A personal review of 2014
Its been a big year for me this year.
In March I turned 40 and yet I feel younger now than I did 15yrs ago…
In May we finally moved house and though this was fantastic, exciting and stressful all at once the move also scuppered my plans to go to the Cairngorms for my first camping trip to Scotland in well over a decade. The wife was very understanding and so I pre-booked train tickets (again) to Kingussie in the Cairngorms for September, 2wks after our annual family summer holiday. 2014 was also the 10th anniversary of my meeting my wife, though we have only been married for 5 of those years.
Also in May I received a bonus of £500 from my employer for 20 years service. To the average guy on an average wage this is quite a sum so I perused long and hard over the main online gear emporiums (namely Ultralight Outdoor Gear and Backpackinglight) to get the most bang for my buck as the sum was to be gifted in vouchers only.
So in summary, although I didn’t get out in the hills and woods anywhere near as often as I’d hoped when I made my New Year’s Resolution last New Year to get out more in 2014 in order to get some preparation in for the TGO Challenge in 2015, it has been a good year.
The Cairngorms trip was fantastic and the first part of the Trip Report can be read here if you haven’t already read it. This trip was the longest I had been apart from my wife since before our lad was born in 2005. Unfortunately it has put a hold on my plans to do the TGO Challenge next year because both my wife and son simply missed me too much to bear the thought of being apart from me for 2 whole weeks. Of course I missed them badly too but as I’m sure many of you can relate to there is a kind of hunger ‘to get out there’ for as long as possible and as soon as possible that is very difficult to ignore. I will always miss them whether it is an overnighter or two weeks. However, this urge to get out and do more for longer appears to have come on in full force in this past year, ever since I did my first solo trip for some years back in November 2013 (you can read that TR here).
Of course the ideal solution would be to take my family along with me. The wife likes to walk and camp but two or more weeks wild camping on the trail would be too much for her. The lad on the other hand is still young enough to be molded 🙂 Its my plan to introduce him to wild camping and backpacking next spring/summer with a short overnighter in local woods or in one of several spots in the Peaks if the weather is right. The woods are handy, particularly if he really doesn’t enjoy it and we need to return to civilization (or the car). However, the woods can be an eerie place for a young boy with an overactive imagination – or even a grown man with an overactive imagination! Personally I love the woods at night, during the day, alone or in a group. I’m not overly concerned about the possibility of his not liking the experience as he is no stranger to camping, albeit in a large family tent on an official campsite. So long as we make the experience an adventure and engage his interest in the environment (and take his ipod/mobile phone for last ditch backup!) I’m positive he will want to come along with me more often.
My Resolution this New Year will be the same as the last one, appended with the hope to include my family in the pursuit of ‘Getting out there’ more often and also lose some weight in the process!
The biggest obstacle as ever to my plans is the fact that both my wife and myself work shift patterns that do not allow us very much time together during the working week, so our weekends are our main time together as a family unit. We chose these shift patterns initially so that there would always be one of us at home to care for our son. That way we only infrequently need to find alternative childcare and he has been fortunate enough to have one of us around at all times.
The unfortunate side effect is that we see less of each other than we’d like and our weekends are that much more important to us. So, planning is key and this year (next year) I’m penciling in a trip on our family calendar for every 8 weeks and whether those will be family trips, trips with my best mate or solo will depend on commitments elsewhere. This is the only way I will get more trips in.
I do not think a trip every 8 weeks is too much to expect yet things have a habit of cropping up! There may be the odd chance of an impromptu jaunt but i never hold my breath, as more often than not something else crops up. My heart might be yearning for a pack on my back, a trail beneath my feet and a night spent under canvas somewhere in the wilderness but the reality is as yet somewhat different. My dearest hope is that I am at least able do one Long Distance trail before I am too old or knackered to do so. Ideally my wife and son will be at my side and if not they will be with me in spirit.
The TGO Challenge in 2016 is my goal for now and so far the wife is amenable to the idea, though it is clearly a long way off and she may be thinking I’ll change my mind. A couple of longer trips out in the coming year may help with that but I very much doubt it will successfully scratch this itch that is afflicting me.
Going Lightweight – the ever evolving quest!
The £500 I spent at Ultralight Outdoor Gear was the third big step to reduce my base weight since I had consciously made the decision to move away from the traditional backpacking mentality. You can read more about the first two big steps here. My parcel in May included a down sleeping bag, a super comfy inflatable sleeping mat, a Primaloft insulation layer and several smaller items. This reduced my base weight by a further 400g.
However… I’ve since realized that all three of those steps have been made in error. I could say they were mistakes but if I hadn’t made them then I wouldn’t now realize that they were made in error!
Like many people coming from a traditional backpacking background I have erred on the side of caution when choosing lighter kit to buy, weighing up weight versus durability and comfort. I had replaced all of my Big Three with these recent gear changes – shelter, sleeping system and pack. These were steps in the right direction, they just weren’t far enough in the right direction. #
My pack and shelter have been replaced again but both of the newer options remain to be tested. I am fairly certain that the pack at least will work for me. My untried new shelter, the Stratospire 1 is already looking like it will be replaced in the near future by a lighter shelter (one that was on my shortlist before purchasing the Stratospire). Though the Stratospire will no doubt prove to be a fantastic shelter its just 500g too heavy for solo use. I may yet convince myself that its worth the extra weight. A few trips out in it will answer that question.
My Mountain Hardwear Ratio 32 is a great bag but it will be up for replacement by a lighter bag (or more likely a quilt) next Xmas, unless I get a lot of overtime in before then. This will save a further 300g or so. The second part of my current sleep system the Exped Synmat UL 7 is another great piece of kit. Yet again its a bit heavier than I would like and I am now looking at going a step further by going for a Short length mat. The Nemo Zor Short is currently top of that list and will save me a further 200g+.
Its my birthday in March and I already know what I want… the new cook system will save me well over 300g on my current setup 🙂
I don’t want to be Ultralight – in fact I cannot yet see how I could possibly get that light and be happy with my kit. I just want to be comfortable with a full pack containing 4-5days food and fuel. I’m almost there, as the current weight of my pack with that much of a load is a damn sight lighter than it was, and with the changes I have in mind it will be considerably closer to being ideal.
Now all I need to do is lose some pounds off my waistline…
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2015 to all of you.