Off to Sweden…

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Might be a bit quiet on here for a few days since we’re off to Sweden to see the out-laws (we’re not married).

Hoping to fit in a couple of days of open-canoeing (sorry Kev!) with a wild-camp on an island, weather permitting!

None of us have ever done that before, so it might be interesting…

Should find a use for the huge Aloksaks too.

But at the very least I expect to fit in some wood chopping, cooking on a range in the Sommarstuga (Summer Cottage) and rowing about in the boat.

All good prep for the Haute Route… sort of…

 

HR Kit: Clothes

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What? I’ve covered clothes what with all the malarkey about socks and duvet jackets haven’t I? Nope – I’ve not mentioned the clothes that I’ll be spending most of the time in yet!

Base Layer

The base layer, or, in the summer, “T-shirt” to anyone who’s not gear obsessed. We, like many others, have discovered Merino wool T-Shirts.

Icebreaker make very nice ones. I’d probably only buy Icebreaker or Smartwool since they both have an anti-muelsing policy

The main reason we like them is that they amazingly resistant to getting smelly. Unlike synthetics that can get pongy after a day and downright lethal after a fortnight.

They can feel very slightly scratchy, rather than itchy, at first for some people but it soon goes away. It might also feel very slightly scratchy for a few hours after it was last washed but again, it goes away. LB has astonishingly sensitive skin but gets on with them fine.

We’re both bringing two 140gram Tech T Lite (That’s the weight of the material not the weight of the T-shirt. My XL is 180 grams, LB’s XS is 102 grams).

Although a heavier weight Merino would be even more smell resistant (some claim smell proof!) I wouldn’t fancy wearing a heavy grade T-shirt in Southern Europe in late August.

Washing them is easy but they do need to be treated differently from normal clothes. Just get some pure soap flakes (doesn’t matter which brand) and sling them straight in the machine with the T-shirts (I’m lazy and ignore all that stuff about dissolving them first). Don’t use fabric conditioner, it “gums up” the fibres. Wash them in with any silk stuff you have, like sleeping bag liners for instance. Easy.

Trousers

I’ve always been impressed by Rohan’s trousers. I’ve had a pair of “double convertible” trousers for several years and they’re now rather sun faded so I think they’ll have to be traded in for the new model; the Rohan Double Convertible Goas

The “double” bit is because they have two zips; just above and just below the knee. Meaning you get cooler legs without having to expose scary white knees, if not actually managing to carry off a continental look…

The one thing about them I didn’t like was the belt. There’s nothing wrong with it as such, it’s a normal bit of black strapping with a good quality plastic buckle. But after a few days under a rucksack it started to dig in to my hips.

So, I got them tailored. I simply took them along to an alteration tailor and they took-in the waist band for £12 (about $24.50USD or €18). Perfect fit, no need for a belt. I’ll be doing the same to any outdoor trousers I buy.

Underwear

I’d avoid anything with a “gather” in the material (like at the top of curtains where they get bunched). The gather may seem insignificant but after a few days you’ll probably find it’s started to bite through your skin and is making a permanent indent in the bone of your hips. Flat stretchy waistbands are better.

I’ve been trying some silk based ones, the Sports Boxes from NZ Nature but, although they’re generally comfy, I have my suspicions that the rather thick seems may start to rub. I’ve not warn them for more than four continuous days of walking so far, so I can’t be sure. I’m thinking I may go for a couple of pairs of Icebreaker Skin 200 Boxers

Another Alcohol Based Sun Gel?

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So just as I say “I’ve been looking for an alcohol based gel block for the last ten years” two come along at once (like buses – as the saying goes). There must be others – anyone know of any?

I found one in Blacks that looks very good since it doesn’t have any perfume added to it: Care Plus® Skin-Saver – Gel Concentrate SPF 25

Total weight 80 grams with 75ml of the gel – so I’d guesstimate 10 grams of packaging assuming alcohol based gel is lighter than water. Meaning for this size of tube there’s no weight saving to be had by decanting into an old orange drink bag.

This will be coming with me.

The best and worst things about Blogs

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To me, the best thing about Blogs is that you find some amazingly useful stuff written by some fascinating people.

The worst thing about Blogs is that you have to keep going back to each web site to see if they’ve changed.

But there are tools out there, very simple ones, that can make that a no-brainer.

I’ve started using “google reader“.

It’s free although it needs you to follow a very simple sign up – how else would it know who you are next time? Note that’s “sign up” for a google account, not a gmail account (but if you have a gmail account, you already have a google account).

