Hilleberg Soulo – long term review.

If you’ve watched any wild camping video’s on YouTube you will be familiar with the Hilleberg Soulo, as alongside the Tarptent Scarp 1 it is one of the two most popular solo tent designs which feature. I’ve now used mine through two winter seasons.

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Why did I buy one?

I returned to backpacking in 2017 after a 25 year gap and was drawn back by Alastair Humphreys descriptions of micro-adventures and by wanting to explore the Forest of Bowland after seeing an enticing track wiggle up into the hills. After a couple of years of weekend walking / wild camping adventures from Spring to Autumn, I decided I wanted to expand my rediscovered hobby into winter and to be able to camp on fell tops in the coldest or wildest of weathers.

Space (4/5)

There is a good area of excellent headroom in the tent thanks to it’s semi-geodesic design, I am 5’ 11” and am very comfortable. The length of the inner leaves space for your next days clothes at your feet and the steep side walls means that when you are sleeping there is plenty of space above your head even at the end of the tent. In strong winds my preference is to sleep with my head at the leeward end where the slope of my pitch allows this.  The pentagonal footprint leaves good space next to the middle of your sleeping pad for a book, map, torch, water etc. There is a single pocket for watch, phone, matches and the like. The porch is just about big enough for all my wet gear and cooking stuff.  For me the ideal porch space is 0.7 m2 per person and the Soulo offers 0.6 m2. The steep walls of the fly do mean you can make the most of this space and the other features of the tent make this sacrifice acceptable.

I would not want to spend more than a week in a tent of this size, but I doubt I’d ever go on a solo walk of longer than four days in conditions that justified such a design. For base camp use, I would choose something larger.

Ease of pitching (4/5)

The Soulo is easy to pitch, but having three poles means it it takes 10-15 min to get set up, 15-20 min if it’s really blowing a hoolie.  The poles are attached to the fly with clips with a short sleeve at the base of each pole.  This design aids pitching in strong winds as you can firmly fix the base then gradually pitch the fly higher up each pole in turn. One very big plus is that it goes up ‘all in one’ which means once the fly is pitched, the job is complete. Having a fly first, or ‘all in one’ pitch design seems essential (to me) if you are planning to use your tent in extreme weather. In today’s market place the large majority of tents pitch inner first which is not want you want in a tent for the 4th season.

One thing I learnt on my first ‘foul conditions’ trial was to double peg the first two peg placements – for more info click here. You don’t actually need extra pegs for this, as once you have the geminal points pinned down and a couple of guys in place you have spread the load over 8 pegs and can remove the ‘doubles’ for use on the remaining guy lines. If you are planning on pitching at above Force 6 having a few extra pegs is wise anyway.

Another thing I learned was to mark up the windward end pegging points with some bright cord so it’s easy to know which end is which in wild pitching conditions. The porch has a fixed and an opening section and in bad weather you’ll want the fixed section at the windward end.

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All the guys out and double pegged – High winds on the Howgills

The Soulo comes with 12 guy lines, six sets of two. However it is only supplied with enough pegs to mean that by design you peg each pair of guys to one peg. The weak point of a guy is usually the peg placement and unless you are willing to carry the extra pegs you might as well remove some of the lower guy lines in my view. I have removed four (to save weight and to simplify) as for single night use in even poor conditions I can only see the point of having double guys at the windward end. I carry extra pegs so I have one per guy.

Weather worthiness (5/5)

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Trusty Soulo after a cold night

This is where the Soulo is in a league of it’s own. So far I’ve used use it in very strong winds, heavy rain, driving horizontal rain, low temperatures (down to -6 C) and on very poor ground. I’ve spent a relaxed, warm, dry and secure night in each case. The only ‘4th season’ condition I’ve not tested it in is heavy snow fall. The covered high level vent keeps out spindrift and the heaviest of rain, so long as that rain isn’t horizontal. The semi-geodesic design should be easily strong enough for a high snow load.  When I did have horizontal rain and had to close the vent, the wind coming under the (down to the ground) fly was enough to prevent any condensation.

Ventilation / Condensation (3 / 5)

This is the one weakness of the Soulo. In colder weather, unless you have a moderate wind ( > ca. 15 mph)  wind you will suffer moderate levels of condensation on the fly. In sub zero conditions I’ve had small amounts of ice on the inner tent too. For me this has never been more than an inconvenience and extra weight to carry the next day. However, for some users condensation is a real issue, to the point of their sleeping bag getting wet. Perhaps I respire less water overnight than average, or maybe I have less of an issue because I never pitch my Soulo in a sheltered position on a cold night?  One of the inner doors can be zipped open to reveal a mesh panel to aid ventilation of the inner, I always have this partly open.

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If you want a tent which will keep out wind blown snow you will have to have a flysheet that comes down to the ground, in the past snow skirts were also used. This is almost certain to lead to condensation in a (low volume) solo tent. I know I see more condensation in the Soulo than my two man four season tent under comparable conditions, presumably because of the lower volume per person and thus ease of reaching the dew point. Also, two man four season tents tend to have two doors and thus a cross venting option.

My conclusions are these:

  • The Soulo is a tent for the 4th season and is not ideal to use all year round in the UK.
  • I get a 5-6 C temperature differential in the Soulo in winter, higher than the 2 C differential of my Enan – this is welcome when it is below zero outside.
  • You are best not to pitch the Soulo in a sheltered position, make use of the breeze to reduce condensation.

If you only feel comfortable pitching in a sheltered position and don’t want heavy condensation then a 3 season tent is probably the best choice for you. It will vent better, be lighter and usually cost less to buy. A good 3 season tent will cope with most UK conditions all year round. Only if you are fool enough to want to pitch your tent on a fell top in a gale or somewhere with heavy snow fall then the Soulo would be something to seriously consider. These are the reasons I have one and I’m when I do use it I am delighted to have it.

Footprint (Score 5 / 5)

As a solo tent which is just the right size, the footprint is small and I’ve been able to pitch the tent small spaces. Given my renewed love of wild camping this is an excellent characteristic. Also, because it is free-standing you can pitch it well on ground which is far from ideal – say on top of heather, or even somewhere you cannot use all / any of your pegs. I once used a mountain bike as my tent anchor when I pitched on volcanic ash which would simply not hold a peg securely.

