Tag Archives: Exped Venus UL

Hilleberg Nallo vs Vaude Odyssee tent review

tent in seaWhat makes a good packboating tent? For me doing a bit more Scottish sea kayaking than packrafting these days, super light weight is not that crucial. Better to have something that is easy pitching and spacious in which you can sit out some rough weather if need be. And then when some packrafting does turn up, have the ability to use just the fly or inner to save weight and bulk. On occasions I’ve used a cheapie tent’s inner as a mozzie dome, just as long as I remember to keep it weighed down before frying up the brekkie on a windy morning in Shark Bay (above).

postnalloA couple of mates have used the legendary Hilleberg Nallo for years, so when I found one cheap in the US I gave it a try. Sure, the Nallo (left) may have been OTT in an ATGNI sense, but with its reputation and residuals, I knew I’d not lose on it.
I liked the Hillie’s all-in-one pitching, the options to pitch outer (with footprint), inner only (or an optional inner mesh that was also included). This made it as potentially as light as my old Black Diamond Lighthouse, but much roomier. I also like the roomy front end and porch
postbivflagsunI thought it would fit the bill, but getting caught out one winter’s night on the Postman’s Path on the Coigach (below) proved that, while it may stand up to 60-mph blasts like they say, its unsupported flanks flapped like the flags outside the UN building in hurricane season. My hardcore mate crammed himself into his bivvy bag (left) and had a quieter night, even if he could barely move. On a windy nor’western night, for all that money the Nallo was no quieter than my old Black Diamond.

postpath

nalodimsOn top of that, the Nallo may claim to have a floor that’s 220cm long (a minimum requirement for me) and have a huge porch, but the way it slopes down at the back where the blowing wind presses (right, and in the video below) meant I still ended up with an annoyingly damp end to my sleeping bag. Just like the short Lighthouse.

I’ve since read that Hilleberg recommend pitching a Nallo porch into the wind, but as this discussion suggests, that seems rather counter-intuitive – unzip the door and the thing will fill like a sail while blasting you with horizontal rain as you get in and out.
naloeThey say the Nallo-style tunnel design gives the lightest weight for volume, but those unsupported flanks make a racket and inside, my Nallo was always a saggy affair (right), however I pitched it (left). naloinWhile paddling the Slate Islands I took the chance to get some good ebay pics and sure enough, flogged it for more a little more than it cost me.
It was good to try the Nallo experience for free, but now I had a better idea what I wanted for my current camping prefs: the Nallo’s better attributes but not in tunnel form. I considered four-pole mountain tents like the famous Quasar or more obscure Crux X2 Storm, but the entries were small, they didn’t do inner or outer only, and prices were a bit high for my low level of usage. Crux’s foam spacers to separate the inner and fly to enable better airflow was an interesting idea – or an admission that condensation was a problem.
More tent spotting uncovered Vaude’s Odyssee which used a similarly stable 3-pole set up while having many of the other features I sought.


Vaude Odyssee L 2P
vaude-03For just £185 on amazon in 2015, Vaude’s Odyssee seemed like a bargain. Now it’s discontinued. The Odyssee ticked all the boxes for my sort of camping out of boats or riding a moto.

• Inner and outer attached helps speedy, all-in-one pitching
• 3-pole system copes in strong winds and makes a taught, flapping-reducing pitch.
• Almost self-supporting so can be easily repositioned or pitched on hard surfaces which can’t be pegged.
vaude-09The steep back end may catch more wind but means the full 220cm inner length can be used. This is a great feature – no more diagonal agonies or damp sleeping-bag foot from pressing against a sloping inner, as on the Nallo.
• You can pitch just the outer, saving 715g*, if insects, moles or vaude-02temperatures aren’t an issue – and I’m pretty sure you can pitch just the inner (saving 956g) as a mozzie dome.
• Scrunches into a football-sized bundle and the poles break down to 44cm for compact packing.
vaude-01All these attributes along with the reasonably light weight – ready to go at 2.6kg and the price make the Odyssee 2P a great-value and versatile 1 or 2 person tent. It’s only 280g heavier than my Nallo, and while I presumevaude-04 the fabrics are inferior (“30D ripstop Polyester Silicone/PU coated 3000mm head; floor: 70D Polyamide PU coated 7000mm head”) it cost one quarter of what my Nallo would have cost new.

