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Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wet and Dry - TGOC 2011

More on this year's TGO Challenge later once I've sorted out the photos and gathered my thoughts into a comprehensive (and maybe comprehensible) review of the experience.

Despite the the very windy and extremely wet weather, I had a truly excellent time this year, mainly because I have finally arrived at a set of kit that really works in tough conditions. It's not lightweight, but unlike the soaked and shivering souls that I observed from time to time in wetted out skinny waterproofs and sodden Innov8s I was warm, dry and snug (and, yes, maybe just a little smug) throughout the whole two weeks. So here's the list of my "daily clothing" ... if you're interested.

(I yawn a bit when I see yet another kit list too, but this is comfort list, not a gramme by gramme list using a chemical balance in a vacuum chamber obsessive weight saving type thing).

Paramo Velez Smock - the older heavier version (reproofed just before the off) kept the rain and wind out even when blasted at 100mph.

Icebreaker Merino 200 zip neck baselayer kept me warm.

Helly Hansen trunk style wicking briefs kept things dry & comfy "down below"

Rohan trousers (which I Nikwaxed to make drizzleproof and fast drying)

Bridgedale "thinny" liner socks

Smartwool Heavy Trekking crew socks

Asolo Flame boots (carefully cleaned and reproofed). Not a drop of water got in - I was dry shod throughout).

Rab EVent gaiters (except for the last couple of days on roads & tracks)

Rab EVent overtrousers for when it was hosing with rain (quite a lot of the time).

Old TGO light polartec cap or Lowe Alpine mountain cap as required.

Polartec gloves and light over-mitts as required.

A buff worn from time to time.

A pair of Crocs tackled deep wades over burns that couldn't be rock-hopped.
Phil in Challenge kit
Me in 2011 Challenge kit - sans hat

Now I know it's heavy, I know it's all a bit 'trad', but the point is that it works. The deep zip on the baselayer and the fact that the front of the Velez smock can be fully unzipped to hang free means that with the sleeves rolled up it is really quite cool. When the wind begins to howl, just zip up, hip belt on the outside on with hood gloves and buff. Snug as bug, and no need to take off the pack or even stop walking for more than a moment as you make the adjustments. The Rab overtrousers zip from the top or bottom to full leg length, so a venting gap is easily left (and you can reach trouser pockets when you want to).

I can honestly say that I've been untroubled by this year's weather, except for the last Monday when getting blown over and having difficulty moving did become a little tedious. And it would have been nice to spend part of an evening outside the tent rather than cooking in the porch and eating in a recumbent position.

One recurring theme talking to other challengers this year was foot problems, and I put this down to three factors:
a) Badly fitting boots or shoes, or boots with poor footbeds that fail to locate the foot properly (I swear by Superfeet replacement footbeds that support, align and, crucially, cup the heel to keep the foot in place on downhills and keep that shock absorbing pad of gristle located under the heelbone. Green for men, Berry for women. Custom fit if you've got really weird feet).

b) The wrong sock system. Alan Sloman recommended the one that I use with the "thinny" wicking moisture into the outer wool sock, thus keeping the skin dry. It works for me.
c) Both of the above, plus wet feet making softened skin more vulnerable
I prefer to walk with well fitted and not-too-heavy boots that keep the water on the outside where it belongs - and (with some trepidation and touching every wooden object within reach) I can say hand on heart that I have never had a blister. There is a first time for everything ... I do hope I haven't tempted fate now.

One factor that should be considered when undertaking the TGO Challenge is that for most participants it involves two weeks of walking. This means that if, like me, most of your trips are a maximum of three or four days, it is easy to overlook the fact that your ultralight frameless pack is putting too much on your shoulders, and not enough on your hip belt. Nothing wrong with a frameless bag by the way, but it needs to be packed carefully to give rigidity where needed. I lack both the skill and the patience for that kind of faff, so my Gregory Z55 suits me perfectly - especially as it gives great ventilation with the curved frame, eliminating that hot sweaty back if by some chance the scottish weather becomes a little balmy.

By the same token wet feet for three or four days may be tolerable - but two weeks is asking a bit much of your abused tootsies. The same goes for a waterproof that ends up wetter on the inside than out. It's deceptively easy to overlook the limitations of your gear once you're back home, everything is dried off and you've enjoyed a long soak in a warm bath.

Most years the weather is mixed, and there is enough fair and dry weather to compensate for the odd drenching or snowstorm. However, this isn't guaranteed - as we all found out this May!

For the experienced walker (like you) all of the above is just stating the bleedin' obvious of course, but for newcomers to the challenge who refer to Doodlecat before taking the plunge, reading some of the challenge accounts on the TGO pages can make it all sound rather a jolly jaunt. And so it is, provided that your kit works, and continues to work, for a fortnight of either benign sunny days or fourteen days and nights of hell, high water and bloodsucking bats.

I made up the bit about the bats.