It shows you all the Blogs you’ve added in a nice clean easy to see screen. Most importantly it shows which ones have new, unread articles on them. That’s the single feature that makes it invaluable to me.

It even lets you read the Blogs from the google reader page itself in a plain text view or with pictures.

On a side note, it also recently saved my “HR Kit: Cold Weather” posting from being lost when I left my home machine logged in to the site and carried on an edit from work (if you use WordPress to produce a Blog – always log out of one machine before logging in on another!). Google had cached a copy and I retrieved it from there. Phew!

There’s another tool that looks very nice as well but I’ve not used it very much: Net Vibes

It’s a bit more richly featured (it has the weather and allows you to add other things like your ebay watch list) but I find myself preferring the simple google reader interface.

Oh, and if you’re looking for an outdoor related posting – the picture is from a walk we did in the Low Arctic (sounds exciting that eh?). It’s from near the Abisko Hut in the far North of Sweden, at the start of the Kungsleden. I must put up a post about it later in the year.

 

HR Kit: Meds Pills and Potions

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Blisters

If you get blisters already you probably have all kinds of clever ways of dealing with them but even if you expect your feet to survive with no problems, I think a pack of Compeed For Blisters are worth carrying since an unexpected blister can cripple you. They stay on best if the edges are taped down further with some microporous tape


Medication and Conditions

If you’re with anyone else on a walk, consider telling them about the medication or any medical conditions. That goes for someone who’s organising or leading too. I was caught out by this once. I was co-leading a mountaineering club group with someone who had gone around insisting that everyone fill out the medical section of the membership form only a fortnight earlier but it was he who missed filling out his so I didn’t know what to watch for.

It could have been worse but luckily I picked up on something that he clearly wasn’t talking about. In the end he landed in a hospital for three days due to a condition he’d not mentioned (he was fine in the end!).

First Aid

I’ll be carrying a first aid kit that’s just intended for LB and me. LifeSystems do good ones (the very expedition-experienced paramedic that I took a couple of first aid courses with recommended them). But Adventure Medical Kits seem to be very well stocked as well as lighter than the LifeVenture. They also include Duct Tape in the .7 version which the last wilderness first aid course we did emphasized as being very handy (think slings, splinting). Fast and Light have it listed as “for gear repair” but I think they’re missing the point.

I’m not going to go into detail as to what I think should be carried as I’m a long way from being qualified. However I would add one thing to any first aid kit: A pencil and waterproof paper.

If you needed to go for help, can you be sure you’d remember the grid reference of someone that needed rescuing? What time the incident happened? Anything else that a First Aider tending to the casualty might want you to tell the rescue service? I know I wouldn’t.

For general bits and pieces that seem hard to get hold of from the local chemists (like a membrane face shield for instance) try St John Supplies

 

HR Kit: Navigation

 
 
 
 
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Guide Book

We’re using the famous “Chamonix-Zermatt – The Walker’s Haute Route” by Kev Reyolds.

It is possible to navigate the whole route using way markers and the route description from the guide. But if the TMB is anything to go by, the way marking will probably border on vandalism in easy to follow sections and disappear for long stretches in the mountains.

Cicerone publish a set of updates to their guides on the web site.

Maps

Although some people do the HR using just the Kev Reynolds guide book, to me, a map is essential even if the trail is well marked. I’ll be carrying two of each (well, LB will have one copy). Anyone that’s walked with us will know our bad habit of wandering off trails to do other “interesting bits” so anyone walking with us is well advised to carry their own maps.

Swiss Topo produce two maps that cover the whole route (offset from their main mapping to do so). They’re both 1:50000: “5003 Mont Blanc Grand Combin” and “5006 Matterhorn – Mischabel“. I did consider getting 1:25000 scale maps (it’s more that I like maps than wanted the detail!) but it would take nine to cover the route.

They don’t come with a key printed on them but one is available as a PDF download. I’ve printed the first page on a piece of A5 paper at half scale since it’s the one with useful info for navigation.

I’ve always used the The Map Shop for foreign maps but a supplier of Swiss Topo maps local to your own country shouldn’t be hard to find on the Internet.

Map cases drive me mad so I send them to Aqua3 for coating. It’s not cheap but it makes them just about indestructible and has also got people approaching me to ask where I got maps, that they’d only previously seen as plain paper, in what appears to be a plastic version. A good conversation starter – as long as you can speak the language!

Compass

Again, to me a compass is essential and if you’ve got a map then you really need a compass to be able to use it fully. I also carry a spare, not just because they they’re small enough to lose easily but I’ve also known someone trip and ram their compass into rock!

