Tuesday, 22 June 2010

PHD Minim Ultra

Although I have a couple of light sleeping bag options in the form of a Mountain Equipment Xero 250 at 640g and an Alpkit PD200 Piéd d Elephant at 480g I was still looking for a lighter option. The PD200 is the lightest option if I use an insulated jacket which I'd be carrying anyway but my lightest down jacket is a Mountain Equipment Xero at 390g while my lightest piece of down clothing is a PHD Ultra Down vest at 150g which I bought specifically for summer use. Unfortunately the down vest doesn't work well with the PD200 as there's no arm insulation. I tried to sell the down vest to help fund either a Mont-Bell UL Down Inner jacket or PHD Ultra Pullover but didn't manage to sell it. It was while looking for my own advertisement on the OM classified section that I came across a PDH Ultra Minim sleeping bag for sale.

I'd looked at the Ultra Minim but thought that the asking price of £189 was too much so had dismissed it but this one was for sale at £135 shipping included. The suggested weight is 345g and I felt that it would work fine with the down vest so I ended up buying it.

It was a standard length bag and has no shoulder baffle or zip which helps keep the weight to a minimum. It came with a small stuff sack and large mesh storage bag as originally supplied and is really compact and light although mine actually weighs 365g. Overall it's lighter at 514g when combined with the vest than the ME Xero 250 at 640g and the PD200/Xero jacket combination at 870g

The suggested temperature rating is +8°C and I tried it out for the 1st time with my Phreeranger Flysheet set up in the garden. I also used the Ti Goat Ptarmigan bivvy that I normally use with the single skin set-up and had the Ultra down vest in reserve. I choose to wear a full Sub Zero F1 baselayer and was initially fine but as the temperature dropped to +4°C outside my top side felt cold although I was otherwise fine lying on an 8mm CCF mat. I added the down vest and that resulted in sufficient insulation to allow me to get back to sleep.

Since then I've used it again with the Phreeranger set up as a 2 skin tent, with the same CCF mat but with only the Sub Zero F1 long sleeve top and was generally fine although again I addded the down vest.

The verdict? well it does what it's supposed to do but I think it would work better as a top bag as the 75g (I'm assuming total fill is 150g) of down on the base isn't doing much and would be better added to the top as that's been the only place I've felt cold. I think the baffles are closed along the side seam which prevents you from shifting the down to the top but as I sleep on my side I think I'll try to shake the down to one side next time to see if that makes a difference. In the end I don't really mind having to wear the down vest from time to time as I'd be carrying it anyway. Combined with the CCF mat and down vest the total weight of my sleeping system is 709g but that includes extra insulation to wear around camp in the evenings, of course it's strictly a summer option.

At the price I paid I'm happy with it but for me anyway it's too expensive at full price for what is really a pretty specialist piece of gear, that said I haven't seen anything lighter costing less.


Thanks to Andy (see comments) mentioning that the Minim Ultra might have open ended baffles I e-mailed PHD who informed me that the baffles are open at one end to allow down to be shifted from bottom to top (or vice versa). Thats useful to know and I'll definately give it a try next time.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Seize the Day (or Night)

I mentioned after the last trip that I'd be unable to get for at least 4 weeks due to my shift changing. For a variety of reasons even when I switched back to the start of week shift I didn't get out either. Although I was keen to get out the idea of finishing work at 6.00pm on a Friday evening and heading off wasn't appealing but Marcus was keen to get out again so I agreed to a wild camp on Friday night.

We decided to go for a coastal camp this time as the North coast is only 25 miles away. There was some discussion about what gear to take, specifically shelter but after looking at the photos I'd taken some time ago of our proposed site we decided on the tents again, not that we had a great deal of choice anyway as neither of us has a tarp.

I decided to take my other Phreeranger, one that I use with an inner rather than the one I use flysheet only, there were 2 reasons for this,

a. I wanted to have a bit more midge protection than simply the Ti Goat Ptarmigan bivvy

b. I'd just bought a used PHD Ultra Minim and figured the extra warmth from using an inner tent would be worthwhile.

The rest of my sleeping system consisted of an 8mm full CCF mat and my PHD Ultra Down Vest which was to serve as a warm layer for sitting around or as extra insulation for the Minim Ultra if I needed it. My cooking gear this time was an Alpkit Mitymug and EK Kombi woodstove with the usual meths burner but without the cone type windshield. I decided on the woodstove as I assumed there would be a ready supply of driftwood.

We didn't leave until around 9.00pm and were parked up around 10.00pm with about 4 miles to go to reach the camp. The camp is set in a horseshoe bay surrounded by very steep grassy slopes and broken cliff and unless you know where to find the sheep track it looks like it's only accessible from the sea, in fact there are the remains of an old salmon fishery but it's uninhabitable due to fouling from sheep.

It was still daylight when we reached the foreshore but finding a suitable pitch proved difficult as most of the area was covered in bracken and any flat areas were little more than grass growing on top of stones. We eventually picked a spot and set about removing thistles and any prominent stones. I managed to get a tight pitch helped by having some Vargo nails which I was able to work down through the stones and after some adjustment my sleeping spot was reasonably comfortable.

