Trail, August ’10

The Trail mag that’s just out is the lightweight special as well as the 20th anniversary issue, and it really is full of stuff and things.
I don’t mention my Trail stuff much, I probably should as most of my trips would make more sense if the route in the mag was flagged up. Like the Beinn Fhada trip, anyone who read the July Trail will know why I re-pitched the tent at lunchtime on day 2. Aye, it’s all about the photies.
This months route is the South Glen Sheil Ridge, and it was fun trying to shoehorn that amount of description into 500 words, I love the shot they chose for the introduction page too, I can remember standing there. Brilliant night that was.
I really enjoy doing the routes, and I think I’ve gotten better at making the words less dry as time’s gone on, helped by an understanding and long-suffering editor, for both my frequent Scottishisms and lateness with copy. I do try and make them all a little different from the usual routes you find in the guidebooks, but still accessible to readers. I also try and get my trail shoes into shot in every one…

But, the biggest fun bit for me this issue is the Wheelie feature. Unlike my previous feature, I read this one right away when I got my copy of the mag, I wasn’t apprehensive this time. The reason being that I just sat down and wrote this one, no inner turmoil or trying to fit some imaginery Trail-compatible format that I’d invented for myself. The word count was about average for a blog post after a trip, so er, I wrote a blog post. Banter, odd references, cheek, attempts at humour and outpourings of joy, all the usual shit I put on here, it’s all there. As are “burn” instead of stream, and “wee” instead of small.
I had fun with the boxouts too, lecturing some poor reader on what gear they should be carrying. There’s a few extra points I’ve underlined about packing light in the main text, things I would probably let go when writing on here, but important enough to stick a flag on in the mag.
The funniest thing about it is that I took all the photies myself with a 10 second timer, I wonder if any readers will spot that? At least it gives me an excuse for taking so bloody long to do the walk. Oh the amount of reversing I had to do with Wheelie.
Now, I probably sound like I’m all pleased with myself here, well I have to say that I kinda am. I really enjoyed doing it, the trip and the writing, and I’m happy to stand behind it as the best I could do on the day, there’s no big bad editor to blame for changes or cuts as I think it was tightened up both minimally and brilliantly by the folks in Peterborough, if anyone thinks it’s pish, it’s my fault alone.
But, I’m entirely aware that its just a few pages in a mag packed with articles from writers who do this stuff every day, so I know my place.
As anyone who has a blog will know, reaching people, communicating your enthusiasm, insight or simple joy at being outdoors or elsewhere is a wonderful thing, and I love having opportunties to do that.

I didn’t really write the trip up properly on here, I thought it would have ruined any chance I had of writing a “fresh” article, and now having the read the thing I was right. Learning.
It was great fun though, but as usual I started late…
I stopped at Pitlochry to see the guys in Escape Route, who liked the look of a Wheelie in-store for hiring out, but cuppas and banter there meant that time evaporated. I picked up some supplies in town, the wee deli made the biggest fluffiest tastiest sammidges I’ve ever seen, and them hit the cross-country road to Braemar, where a few TGOC stragglers were wandering around looking for new shoes.
The drive to Linn of Dee is glorious, and packing in the carpark amogst the trees was a leisurely affair, with gazing at the sky through the branches taking priority over actually getting ready to go. Never in hurry am I.
Wheelie’s huge, I packed the regular gear into stuff sacks, eVent ones from PODsacs and Sea to Summit, and some regular Exped rolltop drybags. There was plenty space though, so I started sticking in more food, and a bottle of Irn Bru, my PHD down gilet, and I lied in the feature, I had three hats as well extra stuff and things just to pad it out a little. But here’s the thing,  I really couldn’t feel the weight, pulling more is “lighter” than carrying less.
All the stuff that happened is in the feature, apart from the stopping and starting to do the photies, that was funny as hell. If I haven’t had the blog and was used to placing myself in shot I’d still be up there now, walking up and down whispering one thousand, two thousand, three…
It was doing that that robbed my of my time to climb the other summits, that was the only downside. It didn’t feel like I came away with a second prize though, it was a fantastic trip, rich for both the eye and the heart. I rediscovered the Cairngorms after all.
My time at camp was brilliant, I had pastries, biscuits, three different types of coffee, Pot Noodle in-a-bag and more, it was a super comfy time I had up there, and still went to the summit with just a poly bag hanging from my shoulders. Magic.

