Hiking Poles and Nordic Walking – What’s the story?

It’s been a few years since I’ve used hiking poles, but lately I’ve had a dodgy knee and have thought that they might be helpful once more. Actually, after a rather spectacular face plant whilst trail running a month ago, I’ve now got two of them. Dodgy knees that is.

With the speed at which technology changes, I thought I’d do some research and find out what’s the latest thinking around poles, their uses and benefits.

Helen - Nordic Walking Instructor… amongst many other inspiring achievements!

Helen – Nordic Walking Instructor… amongst many other inspiring achievements!

Thankfully, I have a good buddy who apart from having an awe inspiring record of marathons and ultra marathons, she is also a qualified Nordic Walking instructor. Yep… those wacky folk who can look like preying mantis on tracks with poles.

Here’s her inspiring creds – makes me go weak at the knees just thinking about it!

  • Hiking Killimanjaro
  • Wild Endurance 50 & 100km
  • Oxfam Trailwalker 100km
  • Six Foot Track Marathon
  • Kepler Challenge NZ
  • Marathon des Sables, Morocco (250km staged race in the Sahara desert)
  • The North Face 100km
  • Everest Marathon, Nepal (3 week trek to start line at 5100m then a 42.2km race back down)
  • Verdon Canyon Challenge, France
  • Great North Walk 100’s (173km non-stop race)
  • Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, France (unfinished business!)
  • Ultimate Trails 100km, Lake District UK

Plus some handy qualifications to back up her experience:

  • Level 2 – Cert IV Personal Trainer
  • Wellness Coach
  • Nordic Walking Instructor

She generously agreed to this interview – thanks Helen!

Tell me a little bit about your experience and how you got into fitness in the outdoors.

In 2008 I joined Sydney Bushwalkers and soon became a walks leader for the more popular tracks around Sydney and the Blue Mountains.  Favourite walking areas are around the Grose River, Mount Solitary and Lions Head in the Blue Mountains and locally around Sydney Harbour and Ku-ring-gai & Berowra NP’s.

After taking on the challenge of Kanangra to Katoomba in a day and Six Foot Track in a day with SBW, I soon developed a healthy appetite for endurance walks which grew into a love of ultra marathons.

Arms should be comfortably at the 90 degree angle to check for correct length in Nordic Walking.

Arms should be comfortably at the 90 degree angle to check for correct length in Nordic Walking.

Why should someone use trekking poles? What’s the benefits? How can they help?

There are lots of benefits from using trekking poles but the most significant would be the reduction of wear and damage to the lower joints.  Using poles reduces impact loads on the legs by about 5kg when walking on level ground and about 8kg on an incline.  This reduction in impact stress on the lower joints significantly reduces wear and risk of injury to the knees, feet, ankles and hips.

Using trekking poles can also help prevent back pain and injury.  Walkers tend to naturally lean forward.  When carrying a backpack, they tend to lean further forward bringing the load over the weight bearing forward leg.  Weight is then being supported by a bent spine with the potential for back pain and injury.  Correct pole technique introduces a forwards and lifting force from below and behind that balances things and posture becomes more erect and allows the walker to more comfortably and safely carry the load.  An upright posture also helps us breathe more easily.

What’s the difference between Nordic Walking Poles and Trekking Poles?

They are very similar, the noticeable difference being that Nordic walking poles have a removable ‘glove’ that allows a specific exercise technique where the hand is opened on the backswing.  The ‘glove’ isn’t required for bushwalking where the arm swing doesn’t change much from the walker’s natural rhythm and style, however, a wrist strap is still a necessity as the wrist straps take the weight NOT the hands.

As the pole moves to behind you, the hand should be loose and free, resting on the strap.

As the pole moves to behind you, the hand should be loose and free, resting on the strap.

Nordic walking instruction teaches you how to use all types of poles correctly using a natural alternate arm leg action.

Opposite legs in action. Right leg and left pole forward.

Opposite legs in action. Right leg and left pole forward.

Also, Hiking Poles have adjustable heights, whereas most Nordic Poles are bought for a set height that you can’t change.

When should poles be used?

With proper technique, poles can be used almost anywhere.  I wouldn’t really use them off-track in scrubby environments as the risk of getting caught up in scrub and causing injury to self or fellow walkers is greatly increased!  It is best to practice stowing them away quickly inside your backpack for the off-track sections and get them back out for fire trails, steep ascents, steep descents or river crossings.

Put your hand up through the strap, the same way as ski poles.

Put your hand up through the strap, the same way as ski poles.

After inserting your hand up through the strap, bring it down over the handle.

After inserting your hand up through the strap, bring it down over the handle.

How the strap should look if using it correctly.

How the strap should look if using it correctly.

I’ve heard that using poles helps me get a full body workout. Is this true? In what ways?

Almost. Walking is known to increase blood flow which in turn reduces the risk of heart attack and other health concerns.  When we walk we engage about 35% of our muscles.  This increases to 90% when walking with poles.  By engaging more muscles, blood flow increases by 20% without increasing exercise intensity.  Walking poles make a good exercise 20% better.

In the Nordic Walking instruction you will also be taught how to use poles for strength and resistance training exercises without the need to go to a gym.

Is there an etiquette to using / not using poles?

