Author Archives: Jools

Leatherman Style series

Leatherman keychain tools- Style series

A small series of mini multi-tools with style…

Leatherman Style series

Leatherman Style CS

Leatherman Style CS

In 2010 Leatherman shrunk their full size Skeletool (originally released in 2007) and produced the Style CS. Unfortunately, while the larger Skeletool came with two blade options, either 420 High Carbon stainless steel or the better quality 154 CM stainless steel, to which molybdenum had been added. The Style CS continued to be available, as did the other key-chain options, with the perfectly functional but lesser 420 HC steel. This tool has a great pair of scissors, much better than the smaller scissors found on its cousins. So successful is the tool set that despite the quite similarly provisioned Micra, it is still manufactured today.

Leatherman Style

Leatherman Style

Also in 2010, Leatherman introduced a very small tool simply called a Style. It was basically half of a Style CS, and was very much aimed at the Victorinox Classic camp with holy trinity of blade, scissors and nail file, plus tweezers.The tool proved to be a bit fiddly, and the nail nick locations only exacerbated the situation. Consequently, this tool enjoyed only a short production run of four years and is now discontinued. Mine is a 2011 model. It came in 4 anodized colours. Red, Black, Pink, and Blue. Of interest to the collector is a special pink Style with the breast cancer ribbon on both blade and scale. This was one of a series of 3 tools to promote breast cancer awareness, which Leatherman called their Pink Program.

Black scale version of the Leatherman Style, to be honest, it is a tad boring

Black scale version of the Leatherman Style, to be honest, it is a tad boring

Leatherman Style PS

Leatherman Style PS

While the Style CS had sprung loaded scissors for the end jaws, in 2011 consumers were offered an alternative when the Style PS was released. The Style PS has pliers for its jaws and a smaller pair of scissors in the handle. The Style PS has no blade so supposedly can be taken through airport security, though I wouldn’t like to risk losing a tool to an over eager or cautious official. Again, so popular is this tool that it is still available new today.

A welcome brew on the Cleveland Way, 2019

A welcome brew on the Cleveland Way, 2019

The carabiner on the Style CS and PS can be used for clipping the tool on to a belt or pack strap, though I don’t like doing that. There is a good chance it will come adrift and get lost on trail, there are actually few times you require to use it during a hike, it is of more use at halts or end of day. By keeping it within the pack you are also keeping the trail funk out of the tool- dust, debris, bugs and rain.

I have also, though very infrequently, used the carabiner to hold a particular bit tip from the wider Leatherman bit kit. Be warned however, it is not designed to handle this and won’t take a lot of torque.

However the carabiner is a pretty effective bottle opener should a bottle of beer come your way…

There is only the one screwdriver tip option on each of the Style series. If you have aparticualr piece of kit with you that requires a specialised bit tip, one option, that will only handle light work, is to pack along one of the little bits that Leatherman provide as part of their 'bit kit'

There is only the one screwdriver tip option on each of the Style series. If you have a particular piece of kit with you that requires a specialised bit tip, one option, that will only handle light work, is to pack along one of the little bits that Leatherman provide as part of their ‘bit kit’

Tweezers

Tweezers are found in six of the nine Leatherman keychain tools, those on the Squirt S4, E4 and Style are the most easily removed. While all of the Style series feature removable tweezers. Those in the scale on the Style PS and CS are notoriously difficult to extract while those on the Style are not only easier to pull out but have a better angled design of tip. The Style and Squirt S4/E4 share similar shaped tweezers apart from the angle of the nail nick and angle of the tweezer tip being the opposite to each other!

Tweezers in Style PS and CS are tucked away in the scale. They can be surprisingly difficult to extract

Tweezers in Style PS and CS are tucked away in the scale. They can be surprisingly difficult to extract

The tweezers on the Micra are entirely different. They are permanently fixed to the tool and flip out for use. There is no chance of losing them yet I find them awkward to use, particularly as they have no angled tip. I don’t like them though I am sure these thin tweezers have their fans. If the tweezers in the Style series were all easy to extract, they would probably be my second favourite due to their size and angled tip. The more angled tip to the tweezers in the Squirt S4 and E4 are better for extracting thorns etc.

Tips of tweezers compared

Tips of tweezers compared. Left: from Style CS and Style PS, centre; from Squirt S4, right: Micra

The next blog will look at making a final choice from the small yet surprisingly different range of Leatherman keychain tools.

Beyond scale colour, there are few options within the Style range, however Leatherman have switched around the blades a little and a small range of inclsion, or not, of holes in the blade and nail nick size and position can be found

Beyond scale colour, there are few options within the Style range, however Leatherman have switched around the blades a little and a small range of inclusion, or not, of holes in the blade and nail nick size and position can be found

Leatherman Squirt series

Leatherman keychain tools- Squirt series

Leatherman Squirt series

User guide for the first three tools in the Squirt series, 2006

2006 user guide for the first three tools in the Squirt series, the S4, P4 and E4

The first Squirt series

Eight years after Leatherman released the Micra, its first keychain multi-tool, it released two more. In 2002 the stainless steel framed, aluminum anodised Squirt S4 and Squirt P4 hit the vendors shelves. The S4 had scissor jaws while the P4 had a small set of pliers.

Leatherman Squirt S4

Leatherman Squirt S4

My Squirt S4 was made in 2007 and I purchased it the following year. It has remained a frequent companion on the majority of my hikes since then. I have swapped it out on occasion, most usually for a Victorinox, but I have usually found myself promptly returning to it. I really appreciate a full size set of good scissors. Beside the desired blade, as a glasses wearer, it is probably the extra small screwdriver that has seen most use, that and the bottle opener with numerous bottles of beer. On longer hikes the nail file has been useful and I have successfully worked on stove repair and changing internal trekking pole mechanisms with the screwdrivers.

