How about another blog entry? Hang on, didn’t I just post one last night? Oh yeah, I did, but I’m feeling a stir crazy having to spend my two weeks off work, sitting around popping pills for this annoying neck problem. I was on a high last night after a double dose of ‘Panafcortelone’, which left me pain free for the first time in a month, but when I woke up in the morning it was situation normal. The pills had worn off and the pain was back as usual. Grrr…
At least I can get a kick out of watching the Tour de France in High Definition on the 50 inch Plasma whilst I write this up. The joy of the bikes will dull the pain of what this blog entry is about. My experience of using Exped gear. Now don’t panic, as I’m not going to descend into some sort of dry, technical blurb about outdoor gear. I struggle to stay awake reading some of that stuff, so although I’ll be writing about gear, I’ll also be crapping on about all sorts of stuff, so hopefully you won’t slip into snooze mode.
I own three Exped items, which consist of two sleeping mats and a pair of trekking poles. I can quite confidently say they’re all stuffed and I’ve given up on Exped. Sorry about that, but I gave it a go. I will also mention this is my own experience and ‘opinion’, as it seems some people get insanely worked up over the gear they use.
I’m not a fan boy of anything relating to equipment really. I use it and if it works it works. If not I’ll move onto something else, as I’m not the greatest brand conscious sort of bloke except for underpants which are always Bonds. Oh yeah, if you need the ratings and dimensions to all of this stuff (not my underpants), it’s probably best to search for the item online yourself. I used to post links, but they all end up dead within a year, so it seems pointless to keep doing so.
So, which piece do I start off with? I’ll work my way back to the last Exped item I bought. It’s the ‘Exped Sim Light 2.5 Short SL’. Phew, now that mouthful of a name is out of the way, lets check it out. In between me being distracted by the current stage on Le Tour that’s heading towards a bunch finish.
Okay, there’s the mat set up. Mm… Something’s looking a little weird, isn’t it? Well, yeah, this is it fully inflated ready for sleeping, whilst on my washing line. Let’s have another look at it in the picture below, so you get the idea.
I bought this mat before the Croajingolong hike last year. I was under this delusion I could go ‘lightweight’ for this walk, which I’ve banged on about before in previous blog entries. In the end this was mat was about the only lightweight item I had during the trip. I knew I was going to be sleeping on sand, so I thought comfort wouldn’t be too much of a problem. The short size seemed to be a nicer choice to save a few grams as well. In the end it survived the hike and inflated each night, which is the main bonus of an inflating mat I think.
Next up, I used it again on a hike through the Walls of Jerusalem and the Overland Track last year. Did it survive? Yes, it did, but it wasn’t warm enough for a winter trip in Tasmania, which was not the mats fault, as it’s not designed for those conditions. I knew this before going, but as my son Ben was going with me and I only owned two mats at the time, I couldn’t afford buying another one just for the trip, so I made do with what I had. These bloody things are expensive!
Great mat? Yeah, not bad, as it had successfully survived about 15 nights of walking. Next up was the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria, which was my second trip along that coast last year. On the first night I reached the camp of Eliot Ridge and you just know what happened don’t you? Yep, ‘SIM’ stands for ‘Self Inflating Mat’ and the problem was it didn’t like the actual inflating part of its ‘SIM’ name.
Should I have checked it before the hike? Well, of course I should, but it’s one of those things that happen when getting organised for a solo walk. A lot of things to think about and it slipped my mind. The nights with this mat took me back to my army days of just lying on the ground when we slept out bush. Not too much of a problem when 19 years old, but not a real hoot at 46 with joints that have a habit of seizing up whenever they feel like it.
I didn’t have a repair kit with me, so I lay on the ground for the week and really felt sore at the end of it the hike. Oh well, once home I tried to find a puncture, but it appears to be the valve was the problem. A week of spine snapping action meant I ended up hurling the mat into the corner of the bedroom and it’s lain there until I dragged it out today for the sad photos on this blog entry.
