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.

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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.

 

 

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…

Nemo Meta 2P Tent Review

Nemo Meta 2P - cooking in the porch

(Photo by Grant Currin)

Recently we realised that, although our Wild Country Duolite Tourer is an excellent tent, we didn’t have a tent that was light enough for one of us to carry on a solo backpack. The Duolite Tourer weighs 2.95kg, has a reasonably large pack size, and has another disadvantage. With just one exit from the inner and a narrow tunnel shape, getting up requires the other occupant to also be awake (or at least be prepared to be trodden on in the middle of the night).

We were fairly settled on getting a Mini Peak II because of its low weight (1.48kg with the 1-man inner), twin entrances, and large internal size (5.25m2). However it’s only available with the 1-man inner for now and the square based prism shape, with a single apex held up by a single trekking pole*, might be impractical for two.

Having a final scout around I stumbled upon the Nemo Meta 2P.

The Nemo Meta 2P is a lightweight two-man tent held up with 2 trekking poles. On our digital scales at home the Meta weighs 1.55kg including dry-bag stuff-sack, tent pegs, and peg bag (excluding tags

)

The Meta is a hybrid between a tarptent (single-skin) and a tent with an inner. Two sides are single-skin and the front and back have no-see-um (insect proof) mesh between the sleeping compartment and the doors. To combat condensation two long vents run down the sides with another two on each end.

Both front and back have identical entrances and vestibules so both occupants have their own storage space and door. So in the middle of the night when one person needs the loo they don’t have to disturb the other. The sewn-in bucket groundsheet covers just the sleeping area leaving the vestibules free to store wet/muddy gear separately. Total floor area is 5.5m2, 3.5m2 in the sleeping area and 1m2 for each porch.

Another helpful design aspect of this tent is that the trekking poles tilt forward a little over the end of each porch so, when the door’s open, the overhang mostly keeps the rain out. Making it easier to cook in wet weather. In good weather, both sides of each vestibule can be opened up and tied back, on each end. Which mimics the closer-to-nature feel of a tarp but with the added insect protection of the mesh.

Having two trekking poles, rather than one like the Mini Peak II or Golite’s Shangri-La 3, means there are two internal points of maximum height. The tent isn’t as tall inside as the SL3 or MPII (only 109cm) but it does allow each person to sit under an apex. Also the highest points are at the entrances/porches which is where you need the height to get in and out of the tent more easily. Also it seems to me that two poles are more stable.

Nemo are an American company but, unlike some American tents, the Meta is available through UK suppliers and is already seam-sealed.

Last weekend I took the Nemo away to Dartmoor and it performed fantastically in wind and rain. Luxurious space for one. The 2 porches were perfect for storing wet gear, muddy boots, and still having space to make dinner. There was some condensation on the cold night but nothing terribly impractical, a quick mop around with a microfibre towel sorted that out. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone significantly taller than me (5’6″) as the sleeping compartment isn’t very long. The dry-bag stuff-sack was very useful Sunday morning to pack away the wet tent for the journey home. Another thing I appreciated was the coloured cord attached to the tent pegs, which were easy to find in the long grass.

All in all, it’s a joy finding a Nemo in your backpack at the end of a day out walking.

Nemo’s website

 

Few more specs:

Capacity 2P
Minimum Weight 2 lbs, 15oz / 1.3 kg
On the Fly Weight N/A
Trail Weight 3 lbs, 9 oz / 1.5 kg
Floor Dimensions 96 x 53 in / 244 x 135 cm
Floor Area 37 sq ft / 3.5 sq m
Vestibule Area 22 sq ft / 2 sq mm
Interior Height 43 in / 109 cm
Number of Doors 2
Frame Description 2 Trekking Poles or Meta™ 2P Pole Set
Packed Size 5 x 7 in / 13 x 18 cm
Shell Fabric 20D PU Nylon
Vestibule Fabric 20D PU Nylon Ripstop
Fly Fabric 20D PU Nylon Ripstop
Canopy Fabric N/A
Floor Fabric 30D PU Nylon Ripstop (5000mm)
Color Birch Leaf Green

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 11.43.51

Confirmed by email Aug 2013:

“The Meta 2p tent has 1500mm of waterproofing on the tent body, and 5000 on the floor.
Oliver Fisher
Customer Service Representative NEMO Equipment, Inc.”

