August has seen me pretty much city-bound. But even in the city, or the urban conurbation, there is a lot of walking to do. Meet my fried Phil. Phil works in cities all around the world. He described himself as an ‘urban therapist’. No, I don’t know what that means either, but Phil knows a lot about urban cultures. Phil started walking a lot a few years ago. He lives in Yorkshire and does hit the hills regularly but he also loves urban walking and, being a lover of the unusual, Phil likes searching out slightly odd walks. He decided earlier this year that the ‘Black Country’ was a bit of a gap in his urban experience. He told me he wanted to sped a couple of days walking around it. And so a date was set and a week or so ago we set out on our journey of exploration. I’ve written quite a bit about urban walks and each of these posts is read boy an astonishing number of people. There is something fascinating about an urban walk, as fascinating and as exciting as a hill walk; but very different.
Phil Wood: Urban Therapist !
For a couple of years now I have been looking tropical my main waterproof. This has served me well but after almost a decade of use the fabric has got thinner and the jacket stopped being properly waterproof a few years ago!
Choosing a replacement has been difficult. I’ve tried on a couple of jackets in shops that seem to be sized weirdly, X Large jackets that seem not to the right size across the shoulders. The next problem has been price. The cost of the latest designs and fabrics has become quite ridiculous. I’m simply not going to pay silly money for something that might be a wee bit more breathable.
It was fellow Challenger that first recommended the Alpamayo to me two or three years ago. Gordon is a sensible chap. He likes his gear lightweight but not at the cost of comfort of effectiveness. Everything from PHD I hoverer bought has been top-notch and so in the end I finally got round to following Gordon’s advice!
The first thing you notice about the Alpamayo is its size. PHD size their jackets to allow for the wearing of their down jackets below which is helpful I think. The smock fits nice and loosely but is not flappy. There is no scope tail but the smock has a decent, protective, length to it which I like.
The main zip on the jacket is tough and solid and protected by a proper baffle and waterproof seams. A single chest pocket also uses a similar zip and waterproof protection. There is also an inside pocket with a key holder. The hood is properly adjusted and is probably the best hood I have used on a waterproof jacket. The wire frame is tough and the hood is easily adjusted by an adjuster at the read and my two adjustable toggles on the base. The smock cuffs feature very tough and solid Velcro adjusters. Everything about the construction is very solid and the smock oozes quality. The fabric is not thin but is smooth to the touch
In the use the smock is totally waterproof and windproof without being heavy. The walk on the Black Mountains was a real test of any waterproof garment; the smock design proved more comfortable and protective than I think a jacket would have been. The sealed zips and zip protection proved to be very effective.
While the weather in on the Black Mountain Trip was pretty foul it was mild. Fighting against the wind meant working hard and at no time did I feel the smock lacked for breathability.
The Alpamayo uses PHD’s own HS3 fabric. I’m not exactly sure what this is as many waterproof fabrics — including eVent — can be licensed to be used under individual brand names. What I do know is that this fabric is more than breathable enough for me.
My Alpamayo is X Large size and weighs 470 grams. It costs £259 and can only be obtained from PHD using website. Long experience of buying from PHD tells me that you cranky on their sizing guide — for example, you would have to pretty large to have to go up to the XX Large size (which can be ordered). I idk the over sizing as I thing the option of using a down jacket in cold weather — that is not compacted too much — can be a real bonus. There is a jacket version of the smock available which adds about another 100 grams.
You won’t see this garment reviewed that often as it doesn’t use one of the main name fabrics. However, this is a first rate piece of kit that simply won’t let you down.
Over the next few months I will continue testing and report back with a long term review.
Fuji X-Pro1, 1/125, f11, ISO 400. 18mm (28 — 35 equivalent)
In this internet age it is tempting to think that we know all about the great trails of the world even if we have never ever hiked them ourselves. There are many tells journals to read. There are many hikers who now blog or micro blog as they walk. We know all about the trail infrastructure, we can download the maps and, of course, we all now know about the famous Trail Angels of the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT.
