Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Just a Walk in the Park

I went out with Les for a quick walk around Glenariff today, no route planned this time we arranged to meet at the lower car park with the intention of leaving a car there and driving to a different start point.

It was an earlier than usual start but we both had other stuff to attend to so an earlyish start and a shorter than normal walk meant we'd be finished around lunch time. The weather has improved over the past few days and although there were a few clouds around it was warm when the sun did break through. At 1st we stuck to the forest trails just outside the actual park boundry but left the trail and took to the fire breaks to reach a small lough Les had been to recently. It's one I've passed close to often but I'd never actually taken the time to check it out but approaching from the North looks like the best option as the trees open out to reveal it before closing again behind so it looks like a hidden oasis.

Rather than aiming for the higher ground after leaving the lough we headed for a forest track that led us out on to the open hill from where we headed towards one of the waterfalls in the park. Rather than stop by the side of the trail or take to the forest for a lunch break we boulder hopped down the stream until we reached a steep waterfall were we stopped for a cuppa.

I'd gone back to a plastic mug some time ago in preference to a (heavier) titanium mug but had recently considered a Kupilka Kuksa. Heavier than a plastic mug the composite Kupilka does look nice with a traditional feel. In the end I didn't go for the Kupilka as although it's traditional in Scandanavia it isn't in the UK, what I decided to go for was an old type enamel mug, white with a blue rim. I know some people say the enamel can crack and so on but as I've used a beercan pot in the past I'm sure I'll be able to take care of a tin mug. I hadn't used it until today but I think it's nicer to drink from than a ti or plastic mug and in Les's case an improvement on using the lid off the cooking pot but at 125g or thereabouts it's outrageously heavy ;-)

We ended up going back to the trail for a couple of reason's, one we couldn't easily circumvent the waterfall but more importantly there are areas of the forest closed. Some of the Larch, Japanese hybrids IIRC have become infected by Phytophthora Ramorum and in an attempt to stop it spreading they're being felled and soit's better to stick to the trail where the warning notices have been posted.

As we made our way along the top trail the areas where trees were being felled could be seen on the other side of the glen although there were no signs that the disease had spread to the side we were on. While on the top path we could see Troatan being hit with a few rain showers and within minutes we too were hit with a short but quite heavy shower although that was the only rain we'd had all day.

All in all it was a pleasant day even if the route was only around 10k but although I'm back at work tomorrow I'm already looking forward to finishing my shift and getting out again. Hopefully the weather will improve now coming into June as I'd like to give the hammock a try out.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

MYOG, Kick Ass Quilts Potomac, Synthetic Hammock Under Quilt

I mentioned previously that having tried to make a hammock Under Quilt by converting a regular sleeping bag that I wanted to try to make one from scratch. I’d decided that I’d use easily available materials and go synthetic rather than down for simplicity and low cost but the only plans I could come up with were ones to make an asymmetric quilt designed for a Hennessey hammock. The plans were made available by the guy who originally made the Kick Ass Quilts Potomac but as my hammock is a regular gathered end hammock I was doubtful that it would fit. In the end I decided to go ahead anyway as Ralph has a Hennessey hammock so it would fit his and if it did work with mine I could make another.

The only fabric that I could get locally was regular polyester (used for dress lining etc) and cheap unbranded synthetic insulation. I bought 4 meters each of black and grey polyester and 4 meters of insulation in 2 different weights together with some Grosgrain ribbon, shock cord and cord locks. I could only get 2mm shock cord which is a bit thin and the cord locks which had to have tape loops came from an ebay seller in Hong Kong, all in it came to just under £50 and I hoped to make 2 quilts.

I had to make a pattern which was drawn out on stuff I’d picked up last year to make a tent footprint. The quilt is asymmetric and tapers at each end with the foot end being slightly narrower than the head end, in addition there were 2 darts, one near the foot on one side and one at the head on the other.

