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Gear talk: the Pembrokeshire Coast Path- post-hike gear review

Approaching Caerfai
Approaching Caerfai, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Three Points of the Compass has just returned from backpacking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Two September weeks in Wales threw at me varied weather conditions- from strong wind and horizontal rain, to hot sunny days and cold nights. This is a post-hike look at the lightweight backpacking gear I carried.

Hiking clothes:

Three Points of the Compass likes to wear a short sleeve merino polo for most hiking. This handles both varied conditions and resists stinking for many days. I can sweat a great deal when hiking and anticipated as much as a week or more between clothes washes and any synthetic top was simply going to smell too much for me to handle. I primarily hike in the UK and out of respect for my fellow man, I am in and out of shops and cafes etc. and merino is always going to be less offensive, smell-wise to others and myself. I have found the lighter weight merino tops from the likes of Icebreaker not durable enough so wear a heavier weight material, mine is a 200gsm EDZ 100% merino polo. I can also flip the collar up to protect the back of my neck from the sun a little. The sweat stained and sun faded polo in the photo below has been worn on most of my hikes over the last couple of years and I have got on with it so well that two replacements arrived in the post while I was away on this latest trail.

Hiking clothes
Hiking clothes

I get pretty warm while hiking so try and keep the nether regions as cool as possible. To that end I am currently using a pair of Alpha Silver Boxers from Rohan, the silver is supposed to keep bacteria at bay but like any other pair of synthetic base layers, they get a bit whiffy after a few days. They are of a slight mesh design that breathes but isn’t the most durable of materials and can develop holes. Over these I wore shorts. Since Champion stopped producing my favourite ever hiking shorts, the sans brief 365, 9″ inseam, zippered pockets with elasticated and draw-cord waist, I must have tried twenty or more different makes and styles of short looking for a replacement. The best I have found so far are the Under Armour Tech Mesh Gym Shorts. These have no liner and are a very open mesh that breathes well. Some descriptions of these say they contain cotton, they don’t, they are 100% polyester. I got very wet on a couple of days hiking and this combination of skiddies and shorts worked well, drying quickly and also kept me fairly cool on the hotter days too.

I switched from Darn Tuff socks to Silverlight a couple of years ago and have been happy with the change. I used to wear gaiters all the time too, but then went a couple of hikes without them but have gone back to including a light pair of Altra Trail Gaiters. I was pleased I did. Not only did they keep the usual grit and debris out, but the Pembrokeshire Coast Path takes you across a few beaches and sand was kept out of my shoes too.

Quite often I wash or rinse my hiking clothes in a sink or shower tray, ringing them out, attempting to air dry them in the evening and overnight, but invariably putting them on damp in the morning, they all then dry out pretty quickly with body heat.

As to shoes, I have been wearing the zero-drop Altra Lone Peaks trail shoes for years. I have worked through various generations and am currently on the sixes. Such is my faith in these that the first mile I hiked in these was on the walk to the railway station the day I left. So comfortable are they that I never noticed them on my feet at all for the great majority of my hike. While I had no foot problems and these were very much up to the task of hiking a coastal trail, with its great variety of surfaces, I cannot believe the lack of durability in these shoes. It is simply unsatisfactory that the photo of the inside of the right heel cup shows that the material is already wearing through, the left heel cup is wearing too but to a lesser extent. This is after less than two-hundred miles, unbelievable! I sadly feel that I am probably going to have to go looking for an alternative make of shoe, and I’m not relishing it.

Worn heel cup in Altra Lone Peak shoes
Worn heel cup in Altra Lone Peak shoes
Pembrokeshire Coast Path waymarker
Pembrokeshire Coast Path has decent signage throughout

Pack:

Pack on return
Pack on return

This photo shows my pack here immediately as it was on my return home. This has my poles stowed for travel with the tips protected (or rather, other people protected from the tips) with my wipe-down Swedish Cloth as the pack was variously shoved into luggage racks on three trains and two buses for my return trip. One shoulder strap has a Gossamer Gear phone case attached, the other has my Smartwater bottle clipped to it. I also use a Z-Packs chest pouch, but hung low around my waist. This contains maps, money, journal etc. My phone also goes in this if I am away from my pack.

