Saturday, 13 April 2013

TGO 2013 La Sportiva Wildcat 2 & Terra Nova Quasar 45 Backpack


For years I was sceptical about using trail running shoes for backpacking.

This dispite all the stuff I had read about saving weight on footware.

Then I read a post on the TGO Notice Board about the La Sportiva Wildcat 2s.

I decided to bite the bullet.

Over the last couple of days they were walking over from Hathersage to Edale, via various lumpy bits, and back.

There was snow, there was mud, there was stones, big and small, there was heather, there was roads, rough steep ups and downs - a good variety of conditions to try them out in.

From the box they were comfortable.

In the real world they were like carpet slippers and were able to walk me through the variety of underfoot conditions that I could expect to find anywhere, including on the Challenge.

The main, counter-intuative, issue to overcome was walking with wet feet.

Any hint of water and my feet were wet.

I deliberately walked through little streams to make sure my feet were soaked.

But, within a few minutes of walking the wet feeling was replaced by a warm feeling and a surprisingly comfortable warm feeling.

And, in reality, this was no different to getting any boots or mids wet. But, the big plus was that the Wildcats dry out more readily than boots. 

So, I am converted to trail running shoes.

For the upcoming TGOC this means that I can ditch the Crocs too.


My favourite pack for a few years now has been my Osprey Talon 44.

It had all the right bits in all the right places. And, it held my gear comfortably. It really is a superb pack.

I didn't need to replace it, but I've been thinking about and reading about lighter packs for ages.

I had a mad impulse and decided to bite the bullet with the Terra Nova Quasar 45.

I had looked at some of the US lightweight packs, like the Z Packs and HMG stuff, but wasn't too sure.

The Quasar seemed to combine lightness and toughness with the combination of  cuben and dyneema. It weighs in at around 600 grms - with the pole attachment bits removed.

When it arrived I was unsure. Had I made the right decision?
The pack had very thin belt straps and the length didn't seem right - looking at the empty pack. It didn't seem that robust. Then I tried packing it. I was not happy.
Would this really stand up to the stresses and strains of a long backpacking trip?
And, it was overlooked for a couple of trips. The Talon 44 got the ticket.
Then, I thought, sod it. My Terra Nova Quasar tent has lasted me over 12 years. It is tough and well made. So too with my Terra Nova Solar 2 which is even older. And, what was the point of buying the Quasar 45 if it wasn't going to be used?
So, I decided to trust the Terra Nova blurb about how tough it was - and how well constructed it was. The feel of it is a bit counter-intuative too.....................
I packed it and took it out for a couple of days and was just a little surprised ...... and, relieved!!
The lenght was OK - I'm 6'2" - and the belt straps were comfortable - taking the weight of the pack well. The full pack, with food weighed in at around 8k.
The little pockets on the belt straps held my headtourch, whistle, toilet paper, hand cleanser, etc. They were not the same as the Talon 44 (obviously) and the layout and positioning of gear took a bit of thinking through.
The side pockets are little and large. A bit weird. The little one took my Trailstar - with some bungee cord to ensure it stayed put. It also held the MSR Blizzard stake (aka toilet trowel).
The other pocket easliy held the stakes, the ground cover and a 500 mls water bottle.
The lid is huge. It took my hat/gloves/gps/glasses/keys/food for the day etc with ease. A good match for the Talon lid.
The main pack swallowed all my gear without getting anywhere near full capacity. The two pulls at the top sinched the closure to a small size and the floating lid sat neatly on top.
My roll of Ridgerest and radiator insulation was attached to the lower gear attachment points.
I took off the pole attachment bits as I would be carrying my poles at all times.
And, I didn't treat the Quasar 45 with kid gloves.
It was comfortable, it was able to take my gear with ease, it was sufficiently robust to be thrown around without any problems. It was up to the job - thank goodness. I knew I should have trusted Terra Nova gear.

It's a good, innovative, pack.
So, a move to trail shoes, for backpacking, at last. One thing that was very evident was how my feet were really dirty at the end of the days. But a pair of dry liner socks and down socks were a welcome feet treat, whether or not I got a chance to wash my feet.
And, a new back friend, who was almost given up on, before even getting a chance to prove itself - but, who will be crossing Scotland next month, as planned.
Smiles all round.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

TGO 2013 MY Clothing and Sleeping systems


It is getting closer to the start of the 2013 TGO Challenge.

I don't write up every trip that I do nowadays - especially my training trips to Cannock Chase or the wilds of Edale and Kinder.

However, what I've been musing on is the way my gear works for me and how it gets me across Scotland - in all conditions - in comfort.

OK, nothing new here, but, a few bits on tried and tested stuff that works.


One of the problems that people find when they go backpacking is that they get too hot.

My solution to this is to cut down what I wear to the basics:

Base layer is a long sleeved merino zipped top - my favourite is my Arcteryx which I've had for years.
Rho LTW Zip Neck Men's

This is comfortable to wear even if it is hot. The sleeves roll up easily too.

