Fuji X-Pro1, 18mm lens, 1/60 at f11, ISO 200
When I composed my first post about gear hits and misses in thought about including the new camera but thought better of it. However, a rather lengthy conversation on twitter about the merits of smaller APS—C sensors and Full Frame sensors got me thinking. I’ve written briefly about this new camera before — TGO: Joining the Fuji Revolution — but it is probably time to share some of my first experiences.
I should say upfront that I expected to report this as a compromise but one that was well worth making in terms of lowering the weight of equipment carried. In reality, I have found the camera to be less of a compromise than I expected.
Up until now I have carried an Canon 5DII on my travels. Theses a bit of a monster but it is a full frame camera. The burden was lessened a little by my adoption of just one lens for hiking, the 17-40 f4 zoom, a lightweight lens that I think is very under-rated (at least my copy is a pretty decent lens). Over the last year I have found myself carrying this less and less and often walking without a camera at all. I decided my body was telling me something about my advancing years!
And so, on to the Fuji!
Routebuddy’s new Coast to Coast Challenge Map utilises the company’s unique screen ‘stitching’ technology to reduce a new map and add-ons that will be useful to anyone planning a coast-to-coast walk across the Scottish Highlands.
On this occasion I thought it would be more useful to you if I produced a video review, as you really have to see it in action to appreciate what this system can do. The review is in html format and should be viewable by all up-to-daye systems including tablets.
The 1:50K base map is available at a reasonable £19.99.
In addition, Routebuddy has created a number of specific 1:25 add-ons which stitch into the base map. These range in price depending on the ground covered. They start at £4.99 for part of the Torridon hills to £25 for the Cairngorms — good value for money.
Any other Routebuddy map can stitch into the base map and this review also displays a Harvey/BMC 1:40 working with the base map.
Not only can you view stitched maps on the same screen but you can print out the stitched maps on the same sheet of paper.
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.
f8, 1/400, ISO 50 at 38 mm
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.
To those who keep asking, yes I am writing a trail journal! Indeed I am now up to Day 6. I reckon I shall have it finished in 10 days or so. patience my friends!
Most of the gear that I carried on this year’s Challenge was tried and tested and of the new stuff the star was Colin’s shelter which I have already written about. Anyhow, I thought I’d pick some of the best performing gear to highlight and I’ll follow this up with some stuff that didn’t quite do as well. So, starting with the stars.
Mountain laurel Exodus Pack
This has been my go-to pack for some years ago and once again it didn’t disappoint. This is a frameless pack, simple in design but well thought out where it counts. It is light — about 500 grams — and has a capacity of about 50 litres in total. Over the years I have come to value low pack weight over any of those fancy back systems.
This pack scores in terms of carry comfort. The shoulder pads are very comfortable and the shoulder straps don’t slip. The hip belt is easily adjusted and it is easy to readjust the shoulder straps and belt to alternate the load between shoulders and hips which I find for more comfortable longer hiking. I insert an old Gossamer Gear Night Lite pad (folds into three sections) in the pack of the pack and this gives it enough rigidity.
For trail walking this is a supremely comfortable pack. On this year’s Challenge I carried almost 8 days of food at one point which was taking the pack to the limit. The pack remained comfortable to carry but as the extension collar was full of heavy stuff the pack let a little top heavy on steep and uneven ground but that is not to detract from the pack itself.
I like these simple packs. When I have loaded it up I often simply stamp on the back to create a bit of space between the pack and my back. A rather crude tactic this , which received a lot of odd glances; but it works.
You will see from my journal when I publish it that I didn’t treaty enjoy carrying all this much food and in retrospect I would have been happier using another pack, one which kept the load lower down on the back. But this is an issue of pack choice. In general the Exodus performed as brilliantly as ever.
PHD Alpamayo Smock Waterproof
This year’s Challenge featured some very wet weather, the kind of driving rain that just saturates everything and reminds you that waterproof stuff sacks are seldom waterproof! The rain this year would be testing for any waterproof and the Alpamayo came through with Flying colours.
