Kit that broke, kit that didnae, and other stuff before I forget, XIII

Despite the brevity (in distance travelled if not in time taken and energy spent) of yesterday’s Arrochar Alp-ing, a few gear things are worthy of note.

The Montane Extreme smock saw its first outing since last winter. I wore it over a 190weight Smartwool merino zipneck (I had the matching ¾ leggings on too) and for the first 100 metres of ascent I thought I’d made a terrible mistake as I just couldn’t dump the heat I was building up with all the zips wide open. But once I’d settled down and climbed a little higher, the smock really came into its own. It was angry cold at the top, and evil cold when the sun went down, but even at my cuppa-stop under a rock shelf the smock maintained a good equilibrium on my body, just by zipping up when I stopped I didn’t need to don any more layers other than a beanie hat. Later on when I did have to layer-up, it was the Beghaus Extrem Down Duvet that went on, and its “over the top of your other kit” cut was perfect over the Extreme, I’ll be twinning these two over winter. I was really taken by the Extreme Smock his time, a cracking fit on me, there’s just no fannying around when you wear it and as an alternative to the shell/mid/base it works much better for me than the Paramo style solution, same venting when you need it, but more insulation when you need it too. I’ll take the better all-round comfort and usability over a slightly slower moisture management.

Recent arrival, the Petzl Charlet Snowalker, put in some good service on its first outing. I used it classic in-the-uphill-hand style for a steep descent where it sat nicely in a gloved hand and I immediately found out that the stupid sliding wrist leash is more of a hindrance than a help and is being replaced before its next outing. The point slides in easy, and the weight is great, positive feeling without effort. I used it as a brake when glissading and it’s smooth, no snatching at all, even when I rolled onto my front a couple of times to test it’s braking properly. I feel immediately at home with the Snowalker, looks good.

On my back I carried a legend, a 1995 Karrimor Alpiniste 45+10. The original Fformat wired back stiffener has been replaced by a OMM Duomat and the pack is comfier than ever, and I really do believe the harness to be the most comfortable I’ve ever used. It’s simplicity itself, but there’s huge pockets and enough attachment points to stow your gear. What I really missed were bottle pockets and hip-fin pockets, they’ve become vital for me it seems. On a really steep section I was resting on my toes and fingertips on the ground in front of me and I really wanted a drink, but taking the pack off the get to a bottle would have been folly indeed. I didn’t attach any bottle pouches or pockets so I would see if I did miss the handiness, and that’s the point proved. I’ll have a bottle somewhere when I take it out next. Oh yeah, it’s back.

The Haglöfs Gryms were issue free, I didn’t want to risk my feet on any of the new boots just yet, the Fizan poles took a pair of Pacer snow-baskets very well, and much of the other kit was as well-used and familiar, that was nice.

The North Face Hybrid Base layers

You know the cooler seasons are on the horizon when leggings turn up for test. Coming soon fropm The North Face (no proper link yet) are their new Hybrid baselayers.

Now I know what you’re thinking: X-Bionic. Yes indeed, and this is a good thing, it means that the concept is judged a good one if it’s being adopted by other manufacturers, and also that with a few brands pursuing it we should be able to look forward to increased development.
So, long-sleeve zip neck and long leggings, and the Hybrid range is billed as suited to cool and cold weather. Certainly the long legs, sleeves and torso are going to give good coverage without gaps, the neck has a decent height too, goo for layering up without too many zips snagging my beard.
Pulling these on they’re simultaneously slim fitting and soft, something we’ve been getting used to, but a few years back, slim fit was often restrictive so I’m still enjoying the new sensation okay?
The AKTIV fabric promises moisture management and some insulation for cold weather activities. There are several different zones to suit your hot spots or your stretchy zones. Seams are minimal, the torso has a one-piece construction, the cuffs and hem are wide and soft and the waist band is wide elastic which shouldn’t tattoo my midriff.

They feel good, look the part, and and I’ll be taking them out just as soon as it’s cold enough, but I’ll get the top out and about soon.

Gear Diary/ Kit that broke etc

First up is something a bit unusual. A while back I got an email from an STV director about presenting an outdoor slot on their daily “The Hour” show. After a few missed calls and left messages in both directions we finally hooked up and headed to down to Loch Lomond to shoot some test footage, that’s cameragirl Jen and VT director Mags below.
It was good fun, and it went pretty well I thought, although trying to stick to a script is next to impossible for my tangential mind. The folks were very kind regarding my efforts, and made me feel right at ease with their banter and slick operation when we were cutting about the lochside. The nice wee surprise is that the footage was usable and it’s been edited up for broadcast, on Tuesday, 3rd of August. It’s “Petesy’s gear guide to getting outdoors”, I’m looking at a few essentials to get folk off the couch, all nice light ones too. The bit about trail shoes could be fun.
The plan is to run a wee series of these slots, with a progressive narrative, from initial gear choice to standing on the top of Ben Lomond kinda thing. Might come to nothing, but you never know. The notion of reaching someone and getting them into the outdoors with the right gear first time really appeals to me, so I hope some folk see this first piece at least.

This weeks trip to Aonach Mheadhoin and it’s close friends was a learning experience. My hill legs are shot to pieces which set the tone for the rest of day one. Let me explain.

