Tag Archives: camping

South Downs Way

The South Downs Way in winter- water sources

Three Points of the Compass walked the South Downs Way in winter 2018. I wrote a brief blog on that walk soon after. This piece covers my water sources on that five day trip of a tad over a hundred miles. I carried clean and dirty water bladders and a water filter, also a 0.85lt. bottle for drinking from during the day.

Three Points of the Compass travelled to the start of the South Downs Way at Winchester by train. The blue cuben bag in the side pocket of my Mariposa is my hydration kit comprising 2lt Evernew bladder for clean water, 2lt HydraPak Seeker bladder for unfiltered and a Katadyn BeFree filter. I also carried an 850ml Smartwater bottle for drinking 'on the go'

Three Points of the Compass travelled to the start of the South Downs Way at Winchester by train. The blue cuben bag in the side pocket of my Mariposa is my hydration kit comprising 2lt Evernew bladder for clean water, 2lt HydraPak Seeker bladder for unfiltered and a Katadyn BeFree filter. I also carried an 850ml Smartwater bottle for drinking ‘on the go’.

I was fortunate to enjoy fairly good weather for most of the walk. It was often simply cool and bright. However, it was a late in the year walk and I also experienced occasional thick mist, driving rain and sleet on the final day and cold frosty nights. Snow blanketed the hills two days after I finished. Some of the water taps provided along the trail are turned off for the winter months and I did find a couple that were not working. Other than that, I had absolutely no problem in keeping myself well hydrated both during the day and for night halts.

I set off early morning from a Winchester hotel where I had spent the night. I had a couple of mugs of tea prior to leaving and carried one and a half litres of water from the get go. My first halt to refill was at a tap near Keepers Cottage, SU 537 288. This is immediately beside the path and was specifically installed with cyclists in mind and also has a pump etc. This is a popular trail for cyclists and some times of the year can see as many cyclists as walkers. However, at this time of year I saw few hikers and only a handful of cyclists and horse riders.

My first halt on Day One for water was near Keepers Cottage in the Temple Valley

My first halt on Day One for water was near Keepers Cottage in the Temple Valley

If I had not replenished with water at Keepers Cottage my next halt would have been at Lomer Farm where, despite this notice stating that repair would be made in Spring 2018, it still hadn't taken place

Lomer Farm. Despite this notice stating that repair would be made in Spring 2018, it still hadn’t taken place

Tap at Lomer Farm- out of use (SU 601237)

If I had not replenished with water at Keepers Cottage my next halt would have been at Lomer Farm- however the tap was out of use (SU 601237)

It is advisable to take any opportunity to replenish with at least a bottle of water if a tap is passed as some sources are not only seasonal but could be vandalised, under repair or simply no longer in commission.

My first day was a little over twenty miles so I felt I had earned yet another halt in the afternoon when I passed the fly fishing ponds at Meon Springs. The fishing lodge (SU 655 215) at Whitewool Farm is often open as the fishery offices are situated inside, alongside a tackle store and ‘help yourself’ to hot drinks facility. Snacks were also available but I didn’t need anything as I was carrying just about all the food supplies I required for the whole trail. Instead, a mug of tea (£1) was very welcome. A tap was available here if it had been simply water I was after.

Fishing Lodge at Meon Springs, Whitewool Farm

Fishing Lodge at Meon Springs, Whitewool Farm

My first nights halt was at the Sustainability Centre, Wetherdown Lodge (SU 676 190). This is a Friends of Nature Eco centre and due to my early away from Winchester in the morning, I arrived around 14.40, so not only had time to get the tent up in the lower fields, but also managed to get to the onsite Beech Cafe five minutes before it closed for a welcome pint. At this time of the year, night comes early and my evening meal of lentil curry was obviously eaten in the dark.

Day One on the South Downs Way saw me camping at the Sustainability Centre where water is readily available. Even if not staying there, a water tap is only a hundred metres off the main route

Day One on the South Downs Way saw me camping at the Sustainability Centre where water is readily available. Even if not staying there, a water tap is only a hundred metres off the main route

There is a cafe at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park however no water outside of opening times

There is a cafe at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park however no water outside of opening times

Day Two was a twenty four mile hike, so I rose early and simple breakfast and 500ml mug of tea saw me on my way while it was still dark. I had hoped for second breakfast at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park visitor centre (SU 718 185) but arrived to early and wasn’t prepared to sit around for a couple of hours waiting for it to open.

I was carrying just under a litre of water with me and this was sufficient until a water tap opposite Manor Farm at a minor crossroads of tracks at Cocking (SU 879 166).

A number of cattle troughs are passed on the South Downs Way, mostly on Days two and three, any water from these sources requires purifying or filtering. I had no need to use these sources as there were plenty of others

A number of cattle troughs are passed on the South Downs Way, mostly on days two and three out of Winchester. Any water from these sources requires purifying or filtering. I had no need to use these sources as there were plenty of others

Some of the taps on the South Downs Way have been placed there by cycling or walking organisations, others have been sited in memory of a much loved individual. The tap at Cocking was sited in memory of 14 year old Peter Wren.

“He loved the English Countryside and walked the South Downs Way in the summer of 1978”

Any wise hiker not only tops up with water at these sources but also drinks as much as he can before moving on. I had doubts on finding another source before this day’s halt so took opportunity to carry another two litres away from here in addition to my 850ml bottle.

Tap directly beside the path at Cocking. A notice beside the tap records that the next available sources are at Amberley, 11 miles east, or Buriton Farm, 4 miles west

Tap directly beside the path at Cocking. A notice beside the tap records that the next available sources are at Amberley, 11 miles east, or Buriton Farm, 4 miles west

I wild camped at the end of Day Two and it was a cold evening and even colder night so plenty of hot drinks with my evening lentil curry followed by the usual mug of tea in the morning took just about all the water I had with me. It was a cold and bright day with deer in the frosty fields and red kites overhead. Soon after crossing the River Adur, prior to reaching the B2139, south of Amberley, there is a tap and trough (203 124) provided by the Rotary Clubs of Arundel, Steyning & Henfield, and Storrington in the hope that…

“…those who drink here will remember those elsewhere who have nowhere to drink”

Tap provided by the local Rotary Clubs soon after crossing over the River Arun at Houghton

Tap provided by the local Rotary Clubs soon after crossing over the River Arun at Houghton

I reached this tap a little after nine in the morning and this refill saw me well until another, six miles on, in Glazeby Lane, near a road crossing south of Washington (118 119). As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few water sources on this trail and if one if unavailable for one reason or another, it is usually not too far to another. It is only if wild camping that a little care is required to ensure that enough is available for a nights halt.

Another tap directly beside the path south of Washington. Many of these are suposed to be turned off once the weather turns colder from October, but I found many were still operating at the end of November

Another water tap directly beside the path south of Washington. Many of these are supposed to be turned off in October once the weather turns colder and there is a danger of freezing, but Three Points of the Compass found many were still operating at the end of November

I didn't require it but there was also a working tap between the River Adur and the road crossing of the A283

I didn’t require it but there was also a working tap between the River Adur and the road crossing of the A283

While I had plenty of water with me and it was only a relatively short hike to my days end, I also drank a litre at the tap provided by the Society of Sussex Downsmen at Botolphs (TQ 197 093).

Day Three was a 19.5 mile trek to the YHA at Truleigh Hill. I knew that I couldn’t stay in the hostel at it was on exclusive hire however the warden had kindly agreed to my camping in a field opposite. Not only did I also have use of the campers w/c adjacent to the building, but there is also a tap outside for passing hikers (TQ 220 106).

Brewing up at Truleigh Hill

Brewing up at Truleigh Hill

It was another cold night and I was pleased to have ready access to unlimited water as I rehydrated and kept myself warm with a succession of oxo, tea and hot chocolate drinks.

Hikers tap outside entrance to the Youth Hostel at Truleigh Hill

Hikers water tap outside entrance to the Youth Hostel at Truleigh Hill

There is a small cafe, the Hikers Rest, at Saddlescombe Farm, but that was closed as I passed through. However the tap in the wall was still working

There is a small cafe, the Hikers Rest, at Saddlescombe Farm, but that was closed as I passed through. However the tap in the wall was still working

Day Four was just over twenty one miles to the South Downs YHA just three miles from Lewes. Not only did I have a dorm room booked for the night, but I knew I also had a couple of decent halts on this section. Setting off with a full water bottle, the first halt was at the tap in a wall at Saddlescombe Farm (TQ 271 114).