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Weight vs. Robustness (Score 4/5)

The Soulo is unarguably robust. In terms of design, geodesic tents are the strongest, if you push down on the roof and feel it spring back you get a good sense of this.  The materials are very strong and the construction excellent. I have the Red Label version – for an explanation of the colour system click here. A Black Label – even stronger – version is now also available. However, from my experience the only place I feel this would add value would be for group use / commercial / hire situations.

At 2.4 kg it cannot be considered a lightweight tent by today’s standards. I have carried it for 2-4 day walks, but would not want to carry it for a week. If the weather is simply cold (below -3 C is cold in my books) but not wild I’m better to carry a warmer sleep system and a three season tent as I did here. However if I am expecting strong winds for an elevated camp I am delighted to use the Soulo. It was ideal on my recent winter traverse of the Dales Highway with high elevation pitches on Ingleborough and the Howgills

Summary

If you want a totally reliable 4th season solo tent, and you are happy to own another tent for milder conditions, the Soulo should certainly be on your shortlist.  For such a need I would always choose a geodesic / semi-geodesic / dome design – to understand why read this article. It’s not a good idea to choose a tent from it’s statistics alone, I’d always draw up a shortlist on paper then go and see these options pitched at a local stockist and have a good poke around. If I had the chance of a month’s trial ( If you are listening Terra Nova! ) with other models in place of my Soulo those I would seriously considered would be:

  • Terra Nova Southern Cross 1 – total weight 1.7 kg (£600)
  • Tarptent Scarpa 1 with the extra cross poles – total weight 1.9 kg (approx £620 inc. tax & duty)

I bought my first Hilleberg Tent in 2001 for a cycle tour of Iceland and was blown away by it’s quality, easy of pitching and well thought out design. They were rare in the UK back then. My original Hilleberg is still in great condition and used to this day, albeit infrequently because Mrs W is now rather less keen on camping.  In the last 20 years I’ve tried models from a number of other European makers but when it came to choosing a tent for wild walking I returned again to Hilleberg.  Whilst they are expensive (Soulo RRP is £895 at time of writing), if you plan to use your tent both frequently and to it’s limits of it’s capability I would contend that they offer excellent value.  The Soulo is not a tent for the occasional weekend on a campsite, but if you need true 4th season performance, my experience is that it does not let you down.

I’d summarise my comments by saying that the Soulo is a tent for niche applications, but within that niche it excels.

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After my ‘foul conditions’ test night – Storm Bella (Force 8 gusts) on top of a local fell.

If you have found this review helpful, you might also find value in reading my other tent reviews:

Wild Boar Fell & Mallerstang – a two day Wild Walk

I’ve pondered over maps many times to try and plan a really good circular two day route to take me over Wild Boar Fell. Initially I wanted to use a high level route over the Howgill Fells as my return path but I could find an agreeable way across the valleys at either end. East Baugh Fell would be an option in the summer but is reported to be very boggy in the wetter months. When I walked along the North side of this fell as part of the Pennine Journey and this was both ‘moist’ and thigh high in reeds. Whilst I’ve had reports that it is better (and reed free) on the South side, you still have the valley crossing at the North end of the walk to consider and there is no way to avoid a fair amount of road walking. Whilst I accept the necessity of a little road walking on a longer trip, I seek to avoid it for a weekend outing.

The route I walked is shown below and I think it can be said to have been 85% successful. On the day I was returning from Great Shunner Fell to Garsdale I found Cotterdale to be significantly under par as I shall expand on below.

Wildboar Route on Map for blog

But let’s start with the good stuff. To have a high camping spot at my half way point, and somewhere sensible to park the car I decided to start from Garsdale Railway Station. The omens for the walk were all positive with me spotting a red squirrel and three donkeys before I even left the car park.

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Day 1 12.8 miles / 900 m height gain (approx)

The walk-in was OK and did afford me excellent views of two viaducts

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Whilst there is no formal footpath up Swarth Fell / Wild Boar Fell this is open access land and there is a well defined path on the ground. Interestingly this seems to follow the county boundary between Cumbria and North Yorkshire. The character of these hills is very much like the Howgills but with some limestone crags to be enjoyed on the Steilhang slopes.

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My walk was some weeks into a very dry spell so it was interesting to observe which pools and gills were still filled. Since I was harvesting water as I went (to reduce weight carried) it was more than just a casual interest. The pools which are noted only on the 1:25k map were all dried up, those large enough to be on the 1:50k map, such as the larger one which is on the coll between Swarth Fell and Wild Boar Fell, were well filled and looked likely to remain so all year around. A point to note if you, like me, plan a variant of this walk in the future.

The cairns on top of Wild Boar Fell were fun.

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Why so many?

The weather was pleasantly warm – this was the weekend before the ‘Red Alert’ heat wave of July ‘22 – and after lunching at the top of Wild Boar Fell (WBF) I allowed myself a 30 min snooze. Whilst the crags of WBF were best enjoyed from the other side of the valley, I did get a taste from my lunch spot.

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The route down then along the River Eden whilst not stunning, was pleasant and the route up out of Outhgill easy to find. It was at this point I was reminded of a pre-trip conversation with Mrs W. Be sure to look for water sooner (lower down the hill) than normal we agreed – and this was a sound conclusion with the higher gills being dry.

I’ve found it great to harvest water ‘as I go’ but it does need a little more thinking about. However it drops over a kilo of my pack weight so it’s worth that extra mental effort, and anyway for me the planning and anticipation is part of the fun.

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A view towards Mallerstang Edge from under the railway

The final push up to Mallerstang Edge was hot and hard work because of it being so steep, but I took in in 50 m elevation chunks and was soon on the ridge. The first top of High Seat was to be my last of the day. At 709 m it took me by surprise to find that it is taller than both Pen-Y-Ghent (694 m) and Buckden Pike (702 m). Just beyond the summit I found a flat spot with a great view of Wild Boar Fell and Hangingstone Scar.