The Silva Expedition 4 (38 grams)is the usual choice in the UK hills (just make sure you get one marked in degrees rather than the military version that’s marked off in Radians).

But it’s expensive so I carry a Field 7 for a backup (24 grams).

GPS

I’ll be carrying a Garmin Gecko 301 (87 grams). Although I’ve navigated for hours in visibility so poor that I’ve had to throw little snowballs a few feet ahead of me to be able to focus on something it’s a pain if you’re tired and everyone’s relying on you to get to shelter.

I don’t actually plan to switch it on at all especially since they tend to eat batteries. However I will be using Lithium/Iron sulphide cells (Energizer e2) that are meant to last about 7 times longer than alkaline cells according to the manufactures but seem to last a good three times longer according to reviews I’ve read.

 

HR Kit: Cold Weather

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At times this route gets very close to 3000 meters (2965 to be exact) and even if it’s warm overall, it can get pretty chilly sitting outside a refuge watching the dying rays of the sun.

Down Jacket

Assuming you can keep reasonably dry, keeping warm mainly comes down to keeping enough air trapped. The most efficient thing for trapping air without adding weight is down. I’ll be carrying a PHD Minimus with a Drishell outer (570 grams + 30 if you take the stuffsac).

I have been considering taking my MontBell Thermawrap (err on the larger size if you’re stuck between sizes if buying one) which has been great,when combined with a microfleece, sitting outside a tent at up to 700 meters in the UK this summer. But from my own experience of high altitude huts in the summer I know it can get surprisingly flipping cold overnight. So I think the 300 grams extra for the Minimus is justified.

Also from a safety point of view, turning an ankle in some of the areas of the HR could mean a few (hopefully a very few!) hours wait for rescue if it’s fogged in. Having something that could keep you really warm would be a very good thing.

I probably wouldn’t take it on something like the TMB but the Haute Route is a little more serious.

Fleece

For some extra warmth from very little weight a microfleece is hard to beat. Chris Townsend wrote an excellent TGO article (“Lighten Up” May 07 TGO) that recommended the Jack Wolfskin Gecko. We’ve been trying them out and have been impressed by how warm they are for the weight. My large weighs 244 grams for my large and only 156 for LB’s size 10.

Gloves

In August I’m not expecting to need gloves. However, a really small, light pair might make a big difference in comfort for only a few grams. We’ve both been very pleased with the silk liner gloves available from New Zealand Nature. Since they are quite cheap, only weigh 30 grams and are tiny I’ve bought three pairs and stuffed one into the pocket of the three warm jackets I use, so I’ve always got a pair handy.

 

HR Kit: Hot! Hot! Hot!

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The Haute Route in August – ah… warm and sunny. Dust-dry trails, roiling heat haze rising from glaring rocks… Here’s hoping!

Sunblock

Sunblock is a no-brainer. The excellent and amazingly comprehensive web site over at Needle Sports (no I’m not sponsored by them – exactly the reverse in fact) has some nice smallish tubes of sun cream that should last for the whole route for one person. I’ve been looking for an alcohol based gel block for the last ten years (since I used some in Australia) but I’ve only just managed to find one in the UK. Garnier have brought out Ambre Solaire Clear Protect Gel that dries almost immediately with hardly any residue. Pretty strong on the perfume though! Not tried it properly yet but next year I might try Lighthiker’s trick of squeezing some into a plastic soft drink bag.

Sunglasses

I’d count sunglasses as essential in the Alps in summer (and winter of course!). Although I’m happiest without them, even I can’t put up with the glare coming off the rock for hours on end. And there’s good evidence that exposing your eyes to that much UV will damage them in the long run. A wrap around pair is preferable of course just to keep the light to a minimum. Also, it’s possible for cheaper specs to be worse than no glasses at all since they may not block the UV properly. Because they’re dark, your pupils enlarge but since the they’re not blocking the UV your eye is getting even more UV exposure than it would have done if you just squinted. So, probably not worth skimping on the price too much.

