Big change of plans and a gear clear-out

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last posted an update. I’ve been quite busy lately, but I’ve also been trying to sort my head out, in terms of where I am, and where I want to be for hiking and backpacking.

I’ve pretty much decided that I am going to limit myself to day hikes and overnighters for quite a while. If I wish to do a long, way marked trail, I’ll likely use more in the way of resupply points or I’ll use a courier service to carry the bulk of my gear. I simply don’t think my back and hips are capable of carrying bigger loads over extended periods of time.

All is not lost, though! Janie and I have been experimenting with campsite camping recently, and have gotten a Vango Icarus 500 tent for this purpose. It’s great to have a base like that, where there’s space to relax, dry out clothing, etc. It gives the ability to go away and do several day hikes from one base. It certainly makes life easier, and means I’ve still got plenty of options open to me.

I’ve done a few tests, and I can get all my gear for a comfortable overnighter in my Osprey Kestrel 28 rucksack, so will be using this for a wee while. Being able to do overnighters means I can still enjoy backpacking in Scotland.

I am, however, going to be getting rid of some gear. I was going to place them straight onto eBay, but decided I’d offer them up to blog readers for a week or two first!

Look below to see if anything is of interest to you

Items for sale

Alpkit Skyehigh 800 Sleeping bag, long length

I’ve only used this sleeping bag a couple of times, and I’ve decided that I’m going to limit my overnighters and camping to the warmer months. As such, I’ve no need for a winter sleeping bag.
Comfort rated to -10°, weighs 1.5kg for mine, in a long length.
Included cotton stuff sack and Sea to Summit Ultrasil Compression Sack, size M

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RRP over £150 for the bag and compression sack
I’m looking for £100 + postage

Berghaus Freeflow Pro 40 Rucksack

This rucksack is very good condition. Unlike most from the Freeflow range, the Pro models provide better storage and less restriction when it comes to packing it. This was my main pack when I walked the West Highland Way, 2 years ago.
It’s now surplus to requirements. The only time I would need a pack of this size would be when doing an overnighter in winter – which I don’t plan on doing anymore.

It has the usual little marks, as you would expect of a pack of this age, but is in excellent condition.

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Additional photos and my review of the pack from some time ago, here.

RRP of £110, though sadly no longer available.
Looking for £60 + postage

Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 Rucksack

This one was a difficult call to make, as I love this pack. Not only did it get a TGO Best Buy, it also got into Chris Townsend’s Top 10 new gear for 2012 – you don’t get much higher praise than that!
Sadly, if I’m not going to be doing any extended hikes, I don’t need a pack this size anymore. I may regret the sale of it in the future, but right now, it’s simply taking up space.

Due to my persistent back and hip problems, I’ve barely used it. There’s a couple of dirt marks on the base, and a small stain on one hip belt pocket, but otherwise “as new” (I think I’ve used it something like 4 times in total!)

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RRP of £150
I’m looking for £90 + postage.
Really will be sad to see this one go!

Extremities Active-X Balaclava, size L/XL

If I’m no longer winter hiking, I clearly don’t need this anymore.
I got this as part of the Extremities Lucky Bags at the start of the year, and I’ve never worn it.
Sold as New condition

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Yours for £7.50, including postage within the UK.

Extremities Cosmonaut Beanie, size L/XL

Like the balaclava, this one was in an Extremities Lucky Bag, and has never been worn. In fact, it still has all tags attached!
It’s a basic beanie, using Polartec Classic 200 fleece, with, what appears to be a water resistant ripstop nylon at the back (which, I’m guessing is designed to keep the worst of the rain off and reduce it wetting out when rain behind you)

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Yours for a mere £5, including postage within the UK.

For those items which I’ve not included postage costs in the asking price, you’d only be charged at cost, depending on your preferred method of delivery. (If you live in Fife or Edinburgh, I’m willing to deliver)
I reckon there’s a couple of bargains to be had for all you blog followers, before they get sent off to eBay for a general scrum!

