|In the Fannichs|
With people planning long walks for the coming spring and summer I thought it might be useful to post this piece on how the gear performed that I took on my 700 mile Scottish Watershed Walk last year. It first appeared in The Great Outdoors last autumn.
A long walk is always a good way to see how gear performs and how well it lasts. My Scottish Watershed walk last summer took 55 days and involved a huge variety of terrain – grassy hills, dense forests, heather moorland, muddy fields, rocky ridges and masses and masses of bogs. There’s no path most of the way so the going was often quite arduous. The weather was varied too. Overnight temperatures ranged from 2º to 15ºC. Only 13 nights were above 10ºC though. The driest, sunniest weather was near the start and at the end. Mostly it was cloudy and windy with rain on twenty days. The fine weather enjoyed by most of Britain didn’t often reach the Watershed.
I walked 1200 kilometres. Map kilometres that is. Because of the lack of paths and the very rough nature of the terrain I reckon I probably actually walked half as much again.
Overall my gear performed well and there’s not much I’d have changed. The weight of my load varied depending on how many days’ supplies I was carrying. I set off with a week’s supplies several times and once with ten days worth. Some items weren’t carried for the whole trip. It mostly weighed between 12 and 18kg.
I’ve liked Inov-8 Terroc trail shoes for many years and I’d worn them on other long distance walks so they were my choice. Inov-8 changed them this year though and I was interested to see if the new design would perform as well as the original one. If they didn’t I’d have had problems so I was relieved they turned out to be just as good. The latest version has solid rather than mesh uppers and is a little higher at the rear. The tongue is slightly wider and a little more padded too. The fit is the same – just wide enough for me at the forefoot while snug at the heel. The wind can’t blow through the uppers as it did in the mesh ones so the new style Terrocs are a bit warmer, which is good in cool weather but means they are hotter in the heat. They take slightly longer to dry as well. Durability is much better however. At the end of the walk the uppers were still in good condition – the mesh ones usually sprang holes after a few hundred miles. The sole has begun to wear down but there’s still some tread left.
|Sandals & Shorts in the Southern Uplands|
I hiked around 1000 kilometres in the Terrocs, wearing Hi-Tec Owaka sandals the rest of the time. These lightweight sandals were well worn when I began the walk and some of the straps had pulled away from the soles and the tread was almost flat by the time I finished. They were still wearable though. As well as on warm days I wore the sandals around camp and on rest days.
My socks were Teko merino wool Minicrew ones that I wore most of the time and which had holes in by the end and Light Hiking ones that were kept for camp wear. The Minicrews could be worn for a week at a time whilst remaining comfortable even when soaked, as they often were.
The Lightwave Ultrahike 60 pack was excellent. It always felt comfortable and I never had sore hips or shoulders. It was also stable, which was important when I was lurching about in bogs and dense tussocks or scrambling down steep, greasy slopes. It easily held all my gear. I added a length of shockcord to the front and used this to hold my thin foam pad. My water bottle and map went in the mesh side pockets. Everything else went inside except when my shelter was really wet, in which case I strapped it to the side of the pack.
The Ultrahike is almost waterproof. However the seams attaching the back panel aren’t sealed and I did have some leakage here, though far less than in most packs. I still kept water sensitive gear in waterproof bags. Rather than a single pack liner I used several Exped Fold Drybags for sleeping bag and clothing plus Aquapac and Aloksak bags for items like maps, notebook and smartphone.
My shelter had to cope with some very stormy weather and some awkward bumpy pitches. The Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar did this very well. I love the versatile design which means it can be pitched just about anywhere. I pitched it high with masses of headroom when the wind wasn’t too strong and low with a ground-hugging profile in big storms. Just once I moved it during the night when a ferocious wind kept shaking it and I realised I wouldn’t get much sleep. Moving it just fifty metres downhill made all the difference. As it was midnight and the rain was hammering down I was glad I could pitch it very quickly.
|Sheltered forest camp in the Southern Uplands|
The Trailstar does not come with a groundsheet or inner so I also took an Oookworks Trailstar Nest, which is a mesh inner tent with sewn-in groundsheet, to keep off the inevitable midges. The Nest was a little fiddly to pitch until I realised I could tie the shockcords to the Trailstar and pitch the two together as a unit. There was enough room for me to sit up in the Nest and store some gear. The complete weight of the Trailstar and Nest and pegs was 1157 grams. Both items showed little signs of wear at the end of the walk.
I used my Carbon Fibre Pacerpoles as poles for the Trailstar. These were the same ones I’d used on the Pacific Northwest Trail when they also acted as tent poles. They are still in good condition.
Sleeping Bag & Mat
I’m a warm sleeper so I reckoned the 650 gram Rab Infinity 300 sleeping bag, which has a comfort rating of +3ºC, would be more than adequate. And so it proved with the bag keeping me very warm on the coldest +2ºC nights. It was also very comfortable. Once the temperature was much above +10ºC it was a little too warm however and I slept with the half length zip undone and the bag draped over me.
|Airing the sleeping bag|
For insulation and comfort I took a NeoAir XLite Small airbed, which weighs 230 grams and packs up really small. It lasted the whole trip okay and was quite comfortable as long as I didn’t inflate it too hard. It was just big enough for me – any narrower and it would have been uncomfortable. I also carried a thin foam OMM Duomat. This 135 gram mat was used under my feet when sleeping and as a sitmat during the day and in the Trailstar. It was well worth the weight.
