Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Some New Kit

I've been interested in getting a Pertex/Pile smock for a while now and having looked at the options I'd narrowed it down to 3. Apart from the obvious, Buffalo Systems there was the Montane Extreme smock and the less well known APS smock from Extreme Outdoor Clothing

Initially I'd decided to go for the Extreme Clothing APS smock which is made to order but after discussing it with Keith the owner I opted for the APS smock lined with K2 fleece rather than pile. K2 fleece is virtually identical to Ultrafleece which was used way back by Mountain Equipment. I have a couple of Ultrafleece garments, a jacket and smock, it's quite a thin dense fleece so while it doesn't provide as much insulation as regular 200wt fleece it's much more wind resistant. As my intended use for the smock was canoeing Keith suggested K2 as it wouldn't be quite so warm. I did actually order the smock but although made to measure there was a slight mix up and the smaock was much too big. Returning it was no problem apart from Keith being snowed under so we agreed on a refund.

The result was that the Pertex/Pile smock search was relegated to the back burner but recently I started looking again. I decided to take the easy option of getting an off the peg smock this time but rather than order online I decided to check out Jackson Sports in Belfast. It turned out that they had both the Buffalo and Montane smocks in stock so I decided to call in and try them for size. I sought some advice on Outdoors Magic regarding which was the preferred option but in the end there was no clear cut choice so I decided to go with whatever one felt best. I needed the smock in Green which meant the Buffalo option had to be the Special 6 at £120 with an additional £30 for the hood or the Montane Extreme at £90 including hood (reduced from £110)

In the end while there were a few things I preferred about the Buffalo Spc 6, the lighter fabric and simpler design mainly the Montane Extreme fitted better, the Spc 6is longer than the Buffalo Mountain Shirt and I felt that it was too long for me.

The Montane Extreme is a slimmer fit and the arm length and body length are pretty much perfect. It opens up on each side from waist to armpit for venting but there are also 2 diagonal chest pockets with mesh backing which can be used as vents.

The hood on the Montane felt nicer than the Buffalo but the chest pocket is smaller due to the diagonal chest zips. There are some nice features on the Montane, there are 2 plastic rings sewn to the sleeves at the forearm to allow gloves/mitts to be attached and there's a D ring sewn in the chest pocket for keys/compass etc the back of the sleeves from armpit to cuff is made from a tougher fabric in black.

If I have one complaint about the Montane Extreme it's the cuffs, it had been mentioned on OM that the sleeves were narrow and while I checked that and didn't find it a problem it wasn't until after I bought it that someone mentioned not being able to roll the sleeves up, sure enough when I tried it the cuffs were too tight to comfortably roll up the sleeves. That said it wouldn't have been enough to put me off even if I'd checked it prior to purchasing.

While I was there I took the opportunity to check out the Buffalo Pertex/Pile mitts, I seen a few people recommend them for wearing under Extremities Tuff Bags but I'd also read that the fit was a bit strange. Strange is right, my Tuff Bags are size Large but I needed size XL Buffalo Mitts and even at that the fit around the thumb is jsut a little bit tighter than I'd ideally like. That said they fit nicely underneath the Tuff Bags and as I only want them as insulation I have no complaints.

Finally as I'd been using the Trangia 27K recently I decided to pick up a non stick pan, mine is just a old basic aluminium set and Multi Disc plastic strainer lid. Again both items were in stock so I went ahead and purchased them. The strainer lid serves a few functions, it makes a nice tray for preparing food and also serves to protect the non-stick coating on the frying pan when packed, you can also use it as a frisbee apparently.

Of course the benefit of visiting a shop in person is that you get to try on items prior to buying, the dowside is that it's tempting to pick up a few items that weren't actually on the shopping list. Fortunately I managed to resist and had the added benefit of a bit of discount (total cost was £133, paid £125 and got a LMF spork thrown in) but it was an opportunity to support a local independent.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

MYOG, Throw Bag

I had a bit of a spend today, more of which later so I decided to offset that by making instead of buying a Throw Line for canoeing. A throw bag is basically a stuff sack attached to a floating rope that you throw to someone needing rescued. Throw bags come with different lengths of line, 15-25m and can cost upwards of £40. I mentioned before about finding some floating rope in a washed up life raft pack when camping on the north coast and although I'd used about 10m to make 2 painters for the canoe had had plenty left, 21.5m to be exact so decided to make a bag to hold it.

I'd tried a few stuff sacks I had to see what size I needed to make and to be honest I could just as easily have used a ready made stuff sack but decided to make one from scratch.