When using your poles be especially considerate of your fellow bushwalkers  – not everyone wants to listen to the click clack of trekking poles when they are out to enjoy the natural environment – keep the rubber stoppers handy!

Use the rubber tips if walking on rocks or footpaths.

Use the rubber tips if walking on rocks or footpaths.

I personally wouldn’t recommend using poles in sensitive environmental areas where flora and fauna need to be protected and scraping the pole tips on boulders is also not a good look.   It’s worth practicing your technique so that you keep your poles in check at all times and can put them away easily when not in use.

[Caro: And my personal favourite, if you’ve got them stowed in your pack or if you tend to swing back, don’t stab your fellow walker behind you with them. You will be most unpopular!]

What should I look for when buying a good set of poles?

Poles should be reliable and strong as you will have to trust them for stability and safety.  Cheap poles are not engineered for the task and for the high loads of bushwalking, especially with a backpack.  Serious injuries have been caused by the sudden failure of cheap poles.

Use the poles with the opposite legs.

Use the poles with the opposite legs.

Choose poles for quality and simplicity.  Experienced walkers choose simple poles without overly bulky hand grips or shock absorbers.  Fixed length poles can be cheaper, lighter and easier to use than adjustable poles but aren’t suitable for off track bushwalking when you want to fold them away in your pack.

Look for poles that have minimal protrusions to catch on undergrowth and lawyer vine!   Strong, light weight material options are carbon fibre (graphite) and ‘high tech’ aluminium alloys.  Graphite can suffer impact damage so the more robust aluminium is preferred for bushwalking.

In summary

Walking poles help bushwalkers enjoy their activity more, with less fatigue, less risk of fall injuries, less risk of wear/damage to lower body joints and with improved exercise to remain fitter, healthier and more physically active for longer.

Two poles or one?

Bushwalkers who use just one pole for some added stability get only that one benefit.  Poles are used as a pair to receive the full health and fitness benefits.

Other uses

  • Poles can be used to hold up a ‘fly’ shelter when there are no convenient trees or branches lying around.
  • In emergencies can be used as a splint or put 2 inside a sleeping bag to make a stretcher

P1000166

Can’t I just use a fallen branch?

As they have no wrist strap to take the weight – muscles in the forearm will become stiff from holding on too tightly and branches are more likely to break and cause injury.

The plug!

In September 2014, Helen will be starting Nordic Walking/Trekking Pole instruction sessions in Sydney for those who may be interested in learning correct technique or looking for a 90% muscle workout – let’s make that 95% if you smile. Dates/location TBC. You can contact Helen at GrpExAus@bigpond.com.

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Easy Hiking Food for Overnight Trips (That’s lightweight too!)

I’m still staggered by the number of people who say that planning and organising food is the issue that stops them from doing overnight hikes.

There’s really no reason these days for using that excuse and my suspicion is that if you’re still using it, then the real issue isn’t to do with the food, but something else. (Ouch!)

I’ve already done this video on Basic Food for Hiking last year, so here’s a refresher to prove that it can be as easy as a trip to your local supermarket or even hopping online and letting someone else do all the work for you.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of supermarket options, and only if you’re keen, you can worry about dehydrating your own food and getting into the other myriad of options available to you.

1.  The “Let someone else worry about it” option

Ready to go 24hr Ration Packs

Let someone else do all the work - Strive Food 24hr Ration Pack.

Let someone else do all the work – Strive Food 24hr Ration Pack.

I mean really. If you just want the easiest option and don’t want to think about it, order a 24hr ration pack that is ready to go. There’s a few varieties that I’ve come across and they’re pretty good. Just check the overall weight and what cooking/preparation you need. eg. do you need to take a stove and billy? (PS: I’m going to be doing a video review on the Strive Food 24hr Ration Pack very soon!)

 2. The “I’ll do some of the thinking” option

Pre-packed Dehydrated Meals

This is simply a trip to your outdoors store (or buy online) purpose made dehydrated hiking meals. There’s a stack of different varieties available these days and some brands, such as Backcountry, come with the easiest of all preparations. ie. Open and stand up the pack, pour in boiling water, close the pack for 10 mins, then eat. Many of these are surprisingly tasty. You can buy packs for all meals, but you might just want to grab the evening meal and substitute it with your supermarket options below.

Enjoying the view from Mt Solitary whilst the billy boils.

Enjoying the view from Mt Solitary whilst the billy boils.

3. The “I’ll grab what I need when I’m shopping and save money” option

DIY Supermarket Option

No offence, but if you can go to a supermarket, you can organise easy overnight hiking meals. Here’s my super simple meal plan for a weekend trip. (Australian available product names used.)

And to make it even easier, you can Download my Hiking Food Shopping and Prep List here, and take it with you to the shops!

Seeds, Fruit & Nuts - The foundation of every good Scroggin.

Seeds, Fruit & Nuts – The foundation of every good Scroggin.

Saturday

Breakfast

  • N/A. Eat it at home super early before you hit the road for the track or take it with you. I usually take a coffee and toast in the car.

Morning Tea

  • Muesli Bar and handful of Scroggin (nuts, dried fruit, etc)
Muesli Bars - Loads of choice!

Muesli Bars – Loads of choice!

Lunch

  • Crackers or flat bread of your choice (Vita-Weats, Rice cakes,  Mountain Bread, Lebanese Bread)
Crackers are easy and lightweight.

