My tent history part 2

My next tent was one of the best backpacking tents ever made: the Saunders Backpacker S. It weighed only 1.8kg and accompanied me on the Pennine Way and the Centurion Walk amongst others. Unless you’ve seen one, it’s a little difficult to describe and I haven’t got a photo. Essentially, it was a ridge tent but with two poles at the front, so the roof was an elongated triangle shape and the foot end was narrow and very low. This made for a very good aerodynamic shape if you pitched it foot into the wind, particularly with the extra pegging points that I sewed on. It also had a good sized porch for storage and cooking. I’m surprised the design hasn’t been revived, replacing the front poles with walking poles and using modern materials, I’m sure that it would weigh under 1kg.

My next tent was possibly THE best backpacking tent ever: the Phoenix Phreeranger. This was a single hoop tent with a very short ridge crossing at the apex. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo, but George Griffin does. Martin Banfield used the single skin version (the Phreerunner) in this year’s TGO Challenge (see day four of his diary). It had an excellent space to weight ratio and was amazingly stable in high winds. It also had a good sized porch and good head I think this was probably my favourite tent.

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My tent history

Having dealt with sleeping bags, let’s talk tents. Now, I’m going to disappoint you a bit here as I’ve only got five tents. This remarkable restraint is not through lack of trying and I’ve had quite a few different tents in my time. In the next few posts, I’ll look at the tents I’ve owned in the past.

My first tent was a Vango Force Ten Mk2, which was a fantastic tent but very heavy. It was cotton which was good for breathability, but was even heavier when it was wet. The groundsheet was a medium gauge PVC. Being a sloping A frame meant it was very study and it would stand up to anything. I kept it for about four years, mainly schlepping round the Lakes on low level walks. To prove its longevity, one of my friends still uses one!

Between school and university, I decided to do a five week trek around the Lakes and then across to Cross Fell and down the Dales to Long Preston, following a winding and slightly aimless route. For this, I decided on a lighter tent. It was a Blacks tent, but I can’t remember the name. It was a nylon ridge tent and weighed about 3kg. It was nowhere near as stable as the Force Ten and it had one major drawback: the groundsheet wasn’t waterproof! Fortunately it was a very dry summer and my friend had a polythene survival bag that I put under the groundsheet. Before my next trip, I sold it on.

Tomorrow: Saunders Backpacker S, Phoenix Phreeranger

Gayle gets wet!

You might find Gayle’s latest exploit on her blog amusing. It reminds me of a time, many years ago, when I camped at the Wasdale NT camp site. As normal I camped on the higher ground. Soon after my arrival a whole bunch of squaddies arrived and pitched down near the river. The next day I went up Sca Fell Pike. Just after Piers Gill it started to rain. By the time I got to the top the rain was horizontal and was like having ball bearings fired into your face. On the way back down I had to ford a beck in spate (in retrospect a bit of a dangerous thing to do). By the time I got back to the camp site, I was soaked through. However, my dampened spirits were lifted by a bit of schadenfreude. The squaddies’ big orange F10 tents were under about two feet of water as Lingmell Beck had burst its banks. I’m sorry, but I had to chuckle.

Unusual gear sources

There is something strangely satisfying about finding a bit of gear from a non-specialist source. For instance, M&S do wonderful merino wool socks that make great liner socks. I’ve got two pairs of very thin merino socks that are simply the best liner socks I’ve ever had. I also have a wonderful little multi-tool (pliers, blade, bottle opener, screw driver) that I bought from M&S one Christmas that only weighs 23g.

I’ve got a gilet from Gap, which weighs only 260g is as good as any of the “specialist” brands, has proper DuPont Thermolite insulation, looks better and was considerably cheaper. They key is to be always on the look out.

Lakeland are another great source of bits and pieces, particularly zip lock bags and sealable containers. For instance, their Soup ‘n’ Sauce bags are not only great for storing food, but they are tough enough to use as a peg bag to prevent sharp ended pegs from damaging your tent. Their Lock & Lock containers are excellent for storage.

How about Avon and their Skin So Soft body spray that doubles up as midge repellent and moisturiser? My sunglasses are a cheap pair of folding sunglasses from Next. If you look on the Web, it’s very difficult to get a pair of folding glasses. I’m also always on the look out for small plastic containers to decant fluids into.

Anyone else want to share some canny buys?

Camping controversies

One problem with electronic communication is that can needlessly cause friction and controversy. Comments in an e-mail, web post or forum comment can come across more stridently than the author intended. In my little review of sleeping bags, I was chided (gently) on an OM forum for dismissing synthetic sleeping bags.

However this is nothing to the heated debate that raged (and still rages) over whether Paramo is better than Gore-Tex/Event and whether trail shoes are better than boots. This is now teeing you up for a couple of posts that I will put up soon on these thorny (!) issues with my views.

What I want to say though is that whatever I say on this blog is only my view. My opinion is no more correct (or valid) than someone else’s, save in the light of the experiences that I’ve had. I hope that you take everything I say in the constructive spirit that it’s meant.

Only you can decide what is right for you. If that is a synthetic sleeping bag, then that’s cool (or hot ;0) ). Seriously, don’t take everything too seriously.

Tent trivia

There are a couple of interesting tent items on OM this week. Firstly, Vango is launching a series of lightweight tents under the Force 10 brand. Of most interest is the Helium 1 man, which is claimed to weigh 900g, serious competition for the TN Laser Competition (ho, ho). Without seeing it in the flesh, it does look as though it might be a bit flappy in high winds. For those that like a bit solidity, the Nitro 1 man looks like a very strong tunnel tent, weighing a reasonable 1.75kg. It could be competition for Akto owners as it is only slightly heavier, but a lot cheaper. The tension band system that Vango uses definitely adds to stability and the materials and workmanship are certainly very good on the TBS Micro 100 that I have. I would also like to give a little plug for their customer service as I lost the little repair and spares kit and they sent me a new one free of charge! Unfortunately for Vango, this particular camper is out of the market at the moment as I already have four 1-man tents!

The other article that drew my attention was a video of a geodesic getting trashed by some strong winds. The reason why this is interesting is that while strong winds destroyed the geodesic tents, it left a Lightwave tunnel tent standing, challenging the assumption that geodesics are stronger and better in windy conditions. Tunnel tents tend to bend with the wind whereas geodesics stand firm, which can lead to catastrophic failure. If you really want to strengthen your geodesic, try taping the poles together where they cross, which stops them moving against each other. The other issue that I can see from the film is that the wind got underneath the fly sheet, so a snow valance would have been a good idea. To be honest, if the wind is that strong, you’re better off taking the poles out and just use the tent as a bothy bag/shelter.

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