Sunday, 28 June 2009

LEJOG kit review

My first assumption was that my sole shelter along the route would be my tarp, a Golite Cave. I’ve had this for about eight years and I know it pretty well. I then wavered and thought maybe a robust solo tent would be better overall and this was my intention until shortly before I left. I then did a complete turnaround and took the tarp and didn’t regret it. It’s lighter in weight, takes up less space when packed and gives much more living space when pitched. I’ve never used it in, say, 50mph wind conditions but my LEJOG route didn’t take me to really exposed places. I expected wind and rain (and had them) but not extreme wind and rain. I experienced rain, wind and below zero conditions on the walk and there was never any problem. The tarp has put up with worse conditions than this. It is far more robust than it looks and I can cook under it.

The main drawback of the tarp, in its basic form, as far as I am concerned, is that it gives no protection against midges. However, I have the Golite Nest which attaches by hooks to the inside and outer edges of the tarp. I had this sent in a resupply parcel when I got near to Penrith. I used the Nest for many of my overnight camps in Scotland and I’m glad I had it with me. It cuts down on much of the living space under the tarp but it guarantees a peaceful night’s sleep.

Trekking poles
Pacerpoles (aluminium). These were really very good. Their specially shaped hand grips were comfortable and gave extra power to propel me up hills and were also helpful when crossing streams. They kept the tarp up as well. I tended not to use them when I was using the Golite Breeze pack (see below). I found that I prefer to have my hands free when using this pack.

I chopped and changed here. I started with a Kimmlite (now OMM) Mountain Mover 55 + 15. However, I felt that I was using this to its full capacity and the rather sparsely padded shoulder straps were a little uncomfortable. I switched to a larger, unbranded pack I’ve had for years. It carried everything well but, I came to realise, it’s made for someone with a longer back than mine and it tended to hang too low. On my quick visit home at the end of April, I bought an Osprey Ariel 65. This took the required load well and was generally reasonably comfortable. Once I got into Scotland and Amanda arrived with the camper, I was able to carry a lighter load and food supplies for maybe one or two days and nights and so used a Golite Breeze. It doesn’t have a hip belt but that isn’t so important with less being carried. It only weighs a few ounces and, when packed well, it is very comfortable and, I have to say, is still my favourite pack. On a future multi-day walk, if food can be picked up more often then this would be my pack of choice.

Sleeping bag
I used a Mountain Equipment Xero 350 throughout. I bought this as a bag for winter use but only rarely did I get too hot in it on this trip. It’s a superb bag. It’s down, lightweight and packs up small.

Bivy bag
Alpkit Hunka – it only cost £25 but it does the job in making sure my down bag doesn’t get wet from rain and is as breathable as I need it to be. I took it with me following the problems I had last year on my coast to coast walk but I could have done without it but it was sensible to have it.

Sleeping pad
Thermarest ¾ length self-inflating mattress. This is the thinner one but is more than adequate for me and ensures that I sleep comfortably. I carry a short length of closed cell foam to go under my legs and feet as well. This is also my sit mat under the tarp and provides good padding down the back of the Golite Breeze pack.

As the tarp has no base, I used on this trip a length of clear Polycryo, about eight feet long and 2.5 feet wide. With careful treatment and a few duct tape repairs, it lasted the required ten weeks. In case it was needed, I also had with me a space blanket which does the same job just as well. The advantage of both of these is that they only weigh a couple of ounces.

Mini-Trangia. I’ve had this for years. It’s very simple and there’s nothing to go wrong with it. To lighten its weight, I’ve replaced the burner with a Varga titanium stove which weighs just one ounce. It uses much less fuel (methylated spirits) and, in the event of me running out of meths, I can use fuel tablets with it.

My jacket is a Mountain Equipment Ogre, not cheap but reliable, comfortable and very breathable. My waterproof trousers were a disappointment. They were Rab Bergen and were sent home when I found that they let in rain. I’ve yet to decide what to do about them as they haven’t been used much but I can’t find the receipt. I used for most of the trip a pair of Gelert overtrousers which cost £11.99. They were very good and did the job but the taped seams started to fall part towards the end so I dumped them. I had a pair of Peter Storm overtrousers sent on from home which, after reproofing on the campsite at Peebles, were fine.