Crackers are easy and lightweight.

  • Cheese (Baby-Bell, Laughing Cow, Picon, etc)

Processed cheese like these can be kept out of the fridge.

Processed cheese like these can be kept out of the fridge.

BabyBel Cheese

BabyBel Cheese

  • Salmon/Tuna sachet (smaller 100g) or little 95g tin eg. Tuna with lemon pepper, tuna with tomato and onion, salmon with smokey flavour
Salmon or Tuna slices in sachet.

Salmon or Tuna slices in sachet.

      • A few slices of Salami (1/3 of your supply)
      • Handful of Scroggin if you’re still hungry

Afternoon Tea

      • Muesli Bar and handful of scroggin
      • Jelly snakes/sweets
By late afternoon, you might appreciate a sugar hit to get you up the last hill.

By late afternoon, you might appreciate a sugar hit to get you up the last hill.

Dinner

      • Happy Hour to share (eg. Bag of soy chips, tube of Pringles)
Pringles or similar keep well in your pack. It's nice to have something to share with your mates before dinner!

Pringles or similar keep well in your pack. It’s nice to have something to share with your mates before dinner!

      • Cuppa Soup
You can now buy individual sachets of Cuppa Soup. Perfect if you never touch the stuff in the city.

You can now buy individual sachets of Cuppa Soup. Perfect if you never touch the stuff in the city.

      • Pasta and sauce sachet (eg. Continental – Napoletana)

Packet Pasta & Sauce - loads of options

Packet Pasta & Sauce – loads of options

The tomato based flavour ones work best with your salami

The tomato based flavour ones work best with your salami

      • Salami (non-heat treated)
      • Chocolate to share for dessert

Chocolate - every hikers perfect dessert!

Chocolate – every hikers perfect dessert – How to make friends around the campfire!

And if you really want something to drink before bed (think about it), a hot choccie could be nice.

And if you really want something to drink before bed (think about it), a hot choccie could be nice.

Sunday

Breakfast

      • Muesli or cereal of your choice in ziplock bag (add dessert spoon of powdered milk to bag at home)
      • add some dried fruit if you wish for some flavour and fibre!
There's great varieties of dried fruit now available. Add it to your brekkie.

There’s great varieties of dried fruit now available. Add it to your brekkie.

      • Moccona coffee sachet or coffee bag or tea
There's also coffee bags available, which tend to have a stronger flavour.

There’s also coffee bags available, which tend to have a stronger flavour.

Morning  Tea

      • Muesli Bar and handful of scroggin

Lunch

      • same as Saturday (different flavour tuna)
I've been known to use the lid and ring pull as a spoon to scoop out the salmon… be careful though!

I’ve been known to use the lid and ring pull as a spoon to scoop out the salmon… be careful though!

Afternoon Tea

      • same as morning tea

…and if you screw your nose up at having the same thing 2 days in a row, or no fresh food, suck it up Princess. It’s two days for goodness sake!

This gives you a shopping list (Which you can download here) for the weekend as follows:

      • 1 box sandwich size ziplock bags
      • 500g fruit and nut mix (the yummiest looking you can find)
      • 1 bag  M&Ms
      • 1 bag snakes or sweets of your choice
      • 1 box muesli bars
      • 1 packet of crackers or flat bread
      • 2 small packets (100g) or small tins (95g) of flavoured tuna or salmon
      • 1 x 20cm salami (non-heat treated)
      • 1 bag Baby Bell cheeses (‘little baby cheeses’) or similar
      • Happy Hour (1 large tube of Pringles)
      • 1 packet Pasta and Sauce
      • 1 sachet Cuppa soup
      • 1 family block chocolate
      • 1 box Moccona coffee sachets (I like the cappuccino ones, but wouldn’t drink them in town)
      • Dried fruit (option) I like dried mango or blueberries
      • 1 packet 2min noodles (emergency food)
Every hikers best friend.

Every hikers best friend.

Now the key is not to just pack everything above in your backpack. Here’s the simple prep that I do with these items before I start packing. It’s all about breaking it down, removing the packaging and only taking what you need.

Preparation at home

SNACKS

      • Remove muesli bars from box.
      • Take 4 only and leave the rest.
      • Put 3 large handfuls of fruit and nut mixture into a ziplock bag. Leave the rest.
      • Add 1 handful of M&Ms to fruit and nut ziploc bag. Leave the rest.
      • Take your packet of snakes/sweets as is.

BREAKFAST

      • Put one serve of muesli/cereal in ziploc bag.
      • Add 1 heaped dessert spoon of powdered milk
      • Add sugar if you must
      • Add small handful of dried fruit (optional)
      • Put 2 tea bags or coffee sachets in a ziploc bag. Leave the rest.

LUNCH

      • Put salami in ziploc bag and make sure you have a small pen knife to cut it with. You might even want to put the knife the bag.
      • Take salmon/tuna tins as is.
      • Take 4 baby cheeses. Leave the rest.
      • Count out the number of crackers you will eat for each lunch and put into one ziploc bag. (I take 4 rice crackers for each lunch = 8)

DINNER

      • Take happy hour as is (Pringles tubes are a good way of protecting the chips).
      • Take 1 cuppa soup and leave the rest.
      • Take pasta and sauce packet as is.

