I use a Fozzils folding dog bowl (37g) for washing if I’m away from a stream or it’s raining outside. For minimal extra weight it means that washing either face or hands is much more convenient.

Full Gear List (first day):

TGO Challenge 2017: Gear Part 1


Here’s some feedback on the gear I used on the 2017 TGO Challenge

Shelter: Tramplite

Overall, I was very pleased with the performance of the Tramplite. The conditions weren’t hugely testing, but it kept me dry and warm. It’s easy to pitch, especially the flysheet. Compared with a Duomid, it’s less fussy about being level. There’s a decent amount of room in the inner. Having access to a storage area at the back is helpful. I used a lightweight spinnaker Akto footprint, which meant the rear area had a floor. Not strictly necessary but handy. The footprint also protected the cuben groundsheet from pucture. Again, not strictly necessary but a sensible precaution. There is also a decent sized porch on the door side for cooking and storage. My custom made valances were a good addition, especially when the wind flipped around 180 degrees on Loch Affric. I used my trekking pole A frame which made it rock solid and takes away any obstruction for access. The valances and tweaks have increased the weight to 772g plus 48g for the A frame top piece. 820g for a bomber tent is pretty good.

Were there any drawbacks? I think the only one is that compared with the Scarp 1, which I used on previous Challenges, it is more cramped in the inner and packing inside in rain is more taxing. Also you have to get used to the inner fabric being close to your face when sleeping. However, it is half the weight of the Scarp. How does it compare with a Duomid? It’s more aerodynamic, quicker and easier to pitch. The rear porch is great for storing stuff out of the way. The only disadvantage is that there’s not so much headroom. That said, there’s not a lot to choose between them. What would I choose next time? If I prioritised weight it would be the Tramplite. If I wanted comfort, it would be the Scarp.

Sleeping bag: As Tucas Foratata Quilt

Hopefully this will go into production soon. I’ve become a huge fan of this and the Challenge comfirmed it as my favourite sleeping bag. It weighs 510g with 250g of top quality down. The down is superb and even better than my Western Mountaineering bags. It’s basically the same design as the Sestrals quilt but using down.  It has an enclosed foot box. The open section has three kam snap closures. I’ve added two more, making a more snug closure.

It is a bit different to a conventional sleeping bag. Even closed, it is much wider, so when turning over, you can move inside the bag easily, keeping the kam snaps under you. Although it doesn’t have a hood, it is long, so you wrap the upper part around your head. I’m a cold sleeper. For me it’s fine down to 2-3c before I need extra insulation.

Until you’ve tried one it’s difficult to describe how much nicer it is sleeping in one of these than a conventional sleeping bag. I’m a restless side sleeper. For me, it is much less restrictive than a conventional sleeping bag, especially in the knee area. I love the freedom of movement and being able to wrap it over my head. I should also mention that the Schoeller shell fabric is the best I’ve used. It’s soft and warm (but not sweaty) to the touch. It’s very downproof as well. So far I’ve has no feathers escape.

I was worried that the snap fastener opening might be draughty, but with two extra snaps, it’s performed well. Because there’s a lot of room to move about, it’s easy to keep the opening underneath you. I’m really pleased with this bag. Other than possibly winter, I’ll be using most, if not all of the time. I used it with a Thermarest X-Lite short air mat, which worked well.

Rucksack: Gossamer Gear Mariposa (2012 version)

I’ve used the Mariposa a lot over the years and reviewed it several times. The only difference this year was the new hipbelt, which is definitely better than the old one. It’s stiffer and wraps around your hips better improving the carry. The pockets are larger and better too. The only other thing to note is that I tore the stretch mesh pocket when we bushwacked through the forest on the first day. I patched it temporarily with McNett Tenacious Tape but I’m not sure how to repair it. I may have to get it done professionally.

Footwear: Salomon X-Ultra Mid GTX

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was quite concerned about how my feet would hold up to a fourteen day walk. In the event, my feet were fine and the X-Ultras performed beyond expectations. I bought a new pair specifically for the Challenge and experimented with going a full one and a half sizes up from my normal shoe size 9.5 vs 8.

For the first time in probably seven or eight years I didn’t suffer from bruised toes. Deep joy. I used Sidas Conformable footbeds which I’ve had kicking around for years and they worked really well in conjunction with the X-Ultras. Even with road walking, my feet never felt tired or battered.

Personally, I like mid boots. They give a good compromise between trail shoes and boots. They have the flexibility and mobility of trail shoes but give some protection against rolling your ankle. I did go over on my ankle once and the boot saved me from a worse sprain. Mid boots also give a bit more protection from water and debris ingress.

In fact, I was really impressed by the combination of breathability and waterproofing. My feet never got excessively sweaty even when it was hot, nor when the outer shell was wet. I think this is partly due to the lower cut than a normal boot so damp air gets pumped out.

What really impressed me was how they performed in wet weather. In the past, my experience with GTX footwear is that your feet stay reasonably dry in wet weather for three or four hours before the membrane gets overwhelmed and then your feet end up being quite damp. On day 9, when it rained all day, at the end of the day, when I took my boots off, my socks were only slightly damp and certainly a lot drier than my experience in the past. I think there were a number of factors in this.

