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HikersBlog by Ed Benton - 2M ago

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been out and this week looked like the second washout in a row, with a planned trip to the Mournes being cancelled due to a weather warning.

Given that I wasn’t due into work until 4pm on Monday, Chris suggested a camp on Sunday. The choice of location was left to him and he chose a spot near Ballycastle where he had walked many times but not camped.

We left late morning and arrived in Ballycastle around 1:30. The walk was short (but muddy!) and the weather was spectacular, if a little windy.

We wasted no time in getting set up, just in case the weather decided to change its mind. There was an existing fire pit, so we gathered a little wood to keep us warm through the night.

To say the views were beautiful feels like doing them a disservice. The fresh sea air was just the tonic we needed. While we always enjoy the Mournes, a change of scenery was welcome also.

Can you see Chris up on the hill?

With our two tents set up and the wood for the night gathered, we headed back the way we came a little and filled up our water carrier from one of the waterfalls. The water was ice cold and crystal clear. The food I eat at camp can often be quite salty, so gathering water upon arrival while there is still good light is a must!

I’ve been using the MSR Dromedary 10 litre water carrier at the moment. I bought it online a couple of months ago after years of decrying the weak and leaky nature of the usual plastic “accordion” style water carriers. It was a recommendation of both Chip and JC (fellow HB authors) and their recommendation was spot on. Thanks lads!

With all the camp setup essentials taken care of I spent some time taking in the views, while Chris explored the cliffs overhead.

Soon it was time for some food. Some sliced halloumi was on the menu, with Hungarian paprika sausage bringing the required fat to cook with. It went down well but I’m glad we gathered all that water.

With the food cooked and the fire lit, we sat for a while and enjoyed the sunset and the sounds around us. The sea was roaring and the wind was howling, but it was nonetheless remarkably peaceful. The only signs of human activity to be found were the lighthouses of Rathlin in the distance, the twinkling lights of Ballycastle and the occasional passing ship.

It was a little colder than expected, likely due to the high amount of moisture in the air.

My PHD Yukon down jacket has been letting me down a little on colder trips lately, it’s likely in need of a good drying with something to restore loft. This is one of the downsides of jackets containing lower quantities of higher quality down, they just don’t take the same beating as a cheap jacket filled with a higher quantity of lower grade down.

My Alpkit Filo is about 8 years old and takes an absolute beating. My PHD Yukon is certainly far far lighter, but seems more prone to loss of loft. On trips where weight isn’t an issue, I should probably reach for the Alpkit.

After a few hours watching the stars we each retired for the night and both of us slept well. It rained heavily for most of the night, so I’m glad I didn’t decide to bivvy.

It was still raining when we woke, so we packed up quickly and got on our way. We were expecting the path to be even worse than the day before but oddly it was quite a bit firmer in places.

Before very long we were back in the car and headed home. We took a detour to Follow Coffee in Ballymena where we each had a nice coffee and a very tasty breakfast.

Sometimes you really need to get out and I’m glad we persisted and got somewhere this weekend. It was just the tonic we needed.

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HikersBlog by Ed Benton - 5M ago

Last Friday night we had planned to celebrate Christmas with a camp near Annalong Wood.

I had planned on working remotely in a shared office facility in Newcastle for the day, to spare me the drive down in rush hour traffic and speed my arrival at camp.

Some of the others were due to join us later (around 8 to 10pm).

With a storm and gale force winds on the way, we opted to postpone the trip. The new date was last night.

I headed down early afternoon. The view when I parked at Carrick Little set a good mood for the start of the afternoon.

I popped into the Carrick Cottage cafe for a coffee and a snack to set me up for the rest of the afternoon. It was nice to sit by the warm fire for a while. A very courteous member of staff asked me if the smoke from the fire was bothering me. I had a full night ahead of me of the smoke following me from the fire, it wasn’t really a problem.

It’s a great wee cafe and I highly recommend it to anyone walking in the area.

I set off with John and JC to Binnian tunnel where we planned to camp nearby. It was a lovely mild afternoon with very little wind and no rain.

