Sunday, 20 September 2009


I pretty much have my gear sorted now as far as weight or preference is concerned but there are a few items still on the wants list. One item that always looked too heavy was my GPS, a Garmin Etrex Summit. I don’t use a GPS as my primary navigation tool for a variety of reasons, for a start there’s no mapping software for N.I. and although I use Memory Map software for trips to Scotland I’m not keen on using the GPS without the visual aid of a map, add the issue of batteries and I tend to only use the GPS as a back-up.

The Etrex Summit has a barometric altimeter which I like so I wanted to make sure that any GPS I bought also had this feature. I looked at the Geko range which is fairly basic and lighter than the Etrex range. The Etrex Summit weighs 170g including pouch and 2 x AA Lithium batteries. The Geko 301 has all the features of the Etrex Summit including the barometric altimeter but with 2 x lithium AAA batteries only weighs 86g. I managed to pick up a refurbished one from a seller on ebay for £54 plus postage. The unit came next day and looks like a perfect solution for my needs, it’s quite a bit smaller and I find the buttons on the front easier to use than the side mounted buttons on the Etrex. So far I’ve only messed about with it, getting it set up and so on but I’m pleased with it so far. I haven’t tried using it with Memory map but I think it should work with the data lead that I used with the Etrex. I think the battery life is better than the Etrex and as it uses AAA batteries rather than AA any spares I carry will be lighter, in addition my head torch uses AAA batteries so the cross compatibility is useful.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

MYOG Trekking Poles Update

I played about a bit with various methods of attaching grip straps the easiest was to use a ladder lock buckle and a dog clip. It's not an elegant solution and unfortunately added to the weight, the poles now weigh 383g pair. It illustrates how good the commercial poles that I mentioned are, they're much more versatile being length adjustable and I would guess are stronger. Really the only thing I can take comfort from is that I saved £60 - £80 plus I recycled something but I'm pretty sure if I had the cash to spare and saw a set of Khola Evo's I'd buy them.

MYOG, Lightweight Trekking Poles

My normal trekking pole are old Highlander Mountaineer ones which have been reliable and not too heavy at 558g pair but obviously I'd like something lighter. Surprisingly you can spend quite a bit for poles that are only fractionally lighter and the lightest I've found were Leki Thermolite at 430g pair, Alpkit Carbonlite at 400g pair and Khola Evo X-lite at 360-380g pair. The cheapest are the Alpkit poles at £60. It seemed quite expensive to save around 150g but I was tempted by the Khola Evo X-Lite, unfortunately I can't find a supplier.

The other alternative are the very light poles made from what appear to be tent pole sections such as Raidlight At 280g pair they're really light but still expensive.

I had some damaged poles from a large family type tent and decided to try and make a set of lightweight poles. The poles were 13mm and I managed to salvage 6 sections that weren't damaged. I cut them down to length and used a length of 2mm guyline with a short length of paracord to hold them together, a set of tips/baskets from an old set of Lidl trekking poles were added and I used a roll of handlebar tape for the grips. To make the grips thick enough I used 2 layers of tape. I haven't come up with a suitable wrist strap yet and The handles still need some refining but so far they seem ok. Unfortunately they aren't much lighter than the Khola Exo X-Lite poles as they weigh 348g pair without straps but they haven't cost anything so I suppose I should be happy enough. I'll try them out and see how they perform. As they are it saves 200g over my Highlander poles.

Sunday, 6 September 2009


I was responding to a question by Dave Hanlon regarding my bivvy bag mentioned in the previous posts and found the original sale invoice from Field & Trek. The bag cost £76.96 ex vat when I bought it back in 1990. The spooky thing is the invoice date.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Single or Double?

As I mentioned I've been trying my Phreeranger as a single skinned tarp tent, in fact I slept in it again last night and to be honest I'm wondering if I really need a double skinned tent. There was some condensation on the inside of the fly this morning but again no drips. I was using a bivvy bag anyway so a few drips or moisture knocked off due to heavy rain/wind wouldn't have been a problem. There are advantages to using a double skin tent though, the oft quoted one is that they reduce condensation but I'm not convinced that this is the case as I've often found the inside of the fly to be wet when using a tent, what the double skin provides though is a barrier between yourself and the fly but with the Phreeranger and most Tarp Tents there's so much space that there's little chance of touching the fly anway. The other 2 advantages of an inner are heat/draft reduction and bug proofing, the fist may not be too important if you're using a bivvy bag as it protects from drafts and should upgrade the performance of the sleeping bag, I would however prefer to have some protection from insects and I don't believe a bivvy bag even if it has a bug net offers quite the same protection/ease of use.

I've been looking at some of Henry Shires 'Tarptents' and they solve the bug issue by having sewn in netting and groundsheet. The only issue remaining is loss of heat but I wonder if the bivvy bag overcomes this. My bivvy bag is an old heavy Goretex one weighing in at 596g which is heavier than my inner tent but I don't think I need the level of protection that my bag provides so something smaller and lighter would be fine assuming it was breathable enough, perhaps even something like the PHD Drishell cover which only weighs 163g. If using a bivvy bag allowed me to use a sleeping bag with a lower rating then some of the weight of the bivvy bag is offset against the weight saved by using a lighter sleeping bag.

I like the idea of the 'Tarptent' Rainbow/Double Rainbow, the Rainbow including poles/groundsheet/bug net and 6 pegs weighs 965g, add the PHD sleeping bag cover for a total weight of 1128g, the larger Double Rainbow weighs 1135g, or 1298g including the bag cover but offers a massive amount of space, 2250mm L x 1220mm w x 1100mm H with 600mm wide (at the apex) porches on both sides.

