Kit notes.

13 05 2017

The ride from Blair Atholl to Montrose was the first bikepack I have done without a ruck sack. I usually would take a wingnut of some size. This time, I rode with just a hip pack.

There were several considerations in order to achieve this: one, I had less water carrying capacity and two, I had less room for kit on my person.

It was absolutely fantastic to not have a pack on my back. Even the smallest wingnuts give you that sweaty back, encumbered feeling. My normal set up is Sweetroll, small or medium, either a Gas Tank, or some Feedbags and a saddle bag – sizes varying with how much I need to bring. Lastly, I have a wingnut.

The trade off to lose the back pack was use of my old Revelate Designs ‘Tangle’ partial frame bag. My worry here was river crossings, as I tend to grab under the seat tube end of the top tube to portage. In the end, I had no deep crossings, so it was a none issue. I brought a thin climbing sling that I planned to loop around the bottom bracket tube and act as a handle.

On disembarking the train, I tried to arrange my kit for the initial ride. I had a couple of cans of Dale’s Pale ale and I chose to just stuff these in either end of my (small) Sweetroll. The effect on the steering was immediately noticeable. Normally, I stuff my sleeping bag in the Sweetroll and perhaps my sleeping wools. The added weight of the beer was detrimental to steering. This is not a revelation – various sites advise minimising the weight and indeed width of a bar roll as much as possible. In order to do so, you need space elsewhere. My cuben Ermine seat pack is not huge, I have a Viscahca that is bigger, but I tend to use the smaller pack if I can.

In the framebag, I carried my tent poles, cooking kit, food, an inner tube and the seat pack took a puff jacket, shelter and inner tube.

The front pocket had tent pegs, the sling, my Steripen, hip flask and a dyneema guy rope. Also stuffed in there was a Voile strap and my mini Petzl headtorch. Oh and on this trip, I brought a wee lock – soon to be replaced with an Ottolock, when it arrives.

I carry large cuben stuff sacks, used to stow my lid and pack and maybe even shoes if it is inclement overnight.

I use Z packs carbon tent poles and this trip allowed me to try the new, 80cm pole for the front of the MLD cricket. Previously, I have used my handlebars, sticks or tied it to a tree. The shelter requires this to tension the ‘tarp’ outer. The inner midge net hangs from the outer and is given shape by pegs.

I had made a pole jack as I felt that the long 132cm Z packs centre pole could do with being a wee bit longer. In this case I made the pole 2.5cm longer with the jack and it was great. The question is if I now order an MLD custom pole the correct length: they can be made multi section in order to fold very short.

I also rode with a Wolftooth, reverse dish oval ring. It feels a little like you are hurrying through your pedal stroke but I liked it a lot. It did not remind me of when I used biopace rings way back in the day, interestingly enough. Overall, a keeper.

The most enlightening thing, after I had repacked in the am, was how much better the bike felt with less weight in the roll and saddle pack. Generally, over the last few years, I have avoided using a frame pack because I can get everything I need into a roll and seat bag, meaning I dont have to carry the extra weight of a third, big bag. But – the weight distribution in using the thrid bag made it entirely worth it! As a result, I have sold some old bags and invested in a newer Tangle Pika and a full Ranger frame bag to move towards this new packing method.

The Gas Tank had food, and I used various Backcountry Research straps to attach tubes and whatnot to the bike. I also use their Tülbag for tools. These things absolutely rock – if you are thinking about getting some, I would thoroughly recommend pulling the trigger. Cylorise int he Uk stocks them.

Ok, I think that covers things. Any questions, fire away.





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.





Everyday carry.

11 05 2015

Sorta.

Everyday carry is, I guess, a meme. It is an interesting concept. I got to thinking about it while I was preparing to head off for a short bikepack the other day. What is the essential everyday carry ? how does this sit beside what would provide a slightly more comfortable existence on a short bicycle tour? everyday-plus, if you will?

