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.

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.

How do you Microadventure?

I’ve been asked on twitter about what a Microadventure is and how I do them.

Microadventures are the brain child of Alastair Humphreys. The basic idea is a bit of an adventure that is accessible to most people. So you don’t need to save up thousands of pounds to fund a cycle ride across Africa, or climb Everest. You don’t need to take 6 months off work. An adventure you can do mid week, and still be at your desk for 9am.

It’s a great idea and one I’ve embraced, it’s allowed me to get out and enjoy nature without having to save up thousands for an international multi week trip through the wilds. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to do those trips, I’m still saving up, I still spend too much time pouring over maps. But when the modern world all gets too much, a microadventure allows me to get out there into nature and relax.

So what do you need to get out on a microadventure? Well that depends. As with all adventures there’s no one formula, there is no one true way. All I can say is how I do them. My packing list for a trip out is based around:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleep mat
  • Bivvi bag
  • Tarp + pegs
  • Backpack
  • Bottle of water

That’s it. You can take more, but you don’t need to i.e. I usually take a stove with me so I can make a mug a tea, but it’s not a necessity. Sometimes if the weather forecast is for clear weather, I may leave the tarp at home, or I may take it and not use it. But the essence is the bare minimum needed for a comfortable night out in the wilds.

If you’re in the Kent area, or able to easily get here, and interested in giving Microadventures a go, drop me a line. I’m always looking for company to join me. You don’t need to own all the kit, I’ve got spares of all of the above bar sleeping bag and backpack. So if you’ve got a sleeping bag, and something to carry it in, and can get to a station hsuch as Wye or Ham street, drop me a line!

ADVENTURE: Montserrat – A Spanish Microadventure

I had the good fortune of being in Barcelona for work for a couple of weeks, and knowing that I should have a couple of days while I was there to play tourist, I decided this might be a fantastic opportunity for a bit of a Microadventure.

Knowing very little of the area around Barcelona, I sought advice from Mr Microadventure himself (Al Humphreys), who suggested I have a look at Montserrat.

Montserrat, is a small nature park and mountain escarpment located about an hours train ride from Barcelona. It’s home to a monastery and is a popular tourist destination. While it’s approximately 10km x 5km in size, it’s terrain looked on the map at least, to offer an opportunity to get into some wilds and have a bit of an adventure.

The narrow gauge train from Espanya station trundles through the suburbs of Barcelona before entering the countryside, dotted with dormitory towns for the businesses of Barcelona, the valley was also home to numerous olive groves. I hadn’t slept too well the night before, so having got on the train at Espanya, I promptly hugged my backpack, shut my eyes and woke up 50 minutes later in the countryside.

When you buy a ticket to Montserrat in Barcelona you have a choice, you can buy a ticket including a cable car, or including a rack railway. The cable car seemed like a more interesting option of the two, and with no price difference, I opted for that.

Speaking no Spanish what so ever, and not entirely sure what the station was I had to get off at, I watched out the window hoping for some indication of where to get off.

I saw the cables of a cable car, the supporting masts. Was this the right station? I hurriedly grabbed my bag and jumped off the train just as the doors closed.

Right, which way is Montserrat… erm, oh. *DOH*. This is the wrong station. I wanted the next one. The dangle-way infrastructure is just a decoy. Bah.

I spent the 20 minute wait for the next train reconfiguring my bag. I’d borrowed a hat off a friend so that I wouldn’t combust in the Spanish sun. Alas the rim of the hat banged on the lid pocket of my rather full backpack. The floating lid of the Tempest pack proved to be a useful feature, as I fettled the straps to move the lid pocket more round to the front of the pack out the way of my hat.

Back on the train to the correct station, I tried to follow the train line as it entered the map, through tunnels, and cuttings, approaching Montserrat Aeri station. This time it was right. This time there was a big sign saying it was Montserrat, and the even bigger clue of the Monastery being visible perched precariously on the side of the mountain.

