Thursday 4 June 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 - Gear Used and Abused

St Cyrus Beach, waving my absolutely brilliant Pacer Poles
I posted a kit list before setting out on the Challenge and so I thought I would write a few short comments about some of the gear I took with me. As you will see, I took a deliberate decision to carry quite a bit more weight than strictly necessary.  I still have mixed feelings about this, and constantly struggle to get the weight versus comfort balance right for me. Having written that, I did note ironically, as I bought a piece of unneeded but fancied cheese in the Co-op in Ballater to stick in my pack, that its extra weight entirely counteracted the saving in grams I made when I bought a lighter sleeping bag last year.  But then who wants to eat a sleeping bag half way up Mount Keen I want to know.

 The 'Big Three' (or Four or Five)

Many backpackers write about the 'big three' critical items of shelter, pack and sleeping bag when commenting on gear and weight carried.  I would also add footwear and rain gear.  To be comfortable you really need to get all these right.  So I took:

Tent - My Tarptent Scarp 1. As the weather forecast was for quite a lot of wind and rain and chilliness, I decided on the Scarp 1 rather than my considerably lighter Z Packs Duplex.  I am pretty confident that the latter would have done me just fine, but I have used and abused the Scarp far more, only having acquired the Duplex towards the end of last year.  I also thought the Scarp would be warmer, given its double skin and lack of mesh, which helps cut down on draughts.  As expected, the Scarp performed superbly.  Rock steady in the squally wind, plenty of space with its two vestibules, allowing cooking undercover and storage of wet gear.  If this tent was half a kg lighter I'd never want to use anything else.
My Scarp 1 in quite strong, squally winds in the lee of Dalbeg Bothy
Pack - the ULA Catalyst.  As with my shelter, I opted for my long used, and so well tried, ULA Catalyst, rather than my Z Packs Arc Blast.  This choice was entirely dictated by taking the Scarp. The Catalyst has a massive external mesh pocket which swallows the Scarp far more easily than the Arc Blast.  It has lots of space, meaning packing up, especially in the wet, doesn't require much care or thought, and is superbly comfortable to carry.  If I had taken the Duplex I would definitely have taken the Arc Blast which is also a great pack, and is about 900 gr lighter than the Catalyst.  I am likely to use the Duplex and Blast combination on all my shorter trips.
ULA Catalyst on St Cyrus Beach
Sleeping Bag - A Z Packs 20 Degree bag (long and extra wide).  I think this is a great sleeping bag.  I sleep very cold, and so if the temperature is going to get anywhere near freezing I also wear my PHD down jacket to bed, which has a hood.  I was only chilly on one night in this set up, unlike in previous years when I used a Rab Neutrino 400 - which I found less warm but quite a lot heavier.  The Z Packs bag has to be one of the lightest on the market in terms of the amount of down / temperature rating.  Having said this, I met one other Challenger who had bought and sold a similar Z Packs bag as he didn't like it for a variety of reasons.  Individual preferences.  Oh, and one of my best investments in recent years was the purchase of down socks from As Toucas, which really make a substantial difference to warmth at night and in the tent in the evening.

Trail Shoes - I wear these more and more rather than boots, and think they are brilliant for the Challenge, especially so in avoiding faffing about at river crossings.  You just plunge straight in.  Despite the occasional snow patches, my feet generally kept warm and after about five minutes you do not notice that they are wet most of the time. I wore the same pair as last year, the 'new' style Inov8 Terroc 330s. 'New' style, but no longer made unfortunately. They were faultless, but having done two Challenges now, plus many day walks, they have been relegated to dog walking since I got home as the uppers have worn through in places.  I have no idea what I will replace them with yet.  As for socks.  I am a real fan of X Socks Exped socks which I find incredibly comfortable, and as in previous years I did not get any blisters, even after some fairly pro-longed road trudges.  Rinsing them in a stream each night keeps them relatively fresh.

Waterproofs - I wore a Berghaus Paclite jacket.  And I wore it a great deal because of the weather we experienced.  Paclite is much maligned.  I have been very happy with it, but this item is now about 6 years old, and it has seen its day.  As for overtrousers, I wear Berghaus Paclites, too, and these really are the dog's doo dahs.  I don't reckon there is anything that would better suit my needs, and they do appear to be the commonest type worn by fellow Challengers.  Mine have now provided me with great service for several years.  I have often worn them all day, and find them comfortable and condensation free.

Other Stuff - Most of the things that I carried were used, except for many First Aid items and my repair kit.  I may lighten these for the future, dispensing with some wound dressings and some of the spare dyneema and bungee cord, but this will only save a few grams. I consciously chose to carry other things which I knew would increase weight, and could be dispensed with, but thought they would add to my overall comfort.  Thus, I had the luxury of spare trousers - the incredibly light Rohan Ethers, which I highly recommend if you, too, want to carry a spare pair on trips. They only weigh about 220 gr. I also took the light weight Hi Tec Zuuk shoes for wear in B and Bs and when eating out.  They do the job.  In terms of other clothes I suppose you do not need to carry a spare shirt, socks or pants but it is nicer when you are in town in the evening if you do, and I particularly like my new Rohan Zipped Silver Core base layer which served as my spare.  On the subject of Rohan gear, I walked every single day in my zipped, long sleeved Rohan merino base layer shirt.  I also slept in it every night.  I washed it after Days 6 and Day 9 and to my refined nose it never became offensive!  It is is one of the best bits of basic kit I own.  I wore, and needed, all my cold weather clothing, including lightweight fleece, Montane Prism gillet and Prism gloves, PHD Minimus Down Jacket, fleece beenie and buff.

