Thursday, 23 June 2011

The sh*tting trowel

Wild camping is made up of a series of activities that either make or break your enjoyment of the trip. One of my first trips was a cycling trip around the Ring of Kerry (No sniggering at the back!). That's where I was introduced to the fine art of taking a dump in the great outdoors. An activity akin to that other bastion of a good trip- wild swimming, and so the label, 'wild shitting' was born. A stout saxon label that described it perfectly. On that trip, we used our spoons to dig the hole, the ultimate ultralight implement, but so enjoyable was the activity, I soon upgraded to a real trowel. So of course, what to call it but a shitting trowel. (The companions to the shitting trowel were my piss sandals, used for midnight calls of nature). I'm not the only person to find it a peaceful and contemplative activity. 'Made in England by gentlemen' detailed a trip up the CDT where the author took a photo of every 'poo view' for the entire 6 months.
My first trowel was a good old folding mini entrenchment tool. It dug nicely, cut through heather roots well and had a nice big blade. The handle was always stable but I was a bit nervous of it folding back. It also weighed 150grams. When I began to lighten up I traded it in for a plastic B&Q garden trowel which I bought as a pack of three for a pound. I took the slimmer trowel, reduced the width even further, shortened the handle and drilled holes in it to reduce the weight to a much more acceptable 50 grams, the same ballpark as the legendary orange coghlans trowel.
This was still pretty heavy, however. A snow stake weighs 25 grams and is certainly usable as a trowel. There are tradeoffs here, however. The width of the blade is not so efficient as it's so narrow. It's not so comfortable in the hand and I tend stab a hole in the ground rather than scoop. The rounded end is no good for cutting through heather roots. It does, however double as a tent peg, especially for high tension guys such as the main guy on the Gatewood.
Then I saw the Rob Kelly potty trowel (Americans are much more polite than us Brits about bodily functions it seems). For 10 grams, you can get a fully functioning trowel with a nice wide blade. I splashed out and in a couple of weeks it was here. Stright away I was out to dig a hole in my lawn. It feels nice in the hand despite the thin nature of the titanium. You can use it like a normal trowel and it scoops well. It is certainly very strong, amazingly so for the weight. The main downside of it is that the extremely short nature of it makes it much more difficult to get to the bottom of the required 6 inch hole. Rob also does a 'Big dig' which is bigger and comes in at around 25 grams. I think as a trowel, that it's probably better to get that size. On the other hand, I generally only use the trowel for 5 minutes in a weekend, but I carry it for hours. A little faff doesn't bother me, it's still a step up from the snow stake and much cooler to own!

Which is my best trowel? The B&Q, without a doubt- comfortable, useful, efficient but 5X the weight of the potty trowel.

P.S- apologies for the frequent use of the word 'shit', but I'll leave you with a quote from an American (Stephen King I think?)
"If he stepped in Sh*t, then write that. 'He stepped in sh*t.' don't work around it. but also don't make a habit of overusing it." (Although I suspect I may be guilty of the latter!)

Monday, 13 June 2011

Nice idea

The weight has been steadily creeping up on little bits and bobs. Grams, of course, but the only way I got my weight down was by bits and bobs and grams. The trouble is, I got here by thinking my way through things- I don't need this, I don't need that. Now with everything cut out, I'm going back up- I could do with this, it would be nice to have that. I always wanted light combined with function. Then you get a genius idea like this. For water I carry a mineral water bottle and a 1l platypus which I only fill for camp. So hows about replacing the 25g platypus with a bag ? I always liked Colin Ibbotson's water bag idea, but it seemed a lot of work plus the bag seems pretty vulnerable. Hows about using a pour and store bag? I have to thank Whartson Hall for this-it's tougher than a sandwhich bag, it carries more than the litre the platypus carries if you overfill it. It has a wide opening for filling too. On the minus side, it's going to burst open if you drop it, but I rarely drop my Platypus. As a counterbalance, it's less vulnerable to falling over than the Platypus because of its lower centre of gravity and the gusseted bottom means it's nice and stable. Weight? 11grams- half the weight.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Speaking of cagoules...

