As 2022 draws to an end, Three Points of the Compass takes a glance at a handful of items of gear that were especially appreciated on trail this year. Ranging from the cheap and cheerful, to expensive and essential, each of the five were frequent companions on backpacking trips.
My first pack from Gossamer Gear was their framed Mariposa. I found that such a good pack that when I decided to buy a slightly smaller frameless pack, I had no hesitation in buying the G4-20. This is a modern iteration of their classic G4 pack. The pack has an internal capacity of around 30 litres, or 42 litres including all outside pockets. It weighs 650g, fits me well, carries well and has only a few niggles. I wish it had load lifters, but those are less effective with a frameless pack anyway. I also find the smooth belt material can slip a little and requires the occasional cinch up. It can be a bit ‘saggy’ when not full, so once the foodbag is getting empty, it is at its extreme for cinching down the roll top.
It isn’t waterproof, no pack is 100% waterproof. Nor do I use a pack cover. I keep things dry inside with a large polythene bag or sometimes a very large Sea to Summit roll top drybag. The shelter is carried in an outside pocket and I attach a water bottle to one front strap and a padded phone case to the other. I will not be changing from this pack any time soon but am considering a slightly smaller capacity pack as even 42 litres is sometime too much for me. It remains to be seen whether I stay with Gossamer Gear or look at another manufacturer.
It’s a cloth and… well, that about it! These environmentally sound, reusable dish clothes have been around since the Second World War and long predate any more recent call to arms by the recycling brigade. Made in Sweden (beware the fakes) from cotton and cellulose wood pulp and are more intended for use in the kitchen than on trail. Each is more akin to a thin sponge than a cloth. They are thin, durable, seem to last for ever, wring out easily without tearing, yet hold plenty of water. We are informed that each can hold “up to 20 times its own weight“. Though perhaps that isn’t saying much as they only weigh 5 grams.
Since changing from the J-Cloths or small blue sponge that I carried for years, I have taken one of these Swedish Cloths on every backpacking trip for some time now and it is used for everything from wiping down the condensation from the inside of a DCF shelter, to wiping the rain from the outside of a DCF shelter, to wiping the mud from the footprint of a DCF shelter, to scrubbing and wiping dirt daubed thighs, to holding hot handles of a cooking pot, to wiping spilt milk powder from my quilt and mattress and peanut butter from a merino baselayer, to, as shown above, wrapping around the tips of stowed trekking poles whilst in transit on buses and trains, to… well, anything that a cloth or sponge might be used for. These cloths are very cheap and I appreciate that they don’t stink like some other cloths can.
Despite being machine washable, each cloth gets a decent scrub clean by hand after a trip, then spayed with whatever anti-bacterial product is to hand and then allowed to thoroughly dry. When a cloth does develop too many little tears or holes, it gets slung in with the compost to naturally degrade. One of these cloths will be a 100% inclusion in my gear lists for 2023.
I do appreciate that many hikers have moved to digital maps; following a line on their phone screen, or a curser on a GPS. I admit I use the former myself at times, but come on! A ‘paper’ sheet weighs little, will not run out of power, will not suffer from the rain if protected or made of a suitable material, and gives a far better ‘big picture’. I will occasionally use Ordnance Survey, Footprint and A-Z Adventure Series Maps, but the trail maps from Harvey continue to be my default for many of the UK Long Distance Paths.
I used Harvey maps on four longer hikes in 2022. All were for linear trails, other than the Pennine Bridleway that includes two optional (and odd) loops along its length. Both the Mary Towneley and Settle loops are included on the Harvey map for this trail. Three of these maps were 1:40 000 scale, as are many Harvey maps. However the sheet for the Thames Path National Trail is printed at a new (to me) scale of 1:60 000, which took a bit of getting used to. You have to cover a bit more ground than normal to move across the map and progress seemed slow at times. However the Thames Path was being tackled by myself and Mrs Three Points of the Compass as short days and in less than demanding style. It was our summer holiday after all and had to include decent accommodation and good food and drink. It was most definitely not a backpacking trip! 2022 was a walk from source to roughly the half way point and we return in 2023 to complete it. This genteel trail doesn’t really require a map for navigation purposes but the Harvey map does well as a check to see what is coming up and a general view of progress and weighing just 54g is no burden.
The heaviest of the other three Harvey maps I used in 2022, for the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, was just ten grams more. Made from a waterproof paper, these maps shrugged off being soaked by torrential rain on many trail days.
I am on my second Duplex shelter from US manufacturer Zpacks. I wore out my first over a five-month hike across the UK in 2018 (and that followed dozens of nights use on preceding hikes). I had no hesitation in buying another with the same foliage (it is not camo) appearance. Despite looking a bit daft on official campsites, the thicker patterned DCF on mine is far less see-through than the lighter weight translucent DCF alternatives while also extremely suited to more surreptitious wild-camping. The now-discontinued foliage material from Zpacks was the heaviest of their options at the time but my shelter still only weighs a more than acceptable 637g.
The Duplex can be thrown up quickly, is very forgiving with uneven ground and I find the adaptability offered by two vestibules and four doors, that can all be opened or closed independently, a very flexible and welcome feature. It has it’s little foibles, some take a bit of getting used to but having slept in one of these shelters for hundreds of nights, it is now all second nature to me.
I did have a small failure on the tent this year. One of the little double hooks that the vestibule doors attach to broke on me while backpacking the Southern Upland Way. I tied the doors on that side of the tent closed for the remainder of that hike and the hook was easily replaced post-hike after Zpacks sent me a free replacement. I also had a cat rip out a hole in the mesh on another hike that had to be repaired when back home.
My Duplex will no doubt see use in 2023, but not exclusively so, as my 395g MLD Duomid with 269g Solomid Inner XL is more stable in rougher conditions, though the MLD offers less living space. I always appreciate the huge internal space that the Duplex provides, especially when nights are long and a lot of hours are spent tent bound. I now feel as though I am cheating on my Duplex somehow as I am waiting expectantly for a bit of Christmas present to myself- a brand new shelter. (A little more on that in the comments)
Fire Maple FMS-117H Blade 2 remote canister stove:
I have been trying out various Fire Maple stoves over the past few years and I took two of their remote canister stoves on National Trails in 2022. Both were excellent. The FMS-117T Blade 1 was mostly used on summer hikes, including the Pennine Bridleway but the FMS-117H Blade 2 also saw a lot of use, such as on the Southern Upland Way, where a mix of camping and bothies was planned and freezing temperatures often encountered. The sort of conditions that can leave many a gas stove struggling.
The Blade 2 comes with an additional generator loop for vaporising liquid gas so can be used with an inverted gas canister so is more suited to colder conditions. The Blade 2 has never missed a beat, is simple to use and stable. My only gripe with it is that while it folds to a quite compact size and shape, the collapsed shape is more suited to storing inside taller pots rather than shallow pans. I invariably use a shallow 900ml Evernew pan with nesting wide GSI sipper mug and the stove is not the best of fits inside these. It does fit, and that is how I carry it, but the lids are a bit loose on top when packed.
I have really enjoyed using the remote canister stoves from Fire Maple and will be using the Blade 2 this winter. I’ll be posting a review of the Fire Maple FMS-117T Blade 1, FMS-117H Blade 2 and FMS-118 Volcano remote canister stoves in 2023.
These were just five items of gear that I especially appreciated using this year. If I remember to do so, I’ll have a similar retrospective in twelve months time. With hundreds of trail miles planned for 2023, it remains to be seen if any of these five have been usurped.