Resitting my (gear)Test, starting with Tilley, Obōz and Wigwam

When talking to some outdoor pr folk over the past couple of weeks, “I knew this would happen” was the first comment I got, “Glad to see you’re doing your own thing again” was the next. I guess gear reviews are back.

So out goes compromise, censorship, and having to pick a winner from a group of almost identical items all of which are “okay” unless one accidentally happens to fit you perfectly which elevates it to “good”.
In comes enthusiasm for random items which I kinda like the look of, have interest in, look unusual or get flagged up and surprise me. There won’t be as much stuff as there used to be, I want to enjoy it and I want to maximise test time too. I’m currently in the hills three or four days a week one way or another, I’m feeling good about doing it again.

This is all partly fueled by my 20 year old gear challenge, I can’t help but get drawn into it all. The mountain man in me loves it as much as the engineer does.
However my perspective has changed, I’m not seeing that much that really excites me. The mountain brands clothing is all largely interchangeable, change the logos around and no one will notice. I really miss individuality and character.
I’d actually be quite happy to see the old gear I’ve looked out be plundered for ideas, a lot of the thinking back in the day was good and I think aesthetic trends are neutering the designers performance ambitions in some cases. It’s all about sales to the casual bystander.

But there is indeed joy, I have seen it and I am now using it too. Tilley have sent in a LTM6 for test which will replace my assortment of army surplus bush hats this summer. It’s expensive, is it good?
On my feet are Obōz Sawtooth Low’s, a brand that had completely passed me by and which have made an impression on my feet after a few days wear. What impression are they doing? We’ll come back to that.
A familiar name is scrunched in the shoes with some Wigwam Makua Valley Pro Socks. Is that design showing cooling jungle palm leaves or the white feathers of shame?

More on the way, how it will cope being compared with gear 20 years older is a question I’ll enjoy trying to answer too.

 

2001: A Lunch Odyssey

In times past I used to drop everything and run, the weather would stick a pin in the map and and I would go straight there, grab it and use it as a tent peg while marveling at the sunset and running around with a tripod and a camera on a 30 second exposure setting.
Times changed, all that stopped and I dropped out of virtual, digital and actual sight because the last 18 months or so I’ve had a more important role, that of single parent (nobody’s dead, still tragic etc) to the awesome girl seen in this post here and all through the ten years worth of pages behind it.
It was an easy adjustment to make, I never even thought about it, randomly disappearing for a few days here and there just wasn’t an option. There was never any frustration, I had no pressure to go anyway after Walkhighlands pulled the plug on the reviews and the desire just wasn’t there, Holly needed me close to home and I wanted to be there.

What we never stopped doing was going into the hills together for a wee gad about, every chance we got we were up the A82, exploring, having lunch and arguing about what music to listen to in the truck.
We’re still doing that, but we both have been finding more energy and enthusiasm the past few months. Holly’s been asking to go, if I say I’m thinking about a trip she’s asking to come along and off we go, whatever the weather. And now of course we’re hitting the trails.
Holly’s been approaching it on her own terms, sorting her kit out, packing a rucksack and then standing at the door telling me to hurry up. She’s even taken over the gear testing, more of which imminently.

So when the plan for taking advantage of yesterday’s stunning weather changed from a solo camp to me and the girl heading north as a team there was nothing but grins from either of us.

The sun did indeed beat down, the cool breeze above the trees was a life saver. Nice to be back in trail shoes and a trekking shirt too.

The returnees from Beinn Laoigh all looked hot and bothered, there were some skis in evidence, strapped to the sides of packs, some mad bastards had been screaming down the coire. Looked awesome from Cononish and I bet it was nice and cool in the shadow of the summit.
A fine hill, I should go back, been a wee while.

We had walked by the riverside on the way in and decided to find our way back as the beaches looked awfy inviting for wasting some time on.

We found a perfect spot where the river was broken by some rocks and then thrown down a little waterfall. We had the last of our snacks and dipped hot feet into the heart-stoppingly cold water, snowmelt straight from Coire Gaothach.
A little rest soon stretched out to an hour and more, it’s amazing how much fun you can have just skipping around rocks in bare feet.