Oh and don't forget to take something as emergency food, just in case you get back late or are benighted.

Oh and don’t forget to take something as emergency food, just in case you get back late or are benighted.

Beef Jerky makes a good alternative to salami, especially if you're hiking in the tropics or hot weather!

Beef Jerky makes a good alternative to salami, especially if you’re hiking in the tropics or hot weather!

Coming Soon – Brand New Hiking How-To Videos and New Look Blog!

Yay! I’m so excited!!

You know how they say that change is as good as a holiday? Well, I guess I’m about to feel as though I’ve had one big holiday, because there’s a whole lot of ‘change’ coming very soon.

If you follow the @Lotsafreshair Instagram or Twitter, you might have seen me and the crew oot n’ aboot (a loving nod to my Canadian friends) shooting new clips for the 2nd series of the Lotsafreshair – How To Hiking videos.

The amazing crew of Mark (Big Dog), Peter and I, spent an incredibly busy day up in the Blue Mountains at the end of 2013, putting down as many tips n’ tricks as we could in the time we had.

That's a wrap!

That’s a wrap! Big Dog & Caro – Butterbox at Sunset – near Mt Hay, Leura.

Thanks to the awesome guys at National Parks, we had some amazing locations including Pulpit Rock, overlooking the Grose Valley, and the Butterbox at sunset, out near Mt Hay.

And as they say in late night TV, ‘…But that’s not all!‘ Alas, I don’t have any steak knives to give away, but I am also working on a lovely, fresh new look for the blog. Well, actually, the lovely Cath from Phase Creative is doing all the pretty stuff and I’m super happy with it.

Lotsafreshair.com - New Design Sneak Peek!

Lotsafreshair.com – New Design Sneak Peek!

I’ve been frustrated with the existing design, as I didn’t feel the design allowed enough topics and content on the screen. So we’ve been working on moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org (the bloggers amongst you will know what that all means!), and using this renewed flexibility to come up with a layout and design that really works.

And another sneaky look...

And another sneaky look…

The great news is that the design phase is nearly complete, and now it’s just down to the developing and coding side of things… oh you amazing, mighty, Web Princess of the dark arts of < and >. I am not worthy!  So no launch date yet for the new blog design, but you will start seeing the new videos over the coming weeks… YAY!!!

I’d love to hear what you think about the teaser video and any thoughts on what types of videos you’d like to see in the future. Please drop me a line below to let me know!

Where’s your hiking home?

Following on from last week’s post about living in small spaces, I’ve been thinking about where I feel most at home.

I’ve always said, that ‘home should be your refuge’. It’s the place where you can go and shut the door, relax, truly be yourself and be at peace.

I kinda feel like I’ve got two homes… one indoors and one outdoors.

I know I do go on about them, so it’s no surprise that I’m pretty much at home in the Blue Mountains National Park, just west of Sydney. It’s got a great mix of tracked and managed areas, along with intensely wild, untracked wilderness, gorges and canyons. Lots of variety and being a massive 268,987 ha (664,681 acres) in size, there’s plenty of choice and opportunity to get away from civilisation.

So what about you? Where’s your wilderness home?

Tents as Tiny Houses

Up until a week ago, I’d never heard the term, Tiny House.

Ah, now it's fit for MY purpose at <750grams.

My tent – My ultimate Tiny House

That was until I read this blog post by Wild and Scruffy, who writes one of my favourite blogs. On the surface, she doesn’t seem to have anything in common with me. For one, she is married with kids, but that doesn’t make her a Mummy Blogger; She takes nice photos, but that doesn’t make her a photographic blogger; she writes about the bush and outdoors only occasionally, so she’s no hiking blogger. Essentially, she is a good writer with a great way of bringing me back to the simple things in life. She reminds me to reflect on what’s truly important, sometimes through the mundane of day to day life.

My tiny home tent on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

My tiny home tent on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

As I was watching the documentary by Kirsten Dirksen I was inspired to think differently about home and what constitutes it.

We’ve all thought about it at one time or another… When is enough, enough? When does the hunting-gathering drive of stuff, overtake the need that the stuff was originally fulfilling?

Home for the night in 100 Man Cave, Kanangra-Boyd NP.

Home for the night in 100 Man Cave, Kanangra-Boyd NP.

Wild & Scruffy’s post and the doco got me thinking about my own tiny house (which only met the bank’s criteria for granting a mortgage whereby it had to be >50m2, because it has a parking space and a storeroom) and my even tinier house, my tent, fly and other shelters that I sleep under in wild places.

Various shelters on the Colo River, NSW. Walrus optional for floating down river!

Various shelters on the Colo River, NSW. Blue walrus optional for floating down river!

I’ve been living in the same place for over 10 years now, and over the past few years I’ve been tossing around the concept of stepping up in size. From one bedroom to two and a balcony would be nice. There seems to be this cultural drive, a momentum to be continually seeking ‘the next thing’, which invariably means, the next ‘bigger’ thing. Where improvement is measured by a change of status, perceived from your home, which apparently… is meant to bring happiness.

Having watched the doco and done some thinking, all that the endless striving seems to bring is debt. Debt which means your life is controlled by the necessity to earn a certain income, work a certain job and debt that brings incalculable fear and anxiety if you lose that job.

