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This sort of thing ain’t my bag, baby!

June 4, 2013 2 comments
This is, in fact, my bag.

This is, in fact, my bag.

The rucksack hasn’t changed since my 2011 TGO Challenge, a semi-custom ZPacks Zero constructed from Cuben Fiber, and it’s still going strong. Such a light bag requires some thought across your entire range of kit, since you can’t overload it and expect it to be comfortable, nor does it take kindly to being loaded with gear any old how. For my needs it once again proved to be superbly comfortable with the fairly light load I was carrying and is showing very little sign of wear and tear, a popped stitch on the haul loop being about the extent of it so far. Were I to add a few more pounds or take bulkier equipment then this would not be the right pack for the job.

The brolly you can see furled and stowed in the picture was a silvered version of the Swing LiteFlex Trekking model I’ve used previously, but unfortunately this didn’t fare so well. I recall Colin Ibbotson, I believe, mentioning some failures he’d had with this brand and sadly a rogue gust snapped a stretcher on mine, causing it to tear through the canopy. A repair left it able to fulfil some duties as long as there was no chance of much wind, but I’ve had to bin it now. Excellent as a cooling sunshade, a very convenient tarp porch cover and an essential shelter on rainy breaks, I’m still a great fan of the umbrella when hiking, but these particular models are just a little too light, too weak.

On previous Challenges (and indeed most of the time when I step outside, for the past twenty years) I wore a Tilley Hat. I have rather too many of these, if I’m honest, despite not having bought a new one for several years; looking at the range now it all seems a bit cluttered and fancy, somewhat removed from the solid outdoors credentials of the originals, but a few of the venerable models are still there including the classic T3. This time I took the plunge and made a change, a peaked cap from Marks & Spencer costing an impressive £2 from the sale bin. These were most likely poor sellers due to being labelled as size XL but actually being big enough to fit me, which makes it more like an XXXL (the availability of a size 8 is one of the reasons I discovered Tilley Hats in the first place, the world being unfairly biased towards people with tiny heads). My thinking here was that I could wear the cap more easily under the hood of my windshirt or waterproof, which certainly worked. I wore the thing practically non-stop for the fortnight and it even stayed neatly on my head without a chin cord, only once blowing off… when I returned to Manchester. Naturally, it landed straight in a fountain. Despite a foldaway neck cape I did get a little too much sun on my ears, so I expect I’ll go back to full brim hats most of the time.

The Prat in the Hat.

The Prat in the Hat.

A large number, perhaps even a majority, of Challengers can be seen to use Crocs, particularly the classic enclosed sandal style, because they are very often hanging from their rucksacks. They may not pack neatly away, and they are certainly astonishingly ugly lumps of plastic, but they are quite light (around 300g for a large size men’s pair), easy to clean and very comfortable. Boot wearers switch to them in camp and also when fording streams, whereas those who opt for trail shoes generally walk straight through the water regardless and wear the same shoes in camp as when hiking. Sometimes it’s nice to have a change, though, and since Crocs were too bulky and a bit heavier than I’d like I made a pair of flip-flops:

Is there no beginning to my talents?

Is there no beginning to my talents?

A couple of bits of spare foam from my sleeping mat and a few strips of duct tape. 23 grammes for the pair. Absolutely perfect for using in campsite showers and pottering around a bunkhouse. They made it through the fortnight intact, albeit with little cushioning left under the heel.

After the 2011 Challenge I was largely happy with my cooking system, but having seen a Trail Designs Caldera Cone in action I thought it might fix the one weak point, namely the inadequate foil windscreen I was using. Last year I bought a Caldera Cone but otherwise kept the same Esbit burner and titanium pot (the one minor annoyance with the Cone is that it has to be bought to fit specific cooking pots, as it can’t be adjusted). Cooking performance and convenience was vastly improved and I also saved on quite a bit of fuel, as I could generally manage both the main meal and a hot drink on a single tablet. I ate well and it never seemed like a chore to set up the stove.

Mm... Christmas pudding and custard.

