gear analyses

Sarek: Gear Analysis

Sarek: Gear Analysis

I've been meaning to write some observations about backpacking gear successes and failures from the Sarek trip this year. Unfortunately, because of too many other commitments, things fell by the wayside a bit, and it's taken me this long to clear some much-needed head space and return to thoughts of backpacking and picking apart equipment. 

Muotkatunturi Gear Analysis

It's often said that post-trip gear analyses offer a more holistic insight into the practical use of gear than dedicated reviews about single products, and it's always interesting to see how gear choices work or don't work together and in practice. It's been a while since I've written such an analysis, so let's address that imbalance right now by taking a look at how the gear taken on my recent Muotkatunturi trip performed in the field.

Zelph BushBuddy Companion: Fuel for Thought

As regular readers will know, I'm a big fan of the BushBuddy Ultra stove. It's simple to use, light weight, and providing you can find (and are permitted to collect) twigs or other combustible gifts of nature, you don't need to carry any additional fuel.

Except, that is, when you do.

In some locations, wood, brush, or dried moose droppings are hard to find. In such circumstances, a backup stove is a good idea, but what self-respecting, miserly, gram-counting ultralighter wants to carry extra anything? What we BushBuddy lovers need is a some kind of companion.

A trustworthy and reliable companion. The kind that doesn't steal your chocolate.

Enter the Zelph BushBuddy Companion Burner:

Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North
Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North

I've been looking into multi-fuel stoves for a while, and was all set to get a Ti-Tri Sidewinder when I remembered the Zelph Companion. While the Sidewinder burns wood, alcohol, and Esbit tabs and, most importantly is very well designed around a built-in windscreen, the Zelph – which is designed for use with a Bushbuddy, BushCooker, Woodgaz, or other wood burning stoves – costs just $12 compared to the Sidewinder + Inferno's $124.95 (although, to be fair, you do need the BushBuddy at 128 CAD).

So what is it then? Essentially, it's a pimped-up alcohol stove that's been designed to complement the BushBuddy, giving you a alcohol-fuelled backup for those awkward moments when you can't get wood.

There are some very clever –dare I say it? – innovations, with the Companion. As you can see in the image above, the latest design of the stove features a copper pre-heating strip which helps to light the stove quicker in temperatures below freezing.

The stove holds up to 85g / 3 oz. of fuel, and burns up to 35 minutes when full, the main purpose of this (and the copper pre-heater) is to allow the melting of snow in winter. It's a good idea, but to be honest, I probably wouldn't rely upon a wood or alcohol stove in winter; I prefer the speed and power of my Primus Spider or Jetboil SolTi.

One thing I really do appreciate is that when filled with fuel you can turn it upside-down and nothing comes out!  It's like that "indistinguishable from magic" thing.

Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North
Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North

Zelph achieves this through the material inside the stove that soaks up the fuel (one of Zelph's other creation's apparently uses the same material as Swedish marine alcohol stoves). This absorbs the fuel thus preventing spills. It's clever.

The stove weighs 41g / 1.4 oz and is designed to sit on the grate in the BushBuddy. You still use the pot stand which maintains the appropriate distance from stove to pot, maximizing the convection abilities of the BushBuddy.

Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North
Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North

I took the BushBuddy and Companion Burner along for a few day hikes to give it a good testing. It's designed to be used with denatured alcohol, which meant I had to figure out what that was in Finland. Fortunately, there's a helpful website for global fuel types.

I picked up some Marinol, which is recommended for non-pressurised stoves (i.e. Trangia) and is suppsed to burn cleaner.

I found it was adequate for testing, but I was a little disappointed in the results.

Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North
Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North

I filled the pot with 0.6 l / 3 cups water, which is more than I would typically be boiling while hiking (I find 2 to 2.5 cups (400-500ml) to be enough for food and a cuppa), but I wanted to put the stove through it's paces.

For these initial tests I used 1 fl. oz. / 23g) of Marinol, and the stove took around 9m25s to get to a not-quite-rolling boil in calm conditions, using a windscreen, before the fuel expired.

