Tag Archives: gear

MSR Windburner

looking at stove choices

Following my recent shake down trip on the Icknield Way, I decided to abandon my long term favoured meths set up for cooking and return to gas. I used gas, or canister, stoves for quite a few years but mostly switched to meths (or alcohol) a decade or so ago for the unfussy, silent, simple set up that these cook kits provide.

However I have to recognise that gas does work out the more efficient and lighter option over multi day hikes. So for my Three Points of the Compass hike next year, I am looking at my gas options. Not every option out there, instead I am mostly looking at gear that I already have  but have not used much in recent years for one reason or another.

Jetboil Flash and MSR Windburner- two fantastically efficient options, but for boiling water only, not cooking

Jetboil Flash and MSR Windburner- two fantastically efficient options, but for boiling water only, not cooking

This weekend saw pretty dismal weather outside with most of the UK beset by storms, rain or snow. So I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen reacquainting myself with the Jetboil Flash and MSR Windburner. Both of these are integrated, all-in-one designs, everything packing away inside their respective pot. While ruthlessly quick at boiling water, attempt to do any cooking in these and you will come unstuck, which is more than can be said for the food burnt on to the inside of the pot.

The Jetboil is good but the MSR is, quite simply, an amazing piece of kit. It is probably the most efficient gas stove out there at present. It will bring half a litre of water to the boil on just 7-8g of fuel in just about any strength of wind. For that you need to actually get it lit first, which is no great hardship despite it having no piezo igniter fitted. Also, it is most efficient when using the actual integrated pot. I see that MSR are releasing the Windburner as a remote canister stove but not until next year. I believe the weight increases too. Instead, I have been looking at how my Windburner canister top stove performs when using the pot stand that is supplied with the Jetboil.

The pot stand that is supplied with the Jetboil Flash slots in perfectly to the ring surrounding the radiant burner of the MSR Windburner

The 37g pot stand that is supplied with the Jetboil Flash slots in perfectly to the ring surrounding the radiant burner of the MSR Windburner

I won’t bother giving all the weights for the respective kits as that is out there on the web and no-one takes every component. The burner head of the MSR alone weighs 200g, so no lightweight, put the folding Jetboil pot stand with that and it totals 237g. At the very least, I have to add a pot (and probably a lid) and a fuel canister (and probably a canister stand). That said, I can still make a lighter set up with a lighter titanium pot or pan than when using the MSR Windburner pot.

The combination of the MSR Windburner and the Jetboil pot stand work well. There looks to be sufficient room between the pot stand and the radiant burner head to prevent dangerous stifling and overheating. Obviously it is less efficient in wind than when the integral MSR pot is fitted, but this set up permits me to obtain a simmer, something impossible when used with the 1lt MSR pot that slots directly to the burner.

MSR Titan Kettle on the Jetboil pot stand

850ml MSR Titan Kettle on the Jetboil pot stand

I tried it out with my old 128g MSR Titan Kettle first. This is a classic little titanium pot with a tight fitting lid. It comes with a pouring spout which I don’t reckon to be the most efficient. One advantage of this pot is that the MSR Windburner stove will fit inside (with lid closed) for storage and transport. However the Jetboil pot stand will not fit in also. The pot is 118mm wide and some of the heat from the stove is disappearing up the sides when in use.

Evernew 900ml pan resting on Jetboil pot stand

Evernew 900ml pan resting on Jetboil pot stand

The 140mm wide 900ml titanium pan from Evernew that I have used for the past few years is a better option on the Windburner/Jetboil pot stand combination, allowing less heat to slip up the sides, however the stove head will not nest inside the pan.

I think I am going to have to continue exploring my options a little. Time to look at the smaller gas stoves I have available and see if I prefer one of them.

The Icknield Way

After my autumn wander on the Icknield Way- a bit of a gear review

My last post covered my recent six day hoof across the Icknield Way Trail. With a bit of wandering, also a mile backtrack to retrieve a map I thought I had lost, but hadn’t, and one or two momentary periods of confusion when my route abandoned me in a couple of towns, I covered 120 miles.

Day two on the Icknield Way Trail for Three Points of the Compass

Day two on the Icknield Way Trail for Three Points of the Compass

I used this walk as an opportunity to further drill down my gear selection for my Three Points of the Compass walk commencing 1st April 2018. I thought I was just about there, but even at this point, I realise I still need to drop a handful of items, change a couple of others and make one, for me, large change in my approach. I’m not going to cover everything in this post but if you want my thoughts on any item in my Icknield Way gear list, do ask.

