Saturday, 20 October 2012

Gear Review: Berghaus Freeflow 20


I have to admit, when Berghaus first invited me to test some of their gear, I wasn’t immediately convinced there would be much on offer of interest to me.  After a few emails we agreed that the updated Freeflow 20 Rucksack might be most relevant and the instruction was to use it and give an honest review based on my experiences. So here we are!

Straight out of the packaging its hard not to notice its quite……red! I have an old Freeflow backpack that I picked up on eBay many years ago but the colour was a rather dull shade of blue and didn’t really stand out. After the initial retina burn had subsided I began to quite like the colour!


After an initial inspection of the bag the immediate response was that the bag was actually quite light considering it has the Freeflow frame supports to add bulk and a bit of weight. The material is very sturdy, and like my much used, 3rd hand Freeflow I can see this standing up to a lot a of abuse. For me, I’m not sure I need fabric this tough and with my weight-saving head on I was immediately thinking that a significant weight saving could be had by using a slightly less thick denier fabric – which would make a considerable dent in 874g on my scales. Still its not marketed at us ultra-light crowd so I vowed to use it commuting on my bike instead.

Now, its been quiet on here for a while and that is mainly as I’ve been spending quite a lot of time on my road bike – I’ve been training for my first long distance sportive so I’ve been out in all weathers and on a daily basis. I usually use my Innov-8 Race Pro pack for cycling as it is light, has hip-belt pockets and sits quite nicely in terms of how ‘aero’ it is. I thought a good test of the Berghaus pack would be to see how easily it could replace the Innov-8…


In terms of sizing this pack is described as having 20 litres, 5 smaller than my Race Pro. The most significant difference over my previous bag is the frame, which holds a taught layer of breathable plastic mesh, keeping a ventilation space between your sweaty back and the bag. This also adds structure so that on days when I’m carrying virtually nothing to work, it doesn’t flop about in the annoying way that the Race Pro does. It will stand up nicely against a wall without effort whereas the Race Po looks like a sack of spuds clad in black/green rip stop nylon!


The first few days I used it I hardly noticed I was wearing it. It held my trousers and shirts in a decent crease-proof condition and its red colouring added to my visibility on the road. There is plenty of adjustment so you can easily get a good fit for cycling and walking though, at first, it often felt as though is was sitting a little high. In reality it isn’t and I’ve narrowed it down to hip-belt positioning.


It’s the practicality tick box that remains empty for this pack – particularly was using it for commuting. That ventilation space is brill, and it works, but its means that the main compartment has a rather inflexible arch to the back panel meaning that anything other than soft items are a struggle to fit in. The most obvious example is my MacBook. I can slide it down inside but it isn’t the most natural feeling and means that use of the space at the bottom and top of the arc is then very limited. In reality, I only bring my laptop to work a couple of times a week but it does mean that you might want the Freeflow 25 if you intend to use this for anything other than a minimal day pack.


There are two mesh side pockets that hold a 500ml water bottle, a Montane Featherlite Velo or waterproof etc. There is an outer pocket running down the centre of the rear of the pack. It has a water-resistant zip but this puzzles me a little as the useable space in here is tiny and gets worse if you are close to capacity in the main compartment - which sits directly behind it. I’ve not used this pocket at all and mainly as it’s a narrow space and the zip positioning means that any items you managed to squeeze in here would most likely fall straight out once the zip was opened! In other news the pack is hydration compatible with an internal sleeve and storm resistant flap for the tube. There are pole loops (fairly standard) and the usual grab handle.


Now, the Berghaus pack has no hip-belt pockets. This, in my opinion, is the biggest oversight in the design. To me its kind of irrelevant what activity you’re using an ‘outdoorsy’ rucksack for, in general hip-belt pockets are a minimum expectation. This means there is no handy access to my keys, phone or wallet without taking the bag off and is probably the most disappointing thing about the bag itself.

However, the good news is the bag is quite weather-resistant and has been tested through a VERY wet summer. Whilst it isn’t waterproof, it kept my nicely folded shirt and trousers dry on very wet commutes (of around 20 minutes) on more occasions than I can remember.

Overall I liked the updated version of the bag and the Freeflow frame with highly breathable foam shoulder straps work really well. For me, the pack is suited more to fast paced walking where it can be used as a day pack, rather than a cycling/commuting pack though it doesn’t really fail at anything in particular – you just have to consider exactly how you want to use it. The breathable foam padding in key areas really helps when I’m training after work and riding hard, where it doesn’t leave me feeling sweaty like the Race Pro. If Berghaus added weather-resistant zipped hip-belt pockets it would be a great all rounder – though I’d probably recommend the Freeflow 25 just to give a little more flexibility.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Trip Report – 24 Hours: Rydal Ridge & Stone Arthur

Friday 10th- Saturday 11th July 2011


Thursday had been one heck of a day in the office and so much so that I decided enough was enough. Only one thing could right this mess, redress the balance as it were and that was a night on a hill somewhere. I set the out of office auto-reply and headed home…

I had no particular venue for this night on the hill I’d suddenly decided upon, but I liked the idea that it was completely up to me when and where and I pondered as I packed my bag ready for the early start in the morning.