Firstly, I was using Bridgedale Woolfusion Trekker socks plus my usual M&S merino suit socks. The Trekkers are a combination of lamb’s wool and nylon/polymide and seem to wick moisture better and dry a lot quicker than pure merino socks. They even dried out so well overnight that I was able to use one pair three days in a row. The M&S merino suit socks are also a combination of wool and synthetic. This combination worked really well and my feet were very happy all Challenge.

The second factor that helped in the wet was my gaiters. I’ve been using a pair of Extremities Trekagaiters recently. They are reasonably lightweight (150g), very breathable and surprisingly robust. Wearing some gaiters stops the upper part of the boot from wetting out, helping breathability.

Lastly, I waterproofed the material on the toe cap area with a thin coat of Silnet. On black boots it is hardly noticeable cosmetically, but it means the vulnerable toe area of the boot doesn’t wet out. It doesn’t seem to affect the overall breathability of the boot much.

I was blown away by the performance of the boots and socks. Outside of very hot weather, when I’d use trail shoes, this is the combination I will be using. The only two negatives are that the rubber soles wear quite quickly and occasionally the grip is not perfect. Those are minor issues compared with the overall comfort of the X-Ultras.

New Mariposa hipbelt

I didn’t realise until recently that the new style hipbelt for the Gossamer Gear Mariposa is backward compatible with my old style dyneema Mariposa. The new hipbelt has two significant advantages over the old style.

Firstly, the ends of the aluminium stays locate directly into pockets in the hipbelt. This means that the load transfer of the pack to the hipbelt is directly coupled. Additionally, the hipbelt is stiffer and has more padding, both of which should improve both the dynamics and the comfort of the hipbelt.

Secondly, the pockets are larger. In the old hipbelt, the pockets were only big enough for a small compact camera like the Sony WX100. A larger compact like the Sony RX100 was a bit of a squeeze. With larger pockets, it fits with ease. It also means a bit more space for snacks in the other pocket.

The only modification needed in the old Mariposa is to cut a couple of small holes in the channels containing the frame so they can exit the pack body and locate into the hipbelt. It was really easy. One tip is to insert (and then remove!) a pencil into the hipbelt stay pockets as they are quite tight and need to be opened up a bit. I bought my hipbelt from backpackinglight.co.uk . Bob has a useful video on how to fit the hipbelt.

I’ve not given it a full test yet, but my initial impression is that it is a signicant improvement over the old hipbelt.  Here’s some pictures.

Great customer service from Vango

As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t used my F10 Nitro Lite 200 for a while before my recent trip to the Lakes. When I unpacked it to use in Langstrath, the flysheet had stuck to itself and I had to peel it apart. It proved to be still waterproof, but I thought I’d ask Vango customer services whether anyone else had experienced this and whether it was a manufacturing fault.

Within a couple of hours they replied. While the flysheet should be ok, they offered to replace it anyway. It seemed to me sensible to take them up on the offer and my new flysheet arrived on Monday.

This is not the first time Vango have demonstrated excellent customer service. In the past they’ve sent me a repair kit, a new pole and some guy lines. It gives great confidence to buy Vango products, knowing that any issues are dealt with quickly and courteously.

More Camper Van Paraphernalia 

I’ve now had three trips in my camper van. I’m extremely pleased with the van itself. The only downside is that it’s a bit thirsty on fuel. I guess that’s no surprise being four wheel drive with a three litre V6 engine. It’s very nice to drive though, with decent acceleration for a heavy vehicle. 

I’ve been looking for a couple of compact deck chairs. I looked at some Helinox ones but balked at the price. However, I found some almost identical ones on Amazon for a third of the price, so I took a punt. I don’t really like buying cheap copies, but I have to say, these are decent quality. They are decently comfortable to sit in and fold down really small. For a camper van the size of mine, you have to be careful not to have bulky gear otherwise it eats up the storage space. If you’re interested, look up Moon Lence on Amazon and you’ll find them. There are actually even cheaper chairs, but none on Amazon Prime. 


I was so impressed with the chairs, that I bought a folding table as well. Again, I am impressed with the quality. It will certainly be civilised to be able to sit outside quaffing a (non alcholic) cocktail and munching a few select morsels. This table no longer appears to be available, but the are similar ones around. 

Next up is a hose. I’ve not bothered to use the on board water tank as it’s a bit of a fiddle to fill and I’d rather use a 6L Platypus container for drinking water. However, it might be useful to have some running water for washing etc. If you’re on a campsite, you’re going to need a hose to fill up the tank. I’ve been looking at normal hoses, but they are quite bulky. You can get flat hoses, but they are a bit of a fiddle to rewind. Enter the XHose, which I spotted in Robert Dyas. The XHose stretches to three times its original length. It seemed a good solution, so I’ve bought one. I’ve not tried it out, but it looks ideal for occasionally using on campsites. I bought the 50ft one. It’s quite compact for storage. 


Lastly, before my last trip I bought a cheapo windscreen frost protector from Amazon marketplace. It’s a bit like radiator insulation. It lasted one trip before the wind trashed it. Amazingly I found a dedicated screen protector on eBay for an Alphard . It’s much better quality, so hopefully this one will work. It’s not padded, so it won’t insulate, but it should protect from frost, which is primarily what I wanted it for.