Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Lakes SUL trip - a few thoughts.

Well what can I say about this trip, the main thing was that Seth, Tom and I had a cracking time despite the football. The weather was fantastic, mid 20's, not a drop of rain, quite a few midges, but you don't want to hear all that guff - let's talk kit!

First off I didn't manage SUL status and I don't care (I bloody well do care!).  This was down to a couple of things. The first was that my DIY pack that I was intending to take failed as I was getting it out of the car. I'm happy to report it was the only bit I hadn't made. It was the chest strap assembly from the Alpkit pack that fell to bits. The trusty golite jam was bought into service adding 350g or so. Secondly I've been using an inflatable pillow from the pound shop, this has now died but it made a huge difference to how I slept. I couldn't find another one so I got hold of ajunguk (spelling?) air pillow. I've not weighed it yet but what a revelation! Best nights sleep ever. So with this luxury and the change in pack I settled for being a UL backpacker for the weekend with a base weight of just under 3kg.

I didn't use the waterproofs but they always have to be taken. I wore a very lightweight Rohan long sleeved merino top and a windshirt on occasion, Ron Hill trackster copies, two pairs of socks - a thin synthetic Bridgedale liner sock and some thick Rofan merino ones and inov8 roclite boots.

I loosely packed the PHD Piqolo bag in the Rab Survival Zone Bivi along with the pillow. The home made torso pad slotted down the back of the pack. Stove, pot, cozy combination and waterproof in the main part of the pack. The tarp and groundsheet were contained in a small sandwich bag in the front pocket along with the bits and bobs bag.  This contained a petzl e+lite, sun tan cream, Bronners soap, tooth brush and a small first aid kit.

The filter came into its own.  I've never seen the lakes so dry.  Most of the minor streams on the side of the fells were completely dry.  The rivers in the valleys were down to standing puddles in places with a trickle or two between them.  A lot of the water was taken from tarns and the lakes themselves.  Stuff I wouldn't touch without a filter.

The tarp is just so small it's difficult to comprehend its tiny packsize.  It did a great job of keeping the slight breeze off, although it was never tested in adverse weather I have no doubt it will hold up well.

So what's the point of trying to go SUL?  When I was first into backpacking I'd never considered light weight gear.  When I was younger it was all 80l backpacks, full trangia cookesets and a change of clothing for every day on the trail.  I can safely say with every lightweight bit of kit, or technique I've tried I've always been dubious of its merits.  I thought the same of trying to go SUL but what a difference it made.  The weekend was short on milage but high on ascent and the 3kg (plus food and water) pack was a revelation.  I usually have between 5kg-7kg as a baseweight.  I couldn't see the point of loosing an extra few kg - now I can.  It may seem a pretty obvious conclusion but it makes all the difference.  On the last day when most of the food was gone it was amazing.  I don't think I'm ever going to be a SUL hiker - not in this country.  This trip was sunny, warm and dry - not a usual occurance for a four day trip in the British Isles.  I'll try and stick to UL (less than 10lb, 4.5kg) I will in future be more ruthless with the kit I leave behind.  I missed nothing and gained everything.

Tom and Seth, whom I'm trying to convince to do the TGO next year were finally converted too.  They left their packs behind on the last day (to pick up in the car later) as they were suffering slightly with weight they were carrying, mainly due to massive amounts of food rather than the kit.  Seth had a home made nylon tarp (one of mine) which weights less than 300g and Tom was using the Hex3 as you can see from our lakeside camp below.

They've 10 months to lighten the load - no doubt I'll pester them to use kit I've made to test it in the field.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Lakes SUL kit list

Right, non kit geeks look away now!

With half a mind to Darren’s competition and half a mind on the upcoming Lakes SUL trip I was fiddling with kit last night trying to get the base weight down to 2.3kg. The photo below shows the first packing in its entirety and this came in at 2.33kg. I’ll outline the main items and then explain why I wont be using some of them. Apologies as I’ve not got the list of weights of each individual item to hand, the below are guesstimates.


Team IO cuben micro tarp with guy 55g. This is roughly a 5’x4’ tarp and designed to be used with a waterproof bivi. These aren’t listed on his site at the moment.

Rab Survival Zone Bivi

Small section of polycro ground sheet to put sack (pillow) on under micro tarp. I cant see the point of a ground sheet under a bivi that’s exposed to the elements. If it rains it’ll pool water.