I had no real need to stop here as it was only another fifty minutes walk to the ‘Pilgrims Church’ at Pyecombe. With the aid of grant money, the parishioners here have provided an excellent extension to the church with not only w/c, but also tea and coffee making facilities for walkers. Just be sure to leave a donation.

I spent some time at the church wandering around and looking at items of interest, there is much to see here and it makes a great rest point.

Really good facilities are available at Pyecombe Church. Open 10.00 - 18.00 in the summer, until 16.00 in the winter

Really good facilities are available at the Downland Church of the Transfiguration at Pyecombe. Open 10.00 – 18.00 in the summer, until 16.00 in the winter

There are a number of dew ponds situated on the top of the rolling South Downs. All are contaminated with animal faeces and filtering and purification is an absolute necessity

There are a number of dew ponds situated on the top of the rolling South Downs. All are contaminated with animal faeces and filtering and purification is an absolute necessity if using as a water source

Tap in wall of Housedean Farm, A27

Tap in wall of Housedean Farm, A27

Walking on, I took time to explore the slightly off trail Jack and Jill windmills but my next halt for sustenance was a late lunch once I reached the A27. The trail turns right here to pass Housedean Farm prior to crossing the road via a bridge. In the wall of the farm is a walkers tap (TQ 368 092). However, a more favourable option is to turn left instead and walk down to the truckers stop where there is often a sandwich wagon.

It is only a hundred metres or so to the busy and noisy lay-by to ‘Oscars mobile catering’, where I chomped my way through two huge bacon and egg baguettes alongside a couple of mugs of tea. Never look a gift horse in the face…

Snack wagon beside the A27 on day four

Snack wagon beside the A27 on day four. Only a hundred metres off trail

Only a kilometre away from my days halt at YHA South Downs, I had no need to avail myself of the working tap in the wall of Southease Church. The uncommon tower is one of only three round towers found in Sussex

The uncommon tower of Southease Church is one of only three round towers found in Sussex. There is a walkers water tap in the wall here

Back on trail, I crossed the road and carried on, in deteriorating weather, back up on to the Downs. This is an arid stretch, with a lot of large agricultural fields however it was only a three hour walk to my nights halt at the relatively new and quite large hostel of YHA South Downs. Only a kilometre before my days end, I took time out to explore the fascinating interior of Southease Church. I had no need to avail myself of the working tap in the wall of the church ( TQ 423 052).

Reaching the YHA around 16.30, I booked in and was shown to my shared dormitory room.

Having showered, changed into clean clothes and rested, I declined from cooking yet another lentil curry in their campers kitchen and chose instead to eat in the hostel’s Courtyard Cafe. Hydration here in the form of a few decent beers alongside my evening meal of pizza.

Opened by HM The Queen in 2013, YHA South Downs is situated in a Sussex farmhouse

Opened by HM The Queen in 2013, YHA South Downs is situated in a Sussex farmhouse

After a nights decent snoring on the part of the two other room occupants, I rose at an early hour ready for my final day on trail. I had the usual mug of tea in the campers kitchen alongside a simple breakfast as second breakfast was only a few miles away. It was just under 22 miles to my day’s end halt at YHA Eastbourne, via the walk into town and back out again, finishing at the town pier rather than the official halt at the towns western edge. I don’t think that the sad little start/finish post is a fitting end and was to happily continue past it further down the coast to the impressive Victorian Pier. Prior to that I had a day’s walk to complete however.

Second breakfast in the Singing Kettle Tearoom in Alfriston

Second breakfast in the Singing Kettle Tearoom in Alfriston

It was raining hard when I set off from YHA South Downs and a halt at the Singing Kettle Tearoom (519 031) in Alfriston three hours later proffered an opportunity to dry out on the outside while I put a pot of tea and a sausage sandwich on the inside. The proprietor filled my water bottle prior to my leaving and this did me until I pulled into the Seven Sisters visitor centre (TV 518 995) overlooking the spectacular Cuckmere River meanders.

There was little open at the Seven Sisters visitor centre, however there was a working tap outside the open public w/c

There was little open at the Seven Sisters visitor centre, however there was a working tap outside the open public w/c

Most visitor centres have a working tap somewhere outside. While many are intended to provide water for dogs, a tap is just as welcome to the thirsty hiker. It had only taken me around an hour and a half to reach here after leaving Alfriston and it was another ninety minutes jaunt along the lovely rolling Seven Sisters before I reached my final tap (TV 553 960) on the South Downs Way. This was at Birling Gap, adjacent to the Coach Park.

Easily missed, there is a tap at Birling Gap. Again, with an open w/c alongside

Easily missed, there is a tap at Birling Gap. Again, with an open w/c alongside

I was on the home stretch now and I had no need to refill my bottle for the rest of my walk as it was only another two hours walk to Eastbourne Pier. After which it was the long haul back out of town where, rather than travel home that night, I was stopping for the night at Eastbourne YHA. And that was it. 108.11 miles since I left Winchester. I had absolutely no problem in finding plenty of water or alternative drinks along its entire distance. There are a lot more options than I have shown above. There are other farms and pubs that can also provide water either directly on the trail, or close by.

The above was correct for the dates of my walk- 16th – 20th November 2018. As it turned out, I had no need to use my water filter, not the emergency sterilisation tablets that I carry in my ditty bag. There was good potable water readily available on every day.

There is a downloadable guide to water sources on the South Downs Way via the National Trails website. But it doesn’t appear to have been updated in some time and fails to list quite a few points. Their mapping system is useful as you can list the points of most interest to you which can include water points. An online cyclists’ guide has a similar list, equally wanting in places. However it includes some useful images.

Three Points of the Compass walked the South Downs Way in November 2018

Three Points of the Compass walked the South Downs Way in November 2018

A winter walk on the South Downs Way

A winter wander on the South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile National Trail between Winchester and Eastbourne. it follows the northern escarpment within the South Downs National Park for most of its distance and is a fairly gentle walk along the chalk downs with only occasional drops to cross river valleys.

Three Points of the Compass travelled down to Winchester to stay overnight. This not only permitted a late night wander of the city, taking in Winchester Cathedral, but also a pint in the Royal Oak, reputed to be 'the oldest bar in England'

Three Points of the Compass travelled down to Winchester to stay there overnight prior to commencing the South Downs Way. This not only permitted a late night wander of the city, taking in Winchester Cathedral, but also a pint in the Royal Oak, reputed to be ‘the oldest bar in England’. Building of the cathedral commenced 1079 on the site of an earlier Saxon Church. The pub dates from around 1002

Three Points of the Compass completed a five month 2000 mile hike in 2018, much of that time was taken as unpaid leave so consequently still had a few days holiday left to fit in before the end of the year. So I decided to knock off another of the National Trails. I walked this trail decades ago when I was in the British Army, but the memory has dimmed. Not only that, but it used to be considerably shorter, originally extending only as far as Buriton until the circa 25 mile extension to Winchester was approved in 1989.

Nigor Wiki-up 3 with Hex Peak V4 single person inner nest

Nigor Wiki-up 3 with Hex Peak V4 single person inner nest

I decided to complete the Way as a winter thru-hike, doing a mix of camping and accommodation. My Z-Packs Duplex had been worn out completely on my Three Points hike earlier in the year so I took my Nigor Wikiup 3 pyramid tent instead. In a nod to the colder conditions expected, instead of simply using a bivi-bag inside the shelter as I have in the past, I took a small one person nest to make the nights a little more comfortable. This was the Hex Peak single inner V4A. It worked brilliantly and the three nights slept inside were all very comfortable despite winter arriving with a vengeance while I was on trail.

