Keela Pinnacle Pro & ADS Baselayer and some thoughts on pricing too.

I never mention price in my reviews, I did try it once with a little fact box at the end of the review but I got bored of that after about ten minutes. It’s not that price is no object if I was looking around the shops, indeed these days it would be very much on my mind and empty wallet, but is it not just a little patronising for me to tell folk that something is too expensive for them or if they purchase this other thing they’ll be making do with cheap? What do you judge it by, your own income, the national average, some notional limit of perceived value?
The cost of something is very much a personal issue, kit is either good or not, and these days there’s not much if any in the “not” category in the real outdoor shops, so I like to say what I think of something and let anyone who might read it judge for themselves whether it’s right for their needs and budget.

In saying that, when I had to look at gear for folk who want to start hillwalking and have to make those first vital purchases I wanted to recommend without compromise, but also not price folk out of their initial enthusiasm.
Keela was a no-brainer for this, the Pinnacle Pr0 (UK medium dammit) is a real mountain jacket with a great hood and pockets, pit zips, good cut and it looks nice too for just under a ton.
It’s heavy at 776g and doesn’t have a cutting edge fabric, but the compromise has to come from somewhere and it’s not that big a deal, ten years ago I was happy to find a shell jacket around that weight and I see myself grinning in my old photies.
It’s a little old school in design and detailing, but totally functional, and as I know from a stack of these that instructors use, they’re durable too. It’s reasonably priced yes, but a cheap option? I think that’s a dangerous word to apply here or anywhere, so that decision would be up you, me and everyone else who wants to take it off the rack and look at it.

The ADS Long Sleeve Zip Top is another one to ponder, under £20 and at first glance no different from any other baselayer on the market. Are £40 baselayers twice as good? Are we paying more for better fabrics, more ethical manufacturing, more pre-production testing or just a flasher logo? All of the above to varying degrees maybe?
It’s a nice enough shirt, and I’ve got a short sleeve version on test which I’ll come back too.

I’m not singling out Keela here for any particular reason, it just kind of fitted in with some recent thoughts and conversations. Looking at my own favourites they span from cheapos to top end. Not all expensive is the best made or designed, not all cheap stuff is a bargain and not all of the middle ground is a safe bet, it’s a big market in there and some folk want to claim it at any cost.
Aye.

 

Montane Sabretooth Pants

Here’s frustration on two legs. I put together some gear pages for a supplement a couple of months back and some of what I got a hold of was what was quickly available, and that meant some UK size mediums which don’t fit me, not USA size mediums which do. Dammit.
I’m going to do a few quickies on some of it and first up are the Montane Sabretooth Pants.

These are probably long overdue, the closest they’ve done that I can recall were the Terra Ice Pants some years ago which were a proper winter pant and the Sabretooth’s do fill a gap in the range. I’ve used the Sabretooth Jacket many times which is a match for the pants in design and fabric and is a crap weather winner, so I’d expect the pants to be the same. That’s not a hunch, although I lay on the floor breathing in hard trying to pull these mediums on in vain, the design of the Sabretooths mostly tells us what we need to know.

The Polartec Powershield fabric is a good call, wind and water resistant and it’s proven tough  as well. It’s got enough stretch and along with a good cut, articulation and a diamond crotch, it should be a winner in these pants.
There’s plenty detailing, double stitching all over the place for a start. There’s a stretchy thigh pocket, two mesh hip pockets and a rear pocket which no one will ever use. The zips are all nicely contrasting red which matches the jacket (my original jacket version is all-black, harrumph) and there’s grabable zip puller on there.

The ankles cuffs have some options. There’s a zipped gusset to adjust for footwear size and easy on-off, poppers to cinch the ankle in and two ferrules for an underfoot cord as you’ll probably not want to wear gaiters with these, so you can still seal the snow out with some DIY bungee.

The waist has a single button closure and zip fly with nice big belt loops for your own belt. There’s a set of removeable braces, a feature I love in winter pants, the elastic is soft enough with plenty of length adjustment and a nice patch fillet thing (there’ll be a word for it, but I don’t know it) on your lower back which is a good idea as pulling braces on in a tent often leads to fankling, and this might help prevent that.