Chris Townsend walked the PCT over 30 years ago. Back then the trail was a reality but it was nowhere near as popular as it is today. I think the year Chris hiked it only 11 people completed it. It has taken 30 years for Chris to produce this book and it seems he only embarked on the task after encouragement from his new publishers, Sandstone Press. Sandstone should take a bow as this is a very fine book indeed. When reviewing Chris’ recent Grizzly Bears and Razor clams (I think it was) put forward the view that Chris’ writing is just getting better and better. Rattlesnakes confirms this.
The PCT is an epic trail and 30 odd years ago walking it was even more epic as the trail infrastructure that we have today simply wasn’t there. To make things even more dramatic Chris walked the PCT after one of the heaviest snow falls recorded making much of the first section of the walk quite a challenge.
The PCT runs for 2,650 miles, starting at the Mexican borders and running North (at least that’s how most people tackle it) through California, Oregon and Washington States. The trail takes in the Mojave desert, the High Sierra Mountains, The Cascade Mountains and many of the great US forests along the way.
This PCT walk was Chris’ first mammoth hike and this book combines both the excitement of that youthful walk with a maturity of reflection that is simply beguiling. Above all else it is the natural drama of the trail environment that is the star of this book but the way Chris details the development of the PCT (both before and since his walk) is fascinating.
A modern journal on the PCT would inevitably feature a lot of words about gear and while this is a book about moving through landscape there’s enough to keen gear junkies happy. For this trip Chris was provided with some of the first Gore Tex waterproofs that landed in the UK. It was also on this trip that Chris saw the light and turned (mid trip) to lightweight trail shoes from heavy boots. There is the drama of a broken pack and the search for a replacement. But mostly this is about the walk.
The heavy snowfall results in a trip that seems a very different one to many accounts that I have read. Chris is famous for walking alone but the snow heavy sections dictated walking in small groups for safety. Not only was there a lot of snow to cross but tiny and often dry creeks had turned into raging torrents. What comes over nicely is the relationship that is built up amongst these trail companions. Chris remarks towards the end of the book tat he had walked much of a thousand miles with some of them and yet they ended up knowing little about each other’s lives back in the ‘real world’. However, you do get a great sense of the trail intensity of these friendships. While not having undertake a venture like this myself this — levelling of human experience — is a feature of any long trail walk and, I think, is one of the reasons for the longevity of the TGO Challenge where you often have little idea about the people you are walking with save for their own views of the immediate experience
A lot of the other usual ingredients are on show here, stories of serial breakfast eating in tiny, backwater, trail towns, the joys of a shower after weeks of walking and so on.
But what makes this a joy to read is the sharing of Chris’ discovery of life on a trail like this, the beauty of the desert, the joys of the high mountains, the fascinating variety of the forests and the glorious wildcamps along the way. I wish I could describe this all a bit more eloquently but you’ll just have to go and read the book!
This was the trip that I guess formed the Chris Townsend that most of us know today. I’m glad that he took a long time to write this as I think we’ve ended up with a fascinating and probably more enduring book.
When I finished reading the book I rang up Colin Ibbotson who told me that the book had made him want to go out and hit the trail again. I know when he means. Putting the book down I had to go out for a walk and spend a night camping on the side of the hill, a far more modest experience without doubt but this is what Chris’ books do. They shake you out of lethargy and install in you that love of the natural world that keeps us all going.
This is very firmly recommended.
An exchange with @trickygreen (in the comments section) has raised an issue that I have thought about writing about. Actually, the issue is a feature of my TGO Challenge Journal (which is now almost finished).
@trickygreen raises he wearing of trail shoes on the West Highland Way. Now, I have not walked the West Highland Way but I have done sections of it. I really dislike walking on this surface mainly because (own the sections I know) they are strewn with rather too large stones which are unpleasant and some times uncomfortable to walk on.
On this TGO Challenge I set out to create a route that minimised tarmac walking. I walked along a number of tracks that I have walked in the past. On more than a couple of times i found myself looking forward to a stretch of a walk only to find the track surface to be quite unpleasant.
I suppose a lot of these tracks have been improved or ’maintained’ to be better able to take heavy weight vehicles.
Is this just my imagination or route planning?
