Lightweight v. Ultra-lightweight — Is there a point at which kit becomes unsafe?

LOL! I found this on ICanHasCheezburger, and couldn't resist adding it...

LOL! I found this on ICanHasCheezburger, and couldn't resist adding it...

There’s been a big debate over on Andy Howell’s blog recently in relation to a comment made in the Challenge Final Report about the sort of kit that was required to cope with the conditions on the Chally this year.

The comment was:

“This was not a Challenge for the ultra-lightweight brigade; May in Scotland is now very unpredictable and you do need really good gear to help you through as well as a strong mental attitude.”

The implication is that ultra-lightweight gear isn’t ‘really good gear’, and quite a lot of people wondered what had provoked the comment, and reacted quite defensively to what they took to be a bit of an unfair pop at lightweight backpacking kit.

One of the things that I’ve found particularly interesting about the way the discussion evolved is that many of the responses didn’t draw a distinction between lightweight and ultra-lightweight camping kit. The comment in the Final Report didn’t refer to ‘lightweight’ kit, though: it referred to ‘ultra-lightweight’ kit. And difficult as it may be to know where to draw a line between the two categories, it’s clear that at some point a distinction does exist.

I’m sure the debate must have spawned many email discussions between people interested in the subject. What more interesting subject is there, after all, than how one puts together one’s backpacking kit? *g* I know I had quite a lively email exchange on the subject with a pal last week, and the thoughts I’m expressing here are a reflection of some of those that I expressed in the course of that discussion.

In the context of a debate about safety, it seems to me that it’s really clothing and warmth/shelter that we’re talking about. Obviously it’s possible to reduce weight by simply leaving behind things that aren’t actually necessary for a safe camp, but which add to the comfort and, for some of us, enjoyment of the experience. I’m thinking of stuff like books, dedicated pillows, camp shoes, evening clothes, MP3 players, the heavier/bulkier sorts of camping mattress, cameras, a wee dram, stuffed toys (!) and things of that nature. In order to be safe, though, as opposed to merely comfortable, we do need to equip ourselves with the means of remaining adequately warm and dry, and it seems to me that the comment in the Final Report must have been directed towards the kit choices that people make in order to fulfill that requirement.

Before going on I should say that I don’t know what provoked the comment in the report. It may be that one or more ultra-lightweight campers had a bad experience. Certainly the ultra-lightweight camper I walked with (Colin Ibbotson) had no problems of any sort (well, apart from his quite disgusting choice of food, that is *g*), but there were more than 350 people on the Challenge, and I only saw a small number of them, whereas the people at Challenge Control were in touch with all of them, more-or-less daily. I mention the comment, and the debate on Andy’s blog, simply because they seem to me to provide an interesting jumping off point for a discussion about how our choice of shelter impacts upon our safety.

So! Setting clothing on one side (for another day, perhaps), and simply focussing on shelter, in my mind one of the fundamental distinctions between the lightweight backpacker and the ultra-lightweight backpacker is that the UL backpacker will probably be carrying a tarp, rather than a tent.

What’s the difference between a tarp and a tent? Well I’ve long regarded Chris Townsend as the ultimate guru in relation to all things backpacking, and I hope he won’t mind if I set out the distinction as he describes it in his brilliant Backpacker’s Handbook: Third Edition, page 184.

“A tarp is a sheet of fabric that can be suspended from poles or trees to make a shelter. Once you add doors it becomes a tent, or at least a fly sheet.”

It seems to me that the relative safety of shelters lies along a spectrum, and that the sort of shelter which is permanently open at one end is always going to be more vulnerable to the elements than one that is enclosed. The reason for this is that wind can more easily get under an open structure and carry it away than it can with a shelter that is enclosed. We’ve seen hurricanes blowing houses down in other parts of the world, and so clearly it’s never possible to eliminate the risk, but the margin for error seems to me to be greater, the sturdier the shelter that we take with us.

The reason I refer to ‘margin for error’ is that the most important element in the equation appears to me to be the level of experience of the person using the kit. In warm, dry and windless conditions it’s not difficult for a novice to get through a night out in the hills. In foul conditions, though, it seems to me that an experienced UL camper is always going to be safer with his or her tarp than an inexperienced person using a tent.

Being and remaining safe isn’t simply about knowing how to put the shelter up, of course. In order to stay safe in bad conditions, it’s also necessary to know how best to move the shelter during the night if a change in wind direction renders that necessary, or (heaven forbid) re-erect it if it blows down. Most importantly of all, IMO, it’s necessary to know when it isn’t safe to go out with the available kit, or, if already out, when to go home.

Part of the way in which we develop the experience necessary to help us through difficult conditions is in meeting such conditions unexpectedly, and surviving them. If we’re honest, I suspect that quite a number of us secretly enjoy the frisson of nervous excitement that comes with exposing ourselves to the worst that nature can throw at us, and living to tell the story over a pint or around a camping stove another day. I know it’s part of why I started camping solo with a tent. There’s no doubt that I, for one, am much less likely to worry these days if a storm blows up during the night than I would have been when I first started going out. Panicked people are more likely than calm people to make bad decisions, and a novice is more likely than an experienced person to panic, since he or she doesn’t have a bank of earlier experiences to help him or her assess the level of risk created by the conditions, and decide how best to deal with it. We all know that a bad decision made in potentially life-threatening conditions can have tragic consequences, and it’s easier to make a bad decision when we’re unfamiliar with the kit we’re using.

Ultimately, though, it seems to me that there’s no getting away from the fact that some forms of shelter are inherently safer than others. If an experienced camper is backpacking in Scotland when a foul blizzard blows up and hangs around for 36 hours, with nil visibility, wind speeds of 70 mph and gusts of up to 90 mph, then I reckon that he/she is likely to be safer trying to see it out in a decent bothy than in a tent. If there isn’t a bothy available then a well made semi-geodesic tent would probably be the next safest thing. If there isn’t such a tent then something like an Akto (or a Laser Competition! *g*) would probably be the best choice. If there isn’t a tent then a tarp would certainly provide some shelter from the storm, but by virtue of its design it’s the least secure of the shelters listed above. Nobody could be absolutely sure of emerging unscathed from the experience, but the person who has access to the strongest shelter is least at risk.

Looking at it all in the round, then, what do my views on this subject amount to? It seems to me that they add up to the following.

1. Is there a point at which our choice of kit can render us unsafe in the given conditions? In my opinion, the answer is definitely “Yes!” As appears from what I’ve written above, though, I feel that the specific items of kit involved paint only part of the picture. Our degree of experience with that kit paints the rest of it.

2. Secondly, is there a necessary distinction to be drawn, when considering the relative safety of kit, between lightweight and ultra-lightweight? When we’re talking about shelters then my answer would certainly be “Yes!” Once again, though, I consider the most important factor to be the extent to which the user is experienced in the use of the kit that he or she decides to carry.

3. Finally, is it legitimate for those charged with the responsibility for monitoring our progress in potentially dangerous conditions to be aware of those distinctions, and even to experience some anxiety lest our choices lead us into danger? My feeling is “Of course!” In fact, I’d say it was inevitable. I’d hope, though, that a knowledge of the degree of experience the particular user has with the kit involved would inform the level of concern experienced by those who have to watch anxiously from a distance.

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163 Responses to Lightweight v. Ultra-lightweight — Is there a point at which kit becomes unsafe?

  1. alan.sloman says:

    Good post, Wiggly.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your summary (Points 1-3)

    It’s all about experience. It does worry me that some may embrace the ultralight philosophy and venture out into the hills without the necessary experience to use their kit appropriately.

    When first-time applicants fill in their entrance forms for the TGO Challenge they have are obliged to fill in the ‘experience’ form. This means that route vetters and the organisers in Challenge Control can take a view on the person’s safety should they not hear from them after a while.

    So the Challenge organisation does take into each individual’s experience.

  2. peewiglet says:

    Good post, Wiggly.

    Ta! I do think there’s a real issue, and I understand why the organisers might be concerned. At the same time, though, I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to simply write off certain sorts of kit in a wholesale sort of way, as being fundamentally inappropriate.

  3. Humphrey Weightman says:

    Shirley – an excellent and well-reasoned post. Some time back there was a lively discussion about shelters, and my own contribution was that, in my opinion, you should be able to get into a warm dry environment and secure and protect your essentials – sleep and food systems – in total darkness and in extreme weather in under five minutes. I have certainly done this with both my Akto and Laser Competition. To be frank, I beleive that the Akto has the edge in this regard. And here comes the rub! If you’re embarking on an extended trip in potentially unstable conditions, do you go for a weight saving of 500gm?

    I fully understand the ultra-light philosophy, and I beleive that even those of us who may classify ourselves as “Light” have much to learn from Colin and his compradres. But, to take up Alan’s point, this route demands a full practical understanding of the equipment. I simply don’t have Colin’s experience and knowledge of these specialised systems at present, and I’m currently happy to accept the minor weight penalty.

    When I took on a complete end-to-end traverse of the GR11 in 1999 I set out far beyond the optimum season, and carried full winter equipment. Even tho’ ice-axe, carmpons and associated equipment weighed in at around 1.75kg, and I was using a old – 2kg – Akto my pack weight was around 13kg. I learnt a great deal on this trip, mostly to trust my equipment and to judge risk.

    To my mind second only to shelter is your sleep system. I currently use a custom-made PHD bag with an Exped mattress – yet I’m seriously impressed with your comments on the Neo-Air. On an extended – beyond seven-day – trip it’s vital to maintain a good physical and mental configuration. Interrupted sleep patterns will destroy any apparent gain from weight reduction. Serious ultra-light practioners understand this, and typically they’ve evolved a shelter/sleep-sytem matrix that matches their personal metabolism.

    You can’t buy this off the shelf! The move from light to ultra-light is’nt a matter of maxing out the credit card. It’s a complex and reasoned process.

    I guess by now you can see where I’m coming from. In the context of the TGO Challenge the vetters have an unenviable task. Challengers who completed a number of times are a known quantity. But new entrants are on an honour system, and “experience” may take many forms. A lifetime following way-marked trails, idly scraping remnants of scrambled egg from your thinning beard may suffice for some. Others may rejoice in gnarly bouldering with a post-punk soundtrack. I agree that first-timers are encouraged to take a low-level route – and I kicked against that particular trace myself, but it was good and well-meant advice.

    Should they be quizzed on their gear choices? I don’t know. Possibly. Oh, go for it, yes.

    Shelter. Safety. Speed. The system doesn’t matter. The deployment is crucial.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hello Humphrey 🙂

      What a great post!

      You’ve raised some issues I’d thought about but didn’t address.

      And here comes the rub! If you’re embarking on an extended trip in potentially unstable conditions, do you go for a weight saving of 500gm?

      I certainly wouldn’t if I doubted the ability of the tent in question to cope with the conditions. Indeed, sometimes I choose to carry a heavier tent (my Mountain Equipment Dragonfly) in what are likely to be very wet conditions, simply because I find it more comfortable. I don’t really like extended camping in heavy rain, and so I do what I can to make the experience less miserable. For that reason I took the Dragonfly on the Pennine Way in March last year, and on the Dales Way late last autumn, even though it weighs about 2.1kg as opposed to the LC’s 960g(ish).

      I simply don’t have Colin’s experience and knowledge of these specialised systems at present, and I’m currently happy to accept the minor weight penalty.

      Same here. More than that, though, I know it will never be possible for me to get my weight down to anything even approaching ultra-light, because there are simply too many luxury items I need to take in order to enjoy the experience. That doesn’t currently bother me at all, because I’m quite happy carrying the things I take. Of course, my feelings may change as my knees begin to give out.

      To my mind second only to shelter is your sleep system.

      Agreed.

      On an extended – beyond seven-day – trip it’s vital to maintain a good physical and mental configuration. Interrupted sleep patterns will destroy any apparent gain from weight reduction.

      Absolutely! Stress, fatigue and just simple discomfort all make it more difficult to cope. In good conditions that simply spoils a person’s camping trip, but in bad conditions they can amount to a recipe for disaster.

      About first-timers you say:

      Should they be quizzed on their gear choices? I don’t know. Possibly. Oh, go for it, yes.

      That’s the only point I’m not quite sure about. I’m entirely sure that it would be a legitimate question, but, the more interventionist the organisers choose to be, the greater the risk that it could be argued, if something were to go wrong, that they’d assumed responsiblity for what are currently the individual Challenger’s decisions.

      A person might try to argue, for instance, “My tent/tarp was ripped to shreds by the wind, and my highly paid backpacking expert now tells me it was too flimsy for the conditions. You asked what I was taking when I applied, though, and I told you, and you said it was okay and gave me a place.” It’s an increasingly litigious world, and in some places arguments more specious than that have succeeded in courts. I think the organisers (and vetters) have a very difficult balancing act to perform.

  4. Martin Rye says:

    A fine post there. I find it amusing the Akto gets hailed the wonder tent after this years event. I have seen a lot photos of them used on this years event posted on the web in the last few weeks. have not seen many well pitched ones. Your point on experience is good. Knowing where and how to pitch it matters more than just having a storm proof tent. Saying that being able to walk a few miles more to the bothy or sheltered valley helps more than being burden down with heavy claimed indestructible kit stuck in a exposed spot, tired and worn down with a heavy load in bad weather. Light kit and good fitness will allow you to move faster and further in bad weather to get to a safer place to camp. Fitness and skill combined with experience weight nothing. Used with light kit it is much more preferable than using heavy kit.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Martin,

      Apologies for the delay in replying–I didn’t spot your post until I suddenly received a pile of notifications in my Inbox.

      I used to have an Akto and I don’t think I ever managed to pitch it well. I’ve never been sure whether the problem lay with me or with the tent, but after a very windy night at Sprinkling Tarn when I kept waking up to find the inner lying on my face, and had to keep getting out to replace the pegs, I decided the time had come to swap it for something else.

      Yes, I think experience, and familiarity with one’s kit, are very important. There can never be any guarantee of safety, but experience and familiarity with the kit seem to me to be the best way to minimise the risk.

  5. Humphrey Weightman says:

    Martin – interesting points. I guess that it’s important to draw a distinction between the equipement per se and the operator. I’ve got a ’53 Telecaster, but I can’t make like Keith Richards. But I can pitch an Akto in storm force winds in five minutes in a high mountain environment. I’ve endured two days of sustained severe wind and torrential rain with no loss of (moral or physical) integrity at 2500m in the same shelter. In September last year I was caught in an intense electrical storm that shifted to heavy hail followed by 10cm of snow at around 2200m. My shelter at that time was a Laser Competition.

    Sometimes you simply don’t have the opportunity to walk away from the situation. You are deliberately moving into a potentailly hostile environment, and you’ve made a personal risk assessment, predicated on your accumulated experience and your knowledge and trust in your equipment.

    Both the Akto and the Competition are excellent shelters. The Akto may be marginally faster to pitch and has greater stability in extreme situations – by extreme I mean sustained multi-directional winds of over 80km per hour over more than a 12 hour period combined with torrential rain. I’ve been in these conditions in an Akto and slept like a babe…

    I’ve been in a Laser in less adverse but still demanding conditions, and it too is rock-solid. I simply don’t have the skills or the ability to consider how to position a tarp to maintain a warm and dry environment under these kind of parameters.

    There’s a whole other discussion running about footware. To my mind it comes down to the terrain. If you’re going to move over snow or ice, then you need footware that will take fixed and/or flexible crampons. If you’re taking a mixed route with no significant rock or scrambling, then any of the modern sub 850gm footware will do fine. And if you do include rock-work, consider taking a dedicated pair of rock-shoes for those passages, rather than try for an all-purpose solution. It’s your life.

  6. Martin Rye says:

    Humphrey I like both tents and use the Laser Competition as I sold the Akto. I must admit I have been in many a Laser VS Akto debate on the forums. But that is not the point in discussion. Experience to use kit carried simple comes with getting out in the hills in bad weather. It does not come with reading TGO magazines. If people got wet boots and dealt with issues that come up in poor weather they will be better equipped to deal with it on the Challenge. I meet a person pulling out of the 2006 Challenge on his first day. He had too heavy a load and could not hack it. To be honest I doubt he had backpacked before with the kit he had or he would have known how it would effect him on the trail. Grumps told me he had pulled out the same in 2005 as well – He had not even been up a hill on the Challenge. Heavy kit or light kit is not the issue. What is needed is experience and ability need to be under the spotlight more than kit. Putting an emphasis on getting a bit fitter and doing some training walks to see how the kit you are going to take on the Challenge works in bad weather needs to be promoted in my view. That way more people will be less surprised when the heavens open and the rivers flood. Saying light kit is not suitable for the Challenge is nonsense. What is unsuitable is not telling the truth on the application, not training, nor having any experience of Scotland in bad weather (unless you are from abroad) and not trying the kit you are taking out on walks before going. Trail shoes are fantastic in my view. I use them in all weathers except full winter up high in the snow conditions. Those who say they are not suitable need to point out how we missed realising they are unsuitable waking over Munro summits and miles of of path walking in Scotland. I like your points by the way.

  7. John Hesp says:

    Just got back from Cornwall and am surprised to still see this running.