vaudedims* My dimensions may not match other sources

vaude-10The inner ‘washing line’ and loops to attach an optional roof net are handy, as are the three pockets by the door. The 75-cm deep porch is smaller than the Nallo but roomy enough, and the zip arrangements make it easy to control ventilation and maintain privacy. I’ve not had any condensation, but that must be just luck and breezy nights. Even with wind, the Nallo was terrible for condensation, partly because the flysheet ran right to ground level. The other night, gusts over 20-25mph in the Odyssee woke me up and I lay there thinking recirculating thoughts of ‘she cannae hold, Cap’n’ until I remembered the ear plugs and soon fell asleep. I’m told most modern, post-cotton tents with < 4 poles will make a noise in strong winds. As long as you know it’s as well lashed down as can be and can take the hammering, just turn on, plug up and pass out.

vaude-11msrghFirst time out one peg bent when pressed in by foot. I replaced them all with a dozen bombproof MSR Groundhogs with nifty pull-out loops (right; about 30 quid!).
The Odyssee takes about ten minutes to pitch without hurrying and with some faffing with the footprint (from the old Exped), and will stand with a minimum of two pegs staking out the porch. Two more at the back help make good tension, and using every dang loop and all six guys needs 16 pegs – you’re now ready for a gale and I suppose a pole will snap before it rips (there a pole repair sleeve included).
vautornOther small annoyances are the two long poles catch the fabric pocket seams at the back – make sure the pole ends sit fully in the end of the pockets or you’ll over-tension them when clipping in the front end. And the pole-end locating pegs sometimes come away on the elastic cord which can be fiddly to reposition with the cord knot. I’ve fixed that with a dab of rubber glue.
I’ve only had normal rain until 2018 when I used it on the Tarn without the inner. nimwaxIn really pelting rain verging on hail a light spray comes through the fly and there is the odd drip from the seams. Had I used the inner it may have settled on that and evaporated later, but it didn’t so all was damp. Not soaking, just damp. The flat roof where water pools doesn’t help. I wonder if a 3000mm hydrostatic head is not enough for really heavy downpours. I see the Kerlon 1200 on the Nallo is rated at 5000mm. When I got home I sealed most of the flat-roof seams and sprayed it all with Nikwax (right). We’ll see if it made any difference on the next big downpour.

tik

Can pitch inner or outer or both
Great price
Nearly self-standing
Roomy inner in all dimensions
Roomy porch; easy to get in and out
Stable 3-pole set up

cros

Boring old green
Bendy stock pegs (replaced with MSR Groundhogs)
In pelting rain a light spray passes through the fly. Since re-proofed and seam-sealed
Water pools on the flat roof

vaude-08

Packrafting Fitzroy – Gear

Fitzroy 1  • Fitzroy 2  • Fitzroy 3  • Fitzroy 4  • Fitzroy 5

Access
One reason I chose the Fitzroy was that it seemed easy and safe by Kimberley river standards. It was easy to get to Mornington; the river covered mostly flat terrain (no abseiling/clambering down waterfalls, etc); and it was easy to get off – either onto station land in an emergency – or at the end where it ran past Fitzroy Crossing.
The Cessna from Broome Air Aviation cost AU$500 (£300), and we were able to leave Jeff’s van at Fitzroy Crossing aerodrome safely. The flight took 25 minutes to Mornington where we were met by a ute and taken to the camp. They charged us around AU$150 each for air strip pick-up and river drop-off, gourmet dinner and breakfast, and camping. Fossil Downs just asked us to call on departure and arrival (as did MWC), Leopold Downs (a small section) were not bothered, and we wangled our way through Geikie Gorge NP, as you read.
At the far end it was a 4km walk from the bridge through town to the aerodrome to retrieve the van. All in all, it couldn’t have been easier when you consider what we did, especially at the end of a trip when you can be tired or potentially lame or ailing.

Maps, Navigation and Comms
tikThree 1:100,000 scale maps covered out route and proved to be very accurate, considering the river channels can move around after a Wet.
Fitzroy Crossing 4061
Hooper 4062 (right)
Lerida 4162

Oddly, 4061 was printed on some kind of blotting paper and fell to pieces under conditions which the other two maps survived with a bit of drying. All maps needed the long-lat grid calibrated by hand along the sides to work with my GPS. They use some other (Australian?) grid which I suppose I could have set the GPS up to read, but I prefer what I’m used to: long-lat.
We both carried a GPS. I had a little Garmin 401 (left) and Jeff a more modern SatNav Nuvi with a good WA map which even depicted the course of the Fitzroy. He could have just about managed without a paper map.
crosMy 401 is a splash-proof wrist-mounted GPS, much lighter and less bulky than the 76CSx I normally use. Unfortunately, I suspect the 401 uses old Garmin electronics from the XL12 era that aren’t 
particularly sophisticated or efficient. The two AAA batteries lasted less than 6 hours (my CSX would have lasted up to 3 days in the heat on its two AAs), so after that I gave up keeping a GPS track and just turned it one to get a location. Because of that, we never really knew exactly how far we travelled. But above all, the 401 is handy and light, so as a quick locator it does the job unobtrusively and while it tracked it managed the splash-prone attachment to my pack without complaint. I sold it later – too basic for my needs.
tikI had a compass too but didn’t use it much, although my 10-year-old Thuraya sat phone was handy to call Fossil one time, or to liase with Jeff when he was still on the river at the end (his Ozzie PAYG mobile didn’t work up north).
Thuraya sat phones work everywhere except the Americas and are cheaper than Iridiums.

