Alpkit, PowerPot and other kit testing in Iceland
I'm sure some of you followed my brief training expedition in Iceland last month. I spent some time in the snowed-over Northern Fjords, the western peninsula and ice-covered stratovolcano of Snæfellsjökull and then joined a friend for some icecap time on the Mýrdalsjökull via the Sólheimajökull ice tongue.
Well, the point of the expedition was firstly to get out on the ice and work with a potential future team-mate, but also to run through some new systems and test out some new equipment. I, of course, wore the industry-leading staples of Montane and Bridgedale clothing I rely on for every journey and had a few other items I was keen to evaluate.
Alpkit is a unique brand from the UK who sell direct - they balance out well-thought-out products and very good pricing with occasionally limited stock levels. I've found this trade-off in the past to be well worth it, and in fact I wore one of their down jackets on The Long Haul (a predecessor to the Filo) to great effect.
This time, it was their equipment and accessories rather than their clothing I was interested in. In particular, I have been after a good, strong and lightweight base camp tent from which to launch training and preparation expeditions for a while. So, armed with a 6-man Heksa, we headed up the ash-strewn ice tongue and through the crevassed icefall, setting up our camp nearby. As expected for a tent with that number of vestibules (3), poles and guys, it took around fifteen minutes to set up (with two people very well versed in tents but unfamiliar with the exact model) which I thought was pretty good. The various components were colour-coded and intuitive to use with the fabrics, poles and fittings well stitched and manufactured.
Inside, it was cavernous (yes, there were only two of us) and I'd say it would be fine for four people and plenty of equipment. The snow valances are large and sturdy and the internal pockets well-placed and numerous. The built-in ground sheet is not entirely waterproof and a heavy-duty addition is needed on wet snow (available from Alpkit) to solve this. The wind picked up substantially over the first two days and prior to building a snow-wall to protect our camp, the tent survived well with gusty and changeable winds of speeds over sixty miles per hour. I would not wish to leave it unattended in these conditions though - I hasten to add that this applies to any large tent in conditions where gusts and wind direction changes are rife. (snow walls, double-poling and using bodyweight against a wall are standard parts of hourly maintenance needed in storms)
In all, as a fixed base-camp tent for a non-transit camp and a small/medium size team, I could not imagine it performing better. The price is half or even less than half the price of comparable alternatives.
We also used some of the Alpkit gear to integrate into my normal camping and skiing systems, like cutlery, lanterns (useful for expeditions in not-too-cold locations since the batteries can't be kept warm) and their excellent (and I really mean it) drybags which I've used for years. There's nothing about any of these additions which I would have concerns about taking on a highly-committed unsupported journey.
Since I first read about PowerPots on Kickstarter, my interest was held. Charging and electrical power on polar expeditions is a perennial headache and options usually involve heavy batteries or unreliable solar panels (when the sun is available!). The idea of essentially exchanging a little bit of stove efficiency for the ability to charge battery packs with a reliable high-power current is very attractive. Of course, there is a risk of having an expedition lose critical power for vital devices if the pot failed and so build-quality and reliability is paramount. Having used the pot on the trip extensively and not treating it with too much care, to see if it could withstand robust use, the materials used certainly do the job. The lack of moving parts is one bonus and the pot electrics are encased behind a silicone seal. The cables are again heat and cold protected in silicone sheaths and the regulator and battery intermediates are made from good quality plastic.
Upon starting the stove, the 5W current (indicated by a green LED) began almost immediately and it kept our various USB devices charged with ease. I'm particularly keen to try out upcoming 10+W models and potentially a 12V DC regulator for larger items. This gadget could be a game-changer for extended winter journeys.
Also, given the limited number of nights I've spent in the Tentipi Zirkon 5 (our main expedition tent for the Dark Ice Project) after the false-start in December 2012, we took this up onto the ice. The end result was exactly as I'd hoped; stable in winds of changing direction, quiet (a lack of flapping nylon) in wind, breathable through the polycotton fabric, spacious inside and easy to pitch/collapse.
Oh, and there were lots of horses. With Mohicans.