I’ve been thinking of writing a gear review for a while, but just never quite got round to it. I’ll start with my lovely tent…
It’s 2007 and my Taller Half and I decide to try out a couple of festivals – the Tapestry Goes West and Green Man festivals, both in Wales. The only way to do a festival is by camping, and we figured that camping holidays would be cheaper than staying at B&Bs all the time, so a tent could be a good investment. Only problem was, I’d never been camping before and had no idea if I would like it.
I’d been buying TGO magazine for a while, and becoming indoctrinated into their ‘lightweight backpacking’ philosophy. But was it worth buying expensive gear if it turned out camping wasn’t for us? I did the maths, and it turned out that the gear would pay for itself on a two week camping holiday compared with two weeks staying at B&Bs. The decision was made.
We chose the Terra Nova Superlight Solar 2.2, and this is the review that sold it to us (again, via TGO magazine). A delightful tent, it’s very light (the 2.2 is the weight in kilograms), and crucially has two porches – a luxury in the lightweight backpacking tent world. I’m sad to say that Terra Nova appear to have stopped making this tent, as it’s been excised from their website. A real shame, as the model is only four years old.
We had an amazing time in Wales that summer, and I fell in love with camping and backpacking. I don’t do it nearly enough, but since getting our tent I’ve not stayed in a B&B outside the Winter season.
We’ve had this tent for four years now. It’s easy to set up, it’s never leaked, you can cook in the porch safely (with the door open, obviously), and it’s got minimal wear and tear. It has sustained some damage – from when a hungry hedgehog chewed through both the outer and inner layers – but we’ve repaired the damage ourselves. And although I do wash it with NikWax tech wash, I’ve never proofed it and it’s still fully waterproof. We’ve yet to try wild camping, but the double porch makes this the perfect tent to pitch up anywhere with views – two windows onto the world.
A move away from lightweight led me to invest in a pair of Paramo Cascada waterproof trousers. Paramo are clever. Their fabric dries itself. You can still get a bit wet, but I’ve found that so long as I wipe off the excess moisture, I can happily sit in the tent after a downpour with my trousers on and feel warm and dry. My trousers are not light or pretty, but they are real workhorses and so far I’ve resisted buying a skimpy pair of summer overtrousers. My next purchase will be a Paramo waterproof top, but so far my current top, and final review, is doing a grand job and not ready to retire.
I’ve worn an army anorak as my main waterproof jacket for years. It’s too big and has no pockets, and I’ve had to get the zip replaced, but I still wear it from time to time. However, I’d well and truly got the TGO bug for top notch gear and bought my Mountain Equipment Seraph jacket after TGO gave it a glowing review in 2008. I had very high expectations, and was very disappointed when my jacket started wetting out after only a few downpours. A got a replacement, and to be honest I think I just had magical expectations of this very lightweight piece of kit. In heavy rain the water tends to soak rather than bead on exposed areas, but I’ve never had water soak through to the inside. It’s also very quick to dry. Despite my rough treatment (stuffing and crumpling it into rucksacks, forgetting to wash it, ploughing through bramble patches on foraging expeditions…) it still has plenty of life in it and is a very good piece of kit. There’s a newer (and I believe better) version out now and I heartily recommend.
My newest toy (again, TGO’s fault) is the Caldera ti-tri sidewinder ultra lightweight stove from Trail Designs based in Yosemite National Park, California. I had to get it shipped from the US and buy it in dollars! It burns meths, solid fuel and is easily converted into a wood burner. It hasn’t left my back garden yet, but I’ll keep you posted…
(photos with thanks to my Taller Half, who does not wish to be named)