Update June 2014 – Pitching:

Set your trekking poles to 125cm. Start by pegging out the 4 corners of the groundsheet, diagonals first, ensuring that the guys are long so they can be shortened later if needed. Then, with the doors zipped closed, add the trekking poles and peg out the 2 porches. To do this adjust the black tape so it’s as long as possible on the vertical line between the peg and the door and ensure the horizontal black tape is lying relatively taut on the ground and is in line with the tent roof. It’s okay if there’s a large gap  between the doors and the ground. (If you try to reduce this gap the tent will deform and be slack in all the wrong places. I believe it’s designed this way to create good air circulation through the vents and hence reduce condensation.) Finally guy out the two side vents. Sticks or an extra set of trekking poles can be used here to lift the sides of the tent to give more head/foot room inside. After an hour or so, if the tent has stretched, you can tighten up the guy lines.  In total the tent uses 8 tent pegs. I’ve switched out 6 for lighter Ti-pins but still use the original v-shaped pegs for the two porches. If it’s windy it can be worth using 2 pegs in each porch guy point to ensure they are secure.

* The idea being that you’ll be carrying trekking poles anyway so they might as well be used to hold up your tent, saving the weight of a tent pole in your backpack.

Camping: Tent Review: Vango versus Quechua… Fight!

On our last camping trip we used the Vango Orchy 500 as our main tent with a Quechua Base Seconds Full as a separate kitchen/utility tent. This was spacious and convenient but pitching and packing away was a pain. In total it took 3 hours to dismantle and pack away camp and an hour of that was just packing away the Vango. In comparison it took just minutes to put away the Quechua.

3 hours is a long time when you have to be off a pitch by 11am. The longer it took the more tired we became and the slower we moved. We made it by 11 but were shattered and facing a long drive home.

Since then I’ve been thinking, is it worth taking the Vango? I love the size of the Vango, it’s massive. It’s well designed. The windows make it feel spacious and light. It’s withstood gale force winds and rain storms. However if it’s raining you can’t have the doors open and it’s a labour intensive, slow job to pitch it and pack it away. The tent’s still sitting in our garage waiting to be dried out because it’s so big we need a really dry day to get it out on the lawn.

When we arrived at our pitch it was poaring down with rain. We’d been driving for 5 hours with the dogs in the car. We all needed to get some fresh air, stretch our legs, and have a drink before even thinking about pitching the Vango. So we grabbed the Quechua out of the car and popped it up. Within 10 minutes we were sheltered from the rain with the kettle on.

Using the Quechua Base Seconds Full with our 2 Seconds III attached makes a similar tent design as the Vango (one porch plus one sleeping area). I used this set up when I went camping earlier in the year (see photo above). It’s a much smaller living space and the two tents aren’t actually attached to each other. Also they both take up more room in the car than the Vango.

However they are _much_ easier to pitch and pack. We could have camp set up in minutes rather than hours. The lack of space could be helped by adding a 2 Seconds I (£25) as a storage tent (or perhaps even our Wild Country Duolite Tourer) to the 2nd tent attachment point. Another advantage is these tents are much more convenient to dry when you get home. With the modular system you can dry one tent at a time by just popping it up in the garden for half an hour.

We could, of course, sell the Vango and replacing it with a quick-to-pitch alternative. Like Vango’s new Velocity 400 (£415) or Quechua’s Seconds Family 4.1 (£180). However this is a more expensive option and isn’t as flexible as a modular system of three smaller tents.

For our next trip, we’ll use the Quechua tents instead and see if we can cope with sacrificing a bit of space in exchange for less back-breaking work.

Links:

Quechua Base Seconds Full review.

Quechua 2 Seconds III review.

Vango Orchy 500 quick review.

Camping: Tent Review: Quechua Base Seconds Full

The Quechua Base Seconds Full is a square pop-up tent with a domical roof, tall enough for an adult to stand upright inside, with 4 doors. It can be used alone, with other Base Seconds tents, or with one or two Quechua 2 Seconds tents.

“A living area with direct access to your 2 seconds.”

There are two doorways plus two entrances designed to allow access to up to two 2 Seconds tents.