Pattern Laid out Ready to Pin to the fabric

The 1st thing was to lay up the fabric, (black for the inner, towards the hammock, grey for the outer) pin on the pattern and cut the 2 pieces out. With the inner and outer cut I made up the 6 drawcord tunnels, one for each end and 2 for each side (one long, one short). The corners of the inner were reinforced by stitching on pieces of fabric which extended along the sides/ends by about 4 inches.

Reinforcing Patches Pinned to the inside of the Inner Shell

The next step was to sew the reinforcing patches to the inside of the inner part, with that done I sewed the drawcord tunnels to the outside of the inner part.

Attaching the Drawcord Tunnels

I made a bit of a mistake here as I made the drawcord tunnels too long which left me with very little room to attach the Grosgrain loops. It was just possible to sew on the loops but at the corners opposite the plain loops I needed to sew on 2 cord locks attached to Grosgrain, I simply didn’t have enough working space here so decided to leave them until the end and simply sew them on to the outside once everything else was sewn up. To finish the inner I simply sewed up the darts on each side which helps form the quilt aroud the hammock.

Most of the work is done on the inner shell of the quilt and with it finished I used the outer shell as a pattern to cut the insulation. I cut the insulation a few centimetres bigger than the fabric as the plans suggested that it would stop the insulation curling up around the foot of the sewing machine when the inner, outer and insulation were sewn together. Once the insulation was cut to size I looslely hand sewed the darts on the insulation and machine sewed the darts on the outer shell.

Cutting the Insulation using the Outer Shell as a Pattern

Assistant Checking Comfort Rating

With all the parts finished I was ready to attempt the step I was least looking forward to, sewing the 3 layers together. The bit that looked like causing the biggest problem was getting the seam in the right place to ensure the drawcord tunnels didn’t end up too narrow yet to ensure that once turned inside out (actually right side out as it’s sewn together with the right side facing in) that the stitching attaching the drawcord tunnels to the inner shell weren’t showing.

Insulation, Inner Shell and Outer Shell Pinned for Sewing

I spent quite a bit of time pining everything together, constantly checking that the parts that I couldn’t actually see once pinned were all in the correct position. In the end sewing it all together wasn’t too bad although unfortunately I did manage to let some of the inside drawcord tunnels stitching show along one side, it doesn’t affect the performance of the quilt but it doesn’t look very nice.

I’d left part of the foot end open so that I could turn everything right way out and I have to admit I was pretty happy with it all things considered once I’d laid it out right way out. With that done the final stitching was to fold in the opening at the foot, sew it up and sew on the double captive cord locks at opposite corners.

All Sewn Up Ready for the Shockcords and Attachment Cords

625g, Just Needs A Stuff Sack.

Once that was done I added the shock cord which gathers the quilt around the hammock and fitted the heavier shock cords that attach the quilt to the hammock. I’ve tried it on my hammock and while it would work it isn’t ideal but I’m curious to see how it looks on a Hennessey, for what it‘s worth it ended up weighing 625g. The only thing left to do is sew up a stuff sack and pass it on to Ralph.

It wasn’t too difficult in the end and while I made a few mistakes I’ve learned a bit so I’d change a few things from a construction point of view. What I need to do now is come up with a design that suits my hammock better, a rectangular quilt would work ok, the one I made from the sleeping bag is rectangular, but it seems to me that there’s a lot of excess weight at the ends where everything is gathered up so I’ll probably come up with some kind of tapered shape, slightly narrower at the foot and slightly shorter than the KAQ Potomac. The shorter and narrower I can manage with the lighter it’ll end up and I’d like to get it down to a max of 500g.

Darts Allowing Quilt to Form around Hammock

Packed, PU Coated Ripstop Stuff Sack, A Compression Strap Would reduce the Packed length by about 1/3rd

Thursday, 26 May 2011

In and Around Ballypatrick Forest

I managed to get out again this week, it took until Tuesday though as like most of the UK the weather was pretty grim, continual heavy rain on Saturday and high winds on Monday that took a few tiles of our roof meant I didn't do much but I'd arranged with Les to go out on Tuesday.