Unusually for me, there was a bit of a faff around how I was going to carry my new camera and lightweight tripod. How would I keep it dry and what lens should I bring? Owing to the fact that the weather didn’t look great anywhere, I chose to head to the Lakes with a view to making a bit of a video about getting out over 24 hours. Camera and tripod sorted, I fell asleep in bed visualising what scenes I would shoot whilst clutching a map!

I decided on a slightly later start to try and avoid the worst of the M6 traffic so didn’t rush about as I normally would. This was a wise move as by the time I hit the usual busy spots most of the chaff had cleared.

The weather wasn’t great but it wasn’t raining as I pulled up alongside the church close to Rydal Hall. There were a few cars around but it looked quiet in all other respects so I had little reservation about leaving the car overnight.

I shouldered my pack and set up the tripod for a scene of me, locking up and walking away up the road to meet the track. Instead as I mounted the camera on the tripod head the heavens opened and I chucked everything back in the car until it passed over. Not the greatest of starts! Undeterred, I realised that through the magic of video I could film the scene tomorrow before I headed home and so stowed the camera gear and headed off up the track to Nab Scar. As there was no one around I decided to do a shaky piece-to-camera to use as part of the film. I didn’t feel comfortable doing this and constantly checked around for other walkers who might listen in and wonder what the hell I was banging on about! If I’d have seen me panting and talking gibberish whilst holding an SLR at arms length I’d have wanted to get as far away as possible and reported it to the local asylum. It felt as though the sky was about to open up at any minute but instead I was treated to short bursts of large heavy droplets of water at irregular intervals, usually just as I was setting up a shot!

One thing is for sure the joys of walking don’t exactly tie-in nicely with amateur film-making (for me) and this I concluded after many failed attempts at setting up shot only to play it back to find the exposure was wrong or the composition distinctly ugly. I was quickly realising that more planning was required with more experience and definitely more patience.


I captured a few scenes as I slowly trundled along the track. The ridge between Heron Pike and Great Rigg is quite pleasant with decent views on both sides. It was easy work and before I knew it I’d reached Fairfield far sooner than planned. It was still raining on and off so I decided I’d stop and have a tea, see what the clouds fancied doing to me and make a decision on my route afterwards because no serious decisions should ever be made without tea – fact.

windermere_from_Heron Pike

Finally I was enjoying the relative calmness of the whole affair. I wasn’t racing against anything and I had nowhere I wanted or had to be. Cut back to 24 hours earlier and I was enduring a pretty stressful afternoon in the office with still a few more hours of it to come! Today however, I just had to contend with wet skin, milk in small pouches and getting to grips with my new programmable timer release!


As always, I’d taken it out of its packaging, discarded the instructions, with the rest of the card and plastic, and was now finding that I had no clue how to operate it - character building I say! Now, sat on Fairfield with a brooding sky and a gap in the weather, I was fumbling with buttons and settings like Ayumu the chimp genius on his touch screen. Only difference was I was getting it all wrong. Eventually I got the damn thing set as I’d like and went about my time-lapse business, recording of the clouds forming and rolling away below me in Deepdale. I hoped it would make a nice scene for use in the film but wasn’t expecting much when I had to cut it short as the wind kept upsetting the superlight (and supershizer) tripod.


I was now a little damp and having stopped for the 25 minutes or so for the time-lapse had made me cold. I pulled the map out to decide on my next move.

Grisdale Tarn was just below me and I wondered if there would be a decent pitch down there out of the wind. It didn’t seem overly flat or enticing in terms of views for the evening (or the morning) so with my videographer's head on I headed back south along the ridge to check out the shoulder of Stone Arthur. I’d passed by earlier and noticed it had a superb view of Grasmere and the surrounding hills and if I could find a pitch it would make a nice place to stay the night.


It rained a little as I bumbled along the track and passed by a couple who seemed intent on ignoring each other as they moved along at a pace. I was quite entertained by this and couldn’t help but wonder if they might be best off enjoying some time alone – like me.

Before too long I was turning off and heading down the arm of the ridge toward Stone Arthur. This was until I suddenly realised I was out of water and felt a bit of panic as I started to wonder where I’d last seen any streams or water sources - other than back up at Grisdale. The fact was that I hadn’t and so once again the map came out and I prayed. My luck was in and the Gods on my side (for once) as Greenhead Gill seemed to kick off somewhere on the steep hillside to my left. I dropped my bag, grabbed the empty platypus and headed down a steep and slippery gradient. It took me a few moments to find it but it was there bubbling away with fresh, cold and perfectly clear water. My filter wouldn’t be making an appearance tonight!

