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Capel Curig Camping

Bad weather is guaranteed when I book time off. It’s well known amongst my work colleagues, it’s well known amongst the flying club, but 2020 really is a strange year. I had fantastic weather for my first camp since lock down eased and the weather looked just as nice for the three days I had booked off in September.
This was another trip for my new favourite tent, the MSR Elixir 1.

Therm-a-rest compressible and Exped inflatable pillows

Something new to try on this trip too. I normally use an Exped inflatable pillow. It weighs virtually nothing, packs down tiny and can be inflated with the same inflation tool as my Exped mattress.
It’s a great design but, for me, a front sleeper who likes a squishy pillow, it just doesn’t quite work. On this trip, I also packed a Therm-A-Rest compressible pillow.
The difference in size is quite obvious in the photo, but there’s little difference in weight. Would I pack a bulkier item for a better night’s sleep?
I packed both pillows and headed off down the A5 towards Capel Curig.

There is another site a short distance from mine. A nice looking site but just a field, my site had plenty of little nooks and crannies. Places to pitch that felt a little wilder.

MSR Elixir tent pitched near Capel Curig, Snowdonia

I left the car near the facilities block, grabbed my rucksack and made my way to the far end of the site. I found a lovely little spot next to a stream. As there was no wind at all and none forecast, I could position the tent whichever way I wanted. I turned my back on the rest of the campers and pointed the door to the stream.
Beautiful.

I wandered back to the car to pick up my day sack containing a flask, digital SLR camera and a few lenses (a benefit of car camping, multiple rucksacks!) I then headed out for a bimble.
A path runs from the back of the campsite towards Capel Curig. I followed it to the first turn off to the left which led me to the A5.
The path continued on the opposite side of the road. It was initially easy to follow, heading up towards a building then crossing a stream. The path soon became less well defined and the surface was quite boggy.
At one point I got knee deep in mud. Typical! I had no spare pants. Knew I should have packed the gaiters.

Once I’d reached another stream, The Leat, I took a right and followed it before taking the path up to Llyn Cowlyd reservoir.
This was social distancing!

Llyn Cowlyd reservoir.

I sat on a rock for a while. The sun was hot and the sky clear. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The only thing which could have improved the day was some plane spotting. I could hear what I assumed to be Hawks from RAF Valley but nothing came into view.

Bridges on route back to A5, Capel Curig, Snowdonia

I returned back to The Leat, turning off to follow the path back down to the A5.
There were a few little wooden bridges over some patches but these only served to prove I was on the right route, the boggu ground surrounding them was full of mud and large puddles.

Back at the road, I crossed to walk on the the narrow pavement heading towards Capel Curig.
Around the back of the Joe Brown’s shop is a footpath which led straight back to the campsite.

This route is available to download as a GPX file.

After a cup of coffee by the tent, I returned to the path towards Ogwen Lake. A wander around the lake was very tempting but my stomach had other ideas. It was definitely getting close to dinner time!
After a few photos around the lake I headed back to camp. I’d timed it so I’d be on my walk during sunset. I sat on a rock and watched as the day light came to an end.

Sunset over Snowdonia
Campsite meal

Dinner was a Wayfayrer Pasta Bolognese. It was surprisingly tasty, but I was glad I had a couple of slices of home made bread to fill me up.
Maybe I’m just greedy!
Another benefit of car camping is the ‘luxury’ extras you can take. My little folding camping table proved very useful although my dining chair was a rock!

I sat on a rock by the stream for a while, drinking a beer looking at the stars. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than this.

When it came to settling down for the night, I unrolled the Therm-A-Rest pillow. It so comfortable. It also reduced the ‘electric shock’ hair I often had in the morning.
Snug in the tent, I soon fell asleep.
Sorry old inflatable pillow, you’re relegated. Maybe it’ll make a good cushion for next time I’m sat on a rock.

I woke around 6.30 and popped my head out of the door. The sun was rising over the misty fields. It looked as if it was going to be fine weather again.

Sunrise Gwern Gof Isaf campsite near Capel Curig

I sat by the stream, brewed a coffee in the Wacaco (my little camping luxury) and make an Oat So Simple porridge.
I definitely had brought my appetite with me. Deciding that one porridge just wasn’t enough, I made another espresso coffee and a second pot of porridge.

After breakfast(s!), I packed the camping gear away. The outside of the tent was wet, I assume the rain they had back home in the day reached me overnight. Inside the tent was bone dry though. The tent has two vents each end and they obviously did the trick at eliminating condensation.

Everything packed up, I drove to Capel Curig. From the car park, I headed over the road and took the path next to the church. The route soon changed from fields of sheep to woodland. The path was fairly easy to follow and not challenging, some times, that’s exactly what you want!
The views were both beautiful and varied; mountains, lakes, streams.
A lot of the return leg is along a road but this is a quiet road, only two vehicles passed me during the walk.
This route is also available for download.

Capel curig walk

I returned to the car full of mud, sheep poo and other unmentionables but happy. A fantastic couple of days and just what was needed. To round the trip off the roof went down on the Abarth 124 for a very enjoyable blast around the Welsh roads.

