PLP: Post-Lockdown Poddle!

I’ve not blogged for ages. Like everyone else my leisure activities have been serverly curtailed by Covid19 so the wasn’t much grist to mill and I didn’t feel like commenting on the plague itself.

When the UK government has lifted the strictest conditions on the Covid19 lockdown I decided to take a short walk in the countryside. It was great to get away from confines of my local area for the first time in over two months!

My walk was not that far away from my usual stomping grounds – only a twenty minute drive away – but it allowed be to explore an area I’d never walked in before. And I could sample some of the Leicestershire Round. The Leicestershire Round is a circuit around the county and is about 100 miles in length. It meanders through areas of the National Forest.

Much to my delight I discovered many small nature reserves that are close to each other. They have either been created as part of the effort to grow the National Forest into a cohesive whole or have existed for along time as a well kept “secret”. Because they are separated each one is different in the flora and fauna that grows in them although, obviously there is a fair bit of overlap. This gives them all a different “feel” and very nice they are too. Balm for the soul!

Perhaps the best thing about lockdown is that it has made people explore their local areas more rather than dashing miles away to walk in another area. Where I live there is certainly lots to savour. I thought I know my patch well but clearly I didn’t.

Enjoy the photos!

Wild garlic and a tiny river.
A spectacular Rhododendron
Thatched cottage near to a footpath
A view from the Leicestershire Round near Markfield
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Alpkit Rig 7 Tarp: test pitches and a few observations

I was fortunate enough to be given an Alpkit Rig 7 Tarp by a friend who no longer required it. For non-UK readers of this blog: Alpkit are a British company specialising in good quality hiking, biking and climbing gear who are highly regarded for the quality of their goods.

Here are some details of the tarp taken from the Alpkit website:


  • Fabric: 30D PU coated siliconised Cordura fabric
  • Attachment points: 24 reinforced hypalon rig points: 8 lifter tabs, 16 exterior tie down points


  • Total Weight (inc. stuff sack): 550 g
  • Open dimensions: 2.4 x 2.8 m
  • Stuffed size: 8 x 18 x 18 cm

The Rig 7 isn’t the lightest tarp by any stretch but it’s not backbreaking and provides a palatial amount of room for the single backpacker. To be fair though the shelter is meant for 2 or 3 people so 275g per person is getting close to ultralight; add in an ultralight bivy and each person would be carrying about 500g each. I don’t think that is excessively heavy to be sheltered from wind and rain.

Mine has been used but I couldn’t see any signs of wear at all. Cordura is pretty tough stuff! The stitching is perfect and there is no sign of stress on any of the tieouts. The tarp has 24 tieout points so it can be pitched in a multitude of configurations. I should add the Rig 7 is a flat tarp so it’s very adaptable.

I’ve played around with some basic setups and I have to say I’m impressed with the coverage offered. These are shown the pictures at the end of the text. BTW: I’ve blacked out my partner as she didn’t want to appear in the published shots. I don’t pretend they are perfect pitches but they serve to show the sort of setups that can be easily done first time out. They did allow me to work out what else would be needed to make a taut, weatherproof pitch.

Some observations:

    1. In the lean-to shapes the back wall is a tad flappy and, in the real world, needs guying using the tieouts in the centre of the tarp.
    2. The lean-to’s all offer a huge amount of space to shelter under but they aren’t best suited for changing wind directions. They could be improved by bringing in the support poles and then dropping the outer segments of the roof.
    3. In the third shot I created a little floor space but it’s only just wide enough to lay on. For comfort I think a length of polycro would extend this floor and make it more usable.
    4. In the tent configuration it would be possible to shelter two hikers and kit from the elements on three sides. I am 5ft 10ins and I have plenty of overhead coverage but I think it might be a bit exposed for two hikers over 6ft tall.
    5 I did try pitching it the A frame configuration but didn’t take a photo! In this shape the tarp provides a massive amount of coverage and can be set very low to the ground or with one end low and the other high for ease of access. I can’t imagine getting wet even in really foul weather if one side was pegged directly to the floor. In benign conditions a high pitch would allow great views and ventilation.
    In every pitch I tried there is ample room to shelter and cook without the dangers of suffocation or setting the tarp alight. Obviously care must be taken with flames.

Standard Lean-To. Loads of space!

Lean-To with a Ridge

Lean-To with Ridge and some flooring

Tent Configuration

Tent Configuration – internal view

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Six Moons Design Serenity Net Tent

The Serenity has been around a long time now. Indeed, I’ve mentioned it in my review of the Gatewood Cape before. Around a year or so ago SMD upgraded the Serenity at the cost of a minor weight penalty. So the question is whether the upgrade was worthwhile?

