Friday, 2 October 2015

marks and sparks gluten free mini pork pies

A thin wash of glaze. 

A few months ago I discovered that M&S had started selling gluten free scotch eggs and they swiftly became the go-to day trip lunch item. At the time there was also some jokey dialogue going on a forum about what happened to those good old climbing/hiking food items like scotch eggs, pork pies and garibaldi biscuits. They had, for some, fallen out of fashion to ‘healthier’ options but for me the exclusion was a dietary one – I could no longer eat them.

Imagine my surprise and joy when I discovered that M&S are now doing pork pies and it goes without saying that I was scouting scotch eggs at the time, so grabbed a packet of these too.

A lack of jelly.

There are four mini pies in the pack weighing in at 50g each, and have the following food values 777KJ of energy, 12.3g fat, 14.3g of carbohydrate (CHO) and 4.5g of protein. And a pack of four cost circa £2.40. Being made from gluten free pastry I have to be forgiving, a bit, but I found the pastry a bit too dry. There didn’t seem to be sufficient fat content in the pastry to make the kind of crusty shell that pork pies are known for. There was an insufficient amount of glaze or lack of it on the pastry too. And the same can be said for the jelly which again is a key part of the pork pie experience. The first didn’t have any jelly and the remaining three had a small amount in the bottom of the pie with air space above. But not enough of it before it was lost. This is down to the fact that their size and the manufacturing process, no doubt. The filling again didn’t amount to much in volume but tasted well enough.

After the success of the scotch eggs I was disappointed by how these turned out. Personally I would rather have larger pies either 250g or even 500g sized ones that would have the space between the crust and filling for decent amount of jelly and would obviously contain an equally decent amount of meat too.

Friday, 11 September 2015

merino buff – thermal

The thermal weight buff

My merino wool buff is one of those bits of kit that finds its way into my rucksack on most occasions even in the warmer months. 

It’s a versatile piece of kit that that has many uses; in winter I wear it as a neckerchief to seal the gap around my neck and mid layer, and in summer it becomes a beanie or nightcap to keep my head warm around camp or whilst sleeping. The bonus of using it as a nightcap is that I can pull it over my eyes as it’s getting lighter ensuring a few extra hours sleep after sun up.

I’m always pleased to get a kit upgrade and the guys at have sent me a thermal version of the merino buff to try out. Effectively it’s a heavier weight version of the original – 27% heavier – with a brushed finish and a much thicker and denser weave, and it tips the scales at 70g.

In the middle of August trying out a thermal buff might be a tall order, well at least I hope so, but I’ll be out bikepacking another section of the NCN 4 in early September so will tuck it in my spare clothing dry bag. I might not need it during the day but as a nightcap it will get some use.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Size isn’t everything

I’ve been asked how I manage to use a day pack for my weekend – and usually longer – backpacking trips.

A few years back my rucksack was a huge 65l plus bag – a Lowe Alpine one. It must have weighed a couple of kilo’s maybe more if I’m honest but I never put it on the scales. It did the job and I was able to get all my stuff in it including a rope, harness, rack and rock boots. With a crag sack strapped on the side I was all set up for a weekend of time outdoors.

At that time my camping stuff was ‘lightweight’ the tent was a two person Robert Saunders one with a huge porch and my stove was a trusty Trangia, and I carried the meths in a thirty year old one litre Sigg fuel bottle.

The first change came when I gave up the climbing part of the weekends away. That reduced the weight and bulk considerably, and meant that those 65l were no longer required.  Although I still found that I could fill the space, and frequently did. And this lead me to see that, with the help of Derrick Booth’s The Backpackers Handbook, if I got a smaller bag I wouldn’t have the space to fit loads of stuff in. I started to focus on what I packed and what I used with the three pile trick. After each outing I’d rank the items I used more than once, just once, and never. And found that the items in the never category were always stuff that I put in ‘just in case’ and I had the room for.  I also started looking at/and replacing items of kit. The first thing that went was the two person tent, I invested in a smaller, lighter weight one person shelter. Then the Trangia was replaced by a simple pot and cartridge gas stove, again lighter and less bulky. The synthetic sleeping bag was replaced by a warmer, lighter, less bulky down one.

The rucksack went from 65l to 55l, and again from 55l to 40l as I reduced the number of items, along with acquiring lighter and less bulky kit.  Some of the items I carry have more than one use, the tent peg trowel is a prime example, it hasn’t happened yet but I’ve not needed to dig a cat hole when my shelter is pitched. Shelters that pitch with trekking poles is another example.
The weight of the kit has dramatically reduced – initially I’d be shouldering over 15kg of stuff now my average is circa 5kg (excluding the climbing kit, obviously). And the weight reduction wasn’t just with the kit on my back, my heavy leather walking boots went to lighter fabric ones, and finally to trainers weighing just 330g a shoe.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to compile the kit that I’m planning to use, this keeps me disciplined as to what goes in the bag and ensures that nothing is forgotten. I also use it to tailor the kit to the trip – time of year, terrain, environment, etc. Experience counts for a lot too – knowing what you need against what you might come across is learnt from getting out there and doing it.

It also comes down to personal preference, and this is the deal breaker – there are those that won’t feel comfortable about leaving home without something or other, usually lots of somethings or others. If you feel the kit you pack needs a backup then pack something that works and won’t let you down. (If you can’t leave the house without a secondary stove packed because you’re paranoid about the primary one failing then you need help of another kind.)

Despite all this reduction in weight and bulk comfort doesn’t suffer, my kit it will keep me warm and dry, and I’ll get a comfortable night’s sleep. I could leave the stove out on summer trips but I like a hot drink in the morning – that’s my personal preference. It’s possible for me to reduce the load further but I’m happy with what I pack and carry. For now.

Friday, 19 June 2015

fwe bar bag

Front view.

The FWE bar bag is a fully featured piece of bike luggage.

It mounts on the handle bars using a Rixen Kaul type bracket making it simple to remove when needed. The bag size is small compared to others, only 4 litres in capacity, but manages to hold all the bits and pieces that I want without wasted space. Importantly the smaller size means I’m less likely to overload the bag and have issues with weighed steering. The bag has a front zippered pocket with internal mesh pockets, reflective trim and a tab to mount an LED light. The bag sports two side mesh pockets, a transparent lid pocket for a mobile phone/map*, and an internal zipped pocket in the main compartment.

There is also a lower rear zippered pocket for a bright yellow rain cover that is also included, along with the obligatory shoulder strap, and the strap clipping points. I use the rain cover pocket for the strap and carry the cover in a seat stem bag instead. The one thing missing from the bag is a clip for keys, so in the front pocket I’ve added a loop of 1.5mm dyneema and a small karabiner. Clipped to this and tucked into one of the mesh pockets the keys are safe and secure.

Inside, rear view.

In use the main compartment held my camera, phone, first aid kit, jelly babies, map and my medics. The transparent lid pocket held my Garmin Geko 201, a basic GPS that’s handy for keeping track of mileage, speed and location but little else. I cannot say for certain as I don’t own a more up to date model with mapping data but the pocket might not be big enough for some devices. My mobile phone doesn’t fit (Nokia 635) so if you happen to use one of the phone based navigation apps then you might want to look at other options. I’m still a paper map navigator, predominately, so the issue of what device fits is not an issue as such other than if my phone won’t fit neither will a map (despite the manufacturer's claims)!

This aside the bag is spot on for my needs, and as with the key clip I’ll have a tinker and see if I can rig something to hold a map.

* from the manufacturer's website description.