Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BearPaw Wilderness Designs ... Lair Review

This is a Lair, it's made by BearPaw Wilderness Designs in the US but this one now resides in sunny Wales. Now, BearPaw aren't the only shelter/tent manufactures to use this configuration and with good reason ... the internal space it offers for the footprint size is fantastic, the design's also very stable and gives a lot of protection from the elements.

A central pole is required to pitch the Lair (although it can be suspended from something overhead like a branch, there's a lineloc on the top to allow for this set up). The length of the pole obviously effects the overall height, pitch height (gap between bottom edge and the ground) and also the height of your 'door'. BearPaw recommend a minimum pole length of 50" or 125cm, so that's what I've used.

Lair from the side ... 33" wide X 110" long

Pitching couldn't be any easier, quite a few people have a fear of tarps or to be correct, they have a fear of pitching them ... if that's you, this will be a revelation. The quickest method seems to be - peg the 2 corners on the long rear edge, then insert the pole into its reinforced pocket. Now peg out the front guyline, this will hold the pole steady. put the remaining 3 pegs in and give each pegging point a quick tighten on the linelocs and that's it. You can pitch it in about the same time as it took to read my description of how to pitch it! There are 3 additional guy points on the outside too, just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse but I think things would have to be getting pretty severe before you'd need to utilise them. Once pitched, it's amazingly stable.

Set at minimum height

The Lair is made from 35 g Silnylon, all seams are double stitched as a minimum. The pegging / guy points are all reinforced as is the peak where the pole sits. Linelocs are attached and the Lair is supplied with some high quality line that just requires cutting to length and fitting to the linelocs. The stuffsack roughly measures 10" x 4" but I'd estimate you could compress it down to nearly half that size. On the Bear Bones scales the Lair weighs 330 g, that includes lines and the stuffsack ... remember you'll have to factor in 6 pegs and possibly a pole too.

Much more room than you'd ever imagine

So, what's it like to sleep under? At first I had wondered whether it would work for the taller people amongst us. I really shouldn't have, as you can see in the picture above, there's ample room even for those who are well over 6'. I've enough space to store all my gear either at the foot or head end with room to spare. My next thought was, will the pole get in the way? In short, no it won't. The amount of room inboard of the pole is just right, you're not in any danger of knocking it, nor of coming into contact with the back wall ... in fact you don't really notice the pole after a minute or two.
Does it keep the wind and rain off? It does and it does both very well, it also doesn't flap ... it must be one of the quietest tarps I've ever slept under. I said earlier that this configuration offers lots of protection but I was quite surprised how much. At one point during my initial test I was woken by the noise of the wind roaring up through the valley. I braced myself for that 'cold slap across the face' you often get when under a tarp but it didn't come ... I'm sure that setting it up at minimum height must have helped but I was still very impressed.

If you're looking for even more weather protection then you can choose to have an extended beak which you can open and close, effectively giving you a door. BearPaw can also fit a covered rear vent at the rear ... it's something they recommend if you choose the extended beak option. For those who believe that 330 g is much to heavy a thing to be strapping to their bike, there's a Cuben Lair available. It shares the same dimensions as the Silnylon version but weighs in at 150 g!

In summary, the main plus points of the Lair for me would be.
1/ Speed and ease of pitching
2/ Low weight for size/coverage
3/ Very stable
4/ Superb protection from the elements
5/ You can sit up in it!
6/ Hand made high quality product
7/ Custom options available

If I were to try and find a downside I'd say, it's a shame BearPaw aren't in the UK ... saying that, it only took 3 days from me ordering it to it being dispatched ;o)

BPWD ... A Year On.

Well what can I tell you? The Lair has pretty much been my 'go to' shelter for the past year. I've used it in all kinds of conditions over the last 12 months but rain has been a pretty continual companion on every trip.

Lair with Pyra Net 1 inside - a midge free haven!

Besides using the Lair as a standalone tarp, I've also teamed it up with a BPWD Pyra net 1 on occasions to keep the midges at bay. The net obviously adds a little weight but the benefits are well worth it. When I haven't deployed the inner I've used a homemade nylon groundsheet to help protect my gear from wet ground ... again, well worth any weight penalty. One thing I have added are guylines to the three panel ties on the lair. This was something I did not to aid stability (it's still amazingly stable in high winds without them), I did it to help keep a nice tight pitch when the heavy rains come ... silnylon will stretch when it gets wet which can lead to a little 'flappyness' the 3 panel tie outs help keep it in check.

Something I've come to prize is the Lairs small footprint ... it doesn't require much floor space to pitch. On occasion I've been able to pitch in dense forest without any issues. Given the interior space available it would be easy to believe that the Lair needs a good open area around it, in reality if you can lie down then you can pitch it.

I can't recall how many nights I've spend in it/under it but it's quite a few and I haven't got wet once. As long as you're sensible and think about where you pitch, then even wind driven sideways rain doesn't cause a problem ... obviously if you pitched it with the door opening facing the wind it may be a different story. 

