Wild Country Zephyros 1 Tent Review

This is a review of the original Wild Country Zephyros 1. Terra Nova have released an updated version of this tent, the Zephyros 1 Lite, which is slightly lighter (and slightly brighter). I’m posting a review of this original version because…

  1. Terra Nova are still selling it
  2. At the time of writing it’s on sale at Cotswold Outdoor for £99 which is an absolute bargain for an excellent backpacking tent.

Wild Country Zephyros 1 pitched without the inner.

The Zephyros 1 is a solo 3-season backpacking tent.

It’s an almost direct copy of Terra Nova’s successful Laser Competition 1 and is made by the same company (Wild Country are a cheaper range made by Terra Nova). However there are a few major differences.

  • It’s made from cheaper, heavier materials. Terra Nova claim a packed weight of 0.93Kg for the Laser Comp and 1.57Kg for the Zephyros.
  • The Zephyros comes fully seam-sealed, the Laser Comp needs to be seam-sealed by the customer.
  • The pole sleeve is attached to the tent, unlike the Laser Comp where it’s separate, and this makes it easier to pitch.
  • The Laser Comp costs £330 and the Zephyros 1 costs £120.

I bought mine last year and it’s my go-to tent for the colder, wetter months when I’m solo backpacking. In terms of space I find it tall enough to sit up in (I’m 5’6″) and there’s plenty of room to sleep and cook.

I’ve not found condensation a problem. The inner door is half mesh and there are small mesh panels on the inner at either end. The porch has a 2-way zip so you can open a ‘window’ at the top if extra ventilation is needed (although obviously not when it’s raining).

The porch isn’t massive but there’s room to cook inside. Note: cooking in tents can be very dangerous, not just because of the potential for combining fire and highly flammable fabrics but also the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. I’d advise against using a stove inside a tent unless you have lots of ventilation, are very cautious, and are experienced with the stove you are using. Always have a plan.

The second time I pitched this tent I did it in the dark, in the rain and managed it without too much swearing. Compared to some backpacking tents, where getting the sides taut is an art-form, this is pretty easy. There’s one big pole that goes over the middle and 2 short end poles. The tent comes with the end poles left in when the tent is packed away but I remove them and store them with the main pole. That way the fly & inner can be squished down to a much smaller size without the end poles getting in the way.

I haven’t pitched this tent up a mountain in 50 mph winds but it’s been out in heavy rain and reasonable coastal winds and it’s held tight, no problems or leaks.

The colour is an advantage when wild camping as it’s not too lurid.

My Zephyros 1 on the Isle of Wight Backpacker’s Club trip.

 

Modifications:

A very easy mod is to swap the guy ropes for lightweight dyneema and mini line-loks. There are only 4 guy ropes on the tent so it doesn’t make a great different to the weight but at the same time it’s not a big job to do.

Carry lighter tent pegs. My set includes some light v-shaped pegs that came with a Nemo tent and some titanium ‘ti-pins’. The Zephyros uses 10 tent pegs when completely pitched.

Lose the stuff sacks if you don’t need them.

The door doesn’t stay open very easily with the in-built catches so a peg or clip is useful.

Door held open with clip.

 

Summary:

A great, cheap tent in a popular, well-tested design. Ideal for a solo hiker on a budget.

It’s hard to find fault with this tent. Although it’s a little heavy for a solo tent compared to some other tents on the market it’s a third of the cost. (The set-up I have weighs 1.4Kg not including the pegs.) It’s very sturdy and the Pu Polyester feels stronger than Si Nylon. Not having to seam-seal a tent is a real advantage. A little more room would be nice but there’s plenty of space for one. I only paid £99 for mine and I really feel like I got a bargain. This is a tent I have confidence that I’ll be comfortable in.

Extra option:

Today I pitched the Zephyros without the inner. This tent will pitch with just the fly but the end poles could sink into soft ground. Nick Miles, chairman of the Backpacker’s Club, has suggested using the tops of milk cartons to keep this from happening. In this config, counting just fly sheet and poles, the tent weighs 835g.