We didn’t want to leave, so we didn’t. My pack made a convincing pillow, which Holly found amusing and caught me rotten with the camera.
The giggling stirred me from my doze, I removed the hat and my freshly dazzled eyes looked straight up at a Golden Eagle, lazily circling high above.
Quick, gimme the camera!
No dad, you’re not deleting it… (runs across the rocks)
But.. Look… There’s an eagle… it’s… quick…
Huh?

Well, the moon was still there by the time we sorted it out. Holly did get to see it too luckily.
Of course the way memory works, in a year or two the sighting will have developed into a life or death struggle between the bird, the angry badger in its talons and us watching helplessly as we cling onto the icy rocks at the edge of a 100m waterfall as our canoe shatters on the boulders at the bottom.

The West Highland Way was full of folk, and the hillwalker car parks were full and the A82 is now much better between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, smooth, cheap tarmac now thinly carpets the road surface. It’ll be down to the canvas again by winter. Yay.

What a brilliant day.

2001? That’s how much lunch was. Oof.

 

Only one apple pie

“I’ll come too”, and with that a dash uphill because a patch of blue sky had appeared became a family affair.

The blue patch proved elusive in location and inconsistent in transparency, which is to say it clouded over a wee bit. So no fancy sunset, but it was all still very pretty if a little windy.
Bats, birds, deer, a falcon and a slug rolled up like a doughnut. It was like being on safari.

The primrose were blossoming in force and we took some unusual route choices to avoid doubling back. Steep slippy slopes brought no panic or gripping onto dad’s arm and the joy of watching Holly skip from mossy boulder to mossy boulder on the handful of burn crossings made me swell with pride. She’s got it, she’s got the head and the feet linked up.

Roky Erickson

I knew it was going to rain, it was just a question of when, so I was thinking quick even if I couldn’t actually do quick the justice it deserved.
I jumped over the wall and crossed the field, heading for the giant’s staircase, the broken buttress at the southern end of the Lang Craigs that hides a steep, fun and quick way to get a bit of height.
I was panting a wee bit, I’m out and about a lot just now, but bloody hell it’s a tough road back to fitness.

Grey, a bit misty and pretty windy. No view to speak of, but that just focuses the eyes on the nearby. The nearby looked quite interesting so I thought I’d get my camera out and point it in the interesting direction.
The little rectangle flashed red, dammit I’ll change the battery. The little rectangle flashed red again. Oh, come on idiot. The third battery brought with it no little red triangle, just a message – NO BATTERY POWER REMAINS. Then the lens retracted.

My Sony somethingorother phone’s camera is rubbish in low light, but it went in my chest pocket anyway and I went back to looking around me and stepping in every puddle, mudbath and burn to try and break these new Bridgedale waterproof socks. It’s nice to have a purpose.
The edge of the crags has a very nice symmetry to it from certain points, like big saw teeth. Looking at that kept me from looking at the recently reprieved  Forestry Commission Scotland’s utter mess and destruction of their part of the Kilpatricks. I avoid the ascent from Old Kilpatrick now, it’s even worse there and it’s a total disgrace what they’ve done at the top of the track. I still get angry thinking about it never mind walking or biking through it.

I decided on Doughnot Hill and to keep to a circular route I took to the forest roads. We used to run and ride the singletrack here, now log piles line the wide gravel truck highway. It’s depressing. I know it’s good that the plantations are coming out and “real trees” are going in, but it’s still hideous.

The thick carpet of moss that clung to the soft curves of the previously forgotten and neglected plateau has been torn up and replaced by a thatch of dead, bleached twigs, cast away like empty shell casings from the rapid fire of the machine saw ripping up the trees.

I escaped to the dammed edge of the black Linn Reservoir where a pair of taiga bean geese honked towards me from the gloom and landed on the grassy path running along the dam. They waddled slowly towards the water and sailed off either unworried by my presence or oblivious despite my large bright orangeyness.
It’s an easy curve uphill to the trig pillar on Doughnot. I usually skirt just below the little summit dome while following the deer fence so I hadn’t been here in a wee while and it was, unexpectedly, a little strange coming back. There’s ghosts here.
You won’t see them though, they’re my ghosts.
I was alone as the wind picked up and the rain started to ping off my hood, but I was surrounded too. There were laughs and shouts, banter and mock surprise, a stove being lit and the slap of a chain on an alloy stay, there was even a kiss followed by a smile with a glow as golden as the sunset that followed it.