I didn’t weigh them, no one needs to know the weight of the trousers they’re wearing unless they’re a test pilot. Anyway, the look good to me, the inner soft face of the fabric is nice against the skin and the design looks to be right on the money. Damn my size largeness.

Still, all is not lost, it’ll be a very Montane winter on here, there’s plenty more coming up.

 

Haglöfs Goga 3S Down Sleeping Bag Review

They’re better know for their clothing, but equipment was where Haglöfs started off and remains a large part of what they do. I’ve used quite a few packs and tried a handful of their synthetic sleeping bags, but the down filled Goga 3S was something different. I’ve had the Goga on long term test, it’s been about and its been abused too. It’s been left damp and compressed, it’s had dinner on it, had close shaves with a lit stove and snowy boots, it’s been on mountain tops and borders camp sites. It’s had three people in it and I’ve definitely made my mind up on it.

The Goga 3S is described as a 3-season bag, the clue is in the name. This season stuff is a nonsense though, it’s the temperature ratings we want to look at and the Goga comes in at -6ºC Comfort and -13ºC Comfort Limit with a mentalist -33ºC Extreme Limit. All this says it’s an all-year bag to me, maybe not for the depths of winter on the summits, but I certainly wouldn’t be packing it away in a cupboard during autumn.

The construction is box-wall with a nicely shaped foot box that’s just pumped full of down. The baffles are big and fat, and as you can see in the photies, they loft like a bastard. I took the bag out of a stuff sack to take the photies and it plumped up in a few minutes. The Goga has been compressed to death many times and it keeps coming back to life, which would be quite reassuring if  I didn’t just convince myself as I was writing that last bit that I’ve been sleeping with a zombie all these months.
The down fill is 750 fill power of 90/10 goose down which means a little extra bulk compared to 800/900 fills when it’s packed up. In the supplied compression sack (116g) with the straps just tensioned but not compresed it’s 8″ by 12″, but I’ve had it much smaller in that Haglöfs sack and various others too. It’s certainly not a deal breaker when I’m looking at what sleeping bag to take on a trip.

The hood is quite neat, your head nestles into it, but I’m happy to say that the face opening is still nicely protective with an external baffle-come-flange which give you a porthole above your face when you zip the bag right up. This external baffle is adjustable by an external captured drawcord which is a double affair with stretchy bungee for the forehead half and tape for the chin half. Both pass through a bigger-sized cordlock which is fine to use in the dark when you’re confused because one of your iPod earphones has fallen out and you might by lying on it or maybe it’s caught in your Buff.
Inside there’s a down filled shoulder baffle with bungee adjustment, again with a bigger-sized captured cordlock. The zip side of this has a velcro fastener too, but its one of those things I never use, do you use these, they’ve all got them, are they any good? Answers on a postcard to: BBC TV Wood Lane London W12 8QT. Get that reference and you win a prize.
Still in the hood area, there’s a little pocket just above the shoulder baffle by the zip, no fasteners so it’s smooth for your face and handy for e+LITE, watch or iPod.

The main zip is a YKK full length and double ended affair with big pullers and an extra gripable tag on the main external zip pull. It’s well baffled behind so there’s no cold spots and there’s been an attempt at making the zip non-snag with some stiffer fabric directly behind it, but as with every bag out there you still have to take care and/or stick a finger down the back when sliding it open or shut to make sure it doesn’t catch. Get a left and right zipped bag, his and hers, or his and his, or hers and hers and you can zip them together too.

Another little feature is the two hang loops at the foot, useful for airing. Talking of dampness, the Goga knows the reality of life small tents where a wet flysheet inner is only an inch away and is prepared with a waterproofed head and foot. All the fabrics on the Goga are polyamide, nylon to you and me, which makes it tough, but the grades are very fine which makes the bag very soft indeed and helps with packing bulk. The fabric is DWR treated as well as waterproofed at both ends and the treatment seems to work okay, having dealt with numerous spills and clumps of snow. It dries fast when damp too, good for multi day trips and not having it hanging up around the house too long and upsetting the girls or having it made into a den or an undersea kingdom. It happens.