Z Packs Duplex on my third night on the Icknield Way Trail

Z Packs Duplex on my third night on the Icknield Way Trail

Z Packs Duplex

This was a perfect opportunity to try out my new Z Packs Duplex shelter. This single skin, cuben hybrid, two person tent proved to be absolutely excellent. I never timed myself erecting it, but it is easy to put up and takes less than five minutes. Even on sloping ground on the first night, I was still able to achieve a taut pitch. I had taken a selection of pegs/stakes and it took only a couple of nights to realise that best results were achieved using the carbon core Easton nails on the four corners, and a longer MSR Groundhog on the two sides (nearest and furthest sides in the image above). My final night on trail was on short springy turf and heather, this coincided with strong gusty wind for most of the night. For this, I double pegged the guys on the windward side and had no problem with anything pulling out. I conclude that my handful of extra pegs is a necessity in the frequently changing soil types of the UK

Last night of wild camping on the Icknield Way Trail. Cavenham Heath proved to be a windy location

Last night of wild camping on the Icknield Way Trail. Cavenham Heath proved to be a windy location despite my finding the most sheltered spot I could in the failing light

I had taken a tall thin cuben dry bag for the tent. This fitted the long ‘wand’ pocket on one side of my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack well. I had to take care to roll the shelter tightly otherwise it was a pig to get into the drybag.

Many people fixate on the condensation issues inherent in single skin tents. Obviously I have much to learn and experience with this tent, but I found condensation no more of a problem than with a double skin tent. Ventilation is everything. On three nights I set up well, had a through breeze and had zero condensation. I did have a wet interior after a night camping on long wet grass. None dripped on me and my feet and head remained clear of the wet interior. A wipe down with a bandanna in the morning sufficed. If anything, this was handy as it gave me a clean water soaked cloth for a wipe over of my body. The other night had just a little condensation, not enough to worry over.

My base weight was around 11kg with consumables on top of that. My Mariposa pack from Goassamer Gear carried the weight well and was comfortable until a problem manifested itself on day two

My base weight was around 11kg with consumables on top of that. My Mariposa pack from Gossamer Gear carried the weight well and was comfortable until a problem manifested itself on day three

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

Laying my pack down at a halt on day three, I was dismayed to see the internal aluminium stay poking through the belt. There was little, if anything, I could do to fix it

Laying my pack down at a halt on day three, I was dismayed to see the internal aluminium stay poking through the belt. There was little, if anything, I could do to fix it

I purchased by Mariposa pack in 2016 and had already used it on couple of hikes prior to taking it with me on the Icknield Way Trail. This was my one piece of kit to break on me, the first breakage I have experienced for some years beside the wearing out of trail shoes. Some say that lightweight gear isn’t robust, I have found that if properly looked after, such gear is usually no less robust than many a cheaper, heavier option.

However, as I say, I had a problem with the pack. Just before the half way point of the trail, the aluminium stays poked their way through the webbing slots that they nest into on the hipbelt. This meant that much of the weight that was supposed to be transferred to the hipbelt, was mostly placed on the shoulders due to the resulting lack of internal pack structure. There was nothing I could do to repair it. So I released the velcro tab holder at the top of the stay, inside the pack. A couple of days after I returned home, I emailed Gossamer Gear to ask if there was a fix I could carry out. They replied within a couple of hours:

“Sorry to hear about this! What is your best mailing address? I would be happy to send you a new belt and little plastic caps for your frame. We have not had this happen in mass but we have started to put little caps on the stays to prevent this”

Stays poking their way through the hip belt

Removed from the pack, this shows how the stays poked their way through the hip belt

Within a week, I received the replacement belt. I cannot fault Gossamer Gear’s customer service. While an annoyance. I believe the caps on the end of the stays should prevent a re-occurrence so am more than happy to continue with what is, overall, an excellent pack. The external pocket configuration is exactly as I like it and I find myself using the external stretchy mesh pocket on the back far more than I initially thought I would. For example, it is very useful for putting wet socks in to dry.

My original, damaged, Mariposa hipbelt below, and its replacement above. Note how the design has altered slightly, the belt pockets are now positioned further round to the side. Not an advantage I fear

My original, damaged, Mariposa hipbelt below, and its replacement above. Note how the design has altered slightly, the belt pockets are now positioned further round to the sides of the wearer. Not an advantage I fear. Both belts are size Large

Autumn on the trail meant that temperatures varied from close to freezing to into the 20's. A variety of clothing is necessary for such a range that could have ranged still further. My spring/summer walk in 2018 will present a similar problem

Autumn on the trail meant that temperatures varied from close to freezing to into the 20’s. A variety of clothing is necessary for such a range that could have ranged still further. My spring/summer walk in 2018 will present a similar problem

Montane Terra Pants, these are the 'graphite' coloured version. Photographed on Inishowen Head, Co. Donegal, Ireland in 2015. Note the side zips on the leg to provide additional ventilation

Montane Terra Pants, these are the ‘graphite’ coloured version. Note the side zips on the leg to provide additional ventilation. Photographed on Inishowen Head, Co. Donegal, Ireland in 2015.