I sat on a rock and watched the murk flop off the lip of the crags and then close in around me as the ghosts faded into silence and I started on a gluten-free oat and chocolate protein bar. I think it only tasted so nice because everything else was now grey.
I looked back at the trig pillar before I left. I love this spot, I always have. A few rocks, some tufts of grass and a worn concrete block with time spent in the company of friends woven though all of it.

I might be getting to be a sentimental old fool, but I’ll tell you something, despite all my efforts over that day, my feet were dry when I got home. I like these socks.

Loch Lomond Faerie Trail

We parked at Luss, had our lunch on the bench and were wandering up the track towards Beinn Dubh when we noticed lots of kids and parents heading up towards the old quarry. There were booklets in hands, pink wings strapped onto little shoulders and much shouting from the woods. The signs on the trees had the answer “Faerie Trail this way…”. Holly nearly exploded with excitement.

I asked the next family was saw what we were supposed to do, here they said take one of our books, and here’s a pencil too. Thanks you very much we said. Wasn’t til later we found out you have to pay for the book and pencil. In the unlikely event that nice family sees this, properly thank you.

There’s clues, there’s a trail, The Loch Lomond Faerie Trail, and it takes you from Luss to the quarry and down along the river back to Luss near the church.
All along there are hidden fairy doors, houses in the trees, signs and boards with clues, stories and rhymes. Just be wary of the troll…
Everyone we saw was enjoying it, everyone was chatting, kids were laughing and playing with new friends and the woods were full of people and voices.

It’s a lot of fun, it’s well put together with lovely work on the installations and the distance is enough to make it a real activity rather than a distraction. The route I know well anyway and the views it brings are fantastic, from the Luss hills through the birch canopy to Ben Lomond looming over the village as you near the end.
We both had a ball.

When I read up on it back at home I saw some varied opinions. One said that the trail had ruined a wild area and lovely walk. I think the quarry we’re all still walking through probably ruined that little corner of wilderness first, time healed that, it would hope it will heal this too one day.
This lovely little corner has been changed though, not just by the faerie world that’s been added to the trees. Fences and muddy trails have replaced the mossy carpet and rocky drops to the river. It’s going to take a lot of maintenance to keep some parts of the trail usuable.
There’s laughing kids though, laughing kids covered in mud and families together having fun in the woods. You can’t knock that.
Me, my extra hope is that it chases away the tree-cutting, log burning, plastic bottle dropping neds that usually congregate there. We’ll see.

Take the kids, even if you think they’re too big for it. Magic fun.

Top tip? Don’t forget #5.

Memorised

I remember often saying that the main reason for blogging was leaving my future self a record of what I had done. I meant it when I said it, but I also believe there was as much optimism in that thought at the time as there was certainty.
Ten and a bit years on, it turns out that not only was I right, it was the single best reason for having this place.

Searching on google for some of the retro stuff I’ve been doing lately amusingly and slightly frustratingly often gives me links or images bringing me straight back here.
This of course means that no one is interested in old gear except me which is absolutely fine. Mountain Range and North Cape have slipped out of the outdoor enthusiast’s consciousness and off the edge of the search engine radar. Even the recent and short lived UK manufacturing venture of True Mountain are almost invisible now. Happy to planting a little flag for some of this.

But. If I click on these links leading back here it doesn’t just take me to a page, it takes me to a point in time in my own life. I’ve never looked back like this until now. Waves of joy and melancholy come and go as I scroll and click through so many forgotten or distant moments, thoughts, adventures and of cource, faces too.

The voice on the pages is familiar, the grinning face scattered through the words a little less so. I can see a life that has changed so very much for the bearded bloke, for a start there’s a daughter that has grown from a bundle of gurgling cuteness to a surprisingly tall and ever so slightly gothy best friend.
That year out doesn’t need filled in though, however wide it looks in the From More Before search widget, the gap itself marks it’s own place in my timeline.

