Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bude to Damehole Point with Colin Ibbotson, camp 6!

Bude to Damehole Point with Colin Ibbotson, camp 6. Photo Gallery by Tony Hobbs at pbase.com

The surf crashed just 15 metres behind me. It was an incredible, almost deafening, primeval sound as I lay in my sleeping bag. It augmented, overpowered the small stream a few metres away running to the sea, plummeting about 15 odd metres down to the rocks below and joining the sea to complete its cycle.

The sea sounded very close, high tide was happening just below us.  Shortly after settling in, Colin left his MLD Duomid to check there was no danger of it reaching us as spray seemed to batter our shelters (though it may have been rain as there was a small shower soon after!).  It was late, by my standards, when we arrived and we'd not really checked how close the tide was.  We were close but out of reach in our high valley.  Damehole Point.

I left home just after 6am and arrived just after 9 near Bude where Colin Ibbotson met me for our walk north towards Hartland Point.  I thought we'd pass it, but it was far and arduous, so we stopped in the valley just short.  Frankly I was pleased to get as far as we did.

This now makes 6 wild camps for me this year, and in total, and this felt the wildest with that surf crashing into the rocks just below my resting form.

The wind was coming off the sea, swirling around in our small valley as we pitched.  While I set up the Trailstar it blew back in my face as much as away from me.  Shortly after settling in a few drops of rain, this was rain, not the apparent sporadic drops that may have been spray.  The swirling wind blew a few drops into my shelter but it stopped almost as soon as it started.  However the wind had now done a 180 and was gently blowing in the front opening of my Trailstar.  I told Colin and he called out to move the door.  I didn't...

I have, a couple of times in mid 2000s walked 20 miles in a day on Dartmoor.  Mostly my walks are about 16 miles around cheddar or about that on Dartmoor.  Both about 800+m of ascent for cheddar and just over 1000m of ascent for Dartmoor, on average.  My last walk with Colin from Beer to Budleigh was similar distance but 1400m of ascent.  This walk was just over 25km / about 16 miles (ok no difference there) but in excess of 2100m of ascent one way!  There were a dozen streams / rivers to cross and each entailed an often monstrously steep climb!  Some were steps, some slopes.

Talking was less easy on this section of Colin's coastal walk, due to single track walking, steep climbing / ascending and some strong wind! 

This walk was in complete contrast to the previous one. Rugged, wild and much less touristified.  Not to mention generally much steeper and some of the paths were very exposed and a couple of times I was aware of a big drop next to me! Care was needed.

I stopped at one drainage ditch with a thought of topping up my water.  Colin pointed out it was a drainage ditch not even shown on map.  He was concerned by its passing through a cow field.  I passed.  I have to admit if there was no choice I'd have happily used it, it looked clear enough.  Surprisingly whilst there were a dozen or so streams only a few were easily accessible.  Many were bridged or overgrown with brambles.  At each one that I had access, I put off topping up thinking there's another over the next ridge... Inaccessible...

Time was shifting and I was starting to worry we'd have to pitch without ample water, for me but primarily for Bess.  We discussed camping at one point but neither of us had much water for the night and this spot was quite exposed.  Colin told me he had to move one night when the wind threatened to overwhelm his tent.  I could tell Colin wanted to carry on in any event and I was happy with this.  In the next valley I found an accessible stream which was near a few cow pats but this at least was on the map!  I was taking no chances now and filled one of my now empty Gatorade bottles and both one litre Platys.  I also half filled both Bess' water bladders.  The weight was lost in the relief I felt at having ample water at hand for camp anywhere!  Many years ago on Dartmoor I ran out of water, weird I know, but it was a hot day and it nearly finished me off very quickly!  Luckily that time I was able to top up quickly!  But it taught me, for me, water is vital.

Earlier on we passed a satellite facility and some strange aerials.  Bess decided to think about rolling near the edge of a cliff and we both charged to grab her! 

She got surprisingly close a few times!  The drops were not for the feint hearted nor sufferers of vertico!

