The things I carried vol-biving across the Pyrenees | with Adventures Unbound
Posted on July 03, 2017
Every time I return to the mountains for some vol-bivy paragliding, I’m reminded once more just how important it is to pack light! This recent trip was no exception. Having just returned from a successful crossing of the Pyrenees, I thought my gear list might be interesting for others.
Before you ask, yes I could have taken way less stuff. This mountain range does have small towns dotted about after all. However, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to train for bigger crossings…
DISCLAIMER: we were able to receive some gear sponsorships, so mentioning them here is technically considered advertising… but please believe me when I say that any opinion is my own. This form of travel is dangerous, so if gear does’nt meet the standard, I’ll say!
The Paragliding Equipment
My wing, harness and rescue came in at just over 8kg, but all up, the bag averaged about 20kg throughout the trip!
At 3.9kg, this is the lightest wing I’ve owned… and with an aspect ratio of 6.41, it’s also the highest performance wing I’ve flown.
Initially, I was concerned about jumping to the HIGH C category, because I believe that when practising vol-biv, you should fly a slightly tamer wing than you would normally!
That said, I was feeling a little adventurous and have been flying regularily all winter, and boy am I glad, because this wing really takes you places!
For a start, the Spice can glide forever, and it’s ability to cut upwind has changed my flying!
I’d have never been able to make the second +100km flight of this trip on my old wing. Period. So flying this performance wing from Skywalk really opened up the potencial to cover extra miles in the air.
Sure, more care was needed with the new class, but I personally felt that this wing communicates turbulence really well, so found preventing collapses easy with some active piloting.
I decided to stick with my trusted pod harness from Sup’air for this one. It is a little heavier than their newer Strike, but gear really takes a pounding on these trips, so I went for something a little more robust at the cost of a bit of weight. I’ve also taken it vol-biv in the past, and know that if you remove the back protection (DONT TRY THIS AT HOME), it will fit everything! I fly it with the X-tralight rescue.
It’s an amazing feeling to fly with your home. Knowing that you can wildcamp wherever you land. But it’s not easy choosing a sleep system that accounts for the possibility of camping in the valley as well as on a peak… which also packs tight and is’nt too heavy! My entire sleep system comes in at under 2kg.
The theory is simple. Compressed down does’nt do much, so quilts offer the same warmth for less weight and pack space, so long as you can keep yourself insulated from the ground. That’s where cascade designs air matresses come in.
Together they have kept me warm, even at +2000m in the Autumn. But don’t be lazy now. Do your homework and equip yourself for the temperatures you’ll likely encounter on your trip. Remember, if shit goes sideways, you can always use your wing for extra protection against the elements.
Here’s where I could have done better. Don’t get me wrong, this is an epic tent for it’s price range! And weighing less than 1kg, you could hike with it all day!
But it’s small. Like tiny small. Luckily I’m not a tall guy, but there’s no way I can fit all my gear in with me at night, which means I have use a lifesystems emergency bivvy to protect my stuff against rain and moisture. It works, but there are better solutions available, for not much more money!
I also find managing condensation with this single skin to be a challenge, and when you’re trying to rest after grueling hikes, hopefully before long flights, believe me when I say that you don’t want to be dealing with wet down.
Fonz brought with him the Pro-Trail from Tarp Tent, and it’s definitely the way forward! Weighing 150 grams less. It also has enough room to pack gear inside the front porch, and has better ventilation for getting rid of condensation!
The layer system worked perfectly! Really gutted that I lost one of my T-shirts in a thunderstorm, because those things are amazing!
If you’re wondering how we kept stuff clean, forget it… you are going to smell bad after a week in the mountains. We got lucky with a few oppotunities to shower, but they were few and far between!
Food & Water
We were massivly lucky to get sent a supply of Summit To Eat, and yeah, we loved their name too!
Their tasty selection of meals are light as feathers, take only 8-mins in hot water to prepare, and will fuel you throughout the day! My favorite was their beef stew.
To boil water I had a super light weight titanium stove with 100g of propane gas, and the Halilite Minimalist from GSI. The setup works, and is both compact and light! However, I found my stove to be highly inefficient against Fonz’s JetBoil, so I’ll likely be picking up one of them for the next trip.
Despite allowing ourselfs to pickup water from Alice and Josh, we were not always easy to get too, so water was a challenge. One because it’s heavy, two it’s not always convenient to resuply when on a deadline and trying to cover distance in the air. I personally would carry anything between 1.5l–7l depending on the move…
I highly recommend downloading good maps, ones which show you where you can find drinkable water! To save your feet, try taking less water when on populated roads or with towns the on route, take lots of water when you see good flying weather, and always take more than you think you’ll need. Also, NEVER leave without water purification tablets too. Getting thirsty in the mountains sucks BIG time!
Electronics + Power
Here’s where both Mark and Fonz made the mistake of bringing BIG +20,000 mah batteries. These things will last ages, but they do run out of power, and when they’re empty they take ages to charge…! Simply not good enough if you want/need to go unsupported for a while!
I went for a smaller 10,000 mah battery pack and the Anker’s Powerport Solar Lite, and it worked almost too well. Hanging from our front in the mornings and backs in the afternoons, it was enough to keep all three of us with power… and I didn’t even configure it to charge in-flight!
I brought an I-phone 6 (using flyskyhigh as my flight computer), a Skydrop as my main vario, a Suunto ambit 3 as a backup GPS, a cheap radio with a PTT for better inflight communication, and ofcourse a Gen3 SPOT for emergency GPS tracking
For shoes I picked up a pair of SALOMON’s X ULTRA GORE, but made the mistake of not breaking them in… The Carbon Distance poles from Black Dimond really helped, but I could’nt prevent blisters after putting out +40km hikes under load.
Luckily, I stocked up my Lifesystems first aid kit with compedes, and those things are magic!
I also carried a toothbrush, towel, cheap headtorch, tiny multitool, vaseline to combat against chafing, and a pair of Redbull Spects.
If you have any specific questions regarding my gear choice or how it held up in the field, please fire away in the comments :)
A bit about me: I’m Rhys! I’m a 28-year-old adventure addict from England. In 2017, I crossed the Pyrenees, powered by the elements…rock’n a high-performance paraglider. I turned the project into the most interactive adventure of it’s kind. Here’s a sneak peek into day-9, where we flew for 7 hours, covering more than 137km in-flight. The project began as a crowdfunding.
Follow me on Twitter at @AgileExistence