Thursday 10 February 2022

On The Edge Of Torridon: A Trip Report With Gear Reviews


Last year I began an occasional series of trip reports with the emphasis on the gear used for The Great Outdoors (there’ll be more this year). This is the first one, a spring trip in April.  Edited slightly.

For this first backpacking trip in over three months (due to the lockdown) I decided it was wise not to be too ambitious. I knew I'd lost some fitness and wasn't sure how my body would react to carrying a big pack. There was snow on the hills too, soft deep snow. Wanting to break myself back in with an easy trip I decided on a short walk, a low-level camp, and an ascent of some lower hills. I picked two Grahams - hills between 2000 and 2500 feet (610 and 762 metres) - that I hadn't been up before. Carn Breac and Beinn na Feusaige lie on the edge of the Torridon hills and reputedly had great views whilst not themselves being at all distinctive. On the map the walking looked easy on wide slopes with no obstacles though no paths were marked beyond the first few kilometres into Coire Crubaidh.

The corrie floor was boggy, but I found a dryish patch just above the stream for my camp. The only noise was the water racing over the stones. The evening was chilly with clouds soon covering the sky. The morning came with a hard frost. There was a touch of sun then the clouds rolled back in. I breakfasted from my sleeping bag, delighted to be here.

Leaving the tent I set off up the glen and climbed to the long broad ridge of Carn Breac. The going was tough on boggy tussocks and as I gained height more and more snow patches appeared, far more than I'd expected. Hills of similar height back home in the Cairngorms were mostly snow free. High up the snow patches were soft and deep and often unavoidable. Not that the bogs between them made for much easier walking. I weaved about trying to find the easiest line between soft snow and squelchy ground. The views however were, as promised, superb, especially those of Liathach and Beinn Eighe, white and alpine.

Peat hags made the going even worse as I approached the second summit. At one point a snow patch collapsed under me and suddenly I was over my knees in freezing water. I levered myself out awkwardly then stomped uphill trying to warm my feet. A herd of deer watched me and then wandered off, probably thinking that such a clumsy, lumbering thing couldn't be a threat. I love seeing deer, but I was well aware that these hills shouldn't be as bare as they are and that over-grazing was the reason for that.

A very steep descent down heather thick slopes brought me back to the corrie floor. At times I was clinging to heather roots. The walk was much tougher than I expected. Back at the tent I slumped down with relief and revived myself with hot chocolate and minestrone soup. I was asleep early. Another frosty starry night ensued but the next morning I was woken by the sun shining on my face from a cloudless sky. I lingered outside over a breakfast of muesli and coffee, just listening to the stream rippling and watching the hills glowing, before packing up and heading back down to the car.


Planning the route on the map was easy. Planning gear required some thought. The weather forecast was for calm dry weather with some sunshine. As this was a spring trip that probably meant sub-zero temperatures at night, so a warm sleeping system was advisable. As there was still some snow on the hills and the ground would be wet from snowmelt, I might need ice axe and crampons and boots would probably be more comfortable than shoes. Playing safe I went for similar gear to that I’d have taken in midwinter, other than lighter boots and, given the forecast, a lighter tent.

As always some of the items were well-proven, some were first-time test gear, and some were long-term test gear. This meant the pack was a little heavier than it could have been but at 14kg with three days food quite manageable. I was only going to carry the full load for a few hours to camp anyway, leaving the camping gear behind for the day on the hill.

Would I have changed anything? I’d have taken a lighter pack if I hadn’t needed to test this one. I should have taken waterproof socks so I could wear them in wet boots round camp. I didn’t need the ice axe or crampons, but I almost did and wouldn’t leave them behind with snow on the hills. I didn’t need my warm hat or several pairs of gloves either but again at this time of year I wouldn’t go without them. My waterproofs never came out of the pack but of course I’d never leave them behind.




Osprey Aether 65 Pack    2.4kg     £220       ****

Likes                  comfortable, adjustable hipbelt
Dislikes              heavy

Capacity            65 litres
Materials           420D High Tenacity Bluesign Nylon
Closure              lid with buckles, zipped front panel
Back System     adjustable, frame, injection moulded HDPE backpanel
Back Length       61cms (S/M)
Compartments    2
Pockets             2 external lid, 1 front, 2 side mesh, 2 hipbelt
Sizes                 S/M, L/XL

 As I was taking winter gear I needed a sizable pack, so this was a good opportunity to try the latest version of Osprey’s well-established Aether 65 pack. I found it very comfortable to carry and I loved the easy access to the contents provided by the panel and top lid openings, lower compartment, and seven pockets. It handled 14kg well and should be comfortable with much more. Stability was good on rough ground. On the day on the summits I used it as a daypack and the side and bottom compression straps meant I could reduce its volume so the contents didn’t move around. The back system is adjustable and there are two sizes. The smaller one fits me well. The padded sections of the hipbelt are adjustable too, which I really like. The fabric feels tough, and the pack should last well. There is just one drawback. The weight. This is a heavy pack. Now if you’ll be carrying 20kg+ loads regularly I think 2.4kg for the pack is acceptable but for loads below 20kg there are lighter weight packs, some much lighter, that are just as comfortable.