    “…quite a lot of people wondered what had provoked the comment, and reacted quite defensively to what they took to be a bit of an unfair pop at lightweight backpacking kit” … PW

    That’s an understatement Shirl!!

    I still don’t see the comment as a criticism, just an observation. As you point out, some gear is better than others in certain conditions.

    I personally took heavier gear than I would have done if conditions had been milder. If my (imaginary) twin brother had done the Challenge with my lighter kit he would have had a more uncomfortable time than I did. I know this as a fact. To paraphrase Roger, “This was not a Challenge for the ultra-lightweight John”.

    That’s not to say the lightweight John was in danger, just that he wouldn’t have been as comfortable as I was.

    On the other hand, if the weather had been like I’ve just had in Cornwall I would have been more uncomfortable with my heavier kit.

    Let’s face it Shirl, I seem to remember a certain amount of discontent amongst some Challengers whilst the event was still underway. Was this just an argument waiting to happen? On ecan’t help speculating why a peson might be discontent…… 🙂

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi John,

      Cornwall, eh? I hope that doesn’t mean you’ve been skimping on finishing your writeup… *g*

      It wasn’t my intention to carry on the debate on Andy’s page. That debate was specifically about the comment in the Final Report, but I was thinking more about the distinction between lightweight and ultra-lightweight shelters, and how our choice of shelter affects our ability to be, and stay, safe in adverse conditions.

      I feel we need more expertise and experience to be safe under a tarp than we do in a well made and sturdy tent. I’m not an engineer, though, and it may be that not everybody agrees.

      As for discontent along the way, well there’s always going to be some muttering about sore feet/tired shoulders/aching backs/endless rain/scorching sunshine etc from tired people carrying tents across Scotland. I’m not sure what sort of discontent you have in mind, though. Do you mean discontent in relation to people’s choice of shelters? If so, I didn’t hear it. I know the debate about appropriate footwear lingers on, but this time round I didn’t really hear much about it on the crossing.

      • John Hesp says:

        I was supposed to take my notebooks with me and carry on writing it up on the beach whilst Jack played. Unfortunately I forgot to take my trip notes 😦

        Had to build sandcastles instead 🙂

        Sorry to hijack your thread. I thought you were discussing the merits of shelters within the context of Roger’s comment, and I think Roger’s comment has been misinterpreted. But enough of that.

        For my part, I’m in no doubt that whilst the tarp has many advantages it’s lower down the shelter scale than a tent (with The Savoy at the top of the scale and a sack at the bottom of the scale). That’s not to say that a tarp’s not suitable for the Challenge (Highlanders used to move about the Highlands with very little kit other than the clothing they were stood up in), it’s just not suitable for me, a confirmed softy. 🙂

        Re discontent. On the Challenge I seem to remember a rumbling background rumour that some ultra lightweighters had been the butt of some jokes and wern’t happy about it. Something like that. It seemed to me to be a continuation of an ongoing “problem”.

        Unlike this wonderful work-of-art/blog, some blogs seem to be rebels without a cause, looking for some “serious” matter to discuss.

    • peewiglet says:

      I was supposed to take my notebooks with me and carry on writing it up on the beach whilst Jack played. Unfortunately I forgot to take my trip notes 😦

      Tut, tut, tut!!!

      Well, I can’t really bash you around too hard, I suppose. I took a couple of days off from the endless scribbling myself, and I’m only just half way through Day 9. Must get back to it *g*

  8. Martin Rye says:

    John have you asked if all the ultra light Challenges where uncomfortable? Did their 600g down sleeping bags rated to -2 not keep them warm? Where they uncomfortable in trail shoes and blister free. maybe the 500g Waterproofs kept the water out but they missed out on a bit of heat with not carrying a winter rated one. Then Many of them used Paramo tops so that does not make sense as well. Fact is they did fine. How many Ultra light Challenges failed to make it across Vs the 40lb pack ones? Walking across Scotland is the Challenge after all.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Martin,

      I think there’s a definitional issue here re: lighweight v. ultra-lightweight. I asked Colin what weight actually ‘qualifies’ as ultra-light, and I think he said it’s less than 5 kilos. (If I’ve misunderstood then I hope that somebody will correct me.)

      According to that definition, I don’t think there can have been many ultra-lightweight people on the crossing. I’d have thought that most of us using trail shoes, light(ish) rucksacks, light tents, light sleeping bags and light mattresses fall into the ‘lightweight’ category instead. I was surprised that people didn’t seem to be drawing that distinction in the discussion on Andy’s blog.

      Have I got this wrong?

  9. John Hesp says:

    “John have you asked if all the ultra light Challenges where uncomfortable?” … Martin

    Ha! You know I haven’t. I’m sure very few would say they were uncomfortable. Comfort is subjective and relative; we were all uncomfortable relative to two weeks in The Savoy, so in a way it would be absurd for a person to say they were comfortable, but there’s surely no doubt that a tarp and very light sleeping bag isn’t as comfortable as a tent and heavier sleeping bag when it’s cold and windy?

    Putting aside people’s own opinions of whether they were comfortable or not*, let’s look at a bigger picture. Imagine there was an upper weight limit for kit. This year it was (say) 12kg, next year it’ll be 11kg, the following year 10kg and so on. At some point people are going to notice that they aren’t as comfortable as they were with heavier kit. 0kg of kit just isn’t as comfy as even 5kg of kit, and if the weather was such as we just had it’ll be even more uncomfy. That’s how I read Roger’s comment.

    John (Devil’s advocate 🙂 )

    * By the way, I’m not talking about whether ulta-lightweighters were able to do the Challenge or not, and I don’t think Roger was either, despite what some have read into his comment.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi John,

      “Comfort is subjective and relative; we were all uncomfortable relative to two weeks in The Savoy, so in a way it would be absurd for a person to say they were comfortable, but there’s surely no doubt that a tarp and very light sleeping bag isn’t as comfortable as a tent and heavier sleeping bag when it’s cold and windy?”

      To be fair, any discussion of comfort v. discomfort on the Challenge is always going to be set in the context of the sort of comfort we might hope to achieve in a tent (or under a tarp). That being the case, I’m not sure that I entirely agree with you.

      When I was doing the Pennine Way back in 2004 I was very definitely uncomfortable.

      1. The main reason was that I didn’t get a decent night’s sleep at any stage on my thin Thermarest mattress.

      2. The second reason was that my backpack dug into my back in various places, and hung heavily from my shoulders.

      3. The third reason was that my kit was too heavy in relation to my bodyweight, and finally

      4. my shoes didn’t fit properly, and they weren’t sturdy enough to protect my feet (and legs) against trauma from the weight of the kit I was carrying.

      I therefore spent every night tossing and turning on my mattress, with pain (quite possibly from shin splints) shooting up and down my legs from my feet to my knees. Added to that, the first 30 minutes of every day were made miserable by the pain from my blisters, after I’d shoved my feet back into their unsuitable footwear.

      When I got home I made some changes to my kit. I bought a smaller/lighter sleeping bag, and I researched mattresses and sought out one that I could actually sleep on. I also bought a comfortable pack that fitted me properly, and changed my shoes to Inov8 Roclites. Those changes made an enormous difference to my backpacking experience, but even on the Challenge in 2005 I had a recurrence of the shooting pains in my legs after I spent a day walking on roads. I’ve finally cracked that now, through a combination of further reducing the weight of the things I carry and doing my very best to avoid road walking.

      I do now consider myself to be actively comfortable when I’m camping. My kit no longer weighs me down during the day, and I’m warm and snuggly in my sleeping bag, and on my comfortable mattress, at night.

      As for being comfy under a tarp, well I haven’t used one since the three years I spent sleeping under a poncho as a student in the OTC. I’m pretty sure, though, that seasoned tarp users would tell you that they’re comfortable. As you pointed out above, there’s certainly an element of subjectivity involved when it comes to declaring ourselves comfortable or not, and presumably the tarpers wouldn’t still be tarping if they weren’t happy under their tarps 🙂

  10. John Hesp says:

    Shirl, I only mentioned the Savoy to highlight the fact that both the tent and the tarp are somewhere between The Savoy and being naked on the comfort scale. I would say the tarp is nearer being naked than a tent is, and is therefore less comfortable – all else being equal.

    Perhaps I should have thrown in a few more “all else being equal”s in my previous comments.

    You mention your Thermarest being to uncomfortable on the Pennine Way – didn’t you change to a heavier Exped mattress? 🙂

    Yes, of course if kit is uneccessarliy heavy then it causes it’s own problems, but I think one can get a bit to zealous about weight reduction. Are we really discussing lightweight v’s ultralightweight.

    To counter the Pennine Way points you make above, I say:

    i)… On the Challenge I took my Marmot Helium sleeping bag (930g) and was cold on a couple of nights. If I’d taken my PHD Minim (350g) I’d have been very uncofortable.

    By the way, one of my first purchases when I got back into backpacking in 2004 was “Beyond Backpacking” by Ray Jardine, and this was very influential. My choice of tent in 2004 was one of the first Terra Nova Laserlites for which I obtained a carbon fibre pole (they had ali poles at the time). So I’m very much playing Devil’s advocate here.

    “As for being comfy under a tarp, well I haven’t used one since the three years I spent sleeping under a poncho as a student in the OTC.”

    Please tell more 🙂 I knew a student who lived in a sidecar, upgraded to a rabbit hutch, then a wrecked boat. What’s the OTC?

    John

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi John,

      You mention your Thermarest being to uncomfortable on the Pennine Way – didn’t you change to a heavier Exped mattress?

      Yes, I did, but comfort has always been my first priority after safety. If I can’t take the things I need to enjoy the experience then I won’t bother to go. Because of that my baseweight is closer to 10kg than to 5kg, but I’m perfectly happy with it. Having said that, of course, things have moved on and I’m now using the Thermarest NeoAir, which is lighter than the T-Rest I took on the Pennine Way and just as comfortable (for me) as the Exped.

      I’ve always felt that choice of backpacking kit is an exercise in compromise, and we all choose how to make the compromise in our own way. I prefer my pack to be light rather than heavy, but I’d always rather carry a bit of extra weight in order to be comfortable than carry a lighter pack and have to make do without the things that enable me to enjoy the experience. What would be the point of going, otherwise?

      Yes, of course if kit is uneccessarliy heavy then it causes it’s own problems, but I think one can get a bit to zealous about weight reduction.

      When we’re talking about comfort (rather than safety) I don’t feel it’s meaningful to suggest that some people are over zealous about weight reduction. Camping’s a hobby, and we only do it for fun. The way in which individuals choose to do it is a reflection of what they’re hoping to get out of the experience. I’m looking for a comfortable night snuggled up in my tent with a good book, but some people derive enormous satisfaction from whittling down the weight of their kit as an end in itself. They regard it as a personal challenge. If they’re enjoying the experience, and they’ve taken what they can reasonably expect to need in order to be safe, how can it be said that they’re over zealous about reducing weight?

      Are we really discussing lightweight v’s ultralightweight.

      Well, I am!

      To counter the Pennine Way points you make above, I say:

      i)… On the Challenge I took my Marmot Helium sleeping bag (930g) and was cold on a couple of nights. If I’d taken my PHD Minim (350g) I’d have been very uncofortable.

      I wasn’t suggesting that lightening one’s kit always leads to greater comfort–see, for instance, the mattresses I’ve been using since the Pennine Way, and also what I said a few posts earlier about my choice to carry a heavier tent when I’m expecting consistent rain. I was arguing against your suggestion that it isn’t possible to be comfortable whilst backpacking 🙂

      “As for being comfy under a tarp, well I haven’t used one since the three years I spent sleeping under a poncho as a student in the OTC.”

      Please tell more 🙂 I knew a student who lived in a sidecar, upgraded to a rabbit hutch, then a wrecked boat. What’s the OTC?

      The OTC is the Officer Training Corps. It’s a sort of student Territorial Army that I did when I was at Uni. When camping out we made bivvis out of army ponchos, tying them onto trees with bits of string (or, as we grew more experienced, bunjie cords). They’re therefore tarps, but smaller, and less easy to erect, than the ones people tend to use for backpacking.

  11. John Hesp says:

    I agree with you.

    My comment about being over zealous was not well phrased. When Colin described making a water carrier from a bag from Tesco on Andy’s blog I was one of the ones who supported him.

    What I really meant was not so much being zealous about cutting weight down as being zealous in defending lighweight gear. It’s almost like blokes supporting a football team. Perhaps the word “zealous” is a bit strong.

    “I was arguing against your suggestion that it isn’t possible to be comfortable whilst backpacking”

    Well it’s all relative isn’t it. It’s generally reasonably comfortable when backpacking, but I know some people 🙂 opted for a hotel or other indoors accomodation for some nights on the Challenge.

    • peewiglet says:

      What I really meant was not so much being zealous about cutting weight down as being zealous in defending lighweight gear. It’s almost like blokes supporting a football team. Perhaps the word “zealous” is a bit strong.

      Ah, I see what you mean now.

      Well it’s all relative isn’t it. It’s generally reasonably comfortable when backpacking, but I know some people 🙂 opted for a hotel or other indoors accomodation for some nights on the Challenge.

      Is there an inconsistency there that I’ve missed? *g* I like chicken but sometimes I eat fish. Etc…

  12. Mike fae Dundee says:

    Hi peewiglet.
    Nice blog.:)

    The weight categories are basically a US invention, that are just a bit of fun, but can become addictive.;)
    Lightweight is classed as a base-weight under 20lbs (9.071kg), UL is under 10lbs (4.535 kg) and SUL is under 5lbs (2.267kg).

    Some US backpackers in more settled climes try to get a sub 1lb baseweight!:)

    • peewiglet says:

      Thanks, Mike 🙂

      And thank you for explaining about the weight categories. I keep meaning to go and check out backpackinglight.com, but I’ve been too disorganised to get round to it yet. I suspect there’s a lot of info about that over there.

  13. John Hesp says:

    By all means stay in an hotel (and eat chicken or fish), and if it’s more comfortable than the tent all the better. 🙂

    I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to be comfortable when backpacking (“I was arguing against your suggestion that it isn’t possible to be comfortable whilst backpacking” ..PW )as that implies a binary “it’s comfortable” or “it’s uncomfortable”. I’m saying that on my comfortometer it’s not at the top of the scale. Although I’ve forgotten why I was saying that now 😦

    I’d like to argue about something else now, would you?

    J 🙂 hn

    • peewiglet says:

      LOL! You shouldn’t have told me that you like to argue *g*

      Okay, let’s choose a new topic. Hmmm… Akto v. Laser Competition? Leather boot v. trail shoe? Lined boot v. unlined? Should we carry a GPS? How about a mobile? Free-range v. unhappy wee creatures? There’s plenty of stuff out there to go at *g*

  14. alan.sloman says:

    Jeez!

    I like Humph’s post – but don’t worry Humph: I’ve seen Keith Richards tying to pitch his Akto in the wind – he was crap at that. Now Mick Jagger, on the other hand…

  15. John Hesp says:

    “You shouldn’t have told me that you like to argue” … PW

    That was before I met someone so experienced at it.

    J

  16. Mike fae Dundee says:

    Because the TGO challenge is held in May, most working folk can’t manage 2 weeks. It’s only the time of year that stops me from taking part. I think the TGO ‘circle’ give a false impression of backpacking in Scotland.
    I reckon if it was held during a time that most non-proffesional/retired folk could take part, the average base-weight would halve, and Colin Ibbutsons pack would look quite familiar to a lot of ‘working’ folk.
    There’s an arguement for you! 🙂

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Mike,

      I reckon if it was held during a time that most non-proffesional/retired folk could take part, the average base-weight would halve, and Colin Ibbutsons pack would look quite familiar to a lot of ‘working’ folk.

      That’s very interesting! You could be right, though I confess that I’ve never seen anyone carrying a pack anything like as light as Colin’s on any walk I’ve ever done, whether in Scotland, England, France, Spain or Corsica.

      What makes you think that the people who can get time off for the Challenge are any less keen than those who can’t to get their pack weight right down? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that some of the retired people (NB: I said some, not all) might be more comfortable sticking with what they’ve always used, given a natural human tendency towards conservatism, there are plenty of non-retired Challengers who do, in fact, work very hard *g*. You seem to be suggesting some sort of professional v. non-professional divide in attitudes towards pack weight. That seems a little surprising to me. What makes you think that such a divide exists?

      I confess I’d always assumed that it was more likely to be the existence of school age children, with all the family responsibilities that come with them, that might interfere with a person’s ability to take two weeks off in May. Maybe I’m wrong, though.

      Heh… this is much more interesting to me than the original debate! *g*

  17. Martin Rye says:

    “no doubt that a tarp and very light sleeping bag isn’t as comfortable as a tent and heavier sleeping bag when it’s cold and windy?”

    I don’t know if you know I don’t rate tarps John. But let me say this : “your wrong”. You can be in a tarp in the cold and wind wrapped up in a sleeping bag that weighs 500g that is a hell of a lot warmer than a 1.5 kilo one. Warmth is not based on weight. It comes from the insulating material used in the bag, ground insulation and your physical well being. Add a bivvy bag and you could have a air mat as well – all light under a tarp nice and warm. Ryan Jordon was using tarps in crap weather years ago in remote wild Alaska and came to no harm. So to assume you won’t be comfortable on your Neoair mat at 260 grams with the 500 grams sleeping bag is not a good assumption. Labels like Ultra, light and sub light are pointless. We are all backpackers. Andy Howell thought the statement and attitude of some: where aimed more at those who use trail shoes more than Ultra light Challengers. Let me ask this: Why do so many using heavy equipment fail to finish? Why do we see so many low level routes blogged about? Munros too hard to do with 35lb packs?

