Gossamer Gear NightLight 3/4 Sleep Pad – First Impressions

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A non-Haute Route gear related post for a change. But if you’re in to making your camping kit lighter -read on…

Got hold of one of the “Gossamer Gear NightLight 3/4 Sleep Pads” (not to be confused with the smaller “Torso” Sleep Pad) and have been trying it out in South Wales for the last couple of weekends.

Summary

Pros
  • Very light
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Big!

Overall: I plan to use it in future in place of my Prolite 3/4 length though this is just first impressions.

First impressions

I’ve always been a fan of Thermarests. The 3/4 length 2.5cm mat that I’ve carried for nearly ten years was only replaced last year by the latest version; the Prolite 3/4 length. They’re very comfy for the weight.

But, the stated 370 grams of the Prolite seems to be the lightest of the actual production examples that a recent OM thread could turn up. Mine weighs in at 436 grams.

So I thought I’d try the NightLight which is a sort of state-of-the-art version of a standard foam sleeping mat of the type carried by D of E groups in the British hills (most of whom seemed to be in the Black Mountain range of South Wales last weekend).

I always think you can spot a D of E group a mile off. They’re smaller than your average walker but are carrying packs the size of a VW Beetle. And strapped somewhere on the outside of the pack is a foam mat, looking like it’s trying to soak up all the rain that’s running off the pack just to add some extra weight.

Surely a foam mat is a step backwards?

Well, a stated weight of 7.8 to 8.2 oz (221 to 232 grams – mine is 222 grams) and a very comparable R value of 2.27 (the Prolite is 2.3) means the NightLight needs some serious consideration. Also it can’t puncture. Have you ever tried finding a Thermarest puncture? Even in the warmth of your own bathroom, bent over the bath looking for a stream of bubbles, it’s surprisingly tricky!

At £22 from Winwood Outdoor it’s also not going to break the bank (especially in the context of the amount I’ve spent on gear this year!).

My first thought when it arrived three weeks ago (after about a five week wait as the order came in from the USA) was: “Oh Hell… that’s enormous!”.

At 4’11” (1.5m) it’s 3″ (7.5cm) longer than the Prolite 3 but somehow manages to feel closer to full length. I can get my feet on it if I have my head on a rolled up fleece + duvet jacket. Meaning even with the fractionally lower R value it will provide insulation for almost your whole body whereas the Prolite 3/4 length won’t.

I didn’t relish the thought of strapping it to the outside as even though it’s closed cell foam and therefore shouldn’t soak up water, it would still be a big wet bit of unwelcome plastic in a dry tent at the end of a day’s walk.

Jamming it inside the bag seemed to allow almost no room for anything else (a mistake on my part – I should have known better – but see below!).

But the 214 grams weight saving tempted me.

So we took it and I slept on it the first night on flat, soft grass.

Very comfy. Comparable to the Prolite in fact. Trying them out side by side on a hard floor at home, the Prolite has the edge (just). But, and I’m not too sure of this yet, I have a feeling that if there was a stray point from a rock sticking up into your back, the Prolite would tend to let it “show through” whereas the more resilient foam of the Nightlight might try to “even it out” more. Giving a more rounded and perhaps therefore a less pointy and uncomfortable mat. This seemed to be true of where we camped on Saturday night in fact but as the title says, this is just first impressions here.

But I still couldn’t see how I could take the mat and still fit anything else into the bag!

So, I cut it in half and LB and I tried using one each as a torso mat.

It worked but our legs were on the floor of course. Although a waterproof jacket seems to be capable of providing enough insulation to stop condensation building up on the foot end of a sleeping bag overnight (good tip that) it’s not enough to stop your legs getting cold. “Use your rucksack” some would say. Well, it sounds good in theory but apart from them not being the most lump-free objects to sleep on, after a typical summer day in Wales a rucksack can be holding enough water to make a whole D of E group’s breakfast porridge and therefore isn’t a very welcome tent guest.

