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.
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.
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.
One of the unexpected bonuses of writing this blog over the last eight or nine years is that I have got to meet some of this country’s best and most prominent outdoor writers. I have found them all to be great fun, fascinating characters who are genuinely inspirational in many ways. Of all of these writers the one who has made the greatest impression on me personally has been Kev Reynolds. Kev’s guidebooks have seen me safely through all kinds of Pyrenean adventures and his mountain reference books to the Alps and the Pyrenees are some of the most well-thumbed books on my bookshelves.
Before I met Kev for the first time I knew I would like him. His oeuvre may be the guidebook but somehow from out from that restricted format shines an exceptionally warm person, a man who revels not just in high mountains but in the company of both mountain communities and fellow visitors. An encounter with Kev is always an experience to savour and memory to cherish. Kev’s stories are a delight as they entrance you with the magic and wonder of high and far off places. Within them there is always humour, writ and just the right amount of cheekiness. If you have heard Kev speak or give a presentation you will know what I mean.
Now Kev has distilled his 50 years or so of mountain walking into a wonderful new book, A Walk in the Clouds.
As Kev says himself in the introduction this is not a collection of stories of great drama and excitement but a series of memories at the gentler end of the outdoor spectrum. Kev’s long walk in the clouds has left him with a rich store of memories and as he puts it himself:
…(this) is collection is a celebration of wild places in all their seductive mystery — a commemoration of mountains and valleys; friends with whom some great days have been shared; people met alone the way; the generosity of strangers; humour plucked from the most unlikely situations. A celebration of life”
This is no autobiography biography but a carefully crafted collection of short stories most of which started off as journal entries written at the end of days on the mountain or at the end of a trip. This is not hard or intense reading and most of the pieces here are no more that three or four pages long. These stories are never anything but accessible but despite their brevity each them carries a lo, so much so that I found Kev constantly playing tricks on my mind. I would read some small piece or other only to find, when I finished it, that all kinds of memories and encounters from my own trips were flooding my mind.
The pieces are grouped in sections that follow the development of Kev’s own walking career. We start in the Atlas mountains Kev’s first excursion in the wild land of an unfamiliar country. Next up is the Pyrenees —mountains that Kev first saw on that trip to Morocco — which set the scene for Kev’s first groundbreaking guidebook Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees , a book which is still in print today and which I’ve used a great deal over the yeas. Following the Pyrenees comes the Alps, the Himalaya and, finally, a collection of memories from assorted trips around the world. In each of these sections you will find wonderful descriptions of high, wild and beautiful mountains, high passes and lowland pastures. There are nights spent in storms under canvass, convivial evenings in refuges, brushes with near disaster, stories from the leading of mountain treks and others featuring life long walking companions including, of course, Kev’s wife Min.
These short stories really do bring these mountains to life and they do so not least because Kev is so good at connecting with local people and with the communities that have lived there for generations. As Kev looks back over his career he is finding that the memories of the people he met along the way are becoming stronger and stronger and this is certainly something that I can identify with. I am reminded of the late writer and traveller Bruce Chatwin who said that a landscape was never properly illuminated for him until he had met the people who animated it. Here we encounter lonely shepherds, simple mountain pension owners, guardians of high refuges and a multi millionaire who tackled the great peaks of the Alps by private helicopter! We meet Pierre and Jean Ravier, two of the greats explorers of the Pyrenees and many of Kev’s long standing sherpa guides, good friends and comrades. There is also a fascinating encounter with a small Himalayan village community none of whom has ever left their own valley and who really cannot understand why you would need to know what was to be found further downstream! Kev’s publisher Jonathan Williams also has a few important walk on parts, some of which are too delicate to describe here!
If you have seen Kev speak you will find that many of his ‘greatest hits’ stories are here, most prominently the one where our hero ends up hanging in mid air following the collapse of his balcony. But most of the material here is completely new to me.
The great thing about this book is that it focuses on the kinds of experiences and observations that all of us will have when we venture out into the Alps, the Pyrenees or the Himalaya. In that sense there is nothing out of the ordinary here but of course, as all mountain goers know, everyday in the hills is a chance to experience the extraordinary. This is a quietly inspirational book, I say quietly because it inspire us all to get out and do things that we are all capable of doing!
In ‘A Walk in the Clouds’ Kev tells us that he never set out to become a guidebook and outdoor writer. Things just happened and opportunities arrived out of the blue that he simply took advantage of. You can see that Kev is a genuinely modest man but reading this book I’ve realised what makes him so special. Kev’s art is this quiet and gentle ability to inspire us all to do that little bit more and to unlock just a little bit more the potential within. Whenever I have chatted to Kev he has always quietly encouraged me to explore somewhere new or to return again to the Pyrenees (and provide him with even more up to date intelligence of conditions on the ground). I always go away from an encounter with Kev beginning to plan a new adventure in my head. Reading this book has given me the same experience.
