Kit shakedown and review
Dartmoor, when she is at her harshest, is particularly good at revealing any shortcomings your kit may have. Over the last few months, hikes and camps in strong winds, cold temperatures and very wet conditions has reveal a number of issues and, with the County Castle Caper starting next month, now seems as good a time as any to review some of my kit.
Rain rain rain, beautiful rain
Nothing tests how waterproof your stuff is than a day of horizontal wind driven rain. Crossing over Amicombe Hill a few weekends ago (as storm Henry began to hit) was particularly revealing as, with nowhere to shelter, we trekked face on to the high winds and rain for several hours.
Clothing-wise, I was fairly happy. My Target Dry Element Jacket had done a decent job of keeping most of the moisture out. My old Chocolate Fish merino buff-type thing was drenched but still warm (although having a spare dry buff for cold camps might be advantageous, and a lighter one would be useful for cycling) and my Mountain Warehouse Extreme Waterproof gloves had only succumbed at the end. These are by far the best waterproof gloves I have used (don’t start me on the complete ineffectiveness of Sealskinz :() but ultimately once saturated they useless – again a spare dry pair would be useful.
My Target Dry Mac in Sac 2 Packaway Overtrousers were swamped (not unexpected for such light overtrousers) but blocked the wind and helped keep my legs warm. I have never had a pair of overtrousers that has stopped rain in these conditions anyway, so the lightness, comfort and convenience of these trousers still make them my preference (although I might re-waterproof them!)
Things fared less well in my pack however. I, perhaps foolishly, never use a cover instead relying on a selection of waterproof bags inside my pack. My Deuter ACT Lite was drenched through and several of my dry bags (including the one with my sleeping bag in) had breached. Tests back home revealed that over half of my dry bags are no longer waterproof – some with obvious tears and rips. Replacements are needed!
The first aid kit was soggy – it is not the first time this has happened, and the repeated re-drying process has left most of the contents at best unhygienic if not completely unusable. A waterproof re-stocked first aid kit is definitely required.
Did the earth move?
Dartmoor is fantastic at giving the illusion of solid ground which quickly, under pressure, turns out to be deep bog. During our ‘exploration’ of the West Okement River (as we headed upstream trying to find somewhere safe to cross the flood-swollen water) we alternated between actual bog and these hidden stealth ninja bogs – one of which swallowed me up to my calf unexpectedly – and I was covered in mud by the time we pitched. Sarah, utilising a walking pole as a probe, fared better avoiding these bogs. The other walking pole was left behind as it is damaged and it was sorely missed. I definitely need some kind of walking pole / walking stick hybrid! It will also help to stabilising me when MS fatigue starts affected my balance.
Ice ice hushaby baby
The previous night had been cold. Snow was forecast, although the best the weather managed was a bit of sleet, and temperatures dropped to around freezing as the wind picked up.
Sarah, who suffers from the cold, borrowed my Ayacucho Down Gillet which, as it packs down to next to nothing, I usually take with me as a backup layer. She found it worked really well at keeping her core warm. A few weekends later, in Cotswold Outdoors, we both fell in love with hooded jackets from the Ayacucho Atlas range…. which happened to be on sale…… we will never be cold again!
The Vango Viper 1000 sleeping bag I acquired from Paul (Moorland Walker) performed well on its first cold test keeping me toasty warm without needing to be cocooned into it. A better waterproof compression bag might be a good idea though to reduce the pack size slightly and to guarantee dryness (likewise for clothing).
The new Vango Banshee 200 once again held up to the terrible weather conditions nicely but it is starting to fall out of favour. I loved my old Banshee 200 before it was damaged and had to be disposed of (thanks to the ‘incident’ in the Plume of Feathers camp site in Princetown). Arguably I could have replaced the broken poles but, at the time, I had no need for a 2 person hiking tent. The new model, whilst the second door is beneficial, is inferior to the old model – the peg loops are so annoying, there is an odd strap thing below the central hoop whose purpose is beyond me and the doors open is such a frustratingly odd way.
It is also very small for 2 people – in bad weather it is cramped and uncomfortable with packs and one person has to wait in the rain whilst the other person packs or unpacks their bags. On our next trip the Vango Banshee 300 will be getting an outing. The weight is slightly more (although Alex and I did manage to lug it across Offa’s Dyke!), but the increased space (and height) will more than compensate the additional weight penalty (especially if the weather is grotty)! Oh and I have really missed the really useful hanging storage / dying thingy.
Otherwise, my stock of consumables has finally run out and needs replenishing.
We enjoyed my last LYO Expedition meal. These freeze dried meals, made from 100% natural and fresh ingredients, are absolutely delicious. Although, depending on hiking distance, I usually just take a tin of Stag chilli and a boil in the bag rice sachet (with a Dartmoor Brewery beer for complete decadence), it is useful to have a supply of freeze dried meals for longer (or more arduous) hikes.
I also need to resupply two must-have items originally recommended by Phil Turner: Gehwol Extra foot cream and Dr Bronners soap. The foot cream refreshes tired feet, helps reduce blisters and generally makes for a happier tent life – it makes your feet forget all about the bogs and the ‘feather beds’, and helps keep your sleeping bag fresher! The soap is a multi-purpose tool – you can using it for washing up, washing yourself and even (if you are desperate) to clear your teeth (the blurb suggestions there are 15 uses). It is environmentally neutral, so can be used safely in water courses without causing an issue to wildlife.
I also need to replace my Sawyer Squeeze. The plastic seal is damaged which means it cannot reliably be left attached to anything unsupervised and the pouch leaks. Even damaged the squeeze has been invaluable in ensuring camp water without having to lug litres of the stuff over tors all day (with all the animals graving on Dartmoor I am not sure I would be happy drinking any water unfiltered).
- Buff Merino Wool Buff
- Exped Drybags
- Lifesystems Light & Dry Micro First Aid Kit
- Ayacucho Atlas Down Hoodie
- FYO Expedition meals from Base Camp Food
- Gehwol Extra foot cream
- Dr Bronners soap
STILL TO BUY
- Mountain Warehouse Extreme Waterproof gloves
- Compression dry bags
- Sawyer Squeeze (mini)
- Walking poles or walking stick