Tag Archives: Knowledge

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…

Mark Wallington's account of a 1980s walk round, what was then, Britain's longest coastal footpath- 'from Somerset to Devon, from Cornwall to Dorset'

A decent read- 500 Mile Walkies by Mark Wallington

“Was I searching for the Man Within, the Real Me, was spiritual development my goal? Nah, I couldn’t convince myself, and in the end the best reason I could come up with was that I thought I might impress this girl I’d met at a party before Christmas”

Three Points of the Compass is not a particularly doggy type chap, nor is this book particularly well written. It is no ‘how to’ guide and you will gain little, if any, insight into what is now part of the South West Coast Path. What 500 Mile Walkies is, is a diverting, humorous, affectionate and self-deprecating account of Mark’s walk with possibly the worst, and best, canine companion it is possible to borrow from a friend relieved to be shot of his pet for a few weeks.

At first glance 500 Mile Walkies may seem a little ephemeral and lacking in observational muscle, however the author had a perceptive eye for what mattered most and makes light of what must have, at times, been a demanding walk. An enjoyable read.

500 mile walkies, Wallington

500 Mile Walkies, Mark Wallington, First published by Hutchinson 1986, my edition published by Arrow 1987. ISBN 0 09 952390 6

Two Degrees West, an English Journey by Nicholas Crane

A decent read- Two Degrees West, an English Journey by Nicholas Crane

On a mid-August morning, Nicholas Crane set off on his self-devised adventure. To walk two degrees west of the Meridian, from one end of England to the other, from the North Sea by Berwick-upon-Sea, to the Isle of Purbeck on the English Channel, and why not.

The author gave himself some leeway, he permitted himself to stray up to a 1000 metres each side of his line, between grid lines 99 and 01 on the Ordnance Survey maps that he cut and pasted together, giving him a strip route, 577.96 kilometre long, on thirty-six separate maps, folded and slipped into his trouser pocket. For all his two kilometre wide limit, the book wanders far wider, giving snippets of history and social context, though often, not quite enough.

He carried his belongings in a pack and, armed with an umbrella, sallied forth. Sleeping where he can, be-it ditches, woods or beneath motorways, he meets and engages with a hotchpotch of characters and commits to his self imposed parameters with determination. This man knows how to create an adventure, how to carry it out, and, most importantly, how to write about it.

Two Degrees West is a captivating book. It is an England and its people that few bother to go and explore and meet. If ever you want a book to inspire you to look for your own adventure, then this may do the job.

Two Degrees West- Constrained by his self-imposed line of longitude, Nicholas Crane prepares for a crossing of the River Tyne

Two Degrees West- Constrained by his self-imposed line of longitude, Nicholas Crane prepares for a crossing of the River Tyne

Two Degrees West, an English Journey. Nicholas Crane, First published 1999. This edition 2000, Penguin Books

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.

Three Points of the Compass is taking a variety of pegs on his Long Walk across the UK

Pegging down the pegs

Having purchased a new tent this summer, I thought I would look a little more thoroughly at the range of pegs/stakes that I will be taking with me on my Long Walk in 2018. I have chatted before about the various pegs I have used over the years, and this has helped inform my ‘final’ choice.

As anyone who has read much from my Three Points of the Compass site will know, in 2018, it is my intention to set off from the Lizard in Cornwall, to follow the coastline, through Lands End, to Minehead (via the most southerly compass point of mainland Britain). Strike across country to Bristol, cross into Wales and then head north to and into Scotland via Lakeland. Keeping northward (with a diversion off to the most westerly compass point), I plan on visiting the most northerly point before swinging round to John O’Groats. As you might imagine, the terrain and underlying soil types are going to vary incredibly across this walk, far more so than any other hike I have ever undertaken to date.

It is so that I am prepared for whatever I am pegging down into, that my peg bag is going to show a little more variety than normal, in addition to being a little heavier that I might perhaps wish. Despite having a fairly wide variety of pegs for various ground conditions, I have chosen carefully, and concentrated on good quality products that have kept the weight as low as possible. Total weight, including peg bag, is 152g.