The original Serenity consisted of a (Pyramid) Mid-shape netting with a weave fine enough to stop the smallest insects and a floor complete with a small “bathtub”. In practice, I found it hard to get a bathtub formed and I ended up with an effectively flat floor. Even when I did get it formed correctly there could be considerable draughts when the Cape was pitched high.

Enter the new version of the Serenity. I’ve owned one since they came out. The netting is the same but now the bathtub is much higher. The extra material is the reason for the weight increase and it is worth it. The new version is much easier to pitch with a bathtub floor for starters. Not only that but the increased height deflects a large proportion of the incoming draughts upwards rather than allowing them to cool the occupant. Even better, the upward flow of air helps to minimise condensation on the times when the dew point guarantees condensation forming on the Cape.

I try to be as ultralight a backpacker as possible and I really don’t want to carry extra grams, or ounces, but the new version of the Serenity really does improve the whole shelter: less draughts, warmer but still with good internal ventilation and improved condensation control.

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A charity hike in 2018 – The Limestone Way and More!

A friend and I decided to do another walk for charity following our successful one in 2017 (see earlier blog posts). The plan was to walk the Limestone Way in the Peak District with added extensions to give a distance of 60 miles in total. We would be carrying shelter, food, water and clothing so we could camp along the route.

Thursday 24th of May

An early train from Loughborough ensured an early arrival at Uttoxeter station. The Limestone Way officially starts at Rocester, some six miles north of Uttoxeter, but the intrepid backpackers elected to walk to the start.

It was a very hot day to be walking carrying a load and frequent water stops were necessary. The footpaths in Staffordshire are very poorly marked so navigation proved to be quite difficult and misleading. Nevertheless, good progress was made over the pasture

and hills of Staffordshire and Derbyshire was eventually reached.

The rest of the day was uneventful until the evening destination was in sight. A descent down a dale lead to an encounter with a herd of aggressive cows who were keen to protect their inquisitive calves while a few bulls stood guard over the herd. Rapid progress was made at this point even though I had an entertaining time attempting to scale a fence that was collapsing upon me.

After a successful escape was made the village of Parwich was reached where tents were pitched at Ffoufinside Farm.

Friday the 25th

The day dawned with heavy rain that was incessant all day until the destination of Youlgreave was reached in the evening. The walking was characterised by a lot of walking over wet, slippy limestone and mud. There was a silver lining in the cloud as the Miners Standard at Winster took pity on two bedraggled hikers and provided them with a very late lunch.

The evening pitch was at Youlgreave on a small site behind the George public house. The site had interesting facilities!

Saturday 26th

A lovely day for walking; dry, overcast with sunny periods but very strong winds. A day to be savoured with glorious views and firm paths. The Peak District is always pretty but the landscape becomes more dramatic the further North one heads.

There were no navigational issues to contend with although there was an encounter with a lawnmower goat. It was tethered to the roadside eating the grass on the verge and it was clear to see the goat had been moved every day to keep the verge in good order.

The destination for the night was Peak Forest; a small hamlet to the south of Castleton. The lady who ran the site asked us why we were doing the hike and we explained it was for charity. On hearing this she immediately offered us tea and biscuits while insisting that the site fees were waived provided we donated then to the charity. What a super gesture that was much appreciated.

The site was very windy and our shelters did flap somewhat alarmingly during the night but tiredness won out and sleep arrived quickly.

Sunday 27th

Another glorious day to hike over moorland marred only by a navigational error. Cavedale is always hard work to descend but the approach views are worth it.

After a careful descent down this boulder-ridden path, complete with running water in places, the town of Castleton offered two thirsty backpackers the chance to rehydrate and refuel. An opportunity that was firmly grasped.

Afterwards it was a simple matter to go to Hope where a train returned us to Loughborough.

We would like to thank all our sponsors for the kind donations and support for our 2017 and 2018 backpacks which we value greatly. Without your help and encouragement we could not have done them.

The backpacks have raised, including Gift Aid, approximately £746 in 2017 and £594 in 2018. This gives a total of circa £1340.

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Golite Breeze backpack and the “Ray Way”

I’m quite a fan of Golite backpacking gear and own a fair few shelters and backpacks of thiers. Originally, Golite based their products on designs of kit devised by Ray Jardine but their paths diverged, Golite Gear became more mainstream (and heavier) and eventually went bust.