Sea to Summit Alto TR2 Plus 1.405kg £450 ****1/2 Best Buy

Likes                       roomy, good headroom, two porches, multi-pitch options
Dislikes                   floor hydrostatic head on low side

Pitching                   multi option
Flysheet                  15D sil/PU nylon ripstop, 1200mm hydrostatic head
Inner                       20D nylon
Groundsheet            20D sil/PU nylon ripstop, 2500mm hydrostatic head
Poles                      DAC Featherlite
Pegs                       8 x 15cm V
Porches                  2
Inner Dimensions     215 x 134/97cm, peak 105cm

In a two-person tents review in The Great Outdoors I gave the Alto TR2 Plus Best Buy. Using it since then I’ve come to appreciate it even more. Although designed for two it’s light enough for one and I really enjoyed the space. Headroom is excellent and the porches are big. I put my pack and boots in one porch and cooked in the other. On this trip there was no rain or wind so I left the inner and outer doors open at night, revelling in the views of the stars whenever I woke. As the nights were frosty condensation did form on the flysheet despite the doors being open. This didn’t drip through the inner though and the space meant I didn’t accidentally push against the damp material. The hydrostatic head of the groundsheet is quite low but although I was pitched on damp ground no moisture came through. On a long trip I’d use a footprint though.

Sleeping Bag.

Big Agnes Sidewinder SL 20 1.05kg (R) ****1/2 £300 Recommended

Likes                   lightweight, centre zip
Dislikes               zip snags

Fill                      650 fill power water repellent down, FireLine ECO recycled polyester
Shell                   nylon ripstop outer, polyester taffeta inner
Construction        box wall
Zip                      centre, full-length
Sizes                  regular, long
Rating comfort     -1C, lower comfort -7C

Most sleeping bags are designed on the assumption that you sleep on your back. I don’t. Ever. I sleep on my front and sometimes on my side, so I was very interested to try the Sidewinder SL 20 as it’s designed for side sleepers and meant to roll with you from one side to the other. It does too. I found it very comfortable and although close-fitting it felt a little less restrictive than some mummy bags. It has a centre zip, which I prefer as it makes it easier to sit up in the bag and use it as an item of clothing. I was expecting temperatures a little below zero, so the rating of the bag seemed just right. The first night the overnight low was -1.8C, the second night -0.8C and I was very warm on both.

As well as an unusual shape the Sidewinder has an unusual fill. The main one is water-resistant down, but layers of a high loft synthetic are added in the foot and at the hips to alleviate common pressure points for side sleepers. The down doesn’t have a high fill power and the bag is a little heavier than ones with higher fill power down but it’s still quite light.

Sleeping Mats.

Sea to Summit Ultralight Regular    392g            £92.50          ****1/2       Best Buy

Likes                comfort, light weight
Dislikes            quite expensive 

Type                 airbed
Materials          40D TPU laminated nylon
Dimensions      183 x 55cm
Thickness         5cm
Rating              R-Value 0.7

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

Likes                tough, can’t deflate, low cost
Dislikes            bulky, not that comfortable 

Type                 closed cell foam
Materials          silver coated egg box style closed cell foam
Dimensions      180 x 57cm
Thickness         2cm
Rating              n/a

I took two sleeping mats, one for comfort and one for warmth. The combination worked really well. The Sea to Summit Ultralight was very comfortable but definitely not warm enough on its own. With it directly on the groundsheet I could feel the cold coming through. Once on the Lomo mat it felt perfectly warm. I also used the Lomo mat folded up as a seat. In terms of carrying the Ultralight packs away into a small bundle. The Lomo mat is very bulky however, so I strapped it on the outside of the lower compartment of the pack. Here it had one advantage. It meant the pack would stand up on its own.


