Iceland: Kit Waterproofing And Packing

Iceland-2008-117-small

I’ve a few more entries on particular aspects of the Iceland trip. They’ll appear as other projects in my life allow!

Waterproofing your kit on this route is not a matter of popping your sleeping bag in a bin liner. The rain can come from all directions at once and the river crossings mean you run the risk of dropping the whole pack in the water.

We decided to go for tough plastic bags for the main pack liner (thanks again Lighthiker for encouraging my experiments there). We then double bagged critical things like the sleeping bags, duvet jackets and camera memory cards. We just candy cane twist the top (twist and then fold the twist back on itself) and put a rubber band on it.

I can’t say that I will use this system forever, the simplicity of one large Exped pack liner does appeal. Plus you can’t put your finger through an Exped liner (though there’s always gaffer tape – assuming you notice the hole in time). However since the BPL plastic bags only weigh 37gms each they’re very hard to beat on weight.

But the cunning part of this set-up is the second bag that holds the sleeping bag and the duvet jacket.

We’re using 35L Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Drybags (65gms). They double up as stuff-sacks of course, replacing two PHD stuff-sacks of 18gms each. Meaning for only 29gms extra they’ve got that critical “double bagged” waterproofing.

Large Silnylon bag used for both PHD Minimus bag and PHD Minimus jacket - flattened sideways to fit across width of bag

However I should say that I certainly wouldn’t rely on a sil-nylon waterproof bag alone for down items since they can fail and “weep” water.

That being said, I’ve used one as a stuff-sack for the sleeping bag alone for nearly a year and it only started to have tiny, tiny pin-prick leaks at stress points along the taped seam after a lot of bashing about in the pack.

Which is quite comparable to the Exped waterproof bags that I have often had to repair as well (am I just hard on kit? I can’t be the only one to have Exped bags start to leak surely? Or does no one test them?).

Anyhow, the cunning bit: A 35L bag is much, much larger and wider than the individual stuff-sacks and can therefore have the air squeezed from it, before being squashed into a fat disk shape that fits nicely across the whole diameter of the pack.

You can see the size of it compared with the 230ml gas canister in the picture. You can also see the flat disk shape that it forms.

The fat disk shape is far, far easier to pack than the two intransigent cylinders formed by the original stuff-sacks for sleeping bag and duvet jacket on their own.

In fact we’ll be using this packing method for the sleeping bags in future regardless of what we use for the main waterproofing.

We’ve since found that it works very well indeed for full winter bags and duvet jackets as well.

Iceland: Clothing

The one clothing mistake we made was: not bringing the Buffalo mitts!

They would have been worth every gram of the 70-80gms that they weigh. Instead we took synthetic liner gloves and MLD eVent Shell Mitts. Which worked in the sense that our hands were usable but they still got cold and wet in the foul conditions.

Which was a shame since I’ve absolutely loved the MLD Mitts all the rest of the wet summer in the UK and very much recommend them if you get cold hands as I do. But they really are summer use items.

Which illustrates the point that Iceland is well named. It is cold.

Although this summer apparently saw record high temperatures in the 20s Centigrade (70s Fahrenheit) we hardly experienced anything above 14C (57F) and usually much less. With frost on some nights and wet, wet snow. Passing a memorial to someone who died from hypothermia only 400 meters from one of the huts was sobering. And he wasn’t the only person to go that way in the last few years according to a hut guardian I spoke to.

But I don’t want to give the impression that it’s harder than it is – the guardian insisted that the people concerned were all very badly equipped. I believed her. There was a couple of South Korean girls who started out at the same time as us who had no waterproofs with them at all.

They were told they were not allowed to start the walk by the safety team at the Landmannalaugar Hut but went anyway (they have a team for such things apparently – it’s not uncommon for people to attempt it with no proper kit). Some Dutch walkers coming the other way handed them their spare ponchos but those eventually shredded in the wind. After two days of walking a warden drove in, in a large 4X4 and took them off the trail before they attempted any more river crossings.

Overall, if you can walk in the wet hills and mountains of the UK or Scandinavia then Iceland in summer should present no problem at all. The usual warm layers, waterproofs and waterproofing within your pack (more on that soon) are all you require.

I carried my own design of Cioch Liner Jacket (Paramo appear to have been reading my blog because they are now planning a similar setup for 2009!). As I said on a comment on the original posting, it worked all barring the non-Pump Liner material that was used around the edge of the hood. Once that was folded out of the way it worked fine. I was dryer than those in eVent or Gore. Would I take a Paramo based jacket again? Very probably – especially if it could be based on the new lightweight liner.

Sadly the trail attracts a lot of people that have no idea what they’re getting themselves in to since it’s so famous. Sadly mainly because if those people knew what clothing to bring they would have a far more enjoyable time but also because on rare occasions they really don’t enjoy it – and never enjoy anything else ever again.

Waterproof socks were pretty much essential. Although at one point I made the classic mistake of ignoring pain in my little toe until I’d pushed up a hill. Only to find the Sealskinz sock had rucked-up, thereby crunching up my toe, and I ended up with a bruised and blackened toenail.

Although I’ve been a fan of Sealskinz for ages, I’m not at all happy with the robustness of them. My old pair failed so I got a new pair from Needle Sports just before we went, but they were DOA (water dribbled from the central seam as soon as I put half a sock full of water in them). The next set held initially but failed after about six days of walking in Iceland.

I’m now trialling Rocky Gore Tex socks at the moment (cheers for the tip *PTC!) and I’m already happier with the fit. They’re converted to UK sizings on the Brookbank Canoe And Kayak website and you don’t need to size-up for liners. So I take a size 11.5 UK and I selected “UK 12” from the drop down – they’re slightly roomy – enough for a much thicker liner. They seem to be warmer too by virtue of not having a thick outer sock that holds the cold water like the Sealskinz do. I’d imagine that they’re also cooler in warm conditions for the same reason.

The one thing that we didn’t experience but the (much mentioned) French father and son certainly assured us did occur, were dust storms. The volcanic dust had damaged a lens and popped the zips on both the monster Gregory Palisade packs they carried.

We did take neck gaiters and wrap-around sunglasses. Though from what they said, those things would only just about allow you to function. It certainly wouldn’t be comfortable.

It seems rain can have its advantages.