The Future is Orange

I’ve had a notion for a walk for a wee while and it’s something a little different for me, Fort William to Morar.
It looks like it could be a couple of nights of camping after getting the train up and starting walking from there. There’s a good bit of Great Glen Way towpath to get me to tail of Loch Arkaig, then quite a bit of singletrack road or rough hillside to get me to where I really want to go at the head of the loch; Glen Pean.
I’ve long wanted to walk through the glen, feel the history and savour the emptiness. It’s wild and remote and looking at the map just makes me grin. Leaving the glen isn’t the end, it means a walk along the whole length of Loch Morar to either Morar or Arisaig and hopefully a train home.
I think it’s partly that these days I’m wanting to see the bits in the middle that I’ve been driving past or looking down on from a Munro all these years.

But, as I was writing this, I got an email though, and it’s my commissions through from Trail for my routes for the next year. I don’t really talk about my Trail stuff much, but I’m always in there, there’s my Routes, Used & Abused reviews and I’ve always got other bits and pieces scattered about. I’ve got a great piece lined up for the lightweight issue later in the year that’ll see me in the Cairngorms, and then there’s these new routes.
I am grinning from ear to ear right now as I read through my schedule and see that I’m revisiting old friends and tramping familiar trails, and visiting places in Scotland I’ve never even seen with my own eyes.
I’ll be sleeping in caves, peering down on fjord-like loch, putting my feet up by the fire after climbing my last unvisited peak in one of my favourite areas, repeating the first ever Munro ascent, standing on the first hill where I saw a cloud inversion (with waist length hair!), looking for an airframe in the heather, biking into a remote peak or two, bagging some tops before they lock the gate, losing myself in the Assynt wilderness and more besides.
I am overjoyed. Sometimes I need a nudge to get me moving and this has me falling out of my chair.

My Glen Pean walk will be in there, so will some other stuff I’m sure if I’ve got time.
I’ve said this many times, but Scotland really is awfy big for such a wee country.

This, that, the next thing and the thing after that too.

I’m glad this week is nearly over. I’ve achieved heehaw really.
I have learned to monitor my movement and posture, and being careful and strict has seen my back twinge go from being eyewatering with every movement eight days ago, to a mere light stiffness when leaving the mattress this morning. That’s not really a victory though as it was my own stupidity that brought it all about.
Thinking time is what I’ve had, but I didn’t really use that either. I have read some books, but a Commando compendium is hardly increasing my quality of knowledge, so that’s another fail. The sheer offensiveness of some of the “national stereotypes” attached to the characters is noteworthy though, some sort of social comment or history on display maybe.
I cleaned the bike, but I didn’t ride it. I sorted my camping box, but didn’t take anything out and use it. I’ve unwrapped test kit, but I haven’t tested it.
And hey, I’ve got a blog and I haven’t blogged. That’s good though, it should be a diary of stuff I’ve done and not a reason to do stuff.

I did get Holly to myself yesterday, and we had a fine time. You know Starbucks is great for weans, you get a Babyccino for free with dad’s latte, whereas some cafes won’t even lift their gaze from their shoes to try and cater for you and wee yin. There’s always notable exceptions, like the O’brien’s on Bothwell Street, which is brilliant, and most Costa’s are good too, but Starbucks seem to have it sorted for families.
We were in a model shop where Holly got some animals for her farm, and she took some persuading that the knight in armour on the horse didn’t really fit into her usual rural scene. Mind you, neither does the monkey that lives on the roof of the barn, or the elephant family that went home with, so what the hell does dad know?
In the car is funny just now, she’s picked up on my current fad of Rammstein and ask for Amerika as soon as we get on the road. So what we have is her wee hied bobbing away in my rear view mirror shouting “Am-e-ee-ah, wun-ah-bahh, On daddy, on!” Brilliant.

