Monday 30 January 2023

A Winter Camp And A Look At The Gear I Used

This trip report/gear review first appeared in The Great Outdoors in spring last year and describes an overnight trip in the 2021-2022 winter. I’ve edited it slightly and updated the gear prices.

When a weather forecast suggested a short window of calm weather after a long stormy period I decided to head up to the vast boggy plateau of the Moine Mhor in the western Cairngorms, a favourite place for a high-level camp. Unusually, the forecast suggested the temperature would be warmer on the tops than in the glens.

The air was frosty as I set off in the afternoon, the sun having gone from the floor of Glen Feshie though it still shone on the hills high above. As I climbed through the woods onto the open hillside I passed through bands of cold and warm air, some very narrow. A strange experience I haven’t had before. Overall, the temperature rose though, and by the time I was on the tops, some 700 metres above the glen, I’d shed hat, gloves, and fleece jacket.

In the west a brilliant red sunset lit up the sky with far peaks sharply silhouetted. I crossed crunchy patches of snow and slippery icy moss. The light faded, the headtorch came out. I didn’t need it on the snow, but the moss and bog turned into impenetrable solid blackness. Soon the almost full moon rose and bathed the snow dappled hills in its eerie light. There was no wind, no sound at all. The silence was enormous.

There are a huge number of good camp sites on the Moine Mhor. Usually. Finding a site wasn’t easy this time though. Every hollow was filled with snow, either hard and rippled or soft and wet. Snow free areas oozed water. Eventually I found a dry, stony, flattish area. It would do.

As always when the weather allows I left the tent doors open. At 1 a.m. I woke and looked out to the now high moon shining on the little pointed peak of Sgor Gaoith. I can take a photograph from the porch, I thought. But what’s happening the other side of the tent? I had no choice but to get up and go and see. This was a magical night. All around the moon shone. Stars sparkled. Away to the north a bank of fog hung over Aviemore. I was up for well over an hour before retreating to make a mug of hot chocolate then fall back asleep.

Awake again as the sun rose I was soon back outside. The temperature was a touch below freezing. Chilly but under a clear sky in winter I’d expect it to be much colder.

I watched the sun light up the tops of the hills then slowly creep down the mountainsides until it reached the tent. Brightness and warmth enveloped me.

From camp I took a meandering line over to the edge of the steep rocky slopes tumbling down to Loch Einich then followed this round to the spring called Fuaran Diotach before heading up Carn Ban Mor. I could see many people on Sgor Gaoith and decided I preferred the quieter slightly lower top. The still air was warm, and I sat in the sunshine, my jacket undone.  


Then it was time to descend, back down the long path to Glen Feshie. On one short section across a steep hard snow slope falling away into a stream gully I put on my microspikes and took out my ice axe as a slip could have sent me a long way. Then it was down to the frosty glen and home, satisfied.

Planning & Preparation

A high camp in the Cairngorms in winter is always a serious proposition, even when the forecast is good. The weather can change suddenly, as I knew from previous trips. In case of a big storm coming in I like to have escape routes planned. Having ones in different directions means I don’t have to battle straight into the storm. On this trip I camped on the northern edge of the Moine Mhor not far from the steep drop into Gleann Einich - no safe route in that direction. The quickest escape route was east, back the way I’d come. West would take me deeper into the mountains so that was out. The easiest route was south, down the long River Eidart glen. This would leave me with a long walk down Glen Feshie to my start point but would get me off exposed high ground quickly. As it was, I didn’t need either of these but knowing what I would do in case of a storm was reassuring.

As the forecast was for the weather to be calm and mild I took a lightweight tent and a sleeping bag just adequate for temperatures around zero. If the night was colder I had plenty of warm clothes to boost the sleeping bag. If there’s snow on the hills I always take an ice axe and crampons or micro spikes. As I knew there were only patches of snow left from the last big fall and there were no really long steep slopes on my route I took the latter.



Dana Designs Astralplane      3.5kg   *****

Likes                 comfort, durability, pockets
Dislikes              weight
Capacity            106 litres    (Terraplane 82 litres)
Materials            nylon         
Closure              detachable lid with four pockets           
Back system      internal frame, framesheet           
Sizes                 four           
Compartments    two
Pockets             lid, two front           
Features            side zip access          

This huge heavy pack is well over 20 years old. I bought it in the 1990s for leading ski tours when I was sometimes carrying a week or more’s food as well as camping gear in places much colder than Scotland like Spitsbergen and the Yukon Territory. I don’t use it often now, but I took it out for this trip as I had some bulky gear, and I couldn’t fit everything easily in my usual 68-litre winter pack. I had forgotten how comfortable the Astralplane is. The most comfortable pack I’ve ever used in fact. It has a massive thickly padded hipbelt and a frame system that’s rigid longitudinally but flexes side to side, which makes the pack stable, important when skiing and useful on rough ground. The pockets are huge with long zips and there’s zipped access to the main compartment. I can’t fault the design. Dana Designs is long gone however and the Astralplane with it. However, the company did resurface as Mystery Ranch, which offers a similar pack with the same design and back system. The Terraplane is a bit smaller, with a capacity of 82 litres, and a bit lighter at 3.08kg.



