Saturday, 23 January 2010

MYOG. Not Quite Sub 150g

I ordered 3mm closed cell foam from Needle Sports to make protective covers/cosies for my sub 200g cooking set-up. The foam arrived yesterday and I started to make the cosies last night.

I had tested different types of adhesive to see what worked best on closed cell foam and found that 'Evo-Stik Impact' was perfect. I measured and marked out the required pieces and set about glueing them. I used a strip of masking tape on the inside of the seam to hold the pieces in position this allowed me to keep the edges aligned but open. I simply put a line of adhesive down the edges, closed them briefly to spread the adhesive to both sides then let the seams stay open for 10 minutes or so before closing the join. As it's an impact adhesive you only get one chance at making the join, as the tape was already in place it was quite easy. I used 8mm closed cell foam for the circular bases but couldn't really allpy the adhesive to both the inside of the cylinder and the edge of the base so I only applied adhesive to the inside of the cylinder, this worked fine but took longer to fully set.

I decided to make the outer cosy 2 piece so cut it in half and added another base. The cosy for the 330ml mug needed to be foldable so once it was glued together I simply cut a cross in the base, this allows me to fold and roll it to store it inside the mug.

I had overlooked one thing when considering the inner cosy, the one I intended to place the pot in once I removed it from the stove. The heat of the pot would melt the closed cell foam so I had to line the inside with aluminium tape which added a bit of weight although it still weighed a little less than the one made from alu bubble wrap.

The complete set of cosies ended up weighing 32g against 53g for the bubble wrap set.

I added a 2mm dyneema cord to the pot to allow me to lift it off the burner by piercing 2 small holes in the rim of the pot but they're slightly too close to the top as the knots prevented the original lid from sealing properly, in addition the small part of the lid that opens fell off leaving too big a vent hole so had to make a new lid by forming a piece of aluminium flashing using jam jar lid and a piece of steel pipe. I drilled a few vents and punched a hole to add a piece of 2mm dyneema as a handle, it's a bit rough but it'll be fine.

The entire set didn't quite make it under 150g so I made a new permanent match using a 1g TN ti tent peg and drilled the handle of my spoon. It wasn't quite enough though, the set weighs in at 149g but adding the stuff sack takes it up to 157g, although not strictly nescessary the stuff sack makes it easier to store.

It isn't without compromise, for example the windshield is shorter than I'd ideally like and as such requires me to use the 5g ti skewer but overall it's pretty light yet still provides me with everything I need. I tried it outside today and using both inner and outer cosies kept the water hot for quite a while. The benefit of having the outer cosy in 2 parts is that each half serves as a bowl/support/insulator for a meal in a ziplock bag. It'll be easy to add more protection/insulation if needed by simply making an additional sleeve to fit over the outer cosy or alternatively by making the outer cosy from 8mm closed cell foam.

I'm going to use this set-up next time out and see how it performs.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Ice Trekker Crampons

I don't often need to use crampons but someone mentioned on Outdoors Magic that they'd seen Chinese made copies of the Kahtoola Micro Spikes and wondered if they were any good. I noticed that in addition to the microspike copies they also had ones where the spikes were part of a bigger plate almost like normal crampons rather than smaller sets of spikes joined by chain. The seller had a variety of sets listed at different prices, some listed at $19 and some at £19 so I thought I'd take a chance on a pair. I opted for the slightly heavier ones with the integral spikes and used the Buy it Now option to get a pair listed at $19, with shipping the total cost was just under £22.

Although the seller had only a feedback score of about 75 I recieved an e-mail with a tracking number within 24 hours of purchase although I didn't manage to use it as they were shipped Chinapost rather than Hong Kong Post which I've used before. They were ordered on the 31st December and arrived on the 14th January but I had to wait until Saturday to pick them up at the post office as I was working when the postman called.

