My pack for the overnight trip in the Cairngorms described in the last post weighed 11.4kg . Without food and camera gear, which included a tripod, the base weight was around 8kg. Everything fitted easily into a 50 litre pack with room to spare so I thought my load compact and light. Until Colin Ibbotson stepped off the train in Aviemore with what appeared to be a medium sized stuffsack that is. I’d met Colin at the end of the TGO Challenge a couple of times. After this year’s Challenge he said he’d be interested in showing me his modified tarp, which he reckoned was just as stable as a lightweight tent, so we’d arranged this overnight trip. Since the Challenge Colin had designed and made his own ultralight pack, which he’d brought along for a first outing. That was the “stuffsack” he was carrying. It weighed 93 grams empty and was around 25-30 litres in capacity. Less than 100 grams. For a pack. My waterproof pack liner weighs more than that. Colin showed me the ingenious design, which transferred the weight to a simple frame and the shoulder straps so the actual bag could be made from thin silnylon as it was not under stress. This also meant that different sized bags could be used with the same harness system. With food his total pack weight for the trip was 3kg. The base weight was 2kg. My pack weighed almost four times as much and suddenly looked massive. Did the weight make much difference on the walk? 11kg is quite a light load for me and I only noticed the weight when climbing steeply. Then I certainly found it hard work keeping up with Colin (but then he does have much longer legs and is over two decades younger so maybe it wasn’t just the pack weight).
The day over the summits to Loch Einich was sunny with just a light breeze so no warm or waterproof clothing was needed. During the evening the wind increased and there was a slight coolness in the air. My thin windproof top was welcome. With that over my merino wool base layer I was warm. Colin however, much to my surprise, donned a hooded down vest in which I would definitely have overheated. It turned out he runs cold, which makes his ultralight load even more impressive.
For shelter I’d brought a 1.6kg semi-geodesic tent I was testing. Colin had his 550 gram tarp, a Mountain Laurel Grace modified with side guylines and extra pegging points, and a light bivi bag. The night was stormy, as described in the last post, and the noise of the wind and rain buffeting the tent woke me several times. Colin’s tarp seemed quieter and shook less in the wind. It was certainly more than capable of coping with the storm. His modifications had turned a tarp more suited to calmer weather into one adequate for the Scottish climate. Unfortunately as far as I am aware there are no tarps on the market that will provide the same performance without modification.
Colin used most of this equipment other than the pack (he had one weighing twice as much at 210 grams) on the TGO Challenge this year and found it fine. This provoked some controversy, which continued after the Challenge as lengthy debates on Andy Howell’s and Peewiglet’s blogs. Now whilst Colin’s superlight, minimalist gear won’t be for everyone (including me, I suspect, though this trip did encourage me to think about going a bit lighter) there is no question that it works and is suitable for Scottish conditions.
If you want to know more about Colin’s ultralight gear he has some web pages hosted by Andy Howell here.
Photo info: Colin’s tarp pitched beside Loch Einich at dusk, as the wind was starting to pick up. Canon EOS 450D, Tamron 11-18mm @11mm, firstname.lastname@example.org, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG in Photoshop Elements 7.