    Mike good to hear from you. Hope the injury is behind you and you’re on the hills this summer. Your right that more folks would apply for the Challenge if it was not in May and the pack weights would come down. You would ace it (Mike uses tarps and ultra light quilts in the Highlands) I think he also might have done some munros using light kit as well. Well I know he has because we come across each other on that very risky web site Backpacking light.com. Lots UK based light weight (label I know) backpackers on there. I will get my coat now.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Martin,

      Your right that more folks would apply for the Challenge if it was not in May and the pack weights would come down.

      Why do you say that? I asked Mike when he made the same point, but he just came back with a load of prejudice about ‘middle class’ people.

      Why do you think pack weights would come down if the Challenge wasn’t in May? What is it about the people you’ve met on the Challenge that makes you think they’re not interested in reducing their pack weights?

  18. Mike fae Dundee says:

    Awright Martin. 🙂

    Only a point of view peewiglet. 😉 This is a bit of a cliche, but…..
    When i was a kid, 2 black binliners did myself and my friends for tent/sleeping bag when i went for an overnight ‘fishing’ trip in the hills. We were/are used to travelling in the hills with very little. Bloggers heve found it amazing that folk they know have just started doing the same.
    Methinks a lot of centrally heated middle-class folk have a different definition of comfort from other folk.
    Most of my peers can only get ‘trade’ holidays, so 2 weeks in May is out of the question.
    Lucky for the Challengers there isn’t a mob of Dundonians in the Fife Arms mid-challenge! 🙂

  19. peewiglet says:

    Howdy, Mike.

    Methinks a lot of centrally heated middle-class folk have a different definition of comfort from other folk.

    Well to be honest, I reckon that smacks more of blind prejudice than anything else. First there are all those assumptions you’re making about ‘middle class’ people. Secondly, there are all those assumptions you’re making about the sort of people who do the Challenge. Having done it 3 times, and met a lot of Challengers, I’m entirely sure you’re wrong on both counts. (I’m currently unemployed, btw, and signing on. Where does that place me socially? Do let me know, so that I can pigeonhole myself appropriately.)

    Most of my peers can only get ‘trade’ holidays, so 2 weeks in May is out of the question.

    That’s unlucky for you (if you’d actually *like* to have two weeks off in May to do the Challenge), but it’s not been my experience that most people are tied to ‘trade’ holidays. Is it different where you live, or just in the job you do?

    Lucky for the Challengers there isn’t a mob of Dundonians in the Fife Arms mid-challenge!

    Well I’ve never noticed Challengers making judgements about people based on where they come from, or what they do. Maybe Dundonians do, though?

  20. Martin Rye says:

    Maybe the comments from them about how they have used the same 2.5 kg rucksack, 1.5 kilo sleeping bag and kilo stove set up for years makes me think some don’t want to reduce their pack weight. On the May thing: some people I know want to do the Challenge but can’t go in May as they are for example Teachers and have work commitments they can’t get out of till the summer. They use light kit. So if more people who use light kit where on the Challenge then the average pack weight would come down. The Challenge is great and I have done two of them and would have been on this years but had to withdraw. I am not knocking the Challenge or anyone on it. Just discussing some of the views about kit and Challenger opinion on kit used.

  21. peewiglet says:

    Hi Martin,

    Maybe the comments from them about how they have used the same 2.5 kg rucksack, 1.5 kilo sleeping bag and kilo stove set up for years makes me think some don’t want to reduce their pack weight.

    Who on earth is ‘them’? Certainly there are some people who prefer to stick with what they already know, but there are also many other people who’ve made big changes to their kit even in the course of the last few years to try to bring the weight down. Have you any idea what the proportions are? I haven’t, but I do know that I noticed a lot more people carrying light packs and wearing trail shoes this year than I did in 2005 or 2006.

    On the May thing: some people I know want to do the Challenge but can’t go in May as they are for example Teachers and have work commitments they can’t get out of till the summer. They use light kit.

    Hang on a moment… Teachers form only a tiny proportion of the population. Mike mentioned people tied to trade holidays, but they form only a tiny proportion of the population too. Is it seriously being suggested here that if the Challenge took place in (for instance) August there would be a sudden influx of teachers, and people tied to trade holidays, sporting ultra-light packs with ultra-light loads?

    What is it about teachers, and people tied to trade holidays, that makes them more keen than existing Challengers to get their pack weight down? Or is this just some sort of chippy attack on ‘middle class’ people?

  22. Martin Rye says:

    I am certainly not attacking anyone. I do think if it was not in May there would be a different application mix. I have no doubt many have different kit from years before. But many don’t and it is there choice. If you want to use heavy boots and prolong the agony with a 40lb pack that is fine by me. But don’t assume light kit is not good kit and light is uncomfortable or dangerous. Not you by the way Shirl. On numbers you would have to weigh all the packs at the start and finish to get the info you are asking. One point about the proportion of the population and applicants. What is the average age of the Challengers for the last three years?. Maybe that will tell us more about who can and not get time off (think retirement). Also young backpackers who would maybe be into the latest thinking on light kit would not be on it -as they might have young families and cant be away from there partners and children from two weeks. Again that effects who can apply, but May is not the issue in that case. It just is an example of the reasons some don’t apply. Others don’t as they like me till a few years ago did not see the point of it. I walked across Scotland years before I did the Challenge. But things changed and I am glad I did.

    • peewiglet says:

      Howdy, Martin.

      Apologies if I misunderstood you. When I read what you wrote I was still reeling from what struck me as Mike’s rather peculiar slant on things *g*

      I suspect that on the Challenge attitudes towards kit form a bell curve, as they do in most walks of life. At one end I’m sure there are a few people adamantly opposed to the whole light(er)weight philosophy, because it’s not what they’ve been brought up with and they’re unwilling to embrace or countenance change. At the other end I’m sure there are a few who consider all those still carrying old-fashioned heavier kit to be reactionary idiots. Ultimately, though, I’m sure that most people fall somewhere in the middle, and simply take the kit that suits their particular requirements best, without making any judgements about what other people are carrying.

      I’m sure there are quite a lot of people who can’t get time off in May, and certainly that’s a pity. I don’t think it’s the result of some sort of class divide, though *g*

  23. alan.sloman says:

    I have added my own views on “Mike fae Dundee”s third comment over on my blog. (See “Jurassic Park”)

    Some may think it contentious, that’s why I have posted it there and not here.

  24. Humphrey Weightman says:

    Yowsa! Let the Class Wars begin! I just love it when you talk dirrrty …

    Carrying a reactionary definition of “class” as a chip upon your shoulder may well may more than the heaviest of packs. Go with Trotsky! The Revolution must continually reinvent and change or become mired in the past! I guess that’s how Frida Kahlo explained herself to Diego de Rivera after she and Leon had their love-in in Taos. And Leon was taken out with an ice-axe …

    May is probably the very best of times to cross Scotland on foot. Typically a high-pressure system comes in mid-month, there’s still snow up amongst the gnarly corries, no midges, and the world is born anew in late spring. I’ve had the good fortune to meet many like/lite minded souls over the past few years. And in the majority of cases I don’t know where they come from, or which particular “class” (so reminiscent of school, so charmingly eager to classify) they may or may not choose to be aligned/defined by.

    Hill and mountains are but themselves. And so are we who choose to embrace them.

    And, just to stir it up even more. The Saintly Margaret Thatcher empowered the finest generation of British climbers by liberating them from the constraints of “work” and paying them benefits so that they could fully embrace a full-on lifestyle of dissolute behaviour, strong drugs, alchohol and V Severe unroped first ascents.

    If my case wasn’t so heavy – 12kg including three day’s food and various unmentionable luxurys – why, I’d rest it right now.

  25. alan.sloman says:

    Brilliant, es ever, Humph!
    🙂

  26. Martin Rye says:

    Class has nothing to do with it and by the way: May is the best time for the Challenge. I have enjoyed the chat and Humphrey and John it has been a pleasure to chat as well. Mike ?????? what was all that about ??

    Anyway as before Shirley love the blog and the chat – so keep at it. Till another time.

  27. Mike fae Dundee says:

    I seem to have stirred things up a wee bit. 🙂

    Most ‘manual’ workers in Dundee can’t get 2 weeks off work in May, unless they are part of the growing ranks of the unemployed.

    I could have phrased things a bit better i suppose, but being from the lower classes, i had sunk a few beers before i posted.;)
    . The TGO challenge does come across as a bit ‘staid’, for wont of a better expression, and i was just trying to say that one doctors suffering, is another bin-mans luxury. 🙂

    And i agree with you Humphrey, the good lady Thatcher has done wonders for Scotlands future. 🙂

    I was trying to be humourous, believe it or not.;)

    • peewiglet says:

      I seem to have stirred things up a wee bit. 🙂

      No joke! Just as I thought we’d all fallen asleep *g*

      i had sunk a few beers before i posted.;)

      Ah, well… I know that feeling all right! 🙂

      I was trying to be humourous, believe it or not.;)

      Well, no lasting harm done! Wanna beer?

      *pours one into the modem*

  28. John Hesp says:

    “I don’t know if you know I don’t rate tarps John. But let me say this : “your wrong”.” … Martin

    Hello, another bolshy one!! 🙂

    “You can be in a tarp in the cold and wind wrapped up in a sleeping bag that weighs 500g that is a hell of a lot warmer than a 1.5 kilo one.”

    You CAN be, but that doesn’t make me wrong. All other things being equal (and it’s pointless making any comparisons unless you make all other things equal) the heavier sleeping bag is warmer and the heavier tent gives better shelter.

    “Let me ask this: Why do so many using heavy equipment fail to finish?”

    Perhaps there is a higher proportion using heavy kit, and so a higher proportion of those who drop out are carrying heavy kit?

    Perhaps the less experienced buy heavier kit?

    Perhaps the extra weight causes problems?

    There are many answers.

    “Why do we see so many low level routes blogged about?”

    I don’t know. Strange given that in my experience most bloggers claim to be lightweight. I guess more people do low level routes so there are more low level trip reports. Not sure what bearing this has on anything though, one doesn’t haver to climb up mountains.

    “Munros too hard to do with 35lb packs?”

    Certainly harder, but not everybody wants to do Munros. Which is the crazier use of energy, climbing up a 3000′ mountain or lugging a bottle of wine and some good coffee across rough country? Personally I’ll let the individual decide.

  29. Mike fae Dundee says:

    Thanks for the offer of a beer peewiglet, but i think i’ll go and make myself a cup of tea instead.

    I’m sorry if i upset anyone, but i thought the rush to class me as a ‘red in tooth and claw dinosaur’ on other blogs was a bit off.You can have wine drinking dinosaurs as well as beer drinking ones. 🙂

    • peewiglet says:

      Hello again 🙂

      I don’t want to resurrect the tone of last night’s brief discussion, but I think you have to bear in mind that if you choose to write stuff in public that you *know* is going to offend people then you can’t legitimately be surprised when they take offence, and react. Certainly I was offended, and clearly Alan was too.

      Alan made it clear on here that he was going to express his opinion on his own blog, so as not to clog this one up with any acrimonious exchange that might result. (Happily, there wasn’t one.) You and I both followed him over there and read what he had to say. Nothing was done or said secretly.

      Anyway, I just thought I should respond to what you wrote above. I’m glad we’ve gone on to continue with the discussion 🙂

  30. Andy Howell says:

    MIke does have a point — rant aside.

    Two weeks is a big chunk out of people’s time. I’m lucky in that I work primarily for me (as to Humph and Al) and that gives me flexibility. But even so a two week commitment is not to be sniffed at. I guess this is why the CHallenge is popular with so many early retired people.

    I have me a number of people on the Challenge who seem to do nothing else backpacking wise. Some of these folks go on and on as if this is the only great walk and Scotland is the only place to visit!

    There are some great people on the Challenge as well as some weirdos (apart from us). I’m not sure I’d want to do it every year if it stopped me walking elsewhere because of time constraint.

    Mike, you are lucky being in Dundee and having easy access to those hills, For me — and many others — a trip to Scotland is a major event.

    • peewiglet says:

      MIke does have a point — rant aside.

      Two weeks is a big chunk out of people’s time.

      Certainly, and I don’t think anyone would argue against that.

  31. Mike fae Dundee says:

    My ‘rant’ was trying to point out that the average TGO Challengers pack may not be representative of backpackers in the UK as a whole. The time of year means that a large part of society can’t take part, for various reasons.
    There are obviously some lightweight/ultra-lightweight challengers, but i get the impression the majority are a more conservative, traditional lot.

    (makes a note to himself to refrain from posting on blogs after a looong liquid lunch 🙂 )

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Mike,

      My ‘rant’ was trying to point out that the average TGO Challengers pack may not be representative of backpackers in the UK as a whole.

      I think this subject is v. interesting, which is why I’m jumping back in. Thanks for returning to the discussion 🙂

      If we had to try to define it, what would be an ‘average’ Challenge pack weight? I’m not sure: I’ve seen what appeared to be quite a broad range.

      At one end there are people who stick with the heavier sort of kit. I’m sure there are several reasons for that. First–and just as some people regard reducing their weight as a personal challenge–I’m sure there are some who take pleasure in carrying a heavy load, because carrying it from one side of Scotland to the other feels like a significant physical achievement. Secondly, replacing kit with lighter alternatives is an expensive business, and many backpackers have to operate within a budget which simply doesn’t allow them to buy new packs, tents, sleeping bags etc when the ones they already have do the business. Thirdly, I’m sure there are a few people who simply don’t *like* the idea of what they regard as new-fangled kit, so they stick determinedly with what they already know. There’ll be other reasons too, I’m sure.

      At the other end of the spectrum are the ultra-lightweight people. In my mind they’re the people like Colin who carry 5kg or less. There certainly aren’t very many of those.

      From what I’ve observed, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t organised enough (surprise, surprise…) to properly weigh my pack before I left home, but it went on the scales at the airport and I think that this year (not including water, the things I was wearing and my poles) it probably weighed about 8.5kg.

      My impression–and of course it’s only an impression–is that insofar as there’s an average it probably lies somewhere in the 10-12kg range.

      If that’s correct, then is it actually very different from what tends to be carried by backpackers in the UK as a whole? i.e. the average UK backpacker? I’m not sure it is. If it is then I think there must have been fairly significant changes to what people are carrying over the course of only the last few years. I’m only speaking on the basis of what I’ve seen people carrying when I’ve been out myself, of course.

      If nobody was prevented by work commitments from entering the Challenge then is it likely that there would be a significant change in the profile of the average Challenge pack? Well, I don’t know. Unless anyone can explain to me why it should be the case, I see no reason to suppose that the vast bulk of the UK’s would-be ultra-light backpackers lie amongst those who are unfortunate enough not to be able to enter the Challenge because they can’t get time off work.

      I suspect that if there was a sudden influx of people in their teens and 20s then there would be a weight reduction. Younger people won’t already have their backpacking kit established, and so the issue of not wishing to replace already functioning kit doesn’t arise for them. Also, they’re entering the world of backpacking kit at a time when much of it is significantly lighter than it was 10 or more years ago, and so lighter kit is what they’ll be starting out with. It’s also often (NB: not always!) the case that younger people are more receptive to change, given (as I mentioned earlier) the natural human tendency towards conservatism.

      Even assuming, though, a body of significantly youger people on the Challenge, carrying concomitantly lighter kit, would it be accurate to describe them as being more representative of backpackers in the UK as a whole than the people in their 30s, 40s or 50s? I suspect not, because it’s the group in the middle, rather than those at either end of the age spectrum, who tend to represent the average.

      So! I’ve no doubt that there are ultra-lightweight walkers out there who’d take their kit on the Challenge if work and/or other commitments didn’t prevent them from applying. I’m not convinced, though, that there would be sufficiently large numbers of them to make a significant difference to the weight of the average Challenge pack. I’m *open* to being convinced of it, though! If there are reasons to see things differently then please bring them on 🙂

  32. Mike fae Dundee says:

    I don’t think it is an ‘age’ thing, but more of a ‘cultural’ (i’m trying to avoid contoversy this time 🙂 ) thing. The folk i hike with don’t seem to need much in the way of comfort, and don’t mind ‘roughing it’. The UL thing is luxury for folk used to bivvying, and appeals to the minimalists amongst us. We never used to carry much before the UL movement started anyway.
    I can only use myself and my friends as examples i know personally. My baseweight varies between 2.5/4.5 kg, depending on shelter used, and type of walk, and slightly heavier in winter. I’m the ‘gear fanatic’ amongst a group of 5 guys i walk and backpack with regularly, but i would guess none of them carry over 7/8 kg. A few of them don’t even bother with sleeping mats, and never have done. What i was clumsily trying to say before, was that comfort is relative, and depends on what you are used to.
    We are aged late 30’s to late 40’s, btw.
    The pictures you see of heavily laden challengers are becoming unusual outwith the challenge. I would say it’s rarer to see an overloaded hiker, than someone carrying a light pack in the hills these days.

