Tag Archives: small stuff

The Firefly can be ordered in different pack configurations, I ordered two Firefly and two Firefly Mini. Toothpicks can be stored in the pack when swapped with the firesteel

Firefly- a simple addition to your kit

I recently received a sweet little package through the post. I ordered the Firefly firesteel when I came across it on Kickstarter. It is one of those simple ideas that you wonder why no-one had produced before. A very small, very slim ferrocerium rod that takes the place of the toothpick in a Swiss Army Knife.

Large and small Firefly inserted into the slots provided for toothpicks on my Victorinox Spartan and Classic SD Swiss Army Knives

Large and small Firefly inserted into the slots provided for toothpicks on my Victorinox Spartan and Classic SD Swiss Army Knives

One of these fire steels is not going to last any great length of time. Instead, they work well as an emergency carry, for those times where you get caught out for some reason, wet matches, ineffective lighter etc.

A good edge is required to raise a spark so not every tool in a Swiss Army Knife is effective. You will see me use the back edge of a saw in a Wenger Swiss Army Knife in the film below. But scissors, awl and fish scaler are effective too. The suppliers of the Firefly, Tortoise Gear, say that a can opener or file tool could also be used, however I have had less success with these. The knife can also be used but I’m not wrecking my blades attempting to do so. The back of a tool in a Swiss Army Knife can also be filed to give a good ninety degree angle for striking a steel, but likewise, I’m not butchering the tools on my knives.

There is an additional technique required when using these mini firesteels, you have to support the steel with a finger to stop it being broken. Also, strike along the thin edge rather than the wide edge, this stops it being worn away during use and no longer fitting tightly into the slot in the scales of your Swiss Army Knife.

Should you be interested, the larger 52mm Firefly weighs 1.7g , and the smaller 44mm Firefly Mini weighs a paltry 1.2g. So if you carry a Victorinox with you on trail or as an EDC, you may like to consider these. Alternatively, simply slip one into your ditty bag along with a small striker. One word of warning though, if living in the UK, watch out for those customs fees!

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.

 

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.

 

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…

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
A few grams here, a few grams there... in search of the perfect lighter

A few grams here, a few grams there… in search of the perfect lighter

I have used many types of stove over the years- white gas (Colman), gas, paraffin (kerosene), petrol, even diesel in an omnifuel stove once (just once, never again!) I only ever used hexamine blocks in army days. However my preference for most trips, where I will be cooking, is meths (denatured alcohol).

I have a number of beloved Zippo lighters sitting around the house from my days as a smoker. One of my most sentimental possessions is the old brass Zippo my dad used to have. None of these are in any way suitable for backpacking use when using meths as they are too bulky, run out of fuel too quickly and are pretty hefty too. What is required is one of the lightweight butane gas lighters. There is a butane Thunderbird insert for a Zippo but one of the plastic disposables weighs a tenth of that.

For most short trips, matches will do just fine for fire making. Be they waterproof (sic) or long 'cooks' matches. All are OK unless there is any sort of breeze. Lifeboat matches, with their extra long, varnish dipped, heads will continue to burn in wind and rain. However they are an expensive option. I like using a flint and steel, but this can be a right pain when meths is cold. For longer trips, something that will light hundreds of times is required and matches are only useful as back-up

For most short trips, matches will do just fine for fire making. Be they waterproof (sic) or long ‘cooks’ matches, all are OK unless there is any sort of breeze. Lifeboat matches, with their extra long, varnish dipped, heads will continue to burn in wind and rain. However they are an expensive option. I like using a flint and steel, but this can be a right pain when meths is cold. For longer trips, something that will light hundreds of times is required and matches are only useful as a back-up, but keep them dry…

There are a lot of disposable lighters on the market. The range of models from any one maker is huge and my experience of what is available from this huge offering is obviously minuscule. But I have explored, slightly, a handful of the options available to me.

Disposable lighter from Cricket

12g disposable lighter from Cricket

For quite some time I have simply used an Original Cricket Lighter. In 1961, Cricket were the first company to release a disposable lighter on to the market and, in common with just about any other brand out there, they all work pretty well.

There are various offerings from the brand. The one that has sat in my cook kit for years (these lighters really do last a long time) was given to me in a pub, advertising the UK chain of public houses. Mine is the Original model, long and slim, to sit in a pack of cigarettes, not that I am a smoker these days.

Mini-Bic lighter

11g Mini-Bic lighter

Cricket do make a small version of their full size offering, however I went with the mini Bic lighter when I was looking to shave off a couple of grams. Though actually, my only saving was a single gram! But the slightly smaller presence of the mini lighter is an equally mini-bonus I suppose. Bic are a far younger producer of lighters, having only purchased the French lighter manufacturer Flaminaire in 1973, however they dominate the disposable lighter market. Well known and respected for good reason- cheap, reliable consistency. So good are their mini lighters that I carry a spare when backpacking.