Without the inner the end poles could sink into soft ground.

 

Full Specs:

  • Sleeps: 1
  • Season Rating Spec: 3 season backpacking
  • Free standing?: No (tent requires guy lines to be pitched)
  • Minimum Weight: 1.41Kg (3lb 2oz)
  • Packed Weight: 1.57Kg (3lb 7oz)
  • Pitch Time (estimate): 5 mins
  • Number of Porches: 1
  • Number of Doors: 1
  • Pitch Type: Fly and Inner pitch together
  • Pack Size: 52cm x 14cm
  • Flysheet: Pu Polyester R/S 4000mm FR
  • Floor: Pu Polyester R/S 6000mm
  • Poles: 8.5mm Wild Country Superflex Alloy
  • Peg: 10 x Aluminium V-Angle
  • Guylines: 4 x black reflective 2.3mm
  • Inner Door: Half Mesh

Dimensions

Good tents attract small dogs and sunsets…

GOTY 2013

Seeing as everyone’s on the Game-Of-The-Year bandwagon I thought I’d hop on too.

After the PR disaster that was the Wii U release, I had real concerns for Nintendo’s future but getting a 3DS XL handheld has reignited my love and faith in what was my favourite video game company as a child. Also, I’ve only played one game on my Android phone (World of Goo) and absolutely no games on my iPad this year. So again my prediction was way off, I thought that mobile apps would be the death of handheld video game consoles. I’m very pleased to report I was wrong on both counts.

nintendo 3ds

A quick mention has to go to the big games of the year that I didn’t enjoy. Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite. I enjoyed the latter as a spectator and loved the story but watching the game being played didn’t inspire me to play it myself at all. I’m suffering from zombie fatigue so when Last of Us’s railroaded gameplay and dodgy controls made me rage-quit I never picked it up again.

 
One last thing before I get to my favourite games of this year. Two games I played that were released before 2013. Journey was worth the wait. An unforgettable 3 hour experience. Also a friend lent us Heavy Rain and that was terrific. Two fantastic and unique games, highly recommended if, like me, you missed them when they were released.

Honourable Mentions.

Attack of the Friday Monsters! (3DS)


This is a beautifully realised Japanese game about a boy named Sohta who lives in a town where monsters and superheroes from 1970s tokusatsu shows appear every Friday. If you love Studio Ghibli movies you’ll likely love this little game.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf. (3DS)

Animal Crossing kept me busy for at least a month, if not longer. It’s hard to remember as I was too busy tending orchards to take notice of the passing of time.

Second Place.

Borderlands 2 DLC: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep. (PS3)


“The gameplay revolves around Lilith, Mordecai, Brick, and Tiny Tina playing Bunkers and Badasses, a tabletop role-playing game parody to Dungeons and Dragons. The player is dropped into the Bunkers and Badasses world, and as the player progresses through the game, Tiny Tina, as the Game Master, narrates the story; sometimes deciding to modify the game world to add in a boss, new enemy or new NPC.”

Borderlands 2 is one of my favourite games of all time and this DLC was made for me. The rpg in-jokes, the story, the ending. Absolutely. Genius. So enjoyable. Moments where I laughed so hard I had to hold my sides. Moments where the story itself moved me to tears. If this was a full game it would have been my game of the year. As it is, it almost won despite just being downloadable content.

My Game of the Year.

Tomb Raider. (PS3)

Aside from the occasional annoying quick time event, I loved everything about this game. Beautiful vistas, spine-tingling climbs, bags of adventure. Plus a whole heap of character development. At the start of the game Lara’s vulnerable and desperate but by the end she’s a hero and you’ve lived that journey with her every step of the way. The balance between exploration, combat, and puzzle-solving was just perfect.

Notes:

Having just started Pokemon X and Beyond: Two Souls these games may still make my list. In addition there’s a long list of games I haven’t played yet including Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Gone Home, and Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. 2013 was a fantastic year for games.

Wearables

“A terminal, in the shape of a ring, button, bracelet or pen or whatever, was your link with everybody and everything else in the Culture.”

