Sunday, 21 May 2017

Repairing leaky Exped Synmat UL7

After 2 wild camps and with a slow sinking feeling I had to come to the conclusion that my sleep mat definitely appeared to be leaking. However, being the engineering sort that I am (read cheap here), I prefer (where possible) to repair things rather than just replace them. A quick Google revealed quite a few descriptions and guides all over the internet (including an Exped one) but I thought that I’d document my own real life go at it to prove that if I can do it, anyone can.

Materials required...

1, leaking sleep mat.

2, A bath or if in the hills a lochside, lochan or even a large puddle would do.

3, A way of marking the hole or puncture.

4, Some seam grip or textile glue (usually supplied with the mat).

5, Gloves or a lollipop stick/spatula.

6, Talcum powder.

First I ran a bath about 2/3rds full so that I could get the mat submerged, taking care to remove all sharp objects (like Louise’s tweezers) as we don’t want to be making any more holes in the mat. Next I inflated the mat until it was quite firm and then starting at one end, submerged part of it under the water, taking my time to visually inspect it, looking for bubbles and listening carefully for any hissing. As the hole may be very small the bubbles might be very slow so make sure to check both sides of the mat. A good tip here is to wipe a bubble away while it is still under water and watch to see if it reappears.

When I got to the foot end of the mat on the bottom side I found a small but steady stream of bubbles near the corner. I made sure to check the rest of the mat just in case there was more than one puncture. Once I found the puncture I marked it using a biro so that I could locate it again later.

Once the puncture was identified I deflated the mat slightly so that there wasn’t really any internal pressure but enough air to keep both sides of the mat apart. I then dried off the mat with a towel and also used Louise’s hair dryer around the puncture itself as I was pressed for time and wanted to be sure that it was thoroughly dry before using any glue/adhesive. Be careful if doing this and definitely don’t use the heat setting as I suspect you could damage the bonding on the interior and potentially de-laminate the mat.

Wearing gloves I then applied a large pea sized blob of the Exped textile glue supplied with my mat but any textile glue would do. Exped themselves even state that Mcnett’s Seam Grip is also perfectly fine to use. The gloves probably aren’t 100% necessary as a small brush or spatula (lollipop stick) would work fine I imagine. I had the gloves at my disposal though and decided to just use my gloved finger. I quickly massaged the glue into the fabric ensuring that the puncture was well covered and that had covered the area of about a 50 pence piece with the pinhole in the centre. As per the Exped instructions I then left the glue to “go off” for about 10 minutes before applying the next coat.

While I was waiting I made sure to screw the cap back on the tube of glue and ensure the air had been pushed out. After about 10 minutes I checked that the glue was tack free and then applied a second coat, this time applying the glue to an area just a little wider in diameter than the first time. After another 10 minutes it got a third and final coat. I then left the mat alone for a few hours to let the glue really dry before giving it a dusting of talcum powder to try and prevent it sticking to itself when packed or stored with the added bonus that my mat should now smell quite pleasant.

I then gave the mat a few more pumps so that it was firm enough to hold its own shape and stand up against the wardrobe (away from any heat sources, direct sunlight etc) where I could leave it so that the glue could properly cure overnight. Exped say that maximum bonding strength is achieved after 8 hours. My mat has now been standing up against the wardrobe lightly inflated since Thursday afternoon (3 days ago) and still appears to be just as firm. I’ve not slept on it yet to properly test but will report back after my next wild camp.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Beneath Fraochaidh

I woke at the same time as Louise but whereas she got ready quickly and left for work I had a much more relaxed morning with a leisurely breakfast of boiled eggs on toast and then packing a rucksack before getting washed. I was in no hurry and was looking forward to enjoying the long walk in to my destination. I parked up in Ballachulish around 13:30 – 14:00 and set off to the rear of the wee village to exit into Gleann an Fhiodh.

The sun was hot and there weren’t many clouds in the sky as I quickly found myself wandering along the glen with towering, pointy peaks on either side. The lambs were out enjoying the heat but I never got any decent photos of them as they were quite skittish and moved off any time my route took me near them.

The going was (even for me) quite slow as the sun beat down pleasantly and the track rose steadily but gently upwards. I kept stopping to look around and marvel at the beauty of the glen and it’s hemmed in feeling with the soaring ridges on either side. I really was enjoying the feeling of remoteness despite only being a few km’s from civilisation.

I was burning through my water supply with gay abandon as I knew I had to ford the River Laroch soon but now my thoughts were turning to food and my belly started to rumble. I had just enough left for rehydrating a meal and a small drink so settled down on the cairn marked on the map to refuel (The weekly brew 10) and have a rest. A welcome breeze accompanied the warm sun now and made short work of drying out my damp back. This was bliss, peace and quiet, sun and mountains. I didn’t care about my pace (or lack of it) too much, I was just enjoying being out.