The 'soft' flame from a traditional gas lighter can drift around a little in a breeze

The ‘soft’ flame from a traditional gas lighter can drift around a little in a breeze

A 'jet' flame from a disposable lighter is more directed, with less chance of scorching fingers

A ‘jet’ flame from a disposable lighter is more directed, with less chance of scorching fingers.Note that just like a meths flame itself, the flame from a lighter can be invisible in daylight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disposable lighter from Italian distributor Afruni

34g disposable jet lighter from Italian distributor Afruni

I have found on occasion when lighting my little Speedster stove that I can burn my fingers in any sort of breeze as the flame drifts around a little. So I went looking for one of the ‘turbo’ or jet lighter options. There are a lot of these available but for the past year or so I have been using one of the Euroflame models from Italian supplier Afruni. I can’t find a lot about this company online but as to the lighter itself, I liked the jet flame produced, which aided sideways lighting of my stove. I also like the flip top cap on the lighter. Which I felt may prevent debris from clogging the nozzle. However not only do I feel that keeping the lighter with the cook set obviates slightly the need for a cap to the lighter, but, in common with many other turbo lighters on the market, my lighter was too heavy at 34g, even if it is possible to refill this option. The piezo ignition is another step above the simple flint striker on my Bic and Cricket options but both those manufacturers also offer piezo alternatives now.

2014 advertisement for the Torjet 'all weather' refillable windproof lighter

2014 advertisement for the Torjet ‘all weather’ refillable windproof lighter

Torjet lighter, wrapped with Hemp Wick. Total weight- 24g

20g Torjet lighter, wrapped with a couple of metres of Hemp Wick. Total weight- 24g

What I have settled on is one of the 20g offerings from Torjet. This is supplied by Tor Imports who were founded in 1992 to supply cigars and smoking accessories. Yet another cheap ‘n’ cheerful product that does exactly what it sets out to do. I am keen on the refillable aspect of these lighters. When you reflect on the fact that Bic have sold over 30 billion of their disposable lighters, anything we can do to reduce this landfill just slightly can only be good.

The lighter is refillable and has piezo ignition. The jet nozzle is closed and protected when not lit. It has a long slim profile that fits in the hand well. It lights well and has never failed me.

All that said. It makes sense to be prepared and I do carry a spare lighter with me. There is no need for another Torjet however so a bright red mini Bic is my back-up. A bright colour lighter makes sense as they show up well in the grass when cast to one side while cooking.

Hemp Wick

Hemp Wick

Hemp cord is coated with beeswax and is easily snuffed out once the job is done. Being stiffened, it keeps its shape when wrapped around a light

Hemp cord is coated with beeswax and a flame is easily snuffed out once the job is done. Being stiffened, Hemp Wick keeps its shape when wrapped around a lighter

99% of the time I use my lighter as a lighter, simply pressing the ignition and sending a red hot jet of flame in from the side. For those odd times where I want to be a little more distant, usually for a wood fire. I wrap a couple of metres of Hemp Wick round the Torjet lighter. Not only does this provide a better grip in the rain, but it is handy to pull off a couple of inches, light it, and it then works as a handy, fairly slow burning wick. This will not work in any sort of strong breeze and needs the good shelter provided by my Caldera Cone. The Hemp Wick is not required often, but is there if required.

I only occasionally use the Inferno insert to convert my Caldera to wood burning mode and can see my Hemp Wick being helpful at lighting this at times, either catching the end of torn paper, grass or a smidge of Hammaro tinder card.

My lighter arsenal for multi-day backpacking trips. A 20g mini-Bic disposable lighter and 20g refillable jet Torjet lighter wrapped with 4g of Hemp Wick

My lighter arsenal for multi-day backpacking trips. A 11g mini-Bic disposable lighter and 20g refillable Torjet lighter wrapped with 4g of Hemp Wick

I note that Thunderbird make a jet style ‘torch insert‘ for Zippo lighters, I just have to refrain from indulging myself…

Fuertenventura Feb-March 2017

A lightweight art kit- Fuerteventura

Three Points of the Compass descending from Morro Jorjado via the Cuesta de la Villa, Fuerteventura , March 2017

Three Points of the Compass descending from Morro Jorjado via the Cuesta de la Villa, Fuerteventura , March 2017

I have just returned from a fortnight’s family holiday on Fuerteventura. This is the second largest and the longest of the Canary Islands. I stayed in a large hotel in the centre of the east coast. It was to be a holiday of many parts. The primary aim was to rest from the rigours of work, to see some early sun, to get a bit of walking in and explore the most interesting sites, history and geology that the island had to offer, to discover flora and fauna never seen before and to, hopefully, get in a little bit of sketching. To this end, a modicum of space was found in the suitcase for a compact art kit that could also go into the day sack on days out.

