Overall I think I pretty much got my kit right for this yeas TGO Challenge. Most things worked pretty well, not many went unused, and I can’t think of anything I forgot.
Anyway here’s a quick summary of how I got on with some of the gear I took. I’m only going to comment on items I’ve started using this year, or one’s which excelled or expired.
For reference you can find the complete gear list in an earlier post : TGO Challenge 2015 Gear List
Pack : Gossamer Gear Gorilla
I purchased the GG Gorilla earlier this year and had used it on a few overnight trips before the TGO, including a tough three day trek in Snowdonia. Overall I really love this pack, it carries like a dream and is easily the most comfortable pack I’ve used. GG say it is comfortable to 30 lbs (13.6 kg). I would say that’s a little on the optimistic side and would only use it for up to 12 kg loads (which for extended trips means maximum base weight of 8.5 kg). I carried about 13 kg on one day after loading up with five days worth of food and I could feel the shoulder straps transferring a liitle to much weight to my shoulders.
Comfortable carry aside, I can’t help highlighting a few small niggles that had me frustrated on occasion. None of these are deal breakers, and I can forgive any of them against the sheer comfort of the pack…but the Gorilla is frustratingly close to being superb.
First there’s a couple of issues with the webbing, particularly on the hip belt. An elastic retaining loop which aims to hold back the lose end of the hip belt is forever sliding forwards and jamming itself in the belt buckle. When you have gloves on it’s a fiddly job to keep pulling it out of the way so you can tighten the belt. I’ve now tacked these back by sewing them to the rear webbing where it meets the padded part of the belt.
Then there’s the webbing itself which I find too soft and flexible. Lovely to handle, but it has a habit of folding double into the buckle as it slides through. When the belt is then loaded this could place excessive strain on the buckle and potentially could snap it. I’ve also had the same problem on the shoulder straps, but less often.
The pockets on the hip belt are great, but a touch on the small side. They’re barely more than 2-3 cm deep and could do with being another 1 cm deeper. One single flat object can take up almost all the room in the pockets. The belt pockets on my ULA packs are deeper and more usable. They’re also not at all waterproof, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.
It’s very useful to have that top pocket on the lid flap, something I really miss with most roll top type packs. But…it comes with a frustration. If you’ve got anything in that top pocket while you’re packing the main sack, the lids continually wants to flop down over the neck of the sack. This means you need to hold a floppy sack open while trying to pack it. It’s almost a three handed job.
While not frustrating as such, a couple of comments on the Robic fabric used for the main body of the pack. There’s no doubt it’s robust and should take a fair bit of punishment. But it is in no way waterproof, and only marginally water-resistant. Without a pack cover, water easily enters the main body of the pack, lid pocket and belt pockets. And there’s something about the fabric or its grey shade which shows the dirt. Because it’s a plain weave with no pattern or texture, the dirt really stands out. After only 20 nights with this pack it looks dirtier tan the ULA packs I’ve had for years.
Lets not end on a negative note however. This is a brilliant pack, supremely comfortable, and for want of a few small issues it could be outstanding. It will still be my pack of choice for spring/summer trips.
Tent : Tarptent Notch
Last year I didn’t take the Tarptent Notch as I wasn’t sure how it would stand up to strong winds. Since then I’ve made a few modifications (extra tie out points etc) and I’m happy to report that it stood up well. I’m sure the winds in Glen Coe on one occasion were gusting 50-60 mph, and the little tent stood it’s ground.
It’s a little tight on space, but at 700g with two vestibules, it’s the favourite of all the tents I currently use. I’m planning a separate post on this as I’ve now had it for a few years and done quite a lot of mileage with it. The mods I’ve made make it a good choice for me for the UK. It’s beginning to feel like an faithful old friend.
Sleeping Bag : ZPacks 20 degree
After getting cold on last years TGO using a 1 season sleeping bag, I purchased a ZPacks 20 degree bag earlier this year. I’ve used it now for a little over 20 nights and so far I’m pretty impressed.
I don’t miss the lack of a hood at all and quite like drawing it around my neck and using it in combination with BlackRock Down Beanie when the nights are really chilly. It lofts well, packs down small and is well made. I’ve also not found the lack of a zip baffle to be an issue. Considering it’s feather-light weight, it’s certainly a warm bag. Having said that if I were to buy this bag now, I’d probably go the full hog and buy a 10 degree version. The extra weight would be worth it for the additional warmth.
One thing you need to be aware of are the continuous baffles. This is a deliberate design feature so you can redistribute down to alter how much sits above or below you, but the down has a slight tendency to migrate into the underneath side of the bag when you loft it. So you need to remember to shift it back to the top before sleeping, otherwise you waste all that down by lying on it.
One slight negative, and not surprising considering the weight of the fabrics used, is down leakage. It’s not excessive, but on most mornings I’ve noticed the odd quill poking through the top fabric. A quick inspection to pull any back through from the back each day sorts that problem.