The tent comes with an optional groundsheet. A tent inner can be purchased separately which converts the Base Seconds into a bedroom.

Height 190cm x 225cm wide x 225cm long

Quechua claim 4/6 people can sit comfortably round a table inside. Pitching time is quoted as 5 mins and packing away time 2 mins.

 

We have a Quechua 2 Seconds III that we use for short getaways. We also have a large Vango Orchy 500 for longer trips which has a bedroom and a porch. We decided to get a Base Seconds Full to…

1. Add an optional porch to our 2 seconds III.
2. Give us access to a bigger tent that I can use on my own (the Vango requires 2 people to pitch).
3. Provide a gazebo for use at home in the garden.
4. Add a separate kitchen/storage room to the Vango for longer glamping trips.

I tested the Base Seconds Full over a 2 night solo camp with our 2 Seconds III.

Pros

Quick and easy to pitch even for a solo camper. Once you know the technique and have had a little practice I agree it takes 5 minutes to pitch and 2 to fold away. In my experience that isn’t including guy ropes and tent pegs though. An added bonus is that it’s easy to pop open to dry when you get home.

Great ventilation and shade from the 4 entrances and overhanging roof. If the sun’s on one side of the tent you can close that side up and open the other doors. Each door also has a small netted window that can be used for ventilation without letting in bugs. I had no concerns about using my small stove inside with the doors open due to the tent height and airflow. Excellent flexibility as a sun and light rain shelter.

Practical interior space for living in. I had a camping chair, small table, two dog beds, two dogs, and a bunch of gear in there and used it quite happily as a living room for two days. Being able to stand upright is something I always appreciate. There are a couple of hooks in the ceiling for lanterns etc. I am however dubious about their claim that 4/6 people can eat comfortably around a table inside!

Cons

Very heavy to carry at 9.4kg. The tent in its bag is an awkward shape, big and round. There are straps which help but I wouldn’t want to carry it any distance.

This tent doesn’t do well in high gusting winds. I camped in (at a guess) 25mph winds and hence used all the tent pegs and guy ropes, afraid the tent would be pulled off the ground. However the opposite happened. The high design with overhanging doorways caught the wind and the poles bent so the roof pushed inwards. I sat inside and pushed back each time it happened but I was concerned that in stronger winds something may have torn.

The doorways open almost all the way round with zips. Unless you pitch the tent with even tension in all directions they’re fiddly to open and close.

The 2 Seconds tent doesn’t attach directly to the Base Seconds Full. There’s just an overhang that protects you from the rain going from one to the other. (Hard to describe but shown in the video.) So four doorway zips need to be undone to get out of the tent at night which, as above, can be extremely fiddly in the dark, when you need a wee, and you’ve forgotten to put on your glasses!

There aren’t any storage pockets inside. I think these would be a really good addition.

(Unable to test the waterproofness as we didn’t have any heavy rain, just a couple of very light showers.)

In summary, the Base Seconds Full is a useful addition to your 2 Seconds for Summer camping. As with all Quechua tents I think they’re a bit optimistic with the dimensions. It’s super easy to pitch and pack and the ventilation’s terrific. I can’t wait for an excuse to use it again!

Team Dogface Report – Just Walk 40km

Guest Post by Neville Fenn:

Report on the charity endurance walk (Warning – long post. Feel free to skip to the end!).

My feet hurt. And my legs too. In fact, my whole body pretty much aches. Today is Monday and I have today and tomorrow off work. And boy do I need it.

So why do I need this period of rest? Well, two days ago I took part in a charity walk with some friends. You know, one of those “I’ll go for a stroll and you’ll feel obliged to give some money to charity” sort of things. What follows is an account, at least from my perspective, of what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and who it happened to.

And for those with a short attention span, here’s a brief summary – We went for a walk. It was long. Now I hurt.

You still with me? Okay, then I guess I’ll add some detail.

We met up at Graffham Campsite, in Sussex, on Friday. This was to become the base of our operations for the next 48 hours. I got a lift with Janine (@TheRamblingDuck), which is lucky really considering that I had no idea where we were going. Plus she had a satnav, called Esmeralda. Traffic was not great, but it could’ve been worse. The campsite is pretty good. As long as you don’t have a tent and it doesn’t rain… Other than that it seems reasonable. To be honest we weren’t really there long enough to give the place a fair crack of the whip so the only other thing I’ll say is, it seemed quite reasonable.

