Friday, 2 December 2011

mammut burny

The Mammut Burny is described as a safety lamp. Weighing only 18g including the two CR2032 batteries. It has three modes; flood, red, and flashing red. And these are cycled through it that order by using the button on the front. At the rear there's a clip and an short loop of elastic. These allow the light to be mounted on cycle helmets, baseball caps, bike handle bars or shoulder straps of rucksack, etc. But unlike the Petzel e+Lite the clip doesn't have a mechanism allowing it to swivel so it can't be clipped to the brim of a cap and used like a head torch.

If you don't need to use the elastic to mount the light it can be removed saving a massive 2g! The elastic also has a very innovative tab that is used to open the battery hatch.

The lamp boast a brightness of 12 lumens and has a range of 12m in flood mode. And you'll be pleased to note that in flashing red mode it's visible from 500m and the battery will last up to 160 hours in that mode.

If you're fond of jogging after dark or need more lights adding to your bike's array then this little device is ideal.

therm-a-rest easy chair

I bought a pair of these some time back for use when car camping. The TNF Nebula has good headroom and porch space but it's not big enough to fit people sitting on folding stools into. So these were a good solution. With the purchase of a Therm-a-rest NeoAir a few years ago the chair kits fell out of use.

Until, that was, someone mentioned that they had been using theirs with their NeoAir. I lost no time scrabbling about the attic looking for them. And as the picture shows you can indeed use a NeoAir. The NeoAir is slightly wider than the kit but it still fits, all you need to do is semi inflate and squeeze into place, remembering to put the valve in the right place should you need to add some more puff - job done. At 300g I would never consider taking one backpacking, however if a trip comes around and we don't have the luxury of a pub to spend the evening in then I may do. Especially if that trip is in the winter.

berghaus ardennes soft shell jacket

It's always nice to be sent kit to try out and you'd think being sent a soft shell in the autumn would be an ideal time to put one through it's paces. But somehow we didn't figure on the unseasonably good weather we've been having.

I've had the jacket three weeks but it's not seen a drop of rain to test it's water resistance, and drying time. So this afternoon I resorted to setting the garden sprinkler up.

The Ardennes soft shell jacket is one of Berghaus's new season outdoor clothing offerings. The one I'm testing is a medium which on my frame is a good fit, the sleeves and length of the garment are spot on. The back has a drop tail which is what you'd expect, and the hem has two cinch pulls that make a very effective seal. The two pockets are set high to clear hip belts and are mesh lined to aid ventilation. One gripe is that the pockets are not very deep nor wide; too small to put my hands in anyway. On the plus side, inside the pockets are stitched on three sides leaving the top open so they create two internal pockets, if you get my drift. In fact as the pockets aren't that deep I've adopted the internal way of using them for house keys and mobile because they're more secure. The jacket on my postal scale weighed in at 550g.

The collar is quite high, and like the sleeves and hem, it makes a good seal. Although at first I thought the material was too stiff making the fit uncomfortable. Maybe it is and I've gotten used to it, or it's softened. The material is stiffer compared to my Marmot ATV jacket or The North Face Apex 3/4 top. And whilst I'm on the subject of comparison, doing a HUR test*, the jacket is more wind resistant than the Apex and comparable to the fabric used by Marmot. I also did a HUR test with Penny's RAB Baltoro Lite and the Polartec fabric is markedly more wind resistant than the AF fabric used by Berghaus.

And it's this balance between water and wind resistance, warmth and breathability that's the issue. For some a soft shell jacket is the bee's knees for others they aren't sum of their parts, being neither windproof nor warm enough. As for water resistance...

Well I chickened out of running around under the garden sprinkler so I put my arm in the jacket and put in under the shower. As you'd expect from a new jacket it beaded well, and when the material wetted out there was penetration through the material. However the seams (of which there are many) started leaking in a very short time.

To recap I love the fit of this jacket, the close fit might not suit all, particularly if you were planning to wear a thin fleece under it to increase the thermal rating. (I tried this and it was uncomfortably tight). The wind resistance is good but personally I prefer better. The water resistance looks comparable with other soft shell tops, and I'm confident that it would hold off a shower. Long term use will determine how durable the DWR finish is, but I expect like other jackets it will need to be washed and reproofed subject to use.

*HUR test; place hand inside jacket and try and blow breath through it. The harder you have to blow the more wind resistant.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

classic kit - green top poly bottle

I'm going to start a competition by posing the question, how old is this bit of kit? But any self respecting backpacker will already know the answer to this without needing to reach for their copy of the 1976 book Backpacking in Britain by Derrick Booth and Robin Adshead... Doh!

I'll claim that this one isn't that old but it isn't that far off. I only have two of these left, and they still get used for carrying dried milk and fresh coffee these days, not some freeze dried stuff like yesteryear.