Leatherman Squirt P4

Leatherman Squirt P4

The Squirt P4 is not my favourite keychain tool because of the lack of any scissors at all. But beside pliers, blade, files and various screwdriver heads, instead of the tweezers found on both E4 and S4, the P4 does include a short little awl. This implement is not particularly sharp when purchased new. In fact it is positively blunt. However it can easily be sharpened up. This is useful for poking holes in belts or fabric, even as an extra little blade. I am not one for modding my multi-tools but if I were, I would be stripping the P4 down in an attempt to swap this awl out with some tools on other Leatherman tools that I find less useful. Both the Squirt S4 and P4 were available in grey, yellow, orange, pink, black, red, blue, green and purple.

A short but useful awl is found on the Squirt P4. This is the only one of the Leatherman keychain tools to have this, a shame, as it would be a great addition to others in the line

A short but useful awl is found on the Squirt P4. This is the only one of the Leatherman keychain tools to have this implement, a shame, as it would be a great addition to others in the line

Leatherman Squirt E4

Leatherman Squirt E4

In 2003 Leatherman followed the S4 and P4 with the Squirt E4. First available in bright ‘inferno red’, for a year or two, the E4 could only be purchased at one of the Radio Shack outlets though it wasn’t actually branded as an E4. In the UK, it may have been available through their Tandy stores. These small shops were aimed at the home hobbyist and electricians, this was the market that Leatherman were attempting to tap with the E4. After a while, availability spread to other outlets and ‘glacier blue’ and ‘storm grey’ colours were added to the range. Mine is in the latter colour.

Tips of electricians (left) and normal pliers (right) compared

Tips of electricians (left) and normal pliers (right) compared

The electricians pliers are fitted with efficient wire strippers and a useful needlenose plier tip. Back tools include file and blade, however, no scissors. Not only do I complete very little electrical work on trail, with both Squirt P4 and E4 lacking scissors of any size at all, neither of these tools is going to make it out on to a hike with me.

The Phillips screwdriver on the E4 is a thing of beauty. Incredibly well formed it is a proper 3D shaped screwdriver tip that folds away in to the tool well. However I have found the 2D Phillips tip found on other Leatherman multi-tools more adaptable in practical use. Not only fitting a wide range of Phillips heads but also can be used on a small range of slot screw heads too. The 3D Phillips head is only found on the Squirt E4.

3D and 2D Phillips head screwdrivers on the Squirt E4 and Squirt P4 compared

3D and 2D Phillips head screwdrivers on the Squirt E4 and Squirt P4 compared

All three of the first Squirt series were discontinued in 2010 to be followed by two replacements.

Few hikers would actually hand a Leatherman, or any knife, from a keyring. A split ring attachment is often superflous. If the ring is attached, the key ring attachment can be swung round and tucked out of the way

Few hikers would actually hang a Leatherman, or any knife, from a keyring. A split ring attachment is often superfluous. If the ring is detached, the key ring attachment can be swung round and tucked out of the way, as here

The second Squirt series

Leatherman Squirt PS4

Leatherman Squirt PS4

In 2010, hot on the heels of the discontinued Squirt S4, P4 and E4 came two revamped replacements. These were the Squirt PS4 and Squirt ES4.

The two tools pulled together the most popular elements of their forerunners. Effectively, each carries the same toolset other than the Squirt PS4 having standard pliers and the Squirt ES4 having electricians wire stripper pliers.

I would anticipate the PS4 having far greater sales over its brother. You shouldn’t simply write off the electricians pliers however. The useful quite thin electricians tip is capable of quite fine work such as pulling thorns and splinters, though it would be even more useful if they were truly needlenose tips.

Leatherman Squirt ES4

Leatherman Squirt ES4

It was a very clever combination of tools that Leatherman managed with these two multi-tools, they really learnt from the earlier incarnations, this despite my personal preference that a few other aspects had been retained instead.

Both Squirt PS4 and ES4 were released with blue, red and black anodised aluminum scales and are still being manufactured today.

The two sides of the files found on the P4, E4, PS4 and ES4 Squirts compared. You can see the toothed edge to the file that can be used for notching wood, sawing plastic and not much else. Each of these tools has both file surfaces

While some of the mini Leatherman multi-tools have wood/metal files, that can be used as nail files, others come with dedicated nail files. All of these actually do a pretty good job and there is little to choose between them. Each nail file has either a nail cleaner or small flat screwdriver tip, though these will not handle a lot of torque.

Nail files compared

Nail files compared. Top: Style PS, centre: Squirt S4, bottom: Style

This was a great series of small multi-tools from Leatherman. How could they follow it? By stripping them down to the essentials and adding a little style, that’s how. I shall look at what followed in the next blog.

Leatherman Micra

Leatherman keychain tools- Micra

Not a personal favourite…

Leatherman Micra

Leatherman Micra

Leatherman Micra

The Leatherman Micra is one of the oldest keychain multi-tools, first released in 1996 and still made today. Leatherman have made a small number of attempts over the years to change the appearance of this model. The basic tool is stamped out in stainless steel. Later models had an aluminium ‘skin’ in various anodised colours fixed over it. The obvious resulting difference is the former rectangular cut out in the handle body beside the tweezers became largely obscured as a result. The latest variant is with coloured translucent plastic skins over the internal steel construct. The additional scales and skins do add a handful of grams to the tool. The basic tool weighs 49.9g, those with aluminum scales come in at 55g.