I've got a few items to do preliminary reviews for- a cagoule being one of them. The Marmot Mica jacket is part of my wet weather system along with Golite Tumulo pants and Mountain Laurel eVent gaiters. I have gone through a few waterproof jackets trying to find a decent one. Up until fairly recently I had been using a Berghaus Paclite jacket. The jacket is pretty much a classic- simple, straightforward and reasonably light. It was a nice grey colour too. There were two problems with it- one is that it was too big- I got a size medium in a sale which was ok but not fantastic. The other was that paclite tends to wet out pretty badly. I normally prefer to feel slightly chilly when I'm walking. That way when I hit uphills, I don't overheat. For that reason, my windshirt gets used a lot more than my waterproof. For that reason, a very lightweight packable jacket makes sense. I picked up a Karrimor Elite jacket in TK Maxx for £30. I'm guessing it was stock from a time when Karrimor were not the budget brand they are now and it's a pretty nice jacket. I was conscious I could still go lighter though. A pullover jacket makes sense and I really like smocks, but the Haglofs Oz vanished around the time I was deciding which jacket to get. The Rab demand pullover is a nice jacket, but the sizing was way to big on me even in the small. There have been a lot of positive reviews of the Mica, especially on breathability and the price is a real draw.

Clockwise from top left: Stereolab 'Emperor Tomato Ketchup', Marmot Mica, Golite Tumolo pants, Mountian Laurel Gaiters.

When I got it out of the packet, I was amazed at how flimsy it was. The material has a really soft silky feel, not like any other waterproof I've felt. The cut is pretty short and athletic nut because I tend to wear over-trousers if it's rainy enough to wear a jacket that doesn't bother me. There is a fairly stiff water resistant zip up the front which has a tendency to bulge outwards when the drawcord at the hem is tight, but that's something I've found in common with all full length zips. I do worry that it's not going to be super waterproof. The hood is really nice for me.

Having a small head means I find helmet compatible hoods massive.

There is a very simple velcro volume adjuster at the back, which personally I like. I don't have to tighten it much. The hood gives good coverage to the face and is comfortable. The peak covers nicely but is extremely floppy. I'm guessing I'll have to wear my cap to support it, which isn't too much of a hassle. Cuff adjusters are simple velcro and work well.

There's really not much to say about it, which is good. I like my jackets simple with no purposeless features. You can't fit a map in the pocket and the hood doesn't roll away. Fine by me! It packs into a pocket and when packed, it's nice and small. The two handwarmer pockets are made of the same fabric as the jacket, so they're waterproof. They get trapped under a pack hip-belt which is another bugbear of testers but which doesn't bother me because I never carry anything in them anyway. I wouldn't be bothered if they didn't exist. I wore it in the mist on my Christmas trip to the Black mountains and it breathed well on some reasonable cross country ascents. The weight? 183 grams. As yet, it has been untested in the rain...

Even less tested than the Mica are a pair of Golite's Tumulo pants. I've seen a few reviews of the jacket but not much on the trousers. With pleasing (almost) symmetry, they weigh pretty much exactly the same as the jacket- 185 grams on my scale. The fabric is not a silky as the jacket and has a nice matt finish. This, combined with a very lean cut makes them look almost like normal trousers. A nice change from my previous stalwart- Regatta packable trousers which were large, shiny and clearly overtrousers. At the thigh is a small mesh pocket with a water resistant zip. I'd prefer it not to be there, even though it's possible to pack the trousers into it. The zip doesn't have a pull on the inside, so if you want to do this, you have to stuggle with the zip a little. There's a small piece of shock-cord with a mitten hook on it for keys. At the bottom of the trousers, there's a short zip and a velcro closure at the bottom. The zip fits over my New Balance shoes but might struggle a little with larger boots. I have no idea why there are extra velcro patches for a tighter closure- the bottoms are elasticated and approaching shellsuit tightness at the bottom. For those of you who wear waterproof trailshoes-and in the Winter that's me- it seems like a design whose sole purpose is to funnel water into your shoes. The elastic at the waist is a little baggy on me and it's necessary to tighten the shock-cord that is also there. The shock-cord runs beneath the elastic and renders it totally redundant. The crotch runs a little high. I'm not sure if it's the athletic cut or just poor design. Either way, I wouldn't mind a little more sag there, especially when they're pulled up high for a good overlap between jacket and trousers- when I ride them on my hips, they're fine. Still, they're a pretty good price- Pertex shield is supposedly nice and breathable and they're hard to beat for the weight if they're staying in your pack a lot.

