Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Back to the beginning

I need to get back to where this blog started and talk a bit about lightweight kit. My first tent for many a year was in 1990 when my wife bought me a Khyam Epic 1 (for a milestone birthday). At that time, I wanted to get back into camping but wasn't then into multi-day hiking. My memory about what my thoughts were then is a bit hazy but it was really a tent for car camping. It was really very good, though, and its selling point as with other Khyams at the time was that it could be put up in twenty seconds. Although that's an exaggeration, it was very ingenious. The poles were jointed and attached to the inner. On taking it out of the bag, it need a shake about and then the joints would be snapped into place and the inner (with integral base) would be pegged down. Then the flysheet would be thrown over it and that pegged down as well. I've only used it once in the last couple of years and the base is beginning to become porous but, with a plastic sheet underneath, I think it will last a while yet.

However, some years ago when I first came across Ray Jardine's book, Beyond Backpacking, and was wanting to do some long distance hiking, I came to realise that my Epic wasn't the right tent for the job - too heavy and not at all the right pack-down size and shape for carrying in a back pack.

Jardine says that to become really lightweight, the three heaviest pack items should be looked at - the pack itself, the shelter and the sleeping bag.

Jardine advocates using a tarp and I ordered his Golite Cave 1 which I've used many times and it's really quite brilliant. With pegs, it weighs 18oz; if I were to invest in titanium pegs, this would cut the weight down. It's also the packed down size of it - about the size of a grapefruit. To start with, I'd rely on picking up sticks towards the end of each day to use as supports at both ends but, as I wasn't always successful in finding any, I eventually invested in a couple of Leki walking poles. I've used these for their intended purpose now and then but primarily they're for keeping the tarp up. It can also be supported by trees if there are any close enough to each other or at one end only to a tree, hedge, fence or gate and a walking pole at the other end.

Apart from weight and size, as it's open at both ends, it's really good to be able to see what's going on outside and to wake up in the morning to an incredible view without having to get out of a sleeping bag and undo a zip is a real pleasure.

It has to be said that the wind can pass through it but if possible it should be erected side on to the wind (unless there's going to be an unmissable view next morning)! The sides can be pegged right down to the ground to keep wind out as well although, weather permitting, it's nice to have the sides elevated from the ground. This also gives more height to the interior.

The tarp appears quite flimsy and can be a sod to put up in the wind and can be a bit noisy in the wind when pitched. Sometimes, if the weather is bad, it can look a peculiar shape if I've put it up in a hurry and it's worth then adjusting it so it's stable and not going to collapse in the night (which has happened occasionally). Usually, though, I get it right and one of my best efforts was in the Lakes this year on a superb pitch above Grasmere. It was a shame to take it down next morning.

So, what are the drawbacks of a tarp? I've heard of problems with condensation but I've only experienced this once. In fact, it's possibly better than a tent in this respect as condensation tends to disappear outside easier than with a tent, which is more enclosed. The guy tapes look extremely thin but are surprisingly strong. I think the key is to make sure that the ridge cord is as tightly stretched as possible by the supporting poles at either end and, as long as the guys from the poles to the ground are also very tight, then it will hold up. This tarp will sleep two with gear inside if necessary but for one the space inside is very good with room to sit up if pitched high enough.

I'm definitely a convert but I'm always looking for ways to lighten my load even more and there are tarps which are lighter in weight - one day, maybe.

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