I’ve just come across the Adidas Evil Eye sun glasses. The interesting thing for me is the versions that come with the ability to convert into ski goggles. The arms click out and are replaced with a head band and there’s a thin foam insert that clips to the back of the frames to form a seal. They also have a clip-in prescription lens available that you can take to an optician and have ground for your eyes. I’m not sure how well they’d work with regard to condensation since they’re only single skinned but the potential weight and bulk savings make them look very interesting…

Hat

I’ve always hated hats but something has just converted me: An LTM6 Airflo Tilley Hat

These things are beautifully put together and thought out. They deliberatly don’t fit closely to your head but instead sit on top of it loosely with a comfortable chin strap to stop it blowing off. The strap works well and has kept it on my head whilst walking over the windy tops of South Wales recently. I read recently that Ryan Jordan reckons his Tilley is his favourite bit of kit (notice he’s almost always wearing one in pictures) and Chris Townsend gave the Tilley T3 a “Best Buy” in a recent TGO review

Extra Water Container

Typically I only carry two litres of water but I’m going to bring an extra bottle in case it’s very warm. For once I’m not about to recommend some cutting-edge, shiny bit of gear for this: an old tonic water bottle is perfect!

Any plastic bottle that’s been used for storing fizzy drink works. They’re made of much tougher stuff than the ones for still water. Wash it out, fill it with hot water and bicarbonate of soda for a couple of days, wipe off the sticky label residue with meths or white gas and your done. Tonic water bottles seem to have the least residual taste/smell from whatever they held before.

In summary:

  • Sunblock
  • Hat
  • Extra water container

 

Why not just a kit list?

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So there I was writing a simple entry on hot weather kit that I thought would take me twenty minutes and an hour later I’m still on it (trying to make it smaller!) and I started to wonder “Why didn’t I just send a kit list?”

Well, I have done in the past and it has proved useful to people, so that’s fine. But it doesn’t get across why I’m choosing the particular kit I am.

Good kit is very enabling and poor kit can literally be disabling – poorly fitted footwear can mean blisters that make it near impossible to walk.

Good kit can make the difference between having a fantastic time, despite extremes of weather, and having a miserable time or even worse.

And really good kit is “invisible” you hardly even notice it when you’re using it. You just get on with whatever it is you really came for.

And I’ve spent so much time (probably far too much time!) looking at, reading about and even occasionally finding time to actually use lots of it that I know what works for me and can take a reasonable guess at what should work generally.

Kit lists have their place. Without one to tick off I would constantly forget to bring things! But exactly what should be on that list and why? Well, that’s why I’m blogging it.

I hope it helps!

 

HR Kit: Wet! Wet! Wet!

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The Haute Route in August – ah… warm and sunny. Maybe…

Obviously we need to bring water proofs. Although I’ve been hugely impressed by a pair of Paramo Cascada trousers for winter user – Paramo‘s just too heavy for summer. So something light and breathable.

I’ve been amazed at how breathable eVent based clothing is. My Rab Drilium jacket has actually allowed me to dry out after I put it on over a wet t-shirt. But if I had to get a new jacket I’d probably go for the Montane Quick Fire I’ve not used one but I’ve been very, very impressed by all the Montane gear I’ve had and I hear good things about the Quick Fire in particular. They’re well cut – especially their women’s range.

For trousers it’s hard to beat the weight of the Montane Atomic Pants (“Atomic Pants” – that sounds very odd in British English!). My large ones weigh in at an amazing 178 grams and really do pack down to the size of a large orange. They’re pretty breathable (not to eVent standard but not bad at all) and the pair I have now are very waterproof. The first pair leaked like tea bags! But Montane sent me out a new pair (with a credit card number as security) that I needed in a hurry while they tested them. Sure enough there was something wrong with them and that was that. So if you have a pair that don’t seem right – send them back!

With my long legs and a pair of approach shoes the rain runs straight off the trouser legs and into my shoes. So I spent a while looking for small, short, light gaiters. And a thread on OM turned up the perfect pair (all outdoor knowledge is there… somewhere…). They’re made by a Canadian company called Integral Designs who are a very nice bunch of people and are happy to talk about making up kit to order should you be so inclined (I haven’t have anything made… so far). Shortie eVent Gaiters are perfect. At 70 grams for the pair including the stuff sac there’s no reason not to throw them in the bag.

And of course – the SealSkinz socks I might have already briefly mentioned in an earlier post.

One bit of kit that’s proved to be incredibly useful in the recent sun/rain/wind cycle that we seem to be running through every half an hour in the UK has been a Montane Lite Speed wind proof. Fantastic bit of kit that I wish I could have bought years ago. It has a really big range of comfortable conditions from sun (with wind) through to a showers. And with mine weighing only 186 grams (large) and packing down, as they say on the site, to the size of an apple it’s always with me. But, probably not on the HR. I’m expecting warm and dry, or wet and soggy. So at the moment I think it might stay at home. I’d be interested to know if anyone would take one though?

So that’s

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • “Shortie” gaiters
  • Waterproof socks
  • Possibly a wind proof