I took my links widget down when I tidied the front page when I started posting again. So many dead links or blogs not updated for years, people have drifted away to other things, lost interest or energy.
I hope they don’t forget about it altogether.

That’s enough thinking for one day I suppose. It took me a little over ten years to do it, but I think I finally know what blogging is all about. For me anyway.

Ten years? Ten years ago this week, my feet were cooling down from this nonsense. Memories indeed.

You go first!

No getting away anywhere for me this easter, however the Lang Craigs have seen me what feels like every other day. Probably because it has been every other day.
Been solo, been with friends, been in the rain, went in the surprise snow of last week too and then made it up there last night with Holly under quickly fading clear blue skies.

We had as much fun as always and I got her into my current retro gear thing by strapping an ancient Jack Wolfskin bumbag on her. Turns out she really likes it and I’m not getting it back.

The tracks higher up are currently a mudbath, red sticky mud that clings to you like a strip of 2″ velcro and we both got it bad. But back down, close to the truck a double dare saw us both jump into a burn to try and wash it off.
Turns out my 20 year old boots are way more waterproof that Holly’s new ones. The screams as the ice cold water hit her feet made me laugh so hard I’m starting to crack up again thinking about it 24 hours later.

Screaming and laughing in turns we ran back to the truck and rattled home for tea, toast and dry feet.
Magic.

20YOC Gear: Head, Hands & Feet. Lowe Alpine, Karrimor, Mountain Range, Terra Firma (I think…).

Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap

As unglamourous as it is practical as it is copied.
The Mountain Cap is warm, often too warm for me, waterproof, except that rain runs down the back of your neck and you have to take it off and pull your hood up.
Well, I suppose I’m being a bit harsh there. It was a great winter cap for cold and blowy days and it certainly cushioned my head from the weight of my Petzl Zoom on long night time descents and walks-out.

The designers spent some time thinking it out. There’s a rear cinch, a wired peak that clips up and attachment for a chin strap which you don’t need as I always found the shaping was so good it just stuck to my head in the wind anyway.

It’s light enough and stuffs away quite readily, it feels soft to wear too, despite the waterproof Triple Point taped-seam shell outer.

I’ve had a few copies from other manufacturers, none of them as well engineered as this, none quite as complete. Half arsed bootlegs from bigger brands. Shame on them.
It’s worn and a bit dogeared but it’ll do just fine. A warm napper at camp for sure.

Not sure of the age, mid 90’s again I think, the Lowe Alpine logo is purple and silver which makes it a bit older maybe. Pretty sure the orange version on the label below became standard at some point before 2000.

And also on that label? Made in Ireland.

Aye.

Karrimor Alpine Headband

I never did like wearing this. The ear warmer headband was a good idea before buffs were stuffed into every pocket and designs varied wildly from woolly skiers accessories to this Karrimor version which laid railway tracks into my forehead with that double lycra trim. The lycra bands would creep towards each other too , eventually making it look like I had a mini beginner swimmer’s flotation ring round my head. The wind also goes straight through that well-bobbled (hmm, I must have worn it then…) Polartec 200.
But, it’s the only one I can find, plus it’s got the awesome old Karrimor Elite logo. It’ll be fine.

Karrimor Powerstretch Balaclava

I went from a wool balaclava with peak and a pompom to this. It’s got a decent shape to it, I can have my chin out or have my nose covered and the top can sit at my eyebrows or be pulled pretty far back for a bit of cooling.

The fabric is an early Powerstretch variant, ‘Series 200’ is says on the label below. It also says 100% polyester but the old catalogue says there’s a nylon face on the fabric which sounds right, so I’m going with that. The label might just be randomly sewn on at the factory because it says Polartec on it.
Not the stretchiest maybe, but the fabric feels nice enough and the serged seams around the face aperture and neck don’t upset my skin or mood.

I think I reviewed a balaclava or two a few years ago and that would be the last time I wore one. Hooded midlayers and buffs kinda killed them for me.

Karrimor Windbloc Grip Gloves

I remember buying these. I had been watching them for ages as they sat shining brightly from the accessory dookits in Summits on Moss Street in Paisley.
£30 quid though, for fleece gloves. But they just fit so well, it was always going to happen.