While I’m on the subject of feet, I’ve had a number of emails about the achilles/Plantar Fasciitis issue. There will be a bit of a focus on this in my TGO Journal (which is nearly finished) but ….
… the change inches back to the Inov-8’s has made a big difference. The Plantar pain has completely disappeared and I’ve been walking pain free all summer. Looking back, it seems that the the built up sole unit of the Brooks Cascardias were a bit of a disaster for me. On the Challenge the only really difficult day I had was the long road walk from Braemar to Ballater, where the achilles began to complain rather loudly. I shan’t be doing this stretch again (at least not for a while).
The 295’s have done well although I noticed last week that the sole on my left foot has collapsed inwards. I’m still hill walking with these shoes but my impressions that I won’t get as much life out of them as I did with the Terrocs. Those with more sensibly arranged feet might not have this kind of problem, but it is something to consider!
News from Bob at the Outdoors Station. Bob has been exploring the wonderful world of internet radio — he’s finally got round to buying an internet radio! All of the details can be heard on the podcast and it gives you a good idea about what internet radio has to offer.
Tune-In is a service that effectively broadcasts radio stations (and programmes) from all over e world. Tune-In is a built in feature in not only internet radio but smart TVs and in-house streaming systems such as Sonos. You can also get hold of this stuff over your PC and MAC as well.
These new radio services have transformed my listening over the last couple of years. Follow country music? No problem, here is most of Nashville for you? Jazz — any kind you like will be there. Folk and classical music are also served. But almost any subject you can think of from news to leisure and current affairs is now easily available over a ‘radio’ type device.
The Outdoors Station is now featured on Tune-In and other internet radio services. This will not only bring a new audiences to the podcasts but will allow the development of new programmes and new services. There are some new innovations coming soon from Cartwright Towers but in the meantime, catch-up with the podcast and catch up with the internet radio revolution!
Mention one new brand of alcohol stove products and it seems another twenty three come along. Today I shall give a plug to our own Storming’ Norman (it’s a TGO kind of a thing)!
Norman’s innovation is that he produces not only ‘cones’ but windshields or pan/pot/mug ‘huggers’. “The material used for the cones and “huggers” is tensile aluminium, custom made to fit any pot/pan/mug on the backpacking market. Both the cones and “huggers” are made in two halves that are easily stored in their own dedicated pots”. The flexibility of this system means you are not restricted to one pot.
Here is what they look like.
The two section of the cone look interesting!
You do need to order with the dimensions of your pot but no doubt Norman already has the dimensions of the major brands. He sells his products via. eBay:
Norman’s stoves are similar to the Zelph and the Speedster stoves, in other words, small stoves with absorbent material to hold held and a lid to allow you to store unused fuel. Norman says:
Stormin’ Stoves are built using the recycled principle,utilising aluminium drinks cans of 50mm diameter.These stoves are built using a super absorbent wick material,non spillable when filled and with a custom container to store the stove in, eliminating any evaporation of unused fuel. These containers are airtight,thereby ensuring no contamination when stored in your pot.
Finally, Norman produces a reflective baseplate for your stove and shield:
… a reflective baseplate,this ensures a level,even surface for optimum performance of both stove and windshield.This eliminates any heat loss, or dips and lumps which may effect stove to pot heat fluctuation.
No doubt Storming’ will pop around here and answer any questions you have.
There was quite a bit of interest in these on the TGO Challenge and I think I met a very satisfied customer (my memory fades as a result of endless gear conversations!)
Regular readers will know that I am a bit of a leftie and that, sometimes, the politics and the outdoors come together (though heaven, not that often). During the long days of Labour’s exile ring the time of Thatcher and Major, I developed the habit of heading for the hills after election night. I tried a number of activities — cycling for instance — but walking (preferably with some camping) proved the most therapeutic. Sadly, in recent years, I have had to revive the tradition, which is why I found myself taking to the hills for the weekend following the EU referendum.
My plan had been to travel up to North Wales on Friday but the news coverage on Friday proved to be strangely addictive. Spent most of the day glued to the news channel. With the Snowden opportunity gone I was left with a quick few days in South Shropshire. And by the time of my return all hell had broken loose and my intentions to write a quick trip report were dashed. Then I somehow deleted my photos during a system reset. So, a bit late — and in prose alone — here is my latest piece!