Keep an eye on this page, as there are a couple of other items I’m Swithering on whether to sell or not (OR Furio jacket and MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes), so the list above may grow.

Anything not sold by 15th August will be put on eBay.

If you want something, please feel free to comment below, or send me an email at llendorin at googlemail dot com or even DM me on twitter!
Payment by PayPal only, unless taking delivery in person, in which case, I’ll take cash.

*UPDATE*

Due to lack of interest here, I’ve stuck most of the items on eBay now.

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More pain and disappointment. Looking ahead.

As regular readers will know, I’m currently supposed to be walking the West Highland Way, as of yesterday.

As is becoming the norm for me, things haven’t gone to plan. About 3 miles before reaching Drymen, I started to get the now familiar twinge of pain in my hip area. The further I walked, the worse it got. When I reached the tarmac section for the last two miles walking in to Drymen, it was pretty excruciating.

In the end, I had to give in, so phoned for a lift out. I’m now writing this blog on my tablet, at home, while feeling a little bit despondent – particularly as the pain has subsided, as is normally the case with this.

Fixing the problem

I’m currently waiting on the healthcare people to call me back and confirm my appointment with the physiotherapist. Hopefully he’ll have some ideas and suggestions. However, I’ve had physiotherapy before, and while it does seem to work for a couple of months, the pain does seem to return in the long term.

As the pain only seems to occur when carrying loads or when doing sustained uphill or downhill (but the latter is also intermittent… It doesn’t always happen on a hill walk), the solution may be to lighten up further. Not that easy, without giving up on comfort while on the trail. I also don’t want to spend my whole life in the glens, and never risking going up the hills.

If there was one specific cause, it’d be easy to deal with, but it happens when wearing boots or shoes, with a variety of different packs, over short (5-6 miles) or long distances, it happens whether I’m using poles or not. It simply isn’t that easy a problem to fix.

Future options

I refuse to give up on backpacking completely. I simply won’t let that happen. I’d be lost without my escapes to the countryside… They’re probably the thing that keeps me sane. I’ve said several times to Janie that hiking and backpacking isn’t so much a want as a need for me. It helps me clear my head, get rid of any stresses, etc. Both my physical and mental health depend on it.

So what can I do?

Assuming this is going to be a problem for the foreseeable future, and that it isn’t going to be cured (you never know, it might!), there are a few options open to me.

1. Lighten up.

I could reduce the actual backpacking to overnighters, in glens, in the warmer months of the year. That way I could significantly reduce the pack weight.
As an example, let’s assume an Osprey Exos 34 pack (something I’ve been wanting to look into for overnighters. Still trying to find a place I can try one, though!), 1kg weight (size large)
Sleeping bag, 650g, mat, 397g, stove + fuel 700g, food, 400g, waterproofs, 620g, torch, 121g, first aid kit, 300g, Scarp 1, 1.5kg, approx.
That’d be a total pack weight of about 6-6.5kg (with water added)
I’m reasonably confident that I’d be able to cope with that on an overnighter. It would mean I’d still be able to enjoy some of the best walking about… Walks such as Corrour – Dalwhinnie, Fort William – Corrour, Kinlochleven – Corrour, the Minigaig pass, etc will all still be options for me.

2. Have a base camp

I’ve just obtained a new 5 man tent, which I can stand up in, for campsite camping. I could use this as a base, and just go for day hikes from there. There are several campsites in the UK which will give me local access to hills, whilst maintaining a base. It also means that if I do suffer pain, it’ll be easier, and more comfortable to have days off and arrange other plans while I recover.

3. Day hikes

Clearly, this is linked to the base camp idea, but also, standalone day hikes will still get me out and about and into the countryside, without having to be as heavily burdened

4. Hostels, Bunkhouses & B&Bs

A lot of walks (admittedly, not in the most remote areas) can be planned so that stopping points can be at hostels or the like. By doing this, I’d be able to do multi day hikes, without excessive weight, as no need to carry tent, stove, etc. The obvious drawback to this, as a plan, is the expense. It’s definitely not going to be a cheap way to travel!