I hadn’t worn the Salomon Fastpackers for ages, this was due to a reason. But the waterproof and slightly higher than a trail shoe ankle made sense in the wet conditions and went with my mini gaitersvery well. Luckily I had my waterproofs on the first time the grip gave out. If you’re a mountain biker you’ll understand what I mean about a slide that you can recover, the tyre slips but claws back the grip and you keep going, you learn the characteristics of that and it gives you confidence. Then there’s they tyres that snap away and you face plant, they come off the bike and go on ebay as “used once”. Salomon must make those tyres.
I launched on some moss and landed really heavily on my hip, andafter that I was more cautious. The grip is marginal in anything wet at all, the lugs on the sole are way too wide, the gaps between way too small, just not enough bite. On day two they were better in the drier conditions higher up the hill, but on the boggy lower ground later on the nervy stepping came back. It’s a bugger because the uppers a great, more trail shoe with their collar up than a mid. I’ll wear them again, just not in the wet.
My ancient Karrimor Paclite pants were as good as ever, and the Arc’teryx Alpha SL Pullover once again got wet, I’ve never carried that without having to wear it. I wonder if it’s a bad luck charm? Whatever, it’s ajoy to wear. The long back, good cut, pit zips, pouch pocket are all perfect, the hood does let it down though, the peak is far too soft. I wear a cap most of the time which m,eans I don’t notice, but on abare head it’s not ideal.
Paclite is workable if you don’t over-layer underneath it, when I disrobed in the tent the inner of the tops and bottoms were glossy, but not wet, and they dried out very well. I hade the X-Bionic Humdinger on over a Smartwool Microweight t-shirt, and I have to see it was a combination of justice. The Humdinger may well cost $17,000, but it’s the best midlayer I’ve ever used layered up in wet conditions. I didn’t overheat, I didn’t chill fast when I stopped either, and the thin stretchy fabric worked hard at keeping me dry. The t-shirt was a surprising disappointment, the gossamer thin merino, admittedly as expected, having only some of the stink repelling qualities of the heavier weight fabric…
The Arc’teryx Gamma LT Pants layered well, very comfy and quick drying, and proved to be just as good in the hot sun of day two. Quietly funtional these guys.
Insulation was the Berghaus Chulu vest and the Crux Halo. The Chulu is great, handy pockets, proper warmth and great match for the lightweight Halo, now I’m happy to say no longer firing down out of every seam with every body movement. 

The tent? Golite’s Eden 1, oh and it was going so well too. It looks big, and the internal length is good for folk well over six feet, but it’s a little narrow I think. The extra room is all in the porch which is huge. Enough for all your kit, rucksack, cooking and a dog. Maybe even a pony.
The guy options are outstanding, long multiple lines which you can move around to suit wind or weather. When the wind did catch me the tent felt rock solid. That security didn’t extend to the outer zip, which jammed solid and made me rip the tent getting out. Made me I tell you. Once it’s dry I’ll have a proper look at it and see what’s what.
It’s no lightweight though, and the big pack size (about three times that of a ‘comp) meant I took the Hagöfs Matrix 60 pack so I wasn’t making a space hopper out of a smaller pack. No problem though, the Matrix is a cracker, a very easy carry despite it’s beefy nature.

I wasn’t taking meths into that weather, but I did take the Evernew Titanium Solo set. I won’t beat about the bush here, it’s bloody marvellous. Used with the Vango Ultralite stove, Optimus gas and a regular windshield, there was nothing but joy and never ending instant cuppas. The cup is perfect, the pot is a good size for topping up to re-boil while you’re sipping a hot one and it’s just all so nice in the hand. I will say this, don’t put the lid on the pot upside down, it slides down and if the pot’s wet it creates a vacuum when you try to get it out and there will be tears of frustration… The joys of accurate machining.

Haglöfs Spring/Summer 2011

I was at the Haglöfs shed during the week and had a look at the gear for Spring/Summer 2011. There’s some nice new bits of kit in there, some evolution, and more moves into sustainability: more recycled and recyclable fabrics through the ranges, many with Bluesign accreditation.

Below we’ve got some of the Climatic t-shirts. L-R Tonal, Logo, Leak and B Tees. They’re all made in recycled Dryskin fabric, and having been wearing a couple of the current tee range over the past couple of months I’d be happy taking any of these into the field, so don’t let the colours and styling fool you. The more relaxed cut is a great if you’re having a “big-day” too…

At the top of the page and below are some of the new shirts. The Albi LS (and a yellow Torto) below is going to be divisive, it’s a great slim fit with proper high-reach articulation in a proper performance fabric, but the styling is going to make gutless store buyers faint in their shoes all over the land.
I’d wear them, but you knew I was going to say that. All the tees and shirts are Polygiene treated as well, it’s antimicrobial, antistink, and works well. It should be available in the UK on it’s own about now too, so you can wash it into your socks.

The girls (Q in Haglöfs-speak) Climatic t-shirts are below, same names as the blokes except the yellow/red/pale blue just to the right of Gus, these are the Pop Q Tee. Pop Cutie?

Haglöfs have gone trouser crazy for 2011. Above we have Amfibie Flexable softshell shorts, nice stitch detailing, pockets, fly and integral belt. Will we see that blue in the shops?
Closest below is the update to the Mid Flex pants that I’ve been wearing recently, similar in the construction with the big stretch panels and much of the detailing, but the leg pockets have moved to a side-entry type. Just as I got used to the horizontal entry pockets…
Behind those are the Mid Fjell’s in non-stretch Climatic. The legwear range is huge and diverse, sizes now go from XL to XXXL (34-46 in the girls) and it looks like there’s more leg length choices than there has been as well.