I’ve been using Mapyx Quo mapping software for a while now and had upgraded my Garmin Gecko 301 to a Lowrance Safari with Quo Mobil XT mapping software installed but to be honest I hadn’t used it much as I really can’t be bothered to spend a lot of time on hi tech kit, especially when it comes to mapping as I know my way around the local hills anyway. Les however had purchased Quo and was using it with a Garmin mapping handheld (not sure what the model is) We wanted to try them back to back and try e-mailing routes to each other so I decided on the route, Les having done last weeks walk and planned a walk in one of the local forest parks with a bit of off trail (in the forest) and open hill work thrown in for good measure.

I was a bit more organised this week and had everything prepared the night before as I wanted to replace the missing roof tiles before setting off. The weather was slightly better than it had been but I wanted to try something different clothing wise so this time opted for my Montane Extreme smock, Uniqlo windproof easy trousers and this time wore a pair of Gore Bike Wear gore-tex socks with the Adidas Terrex Seamless.

Although it was bright when we set off for Ballypatrick forest there were a few heavy showers on the way which didn’t provide much of a clue as to what lay in store. By the time we were parked up the sun was shining and with the shelter of the trees I was regretting choosing Pertex/Pile and wishing I’d opted for the lighter Paramo VAL. The intention was to follow the trails for a bit before aiming for the highest point in the forest, the unpronounceable (to me anyway) Carneighaneigh from which it seemed there would be good views towards Ballycastle across the sound to Rathlin and possibly even the Mull of Kintyre to the N East and Donegal to the N West, in addition there was an cairn of some description marked on the map. From the high point the plan was to descend back into the forest using rough tracks and avoiding the actual forest drive where possible to visit a Mesolithic cairn and then on through the forest and on to the open hill for a bit before hopefully navigating to a fire break which would lead us back onto the trails and from there to the car park. Like last week we were accompanied by Fly, a one year old this week Cocker owned by Les. Fly is a cracking wee dog, full of life and character and with an endless reserve of energy.

We Hadn’t gone to far before Les was ditching his jacket while I had to make do with opening every zip on the Extreme smock but as we started up the trail towards the high point the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up so I didn’t over heat too much.

At the high point the views were much as I’d expected although visibility wasn’t the best, one thing that really stood out was the reef just off the coast near Ballycastle, I’m not sure what it’s called but looking at the map it may well be Carrickmannon, it was a seething mass of white water clearly visible even in the less than perfect light. The cairn was a bit of an anti climax looking more like a croft had been knocked down and bulldozed into a heap but we went for a closer look anyway. We had just about reached it when the shower that had been heading our direction finally arrived so we simply dropped down a firebreak for a bit of shelter. There were a few hailstones but it lasted less than 5 minutes in the end.

With the clouds speeding away we set off again descending down a rough track back into the forest where once again due to the shelter of the trees I needed to open all the vents on the smock to stay reasonably comfortable. Quite a few trees looked like they’d come down in the previous 24 hours but I spent a bit of time looking for potential hammock camping spots.

It seems though that no matter where you go fly tippers will have been there before, I can imagine Amundsun arriving at the South Pole to discover a rusty washing machine and a kid’s trike. To be truthful though the bits and pieces that were lying around were slowly but surely returning to their natural sate or being gradually buried under a blanket of pine needles.

It didn’t take too long before we reached the Mesolithic 2 Horned Cairn, hmmm looks like a pile of rocks to me but I’ll take their word for it. Ironically while the sun had been shining when we were in the forest the moment we reached an area where tree felling had been in progress and shelter was scarce the skies darkened and the rain looked to be on it’s way again.

As happened on the top of Carneighaneigh by the time we’d taken shelter and Les had swapped soft-shell for hard-shell the rain had stopped. With much of the forest part behind us and the open hill getting closer we decided to look for a suitable spot to take a lunch break. Les had a new stove (Gelert Blaze) to try out so while we waited for the water to boil and with it the prospect of a Starbucks Via we polished off a couple of Ginster’s Cornish Pasties.