Meaning it’s got to be all the mat – or none of the mat. And it’s surely just too big?

But that 214 gram weight saving nagged at me.

And then, I realised that I was being stupid – just let the thing unroll as it wants to and use it to line the inside of the sack. I can’t believe I missed that considering I’ve even wondered about getting a frameless pack and that’s exactly how you give them the required stiffness.

Nightlight

So, I tried that and oddly I think it might be easier since it’s cut in half. I think that sticking the two “egg box” shaped faces together when flat and then rolling them into the bag makes the mat really want to spring open and therefore stick to the outside of the rucksack – giving the maximum room down the “core” of the pack. (The picture shows an XXS Exped Drybag containing my first aid kit at the bottom of the bag)

Which meant it fits in to the Granite Gear Vapor Trail I’ve just bought (only had it out this weekend – great – more on that some other time) along with all the other kit: PHD Minimus sleeping bag, 1 litre pot, MSR stove kit, Rab Drilium, Montane Atomic Pants, Montbell Thermawrap, Jack Wolfskin Gecko micro-fleece and to my amazement the Terra Nova Voyager Superlite tent! I already mentioned I’d spent some money on gear didn’t I?

The bag was a little “taller” than it would have been with the Prolite, but it was that extra 214 grams lighter at last.

LB will try it out next weekend but I think there may be another mat making its way from the USA soon…

nightlight-1.jpg

(Pictured with a 6″/15cm steel rule for scale – the size of the gap in the middle stays the same all the way down inside the rucksack – it’s just perspective that makes it look like it gets smaller towards the bottom!)

Convex Slopes And Waterfalls

Oak At Dderi Farm  

Wild camping in the Black Mountain range in South Wales at the weekend (not to be confused with Black Mountain which is in the Black Mountains a few kilometres to the North East – easy eh?) and I had one of those moments that remind you to keep your wits about you.

We were coming off a ridge down to where a friendly farmer had allowed us to stash the car in his barn for a very reasonable sum. It was one of those rolling South Wales ridges with a sharp scoop out of the Eastern side formed by glaciers during the last ice age.

I was carefully picking my way down a steepening grassy slope and sure enough called back to the others behind me that it looked like we’d started down a too early and had met a little rock-step.

I could see the top of a rowan poking its branches above the grass a few meters down-slope. They often don’t get much more than four to six meters tall in the mountains, since they’re blasted by the weather, so I figured it was a four or five metre drop.

There was a fast running stream, a few meters to my left and slightly behind me so I went down another couple of meters to look at it running over the edge.

And froze – I was about three meters above a vertical cliff that was around thirty meters high. Easily ten times higher than I’d guessed from the rowan.

I wasn’t in any appreciable danger, I was already “highly averse” to falling off what I’d thought was a four meter rock-step so wasn’t pushing my luck. It was just a bit of a surprise!

The waterfall had a very reliable “counter slope” just beside it that was bedded on very solid rock. So I went back up, before coming down onto that and stared down at the water pouring into space. Which really was one of the most impressive sites I’ve seen in a while and therefore, to me, well worth being in that spot. (Believe me – the picture shrinks the drop massively!)

Above A Waterfall In Wales

As usual when looking at a drop like that, some words from a Summer Mountain Leader (“ML”) course came back to me. “One of the particular dangers of the Welsh mountains is their convex slopes. Meaning that as you walk down, you can’t always see the terrain ahead of you getting steeper and steeper, until you fall off it!”.

It just made me think that without being subconsciously aware of that particular danger and without consciously keeping my guard up as we happily ambled back to the car things might, just might, have ended up rather differently.

On the way there we’d listened to one of Podcast Bob’s offerings (Mountain First Aid 27/2/07) where he interviewed Wayne Thackery of Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team. Wayne said that in his experience although many, many people go in to the hills without proper gear most of those get away with it “by the skin of their teeth”.