I haven’ t talked about my Trail stuff, and there’s been a few bits in there.
A few months ago there was my first ever proper article. It took me ages to read it because I knew there would be more edits since my l;ast revision and I didn’t want to know, and in fact I couldn’t be arsed as I was sick of looking at the text. But, it came out okay I think. When I read it I still see me in it, although the style is a bit bland I think, there’s some of my usual banter in there. It’s funny, I had to go back and shoehorn all the lightweight stuff into it as is was very thin on such references in the first draught.
One disappointment was the cut of some text that I kinda knew wouldn’t get through, and that was near the beginning where I said something about setting off overloaded like a “badly advised DofE hopeful”. It ended up as something lame, which escapes me for the moment! I’ll dig out a first draught at some point and post it on here.
Tim Glasby’s (they spelled his second name wrong by the way) photies were brilliant, he sat and waited for the sun to be where he wanted it to be instead of running around daft like me looking for the best view. Professionals eh?
I’m proud of it though, a heating engineer getting something like eight pages in a magazine to tell a wee story about his way of going into the mountains? That’s pretty cool.
There was a bunch of other stuff, gear bits and pieces and that, but the funniest one in that issue was the subscription offer pages. It’s a lovely shot by Tim with a giant copy of Trail pasted across me standing by the lochside. Quite right too, weatherbeaten old bastard that I am.
I’ve had a few routes in the mag now, I’m not sure where we are, but I think the Lurg Mhor one is in the current or last issue, and it gives the details and info of the route I took a few months back. See, I do actually know what I’m doing out there. Well, I look it up once I’m back of course. Ben Lomond “roon the back” is out about now and them we’re onto a bunch of other stuff. I’ve got routes running through to next August and I have to be honest, I enjoy that more than doing the column. It’s being oot, and if you look at the photies, the bloke in there is wearing trail shoes. That’s what we need.
My Used & Abused reviews are ongoing too, I’ve got a huge list I’m working through and as reviews go, these are good ones. Every item has been properly thrashed by the writer.

I got a purple woolly bunnet yesterday as well. It’s really nice, but I’m kinda worried that it’ll shrink in the wash.
Ach well, you can’t have it all.

Trail, June & July ’09

I had a 3-season synthetic sleeping bag review in the June issue, they’re not up on LFTO yet, I’ll post a link when they appear.
That was interesting to do, and quite difficult as they were often huge, and indeed sometimes rubbish. But there were some gems in there and the winner from Mountain Hardwear was just a good bag whatever way I looked at it, pretty much trouncing the rest. Temperature ratings made life difficult as they were either wrong for the test or a pack of lies.  Some bags looked good but the rating was ludicrous, and because they were all synthetic there’s no weight clue like you have with down to make an educated guess. Nightmare. 
Folk look at Trail reviews and bitch because something gets apparently odd comments and does badly despite being good kit, well, I know why. When Trail order stuff for a group test, the request is often quite specific: Can we have item A, around £X, rated at 27 pobs and weighing between 100 and 150 piffs.
You’re then in the hands of the distributors and agents who sometimes send in something completely inappropriate, or just don’t send stuff.
So while I might still sit and look at Trail reviews with my face screwed up saying “No, no, no…”, at least I understand a little better these days. Yes, I know individual reviews without an umbrella heading would solve that. Hey, that’s why we have the internet.

Moving on to the current issue, I was utterly horrified to see the selection of packs in the 35L test. Praise Jimmy they didn’t ask me to do this one. There were three in there, three, that I liked the look of. Maybe four.
I’ve got a Used & Abused of the Vargo Titanium Nails in there, spreading the word about such things is what it’s all about.
We’ve got six reader’s lightweight waterproof reviews, featuring familiar face Moggy with his Haglöfs LIM Ultimate. His review has a very important phrase in there that stuck out: “…gave me the impression it might not be as hard-wearing…” was used rather than “this is going to wear out by lunchtime”. Reviews need that kind of awareness.
GT’s lightweight section is interesting as it reminds me of my own constant evolution, a year or more ago I’d have been agreeing, but now I’ve changed my mind. Again.
Sleeping with clothes on I’ve mostly abandoned as I’m using better sleeping bags and mats and carrying no more weight because of it. I carry a mug these days rather than just a pot so I can have a cuppa while I’m boiling water for my apple and custard dessert, and of course the spork is dead to me (for now…) and the spoon is king.
Special mention goes to Matt for tackling the Cuillin ridge. Good lad.