We neared Hartland Point having to bypass two valleys due to them having holiday homes in them.  Thankfully we found one that suited, even if a bit rough.  It was on the edge of a low cliff in a valley in an area frequented by (absent apart from their deposits!) cows.  We had to pitch between cow pats!  We did go a bit further, literally a few hundred metres as from up high there looked a better place to pitch.  It wasn't.  Though Colin would have used it.  I asked if we could go back, again just a few hundred metres.  For the sound of surf it was worth it.  It was heading back my ankle caught on something, nothing more than uneven mud.  Bugger I thought.  Not done that for over two months!  Thankfully it was very minor and I'm still convinced my ankles are stronger and able to withstand these odd tweaks through the use of trail running shoes.  Though I'd prefer they stop twisting!  It recovered within a few steps by which time we were back at my preferred spot.  A case of one step too many. Just tiredness at the end of a long tough day.

As we didn't get there until about 6pm only half an hour to sunset we set about pitching, and just over 8.5 hours from the start, Colin came over and helped with my silnylon Trailstar. 

As time shifted and the wind was picking up Colin quickly disappeared into his Duomid.  The wind was quite strong and conversation would have been impossible.  I didn't think I'd hear his voice until the morning.

There was no phone signal.

It was here, as I crawled into the Trailstar that a loneliness hit me with the power of a freight train.  I've felt sadness many a time on my camps, walks even, including my camp with Colin just under three weeks previously, but this was something else.  I felt lost.  How is it possible to be so alone when one is within a few metres of another, but I can assure you, it is.   It didn't last long, though it did briefly return, thankfully the wind died down and I heard Colins voice from within his shelter and I choked back a lump in my throat. I asked a few questions, just hearing his voice was reassuring.  Strange, never noticed that on a solo camp, just a sadness there, not a loneliness.  I never got or get that feeling at home, alone!

I noticed my center pole had dropped a bit, so I donned bags on feet, got out of sleeping bag, loosened the guys, lengthened the pole and retightened the guys.  Quicky and easily.

So why didn't I switch doors when the wind did a 180 and blew directly in my door chilling me all night.  Well it'll take a cleverer person than me to figure that one!  In a nutshell I was just not there mentally and didn't want the hassle of getting out again.  I think I was just chilled out and relaxed, for want of a better description.   It was easier to pull the Atom hood over my head (though I didn't bother attempting to actually put it on until just before I got up!), tighten the sleeping bad draw cord and hunker down. It's nuts! Even Colin said it'll only take 5 minutes!  Maybe if I'd needed the loo I'd have done it.  If it had rained I'd have HAD to do it!  I was too tired to put the Atom on properly, I just stuck the hood over my head.  I also had a light fleece, even a bivi packed.  There was no need to be chilled!  I had plenty to protect me.  I wasn't cold, however, just cooler than was necessary. It was a restless night.  I think it was just easier to chill, pardon the pun.

My eyes got very heavy at 9pm and I put my light out, I had read a couple of pages.  I was actually amazed I didn't need the loo. I guess I had sweated it out during the day.

I didn't use the ear plugs, I welcomed the sound of the surf crashing below me, and the gentler trickle of the stream close by.  I was at one, if a bit distant, with nature.

I slept fitfully, not totally out but certainly not awake nor with this world, yes, thank you, I heard that.  At 5am I heard voices and saw a torch light, I tucked myself further into my bag, trying to hide from the beam.  It wasn't until after 6.30am when we were both awake, me half awake that I understood what had happened.  Bess had left the Trailstar and walked over to Colin's Duomid, waking him!  He feared cows, looked out, shining his torch, to see a black wolf, Bess!  I think she had drunk all her water and went looking for more.  I'd not heard her leave.  I should have topped up her water the night before.

Colin started to stir just after 6am.  I chilled, not quite literally, until 6.30ish trying to come too a bit.  I said good morning. It was good to hear his voice again.

I got my meths stove going just before 7 for my porridge and tea.  Very early for me!  Colin was ready and packed up, leaving just after 7 under torch light. 

Alone.  But I didn't dwell on it. All was fine, it was time to get out of the sleeping bag, pack up and head back.

I had worn my leggings as my trousers were dirty, so I changed back, my shirt was still on.  I had slept in it with the hood of Atom over my head (I didn't have the wherewithal to actually put it on properly).  I was glad for that hood (I also had a woolen hat packed!), my head was getting chilled by that breeze in my door...

I put my damp shoes and socks on.  How Colin kept his dry the day before I don't know.  It was fine. Not winter yet.  They soon got soaked again on the return leg.