I have to say I wasn't overly happy with this, seeing as it was unusually calm, whereas real conditions in the fells are not likely to be. Admittedly, my windscreen was woefully inadequate, but the fuel seemed to be burning quite yellow, suggesting the possible a presence of sooty compounds (maybe from the red colouring in the fuel). This suspicion was backed up after inspecting the base of the pot after the boil. The sooty deposits led me to believe that Marinol was a dirty fuel. However, as we shall see, this may not have been the case.

Even if the process wasn't perfect, the end result was at least rewarding.

Coffee in Kupilka cup
Coffee in Kupilka cup

Back at home, I decided to conduct more tests using different fuels.

Before continuing, I should point out that these tests are incredibly unscientific. Fuel was measured in a medicine cup. The weather conditions were varied; my balcony is far from a pristine testing environment; I wasn't even wearing a white lab coat.

Nonetheless, the results are interesting (if not exactly ground-breaking or New Scientist-worthy).

For the first tests I attempted to repeat the original attempts on the trail, boiling 0.6l (about 3 cups) using 1 fl. oz (about 23g) of fuel. It was calm weather, the leaves of the birch trees barely moving.

There are three stove fuels (denatured alcohol) available in Finland: Marinol, Sinol, and Hyvä Tuli. It has taken me a great deal of effort to find out what the difference is between the three, so you will enjoy the following breakdown!


- Developed mainly for pressurised alcohol burners, it can also be used in non-pressurised stoves. Contents: Ethanol (80-100%), Propane-2 (1-5%), Methyl ethyl ketone (2%), Methyl isobutyl ketone (2%).


- The all-rounder general stove fuel, works well in Primus stoves, and can also be used in indoor fireplaces. Burns clean and doorless without producing carbon monoxide. When diluted makes excellent window cleaner(!). Contents: Ethanol (90-100%), Propane-2 (1-5%), Methyl ethyl ketone (2%), Methyl isobutyl ketone (2%).

Hyva Tuli

- a "purer" alcohol intended for use with fondue/raclette sets, also claims to be soot free. Contents: Ethanol (80-100%),  Methyl ethyl ketone (4%), Methyl isobutyl ketone (2%).

Wasn't that edifying? Some comments on forums I had roughly translated by Google seen to favour Marinol, and Hyvä Tuli was rarely mentioned, probably because it's a little more expensive.

Here are the boil times for all three:

  • Marinol (original test): 9:25 for a not-quite rolling boil in exposed conditions. fuel expired before full boil.
  • Hyvä Tuli: 9:30 for a rolling boil, fuel expired around 14:30
  • Sinol: 8:38 for a rolling boil, fuel expired at 12:00

Hyvä Tuli burned the bluest of the three fuels, but all three showed plenty of yellow. In fact the flame was quite beautiful, a yellow pillar wrapped in blue. Hyvä Tuli also had a stronger aroma – a not altogether unpleasant one.

Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North
Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North

The colour of flames is affected by fuel type and oxygen (among other things), but orange flames can are also produced by the presence of soot particles. After examining the base of the pot after each boil, I was surprised to find a fairly consistent sooty residue. So much for soot-free then.

Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North
Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North

I was surprised, and not a little sceptical at Sinol's apparently better performance. It was clear from each test that the stove, even when encased by the BushBuddy, is extremely susceptible to the slightest breeze. I suspected that the Sinol test was just a fluke (even though, at the time, it seemed as if it was windier during the Sinol test), but in any case, a repeat round was needed! Could it really be that Sinol boils faster?

Round 2

It was clear that the BushBuddy and Zelph Companion Burner would benefit from a good windshield, but the BushBuddy is quite tall, and I didn't have anything handy (I've never been very happy with my attempts at a foil windscreen). As the weather was again calm, I decided testing on the balcony would provide enough shielding from any slight breezes.

This time I tried boiling 2 cups of water (0.4 l) using just .5 fl.oz of fuel.