This pre-production sample 183cm left zip (you can get a 183cm right zip and a 200cm left zip) comes in at 1275g, which although getting heavy, compresses down very well so it’s been no hassle packing it for trips. Part of the weight comes from the bag’s shape, although mummy shaped, I think you could say this mummy is relaxed. Did you just get the same mental image as me, an Egyptian mummy, sitting back in a comfy chair with low lights, a bottle of red and a favourite DVD while the family is out? Ah, just me then.
A lot of technical sleeping bags are trimmed down: get those knees together and get the packsize down, which is fine, but here there’s room to move. You can wriggle around and get into a natural sleeping position, move your arms, even slip them down by your sides without flattening the baffles out. I’m not saying the Goga’s very roomy as such, that would mean cold spots, it’s just got an extra couple of inches in the width that makes it such a refreshing change from always sleeping with the fast and light ethos.
 
When I said three people had slept in it, I didn’t mean at the same time of course, the Goga’s not that relaxed. Joycee took it on our Beinn a’Ghlo trip after she tried out around a dozen down bags in the hall and declared it the comfiest. I was happy with that as it was her first overnighter for a long time and it was scheduled to be cold, in the end it stayed just above zero and Joycee was mighty cozy all night which was a WIN! The weight didn’t faze her either, she had the “worth it” answer at the ready if I questioned the size or weight of her rucksack. Can’t say farer than that.
Jimmy took it on his vintage motorbike club run to Dumfries where he spent a couple of nights in it warm and unaware of the frost inches from his nose. He’s 73 and would feel the cold, I had to threaten to break his hip to get it back. Oh be quiet, you know I didn’t really. Jimmy did get annoyed at the zip a couple of times and also had to learn the lesson that we all know off by heart, how not to slip off your slidey techy sleeping mat in the night.

I’ve had it on summits and at low level and in very cold conditions I thought it did well. The temperature rating is probably accurate, and there’s enough room inside to open out your insulated jacket as a booster when you’re slipping through double minus temperature figures and you’re starting to feel the chill. The footbox is excellent, it’s a block of warmth.
The shoulder baffle is a nice feature for me to have for a change and its something that does work, it catches that pesky hot air as it tries to slip away. The whole bag is designed to work and its designed for comfort. The bigger cut, the user-friendly features, the warmth and performance, materials and construction, it all adds up to a cracking sleeping bag. But, it does also add to the weight and you will find comparably rated sleeping bags that are smaller packing and lighter.
Sometimes its more than worth it though, to be able to stretch out a little, get those knees apart and relax. Also, and there’s no way of putting this tactfully, if you’re a barrel chested chubster and struggle with the fit of a lot of technical bags, this is worth a look.

An ordinary day.

It started will something usual for us, making something from nothing, or at least making something from the unexpected. Joycee’s been running a kids workshop in the village hall this week and the wee yins have made a spooky pirate world for the Halloween party next week.
Yesterday started slow so Jimmy started putting the ship together, but we had some volunteers and today the hall was full of happy and industrous hands and smiling faces. All the cardboard is outdoor related, the treasure chest has a huge Montane logo on the back. Genius.
Kids love this stuff, all they need is the adults to get off their arses to bring them along.

I then had a lost afternoon of food and banter and planning in town before sitting in more heavy rain and slow moving traffic on the way home. It’s not bad weather and/or roadworks that causes traffic chaos, its stupid bastards in cars. Selfish and aggressive, two differing approaches that guarantee a standstill. Folk in the queue that stick to the bumper in front and queue jumpers racing towards the lines of cones. Piss off both of you. If we all did the same speed and left room in front two lanes of traffic would merge into one and no one would have to slow down much at all. I wish it was all like a big Scalextric track with somebody working the controls, Jesus or whoever, then I could catch up on my correspondence on the journey instead of looking out the window and shaking my head at one dick after another.

After dinner at Granny and Grandpa’s we had to go shopping. Considering how much outdoor gear we have, none of us had a waterproof, so the only place we saw that we could get in and stay dry was McDonalds. Bread and milk? Cuppas and muffin will do.
It’s wet, there’s flooding, but it’s kinda nice all the same. The day’s not done either.