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Day 2 – 13.0 miles / 330 m height gain

An unpredicted rain shower woke me at 0500, but it soon lulled me back to sleep. The showers stopped as a breakfasted and I was on my way at 0820 with the fell tops to myself. I didn’t see anyone until I started to descend the Pennine Way from Great Shunner Fell at 1100. When I thought of the rammed car parks in Horton and Ribblehead I was pleased with my choice of route.

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Once I had walked 30 min down the Pennine Way, I struck off right on a bearing heading for the isolated end of a Bridlepath which would take me down through the forestry plantation into Cotterdale. Don’t go to Cotterdale! On the day I was there is was alive with flies and afforded footpaths which had last been walked by the person who put the signs up! They were thigh deep in grass, had not been walked for years, and lacked any positive virtue.

Once out of Cotterdale my path was a pleasant walk out back to the Railway Station.

Epilogue.

Should you plan to walk a route similar to mine I would suggest it would be best after a good dry spell as the ground between Hugh Seat and Great Shunner Fell (GSF) is clearly a bog with the all the fun that would involve had it been saturated with rain. I was very pleased with my wild camping spot and would have been equally happy with the top of Wild Boar Fell and its views of Mallerstang.

Sitting here reflecting on my route afterwards I wonder what I might do differently should I walk a similar route again. The majority of my route was very enjoyable and I was pleased to have both climbed and seen (from across the valley) the mighty Wild Boar Fell. Whilst the plain between Hugh Seat at Great Shunner Fell (GSF) is not ‘amazing’ I think taking in GSF – for which I have a fondness – then backtracking to Hugh Seat and then following the Lunds Fell Ridge down would be a choice worth exploring. Another option could be a linear walk from Dent Railway Station via Great Knoutberry Hill (the name appeals to me) over WBF then down into Kirby Stephen. Then you could return by train. I’m no rail enthusiast, but it must be a most picturesque route which would allow you to relive you memories of your outward journey.

Overspecified but not Overheated – Hilleberg Rogen in a Heatwave

Whilst it is true that many countries see summer temperatures well in excess of that seen this July in the UK – having night time temperatures above 22 C here in Lancashire was less than fun*. Daytime temperatures of 33-34 C turned the walls of our house into a massive storage radiator too. One benefit of being a keen backpacker / wild walker is that I have a couple of tents I can opt to liberate from our hobbies cupboard. Since it has two doors and is new to me I opted to pitch my Hilleberg Rogen and sleep in the garden.

The big benefit with the Rogen is the both side of both doors / porches can be rolled back. With the mesh doors you can get then get a through draught to help to keep you cool

I bought my Rogen second hand and it came also with a ‘pole holder’ kit which allows to pitch the inner tent alone. However it was too hot to pitch, detach, then re-pitch the tent. I can see now why folks in the US prefer inner pitch tents for nights like this. However since I normally wild walk on the fells I am very happy to have an outer pitch / all in one design for most circumstances.

Of course, had I been more versatile I could have just slept under the hedge!


*We have two challenges with high temperatures in the UK.

  1. Our weather is very variable so our bodies never get time to adjust to large swings in temperature.  This variability (along with the very British desire never to talk discuss our feelings) is why the weather is a common topic of conversation.
  2. Our built environment has not been designed for relative ‘extremes’ of temperature.

Hilleberg Rogen – a review

This is my initial review of the Hilleberg Rogen, a two (and a half) pole dome tent, designed for three season use by two adults. I’ve had searches set on several second had sale sites for over 18 months and finally I bagged a pre-loved Rogen which had (it was claimed) only been used once.

User Requirements Specification (URS)

No tent is perfect for all conditions and all duties, that is why there are so many designs out there. My requirement was for a light weight, yet robust, two man tent to use for mini adventures with my son (8 yrs) or when I go wild walking with a friend. It needed to be capable of handling being pitched on an exposed fell top and have enough porch space for the wet gear and rucksacks from two adults.

My personal preference (based on too many years experience) was for tent where the door was on the long side and not the short side / end as this enables you to sit up in your sleeping bag and cook. Also when you have two people it’s easier for both to sit in the doorway to admire the view. Porch space is very important to me and experience suggests to me that around 0.7 m2 per person is ideal.

So how is it shaping up against my requirements?

Space (Score 5 /5)

The Rogen feels like a Tardis. Being a dome it has an excellent area of good headroom. The long sides of the inner are vertical because of the two porches and each porch is a generous 1.0 m2. On a recent trip we comfortably sat three people for evening drinks, there would have been room for a couple more too. There is space for a 55 L rucksack, boots, waterproofs and cooking gear in each porch. With cooking gear put to one side each of you can enter through your own door so you can get in quickly should it be cold or raining. I’m 5’11” (180 cm) and there is 30-40 cm spare at my feet (or head) to store clothes overnight. There is a good sized pocket on each side too for phone, GPS, matches etc.

The roof pole helps to make the best use of the internal space. It gives rise to eaves on each porch which help protect from rain when you have the outer door/s open.

When I was last out in it there were periodic short showers and I was sat in the porch cooking and kept completely dry despite the door being open. Further, the eaves give rise to a steeper door angle which means you can maximise the usefulness of the massive porches. (I could sit wholly in the porch and cook with two further people in the inner tent, not bad for a 2.1 kg structure.)

Ease of pitching. (Score 4/5)

The first point to note is that the Rogen pitches fly first or all in one. I find this the most practical option for British weather. Sometimes outer first tents have a rather loose, flacid inner, but not so in this case because it is a dome structure. This is the first tent I’ve had with ‘roof pole’ and so far I’ve found this OK to insert but challenging to remove when striking the tent. I’m hoping I’ll get used to this with time. The single ended pole sleeves make putting the two main poles in a breeze and the tent can be pitched by just one person, even in a moderate wind. Striking it is far easier with two if it’s windy, but then it is a two man tent.

Weather worthiness (Too early to rate)

So far I’ve only spent three nights in the Rogen. I can say that it stood up very well to 30 mph winds in an exposed position. In such winds it makes sense to make use of the extra guy points on the porch and it’s a shame it doesn’t come with spare guys for this purpose. My other Hilleberg tents with Kerlon 1000 fabric have never let in a drop of rain. The Rogen has more seams than many tents and the potential for water to pool on the top leaward end of the tent so time will tell. The design is very similar and fabrics identical to the Niak which this tent replaces and I owned for several years. I was dry and secure in both very wet and very windy  weather without the Niak missing a beat, so this bodes well. The Rogen also boasts waterproof zips on the doors.

