Sunday 9 June 2019

TGO Challenge 2019: The Gear

Every year I’m asked for advice on gear for the TGO Challenge and on what weather to expect. Both are impossible questions to answer. May is an awkward month in the Scottish Highlands. It might be hot and sunny, it might be cold and wet. There might be deep snow, there might be frosty nights, there might be big storms. It might stay calm. I don’t make a final decision until the day before I leave. This year I had an ice axe on my tentative list (in my head, nothing written down) until a few days before setting out as there was still much snow in the hills. Then the weather changed to hot and sunny and the ice axe was replaced by sunglasses and sunhat.

For the first week it stayed hot and dry. Most of my clothing stayed in the pack. Then the weather changed again and I had six days of rain and cold. 

My gear this year was a mix of well-used favourite items (too well-used in some cases as they barely lasted the trip), newer maybe-to-become-favourite items, and some new never-used items. The total weight FSO (from the skin out) was about 12.5 kg. Around 4.5kg was usually not in the pack (shoes, clothes, poles, cameras) so my basic pack weight was about 8kg. 

Here’s a brief rundown of the gear. All the photos were taken on the walk.


The Gossamer Gear Mariposa had proved comfortable on the GR5 in the Alps last autumn and I really like the design and the light weight, just 945 grams, so it was my choice for the Challenge. It was fine again until a few days from the end when one of the top tension straps ripped out. The pack still carried okay but with rather more weight on my shoulders than I like. I’ll send it to Scottish Mountain Gear for repair. 

I knew from thunderstorms in the Alps that the Mariposa isn’t at all waterproof so sensitive items were packed in Lifesystems and Exped dry bags. Everything stayed dry.


The Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar has been my favourite shelter for many years now. It’s been on several multi-week walks, previous Challenges, and many shorter trips. I’ve slept in it on over 150 nights and it’s still in good condition. On this Challenge I was pleased that there was no leakage in heavy rain, showing that my seam sealing when it was new is still fine.

For a groundsheet I used the Luxe Tyvek Ultralight Footprint I’d used on my Yosemite to Death Valley and GR5 Alps walks. By the end of the walk when I was pitching on very wet ground it was leaking a little. It also stinks again, the smell it had after the GR5 having been removed by hanging it on the washing line for several weeks. I won’t use it again but for the weight and cost it’s been pretty good.

The combined weight of Trailstar, groundsheet, pegs and stuffsack was 767 grams. They lived in a side pocket of the Mariposa so I could pitch the shelter in the rain without opening the pack and pack everything up and close the pack under cover if it was still raining the next morning.

Sleeping Bag & Mat

With reviews of summer sleeping bags and mats coming up for The Great Outdoors I decided to take two test items that looked good. The sleeping bag was a Robens Couloir 250. This has 700 fill power down insulation and weighs 610 grams. And it has a centre zip, which I like. The men’s comfort rating is +3°C.  For me this is fairly accurate. I had two frosty nights when I needed to wear extra clothing but otherwise I was warm in just boxer shorts and t-shirt. Mostly nights were in the +5 to +8 range.

I liked the sleeping bag. I really loved the mat. This was a Sea to Summit Etherlight Xt Insulated mat and it’s amazingly comfortable. Once fully inflated it’s 10cm thick. Inside there’s a layer that reflects radiant heat and some Thermolite insulation. The weight is just 400 grams with another 54 grams for the pump stuffsack. 

Cooking & Water

Having used a Trail Designs meths/alcohol stove on every long trip for the last decade I thought I’d have a change and use a canister stove so I took the tiny 73 gram MSR Pocket Rocket 2. This boiled water fast and simmered well. I used it with a Jetboil Jetpower four-season mix 230-gram canister and the combination surprised me by lasting the whole trip. In the past a week is the most I’ve squeezed out of a canister this size. On frosty morning the stove worked well too, even though the canister had been left standing on the ground overnight. This applied even on the last morning when the canister was almost empty.

The rest of my cooking gear consisted of my very well-worn Evernew and MSR titanium pots, two spoons (alloy and titanium), a dishcloth, a Light My Fire FireSteel and a butane lighter (one I bought in Yosemite Valley at the start of my Yosemite to Death Valley walk – it did the GR5 too and still has a little gas left). With the pots the total weight was 320 grams.

