Affric Kintail Way – Kit Review

I got back from the Affric Kintail Way late on Good Friday night – a bit earlier than expected, but we powered through the last day and we’d finished all of Saturday’s mileage before 5pm Friday. I intend to do a write-up of the walk at some point shortly, but in the meantime I thought I’d mention some of the kit I used, so this is my version of “Kit that worked and kit that didn’t.”

Optimus Crux (Folding) Stove

On the face of it, this looks like a great piece of kit and I must admit to being sucked in by the weight of it and the fact that it folds down and takes up very little space. At 87g it’s almost half the weight of my previous stove and does indeed fold away nicely, almost into the base of the gas cylinder it uses. It has a good sized burner head and the folding arms are long enough to support my MSR Titan Kettle easily. However, that’s where the good news ends.

Firstly, it doesn’t quite fit into the base of the gas cylinder, so you need to use a neoprene pouch (supplied) to attach it to the cylinder. This adds weight and bulk, so it’s now close to my previous stove weight and it means the gas cylinder doesn’t sit snug on top of my Titan anymore. I ditched the pouch, which sort of makes the folding mechanism moot.

The next, and by far and away the worst problem is that the gas control for this stove is appalling! The screw turn feels sloppy and it takes almost two full turns, from the closed position, to get the gas to flow. Once the gas starts flowing there’s less than a quarter turn of the screw between no flow and full burn. I could almost live with that, but what I found even more annoying was that unless you have the gas at full burn, the flame gradually dwindles until the stove actually goes out. I tend to just boil water when I’m backpacking, to make a brew or to add to a freeze-dried meal, so the inability to simmer or perform an efficient rolling boil doesn’t really impact me much, but it will be a big drawback to many. I do want to use the fuel efficiently though and the need to have the stove at full output felt wasteful and it ‘feels’ like I’ve used a lot more fuel than I would normally on a trip.

I’ll have to go back to my old faithful stove, or perhaps buy what I should have bought in the first place – an MSR Pocket Rocket!

Pacer Poles

me-with-2-poles

Me, walking with two poles

I see more and more people using two poles on the hills and I bought a pair of Pacer Poles a couple of years ago to try and reap the supposed benefits. I’ve done a couple of short walks with them and they felt awkward, compared to the single pole I’ve used for many years. This time I was determined to give them a good long test and finally get to grips with them.

I used them for for the first 12-15 miles of the walk. The first four of those miles were along a mostly flat 4WD track, the next four were climbing, some gradual, but often steep and stony and the remaining miles were flat again. At no point did they ever feel comfortable in my hands. I finally got a rhythm going on the flat section, following the instructions I’d download from the PP website, but it was forced and felt unnatural. As often as not I found my arms out of sync with my legs and I’d have to do a little skip to bring them back in line. On the climbs I felt they just got in the way. I carried them for the last 30+ miles of the walk!

Does anyone want to buy a pair of hardly used Pacer Poles? I will go back to using a single pole for the Cape Wrath Trail.

Water Collection and Filtration

Sawyer Mini Filter

Sawyer Mini Filter

I switched to a Sawyer Mini filter for this trip, replacing my old Aquapure Traveller Filter bottle and saving quite a bit of weight. This worked OK for the most part, but did highlight an issue I’d never noticed before. Previously, I would collect ‘dirty’ water in the Traveller bottle and filter it into my 3 litre Platypus. With the Sawyer, the idea was to collect the ‘dirty’ water in the Platy and then squeeze it through the Sawyer, which would be attached to the Platy, into my kettle.

The first problem is that it’s almost impossible to fill a Platy from a still water source. Stick it beneath a falling source, like in a stream and it’s fine, the Platy fills up quickly, even through the small neck. Try and fill it from a loch shore (as I did on Thursday night) though and the story is somewhat different. There just doesn’t seem to be enough water pressure to fill the Platy, even blowing it full of air – the water just doesn’t enter the neck. In the end I had to use a cup to gather the water and pour it into the Platy – not the end of the world, but annoying.

The other slight issue was the speed of filtration. The Traveller bottle could filter 600ml of water in just a few short seconds. I reckon it took over a minute to filter 800ml of water into my kettle through the Sawyer Mini. Again, not a huge problem and not enough of an issue to make me change back to the Traveller bottle.

