Friday, 29 August 2008

At Last – A video of me pitching the Seedhouse SL2

Those of you who are present and correct will recall I purchased the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 back in June. I test pitched it pretty much immediately and described my first impressions here. I promised that I would do a review once I’d used it and stupidly mentioned a video in there somewhere too. Well, someone noticed, and now I realise I can’t carry on making false promises, so in between torrential downpours I made a video with my ugly mug pitching and showing you around the Seedhouse SL2.

Sorry for the terrible sound. I wanted to overlay a soundtrack but Adobe Premier is playing up for some reason - it doesn't like MP4 files which is helpful because that's all the Nokia N82 will record to. I had to revert to Ubuntu to make and edit the final video and my patience was running VERY low!

As most will already know, the tent is extremely lightweight considering it is a real 2 man tent. Without the stuff sack I weighed the whole lot in at 1550g. It does this by using an incredibly thin sil-nylon rip stop fabric for the groundsheet and fly and also replacing the standard inner tent material with an all mesh construction.

There is a small porch for boots and packs etc and I found this a really useful space when I used it in the Coniston Fells. unfortunately the door only has a one-way opening so doesn't offer much option for different configurations depending on the weather. However, you can unzip from the top allowing you to ventilate the porch if you need to cook in the tent whilst its raining outside. The latest model has a storm flap over the zips to prevent any leakage and this worked perfectly in the torrential downpours I experienced on Grey Friar that night.

Though the tent is not geodesic, when guyed out in just 3 of the 7 guying points it is surprisingly stable

As the video shows, the tent is so easy to put up and the strange single pole almost flicks itself into place once you start to open it out. If you absolutely had to pitch this in the rain I don't think you'd have too many problems but I guess this should be avoided for obvious reasons - especially if its hammering it down!

There is one little annoyance about the tent though and that is getting the flysheet taught on all sides, particularly on the two front side panels. Having noticed this on Grey Friar, I soon realised that its all in the front-rear alignment of the flysheet. The issue is completely resolved if you tighten the webbing on the rear fly clasps and tightly set the guy point at the rear. This takes up the slack at the sides and makes for a really taught and neat looking tent.

The space inside is remarkable considering how small it seems from the outside. There are 3 small storage pockets on the entrance to the inner which are great for phone, head torch or whatever you like.

The space is really down to the four clips on the inner which attach to the fly to pull out the side walls. This does make a big difference although isn't necessary if you're using it solo.

The groundsheet is a real worry for me since it is so thin you can see through it and I demonstrate this in the video. i need to make a lightweight protector for it as I can see this getting damaged far too easily. I was impressed at how high the bathtub style groundsheet is on this tent. I can't see much getting up over that despite the ample clearance between the fly and in the inner mesh.

Friday, 15 August 2008

What's this? Two more for a night in the hills?

I've not been on for a while and that's because I'm being moody. I can't get out for a night in the hills for a while now because I have plans for pretty much every weekend between now and mid September. Luckily I will be out and about in the hills for the Yorkshire 3 peaks trip at the end of August but I'll be camping on an official camp site for two nights of hell I expect.

All is not lost however, as I rest in the knowledge that my cousin and his work colleague have decided they can no longer resist the temptation of the hills. They have been reading your blogs and researching gear for their first backpacking/wildcamping trip this weekend. They are being sensible and whilst they have been working to a budget (in case they don't like it - as unlikely as this is) they have tried to go as light as possible on the main kit.

They plan to do a route starting in Great Langdale heading for Wasdale. Depending on their state of mind and the weather, they will make decision to either camp at Wasdale Head campsite or stay in the hills. Lets wish them all the best for Sunday night and I'll pester them for a photo or two and a trip report once they're back.

It can be quite satisfying this blogging lark can't it..........

Friday, 8 August 2008

Power Struggle

So I've had the Nokia N82 for a few days now and I've been playing around figuring what it can do. A consequence of this was the battery seemed to die awfully fast, and so much so that there would be no way I could bring it on a backpacking trip over two days.

I read some forums and it seems the problem is common with these power hungry N series phones. Some people get over their problems by having the phone on charge all the time or having a spare battery - which would be a real annoyance. One suggestion on one forum was that I turned off everything I don't use and put the power saving mode to max. I need the phone to be able to make and receive calls, take lots of photos and be my GPS device all in one and having to worry about charging or changing batteries was not my idea of fun. I settled on a compromise and turned of WLAN scanning, 3G, turned the brightness of the screen down a little and have set the backlight to go off after 15 seconds. This makes a massive difference and now the battery lasts for around 2.5 days of average use. When the GPS is running however this isn't going to be the case so I need a portable power source.