Despite what I said about funneling water into my shoes, I have a solution- My Mountain Laurel Gaiters. There's not a lot to say about them, other than they weigh 58 grams, they roll up nice and small and they have good coverage of the foot. They stay up well, which is a bonus for extra breathabilty. I've had the shock-cord on the bottom come untied a couple of times, but that's my poor knotting skills. The hook at the front of the laces stays on nicely and they do a decent job at keeping snow out, which is the main thing I use them for.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

A couple of sites to look at.

I've had a couple of blogs pointed out to me recently by people posting comments and I'm always happy to flag up things I'm interested in.
Belfast bushcraft is what blogs are all about- someone who is passionate about something and is discussing his experiences as he learns and grows. A few years back, strongly influenced by Ray Mears I bought a huge bowie knife and carved myself a spoon. Me and Martyn still enjoy heading off into the local woods occasionally- close to a rather nice pub with a micro brewery- building a fire and hanging our hammocks. Belfast bushcraft does it properly though- flint knapping, carving little faces in a stick, fire by friction. A good read in a location which I know decidedly too little about, but which I'm now keen to visit.
Being passionate about a subject is taken to extremes over at . The entire blog is dedicated to the humble, or not so humble, cagoule. Not all the cagoules are suitable for the outdoors, but I have a personal interest in vintage clothing and there are some rather nice vintage cagoules there. More than that, it reminded me to dig out my first 'decent' waterproof- a Peter Storm pac-a-mac. Nice.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Coniston Round

I'm certainly getting lazier when it comes to walking. It's not that I don't enjoy the walking, but the amount of it I do on any trip seems to be reducing. I could get all defensive about it and claim that I enjoy the camping more and to a certain extent that's true. Certainly there's at least a 60/40 split in enjoment levels but the fact of it is that I'm not up for flogging myself on. I'm lazy. It's supposed to be a holiday, and for me, a holiday means sitting around eating and drinking. So when Martyn suggested that we stay for at least one more in the Sun Inn in Coniston and I knew I was probably already more drunk than I should be for setting up a tarp, it didn't take much persuasion.
It had all started a long while back. The trip had been planned and cancelled twice before. The weather report couldn't make up it's mind whether it was going to be gale force winds and sub zero temperatures or actually fairly reasonable for the time of year. I wasn't too bothered. It meant I got several chances to repack my bag to try to accomodate the whims of the met office and, properly supported with some decent booze, packing my bag is one of the great pleasures in my life.

In the end I decided on a reasonably minimal kit, using only my Enlightened Quilt supplementad by my down trousers and my down inner jacket.

As it turned out, this was ideal and it all fitted into my new Z packs zero pack-just under 4 kg for the lot including food water and booze.

We decided on Coniston as we hadn't explored the area at all before. The Coniston round looked like a nice walk and as Martyn is also of the opinion that a reasonable length of walk is a day hike split into two days it seemed like a winner. Generally on the second morning we get up about 6ish and do about an hour's walking to get back early for our other halves. It does limit us in the walking we can do especially as we are limited to circular walks. Another must is a decent pub no more than an hour's walk from our first night's camp. Which is how we ended up in the Sun Inn. They had some decent beer and there were people to rip the piss out of, including ale snobs trying to humiliate the barman and a extremely well spoken racist trotting out 1950's stereotypes. In the end it was him that got us out of there plus the fact that we had no money left.

