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The Superlighweight Challenge 2 – On the Hill

By Dave Roberts   

on August 3, 2011    4/5 (1)

The Superlighweight Challenge 2 – On the Hill

If you’ve read part one, then you’ll know that following on from the Wild Camp on a Budget challenge, we wanted a new one. This time, we decided to wild camp in proper mountains by using just the tiniest Sea to Summit 20 litre day pack. Now the first thing you quickly realise is that 20 litres isn’t much space. If you have a cheap sleeping bag, then that’s all your space gone, so you obviously need some half decent kit. I used stuff that I already had, but you could easily have spent hundreds of pounds in order to get an even more compact set up. Despite that, you can see that you can use some mid-range gear and still keep your weight down to a minimum.

It was surprisingly easy to fit all the gear into the pack. I was very concerned that there was something I’d forgotten. I could even fit my paramo waterproof in there, so there was plenty of room to spare for a few little extras and luxuries. Even with my Paramo coat and all the food, the pack weighed in at barely 3.5Kg.

We set off from Rhyd Ddu on a Friday evening, so we had to pop into the Cwellyn Arms for a few pints first. Getting to chat to some locals, a rarity in this neck of the woods, we realised that it was nearly half past six and we needed to get a shift on. It certainly felt odd starting off with such a lightweight pack that weighed less than what I might take on a day walk and certainly nearly as compact. Even if the pack wasn’t as comfortable as my usual pack, it served the purpose intended and was never uncomfortable to use.

We soon arrived, unburdened as we were, at around 700m on Snowdon South Ridge, detouring to pick up water at a stream. Placing my tiny pack on the ground, I felt woefully unprepared for a night on the hill! Even on emptying the pack for the video, I wondered if I should have brought a hat or an extra layer instead of the half bottle of port! I needn’t have worried.

The Golite Poncho Tarp (300g – discontinued 2009 version) was soon set up with a couple of poles for support, and would have been suitable for one lying across as my Thermolite bivvy wasn’t waterproof. It certainly was warm enough though, and roomy. The sleeping bag, with the new Klymit Inertia X-Frame sleeping mat inside that, fitted comfortably in the bivvy bag and It was much roomier than my usual Rab Survival Zone that’s so restrictive I can’t bend my knees without compressing the down and forming a cold spot that wakes me up.

With the shelter set up, It was clear that I was better prepared tonight than I had been on numerous bivvies when I’d not bothered erecting the tarp. There was a keen wind, but having pitched with the rear sort of into it, we were perfectly sheltered. Out of the shelter of the tarp, it certainly didn’t feel like summer, even a Welsh one, but once in the bag it was more than cosy enough.

Food was a simple mountain house dehydrated meal, with water heated up in an MSR Titan Kettle on a pocket rocket and a small 100g gas container. I also had a load of soups and hot drinks, but this was the only thing that I’d change. I took far too many drinks and cup a soups for an overnight trip, let alone one where space was at such a premium and the space taken would have allowed me a better breakfast than two hob nob flap jacks. Once food was taken care of, there was the luxury of half a bottle of port to polish the evening off.

When night started to fall, the Black Diamond ion headtorch at a minuscule 25g (plus 23g for the battery!) was more than enough light to get things done around camp. It was then I realised that even though I’d remembered my other luxury item – a small MP3 player – I’d forgotten the headphones that go with it. With the flapping wind, I’d find it difficult to sleep without something to drown it out, so it took me a while to sleep. In the meantime, I could see lights descending Yr Aran on the other side of the bwlch like a torch-bearing medieval horde. They soon vanished, but soon after three of them walked by. At 11pm, I don’t know why they were ascending Yr Wyddfa and where the rest of their group went as there were certainly more than 10 lights on the hill.

Eventually after a fitful night’s sleep, something that’s usual for me even in a tent, it was time to make a hot chocolate and try and enjoy a flapjack breakfast. Bivvying in such good weather makes breakfast easy as you only need sit up and get the stove on. The first thing I needed to sort out first was my sleeping bag that had turned around in the night and my face was now in the hood. I’d found as well that the sleeping mat would have been better outside the sleeping bag whenever I slept on my side, something I could have done something about during the night had I been sufficiently bothered. There was also some condensation inside the tarp and also the bivvy bag. The tarp soon dried in the morning sun and the dampness on the sleeping bag wasn’t so bad as to have made a second night uncomfortable.

The worst part of the experience was to come. It was easy enough to break camp, but fitting it all into the tiny pack proved the greatest challenge yet. As I couldn’t sort my gear out on the ground lest it blow away over the nearby cliffs, I had to jiggle everything about once it was in the pack. Not ideal, and I did end up with something digging into my back! It was then up to the Summit, and swiftly back down to Rhyd Ddu, mainly off path where we could get away with it.

Wild camping with such a tiny load was fine. The main discomfort was being unable to pack away my jacket on the walk when it warmed up though had I been much warmer it would have been tied around the waist. I ate well, and slept as comfortably as i’d ever done on a wild camp. I even had the luxury of some port, but no cigars. For the sake of a few extra grams, I’d certainly take a larger pack, one that could take my jacket, extra water and walking poles.

The question does arise after this, how small can an overnight load get? You could argue that you need nothing more than a knife you can carry in your pocket, but that would not be practical for environmental reasons in Snowdonia. Even with the 20l pack, there was enough shelter for two people, so if the tarp was shared and you took away the need for a warm meal you could lower the burden further. It got me thinking that you could get away with a waist pack for an overnighter if the weather was suitable and the gear shared, so watch this space for the next challenge!

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Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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