Martin Rye urges me to put up a kit list. Surely, I protest, the lat thing the world needs is yet another kit list. People doing the TGO for the first time find them useful he retorts. It has been so wet and windy around here that even when there is a break in the rain the ground is completely waterlogged. Walking is simply not pleasant and so I have just put it on hold until after things calm down, or until we have lost the Thames Valley for good! So, there is time and — I suppose — no excuse. So here goes.
This years TGO walk will be a two person venture and this always has an impact on my kit list. I could post up a solo list for ventures in March but these are short hops rather than a two week walk so I shall go for the TGO. The main difference between the two lists is that when walking as a pair I tend to carry a little more stuff although with still more than a focus on non-essential kit.
A second disclaimer is probably in order as I do need to replace some kit this year. I need a new waterproof on account of my current one being, well, no longer waterproof. (But maybe I can squeeze another year out of it). I will almost certainly be using a new pack. My shoes will probably also have changed as Colin Ibbotson seems to have bough up every pair of the old style Terrocs. However, for the sake of this first piece I will concentrate on the kit that I would be using if I left home tomorrow. I’ll try and write a commentary rather than a list, but I will put up a list with weights right at the end of the series.
For the first in the series I will concentrate on some of the big ticket items that every backpacker needs to consider.
This will be the TarpTent Stratospire II which I talked about last October. This is a giant palace of a tent but one which weighs in at 1.3 kilograms. It is a backpacking tent in that it is suspended using walking poles — this contributes significantly to the reduction of weight. This shelter is a kilogram lighter than the Terra Nova tent that we have been using for the last seven or eight years. This is a good tent for Scotland. It has two entrances and each person has their own, sizeable, vestibule. The room is really appreciated when it is raining so hard that you dash inside as soon as you make camp and don’t come out again until morning. There is a good chance you will find yourself doing this on more than a couple of occasions over two weeks!
I can’t comment on the pack I will probably be using yet as I don’t have it. My standard pack over the last couple of years has been the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus pack. This weighs 500 grams which is very light for a Challenge pack. To that I have to add an extra 60 or 80 grams for an old foam mat which I use to give some shape and protection to the back. The capacity of this pack is about 40 litres.
For someone coming to the TGO Challenge for the first time this pack might not be big enough. However, as you become more ruthless with gear and weight this pack will quite happily support gear and food for 5 or 6 days at a pinch.
For those interested in lightweight backpacking there are two things to consider about your pack. Firstly, the pure weight of the pack is an issue but, secondly, volume is also a consideration. The more spare space you have in your pack the more lightly you will be to fill it with stuff that is really unnecessary. I find volume is as much a key concept as base weight. I consider the volume of all the gear I buy as this has an impact on the size of the pack I carry. Of course, the smaller the pack — the smaller the capacity — the lighter the pack will be.
Like many specialist packs it is obvious that it has been designed by somebody who is an actual backpacker rather than a pure gear designer. There are not many features here but what there is you will find to be very functional.
The pack is made of Dyneema, one of the lightest and yet most robust and dutiable fabrics on the market. You can can get lighter but there is a trade off with strength and durability. I do not want to be buying new packs every year and so Dyneema is about as light as I will go.
My pack has two webbing side pockets which are of a good size and that are easy to access while walking. The webbing material stretches right to the base of the pockets. With some packs you will find the base of the pockets to be made of the same material used in the pack. A total webbing pocket allows water to easily run down from the gear stashed in the pockets. Similarly the large pocket on the front of the pack is also completely made of webbing. It is easier to stash wet gear, wet tarps and tents in this pocket. A bungee chord system is also included which is very flexible allowing me to hang stuff from the chord on both the face and the sides of the pack.
There is no lid pocket to this pock, indeed there is no lid. The top of the pack is secured by a simple roll top system. There is an extension collar on the pack which allows you to cram in as much stuff as you can, i.e. food. As your food supplies diminish it is easy to reduce the size and volume of the pack so that it carries more comfortably. A simple clip affair at the bottom of the pack compacts the volume and effectively keeps the shape and taughtness of the pack with smaller loads. This system works well and means less flapping material all over the place.
The final feature I like are the two small pockets that sit on the hip belt. For backpackers these kinds of pockets are very useful. I use mine to carry sun block, insect repellant, swiss army knives and other bits and pieces that I need to access without taking the pack off.
