I had been looking forward to this weekend for a while because besides visiting family in North Wales I was intending to wild camp with my new Trailstar shelter. The primary purpose of this wild camp was to test my MLD Trailstar. However, I also had with me a new Exped SynMat 7 UL sleeping mattress and some instant backpacking food that I had just received from Outdoorsgrub to try out. I was also closely recording how much I had used my little gas stove to figure out how much gas (roughly) I will need for the TGO Challenge; more on that in a later post.
By late afternoon on Saturday the light was already beginning to fade when I left my car in Penmaenmawr and headed off to the top of the hill behind the small town. I was not out for the walk particularly as it was not going to take long, or much effort, to get to the 400m or so top (although it is good training none the less) but the purpose was to spend the night under my new Trailstar shelter. The location is pretty exposed and can be very windy catching the westerly and northerly winds whipping across the Irish Sea.
It did not take me very long to be at my intended pitch, the middle of a stone circle known locally as the Druid Circle. For some reason there is no heather and the grass is short having been grazed by sheep and wild ponies.
This will be a good test for both me and the Trailstar; strong winds, hail and rain, cold temperatures and 14.5 hours of darkness.
It was almost dark as I pitched the Trailstar. I had read blogs, watched videos and pitched it once before and knew it would be quick and easy … and it was. I put the first gorgeous gold coloured 9 inch stake (‘peg’ does not do it justice) into the ground at the rear corner, into the wind. Then pegged the next two corners one either side of the first, and then finally the front two either side of the front side (side of the pentagon shape) pegged slightly closer together to allow a little slack for the front opening. I set my trekking pole to 110cm and raised the roof. A quick clove hitch on the other trekking pole and the door was raised.. and we are nearly done already. Just a case now of tightening the corners with the attached line locks to obtain a really tight shelter. It was nearly perfect first time. A slight adjustment to the two stakes near the opening and that was almost it. I pegged the center of the four sides down to help cut down the drafts. Very quick, and in very windy and wintry conditions. I was most pleased, not that I had any doubts, that I could pitch it so easily.
I took my Hilleberg Akto footprint with me as a groundsheet and I also took my bivvy bag. The bivvy bag was in case it rained a lot and the seams leaked; I had not yet sealed the seams, and because it would provide a little extra warmth in these conditions (whether it did or not I am unsure). I pumped up my new Exped SynMat 7 UL and settled down to have a cuppa and make some dinner.
After I had eaten I was starting to feel chilly and slipped into my sleeping bag to keep warm. It was early evening and it was dark. There were another 13 hours of darkness to go. It felt like a test of my sanity or that I was being punished for something, it was going to be a long night…
… and it was. The evening was the worst part and I should possibly have taken some reading material or my mp3 player. I tried to sleep but was not really tired yet and I was getting cold and bored. The Trailstar was great though. The strong gusts of wind were not troubling it at all and the large hail was bouncing off the drum tight silnylon, I was pleased and not the slightest bit concerned about the Trailstar. I have spent windy nights in my Akto worrying whether it and I would survive but I had not such concerns about my Trailstar, it was solid.
Around 10 or 11pm the wind changed direction a little and started blowing from the side quite a bit. It wasn’t blowing in but was making the opening flap around a lot and make a lot of noise. I decided to move the door. It was easy enough and quick. A slight adjustment of a couple of the pegs and repositioning the trekking pole and it was done, nice and easy. Outside it looked like it had been snowing, it was white everywhere, but it was in fact hail stones covering the ground rather than snowflakes.
The rest of the night went more quickly. I seemed to sleep for an hour or so before waking up freezing cold. A quick jiggle around in my sleeping bag to warm up and I was off back to sleep again. I kept checking the temperature during the night and it varied between zero and 3 degrees C. I realised my 3 season down bag was not up to the job but the extra clothes I was wearing made it bearable. I had removed my bivvy bag for the last couple of hours to see if it would make any difference to the warmth becuase I suspected it might have been compressing the down. My sleeping bag did puff up quite a bit bit I didn’t really notice any difference in the warmth, or should I say degrees of cold! The Exped SynMat worked well. It was comfortable and I barely felt any cold through it so I was very happy with that. I slept for the last couple of hours to about 6.30 at which point I made a cup of tea and warmed up a bit.
I was grateful for the daylight that soon followed. Much of the hail stones had now melted but there was still a nice little patch round the Trailstar to prove that it had been there! Taking the Trailstar down was quicker than putting it up and I was soon heading back down the hill to my car.
The Trailstar was great and I had a great experience. I was chuffed to have camped wild underneath it in winter, I survived (mentally) and feel stronger for the experience. It is quite something to open your eyes in the middle of the night and look straight out of the opening at the hail covered ground. It was as solid as a rock in very windy conditions, I know my Akto would have been blown about considerably. It did not leak, although I will still probably seal the seams. It was quick and easy to pitch in cold difficult conditions and the gold coloured stakes look amazing!
If you want a bomb proof shelter, like using a tarp and a bit of fresh air blowing around, and like the immediate views when opening your eyes in the middle of the night and in the morning, then I can highly recommend the Trailstar from Mountain Laurel Designs.