Saturday, 27 June 2009

Pro Action Hike-Lite, Review Pt. 2

I planned to take the Hike-Lite out for a test run as soon as possible before I started on the few minor mods that I wanted to try. I took the tent as supplied in it's own Stuff sack and with the supplied pegs for an all in weight of around 1.8kg. My intention was to go back to the area where I'd overnighted last week and when I mentioned to a mate at work he said he'd come along with his son and they'd try using ex Belgian Army Bivvy bags with the rain fly off their Hennessey Hammocks as tarps.

We agreed to meet on Thursday evening and while we'd intended to get up on one of the tops we decided against it due to a stiff breeze and the fact that the Hennessey rain flys hadn't been tried as tarps. It's always difficult to find a decent pitch among the heather, rushes and long grass but we decided on a pretty level spot close to the burn and set up camp.

The Hike-Lite went up without trouble but the tussocky grass made it a bit more difficult to get everything tensioned properly and the fly was a bit loose on one side, in addition once pitched I discovered that I'd picked a downward sloping spot so decided to move. I simply unpegged the tent and dragged it back a few meters with my sleeping mat and bag still inside and then set it up again.

I'd decided to use a Closed Cell 2 season Eurohike mat rather than the Alpkit Wee Airic I used previously as it's about 300g lighter which kind of equates to using a 1.5kg tent and the Wee Airic, the long grass and soft ground is comfortable enough anyway. I had to tie the mat vertically to the outside of the pack in DoE style but it's so light that goes un-noticed. I used the same cooking set up as before but decided to use the wire mesh pot stand. I'd just bought a Tibetan ti 550ml mug to use rather than my Alpkit 700ml Mitymug as I find that I need less than 500ml of water at a time anyway, this was matched by a shorter 375ml version of the mug I had been using, a Tibetan ti 450ml, which fit's into the 550ml pot. I've decided against using the 330ml Heinie can mug after all as I discovered once it was wrapped with wick for insulation the weight saving was minimal, the same goes for the 24oz Heinie pot that I'd bought from Tinny at MBD. There's 40g difference between the 2 wrapped Heinie cans and the 2 Tibetan ti pots so I'd prefer to trade the weight for durability.

The Hike-Lite was fully pegged and guyed and really there isn't a lot to say. It worked and provides a comfortable amount of space. I'd wondered whether the porch would provide enough space for storing my rucksack but as it turned out I was able to store the rucksack, cooking gear and shoes in the porch and still cook even managing with the fly door closed. I did have to set my shoes against the bottom hem of the door to stop it bowing into the porch space (I mentioned the loose bottom edge in part 1) It didn't rain during the night and with the breeze there was no condensation inside the tent. How it would fare in worse weather conditions I couldn't say but there's nothing to suggest that it wouldn't work well enough although I'd be wary of using it at higher level if the forecast was for strong winds and persistent rain. I've since changed the guylines and the next thing is to add 2 webbing loops/shockcord to the fly and I might attempt to tighten up the door by re-positioning the zip but apart from that there's nothing that needs to be done except use it.

Would I recommend it? absolutely, at the full price of £50 it's difficult to get anything that matches it for space/weight, at £24.99 in the sale it's a bargain if you want a late spring early autumn solo tent for low level that doesn't cost a bomb or weigh a ton yet provides ample space including headroom.

So what about the Belgian Army Bivvy Bags and Hennessey Tarps? I'll let Ralph answer that one.

First night in a bivi bag

I had been talking to Richard in work and was telling him about a couple of old bivi bags that I’d bought. He told me he was going back to Mid Hill that week so I decided to join him and try one out on his next trip. When I told the folks at home my son Christopher wanted to come too, and since he was finishing school the next day and not doing much that was OK.

I saw the bivi bags in the classified ads on the Army Rumour Service website, they were Belgian and turned out to be dated 1979 but unissued, so they were in good enough condition despite being 30 years old. They were waterproof on the back and cotton/canvas on the top with laces. He also had newer ones in a different seyntex fabric dated 1990 without laces, so I bought two of these as well. At a tenner each they weren’t dear. I took one of each type with us on our night out.

The three of us set off about half six and headed up past the reservoirs and on towards the hills. There was lots of wildlife about, especially rabbits. It was a lovely evening but turning a bit breezy and the higher we went the thicker the heather became so we veered off back towards the same wee burn Richard had camped at before for a bit of shelter and flatter ground.

