December 3, 2021

Kit in use – Reflections on a week in the Western Highlands

Back in April, I had a fantastic few days knocking around the Morar hills and the edges of Knoydart, solo and unsupported. The trip wasn’t covering a huge amount of ground, the emphasis on was getting remote, finding some interesting places and having a bit of time outside the city.
I also had a few toys to play with – mostly the drone – which adds quite a lot to weight. And despite the warm weather in the south of England, the Western Highlands were still pretty chilly so a winter sleeping bag and mat went on the kit list, as did a proper 4 season tent.
Key bits of kit for this trip:
Tent: Terra Nova Ultra Quasar
Sleeping Bag: Enlightened Equipment Revelation (-15 Deg C)
Sleeping Mat – Exped Downmat
Pack – ArcTeryx LEAF Khyber 50
Stove – Alpkit Koro
Hardshell – ArcTeryx LEAF Alpha Gen 2
Trousers – ArcTeryx Gamma Lt
Softshell – ArcTeryx LEAF Combat Jacket
Base layer – ArcTeryx LEAF Cold WX T-Shirt
Boots – Altberg Defenders

A few thoughts:

Tera Nova Ultra Quasar

An absolutely classic. 3kg gets you a big, bombproof shelter for all serious weather, from driving rain, gales through to heavy snow. The only change I’ve made is to add some slightly more robust pegs for the main corners and porch – 8 in total – just to really nail the thing to the deck because it the wind does get underneath it, it’s game over.

Alpkit Koro
Another fantastic bit of kit from Alpkit. A remote cannister stove so more stability, power, simplicity and versatility than the ‘on the gas cannister’ style pocket rockets or jetboils. For really cold (-5C or less) conditions, the ability to invert the canister is a must. I also love the stability

I’ve cooked decent meals on this as well as just using it to boil water. I really like a stove/titanium mug combo (the Snow Peak mug is the best I’ve found) because, unlike a jetboil, I can use the mug on a camp fire as well.

Pack – ArcTeryx LEAF Khyber 50
I don’t know why Arc’Teryx have discontinued this bag. It’s light, carries big loads well and has just enough features without being faffy. I love the floating and removable lid, the decent external load mounting options at the pack (where the head of the ice axe is located in the photo to the left) and another load restraint under the lid.

I’ve actually got the 80L version as well for expedition use and once did a (admittedly emotional) 40-50kg carry over 12km on skis one evening as a storm came towards us in Greenland. Highly emotional but the ability to fill it and chuck a daysack under the lid meant that, unlike the others on the trip, I could load up on food and fuel to keep us going in the remote hunting hut we were escaping to. Anyway – we’ll see what, if anything, Arc’T replace these bags with. I hope that they’ve got something really cool coming but with the proliferation of Mystery Ranch bags in UK and US SF, I suspect that they won’t bother. My love of MR daysacks is a different story…

For this trip though, I added Mystery Ranch live wings to help manage the 25kg load (lots of food and camera kit) and then stuck a large molle pounch on for my water bottle, and a Spiritus Systems GP pouch on the other side for my camera and snacks.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation
Simply a game changer for side and front sleepers. Quilts are a better established concept in the US than they are here in the UK but I love mine so much that I have two: one rated to -15C and the other to 10C for warm weather camping. They’re so much lighter, and when set up properly, comfortable than a traditional mummy bag. And compact – my summer quilt packs down to around the same size of my light down jacket, it’s tiny.

But, the trade off is faff. You need a decent mat to work with them (they clip on to the mat and fit around it, making the mat an integral part of your sleeping environment/system) but once you’re sorted, you’re toasty. I use either an Exped Down Mat or a Thermarest NeoAir (the latter with the Enlightened Equipment cover which is more comfy for summer sleeping than skin against the normal plasticy feeling of a mat.

The only real snag is that you don’t really get the same ‘seal’ that you can get with a mummy bag when you cinch the hood close around your head, especially if you have a winter bag with a shoulder baffle as well. For proper expedition cold, I’ll stick my a big, bulky synthetic but for general use, my Revelations are exactly that. As you can see in the photo, I tend to use it as a blanket around camp as well – no point being chilly!

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