The highlight of my day were the Amfibie Q Shorts above. Hipster-style softshell shorts (theysay, hotpants I say) with a 70’s style metal buckle closure. The long versions are at the back.
Techno hotpants. Yes.
Below we have the other end of the spectrum, wummins Rugged Mountain Pants in badass black.

The hooded Juniper that’s coming out in a few weeks continues into next year with some new colours for boys and girls, the curry/mal version closest to us is the one I like. It looks kinda old-school. Their hoodless version are regular Junipers, and all of the above are in Bluesigned Polartec Micro.

I took some pelters last year when I got all excited about the Lizard Top and Shorts, “over-expensive jumper”, “it’s pointless” they said. Well, the Lizard kit has been a hit, and it stays in the range with some new colours.
The shorts below were a sell-out, so not only are they back again, they’re joined by the new Lizard Pant. The Pant’s are cut from the same Bluesigned Flexable softshell fabric, are pretty minimalist for softshell legwear. There’s a drawcorded waistband, tapered lower legs with plain hems, three pockets, crotch panel and that’s it. These’ll be really versatile, the cut will suiting biking and running, as will the fabric, but the “regular” looks will suit any outdoor stuff. Nice.

The popular Viper II gets an update and becomes the Boa above. The non-membrane Flexable fabric gets the Eco stamp from Bluesign and the updates include new cuffs with thumbloops and great coverage for the backs of your hands. Mens and wummins again, new colours (that’s bracken I’ve got on), and if it’s as good as the Viper, it should be a winner.

The Intense series carries on much the same, clothing and packs. There’s new shorts, the knee-shorts and leggings have been tweaked and there’s a new zip-neck t-shirt. I tried in on, and it’s nice. Not enough short-sleeve zip-neck out there.

Above I’m visiting my past with a Winstopper shell jacket. It’s called the Bora and it reminded me of a Karrimor Activent Alpinits thing I had many moons ago. You don’t see much Windstopper shell these days, I remember it as being pretty good, I’m going to have a rake in the attic.
More Winstopper below with the Pareas Hood nearest, which has the more breathable Flexable rear panel, and the heavier duty full-Windstopper Eryx at the back. Gus is trying to swallow the walnut from his Walnut Whip whole in this shot.

Below is the new LIM jacket (no longer with the Ultimate tag), new fabric, new construction (really, we did an A/B with an old one to check) and a little fatter at 300g. The new fabric is very soft and rustle-free for Paclite. I’ve got an old tatty one of these and one from last season and I think they’re underrated. There can’t be many jackets this light and as well featured with a full-length zip?
There’s still matching LIM pants, now in three leg lengths for all sexes.

That’s the Arete Gore-Tex jacket above, it’s more of a general piece, but when you’re using lightweight stuff all the time you forget that this kind of kit is actually pretty nice to wear.  It’s always good to see that there’s no slacking off in cut or articulation through the range, the general pieces will work as well on a hill as the top-end kit.
Shell pants with pockets? Not enough of those, so we’ve got the Velum (R) and Incus (L) below. Worn in winter over a set of merino leggings you’d be set, and you’d save weight in your pack. They come in Haglöfs’ own Proof fabric which is decent enough, but is recycled and recyclable with it’s polyester membrane.

The Proof collection continues below, from the (I don’t mean this unkindly) dog-walkers Velum at the left, through the Pannus (in the girls colours) to the technical-specced Incus at the end.
I’ve said this a lot, kit in non-branded fabrics is vital. We need innovation, some risk taking in the marketplace, and economics being what they are we might be lookibngf more and more at non branded fabrics on our backs.

The Ratio above is the top-end Pro-Shell jacket, and in colours that delight the heart and soul. 420g for a 4-pocket/pit-zip/mountain-hooded jacket is not too shabby.
The new Pro-Shell/Paclite mix Electron is below. Seems like a nice alpine-style shell, good pockets and a clean look to it.

That’s not the Spitz above, it’s the Zenith, which is a Spitz cut from Proof 3-layer recycled fabric.
Top-end design in an own-brand fabric,  £275 versus £360 for a Spitz?

Haglöfs sofshell pants are making a bit of a comeback over the next couple of seasons. The Eryx Windstopper mountaineering pants are above right, with the slightly lighter-feeling Flexable Flint Pants beside them, both new.
The Flint’s have internal gaiters, leg pockets, both have Keprotec kick patches on the inner ankles and the Eryx have thigh vents.
Below are the mens Shist (R) and the wummins Shale in the bracken colour, although both come in black and apparently won’t have those blue zips. Bugger.
These are year-round general purpose mountain pants, understated (apart from the zips) and in the new eco-friendly version of Flexable. If Haglöfs are following their own pant advice here they should be good.

Gus was pleased that finally some Haglöfs insulation will be available during the summer. The magic Barrier Vest and matching  jacket, black-only, guys and gals.
I was pleased too, I just don’t look it in that Viper softshell cap.

Mither’s soup was a highpoint and wearing a Solar II hat indoors had it’s own pleasures.

Above and below is the new Roc Legend. It’s a (Vibram) sticky-soled approach/scrambling shoe. A neat upper, lacing to the toe, Sole (more on them soon) insole inside, rands front and back, sweat-sucking microfibre lining and nice colours too.
These have been a hit with the buyers it seems, expect them in the shops next March. And like most Haglöfs footwear, it’ll come in UK half-sizes.