After I’d rested and fed myself I packed up and set off at an angle down towards the river and made another quick stop to refill my water bottles. Gaining access to the ridge running from Sgorr a Choise onwards was my next objective and I wasn’t looking forward to the imminent heather bashing to be honest. I took my time and slowly dragged myself upwards. It was only approximately 200m height gain but every metre was a hard fought one. My lungs and chest were heaving in and out with the effort and I had to stop far more often than a man of my age and fitness should. I really detest these Sarc ruined lungs of mine at times but I won’t be beaten. I’ll eventually get there; I just have to do it slowly and at my own pace. There were ticks everywhere I looked, scurrying underfoot and along the heather stalks looking for a free ride and a free meal. I couldn’t wait to get up on top of the ridge.

Eventually I made it; I topped out on the ridge and almost flung my pack off as I checked myself and my clothing for any of the horrid wee beasties. I couldn’t find any so quickly settled down as my breathing rate returned to normal. I drank in the views, hoovered down about a litre of water and took my hot feet out of my Keen’s to breathe for a bit. I think it’ll soon be time to swap the Keen’s out for my Salomon’s.

I set off along the ridge, still gaining height with every step. The going was much easier now that I was above the heather. The sun gradually got lower and despite it still being very bright I could feel the mercury dropping with it. The evening cool had a refreshing pleasantness to it after the baking I’d had earlier on. As I arrived at a small top on the ridge around 620m I could see the Shape of Fraochaidh in the distance. There was still plenty more descent and re-ascent to do before I got to the summit yet I was tiring now and thinking about stopping soon. There wasn’t much left in the tank, time to find a pitch and get the tent up then. I was also aware of my again dwindling water supply and knew there was a lochan just over the next rise according to the map. I’d resupply and camp near there if possible and grab the Fraochaidh's summit in the morning.

I found a flat spot just beyond and slightly above the lochan but just beneath the rocky rise to 718m. I flung the tent up having another panicked paranoid full body search as I spotted a tick hopping onto the back of my hand as I placed a peg. The sun was setting rather quickly behind me so I reckoned I should get a nice silhouette of the mountains in front of the tent door with the sunrise the following morning. I could feel the exhaustion creeping in now so went back down to the lochan and filtered the murky looking water before retiring to the tent. I had another dehydrated meal, a pasta carbonara one from Bla Band which I thoroughly enjoyed. One last tick check with the mirror and I hopped into bed and drifted off quickly.

Despite it being quite sheltered in my wee camp spot which meant a quiet rustle free tent I woke every couple of hours to find my shoulder and hip pushing through my mat to the ground underneath. Seems Mr Exped Synmat has a slow leak. I re-inflated each time and nodded back off waking again when the tent got light. I peeked out and had missed sunrise but doubt I’d have seen anything as the tops were all hidden beneath the cloud cover. At about 650m I was just beneath it and it felt like I’d be able to just reach up and touch it. My enthusiasm for the summit waned and I wanted more sleep so I nipped out for a quick pee, hopped back into bed dozing for another hour or so. There was still no breeze and the clouds refused to budge. I dragged myself up and had a think about what to do while I ate my breakfast and drank my coffee.

I pondered it for a while and came to the conclusion that I’d seen the inside of enough clouds in my time to not be that fussed about seeing another. I’d done what I intended, i.e. get out with the tent, walk in amongst some beautiful scenery and wild camp somewhere peaceful with a view. With the pressure of making it up to the summit and back gone I now had a bit more time to potter about camp. I put the kettle on again and had another brew before leisurely packing up and wandering slowly back the way I’d come, smiling to myself about how I was finishing this trip the same way I’d started it.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The weekly brew 10

I’m sitting here quite stiff and sore, and wishing I had just one more day off as I write these words. Below you’ll find this week’s “Weekly Brew” as well as a late lunch/early dinner just before I headed off up onto the ridge line behind me and over my right shoulder. There is a tent in that rucksack but more about that later...

Sunday, 7 May 2017

OMM Flexi Flask vs Platypus Soft Bottle

After many happy years of service I replaced my old and badly worn day pack, an OMM Adventure Light, with another of the same model last August. It’s a great pack and I’d happily recommend it. It has though, been updated several times since my old one. One of these updates it seems has been to make the mesh bottle pockets a good bit slimmer to the point where I struggle to get my old oval Sigg bottles to fit. Fine, it was probably time I got some lighter and more compact bottles anyway then I thought.

I had a quick look online and decided to play it safe. I went with the OMM Flexi Flask 500ml x2 as I was pretty much guaranteed that they would fit well in the pockets and the reduced weight and empty collapsibility also appealed.

When they arrived they certainly looked to tick all the boxes. They’re quite slim and constructed from a very soft plastic film that does indeed make them easy to get into the pockets with no snagging, however they are so soft that they cannot stand up on their own (not a huge issue). They also collapse down to a very compact size when empty. Weight is a very welcome low of 27grams and a good chunk of that is the bite valve style nozzle.