Mm… Christmas pudding and custard.

Most of the other kit performed well and much of it had been in the bag for the 2011 Challenge. A pair of Jacks ‘R’ Better Down Sleeves made my old PHD Minimus Down Vest much more versatile, giving me increased flexibility for sitting around camp and to boost my down quilt quite a bit on a couple of chilly nights. I only had one night when I woke up cold, which was fixed by reaching for extra clothes; in the morning the spare water bag was frozen and I draped the quilt around me as I left the tent. My Mountain King walking poles are still going, giving me occasional concern as they flexed alarmingly when used as tent supports on windier nights, and I wore the same pair of Inov-8 Flyroc shoes that I used on the 2011 Challenge, although they certainly won’t manage a third.

Instead of my old GoLite Cave tarp I tried a Gossamer Gear SpinnShelter. Slightly longer and considerably lighter with useful doors at each end, it’s also less versatile than the Cave as it can only really be successfully pitched in one basic configuration. The tent is not currently in production as the fabric used is now virtually impossible to obtain, but it certainly deserves to reappear if an alternative material can be found. The classic sloping shape only allows you to sit up at one end, but it kept the weather out successfully and was fairly straightforward to pitch tautly. An inner from BearPaw Wilderness Designs, the Minimalist 1, kept the ticks and midges out and as I specified a silnylon area at the foot end it meant that I could keep the doors of the Spinnshelter open, reducing condensation without risking wet feet from the rain. I originally bought the inner for my Cave, but it fit the SpinnShelter quite well.

Please excuse the clutter.

Please excuse the clutter.

Trousers were a pair of stretch Sprayway Compass Pants, very comfortable and surprisingly weather resistant with well designed zipped pockets, and a Rab Meco 165 shirt (bought, like the trousers, in a clearance sale) worked splendidly to keep me comfortable in challenging conditions. Instead of the Paramo 3rd Element jacket I wore in 2011 or the Snowsled Ventile smock from 2009 I decided to take a Marmot Essence waterproof jacket (which I normally pack for cycling use, hence the eye-watering shade of orange) and a Rab Cirrus hooded windshirt. The Cirrus was fantastic, good for all but heavy rain and one of the few windshirts around at the moment with big useful pockets. The Essence was okay and worked well, but for the very typical May Scottish weather of the TGO I think I’ll go back to the Paramo in future. Less faffing around as conditions change, which they do quickly and often, and supremely comfortable in cold wet weather.

Would I take the same on a future, hypothetical Challenge? Some of it. I might go back to a thicker mattress (my foam MultiMat is rather flattened with use and age now, for one thing), tweak a few things here and there, but very little genuinely needs to be changed. It doesn’t take a huge amount of gear to be comfortable on the Challenge, with the caveat that I choose my route accordingly: I wouldn’t think of deliberately camping high or in very exposed locations with this exact kit. I carried about 4lbs more this time than in 2011, extra weight accumulating from more and heavier warm clothes, the tent inner, sturdier tent pegs and numerous other odds and ends, which I don’t regret at all. The compromise between weight and comfort is always there and I managed to be comfortable due both to a fairly light pack and a very adequate range of camping gear. I don’t have any set ideology here, though, and you’re just as likely to meet me on a hill wearing leather boots as trail shoes. Horses for courses, as they say.

Ooh, a packhorse… maybe I could take a packhorse…

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TGO Challenge: Filling Up the Corners

May 30, 2011 6 comments

I actually lost weight eating this stuff. Hiking rocks.

Steaming towards the home straight of our little TGO gear roundup, let’s give the crowd a cheeky smile and throw down a few heaps of related kit. Weights for these items, and others I’ll probably skip, can be found on the gear spreadsheet mentioned in an earlier entry.

