Monday, 27 February 2012

Pipedream realised

After reading Chris Townsend's article in TGO Magazine a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd found my ideal winter sleeping bag. Unfortunately my enthusiasm for the very reasonably priced Pipedream 800 was dashed, when I discovered it was only produced in black (see here). 

I've continued searching for a winter sleeping bag, but nothing has so far managed to satisfy my requirements for, a temperature rating of, -12C, with a full length zip, weighing 1100g maximum, all for a cost of no more than £250, and after the Pipedream 800 disappointment, it must not be black!
I may be expecting a lot for my cash, but I'm sure there's a bag out there somewhere just waiting for me. The easiest solution would be to buy a Xero 750, the warmer version of my Xero 550,  but the RRP is in the region of £360, which is far too expensive for an item I'll probably use only use a few times a year!

I woke early Saturday morning. Unable to sleep, I got up, made a brew and spent some time surfing the net. The blogs I follow hadn't been very active, so with time to spare before breakfast I decided to check for any sleeping bag bargains.

Nothing new at my usual kit suppliers, so I Googled "Winter down sleeping bags" nothing, then I Googled "Xero 750", and bingo I hit the jackpot! The LD Mountain Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne were offering Mountain Equipment Xero 750's, at £263.99 in their Winter sale, that's over £100 below list price.

This was just too good to miss. Ok, ok, I know it's over £250, and it does weigh 90g more than my 1100g weight limit, but it's good for -13c, has a full length zip and comes in a lovely bright red. Realistically I don't think I'm going to find a better deal than this, so I've placed my order, and I'm just hoping they still have some stock left.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Majorca planning.

In April I'm going on a walking holiday to Majorca, can anyone out there recommend some good day walks, or better still a multi day trip?
Our flight arrives at Palma in the early evening, so suggestions for a good moderately priced hotel would also be most welcome.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The truth about wind farms.

An MP that actually tells it straight is very rare indeed, in a world where power and profit seem to be the only things that count, and bol***ks to our wild places. I don't know what his other views are, but Sammy Wilson from Northern Island would get my vote on renewables!
Follow this link to Dugal Quixote's windfarmaction blog, to watch and wonder at the rare sight of an MP who talks sense about wind power!


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Just a pipedream.

My Mountain Equipment Xero 550 is a great three season sleeping bag, but really can’t be expected to manage those cold winter nights. I’ve used it a number of times in sub-zero conditions, but have only remained warm by adding more and more clothes as the temperature dropped. I’m also a really cold sleeper which doesn’t help.

For years I’ve lusted after a winter weight down bag, I’ve stood for hours admiring the mounds of brightly coloured down filled bags in many gear shops but they nearly all suffer from one of two problems, they're either over £400 or far too heavy.
So when the December issue of TGO magazine came through my door, I was delighted to see a review of winter sleeping bags by Chris Townsend. Here was a comprehensive review of winter down sleeping bags with sufficient detail to satisfy even the most enthusiastic gear freak.
Before reading the article, I wrote down my minimum requirements for a 4 season down sleeping bag. The most I was prepared to invest was £250, it must be good for at least        -12C, it must have a full length jip (for ventilation on warmer nights), and must weigh less than 1100g. I was probably expecting too much, but surely Chris would com e up with the goods, and if he didn’t then I wouldn’t have to convince myself to spend the cash.
Most of the sleeping bags in the article could be discounted straight away, because they were either far too expensive, or too warm or too heavy, or in the case of the Crux Torpedo 900 at £499, -18C and 1705g tested weight, all of these things.
I quite fancied the Mammut Ajungilak Lahar Winter, which came in at £280, -13C, 1300g and had a full length zip, but it was a bit more than I wanted to pay, and heavier than I’d hoped for.
The Western Mountaineering Apache MF looked good, it was light at 973g tested weight, but I didn’t fancy the idea of the continuous horizontal baffles, which allow the down to be shifted around, at -10C it's probably not warm enough for me, but the killer was the price at £375 it was far more than I was prepared to spend.
The Sea to Summit looks a super bag, above my weight limit at 1248g tested weight. I could have been tempted if the price had been £200 lower, but £470 it's far too expensive for me!
The PHD Hispar 500 ticked most of my box’s, at -15C it may be a tad too warm, even with the optional extra of a full length zip, the makers weight was only 975g, but the killer for me would be the price at £433, including the extra £14, for a long zip.
So that left the Alpkit Pipe Dream 800, at -17C, 1199g tested weight, and £180 it was looking pretty good. It may be 100 grams over my ideal weight, and at -17C, a bit on the warm side, but at £180 it’s an absolute bargain, and if I feel too hot I can always open that full length zip.
Decision made, it’s the Alpkit Pipedream 800 for me!
Alpkit only sell their products online, and although I’d much rather see before I buy, I know the quality of their goods and service is excellent, so I logged on to their site to check the latest price, and delivery conditions. Unfortunately they were out of stock, but the 2012 version was expected sometime in the New Year. Hmmm... Time to be patient!
After a number of fruitless checks on their website, Alpkit finally announce that the 2012 Pipedream 800 was available for pre-order at £190, with a delivery promise of the late February. Great! 
My brother had also decided to invest in an 800, so I quickly grabbed my credit card and began the ordering process, before their stock ran out. Then disaster stuck, they were only available in BLACK!!!!!!
I rang Alpkit in the hope that their product range would have wider appeal than Henry Ford’s, but to no avail, I could have any colour, as long as it was black! “So what happened to the lovely cherry red bag, pictured in the TGO magazine” I asked? “We had loads of requests for black, so that’s the only colour were supplying” was the reply. Grrrrrrr!

