Sunday, 6 December 2009


Deliveries came together and this weekend has been spent putting together prototype electronics/electrics for the new bike. The solar panels haven't arrived yet but that's no excuse for not getting ready for them. So here are the results of a weekend's work:
First of all, the power wiring loom - this will allow the 4 separate solar panel circuits (see below) and the battery packs to be hooked together via the module on the left. In the centre is a block waiting for some voltage level indicator parts to be added. The output lead (hooked up to a Toplight Line Plus here for test purposes) will go on to the distribution board/dashboard to power lighting and accessories.

Here we have a pair of the solar panel controllers - just a blocking diode and charge indicator LED with resistor. The diode prevents reverse current damaging a panel when one of them is shaded and the others are generating power. There will be one of these for each of the 4 panels (there are 4 panels because that is what there is convieniant space for around the tail of the Glyde and that will generate around 400mA - allowing power to run my GPS and enough spare to top off the batteries for later use)

First of the accessories is this USB charger. The part on the left is a voltage regulator circuit which limits the power supply to a steady 5v so that any USB device can be plugged into the hub for recharging. It is wrapped in epoxy to prevent vibration damage. I've tested this with my phone and Satmap GPS and both charge happily using this setup.

The next thing I need is for the solar panels to arrive so I can get the whole lot set up as it will be on the Glyde and confirm charging works as expected.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Not much happening/Everything happening!

The last couple of weeks have been quiet but things are starting to get exciting on the bike front - the first production Glyde is soon to be ready! Not mine, but hey, once things start moving.... Photos on the Greenspeed blog are at least looking like the thing is soon to be real! And Facebook even has photos of it with wheels on(but I can't link to them - bah!)... Soon, soon!
I've been helping out a little chasing some of the solar panel info for it and I have the parts ready to build a USB charger to power my phone and GPS from the bikes electrics.
Still, things are starting to feel like it might be rather last minute for my April 1st departure date...

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Back into weekend walking...

With the cycle racing season done and the new trike 'almost real' I'm back to weekend walking.
Last week was a damp 4 mile loop alongside one of the local reservoirs, this week a 5.6 mile circuit out to the Ticknall Limepits (abandoned for 100 years and now pretty woodland) and back.
The featherweight Mountain King 'Trail Blaze' poles are working well - this is my first time walking with two poles and they make a big improvement on slippy uphill stretches.
In the above photo I'm also wearing an Epic jacket and jeans. These are both cotton but the threads are individually silicone coated making them waterproof. Because of the cotton both are very nice to wear, and don't seem to be as susceptible to catching and tearing on thorns as nylon fabrics. The fabric is not AS waterproof as some of the adverts make out, the jacket (Rohan Pampas) requires some internal heat to stop moisture slowly seeping through so I'd rate it around 75% as waterproof as a good Goretex jacket but much more so than a windshell like Pertex. It is currently my outdoor jacket of choice because it just feels right - it feels less 'hiker' and more 'wax cotton' without the maintenace problems of re-waxing). The trousers are Alpkit's Jeanious Jeans and they have become a constant companion! Again the Epic fabric means that a splash or shower just runs off them. Constant damp works through eventually but the fabric does not 'wet' and body heat quickly forces that dampness out. They would not replace a proper pair of waterproof overtrousers on the hill but for a 5 mile Sunday potter they do the job. They are a tad too warm for harder walking at the mo (I usually wear shorts or knee-length breaches enjoying the breeze around my lower legs) but I'm sure as we go into Autumn and Winter they'll be in their element. Oh, and the rest of the time they fit and feel just like ordinary jeans - I've even adopted them as stock wear for dress-down Friday wear at work where nobody seems to have noticed they are anything other than normal jeans...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

What I've been up to for the last month...

Posts have been a bit thin on the ground for the last month. Now it is confession time - I've been busy getting back on the bike again! I've been working on adding the bodywork (fairing) to my Greenspeed SLR race trike. And then racing at the last few events in the BHPC race calendar. I haven't done that great, but along with some evening training on a stationary exercise setup I was fit enough to finish the course at Hog Hill on Sunday - a circuit with a rather vicious climb each lap. This might not seem like that much of an achievement but I didn't even manage to complete a flat velodrome event a month earlier! And the result was good enough to give me 40th position in the UK rankings for the year!

Just in case you are wondering - the trike under the bodywork is effectively a bare chassis and I've built the white bodywork as streamlining. On a flat race this allows much higher speeds. On the hilly Hog Hill course it only helped on half of the course!

Photos with thanks to Fraser - see his full coverage of the event here.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Bargain time?

To celebrate their 5th birthday Alpkit have a special on their self-inflating mattresses. I've tried most Alpkit stuff but not these yet - if you fancy giving them a go £15 for their lightest version including p&P seems like a bargain to me!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Route Change - Boycott Wales!

