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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 😉

Surprising Kit! Merrell Siren Sport Trainers

Yesterday I cleaned my walking trainers. This is a rare event but after a 7 mile bimble along the Ridgeway with @krider2010 my shoes were 2 heavy bricks of brown mud. These are shoes that get worn for dog walks, supermarket trips, pub outings, and long treks. They’re unappreciated, used, and abused daily.

Hence when they came out of the washing-up bowl looking remarkably healthy I was surprised enough to blog about them.

They’re are a pair of Merrell Siren Sport GTX (Gore Tex) bought in late 2010. Actually they’re replacements for the originals I bought in early 2010.

My first pair of Siren Sports cracked on the edge where my toes flex and did so well within a year. This crack led to water seeping in otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed as they were extremely comfortable. In fact, when brand new, I rather stupidly wore them for a long walk in the Brecon Beacons and amazingly suffered not a single blister.

Luckily I’d kept the receipt for this original pair and Cotswold Outdoor were more than happy to swap them. At the time they didn’t have anything else that fitted so I ended up with another pair of Sirens despite my concern that these too would fail within a year. However they’ve survived so I can only assume the originals had a fault or Merrell redesigned the shoe in 2010.

Looking at my current, now clean, pair I can see hairline cracks at the sides where my toes flex and the sole has worn down on one heel. The lining is still remarkably waterproof. The Ridgeway was covered with giant brown puddles (in a drought, in June) and it was only when water flooded over the top of my foot that I got a soggy sock. (At the time our tiny Jack Russell Chihuahua was practically swimming so I wasn’t surprised.)

 

Hopefully they’ll be around for a while yet but, when they eventually go to shoe heaven, I’ll be buying another pair. Merrell are still selling them and I’ve included some marketing bumpf below.

“A Siren that sounds the alarm when the weather comes up bad, and keeps pace with the worst it can throw out. Mesh upper backed by GORE-TEX® membrane has the highest level of breathability while being completely waterproof without any unwanted bulk-up. Narrow gauge webbing and synthetic leather strapping provide support while anchoring speed lacing. Underneath it’s all about cushioning and alignment, with proprietary Merrell® Air Cushion matched to QForm® stride-centering.

UPPER/LINING
• Strobel construction offers flexibility and comfort
• Synthetic leather and mesh upper
• Bellows tongue keeps debris out
• GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort Footwear lining keeps feet dry and comfortable
• Lining treated with Aegis® Antimicrobial solution maintains foot comfort
• Ortholite® Anatomical Footbed

MIDSOLE/OUTSOLE
• Molded nylon arch shank
• QForm® Comfort midsole provides women’s specific stride-sequenced cushioning
• Merrell Air Cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
• 5 mm Sole lug depth
• Vibram® Siren Song Sole/TC5+ Rubber

UK Women’s Sizes: 4-8 full sizes only
EUROPE Women’s Sizes: 36-42
Weight: 11.5oz (326g)”

http://www.merrell.com/UK/en-GB/Product.mvc.aspx/15393W/43928/Womens/Siren-Sport-GORE-TEX

(I have size 6, narrow feet, with a prominent arch. I find Merrell shoes to be very comfortable and, for example, Keen shoes to be way to wide for me. Getting shoes that fit properly is as much dependent on whether the manufacturer’s styles suit your shape of foot as anything else. In other words, your milage may vary and, if you can, try on shoes in a good outdoor store with a personal fitter. My pair weigh 720g in comparison to the 326g quoted by Merrell but they are an older design and a size 6 rather than a size 4…)