Basecamp

Friday wore on and the rest of Team Dogface turned up, i.e. Paul (@loop_pool). We also met up with a couple of chaps who Jay had got to know via Twitter: Phil (@DaylightGambler) and Tim (@ukjeeper). I must have spent almost the entire weekend calling Phil, Tim, and Tim, Phil, before learning what their names actually were. Sorry chaps! 😀

Anyway, enough of that. Friday night passed without a hitch. Except that none of us slept properly in our tents and there was a massive thunderstorm.

Kit review – Just a quick tip of the hat to the tent I was using – a Quechua 2″ pop-up tent. Amazing really does sum up this great piece of kit. Went up in about 30 seconds, including repositioning and pegging. And it was almost totally waterproof. Yeah, I know, tents are supposed to be completely waterproof, but show me a tent that’s totally waterproof and I’ll show you a gigantic price tag. The Quechua 2″ is sufficiently waterproof (i.e. it let in maybe a tablespoon or so of water) through the duration of a thunderstorm. Couple that with the price tag and ease of use and I would recommend this to anyone…except backpackers, cos it’s about 2.5 feet across when packed up!

Back to the blog. I would like to say we woke early, but sleep was fitful at best so it’s probably better to describe it as we stopped lying in our tents at around 5.30am. And we all did. Everyone was on time so we got going by 6.15am!

Goodwood racecourse was both the start and finish for the event. Facilities there were ace. Signing in was well organised, as was the breakfast (sausage in a bun won the day, and left those who had chosen bacon in a bun crying into their greasy baps). By now the rain had basically stopped, and would not return until after we got back to camp.

Janine & Paul prepare for the walk

The only slightly unnerving thing was that I had neglected to apply any Lanocane* that morning which, for about 50% of people may not seem a big deal, but I can tell you right now, it is (I’ll explain later). Still, that aside, I was in good spirits, as was the rest of the team.

*Lanocane is a silicone based anti-chaffing gel.

Kick-off followed a quick warm-up routine, which had been set up by the organisers. The lady that had been hauled in to do the warm-up did her best with a bunch of people who probably aren’t used to aerobics. But it certainly did get the blood moving, and took our minds off the wait.

But finally 8am came. The countdown happened and we were off. Slowly. I guess this is my only gripe about the entire event. Letting everyone off at once created a concertina effect further along the route whenever we encountered a stile. That’s right, a stile. Can you imagine hundreds of people all trying to get over one stile? It was a bit chaotic, but we managed, and with pretty much good humour.

Gripe over, it’s all good from here on in.

Kit review – Osprey Talon 22. Best hiking rucksack, ever! I saw so many people sporting one of these great rucksacks that it was like being in a convention for Talon 22 owners. Great bit of kit. Pockets galore in all the right places, water resistant like you wouldn’t believe, comfortable. Awesome. If you like day hiking do yourself a favour and get one.

The Osprey Talon 22

Where were we? Oh yes, the event. Stiles were climbed and everyone was good. And the first ‘Powerstation’ came up damn quick. There were six in total for us 40k’ers. Some had specific functions, like providing lunch, or hot soup, but all provided water, squash, biscuits, crisps etc, and all for free (well, as part of the entry free, I should say). However, the most important thing was the moral support. The staff at each one were the best. Giving everyone bursts of encouragement that really did wonders for the mental struggle that was to come.

So on we went. Thankfully, after the first Powerstation the crowds began to break up and we were able to find our own pace. The miles began to drift away beneath our feet and we knuckled down to the task at hand. The second Powerstation provided lunch, and a chance to sort out my right sock, which had become twisted and was rubbing on my little toe. There was a smattering of minor physical complaints from the others too, but these were dealt with pretty easily. We hooked up with a couple of ladies who seemed very happy to share their jelly babies with us, so that kept the spirits up too.

Janine, Phil, & The Jelly Baby Ladies

The third Powerstation came and we stopped to eat the lunch we picked up earlier. We were about halfway along, and let’s just say I was pleased we had stopped. That toe on my right foot was beginning to bother me, despite me having got it sorted. I knew it was going to become an issue but it was difficult to find anything the right shape to put on it. I decided to let it go. I’d look after it and reassess as we went along.