With the Welsh Assembly proposing pushing ahead with a Badger Cull in Pembrokeshire the only response I can think of it to boycott everything Welsh. The cull is based on the assumption that Badgers transmit TB to cattle and ignores the fact that cattle are routinely kept in overcrowded conditions, indoors for 6 months of the year which is much more conducive to spreading disease than being in fields that badgers may also have been in. This is before being turned out for the summer into fields that have previously been sprayed with the waste products of the previously mentioned indoors cows.
So for now my Glyde Around Britain route will be replanned following the English side of the Border up through the Welsh Marches and keeping my Tourist Pounds in the land of the free (and live) Badger.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Custom Mountain King Trail Blaze poles

My new pair of Trail Blaze poles arrived from Mountain King, up in Newcastle, this weekend. They're a custom pair in plain alu rather than the usual black or purple. I use a white 'blind' cane when walking around town (as much to avoid being trampled by people who expect me to see them as to feel my way!) so would have liked a pair of Trail Blaze poles in white, but plain brushed alu was the closest the makers could offer - and as I was offered this as a no-cost custom variation I'm grateful to the team there!
So, next walk I have a pair of 117g each poles to test. This will be an interesting change from using a single half-kilo or so cheapo hiking pole that I've been using for years.
Next weekend is another mad 'fairing building' weekend (adding a lid and tail to the nose/body I build and raced a couple of weeks ago - see photo below) followed by the last race of the UK 2009 season the weekend afterwards so these sticks will have to wait until after that to be tested...

Sunday, 13 September 2009


This week I have...
1) Won my first cycle race
2) Entered an exhibition for the first time
3) Sold my first photograph
Ok, so I am not going to be retiring on the proceeds but my hill walking is showing its first signs of return on investment!
And the cycle race was in the 'slow' class and next time I get to race in the 'fast' class but hey, it is a sign of my returning fitness...
And I did spend more on things I bought at the art exhibition that I earnt, but again hey....

Monday, 24 August 2009

I'm still here

Just in case anyone was wonderering if I'd disappeared.... things have just been a bit busy! Amongst other things I'm preparing for my first photography exhibition - I'm not giving up the day job yet though...

Latest News:

I went along to a local BHPC race this weekend but didn't take part - it was rather pleasent to just chill by the trackside, sit in the sun and watch the racing for a change! I did use the opportunity to fire up some of the stove collection to make coffee. The EK750OB had two runs - I recovered it from a little bit of dieback on the first run, on the second run it behaved perfectly! The more I use the wood burner the more I like it!

Third serving of coffee was courtesy of the MBDCult 'Stumpy' which also worked very nicely.

New stuff - I'm waiting on a pair of custom Mountain King Trail Blaze poles and a Factor 1 base layer from Subzero to arrive...

Oh, and having enjoyed getting back to cycling, at least on the race track, I'm working on rebuilding my faired race trike with the plan of getting it race-fit over the August bank holiday weekend ready for a race in West London the following weekend.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Mini Bull Designs 'Stumpy'

Just a quick note - today's 'goodie' in the post was a carbon-wicked MBDCult 'Stumpy' high-output compact alcohol burner. The carbon wick replaces the previous glass fibre wick design which tended to spoil and melt when the fuel ran out. On a first test run the carbon wick seems to be an improvement.
This stove is the big brother of the uno#1 I reviewed back on the 11th July and runs from the same fuel system - it is basically a larger bore version of the same burner. Results of the first test firing are rather curious - it took 12ml of meths to bring 375ml of water to a rolling boil in 9-and-a-half minutes - a good minute and a half faster than the Uno#1 but, curiously, using the same amount of fuel!
I really like the remote fuel system on this stove - it is great to be able to watch the fuel level drop as the stove is used and it being perfectly clear how much fuel, so how much run time is left in the stove.
When I'd finished boiling the water I disconnected the fuel bottle and recovered fuel in the pipe. The burner kept the water at a rolling boil for another 5 minutes!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Woodstove success!

The more I use this little stove, the more I like it!
Tonight my first 'proper' end-to-end run using the EK750OB - using some home-made tinder, started using some of the tinder on the end of a stick from a spark from a firesteel and knifeback, sticks collected on Sunday's walk... 375ml of water, around 8 minutes... Yay!
Afterwards I deliberately let the stove die down to embers to practice bringing it back to life. I struggle on this. Tomorrow evening I have plans to meet up with Dave Watson of Woodland Survival Crafts in a local wood for some quick one-on-one fire training and to see if that is all I need or it is worth booking onto one of his 3-day firestarter courses!

Friday, 31 July 2009

'Blue Peter' Time - Part 3: The cone..

As per the comment in 'Blue Peter' Time - Part 1 - here is a quick and dirty shot at a cone windshield made using two of the foil baking trays joined with a concetina fold sealed with alu tape...

Weight is 19g. I might add a little re-enforcing alu tape around the edges and folds yet so maybe push another gram onto that weight. It feels a bit flimsy for carrying in a backpack but hey, I'll give it a go this weekend (looks like weather will be delaying this weekend's hike until Sunday).

'Blue Peter' Time - Part 2: The cosy cooking system...

A pot cosy kit (from
A 470ml lock&lock box (from Lakeland).
Aluminium heating system tape (from B&Q).
Some industrial velcro I already had around.

Step 1 - form a pouch around the box in the same way as wrapping a present.
Step 2 - seal any joints with Alu tape to keep it tidy, prevent it unfolding and to make it look nice.
Step 3 - Add velcro so it can be held shut.