Dunglass Castle and Site Visit

Once upon a time in the early 2oth century, the British Mexican Petroleum Co Ltd filled in some of the River Clyde near Dunglass Castle and started a whole new story for the area.
The oil terminal grew and eventually became an installation of the more familiar Esso brand.
History abounds within its perimeter, the 15th century Dunglass Castle stood here until robbed of much of its stone for a quay repair 250 years ago, but luckily some of its walls still stand to tell a tale. There is a more complete house on the site, which although building first took place there in to 1590, it’s much altered and is likely to be mostly less than 200 years old. The interior was once a showcase for renowned designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh but all of his work has long been removed and some can be seen on display in Edinburgh.

A dookit stands as part of the perimeter wall and is remarkably complete and seems to be wind and watertight. Towering above it is the Henry Bell Monument, a memorial to a pioneer of the steamship transport and builder of Clyde steamer The Comet.
The oil terminal made its own mark on history too. The SS Ohio which carried vital kerosene and diesel to siege-bound Malta in 1942 took her cargo on board here before her legendary final voyage where she scraped, broken-backed, slowly sinking and lashed between other vessels into harbour to deliver her cargo after a pounding by Axis weapons en route. As the last drop of cargo was pumped ashore the Ohio hit the bottom of the harbour.

Poets and writers have passed through here, artists and statesman, Cromwell pulled his horse up for a while. It’s a neglected history though, private ownership of the site and council indifference to the heritage has let it slip into a poor condition. All that is there is savable, but it won’t be that way forever.
Esso are cleaning the site, the contamination of 100 years of oil has left its mark and they are on a multi year action plan to make the site available for something. As part of the community engagement process the Bowling and Milton Community Council had access to the site and were shown around by staff and given free access to all the areas we really wanted to see. Esso staff were pleasant enough, but guarded with answers as you’d expect, but fair play to them for taking us round and neither rushing nor patronising us.

I was there as a hanger on, Joycee’s the official one, but it was great to see it all again. I’d been in there a few times in the 70’s and 80’s (and more recently under the cover of dusk on my bike) and noticed a big change. All the oil infrastructure is gone except the shoreline piers which will remain as they’re bird migration stop-offs now and nature is taking it all back, including the house and castle.
The site has a future, work is being done, but we don’t know where it’s going to go.

Next time you slow down for the Dunglass Roundabout on the A82, cast your eyes to the river, you’ll see the monument and some of the other shapes, a little bit of hidden history.

Dunglass Castle. The wall stands high, and right through those windows is the River Clyde.

The Dookit

The dookits for the doos inside The Dookit.

Henry Bell Monument

Time takes its toll on even the most recent additions to the infrastructure.

I Hear Voices

It was Chewy’s fault, I was looking for a CD after listening to some sound samples on iTunes. Holly had Disnae on the telly, Joycee was faffing around, but dammit there was something else going on.
I’m going “Can you hear that?” and getting very limited response. So I shushed everyone, paused the DVD (not popular) and commanded the troops to listen. They could here nothing.
There was voices, American voices, coming from the laptop. I peered into the webcam, no one there, I put my ear to the keyboard and it spoke. “Listen! There’s somebody there!
Joycee wandered off, but Holly was now interested and came over to see. She listened and looked at me like I was daft. “Wait… Listen again…” I got the wide eyes and open mouth –  “There’s somone in the computer!”
Thank you.

Joycee wandered in with earphones “Here, you can keep the voices in your head to yourself now”. Sympathy as you slip into madness is a beautiful thing.
I plugged in and listened with the volume right up. Voices, music, all old, like a I was scanning through a radio from the past catching moments of this station and that. Some chunks were longer and soon I began to recognise some of it. Is this the DVD commentary from Dirty Dancing? I checked my disc tray – empty. A disc that’s never been in this laptop to my knowledge anyway.
I had a lot of windows open, I checked them all. iTunes had Coheed and Cambria on screen, nothing playing, I closed it. Easy listening jazz poured lazily into my earphones.
I closed my photies folders, my documents and was left with two internet tabs. One was here, have I been hacked again? I closed it, an Amercian actress continued to describe a director I’d never heard of and can’t remember now.
Only Amazon was left with The Hidden Hand’s CD’s listed on screen. I shut the tab. Silence. The voices had left me.

It was Amazon! It was Amazon!  The girls vaguely acknowledged me and went about their business. I was slipping into madness and apparently the bigger danger was Belle not wanting to dine with The Beast.

