After a two month backpack in 2013 I thought 2014 would be a quieter year 'trip wise' and in terms of what new clothing and equipment I would use, a year of lesser accumulation. No lengthy trans-national hikes this year but a lot of satisfying time in the wilds nonetheless. A couple of outings have proved challenging certainly, again the far north is my focus when time and money permits. Other trips have been closer to home and proved that I don't need to venture far even to enjoy time outdoors. After all it's about exercise in the fresh air and a quiet repose thereafter (ie tea, food, whisky and bed somewhere nice!).
Stuff facilitates that, clothing and equipment specifically. I'm surprised by the end of 2014 as to how much stuff I've acquired and run through! There's been some change in one or two key pieces and I'm embarrassed to say I've squirreled away quite a bit over the course of the calendar year. In my defence I've recycled a lot of value through selling unwanted and unused gear on ebay. I'm always pleasantly surprised how much I've got for various pieces and in effect it's allowed me to upgrade kit. Some useful second hand purchases as well.
Accordingly, a quick run through the year and my thoughts on what's got me out there, what's worked and what hasn't. I'll add now that anything from Paramo or Pacerpole I've been given, the rest I've paid for myself.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the year was with the MLD Trailstar. I ended up damaging two (both incidences in some nasty Highland weather, worked fine in the gentler Lakes). My first trip in March (here) was enjoyable despite severe damage to the shelter after gusts in Glen Lyon. That saw a rapid change in plan and a cross country route hastily adopted instead of more Munros. Up the West Highland line to Corrour an easterly route and search for sheltered pitches got me to Glen Feshie nonetheless but had my question as to whether a Trailstar was the right shelter for me. Having spent over 70 nights in my Scarp the previous year I missed it's nailed down certainty. A tent is also an all in one package. I accessorized the Trailstar over the year with a Bearpawwd 'Pyra Net' inner, an 'Oooktub' and and 'As Tucas' door. Limping back from Scotland in March with a damaged shelter was a little depressing
Back home I contacted Mountain Laurel Design who sent me a replacement shelter no quibble after I mailed Ron my tale of woe. I can't fault that level of service and remain impressed.
Still focused on backpacking early spring saw me acquire a 'Nemo Zor Regular' sleeping mat on ebay for a bargain £40. I am still impressed by it and it's by far my favourite mat in terms of weight and comfort. That said I decided to do something with the bust Neo Air that had sat in my cupboard for over 12 months. I sent it back to Thermarest and was delighted to receive a new one a week later with no further ado. I guess their assertion of a lifetime warranty really means that!
Another 'discipline' runs parallel to walking and gets me outdoors most days of the week. I've been a fairly committed runner for several years now. Moving to Sussex had me switch to trail running and, equally, I flipped from road marathons to off road 'ultras'. I think I peaked running wise a couple of years ago with some strong events performances at the Fellsman and a good Lakeland 100 completion. I'll run 'till I'm in a box, it's simply joyful. Equally your body is the most important piece of outdoor kit and it needs frequent use to keep it maintained.
A decent winter's training had me move into April with the 'Fellsman' coming at me hard. When the rain stopped falling hard in early March spring came to southern England fairly early. As a 'Fellsman' warm up I got out on the downs and ushered in my birthday. An overnight '50 miler' is more fun than it sounds (see here) and I knock off half of a national trail on an overnighter.
Kit wise it confirmed how good my current favourite headtorch is the Petzl RXP. I blogged in 2013 as to my initial impressions (here). It really demonstrated how good it is as a trail running torch in about ten straight hours of darkness on the South Downs, it reacts well along the trail and keeps good flow. I love it and was very impressed with its battery life too.
Consequently, when that 'big big big day' in the hills came about I was sure as to the choice of head torch. To Yorkshire for the Fellsman at the end of April. There is nothing like it, you're up and down Ingleborough and Whernside and you've barely started with 58 miles to go and a hell of a lot of hard moorland to navigate across. See here for a little more.
The weather that Fellsman was pretty decent, quite the contrast to 2012 which saw Mountain Rescue pulling people off the hills (though me and my crew finished it that year, that event was the closest I've come to hyperthermic!). A grand 17 hours in the Dales with 62 hard miles done and I returned south happy.
Within a few days I was back out in the high and lonely places. This time a five day backpack from Ballater to Aviemore which had me collecting Mt Keen and then Lochnagar (and surrounding hills) before the traditional walk to the Cairngorm Hotel and the Royal Tandoori via the Cairngorm plateau.
That was a grand few days with some very pleasant weather. More here. It also saw me settle on my walking kit for the rest of the year. Paramo gave me the Bora fleece and wind shirt in 2013 (see here), I've worn nothing else save one trip in 2014. It's worked a treat, even in heavy rain. The fleece is comfortable and warm (though not overly so) and combined with the wind shirt keeps all but the very worst of the weather off. It's only really got damp once, in Jamtland in August, after a solid day of rain. Paramo gave me it to test and I was very positive in my report to them at the end of the year. They have more variations of in the pipeline so I hope I can get a go with any new incarnations of what is an effective and livable system.
