Sunday, 12 July 2009

Too many stuff sacks, not enough space - Heroes and Zeroes of the kit I took on my Hardanger trip

This was the longest solo backpacking trip I have done. A lot of thought went into what to take and what to leave behind. The constant packing and repacking, in conjunction with viewing on-line weather forecasts had me trying to shed grams right up to the taxi arriving to pick me up and take me to the bus station. Previously thought must-have's were jettisoned into a small pile on the floor.

The weather had a lot to do with gear selection. The forecast was for mostly blazing hot sunshine with the possibility of some cloud and rain towards the end of the trip. With the Hardanger being a mountain plateau and mostly all above 1000m I knew that the weather could change at any time and snow was always a possibility!

The biggest gamble - I bought a GoLite Pinnacle specifically for this trip and future multi-day treks as I knew all my gear wasn't going to fit in my current biggest backpack, the OMM Villain. It was the four days of food that I had to carry that would have proved too much for the Villain so after doing some homework and reading glowing reviews from trusted sources I plumbed for the Pinnacle. At 905g it's incredibly light for it's 72 litres claimed total volume. I was a little dubious about taking an untested pack out for four days but after some tinkering with the straps over the course of the first day it proved to be very comfortable. Yes, I know it isn't as cool looking as some other technical packs, no, it's not as structured or has a ventilated back like others and it won't carry 20+kg for days on end. But, if you carry lightweight gear and want your backpack to simply carry the load and be invisibly comfortable then the Pinnacle is supreme. So much so I'm tempted with it's little brother, the Jam2, as a replacement for my beloved Villain. Blasphemy?

Clothes I wore - I run hot when I'm hiking or running so cool, quick drying clothes were a must have. I wore a TNF Vitesse Fuse long sleeve top during the day which was perfect. The long sleeves were useful not only on the cooler, windier high country but also as protection from the incessant sunshine. It was nicely ventilated in the extreme heat and dried in a flash when drenched with sweat or river water. The Nike Tempo running shorts have compression shorts built in and were amazingly comfortable. The also managed to just about dry out completely after their evening 'washing'. The Inov8 Debris Gaiters are amazing. Ultralight and perfect at they're job which was keeping stones and other small detritus out of my low cut shoes.

The big zeroes of the trip were my previously sublime Inov8 310s. The super comfortable, ultralight, grippy shoe have been my favourites for hiking in this year but whilst sat in camp on the last evening I noticed they had split across the sole of the right shoe. The split seems to have occurred along one of the lugs and I wonder if this a warranty issue. Countless others use these shoes for incredible thru-hikes so I'm loathed to give up on them yet.

Clothes I carried - Obviously my rain gear was not needed but I was happy to carry the Atomic DT and Reed pants as insurance, they weigh so little. The Reed's especially acted as evening camp wear while my shorts dried and they also proved midgie proof which was a relief! My insulation piece was my Montane Flux and as expected it proved to be WAY too much for the conditions. So much so that it never got worn. It was over half a kilo of deadweight and is being replaced by a piece weighing half as much. I should have taken my Generator vest which still wouldn't have got worn but would have been a lot less to carry!

Sleeping - I carried two new mats. The first was an ultralight (178g) 8mm closed-cell cut-down foamie I bought in a local shop that I primarily carried to act as a virtual frame for my lightweight pack and secondly as protection for the short Neoair. I'm not convinced it was needed to protect the Neoair but the Neoair isn't enough to act as a virtual frame for the Pinnacle. On the other hand the Neoair was a lightweight (260g) hero, proving to be amazingly comfortable (when half inflated) and waffer light. Hmmmm.

The big zero in the sleeping department was the Alpkit Pipedream 400 sleeping bag. It's actually a brilliant bag but it was quite simply too much for this trip. Maybe I'm the zero?! At 750g it's no porker but the fact that I've happily used it in December in Norway means it was always going to be too much. I never zipped it up and it was still too hot wearing nothing but a layer of merino. A proper summer bag/quilt is being sought, something sub 500g should do the trick.

Shelter - The Laser Comp is proving to be a gem to use. So easy to put up, big enough for one person and all their gear and of course pretty darn light at 1140g. I've replaced the ridiculous 2g ti pegs it's supplied with 4 bad-ass Clamcleat Y pegs and a set of Vargo ti 'proper' pegs to ensure it stays attached to the ground. I've also 'hot-rodded' the Laser Comp with a few genius modifications with the pole cover tensioner and door-keeper mod proving instantly practical. To vent the tent I simply used a couple of tiny 'biners to clip the lower end pegging point to the higher guyline. I only suffered from any noticeable condensation on the third morning.

It would have been perfectly practicable to take a tarp-type shelter and bivy in these conditions and is something I'll look into again. You'd save half a kilo and the protection offered would have been more than adequate with a good weather forecast.