I drank half my cuppa and opened Amazon again with one eye closed and my face away from the screen. Nothing. I relaxed, but I did get to wondering. Was it an odd glitch? Did I accidentally tune into the sample library or is it something more sinister? Are amazon trying to subliminally advertise or programme to you to purchase more stuff? I could believe that.
The bastards didn’t catch me though, I added some stuff to my watch list and shut the shop again. HMV store prices are matching Amazon these days, I’ll nip in during the week, Amazon can host my wants list at their expense all the want for trying to brainwash me.

Or is that what they want me to think?

Over to you Cyco Mico…
I hear voices when I’m all alone, Hearing voices but there’s nobody home, Hear the voices could it be they’re calling out to me? Hearing voices I look, why can’t I see? I hear voices, can’t stop those voices…

Two Million

The playground’s been painted, and not just with road markings for traffic training the kids on their bikes either. There’s games courts marked out, four peevers which was great to see and colourful stars here and there to mark out the pitch for rounders and to act as safe spots for games of chases.
This was my playground in the 70’s and although the bike sheds are gone and the fence is extended so you can’t wave to the train drivers a few feet away on the tracks it’s the same oddly shaped crazy fun field it always was.

I’m kinda glad the ash park is now the car park though, falling on that stuff, when it wasn’t flooded, while pretending to play football (I hate football to play or watch or hear about, always have, always will) was emotional to say the least. As was the big chunk I got in my forehead when my “pal” chucked a lump at me from across the other side of the semi permanent flood. You remember that stuff, first time I’d seen that much blood.

It’s funny that the playground drinks fountains are away now, we used them all the time, summer and winter. Hygiene concerns, maintenance costs, Killjoy was here? Whatever, the water-at-work replacements inside with their multiple plastic components are much better I’m sure. <note to self – insert smiley for sarcasm there when it becomes available>
Still, great to see the kids being encouraged to be active and outdoors so much, Holly’s school is brilliant with that stuff, they have Forest Schools areas for the nursery and the Primary kids, and we’re working on an orchard and an outdoor classroom.
Aye, they get a lot of homework and the lunch admin is questionable, but it’s alright in there.

Whatever happened to Trevor D Gamble?

It was dark and the rain had been waiting all day for it to arrive to complete a blanket of misery over the town.
Barbara stood alone, also waiting, and waiting.
There was a sudden bustle, people leaving across the road, voices, car doors and an engine which faded as the building’s exit security light switched itself back off. Barbara was beyond the lights sensor and she’d also gone unnoticed from across the road. But she wasn’t unnoticed on her side of the road, bathed as she had been, however briefly and dimly, by the unexpected light.
Heads turned, dark eyes were fixed in her direction and legs now made steps towards her. In moments they were on her, one grabbed her tail, one ran to her side looking for vulnerability, Barbara could do nothing, she had no arms to fight back, no legs to run, she did the only thing she could and tried to squeeze back into her shell.

Her one stroke of luck was a lone stranger, a stranger whose poor time keeping put him in this exact spot at that moment. He couldn’t believe it at first, he bent down, peered through the darkness and straightened up in shock. He ran. No Barbara thought, no…
He opened the car door and at the flick of a switch the scene was made stark with Ford’s finest halogens. The light strobed as the stranger ran back to Barbara through the twin white beams. The attackers seemed unfazed, a mass of legs and armour, Barbara shut her eyes waiting for the end but then felt the strong grip on her shell as the stranger lifted her clear, shaking her gently and blowing through pursed lips until there were no legs grasping at her shell or pressing into her sides.
She couldn’t bear to look, and even when the stranger placed her down far away and safe she hid her eyes until the twin lights pulled away and with a throaty roar disappeared forever.

The stranger drove, music playing unnoticed as the rain was pushed from side to side on the curved glass in front of him.
“Where the hell did Holly get the name of Barbara for a snail?”
“Now every snail we see is Barbabra, two snails are Barbara and her baby sister…”
He smiled at that, the girl had an explanation for everything, any new element was straight into whatever story she was playing. A curve-ball and a daydreamer right enough.
“Still…” He sucked at his bottom lip, realising there was a beard under there needing trimming “…beasties attacking a snail? Do they do that?” he’d google it when he got home.

Google was no bloody help at all.