As previously mentioned, the Micra has to be opened to access all the tools. Personally, I find this an annoyance and prefer just about any other keychain tool made by Leatherman as it is much less faff to get at what I require.

In common with the other small Leatherman multi-tools that come supplied with them, the spring loaded scissors on the Micra fit in the hand well and will tackle most average tasks with ease

In common with the other small Leatherman multi-tools that come supplied with them, the spring loaded scissors on the Micra fit in the hand well and will tackle most average tasks with ease

The Micra comes with a great pair of spring loaded scissors. These are easily my favourite tool on this little multi-tool. They keep a good edge and will cut through just about anything you would normally encounter on trail- packages, mountain house bags, cordura, cordage and tape, plasters and skin. They will trim nails but are a little over size for that.

2D Phillips and flat tip screwdrivers on the Micra will handle a wide range of jobs, light work only mind...

2D Phillips and flat tip screwdrivers on the Micra will handle a wide range of jobs, light work only mind…

The little glasses screwdriver, combined with a reasonably effective bottle opener, is just the right size for the tiny screws on my glasses. The extra long tip is also effective where the screw is close to the frame, some other small screwdrivers can be difficult to get ‘in to’ the job. There are two other screwdrivers on the Micra, one is a medium sized flat tip, the other is a 2D Phillips head that is surprisingly effective.

The nail file and nail cleaner tip found on the Micra is as good as any found on the whole range of Leatherman multi-tools. Both sides are shown here

The nail file and nail cleaner tip found on the Micra is as good as any found on the whole range of Leatherman multi-tools. Both sides are shown here

I find myself using nail files quite often on trail. The one included on the Micra is simply a roughened surface but I prefer this type over the ones found on some of the alternatives, which are more properly wood or metal files. This is the real deal and the nail cleaner is just as useful. The tweezers are long and sturdy, folded inside and remain attached to the tool when opened out. They have no chamfered tip though and frequently don’t meet properly at the tips. As to the 12cm rule inscribed along the outside of the tools frame, never used, don’t need it.

Tips of Leatherman keychain tweezers compared. The Micra is on the right

Tips of Leatherman keychain tweezers compared. The Micra is on the right

I can see why this multi-tool is still in production after more than two decades, it is a classic, it does now look a little dated, but it is effective for most small tasks. It’s best selling point over the Leatherman alternatives is that all the tools are tucked away inside where they are not going to gather pocket fluff and detritus. For me, that is a negative and others I shall look at in future blogs I would rate above the Micra.

Leatherman Style CS and Leatherman Micra

Leatherman keychain multi-tools: which is best for hiking?

A choice of nine keychain multi-tools…

Three Points of the Compass likes to carry a knife on trail. This is most often used for food preparation. However I have found that the most useful tool by far is a pair of scissors. I have used these for trimming nails and skin, cutting plasters, bandages and gauze, opening packages, Mountain House and a myriad of other tasks. These are the two tools I want with me on any folding knife or multi-tool when backpacking. Any other tool is a bonus. That said, if I am not going to simply take a Victorinox Classic SD with me, then whatever tools are on a multi-tool, have to add something that the Victorinox doesn’t deliver. I look here at what the smallest of Leatherman keychain tools has to offer the hiker.

The ditty bag/repair kit that Three Points of the Compass carried on the Cape Wrath Trail in 2018. A Leatherman keychain multi-tool formed a vital component of this

The ditty bag/repair kit that Three Points of the Compass carried on the Cape Wrath Trail in 2018. A Leatherman keychain multi-tool formed a vital component of this

Various Swiss Army Knives have proved themselves fantastic for taking hiking, others less so. I am also a big fan of the small ‘keychain’ multi-tools produced by USA company Leatherman over the years. Some have been carried on my backpacking trips and I liked, and again, others less so. There is one little Leatherman in particular that is usually stuffed into my ditty bag or First Aid Kit and has been carried with me for thousands of trail miles. I’ll come to which one in a later blog in this series. But I thought I would spend some time here looking at some of the very small multi-tools produced by Leatherman over the years that incorporate both my desired scissors and blade. Particularly as some of these models are now discontinued and beginning to get harder to find.

History

Leatherman began making multi-tools in 1983 when it released the PST (Pocket Survival Tool). At their release Three Points of the Compass looked at these new offerings in the outdoor gear shops and wondered why anyone would ever want a pair of pliers on their knife. Having purchased one out of curiosity, it subsequently got me out of a fix on many an occasion, but only at work, it was never taken with me when hiking as it was simply too large and heavy.

Just three years later, in 1986, Leatherman shrunk their tools and released a new smaller model, that was the MiniTool (in production until 2004). However that had no scissors and at 114g was no keychain tool, it didn’t even have a ring for attaching it to anything. It was what it was named- a mini tool, with fold handles to make it full size. I actually purchased one when they were released and worked it into the ground, another of my multi-tools that never survived the years.

Leatherman have released a huge variety of tools over the years, they continue to do so, always seeking out another niche market or tweaking existing tools for the collector market. In 1996 they released the first of their keychain multi-tools. This was the Micra. So popular and successful was it that it is still manufactured today. On the back of this popular product, Leatherman went on to release another eight keychain models, the most recent in 2011. At the time of writing (2019), five of the keychain tools are still manufactured new and are available for purchase. The retired models can still be picked up on the second hand market, though one or two are beginning to get scarce.

