KIT: What’s in the backpack?

I’ve had a number of people asking me if I really fit everything for a weekend hike in my 30L pack. So I thought I’d right a post with a details what’s in the pack for a typical summer weekend hike. The photo was taken at the end of a trip so there’s no food in the pack.

Pack contents

Pack contents

  • A – Sea-to-Summit Outhouse & Coughlans trowel
  • B – Clothing – a few pairs of underwear, spare socks, spare baselayer (Rab MeCo 120 SS)
  • C – RAB Siltarp 1 + 6 x Alpkit Y beam pegs in Treadlightly bag
  • D – Evernew 1.5L water pouch
  • E – Mountain Equipment Lamina 35 sleeping bag
  • F – Osprey Tempest 30 Backpack
  • G – Exped Synmat 7 UL, Schnozzel pump bag, Exped Pillow UL, RAB silk sleeping bag liner, Mossie headnet
  • H – Alpkit Hunka XL bivvi bag.
  • I – Sawyer Mini, 2L bag, gravity conversion kit.
  • J – Powertraveller powermonkey Extreme + cable
  • K – Evernew Appalachian set + Evernew 400ml mug
  • L – Paramo Bentu fleece
  • M – Svord Peasant Mini + EDC Fire Kit (both in right pocket)
  • N – Meths
  • O – Paramo Fuera Ascent Jacket
  • P – Brewkit.

Not labelled is the silver foil coated bubble wrap insulation that I use as a ground pad under the Exped Synmat.

Brewkit contents

Brewkit contents

In the brew kit I have teabags, hot chocolate, soup, knife, fork, spoon, salt, pepper, oil, pot gripper, and the BPL universal trivet. The tub doesn’t weigh much more than a similar size stuff sack, and protects the contents.

When packing I try to make sure everything goes into the pack in the reverse order that I need it, so the sleeping bag goes in the bottom, then the bivvi bag, then sleep mat, then tarp etc…

The powermonkey pack goes in the zip pocket on the underside of the lid, the sawyer goes in the stash pocket on the front of the pack, the trowel and fuel in a side pocket, and the water pouch in the other side pocket.

Contents of the pack pockets

Contents of the pack pockets

In the hip pockets I have a few odds and sods, the first aid kit (large dressing, pouch of plasters, tube of pills) goes in the left pocket, the right pocket has sunblock, insect repellent, small saw, and the Zelph Starlyte stove. I keep my inReach Explorer on my left shoulder strap, and my Petzl Zipka 2+ on the right strap, so I don’t have to rummage about in a pack to try and find it in the dark.

With everything in the pack there is room for food on the top, and in the stash pocket. The lid pocket is also empty and I usually fill it with food. Dry weight, it’s 6.6kg.

Packed and ready to go

Packed and ready to go

Everything I need for a few nights hiking, all carried in a 30L pack, with room for food.

ADVENTURE: A Good Friday for a walk (North Downs Way Section hike)

That rare confluence of a British bank holiday and a good weather forecast offered an opportunity that seemed to be too good to miss. In particular the forecast showed a promise of a relatively warm night time temperatures (over 5°C). This seemed like a good chance to put the winter sleeping bag away, break out the summer kit and hit the trail.

The North Downs way looked like the obvious choice. At this point I had a couple of gaps on the route at the Eastern end. One from the Battle of Britain Monument to Postling (courtesy of my first aborted attempt), and one from Dover to Canterbury. My GPX of the route showed that Dover to Canterbury was 30km, with a nice break in the middle around Shepherdswell. I threw some kit into my pack, opting at the last minute to add my Páramo Torres jacket in case it was slightly colder than planned, and headed for the station.

Disembarking at Dover I bimbled towards the sea front to find the official start/end point of the North Downs Way. Being a national trail, I expected there to be some sort of obvious sign on the front. I stood in the sunshine looking around for any indication of a sign. With nothing obvious showing up, I sat down on an uncomfortable seat and googled the start of the North Downs way. I had hoped to find coordinates or a grid reference. Ah, such naivety. Eventually I found a picture that suggested that the start finish post is actually a line on the ground. With this info I soon found the start of the trail. I was glad I hadn’t just walked here from Farnham to find it…

The Start/Finish of the North Downs Way (the shiny line in the middle of the picture).

For anyone else hoping to find such a point I saved a waypoint into my GPS – 51.122521°N 1.315339°E (or TR 32098 41142 in OS Grid).

Having found the trail I followed the first NDW sign through an underpass into the bustling heart of Dover’s high street. Here I promptly lost the signs again, and with not enough detail on my 1:40k map, I wandered round to Pencester Road, where I finally picked up the trail again. Here the sign was more obvious showing where I should have gone.

I followed the signs through the wide streets of Dover, the route showing a gentle incline. Here and there signs of spring poked through. Daffodils, Blackthorn blossom, Hazel catkins.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) blossom at Connaught Park

I left the streets on Connaught road and followed a sunken path through a grave yard to join the old Roman Road, that climbs the hill out of the Valley and left Dover proper.

By now the sun had come out and the it was warming up into a pleasant spring day. Alas there was a slight chilly breeze so I wasn’t able to lose my windproof. The first part of the path towards the A2 has recently been resurfaced and was rather pleasant to walk along with fields on each side. Like much of the North Downs Way you can’t get far from the sound of traffic and as I headed north the sound of the A2 got louder.

On the OS map the North Downs Way is shown as crossing the A2 directly near what is now a slip road, but the Harveys Map and the sign posts show a detour to cross the A2 at a bridge.

Crossing the bridge I found the green lane that the NDW follows at this point with a large concrete block in the middle of it. I didn’t think much of this, and continued on. From here, with the A2 just metres away on my left, looking north I could see all the way to Ramsgate, and the Thanet wind farm in the distance. Shame that the foreground seemed to involve someones dump…

Ramsgate and the Isle of Thanet in the distance.

The path was heavily rutted, boggy in places, and made for interesting travel. At one point I had to inch along the side hanging off the branches of the hawthorn bushes to avoid the bog the path had become. When I got to the end of the rutted section I found another large concrete block and a sign. Apparently this section has been closed for 6 months so that they can fix the damaged surface. Alas the sign saying this seems to have gone missing from the other end. I took the opportunity of a seat (the concrete block) to have a snack and a drink. I then filtered some water from a nearby cattle trough before continuing on.

Rutted green lane

The path opened out onto open farmland, you could see from the terrain that this section used to be an trackway used for carts, but hasn’t seen such traffic in years. The fields were lush with green growth. Because of the noise of the traffic on the earlier section, I was walking along listening to podcasts on my headphones. This meant I didn’t hear when the dry bag with my loo roll in it fell off the outside of my pack where I had tied it on earlier. I only realised this as I was approaching the A256. I wasn’t prepared to backtrack to find it, so pressed on.

