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.

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.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


Packed and ready to roll.

Bikepacking – it's the same as backpacking but my bike carries the bags not my back. And it’s something I've always wanted to have a go at. I’m comfortable with the camping side of the activity – obviously. But I haven’t had any experience of doing so with a bike.

There are some aspects of the activity that I’d like to have dry run at before peddling off like mad down one the of the many cycle routes this country or further afield has to offer.

The first is mileage. I know that I can comfortably break sections of a Long Distance Foot Path into daily chunks of fifteen or so miles and make my way to the end point. However on a bike I can go further and at a faster rate subject to the weight of the bike and kit that I’m carrying. And how lumpy the terrain I’m crossing is going to be, along with stops and the potential for detours, imposed or self-inflicted.  I should also mention that I haven’t spent a lot of time in the saddle either these past few years. With this in mind I’m working on the assumption that fifteen miles will take three hours – for now, as my assumptions are usually conservative.

The second is security. I can’t say I've ever noticed Sheffield Staples at any of the campsites I've visited but then that said I wasn't really looking for them! Some friends I know use folding bikes that take shelter in the porch of their tents presumably with a lock on, which keeps them out of sight of potential pilfering. And there's the added bonus of the ease of taking folding bikes on trains. Arriving at the campsite my concern will no longer about finding the best pitch but also somewhere to secure the bike within view of the same.

The third is shelter. For a number of years my shelters of choice have become ones that pitch with trekking poles. Not something that I’d need on a bike! Luckily I did buy a pair of Hampton Poles to use with one of my shelters, which will be the one I’m planning on using due to its small pack size and its overall internal volume. It’s with this that a bit of an experiment comes into to play… Namely with the front wheel off will my bike fit under the shelter? Another experiment is to see if I can pitch the rear end of the shelter using the bike itself rather than using a pole. This later point is an interesting one as the bike will be part of the shelter, it will have a lock on it all the same. My thinking is that a potential thief will think again about trying to steal my bike if the shelter collapses and wakes me up. It may appear that I’m being a bit over cautious but I grew up and lived in a part of London that, “If it wasn't nailed down it would go for a walk.” 

I have worked out a route and draw up my kit list. And will hope to be heading out in the next few days.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

gluten free scotch eggs - marks & spencer

Just before Christmas there was a tongue in cheek discussion on a Facebook outdoor page about trail food. One poster was bemoaning the fact that nobody seemed to eat the classic rucksack staples such as pork pies, Garibaldi biscuits, scotch eggs, malt loaf, etc these days. I joined the discussion stating that Garibaldi biscuits were a favourite of mine because they were very durable but these days due to having to follow a gluten free diet they were off menu. As were the rest of the other items under discussion for that matter.

Gone is sixty seconds

Not long after that I was looking for lunch in M&S and discovered that they now sell gluten free scotch eggs so they ended up in my basket in a flash. Back at the office they were gone before I could make note of the nutritional detail! And they were very tasty, a little drier than I'd like but that's gluten free food for you. A quick warm up would solve that but perfectly acceptable as a lunch when out and about. Since their discovery they have found their way in to my daypack on a number of occasions.

As you'd expect from a pork meat encrusted egg fat is high up on the count at 23g per egg (114g each approx) with protein at 13g and carbohydrate at 14g. As you can see with the amount of fat (20%) in it the scotch egg doesn't fit in today's ideal diet but if I'm out and about on the hills in winter these 'fat bombs.' are ideal for bolstering calorie intake, and are far more tastier than some alternatives. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

inov8 roclite 315 trainers

 (Almost) box fresh

This is my third pair in Inov8 Roclites, and these are the new look from last year’s revamp. So what’s changed?

Well, the mesh upper is now solid and has a new paint job. Although I’ve been a fan of using running shoes as my go to hiking footwear for a number of years I’ve always avoided the garishly finished makes like New Balance and Asics. The paint job on these is borderline but now with several months wear they aren’t so bright and shiny anymore. The midsole has changed to, it’s more springy than the earlier models as I seem to remember, which is good, meaning more comfortable and less tiring walking. The chunky sole remains which is great as they helped to keep me on my feet when running scree slopes in the Picos de Europa a few years back. And despite the non-mesh top the size 10s weigh less than their marque weight. However the non-mesh top isn’t an improvement on the earlier models, so it’s more water resistant than mesh but isn’t any where near as breathable. Last September when I walked a chunk of the Thames Path my feet overheated whereas with the previous mesh upper Roclites they wouldn’t have. And once damp they took longer to dry, in the past I’ve walked trainers with mesh uppers dry depending on the weather this wasn’t the case with these.

My overall view on the revamped Roclite 315s is one step forward and one back, the solid upper will be fine for the cooler months providing they stay relatively dry but I will need to invest in pair of trainers with mesh uppers for the warmer months.

One final point, I’ve used Superfeet insoles with all the Invo8 trainers I’ve owned but with the revamp they no longer fit. There must have been a change to the heel cup because first time out with them in my heel pads were pinched badly. Maybe the heel cup has been updated so that insoles like Superfeet are no longer required. I know a number of manufacturers that have been using better designs in recent years to support the heel pads so this may be just another development with the trainer. Not that this is an issue as I’ve already got many hundreds of miles use out of them so am not out of pocket and there still may be need for them with future purchases.

Monday, 16 February 2015

trailstar tarp-a-like

I have to thank fellow Backpackers Club member Darren Long for introducing me to this pitch. I own a BPL Duo Tarp and in the past to give good weather protection I've used a standard three sides to the ground pitch with the opening on the leeward side of the weather as shown below.

With this pitch there is a lack of privacy, it’s best to use a bivibag and sleep with your feet towards the entrance for maximum weather protection, and pitched this way gives enough room for two. In the past I've pitch the entrance with the cover of a wall – not the best view but it does prevent prying eyes.

However the pitch that Darren introduced me to goes one further and creates a smaller entrance and a beak giving more weather protection and better privacy. I've called this the Trailstar pitch after the MLD shelter as they are similar in shape as seen here.

Pitching is straightforward with the long edge at the back corners pegged first followed by the front. Take each corner and peg in line with the next tab in making sure the edges are tight. Fix a guy to the front middle tab and insert trekking pole under the tarp and guy out (with the Duo Tarp the pole sits under a tab). Then put intermediary pegs on the side and back edges. Take each of the corners and tie back to the peg on the side. Take your second trekking pole and set a riser at the rear to give a bit more room. Pitched like this there is plenty of room for one, headroom is good to at circa 120cm towards the entrance and with the entrance being sheltered you should be able to cook under cover. This was a test pitch and although easy enough to muster, I suggest having a few dry runs at it as I did find I needed to tweak it to get a decent enough tightness to the tarp. Incidentally Darren used bungee tie-outs which would help with this.

The instructions I have state that the wings on the sides can be re-positioned, along with the beak, to cover the entrance although I've not tried this yet but it looks a bit of a faff. On a recent meet Darren used an umbrella to block the entrance instead which is a simpler solution.

For those that are having trouble following the above there's a link here to a video using a DD 3x3m tarp, the method is the same but the shape is obviously different.