Ventilation / Condensation ( 4 / 5 so far…)

If people have cause to complain about Hilleberg tents it’s normally about condensation. Let’s first consider the fly; The Rogen flysheet does not come down to the ground but instead has a catenary cut design – the bottom of the fly curves up between the pole ends.

As noted above, I bought the Rogen to gain more porch space on my old Niak which has the same catenary fly design. I found the Niak to perform excellently wrt condensation over a range of conditions and an improvement on my previous Terra Nova Solar 2 and my current Soulo. I’ve only used the Rogen for three nights so far and so long as the wind was not totally absent I’ve not experienced any condensation at all. That said, no tent will be condensation free in all conditions. Because the design has two doors this allows for a cross breeze to be set up. To aid this I would recommend carrying two clothes pegs so that when you open the zip at the top of each door you can force the gap to be wider.

 

Internally each door is 100% mesh which allows for excellent inner tent ventilation. The steep walls should also reduce your breath condensing on the inner on cold nights. Finally the DWR finish on the inner means that should you re-pitch it damp, on day n+1 of your walk, it will dry out* in around 20 minutes.

*The higher the contact angle of a material, the faster it will dry.

Pitch Flexibility (Score 5 / 5)

The design is asymmetric. Whilst this does not make the tent very photogenic it does impart significant practicality. The flysheet door is divided into a wide and narrow section and you can choose which is the fixed section and which becomes the opening ‘door’ depending on the conditions. Combine this with the dual entrances and you can always have a leeward entrance / protected outside cooking area. It is easy to swap the pegging point for each door so if the conditions change you can change the set up in seconds. Ideally you would pitch with one of the narrow ends into the wind, but given the size of the porches, if the wind moves around in the night there is plenty of space between inner and fly on the long side to handle this. I will be adding an extra guy (or two) to my kit to tie out the windward porch. Two tie on points are there for this purpose.

Weight vs. Robustness (Score 5/5)

The Rogen weighs 2.10 kg. This is not the lightest two man, dual entrance tent on the market but neither is it the heaviest:

  • MSR Hubba Hubba – 1.72 kg

  • Vango F10 Krypton UL 2 – 2.01 kg

  • Nordisk Telemark 2.2 – 2.2 kg

  • Terra Nova Pioneer 2 – 2.15 kg

  • Terra Nova Southern Cross 2 – 2.29 kg

If your URS is the same as mine then the MSR Hubba Hubba is certainly something to consider. The Rogen has a 50 Denier groundsheet and the MSR is 30 Denier so you should probably consider the weight of a footprint if you plan to wild camp with the latter which adds another 220 g. MSR tents tend to be like Marmite – some people love them, others criticise the robustness of the materials they choose to keep their weight / cost down. I’m keeping out of that debate.

I’ve long felt that Hilleberg’s yellow label (lightest weight) range gets the balance between weight and robustness just right if you are a regular / frequent wild camper. I’ve used by Enan for over 40 nights in the last two years and before that my Niak in some tough conditions, never suffered any damage and always sleep securely because of the confidence in my shelter.

Summary

I look forward to being able to write a long term review in 12-18 months time because I am really keen to use this tent for two person adventures. It remind me of a modern version of my Phazor Dome – for those old enough to remember this design – however because of the Kerlon fabric you have all the space of a base camp tent in one easily light enough to carry. I do find the roof pole hard to get out when it’s windy, but hopefully that is something I will get the knack of with time. My biggest complaint would be the price, currently £1030. When you can buy a Hubba Hubba for £440 or a Telemark 2.2 LW for £540 it’s hard to justify the additional cost unless you are a heavy user or have deep pockets. I was pleased to buy mine second hand, but I had to wait for 18 months for one to come up for sale – either because people love them too much to want to sell on, or more likely because of the price when new.

I’ve been fortunate to try many tent designs over the past 35 years, many of which I got to borrow rather than buy and have a strong preference for the dome design for three season use. The Rogen is an extremely well designed and manufactured example of this construction which thus far seems even better in use than it appeared on paper.

 

If you have found this review helpful, you might also find value in reading my other tent reviews:

Dales Superhighway – a four day wild walk

Whilst out on a family amble I discovered that our route formed part of the Dales Highway. The section we were walking from Stainforth to Faizor was very attractive, so I looked into details for the whole route. It runs for 90 miles from Saltaire to Appleby-in-Westmoorland. The low level section at the Southern end was not of interest to me, but the route it took through the Yorkshire Dales and over the Howgills looked inspired so I planned a four day section from Settle to Appleby which had the practical benefit of a train station at both ends making this a logistically easy linear walk. Having completed this I would suggest that if you are interested in the ‘hill section’ as I was then a better option still would be to terminate your walk at Newbiggin-on-Lune where you can get a regular bus to the train station at Kirby Lonsdale and from there, the train back to Settle. Read on to find out why…

Day 1 – Settle to Simon Fell (12.2 miles, 740 m)

One reason why I prefer the Dales for my winter walks is that the underlying geology means it is mostly free of much mud underfoot irrespective of recent rainfall. The first section along the Ribble was an exception to this. It seems to be a very popular route for local dog walkers. However I was soon at Stainforth Force and I was blessed with sunshine, the prospect of a dry path and excellent views just minutes ahead of me.

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I love the limestone formations of Smearsett and Pot Scar which you see on the path to Faizor.

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I ate my lunch overlooking Austwick Brook Dub, a pool in the brook which used to be used to wash sheep free of parasites in Spring and Autumn. Those farmers wresting sheep in chest deep cold water must have been hardy men indeed!

After lunch I came to another lovely section walking next to limestone pavement with Pen-Y-Ghent as the backdrop.

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I enjoyed the solitude whilst I could as 90 minutes later I was on the eroded motorway which is the ‘Three Peaks’ route up to Ingleborough. Whilst I find this the least attractive approach to this hill, it was a price worth paying for the route thus far, and the prospect of camping on Simon Fell, a satellite peak to Ingleborough itself. The cloud started to close in as I approached the top and whist I enjoyed views on arrival, I was enrobed in cloud by the time I got the tent pitched so have no pictures of the pitch on night one. Had it been the summer I would have headed to Park Fell to be undisturbed.