Ray Jardine is, as far as I know, hale, hearty and pursuing his outdoor pursuits while still offering kits via the Internet for buyers to make their own versions of his designs. These include a quilt and the Ray Way Tarp. I own a Golite Cave 1 which is the commercial version of his tarp and it’s an excellent piece of kit in every respect. You can read my views on it in a different post on this site.

The Ray Way is essentially about hiking efficiently with low weights and well-thought out and reliable MYOG gear. Ray applied his aerospace engineering background and training to produce just such kit; all of which is backed by thousands upon thousands of miles of hiking experience in all sorts of terrain and climates. In short, if you want to know about backpacking techniques and equipment then Ray Jardine is a very good source to start with.

I’ve been intrigued by the Breeze for a while now but, as the last ones were made around 2005, finding one has about the same probability as finding rocking horse droppings. I was resigned to buying a kit from Ray and making one myself. Glory of glories, up popped one on EBay that had never been used so is new to all intents and purposes. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and got the pack. So, what is a Golite Breeze and why would I want one?

The Breeze is about the most simple backpack design there can be. It consists of a large main bag that is fastened shut by a drawcord and strap from the rear of the pack over the top to the front. There are two mesh pockets on the sides that are large enough to take water bottles, snacks, tents or whatever plus a very large external mesh pocket. There are two ice axe loops and two pieces of fabric above the water bottle pockets that help support the seams and could be used to trap tent poles if stored in the side pockets. Two shoulder straps are used to carry the pack although Ray Jardine recommends just using one at a time and alternating the shoulder doing the carrying. There is no sternum strap, no hip belt, lashing or compression system or anything else. Structure of the pack is made by using your sleeping pad and other gear.

The vital statistics of the Golite Breeze are:

  1. Weight 400g or 14 ounces
  2. Main pockets 47.52 litres or 2900 ci
  3. Mesh pockets 13.93 litres or 840 ci
  4. Total capacity 61.45 litres or 3740 ci
  5. Carrying weight 9 kg ideal, 11.4 kg max or 20lbs ideal, 25lbs max

Clearly, this is a pack for backpackers who follow ultralight principles and are good at packing loads in a backpack. Those were the reasons I wanted the Breeze along with its low weight. In addition, it has sufficient volume to carry spare insulation in colder weather. Living in the UK I find a lot of UL packs too small to do this and, sadly, the UK climate often requires a microfleece or similar to be carried. It’s not the weight but the volume that’s the problem.

My Breeze only arrived today so I haven’t had chance to even begin to test it properly although I did throw random gear in up to the recommended carry weight and walked around with it. My first impressions were a) packing is crucial for comfort, b) I didn’t miss the hipbelt at all, and c) I wasn’t aware of any discomfort on my shoulders. However, it’s early days yet and I need to get some trail miles in before I’ll know for sure but I think the Ray Way is might be the way to go! To end this blog here are some pics of the Breeze.

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OMM 3.5 litre waist pack

OMM are a long-established British company make lightweight gear for runners and backpackers. Their products are distinguished by design, functionality, low weight and robustness. This little pack is no exception weighing 150g and is very well made.

There is one large pocket plus two side pockets – the side pockets are closed by elasticated webbing and are suitable for holding gel bars, etc. They also have a key clip in each one. I was a bit dubious about the safety of items held in these but, in practice, nothing has fallen out and the easy accessibility is a great thing to have when on the move.

The main pocket is closed by a dual zip as is common on this type of pack. It also has a key clip sewn in. Other than that it is just a large, empty pocket for carrying stuff in. Simple and effective! My guess is the capacity of the main pocket is a fraction over three litres with the side pockets making the total up to 3.5 litres.

On the top is an elasticated shock cord run through webbing tabs in a figure of eight. The cord can be tightened by a little plastic lock. The cord has two functions: a) to hold something like a windshirt firmly on top of the pack, or b) to help compress and stabilise the pack if it’s not full. There are two plastic grips on the bottom of the pack that the cord can be ran through for this job. In practice, this is a useful addition to the pack but if you don’t want it then it’s easy to remove and refix the shockcord as required.

With a bit of ingenuity it’s possible to use the bottom clips and the shockcord tabs to fasten the waist pack onto a rucksack if you don’t want to wear it but this depends on what rucksack you’re using.

The materials that make up the pack are all very light and extremely strong. I should add I have other pieces of OMM kit made from the same material that have given me years of dependable service so I know this pack will perform well for many years to come. Stitching is first class. The waist belt is adjustable and, once tightened, doesn’t come loose. There are padded areas on the belt to aid a comfortable fit. The logo and detailing are reflective so you can been seen on the road.