That’s the Stroll Q GT boot above, I just kinda likes it’s friendly looks. Not enough suede in my life.
That’s the revamped Crag’s below, splash of purple on the girls’ version. It’s a good shoe, I bum around in my non-lined version quite a bit. Grippy outsole unit.

His and hers Exhales and Exhale GTs above. It’s Haglöfs most “trail shoe-ey” model, but still quite beefy, good for general hill use.
Below are the Grym Hi’s which I will not be testing. The regular Grym’s really were a revelation though, not shin splints, no blisters, no pissing and moaning from me when I had them on.

That’s the Corker XS, a 5L version of the regular Corker (below) which has been Holly’s changing bag for the past 2 ¾ years. But she’s getting to be a big girl now and doesn’t need a changing bag, so we’ll had a world exclusive first test of that purple one above from the girl herself soon enough.
The Corkers are odd looking packs and probably get overlooked because of that, but they’re tough as hell, very useful for lots of things (how many rucksacks can really claim that) and seem to be waterproof. Made from recycled materials too.

That’s the various Tight packs above. 1 million sold in the last ten years. Bloody hell.
The styling is very un-British again, but the usefulness is high and the spec choice is varied. The colours too…

The Actives base layers keep the new plain look with the lighter fabric. Still, don’t think I could my belly in long enough to get a shot of myself in one of those white tops.

There we go, a look at some of the bits and pieces. I like the looks of a few things in there, that shirt below being #1.
Nice to see the Lizard range expanding, and to see the fabrics increasingly moving down the sustainable route.

Oh, and the colours. The colours…

Gear Diary

I’m not going to lie here, apart from the occasional softshell or waterproof I’ve used no gear at all since that last trip up the Kilpatricks. That’s a regular July for me though.
But, there’s gear stuff coming up and some info to be noted.

First up is a bit of news that I’m delighted about, and that’s Harvey’s new British Mountain Map of the Southern Highlands. It’s got Ben Lomond, Arrochar Alps, Ben Lui, Ben More etc I’ll have one to show and tell with as soon as it’s printed, which won’t be for a couple of months yet so don’t don’t start demanding one from your local Millets just yet.

Next up is some new kit from regulars of these pages, PHD. Now I love that orange, but apart from that it’s really good to see the range diversifying at a proper technical level at time when so many folk are targeting the casual wallet.
I’ve had a few comms asking about the new kit, but I haven’t seen it yet. I will be seeing it at the start of August though, I’ve got something a little special coming up: a day in the life of PHD.
I’ll be spending a day at the factory, talking to the folks, seeing how the gear is made and fingering lots of kit. I’ll be taking notes, photies and maybe some short film pieces too. Should be a blast.
Now, if you’re wanting to ask them any questions, or find out anything specific, post it here and I’ll take it down with me.

Also, I’ll be visiting Alpkit HQ, I’ve been promised cuppas and a look at some secrets. Same as above, any questions for these guys, flag it up.

Sooner than that will be Haglöfs 2011. I’ll have the usual in-depth look at the guys and gals kit and bring back the news, be it good or frustrating. Questions for the big H? Post them here.

In-between some of the above will be a day in the Lakes with Montane to see 2011’s gear. The new designer’s drawings have now been transformed into kit, and in their own words, they’re psyched for the new collection. Questions? Wire in.

The KORS show is in August, I’ve got meetings with a bunch of folk familiar and new to the blog. August really is going to be gear apocalypse on here.

Lastly, I have in my possesion (have had for some time if I’m honest), the ansewrs to the X-Bionic Wallaby giveaway. Live next week, with a wee look at some new kit.

But after the increasingly painful gap of the last few weeks, the hills are again top of the list. Kintail as soon as the clouds lift, and then somewhere I haven’t been for a wee while, Assynt. Suilven’s the target, but I’ve got business with Cul Mor as well. I cannot bloody wait.

Gear Diary

First off I’d like to stick two fingers up at Race Face. I have a bucket full of their bottom brackets, every one seized solid, and as I admined the bike for Monday night’s ride the newest one was in the relentless grip of inertia on the non-drive side. I was going to replace both the bottom bracket and headset with Hope equivalents and get the frame faced at the same time later on, but financially and temporally that wasn’t working as a surprise option this weekend. Luckily Evans at the Braehead Xcapade had the new Race Face version in stock, now with fancy waterproof grease, so that was the one that went back in. So we’ll see how long that lasts.
Oh aye, the puller cap burst when I tried to extract the cranks. If I wasn’t an engineer with tools and know-how I’d have either ruined an expensive set of cranks (Race Face Deus) or have had to take a half-dismantled bike to shop where they would have hacked at it like a victorian whaler with a fresh catch five minutes before his tea break.
If only Race Face kit wasn’t so damned sexy…