Home made torso sized foam pad. 86g This is made from a five season multimat pad, I think it’s 12mm deep so there’s a bit of padding as well as insulation. It’s a bodge design that’s simple and works and I’ll do a separate making moment on it soon.

PHD Piqolo bag – 485g (I think) good down to 10c, it can be pushed much further with clothes on.

Silk Liner – to take or not to take. I like to keep my bags clean and it does add warmth!?


Sea to summit micro pack thingy as mentioned in Darren’s competition around 60g. This will work for the overnighter planned but I need something larger to fit food (beer) in.


Alpkit MyTiMug – about 130g with lid. There’s lighter pots out there but I don’t own one and this has given five years of solid service and is as good as new.

Sea to Summit – short handled anodized aluminium spoon 5g – apparently the lightest full sized metal utensil there is (lets place bets on how quickly I’m proved wrong on this one).

Colin Ibbotson DIY esbit stove 13g. Brilliant piece of kit cost less than 50p to make, most stable and wind resistant stove (when there’s a pot on it!) stove I’ve ever used and esbit, despite my initial prejudices, esbit is a light and versatile fuel, much better than meths in my opinion. I took the stove pictured on the TGO and as Colin says it does get battered but a couple of minutes with a rolling pin and it’s as good as new. Make one today!

Pot Cosy, again another Colin inspired make. Although mines taped up rather than glued, for no reason other than I had tape and not glue. Again brilliantly simple, keeps food hotter than the silver bubble wrap, tough as old boots and good for keeping a dirty pot covered up whilst in your pack.

500ml water bottle and cut down platy with a travel tap filter attached. Usually when I’m in the lakes I don’t bother to filter water but as the North West is facing a drought and I understand that it’s pretty dry at the moment there may not be the usual choice of water sources so I’m erring on the side of caution.

Water Proofs

Go-lite virga jacket. Not the most breathable of tops, but it works.

Trekmates waterproof wind trousers

The only other trousers I’ve got are Berghaus Storm (main picture at top of post) these are heavy and great in full on sustained rainy conditions. I’ve been after some go-lite reeds but unless you want XL there’s none left on the entire planet. I got these for £20 they can be picked up all over the internet and a lot of TKMaxx’s as well. They’ll keep the water out, but will they breath at all? I can’t find any real reviews so when I’ve worn them in the rain I’ll do a brief write up and let you know how they work.

There’s various other bits and bobs which I won’t list here I may do a small video of all the bits when I get back.

All the stuff pictured packs down in the sea to summit pack as you can see with a compass for scale.

This comes in at 2.33kg. But it’s not a set up for a four day trip. I’m going to use my home made pack at 285g (ish) a lot heavier than the sea to summit, but it’ll swallow this lot. I can ditch the dry bag for the sleeping bag and store the sleeping bag loose in the bivi. I’ll swap the over-trousers and perhaps ditch the silk liner. I also want to take my adapted down jacket, another making moment to write up. I reckon I’m going to struggle to make the 2.3kg cut off but I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Superultralight (SUL) in the lakes...

I’ve never done an extended Superultralight (SUL) trip before. For a number of reasons, mainly the fickle British weather, not having the right kit and not having the nerve to go that light. I’m not sure if there’s a consensus on what constitutes SUL, the majority of definitions I’ve seen on the internet state it’s a base weight of no more than 5lbs (around 2.3kg), this excludes food, water and fuel (some people count fuel).

Anyway I’m off to the lakes for four day, three night bimble with a couple of friends. This will be in the north west lakes starting at Buttermere then heading off in a South Westerly direction across Haystacks and then north and around a bit. In fact we tend to meet up have a couple of pints, have a look at the map make something up and then change everything as the mood takes us. It’s a social walking long weekend not a weekend to be doing the miles. Walking, scrambling, camping and drinking.

The weather looks good, very good. I’ll be with a couple of friends not going SUL so if things do go tits up I’ll be able to bail into a tent and they can carry the beer in their packs!

I’ve yet to do the packing so I’m not sure if I can get down to this weight with the kit I’ve got but I’ll try and do a post or video before I leave with all the kit I’m taking and see how close I can get to SUL.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Competition Moment

Have a look here

I actually ordered one of these sacks a couple of days ago just before I found out about this competition.  I really like the look of the sack and I think that Darren’s idea is a really good one.

I have a 25l OMM sack that I use in the summer, this has loads of pockets and you can strap a bed roll under the lid.  Doing a full overnighter with a 20l pack with no pockets is going to take some thinking about.

