Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MYOG: Down quilt for winter hiking

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to make a down quilt? (Of course you have!)  Well, I don't know how long other people have taken, but it took me 15 months from go to whoa! That's long.  So long that I started the project before the winter of 2013 and just finished it in time for the winter of 2014!

In actual fact though, there were few technical or logistical issues that delayed the project.  All the significant delays came about from "life" getting in the way, including work commitments, a hip replacement procedure (and extended recovery), then the hunt for the motivation to continue!

One consequence of having projects in a holding pattern is the tendency to leave the project stuff lying around in a not-really-packed-away-properly state.  So I can't really blame my daughter and her friends for frightening the cat ... that jumped onto the big bag of down feathers ... and ripped a mighty hole in the bag ... after which mishap feathery mayhem ensued in the lounge room.  Cleaning up after the feather storm was a project in itself.  You would not believe the places feathers can reach when allowed to run amok.

Anyway, earlier this year I picked up the threads of the project (did you see what I did there?) and "knocked the bastard off" (as I'm sure Sir Edmund Hillary would have said should he have taken on a interminable MYOG sewing project).


The reason for this project was that the synthetic quilt I made in an earlier project was not proving to be adequately warm in Winter, particularly in snow conditions.  I considered buying a down quilt, such as the excellent products available from Enlightened Equipment, but I figured I could make one more cheaply and it seemed like an interesting project.

Quilt dimensions (click for larger view)
I spent quite a bit of time planning the design of the quilt. I wanted to ensure the quilt would be have good length (able to stretch my toes out when clipped around my neck) and sufficient width to tuck in under me, when the mercury drops well below zero. Then there was the time spent figuring out the total amount of down I'd need as well as how it would be allocated across the baffles.  To assist with the planning I drew a diagram of the quilt, with dimensions and used Excel for various calculations.

I ordered most of the materials from the ever-reliable team at Thru-Hiker.    I wanted to use Momentum fabric, due to it being extremely light. as well as having a good blend of breathability, water resistance and wind resistance (I remember well a trip where I found my  sleeping bag of the time was not very wind resistant.)

The down I was able source locally in Melbourne, from Danish Eiderdowns.    When I later found that I needed more down I simply recycled down from an old quilt ("doona" for the Aussies, "duvet" for the Kiwis) we had lying around the house.

Marking up

Ready to cut out the baffle wall strips

Cutting up the noseeum for the baffle walls

Pinning in the baffle separators (noseeum mesh)

Sewing in the baffle walls

Baffle walls sewn into one side

How to get the feathers in the bag?

Based upon blogs I'd read my original plan for stuffing the down into the baffles was to utilise a vacuum cleaner. This method involves taping some mesh across the the lower, permanently-connected section of the vacuum, then attaching the pipe/tube sections.   When the vacuum is turned on and the tubes inserted into the down, the down is sucked into the pipe, stopping at the gauze. Then, by holding the end of the pipe over the intended destination for the down and turning off the vacuum, the down will fall into place.

In practice, I found this quite tricky and instead resorted to simply moving the down with my hands. I used a 2 step process:

  1.  First, I moved sufficient down for a single baffle into a box, which I weighed (allowing for the box's weight, of course!) to ensure it matched the amount I'd calculated for that baffle.
  2.  Second, I moved the down into the baffle, pushing fistfuls of the stuff deep into the baffle.

This approach worked fine, with only a minute quantity of down going AWOL.

Down for a single baffle, weighed on my antique scales and ready to be inserted into a baffle.

Taking a handful of down from the box to the baffle.

The quilt bag, hung in my bathroom (easiest room for me to clean!), mid stuffing.

Mid the baffles stuffing process.

Stuff in almost complete (inner)

Stuffing almost complete (outer)

Snaps and velcro

In my previous quilt project I sewed in a permanent footbox. While this is good for maximising warmth, it removes the option of having the quilt fully flat, draping over the body and legs, much as you do with a regular (non-hiking) quilt.  With this quilt I therefore elected to attach velcro ("hook and loop") and snaps, to wrap and seal the lower leg area, as required.

Snaps were also added at the top corners, so that I could clip the top of the quilt around my neck.  I inserted cord to the top and bottom of the quilt, to enable it to be pulled tight around my neck and feet, as required.

Attaching a velcro strip

Velcro along the bottom edges allows the quilt to form a foot box.

Attaching ribbon for the top snaps

Attaching a snap

Testing the new top snaps

Close up of the foot loop

Foot section, loop partially tightened

Foot section, with loop fully tightened.  Snap is also visible

Finishing touches

Finally, I attached a length of ribbon and a snap clip near the waist point, so that I can secure the quilt closely around me on the colder nights.

The finished quilt

I used the quilt on several nights during the past southern Winter and I am pleased to say that it performed well and, as part of a sleeping system that includes base top and bottom thermals, beanie, socks and synthetic gloves,  kept me toasty in temperatures down to -5C.