Trail, May ’09 issue

No Lighter… column this month, there’s been a revamp and the Knowledge section has been replaced by the er, Mountain Genius section, and my column is oot. An early version of the last unprinted one is below.
My Used & Abused on the Inov8 Roclite 288’s is in there and that’s it from me this issue.
Claire Maxted’s got a nice review of trail shoes, all good models too.
One thing that struck me was the Beinn Dorain route from Dan Bailey, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen the summit track, every time I’ve been up there it’s been winter and under snow cover. Looks nice in summer.

Lightweight gear follows different threads of evolution depending on what users need. Backpackers are looking for the ultimate lowest weight, but to achieve this, the gear can become very basic, often just enough to carry a load or keep the rain off. If you’re sticking to the trail it’s fine, but on steep or rough open ground, or in the worst of weather, its limitations and comfort limits can be found quite quickly
Gear for alpine ascents is usually stripped-down and purely functional, meaning be default that it’s also light. Alpine style packs such as ************ work for climbing as well as for lightweight backpacking and daywalks. Waterproof shells like ************ show their alpine roots by being simple, robust and user friendly, carrying only the features you actually need.
Adventure racing has had a huge influence on lightweight gear, and it’s here that weight, functionality, durability and performance often hits a sweet spot. The result is gear that works exceptionally well for any lightweight outdoor pursuits
The idea of adventure or fell racing kit normally conjures up visions of skinny folk in black tights with big watches, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There’s plenty of crossover gear that works and still looks good too. The only issue is usually cost, the best fabrics and cutting edge design don’t come without a little pain in your wallet Terra Nova’s Laser packs have taken everyone by surprise, they’re the lightest out there and super functional, with capacity enough for a weekend in the hills. OMM have used their years of experience to make the AdventureLight 20, a year-round daypack and racers favourite at 420g. Haglofs Kazoo’s are tights but not tights, slightly looser cut in fantastic softshell stretch fabric for comfort without embarrassment.

Trail, Spring ’09 Issue

First off, there’s a huge picture (if you click on it) of my arse right here on LFTO. Claire’s done a wee feature on Alpkit’s Genius jeans which I’ve been bumming around in the past few months, good kit too.

My column this month is about the US versus UK aspect, I totally ran out of space and it reads like a list of US gear, but there’s a few important UK mentions at the end. I originally intended it to say that the US was wrong for the UK, but as I wrote and drew on my experiences of the last couple of years, I realised that the gear is right, you just have to use your head to get the best out of it in our weather.
The photie accompanying the column is of a prototype pack with a very familiar logo on it…

Here’s one taken at the same time. Jeans and trainers on the hill? What the hell does he think he’s playing at?

Trail Magazine, April ’09

Big fat issue this month with that Gear Guide stuck in the middle, a bit like finding a paving slab in your roll instead of a slice of lorne sausage.
I’m there or thereabouts inside, one thing I’d forgotten about was the West Highland Way feature. It covers the top half from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William and I recount some thoughts on the Orchy-Ba Bridge section with a few photies (the one I took of the Devils Staircase sign has me wondering if I should go up and see if it’s still there, two years ago it was attached to the signpost, one year ago when I took the photie it was lying on the ground, nowadays I wonder…?).
When we were talking about this it was interesting to note that I can still remember every detail of the route, almost every step. It’s a nice piece with other contributors covering other sections northwards, a lot of detail and a lot about the opportunities for bagging the glamorous peaks along the route. I hope that angle doesn’t confirm the notion in many folks minds that the WHW is rubbish. I was once in that camp and now I know better.

