Micro Adventure – A Night With Jack Wolfskin
Tuesday 16th February marked the date, it was finally set. I’d planned to do a specific micro adventure for over two months but everyday life, diary dates and the weather curtailed my intentions. The kit was here, the arrangements were in place and finally, A Night With Jack Wolfskin was going ahead.
Last year, I contacted Jack Wolfskin and put forward a proposal for a sponsored feature, which would involve a one-night micro adventure, complete with camp fire, marshmallows and brilliant photography; with the main purpose of course being to review the gear we were using.
They were keen, I was even more keen, and plans were made. Since then, I had problems trying to arrange a location and someone to accompany me. Sorting a suitable date around two very different, busy schedules and unpredictable weather proved almost impossible and too much time had already passed to continue with the same idea. Inevitably, my micro adventure companion changed and things instantly looked brighter and closer to happening.
My Uncle Mat is an outdoors lover and a fantastic photographer, so he was the ideal person to join me. Suddenly the calendar opened up and we were able to pick a night based on the weather forecast, rather than blindly picking date in the future. Tuesday looked cold, dry and clear, and unless things changed drastically, that’s when we would go.
Monday evening was spent talking logistics and writing lists. This is where my ideas quickly changed from wild camp – to wild glamp. As it turns out, my new outdoorsy comrade wasn’t one for roughing it and so plans were put in place to bring his 3kg Therm-a-rest, camping stools, disposable barbecue, tea, milk, bacon and fleecy thermals. The thought of bacon in the morning did sway me, it has to be said.
After discussing whether it was a good idea to run a 500m extension cable from the local farm and install a Wi-Fi booster at the edge of the coppice we would inhabit, we decided it best to call it a night.
Armed with a Jack Wolfskin Exolight II tent, two Smoozip -7 sleeping bags and three different jackets to test, I headed over to the meet Gandalf Fiennes who was prepared, devoid of collapsible stools but loaded with a seemingly magical and bottomless bag of food. I jest – but we would be grateful for this later on.
“Home is now behind you, the world is ahead!” – Gandalf
From here, the micro adventure began.
A local farmer, Ed, who was a friend of Mat’s had very kindly given us permission to use one of his coppices; all we needed to do was choose an appropriate spot. Ed had really saved my metaphorical bacon – since the Forestry Commission had foiled my original plan – as Mat saved our literal bacon for the morning.
The coppice is set overlooking the Welland Valley, well away from the closest road and near to a lightly-used railway. The view from here is breath-taking; something that could very easily be taken for granted. Four to five of the local villages could be seen from here, and patching together the local roads I cycle down regularly gave me a totally different perspective on it all.
Set on intersecting slopes, the coppice was light in ideal spots to camp but one or two caught our eye higher up. Flat ground was non-existent so a gentle incline would have to do. I made sure our feet would point downhill, which also happened to be due-North. The ground was littered with twigs (and bird poo) and once that was cleared, I started to pitch the tent while Mat collected firewood.
The Jack Wolfskin Exolight II is a two man tent which uses an exoskeleton of poles joined together as one piece; folding out and sliding together with ease. Ball joints on the tent secure a number of the pole ends, while the others slot into a more conventional hole at the base of each corner. The tent is kept up by rugged plastic hooks, which simply attach over the poles. Then all that’s left is to peg it out.
Mat took some photographs and said he would come and take a few more once it was up, so he went back to gathering firewood. Little did he know how quickly it would be finished.
The Exolight II uses a system which requires little thought process. It’s really as simple as orientating the poles the right way around and then clipping them into place. It took very little time to put up and the lack of pole sleeves contributed to that enormously. I didn’t bother to guy it down, since there was only a whisper of wind blowing through the coppice. Mat was back only a couple of minutes later as I finished pegging the sides down.
Our organisational skills took heed and our wood pile became three stacks of different sized material. Usually there’s just tinder, kindling, and everything else. Here, we had the everything category sorted into small twigs, medium sized stuff, and large sections of longer-burning wood. Tinder was my next port of call, so I found some dead reeds, and raked the wind-dried grass into a nice birds nest of ignitable material. We would cheat a little, and use a cotton-wool ball daubed in Vaseline to take the initial spark.
We were lucky; the wood was much drier than I had expected. Everything cracked nicely as you broke it off and the stuff strewn across the ground was somehow very dry too. A lightly prevailing wind through the coppice must keep it this way. We formed a teepee of wood, increasing in size as it grew, so that everything was ready to go once the light fell.
We made a bench/seat out of three fallen trees and put up my second tent which would store our bags and Mat’s photography gear.
In the Exolight II, I put two Smoozip -7 sleeping bags, which we hoped would keep us warm through the night. The forecast suggested it would be around 1°C, so the suggested comfort rating ought to be plenty good enough to keep us comfortable.
I was wearing the Jack Wolfskin Zenon Snap-In Down-Jacket, which is filled with 90/10 duck down (700 cuin down fill powder) and weighs roughly the same as three feathers. It can even compress into its own stow-away pocket, which is impressive to say the least. I’ve been wearing this jacket regularly for the past two months and have loved it from the off. Other people have too – I’ve received a number of compliments on the aesthetics of the Zenon. People are right to be impressed. Not only do the metallic-like blues mix nicely with the red cuffs, but it performs and fits nicely too.