The. Mountain.

I craned my neck as I looked up at the imposing cliffs and rounded peaks. What was I letting myself in for?

I presented my ticket to the dangle way ticket office. I must look British, as the guy responded in perfect English. “Two minutes”.

The cable car to the Monastery dates from the 1960’s. Proud photos of it’s early days adorn the walls of the station. A brightly painted gondola sat ready and waiting. The cable car attendant looked slightly bemused at my over filled pack and walking poles, with my camera hanging off my neck. A radio exchange in Spanish followed, before the gondola clanked and ground slowly out of it’s docking cradle.

Each car has a maximium capacity of 35 people. This one carried just me. Unlike many modern transport mechanisms, the gondola had proper opening windows (albeit no air-con), and I amused myself for the 6 minute journey by moving round the gondola shooting the view from various angles, trying to get a nice shot as we moved further up the mountain. Near the top we passed a packed gondola heading down. It was just past 1800, and the day tourists were starting to make their way off the mountain.

Packed Gondola On it's way down

Packed Gondola On it’s way down

View from the cable car

View from the cable car on the way up

The complex that is Montserrat Monastery is a substantial development. Accompanying the various ecclesiastical buildings was the various manifestations of the tourist establishment. Museum, gift shop, toilets, bar, two funicular stations, the rack railway station, and of course the station for the dangle-way. All this clings in a small space between two high peaks. The map shows a stream flowing towards the complex, but it was dry. I had planned to make some use of this infrastructure to bootstrap my hike. The Funicular St Joan, should get me 300m up to what is marked on the map as a “Strolling path”, and the start of my hike proper…

That was the theory. Alas, having used the facilities and filled my water bottles at the fountain. I wandered to the Funicular station. Locked. A sign indicated that the Funicular stopped running at 1810. I looked at the time on my phone. 1820. If only I hadn’t wasted 20 mins by getting off at the wrong stop. ARGH.

I sat down with the map. Adapt and overcome. The clearest looking route was the one up the valley from the Monastery towards the strolling path, and the greater path network of Montserrat. It’s only a couple of kilometres to the path on the map, and what, 300m of ascent. How hard can it be…

Weighed down with 3.5kg of water, on top of my packed bag, I approached the footpath. It started as a few flights of well made stairs, and while I wouldn’t say it was easy, it wasn’t too bad. I plodded up the stairs, and over a bridge, passing various day hikers coming in the opposite direction. At the end of the bridge, it looked like the path started properly and the ascent could begin.

Oh how naive. I turned off the bridge, round the tree and looked at the path.

The stair case is a rather interesting invention. Nothing in our homes causes us more injury. Falling down them, falling up them. The design of a good staircase is a triumph of ergonomics. Too big a rise (the height of each step), and you put too much strain on the legs. Too small and you don’t make sufficient gains in height. Get the going (the horizontal distance of each step) wrong and you break the stride of the user, if you’re not careful you end up with imbalanced loading, with the lifting of your weight always landing on the same leg.

What is marked on the map as a sloping path up the valley turned out to be an erratic collection of unequal randomly sized cast concrete steps. Varying in rise from 100mm to over 300mm, with goings ranging from a couple of hundred millimetres, to over a metre or so. Each carefully and lovingly crafted to be have just the right combination of appalling ergonomics that makes each step a laborious exercise. Onwards and upwards I plodded. Step by step. One foot in front of the other.

Being in a valley, the sun had disappeared beyond the mountain before I had got to the bottom step. I was rather grateful of drop in temperature. Even so, I was soon soaked in sweat.

Weighed down by 10kg of pack, various less encumbered walkers passed me. We all run our own race. I continued up, stopping occasionally to admire the view. It rapidly became apparent that my original target bivvi sites were going to be beyond my reach before night fall, and I started to consider other options. All I needed was a couple of metres of flat ground to lay my bivvi bag, Ideally somewhere with a nice view, and not too close to the path. The terrain wasn’t offering many options. At 856masl, four paths came to a junction off to the left there was a small patch of level ground. The first I’d seen since leaving the Monastery. It was over looked, and somewhat precarious, but I made a note of it as a plausible option none the less. I continued up.

