Recent freeze dried meals

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.

The Blå Band, LYO and Summit to Eat meals were purchased from Base Camp Food. Food on the Move was purchased from Mountain Trails. I have no affiliation with either company.

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MSR Guardian Water Purifier

Back in June when I was in the Lakes and in September on Dartmoor, I used the MSR Guardian water purifier. You can find all the technical details on the MSR website. Hitherto, I’ve been using the Sawyer mini filter, which is very light and easy to use. The main draw back is the slow filter rate and its susceptibility to clogging. Admittedly, backwashing with the provided syringe is quick and easy to cure clogging.

A couple of people I know have started using the MSR Guardian water purifier. On the Challenge I was given an impressive demonstration of the ease of use and impressive flow rate. The other attraction is that it’s a much more stringent purifier than the Sawyer, filtering out pretty much everything except chemicals. The downside is it is quite heavy (c.500g dry and 600g wet) and bulky.

However, I reckon it’s a good choice if you’re concerned about water quality. I’ve always been wary about small pools of static water and areas where there might have been contamination by animals or humans.

For instance, when I was on Dartmoor in September, camping at Taw Marsh, there were a lot of cattle and sheep roaming free. Even with freely running water, it’s not possible to know whether it is contaminated with faeces or not. Personally, I’d rather not take a chance. With the Guardian the chances of getting anything nasty are basically zero because it will filter out even viruses.

Some tarns in the Lake District are contaminated with human waste. At least with the Guardian you can be sure that you won’t catch anything. You can even filter water from puddles and be confident. To a degree, this can offset the extra weight of the Guardian as you can utilise any small source of water, obviating the need to carry extra water. This might be particularly useful for high camps, where you can use small pools/puddles which would be difficult with many other systems.

Two other features make the Guardian an attractive purifier. It is self cleaning, so there’s no mucking about with backwashing. It is also freeze proof, unlike the Sawyer filter, so you don’t have to worry about it in colder months.

I found it really straightforward to use. The long hose means it’s simple to put in any water source. Pumping was easy and the flow rate was impressive. The bottom of the pump mates with Nalgene bottles and “cantenes”. I use a 1L HDPE bottle and an 3L collapsible cantene/bladder. While there’s next no no leakage after use, I stow the Guardian in an Exped dry bag as the hose and pre filter remain wet.

All in all, I think this is a great bit of kit if you want absolute certainly that the water you’re using is potable (as long as you avoid chemical contamination). Obviously there is a weight penalty, although if there’s more than one of you, it soon becomes very weight efficient. For a group of people, it’s a no-brainer with the security and rapid flow rate. I will still use my Sawyer filter where water quality is better and weight is a consideration. For the rest of the time, the Guardian is my choice, especially if water sources are dubious. It is very expensive relative to other filters, but should last a lifetime.

Disclaimer: I bought this with my own money and have no affiliation with MSR

dhb Windslam Stretch Cycling Gloves Review

I’m lucky as most of the time I don’t need to wear gloves as when I’m walking I seem to generate enough body heat to keep my hands warm. However, there are times, especially when it’s windy when I need a pair of gloves. The trouble with most gloves is they are either too hot to wear for any length of time or they aren’t windproof enough. I find that gloves with a full windproof membrane often become too warm and sweaty. Most of the time simple thin fleece liner gloves work well, but when it’s windy they don’t provide much protection.

Enter the dhb Windslam Stretch Cycling Gloves. These are simple thin, stretchy  fleece cycling gloves with a silicone pattern on the palms and fingers for grip. However, the back of the glove, including the fingers but excluding the wrist is made from windproof fabric. This is ideal as the back of your hand is most exposed to wind when using trekking poles (and cycling). The lack of a membrane on the inside means that heat can dissipate and there’s less likelihood of over heating and sweating.

I used a pair for the first time in seriously windy conditions in the Brecon Beacons and found they worked really well. Unlike other gloves I have used, my hands stayed at a comfortable temperature and I didn’t have to keep taking them on and off to be comfortable. The silicone stripes gave a good grip on my trekking poles too. There’s not much else I can say other than they worked perfectly.