Trousers

For this walk, Three Points of the Compass took his normal choice of leg wear, the Montane Terra Pants. I have used these for years and will continue to do so until something better comes along. Not light at 367g (including 29g belt) for a size XXL. They are a tough product with a couple of features that I really like. The side zips on the leg are fantastic for a bit of ventilation and the side poppers on the fairly narrow ankles stop an excess of material flapping around. Really useful in muddier conditions which helps to keep the lower part of the trousers much cleaner. I do wish I could find a lighter option though, that still has these features. I wish there were a side cargo pocket too.

 

Maps are essential, guide book a desirable on the Icknield Way Trail. I took a photocopy of the small initial section starting from Tring railway station (from O.S. 181), plus O.S. Explorer maps 193, 194, 209, 210 and 229. Each weihed about 110g. The 'Walkers' Guide' from the Icknield Way Association weighs 154g

Maps are essential, guide book a desirable, on the Icknield Way Trail. I took a photocopy of the small initial section starting from Tring railway station (from O.S. 181), plus O.S. Explorer maps 193, 194, 209, 210 and 229. Each weighed about 110g with covers removed. The ‘Walkers’ Guide’ from the Icknield Way Association weighs 154g

Electronics etc.

I took far more in the way of electronics and gadgets than I required for a walk of this length. Again, this was a deliberate decision to try and duplicate as far as possible the gear I am taking with me on my long hike next year. It may have transpired that I required something from my ‘electronics bag’, as it was, all I needed was my phone.

Phone, mp3 player, headlight and power- Little was required

Phone, mp3 player, headlight and power- Little was required

Phone

Rug Gear RG730 phone. IP68, 3020mAh battery, 5″ Gorilla Glass 3 capacitive screen. No lightweight at 215g, this android phone does me well

Rug Gear RG730 phone. IP68, 3020mAh battery, 5″ Gorilla Glass 3 capacitive screen. This android phone is no lightweight at 215g but does me well

Three Points of the Compass uses a RugGear RG730 android phone. Not particularly lightweight at 215g, it is a rugged phone, rated IP68, so I have no need for an additional protective case. This saves me a little weight, however I do keep it in a poly bag, usually with other electronics, as I am not daft. I don’t use it much on trail and keep it switched off if not in use during the day. On the Icknield Way, I sent daily messages to my wife and daughter, keeping it switched on for a few hours each evening. I also used the OS Locate ap once just to check my co-ordinates, and accessed the web over two pub lunches. Where it was probably most useful was when calling for a taxi at the end of my walk. The Icknield Way finishes at a car park in the middle of nowhere. I found that there was no service with 02 in that locale. Fortunately, another reason I chose this particular model of phone came to the fore. It is a Dual Sim phone, so I switched to Vodaphone, obtained a signal and Bob’s your Uncle.

From a 100% charge when I left home, this had dropped to 66% by the end of the walk. I never had the need to charge it at all, despite having the necessary lead and powerbank with me. The RG730 has a 13mp rear camera, but beyond a few photos sent to my daughter on the phone, I use my Olympus Tough TG-4 camera for capturing photos.

Stopping early morning to cook a hot breakfast and prepare a hot drink on the Icknield Way

Stopping early morning to cook a hot breakfast and prepare a hot drink on the Icknield Way

Cooking

I am very careful to be as frugal as possible with my meths stove. I light it, pan of water ghows straight on and the flame is extinguisehed as soon as water is heated. Unburnt fuel is retained in the tightly closed burner for the next use. Over six days of walking, with five nights of wild camping, cooking meals and making hot drinks, I used just 179g of fuel

I am very careful to be as frugal as possible with my meths stove. I light it, pan of water goes straight on and the flame is extinguished as soon as the water is heated. Unused fuel is then retained in the tightly closed burner for the next use.

I have long preferred meths (alcohol) for cooking with. I find it pretty much fuss free, silent and my little burner, when combined with the very efficient Caldera Cone, is as efficient a system in a breeze as you are ever likely to find.  I have no real issues with my system, particularly for shorter jaunts such as the Icknield Way. I store my fuel in a bottle that use to hold hot sauce, this has a nozzle cap for directing and controlling the fuel issued.

My MYOG meths burner worked very well. So well that I will certainly use it unaltered when using this system again. Over six days of walking, with five nights of wild camping, cooking meals and making hot drinks, I used just 179g of fuel. However I do recognise that the maths has been done by others and gas does come out as a lighter and more efficient system over longer hikes. So, I will be making the change to a gas system next year.

I’ll comment on what I am going to be using at some point in the future.

