© Guy Bolton Photography

vol. (french)

masculine noun

(mode de locomotion) flying.

 

bivouac. (french)

noun

a temporary camp.

GEAR GUIDE: VOL - BIV

3 pilots and 3 entirely different sets of gear for an autonomous 200km vol-biv through Nepal. Here’s what we learned:

TENTS

6 moon designs Lunar Solo - 751grams (with MSR stake set)

MSR Flylite - 1020grams (with included pegs)

Big Agnes Scout UL2 - 879grams (with included pegs)

Setting up:

Arriving at camp each night the Lunar Solo was always first up with its single hiking pole support and 6 required pegs (sold separately), followed by the Flylite (2 hiking poles, 9 pegs), and finally the Scout UL2 (2 poles and a whopping 12 pegs).

 

All 3 tents use hiking poles as their primary support and are single skinned to save weight.

 

Living space:

The Scout UL2 provided the largest usable sleeping area at 3 square meters followed by the Flylite at 2.7 and 2.4 for the Lunar Solo. 

Weather proofing:

The Lunar Solo with its low profile easily provided the best protection from the elements while the Flylite and Scout UL2 use a boxier shape which trades wind resistance for more internal volume. The Flylite did prove to have one serious criticism; unless it was pitched perfectly on flat ground, water would pool in the flat area on the top surface which would provide a point for condensation to drip into the centre of the sleeping area. 

Thoughts on picking a Vol-Biv tent:

  • The conditions you intend to complete your trip in will dictate whether a single walled, ultralight tent is appropriate over a more weatherproof shelter. 

  • It’s unlikely you’ll be aiming to complete a vol-biv trip when high winds or heavy rain are forecast, so an ultralight, single walled shelter with a comparatively tiny packing volume and weight will be the shelter of choice for most. 

  • Single walled tents ALL suffer from serious condensation forming on the inside. This means it’s important to keep your sleeping bag and equipment away from the walls of the tent at night. A 2 person tent will make this far easier and likely leave you drier in the morning.

What about bivvy bags?

For single night summer trips a bivvy bag is a logical choice to cut down on pack weight and setup time however for longer expeditions a tent provides a refuge for drying equipment and somewhere to sit and sip coffee/read a book should the weather unexpectedly change. With a bivvy bag you’ll always need to keep your equipment packed away overnight to keep everything dry. It doesn’t sound like a big deal however after a long, miserable hike, the ability to stretch out and open up your pack inside a tent is a huge morale boost over a bivvy bag

2. BACKPACKS

Supair Treklite 350 - 350grams

Kortel Kolibri Pack - 800grams

Advance Comfortpack - 1100grams+ (depending on capacity)

 

The 3 packs we brought along with us covered both extremes available on the market. The the Supair Treklite 350 is the lightest pack on the market by a considerable margin while the Comfortpack, at over a kilogram provides bulletproof durability at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Kolibri is best described as the Swiss army knife of packs, with integrated glider pockets and a clever zipper layout while still maintaining a relatively light weight. If saving weight is the objective then the Treklight is the obvious choice, however it does compromise durability and longevity as a result. 

 

Thoughts on picking a pack for vol-biv:

  • Don’t believe the manufacturers stated volume - they vary wildly.

  • The pack itself needs to be stashed away with all of your equipment in your harness while flying… A more comfortable, feature laden pack will take up more room that many harnesses don't have.

  • Durability - if you’re going to be throwing your pack onto the roofs of busses or lashing it to a bike then an ultralight pack is a risky choice.

3. FOOD + COOKWARE

Food is an entirely personal affair when it comes to camping. I usually just take dried food and go without the stove to save weight but when anticipating long days of hiking, a hot cup of coffee provides something to look forward to, or just a much needed energy kick. We all carried our own gas stoves and cookware to maintain independence incase we were separated in the air. The range included a Primus Lite+ (jetboil style) and 2 traditional gas burner stoves (MSR + Optimus). The Primus is an all in one cooking system meaning the stove is integrated into the pot with the benefit of better performance in wind and faster boiling times. The most important take away from stove selection was having the ability to repair it in the field. (mine became blocked and couldn’t be dismantled until I got home).

We stocked up on enough dried food for 4 days in Kathmandu although the amazingly friendly nature of the Nepalese meant we reached our destination with plenty to spare after a home cooked meal or two along the way. I’d recommend always carrying some chocolate or something sweet if nothing else for an energy kick.

Thoughts on stoves for vol-biv:

  • It’s unlikely you’ll need the wind resistance and efficiency of a jetboil unless you’re planning on camping at high altitude. 

  • Gas canisters will be confiscated at airports but are cheap and available all over the world in camping stores. Liquid fuel stoves which market their ability to burn just about anything, are ironically far more difficult to find fuel for

  • Dismantle your stove at home so you know what’s involved in the field, and if possible (and safe) only hand tighten components for easier removal. 