One of the best culinary tips I gleaned at the time was to break eggs into a jug and decant them into a (larger) Green Top poly bottle. Devoid of shell they could be carried without any chance of being broken - that had already been done at home! From an advert at the time where the question was posed, 'How do you like your eggs? Fried or boiled?' Well boiled is the only way you can't serve them.

Monday, 7 November 2011

caldera cone system - first look

The set up with a Snow Peak 900 pot

What do you get a backpacker who has everything? Another stove, of course.

Despite owning a number of different systems the one I go back to is my trusty Coleman F1 Lite gas stove. It's simple, quick, convenient and works in most conditions, however the cartridges are expensive and end up as landfill. And invariably on trips I always seem to be carrying a part used cartridge and a full one. Another disadvantage of the F1 Lite system is that as a couple somebody has to wait for one mug to boil before the next one is put on the stove. (I should mention that Penny always gets the first brew/hot water for cooking).

No doubt someone might ask why we just don't use the larger pot with the F1 but I did try using my Snow Peak 900 pot and a mug but there's something disheartening about staring into a pot that size when drinking 350ml of coffee.

All packed away

The Caldera Cone systems
now come with a caddy, handily the caddy that ships with the cone for the Snow Peak 900 pot is one that unscrews in to similar sized bits, and these can be used to eat or drink out off. The immediate advantage is that one pot boils enough water for two and no one needs wait. And with the caddy doubling as bowls or mugs there's no need to carry additional items.

Of course the biggest advantage of meths based systems is that you can tailor how much fuel you need to carry for a trip; no need to carry part used cartridges, and no enviromental impact.

The system comprises of windshield cum pot stand, fuel bottle, caddy, and a recycled drinks can stove with attached primer plate; all in weight 177g. And it all packs neatly into the caddy, although I did have to roll and re-roll the cone so that it would go back in again. I'd prefer to pack the fuel elsewhere because I wouldn't want the caddy to get contaminated should the bottle leak. there's also room for a couple of GSI lexan desert spoons and a lighter.

In use

I did a quick test this morning (slight breeze, air temp circa 12C, no lid) and 15ml of meths brought 500ml of water close to boil. On that basis I figure I'd need about 30ml to bring enough water for two up to a boil. The supplied fuel bottle holds 5.5fl oz roughly equal to 160ml enough for five brews, not quite enough for two for a weekend trip unfortunately. No matter I have a 250ml that will do the trick.

Now all I need is to plan a trip out so that I can get to use it other than in the garden or local park or woods.


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

nite ize spotlit

I spotted these on sale in Lakeland which is a bit off piste for a chain that is known for all things kitchen. Although I have been using an Asaklit LED light that I blogged about last year, it had somehow got lost. Well... not quiet. After buying this replacement and packing it on a recent solo trip to the Quantocks I discovered the Asaklit hanging from a tab in the inner of my Scarp1.

This was a good opportunity to do a side by side test. On spec, the Nite Ize and Asaklit have the same battery power source; a single CR2032. The Asaklit has two LEDS; the Nite Ize one. There's a small weight saving of 2g for the Nite Ize. However the Nite Ize, despite the single LED, has a diffuser, which wins over the two of the Asaklit which are uni-directional. At least in the Scarp1, when I used the Nite Ize in the Hex3 it was a bit lost it the top. But no matter, on solo trips I'll save a couple of grams and use the Nite Ize but when I'll use the Hex3 I'll take the Asaklit instead.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

heinz squeeze and stir soups

I read about these on Darren's blog, so when I was next in the supermarket I headed off to the aisle where they have the soups and picked up a couple to try. Heinz Cream of Tomato soup needs no introduction and is the utimate winter comfort food, ideal for the coming season. And just like it's big brother that comes in a can it's gluten free. They weigh 72g and are simple to use, simply tear off the perforated top, squeeze into your mug and stir in the water. And as the soup is a concentrated paste you don't get that after taste like you do with packet soups. Apart from the obvious use as a warming starter there's scope to use the soup as a base for something more substantial by adding pasta, dried veg, etc to it. So it's lightweight, tasty, low bulk and no packet soup after taste, so what's not to like? Well at 59p a satchet, the price is a bit hard to swallow. That said one or two of these are going into my food bag on trips out over the next six months.

grower's cup coffee brewer

The Grower's Cup coffee brewer is an innovative way of getting a cup of fresh brewed coffee on the trail. It's simple to use just open the top, pull a red string (that opens the spout) and pour in 0.5l of hot water. The top is then re-closed and you leave it to brew from 5 to 8 mins depending on how strong you like your coffee.

The coffee, which is from Ethiopia, organically grown and fair trade, has an excellent flavour, and it was a pity that I only got one sample to try. The pouch weighs 45g, and as you can see from the picture it's fairly large although not particularly deep. It's being distributed by Rosker - 023 9252 8711 - and will cost £2.50 per pouch. Despite being very good coffee, in my mind, the cost and the bulk of the product lets it down.

