Paramo Ladies’ Andina Jacket Review

I’ve had a Paramo Ladies’ Velez Adventure Light Smock waterproof jacket for many years and it’s terrific. Even in the worst of heavy downpours it’s never failed and, after many winters, it still looks like new. My main, rather major, problem is that I overheat in it. The smock doesn’t have a full length zip or sleeve vents. So unless there’s ice on the ground it stays on the coat hook.

So I’ve taken the plunge and bought a Paramo Ladies’ Andina Jacket to replace the smock. The Andina is designed for walkers and backpackers with “demanding levels of activity”. It isn’t Paramo’s lightest waterproof jacket (that’s currently the Mirada) but it does have a map pocket and mesh-lined shoulders and back (for when you’re wearing a rucksack) which the Mirada doesn’t have.

Here’s Paramo’s video about the Andina…

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Colour:

I have the lavendar/cobalt version which, in my opinion, is the only decent colour it comes in. The Andina also comes in pink/purple, bright red, or er… another red. Luckily “lavender/cobalt” is just light/dark blue. Due to the nature of Paramo fabrics and the bright colour the Andina in blue is a bit ‘shell suitey’, but only a bit.

Size:

The Velez in Large is generous on me but in the Andina it fits perfectly with room for a medium weight insulation layer underneath. (I usually wear a UK size 12 or 14.)

Weight:

The Andina in L weighs 675g on my scales. (My smock weighs 615g.) So this isn’t a light jacket. However it feels robust and if I don’t have to take my jacket off then I don’t mind it weighing a bit more which brings us to…

Breathability:

Recently I hiked up and down Offa’s Dyke with a 10kg backpack in typical autumn weather, hot sun one minute and cold wind/rain the next. Everyone I met had been playing jacket-off-jacket-on all day and yet I hadn’t felt so hot I had to take off my Andina. When it got too hot I unzipped the front and generous sleeve/torso zips. When I reached the windy top, in cloud and rain, I zipped everything up.

The breathability of fabrics is something clothing manufacturers like to go on about and I do believe in the technology, to a point. There’s nothing more breathable than an open zip which is where the Andina excels compared to the Velez.

Comfort:

One of the benefits of paramo jackets is that the waterproof fabric is soft and quiet. It’s also windproof and, obviously, waterproof. Plus, in the case of the Andina especially, the jacket and hood are well designed for comfort even during activity. The Andina doesn’t hinder movement at all, is nice and long at the back, and has a well fitted hood with extra room in case you have long hair. Additionally it has practical pockets. Although the ‘valuables’ pocket is too small for my smart phone that fits in the map pocket and the 2 hand warming pockets are perfect for hands (or dog biscuits and keys). I’m so comfortable wearing this jacket that I’ve worn it pretty much every day since I got it.

Waterproofness:

I got the chance to test the Andina’s waterproofness in the Chilterns last weekend when autumn threw everything she had at us and I stayed warm and dry. Now, the caveat is that this is a brand new jacket. The DWR coating is new and still working as it should. Paramo jackets need regular washing and reproofing (like any waterproof) so only time will tell if this jacket is as waterproof as my Velez. I’ll update this post with how it performs over time.

Feature list:

  • Uniquely shaped hood to accomodate hair comfortably, fully adjustable with wired peak to protect vision.
  • Large sleeve/torso vents for rapid on-the-move cooling with minimal rain ingress.
  • Fully articulated shoulders and elbows for maximum freedom of movement.
  • Pump Liner reinforcement on shoulders and back for extra protection when load carrying or in heavy rain.
  • Reflective strip (front and back) for improved visibility.
  • Internal secure zipped pocket.
  • Internal map pocket.
  • Two hand-warming pockets, easily accessible during activity.
  • Two-way zip with internal storm flap.
  • Long sleeves for protection with cuffs that are easily pushed or rolled up.
  • Generous length with scooped tail to protect lower back.
  • Hem drawcord for easy temperature control.

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Suunto Core Classic Watch Review

I bought my first outdoor watch a few months ago and Deskbound Girevik asked me to write a review so here it is!

This is the Suunto Core Classic Watch in ‘all black’.

Suunto-Core-All-Black-504

Functions:

  •  Time
    • Day and Date
    • Alarm
    • Time in another time zone
    • Sunrise/Sunset times
    • Stopwatch
    • Timer
  • Barometer
  • Temperature
  • Storm Warning Alarm
  • Altimeter
  • Compass
  • Depth Meter for Snorkeling

I bought this watch for hiking. In particular I thought the altimeter, sunrise and sunset times, and storm warning alarm would be useful.