The kitchen: For the 2009 Challenge I carried the excellent Bushbuddy wood-burning stove, stowed inside a Snow Peak titanium pot. The pot was fine (its frying pan lid was hopeless, mind) and the stove encouraged a thoughtful, relaxed style of cooking, from gathering fuel to tending the flames as the water came to a boil. True, I came home smelling like a kipper with a forty-a-day habit, but even in the wet the Bushbuddy is a perfectly viable choice. This year, partly to save weight and partly to just do something different, I used an Esbit stove with a smaller pot (more of a large mug, indeed) and a few scraps of tinfoil. The lid of the Tibetan Titanium 550 pot seemed a poor fit and heavier than it needed to be, so I left it behind and trimmed a circle of foil to take its place, along with a piece to sit under the stove and a longer strip to function as a wind shield. Esbit is nasty, smelly stuff, but remarkably convenient and very easy to use. Light the little block, wait for water to boil (roughly ten minutes, give or take), blow the flame out if there’s much of the block left or else let it burn down to a small residue. In practice the foil wind shield was adequate but nothing more: better protection would have made for faster boiling times and required less fuel. One thing that people don’t always realise is that a tarp is essentially a very large tent porch, so cooking under it is safe and easy, well ventilated and with plenty of room to spread out. That made it less of a chore to cook when the wind was being a little frisky (which was much of the time on this Challenge). Food was a combination of commercially packaged dehydrated meals and some things I dehydrated at home (along with treats such as Christmas pudding, instant custard and a jar of peanut butter) using the “freezer bag cooking” method of boiling water, adding it to the meal and eating out of the bag. No mess, no washing up. Fine for a short trip but in the long run a bit wasteful of packaging. Since eating from a bag requires a degree of additional reach I used a long-handled titanium spoon, quite silly but strong enough to double as an emergency tent peg and convenient should I ever choose to sup with the Devil. For the record, Reiter dried meals were quite tasty (if a little heavy on salt), particularly the Sicilian Pasta and the spectacularly indulgent chocolate mousse, and I quite enjoyed a fish and rice dish picked up at Decathlon. Macaroni and cheese (Kraft Dinners, to my Canadian audience) required more faff and some advance prep in order to make everything work, on top of which I was carrying a bottle of olive oil and some Tabasco to improve the final product; after a good start I found myself less able to face the resulting orange glop and probably shan’t bother carrying mac and cheese in the future, which is a pity as I bought a case of twelve packets… For water I once again carried the AquaGear filter bottle (replaced by a slightly larger and clearly improved version these days) which allowed me to drink directly from a wider selection of sources than normal, not that fresh water was exactly at a premium on this walk. Additional water storage at camp was provided by a very versatile Pour & Store bag, nothing fancy (available by the box from supermarkets in various sizes) but quite strong and effective as well as being less than half the weight of a Platypus.