I took two maps on this trail. The Harvey 1:40 000 map is all on one sheet, light and, crucially, waterproof. This was consulted in the wet first week, however I actually preferred the little 1:25 000 map book produced by Cicerone and if it was dry, this is what I used. The excellent Cicerone guidebook also (mostly) follows the trail from south to north, the direction I walked the trail, whereas most guidebooks cover it in the opposite direction. Though fairly heavy, I was OK with taking all these. I also carried my journal, pen and a small DCF wallet ‘up-front’ in my Z-Packs chest pouch. Hanging from the outside of my chest pouch was a third-generation RovyVon Aurora keychain flashlight. This has now replaced my Nitecore NU25 headlight and was perfectly up to the job, though I never did any night hiking on this trail.

Z-Packs chest pouch and usual contents
Z-Packs chest pouch and usual contents

I had various items scattered across the pack pockets. Some sit in these on just about any hike I go on and will see various degrees of usage according to trail and conditions. My little Opticron monocular was pulled into use fairly often for wildlife- birds, dragonflies and butterflies beside the trail, and frequently to watch the mum seals and their pups in the inaccessible bays below, with ever watchful, battle-scarred males a little further out to sea. I took a little Silva Ranger SL compass but it was never used as trail signage is excellent throughout.

Contents of left hip belt pocket
Contents of left hip belt pocket
Contents of right hip belt pocket
Contents of right hip belt pocket
A short piece of 3mm Evozote was used under the inflatable mat at night and folded and carried behind the 'eggcrate' SitLight pad in the Gossamer Gear G4-20 pack sleeves
A short piece of 3mm Evazote was used under my Thermarest mat at night and then folded and carried behind the ‘eggcrate’ SitLight pad in the Gossamer Gear G4-20 pack sleeves during the day
Gear carried in pack outer pockets
Gear carried in pack outer pockets

Beside my phone, my phone pouch on the shoulder strap also held a little Pedco Ultrapod with increased-in-length velcro strap and Quad Lock tripod adapter. Clipped to the side of the phone pouch was an ancient Brunton ABC watch, as I don’t like wearing a watch on my wrist. The large stretchy back pocket on the pack was stuffed with various other items I might want to access during the day. There was a trailmix bag of Jellybabies and Liquorice Allsorts. Also, my wide-brimmed Tilley hat, worn on most days and probably an essential piece of gear on this trail as it gave protection from both rain and sun. I carried a lightweight and simple and oh-so-fragile Frogg Toggs Ultralite 2 waterproof jacket and ULA rain skirt. Both got worn in the earlier wetter days on trail. For the remainder of the hike, these two lived in the outer mesh pocket of my pack.

Beside my Smartwater bottle and two-litre Evernew bladder, each used every day, I kept additional hydration equipment in the pack’s rear pocket, stored in a little blue DCF drawstring baggie. This was a two-litre HydraPak Seeker bladder and Salomon XA filter, effectively a BeFree, attached to a soft 490ml TPU soft flask.

I didn’t trust any running water I found, suspecting agricultural runoff, and was instead able to refill from campsites, YHAs or public w/c’s, as most on the coast had water taps outside. So, none of my additional hydration gear got used at all and if walking the trail again, it is doubtful I would carry them. I would simply take a little chemical sterilization instead.

free water refill at public loos
Free water refill at public loos
Solar panel remained unused
Solar panel remained unused

I also carried a Lixada solar panel and short charge lead in the rear pack pocket that I had intended on hanging from the top of the pack and trickle charging my powerbank. But the weather was so poor in the first week it stayed protected in its waterproof bag and by the time the weather had improved I didn’t require it. This was most definitely a superfluous piece of kit.

The poop kit was here, with QiWhiz Big Dig trowel and lots of paper (always carry more than you think you will need), there was a lighter in the bag too. All double wrapped as protection from rain.

Shelter:

My tent was stowed in the long external ‘wand’ pocket of my pack along with my pegs/stakes and Swedish Cloth (a thin sponge like cloth made of cellulose and cotton) used for wiping condensation and general spills. Prior to leaving home I debated which shelter to take on this walk. I knew I would be getting strong winds off the Welsh coast, and anticipated rain too. I was not bothered by the latter but knew my MLD Duomid would handle wind better though I prefer the greater living space in my Z-Packs Duplex. In the end I settled for the Duplex.