The finished quilt


I got the fabrics from Thru hiker:
  • 3 yds of Momentum 50 Steel Gray
  • 3 yds of Momentum 50 Jet Black
  • 1 yd of Nanoseeum Netting - 60" width 
Most of the down I got from a Melbourne supplier:
  • 400g (14oz) of 800 fill power
For the overstuffing, I used the down from an old bed quilt.

The other bits and bobs I either already had or sourced them from local outdoor stores or sewing/craft stores, ie.
  • Vecro strips
  • Grosgrain ribbon
  • Shock cord
  • Snap clips
[Update: Aussies can also get their materials locally from Simon at]

Planning documents:

How much does it weigh?

I KNEW you were going to ask that!  It weighs 732gms (26oz).  That doesn't include a stuff sack, which I don't use - I just stuff the quilt into the bottom my pack, then push the other items into it.

Questions or comments

I love to hear from you! If you have a question about this project, or a useful insight, make sure you take a moment to leave your feedback.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lerderderg Gorge - Bears Head Circuit - Dec 2014

I joined a great crew today from the Happy When I'm Hiking MeetUp group to walk the Bears Head Circuit Walk at the Lerderderg Gorge, in the Lerderderg State Forest, about 70 kms west of Melbourne.

The walk for the most part followed the route described in Walk 33 of "Day Walks Around Melbourne" by Glenn Tempest (available from Opens Spaces Publishing), with the difference that we started out following the Ah Kow Track, rather than the Lower Chadwick & McKensie Tracks, as per the guide book.

We started at 9:15 and finished the 18km route by 3:30, including 20 mins for lunch, at the point where the Bears Head Range Track meets the river.

There was plenty of water in the river and I enjoyed a swim during the lunch break. (No - it wasn't particularly cold!)

Despite the gorge's reputation for snakes, we encountered none.   We did spy a wild boar, some noisy goats, a wedge-tailed eagle.

This walk has it all - woodlands, scrambly descents and ascents, rock-hopping, river walking (for those not so accomplished at rock-hopping!).  With the river flowing, it is a great time to visit the Lerderderg.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Walking solo vs social

Five Mile Beach, Wilson's Prom
"No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it." Seneca - Letters from a Stoic.

My walking over the past few years has mostly been solo and I have to say that it is a mode that I relish.

There are some sublime, top-of-the-Maslow-hierarchy benefits that can only come from extended solitude in remote places: meditative walking ... the sense of connectedness to the natural world ... being lost in your own thoughts without interruption ("cortex interruptus") ... the simple feeling of being alone - even lonely - are all things to be savoured on the solo trail.

There are also other more practical advantages.  Like being able to stop, move, eat and sleep whenever you choose.  Or being exempt from behaviours not particularly acceptable around your fellow humans (insert your favourite anti-social body function here).

When you walk alone the tempo of the march is yours to make - the rhythm of "the dance' is set by you.

For all the joys and benefits of solitude I have nevertheless found myself with others a lot of late.  It started innocently enough - A casual search brought me to a hiking group online.  I saw that they were doing an interesting day walk that weekend and - in a (probably wine-fuelled) moment of social enthusiasm - I clicked the "RSVP Yes" button.

I joined the small group for a walk in the Mt Cole State Forest and had a thoroughly good time - enjoying both the walk and the company.    It was great to be able to share the experiences of the track with the others.  Like me, they were on the walk to connect with nature, to take time out from the work-a-day world and to give their bodies a good workout.  That our demographics and dispositions were different only added to the enjoyment of a shared passion.

Hard Core Hikers at Bivouac Hut, Mt Bogong
I wanted to try some more of this social style walking, so I decided to start my own hiking group, where I can continue to do the sort of off-trail, multi-day walks I love, but to add the social element to the experience.   I named the group the Melbourne Hardcore Hikers and sent a shout-out to like-minded souls to join me in my back country adventures (and mis-adventures).

The group has now been operating since June this year.   There's currently 215 members, with around 30 people who've come on at least one of the hikes.  It has been fantastic finding so many people who like me, just love getting out into the wilderness areas.

The only downside to all of this is that organising the group hikes is very time consuming!  One consequence is that I haven't had much time for blogging.  Hopefully I can catch up with this over the xmas break (Oh, hang on - I'll be hiking for much of it!)

If you're interested in coming along on one of my hikes, feel free to join the Hardcore Hikers Group.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mt Buggery, Mt Spec, Crosscut Saw & Mt Howitt (Nov 2014)

I led a group of 5 keen walkers from my Hard Core Hikers group over what has been one of my most loved and frustrating weekend walks.  
 - loved because of the stunning wilderness that is this area: the tranquil beauty of the river ... the jagged Crosscut Saw, with its terrific views, especially east to the Terrible Hollow ... Mt Speculation, with it's fun scrambles on the approach and equally outstanding views ... and the windy wildness of Mt Howitt.
- frustrating because in my two previous trips here - a solo walk in 2011 and a walk in 2013 with some family members - I failed to find the road that approaches Queen Spur and instead had to bash past thick scrub and fallen tress for a couple of hours.

