Saturday, 26 April 2014

How to make a 3m x 3m tarp tent

I recently purchased a new one man tent and decided to use the adjustable pole I purchased with it to do a tarp tent 'how to' to see how it did . The items needed for this little project are: A 3m x 3m tarp which in this instance is a DD one, a minimum of seven tent pegs, three guys lines and one suitably sized pole (adjustable or wooden).



Lay it out on the ground and orientate it (the door will be at the front of the picture above). The numbers 1 and 2 at the front relate to a later stage in the construction.

 

Start with the back of the shelter-to-be, we are interested in the first loop from the corner on the back and side which I'm pointing at in the left hand side picture above. Firmly peg them.


Once the loops are firmly pegged in, grab the corner and gently but firmly fold the flap that is formed underneath the tarp on both sides.


Now to form the front of the shelter/ the entrance. You want the corner (in my left hand) pegged into the ground an inch or so past the loop (near my right hand).


In reference to the numbers in the above picture, the corner (1) is positioned for pegging an inch or so past the first loop from the corner (2) which is the same as the ones used to form the back of the shelter. So in the picture above, I've pulled the corner from left to right and pegged it.


So that's four pegs down, three to go, but before we use any more it's time to get some rigidity into the shelter...Enter the pole. This could be a walking pole, a length of wood about an inch in diameter such as Hazel or, as stated earlier, an adjustable pole. This is adjusted to around three feet but you'll need to check and adjust if needs be when you do yours. Also bear in mind that the ground may be soft too and a well placed sliver of wood may be needed to prevent the pole sinking.

It is also important to mention at this stage that the pole of choice must be located underneath the nearest central reinforced ridge line loop, if you try using a general purpose (i.e. a non-camping) tarp you may need to use something like a small length of gaffer tape to reinforce it. I've never made one from a household tarp but it's what I'd consider. If you look at the left hand side picture above you can see the black loop by my left hand. I'd also suggest that something like half a ping pong ball upturned on the top of a pole would help too.


You should now have a stable and recognisable structure with a flappy front. The door size is determined earlier with the position 1 and 2 loops manoeuvre earlier. Some demos say to peg the two corner loops in the centre which forms a slit like door and therefore a 100% sealed shelter-It's essentially this structure with a tight door! With this one grab the two corners of the flap and pin them three loops back along the side using a guy line and peg. If you make a slit like entrance the flap is a different shape and just needs pinning on one side in a similar fashion. 


One more peg and guy line to go. Attach them to the central position of the 'flap' and secure. This is to both tighten the front and to give the shelter some more support. And that's it done. It's nigh on impossible to get a shot of me lying down from the outside of this structure but suffice to say that there is plenty of clearance for me at 5' 11"(ish) to chuck a bivi bag in. I'd like to try knocking this type of shelter up another time using a length of paracord 550 from the top instead of using a pole. I reckon it would work but I wonder if it would benefit from the pole's rigidity.



As you can see from me sitting by the front, it's perfect for one person and a bag of kit.



I've also tried this with a tipi style support (not a wigwam, that's a domed structure). I've never made this to sleep in but for experimentation, that said it seemed structurally sound but I'd perhaps use a quadpod instead of the tripod shown. Another variation on this is the Closed Tarp Tent.

Suggested Further Reading:-










Sunday, 20 April 2014

Sil Hex Peak tent review

When I rejoined scouting as an adult I purchased my first tent, a four person job from a camping and caravan shop...hardly used, in 2007 I won a tent in a Scouting centenary competition which had a low hydrostatic head rating which I sold and got a smaller two man tent in it's place. These are the tents that I've used up to date and since I linked up as a course assistant with Woodlife Trails I've had a clear focus re kit and therefore I've been looking to reprise my outdoor accommodation. I've pretty much used a DD tarp and hammock setup whilst helping on the courses but I wanted to get a lightweight one man tent so that I could alternate between tarp, hammock, tent and bivi bag depending on the season.


On one of the courses one of the guys had a Mini Peak II from Backpackinglight  which I'd seen in their Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine adverts. I was impressed with it's 'vital statistics' and the website Christmas camping write up so decided to investigate further. In the end I decided to plump for the Sil Mini Peak instead of the Mini Peak II which I'd seen as it had a 2000 hydrostatic head rating instead of 1500...


This turned out to be a discontinued line so the natural choice was the new and comparable Sil Hex Peak which you can see in and out of it's box compared in size to a DD 3m x 3m tarp and a Swiss Army Knife. Also featured are the instructions which cover the basics but that's it.


I was immediately impressed with the stuff sack that the tent comes in. It was, naturally, wrapped up all cosy and snug but as you can see the sack is not the usual tight fit and makes putting the tent away less of a chore than a sack that is only mathematically a bit bigger than the tent going back in (I'm not the only one who finds that am I?).


One small thing when I took it out and opened it up, I nearly stuck the ventilation support up my nose! It wasn't the end of the world but will be mindful of it. To start putting the tent up it needs laying out flat and it is an easy tent to do so. The above shot shows where it peaks up in the middle once laid out.