It was a good call, they went on every trip for many years. I could get thin liners underneath or wear them on their own, the long cuffs tucked up shell jacket sleeves, the little velcro cinches kept them snug and the grip patches, although not very sensitive or dexterous feeling, gripped axes, poles and clothing adjusters just fine.

The Polartec Windbloc fabric worked better here than it did on any jackets I had where sweat overpowered it pretty quick. With a smooth outer and a slightly piled inner it was warm, windproof and pretty waterproof too. I’ve got photies of me wearing these crusted in ice while smiling, so they must have worked just fine.
I’m sure that will continue.

The tag was in the box with all my old catalogues and stuff. You used to get a plastic card with Karrimor Elite gear which you could fill in with your emergency details on the back.
£30 for fleece gloves though. That was about £7000 back then.

Mountain Range Murton Mitts

Gore Tex outer mitts with pile inners, these were the winter hand protectors of justice.

I wore these a lot, the palms gripped axes really well and they were nice and warm. The palm grip material is rubbery feeling with a bit of stretch to it, although it looks like the mitts are a sensory deprivation device, they really weren’t, buckles and zip pulls were no source of frustration. That’s old school zips by the way, something I will be returning to too soon.

Wrist cinches, long cuffs with adjusters and well shaped.

Mountain Range were never sexy, their gear was plain and practical. GoreTex Taslan everywhere.
Now that is a name that instantly takes me to a time and a place.
The pile inners seen below were great in the tent, nice and warm. I wonder why I gravitated to Buffalo Mitts from these, pack size probably? The Murtons are definitely better on the move.

Made in Cumbria it says on the label. Imagine that.

Terra Firma Explorer Socks (I think…)

It was once advised that walkers wear red socks for visibility, not to each other, but to search parties. There’s a thought.
“Okay, the casualty is lying in heather at the bottom of the crag, he is wearing a tweed jacket and deerstalker with moleskin plus-fours. The good news is that he was indeed wearing red socks as advised, if we’re lucky he’ll have them pulled up to the knee which will gives us a better chance of finding him before spring…”.

Anyway. I’m sure a mob called Terra Firma made these, the name is lodged at the back of my head. Tiso did them I think? Actually quite nice socks, the loops are still loopy, the construction is wool and something else. I’ve got another pair of similar vintage which are worn right down, the wool is gone at the heels but a suspected nylon web remains.

Really long. Cozy or sweaty, we shall see.

Meraklon Liner Gloves

I have been finding these polypropylene liners everywhere since I’ve been rummaging. Glad I kept them, they’ve doubled in price to around a fiver these days.
Still a handy* bit of kit, they keep the chill off more than the spit-through thin fabric suggests and they last as well.
These were balled up and stuffed into rucksack lid that hasn’t been opened in nearly 20 years. A wee wash and they’re as good as new.

Hmm. Might try that same trick on my truck.

*Ha.

 

20YOC gear: Baselayers. North Cape (RIP) & Lowe Alpine (partial RIP)

Underwear…

The Science of moisture management.

Finding decent vintage underwear was a mix of triumph and despair. My main goal was finding both intact and in an unlikely size large, some Jack Wolkskin Polartec pants variants. No joy.

Back in the day the Green Welly at Tyndrum had a wee outdoor shop stuck behind the garage where the basic cafe is now. In here was a rack of Jack Wolfskin baselayers of all designs, mostly in grey marl but also some wacky striped stuff. I got a few things from there over the years but it was my lower half I was looking to get covered right now.
I was hoping to find either the long legged boxers or the wind briefs or whatever they were called, basically Polartec 100 (as it was then) with a bit of Pertex sewn over the crotch. Hideous yes, but also practical. And potentially amusing.
Nowhere to be seen though, probably worn to death, shredded and binned many years ago. Ah well.

I was happier once again when I found my tops, which I knew I still had lurking somewhere, my North Cape Coolmax Long Sleeve Henleys.