Day 2 – Simon Fell to Dent (12.9 miles, 500 m)

Whilst I awoke in the cloud, after striking camp I did not have to descend too far to be free of the cloud and to find that it was Ingleborough alone in wearing a flat cap of cumulous. The rest of the area was in bright sunshine. This afforded a wonderful view of Whernside.

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The official route does not take you over the top, but it was too good a day to skip the summit. At the top the remnants of the previous week’s snow where still in evidence.  It was very windy on high ground so I simply kept walking on and skipped lunch. The route through the Whernside Tarns was attractive but then it was  a slog along the stony track that leads down into Dent Dale. However, the walk along the river into the village was very pleasant once again. I arrived unfashionably early so opted for shelter, warmth and a liquid lunch in my favourite of Dent’s two pubs.

The morning had been a mixture of bright sun and total cloud cover, but the late afternoon was wholly warm and glorious when out of the wind. I pitched myself in the campsite (hands up! I didn’t wild camp every night) and enjoyed my book until an hour before dinner when I once again retreated to the Sun Inn. They had Tiffin Gold from Kirkby Stephen brewery which was tasty, moorish and nicely session-able at 3.6% ABV. I was back in the tent and asleep by just after 8pm, such is winter backpacking. Today had really felt like a holiday.

It was too!

Day 3 – Dent to West Fell : Howgills (12.6 miles, 740 m)

This was to be the best day. I started walking at 0830 and was greeted by warm sunshine.

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My route would take me via Sedbergh. You might imagine that the path would follow the same route as The Pennine Journey, which I completed in 2019, but this is not the case. I was soon walking new ground with the Highway living up to it’s name and leaving the river earlier and heading over the ridge between Dentdale and Garsdale at a higher point. I loved leaving tarmac and rocky tracks behind and also the early panorama of the Howgills.

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One major highlight over my overall route was that I would be crossing the whole of the Howgill ‘range’ from South to North and seeing them set out before me whetted my appetite.

DSC_2557I had thought that the climb up to Calders would be hard work, but in my minds eye the peak seemed far closer to Sedbergh that it is in truth. The reality is that it is a steady walk which is not over steep. There was not a cloud in the sky which was wonderful, but don’t be mistaken into thinking it was warm.  The wind was a steady 30-35 mph and finding any shelter for lunch was a challenge. Thankfully, just before the final climb to Calders I was able to sit in the lea of a small hummock to eat my lunch. I rued the lack of drystone walls which are myriad in the Dales. Once fed I needed to press on to keep warm given the windchill. My route took me over the Calf, shortly after which I was able to collect water, but I had to break the ice at the edge of the tarn to access it.

The hills of the Howgills are not dramatic like those of Western Cumbria, nor do they have the limestone features of the Dales but something about them appeals to me, perhaps it is simply because they are different. One thing for sure is that they offer very little by way of shelter from the wind.

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The Calf (676 m)

After passing the Calf I had the fells to myself and I enjoyed romping along and drinking in the views as I headed for the most northerly top, called West Fell, which my research suggested would be a good place to camp. The wind remained strong and steady, the forecast told me it was not expected to rise overnight and it was evidently free of gusts. I know from my first test camp in the Soulo  that it was easily capable of handling this wind speed (Force 7) , but I was glad of the quality of the mountain forecast which I reviewed before choosing which tent to bring. When I got to my planned pitching point the ground was level but once again there was no hint of shelter. Looking further down the path towards Bowderdale suggested the ground was mostly soft and uneven for the next section. Soft ground is no good if you want your pegs to hold. (I found out the next day that my judgement was sound, there were no good camping spots further down on West Fell.)

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All the guys out and double pegged – Hilleberg Soulo

It was a really lovely evening if you discount the wind. Using what I had learned over the past four years of wild camping made what could have been a difficult tent pitch something controlled and reasonable. My top tip is to always double peg / back stake your first two peg placements. I had a great view over the smaller North Eastern Howgills but was not blessed with an ‘Instagram Ready’ sunset on this occasion. I knew I had to be setting off at 0730 the following morning so after dinner and finishing my book it was soon time for sleep. The buffeting of the wind must have been what woke me every two hours, but in between I slept soundly enjoying the juxtaposition of the strength of the wind and the warmth and security of my shelter.

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Day 4 – West Fell to Great Asby (11 miles, 140 m)

Whilst it proved a wet day, the intensity and frequency of the showers were far lighter than the forecast suggested. Sunbiggin Tarn is beautiful in the sunshine, less so in the clag. Day four was a massive anticlimax after days 1-3. Should you be following in my footsteps I would suggest finishing this route at Newbiggin and on a high. There is a regular bus from there to the train at Kirby Stephen.

But I don’t want to end this report on a low point…

Final thoughts.

The route which the Dales Highway takes through the Dales and the Howgills is really attractive and I enjoyed these days immensely. I’ve wanted the opportunity to camp on Simon or Park Fell for a couple of years, and starting from Settle makes either of these an ideal endpoint. Water can be gathered high up on the route to this ridge meaning you don’t have to carry it very far. I didn’t get a prolonged view but it was super whilst it lasted. It was fun to put my five season tent to good use and take advantage of elevated camp spots, especial night three in the Howgills. Having the map open whilst I write this has given me ideas to enhance this route still further for those who are happy to wild camp to take advantage of route options unfettered by having to reach fixed accommodation. I now have in mind an amended route, a ‘Superhighway’ if you like.  Once it’s complete I’ll publish here for comment.