 

Hygiene

Compressed towlettes are pretty fantastic. Extreme low weight, low bulk and a drop of Dr. Bronners soap and a smidgen of water converts them into a one-use wash cloth

Compressed towelettes are pretty fantastic. Extreme low weight, low bulk and a drop of Dr. Bronners soap and a smidgen of water converts them into a one-use wash cloth

Three Points of the Compass has been looking for an alternative to the excellent Gerwhol foot cream and balm for some time. I may have found it with the Foot Balm from Naturally Thinking

Three Points of the Compass has been looking for an alternative to the excellent Gehwol foot cream and balm for some time. I may have found it with the Foot Balm from Naturally Thinking

Unlike our hiking cousins in the US, walking in the UK means that we are are in the company of a clean smelling general public on a more frequent basis. I don’t mind getting dirty, but I do like to try and get myself as clean as I can on a hike. Teeth get brushed, hair gets combed and an attempt is made to clean as much of the days grime and sweat off, even if it is only the face, feet and pits that get the most attention. That said, I stank pretty badly at the end of my hike and it was mostly synthetic clothing to blame.

Wash bag and contents. The razor went unused

Wash bag and contents. The razor went unused. Alum stick is heavy but useful. Lanacane anti-chafe gel is an essential

Drying clothes at a midday halt

Drying clothes at a midday halt

I am pretty happy with what I took but the weight and, less importantly at present, the bulk, is still too great and I shall be further refining it. It is very, very easy to slip in too many ‘what if’ and luxury items, I think I need to do a fair amount of inward looking and remove a few of my many comfort items from my gear list. My Three Points of the Compass gear list is currently a work in progress but may be of interest nonetheless.

As I said at the head of this post, I am only reviewing here a handful of the items I took with me. Do ask if you have any questions.

Three Points of the Compass- The End...

Three Points of the Compass– The End…

An Autumn morning on the Icknield Way Trail

An autumn wander on the Icknield Way Trail

Three Points of the Compass pauses for lunch on Day One on the Icknield Way Trail. Lady Chapel, Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

Three Points of the Compass pauses for lunch on Day One on the Icknield Way Trail. Lady Chapel, Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

As the time approaches for Three Points of the Compass to set off on the Long Walk, I thought it wise to fit in another week or so walking with, more or less, the gear that I am planning to set off with on April 1st 2018. Some contents of the pack have altered since last I hit the trail for any distance, not least, my tent. I’ll chat about a few of those items in a follow up post in a week or two.

Deer were seen on every day, usually Muntjac, or Barking Deer which were seen in the hundreds, occasionally Fallow Deer

Deer were seen on every day, usually Muntjac, or Barking Deer, which were seen in the hundreds, also, the occasional Fallow Deer

The damage caused to crops from raiding deer was only too apparent. It would make me weep as a farmer

The damage caused to crops from raiding deer was only too apparent. If I were a farmer, it would make me weep

I walked The Ridgeway in May 2016, and the Peddars Way in April this year. These form part of The Greater Ridgeway which stretches for some 363 miles from Lyme Regis in Dorset, to Hunstanton, on the North Norfolk Coast. The Icknield Way Trail formed another link. Being around a weeks walking, it was perfect for an autumn excursion.

Mind you, this did not go down particularly well with Mrs Three Points of the Compass as we had just returned from a fortnights holiday in Cyprus (more on that in another blog). While she had to return to work, I fortunately found myself still with a weeks annual leave to take. So a weeks walking it was.

Only published in 2003, and already not the easiest of books to find these days. The Greater Ridgeway by Ray Quinlan is to the usual high Cicerone standard. It is the ideal companion to anyone attempting the whole distance rather than just one of the constituent paths. There are dedicated Cicerone guides to both The Ridgeway and the Pedars Way and Norfolk Coast Path

Only published in 2003, and already not the easiest of books to find these days. The Greater Ridgeway by Ray Quinlan is to the usual high Cicerone standard. It is the ideal companion for anyone attempting the whole 363 mile distance rather than just one of the constituent paths. There are also dedicated Cicerone guides to both The Ridgeway and the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path

There are differing lengths to be found for the Icknield Way Trail in publications and online, varying from 98.5 to 110 miles. For this walk, I set off from Tring Railway station, Hertfordshire, where my Ridgeway walk had ended, the morning after completing that trail at Ivinghoe Beacon in 2016. This autumn, I finished walking six days later at the lonely carpark on Knettishall Heath, Suffolk. My total, with a bit of wandering, just a little exploring and not getting lost (sorry, momentarily unlocated) too much, was 120 miles.

Start point Finish point Mileage
Day one Tring station Upper Sundon 19
Day two Upper Sundon Clothall 21
Day three Clothall Elmdon 19.5
Day four Elmdon Willingham Green 19
Day five Willingham Green Cavenham Heath 24
Day six Cavenham Heath Knettishall Heath 17.5
120
The old trail is reflected in many place and street names

The old trail is reflected in many place and street names

I deliberately carried out little planning, as I wanted to get a better idea on how days might pan out on my longer walk next year where planning will frequently be day-by-day. I allowed myself eight days for the Icknield Way Trail, not really caring how long the walk took. In the end, it was six, finishing a little before 13.00 on the final day. In truth, I probably pushed myself too much, I am still recovering from Plantar fasciitis after all. I did get the occasional twinge from that on my walk. I would certainly aim at much lower mileages next year.