Z-Packs Duplex in now tatty DCF roll-top, pegs (stakes), Swedish cloth, Black Diamond Trekking Poles, also used as shelter supports
Z-Packs Duplex in now tatty DCF roll-top, pegs (stakes), Swedish cloth, Black Diamond Trekking Poles, also used as shelter supports

There were a couple of sites and a couple of nights where the winds were strong and I might have preferred the Duomid, but things held together, and I think I made the right call. I did purposely choose the best shelter from wind where I had a need to. I did need to run out an extra guy once and double peg a few times. If I had been wildcamping more, directly on the coastal path, I would definitely have chosen the Duomid. My hiking poles were aluminium Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork. These are just about perfect and were used on ascents/descents by day and as tent poles at night.

Duplex at Pen Caer
Duplex at Pen Caer

Contents of pack:

I took my Gossamer Gear G4-20 on this trail. This is a frameless 42lt pack. It is a very comfortable pack but carried best when the foodbag was full, it became a little underfilled and saggy when the foodbag was getting empty. I probably need to be looking at a smaller capacity backpack and will probably look at others from the Gossamer Gear stable as I have been very happy with both the G4-20 and the larger capacity Mariposa framed pack.

Three Points of the Compass likes to segregate gear on trail. Some hikers are content to simply stuff everything into a pack and save weight on the additional stuffsacks and roll-top bags that would be required otherwise, however I prefer to keep gear in some sort of order so that I can both keep it protected from wet while packed, and actually find things when I require them. This method suits me, it may not suit others. Because I was expected rain, I took a large Sea-to-Summit Ultra-Sil 25 litre roll top bag as a pack liner into which all pack contents other than my food bag were packed. Inside this I had one large and two small DCF Pods from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. Two of these also become my pillow at night. I spoke about this method here. My rolled Thermarest NeoAir Xlite goes in here too. Once the pack liner is filled, rolled and clipped closed, my old and now quite leaky Z-Packs foodbag sits on top, inside the pack. If there is room, cookset and gas go inside the foodbag, if not, then they were packed underneath.

Contents of pack, segregated packing
Contents of pack, segregated packing

Sleeping:

The Thermarest mat was shown above and that was fine for the purpose. Not expecting particularly cold nights, I took my Katabatic Palisade quilt rather than my Flex quilt and that was the right call for this time of year and varied conditions. The temperature usually plummeted as soon as the sun had gone down but never dropped below freezing and I was cosy warm every night. I always carry dedicated sleeping layers. These were my usual Rohan Ultra Silver leggings and long sleeve shirt. I took my thicker possum-down socks rather than my lighter and cooler thin merino socks and I never got cold or too hot feet. These were all packed inside my large size DCF Pod with the quilt.

Quilt and sleeping layers
Quilt and sleeping layers

Spare clothes:

If ever the backpacker wants to save on weight, carry less clothes. That said, I still carry a great deal more than many would wish, I am sure. All those in the photo will pack into a small size Pod but one or two might be worn, or be in the outer pack pocket, ready to be worn as required. As always, I carry a lightweight short sleeve button front shirt and pair of trousers that are worn for post hike travelling in public or possibly slipped on during a day off or for an evening meal in a restaurant. They are not worn for hiking and are kept clean(ish). These are amongst the lightest I have ever found- a Rohan Aura s/s shirt and Patagonia Terrebonne Joggers.

After a day’s hike I like to get out of my hiking clothes and let them air and dry a bit. If I am on a campsite, I’ll shower, if not then it is a tentwash. I will then change into my Rab Pulse Hoody and Under Armour Launch shorts (with inner brief). For camp shoes I simply carry a pair of waterproof SealSkinz socks. These are not worn while hiking but can either be walked around in as they are, or I wear them in my trail shoes of an evening. Once I have stopped hiking I remove the insoles from my shoes to allow them to air and dry overnight and my feet can expand and rest in the widened shoe of an evening. This method keeps my feet clean inside the sock and the heat from my feet can dry out the shoes a little if they are wet. I also had a spare pair of skiddies. On this occasion it was a pair of ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh 9″ boxer briefs, again these have good breathability. Also, another pair of Silverlight hiking socks.

I had a little insulation should the weather have changed a little while I was on trail. These were a thin pair of North Face Etip gloves (unworn) and my Kora yak wool beanie. If it had been cooler walking, I would have also worn a pair of Arc’teryx Phase SL leggings under my shorts, but these were not required at all. I also included a merino buff. Not required as clothing on this hike, it was slipped over my ‘pillow’ of a night to make it more comfortable against my face.