Whereas, of the people who go in with experience and proper preparation, the ones that get caught out are generally coming off something after achieving their objective for the day. They just let their guard down (which might sound familiar to one of the this year’s HR crew…)

 

Walking The HR: Kit Essentials – Socks

Dave’s Feet, with a view of Lac de Champex  

I certainly won’t be writing this much detail about everything on here! But there are certain things that are so important to comfort on a long walk that they’re worth concentrating on. Like socks for instance.

There’s no point in spending a money on good footwear if you then put on a pair of cheap socks. We’ve tried X-Socks Smartwool and Sealskinz as well as a host of cheaper ones. The cheaper ones aren’t worthy of mention. I’ve found Bridgedales to be fine but only Thorlos give Smartwool any competition in my experience.

What we’ll take

You certainly don’t need a fresh pair of socks every day! You’d probably need an extra bag to carry them.

I’m planning to take one pair of thick Smartwools, two Smartwool liner socks and a pair of Sealskinz in case it gets really wet.

Then, each night in the hut, I’ll wash out the thick sock and liner from that day. Roll them up in my towel and squeeze the water out. They should be dry enough by the morning. Even if they’re not completely dry you’ll be putting on the dry, spare liner sock and quickly getting them damp with sweat anyhow.

Taking an extra pair of thick socks pretty much guarantees that you’ll have a dry pair each day and taking just one pair for a week seems like under doing it, but it can be done!

X-Socks

The X-Socks were of the lightweight hiking variety (I must admit I’m not sure which ones now – have you seen how many there are?). We found they were too thin and both ended a weekend with slightly sore feet but that’s our own fault really for choosing the wrong thickness. But the most off-putting thing was the smell! Being synthetic it was very, very cheesy after just a day’s walk. There are lots of people that love these socks but even with thicker ones I wouldn’t want to put up with that smell.

Smartwool

Gorgeous. Really cushioned and grippy. Best of all, because it’s only Merino wool in contact with your skin, they are amazingly smell resistant (there’s elastane in them but it’s not touching your skin). Nothing much more I can add. Wouldn’t buy anything else. Apart from a pair of…

SealSkinz

Sealskinz appear to be tougher than other brands of waterproof socks. Possibly because they’re not a laminate fabric. And to be clear – they have nothing whatsoever to do with seal skin!

Wearing waterproof socks whilst walking up hills with a pack in pouring rain obviously will not keep your feet 100% dry, but they do at least get no worse than rather damp. Which means warmer feet of course.

My first pair actually failed within four days of use but that seems to be very much the exception. Also, I simply stuck them in an envelope with a covering letter saying they leaked and they sent me a brand new pair within a week.

There are now many people that use an unlined approach shoe (no waterproof membrane), which is cooler, combined with a pair of Sealskinz when it’s wet.

Liner Socks

Both LB and I went from thinking Liner Socks were just more unnecessary faff to not wanting to be without them. They can certainly prevent blisters in our experience. The theory being that they provide a slip plane between the liner and the outer sock that prevents friction raising a blister. Smartwool make these as well.

 

Walking The HR: Kit Essentials – Footwear

TMB 2005 - Coming up to the Rifugio Bertone  

“Suitable” footwear – What’s “suitable”? To me and to an increasing number of others it’s “approach shoes” or even “trail running shoes“.

The difference between having lightweight well designed approach shoes and clunky old leather boots is amazing. A pair of these can make the largest immediate difference to how easy I find it to move about – except perhaps for not carrying a pack!

Ask anyone that’s been with me recently in South Wales – I’ve started running up hills (with a pack on) for no apparent reason. It’s just such a pleasure, and I don’t normally enjoy running.

This isn’t some crack-pot idea used only by a few crazed thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. One of the foremost advocates of the use of approach shoes for summer and winter (using “mid” height versions) is Chris Townsend. Who, apart from having a truly awe inspiring amount of walking experience in all conditions has just become head of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (congratulations Chris!). Someone whose opinion it’s therefore hard to dismiss.