A night away in the MSR Elixir 1

Perhaps I am being overly cautious.
Since Covid lock down was announced in March, I’ve only left Wirral twice and I’ve managed to avoid anyone who isn’t immediate family.
I had made plans, lots of plans but they had all been cancelled so, when I booked some time off work in August I was determined to do something as safe but as fun as possible.
A night in the new tent!

When I booked the annual leave, the forecast was for warm sunny weather. The sort of weather you’d expect in August. Unfortunately, as time progressed, the forecast got worse and worse.
I was determined to use the MSR Elixir 1 tent I’d received for my birthday in June which still hand’t made it beyond the back garden.

The tent pitches inner first, not ideal in wet weather. It is possible to put the outer up first, it’s just a bit more of a faff so I spent a lunch hour in the garden practising. I can now see the benefit of leaving the inner detached, using the whole tent as a kitchen diner before attaching the bedroom at night.

All packed Lowe Alpine rucksack. MSR tent

I drew up a little check list and got my stuff sorted the day before.
To be fair, I don’t need much for an over-night trip but it’s good to be prepared!

I woke at 7 am on Tuesday to the sound of heavy rain. Not a good start to the day but hopefully it would pass through.
I checked the weather forecasts;
MetOffice dry all day,
Yr.no wet all day,
XCWeather a mix of sunshine and showers.
I checked that my waterproofs at the top of my rucksack and headed out.

I parked up in the village of Bryneglwys, a new part of the world for me.
After changing in to my boots, I headed towards the Lantysilio mountain range and was very soon following the well marked path alongside the purple heather.
There are a lot of paths in this area. My route took me up to the peaks of Moel Yr Gaer and Moel Morfydd.
I’d really struck it lucky with the warm, sunny weather. I could make out Jubilee Tower on the top of Moel Famau in the distance and he rest of the Clwydian Range stretching on beyond

Bryneglwys Lantysilio mountain range


I stopped for a can of pop at the trig point. Here I was miles away from everyone. This was how to socially distance!

It was still early in the day so I took a bimble around, taking plenty of photos before getting out the pan and gas bottle to cook up some food.
Dinner was a Wayfarer chicken tikka, the last of a home baked loaf of bread and a Brew Dog Hazy Jane beer. A very welcome drink, it was still quite muggy and warm.

Bryneglwys Lantysilio mountain sunset

After dinner, before settling down for the night, I took another wander.
I had no where in particular in mind, but I knew sunset was around 20:30. I suspected it would be worth seeing is set over the hills.
Unfortunately, the clouds slowly started to build up but it was well worth the stroll.

Luckily the weather remained dry when pitching the tent so I went for the standard, inner first approach.
It went up quickly with no hassle.
As there was little wind, I just pegged out the four corners and the vestibule area. I didn’t think I needed to worry about any extra guy lines.

Interestingly, three of the four ‘corners’ on the outer flysheet have metal holes to fit the poles in to, the fourth was just a loop of material. I asked about this on a forum and a lady replied saying all four loops were material on her Elixir.

The Elixir is palatial with plenty of room in the vestibule area for my rucksack and boots.
Even with the Exped mat inflated in the inner area, there was still plenty of space and, unlike the Coleman Cobra tent, I could sit up straight and still have room to spare.
The storage pockets were useful too. My OS map went in to one top loft pocket, the head torches in the other. At the foot end I stashed tomorrow’s breakfast and at the head end my phone and charging block.
I attached my USB light onto one of the plastic cable ties I acquired from work then threaded that through one of the roof hooks. We’ve recently had to clear out our office in preparation for a move. I regret not picking up more of these useful hooks!



Another positive is the glow in the dark zipper pulls. No fumbling about in the dark. The only minor gripe is that the outside zip often gets stuck, I put that down to user error.

I sat outside the tent for a while, watching the bats zip past my head.
As night fell, I settled down and fell asleep quickly and had a very good sleep, waking once when an owl sounded like he was getting rather irate!

I woke at sunrise, around 6 am, and what a sunrise!

The forecast wasn’t great but as long as it stayed dry for breakfast and packing my kit away I’d be happy.
I fired up the Jetboil and made an Americano coffee with my Wacaco coffee machine, my luxury camping item
Whilst supping my coffee I started on the Oat So Simple porridge, dropping in some of the black berries I’d foraged yesterday on the country lanes between the car and the hills.
Lovely.

It had rained overnight so I had to towel dry the outside of the tent. The inside was dry, no rain had come through and the ventilation had done the job of stopping the condensation.
The tent came apart very easily and getting it back in to its stuff sack was simple. Robens can learn a lot here!!

I wandered back to the car, taking the ‘scenic route’.

All in all, a fantastic trip. I posted a route similar to the one I took on Viewranger, starting and finishing at the layby near the New Inn pub.
The weather was better than imagined, the kit performed well and the views were fabulous.
Now I’m already planning the next outing for the Elixir!

MSR Elixir 1 – First Impressions.

How many tents do I need?
Looking through my posts on here, that would be a very good question.
The short answer: You can never have too many tents!