Jetboil Stash       200 grams £140   ****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

This little stove and pot combination is fast becoming a favourite. It’s ideal for one person, boils water fast, and doesn’t weigh much.  The pot works well as a bowl as it’s not tall and narrow and has a secure insulated handle. The burner isn’t designed for simmering as it’s not regulated but I managed to turn the flame down enough to cook a pasta meal for ten minutes without it sticking – I did stir it a fair bit. As I’ve found the stove isn’t very wind resistant I brought a foil windscreen. However, I never used this as the only breezes were light. The stove worked well on the frosty mornings after being left in the tent porch. I didn’t notice any diminution of boiling times. The stove doesn’t have an igniter, so I lit it with a Fire Steel. I used the canister stabiliser supplied with the stove but will probably leave this at home in future as the stove is quite stable without it.



GSI Coffee Rocket          75g    £13                  ****1/2         Recommended

Likes                   light, easy to use
Dislikes               small capacity

An unforeseen result of the pandemic lockdowns has been a change in my coffee drinking habits. Previously I had satisfied my liking for decent coffee a few times a week in local coffee shops. At home and in the hills I drank instant coffee – good quality instant but still not comparable with the real thing. Missing my proper coffee I started making it at home and having acquired a few little coffee makers I decided to take one on this trip. The GSI Coffee Rocket consists of a nylon drip cone with a stainless-steel filter and a clear polypropylene funnel. The drip cone has fold-out notched legs and fits on most mugs. I used it with an old double-wall stainless steel MSR mug – taken because I wanted my coffee to stay hot on frosty mornings but a bit heavy at 172 grams. The Coffee Rocket itself only weighs 75 grams. I’ll take a lighter mug next time.

The drip cone holds 10 grams of ground coffee and the funnel 230ml of water. I’d rather it was bigger, so I didn’t have to make two mugs in the morning, but it does produce good coffee and is easy to use and easy to clean. I’ll be taking it on more trips.

Clothing & Footwear


Roclite Pro G 400 Gore-Tex boot        830g (size 9)    £200      *****      Best Buy

Likes                    lightweight, durable, good grip
Dislikes                nothing 

Uppers                 Schoeller ceramic-coated fabric/Gore-Tex inner
Sole                     Graphene-Grip

 Since I started wearing these boots in the autumn of 2020 they’ve become a favourite. They’re very light, they fit me perfectly and they are very comfortable. The grip is excellent, as it needed to be on this trip where it had to hold on sodden boggy ground, soft snow, and wet rocks. The cushioning is good too and the sole just stiff enough for kicking steps in soft snow. After they got soaked when I went through the snow into a pool they quickly warmed up and stayed comfortable, undoubtably helped by the Gore-Tex inner and the midweight merino wool socks I was wearing. The next morning they were still sodden and a little crisp from the frost. Putting them and the wet socks on was unpleasant but they soon warmed up and were fine for the walk out. When the weather warms up I expect I’d find them a little hot. But then I’ll be wearing trail shoes or sandals anyway.

With a Schoeller ceramic-coated upper and a sole containing graphene the Roclite Pro G boots are designed to be tough and durable. So far, they show no signs of wear. I’ll be wearing them much more to see just how long they last.


Alpkit Woodsmoke Mountain           380 grams (L)             £70   ****   Recommended

Likes                   warmth, stud fastenings, cost
Dislikes               pockets could be bigger 

Fabric                  95% Thermo-Tech polyester/5% spandex
Front closur         studs
Pockets               2 stud-fastened chest
Cuffs                   studs
Sizes                   men S-XXL, women 8-16

I wore this shirt, another item that has become a favourite, throughout the trip as my mid layer, with a thin merino mix base layer under it. It’s quite warm and only in camp and at rest stops did I wear an insulated jacket over it. If there’d been much of a wind I would have needed a layer over it though as it’s not very wind resistant. Made from a brushed synthetic fabric the Woodsmoke is soft and comfortable, wicks moisture away and feels good in a wide range of temperatures. The fabric stretches slightly so it moves with you and has a polygiene odour control treatment so it doesn’t stink. Having studs down the front rather than a zip makes ventilating it easy without having to have it wide open. The two chest pockets are useful but could be bigger – my smartphone won’t fit in.

Other clothes

I wore Fjallraven Abisko Lite trousers throughout the trip, and they were just right in terms of warmth. I also took a Fjallraven Abisko Lite Trekking Jacket which I wore briefly during the walk-in to camp the first day when I cold breeze sprang up for a short while. In camp and when I stopped on top of Beinn Breac I wore a Patagonia Micro Puff, one of my favourite insulated jackets. My unused waterproofs were a Black Diamond Highline jacket and Berghaus Paclite trousers.

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