Many shades of green, the lush growth of spring.

In need of the loo and to refill my water bottles, I diverted just past the A256 to the Cider Works. It’s marked as a pub on the Harveys Map, but it’s actually a licensed cafe with slightly odd opening hours. I arrived just before the shut at 4pm, bought a slice of cake and an apple juice. They kindly refilled my water bottles. Restocked and rested, I once again moved on.

Rejoining the NDW, the landscape changes once again. I crossed through a church yard into pasture, through a small copse and into the lands of a country estate. I wanderd past giant mature trees, timeless pasture, and a country pile the size of which I had not expected.

An unexpected Mansion.

Leaving the pastoral land I crossed into a wheat field that filled a whole valley. I ascended the other side into a small woodland, then back into farmland for the last couple of kilometres to Shepherdswell.

The staff at the Cider works had said that one of the pubs in Shepherswell had recently closed, but they couldn’t remember which one it was. Fortunately the one that is still open is the one nearest the NDW, and I exited the path next to the church yard and into the pub.

The Bell Inn, Shepherdswell – A welcome sight.

The pub had a small crowd round the main bar area, and the conversation seemed to reduce somewhat as I came in. I walked past them all with my large pack, a couple of them making comments. I collapsed onto a sofa and ordered a pint.

I knew I had only a kilometre or so until my planned bivvi location and I had a couple of hours until sunset. Not wanting to make camp until the sun was down, it seemed the logical choice was to stay in the pub until dark… It’s a hard life sometimes…

Three pints of courage and a delicious fish ‘n’ chips later, I left the pub into the star light. I wandered through the horse pastures of Shepherdswell onto where the NDW joins a country lane heading north. Away from much of the light pollution I had a clear view of the stars, and with Orion on my left, and Cassiopeia on my right, I headed north.

Somewhere north of Shepherdswell I left the NDW and found a spot to bivvi in an area of coppiced broadleaf trees. It wasn’t the best spot, but it was away from the trail, had some shelter from an earth bank, and it wasn’t under a Yew tree. Between the exhaustion of the hike, the 3 pints of beer and the cold, I didn’t linger long. I put up my tarp, rolled out the bivvi bag, and crawled in, still fully dressed. It was cold so I wore my Torres jacket inside the sleeping bag.

I lay there listening to the local wildlife, something rustled in the leaf litter, and in the distance an owl called. But as I lay there I realised that I was shivering. Actual body shaking shivers. This was not good. I was in a 5°C sleeping bag, inside a heat reflecting bivvi bag, with an insulating jacket inside that. I rooted about in my pack to find the space blanket that was inevitably at the bottom. I unfolded it and put it between the bivvi bag and the sleeping bag. With this in place, I curled up tight and drifted off to sleep.

I woke just after first light, I might have started the night shivering cold but I was now comfortably warm. I ventured a hand out of the warmth to check the outside of my sleeping bag. As I had feared the non breathable space blanket had lead to lots of condensation on the outside of my sleeping bag. I crawled out into the woodland and stretched, before wandering off a short way to irrigate a tree. As I returned to my camp I realised just how badly I had made camp the night before. Certainly not my finest camp…

Not my best tarp pitching…

I stretched my sleeping bag out so that it could dry. The DWR coating on the bag had done it’s job and the moisture had pooled on the outside of the bag. It dried quite quickly, and just 45 minutes after I had crawled out of my bivvi bag, I stepped back out onto the trail.

Whilst Friday had been warm with beautiful spring sunshine, Saturday was an altogether chillier and greyer affair.

Grey skies looking towards Thanet.

From here onwards the NDW passes along side large open fields. The hedgerows of the previous day were gone, and with them their shelter from the wind. Where the path came close to a road edge, some scrote had fly tipped their rubbish.

I trudged northwards. Whilst on Friday I had covered 21.8km and didn’t feel too bad, just 5km into Saturdays hike and my feet were starting to ache. My old injury back with vengeance. I continued on, the pain increasing with every passing kilometre.

At Barham Downs I found the field the NDW passes through being ploughed by a couple of very large tractors, taking with it the obvious route through the field. I skirted along the edge where there was another path. On reaching the end of the field I had a small navigational hickup, and stopped to double check using viewranger. Position checked, I found the path a few metres beyond where I had thought it would be, and continued on.

Freshly ploughed path…

Once again the NDW joins a large road, this time following along the A2 for a short section near Bridge. The pain in my feet was getting considerable, and I decided that it would be best if I diverted to Bekesbourne station and the train back to Canterbury.

Bekesbourne only has one train an hour in each direction, and not wanting to have to wait 58 minutes on a platform with no seat or shelter having watched a train depart, I pressed onwards. I passed through the pretty village of Patrixbourne, before turning off the North Downs Way into Bekesbourne.

As I hobbled along Station Approach, I heard the sound of the approaching train, and with the last drops of will power, broke into a run. The train pulled into the station when I was about 50 yards from the platform. The Guard stepped onto the platform as a handful of passengers got off. The guard saw me and I waved, calling out “please wait!”. The kind guard held the train for me blowing his whistle and closing the door behind me as I stepped onto the train. I collapsed into a seat for the short trip to Canterbury. I’d managed just over 10km today, crossing off most of the NDW between Dover and Canterbury. I’ll have to come back for the final 3.5km.

Skills: Campfire bread

I wanted to have a go at baking bread over an open fire (ideally without resorting to very heavy Dutch ovens). After much research it seemed that dry baking was the way to go.

Dry baking is basically sticking one pot inside another with the item you’re baking inside the inner pot. The inner pot is kept from the outer pot by some sort of separator. You can buy dry baking kits designed for hiking, but being on a budget and with most of these being US in origin, I decided to have a go at using stuff I already had.

Equipment wise I used two Tatonka stainless steel kettles, the 1.6L and the 1.0L.

The recipe was for a simple white loaf.

  • 500g Strong white flour
  • 1 Sachet bread yeast
  • Salt
  • Slug of olive oil
  • Warm water

I mixed the ingredients together in the 1.6L pot. In hindsight I put a bit too much water in, which made a very damp mix. Fortunately the friend I was camping with had some spare flour, unfortunately it was self raising flour. After a bit of kneeding the dough was left in the covered pot by the fire for it’s first rise. I was making this outdoors in April so needed the warmth of the fire to get a rise within a reasonable time frame.

First rise of the bread next to the fire

First rise of the bread next to the fire

First rise went pretty well, but it became apparent that 500g of flour makes a lot of bread, I split the dough roughly in half, one half for my experiment and the other half I gave to my camp mate for her to experiment with. Knocked back and with a brief kneed, I left the dough in the lid of the 1.0L pot with a loose covering of foil to keep it from drying out. The dough spent about half an hour next to the fire rising.