Setting off again the open hill provided us with the terrain I like least although one I‘m well used to, peat banks, knee deep ankle twisting heather and knee deep peat bogs. In terrain like this it’s every man for himself but it seems that regardless of the route you choose you lose. We’d just reached the top of Crockaneel or as close to the top as it’s possible to define on what is essentially an elevated bog when Fly rose a couple of grouse, 1st a brown then a smaller black.

From there we aimed to miss the edge of the forest closest to us heading on towards a fire break that would lead us back into the forest and from there back to the track. In the end we missed it by a few hundred meters but a quick look at the map suggested that if we followed a drainage trench between the trees we intersect the fire break and it worked out just fine.

Although it can be a bit boring on the forest tracks they’re kind of welcome after stumbling about on heather so there were no complaints even though our route had us following a short section that we’d walked at the start. The rain stayed away for the final few Kilometres and the sun mostly shone until we were back at the car park.

With regard to the kit the Montane Extreme Smock was much too warm but I suspected that would be the case, the Gore Bike wear Gore-tex socks are a bit of a mixed bag, there’s no doubt that they kept my feet dry although they don’t breathe particularly well once the trail shoes are saturated, that said on balance I still prefer unlined trail shoes/gore tex socks over gore tex lined shoes as they provide more protection, lined shoes only work if you can avoid water that’s more than ankle deep and avoid wet grass unless you’re wearing gaiters which in my experience don’t really work with shoes.

What about the Lowrance Safari and Garmin GPS units and the Quo mapping software? They work, I don’t really have anything else to say to be honest, while I could happily research a tent or stove from now until Christmas, studying the various pro’s and con’s, GPS hand helds or similar techy stuff doesn’t do it for me, it’s works and really that’s all I need to know, after that it’s about as fascinating to me as an electric kettle.

On a more Sombre Note

While Ballypatrick Forest Park like most other forest parks in Northern Ireland was a popular destination for family outings during the summer and on Bank Holidays in the late 1970’s to mid 1980’s it not unreasonably became much less popular after the murder of German backpacker Inga Maria Hauser who’s body was found buried in a shallow grave within the forest. Although it happened in 1988 no one has ever been charged with the murder.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Primus Express Spider, Review

The Primus Express Spider has been available for some time now and while I’d read the reviews I’d never actually tried one. I was offered one for review by Millets so I was looking forward to seeing how it performed.

The Express Spider has a few features that set it apart from basic canister mounted stoves, the 1st and most obvious is that the burner isn’t directly attached to the gas canister but is instead connected via a flexible fuel line, the 2nd useful feature is the pre-heat facility which helps maintain performance or in some cases allows the stove to actually work in temperatures below freezing when a canister mounted stove could fail completely.

I guess most people considering the Express Spider do so for its cold weather ability but it has something to offer even if you only use it in mild conditions. As it’s a remote canister stove it sits much lower than a canister mounted stove which not only improves stability but also makes it easier to use in a small porch such as those in some solo tents simply as the burner being lower is further from the flysheet. The pre-heat feature while it’s designed mainly for colder weather is also beneficial when it comes to using the last few grams in the canister.

I’ve found in the past with canister mounted stoves that when you get down to the last 10g or so of gas the reduction in pressure in the canister means that there’s insufficient fuel flow to keep the stove burning, it’s not unusual to remove a seemingly empty canister yet when you shake it you can hear that there’s still fuel remaining. What the pre heat function does is allow you to invert the canister, the fuel then flows along the fuel line as a liquid until it reaches the pre-heat tube where it vaporises (becomes gas again) and can burn as normal.