Not sure how old these are. The blue one is the end of the 90’s I think, the orange one is older. I absolutely love these, if I hadn’t been lured away by the first wave of modern merino I would probably have worn these until they fell apart.
The fit is excellent, slim overall, a long body, long sleeves and excellent articulation from the simple construction and decent stretch in the fabric. The cuffs are nice, low bulk and long so they slip under gloves and jacket cuffs and reach right down to base of my thumbs.

The collar is excellent, I like crew necks. I rarely wear zip necks now, in winter I don’t need to vent, in summer I wear a trekking shirt or a polo, which has buttons like this Henley and a sun deflecting collar. The three buttons aren’t a hassle, they’re grippable with light gloves and don’t catch chest hair like zips can.

The construction (done in Springkerse Industrial Estate, Stirling) is neat with a mix of flat locked and serged seams, no stitching has ever popped and no seam has ever rubbed.
I’ve been wearing these the past couple of weeks and while the fabric does manage moisture a tiny bit slower than current fabrics and a couple of days wear might bring some odours tiny bit quicker than you might expect these days, I’m not seeing any disadvantage to wearing these given that they are supremely comfortable.

It’s a shame that North Cape are defunct, the only stuff I can can compare it to in recent times is maybe Chocolate Fish (also defunct) and Wild Stripes. Like North Cape their gear is functional and to the point with great fabrics and welcome, basic construction.

I’m getting pissed off with every layer having to be sexy and trying to make me look like an athlete in a pose from a brand catalogue (virtual obviously, we don’t do paper any more).
I look at a current base layer and there’s seams all over the bloody thing and the arm lift is still inferior to the plain stuff above. What the hell is that all about? “Put seams on it, make body mapping zones, it’ll look technical”. No, it looks like you’re trying too hard to impress me, stop it, it’s a lot of pish.

The shops I bought the North Cape’s in are dead and gone too, the wee independents of Challenge Sports in Falkirk and Dry Walker in Edinburgh.

The oldest pants I can find are these Lowe Alpine boxers. I’ve used plenty Dryflo over the years, in fact a bright red three button Dryflo henley long sleeve top from the mid 90’s was a contender for the shirt but it was just too damned tight on me now.
Y-fronts though. Hmm.

Fabric’s okay, not the best stretch, the crotch shaping is pretty good though, nicely 3D. I suppose they’re just the purchasing choice of a 34″ waisted bloke in his late 20’s or early 30’s, I’m not that guy, but I made a deal with myself about going all vintage. Just breathe in I suppose. Clench too maybe.

Lowe Alpine made some excellent clothing, Triple Point shells were all over the hills at one point and they championed eVent early on too. Just branded packs from the Equip group now. Bummer.

20YOC Gear: Karrimor K-SB 3 Original

I found these the other day and took them into the Kilpatricks the other night (blog post below this one I think?) to see how I got on with them again. It went well enough, the overall fit is still good although the heel cup is a little roomier than I like these days, but I can dial that down a bit with socks and insoles.
The sole isn’t the grippiest on the muddly conditions around the Lang Craigs just now but I’m used to slidey trail shoes so I quickly forgot I was wearing them and spent a fine few hours wandering, trouble free.

So, the KSB’s are in my kitlist. I even found 3 of the original 4 insoles – two thin versions and one of the double thickness volume reducers, a nice touch from the original Karrimor. They’ve taken a kicking back in the day, but I’ll try them out before I likely go for some current Sole insoles to help with the heelcup thing, I don’t want a single blister thanks very much. There are some retro items I don’t want to revisit.

I think these are from ’96 or ’97. In ’95 the logo on the tongue was different and by ’97 only the Gore Tex lined version was available.
Branded by and manufactured by Garmont who over the years had some nice collaborations with Karrimor. Asymmetric ‘ADD’ lacing ? Yes please.