5. Courier services

This is something I considered switching to yesterday, but didn’t have any sort of day pack with me. Basically, a lot of the more commercial and popular hiking trails offer baggage transfer options, where they’ll courier your gear to your next stopping point. This would mean the West Highland Way, Great Glen Way, Cateran Trail and the like would still be options… And it would work out cheaper than the hostel/bunkhouse route, too.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’ve done a fair amount of thinking since I got home yesterday. Yes, I’m still pissed that I’m at home, but I know that this thing isn’t going to get the best of me. It’s not going to stop me getting out on the hills or out on long distance trails. There are options available to me. Yes, in some cases, they are more expensive, and as a poor guy, that makes the opportunities to partake of them more limited, but that just means they’ll be more of an event when I do them!

West Highland Way gear list

After reading lots of different gear lists for those people who are currently embarking on the TGO Challenge, I figured I would produce a comparable list for my trip along the West Highland Way.

I’ll be walking the 97 mile route over 7 days, and carrying almost everything I need, including food, for the whole journey.

The reason for this is simple. I’m poor. I find I’ve a lot less money than I had originally anticipated by this point. My original plan was to carry food to cover me until Tyndrum, then stock up there, but to predominantly eat at restaurants along the route. As it now stands, I’ll be eating at restaurants twice, and eating my own food the rest of the time.

So, here’s a list of what I’m carrying, and, as is normal for these things these days, how much it weighs.

Food

My plan is to have a meal at the end of day two, at Rowardennan, breakfast on day 3 at Rowardennan and meal on day 5 at Kingshouse Hotel. All other breakfasts and meals will be carried. Snacks to eat during the day will be purchased as I go (with the exception of the first two days, which I’ve packed)

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I have 5 x Oatso Simple Big Bowl porridge, coupled with 5 x Tesco Cereal Toppers for breakfasts.

For main meals, I have 1 Adventure Food Pasta & Ham, which I had in the cupboard, 1 home made tuna & sweetcorn pasta and 2 x super noodles (with added dehydrated vegetables and 2 cut up pepperami minis each)

For dessert, I have 2 x banana & custard (which is simply dehydrated banana, custard powder, sugar and powdered milk) and 2 x dehydrated cake (a new thing for me… Apparently, with hot water added, it tastes just like fresh, warm cake)

I’ve also 4 sachets of hot chocolate for the cold evenings (which seem likely as the forecast is showing!)

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got lunch and snacks for the first two days included, in the form of 6 x snacking cheese from Tesco, a pack of cheese oatcakes, a Double Decker, a mint Kit Kat chunky and a Nature Valley peanut bar. That should easily see me through to the village store in Balmaha, when I’ll pick up snacks for the following day.

The total weight for it all, once placed in an 8l Alpkit Airloc bag – 1.955Kg

Cooking & Eating Equipment

With all that food, I’m gonna need to cook it and eat it somehow!

I have the following with me for that purpose:

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1 Alpkit MyTiPot
1 Steel Clikstand with Titanium windshield
1 MSR Pot gripper
1 Alpkit Titanium folding spork
1 Trangia burner (pre-filled with fuel)
1 Gerber Powerframe knife
1 Light My Fire Fire steel
1 refillable lighter
1 Light My Fire spice box, with salt, pepper & cinnamon
1 steel mug.

All of the components, with the exception of the mug, fit inside the MyTiPot. I plan on replacing the mug with a titanium equivalent in the near future.

The total weight comes in at 819g, of which 155g is the mug… A titanium one will shave at least 100g off that!

Clothing

I’m trying not to overdo the clothing, but I know I’ve got a little more than I need to get by. Unlike those on the TGO challenge, with the exception of 2 nights, I’ll have access to showers and the like, so a certain element of fresh clothing isn’t going to go amiss.