For my birthday, I was lucky enough to receive the green MSR Elixir 1. Much more discreet than the red and grey option.
Unfortunately, as we are still in lockdown, I can only do a ‘first impressions’ review based on a couple of pitches in the garden.

As it’s name implies, the Elixir 1 is a one person tent but has loads of space and headroom, almost on a par with some two person tents.

MSR Elixir 1 packed
MSR Elixir 1 pack size compared to Robens Arch 2

Ok, at a total weight of 2kg, it isn’t much lighter than my Robens Arch (2.3kg) and the pack sizes are fairly similar (I may look in to get a compression sack).
I can shave off some weight by using my MSR Ground Hog pegs and, if the weather is decent enough, I can leave the 130g footprint at home.

So, the first pitch.
This was a new one for me.
Every other tent I’ve used pitches the outer and inner together with the poles on the outside of the tent.
The Elixir is different, the ‘standard’ pitch is inner first then put the fly over the poles. The poles themselves are also different from the ones I’m used to, two of them are joined together by swivelling hubs.
Being freestanding, I can pitch the Elixir then pick it up and move it to another spot. Might be handy if I accidentally pitch not facing the views!

The pitching instructions are printed on the inside of the stuff sack but it’s fairly straight forward.
The footprint goes down first, then snap together the main poles and the smaller middle pole. The poles, clips and buckles are all colour coded; match any grey bits to the grey pole and the red bits to the red pole.
Spread the inner tent (the one with all the mesh) over the footprint then put the grey pole in to the two grey coloured grommets then put the red pole in the red grommets. The inner tent has a number of coloured hooks, attach those to the corresponding coloured poles and the tent pulls itself in to shape. Place the separate red pole across the top then pop the ends in to the holes on the inner.

Inner of MSR Elixir 1 tent
Inner only

The tent can be used in this inner only configuration and I do like the idea of spending a barmy evening under the stars without a pesky flysheet spoiling the view.
Whether I’ll ever get the chance with the unpredictable English weather is another mater!

To add the flysheet, just place it over the poles, making sure the outer door is on the same side as the inner door!
The grey and red version of the Elixir makes this even easier by making the door a different colour to the rest of the tent.

Once everything is nice and tight and pegged out, it’s done!

I was surprised how quickly I pitched on my first attempt. It wasn’t perfect but I imagine I could complete a standard pitch in around 5 minutes.

Green MSR Elixir 1 tent

Hopefully, the stardard pitch will be the most used way of putting my Elixir up. I wouldn’t fancy putting the meshy inner up first in heavy rain and risk it getting soaked. I’m having Castleton flashbacks here!

It is possible to put the outer up first with the footprint and I tried this for my second garden pitching experiment.
Yes, it’s a bit of a faff and takes a little longer than standard pitch but it can be done and will keep you and your stuff that bit drier.
Put the poles up in the footprint in the same way as before then put the rain fly on. Once the poles are in the holes of the fly, go inside and clip the inner tent on to the poles and make sure the centre, perpendicular pole goes through both inner and outer.
Putting the poles through the corresponding holes of the corners of the inner is a little awkward but the order you attach the poles shouldn’t make a difference.

There is a third way of getting the tent set up which is outer first and involves some sort of tent origami.
I’ll save that for another day.

There is plenty of space in the porch area for kit or cooking. Additionally, the door has three settings; closed, partly open, fully open. Handy for cooking in less than favourable weather.

MSR Elixir 1 porch
The three ‘door settings’

Speaking of rain, on paper, this tent appears to be shockingly un-waterproof. The fly has a hydrostatic head of 1500, the groundsheet 3000. In comparison, my Robens Arch is twice that value.
Generally, the hydrostatic head value is a good indicator to the protection you get but it isn’t quite so black and white. The fly sheet design, thread count, and fabric used also contribute.
The inner has a good size bathtub floor that should also keep things nice and dry.
As I’ve only done a couple of lockdown practice pitches in the garden, I can’t comment (one for a follow up review!), however, all reviews I’ve read online say there’s no leakage problems and offers plenty of protection from the wind and rain.

MSR Gear loft
Gear loft

Inside the main body of the tent, the first thing that strikes you is the space. For a one person tent it’s cavernous, although you pay for it in the extra weight. I’m about 5 foot 11 and can easily sit or kneel up inside.
To the front and back are handy storage pockets for keeping a mobile phone and other odds and ends.
The ceiling houses the ‘gear loft’ storage pockets and 4(!) loops for lights or a makeshift clothes line.
Another nice little touch is the glow in the dark zip pulls on the tent door.

Light loops Elixir 1 tent
Light loops

So far so good! Obviously the real tests are yet to come. Fingers crossed I won’t have to wait too much longer

Trovat Advanced High GTX Boot Review

My old trusty Brasher Hill Master boots had walked their last mile. Even on fairly dry days, my feet would end up soggy after walking through the shallowest of puddles.
Brasher became part of Berghaus  and continued to produce the Hillmaster. These boots get some very good reviews but, I fancied a change and started reading up.

My ‘go to’ walking shoes are my Mammut Convey GTX approach shoes. Comfortable and reliable on most walks, but, I like a more robust shoe for more challenging weather and conditions.