That trip last week had some gear stuff that raised an eyebrow. On my feet were my #2 pair of Montrail Streaks, out of the box and onto the trail. There were fine too, bless them. Also on the feet were some Teko socks. I have nothing much to say on those as yet.
Legs were a mix of Haglöfs Mid Flex Pants and Chocolate Fish Taranaki Boxers, a combination of justice, but the upper floor were clad in something new, a Haglöfs B Tee. It’s a kinda casual thing, slightly relaxed cut, wee print decorations, but it’s in Dryskin fabric, so it looked usable. And, it was too. Very comfy all day, in fact it was my single layer all day and was fine in the glaring sun and I didn’t chill in the evening breeze as it dried either. Orange, yes.
On my back was the Macpac Amp Race 25. Here’s the thing, it is heavy where you look around at the competition these days, but I just don’t care. It’s comfy and usable, the pockets are great, the harness is stable, the bottle bungee on the shoulder strap holds my Zipshot tripod perfectly which is a godsend for shooting a route like this trip where I’m constantly setting up for timer shots.
It’s not perfect, the lid pockets could be bigger and the printed branding is really cheap and nasty, but if the fabric and stitching on this and the 40 version hold up over an extended time, these really are killer packs and well worth the extra grams.
My grande chapeau is a a Peter Storm Aussie Hat from Millets, a great thing too, really kept the sun off my neck and face and out of my eyes.
The Klean Kanteen bottles are definitely now standard issue, I had Nuun in one for the first time, although I’ve had Robinson’s in obe most days for the past couple of weeks, and they really do clean up totally odour-free every time.
Also, it occured to me that I’ve been wearing a Techtrail watch since I started the blog and it’s about time I spoke about it. So I will.


I met the guys from Zyro, Powerbar’s UK distributors at the Etape Caledonia cycling event in Pitlochry a few weeks back, and came back with samples of their new Natural Energy Bars to test.
I haven’t written them up as they’ve been in either my pack or my mouth, and with only one of each flavour left (and today, just one in total) on the trip on Monday, I thought I’d better get a photie.

PowerBar makes you think of sweaty folk, muscley folk, stern folk challenging both themselves and the patience of their friends, and the same goes for all “sports fuel” from whatever brand.
Or, it has often been that way, but times have changed, with more regular folk carry energy foods into the hills or indeed wherever. I was heartily sick of textureless sugary bars and drink mixes long ago. I went to Nuun tablets in my bottle and beef jerky in my pocket until I got a taste for the Honey Stinger gear, which is both fuel and enjoyable.
PowerBar have stepped up with the ordinary-human-friendly Natural Energy Bars, a mix of oats, fruit, pumpkin seeds and honey with other bits and pieces stuck in to give different flavours, Cacoa Crunch, Strawberry& Cranberry and the surprise addition; Sweet’n Salty Seeds & Pretzels“. I know how often I’ve craved something not-sugary on a trip, and usually Babybel or Pepperami hits the spot, but this is a refreshing (is salty refreshing?) change, so good job PowerBar.
The texture makes them feel like proper food, the flavours really are very good and I’ve had no digestion issues with them. The natural aspect is being pushed, good ingredients with no added crap or chemicals.
Whether or not you want or need sports bars is something for you, your dietitian and perhaps your aspirations, but for me it’s just compact, easy stowed on-the-move grub to keep my legs going. I like eating them when I’m out, and they seem to do the job. But it’s not a substitute, it’s just an addition to my Babybel and jerky.
Anyway, these bars were tasty. I’ll be buying some more.

Gear Diary

I’ve been trailing some gear around recently one way or another, and I’ve had some mixed results.

On the Wheelie trip I took smocks as I thought that would suit being strapped-in a lot better. The Haglöfs Lizard Top was great until I got right into the murk, it’s ceased to be “different” now, it’s just a killer bit of go-to kit for mixed conditions. The Ozo was the matching top layer and I have to say it is better than the Oz, simply because it’s longer at the tail. The new hood is stolen off the LIM Ultimate and it is a good one, not too heavy or bulky that it flops around, unbalancing an otherwise very light jacket. It kept the snow out of my face, so that’ll do me.
Other new Haglöfs were the new single-colour Mid Flex Pants, which were brilliant, just the right weight to go from the sunny, warm glen to the chilly plateau without falling on their metaphorical arse and upsetting my equilibrium. Nice to have brown legs also.

That neat wee doodah on my back above is an Exped Drypack Pro, dead comfy and plenty big at 25L as pack liner and a daysack. The 15L would be better as a daypack, but too wee as a packliner, so it was a trade-off which one to go for.
The TNF Assailant Mids are proving a great wee set of shoes
Other kit was pretty regular, Neoair mat, Lasercomp tent, GoLite Adrenaline 3 bag, Jetboil Flash stove, Mountain King Trail Blaze Poles, Montane Flux duvet, Chocolate Fish’s Taranaki merino and all the bits and pieces that just get packed without thinking these days.

My Trail piece on the trip is done, I’ve just written the captions for the photies as the last bit, and there’s some more gear stuff in there as well as some thoughts about Wheelie. It looks good, the page layout made me smile, and the words are, well, familiar in tone this time is maybe the best way to put it?

The howff jaunt was a quickie to get some shots for a route I had written, but the cave I was using being out of commission meant a change of plan, so it worked out well as I wasn’t going to be sending Trail readers to a landslip.
It turned out an interesting time, the outcome of which was largely decided upon by the gear I took.