I'm thinking 470ml should be about '1 serving' of whatever.
97g for the plastic box, 28g for the cosy. Yes, I know that is 4 Colin Ibbotson 'trowels' but I'm looking for kit that will last for a 6 week trip and won't make a mess - the Lock&Lock boxes aren't the lightest I've seen but they have the best seal so I can be sure if I leave my dinner in my pack to rehydrate, it will still be in the box when I'm ready!

Thanks to Tinny at Mini Bull Designs for his podcast showing using a plastic freezer container as a rehydrating container & eating bowl.
Thanks to Podcast Bob et al for promoting the pot cosy idea!
Next step - field testing!

'Blue Peter' Time - Part 1: The 33p Foil Windbreak...

Step 1 - take a large foil cooking tray (3 for £1 at Wilkinsons):
Step 2 - trim off top & bottom edges. Flatten remains to a sheet.

Step 3 - Curl sheet around pot and use as below (MyTiMug sitting on EK backup meths burner):
The windshield wraps around the mug for storage...
Weight is 14g. Lighter foil is available but I wanted something resiliant enough to last my 6 week trip.

After all the weight last week, and finding when I got back I'd been carrying 3 stoves I've thinned things down and this combination will be "the kitchen" for this weeks hike - so test results coming soon!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

A stove breakthrough!

Tonight I've had a breakthrough with the Einzel-Kocker stove. After much coaching by MacE I've got a repeatable 8 minute boil time for 375ml of water just using a handful of sticks picked up last walk!
The trick appears to be to use WAY less fuel than you think!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Of Shorts that I forgot...

I neglected to mention that today was the first outing for the Regatta Sport Premier rowing shorts. These are a bit of an experiment that I am testing this season as I’ve not yet found recumbent specific shorts that I’m really happy with. But I forgot... I wore them today, I raced, I didn't notice the shorts. But then I guess that is probably the best comment for a piece of kit - they did their job so well I didn't even remember that I was testing a new piece of kit. So I guess that is a 'thumbs up' for the Regatta Sport rowing shorts (note, I believe this is a different company to the outdoor clothing Regatta stuff to be found in Millets etc).

Competition Time!

This week's prize might be a little more attractive to the Satmap users out there...

I've upgraded to the 'full GB' Landranger mapping and have, surplus to requirements, a UK All National Parks SD card for use with a Satmap Active 10. The card arrived as part of a bundle when I bought the Active 10 so is just a card in a case and it does not come in the retail packaging which would be £50 or so in the shops. It does give full 1:50k mapping for all 20 UK National Park areas (no, I didn't know there were so many either - nor had I considered that I lived in one!). See the link above if you want more details.

Same rules as last time - if you are interested in owning this card for use in your own Active 10 enter the draw by adding a comment to this post. Closing date is a week today - midnight Sunday 2nd August. Winning entry (assuming more than one!) will be selected randomly.

Assorted weekend updates:

On Saturday I increased my hiking pack weight to 9.4kg by adding my tripod because there was a particular photo I wanted to capture on the route we were planning on walking. When we got there the view was blocked with plant growth so I need not have bothered carrying the extra weight. But it was a useful experiment in that I now know I'm a wimp and 9.4kg is more than I'm currently comfortable carrying in the Golite Jam rucksack. Curiously I'm ok moving but the weight starts to tell when I'm standing waiting for my wife to climb over styles. I was getting somewhat grumpy and tired by the 8 mile point... I'm still a little off the 14kg design limit but hey, more training required for heavier loads - but that is why I'm practicing before hitting a few 'real' backpacking trips. I'm still struggling to imagine carrying anyone carrying more than 20kg!

Sunday was a day out racing with the BHPC. This was only my second time cycling this year and it told! I took my GTX (which I guess is a custom-made, higher spec and lighter predecessor of this trike) which is lean and low but set up more as a touring rather than a racing bike. It was a good fun day out, a little damp around the edges and I was stuggling to keep my pace up for the 35minute race.

I've been practicing with the Einzel-Kocher EK750OB and I think I'm getting more proficient using it, but I'm not yet at the stage of trusting my abilities to get boiling water for coffee out of it... On Sunday at the races I used the MSR Pocket Rocket because it is quick and simple. I am undecided yet as to whether this is the way to go for the trip or if I'd rather avoid carrying a gas canister inside a faired cycle... I guess any gas leak *should* dissipate before it became a problem but..... I am sure that my problems with the EK are down to my basic inability to make fire. I have the same problems trying to light the log burner in our holiday cottage.
I fear this is one of those lost skills - 50 years ago everyone (who didn't have someone to do it for them) could light their household fire. Now it is an automated gas boiler... I'm contemplating booking on one of those bushcraft courses. Oh, and I've ordered more kit - a decent wood working knife to aid splitting wood, making kindling,etc. I know more kit is more weight and I might be better off just making do with a gas or meths stove but it does feel more natural to be using a wood burner! And firelighting is prehistoric tech - just how hard can it be???

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Einzel-Kocher EK750OB here!

With very prompt shipping my EK750OB wood burner arrived today. So did the rain, so no evening testing tonight :(
Weights on the website are prefectly honest against my scales...
1) Minimum useable weight - stovebody + lightweight pot stand - 84g
2) Stove, lightweight pot stand, EK meths burner, ash tray, nylon stuffsack - 109g
3) 'ready to go' wood & meths burner - neat and tidy with top and bottom caps fitted, in nylon stuff sack - 130g

Finish is nice and tidy, no sharp edges (that I've found yet!)
Hopefully it'll be dry enough to wonder out into the garden tomorrow night and have a 'first burn'!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Progress on the bike...