Many years ago, my first pair of approach shoes were by the Swiss brand Raichle. These were fantastic shoes and we covered many, many  miles together. Now, like Brasher, the brand has been re-badged and has now come under the Mammut umbrella.

Mammut walking boots

I was drawn to the Mammut Trovat Advanced High GTX Boot
At £185 this was above what I was looking to spend, however, I had a £50 voucher for Snow and Rock which made the price rather less daunting.
These brown nubuck leather boots with rubber heel and toe protection have a slightly more ‘old school’ look than many modern boots but, unlike the ‘old school’ boots, these are instantly comfortable.
The nappa leather and memory foam help make these boots very easy to wear.
They certainly look built to last.
There’s a little bit of Raichle still retained too, their logo is displayed on the inside of the tongue.

Raichle Mammut walking boots

These are a big boot, my size 8s  just fitted in my boot bag although at 1,240g they  weigh only a few grams more than the old Hillmaster boots.

As I started loading the car for my first walk in the new boots,  I realised I was wearing Mammut pants and a Mammut jumper. Along with the Mammut boots, I would risk looking like a bad catalogue picture.  Luckily, as it  it was raining so I grabbed my Arcteryx Waterproof to break things up a bit!   Perhaps I was over cautious but I threw my approach shoes in the car, just in case.

The weather forecast fluctuated between dry, drizzle and large down pours – pack for everything!
Driving down the A55 with lights and windscreen wipers on suggested this wasn’t going to be the dryest of walks! At least it would be a good test of the Gortex and the Vibram MT Traction II sole.

Grip Mammut walking boots

My original plan was to park up in Moel Famau and head up a few hills but, as the road to the car park was closed, I turned back towards the car park in Loggerheads for Plan B.
After parking the car I change from my Addidas trainers in to the boots. Yes, they are heavy but so comfortable. Not sure I’d want to be wearing them on a hot summer day though.
I tighten the laces, assuming that I’m going to have to change the tightness a number of times until I got it right but, I struck lucky first time.

The first test was a very wet wooden bridge. So far, so grippy!  My route continued through muddy woodland and over wet stones, none of which caused any problems. These are boots you can feel confident wearing.

I always pack a spare pair of socks. I’ve needed them on walks even on dry days wearing the Brasher boots, one puddle and that was it! In my Mammut boots, however, I was bone dry despite the persistent rain and walking through some long wet grass.

If you look after your kit, your kit will look after you. These boots are very easy to look after. A quick wipe down with warm water and a soft brush and they were as good as new.

In conclusion, the Trovat Advanced boots are on the high end of price points but you do get what you pay for. I’m really impressed with these boots and they certainly seem to cope well with any terrain thrown at them.

Terra Nova Wild Country Zephyros

I’ve a nice, growing collection of tents, the large Vango, the cheap and cheerful Coleman and the current favourite, the Robens Arch.
Two of these are two person tents weighing in at around 2.3kg.
The Wild Country Zephyros is a smaller, lighter (1.5kg) one person tent (note this is a review for the earlier, model not the 2020 compact version)

Wild Country One Person Zephyros tent

The Zephyros is a cheaper version of the sister company’s Terra Nova Laser. The Terra Nova tent is a lot, lot lighter but also several hundred pounds more expensive (RRP £170 and £450 for the current models in April 2020).

Stuff sack, Wild Country Stuff sack
Back pole and the ventilation. Curtains closed!

Pitching the Zephyros is easy. The fly and inner go up together which is great when pitching in bad weather.
One long Superflex alloy pole runs across the middle of the tent and two smaller poles sit at the top and bottom ends to give structure, stability and help provide ventilation.
It can be put up in around 5 minutes or so.
On the subject of poles. the tent comes with a repair kit which includes a sleeve for fixing a damaged pole….alternatively, it makes a great pea shooter!


Outside, the tent is a nice green colour, nothing too garish! The flysheet has 4000mm hydrostatic head flysheet,it has fully taped seams and a 6000mm groundsheet.
The guy lines are reflective which is a nice touch for when you’re wandering back to the tent at night.

Inside, there is plenty of room. I’m about 5 foot 11 and I can sit up right. There’s not a huge amount of space in the porch area but a 75l rucksack can be tucked in to the side and it’s not too bad for cooking. I’ve also found you can extend the porch by popping the door up with a stick or walking pole to make a basic shelter.
There’s a few other little nooks and crannies for putting boots etc but, unlike many tents, there’s no handy pocket on the inner for leaving say, your mobile phone or head torch etc.

A cute little feature is the ‘curtains’ at either end. Well, OK they are really covering the ventilation but, providing there’s enough air circulating elsewhere, it does help keep things a little darker. These can be opened and closed from inside the tent.

Colour coded poles, reflective guy lines Wild Country
Colour coded poles and reflective guy lines

The bath tub inner is not very deep compared to my other tents but I’ve not noticed that being an issue yet. One slightly strange design feature is the outer door rolls back in to the inside of the tent which can make the inside damp if opening the door after a rainy night.
While we’re discussing negatives, it is a little bit susceptible to condensation, nothing too bad but more than my other tents. I imagine this is to be expected in a smaller tent.