The rest of the team seemed good, although an earlier ascent had triggered the beginning of a minor injury in one of Paul’s knees. Even the jelly baby ladies were happy! All was right with the world so on we went.

Throughout the course of the walk we swapped groups a bit. Sometimes I would walk with Paul and Phil, sometimes Jay would accompany the jelly baby ladies, but usually Tim was in front. Can that man walk fast. Really fast. I’m not sure what ‘Props’ are, but I believe the common parlance with people who use slang is to give them to people who do something impressive. Thus, Tim get’s them for walking so quickly.

Aside – I was surprised at the number of people doing this event in jeans. I pass no judgement – they are free to do what they like. But, wow, very brave.

More Powerstations came and went, and with them more miles. But of course, the pain increased. Minor niggles began to burn. The burning sensations turned to fire, and this gave way to pain. Real pain. The kind of pain which requires facial recognition in front of complete strangers. By the end of the walk my right foot had turned to fire whenever I placed it on the ground. Paul’s knee was not a happy place for him, and I know that several others had similar issues, including blisters, and collections of unpleasant insect bites, which had been garnered the previous night. But for me, the worst was the chaffing. Well, some people call it chaffing. I call it nightmarish torture. At the top of this post I mentioned that I was still in pain. Do you think I’m in pain from the blisters? Nope. In fact, as it turns out, I don’t have any. It seems any pain I felt in my foot was simply from the repeated pounding it was taking. No, the pain wI feel now is from the rubbing. Oh my gosh, the rubbing. Ouch. It turns out that I managed to wear my shorts completely away in the crotch. Totally. There’s nothing left. I also managed to wear away the skin at the top of my right thigh. Sound bad? Well, it is.

Oh, the pain!

But we finished. The final stretch, accompanied by Paul, was difficult. It was painful. It was tiring. But as we approached the finish line all the pain melted away. All the suffering dissipated and the only thing left was joy. Joy at finishing. Joy at being able to finish. Simple, happy, joy. Happy, happy, joy, joy!

What a day. What a walk. What a world. ;-D

So, was it worth it? You bet. Did I have a good time? Totally. Did we raise more money than we hoped? Oh yes. Would I do it again? Ummm, probably…

Kit review – Cargo pant shorts from Next and cotton boxers do not make good endurance walking gear. They wet out real fast (from the sweat, I hasten to add). They stay wet. And then they rub. And rub. And rub. If you suffer from chaffing even a little, do yourself a favour and invest in a) Lanocane and b) good quality underwear/outerwear. Your lower half will appreciate it.

From left to right - The Jelly Baby Ladies, Phil, Paul, Janine, & Tim

So, stats, for those that are stats types (recorded using my ultra awesome Satmap Active 10 Plus GPS device – best GPS ever!):

Total distance – 41.0km

Total time – 10hr 13mins

Time spent moving – 7hrs 11mins

Avg. moving speed – 5.7kph

Total average speed – 4.0kph

On a final note I feel I should mention the event staff. They were such a great bunch of people. They were supportive, kind, friendly, and always on hand. Throughout the entire day they had smiles on their faces, and that is something that cannot be undervalued when you’ve just trekked 40km on painful limbs.

And of course a final thank you to everyone who has supported us. Whether you donated money or not. Even if it was only a smile of encouragement on the day, thank you. Your kindness, your support, your donations do make a difference. And they are appreciated, even if you don’t realise it.

Thank you.

Nev.

http://bit.ly/teamdogface

P.S. You can see more photos from the day by simply clicking on any of the images in this post.

Camping: #miniholiday in Watlington

Last weekend we snuck away for a night’s camping in Watlington in Oxfordshire.

We were all geared up to go wild camping on Dartmoor. However Winter had other plans and we watched the forecasted nighttime temperatures for the weekend drop as the weekend got nearer. In the end the decision was made, with heavy hearts, that it would be unwise to go out onto the moor for a freezing night under the stars. Friday we spent at home, popping out to a local pub for lunch, dropping into our local farmer’s shop, and buying a few plants at the local garden centre. However by the end of the day we were sad that we weren’t further afield. It was turning into a long weekend of more of the same four walls. So we hopped onto Camping Ninja and booked a one night get-away at White Mark Farm campsite.

