I saw a young lad, I think his name was Duncan, on his way to Helmsdale from JOG. it was his 3rd day and he looked distraught. The first thing he said when he found out I was on my way to JOG was “Where the hell is all your equipment?”, since my neatly packed Fastpack 20 was less than a 3rd the size of his gear. I had the advantage of having planned for the lightest weight pack with comfort, although after my finely tuned foam mat blew away, I had to add 200g to my pack weight with my backup blow up bed.My kit ended up coming from 3 sources, self funded purchases like my MSR titanium kettle, LifeStraw water filter, Ricoh GR digital and the Ultimate Direction FastPack 20, borrowed like my sleeping bag and blow up bed, or kindly donated by BackPackingLight (which included the Vaude Lizard GUL tent, a thermatex blanket, a Syphon alcohol stove and a Ti Pocket Stove). I’m all for minimal amounts of writing, so I’ll stick be as to the point as I can with each review. I did test the equipment before I set off on numerous occasions, and it paid off since I didn’t have any equipment problems. The only thing I did end up having to do was buy a new water proof. The Inov-8 Ultra shell began to fall apart after 29 days and was no loner waterproof, so to get me through the rest of bonnie (wet) old Scotland I purchased a Montane shell. Packing of the kit became an art! Sleeping bag, blow up bed, waterproofs and warm layer would all end up being layers along the back end of the pack and then the extra bits and bobs (spare batteries for camera, cables and chargers etc) would end up in front of these. It gave a pack a nice supported back and kept the profile as slim as possible. The mesh section of the pack got a hammering, with anything from food to my hat would just get shoved in there. The tent was small enough to sit happily in the side mesh pocket, with the poles along side it. The bungee cord that seemed to be pointless when I got the bag did a good job of keeping the tent poles in place while I bounced along day after day. The opposite side to the tent held a 500-750ml bottle of water, with another 500 ml bottle in the bottle pouch on the left strap. The UD fastpack 20 was the perfect pack, although it would be awesome if it was fully waterproof.
Right! Time to review…
Vaude Lizard GUL Tent
I love this tent so much that I am going to do a full on review of it. It kept me warm and dry for so many days that I feel I need to do it justice, but in the mean time, here’s a fairly concise review.
This thing is incredible. The total weight of the pole, pegs and both layers is 706g and I could pack it small enough to fit it in the side stretch pouches of the UD Fastback 20.
Now, it’s not the cheapest of tents, but it’s versatilely, ability to pitch it in the most ridiculously small spaces and sheltering from the strongest winds and from serious rain make it well worth it. And did I mention it’s a 3 season tent that only weighs 700g?Thermatex blanket
Three out of the 38 nights were cold enough for me to really have to use this miracle of clever thinking. It does exactly what its supposed to and keeps you warm when you need it. It’s a fairly low tech piece of kit since its a blanket with one green and one silver side. The science is as follows:
Silver is a poor emitter of heat, so you have the silver side facing out and are amazed at the warm that is absorbed by the green internals and then emitted back at you. Kind of like a Polar bears skin and fur combo.
The only thing I would say as a negative, is that the silver coating rubbed off fairly easily, which is combatted by folding the blanket with the silver side inwards. Now this small problem is supposed to have been sorted on the new versions, so you needn’t worry about the silver completely rubbing off. The other thing I liked about the blanket was that I could trim it down to size and then sew it into a neat little sleeping bag. The other nice thing is that it performed better than a silk sleeping bag liner (I did a quick comparison whilst out on LeJog)
The blanket is huge enough to wrap round the average person one and a half times and weighs 210g. If you need to have a warmth backup then this is going to be the thing to get.
Syphon Alcohol Stove and Pocket Stove Combo
I have no idea why I ever used a gas burner! This 1.5″ high and 2″ wide cylinder weighs in at less than 20g and is efficient enough to boil around 500ml of water in less than 5 minutes!! Admittedly, you need to couple it with the Pocket Stove, but that means you have a full cooking solution that is under 200g including 100g of alcohol. I didn’t use it every night or every morning, but it was great to have. My whole cooking setup was no bigger than my MSR titanium Kettle (everything fit neatly inside the kettle). If you fancy being lazy, you can use the stove with a trivet. Things take longer to heat up, but when your wild camping and travelling on the road, I’m to sure that having super fast cooking times is that essential.
The LifeStraw water filter
Not much to say about this thing. It’s around 30g, it filters the nastiest looking water and stops you getting those nasty stomach bugs and its blue. This thing saved me the hassle of carrying litres of water and meant that I could drink water anywhere I saw water. I even tested it out before LeJog in a pool of standing water that was teaming with aquatic life. It was so teaming that I was expecting to have to cut a run short after drinking the water through the straw. Needless to say, I was fine. The other great thing is that the company uses profits to supply the LifeStraws to places that need them. So, not only do you reduce your pack weight and have pretty much limitless drinkable water, you also get that hazy warmth knowing that you are buying an ethically minded product.
Yeti sleeping bag
I had never heard of Yeti before I was loaned the sleeping bag. Now, I think I might have to buy me one! The sleeping bag kept me warm on almost all the nights, until the temperature dropped to around 5 degrees. Then I had the Thermatex as a back up.
It’s a down filled sleeping bag that packs down to about the size of a can of beer. I shouldn’t believe how small it packed and it weighs in at 400g with the stuff sac (which is actually more than big enough for the sleeping bag). The only thing was the lack of a hood, but it is an older model. The newer version has a hood built in and is around 50g lighter.
I slept each night on a small, inflatable bed. It was around 350g in weight, inflated quickly and did what it was supposed to as a bed, holding the air for a whole night without the usual deflated feeling in the morning. The only thing I would say about blow up beds is this… Get enough air into it so that it stays level. The majority of our mass is near our hips, so I found in the mornings I would have slightly aching hip flexors, or an aching lower back if I didn’t get enough air into the bed the night before. The reason was the folding effect your body will have as you lie flat. It was easy enough to fix, but it took me a few days to work out I needed to really get some air into the bed, before going to sleep on it.
Really, I think the equipment I ended up with is likely to be my standard fastpacking kit, since it is all light and functional. The only thing I will have to invest in, is a sleeping bag and a replacement foam mat. I’m more than comfortable on a foam mat, since the comfort part comes from the choice of pitch site, as apposed to the material you sleep on. There seem to be some super light and super cheap sleeping bags available on-line, so will wait till payday and treat myself. It would be great to be able to get out in the winter months and get some multi-day mini adventures done.