As soon as I stowed the heavy pouch of water and re-shouldered the pack it started to rain again. My dreams of a beautiful short film were fading fast and I started to accept that I would have to put this down to experience. It was a little miserable wondering down the increasingly muddy slope but it wasn’t an issue for long as I had ‘pitch finding mode’ fully engaged. I was on the hunt for a spot with a view east over Grasmere. Shelter wasn’t really an issue but if I could get it I’d take it. I went down as far as Stone Arthur and the rocky outcrops. This would undoubtedly make a nice place to stop and watch the sunset with a beer or whisky but it wasn’t really up to pitching a tent. For one, like me, it was a little short on height so I retraced my steps back up a little and then off the the northern side of the shoulder. Here I found a little spot that I liked and looked as though it would take Big Agi so I mentally marked it and carried on looking.

20 minutes later I returned to the spot, damp but keen to get on with a potential time-lapse - if the sun made an appearance. It was still early but I was off the track and I doubted this would be a busy route up onto the ridge. I was wrong about this as two lads made their ascent to my left as I pitched the tent in silence. It was a good spot as even though they came within 15 metres of my position they didn’t spot me.

It was spitting as I tightened the guy lines but I wasn’t happy with the tautness of the fly and the uneven pitch was making this even more difficult. Big Agi looks great when she’s pitched correctly but tonight she would just have to look a bit……..rough!

I climbed into the tent and set about inflating the Neoair and lofting the sleeping bag. Big Agi is massive for one and if she was a bit lighter I’d happily take her out more often. She’s a heavy girl although perfectly proportioned! I sat on my mat, feet sticking out into the porch as the rain rolled in heavier than before. I decided that tea would probably help the situation enormously and so I fired up the Caldera cone for another brew. Dinner tonight was Kung Po Chicken by Fuizion and although I was hungry I wanted to wait and eat outside and enjoy the view, which, at this point was me being rather optimistic.


I shot some more footage of the stove in action and drank my tea listening to rain. It’s never a chore sitting in a tent when its raining – the sound is calming and hypnotic – sometimes even sleep inducing for me. I organised my gear and got things ready for dinner whilst confined to the inner. In the distance it was brighter than before and I hoped it was coming my way. 20 mins later and it was almost like magic. The last of the grey, wispy clouds dispersed above and the sun came through like someone had flipped a switch. It was frickin brill!



I jumped out with my pouch of food in one hand and the platy in the other and got a boil going for dinner. I sheepishly set up the camera on the tripod and filmed myself carrying on about camp - feeling like a prize twerp! I knew that some scenes were quite frankly poo but I was, by now, resigned to this just being a play around with the camera – a learning curve if you will.

I filmed some scenes as I ate and it was amazing to be sat in the evening sun, despite the stiff breeze and the dropping temperature. I was finally settling down into my surroundings and soaking it all up. I ventured over to the east of the ridge to find the low sun casting a beautiful glow with ever increasing shadows. Time-lapse time!


I sat for an age just drinking whisky from my flask and listening to the rhythmic click of the shutter firing every few seconds. I started to think “I could get used to this”.


I was soon starting to get cold again and I’d only brought along my PHD Minim Vest for insulation – seeing as it was supposed to be July after all. There wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t enjoying just being sat out with my camera and a whisky in the setting sun. Being able to sit above Grasmere and look out across the other small villages and adjacent hills was nothing short of a privilege.


I was soon sitting with my calculator working out how many shutter actuations I needed for a few seconds of footage and worked out that I had enough for around 6 seconds! I made a mental note to look up the magic calculation of how many shots are required for a desired length at a particular frame-rate over any given duration. Magic.



The evening was shaping up to be a pleasant one and the memories of rain and wind of a few hours earlier were already beginning to fade. I decided I’d make the most of it and spend a bit more time out of the tent and capturing another time-lapse – the moon was out and begging to be photographed so it was just a shame I got cold before any decent amount of time had passed!


I retired to the tent to settle down with the rest of my flask and the warm incredibleness of my sleeping bag. I left the door open a while to watch the hills across the valley lit by the bright moon. It had been a good day, stress-free and completely unplanned. A day ‘stolen’ from the machine of working life and I was all the better for it. Despite the fact that its easy to feel so tied down in the working week, this one day had been just the trip I needed to wind down and simplify things a little. Better still, tomorrow it would start again, to an extent, since I had no need to rush back and could choose my route and timing depending on the weather or frame of mind. It really did feel liberating and worth the effort. I popped my earphones in and drifted off to thoughts of other ‘24 hour’ jaunts I could just pack and set off on…..


For those that are interested or missed it the first time I inflicted it on the world, here is the video I stuck together from the footage on this trip. Sorry in advance!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Sleeping Bag Ponderings: Tundra Pure Sleeping Bag


Whilst seemingly on another attempt to consume the internet in just one short evening, I came across the Tundra Pure range of bags from Warmth Unlimited on the OutdoorGB site. These bags caught my eye immediately as I’d never heard of the brand before and on paper they stood out in terms of the claims about quality, performance and ethical credentials. I’m seriously interested in these and wonder if anyone knows of them or has experience with one of the bags? They also seem to do a Pure and Dry range but there is very little around about these too.

For a while I’ve promised bring my Nephew out for a night in the hills and for even longer I’ve been trying to get Charl out sleep out high above the city lights too. The one thing that has ultimately put pay to my attempts so far (over and above Charl’s avoidance tactics and my own time constraints) has been the absence of a serious sleeping bag for my would-be guests.