They look fine to be honest, the chains are stainless steel but thinner and a different type of chain from the Kahtoolas, the spikes/plates are steel and the rubber part is silicone rubber judging by the amount of stretch and slightly tacky feel. The forefoot plate is articulated and I had them fitted to a wide range of boot/shoes, everything from a pair of size 9 Berghaus Kibo boots to a pair of Karrimor Pro Run trainers and fitting wasn't a problem.

Unfortunately by the time they arrived the snow had gone so I couldn't really try them out, I did try them on an old fence post that was pretty wet and slippery and they worked just fine.

They came with a pair of velcro straps which can be fitted to the silicone rubber rand to help pull them up on smaller shoe sizes but I found I didn't need to use them, the straps however were ideal as ski straps and are now doing the job of keeping my skis together. They came in a small stuff sack and the weight is as advertised which is always a bonus.

At £22 they certainly seem worth it given the amount of use I'm likely to make of them, I noticed that they're all now listed at £19 Buy It Now which makes them closer to the cost of the Kahtoola Microspikes

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Camera Gear

My 1st Camera, Iloca Quick B Fixed Lens Coupled Rangefinder

Camera gear can be a bit of a problem when you're trying to reduce pack weight. I started out with a fixed lens rangefinder and separate exposure meter and the first camera I bought was an SLR, an Olympus OM10 to be exact. That was back in around 1982 and apart from a brief period with a Nikon D70, my 1st DSLR, I've always used Olympus SLRs, usually carrying 2, one with a print film and one with slide film. I never really took to compact cameras whether 35mm or digital and therein lies the problem, D/SLRs and their associated paraphernalia weight vastly more than a compact. There are some really good compacts on the market, I'd probably go for a Panasonic LX-3 but I simply prefer the operation and eye-level viewfinder of a D/SLR.

1st of Many, My Olympus OM10

Olympus OM1N, Fully Manual with Mechanical Shutter. The Battery lasts for Years as it only Powers the Exposure Meter, the camera still works without a battery

I had been using an Olympus E-3 but combined with the 14-54 f/2.8-3.5 lens it came in at almost 1.5kg which was a bit too much. I'd always liked the look of the E-400/410/420 which are very much in the style of manual focus SLRs, a small body without bulge to hold a large capacity battery. Eventually I bought an E-420 + 14-42 f/3.5-5.6 lens from Argos. The camera + lens is almost half the weight of the E-3 + lens at just over 700g. Thats a welcome weight saving but I'm really waiting to see how micro 4/3rds pans out, there are currently 5 models but nothing so far ticks all the boxes for me although the Panasonic offerings appeal to me more than the Olympus ones.

Velbon V-Pod

In addition to the camera and lens I carry a small tripod, I read about it on Dave Hanlons blog and decided it would fit the bill as Dave uses an Olympus E-400 DSLR similar to my own. It isn't the strongest or tallest tripod on the market but can just about manage the E-400/420, best of all it only weighs about 280g.

Filter and Accessories

Polarising Filter

Memory card Wallet with IR Remote, Spare CF Card and VF Cover

The other items I carry are 2 x spare batteries, an ND4 neutral density grad filter, a Cokin A Series filter holder with one of the slots removed to make it pack easier, they normally have 3 slots to allow you to fit a combination of filters but I only carry one system filter anyway. A lens wet-wipe and lens cloth in addition to the aforementioned all fit into a neoprene pouch designed for a Minidisc player. I also carry a screw in Polarising filter and use a Sandisk CF memory card wallet to carry a spare CF card, IR remote and viewfinder cover, the wallet is attached to the camera pouch on a thin mobile phone lanyard and stays in the bottom of the camera pouch together with the Polarising filter. I always used CCS (Camera Care Systems) pouches in the past and although CCS are no longer in business I managed to find a new CCS Snowflake pouch on ebay.

E-420 c/w Hoodhat

I normally carry the camera with the lens hood attached ready to use and having lost my lens cap I use a 'Hoodhat' which is basically a neoprene cover that slips over the lens hood, I find them quicker to use than lens caps which can be tricky to remove with gloves on.

