Tag Archives: gear

Needless packaging

A few grams here, a few grams there… packaging

This is a wheeze for those who cut tooth brushes in half to save a few grams. What I have done here is pull a few medicines from my First Aid kit with a view to cutting their weight.

Three Points of the Compass carries a veritable arsenal of tablets and due to the fact that many tablets in the UK come in blister packs, it was time to remove some of that bulky packaging that is simply adding needless weight to the pack.

Take a look at that packaging above- Before I removed the tablets from the blister packs, it totalled 21.4g. That rubbish in the top picture formed 17.6g of that total. Once decanted in to little baggies, together with small slips of paper detailing the contents and any relevant dosage recommendations, my tablets came to just 3.8g. A worthwhile exercise in reduction.

Repackaged medications, a respectable saving in both weight and bulk easily made

Repackaged medications, a respectable saving in both weight and bulk easily made

So what medicines am I carrying on my Big Walk? Loratadine and Chlorphenamine maleate (first and second generation anti-allergy), Aspirin and Ibuprofen (painkillers), Loperamide (anti-diarrhoeal) and short courses of Doxycycline and Flucloxacillin (broad and narrow spectrum antibiotics/penicillin).

Similar reductions can be made throughout your gear if you take a careful look. I recall reading of one chap a few years back recording a fifty gram reduction from the simple expedient of cutting out the care and material labels from every item of clothing he took. I haven’t gone that far… yet. And no, I don’t cut the handle off my toothbrush.

 

Preparing

Fifty days to my ‘Big Walk’

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success”

Alexander Graham Bell

The off grows ever nearer, half a hundred days away. So what am I up to?

I am still planning, my route underwent a bit of a change as I have now decided that it is best to complete the Offa’s Dyke Path and from there cross over to the Peak District, rather than my original intention of only completing half of the Path and leaving at Knighton. This meant that not only did a handful of new maps have to purchased, but a bit of reading around my new route was required. I am now following part of The Great English Walk from Tarporley to Youlgreave. This looks an interesting section in a ‘difficult’ part of the country to cross.

So along with maps and books arriving in the post, I was delighted to finally receive my footwear of choice. Cutting it finer than I would want, but I can now begin adapting the insoles to take my orthotics. The latter became necessary when I found myself suffering from Plantar fasciitis in 2015, a problem that still lingers with the occasional twinge. I am going to have to ensure I keep up with my stretching exercises when on trail. I have also been receiving small items ordered, some paint for my art kit, a new compass to replace the one that I have been using for years, but has an air bubble that appears at certain temperatures.

New Silva Expedition 4 compass. Some of the terrain being crossed on my Three Points of the Compass walk will require good navigation, this is an excellent tool for the job

New Silva Expedition 4 compass. Some of the terrain being crossed on my Three Points of the Compass walk will require precise navigation, a good map and compass are essential tools for the job

I would like to have booked my train to the start, but am unable to. While I have ‘agreement in principle’ from my work place that I can take my extended break, this has yet to manifest itself in an official ‘yes’ from HR. As soon as it does, then the train gets booked.

Beside adding weight to my pack as small items of gear are purchased, I am also working on the easiest way to take less on the trail, i.e. losing a little weight. So my diet has also been addressed. Three Points of the Compass is, ahem, a big lad, so I am making a point of addressing this before the miles on trail take yet more pounds off.

I’ve also being checking that my cook system is as I want it and renewing some older items in the First Aid Kit. Beyond that, a visit to the dentist and booking my car in for its annual service and MOT before I leave. There are still quite a few preparations to be made, I’ll keep you informed.

5ml tube of Perylene Green, PBk 31 from Daniel Smith

Another delivery- Pigment PBk31

OK, so this addition to my gear is going to confound most lightweight hikers. Most of us take along a little luxury on the trail, and strange as it may seem, this is one of mine.

My Perylene Green is from Daniel Smith. This is a single pigment- PBk31, that is actually a black (so also called Perylene Black), but gives the most wonderful moody green hues. Some artists have managed to get fantastic results with simply this colour. Three Points of the Compass is taking a small watercolour kit on my long walk in the hope that I take the occasional time out to indulge in a little sketching.