The paraphernalia of an evening meal- now soaking in boiled water, my lentil curry continues to cook beneath my down beenie while a hot OXO provides much required re-hydration in the interim

The paraphernalia of an evening meal on the South Downs Way- sitting in freshly boiled water, my lentil curry continues to cook beneath my down beenie while a hot OXO provides much required re-hydration while waiting. There is plenty of room within the Wiki-up 3 shelter to enable cooking inside while it rains outside

My complete gear list can be found here. Accepting that the weather had turned, I carried a few more comfort items of clothing in addition to those I usually take on longer hikes- a mid-layer, puffy trousers and jacket, down beenie etc. Base weight was 9615g but because it was a pretty short hike I carried much of the food I would require. This meant less reliance on infrequent shops, less time spent hunting down meals when the daylight hours were short and less miles added to my total. Cooking was simple- lentil curries, hot drinks such as tea and OXO, granola for breakfast, plenty of chocolate. Tortillas and tuna pouches for three lunches. A few flapjacks were also stuffed in. For this trip I carried the little 25g BRS 3000-T ‘bumblebee’ stove and a 110g  gas cartridge.

Tried and trusted, if a little worn out, my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack was used for my hike. This had ample room for everything I required, including a few extra cold weather items

Tried and trusted, if a little worn out, my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack was used for this hike. This had ample room for everything I required, including a few extra cold weather items

Having enjoyed a pint in one of Winchester’s older establishments, I followed this with a meal in the local Wetherspoons. A big mistake, going for cheap and plentiful calories I waited over an hour for my food which was dire and even the selection of beers was poor. A shame as I can normally rely on a ‘Spoons to deliver what a hiker needs.

There are a lot of guides and maps for the South Downs Way. Despite being well-waymarked, it makes sense to carry a map and a guide book can only add to the enjoyment of the walk. I carried the Cicerone guide book, but left the Cicerone map booklet at home, preffeirng to take the A-Z Adventure Series that contains good 1:25 000 O.S. mapping with a wider coverage than the Cicerone version

There are a lot of guides and maps for the South Downs Way. Despite being well-waymarked, it makes sense to carry a map and a guide book can only add to the enjoyment of the walk. I carried the Cicerone guide book, but left the Cicerone map booklet at home, preferring to take the A-Z Adventure Series that contains good 1:25 000 O.S. mapping with a wider coverage than the Cicerone version

The following day, a Friday, I left my hotel at six-thirty, an hour or so before dawn and it was a short walk to the start of the trail beside the City Mill, from there it was an easy well-marked trail, following the River Itchen out of town. I crossed the M3 and was immediately into the countryside. I was carrying around 1.5 litres of water as I set off as I was unsure on how water supply would be. I had been told that many taps are turned off from the end of October. I’ll do a separate blog on the water sources I used.  Suffice to say, I had no problems sourcing water throughout the hike. Highlights of that day were lovely leafy tracks, mostly soft walking, deer, partridges and around a million pheasants…

Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way. The mist barely cleared on my first day on trail

Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way. The mist barely cleared on my first day on trail

With sixteen miles completed by 11.40, my first halt was a little later for lunch at the Bronze/Iron Age site on Old Winchester Hill, just one of many National Nature Reserves I passed through. I knew that with short day light hours I was going to have to get a move on to that night’s halt. But I still took a break for a mug of tea at the fly fishers little cafe adjoining the tackle shop at Meon Springs. Friday’s camp site was at the Sustainability Centre, Wetherdown Lodge. Arriving at 14.40 after slightly more than twenty miles, I had a winter pitch booked which still meant I had a warmish shower and compost loos to use. There were no other campers and after pitching the tent, I managed to get to the cafe on site minutes before they closed for a pint and a bag of crisps. Back to the darkened tent for lentil curry and instant mash. With a long night before me, I settled down in a warm quilt at 18.50.

I slept well, the campsite was silent beyond a few owls, a mouse rustled through my rubbish bag outside but cleared off when I muttered at it. I rose at five as I had a twenty four plus mile day to complete to where I hoped to wild camp that night. The temperature had dropped considerably and I was pleased I had bought a full set of insulated clothing as camp wear. Quite a bit of condensation on the inner surface of the shelter, nothing within the nest however. I wiped this down while the tawny owls set off again, breakfast, ablutions, packed and away prior to seven. A bit later than I had hoped but I frequently faff around a bit too much on my first morning. It wasn’t long before I was into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. it was good walking through the wooded park until the wonderful long and sweeping descent down to the crossing of the A3. I held a gate open at the bottom for a couple of horse riders who after thanking me, set off at a fine gallop up the slope toward the ancient field systems below Butser Hill that were very evident that morning with the misty low sun and long shadows.

Horse riders gallop up the national trail toward the radio station on Butser Hill

Horse riders gallop up the national trail toward the radio station on Butser Hill

I had held faint hope of a bacon sarnie at the cafe in the visitor centre beside the carpark but that didn’t open until ten. I wasn’t waiting around for two hours so after a brief chat with a marshal setting up for a Park Run taking place later (it was a Saturday), I walked on through the park and out the other side. It sounded as though World War 3 had kicked off as there were shoots taking place in all directions. The path was pretty stony today and the feet felt it a bit in my mostly worn out Altra Lone Peaks. Time for a new pair perhaps.

The mist cleared a little in the afternoon but soon gathered again as the early evening approached, so views were modest. My planned halt that night was at Glatting Beacon but I found that there was a cold wind whistling up the slopes so hunted around for a bit looking for shelter. I eventually settled for a quiet little flat space immediately next to the entrance to the compound containing the masts. It looked as though the place had few visitors, as evidenced by what appears to be arson attempts to the buildings within the compound.

Saturday night's camp was on Glatting Beacon. I arrived around 16.30 and immediately pitched, it was dark by the time my shelter was up

Saturday night’s camp was on Glatting Beacon. I arrived around 16.30 and immediately pitched, it was dark by the time my shelter was up

Another lentil curry and plenty of chocolate. I had a good signal there so was able to chat to Mrs Three Points of the Compass for a while as I sank hot drinks, first an Oxo, then tea, finally a hot chocolate, then early to bed as I could feel the temperature dropping.

I didn’t sleep fantastically that night. I was warm enough but the cold was evident in the morning with a heavy frost. My alarm failed to sound at five thirty, possibly affected by the cold, but I woke soon after anyway. Hot mug of tea and granola followed by ablutions. I had picked a pitch away from the cold wind but condensation was heavy, this immediately froze as soon as I opened the tent flap in the morning. Being frozen, it was easy to shake this off when packing up. It was a lovely clear morning when I hit the trail a little after seven.  It was Sunday and this was the busiest I saw the trail with quite a number of dog walkers out.

Little mist on my Sunday on trail. Gentle slopes could have made for reflective walking if it were not for the blasts of shotguns reverberating through the wooded slopes

Little mist on my Sunday on trail. Gentle slopes could have made for reflective walking if it were not for the blasts of shotguns reverberating from the wooded slopes. Quite a few pheasants would not see another morning

There were quite a few deer in the fields, running as soon as they saw me, stopping to gaze at me from a safe distance, then turning and running again. Partridges cher cher cherred away in low loping flights. Yesterdays Buzzards were now joined by numerous Red Kites. It was a good days walking with the best views so far on trail.

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring. A feature of the South Downs, it is visible for miles to the north and south. The original ring of trees, long since replaced, were planted on the site of a prehistoric hill fort

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring. A feature of the South Downs, it is visible for miles to the north and south. The original ring of trees, long since replaced, were planted on the site of a prehistoric hill fort

Sunday was a nineteen and a half mile day to Truleigh Youth Hostel. I hadn’t been able to book it as it was on exclusive hire but emailing them, the warden had kindly informed me I was welcome to camp in their field opposite- “hide in the field, by the pond or under the trees”, she had also left the campers w/c and shower unlocked for me. I made sure to leave a generous donation in the charity jar when I left the following morning.

Sunday night's camp was in the field opposite Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. A lovely still evening and a cold night

Sunday night’s camp was in the field opposite Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. A lovely still evening and a cold night

When I arrived at the hostel, quite a few of the group that hired the hostel were outside the entrance smoking. What they were smoking I had my suspicions. Drinking and dancing was taking place on the first floor. In chalk smeared outdoor clothes, I felt alien to what was going on but stood chatting to the small group on the steps. I was asked where I had camped the previous night, I told them it had been a wild camp- “wow, that’s awesome”, I quietly demurred- “it was just the one night, not much of a pitch, no view to speak of…”, he interrupted ” yeah, but wild anything, that’s  cool”.