Vango Haddon 100      1.6kg    £210   ****      Recommended

Likes                            roomy, pitches with trekking poles, cost

Dislikes                        not that light


Outer                            Protex Eco 70D polyester, 3000mm hydrostatic head
Inner                             breathable polyester/mesh
Groundsheet                 nylon, 6000mm hydrostatic head
Poles                            none, uses trekking poles
Porches                        2
Inner Dimensions           220 x 85 tapering to 75 cm, 90cm high at high point

The Heddon 100 is the first tent from Vango that pitches with trekking poles. It’s an offset transverse ridge design with the high point between the poles towards one end. It’s not designed as a winter mountain tent, but I reckoned it would be fine given the forecast. I’d already had it up in strong winds and it performed ok. As it was, due to the test poles I took with me (see below), I was careful to select a site with a bit of shelter from the breeze that was blowing.

Many solo tents are quite small, which keeps the weight down. The Heddon 100 is roomier than many with more headroom, which was welcome on a long winter night. I didn’t feel at all restricted inside. There’s a big porch that’s great for views, access, and cooking under cover. The weight is a little high for a solo tent that pitches with trekking poles but that’s because of the extra space and the use of heavier, less high-tech materials, which keeps the cost down. I think it’s an excellent tent and good value for money.



Robens Icefall Pro 600         1.21kg      £166    ****   Recommended

Likes                        roomy shape, central zip, cost
Dislikes                    not that light, quite bulky
Fill                           600g MicroThermo Ball polyester
Shell                        20D Nylon Ripstop shell, 20D Nylon Taffeta lining
Construction             box wall
Zip                           two-way ¾, central      
Sizes                       men: Regular, Long women: Regular, Long
Rating                      men limit -1°, women comfort +6°C

As the forecast didn’t suggest temperatures much below zero I took this synthetic-filled bag with a rating of -1°C and it was just right. I slept warm and reckoned I would probably be okay in temperatures a few degrees lower without needing warm clothing.  The fill consists of polyester clusters that are contained in channels just like down. It feels a bit softer and more flexible than many synthetic insulations. The bag has a central zip, which I love as it makes sitting up in the bag with it partially open easy, and a good hood that snugs round the head. The bag is quite roomy and I was able to move easily inside it. There’s a neck baffle and a thick baffle behind the zip. As a three-season synthetic bag I think it’s excellent. I wouldn’t usually choose one with this rating for winter. I was glad the forecast was correct! The price is low but the weight a little high for the warmth compared to a down bag and it is quite bulky.



Robens Iceshield 55           795g               £87      **** recommended

Likes                        comfort, warmth
Dislikes                    bulky, heavy
Type                         self-inflating
Shell                        20D PU ripstop nylon
Insulation                  foam
Dimensions              183 x 53cm
Thickness                 5.5cm
Rating                       R-Value 4.2, -12°C
Roben’s Iceshield self-inflating mats have a new construction with offset horizontal channels cut across the top and bottom surfaces of the foam fill to ensure an even thickness and to eliminate the cold spots found on vertical cored mats. Two layers of offset foam are used, nesting together like an egg box. The mats also have a valve with a high air flow for fast inflation and deflation and delamination-proof TPU to hold everything together and provide durability. The 55 is the lightest of the two Iceshield mats but still fine for all but the coldest winter weather. It’s very thick and has an anatomical shape. I found it very comfortable and supportive and easily warm enough used on frozen ground.

Robens says the construction also saves weight and the mat is quite light for a self-inflating one with this rating. It’s still heavy compared with an insulated airbed though, but should prove more durable.

It’s quite bulky when packed too.