Bread dough rising

Second rise after knocking back.

While the dough had it’s second rise I built up the fire. It had been burning since breakfast that morning, but I turned the Just A Pile Of Sticks™ fire lay into a log cabin fire lay. The fire wood was seasoned hornbeam approximately wrist thick. The aim was to get a good hot bed of embers.

I dropped the dough in it’s lid into the 1.6L pot, with a layer of aluminium foil in the bottom crumpled slightly to provide a gap between the outer pot and the inner pot. Then it was just a case of putting the pot on the fire, and hoping…

While the bread cooked, I carved a butter knife out of a piece of green hornbeam.

Pot over the fire.

Bread in “the oven”.

After about 40 minutes I took the lid off the outer pot to take a look. It looked like the dough was cooking nicely on the underside, but not fully cooked on the top. I gave it a bit longer while I had a think, before deciding to turn the bread over. I had oiled the lid before I put the dough in, but hadn’t managed to fully coat the rim and the bread was stuck. Eventually with some levering and poking with sticks, I got it separated.

Inverted, the dough got another 20 minutes or so. I then just had the slight issue of how to get the bread out the pot without burning myself. After inverting the bread into the lid of the 1.6L pot, then turning that back out onto the ground. The result? One good looking loaf of bread, with a nice hollow sound when tapped.

Bread

Bread fresh out the oven – Good crust.

Slicing the bread through the middle, it was cooked through. Just perfect. The crust was not brilliant, I’d forgotten to score the top of the loaf before cooking. But inside the crumb was lovely. I might not win any prizes on bake off, but for a loaf of bread cooked over an open fire in the middle of the woods. I am pleased.

White bread.

Good crumb!

Of course the proof of the loaf is in the eating. Served up with some salted butter, spread with a simple hand carved butter knife, the loaf didn’t last long, disappearing in about 10 minutes. The taste wasn’t the best I’ve ever made, I think it could have done with a bit more salt. But it was certainly tasty enough that it all got eaten. In future I think I’ll use about half the flour and increase the salt. I’m guessing 200-250g of flour is about right for this size pot setup.

All in all, tasty fresh bread baked on an open fire, using no specialised equipment, just the stuff I have in my pack, I’m pleased with that.

Next time I may have to see if I can bake a cake…

Bread and butter.

Bread and Butter. Butter knife carved while the bread cooked.

 

REVIEW: AMK SOL Escape Bivvi Bag.

AMK SOL Escape Bivvi in use in December 2015.

On paper it looks too good to be true. An 8.6oz (243g) breathable bivvi bag that also reflects back your own body heat. The name, Adventure Medical Kits Survive Outdoors Longer Escape Bivvi is quite a mouthful. When I first came across it on the AMK website I thought it had to be worth testing out. If the claims are true here’s a 250g piece of kit that can replace my bivvi bag and sleeping bag in the warmer months of the year. A massive saving on weight.

AMK make the Escape bivvi both in ORANGE and in an Olive drab. Unfortunately the UK importer only imports the ORANGE version and not the green. Fortunately the green version can be had on Amazon.com, including delivery to the UK. Even better it worked out half the price of buying the orange version in the UK. Win.

AMK SOL Escape Bivvi with 1L Nalgene bottle for scale

As it comes the bivvi bag is packed into it’s stuff sack, which is made out of the same fabric as the bivvi bag itself. When it arrives is the only time it will ever be that size, after using and repacking it a few times it sort of settles at about the size of a Nalgene bottle. Not quite as small as originally packaged.

The fabric is sold as breathable and heat reflective bivvi bag that can even replace a sleeping bag down to 50°F. Pah! No chance.

The bag reflects back most of your body heat, which is great, but because it’s next to your body it’s not able to prevent conductive and convection loses. I’ve tried various permutations of fully clothed, just a base layer, with a sleeping bag liner. Even testing it inside when the temperature was about 18°C, it just wasn’t warm enough to use on it’s own.

So what about with a sleeping bag? This is where you come up against the other major issue with the bag, the size. In order to keep the weight down they have made the bag quite small. Whilst I fit in it length wise, it’s a tight fit round the torso. I can fit in with my summer sleeping bag, but with my winter bag it compresses the insulation so much that you don’t get the benefit and end up with cold spots. With a summer sleeping bag inside, this bag does provide extra warmth and can give a few extra degrees performance from your sleeping bag. But, if it’s too warm, and you start to sweat, you hit the next issue.

Breath-ability. This is an interesting one. AMK claim that the bag is breathable. And I’m sure it is, to a point. AMK do not list a Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate, the measure by of how well a fabric breathes. So whilst I’m sure that some moisture escapes, it certainly doesn’t seem to be all of it. I have had a few dry nights sleep with the Escape Bivvi, these have been nights where the ambient temp has balanced well with the combo of sleeping bag and bivvi bag. In summer where I’ve ended up slightly too warm and thus sweated, you get a damp bag.

So it’s not particularly warm, and it doesn’t seem too great at letting the water out. Does it at least not let the water in? In a word: No. If used under a tarp, or on a dry night, it’ll keep the dew off your sleeping bag, and it’ll be OK with the odd spray that may come in the side of the tarp. But used in a rain storm, you’re gonna get wet.

So is it all bad news? Not entirely. As an emergency survival bag it’s light enough to drop in your pack and should keep you alive until Mountain Rescue can find you, and on nights where you want to keep the dew off your sleeping bag and the temperature is just right, it does work. If AMK made a slightly larger version so you could get a winter sleeping bag to fully loft inside, the extra warmth the reflective fabric gives would be useful. But for a bag that has so much promise, so much potential, AMK seem to have ended up well short of the mark.

REVIEW: Exped Lightning 60 & Flash Pocket

For a while now I’ve been wanting a new pack for winter use as well as for longer multi day trips where I need to carry more than 2-3 days food. My Osprey Tempest 30 is a great pack, but it’s 30L capacity becomes a limit when I want to use my big bulky synthetic winter sleeping bag.

After much deliberation I narrowed my Choices down to 4 packs. Osprey Exos 58(1.37kg), Z-Packs Arc Blast 60(601g), Gossamer gear Mariposa(825g (medium)), and the Exped Lightning 60(1120g). Despite being heavier than both the Arc Blast and the Mariposa, I decided on the Exped. Whilst my kit is lightweight, and getting lighter, I still have heavy synthetic sleeping bags, as well as wanting a pack for use when I need to carry several days worth of food. Working on an assumption of 800-1000g per day for food, a weeks food is 7kg. Given the Arc Blast and the Mariposa seem to top out capacity wise at around 35lb, the 24kg (note unit change) capacity of the Exped leaves me with plenty of comfortable range. Sure I don’t want to carry a 20kg pack any great distance, but knowing that my pack isn’t going to be massively uncomfortable after resupply is nice.