I can’t understand this pre-occupation with black for mountaineering clothing, which now seems to be spreading to sleeping bags. Black may look smart in the coffee houses of Keswick and Ambleside, but an injured or lost mountaineer on the hill, will not show up in black. Black also shows up every stain and dirty mark, also winter nights are dark and dreary enough when wild camping, without using a black sleeping bag!
So what do I do now? Buy a black sleeping bag, yuk! Spend £200 more than I really want to, or go without. It’s a stark choice but I think I’ll probably go without!
So feeling glum I’ve parked my credit card back in my wallet, and I’m off for a beer!

Friday, 10 February 2012

A repair job with an unfortunate twist.

Last Summer I took a trip to Scotland to walk some of the Loch Quoich Munro’s (see here and here). The weather forecast was looking good so I decided to fulfil a long held ambition to camp near the loch side. My brother Tony was also making the trip so it seemed like a good idea to give my Terra Nova Voyager an airing. The Voyager is a great little tent, but has only had two nights use since I bought by mistake, but more of that another time.

On the last night of our trip we made a stealth camp on the shores of Loch Eil, where the midges were particularly bad. Having zipped up the tent we started to murder the little blighters that had managed to follow us in, but it seemed to be taking longer than usual!
It was then that we noticed that one of the seams above the door had split, and the midges were pouring through the hole. A piece of gaffer tape solved the immediate problem, but I’d have to contact Terra Nova to find out how to get it fixed.

On returning home I phoned Terra Nova in Derbyshire and explained the problem of the split seam. I was really unsure what their response would be, because although my Voyager had only been used for a total of five nights, I'd originally bought it in 2007.

Sharron Brogdale in Customer Services at Terra Nova was very helpful, and said if I returned the inner tent to them, they would assess the damage and if they thought it was due to a manufacturing or material fault they would effect a repair free of charge, providing I provided proof of purchase.
Family illness and other responsibilities meant that the return of the Voyager kept slipping down my jobs to do list, until finally I decided to combine a day out in the Peak District with a visit to the Terra Nova factory.
Unfortunately Sharron was involved warehouse reorganisation and wasn’t available when I called at the Terra Nova offices. So I left my Voyager inner complete with my customer return form and proof of purchase with the receptionist, who agreed to hand it to Sharron later in the day. Happy that my Voyager was in good hands, I spent an enjoyable day in Derbyshire and returned home.

A few weeks passed with no word from Terra Nova so I decided to give them a call, it transpired that Sharron was on holiday, but one of her colleagues (also called Sharron) said the repairs department had a backlog of repairs due to the reorganisation, and the Voyager was in still the queue We agreed the best course of action was for me to telephone Sharron if I hadn’t heard any news in the next couple of weeks.

On the 7th December I received an email from Sharron Brogdale agreeing to repair the Voyager free of charge if I provided proof of purchase, otherwise I would cost £21.00. I rang Sharron with mixed emotions, pleased that I was at last going have the tent repaired and for free, but slightly vexed that in spite of providing proof of purchase when I delivered the voyager, they seemed to have either lost it or forgotten they’d received it. Grrr!

After a quick chat, Sharron agreed to repair the Voyager FOC and said she would try to have it back to me before Christmas.
It was Christmas Eve when I heard a knock on the front door, it was our friendly postman bearing a parcel, it didn’t look like the present I’d ordered online for the wife what could it be? I eagerly tore off the wrapping to find my repaired Voyager, yippee! After a quick examination, the repair looked quite good, so I email Sharron to advise her that my tent has arrived home safely.

Christmas came and went in a blur, in the lull that is the couple of days between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, I decided to pitch the Voyager inner in the lounge, to check how the repair looked under tension. Well it looked ok, but the middle strap that connects the front pole sleeve to the inner tent wasn’t central, and at first glance I couldn’t see what was wrong!
After some head scratching, I spotted the problem,one of the straps attaching the inner tent to the pole sleeve had been twisted during in the repair, this was causing the inner tent to pull to one side.

I left it a few days to allow my irritation to subside, before emailing Sharron with a couple of photographs of the botched repair, and asking for her advice on the quickest way to sort out the problem. She promptly replied apologising for the mistake, and asked me to return the inner tent to Terra Nova, so she could arrange to have it repaired (haven't I been here before)?
I posted the tent immediately and the following day (4th January); the Royal Mail tracking system advised me that the Voyager had arrived safely at Terra Nova HQ. All I could do now was sit back and wait.

A week later I recieved an email from Sharron saying my tent was repaired, and would be dispatched the following day, she also apologised again for the inconvenience I had experienced.
On the 13th January the Voyager (quite aptly named) returned home again, this time the repair looked ok, also included in the package was a can of zip lubrication, to cover the costs of posting the tent for a second time.

So what do I think of Terra Nova’s customer service?

Well, if you ignore the botched repair and the irritation of being asked for proof of purchase when I’d already supplied it, I think it’s great! The people are friendly and helpful, they answer emails promptly and they do things when they say they will. Maybe I was just unfortunate that my repair coincided with their warehouse reorganisation, but whatever the cause, it was very annoying and frustrating

Fortunately the quality of their products probably means I won’t have to use their repair service again, but if I do I will certainly check there are no reorganisations taking place first!