I think the most difficult meal for backpacking is breakfast. I don’t particularly like Muesli. Most normal breakfast cereals are too bulky. Ready-Brek is OK but not very satisfying. I like porridge but it burns. Here’s my solution: stick your porridge in a soup ‘n’ sauce bag from Lakeland. Add a couple of spoons of milk powder, some raisins and a little sugar. When it comes to heating, just add some water to the bag, then re-seal the bag, shake  and put it into a pan of boiling water. In 3 minutes, then porridge should be ready (you may have to shake the bag a couple of times to stop clumping). Hey presto, a nourishing, sustaining and healthy breakfast with no burnt leftovers on the bottom of the pan. For a bit of variety, you could decant the new single serving packs from M&S. At the moment I’m using the apple, blackberry and toffee ones. Mmmm and no added junk.


End to End

After reading an account on grough on the West Highland Way, I was intrigued to see whether there were any other trail diaries. Almost immediately I stumbled upon this little beauty.  Lots of lovely pictures and just the right amount of commentary. However, it doesn’t end there. This is part of a much larger site devoted to John Bultler’s Land’s End to John O’Groats walk. I’ve not explored all of it yet, but it should provide hours of interesting viewing. Thank you and well done John, whoever you are!

Peewiglet reaches Patterdale

For those of you who haven’t spotted it, Peewiglet has started chronicling her September Coast to Coast walk (her fourth time). So far she has written up to Patterdale. I’m looking forward to the rest, particularly the three days near the end when she did over 20 miles each day ;o) . It’s a shame she seems to have given up her blog.

Colour blind

I am a big fan of Osprey packs. I own an Aether 60 (2003 model), an Atmos 35, Synchro 25 & 15 as well as the Daylite and Solo from their “side orders” range (add-ons for the Aether). I use the Sychros for work, depending on how much I need to carry. They are superb urban backpacks with plenty of pockets to organise your stuff. The 25 has a laptop section, while the 15 is big enough if I’m not carrying a computer. Both are black so they don’t show the grime of the Tube and have a frame sheet to give them enough structure not to flop on the floor when you put them down.

The Aether is a fine pack, weighing 1.6kg for 60L. Although it is a single compartment pack, it has quite a lot of flexibility for loads, with a large top pocket, two reasonable sized mesh side pocket and a mesh pocket on the front. It also has their “straight-jacket” compression system comprising of four straps across the front which can be tightened or unclipped. These can also be used to securely lash gear. I carry my tent in an Exped dry bag and lash it using these straps. There are some straps at the bottom of the pack that can be used for a sleeping mat. Further flexibility comes from being able to attach the “side orders” units. The Solo is 8L and Daylite 16L. It is in a rather bright orange/yellow colour, but not offensive to the eye. Although the latest Aether has some good features (e.g. the moldable hip belt), the 60L it is slightly heavier.

I’m also a big fan of the Atmos 35, which appears to be the best iteration of the trampoline back style of suspension. It is very comfortable and certainly reduces sweat. The pocket arrangements are good and I like the red/grey colour scheme. My only criticism is that the curvature of the frame sometimes makes it awkward to pack. I’ve prevaricated for a while as to whether to get the 50 or 65 for longer trips as the back system is really superb.

This brings me to Osprey’s new pack range. They’ve introduced some new heavyweight large volume packs: the Argon and Xenon, which don’t interest me very much as they are too heavy. However, I was interested in the Kestrel range, which are lighter, lower volume packs. Now, I am sure that all of these new packs are well made, well featured and comfortable, but WHO CHOSE THE COLOURS? They are hideous! The trend for “unusual” colour combinations was started in the Talon series. Using white on a backpack is a serious mistake. Using brown/fawn in combination with colours other than green is a bit “difficult”. I reckon Osprey have made a serious mistake with these colour schemes. While I am not particularly driven by fashion considerations, I do like colours that go with each other and I avoid those that I don’t like. On the positive side for Osprey, I may be forced to buy a larger Atmos before they “improve” the colours on that range!





Easyjet Britain

This article caught my eye last week. There was an interesting comment from Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, an independent public body which represents rail passengers on the rise in rail fares: “Flexibility has become very, very expensive. We have moved towards an Easyjet railway without having much of a debate about it,” he said.  By this he meant that there are some very cheap fares on the railways, but generally with special conditions. Most of the time, especially when you want to travel, fares are not cheap, hence the incentive to use the car at those times.

Then we’ve had the furore over cheap chicken, where the RSPCA, amongst others is urging us to stop buying mass produced chickens. Quite frankly, I agree with them. I want to eat humanely reared animals and I don’t want the chemical garbage that goes with intensive farming. However, it’s incredibly difficult to make informed choices.

Are we turning into an Easyjet Britain (although Ryan Air are even worse), where all that matters is price or convenience and does this make us over-consume? Is this to the detriment of service and quality? I’m as guilty as anyone else. I can’t resist a bargain, hence, the ridiculous amount of gear I have, much of which I hardly use (who needs 5 tents, 6 stoves, 10 rucksacks etc.?). I surf the web, finding “bargains” and consuming more.

By shopping on-line I deprive the local economy. Why don’t I buy more books from the local bookshop than Amazon? By constant bargain hunting, I’m probably driving down the quality of service/goods that can be delivered. On the other hand, you don’t want to see no competition so you get ripped off by virtual monopolists. What’s the balance? If I stop consuming, I could throw someone out of a job (Keynes’ paradox of thrift). In the end, I guess, we just go on blindly doing what we do. It’s just too difficult to resolve.

Google Reader

I’ve just got to grips with Google Reader. It certainly simplifies the task of keeping up to date with news and blogs. I wonder whether the site stats record when the item appears in the Google Reader window or does it wait until there is a click through. If it is the latter, then my site stats will underestimate the number of readers. Does it really matter? Probably not. I view the number of comments as a better measure.

One thing worries me, though. Is Google taking over our lives? I have Google Mail, I use Google for searching, I have Picassa installed and now use it for keeping up to date. I worry about the data that might be collected, not becasue I have anything to hide, but I just don’t like the idea of being catalogued. I guess I ought to abandon using Google for everything.

Dark materials

Over Christmas I finished Kublai Khan by John Man. Highly recommended, even if you’re not that interested in Chinese history. Man has also written on Ghengis Khan and Attila the Hun, so I’ll probably get those soon. I also finished “The Children of Hurin” by Tolkien. In truth, it’s bit boring and somewhat depressing.

I also read “Northern Lights” by Philip Pullman, partly to acquaint myself before I see “The Golden Compass”. If you like fantasy writing, then it’s certainly worth a read. Like most of these kind of books, it takes a bit of time to orientate yourself, but after about a 100 pages or so it starts to hot up. I’m not sure you can compare it to LOTR or Narnia as they were both trailblazers. LOTR has the greatest depth as Tolkien built a prodigious work of myth behind the story. Narnia, on the other hand, is very much a children’s story, and the style is somewhat dated. The imaginative force behind both LOTR and Narnia is prodigious as they were both very different to literature that had preceded them.

Of the most recent exponents of fantasy I think David Eddings is the best. In particular “The Belgariad” creates a wonderfully colourful “other” world of tremendous imagination and consistency. Perhaps Pullman is more similar to Michael Moorcock who created a number of interlocking universes with similarities and dissimilarities to our own. On the other hand, Pullman has a deeper style than Moorcock, where  action predominates. I’m now on to the second book, “The Subtle Knife”, which has got off to a cracking start.

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