Friday 14 April 2023

A Windy Spring Trip With A Look At The Gear I Used

Camp in the shelter of the forest

This piece covers a trip I did in April last year. It first appeared in The Great Outdoors magazine. I've edited it a little, added more photos, and updated prices and gear info. It's part of a series of articles in which I describe a trip and the key items of gear I used.

Sometimes trips don’t go quite according to plan. Such was the case with my first spring trip last year. Wanting to avoid the snow that still lay on the highest tops I went to the little-frequented pathless country between Gleann Einich and the Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms that lies to the north of Braeriach and is mostly between 600 and 700 metres high.

There was a strong breeze even down in the forest when I set off for Gleann Einich. Once I left the last trees the wind was fierce, roaring straight down the glen. Dark ragged clouds ripped across the mountains. Once I turned off the track the going became tough, the terrain all tussocks and bogs. The wind hindered me too, strong enough to knock me sideways occasionally. It blasted across my exposed prospective campsite, chosen for its spacious views, so I headed for a nearby shallow glen hoping for some shelter.

Rugged terrain, racing clouds

There wasn’t any.  Still battered by the wind I descended into the narrower lower glen. The terrain became stony, scoured by floods and snowmelt. The banks either side grew steeper. I decided I should climb up to the moorland above. The scramble up steep slopes of heather and rock was hard work. Knees and elbows came into play at times, and I was glad of the strength of some of the heather.

Once up on flatter ground the wind hit me hard. I realised to camp anywhere sheltered I would have to go down again to the Allt Druidh, which drains the north side of the Lairig Ghru. The descent was down even rougher slopes than those I’d just climbed with big boulders hidden in the heather, some covered with slippery moss.

The wind was strong!

Once down the terrain was no easier. The river was a raging torrent. The Lairig Ghru path lay not far up the other side but there was no way I could ford safely. I went downstream into the first trees, searching for a camp site. After climbing another steep rough bank and descending again to avoid a crag I found a lovely spot beside some old birches. With relief I made camp. I’d now been searching for a camp site for several hours and was far from where I’d planned to be. Sunset came with a touch of colour amongst the racing clouds.

The night was warm, especially after the wind died down. I could hear the river roaring but even so this was a peaceful place. It was the highlight of the trip.

To cross the river I needed to go back upstream to where the Lairig Ghru path crossed it. That meant climbing back up the steep banks above camp and then crossing rough undulating moorland.

The ascent required more use of knees and elbows and more pulling on heather stems. Once out of the trees the wind was blasting against me again. I was now heading into it, across heather and boggy moorland that seemed even rougher than the day before. I weaved in and out of little stream gullies, trying to contour and not lose or gain much height. The river became a shallower stream and much less powerful as it flowed over flatter ground. I forded it before I reached the path at a wide pebbly stretch. The water was ankle deep and cold. My boots were sodden from all the bogs anyway.

Clouds and wind on day 2

Once across I soon reached the path and could stride out, for the first time since I’d left Gleann Einich. Back in the trees I paused and gazed across the white thrashing river far below. There on the far side was the campsite I’d left three hours earlier. Now the hard work was over there was just the pleasant walk down through the forest.

Planning & Preparation

With warm weather forecast and most of the snow below 1000 metres gone a trip with a lighter pack without the ice axe, crampons, snowshoes, and winter camping gear I’d been carrying since November appealed. I wanted the freedom of not feeling burdened down. At the same time this was April not August and clear weather could mean sub-zero nights and winds coming off the snowfields could be bitter so taking just summer gear would be unwise. As a compromise I packed heavier waterproofs than I’d carry in summer and a sleeping bag and sleeping mats that would cope with a frosty night. I knew the terrain would be cold, wet and boggy so I opted for boots that would keep my feet warm and possibly even dry. Rather than a full tent I decided on just a flysheet with a separate groundsheet. This setup is great for spring but I won’t be using it again until the autumn once the midges come out. The total weight of my pack was 14kg.

My plan was to camp at around 700 metres beside a big lochan and then go up nearby 742 metre Carn Eilrig and watch the sunset from the top. I didn’t have any alternative options as I knew I could easily descend if necessary. As it was I did descend due to the wind and it wasn’t as easy as I’d expected. My camp was a forest one rather than a moorland one and I only had a glimpse of the sunset through the trees. But my camp was far more comfortable than it would have been above the forest.