  • Marinol: 6:15 rolling boil - fuel expired around same time
  • Sinol: 6:10 rolling boil - fuel expired around same time
  • Hyva Tuli: 7:30 - did not boil - fuel expired - but an ever so slight breeze might have affected this. It definitely burned bluer - more "pure" perhaps, but not necessarily more efficient

So, although Sinol didn't repeat quite the same benefits, it does seem to be the slightly better option. And the window cleaning ability makes it a multi-use item (for when you're struck by the urge to do a bit of spring cleaning out int he wilderness).

I was still a little perturbed by the sooty residue though, so I decided to conduct a further experiment. How would my MYOG cat food stove fare with the fuels? Would there be any benefit (in speed, fuel use etc.) to using that instead of the Zelph Companion? Let's see...

Cat Food Can Comparison

As the cat can stove burns fuel a little faster, and some is wasted during priming, I filled my it with .75 fl. oz (19g) of Sinol, and added my foil windscreen to help it along.

Fancy feast cat can stove vs Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North
Fancy feast cat can stove vs Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North

The little stove almost brought the two cups to a boil, but crapped out at around 7:36. I probably should have used around 1fl.oz  / 28g of fuel My windscreen was not the most effective, as it benefits from a totally enclosed screen – it is extremely susceptible to the slightest breeze, and pretty much useless without one.

To tell the truth, in the limited experience I have with my cat can, I have yet to actually bring a pot of water to a full boil. Something always causes a problem: a crappy, lightweight windscreen, slightly too little fuel, poor flame dispersion. I find this unpredictability a little annoying. At the end of a long day's hiking I want food, not hassle. Getting a guaranteed boil with one takes a lot of  trial, error, and guesswork. I know a lot of people swear by them, so I'll probably give it a few more goes. I feel like I should  like it –that it's a requirement: I'm not a serious ultralighter if I don't use one. But I'm losing patience, and I'm not yet completely sold on their weight benefits. Look at this exciting table for example:

Don't get me wrong, I'm not coming out against cat can stoves – they clearly have their place and uses on long distance hikes, especially when combined with heating via camp fires. As long as you don't need to carry all the fuel, they remain a very light option. But alcohol isn't weightless. Perhaps most interestingly from the above calculations, is that the JetBoil SolTi starts to look like a very attractive option for up to 10-day hikes.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand...

The cat can stove seemed to be burning cleaner, as evidenced by the mainly blue flames (coronal mass ejections aside) and

total lack of soot on the bottom of the pot after the almost-boil. This was very interesting; but I suspect the reason for is that flames emitted from the cat can stove curl around the bottom rim of the pot, dispersing upwards over the sides.

Final observations

In ideal conditions, .5 fl oz. is barely enough to get bring 2 cups of water to a boil with the Zelph Companion Burner. Probably around .75fl oz / 19g should be the minimum when used in the field to allow for exposed use and higher winds.

A good windscreen is absolutely essential.

Although the stove takes 3fl oz (69g) of fuel which could be good for melting snow, but the amount of fuel you would need to carry still makes a canister stove such as the Spider or Jetboil a superior choice in winter. For example, on a two-day hike, boiling 3 fl. oz. twice a day, means you'd have to carry around 276g of fuel. A Jetboil canister weighs 198g, lasts a lot longer, and boils faster (and with a roar), even when melting snow. I prefer the lion in winter over the companion.

Neverthless, the Companion does make an attractive backup stove for BushBuddy users. By using the BushBuddy primarily with wood, it's possible to just carry a little fuel (I have a small Nalgene bottle with 105g in it - enough for four or five 500ml / 2.5 cup boils) as a contingency plan. It fits perfectly in the BushBuddy, weighs very little, and burns fast and efficiently, especially with a decent windscreen.

All I need now is that decent windscreen!

Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North
Zelph BushBuddy Companion alcohol stove review at Backpacking North

Gear Talk: Aakenustunturi Gear Analysis

As a part of the continuing process of honing and fine-tuning my ultralight hiking kit, it's good to take a close look at the gear taken on trips me that performed well, failed, or just wasn't used. By doing this you can reduce weight more, perfect food rations, and make your experiences on the trail more enjoyable. Personally, I want to do this now so I can make some decisions about what to take on a rapidly approaching trip to Halti in July.

