The gear that I would have taken on the 2020 TGO Challenge

Sadly the 2020 TGO Challenge is not to be, but here’s the gear I would have been taking on my journey across Scotland…

As I write this, I should be in Oban, preparing to set out on my very first TGO Challenge (here is a little about the route I’d planned). Like everything else, the event was of course cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. Had it taken place, it would have been a route to remember, taking in a number of new (to me) Munros and a wealth of wild and beautiful country.

Scotland in May can be unpredictable. Challengers expect a mixture of wet, windy, warm, cold, and even snowy weather. Routes that head high sometimes need winter gear. Midges and ticks can be a problem, or they might not have emerged yet. I would have fine-tuned this gear setup in the days leading up to my hike, and no doubt made final adjustments on the morning before catching the train north.

Here is my full gear list on Lighterpack.

Let’s break it down…

Overall approach

Many readers will know that for the last few years I’ve been following a lightweight ethos in the mountains, making steady improvements to the kit I choose to trust as I learn more about my capabilities and needs. ‘Ultralight’ trips in recent years have included my 2018 Mercantour Traverse and 2019 Haute Route Pyrenees. In Scotland I’ve usually been more conservative with gear, though. Although I have done multi-day big-hill hikes in Scotland with a sub-5kg pack, this isn’t the approach I wanted to take with the Challenge.

The thing about pushing the personal envelope with ultralight backpacking is that the novelty wears off. Once you get your base weight down to a certain level, you start to hit diminishing returns – for me, in the Scottish Highlands in summer, that’s roughly 6-8kg. For other objectives the sweet spot can be anywhere from 5 to 10kg. It’s all very personal.

I want a light pack, but I’ve also spent countless nights sleeping on a hard, thin, closed-cell-foam mat. If you aren’t careful, chasing the numbers can take over from the experience of being in the outdoors. Besides, the TGO Challenge is not an extreme endurance mission. It is supposed to be fun.

Typical Scottish terrain and conditions

So this time I decided to be a bit more relaxed with my gear list. I added a few comfort items and improved my margin for error. Basically, after going through the lightweight learning process, I’m now a lot more comfortable in making selections based on what I know works rather than what looks good on a LighterPack list.

Below I’ve expanded a little on a few of the new items I would have been taking. In many cases my gear has changed little for several years, so this isn’t a blow-by-blow account of everything on the list.

Camping and sleeping

My shelter would have been the Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid (silnylon). This is a shelter I both trust and enjoy using. I carried it on my 2019 winter Cape Wrath Trail and was entirely happy with it. Although I also have a much lighter Solomid, I knew I’d appreciate a roomier and more stormproof shelter on this trip. I’ve recently added a semi-solid inner from Bear Paw Wilderness Designs, and decided to pack this too – it’s great for cutting out cold winds (and midges).

I have upgraded my sleeping setup over the last few months. Gone is the old CCF pad; I now have a standard Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. Bring on the punctures. My quilt is the lovely-looking Vesper 20, also from Therm-a-Rest. I haven’t had the chance to use it in anger yet, but it’s very light at 570g and reputedly warm down to several degrees below freezing.

Pack

A customised Atom Packs Mo 60 in my signature blue and neon orange would have accompanied me across Scotland. I’ve been very impressed with my Prospector 40, but 40 litres is a bit small for Scotland if I’m out for more than a few days. The Mo 60 would have been ideal, I think, with its stiffened back panel and roomy interior.

Mo 60 (left) and Prospector 40 (right)

Winter gear

If needed, I would have gone with my lightest winter setup: the 50cm Camp Corsa (more or less the lightest usable ice axe available) and Kahtoola Microspikes.

Clothing

No surprises here, and only one change. On the trail I would have been using my tried-and-true combo of a basic hiking shirt, running tights, and running shorts. My summer waterproof shell of choice is still the Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket, which is the most breathable jacket I’ve ever owned.1 The Berghaus Paclite trousers are the same I’ve been using for years, as is the Rab Nucleus fleece. The only change in the clothing category is that I now have a Crux Neo down jacket – the full-zip hooded version of the Crux Turbo Smock I’ve owned since 2016.

I’d be wearing trail shoes on my feet – probably Salomon ones, as I’ve found them the most durable and comfortable over recent years. I have several different pairs in stock at the moment, so would have made the call at some point in April as to which I’d start gently breaking in on a couple of morning walks before the Challenge began.

Electronics

I have made a few changes here. Late last year, after my old faithful iPhone SE finally gave up the ghost, I upgraded to an iPhone 11 Pro. The price shock was worth it for the vastly improved battery life and incredible camera quality. In fact, when shooting RAW, the quality I’ve been getting out of the 11 Pro’s camera is now good enough to replace a dedicated camera in some circumstances on the trail. In addition to the standard two cameras, it also has a very useful 13mm-equivalent ultrawide lens.2

This would have been my first real long-distance trail without carrying a dedicated camera. Why? I wanted to see what it would be like, wanted to push my iPhoneography skills. The main factor here is that my TGO Challenge was not going to be a paying job; it was simply going to be a hike for the fun of it, and that meant I could do without the real camera I still depend on for my photography work.

I’ve recently added a Valley and Peak insulated pouch to my electronics kit. This is a pretty simple item, but I’ve found it superb for storing power banks, chargers and cables while in my pack. It’s really designed as a piece of winter kit to stop batteries from freezing overnight, but I think it’ll find a place in my summer kit list too.

The other key change is that I’d be wearing the Garmin Instinct watch. Although I am not using GPS navigation on the hill or on the trail this year3, it would have come in useful for tracking sunrise and sunset times, overnight temperatures, barometric pressure, altitude etc. Even without making use of its GPS facilities, it’s still a very good outdoor watch.