Shoes and/or Socks

We pushed hard on the last day of the walk, doing over 20 miles, most of it on either tarmac, or hard core forestry tracks. I ended up with sore feet, so much so that I would have struggled to walk any sort of distance, the next day, without considerable pain. I think the main cause was the surfaces we walked on that day, but I’m also concerned it was compounded by my sock choice. My Salomon X-Ultra 2 trail shoes were great, but they don’t have a lot of sole support (like most trail shoes, I guess), so sock choice is important.

Salomon X-Ultra 2 trail shoes

Salomon X-Ultra 2 trail shoes

I used a thin liner sock (Bridgedale Coolmax Liner Socks) beneath an M&S Trainer Sock, which have a fleece lining for added comfort. The problem I found was that although the liner socks dried out, the trainer socks really didn’t! They soaked up the water from the puddles and streams and even after being wrung out and left to hang on my pack overnight, they were still wet and heavy the next morning. As such, I decided to walk in just the liner socks on the last day (the long, 20 mile day). I think this was the root cause of the resulting foot pain, but it does highlight the need for socks that dry out quickly, or the need to carry more than one pair of each.

I was half expecting a sock conundrum and I do have one, I just hope I can reach a good balance on the Cape Wrath. I was planning on carrying more than a single pair of each sock type for that, much longer walk, so that may resolve the issue.

Food

Daily food ration

Daily food ration

After an interesting series of discussions on Twitter, I decided I was packing too little food for the trip. I’d originally planned on carrying about 2000 calories of food per day, but was rightly told this was not enough to sustain me for the amount of energy I’d be expending and being hungry on a long walk is the quickest way to misery. I upped the amount to 3500 calories, which weighs in at around 800g per day.

In the end I never finished the full day’s rations, I always had one or two snack bars left over. This does reassure me; it means that I can reduce the food weight slightly, without danger of feeling miserable at the end of the day when the Jelly Babies run out. I do need to pack more tea granules though; even on a three day walk I was in danger of not having the makings for a brew. We spent the first night in a bothy and the almost continual stream of tea and coffee, during the course of the evening, was a great cheer.

I should plan to never run out of tea!

Sleep System

This worked really well and I got two good night’s sleeps on the trail. I discussed in some detail the reasons behind the need for a change and what I was proposing to do in this blog post. I only partially inflated the mattress – to about 90% I guess – enough to support me comfortably, but not so much that my added weight on an already full mattress would force a leak. The Z-Lite foam mat underneath made for added comfort and warmth. A definite success on the trip.

Two mattresses!

Two mattresses!

lonewalker

Fell-walker, trig-pointer, peak-bagger, Wainwright-er & Pennine Way author, with a passion for long paths, malt whisky, fast cars & Man City

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18 Responses

  1. Easy Walker says:

    and about the stove, well good thing you found out that is S****s. any MSR or Primus system will give you a huge differance.
    Cheap is expensive in the end if it comes to this stuff.. 🙂 I like the Review.. 😉

  2. Easy Walker says:

    I am suprized that the poles are a big trouble for most of you,
    I myself will not go whitout them. on the flat they give me rythem, up they give me a boost a firm grip to hold on, going down they divert the weight from my legs to the poles, crossing streams and boggy terrain there i just love them . 🙂

    • lonewalker says:

      I get that support from one pole – perhaps not the rhythm that 2 provide on the flat, but certainly the other benefits – plus I have a hand free 🙂

  3. StuartS67 says:

    Couldn’t agree more re the walking poles. Every comment you make about them sounds so familiar. I experimented with a single pole a few years ago, but it wasn’t for me. More recently I fell for the sales pitch and invested in two new ones. On my very first walk with them, within an hour they were out of my hands and attached to the pack. They just weren’t for me. They just got in the way. I like two hands free!

  4. JohnBoy says:

    Good to see the sleéping system was a success, a combo works for me too and gives me peace of mind in case of a puncture or leak. As for food, I took 3500 Kcal a day on last year’s TGOC, and lost 8 pounds in weight across Scotland. Worked out I’d have needed 4500 Kcal a day to maintain my weight. But like you, I never actually felt hungry or short of something to eat. So I was perfectly happy to drop the pounds instead of carrying the extra food.

    • lonewalker says:

      I think exercise has some appetite suppressant qualities and I have plenty of weight to lose, so I don’t mind drawing on some of my reserves, especially if I’m not actually hungry. I’m not sure I could even carry six days worth of 4500 calories – it would almost double my base weight!