A basic lunch on trail

A basic lunch on trail

I carried plenty of food, enough for six days. This was shop bought, mostly low bulk, low weight. I never took any sort of specialised, dehydrated ‘backpacking’ food. Again, to see how both myself and my pack handled the extra weight and bulk. Needless to say, some uneaten food returned home with me afterward, mostly due to my eating a couple of meals in pubs en route.

Wildcamp on Day Two on the Icknield Way Trail. Long wet grass and little breeze meant that this was the worst night for condensation in my Z Packs Duplex

Wildcamp on Day Two on the Icknield Way Trail. Long wet grass and little breeze meant that this was the worst night for condensation in my Z Packs Duplex

On Rivey Hill, Cambridgeshire, the Icknield Way skirts a substantial brick built, 12-sided, water tower. Constructed in 1935-6, this is now a Grade II listed structure. This Art Deco tower used to provide water for 5000 people in nearby Linton and neighbouring villages

On Rivey Hill, Cambridgeshire, the Icknield Way skirts a substantial brick built, 12-sided, water tower. This Art Deco tower used to provide water for 5000 people in nearby Linton and neighbouring villages. Constructed in 1935-6, this is now a Grade II listed structure.

Despite being a marked route on O.S. maps, this is a little followed route. I only met two others walking the trail, and the two ladies were doing it together, in sections, over many months. There are few places to officially stay, be it camp sites or B&B. Purposely, I wild camped on each of the five nights on trail. None of my sites were planned. I would walk each day, look ahead on the map between midday and 14.00 and from around 16.30 begin to look for a place to hide myself away. At this time of the year, day light hours are few, light was failing at 17.30 and was dark an hour later.  I was invariably up prior to dawn, packed and walking by seven. I stopped for a hot breakfast of porridge some two to four hours later.

I was disturbed on a couple of the nights. My halt on the first night coincided with a bunch of young lads from the nearest village turning up to let off fireworks for 45 minutes, what great fun… My second night had a pair of gleeful herberts hurtling up and down a nearby track (on the other side of the hedge in the image above) on a quad bike, lamping. Fortunately I remained undiscovered.

A halt for breakfast a couple of hours in to my days walking. I would try and stop where there was a view, a seat, or ideally, both

A halt for breakfast a couple of hours in to my days walking. I would try and stop where there was a view, a seat, or ideally, both

First days on the trail took occasional beautiful woodland. Easy walking with little gradient

First days on the trail took in occasional beautiful woodland. Easy walking with little gradient

Village Green at Balsham

Village Green at Balsham

The Icknield Way Trail may be a little confusing to some. Most authorities would describe it as a collection of parallel track ways connecting Avebury in Wiltshire, with the north Norfolk Coast, around the Hunstanton area. The way follows the geology- a band, or spine, of chalk stretching across the country. Where the going became tough for our ancestors, usually due to thicker vegetation emanating from the clay covering of the chalk, they switched to a lower level. Much of the route is Ancient with some having been ‘improved’ by the Romans. For my section, much of the old route has now been consumed by the A505. Where it remains extant, some of the older track way is indicated on O.S. maps by Gothic lettering.

Entering the King's Forest. The Icknield Way is shown on many Ordnance Survey maps. Usually showing the presumed prehistoric route in 'Gothic' lettering, and the modern route for walkers in sans serif Roman. However there is little to indicate what is the Icknield Way Trail and what is the Icknield Way Path. Therefore, referring to one of the written guides is a necessity, or at least advisable

My pink highlighted route shows where I entered the King’s Forest. The Icknield Way is shown on many Ordnance Survey maps. Usually showing the presumed prehistoric route in ‘Gothic’ lettering, and the modern route for walkers in sans serif Roman. However there is little to indicate what is the Icknield Way Trail and what is the Icknield Way Path. Therefore, referring to one of the written guides is a necessity, or at least advisable

Today, we have a choice of routes to follow. There is the walkers route- the Icknield Way Path, as described by the Icknield Way Association, there are also occasional variants from the walkers route for cyclists or horseriders (the Icknield Way Riders Route).

An alternative route passes through Toddington

An alternative route passes through Toddington

To further confuse the user, there is even the occasional choice of routes for the walker. There is an alternative route that takes the walker through the village of Toddington, I never followed that alternative. Also, there is a link whereby the walker can stride directly to Thetford with its transport links. Instead, I followed the path to Knettishall Heath so as to finish where I had commenced my Peddars Way walk.