It's common practice amongst ultralighters to make a precise gear list, in which every item, no matter how insignificant has been weighed. However, knowing your base weight and full weight is only half the story – the other half is told at the end of a trip. What about the return weight?

For last week''s trip to Aakenustunturi I had the following pre trip-statistics:

  • Base Weight (all non-consumable items): 5426g 
  • Full weight (including food etc.): 6980g 

When I got back I weighed the pack to see find out what the difference was:

  • Return full weight: 5890g

This shows a difference between pre- and post-trip weights of 1090g, which, in theory, should be accounted for by food and consumables.

To check this, I compared the pre- and post-trip weights of my food bag:

  • Pre-trip food weight: 1547g
  • Return food weight: 507g
  • Difference: 1050g

This shows I consumed 1050g of food during the trip, which compares well to the overall difference of 1090g. The remaining 40g can safely be put down to other consumables and minor discrepancies produced by my highly nono-technical IKEA and Clas Ohlsson scales!

What this also reveals is that I carried 507g too much food. Let's look at why...


Here is a list of the remaining food at the end of the trip:

  • 1 Bla Band meal *
  • 2 Nescafe espresso sachets *
  • 1 teabag *
  • 140g GORP
  • 3 Nuun electrolyte tabs
  • 1 Nestle fitness bar
  • 1 Energy Gel sachet

What can we learn from this (other than I had a disturbingly high proportion of evil Nestlé products)?

For starters, items marked "*" were taken to cover a potential additional night. When I left I was a little concerned I'd be too tired to drive home at the end and would need to stay near the trailhead for 1 night. In the end this wasn't the case.

The GORP is something I'm working on. A

fter this trip, 

I now know that I need about 2 x180g servings of GORP per day. I typically eat one in the morning, and one in the afternoon as I hike. Now that I know this, it's likely that I won't have any extra at the end of my next trip.

The Nuun tabs I didn't bother to check before I left and just took what was left in the tube I happened to find in my food box. On longer trips I'll take a couple per day. They're a bit of a luxury item, but I like to think they keep my muscles well-oiled.

The Nestlé fitness bars I will leave out in future. I took two with me, and ate one but didn't really need it. On this trip I wanted to try eating protein bars for lunch, and this worked very well. They gave me more than enough energy and calories to continue hiking for the rest of the day. They are simple, light, and no-fuss.

The energy gel sachet is more of an emergency item. I occasionally get a sugar crash, so this covers that contingency. I've never needed one on the trail, but if I ever do it I'll be glad to have it.

Lastly, water. On this trip I was filling a simple .5l plastic bottle with unfiltered water form the streams. I switched the lid of the bottle for a "Mehukatti" flip top spout so I wouldn't have to bother unscrewing it all the time. This worked very well, and it fit much better into the huckePACK side pocket than the 1l Platypus bottle which I also carried, and which I thought was going to be redundant until a

major crisis

 occurred: I dropped the Mehukatti cap while sitting on the steps of a ski hut, and it rolled deep down into the rocky foundations. So I was left with a bottle without a cap. Not so useful.

As I was running around screaming in panic, I remembered I had the platy bottle.

The lesson to be learned there? I'm not sure... Carry two bottle caps? Create a MYOG cap retention system? We shall see...


I took my



this time, and as usual it performed very well. Will I take it To Halti? Probably not. Much of the terrain there is above treeline, which makes things more problematic (not impossible, but more challenging at least). I've made a cat can stove as an alternative, but it needs further testing. I feel a stove comparison post coming on...



Laufbursche huckePACK

was excellent – perhaps a little too large for the amount carried. I used a cuben liner bag to keep everything dry, and it worked, even in the heavy rain and with an uncompressed quilt. So no wasted weight there. Both will come with me to Halti, where the additional food should help pack out the bag a bit.


