Sunday, 20 June 2010

Scafell Pike and Bowfell: The Gear Debrief

I have always been a fan of PTC would call the “What Gear Worked and What Gear Didn’t” evaluation and what others call “Lessons Learned”. I think most hillwalkers and hikers conduct this post-mortem analysis anyway, but I’ve always called mine my “Debrief” so I’ll continue to call it that.

The Gossamer Gear Gorilla performed superbly. It is supremely comfortable, a fact attributable to the wide shoulder straps, the excellent hip-belt and the curved aluminium stays which push the top of the pack towards your shoulder blades. It clung to my back, limpet-like, and the side pockets are very easy to access whilst on the move, which I find of assistance. I have added bungee cord all the way down on one side to ensure that, when scrambling, my camera cannot escape from the side pocket. Those side pockets have a 210 denier base meaning the mesh will not be damaged by rock-hopping. I’m a huge fan of the large mesh front pocket where I can stuff my hat, gloves and Lite Speed. I found that I had the Lite Speed on and off several times during each day’s hillwalking, constantly adjusting my temperature in the heat and the wind, which was easy because it was immediately accessible and because the Gorilla is so easy to shrug on and off. The Y-shaped roll-top lid strapping is also very effective. The 210 denier fabric is tough enough for pretty much anything and, as we rested atop Scafell Pike, the Gorilla sat amongst the rocky terrain in confidence. I prefer it to say, the Mariposa, as I am far more comfortable with the fabric.

The Montane Lite Speed is simply incredible. That something so diaphanous and ethereal can protect from so much and cost so little, in terms of weight, is something that has been stressed repeatedly on blogs, forums and magazines so I won’t repeat it except to add my voice to the plaudits and to say there will never be an occasion when it will not be in my pack. Suffice to say that I am convinced that in most dry conditions it will be sufficient with a base layer - long-sleeved or short depending on the temperature.

Western Mountaineering Summerlite weighs in at 596g with a stuff sack (although I may well get a lighter stuffsack which compresses the bag better) but its rating of 0C/32F is likely to be spot on. In a Smartwool top and merino leggings I was perfectly ok at 3C whilst we camped at Angle Tarn and I sleep quite cold. The fit is perfect for me, even wearing an insulating layer like the Patagonia Nano Puff pullover. It’s slightly snug, but that is exactly what I am looking for. There is no shoulder baffle, like the Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32, which I am not too perturbed about, but some might be. One thing I prefer about the Summerlite, quite apart from the obviously superb workmanship and build quality, is that the cord to pull the hood in is slightly heavier than on the Phantom so lies outside the hood when pulled and locked using a cord-lock, rather than flapping around on your face which the Phantom has a tendency to do. This is very, very good bag.

The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 was everything I expected it to be. There has been a lot of debate, particularly recently on the Nordic Lightpacking founder member forums, about tarps, the Duomid and dual-skin tents. Right now, the Fly Creek suits me perfectly but I cannot add anything to the review I did earlier as the conditions were perfect for camping. The ultralight nylon groundsheet material on the felt strong enough on the grassy floor - my only real concern about the tent hitherto. In terms of condensation, the only place there was any was on the interior of the fly where the porch is and that was minimal (you can see in the photo, I have opened the porch to expose the inner part of the fly to the sun which dried it off). I felt cosy and there was plenty of room for me in the Fly Creek but that’s a personal choice - it is a smallish shelter (far smaller than the Power Lizard from Vaude) but I can sit up in it, the porch swallows what kit I leave outside the inner and, when inside the tent, I can change, sort my kit out and sleep comfortably. I am very much an advocate of making sure you are comfortable in your shelter rather than finding the lightest possible shelter and at 970g, this for me is not far short of perfection.

The Montane Bionic Sportwool SS is just about as good a summer base layer as I could ask for - mixing synthetic and merino wool fibres, it does not smell after two days of 6hrs+ each day of hard work, it breathes excellently and dries virtually instantly. It’s great but expensive.

Evernew DX Titanium cook system and the MSR Titan Kettle both continue to perform as required. The former fits in the latter with matches, a kitchen foil windshield held together with a paper clip and some Hammaro tinder card all inside a Ziploc sandwich bag. I usually take 200ml of meths with us in a 330ml water bottle, also inside a Ziploc bag. At 40ml to boil 500ml water in 6-7 minutes, this means we can have a couple of mugs of hot chocolate, a Be-Well Expedition meal each and porridge in the morning before we depart and have a little meths spare, just in case. I love the fact that the DX system is a wood-burner as well, and I carry the tinder card as a back-up option. I also have some esbits on order.

I’ve been walking for the last 2 years in
Scarpa ZG-40 GTX boots. As a size 12, they were all that was available at the time and they were on special offer from Snow and Rock so I went for them. They continue to perform superbly for me and I will soon need to replace the vibram sole. I clean them after every trip and treat the upper with NikWax to re-invigorate the waterproofness. It works every time as my feet remain dry but breathe well. I am watching the debate on both the linked issues involving trail-running shoes - namely whether to use them at all on rocky terrain and whether you should look at getting your feet warm and dry after a wet hike rather than trying not to get wet at all. I will weigh in on that debate shortly and I certainly do not have a settled view yet, but I felt a couple of occasions where my ankle went over on unstable rocks this weekend and, in trail-running shoes like Innov-8 Terroc 330’s (which I have and love for travelling in), I am by no means confident that I wouldn’t have been in some difficulty. We’ll see how that debate pans out but it’s not a new one.

Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover is unfeasibly warm for such a lightweight top. It is nice to wear, packs small and acts as a windshield as well. It’s a great insulating layer and exactly what I needed for throwing on when I’ve stopped moving and need something warmer than the Lite Speed as its the air that is cold rather than the wind. Very happy with it.


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