I'll add to the Paramo gave me three pairs of boxers to wear (Paramo Cambia Boxer here) and I've found them incredibly comfortable and durable. A new base layer from them too with the Cambia Sport Long (here). I found that too to perform well and wore it for three weeks (washed once) in Svalbard/Scandinavia over the summer.
The only thing from Paramo that hasn't worked were a pair of Maui trousers. See below for details!
Lochnagar had me use again the Pacerpole 'Overmitts' which Heather kindly sent me (see here). I like these, effectively a very weatherpoof mitt that can be folded over and tied around the pole when not in use.
April saw my birthday and a bit of birthday cash saw me buy some more items from As Tucas (here). I bought a pair of Sestrals Pants (lightweight insulated pants) and a pair of Forata Downsocks. I'm really happy with both items, very light but effective insulation and the workmanship is great. It's a real pleasure to deal with Marco too and I will certainly be buying more in the future. I would probably say the Sestrals Pants were my best buy of the year.
Sutherland next for nine days in June, my main Scottish trip of the year. I managed to upgrade my down gear. Flogging my old Rab Endurance 250 bag on ebay (veteran of my Gronabandet) I was delighted to be sixty percent of the way to a bag I had my eye on. The PHD sale had a central zip Minim 400 (here) at an attractive price. I figured that a central zip would be useful in Svalbard where, in the event of the incursion of a polar bear into camp, I could get out of it quicker or use it like a quilt. That arrived before I went to Sutherland and was quickly followed by a Minimus Down Vest (here). I'm pleased with both products, well made as well as warm and light. The Vest works well particularly as I'm a big fan of the bonkers Paramo sleeves (which I think have dropped off their range!). Combined it's a great jacket.
Sutherland confirmed to me again how much I love my Trail Designs Fissure Ti-Tri. Rand sent me an email after picking up my article on my Grona Bandet in TGO, he's included me on his gallery (here). It was of course great to feature in TGO again, you can read that here.
Sutherland was a grand trip and I got some far flung Munro done as well as enjoyed some of the wildest backpacking I've done in the Highlands (more here). Of note too I started to use some food from 'Food on the Move'. I liked their range and price so much I spent around £200 on stocking up for Svalbard and Sweden with the family. Some really tasty meals, my favourites are the Cous Cous and Minced Beef Dinner. As I spent such a large amount of money this small British company gave me a 20 percent discount which was welcome. You can find them here.
That takes me to the Lakes in July where I walked the Lakeland 100 course for another crack at it in August. I enjoyed my walk around the western fells and my Trailstar behaved itself. This saw me back up to Lakeland in August where I wilted in the heat at the race itself after 65 miles. One real positive was staying with Heather and Alan of Pacerpole which was lovely!
Next the big one, Svalbard! You can read on what specialist kit I had to buy here. It's worth noting I took a tarp with me that I really liked. My Bearpawwd 8/10 flat tarp. The idea behind it was as a kitchen area but on the more settled coast line I moved into it as I liked the field of vision. This was the trip too that my veteran Golite Quest 80 final bust. Time for a new big trip pack I thought!
Svalbard saw off a pair of Paramo Maui cargo trousers. In four days the rough and tough conditions of multiple river crossings and hard rocky ground put a hole in a brand new pair. I was testing them there and the 'range team' have had my report!
Back to mainland Norway and over the border to enjoy a great family hike with my wife and kids in Sweden. All the good weather I had enjoyed finished spectacularly and we got heavy rain! We still had a good time mind but I realised how invaluable a tarp is as an extra area when camping with the family. It made a good shelter for a lunch rest too.
Back to the Highlands in October, I killed another Trailstar and I was reminded what a tough place it is! See here for my tale of woe and learn if you use one yourself! (see here).
I sold off the remnants and the bug net and door and looked for an alternative!
So began my relationship with Marc of Trekkertent. He sold me a Drift at a very good price as an ex-Demo. I used that in a local trip in Sussex which proved to me what I wild place I have on my doorstep! I also ordered an Edge off him too, that's still to arrive as he's super busy and I volunteered to slip down the pecking order as I stood him up in the Cairngorms! Sorry Marc! We still get on mind as he is knocking me up a complimentary custom groundsheet for my latest tent!
Back to the Highlands again in November for a wet n' wild four days in the Cairngorms. The weather was very mild though and I enjoyed myself. Marc and I missed each other in Feshie mind, I'm sorry about that.
A malfunctioning stove (Primus Spider) had me looking for an alternative. Thanks to Martin Rye's tip I bought the excellent Kovea spider. This was not quite my last purchase of the year!
Flogging off my Akto I funded a 'Black Friday' purchase of a Helsport Rondane Superlight which had an eye popping 40 per cent off from Tamarack. I've had my eye on this for a while as it should help me get out in the UK with my kids at a very reasonable 1.65 kg for a 3 man tent. All in all a lovely Scandi tunnel tent!
I rounded off the year in Dartmoor. That was a lovely trip and I'll be back for more there!