Review: Sawyer Mini Water Filter

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Sawyer Mini and Syringe Tool; Sawyer in Mineral Water Bottle

For anyone contemplating a backpacking trip, or hiking in wild land, a water filter is a pretty must do buy. True, there are some areas such as the Highlands of Scotland where the dreaded Guardia virus has not yet appeared but for much of the UK and beyond a water filter is useful thing to have around. You only have to drink dodgy water once to take them seriously! I always carry one when hiking in the UK — unless I am near the top of hills. Wherever there are animals grazing ou are best advised to filter your water.

The problem is that water filters can be very clunky and a pain to use. The Sawyer mini filter is hands-down the best water filter that I have ever used.  The Sawyer Mini is light, easy to use and exceptionally easy to clean

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Review: Starlyte Alcohol Stove

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It’s time to take a look at the main stove that I have been using this summer, the diminutive Starlyte alcohol stove from Zelph Stoveworks. that is the stove on the left and on the right the same stove is fitted with a green cover and is compared against a standard titanium mug.

I first came across the Starlyte on this years TGO Challenge as Colin Ibbotson and Rob Slade were both using them; I am being horribly lax at following the ultralight websites at the moment).

The Starlyte is as light as a feather (not even worth weighing) and has two interesting features in the above configuration. Firstly, the stove is filled with an absorbent material. Charge the stove up with alcohol and the material soaks it up and means that the fuel cannot be spilt. Secondly, the green cap you see in the pictures allows you to store unspent alcohol in the stove without evaporation. A flame is easily blown out. The internal material preserves the fuel and the cap allows you to store it easily without worry.

The Starlyte is available in three versions, a standard, a modified stove designed for systems like the Caldera Cone and a slow burn or simmer burner.  The simmer stove allows you to cook very slowly and avoids the need to use a pot cozy, but then you don’t have a fast, explosive, flame.  My version is the modified version to be used in a Caldera Cone. 

So, how does the stove work in the field?

Well, very well is the answer. The internal material does indeed hold field well. It is easy to extinguish the flame with a simply puff of breath. And the stove top means that you can keep the stove (and fuel) in a pocket so that the fuel is always warm when you come to use it!

The flame is a simple affair that rises from the central core of the stove (there are no clever burners). The stove is not as fast or as powerful as say the Evernew titanium stove but it works quickly enough and is a damn sight cheaper!  For use in the waker months any additional boil time is not really noticeable.  Although the stove is tiny it has a capacity of around 400 millilitres (1.25 ounces) which usually gives me two goo boils. I find I can stop, laid up the stove, boil fuel for a drink extinguish the flame and re-light to warm through an evening meal. Although not tested scientifically, the feels like it is a field efficient stove.

The system is so light and works so well that Starlyte suggest that — on weekenders — you might simply take two of these pre loaded with fuel and wouldn’t need to carry a separate fuel bottle. They are probably right. And this is such a cheap stove that such a set up would still be very cheap.

i have only found one downside to the Startlyte and that is that it is a little difficult to light a fire steel, which is my preferred way to light my stoves. This might be because the stove itself is so light and flimsy that I am careful in applying any force to the top. However, I seem to be getting the knack as I use it more.

The stove — including international shipping — will only set you back £13 ($23) which I believe represents a real bargain.  I wonder how robust the stove us and how long it will last in the field, but at these prices really this isn’t a worry!

The Starlyte comes in a small package — I nearly missed mine in the protective newspaper inside. it also comes with two very useful fuel measures. If you have used the caldera system you will be familiar with these. The Starlyte version seems a little larger and tougher to me and it is nice to have a spare.

For me this the ideal summer, backpacking stove. It works perfectly siting inside a Honey Stove or a Caldera Cone.  I think in the winter — when you may want a quicker boil and more power — or when I am cooking for two, I will stick with the Evernew titanium stove which can really belt out some real heat. Otherwise there is nothing not to like about this stove. caldera think so as well and now offer this is an optional replacement to their own stove when you order from their website.

I really do recommend this to lightweight backpackers.

 

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Sitting in the Honey stove 

 

http://www.woodgaz-stove.com/starlyte-burner-with-lid.php

Living With the Tarptent Stratospire II

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The Stratospire II in Glen Mazaran

Last autumn I gave my first review of the Stratospire II — you can find the review here.  Having just come back from the TGO Challenge, where it was used for another couple of weeks, I feel it is worth adding a little more to the original review.

In short the Stratospire II worked very well and proved to be an excellent choice for Scotland. Without repeating myself there are real pluses about using this tent in climates where you are likely to be hitting bad weather with some frequency. The inner space in the tent is huge which is very welcome when two of you are stuck inside for extended periods dying bad weather. The vestibule areas are very generous and cleverly designed so that you can always open one section of the door out of the direction of the wind. The apex of each vestibule extends beyond the profile of the inner tent meaning that in non windy weather you can have the doors open during rain without any worry of the inner getting wet.

