The garden was dry by lunch time, so I pitched the F10 Nitro Lite 200 to see if my inner tent vent cover works. Looks good to me! I’m very happy with it.
The F10 Nitro Lite 200 is a good tent but it has a few design flaws. I’ve addressed these with a number of mods, a summary of which you can find here. The last remaining feature to be modified is the mesh vent at the rear of the inner tent.
There are two reasons for wanting to have a removable cover for the vent. Firstly, there is a possibility (admittedly remote) that rain or spin drift might get blown through the vent in the flysheet and through the mesh vent on the inner. Secondly, in cold windy conditions, it would be handy to be able to cut the draught from the vent to make the inner warmer.
As it was (still) raining today, I decided to have a tent modding session and make a vent cover for the inner mesh vent. I had a spare piece of lightweight nylon fabric, which I cut to the shape of the vent, but oversized. I didn’t bother to hem it.
Next I added the the snap fasteners to the vent cover. I did the first two with black thread, before remembering I had some orange thread. I couldn’t be bothered to unpick my work, so I left them alone. No one is going to see the vent cover anyway. I used the orange thread for the remaining fasteners to make it look neater (!)
I now feel confident that the Nitro Lite 200 is fully primed against the elements and that there are now no areas of vulnerability. All in all, quite a satisfying afternoon of work.
It may surprise you but I haven’t bought much gear this year. However, I’ve made plenty of posts on gear. So here’s a round up of some thoughts on the gear that I’ve used in 2013.
The tent I’ve used most this year has been the Force Ten Nitro Lite 200, which I bought near the end of 2012. I’ve always wanted a tunnel tent. While it’s very good tent, I’ve found it needs several modifications to make it into an excellent tent.
For the modest weight, you get an amazing amount of room, all of which is usable, unlike some other designs. With the double side guys and Tension Band System, it is very stable, although side-on winds will always make tunnel tents flap a bit. Generally, it’s a well thought out design and I like it a lot.
For many, the million dollar question is: “is it better than the Scarp1?”. Back in January, I did a long-term review of the Scarp, which I think is one of the best tents ever designed.
My answer is still that the Scarp is slightly better but the gap has narrowed. My reason for still preferring the Scarp is that it sheds wind in all directions, even side on, which means it is more flexible when selecting a pitch. Like the Nitro, the Scarp needs some modifications to push it into the excellent category, which you can find here.
The other shelter that I used during the year was my cuben MLD Duomid. You won’t be surprised that I modified that as well! I still like the Duomid, especially for summer. During the year I acquired a MLD Trailstar and OookStar inner. As yet, I’ve not tried them out, but I’m looking forward to using them.
I’ve only used one pack this year: the Gossamer Gear Mariposa. I think it’s an excellent pack and I posted a long-term review in August. In October, I bought an AirBeam frame for the Mariposa. I’m looking forward to using it.
Sleeping mats have become a bit of a topic in backpacking circles, with the initial enthusiasm for air mats mats fading as longevity and puncture issues became apparent. I wrote an assessment back in January. This year, I’ve mainly used the Nemo Zor self inflating mat. I’ve found it more comfortable than I’d expected and will continue to use it, especially with my bespoke silk cover.
As Tucas cuben stuff sacks
Near the end of this year, I ordered some cuben stuff sacks from a new cottage manufacturer in Spain, As Tucas. After my initial order, I liaised with Marco and ordered a bespoke cuben rucksack liner/drybag. Obviously, I’ve not tried these yet, but the workmanship is very good. Marco has some other interesting items and is open to bespoke orders, so go and have a look.
Fuel4: a potential game changer?
In November, I was sent a free sample of a new fuel for backpackers by Fuel4. Fuel4 is an alcohol jelly. I did some tests and was impressed. For me it addresses two of the major drawbacks of meths: the smell and soot deposits. I shall do some field tests in 2014 and report back. I still like the immediacy and convenience of gas, but can see the attractions of Fuel4.
As most of you know, I prefer mid boots for walking. While I’ve used trail shoes, most of the time, I just prefer mids. It’s a personal thing. I’ve been a big fan of Salomon Fastpackers but they are now out of production. The nearest replacement is the X Ultra Mids, which I used in the Lake District in September. To my delight, these are even better than the Fastpackers. They are even more comfortable and have a better grip.