It can be used with walking poles as the support (but you'll probably need to purchase a pole extender) but seeing as I don't have any I purchased the adjusting tent pole instead. It comes with a choice of a flat end piece or one with a small spike on. I've plumped for the latter as a) It's already fitted b) I didn't want to faff about re-knotting the flatter one on and c) It digs into the ground nicely and I've fashioned a small, flat rectangular piece of wood with a small hole in as a 'foot' for it which now lives in the bag.


The only thing I was a little concerned with was a small brown mark on the sliding ring which locks the extendable part of the pole (to the left in the picture above), I wasn't sure if it was a little bit of corrosion but it's something I can deal with if it is. Also shown above is one of the pegs which are purple...The colour reminds me of the 'small torch incorporated into a clipped key ring novelty by the tills' type stuff you get in Go Outdoors. As I'll be using the tent mainly in woodland I'll have to see if these are long enough to get purchase through the leaf litter. Also shown is the seam sealant which is supplied with the tent. I opted to purchase the separate Sil Net tube as I was advised it was superior but more on that later.


As I said earlier the instructions are OK if basic and I initially had a job getting my head around which pegs to push in to start the tent off so I used a marker pen on the instructions and freezer tags on the four relevant peg positions. The other shot shows the sturdy cup that the pole locates into, this is where the plastic loop is to hang the inner from but I've not managed to trap it even though I've had the tent up several times.


The inner is fairly easy to put up but I soon worked out that the outer pegs should only be a few inches from the tent because the inner loops also fit over them so if they are too far the inner protrudes. The peg arrangement and set up of the inner is a bit baffling. I'd rather have had some sort of internal fastening system, and maybe some clips half way up to help secure the netting a little flusher to the outer as it billows a little if you aren't careful. So far I've put up the tent, then the inner but I guess the loop I have my finger round is to secure the inner to the pole?

 

When it came to proofing I decided to hang and erect the tent inside out to make the seams easy to get at. The tube of Sil Net sealant didn't look massive so I decided to work from the sleeping area half of the tent towards the door. I ran out with one seam to go so I just finished it off with the smaller tube supplied. I think the purchase of the extra tube was a wise investment as I would probably have come up short with just one (perhaps I've put it on too thickly). The extra one feels superior too (whereas the supplied one felt more like Airfix model glue) and suggests 3-6 hours to go off...I'd recommend allowing six because I did it in Spring sunshine with a breeze and it took that long. The 'Airfix' glue sealant goes off within a few seconds of application.


As I mentioned that I'd hung it up to proof the seams, this is a shot of the hanging loop which, like the cup for locating the pole inside, feels sturdy and well made. The shot on the left is of the door loop to fold it back open.


The vent is located over the door and the support which I nearly thrust up my nose holds it open well. The porch area is spacious and has more than enough room to stash a 100 litre rucksack and more. 


One the first attempt at putting it up I found that it wasn't that taut and it was only having found the two tension straps in the stuff sack that I realised why. I'd overlooked them on the instructions and they locate near the same four peg fastenings so aid the initial ID for pegging the tent out. I must be  mindful when I pack the tent as they have got a little tangled up on a couple of occasions. Maybe the pole had also slipped a little too...


The sleeping area is just about fine for me at about 5' 11'' and the website that up to 6' 2" is probably about the maximum but at a push I'd say. The inner seams need sealing too and I've used the 'Airfix glue' for that. As you can see from the position of my small digital camera that the space isn't too bad at all for a compact tent but the web blurb suggests a small child could possibly fit in too. Not sure about that as it would be cosy. The only issue I had was getting the inner away from the outer because the way the inner sits means that it can touch the outer if you aren't careful. I followed this up and was advised that the outer should be set so that it doesn't touch the ground (ie leave a small gap). I want it for use in the winter and going forward this has the potential to let annoying and cold wind under the edge of the tent.


The door is fastenable on the left hand side but there is no fixing for the right hand side. which to me is a bit of a design oversight as it would be perfect to sleep with it as a tarp style open tent and help with condensation. I can hook the peg fixing over the fixing on the corner, it just doesn't look symmetrical. So, having got to grips with it in my garden it's out to the woods for some proper outdoorsy pictures. I'd discovered that once the initial four pegs go in that it's worth opening the door and standing in the hole to locate the pole as you have to push past less fabric to see the locator cup (by the way the zip is a double one which you run to the top to open the door, and all the way down to shut it.).


And here I am next to a fully taught tent to give you another size comparison. You can sit up and there is a decent amount of storage space (in the front half) and it takes but minutes to pitch and strike up once you've got the hang of it.


