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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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.