Vango Basho Folding Walking Pole      600g                 £60 (pair)    **

Likes                compact
Dislikes            shockcord breaks, sections unscrew in use
Length              48-135 cms
Material            aluminium alloy
Grip                  moulded thermo-plastic/rubber
Anti Shock        yes

As these poles arrived with the Heddon 100 tent I decided to use them with it. On a practise pitch at home they seemed fine. In actual use they weren’t. They have four sections, the top one closing with an external clip. The other sections screw together and are shock-cord linked. Now on firm ground this construction might be fine but on bogs and snow it wasn’t. The sections kept unscrewing themselves as the pole tips stuck in mud or snow. I’d feel the pole pulling and look back to see the bottom section stuck in the ground with a long piece of shockcord stretching between it and the next section. Even though I kept tightening the sections this happened repeatedly until the shockcord snapped on one pole, rendering it useless as the screw alone wasn’t enough to keep the pole firmly together. This made pitching the tent interesting! I did manage but was aware that the pole probably wouldn’t hold if the wind picked up. The next day I used the intact pole very carefully and managed not to break it, though the small basket did come off.



Jetboil Stash       200 grams £155   ****1/2               Best Buy

Likes                   lightweight, compact, efficient, heat exchanger
Dislikes               poor wind resistance 

Total Weight         200 grams
Burner Weight      60 grams
Pot Weight          140 grams
Pot Capacity        800ml

I’ve been using this stove and pot combination for over a year and it’s now a firm favourite. On this trip it worked fine when the temperature was just below zero and it had been left on the ground in the open porch overnight. It’s not very wind resistant so I had a foil windscreen with but didn’t need to use it as the porch door kept off the occasional breeze. My evening meal required a little simmering and with the flame turned down the stove managed this without the food sticking even though the flame control isn’t as precise as on some other stoves. I used a Fire Steel to light the stove as it doesn’t come with an igniter – not a drawback in my views as these often break so carrying something else to light a stove with is wise. I expect the Stash will come with me on many more trips.




Sub Zero Factor 2 Plus Touchscreen Grip Gloves       48g            £23  ****   recommended

Likes                  soft, flexible, touchscreen compatible, low cost
Dislikes              no reinforcements
Material              50% nylon, 41% polyester, 9% Spandex
Sizes                 S-XL

A bit thicker than most liner gloves these light gloves are surprisingly warm for the weight and were all I needed on this trip, though I did have warmer gloves and mitts with me. The fabric is brushed on the inside to give a soft layer against the skin. The outer is smooth, so the gloves slide easily inside outer ones. The cuffs are double thickness for extra wrist protection. The fabric stretches so the gloves fit closely without impeding hand use or feeling tight.

There’s a silicon dot pattern on the thumb and first two fingers which gives good grip when holding items and should provide better wear with poles or ice axes. The tips of the thumb and these two fingers have conductive overlays, so they’ll work on smartphone screens.

These are some of the best liner gloves I’ve used and were ideal on this occasion.



Klattermusen Loride 2.0 windproof jacket       475g      £309        ****     Recommended

Likes                            fabric, hood pockets, cuffs
Dislikes                        not that light, quite expensive
Materials                      organic cotton
Hood                            rear drawcord, stiffened peak 
Front Closure                zip with outer flap 
Pockets                       2 chest
Hem                             shockcord
Cuffs                            shockcord
Sizes                           men XS-XXL, women XXS-XL
I first reviewed this jacket two and a half years ago and it’s well worth a second look as I’ve used it extensively since then and it’s become another favourite, both for the design and the fabric. The latter is a lovely soft organic cotton that is really comfortable. It’s windproof and very breathable. Rain resistance is poor, which is fine with me. In a windproof breathability is what matters. On this trip the Loride jacket was ideal. I wore it over a thin base layer when walking and it kept off stray breezes and was warm enough to keep me comfortable without overheating.

The Loride has a good hood with a big peak – I didn’t need it on this trip, but I liked having it just in case. The pockets aren’t mapsize, but they did hold smartphone, snacks, and gloves.

Compared with synthetic windproof tops the Loride is quite heavy and expensive. It feels like a luxury item though and is lasting well. For day walks and short backpacking trips it’s excellent.



Paramo Waterproof Cap                              £37.50    70g                             *****      Best Buy

Likes             breathability, waterproof, peak
Dislikes         nothing
Materials       Nikwax Analogy
Features        stiff peak, chin strap
Sizes            S/M, L/XL

This is an old favourite that I’ve been using for well over a decade. It’s made from Paramo’s two-layer Analogy fabric. It’s windproof, and waterproof if kept clean and reproofed occasionally. Breathability is excellent so it’s comfortable worn under a jacket hood when necessary. Warmth is good but not as high as fleece-lined caps. I find it adequate in all bar the coldest winter weather. The ear flaps are warm, and I like the built-in neck strap – no need to tie on a cord. If not needed the flaps can be tucked inside. The peak is protective and good in the sun and in snow but can’t be flipped out of the way. Mine is an original one. The current version has a bigger peak and a different neck cord. The fabric is the same though.