I deflated my airbed, folded and put it at the back of my MLD Prophet frameless pack, I stuffed my sleeping bag in a cuben stuff sack and double bagged it in a large cuben dry bag with my pillow pump below it, so if any water ever did bypass my double system the pillow will soak it up, not my sleeping bag!

Next in this dry bag went (in cuben stuff bags) my tiny wash kit, not used, repair kit / support bandage, not used, and phone charger power pack, used.  Then my fleece jumper, leggings and night liner socks.  The outer dry bag gets folded over all that.

Next is my cooking kit, any food not needed for the day, bivi, not used (that goes behind cooking kit as extra protection from my back and air bed support).

Then my first aid kit, groundsheet, waterproof trousers, book and on the top goes my synthetic Arcteryx Atom insulated jacket so nothing crushes it.

Pegs and odds and sods go in the top pocket.

For the return leg I kept out a packet of crackers and half a dozen cereal bars.  I drank both Gatorade bottles, topping one up.  I used my tried and trusted Aqua Mira pre mix for water.

The walk back was very strenuous.  My ankle was fine, it's as if nowt had happened.  I may have walked that distance before in one day, but never near that total ascent on two running days!  (A day later my calves are quite stiff, though a few minutes of walking eases them and I did my usual local jog with Bess).  Whilst I was impressed with my own ability.  I was even more chuffed how well Bess did, the nearer the car we got, the quicker / further ahead she would go.  Near the end I put her on the lead, save her running to the car from 500 yards, ok, metres out!

It was welcoming to see familiar sights as I headed back, welcoming as I mentally ticked them off, the satellites about an hour or so left to go, but sad at the passing of time from the previous day.

Once back I put dry shoes and socks on, my feet had survived very well.  A bit of hard skin had simply flaked open.  It was nothing more than dead skin from previous walks.

Again, as with all walks and camps, the actual day/s / night may have been emotional and mentally challenging but the rewards for me at this stage and I dare so for the near future at least, are preparing prior and sharing after.

One can ask for no more.

Another camp notched up, and looking back, thoroughly enjoyed.

I look forward to the next... Dartmoor in November, hopefully.

PS - I'll sort a few photos and post them on pbase with a copy of these words.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MLD SuperMid on the go.

Watch "MLD SuperMid" on YouTube

Mountain Laurel Designs SuperMid Photo Gallery by Tony Hobbs at pbase.com

This is going to be a follow the progress blog. Primarily on weight for now.
SuperMid as packed in over sized stuff sack. 745g.
No seam sealing yet nor guys.  I'll do this over coming week/s.
I ordered this early September. I asked no one any advice. As I can imagine the replies ;-)  I just ordered it as I fancied it and it sort of completes my MLD shelter collection :-)
I also think it would make a good winter shelter with Bess if the conditions look reasonable.

I walked with Colin Ibbotson and briefly described my nutty new purchase!
In a nutshell he thought my pegs fine.  He was a bit dubious about using Pacer Poles with the SuperMid.    Due to two bent handles at each end using his system, the forces exerted could act like a fulcrum.  Whilst the poles are probably strong enough, they don't go that deep into the handles and could split them.    He suggested normal straight poles, placed ramrod straight in SuperMid.  Preferably adjustable. That way I could just use the cord and dispense with the line locs, a weak link.  I'll see if I have my old Leki Poles.... Also a notch either needs to be already in place or I need to cut one on the poles' basket, so they stay straight!  Of course a thicker support would be preferable, but it's on my head, not literally!

I found my old Lekis, and they have a groove on the baskets, though they would need enlargening, easy enough.  The problem in my opinion is that whilst they have straighter handles, they are still angled!

I'll stick to Pacers for practice. In use though I'll look to get straight handled Black Diamond adjustable alloy poles.  Then fingers crossed!  Only one way to find out and I'll not take it out deliberately in a storm.  For me its not for that!

It pretty easily fits the same stuff sack as the Duomid, though tight, no wriggle room.  This bag weighs 18g vs the oversized stuff bags 30g.

With this a Cuben stuff bag a bit pointless!

Added guylines.  60cm on all hem lines and 120cm (all probably over long!) on mid bungee tie outs.

No sealing yet!

Weight so far, in smaller stuff bag, 780g.  So only added 35g from start!

Seam sealing will add up to but less than 100g!  If I thinned it that would help. But  can't see me doing that!