 

The Icknield Way Trail is quite well signposted for most of its length. Sins seeming to only abandon the traveller when it matters most, or in towns

Finger Post on the Icknield Way Trail. The route is quite well signposted for most of its length. Signs seeming to only abandon the traveller when it matters most, or in towns. A map is advisable

In 1992, the Countryside Commission designated the Icknield Way as a Regional Route, connecting The Ridgeway with the Peddars Way, it is this route that is shown on O.S. maps and is mostly signposted. My trail ran through six counties and some lovely gentle country, including the Chilterns and Brecklands.

View from Sundon Hills Country Park, one of the highest points in Bedfordshire

Icknield Way Trail passing through Sundon Hills Country Park, one of the highest points in Bedfordshire

Half a mile of sticky, glutinous foot adhering walking ahead

Finger Post indicates that I have half a mile of walking through sticky, glutinous mud to contend with

The weather was mostly kind to me. Day temperatures varied from 6°C to 20°C (43°F – 115°F), but dropped much colder at night after a warmer first night. However there was often a stiff breeze which dropped the temperature considerably. If it was blowing, my  Montane windshirt over my Rohan polo shirt was always suffice to keep me warm.

I experienced little rain during the day and it rained briefly on just two nights. I found the trail underfoot almost always good with a few notable exceptions as a result of the farmers putting their fields to bed. It paid to keep an eye on the map where the occasional short detour meant that crossing a freshly ploughed field could be avoided, though that wasn’t always the case by any means.

The middle section of the walk saw my trail crossing a mainly agricultural landscape. Farm vehicles were much in evidence and the fields were often being worked on

The middle section of the walk saw my trail passing through a mainly agricultural landscape. Farm vehicles were much in evidence and the fields were often being worked on

This part of the UK is pretty low lying. Here on Warden Hills, three miles from Luton, I was 195 metres above sea level. Further East, there is nothing higher until you reach the Ural Mountains

This part of the UK is pretty low lying. Here on Warden Hills, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Open Access Land, three miles from Luton, I was 195 metres above sea level. Further east, there is nothing higher until you reach the Ural Mountains

As mentioned previously, this closely shadows a route followed by man for thousands of years. While I encountered far fewer tumuli and ancient sites than those seen on The Ridgeway, nonetheless, there were a few sites of interest passed. Burial Mounds were most prolific- there are over a hundred surrounding Royston. Near Stechworth, the Icknield Way Path briefly followed the Devil’s Ditch, a striking Ancient feature, up to 6m wide with a rampart some 9m above it.

Remains of 12th century Motte and Bailey castle at Pirton

Remains of 12th century Motte and Bailey castle at Pirton. The trail passes right by it and a pause to wander its circumference should be obligatory

Village sign

Village sign

Wild camping the whole way, needless to say, ablutions were at the most basic. Keeping up a decent pace and working hard, it is fair to say that I stank to high heaven when I finished my walk six days later. This was mostly due to the fact that, perhaps surprisingly, water can be a struggle to find. I never took a filter with me as agricultural run-off is rife and there was no way I was drinking anything that came from the many small streams. Instead I relied on finding somewhere, or someone, and filling up with water from midday onward and each nights camp meant there was enough to drink and cook with, leaving just the merest of amounts allotted for a cursory clean up of body with a cloth. The many villages passed offered no taps for travellers and little chance to fill up. I never had to resort to simply knocking on someones door, though in one town I did pop in to a motor mechanics garage and ask them for water. They were, of course, more than happy to oblige.

Three Points of the Compass paused for lunch twice on the walk. The Jolly Postie in Royston provided excellent fish, chips and a couple of pints of beer. Handily, I could also top up my two litre Evernew bladder here

Three Points of the Compass paused for a pub lunch twice on the walk. The Jolly Postie in Royston provided excellent fish and chips and a couple of pints of beer. I could also top up my two litre Evernew bladder here, this was, of course, my true reason for popping in…

The Icknield Way Trail follows grassy, leafy, stony or muddy paths, lanes, roads, bridleways and byways, and was never hard going. I found this particular route of less interest than both The Ridgeway and Peddars Way. But still, it was an excellent trail for a decent leg stretch over a few days and provided opportunity to try out a few pieces of my kit.

I suffered one particular piece of kit failure that resulted in some back pain. Painkillers (Vitamin I) were taken on one day but I never had to resort to them again. I’ll cover that particular problem and subsequent fix in my follow up gear report later.

At Burrough Green the trail passes the 17th century schoolhouse. now given an appropriate new lease of life as a home for the village playgroup

At Burrough Green the trail passes the 17th century schoolhouse. Now given an appropriate new lease of life as a home for the village playgroup

Avenues of Pine welcomed me into the Brecklands

Avenues of Pine welcomed me into the Brecklands

I always derive pleasure from walking in the Brecklands and the trail passed into these on day five. Deciduous mostly gave way to Coniferous, the paths became sandier and the air perhaps just a little more fragrant as I began to pass numerous pig farms.