A couple of them were unloading a large sound system from one of the vans- “its a fiftieth birthday party, it’ll be going on ’til the morning”. Oh great! I held out little hope of any sleep but as it was, barely heard anything tucked away some 100 metres away. I slept pretty well that night and condensation was limited in the morning.

The weather was cold with clear skies and good views for much of Monday mornings walking. There were a couple of highlights to visit today. Having crossed the Hulking escarpment, it wasn’t long before I was passing through scrubby downland above Devils Dyke; Britain’s largest single coombe of chalk karst, this is a steep dry valley. Through Saddlescombe, the Hikers Rest cafe closed at this time of the year, then a leisurely halt at the Shepherds’ Church at Pyecombe. The village itself was hit badly by the plague in 1603 and is now split with part of the village now situated half a mile away from the remainder.

The Norman built Shepherds' Church, Pyecombe

The Norman built Shepherds’ Church, Pyecombe

Famed for the Pyecombe Hook, a particular design of shepherds’ crook, I was only slightly more fixated on the dedicated room newly built on to the rear of the church specifically for pilgrims. I declared myself a pilgrim and stopped in to use the facilities and make a cup of tea followed by a hot chocolate. Eating flapjacks and bars  and chatting to a parishioner meant this was a prolonged halt.

The tapsel gate at Pyecombe church is opened by one of the famous shepherds' Pyecombe Hooks. These were made for around 200 years

The tapsel gate at Pyecombe church is opened by one of the famous shepherds’ Pyecombe Hooks. These hooks were made for shepherds and Church of England bishops for around 200 years. A tapsel gate is made of wood and rotates through ninety degrees on a central pivot. Unique to Sussex, only six such gates survive

Then on to the equally famous Clayton windmills, better known as the Jack and Jill windmills. I diverted slightly off trail to go and see these. Jack, a dirty black smock mill is a pretty poor sight now. It has no sails and is a private residence. The nearby Jill, a white painted post mill looks superb.

Post Mill Jill is one of the Clayton windmills and can be seen for miles

Post mill Jill is one of the Clayton windmills and can be seen for miles. She was originally sited in Dyke Road, Brighton and was bought to its current site by a team of horses and oxen in 1852. Occasionally open to the public, she was closed during my visit

 

The uncommon circular tower at Southease church

Southease church tower

handstamp impression from my journal

Hostel handstamp impression from my journal

Despite my halts and diversions, Monday was still a hike in excess of twenty one miles but I was less concerned with finding a camp site as tonight’s halt was YHA South Downs. It was still cold but dry, however the blue skies were clouding over and it was obvious that a change in the weather was imminent. I still made time for a halt at a roadside caravan where two huge bacon rolls were consumed. Also a brief halt to admire Southease church with its rare circular tower. There are only two others in Sussex.

Three Points of the Compass on Ditchling Beacon, the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex

Three Points of the Compass on Ditchling Beacon, the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex

Having booked in to the attractive Youth Hostel, situated on a farm, I found myself sharing a room with one of the most taciturn men I have ever met, also one of the friendliest! Showered and clean, I made my way to the hostels courtyard cafe where the two young wardens- Chaya and Steph, provided me with a series of good beers and the unhealthiest of food options.

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

I slept well in an overheated room, only a little snoring from the other two occupants. Both were contractors and were away early to their work. On my final day, Tuesday, I had breakfast in the campers kitchen and was away soon after eight for my walk to the coast, I enjoyed second breakfast at the Singing Kettle Tearoom at Alfriston. I was headed toward the lovely walk along the Seven Sisters via Cuckmere Haven. My final day also had the greatest amount of ascent- 4892′. This was all easy enough though and would make for a great finish to the hike.

About to descend to the famous winding meanders of the Cuckmere River

About to descend to the famous winding meanders of the Cuckmere River

However the weather had indeed changed and it was rain for much of the day, if it wasn’t raining, it was mostly sleet or hail, such fun! It didn’t really bother me as it was driving in to me from behind or my left, so I was able to keep the hood of my Velez Adventure Lite smock up and was warm and dry to the great extent. My legs got wet but never cold, if it briefly stopped raining, the Montane Terra trousers dried quickly in the stiff wind. This was almost twenty two miles from the Youth Hostel to Eastbourne Pier where I was finishing my South Downs Way hike. Then about face and another long ascent back out of town to that nights halt at YHA Eastbourne. I arrived before five  and had to stand outside until the warden unlocked. This remains a ridiculous YHA requirement that has been largely done away with by independent hostels. I was also less than pleased to find there was no food provided on site and there was nowhere in the vicinity. Not fancying another slog back down into town that night, I was able to rustle up sufficient from my almost totally diminished food supplies supplemented by a little pasta left in the kitchen to make an ‘OK’ last meal. The warden even found a bottle of wine for me, bonus.

Walking toward Birling Gap

Walking toward Birling Gap on my final day on the South Downs Way

With my little diversions off trail and the extra couple of miles up to my Youth Hostel from Eastbourne Pier, I completed 108 miles over my five day hike of the South Downs Way. It had been a cracking walk. The mist had obscured views at times but it added another element to the walk in itself. This has to be one of the finest chalk downland walks to be found anywhere. I wouldn’t do it again in a hurry but am pleased to have completed it.

While the South Downs Way originally opened in 1972, the South Downs National Park is much younger. It is the youngest of England's National Parks and first became operational from 1st April 2011. It is heavily advertised for all forms of leisure activity and can become swamped at certain times of the year. A winter walk means that it is much quieter and beyond a handful of horse riders, three cyclists and less than a dozen walkers, al of whom seemed to be on day walks, the paths were empty

While the South Downs Way originally opened in 1972, the South Downs National Park is much younger. It is the youngest of England’s national parks and first became operational from 1st April 2011. It is heavily advertised for all forms of leisure activity and can become swamped at certain times of the year. A winter walk means that it is much quieter and beyond a handful of horse riders, three cyclists and less than a dozen walkers, all of whom seemed to be on day walks, the paths were empty beside dog walkers never more than a mile from their cars

A glass of red wine

Six days until my ‘Big Walk’- Food, water…. and wine

 “If you can drink the water

 I will drink the wine”

Frank Sinatra

In less than a week I am setting off on one of the longest, most beautiful, rugged, long distance walks in the UK. This is the South West Coast Path, and its 630 miles will be the springboard into the rest of my walk the length of the UK.

Being a coastal route it passes through or near many towns or villages and I anticipate little difficulty in resupply of food. That said, I am setting off from Poole with a handful of meals and some longer lasting supplements I found time to tuck into my food bag.

For the first two evening meals, I am taking the hiker’s staple- a couple of simple noodle meals. Mine are the ‘Fiery Sweet Chilli’ Fusion noodles from Maggi. Not only do these have, in addition to the noodles, the standard bag of flavouring, albeit superior, with dried veg, they also have a little sachet of Sunflower oil for extra flavour and calories, though I wish this were Olive oil. Another staple being carted along are two packs of the Idahoan dried potato flakes: Butter and Herb, and Roasted Garlic. Each of these will have protein added in the form of a pouch of Tuna.

Setting off over the Easter weekend means that a modicum of supplies needs to be carried

Setting off over the Easter weekend means that a modicum of supplies needs to be carried

With over half of its weight consisting of protein, 70g of Yeast Flakes in a zip lock baggie provides additional protein to a few meals in the days to follow, as does 60g of Freeze dried Grated Red Leicester Cheese, in zip lock baggie. These can be added to just about any meal to boost it slightly. Breakfast for Three Points of the Compass usually consists of porridge with added milk powder, so for the first three days I have six ‘Oat So Simple’ sachets (Sultanas, Raisins, Cranberry & Apple and Blueberry & Banana). After that, it is whatever I can find.

Other than  water, for hot drinks in the first week or two I have ten OXO cubes- I like one of these at the end of a days walk immediately after having set up camp. No low salt versions of these for me, these are the full fat, harden your arteries, cubes. Also, 30 decent tea bags will last me a fortnight or more. I am not a fan of full fat milk in tea but will have to learn to accept it as I am also taking 200g of full cream Nido dried milk powder in a zip lock baggie. I have a little plastic 1.5g medicine measuring spoon in this as I find it preferable to use one of these rather than my Ti spoon that has been used for stirring, tasting etc.