    We try to have a weeks walking together in either April or October, as that is when local workplaces ‘allow’ you to take a week off work. The 2 week summer break is ‘mine’!
    If work allowed, we would probably do the Challenge. Folk like us would probably lower the average weight carried on the Challenge, i’m sure, and the tone! 🙂

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Mike,

      Well, I see what you mean 🙂 You believe that ‘middle class’ people are less willing to rough it in the hills than ‘working’ people. (For the benefit of anyone reading this who hasn’t read what preceded it: that’s Mike’s terminology, by the way, and not mine.)

      For what it’s worth, I don’t agree. I think that there are very few people from *any* walk of life who actually enjoy bivvying, and particularly without a mat. I understand that you feel that comfort is relative, and that it depends on what we’re used to, but who from *any* walk of life in the UK today customarily sleeps on the floor rather than in a bed, either with or without a shelter? Very few other than the homeless, I reckon. I bet you and your pals don’t do it unless you’re camping. The vast majority of us are used to something much more comfortable than even the cushiest of tents and mattresses, let alone comfortless bivvies.

      Further to that, there really isn’t a lot more I can say in relation this ‘cultural’ thing. It sounds as though you’ve made up your mind, and of course you’re entitled to your opinion, and to express it. I can tell you, though, that I’ve met all sorts of people on the Challenge. Most of the time I have no idea what they do for the other 50 weeks in the year, but I do know from conversations I’ve had with some of the Challengers I’ve met that they include both manual workers and high powered professionals. Against that background, I’ve not noticed any sort of relationship between occupation and the kit people carry, and indeed the only 2 Challengers I know who’ve used a tarp would, I’m sure, fall within your definition of ‘middle class’. I really believe that if you were to attend a convention of UK bivviers (if there’s any such word) you’d probably be very surprised about what they do and where they come from.

      The pictures you see of heavily laden challengers are becoming unusual outwith the challenge.

      I think they’re much rarer than they were even just a few years ago on the Challenge as well.

      Folk like us would probably lower the average weight carried on the Challenge, i’m sure, and the tone! 🙂

      Well given your low pack weights (and 2.5-4.5kg is very impressive, by the way!) I’ve no doubt that you’d lower the average pack weight. I reckon you’d lower the average weight in *any* congregation of UK backpackers, though. Do you really think you’re ‘average’?

      As for the tone, well once again… I think that if you actually took part in the Challenge and met the people who do it you might be very surprised. It’s a pity you can’t get the time off, and I’m sorry about it.

  33. Mike fae Dundee says:

    I stopped using the term middle-class peewiglet, as that was a mistake on my part. You seem inclined to keep reminding me of it.
    I was trying to argue, unsuccesfully it seams, that someone used to a comfortable lifestyle may need more comforts on the hill than someone from a simpler background.
    As an example, someone from a warm, centrally heated house, that works in an office, will probably need a heavier, warmer sleeping bag than an outdoor worker who sleeps in a house with no central heating.

    I’ve tried to throw in a few comments that were meant to be taken as a jest, but they seem to have had the opposite result. The ‘tone’ comment was a joke at my own expense. 🙂

    Btw, myself and my mates do enjoy bivvying, and find it comfortable.
    I’ll stop posting, as i seem to offend folk no matter what i say. Different sense of humour maybe.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi,

      I know, now, what you were trying to argue. You explained it very clearly earlier this afternoon. I was simply continuing the discussion, because I feel it’s an interesting one. I don’t agree with you, but that’s fine: it’s in the nature of debate.

      I’m sorry you thought I was offended by what you wrote in your last posting. I wasn’t: I simply didn’t agree. I also realised that what you said about lowering the tone was said tongue in cheek. I should have chucked a smiley in, but I just forgot. Apologies. I’ll be sorry if you stop posting here, because I’ve enjoyed this discussion, as well as discussions we’ve had in the past.

    • peewiglet says:

      I said, earlier:

      Alan made it clear on here that he was going to express his opinion on his own blog, so as not to clog this one up with any acrimonious exchange that might result. (Happily, there wasn’t one.)

      and

      ’ll be sorry if you stop posting here, because I’ve enjoyed this discussion, as well as discussions we’ve had in the past.

      When I wrote those things I hadn’t read the nasty stuff that you posted this afternoon over on Alan’s blog.

      Nastiness and prejudice aren’t welcome here. It’s not necessary to be offensive, maliciously provocative or just plain nasty to express a point of view in a debate. To post something offensive and then start having a go at the people one’s deliberately provoked into a reaction is childish. Stay or go as you like, but if you come back I’d appreciate it if you’d keep things civil.

  34. John Hesp says:

    I think you’re right Mike. Certainly the first people who walked the Highlands didn’t have down sleeping bags, and whatever class we like to think of ouselves now, we’re certainly a lot softer than our ancestors. A Highlander from a century ago would be quite happy wandering the Highlands with virtually no kit.

    We become acclimatised too. Somebody from a warmer climate would certainly find Scotland colder than me, and I find Scotland colder than the south of England. Why shouldn’t somebody used to a centrally heated house and office find the outdoors colder than somebody who lives in a freezing house and works outdoors.

    I’m sure a trawlerman would last much longer than me in very cold conditions.

    (Note the provocotive touch of class distinction there 🙂 )

    • peewiglet says:

      (Note the provocotive touch of class distinction there 🙂 )

      Hi John,

      It’s one thing to play devil’s advocate in order to stimulate debate, and quite another to try to stir up ill feeling. The former is welcome on here, but the latter isn’t.

      • John Hesp says:

        Not Devil’s Adviocate, just trying to stir up a smile PW (hence the smiley) – hoping to carry on the discussion on a lighter note.

        Of course, you’re quite right to warn against stiring up ill feeling; but I’m sure I’m not alone in being surprised that this is such a sensitive issue. If Mike’s remark is considered offensive I’d better shut up for a while as I know I’ve said worse than that 😦

        “There seems to be a new rule that says you are not allowed to offend anybody – you can’t offend the Irish, you can’t offend the Scottish, you can’t even offend the Welsh anymore…………It is a politically correct approach that regards free speech with suspicion – as if we all want it just so we can be spiteful and hateful all the time.” …. John Mortimer

        I find it hard to believe that Mike’s comment was spiteful or hateful, but I’ve no way of knowing that except that he says it wasn’t.

        John

  35. Gayle says:

    [tippy-toeing quietly in and hoping not to speak out of turn]

    Mike Fae Dundee said: “The pictures you see of heavily laden challengers are becoming unusual outwith the challenge. I would say it’s rarer to see an overloaded hiker, than someone carrying a light pack in the hills these days.”

    Perhaps it’s just where I’ve been walking, but (outwith the Challenge) I see more overloaded backpackers than lightweight ones.

    Take our jaunt up the Pennine Way last year as an example. We saw no-one with packs even approaching the size of ours, but in the space of two days encountered three chaps who had packs in excess of 40lbs. One chap (whose pack weight we didn’t find out; seemed a bit rude when he stopped us to beg some sun cream to say “So, how heavy is your pack and what in the world is in there?”) was carrying a monstrous thing that must have been 70 litres, with all of his camping gear hanging off the outside (I really, really wish I had asked what was inside, given that everything he needed seemed to be outside).

    That’s not to mention the chap who had managed to get his pack down to 30lb having dispensed with all of his camping gear and resorted to B&Bs.

    Perhaps the Pennine Way is a bad example, as it may be that it generally attracts a different sort of backpacker to the open (un-waymarked) hills. Or maybe it’s that I notice the big packs and gloss over the little ones, but I definitely have the impression that there are more people carrying monstrous packs out there than there are little packs (which is, of course, just fine if that is with what they are happy).

    • peewiglet says:

      [tippy-toeing quietly in and hoping not to speak out of turn]

      No need to tippy-toe. All points of view are welcome here 🙂

      Perhaps it’s just where I’ve been walking, but (outwith the Challenge) I see more overloaded backpackers than lightweight ones.

      That’s been my experience too. I’m rather relieved to read you saying it too, as I was beginning to wonder whether I’d been wandering around with my eyes closed 🙂

      • John Hesp says:

        Me too. I wasn’t going to say anything either, but my window looks out on the South West Way and and I see an awful lot of people struggling under mammoth loads.

        Of course the ultra lightweighters could be passing unseen, mistaken for day walkers.

  36. Martin Rye says:

    John me again.

    “Perhaps there is a higher proportion using heavy kit, and so a higher proportion of those who drop out are carrying heavy kit?”

    Perhaps your right. I wonder if they went light and got rid of the 2.5kg packs, tents, and the like they might get that well done from Roger at the end.

    “Perhaps the less experienced buy heavier kit?”

    Not sure but I reckon the myth that heavy kit is going to keep you safe has a lot to do with it.

    “Perhaps the extra weight causes problems?”

    Agree.

    “Munros too hard to do with 35lb packs?

    Certainly harder, but not everybody wants to do Munros”

    Agree but do they not fancy it as the pack weight is of putting? Harder to go up with 40lb on the back than 25lb.

    Back to sleeping bags. I have a few. My heavy one is 1.1 kilos and I used it on the 2007 Challenge. Yes it kept me warm but so did a 800 gram one on the 2006 Challenge. It is not the weight but the insulation and the ability of it to keep you warm Vs the conditions encountered. Light is fine and a heavy synthetic bag can easily be out performed by a state of the art down bag with high fill power. Would concede my 1.1 kilo Lightline is hard to beat. Then I have a 950 gram one that is as warm. So what one would you take if you had a choice?

    Gayle I recall meeting a chap with an enormous pack with all the extras hanging of it in Edale once. The pack towered over him. He could not find the Youth Hostel. I asked if he realised the Pennine Way is a hard walk with all that weight on his back. His reply was: “I don’t like to walk far” It snowed the next day. Why they carry big packs for years amazes me. I did it when I got into backpacking. I was a fit and strong lad then and thought “sod this I want to enjoy myself” Been reducing pack weight since.

    • John Hesp says:

      “So what one [sleeping bag] would you take if you had a choice?” … Martin

      I did the Challenge this year and was faced with the choice. As the weather was cold I took a Marmot Helium rather than a lighter Marmot Hydrogen, and I’m glad I did (I’m a cold sleeper). Lighter certainly wouldn’t have been better for me, but I consider both bags to be excellent performers for their weight.

      “It is not the weight but the insulation and the ability of it to keep you warm Vs the conditions encountered.”

      PW assures me that we’re discussing lightweight v’s ultralightweight here, so we can forget about synthetic sleeping bags. If you want to make a insulation/weight comparison between down bags you have to keep all other variables the same (down fill power, length and girth of bag etc). My Hydrogen and Helium make a good comparison because their essentially the same bag but the Heliumm has got more (of the same) down in it. Not surprisingly the Helium is a much warmer bag.

      Generally lowering the weight of an item is going to reduce it’s ability UNLESS some other factor changes such as material used, shape, etc. But on the whole reducing weight will make sleeping bags colder and tents frailer, that’s why we don’t see 0.1kg base weights.

      You are right that changing material can help, and all else being equal (thereit is again) it makes no sense at all to carry a heavier pack.

      I’m sure experience comes into it. It’s much easier for the novice to walk into Blacks and choose a set of equipment than it is to shop around on the www at obsure little shops looking for items which you don’t really understand. Some time ago I suggested to Bob that he put together a starter kit for newbies to get over this problem .

      John

  37. peewiglet says:

    Hi John,

    Of course, you’re quite right to warn against stiring up ill feeling; but I’m sure I’m not alone in being surprised that this is such a sensitive issue. If Mike’s remark is considered offensive I’d better shut up for a while as I know I’ve said worse than that 😦

    I’m not going to rehearse all the things that were said, because you can read them just as easily as I can.

    At the end of the day, I reckon most of the people I’ve met in the walking community–and certainly on the Challenge–are in the habit of treating people as they find them, rather than making assumptions about, and applying labels to, people based on where we think they come from, what sort of job they might have and how much money we think they might have in the bank. When people don’t do that, but choose instead to categorise people according to income and/or some sort of notional social status, then other people are likely to take offence.

    Yes, people are allowed to speak their minds in the UK. If we choose to exercise our right to free speech by making sweeping generalisations, though, then it seems to me that we shouldn’t be surprised if people are offended, and react accordingly.

    And when communication takes place in writing, rather than face-to-face, then people are naturally going to assume that we *mean* what we write.

    • John Hesp says:

      Well I was going to shut up because I find this thread quite disturbing at a personal level (had a headache all day thinking about it), but on the other hand it is interesting, and I might learn something I didn’t know, although I’m not sure I’ll like it.

      “When people don’t do that, but choose instead to categorise people according to income and/or some sort of notional social status, then other people are likely to take offence.” … PW

      I genuinely find this an alien and alarming idea. I can understand it if one was accused of being a murderer or similar, but the idea that I would be offended if people assumed I was a millionaire, a docker, middle class or homeless is something that has never occured to me.

      No wonder the world’s so full of antagonism and strife.

      No wonder too that I’m such an unpopular person.

      • peewiglet says:

        Hi John,

        Like you, I find this an interesting subject and so that’s why I’m responding to what you said above.

        What you say sounds so odd to me that I can’t help wondering whether we’re somehow writing at cross purposes.

        To me it seems obvious that we should treat people as individuals, and take them as we find them, rather than pigeonhole them according to where we believe they might fit into a ‘class’ system and assume that we know how they’re going to behave, according to the ‘class’ we’ve assigned them to. I find it very hard to believe that you would do any such thing.

        You quoted part of what I said, but you left out the bit that set it in context. Here’s the whole paragraph again.

        At the end of the day, I reckon most of the people I’ve met in the walking community–and certainly on the Challenge–are in the habit of treating people as they find them, rather than making assumptions about, and applying labels to, people based on where we think they come from, what sort of job they might have and how much money we think they might have in the bank. When people don’t do that, but choose instead to categorise people according to income and/or some sort of notional social status, then other people are likely to take offence. PW

        So, it’s not the fact of simply taking a guess at a person’s occupation, and/or slotting them into some sort of class or status construct, that’s offensive. The problem arises when people go further than that, and allow those preconceived notions to affect the way they treat other people.

        Pigeon-holing people on the basis of ‘class’ is what led to the dispute here, but unreasoning prejudice of *all* sorts is offensive. All the anti-discrimination legislation was introduced because, before it existed, people were free to allow their prejudices to determine the way they treated people, and that wasn’t fair. Employers were free to pay women less than men for doing the same job. They were allowed to turn job applicants down because they were female, or black or gay. Landlords were allowed to have signs on the door saying things like “No blacks or Irish.”

        It’s against that background that I wrote:

        “When people don’t [treat people as they find them], but choose instead to categorise people according to income and/or some sort of notional social status, then other people are likely to take offence. PW”

        Is that really an alien and alarming idea? Again: maybe we’re somehow at cross purposes…?

  38. philt says:

    It’s amazing how a discussion about carrying less weight whilst backpacking can generate so much debate and, actually, hostility. I just like to carry a bit less weight and I don’t impose these views upon anyone else. In fact, I’ve not come across ANYONE in the hills that attempts to ‘convert’ people to lightweight, or indeed heavyweight, backpacking.

    I work in Construction Health and Safety, so I’m slightly conditioned to think “what’ll happen if…” or “how can that go wrong” all the time (I’m an exciting person) and I aim to eliminate the chance of me getting hurt. I know what works for me, I know how my comfort/enjoyment equilibrium lies (which is independent of my cultural situation incidentally) and I’m confident I know how to remain safe in a given situation.

    A lot of this is down to knowing your kit – knowing how it works and knowing how and when it DOESN’T work. I’m down to around 2.5Kg for my standard overnight baseweight and there’s little difference between what I’ll take for a weekend or a week actually. I prefer to buy items from cottage manufacturers where possible as you can see what goes into them, and therefore have a good idea of what they’re capable of. As these things are made in smaller quantities, and using quality, simple components they’re often considerably lighter than the mass produced ‘safe’ brand name equivalent. By simplifying kit, and trying to get multiple uses out of things, I’ve found that I’m carrying less weight quite easily. But that’s just me, remember.

    This is all a bit unstructured and lacking in focus, but by way of summary, my basic philosophy on backpacking is to ensure I’m doing things efficiently, allowing for the maximum enjoyment. I’m not an evangelical crusade, I just want to get out there and enjoy what I’m doing.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Phil,

      …my basic philosophy on backpacking is to ensure I’m doing things efficiently, allowing for the maximum enjoyment. I’m not an evangelical crusade, I just want to get out there and enjoy what I’m doing.

