Bikepacking

Bikepacking, Homemade Gear

What’s In The Bag?


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While the rains pours down outside, it seems like a good opportunity to sit down inside and plan my next overnight excursion. Whilst looking for nice two day routes from Brecon, it is also an opportunity to review the gear I took with me for the Welsh Ride Thing. So, for the benefit of the curious:

Gear ready for packing

Sleeping bag – Rab Quantum 200, stuffed into a POD compression drybag, with homemade handlebar strapping system. I was really pleased with how well this worked. Everything stayed nice and tight after a few adjustments early on, and the dry bag did its job despite some poor weather.
Tent – Terra Nova Laser Photon stuffed into a Granite Gear No. 1 stuff sack.
Sleeping mat – Thermarest Neolite short. A comfy, if slightly noisy, compact and lightweight mat.
Stove – Vargo Triad – titanium meths stove; 100ml of methylated spirit (enough for two days), homemade stove base and wind shield. This worked well, easily boiling the water for me to re-hydrate my Expedition Food meals.
Pan – Tibetan Titanium 550ml pan with wire handle. Capacity to hold enough water for a meal or large drink, small enough to fit nicely over the end of the tent.
Misc – Black Diamond Ion head torch, first aid kit, survival bag, waterproof trousers.
Food – Expedition Foods dehydrated meals, some flapjack bars, small bar of chocolate and some chocolate coated coffee beans. Do apricot flapjacks count towards one of your five a day?

The bag into which it all fits

The frame bag is lovingly stitched together by Beth from 2oz denier coated fabric, with a waterproof zipgood thread and 2in wide velcro to keep it snug within the main triangle and sealed with seam grip to keep out as much water as possible. Overall cost about £15. Weighs only 87g. This is the second version Beth has made, with a few improvements over the first version in terms of width, zip design and stitching the straps in with the main seams. The fabric, whilst light, is not likely to be as durable as a 4oz fabric, so a third version is likely to be required at some point.

In terms of somewhere to go, I’m inclined towards the area around Llyn Brianne, via Mynydd Eppynt. I’ve not ridden Doethie Valley at all this year, which is one of my favourite pieces of trail in those parts.

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Bikepacking, Homemade Gear, Trails

Welsh Ride Thing


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The weekend of the Welsh Ride Thing still brings me out in a grin when I think about it.
Packed with memories of rain, wilderness, bothies, open fires, whisky, sunshine, singletrack, fireroad, river crossings and socialising with thirty odd like-minded riders who got together for a weekend of exploring the Big Welsh Wilderness.

Saturday’s rain wasn’t particularly heavy, but quite persistent. My choice of 32:20 gearing wasn’t quite as light as I would have liked, but any lower and the flat sections would have been tedious. My progress was slower than I had planned, a combination of weather, riding a loaded bike and hard (but enjoyable) trails. I chose to trim my route a little and headed for Claerddu – a remote bothy I’d not been to before.To my surprise, I was the only one there when I pulled up at 8pm. It concluded a 40 mile ride, which had taken in some great tracks, though not in the best conditions. I had enough time and light to get the fire going and cook up some food. Another WRT rider arrived at about 9pm, and we shared tales of the days riding.

Sunday dawned with patchy cloud and warm sunshine – a welcome change from the day before. I headed NE along Monks Trod, a route I am familiar with from previous exploits and one that can be either magnificent or miserable depending on the weather and/or the choice of line. Today, though, it was magnificent. An hour and half since leaving the bothy, I was back on the mountain road. A stiff climb lead me to Nant Rhys Bothy, before a long forest descent took me back into the valley to the north. Hafren Forest lay the other side a long winding climb through a broad valley bathed in sunshine. Hafren Forest was a delight to ride through. I seemed to miss all the singletrack, not really knowing the area, but instead stumbled upon a fantastic waterfall and the above pictured quarry with its iron tinged wall.

I rolled back into Pennant with another 40 miles ridden to conclude an excellent two days of riding. New trails, new people, new places and new inspiration to head out into the Welsh Wilderness some time soon. The whole weekend was a great departure from the normal riding I do, and a world apart from my previous racing endeavours. Check out all the pictures I took over the two days here.

Bikepacking, Homemade Gear

Portable Power


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A while ago I did some research on recharging devices that charge via a USB connection (i.e. 5V DC) using the power from other batteries. Not having done  any electronics since school, a simple approach was required that wouldn’t be too difficult to build. My first effort was based around a linear 5V regulator and a 9V PP3 battery. It worked, sort of… The problem was that it wasn’t very efficient. I would get about half a full charge from one battery, and the effects of reducing 9V to 5V produced a fair bit of heat. Most of these shortcomings stemmed from the limitations of the PP3 battery.