It was great to get out for a nice forest walk. 2018 has involved very little camping for me since my son was born in late 2017. He’s walking strongly now so it won’t be long until he’s out with us too. The past year has certainly flown in.

When we arrived at camp we spent some time gathering some dead wood to cook over in the existing stone circle. Eamonn and Matt soon joined us and we had a few cans of beer while we coaxed the fire along towards something worth cooking on.

Spud arrived shortly afterward and we made a start on the burgers. It’s no surprise Spud didn’t fancy Turkey burgers. He had to take one for the team last week and eat Turkey burgers for ten after our camp was postponed.

As usual Spud took care of the cooking. The results were delicious as always.

John had the usual selection of tunes on the go and the Guinness was going down nicely out in the fresh air.

Eamonn produced some chicken wings marinated in hot sauce. They were absolutely magnificent and didn’t last for long!

After a good long evening of good food and drink and great company the rain came on around 12. We sat and enjoyed a few more cans before John decided to retire for the night. Given that he had been working from 5am I’m not at all surprised.

Eamonn, Spud and I headed over to my tent (the Nemesis 200) where there was ample room for three lads to enjoy some of Eamonn’s home brewed cider. It hasn’t blinded anyone yet so I guess that’s a success! I’m looking forward to him trying his hand at a stout.

It rained heavily through the night, but the morning was calm and mostly clear. Well rested, we headed back on down the path and towards home.It was great to spend the evening out in the hills with friends, enjoying the views, the company and the fresh air. Hope to do a lot more of it again in 2019.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year everyone!

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HikersBlog by Eamonn Patton - 10M ago

I’ve never really been one for gram counting until I started doing the Mourne Mountain Marathon a few years ago, last year we finished 17th in class C, so we are going to give Class B a go this year and that means there will be more miles and ascent.

In an effort to shed some weight I went tent hunting to replace my MSR Elixir 2 (which is a great tent) with something a bit lighter and with a smaller packsize. After a few weeks comparing tents, I decided on the Vango F10 Xenon UL 2. The tunnel-style tent is something I’ve used in the past with the Vango spirit 200+ and the Xenon UL2 is very similar minus the massive porch.

General Specs

Weight – 1.9Kg

Pitching time – 5 mins

Packsize – 45 x15cm

Internal dimensions – 210 x 130cm

Price – £325 (Vango Website)

Pitching

The Xenon is very easy to pitch and I can have it up in a few minutes.

It needs the poles (which are colour coded) and 2 pegs at each end to support itself initially. Then it’s simple to tension the Fly sheet and add the extra pegs. Once the tent is up you can start to tension the guy lines with Mini Line-Loks and the nifty tension adjusters on the corners, this will take all the sagging out.

The pitching as one is great but be sure to check none of the inner loops have undone themselves. As with all tunnel tents, it’s important to pitch it into the wind for maximum stability.

Interior

I wasn’t expecting the Xenon to be as roomy as it is considering it’s an ultralight tent. At 6’2” I can fit in with room to spare. The headroom is pretty good as well, I can sit up and cook in the porch without any problems. If sharing with another person rucksacks would need to be stored in the porch which is big enough for bags and cooking. The bottom of the fly door has a clip for keeping the door closed over without putting the strain on the zip. You can have the zip undone and still have the door closed over.  A great feature when cooking in bad weather.

The Xenon has a vent at the back and considering this will be pitched into the wind there should be plenty of ventilation. There’s a good gap between the fly and inner tent and if you need more of a flow the top of the fly door could be zipped open. This would be protected from rain getting in by the large hood that covers the top of the door. The inner door is a large “O” shape and part of it can be opened to reveal a mesh section, which is good for ventilation but also keeps the bugs out.

One of best features in the inner tent are the two small tight pockets above the door, simplicity at its finest. I use them for storing my headtorch and lighter. They’re perfect for positioning the headtorch like a lantern too.

The inner also has pockets down the length of each side providing plenty of storage for lighter items. I don’t put heavy things like a bottle of water in the pockets because they tend to pull the inner down and I’d be worried about stretching or tearing the fabric.