Inversion – a two wild walk via the summit of Fountains Fell

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I was beginning to feel the winter blues drift into my airspace so Mrs W suggested it would be good for me to get out for a wild walking weekend. It has been a while since I was last out.  The first thing to check was the mountain weather forecast; this showed something rather unusual. A cloud inversion was expected in the Yorkshire Dales for the whole weekend. Foggy in the valleys but clear blue skies were to be expected on higher ground. Another impact of this is that the usual reduction in temperature with altitude scenario is reversed, with it warmer on the tops of the peaks than down in the valley. The dichotomy of sitting indoors looking out at the fog vs. walking on fell tops bathed in sunshine was enough to rouse my lacklustre enthusiasm. The route I chose is shown below:

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The elevated moorland between Ribblesdale and Airedale only rises to 400-550 metres, but this was enough. As soon as I reached 360 m, I punched through the cloud into warm sunshine. Whilst it makes meteorological sense, it is still an odd feeling to walk out of the top of a cloud and suddenly feel a whole lot warmer. The precise height of the top of the cloud had not been forecast, it was just said to be ‘well below 700 m’ so there was a chance that I may not have been clear of the cloud until I was on my way up Fountains Fell. Walking up into the sunshine really lifted my spirits. I’d walked this section of path before and remembered the impressive limestone crags to the North of the path and was jubilant to see them again in glorious sunshine.

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My route took me to Malham Tarn and joining the Pennine Way around the Tarn before starting the gentle climb to the top of Fountains Fell.

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You have to divert off of the footpath to get to the actual summit which is about 700m SW of the highpoint of the footpath – unsurprisingly many had made this diversion before me. I knew from a review of Geograph photos that some flat level ground lay just to the West of the summit. Here I would like to plug Geograph to anyone planning a camping enhanced wild walk. Details on a 1:25k OS map are really helpful in shortlisting good spots to camp, but the pictures, they speak louder still.

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To my delight there was a nice level rock free spot right next to the summit cairn which allowed me to orientate my tent to have a view of both Pen-Y-Ghent and the possibility of a sunset over the top of the cloud inversion which was filling Ribblesdale (Yorkshire), the Ribble Valley (Lancashire) and its tributaries.

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After harvesting water from a small rivulet near the summit, it was time to get my legs into my sleeping bag and split my time between reading my book and drinking in the view. Because I’d started at sunrise and managed a fine pace I was fully set up a good 45 minutes before sunset. The sun was setting behind the cloud inversion thus it was not possible to take any pictures until it was kissing the horizon. After that words fail me, so I’ll leave it to a slideshow of how the colours changed over the next hour.

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My bladder woke me at 0230 but I opened my sleepy eyes to an unexpectedly bright light. I wondered if it was a torch but no, it was an extremely bright full moon! At 0630 it was time to make a brew and get packed up for a rather longer second day. I figured I’d rather walk the final stretch to the car (day 2) in the dark than pitch a tent in the dark in an unfamiliar location (day 1) so I started my walk from Langcliffe rather than Stainforth. In the summer I’d start from Stainforth to even the distance to 14 miles each day. I left my summit camp just as the sun bobbed above the Eastern horizon. First stop was Pen-Y-Ghent.

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From there I headed to the Western Side of the Horton Road (B6479). The limestone scars between Horton and Wharf looked inviting on the map. Here I have to confess to a navigational inexactitude. I kept following a well trodden path that stopped being the true footpath. I only noticed this as it faded out one kilometre into my error. The valley into which I should have headed to was filled with cloud / fog and I was already a long way off of my route so I thought I’d continue around the edge of the scar tops, enjoy the fine view and then hope to find a gentle slope down to the Wharf road.

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The map suggested to me that SD790, 700 looked a promising point to lose height, and indeed it was. I would not, however, recommend this to others due to a lack of convenient gates in the drystone walls that I needed to cross. The path free route I took across the tops was not arduous (deep heather often is, but this was not deep nor the ground uneven), was very attractive and legal as open access land. Had time been on my side, it would have been better to continue to Moughton Nab (SD798, 697) and pick up the footpath down to the road.

After this, the rest of the day is what I’d class as a ‘walk out’ – something to be done quickly to finish the day. I’d really enjoyed climbing Pen-Y-Ghent and seeing all the limestone formations. It was time for a swift pint then to drive home. Here I should give a shout out to the landlord of the Craven Heifer at Stainforth who keeps his beers extremely well and who poured me as good an example of Thwaites IPA as I’ve ever had. It’s not a modern style IPA, but still the hop oils shone through very nicely.

HydraPak Stow – One litre soft bottle / bladder – A review.

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I’ve never liked the idea of all the extra hassle which goes with the use of a water bladder. However when I moved to the use of a water filter rather than iodate tablets I needed a ‘dirty water’ supply container which would collapse as the liquid was removed so that I could use my filter. You’ll find many posts on the use of single use water bottles as the feed reservoir. If you want a source bottle you can squeeze this seems to work for many people. But I figured that if I was going to have a bladder type bottle then I might as well go the whole hog and get one that I could use with a drinking tube. When I walk as a part of a pair, we pass water bottles between each other, but on my solo walks having a drinking tube means I can rehydrate without having to stop / take my pack off.

I started with a CNOC water bag / bladder. This was really easy to fill because you can open the whole base to fill it, then roll and clip to reseal.

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But for my solo walks it was simply too large at two litres. Although it fitted reasonably well to the side of my pack, the water inside this large volume container sloshed around leading to both undesirable noise and an instability to my pack. Thus I shook the internet to see if I could find a one litre option which was well reviewed. The bladder I tried next is the subject of this review, the HydraPak Stow.

The Stow soft-bottle has gone through several iterations. It is important to avoid the first DSC_2229version for two reasons (1) The one I tried leaked badly around the cap seal (2) The neck thread is not the 28mm size which you need to fit directly to Sawyer and similar water filters. Version one is easily identified as the lid is a matching colour to the bottle. Later versions have a grey cap irrespective of the bottle colour. For these reasons it is a version 2 (or later) that you should go for.

I’ve used mine for five multi-day trips so far and I’m very pleased. I don’t have a bladder pocket on my rucksack so I strapped mine to the top of the lid of the pack. I started using a mesh of elastic cords, but I found that once the bottle reduced in volume it became loose and fell off. The sharp whack on the legs took me my surprise a few times. My next (and current) method is putting the bottle into ‘hip belt pocket’ which I strap to the same attachment points on the lid of my pack. Whilst this isn’t perfect it works pretty well. I really recommend the pack makers who made my pocket, Aiguille. They will do bespoke modifications too, so I’m considering sending them a picture of my lid attachments points and getting them to make something with clips in the right places. I have a 10 litre bum bag from the same people and it is excellent.