Garmin Instinct in the Cairngorms

Water and food

Although I have hiked the Haute Route Pyrenees and many other summer routes stoveless, and am happy doing so, hiking stoveless in Scotland can be unpredictable. Small local food stores don’t always stock suitable products for a good stoveless resupply. I don’t like sending supply boxes unless I have no other choice, so that’s out. Also, in colder weather – and May in Scotland can be cold – I do prefer having the option of hot food and drinks.

My requirements for a stove are not hardcore, though. I tend to have hot food for only one meal a day, plus a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. I’ve recently added the tiny Soto Amicus gas stove to my collection, along with a very light Toaks titanium pot. This represents a substantial lightening-up of my old summer stove setup.


Looking through my Challenge gear list is bittersweet. I composed this list in a more hopeful, less limited time, and these items are just sitting in my gear cupboard now, weird objects that have no useful function in our current reality. But it’s my hope that I can still complete my planned Challenge route this year – maybe in the autumn, if restrictions allow. If not, then roll on the 2021 TGO Challenge…


  1. I carried an Alpkit Gravitas jacket last year in the Pyrenees. While this is much lighter, and fine if you don’t anticipate needing to wear it much, I appreciate something a bit more robust in Scotland. ↩︎
  2. Image quality from this lens is noticeably worse than from the other two, and you can’t shoot in RAW with it, but it’s still useful to have. ↩︎
  3. No big story here; I’m simply taking a bit of time to focus on sharpening up my trad navigation skills. There’s a bit more about this in the upcoming June issue of The Great Outdoors. ↩︎

10 Comments

Not yet, but I’m working my way up to a full review! It’s actually an excellent watch for the outdoors. The only real gotcha is that battery life is surprisingly weak at around 10-11 hours with GPS continuously on (I tend to get 1-2 weeks between charges with mixed general use). Of course, if you carry a power bank this isn’t a big deal for backpacking, although you might get caught short on a long day.

P.S. There are rumours circulating of an Instinct 2 with solar charging, which might alleviate battery concerns if true, although it could also drive up the price of the watch. One of the attractive things about the Instinct is that it’s relatively affordable as these things go.

Hi Alex, for each activity on your Instinct you can change how often the GPS is polled, some of the infrequent polling durations can get you a pretty accurate GPX without using so much battery. My Instinct is now 18 months old and I use it for at least 1 hour per day with GPS yet it still lasts comfortably 2 weeks between charges so I would say I can get quite close to the 24 hour claimed battery life.

Apologies for the delay…

1) Click the GPS button to go to your Activities screen
2) Scroll to the Activity Profile you want to change the GPS settings for (for example ‘Walk’ or ‘Hike’) and click the GPS button again
3) Press the ‘Menu’ button (before you start the activity) to open the Options screen
4) Scroll to the menu item that contains the word ‘Settings’ (depending on the activity it could be ‘Walk Settings’ or ‘Hike Settings’, the order does not seem to be consistent!), then click the GPS button again to enter the settings
5) Scroll down (or up) to the GPS setting and click the GPS button again to see a list of options, the option for maximum battery life (but reduced accuracy) is UltraTrac.

What’s cool with this method is that you can have 2 different Activity profiles for Hiking with different GPS settings (you can opt to copy a previous activity when adding a new one) – you can name these whatever you like so you can easily identify them later.

There is also a global option for changing the GPS tracking interval.

1) Long press the Menu button
2) Go to Settings -> System -> Data Recording
3) You can switch between ‘Smart’ and ‘Every Second’

I seem to remember more options than this when I got my watch, I don’t know if it’s because i can’t find them or whether a firmware update has reduced the number of options but hopefully this gets you started. I love this watch but my biggest gripe is there are so many settings with very little explanation, even the Garmin website and manual are pretty rubbish to a newbie like myself!

Hi Alex, I see that you put the Thermarest Vesper 20 quilt on your gear list. How does this compare to the As Tucas Sestrals quilt that you have reviewed in the past?

Hi Robert, it’s a very different beast – down instead of synthetic for one, which makes it warmer for the weight and also far more compressible. The Sestrals is very good but most definitely not as warm.

Hi Alex, I have just returned from 7 days wild camping in the Isle of Arran, thoroughly recommned it to anyone thinking of a shortish trip. Before going, I bought a Dan Durston X-Mid 2p tent to accomodate me and my 11yr old son on the trip, and after good weather reports from the Met Office was forced to find a sloped/wet pitch at 700m on the lee side of Beinn Nuisin on our second afternoon as a storm came through. The tent didn’t handle the weather, with the fly turning into a wet sock within a few hrs of torrential rain and high winds/gusts. We had the tent pushed onto our faces all night whilst the rain pretty much tea-bagged through the tarp and flynet inner, so had to beat a hasty retreat to the valley the next morning. Thankfully, the sun and wind came out and we dried nearly everything off within 4-5hrs. I am now looking for an alternative tent, as my other tent (Crux X2) is overkill and too heavy to carry for an extended trip unless in the high mountains in winter. Any suggestions on a 2P tent that can be put up in an uneven and small pitch, and also protect from days of rain and high winds i.e. Scotland? I was looking at the 3+ season tents like the Slingfin portal 2 (lots of mesh), or a MSR Access 2 (skightly heavy) but saw your comments about not needing a freestanding tent. Note, I prefer to camp high, near the summits rather than down in valleys or even tree lines (not that you always get to choose in Scottish highland wild camps) and will likely not be sharing the carrying load with my son for as few years.

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