- Iain M. Banks, “A Player of Games” first published in 1988.

I’m certain Mr Banks was spot on with this prediction. The next evolutionary step for ‘mobile phones’ is the tiny wearable (badge, ring, bracelet) that provides your personal connection to the internet, establishes your location, and records health-related data.

Mobile phones have morphed into delicate, pocket-sized computers and it’s not always practical to carry one. Especially if you’re exercising or somewhere that isn’t mobile phone friendly, like the beach.

It makes a lot of sense to separate out the network-connecting part of your phone, the GPS, and the motion tracker and to carry these in one small wearable device. Any gadget that needs an internet connection can just tether to your Wearable. Admittedly it would be useful to also have some basic functionality. So you could send and receive messages for example. Or check the weather or traffic. Or get directions. However I don’t expect you’d want to take photos (looking at you Samsung) or watch television or read a book.

So, if you went for a run, you’d just wear your Wearable. It’s a badge or a bracelet or a belt clip or whatever. You’re still connected to the world, able to receive messages. Streaming music. Still tracking your exercise so you can analyse it later online. You can make your location visible to others, or get directions, or track your route. But there’s no mobile phone bouncing around in your pocket or strapped to your upper-arm.

Later on you watch live streaming TV on your 10 inch tablet – which is tethered to your Wearable. You decide to call your Mum on your 5 inch handset using the network connection provided by your Wearable. You take some photos on your digital SLR camera which automatically upload to Facebook via the Wearable’s internet connection. Neither the tablet, handset, or camera need to have an internet connection themselves.

Smart watches are heading in the right direction but with one major flaw, the network connection’s still in your mobile phone. They still need your phone within bluetooth range for them to have an internet connection.

Whoever makes this Wearable isn’t going to be making money from the software. This thing’ll run on the most basic OS. It doesn’t need to be all-singing and dancing. It’ll be the smallest, best looking bracelet with the best connection and reliability. Hardware and design will be key.

I’m looking at you Apple. The last few iPhones have been iteration not innovation. But then maybe this is already on your radar. Perhaps i-Wearables are already out in the world being tested?

Perhaps I’m way behind the times? Maybe this has already been done? Please comment!

And where does it go from there? Iain M. Banks predicted a future where a planet’s computer would detect that you were falling (location, speed of descent) and would send a drone to catch you before you hit the ground. Of course, only if you’d remembered to wear your terminal.

Next-Gen Games Consoles pre E3 – What do you think?

The 80s called, they want their VCR back.

The 80s called, they want their VCR back.

Apologies to outdoor walking enthusiasts who follow my blog and have absolutely no interest in gaming. Please skip this post which will most likely just sound like complete nerdy gadget babble (which of course it is).

So, now we’ve had both Sony and Microsoft’s announcements for their new consoles which will be launched later this year. A new generation of consoles is an exciting time, full of promise and hope. I just thought I’d write down where my head is at this stage and hopefully hear what your thoughts are. It’s all very well listening to journalists but I’m interested to hear what my friends think.

Where I’m at with the current generation.

Currently we have both a Xbox 360 and a PS3. It wasn’t a conscious decision to own both, we got the PS3 very late in this generation’s cycle for two reasons;

1) Playstation exclusives like Uncharted, Flower, and Journey that we’d heard a lot about and wanted to play.

2) Free online multiplayer without a monthly paid subscription.

Since plugging in the PS3 we haven’t turned on the Xbox. The main reason why? Free online multiplayer and 4 friends who also have Playstations. There are other reasons too. I prefer the interface and find it surprising that Sony have taken flack for it, for me it’s much more intuitive (and pleasing to the eye) than the current Xbox UI. The machine is also way quieter than our Xbox which has always sounded like a dying aeroplane engine. The controllers don’t require batteries which is a little thing but boy is it great. Lastly Sony, at the moment, seems to me to be more customer-orientated. It’s not, ‘pay a subscription or get nothing’ it’s, ‘pay a subscription to get more’ and that’s a completely different tone.