Kitchen - I grabbed the usual Optimus Crux when I should have really gone with the Super Cat. The Crux is a fine flame thrower but I could have saved a lot of weight by going with meths. I normally use Primus canister feet to stabilise the Crux but for some reason they didn't fit the 200 MSR gas cart that I bought for the trip so they sat about doing nothing. Oh, and a long handled spoon is a hero when eating commercial freeze dried meals, no more 'Sauce Knuckle'. The slightly squared off spoon shape is also perfect for scraping the Real Turmat bags clean of every calorie. Is the spork dead? It's taking a well earned sabbatical from my backpack at least.

Miscellaneous - One of the biggest heros of the trip was the tube of Hydropel I carted around with me. This wonder salve keeps feet lubed and happy. I never once got a blister or hot spot and someone over this side of the pond really needs to import this stuff. Quite simply for me an absolute necessity for any long distance backpacking trip. The numerous stream/river crossings and unlined trail runners drenched my feet but the Hydropel never allowed the pruning, skin softening and blistering often experienced when wearing this sort of footwear. I'll repack it into a smaller container for future trips.

The trekking poles I took were my winter/skiing Black Diamond Expedition behemoths (with the straps and baskets removed) and proved absolutely essential across the snowfields and rivers. I'll be investing in a lighter '3 season pair' for sure. They make moving over rough ground so much easier, especially with a larger backpack. It took me a while to get used to them again, I don't generally use sticks for hiking but once I stopped 'thinking' about them they became part of my stride.

My weekend first-aid/repair/survival kit has gone on a serious diet since I got back. So much superfluous stuff in there. It is still a work in progress. Knowledge and skill weigh a lot less and a bit of homework and planning means you don't always have to carry a multitool, a Maglite, candles, saw, kitchen sink... For the emotionally robust I reckon it could be reduced to 6' of duct tape, a razor blade and some ibuprofen...

So what did I learn? I can go lighter, a kilo at least and still be perfectly comfortable even if the conditions had been less perfect than I experienced. With a good weather forecast and some options at your disposal it is perfectly feasible to carry a really light backpack and spend more of the day appreciating your surroundings and indeed seeing more surroundings as the lighter pack allows for higher mileage/longer days. There is no argument. Lighter is better.*

(* with caveats...)


Martin Rye said...

Pinnacle, Laser Comp, Inov-8 310's. A man of taste in fine outdoor kit. Did you use the Amphibians ?

Holdfast said...

Martin - and a Xero is still in the running for my summer bag! I like the way some items become de facto equipment, simply because it works.

The Amphibians were carried but not used. The weather was so warm that my shoes either dried out so quickly after a river crossing or there was another river to cross so soon after that I couldn't be arsed to stop and change. They will be invaluable on cooler trips no doubt.

Hendrik M said...

Very interesting write-up. I'm in the market for a new backpack, and will write about my research soon-ish. A tent is on its way to me, and also in the sleeping bag department for a new alternative is sought. One always seems to be updating and getting new stuff...

Holdfast said...

Hendrik - thanks for reading.

As for backpacks: well there are certainly lighter ones than the GoLites and there are more technical packs than the GoLites but I just think they hit that very nice sweet spot of comfort, features, durability and space. They are also very well priced.

The sleeping bag dilemma. There are plenty of very high quality, very light sleeping bags out there (PHD and Mountain Equipment are top of my list) but I'm also still quilt-curious!

The quest for perfect gear continues...

Dave Hollin said...

I have never liked Innov8's but that stems more from the fact that they hurt my feet worse than if I had placed them in vices. I have heard that their durability isnt as good as other shoes.
I personally wear Montrails and they are comfy for me and last and last and last
The laser comp really is a class act and I can t see me replacing this with anything in the near future (apart from when out and about tarping)
Re the AD400, I agree. Its far too warm outside of winter. I used it in the lakes at -7C with just a Gossamer Gear thinlite mat under me and I was toasty. At the moment I am using the Golite Ultra 20 although accaisionally the phd mimimus gets an outing

Holdfast said...

Dave - thanks for your comment. The only thing about Inov8s that I'm not 100% happy with is the slightly shallow heel cup. My 315s are a bit narrow in the toe for walking all day but they're ace for trail running, that Roclite grip is still the best as far as I'm concerned. The 310s have more room up front and have been so very comfortable on longer hikes. I'd still like a slightly deeper heel but with correct lacing, good socks and some Hydropel they've proved to be great.

With regards to the split on my pair of 310s I have just found out that these could very well shortly be replaced under warranty. Just waiting to hear back from the retailer. In the meantime I purchased some Montrail Mountain Masochists. They are half a size smaller than my street shoe and have only been out for a quick run around the hills but so far so good. The grip is probably a 9 compared to the Roclite's 10 but that's a lot better than the Salomons!

Nothing but praise from me for the Laser Comp. I have my sights set on an MLD Patrol shelter and Soul bivy for good weather missions though.

