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.

gsi cascadian cup



Most of my canteen set ups are based around the principle that you eat and drink out of the same receptacle – a pot like the Snow Peak 600 or the Alpkit Mytimug. Whilst this is a great way of saving weight and the double usage that all lightweight backpackers like to incorporate into their kit lists it does have it’s limitations. After all you have to eat your food first and then have your drink or vice versa, unless of course that drink comes in a hip flask or wine bottle in which case it’s just a quick neck in between mouthfuls.

On occasions I like the idea of having something handy for having a brew with the food, and swinging out of wine bottle, whilst effective, is a bit uncouth. And on other occasions, like when I use a cook system that doesn’t lend itself to the pot being used as a mug, such as with my Bush Buddy set up, a dedicated mug or cup is needed. 

The classic was the plastic one pint plastic mug which is what the Snow Peak/Alpkit set ups base themselves around but that volume isn’t always needed as I’m not cooking with it just having a drink. And the GSI Cascadian cup at 450ml is ideal – big enough for a brew but small enough to be packable. The mug has graduations on the inside and the handle has a hole punched into it presumably for those that want to hang it off their backpack. I may take a saw to the handle as I’m not convinced I need it, and that would save some grams despite the weigh saving hole already drilled in it!  The cup is tapered but isn’t that tall so I’ve not noticed any stability issues with it. They come in a range of colours, and for the gram counters out there my one weighs in at 53g.

Friday, 29 May 2015

bikepacking - laleham try out

Overnight spot.

The plan was a simple peddle along the National Cycle Network Route 4 – The Thames Valley Cycle Way – west. I knew that there was a campsite the other side of Shepperton and trains stations along the way should I need to bail. The distance to the campsite was about 15 miles so not a lengthy or arduous run as there are only a few bumps and lumps on the way where the route leaves the river.

The try out was a success and I’m planning the next leg of the route that I’ll do in the next few weeks.

The biggest lesson learnt and one of the reasons for a trial run was to get an idea of timing and distance that could be achieved. I set my cadence to that of my usual walking pace and using my old Garmin Geko 201 GPS I was able to gather data on my average speed. This happened to be 7.5 mph, which is three times my average walking speed. This meant that whilst on foot I’d cover 15 miles in a day, by bike that would equate to 45 miles. I now have a benchmark to work with when planning future trips.

Bikepacking rig - front view.

I’ll review the panniers, bar bag and another bit of new kit that I used on the trip in other posts. I didn’t get around to pitching my shelter using the bike as planned as you can see from the pictures that there was a convenient Birch tree for that job. I wasn’t entirely happy with the fact that the bike was out of view but it was secure.

Bikepacking rig - rear view.

I modified my kit list slightly to give me weights of the kit units – shelter, sleeping, cooking, spare clothes, food, and so on – so that I could evenly distribute the weight between the panniers. And as it happened the units balanced themselves out  reasonably well but didn't go as far as checking the weight on the bathroom scales! The panniers coped with the volume of kit, as expected, with room for more if required. If I wanted or needed to take more or create space in the bags each bag has a pair of D rings on the top so stuff could be lashed on top. The seat post bag held the tools, spare inner, etc. with the bar bag holding wallet, keys, phone, camera, jelly babies and insulin kit. I can't see me needing anything else to carry kit in other than another bottle cage for carrying a bigger fuel bottle for longer trips. Apart from that it was just the same as any other hike.