The bedroom: In an ideal world one might simple throw down the quilt and snuggle in for a confortable night, but ours is a world of wet ground, giant slugs, awkwardly-placed rocks and, inevitably, ticks. I saw three ticks on this Challenge, which was a pretty low score but one of them was drilling into my shoulder as I sat having a pint in the Fife Arms so I do not dismiss the threat by any means. Ray Jardine’s latest book, The Ray-Way Tarp Book Essential, devotes a surprising amount of space to avoiding ticks, which is understandable once you learn that Mr Jardine was rushed to hospital due to the consequences of a tick bite while hiking. Some might regard his level of concern as paranoia, but personally I’m with him all the way on this point. My main defence against ticks was site selection, avoiding anywhere obviously used by deer or matching textbook tick habitat, and checking myself and my gear for the nasty little arachnids. Of course that is not sufficient; and anyway, I’m not woodsman enough to get it right every time. I also carried a Titanium Gear Ptarmigan Bivy, a sleeping bag cover with zipped entry and a large expanse of bug netting for protection and ventilation. The bottom of the bivy is waterproof, the upper section a lightweight breathable fabric treated to fend off dew and rain splashes. Lovely idea, hopeless in execution. I see that on their website Titanium Goat mention that the 2011 model has a new fabric for the top, which is all well and good but sadly I have the 2010 model which is nowhere near breathable enough. On two occasions I woke with the feeling of water against my arms, vapour condensing and running down the inside of the bivy, which is a pretty poor when you consider just how much of the bivy is made of insect netting. In less threatening environments I took to using the bivy as a groundsheet and for the last week, where tick numbers seemed to be much reduced, it stayed in the bag. The design has excellent points, such as the way the netting or a solid hood can be used and a loop to let you hook the netting away from your face while sleeping, but overall this item was a major disappointment. Underneath me at night was a simple foam MultiMat, the lightest and smallest they make, trimmed down even further to cover only the important shoulders to bum area. My sit mat, a thin piece of orange foam given away free with a walking magazine many moons ago, provided extra padding under the hip if I slept on my side or else a bit of warm cushioning under my feet. Sounds very spartan, I know, but on grass or forest litter nothing more is needed. The mat also functioned as a sort of frame for the ZPack rucksack, dropped into the pack as a vertical cylinder and allowed to unroll, giving it some structure and extra padding for me. Only on one occasion did the foam mat offer inadequate comfort and that was on the concrete floor of the Stables of Lee. Remarkably, Mick and Gayle™ were camping outside and offered the use of their spare Therm-a-Rest NeoAir mattress… Putting aside why anyone would need to carry a spare mattress on a hiking trip I accepted the offer. A nice piece of kit overall, even though it’s little more than an overpriced lilo, but despite the comfort I woke with an aching back. The NeoAir is also so thick that I had trouble making a pillow big enough to sufficiently raise my head, eventually resorting to piling up my remaining food packets and topping them with my rolled-up Páramo jacket. Despite the raised eyebrow regarding a spare mattress I did actually carry, in effect, a spare groundsheet, used for most of the last week. The ULA Rain Wrap was actually the lower half of my waterproof clothing, but it also doubles up nicely as a groundsheet where it certainly looks less eccentric than when I wear it.

The ditty bag: Lots of little oddments here, from a Rite-in-the-Rain waterproof notebook (and accompanying IKEA pencil… naughty, I know, but I couldn’t find the one I pinched twenty years ago from Putt-Putt Golf & Games) to the splendid Petzl e+LITE head torch. My rather small washkit was in there too, including a couple of plastic clothes pegs for laundry days, earplugs (don’t travel without them, seriously) the wonderfully multi-purpose Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap and the soothing, protective Gehwol Extra foot cream, decanted into an old 35mm film canister; and whatever will we do when the world supply of those little plastic tubs dries up? The Gehwol cream was a good choice, not only because it felt great at the end of a long walk and seemed to help my wet feet but also because the simple ritual of using it encouraged me to take better care of my feet every single day, sitting down to clean and dry them off, massage the cream into them and put on my cosy sleeping socks. My blister-prone plates handled the Challenge in considerably better shape this year, not least because of this attention. My towel this time, rather than the elderly “Wonder Towel” I used to use which is now a patchy and gossamer-thin shadow of its former self, was a Lightload Towel. These are handkerchief-sized absorbent squares made from wood pulp. After a fortnight it had pretty much approached its limit but it worked well enough along the way and dried quickly, with no apparent bad odours. Fairly cheap, but even so I wouldn’t especially endorse the Lightload, as a cotton bandanna or cheap viscose cloth is more durable and just as good without being disposable.

Since Challenge Control requires walkers to check-in frequently, and with working ‘phone boxes becoming an increasing rarity, I carried a mobile ‘phone with me along with a spare battery and charger. Heavy, but it did also function as a radio (useful for weather forecasts, apart from the traumatic time when the only programme I could pick up was the Céilidh Hour) and the GPS meant that I could get it to display my OS grid reference if ever I happened to get lost (or “confused” as Daniel Boone put it). I suppose that I could have used it more often as a Walkman as well, but I actually only listened to music on the ‘phone on one occasion, in camp. Generally speaking, the musical accompaniment to this walk was me loudly singing various Warren Zevon songs as I tramped through the heather, so if you found yourself assailed by a spiritedly tuneless rendition of Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner at any point then I can only apologise.