The Complete Set

The complete set-up weighs in at 1533g which is outrageous compared to my wife's Panasonic FX-150 that I sometimes borrow but old habits die hard and it's just one more compromise I'm prepared to make.

Olympus E-System DSLRs

Panasonic Lumix

Sunday, 17 January 2010

MYOG. Sub 200g Cooking System

Last year I bought a large, approx 1.0L keg shaped beer can from the US with the intention of using it as a cooking pot, I also got some small 330ml keg shaped cans which I thought I could use to make a lighweight mug. I tried both but found there were a variety of issues that I wasn't keen on. Recently I thought about trying again and started using the 1.0L can with my cone type windshield but as there wasn't a suitable rim on the can to rest on the top of the cone I had to carry an additional pot stand.

I started messing around with the cans again to see if I could overcome the problems that I had before. One problem was that when I tried to use the 330ml can as a mug it was too hot to hold as the thin wall didn't insulate well enough. I got around that problem by making a short cosy from alu bubble wrap, it's primary function is to prevent my hand from getting burned but as I can remove it and fold it up it'll fit inside the can for packing, this allows me to store it inside the large can.

Another problem was a means of lifting the large pot off the burner without getting my hand burned, I had tried the usual method of wrapping the pot with kevlar wick but this added too much weight, in fact once the wick was added the pot weighed almost as much as my 550ml titanium pot. I managed to solve that problem indirectly.

The cone type windshield is really efficient but it isn't without compromises, it'll only work with one size of pot and when rolled for packing it's too tall to fit into the pot so it needs to be packed in it's own container which adds both weight and bulk. As I needed a different method of supporting the beer can I compromised on the efficiency of the windshield by making it shorter so that it would fit into the pot and using a titanium tent peg pushed throught the windshield to support the pot. An added benefit of using the tent peg is that it effectively locks the cone which makes the cone more ridgid or at least simplifies the method of locking the cone in position. I was then able to store the windshield inside the large pot together with the small pot.

Terra Nova Ti Skewer to Support Pot

Skewer through Cone locking it in position. Cut Outs in Cosy to grab Pot

Of course the pots are pretty fragile but using a plastic food container made the whole excercise pointless as far as weight was concerned. I thought about storing the pots in the envelope shaped alu bubblewrap cozy that I use when rehydrating a meal but while it worked it was a bit bulky and only provided a single layer of protection. I decided to make 2 cylinder shaped cosies, one to fit the large pot and another to go over the top, this provides more protection but the entire set still fits into an Alpkit Apollo A5 stuff sack. Using 2 cosies solved the problem of holding a pot filled with boiling water, what I do is lift the pot off the stove using a silicone wrist band around the top of the pot, place the pot into the smaller cosy and I can hold it easily without getting burned, I then pour the boiling water into the ziplock bag containg my meal, place the meal into the large cosy and then place the pot & cosy inside the larger one to keep it warm.

To pack everything away I remove the insulation from the mug and place it inside together with my lighter, then place the small can in the larger one, the cone windshield is then rolled and placed into the large pot over/around the small pot then I place the lid on the large pot and put the small cosy over the pot. The stove and measuring cup go into the large cosy and the pot goes inside. I store my spoon, the tent peg and permanent match between the outer and inner cozy and it all goes into the stuff sack.

The entire system consists of;

1 x 1.0L Pot & Lid
1 x Cozy for 1.0L Pot
1 x 330ml Mug & Lid (Lid Optional)
1 x Cozy for 330ml Mug
1 x Cone Windshield
1 x Ti Skewer
1 x Lighter
1 x Permanent Match
1 x Large Plastic Spoon
1 x Meths Burner
1 x Fuel Measuring Cup (Optional)
1 x Outer Cosy/Protective Cover
1 x Alpkit Apollo A5 Stuffsack

Total Weight - 190g approx

Everything Packed, Spoon, Skewer & Match slipped between Inner and Outer Cosy, Tab makes it easier to remove Pot