Sounds perfect then I hear you say? Well no. There are two issues I found, one with the potential for accidents if you don’t follow the warnings (and common sense) and the other that pretty much undermines the products usefulness and entire purpose to the point that I’d advise you to stay well away.

The first point is with the construction of the OMM Flexi Flask. It appears that the seams are thermally welded and aren’t really up to the job of holding hot liquids. I tested this myself with water from the kettle and almost immediately had a catastrophic failure of one of the short bottom seams. See pic below...To be fair to OMM though, I’m sure that I do recall seeing something on the packaging warning me not to do this (I cannot check their website to confirm as it appears to be down at the moment) and it’s also not really an expected use of the Flexi Flask or anything that I or anyone in their right mind would recommend anyway given that... A) You’d very likely burn yourself through the wall of the material. And B) It has a bite valve so would have the serious potential to leak inside a sleeping bag anyway if you were to attempt to use it inside a sock as a makeshift hot water bottle (something I’ve done on occasion in the past with Sigg type bottles). Either way, I’d be inclined to give OMM the benefit of the doubt here anyway as you’d have to be pretty daft to think it was a good idea. I only did it as I wanted to see if it would actually fail and had already decided that they weren’t fit for purpose which brings me to my next point.

The product bumf I can find on every webstore (again I cannot confirm on their website as it’s still down) selling these flexi flasks is that the material is “BPA, PVC, Phalate free and will not taint taste.” Great! I like to be in the knowledge that I’m not ingesting harmful chemicals potentially leaching out and although I have no way of measuring whether or not this claim is accurate, again I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. The will not taint taste claim is however complete rubbish. Every time I used these flasks I could taste the plastic. I tried washing and rinsing them out many, many times but it was always the same. Water poured in and drunk straight out was fine but water left in there for anything longer that half an hour had an overwhelming plastic taste. I could even taste it through my Coffee or Milo. It tastes rank and frankly ruins what could have been a pretty good product. Even if there is technically nothing “harmful” leaching out of the material, something must be as confirmed by my own taste buds. My advice is to avoid these like the plague. I 100% would not recommend the OMM Flexi Flask to anyone and to be honest am pretty annoyed that I spent my own hard earned cash on these.

So it was back to the drawing board then in my search for a lightweight, compact (and collapsing if possible) bottle to fit in my OMM Adventure Light pockets. In my searches I’d already come across the Platypus Soft Bottle and had plumped for the OMM one for the positives mentioned above. Sometime in the distant past I’d already tried the Platypus Soft Bottle and not really gotten on well with it mainly due to it being the 1 litre size. This meant that it was too long for the bottle pockets and flopped around over the top of them constantly threatening to fall out when half full. I also seem to recall the welded seams catching a bit on the mesh bottle pockets but that may well also have been a function of the too big size plus the fact that my bottle pockets were already quite badly holed after many years of abuse. Other than that I had no complaints and have happily used a larger 3litre platypus for many years as a means of collecting and storing water for camp. I tentatively with crossed fingers decided to have a shot at a 500ml size Platypus Soft Bottle then.

Weight was pretty much the same and although a little bit wider than the OMM Flexi Flask they are flatter and flexible so still squash easily and conform to the bottle pocket’s diameter. The length of the 500mI version is also far better for bottle pocket carry with nothing flopping about. The material is a quite a bit stiffer though, so rather than crushing down it tends to work better if rolled up when empty. Collapsed size compared to the OMM is still pretty similar though. The Platypus Soft Bottle does stand up on its own due to the shape of the bottom which may or may not be important to you? Personally I discovered that I like it as it means I can put the Platypus down with the lid off when cooking etc. Platypus give the usual assurances regarding BPA, BPS and Poly-carbonate etc but more importantly though, I can confirm that there is no taste issue.

Any negatives then? Well the sharper eyed among you will notice that despite my link, that is not a push pull cap in my photos. Originally I tried the push pull cap thinking it would be easier to drink on the go but found the push/pull action to be quite stiff and uncomfortable on my teeth to open and quite hard to ensure a properly closed (and therefore sealed) position. Luckily I had some old Platypus screw tops at my disposal so swapped them out and to be honest find them just as quick and convenient to use. The bonus being that the Platypus Soft Bottle weight now goes down to 20grams. Result! As mentioned the material is still stiffer than that of the OMM one and the wider seams do still tend to catch on stuff but with the smaller size bottle, in real life use, I’ve not found them to be an issue and they do go in and out of my bottle pockets one handed when wearing the pack with no problems. I will be keeping an eye on the pocket mesh for wear and tear though and report back if necessary. Some side by side photos below for comparison.

Would I recommend the Platypus Soft Bottle then? Absolutely and the proof is that I already have gone and spent my money on another one, and you will see them in constant use if any of you are following this place. I would however caution you to pick your size carefully and would tend to recommend the normal cap over the push pull cap.

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