Main Pack

Backpack hanging in tree.

The pack in use with Flash pocket on the outside.

Enough of why I bought it, onto what I bought. The pack is pretty much as basic a pack as you could want. In terms of construction it’s effectively a dry bag style main compartment, with a couple of stretch side pockets, a compression system, all attached to a back system. Exped list the weight as 1120g, my pack comes in at 1070g on my scales.

The bag has a closure system similar to a dry bag, but the seams are not sealed so it shouldn’t be submersed or treated like a dry bag. It’s made from a Dyneema grid stop fabric which doesn’t seem to be that crisp packetty like Cuban fibre and Sil Nylon can be, but not quite as quiet as canvas. The fabric is 210 denier thick, 160gsm nylon with Dyneema reinforcing, all with a waterproof PU coating with a 15000mm hydrostatic head. Or put simply: a durable ripstop fabric. I went for the black pack as it was the colour least likely to stick out when walking in the wilderness. I don’t like bright colours in the outdoors and prefer if I can blend in with my surroundings, rather than being visual pollution.

Next to where the T bar of the back system attaches to the pack there is a waterproof zip that gives access to a pocket. On my first trip out I accidentally left this zip open by a couple of millimetres and it made the contents rather damp. This  pocket is effectively a free floating flap inside the pack, I find it helps when closing the pack to lay it across the top of the contents so you can access it easier from outside. On the inside of the pack the pocket has a separate zipped mesh compartment. Other than that the inside of the pack is just one big compartment, no dividers, no zips, just a simple bag of holding.

On the each side of the pack there is a stretch pocket, these are plenty big enough for a 1L Nalgene bottle, I tend to carry a 1.5L Evernew water pouch in the right hand pocket which fits nicely. When this pack was first released, the side compression strap went over the top of the side pockets greatly reducing their utility. Exped have since released a new version (the 2014 version I have), which routes the strap through the pocket, so that it doesn’t interrupt it’s use. If you want you can still rethread the compression strap over the top of the pocket.

The rest of the pack is criss crossed with a selection of compression straps. These are made of a lightweight webbing tape which isn’t the most stable of straps. If you pull it too tight it tends to curl into a cylinder rather than remaining flat. In practice this hasn’t been an issue to me. The straps are long enough that I can fit a CCF roll mat on the side of the pack. To avoid having excess flapping about in the wind each strap has a velcro wrapping so you can roll up the excess, it’s a nice touch.

Along with the compression straps there is space for a couple of ice axes or similar, plus a few extra loops you could thread with bungee cord if you wanted to add a roll mat to the bottom, or carry something else on the outside.

All in all the storage section of the pack is basic and to the point. In the trips I’ve used it I’ve not found any real issues with the compression straps, or lack of compartments. Exped seem to have got a really good balance of features vs simplicity.

Back System

The back system of the pack.

The back system of the pack.

If you judged this pack my it’s storage compartment alone then it would be nothing special, just a simple back pack. Where Exped’s ingenuity has shone through however is in the back system.

The core of the back system is a central corrugated aluminium stay. This slots into a slot at the top of the pack where it interacts with a cross piece and into a slot in the hip belt at the bottom. The hip belt is made up of 3 large foam sections, one fits into the lumber part of your back, and then the two sides wrap round your waist (this is clearer if you look at the photo above). The shoulder harness has a yoke shape which is free to slide up and down on the aluminium stay, but held at their upper reach by a webbing strap marked with S M L (small medium Large), that fits to a tri-glide attached to the hip belt. There are a pair of load lifters that come from the T bar and attach to the shoulder yoke. A grab handle also connects to the T bar.

This arrangement of straps, metal and foam allows for a back system that transfers the load onto the hips like no other pack I’ve tried (I’ve tried too many…). Fully loaded with 10kg of kit, with the waist belt cinched into place, the load is transferred onto the hip belt so effectively that I can loosen off the shoulder straps, and the pack just stays in place. You only really need the shoulder straps to stop the pack from tilting backwards.

Dialling in the back system is not the simplest task, but Exped has released a pair of videos, one on course tuning of the back system, and one on fine tuning it. I spent about 15 mins getting the back system tuned perfectly for me (shoulder yoke all the way down, and the Ali stay bent slightly to match my spine). Having done so I don’t expect to have to adjust it again.

The hip belt has a zipped stretch side pocket on each side. This pocket is large enough for my first aid kit to fit in the left one, and for snacks or a compact camera to fit in the other.

The pack comes in both men’s and women’s fit. Alas Exped have fallen into the trap of assuming women want bright colours and only do the women’s version in Terracotta (a red) and Deep Sea Blue. Neither colour seemed to be ideal for not standing out. On the men’s range it comes in Black or Lichen Green. The green is a bit too light and bright for my tastes. Hence going for the black. One of my few complaints is the choices of colours. I got the men’s pack in black and even with my ample chest it seems to work OK.

One modification I’ve done is to attach a small loop of bungee to the webbing on each shoulder strap, This gives me a horizontal point to attach my DeLorme inReach Explorer on the left strap, and my Petzl Zipka 2+ on the right strap. It’s a simple mod that adds a couple of grams.

Flash Pocket

To go with the Lightning range of packs Exped have released the Flash Pocket. Weighing 80g, this is a large dump pocket that attaches to the front of the pack. One side of the pocket is solid fabric, and one is mesh, depending on which way round you attach it allows you to either have some weather protection to it’s contents, or an airy breath-ability. I find the flash pocket useful for things like a damp tarp, water proof jacket, and the days food. As well as things I’ve forgotten to put into the pack before I closed it up. At about £8 quid it’s a nice extra to have.

The design of the pocket, whilst intended for the Lightning range of packs, is not limited to them, and could be used with other packs.

Summary

In summary this pack might not be the lightest on the market, but whereas many packs have the sole selling point of their weight, this pack’s ability to carry load more comfortably than any other pack I’ve come across sets it apart, and even justifies the few extra grams.

Light weight, yet able to take those heavier loads when necessary. I can’t recommend this pack highly enough. When I have the money I hope to get the 45L version for when the 60L is overkill.

The only area the pack is let down is in the available colours. If it came in a nice dark green, it would be perfect.

I bought my pack from Backpackinglight.co.uk and the flash pocket from Ultralight Outdoor Gear.

ADVENTURE: January Bushcraft Microadventure.

After several weeks stuck indoors due to incessant rain. I was looking for any chance to get out for a night in the woods. This weekend showed a clear window where not only should it not rain, but it may even drop below 0°C. It seemed a perfect chance to get out and test my winter kit.