Also there’s the added bonus of winning shiny shiny kit.

Monday, 14 June 2010

First Attempt at Video Blogging

Here's a clip I took whilst out on my improptu wild camp on the North York Moors over the weekend.  I know everyone thinks their own voice sounds bizarre when they hear it back but I can assure listeners that I don't have the lisp that seems to have appeared on the clip?

Anway enjoy!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Old Making Moment - 50l Backpack

I've just got some new fabric. Initially I was buying some fabric for a cat cut tarp that I wanted to make but it turned out that it was out of stock. After a brief conversation with the nice people at Fabrics and Stuff they suggested this -

It's not listed as being waterproof. I've done the glass test and there's no seepage. How it would hold up in lashing 40mph rain I couldn't tell you. Apparently some hot air balloons are made from this. The thread is coated and then woven and the finished cloth is coated again. It's not super light but it's really really tough stuff. Hardly any give in any direction and I reckon it'll make good tarp material.

I also reckon it's perfect for backpacks. Just the right combination of toughness and weight. In a fit of madness I ordered the bright yellow I could have got black but that's just boring.

I made the backpack above about a year ago after I just started sewing. The workmanship is not great and the material is really light sil-nylon.  Too light as you can see from the seams. I used the straps off an old Alpkit Gordon they weight 100g alone and the whole pack comes in at 273g which is good for a pack of this size. I've used it for about 50 miles. With the kit, food and water I was probably carrying 7-8kg. The stich holes haven't gotten any worse and its a comfortable pack, I based it on the Go-lite Jam. I don't trust the fabric though so it doesn't get used all that often.

It was good project to do. I learnt a lot about different seams, fabrics and how packs are put together. Hopefully soon mk2 will materialize from the sewing machine.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Making Moment - Bivi Bag

This is the bivi bag I used last night on the moors. I really like this project. It ticks all the right DIY boxes. Simple, cheap, effective and is nearly equivalent in weight to the lightest commercially available bivis.

When I first started using a tarp and bivi I got a Rab survival zone. At around 400g this was one of the lightest bivis available in this country. I think it's a great piece of kit and it still gets regular use. I'm not sure if it's classed as being waterproof but I believe it is and it's very breathable. I've only had a slightly damp sleeping bag on one occasion and it was more my fault for having my feet stuck outside the tent in the cold. It's a pretty weighty bivi for tarp use though when all you need is drip and spray protection so I made this one.

It's made from a material called Nysil, which is the equival to Pertex 4. One side is slightly shiny, I'm not sure if it's coated or callandered in some way but it's very lightweight. The whole bivi on weighs 185g and squashed down to the size of a grapefruit.  It's the same dimensions as the survival zone and is.made from three pieces of material, a top, bottom and a strip for the draw cord around the opening. It can be made from 3m of material and probably cost less than £15 to make.

It works really well and is superbly breathable. It's water resistant rather than water proof which is great for a tarp. I'd recommend this as a first sewing project.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Venus over Teesside

The little star in this picture (apologies for the quality) is Venus. This is better than football!

Impromptu Moors Camp

Having watched the first half of the France v Uruguay match and finding myself on the floor in a near coma I decided I must get out and get out now. Tomorrow night there's some sporting event on and I've friends coming round. The sun came out so the bag was quickly packed and I was off to the Moors.

It seems ages since I've used a flat tarp, this one is a solo tarp. It was my first one and is showing signs of wear now, but we've been through a lot together and I still really like it.

It took a while to get a semi decent pitch in a little hollow in some cliffs overlooking the twinkling lights of industrial teesside. It's pretty blowy tonight hence the flying v pitch on tussocky grass. It's also a night for a few beers and the radio. It may not be exotic but it's ace to be in the hills within 30 minutes if the urge takes you.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Woodland Wild Camp

I've started taking my boys wild camping. The trick, I reckon, with kids is to keep them interested. Luckily messing about in streams, fishing and camp fires keeps me interested too. Again luckily living where I do there's plenty places to do all that kind of stuff. Saturday was hot here, very hot. We set off to the North York Moors at 6pm. Stopping on the way to forage for chips and scraps bushcraft style. Then we headed for a local fishing spot and our luck was in. There were loads of tiny trout just wanting to be caught and catch them we did. All catch and release.

We stayed until the midges drove us away and headed up the hill into the woods to set up camp before it got dark. There's a lovely spot in the middle of the woods with an old ruined stone hut with the fireplace in. It's just the right size to stretch the big yellow tarp over leaving enough gap to let the smoke out.