Anyone who has used one of Kev’s guidebooks will delight in this collection of memories and mountain stories. If you don’t know Kev’s work you’ll still find this delightful and I would be amazed if you then don’t find yourself buying one of his guides and quickly planning to follow in his footsteps. And all readers — like me — will surely be heartened by Kev’s closing remarks that make it clear that there are yet more of these memories to be set down.
Kev’s inspirational cajoling continues until the very last paragraphs of the book:
“… all who go to the mountains have abundant opportunities to gather a harvest of memories worth reliving. Happily there’s no need to be a top-grade climber tackling the latest major vertical challenge, nor even to trek the longest or toughest routes, for with an eye for beauty and the ability to absorb the wonders of the world you, enrichment comes from simply being there.”
“I hope this message comes across in some of these stories in this book and will inspire you to gather a harvest of experiences and memory to underline the truth that life is a gift to be treasured and not wasted on ‘if only …’
Well, Kev, the message has certainly come across in this book. Even in the final paragraph you have inspired me to think afresh of many of the experiences I have had when travelling. You have given me the inspiration to explore new pastures of writing myself.
This is truly a wonderful gem of a book. With A Walk in the Clouds Cicerone have developed yet another dimension to their publishing and log may this spirit of experiment continue. I hope that a further collection of Kev’s writings will find its way into the future catalogue.
Go and buy this book for you will understand what is truly great about my friend Kev — at the end of these 200 pages he will be your friend as well!
Available now in book form, electronic versions following shortly.
Two tarps on the Pembrokshire Coastal Path
My post about expensive kit bought an interesting email about tarps. The correspondent was interested is trying tarps and was confused by my comments that, firstly, I still enjoyed my tarps more then anything but, secondly, my comment that I enjoyed it on the one day a year it was possible (or something like that)!
I should point out, at this point, that a lot of my gear posts are slightly tongue in cheek and are , often, written for my own pleasure — this is one of the guilty pleasures of blog writing that few don’t often own up to! But, back to tarps.
There is nothing quite like a tarp. You are open to the elements. You can feel the gentle breeze on your cheeks, you can gaze out at wonderful views and study the stars on a clear night after dark. A tarp gives you protection to basic elements, protection from the rain and from a heavy frost; this is why I generally prefer using tarp to cramming myself into a bivy bag. I’ve never really felt that comfortable in a properly waterproof bivy. On the other hand I often use my Mountain Laurel Designs lightweight bivy as my soul protection and groundsheet when I’m under a tarp; thesis very breathable but only water resistant. So, why the comment about using them on the one night possible a year?
Tarps are something of a luxury in this country — now, of course, a lot of people use them regularly and that’s fine. What I don’t like is having to cram myself into ext a protective stuff to be comfortable under a tarp. On a wonderfully warm and still night there is nothing like a tarp, but — and maybe this is just bad luck — I seldom fin nights like this.
My main bugbear is when cold drafts flow through the tarp; I just find these uncomfortable. The answer to this is to peg the sides of the tarp to the ground. My current tarp is a catenary cut shelter which is great to put up but less flexible than a ‘flat’ or ‘straight’ tarp. Simple tarps are more flexible but are often more messy in windy weather and, to be honest, getting up in the middle of the night to read just the tarp is a pain.
The picture above gives a feel for the best and the worst of these conditions. The setting was wonderful, the evening fine and clear and the next morning invigorating. But there was an annoying strong and chilly wind. My tarp is the one that has been pitched side-on to the wind to give me protection. I raised the opposite side higher to offer a view. The other tarp is one of Bob’s; this is open at the front but closed and protected at the back.
So, why I prefer a night under my tarp to anything else I often simply go for another shelter. I can always pitch my Duomid with the doors tied open. I should really be living in a warmer climate!
I’m not alone in these frustrations. These reasons are probably why the Mountain Laurel Trailstar is so (rightfully) popular.
The Trailstar in a ingeniously designed tarp, its sleek design allowing a perfect, bombproof pitch with the back and the sides fixed firmly to the ground and the entrance lowered or even closed up completely. In warmer and more perfect weather the Trailstar can be raised up high to give you the feel of a more conventional tarp.
In the UK the Trailstar is probably the ideal tarp to use. If you are interested in tarps and fancy using them for more than a handful of days a year then the Trailstar is where I would start.
