Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Backpackers Peak District weekend

What a change from the same location the last time I was here. Then, there was much snow and I had to dig away six inches before I could pitch my tarp.  I can't resist uploading the photo of it again. It was so cold but I was able to prove that, in some conditions, a tarp can be a four season shelter.

This time the forecast for the weekend was wet and windy and so it proved to be. Actually, it was more windy than wet. The wind never dropped although I was in a tent this time - see the review below. We met at Wetton and spent the evening in the Royal Oak. There were probably around fifteen of us although a few others appeared the next day. A group of five of us walked over to Hartington to consume coffee and (for me) an egg and bacon bap at the tearooms, following which we visited the Cheese Shop where one of us (not me) bought some Sticky Toffee Cheddar. Having said that, I detoured back there before returning home to buy some. Let's just say that it's "interesting". The shop describes it as "a very sweet tasting cheddar mixed with dates, raisins and toffee, almost like fudge!"

From Hartington, we went via Brund to join the Manifold Trail up to Longnor where we stopped a while at the The Horseshoe before walking to our pitch for the night behind Ye Olde Butchers Arms at Reapsmoor. An excellent meal was had there in the evening. After a very windy night, we headed back to Wetton via Warslow and the Wetton Mill cafe.

Review - Wild Country Zephyros 1 backpacking tent

This tent is made by Terra Nova and is virtually identical in looks and design to the Terra Nova Laser Competition. I approached them asking if I might borrow a Zephyros 1 for review and they were happy to oblige. According to the Terra Nova web site, the Laser Competition weighs 930 grams; the Zephyros weighs 1,570 grams. The difference is in the materials. The Zephyros fly is made of Pu Polyester which is light but not as light as the Laser's silnylon. There is also a price difference. The Zephyros is £149 compared to the Laser which retails at £320.

The tent comes in a bag with a measured length of 52cm x 14cm. On unpacking it and thinking it might be rolled up to a shorter length, my immediate thought was that this might not be possible because of the two struts at either end of the fly (but see later).

The single shock-corded pole and pegs are in separate bags. There is also a pole sleeve, a short length of tube for carrying out temporary repairs to the pole. The brief instructions are on a flap stitched inside the tent bag. The inner comes ready attached to the fly with toggles.

Now my impressions on setting it up for the first time. It is actually very easy. The fly and inner are laid down flat. The instructions don't actually say so, but it makes sense to lay them down with the fly uppermost. The pole is then assembled and passed through the sleeve on the fly and the ends of the pole placed in the brass rings on either side. There are two rings on each side and I suppose it is optional which rings to use depending on how easy it is to insert the pole ends but I found the outer rings easier.

The tapes either end of the inner are then pegged down, followed by the guys at either end of the fly. The instructions then say to peg down the remaining loops attached to the inner and fly. I proceeded to do so but then found that I seemed to have insufficient pegs until I realised that at each point the inner and fly share a peg.

The side guys are then pegged out. I dismantled it and started again. This time around it was up in seconds. Very good indeed.

The floor attached to the inner is very thin. Wild Country will supply a footprint as an optional extra. I certainly think something is needed to protect the floor.

I could sit up in it quite comfortably, the highest point being in the middle under the hoop. However, I'm only 5ft 6in. Perhaps taller people are used to restricted headroom but it depends very much on the length of the individual's trunk.

The pegs are adequate but tended to have sharp edges which would be unpleasant particularly when being taken out of the ground on cold mornings. They are not very comfortable to use. They are V sectioned and I think would be effective in most conditions.

The tent was tested over a weekend in the Peak District in wet and very windy conditions. It performed very well and felt secure. There is ample room for one person. I found that I was able to store most of my gear inside with me quite comfortably with cooking equipment and boots in the porch. The porch size is quite adequate for cooking using extreme care although Wild Country do not recommend it. An inside pocket for spectacles, valuables, etc. would be a useful addition with no weight penalty.

On packing it away, I found that the two end struts were better stored in the pole bag. This meant that the tent packed to a smaller size. I have a gripe about the plastic boots on each end of the struts. They would benefit from being bonded to the struts. They tended to be left in the little pockets attached to the inner. At worst, they could easily be lost.

For - price, comparatively light weight, space, easy to put up.
Against - pegs.

All in all, a superb tent for anyone on a limited budget. I liked it very much.

