One of the nice things about the TGO Challenge is that it is (nicely) old fashioned. After the event we even get a final report. The report came through the post yesterday and was interesting reading. But I was very surprised to read:
This was not a Challenge for the ultra-lightweight brigade: May in Scotland is now very unpredictable and you do need really good gear to help you through as well as a strong attitude.
I’ve temped to reply, “rubbish”. I spent time with most of the lightweight Challengers this year. All of those I met had a great time, finished and were having a great time in Montrose when I last saw them. Maybe there was someone who had a bad experience but in general the lighter-weight approach seemed to prove itself again.
The TGO Challenge does offer an interesting insight into the kind of gear that mainstream backpackers are using in the UK. After each Challenge so far I’ve written a piece on this and this quote prompted me to do the same.
There’s no doubt that Colin Ibbotson has caught the attention of many and the imagination of more than a few. Colin is now well known by Challengers who gather round his tarp and campsites in wonderment! There’s also some fun around this. Gordon Green and his rather irreverential mates had a great gag going through the latter stages of the challenge, producing a tiny stuff sack and claiming they’d got Colin beat! Colin takes this all in good spirits!
Few of us are going to read Colin’s stuff and head out to the Scottish Highlands in a tarp, although a few first timers did just that this year. But there’s no doubt that folks like Colin make us think and reassess our gear.
I saw some terrible blisters on this year’s Challenge, and heard about many more. I’ve no doubt that many of problems would have been avoided or far less painful if people had made sensible decisions about kit. However, it is not my job to preach. The Challenge is a personal event and part of that Challenge is choosing your gear. However, these are some of my observations from this year.
Tents and Shelters
I missed that Challenge last year. During that time there has been a definite move towards lighter shelters.
On my first Challenge the Hilleberg Akto was king. On my second I began to see a few more Laser Competition tents, which are half a kilogram lighter. This year I reckon the Laser was pushing ahead. It now seems to be the tent of choice for new, solo, Challengers. And when the time comes to replace the Akto it’s clear that the Competition is the main choice. The Akto may be more reliable up high in strong winds but on the other hand Competition is cheaper than the Akto.
John Manning started out with a Laser Photon which is even lighter than the Competition. He switched for last week to his Henry Shires tarp tent, a single skin tent. Alan Slowman was using his Stephenson Warmlite tent which is also single skin but a monster size for one and still lighter than the Akto. Also using a Henry Shire tent was Chris Townsend who was using the Scarp, a similar tent to the Akto but one which is more roomy and lighter. Phil Turner was using a Golite Hex tarp tent.
US backpacker couples Rob and Lisa Hausam and Nigel Ellis and Lyn Paquette both opted for the same arrangement, a Lunar Duo tent from Six Moon Designs. At just over 1 kilogram the Lunar Duo is half of the weight of a Hilleberg Nallo of a Terra Nova Super Solar 2.2. The Lunar Duo is a very roomy tent and apparently coped very well with wind. As Stirling begins to climb against the Dollar I wonder if we’ll see more of these in future years.
And there a few other tarps.
Alistair Hunt was using a large two person tarp. He’d had little time to practice configuring the tent but found that he had so much room to play with that it was easy to keep dry without any difficulty.
Jon Hancock was using a Golite Tarp. I liked Jon’s attitude. He was using lightweight gear but gear that didn’t cost a fortune. Much of his gear had been collected over the years but selected for lightness, comfort and effectiveness.
And, of course, we had Weird Darren who used his tarp occasionally!
To be honest, I can only see this trend continuing. I think we will see more tarp tents and yet more Competitions on future Challenges.
There has also been a move in this department as well. The Golite Pinnacle is now quite a popular pack on the Challenge. Although this is a ‘backless’ tent it is cavernous, indeed, I sometimes think it is too big. With that much space you’re going to be tempted to fill it up. I reckon the Golite Jam is capable of a Challenge crossing and I noticed more that one or two of these as well.
Kate and I both use ULA packs and as usual there were a sprinkling of these around the trails. But I noticed this year that those I saw were the Circuit and the Ohm, lighter than the Catalyst than I used on my first Challenge.
To this we’ve also got to add a few Gossamer Gear Mariposa packs and a few OMM packs.
I think there’s change in the mainstream department as well with Osprey’s lighter packs being particularly popular, especially the Exos range which are reputed to be more comfortable than the Atmos range. These packs still seem to me to be heavier than they need to be but I guess that they are more than half the weight of what you would have used ten years ago.
You can only use a smaller pack if you’ve begun to get your gear list down. Most problems I reckon are caused by just carrying too many things. The use of down gear and a determination not to take three pairs of everything will help a lot. I noticed â€” with my cunning powers of observation â€” that even some of the cynics are carrying suspiciously small packs. They’ve been cutting down their loads 🙂
I didn’t really get a chance to go into this is any depth, but from chats I reckon there are more and more lightweight meths stoves being used these days.
Boots and Shoes
Back to those blisters. This was a very wet Challenge. The people I met all got their blisters the same way; water got into their boots and they became impossible to dry out.
However, I think more and more people are using lighter, boots that are more breathable â€” especially those without Gore Tex linings.
Of course, I use Inov-8 shoes. Quite a number of the first timers were using them this year, indeed, for a few days we walked in groups where everyone was wearing the Inov-8s. We splashed through streams and bogs happy in the knowledge that the shoes would dry out quickly.
Inov-8’s are not everyone’s cup of tea. But other brands of trail shoes were well represented on the Challenge.
It would seem that more and more people are trying out lighter footwear and that once they do the boots stay in that cupboard under the stairs.
I’ve no doubt that there is a clear trend towards lighter gear. I do believe that this makes hiking more pleasant and leads to fewer foot problems and injuries.
I’m sorry that the TGO organisers feel the need to have a pop at lightweight hikers. They did this after the last Challenge I was on. It seems unnecessarily provocative to me. Light hikers crossed Scotland as well as the others, high or low. They all professed themselves to be happy with their kit and most chatted openly about how they could go even lighter.
If you are worried about the comments quoted above and are thinking twice, remember. These comments are nearly always made by people who have never, ever, walked for any length of time with modern, lightweight, gear!