Very briefly, ViewRanger

ViewRanger is a big, complicated app which links to a confusing website. Luckily, the mapping provides plenty of value on its own. There is no need to take any notice of all the social media nonsense. So, no mention of POIs and geocaching here. Instead, I’m using ViewRanger to provide authoritative measurements of the distance I ran while assessing two other apps and two devices.

ViewRanger’s endless 1:25,000 scrolling is brilliant for route planning and, in the field, the app is also useful for detail, such as putting names to coastal rock features.  I must look out for the Scholl next time I’m aiming for Noss Head.

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Withings Go relies on accelerometers and is claiming that today’s run was 3.2 km (2 miles) further than ViewRanger states. However, ViewRanger explains what GPS readings it has recorded – 387 in 10.5 km, which is one every 27 metres – and so it’s distance is far more likely to be reliable (albeit an underestimate as I wasn’t running in straight lines).

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For the record, these are the distances claimed by each of the apps for today’s cross country run.

ViewRanger: 10.5 km

ISmoothRun: 11.32 km

Wahoo RunFit: 11.01 km

Withings app: 13.71 km

Apple Health: 10.9 km

The Withings Go’s accelerometers can distinguish between a fast walk and a slow run but appear unable to cope with a stride shortened by tussocks and bogs, hence the inaccuracy of the Withings app.

Note that ViewRanger has imported the heart rate and paces from Apple Health. Health says I took 12223 paces during my run whereas the Withings app has only recorded 12112 paces so far today. It seems wrist accelerometers and accelerometers in a chest pocket record movements differently.

Tracking a run

In a year’s time, I will be able to claim to have been enjoying activities in the great outdoors for half a century. Although I am no longer a member of Walton Chasers Orienteering Club, my navigational skills have reached such a high level that the idea of needing a GPS is silly. I just don’t.

So, a GPS is unnecessary but one thing has driven me to purchasing maps for the ViewRanger app – I bloody hate counting contour lines. Having distance travelled and ascent undertaken sorted out for me is a delight.

Other apps offer other metrics. An inexpensive Withings Go pedometer counts my paces and the time spent swimming. It also offers a rough assessment of my sleep via a fairly good app.

A cheap but limited Wahoo heart rate monitor helps me stick to an 80/20 running regime. In theory, at least, 80% of my running is at an easy pace with rest being quite a bit quicker. The aim is to include both quantity and quality for maximum progress. Wahoo’s app for displaying data from the heart rate monitor is pretty basic so the iSmoothRun app also helps track my workouts.

Some of these apps are able to use weight readings from a Lumsing electronic scale, which I found on Amazon for a third of its usual price. The apps use the latest weight measurement to guess at the number of Calories burnt during exercise. The calculated value is one I only take seriously if it justifies a pig out. The Lumsing’s display shows weight. To discover percentage body fat the iWellness app is needed. I thoroughly dislike this app.

You get what you pay for. ViewRanger has proved expensive because I gave in to the temptation to buy 1:25,000 maps for the whole country. Regrets – none at all because I love maps and ViewRanger is fairly usable. The pedometer, heart rate monitor and weighing scale, by contrast, were relatively cheap and are OK rather than good. Good enough? For me, yes, although there are features I miss.

I am going to compare these devices and apps in the hope that you will gain sufficient information to be able to decide whether the cut price approach, in general, and these items, in particular, are of any use for the things you do. A daft number of screen shots will be needed, which is a good reason for splitting this review into parts.

Filming with an iPhone 7 Plus

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Apart from enjoying a lovely morning, the aim of today’s hike was to find out how well an iPhone 7 Plus and a Gorillapod work together as a video filming set up for backpacking.  Sadly, I can’t show you the results as this blog doesn’t accept video so you’ll have to take my word for the acceptability of the product.  It’s plenty good enough for me and would look fine on YouTube.

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However, my interest lies in a set up for backpacking and there is a problem.  Filming on a cold day absolutely demolishes the charge in the battery.  Viewranger claims I was out for 2 minutes under 4 hours.  Filming occupied the first 3 hours and, in that time, the battery charge dropped from 100% to 21%.  For the walk home, I put the phone inside my jumper and listened to a podcast.  For this leg of the walk, the charge dropped from 21% to 20%.  So, for backpacking, the iPhone and Gorillapod set up would need to be used sparingly even though my Anker battery pack is pretty huge.

