This week my work situation became a little clearer, and I’ve felt able to view a trip at the end of April/start of May as something which is going to happen. And in order to enjoy the spontaneity that the trip will bring, some further planning and decisions will be needed.
What’s also happened is that the more I think about it, the more I’m looking forward to it, and I’m beginning to think it could even be the solution to my route planning challenges for my coast to coast walk. Wild camping would negate the need to come down from the hills every day to find accommodation, and so could shorten the route and the number of days needed. Not that I want to spend less time in the hills – but I do need to shorten the trip to make it viable. Wild camping would also clearly neutralise the increased difficulty of finding accommodation in July.
But first, I need to try out wild camping before I make any such route decisions, but I’m liking the motivation that it’s adding. And so, back to the evolution of the plan.
In my first post I focussed on the worries associated with considering wild camping – finding a “safe” spot (avoiding irate farmers, axe murderers and the like), drinking the local water, and, ahem, bathroom issues. I’m pretty much over the first concern – I’ve identified some potential spots that I’m comfortable with, including a couple of options to lose my wild camping cherry that I can bail out of if it turns out bad. And wild camping is so common in the Lakes that the farmer issue shouldn’t be a problem.
The second concern was water, and to tell the truth this was the one that has been hardest to get my head around. Living in towns with clean water piped straight to the tap, it seems like a big deal to source your own from the dirty outdoors where anyone could piss or crap in your chosen water source without you ever being aware of it. And so the first big decision was what equipment to use for water purification.
I researched this a few months ago, and had pretty much narrowed it down to the Travel Tap by Drinksafe. But I still had nagging doubts, and so last weekend I updated my research and asked for some views. It then came down to the Travel Tap and the Lifesaver.
The Lifesaver I had seen demonstrated at the Outdoors Show last year, and an impressive piece of kit it is, with an impressively big price to go with it. But if I want an absolute guarantee (or as close to one as it’s possible to get) then this is the one to go for. But as well as the price, the other downside was the complexity of the system. It has a cartridge that needs replacing as well as the filter, and has much more complicated handling instructions all round. In the end I decided it wasn’t for me. So back to the Travel Tap. It’s smaller, more practical, and seems to have been used successfully and safely in much more extreme conditions than I’m going to be up against. And I like the fact that it can be used as a normal drink bottle without the filter too. And when I found that a new 2012 model was out, that was it. It arrived yesterday. And I’m happy with my choice.
The third concern was the “facilities” as my mother would say. Actually, I concluded that this wasn’t even much of a concern, so no action was needed, other than investment in a device to dig a latrine.
Taking stock of my gear
Getting the Travel Tap set off more general thoughts about my gear. I have loads of gear and have backpacked before with a tent, so in theory don’t need anything – apart from the Travel Tap (done) and a poo trowel (easy and cheap). Let’s look at the key items:
Tent – I’m still using my T2 Ultralight Pro from Decathlon. It’s served me well for camp site use, but only cost about £70 (now nearer £110), and I’m concerned about how well it will stand up to more severe conditions, especially now that I’ve seen some reviews from people who have tried it out in that way. I’ve already concluded that if I get into the wild camping thing, I will want to upgrade my tent, but I’m not doing so until I’ve tried it out and enjoyed it enough to make the investment worthwhile. If I do upgrade my tent, I’m going to go for something really good that combines sturdiness and interior room with a decently low weight. Money won’t be the issue, so the intention would be to go for the best. But I’m not, nor ever likely to be, an ultralight freak, and so would be looking somewhere in the 1 to 1.5 kg range to get an adequate level of robustness.
Sleeping bag – bought on the same shopping trip as my tent, I’m using an S5 Ultralight from Decathlon. I’m actually pretty happy with this and it’s kept me warm on some pretty cold nights, short of actual winter camping. There’s no need to upgrade it, but it is starting to look a bit tatty, so there is going to come a point when it needs to be retired. Interestingly, all of the rest of the family are on their second sleeping bags since I bought this, and I’ve spent many more nights in mine. When the time comes, I’ll look around for the best combination of warmth, weight, pack size, and cost, and I wouldn’t rule out another trip to Decathlon (some of their gear I absolutely swear by, the rest is crap and I swear at).
Sleep mat – last year in preparation for my Cumbria Way trip I upgraded my sleep mat from the bulky and heavy (and crap, see above) Decathlon one that I’ve been using to a POE Ether Thermo 6 (no longer available) after much research. For my sleep mat I was prepared to go a bit heavier in return for comfort, and together with price issues, quickly ruled out obvious choices like the Thermarest NeoAir and other models. At 623g my mat is heavy, but at 2.5in thick gives a lot of comfort, particularly for a side sleeper like me. The only downside is having to blow it up. No change needed here.
Stove – ever since my scouting days I’ve loved Trangia. Back then (along with the Ultimate Peapods that we used) they were relatively new and exciting and quite small and light by the standards of the day. Now quite heavy if you carry all of the set, especially if you just use it to boil water, but sturdy and brilliant in a breeze, I have no intention of changing it. I’m using the smaller of the two main sets – the Trangia 27 with a kettle and the non-stick frypan I got for Christmas. Not that I necessarily take it all with me each time, especially at 800g +, before counting the fuel.
Last year for my Cumbria Way trip I got one of those small £5 stoves that uses small discs of solid fuel. Combined with a mess tin, this was perfect for the few nights when I needed to heat something up. I’ve also experimented with combining the stove grate with my Trangia meths burner. Between these two stoves, I’ve got a decent number of options for cooking.
Electronics – in this day and age when I have a blog to write and social networks to keep up to date with, not to mention my new camera which eats battery power quickly, there’s a need for keeping all of the gadgets going whilst I’m away from wall sockets. I solved this one last year when I bought a Powertraveller Minigorilla. I went for the relatively heavy minigorilla because of the amount of charge it holds – enough for several days to charge my Blackberry, GPS and camera. Given my luck with weather I reasoned a lighter unit combined with a solar panel, which was the only other realistic option, wasn’t for me.
And what of the trip itself ? Pencilled in for the week of 30 April, it’s going to depend on the weather. I’m not going to do it if a week of gale force winds and torrential rain are forecast. That would be silly. Nothing could be better calculated to turn me off the idea of wild camping than having to do it for the first time under such conditions. So I’m going to keep an eye on the forecast and only book the trip at the last minute. My walking trips are so precious and far between that I’m not going to waste my time if I don’t like the look of the weather – it needs to be acceptable for at least part of the week. This isn’t an exercise in demonstrating manliness, but in finding a new way to enjoy the hills, with the emphasis firmly on the “enjoy”.
So that’s how my preparations have evolved so far. Most of the concerns have been dealt with, and I’m focussing now on thinking positively about the upcoming experience with the only real issue to keep under review being the weather. Now I can go back to my posts about my favourite fells, some of which I intend to include in my wild camping trip.