Eighty metres higher up the path, having covered very little horizontal distance, the path levelled out and I crossed the dried up stream bed again. Here the stairs ceased and were replaced by a rocky path with a sensible gentle incline.

The path followed the edge of the dried up stream bed, before reaching some switchbacks of erratically space in-ergonomic stairs. I paused at the base of the stairs, and considered my options.

the path

The path I’d come up.

Next to the path, the stream bed levelled off into a wide flatish area filled with low trees and bushes. Some of it looked flat.

I sat on a rock and watched the path, considering my options. It was the least worst bivvi site that I’d seen since I started the hike. Sure it wasn’t perfect. But it would do. Wouldn’t it?

I watched the site for a few minutes, trying to get a feel for the area. Yes, it’ll have to do. I pushed through the bushes and under branches, looking for somewhere flat enough and big enough for a bivvi bag. The first site I found had obviously been used by a reckless hiker as a loo, they hadn’t bothered to hide the evidence. I explored further, heading up the stream bed into denser growth. I found a spot. This would do.

When bivviing in areas where wildcamping is perhaps not encouraged, my preferred method is to locate the site, and sit and wait till it’s fully dark before making camp properly. I watched as a few hikers plodded on up the hill. Noone seemed to notice I was there. Finally, content that it was dark enough. I started to make camp.

“Ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh!”

It came out of the darkness and the silence. A dog, less than a metre away, and it wasn’t happy. Neither was I. I looked around for an owner. Fifteen metres away on the path, a faint torch glowed. Was that the owner? Yes, yes it was, they were calling out for the dog to come back. I sat stock still, wondering what on earth I would do if the bark turned to bite. After what felt like days, but was probably less than 30 seconds, the dog lost interest, and headed off to find it’s owner. I sat dead still waiting for my heart to stop pounding. Breathe. Immediate threat gone, I reached for my leatherman juice, the only sharp implement I had with me. I found an empty pocket. Where was it? Damn it. I routed around in all the pockets on my pack. It wasn’t there. I took my head torch and went to search the area where I had sat earlier. Nothing. Damn. That was expensive. I returned to camp.

In the shade of the trees, in nestled in the valley, it was surprisingly cool. I was grateful of the warmth of my sleeping bag. I pulled it up round me, snuggled down. Something was digging into my side. What was it, how could something solid be in my bivvi bag. I rooted around in the darkness. My leatherman. No idea how it got there, but there it was. Phew. I put it safely in the pocket on my pack it should have been in, and lay back listening to the sounds of the forest.

I could hear a bird calling, the sounds of bats flying around above my head, somewhere in the distance, an owl called. In the peace of the forest I drifted off to sleep.

Awake. Alert. Why am I awake. What woke me. I lay still and listen. Heavy breathing. Very heavy breathing. What is it? Is that human? Is that a human male breathing heavily? Do they want to attack me? How do I defend myself. My heart raced.
*Grunt*

That wasn’t human.

*SNARF*

Yes, definitely not human. What makes a sound like that?

Boar. Wild Boar. I never knew my heart could race so fast whilst laying still. My mind went to the food in my bag. I wasn’t expecting boar in the area, so had left all my food in my pack, next to my head. Including a mature, aromatic cheese. Could the boar smell it too?

I lay as still and silent as I could. Waiting to hear what the boar would do next.

Slowly the snuffling noise faded off into the distance heading down hill. Phew. I listened to the darkness, wondering if it was coming back. Slowly, I drifted off to sleep.

*GRUNT*

Awake. The boar was back. I knew it was a boar now. My heart didn’t thunder as hard as it had. I listened as it slowly snuffled it’s way up the valley and into the distance, leaving me to return to my slumber.