It turns out the compass is useful too. On a recent trip to the New Forest I used it, along with a map, to navigate to the pub off piste through the woods. Worked like a dream. Even got me back again after a pint of cider.

The temperature reading is fun. I tend to check it a lot and inform people how hot/cold it is, I’m sure they’re interested. On a cold morning in the tent it’s a good indication of madness.

Last weekend I used the alarm and it was discrete and yet woke me up. I don’t like too loud an alarm when I’m camping near other people as I like to get up early and don’t want to disturb others.

The controls and menu are intuitive and easy to navigate. One of the Suunto Core’s best features in my opinion.

The second best feature is that, despite its size, the watch is very comfortable to wear. It’s light and has a low profile. It’s something I wear often, even when I’m not hiking, so that’s a good indication of how wearable it is as I rarely wear jewellery.

It is possible to change the battery yourself on this new version. (I think this was a problem on previous models.)

All in all, a useful piece of kit and I’m very glad I got it.

10600527_10152659924521948_2405735466961561974_n

More Wild Country Zephyros 1 Musings

Following on from my rave review, subsequent pole failure, and adventure with Terra Nova customer services, I took my Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent away to Leicestershire for the weekend with the Backpackers Club. With some trepidation that it might not be as reliable or comfortable as I need a tent to be after a long hike.

I’m pleased to report that I’ve fallen in love with this tent all over again. It was reliable, comfortable, and I found a new feature!

We had a big rumble of thunder Friday night and then an almighty downpour for about 10 minutes. After that I can happily confirm my Zephyros is still absolutely watertight after 10 months of use.


Then I was reminded how cosy it is despite the small dimensions.

The inner is rectangular, about the size of a mattress, but there’s an additional triangle of space in the middle at the back. This space is large enough to store a significant amount of gear, including my rucksack, without feeling cramped. The inner sags a bit but not a great deal. The vents at the head and foot help keep it airy. The zip goes right the way down the side and can be opened up and rolled away leaving the whole porch accessible from the inner, an advantage over similar tents that have just a half sized door.

The porch initially looks small but there’s bags of storage space. A gap between the inner and outer at each end can be used for storage and the line that attaches the inner to the fly can be used as a washing line. This can all be easily accessed because the inner zip opens right up to the ends.


All this storage leaves the main porch clear, accentuating the spacious feel of this tent. All in all, rather than feeling cramped inside when the door’s zipped shut, it feels very homely.

And finally I discovered a new thing!

The Terra Nova Laser Competition, which this tent is a cheaper version of, has a neat feature where the ends of the fly can be raised for ventilation.


Now I’m not convinced the Zephyros is designed to do this, but you can vent the ends in a similar way. First unpeg the outer at each end, tuck it up inside, and attach the peg loop to the line between the inner & the outer. Ta da!


I just thought I’d try it after checking out some Laser Comps on the meet and was amazed when it worked. From inside you can see out through the head/foot vents in the inner which is neat. I’ve never had any condensation issues with the Zephyros but on a hot, still night this would be a bonus. Plus it’s useful in the morning to help everything dry off. I was so excited when I discovered it I ran around telling everyone. Sad but true.

So there you go. The Zephyros is back in my good books.

Terra Nova Customer Service

Eek. I write a glowing review for a product and almost immediately it fails to live up to my review. Shortly after writing about the Zephyros 1 I discovered a significant failure.

Unable to get a taut pitch as the pole wasn’t curving into a smooth shape, I found a significant bend in one section.

IMG_20140513_042227

Here I need to stress that the tent hasn’t been pitched in high winds or under extreme duress. However it has always been very hard to get the pole into both outer eyelets on either side of the tent and needs brute strength. The instructions say it’s normal for the pole to take a curve over time so I wrote to Terra Nova customer services to ask if what had happened was normal and if it might potentially rectify itself over time by the rest of the pole taking a similar shape and, if not, what my options were.

Then I waited.

After a week I contacted Terra Nova via Twitter to see if they’d received my email. This bump got me a reply. No, this wasn’t normal and they would replace the pole as a ‘goodwill gesture’ if the tent was still in warranty. This seems odd to me. Surely if the product has failed under warranty it’s not a goodwill gesture to replace it? But whatever. I posted the bent pole off to Terra Nova on the 27th and it was received on the 29th. 4 working days later I received an email saying they’d received it and would get back to me as soon as possible.

A week later and I still haven’t heard anything or received a replacement pole. Now the returns paperwork declares that repairs can take up to 8 weeks but this is just a replacement pole. They’re not actually having to repair anything. If they’re out of stock then I’d expect at least an email to let me know what’s happening.