As an aside, what a generation we’ve had! I’ve never been as excited and into video games as I am now. Assassin’s Creed 2, Fable 3, Tomb Raider (2013 reboot), Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning, Borderlands 1 and 2. Some of my favourite games of all time and all in this generation.

You're holding it wrong.

Dude, you’re holding it wrong.

How I’m feeling about the next-gen.

So yes, I’m a little bit of a Sony fangirl at the moment and I expect this has skewed my view but this is where I’m at.

Sony talked about supporting game developers and especially indie developers. Making it easier for them to code for the PS4 and to get their games to market. Horay! More of this please.

All of Microsoft’s TV talk completely missed the mark with me. Why would I choose to pay Microsoft (an Xbox Live subscription would be required) to turn my Xbox into the portal through which media gets into my home when I can access it without any additional cost via a laptop, set-top-box, or smart TV? If they want the Xbox One to be the only thing under the TV, replacing cable boxes and Apple TVs, then these features have to be subscription free. Xbox 360 online gamers are acclimatised to paying Microsoft a regular subscription but to me it’s just throwing money away.

Technically, on paper, the PS4 is a more powerful machine although Microsoft have apparently said some processing power could be off-loaded to the ‘cloud’. This probably won’t have any noticeable effect except on Playstation exclusives but still… vroom vroom.

The Xbox One’s Kinect microphone freaks me out. I know, I know. Every-time I sit in front of my laptop, like I am now, I’m sitting in front of a camera and microphone and connected to the internet BUT the thought of having an always-live internet-enabled microphone in my living room above the TV is creepy.

There’s been no definitive answer to the Xbox One’s rumoured ‘always-on’ requirement but a Microsoft representative has said that it’ll need to connect to the internet at least once a day. As a family who switches everything off at the plug when it’s not being used (to save on electricity and for fire-prevention) what happens if we leave it unplugged?

I love the promise of being able to start playing a game while it’s still downloading. If it works Sony have addressed a major frustration with the current generation of consoles.

Call of Duty with a dog. Even pulling a Molyneux won’t get me interested in that game, sorry.

And finally, perhaps the most important thing, that shiny bit on top of the Xbox is going to be a bitch to dust.

Sooo…

It looks like I’m pretty anti-Xbone! Didn’t realise how much so until I wrote it down. Sony haven’t addressed a lot of things that Microsoft have (DRM, paid subscription services, what the box will look like, etc.) so I do feel they’ve let Microsoft fall on the sword first. The more we know the more there is to dislike. If the PS4 requires a paid subscription for online multiplayer then my tune will definitely change.

Soon it’ll be E3 when Microsoft will be bringing their game face and Sony will get the last word. In the meantime, please tell me what you think…

Gamer Girl by Samuel Deats

References

IGN’s PS4 Xbox One comparison chart here

The Weekend Confirmed audio podcast, Xbox One episode here

Adam Sessler’s first impressions video and others from Rev3Games here

Quechua Forclaz 300 Women’s Hiking Jacket Review

What Decathlon say:

Protection from the rain and wind, and keeping your body dry while MOUNTAIN HIKING. Waterproof, breathable, and ventilated, the Forclaz 300 L has all the essential properties of an authentic trekking jacket at an absolutely unbeatable price.

  • Waterproofing: 5000mm waterproof NOVADRY membrane. 100% taped seams.
  • Breathability: NOVADRY hydrophilic membrane (RET=12) limits condensation inside the garment.
  • Ventilation: Underarm ventilation zips: aid perspiration wicking.
  • Flexibility: Hood folds into the collar.
  • 2 year guarantee.

It also has the following features.

  • Two reasonably sized hand pockets with zips.
  • Inside pocket with zip.
  • Storm flap over main front zip.
  • Adjustable cuffs via velcro tabs.
  • Adjustable bottom via pull-cord.
  • Adjustable, peaked hood with draw-cord
  • Soft collar and chin protecting fabric over top of zip.
  • L size = 461g

At the time of writing, for sale for £44.99. I bought the jacket on offer for £39.99.