I’ve kept my eye out for the odd used bargain on eBay but I’m not really sure I’m comfortable spending a decent chunk of my cashola on down that I have no idea about how it may have been used and abused. I”m a bit picky about this and not sure its worth the risk.

The company appear to be Polish and are completely new to me. The English website is far from finished and so the information I can go on is the product info from OutdoorGB and the odd mention on Outdoors Magic and LFTO forums. Tiso are listed as a distributor on the manufacturer’s site but they list the bags as discontinued.

The prices seem reasonable for the spec with the Pure –5 coming in at 214 earth pounds:

  • Temperature rating –5
  • Waterproofed foot box and hood
  • Differential fill for foot and chest area
  • Full length zip and baffle
  • Fill power 860+
  • Fill weight: 400g
  • Weight: 850g

There is little on the net about the fabric (aside from a claimed weight of 30g sq meter) but it certainly looks to have some potential.

The Alpkit Pipedream 400 that is currently top of my list of options and is both cheaper and lighter. It does however use a lower fill power and is only rated to –3 but, as we all know, this is the stuff of great debate!

The question is whether the Tundra bag is worth the additional cost for the higher fill power, waterproofing and ethical production. I do wonder how it would compare to my Cumulus Quantum 350, rated to -6, given that it has a higher fill power and fill weight and yet the rating seems more conservative for the Tundra bag.

Actually, whilst sat here typing this post I’ve just had a eureka moment: There is always the option to upgrade my own bag (I’m tempted by the Western Mountaineering Ultralight) and let my guests hang out in the Cumulus – now there’s an idea….

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Borah Gear – Side Zip Bivy – First Use


Following on from this post I’ve received a number of emails requesting additional information about the Borah Gear bivy and the answers to which may be useful to others so this is an update to that original post.

I managed to get out and give the bivy a trial last weekend on a trip to Wales. The weekend was forecast to be wet, windy and fairly cool to boot and this prophesy turned out to be all too accurate on the day! A trip report will follow but in the meantime here are my experiences and a couple of answers to those questions.

We arrived fairly late and as a consequence we ended up pitching quite low down off the main ridge. This was wise as the wind up there was fairly strong and the rain with it would have made for a miserable pitch considering our short time out there.


I set up the Neoair and my sleeping bag in the bivy and with the side zip this was real simple to do. No faffing, just open up and slide it all in. I hooked the tie out on the mesh panel to one of the hooks on the Trailstar and this worked well, except for the fact that it highlighted just how much material there is!

Unsurprisingly then there is ample room inside this version (size is Regular length, wide girth for the Neoair) and once inside I found that there was plenty of space for me to sleep on my side, store things inside with me and comfortably move about – as I do! On reflection I wouldn’t remove any fabric from this version as I think this affords more options in use and the weight is low enough for this to make an insignificant difference.

I zipped myself in to the bivy on this first night as there were quite few bugs about and I also wanted to experience what it would be like to be within its confines! In use it was fine and I drifted off without issue. What I did notice after a time was that I was slipping down inside the bag whilst the bag inselft was also slipping! The solution would be simple: to add tie outs to the top corners of the bivy and some silicone spots on the base of the sil-nylon or my Neoair. My advice then is to opt for John to sew in some tie outs for you when ordering –this is an option and you just need to ask for it.

By morning I woke with my body lower down inside the bivy than expected and on opening the zip to sit up and take in the view I found that there was a dampness between the momentum fabric and my sleeping bag. It soon dried once I’d opened the bivy but I can’t help but think that the damp, warm conditions, along with our sheltered pitch and water vapour in my breath had created ideal conditions for condensation. I’m not worried about this at all and in fact I think that with my modifications above I’ll not introduce so much warm moist air in the future and any ‘natural’ condensation is acceptable. Som have seam sealed their bivy’s and for a fully waterproof bag this would be advisable. However with this type of lightweight bivy seam sealing would simply further reduce breathability and isn’t required.

Overall I really enjoyed using it and the weight is seriously impressive for the price. The service and ability to modify to your own design is another endorsement in favour of low volume, cottage manufacturers. This brings me nicely on to the last query I received regarding my modifications, which were quite simple. I asked John to replace the full net hood with a rectangular strip running horizontally across the hood at about face height and add a pull-out to the mesh. Picture below to illustrate (apologies for the thoughtless framing – I was in a rush!)


So then, after first use I’m still happy and very confident this will suit my needs perfectly. My advice, in summary, is to opt for the tie outs in the corners and drop a few spots of silicone onto the inside of the sil-nylon base to reduce slippage. Amen and happy bivvying!*



Thursday, 28 June 2012

Gear Review – Montane Volt Fleece Jacket

Montane Volt-2-2
Back in Norway in September things got pretty cold and so did I. Owing to the length of the trip and having to carry everything for 7 days I tried to balance an appropriate amount of clothing with a reasonable weight. On that score I failed slightly by being a little cold at times. Insulation was a Rab Micro Pull-on fleece and a Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket which I had hoped would be enough for most scenarios when worn with a merino base-layer. Sadly this wasn’t always the case and I started to take a look at my insulation more closely when I returned home and conceded that I probably needed more. It was research time!