The Macpac Amp Race 40, I like. I didn’t take a bottle on the shoulder strap this time and I was issue free on my collar bone. But, the Tamrac Zipshot tripod I use fits in the bungee so it looks like the Amp is my current standard issue pack.
I wore the Montane Limited Edition Dynamic Stretch Pants, good fabric, easy-wearing and that big leg pocket is brilliant. The looser cut had me wearing mini-gaiters for the bog-trotting, and I wouldn’t like to layer them under shell pants for too long as the extra fabric could fold and bunch up.
I wore Montane’s Meteor DT waterproof. It’s a lovely soft jacket, and as I wore it the whole trip, the center chest pocket was in constant use. Good body and arm length, good freedom of movement and the hood is neat. It really is one of their top end designs, just cut from Entrant DT instead of eVent. Breathability does drop off a little because of that, and the 2.5 layer fabric has the same issues with hiding condensation as Paclite. But it works away at it’s own pace and as it’s a fully featured and still budget friendly lightweight technical jacket, any bitching is out of order.
The TNF Assailant Mids were on my feet again, grippy buggers these, I lost my footing once and that was fannying about with th tripod at the howff. I love that the own-brand waterproofing works well too. Nice shoes, recommended.

Also from TNF was the Zephyrus Pullover, being “slept-in” above. It just works, it’s soft warm and comfy and that’s all we need to know, the bonus I found was that the DWR is very good, faffing around outside saw the rain bead and run off the outer fabric. Nice.
Also being “slept-in” is the Rab Neutrino 200 down bag. Had I known where I would end up, I would have taken something else, the Pertex Quantum fabric never stood a chance. All I can say is that it was great until the wet really got into it, it’s a well-shaped comfy bag, feels warm and the half-length zip suited the bivi very well.
The bivi bag was a Terra Nova Discovery Lite, the older Gore-Tex Flo2 version. It’s wee, there’s no getting around that, so I put the sleep mat outside. Breathability of the top skin is okay, I ended up wearing more clothes than I needed because of the mat issues and that made it a little steamy perhaps, slowing down the escape of my sweat.
The mat was the new Airo 120 from Alpkit, and the poor bastard never stood a chance. Ground against an abrasive rock after a shunt sideways to get away from overhead drips, I tore a hole in it. But, the fact that I immediately felt the wet ground through it when it deflated tells me that it had previously been insulating me quite happily. There will be more from the Airo once glued.
Also from Alpkit is their little Bulb bedside lamp, now updated to “II”.  It’s a handy wee thing and I used to carry it a lot, it would have been great in the cave, but it was magic in the howff too. Totally unnecessary luxury item. Magic.
Also below are my Klean Kanteen bottles, I love these, I’ve taken one to work every day since they arrived too. Not to look at, I put juice in there.
It was nice to be back to a pot and stove combo, my old Optimus Terra Weekend is as good as ever and the Vango Ultralite stove really does do the job. The pot supports stay easily folded after use which surprised me, one of the issues with all the other versions of this burner has been the pot supports jamming after use.
So nice to see that big burner doing it’s work while lying under that rock.

The shoe’s on the other foot

I was taking my occasional scan of the outdoor forums when I spotted something interesting on the LFTO pages, a discussion on shoes versus boots. Nothing new there, but the the lack of animosity from the posters who held different viewpoints took me by surprise.
I remember the fights of the old days, simple fingers-in-ears “No no no” stuff. Why folk feel so challenged simply by seeing the possibility of another way I don’t know, if you need your choices validated by others you were never sure of them in the first place. One of our strengths as a race is the ability to learn and adapt, we’d still be swinging in the trees without that. Or chasing mammoths, although that would be pretty cool. Being proved wrong or being shown another, or maybe a better way is a positive thing. I love it.
For too long the “outdoor establishment”, has been a source of outdated misinformation (try and go lightweight at an ML assessment…) and it’s great to see that through the blogs and forums that real-life postive experience is getting out there and being used as a resource. And you know, it’s a bit like the old days. I’m reading a bunch of old books just now and these guys were making it up as they went along, sharing experiences and learning from each other. Magic.
It’s never about who’s right and who’s wrong, there’s no such thing. It’s about all the options being presented equally with accurate information and letting us as adults decide on which choice to make.
Mind you, when I met Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod in Glen Derry last week, I did think her gold strappy heels were taking the freedom of footwear just a little too far.

Alpkit Airo 120

Alpkit have launched a comprehensive new range of sleepmats, and just in for test is their lightweight option, the Airo 120.

I’ve been using fat mats for ages, but as I’m bivying any minute I was going back to a full length self-inflator until Alpkit stepped in with this wee bugger.
It’s got a ¾ length at 120cm, decent width at 51cm at the top end and the packed weight was only 3g more than the site’s average of 439g.
The nylon ripstop fabric used on both sides feels robust and it’s sealed at the edge with a nice wide seam. The valve is the standard chunky affair and the mat does assert itself quite well on it’s own when you open it up and leave it. A few lungfuls in there and it’s a surfboard.
It come in a nice wee ripstop bag with a webbing squasher on it to make it slightly smaller at one end…
It looks good, the nice chilli red colour endeared me to it immediately, and going over it, it just doesn’t feel “budget” at all.
I’ll have this on a hill in the next few days, so I”l have more to say in a wee while.

Most brands run training events, coaching trips for journos and shop staff and the like, Alpkit being Alpkit have a do that’s open to everyone, it’s on 1st July, and it’s in their own words below.

Our Big Shake Out event is based on the edge of Sheffield and is running alongside Cliffhanger. This event has never had camping facilities, so this year we are providing a campsite 15 mins walk from their site. It means that people can come and look around the event, but not waste a weekend as they will also have a convenient base from which to head out into the Peaks. We will be providing 3 nights camping, a Friday film night, Saturday live music, licensed bar, kitchen. 
Basically the idea is that if you wanted to spend the weekend in the peaks, then this would be a great chance for a party, do what you want during the day, go to Cliffhanger if you want and basically chill out with some like minded people. So this is Climbing, Biking, Walking, whatever takes your fancy. 