It was an easy walk up to the YHA, despite stubbing our toes on every other step. We tried for a few spots but gave up in the end and pitched on the river bank in full view of the hostel. We weren't sure of the legality but decided to ignore it. It was obvious we weren't party louts out to make a mess and the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to move on. I'd managed to get hold of a second hand Six moon Lunar Solo for Martyn in excellent condition. He'd had it as his Christmas present but it was a bit of a gamble. A tent is a very personal thing and I knew he was attached to his MSR microzoid. I was hoping that the 500g knocked of his baseweight plus the ability to sit upright combined with sizeable amount of extra floorspace would win him over. Trouble was, the Lunar Solo has a reputation of being a bit of a bugger to pitch taut and a first pitch drunk and in the dark was risky. Luckily my practice with the Gatewood Cape which is a similar design secured a decent pitch- certainly it was better than my tarp which I had to have three goes at before I was happy. We sat around drinking for a bit while a stream of pub goers returned to the Hostel. None of them batted an eyelid at us, if indeed, they noticed us at all.

I woke early as usual. My internal clock has been buggered by work so that I find it hard to sleep much past half six. Martyn has no such problem and alone, with a somewhat tender head, I decided stick to my usual hiking strategy which is to sit and watch the view with a whisky coffee. When we were travelling in Croatia we arrived to catch an early bus at 5 am to find all the bus drivers sat around with coffees and big glasses of brandy. If it's good enough for people about to embark on a seven hour trip precipitous roads with eye watering hairpin bends, then it's good enough for me. Martyn concurred and popped a beer when he emerged. We sat for a while enjoying the sun and only got around to moving when the level of families already walking told us that we were way past an early start.

It was maybe this relaxed approach that meant we headed up the wrong valley. We had two options- hop over the High Fell ridge to get to the right valley or just head up to the top of the valley towards Wetherlam and turn left. Of course Martyn opted for the eye watering clamber over the ridge, so pretty soon we had sweated out all of the booze anyway. We quickly gained the top of Swirl How and felt like we deserved some lunch. There was a brisk wind, but hunkered down we could get the full benefit of the sun. We were making exceptionally poor progress- it was all very nice.

Back up on the ridge, the wind was very brisk. I broke out my secret weapon- a fleece T-hirt I'd got from Matalan for three quid. It provided just the right amount of warmth underneath my Tachyon anorak, and the hood made a nice difference to my comfort as well. Thus it was at half two in the afternoon I made a running descent towards Blind Tarn, out camp spot for the night. We briefly debated heading back to the Sun Inn instead but decided against it. It was a very nice spot and, just a few hundred metres away from the hordes on the ridge, it felt pretty isolated. I had a doze and then we chatted and ate.

I slept pretty well, except for the fact that the bivvy kept sliding out from unedr the tarp. There was a brief shower about four and then we got up and headed back. I've made a promise to myself to find somewhere a bit more off the beaten track for the next trip. Our last couple of trips have been swarmed with other walkers which is all very well but it is nice to get a bit of solitude. All the gear performed well apart from the sliding issue. Of course, the elements didn't really give anything a thrashing, but that's why I chose the gear I did. The zero carried very nicely, despite Martyn's comments that it looked a bit homemade and plasticky. I barely noticed it was there even with a couple of beers topping up the weight. The only thing I would change would be the two gram pegs I took- too short (just) for the caldera and no holding power.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Prompted by a comment, I'm back. I've got some new gear and been on a couple of trips. Here's a taster of an April trip to the Lakes....

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Or not

Once again circumstances beyond my control step in'.I'll try to get some new gear up soon promise!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

It's been a while...

but I'm back. There's been a lot going on since the last post, all work and family related. I managed to squeeze in a very small overnighter- 12 hours worth- over Christmas. The Black Mountains- a very damp, muddy and misty trip, where I got the only snow of the winter- a spot of drifted slush on the paths on the way out. We're off in a week to the Lakes, however and I should get to test some new gear. Here's some pictures of the Trailstar in the Black mountains to be getting on with.