Hard to believe, but our little puppy is thirteen today.
Hard to believe, but our little puppy is thirteen today.
I confess I really ought to freeze dry my own meals, but I’m a useless cook and lazy. So I fall back on ready prepared meals. It’s a huge shame that Fuizion Food is no longer trading as they made the best freeze dried meals I’ve tasted by a country mile. Over the past few trips, I’ve been trying other brands, so here’s a quick summary of meals I’ve eaten.
Blå Band Skinnarmo’s Pasta Carbonara: my favourite Blå Band meal. Very tasty with a slight spicy/savoury edge to it. The meat pieces are a bit small and don’t really add to it. Might taste a little salty for some people but I really like it. The pasta hydrates well and the Blå Band sachets are the best designed with clear fill markings, instructions and the pack is easy to access with a spoon (unlike taller ones).
Blå Band Pasta Bolognese: not quite as good as the Pasta Carbonara, but still tasty. Has a good tomato flavour and a slightly spicy edge. Another good one.
Blå Band Creamy Pasta with Chicken: not bad although slightly bland. I would buy again but might add a bit of mature cheddar to add some more flavour.
Blå Band Goulash: I wasn’t that keen on this one. Because it’s potato based it was quite sloppy and doesn’t feel as filling as a pasta dish. It was quite spicy but I didn’t really enjoy it. One that I won’t order again.
LYO Expedition Beef Stroganoff: liked this one. The “noodles” are more like pasta pieces. The meat is identifiable as meat. It has quite a subtle taste. I recommend the large size portion. The sachet is not as well designed as the Blå Band ones, but is wider than some makes.
LYO Expedition Penne Bolognese: again, very pleasant with a fairly subtle flavour. Good meat pieces and satisfying. I had the large portion.
Summit to Eat Salmon and Broccoli Pasta: I’ve not tried Summit to Eat before, but was pleasantly surprised. The salmon pieces were a bit small but I liked having some broccoli to bulk it out. The taste was slightly bland and could do with being a bit saltier, but was pretty good.
Mountain Trails “Food on the Move” Minced Beef Dinner: I had low expectations for this one as the other two meals I’d had from Mountain Trails were a bit bland (beef risotto and spaghetti bolognese). However, I really liked this one. There are two pouches to rehydrate, one with minced beef and one with mashed potato. The mash was creamy and buttery and the mince was tasty and savoury. To start with I kept the pouches separate to eat, but half way through I put the mince in with the mash. I really liked this meal as a change from pasta. It’s a shame they don’t do other mash based meals. I might investigate some more widely available mash potato and add some meat and sauce.
Mountain Trails “Food on the Move” Porridge and desserts: normally when backpacking, for breakfast, I have granola, nut and fruit bars. However, at home, I’m a porridge man. As an experiment, I tried these porridge sachets. While they are very good, they are quite expensive. I’m tempted to make my own but I’m not sure I want to be making porridge in the mornings. I’m happy with bars and a cup of tea. Perhaps in winter, I might have a hot breakfast. The desserts are good too, if a bit sugary. Again, I’m not sure I need a hot dessert and I’m happy with dried fruit (dates or mango are my favourites). Hot breakfasts and desserts all use up extra fuel too. I think I’ll reserve them as occasional treats.
F10 Nitro Lite 200. I’ve mentioned the flysheet in the previous post. The important thing to note is that it rained on both nights that I was camping and there were no leaks. I think the Nitro Lite is a great colder weather tent. Not only is it very stable, but there’s lots of space to organise yourself with colder weather gear. The porch is great too. It’s very sheltered, big enough to store gear, but also compact. I took a F10 tent footprint. It wasn’t strictly necessary, but gave a bit of extra insulation and protection. In some ways I prefer the Nitro Lite in cold weather to the Scarp as it has a bit more room. I see F10 have replaced the Nitro Lite with a slightly heavier model, the Xenon. It’s a shame the weight has crept up as the Nitro Lite was quite outstanding for its weight.
Exped Thunder 70. I wanted to experiment a bit with a heavier, bulkier load, so I carried an absurd amount of food, half of which I didn’t eat! My total pack weight was about 16kg, about 3kg more than if I’d been careful. The method in the madness was to test whether the Thunder is comfortable for heavy loads. The jury is out on this one. While the hipbelt is superb, the shoulder straps are a bit thin both in width and padding. The MYOG shoulder strap pads helped but I still ended with a bit of bruising on my colar bone (strangely more on the right than the left). I now have some ZPacks shoulder strap pads, which, hopefully, will sort out this issue. It’s bizarre that Exped don’t use chunkier straps. Apart from that, the pack is great. I also used some Tread Lite Gear hipbelt pockets, which are far superior to the stretchy ones on the hipbelt for very little weight penalty. I’ll do a seperate post on them but they are highly recommended.
Western Mountaineering Ultralite. As I get older, the colder I sleep. I bought the Ultralite secondhand and it’s turning out to be a bit of a bargain. Although it’s probably not got the best ratio of down fill to weight in its class, it seems to hit the sweet spot for me in the cooler months. It is warm enough that I don’t have to put on extra clothing layers before dawn to stay warm. I seem to be able to stay warm enough to temperatures around freezing. The down seems to be high quality and recovers loft quickly from compression. The inner material is soft to the touch and the outer top material is draught resistant. I love the generous draught collar. All in all it’s a great bag. Expensive new, but a bargain secondhand.