What does the team think?
Squeezing a tarp into a tiny flat space
The flexibility of a simple tarp
Sadly, idyllic nights like this are few and far between!
I see that snow is coming and no doubt all those up t’north will be getting ready to play in the fluffy stuff. the last few days have been good for local walking but for me this is the time of the year to think about planning for the next season.
Now, I wouldn’t want you all to think that I’d suddenly developed a sense of responsible proportion by focusing on all of this budget stuff, for my mind at this time of the year inevitably turns to new shelters.
My curent shelter of choice has remained the same for three or four years now, the cuben fibre Duomid from Mountain Laurel. I am quite happy with this shelter but I am beginning to think about lede after it. The Duomid has a zipped front and so far this has held well — I look after it carefully. But, inevitably, the zipper will deteriorate at some point and I maybe able to easily replace but maybe not.
The Duomid has seen me become a real convert to cuben. Cuben is light, yes but also expensive. But I like the way it handles and doesn’t shrink. Some seem to find problems in getting a taught pitch but I find this easier than with sinylon. I’ve have found cuben to be pretty tough and also pretty easy to patch up when I do something silly like put a tent peg through it.
So, my next ideal shelter would be made of cuben and, probably, wouldn’t have a zip/zipper. So, what might I be thinking about?
Two shelters are pretty similar, the Mountain Laurel Cricket and the Z Packs Hexamid. These two tents share the same kind of footprint and both utilise a pull down beak system for protection to the rain. Z Packs build in a lighter weight of cuben than MLD have as standard and I’d be interested in comments on durability. Keith Foskett has been promising a review for while but it has not yet arrived. Come on Keith! These two shelters may be joined next year by one designed by Colin Ibbotson which should be interesting.
I must admit to wondering about the size of these tents. I have noticed that one or two people have commented that they find size restricted in such a shelter. This light be why Joe at Z Packs has recently bought out two new shelters, the Solplex and the Duplex. These solo and two person tents respectively are still pretty lightweight, indeed, they are comparable to Hexamids but appear to offer a lot more space. Both use two trekking poles for support. The Duplex looks similar to a cuben version of the Stratospire II.
I won’t have to worry about replacement yet. On next years TGO Challenge we will be using the Stratospire and the Duomid will no doubt be fine for solo trips to the hills. Joe fromZ Packs will be on the Challenge next year and it will be interesting to meet up with him and to talk about fabrics and design. Perhaps, I ought to pack my audio recording machine now.
On my last Challenge I had a good look at Six Moon Design shelters — Ron Moak and his walking companion were both using cuben shelters. The cuben Haven looked very well designed and well made.
No doubt I’ve missed a few of the more rare and esoteric designs that are out there.
I’ve long been an admirer of the MLD Trailstar. I’ve heard both bad and good things about the cuben version of the Trailstar — some find it inferior to the sinylon version and some are very happy with it. My problem with the Trailstar is its high footprint. Now, the new Little Star might present a serious option to consider.
I know there are others around these parts who spend more money than is sensible on state of the art lightweight shelters. What do you reckon?
It’s nice to hear from all of those people planning their first TGO Challenge crossing. A common enquiry is about cameras and photography; understandably they want a fine record of the event.
I can’t really give you that much advice. You really should be carrying a tripod and filters but it would be mad to do so — actually, myself and at least one other do this from time to time. But, I can give one piece of advice that you might be grateful for in future years as you reflect back on this superb experience.
Don’t forget to photograph the people you are walking with?
After all, this is one of the stingiest social events in the world!
Here are a selection of great characters, some of whom you may meet up with as you cross the bogs next year!
Bryan Waddington and Shap McDonnell
Sue and Martin Banfield
Sue, Morpeth, Ali & Humphrey at Queen Street: Great Expectations
Breakfast with Dennis Pidgeon
Julie and map, David and Kate
Tony and Lee celebrating the end in their traditional manner — sadly, we’ll miss them next year
Roger Smith, our leader for years. You’ll meet him in Montrose.
On the right our resident chaplain the Rev David Albon — sadly not on the event next year but he might pay a flying visit. And on the left, good grief, its Cameron McNeish
Lou and Phylis
Phil Turner, fine tuning Social Hiking
Squire Roger Dodwell and Sally
Alan Sloman, nicely sloshed in Edzell
Judith Barnes and the Rev David
A lone hiker, Malcolm goes over the Corriarick Pass
Roger Smith presents Humphrey Weightman with a special award for tallest story …
Bogs may come and go and the mountains will always be there. Just make sure your memories are too!