Sunset on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru.

Sunset on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru.

Are we designed to live in that cycle of control and fear?

One of the very basic things that draws me to wild places, especially overnight and extended walks, is the ability to be self sufficient. To know that when I leave the carpark, I have everything I need to eat, sleep, drink and be happy for x number of days. This isn’t about chest-beating, hunter-gatherer, knife-carrying, beast-killing, Bear Grylls urine-drinking survival style techniques. My friends and I don’t belong to that style of wilderness living, sorry.

Sleeping in an overhang

Sleeping in an overhang

But the comfort that the few items I carry comfortably on my back all have a purpose and that everything will be used – although hopefully not the first aid kit or PLB!

Essentially, our shelters that we build for ourselves, whether they be tents, fly-only, hammocks or even under an over-hang or cave, are tiny houses in the extreme. How can you describe the feeling you get when you look around your shelter by head torch and realise that you have everything you need?

Turtle like, we carry what we need and live simply for those few days that we venture out. The challenge to myself (maybe to you to?) is how can we bring this philosophy into our everyday lives?

This rethink stopped me in my tracks. I’ve discovered a new joy for my existing tiny house and rather than looking to the unknown of the bigger and better, (more debt, more control, more fear), I’m excited and refreshed about living in the now, living deliberately with what I have and continuing a practice I started in 2013, which was the ‘Urge to Purge’… but more on that another time!

Q:  What tips do you have for finding and maintaining simplicity in your life?

Leeches – That slimy, slippery, itchy, sinking feeling

Can you feel it? Nah, you probably can’t. If you’re anything like me, sometimes the first thing you feel is the damp trousers against your calf as your blue blood oozes, unrestrained, into the fresh wilderness air. Last Monday, Australia Day (Invasion Day), I set out to walk a historic, somewhat invisible, track in the Blue Mountains.

Around a waterfall is a prime spot to find leeches

Around a waterfall is a prime spot to find leeches

Although the day started grey, it wasn’t long before the blue sky broke through and my companion and I were bathed in beautiful sunshine. However, down at ground level, under the lush canopy, the mystery of the disappearing track and recent downpours had the earth beneath our feet become the unmistakable home sweet home of Euhirudinea – the Leech.

Lush and ferny - a perfect home for leeches

Lush and ferny – a perfect home for leeches

Like something from Alien, the Australian version of these hermaphrodite little darlings have 2 toothy jaws, (3 in other countries) and seek out a tasty dinner which can keep them going for up to 3 months. They do this by producing a secretion called Hirudin, which stops the blood from clotting… hence the unstoppable flood of our precious, red stuff.

A leech can go without eating for 3 months!

A leech can go without eating for 3 months!

Like most people, I used to get pretty grossed out by these little critters, however, over the years I’ve come to admire their tenacity, patience and curiosity and am happy to reward them with my ample B positive. I’m no Buddhist, but find it quite unnecessary to smother them in salt, which causes them to sizzle, froth and die – surely a bit over the top. I simply get my finger nail under them and flick them off, making sure not to flick them in the direction of my friends.

The evidence of Hirudin, the anti clotting agent

The evidence of Hirudin, the anti clotting agent

Sure, I bleed. Big deal. And for the next 5 days I am scratching into the wee hours of the night, whilst reaching for my trusty spray of Stingose, but I kinda think of it as being part of the Circle of Life, like something from The Lion King.

Leeches? Just smile and get over it.

Leeches? Just smile and get over it.

Not to get too sentimental about these suckers, as they can cause infections such as cellulitis, but for me I don’t give them a second thought. Get over it… move on – oh, unless of course you’ve got one on your eyeball!

Oh and with gonads in their heads, I should probably start calling them Dickheads, instead of my usual expletive… bastard (as per the video)!

Q:  What’s your favourite method of dealing with leeches?

How to Convert a Tent to Fly-only

I really wanted to call this post, ‘How to Pimp Your Tent’, but seeing as there’s no fluffy dice, disco balls or shagpile carpet involved, I think How to Convert a Tent is slightly more appropriate.

There are different kinds of lightweight hikers out there. I sit somewhere in the middle between hard-core Cuban Fibre or Tyvek purists and traditional ‘smart’ packing for bushwalkers.

Before this experiment, I’ve never tried to ‘tweak the factory settings’ on any of my hiking gear. What drove me to it was being sold the footprint for my Easton Kilo 2P tent from an outdoor retailer, who assured me that with the footprint I can use the tent as fly-only. All the design cues were there in the full tent, so it made logical sense that this would be the case.

Just some of the tools needed to pimp my tent

Just some of the tools needed to pimp my tent

Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be true, so rather than return the footprint, I thought I’d try a bit of DIY handiwork after being inspired by several of my bushwalking mates who regularly tweak their gear to suit themselves. (Hello to Little Blue Walker, Melinda, Mr Mallo and many others!).

It was not altogether without dramas, as I did manage to snap the fancy-schmancy Carbon Fibre crossover pole. Thankfully, the manufacturer does include a temporary pole fix tube which held everything in place, however I did have to buy a replacement pole. (Nice work by the way to Easton for their fast customer service).