But back to the bladder / soft bottle. I carry two, and it’s handy that I can roll up the second one until I need to fill it at the end of the day. At this point I make use of its haul loop so I can secure it to the side of my pack with a karabiner. As for the hassle of cleaning, I found that I had a trick up my sleeve in the form of the no-rinse sanitizer that I used when brewing. Once I’ve flushed it out at the end of a trip I put 20-30 ml of this into the bottle, shake and them empty and seal it and this keeps it free of new life forms with reasonable ease. As a commercial brewer I use 100 ppm peracetic acid solution, but the more easily obtained StarSan would be another good option. As a final tip, if you carry two like me, get two different colours so you have a clear distinction between your dirty and clean water container. If you draw some water from a clean source (i.e. a tap) or want to filter some water in advance then this makes for an easily tell which is which. For example, I’ve found that pre-filtering is necessary if you plan to use such a system below ca. -2 C when the filter is prone to freezing. Once filtered you can sleep with the clean water in / close to your sleeping bag so it’s liquid and ready for a brew up in the morning.

Final comments

Whilst the CNOC bottle is easier to fill, I’ve never yet found a water source that I could not harvest with almost the same easy with the HydraPak Stow. The one litre size is really convenient and having two smaller bottles rather than one larger one is working very well for me. I’d happily recommend them as a water reservoir solution to use with a filter like the Sawyer or Katadyne.

*This post is not sponsored.  It was simply written to give back my experiences to the walking / wild walking community.

Kinder – Bueno! (A two day circumnavigation of Kinder Scout and the Edale Valley)

Once a year, global pandemics allowing (:-o), a university friend and I get together for a walking weekend. Ahead of us getting to meet up this autumn he commented on my wild walking posts and how this year he’s like to join me on one of these rather than our normal pair of day hikes. I’ve had an augmented version of the circumnavigation of Kinder Scout on my to-do list for some time. The forecast for the Saturday looked ideal, the Sunday less so, but we packed our waterproofs and headed to Derbyshire to see what we would find.

Kinder Circuit Map

Finding an overnight parking spot in Edale is a challenge, but my research suggested that Barber Booth should work out. We could and should have arrived earlier than we did, but were lucky and found a space under the railway bridge. From here we set off towards Edale with the intention of heading up to Grindslow Knoll as our ascent onto the Kinder Plateau. We were talking too much and were in Edale before we knew it, so instead we followed the overly popular path alongside Grinds Brook to the top. Wow was this busy – a far from wild beginning to this wild walk.

Spoiler alert – I loved this walk and plan to do it again out-of-season so need to be more alert next time and even consider following the path up Crowden Brook instead to avoid the crowds and to enjoy more ‘edge’ and less valley. The first of the iconic rock formations soon greeted us

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We continued around the edge of the plateau in an anticlockwise direction as this aim was to get the distance just right to finish the day on “The Edge” above Black Ashop Moor – SK08,89. We had glorious sunshine affording beautiful views of the various edges and down into the respective valleys which envelop Kinder. As I had hoped, and researched, the Edge-Path remained dry and firm underfoot for the whole day, a great contrast to the boggy peat interior of Kinder.

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We harvested our water for the evening at Fair Brook but didn’t hang around because of the midges. A significant plus point with the Sawyer Squeeze filter is that as well as removing harmful bacteria etc it also strips the peat taste from water such as that which runs off of Kinder. The original idea was to camp on “The Edge” but I reaped the benefit of my walking partner being a geologist who reviewed the map and said that the ground would be expected to be soft and wet there (and what do you know, when we got there the following morning he was absolutely right!) so we looked for a spot on Fairbrook Naze instead and found a great pitch. After dinner we were also blessed with a huge Harvest Moon. My photo doesn’t do it justice.

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After a mild night we woke to low cloud, however this had lifted above the plateau by the time we set off at 0800. The weather forecast suggested a high likelihood of moderate rain. In practice we got around 40 min of light rain, after which the sun broke through and gave us a day considerably ahead of expectations. The sunshine gave us great views around the horseshoe and down into the Edale valley itself.

Whilst having out lunch on the far side of Lords Seat, Mam Tor looked less like the piece of anatomy after which it is named and more like a hedgehog with people making up the spines. So whilst the original plan was to finish on Back Tor we chose not to queue again and headed back to the car. By the time we got there was have covered a very respectable 12.6 miles and enjoyed a most excellent weekend of walking, talking and splendid views. This is a walk I would certainly hope to repeat this coming winter, hopefully when there is snow on the ground.

Kinder Circuit Map

Panhandle Perambulation – A two day Wild Walk in the NW Dales

Our family day walks in the Yorkshire Dales are unusually restricted to the Southern areas as the journey time to somewhere such as Dentdale is deemed too far.  So with Mrs W heading away with Junior to see her brother for the weekend, I poured over a map and came up with a two day route with a fell top overnight stop.

Barbon Fell Route Map

The Opensource map suggested there was a path, unmarked on the OS Map, from a parking spot just outside of Leck up to the shoulder of Gragareth and indeed it was there complete with gates and stiles.  I didn’t get to see the notable ‘Three Men’ until my return on day two however.

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The (former) highest point in Lancashire – Gragareth

Once up onto the ridge the path was much smoother and well walked and afforded great views over Kingsdale towards Ingleborough and Whernside.  Ironically my route all but coincided with my winter weekend walk of 2018 which also took me to Great Coum.  I was simply the other side of the wall, which marks the former boundary between Lancashire and Westmorland.

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I had lunch in the shelter of a peat hag with a fine view of Morecambe Bay.  After ascending Great Coum the descent to Bullpot Farm was gentle.  Bull Pot is one of the entrances to the UK’s largest cave system which stretches some 70 km in total, dendron like, length.  Ultimately I dropped down to Barbon Beck and the foot of my second ridge of the weekend.

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When I plan a route like this I look at the overall structure of the ridges and places I will be able to source water but don’t often focus on all the other details.  Thus the ascent up to Castle Knott was a good deal steeper than in my minds eye.  Just the time to add two litres of water to my pack weight!  I reviewed the water options on the fell top and the two tarns looked very small, and the past few weeks had been very dry so I carried my beck water up with me. (I found the tarns to be stagnant and alive with fly lava, so a sound decision despite my water filter.)