The first review went into the design and unusual geometry of the tent in some detail. In this review I shall reflect on some of the features that I was keen to get more experience with.

Pitching

I was a little worried that the huge footprint of this tent would mean that I would have to be more careful than usual about picking sites for pitching. In reality pitching was very easy with some un-expected bonuses.

Finding a piece of reasonably flat ground it was pretty easy to locate the two doors so that I could confidently place the inner tent on the flat bits!  The vestibules themselves may have been on uneven ground but this is where the tent really excels.

Using two tent poles has real advantages, no least because they can be independently set to different heights, very different on undulating ground. However, once the poles have been properly set individually you have a very stable tent. This is a more effective system of pitching on uneven found than that you would find with fixed length tent poles.

In reality during the two weeks of this trip I had no trouble pitching at all.

Using the ‘lifter’ attachment points

Both the front and the rear of the tent have attachment points for extra guy lines. The Tarptent video suggests that these are best used with poles (or as in the photo a big piece of wood) that can ‘lift’ the sides. While you can give some extra support to the tent by simply running line to the floor using a lifter technique has some real benefits:

  • Use the lifter guy at the right height and you will give extra tension to the sides of the tent in wind — there is after all a lot of tent to play with here;
  • Pitch one of the lifter ends of the tent into the wind and the lifters will give you a lot more stability — the coos of the vestibules will flap around a but but the head and feet areas of the tent will be rock solid;
  • Using lifters will increase the airflow between the inner and the outer fly considerably — in wet and humid climates like Scotland this can be a real benefit.

During the trip I inspected a number of similar designs which dimly employed single its out points for extra guy lines; I felt the lifter system was more effective at giving me a stable and airy tent.

As a result I always set the tent up with lifter guys even when there was little wind. One benefit of this — on popular camping grounds — is that it kept those who snore a lot a little further away!

In truth I found virtually nothing that I disliked about the tent. You can getter lighter designs especially when made from cuben but many (including my partner) prefer a more ‘solid’ fabric.  But even if you find  lighter shelter I doubt you will find one that is equally as effective as this for two.

This is a backpacking tent. It needs two walking poles to suspend it — four if you are using lifters. This means this is not a tent for base camp pitching but on a backpacking trip it is simply superb!

Henry Shires is a very clever designer!

Review: Jack Wolfskin Activate Alpine Pants

A couple of years ago I gave a glowing review to Jack Wolfskin’s Vertec Pants — review here. The Vertec’s were a summer weight trouser which impressed me greatly. Suspecting these might not be robust enough for Scotland in May. I really don’t like buying trousers over the internet and so just before I left I popped into the Jack Wolfskin shop in Birmingham and took home a pair of their Activate Alpine Pants.

The Alpine Pants were the perfect trousers for this Scottish trip. The trousers are made of a two way stretch material that is very breathable. Breathability is enhanced by two thigh zips which have bug protection in them. The trousers are re-enforced in the heavy duty areas such as knees and on the inside of the ankles. They have built in gaiter.  The fit was very similar to the Vertec Trousers.

In practice these trousers were very effective. They cope with rain well (I never found myself using waterproof trousers).  They are not only breathable but pretty windproof. They are very comfortable to wear. They remind me a little of the Montane Stretch Terra Pants although I marginally prefer the Activate Pants.

I’m not sure what else to say about these trousers except that they are a good all-year-round buy and they look as if they are going to be very robust. They seem to be as good as it gets for walking trousers. They are not the cheapest but must be near the top of the quality range.

Jack Wolfskin have a reputation for leisure wear but in fact have a full range of reasonably lightweight clothing much as which is quite impressive. As a plus, Jack Wolfskin have own brand stores in most of our big cities and these carry most of the range; getting hold of the product is not a problem.

My pair cost £100 and with 513 grams for an extra large size (my Vertecs weigh 380 grams). These trousers are designed for those who are walking on tops, high ground and so on.

There’s not much not to like here. My pair are a kind of grey slate colour although there are some garish colours available if you prefer!

Jack Wolfskin Activate Alpine Pants

First Impressions Review: Z Packs Hexamid

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The ZPacks Hexamid

The ZPacks Hexamid is a state-of-the art shelter, made of cuben fibre, that is attracting a lot of attention, however, the shelter yet to be widely reviewed. Long distance hiker Colin Ibbotson tells me that during his PCT hike this year he reckoned the Hexamid to be one of the most popular shelters . Fellow hiker Keith Foskett used a Hexamid on the PCT and, this year, took it with him on his Compostela walk. But how does the Hexamid shelter stand up to UK conditions?