Klattermusen Raido 55L     1.29kg    £350       ****1/2      Recommended

Likes                  comfort, durability, pockets, elastic cord system, recycled fabric
Dislikes              only one size
Capacity             55 litres
Materials             PFC-free recycled 210D ripstop polyamide, Kevlar base       
Closure               roll top with drawcord and strap           
Back system       rigid aluminium frame, adjustable shoulder harness
Hipbelt                padded, pivoting          
Sizes                  one, fits back length 42-54cm           
Compartments     one
Pockets              two open side, one zipped side, one mesh hipbelt, one zipped inner           
Features             elastic cord system, multiple attachment points   
Recommended    max. load   17kg  

This is an unusual pack. It has a rigid external frame and more attachment points than I’ve ever seen on a pack before. Although the tubular frame has no give in it the back of the pack can flex a little side to side so it moves with you as the two horizontal sections only connect at the base. Further freedom of movement is given by the hipbelt, which is attached to the bottom of the frame by webbing and which pivots easily. Klattermusen suggest 17kg as the maximum load. I carried 14kg and the pack easily handled this. On the steep rough slopes I went up and down the back system was really tested and proved very stable. It was comfortable too and my hips and shoulders were fine.

The packbag is made from a tough-feeling, slightly shiny fabric. Entry is via a rolltop. The single compartment is narrow so access to items deep in the pack isn’t easy. I packed sleeping bag, mat, cooking gear, camp food and other items I wouldn’t need during the day here. Items that I wanted accessible went at the top of the main compartment or in the two massive side pockets. These just have drawcord closures, which makes access easy but does mean rain can go straight in. On this trip this wasn’t a problem but in wetter weather I’d pack water sensitive items in drybags. On the outside of one of the pockets is a zipped pocket for smaller items. For attaching extra gear there is a long stretch cord on the back – I used this for my foam pad – and multiple loops down the sides and on the front of the pack for attaching more cord.

I wasn’t sure I’d like this rather different design but by the end of the trip I was impressed. This is a good pack.


Sierra Designs High Route 3000 1 flysheet        675g          £300      ****  Recommended


Likes                            pitches with trekking poles, very roomy, makes a good tarp
Dislikes                        pitching requires a little practice
Material                        20D nylon ripstop silicone/PU, 3000mm HH
Poles                           n/a, 2 trekking poles needed
Pegs                            9 x 15cm Y

I recommended this tent complete with inner in a solo tents review last the year though I did feel the porches were too small. That’s solved by replacing the inner with just a groundsheet as I did on this trip. Used like this there’s ample room for gear storage and cooking under cover, though I didn’t need to do that as there was no rain and the wind died down. I still liked the extra room inside anyway, especially the headroom which extends across the tent rather than being at one point. I didn’t save much weight leaving the inner behind as my groundsheet weighed 240 grams. I do have lighter ones that I would take on longer trips.

The High Route is an unusual asymmetric shape and getting it pitched tautly does take a little practice. I fussed about repegging corners a few times until I was happy. Initially it was windy and the big end panels did move a fair bit, though not noisily. I don’t think it would have stood up to the much stronger winds above the forest very well. For reasonably sheltered sites I think the High Route outer plus a groundsheet works okay and is a better choice than the complete tent.

 Sleeping Bag


Robens Couloir 350                       825g            £255     ****1/2     Best Buy
Likes                          lightweight, centre zip, cost
Dislikes                      only one length
Fill                             350g 700fp RDS down
Shell                          Toray nylon Taffeta
Construction               box wall
Zip                             2-way full length YKK Auto lock centre
Length                       195cm
Rating                        comfort +2C, lower comfort -4C

The weather forecast suggested the temperature might dip to freezing overnight so I played safe and went for a warmer sleeping bag than I thought I’d need, the Robens Couloir 350, which I knew would keep me warm a few degrees below zero. In fact the lowest temperature was +8°C so I was at no risk of feeling cold and in fact slept with the bag half unzipped and draped over me more like a quilt. The double baffles behind the zip, the close-fitting hood, and the thick neck baffle were all unneeded though I’d have appreciated them if it had been colder.

The Couloir 350 is a favourite bag of mine as it has a centre rather than a side zip which makes it easy to sit up in and use my arms, which is useful when it’s chilly. The shell fabrics are soft and comfortable against the skin. As a three-season bag I can’t fault it.