Rain gear has been largely covered, since it primarily consisted of the superb Páramo 3rd Element jacket. In moderate rain I didn’t bother with the hood and simply wore my Tilley Hat. Likewise, the Eco-Mesh trousers dried so quickly that I only supplemented them in severe conditions, but when the wind picked up and the rain worsened, as it did almost daily, I donned the ULA Rain Wrap, a simple rectangle of SilNyon fastened with Velcro and a hook and loop on the hem. Waterproof trousers and I are not great chums and I much prefer the superior ventilation of something like the rain skirt (and don’t fool yourself, you can refer to it as a kilt or a wrap all you like but it’s a skirt, matey, and not a particularly stylish one at that) which worked very well for me. Don’t try it on the tops, of course, where swirling gales and battering rain would quickly get around it. Like most things, the rain skirt has its place and you should consider carefully whether it will do the job you ask of it. Sewing one yourself would be very easy, probably with some improvements such as a simple pleat to allow more movement, but I didn’t have access to a sewing machine at the time and bought the commercial version. Stretch fleece gloves generally worked for me, except for when the rain was particularly heavy and the cold wind started to bite through the fabric. When that happened I slipped on the MLD eVENT waterproof mitts, a reassuringly simple and practical design. They worked well and took up little space in the side pocket of my pack when I was carrying them. Lastly, the umbrella. I’ve long been a fan of the humble brolly for hiking, going back to the hazel-shafted walking stick model I bought from James Smith & Sons (where you should, if you are ever even remotely close, visit and be amazed), later set temporarily aside for the original GoLite umbrella, considerably lighter but with the tiny drawback of not actually being waterproof… These days I use hiking poles rather than the walking stick, so the Smith brolly is a bit heavy to mostly carry in the rucksack, although come to think of it that doesn’t seem to bother Nicholas Crane. I picked up a Swing Liteflex umbrella, lighter than even the old GoLite and seemingly much more robust and waterproof. The company appear to be making brollies for others, so you may find them under different names. Splendid for wandering around town and walking on calm days, an umbrella is of course quite useless on a big hill in vile, blowy weather, but such is not my main use. At night it formed a handy “door” to the tarp, blocking swirling rain and offering additional privacy on commercial campsites. I sat under it at rest stops, used it as an additional windbreak while cooking, deployed it as a privacy screen when attending to those matters common to both hikers and bears. Embrace the eccentricity, try hiking with a brolly yourself.

That’s largely all that needs talking about for the rest of the gear. The (probably) last post on this topic will cover a couple of failures – the bivy could have gone there but seemed a more natural fit in the context of the sleeping system – and thoughts on changes I may make for the future, after which you can breathe a sigh of relief and return to your regularly scheduled lives.

Some of the websites mentioned, if the Super Secret Clicky Links aren’t working for you (Have you checked your Secret Decoder Ring?):
http://www.bushbuddy.ca

http://www.snowpeak.com

http://www.esbit.net

http://www.alpkit.com

http://www.travellunch.de/en

http://www.titaniumgoat.com

http://www.multimat.uk.com

http://www.ula-equipment.com

http://www.riteintherain.com

http://www.petzl.com

http://www.ultralighttowels.com

http://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com

http://www.james-smith.co.uk

TGO Challenge: Synthetic Easy-Care Clothes Maketh the Man

May 29, 2011 6 comments

The only clean item of clothing any Challenger has at the finish

Onwards, then, from the “big three” items of gear to a quick review of what I was wearing. In general gear lists tend to separate clothes into “Clothes Carried” and “Clothes Worn” which I have simplified slightly by basically wearing everything.