I bought this waterproof jacket for the warmer months to replace my Paramo Velez Adventure Light Smock which is just far too hot and heavy to carry in the Summer. After hunting around and doing some research I’d actually decided I wanted the Rab Kinetic or the Marmot Crystalline.

The Kinetic weighs 220g and the Crystalline 176g! Obviously both much lighter that the Forclaz 300 (461g). However the Kinetic (at the time of hunting) cost £128 and the Crystalline £120 and neither jacket was available to buy in the colour and size that I wanted. So, on the spur of the moment whilst passing time in Decathlon, I bought the Forclaz 300. It was on sale and looked like a bargain.

The Good Stuff:

  • Features of a modern high-end waterproof (see list above) in a cheap jacket.
  • A very flattering and comfortable jacket. Long at the back, fitted at the waist (but not too tight). Long sleeves to keep hands dry.
  • Loose sleeves that can be pushed up or cinched tight. (I can’t stand elasticated wristbands.)
  • Excellent hand pockets for hands or bits and bobs. Also a good-sized inside pocket with a zip that takes a smart phone.
  • The pit zips, sorry “underarm ventilation zips”, are excellent and easy to use one-handed.
  • The colour. My Mum thinks it’s a bit bright but I love the turquoise blue. Reminds me of the seaside.
  • The price. Quite honestly, if I lost or ripped this jacket tomorrow I wouldn’t shed a tear.
  • It’s waterproof!  Like the Quechua tents this jacket is, so far, bombproof.

The Bad Stuff:

  • The hood isn’t perfect. On my Paramo I can move my head around and the hood moves with me and the peak is excellent. On the Forclaz there’s a bit of movement and the peak isn’t ideal.
  • The weight. At 461g it’s not particularly light but then it’s still about 200g lighter than my Paramo and it packs down to about 2/3rd the size.
  • I imagine this isn’t as breathable as a more expensive jacket? I ask this as a question as it’s never something that’s been a particular problem for me since the cagoule I had back in the 80s.

In Summary: I’m really pleased with it. If I could have sourced and afforded a Rab or a Marmot jacket I would have bought one but all my extra money would be getting would be less weight and a smaller pack-size. In terms of features the Forclaz 300 is an excellent waterproof for a remarkably low price.

Aside: It took a month and a half for me to test the waterproofness of this jacket because from the moment I bought it all rain clouds were repelled from me. Including during a weeks walking on Dartmoor! For me that’s worth £40 alone ;)

How to make a Pinterest live wallpaper for your Android device

This is a slightly manual process but free and fun.

First download the Photile Live Wallpaper app by Joko Interactive from the Google Play store to your device. There’s a free and a pro version. (The pro version has more options in settings.) Photile turns any picture you choose into a grid of floating, fading, sliding tiles. Requires Android 2.1 and up.

Now go to your Pinterest app and find the images you want displayed in your Pinterest live wallpaper slideshow. Save these images to your Android device. (On my Samsung Galaxy S3 I do this by pressing the menu button and then selecting “Save to Device”. This saves the image to a folder called “Pins” in my phone’s picture gallery.)

Open up the live wallpaper settings. On my phone running Android version 4.1.2 this is under…

Settings – Display – Wallpaper – Home screen – Live wallpapers

Select Photile and click on Settings.

Select “Picture” and then “Choose Image”. Pick any image from the folder on your phone that contains the Pinterest saved images. On my phone this is under “Gallery” and “Pins”.

Back in the Photile Settings, go to “Picture” and then “Slide Show Options”. Check the box next to “Slide Show (Beta)”. This will add the other pictures you saved in the same folder to the live wallpaper as a slideshow.

Also in Photile’s Settings you can adjust the interval between pictures, the background colour, and adjust things like whether the tiles move or fade or react to being touched etc. Have a play around to find what you like.

When you’re happy with your live wallpaper click “Set Wallpaper” and you’re all done!

Of course this app will work with any images on your device. I just like using my Pinterest pins the best :)

Using The Pocket Stove as a Wood-Burner

Today I did a brief test of The Pocket Stove from backpackinglight.co.uk as a wood-burning stove.