The PD400 has been retired until a lot later in the year. The new kid on the block is the ME Xero 150. 450g and very well made. I like the elasticated stitching. I have no problems with wearing some extra clothing to bed if it proves a bit chilly but at this time of year I'm sure it'll be fine, especially when used in a tent or bivy.

I was tempted by the GoLite quilt. It was a close call. Lack of availability over here and a spot of impatience put the Xero in the shopping bag.

Dave Hollin said...

I like your style!

I have the Soul bivvy already and a variety of tarps although I am currently making my own tarp (a "Ray Way" tarp) which is somewhat similar to the patrol shelter

I think it will take me some time to finish as I am not a very good seamstress!


Holdfast said...

Dave - good luck with your sewing project, I wouldn't know where to start! My brother is a whizz with an industrial sewing machine and we toyed with the idea of knocking up an MLD Soul-type bivy (waterproof base & water resistant/breathable top) but thought it best to purchase a well made example first, to act as a starting point for future projects (like an oversize but simplified version for winter snow cave trips). A lot of people seem to have a lot of nice things to say about MLD products.

Dave Hollin said...

nothing but good things to say about MLD in my case.

If I had a lot of money........


Nielsen Brown said...

I really like the picture of the first aid kit. As they say a picture paints a thousand words and this picture summarises how little you need to carry. Regrading stoves there are times I will carry gas and times I will carry metho, I carried gas on my last rip because I expected to be cooking in a tent, but at other times I prefer metho (or Rødsprit). I suspect there is no simple answer to the question which is better.

A great trip report and gear report, Hardangervidda seems like a good option for the future. Interestingly the hut warden at Olavsbu was very complimentary about the area and encourage me to go there.

Holdfast said...

Dave - I have a wee shopping list of MLD stuff that will hopefully be winging it's way to Ron in the near future.

Roger - this is the latest incarnation of my first-aid/repair/survival kit. I may swap out the mini scissors/tweezers/scalpel blade for a tiny swiss army knife, more to keep those separate items from puncturing the aloksak than anything (as well as giving the blade a proper handle). Hopefully in future the only thing that will change is the amount of meds packed.

I agree. I don't consider any of the stove options to be superior, they all have their place at different times. It's good to be confident at using all of them. I think that's why the Ti-Tri appeals to me, lots of options.

baz carter said...

That's a big bag for such lightweight non bulky gear. How much food did you pack?

Holdfast said...

Baz - You're right, it was too big a bag for that trip. I took my PipeDream 400 sleeping bag which took up a lot of space, as did the Montane Flux and this is an area I have already made savings in weight and bulk since that trip. If I did the trip again I would easily fit it all into a GoLite Jam. I carried four and a half days food and apart from a plastic tube of crackers it was all low volume dried/freeze-dried products.

Dave Hanlon said...

Thought I remembered you has a pair of golite reed pants. Still happy with them? Looking to pick up soem new shell pants and am wrestling with Atomic DT and Reed. The latter are half teh rpice and thirty odd grams lighter so very attractive. Are they going to keep out a day or two of horizontal wet on such as I may well get on the west coast of finnmark? Are they going to keep my arse dry when I sit around in them in a wet camp?

Joe Newton said...

Dave - you know what, I am happy with them because every time I carry them it never rains! In winter I use some Rab Bergen eVent pants and I carry the Reeds in Summer but have yet to use them in sustained cold rain but have heard plenty of people us them in such conditions with little complaint (including Andy Skurka). As to their longevity, I don't know, they're not that tough looking or feeling, which conversely makes them great for packing small. I have heard that they have discontinued the Reeds but their replacement, the Tumalo (189g)looks almost identical in a slightly better Pertex Shield fabric. They are very similar to the new Rab Off Limit pants (175g). Hope that helps!

Dave Hanlon said...

Seems to be an academic discussion we're having. Reeds are indeed now hard to find. I can only find XL's. Even at my rate of expansion it will be some years before I'm into XL. Thinking anout Atomic DT's but will check out the Tumalos and the RABS. Thanks.

Joe Newton said...

Dave - I like the look of the Atomic DTs too. I use an Atomic DT jacket because it's so light, fully featured and pretty breathable. Let me know which troos you choose!

Dave Hanlon said...

Couldn't resist the Atomic DT's. Found them at Winwood outdoors for 60 quid and reached straight for my card. Guess they are stock from a previous year since they seem to lack the flashy two-tone pattern and velcro leg closures portrayed in the new product pictures. They're also billed as being lighter than I read elsewhere, 170 rather than 198g. If that's so then it's a welcoem bonus.

Joe Newton said...

Dave - thats a good price for a good product. Let me know how they do. It's funny how last years model of almost everything is better than this year's tarted up model!

Have a great trip. Fingers crossed you won't even need to break out the new rain pants!