The Outdoors with Snugpak
Matt Holland is an award-winning Creative Designer and Outdoors leader. Most recently he has completed his Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and continued teaching the next generation as a leader for the award. He has always had an interest in the outdoors and for the past 20 years has been involved with the Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh award including the last 12 years as an outdoor leader.
Matt combines this passion, working with MyOutdoors as a gear reviewer and as an ambassador for Vanguard Photo UK and Snugpak. Most recently Matt has been a finalist in the RHS Photographer of the Year and International Garden Photographer of the Year and this year launched his first solo book which showcases his outdoor photography, expeditions and trips from over the years. Many of which showcase Snugpak’s equipment. With this experience, we asked Matt to give us a steer on what to consider for any photography trips in the mountains.
Throughout 2018 I have been away every other weekend to Wales to climb mountains for training towards my Mountain Leaders course. To count I have climbed some 30+ mountains this season and I still have several Winter climbs scheduled, now with all these mountains and hiking comes a lot of equipment to keep me going no matter the weather.
What’s in my bag?
My kit is a mixture of brands but some 70% of it is produced by Snugpak, who I have trusted for many years now and served me well through my own Duke of Edinburgh expeditions as a participant.
I rely on Snugpak because it is cost effective, reliable and offers light weight options which do the job. As a gear reviewer I get a huge variety of equipment and many would think the more expensive a product is, the better a product should be which isn’t always the case. Which is why I have always enjoyed using both Snugpak and Vanguard Photo equipment. Pro level kit at lower price points which neither compromise on quality or features.
When it comes to photography I now use a small mirrorless camera from Olympus and for bags, protection and tripods I use Vanguard Photo, again I have trusted in this kit for several years and neither have let me down in any situation whether this be on a mountain side or in my studio shooting products or video for clients.
Rucksacks: If you’re planning on camping out in the mountains a large bag is required and the 40L is the smallest I would recommend to anyone who is planning a trip similar. For longer weekend trips many will find the 50-60L better suited for extra space, certainly this time of the year where thicker jackets and bags are needed which take up more space.
I use the Snugpak Endurance 40L which shocks a lot of people in how I manage to pack all my gear PLUS photographic kit inside this bag all the year round.
Sleeping bags: You want a good quality bag for heading outdoors. You cheap bags won’t cut it, especially when camping on mountain summits! Even in Summer you will need a bag that can keep you comfortable down to 5°C in some instances, just because it’s 34°C in the towns it’s going to be an average of 10-15°C on the summits and add in wind chill, rain and night temperatures the summit temperature can range from 0-5°C and in Winter as we just experienced beginning of October. Snow forecasts and night temperatures down to -5°C.
I use two bags, the first being the AR sleeping system for Summer conditions and for the rest of the year the Softie 12 Opsrey. Why two? the AR sleeping system is lightweight and comfortable down to 5°C and also a lot smaller which makes hiking across long distances more comfortable. The Softie 12 is a four-season bag which has kept me comfortable in a tarp down to -5°C so far and even then, I was toasty. However, this bag is both bulkier and heavier but in Winter I typically don’t walk as far in comparison to Summer, so the extra bulk is not a concern.
Mats: Now many ask what the point in these and it’s is one of the top questions as a leader we get too. Especially the big foam mats which you often see strapped to the back of rucksacks. A classic sign of a DofE or Scout group on expedition. The purpose of roll mats is not just for comfort but to keep your core temperature from dropping. A thick sleeping bag isn’t enough and lying on the ground for prolonged periods will dramatically drop your core temperature. Many are put off by inflatable mats because they are expensive, especially when you start looking at down filled mats.
I recently took out the new Snugpak airmat with footpump which has replaced my usual mats due to weight and sheer cost! And I highly recommend the new mat for both seasoned campers or those new to the outdoors.
Tents/Tarps/Bivi bags: There is a lot to choose from, personally I prefer tents and one of my favourites in particular is the Scorpion tents. Most recently I have started using tarps and tipi's which are even lighter but not as stable in stormy conditions. On my recent trip to Snowdonia, due to low temperatures and expected gusts I opted for to use the new Journey Duo tent which was great as it allowed us to cook in the porch but enjoy the warmth and comfort out of the wind.
Clothing: Clothing can be awkward as you often need to pack for every condition – wind, rain and warmth. I have seen people out in these conditions with a pair of jeans and lightweight jacket on. Is it any wonder why you’re cold? So, bring a mixture of layered items from fleeces, t-shirts and down jackets as well as a couple of thick walking trousers not to mention waterproof jackets which you can never have enough off.