Perylene Green PBk 31 from Daniel Smith. Paper is 300gm2 cold press

Perylene Green PBk31 from Daniel Smith. Paper is Fabriano watercolour 300gm2 cold press

Not an easily found paint, this pigment is a late addition to my small pallete and is purely there for convenience. A greenish black pigment that will work well for mood, shadows, distant landscapes and foliage. It mixes well with many of the other single pigments I have in my limited pallete producing a range of greens that I cannot be bothered showing in this post. Go and discover this lovely pigment for yourself.

Altra logo

Another delivery… trail shoes

I’ve been waiting for this delivery. I won’t say that I was worried, but I have certainly been very conscious that time is ticking down to the start of my hike. As I write this I have 52 days to go. This morning I emailed a company from whom I had ordered (and paid) for three pairs of trail shoes some weeks back. At the time, they had quickly told me that there were supply problems not only to the UK, but Europe in general. I’ll wait I replied, as I say, I’ve been waiting a while for this delivery.

Three Points of the Compass wore Brooks Cascadia 8's when hiking Hadrian's Wall in 2014

Three Points of the Compass wore Brooks Cascadia 8’s when hiking Hadrian’s Wall in 2014

Inov8 330 were worn when hiking in Crete in 2013. Samaria Gorge

Inov8 330’s were worn when hiking in 2013. Samaria Gorge, Crete

I have worked through a number of different types of trail shoe over the past few years since I made the switch from boots. I couldn’t get on with the Salomen XA Pro 3D, the heel cups fell apart after less than two hundred miles.  Inov8 did me well for a while, the 295’s and 330’s were good, with lovely traction, but they messed around with the design and they proved less suited to my feet. Again, the heel cups fell apart after too short a period. Then I switched to Brooks Cascadia 8s. I loved the wider toe box and the heel cups were more robust, never wearing out. But the material across the top and sides of the feet wore through after less than three or four hundred miles. I expected better.

So I made the change to a pair of Altra Lone Peak 2.5 and thought ‘at last’, I’ve found them! I loved the wide toe box, even if it did look like I was wearing a pair of shoes designed for a circus clown. I could get five hundred miles plus out of a pair with no splitting of uppers, the heel boxes held together. Traction wasn’t fantastic, but I could live with it. Also, I found the zero drop to my liking. So I happily changed to the 3.0’s when I had to. They were just as good and the changes had not detracted from the shoes. I have found that the inner sole starts to wear at the ball of my foot after six hundred miles, so I need to be careful to switch out prior to that.

Hiking in Fuerteventura in March 2017 wearing my 'Clown Shoes'- Altra Lone Peak 3.0

Three Points of the Compass hiking in Fuerteventura in March 2017 wearing my ‘Clown Shoes’- Altra Lone Peak 3.0

The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 continue to provide good ro in the two box for feet and toes to spread

The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 continue to provide good room in the toe box for feet and toes to spread

When I was making my final gear choices for my upcoming hike, it was toward the 3.5’s that I turned. However they have proved somewhat difficult to source. After more weeks that I am strictly comfortable with, I received a text from my wife this morning to inform me that they had arrived at her work place. I am now set with three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s in UK size 12 (US 13). Each pair weighs 730g, or 805g including my orthotic inserts.

Altra Lone Peak 3.5's only have moderate cushioning and zero drop between heel and toe. However my orthotic inserts mean that I retain a very small drop

Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s only have moderate cushioning and zero drop between heel and toe. However my orthotic inserts mean that I retain a very small drop

Needless to say, some changes have been made- new drainage holes, I am fine with that. 4-point gaiter system, I only require the two for my Dirty Girl gaiters so fine, that doesn’t bother me. Also an upgraded upper mesh, I am pleased with that change. The soles are unchanged. These trail shoes will do me well I believe. Manufacturers seem to revel in messing about with the design of successful products, especially trail runners, but the 3.5’s seem to have retained all that I like with a couple of OK upgrades. The design has also changed in that they don’t look so ‘clownish’ now. They still have the same width in the toe box, as evidenced by comparing the insoles from 3.0 and 3.5, but devilish things seem to have been achieved by the designers in the latter shoe’s appearance.

All ready for my Three Points of the Compass walk- three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5's in UK size 12

All ready for my Three Points of the Compass walk- three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s in UK size 12

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.