Easton Kilo 2P tent setup as Fly Only

Easton Kilo 2P tent setup as Fly Only

As each one of us has our own opinions and preferences for stuff in life, it makes sense that one size doesn’t fit all. If you ever find yourself not fully satisfied with the way something is made, maybe it is time to think about how you can tweak it to make it fit for your purpose.

Ah, now it's fit for MY purpose at <750grams.

Ah, now it’s fit for MY purpose at <720grams.

Six Foot Track Project Launch!

Ok, so you know how they always say, ‘Never start with an apology – it’s too negative.’?

Well, here I am breaking with tradition because for the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken leave of my blogging senses to concentrate on a very exciting new project that is launching this week!

For the past year, I’ve been working with the fabulous Matt McClelland (www.wildwalks.com and bushwalk.com) and Geoff Mallinson (geoffmallinson.com and Dad of danmallo.com) on a new approach to multi-day hike websites. We’re getting down to the pointy end of the work these last two weeks and we’re racing to get it all ready in time!

We all share the same aims of wanting to encourage people to get out into (and enjoy) the bush in a safe and fun way, so we pooled our collective skills into this project.

Geoff goes for a slide at Norths Lookout

Geoff goes for a slide at Norths Lookout

The Six Foot Track is one of Australia’s best known multi-day hikes and although the 45kms is usually done as a 3 day trip, it is also run during the annual Six Foot Marathon in around 5.5hrs.

The book, website and associated YouTube channel are full of information, photos, track notes, videos and an exciting new development called, ‘EmuView’ which adds a 360VR experience to the interactive maps on the site.

Guess who on the bridge?

Guess who on the bridge?

We’re launching this Thursday night with a shindig at the Hornsby RSL, so once that’s out of the way, I hope to return you to your regular weekly blog programming!

Hope you enjoy it!

Gear Review – Macpac Tasman 45


Supertramp hardness with hydration pack. Surprisingly comfy with good load distribution.

Supertramp hardness with hydration pack. Surprisingly comfy with good load distribution.

Manufacturer:  Macpac

Product:   Tasman 45

Link:  Macpac Product Info

Empty Weight: 1.1kg (size 2)

RRP: AUD$299

Test Packed Weight: 13kgs (incl 2 litres water)

Test Date: 4-6 October 2013

Location: Ettrema Wilderness, Morton National Park, NSW, Australia

Terrain:  Everything! Firetrail, tracks, off-track scrub (light to extreme including Hakea and Banksia) rock scrambling, narrow slots and cliff lines, creek crossings and bitumen roads!

Introduction

When I first started bushwalking in 1999, completely green and eager to learn, the word on the track from those with greater knowledge in my Bushwalking Club, was to buy a Macpac Esprit pack, along with a Microlight tent.

In the 14 years since, the types of gear on the market and the demands of the outdoors community has undergone enormous change.

From the early pioneering days, even before the legendary Tiger Walkers forged new ground in the Blue Mountains, (when a pack was made from an old pillowcase with two straps attached), to today, it feels as though the majority of the change has taken place in the past 5 years.

I’m wondering if this is due to the increase in new manufacturers eyeing a growing market for outdoors pursuits, the shrinking global marketplace or the influence of an ever vocal online community. With the growth of the internet, us consumers are not restricted by what our local retail outlet sells. We share ideas and experiences with people all over the world and if we are so inclined, can now research products, materials and design and hear first hand from users.

How I’ve changed

Back in 1999, what I went looking for as a consumer, was a product that was bomb proof. The thought about lightweight never crossed my mind. Without realising it, I’d entered the mysterious world of the notoriously tight-arsed bushie. This meant that I viewed my gear as an investment in this brave new world I’d entered and if I was going to spend $400 on a piece of gear, it was going to last me a lifetime. Dammit.

What Macpac were known for back then was exactly that. Bomb proof gear that would last a lifetime.

Crossing the Kowmung River on the Mittagong to Katoomba 7 day trip. My trusty first pack - Macpac Glissade - a whopping 75ltr pack.

Crossing the Kowmung River on the Mittagong to Katoomba 6 day trip in 2005. My trusty first pack – Macpac Glissade – a whopping 75ltr pack!

My first pack was a Macpac Glissade. A heavy duty 75L mother of a thing that weighs around 3kgs (6.6lbs) empty, using a traditional hardcore canvas fabric. It saw me through many adventures and I still have it, and true to its origins, it shows very little sign of wear… But to be honest, I haven’t used it in over 8 years. I feel a little guilty every time I go into my storeroom and see it hanging there on the wall… I imagine it’s voice, saying, “Pick me, pick me!”, whenever the light goes on. Sorry old friend, you’re just too heavy these days.

Nowadays, not only are outdoor consumers better informed about options, materials and products, we’re also a lot wiser about our own bodies and their limits. We know, by looking at those before us, that knee joints can wear out and that this damage can be aggravated by carrying heavy loads. For those of us who spend most weekends each month carrying a pack, then 50 years of ‘a few extra kilos’, can really take its toll.

Whatever the reason, the focus for many in the outdoors community has turned away from buying a single bomb proof piece of kit to last a lifetime – to buying a smartly designed,  lightweight, comfortable product that will give the most comfortable experience now, and for our knees… into the future.

Paul's beaten up GoLite

Paul’s beaten up GoLite

This decision comes with the knowledge that, depending on the places we hike in, it may not be so long lasting and depending how often we’re in scrubby, off-track conditions, we may need to replace it in 5 years or make running repairs along the way.