I gathered together the bits and pieces, some coated nylon from an old groundsheet, a length of webbing, 2 x brass eyelets, a piece of shock cord and cord lock, a piece of closed cell foam an empty milk container.

The line should have a small loop at one end, it then runs through an eyelet on the base of the bag, through the closed cell foam (to help it float) and through a piece of plastic (cut from the milk container), a 2nd knot is tied on the rope to keep the stuff sack in place and that's about all there is to it.

I started off by sewing the webbing to the coated nylon roughly where the center of the base of the stuff sack would be, I kept the webbing long until it was sewn on and then cut and sealed it as it was easier to keep hold of it while sewing it on. I sewed a 2nd piece near the top of the fabric where the draw cord would run.

With the webbing reinforcements sewn on I melted a hole through them and fitted a brass eyelet to each before folding the fabric over and sewing up both sides to make the bag.

With the sides sewn I folded the bag and sewed the corners of the base to make the bag rectangular rather than flat, most commercially available throw bags have a sewn in circular base but I find it easier to make it the way I did. With that done I turned the top over and sewed around the cuff to make the tunnel for the drawcord, I should have given myself a bit more fabric for the seam as the foot of the sewing machine was a bit close to the eyelet but it worked ok if only just.

Once I'd added the drawcord it was time to fit the rope, 1st I tied a figure 8 knot on the end of the rope before feeding it through the base eyelet. Next I fed the rope through 2 pieces of closed cell foam and the plastic washer made from the milk container.

With the foam in place I tied another knot in the rope as close as possible to the plastic washer and finished off the rope by splicing the tail into the main part of the rope using the end of a ball point pen.

With that done all that remained was to pack the rope into the bag by laying it back and forth in handfuls and stuffing each handful into the stuff sack, repeating the process until there's only a short tail remaining before closing the drawcord, the tail then hangs free from the bag. To use the throw bag all I need to do is open the drawcord, hold the tail in one hand and throw the bag containing the rope.

While I'm reasonably happy with the end result as usual with these projects I could have done better. The stitching was bit iffy to start, especially where the webbing was sewn on and I should have given myself a bit more fabric for the drawcord tunnel but it wouldn't cost anything to have another go if I felt the need. So far I've only thrown it down the garden but managed to get all but the last meter or so of rope deployed so it does what it's supposed to do.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

MYOG, Canoe Trolley

At 35kg or thereabouts my canoe is just a bit too heavy for me to carry any distance, there's a carrying yoke so that it can be carried upide down on my shoulders but it's awkward to lift and I need to have it set up on trestles 1st so that I can get underneath before lifting it. Getting it from car to water is tricky as I'm usually solo so if possible I just drag it along. I'd looked at canoe trolleys but at £40 for a Lomo, the cheapest I could find to over £80 for an Ekla trolley I'd put off getting one.

I found an alternative, a MYOG trolley on the 'Song of the Paddle' forum, made from a sack trolley it isn't really a self build project as the only thing you need to do is cut pieces off the trolley.

I managed to pick up a trolley for £20 from B&Q although it was slightly different from the one shown on SotP. I didn't follow the instructions exactly so my trolley is a bit longer than the others but while it looks a bit more secure it weighs more (probably) and takes up more space in the canoe although I wouldn't always need to take it with me. Rather than cut the frame off where the axle brackets are welded on I cut mine at the 2nd crossbar to provide a longer bed for the canoe to sit on, most people simply cut the platform off level with the frame but while I was worried it would weaken the frame I went ahead and removed the platform completely. In practice it seems rigid enough and I was able to load the canoe off and on easily, the longer bed keeping the trolley right way up.

While it works ok I'm not entirely satisfied with the design, I have a few ideas for something that would fold up smaller and weigh less but it would mean getting the welder out and to be honest I'm not much good at welding. In the meantime the chopped sack trolley will have to do, it certainly makes shifting the canoe much easier and the money saved will go towards another paddle.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

EMSA Stainless Vacum Flask

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd bought a new vacumn flask, I used to carry a flask on day walks but since starting to get back into walking I've just taken a stove. I suppose I was mainly following the current trend, you don't see flasks mentioned much now and although I read a few posts recommending various brands, none of which were marketed at the outdoors scene I didn't really give it much thought.

It was purely by chance that I ended up buying a flask, I was in a shop specialising in cookware and utensils when I noticed flasks branded EMSA Admiral and remembering that the ones I'd seen recommended (not EMSA) were aimed at the catering industry I decided to buy one. They had 2 sizes in stock, 0.5l and 1.0l but I decided on the 1.0l version which was £14. There was an information label attached to the flask which mentioned a 5 year guarantee, suggested that it could keep drinks hot for 12 hours and also that the flask had been rated as '2.0 Gut' by Siftung Warentest To be perfectly honest I had no idea what that meant apart from 'Gut' being good but it looked impressive.