Watlington Hill:

Watlington has a big hill with a white chalk mark carved onto it. After setting up the tent we took a stroll up to the top of the hill, just as the sun decided to show her face, and caught an eyeful of the amazing view!

There were a crazy number of red kites up there. They’ve been very successfully reintroduced after having been exterminated in England in the late 18th century. We normally have a few round our home but I’ve never seen so many hunting in one place and we climbed high enough to look down on them.

The Campsite:

The campsite itself is a Camping and Caravan Club site, although not exclusive to club members. The pitching field was soft, grassy, and clean. With a nice view out of the far right corner across the valley. It’s position so close to the Ridgeway and Watlington Hill is fab and they have a small area set aside for backpackers only.

Apologies for shaky-cam.

The toilet/shower block is open to the air (although covered) so was a bit chilly! I’m sure in the Summer it’s fine but there were only 4 loos so might be a wait. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead and walked off site. There are lots of signs around that say what you shouldn’t be doing (“No smoking”, “Stop and report to reception”) and then a sign saying ‘Camping and Caravanning Club, the Friendly Club”, which did make us giggle. There’s a little shop that sells eggs, frozen homemade cakes, and other essentials. I imagine it’s idyllic in the Summer but probably also very busy with regulars with their caravans.

The Kit:

Once again we used our Quechua 2 Seconds III tent and once again it did the biz. Five minutes to pitch, about ten minutes to put it away. It’s a bit cosy but we can now confirm it’s shower proof (we had a slight drizzle during the night and we hadn’t used the guy ropes) and warm enough on a cold night. Perfect for a short camping trip with the car. Original review here.

Another item that I appreciated greatly was my Mountain Equipment Xero 550 sleeping bag. I feel the cold easily but snuggled up in this thing I’m happy as a bug in a down sleeping bag!

Our Primus ETA Express stove with a 4 season gas canister was the surprise fail of the trip. In the cold it really struggled to heat water, something I hadn’t imagined would be a problem unless it was much colder. This was more a lesson learned for us though as it’s our first trip in these kind of temperatures.

Other mentions should go out to the clothes that kept me warm: down jacket, merino wool leggings, merino wool long sleeved shirt, merino buff, and a home knitted merino wool hat. Nev was grateful for his double layered Rab fleece. Dogface sported his Equafleece black jumper which keeps him warm (but not too hot) and dry. Also we made use of our favourite short walk rucksack, my blue Osprey Talon 22 litre. Had this a while now and it’s wearing really well despite the mud, rain, and occasional pub spillages.

All images except this one taken by the awesome @nevillefenn. Check out his pics at http://fenn.smugmug.com/


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Camping: Quechua 2 seconds III tent review

Ever since Beer-Festival-Mike sent me some video footage of their pop-up tent I’ve been anxious to get my hands on one. Back then no Decathlon stores were delivering to our area and I couldn’t face driving for hours just to buy a tent. So I put the desire in a drawer and forgot about it.

Flash forward a few months and Nev and I are having conversations about single-night camping. We adore our Vango Orchy 500 and Wild Country Duolite Tourer but neither tent is particularly quick to pitch. We’d felt the irritation of spending over an hour setting up camp when it was going to be taken down less than 24 hrs later. When we’re just away for one night the less time spent pitching and packing up the better. For one night escapades comfort and space isn’t a priority and if we’re taking the car weight isn’t an issue either. So what we needed was a quick to pitch, pack, and dry tent.

I checked the web and found a Decathlon store willing to deliver to us! Woot Woot. Tent ordered and delivered in a flash. These tents aren’t expensive and the Quechua set me back £50 including postage and packing. We went for a 3 person tent as they say that’s comfortable for 2 people.

This is how simple they are to put up. Be careful not to hit anyone when you pop them, Nev managed to get me and Dogface his first time.