Actually, my usual technique upon arriving home with busted gear is to grip the item firmly in the right hand, raise and pull back before applying the shoulder powerfully to dispense the item at a speed, just short of the sound barrier into the corner of the room whilst yelling, “This is rooted!” or words similar. Don’t think I’m sort of a rage nut though, as I’ve been confused with comatose, instead of laid back before. Mind you, during this hurling of broken equipment I always make sure the trajectory is nowhere near Keir Dullea. Say that again please?
Yeah, okay, I’m aware the picture is slightly homo-erotic, but I’m an insane ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ fan. He signed this at The Astor Cinema in Melbourne when he appeared for a screening of the movie I’ve seen at least 50 times. The bottom line is that no broken gear goes near Keir and what else can I say on the topic except, “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
Right, let’s move onto the next Exped mat that I bought in 2009 for my first, week long hike. The Great Ocean Walk. At this time I was in the world of, ‘Lightweight stuff? Who cares? I’m a big bloke who can carry big things.’ So, I wanted sleeping comfort and settled on the ‘Exped Synmat 7 Pump’. This cost well over $200, so the thing’s not cheap.
Okay, this mat is one of those pump up jobs, which used to drive me mental at the end of a days walking. Pumping away like crazy, whilst feeling buggered has left me happy to have a blow up one now. If I was immature and puerile that entire last sentence sounds a little kinky, but I’m not that sort of bloke. Totally focused. Anyway, the mat worked well, whilst the Great Ocean Walk delivered plenty of highlights.
The only thing I noticed if you could call it a flaw was a weird noise it would make in the middle of the night. There I was happily lying back in my sleeping bag, when suddenly a strange whistling noise would pop up now and again. It was a dead ringer of the sound of a mosquito in the ear and I’d start waving my arms around my head wondering how unlucky I was to be bothered by a mozzie in the middle of winter.
After about another million hours of buzzing and feeling exhausted from arm swinging, I began to lean away from the mosquito theory and finally work out the valve of the mat had perfected the sound of an annoying insect. Well done Exped, you’re very clever. Anyway, other than some hard pumping to fire it up, the mat was pretty comfortable.
Round two with the mat was another week long walk on the Overland Track in Tasmania a few months later. This time it was a trip with chillier weather that would test out how toasty it could keep me in the middle of the night. Again the mat delivered the invisible insect sound, but besides the bug noise it worked very well and it was comfortable on a cold hike.
So, on it went for the odd overnight trip here and there until I wheeled it out again for my trip to Mt Kosciuszko a few months back. There I was at the end of a days walking, ‘getting my pump on’, when the mat became a little possessed. A series of baffles in the mat decided to separate, creating one enormous, pillow style lump that created a bizarre sleeping scenario. My legs either had to widen to an extreme cowboy position or place them on the bubble itself, which meant my ankles ended up near my ears. Great. What am I talking about? Let’s have a view of this debacle.
I guess it’s not too bad for you freaks out there who have always wanted to sleep on top of the ‘Goodyear Blimp’, but it didn’t do too much for me. Besides the dirigible effect, there was also the other slightly annoying noise that it produced. Forget the random built-in mosquito buzzing, as the airship effect had delivered a new noise. This time it was the dulcet tone of what seemed like the odd explosion. It sounded similar to an air attack as the baffles continued to break, every time I moved near the airship section.
The second day of the Mt Kosciuszko hike was one of the hardest I’d physically done for a long time and I didn’t enjoy spending the night, trying to recover on a dirigible. When I got home the end result was a hurling of the product into the corner of my room with just a little more force than usual. This time I detected a crack in the air, as the sound barrier was broken. The aim was good though, as I also made sure I didn’t clean up Gary Lockwood on the way. What? Did you think I wouldn’t have a homo-erotic photo of Dr. Frank Poole as well?