After further research, I found a neat device called the MintyBoost which was designed to boost two AA batteries (~3V) up to 5V. The capacities of AA batteries are much better than PP3 (less internal resistance and much higher mAh rating). At $20 for a DIY kit it looked a good solution to the problem and a bit of fun to build it.

On the left: this is what you get in the packet. The image in the middle is the result of 20 minutes work with a soldering iron, no swearing, burns to self or marks to the dining room table. On the right with all soldering complete, it fits neatly into a tubeless tyre repair kit box and gives me enough room for charging lead too.

So this kit will give me about two charges for my GPS from 2 AA alkaline batteries. It’s perfect for the short touring rides I have planned, or seeing as I can pick up AA’s in most small shops, it would be of use for much longer trips. It only weighs 87g too, so no serious weight penalty either.

Bikepacking, Bikes

On Tour


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So, they cancelled Spring Polaris, again. Disappointed 😦

Putting my (now not so) new tent to some use seems to be cursed, at least in the context of using it for an event. Still, with all the time I’ve spent sorting out bits and pieces of kit to keep me warm, dry and adequately fed for an overnight excursion, it’s high time I got out there and put it to proper use. I used to do a bit of bike camping (or bikepacking as they call it) many years ago, and while I’m not racing seriously just now I’m looking forward to getting out into the hills again with the tent.

Singular Pegasus kitted out for bikepacking

The compression bag under the bar contains the sleeping bag. In the frame bag is a tent, sleeping mat, stove, fuel for three days, pan, torch, first aid kit, survival bag, waterproof jacket and trousers, and food for two days. The seat pack contains tools to fix just about anything on the bike. I’d also carry a small rucksack with water, and a few light essentials. Beth made the frame bag up for me, and now that we’ve learnt a thing or two from it, the second version should be a lot better.

Still, I’m pretty pleased so far – touring (albeit singlespeed) with a total set up weight of only 30lbs. Now all I need to do is plan me a nice two day route into Mid Wales 🙂

Bikepacking

Fine Lines


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The definition of Lightweight is interesting. The most obvious to me is this:

Being lighter in weight … than another item or object of identical use, quality, or function

In my pursuit of items that satisfy these qualities, there is a risk of equipping yourself with stuff that falls under this much less desirable definition:

Without seriousness of purpose; trivial or trifling

There is a fine line between the two. I don’t expect the extra 120g of a Laser Competition would have done me any harm, and if the reviews I’ve read are anything to go by, the Laser Photon might not last quite as long either. But then that’s not really the point – my intended use for this tent is exactly what it is designed for: adventure racing where grams count.

My first impressions of this tent are: “Wow, that’s really thin”. And I don’t just mean the fabric, everything is thin. The flysheet is a super fine slightly translucent material – the sort you might expect to use to cover the wings of model gliders, but a lot stronger. Nevertheless, its thinness sort of commands your care when handling it “just in case”. The inner is a similarly tightly woven thin fabric with a half mesh double zipped door allowing easy access to the ample porch. Two (nonadjustable) triangular mesh vents at each end help keep condensation to a minimum. It’s stitched neatly to the bath tub floor fabric, again specced for its light weight. A coarser rip-stop fabric is used here sufficient to keep ground moisture at bay but not sharp rocks. The poles are cool blue anodised with DAC Featherlite lasered onto each section. At 8.55mm diameter, they’re all of 0.29mm narrower than the previous versions. The pegs are titanium, naturally. Twelve thin wires, coated in orange powder coat for identification, rattle in the bottom of a small bag made from the same material as the flysheet. They flex easily between you fingers but quickly return to their original shape. They pushed into the ground quite easily, finding their way around rocky obstructions fairly easily.

Once erected (in the garden) it’s more or less identical to my old Laserlite, but just a good deal lighter and less bulky when packed. In fact, it’s so small when packed up it’ll fit into a Number #1 size Granite Gear Air Bag. Once I’ve made it out into the hills I’ll give you a proper review with some photos of it pitched in a suitably remote location.

Bikepacking, Polaris

Look after the grams…


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…and the kilo’s look after themselves.

I’ve accumulated a good few pieces of kit towards the Sub 4kg project now.

Stoves

There’s a lot of choice in this department. I started off with an MSR Pocket Rocket (83g) which ran off a gas canister (about 150g, part used). My Snowpeak Ti pan (105g) could be considered something of a luxury compared to a foil tray from the curry house, but it makes cooking a bit more straightforward. An MSR Ti spork tipped the scales at 16g, bringing the total weight of my cooking gear to 354g. Using gas, this is pretty light and to save any weight I needed to look at an alternative source of fuel.