I knew I wanted something that would be slightly warmer than a 100 weight micro-fleece but also something that wouldn’t add too much bulk. The Rab fleece weighs in at 274g for a medium so I wanted something that was warmer but not too heavy. I looked at a number of options, but settled on 3 that seemed to be pretty much in the ball-park: The Mountain Equipment Touchstone, the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man and the Montane Volt.

As you will have guessed (you intelligent people you) in the end I settled on the Volt. This was for a number of reasons but also owing to a bargain ‘price match’ deal I managed to haggle from a large outdoor retailer!

Montane say the Volt was designed with the full year in mind, as opposed to simply designing a summer or winter weight fleece. They claim that that the mixed use of Polartec Thermal Pro Honeycomb and Polertec Classic Micro make the jacket comfortable in a number of scenarios and climates. Polartec claim that the Thermal Pro Honeycomb “creates air pockets, trapping, retaining body heat and endowing the Volt with outstanding warmth without weight”.

This all sounds nice and fluffy but in all honesty it was none of this technical or marketing blurb that caught my eye initially – it was simply how incredible it looks! Without further ‘a-do’ here’s my thoughts (for what they’re worth) on this turbo-charged fleece:

What’s it got?
Well, it doesn’t have a hood (which I didn’t need or want) but does have a full zip, two large hand-warmer pockets (one which will handily hold a map) and a discrete chest pocket for smaller bits and bobs. The zips are all YKK and good quality and the pulls are very simple nylon with a small Montane motif – nice touch! All seams are sewn flat so no rubbing chaffing on harnesses or shoulder straps. Overall its simple but very well designed and technical enough to get most people excited.

Montane Volt-1
What’s it weigh?
I couldn’t help but worry that all of this would add unnecessary weight. Montane claim a medium weighs in at 470g and my size small weighs in at exactly 410g on my scales. This makes the Volt 140g heavier than my simple Rab fleece but would this equate to better warmth or just more technical faff – I was eager to find out.

How does it look?
It takes the humble fleece to a whole new level of style and fit. It’s nothing like any of my other fleeces with a truly tailored look and beautiful contoured panels that follow the line of the body. Not just that but it feels as good to wear as it looks and Montane has successfully challenged the ‘boxyness’ of the traditional fleece to great effect.

Montane Volt-2 
The flip side, of course, is that this extreme athletic cut won’t flatter everyone and could be quite unforgiving on anything other than an athletic shape. If you’re sleek then its fine but if, like me, you have a little paunch from too much cheese and wine…….and beer…..oh and curry then, like me, you’ll have to do a little breathing in when showing it off to all your mates and loved ones. Having said that (Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7) the material has a nice stretch to it to ensure it doesn’t feel uncomfortably tight which,importantly, also allows perfect freedom of movement.

Montane Volt-3
Like most of Montane’s clothing, the quality of the finish and features are all very good. It looks extremely well made and the fabric seems of the type that will take a bit of wear – perhaps more so than a normal fleece which, for me at least, tends to go a bit ‘bobbley’ after a handful of washes.
The cuffs are simply finished in a non-adjustable elasticated band.  All of my current fleeces tend to terminate cuff and waist hems in just the fleece itself. The waist is finished in a similar way which tends to be a bit tighter than the cuffs and should keep out any unwanted drafts up the back – or the front for that matter, provided your tum isn’t too big!

Montane Volt-4
How does it perform then?

I wore this bad boy out on the hills in a cold and snowy February in Buttermere for the first time. It was an extremely hostile day up on Fleetwith Pike, with strong icy winds and driving snow creating white-out conditions at times. I wore this over a merino base layer and under my Marmot Mica. Despite moving slowly (with inexperienced friends) I never felt cold and it was reassuring to feel that I could come to a stop and not feel that familiar chill begin to take hold the moment I stopped.

Fleetwith Pike whiteout Feb 2012
Unusually I’ve been using it when I take Lolli out for walks in terrible weather and even when moving fast there are lots of options for venting if necessary but the fabric is permeable enough that a stiff breeze will get through without a wind barrier.
I thought about removing this paragraph from the review but what the heck: I actually think that this looks and feels so nice that its in real danger of being worn quite a lot out of an outdoors scenario. I should point out that this is not something I would normally endorse  nor even see myself doing!

I plan to continue to wear this under a shell or wind proof  for walking in the hills and expect that it will be perfect for autumn, winter and early spring with the layering approach.
I have to admit I was reluctant to have to change my proven layering system and even perhaps to concede that I do sometimes need more warmth than I have prepared myself for. With this in mind I’m pretty happy that this serve me across a number of seasons and give me more flexibility in colder conditions. If nothing else it will simply mean I can spend a bit more time drinking whisky and watching the sun go down whilst not being confined to my sleeping bag!
I’ll post back on how it performs during the course of the year and feedback any further findings.