I have chatted before about taking a small number of condiments and flavourings, my chosen selection should last many weeks. The ten tough 1 litre ‘Soup ‘n’ Sauce’ bags I am tucking into my cuben Z Packs Food Bag will be washed out periodically and will last quite some time. These save considerably on the mess when preparing oatmeal, noodley or mash type meals. They can simply be fastened after the cooked contents are consumed, to be washed out at a later stage.

Also for the first couple of days I am carting along some snacks- three different Kind bars, easily the tastiest of this type of bar, also a single Cypriot peanut and sesame bar found sitting in a cupboard after last years holiday to Cyprus. After those are consumed, it is probably locally purchased Snickers bars from them on.

Final choice on my hydration system- BeFree filter with a 2 litre HyrdaPak Seeker, 850ml bottle for clean water to drink 'on the go' and a two litre Evernew soft bladder

Final choice on my hydration system- BeFree filter with a two litre HydraPak Seeker, 850ml bottle for clean water to drink ‘on the go’ and a two litre Evernew soft bladder, also for clean water

The BeFree water filter weighs just 35g. The 42mm screw thread limits what it is compatible with

The BeFree water filter weighs just 35g. The wide 42mm screw thread limits what it is compatible with but does mean that filling a bladder is easier

My gear list is just about finalised, and so it should be, I hear you cry. I continue to drop the weight being carried where I feel I can do it sensibly. I wrote only a few weeks ago, about the excellent MUV water filter that I had initially planned on taking with my equally new Cnoc water bladder. At the time, I had concerns about the weight and subsequently decided to simplify my set up, shave a few grams and just take a BeFree filter screwed into a 2lt Hydrapak Seeker.

I remain concerned about agricultural run-off in lowland Britain and will have to exercise greater caution as regards this. The BeFree filter weighs just 35g and will handle up to 1000 litres of water. If this proves insufficient for my hike I shall simply order another BeFree filter or revert to the MUV 2 Module that can be sent on to me via Mission Control back home. The filter can be cleaned ‘in the field’ via swishing or backflushing. The flip top cap does a good job of keeping the mouthpiece clean.

For clean water I have a 2lt Evernew bladder and an 850ml SmartWater bottle. With a combined capacity of around 4.8 litres, these all weigh a collective 174g when dry. A fairly significant drop from my previous 342g set up.

Recently I have been concentrating on getting a few necessary jobs completed prior to my leaving next weekend. The car has had an MOT, the lawn had its first cut of the year (Mrs Three Points of the Compass– you are on your own with the mower now!), a decent haircut and the last weekend saw a bit of packing, general household chores and most enjoyable of all, a couple of farewell type family meals. Oh yes, and a number of pints of beer were drunk too.

But why am I rambling on about wine? When Frank sang about the choice of water or wine, I believe he was singing about life choices- the safe and familiar, or the riskier path with greater reward. As I sit of an evening with a large glass of Shiraz, I frequently contemplate my challenge. Yes, it is daunting, but it is the riskier path with greater reward that I am seeking, onward to the 1st April…

Someone said, drink the water, but I will drink the wine.
Someone said, take a poor man, rich don’t have a dime.
So fool yourselves if you will, I just haven’t got the time.
If you can drink the water, I will drink the wine.
Someone gave me some small flowers, I held them in my hand.
I looked at them for several hours, I didn’t understand.
So fool yourselves if you will, you can hold out your hand,
I’ll give back your flowers, and I will take the land.
And I will drink the wine.
Sometimes I’m very very lonely, there’s only me to care.
And when I’m very very lonely, I want someone to share,
I’m going to drink the wine, I’m gonna take my time,
And believe in a world that is mine.
Someone gave me flowers, held them in my hand.
Looked at them for many hours, didn’t understand.
Go on and fool yourselves if you will, you can hold out your hand,
I’ll give back your flowers, and I will take the land.
And I will drink the wine, and I will take the land.
I will drink the wine.

Paul Ryan

100g and 240g gas cartridges

Still looking at my gas stove choices

Beside the MSR Windburner and Jetboil Flash that Three Points of the Compass pulled from the gear boxes to play with recently, I already have four other, mostly smaller, gas stoves that I could consider for my long walk beginning in April. There are two from Primus- a multifuel stove and a remote gas canister stove, also a couple of wee little canister top gas stoves.

Three Points of the Compass and family car camping in Exmoor, 2009. One or both Primus Stoves were used on these trips

Three Points of the Compass and family car camping in Exmoor, 2009. One or both remote Primus Stoves were used on these trips. Primus Omnifuel running on White Gas on left, Primus Gravity running on canister gas on right. Both of these stoves were capable of ‘proper’ cooking, hence the chopped mushrooms in the foreground. Note that we had a penchant for the folding Orikaso ware at that time, the earlier popper type not seen here were the better option

Primus Omnifuel 3289

This stove has been taken on many car camping trip over the years as my family grew up but has never accompanied me on any more than the odd day hike. The Primus Omnifuel (8000 BTU) is an almost bomb proof, well made stove that can also be disassembled in the field if necessary to service or repair. While it is actually a multi-fuel stove, capable of running on petrol, paraffin or even diesel, I have tended to use Coleman Fuel (White Gas) which is a very pure 100% liquid petroleum naphtha. If not Coleman Fuel, then I have run it on canister gas, with which it works very well. It is a very stable, low to the ground stove with three wide pot supports. It is possible to get a fine simmer or roaring flame with the control knob, it sounds like a rocket when fully on. This type of stove should NEVER be used inside a tent as the fireball occasionally produced can be ‘interesting’. There are newer, more compact versions of this stove available now but mine works fine. While I have no idea what the new versions weigh, mine weighs a whopping 352g. It is a terrific stove but I don’t think this monster will be coming with me on my long walk later this year.

Primus Omnifuel in use with gas canister. Note that jets had to be changed for use with liquid fuels and the fuel bottle and pump are not shown in this image

Primus Omnifuel 3289 in use with gas canister. Note that the jet has to be changed for use with liquid fuels (a simple task) and the fuel bottle and pump are not shown in this image

Primus Gravity 3279

My other Primus stove, that has been taken on similar car camping trips, a couple of cycling jaunts and a lone canoe trip, is the Primus Gravity 3279 (10500 BTU). This is a slightly more spindly, less robust product than the Primus Omnifuel. Factors that are reflected in its lower weight of 261g. This despite it also having a preheat coil, four wide pot supports and a piezo ignition. The latter is as useless as all of these eventually are, every piezo ignition I have ever had has eventually failed.

The stove has a good fine control knob and the legs can be pinned down to the ground if desired, though it is a very stable affair that will handle large and heavy pots. The legs on this stove fold up and it is a less bulky affair than the Omnifuel, however you could never says it packs small. This stove has always worked faultlessly for me and I have never felt the need to dispose of it despite it rarely seeing the light of day in recent years. There was/is also a Primus Gravity MF version that can burn multi-fuels, not the model shown here. Again, there are newer variants available today.

Primus Gravity 3279. The pre-heat coil enables low temperature use

Primus Gravity 3279. The pre-heat coil enables low temperature use

While excellent products, I really want to keep the weight and bulk of my stove of choice down. It was time for me to pull the smallest gas stoves I own from by gear boxes and see what they have to offer.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2

MSR know their stuff when it comes to making good stoves. It is no surprise that I have one of their Pocket Rocket stoves. I held off for many years from buying the original Pocket Rocket. Not for any particular aversion, it was just that I was undecided as to whether to buy the MSR Micro Rocket instead. I dithered so long, that in the interim, MSR took the best features of each of their canister top stoves, combined them, and released the Pocket Rocket 2.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2, with home-made tyvek baggie

MSR Pocket Rocket 2, with home-made tyvek baggie

I purchased my Pocket Rocket 2 in 2016 so have had very little opportunity to put it to use, relying instead, on my various meths/alcohol stoves for my backpacking trips. That said, I have still managed to put it to use on a small number of occasions and have got on well with it. For someone who appreciates the unhurried silent manner of a meths stove, the apparent frantic haste that  a canister stove such as this presents means a complete rethink on my setting up process. Normally, I can get to camp, drop the pack, select and clear my pitch, tent up. Then put a boil on to quietly do its thing to one side while I sort out sleeping mat and extract my quilt to allow it to decompress and pull the trail shoes off and let the feet breathe a little. By the time that is done, I have water reaching a boil ready for a hot drink. With a canister stove, it deserves and requires undivided attention.