Food and water
We brought a week of freeze-dried, Pack n Go food from tikthe UK (below left) which weighed in at 3.5kg each but didn’t cover lunch – just hot choc, breakfast cereal and a two-course dinner. Pour in boiling water, seal, wait a few minutes and you got meal. Although it became quite boring after a while and some meals are tastier than others, I was amazed at its ability to sustain us considering the energy we were expending for up to 11 hours a day. I probably ate half what I do at home merely bashing at a keyboard; I suppose the heat helped suppress the appetite, but it must have also been due to the food’s calorific and nutritional values.
In the morning we had a hot drink and a hot P&G cereal of some kind. Smoko (morning tea break) was tea and a muesli bar or trail mix while both lasted. For lunch I just ate a double cuppa soup (good for salt) and another hot drink – Jeff got to eating his evening pudding at this time. And in the evening we ate the main bag meal and I had my pudding as well as more tea, coffee and whatever. I can’t say I was ever hungry, but I sure enjoyed some real food when we got back to Broome – including the brilliant seafood curry down at the Wharf – you gotta go there!
tikWe took my Pocket Rocket knock-off stove and a gas can but only used it on the last morning where there was no wood nearby on our sandbank. At all other times there was plenty of dry wood and little risk of a bushfire along the river bank. Out in the open during very windy conditions a stove would be less risky.
tikWe planned to filter water daily with my Katadyn Pocket Filter (left), expecting lots of scunge due to low water levels. In fact the river was pretty full and running so after a day I dumped my cumbersome 5-litre water bag and filled a 750-mil bottle straight out of the river, while adding a Zero tablet (below right) every time to stave off mineral loss through sweating. Jeff stuck with filtered (as did I on the day bat crap covered the river), and even though I didn’t use it much, I’m glad we brought it along,. There could have been an occasion where it would have meant clean water or no water, and out there you need water. Including drinks I drank up to 4 or 5 litres a day when engaged in hot and arduous portaging. Since sold and got an MSR Waterworks which I’ve not used yet.

Clothes
I expected to need to cover right up to reduce sun burn and transpiration: long trousers, long sleeves and a hat. But in the end while the UV was the same, it was not so hot on the river due to splashing and shade, and the trousers were only useful against big flies in the gorges on day one. The problem with long trousers is that when wet they cling to your legs and drag – Jeff eventually ripped his North Face zip-offs above the knee, but both if us turned to shorts and a bit of slip-slap-slop on our legs. Rolling up the trousers didn’t quite work.
tikKnowing they would get a hammering from the UV and all the rest, I invested in some American 5-11 Tactical trousers and jeans. They are basically the same as normal work or hiking trousers and shirts, but as far as I can tell feature a thicker synthetic material, countless pockets and other small details like tabs to hold up sleeves. The shirt was very good: huge pockets to take a map or whatever – both it and the trousers finished up fine after a rough week unwashed. And they both cost half of what Fjallraven and the like might charge. All in all, I am a 5-11 Tactical convert, even though I know it has a naff ‘special forces’ connotation. I didn’t find the synthetic material a problem in the heat with regards to rashes. odour and so on – if anything it dried much quicker and was tougher than cotton.

Footwear
We both bought some Brasher Lithium boots which were going half price in London (£65), as we expected a lot of tough walking with full loads. In the end there was very little of that – and just as well in the heat away from the river. The Lithiums were great when portaging/balancing over boulders and wading through slimy, rocky shallows. But in the sands they filled up with grit and were hard to drag out of quicksands where they filled with sand all the more. Jeff who did more walking than me, wore his Lithiums more, or his Tevas, but in the end we both went barefoot in the river: lighter feet, easier quicksands and more hygienic. By the end our feet were a little sore and swollen from rough gravel, very hot sand and twig jabs, but I think Jeff found his Tevas the worst of both worlds for catching gravel on his already sore feet while not giving full boulder support or secure footing. On the last morning he duct-taped his shoes to his feet (left), but that didn’t really work either. Around camp I wore flip-flops.
crosIn the end, although lacing the Brashers up was a pain, you do need a pair of tough boots if you plan to be walking in the Kimberley – Tevas or Keen Arroyos will not do when packing a load. I poked drain holes in mine after a couple of days so my feet would not get sodden, but in the end it was better just to put them on when needed, even for a short portage. Teva Omniums much better.