Historically the humble fleece has really been that interesting to me, but the Montane Volt has probably just changed the ball game somewhat and hopefully it will be a winner from the off with no chance of going to penalties…..

Sunday, 24 June 2012

MLD Trailstar – First Pitch Hysteria

I’ve been on holiday for two weeks but, in a cruel twist delivered by the Gods, my Trailstar arrived super early from MLD – 4 weeks early. This might not seem like that cruel an act at all, but it might be considered a little so when I tell you it arrived the day before I flew out!

It arrived and I was excited. I packed it in my case (we were renting a rather large house in the hills of the Costa Brava) and got even more exited. Then I tried to fit my poles in my case too which was swiftly followed by some swearing.

In any case I’m back now and today I found a recreational ground big enough to pitch it on for the first time. I know there are lots of words written all over the internet about first impressions and how to pitch the thing so I’ll keep this brief.

I pitched it.

Trailstar pitch 1 

It was cheesy peas to pitch and even a twerp like me managed to do it quite well first time and in a stiff breeze too. I certainly think I can cope with the space available! I still need to seam seal it but again I’m going to have to hire a festival size field to do this and allow drying time. Question is: Do I take it out with me to Wales this Friday, pitch it, seal and sleep in it all at the same time? Do I dare?

Trailstar pitch 2

Trailstar pitch 3

Overall I’m really pleased with it, even with the high pitch I ended up with here (I forgot to measure pole height before I set out and later found the height was nearly 50 inches). Its a really nice looking shelter and was feeling pretty weather-ready with just 6 tie-outs anchored down.

More on my actual experience of it, along with my Borah Gear Bivy after next weekend.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Borah Gear – Side Zip Bivy: Initial Impressions

I was at home one lunchtime with Lolli when the package arrived. It spelled good things the moment I saw the stupidly small (and seemingly empty) box land on the door mat. John from Borah Gear had emailed a week earlier to confirm it had been dispatched and I was pleased it had taken less than the 10 days John had estimated to arrive.
I’ve been on the look out for a ultralight bivy for some time but the expense of the most popular options coupled with the lack of a real need for one held off the purchase – until now.
Since Lolli’s arrival I’ve been thinking a lot about how my shelter needs will need to change, which, has seen me move over to an MLD Trailstar. I knew I’d need some sort of inner/bivy as a result but considering how I envisage using it I couldn’t decide which. The Oookstar from Oookworks would be ideal but it was a bit more of an investment than I wanted to commit initially and the inner is then also specific to the Trailstar. I needed more flexibility and went with the Bivy. I got hold of some decent fabric to make two of my own (one is for Paul but don’t tell him) but then lost motivation and decided that having one would probably how I would design and make my own.
I came across Borah Gear whilst perusing the interweb one night and was immediately drawn in. This was clearly a cottage manufacturer and the site itself was set up as a blog as opposed to a full custom website. I searched a bit more and found that the blog’s owner was John West who hung about the BPL forums quite a bit. From the off I had read that John was making very small numbers of his bivies and so I wasn’t even certain that I could get my hands on one even if I wanted to.
There wasn’t much around in terms of reviews of John’s products but on finding a few images and considering the prices I felt compelled to give him a try. This was particularly true when I found out that he’ll make you a bivy to spec - “sign me up”…..
John sells a small range of very reasonably priced products but primarily these consist of ultralight bivy bags and sil-nylon tarps. The range has recently been updated to include a cuben bivy  for the ultra-light aficionados' out there, specifically those with big pockets.
I’m a bit less excited about cuben (for the time being) and primarily I wanted a custom bivy for the right price and so opted for a Side Zip Bivy, in M50, wide to accommodate a regular Neoair and with a hood modification. The standard side zip comes with a full net hood and a zip that goes across the face and then down to around the abdomen area (depending on your size). I wanted something with less netting for UK use and better suited to horizontal rain/spray.
I emailed John with my request and he quickly provided an image of a previous job for me to compare. The whole process was hassle-free and the modifications cost me a teenie weenie $5!
Two weeks later my bivy was ready to shipped and here she is:
Borah gear side zipThe base is silnylon and the top is M50 fabric. You can opt for M90 or 1.1DWR if you wish and the prices drop whilst the weight increases accordingly. The all up weight (including the stuff sack) is 171g. With a Trailstar this will bring the weight carried for my shelter (not including walking poles) in at around 700g – peg choice pending.
Borah gear zip 2My first impressions of the bag are good. Its a simple design that is well made and offers ample room for a regular Neoair with a –6 sleeping bag. Having climbed in with the Neoair and my sleeping bag there is almost too much fabric and if I was being anal I’d probably remove some.
Borah gear zipThe seams aren’t sealed but I think the M50  fabric would give far before I got to the stage of worrying about the seams!
Borah gear bivy tie-out
There is a small pull-out sewn into the mesh to allow the hood to be pulled away from the face and the zip is a high quality YKK. This is sewn in perfectly to give a smooth curve as not to over-stress teeth. All in all its nicely and simply done and will be perfect in theory for what I need.
Borah gear bivy unzipped I plan on doing a thorough review once I’ve had chance to use it but all accounts from I what I’m seeing out of the box, this should be an excellent alternative to the more obvious options.
Watch this space….