I looked into the solar chargers like the Freeloader, and portable power supplies that you charge before you go out and take it everwhere with you - just in case. The most sensible idea for my purposes in wildcamping and backpacking is this - The ICON-X emergency charger.

Its the smallest, lightest option I could find for the job and it works of any AA battery. Its so small that you can carry it everywhere and not even know about it, and at £5 its cheap enough to have a few and leave one in your handbag (or manbag of course), one in your car and one behind your ear if you're that way inclined.

The downside of the more expensive, larger options is that this simply suits phones and not much else but then again that's all I'm bringing up the hills now! Luckily one of the connectors is the small USB types and this happens to be the connector used on my bluetooth GPS so I guess if I ever used that instead of the integrated unit in the phone I don't need to worry.

So now the important bit - weight. Including the carrying pouch, two connectors and a battery it weighs in at 53g. Its only slightly larger than the AA battery that fits inside as you can see so it will go anywhere in my pack. It doesn't have an awful of juice bearing in mind it uses a 1.5v AA battery but it charges the N82 and the GPS and will be enough (I hope) to get me through 2 days of intensive use of the phone.

Friday, 1 August 2008

The Nokia N82 - Find your Cake, Photograph it, Phone Home and Eat It

In my last post I eluded to the fact that I had been distracted by a piece of technology and that distraction was derived from my last trip. Well, this is it folks - The Nokia N82.

I know what your thinking.......I'm sat here bragging about my latest toy - and trying to convince you all it's got a real purpose in life.......well it has and I'll tell you why.

Once upon a time (well several) I went backpacking with enough electronics to call in a nuclear strike! I could take photos, text or make phone calls, blog to my hearts content and find my way home again. It had to worry about batteries etc but at the time it didn't seem like much - then I removed my testicles and made a spreadsheet of my gear weights. It was then that I noticed that I was carrying 540g of pure circuit board in my pack.

As you all know the Coniston trip saw the biggest step towards lightweight backpacking for me and I was so obsessed with cutting out the crap I didn't even bring house keys or my wallet. The only faff I had was my car key and a bank card but with over half a kilo of lithium-ion hungry goodies this was all a bit pointless!

Slawek, my cousin's work colleague, who I met on the Coniston trip, had an excellent solution to all this ridiculousness - he had a Nokia N73 with a bluetooth GPS receiver and a Symbian program called View Ranger on his phone. Think of this as Memory Map for PDA because it really is as fully featured.

This was my motivation to lighten up with technology. My mobile contract was due for renewal so I got back home and was right on it. I finally settled for the Nokia N82 due to battery life, AGPS, the camera, VGA video capability and last but by no means least - weight of course!
The phone had a built in GPS which uses the network to speed up the satellite acquisition process (Assisted GPS). It comes with 5MP auto focus camera and wi-fi. The best bit is the Symbian operating system is supported by a multitude of third party programs for all occasions and so View Ranger can be purchased and installed to make an all-in-one device for the hills. Now I hear you heckling at the back "Yeah but how much does it weigh"! The answer is a mere 120g all in!

I've yet to test the View Ranger application on my phone but on Slawek's N73 it performed flawlessly - following a route, recording a track, giving us useful altitude, speed, total ascent/distance/descent info, tagging pictures and video en route; and it did so with ease. The battery wasn't flat by the end of the 7 hour walk - unlike my PDA which has the stamina of me and flakes out after around 5 hours of constant use! I was impressed and planning my revenge on the O2 XDA II before I even got home!

I'll be putting the software and hardware through its paces over the next few weeks so will post back about my findings, but I really think this stands a good chance of providing a good solution to my techie needs on the hill. I should be able to share my routes and tracks online via the blog and via the View Ranger server as well as geotag my photos and video. I have an 8GB card so can put the VGA video to good use which negates the need for a separate video camera. A nice little touch is a hacked mobile youtube application allows me to upload videos to youtube instantly - oh my God I'm drooling!

In the words of that idiot Gordon Ramsay "1 slice of Nokia N82, ability to do pretty much anything and 450g of weight saving - DONE!

Testing the new toy!

Today I received my new Nokia N82. This is just a test to set up blogger but i'll be posting about this little baby shortly. I have big ideas for this for backpacking so watch this space!