Boots : Salomon X Ultra Mid GTX
I’m half way migrating from traditional boots to trail running shoes, I’ve not taken that leap of faith yet. I’ve gone back to Salomon after a few years using other boots, and these proved supremely comfortable straight from the box.
I’ve done 350 miles in these now with not a single blister or sore point. The grip is acceptable, though not outstanding, and they dry reasonably quickly considering they have a Goretex liner. They also kept the water out surprisingly well, not completely of course but they didn’t leak as bad as I’d expected them too. If Salomon could just do a version of these without the Goretex membrane they’d be excellent. I still can’t figure out why boot companies persevere with goretex membranes, it simply doesn’t belong in boots and can ruin an otherwise good design. It doesn’t work.
Waterproofs : Rohan Elite Jacket & Berghaus Paclite Pants
I bought my Rohan Elite jacket for a knock down price on Ebay. The Barricade fabric it’s made from has a nice soft feel, very quiet in use, and it’s reasonably light at 330g. Design, fit and features are all there. Certainly a nice jacket to wear.
In use it’s odd however. Water beads on it for a while in heavy rain, then the fabric wets out…but doesn’t let water through. It sort of ends up looking damp, but still keeps you dry. I found breathability to be good in all but the most prolonged deluges.
It’s big downside is washing and care. Once home I put it in the wash with another couple of pieces of shell gear, and the fabric suffered somewhat from being abraded by Velcro. Fine fibres in the Barricade fabric get stuck to Velcro and can pull away from the face of the fabric, which seems to be comprised of a matt of fibres rather than a weave. In fact washing almost destroyed a seem around the inner pocket. It makes me wonder about long term durability. As a bargain ebay find the jacket is good, but if I’d paid full price I’d be asking questions.
The Berghaus Paclite Pants were superb as ever, but the ankles did get a bit trashed walking through deep heather and I’ve had a to do a few repairs since.
Gaiters : Green Hermit Desert Gaiters
I wear gaiters a lot, even in dry weather just to keep trousers a bit cleaner and keep out ticks. So I bought these for the venting option they provide; a good sized section of each gaiter can be unzipped and pulled to one side to allow venting in drier weather. They’re also a funky shade of green which I quite liked. Fit, length and weight are good and on first impressions they look like the dogs doodahs.
But……the TGO almost destroyed them.
Firstly one of the Velcro strips simply ripped away from the stitching when I opened one of the vents. Luckily this didn’t rip the fabric so I should be able to re-stitch this back.
Then the straps under the boots wore away to almost nothing. These are not easily replaceable as they’re actually sewn in.
And finally, they don’t breath, at all ! These are marketed as a desert gaiter so you might expect them to breath in hot weather. The calves of my trousers ended up more than a little damp whenever I wore these, even with the vents fully open. In summary these gaiters look great, but their performance is not.
- Rohan Core Silver Zip : Taken rather than my usual BAM baselayers as I would have few opportunities to wash clothing. The Rohan Zip washes easily, dries pretty quickly, and keeps the odour at bay for a few days. I liked it a lot.
- Haglofs Mid Flex Pant : I was keeping spare clothes to a minimum so I took a slightly heavier pair of trousers as I would never have to carry them. These are great, just a bit warmer than the Montane Tera’s I’d normally take and I love the stretch panels on the legs and seat. Great trousers.
- Marmot Stride Vest : Never needed to use it. A baselayer, micro fleece and either a shell or ultralight down jacket were all I needed.
- UniQlo Ultralight Down Jacket : At 210g and £40 this continues to be one of my best ever buys. Super soft and cozy. Just warm enough, but not overkill.
- Rohan Ultra Silver Shirt : I take this for sleeping and as a spare baselayer. Weighs less than a whisper, washes and dries easily.
- Spare Socks : Never used them, I managed to wash socks every other day and dry them over the roof of the inner tent overnight.
- Buffalo Mitts : I meant to proof these with Nikwax before the trek, but dropped one on the stairs carrying kit to the washing machine. On rainy days one hand stayed perfectly dry, the other got soaked. These are still superbly lightweight warm mitts. Some kit is never bettered.
- BlackRock Down Beanie : Works great with the ZPacks sleeping bag.
- FM Radio : This year I took one with a proper old fashioned aerial rather than an integral one. I wired it to my trekking pole at night, and hey presto, I had Radio 4 all the way across Scotland.
- Charger (one that runs off AA batteries) : In a word, rubbish. It would only transfer part of the charge available from AA batteries, leaving you to throw the batteries away half used. In the end I threw away the charger itself.
- Kahtoola Microspikes : Carried and never used (350g !)
- Sitmat : I’ve only recently started sticking a little sitmat in my pack side pocket, It’s a sign of encroaching age don’t you know. It’s now a staple piece of kit. Makes a cold lunch break infinitely more enjoyable and comfortable, not to mention keeping your posterior warm.
OK, well that’s the lot. Overall I was extremely pleased with what I took and wouldn’t have changed much at all. Just a couple of minor niggles which didn’t in any way detract from enjoyment or comfort.