Thursday, 28 January 2010

dd travel hammock

I’ll start by stating that I don’t think that a hammock has much use in backpacking in this country. So why purchase a hammock?

It’s a fun piece of kit that may have it’s uses. The DD Travel Hammock, bought from, is unique in that the base material is waterproof so if you find yourself without the necessary trees to hang between then it can be pitched like a tent. This is what caught my eye, I have a tarp and a couple of other single skin shelters that might require something more than a groundsheet. The base is double layered which allows you to slot in a Therm-a-rest or a CCF mat.

The stated weight was 900g but on the scales it clocked 1184g making way too heavy as bug proof inner for the Golite Hut2. The hammock came with a stuff sack and some black bungee to tie up the netting. I also bought a skin as this makes it easy to set up and pack up. And it will keep the hammock dry and clean too.

There are a couple of useful videos on YouTube, and the manufacturers website has all the information needed on how to hang the hammock. Basically find a couple of sturdy trees about 12 feet apart. The trees need to be living and be free of any dead branches that may drop off and cause injury. This is not as easy as it may first seem. My first trip out had me scouring Ham Common Woods. Most trees were too close together and those that I found that were far enough apart were snared with brambles, or the trunks were too fat for me to pass my arms around.

A pair of trees found and I tied the tapes around the trunks at chest height and carefully sat on the hammock to test the security of my knot tying. Success! I then guyed out the netting. Luckily the trees I picked had handy branches in the right spot to enable me to do this with relative ease. I found and threaded a stick through to open out the canopy above my head, slotted a mat in and clambered in. Hammocks are comfortable to lay on, so I don’t think a Therm-a-rest is necessary. What you will need is some insulation however so a CCF mat like the Multimat Adventure Long would be an ideal choice. I guess a three quarter length mat would do for the summer saving weight and bulk but I wonder whether the mat being shorter would migrate out of place.

If you don’t need to use the canopy you can hang the hammock upside down. Incidentally the canopy has two full length double zips either side, allowing ease of access and venting options if needed. Internally there are two pockets, on opposite sides and at shoulder level. And these are big enough to hold a head torch, wallet, cereal bar that sort of thing. There are tabs on the under side of the canopy so a drying line or other bits of kit can be hung up.

To make the set up weatherproof a tarp needs to be pitched as a roof over the hammock, like an A frame but higher up the tree.

The combined weight of hammock, tarp, skin, tapes, guys and pegs puts the set up close to 2kg, which makes it too heavy in my opinion for a backpacking shelter. The hammock with the tapes is a bulky package too. That said I might take it out on an overnighter where a pitch amongst the trees could be found, and where the weight isn’t too much of an issue.

It will get used, we’ve already sketched plans of how the rear garden is going to look, and in those plans is something to hang the hammock between. Hopefully in time for some summer time slumming.


Given that I have to follow a gluten free diet you would have thought that I’d be cooking up polenta dishes on backpacking trips. I’ve side stepped using the stuff because my experience of cooking polenta indoors. I thought the need to pour a stream of the grain whilst stirring frantically to prevent lumps, then the volcanic activity of the polenta, and more frantic stirring would be too much of a faff on a campsite. Especially after a tiring day.

At the weekend I found some instant, one minute cook to be precise, polenta that just needs stirring into boiling water and paddled about for 60 seconds. In fact on my first try this lunchtime once I’d stirred the grain in the pot went straight into a pot cosy avoiding any volcanic eruptions. Lump prevention happened as I mixed the recipe in a poly bag, and cutting the corner off the bag I was able to trickle it without much fuss.


75g instant polenta
3 sun dried tomatoes, cut into slithers
11/2 tsp of Italian herb mix
20g grated parmesan cheese

The first four ingredients were blended in a bag, and the cheese was added after the polenta was cooked. The packet suggested I use 100ml of water per 25g polenta and that gave the right kind of consistency. And 75g is enough for lunch with about the same amount of carbohydrate as four slices of bread. For an evening meal I’d up the quantity to 100g or even 125g.

As polenta is fairly bland it’s worth experimenting; cubed smoked cheese, chicken, bacon or salami could all be added to bump up the flavour, calories and protein.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

time flies like knives; fruit flies like bananas

I remember this from an eighties paper back by a bloke called Nigel about graffiti. I don’t see much graffiti these days; I guess the virtual bog wall of twitter, facebook, and blogging has replaced it. However in the words of Ronnie Corbett, I digress.

Ben, my son, will be six years old tomorrow, that’s over the hump of his first decade. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I cupped him in my hands as a little bundle in the garden of the Tide Tables cafe next to Richmond Bridge, barely days old. These days he’s barely short enough to fit over my head if he wants to ride on my shoulders, which is most of the time.

Happy birthday Ben, I know you’re not old enough to take the day off to do what you want but that day will come :)

Friday, 22 January 2010

multimat adventure long

Not willing to give up the comfort of the NeoAir I took a chunk of Karrimat along on my last trip, originally it was to go under my feet but the bothy floor was that cold that I ended up with the mat under the mattress, and used my rucksack as a foot rest.

Clearly the NeoAir wasn’t up to the task, and the piece of Karrimat I owned wasn’t long enough to provide cover for the feet as well as the mattress. So I dredged the internet for a solution and what I found was the Multimat Adventure Long, a CCF mat. The stated weight was 215g so along with the weight of the NeoAir at 244g I had a combined weight of 459g. Only 73g heavier than the Multimat Super Compact Light 25 for a full length, more comfortable sleeping solution.