Friday night the climb up to Y Garn was warm and we were down to t-shirts and one light weight jacket, Saturday day was t-shirt weather and we nearly broke out the shorts as we explored Dinorwic but fast forward to the climb up to llyn Caseg-Fraith and exploring the tops here we were in Winter trousers, gaiters, two down jackets and a fleece to stay warm. Down jackets are great as they can compact down and take up little space and weight. Not all are waterproof, so a waterproof is required just in case. For example, I take a Snugpak, Impact fleece, SJ3, AR Windtops, ML6 jackets and enhanced poncho to keep me warm on the mountain sides.
On the note of clothing a good pair of boots is needed. Not trainers and certainly not flipflops and yes, I have seen people out in these conditions with just flipflops and the other week on Pen y Fan I saw a couple with no shoes on. You don’t need to spend hundreds on the latest and greatest, I use a £140 pair of hiking boots which are perfect for scrambling, winter conditions and long-distance hiking.
Cooking and hydration: I use a bladder pack for ease, but bottles do the job too. You will need at least 2L to get you through a climb, night and morning for cooking. It’s a good idea to bring water filter systems or tablets to purify water if you come across any water sources to keep you going. I also pack a large tank in the boot of my car which holds 20L so I can top up water when I come back down off the mountains if there is no suitable water sources nearby.
Of course, a stove and gas. You won’t want anything big and heavy. A 0.8 pot which several on the market can be compacted down to hold everything inside.
My pot can hold everything inside and has a French-press for coffee. Coffee is a must in the mountains and you can go as far as bringing beans and a coffee grinder if you’re a real connoisseur.
Some extras to pack: Gloves, buff and hats; Bug spray and sun cream; Torches, lamps etc; Battery packs; Multi-tools
For those who are enjoy this creative side along with the mountain hikes know that the two combined is great fun but also makes thing a lot more expensive! Between camping kit and photographic or video you quickly see your money disappear. However, costs aside the next issue is weight and keeping it down for those of you not privy to the ‘suffering’ us photographers go through for that mountain shot. The packs and weights are big! I used to use a DSLR camera and between the body and three lens it came weighing in 3kg, add a tripod in to the mix too that is a further 2kg if you are lucky to get an expensive lightweight model.
If you carry a drone and spares you can quickly see the kit hitting 8kg easily and with a 14kg pack already with camping kit you have a back breaking 20kg your lugging up a mountain which is no fun.
A rule we teach in DofE to participants is your pack weight should be no more than 1/4th of your weight, for example I weigh 11.8 stone which is 74.9kg so my max I should carry is 18kg which I have yet to hit more recently but have previously carried 21kg and this was horrible and made the whole expedition difficult and unenjoyable.
My Top Tips:
Don’t be disheartened by bad weather.
I say this a lot with photography as well and the same applies here in with camping and hiking. The conditions are forever changing and as you will know the outdoors is very unpredictable and even the best laid plans can be ruined but as they say there is not bad planning just bad packing. Always pack a fleece, hat, first aid kit and waterproofs and if the conditions changed you are prepared.
On our most recent trip to North Wales the weather was looking perfect and clear for the whole weekend, but Saturday night/Sunday morning changed very quickly during the day. Thick fog and rain were now forecasted. So, our ideas and what we wanted to photograph and wild camp at had gone out the window, did it stop us. Of course not! It was still an enjoyable evening and morning running around the top of the mountain trying to photography Tryfan’s reflection in the lakes nearby. Now we know this area a little better we will certainly be returning very soon for attempt two and we will continue until we get that shot we want.
Saving weight is a dangerous and expensive game.
Speak to anyone who regularly climbs mountains and lives in the outdoors they will tell you they are trying to cut that extra 200-400 grams anywhere they can. Investing in several hundred-pound sleeping bags or the lightest tent to do so but this isn’t always best. Having the lightest kit doesn’t mean it’s always the most reliable. The lightest I got my kit at one time was 7kg, but I ended up sacrificing several creature comforts which actually impacted the enjoyment of the weekend. Settle with a set up that works for you and gives you the most enjoyment. Who cares if the next guy has 3kg lighter than you, ask yourself are you happy.
Don’t be influenced by social media or believe everything you read online.