Sleeping Mats


Cascade Designs Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus Small  450g    £125    ***** BEST BUY

Likes                       lightweight, compact, comfortable, warm, durable

Dislikes                   nothing
Type                        self-inflating
Materials                 polyester shell, diagonal-cut foam inner
Dimensions             119 x 51cms
Thickness                3.8cms
R-value                    3.2
Weight                    450 grams

Lomo Folding Camping Mat     410g                      £20         ****    Recommended

Likes                          tough, can’t deflate, low cost        

Dislikes                      bulky, not that comfortable
Materials                    closed Cell Cross-Linked Polyethylene (XPE) Foam
Dimensions                180 x 57cm        
Thickness                   2cm       
R-value                       2.0       

I’ve had the Prolite Plus self-inflating mat for over 12 years and it’s proved very durable, unlike several airbeds that have suffered punctures in the intervening period. The Prolite Plus is a bit bulkier and heavier than the lightest airbeds with equivalent R-ratings, which tell you roughly how well the mat should stop heat loss, but I’m happy with that given the durability. As I unfortunately know, a punctured airbed doesn’t stop any heat loss. For carriage I folded it in half and slid it down the back of the pack.

The Prolite Plus is a bit firmer and less ‘bouncy’ in feel than an airbed. I find it comfortable. The textured surface doesn’t slip around on the groundsheet.

Usually with the Prolite Plus Short I just take a short section of closed cell foam to put under my feet and also use as a sitmat. For this trip I decided to take the full-length Lomo Folding foam mat for the extra warmth and to sit on outside. As the night was warmer than expected and the forest floor was quite dry I would have been fine with just the Prolite Plus.


Inov-8 Roclite Pro G 400 Gore-Tex boot    830g   (size 9)      £210                      *****   Best Buy

Likes                  lightweight, durable, good grip
Dislikes              nothing
Uppers               Schoeller ceramic-coated fabric/ Gore-Tex
Sole                   Graphene-Grip
Sizes                  men 6-14, women 3-8.5

I’ve praised these light tough boots a few times before. I took them on this trip because I thought the ground would be sodden and I would get wet feet - it was, and I did – but the Gore-Tex lining would help keep my feet warm – it did. I also knew the tread gave good grip on rough ground. This was really tested on the steep rough slopes I went up and down in search of a campsite. The boots felt secure throughout.

Inov-8 says these boots are its “toughest to date”. After much usage over the last year and a half I agree. In fact I’m surprised at how little worn the boots are. The Schoeller ceramic-coated fabric uppers are stained but show little signs of wear. The graphene- containing tread is still in good condition too. I expect the boots to be fine for many more walks. The only feature I can’t vouch for is whether they are still waterproof. As I walked through ankle deep bogs and forded shin deep streams on this walk wet feet and sodden boots were guaranteed.

A new version of these boots, the V2, has just been launched. This has an updated heel lock system, a midsole upgrade for better cushioning, and a more durable upper. However the fit is narrower than the originals. I have a pair on test and can only wear them without the insoles.

Rab Down Hut Slipper     235g (L)        £45            **** Recommended


Likes                warmth, recycled materials
Dislikes            low ankle
Fill                   700fp recycled hydrophobic down
Sole                 non-slip PU with EVA padding
Shell                recycled Pertex Quantum outer, brushed fleece inner
Sizes               XS-XL

I think insulated slippers are a luxury item outside of deep winter trips. That said I welcomed this pair in camp as my boots and socks were sodden. As they have a thick padded sole with a roughened surface I could walk around in them outside and keep my feet dry and warm, something you can’t do in just socks. Being filed with top quality down these slippers are very warm. By the time I’d pitched the tent my feet were cooling down in my wet footwear. It was a joy to strip off the latter and stick my feet into these slippers and feel almost instant warmth.

The slippers have an elasticated entry made of soft fleece and a tough nylon lower edge for abrasion resistance. I loved wearing them. My only minor criticism is that a slightly higher ankle would be nice.



EDZ Merino Wool Plaid Flannel Shirt   365g (L)    £90 ****1/2      Best Buy

Likes               temperature range, comfort, wind-resistance
Dislikes           pockets could be bigger
Fabric:            merino wool
Pockets:         2 buttoned
Cuffs:              buttons
Sizes:             S-XL

This new wool shirt from EDZ was the big success of the trip. It reminded me of the wool shirts I started out wearing long ago before fleece came along. Those shirts were quite thick and the wool itched. This shirt is quite thin and doesn’t itch.

On this trip I thought it would make a good substitute for a lightweight fleece. It did and much more. It was my outer garment for the whole walk. In the strong winds it proved just wind-resistant enough due to the tight weave while down in the forest it wasn’t too warm. In fact, comfort over a wide temperature range was excellent, better than any synthetic fleece. In the wind I’d have needed a shell over a fleece, in the woods I’d probably have got a bit sticky.

The shirt is soft and comfortable. I like it very much. My only minor criticisms are that the pockets could be a bit larger so they’ll hold a smartphone securely and the buttonholes could be a bit bigger as they are a bit fiddly to use.