Stove choice was partly determined by the likelihood of finding fuel supplies along the way. I was tempted by the simplicity and speed of a gas stove but thought I might not find cartridges everywhere, as turned out to be the case. I didn’t find cartridges anywhere in the Central Belt, not even in Cumbernauld, the only town on the Watershed. I did find meths everywhere, which justified my choice of the 225 gram Caldera Ti-Tri Inferno. This stove works really well in windy weather and is quite fuel efficient. I carried the Inferno insert so I could also burn wood in it but in fact I only did this twice due to the stormy weather and, in many places, lack of fuel. In case I couldn’t find meths I also carried the tiny 3 gram Gram Cracker stand for solid fuel tablets and half a dozen of the latter. I eventually used these during the last 11 day section of the walk when I ran low on meths. The Ti-Tri was the same one I’d used on the Pacific Northwest Trail so I knew it worked well and was durable.
|Stove & pots (with coffee & muesli)|
My pots were the oldest items I had on the walk. My Evernew 0.9 litre Titanium one is 22 years old and a veteran of many long walks. The MSR 0.6 litre Titanium pot that nests inside it and doubles as a mug is quite young by comparison at just 12 years. Both pots are still in excellent condition.
Other kitchen stuff consisted of a Sea to Summit alloy spoon and an Outdoors Grub Long Strong Spoon. I like two spoons as they are easily lost, bent or broken. For water I had 1.5 and 2 litre Platypus bottles and a 700 ml hard-sided GoLite bottle, which was used to carry water during the day.
In the rain, which was more prevalent than I’d have liked, I wore a 430 gram Rab Myriad Neoshell jacket, which performed really well and was less clammy and more comfortable than many waterproofs though I did get a little damp in it at times. But then conditions were sometimes such – heavy rain, wet cloud, strong winds – that I doubt I could have stayed dry in anything. I often didn’t bother with overtrousers as my walking trousers were reasonably warm when wet and dried quickly. When I did need them I wore an old pair of GoLite Shadow Pants, made from Gore-tex Paclite and weighing 222 grams, which had zips just long enough that I could pull them on over my shoes. These overtrousers worked okay and I never had much condensation in them.
|In full waterproofs in wet mist & drizzle on day one|
Any fully waterproof fabric restricts breathability to some extent, even Neoshell. In dry windy weather I find a simple windproof top more comfortable so I took the 170 gram Montane Lite-Speed jacket, which is made from Pertex Microlight and which has a hood and a mapsize chest pocket. The Lite-Speed repelled light showers and was comfortable worn under the Myriad jacket.
For warmth I took my old well-used Jack Wolfskin Gecko microfleece top, which weighs 215 grams and has been on many walks over the years. It’s a little thinner than when new but still provides all the warmth I need most of the time in the summer. I wore it in camp every day but only occasionally while walking. With a forecast for unseasonal cold weather at the start of the walk I decided to take another warm garment for at least the first few weeks. Which one was decided a few days before I set off when a new ultralight down top arrived for test from PHD. The Wafer Jacket weighs just 189 grams and compresses into a tiny bundle. It was delightful to wear in camp on chilly evenings and made a reasonable pillow. I ended up carrying it the whole way, though I didn’t wear it much during the last month.
On my legs I mostly wore Paramo Merapi Active Trousers, which are soft, comfortable and windproof. They worked well and stood up surprisingly well to some rough treatment, especially in dense forests. In hot weather I wore an old pair of GoLite shorts, which had an inner brief and so doubled as underwear. On my torso I used the same garments that had performed well on the Pacific Northwest Trail – a Paramo Katmai Light shirt most of the time and an Icebreaker merino wool T-shirt in the coolest, wettest weather.
I didn’t bother with gloves but I did have a Smartwool Beanie for cool weather, and was glad of it. For the sun I started out with a Tilley Hat but accidentally left this behind in Moffat (I got it back eventually). I replaced it with a cotton cap that cost me £5 in Tesco’s in Cumbernauld and which proved surprisingly comfortable and hard wearing.
For navigating, which was difficult in places as the Watershed is not always clear, I had 1:50,000 OS maps with the Watershed marked on them, a Silva Type 3 compass and an HTC Desire S smartphone and Nexus 7 tablet, which both have GPS. I had ViewRanger software and OS maps on both devices. As on previous trips I found the easiest way to navigate in poor visibility was to locate my position on the GPS map and then use my compass and paper map. I didn’t need both phone and tablet for navigating of course but each had other functions as well. I carried spare batteries for the phone plus a charger for phone and tablet that I used at town stops.
In case of emergency and to keep people informed as to my progress I carried a SPOT GPS Messenger for the first time. I sent back location messages most days and everyone got through so I am quite happy with the device.
Other items consisted of a Petzl XP headlamp, small first aid/repair kit, basic wash kit, Kindle e-reader, notebook and pens, dark glasses, reading glasses, mini binoculars, cotton bandanna, watch, Swiss Army Knife and a Kestrel 4500 Weather Station.
My camera gear consisted of Sony NEX 7 and NEX 6 cameras with Sony E 16-50 and 10-18mm lenses, carried in Lowe Pro and CCS padded cases, plus spare batteries and memory cards and a Velbon V-Pod ultralight tripod.