Monday, 12 September 2011

helen browning's speedy sausages

These were suggested to me by a friend who also suffers from coeliac disease. Each packet has two portions of six sausages at 100g per portion, a handy size as part of a meal for one. The nutritional values are as follows; 1176KJ of energy, 17g of protein, 23g of fat, and a minuscule 0.6g of carbohydrate per portion.

The cooking instructions say they can be fried in a little oil in five minutes. As I wanted to simulate a camp cook scenario I set up my Coleman F1 lite on the patio and cooked them on a low gas with no oil in a non stick Primus fry pan. These are not called speedy for nothing and they were ready to eat in no time. I loved the taste of these although the fat content was a little high for my liking.

I've not tried any recipe ideas out yet but I guess they could be served with instant mash, with baked beans, or added to a rice or pasta dish. One of the dishes I've always wanted to re-create on a camp stove is Fabada. I can now envisage pre-diced chorizo being heated in a pan with the sausages until cooked through, chicken stock being added along with garlic granules, dried onion, and dried cooked cannelli beans. Then the seasoning; turmeric, smoked paprika, and ground pepper. The whole thing being brought to the boil and simmered, or put in a cosy, until the beans are reconstituted. I can't wait to give it a try.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

eurohike backpacker tent - first look

Front view

I was asked to select a tent from those that Millets stock so naturally I went for the Eurohike Backpacker. As it would appear very odd for me to post a review on something that has a frame, sleeps four or more people, and requires the use of a car to transport it!

The tent is a two person, two hooped tunnel one that weighs 2335g without the peg and pole stuff sacks. Splitting the bits between two gives roughly similar weighing bundles. The poles are colour coded as the rear of the tent is lower but it's obvious which one should go where. The height at the front of the tent is 90cm which is too low for me. The inner is solid with mesh at the top at the front and rear, it also has a pocket either side and a hook at the apex, nice touches but pretty standard these days. The space in the inner is what I'd call cozy for two with little room for storage. This isn't too much of an issue because there's space between the inner and outer to store stuff, and whatever you can get down under your feet. The porch space is quite roomy too. Access to the inner is by a left biased D door, and I would personally like it wider on the right to make it easier to get in or out without trampling on your partner.

Offset entrance

It pitches outer first which is always a bonus in the UK because we have weather not a climate! The outer has four guying points, two on each hoop, given that tunnel tents have little rigidity across the width of the tent it does flap. Pitching it tail to the wind would help but I'd be inclined to double the number of guys using the second set to add rigidity to the poles. The outer has two vents at either end to aid ventilation with the rear one with a Velcro closure. The door opens on the left so you can create an area that is covered and ventilated should you need to cook under cover. As already mentioned the porch space is good, easily accommodating a two pairs of footwear even smallish rucksacks. But with the entrance to the side I'd keep the area uncluttered which would make it easier to get in and out of.

Baggy bottom

There is a slight design flaw with the tent. The foot end of the inner clips to the guy out loops of the outer unfortunately as these guy out points are elastic and the pull on these by the inner means that the flysheet wouldn't set properly and became baggy This meant it flapped, and didn't shed water as well as it should. To remedy this I used an extra two groundsheet spikes. Although I didn't try this it may be possible to rig extensions to the inner clip out points, to save carrying the extra pegs. This is a shame because as a budget tent it has it's plus points but it's let down by this.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

mrs crimble's crackers

Finding a decent bread substitute for a backpacking lunch is a pain when on a gluten free (GF) diet. Doubly so because I'm a diabetic and need carbohydrate (CHO) to count against the insulin that I inject.

So lucky for me that I was approached by a PR company, The Ideas Network, who's client is Mrs Crimble's, and they sent me three boxes of cheese crackers to try. As it happens at the beginning of this week I was completing the last leg of the South Downs Way, and whilst in the general store in Alfriston I spotted a box of these crackers, so naturally I bought a box.

The three varieties are Original Cheese, Sundried Tomato and Pesto, and Rosemary and Onion, typical Mediterranean flavours then. Nutritionally they all contain 63.8% CHO however the flavoured crackers have few more calories than the plain ones. I like cheese flavoured biscuits because they can be eaten without any spread or topping, and, if you're lucky to have some, they go really well with sliced chorizo or salami.

Each box contains 7 servings of 4 crackers, giving 11.5g CHO per serving, so to suit my need I'd be looking at having a third of a box for lunch when out on the trail.

The crackers are very crisp, and like all gluten free biscuits and crackers they need careful packing because they will break up. Unsurprisingly it's because it's the gluten in wheat and other grains that hold bread, biscuits, etc together. Another point to note is that GF products are usually made from a mix of various starches, and potato starch likes absorbing moisture given any opportunity. Storage in an air tight container is a must, especially as the crackers aren't packed in portions. That said if there were two of you then sharing a box would solve that issue.