The nine keychain sized multi-tools released by Leatherman

The nine keychain sized multi-tools released by Leatherman

Nine Leatherman keychain tools- the Micra, Squirt and Style series

There have been nine key-chain tools released by Leatherman over the years. All but one, the Squirt E4, would make a great little multi-tool for taking on trail. The intended user of the E4 is not me, it being aimed more as a pocket tool for electricians. The tool was produced in much smaller numbers and is now quite difficult to find. Despite owning one I am not a great fan of it and any of the remaining eight keychain tools would make a better choice for taking on trail.

Below, I cover the primary tools- scissors, blade and pliers and subsequent blogs over the next few days will look at some of the more specialised tools built into the various tool ranges.

Small Leatherman scissors compared with those on Victorinox Classic

Small Leatherman Style scissors on the left compared with those on Victorinox Classic

Scissors

There are seven tools with scissors in the range of Leatherman keychain multi-tools, These are the Micra, three in the Squirt series and two in the Style series. All seven are shown below. There are two major differences in these scissors.

Three tools have quite large, reasonably powerful and efficient spring-loaded scissors, using cams and back-springs, as their jaws when the tools are unfolded. The scissors on the Micra are a very slightly different form to those on the Style CS and Squirt S4, more akin to the scissors found on Swiss Army Knives, however all three are equally efficient at cutting.

The remaining four have small scissors, akin to those on the Victorinox Classic, that are accessed from the back of the multi-tool when still closed. Each of have a captive torsion spring, though to a lesser efficiency than their spring loaded larger cousins. The scissors can be opened wide to enable resharpening. The springs on these smaller Leathermans are more robust than the scissors found on small Victorinox multi-tools such as the ubiquitous Classic. They will still break though, especially if put to too heavy a task. Leatherman will fix these under their excellent warranty. The remaining two keychain tools, the Squirt E4 and P4, do not have any scissors.

Leatherman scissors compared. Top row: Leatherman Style CS, Squirt S4, Micra. Bottom row: Leatherman Style, Squirt ES4, Squirt PS4, Style PS

Scissors compared. Top row: Leatherman Style CS, Squirt S4, Micra. Bottom row: Leatherman Style, Squirt ES4, Squirt PS4, Style PS. The Squirt E4 and P4 do not have scissors

Blade

Eight of the Leatherman keychain tools have blades, the Style PS is the exception. In theory, this means that the Style PS can be taken through airport security. There are many accounts of this tool being confiscated however so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Blades are made from 420HC stainless steel, chisel cut, which can annoy some users but I have never had any trouble with them. They come with a good edge from new and can easily be sharpened. The steel will retain an edge for some time. I do wish Leatherman had produced an option of 154CM steel as they have on some of their other, larger tools.

Blade length is 41mm (1.6″) however not all of this is usable length. Flat cutting length is only some 27mm (a little over an inch) however there is another 10mm or so of curved bade beyond this. It is usually imminently sufficient for most tasks while hiking or around camp. Note that this is all very easily within UK legal requirements but as is now usual, you are never going to be allowed to fly with this.

Short chisel cut blade

Close up of the short chisel cut blade on Squirt PS4. This is 420 HC stainless steel

Most blades are of approximately similar depth though this will alter slightly over time as they are periodically sharpened. My Style CS is 8.45mm while my Style is 9.15mm at widest depth reflecting the greater use and consequent sharpening of the former. The slight notch at the base of each blade varies slightly in depth, being most pronounced on the Style and Squirt S4 where it can most effectively be used as a thin wire bender or possibly wire stripper.

Because of their small size, food can gunge up one of these tools pretty easy, especially the holes in the blade on the Style range. Leatherman CS in use on the Tabular Hills, 2019

Because of their small size, food can gunge up one of these tools pretty easy, especially the holes in the blade on the Style range. Leatherman CS in use on the Tabular Hills Walk, Autumn 2019

The size and nail nicks on the blades varies a surprising amount. The holes on the blades in the Style series are there for aesthetic reasons only. Food, especially cheese, gets stuck in the holes and the nail nicks were moved down the blade to accompany them, to the tools detriment as the blades are consequently harder to open as a result. More recently it appears that Leatherman have begun to put standard blades into the Style, this is a welcome change.

Small Leatherman blades compared. From left to right: Style, Style CS, Squirt P4, Squirt S4, Squirt ES4, Squirt PS4, Micra

Small Leatherman blades compared. From left to right: Style, Style CS, Squirt P4, Squirt S4, Squirt ES4, Squirt PS4, Micra. Only apparent differences are minor styling on the Style blades, size and position of nail nicks, and a slight drop point to the Micra blade. All are made of the same quality 420HC stainless steel

None of the blades lock, so a little care has to be taken when using them. I much prefer the ease with which the blades can be accessed on all of the Leatherman keychain tools other than the Micra. The Micra has to be opened to access all tools, including its blade, from the inside. As to the other eight tools, if pocket carried, fluff and general crud can build up under externally positioned tools more easily than with the Micra, however I have never found this an issue. On trail I don’t carry one in my pocket. More commonly you will see hikers hanging one of these tools from a pack’s shoulder strap daisy loop, however I prefer to keep it in my food or ditty bag.

Pliers

There are many hikers that feel a pair of pliers can be particularly useful on trail. Three Points of the Compass is not necessarily one of them. There are certainly times when they can be useful, if not almost indispensable. It can be difficult to repair a zip without pliers and lifting a pot off a stove is often easy with pliers. Pushing a needle through tough cordura or leather is made far easier with pliers, though a rock could be used with care. It is all about determining where your particular emphasis, needs and wishes lie. Myself, I prefer full size scissors, however others may feel a small pair of scissors suffice which frees up the opportunity to potentially include pliers tips.

