Friday, 22 October 2010

Lakes trip:gear review and brief trip report

Having only pitched it once in the garden, it was easy enough to pitch it in the dark after a few pints. Me and Martyn sat in it and had a beer, there was plenty of room, but there were a bunch of bugs battering around which were a little annoying. We could probably have both squeezed into the serenity net tent, but I had my bivvy. Once I was in the bivvy I had no problem as there’s a net on it. The real surprise was how tight I could get the Trailstar. Tapping the fly produced the sound that the phrase ‘as tight as a drum’ would suggest. I did find that the gaps at the bottom of the tarp allowed a fair bit of wind through- I need to experiment with getting it lower. I would also like to find a pitch which allows for more of a view out of the door when the wind drops. A real success though.

Caldera cone
Worked excellently, same as my old one but a lot more convenient to carry. It is a bit more of a pain to set up because of threading the pegs through. My beer can pot lid was a significant upgrade from a plain piece of foil.

New Balance shoes
I loved these. My only real concern with the actual shoe is that there isn’t a lot of toe bump protection, but that isn’t a problem as long as you don’t kick anything which I didn’t! Wet sock wise, I didn’t ever actually use my Gore-tex socks. If the weather had been worse, I probably would have, but the worst I got was a bit of dampness from boggy ground. They dried very quickly and I was able to wear my socks to bed. They’re fantastically light- I felt like running quite a bit of the time and did a bit of downhill running for kicks. I did need to look where I stepped more than a goretex boot would require of me but this didn’t bother me. They stuck wherever I needed them to- rocks, scree and grass. I didn’t have any problem with stones in my shoes and didn’t wear my Mountain Laurel gaiters. I may well still wear my Hedgehogs for Winter.

Zpacks zero pack
I spent quite a bit of time with the waist belt undone, my pack was really comfortable with the weight I was carrying. The back length is too short for me. I’ve been in discussion with Joe from Zpacks and apparently 18” is the longest you can get with the Zero, which is my actual back measurement- this pack is just the standard Zero length. If you want, Joe can add extra length to the top of the pack to allow a longer back length (At the expense of extra volume and weight). A lot of daysacks have very short backs, the assumption being that you don’t need the support aspect of the belt. I was stretching the capacity of the sack at first. After the first night I removed a bunch of stuff and took a summer kit list with me- no waterproofs or windproof trousers, no pack liner, no microfleece, no gloves, no down trousers. Even though the capacity was tight with the full load on the first day, I would still use this sack into the autumn- it’s a really nice carry. I was very careful how I set it down on rough rocks but otherwise treated it the same as any other pack. A Zero will be my standard weekender pack from now on.

How did my gear list work out?
For this weekend, it was perfect. I stretched the capacity of my gear to keep me warm ever so slightly on the second night- hanging around in the evening: I was cold and would have used my down trousers but instead got into my bivvy and sleeping bag and was toasty. In the night I got a little chilly and would have ideally had a little section of mat for my legs, but overall slept really well. On the Sunday morning my hands were cold and I would have liked some gloves, but it wasn’t desperate. I hiked in my baselayer and windshirt. I prefer to hike myself warm rather than have to remove clothes once I’ve got into the rhythm of walking. We ran into a few people who were camping out, typically carrying 70-80l packs and still strapping stuff to the outside. I’m not an ultralight evangelist but I was certainly glad I wasn’t carrying their packs. (Okay, so I felt a little smug)

The trip:
We managed to arrive at the Wasdale Head Inn just in time for last orders. The staff seemed fairly keen for us to leave so we didn’t hang around. After a quick wander we pitched the tent in a field with a river running through it. We sat in the Trailstar and chatted and had another beer.
In the morning I felt a little hungover. It was a beautiful morning though and I hung around for a while making coffee and looking at the views. There was a fair bit of wind and I lost my meths measuring cup and my new Caldera cone to the river. We managed to set out at about 9am and wandered up to Piers Gill. It’s certainly a great route and not to difficult. After a short while, we reached the summit of Scafell Pike. It was at this point that it occurred to me that I had never been to the Lakes in decent weather. There were hordes of people and I realised when I thought the area had been busy before, it was nothing compared to actual numbers. There were fantastic views from the top and people doing all kinds of interesting things like throwing their walking poles to their friends 50m down the mountain in a high wind. We ate some lunch in a shelter (Homemade ‘sun’ dried tomatoes plus cheese and crackers, very nice) and vacated the area as soon as possible.