Rab Generator Alpine Insulated jacket        590g (L) £260    ****1/2   Best Buy

Likes                warmth, low weight, hood, pockets
Dislikes            no women’s version
Fill                   Primaloft Gold Insulation with Cross Core Technology (133gsm Body / 80gsm hood)    
Shell                2x 20D Pertex Quantum Pro fabrics 40gsm (Diamond Fuse front/ Recycled back)
Front                2-way YKK Vislon with insulated internal baffle
Hood                adjustable, wired peak
Cuffs                Velcro
Hem                shockcord
Pockets           2 mid-level handwarmer, 1 chest, 2 internal open
Sizes               men XS-XXL

I’ve used this jacket extensively since last autumn and the more I’ve used it the more I like it. It’s warm for the weight with an excellent wired hood and roomy pockets. The fill is soft and comfortable, the shell is tough. Being synthetic the jacket doesn’t absorb much moisture and keeps its thickness when wet. This property wasn’t needed on this dry trip, but it has been useful on other occasions when I’ve pulled the jacket on over a wet waterproof in the rain. The jacket is designed for this, so the sizes are on the roomy side, which is good.

The jacket was great to pull on for my middle of the night star gazing trip out of the tent and for watching the dawn.



Inov8 Roclite Pro  G 400 Gore-Tex Boots    830g           £200    ****1/2        Best Buy

Likes          lightweight, durable, good grip
Dislikes      nothing
Uppers       Schoeller ceramic-coated fabric
Sole           Graphene-Grip
Sizes         men 6-14, women 3-8.5
After a year and half’s use of these boots (except in summer when they are a little warm) I’m still as impressed as I was when I reviewed them back in January 2021. They are lightweight, comfortable, supportive and have good cushioning and great grip. They’re tough too, with little sign of wear. The graphene in the sole is there to enhance durability and it does.

I was pushing it a bit using these boots on this trip though. They’re not intended for winter mountain use. As it was, they gripped fine on the snow and hard toe bumper meant I could kick steps occasionally. They were fine with micro spikes during the descent too. Indeed, the only slight problem was that when walking across big snowfields I could feel the cold as the uppers are quite thin. If there was any more snow on the hills I wouldn’t wear them, preferring thicker, warmer boots that would work better with crampons, but on this trip they were just adequate.





CAMP Corsa Nanotech       280g (60cm)   £130   **** Recommended               

Likes                      ultralight, steel pick and spike
Dislikes                  expensive
Head:                     7075-T6 aluminium alloy/Sandvik Nanoflex steel pick
Shaft:                     curved, 7075-T6 aluminium alloy/Sandvik Nanoflex steel spike
Leash:                    optional
Rating:                    B
Lengths:                 50, 60, 70cm

This ultralight ice axe has a steel pick that will penetrate hard snow and ice, a steel spike, and a narrow rounded adze. It’s not designed for serious mountaineering but is ideal for a trip like this where an ice axe would only be needed for short periods if at all. Whilst it spent most of the time strapped to the pack on the short stretch of steep snow on the descent I was glad of the security it gave. The lack of weight does mean it requires more effort to use and I wouldn’t like to use it continuously for long periods. For occasional use it’s excellent, though, and it doesn’t add much to the load.



Hillsound Trail Crampons      463g (L)      £50        **** Recommended

These micro spikes – despite the name they’re not crampons – are excellent on gentle slopes and hard snow. They’re not replacements for full crampons. Sometimes I carry both. On this trip I thought micro spikes would be adequate and they were. They have 18 sharp steel points linked by chains and a stretchy rubber cradle that fits just about any footwear. The fit isn’t as secure as with crampons however and you need to place your foot flat to prevent the micro spikes slipping to the side. That’s why they’re not adequate for really steep slopes. On trips like this they’re fine however, especially as they’re lighter and pack smaller than crampons.





Motorola Defy     235g       £249      ****1/2       Best Buy

Likes                         tough, waterproof, dustproof, shockproof, battery life, cost 

Dislikes                     basic camera 


Size                           170 x 78 x 11mm 

Weight                       235 grams 

Operating system       Android 10 

Battery                      5000 mAh 

Cameras                    48MP f1.8 main, 8MP front  

The Defy is another item I like more the more I use it. This big rugged smartphone is easy to use with gloves on, has a bright display, and a huge battery that really lasts. The ribbed sides and back make it secure in the hand. It’s said to work down to -25°C. I haven’t used it anywhere near that temperature but in temperatures below zero as on this trip it’s fine. It’s waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof so I don’t need to treat it with care. I carried it in a jacket pocket and left it on the groundsheet overnight. I used it for photographs and occasionally to check my position. Over half the battery life was still left at the end of the second day. The camera is fairly basic, though in good light images are fine, but otherwise I can’t fault this phone for hill use.