I'm all excited about news on the development of the bike I have on order for my trip... The machine will be going into production very shortly. I've put my deposit down expecting to be in the 2nd batch of machines built and hopefully to be delivered before the end of the year. Latest news and photos are on the Greenspeed Glyde news page here.

Light compartment on the nose of the Glyde

Saturday, 18 July 2009

My First Competition Time!

Ok, so when I bought my Satmap Active 10 there were some extras thrown in that I've decided I don't need so the first is coming up for grabs here...

I have one Satmap Deluxe Carry Case, brand new, still on the display card. This case has two pockets, one to take the Active 10, a 2nd to take batteries, cards, etc. Or it might do just to take a mobile phone and some change for a cuppa. It doesn't come with a strap but has a belt loop... so hey, I'll thrown in a Satmap lanyard too! RRP for just the case is £20.

Just a short run for this one - competition closing date is end of Sunday 26th July. To enter just reply with a comment to this blog entry and the winner will be picked by random.

(edited - closing date changed to run for a week - decided I was being a bit mean just giving a few days)

10 mile kit shakedown

Having parted company with my old racing bike (ok, it isn't a 'normal' one) I had a little cash to invest in more new kit this week... :)
First off, thanks to the suggestion from Mac E and Podcast Bob I've invested in a Golite Jam2 pack. The pack will be no use for the Glyde trip but I'm planning on hiking/backpacking to gain fitness and put the rest of the kit through its paces.
First modification is going to be trimming down some of the straps!

Secondly I'm watching the letterbox for the Satmap full GB memory card to arrive... Having tried the options I have a few bits & pieces of Satmap kit surplus to requirements so for any of you who are interested I'll hold a mini-competition or two shortly and if there are no takers the stuff goes to eBay... Keep an eye on the feed!
Oh, and having received my EK mini-meths burner this week, liking the quality of the beast and then being tempted by the GramFairy(tm) I've ordered the matching Einzel-Kocher 750OB wood burner stove with the plan on using it in the sub-100g configuration as a replacement to the 426g Honey Stove for those times when a third of a kilo counts...

Anyway, today, sporting the new Jam we did a 10 mile walk out to the South Coast of the River Trent... Normally this would be a walk along a riverbank but, well, it seems we've had some rain...
There is supposed to be a 'high' path to the left and a 'low' path to the right but today the Trent has other ideas...

The bridge is normally high enough to play Pooh Sticks...

Pack weight, plus camera and GPS came to a comfortable 6.1kg (13.4lb). I'm struggling to imagine carrying the sort of weights that some seem to think 'normal' - only yesterday I was reading a forum posting from an American who was pleased to have economised and got his walking pack down to around 37 pounds! Maybe I'm just a wimp - I'm deliberately overloading myself on a daywalk with the plan of this being around my weekend camping weight! And I'm hoping not to be carrying much more for the full Glyde Around Britain...
I'd be lighter without the gadgets but I do like the SLR camera... And yes, I know, it is heavier than my tent... and sleeping mat...

Anchor Church - not quite the riverside residence we are looking for...

Disaster of the day - ok, not really disaster, more kinda cockup - was failing to light the Honey Stove. I blame it on complacency after it simply 'just working' last time I used it. I should have collected more light kindling rather than expecting the light twigs to go up. Everything in the woods having been soaked for the last week didn't help much either - I should have picked up more of the dry cowparsley stems when I had the chance. But that is the point of these shakedown walks. And the upside was that the MSR Pocket Rocket got it's first fieldtest rather than just being ballast - wow - I'm seriously impressed. It is complete overkill for a cup of coffee, but hey, boiling water in just three minutes. Plus full on roaring sound effects. Hmmm... and I didn't even turn it up to 11 yet!
I remember when this was all fields - last Monday!

The crops are doing well on it - pity this is supposed to be the footpath...

Stats for the walk - a smidge under 10 miles distance and a smidge over 1000ft accumulated ascent!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Weekend shopping...

After walking yesterday, today has been a rest day leading to internet shopping and some incoming additions to the gear list:

1) An EINZEL-KOCHER alcohol burner, shown here in Fenlander's Step-by-Step blog. This was chosen as a one-piece (ie. nothing to break/fall off) backup to the MBD Uno#1 where I'm worried I'm going to lose a small part, split a tube or something critical... As it weighs next to nothing and costs just a tenner it seems worth the investment.

2) I've been sufficiently impressed with the ease of use and customer support from the folks at Satmap (upgraded to the latest software this weekend thanks to them posting out a memory card with the new software on it free of charge) that I'll be ordering the Full UK Landranger (1:50k) maps for the Satmap Active 10. A full set of Landrangers for the weight of between two and three paper maps - a bargain! If I get the order in tomorrow the SD card should arrive in time for a longer walk north of home next weekend.

I forgot to mention in Sneak Preview that I'd picked up a Terra Nova Laser Competition at the Backpackers Club AGM meet. I was already fairly convinced to go for the Laser rather than the Akto by the lighter weight. When I tried the Laser for size to make sure I fitted and I was offered a brand new one at price too good to refuse the decision was made. It had its first pitching on a recent holiday to the Isle of Mull but I must confess I slept indoors. Further testing of the tent will have to wait until later in the year and until I've got more miles in my legs for walking...