It didn’t take long for Richard to put up his new tent and we threw down our bivi bags but spent a bit longer working out which way round our tarps went. I had taken with me the two tarpaulins belonging to our Hennessy Hammocks. They are a funny asymmetrical shape so we had to try them one way then the other ‘till we got them the right way round.

The evening went in fairly quick. We made a wee cup of tea and had something to eat as the sun went down. I think we both wished we had brought our good cameras with us to capture the colours in the sky.

As we lay in our sleeping bags looking out of the open end of the tarp Christopher started to complain about his bivi, he was in the old lace up design. I gave him this one because it was a bit heavier and I didn’t want him to be cold, but he couldn’t put up with the laces round his face, plus he was on a very lumpy bit of ground. So we both wriggled out and swapped places and after that we got to sleep waking again around seven.

I checked inside the two bags and as expected there was a bit of condensation down both sides and at our feet but not a lot. Christopher’s was maybe a bit worse but then every time I looked at him through the night he had his face buried in his sleeping bag.

After breakfast we packed up quickly and headed back for our lift. On the way down we met some young folk out on their Duke of Edinburgh.

So what did we think of our first night in a bivi bag? Well Christopher says it was no good, he didn’t like it and prefers forests and the hammock best of all. Certainly it’s the most comfortable way to wildcamp.

I thought it was ok, I was warm enough and got to sleep, but I think I would only use one again if I was going to go out alone. That way I could take advantage of the smallest, most sheltered spot without the compromise of an area big enough for everyone.

All in all it was another very enjoyable night out, looking forward for the next one.

Ralph and Christopher.

Cheers Ralph, good write up :-)

Trail Shoes & Goretex Socks pt. 2

I posted a few days ago about buying Goretex socks to use with my Karrimor Trail Run 83's only to find that they made the shoes too tight. I was considering my options but figured that as I already had the socks I might as well get another pair of Karrimor's from Field & Trek. When I'd ordered the last pair I'd actually ordered a pair of the Pro Run model as well, I sent them back as they were a tighter fit than the Trail Runs but they were lighter and looked as though they'd dry quicker when wet. To keep the size options open I again ordered a pair of both Trail Run's and Pro Runs both ones size up from before at 44 figuring I'd keep the ones that fitted best with the GTX socks. They both cost the same, £18 and as it turned out the slightly smaller fitting Pro Runs worked best with the GTX socks, the Trail Runs being too loose at the heel. That suited me fine as the Pro Runs were lighter at 296g each/size 44 which off-set the additional weight of the GTX socks. The all in weight for the pair including socks is 670g.

I wore them on Thursday night on a overnighter to try out the Hike-Lite tent and they were fine. No problems with wet feet this time and they were comfortable and gripped well on grass and wet boulders when crossing streams. I'll continue to use them over the summer and see how I manage, they're pretty light so durability might be an issue.

They're almost a 2 part shoe, mesh outer with a plastic support web effect and a fairly thin padded mesh inner. The soles don't look as though they'd offer much grip but shouldn't clog up as the pattern is pretty un-aggressive. Like before I can't complain, certainly not at £18.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Pro Action Hike-Lite, Review Part 1

I can resist anything except temptation and after regularly hearing about the Pro Action Hike-Lite(formerly known as the Tiger Paws) on the Outdoors Magic forum I yielded to temptation and got one myself.

The normal price of the Hike-Lite is £50 but they seem to be available at least twice a year at half price in Argos’ numerous sales. The idea to get one came about due to a question about Base Weight on OM. I posted an imaginary gear list that was based around the Hike-Lite as it seemed to offer an amazing amount of tent for the money. When the question of lightweight camping comes up the phrase 'less is more' usually appears and while it’s true that less weight can increase the enjoyment compared to wilting under a heavy pack the statement could apply equally well to cost. It needn’t be so, with shelter, sleeping kit, cookset and stove, cutlery, hydration and lighting covered and a rucksack to carry it all I managed to put together a gear set that weighed in at approx 4.8kg yet cost less than £200. Admittedly you need to add clothing/food/water and various odds and ends but it isn't a bad starting point and you'd spend significantly more on a tent to save as little as 300g although it has to be said you'd be getting a much stronger tent with a vastly better build quality.

In any case that’s how or why I ended up with a Hike-Lite but how good (or bad) is it?