I started with a broken-in pair of Alt-Berg Fremingtons. These were good but I found that the little toe on my right foot was being pinched. These were stretched for me, which helped. In the meantime, from Whiddon Down to Broadway Tower, I wore a pair of Scarpa fabric boots I'd had for some time which were very comfortable but the heels started to come adrift. I had the Alt-Bergs brought to me (I wasn't far from home at this point). I then wore the heels of these right down by the time I was half way across Scotland so may have them resoled. A replacement pair, identical but in a wider width fitting, saw me through almost to the end. These are excellent boots, waterproof and comfortable.

For the last couple of days, carrying only a day pack, I wore trainers, an old pair of Merrell Exotechs. I could have worn trainers for just about all of the walking in Scotland.

Other bits of kit
Golite Wisp windproof top – indispensable. It weighs nothing, packs down to nothing and, over a fleece top, keeps wind out.

Mountain Equipment Polartec 100 fleece - a favourite.

Vaseline – I used a couple of Compeed blister patches but, if caught early, Vaseline is effective in preventing rubbing from developing into a painful blister. A £1.00 tin lasted me the trip.

Pocketmail – whilst I’ve used this on previous trips for blogging, this tended to exhaust my patience. It’s an old model and doesn’t work with a mobile phone. Therefore, I was dependent on finding public call boxes. This was generally no problem but not all were working, when they were, I couldn’t always get them to work with the Pocketmail – it was very hit and miss. In the remoter parts of Scotland there were no call boxes. In the end, I gave up and used the little Blackberry that I’d bought just before leaving. I thought I’d never get to grips with the minuscule keyboard but, with practice, I became quite proficient. The drawback with it was that it needed charging periodically whereas the Pocketmail uses AA batteries. I will definitely use the Blackberry for blogging again but for longer trips might consider using a separate phone for making calls and restrict the Blackberry’s use to posting to the blog to conserve its power. I can post photos to the blog with it, whereas the Pocketmail is capable of sending text only. The Pocketmail weighs nearly nine ounces compared with three for the Blackberry.

I used Exped waterproof bags to keep kit dry. With all kit kept in a waterproof pack liner, I didn’t use a waterproof pack cover and just let the pack get wet in the rain. It always dried out quickly.

My only light was a Petzl e+lite. My only knife was a small blade in a Swiss card; I used most of the other gadgets in this during the trip.

Some statistics
I camped 47 nights, of which three were in gardens, twelve were wild camps and the rest were on sites of one sort or another. None of the sites were really bad, some were better than others. I spent one night in a backpackers' hostel/bunkhouse (Fort Augustus), one night in a bothy (Loch Choire), one night in a pub (Aultguish Inn), one night in a Travelodge (Whiddon Down), thirteen nights in beds in houses plus one on the floor of a house (Eskdalemuir) and five in a campervan.

I can't say exactly how much the trip cost me. I know that those who I met also doing LEJOG who were using B&Bs would have spent around £3,000 in all, to include an evening meal with drink. As I used my own food most of the time for breakfast and evening meals, I think my cost was around £500.

I didn't wear out any pairs of socks. I used a few pairs of socks I've had for a few years and will continue to use them. I think I must be very light on socks.


  1. Interesting stuff - interesting to see a tarp works up here in Scotland too.

  2. Well done - I'm sure a few days back at work will loosen the muscles.
    I also got used to the Blackberry keyboard pretty quickly. The problem I had was in sending pictures when the signal was weak. So that's an issue in Scotland and the Lake District, etc, but not so much in the Alps. I find the battery charges quickly, and with a spare battery I get nearly a week out of the Blackberry between charging sessions, which can be in a camp site or a restaurant, etc. I wouldn't dream of taking a separate phone for 'calls'.

  3. Thanks man, your experience has helped answer a lot of questions i had which no other lejog walker has yet answered! Greatly appreciated. Pete