My favourite pan for some years has been the Evernew 900ml shallow pan. This wide bottom pan is a great size for one hiker and very suitable for the wide spread of flame from most meths stoves. With the tighter, narrower flame pattern of the Pocket Rocket 2 stove, for no other reason than curiosity, I have looked at some choices of pan in my gear set that could prove more functional.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 with MSR Titan Kettle. Note the directed flame. Less spills from the sides of the pot as lost heat, but care has to be taken so as to not burn any food in the centre of the pot

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 with MSR 900ml Titan Kettle. The pot supports are wide enough to provide a firm support to the pan. Note the directed flame. Less spills from the sides of the pot as lost heat, but care has to be taken so as to not burn any food in the centre of the pot

The 75g Pocket Rocket 2 comes with a handy little plastic holder with flip top lid, sized just right for the stove and provides great protection from knocks etc while in transit. However this holder alone weighs an additional 31g and reduces the practicality of packing the stove inside many pots or pans. Instead, I either wrap the stove in a small cloth, Lightload towel etc. or inside a little home made 1g tyvek baggie.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2- a quite fantastic, ultra reliable product

MSR Pocket Rocket 2- a quite fantastic, very reliable product

BRS 3000-T

While the Pocket Rocket II is a pretty small piece of kit, I snapped up one of the Chinese made BRS 3000T stoves when I heard of them just to try one out. I could afford to take a punt on one of these as it cost me less than a tenner on eBay. This is truly tiny stove measuring around 35mm x 50mm when folded or some 63mm x 90mm maximum width when unfolded, including the protruding wire valve control. I doubt that it is actually possible to get much smaller or much lighter than this and still be a functional item.

Tiny 25g BRS 3000-T stove

Tiny 25g BRS 3000-T stove

The BRS 3000-T is advertised as being made of titanium, but there are other metals in its construction as well. The design is such that it weighs just 25g and it comes with a little nylon carrying pouch that adds a further 2g.

The BRS 3000-T is delivered from China in simple packaging and comes complete with a little green carry pouch

The BRS 3000-T stove is delivered from China in simple packaging and comes complete with a little carry pouch. This stops it rattling when carried inside a cook kit

The stove is perfect for carrying inside a titanium mug along with a small gas cartridge for midday hot drinks or food on day hikes. That said the pot supports on this ‘Bumblebee’ stove are pretty narrow and I have to take care to ensure my pots sit on it square. I am not over keen on using this stove with my wider pans. While the largest pot I use is around a litre, I wouldn’t like to use anything larger, or more accurately, heavier on the pot supports. I am loathe to use it on longer, multi-day hikes but I am well aware that many hikers have used one of these stoves for weeks on end with no problems other than struggling to work with it in windier conditions. Some users have also experienced problems with the pot supports bending.

The flame from the BRS 3000-T is pretty narrow and directed. The pot supports obstruct and flare the flame quite badly and the titanium supports glow red even with quite modest flames. Some users have reported that these soften as a result with disastrous results

The flame from the BRS 3000-T is pretty narrow and directed. The pot supports are close to the flame and obstruct and flare this quite badly, the small titanium supports glow red even with quite modest flames. Some users have reported that the supports soften as a result with disastrous results. The pot is a simple 1 litre titanium pan with no lid or handles from MSR. This 140mm wide pan has an indentation on the underside in which the pot supports fit and centre well

I think the BRS 3000-T offers around 9200 BTU, it is advertised as giving out 2700W but works better and less frantically with less flame spilling up the sides of pots if not on full, which does, of course, mean a little longer to boil. But speed isn’t everything, hence my affection for meths/alcohol stoves over the years.

The BRS 3000-T stove does not perform well in even light wind. It pairs well with the 68g Primus windscreen but requires quite a narrow pot to prevent dangerous overheating. This windscreen inverts when not in use and nests around a 240g/250g gas cartridge

The BRS 3000-T stove does not perform well in even light wind. It pairs well with the 68g Primus windscreen but requires quite a narrow pot to prevent dangerous overheating of the cartridge. This windscreen inverts when not in use and nests around a 240g/250g gas cartridge

There are alternatives- The BRS 3000-T is almost certainly modelled on the the 45g titanium Fire Maple Hornet. This is a stove that also has its fans, or one of the badge engineered copies such as the Alpkit Kraku, Robens Fire Midge or Olicamp Ion. You pays your money and makes your choice, they are all the same stove, which is no bad thing. But I don’t own any of those stoves. I see no reason to buy another stove when I can use the excellent Pocket Rocket 2…

… or the MSR Windburner!

 

Three Points of the Compass walking in Co. Donegal, Ireland, 2015

Sixty days to my ‘Big Walk’

I recently did a brief post on how I was getting on with cleaning knives and multi-tools at home, while struck down with minor illness. In a response to this, one reader, Sam, asked a number of questions on how my plans are progressing in the remaining days leading up to my setting off on my Three Points of the Compass walk. Rather than have my reply buried elsewhere, I have done a dedicated response here should such things be of any interest to anyone else.

Three Points of the Compass, Brecon Beacons, 2012

Three Points of the Compass, Brecon Beacons, 2012

You’ve got three and a half months left until it’s your turn. You must be looking forward to it…

  • As I post this, I have just sixty days until I set off. Naturally, as my start day approaches, there are a mixture of emotions. I am nervous about my arthritis in feet, knees and hips and my lingering plantar fasciitis, I am exhibiting slight apprehension over my  gear choices- have I ‘packed too many fears’, I am questioning of the weather that I will encounter in the spring, worried about leaving my wife and family for so long, concerned at being absent from my work for such an extended period, doubtful that my order of three pairs of Altra Lone Peak trail shoes in size 13 will turn up in time, and yes, I am very excited at my approaching adventure.

Do you have a specific goal in mind, as in, for example, the number of days you would like to complete the walk in? Or each section of the walk?

  • It might seem to many that I have over planned for my walk, whereas in reality, I do not believe that is the case. I have attempted to develop my required skill set and experience over the years. I have a route in mind, but I have deliberately permitted myself some leeway. I have allowed four months for my walk, it may be over in far less than that if my body breaks down, but I intend to ease myself in to my hike and not set myself targets that I will worry over. What I will try and achieve is walking toward a set of staggered goals- to my first ‘point of the compass’, to Lands End, to leaving the coast, to reaching Wales, to leaving Wales and so on, and so on…

Do you plan on going all out each day, walk till you drop, see where you end up, and repeat?

  • When I was a younger and stronger hiker, I would walk as far as I could each day. In my twenties, thirty to forty mile days were not unremarkable. In my thirties and forties, this had dropped to seldom above twenty-five mile days. With dodgy knees and other issues, I cannot carry on like that. I have to rein myself in and complete shorter days. Most definitely when I set off, otherwise I will not complete this walk. I am anticipating that I will complete between fifteen and twenty miles most days. Some will be shorter than this, some will be longer.

Or have you planned it methodically like Andrew Martin; he booked accommodation a year in advance for every single day of his 30 day LEJOG walk

  • In my head, I have a regime of a majority of wild camps, interspersed with occasional official camp sites where I can shower. I plan on the occasional bit of luxury, perhaps a B&B or cheap hotel or hostel. I am hopeful that these can more or less coincide with a day off from hiking roughly once a week. Nothing at all is booked beyond friends of mine in Somerset expecting me to pitch up on their lawn for a night or two at some point.

Do ask if you have any more questions that you would like answered.

Three Points of the Compass on West Highland Way, 2013

Three Points of the Compass on West Highland Way, 2013

Tiny 3-LED lights with USB connector

A few grams here, a few grams there… in search of the perfect USB LED light

Over the past few years there have been a number of sweet little LED lights appearing on the market that can be plugged directly into a USB port. None are expensive and some of these, with their incredible light weight and minute proportions are perfect for slipping into a backpacking electronics bag.

