Bivi kit: what worked (and didn't)
Advance Iota: simple, and lightweight for a standard production glider. Performed well in a wide range of conditions. Next time I'll get an even lighter wing, it's really worth it for bivi flying to reduce weight wherever possible.
Kolibri harness: swallowed up all gear and had room to spare. None of things stuffed into the harness affected the seated comfort. Negatives: the straps slip, and I snapped the footplate.
Kolibri backpack: superb. No shoulder or back ache after 1 week of heavy carrying. Straps in all the right places. Swallowed up gear, room to spare with standard version and standard wing.
Pacerpoles: why have I only discovered these now? A clear benefit on long trails, slopes, river crossings, and all inclines and flat sections, more so as you tire. They meant I saw more of the scenery because of an upright position, which reduced shoulder strain too. I used the rubber endcaps most of the time to reduce jarring and clatter. When I needed traction on steep surfaces I pulled them off.
Battery pack: 16Ah Anker powerpack lasted exactly 6 days on the trail combined with Samsung Galaxy S4 with extended battery. That's with my particular phone usage, which was strictly limited to one evening facebook upload session, a few SMSs, about 20 photos a day and half-hourly trail checking on Viewranger (a power-hungry app).
Tent: The Fly Creek UL1 (Big Agnes) was worth the weight. I was often near cows, there were often flies, sometimes mosquitos. There was often no obvious shelter in case of overnight rain, not that it happened. One night was cold, it was 12 degrees inside the zipped tent, and I was just comfortable nestled under the glider. If I'd been outside that night, I'd have wanted a sleeping bag as well as the wing. I always slept well, as I could ignore night sounds.
Food: At the last minute, I cut down my food bag from 4kg to 1.8kg by only packing pronutro (breakfast 100g) seedbars (lunch 85g) and biltong (supper 70g) x 6 days. I planned to drop into villages on the way but at least I had basic rations.
Some of that worked. Pronutro and milk powder mixed with water for breakfast was good, I looked forward to that every morning. It didn't feel as nutritious as a full bowl of cooked oats porridge, but it was fast, light, and needed no cooker.
Mapping: Viewranger. Spot on, to the metre every time I needed a trail. I had opencyclemaps loaded, and a trail overlaid from someone who had done the GR11. I should have downloaded a slightly wider swathe of topo map tiles before beginning the trip as I strayed very close to the 'known' edge of the world at times.
Instrument: Syride Sysnav. Remained fixed to my riser so it was no hassle, provided good audio indicator, averager and flight stats and did not need charging (was at 50% by end of trip). The airspace warnings were sometimes difficult to interpret. This was not a problem as my setup includes my phone with XCsoar for occasional navigation lookup, which meant I could leave it dormant and safely tucked away for launch and landing. Overall, the combination of sysnav and xcsoar worked perfectly.
Tracker: Delorme Inreach SE. Flawless. Robust, no signs of wear. Had 15% power remaining after 6 days continuous tracking (roughly 9am-9pm). It helpfully buzzed at me to cease 'casual tracking and messages' when it hit 25% to conserve power for an SOS. SMS back to my ground support was always available and worked.
Waterbag: 4L Ortlieb reservoir. I filled it to the brim at times (before big hot ascents with no signs of water higher up and uncertain flying prospects) and it was close to empty before I could refill. The skill to judge water management correctly makes a big impact on your weight and stamina; the more you carry, the heavier your pack so the more water you need to carry. On the flipside if you run out and dehydrate, it's stressful and weakening. I always carry some in reserve in case I crash and can't get to water. I carry a bit more than I need, to cover mistaken judgement and surprises. Being a flexible waterbag makes it ideal for stowing under the harness seat, which disturbs my balance the least and provides impact absorbtion. The dual straps on the Ortlieb make it possible to attach it as a water belt, suspended on my waist off the base of the backpack's shoulder straps. This counterbalances the weight of the pack so makes me stand more erect and use less core strength.
Torch: Petzl headlamp. This was a last-minute addition and I'm glad I included it. The first night I arrived late after transport complications and had to do a lot of walking in the dark on minor tarred roads. The torch helped me place my feet and made me visible to oncoming traffic. It was also very useful when setting up camp in the dark.
Footcare: Bodyglide wax. Helped limit the onset of blisters. Went on every day.
What didn't work or wasn't used
Food: chili beef biltong. It's a favourite treat. A handful is tasty, salty, and the highest protein content per 100g I could find (55%). But I couldn't eat more than 3 packs over 6 days, despite being hungry. I've learned I need variety in my diet and it's not just a whimsical want. To get nutrition into my body I must give it changing sources of food. The same goes for energy bars, although I finished all of those. But they didn't nourish me enough - I craved lower energy foods and alternate protein sources. I devoured some soft cheese wedges gifted to me. Ditto salted peanuts. Raisins would have nice. Some tortilla wraps would have been good. A can of tuna. A few freeze dried meals. Anything to stimulate the appetite. Strangely enough, I acquired two types of chocolate, but couldn't finish those either. I was literally sick of high energy food.
Footwear: trail running shoes. I have yet to find ones that are comfortable on long hikes with a heavy load. It might be because they are designed for running which has a different footfall to walking. Regardless, the reinforced narrow toe area of the Salomon Pro 3D GTX gave me blisters from running or walking far. If I had used them for the whole trip, I would have damaged my feet and been miserable. I would have missed the critical evening glide that linked to the final day's triumph. I already knew the rule before I began: don't leave home with shoes that aren't 100% comfortable. I thought the 1% uncomfortable was too small to worry about. Not so: it compounds with every step.
Raingear: I had full length waterproof trousers and lightweight shell jacket. It didn't rain, so I could have left them at home, but who knows? A cheap plastic emergency poncho could have been taken instead (or I could have used my tent flysheet) but to be prepared for walking in the rain I'd need at least some gaiters and shorts too.
Bonus Video: The volbiv life
A rough-and-ready documentary of volbiv adventuring through the Pyrenees.
Brought to you by Flybubble
Want to see more? There’s no better way to support our efforts than buying from us. We’ll ensure you get great service! Choose from our great range AND enable us to produce more content to benefit the freeflight community.