The Terra Nova Voyager Superlite – Toughened-Up

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We used to use the excellent Terra Nova Solar II but when the Superlite version of the classic Terra Nova Voyager was produced I couldn’t resist shedding the half kilo or so of weight.  (And now it seems it’s 300 grams lighter still).

Nice and roomy. Very well made, as all Terra Nova stuff is. Although being a Superlite it does technically require seam-sealing to be utterly waterproof. Though, from what TN tell me, I seem to be the only person to ever have found it to leak slightly.

Another thing worth mentioning is that it does only require 12 pegs even though it has 13 pegging out points (as standard).  The two middle loops don’t require pegging. They’re just there to be used if you really want to use every point possible.

Yes, yes, but what of the toughening?

Well, ours took a hell of a kicking on some of its early outings. Partly it’s that we tend to pitch high and with more of an eye for the sunrise than for shelter. Partly it was just a series of extremely windy weekends that we happened to pick.

But despite getting almost a full “vacuum packed to the ground” effect on a couple of occasions, it came through with no damage on all but one occasion.

That was was when the wind turned overnight and instead of coming from the tail came from the front.

Now, if you look at the way the Voyager is put together, wind from the front, at first glance would seem to be no big deal.

lakes-may-2008-8-small Except that you then notice there are no guy lines on the front. In fact there are only two guy lines on the whole tent – at the rear flank.

(The picture shows wind from the front and side, it also shows a failed attempt to use a Grip Clip as a guy line. It failed as the silnylon is too slippery to hold it).

So, wind from the front pushes on the fly, and sends the single transverse pole backwards, sliding up inside the fly until the two longitudinal poles really start to feel it at the back.

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But looking at it, the solution seemed simple.

Since the problem is that the pole slides along the inside of the fly, away from the porch, just attach one of the same clips that the inner attaches to the poles with, to the fly, at the top of the transverse pole.

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I doubt it adds more than 8-10 grams to the weight but it solves the problem as the pole is now anchored by the pegs down at the front of the fly.

Which is fine, as long as the wind is coming straight at the front of the tent.

But of course it didn’t. Since is started at the back, it moved around to hit from the side for a time. At which point the whole tent tried to flatten sideways with only the rear guys putting up a fight.

It did well. Slightly banana’d the transverse pole but it survived. Boiling water for breakfast was a matter of holding down the groundsheet with as much weight as possible to stop the stove getting thrown about. We couldn’t even cook in the porch that morning (don’t try this at home folks ;).

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So the solution for that is far less cunning. Just attach a new guy point on each side at the joint between the porch and the main body. Nice long guy lines, and hey-presto – bomber semi-geodesic tent with enough guy lines to give it a fair chance in wind from any direction.

And the guys themselves have been replaced with Dyneema. It’s lighter than the original cordage and stronger than steel weight for weight. If that’s not impressive enough it’s 40% stronger than aramid fibre (Kevlar, the thread used in the bullet proof vests in the later part of the last century, is an aramid).

The tensioners have been replaced with the excellent (and very cheap) Mini-Line Loks. They are far, far easier to use than any other tensioner I’ve come across and yet manage to grip even the thin Dyneema cord without any sign of slippage.

Sharon Brogdale over at TN said that she’d spoken to the designer of the the new version of the Voyager about the door hook and the extra guys and they were considering them for the new design. But sadly they didn’t make it (I imagine it’s the weight they are concerned about).

toughened-up-elastic-loop-guys-on-the-terra-nova-voyager-smallWhilst I was sending it back to TN for new poles and the above re-working I had them replace the rather overly stretchy shock cord on the pegging out points with much shorter but tougher grade cord. That also helps stabilise it as the stretchier cord allowed the fly to move about a bit too much for my liking.

TN charged very reasonable money for all this. The shock cord was £2.50 a point (five of them), new guy points £10.00 each  and the hook above the door only £5.00. Another £5.00 p&p brought the whole lot to £42.50.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great tent even as sold. But for pitching in really silly places in even sillier weather my modified version is as close to carrying a TN Quasar as I’m likely to get (until they make a sub 1.5 kilo Quasar Superlite…).

Edit: 09/ May 2009: Duh! I should have said – it weighs in at 1966 grams. A 104 gram gain on the original weight of 1862 grams.

Some Tent Tips

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If you’re reading this, you’re an outdoorsey sort of person and probably know all of this – but maybe not. Maybe there’s just a nugget of information in here that you’ll be glad of. One of them I can even claim as my own idea…

We like tents and not bivy/tarps because we like snuggling up together. It’s a couple thing.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom that I’ve picked up about them.

