Posts Tagged ‘tent’

Meeting an outdoors legend

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

This week saw me tramping the exhibition halls of the Outdoor Trade Show at Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry. Having already bumped into my old friend Alan Hinkes (first Brit to climb all 14 8,000 metre peaks) earlier on, I was delighted to happen across Hamish Hamilton.

He was there helping to promote his ever-popular Buffalo Pile and Pertex sleeping bags and clothing. But Hamish is probably one of the few people on the planet to have designed a tent which has sold pretty much unchanged for over 40 years.

It was in the 1960s that Hamish Hamilton famously sketched out his design for the legendary Force 10 Mk3 on the back of an empty packet of Senior Service cigarettes. The A-frames and ridge pole combined with a flysheet that came all the way down to the ground, making a tent capable of going pretty much anywhere. And that, indeed, is just what it has done. Despite the lighter high-tech designs available now, schools, scout groups and trekking holiday companies still use the Force 10 Mk3 because it’s so robust, and easily repairable in the field.

But just to dispel one popular misconception – that famous shade of orange didn’t grace the Force 10 for reasons of safety. It was done because Hamish thought the light inside was “more romantic!”

Remembering Bob Saunders

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

I was saddened to hear of the death in April of tent-maker Robert Saunders, and felt I should pay tribute to his achievements. I suppose it’s inevitable that you probably have to be of a certain age to even recognise the name, but the truth is that the Saunders name lives on in the world of lightweight camping – as I write this I find a Spacepacker Plus from the 1980s going for £145 on Ebay, and a Jetpacker (similar age) with an asking price of £60.

In fact, it was the Jetpacker that gave me my first introduction to a Saunders tent. An incredibly lightweight sloping ridge tent, with the hollow upright pole sections neatly packing away one inside the other.

Just over 20 years ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of putting together a small booklet called “Every pitch tells a story” for Bob. It was more than just a sales aid – it gave an insight into the thought processes that went into his tents. The booklet started off with a list of Bob’s “Top Ten Firsts”, something which I had to persuade him he ought to include. But read through them now, and you realise just how important the Saunders contribution was to the development of lightweight tents. His firsts were pretty fundamental features which are still to be found in tents today.

There was one development in tents which Bob never saw eye-to-eye with, and that was the taping of flysheet seams. “If you’ve designed the tent properly,” Bob would tell me, “you don’t need to tape the seams.” By proper design, he meant that any leakage would run down the seam to drip onto the ground at the edge of the fly. And he even came up with a flysheet main seam which contained an absorbent core which when wetted would expand and prevent any through leakage. Why the pathological dislike of taping? Simply because it’s applied using hot air, and heat prematurely ages the Nylon flysheet fabric and reduces its tear strength.

Bob Saunders was both a gentle man and a gentleman. And while at times he could be accused of hiding his light under a bushel, he had a wonderfully wry sense of humour. When Bob stated his long-term goal of designing a tent that weighed nothing and would pitch itself, I asked him to put me down for the first one. “When I truly achieve that,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye, “I’ll send you a dozen!”

First rate camping

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Vaude Odyssee XTWith all the recent media hype accompanying the pronouncements of financial meltdown, austerity for the next 10 years, influenza pandemics and parts of my home county of Norfolk likely to disappear beneath the waves within my lifetime, I’ve become rather more introspective than usual. Holidaying at home in the UK (why do they have to use that ghastly description “staycation”?) has seen a big increase this year, and camping and other outdoors activities are enjoying a mini-boom.

But isn’t it a shame that so much of this appears to have come about because people feel that circumstances compelled them into it? I consider myself lucky. My parents camped, and by the time I was 10 I’d slept under canvas (it really was canvas, too!) in England, Wales, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy. So I already knew that camping was nothing to be ashamed of – rather it was something to be enjoyed, and something which gets you on much more intimate terms with wherever you are than you’d ever achieve staying in a hotel or resort. And even though my own circumstances brought about a hiatus till my early 20s, I’ve camped ever since.

It would be no lie to say I’ve stayed in five star hotels where the welcome has been less friendly than that of a good few camp site wardens, and while admittedly a room in the former does have the advantage of ensuite facilities, you can still end up having your lie-in ruined because you forgot to hang the “Do not disturb” sign outside your door. And that’s the beauty of camping. You’re not restricted to other peoples’ timetables. You can have breakfast in bed – dinner, too, if you like. I’ve even had one or two tentmates daft enough to leave a small chocolate on my sleeping bag at bedtime! And on camp sites, you know there’s a good chance of striking up a friendly conversation or two, simply because you both happen to be camping.

My great love is wild camping, not because I’m anti-social, but simply because I’m not a great one for being organised. Out in the wilds, not only am I far away from crunching credit, virulent viruses and global warming gloom, I can pick and choose where I pitch my tent within reason, when I have my meals, and the only sounds to keep me company are the gentle (hopefully) murmuring of the wind, and a babbling stream nearby.

So my answer to all the purveyors of doom and gloom is that there’s nothing second rate about camping. It’s a liberating experience, and once you’ve discovered it is possible to do it without loss of comfort or dignity, you have a different take on all those “hotel” people who look down their noses at you.