  5. HighHiker says:

    Good to know I’m not the only one struggling with poles. Tried them this year and despite much persistence I just couldn’t find a rhythm and like yourself saw them as more of a hindrance and ‘in the way’ than of assistance. I have a walking friend who swears by them, though he does go at a slower pace. Maybe that is the key? Either way, pole-less I will remain.

    • lonewalker says:

      Like most things I guess, it comes down to what works for you. A single pole seems to suit me best, so until my knees get so bad they need even more support I’ll probably stick with that

  6. Canuk Walker says:

    I have to say that the MSR Pocket Rocket has works a treat. By far the best canister stove I’ve owned. I recently bought a pair of Salomon X-Ultra 2 trail shoes for light day hikes and I am tempted to try them out on longer back packing trips. Your recent experience suggests that with the proper sock combo they could work OK. I am with John D re the poles. They come into their own on rough and soggy ground and for that reason alone I usually carry my Mountain King poles. But it is on the descent where the poles really come into their own. Perhaps it is my age, but the toll on my knees seems greatly reduced using the poles and it is far speedier going downhill using poles. Looking forward to reading your write-up on the Affric Kintail Way!

    • lonewalker says:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence on the Pocket Rocket – that’s two votes now – kicking myself for taking the punt on the Crux. I’ll hopefully find some time to write up the AKW, before I leave for the CWT.

      • John D says:

        I agree with Canuk Walker. Poles help a lot when picking a way down a rocky trail. For river crossings, I grip my two fairly flimsy Makalus together and use them as if they were one stouter pole. This technique can also be used when contouring, an idea I got from the locals in the Pyrenees.

  7. I’d keep trying with the Pacers myself,I wudnt backpack with out mine .is a bit of a knack with using them maybe..cud have a chat sometime if you want..for gas picket rocket or primus make a very similar one ..as for platy bag issue, I’ve just copied Dale bird(twiiters ) simple mod .will try on next camp out..on hard tracks I find good insoles help alot not stock ones..I’ve been very impressed with the X sock mountain when on hard tracks……safe travels Peter.. Let me know if you want to chat about the pacers

    • lonewalker says:

      I’ll go back to a single pole for the time being I think, I really appreciate the offer of assistance, it felt so alien though that I’m not sure I can overcome it. Going to try a Sorbothane insole, they seem to have a good, low volume one that should fit into a trail shoe and still trying to decide on socks – think I need to try some on – may have to risk a visit to GoOutdoors or Cotswold 🙂

  8. John D says:

    Double poles come into their own off-track, when bashing across rough ground. They stop the side to side lurching of my torso and ensure my centre of mass goes forward in an efficient, straight line. Boring, I know, but the day is much easier as a result. On smoother ground, particularly when legs have been toughened by walking, poles are unnecessary. I did not use trekking poles on the Cape Wrath Trail after Strathcarron but was quite glad of them during my side trip in Knoydart.

    I’d treat water if down south but have had no problems when above habitations in Scotland (since 1973). These days, I use a 400ml Evernew cup to fill my Platy. This lets me inspect the water for stonefly larvae etc. I don’t think you will need to treat any of the water you feel like drinking on the top part of the CWT but you could carry a few Katadyn pills in your medical kit, just in case.

    • lonewalker says:

      To be fair, we didn’t filter much of the water we collected – it was being boiled anyway, so we were happy enough with that precaution. My use of a single pole was mostly for descents, where it helped immensely, but I just can’t get to grips with using two at once. Old dog, new tricks… etc.

  9. Funnily enough, although many people do seem to like them, you’ve highlighted all the reasons why we don’t like the Sawyer Filter and would never take one backpacking! 😃

    • lonewalker says:

      I think for shorter trips where weight isn’t as much of an issue, I’d stick with the Aquapure Traveller, but for weight saving I’m happy to live with the shortcomings of the Sawyer, especially in very remote areas like NW Scotland where the need to filter isn’t quite as great.

      • People are always firmly divided and polarized on the need to filter. After Geoff being really poorly with giardia once, we’re firmly in the camp of always filtering/treating water. And of course giardia is only one of a myriad of things that can be in any water supply. A topic which always produces strong opinions in both camps though!

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