Scrunch don’t roll (unless you want to)

When packing a tent on the hill there’s no need to flatten, fold and roll it all up, if you prefer you can just stuff it in (like you should always do with sleeping bags – which should never be rolled). It won’t do the tent any harm, at least not according to Bo Hilleberg if a thread on OM is to be believed.

Of course rolling works really well for some tents particularly where the inner is usually left attached to the fly.

Pack it in a couple of big stuff-sacks

Something that Chris Townsend mentioned in an interview with Bob Cartwright (I can’t find it now – grab them all they’re all great!) was not to carry the tent in the original bag but to split inner and outer into two largish stuff-sacks instead.

This works amazingly well in transforming your tent from a giant, intransigent, sausage-shape in to two compressible, slippery pillow-shapes that can be squeezed down the side of the pack, under your lunch and food-stop clothing, right out of the way.

I use silnylon sacks to keep the weight down of course and it also makes them far more slippery and therefore easier to pack.

Even if your tent pitches inner+fly together, repacking it in a larger bag can help it to squash around other things and actually achieve a smaller pack.

Snapping poles together

You’re always told “Don’t let the ends of the tent poles ‘snap’ together under the force of the elastic cord”. But how will it damage such tough poles? I’d always wondered.

sweden-summer-07-38-small Well the instructions that came with the Terra Nova Voyager Superlite finally let me in on the secret.

It’s because they might be scratched, and that scratch will remove the very thin anodised layer, and they will start to corrode at the joint, which will weaken them and they may eventually fail.

Guy lines

Generally guy lines should be as long as possible to allow them to “pull” in the direct opposite direction to the wind. A short guy line will only pull towards the ground. Just look at the length of the lines on full-mountain tents like the Crux range. Of course in a camp site, a short guy line may stop someone falling on to your tent!

And of course replacing them with Dyneema and Mini-Line Loks means lighter, stronger and easier to use guy lines.

Striking in high wind

Taking down a tent in a high wind is a risky procedure. A tent is only at full strength when everything is assembled. As you take it apart you risk something being strained in a way it’s not designed for and failing spectacularly.

This is something we worked out with the Voyager but it should apply to many other tents. Get into the porch, un-clip all the inner except the top above the door, and the where the poles cross.

Using your your body inside the tent to keep the poles from snapping as the tent is buffeted, un-clip those and immediately pop the poles out of the eyelets; collapsing the tent.

Whilst you’re still under the flapping fly, un-peg all the inner attachment points and bag it.

Then pull the pegs from fly but make sure you pop the lee-side first to stop the fly just flicking over and releasing from the last pegs – before disappearing off across the hillside!

This also works well for striking in the rain where it can keep the inner dry, saving you weight. Also saving you from getting water inside the tent if, like the Voyager Superlite, there are mesh panels in the inner.

A cunning porch closure method

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I can’t be the first person to have thought of this but I can claim to have thought this one up all on my own (not everything is pinched from somewhere else in the Interweb you know!).

Attach a spare bit of guy-line to one zip on the porch. I use some shiny, white Spectra.

It naturally tends to trail toward the door when you close it.

So in the morning when you’re sat with your bum in the tent and your feet in your freshly laced shoes outside the tent you don’t have to bend-double to reach a zip. You just grab the cord and pull. No more walking forward on your knuckles wishing you’d stuck with the yoga.

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And, as in the picture, you can even use it in reverse; to close the tent: Use a toe to grab the zip whilst holding the cord and close the zip with your foot (trust me – it’s far easier than it sounds).

GR5: Tyvek “Hut Sandals”

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When you turn up at an Alpine hut or gîte d’Etape, the best way to ensure a really frosty welcome is to tramp straight inside with your boots on.

A lot of the huts provide racks of sabots (sandals or clogs) that you can swap with your outdoor footwear before entering. But many don’t, and many don’t have enough in the right size to fit my size 11.5 feet.

Besides, it’s always nicer to wear something that only your own scary feet have seen the inside of!

But carrying sandals has always felt like more weight than it’s worth to me. I’ve mostly just used my socks but they do get rather dirty.

On the Haute Route I used thick elastic hair-ties to hold just the Superfeet insoles on to my socks. It worked, after a fashion. But it was rather dangerous as it was all too easy to catch the toe in something and have your foot “bungied” back to earth as the rest of you carried on forwards…

But this year, with some inspiration (once again!) from Lighthiker, I think I might have cracked it: Tyvek Clean Room over-shoes.tyvek-hut-sandals-small

They’re ridiculously light at 28 grams for a pair.