It was only 2.30 when we reached Sprinkling Tarn. Martyn mentioned he’s always wanted to camp on the promontory and we wandered over to have a look. It was an ideal camp spot so we pitched and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking, chatting and dozing in the sun.

It’s very rare that I get the weather to do this as all my trips seem to happen in the Winter. It was certainly a busy spot- there were at least 4 other tents dotted about but everyone kept themselves to themselves. We were settled down by 7.30 and were up and walking by 7am.
All in all, a pretty relaxing trip in what was essentially summer weather and a nice opportunity to test the gear that’s been lying idle in my cupboard. Next trip I do want to go somewhere a little wilder though.


Nielsen Brown said...

Yes it is possible to get the Trailstar very tight. Pitching it higher will give you a better view, also if you peg down four corners and then use the fifth corner for your pole set at about 130 cm, you can get a nice verandah providing good views. Be aware though if the wind gets up it will flap a bit in this configuration, but then you can change to a more conventional pitch with the 5 points of the star pegged to the ground (speaking from experience : )

Joe Newton said...

That first picture of the silhouetted backpacker is just brilliant.

minimalgear said...

cheers Joe, a case of right time, rtight place more than my skills as a photographer!
I have pitched the star with the four corners down and one up, but I think I need a longer legth on the doorway guys and a higher pole- cheers for the advice nielsen!

The Dude Abides said...

Good to see you out and once again the trailstar is tempting me! Looking for a slightly lighter tarp though.

Know what you mean about how busy certain parts of the lakes can be which is why I'm looking forward to the winter again! Mountain solitude.....

minimalgear said...

the trailstar does feel more tentlike-i bought it more for the winter though so that I can have less fear of the wind, which has been the bane of my life. Even with all the raingear and food, my pack was around 4.5 kg-a bit over 3-5 kg of gear i guess, so combined with other light gear it can still end up pretty light. it does lack the views of a tarp type tarp though.

The Dude Abides said...

It looks cavernous and I'm wondering if you'd get two in there with gear comfortably?

On another note, the lining in my inov-8s have finally given up the ghost in both feet now and I'm giving serious consideration to the unlined shoe and Goretex sock idea. How did that work out for you - did you wear the gore socks all the time - I imagine they give you very sweaty feet?

minimalgear said...

The trailstar would get two in easy, three reasonably easy and four at a push I think.
I didn't actually wear my goretex socks at all on this trip- I got slightly damp feet from bogs but they dried out easily.I had to be a bit tippy toed in wet areas. Eddie Meechan did his usual meticulous study of goretex socks and found they breathed better than shoes- a thinner membrane I think. It can get a little tight in the shoe though with two pairs of socks on. I'll be using the socks for definite in future as the shoes are so much lighter. It's worth a shot I reckon.

John Davis said...

The Trailstar is not a tarp for sheep-cropped lawns, as I found out the hard way. You need some vegetation or snow to obstruct the gaps below the rear panels, otherwise any breeze at all will set up a pressure difference between the windward and lee sides of the tarp. A draught will then enter, usually through the doorway. It may be a slow-moving air flow, but most of us see the Trailstar as a winter tarp, so the draught will be unpleasant. It also makes candle use problematic. I need to experiment more to find out how to get the best from the Trailstar, but at the moment I'm not too thrilled with mine.

minimalgear said...

I'm fine when I'm in my bivvy and I don't use candles. It's interesting that you've found the draught problem too though. I mailnly got it because I hate worrying when there's high winds- in a trade off between draught and strength I think I'd go for the strength. It would be interesting to sort out some kind of solid inner. I was wondering is the laser competition inner might go. I'm going to see what options there are for reducing the gap. Maybe some kind of cuben skirt?!

John said...

My view of the Trailstar may change with time. I just need to get used to it.

It was very good in the only big wind it has seen so far. The panels deform smoothly, letting gusts slip round the side.

Maz said...

The Trailstar seems hugely popular at the moment and palatial inside. I'll be looking at tarps and bivvy's for 2011 but I am not sure the Trailstar is the one for me - bit too heavy as I don't really need that much space. Great review and nice trip write up. Thanks.