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The Gorillapod is part of the problem.  It’s head is stiff and not easy to deploy.  Getting the tripod out of a rucksack, attaching it to the phone and setting it up would be tedious enough to keep me from shooting video except when highly motivated.  Today, I kept the iPhone locked into the Gorillapod and held the phone in my hand.  The legs of the tripod lay along my forearm.  This set up was convenient and very easy to use but exposed the phone (and my hand) to the cold wind.  A permanently attached tripod could also be a problem if I chose to take a side trip up Suilven on my next hike.

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I’m hoping my next trip will take no more than 5 days between power sockets.  Even so, discipline will be crucial.  Using my iPhone, a Gorillapod and an Anker power pack will get me the results I want so, failing a lottery win, that’s what I’ll be taking.

 

Aquapac phone case

Using my hugely expensive new phone as a camera when near cliffs gives me the willies. The naked phone is slippery, if gorgeous, and the Apple leather case only slightly more grippy.

Today, I tried using the phone inside an Aquapac case. Firstly, I found that Touch ID wouldn’t work. I also discovered that the bare phone sticks to Aquapac’s plastic but, when in the leather case, it slides in and out quite easily.

During a walk, I need a phone case which helps to stop me from dropping the phone at all, let alone over cliffs. Aquapac’s lanyard does exactly that. I had the phone in my top pocket with the lanyard round my neck. The lanyard was unnoticeable during my 4 hour walk. Obviously, I’d be wary of putting the lanyard round my neck in a situation where it might catch but today’s walk was an easy one.

The last question concerns photos. Can a decent shot be taken through the plastic case? Here is some silica-based evidence – sunlight rocks and a cropped photo of an engraved door panel.

Not too bad, I think.  My thanks go to Ian Sommerville at Daunerin’ Aboot for advising me to try the Aquapac case.  Sadly, in this day and age, I have to mention that I paid for the case with my own money.  No one never gives me nowt!

Cycling in Caithness with an old phone

Caithness is a wonderful place to cycle when the wind is not blowing.  Dual suspension is overkill for forest roads but I can’t leave a bicycle as good as this one languishing in the shed.  What a shame I failed to move the pedal around before clicking the shutter.

As for camera gear, this picture was taken with an iPhone 4S.  Still a great little computer if somewhat overfaced by modern websites, which take ages to load largely because of all the advertising.  I wish Apple had shown some love for the SE at their recent event.  A phone of that size could be an ideal device for the outdoors enthusiast.

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Death of an Akto

My old Akto was inevitably going to fail sometime soon as its flysheet was showing clear signs of UV damage but my mistake hastened its end.  Regrets?  A few, but mainly I was glad it had failed in Glen Nevis, near a choice of gear shops, rather than on Mull.

This had been my second Akto and I did not like it as much as I had liked the first because of the arch over the door.  My first, simpler Akto had lacked this feature.  Sooner or later, complexity tends to cause problems with backpacking equipment, usually at the worst possible moment, and that arch did cause a couple of problems.  However, this post is about my mistake, not Hilleberg’s.  Let’s just say I wasn’t completely distraught when the flysheet tore catastrophically.

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What did I do wrong?  Tightened the guylines before walking away from the tent.  I had woken to sleet and low snow on Ben Nevis just opposite the campsite.  After only two days of cycling from Tain, I did not need a rest day but I did not fancy cycling in the prevailing conditions so I sorted out the tent, put on my waterproofs and hiked into town for some serious nutrition.

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At about the halfway point on my hilly walk the rain stopped and a little later the sun came out. The day warmed up and the vegetation started to steam.  By the time I reached Fort William, I was wishing I had put on sunscreen.  The temptation to go back to the tent, pack up and cycle down to the Mull ferry at Lochaline was not strong enough to overcome the fact that I had already paid for another night on the campsite.  Instead, I had a good lunch then walked back to the campsite.

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The sun had completely dried my tent and tightened the fabric and guys.  The tension had been great enough to tear the black end of the flysheet almost completely off.  The damage was far too great for repair.  I salvaged the good bits – the poles, pegs and footprint before putting the rest of the tent into the bin.  Nearer home, I would have cut the groundsheet off the previously damaged inner and retained that too but there was a limit to how much I was prepared to haul round the North Coast 500.

I hiked back into town and bought a Wild Country Zephyros 1.  Perhaps not an exceptional tent but great value.  Once back home, a quick scan of my Photos album revealed numerous images of my Trailstar and Golite Cave but very few of the Akto.  It seems I never did take to that second Akto.