The Burner and Measure go in the Bottom of the Larger Cosy, Pot/Cosy stores Base down

Mug, Lid, Cosy, Lighter & Windshield Store in Pot

I'm pretty sure I can get the weight down a bit more, I think thin closed cell foam (3-5mm) is lighter than alu bubble wrap and would insulate better. The cozy for the pot is primarily to make it easy to hold rather than for insulation so I could probably cut holes around the bottom 1/3, against that I'd need to line the base with alufoil to stop the pot from melting the foam. I also think I'll make a wire bail/lifter for the pot rather than use the silicone band. One thing I noticed was that when using Duct tape you need to be careful not to add too much weight, I ended up using it cut in half (width) which is enough to make the joins. This was really a 1st attempt but there are other things I could change which might make it lighter or make it more useable, it's always easier to see where changes can be made once the 1st attempt has been made.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Voile Nordic Release Plates

Last week I gave my knee a serious tweak when out on my cross country skis due to getting crossed up and having my foot firmly attached to my skis. When I bought my skis I could have had a release mechanisim fitted but they were pretty expensive and at the time my knees were fine. The ones I'd seen were made by Voile and allowed you to attach a standard 3 pin Telemark binding to a plate which in turn was held in place by a spring loaded plunger, on release the entire plate/binding detached from the ski.

I looked on a few UK based websites but couldn't find anything but after posting a question on the Outdoors Magic gear forum I was kindly offered a pair of Voile release bindings by another member (thanks Peter) I later found a retailer, Telemark Pyrenees and discovered that Voile still make release bindings in a variety of styles, similar to but in updated form to the ones I remembered.

Peter told me that the ones he was sending were a cable binding rather than the 3 pin type I'd been using but I figured it was worth giving them a try. The one thing I dislike about the 3 pin type is that snow/ice can clog the corresponding hole on the boot sole which can make them tricky to attach at times although I've read that cable binding can crush your foot if your boots are too flexible or the binding too tight. Fortunately my boots are pretty stiff.

The Voile plates arrived in double quick time but as there were no templates for drilling the skis I spent some time mounting both the standard 3 pin binding and the Voile mounting on a length of wood so that I could make a template to ensure that once fitted the Voile plates placed my foot in the right place. It took a bit of trial and error to get the template made but it was worth the effort as the Voile bindings ended up placing my boot within 2mm of the original binding.

Original Binding Removed

Voil Plate Mounted on Piece of Wood

The Line Marked 'Toe' Indicates the end of the Boot Sole

Still Not Quite Right, The Binding Needs moved back about 4mm.

I set about drilling the skis, setting the depth to 10mm but didn't fit the new binding immediately as I wanted to plug the existing holes with wooden pegs/epoxy but once this was done and the epoxy had time to harden I went ahead and fitted the Voile bindings. I didn't mount the heel wedges until after the bindings had been fitted and I had the skis on, this allowed me to place the wedges in the right position.

Skis Drilled

Making Wooden Plugs to Fill Existing Screw Holes

Plugged And Epoxied

The skis are now ready but most of the snow we had has now gone and my knee isn't quite up to walking too far in search of snow. Weather permitting I'll probably attempt to try them out on Monday, I'm hoping not to need to use the release mechanism but I'm interested to see how I find the cable binding, at this stage I'm unsure just how tight the cable should be but I'll figure it out as and when.

Bindings Fitted, The Plate Detaches from the Ski but Remains attached to the Boot

Once again I'd like to thank those on Outdoors Magic who offered advice, thanks Matt and Chris and especially Peter who kindly sent me the bindings and wouldn't accept payment.

Very Much Appreciated Guys.

Spring Loaded Plunger, I have it set at 1, the lightest Setting

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snow Fun!!

I can hardly believe that we still have plenty of snow after 3 weeks, it's not unusual to have no snow whatsoever some years. I started my shift on Wednesday but couldn't resist taking Friday off just to get out again. I wanted to get my skis out while there was plenty of cover and planned to return to Glenariff/Trostan as I knew what kind of cover I could expect.