There are three choices of jaw in the small Leatherman keychain multi-tools. These are scissors, pliers and the less useful electricians pliers

There are three choices of jaw in the small Leatherman keychain multi-tools. These are scissors, pliers and the less useful electricians pliers. All use backsprings and cams and are very efficient for lighter tasks

Two types of pliers can be found on the Leatherman range of keychain sized multi-tools- these are the needlenose pliers on the E4 and later ES4. These also have regular, if small, pliers in the same head. The two Electricians’ tools, the Squirt E4 and ES4, have needle nose pliers, wire/hard wire cutters and wire strippers- 20GA, 18GA, 16GA, 14GA and 12GA.

If taking a multi-tool on trail, any of these have numerous crevices in which food and gunk can accumulate and fester. A decent periodic clean will help reduce the chance of cross-contamination

If taking a multi-tool on trail, any of these have numerous crevices in which food and gunk can accumulate and fester. A decent periodic clean will help reduce the chance of cross-contamination

Colour

It is pretty obvious that on trail, a brightly coloured knife or multi-tool can be a preferred feature. Put any item of muted colour down in the long grass and you asking to lose it. It is one reason why the classic red Victorinox Swiss Army Knife is a great choice for backpacking. That flame red sticks out like a sore thumb. That said, Three Points of the Compass does like muted colours, you will not see me wearing bright reds, orange and yellow. I like to blend into my natural surroundings. Whatever your choice, many of the Leatherman key chain sized tools came in a variety of colours, especially the Micra which has received numerous scales and wraps over the years. Even the diminutive and minimalist Leatherman Style, which only enjoyed a four year production run, came in four colours- black, red, blue and pink. If you want a really brightly coloured option, one of the few keychain tools released by Leatherman with pink coloured scales is always going to stand out.

In 2012 Leatherman announced their Pink Program- this was their support for breast cancer awareness and they released three of their tools in a striking pink colour. These were the Micra, Style and Style CS. Each of them features the breast cancer awareness ribbon laser etched on to the blade. The Micra and Squirt also feature the ribbon on one of their scales. Note that not all pink Leatherman tools were part of the Pink Program

In 2012 Leatherman announced their Pink Program- this was their support for breast cancer awareness and they released three of their tools in a striking pink colour. These were the Micra, Style and Style CS. Each of them features the breast cancer awareness ribbon laser etched on to the blade. The Micra and Squirt also feature the ribbon on one of their scales. Note that not all pink Leatherman tools were part of the Pink Program and not all have the ribbon feature

Future blogs will look more closely at some of the other tools found in the various ranges. I shall end with a particular recommendation from this useful little selection of small multi-tools.

The production dates, dimensions and weights for all nine Leatherman keychain tools are shown below.

Weights and dimensions of the Leatherman keychain multi-tools
Micra Micra- with added aluminum scales Squirt S4 Squirt P4 Squirt E4 Squirt PS4 Squirt ES4 Style Style CS Style PS
Production dates 1996-Present ?- present 2002-2010 2002-2010 2003-2010 2010-present 2010-present 2010-2014 2010-present 2011-present
Maximum length (including keyring if present) x width (when closed) x thickness (across scale screws) 66mm

X

19.25mm

X

12.40mm

66mm

X

31.25mm

X

13mm

60mm

X

20.55mm

X

13.60mm

60mm

X

20.65mm

X

13.70mm

60mm

X

20.60mm

X

13.70mm

60mm

X

19.65mm

X

13.80mm

60mm

X

20.80mm

X

14.00mm

59mm

X

10.80mm

X

12.40mm

76mm

X

20.60mm

X

10.45mm

76mm

X

20.60mm

X

10.50mm

Weight 49.9g 55g 52.3g 55.3g 53.5g 56.9g 54.3g 23.1g 41.7g 44.9g
Nitecore NU25 headlamp

The Nitecore NU25- a quick mod

Three Points of the Compass has used a few headlamps  on trail over the years. The one that is currently in favour is the Nitecore NU25. Available in black, yellow or white, I have the bright yellow lamp. All the better for being found as light fades.

Nitecore NU25 is a rechargeable headlamp. The port is beneath the lamp and covered from the elements when not in use

Nitecore NU25 is a rechargeable headlamp. The port is beneath the lamp and covered from the elements when not being charged

It is a great headlamp. It has a built in 610 mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery. Separate buttons for white or red light and has decent Cree XP-G2 S3 LED fitted.

Weather resistance is fairly good at IP66, this is helped by a flippable rubber covering to the micro-USB charge port. Beside  the two intensities of red light, there are varying white light, maxing out at 360 lumen. More stats can be seen here.

Nitecore NU25 with stock headband

Nitecore NU25 with stock headband

All that said, there is one big fault with the light. The headband is total overkill for such a lightweight headlamp. The light weighs 28g. the headband a further 25g. There is a quite well known modification that replaces the, admittedly very good, headband with a simpler set-up. For any that are unaware of this, I show it here.

Rear matrix of Nirecore NU25

Rear matrix of Nirecore NU25

The headlamp will tilt up to 60° from the curved head support. This aids its correct alignment when night walking, or when simply sitting on the tent floor at night. The headband simply slips out of the rear of this folding head support. This shows that it is made up of a number of small holes, just right for slipping thin shock cord or bungee through.

