Let’s start with the shelter. I took my Trailstar and OookStar nest. In many ways, the conditions were ideal for a real test, high winds and heavy rain. Overall, the TS and OS passed with flying colours. I had a small amount of leakage near the apex of the TS, where I hadn’t sealed properly, which dripped onto the OS. I was glad of having a solid inner, as it cut down draughts significantly.
Having said that, it was definitely colder than a true tent, because of the open door. That’s not a criticism, but just a fact of the design. Once you get the hang of it, erecting the Trailstar is quite easy, although it needs a bit of fiddling around to get totally right. What was pleasing is that it is easier to erect in high winds and to take down than I thought it might.
There is a lot of room inside, but the true liveable room is really around the pole. There’s plenty of storage room, but headroom is quickly restricted near the shelter walls. This was OK for me, but I could see why taller people have problems. The porch groundsheet was a great success, both for storing things on and for sitting on to get in and out.
I’ve made two modifications to the TS/OS. I’ve added an Alpkit karabiner at the apex of the TS to make clipping on the OS much easier. I’ve also added a small length of cord at the apex of the OS so I can secure it to the handle of the trekking pole. This tensions the fabric of the OS better.
I found I was ducking, twisting and turning more than in my other shelters, which made my back a bit sore. I think I need to be a bit more careful in future. Overall, I like the TS/OS. However, I’m not taking it on the Challenge. I’m going to revert to what I know and trust: the Scarp.
I just like the Scarp. All the space is usable. It has great headroom and is definitely warmer. More or less, it doesn’t matter what direction the wind is coming from or if it changes direction. It has a smaller footprint, which can be useful in some circumstances. If you factor in more (and heavier pegs), heavier flicklock poles and the porch groundsheet, then the weight differential with the Scarp is extremely modest at around 60g. So, on balance, I’m going to take the Scarp, although I will be using the Trailstar again.
The other major decision was about sleeping bag and sleeping mat. In the Monadhliath, I chickened out and took my Alpkit Pipedream 400. Dartmoor was an ideal opportunity to test my modified Rab Neutrino SL 200. I was really pleased with its performance.
The addition of Climashield APEX 167 insulation into the underside panel, where there was no insulation before, has transformed the bag. Insulation is virtually on a par with the Pipedream 400 and the bag is 75g lighter overall. The Climashield is noticeably warmer than down on the underside.
Despite the additional insulation, it still compresses into the original Rab stuff sack, significantly smaller than the Pipedream. The addition of a down collar was a success as well. Coupled with the As Tucas Sestrals balaclava, it is now a decent three season sleeping bag. I will be taking this bag on the Challenge.
Mountain Equipment are now making a hybrid bag, the Matrix 1, but it is a lot heavier (915g vs. 665g) and has less down (175g vs. 200g), so I think my modified Neutrino is a bit of a winner.
For a sleeping mat I used my Nemo Zor short. I was generally comfortable and warm, even without using the silk sleeping mat cover that I usually. However, I think I’m going to take my Thermarest X-lite as it’s even more comfortable and probably kinder to my back. It also has a higher insulation rating.
I used the Air Beam frame in my Mariposa in the Monadhliath, but it didn’t seem quite right. I was determined to give it a proper trial. This time I used it properly with no foam pad behind. Much, much better! It was very comfortable and moulded to my back much better. Compared with a foam pad, it ventilates a lot better and makes the pack sits better on my hips For the sake of around 100g, I think it’s a worthwhile improvement for comfort. I’ve no idea how robust it is, but it seems OK. I also used it as a sleeping mat extension under my pillow in my tent.
In terms of clothing, I had hoped to try a pair of Marmot Essence overtrousers but they didn’t arrive in time. Instead I took a pair of Montane Atomic (Entrant DT) overtrousers. This was the first time I’d used them in serious rain. I’m sorry to say they failed and were damp around my backside. I think it was more likely to be lack of breathability rather than failure. I wished I’d taken my Rab Drilliums, which are still the benchmark for me. This version of the Atomics is no longer made. I threw them in the bin when I returned. The Drilliums will be going on the Challenge.
On a slightly arcane note, I was very pleased to have an umbrella and waders. Both will be going on the Challenge. Little things can make huge difference. I’m finalising my Challenge gear list and will share soon. It’s about 9kg, which is about what I expected.