Coast to Coast gear debrief

In general, my backpacking kit for the Coast to Coast worked rather well. I was using quite a bit of new kit, so I’ve summarised the stand out pieces here.

The good

Scarp 1

Catching the evening sun at Reeth

This tent was my home for 11 nights on the trail, and it made a pretty decent one. What impressed me most was just how quick it was to pitch each evening, a few minutes only. I was packing it up wet or frozen every morning, and when pitching it later it only took a quick hand-wipe of the floor to remove some water droplets, then it was good to unpack. I thought I might have to separate the inner and outer and pack individually, but kept them together and it worked fine.

Most nights were quite calm and the tent was fine. I noticed I managed to get it taughter each pitch – I would stake out the 4 corners initially to set it up, then re-do them and tighten the guy lines. It did tend to sag slightly by  the morning, and the outer and inner get quite close at the middle of each half, which can touch when it’s windy – that was the only issue I found. I might make a modification for the tie on the inner door – the outer gets a strong piece of velcro but the inner has elasticated string which comes undone easily.

The adjustable inner floor and 2 doors worked great- I could switch which side I had fashioned a porch depending on the wind/slope. There was plenty of room inside for my sleeping mat on one side and my backpack and gear on the other.

 

Osprey Aura 65

Taking a break

I am in love with this backpack. Yes, it’s big, and yes, it’s pretty heavy, but it’s so comfy. We judged that Rich had a slightly lighter pack, but when we swapped to try each other’s his felt so much heavier due to his less supportive bag. The Aura hip belt hugs you and whilst my shoulders did get achy, most of the weight was on my hips.

It’s got enough pockets and compartments that the smaller things don’t end up getting lost in the main cavern, and after a couple of days everything had found it’s place. The mesh front pocket was useful for carrying wet/smelly socks!

I went into Taunton Leisure in Bristol with the intent to buy an Osprey Exos 58, but the staff talked me out of it, and I’m glad they did. The Exos is half the weight of the Aura, which is largely due to the lack of padding. As my base weight is not anywhere near ultralight, I’m happy to go for comfort in my backpack! The only modification I might make is to work on a bottom attachment for the rain cover – it’s attached at the top and then elastic around the pack, which is fine if raining and calm, but comes off in strong winds.

 

Alpkit Koro stove & Mytipot 900

Porridge to warm me up in the morning

I used my stove only for breakfasts each morning – boiling water for porridge, and one dinner on the last night. I had a C100 fuel canister that lasted the 13 days, but did have a 250ml spare as I wasn’t sure how long the small one would last. The Koro boiled my water in a few minutes though, so I wasn’t using much gas each day.

The pot, titanium, was the perfect size for solo camping, although on one morning we did mix mine and Rich’s porridge concoctions to save time. It also doesn’t transfer heat well so the handles are never too hot to hold. The empty pot is the right size to store a gas canister too.

 

Mountain Equipment Manaslu

Once the snow storm had passed

Last year, after a few disappointing performances from low-mid range waterproof jackets I decided it’d be more efficient to get a decent one that would last. Enter the Manaslu. At 475g it’s not lightweight, and I thought it was going to be overkill on this trip until I was walking through gales and blizzards on the moors and was very thankful I had it!

The hood is designed to go over a climbing helmet, which might make it too big for some but I like it because it fits over my hair – and it can be cinched down well. It’s got a chest pocket (where I keep my phone) and two waist pockets, which importantly are accessible above the backpack hip belt. The chin guard comes up almost to my nose giving good weather protection. There’s lengthy arm pit vents too – which I’m not very good at remembering to do back up when it starts raining…

 

Anker battery pack

Less exciting but important – I took a 13000mAh Anker battery pack and kept my phone and GoPro well charged. Once it’s fully charged it will then stop charging, which conserves energy but means if you leave something to charge overnight it will have reached 100% fairly quickly (it’s impressively quick to charge) and then be powering down for the rest of the night. Anker say it’ll charge an iPhone 6 5 times and a Galaxy S6 3 times, and whilst I didn’t fully test it’s capabilities as I topped up it and my phone some evenings in pubs, it didn’t drop below half power on the whole trip.