      Amen to that 🙂

  39. Richard says:

    Looking at the Lightweight issue from a slightly different angle, is it possible that some people view Going Lightweight as being more expensive? Tarps aside, lightweight tents, Rucksacks and sleeping bags tend to be expensive as they’re usually produced by cutting edge/high end manufacturers yet they’re the items that are usually concentrated on. The initial impression may be that it’ll cost a fortune to buy lightweight gear when in fact you can save a fair bit by taking less gear. If you cut down on the quantity and use for example aluminium pots rather than titanium where the weight difference is minimal you can use the cash saved to help purchase one of the big 3. Another example are sleeping mats, a closed cell foam mat is pretty comfortable on grassy ground, is certainly warm enough and cost as little as £5. I bought a Eurohike 2 Season which weighs under 200g, I could reduce that if I cut it down to a mummy shape 3/4 length. You can spend almost £100 on a mat alone that will actually be heavier albeit potentialy offering more comfort. I put together a theoretical gear list that weighed in at 4.8kg yet cost under £220, that didn’t include clothing/food/water though.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Richard,

      Good points!

      I’ve no doubt that cost is an issue for many people who’ve already got a set of functioning kit. There’s no doubt, though, that some of the lighter options are significantly more expensive than the heavier ones, and I’m sure that’s an issue even for people starting from scratch. The titanium v. aluminium pots provide a good example.

      It would be interesting to compare the prices of individual items in a theoretical ‘lightweight’ set of kit with those that might be found in a heavier set, and to see how much weight could actually be saved.

      Care to share your 4.8kg gear list? I’d be interested to see it 🙂

  40. Richard says:

    Aye, I posted it on OM but here it is. The big 3 are the worst offenders but they’d be really expensive to replace. That said the weight benefit would be significant. There’s only one benefit of starting with a too heavy tent (apart from cost) and thats that you’ve no choice but to look at everything else with a critical eye and be pretty ruthless.

    Shelter

    Pro Action Hike-Lite – £24.99 – 1719g

    Pegs Terra Nova 5g Ti x 6 – £14.99 – 30g

    Total – 1749g

    Cost – £39.98

    Sleeping System

    Tesco Down Bag – £34.26 – 800g

    Eurohike 2 Season Closed Cell Mat – £4.99 – 198g

    Total – 998g

    Cost – £39.25

    Cooking

    Antigravity Gear 3 Cup (700ml) Pot & Lid – £8.50 – 110g

    Antigravity Gear Pot Lifter – £2.50 – 34g

    Stove – Gelert Intensity – £12.75 – 87g

    Windshield – BPL.UK Ultralight Foil Windshield – £6.99 – 63g

    Hydration – Drinksafe Systems Travel Tap Bottle 650ml – £34.99 – 150g

    Hydration – Source Liquitainer 2.0L – £6.99 – 35g

    Total – 479g

    Cost – £72.72

    Utensils etc.

    Mug – Gelert Plastic 275ml – £0.90 – 55g

    Spork – Lifeventure Lexan Spork – £2.49 – 14g

    Total – 69g

    Cost – £3.39

    Lighting

    Energizer 3 LED Headlight – £9.95 – 70g

    Total – 70g

    Cost – £9.95

    Rucksack

    Karrimor Bobcat 65L – 1480g – £50.00

    Total – 1480g

    Cost – £50.00

    Total 4845g @ £217.78

    You could knock a bit off weight & cost by using an empty Mineral Water Bottle and Puritabs.

    I don’t think the gear listed would lead to a particularily austere existance, it’s not too far removed from my own as far as individual items go.

    I’d probably change out the sleeping bag 1st for something like an Alpkit PD 400 which should be a warmer bag even if it only saved 50g, thats a compromise for the benefit of comfort/safety. Next I’d probably look at the Rucksac, £100 might see a 500g saving in weight. That still ends up costing about £250 to save half a kg. The tent is the killer, the only cheap way is a Tarp or Tarptent from Henry Shires or the like.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Richard,

      Many thanks for posting the list.

      It’s impressive, and certainly demonstrates that it’s possible to get a fully functioning set of kit for just over £200. The fact that it’s easy to spend that on a sleeping bag alone really puts the cost into perspective. The fact that it all comes to less than 5kg makes it even *more* impressive! Much food for thought 🙂

  41. blogpackinglight says:

    Richard, you can go lighter with a rucksack within your budget by buying a Mariposa from Winwood for £100. My Mariposa Plus weighs 700g, with the integrated sleep pad it is just over 800g. It’s a really excellent rucksack and one of the most comfortable I’ve worn. The Alpkit PD400 is excellent value and very high quality. If you’re serious about a tent (as opposed to a tarp), really the Laser Comp is the right option. You can keep an eye on the Terra Nova website as they have clearance sales. Currently they have a Photon for £264.

  42. Richard says:

    Some misunderstanding here I think, that isn’t my gear list, rather it was an experiment/theory on whether it was nescessary to spend a fortune to achive a reasonably light base weight rather than a heavyweight one or whether choosing everything else carefully and cutting down on the amount of gear would off-set the obviously overweight big 3 on my list.

    The Laser Comp most definately wouldn’t be the right option for me having recently owned, modified and finally sold off my Laser in favour of a 20+ year old Phreeranger. In fact I’d go as far as to say that for low level summer use I’d actually prefer the Pro Action Hike-Lite at £24.99.

    If we assume a Base Weight of around 8kg including wet gear/extra insulating layer/ navigation tools/personal kit there are a variety of ways to achieve it.

    e.g. My Laser weighed in at around 1300g (more when I swapped to better pegs and carried a footprint) the Hike-Lite weighs in at around 1800g. If we then look at sleeping mats an Exped Synmat 7 weighs in at just over 1000g and a closed cell at as little as 200g. One costs £5 and one costs £90. Choose the Laser and Synmat and it’ll cost you £350 approx and weigh 2300g, choose the Hike-Lite and Closed Cell mat and it costs £30 (£55 if not in the sale) and weighs 2000g

    Thats what I’m getting at really, someone starting out and reading about lightweight gear would be forgiven for thinking that it’s prohibitively expensive as quite a few people seem to concentrate only on the big expensive items when there are clearly other way to go about keeping the weight as low as possible.

  43. blogpackinglight says:

    Apologies Richard I forgot your experience with the Laser, although the Comp may be better 😉

    Vango also make some good value lightweight tents. The problem is that it is expensive to go below 1.5kg.

    As you also discovered quality can be an issue, although I’ve always found Vango to be very good.

    The Mariposa though is a very good pack and not ourageously expensive!

    Did you see the article in Trail on cheap gear. I thought it was poorly researched.

  44. Richard says:

    Indeed, I’ve got 2 Vango tents, a 3 person Equinox which is fantastic for family/car camping and the no longer available F10 Nitro 100 which is really well finished, comes with a decent spares/repair kit looks very stable/strong indeed but is pretty cramped and also heavy (relatively speaking) but as always it comes down to a compromise of weight and cost.

    Regarding the Laser/Laser Comp, the idea that the comp might be a better option for me than the standard version had crossed my mind. I didn’t like the problems with the Laser especially as it wasn’t any lighter than the Phreeranger after modification/replacement pegs so wasn’t worth the hassle. I might be happier accepting the hassle if the weight saving of the comp made it worthwhile (besides, look at the potential for tinkering) 😉

  45. Richard says:

    Yes I did see the feature, typical, they didn’t go out of their way to pick the best they could at the price did they? looks like they simply picked what seemed like the worst possible items in an attempt to prove that expensive gear from the major players (and advertisers) is vastly superior and that budget kit is a waste of cash.

    Then they wonder why people belive that they’re little more than an advertising medium. Pathetic.

  46. blogpackinglight says:

    Like you I’m a fan of the Phreeranger. Have you thought about the MSR Hubba HP which is quite similar.

  47. Richard says:

    I have looked at it but (this is going to sound rich considering I’ve an Orange Hike-Lite) the colour puts me right off, I mean Lemon??

    I’ll wait a bit, something has to turn up eventually and for the time being I’ve the small heavy but new and robust Nitro 100, the much loved, spacious but long in the tooth Phreeranger and the retina burning but nice in a funny sort of way Hike-Lite. Actually the Hike-Lite (Tiger Paws as it was then) was the subject of a mini review in TGO a while back and it didn’t fare too badly at all, punched well above it’s weight. I can’t find the issue just now but I’ll look it out.

    • peewiglet says:

      I have looked at it but (this is going to sound rich considering I’ve an Orange Hike-Lite) the colour puts me right off, I mean Lemon??

      *grin* It does sound fairly repellent!

  48. Chris Townsend says:

    What a long and interesting thread! I’ll avoid the contentious class stuff but I would like to comment on how things have changed over the years and how common lightweight and ultralight backpacking actually is. I’m out in the hills in Scotland often so I see many backpackers. Most are carrying pretty big packs, especially on long distance trails like the West Highland Way. Most camps I see in the hills involve fairly big and heavy tents too. I still often meet people who regard the Akto as too tiny to be a serious tent! I’m not as light as some and usually carry a fair amount of camera gear but I still surprise people who assume I’m only out for the day. That happened twice on the Challenge this year – both times with backpackers who weren’t doing the Challenge. From my anecdotal experience I would say that the range of weights carried by Challengers is probably typical of backpackers in Scotland.

    As to footwear – well, trail shoes still get adverse comments and when I wear sandals people think they can comment about me as if I wasn’t there! I have got used to this and it amuses rather than annoys. Last year on the Challenge I wore sandals some of the time, including Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg Arete, Aonach Mor & Beag and the Grey Corries. Crossing the snow-covered summit of Aonach Beag I met a group of young men with big packs and big boots. One looked at my sandals and said, apparently to the air as it wasn’t directed at me and his companions were some distance away, “God, you even get people in sandals up here”. The tone of disgust in his voice was amazing. You’d have thought he’d caught me spray-painting the summit cairn. I smiled and said hi. He didn’t acknowledge me.

    • peewiglet says:

      Howdy Chris,

      From my anecdotal experience I would say that the range of weights carried by Challengers is probably typical of backpackers in Scotland.

      Interesting! And reassuring, too 🙂

      when I wear sandals people think they can comment about me as if I wasn’t there! […] “God, you even get people in sandals up here”. The tone of disgust in his voice was amazing. You’d have thought he’d caught me spray-painting the summit cairn. I smiled and said hi. He didn’t acknowledge me.

      LOL! That’s so incredibly rude that it’s actually funny!

      Just returning to the original subject for a moment, do you have any thoughts on what I wrote about the relative stability of tents v. tarps? I’ve assumed that open-ended tarps are inherently less stable than enclosed tents, but I’m neither an engineer nor an expert. Have I got this right, d’you think, or is it more complicated than that?

  49. Martin Rye says:

    Just think it has got more comments than Andy’s original post. All good debate except class war stuff. Well done Shirley for keeping this debate going with good questions and chat. Oh before I go. John synthetic can be light and warm. Take the light quilts used by some made by BPL. Eddie Meechan is one and wrote about them in TGO not long back. Add in the light synthetic jackets like Rab and Montane make and the debate goes on and on. Happy walking.

  50. Chris Townsend says:

    Shirley, with regard to tarps it all depends on how you pitch them! Tarps that are open at each end are suitable for calm weather and vertical rain. Lower one end to the ground and a tarp becomes much more stable. If it’s big enough you can lower both ends to the ground and still have space underneath. The number of guylines and pegging points makes a big difference too – extra ones can be easily added to most tarps. Tarps pitched as pyramids are very stable but the tarp does have to be quite big.

    A big advantage of tarps is that they can be pitched in many different ways. This does require practice of course.

  51. Colin Ibbotson says:

    Chris I agree that how you pitch is the key with tarps but I think I need to clear up what you say about tarps being open at both ends are only suitable for calm weather and vertical rain. That is certainly true with a simple rectangular tarp but not valid for a Catenary cut (curved) tarp where the rear end will normally be significantly smaller and lower to the ground than the front. The key to stability with any shelter is a good taut aerodynamic shell and plenty of pegging/guying points. I also want to comment on a couple of Shirley’s original points about tarps and the possibility of them being blown away by wind getting under. There are many different designs of tarps and these comments are only applicable to my tarp or similar design.

    Below is an email that I sent to Shirl about this article a few days ago that covers my points. Shirl I have slightly altered it but the meaning is the same.

    “A good article Shirl but of course I have to disagree on some of your tarp related stuff! A well guyed/pegged Catenary cut tarp design like mine when pitched properly with its tail into the wind is unlikely to ever blow away because of wind getting under it. This is because of a simple aerodynamic design feature which is a consequence of having a small open end exposed to the wind (inlet) and a large open end directly opposite (outlet). Any wind passing through the small inlet (possibly at great velocity) suddenly has a much larger volume to fill (under the tarp) and a massive resistance free exit (outlet) so its velocity and therefore pressure (exerted from under the tarp) is massively reduced. On my 2009 tarp design the inlet is never more than ¼ the size of the outlet and while I haven’t actually been sad enough to do the maths to confirm this I would suspect the wind will pass through the outlet at ¼ of the velocity (and therefore pressure) of that it entered. The principle is like that of a jet engine but in reverse. Jet engines have large intakes (inlet) but a relatively small exhaust (outlet) so that the air that exits the engine is pressurised and exits at a far greater velocity (and pressure) than when it entered and that gives you the thrust. In practice this theory works wonderfully and I have never had my tarp try and take off because of wind getting under it. Now should that wind do a 180 deg turn then you’ve created that jet engine in my example and you are in the s**t! That’s when you need to get up and turn the tarp round; fortunately wind directions are reasonably predictable in the UK so it doesn’t happen that often. My 2010 tarp design specifically has an even smaller inlet to reduce any lifting possibility.

    So finally consider this. Your Laser Comp is pitched as is my tarp pointing perfectly into the wind. Now Shirl I want you to become the wind monster! And I know you can do this! You will be trying your hardest to destroying our pathetic lightweight nylon shelters. You with me yet? Ok, let’s go! You aim for the Laser Comp first. You take a long run up, building your speed up to 40 mph. You hit the end of the Laser Comp full on. It protests, buckles and shakes violently but ultimately holds firm. Disappointed you’re sure you will have more success with the tarp. You take the same run up. You prepare for impact… nothing! Instead of hitting my tarp a lot of your energy disappeared straight up the inlet (because there is no rear to hit) and you get ejected out of the outlet weakened and having achieved little.

    Make some sense? Extreme examples of course and you would still have hit the tarp in places but not as many as with the Laser Comp (or any sealed shelter).”

    Finally. Please don’t complain that the maths is wrong as I haven’t done any sums to confirm my thoughts but my practical results do agree. And yes I know my example of a jet engine has been simplified!

    • peewiglet says:

      Thanks for posting, Colin 🙂 I’ve been hoping that we could get a discussion going on this.

      As I said when you sent me the email, it sounds like good sense to me but I’m not an engineer and I don’t have experience of using a tarp, so in the absence of reading a discussion between people qualified to comment I don’t really know what to think. I hope that those who do have the expertise will jump in and comment though.

    • alan.sloman says:

      Hi Colin – Nice to see you Sir!

      I may have this all wrong – I haven’t practiced structural engineering for over twenty years – but I seem to recall that when designing a structure against wind pressures, there are two pressures to consider – the ‘internal’ and external pressures – and these have handy coefficients to multiply against wind speed to arrive at an overall wind pressure on the structure.

      With a canopy – ie a structure with one or more dominant openings, the ‘internal’ coeficient is added to the ‘external’ coeficient; with a closed structure on the other hand, the internal coefficient is such that it is usually subtracted from the external coeficient.

      What this means is that there is more uplift on a canopy than there is on a closed structure.

      So – I suppose all this means is that you need more pegs to hold a tarp down than you would a zipped up tent – assuming they have the same profile presented to the wind.

      Now all this does assume that the two structures we are dealing with are rigid – which patently they are not!

      I never worked with temporary flimsy flappy structures, so if there is an engineer out there who does it would be great to hear from you!

      I do agree with Martin though – having considered all the creepy crawlies and the warmth and gear blowing about issues, i think I’ll stick to my Wanda!

      Me – I’m just a softy southerner!

      • alan.sloman says:

        I of course forgot to mention that those pressures talked about (above) are the vertical pressures on the tent. Colin is absolutely right about the horizontal forces – there will obviously be less – again assuming the same profile presented to Wiggly’s Big Wind

      • peewiglet says:

        Howdy, Alan 🙂

        Thanks for jumping in. I’m now entirely sure that I was right when I concluded, long ago, that I have no aptitude for anything even remotely connected with engineering! At the very sight of phrases such as “coefficients to multiply against wind speed” my brain went into overdrive and I fell off the chair. I’ve had to eat a bar of chocolate to restore my equilibrium *g*

    • John Hesp says:

      Colin, I like your analysis, using a potentially destructive force to create a stabalising force. But I’d like to question a few things about it.

      It kind of makes sense that as the air passes through the tarp it has to slow down (but I’m not convinced), but why do you think this lowers the pressure? In fact, it’s because the air on the top of an aeroplane wing is travelling faster that the pressure on top of the wing is lower.

      If the air was expanding to fill the larger cross section area then this would lower the pressure.

      Why don’t I think the air is slowing down? Imagine two adjacent particles of air hitting the “leading edge” of the tarp at the same instant. One particle travels over the top of the tarp the other travels under the tarp. Those two particles have to reach the other end of the tarp at the same time, and if the distance they both travel is the same, then their speed will be the same.

      If you want to slow the air right down, why not block up the “inlet” completely 🙂

      Here’s my take on what’s happening.

