Wednesday 8 February 2012

TGO 2012 - Comfort not obsession

The early days

My first backpacking trip was on the Ridgeway. I had Ventile trousers and jacket. I had a heavy tent and I carried a lot of heavy gear. It rained or snowed every day that Easter, back in the early 80's. The track was muddy. I wild camped every night. I arrived at Ivinghoe Beacon totally exhausted after 5 days. Ventile gear is no good for wet weather! The pack was heavy, the muddy conditions sapped all the energy I could muster and I didn't eat enough to generate that much needed energy. I used a heavy synthetic sleeping bag. During the day, most days, was miserible! At night, perhaps through exhaustion, I slept well.


Fast forward to now and my gear is a little bit lighter.

What I have been musing on - as I try to shake off my first cold in 2 years - is how my gear collection has developed to date.

Here I must be honest and say that I am a recovering addict. Not alcohol or drugs, but gear.
I was one of those who looked at gear reviews and said ..... I want one of those (or not, if the review was not good). What it took me a long time to realise was that I didn't need loads of gear. I may have wanted it, but I didn't need it.

In this gear-aholic state I bought lightweight packs, tarps, jackets, stoves, etc etc................

Thanks to eBay I have been able to sell on some very good gear that I didn't need. OK I made less than I paid for the stuff, but I didn't have two wardrobes full of gear - and a cupboard over the stairs!

I havn't bought any gear for some time. I do not intend to buy any gear for some considearable time. I don't need to.


What I found from my various purchases was that I was getting top class gear that was L/UL/SUL. Some of this gear was OK. But, there was always a compromise. The pack may be light, but not that robust. The tarp set up I used to play with was OK in most conditions but, not for real foul weather. The Cuben Tarp I bought was excellent, but, was not up to real foul weather. The lightweight footware I bought was just not the right fit. I never did use my Terrocs on a walk. Even some of the rave gear was found wanting - by me. Take the Caldera cone. A great way of heating up water. Perhaps a bit too fiddly to assemble and also prone to damage quite easily. Even the likes of Titanium pins and nails were great at holding up my Trailstar in most conditions, but, not in a full blown storm in Scotland. I could go on.

So, here I am with a gear list for May's TGO.

What I need for the TGO is gear that will perform well and keep me comfortable under virtually all the conditions that can be anticipated. Snow, rain, wind, cold - day and night.

Some of the gear is L or UL - not sure about SUL - some of it is just gear. All of it has been used in the sort of conditions I expect to experience and what I can say is that it will keep me comfortable. Much of it becomes either a daytime or night-time system: eg the down gear will give extra warm on cold nights and the various daytimes layers can be worn or not depending on the conditions.

The gear

Shelter and sleeping

MLD Trailstar
MSR Groundhog stakes
Alpkit titanium pins
Wickes secondary gazing sheet
Titanium Goat Ptarmigan bivy bag
PHD Minim 300
Thermorest Ridgerest - cut down
Cheep bit of light foam to go under legs

Carrying or wearing

Osprey Tallon 44
Stuff sacs
PHD Ultra down pullover
PHD Down socks
Rohan briefs x 2
Smartwool socks x 2
Black Rock down hat
Montane cap
Extremities fleece gloves
Extremities Tuff Bags
PHD Alpamayo Smock
Marmot Dri-clime vest
Arc't'rex L/S merino zippped top
Montane lightspeed windshirt
Montane Terra trousers
Berghaus Paclite waterproof trousers
Integral Designs short gaiters
Keen Targee 11 Mids
Berghaus longjohns
MSR peg trowel
Toilet paper (kitchen roll)
Petzl e-light
Notebook and pen
Credit cards
Reading glasses
First aid kit
Mobile phone
Pama power pack
Mobile phone charger plug
Leads for I-pod and mobile
Tool card
Tooth brush
Dr Bonners soap
Small towel
Black Diamond poles
E Trex GPS
Gaffa tape


Evernew TX stove and stand
Tibetan 900 pot
Kitchen roll (toilet paper)
Pouch to keep food warm
Long plastic spoon
2L Platypus
500 ml plastic drinks bottle
Fuel bottles 100 ml plastic disposable - max 3 days (posted to resupply points)
Whisky bottles - 100ml plastic disposable

What's missing?

For most of my backpacking trips I took extra gear - just in case.

Even in 2009, on my first TGO I panicked and threw in an extra warm top. I didn't need it. I was also wearing Cioch gear, which is good for cold and wet, but not for hot and dry.