We found two fallen silver birch, they must have been down over two years as they were bone dry giving a lovely hot smokeless fire.

We got the fire going and unpacked and then I realised I hadn't bought my sleeping mat. I would say sleeping on about a foot deep pile of dry leaves is as comfortable as a neo air but there are considerably more creepy crawlies.

A good nights sleep was had by all until about 5.30am when the midges attacked. We got the fire started and chucked some damp leaves on for a bit of smoke and had a midge free hour and then a couple more hours fishing until it started chucking it down.

The boys really enjoyed it and so did I. I'm in the process of getting some kit together for them so we can expand our trips to the lakes and walk a little further. I'll do a post about the kit I'm putting together when it's put together.

Saturday, 5 June 2010


Having sewn the main panels of the Starlet together and laying them out on the floor it quickly became apparent that something was wrong. I wasn't expecting that tarp to lay flat on the ground. This would mean it wouldn't pitch properly. After doing the marble trick and sticking some temporary guy lines on it turned out that I was right. Whatever length the guys there's far too much excess material.

Now there's a number of reasons for this. I think the seams may have a cantenary curve in them. I've done straight seams. The material may not stretch as much as sil nylon and the stretch is important in this design. The reduction in size may have something to do with it. Anyway it doesn't work so I'm going to take it to bits and put curved seams in and see what happens.

If anyone has any tips I'd be glad to hear them.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Making moment - The Starlet

What in hell is that a picture of? I'll tell you it's the start of the fabric cutting for my new making moment, the starlet. Basically its my own version of the MLD trail star but slightly different in  that its about 12% smaller than the one you can buy.

Having briefly been inside Mr Horner's trail star on the TGO I was immediately impressed with the amount of space and the stability and I wanted one! A good thing about any longish backpacking trip is that you have a lot of time to think. I thought, as a solo backpacker do you really need that much space? Probably not so why not make a smaller one and therefore lighter one. It can't be too small as you still need the "length". I've reduced the diameter to around 3m from about 3.4.m, I've now cut the five main panels and these come to 383g. Well on target for the 450g estimated weight.

The cutting is my least favourite bit, mainly as I have to shift the furniture in the front room to get enough space. Also its the stage when you can really balls things up. Happily its all gone without incident. Tomorrow there's the reinforcement tie out panels to cut, gear hanging loops to consider and some sort of fabric reinforcement for the centre - then the fun bit - sewing it all together.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Kids sleeping bags

My boys 7 and 9 have just started coming wild camping with me. The first time they came it got down to 2c. I was prepared with their crappy two season bags, fleece blankets and fleece.coats so they weren't cold. But that lot takes up a lot of room. I've been on the hunt for some decent three season bags for them for them for a while now and not having much luck.

I wanted a synthetic fill, with a hood and child size. An adults bag is wasted space and more weight and being as they will be carrying them they need to be as light as possible. There's loads of two season bags with comfort ratings around the 12c mark but nothing any warmer.

In Tesco tonight though I noticed the above 300g m2 synthetic insulation with a fleece lining with a comfort rating of 4c. I reckon with a bit of jiggery pokery on the old sewing machine these could turn into just what I was after. I'm going to replace the outer material with pertex to make it splash and spill proof and lighten them up a bit.

Oh and they were £8.50 each. You couldn't buy half the material for that price.

New fabric

Being a bit of a sewist, fabric is quite important, more so getting hold of some decent stuff without breaking the bank. Light weight sil-nylon is expensive and not immediately available. Over the last year I've been using a company called fabrics and stuff. Their descriptions can be pretty vauge but they buy in roll ends of all sorts of exotic stuff.

All the stuff I've had from them has been top quality. It's a bit of a lucky dip sometimes but they've always come up trumps. And it would seem that I have again with this

It's a fabric used to make paragliders. Having done a little research before buying, it seems that the company make a number of different grades, one of which is described as water resistant. This matched the rough weight estimate given on the fabrics and stuff website so I took the plunge.

After doing the glass full of water test for two hours I can report there was zero seepage through the materiel. It's funny stuff a cross between spinnaker and sil-nylon, more like sil-nylon though as its not stiff,  and just a little crackly. No real stretch along the warp or weft and slightly less stretch on the bias than 50g square metre sil-nylon. This is not scientifically verified you understand just me tugging at it.

I can feel a making moment coming on...