So, the exact words from Karrimor in their ’97 workbook…
K-SB 3 Original
The boot that changed our thinking about lightweight boots has become the classic 3-season suede/Cordura boot.
The KSB-3 has been used and abused on some of the toughest trails worldwide and keeps getting better.
Recommended use: Back packing, fell walking, scrambling, even mountain biking.
Features: >’Original’ frameflex insole >Skywalk dual density sole >Antibacterial footbed
Weight: 630g
Sizes: (UK, whole and half sizes): Men’s 6.5-12
Colour: Sage (51-236/37)
Price: £90

I haven’t weighed them, so can’t confirm or refute the original figure. After the trip I’ll do that and do some sort of comparison to current kit. Or something.
They feel okay though and they are light enough on my feet. The ankle cuff is really high, winter boot high and it’s pretty stiff laterally although forward flex is good. It almost feels like they’ve got some breaking in still to do, so I’ll wear them a wee bit before I carry overnight kit in them.
The cuff and tongue are gusetted right to the top, excellent for keeping crap out and would have been great in the GTX version if the liner went right up to the top.

The inner is lined with some fuzzy stuff with a honeycomb matrix in it, kinda looks like Cambrelle but it’s not named in the spec so maybe aye, maybe naw? Whatever, it does seem to wick sweat away but might there might be some insulative qualities there too, either from the lining, the upper construction or both as these are quite a warm pair of boots.

Neat stitching, tidy construction with clean lines and classic good looks. These KSB’s are approachable and utilitarian, a boot for a purpose that isn’t trying to make you look sexy or sell itself on a busy web page.
Look at a typical modern boot aimed at a similar market to this old timer and you see lots of different fabrics, lots of stitching, lots of glue, lots of plastic, a formula one car for your feet that will fray and unravel long before you have a chance to pack it away for a rainy day like these KSB’s.

What the hell happened? 20 odd years later, how much weight saving in our gear have we traded for a shorter life and making more waste. I’ve trashed maybe twenty or thirty of pairs of Montrail’s, Salomon’s and Inov8’s over the last ten year or so. Is there an equation or an equivalence over time here that will shame us and the manufacturers or are we actually doing better now and I’m an idiot?
I said years back that we need a simple lightweight trail mids in natural materials and I think that more than ever right now.
This 20 year thing started as a bit of fun, nostalgia, but now it’s really making me think too.

I will learn more as I go. I will grin a lot, but I think I might occasionally rage too. Just wait until I get to waterproof jackets.

Inscribe 50 Colouring Pencils Made in Holland

It was an interesting week, work was convoluted and happily constant. I do enjoy the ultimate contrasting experience of being busy and skint.
I’d also been to the hills, had an unexpected breakfast with a pal, ran around, rummaged and pretty much used up all my waking hours doing something or other.
I got home at tea time on Friday and sat in my chair. Nice.

However my chair looks across the Clyde to a row of wee tops and those remaining white streaks were catching a little evening sun. I stood back up,went to the window and looked right to the tail of the bank. It was hazy, was that rain? It was a golden fuzz of some sort anyway. It was mostly clear above though and the sun would be down in about half an hour. That’ll be nice I thought to myself.

Aye. Telly back off, gear packed and out. The best thing about being “back” is that my gear is sitting there ready to go, no hassle, no hunting for stuff, just grab and go. Funny how that arrangement only seems obvious now, note to self etc…

I marched up the track, figuring it might be marginally faster than unlocking the gates and driving up. I was racing the sun the whole time, as I gained height, it slipped a little further into the bands of cloud on the horizon.
On the steep track to the bench on the ridge I slipped into the lead while the sun fumbled a gear change and lost momentum. Yes please.

The place was all mine, mine and the sky’s, time and space to just stop and wait for nothing to happen.
I bimbled the grassy ridge to Round Wood Hill as the colours bled through every hue of orange, red, gold and purple that you could find in the bumper coloured pencil box you got from santa in 1973.
The cool blues and browns eventually took it all away as I reached the top of the track and I headed down with thoughts of dinner while pulling on a beanie and zipping my top up to my chin. The sun is actually warm when you can see it, science is a wonderful thing.

 

The Man In Black

Gateway to adventure? Ha.

The blue sky was no less alluring when viewed through my dirty windscreen as I spun around the bustling metropolis of Dumbarton.
Mother’s car wouldn’t start, Holly was having a home lunch, there was a control engineer on his way to meet me on the other side of Glasgow. It was a nice day for everything to go wrong.
An hour later, it was all fine. Jump leads, truck redirection, phone calls and lunch. It was all resolved too quickly, I now had an afternoon where what I was supposed to have been doing I was now doing the day after.