When it comes to low temperatures what can happen is that as the canister itself cools the pressure in the canister drops to the extent that there’s insufficient fuel being delivered to the burner head, this results at best in a slower boil time but the side effect of that is that the longer it takes the colder the canister becomes and thus the pressure continues to drop, eventually the stove will stop even though there’s plenty of fuel remaining. In this situation you can simply invert the canister as you would if it was almost empty, the fuel is delivered as liquid until it reaches the pre-heat tube where again it vaporises and is once again burned as gas. Without a pre-heat tube inverting the canister simply results in liquid gas arriving at the burner head and the result is that the stove flares up which definitely isn’t something you want happening when you’re trying to cook in the porch of a small solo tent.

The Primus Express Spider comes supplied with a small stuff sack that from the outside looks like mesh but on the inside it’s actually plain fabric, I’m not sure why its mesh on the outside but plain fabric on the inside means that the stove is easy to remove and pack as it doesn’t get caught up in the mesh.

The stove itself is really well made and is devoid of any unnecessary features, someone said that a product had reached the peak of development not when there was nothing left to add but when there was nothing left to remove, if that’s the case the Express Spider must be almost as close to the peak of development as it’s possible to get, minimalist but with no useful feature missing.

The legs all fold together for packing but when unfolded each have a stop position to ensure that they’re as stable as possible, being a tripod design means that it’s stable even on a rough surface. The burner head is quite small, smaller than I’d probably prefer as this is a stove I’d use with a wide shallow pot rather than a tall narrow one, 2 reasons for that, 1. A wide shallow pot is more stable and 2. A wide shallow pot is better if you want to melt snow (this is a stove aimed at use in lower temperatures after all) That said in use it seems to work just fine although I’d be inclined to run it at less than full power. One final design feature that I like is that both burner and the fuel valve/regulator can rotate on the fuel line with the result that once set up there’s nothing trying to tip the stove over. Perhaps the only thing I’d like to see changes is the position of the fuel valve, rather than a vertical valve I’d prefer a horizontal valve as it’s easier to operate with the canister inverted, that said it’s not a deal breaker by any means.

With all the potential advantages why wouldn’t anyone want to use a remote canister stove? Well it comes down to bulk/weight over a canister mounted stove. On the issue of bulk the Express Spider fold up so well that it’s hardly an issue, in fact I have a canister mounted stove that while being smaller is more difficult to store due to the larger diameter burner head. If bulk/packed size isn’t an issue them what about the weight? As far as I’m aware the lightest canister mounted stove at present weighs about 48g, most however will come in at between 60-100g, the Express Spider weighs in at 191g with the stuff sack adding another 10g if you choose to use it. If not the lightest it’s certainly one of the lightest.

I’ve tested the Express Spider in what I would consider a real world situation and in breezy condition with an almost full 100g canister with the valve about 2/3rds open it boiled 500ml of water (13.5°c) in 3mins 44secs, obviously that isn’t super quick but by running it with the valve less than fully open it achieved the boil on 8g of fuel and that’s pretty impressive. Of course I nay have achieved a faster boil with the valve fully opened but I’d prefer fuel efficiency for the sake of waiting an extra 30 seconds.

Having tried it with an almost full canister I wanted to see how it performed on an almost empty canister with the canister inverted. The result really impressed me, starting with a canister that had 24g of gas remaining the Express Spider managed a boil in 3mins 47secs and used 9g of gas.

All things considered the Express Spider is definitely a stove I’d have no hesitation in using or recommending, I haven’t read negative reports on any of the blogs I follow and having tried it myself I can see why.

The video below shows the stove in operation with the canister inverted and about 20g of gas remaining. I forgot to weight the canister until I'd switched the camera off but for what it's worth it weighed 104g.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A Short Walk in the Nick of Time

Although I'd planned to do a 2 day walk and over night camp using the hammock the weather put me off, stormy with heavy rain wasn't really what I was looking for considering the area I'd intended going too and certainly not what I wanted for a 1st attempt at hammock camping.