Started seam sealing the SuperMid. Have done two long seams. Let dry, do other two another time.  Then fiddle with the top.  Ron's supplied sealer actually goes on fine.  Sorry to those who advised other applications.  Ron's was sort of, well, there ;-) Works fine :-)  Pretty sure one tube should be just enough.  Keep you posted.
Used 1.5 tubes!
Fully sealed, in stuff sack with guylines = 834g!  Not bad for an aircraft hanger.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Breaking News!

I appear to have bought a new shelter. Ops!

Monday, October 15, 2012

My thoughts and an opinion on my Cuben Fibre!

When it comes to most things I own and here we are talking hiking / camping I take great care of my kit, though I ought to wash my car once in a while.  I am what could safely be called a light user and I most certainly do not abuse my kit!  Of course having bought quite a bit, its use will inevitably be shared out too!

This blog is primarily about how I use / treat my Cuben Fibre.

I don't have much experience with cuben fibre, just what I read, hear and reading between the lines of various opinions, whether correct or not, it at least gives me thoughts, and of course what I see with my own cuben, which it's fair to say is a lot.  So far mine is holding up.  No damage at all.  But it's use has been exceptionally light!

Because I have very heavily invested in this material in shelters and groundsheets / inners it is in my interests to treat it well and see how long I can make it last.

So these are my observations so far...

First up, at this stage I don't regret getting any of it!

Cuben is an odd thing, it seems to have it's likers like me, but some detractors!  From what I can ascertain it's good and strong and light but its longevity appears to be under scrutiny in some quarters, I'm in no position to debate this.  For the likes of me it'll hopefully last many years, speaking to Colin Ibbotson gives me that impression with my light use. 

The impression I'm getting is constant sustained use by these long distance walkers over months at a time does potentially seem to wear it out. My attitude is that that comes with the territory.  Lightweight in any material will never last forever.  Cuben of course comes in various weights.  Minimum I'd say is 0.75oz. 

I look after it.  Pack it in over sized bags at home and store uncompressed in my cupboard.  I think crushing it into stuff bags repeatedly over months could shorten its life in the long term.

I also think where you pitch, especially groundsheets needs care. I'll avoid any sharp spiky objects and stones.  But I'd assume you'd avoid that where possible anyway.  Though I have seen pitches over heather and the such like.  I'd personally be cautious of pitching my cuben groundsheets on that.  Personally I'd aim for grass, or such soft ground where possible.  We do live in a green country...   So I'll pack my lawn mower and roller!  Of course long term camping finding grass won't always be possible.  But I'll dream it is!  For now I'm looking short term anyway.

It can be easily repaired too with Mylar tape (this is not cheap, but then we are dealing with Cuben!!) or Duct Tape.  Of course with my entry level experience I've not camped on anything other than good grass.  I'm more than happy with that!  I'm quite happy with heather (heath) in my garden, not in my shelter...

All my Cuben is from Ron of MLD in USA. Mountain Laurel Designs. He has been working with it for many years and probably knows it better than most, so I anticipate it'll last well.  For what I paid, it ought to!

The only other Cuben I have is from OookWorks a floor for my Trailstar and a tiny bit from Quest Outfitters in USA.  I use this as you may see in a video as a foot rest / sleeping bag protector at head end.  My sleeping bag is wide and can overflow the groundsheet!

A groundsheet obviously comes into contact with the ground so is bound to potentially suffer more.  It'll be interesting how mine goes.  Again with my light careful use I'd expect many years!

Of course a shelter in cuben, for me, should last even longer as it should receive no pressure from the ground.  I guess this goes back to my initial care thing of not packing away in tight stuff sacks day in and out, and having several shelters to choose from.  I'm never going to be reusing the same each trip.

Of course bare in mind my lack of credentials.  But sometimes not being influenced and being in cloud coocoo land can help.  Maybe.

Yes, I use and like Cuben Fibre.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My thoughts and an opinion on my shelters for dog camping.

Funnily enough I was thinking of writing a post, this post, on a shelter for dog camping when someone asked my advice.  Mine!  First up, of course there are far more experienced people out there, but I certainly have an opinion!

Of course this is based on 5 dry camps and the shelters I have bought.  Whilst it has rained twice, thankfully it's only been once all set up and settled in.  I'm more than happy with that!

Let's start at one end of the spectrum and work our way across my shelter list!  But of course its heading to my prefered choice. No prizes....