The flavouring isn't overpowering like some others I've tried. I'm always wary when food stuff has onion flavouring as usually several hours after eating I can still taste the onion, not so in this case. And I particularly like the crunchy crispness of the crackers.

I'm glad I was offered the opportunity to try these as they will help break up the monopoly that oat cakes have had on my lunch breaks.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

stealth camping - the rules

Olympiad training ground?

The first rule of stealth camping is... well, there is no stealth camping. And if you're stealth camping and get discovered then you've obviously not been stealthy enough.

Here's my 'guidance' on how to be stealthy - or not.

Bushcrafters wear green and drab coloured clothing for a reason. Wearing a day glo red synthetic base layer isn't going to help. Unless you happen to be hunkering down in an azalea or rhododendron plantation in April.

Similarly the same goes for your shelter. A Vango Force Ten? Too large profile, and foot print. And even in an azalea or rhododendron plantation in April you'd be hard pressed to hide something that orange. Even a green coloured tarp might be too high a profile; how often do you see green pyramids in the woods when you take your dog for a walk?

Planning on taking a mate? Make sure that s/he isn't a prospective gold medal winner in the 2012 British Olympic Snoring team. Or for that matter, whether you're a similarly aspiring Olympiad.

Using the shelter of the woods is often a ploy of would be stealth campers. However the woods are home to a myriad of munchers that range in size, from the micro sized muncher such as the mosquito, to much larger munchers, badgers or foxes, that have been know to munch rucksacks to get at morsels of food. That said if you're ensconced with one of the above Olympiads chances are that their training will keep the larger munchers away. Sadly micro sized munchers like mosquito's are indiscriminate and will not be deterred by snoring however loud.

So you've found a spot just off the track and someone has helpfully built a lean-to out of rotten branches, and put a black spot on the soil marking the spot where you should light a fire, should you fancy one. Think again, it's probably a trap set by rangers or wardens. Or if not they will certainly know of the place, and so will everyone else.

There is no smoke without fire; avoid being the centre of an arson investigation, leave the stove at home. Whilst wood gas stoves like the Bush Buddy are really efficient, if you can't get really dry wood you'll have a lovely pall of smoke hanging over your camping spot. The equivalent of you putting a poster up on the trail side saying, "I'm in here, on the right, behind the huge thicket." And even if the smoke dissipates some vigilant passer by may get a whiff of it and come and investigate.

Dog walkers do take their dogs out for a walk before seven in the morning.

the shropshire hills - caer caradoc

Looking back to Helmeth and Ragleth Hills

In his book the Shropshire Hill Country Vincent Waite says this of Caer Caradoc, "Caer Caradoc is likely to be the first choice of a climber because of its commanding height, bold outline and historical interest." And indeed it was the first of the hills we bagged.

We approached the hill from the east leaving the car at the parking spot under Hope Bowdler Hill. In the Cicerone guide David Hunter's route starts from the car park in Church Stretton but as we drove down from the campsite past this spot it made sense to start from here, especially as there was space. Parking is limited to half a dozen cars but it's free. Unlike the car park in town which is much larger and costs.

What you don't realise if you climb up the eastern slope is how steep and airy the western edge is, it falls dramatically down to the busy A49 and Church Stretton. On our visit there was a lot of haze that so we weren't able to make out much more than the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones. On one of those cold clear days you could see into Wales. But only if it was a still cold day otherwise the only thing you'd make out is the tears streaming out of your eyes, even in the relatively gentle breeze that day my eyes started to well up.

Caer Caradoc is one of the places that Caractacus is said to have made his last stand against the Romans. It's know that the battle took place somewhere in Shropshire but not exactly where, and there are other hills nearby that have the same name. Whether the battle took place here or not it was certainly a settlement because the flat-ish summit is ringed with earthworks. And the imagination is stirred further by the tower-like rock structures that dot the edges of the summit. I could just see these towers, manned by a small bunch of plucky picts throwing rocks, spears and firing arrows at the overwhelming numbers of Roman Legionnaires as they marched up the unremittingly steep slopes.

From Little Caradoc, with Lawley and the Wrekin (in the distance)

From the summit of Caer Caradoc we dropped to the lower peak of Little Caradoc before descending further to pick up the track that runs along the eastern edge of the hill, and we followed this back towards the car.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

food find - asian home gourmet kimchi soup

Another great Longdan food find, Asian Home Gourmet Kimchi Soup paste. I've used this paste a number of times at home with the rice udon noodles that I posted about here. At home I added the paste to a litre of boiling water along with a roughly chopped onion and sliced bamboo shoots in the pot, after five or so minutes I added some cubed chicken breast. At this time the rice udon had been soaking for half an hour, and I'd refreshed the hot water during this time. Once the chicken had been poached I added shredded chard from the garden, and cooked for a further three or so minutes. The noodles were added to a (large!) bowl and the soup poured on top.