EMSA are a German company based in Emsdetten and manufacturing in Germany, it's worth taking a look at their website, in particular the page titled 'Company, Quality and Responsibility'.
The flask is an actual vacumn flask rather than simply an insulated flask and has a ribbed outer casing which helps provide some grip. The screw on inner cap has a flip up pouring spout and the outer cap doubles as an insulated mug like pretty much every other flask and like most other flasks the mug is too small for my liking.

I tried the flask as soon as I got home, priming it 1st before filling it with boiling water. The 1st thing I noticed was that there was a spot near the bottom of the outer casing, about 25mm diameter that was almost too hot to touch. My 1st reaction was that it was leaking somewhere but as it didn't feel warm anywhere else I put it down to the inner and outer being connected probably due to the manufacturing process. I left the flask in the garage overnight and checked it again the next morning, the temperature in the garage had been down to around freezing and the flask was standing on a concrete floor but after almost 17 hours the water was still close to 70°C, just about warm enough for a coffee with milk added.

I've since used the flask on a couple of occasions and needless to say it was fine, At 675g empty it isn't light, a gas stove and mug would weigh less never mind a meths stove set-up but a flask is quick and easy.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Gore Bike Wear Gore Tex Socks

I'm not a fan or Gore Tex lined trainer's or shoes for off trail use for a variety of reasons, 1st is that they're only waterproof as long as you don't don't step in water deeper than the top of the shoe and once wet they stay wet as the water obviously can't get back out. I much prefer an unlined trainer and if needed I wear a Gore Tex sock.

Probably the most popular Gore Tex socks were the ones branded as 'Rocky' but they appear to be unavailable now, in fact from what I've read they're no longer made. I didn't have Rocky's myself but I did have a pair of Trekmates Amphibian socks which although looking quite loose/baggy were fine once on and everything was straightened out. I wore them year round with a very light Karrimor branded trail running shoe (Pro Run) but eventually due to wear at the toe one of them started to leak. I tried to get another pair but it seems that Trekmates no longer make them.

I read on Outdoors Magic about Gore Bike Wear Gore Tex socks, in fact when I saw tham mentioned I remembered about them from my cycling days. I decided to give them a try and ended up getting them from Evans Cycles. I'd used Evans Cycles in the past, both my wife and daughter's mtb's came from Evans Cycles so I placed an order for a pair in size Large (42-44) but they were a bit tight. Although they're quite stretchy I didn't want to risk too much stress especially at the toe so I re-ordered a pair size X Large (45-47) and they fitted perfectly so I think they are small fitting as 43-44 in footwear is my normal size.

They're quite different to the Trekmates socks, the Trekmates ones only have a stretch panel on the top of the foot and up the shin with the remaining fabric being regular fabric. This makes the Trekmates one's slightly more bulky and prone to creasing although a little care when putting your shoes means it isn't a problem. The Gore Bike Wear socks are completely made from stretch fabric so they're a much neater fit, whether they're any less durable I can't say at this stage. The Gore Bike Wear socks are a bit longer and have a nice wide cuff which helps keep them from falling down. They're comfortable enough, in I had to check the size of a particular brand of trainer last week and wore the Gore Bike Wear socks as I needed to be sure the trainers would fit while wearing the Gore Tex socks, in the end I completely forgot I was wearing them until later that night.

Subject to actually trying them, I think they're definitely worth a look for anyone who prefers an unlined trainer but still wants the option of some wet weather prtection, at £19 from Evans Cycles they're not outrageously expensive.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Day Tripping, Floating the Boat

There's been a real change in the weather this week, although I was working at the start of the week the presence of sunshine and blue skies had me looking forward to finishing my shift even more than usual. Spring has sprung and flowers are beginning to appear, I noticed Snowdrops well and truly emerged last weekend when I had the canoe out and it's actually quite warm.

I'd planned to have another day out in the canoe and sorted my kit on Wednesday night so that I could head out as soon as possible after attending to a few other tasks. I really wanted to check out some potential wild camp spots and get a bit more practice handling the canoe before the summer when I hope to make some longer trips.

I decided to take my old Trangia 27k this time, they're a great design and they've stood the test of time and while the weight might be too much for solo backpacking in a canoe it's pretty irrelevant. I packed everything into an Alpkit Goudron 20, including my well worn Montane Flux and with the canoe loaded up set off in bright sunshine.