The Brooks Cambium C17 saddle

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Boy, do I like this saddle.  After so many years struggling with Specialized’s flat-topped abominations, the Cambium is a joy.  Really comfortable.

The top is made from cotton so I worry that it will chafe when I lean my bicycle against a wall.  So far, so good.  The cotton darkens when damp but forms a thin layer and soon dries.  The bulk of the saddle is of springy, vulcanized rubber.  This bit of bounce, along with the saddle’s supportive shape, is why the Cambium is so comfortable.

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Praise must go to Chain Reaction Cycles for their exceptional service.  I ordered the saddle on a Friday afternoon.  Within an hour, CRC sent me an email saying that the saddle had been posted.  On Monday morning, the post office emailed me to say they would be delivering the saddle that morning, and they did.

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Getting fit for backpacking

Prepare to hike.  Hike!

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could get fit for walking just by walking.  Ray Jardine has an excellent chapter on physical conditioning in Beyond Backpacking, now updated as Trail Life, which bases training largely on hiking.  I like the way he talks of building up slowly and regularly until he is comfortable carrying 35 pounds for 12 miles.  Given some of his accomplishments, this might seem modest, but his target is in the context of logging 500 miles over the 5 months before turning up at the start of a 2000 mile journey.

He also writes of the importance of training on uneven ground and suggests a little gym work for those who have no hills to train on near their homes.  Ascending while carrying a backpack is one of my few strengths.  I’m slow on the flat, concerned on scrambley bits and uncertain when descending*.  All of these attributes I owe to the miles spent cycle touring.  Cycling strengthens the thighs and helps make light work of walking up hills so there is no need to go to the gym for barbell squats on a sunny day.  Just ride a bike.

Too much of a good thing

Unfortunately, for those of a certain age, and particularly for those who have walked over all of the Munros, spent eleven months tramping in New Zealand and enjoyed several trips to the Pyrenees, overuse injuries mean that reliance on preparation solely by walking can be problematic.  Will the plantar fasciitis flare up again?  Is the scar tissue in my calf muscles going to stop me?  Will the damage to stretch receptors in my ankle ligaments caused by previous sprains contribute to another serious sprain?  In other words, will walking stop me from walking?

A lot of anything will eventually harm anyone who lacks a perfectly symmetrical body and whose performance is other than perfectly stylish, which is why getting fit to walk just by walking isn’t a great solution.  Sadly, symmetry and style are two qualities I cannot lay claim to.

Why bother?

In the Autumn I put on a few pounds while visiting friends and my BMI hit 24.9.  Another stimulus for getting some proper training done came from memories of the difficulties I had experienced starting my Kintyre to Cape Wrath hike.  I had prepared by catching shingles, moving house and failing to break in my footwear.  This meant not having a clue how far I could walk each day and so being unable to plan effectively.  Finally, when I met other walkers who had trained before starting, they made coping with the demands of the Cape Wrath Trail look far easier than I was finding it.

In a previous post, I mentioned the initial benefits of doing a few minutes of physical jerks before breakfast.  For once, I have persisted.  Improvements continue.  I used to walk like a cyclist, with a fairly rigid torso.  I feel far more fluent now even though the exercises I have been doing have little to do with walking on the face of it.  I don’t know yet whether I’ll be backpacking more effectively in the summer but I’m a minute per mile faster while running than I was in the Autumn, my BMI is down to 23.9 without dieting** and I’m in a great mood.  Even if the exercises turn out to have no value for backpacking, which is unlikely, they have already proved worthwhile.

Resources

Apps I have found valuable for workout guidance, advice on style and timers include

  • Mark Lauren Bodyweight Training
  • Adrian James Boot Camp
  • Adrian James High Intensity Interval Training
  • Johnson and Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout

Warning!  Only the last is free.  I paid for the others.  One type of app has not helped at all – yoga apps.  Their fondness for the downward dog is completely at odds with the muscle damage in the top of my calves so I’ve given up on yoga.