I was joined on this trip by my friend Lyn, and we headed to a bit of woodland somewhere in east Kent.

The woodland is made up over overstood hornbeam(Carpinus betulus) coppice with a smattering of Silver Birch(Betula pendula) and Chestnut(Castanea sativa).

It was a 10 minute walk from the car to our chosen camp site. When we got there Lyn pitched her tent and I started gathering fire wood. I was planning to just use my bivvi bag with no tarp, so would leave the pitching of my camp (if you can call unrolling a bivvi bag and inflating a sleep mat pitching), until I was ready for bed, that way my kit shouldn’t get damp from any dew. I hung my pack off a tree by my selected camp spot, and cleared the larger logs and anything that might dig in out the way.

Wood gathered, I set a small cooking fire and sat back to drink tea in the woodland surroundings.

Pot over camp fire

Boiling the Kettle

As it started to get dark, I preped dinner while I still had some light. Lyn started her dinner on the grill over the fire, while I stuck a jacket potato and my char cloth tin in the embers underneath.

Cooking dinner over the fire

Cooking dinner over the fire

While dinner cooked I played around with my fire lighting kit I had brought with me. I tried lighting a bit of char cloth with a flint and steel. The char cloth wasn’t very good, it was from a batch that hadn’t charred all the way through, so I didn’t hold out much hope. I was just doing it to pass the time. Thus I was rather surprised when the char cloth caught a spark on the second strike. Normally it takes a few strikes to get a spark to land on the cloth. Not wanting to use up all my char cloth I put the fire kit away and warmed my feed by the fire while dinner cooked.

Socked feed warming by a camp fire

Warming my feet by the fire

Dinner eaten we sat watching the fire, enjoying the surroundings until it was time for bed.

Glowing embers.The fire started to die back to embers, the sky clouding over, it was time to turn in. I pitched my camp under the hornbeam tree, and crawled into my bivvi bag to watch the clouds slowly drifting across the sky.

Woods at night

View from my bivvi bag.

Despite my efforts to warm my feet by the fire both big toes were slightly chilled in my sleeping bag and as I lay there they got colder, so do did my legs. After about half hour of hoping they would warm up, I admitted defeat and commenced the solo wrestling match that is trying to put a pair of trousers on inside a sleeping bag liner inside a sleeping bag inside a bivvi bag when the sleeping bag is a tight fit anyway… I also tried to warm my toes with my hands. Not wanting to risk being too cold I took the opportunity to put on my Páramo Torres insulated Jacket.

Fully dressed I lay down in my sleeping bag feeling hopeful of a warm nights sleep.

A few restless hours sleep later I woke with a full bladder and very numb toes. Returning from the bushes I gave my toes a longer session in my hands to coax some warmth into them. This seemed to do the trick, and as the sky started to show some signs of lightening up, I snuggled down into my sleeping bag for a few more hours sleep.

I was woken in day light to a snow flake landing on my nose. I wasn’t expecting precipitation so hadn’t used a tarp. Looking out from my bivvi bag it didn’t look like this was a concerted effort at snow fall, and opted for cinching my bivvi bag down to a hole just large enough to breath through, rolled onto my side and went back to sleep.

Eventually the prospect of bacon was enough to lure me from my cocoon, and I grudgingly left the warm to investigate breakfast.

Bivvi bag under a tree.

My camp for the night.

Lyn lit the fire and I cooked a couple of rounds of bacon rolls along with some coffee as we both woke up properly, trying to put off the inevitable.

Fed and watered and with the first spits of rain, we broke camp and returned to the outside world, refreshed by a very pleasant night in the woods.

SKILLS: Small cooking fire

When out and about I often find huge fire scars from where people have lit large camp fires and always despair at the damage and the wastefulness of such a large fire.

So I thought while I was out in the woods, I’d take some pictures of a simple camp fire that’s big enough to cook over without needing to deforest half of Kent.

In order to give a sense of size I’ve put 4 pegs in marking a the corners of a square one Bahco Laplander(folded) by one Bahco Laplander(folded) each side. Or if you prefer 235mm x 235mm (approx 9¼” x 9¼” in old money). That’s an area of 0.0552m² (or 0.594ft²).

I started off by laying a raft of small logs, these are roughly an inch or so in width.

Then I prepared a 4 piles of wood. The first is wood less than a pencil’s width in thickness, then we have finger thickness, then thumb thickness, than a few pieces that were slightly larger.

Materials prepared and ready to go, I arranged a small pile on the raft. This consisted of a couple of pieces of birch bark I found on fallen tree, and some wood shavings, with a handful of the thinnest wood on top of that.

With everything prepared, I lit a tinderquik fire tab with a spark from my sparklite. This was then placed into the centre of the wood shavings and birch bark.

It didn’t take long for the bark to catch the small kindling.

With the fire well lit I fed it with material from the piles, working up in size as each pile was exhausted. I also put a Tatonka 1L billy can over the fire with the 0.5L of water needed to make a mug of tea.

In some respects this fire was a little over kill for the size of the pot I was boiling, but I wanted the ember bed for use later to cook a jacket potato.

But it didn’t take long for the pot to come to the boil.

With the tea stewing, the fire starts to die down a bit. At this point if I was cooking something abit more substantial I could feed some more into to keep it going. But if not, just leaving it to burn down at this point, before dowsing it in water when ready to move away would work.

How much fuel did this small fire use? Not much. I used all of the pencil thin pile, half of the finger pile, and a few pieces from the bigger pile.

Tea drunk, we built the fire up a bit in order to cook 2 meals. The same basic size was maintained, but we added a larger log on each side to give it some structure, and piled a few of the thicker logs on. The log on the right of the picture is let over from a previous fire on this site.

All in all this 0.0552m² fire was used to cook a pot of baked beans, a pair of lamb burgers, a jacket potatoe and 1L of chicken stew. As well as a couple of mugs of tea, and a tin of charcloth. It then provided us with a fire to sit by on the chilly (0°C) evening as we enjoyed the woods.

Some times a big fire is the right thing to do. But most of the time a small fire is just the trick. It even comes with the added advantage that you don’t need to collect as much firewood. The only tool I used for the processing of wood on this fire was the Bahco Laplander.

 

KIT: Stayling Alive Cold Kit

Inspired by Susanne’s Williams thread on making a Staying alive cold kit, I decided to make one of my own. Not wanting to faff about cutting up space blankets, I decided to throw a tiny amount of cash at the problem.

Adventure Medical Kits make a couple of useful items that make a SAC kit really simple. My kit is made up of:

  • AMK Survive Outdoors Longer Survival Poncho
  • AMK SOL Emergency Blanket
  • Storm matches
  • 3 x tea lights
  • NATO Aviators fire kit
  • Alpkit dry bag to store it all.

Staying alive cold kit contents.