Weight as Supplied

Well starting at the start it isn‘t light at 2040g while still in the packaging. I like to work on the weight of Fly/Inner/Poles as they’re the only parts unique to a tent, pegs/stuff sacks etc are really down to choice. The Hike-Lite weights are as follows,

Fly - 614g
Inner - 812g
Pole Set - 291g
Total -1717g (You'll need to add the weight of a peg set, the supplied set brings the weight up to 1860g)

Poles, Inner, Fly & Pegs

The supplied pegs are reasonable, they’re alloy skewers which both surprised and disappointed me, surprised as I expected steel skewers and disappointed as there wasn’t going to be much weight to be saved by choosing better pegs, the peg set (10) weighs 143g. That said a set of TN 5g ti skewers would reduce the overall weight by about 100g

The tent itself isn’t made to the same standard as the major players but seems usable if utilitarian. There’s plenty of headroom at the porch end and the inner has plenty of mesh panels for ventilation. The inner tent door is mesh only but as I’d consider it a summer (late spring to early autumn) tent that isn’t likely to be an issue. The inner tent has a hanging loop and pocket and the door has a double pull zipper. The outer is taped, there are 3 guylines and the fly attaches to the inner using fastex buckles with adjustable straps to tension it. The door unfortunately has a single pull zipper which narrows the options for ventilation. To further improve ventilation there's a vent above the porch this can be closed to a degree. The poles are alloy rather than the usual fibreglass poles found on most budget models. A compression stuff sack completes the package.

Testing it in the garden it was really easy and fast to pitch, peg the inner at one end, insert the pole ends into the eyelets, clip the inner to the poles and peg the opposite end. It only requires 2 pegs to get the inner standing upright. The fly simply attaches using the fastex buckles and 3 tyings to keep the Fly aligned with the poles (1 each side on the main pole and one for the smaller back pole) The porch is fully pegged by using 1 more peg. Three pegs in total will see it pitched but in addition to the 3 guylines you can use a peg at the webbing loops at the pole eyelets. Fully pegged and guyed it takes 10 pegs. The porch is pretty small and to be honest I wondered if I'd have room to store my rucksack never mind cook in it. It's possible to temporarily increase the size of the porch by un-pegging the inner at the porch, pegging the fly through the loop on the tension webbing and rolling the inner back, this doubles the porch space while still having room to sit upright.

There are a few problem areas which may be due to poor quality control. I noticed that on mine it was virtually impossible to tension the fly to keep the bottom of the flysheet door tight, it could be cured by re-stitching the part of the zip on the door about 15mm further in. The main problem with it being loose is that it tends to flap into the already small porch and makes using a stove even more tricky. I actually kept it back by setting my shoes against it. The 2nd issue is again related to fly sheet tension. The long side panels are a little loose along the bottom hem which could result in reduced inner/fly separation if the wind was hitting the tent from anything other than straight on. This could easily be cured by sewing a webbing loop on each side about 1/3rd along from the main pole but it would require either 2 extra pegs or using 2 of the pole end pegs. There’s one other minor issue, the cord loops on the zip pullers are made from a soft thick cord (same as the guylines) which sticks to the Velcro patches on the flysheet door storm flap, that’s easily sorted by removing them completely or replacing them with a loop of Dyneema or similar. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating so I planned to use it on an overnight wild camp to see how it fared. I'll add that later,in the meantime here's some pics of the none too subtle Hike-Lite.

Inner Tent, Plenty of Mesh for Ventilation

Full Size Sleeping Mat provides an Indication of the Amount of Space

The Inner Tent extends Diagonally from the pole to the opposite side Fly Pegging point

Fastex Buckles used to attach Fly to Inner.
(By Temporarily un-pegging the inner and Pegging the Loop on the Webbing Strap used to tension the Fly the Fastex Buckle can be released allowing you to throw the inner tent back to make full use of the porch area).

Rear 3/4 View
(The Fly Would Benefit from a Tab & Shockcord Loop 3/4 way back from the main pole to increase Fly/Inner Separation)

Packed to Go with Poles and Pegs
(Full Size Mat for scale)

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Trail Shoes & Goretex Socks

I mentioned a few days ago that I'd decided to try trail shoes instead of boots. I wanted unlined ones as I've had durability problems with 'waterproof' footwear in the past.I've tried them once so far and as I expected ended up with wet feet due to a combination of wet ground and long wet grass. I doubt if lined shoes would've been much if at all better as I'd have needed gaiters and I'm not convinced that they'd work well with shoes. I bought a pair of Trekmates GTX socks but of course wearing GTX socks introduces another problem, even swapping my normal Lorpen coolmax socks for plain lycra sports socks my shoes are now too tight. I tried the shoes in combination with the GTX socks yesterday and it was a greater relief taking them off than taking my AKU Croda boots off. My shoes aren't really heavy at 770g/pair 9 (842g inc GTX socks) but my boots are 1411g and I expect the shoes will soak up more water than the boots and thus increase in weight. I'd actually need to go up a size on the shoes to be comfortable with the GTX socks which again brings an increase in weight and results in wearing the GTX sock all the time as the shoes will be too big otherwise. I like the idea of shoes though so I'll have to consider where I go from here.......

