As with, I guess, most of us who’ve been backpacking for several years the kit I use has changed a lot since I started. Some of my kit is pretty new but a number of pieces have been with me almost all the way. I thought I’d write a piece about why, year after year, they keep getting put into my backpack.
My first backpacking tent lasted exactly one trip, broke, got returned to the manufacturer who failed to repair it so I got my money back.
After careful research in Trail magazine and TGO and feeling the merchandise in stores I decided to splash £300 on a Terra Nova Solar 2. I can’t honestly remember why I chose the Solar 2 over the Voyager but I imagine cost, weight and porch size were the key factors.
A close second was the Vaude Hogan but I found it too short (I’m 6’2″).
The Solar 2 has been with me on two of my three Picos de Europa trips, The Pyrenees and the Sierra de Gredos as well as many UK trips of up to a week. I’ve been out in hot Spanish summer conditions where I didn’t need the fly and in winter where I’ve needed to clear away the snow. In all these trips I’ve only had one problem with the tent withstanding the weather.
On the first Picos trip we were camped at Naranjo de Bulnes and a storm blew in, washing away the limited soil. The pegs came out and the porch began flapping about. We decided to pull down the tent and head to the refuge for the night.
Things I like about the tent: its 2.5kg full weight. There are lighter tents but the space in the solar two, especially the porch, mean it’s really comfortable to stay in. Pitching is a cinch. My regular camping friend and I have it down so well we can do it after many beers and in the dark! We can easily fit two 70L packs in the porch and still have enough room to cook or get in/out.
My second backpacking tent was a Hilleberg Akto. When I began to backpack solo more frequently I wanted a smaller, lighter tent. Initially I borrowed the Akto from Hilleberg to review for a website I co-ran many years ago. After a while testing the Akto Hilleberg asked for it back but I loved the tent so much I bought it from them (better than paying postage back to Sweden!). My feedback to Hilleberg was very positive, with a few areas for improvement: the zip on the door was straight, a curve at the top or a hood would improve ventilation without letting in the weather. Although I can sit up in the Akto, a few more centimetres wouldn’t go amiss.
When they updated the tent I was pleased to see they’d added a canopy to the fly sheet door. They’d also made it a little lighter!
Things I like about the tent: It’s so easy to pitch. Even in poor weather it takes no time at all. The pack size and weight are really good. I generally stuff the poles separately to the fabric parts and it squishes up easily. Living space is perfectly adequate for me and my kit. Nice big porch and plenty of sleeping room.
Since my first trip to the Picos (2001) I’ve favoured a multi fuel stove. The one I use is an MSR Dragonfly. I chose this one because I sometimes like to do more than boil water so a controllable flame was very useful. Over the years I’ve used unleaded petrol, white gas, kerosene, ‘essence C’ -which turned out to be a dry cleaning fluid and most recently turpentine. It burns them all very well and without much tinkering needed.
I’ve only had a problem with lighting the stove once. In the Pyrenees on a hot day we tried to light it to cook some couscous for lunch. Because it was so warm the fuel evaporated before we could light it to prime the stove. I’ve maintained it at home before long trips and made running repairs whilst away. The one problem I couldn’t fix was when a weld broke in Scotland. The stove was returned to MSR who repaired it free of charge under guarantee -I was very impressed as the stove was over ten years old at the time.
Things I like about the stove: Can run it on more or less any fuel I can find, field maintainable, variable flame -from candle to welding torch!
For years I’ve carried a Victorinox climber knife. Its got all the essential items, even the strange awl tool. It’s not the lightest knife or the most well equipped but for me it’s the best mix of useful tools.
I have two packs in regular use, both Lowe Alpine. An Alpamayo 70+20L for big trips and an Alpine Attack 50L for the not so big trips. I always rated Lowe packs because they are superbly comfortable and the build quality excellent. The bigger pack is now about 14 years old and showing very little wear beyond a bit of scuffing. It’s not a lightweight pack by any definition -about 3kg empty. I’ve never needed more room than it offered and it’s a very comfortable carry, even with 25+ kg inside it. The Alpine bag is about ten years old and gets used as my day pack as well as for lighter backpacking trips. It’s big enough for a week long trip in summer conditions. One thing about it that I have never liked is the attachment of the floating lid. It always seems to slip down and not stay in one place (the floating lid on the Alpamayo stays put).
Things I like about the packs: Their volume is what it’s meant to be. They’re both plenty big enough. Very comfortable adjustable back systems on both bags. Really hard wearing fabric.