My regular column was inspired by the tent collapsing incident a few weeks back and the subsequent voyage of peg and guy line discovery, the accompanying photie is a fistfull of tentpegs and made me smile when I saw it as I’d fotgotten about it. Obsessed as I was at the time, my first version of the column was a bit one dimensional and I rewrote it to cover some other stuff and went in a different direction as well. I’ve pasted on the original version below and anybody that reads the printed version will have an idea of the severe editing and shoehorning that goes on to get as much info in as I can every month (no sympathy requested, I enjoy it).

I seem to be doing a bit more for Trail & LFTO these days, there’s more review stuff and wee bits and pieces in the works, and I’m happy to say that I’ll be doing some routes as well. It’s great to get a chance to expand on just talking about gear and share some words and pictures of what’s my motivation for all this stuff: getting oot!
If I don’t screw it up, they’ll be in scattered over the second half of the year in Trail.
On that subject, the one person tent review from the last issue of Trail is on the LFTO site here.

Lighter Column, Take #1

Compromise and cost are two things that always come up when talking about lightweight, and they’re the two most common points raised on the LFTO forums.
While lightweight gear might not be compromised in design or construction, some of the components might be cut as thin as possible to give an impressive packed weight or to keep retail costs to an acceptable level.
Tent pegs and guy lines are a favourite for this corner cutting, so after a recent trip where gale force winds bent pegs and frayed guy lines, it was time to look for alternatives. Not heavier, but lighter and stronger.
The guy lines I’ve replaced with Dyneema cord and Line-Lok mini adjusters. The weight is negligible, the bulk is reduced and performance is increased; Dyneema is stronger than steel for its weight.
The pegs I’ve replaced with a mix of Vargo Titanium Nails in two weights, 16g and 9g. I’ve also got a few 16g aluminium Y stakes from Camcleat, these are anodised in bright blue for easy location in grass or snow. The large surface area presented to the ground by the Y’s means supern security. All these pegs came with cords attached for easy withdrawal when breaking camp. Pegs packed with tents rarely have this detail as it’s an unwanted manufacturing cost.
But, all these items added up to the cost of a budget tent on its own, and this is where personal choice plays its part. My lightweight tent was expensive to buy, but it’s bombproof and giving it a “service” by replacing worn parts was perfectly acceptable as it’ll give me years more hard use. I see this as an investment in quality and reliability, I’m making no compromise. But by buying the heavier budget tent, I think I’m compromising my enjoyment.

Trail, February and March ’09

There’s a few bits in the February and March issues. And on the LFTO site you’ll see the coverage of the rather nice Crux Halo pullover I have on test. Part #1 and Part #2.

My February “Lighter” column was all about clothing, basically that I don’t really care how much the clothing that I’m wearing all day weighs. Wearing Paramo and Furtech hasn’t been a hardship at all. In the text, the sentiment that if your trousers are too heavy you have to get down the gym is one I stand by.
The lightweight feature that I got so many comms about isn’t aimed at experienced light packers, it’s aimed at your sceptical Trail reader, and although it doesn’t go too far down the road, if it gets folks interest up, gets them looking at their kit and wondering “Why?” then that’s what it’s all about.
The PTC v GT gear section is quite funny. It shows some different kit that’s possible, and some of GT’s selections are lighter than mine, but not necessarily so small packing. 
A few extra grams here and there on small items might mean carring a smaller capacity rucksack and that could save you 600g in the end.

Test pitching before taking them oot
Test pitching before taking them oot

In the March issue my column is all about bits and pieces, lightweight accessories and the accidental assassination of the Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap.

Also my review of 16 one-person tents is in there. Some real winners, some slightly disapppointing and a couple of howlers.

Trail, January ’08

My column this month is an attempt to persuade folks that lightweight footwear is like the Yellow Pages, not just there for the nasty things in life, like a blocked drain. It’s there for the good things as well. Wait, that analogy is shite. I’ll edit it out later.
So, it’s waterproof mids, mini gaiters and the like. It’s not maybe the sexiest read, but it’s a genuine plea for folk to believe me and try it for themselves.