 

Honourable mentions

  • Alpkit Pipdream 400 (now only available as hydrophobic, not an option when I got it) – very cosy, not too narrow, resisted condensation dampness, but didn’t always keep me warm enough. Temperatures were quite a bit colder than I was expecting for late April, and were below zero for several nights. Alpkit say -6 is the point between a comfortable and restless sleep, but I must be a cold sleeper. Lesson learned!
  • Thermarest NeoAir X-lite regular – blows up nice and quickly, surprisingly comfortable to sleep on. It’s quite narrow, but I often sleep on my side. Reviews of Thermarests often mentioned they’re really noisy, but mine didn’t seem to be. It rolls down to the size of a water bottle which is great.
  • Black Diamond trekking poles – not new, but proved themselves invaluable once again. With the additional role of ‘bog-depth-tester’!
  • Berghaus Fast Hike trousers – I had to go a size up from normal due to an almost ‘skinny fit’ around the calves, but these were very comfy, slightly stretchy, good size pockets (2 waist ones and a leg one which fitted the map booklet perfectly), light and quick drying. I awarded myself ‘most colourful hiker’ when I was wearing these + the Manaslu jacket + the bright green rain cover for my pack. There’s no ruching around the waist when doing up the belt which means it sits better beneath the backpack hip belt than some of my other trousers. They have vents on the outside of each leg, but I found if these were open it made the fit uncomfortable.
At least I’d be easy to spot by mountain rescue

 

The bad

Not much to report here. I got an OMM 500ml soft flask a couple of weeks before and hadn’t used it, but by the second week it was leaking, so I wasn’t very impressed.

Next camping trip I will swap out my slipper-like camp shoes for either sandals or lightweight trainers – the canvas just got soaked in campsite grass. Another lesson learned!

 

The rest

Inov-8 Roclite 325s

Breakfast overlooking Ullswater

This was my first long distance walk not in traditional boots. Instead I went for the Roclite 325s, a trail shoe with mid-ankle height. They were undeniably comfy, and at the end of the day I wasn’t dying to take them off like I would be with boots. They are about half the weight of my Solomon Quest 4Ds, and it was very nice walking with light feet. I’d hoped as they were lighter and more breathable than the Solomons that I wouldn’t get the ankle heat rash, but I still did.

The flipside to a trail shoe is lack of waterproofing and less cushioning on the sole and toe box. The non-waterproofness is actually an attraction in some cases – for New Zealand it looks like non waterproof shoes are best due to the frequency of river crossings and the length of time it takes for goretex shoes to dry out. But it means getting used to walking with wet feet when squelching through lakeland bog or long grass when it’s rained. They drain much quicker than my Solomon’s and a few minutes after a bog it’d be my socks that were still wet rather than pools of water in the shoes.

The reduced cushioning wasn’t as much of an issue as I thought it might be – yes my feet hurt after road walking, but I wasn’t feeling every rock and stone. The shoe comes up high enough on my ankle to prevent slippage when walking downhill. I got pain on the top of my right foot from the second day, and once I’d re-laced the laces to avoid pressure over the top it was okay, but I’ll never know if the pain was due to the shoes or not! The probably fit slightly narrower than my perfect shoe.

On balance, I really like these shoes and would wear them again for long distance backpacking. Interestingly the other campers on the Coast to Coast also had trail shoes, whereas those using B&Bs and getting their luggage carried had traditional boots. Maybe campers pay more attention to every gram saved? I’ll be interested to see how durable these shoes are, as trail shoes fall into the ‘consumable’ category on multi-month walks.

 

Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket

I had the gilet version of this already and got the jacket through some low-carbon travel reward vouchers from work. I wore it mostly in the evenings and mornings, and through the night on a couple of cold ones. It was warm, but my main reservation is I look like a fox in a hen coop after wearing it – covered in white fluff. Given how much it leaks down, I’m unsure how well the insulating qualities will last, which is a bit disappointing from a brand like Rab.

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