I took the


with me, but as I stayed in the cabin I didn't use it, so that was 614g carried unnecessarily.  Add to that the 182 grams for stakes and additional cord, I could have saved 796g.


Bristlecone bivy



 use – inside the hut 

(don't laugh!)

. There were enough mosquitoes (at least one – I saw it!) sneaking in whenever I opened the door to bother me at night, so I played it safe as I wanted a good night's sleep. I know, it's pathetic. But me and mosquitoes, we have history. A bit like the English and the French.

Will I take these (the DuoMid and bivy, not the French) to Halti? I


 save some weight and take the SpinnTwin, but I've ordered an


inner for the DuoMid as I anticipate I'll be using camping more. The 'Mid gives me better shelter if it's crappy weather, and the inner gives me more 


 living space to move around than the bivy (which I won't be taking as the inner makes it redundant).

With the shelter it's hard to say for certain that I wouldn't need it, but on trips like Aakenus, I should have just taken the basic tarp.


My GoLite quilt (quick,

they're on sale

!) was perfectly adequate, but I start to feel that it's a little on the heavy side. This time I simply stuffed it into the bottom of the pack liner bag without compressing it. This helped fill out the pack, and the liner kept it dry.

I still need to put some silicon on the base of the POE Ether Elite (now


) pad, as I still slide around a lot at night.



MontBell EX Light

down jacked went unused, but I'll be taking it to Halti with me as I anticipate some chilly mornings.

The same goes for my microfleece hat. Didn't use it, but we gentlemen of the bald persuasion need to keep our heads warm so we can think properly, so this comes with me.


Montane LiteSpeed

windshirt also didn't see any use, mainly because I used my rain jacket instead. I'm torn as to the usefulness of taking both along with me. It might get left behind. It's a tossle, as my wife says.


Marmot Super Mica

is still doing fine as my UL raincoat. Sure, it's not a Haglöfs Ozo, but it breathes okay and keeps me dry. No need to upgrade just yet, and it'll go with me because it wouldn't be a Finnish summer without some heavy rain.

For the first time I took the

Euroschirm Umbrella

with me. I really didn't think it'd be useful, and I felt it was a bit of a fad among ultralighters. However I found myself using it on several occasions in brief showers, or while waiting to find out if the brief shower was going to become a prolonged shower (which was often the case). I was surprised how dry it kept me. Only the very bottoms of my trousers were getting lightly rained upon, so, ridiculous as it may seem, I call it a winner. I probably will not take it to Halti though. It's pretty exposed and rocky, and better suited to "proper" rain gear.

As for rain pants, I did use them, and they did the job. However, I also just walked in my quick-dry Columbia hiking pants in the rain. They got soaked, but dried so quickly I didn't even notice. I'll have to check the weather conditions before we leave, but I'd like to leave them behind. The rainpants, of course, protect from wind too, but I rarely find cold legs to be a problem.

I didn't face enough challenge from the insect department to turn to my headnet for assistance, but I'll definitley be taking that with me to Halti as I anticipate raging swarms of mosquitoes to be hatching as I write this.

My bandana saw multi-usefulness as a pot grip, oatmeal heat protector and insulator, BushBuddy relocation tool, hand towel, and bumble bee removal implement. It's already in the pack.

Now, my shirt(s). This is an area I've yet to perfect. On day one I wore a Haglöfs synthetic tee under a Didricksons micro-fleece (

this is the current version I think


essentially it's a Patagonia R1 type of thing without the hood – worth checking out)

. I hoped that the synthetic tee would wick sweat away to the mid layer and keep me nice and dry, but this was not the case. Either I'm an excessive sweater, or the tee wasn't wicking fast enough. The tee remained wet, and took an age to dry. The Didrickson top was dry as a bone.

On day two, I tried just wearing the Didricksons top. It too got damp from perspiration, but dried quicker. So, I'll be leaving the Haglöfs top behind (and consigning it to the DO NOT USE box) and looking at my other gear. I think I'll take the Disricksons top though. A "mid-layer" works as a very good base layer in Lapland unless it's unseasonably warm.

