Wednesday, 2 March 2016

peddars way preparation

The National Trails website

The annual Easter backpacking trip planning is finally underway. The National Trails website is my first place to go, followed by picking up a guidebook and a Harvey’s strip map. I then spend time reading up on the route and scanning the map for potential camping sites. Although unfortunately Harvey’s don’t do a strip map of this trail. The decision to take OS maps or rely on the guidebook alone for navigation isn’t an easy one to make. It’s a National Trail so the way marking should be decent enough, the Peddars Way is relatively straight as it follows the course of a Roman Road, and when it hits the coast… Well, how hard is it to get lost when I’ve got the sea on my left hand side? Then I have my gram weenie head saying that the OS maps will probably weigh less than the guidebook but I’m resisting the urge to whip out the scales and put them on trial.

The start of the way is in a bit of an out of the way location, and I know that others who’ve done the trail caught a cab out from Thetford and split the fare. This is a solo venture at the moment but I have since discovered that there is a bookable bus that runs to the start and costs a miserly £2.20. A no-brainer then.

As it’s Easter I’ve also emailed a couple of campsites along the trail to make sure that they were open and had space. What surprised me was the responses from two of the sites; one from a pub that had camping wanted to charge me £15.00, and made no concessions for someone in a tiny tent and who was on foot. The other from a national organisation that had a backpacker concession for non-members at £6.55 per night. Another no-brainer.

Kit list compiling is the usual straightforward deal, with the usual musings over what cook system to take based on what food I fancy, so no change there. I’m debating whether to pack all the food I need or not. I’ll have a meal out but due to my dietary restrictions I can’t rely on finding stuff on route. At least on the coast there may be options but I could find myself subsiding on chips night after night. This might not be all hardship as I’ve discovered a fish and chip shop in Hunstanton that does gluten free battered fish so one less meal to pack.

With four weeks left to go I’m also getting in some training miles when the weather allows but my right knee is beginning to complain which I’m putting down to the cold damp weather but have it strapped to be on the safe side.

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.