Literati

The outdoor world has gone a bit bookish recently with the blogfather (Andy Howell) posting two excellent pieces, one on what is on his bookshelves and the second on “The Wild Places” by Robert McFarlane. Thanks, Andy, I’ll track some of these books down. I’ve had a bit of a mixed experience with travel books, so some recommendations are welcome. In the latest edition of TGO magazine, Chris Townsend also writes about his favourite “wilderness” authors.

Chris Townsend wrote two of my favourite travel books: “Walking the Yukon” and “Crossing Arizona”. Part of the joy of reading is the vicarious pleasure of imagining being there, which is crucially dependent on the author’s narrative skill. Chris may blush, but for me, he succeeded admirably in transporting me to landscapes I’d never been to.

My other favourite is “Clear Waters Rising” by Nicholas Crane, which is more of a classic travelogue, albeit one written from a walker’s perspective. If anyone is looking for a challenge, try following Crane’s route from north-west Spain through the Pyrenees, the Alps and Carpathians to Istanbul!

However, additions to my book collection will have to wait until I’ve read The Children of Hurin by Tolkien (half way through), Kublai Khan by John Man (just started), His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (not started yet). I’ve also got to read Colossus by Niall Ferguson. Lucky the Christmas holiday’s near, I’ve got a lot of reading to do!

Suunto saga ends

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been waiting patiently for a Suunto X9 GPS watch that I had ordered from Field & Trek, reduced from £499 to £125. To my dismay, yesterday I recieved a letter from them dated 13th December that they had sold out. Bearing in mind that I ordered it on 1st December, it does seem rather a long time to discover it’s sold out. Never mind, it was probably a bit of a frippery anyway. Reading some more reviews, it came in for hefty criticism over battery life and satellite acquisition time. I’ve got a Gecko 101, which is fine for my purposes.

Ear plugs

On Saturday night, some neighbours (sic) held a party in a marquee in their back garden to celebrate their wedding. Thoughtfully they sent a letter to the houses in the vicinity to warn them about the noise. Fair enough, I don’t have a problem with that. However, the party went on until well past 4.00 a.m. on Sunday morning. Fortunately, we are a little way away from their house, if I’d been one of their immediate neighbours, I don’t think I would be on speaking terms now!

As I woke up for nth time, I remembered I had some ear plugs that I always take with me when I’m camping, so I spent the rest of the night in comparative comfort. Ear plugs are very useful for camping, especially for campsites where there are inconsiderate campers (jerks) who insist on having loud conversations/playing music etc late into the night.

Foam ear plugs don’t work for me as they are not very effective and tend to fall out. I used wax ones for some time, but they are a bit messy. Now I use silicone ear plugs that I got from a swimming shop. They are ideal as they mould to your ear but do not make a mess. They are very effective for cutting out noise and I would recommend anyone to take a pair if they are intending to camp on a campsite or stay in a bothy. One other thing that I found useful from the swimming shop was their anti-chafing cream, which is excellent for preventing heat rash.

Weighty matters

A recent thread on the TGO site reminded me of something that has irritated me for some time about gear manufacturers: inaccurate advertised weights. I can forgive some variation, but there have been times when variations have been ridiculous.

I’ve found Mountain Equipment to be particularly bad, with the weights on the AR Utralite 2 and Helium jacket to be significantly higher than claimed. The original AR UL2 was claimed to be 1kg and turned out to be 1.3kg. They’ve now amended it on their website. The Helium jacket is claimed to be 390g on their website, but mine is 470g for a medium, a 20% difference.

Mountain Equipment are not the only ones, just the worst I’ve come across. Weight is an important part of the purchase proposition for us, so it is not unreasonable to expect manufacturers (and retailers) to take care that their weights are reasonably accurate. I now weigh all my gear on some accurate scales make sure I’ve got the right weight.

Farewell Viento

It appears that Paramo are to stop making their Viento jacket according to this thread on OM. Even though it is still on Paramo’s website, if you look around on the web, very few retailers are now stocking it. It’s a great shame as I think it’s Paramo’s best jacket, even if it is a bit quirky. For me, it has the best venting and pocket options of any of their jackets and the unusual zip arrangement which allows you to put your rucksack’s hip belt under the jacket is a winner. Perhaps the problem is that the most recent colours are not very inspiring. Mine is a rather fetching slate blue, which they discontinued. Still, at least with Paramo gear, it lasts virtually for ever. The Viento is dead! Long live the Viento!

viento.jpg

Plan for the worst…

“Plan for the worst and hope for the best” is a phrase that I first heard on Bob’s Challenge podcasts. Whether he made it up, I don’t know, but it struck me as being a wise maxim to bear in mind for planning any trip. It is the reason why I will probably never be an ultra-light backpacker. I always think about three situations when I’m doing my gear planning. What if it rains all day? What if it’s sunny all day? What’s the coldest that it’s likely to be at night?

Being dry (relatively) and warm when it rains is an important consideration and why, most of the time, I prefer to wear Paramo. Unless I’m being ultra weight conscious or only going for 1-2 days, generally I’ll wear Paramo. For me, it’s the most comfortable rainwear and I don’t have to keep putting it on and taking it off.

Preparing for a hot sunny day means a hat, a top that has a collar, and some shorts. I prefer a cap to a hat, hence the need for a shirt with a collar (an Icebreaker Kent Polo or a Mountain Hardwear Canyon Shirt are my current favourites). I also generally wear running shorts as underwear anyway (Adidas or Ron Hill at the moment).

Probable under foot conditions determine footwear. If it’s likely to be wet, I’ll take boots (Aku Icaro) or if I think it’s dry or hot I’ll take trail shoes (Montrail Hardrock or Namche). If I’m taking trail shoes, I’ll generally take a pair of Trek Mates Gore-Tex over socks as I hate wet feet! If there’s likely to be bogs, I’ll take a pair of gaiters, even though I rarely use them.

The last thing I think about how cold it’s likely to be at night. Generally, I’ll err on the side of caution and take a warmer sleeping bag, even though I could wear clothes. I’ll also make sure I have a dry change of clothes and a warm layer. It’s difficult for me to imagine getting my base weight down to much less than 6.5kg for most trips. However, I reckon that I should be able to have a base weight of less than 10kg for most circumstances.

As you can see, I’m a bit of a cautious chap and like to be prepared for the worst that the weather can throw at me. That way, I can relax and enjoy my walk without having to worry about the elements. Clearly different people have different tolerances of discomfort, which will determine the mix of gear that they take, but using Bob’s dictum of “planning for the worst…” helps determine where the boundaries are.

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