*GRUNT*

It’s back again. No wait, it’s closer, and getting louder. I lay dead still in my sleeping bag. Unarmed, defenceless, and next to a smelly block of cheese. The boar snuffled closer. It couldn’t me more than a couple of metres away. What do I do. Flight? No, I’m in a bivvi bag with no zip, I’d never get out the bag. Fight? With a leatherman juice? Not an option, it’s in my pack. It snuffled closer. I moved my head to look at where it was coming from.

*SQUEEAL*

I jumped, it jumped. I stared off into the darkness as the patter of trotters heading up stream faded away. It was as scared of me as I was of it. I lay listening for it’s return.

I woke to bird song and day light. That wasn’t right, I had set an alarm for just before dawn. I rooted about for my phone and pressed the button. Nothing. Flat battery. That would explain it. My bivvi bag was toasty & warm, birds sang. I lay there enjoying the surroundings.

Alas it couldn’t last forever, eventually, with reluctance, I crawled out of my sleeping bag and embraced the morning. Well the ten minutes that were left of it…

Breaking camp was quick and simple, within 15 minutes of exiting my sleeping bag, I was stepping out onto the trail.

Cloud covering the tops of the mountains

Cloud covering the tops of the mountains

The morning was grey, with low clouds covering the peaks of the mountains. At least I wouldn’t boil or need the sun cream. I approached the erratic stairs with the vigor of the new day. As I plodded up, a series of runners headed down the opposite way. Eventually I reached the strolling path I had been hoping to take the previous day. The junction contained a post with signs detailing the position (with UTM coordinate), as well as estimated times for to various points. I looked at the 50minutes it reckoned that it would take from the Monastery to this point and despaired. It had taken me over 2 hours to get to this point. Looking at the 40 min estimate to the Funicular station, I wondered how many hours it would take.

After the laborious ascent, the rugged, rocky path was a substantial relief. I deployed the walking poles, and started to eat up the distance. As I walked I pondered over why it had taken so long. Why was it so difficult. I hadn’t gone very far, yet it had taken me hours. I put the thoughts out of my mind and concentrated on the path ahead.

Rugged mountains of Montserrat

Rugged mountains of Montserrat

The strolling path was not quite what I had expected, it was mostly flat, following the contours, but had a camber that ranged all over the place, covered in loose rocks and gravel, it wasn’t what I would consider a stroll…

Pausing for a few photos, I ate up the distance, just under 60 minutes after reaching the junction, I arrived at Funicular St Joan. I’d done it. I’d done a 3rd of the distance I had intended to do, and taken 3 times the length to do it. But I’d done it. A successful Microadventure.

Rugged mountains of Montserrat

Rugged mountains of Montserrat

Postscript

I took the rack railway route back to Barcelona, and spent the journey trying to work out why it had been so hard. I looked at the numbers, the heights, and the distances.

From the Monastery at 718masl, I had walked up the stairs to about 950masl. 232m. That’s pitiful. I’d moved so slowly across the ground that my etrex 10 hadn’t registered any trace of me moving.

Two hundred and thirty two metres.

I needed to put that into perspective. What else is about that height?

Canary Wharf (properly one Canada square). 235m. Fifty stories. I’d climbed stairs equivalent to Canary Wharf, with a 10 kilo pack, in the Spanish heat. Perhaps I wasn’t so useless after all.

Analysing the GPS data, my trip had a height range of 324m. The 87 storey shard is 309.6m tall… The highest point of the Netherlands is 322.7m… Perhaps I wasn’t as useless as I had thought. Put in perspective, the climbing Canary Wharf or the Shard by the stairs, with a 10kg pack. Yeah, that isn’t going to be a quick hike…

Dramatic scenery, inquisitive wildlife, challenging terrain. All in all, a perfect Spanish Microadventure.

Total Distance: 4.84km
Total Ascent: 324m

Peaks of Montserrat

Peaks of Montserrat.

