The cold conditions I experienced while in Scotland could’ve been a shock to the system if I wasn’t used to them after a few years in Xinjiang. In addition to the usual tips, I find the following work well:
Piss bottle: means you can take a whazz in the night without the hassle of leaving the tent. I use a cut off pop bottle, c.500ml, that slides over my meths fuel bottle and sits in the rucsac wand pocket (once it’s been rinsed clean in the morning…). Open your sleeping bag, whip out the old chap, empty it away under the flysheet, job’s a good’un.
Frozen footwear: shoes and socks freeze solid overnight if wet. Keep a plastic bag or two handy, so you can put them inside the sleeping bag with you for 30-40 minutes in the morning, warming them up enough to get on without too much discomfort.
Water resources: empty out hydration bladders and water bags, as they turn into inconvenient bricks overnight (and shards of ice could conceivably damage them). Fill your pan with water before you go to sleep. Empty the top third of any water bottles and stand them upright. Even if everything freezes solid you can then boil the water in the pan, use that to melt the ice in the bottles, then decant whatever you need back into the pan for cooking and drinking. Used in conjunction with the piss bottle it means you can do all the necessary gubbins without leaving the tent first thing. Some people boil water and pop the bottle in their sleeping bags as a hot water bottle, but I’m wary of that myself. A small vacuum flask can also simplify matters if you don’t mind the weight penalty.
Condensation: I keep my microfibre towel handy inside the tent overnight. First thing I do when I wake is mop up condensation on the inner tent and sleeping bag, before I start moving around and getting everything sodden. Condensation is a certainty in small tents during cold, still weather; don’t believe internet forum experts, there is no such thing as a tent that doesn’t suffer from it given the right conditions.
Rab VR trousers: I needed a new set of legwear now that I’m back in the damp, windy UK climate. I picked up the VR pants while heading north through Scotland, and then wore them every day for the next 3-4 weeks (and some nights in my sleeping bag, too). They performed far better than I expected, very warm and windproof but dealing well with condensation and damp. I think it could be time to retire my ageing, stinking Buffalo Mountain Shirt and replace it with 21st Century technology.
But it was a big thumbs down for…
Thermarest Prolite 3 mat: I used an old Thermarest mat for many years with no problems (other than my mum’s cats once using it as a scratching post). On the upgrade warpath in 2008, I replaced it with a Prolite 3. This delaminated after a year’s use and was replaced under warranty. Unfortunately, the warranty replacement has leaked air from Day One, although I’ve been unable to track down where it’s getting out. The leak isn’t fast, but there’s so little air within this mat that you just can’t afford to lose any of it. It wasn’t keeping me insulated while in Scotland, so I ended up augmenting it with an old closed cell foam mat that someone had left in a bothy. I’ve lost faith in the product; functionality and durability have been sacrificed in order to hit a low target weight, so I’ll be using a Z-lite closed cell foam mat while assessing alternative inflating mattresses.
I’ve enjoyed the last six weeks living as a mountain tramp. I’d probably be less sanguine about it if I didn’t have £100K+ in my back pocket, mind. However, it’s time to get a job, so I’m off NE for an interview tomorrow. Wish me luck…