I can't see any other disadvantages but if anyone can think of something that I've overlooked please add your comments.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Tarp Tent Update

Just a brief update on the Phreeranger tarp tent. Everything was fine, I didn’t notice any drafts although it was pretty calm with clear skies initially. It did rain quite heavily after sunrise but while the inside of the fly was wet from condensation there were no signs of any drips as the footprint and bivybag were dry. The silnylon footprint worked perfectly well as a groundsheet which has convinced me that it’s more than suitable as a fabric to replace the damaged groundsheet on my inner tent, especially as I use an additional footprint/protector anyway (I always have done) That would give me a double layer of silnylon or I could make the footprint/protector from double glazing film which is about half the weight of silnylon, the combined weight of the groundsheet protector and the new inner tent groundsheet would be less than the standard groundsheet.

One other idea that I had a while back was to make a mesh inner tent/bug nest using a Trekmates Adventurer Mosquito net, they had some in TK Max recently together with the Trekmates Bivvy Bag so I might take a trip into town and see if they’ve any left.

I’ve also e-mailed Henry Shires with some questions about the Contrail and Rainbow series so there are plenty of options open which should keep me busy while my knee heals.

Trekmates Bamboo Baselayer

It’s only recently that I decided to try a baselayer made from ‘natural’ materials having always used synthetic’s in the past. I wasn’t really aware that there was any alternative to Merino so decided to try a long sleeved crew neck from Chocolate Fish mainly as their products are still manufactured in New Zealand using wool that conforms to MAPP standards. Some people are sensitive to merino finding it itchy/scratchy although while I found it was noticeable it certainly wasn’t an issue. The merino is great in that it doesn’t feel as cold as most synthetics when damp and doesn’t retain odours however the downside is that it does take longer to dry. I’m always on the lookout for something different and while on the Trekmates website I found base layer made from Bamboo which grows organically without using pesticides or fertilizers and is 100% sustainable and biodegradable. It was also reasonably priced compared to even the Chocolate Fish Merino which is itself very well priced so I ordered a long sleeve crew neck top and long johns.

The items came in recyclable packaging which was a plus point and had some information about the performance of the base layer together with environmental information about bamboo which was pretty interesting. Bamboo it seems is one of the most sustainable crops in the world, is the worlds fastest growing plant, up to 30cm per day, has natural properties that protect from the suns UV rays and is 100% biodegradable. That all sounds great but how does it perform as a base layer.

My 1st impression was how soft and smooth it was, almost like silk which would probably make it ideal for anyone who finds merino too itchy. I wore it in early May when the temperature varied quite a lot and when I was at times wearing only a fleece over the base layer and at others was wearing full waterproofs. It never felt uncomfortably damp apart from once when I was really pushing on wearing full wet gear. I’m not sure if it feels cooler than merino when damp although I suspect that it may feel slightly cooler. It does take longer to dry than synthetic base layer, close to merino in fact but I normally changed into a dry base layer at night and putting on the bamboo base layer again in the morning wasn’t unpleasant. The base layer does seem at little loose at 1st and like the merino base layer I have isn’t as close fitting or stretchy as some of my synthetic stuff but the packaging does warn that the items are a little oversize to allow for shrinkage during the 1st few washes (approx 6%) The one thing about natural fibres whether merino or bamboo is that they need to be treated with a little more care when washing than synthetics, don’t wash at high temperature and dry in a tumble dryer at the highest setting, another plus point for the environment, it’s easier to hand wash and let dry naturally.

I have to say I like the Bamboo baselayer, it’s heavier than my favourite synthetic, Sub Zero Factor 1 but slightly lighter than my Chocolate Fish Merino, 214g/181g/127g respectively. For anyone wanting a more eco friendly alternative to synthetics but who finds merino uncomfortable or too expensive I’d suggest giving the Trekmates Bamboo range a try. The image below is a macro shot which illustrates the very fine knit of the Bamboo baselayer

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Tarp Tent

I'm still thinking about a tarp tent as a lightweight alternative to a normal double skin tent but I'm unsure whether it would suit me. I like the look of the Tarptent Contrail and the Tarptent Rainbow or Double Rainbow. The Contrail I would use as designed but the fact that the Rainbow/Double Rainbow layout is very similar to my favourite tent, the Phoenix Phreeranger had me wondering if I could fit my Phreeranger inner tent under the Rainbow/Double Rainbow fly, perhaps even removing the inner netting on the standard tents. Another possibility would be to make a lighter and slightly narrower inner based on the Phreeranger one. I think I could get the weight under 1400g for the Double Rainbow and under 1200g for the Rainbow. That would be a useful weight saving of between 300 and 500g over the Phreeranger as it is.

I've already made a silnylon footprint for the Phreeranger which attaches to the fly so it seemed like a good idea to try it out as a single skin tarp tent to see how it feels. I'm intending to use it tonight with a CCF mat and my ME Xero 250. The tent has been up all day and there's been a few really heavy showers which haven't caused any drips but I'm going to use a goretex bivybag. The bivy is pretty heavy at 596g, heavier in fact than the Phreeranger inner and wouldn't be offer any advantage in a normal backpacking situation but it will allow me to try the concept. As it is it weighs approx 1250g, the inner tent weighing 525g.

I'll report back tomorrow on how it or more accurately how I fare.