Monday, 26 October 2020

Gear For A Recent High Camp In The Cairngorms


Last week's account of my overnight trip to Ben Macdui elicited a number of enquiries as to the tent used and the gear I take winter camping so I thought I'd write a longer piece rather than just give short answers on social media. Because I test so much gear I rarely take exactly the same items on trips so this isn't meant to be a first choice list. I wasn't too bothered about weight either as I wasn't walking long distances and I was only going out for one night, so I took some items that were heavier than I'd choose for a longer trip. Here's a brief overview of the main items I took.

Tent: Nigor Wickiup 3

This is single pole pyramid tent has been a favourite for several years now. It's very roomy for one with good headroom. It wasn't tested on this trip as it was calm but on other trips it has coped well with stomy weather. I reviewed it for TGO in 2016. I used it with the half-size Inner Tent, which I reviewed later the same year. The total weight is 1625 grams.

Sleeping Bag: Sierra Designs Cloud 800

I reviewed this for The Great Outdoors earlier in the year. I hadn't tested it in cold conditions until this trip though. It has a comfort rating of -3C and the overnight temperature in the tent fell conveniently to that temperature. I was mostly warm enough but I could feel ground cold in a few places, which I think was probably more to do with my mat than the bag. The Cloud 800 does have a section under the body with no fill, just a sleeve for the mat, and maybe a bag with a complete fill would have been better. It wasn't a big problem though. I donned extra clothes and slept well.

Sleeping Mat: Sea to Summit Etherlight XT Small   

The Etherlight XT is a very comfortable mat. It only has an r-value of 3.2 though, which basically means it's not warm enough for winter. I wasn't expecting full winter conditions on this mid-October trip but my camp at 1200 metres was on very cold wet ground - there was snow lying not far away - and I think that's why I could feel ground cold. If I use this mat in freezing conditions again - and it really is wonderfully comfortable - I'll take a closed cell foam pad to put underneath it.

Cooking Gear: Soto Windmaster stove, TOAKS 1.3 litre titanium pot, titanium mug, insulated mug

At 67 grams the Soto Windmaster stove is very light. I've been using it on and off for two years, since I gave my initial impressions here, and I've found it works well in the cold. In strong winds a windshield is needed and I took a foil one with me. On this trip I didn't need it as there was barely a breeze. I used the stove with a part-used gas canister and it lit first time and boiled water quickly in the morning after being left on the ground overnight.

My pot was a TOAKS 1.3 litre one, which is very light at 162 grams. I took it to try after it came in too late for a cookware review I did for TGO earlier in the year.  It worked fine but I don't need a pot this big (my standard one is 900ml and I rarely fill that). I also took the old MSR titanium pot that doubles as a mug outside of winter conditions. It weighs 63 grams. As I was expecting freezing conditions overnight I also took a plastic insulated mug I've had for longer than I can remember. It weighs 125 grams and is worth every one. I like my morning coffee to stay hot! (And my evening hot chocolate too).

Down Jacket: Rab Microlight Alpine

This jacket arrived earlier in the autumn for a review of insulated jackets that will appear in the December issue of The Great Outdoors. It weighs 465 grams and is filled with hydrophobic recycled down. It kept me warm in camp and for the hour I spend wandering round looking at the cloud inversion and taking photographs at dawn.

Pack: Osprey Aether 65

The latest version of this pack arrived just before the trip so it was an ideal opportunity to try it out. This is a fully featured pack with a complex adjustable harness and many features. It weighs a hefty 2.35kg. My total load was 15kg and it handled this with ease. I expect it could carry far more.


Footwear: Inov-8 Roclite Pro G 400 GTX

These boots were another item that arrived just a few weeks ago. As it was a short trip I took the risk of wearing them depite little prior use and happily they were fine. They have Inov-8's graphene sole that's meant to be phenomenally hard wearing. I'll need many more trips to assess this. The grip is good though. I crossed wet grass, wet rocks, dry rocks, loose gravel, mud, tussocks, hard snow and soft snow and felt secure. The uppers are a Schoeller ceramic-coated fabric that is also said to be very durable. After this trip I was impressed to see that they are unmarked. They didn't absorb any moisture either and I did walk through some boggy areas. They are Gore-Tex lined and I found them warm enough woth midweight wool socks. They are very light, my pair of size 9s only weighing 840 grams.

Clothing

As the air was still much of the time I walked in a wool/polypro base layer, Alpkit Woodsmoke shirt, and Fjallraven G1000/softshell trousers. When in damp clouds and a breeze I also wore a windproof jacket. I had waterproof jacket and trousers with me of course but never took them out of the pack. I also took some old Rab PrimaLoft trousers that I wore in camp. I prefer these to long underwear as you can pull them on over your walking trousers. They are very warm.

For head and hands I had two warm hats (wool beanie, lined cap) and four pairs of gloves/mitts (thin liner gloves, medium weight insulated gloves, thick insulated mitts, waterproof shell mitts). These will come on every trip from now until May.

Miscellaneous

Other items included Pacerpoles and two headtorches (easier to swap them over than change batteries or charge them) plus the usual other stuff. I didn't take ice axe, micro spikes, crampons or snow shovel but I hope I'll need these soon, along with skis or snowshoes. 

Cameras and Electronics

Expecting superb conditions for photography I took two camera bodies, three lenses and a tripod. I used tham all. I also took two smartphones which ended up being mostly used for photography as well. Why two smartphones? Well, I have one to test - the Land Rover Explore R - and thought I'd compare it to the Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro I bought last month (and reviewed here).

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