As this year’s TGO Challenge comes into view [only 13 weeks, apparently] I’m starting to think about whether I need to change any of my gear. Some changes have been forced on me – my 6 year old Rohan trousers and my MSR Pocket Rocket stove both gave up the ghost on last year’s trip.
Some changes are from choice, although there’s an element of compulsion there too. I’ve decided my GoLite Pinnacle rucksack is not comfortable enough for long backpacking trips, so it’s time to try something else.
This will be my 7th TGO Challenge and I’ve gradually changed my clothing and equipment from year to year. The obvious thing to do is to take less stuff or, at least, take lighter stuff. However, I now take some things that I didn’t used to take. Maybe I now realise that the relationship between grammes carried and comfort and enjoyment is not as simple as some people will have you believe.
So, what have I changed?
Rucksack: I started with a Karrimor Jaguar 65 litre pack. My spreadsheet says it is 1850 grammes, although there seem to be different flavours of this pack with a variety of weights. After a couple of Challenges, I became aware of the existence of lightweight – and even Ultra-lightweight – rucksacks. I did some research and chose a GoLite Pinnacle at half the weight of my Jaguar.
The Pinnacle has no frame of any description – just a foam pad to stiffen the back. It also has no top pocket; the top rolls down with a clip to keep it closed. I’ve used it for 3 or 4 Challenges and many other trips and it’s not a bad bit of kit ….. but it’s not perfect. Last year I found I had a painful lump on my spine where, presumably, the pack was rubbing or banging against my back. It sometimes seems like the contents of the pack are bulging towards my back and the pack has become a very ungainly pear-shape. This pack is fine for shorter backpacks but for a two week trip I need more support…… so I’ve bought an Osprey Exos 46. It would appear to be the bee’s knees. Full review to follow when I have used it.
Footwear: This was the first thing I changed after my first TGOC. I had always worn boots, cos that’s what you do. Everyone knows you have to wear boots when you go hill-walking; that’s the law. So I left Lochailort wearing my Brasher Hillmaster GTXs and by Corran I was carrying them! I walked nearly half of that year’s crossing in my Teva sandals as my boots were so uncomfortable. What works on a day trip, or on a 2-3 day camping trip, doesn’t necessarily work on a longer trip with a heavier pack on your back. I’ve always had a problem finding boots that fit properly and I now realise that those boots were probably too small and from a last that doesn’t suit me.
For my next couple of Challenges I wore Inov-8 Roclite shoes. I’ve also worn Roclite boots [the Goretex version - bad choice, IMO] and now I am on Terrocs. Yes, they don’t last long and they work out quite expensive for each mile walked – but they’re comfy and they suit me.
I don’t take my Teva sandals anymore either as I’ve found Crocs to be lighter and more comfortable for wearing in the evening. For river crossings I either just walk through in the Terrocs or change to the Crocs; it really depends how dry my feet already are and how quickly they would dry afterwards.
Something new that I didn’t used to take is Gehwol Extra footcream. I used to be sceptical of people who preached about how good their lightweight footwear was – but who had to carry creams and lotions to keep their feet in good order, but now I am a convert. Maybe it is something in the Gehwol cream, or maybe it is the action of rubbing the tired tootsies, but my feet now feel relaxed and fresh at the end of a long day – even if the rest of me is falling apart.
Sleeping system: Before my first TGO Challenge, I bought a short-length Rab Quantum 400 sleeping bag to reduce the volume and weight compared with my Ajungilak Kompakt 180. I still use the Rab bag as it packs down quite small, is warm, and has a 2-way full-length zip for ventilation. However, it does have a few cold-spots, so I now take a pair of silk pyjama bottoms for extra warmth. These are more practical than a silk sleeping bag liner and have the advantage of not looking out of place in a Youth Hostel dorm.
For a couple of years I have been using a Short length Neoair matress as it’s a lot lighter than my Thermarest Ultralite 3/4. The Neoair is also a bit longer than the Ultralite, so that was a Plus that I hadn’t considered when I bought it.
A disadvantage of the Neoair is that it gives no support or insulation if you’re sitting on it whilst making your dinner; your bottom presses right through to the floor. Partly as a result of this, I now take a cheap, thin foam sit-mat which gives me a bit of insulation whilst sitting in the tent; can be used under my feet when I’m lying on the Neoair; and makes lunch stops more comfortable if everywhere is wet.
Another additional thing I now take is a Terra Nova Moonlite sleeping bag cover. It is a very thin bivvy bag which can be used to keep my sleeping bag clean and dry in bothies and also adds a little bit of warmth in the tent if the temperature drops below freezing.
Tent: I love my Hilleberg Akto – but I’ve been using a Terra Nova Laser Competition for a couple of years as it has a lighter pack weight. On campsites, I have this little voice in my head that wants to shout “I’ve got an Akto, you know. I’m not really a Laser Comp sort of person”. I don’t know what it is, but I still feel like “an Akto person”, even though I have to admit that the Comp has cut 600g off my pack weight and there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Laser Comp – once you’ve added a few extra guys and replaced the pegs, and sealed the seams. <Sigh> I do love my Akto though </sigh>
So there’s a list of my major bits of kit and how they’ve changed since my first TGO Challenge in 2006. If anyone is interested I shall move onto the smaller items, like stoves, pans, soap, trousers etc in a future post.