In the long dark winter evenings, buying hiking gear over the internet is a sort of retail therapy, as you dream of peaks and alpine pastures. The trick, though, is not to buy too much, remembering that the lightest kit is the stuff you leave behind. You pay more for lightweight equipment, but it’s worth buying less of better quality. By keeping an eye on the sales, we found some real bargains. These are my top five favourites.
Sleeping mat: Exped Synmat Ultralight 7. Being a wimp who likes a soft bed, this is my absolute must-have favourite thing to take. At 460 grammes, it isn’t the lightest mat, but it’s oh so comfortable! And warm, too. My sleeping bag was very light but the extra insulation from the mat made up for the lack of warmth. I used to have a thinner mat, but I could feel every tiny stone through it, my hips dug into the ground, and I longed for a proper bed. Alan and I each had one, but mine sprang a slow leak after six weeks or so, which proved impossible to find and mend. So I’d wake up feeling cold and have to pump the mat up again before I could get back to sleep. After a few nights of grumbles, Alan, being a perfect gentleman, gave me his! Of course, he had a warmer sleeping bag so the cold wasn’t such an issue. They’re quite widely available and you can often find one in a sale for around £80.
Honey stove: It’s a close call as to whether this or the Exped mat was my favourite. This comes a very close second. It’s a flatpack stove, which uses wood for fuel. So it’s easy to pack, light to carry and you don’t have to cart any fuel with you, or worry where you will find a shop stocking camping gas or whatever. You use small twigs, which in most places are easy to find – best to pick them off a tree (make sure it’s a dry,dead branch) rather than from the ground. Disadvantages: fiddly to put together, lack of wood. You definitely need to be sensible though: vast areas of southern Greece are laid waste by wildlfires every summer. Don’t use it where there’s a high fire risk, place it on stones, ensure coals are completely out etc. Only available from Backpacking Light, who also sell “Tinder Cards“, definitely better than two Boy Scouts to get the fire going.
Sleeping bag: Yeti VIB 150. This is a down bag, weighing only 440 grammes. I wanted one with a zip all the way down to the foot, so I could open it out when it’s hot; unfortunately many of the lightweight bags don’t have zips in order to save weight. The bag’s meant to be good down to 9C, and there were only a couple of nights when I had to wear all my clothes and snuggle up very close to Alan. It cost me £170, again in a sale. Yeti (German manufacturer) don’t seem to do the VIB 150 any more, though. Another time I might go for a slightly warmer PHD down bag. You can only buy direct from the UK manufacturer and they regularly have good sales. When it was cold, I used the Thermartex heat reflective blanket (£36, 200 grammes) to add some extra warmth.
Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultralight 2. Sturdy tent, weighing just over a kilo, from a US manufacturer with a good reputation. Available from Ultralight Outdoor Gear for £350. We paid well under £300 in a SportPursuit sale. My friend Lani has a slightly different two door model, which makes it a little pricier and a little heavier: it depends how cosy with your companion you want to be! There wasn’t a lot of space for backpacks inside or under the flysheet entrance.
Hiking poles: These make a tremendous difference on scree or anywhere you have to pick your way along an uneven and precipitous route. They also protect your knees when walking downhill. I’ve only ever used one. Occasionally, on very tricky slopes, I’ve thought a second one would be useful, but mostly it would just be another thing to carry. I bought my first poles in a charity shop, but I might upgrade to a more lightweight new one.