Finally, I've been using Alpkit Gourdon rucksacks so far. I have these in 20l and 30l models. They are basically rolltop drybags fitted with a rucksack harness system. I'm planning on using these inside the Glyde as 'panniers' and, in the meantime, they're working out fine for day hiking.
For anything other than minimal overnight backpacking I'm thinking I'll be needing to move up to 45l or so. I'm looking for something to carry lightweight gear from multi-night trips up to doing something like the Coast-to-Coast. Ok, you can laugh now, the cyclist has the backpacking bug! At the moment the light weight of the Osprey Exos has attracted my attention but I'm nowhere near sold yet as it isn't cheap. Suggestions in the comments section below please...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Initial Review - Inov8 Roclite 318 GTX

On Thursday I mentioned getting a pair of Inov-8 Roclite 318 GTX. Today was their first outing in anger...

Inov8 Roclite 318 GTX
Price: £76 (with £5 voucher) including p&p
Supplier: Wiggle
Pair of shoes

What it does:
Lightweight, waterproof hiking/fellrunning shoe. The manufacturer uses a lot more words to say this here.

Look and feel:
The manufacturer claims that the 318 in the name refers to 318g per shoe for the size 8 version. Other reviews of Inov8 shoes that I've seen have reported the weight of actual product to match description. As I take size 43/size 9 I expected mine to be a touch heavier, but I was more than a little surprised to find them over 10% heavier at 358 and 368g. Other than that they appear to be exactly as described. Construction is neat and accurate and they're certainly much lighter than the Berghaus boots they're replacing which were 800g per boot.

Initial Testing:
OK, todays walk was just under 6 miles. I was wearing a pair of the rather nice new Alpkit AKdrenaline coolmax socks. And success! There was light drizzle as we set off through wet grass and my feet stayed dry. That is Requirement No. 1 for campsite wear.
Further on down in the wooded ex-industrial wasteland that is Ticknall Limepits, the ground varies between wet, rocky and slippery roots. Again success! Grip noticeably better than the boots, especially on the now muddy logs that had been placed in the muddy puddles presumably to act as little bridges.
Ticknall Limepits

And the tunnel to hide the workers from the view of the gentry at the adjacent country house...

As the walk went on I did notice that my ankles were working a little more than usual, especially on the rougher surfaces. But I guess that is a consequence of most of my hiking having been in boots and I'll get used to this freedom of movement in time. The tickling of grass on my ankles was a novel experience - which reminds me I need to add something for tick extraction to the first aid kit. I'm hoping the ankle exercise will also be a good thing for my cycling - stronger ankles should, hopefully, lead to less risk of damaging them when riding hard.

Yes, it looks like the Roclites do what they promise. I'm looking forward to putting more miles on them - we're hoping to find a gap in the bookings of one of the local youth hostels just north of us in the Peak District and get 2 to 3 days fixed-centre walking in - hopefully walking including the Dove Valley as I like that stretch and there is a handy cafe at Milldale - though now as I'm coffee self-sufficient maybe I no longer need the luxury of buying in ready made supplies! {grin}

Satmap LiPol battery

Just a quick note on this one... on Friday I reported that the new Satmap battery had arrived. Today we were out for 3 hours using it - on leaving the house the battery indication said 4/4. On arriving back it still said 4/4. Now I know these things lie but with the Road Angel/MemoryMap thing the batteries were dead in 5 hours. I'm hoping this is a sign that the promised 30hr runtime is realistic.

Mini Bull Designs Uno#1

MBD Uno#1 and MBDCult remote fuel supply
Price:£21.85 at time of order (US$35.00) including shipping
Supplier: Mini Bull Designs
Burner & pin/stake to mount it on
3x longer pins forming the pot stand
1x 1oz(30ml) bottle with automatic feed system and fuel hose

What it does:
A miniature meths stove - a burner, pot stand and remote fuel bottle with a 30 minute runtime. The stove can be stopped at any time and any unused meths in the system recovered to the reservoir for later use.

Look and feel:
First impression on unpacking the Uno is that the shippers forgot to include it in the package! The build quality appears to be excellent - although there is very little 'stuff' to peer at... The burner unit is maybe the half the size and bulk of a sparkplug. There are a set of what look like nails - three long ones (130mm) and one shorter one (70mm). Weights are 7g for the Burner and 2g for its shorter ground pin/stake. The set of 3 pot stand pins come in at 9g, totalling 17g on the scales.
The Remote fuel supply (a 1floz, 30ml HDPE bottle) has a normal cap and when that is removed, it can screw into the remote feed base. The hose connects to the feed base. Collectively these remote feed parts come to 25g.
My scales made that 41g all up.
Also rather generously included in the pack was a 2nd hose and a 6in[1] length of spare wick.
(the lighter in the photo below isn't part of the stove, is included just for scale)

Initial Testing:

The stove was assembled as per instructions. 4 pieces of 'wall' from a Honey Stove were used as a windshield and heat reflector. Starting with a Tibetan 375ml mug full of water, the Uno#1 was ignited and an Alpkit MyTiMug placed on the supplied pot stand, the water added and lid placed on the mug. No fuss, no excitement, just heat. The reservoir bottle bubbled occasionally as the spare fuel level dropped. Time to first steam (at which temperature I could make coffee) was 9 minutes. Time to full boil (for tea) was 11 minutes. After recovering the fuel in the system back into the reservoir the bottle was about 12ml down from the starting point. Re-igniting the burner without the hose attached gave another minute of burn time with just the meths in the wick.