The Pocket Stove laid flat, storage tin, and a 10p for size comparison.

This is the first time I’ve used a wood-burning stove. We usually use a Primus ETA express gas stove. The Pocket Stove was obtained to provide an alternative multi-fuel stove.

The blurb:

A flat pack, clip together multi fuel cooking stove. The adjustable platform offers two burn heights, the top slot for esbit/hexamine tablets and the other for organic matter and pop can stoves.

Weight: 141g (195g in tin)

This is my second attempt to test the Pocket Stove. The first attempt, in the depths of winter on a cold and windy day, failed completely. My lasting impressions from this original test were…

A) When it’s very cold and windy using a wood-burning stove is a very silly idea.

B) Knocking the pan of water off the top of the stove just as it’s boiling is also a very silly idea.

It’s worth noting here that a heat-exchanger pot (with a crinkly bottom) doesn’t sit easily on top of the Pocket Stove. My original test was with the pot from the ETA Express. This second test was done with a much more stable, smooth-bottomed titanium MSR kettle.

I managed to boil a cup’s worth of water using little twigs (of about pencil thickness) that I’d gathered and dried for the task.

Safety – The stove gets extremely hot. It’s impossible to touch it when the fire’s burning and for a fair while afterwards. Small hot embers fall through the bottom on the stove onto the ground. Without a durable heat-proof surface the ground (or whatever your cooking on) will be burnt.

Convenience – Wind blows ash out of the stove onto and around everything nearby. When finished there are a little pile of burnt out sticks (and whatever else you used to start the fire) to deal with. The pot and stove are covered in sticky soot that’s tricky to wash off even with washing up liquid, hot water, and a scrubbing pad.

Time – I didn’t time how long it took but at a guess it took about 20 minutes to boil the water. I’m sure that I can get quicker with practice but obviously, slower than gas.

Skill – I had pretty much ideal conditions for the test. The wood I had was bone dry. I had a large number of long matches and newspaper to hand (and a bucket of water in case I set fire to myself). The temperature was mild and the wind slight, just enough of a breeze to fan the flames but not put them out. Even so, it’s not a walk in the park to get a good little fire going and to keep it going long enough.

Stealth – This is not a stealthy way to cook food. It makes a lot of smoke and it smells. There’s ash floating around too. Not ninja.

Fun – This is a lot of fun! There’s something about gathering your own fuel, for free, from the natural world, which is satisfying. Our natural love of cooking fires, the warmth and light, sound and smells, kicks in even with this tiny stove. Then the concentration and skill to light and keep the fire burning adds another dimension of enjoyment to cooking.

I made this!

The Aftermath.

In summary, I think this is a really fun piece of kit but cooking with wood is probably more of a novelty than a practical cooking solution. Next up, a test with a hex tablet.

From backpackinglight.co.uk:

Specifications:

  • Max Height: 10cm
  • Max base width: 7.5cm
  • Sq plate: 7cm x 7cm

Weights:

  • Side Panel: 31g x 2
  • Back Panel: 31g
  • Door: 26g
  • Square Base: 22g
  • Total: 141g
  • Storage Tin: 54g
  • Packed Total: 195g

Will it fit your pop can stove?

  • Height 100mm
  • Base Plate 68mm sq
  • Upper Aperture 61mm sq
  • Lower Aperture 72mm sq

The Pocket Stove was designed and manufactured entirely in the UK by backpackinglight.co.uk

The Winter Months

I have a confession to make… I’m a 3-season outdoor enthusiast.

Brrr.

I don’t mean that I won’t walk on a cold and rainy day, far from it. At the moment I’m waiting for some decent rain to try out my new bargain Quechua waterproof. It’s just that from December through to March I’m not going walking or camping or backpacking. It just doesn’t happen. An hour’s walk a day with the dogs around the woods in slush, ice, and freezing temperatures is enough for me. Quite honestly, the dogs don’t want to go outside at all.

Walkies? Ok, I’ll be right behind you.

