At a North Face event I attended in London recently I got chatting to a woman who told me she had climbed Tryfan in North Wales last summer during her first ever visit to Wales. Now, if there's a subject I like talking about, it's Snowdonia, and I excitedly began reeling off all the other mountains that she should be climbing there next.
She stopped me. “Oh I won’t be going back to Wales," she said, “I’ve already seen it now."
I am the complete opposite to this person. If I enjoy visiting a place then I will want to visit it again and again, each time finding inspiration for my next trip and a new excuse to return. As small as Wales is, in my opinion you can never run out of new hills, viewpoints or hidden valleys to discover.
That’s why I spent 18 days last summer walking the 287-mile Cambrian Way, a high-level route that runs across the length of Wales from Conwy to Cardiff. I’d already explored a large part of the country, walking the Wales Coast Path, Glyndwr's Way and Offa's Dyke, but I knew that this particular path would let me discover even more, and let me see the country in even greater detail.
"When I set off I was confident that I was equipped for the type of journey I had ahead of me."
The hike certainly delivered – it was probably the finest adventure I’ve ever had. I’ll detail the journey properly at some point in this column, perhaps in the next one, but in this particular post I’m going to discuss the kit I took.
Boots: Danner Mountain 600
As an outdoor gear reviewer, I was in the fortunate position of having plenty of options to choose from when selecting what kit I’d take with me, and on the day I set off I was confident that I was equipped for the type of journey I had ahead of me.
I chose the Danner Mountain 600 as I wanted something that was lightweight but also supportive and semi-high on the ankle. They turned out to be very comfortable and grippy and I definitely appreciated their low weight, but unfortunately the waterproof membrane (a proprietary one by Danner) didn’t hold up for the entire trip. I think the suede leather had to go for too long without being able to dry out so it inevitably became supple, making the waterproof membrane vulnerable to abrasion or tearing.
That’s at least what I think happened anyway. Next time, I’d either go for the wax coated option from Danner, or I’d apply some boot wax myself before setting off.
Coat: Jack Wolfskin Cloudburst Smock
The wrong choice. I went for this because I thought the big kangaroo pouch would be useful for keeping my route cards and map close to hand, but in hindsight I should’ve put more thought into the quality of its protection instead. I quickly found out that the 2.5 layer Texapore waterproof fabric wasn’t able to keep out the Welsh weather. The biggest issue was that the hood only had one adjustment cord on the back of the head, and it really wouldn’t hold when the wind picked up. I was foolish to not realise that the Cambrian Way would demand a hardy 3-layer shell with full storm proofing.
Backpack: Osprey Stratos 50
A 50-litre capacity pack was quite ambitious considering the amount of food I needed to carry over some stretches, and also the amount of tech I had with me (two power packs, two cameras and two phones - that's a long story). I still managed to get everything in without too much of a squeeze but the load might’ve been just slightly too heavy for the straps which gradually loosened on the shoulders over the course of each day. Comfort and ventilation was excellent thanks to the suspended mesh back system and I really liked the variety of pockets. The 210D upper and 420D base make it pretty much indestructible as well.
Insulator: Rab Xenon X
When your waterproof jacket isn’t doing what you need it to do, you’ve got to hope that your insulating layer will help you out a bit. Luckily the Rab Xenon X did just that. Considering the moisture that was getting through, I was lucky I was wearing something with PrimaLoft (PrimaLoft Active to be specific) rather than down, as it was able to provide insulation even when it was wet. Big points for being lightweight and breathable as well. And it was a good wind blocker. A great jacket.
Tent: Nordisk Telemark 2
I was looking for a tent that pitched outer first and that had a low weight, small pack size, enough living space and a decent porch to keep all my wet kit in, and this tent by Nordisk ticked all of those boxes. It’s big enough for two people but also still lighter than many one-person designs at just 880g, and it’s extremely easy to pitch thanks to its single hoop design.
"I wore this shirt almost continuously for my entire 18-day trek, not just walking in it but sleeping in it as well. I expect a few people will be reeling at that revelation!"
I enjoyed using this and found it comfortable and easy to live in for those 18 days. However, I did have a bit of an issue with it when things got really, really windy. A storm hit me in the middle of the night halfway up Cadair Idris that was strong enough to cause one of my guy lines to snap. Now, the minimalist design of this tent means that if one of the four key guy lines goes, you’re in a bit of trouble. The tent folded over me and I had to jump out, bundle it under my arm and charge down the mountain to sleep in a public toilet!
I still like this tent and still use it, but when the wind is high, I’m very careful about where I pitch it.
Shirt: Fjällräven Övik Lite Shirt
I wore this light lyocell and cotton shirt continuously for my entire 18-day trek, not just walking in it but sleeping in it as well. I expect a few people will be reeling at that revelation! The thing is, it always felt comfortable, and as far as I could tell, it didn’t smell, so I didn’t see the need to take it off! Some people would warn against wearing cotton fabrics as they tend to hold moisture and dry slowly, but I didn’t have any trouble in this regard from the Övik Lite. The button chest pockets were useful, as were the buttons to hold the rolled up sleeves in place.
Sleeping Bag: Force 10 Vulcan -7
At the start of my trek, I was faced with some cold nights on the Snowdonia summits, and there was quite a lot of condensation inside my tent. Fortunately this 960g 700 fill power down bag, from Vango's sister brand Force 10, coped well – I was particularly impressed by the performance of the hydrophobic finish. A good sleeping bag with an impressive warmth-to-weight ratio.
Stove: Primus Lite+
While there are lighter options for cooking out on the trail, this is certainly one of the lightest stove systems – where a windshield, pot, handle, lid and burner all come together. 355g is still a decent weight and it’s very compact, especially considering you can pack an 85mm-high cylinder inside the pot along with the burner. And the boil time is good, I’d say it took less than three minutes on most occasions along the way. The single downside to it was that the Piezo igniter broke somehow so I had to use a lighter instead, that’s all.
Other items in my kit list included my tried and tested Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro sleeping mat which also accompanied me on a 63-day hike around Wales, the excellent Sawyer Mini Filter which I used for all of my hydration, two Goal Zero Venture 30 power packs, a small first aid kit, knife and fork penknife by Sigg, a collapsible cup, Oakley Holbrook sunglasses, a Black Diamond Iota headtorch, Komperdell Carbon Pro Compact trekking poles, a pocket radio, Canon EOS M10 compact camera and Coleman Xtreme gas. The clothing I took included Sherpa Mirik Shorts, Bergans Bera trousers, Teka and Wigwam socks, a buff, Woolpower baselayers and the Patagonia Synchilla Snap T gilet,