Monday, 30 April 2012

24 Hours – A short film what I did make….

Tis true. This here twerp tried to make a short film and the amateurish (or just terrible) result of this can be found here and below.

Time-lapse Capturing a time-lapse on Stone Arthur

I took myself off to the Lakes in July last year with aim of filming and putting together a short film on wild-camping that would be beautiful and engaging but sadly my lack of planning, camera skills and the weather meant we have this to endure instead! My plan was for this to be more documentary style but the weather and poor sound meant all of my piece to camera segments had to be abandoned. I managed to get a couple of time-lapses and some set pieces that I have tried to cobble together but my next attempt will be much better – promise!

I wanted to learn a bit about filming and and editing and to that end I guess I’m better informed but there is clearly a long way to go! I do think I’m better informed now and will approach my next trip slightly differently with a view to getting the shots I need rather than the ones I can. I have been experimenting with time-lapse photography since Norway and I hope to incorporate a few more of these in future shorts.


24 Hours - A Micro-Adventure In The Lake District from Marcus Gough on Vimeo.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Meet Lolli

A Trail…Star In the Making?


Guys, this is Lolli our 16 week old English Springer Spaniel. She’s a darl but incredibly hard work! I’ve wanted a puppy since I was a child but never really thought it would be possible for us to own one given our hectic lifestyles and heavy workloads. Nevertheless an opportunity came up and it was impossible to resist!

In the short time we have had her she’s grown an awful lot and changed dramatically, its been hard to keep up:

Lolli_wants_food Lolli’s first day with her new humans.

Its all a steep learning curve but I think for our first dog we’re doing pretty well and Lolli seems eager to learn new things.

3 weeks ago Lolli had her final jab and we went walking together for the first time. It’s early days by all accounts but I have no doubts that she will love joining me on some long day walks and eventually some wild-camps. Her breed is an energetic one and I’m told she will go for miles. I cannot wait!

Obviously we’ll need some new gear (crying shame) and needless to say preparations are already underway with the purchase of ‘our’ new shelter – the MLD Trailstar. Lolli loved the photos on the website and made it perfectly celar that she just had to have one! She fell in love with Orikaso fold flat bowls so I subbed her on those whilst her new shelter also means I needed a replacement walking pole to erect it (see this post for why) from Rotalocura.

I’ve got a head full of ideas for some custom gear: ultralight dog blanket, sleep mat and backpack. There’s a whole new world of gear to research so I’d better get on….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Lolli wondering why she can’t eat grass

Seriously though guys, any advice on lightweight doggy gear will always be gratefully received and James I’m looking at you here for some guidance too!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Norway, HardangerJokulen: Day 7

Saturday – our last day out in the wilds of Norway….

By 5.30am I had given up on getting back to sleep. I had woken  feeling cold at 2am and wishing it was morning already. Paul was snoring away and didn’t seem like he was remotely cold – I was jealous. I’d made the mistake of just sleeping in my thin Embers base layer and a 100 weight micro fleece and, given the amount of ice crystals on the fly sheet, this just wasn’t enough. Paul had slept in his down jacket but I’d not wanted to do this until I absolutely had to. The problem is I find myself unwilling to move out of the foetal position and desperately trying to maintain heat inside my sleeping bag! Reaching out for my jacket didn’t feature in this plan and this meant I hadn’t made the sensible move to put it on – twerp. I could stand it no longer - the jacket went on and I scoffed a boost bar!

By now it was only just getting lighter, although it had not been totally dark during the night owing to the bright moonlight. I reached over, put some music on and began thinking about all of the missed photo opportunities I'd suffered whilst wondering just how doomed my camera really was. I tried to block this last bit out by concentrating instead on eating and drinking hot things! By 6.30 I caved and started to make a brew.

Opening the fly revealed a rather crispy, fresh topping to the undergrowth – like a nice salad. The subtle blast of the JetBoil igniting woke Paul with a bit of start *grins*. I barely had time to fetch Paul’s coveted Hurtigruten mug before boiling water was being spat and sprayed all over the porch. That bloody JetBoil always makes for a rude awakening.


As soon as the water was in my mug and the teabag stewing I made the move to don my trousers, wet socks and ice-cold shoes and went and stood outside to take in the last sights of the trip. I wasn’t disappointed by what I found and I just stood listening to the rushing water and watching the light slowly reaching over Middalen across the river. It looked like another clear day and would be a nice one to finish on, especially if it warmed up a bit! The tent was literally covered in a thin layer of sparkling bling and I felt better that I it was indeed a cold night – as opposed to me just being a big wet fish.

My iPhone was my only camera now and I had to take whatever I could get out of it. Never mind.


We had a few hours to kill before our train was due in Finse so there was no rush to move on but Paul was packing away with gay abandon, which I noticed by the sheer noise of him scuffling about. I didn’t want to rushed by this so went off to try and get some more photos whilst absorbing every last sense of the place whilst I still could.


