Iceland: Tents

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Pegging down a tent in Iceland can apparently be challenging, but since the foul weather had us staying in a couple of extra huts than we’d planned and even speeding up the journey by a day we didn’t get much chance to find out.

I normally carry titanium “shepherd’s hook” tent stakes. They are extremely light and strong and manage to wheedle their way into all kinds of stony ground that other stakes have trouble with. I’ve also found them surprisingly secure even in conditions that have seen poles bent and other tents destroyed.

But if you really need to put some force behind them – you can’t. Whacking them with a rock won’t work.

So I also carried six Alpkit Tikes. But to be honest I never really had to test them properly and since then I’ve seen a couple bend on a friend’s tent.

iceland-2008-144-small So I’ve just taken delivery of the much praised Y Pegs from Clamcleat. Mentioned by *PTC, and also by a very good BPL article (sorry, subscription only – but it’s well worth it).

In case it was simply too rocky to get a stake in I also carried some modified Exped Snow & Sand Anchors (click the “english” button lower left, then under Products -> Tents -> Tent Accessories). They were simply modified by having the unnecessarily and completely inexplicably heavy gear-cord removed and replaced with some of good old backpackinglight.co.uk’s Dyneema.

But so far – they’re still unused. I’m just waiting for a chance to try them out in snow…

Though one of the Iceland crew has just moved out to Dubai for a while so may well be trying his out in sand shortly!

Edit 30/03/2010: I can’t believe that I originally forgot to mention we used the slightly modified Terra Nova Voyager Superlite in Iceland. However, since we were moving partly hut-to-hut I think if we did it again we’d use the Terra Nova Laser Competition that we squeeze into. Whilst I’m mentioning it, you might find some of the Tent Tips I posted useful in Iceland.

Iceland: Bugs and biting things

iceland-2008-99-small I was a little concerned about mosquitoes and midges since I know to my cost how many of the damned things live in Sweden and seem to like some “Ethnic Food”; Organic, Free Range Englishman, to spice up their diet.

That concern was heightened when LB noticed a lake in the north-east called called “Myvatn” which translates as “Midge Lake”.

But as it turned out – there was nothing there to nibble on me – thankfully. According to what I’ve read, other people are not so lucky.

Had there been midges – I’d have been prepared.

I got what appears to be a very efficient head-net from BPL whose weight I didn’t resent at all. I am almost looking forward to trying it. Almost.

The material that the head-net is made from isn’t quite proof against a determined (and very small) midgie so they advise treating it with some permithrin-based insecticide.

iceland-2008-180-small As it happens, I’ve been using a permithrin-based insecticide this summer that I find works really well. It’s less toxic than DEET and unlike DEET it won’t melt your plastic based materials!

I first heard about it on one of Bob’s podcasts about the OS Outdoors show of 2007.

It’s made by a UK based firm called Agropharm from marigold blooms. Not that making it from marigolds makes it completely benign of course – consider tobacco. It’s called PreVent (making it hard to search online) and it’s sold in tiny spray bottles making it easy to carry.

It can be bought direct from Agropharm only by the box load but there are one or two online retailers that sell it individually. Or go to the OS Outdoors Show and pick it up for about half price.

Iceland: Food!

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Most trip reports seem to gloss over the food preparation. But I thought I’d try to cover some of the detail of taking food for a few days walk, particularly since I tend to point people at this blog who are just starting out.

We really would have preferred to have simply carried boil in the bag freeze dried meals (that’s probably how other trip reports gloss over this!). But with LB’s potato allergy and my discovery that tomatoes, sweet peppers and chillis are what caused my painfully swollen sinuses – there aren’t any that work for us. (Though it seems antihistamines may be a work-around for me in future…).

We still wanted the weight saving and “fresh” tasting food that freeze drying gives. So we simply went for single-ingredient freeze dried items and made up our own meals.

We carried a fair amount of food for the main walk since there is nowhere to buy anything between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk (Thorsmork), and although there is a small shop at Þórsmörk we weren’t at all sure of what it would have in stock. And since we originally planned a night at the top between Þórsmörk and Skógar we actually carried enough food for six full days.

So we bought from two sources;  (Edit Dec 2012: European Freeze Dry don’t sell direct, instead go to Mountain House’s single ingredients page) and the excellent Wilderness Dining.

Getting the food there

The restrictions on bringing food into Iceland are not too onerous. There is an allowance of 3KG (not exceeding the value of ISK 13,000) below which you are not required to pay tax. Above that a percentage of the value of the food that you bring with you is charged. We had a very friendly email exchange with the Icelandic customs when we were trying to establish exactly how the charging worked. In essence we never did find out and they finished by saying “Don’t worry about it!” – so we didn’t.