It was almost midnight when Marcus announced that he'd brought some sausages and a small frying pan (I'd also decided at the last minute to bring some mini croissants and some proper milk as we weren't going to have to walk too far) so we had some sausages and a chocolate drink before settling in for the night.

I decided to only wear a Sub Zero F1 l/s top as although there was a bit of a North breeze coming in off the sea I was warm enough thanks to using the inner tent (midges hadn't been a problem). I must have drifted off to sleep pretty quickly but wakened around 2.00am. I decided to put on the PHD Ultra vest and drifted back to sleep again.

I wakened again at about 4.30am, force of habit as I normally get up at 5.00pm to set off for work. It was starting to get light by now so I took a few photos and hopped out of the tent to answer the call of nature before removing the down vest and shuffling back into my sleeping bag. I didn't waken again until around 7.30am by which time the sun was up and the tent was really warm. I hooked back the flysheet door and was having a look around when Marcus popped his head out of his Hike-Lite.

It was fantastic to waken up in such surroundings and any reservations I'd had the day before were gone and I was glad we'd decided to go for it. Marcus cooked up some sausages and soda bread while I boiled water for coffee and set the remaining croissants out in the sun to heat up and we sat on the grassy bank enjoying the views.

We were in no hurry to leave and with breakfast behind us and the sleeping bags draped over the tents we spent quite a bit of time wandering around exploring. There is another small bay that I though might be accessible if we could climb around the rocks and while I got around the corner until I could look into the bay I decided to turn back, discretion being the better part of valour.

When we were looking for a place to pitch the tents the previous night I'd spotted what looked like a blue airbed stuck between the rocks at the waters edge but hadn't investigated it at the time. We went to check it out and it turned out to be a large zipped pack that we both thought might be some kind of liferaft, as it turned out it was simply a pack of emergency water supplies and a drogue anchor with a woven line.

I assume it must have been part of a liferafts supplies but it was a bit disapointing that there was nothing exciting inside, only packs of water. We decided to check them for damage following the instructions and there must have been about 50 packs each containing 500ml (each 500ml pack had 10 individual 50ml sachets) with only 6 having the outer packaging damaged. We decided to take them all and leave them in the ruined cottage so that took a couple of trips, the large pack and drogue anchor we decided to take back with us.

We'd been watching a fishing boat just off shore and also a large sailing boat sailing towards Rathlin Island when a sea kayak appeared followed by another, then another. There were about 12 altogether and they pulled up onto the stoney beach right in front of us. It turned out they were from a variety of clubs and had set off that morning from Port Ballintrae a few miles further along the North Coast.

We had a bit of a chat with some of them, one guy in particular was using a Ghillie Kettle. The kettle while being pretty bulky was surprisingly fast at bringing water to a boil but like me he hadn't been able to find any driftwood and was using fuel that he'd actually brought.

It was around 2.00pm by now, the breeze had picked up quite a bit and the sea was a mass of white capped wavelets so we decided to strike camp and leave the 'invaders' It was still really warm when out of the breeze and by the time we had climbed back up to the cliff path via the sheep track we were pretty warm. It was difficult to know whether to go with or without a fleece but eventually we both ended up in t-shirts.

It didn't take too long to make it back to the car and we met quite a few people walking the cliff top path which leads eventually to the Giants Causeway. Looking back to our camp spot it was impossible to see the track leading from the cliff top due to the way it zig-zags between whin (gorse) bushes. The fact that it looks inaccessible and is a few miles from any car park helps to keep it respectable, although the bay is long there are few suitable pitches and over-use could lead to the area becomming an eyesore as unfortunately not everyone takes their rubbish out.

All in all it was a good one and although Marcus suggested a forest camp next I'd be tempted to go back and maybe spend 2 nights there. It's one of those places where I'd be prepared to carry a bit of extra weight in the way of cooking gear and food as it's a place to take it easy and chill out and dehydrated food doesn't really do it justice.

I was glad I'd taken the inner tent this time, the extra weight is minimal as I didn't take the bivvy bag. Unfortunately the groundsheet isn't waterproof anymore so I still had to take the sil-nylon footprint. The PHD Ultra Minim bag was fine for the conditions given it's +8°C rating, I'll review it in more detail later and the CCF mat was fine even though the pitch was pretty stoney.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Stout Boots & Red Laces

As Recieved, Dry and Very, Very Stiff

Footwear choice for the hills has changed dramatically over the past few years with more and more people switching to lightweight trainers for all but the most serious conditions. In little over a year I've gone from a pair of Meindl Borneo leather boots to Karrimor Pro Run trainers or AKU Croda boots. The Meindl's weigh in at 1844g pair/size 43, the AKU Croda's at 1411g and the Pro Run's a mere 597g. My heaviest boots are Berghaus Kibo fully stiffened boots which are lighter than they look at 1929g thanks to the use of man made fabric. I've relegated the Meindl's to everyday/work wear so I'm pretty used to the weight but I recently obtained a pair of new old stock traditional leather boots that re-define weight and stiffness.

