Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Never Ending Story

I mentioned recently that I'm pretty happy with my gear currently but of course there's always room for improvement and the desire to try alternative methods.

This year has been a steep learning curve since so much has changed since I started buying backpacking gear. It seemed the rule book had been rewritten and due to that and the fact that my recent camping experiences had been during family camping trips by car I was totally unaware of the current lightweight scene. At the end of 2008 early 2009 I was looking for equipment that followed the guidlines that I was familiar with from way back, then realised that things had changed and basically got sucked in by the marketing hype that exists now to a much greater degree than it did previously, something I wasn't prepared for. The result was too much spent on gear that was well recieved in the outdoors press but that on closer examination failed to deliver or at best failed to meet my expectations/requirements.

I switched early this year from my much loved MSR Whisperlite Intl to a cartridge mounted gas stove but after finding the blogs, most of which are listed on the right I discovered that meths didn't mean needing to carry a Trangia. I'm now happily using a meths stove of my own design and see little reason to change. The great thing about designing and making your own gear is that you don't need to compromise your own requirements to suit the mass market.

I went through a variety of sleeping mats, starting with a 3/4 length Self Inflate, choosen as a lighter alternative to the heavy self inflate I used when car camping, then tried an full length mummy shaped insulated airmat, then a full length mummny shaped self inflate before going right back to basics with a full size closed cell foam mat. I find it works just fine spring to late autumn although I must be honest I intend to use a full size self inflate in winter. I have one on order, a Multimat Adventure Superlight 25 full size. I decided on full size as I tend to sleep on my side and with a tapered mummy shaped mat my feet are often off the mat. I had the Multimat in mind for a few months but only just made the decision to purchase.

The biggest problem I've had though is finding a suitable tent, since mid 2008 I've owned or still own a Force 10 Nitro 100, a TN Laser, a Saunders Spacepacker mk1 and an Argos Hike Lite 1 together with a selection of used Phoenix Phreerangers. In addition I tried but returned a TN Voyager and a ME Dragonfly. Of that little lot my favourite would be the Phreeranger followed by the Argos Hike Lite but therin lies the problem, both are over 1.7kg with the Hike Lite closer to 2kg and thats more than I'd like especially as I'm fully aware that there are solo tents that offer more space and/or less weight, many at around 1kg. The trouble is that I don't see anything that really appeals to me. The alternative would of course be a tarp but again I'm not convinced that I really want to go that far. So what about a tarp/tent? well I've had a good look at some of the models available and there are a few that interest me but with some 2 skin tents getting within 200g of their single skin rivals it a difficult choice, especially once you add some kind of lightweight bivvy bag/sleeping bag cover which I'd need as I'm using a down sleeping bag.

The tents that interest me are the MSR Hubba HP, I like the layout (Like a Phreeranger) but the colour isn't a good choice in N.I. where wild camping isn't a legal right, I know the Hike Lite is hardly any less conspicious but it did only cost £25 which swayed my decision somewhat. The other thing about the Hubba is that as far as I'm aware it's pitched inner 1st, not a deal breaker on it's own but combined with the colour........

I can't think of anything else from the major brands but from the cottage industry the Tarptent Scarp 1 mk2 looks very interesting, it's created quite a buzz in the UK and Henry Shires (owner of Tarptent) has even responded to some concerns from the UK and redesigned the flysheet (mk2 model) to address those concerns. The Scarp 1 hasn't even been on the market for a year AFAIK but already Henry has responded to the consumer and improved the design, I could comment on the mainstream brands at this point but I'll leave it.......

I mentioned a tarp/tent and as you'd expect Henry has quite a range of single skin designs, not surprising as his company is called 'Tarptent'. I did consider a Contrail but the single longitudinal hooped models, Rainbow and Double Rainbow really interested me as like the MSR Hubba the layout is similar to the Phreeranger. To add to the dilema Henry has yet another new model, the 'Moment' a single skin transverse hooped design similar to but smaller than the double skin Scarp.

If I'm honest my experiences with the TN Laser have put me off transverse hoop designs which is unfortunate as the Scarp looks really good, fortunately a few are going to be arriving soon in the hands of fellow UK bloggers so I'll wait and see what the verdict is. In the meantime I've been experimenting with a single skin by using only the fly and footprint of my Phreeranger and simply not using the inner tent. I've only tried it in the garden a few times including Sunday past when it was below freezing but so far it's been fine, it's still too heavy and there's no mesh to keep out midgies but it's the lightest option I have at present.

The other major shift for me this year was from a synthetic sleeping bag to a down one, that has worked pretty well so far and has certainly helped reduce my base weight. There are other options though, quilts seem to be gaining in popularity but I'm a bit unsure. I do however have another plan which I hope to try out this week, hopefully it'll work and if it does, combined with using the Phreeranger as a single skin I'll have saved just under 1kg.

Hopefully the postman will call tomorrow.


  1. I think you're right, it's small incremental changes all the time. What looks good on paper doesn't always work on the hill.

    But it does get to the point where you have to resist forking out £40 to drop your pack weight by 200gm, at least until you wear out the bit of kit you want to replace...

  2. Dead right, I managed to sell some of the stuff that didn't quite work but even that costs.

    Interesting blog by the way, the 35mm Mamiya is something a bit different, Nice :-)

  3. Cheers, just starting out, we'll see how long it lasts. :)

    Still not fired the shutter in anger yet, I'm desperate to though. I think I may be developing a new obsession in collecting cameras...

  4. Collecting cameras? you don't want to do that, believe me :-)