Páramo 3rd Element: The much lamented, yet sadly poorly selling, 3rd Element was one of the more unusual offerings from Páramo, a company known for its very unconventional clothes. Part of the Nikwax Analogy range of waterproof coats the 3rd Element sported the peculiar feature of having a removable top section (the sleeves, hood and yoke came off as one) partly covering a separate gilet. The result: extra padding and waterproofing on the shoulders, a full function waterproof jacket and a cooler sleeveless section for when more ventilation was required. Admittedly I only used the gilet alone on a couple of occasions this year, but the major objection to Páramo waterproofs is that they are warmer than some membrane-based jackets, precluding their use in more Summery weather. It’s an objection with which I can only partly sympathise, since I find Gore-Tex and the like horribly sweaty and uncomfortable on the whole, whereas Páramo is particularly good at handling liquid water (i.e. sweat) and feels better to me even if I am overheating, but each to his own and being able to remove the sleeves certainly adds versatility to the setup. The material is soft and comfortable (on cooler nights I slept in the jacket, otherwise it was rolled up to make a pillow) and can be endlessly reproofed, giving it a life well beyond most waterproofs: my Páramo Scala jacket is about twelve years old and shows no drop in performance that an occasional wash and reproof does not fix and only my old Ventile smock (worn on the 2009 Challenge) has shown similar longevity. Shortcomings are few: a proper map pocket would have been appreciated (since I use a pack with no belt I was able to stick my maps into the rear horizontal pocket designed to hold the sleeves when they are removed, which solved the problem for me) and I prefer a waist cord rather than one at the hem, but these are niggles. It took very little time for this wonderful jacket to become a second skin, one that wasn’t too niffy even after a fortnight of wear. It handled the powerfully driven rain and hail with aplomb. At least half a dozen Challengers that I know of wore the 3rd Element this year, yet Páramo have been unable, despite several attempts, to find a place for it in the market. The public, it seems, think it’s too weird. That probably wasn’t helped by Páramo’s insistence that you can wear just the sleeves if you like… 856g but don’t dismiss it simply because that weight looks high. As part of a well considered clothing system the 3rd Element is superb. The main problem is getting hold of one now that production has ceased. Páramo themselves have two eBay shops, one selling seconds items and the other dealing with surplus and discontinued stock, so if you’re lucky then, like me, you might still be able to pick one up at a bargain price. It feels a bit odd not be wearing it at the moment.

Inov-8 Flyroc 310 shoes: An expensive pair of trainers, really. I bought a pair of Flyrocs for the 2009 Challenge and they worked so well that I picked up a new pair in a clearance sale (they’ve changed the colour scheme, apparently: mine are a rather natty blue and green) for this year. Little underfoot padding, acres of quick-drying mesh on the uppers, a lacing system that cradles your foot like an amorous octopus and more grip than an arm-wrestling gorilla, the Flyrocs laughed in the face of mud, tarmac and wet grass. Stream crossing consisted of walking through the streams, no changing footwear and getting the towel out, and I never found them to be uncomfortable even when wet. The only problem I ever had was inside the heel cup, where the lining fabric rapidly wore through. In 2009 this caused blisters before I realised that there was a problem, so I stuck some moleskin and duct tape over the damage and they’ve been fine ever since. This year I pre-empted any problem by sticking a piece of duct tape inside the shoes. Other Inov-8 wearers, I discovered, do the same. 822g for a pair in my clod-hopping size.

Patagonia Nano Puff: Many years ago I lived near to a Patagonia Outlet Store in the United States. They were happy, carefree days, filled with laughter and reasonably priced high quality outdoor clothing. Then I moved and was faced with the real world, where Patagonia clothes are apparantly priced using a different monetary system to the one I know and the costs are stupidly high. I stopped buying Patagonia. Enter the Internet, where I managed to chance upon a clearance sale for the Nano Puff, a lightly insulated smock top, offering it for half price if I could fit into a size Large (I could) and didn’t mind wearing something called Gecko Green (I’d have preferred not to, but needs must). At half price the Nano Puff is expensive, but worth it if you can spare the cash; at full price it is obscenely expensive and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. My main insulating garment, if you can call it that, was actually the Sierra Sniveller quilt. Being filled with down (and looking absolutely bonkers) was potentially a limitation, though, so with the chance of a damp ol’ time in bonny Scotland ahead of me I bought the Nano Puff as a security piece, a synthetic insulation top which would be less affected if I was careless enough to get soaked through. In the end I slept in it on more than half of the nights, wore it whenever I wasn’t hiking and found that it was so good that I only rarely needed to don the Sniveller for extra warmth. When stopping to do laundry, which happened every four days or so, my approach of carrying few extra clothes raised a potential problem, so generally the Nano Puff was worn next to the skin on those occasions with no discomfort at all. Versatile, comfortable, warm and, despite the colour, not a bad looking item either; other Challengers seemed to endorse my opinion, although I couldn’t help noticing that nobody else had chosen the green. 300g. Returning home I was pleased to discover that I’d lost enough weight to fit into my old Patagonia Stand Up Pants, good news both because they are old favourites and because I still find the name amusing.