I suppose the question is, would I change anything about it after living with it a year ? No I wouldn't, it still performs superbly. I can't think of any instance when I've wished for something else. I've actually been lucky enough to have a play with a couple of other Lairs this year. The first a cuben version with extended beak and the second was another silnylon version which also had the extended beak and vent plus full perimeter/door bug netting. Both were very nice but my own thoughts are that they somehow weren't as versatile as the more basic version. The cuben is harder to pitch well and seems much more fussy about pole length and peg angle and the midge netting limits the amount of 'outdoor' space you've got under the beak for cooking, storing wet gear, etc. Don't misunderstand me, they were both very good but I still believe that this version, especially if teamed up with the groundsheet/inner net options gives the greatest flexibility.

Would I buy another? - yes.

Do I still think it's suited to UK conditions? - No doubt, even given the summer we've had.

Why did you get a brown one? - Because it's not green!

Anything else? - Yes, don't skimp on pegs. You only need 6, make sure they're good ones. Saving 40g isn't much use if the thing won't stay up!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

First look ... Pocket Stove.

Options are usually a good thing, only having one choice often isn't. The new Pocket Stove from Backpackinglight gives you options ... want to use solid fuel tablets? No trouble. Rather use meths? Okay use meths. Fancy going all 'Ray Mears'? Burn twigs then ... like I said, it gives you options.

I'll be taking it out into the great Welsh countryside over the weekend for it's first trial outing, so will report back early next week. It does almost seem a shame to get it dirty though.

The Backpackinglight stainless Pocket Stove ... a thing of shiny beauty.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Freeload ... first look.

There's lots of different ways to carry your stuff and just as many advocates for each carrying solution. If you happen to run a full suspension bike then your choices have been pretty limited. Many who find themselves in this situation will often be drawn towards using a frame bag, which is a great, as long as the suspension design doesn't impede too much on the available room within the frame.

Maybe this could be another approach. It's a Freeload rack and is designed to fit pretty much everything and anything.

Rear rack on a full susser?, no trouble. Want to carry stuff on your suspension forks? it'll do that too. Don't have any rack eyelets? it doesn't matter. I'm told the Freeload will fit pretty much any bike and the same rack can be fitted to the front or the back.

I'll give it a thorough testing/abusing over the next few weeks and report back ... it might just be the solution some have been waiting for, we'll see!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tatonka meths stove ... Mini review.

It's no secret that I have a bit of a 'thing' for meths stoves, so when I saw this Tatonka stainless stove I thought it deserved a little investigation. The stove and stand (available separately) are constructed entirely of stainless, obviously not the best material for the weight conscious but ideal for longevity and durability. The basic design should be very familiar to anyone who's used a Trangia stove before, the only difference other than material, is size ... the Tatonka is bigger than the Trangia.

The extra size gives it quite a capacity, it'll happily hold enough fuel to burn for over an hour. The screw on lid (that does what it's meant to and doesn't leak) means that you can store that fuel inside the stove between brews, so you've no need for a separate fuel bottle if you were just going on an overnighter. As with the majority of meths stoves, you'll have to wait for it to 'bloom' before you can start to cook. I have to say, it's not the fasted to 'bloom', depending on conditions and with the stove cold, it can easily take a couple of minutes. I'm tempted to blame a combination of large capacity and the fact it's stainless ... there's a lot to heat up.

I think the stand is the bit that makes it worthwhile. The three legs un-clip from the main body for packing and just as easily slide back in to place when you want to use it. The stove sits snugly in the centre and your pot goes on top. However, if you use a small mug/pot then you might have to 'adjust' the pot support legs a little. In standard trim a 90mm pot is just about supported but with a little bending of the legs it'll accommodate pretty much any size of pot.

So what's it like to use? I'll get straight to the point ... if you're in a rush then look elsewhere but if you're the type who figures that you're there all night so there's no rush, it could be ideal. Boil times are steady, in real world conditions and used with a windshield you're looking at 7-8 minutes to bring 0.5l of water to a rolling boil. That's about twice the time I'd expect either a good 'pop can' stove or something like a Whitebox to take ... but perhaps that's missing the point a little. As an aside, you can also buy a 'simmer ring' to slow the thing down ... quite why anyone would want to make it slower is a little beyond me ;o)

If you're looking for a robust, idiot proof meths stove that'll outlast you and doesn't cost a fortune this might just be it. Sure, it won't break any records but it'll do exactly what it's meant to do time and time again.

Stove - Around £7 and 95g
Stand - Around £6 and 90g

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

WRT 2012 ... All systems go!

Entries for the 2012 WRT are now open and going rather well ... if it keeps up we might have to cap the numbers, who knows. If you want to take part in the worlds biggest celerbration of rough sleeping, then get over to and take your place alongside all the other deranged souls, lost in a world of down and goretex!