Right, there go the mats. Now my last piece of Exped gear. By the way this blog entry has now been written over two days. I gave it a good shot last night in trying to finish it, but the bunch finish distracted me too much. I loved that sprint by André Greipel, although I was getting a little confused when Ben looked up from his computer and said, “Did they just say some bloke called Truffle won?” So close. Oh yeah, my other observation is I just saw the weather forecast for Baghdad tomorrow. 48 °C. Wow, that sounds pretty hot. I guess this isn’t their hiking season then?
Okay, that’s enough rambling for now and it’s almost a little disappointing to return to talking about hiking gear, but let’s head to my first set of trekking poles. They were called the ‘Mountain’ model from Exped.
I bought these for my first wander on the Great Ocean Walk in 2009. When I bought them, the bloke at the hiking store said, “Make sure you’ve tightened the locking mechanism to avoid the pole collapsing.”
No problem, but of course the first time I used them, one of the poles went from about 120 cm to 2 cm with my first strike into the ground. Okay, the bloke wasn’t lying, but it took some mega tightening of the screw around the extension clamp to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. In fact, I tightened them so much, I needed my trusty Swiss Army Knife screwdriver to loosen the screw, in order to collapse them back into ‘non-walking’ mode.
Mm… Okay. Once this was mastered they worked okay for this winter hike in which I didn’t see another hiker for the week. Perfect! A lot of nice views as well.
What can I say about these poles? Well, they were the first I’d owned, so I didn’t know any better, but I knew I had a little problem when it came to the Overland Track walk a few months later. There were patches of decent snow cover over the top of the Cradle Mountain plateau on the first day. By the way, I was thinking, “No worries” considering the poles are called ‘Mountain’.
In parts the snow was soft, so it was hard going with each step dropping deeply into the white stuff. At times a step would be knee deep, which wasn’t too bad, but at one moment I sunk in to hip level and it was a lot harder to get out of than I imagined. There was a stream running under the snow, which caused the deep hole to appear and with a heavy pack on, it took some effort to get out. I thought the easiest way would be to push down hard into the snow with the trekking poles, so I could force myself up. Seems simple right?
So far, so good, but whilst pushing down with the poles I suddenly realised one of the ‘Mountain’ poles had separated itself. Instead of a nice long trekking pole in my hand, I was actually holding something about the length of a sausage with the other part buried deep in the snow. Huh?
Talk about making things difficult, so I tossed one long pole and the one foot sized other aside and dropped my backpack. It’s hard just pulling buried legs out out of snow, so I ended up digging from my thighs down until eventually crawling out. Bloody hell. It wasn’t fun at all.
I put it back together, but was surprised it had separated in the first place. I’d never opened it to its maximum length. If I had, it might explain why it separated so easily. Anyway, after that it worked okay, but it wasn’t the last time this pole did its two parts trick. The pole was dodgy, but the trip was good, especially climbing up a snow covered Cradle Mountain.
I persevered using these poles, as they cost me enough money to start off with and I tried to convince myself that wouldn’t be much difference between other brands. I was trying to keep things simple with my hiking and not turn into a gear nut.
Again, there were the odd trips here and there, until I took them on the week long Croajingolong hike last year. They did okay until the second last day when I accidently fell into the ocean with a full pack on. Being underwater whilst in full hiking gear is pretty disappointing. How I got out of that I don’t know, but there was a moment, which is known in Latin as, ‘pants crapitis’.
The poles took a bit of rescuing, as they’d floated off and ended up being smashed by waves against the rocks. I did save them though and whilst doing so sacrificed a pair of sunglasses, which also floated off and were never to be seen again. I guess trekking poles are not really built for the surf and they really copped it stupid during this rescue effort. In the end I continued on, although now they looked insanely battered.
Where now with these poles? Not a lot, as I continued to use them until the final straw occurred, which is explained in the next photo.