Having progressed from a 'head' sized Trangia Tracker (which is greatly missed as one of the most weather resistant stoves I've owned) through an MSR Whisperlite (known in this household as 'the mad cooker') to a collection consisting of an MSR Pocket Rocket gas and a handful of meths stoves I'm still amazed at how small this little jobbie is. It really is that tiny that the parts could be in a jacket pocket and you'd have to check to make sure you'd remembered to bring it with you! Yet it still has enough grunt to make a cup of tea in around 10 minutes. My biggest worry is dropping it never to be seen again. To that end I'm thinking this is also a 'keeper' for the expedition kit and I'll be adding a 2nd meths burner of some kind as a backup or to alternate with as I see which cope with different outdoor conditions the best. A pressurised stove, such as The Penny Stove , will certainly boil water faster but it goes with the fuel put in at the beginning. It is possible, but fiddly to put it out and recover what is left but nowhere as easy as with the Uno. I think I'm convinced by the meths argument. The stoves work and I can easily see how much fuel is left. An empty meths bottle can be recycled anywhere taking plastic bottles, I'm unsure how easy it is to recycle a gas cylinder, but it is certainly a big lump to be carried around until it can be safely recycled.

I'm thinking that the MSR Pocket Rocket is going to be retired to weekend backpacking - oh well, at least it wasn't that expensive!

[1] Units - yes I know I mix-and-match. I blame the crazy English system where I was taught metric at school yet everyone in the real world used imperial. My wife still insists on giving me length measurements in inches and feet despite me insisting that I don't understand. And when will we switch to using kilometres for distance? The OS maps have been marked in 1km squares for as long as I have been using them yet speed and distance are still sticking with the old system. Then they wonder why we're confused. Bah, humbug. Bother, I think I ranted. Too late now...

Friday, 10 July 2009

More Power!!!

The Satmap Active 10 lithium polymer battery arrived today and is now safely installed inside the unit. I confused the nice folk at Satmap by declining their 'Power Pack' which included a whole set of adaptors, chargers and international plugs in addition to the battery that I actually wanted - I saved both the clutter of all this stuff and £20. Without the adaptors I'm stuck with the unit recharging from its micro USB connector but as I'm looking to standardise my kit around this connector and it is the new international mobile phone recharging standard I think this should be fine.

The battery was a little fiddly to fit in that it needs the AA battery caddy removing from inside the Active 10 (a little 'persuasion' required), a rather small connector disconnecting (easy) and the new battery connecting (somewhat more difficult with big fingers - probably most easily done by a junior member of the household). The original back panel of the unit goes back in place and all is done!

The benefits - no more opening the unit to change batteries and a claimed 30hrs runtime. I don't really intend to test that limit but I guess that means it should be good for 3x 10 hour days on the hills away from power but I do have a handheld solar charger (£10 from eBay) that I'd take with me to top up the charge in such circumstances.

Oh, and another benefit - this battery brings the weight of the unit (including lanyard) down to 259g (from 300g with NiMH AAs). That compares rather favourably with a single stock Landranger map coming in at 100g!

I'm sure there will be those of you who don't approve of sat-nav gadgetry but as a road-going cyclist I've found it quite a revelation going from riding memorised routes (with the map in a pannier 'just in case' only to be checked at tricky junctions) to being able to prod a box and bring up the map centred on my current location. At least at times when the batteries are full and the satellites are working...

It isn't like this unit is doing the navigation for me, none of this 'turn left, turn right' rubbish - it is a real map and real route planning is still required, it is just automation of putting the 'X' "you are here" on the map and no fighting with the wind and mapcase to get the appropriate piece of paper uppermost without the case cord acting as a noose. Riding at speed with a mapcase flapping behind and the cord getting tighter and tighter is maybe an experience only shared with windy day high mountain walkers!

Maybe once I'm used to this device I need to have a proper 'retro' day and try remembering how to do things 'properly' off-road with map and compass!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Sneak Preview

I'm working steadily through my kit list for the trip - some has arrived, some is currently being tested and the wallet won't allow some to be ordered yet...

Recently arrived kit - yet to test:
Having recently parted with my old Buffalo pile/pertex 2-part bag (which could fill a 40litre sack/pannier on its own) I've invested in a down-to-freezing point Alpkit Pipedream 400 down bag with a claimed weight of 750g. It looks the part and packs down to about 1/8th the size of just one of the Buffalo bags. And thanks to the wonders of eBay I almost broke even on the kit refresh!