I continue to not only work on my, woefully inadequate, artistic skills, but also to refine a lightweight art kit that can accompany me on longer walks, in particular my Three Points of the Compass walk in around a years time. I wrote last year of a lightweight art kit that accompanied me to Sicily in 2016. This was another opportunity to further drill down the equipment I will carry.

Three Points of the Compass urban sketching in Puerto del Rosario, Fuerteventura. Time was always limited and I attempted to work pretty quickly

Three Points of the Compass urban sketching in Puerto del Rosario. Time was always limited and I attempted to work pretty quickly, at least before my spouse became totally bored and wandered off…

I will be blogging later in a little more detail on the specific materials I took with me and others that never made the cut, but for this trip, all I wanted was a simple little self contained pouch in which to keep most art materials together. Something that could be pulled out almost anywhere and provide me with a small, discreet and self-contained choice of medium.

I took a small pouch containing the majority of materials, two small sketchbooks, a cotton wrist band and all important bottle of water

I took a small pouch containing the majority of materials, two small sketchbooks, a cotton wrist band protected in a baggie and all important bottle of water, the latter was for my hydration as I made use of a water brush for painting

Whereas I would normally wish to sketch directly into a hike journal, this wasn’t that sort of break, so I took two of my favourite little sketch books. One is a 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ (88mm x 139mm) that has somehow become my default sketchbook for churches, the other a square format 5 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ (140mm x 140mm) – though page sizes come in a little smaller, used for anything else. Both of these hand books are from Global Art Materials.

For such a small kit, I had a fair amount of choice and flexibility in materials

For such a small kit, I had a fair amount of choice and flexibility in materials

My palette was a home made affair that, again, I will be blogging on in the future. This contained a minimal selection of single pigment watercolours- Quinacridone Gold- (PO49), Hansa Yellow medium- (PY97), New Gamboge- (PY153), Cupric Green Light- (PG36), Cerulean Blue- (PB35), Ultramarine (Green shade)- (PB29), Monte Amiata Natural Sienna- (PBr7), Permanent Rose- (PV19).

This is an exciting selection only recently developed by myself that is going to prove a little challenging for me to use, being much reduced from what I am more used to, so this trip was an excellent opportunity to try it out. My intention was to increase the quantities of each pigment in my small palette so that it was more useful on longer trips, but still offer good mixing capability. As it transpired, I did so little painting that I have not, by any means, fully explored its capability nor identified any faults. Though I have already noted the difficulties presented by such limited mixing space. You can see the seven small wells I have built into the lid.

The small selection of coloured leads fro Koh-I-Noor that I took allowed me to occasionally swtich medium. This poor and scrappy drawing was completed in less than ten minutes whilst standing on the pavement waiting for a bus to hove into view. With a few minutes to spare, the windmill opposite me in Tiscamanita was a superb subject

The small selection of coloured leads from Koh-I-Noor that I took with me allowed me to occasionally switch medium. This poor and scrappy drawing was completed in less than ten minutes whilst standing on the pavement waiting for a bus to hove into view. With just a few minutes to spare, the windmill opposite me in Tiscamanita was a superb subject that could not be ignored

To accompany this, I had a medium Pentel Aquash Water Brush. My lovely little Lamy Safari Fountain Pen was loaded with black Noodlers Bullet Proof waterprof ink, Pentel black ink brush pen (not used at all), Rotring Tikki Graphic 0.1 technical pen with pigmented waterproof black ink and a white Uniball gel pen. I simply cannot eschew my pencils entirely, so took one of the gorgeous Koh-I-Noor Toison D’Or 5900 clutch holders loaded with 2mm 2B graphite from Faber Castell. Despite there being a sweet little lead pointer in the cap of the clutch holder, I slipped in a 2mm lead pointer made by Faber Castell. To be honest, I should really have taken a pointer that would retain graphite slivers when sharpening, such as my Uni pocket sharpener from Mitsubishi, but I forgot it. As there was room in the pouch, I took a small, thin lead holder made by Acme for their spare graphite leads, but instead of their leads, I loaded it with the waxy 2mm coloured leads made by Koh-I-Noor (brown, blue, green, red and yellow). Also carried was a shaped eraser from Derwent and a small bulldog clip. All of this was carried in a zippered Lihit Lab Compact Pen Case.

Three Points of the Compass hiking in Fuertenventura February-March 2017

Three Points of the Compass ascending to Degollada de la Sargenta, Fuertenventura. March 2017