On the trail I'd use the broth I'd get from stirring the paste into hot water to rehydrate whatever I want to put in it. The choice is yours when it comes down to it but the paste isn't vegetarian as it contains shrimp paste and fish sauce. Soy sauce isn't used and the label states it's free of gluten contaminates, so it's gluten free but then I wouldn't be featuring it here if it wasn't! And it's MSG free too.

Stripped of the outer package the sachet weighs 53g,which isn't a bad weight compared to some cuppa soup mixes that might be used as a basis for a meal. And although the packet states use 500ml of water it does stretch to a litre as I use at home, so can be be split or used as a base for two in a larger pot.

This past week on a car camping trip I used the thick noodles again (I love them!) and poached chicken breast, pak choi, and bamboo shoots in the broth on a Trangia, the noodles needed breaking in half to soak but but nevertheless it was as good as ever (apart from trying to eat noodles with a spoon!)

I spotted some rice noodle nests that would make a great addition, albeit a bulky one, to this dish however whatever noodles you prefer, or can eat, this is a very flavoursome base and it''s one I'll continue to use.

the shropshire hills - wenlock edge

Wine but no sign of the author

Lower Hill Farm campsite is located a few miles south of Much Wenlock on the western side of Wenlock Edge. Rita, the owner, optimistically claimed that the site was terraced which it was, after a fashion. But that didn't matter to us as we had pretty much the whole campsite to ourselves so we found a relatively level spot in the top field with a superb view out across to Caer Caradoc, The Lawley and beyond. Behind us somewhere in amongst the trees ran the Shropshire and Jack Mytton Ways.

"What are we doing tomorrow?" Penny asked. "That," I said pointing at one of the hills.

In Much Wenlock we'd picked up an OS map of the area (1:25 explorer #217) and a second hand copy of Shropshire Hill Country by Vincent Waite, which happened to turn out to be a real find. First published in 1970 it covered all manner of legend, history, geology, architecture and more on the area. In fact this book became a reference to the walks we did, "So what does Vincent say about..." was often asked when looking at the map and the guide as we planned the following day's activity. Our imprint was the 1989 one and there are copies available online.

We used David Hunter's The Shropshire Hills, A Walker's Guide published by Cicerone that we bought from The Outdoor Depot in Church Stretton. Despite being close to the start of three of the routes in the book covering Wenlock Edge we opted to bag peaks instead. This was no slight to the charms that undoubtedly the Edge offered but I thought that I'd like to walk the length of it. And for that you need to use a two car shuttle.

As the day closed the route was decided, and we drank vino whilst reading Vincent.

the shropshire hills

"What's that over there?"

"That's the Shropshire Hills..."

"Any climbing?"*

"Naw, don't think so..."

"What time will we get to the Vanyol Arms?"

"Before it closes, I hope..."

On many occasions I have been party to similar conversations. The Shropshire Hills suffer the same fate as that of Northumberland, people drive past on the way to some where else.

More fool them. Whilst I try and visit Northumberland every couple of years, I'm ashamed to say that it took until this week for me to rectify the situation, Shropshire-wise. So last Monday armed with the knowledge of a campsite perched on Wenlock Edge, a box of full of food, and a car boot equally full of kit, we whizzed up the M40 in search of England's other forgotten county...

*There is climbing in Shropshire, apparently.

Monday, 18 July 2011

rab vapour rise smock

I've had one of these for two years now. Although intended for high activity use, it has reflective piping on the shoulders and back, it's become a regular piece of backpacking kit for the cooler months.

RAB clothing is a good fit for my body shape and has a nice close fit. The sleeves are over long and have thumb loops which is a useful feature that I've used a number of times. Particularly because it doesn't have any where to stuff your hands. It has a dropped tail to cover my bum, the deep front zip helps to ventilate when the going gets hard, and there's a napoleon pocket that will take an OS map. Now it might seem like a good idea if an item of clothing stuffs into one of it's pockets, after all you won't need a stuff sack... But since the pocket isn't tethered internally when you try to take whatever is in there out it invariably means the pocket will follow more so if your hand is damp, which I find irritating.

As already mention this garment is meant for high activity use, so it doesn't have a hem cord but it's some thing that I find useful for the use that I put it to. However it does have one for the collar. I presume this is for sealing the neck to stop rain running down your back or to keep warm air in, whatever it's intention I've never had call to use it.

The material, Pertex Equilibrium, is wind resistant not windproof and this makes it more breathable, again a feature that is found in this type of top. The idea is that if you're running you generate heat so you need better breathablilty, and allowing some breeze through will have a cooling effect thus creating balance, or as the name suggests, equilibrium. Similarly it's shower resistant not waterproof, the surface material dissipates the rain over a large area to aid evaopouration with your body's heat driving the drying process through the lining material. Wear this when it's raining and you'll be damp, warm damp depending on how hard you're working.