      If you make a similar “tarp” out of a piece of plywood with one edge on the ground and yourself holding the other edge a couple of feet off the ground, the wind will try and push it to the ground. The wind being forced upwards creates a force pushing the plywood downwards.

      So why not just block up the inlet hole? I think because there would be a lot of unstabalising turbulence behind the tarp if you did. Allowing air through the tarp allows that turbulence to mave downwind away from the tarp.

      • peewiglet says:

        Interesting stuff!

        *awaits response with interest*

      • John Hesp says:

        Sorry, had to cut that comment short as work cropped up.

        So I think the air being deflected upwards pushes the tarp downwards in the same way that a snooker ball hitting another a glancing blow causes them to mave apart.

        As for the catenary, I can see that it might seem that this might be of aerodynamic importance. I’m not sure if you think so, and I’m not sure it is. I think the advantage of the catenary is structural – it’s quite easy to distort a straight line or flat panel; harder to distort curves.

        If you’ve got a tight washing line and put some clothes out to dry it will sag. If you have a sagging washing line and put the same clothes on it won’t sag as much as the tight line did.

        John

      • alan.sloman says:

        Hi John

        I am not sure – Are you certain that you are correct in your assertion that “those two particles have to reach the other end of the tarp at the same time…”

        Surely the fact that vortices are created at the downstream edge of the tarp shows that the air beneath the tarp is travelling slower than the air on top of the tarp. If they were to travel at the same speed, and in the same direction, then no vortex would occur.

        I believe you are correct about the vortices being sent downstream by the movement of air from within the tarp though.

        I believe that the air inside the tarp does indeed slow as it works it’s way through.

      • John Hesp says:

        Alan, you’re right. If the air didn’t slow down it would be a howling gale inside the tarp, which it obviously isn’t. I was thinking of the similarity to a wing or a keel where the air/water must meet up or the foil will stall, but as you point out, a tarp is stalled.

        Nonetheless, I don’t think the slowing down of air will lower the pressure (will it?).

      • Colin Ibbotson says:

        Wow this is getting technical! I’m not a structural engineer so Alan’s theory (which i agree with) is more valid than mine. I can only offer my aeronautical engineering knowledge and my practical findings.

        Alan’s second posting about the pressures being horizontal rather than vertical are spot on, when pitched in a gale the horizontal pressure is the dominate force and explains why there is no lift of the tarp in the wind unless I’ve pitched wrong and then that wind gets in through the outlet and can’t escape through the small inlet quick enough.

        John the pressure exerted on the tarp is proportional to the wind speed. You could hold a 3*3ft piece of Silnylon above your head on a calm day with little difficulty but increase the windspeed and suddenly the force required to hold that same piece of Silnylon is much greater. You are correct about the aircraft wing theory but I’m talking about the pressure caused directly by the force of the wind on the structure whereas you are talking about a decrease in pressure caused by a drop in the density (or thinning) of the air.

        Again i think Alan’s theory is spot on about the vortex. Air passing through the inlet will generate vortices filling the large space (in relation to the inlet) under the tarp causing a decrease in the airspeed (and direct pressure on the structure) at the outlet.

        The big advantage of a Catenary cut structure is how easy it is to get a taut structure which is one of the major keys to shelter stability. A good taut structure deflects wind much easier than something that sags and catches the wind like a sail.

    • Chris Townsend says:

      Colin, I was meaning tarps with both ends open and not tarps (catenary cut or not) with one end pegged lower to the ground, which to my mind isn’t fully open. I’ve used the old GoLite Cave tarps in windy weather with the rear end pitched much lower than the front and they are pretty stable. Also I wasn’t meaning that standard rectangular tarps aren’t stable in wind – in my experience they are quite stable as the wind just rushes straight though – but rather that being in one is like being in a wind tunnel and if it rains you get soaked. It’s side winds that are the problem with tarps (and many tents), which is where guylines come in plus a low profile.

  52. andy says:

    Aye, Colin, that makes sense. Only doubt is: in cold weather, won’t all that wind rushing through a tarp have a significant wind-chill factor on the well-being of the poor soul stuck in the bivi bag? Won’t a dual skin tent like the LaserComp have the edge there in terms of comfort? So, the tarp may well have lasted the storm but the fact that wind had to be let through the structure to make the tarp storm-worthy may greatly diminish the comfort (and safety) of the person under the tarp?

    I’ve as yet no experience of tarps so I’m probably ‘talking through my small outlet’, but I’m genuinely interested in that aspect of tarp life.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Andy,

      Aye, Colin, that makes sense. Only doubt is: in cold weather, won’t all that wind rushing through a tarp have a significant wind-chill factor on the well-being of the poor soul stuck in the bivi bag? Won’t a dual skin tent like the LaserComp have the edge there in terms of comfort? So, the tarp may well have lasted the storm but the fact that wind had to be let through the structure to make the tarp storm-worthy may greatly diminish the comfort (and safety) of the person under the tarp?

      This sounds like a good point to me, but again: I’m not a tarp user and so I hope to hear from the people who are.

      Thanks for joining in. It’s such an interesting subject!

  53. Colin Ibbotson says:

    Andy remember the inlet should be small not the outlet! However you are correct,a tarp on a cold windy day in winter isn’t a warm place to be… that is until you are in the bivvy and then there is no difference from that of a tent. This is the reason why I recommend a bivvy/tarp combination for UK use outside of full summer. I also wear down trousers and hooded down vest to keep the cold off.

  54. Martin Rye says:

    A inner tent adds warmth and protection from condensation. The warmth they offer can be as much as a fleece could in some cases. I have measured big differences in temperature in and out in the porch of a tent let alone outside. Tarps have there flaws as do tents. It is hard to compare and I have tried. Don’t forget the tarp user has a bivy bag to keep the wind of. Not the comfort I would want but they accept they need to have a set up like that. They sleep warm and dry wrapped up in there down bags and bivy combos so there is not much to prove in this area. It is all about comfort and how much protection you want? They say they sleep warm and comfortable under the tarp. I say I don’t use a tarp so I have no grounds to doubt them. One point is I have yet to see the photos of them being used up high in the hills? Could someone point me to a photo of them pitched high in the wind on a munro summit? Or is it they are not up to that sort of wildcamping? To be honest I am more laissez faire about tarps than I was a year ago. Just remember if your Laser is pitched into the wind and it turns 180 deg you don’t have to get up and re-pitch it, and you have all that space and porch for sheltered cooking. In the wind the tarp is pitched low and the space to sit up is restricted as it is lowered down to deflect the wind. Then there is the insect issue…..the list goes on and on.

  55. Martin Rye says:

    I recall writing this a while back. It was from Andy Skurka’s web site and advice on tarp use. He said:

    * Pitch the shelter below treeline, where the wind will not be as strong;
    * Camp underneath a big leafy tree, which will collect driving raindrops and drop them straight down as bigger drops, which are easier to guard against; and,
    * Set up the tarp next to a big conifer, which acts as a wind- and rain-block” ”

    I said

    “Let’s explore that and draw out a few points in the context of the UK. First, we have no established treeline and this offers less shelter. Be careful camping under conifer trees in the UK as any walk in a Scottish forest will reveal fallen trees with shallow roots. The point is that what is good over there does not mean it is good over here. I also look at these points and notice he states, ‘where the wind will not be strong’. An admission of limitations? Next he points out the vulnerability of tarps to rain – suggesting leafy tree cover! And again the limits of tarps are pointed out once more – when tree cover for a wind break is needed. So why bother?” To be honest I still don’t bother. But each to his own. Tarps get used more and more in the UK, but are they they the best shelter for the wet and windy UK? is a debatable point.

  56. Colin Ibbotson says:

    Some good points Martin but I’ve certainly answered all your concerns before on Andy’s blog. However… tarp space and porch size cannot be beaten by any backpacking tent! It has to be REALY windy before I lower the front of my tarp and at 120cm high, again the tarp has the edge. Bugs? well almost all bivvys have a no-see hum netting hood are so not a major problem there. That said do not think that I’m saying a tarp is better than a tent. They are not, but they are a viable lighterweight alternative.

    Looking through my photo collection I can’t offer you any Munro summit campsite shots of my tarps but neither could I show you any from my Akto/Laserlite days, why? Well summits make poor campsites, there often rough and rocky and usually lack a water supply. It goes against what I do to have to carry heavy water up high for a camp. My perfect campsite would be off the summit next to a tarn or yes Martin in the Glen next to a burn. Sounds like an excuse? Well you can make your own opinion up about that. What I will say is if you still question the stability that is possible with tarps then speak to the likes of Alan Sloman, Andy Howell and our PW all of which saw and commented on how rock solid my tarp was. The tarp was one piece of equipment that I took on the Challenge that few questioned, one wiggle of the front pole soon shut up the doubters.

    I was just about to put this up when I noticed your second posting. Martin you cannot possibly compare a tiny superlight Cuban or Spinnaker tarp that weights less than 100g and barely covers the bivvy with my heavyweight Silnylon tarp weighing 3 times as much specifically designed for UK conditions! That’s like comparing an Akto with a pop-up child’s play tent!! Obviously not all tarps are suitable; in fact I would say most readily available ultra-light tarps are far from perfect for UK conditions. Almost all don’t have side guys which is a feature I consider absolutely essential.

  57. Martin Rye says:

    And 100 comments is the count. Colin I know this you actually use a tarp in the Uk and have set it up to reflect the needs that will effect it in the UK. So it fends of the rain and wind. Yet the main TGO lightweight article writer for example has photos of his little tarp pitched with a couple pegs and hardly any guy lines showing in the magazine. If they are going to get taken series more and more they need to have good exposure from people who have used them in poor weather and backpacked for years like you. Lets be honest you adapted your tarp to cope with the wind. Why does the TGO for example have its staff using ones that would be ripped apart on the Challenge. On camping high I am referring to the exposed nature of the hills in the UK – no tree line. I don’t doubt they work if configured like yours.

  58. andy says:

    Colin, I meant to ask this before and it’s good you’re on this thread now… In the tarp pdf file on Andy Howell’s website you’ve got a picture of a bivy bag with a built in bug net. Which make is it? So far I can only find the hooped bivis with a built in bug net, and they’re a bit on the heavy side. One option I’m considering (not so much for weight saving as for ‘freedom’) is getting a hooped bivi like the Integral Design which should be all right most of the time and a small tarp as a backup for when the weather turns nasty and for cooking if it rains.

    • Colin Ibbotson says:

      Hi Andy. That bivi is an Equinox Mummy bivi from Winwood Outdoor £39.99 with a zipped no see hum net sewn over the opening. It’s my favourite bivi for summer use as space is good and views are unspoilt. Mountain Laurel Designs makes good handmade bivi’s but they are expensive. If you go down the waterproof bivi route then look for one made from eVent they are much better than any others i have tried. A small tarp would work perfectly and increase comfort with the bivi’s you mentioned but weight will be high.

      • andy says:

        Hi Colin,

        I checked the Winwood site but the entry for the Equinox Mummy bivi for £39.99 has no mention of a bug net!

  59. Colin Ibbotson says:

    Martin i totally agree with your comments. I do think TGO are giving the wrong impression with respect to lightweight shelters and while i do have tarps that weigh in at under 100g they are only used when the forecast is good. What i do like about the lightweight TGO stuff is that it gets you thinking about things differently. Take that face mask article as an example, while i found that wearing one only made a negligible difference to my warmth, a positive side effect was a big reduction of condensation when using a fully sealed waterproof bivi. As you might expect condensation would form where any warm breath came into contact with the cold material, using a face mask drastically reduced this. Had it not been for that article in TGO then i might not have discovered that.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Martin and Colin,

      This sub-branch of the discussion (*grin*) has been very interesting and informative for me, and clarified a couple of important issues.

      Because I know virtually nothing about tarps, I hadn’t appreciated that there are different types. I’d assumed that they were all simply rectangular pieces of material, and, although I immediately recognised (when I saw it on the Challenge) that Colin’s tarp was sophisticated, I didn’t know enough to spot the important differences between what I now know to be a Catenary cut (curved) tarp with side guys and the less sophisticated structures I’d had in mind. Nor had I appreciated that Colin’s tarp is significantly heavier than some, and that it’s been designed specifically for use in UK conditions.

      I agree that it’s unfortunate if some articles directed towards tarping in the UK are not highlighting those differences, and maybe even creating the impression that the lighter tarps, without plenty of guy lines and pegging points, are the only ones available.

      For what it’s worth, I can certainly confirm that Colin’s tarp felt very solid when I saw it in Scotland. I’m sure Colin won’t mind me posting a couple of piccies of it here.

      Colin — do you feel that this sort of tarp is *equally* as stable as a decent tent in windy conditions, or simply that it’s stable *enough* as long as proper and informed care is taken when deciding where to put it up? I see that you’ve said above that you wouldn’t normally choose to camp on a summit. Neither would I, for the reasons you’ve given (access to water, likely to be rocky etc.) If, for some reason, you *wanted* to camp on a summit, though, do you believe that your tarp would be just as stable as, for instance, an Akto in windy conditions?

      • Colin Ibbotson says:

        I’ve said before Shirl, I don’t consider my tarp as stable as a well pitched Akto but that it does compare well with the Challenge favourite, a Laser Comp. It’s certainly more stable than any sub 1kg shelter I’ve seen. Would it outlast a Laser Comp in a storm? I don’t know, a Laser Comp is designed to flex and twist in the wind rather than my tarp which is all about deflecting wind with little flex. Both systems work and both systems have their limits before something gives. My tarp uses thicker (and possibly stronger) materials than the Laser Comp and only has one seam (always a weak spot). Fortunately I’ve not found the limit just yet!

  60. Podcast Bob says:

    Blimey you lot have been busy. It’s taken most of the morning to read this. LOL!

    The thread started by asking 3 questions which are difficult to answer due to the wide scope of variation which can creep into the definitions of ‘safe’, ‘experienced’ and ‘lightweight’ I’m thinking. Thus the discussion varies so widely depending on the viewpoint of the reader as they absorb any of the above.

    If the TGOC asked for a kit list, they would be opening a huge can of worms, as discussions like this would take place with every vetter as to his/her knowledge of gear and what can or can’t be done with it, and pretty soon it would fall into personal abuse I’m sure.

    As yet no one has heard back from Roger as to why he wrote what he did, what gear he was referring to and what his knowledge is of using said gear in a variety of conditions. ChrisT was going to ask him but hasn’t posted an answer as yet that I can see.

    Either way knowledge and experience is what it comes down to surely? I’ve seen many a badly pitched tents and tarps (light and normal) during the TGOC and elsewhere. Just as I’ve seen heavily laden packs being dragged along Scotland.

    However, if people are happy to do so and are enjoying themselves then surely it is up to them? I agree with the comment from PhilT above about “In fact, I’ve not come across ANYONE in the hills that attempts to ‘convert’ people to lightweight, or indeed heavyweight, backpacking.”

    That said though, my recent interview with John Cromarty reminded me, that those of us who choose to go a bit lighter and in Colin’s case loads lighter, indicate that we have a greater willingness to try new things and experiment and learn what ‘works for us’, than the ‘die hard traditionalists’.

    Q: What’s the best kit to have on the hills when things turn bad? A: The gear you have with you at the time!

    You survive = result! You learn a lot about yourself and the gear you use. You don’t = experience! You learn about yourself and the gear you use!

    I remember the OMM last year which was an excellent test of Rose and I, the tiny packs and gear we used. More importantly it tested us, our resolve and our attitude to being a bit wet and windy.

    This year when we started to take our daughter Beth up the Cairngorm plateau during the TGOC on that very windy Thursday and it became obvious that she was getting terrified at the prospect of being on the top, in what would have been gale force winds. I know Rose and I felt confident about it as we had been in those OMM conditions before, however her concerns made us aware just how wide that ‘experience’ was. So we did the right thing and backtracked.

    The same things goes for gear as well. Knowledge and experience gained just can’t be speeded up. I’m sure everyone on here has a different definition of ‘dangerous conditions’. Thus how gear will perform given any given condition, will be in direct proportion to the knowledge and experience of the person using it.

    This discussion could go on forever as there is no defined answer to meet everyone’s acceptance. However in the process of the discussion a lot of good knowledge, ideas and tips are being shared. Surely that is what this community is all about, and this has to be a good thing?

    • peewiglet says:

      Hiya Bobs,

      This discussion could go on forever as there is no defined answer to meet everyone’s acceptance. However in the process of the discussion a lot of good knowledge, ideas and tips are being shared. Surely that is what this community is all about, and this has to be a good thing?

      Spot on! I reckon it’s a great thing 🙂

    • alan.sloman says:

      Absolutely spot on Bob – especially your take on experience.

      It should stop here, really!

      Is this the longest comments section in the world, then?

  61. Martin Rye says:

    Just think I have been arguing light kit works here Colin. I use light kit. I also just say I am a backpacker. I don’t label myself or any other backpacker. We all do the same thing – walk and stay out for a night or two in the hills. The amount of time out is down to the person.