I won’t duplicate the content of Suzanne’s thread on how to use a SAC kit, but for those who haven’t read it, the basic idea is something that fits in a pocket when out in winter, whilst providing enough basic shelter and warmth to survive the night. The whole lot was largely used to hit the free postage threshold on amazon.com, and comes in under 20 quid. The only downside, is that the poncho + blanket seem to be of the kind that once unfolded, you will never get them as small and well folded up ever again…

Postscript:

Since I put this kit together I’ve had to use parts of it in anger once. Cycling to the station after college I got too hot, perspired too much, and soaked my base layer. Sitting at the station for 35 minutes in -3°C, I started to chill, so resorted to using the space blanket from my SAC kit to keep myself warm until the train arrived.

ADVENTURE: Getting high in the low countries

There is a sinister Dutchman sitting at this table writing. The pen scratching over the paper as I stare impassively at my phone waiting for twitter to update.

A gust of wind, a thunder clap, the windows shake. We both look up at the windows, rain streaming down them in sheets.

I’m sat in the common room of a Youth Hostel somewhere in the German speaking part of Eastern Belgium. I’m waiting for a friend who’s flying in from Oman to rescue me. I’m not supposed to be here. This isn’t how this adventure was supposed to turn out.

Day 1 – Getting high.

Collectively Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands are known as the low countries. Mention them and people tend to picture the polder landscapes of the west, the beautiful architecture of Ghent, and the strong dark beers of Rochefort. But look at a map, and you notice that it’s not all flat earth. The eastern side of the BeNeLux is marked by an area of hills, The Ardennes. They are predominantly in Belgium and Luxembourg, but stretch into Germany and France. I had to be in Wiltz for the Linux Bier Wanderung, so as I was going to be in the area, decided to turn up a few days early and have a bit of a cycle tour. Looking at the map It occured to me that the highest points of the three countries, Kneiff (560masl), Signal de Botrange (694masl) and Valserberg (322masl) form a neat line 66.4km from north to south. That’s cycling distance. A plan formed.

Starting from where my previous Luxembourg cycle adventure started, in Wiltz, I would cycle north to the three high points of the three BeNeLux countries, then hang a right to Aachen for a train back to Wiltz. I played around with route planners and maps, and eventually I had a rough route plan. 123km total distance, over 3 days with a total ascent of 1719m. This split into 3 sections, Wiltz to Kneiff – 36.6km, Kneiff to Signal de Botrange – 51km, Signal de Botrange to Valserberg – 35.5km. Even better the elevation graph showed that from Signal de Botrange to Valserberg was basically 30km of down hill. I loaded my Brompton with kit for a bivvi, 3 days food, a pile of maps (three for Belgium, 2 for Luxembourg). And left for the Eurostar.

Tuesday was spent travelling via Eurostar and train to Luxembourg city. I spent the evening there, exploring a bit and finding a rather novel cycle path with a spiral stair case on it (I hope sustrans don’t get any ideas…). Then on Wednesday morning I took the train from Luxembourg station North towards Wiltz.

I had tried to find a bike shop in Luxembourg city so I could buy a bike bottle, I’d discovered to my disgust that the bottle I had bought with me had gone a bit manky and wasn’t something I wanted to drink from, even after putting a puritab through it. I texted a friend in Belgium via my inReach asking for UTM coordinates of some bike shops in Luxembourg. Turns out that there are more bike shops in the Canterbury postcode than there are in the whole of Luxembourg… looking at the options it seemed the most accessible would be to get off at Mersch, and do the 5k round trip to the bike shop at Rollingen.

Brief bike shop visit including asking them to pump my tyres up, complete with using fingers to show what pressure, and I returned to the station for the train journey to Wiltz with a nice clean new bottle, as well as a free bottle of water the bike shop insisted on giving me.

Changing trains with a fully loaded Brompton at Kautenbach was a less than pleasant experience. It seems that Luxembourg hasn’t quite realised that the point of a railway platform is to get you upto the height of the train, rather than a small step to get you on the bottom rung of a ladder to climb into the train…

Fully Loaded Brompton

Eventually I arrived in Wiltz, and headed to Camping Kaul where I was staying for the Linux Bier Wanderung, and had arranged to leave the baggage I didn’t need for my cycle trip. I quick bite to eat in their Bistro, and I hit the road.

I needed to pick up some meths for my stove, so I swung by the local supermarket. They sold 1L bottles of the stuff, but were out of stock at the time. I decided I’d try at the next town with a shop… I didn’t realise the that I wouldn’t see another shop until the following day in Sankt Vith.

Leaving the supermarket I headed out of town. It was a beautiful sunny day and Europe basked in a heat wave. I was full of enthusiasm for the ride ahead of me and followed the GPS trace past the local brewery, up the hill.

I knew this hill was here, I was expecting it. It showed as an almost vertical cliff on the elevation graph (due to compression of the X axis). But I wasn’t quite prepared for it. I dropped down the gears to first, and continued to pedal. I managed about 200m of horizontal distance before I had reached the limits of the gearing. I got off and pushed.

Day 1 elevation graph.

Day 1 elevation graph.

One foot in front of the other I plodded up the hill, the sun beating down on me. There was no shade. I stopped after a couple km in the shade of a barn to have a drink and let my temperature drop. I may be cooking, but I was feeling good. Temperature back down to normalish, I continued up the hill to Noertrange. Another water stop in a convenient bus shelter, then back on the bike. The major climb was over and I was on what should be a plateaux. It had taken me 45 minutes to cover just 2.3km. Now I should finally be able to start riding and put distance under my belt.

Leaving Noertrange I entered an area of woodland. The shade was welcome, but the gradient wasn’t. Rather than push, I took a 5 minute break to enjoy the scenery. Before continuing onwards.

Climbing out of Noertrange

Past Derenbach, onwards to Allerborn. In the fields around me various bits of agricultural machinery toiled away reaping the harvest of golden cereal crops that stretched out on all sides. In one field the wind had kicked up the dust and chaff into spinning vortexes.

The route here went down hill slightly, being able to freewheel down the hill was wonderful, but back in my mind I knew that every metre I went down, I would just have to claw back later.

I left the metalled road at Allerborn and followed a track up hill towards Troine Route. On this ascent a ache in my feet progressed into pain and onwards through towards excruciating. I pulled over in the shade of some birch trees at Troine-Route and took my shoes and socks off. There was no obvious signs of what would be causing the pain. Then I touched my feet. Turns out I had just discovered what it feels like to try cooking your own limbs while still attached. Not something I would recommend. I put the socks into my bag, so much for cool in summer…

Letting my feet cool down in the shade of some Birch trees

Cooling down in the shade of the stand of silver birch, I studied the map. Here my planned route was a deviation west towards the Belgian border, before swinging east to Troine. Looking up from the map towards the direction of travel. I looked down on Belgium. Hmmm. I studied the map some more, comparing spot hikes in the area. If I was to stand any chance in this heat I was going to have to adapt. I decided to deviate from my route and head on the main road to Troine. This should cut some ascent as well as maybe shortening my journey by half a k or so.