Disclosure: I purchased these gloves with my own money and have no affiliation with the manaufacturer or retailer.

Brecon Beacons

Last week I spent a couple of days in the Brecon Beacons. It’s the first time I’ve been there. I took my camper van and based myself at Pencelli, which has an excellent campsite. The facilities were first class and I had a pleasant hard standing pitch with electric hookup.

I had intended to do a two-day backpacking trip with an overnight stop at Llyn Cwm Llwch but the weather on the first day was dire, with high winds and heavy rain, so I spent a lazy day in the camper van.

The next day, the weather was much improved, so I did a day walk, shortening my intended two-day plan slightly, shown below.

Distance: 27.9km, ascent: 1,255m

click to enlarge

From the campsite, I took the minor road to Llanfrynach.

On the outskirts of Llanfrynach, I took a footpath along the Nant Menasgin. This was unexpectedly beautiful, as hopefully the pictures below show.

For future reference, there were a number of decent spots for wild camping, well away from view. The next section was across some fields, with well signposted paths but inaccurately marked on the OS map. Then it was along some back roads.

The only incident of note was that the road passed through one farm-yard where there were four muzzled dogs (three collies and a small Doberman) which circled around me barking furiously and tried to “bounce” me. Fortunately, I’m used to dogs so I just walked on quickly ignoring them and they lost interest as I got beyond the farm buildings. Considering the road is part of the Three Rivers Ride bridleway used by horses and cyclists, I was surprised that the farmer had allowed loose dogs on the road.

Just after the road turned north, I left it to follow a footpath over fields to Plas-y-gaer. I then turned south-west following a sunken lane to below Allt Ddu, where I decided to stop for an early lunch, sheltered by some convenient gorse bushes.  After lunch I climbed on a good path on the western side of Allt Ddu and then on to Cefyn Cwm Llwch, the ridge that leads up to Pen-y-Fan.

Once on the ridge, I was exposed to a strong wind, so I swapped my windproof for my Paramo Velez smock. The clouds were clipping the top of Pen-y-Fan, making it look brooding and forbidding. However, the track up is very straightforward and presented no difficulties.

Unfortunately the low cloud base meant no views from the summit of Pen-y-Fan.  However, on the descent, I was below the clouds and was able to take some decent photos of Cribyn and surrounds.

From Cribyn, I could look back to Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du, which were now clear of clouds.

After Cribyn, I walked along Craig Cwm Cynwyn to the col before Fan y Big.  There were horses grazing on the path up to Fan y Big, so I decided that I didn’t want to disturb them and I took a short cut around to Craig Cwareli.

The views back to Pen-y-Fan were excellent with the sun and shadows, but difficult to capture in photos because of the strong wind. I wished I’d taken a tripod!

Once I’d descended to Gist Wen, I was a bit more sheltered. On the way down I encountered another group of ponies, some with foals. I gave them a wide berth to avoid disturbing them.

After crossing some fields, I was back on to a lane and then down to Pencelli. All in all, it was a very good introduction to the Brecon Beacons.

A strange weekend on Dartmoor

Last weekend I was on Dartmoor.It was my first opportunity to do a bit of walking and wild camping since early June.

I parked at Belstone and was soon on the moor. Although there had been some rain, it was starting to clear as I walked towards Taw Marsh. The ford over the River Taw was a bit higher than normal so I used my waders to cross. The great thing about Taw Marsh is there are plenty of places to camp.

I selected a nice spot just off the track to pitch my tent. The only drawback was that there were a lot of cows with calves grazing. I don’t mind cows but calves tend to be a bit inquisitive. Fortunately, the ones near me moved off around dusk.

The next day I was packed in good time. I followed the path up to Small Brook, skirting around more cows and their offspring. From Small Brook I cut up to a path and then cross-country up to the ridge leading to Hound Tor.

Instead of going up Wild Tor, I used a path skirting its slopes keeping clear of Gallaven Mire before crossing Walla Brook and climbing up Wattern Tor. As I crossed the brook, it  started to rain, so it was on with the waterproofs.

From Wattern Tor, I tramped along the wet path to the large cairn marked on the OS map. By this time, the rain had virtually stopped but there were heavy showers circling around.