I've not tried my Tarptent Scarp 2 out wild camping.  Maybe one day I will.  It is not too heavy for what it is, (though I'd need to leave my beloved MLD frameless packs behind for it), it's a good size and very strong from what I hear.  A match for an Hilleberg Akto.  But really that comparison is out of any experience I have!  I have never seen an Akto.  That's why I need to keep this to my list of shelters not something I don't know / own.

I have of course slept in the Scarp, sort of, I used it for my initiation into camping at home, don't ask! 

I have camped in the Hilleburg Staika.  I will compare them despite the differences.

The Staika is bigger and heavier but does a similar job....  I used it first up primarily as a confidence comforting thing. For that it was worth its weight and cost!

I was asked about my opinion on the Staika for the SWCP.  My opinion is its fabulous, build like a brick chicken house, and very roomy, but I'd not want to lug it too far over too long a time!

The Scarp 2 is much lighter and really a better choice based on weight. Both are two skinned tents.  And this is my crux.  Now I wouldn't be surprised if many, if not most dog owners camp in a two skinned tent very regularly and very successfully! All I can say it doesn't appeal to me to have a dog, even Bess in the same inner as me. If it can be avoided when I have alternatives.  When I used the Staika I moved the inner over and placed Bess' bed straight on grass under the fly sheet and I dare say I'd do the same in the Scarp.

So these shelters don't appeal quite as much now as when I bought them.  No regrets and they not for sale!

I agree of course Bess is still under the same fly as me.  But I see that as separate!  I just do.

Especially once I get my OookWorks inners.

Next up are my rectangular tarps.  The weather would need to be very fine / a period of high pressure or good natural shelter.  So let's skip those other than to say I could probably have taken the MLD Supertarp to Dartmoor in July it was very dry and we had a week of high pressure, for a change.  I am glad I took the Cuben Trailstar.

So this now brings me to my Mids by MLD.  For me, for dog camping (and even if Bess were not about) the mids rule!  I have bought all my kit and will no doubt continue to buy more in the future...!

The Duomid is very good as a dog shelter.  And most certainly worth a look.  Mine is of course Cuben Fibre!  This works brilliantly in the Duomid.

Bess does take up some room in this however.  I'd say a quarter!  I think whilst for one person it's large, for one person and a dog its comfy!  I still have my own room, which is spacious.  There is some storage space (for ease I had to keep Bess' pack outside) at my head and feet and I was easily able to cook with the door closed (it was raining) by the central pole. I cooked with door closed but not zipped up to try to reduce condensation, I did feel a couple of drips, I heard that!  The stove was just enough away from Bess.  Ingress and egress was easy enough for us both as long as I kept one area completely clear (though doing the bottom clip up on the door was a tad fiddly, with practice I dare say it'll be quick and easy!).  In good weather with door open this would be a fabulous shelter.  Even with door closed its roomy if comfy with Bess.  Tons of head room.  Unparalleled head room!

Of course I have not seen other shelters but I have to say if the Trailstar didn't exist this would be second to none.  However the Trailstar does exist, so it's a close second!  It certainly deserves a serious look, especially if you want a zipped door.

I have already blogged prior to this my thoughts of the Cuben Trailstar.  I stand by my opinion, it deserves its place.  The only thing I'd add, is I don't consider it a beginners shelter.  If someone has some experience it's well worth a look.  I justify that by saying it took me, a beginner ages to figure it out and as a beginner I'd not appreciate getting up at midnight to move the door if wind blown rain did a 180!  But with experience, I'd probably not mind as much.  But maybe I would!  And how often will the wind do a 180.  See, I want to keep defending it!

This brings me to the silnylon Trailstar.  It's frankly unmatched!  Certainly in my inventory.  The Duomid trumps it for headroom and in cuben, weight (enter the Cuben Trailstar!), and of course the Duomid can be totally shut up.  But the silnylon can be pitched with a low door and has much more floor space (I recon Bess uses about a fifth and there is plenty of room for her pack!).  So the Trailstar will be my bad weather winter (or any time I choose) shelter of choice.  Unless I just fancy taking something else!

There is tons of storage space next to me, behind Bess and at my head / door where I can cook with less condensation than in my shut up Duomid.  And I can look out.

What I particularly love with the Trailstar is the floor space as previously expressed as it allows more separation between Bess and I.  If Bess decided to leave in the night (she had better not!) she can get out without damaging any doors!