It became apparent that the clear sky wasn’t going to remain for much longer. To the west the clouds seemed to appear from nowhere and were heading at us with some speed. It made for a nice photo but that was about all the good I could find in it.


The wind was definitely picking up and beginning to gust a little so naturally packing away  now seemed like a grand idea! Seconds later I joined Paul in the tent who, by now, was all packed up and exiting! He was as surprised as me to see the clouds rolling in and was as keen as I to make it to Finse in dry clothes! It would also be nice to remember our last morning on the trail as it was now as opposed to the thick clag that we had started out in 7 days earlier.

Once again it was no time all before the tent was down and bags were shouldered. Whilst I took a few more photos Paul wandered off in the direction of the high wooden bridge over the river. By the time I was ready to leave I couldn’t even see his dark shape on the landscape.


As I walked on with increasing pace it really did feel a bit gut-wrenching to be leaving this all behind. There’s something about self-reliance that instills a feeling of strength and pride as though you’re basking in your own independence.

I paused to look back at our abandoned pitch spot to see the cloud had made good progress in taking over the entire blue space above me in just a matter of minutes. I couldn’t tell if it meant rain or snow but it felt cold enough to be the latter – which I secretly didn’t mind hanging around for. That would be an epic way to end the trip.

I followed the tussocky and rocky river bank to the bridge where Paul was waiting patiently. We took a few more photos before agreeing that this was now well and truly over and this last few miles would most likely end in us getting wet. Nevertheless this wasn’t a problem as by now we were seasoned pro’s at being wet and uncomfortable but it would be nice to arrive in Finse and not have to get changed. This was particularly the case for me as I had taken the gamble at putting on clean trousers and base layers for the benefit of our fellow train travelers later that day. If they ended up wet I’d be slightly unhappy!


We walked on along the track at a pace that was fast but comfortable. From here Finse was clearly visible on the opposite bank of Finsevatnet. Seeing it getting gradually closer was somehow crap but good all at the same time.

The southern bank seemed popular with other campers who had come in a group with bomb-proof tents and gear. We wondered what they might make of our lightweight approach, given that a hunter passed us by showing a face that was showing us nothing short of contempt!

The group of campers were clearly feeling the cold and they milled about camp, walking on the spot on tip-toes. There were quite a few of them and we could only assume that the they were ‘conserving heat’ with so many bodies inside so few tents…


By now we were approaching the dam wall on the south east side of the vatnet with the wooden face of the hotel staring right back at us. There were more groups on the dam wall heading our way and it looked as though they were in the for the same start as Paul and I had experiences almost a week ago. Poor little sods!

This was not how I envisaged the end of this epic trip would be. I don’t know what I expected but this felt numb and almost senseless. We nodded as we passed the young looking group who all wore smirks as we did so. I was confused by this. It could have been the stench or our gear but either way we were entertaining for some reason. I made a vow to check my face when I got to a mirror but was 99% sure it was a response to Paul – which is quite normal.

Once across the dam wall the track turns to a wider gravel path for pedestrians and cyclists, of which we saw plenty starting out on the route from Finse on the Navvies Road (Rallarvegen) to Flam. The Norwegian flag was flying high at the colossal DNT hut on the peninsula of the lake and our decision to stay out last night seemed like a good one as scores of people poured out of it’s doors.


By now it was around 9.30am and we slowed our pace as we walked along the small breezeblock apartments that lined the track. Life would be hard out here in winter but its something I’d love to experience just once at very least.

Thoughts soon turned to our large suitcase that we’d pretty much abandoned in the drying room of the hotel. We hoped it would be there, primarily as the thought of a night out in Bergen with walking shoes, trousers and a merino base-layer seemed a little off to us! The track began to climb up to the long train platform and the signpost we’d taken photographs of at the beginning of the trip came into view. The place was fairly empty with only a few people inside the station and a small group of cyclists about to set out. They were embarking on their journey as we were just finishing ours. It hadn’t rained and we were dry so the Gods would not win today. There was nothing to say to each other that hadn't already been said so we extended arms, firmly shook hands and turned and headed for the bar!


The hotel was busy with people eating breakfast or preparing to leave for their own adventures. It was a little early for a beer so we waiting 5 minutes before flipping a coin to see who would go get them in. I lost (as usual) so went off to do the honours whilst Paul found window seats looking out across the lake and the glacier.

It was the sweetest beer we’d tasted and despite Paul’s dismay at the absence of cider, he seemed to find it agreeable too. The suitcase was exactly where we left it so there nothing left to do other than stow our packs, change our shoes and socks and board the train.

As the big red carriages drew to a stop on the platform we took one last pause to look around and wave to the webcam before the whistle was being blown and the doors closing behind us.

It had all started here when we stepped onto this platform 7 days ago and now it was over. We’d had such a great many laughs, mini-adventures and soakings! More importantly we had some stories to tell and we’d start by finding some poor Norwegian buggers once we arrived in Bergen!