Packs and camping gear
Jeff used my old TNF Terra 60 pack with dry bags, which was barely big enough but extremely comfortable. He also had a day pack which he clipped to the front – a neat system (right) for portaging. I used my UDB (90+ litres) and the Watershed Chattooga as a day bag (both left). But the UDB was a floppy sack on my back compared to the TNF and the Chat bag just got in the way for portages, so that went inside the UDB tikpretty soon and my shirt pockets became my ‘day bag’. I made great improvements to the stability of the UDB but packing the weight low one time. After that walking with it was not so bad, but it’s nowhere near as comfy as a proper backpack. But it can be if you use this.
crosI didn’t take a sleeping bag, just a thin blanket that was going spare, and wore all my clothes on the one or two cold nights. Most nights I used the $15 K-Mart Tent which Jeff bought me – more as a mozzie dome than against the cold. The K tent was too short for me but for what it cost it was OK. Since then I’ve bought myself an Exped Venus UL which pitches with just inner for hot, insect nights and is longer than I am. Jeff’s mozzie dome is the same sort of thing – just right for the tropical bush. I used my Exped Synmat DL which is excellent and sold,it to Jeff in the end who suffered under his Thermarest UK which I used to use until I woke up (too much). I’ve since replaced my cushy SynMat DL with the UL version which weighs just 500 grams and is half a litre in bulk.

Cameras and recharging
tikWe both used Panasonic FT2 waterproof cameras – the ranger we met at Geikie had one too. It’s good in that it’s waterproof (great for Ningaloo reefing) but of course the lens is tiny and so the picture quality – 12-14mp or not – is not that hot, especially on zoom. The video quality, it has to be said, is pretty amazing for a £200 camera. We shot in Motion JPG and HD modes (not the AVCHD which doesn’t import so well I find). That gave a 1200 pixel image which is certainly good enough for youtube, even if it takes many many hours to upload a 5GB movie. I would love to have used my old TZ Lumix, or the even better LX5 I now have, but out in the wet & wilds it’s too hard to be careful with fragile gear so the FT2 is good enough until I get a commission from National Geographic. They’ve since brought out an FT3 as they do, with GPS and other gimmickry – there is no substantial improvement as far as I could tell and you’ll never get a decent lens in such a compact, flat, waterproof body. A pair of 16GB cards  were more than enough for both of us.
We carried 1 spare battery for the Panas and, with the Go Pro below, that just about did us. In the end I didn’t take the Power Monkey solar charging gadget on the Fitzroy, but did use it on the Ningaloo stage. It charges the Pana batteries very quickly and has the capacity to do that about 10 times.
crosI also used my Go Pro which is temperamental and drives me nuts, but can get the hands-free shots other cameras cannot reach – mostly when on your head. The buttons are a pain so you have to check every time to be sure it’s on, but I also got into using it out of the box when the audio is of course much better. Out of bright conditions the exposure is not half as good as the Lumix; in the shade its terrible but maybe I should meddle with exposure settings which are on default. I also took a Gorillapod but that fell apart at the joints. Jeff used his newer one a couple of times; I’ll probably get another, maybe the bigger one for SLRs which may last longer.

Health and Dangers
The Kimberley can be a pretty unforgiving environment, hot, harsh and full of nasty or just plain irritating wildlife. I must say I feel I got away from there with barely a scratch; Jeff suffered a bit of crotch rot and cut up feet. I like to think that the Zero tablets I ate religiously kept me in good shape, even with unfiltered river water. I used a bit of 50-factor on my exposed legs and always wore the hat in the sun – in my experience in Australia the UV is much harsher than even the Sahara.
We saw no snakes – maybe one – though there are big olive pythons around (we had gaiters for walking in long grass, as Jeff did on occasion). Big lizards and freshie crocs are also only a danger if you tread on them by mistake. The only cow that got edgy was clearly in a bad way and cornered, and the only time big horse flies were a pain was, funnily enough, in the Leopold Ranges, well away from cattle country.
I think the biggest danger was portaging over boulders – a slip there could have ended badly once you crash to the ground under the weight of your gear. The answer is to pack carefully and take your time, or just do two trips as I did on one occasion. I found my packstaff was rather a hindrance with my boat on my head.
There were a few mozzies at night, but they were nothing compared to the blood suckers I’ve experienced at places like Shady Camp out of Darwin. So all in all, no drama.