There’s not been much new in the way of clothes, but two items I used for the first time in 2013 were my Paramo Fuera Ascent jacket and Mountain Equipment Ibex trousers. The Ibex trousers (not pants!) are superb. They are by far the best soft shell trousers I’ve tried. I’m seriously thinking of using them for the Challenge. I also like the Fuera Ascent windproof. OK, it’s quite heavy, but it’s a lovely jacket with fantastic venting. For summer, though, I really like the Rohan Windshadow jacket as a windproof. It’s a shame the hood isn’t better designed. I also like the Rohan Pacific shirt in summer.
Lifeproof Fre iPhone 5 case
Lastly, if you’re an iPhone user, it’s well worth considering the Lifeproof Fre case. It makes your iPhone waterproof and shock resistant but is low weight and surprisingly slim. I’ve started using my iPhone as a GPS and have 1:50,000 maps on it. Since buying this case, my SatMap has become redundant. I liked the case so much, I bought a second case in lime green, so it stands out more if I drop it.
Disclosure: with the exception of Fuel4, all these items were purchased with my own money. Fuel4 sent me a free sample to test. I have no formal or financial relationships with any gear manufacturers or retailers.
At the same time as trying out my pole mod, I experimented with a Tension Band System for the rear pole. The Nitro has a TBS on the front pole arch, which adds significantly to the stability of the pole, but doesn’t have a TBS on the rear pole.
It was very easy to make. Initially I thought of using some mini karabiners but I raided my bits and pieces bag and found a plastic hook (ironically from another older Vango tent) and two clips from an Ortlieb mapcase. Coupled with some cord and two line-loks, it took about five minute to rig up.
Here it is inside the Nitro minus the inner.
I was concerned that it might not fit with the inner in place. However, it only just touches the inner. The only disadvantage is that the inner has to be unhooked for the TBS to be put in place and adjusted. Despite this, it’s really quick to do and it does add significantly to the stability of the rear pole. It’s probably only worth doing in stormy weather and it needs to be removed before packing away. For the extra 11g in weight, I reckon it’s a good mod.
Yesterday the highly expensive eyelet kit that had ordered arrived, so it was time to kick on with my pole project. I won’t bore you with all the ins and outs. After some experimentation with eyelets and the removable cord locks that I had attached, I decided to go for a simpler approach with an eyelet on one side and an adjustable linelok on the other to tension the flysheet.
However, waste not want not, I used one of the removable cord locks to secure the cord that attaches to the ends of the pole (see above).
I added an extra Mcnett Tenacious Tape reinforcing patch (black) to the inside of the tent before sewing the adjustable linelok (shown above).
Above is the cord that attaches to the pole end to achieve a hoop shape. It is removable, one end with a clip, the other by un-threading a linelok.
The pole had to shorten by 5cm at either end, to fit the slope of the roof. It was slightly nerve-wracking using a hacksaw, but I achieved a neat cut.
Fortunately, it was sunny this morning so I could pitch the Nitro in the garden. As you can see the fit is not bad at all.
Inside (above and below).
Another view from a different angle.
Although I was quite pleased with the result, I don’t think this is going to work very well as it stretches the flysheet material. If used too often I reckon it would stretch permanently. It really does need a proper pole sleeve.
When I took the extra pole out there was a definite wrinkle left behind (shown above). I expect this will disappear after a couple of pitches without the additional pole. However, I think it means the extra pole idea is not going to work, which is a shame as it definitely adds to stability. It really needs a pole sleeve with stronger material. Still it was fun trying. I’ve ended up with a couple of extra pegging points and the additional weigh is about 10g with the patches and material. I think it also suggests the my idea for adding an extra pole to the Laser Comp is a non starter as well. There is a limit as to how much you can modify a tent!
I’m working on adding an extra pole to my F10 Nitro Lite 200 tent at the moment. Adding an extra pole should make the Nitro Lite extra strong and help support the fabric in the middle of the tent, which has a tendency to flap a bit in a strong wind. It should help with snow loading in winter (should I ever use it in snow!).
My aim is to make this mod optional with a minimal weight penalty. To this end, the pole will be secured a small grosgrain loop on the underside of the roof seam. I’ve sealed this inside with some McNett Tenacious tape and silicone seam sealant on the outside.
At the hem, I’ve opted for a short cord loop with a mini cord grip. The cord that secures the ends of the pole will be totally removable and the flysheet will be tensioned with removable line loks that I had spare from a compression stuff sack.