'Made in Italy' With Few Concessions to Comfort

They're made by Dolomite from one piece leather with a triple leather midsole, Norwegian Welt, Vibram Montagna sole, very little in the way of a soft ankle cuff and are leather lined, they don't even have a cushion/removeable insole.

1 Piece Leather Upper

3 Layer leather Sole

I'm not exactly sure what era the boots belong to but I'm guessing that they're around late 70's to mid 80's. Looking through late 80's Field & Trek catalogues this style of boot was rare, the only ones being Loveson and Zamberlan.

Although boots of this type are unusual in the UK they are still made by the likes of Alico, Gronell, Meindl and even Altberg so if you feel like going retro you can.

When the boots arrived they were unbelievably stiff and pretty uncomfortable to even wear due to the stiffness of the leather, it was virtually impossible to walk in them and I wasn't sure that they'd ever be comfortable.

I started to apply the new Nikwax cream to the boots as the leather was pretty dry and really worked the leather with my thumbs along the sides from instep to toecap. It took a fair few applications of wax and plently of thumb work before I actually tried walking in them. After 3 miles on tarmac I was glad to get them off but having continued to wax and work the leather they're now wearable for a few hours at a time. I suspect that they've got at least a 3/4 steel shank and as yet there's very little rocker compared to even the Berghaus Kibo but I expect that with continued wear that the rocker will become more pronounced which should make walking somewhat more natural.

Triple Stitched Norwegian Welt Construction

To be honest I got them more out of curiosity than anything else as I've never owned a pair of boots of this type, the closest being my Gro-nell Nordic ski boots and if I wear them it'll only be as an experiment. I mentioned that I wear Meindl Borneos as everyday footwear and as such I'm used to the weight but these are something else, at 2874g pair/43 they're almost 1kg heavier than the Berghaus Kibos/Meindl Borneos and one Dolomite boot weighs as much as a pair of Aku Crodas, in fact even my Burton Moto snowboard boots are lighter.

The Old, The New

I have to admit I do like the look of them, I just need a nice pair of breeches,a ventile jacket and with my old Bergans A Frame rucksack I'll be good to go singing the Happy Wanderer ;-)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

GoSystem Fly ti, Worlds Lightest Gas Stove?

I almost always use a meths stove now, in fact I've only used gas once in almost a year but I was drawn to a stove I saw late last year on the Fire Maple website. The Fire Maple FMS 116T looked like a very nice design, almost identical to the Optimus cartridge mounted stoves but made from titanium and weighing only 48g. I didn't think I'd have a chance to get one but as it happens GoSystem are now selling what appears to be the same stove under the name Fly Ti, they also have a folding head version, the Scion which looks identical to the FMS 109 (again similar to the Optimus folding stove) but unlike the FMS 116T it isn't made using titanium and weighs 90g (It appears that some Fire Maple stoves are also available branded as Vango, see here)

I ordered the Fly ti from AOS Banbury and it arrived today, cost including postage was £30.18. It came nicely packed in a stiff card box but doesn't come with a carrying pouch/case, that doesn't bother me anyway. The stove weighs 47g on my digital scales and is very well finished.

The burner head is quite large and with the pot supports folded out should provide a stable platform for larger diameter pots than my usual Mity mug size pots. The head diameter means that it isn't quite as compact as my C-3 Mini stove but theres plenty of room for both stove and a 100 size gas cartridge in a Mity mug with enough room for a few extra items.

Of course the important thing is performance but I need to point out that I didn't have a new 100 cartridge to test the stove. The best cartridge I had weighed 139g which means there was only 39g gas left, in other words it's only about 1/3rd full and in my experience performance drops off rapidly once the cartridge is less than half full. With that in mind I set the stove up outside and gave it a try, the figures are as follows,

Ambient Temp - 15°C light breeze
Water Temp - 16.2 Deg°C
Cartridge Weight Start - 139g
Boil Time 99 °c - 4.18 mins
Cartridge Weight End - 128g

I was using a basic foil windshield so in short it used 11g of gas and took 4 mins 18 secs to bring 500ml to 99°c which isn't exactly a stellar performance. Obviously I'll need to try it again with a new cartridge to be able to compare it directly with my C-3 Mini stove but I suspect that it may perform better with a wider pot.

In the end my C-3 stove cost around £12, weighs 89g with the pot supports cut down and the piezo igniter removed, is slightly more compact and the performance is about the same as most other cartridge mounted stoves. It really comes down to how important the 40g weight saving is and of course how it performs on a full cartridge although I suspect it won't perform any better than the C-3 anyway.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

North Antrim Causeway Coast

I haven't managed to get out camping recently but did manage a wee photo excursion with a mate this week. We parked up at a place called Port Braddan and walked towards the small harbout at Dunseverick. It's a beautiful area and it's possible to walk all the way from the Giants Causeway to Ballintoy harbour passing Dunseverick, Port Braddan and along the beach at White Park Bay. The shots below were taken between Dunseverick and Port Braddan.