I didn't use my shortie gaiters. I never use my shortie gaiters. I will not bother to take my shortie gaiters with me again.

Socks. I wore a cheap pair of runner's ankle socks while hiking, with the intention of letting them get wet. They dried fairly well while walking


 getting wet, but when I got to the cabin they took forever to dry out completely even right next to the fire. I suspect there is a high cotton content in them, even though they claim to be "dry-fast" (hmm... maybe that's "dry-fast" as in "dye-fast"). I'm on the lookout for an alternative pair.

In camp (well, around and about the cabin) I switched to my SealSkinz dry socks, and, although I read a lot of complaints, I though they were fantastic. Even outside in the slushy wetland area the cabin was located, they kept my feet dry and didn't wet out. They're not light, but they're coming with me.

I also took along a couple of plastic bags in case I needed to put them over wet and cold feet as a VBL layer, but didn't use them. I'll probably take them though as they weigh very little.

Sleep socks. What can I say? The joy of putting on a pair of fluffy, soft socks for the night is a luxury anyone in their right mind would enjoy and not want to go without.


Inov-8 Roclite 295

s, as I've mentioned elsewhere, were ideal for this trail. The additional cushioning (compared to the

Terroc 330

s) was nice on the rocks, and while it affects drying time a little,  I found they dried perfectly well. The soles offer sure-footed grip on wet rocks and duckboards, and don't pick up quite so many little gravel stones as the 330s. There is a little wear and tear appearing on them, but I think they'll hold up for a while longer. They'll definitely be on my feet in Halti.

Lastly, the pair of liner gloves I took were adequate, but not really warm enough for a trip further north.

Misc items

In my first aid ziploc lots of stuff went unused, but all of it is essential, so I'll leave it alone.

In the ditty bag there was also a lot of unused bits and bobs: sunblock, talc, matches, repair kits, lip balm, insect repellant. I suppose I could skip a couple of items (sunblock, talc), but I think I'll take them and reassess after the next trip.

I didn't use my

Leatherman Micra

. To be honest, I could have used a bigger knife while preparing wood for the BushBuddy. So I might return to my trusty puuko for future wood-burning trips. For Halti though, it'll be a different stove I think, so the Micra will be adequate.

My trusty

GossamerGear LT4

s continue to be my faithful companions, helping me up the steep bits, and joyfully light enough to slip under an arm on prolonged duckboardery. I'm very happy with them (although one of them is a bit stubborn to lock – the rubber thingy is a tad too small I think). But these are great poles. Having them took a lot of strain off my lower back. To Halti they will go.

I took my

Panasonic Lumix GF1

with me. I


 took my Nikon D300, but changed my mind at the last minute. The GF1 continues to be my go-to camera for quick trips. The new

Lumix GX1

s look like very nice successors to the GF1, but I have no need to upgrade a camera that works perfectly well.

One thing I was very happy with was relocating the little

Lowepro Apex 60 AW

bag from my belt to the left shoulder strap of the huckPACK. This was very clever of me (pat on the back, Mark). It was easier to access the camera, didn't get in the way of the waist straps, and was less prone to bouncing around and potentially falling off. Well done, Mark. Gold star.

Potential Weight Savings

So, looking at all that, how much weight could I shave off my load.

Here's a list of everything not used:

I use Bento for gear list management, in case you were wondering.

And here's the shocker: that comes to 1501g. Or 1.5kg (see, I'm good at maths!)

If I'd not taken all that I'd have had a full weight of

less than 5.5kg


However, let's be realistic... I don't think I can get away with not taking everything on that list to Halti with me.

Let's instead look at the things I said I won't take with me and see how that might reduce my pack weight:

Those come to a surprising 1091g – so I can save over a kilo of weight in just six items. Even considering that I'll need to take some kind of alternative stove, I'm still going to save some considerable weight. (I left the Bristlecone Bivy off this list as it will be replaced by a customized OookWorks DuoMid inner, which is roughly the same weight.)