The next bandwagon will be leaving town in five minutes.

That will kill you, and if it doesn’t this certainly will” You do get immune to the constant health scare misery-go-round, sensible choices in life would seem to be the way forward through the sea of bullshit. It’s like driving, you can either look at the speedometer all the time and make sure you’re glued to 30 or you can watch the traffic and keep and eye out for suicidal pedestrians while flicking your eyes down to the speedo now and again.
The latest is that every material you can make a water bottle out of is deadly, deadly I say, except stainless steel. Okay, the BPA scare had some substance it seems, and polycarbonate is barred in this household, even down to old dented pre-August 2008 (when the lining went polyester) Sigg bottles which it turns out have trace amounts of BPA in the lining. Holly uses them on picnics, so I’m taking no chances.
The polyester-based materials now used in bottles from Nalgene and Camelbak is fine, still no taste from the material in your drink which is great, although I think they are more easily damaged. But the lingering aura around plastic has had an effect, Camelbak producing their 750ml Better Bottle is stainless steel for example.

So, reacting with the speed of a change in fickle public opinion, various brands have thrown their lot into the stainless steel bucket and you can now get pretty much any shape, colour or capacity of stainless steel bottle you want. The quality will vary dramatically, from the finishing down to the steel itself. Stainless steel does rust, and if it’s a cheapo mix their beating the bottles out of there’ll be tears when you look into your bottle and see brown speckles.
Sigg have a few models in Stainless, and they do it well as you’d expect, they also have them made in the far east like everyone else.
One common design you’ll see is the Klean Kanteen one below, there’s a few folk out there using the same mold, including the UK’s One Green Bottle.
I have to say they’re a lovely bit of kit, great shape, nice feel in the hand and that wide top is great for drinking and filling from a flowing water source in the field. The colours they have absolutely rock as well.
The bumff that comes with them is all chest beating bollocks though, “Our bottles will save both you and the planet”, my arse. It’s still a mass produced product being shipped around the world burning resources, their hygiene claims are slightly annoying as well. The top edge is rolled to make that nice rounded lip to drink from, but also creating a deep crease that could be a breeding ground for horror if it’s not actively kept clean. Sigg’s machined insert is better.

I am overjoyed that the ripples through the market have brought us some brilliant new gear, these Klean Kanteens are my new best pals, but all the regular names caught up immediately and all the materials or coatings are really fighting on a level playing field.
Don’t believe the hype, the adverts or the bumff. Do what I do, get your favourite colours and keep watching the traffic. 

Chocolate Fish Taranaki T-Shirt, Fly-Front Boxers and Bunnet

All that’s missing in that photie below is the grin…

Chocolate Fish’s Taranaki merino has been standard kit on a bunch of trips the last couple of years, and just in for test are some summer alternatives.
The blue Taranaki T-Shirt has been on the last couple of trips, it’s a cheery colour and the fabric is well proven to me already, a good all-conditions weight at 190gsm and a reliable performer. The cut is nice and long on the body, the neck is just right, neither a strangler nor a floppy horror where my chest hair would creep over the top. The sleeves are the same, not flared like an overpriced concert t-shirt or cling-film tight like a cycling jersey.
I’m already quite at home in it, it’s been worn and washed a few times and it’ll be a common sight on here over the summer.
The Taranaki Boxers are old friends, but the fly fronted version adds a new dimension of convenience to personal maintenance. The long legs are a winner, and the wide, soft waistband is sweaty-belly friendly. 
The bunnet is the Temata 260 Beanie, a thicker fabric than the Taranaki Beanie, but following the same four-panel construction with a double thickness ear band. The fit is a little looser as well, so I can get away with wearing this one casually as well as on the trail.

Updates as we go.

Montrail Rockridge and Sabino Trail Mid GTX

Just in for test, two new models from Montrail.

Above we have the Rockridge trail runners. The upper is layers of mesh overlaid by a stitched and welded synthetic web which gives the top of the shoe a nice flex. The heel and toe are both reinforced externally and stiffened internally.
The sole is typical Montrail, stiff from the heel to the forefoot flex point where it’s nicely compliant. The outsole has an open-spaced studded pattern, quite aggressive around the outside edge, and it looks like it should clear mud well. In the middle there’s a good bit of underfoot cushioning and protection.

Below are the Sabino Trail Mid GTX, which along with the regular Sabino Trail’s are the replacements for their well regarded Hardrock equivalents.
It’s a Gore-Tex lined hiking mid, the upper is mesh and synthetic leather, there’s good protection, but there is some stitching in what looks like vulnerable areas.
The stiff-ish sole has less midsole foam padding than the Rockridge and sits closer to the ground, the outsole is a familiar one, I’ve used it on a few shoes going back to the Namche of a few years ago, so I know it works on everything from sand to snow.

The feel is more classically Montrail than I was expecting from the new models, and it’s that feel which has made Montrail such a good choice for lightweight backpacking and walking. While many brands have gone minimal on their trail runners, Montrail have stayed chunky which is a good thing, it’s nice to have options.
One very important point is the sizing, they’ve changed they labelling so that the US sizes don’t correspond to the same UK/Eu sizes that they did last season.  The UK sizes are now coming up half a size smaller than last year, so I’d definitely try before you buy.