I didn’t regret the decision, I managed to clear some distance quickly passing Troine I headed North for Belgium.

I crossed the border at about 17km into my trip. 2 hours 42 minutes after I had left Wiltz. There are signs either side of the road marking the border between Luxembourg and Belgium, but you don’t really need them. You can tell that you’ve crossed border by the state of the road. Gone was the beautiful smooth tarmac, replaced by the pot hole slalom towards Buret.

Just over 1km into Belgium I turned right onto a disused railway that has been turned into a cycle path. It’s marked on my map as RAVel. By choosing a disused railway I hoped that it’s relative flatness would allow me to cover some distance. Oh my misguided foolishness.

Yes railways don’t have steep inclines, no they have have long slow laborious gradients. False flat. It looks flat, until you start to ride it. But it was better than the steep hills I had been slogging up so I took the opportunity to get my head down and pedal some. I averaged about 22kph on this section, peaking at over 30kph at one point.

My planned route involved turning off the railway line just outside Limerlé. This is where I found the slight error in my map work. Sure the railway line crossed the road at this point. But not at the same height. This wasn’t a level crossing, this was a bridge. And there was no easy way to get from it to the road. I’d just have to continue on along the railway line until I found a way off. This blunder added about 3km to my journey.

I left the railway and climbed up towards Hautbellair. Somewhere around here I finished the last of the water. It had been over 34°C during the afternoon, and I was starting to get hot. I needed water. A need that was growing in urgency as I went on.

Every field of livestock I passed I looked to see if I could get water from the trough. Not one that I passed had an accessible valve, and quite a few were clearly filled not off a pipe but by the farmer from a bowser. Every stream marked on my map was dried up. The one I did find was next to a field that showed very obvious signs of recently being treated with Glyphosphate.

My map showed a stream in the woods just North of Goedange. Maybe I could fill up from this.

As I headed towards Goedange the climb started, 110m over 2km. The first symptoms of hyperthermia were starting to show. I started to look everywhere for water, eyeing up every puddle, trying to weigh the risk vs reward of trying to filter it.

At the 35k mark my planned route took me off East to join the Vennrad cycle route. But when I got to the turning, it was impassable. I continued North East towards the main road at Knauf. If I didn’t find something to drink soon I was going to be in trouble. In my befuggled mind I tried to run over the options. Could this be grounds to hit the SOS function on my inReach? Was I going to give myself Heat stroke? As I left the woods a few hundred meters before Knauf I saw a building. I would stop there and ask for water, I had to. As I pushed closer the building came into focus. This wasn’t just any building. This was a bar. No wait, a restaurant. WATER!

I pulled up at the restaurant, and hobbled upto the bar a pair of empty water pouches in hand.

“Wasser, Aqua, Water.” Proffering them the pouches to fill. As one bartender filled my pouches I turned to another and asked for a Fanta. He handed me the bottle and the glass. I downed the bottle and asked for another. He gave me a slightly strange look and handed me another bottle. Two full pouches, and a bottle of Fanta in hand, I hobbled over to a table and collapsed into a seat.

Status check. As I sat rehydrating, I ran my mind over my condition. I couldn’t remember the symptoms of hyperthermia, so resorted to googling them. I ran through the symptoms. Heavy sweating. Check. Rapid breathing. Check. Fast weak pulse. I tried to take my radial pulse. Nothing. I switched to the other arm. Nothing. I switched to the carotid. There, something. It’s there. But it’s feint. And it’s fast. I drank some more.

I texted a friend back in the UK updating on my situation. Before I arrived in the bar, I’d drunk over 5L of water. Yet I hadn’t pee’d in over 6 hours. Getting out of the sun and rehydrating, my mind started to clear. I ordered another Fanta and tried to regain my composure. The text exchange with the friend helped me decide that I would rest here until just before sunset (about an hour after arriving), then go find somewhere to bivvi down, then decide on onwards travel in the morning.

Having drunk a over a litre since arriving at the pub, I was finally able visit the loo. This added another confirmation of my dehydration, but reassured me that my body was at least able to process what I was pouring in the top.

Fifteen minutes before sunset and with a 3.8L of water in my pouches/bottles, I hit the bike for the final kilometre to Kneiff.

With the sun below the horizon, in the cool twilight of a summers evening, I arrived at the highest point of Luxembourg. A nondescript concrete marker on the edge of a field. I’d done it. One down two to go. Right, bivvi time.

The plough over Kneiff

I looked around. On one side a field of maize stretched into the distance, next to that an already harvested wheat field. On the other side of the track a large grass pasture and a few hundred yards down the track, woodland.

I cycled over to the woodland hoping it would present a bivvi opportunity. It was a dense plantation of pine trees, hardly ideal bivvi territory. I looked around. On the other side of the grass field there was a small copse. That might do the trick.

I pushed the Brompton across the lush pasture towards the copse. It was a mix of pine and oak 50m from a larger plot of woodland. In it’s lee side there was a slight depression. This would give me shelter from view of anyone on the track. Yes, This is it, this is perfect.

I sat down to drink and listen. As I did I looked up at the sky and watched a light speed across the sky. My first thought was it was the ISS, but that wasn’t right, that wasn’t for another hour. I had printed out the ISS pass times for my trip, and checked them. Yep, an hours time. Wait what time zone are these in. Ah yeah, that was the ISS, these times are UK time, not EU time. Oops. At least I had seen it.

If you look carefully, to the left of centre you can see the trace of a Persied meteor.

I rolled out the bivvi bag, inflated my sleep mat, and lay on top of it staring at the sky. My body temp was normal, my pulse was normal. I was starting to feel good. I nibble on a biscuit. I couldn’t cook the meal I had with me as I hadn’t found any fuel. As I lay there one by one the stars came out. Blazing across the sky the many camp fires of the hunters who go before. As my eyes adjust, more stars become visible. With full darkness I see for the first time with my own naked eye The Milky Way. I let out an audible wow when I realise what it is I am seeing. I then spent the next hour trying to get a photograph of the sky. Not content with the million star view, the persieds joined the party shooting across the sky towards their firey climax in the upper atmosphere. Happy that I had got some shots that almost did justice to the view, I crawled into my bivvi bag and drifted off to sleep watching persieds shooting across the milky way.

