Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

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Friday 15 June 2012

Some fine tuning

When I started this blog, it was with the idea of recording some of my trips so that I could refer to them when folk asked for ideas on routes in Scotland. I've read a few other blogs which have become more about gear reviews and I didn't want to end up copying them. However, I have been  acquiring some new equipment recently and it seemed relevant to mention it, why I'd bought it and my experience of it.

One focus for 2012 has been to improve my bikepacking gear. Previous off-road trips on the bike entailed the use of panniers and there have been a number of occasions (like my Speyside Way experience) where these simply got in the way. With that in mind, I've been looking at packing strategies and ways to cut both weight and bulk from the load. So, here are some recent changes...

I've been casting envious looks at various folks bikepacking bags and the trend away from racks and panniers. One advantage of this is that there is less of a requirement for rack mounts - a feature dropped from most higher-end mountain bikes. Frame bags, large seat packs and handlebar mounting systems are all putting in an appearance. In looking around, it pretty soon became apparent that there were three main suppliers, of which Revelate (once Epic Designs) in Anchorage seemed to have the longest pedigree. So, I now have a Viscacha saddle bag, a Sweet Roll Handlebar bag and a Gas Tank for the top tube. I've held off on the Frame Bag pending a decision on what bike it would be best for as thee are custom fitted to each frame.

Fitted to the 9zero7, they look great and provide enough space for a decent camping trip. I've yet to work out what I want to do about carrying water, so this is currently supplemented by a small rucksack with hydration bladder.

The last set of pots and pans I bought for camping was the excellent, but rather heavy, MSR cookset so I've been on the lookout for something a bit lighter and suitable for solo travelling. I discovered that most solo sets are a bit mean on volume. I like a decent sized meal when I've been walking or riding all day and some of the pans are simply too small. I was chuffed to find the Optimus Terra Weekend cookset had a main pan just less than a litre and a lid large enough to be used as a small pan too. With a heat-exchanger bottom on it, it's a little heavier than some alternatives but I hope that weight will be repaid with less use of fuel. I've also made a pot-cosy for it, further saving fuel and making single-stove cooking a bit more flexible. 

The set I bought was on offer with an Optimus Crux stove. This is slightly lighter than the MSR Pocket Rocket I already had but also has a natty folding feature which means it stows under a standard 220-250g gas cartridge, thereby saving some space. As the stove and cartridge also fit into the large Terra pan - along with a Primus windshield I'd also bought - I have one very compact cooking system.

The wee stove is amazingly quick to boil water, though it has an annoying habit whereby the flame seems to reduce in power once lit, meaning that I have to turn it back up occasionally. The pot cosy means that I can boil water add say, pasta, then take it off the heat and let it sit for 12 minutes or so. A quick blast and it's ready to eat. In the meantime, a small titanium mug lets me heat up some soup or a hot drink or something to add to the pasta. Leaving the pot in the cosy whilst eating keeps the food warm for longer too.

I've been keen to try bivvy-ing at some point but with the risk of getting my nice down sleeping bag wet (and therefore pretty useless) I've always put it off. Searching for a bargain-priced sleeping bag for a friend, I found the Mountain Hardware Lamina 35 on sale at Go Outdoors. Never one to miss a deal, I bought one for myself. It packs up almost as small as my down bag and weighs a little more. However, it's also much more easily washed so is more suited to short overnighters when I might be sweaty and not a little muddy. 

My lightweight, solo tent has been a Macpac Microlight. It was pretty much state-of-the-art when I bought it and has proven to be robust in some pretty rough conditions. However, with new materials now available, lighter weight options have been catching my eye. Also, it has one very annoying feature which is that rainwater can drip into the inner tent when the outer is fully open. 

I had my eye on the Tartpent Scarp for a while and was pleased to be able to pick one up second-hand off the Singetrackworld classifieds. It's a lot more roomy than the Microlight and has a big bonus of two accessible alcoves and doors. It's slightly lighter too. 

In use, the tent is very large for a solo user, though it would be a very tight fit for two. The fact that all the pegging points are on the guy lines means that there are fewer problems trying to get a good pitch as you can easily avoid placing pegs where there are rocks. The double door/alcove is great for keeping gear in and allowing some cooking space. One improvement would be to have the doors such that they are "diagonally" opposite. As it stands, the tent has to be pitched such that both doors are "downwind" of the centre pole. 

The night in Glen Feshie was extremely wet with almost no breeze. As a result, the midge were in attendance and I could see them thickly between the outer and inner layers of the tent. However, I managed to cook a meal without too many getting in to the tent, with a liberal application of Smidge stopping them from annoying me directly. I'd opened up the downwind roof vent to allow some ventilation, but the wind direction changed and I found a few drops of water were able to get onto the inner tent. These ran down rather than dip inside, so no damage done.

I woke up a couple of times through the night to the sound of heavy rain and it wasn't until after 6am that I woke up, found it was getting light and the rain had stopped. Applying a wee bit more Smidge, I opened up both the inner and outer tent and dozed on and off watching the shadow on the opposite side of the valley slowly creeping down as the sun got higher. 

Packing everything away after breakfast was simple enough. That's always a wee concern as it's never quite as simple as packing it all in the dry and comfort of your house. One mistake I later noticed was that I'd put the cooking kit in the saddle bag a different way and, as a result, I was getting some rubbing off the rear tyre when going over larger bumps. I'll keep my eye on this and might consider strengthening this lower part of the bag if it looks to be an ongoing problem.

So far, I'm pleased with the changes I've made. I just need to use them a bit more, get used to packing them away efficiently and make changes for additional days out.