Sadly, my time here also coincided with a large number of off-road motorcyclists and quad-bikers on the By-ways. The great majority showed great courtesy to a pedestrian, the minority seemed to want to kill me.

Pig Farm in Suffolk

Pig Farm in Suffolk

Horse in the paddocks, cameras bristling on poles, helicopters taking nearby owners to and from their business, another world

Horses in the paddocks, nearby cameras bristling on poles, helicopters taking nearby owners to and from their business, another world

The economic disparity of the countryside was only too apparent on this walk. I passed horse paddocks where a few million quids worth of stud pranced. I was only a few miles from the famous horse racing town of Newmarket where James I was pivotal in starting the ‘sport of kings’.

Only a couple of miles distant, lonely hamlets vividly indicated a lack of employment and hardship. There was often a helicopter in the air on the final two days and I wondered how much of the overseas money filtered into the local economy.

Three Points of the Compass on his final day on the Icknield Way Trail. The track extends 6.5km into the King's Forest. This was afforested in 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. As I walked through in the early morning, I was accompanied by the constant sounds of rutting deer

Three Points of the Compass on his final day on the Icknield Way Trail. The track extends 6.5km into the King’s Forest. This woodland was afforested in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. As I walked through it in the early morning, I was accompanied by the constant sound of rutting deer

Would I do the walk again? No. Would I recommend it to others? Again, no. Unless you are completing the entire Greater Ridgeway. In that case I think you would find sufficient of interest to make it worthwhile.

My final day on trail

Final day on trail for Three Points of the Compass

Skinners footwear

A recent delivery…

Over the years, Three Points of the Compass has struggled over what camp shoes to take. Some hikers eschew the inclusion of anything beside the boots or shoes they hike in, me, I want to change of an evening.

Synthetic trail runners in particular can really stink if wet. I want to get my feet out of my trail shoes or boots, cleaned off a bit (or a lot), dried out and rested. If I am staying at a B&B, any owner is going to take a dim view of muddy footwear going any further than the front door. If wet on the trail, you can be caked in mud and if I am on an official camp site, I don’t want to be trailing that into any w/c. Finally, many Pub landlords want walking foot wear removed at the door, as do some cafe owners.

A good pair of sandals is both comfortable and allow the feet to breathe and recover. However a pair such as these from Merrell, weigh 750g

A good pair of sandals is both comfortable and allow the feet to breathe and recover. However a pair such as these from Merrell, weigh 750g

If I am staying in a campsite or hostel where I am sharing a shower room or block, I also want footwear to reduce the chance of contracting anything nasty off the floor. Put that little lot together and a spare set of footwear it is. However just about everything I have tried is either downright ugly, heavy, or both. I loathe Crocs with a passion, but even if I could put up with their appearance, they are simply too bulky and I hate things dangling from the outside of my pack, which seems to be most hikers answer to the bulk of a pair or Crocs. Flipflops can be lightweight, but I don’t want to be wearing those for walking a mile down to the neighbouring village. I have tried wearing a pair of waterproof Sealskin socks inside wet and muddy trail runners but these begin to leak over time. However, that said, wearing a pair of Sealskinz, the heat from a dry pair of feet can help dry out a sodden pair of shoes or boots.

Three Points of the Compass was intrigued to come across a nifty design of footwear recently and decided to take a punt on a pair of Skinners. First appearing on Kickstarter, these are handmade in the Czech Republic and are made from Polypropylene, Viscose, Cotton and Lycra, they also have silver in the antibacterial yarn to reduce odour. Put simply, they are a stretchy, breathable sock with a waterproof abrasion proof polymer stuck on to the bottom and sides. There is no stiff sole and the socks/shoes roll up for carrying. They come supplied with a little cloth bag but I don’t need that as there are lighter options.

Skinners footwear- low cut, breathable, waterproof sole, comfortable, not bad at all...

Skinners footwear- low cut, breathable, waterproof sole, comfortable, not bad at all…

I ordered online, took the advice of a couple of reviewers and sized up to an XXL (I have feet size 11/11.5 UK), so the ones I ordered were supposed to fit feet size 12-13.5 UK. I should have ignored the advice and simply ordered the correct size as the XXL were way to big. The XXL I emailed Skinners to request an exchange for weighed 203g (7.2oz) for the pair. My new pair of XL fit me just fine. These weigh 183g (6.45oz) for the pair, so 91.5g per single sock. Pretty good compared to just about every other type of footwear I have taken with me for camp use. However, it remains to be seen how these will perform when used in anger. I really am not sure how I am going on to get on with what is, effectively, a toughened pair of socks.

I shall report back.