This is a very popular tent, so there’s loads of videos, forums and reviews for this tent.
You can pick up this model for under £100 (April 2020) if you hunt around , and for that price, it’s not a bad bit of kit!

Coleman Cobra 2 versus Robens Arch 2

Coleman Cobra 2 tent

I picked up the Coleman Cobra 2 cheaply on an Amazon Black Friday deal.
It ticked all the boxes; small enough to carry, not too heavy (2.3kg) and, being a two person tent, there should be a decent amount of room for one lanky person and their kit.

I’d taken it out on a number of trips, all in good weather…until one trip to North Wales.
I woke up, made a coffee and realised the flaws in the Cobra when the rain started…..
…..there was no porch and the lack of head room made it rather uncomfortable.

I sat in the main body of the tent to drink my coffee, curled up due to the limited head room in a way a that would have put many contortionist to shame.
I decided that breakfast would be best cooked in the small park about a mile down the road. I was dressed in waterproofs but, at least I could sit upright.

As good as the Coleman is, I needed something about the same weight but with some headroom and a little bit of shelter for eating and cooking (with plenty of ventilation, cooking inside a tent isn’t recommended!!!)
I spent a while browsing numerous different tents. I had a good idea of what I wanted and got the shortlist down to two….well three but one didn’t seem to be in stock anywhere.

Robens Arch 2 tent pitched

I purchased the Robens Arch 2 at a sale price of £110.
Robens is a Danish brand you don’t see much of in England, therefore, there were very few reviews online.
I crossed my fingers!
My one concern was how pink it looked on the photos. Perhaps keep the Coleman for more discrete camping!

The tent arrived the following evening. I didn’t have too much time, so I quickly put it up in the back garden to check all the bits where were I expected them to be. I was relived to see the tent was more a muddy brownish-red colour rather than the girly pink the website suggested.

Pitching instructions are provided in the tent’s stuff sack, they are also available on the Robens website which has some useful videos, however, it is an easy tent to put up.

Attaching Robens tent poles

First, put the two colour coded alloy poles through the corresponding sleeve, making sure the flat coloured end goes in first. A rather unusual feature of this Robens tent is that one end is sealed. Push the pole as far as it goes in to the webbing (it may need some wiggling!). The other end goes in to the eyelet on the opposite side of the tent.
Pull the tent into shape then peg out.
Simple.

So, in the battle of Coleman versus Robens, both are equally simple to pitch.
Coleman 1 – Robens 1

For it’s first trip out, I took the Robens to Hebden Bridge Camping which is part of the New Delight Inn.
I was flying a Vulcan Bomber simulator in Stacksteads, about 30 minutes drive away. This was fantastic experience and very different from anything I’ve ever flown before. We took off from RAF Finningley (now Doncaster Sheffield airport) and headed up the coast. I did a few barrel rolls over Blackpool then continued for a low level (500m) pass over Lake Windermere.
Great fun!

As my ‘flight’ took off at 10am, I had plenty of time to get the tent sorted and take a decent walk afterwards. On checking in, I was handed a wooden spoon to put in to the ground next to my tent. A novel way of proving that I had paid!
The camping area is a slightly sloping, fairly small field to the side of the pub car park. There’s two good separate ‘bathrooms’ in a portakabin, both containing a shower which is free to use.

Once again, the tent went up quickly and easily. A nice little feature in the Robens is a pocket to stuff the internal door into when opened fully, this makes it a bit easier to access the porch area.
I changed out of my ‘flying clothes’ and into my walking gear. I was grateful of the extra headroom the Robens tent offered. I can easily sit up at any part of the tent. A big extra point for the Robens.

Suitably attired, I went on a pleasant circular ish walk to Hebden Bridge. The route started at the path almost opposite the campsite then returned on the Caderdale Way which has great views over the village and beyond. The route is available to download as a GPX file from the ViewRanger website.

View over to Hebden Bridge

Back at the campsite, I had dinner at the New Delight Inn. A portion of scampi for starters followed by bacon cheese burger. All good tasty pub food.

As it was a nice evening, after dinner, I followed the bridleway back up to Hebden Bridge for a night cap at Drink?. I was joined on the walk back by several bats. I watched them from the porch for a while before settling down for the night.

Robens tent in Hebden Bridge Camping

First, I had to hook my lantern up.
The Coleman tent has a handy plastic hook on the roof. The Robens just has a loop made of material.
I managed to hook the lantern’s USB charger part through then back on itself which did the trick.
A slight ‘win’ for the Coleman there.
One plus for the Robens is it has two loops ….so why did I hang the lantern over my feet rather than within easy reach?!

Like the Coleman, the Robens has two mesh storage pockets. I put my mobile phone and portable charger in one and my head torch in the other. I plonked myself in the middle of the tent and promptly fell asleep…..

…..I woke up quite late on Sunday morning. The others on the site were busy preparing breakfast or even packing up by the time I surfaced. I think the lie in was partly down to the how much darker it is inside the Robens.
Another point for the Robens there!

