Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Essex Way

The Essex Way,

No this blog has nothing to do with that c**p TV show or a new diet regime but the long distance footpath running for 81 miles from Epping on the outskirts of London to Harwich on the mouth of the Stour river, the initial plan this week was to walk the whole of the route but due to unforeseen circumstances I was only able to do a small section, in this case Harwich to Manningtree, a distance of about 12 miles or 20 kilometres.
          Because the route was established in the 1970s when car ownership was still relatively low the route was established around the availability of good public transport (remember that?!) which is why the route starts at Epping tube station and  finishes opposite Harwich town railway station.
I looked at the train times the day before and decided to catch the 09.04 to Harwich Town, I'd also downloaded the run keeper app to keep track of time and distance and see how accurate my estimations were, with the very basics packed in my bag (waterproof, warm jacket, water, map, penknife, sunscreen, some food, phone, basic first aid kit and emergency charger) I headed down to the station, the local train station is unmanned and doesn`t have a ticket machine meaning that all tickets need to be bought on the train, this is where I scored a massive bonus, the guard never came round meaning a free train ride for me! I arrived at Harwich town just after 9.30 walked to the lighthouse marking the start of the Essex way and set up my phone took a few photos and started walking.

           5 minutes later a heard a voice I wasn`t expecting that was to follow me for the whole walk, it was my phone telling me I'd gone 1/4 of a mile and was averaging one mile in 18 minutes and 25 seconds a good pace equalling about 3 miles an hour or just under 5 km an hour, the first section of the walk took me along Harwich and Dovercourt`s sea front with its various lighthouses and beach huts all along a concreted promenade which after a few minutes in walking boots really started hurting my feet.
Beach Huts

WW2 Gun Emplacement


 thankfully this didn`t last that long and I was soon onto the dyke that over looked an expanse of marshland and protect the lower lying parts of Dovercourt from flooding. I couldn`t help thinking whether this area was once used by smugglers but given the proximity of Harwich probably not.

It took about an half an hour to cross the marshlands and regain the high ground heading towards Ramsey church, at one time the route took you past the church but now it takes a slightly different route and heads straight for the A120, with this crossed I headed into the village of Ramsey and made for the windmill at the top of the hill. restored on the outside but without sails

after a few kilometres of open farmland I reached the next area of significance, Wrabness woods and specifically Copperas Woods this would lead me back down to the shoreline of the Stour estuary where I would follow it for a few kilometres before heading back up hill and inland past Wrabness church with its temporary (from the 17th century!) bell cage.

Bell Cage

 just after the church the footpath becomes hemmed in by hedges on either side, at least you cant lose you way along this section, after a another short section of farmland the longest sustained uphill section was reached and followed into the village of Bradfield where the major temptation of the day lay, the Strangers Home pub, to have a swift pint or not?

Pint or no pint?

with only a couple of miles left to go I decided not to, after all it would only mess up my timings, more farmland had to be crossed before crossing the final road and heading towards furze hill where my walk would end.

Walks end (for now)

           the walk had covered 12 miles or 19 kilometres and had taken 4 hours 4 minutes giving an average speed of 3 miles or 4.8 kilometres an hour, not a fast pace but not a bad one either based on this and by my rough (very rough) maths I would have to cover 27 miles a day to do the whole route in 3 days, possible but quite tiring which is why I would recommend anyone contemplating doing the route to take 4 days and try to average 20 miles a day, I would recommend anyone thinking of trying long distance footpath walking to start with something like the Essex way as a good introduction, its not too difficult, well signposted and with useable public transport at both ends.
          what would I change? although I had sunscreen with me I would definitely take my hat with as the sunscreen wasn't enough and I still ended up with a sunburnt neck.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Nanok Endurance -10 vs. Mountain Hardwear Lamina 20

Yes it’s another vs. blog; I know I did one last week on the Hilleberg vs. Wild Country tents but thanks to another act of temporary insanity (and some money I’ve been owed for a couple of months!) I’ve ended up with a new sleeping bag but what was wrong with the old one, short answer nothing it was fine, long answer it was too big, too bulky, too heavy, damaged and had missing parts (I’ll explain later) but it was warm. However The new sleeping bag is considerably smaller and lighter as the pictures below show.

                I bought the Nanok about 11 years ago whilst I was at university in the Lake District and was the best bag I could afford at the time and had some novel features including being longer than a standard length sleeping bag, 195 cm as opposed to 180 cm, not that I’m overly tall, zips on both sides rather than just the one side and a removable waterproof bag for boots at the bottom, these features come from the fact that these bag are based on a Norwegian military design, however this didn’t make it totally immune to being damaged as I had lost the waterproof bag and broke the elastic to the shoulder baffle. Good as this bag it has now got the point where replacement is inevitable, much like most equipment which is why I ended up buying the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 20 a sleeping bag I have coveted for some years now.

                Firstly a little background on why I rate Mountain Hardwear so highly, several years ago whilst I was at university, my now ex-girlfriend and I went on an expedition along part of the Pennine Bridleway and the tent we were using was an older Mountain Hardwear which thanks to some drunk people ended up being broken. Without shelter for the next few nights it looked like we would have to abandon the expedition however a call to Mountain Hardwear to see if they would be able to fix the tent yielded surprising results, not only would they be able to fix the tent but they also asked for our next campsite address, when we arrived there was a new tent waiting for us along with a letter essentially saying, use this tent for the rest of your expedition, send both back and we`ll repair your one free of charge, I’ve never known customer service like it before or since and as such have become a loyal Mountain Hardwear customer.