Mid layer is a Marmot Dri-clime vest.
DriClime Vest Men’s Outerwear Ultralight Vests DriClime®

A lot of folk go for a long sleeved mid layer, but I find that as long as I keep my core body warm and cut out the wind from my arms, I can be comfortable in temperatures that get down below zero.

Windshirt is one of a number. The Montane Litespeed is very good. My current choice is my PHD Drishell which is a basic smock with a hood.
Windsmock |  price: £79.00

No pockets. It is a good size for a large and will easily fit over my PHD Ultra Down pullover. More on this later.

Waterproof is my PHD Alpamayo smock.
Alpamayo Waterproof Smock

Mine's the original version - in black. The main difference is the the new version has fully waterproof zips and weighs 425 grms. It is also more expensive than the original. Both use the same HS3 material which is excellent. At 435 grms it is a full 4 season waterproof and will fit a tall person, ie me, properly. No scrimping of the length to reduce the weight. It is the best waterproof I've ever had.

Legware is less of an issue to me. I love my old TNF trousers and my even older Lowe Alpine trousers. I also have Montane Terra pants and some limited edition Montanes. I currently favour my Lowe Alpine trousers, if only because they are off white instead of black.

Waterproof legware is my old Berghaus Paclites. These have lasted me well and are well up to the job.

Berghaus Paclite Pant Men's

Mix and Match.

For warm days or freezing cold days I have found that a mix and match combination of these four (upper body) items will keep me comfortable. I have been in whiteouts and I've been in heatwaves - in Scotland! and have never been found wishing for any different tops.

The missing piece? a belay top.

Here there are two ways to deal with having a break ............ and ensuring that I keep warm.

Firstly, if it is freezing and raining I will not stop. No cooling down and no need for a belay top.

Secondly, if it is freezing and dry I have the option of pulling on my PHD Ultra down pullover.
Ultra Down Pullover

This is essential for warmth around camp, but, in practice, I rarely use it for rest breaks when otherwise on the move.

Head/Hands/Feet. On the move I have a Montane featherlite cap. My hands are looked after by a pair of Extremities fleece gloves and a pair of Extremities Tuff Bags. My footware varies, but I always have wool  socks, eg Smartwool, and I wear Integral Designs short gaiters to keep bits out of my foot wear.

My prefered footware for last year on the TGO was my Keen Targee IIs, and they are ready to do their bit this year. But, I have just bought a pair of La Sportiva Wildcat IIs and if these prove comfortable, they will be worn this year. If so, I will ditch the Crocs that would otherwise be in my pack. A move to trail shoes for me will be a big change.


The stuff I use for sleeping in has remained stable for many years, now.

The base layer by day is sleepware by night: Arcteryx long sleeved merino top. If it is really warm I do have an Icebreaker light merino short sleeved top.

If it is cold then other stuff goes on before I enter my sleeping bag.

This will be a mix and match set of gear.

Headwear is a Black Rock down hat.
The Black Rock Hat

Legware is a pair of PHD Minimus down trousers.

Minimus Down Trousers |  price: £166.00

Footware is a pair of PHD Down socks.

 Minimus Down Socks |  price: £74.00

These are super cosy and I wear them with a pair of liner socks.

The PHD Ultra down Pullover ensures that I can be wrapped in down from head to feet - and warm and comfortable. Even with a 300 fill sleeping bag!

Sleeping Bag is a PHD Minim 300. Long with no zip, it weighs 700 grms. I got this  some years ago and it was only available in the PHD sale, which is usually twice a year. It has become my mainstay sleeping bag ever since. I rarely have the hood up over my head, but, in the long version, this is possible - especially if it gets very cold. PHD have got a 250 fill sleeping bag in their latest sale and this would be my choice, if I didn't already have the Minim 300 (and a ME Helium 250).

Minim 400 Down Sleeping Bag |  price: £273.00

Bivy Bag is a Titanium Goat Ptarmigan which I've had for years.

It has a built in headnet. I prefer to sleep with my head outside either my sleeping bag or the bivy bag, but, the cover does cut any draughts and adds a few degrees to the bag rating.

I've been down to well below minus 5c with this set of sleeping gear.

Here's my Trailstar after a cold night: coverd in frost - inside and outside.

Groundcover is Wickes secondary glazing.

Insulation is something I've arrived at by trial and error. I still have an old, self inflating, Thermorest which has never let me down. It weighs a ton!

I tried Neo-air when it first came out. It was one that did stay up, but I couldn't trust it. To me,  all gear must work and be trustworthy and comfortable. I could not be comfortable with the Neo-air. I went back to an old Ridgerest and found that I could sleep comfortably on it. It just needed cutting down to size.

So, my insulation is an old piece of cut down Ridgerest which weighs in at 200 grms. This works for me - on my upper body.

I used to use bits of old thin solid foam mats for my lower body (legs). Now I use a piece of radiator insulation. It weighs very little and it works.


So, nothing new, but a few bits of musing on wearing and sleeping and what works for me.

I guess I'm getting excited about TGO 2013. 37 days and counting .................