Über light shelter?

6 04 2016

In a previous post, I explored the (then) current state of play with SUL and UL shelters. Needless to say, things have moved on.

I purchased and have had great success using a Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket. The purpose of this is essentially a small, light shelter, that can be easily stowed as part of a light weight and un-encumbering, bikepacking set up. In Scotland, the midge are a concern for three seasons. To be able to sit up, behind a midge net, is a very useful thing indeed. To do this with a wafer of sil-ny that weighs less than my old Rab bivi is wonderful.

Easy to pitch (using one Z packs carbon pole, some ti pegs – varied depending on the terrain from traditional round to ‘v’ style – and a wheel or the handlebars of my bike as the second pole, or even a stick) it offers plenty of shelter from the weather and the vestibule is roomy enough to cook in. This is highly recommended.

Sometimes, however, you want to go even lighter and when you stop pedaling, you are going straight to sleep – more or less – and in this instance, a bivi sack makes much more sense.

I have used my old Rab bivi for a number of years, but the Fastest Known Time kit arriving from Mountain Laurel Designs got my brain’s gears whirling. The bivi is made from cuben for the ‘bucket’ base, with a new fabric – cuben eVent – for the top. This is lighter and as breathable as the eVent which has been very successful for the Rab I have, but the weight reduction is astonishing. If you are interested, some information is here (although this refers to a slightly older fabric mix), here and here (more up to date).

I opted for the large bivi sack, basically because I could. The weight means that the extra girth is a tiny price to pay for more wiggle room (I am a non-static sleeper!).

In addition, I decided to alter my overnight stowage. One thing you quickly learn about when picking a site to bivi is humidity management. Don’t aim for ‘cold air sumps’, and consider the breeze and ground conditions. Even though the eVent is amazing at allowing fluid to shift from inside the bivi to outside, if you also introduce wet shoes from river crossings and sweaty clothes into your bivi bag, the system is going to be overwhelmed. That being said, leaving stuff lying unprotected outside overnight is not a great option: there is nothing quite as miserable as donning cold, wet shoes and lid in the morning.

My plan is to keep any bags worn on my body, my helmet, gloves and shoes in separate cuben bags *outside* my bivi sack. They won’t stay as warm, but they won’t leave me soggy overnight.

At 250g, this bivi bag is giving me ideas. I suspect I will be able to get ALL my über light overnight kit into just a bar roll, frame pack or rucksack. This lack of bulk opens up S24O options that include the roughest and most technical terrain imaginable. It is exciting to start making plans for summer.

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UL/SUL shelters.

2 07 2014

As ever, I’ve been thinking about stuff. I have been using my trusty Rab bivi bag for a good number of years. It is made from eVent fabric and breathes well, whilst dealing with abrasion and rough ground superbly. It is a long bivi -with enough room to stow a bag and helmet at the bottom, without leaving the sleeper feeling cramped. The midge netting is essential in Scotland: leave the bag open in dry weather, perhaps with a guy line to a tree, or close it down if inclement.

But you cannot sit in it to read, cook or pass the time of day. Once you stop moving, if it is raining (likley) or if there are midge (ineviatble) you are obliged to bed down for the night. Great if you have eaten and are planning to move far and fast but not so great if you want to chill out and enjoy a glorious sunset and perhaps a wee dram. Until recently, ultralight shelters were either too fragile, too expensive (cotage industry cuben fiber one offs with dodgy stitching and stratospheric prices) or too heavy. My bivi sack weighs in the mid 800g range and after deciding that more often than not an overnighter for me includes a sit, ponder and sip scenario, I re-visited the UL/SUL shelter market.

Once you have decided on the basics: size, shape, material, free-standing or not, poles or hiking-pole use, mid or tunnel, tarp with bug net or one-piece, boom! there are now lots of good options.

The first I looked at seriously was the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, conveniently available from Backpackinglight.co.uk. Very light, one piece for easy pitching, available with a carbon fiber pole as an alternative to the almost universal use of a hiking pole as centre upright in these ‘mid-type shelters and it has been revised recently to increase depth of bucket floor to the ‘roof’ giving more sleepign space and less likely hood of drips. For some reason, I could not make the leap to purchase this tent. I have no idea why, I think it is superb.

Inevitably, I started looking at even lighter shelters of a similar design. Perhaps the one I spent the most time pondering was the Z packs Hexamid. This super-ultralight shelter is made from cuben, seems very simple to pitch and has über-high geek factor. However, in Scotland I suspect the ‘bill’ isn’t quite big enough to protect from rough weather. A shame, I’d love to have this shelter for fine weather use. It should also be noted that even with pegs and pole it is substantially lighter than my bivi bag – astonishing!