The view from my bivvi bag

Day 2 – Bordering on insanity

I woke the next morning hot. Really warm. Too Warm. That wasn’t right. I wasn’t even moving how can this be? I stuck my head out the bivvi bag and was blinded by the sun. Ah, yeah, that would do it. The sun had crested the trees and I was now laying in full sun. I rolled myself and my bed across into the shade of the trees and lay back. The starlit view of the previous night was now a clear blue sky above a lush green pasture flanked by woodland.

The view I woke to.

I spread my bedding out in the sunshine to air, and sat in the shade of a tree eating biscuits and pondering the plan. Yesterday had been just 38km. Todays plan was 51km. Not just further, but also higher. If the heat was the same as yesterday would I be able to do it?

I looked at the map. From here to Sankt Vith is just over 20km, and by the looks of it it should be mostly downhill. I will pay later for each metre of descent. But at least I should be eating up some distance.

I packed the bike, and hit the road. The first couple of km would be descent to join the Vennrad cycle route along a disused railway. Due to particularities of political geography the trackbed of the Vennrad is in Belgium along it’s whole length, but large sections of it run through Germany creating all sorts of exclaves and counter exclaves.

Crossing into Belgium I descended down a long sweeping track, hitting 37kph as I headed for the turn onto the cycle route. The 90° turn. The 90° turn was compounded by a small collection of mamil’s loitering on the corner blocking the only path that would allow any useful speed carry through the corner. I cursed, and hammered the brakes to bring my speed down and coast past the mamils onto the Vennrad with a cheery “Morgan”.

After the open shadeless scenery of the previous day a track through the dappled shade of woodland was a welcome change. The route tended downwards for the first 12km, past idylic farmsteads, pasture and woodland. After a few km I stopped at an information board which had some information of the history of the Venn Bahn. There were some Dutch cyclists there trying to work out where they were and where they were going. They didn’t have a map, so I pulled mine out and helped them work out where they were and where they wanted to go. Between my broken Dutch and their broken English, we chatted about our rides before bidding each other Goede Reis and departing in opposite directions.

The 12km of downhill came to and abrupt end in Germany. Only I didn’t realise it was Germany at first. I stopped in a bus shelter to have a drink and some more biscuits. I was trying to work out where I was when I noticed the design of the postbox opposite. That was most definitely a Deutschepost logo. Quick GPS check, yep I’m in Hemmeres, Germany. Which used to be Belgian before it was returned in 1958.

I crossed back into Belgium and begun the long dragging ascent towards Sankt Vith. Passed beautiful river side meadows, tree covered hillsides and pastures of livestock. Past scout camps, villages and farmsteads. I plodded on. Even in the shade of the trees there was no escaping the heat. It was’t quite as bad as yesterday, but was still enough to leave my body covered in a near constant sheen of sweat. Somewhere short of Sankt Vith I ran out of water again.

Nearing Breitfeld things started to take on a more built up appearance with an elevated motorway. It was near here that I saw a Slow Worm slinking it’s way across the hot tarmac.

Two and a half hours, and 26km after leaving my Bivvi site, I coasted into Sankt Vith. I pulled up at a bar on the site of the old train station. Ordering a brace of drinks and requestion refills of my water pouches, I sat in the shade and pondered my options. It was about 1300, and I was hot and sore. I’d managed about half the days distance, but hadn’t got to the main ascents of the day. Even with every container I had on me I didn’t seem to be able to carry enough water to cycle in this heat, and so far places to refill had been rather few and far between.

I pondered my options. Go on, risk further dehydration and heat exhaustion? If I bailed here what were my options? I pulled out my phone to see where the nearest youth hostel was. Two kilometres away. That sealed it. I booked a bed for the night from my phone, paid my tab, and slowly rode up the hill to the hostel.

Which finds me sat in a Youth hostel, in German speaking Belgium with a Sinister Dutchman scribbling away across the table. I’d set out to cycle 123km, I’d managed 64. I’ve had to bail out due to high temperatures, dehydration and the first stages of Heat Exhaustion. In Belgium. This really is bordering on insanity…

Kit: Everyday fire

I’ve mentioned in a couple of recent posts lighting fires with the stuff I have in my pockets, on one occasion because I hadn’t planned on a fire, and another because I wanted to double check that I could. With this in mind I thought I’d write a short post on what I carry with me so I can produce fire when needed.

EDC Fire kit

EDC Fire kit

The first item I carry with me started life as an Every Day Carry Fire Kit by Polymath Products. The first version of the EDC fire kit came with a little thermometer on the top, I didn’t expect this to be all that useful to me, so I did a special order with a compass instead. In this respect externally it closer resembles their Ultra Compact Survival Kit.

Inside the EDC Fire kit, showing Ferro rod, and Tinder quik tinder.

Inside the EDC Fire kit, showing Ferro rod, and Tinder quik tinder.

Inside the shotgun shell container, there is a ferrocerium rod (aka ferro rod, fire steel etc…), and some tinder. The kit also came with waxed Jute tinder, some pyro powder, and a glow stick. I took these out and replaced them with Tinderquik fire tabs. These are piece of compressed cotton that is treated to make it very flammable, you fluff the end up and they take a spark really easily. I fit 8 of them in the EDC fire kit.

To use the kit you remove the split ring from the hole on the ferro rod, insert the ferro rod into the hole in the shell (the shell then becomes the handle), fluff up a bit of tinder quik, and strike a spark. I really like this kit, the compass has proven very useful even in the urban environment, particularly to orientate myself when exiting tube stations. I’ve even used it to light a BBQ at a friends place.

Contents of the Spark-Lite™ kit

Contents of the Spark-Lite™ kit

Whilst the EDC fire kit lives in my pocket, I also carry in my backpack something called the Spark-Lite™ emergency fire starter. This is a small green box containing 8 tinder quik fire tabs (spotting a theme here?) and a sparker. There exist 2 basic models of the Spark-Lite™, one has a metal sparker and one a plastic. Of each of these there is a Green and an Orange version. I own both the plastic and the metal version. It’s the metal one that lives in my pack. Aside from the material, the main functional difference between the metal and plastic versions is that the metal version comes with an allen key and a spare piece of ferro rod. The allen key undoes the nut that holds the piece of ferro rod in place.

To use the Spark-Lite™ kit you fluff up one end of the tinder-quik, then using the sparker just like you would a cigarette lighter, strike a spark onto the tinder. The first time I used this the tinder-quik lit off the first spark, which took me by surprised and I dropped it. It’s a really effective tool. As with most kit I use, I have modified it. I suspect that the metal will not be nice to touch in very cold conditions, so have put a piece of heatshrink on the handle to protect my hands. I’m really pleased with how well this set works, and considering that it cost me less than a fiver on ebay, it’s hard to go wrong.

EDC Fire kit and Spark-Lite™ Emergency Fire Starter.

EDC Fire kit and Spark-Lite™ Emergency Fire Starter.