Anyway, more after they get dirty.

Haglöfs Vertigo Hi GT

I try to do first-looks when kit comes in or when it’s still clean, but the Haglöfs Vertigo Hi GT’s went straight on my feet and they’ve been out a couple of times now, so is this a double-take maybe?

I like mids, they don’t interfere with your ankle movement if they’re cut well around the ankle, but keep the crap out of your sock and keep your feet dry (mostly), and sometimes that’s a good thing at camp.
The Vertigo’s are at the sturdier end of the mid scale with a robust feeling nubuck leather upper and the rock-shoe style lacing that goes down to the toe for a secure fit, both of which pushes them into the scrambling area. That lacing gives an old-school look as well which I like, in fact the whole look is a nice mix of retro and new I think.
The Hypergrip sticky-rubber outsole is proving a good one on mixed terrain, with a stiff-ish flex and like most Haglöfs footwear I’ve tried, the midsole cushioning is thinner than many to give good feedback from the trail.
The uppers are scalloped to help easy movement and prevent a flex point developing in the leather, and I’m hoping this will help the longevity of the waterproof Gore-Tex lining at the same point, time will tell.
There’s a toe rand, heel protection, padded ankle cuff, pull tabs and of course inside there’s a Sole insole, which once broken-in or heat-moulded to shape (I’ve done both versions and it gives similar results) works very well indeed.

There were a little stiff out of the box, but after a few miles through the Kilpatricks they eased off and are ready for a longer trip up north. And, as conditions in the Cairngorms this week proved, mids are great for tramping through the summer snow.

Loki Madness

I’ve got a wee exclusive shot of a new bit of Loki wackiness that’s not in the shops until 2011.
It’s basically an update of their Levity Alpinist Shell, their top-end mountain jacket in eVent fabric. It has the usual built-in fleece face guard and fold-away mitts in the cuffs, but it also has a pocket in the back that the whole jacket folds into. Not unusual to have a fold-away pocket on a jacket, but this has wee shoulder straps (even with a chest strap) and a mesh pocket to make a rucksack of sorts.
I’ve seen similar left fieldism before, on Karrimor jackets designed for the Japanese market, where the big pocket in the back had inserts designed for it to curry luggage and spare clothes…
The jacket itself is more snow-sports than pure mountain use with the softer hood peak and low pocket placements. But the eVent fabric is the best out there, the cut is good and it’s very wearable too.
It’s great to see a brand that just don’t give a shit what everybody else are doing and just get on with their own jazz street dancing.

Rab Neutrino 200 Lightweight Down bag

It’s been I while since I had a Rab sleeping bag on test, the Quantum Top Bag AR. So, I’m pleased see that just in is the the new Neutrino 200, very much in the lightweight bracket and part of the all-new Rab sleeping bag line-up.

It’s a cheery looking bugger in that bright yellow tapered mummy shape, the yellow being made of the new matt finish Pertex Quantum, as is the inner. A nice fabric to sleep in, I appreciate that stuff at my time of life.
There’s a half-length, double-slider zip with anti-snag strip and Primaloft filled draught baffle, an inner shoulder baffle with adjustment, simple drawcorded hood with a velcro tab to keep the zip zipped and hanging loops on the foot. There’s a cotton stuff sack and a compression dry bag, the roll-down type.
The baffles are angled, which you can feel, and it does loft very well with it’s 800 fill 90/10 goose down. The foot box has that currently popular shape for toe pointing back-sleepers, which I do take advantage of at times, but more importantly, the foot area is fat with down.
The bag features “proportionally assigned differential cut” (read here), which along with all the other new design elements, really means that Rab have become über-geeks and have done the numbers to get all the bags as close to being perfect insulators as the numbers say they should be.
What will all this mean to the grinning man in a tent? We’ll see, the fit is fine for length, and I can stick my elbows out and waggle my feet.
More later.

Vango Ultralite Gas Stove

I’ve got a camp cooking piece in the current Trail where I had look at what was a little more usuable for making proper food at camp rather than just boiling water which is all I seem to do these days. I was just going to stick in one of my tried and trusted stoves when I remembered the new Vango trio of gas stoves and thought I’d have a look.

The Ultralite below is the best of the three models, and if you look closely you’ll recognise it’s sourced component parts (most stoves like this are a parts-shopping and branding excercise).
The burner is the same one that graces the Optimus Crux stoves, and the valve is the same one you’ll find on the excellent Brunton Flex and the Jetboil Flash.
The burner has proven itself to me time and time again and it is the best I’ve used, it’s the perfect shape and it’s very fuel efficient. The wide based and folding potstands are cracking too.
The same valve is working well for me elsewhere, this one feels smooth and the long control keeps your fingers away from the flame, although it doesn’t fold away as neatly as the more expensive stoves. And uncharacteristically, the price is something worth mentioning, it’s only £20.
It comes with a nice wee orange drawcorded bag, it’s a round-bottomed bag too (like a wee bottle pocket) so you can drop the stove in burner-first and sits in there snug, keeping the poststand folded. Weight too is a surprise, Vango have it at 72g on the website, I have this one coming in at 68g on the digital scales.

The construction looks good, I know the components should be good, I’ll just need to see what the durability is like.
This has really slipped in unnoticed and you know something, it’s a potential giant killer.
More later.