The challenge accepted, camping out in the Snowdonian mountains with just £100 worth of camping gear was the next step. What was certain is that the trip would have to give the gear a proper testing. You could take a pop up tent onto the summit of the Ben in fine summer weather; it doesn’t mean its any good. The Carneddau fit the bill as they’re certainly not the easiest of hills and there should be plenty of choices as to where to camp with all those valleys and flat summits. Some extras were bought, consumables, that came in at about £20 on top, and taking some half used gas canisters from the cupboard seemed appropriate.
Due to other commitments, a Friday afternoon start would have to do. On the hill by 6pm with 3 hours hard walking and, as the rules state that anything on the equivalent day trip is permitted, I take my best headtorch as well, the Led Lenser H7 as we usually walk for an hour or more in the dark. To keep the situation more interesting, I’d not told my camping companion of the challenge and it’s a good sign that he doesn’t spot this duplicity from the outward appearance of my pack and hopefully will have to do a double take when he spots the tent being pitched, if not by morning if we pitch in the dark as it’s practically a new moon.
We set off from Rachub, intending to camp high but as we ascend while in our favour, the rain had gone the wind was picking up and plans were swiftly changed to camp at Afon Rhaeadr Fach making it only a 6k walk in. As usual, the ponies were out in force, and were surrounded by foals, so we kept a respectful distance away.[more]
On arriving at the river, the imagined camping spot I’d espied in January turned out to be more the surface of rice pudding with buried rocks and tussocks. Normally I might have got away with it, my sleeping mat covering up for poor pitch choice,. It was clear tonight that with a sleeping mat that was more for warmth than comfort, I’d have to choose wisely for once. Picking up water, we continued on for a short distance before finding a reasonably flat spot, slightly sheltered and still in the sun; so made camp here. As the gear was emptied from my pack, and my normal cavalier attitude to the pitch replaced by a finicky and fussy one, it was clear to Mark that the gear was different to the usual. There’s often some new shiny shiny on trips, but rarely such a wholesale change. He thought I was nuts, but was suitably impressed by the tent, offering me £20 for it there and then, which i said I’d duly accept once I’d finished this article and of course slept the night in it.
The Gelert Solo tent was soon partially up and it dawned on me that i’d have to get more than one leg into it. I’d personally class it more of a bivvy/tent as you’ve barely any room inside to do anything, including getting dressed. Even getting into the bag was hard work but served as a great warm up. It pitched easily, and other than the size inside, I had no qualms in kipping in this overnight. My Highlander ‘sleeping mat’ that had snugly fitted as the back pad in my pack filled the inside of the tent, so at least the floor would be warm. I won’t keep you in suspense, it was an awfully uncomfortable sleeping mat, though in fairness it’s not really meant to be comfortable. It was more I wish there wasn’t one than there can be only one… I knew it was a minimalist option, and as such would not be a comfortable one without carefully choosing a well padded spot. Alas, it wasn’t well padded other than the rock or two roughly where my hips were. In a larger tent you may be able to move about enough and avoid these, but as you can see from the images there’s little room to play with. Other than that, the sleeping bag did it’s job of keeping me warm with the only problem being the zip opening unless the bag was fully closed.
Cooking wasn’t a problem and the budget option coped as well as anything i’ve used so far. I didn’t cook anything adventurous in them, but I don’t usually. Tonight’s repast consisted of Mountain House Lasagnae and custard, though obviously separated by courses. The only issue I had was that the canisters i’d chosen were more empty than full and just about boiled the 350ml of water I needed. The wind didn’t help, and neither did the fact that I didn’t realise the porch on the tent could be opened in the opposite direction until i was taking it down. In such a tiny porch, totally closed in the morning, cooking is lets just say, interesting. Some cowboy coffee got me going in the morning, and it worked perfectly with the grounds falling into a solid mass. The spork did a fine job as expected, and we had a glut of them as the dehydrated food had come with Light My Fire sporks as freebies!
The Coleman pots will certainly become part of my usual cookset as being of various sizes I can pick and choose which is suitable, and the graduations on the side will help no end in back country baking and hopefully persuade me to try some more adventurous foods on the hill. The only problem with them is the lack of lids, though the smaller pots do act as lids if you take the full set, or use foil as I did. The Vango Ultralite though is the one piece of kit that will probably replace my usual stove as it’s lighter and shorter so making the whole contraption more stable though I’m yet to see if it’s safe enough with my windshield.
Overnight, the wind certainly picked up and it was a rough night! The foot of the tent collapsed, but as i was so snug I hadn’t realised this until the morning. I’d also forgotten to tie the poles to the flysheet, yes tie, with knots, but i’ll know next time. The tent itself didn’t make too much noise, while Mark in his expensive posh, la di da Terra Nova Laser complained of the noise all night. With the wind picking up even more and a storm on the way in, we decided to low land it to Aber via the falls and on to the Cafe in Aber for a bottomless pot of tea just as the rains started.
One of these tents cost 10 times more than the other one….
Overall, the only change I’d make to that gear would be to get a better sleeping mat. Even a foam mat for about the same price would have been a better bet. The rest of gear performed well, and I had a reasonable night’s sleep that was no better or worse than I usually get on the first night wild camping. The tent performed well under rough conditions, and the sleeping bag did all it was expected to and kept me comfortable. The sleeping bag may have made me realise that I’m allergic to down as i often wake up stuffy in a tent, but on this occasion my head felt clear. The cooking gear, if in total a little heavier than titanium, wouldn’t break someone’s back. The stove was even lighter and more compact. I’d not hesitate to recommend budget gear, on the proviso that it’s used in suitable conditions. I would personally go for a bigger tent, but you could enjoy a wild camp in this in decent conditions and even the night I had was ok. In fact, the tent is going to someone’s nephew who wants to start camping and the sleeping bag will be used by my daughter for wild camping this summer unless I convince myself I’m really allergic to down and use it myself! A part of me wants to follow this up by taking the gear to Knoydart, and as you read this I’ll be leaving Sourlies Bothy and ascending Sgurr na Ciche en route to Glen Pean maybe with only a few quid’s worth of gear on me, though I might just take a fridge around Ireland first.
Full reviews of all the gear will follow over the next few weeks.
Finally some head to head stats between the budget and my usual gear.
Head to Head
Usual Gear: 2.9Kg and £600
Budget Gear: 3.6Kg (with only half the pots) and, well under £100 if you shop around!
My waterproof jacket or trousers would each have exceeded the budget for the camping gear.