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Less Talk, More Action

Okay, not much action either but at least I did manage to get out for an overnighter. I had the idea of biking up to the hills for a quick overnight camp, mainly just to get out but I had some gear to try and a few mods to test. I had intended to bike up to Quolie Dam, ride in the lane as far as possible before ditching the bike and heading up Mid Hill to pitch just NE off the top. Mid Hill being the highest top over looking Upper Glenariff Mountain I was hoping for a cloud inversion at best or a nice sunrise at least. I decided to stay lower as it'd been thundery over the past weekend and I got hit with a persistent shower on the way up and I wanted to avoid being the highest object in the area.

I took the Phreeranger and sleeping kit consisted of an ME Xero 250, Alpkit Wee Airic and luxury item, a Tesco inflatable pillow. I wanted to try my new Karrimor Trail Run 83 shoes and LIM 45 and only took the EK Kombi Meths burner, Mitymug and Heinie 330ml mug. I wore a pair of Columbia light trousers, H/H t-shirt and my old ME Ultrafleece jacket, headwear consisted of a Buff and Technicals (Blacks) Bush Hat.

I left at about 7.00pm and biked as far as the upper Quolie reservoir, walked the bike up the Soarns burn a bit before leaving it behind and continuing on foot. I looked for a spot that was flat, level, with short grass and well drained close to a supply of reasonably clean water, in the end I settled on a reasonably flat, pretty level pitch with long grass and rushes beside the burn.

By this time it was after 9.00pm and I was steeped to the knees what with having no gaiters or goretex socks but the tent went up quickly, the Silnylon footprint went in a treat hooked to the inner/fly hooks and with sleeping mat and bag laid out it was time to think about getting the stove fired up. I was beginning to feel the chill but pulling on the ME Xero soon had me feeling comfortable even with wet feet.

The 1st and thankfully only problem reared it's head when I went to set up the stove, I hadn't taken the woodstove but had forgotten to take the meths burner pot stand which was still stored in the woodstove. I initially thought of simply propping the Mitymug up on some stones but I had a Foil windshield and some spare tent pegs, 2 Vargo Nails later and I had a windshield and pot stand and the water was on the boil.

There wasn't quite the sunset that I'd hoped for or if there was I was too low to see past the surrounding hills so with little else to do I turned in after changing into a pair of dry socks and fresh L/S T. I must have got over to sleep quite quickly but wakened again at about 1.30. A drink of water and a chocolate biscuit then back to sleep and it was 5.30 when I awoke again. Looking out the door it was a bit misty so another drink and another 2 hours sleep. I wakened again at 7.30 to brilliant sunshine hitting the back of the tent and this time I decided to greet the day. There were 2 wee birds flitting around the burn, probably after the midges and stuff which surprisingly weren't a problem possibly due to the light breeze and the remains of the midgie repellent from the previous night although I stuck the headnet on to begin with. I draped my wet socks and rain gear over the fly and tramped around with no socks and wet shoes while I got coffee, hot Museli/porridge mix, coffee, coffee & coffee on the go. I footered around for quite a while content to sit in the sun and let the gear dry off but was on my way back to the bike by 9.30or so.

The bike was where I'd left it and it wasn't long before I was back on the road. I'd worn the Buff in Pirate configuration when biking up the previous evening but decided to wear the bush hat with the result that my shadow looked like a bike mounted Pony Express rider, That amused me and I tried to take a self portrait while biking along but it didn't work, I settled for a shadow shot instead but it wasn't quite the same. I rolled into the yard at 11.00 and sat around to let my feet dry before getting the kit sorted out.

All in all it was a nice wee camp out, the tent was fine, the footprint worked but needs a shockcord loop on the porch side corner tabs. My Heinie 330ml mug worked but needs a silicone band round the rim and grip wrapped, I've already got some kevlar wick on order from Tinny along with one of the bigger cans to use as a pot. My accidental pot stand works well enough that I won't need the welded wire mesh one. I broke my disposable plastic teaspoon, the second time that's happened so a plain kitchen one will be used from now on and sod the extra grammes. The LIM 45 was fine although I didn't hike far so I can't say how comfortable it would be over a longer hike. The trail shoes performed pretty much as I'd expected, I have a pair of goretex socks ordered but without gaiters in long grass I'm not sure how effective they'll be, no matter they'll work in certain conditions and when they don't I'll just deal with wet feet/socks. My MP3 player turned out to need charged and my Hayes front disc squeaked endlessly but apart from that.........