 

Thoughts on food:

  • If you’re somewhere remote, don’t turn down the opportunity for a cooked meal and save your rations for later - it may be the last village for a long, long way.

4. HARNESSES

 

The 3 harnesses we took with us were the Advance Lightness 2, Kortel Kolibri, and Supair Strike. I won’t go into detail on the 3 harnesses as I haven’t spent enough time in each to provide an unbiased comparison. I’ve personally been flying the Strike for 2 seasons and its not perfect but works well for vol-biv with a semi upright, comfortable flying position.

 

Thoughts on harnesses for vol-biv:

  • Internal storage is a serious drawback of many pod harnesses (for vol-biv) as there simply isn’t the need for masses of storage for most pilots needs. The Kolibri and Skywalk Range Air have cavernous compartments while other harnesses like the Strike can have their back protectors converted into storage space (at the expense of some passive safety).  

  • Have a place for everything - where you pack heavy items in your harness will have a dramatic effect on the posture of the harness in the air and your stability as a result

  • Storage cells (small zip up cubes) make the transition from hiking to flying far easier - have a cell for all of your flying gear so you don’t need to open everything to get ready to fly.

5. SLEEPING BAGS + MATS

Countless options available and will depend entirely on the conditions you’re heading out in. outdoorgearlab.com are a great resource for this. Inflatable sleeping mats are however the best option by far for vol-biv due to their compact size and light weight. 

 

 

7. LIGHTING

Step 1: Buy Petzl e+lite

Step 2: Physically tether to your paraglider bag so you can’t lose it.

Step 3: Don’t remove it.

 

(I have no affiliation with Petzl, they just make an awesome product that’s saved my arse more than once)

 

Travelling on the road by night is scarily dangerous. Always take a fully charged head torch flying, regardless of how long you think you’ll be out. Not so you can see the road ahead but so another road users first sight of you isn’t a paraglider bag rolling over the windshield. The e+lite is a backup to your primary head torch - there for the times when your main head torch runs out of battery, or you forget it. 

FINAL WORDS

  • Test your equipment before you need it

  • Get used to packing your harness with all of your equipment as a poorly packed harness is both dangerous and uncomfortable

  • It's not all about saving weight, take some creature comforts with you. You're out there to enjoy it after all.

COMPLETE EQUIPMENT LIST - NEPAL

(For context, this was packed with a vol-biv trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara and a week of flying in and around the Himalayas in mind)

Wing - Gin Explorer with optional dyneema risers

Harness - Supair Strike, modified to hold a solar panel on the pod, back protector + seatboard removed, Grivel Plume lightweight carabiners

Reserve - Supair Xtralight, dyneema bridle, dyneema links taped to prevent movement and melting under load

Backpack - Supair Treklite 350

Emergency repair kit - Repair tape, 100m dental floss, 2x needles, 2x dyneema soft links, small knife, spare brake line

Helmet - Black Diamond Vapor (head torch clips removed)

 

Flight deck: 

Vario - Ascent H1 + XC Tracer II 

GPS/Emergency beacon/messaging - Garmin Inreach Explorer+ 

Radio - Wouxun KG Dual Band UHF + VHF  

Camping:

Tent - Big Agnes Scout UL2 (879g)

Sleeping bag - Sea to Summit TR1 (410g)

Emergency bivvy - SOL Escape Bivvy (241g)

Sleeping mat - Thermarest NeoAir Xlite (350g)

Cooking stove - Optimus Crux (83g) + 230g canister

Cookware - Optimus Terra Solo (209g) + Plastic spork

Coffee making - Sea to summit Xbrew + local coffee

Water - 2.5L water bladder + 1L backup flexible water bottle

500ml Nalgene Container - for leakproof food storage

Base layer - 2x merino long sleeve

Insulation - Montbell Ex Light down anorak (177g)

Waterproof breathable jacket - Berghaus Vaporlight Hypersmock (100g)

Waterproof breathable pants - Montbell Versalite (103g)

2x T-shirts

1x Pants

1x Shorts

Underwear

Face Wrap + Beanie (for flying)

Gloves - Outdoor Research Transcendent Mitts (amazing for cold weather flying!)

Waterproofing - 2x Rolltop dry bags (1 for wing and harness, 1 for everything else)

Hiking poles - Helinox Passport FL120

Footwear - LaSportiva Bushido

Head torch - Black Diamond Revolt + petzl e+lite as backup

Solar panel - Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus + battery pack

Headphones

1st Aid Kit

Toothbrush + toothpaste

Toilet Paper

Ultralight travel towel

Hand Sanitiser

Micro USB Cable

Small sunscreen tube

Water purification tablets

Total Weight - 16kg (dry)

Things I'd change:

Nalgene bottles instead of Camelbak style water bladders for better durability - I broke both flexible containers falling while hiking at 5000m.

Swap the radio for a Micro USB chargable model - the radio was the only thing I couldn't charge on the go via solar.

Swap plastic cutlery for Titanium - nobody likes snapped spoons

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