Ugly Duckling

Holly was at one of her things. Kids seem to have very busy lives, groups for this and that, parties here and there and consequently lots of hour-long waits which are never long enough to do something or even go home and have a cuppa, it’s parent taxi limbo world. A netherworld filled with disgruntled mothers and fathers, many of whom can’t park their cars properly or smile at their children let alone other people.
We decided to go for a wander rather than endlessly orbit the dashboard clock and ended up on the canal towpath where it was getting dim but the more golden of trees still managed to glow a little. On the way back a family of swans sailed towards us which was as much a photie moment as you could want in the circumstances. I crouched down, pointed and waited as they silently drifted towards me.
Click
Then as a unit, a military unit, a militant military unit ready for a coup attempt, they all turned on me, hissing and beating the water with their webbed claws. Yes, claws.
I reversed while still crouched as Joycee went Ooooohhhhh Peteseeee and then skipped away slipping the camera back into my pocket.
I dunno if was my purple baseball boots or what, but it was definitely uncalled for. I’ll be ready for them next time, a swan can break your arm you know.

School Run

 

I missed the Aurora Borealis, but somehow the little detour over the Erskine Bridge on this morning’s school run made up for it. Brocken Spectre with a side of Inversion for breakfast? Yes please.
Frost topping? Oh, alright then.

Hartbeat

Drew Struzan is a genius. Look above and below and you may or may not recognise the images from Alice Cooper’s (who I’ll be seeing shortly if the bloody ticket actually arrives…)Welcome to my Nightmare and Black Sabbath’s front and back images from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
Struzan did these as a staff artist at Pacific Eye and Ear (google them along with Hipgnosis for unending joy) back in the early 70’s and created icons that endure, you can still buy t-shirts with Alice and the evil man’s death bed scene below (the good man’s death bed scene just isn’t metal enough for a t-shirt).
Struzan also did all the Indiana Jones movie posters as well as a bunch of other stuff including Star Wars, a lovely style he’s got.

Album covers used to be something you could look at for the 39 minutes the album lasted, lose yourself in the story, hoover up the detail and draw a version of it on your school jotters. It made the album more that it ever would have been otherwise. Cramming a CD to the brim with songs because it’s expected just isn’t the same, sometimes less is more.

I’m glad these images still attract and fascinate new eyes and old, art is more important than people realise. As soon as folk had time to rest inbetween chasing mammoths, they drew them on the cave walls. Art is in our DNA, and as much as I think a lot of what is lauded today in the art establishment is actually meritless pish, it still took creativety to realise it, regardless of whether the motivation was to make something to delight or dismay or just to see what they could get away with while trying to keep a straight face.

Times are hard, money is hard to catch even with a big net, but let’s not lose what lifts us out of mere existence: the capacity to create and enjoy the abstract, the esoteric and the irrelevant.

Dean V-Coustic

A Flying V acoustic. Oh yes.

I’ve been looking for one of these for ages, new they’re both rare and overpriced for what is essentially a pretty rubbish Made in China guitar. On ebay, while more reasonable, they tend to be posted out in cardboard boxes which is never good for a vulnerable acoustic guitar, however cheaply made.
However, this one appeared on Gumtree and was just a few miles down the road. For a sum less than the cost of a tank of diesel poured reluctantly into the hearse, it was mine in what was probably a very shady looking car park exchange. 

I was already pleased, but soon I was more pleased when it turned out the thing was actually very playable with a little work. New strings, some lemon oil on the bone-dry fretboard, a small tweak of the truss rod and 2mm off the bridge saddle and I haven’t put it down in days.
It’s an electro-acoustic, meant for easy live use I’d imagine, with it’s shallow body which gives it a tight, almost mandolin-esque tone which I actually really like. Plugged in, it sounds surprisingly good with the onboard EQ having enough sweep in its sliders to give you a deep big-box dreanought facsimile and an ear tearing modern country trebly sprrannggg if you so desire. 
I’ve been playing tunes from the Brave soundtrack on it, Holly runs away shouting Daaaaadd!

It’s light, it makes me smile, it’s a flying V. Alright!