Although it's not windproof enough for my liking, there's no hem draw cord and no pockets, it's something that I can put on over a base layer and be comfortable in a range of conditions. And that's why it works for me.

mountaingoat detachable mesh pocket

I spotted the detachable pocket on twitter last week. MountainGoat is a one person operation and as I'm a big fan of supporting the outdoor cottage industry, I ordered one up. They are made to measure so you have to supply the dimensions and specify what grade of grossgrain (the thin stuff is lighter) you want. The pocket was made, despatched and delivered within a week.

I have gone from an Osprey rucksack that had pockets a-plenty to the three pockets of the Golite Peak/Jam without missing the extra storage and gear organisation that you have with those additional pockets, so why would I want an add-on?

Fishing for gear in the main pocket of a Golite bag is like trying pick out the winning ticket in a tombola, although by adding a couple of mini karabiners stuff like keys can be easily got at as I described here. So having an optional mesh pocket seems to me like a good idea.

Mesh keeps the weight down, my one weighs a paltry 27g, but apart from the extra storage, the mesh pocket is a good place to put damp gear so it has a chance to dry out. I haven't had the chance to get out recently so haven't had the chance to put it to the test but I think it will become a useful option to have.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

food find - rice udon

Longdan, an oriental supermarket chain, opened a store in town a few months ago and I wasted no time doing a supermarket sweep searching for stuff that would be suitable for backpacking (and my dietary needs, of course). Generally I steer clear of oriental food stuff because it invariably includes soy sauce or wheat noodles which contains gluten. However I am still fond of soupy noodle dishes so I was excited to find udon noodles made from rice. And, at the time, I thought that they would make a good addition to my backpack pantry.

For some reason there were no cooking instructions on the packet, this didn't matter I reasoned, I'll just cook them like I would gluten free pasta... However my first attempt resulted in half cooked noodles in very gloopy water! After scouring the Internet, including having to translate various pages, I was still no wiser. A quick visit to the shop and I discovered from another manufacturer of fat noodles that they need to be soaked in 'warm' water for twenty minutes or until soft. Back in the kitchen I soaked the second batch in hot water, and the noodles took nearly forty minutes to soften up.

Sadly although I've enjoyed a number of great dishes with these lovely fat noodles the preparation time discounts them from being useful on backpacking trips for me. If you're prepared for the wait, or like some, who carry nalgene flasks to rehydrate food stuff and can't eat food with gluten in, then give them a go. There's always the opportunity however, depending what's in my store cupboard, I might prepare them at home for an overnighter perhaps and carry them in a ziplock bag.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

gefen gluten free thin noodles

A seasonal food find as I found out when I went back to Sainsbury's. These were only stocked for Pesach (passover). And despite spending some time online I haven't been able to find a supplier, which is a shame as only having a single box to test a recipe is limiting.

My aim was to create a backpackers version of chicken noodle soup or lokshen as I remember it being being called when I was younger. My mother always used to administer this whenever a family member was ill. It's not a cure but, like all soups, it's a comfort food, it's easy to swallow, it helps rehydrate, and delivers calories thus helping the body to recover. So therefore ideal at the end of a long, hard day on the trail.

My memory of the dish was that it was thin like a consomme but I wanted to make it more harty, making sure that it had a good quantity of CHO ( carbohydrate) and therefore calories. One thing I do when building recipes is to work out how much CHO there is in the ingredient so I know how much insulin I will need. Unfortunately the nutrition facts panel is a bit confusing; it seems to imply that a single serving of 56g contains 82g of CHO! Although this may be based on the cooked weight, using 56g of dry ingredients. Looking at the 340 calories per serving, and with CHO having 4 calories per gram this would indicate again that there is 80g or so of CHO. I guess this must support my thinking that this is cooked weight. Why they cant just stick to using dry weight facts I don't know, I've come across this before with other dried foods, and it makes calculating how many insulin units I need difficult. Back to the recipe idea...

The base must be of good chicken stock so I always use Kallo low sodium and free range chicken stock cubes, one of each in this case. Apart from the noodles, I'm going to add some dried onion, dried garlic granules, diced dried carrot and swede, and some dried herbs. And if I have some shredded dehydrated chicken. The noodles take three minutes to cook, so it's important for the other ingredients to be hydrated before the noodles go in the pot. That's the idea, and I'll update once I've had a few attempts.


Spot the underlined correctly...

I found this device for removing ticks in Cotswolds. It's credit card sized and, without the wallet, weighs 5g. The card has a magnifying lens included. I guess if you happen to have a Sliva compass with you, you'll already have one of these. And as it's separate from the TickCard it's more useful because you can use the device whilst magnifying the critter (assuming it's on an area of your body where you can use both hands).

...and correct! (Blogger wont let me put a line under it).

How it differs from other devices is that you don't twist the tick, the manufacturer claims that, Link"biologists have found that that squeezing, twisting or in any way stressing a tick increases the risk of it injecting harmful agents into the bloodstream of its host..." There is no qualification on the packaging to substantiate this claim. In fact whilst reading the packaging (four pages of A6) I started to get the impression that the copywriter was playing the fright card, so I did a count of various words that were used in the copy. This is what I found.