I think this is a clear example of how a few items easily add up to a not insignificant amount of weight in your pack. Those few grams here and there really do add up, so it's truly worth weighing gear and carefully analyzing what you could shave off your pack weight. Because if you can knock 1kg off of an already firly light load of 6kg, that's a pretty decent weight reduction. It may not be 


 just yet (see, for example,

Stick's impressively light pack

), but for a chilly Lapland summer in the height of mosquito season, it's n

ot bad at all.

Vaattunkilampi Overnighter - Gear Thoughts

Although only an overnighter, there was enough time to add to some impressions of the gear I used.

As I mentioned in the trip report, I used a mixed bag of gear; some UL stuff that I bought with me from the Minneapolis, some heavier gear that I found in my storage lockup in Rovaniemi, and a few essential items that I purchased.


As I was anticipating cold weather, I took my Western Mountaineering MF Antelope with me. It's a typical WM bag: very well constructed, and accurately rated at -15C. It's fairly heavy at 1.16Kg, but it very warm. In fact, I got too warm during the night, and had strip down to base layers.

As I was sleeping in a semi-exposed laavu, I coupled the bag with my Katabatic Bristlecone bivy, which no doubt added a couple of degrees warmth to the bag.

I've been eagerly reading other people's blogs this week, paying special attention to discussions of winter gear.

Hendrik's "Quilt 101" summary of UL Quilt options


Maz's notes on his Winter gear

, and

Martin's (shock! horror!) recent conversion to quilts

 were all of special interest to me as I still find sleeping bags a little frustrating.

For all the coziness afforded by wrapping oneself in a down cocoon, there are several side-effects. For example, to achieve maximum warmth, and to eliminate condensation from breath getting into the bag, it's necessary to cinch the neck and hood closed into the full mummy enclosure. But then you do that, you get two long cords flapping around inside the bag.

I have a peculiar aversion to having cords around my neck, so I find this somewhat disconcerting.

The other major hassle for me is after I've wriggled around cinching down the hood, my pillow has invariably moved to another location nowhere near my head. I then try to sneak a hand out the hood to reposition it, and end up on my face with my hand stuck twisted behind my head.

On the upside, all that energetic rolling around generates a lot of heat to keep me warm. But usually, when I eventually get the pillow into place and roll back over, everything else moves, and I begin to scream.

Incidentally, this has nothing specifically to do with the WM Antelope - it's a general sleeping bag issue. I also find, as a side-sleeper, that bags rarely turn with me. When you turn inside a fully tightened mummy bag, you are not really using it efficiently.

In my arsenal of sleeping bags I also have the

GoLite Ultralite 3 Season quilt

, which is rated to -7C. I'm thinking that I could use this as part of a quilt-based layering system, with some insulated clothing to give added flexibility. I'm not big on wearing lots of gear at night, but given a choice between that and being strangled to death by The Mummy, I'll take my chances.

It's something I have to look into anyway. The GoLite might not be the optimum quilt. What I'd really need is a combination of equipment that would be usable in different forms throughout the whole year. So... a UL quilt for summer that could be used with some insulated clothing for colder weather, and an additional quilt for, as


called it in a

recent tweet

, "Hoth conditions." Tips and suggestions are welcomed in comments.

However, getting back to the gear I used, the Antelope was very warm, and the Brsitlecone kept out the arctic wind. The Pertex Quantum material on the bivy got caught in the sleeping bag zip a couple of times, which was annoying, but entirely my fault for not being more careful.

My sleeping pad was an old McKinley self-inflating pad I found in storage. It was just about adequate. When I go next time I'll try my Multimat Adventure in combination with something else - either my Ether Elite or something warmer.

The aforementioned pillow was the classic Exped which I picked up before I left.

I bought this as an alternative to the Kooka Bay which I didn't like much. The Exped has a lovely coating on it which feels soft and pillow-like. When I got it into position it was just right. The notch in the design makes it ideal for side-sleepers and back-sleepers alike. I will have to use some shock cord to tie it to the pad though. I can't stand having a wandering pillow.