Wearing the pack shows the cleverness of the design. It moulds to the body and the padded areas absorb shocks from the contents of the pack when in motion. Crucially, the pack does not impede the motion of the body. Again, simple and effective.

If you’re a runner or a backpacker who needs a bit more volume to carry water, clothing, food or whatever then this pack is a very good option. It is a top quality waist pack that does exactly what it is supposed to do and will reliably continue to do so for many years. It is constructed to a high standard with robust, but very light, materials and the design is extremely well thought out. It works!

Here are some images of the pack that I’ve taken from the OMM website

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Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn revisited.

Some time back I wrote about my initial thoughts on this shelter and how impressed I was with it. Since then, I’ve been able to get out and about a few times and use it in anger; the most recent being a four-day backpack in the Peak District that I organised for the Backpackers UK Club.

I was impressed before trying the tarp in the field but now I’m super impressed! All the fact and figures are in my previous blog post but the reality is that is is very light to carry, really simple to get a good, taught pitch and very adaptable. From previous experience I know that it deals with rain extremely well but the latest trip was blessed with hot, sunny days and cold nights. One night there were strong gusts so I pitched the SpinnTwinn low on three sides.

There was some condensation on the inside, especially near the foot end, but that’s to be expected as the dew point was passed and, to quote Scotty, “Ye cannae beat the laws of physics”. The condensation wasn’t a problem though as nothing got wet under the tarp. A quick wipe down with a J-cloth plus a couple of good shakes and the SpinnTwinn was basically dry again.

The rest of the time I pitched the SpinnTwinn in the normal A-Frame configuration and it was fine. Again, some condensation but never a problem.

In summary, I love this tarp for its sheltering ability, loads of usable space, versatility and lightness. I know Gossamer Gear only make the new versions in Silnylon (mine is Spinnaker) but they are essentially the same and I doubt there’d be much difference in performance as Silnylon is a fine material. It’s my favourite tarp by a long chalk. I would not use the SpinnTwinn in the depths of a U.K. winter due to cold draughts -for that the Scarp 1 is my goto shelter.

Highly recommended for those of us who love tarp camping.

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ZPacks Pocket Tarp – first pitch.

It stopped raining today so I jumped at the chance to practice pitching the tarp in the back garden and I have to say I was impressed.

It’s very easy to get a good, taut pitch straight away if the supplied instructions are followed. My first attempt took about three minutes but after a couple of further goes I managed to get the tarp pitched in just under two minutes. There was very little wind which I believe made life easier but, even so, I’m in no doubt that I could get a decent pitch out in the wild equally quickly. Once erected the tarp felt very stable and much stronger than you’d believe looking at the material. There’s plenty of room for me at 5′ 10″ to lie down and be completely under cover. A pack and shoes/boots could also be kept out of the rain. Headroom in the centre is good at roughly 48 inches. The beak at the front provides more shelter from any rain coming from the back so it’s easily possible to sit up, cook and eat while being sheltered.

The tarp does sit with the sides off the ground by about 6 inches when pitched normally so it might be a bit draughty but I can’t see rain being a problem because of the angles of the sides and back. If it was getting windy I’d drop the height of the hiking pole and get the sides to the ground.
One thing that I did notice is that after about ten minutes of being pitched the tarp seems to relax and wasn’t as taught. Not enough to flap but noticeably looser. Puzzling as I thought Cuben fibre didn’t stretch. It could be because the ground was soft so the hiking pole sank in a bit, the stakes moved a little, the knots on the guy lines tightened or any combination of the three. Easy to sort out though by raising the hiking pole a tiny bit.  Pleasing that the adjustment can be done under shelter rather than outside.   Another thing that struck me was how see-through the tarp is. Here is a picture of the tarp pitched.

Next I tried to attach the ZPacks Poncho to the tarp to make a bathtub groundsheet. Try as I might I failed to get a bathtub shape so I’ve emailed Zpacks for some advice. I’m clearly doing something wrong but I’ve no idea what.  On the plus side, the poncho makes a good groundsheet and I did manage to get a small wall at the front.

One thing that I did learn was the poncho is large enough to seal the front up if the wind, or rain, changes direction. Simply slide the ground sheet towards the front of the tarp – there’s still loads of room to lie down and keep your stuff off the wet ground and on the ground sheet. There’s a handy mitten hook on elasticated cord where the pole sits at the top and there are some loops on the poncho which just reach. Clip the loops to the mitten hook and your protected from rain and wind. The elasticated mitten hook is at full stretch so I’ve added a couple of spectra guyline loops to take the tension off. So that’s good- there is nothing more depressing than repitching a tarp in the dark when the rain is falling.