The Exodus is so light because it is frameless. The more weight you carry the more help you will want from a frame or suspension system and this means a heavier pack. But even with frameless packs you need comfort with heavier loads. Shoulder straps and pads are very important here. The shoulder straps on the Exodus are excellent and very comfortable. MLD uses a very strong foam material which does not easily deform and so provides a good amount of protection to you as you walk. Shoulder straps are very important in lightweight packs.
I use a cuben fibre pack liner from PHD to keep all of my gear dry. This weighs just 48 grams and is completely waterproof.
Scotland in May is a funny month. Mind you, any month in Scotland can be a funny month! During a two week coast to coast trek you may well find the temperature at night dropping well below zero. And towards the end of the trek, as you enter the tropical climate of the East, you may well find yourself walking through a heatwave. You need a sleeping bag which is comfortable in warm weather but which keeps you toasty warm in the cold.
My bag is a Minimus sleeping bag made by specialist down clothing company PHD. My bag weighs just under 500 grams and is rated down to around 0. (The current Minimus is an improved design, better down, and is now rated at -5.) Nevertheless, my bag has happily kept me warm at -5 to -7.
There are no side zips or neck baffles on the Minimus which helps not only keep the weight down but keep warmth in. The bag is a slim fit which minimises cold air pockets. This bag is now ten years old and has taken battering but is still a great performer.
Down is expensive but worth considering adding to your kit whenever you can. My current equipment has been added over the best part of a decade and as such has been pretty affordable. To buy all this stuff at one go would be a very expensive undertaking but I hope you can see the point of it all.
PHD Minimus Down Jacket
A good down jacket is a very useful item to have when backpacking. As soon as I stop I throw this on and it gives me a lovely warm glow straight away. The jacket weighs 500 grams (for XL). Nothing else will give you so much warmth for such little weight. The jacket is over-sized which is useful and has long arms which means you can protect your hands without even gloves. The inside of the collar has a nice strip of soft and arm material to protect your neck.
My Minimus jacket is always in my pack when backpacking. Even in very warm climates the temperature can fall away quite quickly in the dark. When camping high in mountains you rarely get humid and hot nights. The Minimus is just as useful when camping in high, southern mountains in the summer as it is when camping in Scotland in the winter.
PHD Minimus Down Trousers
340 grams of more luxury. Colin Ibbotson got me into this idea. The trousers are not for walking in, rather they are camp trousers. They have a cry high waist which means that when combined with the long back jacket there is no chance of the cold creeping onto exposed skin. I cool weather I will put these on as soon as I have made camp. Practically, I can move around in the tent without having to be slipped into my sleeping bag. Kate bought a pair of these last year. She was very sceptical about paying so much for camp trousers — but all I heard in October were constant explanations of delight!
PHD Down Socks
At 100 grams these are as you can imagine by now also very valuable as they keep your feet lovely and warm. The only downside of these is that you can’t walk on wet ground in them. However, I find I can pull a pair of Sealskinz socks over the top and then happily stroll around on wet grass. PHD have now extended their range of socks and boots and some now come with more water protection.
This down layer system is a system. When things get very cold I can keep the socks on when inside the bag and if it is really cold I will sleep in the trousers and sometimes the jacket.
Proper layering. Expensive but very effective. Together this system weighs getting on for a kilogram. But in terms of effectiveness for grams used you will be hard pressed to get a better value system.
Neoair Sleeping Mat
I stick with the Neoair. It is very light and pretty tough so long as you are sensible in using it. The thickness of the mat means that it copes very well with lumpy ground. A reflective inner surface helps keep warm air in the mat.
My Neoair is a small size and weighs 280 grams. I stuff spare clothes or even my pack at the base the of the mat to protect my legs and feet and so I don’t need a longer or heavier mat.
When solo camping using a tarp or Duomid I often simply have the Neoair sitting on the grass and it has never seemed to have minded that very much.
I have tried all kinds of pillows over the years. I thought I had found perfection with the Klymit inflatable pillow/seat but this broke after five nights use. The backpacking light.co.uk pillow is made of a light fabric and is of a good size. You simply stuff unused clothes into it, fasten up with velcro and you have a decent pillow. Mine weighs 48 grams.