For me whilst I'll regularly use my other shelters and I particularly like (love) the Cuben Trailstar / Duomid the silnylon Trailstar really rules the roost and rocks.  It gives me immense confidence and that is priceless.

For Bess and I the silnylon Trailstar is perfect.  A clear winner!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fifth Camp, this with Colin Ibbotson on the SWCP

South West Coast Path, Beer to Budleigh, with Colin Ibbotson. Camp 5! Photo Gallery by Tony Hobbs at pbase.com

NB... When next on pc I'll add these words to bpase which is and will remain my primary website for walks and images.

Been back just over a week from two days walking and one night camping with Colin Ibbotson on the South West Coast Path.

I met Colin at Beer and we walked about 24km over 1350m of ascent to Budleigh in a relaxing 8 hours.  Some of that was pretty steep!  Of course Colin managed it exceptionally well.  I managed it very well.  I think...

The walk back to my car was 20km over 1400m of ascent in 5 hours!  I stopped only once for a quick roll from the previous day,  I didn't even remove my pack.  I seemed to be on the charge!

I've walked that distance before at Cheddar, weekly, but Cheddar is about 800m of ascent, this takes in excess of 6 hours, with tea stops.  Of course any pitching / videos add time.  Then of course I chill out the next day!  So this was totally new.  Dartmoor is less than half this return distance over totally different terrain.

The differing measurements of distance / ascent are due to where we started and where my car was.  We also walked around Sidmouth looking for food! I just blazed past on the return leg.  I was stopped by a lady asking if I was doing the SWCP!

Rather than skip to the return, let's start at the beginning!  I was standing at the top of the slip way when Colin approached, he saw me first and called out.  Surprisingly he didn't leg it!

Bess and Colin got on very well from the get go and we headed up the road to join the South West Coast Path.  Chatting was very easy and relaxing.  The nerves I'd felt the night before and on the drive disintegrated immediately.  Though there were still moments of sadness, even in company... These just follow me, losing a wife is bound to have this effect and I expect them.

The path was well signposted and good under foot, and certainly had steep parts! 

The views were lovely.  It was quite breezy in places.  Colin spotted many potential camp spots along this section.  Most with good views if a bit exposed!  We walked past them all of course.

We stopped in Sidmouth for lunch, I had fish and chips.  I also filled up my two 1L Platy bottles, placing in both side pockets of my MLD Prophet and my Gatorade bottles on shoulder straps. From here we headed for the cliffs over Budleigh.

Camp was good. I was "pleased" but "disappointed" that Colin could not improve my cuben TS pitch.  See blog post.  I pitched it pretty well in the end.  Knowing it helped. For me it pitches one way only and Colin found no way better way.  The silnylon TS rules.  But I was plenty happy enough with the Cuben Trailstar!

A few people walked / jogged past, it was fingers crossed no one would complain!  No one did. One man gave us the silent treatment.  Another asked how long we planned to stay.  We were there about an hour to an hour and half before sunset.  Colin did say he'd have carried on by himself.  I was surprised how far we had actually walked.

We chatted for a short while at camp but settled into out shelters quite quickly.  Colin likes to get off his feet once in camp.

I cooked my boil in bag meal, made a tea, and just admired the view out the open front of the Trailstar.

I slept fitfully, it was both warm and raining and a little windy.  I used ear plugs to help. I think I maybe nodded off around 3 am maybe.   One thing I am aware of is making sure my mat / sleeping bag doesn't stray off my groundsheet.  I think I'm too concious of this.

I woke about 6 am. Just chilled for a short while, and got out about 7 to make my porridge and tea.  Colin left shortly after this.  I then packed up and was gone by just after 8 am.

The weather was fine on my return walk.  On reaching the car I made a cup of tea.  Lovely way to end a great couple of days with a friend.

Bring on another walk with Colin one day in the future.

App

Just testing the Android Blogger app :-)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My thoughts and an opinion on my MLD Cuben Trailstar.