    TGO have made lightweight look stupid in my opinion. Face masks aside people read about water pistols and just ridicule the whole thing. We all knew about a year ago what the bush cooker and buddy stoves where all about. Light crampons PTC had used and told us about for free and all this information was on the blogs. TGO is so far behind with its lightweight stuff it is not worth reading the article a year after we had known about what they were writing about. Chris Townsend has written in his books about vapour barriers and using the face mask thing as well if I recall. Nothing new. Add the silly little tarp being used in staged photos in perfect weather and most astute walkers just dismiss it as rubbish. Outdoor Adventure has more on lightweight kit and does not portray it as elite fringe thing. Backpackinglight.com and the blogs will teach anyone more about light kit than TGO. You have done walks with a light tarp and found it does not work in bad weather. 08 Challenge damaged your light tarp in good weather. So how come TGO staff don’t notice this. Maybe they don’t walk in bad weather? Bit of a rant out of the way there.

    • Colin Ibbotson says:

      Again I agree with you Martin. Just a comment about that Cuben tarp you are talking about. I don’t think it was the Challenge that damaged it, as you said the weather was perfect. I had used it throughout the autumn/winter in the Cairngorms in some truly horrible weather and I think that’s what caused the damage, the Challenge just finished it off. The problems could have been down to the construction rather than the material used. Ron at Mountain Laurel uses Silnylon to reinforce the high stress areas where I had problems, a feature that my UK made tarp lacked. What’s holding me back from trying Cuben fibre again for Challenge use is that it’s very hard to attach side guys to the Cuben material. There are a number of cases of these guying points departing if you do some “googling” around and I do consider side guys essential for the Challenge.

    • Chris Townsend says:

      Martin, I don’t disagree with your comments but you are talking about one independent columnist in TGO not the magazine as a whole. I first reviewed vapour barriers in TGO in 1985! And I have described them in my books. I’ve never used the face mask but I have described putting my face inside my sleeping bag – which has much the same effect. As to tarps, well I reviewed a bunch in the June 2007 TGO and the ones I liked were not “silly little Tarps”!

  62. Martin Rye says:

    Interesting stuff Colin. The side guy line is a good addition to the tarp set up. Did I see a bath tub groundsheet in those photos. Ground water pooling solved there as well. I am impressed.

    On the Akto and Laser they each have the same weight of material for the flysheet. Some people assume the Akto is more hard wearing than the Laser. Not true if the weight of material is the same. The Akto is designed to be ridged and the Laser as you point out flex. Modification could stop this – and hence compromise its design. Also the lower end pole is not designed to take the pressure we all put it under by pitching it low pole into the wind. Terra Nova say large pole (side to the wind)into the wind. You should do a blog Colin. Be interesting to follow your use of tarps and other kit you are using.

    • Colin Ibbotson says:

      Thanks for the kind comments Martin and yes for 2009 you do see a full bathtub groundsheet. Now summer is here I have removed it but I think it will return for the winter.

      I had thought about blogging but I really don’t have the time to do a good job. At the moment I have 2 new homemade stove designs on the go, the 2010 tarp design to finalise and I’m also designing a sub 100g backpack. Need actual time on the hill to test all this stuff rather than talking about it on the net! I’m still happy doing the odd piece for Andy’s blog though.

    • peewiglet says:

      The Akto is designed to be ridged and the Laser as you point out flex. Modification could stop this – and hence compromise its design.

      Interesting point there, Martin. I’d wondered a bit about that myself, re: the possiblity of attaching extra guys to the top of the pole. (I’ve not tried that.)

      Do you think that turning the single guy running from the end into two guys might be a problem?

      You should do a blog Colin. Be interesting to follow your use of tarps and other kit you are using.

      Agreed! Colin, it would be easy to set one up. G’won… lots of us would like to see it.

  63. andy says:

    Martin, with respect, I do have both an Akto (2004) and a LaserComp (2008). As far as groundsheet *and* flysheet is concerned, there’s quite a bit of difference in the material. When I got back to the Akto after using the LaserComp the difference is indeed very noticeable—after all the Akto (tent only, without the four corner struts) weighs 1173g while the LaserComp is a 800g (without the two end struts). The Akto has a few metal rings that the Comp lacks, but the weight difference surely has to come somewhere. The Akto zips, for instance, are monster compared to the Comp’s. The funny thing is that when I first got the Akto I thought it was such a flimsy tent, used as I was to ‘traditional’ tents. After using the Comp, the Akto in comparison feels like a tank.
    So I think that it is not correct to say the materials are the same. One day I may detach the flysheets and weigh them up, but at a very unscientific level, if I touch both, I do feel a difference. Similarly, I’m always surprised when people say the Comp has a bigger porch than the Akto. I think it’s the opposite.

    Having said that, a properly pitched Comp will almost certainly take as much punishment as an Akto and although it is more fiddly to put up, you get a tauter pitch with the Comp!

    But I have to say: I’ll be giving tarps a go this year! I love the idea and I’m thinking it could be a liberating experience, whatever that means…

    As for Colin, once he cracks his perfect tarp he should patent it and set up a little US-style cottage industry from his garage!

  64. peewiglet says:

    Hi, Colin

    I’ve said before Shirl, I don’t consider my tarp as stable as a well pitched Akto but that it does compare well with the Challenge favourite, a Laser Comp. It’s certainly more stable than any sub 1kg shelter I’ve seen. Would it outlast a Laser Comp in a storm? I don’t know, a Laser Comp is designed to flex and twist in the wind rather than my tarp which is all about deflecting wind with little flex. Both systems work and both systems have their limits before something gives. My tarp uses thicker (and possibly stronger) materials than the Laser Comp and only has one seam (always a weak spot). Fortunately I’ve not found the limit just yet!

    Many thanks for clarifying. I think I’ve missed a lot of the discussion that’s taken place in the past in this area because I didn’t read any blogs at all for almost a year. Doh…

  65. Martin Rye says:

    The weight is from there web sites listing the weight of the material used. I got in a discussion a while back on BPL and did a lot of looking at the tents material used. They are the same weight. Shock to some Akto lovers and I use to be one.

    So Laser range has 50gms/m2 (super light range)

    http://www.terra-nova.co.uk/Product_Information/Fabric_Terra_Nova.html

    The Akto has Kerlon 1200 at 50gms/m2

    http://www.hilleberg.se/default-e.HTM

    The comp has a 50 cm porch running the whole length of the tent Vs the Akto which is 70cm tapering sharply to nothing. The comp has a vastly larger porch and you can lean round the end and store items. I have posted photos proving the vast difference in size. The Akto has a good porch the Laser Comp a brilliant porch and is deeper than the Laser which is 40cm but still runs the whole length of the tent. I fail to see how the Akto has more space as the head room is less and the length of each inside is 220cm. Yet the Comp has more head room and porch space.

    • peewiglet says:

      That info about the porch space in the Akto v. that in the Competition really surprised me!

      I’ve got a Competition, and I used to have an Akto, and the Akto’s porch always felt significantly larger to me. In fact, at Tarfside this year I had a look in an Akto just to remind myself of the layout, and it *still* looked like a larger porch to me than that on the Competition.

      Just looking at the Hilleberg and Terra Nova websites, the diagrams seem to suggest that the Akto porch extends 75cm out from the sleeping area to the door, whereas the Competition porch extends only 50cm out from the sleeping area to the door. Is that not correct?

      In terms of space available to cook in, when sitting in the tent, the Akto certainly felt larger to me.

      • andy says:

        I do agree on all points, Shirley. I’ve pitched both tents next to each other for comparison and kept popping in and out and the Akto felt larger. There are things that no diagram can convey, I think… The porch area that one tends to use the most is the one by the door and the Akto offers more space there. Another factor in favour of the Akto is that it is a lot easier to take the inner down to increase the size of the porch for cooking and the like. On the other hand, the Comp seems to have the edge in terms of separation between inner and outer.

  66. Martin Rye says:

    Dave woods (Red Yeti) rightly pointed out that the end is not designed to take the load we put it under by pitching short end into the wind. Two guy lines would be strong but could cause the tent to be too ridged and then fail as it was not designed to do that. MR Laser Comp PTC would has said he pitches short end into the wind and I do as well. But the tent was not design that way. It is up to you. I use the supplied guy lines and have no problems getting a tight pitch that deflects the wind well. Add in some good v stakes and its fine. One other point the Akto is 75cm deep in the porch as I made a typo with 70cm – still it tapers back to the ends sharply and is a small porch in comparison to the Laser Comp.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Martin,

      Dave woods (Red Yeti) rightly pointed out that the end is not designed to take the load we put it under by pitching short end into the wind. Two guy lines would be strong but could cause the tent to be too ridged and then fail as it was not designed to do that. MR Laser Comp PTC would has said he pitches short end into the wind and I do as well. But the tent was not design that way.

      This is something I’m often confused about when I’m actually camping. Instinct always suggests to me that the short end should go into the wind, but I’ve read that it’s meant to be done the other way round, which feels counter-intuitive.

  67. andy says:

    Martin, again, with respect, I don’t think anything major hangs on this but I’ve got both tents and when I pick them up I can tell the difference in the material blindfolded (me, not the material) and without a shadow of a doubt the groundsheet in the Akto is WAY thicker than in the Comp and the flysheet is a fair bit thicker too. Hilleberg may well be using different standards than other manufacturers (I think I read something about that on a website). I’ve no idea what the 50gms/m2 means. I’m just saying I’ve got both tents in my wardrobe. I touch one flysheet, I touch the other, and I can tell the difference in thickness. That’s all. I’m not making any scientific claim and I’m happy if you remain unconvinced!

    The liveability issue may be subjective and it may depend on the length of the cord running across the groundsheet which affects the bending of the pole. But again I can ‘feel’ the difference when I move around the two tents. Both the inside and the porch in the Comp feel more constricted. I’m saying this just to explain why there are folks who find the Akto more robust than the Comp. And after all the weight saving has got to come from somewhere, not just the butch zips on the Akto.

    I love both tents and I use them more or less interchangeably. For me the weight and especially the packability advantage of the Comp means that I’m using it more and more often than the Akto. I’ve rigged it with Dyneema guys, much longer than the TN ones and I’m confident it is as strong as the Akto. I get a tighter pitch on the fly than the Akto which is quite pleasing too. But the Comp won’t last as long for sure, especially that paper thin groundsheet.

    I repeat, I’m comparing a 2004 Akto with a 2008 Competition. I’m sure they make small modifications all the time and you may have a different comparison class in mind (a lighter, more recent Akto, an older, heavier Comp).

    They’re both superb tents and equally storm worthy. But with the Comp all my stuff for a summer overnighter fits a 22l pack. And that means the Comp wins the day for me!

    Peace.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Andy,

      But with the Comp all my stuff for a summer overnighter fits a 22l pack.

      Now that sounds brilliant! I would absolutely *love* to take such a small pack out with me for an overnighter.

      Perhaps this summer I’ll see if I can manage to do that. Clearly there are some things I’m going to have to leave at home. Hmmm…

      • andy says:

        It’s an Osprey Talon 22, which I think is perhaps closer to 25L but I’m not sure (The Talon 33 seems more capacious than the OMM Jirishanca which is supposed to be 35L. But again, I’m speaking non-scientifically…!). But yes, it’s absolutely fantastic, at times you forget you’ve got it on your back. That’s the reason why I’m so grateful to have the LaserComp around. And, to go back to the main theme of this thread: no question about it, it’s because of people like Andy H., Colin, ptc* and the like that I’ve got there. When I started backpacking again 5 years ago I took my 1980s stuff out of the loft and packed it all up for a Cairngorm trip. Got out of the car at Glenmore Lodge and put the pack on my shoulders. I could barely move! 20kg of stuff… I went ultralight a step at a time. I chipped away at every single piece of kit, always trying to see whether I could replace it with something doing the same thing (and better) for less weight. Over five years I’ve changed every single piece of kit and I’m now at 4.3kg base weight. And I do summit camping all the time. So, safe and light? Sure, but get there a bit at a time and see what does it for you. Thanks for hosting this debate, btw. Great chance to learn more about stuff. Tarp and biviis, here I come…

  68. Martin Rye says:

    Shirley the porch might be 75cm at its deepest but then cuts back from that point at around 45 degrees. So it narrows in it length to nothing. The Laser losses hardly any porch depth on its length and also has space around the end by the short pole. So you get a lot more porch space See photos on my blog. I did some illustrated photos once on a forum to prove the point as well. On the ends into the wind. It makes sense to me as it is a wind shedding profile and hence I pitch that way – Terra Nova say different. On the fly weight. The same weight of material is used according to the websites of the company’s in question. Hence I conclude they are the same weight per meter of material and must have the same or there about strength. The Akto has more weight due to a dated design. It needs to Lose a bit of weight and gain 5 to 10 cm in height. I own a Scarp one and it is less weight with out the crossover poles. Hilleberg could raise the bar. They don’t and they cost a lot of money. Hence more people are buying the Laser Comp.

    • andy says:

      Martin, I accept what you say about website data. I repeat, for the last time, and for what is worth, my basic point. The groundsheet in my Akto is substantially thicker than in my Comp. The flysheet in the Akto is a fair bit thicker than the Comp’s. I don’t care what the website says. This is a real world difference and it’s one that lots of other people have remarked upon. Hilleberg’s Kerlon 1200 is thicker than TN’s superlite flysheet. I know you’ll come back with the website figures again. Maybe TN aren’t being accurate. It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve no axe to grind. I’m not saying one tent is better than the other. I’m not saying the Comp is not strong enough. I’m certainly saying: the groundsheet won’t last as long as the Akto. They are two very similar tents but in the end they do different things. Actually I don’t like either of them. I’d like a different kind of shape. But the Comp is the lightest tent that does the job for me and that’s what I use the most.

      As for “the Akto needs to lose weight” claim: Hilleberg are targeting their tent at Scandinavian conditions. They feel that losing weight would make the tent less storm-worthy. Given that they’ve been making tents for a lot longer than I’ve been using them (I’ve got four of their tents), I’m happy to trust their judgement on that one. Luckily I could afford to buy the Comp too (or rather: I pretend that I could…) and use them according to needs. End of the story. And yes, Hilleberg tents cost more. But they’re not being made in a sweatshop in Asia and perhaps that is something that in this day and age we should also consider. You are very keen on minimising your environmental impact (i read and enjoy your blog!). Well, if you buy Hilleberg you are certainly more environmentally and ethically friendly than if you buy Terra Nova. But that’s a different can of worms. Let’s go back to tarps!

  69. Martin Rye says:

    Andy there is no axe being ground honest. Your point is good – just the weight is the same according to the firms who make them. Hilleberg make wonderful tents and if the Akto had more head room I most likely would still own one. One reason they might seem different is the coating. Hilleberg say they use three coats to make it waterproof if I recall where Terra Nova use a pressure system to coat the fly sheet? on the Laser and Comp all you need to do is unclip the inner on the toggle at the bottom to the webbing strap that runs under it. Then peg it back for a huge porch.

    http://summitandvalley.blogspot.com/2008/12/terra-nova-laser.html

    Back to tarps sounds good. Can it be the answer to all our shelter needs?

    • andy says:

      Ah! The coating might explain it!! If they use more coats than TN, that might explain why it feels substantially thicker to the touch even if it’s the same base material. I think you might have put your finger on it (literally!). The groundsheet feels thicker even at the level of the fabric, but on the other hand I’ve heard reports of people having the coating on the inside peeling off, so it might be once again a difference in the coating.

      I’ve done the unpegging trick and you do get a bit extra space (I think I picked it up on your blog actually!), but it’s not as straightforward to unclip the toggle at the top, which would give more space (I don’t do the extra peg trick that, if I recall right, you recommend, so the bottom bit keeps bouncing back on me…

      As for an answer to our shelter needs: to be honest, I think the Comp is unbeatable in weight terms. I’m going to explore the option of a hooped bivi because of a number of things: it’s a lot quicker to pitch/unpitch; you don’t have to worry about the wind picking up/changing direction; you get to stargaze. The weight is just about the same as the comp, and there’s noticeably less comfort. But I sleep in my day clothes anyway, so I think the hooped bivi could be the right solution. A small tarp as backup for torrential rain and cooking corner and I’m done.

      I loved the design of the old phoxhole as caught on camera by Streapadair. Sadly, I don’t think you get anything like that any more.

      I also wonder about this idea: with folks like Colin, Bob C. Andy H, you, and the other leading bloggers, wouldn’t it great if you all got together for a weekend of brainstorming over possible modular designs for a) shelter; b) sleeping system; c) rucksac. The idea would be to come up with a modular system that can be adapted by the user according to need and season. Different folks like different shoulder straps for their backpack, for instance. Maybe there are solutions to have replaceable straps, that sort of thing. It seems to me that there is a consensus emerging on certain things, like a Dyneema backpack is what you want if you want to be relatively light but still sturdy enough. Hip belt pockets have become a must. That sort of thing. OMM packs already have the modular idea and I think it could be taken further and applied to shelters so that you can beef up your shelter system according to the season. Again, it’s something that folks already do using only the flysheet, or the Golite systems, but we need something tailored to the UK needs. I like the Tarptent shapes for instance, like the Contrail or the Sublite. If Terra Nova did a dual tent with that shape to be used with trekking poles, I’d rush to buy it. What I’m confusedly trying to say is that I think the time may be ripe for getting all the good ideas together and getting a bunch of products that would suit the UK needs. But maybe that’s just day-dreaming. And yet Bob’s Honey Stove is a step in the right direction. The next step is shelters and packs!