                As I mentioned above I have wanted the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 20 since I first saw it whilst working at Cotswold Outdoors several years ago, it cost a small fortune for a synthetic bag (£90) even then but was and still is worth every single penny, £135 (todays price) buys you what is, in my opinion at least, one of the best synthetic sleeping bags on the market, the first thing to note about this bag is being an American company the 20 in the name means 20® F which is about -7®C, a one sided zip (make sure it’s the correct side for you), shoulder and Face baffles that close fully, and an accessory pocket, the bag also comes with a storage bag for when the bag is not being used which is not that common for a synthetic bag (it is crucial that sleeping bags are not stored in their stuff sacks as this can deteriorate performance) and being 180 cm it feels about the right size when i`m inside, it feel instantly warmer when I got inside and did everything up, this was probably due to the baffles not being broken and that both the shoulders and face baffles can be closed down.

                as you can see in the photos the Lamina is considerably smaller than the endurance yet it only loses 3 degrees in warmth this is due to the filling used, a more or less standard hollowfibre in the Nanok as opposed to the thermal Q ® used in the Lamina which is considerably smaller in size and weight to standard hollowfibre yet still retains warmth.

                In terms of practicality the Nanok does win out over the Mountain Hardwear as it does have the dual zip the boot bag is 3® warmer and has the extra length, however it does lose out to the Lamina in terms of bulk, weight, and pack size. I`ll be keeping both bags for the time being as I do have slight hording tendencies and I’ll be using both until I can bear to part with the Nanok.

Nanok on the left, Lamina on the right

   As with all outdoor equipment personal preference is key to any decision you make.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Hilleberg Akto VS. Wild Country Zephyros 1

Hilleberg Akto vs. Wild Country Zephyros 1  

                I`ve been agonizing over a decision for a little while now and on Friday I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a new one man tent, the Wild Country Zephyros 1, up until recently however I have been using the Hilleberg Akto, so why the change? And how do two compare?

                Firstly why the change, due to using the Hilleberg practically every day whilst working in Australia it received quite a lot of wear and tear, including breaking the pole twice and tearing the fabric a number of times. The reason I didn’t replace like for like was quite simply cost at £425 the Hilleberg Akto is expensive but is worth every single penny however I didn’t have that much to spend and so started looking for a cheaper alternative but of the same quality and similar specifications, a search of the internet produced several alternatives, ranging from the newer version of the Hilleberg through to the cheap (very cheap) Hi Gear Soloista, given the high specifications of the Hilleberg I quickly dismissed anything with less than a 3000 mm hydrostatic head or single skin design as well as 2 pole designs (nothing wrong with 2 poles it`s just personal preference) longitudinal poles or bivvi bags, (yes I’m a gear geek and a gear snob) this left a choice of four tents, the Akto, the Terra Nova Laser comp, another tent I`ve used, the Wild Country Zephyros 1 and 2 and the Jack Wolfskin Gossamer, the Hilleberg Akto was painfully dismissed as was the laser comp for the same reason, the Gossamer was dismissed for being bivvi bag, this left the two Zephyros tents and whilst a little bit of extra room would have been useful it would probably prove to be unnecessary so the Zephyros 1 looked like a sure fire winner, at least on paper, I don’t like buying outdoor equipment online and I don’t recommend it either (unless it’s a direct replacement),  although advertised in the Millets catalogue I know that it is very difficult to get hold of through this company, (I work part time for them), Go Outdoors were also advertising as not only having this tent but having an extra 15% off of it, double win! Or at least I thought, turns out that they hadn`t got either of Zephyros tents in stock. A quick call to the Cotswold Outdoors store 15 miles away not only confirmed they had the tent I wanted but that they would put it to one side for me, a quick drive across to the store and I had the tent I wanted, so how does it compare to the old tent?

(Zephyros 1 in local park)
(Akto in Australia)
On first impressions the two tents are incredibly similar in design and specifications, both are incredably lightweight, a very small pack size and designed around a tunnel shape, however there are major differences, primarily the way the tents are pegged out, where the Hilleberg uses 2 pegs at each end and a clever guy line system to ensure that correct tension is always supplied to the tent wherever the pegs are placed, the Wild Country uses up to 5 pegs and a conventional guy line system (note: I’ll probably change the pegs as they hurt my hand trying to push them in first time, I didn’t want to bend them if there was something wrong with the tent), out of the two peg and guy line systems used I do prefer the Hilleberg this is because of the way the guy lines work with the Hilleberg in keeping tension through fabric.  the other thing that’s different is the way the pole fits into the tents, in the Hilleberg the pole is made from DAC aluminium and fits in one side of the sleeve only, the other end being sealed with a plastic pocket which the pole sits in, in contrast the Wild Country uses a conventional system of open ended sleeves which is a little bit more useful in putting the tent up as the pole can be pushed through from either side, both systems have their advantages but for ease of use I do prefer the Wild Country.

                Moving to the inside of the tent the first thing I noticed was the fact that the Wild Country didn’t have a bucket or bath tub type ground sheet on the inner tent this could prove problematic in future use but could be overcome by careful pitching, the second thing I noticed is the way the inner is attached to the outer by buckles, different and it`s going to interesting to see how they last in future use, with ventilation holes at both ends of the inner tent there is more flow for air to move through compared to the Hilleberg (at least compared to the one I owned), the Hilleberg uses the more traditional form of loops and toggles to secure the inner to the outer tent. I`m not sure which of these fixings I prefer but I do prefer the deep groundsheet of the Hilleberg because of its better protection.

                Although there are a number of differences between the two tents I am looking forward to using the Zephyros 1 in the future and whilst there are things that I would change about this tent it does compare favourably to the Hilleberg, as a colleague of mine said “it may not be a Hilleberg but you did get it for a quarter of the price”

   As with all outdoor equipment personal preference is key to any decision you make.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.