This jacket really kept me dry. Being a smock helps quite a bit but all of the tips on this jacket are waterproof and this helps a lot. The tips are a bit stiffer to open and close than conventional zips but this is a minor trade for proper waterproofing. The Alpamayo is made from PHD’s proprietary fabric although this could well be something like eVent which can be licensed under individual brand names. Whatever the fabric, it performed more than well enough for me in terms of breathability.
At under 500 grams for an X-Large size the Alpamayo is designed to cope with the worst of Northern European conditions. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this to anyone. A fabulous jacket. 15 out of 10!
Berghaus Paclite Waterproof Overtrousers
When I gave up on Paramo — in similar weather conditions to this year’s Challenge — Bob Cartwright recommended these trousers. These are simple, very light (250 grams) and very waterproof. This year these were worn for days on end and were never anything less than comfortable and water-tight! And they are great value for money.
PHD Wafer Down Vest
I’ve raved about this before but I really did appreciate its versatility on this year’s event. This weighs under 150 grams but provides a real shot of warmth courtesy of PHD’s 1000 follower down.
This is light enough to not notice but warm enough to make a difference particularly when there was an arctic wind blowing in the back all day. I wore this over a Vapour Rise mid layer and underneath my Alpamayo. It crunches down to nothing in a stuff sack or in your pack.
One bonus I only discovered when the vest got soaked on day — it has been stuffed inside of my pack, the weather turned and I just kept walking. When the rain stopped I put on the wet smock on over my mid layer and just went about camp duties. The heat of my body soon dried it to the point that it was warm and useful again. On another occasion I simply stuck a walking poll in the ground and let the vest drying the sun, which it did very quickly.
I have been so impressed by this that I am thinking of replacing my normal down jacket (used in camp and for sleeping if necessary) with either the Wafer jacket, jumper or shirt.
I’ve written a lot about the Ordnance Survey in the last couple of years; it is an organisation close to the heart of most outdoor enthusiasts and yet it seems to have led a very troubled life.
Since I’ve written my pieces I have had a number of emails and blog comments sent to me — some very anonymous — that have added flavour and colour to the debate about the effectiveness and the future of the OS, indeed these are now coming through thicker and faster over the last few months.
I’m not sure how to reflect these views or even whether I should highlight them at all. However, it is worth remembering that the OS is public agency and in that sense is owned — if not by — on behalf of the rest of us.
It seemed to me a while back that OS’s senior management was trying to force the line of a management buy-out and I pondered aloud in whose interest that would be. While I’m not sure of the provenance of many of the communications I have received I’m pretty sure that a number of them have come from current staff and some of those who have recently departed.
Sometimes humour gives you a better flavour of the internal state of an organisation and you might be interested in the spoof Twitter account @Britishsurvery:
Heavy crayon users & misunderstood Government-funded power-hungry global mapping megacorp. Prolific royalties collector. Minecraft lover. A loving fake account.
It would be irresponsible of me to suggest that this reflects a lot of the internal tensions within OS but it does reflect the frustrations of concerns of some staff, contractors and even Parliamentary Committees.
A sad state of affairs. I hope the new management can stabilise the ship quickly.
Tramplite Shelter with beak half open, pitched on the shores of Loch Ossian
In the ten years and more that I have been writing this blog I have never had as much interest shown in a piece of gear as I have over Colin Ibbotson’s Tramplite Shelter. From the moment that this shelter arrived through the post, readers have been badgering me to produce a review. On this year’s TGO Challenge I thought about charging for guided tours of the shelter it was that popular.
The Challenge gave me the opportunity to evaluate the shelter over a multi day hike. It also gave me the opportunity to compare notes with three other Tramplite owners, most notably Shap McConnell.
So, how does the shelter measure up?
My photos of the Challenge will gradually arrive here: