A Bit of Finger

In with the new indeed, but the old will be staying in reserve.

Don’t think I’ve ever felt the cold as much as I feel it just now with this still odd feeling narrower sillouette and my hands are getting the worst of it.

My old and worn but excellent Redwing sheepskins have no insulation left in the fingers where years of use have word it away so I’m hoping these Primaloft lined Hestra’s that just beat the postal strike (stick it to the man folks) will save my days (and nights) until Spring.

This is a big change for me though and it makes me nervous, some gear is part of your story just because it was there, and those old gloves really were there, for everything.

We shall see.


I have been immune to advertising since 1999.

Might be better to say I’ve been unmoved by advertising since 1999. Back then Karrimor’s new owners launched into a huge campaign that went well outside the outdoor world and into billboards and the sides of buses.

I loved the look, the colours and the cheeky attitude. I loved that it quickly got the brand into trouble and the adverts got banned in case the message was taken too literally and workplaces were suddenly devoid of colleagues who had gone to the hills.

They reacted to the bans by changing the tagline from Phone In Sick to Go To Work. Ha.


I found these tidying up old magazines and they made me smile. Still my favourite gear and the early days of my love of colour.

In general the 90s were a golden era for gear I think. Leafing through the old mags I can see rapid gear evolution which has not continued at the same pace in the years from then to now.  Aye we’ve got lighter and better fabrics and cleaner construction, but that’s tweaking, not making leaps. Maybe there are none to be made, I certainly don’t find my 90s gear to be lacking so much it’s unusable or even compromised, they got so much right back then.

With that in the back of my mind I’m undertaking some gear grouptests for a well respected magazine over the next few months. I’m not expecting to be stunned by anything, but I hope I’m pleased on occasion, and if I’m properly impressed any point that’ll be a joy.

I just hope they send some bright colours.


Sigg Saltire 0.6L Bottle Review

Is this the most pointless review I’ve ever done due to the general familiarity with the object? Actually no, there was some relearning done with this gallus wee thing.

I left Sigg behind years ago because they were initially slow to address the public concerns regarding BPA and the like and the wholesale industry change to safer plastics used in our drinks containers.
This is why you see a lot of Tritan and “BPA free” and stainless steel around although this has actually quickly become just another lifestyle spending opportunity with no thought given to health or sustainability. I mean one bottle really could do you for life but it’s all about new colours to match your latest gym outfit.
I also liked the wide mouthed bottles I was reviewing, still do, easy to fill from burns, pack with snow etc and the Siggs went to the back of the cupboard. But…

Fast forward from then or rewind from here and I was handed this 600ml Sigg a year ago. Sigg has long since addressed the lining in their bottles and they’re as safe as any other current alternative and I was happy to fill it up and take it out to play.

It’s joyfully light at 104g of aluminium body and plastic cap and a good size in the hand. The narrow opening is actually a joy to drink from, there’s less spills when I take a quick slug on the move, how did I not spot that before? Aw man.
The cap has that finger loop which is easier to grab that the looped caps on the wider mouthed bottles because there’s just less plastic (oh wait, that’s a good thing in general isn’t it?) and even a lightly gloved finger is whisking the Sigg from a pack pocket easy peasy.

The finish is excellent and hard wearing with barely a mark on it after a lot of use. The white cap is taking a bit of dye from my constant Robinsons diluting juice filling but both it and the bottle are resisting the scent of orange and lemon despite my near daily attempts to permanently tarnish them.

It’s been a wee bit of a revelation how different using a again Sigg has been and this 600ml is my go to bottle now.
Of course, this special edition design might have opened the door for me but the simple practicality of the thing has kept it wedged open.

Highly recommended to try out for lapsed Sigg users like me, the 600ml size is much easier to manage for on the move use than the classic now monster looking 1liter and it weighs practically nothing.

The saltire design is a special edition available from retailers up around my part of the world.

Berghaus Arkos Reflect Down Jacket Review

The Berghaus Arkos Reflect Down Jacket has been in my pack and in the motor ready to be pulled on the for the past few months. I’ve been swapping around with some favourites to try and get a feel for it too, insulation is very hard to get consistent feedback from, there’s so many personal and environmental variable. But, use something enough and you reach for it without thinking when you’re packing to go, so am I reaching for it?

The Arkos has a lot going on but luckily you can’t really see any of it so I haven’t been distracted by any thoughts of inner tech. But it is useful to know, so…
We have a mostly down jacket with 700 fill of water resistant ethical duck down around the torso and upper arms with synthetic Hydroloft in the hood, the lower arms and around the tail. All good choices for the synthetic, it’s where gets wet.
There’s no sense of zoning here in general feel, the Arkos feels like a single jacket. The Hydroloft is soft and compressible, I had to check carefully with the jacket inside out to see what the extent of the zones was.

The lovely shiny red fabric hides another bit of fanciness, the reflect technology (which I will come back to later on another Berghaus test jacket, we are far from done with this) which is an inner mesh which is meant to trap and er, reflect the heat back onto the wearer. The principle of this sound and it’s a concept that’s been implemented by various outdoor brands as well as across many other apploications. Does it work? I have no idea, at 720g for a size large the Arkos feels warm, and quickly warm which I would expect from what is a proper mountain down jacket. So is the reflect picking up some slack from using the duck down fill rather than goose down which is traditionally lighter and warmer? I have no idea, it’s warm and light, that’s all I can say. Warm enough where I’d be happy on any winter overnighter with the Arkos in my pack.

That same shiny red fabric shed water pretty well, I’ve been in rain and sleet a few times and it does give in eventually but I’ve only had it wet out once. In fact it got so bad that the arms were soaked, although the body stood up well. it dries fast though, the down fill too, I had the arms like a mushy pulp they were so wet and they came back like new to full loft very fast. Hydrodown or my big cast iron hall radiator? Again, no idea, it works that’s all I need to know.

The black fabric is there too, it’s not shiny but it’s resisting the damp just nice. I think it’s main job is to make the red look shinier, so I’m good with it.

Features are all sensible and as you’d want probably. Fixed adjustable hood, two chest pockets, inner pocket (all zipped), adjustable hem and zip pulls you can find with gloves on.
The chest pockets are brilliant, set a little lower than some they’re clear of a hipbelt but not too high either. They’re fleece lined and the pocket bags are behind the insulation, they are born to warm my hands.

The cut is slim, I could probably get away with a size up for over multiple layers but over base and 100 weight fleece it’s more relaxed. The body is nice and long too with decent arse coverage. This is where the synthetic insulation strip at the back comes in, sit down in the snow all you want, your down won’t get wet.
The arm movement is exceptional with complete freedom to swing my arms up and around without the hem moving. Berghaus managed this on a down jacket and I have base layers that can’t do the same.

The chunky main zip has a lovely baffle arrangement that I’ve seen on sleeping bags but not a jacket. AS you pull the zip up insulated tubes on either side are pressed together to seal the zip. It’s a brillaint we touch and works well with not one snagging incident so far.
The top of the zip is covered inside by this baffle too so no beard plucking and there’s fleecy patches for cozy face time fun when your all battened down.

The hood is a good size, not sure if it’s helmet sized, I don’t have one anymore, with good face coverage and a stiffened skip to keep the snow off my glasses.
The adjustment come from a double bungee drawcord at the back which is easy to use, even with gloves.
The trouble is what this does though. The drawcord channel runs from the back of my head to around my ear, so when you pull the cords in as well as reducing the hood volume for a better fit it also raises it upwards. On a bare head this can leave a gap above my forehead for the wind to get in and I have had the hood pulled off my head in strong winds.
With a beanie on, this effect is much improved, with a midlayer or shell hood on too the situation is largely resolved and even in staggering winds, the hood will stay put.
It needs a look at I think, it’s quite literally the only niggle I found.

The Arkos is a great jacket. It’s warm, compressible and light and it looks neat too. The arm movement is amazing, it’s a proper activist jacket this, not a town cruiser.
The hood I’ve learned to work around, I like the jacket to much to spit the dummy out just for that.
Sensible use of fabrics and fill for our damp climate, thoughtfully positioned pockets and little touches like the zip baffle that come from experience of use rather than aesthethic considerations.

Nice bit of kit, Berghaus always surprise me.

More soon.

We’ve been fleeced

Yes we have matching fleeces, so what, fight me.

Apart from that, I’ve become an increasingly devoted fleece disciple. I used to wear it all the time, 200 or even 300 weight in the case of my original TNF* Denali and then 100 weight or powerstretch up to now unless I was wearing some fancy do it all midlayer that was the best new thing ever.
While some of these things work fine with the various combinations of shell, light insulation, wicking layer etc, I always found their window of perfect operation to be much narrower than having an adaptable modular system, that is, base, mid, optional insulation, shell. You know, old fashion stuff.

I have completely returned to my original system and I am so very happy with it. Today in strong winds and subzero temperatures I had a modern TNF Denali in 255 weight recycled fleece over a merino long sleeve and I was supremely comfortable until around the 1000ft line where the wind which I had been feeling just a little through the upper arms of the Denali was starting to chill me rather than cool me so I pulled on an old pertex smock. Sorted and happy again.

I know I’m a bit older now so my metabolism will be different but I’m not overloading fleece like I think I did back in the day, or maybe the publicity for modern multilayer creations told me my fleece was always wet with sweat and I was a fool for using it. Hmm.
Anyway, I’m mixing 100 weight and occasionally heavier with shell as well as on its own and I’m just not having any bother, and I’ve putting the miles in during my quest to get back to full fitness.

It’s interesting, I turn it over in my head quite a lot as I expect to reach a point where I go “Ah right, that was why. I’ll go back to the new stuff…”. But no.
Fleece reviews coming I think.

*The North Face hated when I said that, I was in fact told at one point not to do it when I was writing about them. Ha. Good luck with that.

I am a Rabot, I am a Rabot

I have significantly reduced my outdoor cupboard during lockdown. Family and friends are now wearing all sorts of weird and wonderful things and I’ve just got my favourites left along with a smattering of review kit still to write up.

Some favourites are looking rough though, even stuff that feels like it’s recent is showing real signs of wear or even decay and it had me looking around for current equivalents and alternatives as well as doing some more glueing and sewing. Which I really enjoy actually and I think is the way forward.
I never liked the seasonal product model, improve gear, test it and release it, don’t fanny up existing models for a stock release deadline. That’s not inspiration and innovation, that just product and marketing. Don’t fall for it and don’t encourage it.

The shopping has been interesting and I think I’ll cover some of that. Are reviews different when you’ve parted with PayPal? We’ll see.
Some prices are hilarious as well, there’s just no way, I know how easy I tore the arse on my Keb pants, as good as the design is I’m not paying that for them.

But years and years of gear accumulation as well as the review avalanche I had has meant that some stuff got missed and forgotten.
I was overjoyed to find these, a brand new with tags pair of Haglöfs Rabot Flex Pants. Size 52, breathe in…
I think these are maybe up to 15 years old and they could be about the best pants I ever wore, because I’m sure I bought these in (the much missed) West Coast in Ft Bill as spares for the pair I wore on probably every trip outside of the dead of winter in the last half of the 2000’s.

I go on about vintage gear a lot, I find it more fun and more inspirational that anything new I’ve seen in a long time and I’ve often wondered what it would be like to take old gear out as new again, without nostalgia from previous use clouding the view.
Well, I’ll get my chance with these to an extent along with another couple of reissued things that I’ll get to.

Now, all I need is to get the weather I had wearing my original pair of Rabots in the photie above. 2008, feels like yesyerday.

Silverpoint Hunter XL and Scout XL Headtorch Review

This is the first of my reviews of some gear that I’ve had in the works since my sadly brief time with the much missed Outdoor Enthusiast Magazine.

Silverpoint was a new name to me and there’s more to come from them on here too. First up though is a pair of headtorches, the “How much XL120?” and it’s bigger sister  the “Really, how much XL230?”.

I don’t know how much these two torches are in-house spec or a branding exercise from generic models. I found other Silverpoint torch models with other brands on them after a quick search but not these two and to be honest it doesn’t matter. I’d like to think that any brand worth it’s salt puts their name on kit they will happily stand behind, so it all comes down to performance, reliability and price.

First up is the Hunter XL120. It’s just under 100g, takes three AAA batteries has decent sized white LED and two wee red LEDs at each side with an output of 120 lumens.
The headband is smooth with just enough stretch to keep it secure without feeling constricting and with almost a year of regular use the elastic isn’t showing any signs of aging. The amount of adjustment is great too, from bare head to over hats and hoods has been no problem.

The torch part is standard format stuff with a backplate attached to the headband and the rest hinged off of it with the battery compartment backing onto the backplate with the usual thumbnail breaking clip to open it.
The hinge gives enough movement to focus the light well ahead or for detailed shoe gazing as you amble depressed through the dark forest because your flask is in the truck.

The two rubber buttons are quite big, around pinkie nail sized, sitting reasonably proud of the torch housing and have a pretty positive click for scrolling (I’m not sure that’s the right terminology, I might edit that if something better comes to mind) through the light settings.
You can have red on or red flashing with the right button. Right when it’s on your head that is, even if you’re left handed. The left button does full, dimmed and flashing of the white LED. You can have both on at the same time if you want to a) have a disco in your tent, b) drain the battery, c) think the cops are coming, d) have a seizure.

Waterproofness is IPX6 ( for both torches) which is fine for rain and snow, and dropping in a puddle etc. I’ve used them plenty in wet conditions and had no issues.

In use the Hunter is plenty bright for safe navigation on lightless terrain with a nicely sized and bright centre spot with a focused halo around it.
I’ve found battery life to be fine, I’ve not been worried by surprise fading after a few trips up the crags without fitting new batteries.
But that stuff probably as much dependent on whether you buy good batteries as much as anything. I’ve never been able to properly scientifically track this over the years. I think if any torch was really bad it would be immediately obvious as it would dim on it’s first use.

The casing is getting scratched over the lens which might start to diffuse the beam if I don’t watch it, although I can polish this out and likely will.
This is because I give the Hunter a hard life, it’s been loose in my toolbag a lot and has been under quite a few church floors looking for leaks as well so it’s had more abuse than any headtorch just kept for night hillwalking would ever get.
It’s just a tool really and it’s done what I’d expect of any tool, it’s done it’s job reliably and without fuss.

Bigger and brighter is the Scout XL230. Superficially they look something the same but there’s actually a lot of differences.
We’re still just under 100g, still three AAA but we have a big fat main white beam from a Cree 3 watt LED, two small white LEDs and a single red. 230 lumens for owl stunning joy in the nighttime forest.

The headband is a softer more stretchy fabric here which is aging a little, no more than I would expect for the use it’s had so I’m not too fussed. Same good adjustment and comfort whatever.
The torch body is different as well. The backplate and hinged battery cover are attached to the headband so that when you open the cover the torch comes away free in your hand. And can still work as well as the the batteries stay in it.
It hasn’t happened but I do worry about dropping this and getting water inside, or if my luck was really bad losing it if I’m forced to do a battery change in less than ideal conditions.
Not a fault, just unusual.

The big two function rubber button is pretty much flush with the torch casing and while this is fine with bare fingers they’re hard to just find with any gloves on never mind operate. I’ve found myself taking the Scout off to change the settings at times.
The settings are red on and off with the left button and full, dim and flood for right button. I don’t have the flash settings. To be honest I don’t know if I ever did. It’s been nearly a year since I did my initial shakedown and I never use flash at the crags, sure as shit someone will see it and phone the polis. So, I dunno.
The white light is superb though. The main beam projects incredibly far with excellent brightness and the flood is perfect for difficult terrain, setting up camp or crossing flowing water at night. It’s a brilliant mix of functions, in fact an ideal mix.

The casing seems to be tougher on the Scout, it’s taking the same regular abuse as the Hunter with far less scratching appearing on the lens.
Battery life is again an unknown, but I do know that using the big fat main beam means I’ve changed the batteries more on the Scout, but as I’d expect. That big beam is worth it though.

The Hunter is £12 and the Scout is £25. That’s scary cheap for what you get.

Neither is perfect. The Hunter should have a tougher material over the lens and the Scout has the hidden buttons and that puzzling lack of flash mode which I should have noticed and asked about so I’m leaving that one open.
They’re both still in regular service, when I went to get them to take the photies for the review one was in my tool bag in the back of the motor and the other was in the lid pocket of a rucksack at the door.
They are currently still the go-to lights, that’s probably a recommendation to at least have a look at them.

Outdoor Enthusiast Magazine

I have news. This box below is hiding my first test sample as reviewer at Outdoor Enthusiast Magazine.
I have a full schedule of joy lined up for 2020 and I am very happy indeed to be part of such a strong team of folks. David Lintern knows his shit (and me…) and I’ll enjoy working with him.

More later. And I think, regularly.


Haglöfs Proteus Jacket Review

Some months ago in the Ben Lawers car park as we were kitting up for a night on the hill Gus said to me “Here, try some of this”. I poked around the wee cardboard box and pulled out a shiny red jacket, “That’s what you’ve got on isn’t it? I’ll wear that.”
This was my first try at the Haglöfs Proteus Jacket. Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I’d seen one of these before, Gus had worn one on our trip a year or so ago and although it looked a little odd, in a 70’s see-through raincoat sort of way, he was very much singing its praises. But, you’ll never know unless you go.

Two things are immediate and clashing when you pick up a Proteus. It’s very light at 270g (the Haglöfs website weight is accurate to the gram) for a large but it also feels beefy because it has a lining and a shell.
This probably makes it a softshell, or perhaps windproof insulation? I don’t know, it’s maybe a bit like a Polaterc Alpha shirt, a bit Driclime, a bit Vapour Rise but most of all it’s like what I used to wear years back, a light grid backed fleece pull on and a windshirt. Except half the weight.

The layout is simple with a full zip, single chest pocket, lycra cuffs and hem and a non-adjustable hood.

Haglöfs have made some of the best hoods I’ve used, but only on shells, their hoods on midlayers and fleeces are very inconsistent. Here they’ve gambled a bit on pre-shaping with no adjustment, but on my head at least it’s hit the mark.
The shaping is subtle but definite and the hood shadows my head rather than hugs it which means I can wear a powerstretch beanie or a Buff under it and even a low profile peaked cap isn’t too bad.
It means that the hood moves well with my head, even when not zipped up fully. The lycra around the face gives form but doesn’t over tighten, it’s right in the middle.
The main zip has a chinguard/zipper garage so I haven’t snagged my beard yet, the zip has a decent sized zip pull too for grabbing with gloved hands.

Features are few to discuss. The single pocket is a decent size, it’ll take gloves and a beanie no problem and has a reversed zip and good zip pull.

The form of the jacket is nicely done. The arms have subtle but effective curving and good gusseting at the pit, the Proteus doesn’t pull up, even when swinging an ice axe overhead. The articulation is good.

You can see above the back has a stitched vertical line which pulls the body in a little, suit jacket style. A closer fit is always a good thing for fabric performance and I wonder if it helps with keeping the hem put as well. Sometimes little things add up, sometime it’s cosmetic, hey what do I know.

Haglöfs have put a lot of little details in here that I like. The cuffs and hem have lycra binding which is largely internal so the stretch surface grips the layer below, something I’m sure helps the hem stay down, like I say, the little things add up.

The cuffs are well finished but they also have the biggest “but” on the Proteus for me. The fit and articulation are excellent, neat but not tight. This means that the jacket layers incredibly well. It slips under other insulation and shells and the hood is so low profile it feels no different from wearing a beanie under a shell hood.
With this in mind the forearms and cuffs are pretty slim. Not a problem most of the time, but the fit and forget nature of the Proteus means that I put it on at home and don’t take it off until I get back. On ascents or out of the wind and in the sun (it happens, really) I like to cool off a little, hood down, zip undone and collar wide, cuffs rolled up… about three inches from my wrist.

I really want to roll the sleeves up to my elbow, the rest of the jacket copes with a very wide range of temperatures but this aggravates me that I can’t cool my arms and it’s it’s going to have me retire it earlier in the year than I want to as it gets consistently warmer.
I wouldn’t want adjustable cuffs or anything daft like that, just a tiny bit more volume on the forearms.

The inside is well finished, the seams are capped which will slow wear and also help cap wicking in moisture from the outside. Ever wondered why rucksack internal seams are capped like this? Same thing, keeps the rain out a wee bit better.

The fabrics are what makes the Proteus. Haglöfs use their own outer shell, nylon for strength but very light at 15D 31gsm. It’s also see-through and the liner colour blends with the shell to make the red into a deeper crimson. There’s a bunch of colour combinations across the range and although it’s a little thing, it’s kinda fun and outdoor stuff should be fun.

The shell fabric is excellent in use, as windproof as I’ll need before it’s so cold I need another later anyway and the water resistance is very good too. It keeps out snow and light rain while I’m on the move and it’s rare I’ll put a shell over it in mixed conditions, the rain would have to be persistent.

It has a slight rustle and swish to it’s movement in a Pertex 4 (folk thinking back to their Buffalo windshirts…) sort of a way, but I can live with that for the performance.

Inside is Haglöfs’ own Quadfusion polyester er, I want to say fleece, but is it? It’s a fine weave with a gridded inner face like you see on lots of microfleece, but this doesn’t feel like it would be used on its own, it’s too fine. It feels like it was designed to be a liner, like the examples I mentioned above, Alpha being the closest in my mind just because of the pattern of material and air gaps rather than anything actually scientific.

The Quadfusion is light and soft, very pleasant to wear against the skin. The performance is also exceptional.

I’ve never used anything that wicks as well and dries as fast as this. The first time I used it, I was thinking it was because of the very cold and dry conditions but having used it on almost every hill day big or small since I have found consistency.
Wearing merino baselayers is always a trade off, slower drying for comfort and sweat smelling nights in a tent. Quadfusion seems to suck the sweat out of the merino faster and I’ve been out of polyprop and back in merino pretty much all the time the past few months.

The nylon shell plays it’s part obviously as it’s carrying the moisture to the outside, and I hate to use a buzzword but it’s proper synergy at work here.
It’s just so incredibly comfortable to wear across a wide range of conditions, I have never known a jacket to be so consistent and reliable at both keeping me dry from the inside and outside at the same time regardless of what the weather is doing.
I’ve been wearing it under vintage Gore-Tex and brand new Gore-Tex, I’m as dry in both, the GTX inner scrim itself shows the difference in their performance, but my midlayer doesn’t care.

I’ve been matching the Proteus to a couple of Haglöfs pieces a lot which has been a good combo and I’ll be talking about them soon, but the Proteus has been on it’s own most of the time.
It’s constant trips around the Lang Craigs has seen a lot of wash and wear cycles and I tend to notice some smells after 3 to 5 trips after which some 30degC techwash bubbles have it coming up as new.
I haven’t noticed any real signs of wear, I had expected the inner to flatten at the pack compression points but it’s looking okay, the inner has just fuzzed up a little as a whole.

Being objective the Proteus won’t suit everyone, it is what it is and if you don’t like the features and if that hood doesn’t fit you it’s not going to work for you.
There’s the matter of hand warmer pockets too. I initially thought it needed them, now I don’t care the idea. If there were a couple of simple lycra bound pouches it might be okay, but then there’s another layer of fabric and I really don’t want that.
Then there’s the cuffs. The Proteus is a cool weather jacket, but it’s also an all-day jacket that operates across a very wide range of conditions and the lack of cooling on the arms annoys me because it’ll get to the point I just have to take it off.

Despite that wee personal niggle, the Proteus is an outstanding jacket. The fit is excellent and the fabric performance has been exceptional, I have never been so consistently comfortable across so many different scenarios in the same bit of kit.

As a cool or cold weather midlayer it’s a no brainer for me, I just put it on when I go out now. And look, the snow’s back.

Thanks to Gus for some of the action shots of me in the Proteus. Good lad.

The Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste and OMM Villain 45+10 with Mike Parsons

I’d been searching online for some information on old Karrimor packs to help with the recent Tote-Em clean up and rather annoyingly it’s my own pages that kept coming up. While it’s nice to see some of these old pages, it’s not that helpful.
However, the Karrimor Whillans story that kept coming up is actually quite interesting not least for Mike Parson’s input to the text back in the day. There was also the redux version made recently that was based on my original which I though was a great story.
I’ve edited it all together into a mini anthology of sorts. Mike Parsons was still the prime mover in OMM’s develoment at the time and the words reflect this, so that’s another added element – a what if? What would we have seen at OMM with Mike still at the helm?

The Real Villain, Part One. The Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste with Mike Parsons

Originally published January 2009.

I recently got a hold of that original Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste above. The three words that make up the title are iconic and legendary for different reasons, but if we look at the pack from the point of view of it being a piece of classic innovative design, there’s a name missing. Mike Parsons.
As Karrimor owner until ’96 Mike designed and manufactured kit the names of which are as famous as the names who used it: Whillans and Haston Alpiniste packs, Karrimat, KSB’s, Jaguar SA, Hot Ice, Hot Earth, Alpiniste fleece and more. Karrimor gear often seemed set apart from other companies, looking back that’s because they were ahead of their time. Design cues from Karrimor’s heyday can be seen in packs and clothing from most other brands to this day as many of the innovations became the standard.
It’s not all about nostalgia though. Mike is as active and enthusistic as ever with OMM, having created and evolved a vital range of equipment in only a few years, and is set to expand the pack and clothing range with some fresh thinking over the next few seasons.
Mike co-wrote a book with Mary B Rose called “Invisible on Everest“, a history of gear with detail to spin the head. There’s still an awful lot of stories and information unpublished, both on the gear side and from the names involved, including Don Whillans. It’s going to be interesting to see them so we can fill in the blanks and get the real picture.

As regular listeners will know I test OMM kit, and when I got the Whillans Alpiniste a couple of weeks back there was as much excitement from the folk there as there was from me (see, it’s not all bean counting and aiming for mass market appeal, some companies still love their gear).
Mike Parsons supplies some inside info on the pack below, and also how relevant the principles are to what he’s doing today.

A wee look over the pack.
I’ve used the pack a couple of times, and although I miss features like bottle pockets it was a revelation how comfortable it was. The leather and felt shoulder straps are low profile and supple, the metal rings that attach them to the pack give great freedom of movement. I didn’t miss a chest strap which surprised me, it’s stable and secure. The thick canvas appears to be pretty much waterproof, it wets out and water doesn’t penetrate, even if its windblown rain. There’s no snowlock extension, you just pull the lace tight at the top of the pack and the wide lid keeps the weather out, and very effectively too. The lid has a huge zipped pocket underneath as well.
It’s a great piece of kit.

The lid is removable, with three press studs mounted through leather reinforced patches. Mike remembers the five pronged punch that he used to make the holes for the stud assembly, and also that they used to have to make extra flaps because folk would lose them. Not an easy task, the studs are maybe a little worn now but the lid is still secure on there.

The buckles are all prong type, very secure but faffy with gloves. Metal buckles of different types stayed on the packs for some years as Mike recalls insisting on keeping certain metal buckles because of need for absolute security, crampon straps were metal prong/woven slotted web = zero chance of losing crampons through a buckle opening.
It’s interesting to note a Karrimor tradition with the Whillans, two spare straps were included. They could be used to extend the lid opening to secure gear under it or legthen the shoulder straps to accomodate cold weather layers or Brian Blessed. Every Elite series Karrimor pack I ever owned came with two spare straps.

Mike Parsons Q&A
The pack is surprisingly lightweight. Was this an important factor at the time, to make it as lightweight as possible?
“We didnt even talk about weight, but such a small pack (27L) indicates how light the alpinistes of the day we going. Don Whillans was the leading Brit alpiniste through until late 60’s, and as Dennis Grey has quoted this is completely under rated in the ‘Villain’ book.
The pack was upsized when Dougal Haston came on the scene – he had just done the Eiger in winter ( 3 yrs previously) and bigger packs were needed, and that also coincidentally fitted the needs of the Brit- Scots (camping) weekend climber.
So HOW MUCH does it weigh? ”
On my kitchen scales, 1300g with the two spare straps included.

Natural materials are used throughout. The pack is in fine usable condition after 40+ years, what’s your feeling on the fabric choice versus what’s being used today?
“I can feel the incredible amount of work in it from 2 perspectives; we were very small at the time so I physically did myself some of the operations on your pack, its part of me. But each part had to be individually cut using several different processes, selecting the leather carefully and using the correct part of it (yes all parts of the beast’s leather are not equal!) and all the products that followed at Karrimor over many years were the subject of process innovation which is what the user does not see or think about, but its what contributed to Karrimor’s great success as much as the product design.”

How much did Don Whillans influence the design?
“In 1963 a guy arrived in our retail store ( Karrimor was a small upstairs workshop with 7 people including me!) and said; “I see you are making a pack for a mate of mine, Joe Brown, could you make one for me?” Yes what do you want? He gave me one example pack for size and asked for 3 or 4 key features, the rest was all mine. I made all patterns, sewed first samples complete etc.”

All the regular recognisable features (tall, narrow shape/lid crampon attachment/aice xe loop/ zipped lid pocket etc) are there for an alpine pack. Did you have a sense at the time that you’d got it just right and were setting a benchmark, or did you just design what was needed?
“No in short, but that came later, ie the need to set the standard again for the next generation; was the first time around luck or…could I do it again?”

The design was refined throughout your years as owner of Karrimor, through the Haston and other Alpiniste models, and you continue that same evolutionary line at OMM with the Villain. Are you still pushing for that perfect pack, reacting to what users need?
“Every generation of pack reflects the needs of the sport in that period and the sport always moves on. Thats why I wanted to call my latest pack the Villain because it represented not simply the start point but a journey.  Yes the quest for the definitive pack for today’s alpiniste continues, but it is no longer the focus of the market place; but that gives me more space to innovate!”

The Karrimor logo is sewn on where you can’t see it, unthinkable in today’s brand obsessed culture. When did highly visible branding become important?
“Well, what everyone did was put labels on the back.
One day we asked ourselves; would it be acceptable to put it on the front? A bold move then, which seems amusingly simple now.”

There’s more classic Karrimor kit for reference here.

The Real Villain, Part Two. OMM Villain MSC 45+10 2009 with Mike Parsons

Originally published January 2009.

I reviewed the OMM Villain MSC 45+10 way back when, and it’s been a constant companion since, only being put into the #2 position when I got the updated version to test a few months back.
It’s a time of change at OMM, with new investment in resources from ARK Consultants and an expanding range of gear for racers and mountain activists alike. Mike Parsons tells us a little about what’s happening.

Villain MSC 45+10 2009

There’s no sweeping changes here, just some tweaks which address some little issues I found as the miles racked up (the same updates have been applied to the Jirishanca).

The lid pocket is different. Its opening isn’t as wide so it’s much more secure, and it now has a water resistant zip. Inside the lid pocket there’s now an extra wee mesh pocket with a velcro closure. This has been worth it’s weight in gold, which unfortunately is only a few grams of course, but still…
The side entry now has a water resistant zip as well, and both of the new zips have garages for the pullers to make as good a seal as possible.
The ice axe attachment points have been rejigged and there’s no exposed stitching now for better durability.
A big change is the chest strap, the whistle-buckle is still present, as is the elastic section that lets you breathe, but the rest is new.  The two piece sliding attachment is gone and a more reliable and traditional webbing and slider buckle arrangement had been fitted. I never had an issue with the original, but this update will be easier to repair in the field.

Performance and comfort are still the same I’m glad to say, it came out of the wrapper, got packed and was out overnight the day after it arrived. I was walking uphill still adjusting the straps to the rigt length. No issues though, and it’s still my go-to pack for short backpacking trips in the mountains, even in winter.
This winter the camping gear I’m using is smaller packing so I’m getting my full winter kit inside no problem. Indeed, the MSC lets you strap pretty much anything you want onto the outside as well.

Mike Parsons Q & A

The Villain is the obvious successor to the Alpiniste 45+10, but also an improvement in materials and functionality. Did you feel that there was unfinished business?
“Yes, definitely unfinished business, and I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to do this. This is because of the ARK team not only undertaking sales and distribution, but now committing to share ownership. In practical terms this means I can focus on new product development and hand over the myriad of small jobs that need doing in a small business like this.”

The evolution from the original orange dyneema RL model to the current updated black dyneema MSC version has been very fast. How much does user feedback influence development, and what gives OMM the ability to react so quickly?
“Working online with such an enthusiastic and really committed Lead User Group (of which you are a member of course) definitely has an amazing and exciting influence when linked with my mentality of driving continuous improvement. When I was leading Karrimor I had a ‘think tank’ which was similar and ensured that our products were always well ‘grounded’ or well thought out as a result of long debate, which first highlights problems, which I love the challenge of, and then creates a well balanced consensus.”

The Villain’s appeal has been wider than it’s alpine roots would suggest. Backpackers have taken to it as it’s light, carries well and has the OnTheMoveAccessible features. Was that part of the plan, or do you think the pure functionality of the pack just struck a chord with users of different needs?
“That was all part of the plan, partly because I do a wide range of activities myself, but also because I think equipment is expensive and should do more than one thing. However there must be no compromise on any function and that poses really exciting design challenges.”

The MSC is a great concept, and the Trio chest pouch adds to the Villains versatility and capacity. How important is this adjustability and modular approach to OMM’s philosophy?
“The MSC ( multi-sport compressor) is actually at the the core of the leanweight philosophy. Parts can be added or taken away to either lose weight or increase capability. Leanweight design isn’t just about making the packs lighter, its about making packs more versatile.”

Are current fabrics and technology allowing you to realise previously impossible ideas, or do they inspire new ones?
“Frankly we havent really scratched the surface of new technologies yet, but the extra resources I talked about is opening doors for sure. I spent 3 days in Munich last week looking only at new fabrics, components and processes.”

The name, The Villain. A wee stroke of genius.
“Perrins book on Don Whillans use his nick name, THE VILLAIN for the title. But there wasn’t more than 2 sentences about the gear which Don was involved with and I thought this was a huge omission. I am writing up the Whillans product stories together with my book co-author Mary Rose at Lancaster University, and its not only filling a very important historical omission it’t also really funny. Unlike the image the book portrayed, Don was not an unpleasant person at all, and these stories are certainly amusing.”

What are the future plans for the evolving Villain?
“We have a new product coming up, which if all goes well might be available before this year is out. The inspiration for the product comes from the exploits of Alex McIntyre, who was leading the world in lightweight Hymalaya alpine style mountaineering until his untimely death in 1984. However I thought that a better name was THE REAL VILLAIN.”

What else does the future hold for OMM?
“I have been an innovator in 4 different eras of technology – leather and canvas, alumnium , and polymers and was market leader in all of those periods which is unusual because when technology changes so did the leadership, but I always held it. With OMM we are a very small player in the market place but there is a wonderful opportunity to link my innovation experience with a new but very experienced sales team at ARK. It’s an open road and very exciting not withstanding the horrors of the recession.”

Last time I asked you about the micro detail of the label; but what about colour, were bright colours normal at the time of the first orange and black Whillans alpiniste. The orange Villain and Jirishanca look bold even today.
“You could get any colour you liked at the time as long as it was grey or military green, so this was like super bold. In the first year I hedged my bets and made some grey ones but no-one wanted them!”

Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste Redux

Originally published February 2018.

A while back Karrimor started making some heritage themed gear, some vintage looking clothing and gear that probably fits the legacy of the name better than the generic tat filling a Sports Direct near you at low, low prices.
The heritage gear is still aimed at the high street though, it looks every inch like the wardrobe of a mountaineer or adventurer from back in the day*, but it’s fine fabrics will be rubbing against the seats of a Range Rover Evoque, not the wooden bench of a bothy.

There’s disdain in my tone of course but also a grudging respect. As much as you might expect the designers to just look at a few old photies and fudge together some gear that looks the part, they didn’t, they went to the source material for some of there new gear.
The “Karrimor K100 Whillan’s Alpiniste by Nigel Cabourn” pack turned up in stores I’d never been through the door of such as Van Mildert with a RRP of around £700 (good grief) and it was done right, exactly right. I know this because they used my original 60’s Whillan’s pack as the pattern for it.

I trusted the man I sent it to, he had made it himself back in the 60’s after all so I wasn’t worried when my Whillans was gone for a good wee while to be poked, prodded and mostly likely stretched a wee bit.
Thread counts, exact dimensions, textures, materials, construction detailing, everything was inspected and modern equivalents were sourced, sampled and tested to make the reissue as close to the original as possible. In same cases they found the obscure original manufacturers, look at the studs that attach the lid.

They did all this in the Glasgow workshop of Trakke too, itself as historic as the goods being recreated inside.

Metal, leather and cotton. It speaks to me more than any synthetic.

The geekiness that comes off the depth of rightness that the redux exudes is totally joyful. It’s the joy of me getting to play a song on stage with Black Sabbath, the joy of Brunel coming back to life and seeing the Millau Viaduct, the joy of Holly already knowing all the facts in their new Victorian class topic because she’s got a head full of Horrible Histories.

The Whillans redux will wear in like the original, the construction and fabrics are right. You’d need to work on those leather straps to get them form-fitting like mine, but they’ll do it eventually. You’d have to use it though, it needs dirt, sweat and spilled flasks to season it. Leaving it on the back seat of your Range Rover would be a travesty.

This post is part full circle story and given the years since part one was first published part historical document.
Folk often wonder why gear fascinates some of us, “it’s just product” or “you don’t need it to enjoy the hills”. Well, yes and no.
When I look at gear I see sharp minds at work, skilled hands at a bench, inspiration and innovation, a desire to make something better so that you and I have more fun in the hills.

The best ideas don’t have to spring from a desire to sell you something, they can come from the simple desire to create, product can have passion sewn into it.
I think that’s why some gear resonates with us, because we can feel it.

Vintage Gore-Tex versus McNett Seam Grip

Age does not come alone, I have been discovering this over the past few years, and the passage of time also weighs as heavy on your gear.
As much as I enjoy my vintage Gore-Tex most of it has required some maintenance to keep it reliably functional and the biggest issue is the seam tape.

Back in the day the tape was big and wide, it sealed the seams but it did reduce the area of breathability and modern micro tape functions better from that point of view as well as being more flexible, I’m not daft.
The old taping has a familiar wear pattern, around the body of the jacket the tape stays stuck but the edges get a little abraded, unless you have a waist drawcord along which which the tape can peel with the extra pressure and accentuated wear from the concertina effect of the fabric when worn or just left tightened.

The hood however takes a beating. The concentrated 3D shaping in a small area, the tension from multiple adjusters, the constant movement, the pull of a rucksack straps, it all conspires to loosen and peel the tape from the neckline and the rest of the hood.
Sweaty necks are another thing her as well, it attacks the fabric and you can get delamination. The three layers separate leaving the Gore-Tex membrane stuck to one of the other layers. It doesn’t necessarily leak I have discovered, but the membrane is going to be vulnerable to abrasion from movement and it apparently makes professional seam repair troublesome.

Given that I have a bunch of old jackets that I wear regularly I looked at getting some professional retaping done. It was outright too expensive, especially for fixing more than one jacket which I really had to do. The repairs would be more than picking up a replacement jacket on ebay – only old The North Face and occasional Berghaus (who ever dreamed that a Mera Peak would be collectible…) go for big money.

I looked around at the options. I’d done iron-on seam tape many years ago and it was rubbish, there’s a more modern version but I really wanted to patch what was there as the bits that were still stuck were secure.
McNett Seam Grip was the one that came up all the time, approved by Gore even. However after reading a great many reviews I wasn’t sure at all. Some folk said yes please, some folk were sitting crying in their kitchen with their hands covered in glue and ruined jackets.

I decided that the truth was probably in the middle somewhere and reading between the lines a little it seemed like the best results were done with preparation and patience. I have both of those available, so I decided to try to fix one hood, the one that needed it most, on a ’98 Karrimor Summit.

Preparation and patience are vital, it took me over two weeks to fix that hood, including redoing an early bit after I got better at it. But it worked really well and after months of regular wear I stopped checking the inside of the hood to see if it was coming apart again and I just wear it.
Maybe longer term it’ll need some further patching but that’s okay, I’ve gotten used to the smells of the chemicals now and have moved onto fixing other jackets.

I reckon seam sealing works if you do it right. It helps extend the life of old gear which has got to be a good thing financially and environmentally and also it’s er, fun.

Here’s what I do, demonstrated Haynes manual style on a mid 90s Karrimor Diamond Jacket, their top end mountaineering shell back in the day in what feels like Taslan Gore-Tex, a tough 3-layer fabric.

Wash the jacket, rinse it well and gather your tools.

Rags are best, not paper towels for the first cleaning part, they will come apart leaving little bobbles of paper all over the work area.
Rubbing alcohol for cleaning. I had industrial stuff I could use at first but when that was finished I thought I’d try stuff from the chemist and it’s fine, what ever additives are in the domestic version don’t affect the results.
A little tub for the sealer and a small paint brush because the one that comes with the tube is rubbish, throw it away.
Tape, properly sticky tape. The thin duct tape I use would pull your skin off if you put it the back of your hand.
McNett Seam Grip. Under a tenner from GoOutdoors in Clydebank.

Prepare, I can’t stress this enough. Clear the area, get your kit sorted, get strips of tape cut so you can grab them and remember this – the jacket has to go somewhere when you’re finished. That somewhere has to be where it will sit undisturbed and unstressed for at least 48 hours.

Once you’re sorted identify what you want to fix first. Don’t try and do it all, especially if there’s a lot of continuous tape failure, be patient.

Below is the neck seam, it’s pretty bad on the Diamond and I’m doing it in several pieces.

Wet your rag with the alcohol and get rubbing. Don’t be gentle either, lean on it and you’ll see old adhesive bobbling off as you cut through to the fabric below.

Above is after a few minutes of rubbing and it’s as good as I can get it. You can see a shadow of the old contact area but it’s clean. I also cleaned the tape above and all the other surfaces that are being bonded just as carefully. Not being half arsed here really helps.

Leave it be and let it dry, watch some telly, have a cuppa.

Put a little seam sealer in a cup or tub, even a bigger plastic bottle top would do. Squeeze a bit out from the tube and put the lid back on. The sealer now has a limited life, they’re not joking, the tube contents will now start to cure. They say it’ll last two months if you keep it in the freezer and I’ve got to three months on this tube although the contents are definitely thicker so this was it’s last outing. Use two months as a guide, it seems about right. Stick it in a zip lock bag, stick in the freezer after use.

Paint sealer on the surfaces to be mated. Don’t go crazy with it and don’t scrimp either, a light but even coating. You want to have a good adhesive surface but you don’t want to squeeze a lot out when you mate it all together. You could even try it on scrap fabric, bits of paper, anything at all to help you judge it.

Once the surfaces are coated, press the tape back down nice and gently. The tape will stretch and the fabric will not, it’s easy to make creases in the tape if you’re overzealous here.
Smooth it out, some sealer will squeeze out, hopefully not too much and wipe it clean along the direction of the tape with a bit of paper towel. It doesn’t have to be as out of focus as it is below.

Duct tape the repair, overlapping the fabric and original seam tape with your duct tape as evenly as you can to get the glue surface in the middle. This is partly for security and also for getting it right on longer runs, if you get into the habit of keeping it centered it’ll help here.

Rub the duct tape flat so it has good grip, if the tape is well stuck your repair is well stuck. You can see the edge of the Gore-Tex tape showing through my duct tape below, this is good.

Put the sealer in the freezer, wash the brush and tub out with the alcohol, stow everything safely. Go about your life.

48 hours, I’m not joking. Stick the jacket somewhere where the repair is sitting without pressure or unwanted flex and leave it for two days. Or more, just not less.

Above I’m peeling the duct tape back off and I’m doing it in a very specific fashion. I’m pulling it away from the repaired seam and keeping pressure on the repair with a finger while I’m doing it. It’s vital not to stress the repair while taking the tape off, especially when the duct tape as is sticky as this.

Even after two days you might find the edge of the repair hasn’t completely cured, it might be tacky. That’s fine, leave the jacket where it is for another day.

When the repair edge is dry, clean off any excess sealer with alcohol and a rag, rubbing along the line of the seam tape so you don’t stress the edge of the repair.

It took a me a few attempts to get this right and I’m used to making and fixing on a daily basis. Glad I stuck with it (ha), it’s brought some of my favourite kit back into a usable state.
It really is a very doable thing. Repairing your own gear is enjoyable and brings a wee bit of self satisfaction too.

Remember, preparation and patience.

That jacket below, the whole hood has been patched and so far, looking good.

70’s Karrimor Tote-Em Rucksack with K2 Frame – Part #1

There are a few random threads that knotted together to bring this post around.

One thread is vintage or just old gear, I’ve been using it and talking about it for ages and it’s something that seems to be seeping into the general consciousness which is a very good thing. Maybe folk will look back, see the good bits and then cast a more critical and skeptical eye over new kit, some of which is vintage reissues. Ha.
Another thread is my life as a heritage heating engineer where I crawl about old buildings making things works that have no right to still be functional or creating new things that look like old things. At my core I am part Victorian.
This engineering eye is what I see outdoor gear with, I see processes and construction, inspiration and ingenuity and I see skill and thought in even the most basic bit of kit. It stirs the geek in me.

So I’m in a church hall attic tracing out long forgotten braided electric cable expecting to see sparks in the dark and a large cracked Bakelite shell at the end of it. I shone a torch through piles of dusty gear and saw my goal, but I’d have to dig it out.
I was digging through time, sooty old aluminium pots, heavy canvas and rigid pole tents, a wooden and canvas stretcher, taped up boxes, disintegrating poly bags of miscellaneous crap and then at the bottom a flash of red.

I knew it was outdoor gear, most of the other stuff I was shifting was in that vein in a 60’s Outward Bound sort of way but this fabric was bright, it looked good, it looked better quality that everything else around it. I immediately had suspicions, I dragged it into the clear and shone my torch on the label, it read: A Karrimor Product, Avenue Parade, Accrington, Lancs, England.
I whooped out loud and sent the photie above straight from my phone to my facebook page where with some further shots, some discussion followed.
It’s a Tote-Em external frame pack, 70’s vintage.

I found my electrical fault/horror. No spare parts to be had, the manufacturer of the oddball item went out of business in ’75 and some things I just can’t make myself and stay legal. However, I have a good plan and I’m on it.

When reporting all this to the customer I mentioned the pack, is there any chance... ? I ventured. Inquiries would be made they said.
After the weekend we talked about the job and my plan for getting things running and the word came through just as we were finishing up “Oh, just take that old haversack”.
It was in the truck in less than an hour.

I was impressed by the lightness for the apparently large capacity, I was impressed by the condition for its age and the design intrigued me but it was manky.
The environment it was in was dry but dirty and dusty and there had been an element of asbestos in the storage area in the past and although everything is certified as clear, 35 years of dealing with the substance and the consequences of exposure to it to many folks around me has taught me caution.
I stripped the pack and cleaned it, not a gentle wipe down either, it’s head went right under the bath water with a nail brush in my hand. Hey, it’s UK made Karrimor gear with a lifetime guarantee isn’t it? I knew it would be fine.

I inspected it all closely and it had come up well. No major damage at all, just regular wear from long forgotten adventures. The fabric is fresh, a few small holes which I probably won’t touch unless they fray in use. The webbing and buckles all look good and now run a lot smoother.
And, the whole thing smells vaguely of NikWax Tech Wash.
I let it dry for a couple of days then got down to the task of reassembling and adjusting it to fit my back, because it’s not a museum piece or for home decor, it’s going out to play.
I did some research, there’s stuff out there but not too much and Mike Parsons, Karrimor legend and designer of the pack had some insights from it’s creation.

So with a single phillips screwdriver and a basic knowledge of knots, it’s time to bring this Tote-Em back to life.

The frame is labelled a K2 and there were different configurations and lengths, clicking on the Tote-Em page on the excellent Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection site gives you a couple of catalogue pages where you can see the options. The one I have here seems to be a standard Tote-Em, I’ve got the same configuration as the one labeled 5301 on the old page.

The frame is made from 7/8″ aluminium tube. What’s interesting here is that metal wasn’t exactly Karrimor’s medium but it’s easy to see Mike Parsons getting some tools together, learning the methods and wrestling with tube in a workshop until he got what he wanted.
Once the design was finalised in-house tooling was commissioned for punching the holes and local engineering firms made the frames.

There’s no fat in the design, it’s all simple, practical and consequently light.
I make stuff like this now, and 45 years on if I was making one of these it wouldn’t look very different doing it from scratch.
The holes for the horizontal bars are stamped with the outer holes countersunk so that the screws sit flush. The attachments are done with pop rivets and shaped bar.

Aluminium can be horrible stuff to work with, it work hardens which can lead to tearing or crushing.
Bending it with either poor material or poor technique leads to a full scrap bin, you have to get your bend right first time and the shaping here is rather nicely done.
The shelf corners are the bottom end are lovely.

The centre bars are fixed with long steel screws which tighten into threaded plastic inserts. It’s a good design, secure with a bit of flex but it relies on the user not being handless. The pack is designed to be dismantled and adjusted by the user and the cynic in me can see chatrooms and forums in 2019 full of folk cross threading, over-tightening and sticking screwdrivers in their hands.

Ach, but maybe not, backpackers and outdoors folks tend to be more hands-on than most.
I just get that feeling of disconnection that modern life is bringing. I mean, modern big brand packs look they were hatched from an egg. The Tote-Em looks and feels like it was made by folk in Lancashire, it’s the organic tattie to a box of McDonalds fries.

The shoulder straps are basic and you’ll see the same design across many Karrimor packs of the same era. There’s thickish padding which hasn’t deformed or crushed in use with a light nylon shell.
The webbing is pretty stiff but is now running better through the buckles after the deep clean. The metal buckles are all perfectly functional and there’s a nice wee touch of an eyelet at the end of the adjuster so that it won’t slip through the buckle.

The back system is again simple and light but adjustable. There are three sections of 4″ wide webbing which can be placed anywhere on the back as they slide up and down the frame sides.
Moving the bottom one with the waist belt attached around really changes the back length, when I took it apart it was set for someone a lot shorter than me but the adjustment was all quite obvious. It might look like a bag of knitting below, but it’s all simple to do.

You can flip the waist belt left to right or upside down to fine tune, it makes little differences to the fit. The big metal buckle is fine, but there’s just enough webbing in that belt for my current waist line. Must have all been super skinny in the 70’s.

The webbing has drilled aluminium inserts at the ends, three holes drilled in each for manufacturing simplicity with cords for tightening the webbing onto the frame and adding tension to this simple back system.
The waist belt has double cords for extra security and stability, although it’s rudimentary, it seems to be intended that it will take some of the load.

The body of the pack is a little amorphous without the frame and it’s huge too, I think it’s 65 litres, but it’s nicely split into compartments.

The fabric is a bright red nylon and it must have been such a change from all the dull canvas around at the time when it hit the shops. The fabric is somewhere between stiff and supple and has aged very well.
There’s some small holes here and there but they never crept and no attempts were made at repair, so the owner must have been happy enough and who am I to disagree, there will be no modern repairs for now.

The lid is a simple flap and the elastic edging has a little bit of stretch left in it. The old logo makes me smile and in general the branding is very strong and subtle all over the pack. The buckles, even the cord lock all have KP or Karrimor on them. This is ahead of its time, it gives the pack a strong overall identity but I do wonder if it was partly to stop the factories making the parts selling the bespoke component designs to other pack manufacturers?

The tough webbing is in excellent condition. Good lengths on the flap webbing so you can open it fully without taking it right out through the buckles, we’re pre plastic clips here remember.
The side pockets open pretty fully too and all the webbing on the body is running smoother since its bath.

The body is split internally, the bottom 1/3-ish being a separate zipped compartment. The zip is good, runs smooth and has double zip pulls.

Although the internal divider is fixed there are corner holes for any water ingress to pass through from the top which was good thinking. Could probably get modern tent poles down there too, but I don’t think I’ll need to, there’s plenty space.

The side pockets are huge and high up on the sides. There’s a single ice axe loop and buckle, again in great nick and fully functional. I have a wooden axe if the snow comes back for me taking this out.

The closure is a simple cord through eyelets format with a big chunky cord lock. It work just fine and the big flap covers it all completely.

The back shows where the bars sit, the aluminium has left a particularly nice line where the harness bar sits. What trails were trodden when that mark was ground into the fabric? I bet they went by train or bus, I bet they had can openers and bottles of meths, tartan shirts and the widest grins.

The pocket seen above and below is where the load sits, the top bar locates here through the elastic loops (still stretchy, oof!) with the frame sides poking through little gaps in the corners.
All very snug, simple and effective.

The other pack to frame attachments are done with webbing and double rings, a brilliantly simple and effective system which you probably see most often these days on crampon bindings.

Time to put it back together. The back length is adjustable, the shoulder strap bar has two sets of holes to fix onto.
I used the lower one, with the waist belt set further down it feels like a regular back length, keeps the shelf away from my hips and as daft as this might sound, it sits on my back just like I see it on old photies I’ve found. Now there’s the gold standard source to make adjustments by.

The bare frame as above is 670g. Now that might not look light but it feels light, maybe because I’m looking at metal and expecting more, but maybe because the weight is spread out?
Hey, perception is a hard thing to quantify.

I repositioned the webbing a few times, flipped the waist belt over and tried it both ways round and I’ll probably make more changes as I go.
My fears are that the shelf digs into my hips on the trail or that the shoulder straps or the harness bar can be felt in ways I don’t want and I can’t adjust it away once I’m out there. I’ve played as much as I can but until it all settles in after a few miles with a proper load I won’t know, but I’ll be ready to adjust where I can.

Weight with webbing and harness attached 1050g.

Clean, fresh, as well fitting as I can get it and ready to go.
Complete and trail ready it’s at 1685g.

To the modern outdoor eye the Tote-Em might seem alien, but this is a product of innovation, discovery, ingenuity, trial and error, testing and all done here in the UK.
Everything has a first time and then we learn from that for the second time.
My interest in old gear is an appreciation of that as someone who makes things himself, some joyful nostalgia for the days when I moved from army surplus into real gear and a fear that too many good ideas are being left behind for the wrong reasons.

So, a bit iconic and a bit melancholy is that flap below.

When the weather says yes, the Tote-Em will be in the hills. More to come.

Barn find

I’ve just been in a church attic digging through piles of fusty shite to get to old electrics that I suspected were at the root of the purpose of my visit.

I found manky pots and pans, an ancient wood and canvas stretcher, boxes of misc. shite, assorted cuttings of wood and right at the bottom a vintage Karrimor Totem Senior.

Negotiations have opened with the customer.


Seasonal Ranges are the Pits

Being back in the world of gear after a fashion one of my long term bugbears has returned to catch on my socks like the toenail that grew back in an odd shape after I tore it off one winter in Kintail many years ago.

A seemingly innocuous term for the flow of newness and imposition of order in the outdoor gear world. I believe however that it’s bullshit and causes more problems than it solves.

Also in the mix of this train of thought is a notion I had last year of revisiting and using just old gear. The scary hot summer tripped up that plan a wee bit but it did have me digging out, cleaning up and using old gear. That hasn’t stopped, I mix and match vintage and current kit all the time.
One of the thoughts was that I could happily trash my old kit around the Lang Craigs but what’s subtly happened is that I started to choose old gear first by preference and it doesn’t get trashed, that wee bit of extra weight seems to offer a disproportionate amount of durability. Interesting.

Nikwax sent me their whole range of kit which I’ve been applying and testing for many months and I’ve also been seam sealing, sewing and duct taping all over the place.
It’s adjusted my mind set a little. For ten years or more I’ve always been in the newest and the best, now I’m swapping that around with the older and, in some cases anyway, better.

There’s a lot of chat on Facebucket and Twatter about stuff like this just now and it’s probably fueled by a mix of things from nostalgia, to curiosity to environmental concerns. Whatever, folks are talking and thinking, so it’s a good thing.

I’m going to try and pull all this and more into a series of posts from my own experience and perspective. It’ll help me make some conclusions and might actually be useful or interesting to someone. Once I’m gone…

Spoiler Alert for the last page…
99% of old footwear is shite, modern is better here.

Anyway, seasons

Seasonal ranges artificially influence they way we perceive of the evolution and development of our gear. Tiny changes and tweaks every year, new colours, bolder claims, bigger plans that have to be funded by selling even more bland gear that’ll never see a mountain. I was in Tizo* last week and it’s just racks of uninspiring black and dark blue interchangeable dullness. Swap the logos around the jackets and no one would notice, characterless, generic alpine nonsense.

It’s so far removed from the user driven trade it once was, but that’s what expansion brings, it’s the nature of business. I’m not judging on that, just voicing my frustration as an enthusiast because of the effect it has on our choices.

Seasons are convenient, planned-out selling to shops and fixed dates to design and manufacture for. But materials and construction advances don’t run to a timetable and neither does inspiration and discovery.
Real advances come through accident, through feedback, through mistakes and through time.
While I was away from regular gear stuff very little has actually changed, I think LED tech is the only thing that’s really taken a big step, some fabric evolutions and everything else is styling. Which is not necessarily bad, retro is in after all. Reissue Rab Kinder smock anyone?