 

The makings of a lighter headband

The makings of a lighter headband

A few minutes on eBay located a number of sellers of both shockcord and cord locks. Just a few quid secured 10m of 2mm cord (more than I am ever likely to require), plus a wee baggie of double cord locks. Each of these weighs just 1.2g. Together with a pair of scissors and a lighter, is all that is required for the modification.

 

The modded headlamp

The modded headlamp

I looped two lengths of 2mm shockcord through the rear matrix. You can see how in the associated image. One running through the top, the other through the bottom. The bottom cord was then tied back on to the top cord with a running slip knot. Then trimmed and ends closed with a lighter. The top cord is long enough to pass behind my head with a little extra for adjustment if required to be worn over a beenie or similar. I ran the two ends through the toggle and tied them off together, trimmed the ends and sealed with the lighter again.

The whole job took less than five minutes to complete. The modified lamp with replacement head cord, now weighs 34g. So has knocked off 19g with no loss in function. It is less bulky, is comfortable to wear, doesn’t slip and is adjustable. A win win…

 

Modified Nitecore NU25 is comfortable to wear and easily adjusted

Modified Nitecore NU25 is comfortable to wear and easily adjusted

 

 

2019 Z Packs Duplex

A check of my new Duplex, and some tweaks

Three Points of the Compass used a Zpacks Duplex tent as his shelter during his recent hike across the United Kingdom. It was a truly excellent shelter and took a right hammering in some awful conditions. Good that it was, it is now simply worn out. There was absolutely no need to change to some other shelter so, despite the eye-watering cost of a premium product, made from damned expensive fabric, from a (now quite large) American cottage company, another was purchased.

Even in the narrow confines of my little garden, it is possible to squeeze the Duplex in, testament to its ease of use

Even in the narrow confines of my little garden, it is possible to squeeze the Duplex in, testament to its ease of use

A thin drying line is added across the width of the shelter, this only adds a gram or two to the weight

A thin drying line is added across the width of the shelter, this only adds a gram or two to the weight

My nephew kindly bought it over to the UK for me a month ago and I have finally found time today to set it up in the narrow confines of my limited garden space.

As before, I purchased the ‘camo’ version which I feel lends itself more to wild camping. Yes, I know this can look a little ‘weekend warrior’ but this choice also offers considerably more discreetness over the other fabric options which are more opaque. Again, as before, I am using my Pacer Poles as supports. I carry poles on trail anyway and this saves greatly on the weight of any other uprights.

The four door tie out points are well made and reinforced

The four door corners are well made and reinforced

There are two internal mesh storage pockets. These are mounted centrally along the sides

There are two internal mesh storage pockets. These are mounted centrally along the sides

The 2019 shelter does not appear to have undergone much in the way of unnecessary evolution since my 2017 incarnation. The two little mesh storage pockets previously attached to the ends (head and feet) are now centrally positioned below the side rainbow mesh doors. Not a useful change I feel.

I had mostly experienced wear around the tie out points on the vestibule doors, these now appear a little beefed up on the newer version.

Short length of 2mm bungee cord added to the end wall tie outs

Short length of 2mm bungee cord added to the end wall tie outs

The Duplex comes with wall guys that can be utilised to provide a little more internal space, though they are not necessary for set-up. Again, my 2017 version had problems with both of these, one end tearing off entirely in strong buffeting winds. I had learnt then to incorporate a length of bungee cord between tie out and peg/stake. So right from the outset I have added in a 300mm length between guy and peg. That should reduce any large shock or strain to the shelter sides.

My peg selection (it is not supplied with any) is now happily nailed down to what will handle most of the varied UK ground types. I also carry one extra mini-groundhog in case of loss. With my old battered 5g Tread Lite peg bag, these total 174g. This may seem a lot but it is a good selection that enables me to bash down into the occasional rocky ground, as well as pull into use one or both of my wide V profile ti pegs in softer ground or on the windward side if expecting high winds. I can also now double-peg in soft ground if required.

Peg selection- 2 x Clamcleats Tornado (37g), 2 x Clamcleats Spear (35g0, 2 x MSR Groundhogs (30g), 7 x MSR Mini Groundhogs (67g), Tread Lite peg bag (5g). Total- 174g

Peg selection- 2 x Clamcleats Ti Tornado (37g), 2 x Clamcleats Ti Spear (35g), 2 x MSR Groundhogs (30g), 7 x MSR Mini Groundhogs (67g), Tread Lite peg bag (5g). Total- 174g

The Duplex scrunches down to a small size

The single wall Duplex scrunches down to a small size

As to weight of the shelter itself, in an old 9g cuben stuff sack, it comes in on my scales at 579g. Not bad for an easy to set up, two-person shelter with four doors and two vestibules. In just a few days Three Points of the Compass is off on another hike, albeit only 170 mile or so, it will be good to be re-acquainted with an old friend, if a little shiny and new at present and requiring a few trail miles.

Z Packs Duplex with both doors tied back on one side

Zpacks Duplex with both doors tied back on one side

Three Points of the Compass on the GR223

Hiking in Menorca: the GR 223

The Camí de Cavalls, or Horse’s Path

Menorca is a fairly small island in the western Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago of Spain, near the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula. It offers a fantastic opportunity to walk an ancient and beautiful track.

Mr and Mrs Three Points of the Compass, and daughter when she was younger, have for many years tried to get away to one of the many islands in Europe each year. I have blogged on a few of them in the past. Menorca, smaller than nearby Mallorca, is a terrific holiday destination. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and almost half of the island is protected, with two nature reserves: The Nature Park of Albufera des Grau and the Marine Reserve Nord de Menorca. There can be just a small minority of holidaymakers to that lovely island that bother to explore far beyond the resorts, large towns and the usual organised bus and jeep excursions.