Just thought I'd write a few opinions on my cuben fibre Trailstar. I'll have to compare it to my other shelters in this opinion, based on my experience, or lack of, with cuben vs silnylon vs various shelters and it’s about me and my thoughts. But it's primarily about the MLD Cuben Trailstar. This is not a review. That I'll leave to the experts who have tested stuff rigorously and know what they are talking about via years and thousands of miles of walking / camping. As some of you know I love cuben fibre and MLD. I have bought all my stuff. I've had no freebies or anything like that from Ron or anyone, nor do I wish to even go that route. My first tent was a Scarp 2 following an excellent review by Chris Townsend in TGO. I bought this last year (2011). I have pitched it a few times and slept in it in my conservatory, it was my way to introduce myself to sleeping under canvas. I did intend to camp in it. I may one day camp in it! It is not for sale. I do things my way. I first heard of MLD on Twitter and I have never looked back / the rest is history as they say. I'll not go through all my purchases as we'd be here all night. Actually, all year! One purchase, as soon as it was released was the cuben fibre Trailstar. I had already bought an extensive list of cuben products from Ron and knew his kit was superb. Second to none! In my eyes at least. Especially his cuben products. He bonds all his cuben. No stitching! No taping. It’s bonded. I have always been a loyal customer. Whether it be my local Snow and Rock or The Gorge Outdoors or indeed Ron. My loyalty will never waive. I believe you get what you pay for and good customer service / relations accounts for a hell of a lot. Especially if one has a problem. Ok, thank you, I heard that! I can walk into the above stores and get a hand shake, a warm welcome and even a cup of tea at The Gorge. I love all my MLD kit. My Grace Solo tarp, yes cuben, was probably my only ad hock off the cuff purchase. Why buy solo with Bess? Buggered if I know! But I don't regret buying it even if it gets no use in a long time. It'll never go off! Ditto for my Super Tarp, yes cuben, but it's easy to pitch and play with. Yes, I play with cuben fibre. This brings me to my cuben fibre Trailstar. It is a bit of a nemesis. I like it, don't think I'll ever "love" it like my silnylon Trailstar or even my cuben fibre Duomid, not so sure on that one. I love the Duomid, but I like the openness of the Trailstar! It’s pointless directly comparing the two, really… Part of me is disappointed in the cuben fibre Trailstar. Those that know me will know and may understand that saying that actually pains me. It also makes me feel disloyal to Ron. But that is just my personal mental state and, frankly is "me" I hate complaining or moaning. I have already stated in many a video, I’ll not be miserable. I hate “knocking” something. Especially a premium product, which this most certainly is. But am I knocking it! I don’t know. Let me try to explain things. This particular Trailstar can only be pitched one way. Low at about 1m. I have tried higher and it just won't pitch well. I got a low pitch on Dartmoor and was quite happy enough despite a slightly flappy door and Ron and Colin via email suggesting a remedy that didn't work for me. But this slightly flappy door bugged me. I had advice from three experts in their field, Chris Townsend, Colin Ibbotson and Ron himself all gave excellent advice via email over several months but I just could not master it. Over the last 6 months or so I have befriended Colin and I was lucky enough to walk with him for one section of his SWCP walk and camp on a cliff with Budleigh Salterton behind and Sidmouth in front, lit up for me to see out my door in the far distance. A few people passed my open door. I wasn't bothered at all! I love that open door. But I'll avoid campsites like the plague anyway. Colin pitched his silnylon Duomid quickly with inner whilst I was still working on my cuben Trailstar. Baring in mind I still lack camping experience, so this was no issue to me. My first pitch was pretty poor, awful in fact, again bare in mind I'd not pitched it for a few months, even then struggling a bit. Colin was able to see my efforts first hand and suggested a higher pitch. I knew here it would not work. I was willing to play along in case he knew something I didn't or I really was making a hash of it! He was not at all impressed with his attempt. I think he was shocked how bad it was. The rear can be pitched ok, but the front / doors just goes to pieces on this particular one. Maybe a degree out in the cutting process makes a difference as I've seen images of ones pitched well. Maybe cuben is that fussy in this shape / configuration. I don't know. I can only comment on mine. From my experiments I knew this one would only pitch low, just. So I retook the reins, lowered the central pole, repegged the rear pegs. One thing I'll make clear is that the rear half is absolutely rock solid and I think Colin would agree would easily withstand a hell of a lot of wind abuse and probably not move much if any. It easily matched and I'd say bettered the silnylon Duomid that Colin was in. Nothing moved or rippled! In this respect it’s superb! Ok it wasn't a strong wind, more a gentle breeze, but