In this review hiker and author John Davison shares his first impression on the shelter, which has has been using in the UK.

 

 

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Review: Rab eVent Shorty Gaiters — how to use them properly

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Even when walking with trail shoes a pair of gaiters can be useful, keeping all kinds of stones and bog from entering your shoes at the heel.

On my recent trip I took a pair of these and was in the whole pretty pleased with them. I have reviewed them because on my previous jaunt to the Cairngorms my walking companion Alan had taken a pair. He declared them to be crap as he couldn’t get them tight around the heel. I could see his point — the back of the gaiter flapped around and there was no way that it was keeping anything out of Alan’s shoes!

A week or so later I was at backpacking light.co.uk with Colin Ibbotson. He wanted a replacement pair — he reckoned they were pretty good. So, I thought I’d try out a pair.

As soon as I got the gaiters home I could see what the problem was. The gaiters come with one piece of elasticated chord which is designed to slip under your shoe. This is indeed very loose. This might work with boots but it certainly will not work with trail shoes. However, the solution is pretty simple.

The chord provided is not only stretchy but pretty long. To work with trail shoes the chord has to be arranged into two loops. Simply untie one end and tread it through the holes again.

Put the gaiter on before you put on your shoe. Once the shoe is on clip the front gaiter  clip to your laces. Next take the first of the chord loops and stretch it over your heel until it is sitting across the middle of the shoe. Then, take the second chord loop and stretch it so that it is fixed somewhere across the heel.

The first picture above is not that good but I have highlighted where the two loops run on my Terrocs. The second shoes the loops clearly; I have pulled the fabric back around the heel to give you a better view — it is not loose. You will now find that the back of the gaiter is now properly tensioned and will indeed cover the back of your shoe.

The stretch chord provided is more than enough to loop around your foot twice.

For some reason the Shorty Gaiters do not come with any instructions. Having previously owned a pair of Inov-8 Gaitors I knew this arrangement would work and found it pretty sat to adjust the Rab item in a similar manner.

My Inov-8 gaiters — while they worked well — only lasted a few trips as the chord broke. You can get emplacement chord from Inov-8 but this all seems a bit messy. The chord on these ran gaiters is more robust and I suspect will last longer, indeed, I realise they already have.

Properly stretched the gaiters to make a difference. The permeable uppers of a shoe like the Terroc can still leak, especially when you have a hole in them. But, normally, these really will stop any stones getting in.

Rab also sell a similar product that is made out of a stretchy non-waterproof fabric — the Scree gaiter; it is very similar to the Inov-8 product. I;’m far happier with the eVent material, certainly in UK wet conditions. These are light, breathable and the fabric itself is pretty robust.

All in all, I’d recommend these. I’d be interested in knowing how long the chord lasts if any of you have used these for some time.

(Ed. Taking the second photo I realised that the chord was beginning to fray. There is enough chord to re-work the loops, but this is somethig that is making me think about durability!)

A pair of these will set you back about £20.

 

Review: Evernew Titanium Meths Burner

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I’m late to the party with this one and many of you will have already discovered this but as this is a superb piece of kit I thought it merited a review.

Bob Cartwright has been recommending that I get hold of one of these for a couple of years now. I have been happily using the beer can stove that came with my Caldera Cone system but this is now beginning to show some real wear and so with the trip to the Highlands looming I took the plunge and bought one from Bob a few weeks.

These days I am happier using an alcohol stove than a gas canister stove. Gas canisters are difficult to get rid of and can fail. On my last two backpacking trips I have been with people who have had either their stove or their canister fail. An alcohol burner is about as simple as it gets and alcohol is cheap and easy to find. On the other hand gas canisters pack a real punch and boil water very quickly. It was the ability of the Evernew burner to challenge gas canister times that has impressed Bob.

This tiny burner weighs only 35 grams and yet is built to a very high standard; this is a product that should last for life. Alcohol is simply poured into the stove; a series of highly visible marks inside of the chamber allow you to calibrate the amount of fuel you are using very easily. The stove is lit using a match or — as I do — a spark from a fire steel.

Look carefully at the photograph and you will see that the Evernew has two sets of burner jets, one around the base of the stove and the other on the top rim. This is designed to support flexibility in use. You can simply put a stove on top of the burner; the top burner jets will be obscured but the base jets will still work. However, it is when this stove uses both lines of jets that things become very interesting.

In full flame mode this little stove is an absolute beast and operates more efficiently and effectively than any other alcohol stove that I have owned (and sadly I have more than one or two). I haven’t timed this against a canister stove but we must be talking about comparable boil times — the speed of this stove certainly doesn’t have me feeling that I’m hanging around.