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We have:

2 x Finisterre Zephyr Boxer shorts
1 x Bridgedale Endurance Trekker socks
4 x Bridgedale Coolmax Liner Socks
1 x Rab MeCo 120 short sleeved top (wishful thinking that it’ll be warm enough to wear it!)
1 x Berghaus X-Static top, for evening/sleep wear
1 x Gore Mythos SO running tights, for sleeping in, and slight insulation on cold nights.

Total weight, in a 4l Alpkit Airloc bag is 1.097kg

Insulation

I suspect it’ll get cold while I’m out there, and if it drops below zero, I’m definitely going to need extra warmth in my sleeping bag. For this, I’ve got the following:

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1 x Rab Microlight Down Jacket
1 x pair Smartwool training gloves (much warmer than they look!)
1 x Buff Hood (the jacket doesn’t come with it’s own hood, and the buff hood really works at blocking wind and providing warmth!)

Total weight, in a Sea to Summit eVent compression sack (size xs), 674g

Waterproofs

Pretty much the standard waterproofs here, and judging by the forecast, they’ll probably be on my back more than in the pack!

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1 x Mountain Equipment Supercell Jacket
1 x Berghaus Paclite Pants

Combined weight of 624g (not bad for an XXL jacket and XL trousers!)

Sleep System

This one is quite simple… Just a sleeping bag and an air mat.
I have the following:

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1 x Mammut Sphere Spring sleeping bag (650g, rated to 0°c)
1 x Hyalite/POE Peak Elite Air May (397g)

The tent

That’ll be the Scarp 1, then. It’s always going to be my choice of tent for every solo trip. It is without a doubt, the best tent out there for tall folks.

I’m going to take the crossing poles with me, too, as at least one forecast has suggested snowfall when I’m in Tyndrum or at Kingshouse.

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Total weight: 1.875kg (including spare pegs)

Gadgets and miscellaneous

No trip is the same these days without lines of communication and some form of entertainment to while away the hours in the tent.

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Kindle Paper white, in Aquapac case – 269g
Alpkit Glowy torch/lantern (a genius piece of kit, more in another blog post!) – 121g
Samsung NX1000 Camera, with 20mm pancake lens in Case logic case – 537g
MSR fuel bottle, with fuel (as I’d forgotten to put it in other categories!) – 658g
Samsung Galaxy S3, in OtterBox Defender case & Aquapac case, with 2 spare batteries – 300g

Let’s not forget…

First Aid Kit/Toiletries

As I’ll have access to showering facilities most days, I’ll be making use of them! As such, I’ve got more toiletries with me than I’d take for an overnighter or a wild camping trip.

I have:

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Medicines/first aid

1 pack Co-codamol (prescribed to me… Much better than paracetamol!)
1 pack Ibuprofen
1 pack Immodium Instants
1 pack Compeed blister plasters
1 pack waterproof plasters
2 sterile dressings
2 small bandages
1 tube Gehwol Extra foot cream
2 tick removal tools (different sizes)
1 styptic pencil
1 SPF15 sun lotion (I know, I know, I could safely leave it behind!)

Toiletries

1 Lifeventure Trek Towel, large
1 Colgate travel toothbrush
1 Colgate travel toothpaste
1 Dove deodorant spray
1 Dove Shower Gel

All fitting quite nicely into a 2l Alpkit Airloc, weight: 578g

Rucksack

I’ll be taking the Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 pack with me, weighing in at 1.4kg.

So, the total weight on my back adds up to…. 10.555kg.
Take off the food and fuel, and you get a base weight of 7.942kg. I’m actually quite happy with that… Particularly as it includes extras I wouldn’t take when properly wild camping (shower gel, deodorant, towel, so many extra socks, etc)

I’ve not weighed my worn items, but here they are, anyway:

Finisterre Zephyr Boxer Shorts
Bridgedale Coolmax Liner Socks
Bridgedale Endurance Trekker socks
Haglöfs Mid Flex Pant
Rab MeCo 120 Long-sleeved top
Montane Litespeed Jacket
Mammut Brecon GTX boots
Outdoor Research swift cap
Swiss Eye Slide Sunglasses (plus lenses… Both orange and smoke coming with)
Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Shock trekking poles