The only supplier I’ve found sells them very cheaply at 55 pence per “shoe”.

Although the postage makes up for that at £6.50.

But, club together with some like-minded friends, go nuts and get two pairs and the price comes down to something more reasonable.

I’ve yet to try them extensively but from using them after a sauna in a camp site recently they seem fine.

They have a very thin, rubberised sole that works well to prevent them slipping.

Overall they’re so simple the only thing that remains to be seen is whether they’ll last the whole trip.

A Summer Alpine Walking FAQ

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I’ve spoken with many, many people about walking hut-to-hut in the Alps during the summer. Some are not really “walkers” at all and some are quite enthusiastic walkers in the UK but have no idea of the existence of the Alpine huts and Gîtes d’Etape.

There’s a huge amount of information around in books, online and even on this site under labels such as Haute Route and GR5.

But the sheer volume of information is also rather off-putting – people want an overview to get them going.

So here’s a run-down in FAQ style that tries to cover the questions that everyone seems to start with. Well, they’re what I get asked anyhow!

Continue reading “A Summer Alpine Walking FAQ”

The GR5 – Geneva To Nice

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We’ve now started planning properly our Big Walk for 2009: The GR5 from Geneva to Nice (not the extension from Holland to Nice!).

It all started with a Cicerone sponsored podcast with Andy Howell interviewing Paddy Dillon. We listened to it on the way to Wales for the weekend. By the time it had finished, we were thinking we’d just have to do it. I’ll have to have words with both of them – it’s not cheap this walking in France malarkey!

725km/450 miles in distance, 40,000 metres/130,000 feet of height and inevitably, 40,000 metres of height loss, which is the real killer. So that’s 40km/25 miles up and down, or four and a half times the height of Everest.

The guidebook that Paddy has written was only published late last year so it’s probably hardly been used by anyone so far. Which seems to be true since there are a couple of little mistakes that we’ve told Cicerone about that they’d not noticed before. (Expect an Updates tab on the page for the guide book soon).

At the moment we’re thinking five weeks should cover it. That’s already a week longer than Paddy gives it. But his days are pretty chunky by our standards and we’re not racing here. The longer the better. So it may yet be stretched…

Working as freelancers (IT for me and Translation for LB) certainly has its perks. For everyone else, try The Four Hour Work Week. It’s a great read if nothing else.

walkers-haute-route-07-61 We’re planning on doing it hut-to-hut so I’ve already covered a lot of my ideas on that in the series of postings on the Haute Route.

Though there certainly will be some little improvements to the kit to mention. I’ll be aiming to carry as little as possible to make up for my lump of a camera.

However the big difference here is simply the fact that we’re away for so long. There are all kinds of odd things to consider.

Most house insurance only covers you for thirty days away from home. Most travel insurance doesn’t cover a trip that long. A pair of Terrocs should be good for 500kms… so even starting with nearly new ones (I’d always try them for a couple of weekends) is going to be pushing a point. How do you carry enough memory for that many digital images? (How do you find the time to develop them afterwards?). Carrying a total of twenty one 1:25,000 maps would weigh a couple of kilos – that had to be re-thought!

As ever, we’ll be walking with some of the usual suspects from previous Big Walks, but only for the first twelve days.

Few other people are free enough from commitments to be able to complete the whole trek. It might seem odd to be starting on a honeymoon with friends – but we’ll have most of the time there on our own. We’d have liked to have been able to invite some more people for the first section, but booking in to the huts in high-season is tricky at the best of times.

So, as we keep saying to people, never mind the wedding, think of the honeymoon!

I really, really can’t wait…

Iceland: Non-hiking Touristing

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Well I’ve said all I can think of about the hiking but Iceland is certainly a place that’s worth visiting regardless of whether you want to do any walking. Anywhere that the state weather forecast web site also includes a recent earthquakes map has got to be interesting.

And Reykjavik certainly is an interesting place. I’m not sure I’d go just to see it, besides it would be crazy to miss the rest of Iceland if you did, but it’s definitely worth exploring. For a capital city, despite the huge size of its suburbs, it’s surprisingly reminiscent of small-town Sweden.

We stayed in, and would highly recommend The Three Sisters Guesthouse. Thor and Sonja were incredibly helpful, allowing us to leave spare bags with them whilst we were away (twice) and also finding rooms for us when we turned up a day earlier back in Reykjavik after we’d double-dayed the last stretch to avoid a night at altitude in a severe storm. Like all the Icelanders that we met, they spoke perfect English (and even Swedish, in Thor’s case).