The stove has to burn all of its fuel in one go but using the built in markers I found it very easy to calculate how much fuel I needed for specific tasks. I only got this wrong on one occasion. Bernard, a Dutch hiker who shared A’Chull bothy with us for an evening found his gas canister was leaking and I set out to boil enough water for three of us. I used too much fuel and such was the power of the stove that the plastic protection of my pot’s lid began to melt!  I took off the pot and extinguished the flame quickly by simply placing a titanium mug over the stove which quickly starved it of alcohol. This was only an issue because I had assumed the stove would need more fuel to boil the quantity of water I was using; I had underestimated the power of the device.

The Evernew stove can be used to replace a Trangia burner or can be used — as I did — with a Caldera Cone system. If you have one of Bob’s Honey Stoves you will find that the the section that holds a burner in place has been constructed to hold the Evernew burner perfectly.

You can buy the burner on its own or as part of a larger Evernew kit which includes windshields and wood burning accessories. Personally, I find these Evernew accessories far too small and fiddly. On the other hand, I find that using the burner with a Caldera or Honey Stove system is simple and effective. I’m not sure I really see the point in the wider system.

At a push I might consider using the titanium foil windshield that can be bought with it. Pair this with a backpackinglight.co.uk titanium trivet sitting on the top of the stove and you can have a very light system that runs on both sets of burners.

The burner isn’t cheap at around £46 but it is built beautifully, is tough and light and should last longer than I do! In performance terms the Evernew represents great value for money when you consider a Jetboil system will set you back around £80 or more.

The Evernew is small, light, unbreakable and a stunning performer. I doubt I shall leave on any backpacking trip without one in my rucksack!

Here is Bob’s promo video of the whole Evernew kit but, as I said, I’m not sure anything else other than the windshield is really a good idea — no doubt there will be plenty of people who disagree 🙂

Here are the links to the super thin windshield (£6.99) and titanium trivet (£9.99) that were mentioned above.

First Review: Tarptent Stratospire 2

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Scotland is usually a good testing ground for new gear and so it proved over the last couple of weeks as the Stratospire 2 had its first outing. The Stratospire had to cope with everything from a full on coastal storm with gale force winds to clear, still and cold evenings which provided a real condensation challenge.

In all honesty we spent the first trail days sleeping in bothies as the ground was so waterlogged it was difficult to find a pitch but as we moved East the tent came into its own. So, here are my first impressions.

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Long Term Review: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Pack

As we approach winter I know that a lot of hikers begin to reappraise their kit and think about new purchases for the winter or the spring. I’ve had a lot of interest in the Exodus pack. I’ve reviewed it before — Review: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 2011 Backpack — but this ha the benefit of prolonged use.

I’ve also written this as an introduction to lightweight packs and their use in UK or cooler climate conditions.

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Review: Aeropress Coffee Maker

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The current TGO — or Great Outdoors as it seems to want to known as once more — reminds us that now is the beginning of the camping season. Every now and then a product transfers over from the mainstream world to the camping world with remarkable effectiveness.

I have been using the Aeropress for a while now at home and have found it to be a wonderful and cheap piece of kitchen equipment. I have never thought about using this on a camping trip but acting TGO editor Daniel is recommending it in the camping section this month. Daniel is not only a journalist on an outdoor magazine he is also a bit of a foodie and so he knows his stuff.

The Aeropress is a remarkably simply gadget to use and one which has a very robust build. You simply use the scooped measure which comes with the kit to measure out your coffee and then fill the Aeropress with the desired amount of hot water and stir for 10 seconds or so using the stirring tool which also is included in the package. A small filter sits in a compartment at the bottom of the device. You place the plunger over your cup or mug and simply press down. Quite a bit of pressure is required to force the coffee through the filter — the filter creates some kind of vacuum in the chamber.

But regardless of the physics involved the Aeropress creates simply one of the best cups of coffee you will ever had drunk. Somehow this process seems to extract the maximum flavour. And when you have finished the Aeropress is simplicity itself to clean.

Over in the foodie bloggie world people are raving about this with the cheering led by Tim Anderson, the geeky American flavour king who one Masterchef a couple of years ago.

The Aeropress is certainly robust enough to be used in the field and at 230 grams it is reasonably lightweight. I’m not sure I would take this on a long trek when I am counting weight but it will certainly be with me on those overnight camps — it will work well with my Honey Stove grilled bacon rolls! Those who really love their coffee might want to think about adding this to their TGO Challenge gear list.

Thanks to Daniel for this. I now there are a number of trekkers out there who spend a lot of time dreaming of really great coffee. This is the best answer I know and the coffee even tastes great in a titanium mug.

The Aeropress costs at £25 for the filter, accessories, a set of filters and a spare set of 300 filters. If you love coffee you really can’t go wrong here; great design, no nonsense build and simple to use!

Here is a video of the machine in action.