I made sure everything was packed and ready on Thursday night so that I could make a early(ish) start. I bought my skis about 20 years ago and apart from the first few years have hardly been used due mainly to a combination of mild winters and other commitments. I haven't used a gas stove since around February 09 preferring to used a meths stove but I decided to take a cartridge mounted burner this time as I only wanted to carry water for drinking and planned to melt snow for cooking. I used the C-3 mini stove that I bought on ebay for about £12, like the Gelert Blaze it's a copy of the Markill Peak Ignition but I lightened it by removing the flip out part of the pan supports and the Piezo igniter. An Alpkit Mitymug, pot cozy, foil windshield and Primus canister support completed the cooking gear. I took a Karrimor Hot Rock 30L rucksack as it has side compression straps capable of carrying skis, to stiffen the rucksack I placed a loosely rolled CCF sleeping mat inside.

I was wearing a mixed baselayer, North Cape Rhovyl long johns, bought from Daleswear for £5, a Trekmates bamboo long sleeved top over which I wore a North Cape Rhovyl zip neck, again £5 form Daleswear. The rest of my clothing consisted of ME Liskamm trousers and ME Ultrafleece jacket, Montane Jetstream windshirt, Montane Venture eVent jacket and for extra insulation an Alpkit Filo down jacket. A polarfleece balaclava rolled to make a hat and Mountain Warehouse windproof fleece gloves dealt with head and hands and Horizon Merino mix socks, Berghaus Yeti gaiters and Gronell ski boots finished it off. I was amused when looking at some of the photographs later that I didn't appear to be dressed much differently than I would have 20 years ago.

I arrived at the lay-by beside Glenariff forest park at about 9.45 and quickly set off along the forest tracks, my waxing skills are non-existent but as it was just a gradual incline to begin with I managed, though probably not much faster than normal walking speed.

The sun was shining by the time I reached Essathohan waterfall but unlike the previous week it was frozen top to bottom. I ditched my skis and rucksack and climbed down to the stream to take some shots and the snow was more than knee deep. Once back up on the trail I prepared to continue along a firebreak between the trees to reach the open hill when I heard voices from back down the trail. As I prepared to set off a group of walkers appeared about 40 metres back. I wanted to set my own pace so didn't wait and found the skis a real benefit on the soft snow.

Once over the fence there was a very slight incline before it steepened for the climb up to the summit but having taken the skis off to cross the fence I decided to fit the skins then and there. Progress was rapid with the skis supporting my weight and preventing me breaking through and the group of 4 who were now following my tracks were soon left behind. I pretty much went straight up towards a small cairn and once there decided to stop for a rest. The view was fantastic and the snow bristled with frosted crystals due to the relatively few snow showers over the past few days, the light winds and low temperatures.

There were quite a few tracks left by foxes winding in and out through the peat hags and I wondered what on earth they found to eat, I guess that maybe grouse were on the menu as the only other animals I saw were sheep.

With clear skies the views across to Scotland were much the same as on New years day and the peaks that I wasn't sure about last time were positively identified as Goat Fell on Arran.

Progress was good now that the incline had decreased but I did make note of a few icy patches that looked like they might catch me out on the way back. It wasn't long before the triangulation pillar came into view and I made my way up to it, took a few photographs and then moved off to find a suitable peat hag to have lunch as I wanted to leave the summit clear for the group making their way up behind.

After tramping a firm base for the stove I set about melting snow to re-hydrate my pasta and make a hot drink, adding a little at first and then increasing the amount of snow as the amount of water increased I soon had about 500ml to a rolling boil.

Although the sun was shining and I could at times almost feel some heat the slight breeze encouraged me to put on my windshirt quickly followed by my down jacket. I had almost finished my lunch when the following group appeared on the summit, we exchanged waves and I was in the process of cleaning out the Mitymug when one of the group came over to say hello.