A nights camping always makes me hungry for more but the longer the time gaps the harder it is to get in gear and do it again. My shifts rotate monthly with the last month being the least favourable for nights away, hopefully I'll get a couple more in before it swings back again. That's the problem with work, it gets in the way of life ;-)

Less is More, LIM 45 and Trail Shoes

I sold my Laser recently and for the time being I'm not looking for a replacement so I thought I'd invest the money wisely......... in a new rucksack and trail shoes. I liked the look of the Haglofs LIM packs and managed to find a LIM 55, it seems that the 55L version has been dropped either by Haglofs themselves or by the importer. I found that while I liked the pack it didn't fit very well, others have had similar complaints so maybe there's a reason why it's been dropped. In any case I liked the design and taking into account that I wasn't even close to using the 55L capacity of my Gregory Z55 I returned the LIM 55 and exchanged for a LIM 45.

I really like this pack, it holds a surprising amount for a 45L, the roll top closure is I guess something you either like or dislike.

The small top pocket is indeed small but I can manage, it also has a key clip. The side and front pockets are really stretchy and unlike the Gregory take the form of 3 individual pockets rather than one large pocket that wraps around the pack. The side pockets have an internal compression strap and dual openings, one horizontal at the top and one vertical at the bottom which allows you to use them as normal wand pockets or use the bottom opening for easy access to a drinks bottle.

There are two mesh pockets on the hipbelt with a rigid plastic loop to help open them (the side pockets have a similar loop)They don't have a zip but the plastic loop can be tucked under the pack/hipbelt stabilising straps to keep them closed.

The hydration bladder sleeve is on the outside between the main pack and the padded back panel, again I like this as I find it easier to reinsert a filled bladder when the pack is fully loaded. The hydration pocket also has a short mesh pocket for valuables and a key clip.

The pack weight is 1035g according to Haglofs, I haven't actually weighed mine yet but it looks like a 500g saving over the Gregory.

The pack is what I would call an Internal/External frame and the frame and shoulder straps take the weight rather than the pack due to the way the straps go under the pack. It also has a perforated foam backpad so is more prone to causing a sweaty back than a true external frame or indeed the Gregory Z55 which has a Mesh back and a good air gap between mesh and pack but possibly not as bad as a pack with a simple foam/aluspar back system. The fit works for me and I expect I'll use it unless I need the extra capacity of the Gregory in winter (the back system of the Gregory might be better in winter too)

As usual I added a few bits and pieces to suit my needs, 2 x dogclips added to the top tension straps same as I did on the Gregory and a shockcord and lock through the webbing loops on lid to hold my Aquaguard Eliminator filter and Source feed tube.

It's different and possibly wouldn't suit everyone but well worth a look if you want a 45L pack at around 1kg.

This little lot all packed in, Left to right, ME Xero 250 in S2S Ultrasil Roll Top, Wee Airic, Tesco Pillow, Phreeranger (Blue Stuff Sack), Spare base Layer/socks (orange Stuff Sack), Windshirt & Micro Fleece Gloves (Black Stuff Sack), Above those, Spares/Repair (Small Red Stuff Sack), 1st aid, Trowel (Red Stuff Sack), Above that Food and Cooking Gear (Orange and Camo Stuff Sacks), Camera Batteries, Gorillapod, MPS, Glasses, Wash Kit and Midgie repellant, ME Xero Duvet Jkt (S2S Blue Ultrasil), Above that Rain Gear and Hydration kit, Top Right ME Ultrafleece. Thats everything I need, the only thing that would change depending on duration is the amount of food, I carried 1 x day ratpack above. I used the lid pocket, one side pocket and the Hydration Pocket but still had the front pouch/pocket, one side pocket and both hip belt pockets spare.

What about the trail shoes? I've never used trail shoes before only moving to fabric boots last year but I thought it would be worth trying a pair. I looked at Innov8 but happened to see the Karrimor trail shoes on the Field & Trek website at £18. They're unlined which is what I wanted and weigh 770g/pair size 9. In Black with Lime Green trim they almost match the LIM 45, not that it matters of course, but one doesn't want to be too clashy ;-) I've no idea how well they'll take the abuse but at the price I figured it was worth a shot in case I find out that I prefer boots.