My progress is now stalled because I’m waiting for some 7mm eyelets. I used some 8mm eyelets as an experiment but they are marginally too large and the pole end can slip through. I also had an eyelet failure, so I’m going to be more careful with punching the hole in the grosgrain. Vango have kindly provided a spare front pole, which I’m going to shorten by 10cm.
The unshortened pole weighs 112g. Shortening it should lose about 5g. My guess is the lineloks, reinforcing patches and grosgrain on the tent can’t weigh more than 10g. The weight for the cord plus eyelets might be about another 10g, so the all in extra weigh shouldn’t be more than 130g for the extra pole. Without the pole, the extra, the weight gain will be minimal (c.10g), so there’s no issue if I decide to leave the pole at home.
I’ve also come up with a potential solution to the lack of a Tension Band System on the rear pole arch. Again, it will be totally optional and removable. I’m guessing that it will add no more than 15g. I’m hoping that it won’t compromise the inner. The only downside is that it won’t be adjustable from inside the inner. I’m not going to test it until I’ve completed the pole mod (and get some decent weather!).
None of these mods are strictly necessary, as the production model of the F10 Nitro Lite is a fine tent, but I enjoy messing about with tents and enhancing their design and function. The extra pole on the Nitro Lite will make it into a seriously strong tent for winter. One other mod I’m mulling is removable snow valances. Unfortunately my lack of sewing skills might prevent me from making them!
There were only a couple of totally new bits of gear I used. One was the Salomon X Ultra Mid GTX boots. I was very impressed. I’ve been a long time user of the Salomon Fastpacker boots, which have now been discontinued. I reckon these boots are even better. I found the lacing system more positive. Generally the grip was better with a more aggressive sole pattern. They were slightly slippery on wet, slick rock, but the rest of the time they were very secure. I used Superfeet green insoles and they were incredibly comfortable. The toe box has slightly more wiggle room than the Fastpackers. The outers got damp but my feet stayed dry. I would expect that when they are saturated that breathability will suffer. I did spray them with Duxcoat but it didn’t protect them for long before the toes got saturated (which is no different to every pair of fabric boots I’ve owned). I shall definitely be using these again.
The other new item was the Exped Air Pillow UL. At 45g, it’s nearly half the weight of the standard Air Pillow. It uses a lighter weight material which feels slicker than the standard version. Whereas the standard version can be used on its own, for comfort, I used a buff as a pillow case. The other difference is that it only has one valve for inflation and deflation. It was as comfortable as the standard pillow, especially with the buff pillow case. I find the Exped pillows give me the best level of support and are the most comfortable I’ve used. I will definitely be using this one again as well.
I ought to comment on the Vango F10 Nitro Lite 200. This is the third time this year I’ve used it. Now I’ve ironed out most of the quirks, I’m starting to really like it. The extra rear pegging point, using double guys on the side and the rear vent closure system have all made a difference.
The efficacy of the vent closure is a bit difficult to judge but I think it should be effective against all but the strongest winds. The double side guys make a huge difference to the stability of the hoops and I can’t see any reason not to use them all the time. I’m amazed at how few tents use double side guys on hoops (Hilleberg seem to be the exception). Lastly, the extra rear pegging point has cured the problem of the fly touching the inner.
On the last night, I added a further tweak by introducing a short loop of cord between the fly and the rear corner pegging points on the inner (shown above). I noticed that these were under a lot of tension. This extension eases the tension and further widens the gap between the fly and the inner.
I had very heavy rain on the last night. The Nitro proved completely watertight. The Nitro is a typical tunnel tent in wind: very stable end on, but flaps a bit side-on to the wind. Even side-on, it’s pretty stable. I’m tempted to do a mod and fit a third pole in the middle. It shouldn’t be too difficult to do and would only add just over 100g. It would help to support the fabric in the middle of the tent and stabilise it. Just to put this in context, any flapping is reasonably well controlled and not in the same league as a Laser Comp.
I really love the amount of space in the Nitro. It’s like a palace. There’s plenty of space for all my gear and loads of mesh pockets. The porch is very roomy for cooking and storage. It’s also well sheltered for cooking. Venting is good and condensation is kept down to a tolerable amount. The inner is easy to unhook to wipe off any excess damp before packing. It is slightly annoying that a couple of the bungee connectors keep coming undone on the rear hoop.