He confirmed that they'd had a tough walk as they'd been breaking through the surface and the snow was knee deep on the steeper sections and between the peat hags. He went back to his group while I got myself sorted for the decent. I stopped with them on my way back and they suggested that I'd have some fun on the way down, I suggested that I'd probably spend most of the decent on my back!!

The first part was fine as it wasn't too steep although there were quite a few icy ridges formed by the wind. I made reasonably rapid progress down the the level area just above the worst of the peat hags but did managed to fall over a few times in doing so.

Getting through the peat hags was the worst bit, my turning skills are pretty much non-existent due to a lack of practice and although I was being careful the inevitable happened, traversing left I let the tail of my downhill ski slide out going over an insignificant ridge, the right ski shot across the left trapping it and causing me to fall. I ended up twisted to the left on my back with my left foot still pointing in the direction of travel attached to the ski which in turn was held firm by the right ski. The familiar snap and burning sensation in my left knee needed no explanation, Anterior Cruciate Ligament, again!!

It took a bit of struggling to release my boot from the binding but with enough groaning I managed to un-clip and get back on my feet. I knew from past experience that I'd be fine if I didn't twist so decided to walk down for a bit. It was pretty difficult to walk as I kept breaking through and found it difficult to get enough movement in my left leg to step out of the holes but as soon as the incline decreased I put the skis back on and made a series of slow traverses and then a final straight run back to the fence and from there back onto the forest trail.

The easy run back down the trail to the car was welcome and after some effort I was able to get the car doors open, the car had been sitting in the shade all day and doors and locks were frozen. Having gained entry via the passenger door I couldn't get it to stay shut and ended up passing the seatbelt through the door handle and clipping it in, this worked just fine.

I was home again within 45 mins by which time my knee had stiffened up quite a bit but it doesn't seem as bad as when I hurt it last July. I even managed to get some practice, skiing in the field beside my mums on Saturday. I didn't have any problems with the gear, my baselayer worked just fine and was comfortable enough to not need changed immediately on my return. I tend to run hot when active but cool down quickly so although Ultrafleece isn't as warm as some other fleeces it's slightly more windproof, I've read that Karisma fleece is virtually identical to Ultrafleece and I've seen a jacket I like the look of. The ME Liskamm trousers are excellent (I'm in the habit of referring to them as Combin!!) and I find softshell works well for me as legwear. The Alpkit Filo is a really good jacket, it's lighter than my ME Lightline, packs smaller but I suspect that the Lightline is more water-resistant although I haven't compared them directly, the down in the Lightline feels a little softer but at £75 the Filo is half the price of the Lightline which makes it a real steal, no wonder they sell out so quickly.

Although I haven't been out on the hill much over the past few weeks I've been messing around trying stuff out at home. I had wanted to get an overnight camp on the hill but didn't manage although I did try the Hike-Lite down at my Mums house. I've also been looking at the gear I used in Winter years ago when I started and comparing it to the gear I've been using recently, I even found a few new brands that look interesting. I don't expect the snow to stay around much longer so I'll try to make the best of it before my shift starts again on Wednesday.

Having posted a question on Outdoors Magic regarding binding release mechanisms for 75mm NN bindings another member kindly offered to let me have a set that he no longer used, a gesture that's very much appreciated. It's unlikely that I'll get them fitted before the snow disappears but maybe it'll hold out. The North Cape baselayer that I bought has been worn almost continually so I think I'll get another set while they're still available.

My attempts to lower my base weight have taken a back seat due to the snow being here but I'll be back on track in due course, I want a lightweight waterproof sleeping bag cover to use with a single skin tent but rather than purchase one I think I can make one that suits my requirements but is lighter and hopefully cheaper. So plenty to keep me occupied and the gear list that was pretty small is growing at an alarming rate. I think it's time to try and sell some of the stuff I don't use but given that I'm still using gear I bought 20 years ago maybe selling isn't quite my thing.