Speedster Windshield and MSR Titan Pot
I’ve finally got round to having a good play with the Speedster Windshield.
Alcohol stoves need a good windshield. For a few years now I’ve used either a titanium Honey Stove (from backpacking light.co.uk) as a windshield, or a Caldera Cone system. Both of these have their advantages and disadvantages (more later) but what about this system?
The first thing you notice about this windshield is that it is tough and robust. It is far tougher than the foil Caldera Cones and easier to put together than the Honey Stove. The shield comprises of six sections, hinged together, that pack flat.
Flat packing is a great advantage in my view. The Honey Stove packs flat but is a bit fiddly to assemble, particularly after prolonged use; there is no hinge here, interlocking tabs hold the whole thing together. The original Caldera Cones (I still use one with a large pot) had to be kept in a plastic caddy to protect the foil. These caddies could also hold you stove and a full bottle but they were bulky and a bit of a pain to pack.
In recent years Caldera have got over the problem by introducing the ‘sidewinder system’. The cone rolls up and is kept in a cone shaped piece of Tyvek material and the cone fits into your pot for ease of packing and protection. However, the Sidewinder is not available for all pots including the MSR Titanium Titan Kettle. This kettle is very popular with solo backpackers. It has a good capacity (about 650 ml) and a decent profile — it is not too tall which aids stability. The MSR kettle is about the easiest of these products to find in high street stores, which no doubt aids its popularity. So, it is a good thing that this system is available for the Titan Kettle.
I’m not quite sure what the Windshield is made of but it is a reasonably strong gauge of metal but not too heavy. This windshield, together with its soft fabric pouch, weighs 75 grams. This is heavier than a cone but more robust. And the windshield includes a secure pot rest. The cone system secures your pot around the rim but over time and use the pots can slip down into the cone which is a bit messy at times.
This second photo (sorry about the quality) shows how the pot rest works. Three wire pot supports fold out into the pot and support your pot at the optimum height for the stove. The windshield is joined as one by a metal pin which clips the two outside panels of the stove together.
When assembled get a comparatively solid windshield, I say comparatively because this is a piece of backpacking kit but it does feel more solid than a cone. You can see form the top photo that the shield almost completely encloses the pot.
I tested the system in pretty blustery weather. The shield seemed to operate well. There was some wind blow through the small vents at the bottom of the shield and occasionally some blowing around of the flame, however, the stove seemed protected enough and — even with a 30 ml stove — happily took 600 ml of water to a rolling boil. The solidity of the system does make it a bit easier to move around. After heating the panels do get hot so you will need some kind of protector to handle the panels at first. While the panels do get hot you will need to move them in order to blow out your flame and pop the top back on the stove!
All in all this is a solid system that works very effectively. Look at the second photo and you can see how the generic kits will work. Two windshield are available for pots of 100 to 120 diameter or 120 to 150 diameter — you can see how the post rest system will accompany a variety of pots of those dimensions.
Speedster will also custom build such a windshield for your pot. My most used solo pot is from Evernew; this has the same capacity as the MSR but is slightly wider and slightly lower in profile. I’d given up using the Titan as it wasn’t quite so stable on top of a Honey Stove.
This system beats the Caldera Sidewinder for strength and rigidity although it is heavier. It beats the Honey Stove as a windshield, it is easier to put together and does not have the grate slots of the Honey Stove which can let in quite a lot of wind. Of course, the Honey stove can easily be used as a wood burning stove as well. You could use this system to protect a small wood burner such a Bushbuddy but these are fragile and have to be stored carefully as well.
So, there’s not much to dislike here, you get a sturdy shield for only a little extra weight. The one thing I queried was the toughness of the pot rests but these seem to be pretty strong and well made; they should last for quite a long time.
The only downside with this is the pin which clips the sides together. It took a while to work out how best to use this but once you’ve cracked it this is fine. It is best to keep the clip attached as firmly as you can after disassembly as it can easily slip out of the hinges or out of the stuff sack.
A good piece of kit this.