I don’t just do exercises!  Of course I include walking in my preparations for backpacking, although I will not reach the 500 miles recommended by Ray Jardine at my current rate of progress.  Measuring routes on maps and counting contour lines have, as the Americans say, become very old so I use apps to record walks, runs and rides.  Logging in before an app will work or having to turn off social media is unacceptable to me so I avoid MapMyAnything, Nike+, Strava and Runtastic.  Yes, I’m a curmudgeon.  The apps I enjoy using despite having handed over money are

  • iStepsPro
  • iSmoothRun
  • Cyclemeter

Crossed fingers

Note the word enjoy.  I enjoy all of this stuff.  That’s why I do it.  I’m hoping that once the walking starts, I’ll see a greater ability to cope with carrying a backpack over the hills and that I’ll suffer fewer injuries but benefits are already clear.  Most aspects of life are a little bit easier and people are accusing me of looking younger so the time and money seem well spent.  I acknowledge your right to disagree.

Notes

*Ray Jardine includes  a paragraph in Beyond Backpacking on improving balance.

**Despite their doctorates, the experts who claim exercise cannot help with weight loss are wrong.  Quantity matters and backpacking is ideal.  After all, we are the ape species which evolved to walk around carrying stuff.

 

 

 

There is no such thing as ultralight backpacking!

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This rucksack, with trekking poles strapped to it and with a full one litre Platy inside, added less than a stone to my weight, according to my bathroom scales.  Just thirteen pounds of gear was enough to keep me comfortable in October despite a bitter wind.  I don’t know what the skin out, base weight was for my overnight trip but the Wikipedia definition for ultralight was probably met with ease.

Light and ultralight are generally defined as base pack weights below 20 pounds (9.1 kg) and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) respectively in the US; elsewhere the definitions are commonly given as lightweight being under 10 kg, and ultralight under 5 kg.

My memory of that night out is of pulling my bivvy bag halfway out from under my SpinnSolo so that I could look at the stars while still being sheltered from the wind.  With Alex Machacek’s Improvision playing in the headphones of my Samsung Solid Extreme, it was a great night.

But it wasn’t backpacking.  Overnight trips are like backpacking but they just aren’t the real thing because the penalty for going stupid light is minimal and consumables add very little to the pack’s weight.

By the way, to all those who use stupid light in their rants against ultralight backpacking, it just isn’t a thing in Britain.  We found out years earlier in our backpacking careers, before we could afford decent waterproofs, that taking liberties with Britain’s wild weather brings too much suffering.  Stupid heavy is much more likely to be an issue.

So, for real backpacking, for example, Cluanie to Strathcarron via Cannich over a nice selection of Munros, Tops and Corbetts, I don’t take the SpinnSolo.  Nevertheless, a Golite Cave 1 doesn’t add much to the pack’s weight.  At home, a spreadsheet had told me that my skin out base weight was under 5kg, but my pack definitely wasn’t light when I set out from Cannich.

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This photo shows my overnight gear near Glen Affric.  My Big Three, another subject I could rant about, consisted of the Cave 1 with a few titanium pegs, a Golite Jam 2, an MLD Bug Bivy, a sheet of polycryo, a torso-sized foam pad and a PHD Piqolo, a respectably light collection.

However, I had used up the food packed at home while backpacking into Fort William.  Resupply at Morrison’s went fairly well for the hike over the hills to Cannich where I bought food and midge repellent from the village shop for the trip to Glen Carron.  Getting the quantities that I needed and no more was impossible.  On the platform at Strathcarron, waiting for the train to the Kyle of Lochalsh, I was out of some essentials but still hauling silly quantities of other things.

This is the reason for the title of the post.  In a real backpacking trip, equipped to survive at least two consecutive foul nights and with at least two days of food in the bag, after a start from a village instead of from home, the rucksack just isn’t that light.  Consumables are heavy.

The trip I mentioned here was a learning experience.  I had some of the best ultralight gear with me but my pack was heavier than I would have liked for the slog up the side of Mullach Fraoch-Choire and for Bidean an Eoin Dearg.  After that trip, I remodelled my spreadsheet so that it now lists only consumables and packaging.  If the overnight gear and the summit ridge clothing are good enough, consumables will be the biggest controlable factor affecting the pleasure of a backpacking journey.  Consumables need a lot of thought.

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To be honest, I don’t actually use the spreadsheet.  I’m a nerd who enjoys designing spreadsheets and learning how to make them do new things but I actually use a cereal bowl.  The usual quantity of muesli goes into the bowl and I add a bit more to allow for the exercise.  Then I package the helping into a small plastic bag.  Repeat for the appropriate number of days and take similar steps for the other food items that will be needed.