Partly this is because I feel the cold more than others and have to make extra provision to ensure I don’t have a Raynaud’s attack when out in it. If I’m wearing the right clothes and moving swiftly I’m fine but if I get caught-out then a pleasant walk can quickly become a miserable experience.

Knitting output increased as temperatures dropped.

The main reason I don’t do much outdoorsy stuff in the winter though is it’s a great excuse to stay indoors and indulge my other main hobbies, knitting and gaming. This winter I knitted two jumpers, numerous socks and hats, and played stupid amounts of Borderlands 2 with my husband and it was great! I felt justified closing the curtains, putting my feet up, and just enjoying being at home.

Adventuring from the comfort of my own armchair.

Now spring has (finally!) arrived the outdoor bug’s returned with a vengeance. Fresh shiny issues of TGO landing on the mat have me dusting off my backpack and checking my tent over. Maps are being examined, routes are being planned, holiday days booked. Yay for spring!

Photo by Neville Fenn.

Berkshire backpack – Uffington to Lambourn.

 

 
Back in 2010 I heard about the Backpacker's Club and joined. It seemed obvious to combine two of my favourite activities, walking and camping. 2011 saw us making plans but we got a puppy which grounded us until he was tent trained. All the time I kept reading of backpacker's adventures in the club magazine. Daydreaming of getting outdoors with everything needed for an adventure in my rucksack.
 

This year I was determined to make it happen. Unfortunately the club didn't have any events in my neck-of-the-woods that I was free to attend. Searching for inspiration I asked on the forum. Tony Wilson and Darren Tipper suggested the Uffington to Lambourn weekend David Topley had put together in 2008. It looked perfect. Not too far between the campsites (7 miles), easy walking along the downs, and with ancient monuments on the way.

Talking about my plans on the club's Facebook page generated a fair bit of interest for exactly the same reason I'd not been able to make a club meet, not much on in the South East in June. So, from just an idea, all of a sudden my Berkshire backpack was an official club event. My first backpack and my first club meet. What had I done?! However, after emailing the local county liaisons, and Tony, and Darren, I received so much support in reply that my fears were allayed. Also using David's weekend as a basis for mine made it very easy to arrange.

In preparation, my husband, our two dogs, and I did a few training walks. Packing our Lightwave Wildtrek rucksacks with our lightest tent and everything we thought we'd need. Surprisingly it was easy to carry the load, probably because our rucksacks are so well designed. Thanks to blogpackinglight for the review that sent us in Lightwave's direction.

 
Before I knew it, it was Friday the 22nd of June and we were driving to Uffington. Rather than using the motorway we took the scenic route through Streatley and Wantage. It was a beautiful evening and a lovely drive. We arrived at Britchcombe Farm to find everyone already pitched and friendly greetings were exchanged. Geoff Gadsby had been knocked over by a car walking to the site but was okay apart from a few scrapes and a sore wrist. The car only stopped to make sure he was still moving before driving off! He'd pitched his tarptent at the bottom of the hill out of the wind. The rest of us braved the cold wind in the top field and we all enjoyed the beautiful sunset.
 
 
Britchcombe Farm's a surprisingly big site with multiple fields, portaloos, water taps, and (in most fields) campfires allowed. Up at the farm there's a washing up area and a shower and I saw a sign for teas. It was £7 per person (which I collected & handed in Friday night) and we were allowed to leave the cars Saturday night for a small donation to their favourite charity. The best bit is their proximity to the Ridgeway although the footpath to get there from the farm is pretty vertical!
 
 
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear with sunshine. Geoff Gafford arrived early to join us and we packed up and, in a number of small groups, headed South towards the Ridgeway and Uffington's White Horse. It was perfect walking weather. A cool breeze, sunshine and intermittent light showers. My husband, Nev, and I stopped at Waylands Smithy for a bite to eat after wandering around Uffington Castle and admiring the view North from the White Horse.
 
 
We took a footpath South, West of the Lambourn Downs Way path. Unfortunately the path disappeared under waist high crops and we ended up having to force our way through for a few kilometers. Exhausting hot work until we reached a small copse of trees where the path became clear again. There we stopped and brewed up some hot chocolate and attacked the jelly babies.
 