For water I had an old GoLite 700ml wide-mouthed bottle, which was all I ever used during the day, and two 2-litre Platypus bottles for camp. Total weight 166 grams.


The Altra Lone Peak 4.0 Low Mesh shoes had proved superbly comfortable on the GR5 Alps walk so I took them on the Challenge even though they were quite worn. By the end the tread was pretty well gone and the cushioning midsole was collapsing. They just made it but wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t also brought a pair of Teva Terra Fi Lite sandals which I walked in on two of the hottest days and the last day, which was all on the road. The shoes weigh 682 grams, the sandals 584 grams.

In the shoes I mostly wore Darn Tough ¼ Cushion socks. These were comfortable but wearing very thin in places by the end of the walk. I also had a pair of Darn Tough Light Hiking socks (62 grams), which I only wore for sleeping on the coldest night, and Bridgedale StormSocks (136 grams), which I wore on the wettest, coldest day near the end of the walk to keep my feet warm in sodden shoes and also slipped on with the sandals around camp when the ground was wet. 


Every day I wore Mammut Runbold trousers (310 grams), the same ones I’d worn on the GR5, and a Paramo Katmai Light shirt (207 grams), a new version as my very old and well-worn one only just survived the GR5. Both trousers and shirts were fine. My underwear was a test pair of Saxx Boxer Briefs

On the colder second half of the walk I wore a new Smartwool Merino 150 Graphic Tee (97 grams) under the Katmai shirt, a combination that worked well. I also wore the merino t-shirt for sleeping in on cold nights along with a pair of SubZero Merino Base Layer Leggings. If the weather had been any colder I’d have worn the latter under the trousers when walking. 

My windshirt was the same Patagonia Houdini (102 grams) one I’d worn in the Alps. It didn’t get as much use on the Challenge as the weather was either too warm or too wet but I was glad I had it with me.

For warmwear I had the Berghaus Vapourlight Hypertherm Hoody (224g), a favourite insulated top that was with me on the Yosemite-Death Valley and GR5 walks.  I wasn’t sure it would be quite warm enough if the weather was really cold so I also took the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody (260 grams), which weighs a bit more but which is much warmer. The Micro Puff Hoody became a favourite over last winter. As there was no really cold weather I didn’t really need it but it was nice to wear on cooler mornings and evenings. Mostly I just used it as a pillow.

For the first week I didn’t even see my waterproofs as they sank down into the depths of my pack. Then the rain came down and I was wearing them often, twice from dawn until dusk, during the last week. My jacket was a Columbia OutDry Ex Featherweight (235 grams), an unusual garment that worked well though the hood could be better. I’ve reviewed it for The Great Outdoors here. My overtrousers were the ultralight Montane Minimus (147 grams), made from Pertex Shield, which also worked fine.

I don’t often wear gloves in May but just in case my hands got cold I took the Rab Xenon gloves (52 grams) I’d found excellent over the winter. I did need them on the coldest wettest day. They kept my hands warm but I did discover they were awkward to pull on when sodden as the lining stuck to my hands.

I ended up taking three hats, too many really, especially as I had four jackets with hoods! My head was not going to get cold. The hat I wore most though was for the heat rather than the cold, the Tilley Hiker Hat (119 grams) I’d worn on the GR5. It’s excellent. For warmth I had a Buff (34 grams) that was specially made for the 35th Challenge in 2014 which I wore as a hat under my waterproof hood and a Smartwool Beanie (56 grams) that’s now over a decade old and which has been on many long walks.

Trekking Poles

As always, I took Pacerpoles, the Dual Lock ones (590 grams) I’d used on the GR5. As usual they were excellent, both for walking and acting as poles for the Trailstar.

Everything Else

For light I took Petzl Actik and e+Lite headlamps, which I used occasionally in the evenings in camp. They weighed 119 grams.

My printer packing in a few days before the trip I ended up taking all the 1:50,000 OS maps for the route, a weight of 500 grams. I should have checked the printer earlier! Much lighter was my Silva Ranger compass at 34 grams. I also had all the OS maps on ViewRanger on my Samsung Galaxy S7 phone. With a case it weighed 195 grams.