After the usual breakfast of coffee and porridge cooked on the Jetboil, I started to put my camping kit away. The Robens is a very easy tent to take down, getting it back in it’s stuff sack, however, resulted in much swearing and cursing. Trying to put it away in rain is almost impossible. Another stuff sack will be used in future – perhaps the wide opening bag the Coleman is kept in.
A definite point for the Coleman and it’s taco stuff sack.

Ventilation and bathtub floor in Robens.

The Robens was fantastic in the horrible conditions during a camp near Castleton.
Both tents have a hydrostatic head of 3000 and taped seams. Both tents pitch the inner and fly together which saves soggy inners if pitching in the rain. Both also have a good deep bathtub inner which gives protection from any wet weather.
The Coleman kept me dry over night on a rainy trip to Wales but it was virtually impossible to keep dry and cook breakfast due to the lack of headroom.
Point to the Robens.

The two tents also have good ventilation so no problems with condensation, however, the Robens does have more vents which are easier to open and close so just wins this test.

If you’re counting, I make it 4.5 points to the Robens and 2.5 for the Coleman.
That’s not to say the Coleman is a particularly bad tent especially as it can be picked up at such a good price.
The Coleman is currently (August 2019) around £85 but can be found for as little as £70.
The Robens is more expensive at about £120.
I like the extra headroom and porch the Robens offers and for that reason it’s now my go to two person tent, but, both are very good tents.
How much is the extra height and porch space worth to you?

Review – Arc’teryx Women’s Gamma MX Hoody

The Arc‘teryx Women’s Gamma MX Hoody is without doubt, my favourite go to jacket
It’s comfortable, keeps the worst of the elements out and looks good.

Despite it’s name (to me a hoody is a big jumper with a hood!),  it’s a softshell jacket.
The Gamma is very versatile,  suitable for Spring and Autumn and warmer winter days.

Arc'teryx GAMMA MX HOODY Blue

I admit, it is pricey, but,  if you’re lucky you can pick it up for around £200.
I was very lucky and not only was it available at a good price but I won £100 in the office lottery.

Needless to say, before spending that amount of money I did a lot of research.
The Arx’teryx was consistently getting good reviews.  A number of magazines and websites awarded it ‘best in test’.
I was also drawn to the look of it, it was a lot brighter than the usual outdoors stuff. In fact, I had a surprising number of people commenting on how nice the blue colour was.

I’d had good experience with Arx’teryx products in the past, particularly with the sizing. Being around 1.8m (5 ft 11)  I needed something that was a good fit, especially on the arms.
The Gamma is perfect.
Arcteryx gamma mx
The Gamma is breathable. It’s easy to regulate your temperature and it’s nice and stretchy allowing for ease of movement.
The fleece lining kept me warm.
I remained dry in most conditions, it only struggled in torrential downpours.
The peaked hood offers protection from the wind and rain  and  fits perfectly. There’s several drawcords for getting the fit just right.

I had this jacket for years. We travelled many miles. It was just as good on the streets of San Francisco as it was up a German mountain but sadly,  it had reached its end of life.
Years of heavy usage had taken its toll. The bottom had ripped, there were a few bobbles and  a tear appeared on the sleeve….just before I was due to go o holiday.

Once again, I read the reviews to find a replacement.
Some  jackets appeared good on paper but ‘in the flesh’ just didn’t work for me.
There were a few contenders but one jacket constantly getting good reviews….
…..the Arc’teryx Women’s Gamma MX Hoody.

The colours available had changed, but the design remained the same. I decided on the nickel colour.
I found  it for a good price online paid extra for next day delivery….the delivery van never arrived.  An alternative drop off was scheduled for when I was back in the country and my postage refunded but it meant I would have to patch the coat as best I could for my trip to Slovenia.
Out came the needle and thread. I don’t think I did a bad job!
It should last me the week.

One thing I love about the coat is the pockets.
So many manufactures seem to think women don’t need pockets or we get pointless minuscule things.
The Gamma has two pockets on the sides, perfect for warming your hands, and another pocket at the top which is useful for storing various bits and pieces such as a wallet.
Heading off on my holidays, my pockets contained my passport, boarding pass, English money, Euros and mobile phone.
The jacket got stuffed in my sack on board the aircraft but at the other end it came out looking perfectly un crumbled.

It was pouring down in Slovenia. I’d reproofed the jacket  before I left and I remained dry on the walk to the bus.
The next three days were wet, very wet.
In the past I’d been told not to wear a hardshell/waterproof jacket over a softshell but it caused me no problems. I stuck my Arc’teryx beta waterproof over the softshell.  and remained dry all day with my temperature just right.
Even in it’s last week of life, the jacket performed brilliantly in all conditions.  Even when I surprisingly hit deep snow, I was still nice and snug.

arc'teryx gamma mx hoody Nickel

By the time I got home, my basic stitching had come away and it was looking a little the worst for wear.
I was sad to see the coat go but least the replacement had arrived and it soon became my  ‘go to’ jacket.
It gets worn on my hikes in the hills and on my daily commute to work.
Hopefully it’ll have a life as long as my previous one!