From the cairn, I made my way down to a dry stone wall and stile and then along the path which leads to Teignhead Farm. I’m not sure why this path isn’t marked on the map as it’s very clear. It was very wet underfoot, and boggy in places.

It was nearing lunchtime by the time I reached the ruins of the farm. I crossed the clapper bridge and climbed to the edge of Fernworthy Forest. To the North, it looked like another heavy shower was approaching, so I sheltered in the trees to take lunch.

In the end, it didn’t rain much. The path to South Teign Head was extremely boggy and wet.

However, my destination wasn’t very far and soon I had arrived at my intended camping spot. This is a lovely secluded place, well sheltered from winds, but with a nice flat, if slightly sloping, spot to camp.

After putting up the tent, I collected some water. Just as I got inside, it started to rain. Perfect timing! It must have rained for about an hour or so. I spent a lazy afternoon and evening in the tent, luxuriating in my peaceful surroundings.

This is where it all went horribly wrong! About 11:30, I woke up to some distant voices. Then there was the sound of a generator. Bang on midnight, all hell let loose. There was the deafening sound of some electro dub rave music. When I say deafening, it was unbelievably loud. I remember reading on a forum about Fernworthy Reservoir being used as a site for illegal rave parties.

If I had taken a powerful head torch I would have packed up and gone somewhere else but I only had a Petzl E+Lite. The rest of the night was spent with one ear jammed against my pillow and a finger jammed in the other ear to try to block out the noise. As you can imagine, it was a pretty horrible night.

They were still going full blast when I got up for breakfast. It was quite surreal to be eating accompanied by deafening music. I packed as soon as I could and headed up towards the Grey Wethers to get away from the “music” as quickly as possible.

Evan at the stone circle, the music was loud! As I dropped down into the valley the noise abated. However, as I climbed Manga Hill on the other side, I could still hear it. It only finally disappeared when I was above Hew Down. What a night!

As I climbed up to Wattern Tor, the weather started to improve. However, I was half inclined to go home, as my trip had been thoroughly spoilt by the noise.

From Wattern Tor, I decided to go back to Taw Marsh via Metheral Hill. By this time, the weather was beginning to brighten.

It was bright sunshine by the time I was down at Taw Marsh and my mood was beginning to improve. After a quick bite to eat, I was back at the car in Belstone. After a chat with my wife, I decided to go back to the ford at Taw Marsh to camp and have a quiet afternoon to relax.

The only disadvantage of an early camp at the ford was that several families were out for a Sunday walk, but after the trauma of the previous night, it was nice to chill out for a while. Mercifully, I had a restful night. The next morning, I had a leisurely breakfast. I was visited by some cows and their calves, but they kept their distance. It was only a short distance back to the car and home.

Tread Lite Gear Packing Cell

I’ve just got back from a short trip to Dartmoor (there’s a bit of a story to tell there) and one of the new bits of gear was a Tread Lite Gear Packing Cell. Mine was one of a limited batch in cuben but Paul is now making them available in silnylon. The silnylon ones are actually slightly lighter 26g vs 30g, but the same size 32x16x16cm.

I fitted three days of food into it easily. I reckon I could get five days worth, maybe at a pinch six. It’s a great way of organising you food. Previously I had been using a couple of stuffsacks.

It fits nicely into my Lightwave Ultrahike and I’m sure it would fit into my other packs. I think it’s a neat idea. If you’d like to see more, pop over to Paul’s eBay store.

Disclaimer: this product was purchased with my own money and I have no financial relationship with Tread Lite Gear.

MYOG Velcro strap keepers

Fed up with straps dangling all over the place? Here’s a simple solution copied from my Exped Thunder pack. Most of the straps on the Thunder have Velcro keepers.

Any excess strap is rolled up and secured by a Velcro keeper sewn on the end of each strap.

The sleeping pad straps on the base of my Osprey Talon 44 are particularly annoying and dangle down. The solution was to mimic the Exped Thunder keepers.It’s really simple to do. I hand sewed them. It’s worth using a thimble as it’s tough to push the needle through the Velcro. It only needs a few stitches to keep in place as there’s no strain on it. Simple, but effective.

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