Whilst out and about I tried pitching it without a pole to see how it was. Firstly I had to keep remembering that there was a hefty hornbeam bough just above my head. I tried to suspend it with a little slack, with the view to putting all the pegs in and then tightening it but I found that it kept wandering off centre so went back the initial four pegs. I might also consider adding an elastic tent peg loop with a larks head to the top loop in case I used this suspension method and the wind got up wobbling the bough. I attached a length of paracord 550 using an anchor bend which is essentially a round turn and two half hitches but the first half hitch is secured through the round turns, and I used a tarp taut hitch to secure it to the bough. I used approximately four feet of paracord which I guesstimate is this long enough for most eventualities.



I first tried this tent on a night that dropped to about six degrees and went from dry to rainy. Condensation inside is something to be aware of which brings me back to the fact that both sides of the door weren't manufactured to be fixed open, and I was happy with it's wet weather capabilities (and feeling rather pleased with myself that I'd bothered to waterproof the outer and inner seams it has to be said). I'll be largely using it in a wooded environment so I don't envisage it having to repel rain that's coming in sideways. One issue that I will be watching is the pole, I'm not sure if I rolled over and knocked it but it slid down and therefore made the tent outer a little saggy. I illuminated the tent in the dark with a small Scout shop mini lantern which did an adequate job.

Finally, the picture of the Skittles alludes to that fact that all good boys get sent a packet with a (bigger?) order, nice touch as is the hand written note on the card and the follow up phone call to check all is well. At the end of the day we want our kit to arrive as advertised and quickly, but these personal touches are great to see, and delivery is courier service the next working day. 

 Front and rear view of the tent (minus the inner) on a Woodlife Trails tracker course.

Having had this tent a while I have come back to review my review and made some additions to it. I know that functionality comes over aesthetics but this is a handsome little tent that I feel is rather let down by a few niggly points: whilst it doesn't come with the tent I've had to add a rubber ring to the tent pole as it doesn't stay up tight during the night, the inner fixings having to be pushed under the tent to be secured on the outer pegs, the fact that you can't pitch the tent touching the ground or you may have issues with the inner touching it and the fact that you can't fix both doors open to both help with condensation and to have the option to sleep with a view. If the weather isn't going to be too cold I sometimes take just the outer with me. I'd also recommend longer pegs for woodland as they do have a habit of coming out in the leafy ground.




Thursday, 17 April 2014

Alexanders soup

I guess Alexanders are associated with being more of a coastal plant but as it is a(nother) Roman import it can often be found in areas which have had a Roman presence, so I'm presuming that is why I find them near my home in Hertfordshire.

The stems in the patch near me are in a rather shaded spot and therefore still quite small and tender so are usable. The processing, apart from chopping, refers to the fact that the stems need scraping as they have a rather strong taste. Alexanders have a lovely celery like taste (it was superceded by celery) but it has to be scraped to achieve this...Take a big bite of celery leaves to get an idea of the taste.



So onto the soup. It is no different to making any other basic soup in that I use the Alexanders, water, stock and maybe some creme Fraiche at the end. Watercress works well with this combination too.


 

The bunch I have in my is just about enough for a bowl of soup (I say just as I added a couple more stems. And to the rather labourious task of peeling/ scraping off the stringy, slightly clingy skin ( I use both a knife and peeler to achieve this).They are quite fragile so peel carefully.


You can see the difference in colour between the unpeeled stem at the top of the left hand side picture, and the peeled stem. A shot of the stringy skin and leaves after finishing the preparation of the stalks.


You can clearly see the striking resemblance that the prepared stems have to cultivated celery in this shot on the left hand side. Once prepped, chop the Alexanders stalks up into small pieces.



Next mix up some vegetable stock, this is one dry Oxo vegetable cube to just over half a pint of boiling water. place the stock and chopped Alexanders stalks into a saucepan, initially over a high heat and then simmer for a few minutes. 


You can see in the saucepan shot a small squareish shape, that is a small piece of Parmesan 'skin' for a little flavour. What you do is select the size of skin that you want and cut off three times as much cheese with it. You then cut the cheese off where it joins the skin, chuck the skin into the soup and eat the Parmesan! (a piece of Parmesan is very nice with vintage cider but I digress...). Once the soup is done strain the Alexanders pieces off from the soup, it's a bit stringy to leave in. This is obviously a thin soup as it is but it can be thickened.


I stayed in Pembrokeshire in Wales a few years ago and before I went I tapped up a guy called John Fenna (who folk may know as a poster, kit reviewer and wise old egg from the BCUK forum and various meets) and we met up at the Castell Henllys  Iron Age village reconstruction. As my family and I were staying by the coast we were surrounded by Alexanders...The only trouble was that they were a little tough. I ended up chopping the stems up and making a stock with them and substituted a courgette into it and as above, put a small piece of Parmesan rind in. 

Once we'd been around the site we sat outside near the roundhouses and I offered John some and I'm pleased to say that he enjoyed it, he also commented that the Castell Henlys inhabitants may well have consumed something similar (minus the courgette and Parmesan obviously).

So why is the name of this plant a plural? Alexanders soup sounds silly, should I have put Alexander or is it like the word sheep which can be singular or plural?