There are also larger versions that come with a flexible bendable silicone body that suit plugging into laptops etc. but these are far too heavy for inclusion in a lightweight backpacking set-up. Some people use the ones with silicone bodies for task or mood lighting, others as night lights. The smaller ones that I am looking at here, are more suited to being included in an electronics gear bag, to be infrequently pulled out and used in a tent for reading, low lighting for orientation in a hostel or bunkhouse, or, in an emergency, for use on the trail at night when just about everything else has failed, though I wouldn’t recommend that.

I have recently been looking at the really small LED lights that are available with USB connectors. None of them are more than a handful of grams and every one is of quite tiny dimensions. Different configurations of LEDs are available, one, two, three, four, six and more LEDs can be mounted on a small mount board with different arrays of simply circuitry. Not all LEDs are created equal. As well as the amount of practical light that is emitted (brightness), also of importance to the hiker should be the type of light- cool or warm, and how much current the light is taking up. Most of these little lights are made in China and it can be difficult for the layman, i.e. me, to get the exact specifications of each product.

Plastic enclosed 3 LED light, plugged into the USB port of a powerbank, in use

Plastic enclosed 3 x LED light, plugged into the USB port of a powerbank, in use. The plastic surround to the light spreads the light a little further to the sides and slightly behind

Plastic enclosed 3 LED USB light

Plastic enclosed 3 x LED USB light. This only weighs 7.4g which includes the easily lost 1.3g cap

I have occasionally used little plastic three-LED lights with USB connector at night within my tent while backpacking. They measure 58mm x 18mm x 8mm and are almost totally encased in plastic, with a removable, and easily losable, clear plastic cap over the USB connector. Drawing 5 volts at 1.5W, even though they only weigh 7.4g, I still felt this was a weight that could be shaved and eventually excluded them, using either my headtorch or a red or white Photon Freedom Micro button light from LRI.

 

LED lights for plugging into USB ports come in a variety of configurations with differing brightness and function. Their small size and weight make them ideal for travelling and backpacking

LED lights for plugging into USB ports come in a variety of configurations with differing brightness and function. Their small size and weight make them ideal for travelling and backpacking

While the encapsulated LED does have a degree of protection from knocks and just a tad of protection from water splashes etc, the plastic surround does increase the potential of overheating. But this is probably only likely to be a problem if used for longer periods than the average hiker is going to use them for. I don’t think these are in any way suited to night hiking, instead being more useful to see around the confines of a tent or similar. Yes, I could continue to use a headtorch, but these little LED lights spread their light well and have quite useful moderate brightness, hence my re-exploring the lighter options.

Mini LED lights can be plugged into any USB port, here, one is in use combined with my Nitecore F1

Mini LED lights can be plugged into any USB port, here, a three LED warm light is in use combined with my Nitecore F1

A hard bright white is emitted from this two sided LED light

A cold bright white is emitted from this two sided LED light. It will work well to give a low current draw flood light within the confines of a tent or bothy

There is also a minuscule double-sided LED variant of the plastic encapsulated LED light to be purchased. This is a pretty tough little option that draws very little current and is an excellent option for anyone that wishes to include one of these lights but is worried about exposed circuitry on a more minimalist board. It cost less than a pound and weighs 5.2g, including the easily lost 1g cap. Measuring 42mm x 18mm x 8mm, this light will flood an area with light and works well with one of the lightweight lantern diffusers available, such as the 7g crush-able one made by Montbell.

This light is fitted with a single 5730 LED on each side. Illumination is 7500 kelvin cold white light. This is bright and quite harsh, you wouldn’t like to look straight at the light by any means.This USB LED light has a single LED on each side which cannot be directed in any effective manner. It will work well to give low current draw flood light within the confines of a tent or bothie

This USB LED light has a single LED on each side which cannot be directed in any effective manner. Other, slightly lighter LED lights with USB connectors can be purchased that have no plastic covering to them and LEDs on only one side of the circuit board..

Luffy 3-LED USB light

Luffy 3 x LED USB light.

The little three-LED light from Luffy cost me a grand total of 12 pence on eBay, including postage and packing. You can’t even send an empty envelope by Royal Mail for 12 pence, someone explain that to me. This little light measures 30mm x 12mm x 3mm and weighs just 1.5g, which is just about the same weight as the plastic cap of the previously mentioned LED light.

It is advertised as being fitted with three 2825 (but more probably 2835) SMD LED chips (Surface-Mount Device Light Emitting Diode). The small dimensions of these LEDs are only too apparent when compared with those shown below, however it is the current drawn that mostly defines the brightness. This LED light has~80 lumens and works at 0.5W, ~5V with a ~40mA current draw. The LEDs emit 6000K xenon cold white light, I will cover types of white light later in this post.

All of these little lights are advertised as being suitable for hanging from a keychain or similar but I reckon they are too fragile for this. In common with many such LED lights, the three x LED Luffy light has everything mounted on one side of the board, a plain back being exhibited on the reverse and the light can only be inserted into a USB one way, so is not reversible.

Some of these little LED lights are truly minute. While I could find virtually no specification to the two shown below, they are of even smaller dimensions than the Luffy; each weighing just 1.2g and measuring 29mm x 12mm x 3mm. I don’t think you can get any smaller than these lights while still being practical. All I know of the specs to this light is that it is, again, fitted with three-2835 LEDs, emitting a 6000k cold white light. These lights are advertised as drawing a lower current than the Luffy versions- 0.2W ~5V.

Anonymous manufacture. Tiny 3-LED USB light with single sided contacts

Anonymous manufacture. Tiny 3 x LED USB light with single sided contacts

For very little additional expense, and with the addition of a bit of extra circuitry, you can have exactly the same type of light but with contacts on each side of the board and a reversible capability. i.e., they can be plugged into a USB connector in one of two orientations. It is worth considering that with a totally open board on these lights, that if including more circuitry, there is more to be potentially damaged on the trail. I do think the usefulness of being able to put a LED light, in either orientation, into a plug or wall USB point outweighs the increased risk of damage to the extra circuits. If simply plugging one of these lights into a power bank, then two sided contacts is an irrelevance.

3 LED dual contact reversible USB light

3 x LED dual contact reversible USB light

The additional circuitry adds a minuscule weight to the double-sided contact LED lights. They now come in at a whopping 2.2g! Still small, each measures 31mm x 12mm  x 3mm. They are apparently RoHS compliant, which doesn’t appear to be difficult to attain for such a product but is, nonetheless, good to hear.

As usual, there is little information to be found on these lights. The one shown is fitted with three-LED (possibly 5730 SMD). The warm LEDs are powered by 0.5W, ~5V and these LEDs emit around 55-60 lumen.

The addition of contacts on each side of a circuit board means that lights can be turned either inward, to face the wall, or outward to provide greater light

The addition of contacts on each side of a circuit board means that lights can be turned either inward, to face away or toward the wall, or outward to provide greater light. This a dual contact 3 x LED warm light

The Soshine six-LED Power ‘Night Lights’ I purchased include still further complex circuitry. Again, perhaps more to go wrong, but it makes these lights far more practical to use. Each has a small amount of touch sensitive circuitry (capacitive touch sensor) on the reverse, also another set of connectors which again means that each LED light can be inserted in any orientation into a USB port, i.e. pointing either way, which is more useful in a practical context. These were substantially more expensive than the simple Luffy lights but still no more than around a quid each, and I have seen them even cheaper. These measure 42mm x 12mm  x 3mm and weigh 3g each.

6-LED USB lights, with dimmer function, with warm and cold lights

6 x LED USB lights, with dimmer function, with warm and cold white lights. Additional USB connectors on the reverse means that each light is reversible

These lights are advertised as being RoHS compliant. They are also CE Certified. Do note that none of these little mini LED lights are in any way encased and are therefore not waterproof and are more susceptible to damage. Lightly touching the back turns them on/off and can also dim or brighten the lights to any degree between lower and upper limits.

Little information is supplied with the two lights I purchased. These are six-LED (possibly 5730 SMD). They run at ~0.6W, ~5V. Brightness is around 110 – 150 lumen when on maximum. But do note that cooler whites will emit slightly more lumen than warmer white. Why did I buy two lights and not one? Because I wanted to compare the warmth of the light emitted.