Meths stoves are the obvious choice here, solid fuel stoves don’t quite have the punch to bring your water to the boil quickly. Things have moved on from the trangia, and there’s a vast array of websites with instructions on making your own pepsi-can stoves. Fortunately for me, there are also companies that have taken the hard work out of it and have refined the design in the process. Whitebox and Vargo are two brands that are at the head of the game. I plumped for the Vargo Triad in the end as it’s better suited to small pans with its vertically orientated jets, and its all-titanium construction keeps the weight to a modest 23g. To maximise efficiency, I made a wind shield out of some special silver bubblewrap which added a further 18g and doubles as a pot cosy. It boiled 400ml of water in about 6 minutes and kept it at a rolling boil for a further 25 minutes on just 30ml of fuel. I concluded I needed about 60ml of meths to have sufficient fuel to cook for two days, which weighs 63g in its little nalgene bottle. Without really looking for one, I found a good light and cheap replacement for my Ti spork: the Light My Fire Spork weighs only 10g and costs £2.00. The final component is the pan, which if I’m not comprising on it being a proper pan, doesn’t leave me many choices as the Snowpeak is light for its size. I concluded I need a capacity of only 550ml to cook either a pack of noodles or a pack of smash, and I have my eye upon a such a pan that only weighs 65g. This would bring my cooking gear down to only 179g, which is a saving of nearly 50% and considerably less bulk.

Rucksacs

The hunt for a lightweight rucksac was more difficult than I expected. Most manufacturers (Karrimor, Salomon and others) seem satisfied that 500-600g represents a lightweight bag. For at least the last ten years, I’ve had a PB Walsh rucksac that weighed 400g – sadly rather tired and no longer available. With the exception of the paper thin Gossamer Gear Whisper bag weighing 108g, sub-400g gram bags seemed very hard to come by. A solution came via a British company, Inov8, who produce a range of bags for adventure racing. While most of them weigh over 500g, their 20 litre pack tipped the scales at only 330g. By trimming the straps to the correct length and disposing of the external bungee cord I got it down to 309g. What impressed me, besides the weight was the number of features: two hip pockets, mesh lower sections for stuffing kit in, waterproof zip, compression straps and quality construction throughout. Well thought out shoulder straps and waist belt are also comfy without contributing too much to the weight. Top marks.

Sleeping Mats and Bags

For the last few Polaris events I’ve used a Balloon Bed as a sleeping mat. Weighing less than 100g and packing down to next to nothing (which it needs to if you only have a 20 litre pack), it’s saves you both weight and space. Opinion is divided on their performance though. Some people don’t like them, but others – me included – think they’re great. The Mark II has performed better for me than the Mark I, with less popping over the course of the night. Tipping the scales at 200-odd grams less than a Thermarest and about 50g less than my severely cut-down foam pad, it’s a must for this project. Now, if I could just get the hang of inflating the balloon with my mouth and not the pump, I could save myself a further 18g for nothing!

For the sleeping bag, I use a Rab Quantum 200, which I won for my efforts at the infamous Leyburn Polaris in Spring 2004. Its OK in all but the coldest conditions, though I do normally wear some thin layers and a hat to boost its performance a bit. It weighs only 508g stuffed into a Granite Gear Air Bag.

Tents

I’m still using my Terranova Laserlite at the moment. Weighing 1108g, there is good scope here to take over 300g off with a Laser Photon, which is currently on my wishlist.So, my Polaris bag is currently tipping the scales at just under 4500g.

Next time I’ll review clothing and sundry items, and maybe a tent…

Bikepacking, Polaris

Sub Four


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Five is something of a nice round number, and I was quite pleased when I finally achieved it. Four, on the other hand requires a good deal of thought, research and a little bit of compromise.

What am I talking about? The weight of a pack of kit for a Polaris Challenge.

If you’re not familiar with the Polaris Challenge, its two days of MTB orienteering with a wilderness camp. You have to carry all your gear with you for both days for up to 12 hours of riding and be completely self-sufficent. The event has been around for years, and is probably the route of my competitive interest in mountain bikes (not least for the fact it not all about fitness). I’ve done over 15 in total, with a 2nd and 4th place being my most creditable placings. I’ve also organised one, and I have another in the pipeline this Spring.

Anyway, I digress. After a casual comment on the PC forum, I looked hard at my 5 kg kit list starting to think of ways to save weight. Cutting the weight of something you depend upon for survival by as much as 20% will take some doing, but having spent a bit of time researching various lightweight camping equipment websites and blogs, there are no shortage of ideas out there. Hopefully next time I jump on my bike with a rucksac stuffed with tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, spare clothes and all the other mandatory bits of kit required for the event, it won’t weigh any more than 4 kg, less than 9 lbs.

As I acquire these various pieces of kit, I’ll post up more details…