This isn’t a case of the worst customer service on record but it IS off-putting. Before this I wouldn’t have hesitated in buying or recommending their products but now I’m having doubts. Certainly the Zephyros 1 Lite is off my wish-list for now.

Saga to be continued and I’ll update this blog post as more happens. At least I have another solo backpacking tent I can use this month! Anyone else had any experience, better or worse, with Terra Nova Customer Services? I’d be interested to know if this is normal for them or for tent manufacturers in general or if it’s just a singular occurrence.

 

Update Monday 16th June.

The day I posted this blog post (11th June) I received an “@” reply from a friend via Twitter that cc’d in Terra Nova. Without being asked directly, the next day (12th) the person managing the company’s Twitter account contacted their Customer Services department to chase up the replacement order. Then they came back to me to ask if Customer Services had contacted me. So I have to say, excellent service from Terra Nova’s Twitter account! Timely, proactive, and professional.

The subsequent email I received from Customer Services said “As discussed in our earlier emails although the damage is not covered by our 2 year guarantee” and that a replacement pole would be sent out “asap”. I wasn’t happy with either of these statements so wrote back saying that the cause of the damage hadn’t been discussed, it hadn’t been caused by misuse/neglect/accident, and that “asap” is not a timescale. I also specified that I wasn’t happy with the service I was receiving.

I don’t know if either of the following 2 actions prompted a same day response but I’ll include them here just in case. Firstly I told the person managing Terra Nova’s Twitter account that I’d received a reply from Customer Services but that my issues hadn’t been resolved yet. Secondly I attempted to copy in the Managing Director of Terra Nova, Andy Utting, by guessing his email address.

So the same day I received a response from Terra Nova which I’ll include here…

Thank you for your e-mail. We are sorry you are disappointed with our gesture of goodwill offer.

Unfortunately the guarantee is not against any sort of failure or general degradation of materials.  We only make judgments as to whether the particular problem emanates from an original defect in materials or workmanship.

After inspecting your returned pole although we are unable to confirm how, we do conclude in our experience that at some point the pole has been bent at 2 sections due to some kind of external force/duress, this would have been quite strong to bend the sections.

However we have arranged to replace the pole at no cost as a gesture of goodwill.

and the replacement pole should be despatched today, at the latest tomorrow.

We will check this and confirm exactly for you.

If you are concerned about the tent, although we are not aware of a problem with this model you can return the tent to us for full inspection and we could pitch and check the tent in more detail for you.

Following this email I then received a follow up email confirming that the replacement pole had been posted that day! It arrived 2 days later on the Saturday (14th June).

I’ve tested the new pole today, very carefully. Honestly I think the problem is that the pole is too long for the tent, i.e. that the tent has a fault. Undue pressure has to be put on the pole to get it into the eyelets and when pitched it looks like a tauter pitch could be achieved if the pole was bent at a shallower angle.

So I’ve taken it all down and it’s sitting on the table.

I know I should post it back to Terra Nova for them to investigate. If I continue to use it, the replacement pole might be damaged the way the last one was. However, I’m loath to spend more money on this tent. I’ve already paid for postage and packaging back to Terra Nova once. Alternatively I could try and fix it myself by somehow, perhaps by lengthening the tape that runs between the eyelets underneath the tent.

Honestly at this point I just want shot of the thing. It’s really hit home how important confidence is with tents. I’m due to go backpacking soon and this is the tent I would usually take but now I’m concerned it may fail.

One last thing. I’ve had a few people tell me their Terra Nova Customer Services stories. One person said he’s had nothing but good service. However three people told me at length of their experiences and how they wouldn’t buy another tent from Terra Nova because of how poor the aftercare was. One friend saying that he’d had excellent service from Hilleburg which is why he’s now their loyal customer.

Thanks for following my Terra nova Customer Services saga. If you’d like to share your experiences with them or any other manufacturers or have any comments please share them below.

 

 

My Backpacking Gear May 2014

I’ve written this blog post because… everyone else is doing it!

Osprey Exos 46 backpack.

Backpack:

I’m currently using an Osprey Exos 46 to carry my gear. The Exos has been updated this year and I picked up this, older version, in a sale. I actually prefer it as there’s plenty of room for all my gear and the newer version has a capacity of 48 litres rather than 46 and hence is heavier. The large number of outside pockets makes grabbing things on the run nice and easy. I keep my waterproofs, the tent, a drinks bottle, snacks, cash, and first kit all on the outside of my bag so that the gear I don’t use during the day is safely tucked away in a waterproof liner in the main compartment and doesn’t get disturbed.