With time to kill, we decided to walk around the local area, taking in the view as the sun began to set, and exploring one of the local World War II pillboxes.
Heading back to camp, it was now around 6pm but the moon was still illuminating everything to a point where Mat’s brand-new, proximity-adjusting, Petzl headlamp was no longer needed.
It was time to light the fire, which was the part I had looked forward to the most. One strike of the ferro-rod lit the tinder instantly and once it was inserted into our carefully constructed teepee, it went up with only a little coaxing.
Instantly things changed. Nothing was bad before we lit the fire, but somehow it has a way of improving everything ten-fold. Our micro adventure was no longer a crisp, dark night out in the woods; it was a warm, thoroughly enjoyable evening we would spend watching nature’s TV, playing cards and drinking whiskey.
We couldn’t have positioned the fire in a better location, as the smoke was taken directly away from the makeshift bench on which we sat.
Mat was wearing the Jack Wolfskin Prisma 3-in-1 jacket which combines a Texapore 2L shell with a Nanuk 200 inner fleece for increased warmth and protection from the elements. In a size small, the jacket was much too big for me so I palmed it off on Mat, who usually wears a medium. One complaint Mat had was the length of the jacket – it’s very short cut. User preference I guess, as I prefer a shorter jacket, but Mat regularly complained of a cold back as he leant forward to put down a card or to stoke the fire.
Fortunately for me, I had no such issue and my Zenon down-jacket was now paired with a Glacier Valley Soft-shell jacket which kept any sign of wind out entirely. The Glacier Valley fits snugly, is cut quite short, and has little in the way of extras. Two hand pockets and a hood is all you get – there are no gimmicks whatsoever. It does what it’s supposed to and little else. Like the Zenon, I’ve enjoyed the use of this jacket for a while now and have been pleasantly surprised at the warmth it provides, despite not being a technical piece.
Mat was in charge of food for the trip and we decided it was time to eat. A mixture of chilli-infused noodles and more standard chicken ones were pulled out from the magic bag of life and we cooked them in my mess tins, using the embers of the fire. Their deliciousness would only be beaten the following morning.
The rest of the evening was spent on random exploratory missions in the dark, controlled photography sessions and playing card games with questionable rules, while drinking beer and whiskey. As someone who is pretty much teetotal, I was surprised to enjoy the alcohol as much as I did. But the outdoors, the fire and the micro adventure in general – plus the warming properties of the whiskey – made things even better. The discovery of Jaffa Cakes and whiskey was an accidental, but phenomenal epiphany.
Between 6pm and 11pm, time had flown and we decided it was time to get some kip. Now was when we would see how good the Smoozip -7 bags were. I also had the lightest sleeping pad in the world with me – the Klymit Inertia X-Lite, which weighs around 120g without its pump and packs down to the size of a Red Bull can. Mat on the other hand, had unravelled his Therm-a-rest which took up half the tent and ended up giving him little in the way of comfort. Certainly not something I would advise taking into the mountains with you!
Snuggled up in my clothes and having drifted off to sleep, I was awoken as Mat propelled himself violently bolt-upright, exclaiming quietly: “I can hear voices”. I wasn’t sure at first if he was joking but it became apparent pretty quickly that he was serious, and when I heard them myself, we simultaneously engaged stealth mode and bolted out of the tent.
Full of adrenaline, and feeling curiously brave, I headed towards the voices with Mat in tow, half asleep. There were metallic noises and it sounded as though someone was down at the railway. I wondered if it was Gypo’s helping themselves to some cable but as we got closer (and realising there was no cable), we saw lights on the track and realised it was railway workers rather than bloodthirsty hunters. Relieved, we went back to bed.
I struggled for quite some time to get to sleep; my nose blocked and head feeling heavy. I dozed in and out of sleep, tossing and turning until 3am, until I saw Mat’s unused fleecy thermal trousers which would prove to be a god-send. I rolled them up into a ball and elevated my head off the ground and instantly felt more comfortable.
I awoke at 6am, dozed until 7am, and then got up to a stunning purple sunrise beaming through the trees. What a sight.
I had stayed toasty warm and comfortable all night in my Smoozip -7, and my Klymit Inertia X-Lite stopped the sleeping bag from rotating as I moved, leaving me tangle-free. I think Mat had a rougher time of it, but crucially, did stay nice and warm.
The fire had burned out but its embers remained tucked below the cooling ash, so it didn’t take much work before we returned it back to roaring flames.
For breakfast, we had the most useless disposable barbecue ever made, which was only half full of coals and barely tepid, so we filled it with embers from the fire instead. The subsequent bacon rolls we enjoyed were the nicest I’ve ever had and they were a great way to finish off the adventure. Tea made in the Jetboil stove and consumed from the children’s plastic cups was equally as good.
We broke camp and headed back to civilisation after what I can only describe as an awesome and refreshing experience. Thanks to farmer Ed for a perfect location to camp and get away from it all. We’ll save you a bacon roll next time.
Camping in the cold and wet is the cornerstone of miserable British camping experiences haunting your childhood- so a big thank you to Jack Wolfskin for providing the tent, sleeping bags and jackets we used. Full reviews of the gear used will be coming soon. It won’t be long till we’re itching to plan the next one- and why not get out there and enjoy the nature on your own doorstep? All you need is a fire, fresh air, and a dram or two. Just watch out for the railway workers.
Mentioned Products & Gear Used
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