I used approach shoes the first time I did half the TMB in 2003 but for some reason persuaded myself to go back to boots until this summer. I’ve got a pair of Montrail Hurricane Ridge XCRs but it’s a bit of a hard choice between them and the Keen Targhee IIs for me (LB has a pair that she loves).

However, there’s no way to be sure without trying them on. Remember to bring any insoles like Superfeet that you might use! Even then, walking around the shop isn’t enough, you must try to hammer your toes into the front of them by stomping down a slope (any good shop outdoor shop should have one).

It’s also vital to try walking across a slope (the edge of some stairs with someone’s shoulder below you to steady you will do it). You need to let your ankles start to “turn over” and see if the cuff starts to push hard into your foot just below your ankle. Almost any shoe will do this to some extent so it can be hard to judge. But if it’s quickly uncomfortable then beware, a few kilometres of walking could bruise and/or blister it.

Finally, like anything else, remember to check for stitch faults in the pair you decide on. I was surprised to find a bad one in a pair of Montrails that I got from Snow & Rock (who replaced it of course – but they also have a three month “half your money back if they don’t fit” policy that applies no matter how much you’ve worn them).

 

Walking the HR: Essentials

Rifugio Bertone
The first posting on what I think we need for the Walker’s HR. The first few things aren’t shiny, exciting kit but they’re some of the most important since, being from a non Schengen state, we won’t even get there without the first one!
  • Passport – That isn’t about to run out…
  • European Health Insurance Card – That replaces the old UK E111 and also works in Switzerland for UK citizens.
  • Insurance – That will cover us in mountains. We’ll be up to nearly 3000 metres at times. I’m not sure where you stand with most ordinary travel insurance (many require a guide for “mountain treks”) but I know the BMC has policies that work.

    Edit: 04/07/2007 At the time we definitely needed “Alpine & Ski since it’s specifically mentioned the Haute Route in the BMC “Trek” blurb and said that only “Alpine & Ski” covered it (we called and checked). Of course we were doing an easier variation but I didn’t want to have to get into a discussion over the finer points of our specific route with an underwriter.

    Edit: 01/02/2009 The BMC Trek cover now specifically mentions the “Walkers’ Haute Route Chamonix -Zermatt”!

  • Cash! – Although some of the huts may be able to take cards with one of those old card squashing things we can’t guarantee it. We’ll need Euros for the first day in Chamonix but from then on; Swiss Francs. The cheapest option is to sort it out on-line in advance
  • Plane and train tickets or printed out flight details – Even though we’re on ticketless flights I stand no chance of remembering the details after two weeks walking!
A couple of related things that probably aren’t essential but are worth considering
  • Credit Card – Good to have as a backup.
  • Driving License – Might come in handy though I’m really not planning on driving! But who knows, for the sake of a couple of grams it’s probably worth it.
  • BMC CardBritish Mountaineering Council Membership Can get us a discount in many of the huts. In theory we should need to get a special Reciprocal Rights Card but in practice I’ve found the standard BMC membership card works fine. However, by not purchasing the card and still getting discount for more than about five nights (assuming ten Euros saving per night) you are depriving Alpine Clubs of funds… so unless you’re a poor student you might have to wrestle with your conscience! Edit 13/09/07 The route contains very few Alpine Club huts and so it’s definitely not worth buying a Reciprocal Rights Card!
Finally, something to keep it all in. I used to use an A5 Ortleib Document Case (32 grams without the cord) but this year I’m going to swap it for a 9X6 inch Aloksak (16 grams) since it’s half the weight and opens down the long side making it easier to find things. I’ve just got hold of some really, really large Aloksaks to trial as rucksack liners believe it or not (thanks Guy!) so there’s a review in the offing…