Three Points of the Compass on the GR223

Three Points of the Compass enjoying native pine forests on the GR223

Along with some one million annual visitors I have enjoyed my time immensely on Menorca. Some may wonder how as my family and I took a package holiday to a busy hotel district in one of the busiest parts of the island- Son Bou, on the south coast. Many readers would regard such a holiday as anathema. I explored the island by car and bus with my family, we ate too much, we drank too much, and we enjoyed comfortable hotel facilities and weather that us Brits see far too infrequently. However, that was never going to be enough for Three Points of the Compass. This island has a special prize. It is encircled by a path that has uncertain historic roots. The coastal path was probably first built to allow access for the island inhabitants to guard against pirate attacks in the 16th century. Whatever its origin, it is now the GR 223 of the Senderos de Gran Recorrido network in Spain.  Not only did this path get me away from people for much of the day most days. But it also enables access to some of the most beautiful and lonely parts of the island.

I am never going to criticise the majority of holidaymakers who enjoy frequent, affordable holidays in hotels at hundreds of locations across the globe, I am one of them on many an occasion. However, such holidays should be looked on by the hiker as a springboard to walking destinations far from home. Everyone must find their own balance, how much time their spouse is happy with them disappearing from pool side and family duties. I found that the Cami de Cavalls could be accessed pretty well by public transport, buses mostly, and taxis to the most distant and difficult to access points of the island. With careful planning and a couple of early starts, I was able to complete the entire trail during a fortnights holiday. No mean feat as it is 185 km (116 miles). With an understanding partner (unless they are joining you), you could do similar over a ten day or two week break on the island. It would be a push to fit it into a week’s break.

Classic island walking

Classic island walking

The benefits of staying at a popular central resort is that there are good bus links to the centre of the island- Alaior mostly, for onward movement to the start and finish points of each days hike. Two hiking partners with a couple of hire cars could handle the logistics much easier, but that would be damned expensive.

Or there are some holiday providers who can arrange minibus transport to and from. But then you are subject to their itineraries, other passenger requirements, and again, far more expensive. But, it does make the logistics much easier. Three Points of the Compass hasn’t used any of these companies so it is up to you to do the research and see if it suits your needs.

Three Points of the Compass visited Menorca in July, it was mostly hot and dry, as expected. However there is much green vegetation on the dry soils. It gets much drier and browner as the year progresses

Three Points of the Compass visited Menorca in July, it was mostly hot and dry, as expected. However there is much green vegetation on the dry soils. It gets much drier and browner as the year progresses

Fairly typical section of the GR 223 away from the wooded sections. Here between Binisafuller and Son Bou the trail passes between roughly cultivated and walled fields

Fairly typical section of the GR 223 away from the wooded sections. Here between Binisafuller and Son Bou the trail passes between roughly cultivated and walled fields. Bini.. in a name harks back to the Moorish occupation, meaning ‘belonging to the son of…’ from Ben, Arabic for son.

The island measures some 50km from west to east- Ciutadella to Maó and is no more than 20km north to south. But it takes time to travel around, especially by bus. Services away from the resorts are infrequent and very careful planning is required to ensure that connections will be there, especially at the end of the day. I checked online for bus timetables before I left and checked with my hotel for printed timetables when I arrived. A glance at the bus route map online reveals how some parts of the coastline are quite poorly served.

My first two days were simply the first two sections of coast nearest to my hotel, travelling out and walking back to the hotel. On the third day my family were rested and in need of exploration so we all went to Maó for the day. The British moved the capital there from Ciutadella because of its sheltered harbour and it is a lovely seaside town to explore. It was important to also find time to visit Tourist Information and bus station, for more timetables, check out how taxis work and what were reasonable costs, and get a general feel for how reliable the transport network is. Within the confines of the timetables, buses are cheap, clean and pretty reliable. However I made the mistake and found that any advertised buses on Sundays are a tad unreliable. It is best not to rely on buses on Sundays.

It is wise to pick up any bus timetable you can find when in foreign climes. You can discover practical and useful alternatives that aren't always obvious from scant web-based pages

It is wise to pick up any bus timetable you can find when in foreign climes. You can discover practical and useful alternatives that aren’t always obvious from scant web-based pages. Some buses are purely local and it can be hard to find out up to date, seasonal timings

I was unadventurous for lunch on trail. Rolls and excellent local meats and cheese, bags of nuts, supplemented with occasional bananas spread with peanut butter

My trail lunches were unadventurous. Bread rolls and excellent local meats and cheese, bags of nuts, supplemented with occasional bananas spread with peanut butter. Hydration was far more important

After my first two sections, and now having established transport links and more aware of what I could comfortably manage in a (part) days walk, accepting that many hours were going to be spent travelling to and from my start/finish points, either by a series of buses or a handful of taxis. I was better armed to arrange my subsequent days. I never completed the GR 223 as a continuous linear trek. Instead, I did sections that suited my and my family’s holiday. I had short days occasionally and was back at the hotel by midday so that we could do something together in the afternoon, or longer days with sections joined together and not arriving back at the hotel until early evening. I was working toward the more distant parts of the island and familiarising myself with the logistics for the following day. What worked for me, based at Son Bou, was as below.