Last year I nearly got there. Much of the above list is based on last year's TGO experience.

There is a lot more gear I'd like to take. Eg my Nano Puff pullover. But, last year I took a lightweight synthetic and hardly wore it.


Well, these have been my musings on the gear I'll take in May for the TGO.

My conclusion on all the gear issues? Forget what it weighs or how small it packs. Ask, will it keep me comfortable in all the conditions that I can expect. Can I mix and match the clothing to enhance the comfort by day - and, by night?

Comfort over obsession.

But ........ what does it weigh?

Somewhere around 8k.

It could be much less. It could be much more. It will ensure that I am comfortable, not obsessed.

Ps: that MLD Cuben Trailstar looks good ....................................................................................


  1. My obsession is food (and not just when I'm walking!) This year, I'm carrying more and different, last year I didn't eat enough because I didn't fancy it, although my main meals are good, I haven't changed them. It's the same thing, comfort over obsession.

    1. It's amazing how good a simple dehydrated meal can taste in the hills. That same meal at home would be ugh! Even better, is the occasional pub or hotel meal.
      Have fun in the lead up to May. May see you then.

  2. Can you plan & pack my kit as well Gordon.
    I always leave it until about the week before.
    I should know better by now but heh....

    This year I am pondering on Wendy or a Trailstar with MLD Bivvy and probably an Ookstar (cos of the midges and ticks and stuff).
    Need to sell my old Laser Competition though.

    It should be easy for you to pack it all for me because I am using the TALON 44 AS Well.

    See you on route unless you make it to Snake Pass.

    1. I can easily plan and pack your kit, Andrew. Just bring it all to the Snake Pass. For a small fee I can arrange for it to go from Morar to Montrose.

      My comments to Bryan on the Oookstar apply to your thoughts too.

  3. Great article Gordon. It is great to see other walkers/challengers gear lists to compare and in your case you have provided an overall rationale.

    We have previously spoken about midges and that you have not had a problem with them on your TGOCs with the Trailstar so I'm wondering about your reasonings for taking the bivvy bag?

    I'm stil considering an Oookstar inner net because if there happens to be a lot of midges on the Challenge then I will be confortable but that bivvy you mention looks interesting and with the mesh hood option it comes in and just under 200g which would be great for tarping in the summer too (I like multipurpose gear!)


  4. Hi Bryan,

    Thanks, I love looking at gear lists for ideas. On my two TGOs I never had any midges, but I have also used a bivy when it has been midgy. Chances of getting them in May are slim - but I have read accounts of them being around last May!

    Sean at Oookworks has come up with a great inner for the Trailstar. I have also commented to him that having an Oookstar inner does limit your pitching possiblities - in reality maybe not that greatly. It comes down to what people prefer.

    Personally, having tried using an MLD bug bivy under the Trailstar, I prefer to use a bivy bag with a mesh hood.

    You can lay down anywhere under the Trailstar in a bivy bag. If you pitch over a clump of heather, like I did last year, you just lay to the side of it.

    My main plus with the bivy bag is that it does increase the temperature range of the Minim 300. Especially with extra down clothing. I've been down to minum 5c with the bivy bag and the additional down gear on my list. Also, when you zip up for the night, there are no draughts and no bugs are going to creap in.
    I have read that some experienced condensation problems with the Ptarmigan - but I never have over a few years use: and I rate it very highly.

  5. Sean has tweaked the inner now.
    So at a pinch it can pitch as low as 95cm.
    Having been at Ault na Goire last year( spelling?).
    There were millions of bloody midges.
    I might be inclined to an inner.
    But to each his own.

  6. I have been eaten alive by midges on the Challenge on a number of years. I would NEVER :-) ever go without decent midge protection!

    When I have some more dosh, I am going for a Trailstar with one of Sean's inners.

    1. Hi Alan and Andrew,

      I guess I have been fortunate not to experience midges in May, so far.
      I guess one year I will experience them.
      Either with the Oookstar or bivy, one thing for sure is that the Trailstar is a fantastic shelter.

  7. I aint had much issues with midges and a bivy with a bug net is the best way to go under a Trailstar I reckon now. I was not into bivy bags much but have come to like them.

    You changed rucksacks Gordon. Tallon 44 has a good rep. Comfort over obsession is right. I got some new gear BTW. Addicted not. Just have a big walk and needs dictate some new kit to meet the need I have for this walk. Function over weight and comfort over obsession all the way.