Next stop is to try the setup for real in the wild.

Here’s some pictures of the tarp plus groundsheet. Note how transparent the tarp is.

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Mother Nature and hiking hokum

It is getting onto winter in the UK. Winter is a time that I hate as I take no pleasure in long nights or damp, grey and cold nights. Years ago I decided that I was a child of the sun and that hibernating animals have got the right idea. But I had a bit of a “Road to Damascus” moment recently.

I was in a large outdoor  gear shop the other day and, from where I was standing, I could see a lot of the advertising material for the products and something stuck me that I’d never noticed before. All the promotional guff had the same message that boiled down to “Nature is our enemy”. I’m sure you’ll have seen the same things:

  • Rain is something to be avoided at all costs by using some wonderful membrane,
  • Night time must be banished with ever-more powerful headtorches,
  • Wind will destroy your tent unless you have the Acme Geodesic Super-Mid,
  • You’ve got to go further, faster, lighter because…….,
  • Cold is something to be terrified of so use the latest down jackets, sleeping bags and other bits of kit.

And so forth indefinitely. Well, it struck me in a flash that, in the main, it is complete hokum designed to prise cash from your wallet. The whole point of backpacking is not to go further, faster but to savour the world. I know of no backpacker who is at war with nature. They love it and respect it but they don’t want to fight it.

Undeniably, being cold and wet is a miserable experience and, equally undeniably, those factors can kill. Despite having very good gear I have experienced hypothermia twice (and it is not pleasant) but all waterproofs will event leak or stop venting to the same effect – once wet you get cold. Likewise, really high winds can batter tents to smithereens but we don’t often get extremely high winds in the UK – if your shelter can stand a 40-50mph wind in summer then it can in winter. Even so I accept that if you’re doing a polar expedition or whatever you will need kit that can stand up to a lot of beating.

But for the most of us hiking and backing are not extreme sports; we walk between destinations, pitch a shelter, cook, sleep, get up and repeat. Provided we have some common sense and carry a spare set of warm, dry clothing, a decent sleep system and shelter we will be fine. Especially if that common sense tells us not to camp on a high summit in  gale force winds but to take shelter lower down. Even better if that same common sense says “Hang on, this weather isn’t too good so lets do a different route or abort the trip”. Surely we should have the brains to look at the weather forecast and not take a shelter designed for high summer out into the hills in gale force winds?

So I have decided to stop being influenced by all the stuff I read in magazine reviews, see in shops and pick up from forums, web sites and other sources. Although I’m not advocating the abandonment of good shells, warm layers and a decent shelter I’m not going to fight nature anymore. Rather I will accept that I will get wet and/or cold, realise it is fine to sit in the dark and rely on common sense to deal with those problems and allow me to embrace winter as a friend. So, a sea change in attitude in that I will go with the flow rather than glower throughout the winter. I really am going to try and enjoy the long nights, the cold and the damp.


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Condensation: a soggy tale. 

I’ve just got back from a backpacking trip in the Peak District. It’s late autumn now and winter is not far away so it’s chilly. The UK tends to be humid enough that the dampness at this time of year makes it feel colder than it is. So, out came my Henry Shires TarpTent called the Scarp 1. 

The Scarp 1 is an excellent double-skinned shelter with two side entrances and very roomy for one. It handles bad weather very well, the inner is draught-proof and it’s warm too. Thoroughly recommended as a 3-4 season tent. 

However, in conditions that are still, cool and damp condensation is inevitable on the fly sheet. I’ll stress it’s not a problem as regards liveability because the inner is designed so well but both sides of the fly get wet. If the wind gets up then the excellent ventilation options of the Scarp 1 work well at reducing condensation. In low/no wind situations though the Scarp is as bad as any other single-hoop design. The laws of physics cannot be disregarded. 

The Scarp has a detachable inner so it’s not a major issue to take down and pack the inner and fly separately after wiping down the fly but it is a faff. 

For eight months of the year I use either my Gatewood Cape or a tarp/Bivvy combo and using the Scarp reminded me why I prefer them to a “proper” tent. Simply the fact that condensation is never an issue with a semi-open shelter but it’s always something to be mindful of when using a tent.  Then there’s the extra time to deal with the condensation if the inner needs to be removed and reattached. 

Don’t get me wrong. The Scarp is a fine tent, I’d rate it as one of the best that money can buy, but I will be glad to get back to using shelters that don’t give me a condensation battle. And go back to being ultralight/ultralite (the Scarp weighs about 1300g which is about twice my normal shelter weights. Roll on Spring!

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