My manky trail shoes are pictured large in the Used and Abused section, the Crosslites versus the X-Talons. The result of the long term test wasn’t hedging my bets, they really are different but equal in many ways.
There’s a couple of other bits in there, but the most obvious is the one accompanying the nice big photie of one of my rather scuffed aluminium Kahtoola crampons on a Salomon boot.

The Kahtoolas are assassinated in the text, and I dare say there’ll be folk getting all upset about it, but you have to put it in context. It’s a left field, even abstract bit of kit and it just doesn’t fit in with any of the methods or advice that we’ve been used to hearing. They require a leap of faith and a complete change of approach to use them beyond their remit of glacier crossing assisters as seen through traditional eyes.
Of the contributers giving their opinion I’m sure I’m the only one who’s used them and can compare their performance to other crampons. I know their limitations and their application and I’m surprised the other contributers didn’t think outside the box and see that a change of footwear, technique and approach make the Kahtoolas a viable option. As a young John Conner said as he tapped the T-800 on the head, “Are we learning yet?”. But, all the points made by the contributers in the article regarding the Kahtoolas are valid, from a certain point of view. I only object to blanket dismissal, leave it up to the individual and arm them with all knowledge possible.
And you know, I’ve been in Trail for a while now, but it’s nice to know that sometimes I can still feel like I’m fighting a lightweight guerilla campaign.

It was nice to see Dave’s review of the ME Xero down bag he got in the Lakes when we did the wildcamp for the lightweight article earlier in the year.

Trail, December ’08

My column this month is “Lighter…Lighting”. It’s maybe not exactly the most inspirational stuff, but there’s some good points in there. My own joy when I was sent the Silva L4 and immediately accepeted it’s red-then low to high switching order as the right way to do it is in there, as is the fantastic performance of the Petzl Myo XP for night hiking. The e+Lite is in there too, all the models are lightweight winners.
I mention the new Alpkit Bulb as a tent light, and although it’s bulky it’s not too heavy and really handy. That’s where all the light is coming from in the tent photies from last weeks camping trip. I’m usually picking out stuff with a beam, but this was like sitting in a room (of sorts), very pleasant. It was also easy to find the tent after a pee trip in the cloudy darkness.
Alpkit sent me their Gamma headtorch for test as well, I’ll speak more of that later.
The photie with the column is of me and a Lasercomp from the Cluanie trip a few months back.

Elsewhere in the mag we’ve got a frighteningly large collection of unwieldy looking boots. I feel for the poor sods buying some of these and spending the winter on the mostly snowless Lakeland fells.
The Lightweight Boots group test from GT is the way to go, but you’ll always suffer from a time lag as new models are old models by the time you’ve trashed them. The new Salomon Fastpackers and Montrail Hardrock MIds would have trounced most of the models in there.
I voted for Ullapool in the alternative outdoor capital feature as it’s got a great shop in Northwest Outdoors and all the other facilities you need to make it a great base. There’s also a huge campsite where we met some German bikers a few years back, one of whom had his mate in the sidecar, with a machine gun mount on it. And he threw camo netting over it at night. I don’t want to know.

It looks like a good issue, I’ll peruse further at lunch through the week.

Trail, November ’08

“Lighter Luxuries” my column’s called this month, and it’s simple stuff. Lightweight hiking and backpacking should be fun,  it’s not a competition to leave the most stuff in the house and that’s what I’m saying in there. My pack always has room for daft extras like the squeaky Ajungilak pillow and a Danish Pastry. Or two.
I was trying to address the notion that all lightweight folk are po-faced scales-obsessed geeks who want to grit their teeth through a cold night in a tent. In 300 words that’s a tall task though given some of the evidence.

Elsewhere the Five Sisters of Kintail piece brought back memories, must be 15 years or something since I did that route. I remeber purple being worn anayway. It’s a great part of the world that, it’s just all great hills everywhere you look.

Aw man, I’m pining for the fjords so bad right now.