A number of items have been here for a while and are getting regular use - reviews later when they've all got more mileage on them:

It might seem odd investing in some lightweight hiking shoes but there are reasons for going for a pair of Inov8 Roclite 318 GTX. Firstly I'm thinking about riding in stiff-soled cycling shoes - the type you see racing bike riders wearing waddling into cafes - they make for more comfortable riding but just aren't any good for walking in. A pair of sandals is OK for a quick hop off the bike but no good for any distance. Secondly, I've noticed membrane shoes seem to be frowned upon but I really hate getting wet feet around the campsite. First thing in the morning, socks dried overnight - out of the tent door, shoes immediately soaked through - cold wet feet before even starting the day. Bah. And thirdly I'm planning on getting in plenty of leg work in the run up to the trip and these take a kilo off the load compared to my current leather boots. I'm not gram counting, but 1000 of the little hooters will make a difference to anyone!

The current cookware collection is an Alpkit MyTiPot and MyTiMug - as a set coming in much lighter than the Vango stainless steel cookware they replace. So far the MyTiMug has been getting regular use as a kettle on the stove trials and the pot might even become surplus to requirements! Thanks to Fenlander mentioning it I've picked up a 56g Tibetian mug (from Trek-Lite on eBay) that neatly slides inside the Alpkit one replacing an old 176g stainless steel mug but even better, returning the extra space it took up!
(Edit: Oops - it was MacE who recommended the Tibetan - sorry!)

Thanks to several bloggers mentioning it, not least of whom was Podcast Bob, I picked up a Cosy Kit which has worked a treat (or even too well!) keeping coffee warm whilst it brews. From the same supplier is the Flatworld picnic kit - a set of flat pack mugs, bowls and plates. Ok, I'm sceptical, but insufficiently sceptical to resist being parted from my cash and to be testing this bizarre concept.

On a different front, and another great find from the backpacking crowd is the Travel Tap. This is a normal drinks bottle with a filter - a filter good enough to safely put river water through it! I've never seen anything like this in the cycling world - no more riding on after running out of water when there are reasonably OK looking streams by the roadside - just top up and carry on! And no more worries about 'non drinking water' taps...

In the food department I've invested in a Food Dehydrator. In goes fresh fruit, out comes dried stuff like from the supermarket, but no longer at £1-a-time tiny servings - bargain fruit & veg has been disappearing into this thing since it first arrived with us a couple of weeks ago. My lunchbox has been revolutionised - wish I'd bought one years ago.

There are a few items on order at the moment - a LiPol battery for Satmap so it will charge from a powered USB connector - a solar charger for which I'll be building and fitting into the bike for on-the-go charging - more info later.

I'm waiting for a MiniBullDesigns Uno#1 and auto-filler bottle to arrive. It looks like this should be a slow-but-light-reliable-and-frugal meths burner hopefully to be used as the backup cooker for my trip using the Honey Stove as a windshield/pan support when there isn't fuel for, or it isn't practical to use the Honey Stove.

Well, I think that is all the kit that is sat here waiting to be tested, that is currently in use and that I'm expecting to drop through the letterbox shortly. Any comments appreciated - but remember that the cash only goes so far adding more items to the kit list!


Monday, 6 July 2009

Honey Stove '09

Honey Stove '09
Price: £34.99 + shipping
Stove - packed flat and consisting of 9-pieces of laser-cut stainless steel
Nylon carrying case

What it does:
This one is a bit of an oddity - rather than the convenience of hydrocarbon fuel, this one runs on wood. Better still, it runs on twigs that you can pick up for free by the trailside. One handful of twigs - 10 minutes - one brew-up! Think miniature brazier.

Look and feel:
The sheet steel parts look like a puzzle but after the first trial assembly all becomes clear and the stove then quickly and easily assembles into a strong, rigid structure looking more like a treasure box than a camping stove. A little care is needed as some of the edges are sharp - or maybe I'm just not careful enough! My packed unit weighs in at 426g including the bag which might sound a little porky compared to a sub-100g gas stove, but there is no fuel or fuel container to add to that weight. The unit can also double up as a windshield for use with a meths or gas burner.

Fuel Usage:
A handful of air dried twigs and sticks picked up in the minute before grabbing a lunch spot was enough to boil a pint of water with burn time to spare. The beauty of this system is that with 'free' fuel burn times are only limited by the availability and enthusiasm to collect it. This makes in-the-field 30 minute cook times for a stew a practicality - when using hydrocarbon fuel the temptation is to cook as quickly as possible to eke out the fuel supply. And there is the attraction of real flames!!!

Initial Testing:
Well, it just works! There isn't really any more to say - twigs in, heat out. Using tinder card (available from the same supplier) makes fire starting easy and ok it does need careful feeding to keep the fire going, but there is something strangely therapeutic about feeding a camp fire. And it certainly isn't as challenging or 'exciting' to use as the MSR Whisperlite I've just parted company with. By the time the coffee had brewed and been drunk the fire had gone out, the steel was just touch-hot and the contents had turned to grey ash. Disassembly, allowing the parts to air cool, the ashes checked to be cold, out and discreetly disposed of, and away! Not even that dirty!

Again 5-out-of-5.