For my Kintyre to Cape Wrath trip, I made up day bags and it was a system which worked really well.  Cherry-picking tomorrow’s treats doesn’t happen because tomorrow’s food is down at the bottom of the rucksack.  Also, the day bag reminds me when I haven’t eaten enough.  Best of all is the feeling of virtue which comes from preparing properly.

And that’s the take-home message.  Ultralight is an attitude, not an excuse for retail therapy.  Just look at Ryan Jordan’s posts on the BackpackingLight.com website if you can afford the subscription.

Eventually, I settled into a core framework that has been the foundation of my writing, instruction, clinics, seminars, and schools for more nearly two decades:

  1. Take inventory;
  2. Simplify;
  3. Limit contingencies;
  4. Value core function;
  5. Consider multiple use;
  6. Build systems;
  7. Develop your skills.”

I’m not sure what much of that means.  No. 3 probably means take a few plasters rather than the whole box.  Perhaps I should pay to watch the video but, clearly, precious little in the free preamble is about buying expensive equipment.

The Wikipedia definition of ultralight, along with discussion of the Big Three is just a starting point.  Getting those key pieces of equipment right doesn’t mean that a rucksack will feel light at the start of a decent trip.  In fact, if all you do is shell out for cuben and titanium, your pack is most unlikely to be light.  Time and thought put into preparing the consumables is the key.  As Hamish Brown said, you have to fight every ounce of the way.

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Comfort under a tarp

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One of the myths about ultralight backpacking needs nailing because it is complete twaddle and the myth concerns comfort.  Ultralight backpacking is not inherently uncomfortable.  In fact, it is more comfortable than traditional backpacking approaches.  The third of the day spent moving becomes much more enjoyable with less to carry while the bulk of the day, spent in camp, is at least as comfortable as it would have been with standard kit.

In a tent, I sleep better than in a house.  Many will agree with that but may be surprised to hear that I sleep better under a tarp than is possible for me in a tent.  I suspect this may have something to do with how many chemicals and allergenic particles are in the sleeping environment, but I’m guessing.  What is genuinely remarkable is just how thoroughly refreshed I am after waking from a good kip under a tarp.

Then consider my last two visits to the excellent campsite at Braithwaite.  Their superb toilet block is second only to home as a place to clean up after a demanding few days of backpacking.  (I hope they didn’t suffer too much in the floods.)

Inside my Akto, one New Year, I noticed my breath freezing not only on the flysheet but also inside the inner.  Before going to sleep, I swept every particle of ice out of the tent but that didn’t save me.  For seven hours, as I slept, the ice built back up and then, at 6am, a warm front rolled in.  The temperature changed quickly enough to cause rainfall inside my tent.

Obviously, condensation forms inside a tarp if the dew point is right but I have never seen as much condensation under a tarp as I usually get inside a tent.  (I disagree with Ray Jardine when he says the condensation issue makes tarps warmer than tents.  Zipping up the inner on my old Phoenix Phantom was like putting on a jumper.  Tarp use sometimes calls for more clothing than a tent would have in the same circumstances.)

Back at Braithwaite in the summer, despite drizzle, I pitched my Trailstar in its wide open configuration, with one corner and two sides elevated.  The pointy bit provided such good protection that I was able to sleep in front of the central pole.  This was another of those sensationally good sleeps and it ended when I was ready, rather than when the weather dictated.

So, the two thirds of the day spent in camp is more comfortable under a tarp than in a tent.  Now for the other bit.  In his Mountain Walk book, Hamish Brown titled one section Naked Before the Mountain.  He complained of nappy rash and stripped off to cope.  Sweaty itching is a problem I also used to suffer from with proper hip belts.  Sweat flowed down my back and pooled in the hip belt area.  With traditional backpacking kit, within a couple of summery days I’d be suffering from an itchy rash.  These days, I only do up my rucksack’s hip belt if it contains more than three days worth of food or if I’m scrambling.  No more itching.

Hamish cut the hip belt off his Berghaus Phantom rucksack, which seems a bit drastic, but suggests that he was no fan of heavy packs – a hip belt is useful when carrying too much.  He wrote about fighting every ounce of the way and I’m with him on that.

Other mythical nonsense concerns expense and durability.  I’ve written enough so I’ll refer you to the equipment sections of Beyond Backpacking.  The homemade gear Ray describes is simple, tough and cheap.  Stand by for my next post on ultralight backpacking.  Unlike this one, it will be a little bit controversial!