REVIEW: Osprey Tempest 30 Backpack

I recently switched to the Osprey Tempest 30 backpack from my old Deuter Futura 32AC. This is the ladies version of the Talon 33. For the most part everything I say here will apply to the Talon as well as the tempest.

Me wearing the pack

I’ve been using this pack as my every day handbag for the whole summer now, including a few over nighters, and an ascent of Pen-Y-Fan. So I think I’m getting used to it. Despite what is pretty light usage, there are some signs of wear appearing.

The right hand waist pocket has a couple of holes poking through it. I don’t know if this is something inside that’s poked out, or something outside that’s poked in.

Hole in pocket

I tend to store my keys in that pocket, so both are possible answers.

On the side pockets the mesh has also taken a couple of nicks, nothing serious, but it isn’t perhaps as durable as the packs I have been used to:

Pocket holes

Beyond these two niggles, there are no other obvious signs of wear.

What about usability? Due to the lightweight back system having very little rigidity, if you sit the pack on the ground, with a loaded lid pocket, but an empty main pocket, then it crumples. This makes packing slightly more awkward than I would like but it’s to be expected from such a light pack. The draw cord for closing the top is not your standard toggle, but a slightly awkward to use system. The main issue being that you have to use two hands to open and close the pack, unlike your normal toggle that you can usually use one hand to open and one hand plus teeth to shut. This is an awkward niggle, it’s not a show stopper, but it does niggle if you have to go into the bag a lot. It’s worth noting that the Airscape back system does not keep your back dry on warm days. I’ve yet to find a back system that doesn’t leave you with a big sweaty back, so this is hardly a black mark on the Tempest, but something to be aware of.

There is no lower lash point on the bag for things like a sleep matt. I retrofitted a bungee on the back of the pack using the loops reserved for walking poles. It’s not ideal, being set on the back of the pack, it moves the centre of gravity back somewhat, which can effect balance. But it’s better than nothing.

Bungee mod

And Comfort?

Comfort is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand with 16kg of load, the pack was very comfortable, transferring the weight onto my hips effectively, Better than many heavier packs with more substantial frames. *BUT*, and it’s a big But, there is one part of the pack that lets it all down. The pack is the ladies version, aimed at women. Women come in many shapes and sizes, myself, carry round with me a little bit more Kummerspeck than I would like, and my chest is sufficient to distract many men. The combination of this means that where the straps on a pack lay on the female form is not the same as it would be on a male form. This, along with back length, is one of the important reasons for choosing a ladies pack over a mens. So you would think then that a ladies pack would sit comfortably across the chest.

Pack shot 2

Well you’d think that. The reality is, while the padded section of the strap sits nicely and comfortably. It’s great. *BUT*. at the bottom of the padded section, there is a ladderloc that connects to the webbing that goes to the base of the pack. It’s this ladderloc that is the problem. For anatomical reasons, this ladderloc on the female form arrives right on the side of the body, where the upper arm rubs against the body when you walk. This becomes more and more uncomfortable as the hike progresses, to the point of large red uncomfortable marks on the arm by the end of the day. I’m sure that on a more thinner woman it might be less of a problem, but considering that this pack is aimed at women, you would think they would have tested this on a few different shapes and sizes… Modifying the pack to fix this problem isn’t a major mod, it’s one I’ll be making over the winter ready for next year, but right now, it’s a big let down to what is otherwise a really nice pack.

The guilty strap

The guilty strap

It’s very easy when writing a review of a Lightweight piece of kit to suggest that if you add this, and add that you could improve it, do that enough and your lightweight pack is not so light any more. But I do have to wonder how much extra weight it would add to stick a couple of lash loops on the bottom of the pack. Or move the triglide on the strap down a bit so that it actually works with the female anatomy…

On the whole this is a nice pack, it’s light, and carries the load well. I don’t regret buying it. It’s a good pack, but a couple of tiny niggles stand in the way of it being a great pack. Maybe Osprey will one day make a version 2, that fixes these bugs.