Review - The Backpacker's Handbook (4th edition) by Chris Townsend

I was offered this book for review. I used the 3rd edition a lot but inevitably much of the content has become out of date. I had read it avidly and found it to contain much sound and practical advice and so was interested to read and compare this latest edition. One of the first things I did was to try and catch the author out and find something he hadn't covered. I chose hammock camping, prompted to do so by having received one as a Christmas present from my daughter. In fact, he covers them in half a page, both in this book and in the earlier edition with only a couple of sentences added in the present edition. However, he still hasn't tried hammock camping.

The new book comes with brand new information on hiking gear and techniques. It is full of sound practical knowledge, which comes from an experienced backpacker who will be well known to many through his other books and, in the UK, TGO magazine. It is crammed with a depth of information on anything related to hiking, backpacking and even winter hiking. Whilst it is called a "handbook", it is so much more than that; a whole library of knowledge distilled from the author's years of practical, first-hand experience. If you are looking for theory then look elsewhere. This is essentially a practical book.

Since the 3rd edition appeared, there have been great technological advances in GPS devices, personal locator beacons, smartphones, digital mapping and digital cameras while "lightweight" has evolved from something considered a bit odd to a mainstream philosophy.

The book is broken down into nine primary chapters:

Preparing for the Trail

The Load on Your Back

Footwear and Wilderness Travel

Carrying the Load: The Pack

Keeping Warm and Dry: Dressing for the Wilderness

Shelter: Camping in the Wilderness

The Wilderness Kitchen

Comfort and Safety in Camp

On the Move: Skills and Hazards

Each chapter combines detailed and essential knowledge with the author's personal experience. While much of the content is relevant to conditions in the UK, it is aimed also at the American market and worldwide. Each chapter contains many photographs, diagrams and drawings which help clarify and highlight both the techniques and the author's experiences. There is also a comprehensive set of appendices covering everything from a useful equipment checklist to an exhaustive reading list and internet resources.

For anyone with an earlier edition it's worth the investment to upgrade to the 4th edition for the new content covering technological changes whilst for anyone who hasn't previously purchased it your bookshelf simply isn't complete without it. Having said that, although it can be read from cover to cover, this isn't really the point of the book and nor is it a book to carry in a backpack (certainly not for the lightweight backpacker) as it weighs in at 765g. No, it is a book to read and refer to at home and it is excellent for that. It is well written, up to date, and covers every aspect of backpacking and hiking. Get this book...it's money well spent.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

We're in!!

From having been nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8 on the reserve list, at last we've been notified that we have been moved up to among the chosen 300. At last planning a route can proceed, knowing that it won't be a complete waste of time. More posts to follow.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Hammock camping

This is something I've never tried before but, having been given a DD Camping Hammock for Christmas, I'm keen to give it a try. I felt that a trial run was called for so this afternoon I took a walk to just outside town where I found a suitable place with some trees. The trees have to be between nine and eighteen feet apart but twelve is recommended. I found two that were just right and attached the hammock at each end as instructed. My first attempt sent my rear end straight to the ground as I clearly hadn't got the webbing tight enough. My second attempt was spot on.

It  held my weight quite nicely and was very comfortable. I could imagine spending a good night in it. It is in two layers. Here, I'm lying on both. However, along the length of one side is a zip to enable me to get in and then zip up. As long as I'm not unduly claustrophobic this will keep any midges at bay. As the material isn't waterproof, the idea is that I'll use the hammock in conjunction with my tarp. Here it is with the tarp set up over it, with the cords either end of the tarp attached to the trees above the hammock webbing.

One of the trees was at least six inches in diameter but the other was only about three inches. I found that when I got into the hammock the tarp slackened a bit, caused by my weight pulling the smaller tree inwards. It will be necessary to have both trees at least six inches thick.

This looks like an excellent piece of kit; not for every trip but probably for weekends where I expect there to be woodland to camp in. It weighs 650g and is carried in a stuffsack. I think I love it already.

I will generally need either a Thermarest or foam mat in the hammock underneath me for insulation in colder weather. All my gear will go on the ground underneath the hammock and tarp to keep dry. A likely modification I'll make is to insert small caribiners just inside of the ends of the tarp on each length of webbing to prevent wet being soaked up and making the hammock wet.