Exterior

The Xenon looks great from the outside and the olive-green colour blends nicely into the surroundings. The Fly is ultralight, very thin and semi-translucent but still feels strong. Only time will tell how durable it is. I’m not planning on using this tent all the time, only for multi-day backpacking and the Mountain Marathon. There’s no sense in going ultra light for a camp at an easily accessed forest, for those camps I’ll bring something heavy and not worry about it taking some abuse.

I’m disappointed the guy lines don’t have anything reflective on them as I’ve tripped over them a couple of times already. To amend this I have stuck some reflective tape on the sides of the Line-Loks. I might replace these with glow in the dark Line-Loks in the future.

The Flysheet is ProTex® 15D Siliconised & PU Coated Nylon – 3000mm and feels very slippery. I haven’t been able to get out in the rain yet because the summer has been so good it hasn’t rained in weeks. Tents are made to such high standards now that it’s very unlikely there will be a problem with it letting in.

Conclusion

The Vango F10 Xenon UL is a great tent for backpacking solo or with two people. There are some splendid features, like the high-level pockets for storage or positioning a head torch, plenty of room for tall people and you can easily cook in the porch.

It’s a winner for me.

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HikersBlog by John Surginor - 10M ago

Having missed out on the chance to join the rest of Hikersblog on the Burren way I pondered what misadventure I could get myself into. On Rusty’s recent Stag camp in Annalong woods, I scouted out a possible camping spot. On the side of the mighty Slieve Binnian, there are a number of ramparts, cliffs, that lie just past the enchanting Binnian lough. I often find myself gazing at places like these and wondering would it make a good place to pitch a tent. Having picked Douglas Crag as a good place to camp we made our plans.

The weather recently has been amazing, having reached the grand age of 44 I can’t remember having such a long spell of good weather after all this is Ireland and we love to complain about the weather!

A colleague from work joined me on this camp, Pearse is about as easy going fella you’re going to meet, always practical joking and never taking anything seriously, just the right recipe for enjoying life. We parked our car and made our way along the stone walk that leads to the old Belfast Water Commission gates, you’ll see gates marked all around the Mournes with B.W.C on them, the old waterboard. It was around 11am and already sweltering with a blazing sun overhead. We left the comfort of the main track and started ascending Binnian. Having reached the first wall that runs towards Binnian lough we began to contour across the heather, it crumbled and crunched under our feet, a tinderbox if ever there was one.

Between the rocky outcrops lay a small mountain steam reduced to a mere trickle, an opportunity for us to fill our water containers. The large boulders on Douglas crag now came into sight and gave us a good fixture on where to walk. I’d say our pace was nothing short of lazy, we didn’t care, we had the whole day just to relax and enjoy the scenery and boy was it good. Before us, the whole of Annalong valley could be seen cloaked in the sunshine. Reaching our camp we pitched the tents and shaded under huge boulders that stood all around us like sleeping soldiers. We were lucky as a cooling breeze kept any midges at bay, nothing worse than having to shelter in a tent away from these winged attackers!  Having grabbed some lunch and fluids we ventured towards Binnian lough which was only a five-minute walk away. Reaching the lough two mallard ducks flew off, maybe the presence of men usually means trouble. Binnian lough appeared like a huge mirror without a ripple in sight. We filled our water containers again and were surprised at just how clear the water was, not even the slightest sediment was visible.

As much as I enjoy walked and adventure I just love relaxing at camp, boots and socks off, feet up and listening to Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. We carried a few beers with us and somehow the shadows from the boulders seem to chill The beers, one of those, it was meant to be moments! We sat overlooking the Mountains discussing all the matters of the world while the sun began to fall in the sky. We were quite surprised that we could only see one other camp in the mountains.

We retired to our tents a little after midnight having drunk our fill of adventure. I woke at 5am and grabbed my camera as I hoped to capture the Rising sun over the Irish Sea. Last night we watched the Sunset behind us and now we marvelled to the amber glow of the rising sun.

Breakfast consisted of two coffees and a trail bar. We broke camp around 8am and started to make our way back to our civilized lives. I often find myself wondering what I get out of walking and camping, is it some remnant of my childhood, an escape if you like. I’d like to think I’m drawn to the adventure, that I feel closer to the land and myself by spending time with it.