A full report will follow. Right now I'm going to enjoy the luxuries of home for a few days. Comfy chairs, food that hasn't come out of a bag, comfy chairs, soft bed, Miss W caressing the fevered brow, comfy chairs to snooze in ....

more soon ....

Did I mention the comfy chairs? Oooooh they're lovely ....zzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ

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Blogger Theo said...

Wake up Phil. Wake up !! It's sundaymorning, take a hot shower, a little stroll around town (no, not to the pub!) and wright down your report right now. Or do I have to contact Miss W to put you to work ?

BTW, congrats on completing this years Challenge with dry undies).


May 29, 2011 at 7:34 AM  
Blogger Alan Sloman said...

There does seem to have been a lot of talk about this being the worst weather on the Challenge for years, when in reality it was only really horrid for a day (the second Monday).

Good kit and knowing how to use it, is everything. Loads of Challengers seem to have headed for B&B's too, when their tents should easily have coped. Having said that, I did spend three nights in bothies (only 1 of which wasn't planned - the Monday night) and a night at a friend's house, which was on my plan.

I *did* have soggy feet in my Inov-8's, but they fitted okay so it wasn't uncomfortable - and it also made for super-speedy progress as I just bashed my way though river crossings without all the faff of teetering on rocks or changing shoes.

But! Having said all that... I *am* considering more of a lightweight bootie than a shoe for next year, just for the ankle protection, as i did kick my own ankles far too many times for comfort in the blustery conditions!

May 29, 2011 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Hi Theo. Wide awake here, and I have taken a little stroll, but not around town town. Oh no. Miss W has determined that I am now 'passably fit' so rather than allow me to relax for a few months she took me off on a training walk "to maintain your fitness".

Apparently I will thank her for this next May.

I will do the write up as soon as I have completed the list of domestic tasks that have accumulated during my absence.

Promise :-)

May 29, 2011 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Hi Al,

Good kit and knowing how to use it, is everything

That hits the nail on the head alright - the only thing I would add is the word "appropriate". The right kit for the task.

And you're right about the weather. It was a bit inconvenient being tentbound of an evening, and I missed enjoying the odd lunchtime snooze in the sunshine, but in the end it was just, well, Scottish.

Monday though was seriously draughty. Note to self - buy some extra tent pegs!

Bootees eh? Asolo make nice ones. ;-)

May 29, 2011 at 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh noes! My comment didn't take!!

Congrat's on finishing and staying comfy. Quite an achievement, given the all-pervading wetness!

May 30, 2011 at 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably the most sensible and well balanced kit report I have ever read.


June 4, 2011 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Ta PW. It was a great walk this year - a true schadenfreudefest ;-)

Hi Derek. You'd been waiting for a really wet and windy one to test out the ingenues, hadn't you? But you know, it wasn't really that bad, and, as you can see, bog standard kit coped perfectly.

June 4, 2011 at 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


From where I sat, with no particular support needed that I was aware of, I would not have wished the weather I saw, as I kept in the dry, central heated house, on anyone. There is no doubt that it was the most serious weather in the history of the event and I found your comment on the shivering of those you met useing ultra light weight gear worrying. You are right that I have long said the year would come when the weather would be worse than that we experienced in 1983.


June 4, 2011 at 9:26 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Although I said that my gear was pretty conventional (and gently mocked the gramme obsessives) I was not drawing an unfavourable comparison with lightweight gear per se, just inappropriate gear.

In fact people like Gordon Green, Pete Varley etc fared very well, and Colin Ibbotson's innovations are featured in the latest TGO - and he goes into the hills throughout the winter too. Worth a look.

The point is that these chaps know their stuff and know that their kit will stand the test of a two week trek in all the conditions likely to be encountered.

Heavy gear too can lead to near hypothermia - just ask Alan Sloman about his "Buffalo experience".

In the end the right gear is what works for you, and times and perceptions change - I never in my dreams thought I'd see Alan on the challenge in Plimsoles, but he has used them twice now and likes them.

Still not my cuppa, but each to his own :-)

June 5, 2011 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger Martin Rye said...

It rain a lot Alan. I know as I was out init. Then it was Scotland so you expect it. Both Mondays being the worst days. The last was the most severe weather.

Phil I took light kit and trail shoes. I forded rivers thigh deep and walked in the snow. I was warm and dry all the way. The only time a top was damp was from perspiration build up walking in the rain all day. That dried fast at the overnight stop.

eVent is eVent. Does the weight of the jacket made of it keep you any dryer?

I also took a single skin shelter and was happy under it when I wild camped. All in all I was fine.

The reality is the skill of the person to cope with a few days rain. it was dry at times. All depends on the route and how fit and skilled the person is in coping with the weather as well.

I took no crocs either and forded the rivers in my trail shoes and wore them in hotels in the evening or in my wild camps. I don't miss boots.

June 21, 2011 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Alison Hobbs said...

Well done, Phil!

I think I should have worn that lot in downtown Shanghai the other day instead of getting so wet in the Chinese thunderstorms.

June 23, 2011 at 8:39 AM  

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