One thing to ensure – that all your meat is cooked. Just being dried is not good enough (though one customs email implied it was…). So when we bought our freeze dried chicken we asked European Freeze Dry to label it specifically as cooked (it is cooked – but the standard label doesn’t normally say it is).

We kept most food in its original packaging so that any customs official looking at it wouldn’t bin it because they couldn’t identify it. We also brought spare bags to repack it in on the first night.

Iceland-2008-21-small One thing that we found well worth doing is making a list of all the food that we planned to eat, on which day.Not that we stuck to it – just for ensuring you have enough. And then ticking it off against the list as you put it into a bag. It’s surprisingly easy to think you’ve kept it all in one place, all ready to pack, when you have actually left some in another cupboard.

And then, and this sounds nuts, do it again. We did and inexplicably noticed two things we’d somehow missed on the first pass. (My theory is that it’s so plain boring doing this that you simply make mistakes – but I’d rather go through the boredom twice than be without some food).

We bought some food like porridge and chocolate in a supermarket in Iceland (in Kringlan) and discovered just how expensive food really is in Iceland. Or perhaps was? The Krona is not really that strong at the moment for some reason.

The meals

A lot of the detail of what we ate is in the spreadsheet linked below but for some of the thinking and methods we used see below.

IcelandFood.xls

(Spreadsheet was created in Open Office. It edits the same files as MS Office. It’s free and it works really well).

iceland-2008-6-small BreakfastWe had porridge, in bags that are intended for roasting (the bags are intended for roasting – not the porridge!) mixed with nuts, freeze dried fruit or chocolate.

Pour the boiling water in the bag (hence using ones suitable for roasting – less likelihood of plasticisers leaching into the porridge) and stick in the pot cosy for five minutes before eating from the bag.

I find it surprisingly easy to eat too much porridge and carrying too much would go against the grain – I’m trying to save weight here. On the other hand carrying too little has even worse consequences. So we’ve been weighing what we use and deciding on how much is just right: 75gms + 30gms of “other bits” seems to be the Goldilocks Value.

So, whilst we were still at home with access to digital scales, we weighed out one of our normal bag 75 gram bags of porridge (just the porridge). Then we pushed it all into a corner and tightly rolled up the bag, as if we were about to cut the corner and “pipe” icing onto a cake from it.

Then we took a permanent felt tip marker pen and drew around the rolled up bit. After emptying it we had an easy way of measuring out roughly 75 grams of porridge without using scales.

It’s much easier to do than to write down believe me!

Lunch

For lunches we wanted things that needed no cooking. You don’t want to get a stove out and wait for water to boil in lashing rain.

We counted our GORP as part of the lunch food. About 100 grams a day of whatever you fancy does wonders to lift the spirits after battling through the clag.

We keep it in a Simblissity Unslack Pack so that it’s really easy to get to.

iceland-2008-19-small DinnerThe dinners all started with a simple “soup” made from Kallo Organic Stock Cubes. We’d boil enough water for two cups of that and for re-hydrating the dinner.

The dinner was re-hydrated in the large pan, and then halved into the smaller pan and we ate directly from there.

On thing that the much-mentioned two French guys introduced me to that I really enjoyed was buttered Harðfiskur (dried fish). Carrying the butter might be fiddly but it was extremely tasty and not very strongly fishy.

We also took dried herbs and home-made curry powder (no chilli!) as well as ground black pepper and sea salt (it’s stronger flavoured and has more potassium and less sodium than table salt). They were all packed in tiny Backpacking Light MicroZip bags.

Dessert

Dessert was usually a bag of freeze dried strawberries. One 100 gram bag apparently re-hydrates with 900ml of water – meaning you’re effectively carrying a kilo of strawberries per bag!

We find that one last us for two nights (four desserts). Once you’ve opened a bag you’ll need an freezer bag or Aloksak to keep it in. You’ll also need a rubber band so you can roll the top down and wrap the band around to keep the contents from dusting themselves everywhere (strawberry dust is almost as insidious as volcanic dust – but far tastier).

Iceland water

I am generally fairly paranoid about water but even though I carried a couple of tiny bottles of Aquamira I never decided to use them.

Mostly our water came from the supply at the huts, but failing that we used melting snow-pack streams. Would I carry the 25grams of Aquamira again? Well… probably – since the weight is so small and it does mean you could drink something suspect if you had to.