One design feature of the pillow I didn't know about until I bought it was the dual inflation/deflation valves.

Although this adds to the weight, it is a nice little feature. The inflate and deflate valves are both one-way - so when you inflate, you can stop to take a breath without all the air puffing out of the pillow. Similarly, when you deflate, you can squeeze all the air out without any sneaking in.

I like the idea. It would be great on a sleeping pad, though I wonder how it affects condensation build-up inside. Theoretically, it limits the ability of the interior to dry properly.


Airlines don't allow you to carry gas or liquid fuel stoves with you. Although these restrictions shouldn't apply to wood-burning stoves, I didn't want to risk having my BushBuddy confiscated. I opted to pick up a cheap canister-mounted stove, and found the Edelrid Kiro ST (86g, €37). I'd have preferred the titanium version, but Rovaniemi, surprisingly, is not a great place for outdoor shops (unless you are into hunting).

I don't have burn times I'm afraid, but it was pretty fast. Frankly, I don't really care about burn times: as long as it's around three to four minutes it's good enough.

It seems that Edelrid rebrand OEM gear. I'm sure I've seen the 

Edelrid Kiro Ti

offered by another company under a different name, for example. In use, the Kiro ST performed as expected. My only issue is with the valve. When collapsed, the valve control folds around the screw housing - but in order to do this, the valve has to be opened a little. If you forget this, when you screw it onto the cannister, you get squirted with whatever propane/butane/iso-butane mix you happen to be using. It's not ideal, but as the liquid evaporates into gas, it's fairly harmless. I put a flame to the stove to see if there was any fuel on it, but nothing burned.

It's not a stove I'd use regularly, but it did the job. My original Micron (not the Ti version) is only slightly heavier.

The Real Turmat Chicken Curry I cooked was delicious. Far better than any Mountain House or Backpacker's Pantry meals I've tasted. It's a shame they are so expensive. I look forward to trying some of the new Fuzion meals others have tested.


Along with my trusty Haglöfs trail pants, I took my

First Ascent Hangfire Hoody

, a Marmot DriClime windshirt, a Halti down jacket and of course base layers (Haglöfs, synthetic) and waterproofs (Marmot Precip and

Super Mica

, both unused).

I picked up the

Hangfire Hoody

recently in a sale. First Ascent is Eddie Bauer's subsidiary brand for more technical clothing, and they offer some pretty good gear (their Downlight sweater got good reviews on Backpacking Light), and you can almost always get a great discount from them, making them one of the cheapest places to buy fairly decent gear.

The Hangfire is a thick microfleece mid layer, which, because of DWR treatment, you could also use as a outer layer. I've been wearing it extensively this autumn around town and in Finland. The construction is a little too overly complex for my tastes - too many seams add to the weight - but I've been very happy with it. I like the hood design, which is tight and peaked. Coupled with, say, an Ibex merino hoody it would be nice and warm in many conditions. It isn't very windproof though, and I wouldn't trust the DWR to protect me too much as it is apparently only on the torso.

On top of that I wore a

Marmot DriClime Catalyst

- which uses recycled materials, so it gives you a warm feeling all around. The Catalyst is a warm windshirt. It has a wicking, DriClime lining that makes it warmer (and heavier) than my usual go-to windshirt, the Montane LiteSpeed. I find that it makes a great addition to my cold weather layering system, for situations when the LiteSpeed doesn't really cut it any more. It's also water repellant, and I've been very happy with it over the last year.

As for footwear... well, I didn't want to drag extra shoes with me, so I made do with what I found in the storage room.

My Meindl Ultra Boots (OK, I don't know what they are called). Ultra big, ultra hardcore, ultra heavy (and my, how I noticed 


 after Inov-8s). Simply Ultra.

These are boots for mountains, fit for crampons and long treks to the north pole. They weigh a ton, but they did actually prove useful, protecting my feet on a few occasions from dips in ice-cold marsh water. I certainly wouldn't have fared well in my Inov-8 295s, but I could do with a good pair of lighter winter shoes/boots. Again, recommendations are welcomed.