It’s not the lightest backpack on the market (I have the “S” back size and it weighs just over 1Kg) but it does have a solid frame and is of the build quality you’d expect from a company like Osprey. Besides 1Kg is a very reasonable weight. (You’ll notice this is a running theme with my gear: not the lightest but still, reasonably light.) Osprey don’t make a women’s specific version of the Exos but I’ve found this unisex version very comfortable. Some people criticise Osprey for adding too many features which raise the weight unnecessarily. In the Exos I quite like the gimmicks. You can get a drinks bottle out of the side pocket and stow your trekking poles without stopping.

One thing I’ve noticed to be a particularly British trait is to keep the tent on the outside of the bag. This enables pitching in the rain before opening up your rucksack and packing everything away inside the tent on a rainy morning, minimising gear getting wet and/or dropped in mud. It’s a mystery why Brits in particular would be mindful of this. I keep the tent pegs in an outside pocket, the poles in the side pocket, and the tent itself attached to the bottom of the rucksack.

There’s one waterproof liner in the main compartment, a Exped 40L Folding Ultralite Drybag, and some smaller waterproof bags in the outside pockets.

Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent.

Tent:

*** This tent had a failure! Please read blog post Terra Nova Customer Service ***

I wrote about it in my last blog post and here it is again, the Wild Country Zephyros 1. I’ve done some research and can’t find a better deal on a reasonably light solo 3-season tent. I’d like to replace mine with the updated, lighter version but for now it does the trick. My set-up weighs about 1.5Kg including pegs, poles, and bag. (The new version is approx. 300g lighter.)

I don’t bother with a groundsheet. The tent was so cheap and the floor so tough I don’t worry about putting a hole in it, I can always patch it if I do.

Top Row: Toakes Ultralite Solid Fuel Ti Cook System (stove, mug, windshield (not shown), Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Women’s Mattress. Middle Row: Sawyer Mini Water Filter, Headphones, Titanium Folding Spork, 2 x 12″ Nite Ize Gear Ties, Swiss Army Knife, Petzl e+lite Headtorch. Bottom Row: Decathlon Inflatable Pillow, Platypus 500ml Water bottle.

Stove:

Experts say that there are 3 big items you should focus on to reduce the weight you’re carrying. Firstly the backpack itself, secondly the tent, and thirdly the stove. In this third category I’m doing pretty well. My favourite stove is a titanium solid fuel stove, a titanium mug, and a titanium windshield weighing in total about 100g. (Pictured above top left.) It’s made by Toakes and sold as the “Ultralite Solid Fuel Ti Cook System” and it comes with a titanium folding spork and some little bags to keep everything in. It’s only good when I’m solo backpacking due to the size of the mug/pot but it’s a lovely little set-up.

Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag, occupied.

Sleeping System:

Currently I’m using a Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag which weighs 1.04Kg on my scales. I really could do with a lighter one for the summer. Currently it’s used as a quilt in the warmer weather or paired with an Alpkit bivi bag for sub-zero temperatures.

A Thermarest NeoAir Xlite inflatable mattress (355g) and an inflatable pillow from Decathlon which was stupidly cheap and works really well (81g) finish off my sleep system and altogether they’re extremely comfortable.

Viewranger app with OS map and route tracking running on Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Other Bits and Pieces:

Those are the key items but obviously there are lots of other things in my backpack. I mainly use Viewranger maps on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 as a GPS. There’s an mp3 player and headphones to help me sleep if a campsite’s noisy. A spare water carrier (either a 1L or 2L Source collapsable water container), lighter, money, toiletries, etc.

In terms of clothes I take a lightweight Rab waterproof jacket and, if rain is forecast, waterproof trousers. In the summer months I wear a Tiley hat to keep the sun out of my eyes and the rain off my head. In the winter I’ll take a warm hat, gloves, buff, and merino thermal layers. Wet feet on a weekend in Norfolk taught me to always pack a dry pair of socks. Recently I’ve added a cheap pair of cotton shorts to the list to wear inside my tent when my walking trousers are particularly wet and muddy. I also have a Rab insulated down vest that packs down very small and is a real comfort on a chilly evening.

Well there you have it, my kit list. In total it weighs about 6Kg before I add water, food, and fuel for the stove. Definitely not ultra-lightweight but it is on the lighter end of the scale. I’m too fond of my comfort items (mp3 player, tent socks, pillow) to ever get down to ludicrously lightweight so I’m reasonably happy with my reasonably lightweight set-up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Country Zephyros 1 Tent Review

*** This tent had a failure! Please read blog post Terra Nova Customer Service ***

 

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…

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