Arcteryx Squamish Hoody. This has become my “go to” windproof. The material is very breathable, yet windproof, better than my Montane windproofs. It’s also got a nice feel to it. The cut is just right, trim, but not tight. Velcro tabs at the wrists mean they can be sealed or loosened for venting, much better than elasticated ones. The sleeves can also be pushed up above your elbows if needed. The hood is very good too, with a simple one cord adjuster which holds it snug to your head. Finally, there’s a useful chest pocket. If I was being picky, it could be slightly larger. Being an Arcteryx, it is expensive. I like it so much, I bought two, both in sales.
Patagonia R1 Fleece Smock. This is another expensive item that I bought in a sale. Even then it was expensive for a fleece. I’ve been round and round the houses with fleeces. For me, gridded fleeces seem to work best and the Patagonia R1 fleece seems to be the best. I’ve got both the old version and the newer one. Perversely, the older one seems to be better for backpacking as it’s not quite as warm. I find the grid fleece better at maintaining a stable body temperature than ordinary fleece. The outer face seems to be more robust too, resisting pilling.
Rohan Union T Shirt. I’ve come to regard blended merino wool and polyester base layers as the best solution to staying comfortable over a range of conditions and not stinking to high heaven. My previous favourite has been Montane Sportwool (no longer made). The Rohan Union T has now become my favourite base layer. Soft to touch, warm when needed, but not too warm and it dries quickly. Add in odour resistance and a sensible non-athletic but not baggy fit and it’s a winner. Just to prove it, I’ve got three and I wear them a lot in winter under shirts when not backpacking. While they’re not cheap, you can often pick them up discounted in Rohan sales.
The combination of the Squamish and the Patagonia R1, coupled with a Rohan Union merino T, was perfect for cool weather walking, especially with a strong breeze. Even when it was quite cold I didn’t need to use my Paramo Velez Adventure Light smock for warmth, except when stopping for lunch. Conversely, I didn’t overheat either. Basically, I think I’ve hit on almost the petfect combination except for hot weather.
This has been a tough year. Mum’s illness and death has really taken its toll, but we have to move on. Just after mum died, I took delivery of a camper van. This is a totally new experience for me as I’ve never owned one before. Mark of Mark’s walking blog owns a Wellhouse Leisure Toyota Alphard and recommended it.
After doing a bit of research, the Alphard looked extremely good value. It’s about half the price of similarly specced vehicles like VW T5/6’s. Although it’s a very high quality conversion, the reason it’s such good value is that Wellhouse use imported second-hand Toyota Alphard’s from Japan that are over ten years old.
Despite the age, they are in very good condition and have a high spec, although without many of the many modern fripperies like a trip computer. The actual basis of the vehicle is similar to a Lexus RX300. They are either 2WD or 4WD and have either a 2.4L or a 3.0L V6 engine. I was really lucky to pick up a 4WD 3.0L V6 with low mileage (57,000, 2002 registration).
Wellhouse Leisure were great to deal with, especially for a neophyte like me. Once I’d selected my base model, I added some extras: leather seats, Cat1 alarm & immobilser, double din stereo, lagged/heated water tanks, bike rack, cruise control and solar panel. Total cost was £24,050.
I’ve never driven a vehicle larger than a car, so driving back from Wellhouse’s premises near Huddersfield was a little nerve-wracking. However, I soon got used to the high driving position and different controls. The V6 engine is a real boon as it has plenty of power and decent acceleration for a large vehicle.
My only criticism is that it only has a four-speed automatic gearbox (Toyota didn’t fit five-speed until 2005). For motorway cruising, it revs higher than I’m used to. However, it’s nice and relaxing to drive , even at higher speeds.
So far I’ve taken it on one trip. My mum’s funeral coincided with our daughter’s reading week break from university. Instead of taking the train back to Manchester, I drove her up and then spent a couple of days in the Lake District, staying at Braithwaite camp site.
Compared with staying in a tent, it’s luxurious, especially in cold weather (it’s got a heater than runs off the petrol tank). On the middle night I camped out on the fells, but the next morning the weather turned unsettled with sleety showers so I went back to the van and spent a lazy day. The next day, I decided to go home. It was wonderful not to have a wet tent to pack.
I’m still on a learning curve and have needed to buy a few bits and pieces. For the colder months, it’s fabulous. It opens up new opportunities. I’ll be off again mid-December for a couple of days before collecting our daughter again from university. I’ll probably just do a couple of day walks this time.
Some more pictures of the Alphard from the Wellhouse website
Mark is selling his Alphard because he wants a larger vehicle. If you’re interested he’s advertised it on preloved here
Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Wellhouse Leisure and paid for my Alphard with my own money.
Patch had her stitches out this morning and everything seems to be going well. We will have to keep an eye on her in case she tries to scratch the wound but it seems to be healing nicely. We are having to manage her increased levels of anxiety but we can start to take her for short walks now. At least she’s barking at people walking down the road 🙄