When I was with OMM’s Lead User Group, we worked on advances from testing samples, making adjustments and then testing those, when it was ready it was ready. That’s what you get when it’s a small independent, it was mobile and proactive. No giant factory ship to crew and feed while they wait for the next actually new thing to appear.

So is the new season bringing you something new?  Maybe, maybe not. You can’t properly measure progress in seasons, it takes years, in some places maybe decades. Seasons are good for business but bad for us, we come to expect new, assume it to be better, then we expect the same again in six months and I know all the gear isn’t that much better, I’ve spend a year proving it to myself.
In saying that, my current favourite combo is a current rather quirky current midlayer and 90s Gore Tex, more of which later.

*Made up name to protect the real retailer who I’m sure is very nice and totally didn’t make my daughter cry when she walked on their pretend stony path. Bastards.

It’s a thread I’ll continue, but it’s important to say that I’m not criticizing the designers or anyone else behind the scenes at the outdoor brands, I know enough of them now to know that there is passion and knowledge as well as huge capacity for practical application of their products. It’s just that most of them are welded to the rigid structure of big business now. It must be so frustrating at times. Imaging what these folks could do if set free from crosses on a calendar, we’d have the lightest, most durable, most ergonomic, most breathable… The brands would all go bankrupt too. See, I understand you have to have turnover in a big company, I just get twitchy thinking about this stuff.

So, pit zips.
The top one is from 1997. Multiple storm flaps with hard to manage velcro and a regular zip. Hard to operate, complex to manufacture and best left alone when wearing the jacket unless you’re really, really hot.
Next one down is a couple of years later, slightly simpler but still faffy, still bulky and complex, still a pain in the arse to use.

Then we have the early 2000s, water resistant zip with stitched and taped seams but with a storm flap (including a really clever wee bead in it that keeps it in place) because, you know, will this zip leak when in wears in? Usable and practical.
Below is current, a lightweight water resistant zip welded in. Easily used and you can’t even feel it on the jacket.

Fifteen years from first to last, that’s an example of evolution from available technology and probably also nudged along from Gore’s influence with the “Guaranteed to Keep You Dry” swing tags. As the zips got better, the external protection slipped away and disappeared.

More to come and the next one is called “Lightweight gear is rubbish, it wears out too fast”. I have evidence.

For the defence.

ISBJÖRN MONSUNE Hardshell Jacket Review

We’ve had the Monsune from Isbjörn on test since the tail end of last winter, so time for some words I think.

It’s in a two later fabric with a nylon outer which I like from a durability angle bonded to an own-brand waterproof and breathable membrane. The loose liner has mesh around the body and hood with microfibre in the arms, this is the best option for breathability and comfort, easier to get the arms down the sleeves whatever you’re wearing.
The fabric has a soft feel, it’s a supple jacket and doesn’t rustle or crinkle particularly under movement. Waterproofness is as described, breathability is hard to judge. While often out of breath and hot, the test subject would not sweat enough on a regular basis and so was always dry. Maybe that’s a sign though?
DWR is good, rain is still bobbling quite happily in most areas.

The cut is excellent, trim but not tight with excellent articulation, be as active as you want and the hem stays put. The body is pretty long, although the Monsune is a bit alpine looking, it’s definitely outdoor as your backside is covered. The arms are long too, high reaching or snowball throwing is fine, no bare wrists or waist.

The hood is a good shape and fits well on a bare or be-hatted head. The peak is stiffened, holds its shape in use and pulls back into shape just fine when balled up inside a pack in the walk in.
The adjustment is effective and the front cords are accessible and usable with gloves on. The rear volume adjuster is accessibly placed and the cord cinches in the right place but the cord lock isn’t tethered so it need two hands to operate it, this means it gets left alone. It’s a minor fix but it’s something they should look at.
There’s a soft chin guard/zipper garage for the chunky front zip.

The cuffs are velcro tabbed and half elasticated. It works fine and I had no complaints, tucking gloves in takes a few extra seconds which is why I prefer non elasticated cuffs, as well as the venting options, but it’s probably a personal preference thing.

The inside of the cuffs have a little clever addition. There are inner cuffs in a soft stretch fabric and there’s a hem in the lining with orange thread that you can let out to lengthen the inner arms. It tunes comfort as your arms grow and extents the life of the jacket a wee bit.

The napoleon chest pockets are huge and like the main zip have chunky YYK waterproof zippers. These zips have been okay, hard to tell for sure on the pockets as they don’t always get zipped back up all the way, even in the rain… The main zip has an inner storm flap in case anything gets through, but I’ve had no complaints.
The chest pockets have nice zipper garages and all the zips have grippable zip pulls.

Isbjörn have put together an excellent all round mountain or outdoor shell which I would happily wear, but as I’ve hinted at, this was Holly’s test jacket.
The spec is excellent, the hood and cut are spot on, Isbjörn haven’t made any compromises because the jacket is made for youngsters.

The fabric breathability performance is an unknown, kids just don’t sweat the same way as bigger folk, but that probably works out as money can be spent on design complexity instead of paying for a big name membrane, especially since the jacket has limited lifespan for the original wearer. Still, it’s well made and durable, the Monsune will go to someone else, it’s life isn’t over by a long way.
The fabric is Bluesigned and the DWR is fluorocarbon free, there’s a lot to commend the choices made in the design and construction.

Youngsters won’t wear stuff they don’t like, increasingly fashion conscious youngsters won’t even try stuff on they don’t like the look of. I’ve had no trouble getting Holly into the Monsune and she’s enjoyed it, pulling the hood up and grinning happily at even a hint or rain or snow.

Brilliant jacket. Hmm, I’m jealous.

556g for a size 146/152, current UK price £150

Trouser and base layer reviews on the way.

Komperdell Hikemaster Compact Review

Poles are not exactly sexy. They are often useful, occasionally vital, but never something particularly exciting to look at.
So it’s quite heartening to see the manufactures always making new models and trying something a little different, especially given the scope of what you can actually do with the format. Add wheels or a bottle holder maybe?

Weight is the obvious target and packed length is important for me as poles spend a lot of time as ballast.
Adjustability is something I don’t actually think about after years of usually using fixed length poles, but that’s because that fixed length works for me. Even using tarps I’ve worked around fixed length poles.
I was a reminded of the wider real world on a run round the Lang Craigs where a pal had her poles set at an inbetween size, what’s this subversive behaviour I said. 103cm? Madness, madness.

So, adjustability is important, as is flexibility of length. The Hikemaster Compacts have that stuff.

The Compact collapse down to 59cm which works fine for stowing on my smaller packs and extends to a max of 121cm which is where I use them.
Others will need more length so if you like the format there’s a regular Hikemaster which extends to 140cm but packs to 65cm.

Weight is 502g for the pair which is okay for the aluminium construction. They certainly don’t feel weighty in the hand, they have a nice swing to them and a robust feel.

The handles are quite slim feeling with only light shaping for finger placement which I’m happy with. The handle feels like its bi-component, a lighter rubber coating over a harder shaped inner. The outer looks stitched so, it’s likely a sock pulled over the inner.
This is great with any gloves but slidey with bare sweaty hands, I’m just so used to mesh.

The wrist loop is great, nice and wide and east to adjust. It says “padded” on the official speil but it’s just lightly reinforced on the inner non-logo-ed face with a smooth stitching effect which is probably better than padding would be.

I really like the Powerlock 3.0 mechanism for the length adjustment. It has a low bulk, the levers are east to catch with a bare of gloved thumb to operate but don’t stick out too far so that they catch on the undergrowth. There’s a nice smooth action to them as well, the cam action is just right.

The pointy end is pretty standard, tungsten tips and mini baskets pre-fitted.

The finishing is excellent, smooth and flawless and the overall construction is the same.
The poles break down for drying and cleaning very easily and as the locking mechanism is all external the chances of handless people breaking them when putting them back together is much diminished.

I like the Compacts, the locking mechanisms are excellent and the quality overall finish surprised me as the prices I see online are right in the mix.
Easy to pack, use, adjust and clean. No pointless antishock to go wrong and add weight and there’s a 3 Year no argument guarantee according to the official page.