While it's great having the river at the bottom of the yard, well my Mum's yard to be exact the downside is that if you have an out and back trip you go with the flow and come back against it. Although the river isn't very fast flowing there's one section where it's really shallow, less than a foot (30cm) deep in places and as a result it's too fast to paddle as the paddle bottoms out, there are also a few places where large rocks were placed across the river after it was deepened and straightened some years ago. Getting downstream over or between the rocks isn't a problem apart from the risk of a few scrapes as the drop is less than a foot but getting back means lining the canoe from the river bank or trying to pole back over them.

When I was out on Saturday I simply waded up the shallow section, I was wearing the Uniqlo Easy Windproof trousers and to be honest was amazed at how well the DWR worked and how dry and warm the tricot type lining felt after having been in knee deep plus water for a good few minutes. They worked so well that I didn't need to change into dry trousers when I got back home.

When I set off I was wearing a pair of Easy Windproof trousers, a zip neck fleece over a HeatTech L/S T-Shirt and a acrylic beanie cap but soon stopped to remove the fleece and beanie cap. I set off again wearing only the HeatTech T and a bandanna made from a Buff. The air was still and the warmth surprising for the 1st week in March and to be honest I really should have worn a pair of sunglasses to cut the glare from the water.

Every now and then a few waterbirds would take flight only to land again a few hundred meters ahead. At 1st only 2 or 3 would take flight but they must have landed again where there were others as each time I surprised them the numbers had increased until finally there was quite a sizable flock.

I stopped a few times to check out some potential pitches, a fence runs along both sides of the river bank marking the boundary of the farmland which is really just rough pasture. While the river bank is generally quite narrow and covered in weeds and tall grass on the river side of the fence there are a few places where it's wide and reasonably flat with short grass, there's certainly enough room for a tarp/bivvy bag.

Further downstream the farmland gives way to bog/moorland and here I found a nice spot. Out of sight of houses and with the bog as a barrier there was a nice flat grassy area backed by a stand of Whin bushes although it was on the farmland side of the fence. I decided that I'd stop here for lunch on my way back.

Just beyond I passed the small fir tree plantation I'd stopped at at the end of last year on my 1st outing on the canoe, again this would be an ideal spot, especially for using a hammock.

I'd already passed 2 of the rocky steps but on rounding the corner I spotted another two only about 30 meters apart, rather than shoot for it I stopped and walked down for a look 1st, I decided that I could make a clean run without too many scrapes and in the end managed both without scraping at all. It was now about 2.30pm and I was starting to get a bit hungry so decided to turn around and make my way back. I didn't manage to pole my way past the 1st rock step, I almost managed but further attempts were less successful so I walked along the river bank and lined the canoe through. I decided to try poling on the next step and this time managed it before once again swapping pole for paddle and making for the place I'd spotted previously to have lunch.

I picked a reasonably flat spot and got the Trangia set-up to boil some water for coffee before making some pasta but found that I'd forgotten to bring a mug. Fortunately I hadn't stripped the Trangia down so with the full set I simply used one of the pans as a giant mug.

Although I'd taken an instant pasta meal I decided to cook it in the pot rather than in a freezer bag, I'd already sliced a Pepperami so added it to the pasta and sauce and let it simmer while I ate some smoked cheese and drank my coffee.

I re-discovered 2 things,

1. a Trangia is a really nice system if the weight isn't an issue, it's tough, works well and doesn't need attended which allows you to relax or carry out other tasks.

2. eating from a freezer bag is okay, eating from a bowl or in this case pot is much, much nicer, no need for an extra long spoon or sauce covered fingers trying to get the last remaining pasta twists or strands of spaghetti out of the corner of a bag.

I was in no hurry to leave as it was so nice to just sit around relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet, the ducks I'd seen earlier would probably have agreed!! I boiled some more water for another coffee before packing up and getting going again.

I soon reached the final 2 rock steps, again I tried to pole it and again ended up lining the 1st and poling the second. I need a lot more practice poling, I've watched people doing it on Youtube and they make it look easy but I don't find it easy at all. A short paddle and I reached the shallow faster flowing section that I'd waded on Saturday but this time I managed to pole it, it took some time to be honest and I did end up going backwards, sideways every way except forwards at times but eventually I made it. With only a few hundred meters to go I stopped one last time, just a few moments to enjoy the surroundings even if it only was rough pasture.

Although it wouldn't be on any dream list of trips to take it was still enjoyable even if my arms and shoulders were feeling the effects by the end. It's easy to sit at the computer and plan grand trips but in the end any break from the daily grind is worthwhile.