I say this one as well with photography and again I feel it can influence a lot of people which can be dangerous especially if it’s to a location that is known for deaths; most recently I have seen a lot posting wild camps or scrambles up at Crib Goch and the comments making it out to be very easy to get here but this is a notorious scramble with its knife edge that can claim the life’s of even the most experienced. Fortunately, a lot on social media are calling people out on this. For some of my walks to help those who are interested I have been tracking with ViewRanger and this shows you the height gain, distance and terrain. You’ll see no lies from me.
ALWAYS, always check the weather!
Never wing it. If the weather changes you will know what is coming and you can be better prepared and pack the appropriate kit for the trip. Some apps and weather sites I use to help plan my trips are: PhotoPills, ViewRanger, Met Office Mountain Forecast and XCWeather. Photopills is to help with direction of stars and alignment with the moon and sun so I can know I’m camping in the right location to catch that sun rise or core of the milky way. ViewRanger of course for maps but always pack a paper OS map with compass. XCWeather is another weather map provider and I’ve found is very accurate and gives me more details compared to others.
The old age argument but in all honesty pack both.
I’m talking about navigation both digital vs paper maps, both have their advantages so ignore snobbery and the argument and use both. On our weekend trips we pack both and most of the time we rarely use either but for speed and convenience we use our phones for GPS and use the OS map for further details of the area. Most evenings or mornings we will typically dig out the paper map and lay it out on the table with food and decided what locations to go to and programme our phones with the routes.
Similar subject to navigation - Don’t trust anyone.
We teach participants when they go out on expedition not to take instructions or believe what others might say. More often than not other walkers think they know where they are and then get confused and this can end up confusing the groups. Most people can’t read or get confused with paper maps and most, certainly won’t know where you are so trust your own judgement and take your time to find yourself. So politely say no thank you we’ve got this.
On the subject of manners - Don’t be a grumpy so and so and say hello or morning.
I really despise coming back after a weekend away not just because I have the Monday blues dreaming of being on a mountain again but because people don’t talk anymore. On all the walks and climbs in Wales this year we’ve stopped to talk to other hikers as they go past. A Simple hello how are you etc. It makes a big difference to wellbeing. I return back to South East England and everyone is grumpy and gives you a funny look when you say good morning or hello as you’re out on a walk.
Finally, it’s not all about the latest and greatest kit.
As with an industry, products change, and new editions come out quicker than you care to catch up with. I don’t use it now, but I still have a Vango Sherpa 70L rucksack which is some 10+ years old now and there is nothing wrong with it at all, few cuts here and there but still useable. So, don’t feel that you need to buy new kit every year and if you are at least donating your old kit to activity groups, charities and recycle that old kit you no longer want.
One thing you wished you knew when you were starting out
I’m very fortunate as when starting in the industry and getting in to the outdoors I have always been involved with a club like Scouts or DofE, so I’m very fortunate that I’ve had the support structure, equipment to hire and help when needed and someone to give you the confidence but what if you’ve never been with Scouts or DofE and just found your inspiration to go outdoors now but lack the confidence or knowledge?
This is one of my most frequently asked questions I get after trips and with my photography. How do you have the confidence to go out on to these locations and spend the night up on these mountains?
Well minus the obvious answer above from my years of being involved in the clubs with formal training, qualifications and awards my best answer to give is: I have been trained and educated so my advice would be to sign up to a navigation course or look for workshops and walks with outdoor leaders who can lead you on guided walks to build your confidence. You’ll meet likeminded people who are looking for something similar and you can work together to make a trip happen in the mountains.
Going away with a couple of you is far more fun and socialible and my trips this year have been rememberable thanks to the company. More often than not we forgot about the photography and just enjoyed the laughs and a cold beer on a mountain top. In 2019 I will be offering a confidence course to help others build their confidence in these locations, it will be primarily photographic based with the opportunity to go shoot astro photography and see some of my favourite shooting spots around Wales to start with but it is open to anyone who wishes to build confidence or even just get away for a weekend and find some new spots.
Transparency Notice: Please note that I (Matthew Holland) receive free products for review from brands and manufacturers, but I only accept products for review on condition of total independence and no guarantee of endorsement. I am a Vanguard Photo UK and Snugpak brand ambassador and receive the products for free to review from both brands. The review is no guarantee of endorsement. I receive no monetary gain from Vanguard Photo UK or Snugpak from the reviews or discount codes. Any Vanguard kit I own has been bought by myself. Any Snugpak equipment is gifted to me for the purpose of the review.