I anticipate good loamy soils, springy turf, grit, rocks, sand, roots, hard compacted earth, strong winds and waterlogged ground. It is obvious that no one type of peg is going to handle all of these, hence my choice. My tent is the Z Pack Duplex. I am not taking a free-standing option, my tent is erected with a peg at each corner plus one for each side that holds the doors out. Finally, a little more internal room can be gained by pegging out the sloping walls. So, six pegs as a minimum, eight pegs ideally. In addition to the eight, I want something for when the ground is soft and pegs just want to pull through the mud etc. Also, a couple of strong spears to pound into solid ground, where taking a rock to the head of any other peg I am carrying is going to shatter it or turn it into a banana. Not much to ask for is it! Additionally, there has recently appeared a new kid on the block- these are stupid light pegs and made of a traditionally fragile material. But I am including four short plastic pegs for additional support, replacement of lost pegs, or when I am stringing up a drying line or similar.

At a pinch, I also have my ti shepherds hooks that work with my cooking set-up as pot supports, these could instead be used to wiggle through a gritty, rocky ground, finding their way through tiny crevices. So while the two ti hooks are really part of my kitchen gear, I include them here. I also have my toilet trowel that can be used as a peg, or bags could also be filled and buried as snow anchors if things get desperate.

Lightweight, yet tough, peg bag from Tread Lite

Lightweight, yet tough, peg bag from Tread Lite

I have previously used a really lightweight peg bag from Tread Lite that weighed just a single gram but I found it too fragile, so I have gone for a more robust bag from the same manufacturer. This is made of Icarex with a tougher Dyneema X Grid base where wear is greatest. Yet the peg bag still weighs less than 5 grams.

  Peg/stake Material number Length Individual weight Total weight
 Carbon and Aluminium 'Full Metal Jacket' nail from Easton Easton nail Aluminium/Carbon 8 153mm 6.2g 49.6g
 Clamcleats Titanium Spear Clamcleats spear Titanium 2 200mm 17.9g 35.8g
 Clamcleats Tornado Clamcleats Tornado Titanium 2 183mm 18.1g 36.2g
 Swiss Piranha Swiss Piranha RT90 Plastic 4 90mm 3.2g 12.8g
 Titanium hook from Cascade Designs Cascade Designs Ti-hooks (potentially repurposed from stove) Titanium 2 160mm 6.3g 12.6g
Tread Lite peg bag Icarex/Dyneema X Grid 1 270mm 4.7g 4.7g
151.7g

[152g]

  • The Full Metal Jackets from Easton have either been shamelessly cloned by other manufacturers, or Easton are now producing them for a few of the smaller (and not so small) retailers under other names. They are an excellent and truly lightweight peg. Incredibly strong, they still have to be put in and removed with respect.
  • The titanium pins I have included can take quite a bit of punishment and can easily be pounded in with a rock. You will find thinner variants of these pins on sale but these are the 5mm thick titanium Spears that have been hammered  through four inches of wood by YouTubers on a frequent basis.
  • In soft ground, the thinner profile pegs shown above can be pulled out either with ease, or will struggle to hold. I wish I could justify a whole set of eight wide profile V pegs but instead, have included two Tornado pegs that can be used where it matters most, perhaps on the windward side of a tent.
  • Swiss Piranha RT90 pegs are short, made of a supposedly ‘unbreakable’ plastic and, in good ground, hold pretty well. At just 3.2g each, I felt I could include four of these as back up.
  • The titanium hooks that can provide pot support in my Sidewinder stove from Cascade Designs, can also be put into service as tent pegs. These thin pegs are good on gritty, rocky pitches, finding purchase where thicker pegs can prove impossible to penetrate the ground.

I am pretty sure that the above is going to be my final peg selection but do want to try this out for a few nights before committing to it. I am walking the Icknield Way Path over the course of a week in October and will be taking this set of pegs with me. I shall also be packing along two additional pegs, just to see if I am tempted to use them, or if they are required. These will be two of the excellent MSR Groundhogs. These are a tried and tested classic aluminium vaned peg.

 MSR Groundhog MSR Groundhog Aluminium 2 191mm Individual weight:  14.3g Total weight: 28.6g
Legible London

Sign of the month… Legible London

 

Legible London

On 27 November 2007, the first prototype of a new design of street signage went ‘live’ in the West End of London. Just about every London Borough now has a number of the distinguishable, tall, upright and informative signs. These form part of the Legible London sign network. Integrated into the transport network, there are over 1700 of the signs providing information for pedestrians, on streets, local buildings, places of interest and bus routes, and enables those exiting London Underground stations to quickly orientate themselves. Circles on the maps indicate a walking time between places, ranging from 5 to 15 minutes. Note the small directional ‘north’ arrow set in to the base of the sign.