This time I was determined to find the elusive road...

Unlike the previous trips I decided to get to the trail head on Friday night so that we could get an early start and all things being equal, reach Mt Speculation for the first night.

I drove up with frequent-hiker, Ali.  3 1/2 hours total, including 2.5 hours from Melbourne to Mansfield and 1.5 hours for the final 72km to the Upper Howqua campsite, via the Mt Stirling Road.  We passed a large group of hunters and dogs at Howqua Gap.  After a quick chat we were pleased to learn that the lads had no plans to shoot anything near our intended route.  (Just as well  - as we were heading into a National Park!)

The large camping area at Upper Howqua was mostly vacant, save for a couple of guys (Paul & Pat) having a weekend (and, I suspect, a break from their partners) for some 4WD R&R.  Three more of the group  (Trina, Peter & Sal) arrived around midnight.

It was a mild, still night and we woke to clear skies.  We got away at 9am, rock-hopping across the Howqua River 5 times before heading up Queens Spur Road.  There was plenty of scrub on the track in this section but it was easy to move through and the footpad was obvious.

Throughout the morning I'd been talking up to the group the difficulty of finding the road near Queens Spur and there was much anticipation in the group when we finally arrived at the spot where I'd lost the trail twice before.

So, it was with a fair amount of bemusement that when I looked up the hill to where the track should be (according to my GPS) I saw - not impassable bush - but a clear line of rocks marking what seemed to be a road, about 30 metres up the hill.  "Surely not", I thought!  I quickly scrambled up to the rocks and - surely yes - there was the road - overgrown, but no more than the track we'd been following.  I have to say that I had pretty mixed emotions!  I was happy to find the road - at last - but I could not (and still cannot) for the life of me figure out how the hell I could have missed this road before!!!   To anyone reading this who held off doing this walk due to my earlier reports, my humble apologies!

We followed the road for about 30 minutes, arriving at Queen Spur at 12:50pm, where we stopped for lunch.  It was a beautiful spot, marred only by the ants, which were everywhere.

After a 40 min break we walked and scrambled up the spur, getting to Mt Buggery an hour later, at 2:30pm, enjoying great view of the Crosscut Saw and surrounding areas along the way.  We also passed a couple of fellas who were apparently retrieving some gear that they'd left there a few week's earlier.

After a short break to get our breath back (the approach to Mt Buggery is quite steep) we headed off, getting to Mt Speculation at 4pm, then continuing to the camp site another 10 minutes to the east.


Getting a selfie in front of this tree on Mt Spec is becoming a bit of a ritual.

We paid a visit to Camp Creek, 10 minutes away, where there was plenty of water flowing, filling up our containers.  (Kudos to Trina for her very handy 6 litre nalgene!)

I got a fire going (note: A lightweight pruning saw is a handle tool to pack) and we spent a pleasant evening easting, toasting marshmellows and swapping stories.   Trina impressed us with her dedication to food care, which included a lightweight foot bath.

The author relaxing after a day on the trail.

A forecast cool changes finally arrived late in the evening.  It rained hard for most of the night, stopping suddenly at 7am, as we emerged from our tents.

We were on the trail by 8:45am, heading off into low cloud and cool temperatures.  We walked back over Mt Speculation, arriving at Mt Buggery by 10:15am.

The Crosscut Saw was shrouded by low cloud, making for a eerie views and a more closed-in feel.  Occasionally, the cloud would move off and the we'd get a look at the wild countryside around us.


When we arrived at the crossroads to Mt Howitt and the Vallejo Gantner hut a cold wind had come up and we dropped lower on the track to get some shelter for short lunch break.

With the clouds removing any possibility of views we scooted over Mt Howitt to West Peak, where we chatted to a group of retirees, on their way to VG hut for the night, before heading down Howitt Spur for the long walk back to the Howqua River, arriving at 3:30pm.

At the river we met a couple of 20-strong groups of year 10 students, on the first leg of a week-long hike in the area.  It was great to see kids being given such a terrific opportunity to experience bush walking and remote camping.  One hopes that - for most of them anyway - this will be the beginning of a deep connection with the wilderness and an appreciation for the need for it to be protected.

We retraced our path alongside and through the river, arriving back at the cars at 4pm.

The key facts

Travel distances/times:

Drive to trail head - 4 hours + breaks

Total walking time/distance - 31km / 15.5hrs

  • Day 1 - Upper Howqua campsite to Mt Speculation via Queens Spur - 15km / 7.5hrs
  • Day 2 - Mt Speculation to Upper Howqua via Mt Howitt - 16km  / 7hrs


  • There was plenty of water at Camp Creek.


  • Printed map: Vicmap Howitt-Selwyn 1:50,000
  • GPS - iPhone 4S with Mud-maps app, incl 1:25k maps: 8223-4-S (main one) and 8223-4-N (Mt Spec and north)


  • I can confirm that the road onto Queens Spur is definitely there!