As mentioned in a previous post, my trip to Scotland to hike the West Highland Way involved many firsts for me. Most importantly, it was my first ultralight hike with enough gear to be self-sufficient on the road for a while. As I newly bought / made large parts of my gear for this trip, I’d like to review some of the main items in my pack. Most of them worked great, but there’s some tweaking here and there I might do for future hikes.

1. Pack: Osprey Exos 38l*

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Traditional (left) and ultralight (right) backpacks.
  • Positive: I really like the backpack. It’s (relatively) lightweight and I could hardly feel it on my back. Also while hiking a little faster down Devil’s Staircase, it didn’t bounce around or bother me in any other way.
  • Negative: The curved shape of the frame makes it difficult to pack / unpack sometimes and it inhibits the pack from being able to stand on its own. Also, the hip belt loosened up sometimes, which got on my nerves at some point.
  • Summary: I do recommend this pack and I’d definitely buy it again. However, I will think about switching to a frameless pack in the long run.

2. Shelter: Tarptent Notch

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Me sitting in my Notch – midge-proof netting and plenty of head space!
  • Positive: Pitching and packing up the tent is extremely fast and easy, which is something I love – especially in rainy conditions. It’s well ventilated and I never had any problems with condensation. I believe the “partly solid” inner tent recommended for European climate kept me much warmer and more protected than a simple net would have. The tent withstood quite strong winds without many alterations. I only added two additional guylines to the ridge.
  • Negative: Even though the tent withstood the winds, I’d put some more effort in making the tent wind-proof on any future trips to windy areas. The guylines I added might be a little too thin as they kept slipping through the fasteners on the tent during stormy nights. Changing the guylines and / or adding additional fasteners might help in the future. Also, I might invest in a few more tent pegs if I expect storms – even though that is not a very “ultralight” approach. Depending on where I will go, it would even be possible to sew more points for guylines onto the fabric itself – I observed this addition on the only other Notch I came across in Scotland.
  • Summary: All in all, I love the Notch and for me, it’s the perfect one-person tent. The space is limited, but I can sit up straight and there’s even some space to dry clothes at the ridge line. The tent’s diamond shape leaves enough space for a backpack next to you even if you’re tall and don’t want your pack at your feet.

3. Sleeping System: ThermARest Neo Air XLite* & Cumulus Quilt 350

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All snuggled up for a warm dinner “Indoors”.
  • Positive: Everything. I was never cold in my quilt and I never had aching hips even though I sleep on my side sometimes.
  • Negative: You have to blow up the mat every night and you have to be careful to tug the quilt in underneath your body. But that’s the case for any inflatable mat / quilt combination. The only slightly negative point is that the quilt loses quite a lot of tiny feathers, which resulted in very feathery clothes at the end of the trip.
  • Summary: I highly recommend this combination. It’s extremely comfortable and I never felt cold on the entire trip. I made up for the lack of a hood with a hooded fleece jacket and a beanie I wore whenever it was cold at night.

4. Stove: MYOG can stove

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Day 4 with an already rusty can. The aluminium lid worked fine, but I wouldn’t take the windscreen in the future.
  • Positive: Using a can to build your stove is super-easy and cheap. It’s extremely lightweight and I could handle it immediately even with zero experience in outdoor cooking.
  • Negative: As it turns out, Coke cans aren’t actually made of aluminium, but of iron. In the rainy Scottish climate, this resulted in a rusty stove pretty quickly. Also, having to buy denaturated alcohol as stove fuel is a negative point. You can’t take it on a plane, so all and any ideas of lightweight fuel transportation are futile in this case. Lastly, the Scots add a strong purple color to their “methylated spirits” for some reason, which leaves a purple residue in the can after burning.
  • Summary: The light weight of the stove is unbeatable and I will still take it to short trips to locations I can reach without flying. However, I consider using gas in the future, especially on longer trips and after plane rides. Being able to regulate the heat is a huge plus on long trips, as this results in a much larger variety of “cookable” food.

5. Shoes: La Sportiva Helios 2.0 trail runners*

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Perfect terrain for trail runners: steep, but mostly grassy.
  • Positive: This was the first time I hiked in shoes this light and it felt like flying! I feel much more agile and flexible wearing these shoes. Also, they dry super-fast: When I got wet feet on a boggy meadow in the morning, my socks and shoes were perfectly dry again only a few hours later. Also, it’s really quick to put these shoes on or take them off again.
  • Negative: Yes, getting wet feet is unavoidable in wet conditions. You also have to concentrate more on were you step, as you feel every stone through the thin soles of these shoes.
  • Summary: I knew what I was getting into when I decided on hiking in Scotland with trail runners. I was prepared for getting wet feet. And with this mindset, the shoes worked perfectly. I’m still keeping my heavy hiking boots for more difficult terrain, e. g. in the Alps. But for relatively easy terrain – as in Scotland and on most other long-distance hiking trails – these shoes are perfect.

Summary

Not everything went flawlessly on my first more or less self-sufficient trip. I got scared when my feet were wet and cold for the entire day. Sometimes I was afraid my tent would collapse in the wind. And in the end I was happy my hiking partner was carrying an additional gas stove. But all in all, I believe I made the right choices for my first step into the actual “outdoors”. From now on it’s just learning and getting more experienced.

 

(*): Amazon partner links, see Legal Notice

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