Rob Roy Way. In a Day

I’m a Macfarlane and glad of it, but in a twist of fate given the bloody history of the two clans, I’m also half MacGregor. So, I’m claiming both sides of Loch Lomond as home and a special interest in a wee enquiry that came in, doing some photies of the Rob Roy Way.
It’s a fine route as links west to east in a far more interesting way than the Great Glen Way. You pass through wonderful country and link some equally lovely little towns including Killin, Kenmore and Aberfeldy before arriving at Pitlochry. There’s plenty of water on the route, and on Saturday mostly calm and plenty of history, ancient and more recent. You pass standing stones and other neolithic marvels and walk many parts of the old railway including the Glen Ogle Viaduct which is worth a visit by itself. Glen Ogle is a cracking place, great climbing but often bypassed by walkers.

It was a fun day, Holly stayed with Granny and me and Joycee darted about chasing the sunshine, of which there was plenty. Snow was seen too. What joy.

We some some informally camping neds by Loch Tay complete with carry out, rubbish, smoke and barking dogs. They should throw a net over these bastards. There were plenty of others enjoying the day, including some friends on nearby hills and on nearby rivers, and the route was alive all day. It really was cheering to see so many folks out on what might be seen as a backwater of sorts from a hillwalking perspective, but there’s so much more to Scotland than the mountains, the bits inbetween are every bit as good and praise be for folk that realise this.

The Colin McCrae rally was on and the Enchanted Forest season had just started so Pitlochry was jumping. The shops were all opening late, the pavements were busy and folks were having a good time by the looks of it. Caught up with the guys at Escape Route, winter is in boxes, just waiting to be freed, but more importantly, their coffee is a joy as always.
We had dinner at a place with great food and lousy service, better than vice versa and wandered back down the street in what felt like a seaside atmosphere. Paused for cuppas-to-go and cake (in a bag) and wandered back to the car for an easy descent home on the A9.

It’s nice to be a tourist.

Montane v Osprey v Terra Nova

There’s been a few constants over the past few years, kit that I use beyond review distance because it just fits me better or it does just what I want or need. Rucksacks fit this category very well, I’ve have plenty in for test which have been fine, but I pretty soon go back my favoured one or two.
With that in mind I was pleased to see some packs which looked like they could be friends, so it’s away with the familiar and in with the new.
45 litres is a sweet spot for my overnight pack, usually not too heavy with plenty of space for warmer months and with careful packing you can get winter overnight kit in along with a your hardware and the usual extras. The three packs I’ve got in for test are around this capacity, so size wise the three of them are definitely backpacking packs. Apart from that loose designation there’s almost nothing to tie them together, every feature is different, fabrics are from one extreme to to another and the design ethos of each is from a different start point.
Here’s a quick look at what I’ll be using over the autumn and winter, there’ll be updates and proper close-ups later.

Montane Grand Tour 55

This is a pre-production version of next year’s model and shows that Montane got up to speed on their pack range pretty damned quick. It feels light in the hand, it has all the accessible storage you’ll need, the stiffened back system will take a load, the hip belt is padded and shaped and the detailing brings a mix of old ideas and new with input from backpacking experience as well as mountaineering.
I can see the effort and thought that’s gone into the Grand Tour.

Osprey Talon 44

I’m pleased to finally have one of these in for test as it’s long been talked about and now I can see why. It fits me well and is feature-rich, it even has a zip-away bottom section which I love for camping as you can drop the tent out in the rain or snow and keep the rest of your kit dry. Good storage, pretty good weight and a spot-on year-round capacity at 44L. The mesh air-gap back system might make a difference and that wire frame it has reminds me of an external frame pack which is nice.

Terra Nova Quasar 55

The pre-production Quasar 55 is both the lightest and has the biggest main compartment capacity of the three packs and looks more like a specialist cottage industry pack that a big brand product as it’s been trimmed to the bare essentials enthusiast-style. It’s proudly lightweight and minimalist but still fully functional with wand pockets, proper harness, internal back support and plenty of attachment points. The fabrics are sci-fi but the feel is retro, at its heart its a simple load carrier.

I’ve used the Quasar, packed with overnight gear including 4 litres of water for the bivy a couple of weeks ago and it was fine, even with the minimalist hipbelt. The other two are in line and will be out soon, I’ve got places to go imminently.
Convention and expectation probably points in the direction of an obvious winner here, but I’m not so sure. Plenty more to come.