Trail, October ’08

I like this months column better. There’s a bit of banter in there as well as facts. The Laurel and Hardy reference isn’t just me shoe-horning in analogies (again). When I was on the West Highland Way a few months back, I was regularly passing folk who did have that very aesthetic. What struck me was that all the vital stuff was strapped to the outside of their monster packs, so what the hell did they have on the inside?
The modular carrying subject matter, may seem only tenuously “lightweight” as many folk understand it, but it’s actually at the core of carrying only what is necessary. It’s a concept that’s being developed with varying degrees of success by manufacturers from big to garden shed. It’ll be interesting to see how much of it makes it into the shops as it’ll be completely over the heads of the store buyers who largely decide what we get to play with each season.

My other piece this month is me worrying the Trail nutritionist. My lunchbox contents are partly the result of having to think fast on the phone to Claire Maxted when making up the list, but seeing it again it’s not too far from the truth.
I would swap a Mars Bar for a Honey Stinger energy bar, maybe add in some energy chews. But more often than not on a day trip I’ll have less that is on the list. That’s not going lightweight, that just taking what I need.
This is again part of the notion that hillwalking in the UK is an expedition to the greater ranges/another planet for which you have to be appropriately equipped. It isn’t as we all know, it’s walking up a slope.
I know there’s dangers, the fatalities we see make that all too plain. But instead of building up the mystique and aura of the mountains, maybe we should make them the places of equal accessibility and hazard that they actually are. Would that allow more people access to information and safety issues, rather than folk looking at equipment and skills feeling overwhelmed and carrying on thinking “We’ll be fine”.
The hills should be more inclusive rather than use-of-equipment led as it seems they have increasingly become. That’s another target going lightweight hits near the centre.

Trail, July ’08

This months column is pretty simple, the basics of lightweight cooking and eating on short trips. There really is no need for carrying a lot of heavy shite unless you’re away for ages or going really high up and have to use liquid fuel. Simplicity and quick cuppas are where it’s at.

There’s plenty other stuff as well this time. That bloody photie on the contents page for example. Tom Bailey was snapping away as I’m staring down into the bivy perhaps trying to appraise the comfort of my man parts, I put my head up and laughed out loud “Ha! Ye cannae use that wan!”. No they used the next one of me saying that. Still, no metal fillings in there.

The “First Time…Lightweight” feature was what I was down in the lakes for last month. We camped near Angle Tarn, East and 500-odd meters above Patterdale. It turned out I knew the subject of the article from the LFTO forums: Dave AKA Snowman1. After a detached phone and email relationship with the magazine it was nice to see how tall people are. I felt it all went well, and the trip is pretty well explained in the article. What of course gets missed out is the hours of hanging about, shooting the breeze and learning about new people. GT and I didn’t fight about trail shoes, Claire tuned into my Scottishisms very well, poor Tom was the only one who did any work and Dave was bouyant throughout. Day Two’s plan of High Street was curtailed and we walked down in the pissing rain and went back to Ambleside where we ate a hearty cooked breakfast.

Reading through, I can’t really fault or disagree with the content. I maybe come out as a bit lairy and extreme in some of my perfectly pedestrian notions, but it’s all relative. I was well within in my comfort zone, had the best nights sleep and my socks were dry by the time my kettle had boiled. I could have carried less, but I didn’t know what destination to pack for so went for “Munro top camp”, and all the weights mentioned include water, fuel, food and actually everything we weren’t wearing at the start.

It was interesting, good fun and for me it was good to break out of the column format. Talking about the gear is important, but actually doing it (with a big bloody grin) is what it’s all about.

Trail Column, June ’08

The photie at the top of this months column is from my South Glen Shiel Ridge bivvy trip. I used the Big Agnes Zirkel top bag and Two Track sleep pad there (at over a 1000m in February, plenty warm), so it’s relevant to the text. It was a revelation moving to top bags, warm, more comfortable and less restrictive. I know some folk have issues with them as they expect the bag to move with them in the night, but at home your duvet doesn’t revolve with you all night, so I think a top bag is a much more natural sleep. The other side is the stretch seamed bags from MontBell that I’ll be writing up soon. It’s another comfortable, unrestricted sleep.