The other stuff: I’m not going to review everything in any depth – you can read the kit list spreadsheet if you want to see it all anyway – so here’s a quick run through the rest. The possum fur / merino wool double-layer beanie hat from Chocolate Fish was excellent, worn around camp and for sleeping (since there’s no hood on my quilt), it also served an additional function as the pot cosy for my kitchen setup. Pour boiling water into dehydrated meal, stir, pop the hat over the bag for ten minutes and there you go, a hot meal and a warm hat. Trousers were my old Eco-Mesh Pants from RailRiders, bought over ten years ago and going strong despite having split dramatically at the crotch in 2009. A bit of repair, subsequent reinforcement and modification to add a central rear belt loop (what a stupid omission that is. Without it the waistband slips uncomfortably under the belt. I made one from a swatch of flysheet material included in an old Hilleberg tent catalogue…) and they still work well. Zips down the outside seam open up mesh vents, or close to keep the bugs at bay, and the windproof Supplex fabric dries so quickly that I only bother with waterproofs in seriously prolonged rain. Fit is rather basic, however, so don’t expect to look especially dashing in them, and I suspect that there have been some design and possibly material changes since I bought mine. Undies were merino wool trunks from Chocolate Fish, a huge step forward in comfort from the synthetic shorts I used to wear. The rather hopeless waistband rolled over instantly but at least it wasn’t uncomfortable; in all other respects they were superb. 1000 Mile Wool Ultra Performance Trail socks were light and warm on my feet, along with Injinji liners which I’ll cover in detail later on. I rarely go anywhere without a Tilley Hat and have been wearing them for about twenty years, initially won over because they actually make hats in my size. This time I left my old favourite at home and took a lighter synthetic model, a good choice as it turned out, since it dried very quickly. Likewise, the ubiquitous Buff, a simple synthetic tube worn as scarf or hat, was always in use, often under the Tilley to keep my ears warm. Another oddly-coloured bargain buy from eBay (mango, I believe they said it was) was my long-sleeved Montane Bionic top, a wool and synthetic mix, very comfortable indeed and better than pure synthetics at keeping the odours down, important in a garment I wore for days at a time. A pair of Mont-Bell gaiters, simple stretch material and not waterproof, kept the crud out of my shoes and performed far better than the feeble Raidlight ones I used last time. The elastic under-foot cord abraded badly on the Mont-Bells but is easily and cheaply replaced. Instead of spare shoes I carried a pair of “clean room” style Tyvek overboots, pretty much large plastic socks really, to wear over my sleeping socks in camp and to put over muddy shoes when heading into a pub. They worked well, but next time I’ll probably use a pair of Crocs or similar simply because they would be more convenient around town. The Challenge is not just a wilderness event and sometimes the lightest option can be a compromise too far.

That’s most of the kit I was wearing at one time or another. I mentioned the Injinji liner socks which began the Challenge as favourites, but I’ll discuss them in more depth after the other reviews because they failed so badly and had to be replaced. On the whole my gear worked and lasted well, with only a few disappointments. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what the eccentrically dressed Challenger was wearing in the Highlands this May.

Links for the non-linky:

http://www.inov-8.com

http://www.paramo.co.uk

http://www.patagonia.com

http://www.chocolatefishmerino.co.uk

http://www.railriders.com

http://www.tilley.com

http://www.1000mile.co.uk

http://www.montane.co.uk