 

Spot testing in Wales

My  SPOT Satellite Messenger  is a second hand Gen 2, purchased from someone who has upgraded to the Gen 3.

The SPOT is a GPS tracking device that uses the Globalstar satellite network to provide text messaging and GPS tracking.  I was about to put it through it’s paces in the Clwydian hills.

But first, lets rewind a little…..
Spot Tracker Gen 2 DeviceThe SPOT is a small (9.4 x 6.6 x 2.5 cm), light  (150g ), rugged, bright orange device.
On the front is the on/off button and three function buttons. Two other buttons are behind protective flaps. It is intuitive to use but can be awkward when wearing gloves.

The three AAA lithium batteries  are housed in a compartment  which is secured with two screws although they can be opened and closed without needing a screwdriver.

Before using it, I had to register my SPOT on their website, www.findmespot.com and pay the annual subscription fee. I also added on the tracking service (included in the Gen 3 basic subscription).
Including VAT, this set me back €164.04 (£138)

So, what was all this money getting me?
I see it a like an insurance. You pay insurance on your home, car or travel hoping you never need to use it, it’s the same with the SPOT.
If  I’m ever in trouble I can get a friend or family member to come to my aid or (if in dire need) the emergency services. Conversely, there is an ‘OK’ button so if I’m in an area where a disaster has taken place, I can let people know I’m  safe at a time when I might not be able to reach them via a mobile phone.
With these scenarios  in my mind, I used the SPOT website to set up two different profiles, each with their own set of messages. You can only set up these messages on the website, not while you’re out in the field so it’s worth taking your time writing them. All messages contain your text and your exact co-ordinates which link to both the SPOT website and Google maps

The first profile I called ‘Walking’, this would contain the details for messages sent while I was out hiking.
First, I set up the Help/Assist. This would send texts and emails to family members if I got in to trouble. I set the following text; “Some minor problem at this location I aim to contact you within the next  hour” My contacts would receive this message and if they didn’t receive a call or OK message they would know where to find me.
For Check In/Ok  I used the following text; “All OK here If you’ve received any ‘help’ messages, they can be ignored” This would be sent to the same people as the Help/Assist.
Next was a custom message, for this I entered something simple, “This is where I am today“.  The message along with the co-ordinates, would be sent to a larger circle of family and friends.

My next profile was called ‘Holiday’. The wording used in my holiday profile is slightly different, knowing family won’t be able to come to my aid if I’m thousands of miles away.

I then had to make sure the correct profile was selected As no holidays were planned, it went to Walking mode.

web1JPG

There is one generic setting for SOS. If you press the SOS button, the emergency services of the country you are in are alerted via GEOS, International Emergency Response. A  message is also sent to the telephone number of your primary and secondary contacts.
An SOS message is transmitted every 5 minutes until the battery dies or it is cancelled.  Unlike the other messages the SOS message will be sent also even if the device can’t locate GPS

Now to set up the tracking by clicking on the ‘Share’ and ‘Create a Share’ links.
As I wasn’t planning any multi day hikes, I set the ‘Share GPS locations to 24 hours then shared the URL with friends and family.
You can set up several pages here and choose what to share with particular people.

website
Spot tracker in useSo now to try it out in the wild.
I parked up in the Coed Moel Famau car park, turned the SPOT on and strapped it to my arm
The power and GPS lights were flashing.
I pressed the tracking button for three seconds and it’s green light also began to flash.
I get little or no phone signal in this area so it would be a good test  for the SPOT.
It was also raining. The heavy drizzle was forecast to remain through out the day, an opportunity to see how water proof it really is!
The device should work in temps between -30C and +60C and up to altitude of 6500 meters. (A SPOT has been used on top of Mt Everest)  so it should easily withstand anything I could throw at it.

Buying egggsI headed North East from the car park and continued towards Brithdir Bach. Here, there was a clear view of the sky so I tested sending a custom message. I pressed and held the button until it flashed. I then paused to take a photo then pressed the tracking button again before heading to Bryn Alyn for some eggs!

I didn’t pay much attention to the SPOT much after that just taking the occasional glance to make sure the GPS, power and tracking lights were flashing.
It felt reasonably comfortable on my arm  over my mid layer and waterproof jacket.

It was a pleasant route covering paths I’ve not  walked previously, it was just a shame it was so wet, muddy and unseasonably chilly (for July) . The 10 mile/16km route is available as a GPX file.
When I got home I eagerly fired up the SPOT website to see how well it had recorded my route…..
……it hadn’t.
It had recorded 6 points along the way covering just two miles of the ten mile route.
I checked my email for the custom message I had sent in the field.  That hadn’t arrived either.I was disappointed when I compared the SPOT track with the track recorded on my phone using View Ranger
spot tracker
ViewRanger
Reading around it seems it doesn’t work too well under tree cover, saying that, as the maps above show, I was hardly spending the entire day under dense forest.
I also read other users carrying out a pre -walk routine of  turning Spot on at the start point, place it down with a clear view of the sky, start tracking, and then send an ok/check-in message.
Remembering the text I had used on my OK message, I didn’t want to start firing those off to various members of family, so my plan was to set up a Test profile with messages sent to only my email account.
With this new approach, I did a very quick test to track my drive to Fencing training and back. Success!
Since then, results have been mixed using it in various locations around Europe.

