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.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Update on Colin Fletcher

I've received the book The Thousand Mile Summer. Amazingly fast service from a secondhand bookseller in the USA - just £11.00 including carriage. I've started reading it and it's very well written and should be good. However, Mr Fletcher was no ultra-light hiker. His pack weight, not including water, was 55lb 1oz, including fishing equipment. His sleeping bag weighed 5lb 10oz.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Colin Fletcher

Back in the work harness after a two week break (broken in the middle by one day at work which really wasn't fair but, unfortunately, unavoidable). Awaiting me at home was the double treat of Trail and TGO. TGO carried the sad news of the death of Colin Fletcher last month, aged 85. He was a Welshman who had lived in California for many years. He was a writer and an amazing hiker in his earlier years. His books included The Complete Hiker (three different editions), The Man Who Walked Through Time (an account of a walk through the Grand Canyon – I have this book and will read it again) and A Thousand Mile Summer, a book he wrote in the late fifties being an account of a hike in the High Sierra. It is said that he took the time away in order to decide whether to marry a particular girl. They were married on his return but apparently the marriage didn't last long. On Amazon, this book commands a ridiculous price but I've ordered a second-hand copy on Amazon.com which is much cheaper even including p&p. Trail didn't mention Fletcher at all which, I think, shows up one of the differences between the two magazines, something which I intend to reflect on in a future posting.