Another 'keeper' for my touring kit - as a partner for a meths or gas stove - I'm trialling a few alternatives and haven't decided which to go for yet - more review coming!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Initial Review - Satmap Active 10

Satmap Active 10
Price: £269.95
Supplier: World of Tents
(no I've never heard of them either - the best price I could find searching via Google - prompt delivery, good first impression)
Active 10 unit
All National Parks (1:50k) SD data card
Standard carry case (main pocket for device, mesh pocket for accessories)
Deluxe carry case (main pocket for device, 2nd pocket for batteries, etc)
3 x Lithium AA batteries
8 x Duracell AA batteries

What it does:
GPS based 'Moving map' display for the walker/cyclist/paddler in a handheld unit similar in size and format to a PDA or mobile phone. It displays a map on the screen, resolution and detail selectable by the user and within the limits of the memory card the unit is fitted with - additional purchases necessary for best resolution mapping.

Look and feel:
In the hand the unit feels like a slightly oversized/overweight PDA. My initial impression is that the unit is slightly bigger than is comfortable to grip, giving the impression of being a small child. I'm sure this is just an initial thing though, probably as we're all used to handling ever smaller mobile phones, as my fingers do fall right on the side-mounted control buttons. Ready to go, my Active 10 weighs in at exactly 300g, including 90g of Vapex 2900mA/Hr batteries and with the lanyard fitted. I will re-weigh the unit when the LiPol rechargeable battery is fitted.

Power Usage:
The Active 10 takes 3 x AA batteries or an optional internal rechargeable LiPol pack.
This is going to be an interesting one to investigate - the unit was supplied with a number of single-use batteries but I immediately put these to one side 'for later' and began using some rechargeable NiMH AAs - essential to avoid regular use of the device becoming really expensive really quickly! I have already ordered the Lithium Polymer battery that can be fitted inside the Active 10 and the unit can then be recharged via it's micro-USB connector - a common standard for electronic devices and the new standard for mobile phone chargers. This can only be a good thing as it means that for anyone out and about the one charger will be suitable for recharging phone, gps, and whatever other portable electronic devices they carry - less weight, less bulk and no risk of bringing 'the wrong one'!
I suspect the supplied single-use Lithium batteries will be dropped into an emergency bag for use when I'm caught short without any juice - this type of battery usually have a 10 year shelf life so will be ideal for such standby use.

Computer hook up:
Satmap do not yet have Mac software available for the Active 10 although this has been promised to be ready sometime real soon for over a year. This is inconvenient, but is not as critical an issue as it was for the Memory Map-equipped Road Angel which had to have the maps downloaded to it from a host computer. The data card can still be backed up to a Mac, although Satmap do warn that the data cannot simply be copied to another card as there is some 'magic' in there to prevent unauthorised map sharing or duplication. Time will tell whether this is a problem when/if a card gets lost or damaged. At the very least carefully assembled collections of POI (points of interest) can be backed up.

Initial Testing:
After a little time fiddling with the options the unit does just what it is supposed to. The quick start guide warned that initial satellite lock might take up to 30 minutes but within a couple of minutes lock was achieved and the displayed map was centred exactly where I expected it to be! On a short 5 mile walk everything behaved just fine - no problems with satellite lock. Map positions shown just as they should be. At one point we passed a style and path we'd not previously used - a quick check on the map to see where it went and we were on a new path! Magic!
So, initial impression - this unit is much better to use than the Road Angel and unless problems are encountered during testing I anticipate this being the navigation kit I'll be taking on my tour.

I will add more detailed reviews and some photos as I put this unit through it's paces.

Initial Impression: 5 out of 5.


Ok first problem is finding my way... Keep the sea to my left is one approach. But I really ought to use maps - at least for the times when the sea is out of sight from the road! So 4300 miles is going to either mean a lot of maps, or a few low scale maps, or a clever trick...
I am really a fan of the GB OS Landranger 1:50k maps for general cycling use - the right balance of enough detail but not turning the pages too often, but each one only covers a 40km or so square. That will mean all my luggage space will be full of maps! But there is an alternative - Electronic mapping!

First try - Road Angel Adventure 7000 and Memory Map. This combination didn't really work out for me. In the first instance the unit needs to be configured using a computer. But the Memory Map software doesn't run on Macs and I tried to run it via Parallels and Windows which turned out to be more of a fight than I could live with. Secondly the unit was physically less like a traditional handheld outdoors GPS unit and more like a standard TomTom device. Whilst it claimed to be ruggedised and waterproof I never had any confidence in using it outdoors in adverse weather conditions.

Second attempt - Satmap Active 10 - this unit arrived with me this week. It is more the job - it looks like a chunky PDA or mobile phone. It feels solid and armoured. It looks like it should be waterproof. It gives the impression of being built for the outdoors and being up to the job. Whilst Mac software isn't available to this unit yet, it is promised. But, unlike the Road Angel, it is primarily intended to be used as a standalone device without a computer connection.

Both of these units have the capacity to take an SD memory card (a plug in jobbie the size of a postage stamp) with the entire set of UK Landranger Maps on the one card in one go and to display the appropriate map with an 'X' for 'you are here' as you go - Easy navigation! Of course the maps I bought for the Road Angel don't just plug into the Satmap so I'll need to buy them again. The Active 10 did come with a set of Landranger maps for the UK National Parks which, curiously, includes the area just south of Derby where I live as it is part of 'The National Forest'... so testing is going ahead and I'll post a full review shortly...

The only problem then is keeping the unit powered for the duration of the trip. I'll describe how I'm going to cover that problem in a later post.

As a backup I will, of course, be carrying paper maps, but in the form of a 1:250k road atlas...