We took the tent away with us for one night at Forgewood earlier this month and the results were…

  • Super easy to pitch. Took about 5 minutes as we didn’t bother with the guy ropes. Just threw it on the ground, moved it to the right spot, and shoved in some tent pegs. We did use some lightweight alloy tent pegs rather than the cheapy ones that come with the tent.
  • It’s warm as toast as it’s small. Perfect for Spring/Autumn breaks.
  • There’s no real porch to speak of, just a small space for shoes.
  • Ventilation isn’t great but it was perfectly adequate for us for one night and you could unzip the inner tent to get more fresh air. The inner has small mesh ventilation panels on both the door and the back. (See above pic.) Quechua also do have a more expensive version with flip up side ventilation panels.
  • It’s super short! Nev is 5’8″ and I’m 5’6″ so we’re not tall and it was JUST long enough. Width was fine for two and a dog and a few bags.
  • Inside there are hanging pockets on both sides for bits and bobs.
  • It’s obviously not an expensive tent but it seemed fairly robust. Didn’t get a chance to test it’s waterproofing.
  • Packing away is very easy. However I’d forgotten how to do it and misinformed Nev. Luckily a kind fellow camper came over to show us the trick.

In summary we’re very happy with Chicken Tent (easier to pronounce than Quechua). Perfect for overnight camps with a car when you just want to chuck down the tent and get on with the serious business of relaxing. I’d also recommend it for kids as it would be loads of fun for camping out in a backgarden or as a playhouse.

The Quechua is available in the UK at Decathlon stores.

Camping: Return to Hollands Wood

Back in May this year we spent a few days at one of the Forestry Commission’s Campsites in the New Forest, Hollands Wood. (Our review from that time can be seen here.) We had such a good time that we returned there last week for another break.

We had a great time despite some torrential downpours. Nice to confirm that our Vango Orchy 500 is definitely waterproof! Luckily it mostly rained when we weren’t doing anything but relaxing and the Orchy is big enough for all three of us to comfortably chill out in the porch.

(Photo by Neville Fenn.)

This time around we splashed out £15 on a Forest Holidays Card, which entitles the holder to £3.50 off camping per night and additional discounts on activities. Totally worth it as it saved us a couple of quid this time around and I’m sure we’ll use the Forestry Commission campsites again this year.

One thing worth mentioning is that, at Hollands Wood, they close the furthest toilet/shower block when there aren’t enough campers there to make it worth keeping it open…in the staff’s opinion. This was fine for us as we were told as we arrived that it would be closing that day. Not so good for people who were already pitched right up the other end of the campsite.I felt there there were plenty of campers there during our stay to justify having it open. At times it felt very crowded round our ‘middle’ block.

This time we made the mistake of not pitching on a tents-only part of the campsite. At the time we wanted to avoid picking the same place as last time, how can you find a better spot if you always pitch in the same place right? We unfortunately chose a spot that was close to one of the main roads through the campsite. This not only meant we had cars driving past often but also people walking by which upset our Dogface quite a bit. In addition we were pretty close to the shower/toilet block. This meant that we had a lot of people pitching and parking nearby. The busier it got the more crowded our little spot became.

The other downside of pitching on a non tents-only plot is that the ground was compressed from vehicles and so was rock hard. This meant that even with our comfy self-inflating mattresses we were waking up with aches and pains in the mornings. Next time we’ll sacrifice a quick walk to the loo for peace and quiet and softer ground.

Despite our bad pitch choice, we had a fab time. Brockenhurst is within walking distance and we highly recommend the butcher’s sausages (basil and tomato with pork are the best!) and the baker’s jam doughnuts. There’s also a small Tesco there for the essentials (red wine). We cooked on disposable BBQs and our Primus ETA Express stove. We don’t bother taking the old camping stove anymore, just the Primus. It’s perfect for hot drinks, porridge, and risotto.

My new Mountain Equipment Xero 550 sleeping bag is heavenly! Using it in the field it was the snuggliest most comfortable thing I’ve ever had ever. I didn’t overheat in it like I would in my old Blacks bag and when it got chilly and the stars came out it kept me warm as toast. I am pretty cold blooded so your average camper may find it way too hot but for me it was absolutely ideal… when I could get Dogface out of it.

The walks through the forest out of the North end of the campsite are beautiful. Reception sells milk and loans out freezer packs to keep your cold box cold so we even had cups of tea and milky coffees. Luxury. Looking forward to our next trip to the New Forest when we may give Hollands Wood’s sister campsite, Roundhill, a try.