 
The way was much easier after that and we made good progress towards Lambourn, meeting friendly locals on foot and horseback on the way. Despite big black clouds and heavy rain in the distance we kept missing the showers and arrived at Farncombe Farm at 3.30pm after walking a total of 10 miles. Anne and Donald were already there enjoying afternoon tea and we pitched our tent nearby and did the same. Later on, after a much longer trek (in some cases including pub and chips), Geoff, Geoff, Grant, Frank, and John arrived too.
 
We were joined at Farncombe by a large group of DoEers. They pitched in another field and were no trouble at all. Liz and her family are terrific. They left their back door unlocked so we could use the house toilet so we wouldn't have to share with the school girls. A very welcoming site and at £4 a night a bargain too. I collected the damage from everyone and took it to SaraJane at the house, who was looking after the campsite for the weekend. Lambourn village is a bit of a trek down narrow country roads 2km away so we all settled in for the night and, as it got dark, the rain and wind arrived. Luckily the hatches were battened down. Grant was under his green handkerchief but was still there in the morning, along with a little group of black beetles who'd decided his tarp was the best place to shelter during that wild night.
 
 
Sunday morning, just in time for breakfast, the weather cleared up and we all headed off together, taking the most direct route back to Uffington. Once again it was a clear day with great visibility, windy with dramatic dark clouds on the horizon that we never caught up to. We walked along the gallops on the Lambourn Valley Way. Stopping for a snack in a lovely grassy spot where Don found the perfect sitting stone. Eventually we strung out as everyone walked at their own pace enjoying the fresh air and long views.
 
By lunchtime we were back at Britchcombe Farm picking up the cars and saying our goodbyes. It was such an enjoyable weekend I immediately decided to do it again as soon as possible. I can't thank the attendees enough and the other club members who offered advice and support for my first meet. Extra thanks go to Donald Betts who picked up Anne Ling at short notice when her lift fell through. It wouldn't have been the same without her. Backpackers are an easy-going and independent lot so it's very simple to arrange a meet. Low maintenance! I urge anyone whose thinking of having a go to do it, especially if you're in the South of England ;)
 
 
More photos here.
 

 

Rab Women’s Vapour-Rise Lite Alpine Jacket Review

Originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of Backpack, the journal of the Backpackers Club.

 

New for March 2012, a lightweight version of Rab’s popular Vapour-Rise jacket. Breathable, wind/water resistant, quick-drying “soft-shell”. Made from Rab’s Pertex Equilibrium fabric with a tricot fleece lining.


Sizes: 8 – 16

Weight: 290g / 10oz (size 12)

Colours: Beluga (black), Anemone (pink), Aegean (blue)


First impressions are that the Vapour-Rise Lite Alpine is light, soft, and very comfortable. The hood can be rolled up and clipped out of the way. Stuffed into its own pocket it has a pack size of approx. 22cm x 17cm x 12cm.


Loose cuffs at the end of extra long sleeves keep hands warm and dry, or can be tightened with velcro tabs, or pushed up to the elbows in warm weather. The jacket is cut on the small side, particularly around the waist. The length in the torso is good, low at the front and back, which makes the two-way zip indispensable when sitting down.


Having a hood on a soft-shell makes a lot of sense if you want it to be truly useful in the rain. The fully adjustable hood and wired peak maintain excellent peripheral vision. The two outer rucksack-friendly pockets are fairly useless except for the lightest and slimmest of objects but the inside pocket is a unusual bonus on a women’s jacket.


This is a great jacket for middle-of-the-road weather. It stayed dry in a light shower but wetted out on the shoulders and sleeves when tested in a heavy rainstorm (with hail). In a brisk wind it’s a fine protective shell but not warm enough for a very cold day. It’s cooler than a full waterproof and is half the weight (compared to a Paramo Velez Adventure Light).


For an all round lightweight Summer walking jacket this is a winner plus it can also be used as a mid-layer on a colder/wetter day.


Rab