Incidentally the SC25 has an R rating of 3.8 against the 2.5 of the NeoAir, so I’d forgo the comfort of the NeoAir if the conditions dictate. After all there’s no point in having an uber comfortable mattress if I’m kept awake all night by the heat leeching out of my body; I’ve already earned that badge. That said I expect the NeoAir/Adventure Long combo to cope with most situations, now will I need this for Scotland in May I wonder?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

pack food weight

Generally on short trips I don’t bother with dehydrated meals for supper. I prefer to take one of those ‘instant’ pouch rice meals that can be reheated in a couple of minutes. As was the case for the aborted Buxton trip. One thing I’d never done was weigh the food. A few years ago, I loosely calculated that I carry 750g of food per day. A figure not dissimilar to the one, then quoted in imperial weight, in Derrick Booth’s The Backpackers Handbook which I was happy with.

Having diabetes and coeliac I err on the side of caution when it comes to packing food, the extra weight of which I never begrudgingly carried. It was something of a surprise that when I put the food bag on the scales two days supply shipped in at 866g per day, a little over 100g more that my estimated weight. Taking into account that one of the suppers comprised a rice pouch with a single serve tuna pouch, in the original packaging. And that I also had a tube of mushroom pate in the bag which will last about four days, the figure that I calculated was not far off if I used home dried meals.

I’d like to reduce the weight but am resigned that I need the extra provisions as picking food up along a trail that I can use is a bonus and not something that I can rely on.

buxton to roaches (non) trip report

It may have been a case of being overly ambitious but the weekend didn't pan out like I was hoping. We set off at four thirty Friday afternoon. Not the best time as we'd be hitting the north circular at rush hour. But our reasoning was simple; the earlier you get away the earlier you arrive. This, of course, doesn't account for the pain of sitting in a traffic jam. It took two hours to cover the few miles from our house to the gateway to the north; the M1 at Staples Corner. During those two hours we started to hear an unhealthy rattling from the underside of the car. Pulling over at the first (or last, depending on which direction you're travelling in) service station to find that the cage that held the spare tyre had worked loose and the spare was missing! I secured the cage and was confident that this would fix the rattle.

Back on the M1 we crawled along at twenty or so miles an hour accompanied by a slightly differently sounding rattle. About this time Jay called me from Cold Springs Farm with some news. (She had rather sensibly travelled up earlier by train.) We were told not to drive beyond the car park as the car would need a tractor to retrieve it as there was four foot of snow on the campsite! The Farmer had offered them room in the bunk house along with another group who had turned up with the idea of pitching tents. She said that the roads in to Buxton were now passable but thick fog was causing problems. She also asked if we could stop by an off license so that we could make the most of the accommodation with drink and nibbles!

We continued to crawl along the motorway with thick freezing fog now adding to the misery. At Junction eight we pulled off the M1 and re-checked the underside of the car, it seemed the exhaust pipe now swinging in space. It became clear at this point that to continue on would be irresponsible so we re-joined the M1 heading south and for home. I sent messages to Liam and Jay letting them know that we were bailing out. It was disappointing to have to do so, especially as the weekend was one that I suggested, and it was to be Penny's first trip out in months.

Having had a couple of mechanical failures on the old bus over the last few months including the clutch going on Christmas Eve, I think it's time to trade it in for a newer, hopefully, more reliable model.

Friday, 15 January 2010

first trip of the new year

This afternoon Penny and I'll be heading up to Buxton for a weekend of winter backpacking. Surprisingly I won't be testing many of my recent purchases; the Scarp1 and the Golite Peak are both staying at home. Although the Scarp1 has his and hers porches and would sleep two 'adventure racers', as tent manufacturers would have us believe, the extra space of the Helion2 wins. I will get out on a solo trip in a fortnights time to try it out however. The Golite Peak has been my day sack of choice since I got it but the extra capacity of the Talon 44 is needed, not least because of the relative bulk of the Helion2. I think that the Scarp is bulky but that's because I've gotten used to using a single skin shelter. I will be trying out the Golite Adrenaline 20 sleeping bag, it's going to be interesting to see how I make out with the unique zip arrangement.

Friday, 8 January 2010

kahtoola microspikes

Unsurprisingly stockists have had a run on these. Thanks to Ramblin' Jay I managed to track down a supplier, Grit Gear in Derby. I called to check on their availability and although I hadn't mentioned what it was I was calling about I was asked, "Microspikes?" The guy I spoke to, Skinner, told me that they'll be taking another delivery early next week, so I put in my order. He also told me that they dispatched 200 pairs yesterday, and that since they opened this lunch time the phone hadn't stopped ringing. And there are no prizes for guessing what the calls were about.

Friday, 1 January 2010

so starts another decade

A change in my working circumstances late last year means I have a more flexible approach to how I work so I plan to get out more. Expect more gear reviews and trips then - the TGO Challenge being my main focus at this point. There's talk about a summer trip to the Pyrenees so I'll be bending Andy Howell's ear about his visits. And I've always fancied the idea of seeing raindeer in Lapland and the Northern Lights so perhaps I may get to meet up with Hendrik.

I'll be at the Backpackers Club AGM which is being held in the south west this year, and I hope that the lightweight gear festival continues to held along side. It's a good opportunity to see gear that you can only oggle online, and to speak to the likes of Bob and Rose at BPL UK, Mark at Ultralightoutdoorgear and Kenny and Co at Alpkit even if you're not a member.

Hope to see you there or out on the trail. A happy new year to you all.