So, there you have it. For all those who thought the gear porn had ended when everyone set off on the TGO Challenge this morning, here’s a wee bit more for you!
I think this is the first time I’ve actually gone to the effort of breaking down my weights since in first attempted the West Highland Way 2 years ago. At that time, my pack weighed in at over 18kg, and in terms of the number of items carried, it wasn’t much different from what is above. The real difference comes in the weight of the items. My sleeping bag, for example, is 1kg lighter than the one I used then, my rucksack is more than 1kg lighter. The tent is about 1kg lighter, and so on. In contrast, though, all of my new items (with the exception of the rucksack, actually), were significantly more expensive than their originals.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend people spend the money required for the gear above on their first outing (I’m conscious that people will find this post when hunting for gear and weight info for the west highland way) on any major walk. There are much cheaper options out there!

Pain Update

I spoke to the doctor a couple of weeks ago about the intermittent leg pain.

The net result – he didn’t know what it was.

After a quick examination, he concluded that it was unlikely to be a problem with my hip joint, as I had a full range of motion and nothing was coming out or grinding.

He initially thought it could be muscular, but when I advised that a 5 minute sit down seems to temporarily resolve the problem, he changed his mind.

It could, however be a nerve based issue, but again, he’s not sure.

I’ve been referred to a physiotherapist for help. The doctor did advise that if the physio was unable to pinpoint or resolve the issue, he’d be at a bit of a loss as to what to suggest. His suggestion at that stage would be a specialist sports physio, which isn’t available on the NHS, apparently.

The downsides of an intermittent issue, I guess. I suspect it’d be much easier to pinpoint when it’s actually happening. I can’t see me persuading my doctor to come on the hill with me, in the hope that I can get it to happen again!

On the plus side, as I work for Sky, we have private healthcare available to us, and access to our own on-site physiotherapist. I’ve booked myself in for a session with him when I get back from the West Highland Way. I’ve also got an annual health check through Sky the week after the walk, too.

Since the problem happened on Auchnafree Hill, I’ve not done as much walking as I would have liked. The next weekend, I did a walk up Glen Tilt, just as far as Marble Lodge (from the Old Bridge of Tilt car park) and back. Yes, it was a 10 mile walk, but it wasn’t particularly demanding. Not surprisingly, I didn’t really have much problems then. I had the odd twinge, but nothing to get too worried about.

After that, I guess there was a couple of short walks up Aviemore way, in Abernethy Forest and up at Rothiemurchus, but again, no problems (the longest of these was 5 miles).

Now I’m preparing for the West Highland Way, starting this Saturday, and I’ve had little to no hill time in the past few weeks. I’m feeling more than a little unfit right now. I had hoped to get a couple of proper hikes in over the past weekend, but a bad case of athlete’s foot, of all things, put paid to that idea.

I’ve done the way before, so I’m confident I can do it, although last time I was using a courier company – this time I’m carrying all my gear (as I did the first time, which was the very first time I had the leg pain – which is always at the back of my mind!).

I’ll likely provide another update with what gear I’ll be carrying. As I’m pretty darn poor right now, I’m going to be carrying much more food than I’d intended (I was planning on using restaurants and other convenient options along the way)

 

Pain on Auchnafree Hill

Should be two relatively easy days” said Nick, via Twitter.

The simple fact that I’m writing this at 5am, when I’m supposed to be asleep in my tent at the start of day two should be an indication that things haven’t quite gone to plan.

That plan really was simple. I’d start at the car park by Loch Turret on Thursday, climb Auchnafree hill and drop down into Glen Almond, where I’d camp overnight. On Friday, I’d climb back out of the glen and up Ben Chonzie, then back to the car. On both days, taking in some minor tops along the way.

I had even changed the plan since talking with Nick, to make it even easier. I was now going to do a circular walk to Auchnafree hill on day 1, and another to Ben Chonzie on day 2, so that I didn’t need to drop down to Glen Almond, but more importantly, didn’t need to carry all the camping gear all day. I was a little worried about my general levels of fitness to carry the gear in deep snow.