In the end I kept myself busy with other stuff, not least trying to sort an Under Quilt for my hammock. Having made one from a kids sleeping bag I was keen to tackle a made from scratch quilt and had found a guide on the hammock forum for a synthetic quilt. Obviously using proper outdoors type fabrics and insulation would result in the best performance or at least the best warmth/weight ratio but specialist fabrics are expensive so I decided to lower my sights a little and try to get the best I could locally. I managed to get some fabric and insulation that should work and should result in something a bit better than the converted sleeping bag, if i can put it together.

In the end it looked like I wasn't going to get near the hills at all but a last minute call from my mate Les provided an opportunity. Les had a GPS handheld with mapping software that he wanted to try out so he arranged to call at my house this morning and take it from there. It was a bit last minute for me so when he arrived I gathered a few bits and pieces, threw them in a day sack and we set off.

Most of the route Les had planned was in the forest with a fair amount on forest roads but there were a few stretches off road through the forest and a bit of open hill. The weather was pretty much as it has been for the past week with low cloud, light rain and scattered heavier showers and quite breezy.

I'd pulled on my Paramo VAL over a L/S baselayer, my Peter Storm Active trousers and against Les's advice decided on the Terrex trainers but no Gore-Tex socks or gaiters.

It wasn't actually raining when the 3 of us, Les, myself and Fly, Les's dog set off but the cloud base was very low and at times it was difficult to tell whether it was raining or not although it was reasonably mild. After following a forest road for a bit we emerged onto the open hill only to discover that the area had been on fire recently. The result was that while it was easier to see what you were stepping on, normally it's covered in heather and walking through it is less than pleasant, what remained of the heather was charred stumps which didn't do much for the appearance of my trousers which are a light grey/stone colour. Although it's only been a little over a week since the area was on fire the new shoots are already well established and fortunately the fire didn't spread to the forest nearby.

Once on the open hill the wind picked up and the rain increased in intensity and although I had a pair of waterproof trousers in my daysack i didn't bother to stop to put them on as I knew that once the rain stopped or we re-entered the forest my trousers would dry out quickly.

Visibility was poor to begin with but as we neared the final slopes of the only small hill on our route the cloud lifted a little but detail visibility was still less than 500m. Normally we'd have stopped on the top but with no shelter and nothing to see we continued over the summit and down the other side aiming to enter the forest again.

Most of the ground on the Antrim hills is peaty and as such holds a lot of water, that results in everything in the forest being a vibrant greens which I always find amazing, the downside is that the ground is often wet at best and muddy if it's a route that gets walked frequently.

Fly was in his element of course and must have covered 10x times the distance that Les and myself had. It didn't take long before we were back on a forest road but we continued for a bit looking for a decent spot to stop for lunch. Ideally it would provide some shelter in case we were hit with a heavy shower but not too sheltered as already the midges are making their presence felt.

Eventually we stopped at a spot that while it wasn't much better than some we'd passed wasn't any worse so I set up the stove, a GoSystem Fly to boil water for a brew while Les provided filled rolls. True to form the midges did make at half hearted attempt at disruptiing proceedings but they were just about bearable and we managed to have lunch and set off before they got too much of an aggravation, form now on I'll be taking a head net and some insect repellent.

After following the forest road for a bit we re-entered the forest where the ground was reasonably firm but it didn't last and we were soon making our way down a fire break between the trees where the heather and long grass had me soaked to the knees again.

Les had been checking that the route we were taking corresponded to the one he'd loaded into the GPS while I was generally just tagging along but we eventually reached the forest road that would lead us back to the car. Again the rain had virtually stopped and I started to dry out again and by the time we'd reached the car only the bottoms of my trousers were still wet and although my feet were saturated they weren't cold, the benefit I guess of socks with at least some wool content.

It was a short walk but one I hadn't done before so that was a bonus and I also made a mental note of a few potential hammock camping spots although I dread to think what the midge situation would be like amongst the trees having experienced them while camping on the open hill. Having failed to make the most of my days off and leaving getting out until the last moment I finally did get out thanks to Les but now it's back on shift again fo a few days but hopefully the weather will pick up again in time for the end of my shift.