Exclamation marks - 12
Safety/safe - 7
Disease - 5
Dangerous - 4
Serious - 3

Now whilst I'm fully aware that the number of people contracting Lyme Disease has been on the increase, and the swift removal of tick is important in lowering the odds of catching the disease, I dislike the use of fright factor to sell a product.

I'm also at odds with the fact that the USP of the device is contra to current practice, especially where there's no reference back to medical basis of the package's claims. And if I'm wrong on this point then I would expect them to include a reference to the research.

Monday, 20 June 2011

sea to summit x mug

As part of the AGG cookset.

I picked this up as a companion piece to my AGG three cup pan and coke can stove, and Bush Buddy cooksets. The reason being is that the AGG pan is too wide to drink from, and the Primus pot that I use with the Bush Buddy gets hot and, of course, sooty. I'm not keen on burnt lips and hickory smoked coffee.

The X Mug weighs 63g so that's the weight penalty, it has graduations on the inside and will hold 400ml, which is about the right volume for a Starbucks Via. It's USP is that it's stored flat. The X Mug fits happily on/or in both these cooksets. It's made from silicone and the sides are soft, so there's the danger of squeezing it and spilling your brew. Although, the rim is stiffened so you can drink from it as if it was an oriental vessel. Silicon is better than titanium to drink out of. And if your hot drink is too hot you wont be able to hold it.

It's a mug's game.

It's conical shape means that it has a smaller base to it's rim, on a flat surface that isn't an issue but on your average uneven campsite there's a danger of it toppling over.

I'm not convinced that with the number of disavantages (you can't cook with it either) that the mug has, is outweighed by the benefit of having something that packs flat. For all that it's better than the other options that I've used, and avoiding burnt lips is to be welcomed.

gsi microgripper

I've coveted these since GSI launched it's Minimalist cookset a couple of years back. And as I already own more pots and pans than I can use I wasn't about to splash out thirty odd quid for a small piece of orange silicon.

That said I have two cooking systems that would benefit from this piece of kit; an AGG three cup pan and coke can stove, and the Primus 1l pot that I use with my Bush Buddy. So luck was with me when I was doing a trawl of the gear shops on High St Ken at the weekend, as I stumbled upon the grippers being sold individually in Ellis Brigham.

The gripper weighs 12g which is less than half the weight of the MSR litelifter that it replaces. It also features a magnet which is useful with a gas fueled system as you can park it on the cylinder so it's at hand when cooking. The other use is for storage; you can park it in the concave bottom of a cartridge. Since both the systems I intend to use it with don't feature a steel cartridge I'm considering whether to cut the magnet out to save a few more grams.

Monday, 13 June 2011

golite shangri-la 3 floor

Reinforcing patch and sealed seams

I've owned a Golite Hex3 for a number of years. It was bought so I could take my son on camping trips because at the time the only shelters I owned were either too small (a Mountain Hardwear PCT1) or too heavy (a TNF Nebula).

In the past I used non fitted groundsheets usually single person polycro ones but for half term I needed to maximse the space available in the tent, so it would accommodate the three of us, plus Harry, and our rucksacks. And knowing that Ben would bring along some Halo or Gormitti figurines which would easily get lost in the grass I bought a floor. There is no problem with retro fitting a Shangri-la 3 floor to a Hex3.

And it worked. We had all the space we needed. The bungy loops go over the guy outs and there's clips to raise the top edge to the loops sown into the shelter walls. The depth of the bathtub depends on how high you have the edges but I would say that even if you have them fairly low there is still some protection from standing water.

Clip and bungy guy out

The Hex doesn't have a porch so the groundsheet goes up to the door, some might find this a bit of an issue if you were needing to cook under cover, but it's an easy matter of unhooking and unclipping the groundsheet from the door guy out point and pulling back the groundsheet.

The groundsheet has a reinforced patch in the centre but I also packed a lid from a Xmas pudding pot and stood the pole end that for added protection. With the shelter that crowded I knew that the pole wasn't going to be dead centre anyway.

My only grumble is that I bought the 2010 version of the floor which was advertised as being lighter than it's earlier incarnation at 425g, however on my postal scales it clocked 520g! That's big difference in weight.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

meths stove priming

I got this tip from Grant, friend and fellow BPC member. He is a big fan of meths stoves and owns several different models. His trick is to use a tea light to warm the stove and the fuel making it easy to light and get up to speed. Now this tip only works with certain types of stove such as the Vargo Triad or the redoubtable Trangia but I felt it was worth sharing.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

fizan compact trekking poles – first look

P1010846Poles apart?

Bought as a present for Penny because she doesn’t own a pair, after she found out that they are really useful when walking in snowy, icy conditions.