An early start on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Kora beenie and Patagonia windshirt are worn for the first couple of hours until it warms up
An early start on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Kora beenie and Patagonia windshirt are worn for the first couple of hours until it warms up

I carried a pair of Mont Bell Dynamo windpants. These could have been worn if it were cold or breezy while hiking though I never needed to, but they were often slipped on over my shorts on colder evenings in the tent and around camp. I frequently put on my windshirt, a Patagonia Houdini Air Jacket, when setting off hiking on cool mornings. This was normally removed and stuffed into the packs outer pocket a couple of hours later.

Spare clothes, wind layers and insulation
Spare clothes, wind layers and insulation

My final item of clothing was an insulated jacket. I tend to carry either a down or synthetic insulated jacket regardless of what month it is as the body temperature can frequently drop once I stop hiking and some evenings can be pretty cool, especially if there is any wind. I had been tempted to carry my lighter down jacket but anticipating wetter conditions I took my synthetic Rab Xenon X Hoodie and was pleased to have it as the temperature plummeted each evening as soon as the sun set. This did double duty and was packed inside my ‘small stuff’ Pod as a bit of cushioning protection and also became part of my pillow system each night.

Rab Xenon X Hoodie
Rab Xenon X Hoodie

Cooking/kitchen

Cooking/kitchen
Cooking/kitchen. Food and spoon were kept in a Z-Packs food bag. Pan, mug, stove, ferro rod and knife (the last three wrapped in a piece of Lightload towel) were kept in an insulated baggie from Treadlite Gear

Inside my foodbag, I unusually included a small rigid Nalgene container of Nido instead of my usual method of simply spooning some into a ziplok bag. This was because I anticipated days of damp and wanted to keep it in decent powder form. It worked but was a heavy method and I am unsure if I will continue this practice. Other than that, I had my usual long ti spoon, 900ml Evernew pan with nesting GSI mug. A ferro rod and little Deejo knife. I took a gas set up on this hike. This was a decent canister top stove, the Soto Windmaster with 230g and 100g canisters of gas, returning with 29g of unused gas. This all worked fine.

Brew up at Strumble Head
Morning brew at Strumble Head

‘Small stuff’ Pod

This is another place where many hikers can lose a bit of carried weight. But I am fairly content with what I carry here, and it is also where things get swapped around a bit according to where and what backpacking trip I am on. I will not go into much detail here as some of this gear could do with dedicated or updated blogs. Held in an HMG small size Pod was a carefully thought out First Aid Kit that was only opened for the scissors, nail clippers, nail file, ibuprofen and a short strip of tape. I took spare glasses as I am almost blind without. The ditty bag was dipped into just for a length of cordage that I used as a drying line and the two small bobby pins that I keep in here for use as clothes pegs. I also keep my quilt’s pad cords in here and one was pulled into service as an extra tent guy on one wild night.

Small stuff Pod
Small stuff Pod
Shampoo and shower 'puck', on purchase, prior to trail
Shampoo and shower ‘puck’, on purchase, prior to trail

There was a hygiene kit. Amongst the usual contents, I knew I would be staying on campsites for the majority of my nights on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path so, unusually for me, I carried a solid shampoo/shower ‘puck’ on this trail. I used it almost all over the fortnight. As a towel I had my usual little PackTowl that I hang from my shoulder strap during the day where I can let it dangle and dry in the breeze for twenty minutes before stuffing it away into its little integrated carry pouch, but I couldn’t believe it when I found I had lost it on the final day of hiking. This is the first item I have lost on trail in years, and I am pretty peeved about it. There is no need for anything larger than these little towels, get wet, dab yourself dry, wring it out, repeat. I’ll buy another.

I carried an electronics pouch with the usual stuff- power bank, power adapter, cables and other stuff that I will look at in a separate blog. Also in the photo is a plastic shopping/carrier bag. I never set off with this. I had to buy it when I did a small mid-trail food resupply at the Broad Haven Londis. Tight that I am, I bought it home. I also carried my very definite luxury in this pod- my little Flextailgear battery powered inflator for my sleeping mat. I am always pleased to have this; it is nonetheless one item of gear that is being replaced on future hikes as I now have an even lighter alternative. This is the remarkably light Pad-Pal, that is a tenth of the weight.

Just about everything performed as I expected it to. I was familiar with every item of gear I took and was pleased to have a little adaptability with the changing weather conditions that I encountered. I haven’t included weights as these will vary with size, and some items are now no longer produced. I am by no means an ultralight backpacker but this is a lightweight set-up that could easily be reduced if wanting to sacrifice a little flexibility or luxury.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Trail's end at St. Dogmaels. September 2022
Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Trail’s end at St. Dogmaels. September 2022

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