This 2.3g LED light is fitted with light sensitive circuitry that causes it to switch on as daylight fades. The 5v 0.5W light has three LEDs emitting 3200 kelvin. However I feel this is the least suited of LED lights for backpacking use

This 2.3g LED USB light is fitted with light sensitive circuitry that causes it to switch on as daylight fades. The 5v 0.5W warm light has three LEDs emitting 3200K. I feel this is the least suited of LED lights for backpacking use

There is also a light sensitive version available, measuring only 32mm x 12mm x 4mm, however I exclude this light from any final choice I would make as I think application for this facility  is extremely limited in the back-country.

Colour temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). A warmer white light would be around 2700K to 3500K. A natural white light is between 4000K and 5000K. A cooler white would be around 5000K and upwards to around 6500K. Note that this is not a measure of brightness, which is measured in lumen. The two 6 -LED lights I purchased emit different temperatures of light, one is warm, the other cool  (warm around 3200K and cool around 5000K) . Despite a cool white being more akin to daylight, my personal preference is for the warm light as it is less harsh. If using an LED light in the confines of a tent, I think warm light is gentler on the eyes and appreciated more over longer periods of use, causing less eyestrain. This is why fire can be so relaxing or soporific, a candle flame is around 1850K.

Two 6-LED lights plugged into a two-port Mu wall plug. These are on their lowest brightness. The lights can be switched on and off, or brightness changed, by lightly touching the back of the LED

Two 6 x LED lights plugged into a two-port Mu wall plug. These are on their lowest brightness. These lights can be switched on and off, or brightness changed, by lightly touching the back of the LED. Warm white light at top, cold white below

There is a, hard to find, version of this light available with six-LEDS, three being warm, three being cold light and you can choose and switch between them. If I were really struggling for a reason to use this- warm light helps to relax us, preparing the mind to sleep. Cool white on the other hand, is more useful for when we want to be alert. So perhaps if rising before dawn, a cool white may help us to prepare for the day, encouraging alertness. Am I convinced on this as a reason for including both types of white light? Perhaps not.

These LED lights can be plugged straight into a USB wall socket, or USB plug such as the folding Mu plugs I use when backpacking and travelling, or, alternatively, straight into a powerbank. Their draw is so low that they may not suit all powerbanks, some of which fail to recognise them. I have also seen some LED lights that will plug into a phone’s headphone jack or mini USB connector but not only do they seem to be much heavier alternatives but I feel you may as well use the torch app/facility if using your phone for light.

Some LED lights can get warm after extended use. Here, I have allowed 6 LEDs to light for an hour and then pinched it between finger and thumb, despite being very warm to the touch, it is not uncomfortably hot

Some LED lights can get warm after extended use. Here, I have allowed 6 x 5730 LEDs to light for an hour and then pinched the board between finger and thumb. Despite being very warm to the touch, it is not uncomfortably hot

Due to the lack of any decent heat sink, some users have reported problems with the LEDS heating up over time, this is certainly far less of a problem with the smallest and dimmable versions which are drawing less power. Personally, I am averse to leaving any of these examples on throughout the night, and certainly never unattended. Even though they are often advertised as ‘Night Lights’, I would be loathe to use them as such around the home.

I haven’t looked at every type of mini USB LED light available. There are some with larger 5050 LED chips on the market for example. But this post has probably been sufficient to whet your appetite, or bore you to tears!

It probably isn’t possible to get much smaller than these little lights while retaining any degree of actual practical functionality. If made any smaller they would be too fiddly to handle. There are also LED lights that can plug into Micro USB ports. I am sure brighter LEDs will make their way onto the little circuit boards eventually but for the confines of a tent, hostel, bunkroom or similar, I am not sure that is required. Newer and more efficient LEDs that draw a lower current, possibly. In the meantime, I have slipped one of the 3g dimmable LED lights, with double sided contacts, in to my electronics gear bag that accompanies me on backpacking trips.

 

CNOC bladder and MUV filter 2

Tweaking my hydration set-up

CNOC Vecto and MUV water filter

CNOC Vecto and MUV water filter

I write this over the festive season. During the weeks leading up to Christmas there have been numerous packages and packets arriving at home and workplace, containing various online purchases. Amongst these I was chuffed to finally receive a couple of items that I had supported months ago. I have had a couple of other projects that I have backed on Kickstarter fail miserably to come to fruition. While there is still forlorn and distant hope that progress may yet occur, I remain suspicious that I have been taken for a ride with them. That is not the case with these two items of gear- the CNOC Vecto water container and the MUV Survivalist water filter.

CNOC

The CNOC Vecto is a two litre collapsible water container, with a wide opening at one end and a 28mm screw neck at the other. It is a tough product, weighs 74g and is my intended dirty water container, what I currently plan to use as a default bladder for collecting water prior to filtering. I have used a 1 litre Platypus up until now but have found this not only a tad small, but the small opening makes it more difficult to fill unless from a tap. The wide opening on the BPA free Vecto is a great improvement. It also makes it easier to clean the inside.

The only downside of receiving this item a week ago was that I had to go to the local sorting office to collect it. They wouldn’t release it to me until I had handed over £13.12 in customs and admin fees. Not a happy bunny…

My previous filtration system, this incorporates a Drinksafe filter

My previous filtration system, this incorporates a Drinksafe filter

My previous water filter was from Drinksafe. This has been fine for me for years and I have never felt the need to switch to a Sawyer, either original full size or the Mini, as I could see no advantage to be gained.

As a UK backpacker, I have long had concerns over the ability of a filter to clear water of not only viruses and bacteria but also heavy metals and chemicals. This is an increasing problem with agricultural run-off into the streams and rivers from where I can gather water. Not so much a problem in the wilds of Scotland but a real issue in lowland England where I do a lot of my hiking.

MUV

Component parts of MUV filter joined together

Overkill mode- all component parts of MUV filter joined together

I backed the MUV water filter on Kickstarter back in June 2016 and wrote about it then. Eighteen months later, it was deposited at the local sorting office. I was drawn to this product by the modular construction and the ability to also filter heavy metals such as iron and lead and chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides, and diesel fuel.

I recognise that if I take every part of this filter, it is then a heavier option than my previous choice. My current intention is to use this filter on my Three Points of the Compass walk commencing 1st April next year, by the time I hit the north of England I can send the MUV 1 part home, followed by the MUV 3 section once in Scotland. Unless I decide on a lighter set up that is.

What each section of the MUV filter does

Straw top and cap 20g
Cap- 28mm outlet thread 19g
MUV 1 30g
MUV 2 56g
MUV 3 48g
Pre-filter- 28mm inlet thread 19g

The filters are what they are and their weight is the penalty it is. These are dry weights, which will, of course, increase once water saturated. I have replacement pre-filters in my ditty bag which do not even register on my scales. But look at the weight of those two threaded ends- 19g each, of which each rubber cap weighs 7g, 14g total. The plastic and rubber cap to the straw cap weighs 8g. If I do settle on this system, I’ll have to consider if I want to include these as there is a 22g weight saving to be made there, how anal do I want to be…

A possible drip filter system incorporating CNOC Vecto, MU filer, Evernew bladder and a section of hose. I may have to include a longer section of hose to reduce the potential strain

A possible gravity filter system incorporating CNOC Vecto, MUV filer and Evernew bladder. I may have to include a section of hose to reduce the potential strain

I am still considering what other elements to take for my water carry and filter system. The picture at the top shows my probable set up, or at least something close to what I shall eventually settle on. That is, a bottle, bladder and filter.

The current filtration system I am looking at is comprised of the complete Survivalist MUV filter, two litre CNOC Vecto, two litre Evernew flexible water bottle, 850ml Smartwater bottle and a short section of hose with 28mm threaded ends. Almost five litre capacity, not something I am going to be carrying all day on the trail in the UK, but useful for end of day camp.

I am very pleased with both Vecto and MUV filter. I have yet to use either in anger but reports from other backers are already good and I have high hopes.

Replacement elements of the MUV water filter can be purchased independently

Replacement elements of the MUV water filter can be purchased independently