  70. Martin Rye says:

    Andy it is kind of you to call me a leading blogger but I doubt that or to be honest, want that. But getting together to talk kit I like, I would also like to see like BPL.com a lightweight backpacking school in the UK. Modular kit sounds good. I would like a shelter like he Pacer tents for my Pacer Poles to double up as items for shelter. The current Pacer tents look to heavy – but there is always some one to take up the challenge. Take the Golite Shangri-La 2 Bob sells. If it had more guy lines and side guys with a half floor size bath tub I would get one. There is defiantly more scope to modify and develop kit for light weight use. Glad you like the blog by the way and hope it helps inspires and benefits your outdoor experience.

  71. peewiglet says:

    Hi Andy,

    It’s an Osprey Talon 22, which I think is perhaps closer to 25L but I’m not sure (The Talon 33 seems more capacious than the OMM Jirishanca which is supposed to be 35L. But again, I’m speaking non-scientifically…!). But yes, it’s absolutely fantastic, at times you forget you’ve got it on your back. That’s the reason why I’m so grateful to have the LaserComp around.

    Ooh, an Osprey! My favourite packs. I’ll go and look up the Talon 22. Thanks!

    […]20kg of stuff… I went ultralight a step at a time. I chipped away at every single piece of kit, always trying to see whether I could replace it with something doing the same thing (and better) for less weight. Over five years I’ve changed every single piece of kit and I’m now at 4.3kg base weight. And I do summit camping all the time.

    Very impressive! Would you mind telling me what you take on those overnighters with the Talon? I’m beginning to feel quite excited 🙂

    Thanks for hosting this debate, btw. Great chance to learn more about stuff. Tarp and biviis, here I come…

    My pleasure! I’m just delighted that people have been willing to join in 🙂

    • andy says:

      Hi Shirl,

      Well, here’s my weight list for a summer overnighter. Admittedly it’s on the Spartan side of things (the great ptc* put up his weight list the other day and he’s indulging in a lot of little luxuries in comparison…):

      – pack: Osprey Talon 22, 740g
      – tent: LaserComp (1058g, with longer guylines and better pegs)
      – groundsheet for Comp 186g
      – sleeping bag: PHD Minim Ultra, 345g
      – Silk Liner, 120g
      – Rab Ultra Bivi Bag, 188g
      – mat: NeoAir Mat 3/4, 260g
      – insulation: PHD Ultra Down Vest, 150g
      – waterproof: either Montane Litespeed H20 + Montane Featherlite or Haglofs Kaza pullover plus Haglofs Oz jacket or Parama Fuera Smock. weight between 250g and 300g
      – waterproof trousers (seldom carried actually): Montane, 285g
      – cooking system: either Tibetan 900 pot (130g) + Coleman F1 (87g) + Primus Windshield (60g) and pot cozy( 26g) or Caldera Cone system (57g) + 900 pot or Bush Cooker (201g)
      – coffee mug: Titanium mug, 61g
      – Aquagear Travel Tap, 150g (bottle only, don’t use the sac)
      – Primus lighter, 47g
      – Toilet trowel, 35g (if I go on longer trips with the Bush Cooker I may along a lovely tiny wee hatchet that weighs 300g and doubles as a trowel)
      – Midge Net, 40g
      – Survival Blanket, 65g
      – gloves, headband balaclava (for sleeping, if cold), tick remover, toothbrush = 120g
      – extra socks and bits and bobs, maybe another 150g or so

      The lot comes to about 4,4/4,5kg.

      I usually wear Montane Terra Pants or on old pair of Berghaus trews if it is a little cooler. I’ve been in prolonged rain on the Cairngorm plateau in them and I got wet but I find that I’d rather be wet than wear overtrousers in those conditions…

      I wear a Paramo Cambia plus Mountain Vent Pull-on depending on temperature.

      I camp high, mostly at Munro level and I find that one of the windshirts on top of the Paramo stuff does the job.

      I sleep clothed and if it gets cold I put on the Down Vest, which is also useful on a chilly morning.

      I’ve always been comfortable and never felt under-equipped.

      I was surprised to see everything fitted in the Talon 22 because I’d been aiming for a Talon 33, but the NeoAir made the final difference!

      I store the tent pole and pegs in one of the side pockets, where I also stow the single trekking pole when not needed. I store the Aquagear filter bottle in the other side pocket, where I also store the Caldera cone when I take it along.

      Great thing about this setup is that most of the stuff takes incredibly little space. The sleeping bag is phenomenally warm for the weight. It hasn’t got a zip and is a bit tight, but it does the job. I use the Rab bivi bag to give extra heat and avoid having to worry about condensation from the tent on muggy days.

      I couldn’t been happier, but I know it’s a bit short of luxuries as a set-up.

      Foodwise I only take a handful of cous-cous and either some jerky or one of those delicious Prince tuna steaks, or some freeze-dried chicken (which doesn’t taste too good). Breakfast is porridge (Scott’s 2 minutes apple and blaeberry!). I bake a lovely flapjack with lots of seeds, and I take a couple of sandwiches.

      As I said, I started off five years ago with a 20kg pack, and I was really like the guys Chris met at Braeriach the other day. I got to Glenmore Lodge and put on the pack and I could barely walk! Then I gritted my teeth and walked to the Fords of Avon, taking Bynack More in the process. I had planned a four day trip, I came back the day after (going up to Cairngorm from the saddle and back to the car round the Northern Corries). My shoulders ached for a week!

      I got from there to my present set-up by trial and error and progressively reduced weight item by item as I felt more confident in what I could do with the kit.

      But despite the lightweight, I camp at 900m and above most of the time!

      And it has happened that on the way down I meet very surprised walkers who made an early start and ask where the hell do I come from. When I say I camped, they look at the pack and say ‘nae!’. The just don’t believe me…

      Anyway, the key components in the weight reduction are, I think, the PHD stuff, which keeps me warm with ridiculous weight penalties. But I run hot and I sleep hot (apart from my feet!).

      So it’s very much a question of getting know what *you* can get out of your kit. We can’t assume that what works for us will work for other guys, but of course you know that yourself only too well.

      I only camp in the Highlands so I’m not sure how this would work out for something like your legendary Corsican trips!
      Best,

      Andy

  72. Chris Townsend says:

    Having been away in the hills for 24 hours I’m amazed at how this debate has grown! I’ve added comments to the posts from Colin and Martin that refer to or mention me above.

    With regard to the Akto/Comp porches. The Comp may well be longer and have space at the sides and this might be of use to some people. But I want depth in a porch so I can cook under cover safely in wet and midgey weather. In the Akto I can store my pack and footwear on the closed side and have my kitchen on the other. I don’t need any more space but I wouldn’t want any less depth. Pulling back the Comp groundsheet is okay but I’d rather just have the space all the time.

    I have an Akto and a Laser Comp here and the Akto fabric feels firmer to me. Whether it’s thicker or not is hard to tell. Both fabrics seem excellent anyway and I don’t think they’re important in the differences between the tents.

    I’ve not heard before that Aktos are designed to be rigid. Mine certainly isn’t! In very strong winds it moves a fair bit – I doubt it would stay up if it didn’t.

    Using trekking poles with tents is something I’ve written about a few times. I used trekking poles with a sample ME AR Ultralite a few years ago. I took just the flysheet plus a light groundsheet on the GR20 and it worked fine. There were some very strong winds at some of the high mountain campsites and the fly did stay up. However dust blew under the edges a few times and the noise was so great on one site that I went and bivvied under a boulder for a few hours. I’ve also used the Shangri-La 1 and 2 with trekking poles and they’re pretty good. Again I’ve just used a small light groundsheet with them. Side guys would be an improvement.

    • andy says:

      I’m glad you feel the same about the Akto’s fabric thickness (or firmness) and porch depth… I thought it was just me! Martin’s explanation concerning the number of coats applied by Hilleberg may be on the right track, but it feels nonetheless as if the Akto has got more ‘depth’ to the fabric too. Whatever. They’re both great tents. My next move is to try one of the hooped bivis. Weight is comparable, but ease of setup and stargazing potential much greater!

  73. Chris Townsend says:

    A little story about why lightweight is important. I was up on Braeraich today, having walked in over the Lairig Ghru from Whitewell yesterday and camped just south of the top of the pass. Today I wandered round into Coire Brochain then climbed the west shoulder of the corrie and round to the summit. Two day walkers were looking at the view as I arrived. They’d come from Coire Cas and had just reluctantly decided they hadn’t time to continue on to Cairn Toul. “We were going to being our camping gear and do it over two days” said one. He indicated his companion “but when she picked up her pack it was far too heavy”. They were surprised to discover I had been camping and at the weight of my pack – 11kg when I set out (which was actually quite heavy for a June overnight as I had a 2.3kg test tent and lots of camera gear). Clearly theirs had been far higher than this. They also admired my pack – a GoLite Jam 2 – and were amazed when I told them what it weighed empty. “Ours are three times that weight”. It’s for people like this that it’s worth promoting lightweight backpacking.

  74. Martin Rye says:

    Sounds a good trip Chris and yes I was pointing my comments at one section of the TGO. The walk you did sounds great. My Jam 2 arrived from Bob and Rose today. I hope it as good as the Pinnacle which has become a favourite pack.

  75. Chris Townsend says:

    Although it adds a little weight I prefer the foam/mesh back on the new Jam 2. The Dyneema back on the Pinnacle can get awfully sweaty. I’ve used the Pinnacle on the last three TGO Challenges and it is a favourite of mine too. But sometimes it’s too big which is where the Jam comes in.

    • andy says:

      I wish GoLite did an Ion pack with side pockets and hip belt pockets… Or OMM did an AdventureLite/Marathon pack in Dyneema…

  76. Podcast Bob says:

    Andy, nice ideas re brainstorming and as it happens I already have a design for another 2 stoves, a modular rucksack and tarps.

    However, having the draft idea and then doing something with it, is completely different. The truth of the matter is that the UK simply cannot support a cottage industry making such things I’m afraid, as the material and production costs are prohibitive. That is simply put, the hourly rates + overheads and materials + margin to live off!

    That said, the commitment to China for production means a minimum order of 500 pieces (and this is a peanuts order to them), bank credits, endless samples, visits to China and the worry (as happened to Alpkit) that the production team might ‘flip’ factories and when you open the container you don’t get what you actually paid for!

    So we either become a nation of Colin’s and make our own (if you can find the materials that is) which I’m happy to do on a personal level or accept what the ‘industry’ wants to supply us.

    When I visit Friedrichshafen, the Euro trade exhibition, there is plenty of gear around however ‘lightweight’ isn’t something most of mainland Europe designers have taken on board, so therefore as they dominate the manufacturing demand, they take production priority.

    This means that we can only get gear from the US, which does have a cottage industry and they also have the local numbers of enthusiasts to support them. They also have a greater manufacturing base for the sexy materials we want such as Dyneema and Pertex, so it is possible to buy it in smaller quantities as reasonable costs. Their margins are much lower as they can survive on less due to their economy.

    Now half way through me writing this, my manufacturing contact from India turned up at the office and I’ve just sent him away with some samples of materials to see if he can obtain the fabrics. If he can we could be able to do something more interesting in the next 12 months, and all those dreams (above) which I was just shooting down in a financial barrage could actually come to something!

    Strange how these things ebb and flow isn’t it?

    • peewiglet says:

      My crubeens are crossed that you can get somewhere with your manufacturing contact, Bobs.

      It’s a great pity if we’re not able to sustain the cottage industries over here that they have in the States. Certainly I’m sure that there’s no shortage of people with excellent ideas.

  77. peewiglet says:

    Hi Andy,

    Hi Colin,

    I checked the Winwood site but the entry for the Equinox Mummy bivi for £39.99 has no mention of a bug net!

    Colin will confirm, but I think he sewed the bug net in himself. By coincidence, I have the same little bivvy.

    • andy says:

      Aha! That makes sense, Shirley, thanks for explaining that. I had been scratching my head for quite a while over that neat little bug net. That’s beyond my sewing skills, I’m afraid. I’d better find a seamstress willing to experiment… [uh, that didn’t come out quite the way I meant it…)
      Ta.

  78. Richard says:

    Interesting that the subject of ‘Cottage Industry’ should come up. IMO there are a variety of resons why it won’t/can’t succeed in the UK in the same way as it has in the USA. For one thing there simply isn’t the ‘Make it Yourself’ ethos in the UK as there’s too much demand for ‘Brand Name’ goods, also the required skills aren’t as common (my wife is a qualified seamstress and you wouldn’t believe how many people will ask if she could shorten a pair of trousers!!)

    The Americans are a nation of 5th generation pioneers many of whom are still prepared to make their own gear or support those who do, once manufacture is shipped out to the Far East it’s no longer cottage industry, it’s simply small scale manufacture and as Bob has correctly pointed out the volume required to keep the cost down may well be more than can be sustained through sales. The other disadvantage in needing to order 500 units of a product is that it’s too difficult to alter the design. Look at Tinny of Minibull Design, his latest stove (Voodoo) is on it’s 3rd update already, that would require him to have sold over 1000 units of versions 1 & 2 prior to ordering 500 units of version 3.

    In addition it’s virtually impossible to have items made in the UK in small quantities, the only way is to actually make them yourself but that requires investment in tools and time, time not only to actually produce the item but to learn how to use the required tools.

    For someone wanting to produce an item they need to be able to design, manufacture, market, sell and ship the product and that brings with it a variety of problems. The amount of time required to actually produce the goods means that the worst nightmare is that you end up with orders that you can’t fill but the flipside is that if you can’t sell enough then you can’t work at it full time so it’s a vicious circle.

  79. backpackbrewer says:

    wow. what a thread of discussion!
    I have just spent 2 hours reading through all of it. I feel like I need a holiday now. 🙂
    I have been lightening my load for the past 25 years ever since the sadistic DofE nearly crippled me in my teens!
    A couple of swift observations
    I love tarps and believe that the bivvy/tarp combo is a really excellent multi season shelter that can be used in the UK. My current bivvy/tarp combo weighs 500g. If the weather is really severe, the tarp can be shed or dropped onto the bivvy as a close ground shelter
    I have a laser comp too and have had this in 70mph winds and its is a stern little tent. I have also had an akto and at the risk of upsetting people think it is a tad overrated. Its a good allround shelter to be sure but it is difficult to pitch correctly (taut and wrinkle free), is a bit heavy at 1.5kg (for me!) and doesnt do heavy snow loading
    I love lightweight backpacking as it does let me go further and quicker than ever before and the good thing is, you can occasionally drop in the luxury items without breaking the camels back 🙂
    excellent blog by the way

  80. Laura says:

    Hi Shirley – just ploughed my way through all the above. Interesting!
    My only comment is about the MSR Hubba – MY tent – the lovely (!) yellow colour keeps the inside of the tent sunny whatever the weather! There were no problems with condensation and no rain found its way in.
    Maybe not so bomb-proof as the ubiquitous Akto but it cost a lot less and I like it!
    I’ve got a great picture of it but can’t see a way to add it here.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Laura,

      Have a gin and tonic! You’ll need one if you’ve just ploughed your way through that lot! *g*

      Your Hubba sounds lovely. I’ll go and look it up.

      I tried myself to find a way to post a picture in a thread on here last week, but for some reason I couldn’t work it out. In the end I just had to put it up elsewhere and link to it here. I’m sure there must be a way to do it, though. If I can work it out I’ll let you know!

  81. Richard says:

    Hi Laura, no offence intended re.the Colour of the Hubba. A question if you don’t mind, I noticed that my Orange Hike Lite attracts insects more so than any of my green tents, I noticed the same things with my Quasar, as soon as the inner (yellow) was pitched insects made a beeline (groan) for it before the fly was on and Bill Masons in his Book ‘Song/Path of the Paddle’ recommends avoiding yellow canoes due to the way insects are attracted to yellow, have you noticed insects being drawn to the Hubba more so than less colourful tents?

  82. Laura says:

    Hi Richard – maybe you can just see them more clearly on the lighter colour? I haven’t had any problems – didn’t get any ticks on my crossing, and no midgies or even daddy-long-legs (shudders!).

  83. Richard says:

    Hi Laura, glad you had an insect free journey.

    Daddy-Long-Legs, the most uncordinated insect known to man, they don’t fly in through open windows or doors, they fall in……

  84. Michael says:

    Interesting discussion. Imcurrently looking at all my kit getting weight down. There is definatly a point at which I have to stop and think about safety and comfort however.

    • peewiglet says:

      It’s certainly interesting deciding where to draw the line. I just hope I won’t be tempted to take my new bed with me once I get used to sleeping in it *g*

  85. […] as your mental state is critical when out for any number of nights. There was a interesting debate a few months ago on peewiglets plog, which really got going and has some interesting points on the lightweight side. I will never be a […]

  86. Yucca says:

    What a useful list. I am always on the look for top lists, and your list is great starting point. Lists are very useful.
    Awesome article thanks, i’ve been wondering about this for a while.

  87. kocaali says:

    kocaali…

    […]Lightweight v. Ultra-lightweight — Is there a point at which kit becomes unsafe? « Peewiglet's Plog[…]…

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