It’s claimed that these are the lightest poles in the world according to from where they were purchased which is blatantly not true. What Fizan claim is that they are the lightest telescopic poles at 158g each. However that weight, which is printed on the poles, isn’t correct either as they tip my postal scales at 20g heavier. Not that this matters to Penny as she isn’t a gram counter, unlike me :)

With those grumbles out of the way I’ll get to the detail. They come in a range of colours of which Penny chose gold, and are supplied with baskets and rubber tip protectors. They are 58cm in their packed size, extending to a max of 131cm. The handles are shaped and have adjustable wrist neoprene loops. And what makes these lighter than other telescopic poles is the patented Flexy Lock System; it requires no external parts.

P1010844Missing something?

The advantage of telescopic poles is that their height can be adjusted making them suitable for shared use, whoever is using them can fix them to their size. Another advantage is that they nest, unlike the Trail Blaze poles I own, making for a smaller, tidier package. And if you’re a tarp user like myself they give more flexibility to the pitching your shelter.

P1010845 Fly off the handle?

Although they’ve been out on a couple of day walks they languished in the side pocket of Penny’s rucksack. And this may come as some surprise, I’ve not even had a tinker around with a tarp with them yet. That’s for another day and another post.

the outdoor show

The 2011 show was held in London for the first time, relocating from Birmingham NEC to ExCel in the docklands. And similar to other events (TFM and the Publishing Expo being another example) this was club sandwiched with the London Bike Show and the London International Boat Show.

The show at it’s previous location wasn’t of any interest to me, not least that I’ve always felt the exhibitors list wanting. And looking at this year list I wasn’t expecting much.

That said I’d been sent some complimentary tickets, Ben was over so it was a good excuse for a trip up to town. And across it, and out the other side; ExCel is the other side of the Isle of Dogs.

It was certainly busy and we wandered around looking at stands but not seeing very much, a friend who had visited the show earlier in the week bemoaned a ‘lack of gear and gadgity things…’ I can only agree.

I had an interesting chat with a couple on the Tick Awareness Stand, one of whom had contracted Lyme Disease from a tick bite. Changes in farming methods, and the increase in the number of people enjoying the outdoors has lead to an increase in the number of cases.

And on one other stand, someone committed the cardinal sin of not knowing the product they manufacture, even with a laptop connected to their website he wasn’t able to answer my question. I’ll spare them any blushes by not naming them. But suffice to state that if you manufacture freeze dried meals and have a stand at a show like this punters are going ask whether the food contains gluten or any of the other allergens. Not having an answer cost them a customer and any glowing reviews that I might have written.

For my part the small but cosy collection of stands at the BPC AGM is the best place for gear and gadgity things. Now if someone could persuade Henry Shires, Ron Bell and other cottage industry manufacturers to fly over with kitbags of their goodies then that would be, well, brilliant…

Monday, 17 January 2011

o’tom tick twister


I picked these up at the Outdoor Show from the Lyme Disease Awareness stand for a very worthy five pounds; four the twisters and a pound to the charity for which I received a scratch card. The scratch card rewarded us with another pair of twisters. Ben, my son, picked out his pair in a funky red colour.

These are so light that my scales have had trouble weighing them! I’d guess that they weigh around three or so grams, much lighter and more compact than the pen sized device I’d normally carry.

Simple to use, you just pick the twister to match the size of tick, slot the groove under the tick, and twist!

Prevention is better than a cure so as Seasick Steve sings, wear your socks right up to your knees :)

Saturday, 1 January 2011

new year, new day, new resolution

P1000735Cloud inversion on the Carneddau

Not really a resolution more of a reaffirmation… I’m going to get out backpacking once a month. No lofty aims or ambitions like bagging Munro’s or Marilyn's, or clocking up 20 mile days, just out in the countryside; some where, any where. In a tent, under a tarp or hanging in a hammock I don’t mind. Just out. In the fresh air, away from the City, in a space to breath, and think, and be free.

And I've not pencilled something in in my diary… no, I’ve written it in biro.

food find


It’s worth doing a browse around ethnic food stores when you get the time as there’s a good chance you may turn up something that could be added to your backpacking pantry.

Most UK supermarkets only seem to stock dried skimmed milk and this watery rubbish, is well, watery tasteless rubbish. So I was pleased to discover Nestle’s Nido full fat dried milk in my local store. As expected the inclusion of the fat makes a big difference to the taste, whilst I’d always prefer fresh milk on my muesli, this stuff is leagues ahead of the watery tasteless stuff that I have been using.

A while ago I spent many hours browsing the web for bannock recipes and as many trying out different flour mixes and combinations to create a decent gluten free bread. Whilst doing this research I came across the idea of using ghee for cooking on the trail, ghee is clarified butter and is used in Indian cooking. The benefits are that it’s solid at ambient temperatures and will keep without refrigeration. Being solid is an advantage over olive oil especially as all the bottles that I’ve ever carried it in seem to leak oil over time. Pity is doesn’t taste the same.