So, I decided to have a closer look at what I carried on a ‘heavy’ trip and perhaps dwell on the contents a little. Heavy is in inverted commas because I wouldn’t necessarily class the contents of my bags as heavy per se. But I most certainly brought some non-essential items (depending on your point of view. of course!).

So, here we go.

Let’s see, starting at the front, a Revelate small front pocket for a Sweet Roll. Inside, essentials I might need to grab at short notice or, perhaps, when it is getting dark.

Opinel, ti tent pegs (2 sorts for different ground conditions), Sinewave Revolution – an amazing gadget covering all my charging needs from the Son front hub, Steripen freedom, notebook, Snow peak ti spork, a dyneema cord with cord lock, fire steel and spare lithium batteries for the Etrex. Not pictured, a few notes and a bank card and my keys.

Under this, of course, is my Sweetroll (not pictured). In this, I have my tent (a Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket), a Patagonia nano puff, and a spare inner tube (varied with which bike I am riding – in this case a Bonty 2.5-2.8 26″) and a Z-packs UL carbon fibre tent pole (that folds down into a short 40.5cm packed size). Often, CF poles can be flimsy and if broken can pierce tents. In this case, the joins are reinforced with tyvek tape. It’s been solid.

Behind the bars, I use 2 Revelate feedbags.

In the right one, I carry food. Mike n’ Ikes, cheese, pork pies, clif bars, granola squares etc, whatever I pick up along the way.

In the left, I carry my cooking kit and some sundries in the outer pockets, in this case my toothbrush, paste and chamois cream.

The cooking kit consists of a ti mug from MSR and an MSR gas canister (for the MSR Pocketrocket I keep in the Wingnut lumbar pack). I use an MSR Mugmate for coffee – works extremely well. I also store TP and a few sheets of kitchen roll in bags to a) stop rattling and b) use.

Next, is the Gas Tank – again, food.

Lower down, on my 44 bikes fork, I have 2 water bottle cages.

The Steripen needs a hard water bottle for use, I tend to take at least 2 and in the other cage I use a Specialized Keg. This doesn’t contain beer, but it is a useful little ‘hard’ storage for (in this case) my Niterider head light, extender cable, some wipes (one thing that is distressing is the number of wipes I see discarded by the trails. They don’t biodegrade fast at all and this is making a huge mess in some well travelled areas) and cotton wool/vaseline for fires, if needed.

Next and also unpictured, is my Viscacha seat bag. In here, my sleeping bag (PHD), Thermarest Neoair, wool longs and a R1 fleece with hood.

Lastly, I have my Wingnut.

In this, I carry a 2 litre camelbak bladder, which I try to use minimally – basically to lessen weight on my back. I also carry my MSR Pocketrocket, Gerber essential utility knife, Lezyne mini pump, another tube, coffee, Patagonia Houdini, Niterider battery, camera stand, some whisky (in this case A’bunadh) and a midge head net. I usually take a freeze dried meal of some sort. The little, old Timbuk 2 bag is my tool kit.

In this, levers, folding chain tool and quick links, 7075 Paragon hanger, Stahlwille 12 point drive socket and driver for the ti bolts on the Paragon sliders, Genuine Innovations CO2 head and cartridge and also a tubeless repair ‘worm’ kit. In the ziploc bag I carry assorted bolts and a home made tyre-boot set – with sticky stuff and sail cloth and also quick patches. I also carry a small bottle of Squirt chain lube. Some of this is extraneous, but I tend to leave it as-is so I can grab and go no matter which bike I am riding.

Various items are stored in some MLD cuben bags.

For the real nerds, the weights (bag + contents, food items to use for 2-3 days included, water not included):

Viscacha – 2kg
Sweetroll – 1.55kg
Cooking Feedbag – 0.5kg
Gas Tank – 0.35kg
Food Feedbag – 0.6kg
Front Pocket – 0.85kg
Wingnut – 3.5kg

Total weight – 9.35kg.

It seems heavy, when toted up like this, but a lot can be pared away if I am prepared to have fewer creature comforts. The bike rides extremely well with this set up.





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.