I was very hot by the time I got to the my new ridge-line, but from here it was just less than a kilometre to the top of Castle Knott.  My original plan was to camp on the col just beyond this top but the wind was light and the views from the top inspiring.  Walking NW along the shoulder that extends away from the main ridge yielded a flat spot large enough for a solo tent with views over Morecambe Bay, the Kent Estuary and the Southern Fells of Cumbria – perfect!

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On the menu in the evening was a freeze dried meal from a company I’d not tried before, Lyo of Poland.  I was attracted by their use of all natural (and low FODMAP) ingredients and enjoyed my Five Spice Chicken very much.  In the UK they can be bought from Basecamp Foods – I suspect that I will be going back for more.

Overnight the cloud dropped and when the sun woke me at 0400 I was surrounded by cloud.  I had hoped that the breeze would keep my tent dry, but thankfully the pan-handle shape of this week yielded an extra bonus… …after getting a few more hours shut-eye.  I had brought a bum bag with me for essentials and although I packed up all the rest of my gear, I left it in the tent with the hope that tent would be dry for my return there-and-back walk to the end of the ridge.  Despite a lazy start, I was walking away by 0830 and by this point the cloud had lifted above 3000′ yielding panoramic views.  The ridge from Castle Knott to Great Maws was really like the Howgill’s in its shape and nature.  An hour later I was sat at the end of the ridge enjoying a fabulous view the Howgill’s themselves and also down into Dentdale.  I love this part of the world, and whilst the cloud cover meant it wasn’t a great day for photographs, I’ll let them tell the rest of the story.

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The return walk yielded fresh views and lost nothing for having been walked before.  The tent was dry upon my return so I struck camp and dropped back down to Barbon Beck for lunch.  I suspected that the rest of the walk would simply by a necessary ‘walk out’ but was delighted by the beauty, and ultimately the narrowness of Ease Gill. It is dry rivers such as this which point to the possibility of cave systems underneath – the water needs to be flowing somewhere…

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Another path which was only to be found on the Opensource map led me straight back to the car.  It had been a very enjoyable and empowering weekend and an other example of how it can be good to walk lesser know fells between the bigger peaks.  You get to see the spender of the larger peaks but without both the the full height gain and the heavy traffic they attract. The day had been getting warmer by the hour, and now I was down at valley level I experienced the full power of the sun.  Fortunately I was able to drop the roof on the car and drive home topless!

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Renewed Freedom in Ribblesdale – a two day wild walk.

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Freedom!       Finally we are allowed out overnight, so long as we stay in self contained accommodation. I figured you don’t get a much lower chance of social mixing than in a solo tent onto top of a remote fell, so I took advantage of being on a three day week and headed for Ribblesdale. My objective was to spend a night on the apparently unremarkable fell of Cosh Knott. Whilst it seems to offer little as a fell in itself, its magic is in the views that it affords. It is somewhere I’ve visited once before but I did not manage to capture any photographs due to a fully drained camera battery. Whilst the sunset and rise was not spectacular this time, my recollection of this location will ever be in my memory for seeing the sun setting over Ingleborough and then the magic of a cloud inversion the following morning.

This time my idea was to take a more interesting ‘route in’. Unless many popular YouTuber’s, my wild-camping is facilitates a better, wilder, walk and is the cherry atop the cake; It is not the cake in itself.  Last time I followed the Horse Head Ridge around from Arncliffe, this time I walked up Ribblesdale from Stainforth. My inspiration was a stretch of the Dales Highway and it didn’t disappoint. A middle ground walk, not across the tops, yet not along the river. If you are on a multi-day walk in the Dales I find this works very well and is exactly the approach which Wainwright took with his Pennine Journey. I’ll allow some photo’s of the majestic limestone formations to tell the story…

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After a late lunch next to the Ribble the next section was a mundane, yet necessary, link between areas of virtue. I upped the pace to get to an enjoyable short section of The Pennine Way and then up the rough grassland to Cosh Knott. The ground was rough but not boggy. One of the practical beauties of this spot is the spring at SD 832,778. I filled my bottles and headed up to the trig point.

I got my tent pitched just ahead of a flurry of hail and headed inside for a brew. Sadly the clouds spoilt the sunset, but not the splendour of isolation and the views I was blessed with the following morning. It proved a cold night at -6 C but I was delighted with the performance of my winter rated Thermorest which allowed my sleeping bag to fully live up to it’s specification (-15 C).

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The flip-side of the cold night was clear skies and great views the following morning. Reputed as the best view of the Three Peaks in the Dales, I was delighted to agree.

My route on Day 2 was to take my up Plover Fell and onto Pen-Y-Ghent. Last time I did this in sub-zero conditions I struggled with the verglas on the rock steps at the top of the popular footpath section to Plover Fell. This time I was equipped with my micro-spikes but found that the weather afforded me dry rock with good grip despite the cold night. I didn’t hang around on the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent because it was humming with ‘Three Peakers’ but instead struck back onto the Pennine Way and headed for Fountains Fell. The view of the lesser seen East side of Pen-Y-Ghent was beautiful and the frost on Fountains Fell beautified its normally mundane appearance. This was to be my first time up Fountains Fell on a clear day and from this direction. Lunch on the summit was very satisfying. Again, what it lacks in inherent splendour is made up for by the views it affords.

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Now it was time to head back to the car but unlike the farmland on the second half of day 1, the high pasture between Malham Tarn and Stainforth is really pleasant. Wide, firm, grassy bridleways with lovely crags initially then views of Pen-Y-Ghent and Whernside once I’d passed back over the shoulder of Fountains Fell. What a great two days I’d had and it was almost legal 😉  It is a walk I’d repeat and has wetted my appetite for walking a longer section of the Dales Highway in the years to come. Ahead of that I already have my next long walk planned, I am really looking forward to some coastal walking. The freedom of taking a tent means I have two routes planned, one on the West Coast and one on the East and I’ll make my choice depending on weather in early May….

…so on that cliff hanger, and until next time, thank you for reading.