Cicerone have a good looking deal on at the moment — 25% of all books ordered before 15th December.
25% off all Cicerone guidebooks
Here is a special Christmas present for you – from all of us at Cicerone.
Visit the Cicerone website, pick out the books you would like, and we will give you 25% discount – no magic codes needed. But don’t wait too long, as this offer has to end on 15th December.
OK, so let’s get going. Remember my aim is not to be comprehensive but to start off the debate and discussion. I’ve been looking at gear and gear sites and have picked out some stuff to think about, but no doubt many of you know more than me and are more resourceful!
The High End
To start with let’s just refresh ourselves with the madness of the high end. Here are some jacket samples that I have looked at. I’ve taken by guide prices from mainstream outdoor sites rather than absolute discount ones, but you’ll get the idea.
First off let’s consider some high end Gore Tex jackets and the new Gore Tex pro Layer 3 fabric (this exercise is going to try my patience I suspect).
How about the Arc’Teryx Theta AR jacket? Made of Gore Tex Pro Shell this weighs in at about 500 grams, I guess for a medium size. Cost? £430.
Also in Gore Tex Pro fabric is the Berghaus Ulvetanna Pro at 650 grams. Cost? £375.
And I could go on. I reckon you’d need your head examined to buy this stuff. Mind you, expect significant discounts on GT Pro in the new year.
And the fabric? Well, I’ve no doubt it performs well and will be promoted heavily; Gore Tex are not beyond flying bloggers out to Germans for a weekend to same at first hand their labs and hospitality.
And I suppose we shouldn’t ignore Paramo. The Enduro jacket was commended in the TGO Awards and is a full Analogy jacket, but it costs £350.
Down a bit …
I mentioned Neo Shell in an earlier post. This is the fabric that is the trendy kid on the block at the moment and the one that might knock Gore Tex off their perch.
The Rab Stretch Neo jacket won last year’s TGO Award. Prices are coming down but even so this will set you back £270 for a jacket that weighs 500 grams (medium again I guess).
The Rab Myriad is a tad lighter at 410 grams and a bit cheaper at £250. It has been well reviewed but is still a little pricey.
Montane are also using Pro Neo Shell, for example, in their Fast Alpine Stretch Jacket. The is available for prices that range from £300 to 350. This will weigh around 600 grams for medium. A more basic jacket cut from the same material, the Further Faster Neo will cost £230 for 500 grams.
When considering the Neo Shell remember those weights.
This is where the great value is for me. eVent is a tried and tested fabric which is very breathable (especially when cleaned regularly). eVent is available in different weights. I have used a very lightweight eVent jacket for 7 or 8 years and it is only now showing signs of wear.
Rab use lightweight eVent in some of their jackets although I’ve had bad reports of wear with the lightest ones. I shall consider Montane — my jacket — which in its new versions seems to be as robust as mine.
The Montane Air is the direct ancestor of my jacket and shares most of the same features although in a better package. My search today found the jacket for about £220 but I have seen it for less than £200. Expect 310 grams for a size medium.
The new Montane Mohawk has been trailed here by Webtogs and looks really good value at £149. I can’t find it on the Montane website but it does real exist! A size medium will weigh just over 300 grams. This could well be my next jacket.
Getting lower …
Whisper it carefully but there are even more fabrics that you might consider. And some of them come even cheaper.
The Montane Atomic Jacket has always been a bargain, well designed and fully featured. The fabric used her changes regularly and currently Montane are building this in Pertex Shield which TGO found to be “easily breathable enough for hill walking”. Weight about 300 grams. Cost just around £100.
Other Propriety Items
I mentioned Jack Wolfskin the other day. Their range is clever. You have a heavy full on winter jacket, a medium weight jacket and a lightweight option which looks to me as if it is made of eVent or similar. If you are on a budget— and have a branded store near you — don’t ignore these.
But for my first Bargain Choice I shall go to that distinctly un-fashionable brand Karrimor.
How about the Karrimor Elite Alpinist Jacket? This is made of eVent — so it will be breathable — but will cost you between £90 and £100. It is a tad heavier than the Montane stuff as a quoted weight of 670 grams (I presume for medium). This may seem heavy but just check out those weights above again. I think it is safe to say that this jacket is probably not made out o the lightweight laminates that some have had problems with.
And you know what? The Elite Alpinist has been well received in the real world. Check out hill walker DeanRead’s review here.
… and finally
These lightweight fabrics are not a compromise; used in a proper layer system the lightweight eVent will see you through the whole year round.
So, these are my initial thoughts and I’ve picked out the Karrimor Jacket.
But I’m sure you can do better than me!