Smartwool Merino Sport Ultralite Short Sleeve     150g (L)  £55   *****     Best Buy

Likes            comfort, fast wicking
Dislikes        nothing
Fabric:          53% merino wool/47% Lyocell
Sizes:           S-XXL

As with the EDZ wool shirt this was the first time I’d worn this new t-shirt from Smartwool. The combination of the two garments worked really well and I stayed comfortable throughout the trip. If the weather had been warmer I’d have worn the t-shirt on its own but it was never that hot. The Ultralite t-shirt is light. It’s a mix of merino wool and Lyocell, which is made from wood cellulose and which is more eco-friendly than other cellulose products. The resulting fabric is very soft and comfortable. It wicks fast and dries quite quickly when damp, though it never got more than slightly so on this trip. Both merino wool and Lyocell are odour-resistant so I wasn’t surprised that after two days of fairly tough sweaty walking the t-shirt didn’t smell.

The design is simple. It’s just a t-shirt. It works well so there’s nothing to fault.

Insulated Jacket

Outdoor Research VerticalX SuperStrand LT Hoody    315G (L)         £220   ****  Recommended

Likes                 light, warm

Dislikes             non-adjustable hood
Fill                    85% recycled VerticalX SuperStrand polyester
Shell                 ripstop nylon
Front                 full-length zip         
Hood                 stretch rim
Cuffs                 stretch
Hem                  stretch
Pockets             zipped hand
Sizes                 men S-XXL, women XS-XL

Another new garment on its first outing this light insulated jacket didn’t actually get much of a test due to the warmer than expected weather though I was glad of it in camp in the late evening and early morning. It has a new 85% recycled synthetic insulation that mimics the shape of down clusters. It feels very soft and compressible, and the jacket is comfortable to wear. The insulation forms a lattice structure inside the jacket, so it keeps its shape.

The Superstrand LT Hoody has a windproof outer with distinctive discontinuous quilting that reduces the amount of stitching needed and is said to make it easier to compress the jacket. The design is fairly standard. There are handwarmer pockets that would be cut off by a hipbelt, though I never wore it with the pack on this trip, and a non-adjustable hood that probably wouldn’t stay on in a strong wind though again this wasn’t tested on this trip.

The weight is low and the comfort and warmth high. I’m looking forward to giving this jacket a more thorough test but in the meantime I’m happy to recommend it.

I have worn this jacket many times since this trip and it’s become a favourite due to the comfort and the warmth for the weight. The hood does blow back in strong winds though and could do with being adjustable.

Other clothing

The only other clothing I wore were a pair of Fjallraven Abisko trousers, Smartwool boxers, Falke TK1 socks, and an old Smartwool beanie (worn only in camp). I carried waterproof jacket and trousers, gaiters, windproof cap, thin gloves, thick gloves and waterproof overmitts that never left the pack.


Garmin InReach Mini 2  Satellite Communicator  100g   £349.99 (+ subscription)   ****1/2   Best Buy


Likes                lightweight, small, pairs with smartphone
Dislikes            tiny keyboard, expensive
Dimensions       5.17 x 9.9 x 2.61 cm
Display size      23 x 23mm
Battery             rechargeable lithium-ion
Battery life        depending on tracking time and tree cover 2-30 days

For many years I’ve carried a one-way satellite communicator so I could send OK messages home and which I could use in an emergency. It’s a reassurance. It doesn’t have a screen and can’t receive messages. I’ve thought of replacing it with a more modern one for a while. When I was sent the InReach Mini 2 to test I knew what I’d replace it with. The InReach is smaller, lighter and does far more. It can send and receive texts and emails, record and send your track, and be used for navigation – there is a compass. Now the screen is tiny and the virtual keyboard minute so using it is quite difficult if you have big fingers like me. If just using the InReach I’d only send the preset messages, which would be a waste of its capabilities. However if you have a smartphone you can download the Garmin Explore app and use your phone instead. This works well. I used the InReach with the Motorola Defy phone and the combination was excellent.

This is a sophisticated piece of high-tech equipment. My full review is on the TGO website. It is expensive and a subscription is needed. There are monthly and annual plans. But it you want to stay in touch with friends and family so they know you’re okay and to let them know how you’re getting on it’s a good device.

Other Equipment

For cooking I had the Jetboil Stash plus a part used gas canister and water bottles. My Pacerpoles were essential for holding up the tent and for keeping me upright on some of the rough terrain in the wind. For navigation I had map and compass though in fact I only used the OS app on the smartphone. 


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