A test item was a Spot X 2-Way Satellite Messenger (190 grams). This turned up late, having arrived from Ireland via the Swedish Security Services in Stockholm, and meant I lost a day from my Challenge schedule and had some long days to catch up. I had mixed success with the Spot X. There’ll be a report soon.

For an account of the trip I took one of my usual Alwych All Weather notebooks plus two pens with waterproof ink. Total weight with an Aloksak bag was 175 grams. My two pairs of reading glasses weighed more at 195 grams. 

For entertainment in camp and on dull road walks I had a Kindle Paperwhite – 292 grams with padded case. I read several books during the walk but the one that stayed in my mind is Robert Macfarlane’s superb Underland

Other items were Kestrel 4500 Weather Station, Fox 40 Classic Whistle, Leatherman Micro tool, LifeSystems Light & Dry Pro First Aid Kit, repair kit, Matrix X watch, sunscreen, wash kit, toilet paper, and Salomon Fury dark glasses. Combined these weighed 835 grams.

As I’d agreed to take part in a survey of tech on the Challenge for Northumbria University I also had a Xiaomi MiBand 3 fitness tracker which I wore day and night the whole walk. I have no idea what the data it recorded will say! 


My camera gear consisted of the Sony a6000 and NEX 7 cameras with Sony E 10-18mm and 18-135mm lenses in Billingham 72 and ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 10 padded bags, plus my now rather battered Velbon V-Pod tripod. The total weight, with a few memory cards and spare batteries, was 2.5kg.


  1. Very enjoyable read, I do like gear lists. I was intrigued by 2 spoons though.

    1. Two spoons is just a habit! Started many years ago when I broke a plastic one. Of course I'm very unlikely to break one of the current metal pair. I guess I could lose one, though I never have.

    2. A fox or other animal could run off with one (happened to me on Dartmoor) so 2 makes sense but not stored together!

  2. Great write up thanks for sharing. Is there any reason you chose to take the MSR pocket rocket over something like the Soto Widemaster or MSR deluxe?

  3. There's not much between them but I went for the Pocket Rocket 2 on the basis that the slightly simpler design was less likely to go wrong. The Soto Windmaster's clip-on pot supports are a very minor hassle. The MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe has a piezo igniter. I've broken quite a few of these over the years. As I always carry a lighter and a fire steel anyway I prefer stoves without piezo.

  4. you sure on that s2s ether weight chris, assuming you're using the mens reg. mine came in at 460g?

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I have some scales that need recalibrating! On those it does weigh 400 grams. But on another set it's 475 grams. Checked both and it's the 475g that's correct.

  5. Chris, you didn't use any insect netting in the Trailstar. Is it not necessary in Scotland in May?

    1. I've never had problems with midges in May. I've used the Trailstar on several Challenges now, never with netting.

  6. I read your full review on the Columbia Outdry Featherweight Jacket on the TGO website with interest as I'm searching for a good waterproof breathable shell. It left me wondering though. What have you found that is better and what would be your go to waterproof jacket if you were setting off in Scottish conditions with a forecast of heavy rain for the next 5 days?

  7. There's a number of good waterproof jackets I'd consider, including the Columbia one - it did have to put up with days of heavy rain on the TGO Challenge. If the hood was better it would be my first choice. The OMM Aether has a better hood and overall design and stood up to heavy rain on the GR5 through the Alps last year. The Alpkit Gravitas is also good - I've just used it in the Colorado Rockies in some severe thunderstorms. All these are light jackets. For winter conditions i like something a bit heavier. My first choice then is a Paramo jacket but probably wouldn't withstand five days of heavy rain. Last winter I tested the Rab Ladakh DV and the Mountain Equipment Lhotse and both performed well.

    1. Thanks Chris, I've still not bought a new waterproof and will have a look to see if I can get one of your suggestions at a good price.

  8. Thanks for this Chris. I'm struggling to decide between meths and gas for this year's challenge (my first). Any specific reason why you swapped from meths to gas?


    1. No, it was just for a change! Either will work well. Good luck with the Challenge.