I knew there would be a fair amount of snow, so I would bring the snowshoes along, to make life that little bit easier.

Things started just fine. I arrived at the car park just after 10am, threw on the boots and gaiters and off I went. Things carried on fine for a couple of hours, trudging through the snow (the snowshoes were a major blessing along the way!) Until a point just before the big cairn on Choinneachain Hill.

I was hit by a sudden pain to my upper right thigh and groin, that was building in intensity. I needed to sit down!

After sitting down for 5 minutes, everything seemed fine, but after 20 minutes or so of walking, the pain started to come back again. It varied in intensity, but it was a constant companion on the way back to the car. Sometimes it felt like a dull throb in my upper thigh, whilst sometimes it felt like my hip was about to pop out of its socket, which was quite excruciating!

You’ll have noted by now that I’d started the return trip pretty much as soon as it happened, even though it felt better.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time it has happened, so I knew what was coming. This is what did it for me when I first attempted the West Highland Way 2 years ago, and it was this that caused me so much bother when Janie and I walked the Mell Circuit the same year (interestingly, we’d been talking about the problem and her concerns about me doing long days in case it came back just a few days ago!).

I know the problem isn’t muscular. If it was, sitting down wouldn’t alleviate it that quickly, and I’d still be in a fair amount of pain just now… That means it’s either a nerve or joint problem. I’m not even 35, so I’d like to think there’s nothing wrong with my hip… I don’t know, though, so another trip to the doctor and physio is on the cards, I reckon.

In saying all that, what I did manage of the walk on the hills, I enjoyed, so it didn’t completely get the best of me! Below are some photos taken yesterday, highlighting just how stunning it is up there!

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Loch Turret and Carn Chois, taken on the return trip
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Looking back the way I'd come
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The way ahead
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Looking down towards Crieff, with the Ochil hills in the distance

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The Blue Craigs, looking stunning
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Loch Turret, at the end of the walk

The walk wasn’t a total bust in other areas, either. From a wildlife perspective, I got my Mountain Hare fix (these hills are one of the best areas in the UK to see them), as well as getting to see Red Kite soaring above. Stunning!

I also got to test a few new bits of kit, to see how they went, and everything seems fine so far. My new boots, in particular, were exceptionally comfortable.

This was also my second outing with snowshoes, and much as I have to admit that they’re still hard work, they definitely do make a difference when compared to trudging through the snow just in boots!

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Here’s hoping I can get this all sorted in the next few weeks! I’m supposed to be walking the West Highland Way from the 11th May!

Ternua Four Winds Jacket – first look

I’ve been looking to replace my softshell jacket for a little while now, as my Mountain Equipment G2 Alpine jacket just wasn’t cutting it (pilling and bobbling from pack wear after only a couple of days, and black – I’m not a fan of black on the hills!), so when Sport Pursuit offered a flash sale of Ternua gear, it piqued my interest!

Ternua, as a brand, is not one I’d heard of before, but the jacket I was interested in was using known fabrics (in this case, Gore’s Windstopper Soft Shell fabric) which I knew and trusted, so I figured I would investigate further.

After a few fruitless searches (as they’re a Spanish company, and not generally distributed in the UK, information in English was sparse), I eventually found this post on Scottish Mountaineer, regarding a couple of their other products. Michael suggested that the build quality of the products were of a high quality, so although he’d not reviewed the specific jacket I was looking at, I decided to give it a punt – after all, it was still a Windstopper Soft Shell jacket, for less than £100. You just can’t argue that!

As is always the way with Sport Pursuit, I had to wait about a month before the jacket arrived (due to the way they do business – they only offer items for sale for a week, and don’t order from the manufacturers until the sale has ended. They clearly don’t ship to customers until they receive it!), which happened a few weeks ago.