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Ever since my son Ethan was born around eight months ago, my number of multi-day camping trips has reduced, opting more frequently for day walks instead. When Osprey sent the HikeLite 26 for review, it seemed a day pack was a good fit for my recent activities.

I’ve taken the HikeLite 26 on a couple of hundred miles of solo greenway walking, in addition to some hikes with friends in the Belfast hills and Mournes.

Quick Specs
  • 26 litre capacity
  • Airspeed Trampoline mesh “off back” system for ventilation
  • Hydration compatible
  • 737g weight
  • Integrated rain cover
  • Price (direct) £80.00

The HikeLite 26 is a lightweight pack intended for day hikes or commuter use. It has a slim profile which lends itself well to city use, or passing through town on your way to/from a hike. As someone who has had more than a few odd glances for lugging around a mammoth pack, this makes a welcome change.

Slim profile stays between the shoulders

You’ll notice the outer compartment in this pack is just below the Osprey logo. Rather than a webbed pouch or zipped compartment, this is a pocket which is held in place by two compression straps. It’s pretty handy for stuffing a hat or ultralight waterproof vest when not in use. Just don’t expect it to be the cavernous stash pocket you get on the likes of the Xenith.

The side pockets are large enough to accommodate a large bottle of water without worrying about it falling out and are positioned as such that you can reach for them without taking the pack off, provided you have decent shoulder mobility.

There’s two main compartments, the outer one being the lower of the two zips. The outer pocket has a clip for your keys and enough room for a mobile phone, charger, hat, gloves and a few small bits and pieces. You can also stow walking poles. I don’t use them, but this pack can accommodate them if you do.

The main compartment is hydration compatible, or you can use the bladder slot for a laptop if you’re using it to commute. I’ve brought my 90 litre pack on commutes before I had a car, when I was camping straight after work. The looks I got from confused yuppies were priceless. This pack blends right in.

Front view

As you can see the hip belt is very thin. It consists entirely of strap and buckle and has zero padding. It sits a little higher than I’m used to, but this hip belt isn’t there for weight transfer like you get with the heavier load luggers. Its main purpose is to prevent the pack from bouncing when walking and it serves that purpose well. Small and light comes with limitations and this is not a pack you would want to overload due to the lack of weight transfer to the hip belt.

The sternum strap does its job and keeps the shoulder straps sitting at the right width.

Good airflow is a good thing in this weather

A side profile shot gives a good indication of how well the pack sits back from your body. This helps to prevent the excessive back sweating and bad posture you can get with packs which hug the back too closely. Much of my walking lately has involved anywhere between 2 to 8 hours of greenway walking, arriving straight into work for an evening shift, so I’ve found it useful that the off-back posture of the pack keeps things a little fresher.

As you can see the shoulder straps have decent padding for a pared-down day sack. It’s nowhere near as luxurious as the memory foam you see on heavier load luggers, but this pack isn’t meant to be carrying that kind of weight. The longest I’ve walked with this pack in one stretch is 8 hours so far and it hasn’t irritated my shoulders or chest yet. Next weekend I’m due to use it on a three way hike on the Burren Way, so will be in a position to comment further on usage for longer spells.

The bottom of the pack houses an integrated rain cover. Its made of the same material as the other Osprey rain covers so should turn a few showers, but don’t rely on it to protect critical electronics, dry bags are best for that. The recent extended spell of dry weather has kept me from testing this aspect of the pack, but the cover gives good coverage of the pack and should perform as well as the other rain covers on Osprey’s packs.

Conclusion

The HikeLite 26 is an excellent lightweight day pack. It has good features for a pack in its class and sits nicely back from your body due to the Airspeed back system. The slim profile makes it suitable for city / commuting use and the integrated rain cover and hydration support are welcome in such a lightweight pack.

The lack of an adjustable back system may bother some but I never found it to be an issue. The price of 80GBP is on the higher end for newcomers or occasional casual use, but worth it for a comfortable pack getting regular trail or city use.

The HikeLite 26 is available direct from Osprey here

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