enough to show the two differing models ability to cope with wind. In my opinion. But for those doors! It seems impossible to get them and / or the ridge from the central pole to door pole tight. Even Colin failed. On a premium product this is a shame and makes me a little disappointed in it. On this particular model I can get that ridge tight (pole to pole) in one position only and this means the doors are slightly flappy. Colin tried and could not improve my effort! He was again shocked by this. I think Chris also found the doors problematic when he tried it a few months ago. I copied his example of leaning Platypus bottles against the door/s to take the slack out. This does help. Shouldn't be needed! But it helps. To get the doors at that situation I have to have them quite close / narrow and pitched tight to the ground. This reduces inner space and this I have commented on before in a video or two. I do find I'm touching the inner. However this doesn't seem to matter at the moment as based on two camps I've had zero condensation. One camp was dry Dartmoor, yes a dry camp! This camp it was quite wet and rained most of the night. I cooked both times under there too! Yes, zero condensation. I'd agree one can't base much on two camps in a shelter. That's why this is an opinion not a review! You are free to call it what you will. Again some of you will know I own the silnylon Trailstar and it's a totally different beast. In this instance the material clearly makes a massive difference. The silnylon TS is simply in a world of its own. If I had one shelter only it would be the silnylon Trailstar. Period! An aside and in my mind this is vital! This does not change my opinion of cuben fibre. Yes I'm only a part time camper or weekend camper. Despite usually camping during the week. I have all of 5 camps under my belt. I'm not talking durability, which with my usage I expect many years of service. I'm talking pitch and pitch alone! Cuben fibre works perfectly in the Duomid, I have one. It also works perfectly in fixed tarps. I have 2! Plus the poncho! But in the Trailstar it's slightly trickier / fiddly / fussy! Frankly a pain up the arse. The rear pitches perfectly low. No doubt, no question. And I'd wager its storm proofness from the rear will better almost anything out there. Common sense tells me that. It’s like a stealth fighter from behind. It's the setting of the doors that for me spoil it a bit, maybe a lot. I don't honestly know if this just annoys me or really annoys me! It really annoys me but in a way that a mother loves her ugly stroppy duckling I feel the same towards my cuben Trailstar, despite its bloody annoying slightly flappy narrow door! Having used it twice it has kept me warm, dry and comfortable. Especially on Dartmoor. It was dry. The SWCP was more of a "test" (I’m no tester!) it was wetter and rained all night, slugs were about too. The general wind noise was low to zero. I didn't get any of the howling Colin reported from inside his silnylon Duomid pitched right next to me. Rain on my "canvas" kept me awake, but remember my lack of experience with sleeping out under cover. Colin commented as have others, it takes time to get used to sleeping out, the pitta patta of rain. I know Chris reported the doors making an annoying buzz in high wind, a leaning Platypus appeared to sort that. I leaned a Platy, it does tighten up the door! I also believe Colin compared it very favourably to the Akto he once owned. That swayed a lot in the wind, I believe he said. My cuben Trailstar didn't move. It made me oddly proud. Has it leaked, blown away, swayed an inch? No. Not yet, anyway. For me, being lucky to have bought both versions I'd use the silnylon Trailstar in very bad weather anyway. Primarily due to ease of pitch, more apparent inner space and a lower even more weather proof door. I reiterate, I like the open door. I want to see out. Not be couped up, shut in. It is also incredibly light, it really is. I doubt there is anything out there that can match it for weight and stormproofness! Of course if the wind changes direction with that high door… but can one complain about that vs the weight. I’m not so sure one can! Do what Chris did once, get up, and move the door! I don’t fancy it, at my stage of camping, but for the weight… Hindsight. When Ron knew I was struggling to pitch it in the very early days he offered a return / refund. Should I have accepted it? Maybe, possibly, yes, I don't know. (EDIT! It was at this point that I contacted Chris and by default, Colin (whom I had been in touch with for a little while), asking if he / they was / were interested in taking a look at the pitch. I really did not want to return it. I wanted to (try) to get it right or as correct as is possible! End Edit). Would I have bought it first up with this knowledge? No. No, I'd just have gone straight to silnylon Trailstar. It's simply easier to pitch and easier to use and has more space inside, it appears to me. But, it’s just a door. Work with it, not against it. Would I give it away? No, Never! Would I sell it? No chance. It's mine. It's probably like a bloody annoying kid. Needs an eye on it. A bit of discipline. Its like me, an oddity! I own an MLD cuben Trailstar and I love the bloody sodding thing! By Tony Hobbs