As is the case almost every time I go out in the hill I used a pair of Pacer Poles which I think can not be beaten, although I wish they would make a model with flick lock closures.

I had one piece of equipment failure.  This was an almost new Piezo ignition sparker thing that came with my MSR Micro Rocket stove which I purchased this spring as the pot holders on my old Optimus gas stove became rather bent.  It packed up after three days.  Fortunately, I carry a spare lighter.  I also had a dodgy self-sealing gas cartridge which didn't self-seal very well, and gave me a couple of anxious moments.  I am, partly as a result of this, thinking of taking my Trail Designs Ti Tri meths / esbit set up in future, rather than gas.

That's enough about gear.  I bought the lot with my own money, of course, so the comments here are not influenced by any of it being free.  Unfortunately!!!!


  1. Another vote for the Z-Packs sleeping bag. Although I find that all manufacturers vastly overstate the comfort zones of their bags, it's definitely warmer for the weight than other bags. I was cold in mine on three nights, but let's face it, they were all at 700m with a ground frost overnight. What bag weighing little more than 600g would do better ? I didn't miss the lack of a hood, in fact wearing a down beanie instead makes sure your bag doesn't get damp from breathing inside it. The only thing I found I had to do each evening was shake the down round the baffles into the top half as they're continuous baffles. When you loft the bag after unpacking it, the down has a tendency to settle more into the bottom half otherwise. Great bag though.

    1. Hi John
      I agree! I had wondered whether it would be warm enough without a hood. However, the bag itself comfortably closes round my neck or even higher, and I can, if I want, use either just the detachable hood from my down jacket or the whole down jacket plus hood. So quite versatile. And the down weight that would have been in a sleeping bag hood is in the body of the bag. So I think this is an efficient set up.

    2. My Zpack bag used the treated down. I had cold spots often in use before the TGOC (don't forget I use a single skin shelter often) so sold it. If anyone gets one - get the 10 degree bag. Super warm then on any challenge in the future. Good summary of kit used David.

      So mine:

      Best kit RAB Meco 120 tee. Simply superb. Next Seek Outside Beyond Timberline 2 handled the worst weather with ease and gave me so much space for a shelter.

      Slight disappointment the Gorilla straps kept twisting and got on my nerves in the end. Also the twisting was the reason my friends one failed on Mount Battock. As the pressure broke the buckle when the load was concentrated in a small point by the twisted buckle strap.

      My Inov-8 were perfect. The RAB eVent shell (Bergan) just delivered in bad weather. What should and what would I change next year ? Not a lot. I'll use my HMG Porter and take a synthetic vest with a lighter down top. Thats it. Rest is perfect.

    3. Thanks for dropping by, Martin. Your shelter certainly looked the business when you showed me it at Tarfside. I suspect others in the UK will be interested given your recommendation.
      If I was buying again I, too, would go for the 10 degree bag but the 20 Degree is ok for me with my extra layers. If it had been much colder on the Challenge, though, I would have wanted some warmer leg wear in there eg my Prism trousers.

  2. I was glad I took the Scarp as well. It's good to be able to have total confidence in a shelter. On the first Tuesday it was so windy that Bob and Rose couldn't cook in their Vaude Power Lizard as it was flapping so much. No bother in the Scarp. As you say if it was a bit lighter, there'd be no need for another shelter.

    1. It is a great tent. And it has lots more space and headroom than the Vaude Power Lizard.

  3. Another great write up David. The weather seems to get a bit better each year. Next year will be scorcher! I like the sound of that Z-Packs bag. I have a custom Astucas down quilt thingy on order that i'm hoping will be as comfortable. Glad the hear the Scarp performing well again. I wonder if Henry will ever make a cuben one that pitches just as well. That might just be shelter perfection.

    1. Hi Steve
      Whilst we had two superbly sunny days we also had much squally wind and rain and snow too! That's Scotland in May for you.
      If you are interested in the Z Packs bag do see John and Martin's comments above and my reply.

  4. Those sparker lighter things are really unreliable. Several friends of mina have had theirs broken. One guy even had his Jet Boil getting light out of control, had to kick it away out of the camp.

    1. Hi Jon
      The sparker was good when it worked but pointless if unreliable. And that sounded a dangerous incident with the Jetboil.

  5. Hi Dave, only just getting round to reading all the chally blogs. Congrats on another good crossing. I agree to go meths. Nothing to go wrong. Good to see your other gear stood up well.

  6. Cheers Alan.

    My main concern about meths is availability. I know some people post it ahead in re-supply parcels but I suspect that is contravening every Royal Mail and Halth and Safety rule there has ever been!