OK, to get this bit out of the way… I know some people are not fans of Soft Shell, and prefer fleece, and I know a lot of people don’t like Windstopper, as they don’t find it good for the Scottish climate. (better for cold & dry, as opposed to cold & wet, they say). I quite like only needing one layer (besides the baselayer!) and as I tend to be a fair weather hiker in the colder months, the other complaints about Windstopper don’t really apply. Now, on to the jacket itself.

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Here’s the blurb from the Ternua website: Gore-tex® Windstopper® Soft Shell technical jacket with hood, three zipped pockets, armpit ventilation, toggle adjustable bottoms and Velcro adjustable cuffs. Comfortable windstopping, transpirable, waterproof that stays comfortable and offers the necessary freedom of movements to maximise performance while you carry out different activities in all types of climates. Very useful, ideal for trekking, hiking, classic climbing, ice climbing and mountain ski.

The interesting part from that is the bit where it mentions armpit ventilation. I had automatically assumed that would mean either pit zips or a different fabric mix under the arms. That isn’t the case for this jacket. In the photographs on the website, I saw the little hexagon shapes on either side of the torso. I’d assumed those were purely aesthetic. It turns out they’re not. They’re actually cutaways from the main fabric. I can only assume that these are the advertised ventilation. I have to admit, the jacket does seem to breath a little better than the Mountain Equipment one (with the core venting zips closed), but I’ll definitely need to give it more time to see how well these work in the long term, and more importantly, how resistant they are to the elements – I have a couple of concerns about having vents that can’t be closed, but we’ll see how it goes.

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I’ve worn the jacket a few times now, and I can confirm that the face fabric is definitely harder wearing than that of my old jacket. That’s a big plus for me, and I’m definitely more confident about using it.

So far, it’s been plenty warm enough when I’m walking, though definitely not warm enough for any prolonged stops, but that’s what down jackets are for. Another big plus.

I have to admit, I love the colours of it. Another plus

So far, nothing but plus sides, and one thing I’m not sure about.

There is, however, one negative about the jacket. The hood. There simply isn’t enough material for forward and back head motion. If you look down (which you’re gonna do!), don’t expect the hood to stay in place. It’s fine when looking side to side, and does a good job, but there’s not enough fabric at the rear of the hood to cope with any forward motion. For me, that’s really not a deal breaker. I tend to wear a hat on the hills, so will probably not be using the hood, anyway. If the weather turns bad, I’ll have thrown my waterproof jacket on, and that’ll be the hood of choice, anyway.

I guess we’ll see how it goes. I definitely prefer it to my Mountain Equipment soft shell, as it feels much harder wearing and more breathable. If the current cold spell continues, I suspect I’ll be wearing it more than I’d originally planned over the next few weeks (I’d expected to retire it to the wardrobe when daytime temps got to double figures!)

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More of a challenge than expected

The plan was simple.

We’d spend Thursday travelling from Fife to Fort William by train, with a short walk to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. Friday, we’d walk from Fort William to Staoineag bothy. Saturday, we’d walk to Culra bothy and finally, on Sunday, we’d walk out to Dalwhinnie.

Things don’t always go as planned, though.

The plan for Thursday went perfectly. My friend Bill and I boarded the train at Inverkeithing at 10:39am, and 2 changes later, we arrived at Fort William a little after 4:10pm. A wee trip to the shops (I just can’t help myself!) later, to collect a couple of bits that Bill had forgot to pack, and then we were off to the youth hostel. We arrived before 6pm. Job done. A nice, uneventful day (though long and boring, in the whole!).

Friday dawned and the alarm went off as planned. Down we went to the canteen for a cooked breakfast, to see us on our way. Duly eaten, off we went.

The forecast was for a little fog first thing in the morning, to clear and leave a generally cloudy day, with sunny intervals. The forecast was wrong. There was barely a cloud in the sky, and watching the sun come up on the distant peaks as we walked was really amazing.

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The walk along Glen Nevis was relatively uneventful, with the minor interruption of a small herd of highland cows. This actually worked to our favour, to a certain extent, as they kept the cars at bay, so we could walk a fair bit without being forced from the road!

