Thanks to the 4-day weekend, I managed to squeeze in a 3-day/2-night walk and camp in the Berwyns with the aims of 1) walking a long way with a heavy weight on my back, and 2) trying out a few changes to my kit and food.
Shoes: I haven’t been wearing my Inov-8 Terrocs much over the winter and I was concerned that I may find it difficult to get used to the lack of cushioning. I do have a slight ache in my left heel, but I’ve had that for a few weeks and I don’t think it’s due to any particular footwear so I will be using Inov-8s for the Challenge. The uppers of my current pair of Terrocs are starting to fall apart so I shall use either the new pair, which I bought last time I saw an online sale, or the Flyrocs I bought at the same time. The Flyrocs look very similar to the Terrocs and I’m not sure how to decide which to use.
Socks: I was half-way to the Snake Pass reunion when I realised I had not brought any walking socks with me. I called in at Decathlon in Stockport and bought some Quechua Techwool 68% wool socks which have been very comfortable. However, they did seem to make my feet quite clammy on the Berwyns walk and I don’t want to risk blisters. I will probably stay with my Smartwool ankle socks, as they are tried and tested, but if I get the chance to pound a few more miles out of the Quechua socks then I may take them. I had such a bad experience with blisters on my first TGO Challenge I really don’t want to take any chances with something new, but that means I may miss out on something that’s better.
Pillow: I’ve had trouble finding a pillow that works with a Neoair mattress. The Neoair is a thick mattress and I’ve had the choice of putting a pillow on top of the mattress (and, in effect, making the mattress 8 inches shorter) or trying to improvise a pillow off the end of the mattress – but I could never find anything that was deep enough and didn’t give me a stiff neck. It looks like my cheapo Tesco inflatable pillow may fit the bill. If I put that on top of my half-full clothes bag then it’s the right height and wide enough to allow me to move in the night without falling off the pillow!
Mattress: At New Year, in the Lakes, my Neoair went down in the night. I found a hole and repaired it with Seamgrip. Whilst testing the repair, I found that the mattress does deflate over the course of 3 or 4 days and I thought it must have more holes in it. However, it does stay up overnight – which is all I really need for a backpacking trip – so I don’t think the seepage is bad enough to report as a fault to the manufacturers.
As well as waking up on a flat mattress, my New Year trip to the Lakes resulted in some additional ventilation to the seat of my Berghaus Paclite trousers. I repaired the trousers with NcNett Tenacious Tape and the mattress was repaired with a blob of McNett Seamgrip. I’m going to take the tape and glue with me this year. Yes, there may be ways of improvising a repair without the specialist glue and tape but I’m happy to carry a few grammes more for the peace of mind.
I’ll take the Terra Nova Laser Competition again. I noticed that the inner tent material was starting to thin where the hanging point is attached at the top of the door. I’ve strengthened it by spreading the load with a piece of Tenacious Tape.
Food and cooking
Cooking 1: For some unfathomable reason I have recently purchased a Swedish Firesteel. Whilst it is possible to light a gas stove using the Fire Steel, I soon realised that a gas lighter is so much easier. You need one hand to turn on the gas, one hand to hold the steel and another hand to strike the steel and create the spark. As I tend to take only TWO hands with me, it was distressing to hear the gas hissing its way out of the cannister while I was faffing with the striker. I’ve bought myself a couple of disposable lighters which are probably no heavier than the Fire Steel and a heck of a lot more practical. I shall save the Fire Steel for one of my “back to nature” bivi trips.
Cooking 2: A couple of years ago I made mysef a pot cosy out of metalised bubblewrap. It works well as an insulating cosy but lots of the metalic coating has worn off and I have to pick little shiny pieces out of my meals. I need to make a new cosy so am keeping my eye out for some sort of quilted fabric but will probably make it out of an old foam roll-mat.
Food 1: I have been using Oats So Simple porridge sachets for breakfast but, at 27g, they’re not big enough. This weekend I used real porridge oats. They’re cheaper and the portion size is entirely controllable. I put some Nido full-fat dried milk in and the porridge was yummy and creamy. I used 50g of oats plus 10g of milk plus 40g of dried fruit, so 100g for a breakfast which should keep me going for a couple of hours. I notice that Quaker now have a 38.5g “Big Bowl” variety of Oats so Simple, but real homemade porridge was so simple to make I can’t see why I would go back to the instant stuff.
Food 2: I found some Tiger Tiger Instant Noodles in Sainsburys a few weeks ago and the calorific value seemed almost too good to be true. If you believe the nutrition table on the packaging, one packet of these noodles will provide 692 kcals which is a lot more than the 520 kcals from a packet of Batchelors Super Pasta ‘n’ Sauce. I find these nutrition figures difficult to decipher as it’s not always clear whether they are using dry weight or a serving of the made-up product and they don’t always state what a “serving” is. Anyway, I certainly didn’t feel like I’d eaten 700 kcals after eating a packet of the Tiger Tiger noodles so these don’t appear to be the filling super-food I was hoping for. There’s a lot to be said for eating food that you enjoy and which fills you up rather than simply counting the numbers on the packet.
Food 3: Oatcakes. I know I have recently said that I’ve gone off oatcakes and will not be taking them, I have changed my mind! On this trip I had crackers and cheese on day 1 and oatcakes and cheese on day 2. The oatcakes felt more filling (and have many more calories according to the packet).
Food 4: Tea. I only took instant coffee and I really missed a cup of tea.
There are a few more preparations I need to do before The Off in less than three weeks.
Chafing: On walks with a big, heavy rucksack I end up with the skin at the base of my right hip being rubbed raw. I have never managed to work out what causes this as it seems to happen with different clothes and different rucksacks. However, it may be because my rucksack hipbelt is not as level as it should be because of the way I carry my camera slung around my waist/hips under the rucksack hipbelt. I need to to find a way of carrying my camera on my rucksack straps so that it is easily accessible but can’t be blamed for the chafing which, even after only 2 or 3 days, is very sore.
Food bags: Who decided that food bags should have either a) stupid folds in the bottom that trap the oats you’re trying to tip out, or b) stupid “bunny ears” that, again, get in the way of the oats you’re trying to tip out? I remember when freezer bags were simple, rectangular bags with no frills. Pah!
Geeky stuff: Now that I have a “Smart” phone which takes hours to turn on and has a screen which is completely unusable in bright daylight, I am loath to use my phone to take quick photos for my blog or twitter. If I get round to it, I shall experiment with taking photos on my camera then resizing them and transfering them to my phone for blogging. In principle, this should work very well!