Besides, in 5 years time, design and technology may well have taken another leap and I can get a pack half the weight and twice the capacity!

My walking buddy Paul summed it up pretty well (whilst carrying his beaten up GoLite pack), “I’d much rather replace my pack, than my knees.”

The Philosophy Corner

This is a significant change to how things used to be and I can’t help but weigh up the conflicting interests of recycling, land-fill and the environmental impacts of such high turnover consumerism, for a hobby that strives to leave no trace. To over simplify it, is it personal interest (health/joints/comfort and long term ability) versus the greater good (the environment). Hmmm, all food for thought indeed and one that could make a good discussion point around the campfire/stove. I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

That’s quite a long winded way of introducing my review of the new Macpac Tasman 45L.

Joanna smiling whilst dragging packs through the narrow slot pass

Joanna smiling whilst dragging packs through the narrow slot pass – A good testing ground for a pack

The Basics

Specs measure up on the scales

Specs measure up on the scales (2.42lbs)

This seems to be Macpac’s first serious foray into the brave world of lightweight hiking gear. At the outset, it’s important to understand where this pack sits in the world of lightweight outdoors gear. It’s not down the Tyvek ie. the ultra lightweight end of things, where enthusiasts tinker on grandma’s old Singer and new micro-businesses are popping up as a result. This product sits comfortably between ultra lightweight and traditional – let’s simply call it Lightweight for now.

Everything about this pack is new and different for Macpac, although there are significant nods to design influences from other brands such as Deuter, Osprey and even Lowe Alpine, it thankfully still holds true to what I perceive the Macpac brand has always been about. Smart design, good workmanship and innovation. More than anything, it says to me that they’ve clearly done their homework and have looked at how they can apply the Macpac know-how to improve on what is already out there.

I love when I look at a product and I find myself saying, “Someone’s been thinking”. This is obvious in this pack. It feels as though every aspect and element has been well thought through, tested, pared back, simplified and then utilised. As with any lightweight design, everything is there for a reason.

Ettrema Wilderness - A perfect testing ground.

Ettrema Wilderness – A perfect testing ground.

Harness

The most obvious new feature in this pack is what they call the Supertramp harness system. In every other Macpac pack I’ve owned, their harness has always been heavily padded and a point of both balance and comfort. To be honest, this was one of my concerns about this pack and something that I was keen to test. Gone are the chunky, cushioned shoulder straps and they’ve been replaced with <1cm thick lightweight alternatives.

Reduced padding on shoulder straps

Reduced padding on shoulder straps

But the real change in this harness is what I’ve affectionately called the, “no sweaty back”, style of design, that has been seen in Deuter packs for some years and more recently, Osprey day packs.

I personally love the orange /grey colour combo!

I personally love the orange /grey colour combo!

Through utilising a curved back and strong mesh, they’ve achieved a style of harness that provides a gap between the wearers back and the pack. Whereas the Deuter pack that I’ve used in the past achieved this with a solid piece of curved plastic, Macpac have done this with two external (yes, external) frame spines.

Comfort

In wearing the pack, I was very surprised to find the harness super comfy, even without all the traditional padding.

Perhaps because of the minimal padding, the manufacturer’s guidelines give this pack a range of 6-14kg for a comfy user experience. I was testing it with 13kg (11hrs on our feet on day 1 and 8hrs on day 3) which was fine. The  45L capacity is going to mean that you need to be choosy about what you take anyway, so unless I make stupid packing decisions, I can’t see myself pushing this weight up any further.

One of the slightly unusual sensations I found though, was that when travelling along a firetrail at good pace (5.5-6km/hr), the pack seems to have a certain “bouncy” characteristic. Although this might sound a negative, after a while, I came to

Yep. That's all that's there across your back.

Yep. That’s all that’s there… the mesh against your back, then the spines behind.

actually enjoy it. The bounce didn’t come as a shock back down on the shoulders and hips with each step, rather the opposite, it actually felt like I had added momentum and a lightness of step. I know, odd.

Fabric

I’m not one of those gear gurus who spend hours researching the science behind each of the components in a piece of gear and can argue the relative pros and cons of each one. So apart from seeing how the Titan Grid™ Fabric performed in the field, I can’t really say anything about it.

“Our lightweight and durable Titan Grid fabric is a 100d high tenacity nylon The silicon outer coating and PU inner coating add weatherproofness and at only 116g/m2 it is ideal for applications where conserving weight is critical. Compared to similar weight fabrics Titan Grid offers improved durability as the grid structure and raised fibres enhance its ability to absorb abrasion.” (Source: Macpac website)

When dragged through rock slots, signs of wear show where a solid object (e.g. zipper) is behind.

When dragged through rock slots, signs of wear show where a solid object (e.g. zipper) is behind.

Please watch the video of my gear test, as you will see that I put the pack through much more than the average hiker would expect to do on a weekend trip. The fact is, not everyone likes to go off-track, which is fine. However, the shots of the wear on the zipper will make sense when you see what I put it through!