It’s also nice to have a bit of lightweight thinking that naysayers can’t criticise. You might not like the concept, but you can’t say it’s losing weight at the cost of performance. It actually extends it’s use. I took the Exped Synmat on the WHW and was happy as it was snowing and the ground was cold, last week for the lightweight camp with the Trail guys I took a plain air-filled Exped mat at less than half the weight. I used the Rab AR bag both times and it was all good: comfy and warm enough. 

I really like the new look of the column as well.  Having the photie makes a big difference. Me grinning away in the bottom corner is definitely a better idea that that gormless buffoon of previous months turning folk away from the important messages below.

Trail Column, May ’08

I’m so glad to be rid of the awful mugshot. The photie this month is me flitting about on Beinn Dorain in the very Icebug footwear I’m talking about. That wonderful day is on here somewhere.

It was an odd winter without proper boots at all, but I didn’t miss them once. It was the best winter I’ve had for years.

It is the best message we can send. Getting your feet right.

Trail Column, April ’08

“Lighter…Faster” and it had to be, this one was done in a hurry. I know what I was trying to say, but I don’t know if I quite managed it this time. The last few lines hopefully make up for the literary fumbling.

“…All this saved time adds up and makes you a winner. You can pick your prize from; more sleep, more hills, more time to watch that sunset.

And my favourite; less time messing with gear. Lightweight makes the gear invisible, and that lets you see the hills more clearly.”

That really is what I’m always trying to say. It’s not about the gear. The less intrusive it is, by weight, by frequency of adjustment, by pointless features, by faffing about and all the rest, the better because you’re looking at the view with a cuppa in your hand, camp admined with no time wasted on gear.

Trail Column, March ’08

I liked this one when I wrote it, and then as the weeks went past I forgot all about it. I read it again today in the magazine and I had a wee smile to myself. I always submit way too many words so some gets cut, but the rest is as I wrote it. And as much as folk want stick the boot into Trail for not progressing, there is stuff there that you wouldn’t expect “the orange body bags…”.

Banter fully intact once again. The slightly longer version is below.


 We like easier. When we started work we thought “Hmm, there’s a better way to do that”. We want the latest gadgets with an “i” in the title. But when it comes to the outdoors we stand there, fingers in our ears and forge on with the same kit we had in 1989. With a half full 30L pack I’ve had glares from fellow walkers with bulging 45L packs. “What’s he doing, where’s his kit? Call the safety man!”That they’re often trudging, stooped, watching each footfall intently as they conquer the contour lines with grit and determination compared to my happy demeanour seems not to register. It’s not about who carries the least kit going lightweight, it’s making your time in the hills easier, more fun. This is what we all want, and I know that safety is a concern that many have, but the idea that you’re leaving behind essentials just to save weight is wrong. The safety kit I’m carrying covers all the usual items. 

  • Torch. A Petzl Tikka XP and spare batteries. Add a Petzl e+lite for backup and the combined weight is still less than a standard headtorch.
  • Shelter. AdventureMedicalKits Thermo-Lite 2.0 bivvy sack. At 196g it’s lighter and far warmer than the orange plastic body bags that traditionalists regard as vital equipment.
  • Medical. I carry my own, with bandages, plasters, wipes, tape, water purification tablets, painkillers, digestifs and it fits in the palm of my hand.
  • Food&Drink. I still take sandwiches but I mostly carry energy foods and drinks. From beef jerky to bars from High5, SIS and Honey Stinger. They’re small, light, tasty and their ingredients are natural. You’ll feel better on the move and be revived by these more effectively than breaking your teeth on Kendal mint cake. A Nuun tablet dropped in your water bottle at every refill will keep you hydrated and fresh.
  • I always carry gloves and hat, my phone, a map and compass.

 There’s nothing missing except weight.  Moving easier I’m less fatigued and fresher at the end of the day, whether it’s at camp or back at the car.I believe these factors combined make a lightweight hill day a less risky prospect, not a more dangerous endeavour.