Yes, that strap is meant to be looped back into the pole, so one can wrap it across the top of the wrist. Unfortunately, during my Mt Feathertop hike on Christmas Day a few years back, it unravelled. I have no idea how this happened and I’m not going to exempt myself from the responsibility, as I must have had the strap extended too far until it slipped out. The trouble is the effectiveness of using a pole is having the strap tightly wrapped across the top of the hand. Without it, it’s really just a stick and I might as well have gone into ‘ye olde’ mode and just used a piece of wood from the side of the track.
I made a lengthy attempt that night to re-thread it back into the handle, but couldn’t get it back in. If I could take the handle apart that would make it a lot easier to fix and no doubt there’s some method to get it back in, but that’s probably done during the manufacturing. It was a little annoying, but the hike did have some nice views though.
You know what? I must be a sadist as I still didn’t give up on these poles and took them again on the walk last year to Tasmania. Ben used the good pole where the strap worked and I used the bung one with the strap half-heartedly wrapped around my wrist. It was a great trip, but I found I preferred to be using two instead of one pole, such as we did during this trip.
Well, the poles I guess had given me ‘good’ service during my hikes and they did cop it a little hard along the way. Isn’t that the point though? I’m hiking out in the bush, which means I’d think gear should be designed to take some punishment, as I’m not exactly using them to walk around the lounge room.
Anyway, that was it with the loose strap pole and it received the traditional toss across the room at home in disgust. A little less force though as the pole has a sharp tip and I couldn’t afford to risk it going near my combination photo of Dave and Frank in the pod being eyed off by HAL.
I was now officially suffering ‘Exped pole depression’, which is a little known medical condition. The solution was to move on and do some research into another product and everything I read pointed towards a pair of ‘Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork’ trekking poles and upon first use of these, it was as if I’d seen the light.
Their angled cork grip feels fantastic and the flick/lock system has never failed me. Not to mention they’re tough, as I’ve dished out a bit of punishment on the walks so far. In my mind they kill the Exped ones for dead. As I left the darkness when it comes to trekking poles, I know I’d never go back to anything else, as these Black Diamond poles are fantastic for me. I can’t just serve up a pole photo to you that easy though, so here’s a ‘Where’s Poley’ approach for you to find them in the next picture.
Is that it? Can I rest now? What’s left? Oh yeah, my ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ fetish hasn’t finished just yet. How about this for a bit more movie love obsession.
So what you say? Let’s turn the cover over to reveal the truth.
Look, I think I left those two a little stunned, due to the shock of being confronted with a babbling fool who was facing two actors I’d seen in this movie a million times since I was 12 years old. I’m not sure what I was saying to them, but I think it was in English with the possibility of being mildly intelligible. I think they were glad to sign the book and get me out of the way before I crapped on any more.
Last but not least, the other night I was taking a peek at my old record collection and it reminded me how nice it was to hold a bit of vinyl. How great are old records? The huge sleeve to look at in which album art actually meant something.
I’ve got a lot of vinyl and I had a bit of a chuckle when I pulled out the Jean-Jacques Burnel solo album called ‘Euroman Cometh’. The bassist of The Stranglers put out this record and I knew nothing about it. I bought it second hand from ‘Missing Link Records’ at its old location in Flinders Lane, Melbourne in the 1980’s. The reason I bought it? Talk about buying a record for a cover and what a cover it is.
Why did I like it so much? That’s easy. The cover photo is of JJ standing in front of the ‘Pompidou Centre’ in Paris. When I first saw pictures of this building as a kid, I remembered being a little gob-smacked when compared to the conservative architecture over here. “What the hell? All the pipes are on the outside!” I always thought it looked amazing and I’d actually get to see it in the flesh one day. Thirty odd years later and I still haven’t been there, but at least I’ve got ‘Euroman Cometh’ to check it out with.
Well, that’s the end of a rambling blog entry and wow, that was a wet bunch finish without a prang in the Tour just then. Enjoy your walking if you’re getting out and about…