The real reason for purchasing the SPOT was for emergency situations and, hopefully, I’ll never have the opportunity to test that functionality but, in these days of improved phone signal I really am wondering if the subscription is worth the price when I come to renew.

In conclusion, a clever device and potentially life saving but an expensive and unreliable way of sharing locations with others.

Screenshot_2016-08-06-18-16-48
Update: annoyingly, once Spot have your credit card details, they automatically renew once your subscription expires. To cancel, you have to contact them two or three months in advance. I did this via the “Contact Us” form on their website.
Numerous emails were sent back and forth until they offered me a very good deal on the subscription. I’ve renewed for another year.
Sadly I suspect it will be more haggling again this time next year.

JetBoil Flash Review

I’ve a new toy – the JetBoil Flash basically, a portable device for boiling water.

In the past, my rucksack contained a couple of flasks of juice and I would march along my route, hardly breaking stride as I reached round for a swig.
More recently I started to fill a flask. I would make up a coffee before I left home/base and it would be there when I needed it. Trouble was, I often ended up drinking cold coffee, especially in winter and much of the drink would spill or leak.
I progressed on to a meths burner. It wasn’t the easiest thing to use but it was cheap, light and usually/eventually provided enough boiling water for a drink –  just add instant coffee and milk.
I did, however, have problems in winter,  in the wet and when I forgot my lighter – the most likely problem!

Jet Boil BitsStep forward the  JetBoil Flash cooking system. It is self contained (at least it would be if I had the smaller gas canister!) and boils water in around two minutes.
Every thing except the  a screw top gas canister comes straight out the box.

I packed my rucksack and headed to my usual playground – the Clwydian Range.
Initially, I noticed the sack did feel a bit heavier but after a few minutes climb didn’t notice the extra load. Needless to say, not only would the smaller gas fit in the mug, it would also reduce the weight considerably.

I had followed the first part of the walk many times before but today seemed so much more picturesque. Spring was in full force leaving a technicolour vista punctuated by the imposing, snow capped Snowdon in the distance.
Views from Moel Famau to Snowdon

I took the Offa’s Dyke path up Moel Famau and continued to the west passing Moel Dywyll before dropping down towards the road.  I’d often been around this area and wondered where the track to the left hand side of the road went….so I followed it.
The path soon moved away from the road and I found a spot with lovely views to christen my JetBoil.

Jet Boil in the fieldSetting it up was easy.
I took the orange ‘feet’ out from the mug, unfolded them then clamped  on the gas canister.
Next out was the stove itself. Flip out the gas regulator on the site and screw the stove on to the gas canister.
Covering the bottom of the mug is a measuring pot which is handy for keeping dry ingredients  – coffee in my case.  Popping the bottom off reveals the flux ring heat exchanger.  This does the clever stuff which enables the JetBoil to work so well.
Little lugs can be found on the bottom of the mug, line these up with the stove and give it a small turn to lock in place. No chance of accidentally knocking the cup over, something that happened a few times with the slightly top heavy meths burner and mug.

I  removed the top from the mug and poured in enough water to reach the ‘2 cup’ mark.
I put the lid back on, turned the regulator to start the gas flow, clicked the lighter on the opposite side and it started to boil up the water.
Simple!
Boiled changes colourIt sounded vicious but in less than two minutes, the water had boiled.
A handy feature is the marking on the side of the mug which turns orange when the water has boiled. This takes the guess work out of the boiling and stops the urge to pop the lid to see how hot the water is getting.
The neoprene ‘cozy’ covering the mug ensures the mug is safe to lift up. Incidentally,  the side strap of the  ‘cozy’  can be used to store teaspoons.
Once boiled, stop the gas flow, twist the mug to unlock and brew  some coffee……or tea, or cook noodles, make up dried food….there are a whole load of things you can create and JetBoil have posted some recipes on their website

After my cuppa, I continued on my walk.
I could have remained on this path right around the ‘base’ of Moel Famau, however, keen to increase my mileage for the ViewRanger challenge, I turned off on to a road to my right.
At a junction, I took another right towards the small village of Llangynhafal.
A footpath passes to the left of the  Golden Lion Inn and through the campsite behind. The views from this campsite are spectacular, however (at the moment at least) the only ‘facility’ is a tap in the corner of the field.
Airbus Beluga from Hawarden
The path crosses a road before following the base of Moel Famau, at one point I got cracking view of the Airbus Beluga aircraft taking wings from the nearby factory in Hawarden.
Near a farm, the path joins a concrete ‘road’. There is a path which continues South, however, it was impossible to tell what was the route and what was a gate in to their garden even checking against my GPS and paper OS map. I wasn’t brave enough to risk trespassing so continued along the road to a junction in Hirwaen where I took a left.
There are a number of ways back  on to the original route, I took a left at Pen-y-waen, from there I headed East back to the car park.

All in all, a very enjoyable walk and I can definitely see the JetBoil getting a lot of use!

Download this route as a GPX file

 

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