I had some qualms about how thin the groundsheet material is, but it’s proved robust so far and I didn’t bother with a groundsheet protector. I’d still be careful of rough ground though. The fly material seems robust, despite how thin it is. The inner is also holding up well.
I thought about taking the Trailstar/OookStar, but was glad I took the Nitro instead. On a couple of the pitches the more compact footprint of the Nitro made selecting a pitch easier. Overall, the Nitro is a really good tent and I’m increasingly confident about it. However, I still think the Scarp edges it on stability and ability to shed wind in any direction.
This is the third time I’ve used the Nemo Zor self inflating sleeping mat this year and it’s excellent (sorry I don’t have a picture of it from this trip, above is in my Duomid). I find it really comfortable to sleep on. I wonder whether the dual cores (horizontal and vertical) make it adapt to body shape better. As with my Dartmoor trip, I used my silk cover. This makes it feel really nice and adds a significant amount of insulation. This may sound odd, but it feels more comfortable and supportive than an air bed. I like not bouncing around when I turn over or when I’m sitting on it. This is going to be my sleeping mat of choice from now on.
Lastly, I used a Lifeproof Fre waterproof case for my iPhone 5. I bought one in a rather striking lime green colour as I thought lime would be more visible than the black case I already have.
I can’t say I’ve tested it by dropping it in water, but it seems pretty water resistant and shockproof. It adds very little bulk and weight. It actually seems to improve the responsiveness of the touch screen. I think it’s a great case for an iPhone, albeit quite expensive.
In the course of making my vent modification to my Force Ten Nitro Lite 200, I discovered that I had lost my repair kit that was supplied with the tent. While this is not a disaster, I do like to carry some kind of repair kit. The F10 kit has some swatches of material and a pole sleeve. The flysheet patch is adhesive, which is particularly useful against the eventuality of a mishap. I always try to carry a pole sleeve in case of a pole failure. It means a pole failure need not be terminal.
Anyway, having realised I’d lost the supplied repair kit, I contacted Vango. Without hesitation, they tracked down a spare repair kit and sent it to me the next day. Not only that, they included some spare guy lines. Now that’s what I call customer service. This is not the first time that Vango have come to the rescue, so hats off to them for excellent customer service.
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to either close the rear vent on the Nitro Lite 200 or at least reduce the size of the aperture for a while. I’ve failed to think of an elegant way to completely close it.
The best solution would be to sew a flap inside the vent, but it would be incredibly fiddly to do, especially for someone with limited sewing skills like me. I’ve already introduced a rain gutter to stop drops of rain being driven up the vent. The next step was to have a mechanism to reduce the size of the vent aperture in stormy weather.
The most obvious way to achieve this was to use a strip of Velcro. Because the hood is wired, it is difficult to secure the whole length of the hood, so I decided to close it in the centre. First I sewed a length of Velcro to the underside of the hood guying grosgrain loop.
Next I sewed a mating strip on to the flysheet. I had some orange Velcro, so I used that as it colour coordinated better (these things are important!). Before sewing, I glued the Velcro to stop it sliding around. This meant a wait of a couple of hours for the glue to dry, but made the process much easier.
On the underside, I used some McNett Tenacious Tape as a strengthener to sew on and then to seal against rain wicking through the stitching (i.e. two layers of tape).
Initially, I was pleased with the result. However, after thinking about it for a while, I had another brainwave.
The drawback with just using Velcro might be that in really windy conditions, the Velcro could separate, leaving the vent vulnerable. Combining the Velcro closure with some shock cord and a cord grip would give a much more secure closure.
I sewed a small grosgrain loop on the orange Velcro strip. I looped some shock cord through it and then through the hood guying grosgrain loop (shown above).
To aid the removal of the hood guy, I used a small karabiner. The picture above shows the hood in the open position.
To close the hood, I remove the guy line, engage the Velcro and tighten the cord lock. With this system, there’s no chance of the hood flipping open. Initially I was annoyed at not thinking of the cord lock option first as it seemed the Velcro had become superfluous. However, the addition of the Velcro makes the opening smaller, so I think it is worth while.
Clearly, this is not a perfect solution as it is still theoretically possible for rain to penetrate. However, given the small aperture size and the rain gutter, I think it’s highly unlikely it would be a problem. It will be interesting to see whether Vango will address this weakness and others in a new version of the Nitro Lite.