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All around us, as we walked, the views were spectacular.

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The road ended, and then the walk really began. We quickly passed through Nevis Gorge and Steall Falls, and then into the open glen. The views were spectacular, with views of The Ben from angles I’d never seen before, and some generally stunning views. Bill kept saying that he felt like he was in a scene from Lord of the Rings or the like.

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As the day progressed, the walking got more and more difficult. With the clear sunshine and warmth, the valley was getting rather warm. It wasn’t long before I was stripped down to a baselayer (and the Tuff pants were getting decidedly warm!). The drawback of this was that any hint of a frost on the ground had disappeared. The walking got more and more difficult, as it got more and more boggy, and each mile felt like a struggle.

Between my poor footwear choices (this really wasn’t the path for shoes, as opposed to boots) and Bill’s load (he hasn’t quite embraced the lightweight revolution, so he was more than a little overburdened!), it was proving quite a challenge.

At the same time, even though Bill was struggling with his pack weight and I was less than impressed with my soaking feet, we were still surrounded by some truly amazing views!

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Eventually, we passed the Meannanach bothy, which told us we were close to our destination. A quick look back highlighted just how amazing the views had been!

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We arrived at the bothy at about 5:30, both feeling a little the worse for wear. We’d originally planned to sleep in the tents outside, but decided a bothy night would be best. I suspect we were both in bed at about 8:30pm, knackered!

Saturday dawned, and I have to admit to feeling quite a bit refreshed. A fresh pair of socks on dry feet was all that I really needed. We’d tried to help Bill reduce his pack weight by getting rid of some of the excess that he’d packed (yes, he’d packed 2 400g tins of stewed steak amongst other unnecessary items!), so things should have been a bit easier for him, too.

The day wasn’t anywhere near as stunning as the Friday had been, but as it was quite a bit cooler, it was a lot more comfortable for walking in. The path initially carries on next to the river for a mile or so, with the same issues that we’d had the day before (it was boggy, having to jump channels, clamber over rocks, etc), but eventually came to a simple track, next to Loch Treig.

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From here, the walking massively improved for a few miles. Sometimes you forget how easy it is to walk on a landrover track. The views back down to Loch Treig were quite impressive, too, with the occasional break in the cloud.

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As this section of walking was predominantly uphill, it was at this stage that Bill decided he’d had enough and was giving up once we reached Corrour station. I don’t believe in trying to pressure people to carry on, so I was happy to go along with this.

The last couple of miles to the station were back to boggy quagmire, and yet again, my feet got soaked and ruined, so I have to admit, I was happy to end the walk. Had I carried on, I doubt my feet would be particularly pleasant by the end of the day! Besides, the section from Corrour through to Dalwhinnie I’d walked last year, so I wasn’t going to be missing anything I hadn’t done before.

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All in all, this was one of the best walks I’ve been on, in terms of scenery, but one of the worst, in terms of conditions underfoot. I think both Bill and I came out of that having learnt things. In Bill’s case, I suspect the load will be getting lighter in the near future. In my case, I think I’ll be relegating my trail shoes to day hikes, where wet feet aren’t nearly as much of an issue. I’m now on the lookout for a decent pair of leather boots (I don’t like fabric boots. Yes, they tend to be lighter, but they simply don’t have the longevity of a decent leather boot) for backpacking.

I also realised that I was being maybe a little over enthusiastic with my camera gear. I took my tripod and all 3 lenses with me, though all bar 3 of the photos taken were using the 20mm pancake lens, and the tripod was only used a handful of times. I think in future, I’ll just get a smaller case and bring only the basic camera and pancake lens, leaving the kit lens, zoom lens and tripod behind (and saving me almost 2kg in the process!)

Am I disappointed that things didn’t go to plan?

A little.

I’m glad we went, though, and even though it was more challenging than I expected, it was definitely a worthwhile walk, which I’d be more than willing to do again!

Backpacking, Hiking and Cycling through Scotland and beyond

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