Another shelter that ticked all the boxes is the Henry Shire’s Tarp Tent Contrail. This is another neat design. Again, I cannot fully explain why I did not go for this one. I had decided that silny had a better cost to weight ratio for me than cuben and in some cases the stretch of the silny was desirable (see Chris Townsend for a far more useful description than I could offer as to why).

The shelter I kept coming back to, time after time, was the trailstar range from Mountain Laurel Designs. The particular version that seemed to suit my needs was the cricket (alternatively known as the Solo Trailsatr). A review from Tramplite was highly informative and persuasive. I emailed Ron Bell, the approachable and helpful alpha cheese at MLD, with regards several details – primarily the use of a non-hiking pole and the pros and cons of single or double pole pitching (I am intending to use my bike as the second ‘pole’ if required) and along with a carbon fiber pole from Z packs of the correct height that folds to a mere 12″ I finally made my choice. Again, all in, lighter than my bivi bag. The only down side is it needs pitching rather than simply unrolling. The benefit, I can sit up and eat behind the midge netting.

Once I have the shelter and have used it I will report back.

The pictures used in this post are taken from the manufacturers websites and are owned by them. I reproduce them with the hope that some readers will be interested in their products.





To return, so soon?

12 07 2013

Last week end, as Sunday evening began, I took to the road again and made my way to Bridge of Tilt. Extricating my gear and body from the car as the sun’s light waned, I cinched straps, adjusted my shoes and headed north towards the Gaick Pass. I was pretty bushed and had no idea how far I would get, not least because the sun was relaxing towards the horizon and I only had an LED head torch with me. The aim was to push through the Gaick as far as possible, bivi, and re-supply (namely with water) in Aviemore in the morning. If it was looking like I had enough time, I would head over Macdui, drop to Linn of Dee and then come back along Glen Tilt – basically another stab at the route I had tried to do some weeks ago, but punctuated by a sleep stop.

By 11.45pm I came to the end of Loch an Duin singletrack, which had been a wee bit challenging in the low sun and with a loaded bike. I climbed up onto the end of the estate track from the Louis Vuitton lodge, realising that this was the highest point that was both flat and open to the passage of the wind for miles. I was pooped and as the wind is your friend when there are midge to be downed, I unrolled the sleeping gear, popped open a beer and watched the hills in the gloaming. I’m not sure if Scotland ever gets truly dark at this time of year when you are as far north as I was, but the night was warm, and it took me no time to fall asleep.

At 3am I was awoken by some grouse squawking, perhaps there was a fox around or something, and it took a wee while to go back to sleep. I woke again, soon after, cold, but the vapour barrier sleeping bag liner I had brought to experiment with seemed like overkill, so i just cinched the shoulders of the sleeping bag in, and zipped up the bivi fully. Maybe I should have just got up and started moving because I ended up sleeping in until 7.30am. In addition, I had forgotten my coffee filter. The combination of my slow thought – working out if my midge net would work to filter the grounds in boiling water or melt in the process – and the arrival of the day’s contingent of midge, as well as the distance I needed to cover, got me on the bike within a few minutes.

Curiously, I was 45 minutes slower to Aviemore in total ride time than I had been on the Maul a few weeks ago, reinforcing the impression that I had been shifting it a bit that day, Along with the late start, I did some sums, coming to the conclusion that anything other than returning via Feshie was going to get me home later than required. Somewhat ruefully, I stared up at the inviting summits, nomnommed a bacon roll and headed back to Insh to take a different approach into Feshie. It was clear that the weeks dry weather would be kind to me as I covered the notoriously boggy ground of the Feshie/Geldie watershed area with relative ease on the fat Knards. Unfortunately, I must have represented the highest concentration of blood meal for miles around because there was an unprecedented amount of clegs paying me far too much attention. I nearly broke myself in the 30c heat pushing super hard across the moor land, all the while desperately slapping at the inch long, incisor wielding, nasty bastards as they went for any exposed, and even unexposed, flesh in their quest for blood. In the end, I got 2 bites, but killed 5. I think that was a reasonable score.

As I made my way across the Abhainn Rath, this time with shoes on, a fighter jet passed very low overhead, swooped lower and then west as it turned into Tilt. Amazing!

Soon enough, I was making my way into the glen myself when another came over, totally unannounced until it was directly overhead, so close I could see the pilot in detail, which I don’t mind admitting caused just a wee bit of jittering.

Although there was a headwind again down Tilt, I made good time, closing the loop in pretty much exactly the same amount of (riding) time as I had done the other week. Interesting in some ways, because on the boggy sections in Feshie, I could ride on the Krampus, just, and it was also generally drier than previously, so I made up for being slower in nearly every other section.

It took 2 hours 40 minutes to get to the Abhainn Rath from Aviemore, with the detour at Insh, and I was back to the car 1 hour 40 minutes or so after that. Useful, for future reference. A good day, but unfinished business…