There is a fair amount of information on the box in which a pair of Skinners is purchased

There is a fair amount of information on the box in which a pair of Skinners is purchased

A small selection of herbs, spices and condiments goes a long way to improving bland trail meals

Additions to a food bag- condiments

 

The term condiment comes from the Latin condimentum, meaning “spice, seasoning, sauce” and from the Latin condere, meaning “preserve, pickle, season”

Wikipedia (T. Nealon)

While on multi day hikes, Three Points of the Compass now carries food in a wide mouth food bag from Z Packs. This dedicated food bag has a wide opening to make poking around inside easier and can hold anything from pre-prepared meals, to pasta/noodles/instant mash/oats/tortillas, to pouch fish, squeezy cheese, yeast flakes, jerky etc. plus a brew kit.

I do like to ensure that I have just a few extras that may add a little flavour to my meals. For a week’s walk this has usually just comprised of salt and pepper in the little paper sachets that can be picked up in fast food outlets. But with time counting down to my Long Walk, commencing April 2018, I have decided to expand on this slightly.

Below are the handful of additions I will be carrying. The idea of carrying these may be absolute anathema to purist lightweighters, but over time, the fairly bland and repetitive nature of stock carbs can get a little boring and a handful of condiments can go a long way to relieving this. With care, such additions add negligible weight to a reasonably lightweight set-up. And a little goes a long way.

A small selection of spices and condiments that will add flavour to meals on the trail

A small selection of spices and condiments that will add flavour to meals on the trail

I could very easily get carried away with what I wished to plunder my store cupboard for, but eventually settled on just five, these are:

  • Crushed and dried chillies
  • Dried garlic flakes
  • Tellicherry freshly crushed peppercorns
  • Smoked Sea Salt
  • Mixed dried herbs

I have found in the past that the little baggies I use tend to split after repeated opening and frequently don’t like closing after a while due to the fineness of the contents clogging the grooves of the closure. I could use contact lens cases instead but not only do these not hold a great deal but they are fairly weighty considering the original negligible weight of the condiments. Storing in straws, folded back and tucked into themselves is another way, but just a tad fiddly. The various spice holders produced by GSI are well made but simply too heavy, Tic Tac containers get crushed and split, the old 35mm film canisters (remember them?) have the lid pop off when you don’t want it to. None of the various multi compartment pill containers I have seen are light enough, So instead, I purchased a small range of cheap and cheerful lightweight aluminium tins from eBay and selected what I felt was the most appropriate size, which was the smallest, 15ml size. Each empty tins weighs just four and a half grams.

In addition, I have a small bottle of Olive Oil. This is decanted into a 60ml Nalgene bottle that weighs 16g empty. Full, it weighs 74g. The five full tins collectively weigh 72g, but that weight will constantly drop.

Small aluminium screw top tins are easily available. These are fives of the many sizes on the market. 15ml- 4.5g, 25ml- 6.3g, 30ml- 7.6g, 50ml- 10.1g and 80ml- 14.3g. They can be easily dented and knocked around due to their thin metal, but still hold up well

Small aluminium screw top tins are easily available online. These are just five of the many sizes on the market- 15ml- 4.5g, 25ml- 6.3g, 30ml- 7.6g, 50ml- 10.1g and 80ml- 14.3g. They can be easily dented and knocked around due to their thin metal, but still hold up well once the lid is screwed on

I could have added dried onion, dried vegetables or dried mushrooms to the above selection but many supermarkets and smaller shops stock quite small packs of these which can be picked up in many towns on trail, unlike the more flavoursome, often uncommon, quality ingredients listed above. I am still considering on swapping out my dehydrated garlic for garlic salt, and I do wonder if I should have added celery salt or my lovely smoked paprika…

Sorting through the trip piles

Still sorting out…

Have you noticed how maps, guides, books and notes can begin to accumulate into little, and not so little, piles of ‘important planning resources’ over time.

My attempt at sorting out some of those piles has continued into a second day. Once Mrs Three Points of the Compass is happy with how much the accumulated ‘stuff’ has been reduced and sorted, I’ll try and get round to a post or two on a couple of these little adventures. One from earlier in the year, one still to come.

As Tucas

Sorting out

Sadly, despite it being a fantastic, bright and dry autumn day, needs must, and it is a day of sorting out piles of accumulated ‘jobs to do’ alongside family chores.

One of these is making an assessment of a sample of material sent to me from As Tucas in response to a request from me for a bespoke Pack Liner for my Mariposa. It is about 38g/m2, so a good lightweight material. While strong, it is not very tear resistant, but no worse than cuben which is what I originally had in mind as a liner material. This is the fabric that As Tucas use for their Millaris Bivy bathtub.

Only available in black, it is waterproof and very slippery, so contents will slide in and out easily. Marco is doing seam testing for me and we have agreed on a design and price. I am only looking to a simple design with an extended collar and no buckles to keep weight down. That is all I need as I prefer to simply twist the neck of my normal rubble sack and fold down. This is a perfectly adequate way of ensuing no water enters a liner.

I’ll be formally placing my order in a couple of days and will post a picture once it is delivered.

Fabric swatch from As Tucas

Fabric swatch from As Tucas