Hydration Options

With only 45L of internal space to play with, something I really liked about this pack is that it gives me the option of putting my hydration bladder on the outside, hanging securely within the gap between the mesh and the spines. The simplicity of using this option is made easier by way of an access they’ve created from the inside. There are two hooks and a robust piece of velcro to help hold your bladder in place. Yep, I was dubious about this concept at first. Wouldn’t the water get warm from my back? Will my back get wet? Is there more potential to pierce or burst the bladder?

Easy to see/feel how much water you've got left with the Hydration pack hidden inside the harness

Easy to see/feel how much water you’ve got left with the Hydration pack hidden inside the harness

Well, I can report that after a couple of hours of walking in full sun, on a day of 28 degrees, I am converted. One of the arguments against hydration systems is that you can’t see how much you’re drinking, but the handy thing with this design is that not only does it free up internal space, but I can easily feel how much I’m drinking by simply reaching around, feeling the bladder and giving it a bit of a jiggle. If this concept doesn’t work for you, they haven’t locked you into it. The pack also includes the traditional internal pocket for stowing the bladder. Both options work with a hose hole on both the left and right shoulders.

Belt pockets are a good size with my camera in one and phone/GPS in the other

Belt pockets are a good size with my camera in one and phone/GPS in the other

HOT TIP

  • It’s a good idea to pack any solid or hard objects (like a billy) deep inside the pack and surround it with soft things to minimise wear on the outside fabric, especially if you’re going to be dragging it over rocks!

WHAT I LOVE

  • Hydration bladder stowage in the harness
  • Zip pockets on the hip belt that are a good size. Perfect for camera, compass, snacks and chapstick, whilst not being so big to get in the way of big step ups and rock scrambling.
  • Lightweight at 1.1kg (2.42lbs). Yes, I independently checked this. See image.
  • Fold over edge in side stretchy pockets. Less chance of things falling out.

    Fold over edge on side pockets help stop stuff falling out

    Fold over edge on side pockets help stop stuff falling out

  • That my rain jacket fits in the outside pocket. Doesn’t get stuff inside wet.
  • Ample space in the lid pocket. 3 days of snacks, sunnies, safety glasses (for scrub) sunscreen, scrub gloves, torch, toothbrush, notepad, GPS/iPhone battery, keys… with room to move.
  • Supertramp harness. Super comfy, body hugging and bouncy.
  • It’s a frivolous thing, but I like the overall look and colours (grey/orange).
  • I can still stash my map case behind my back in the harness as I walk.

JURY’S OUT

  • Side compression straps being all in one piece. If it breaks in one spot, does this mean the whole side compression is unusable?
  • Shoulder straps couldn't really be tightened any further

    Shoulder straps couldn’t really be tightened any further

    I’m a tall gal at around 177cm (5’9″) and the size 3 pack was a good choice, although the shoulder straps were at their ‘almost’ tightest. It would be good to have some lee-way of an extra 5 cm of adjustment.

THE VERDICT

So, are my 3 days giving the Tasman 45L a workout going to change my behaviour?

Hell yeah!

As much as I still love my Pursuit 55L, it’s going to be reserved for times I need the extra space, such as longer trips. I’m moving across to the Tasman for my ‘every weekend’ type pack.

All I can say, is that if this is Macpac’s first dive into lightweight packs, I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Caro is a Macpac Ambassador and super grateful to her awesome bushwalking buddies from www.sbw.org.au, for putting up with her muttering to herself on camera in wild places. 

Ludicrously long belt straps - something I am going to cut off.

Comedically long belt straps – something I am going to cut off!

Hiking Food : Hidden in your Supermarket

Continuing the theme of trying to get inspired by lunch in the bush, I recently decided to spend some quality time browsing the shelves of my supermarket, to see if there were any hidden gems just itching to get out into the wilderness.
I came to realise that I have developed shopping blinkers when it comes to scanning shelves for familiar brands, packaging or solutions. I’m sure some advertising market researcher would be able to explain the reasons and psychology behind this, but for me, it felt like I was shopping in a foreign country. I was suddenly seeing things on the shelves that I walk past everyday and seeing familiar products in a new light.

All wasn’t gloss and excitement though, the grocery Tombraider in me discovered a few things that are best left on the shelves… or even buried in said tomb.
The winner of this category would have to be anything with the fetching ingredient of Mechanically Separated Chicken in it.

Mechanically Separated Chicken

Mechanically Separated Chicken anyone?

Yep, this little gem, with it’s somewhat industrial sounding name, is about as far from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as you can get.
And with a name like that, is it any wonder that it is usually found tucked up tight inside a tin with other serial offenders such as MSG and TNA’s*?
So unless you’re happy to chow down on a series of numbers and hormone pumped, pulped chicken…(and I mean every bit of it), I’d give this little gem a miss.
So I encourage you to put aside some time for quality shelf browsing and not only in your supermarket, but head to the health food store and (my personal favourite) the Asian grocery store.

Asian Supermarket Gold

A Treasure Trove in the Asian Supermarket

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t know what something is or how to use it. If you get the cold shoulder or find that language is a problem, find another shop. You’ll need to take off your rosé-coloured, blinkered, pre-conceived shopping goggles and enter with a fresh approach, asking yourself how different things could be used, how they would travel and deal with some of the conditions that you may find in the bush.

Oh and remember, (almost) everything tastes good in the bush… Although I’ve never had much luck with dried fish!

*Three Number Acronyms