The Three Sisters is quite easy to find, being very close to the old harbour and the two Whale Watching companies. But it’s certainly worth printing a map and marking the location so that you can wave it at the cab driver at the BSI coach station.

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The ability to leave a bag at the place that you stay in Reykjavik is very useful and not uncommon (though often charged a small amount for). It means you can bring things like books, smarter clothes etc. and pack your rucksack into a larger “flight bag” to protect it, and also to use as the bag you leave behind.

Not far from The Three Sisters on the way back into Reykjavik was the Geysir Bistro that served truly excellent food, in great surroundings with really welcoming staff. Book it if you can – it gets filled up.

If you can find the Cultura Bar  (it’s easy, it’s directly opposite the old Opera House) pop in for excellent beers and very iceland-2008-197-smallnice food with great chilled-out music.

On the subject of beer – we never did manage to find the much searched for “ludicrously expensive pint” that we could spend the next twenty years complaining about in British pubs.

Sure the beer wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t more than a third or so more expensive than the UK. I’ve paid a fair bit more in Copenhagen (more than once – well, it’s so nice…).

Though maybe that’s less to do with how expensive the UK has become and more to do with how shaky the Icelandic economy was becoming. Overall Iceland is expensive, but if you’re doing some walking and camping for a stretch of your stay that will certainly reduce your average cost per day.

But back to the beer… One thing to be wary of, in common with the Scandinavian countries, is that shops often sell 2% versions of the normal beer in almost identical packaging. It’s cheaper and in fact is a generally perfectly good beer, great for lunch time. But it can catch you out if you’re expecting something stronger.

The only way to get around Iceland is by road. I imagine no one has ever been crazy enough to try laying train tracks on the shifting volcanic landscape. If you have a chance, hire a car. Though don’t even think about taking anything less than a properly equipped 4X4 into the highlands. You probably won’t make it, and you certainly won’t be insured!

iceland-2008-48-smallWe used the coaches out of the main BSI coach station. Which were fine for getting from A to B but for seeing the sites they were very rushed and on a couple of occasions the drivers were very uninformative.

On one occasion the coach left one person behind at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) (the site of the first Parliament) who then hitch-hiked to catch up with us. He was even more annoyed when he found that for the next stop we actually doubled back to the bottom of Þingvellir – within five minutes walk of the stop he’d been left at. Meaning that he hadn’t needed to hitch, and the rest of us hadn’t needed to spend 45 minutes in a boring road-side cafe in the mean time.

We decided to spend a night at the camp site at Geysir. If you’ve got a tent anyway it’s well worth it. It only cost around six UK pounds. Whereas the hotel was around ninety pounds, plus food. But since you can still use the geo-thermal hot-tubs, pool and bar even if you’re just camping, it seems crazy to pay that and miss the opportunity of iceland-2008-40-smallcamping within a few metres of bubbling fumaroles and spouting geysers.

We really were very glad to have stayed overnight at Geysir. Otherwise the coach only spends forty five minutes there so you hardly have time to walk once around the area and get a shot of Strokkur before being whisked off again. Spending the night let us soak the place up – in the hot tub. They sell cans of (full strength!) beer in the tourist shop across the car park from the pool.

You can sit in steaming sulphurous water peering across the plain at the distant peaks. Perfect.

Many people visit the first (Landmannalaugar) and the last (Þórsmörk – Thorsmork) huts on the trail by coach.

From Landmannalaugar you can go riding on Icelandic horses. Crossing rivers and tölting (an extra gait that other horses can’t do) across the crazy landscape is an experience not to be missed.

We also fitted in some whale watching (as mentioned – very, very close to the Three Sisters). It’s easy to book online and good fun scanning the sea for whales or dolphins. Don’t go expecting to see huge creatures breaching and falling back into the ocean with a fountain of spray. It’s more about hunting for a black shape breaking the surface or maybe some dolphins playing with the boat. We all enjoyed it though.

iceland-2008-184-smallBecause we double-day’d the last section of our walk we just had time to fit in a visit to The Blue Lagoon. The slightly touristy nature of the information I’d seen on it had put me off somewhat but I was wrong. It was very chilled-out in a well organised Nordic fashion, with a bar that allowed the drinks to be taken in to the steaming warm water. I’d highly recommend paying the extra for a large, luxurious fluffy towel as well. It turned out to be an excellent way to round off the trip.

When we go again, we will spend more time at The Blue Lagoon. The four hours that we had there flashed past. You need a day to enjoy it.

So, even if you’re not into the hiking get the Lonely Planet, and go!