Day Stage
From To Distance Ascent Difficulty
One Cala Galdana Son Bou 17.2 km (10.7 mile) 350m Medium-easy-low
Two Binisafúller Son Bou 19.8 km (12.3 mile) 390m Medium-low
Three Binisafúller Maó 21.4 km (13.3 mile) 220m Low-medium
Four Cala Morell Ciutadella 17.5 km (10.8 mile) 300m medium
Five Ciutadella Son Xoriguer 14.7 km (9.1 mile) 50m medium
Six Arenal d’en Castell Es Grau 22.2 km (13.8 mile) 550m Medium-low-becoming easy
Seven Son Xoriguer Cala Galdana 18.2 km (11.3 mile) 320m Medium-low
Eight Binimel·là Arenal d’en Castell 20.4 km (12.7 mile) 170m Medium-low
Nine Binimel·là Cala Morell 24 km (14.9 mile) 850m High-then medium-low
Ten Es Grau Maó 10 km (6.2 mile) 250m Medium-low
185.4 km

(115.1 miles)

Note that difficulty grading by the authorities tends to err on the side of caution
The section between Es Grau and Favàritx leads the hiker into wetlands and the lunar landscape of Cap de Favàritx

The section between Es Grau and Favàritx leads the hiker into wetlands and the lunar landscape of Cap de Favàritx

There is a very useful website offering great info on the trail in a number of languages. This will also point you at the most current map, guidebook and, not that I used them, GPS tracks. I suppose it would be possible to hike the trail without guidebook or map as the trail is mostly quite well signposted, however I found them indispensable for planning purposes. The guidebook only weighs 156g and the map, to a 1;50000 scale, another 60g. There is a handy interactive map online that also has some helpful information on what to expect on the different sections.

Purchased in Mahon (Maó), Three Points of the Compass found the official guide book and map incredibly useful for planning each day's hike

Purchased in Mahon (Maó), Three Points of the Compass found the official guide book and map incredibly useful for planning each day’s hike

The north west corner of the island is known as 'Dry Menorca' for good reason. There is little rainfall and the trail is hard underfoot

The north west corner of the island is known as ‘Dry Menorca’ for good reason. There is little rainfall and the trail is hard underfoot

I didn’t spend time on trail looking out for cafes, they simply aren’t there when you want one, other than while waiting for a bus on occasion. Lunches were simply a roll or two, meats (Ses Tanques) and cheeses (Queso de Mahon) from a local supermarket plus a few nuts. Hydration is another matter. This is a dry island with no rivers and it is very unlikely you will find water should you run out. I carried a minimum of two to three litres with me each day, occasionally more, and still ended up purchasing water in town shops toward the end of a day’s hike.

Obviously a hat and sunscreen are important too. Shorts and trail runners are fine for hiking. It is a hot and dusty trail mostly. Especially in the north west corner of the island between Cala Morell and Ciutadella. There is only scrubby sparse vegetation here and the going is rocky.

Elsewhere, I had a little rain on a couple of days, I carry a light waterproof when hiking anyway so threw that on for an hour or so.

 

19th century Barraca de bestiar. A tiered stone shelter for animals

19th century Barraca de bestiar passed in the north of the island. A tiered stone shelter for animals

One thing I was pleased to have with me was my little monocular. Europe’s only sedentary population of Egyptian Vulture lives on Menorca and I enjoyed fantastic views of them in the north. Other raptors included Booted Eagle, Kestrel, Red Kite and Eleonora’s Falcon. Hoopoo flew along the trail as I approached, Ravens kronked. Shrikes and Pied Flycatchers flitted in the sparse pines. Around the abandoned salt evaporation ponds at Salines de Mongofra, the call of Bee Eaters surrounded me as parties swooped around. Individual birds looking as though they had been dipped in multiple paint pots. 

For much of the GR 223, you will have the paths to yourself, not seeing anyone for hours despite the island teeming with tens of thousands of tourists- elsewhere

For much of the GR 223, you will have the paths to yourself, not seeing anyone for hours despite the island teeming with tens of thousands of tourists- elsewhere

I saw few terrestrial animals, Hermanns Tortoise were often seen on the paths, occasional rabbits, the only Pine Martin was road kill. Butterflies and dragonflies aplenty but sadly none I.D’d.

A welcome cerveza in a cool cafe prior to catching by bus back after a days hiking. The simple pleasures...

A welcome cerveza in a cool cafe prior to catching my bus back after a days hiking. The simple pleasures…

Few people shared the trail with me- one cyclist, a few trail runners, I saw just one small party of horse riders. Obviously when I was around some of the beautiful sandy coves, I was often sharing these with hundreds of holidaymakers. At other coves, remote from any habitation or road, I had them all to myself.

Two pages from my Menorca journal

Two pages from my Menorca journal

Read the book, spread the map, walked the trail, now wear the T-shirt...

Read the book, spread the map, walked the trail, now wear the T-shirt…

You may have gathered by now that Three Points of the Compass joined together a few of the sections. It is divided into twenty stages with some form of access being available at start and end points. It would definitely be possible to hike it that way but it would take more time than most holidaymakers would enjoy. I completed the trail in ten days. My longest days were  on the ‘harder’, more distant, sections, but any mildly capable hiker could easily do similar and that does cut down considerably the need to keep accessing more distant parts of the island subsequently.

Would I recommend the GR 223? Absolutely, it is not particularly difficult. It takes you to some stunning parts of the Menorcan coastline that few see. The island countryside and coastline is surprisingly varied with much of interest. The GR 223 passes ancient stone watchtowers and fortresses and provides a welcome escape from the confines of a holiday resort should you require respite.

If you were do just do parts of it, then Three Points of the Compass would definitely recommend the north west and west, however that would miss out the entirely different limestone cliffs and gorges of the south.

Beautiful dusty trails

The GR 223- Beautiful dusty trails