That blue sky though.

I got the last space at the side of the road, even this late in the afternoon folk were still up there. On a Monday too. Good effort people.
I got ready nice and fast, more familiar kit, no chances were to be taken. My pack was light, it was comfy, every drawcord was where I’d left it, my bottle was just where my hand went to find it. Oh yes, this is the way to do it.
I stuck my camera and tripod on my front pouch, in recent times this had felt like an inconvenience, not anymore, it was time to play.

The sun was a little lower than I expected, the softer light was draining a little of the blue from above and it felt warm, in tone and in temperature. I sweated up the track on a wide, windless ridge.
I paced myself, I rested and sipped from my old oval Sigg, I examined every footstep for a twinge from a knee which never came. I just took it easy, I stopped worrying, I stopped overthinking and I just looked around me as I climbed, step after step, breath after breath.
Walking is just a simple mechanical motion, so why was I feeling brighter with every step? I could feel my lack of hill fitness with every vertical metre claimed but it didn’t hurt at all.

A paraglider arced above the loch to land in a field at Luss. Silent and slow, over too quick, it must have been beautiful enough to not feel the long climb to the launch.

It got a little colder, a little darker and the air was now moving past me fast enough to be noticed and it was going through my top as well, so I pulled on a windshirt and beanie.
The snow was creeping slowly from white to something else, a wash of pink and gold, a hint of sunset. The frozen grass sparkled in jagged shapes all around me, I think if I’d kicked through it as I walked the air would have been full of chimes as the long iced blades swung against each other.

The summit was cold. The sun was nearly down and the eastern horizon was a strip of pink fading into indigo. Ben Lomond was showing me it’s widest aspect, a block of shining pink reflecting the last of the day back across the loch. A scattering of lenticular clouds formed and hovered, sucking up the last of the light and sending the sun over the ridge to the west.
I was late when I left, but I’d still caught it. The grin was wide, the little voice inside was shouting at me. Yes, yes, I hear you, I know, I know.

I’d descended north to find shelter, hunger had suddenly moved past the view in order or priorities, I need a hot drink. A hot drink, insulation and bigger gloves. The temperature dropped sharply.
My dear old mother had thrown me together some pieces (sammidges, for google translate) as I’d passed through and as the stove came to the boil I tore into my cheese, ham, apple and stawberry jam on bread. The utter joy of it.

My little corner was good, out of the wind with a view north to the Arrochar Alps. There were some northern lights a bit further north the night before and I know there’s a chance this far south but the sky went to black and stayed that way. All this was enough anyway.
I could feel the gap between my 3/4 longjons and my rolled down socks, it was getting really cold. I pulled up my socks. So that’s what lower leg zips are for.
I pulled down my hood to have a proper look around and instantly regretted it, the cold felt like a solid, physical object as it hit my head. I put my hood back up and it stayed there until I took my down jacket off when I was nearly back at the truck.

Another cuppa was made and the ridge was paced in circles to keep the heat in my toes. The wind was strong but not strong enough to push me, it felt calm and quiet, it was peaceful here in the dark.
I packed up and I still lingered. I looked at the dim horizon, a jagged line from west to east, a line I have walked every uneven angle of, every top I could just make out has personal bookmark, a memory, a face or a moment in time long past and it drifted back on faded waves of joy and melancholy as I stood there in the dark.
As my crampons crunched me homewards over the last rounded top before the long descent I found my head fuller than it was when I started.
They say you can go to the mountains to lose yourself, but then they also say you can go to the mountains to find yourself. It’s also been said that “The soul of the gael is on the summit of the mountain“. Maybe it’s a little of each.

My headtorch cut out, the little flash had warned me and I was ready for it but I wasn’t ready for the way the sky picked up the slack. The crescent moon and riot of stars in crystal clear air was stunning. I looked up and spun slowly around until I was dizzy.
So close to home but so far from worry and oh, look at the time, Holly would be coming home from guides. I smiled at that as I picked up the downhill pace. I’d showed her my base layer before I left, she looked at the orange and purple stripes for a while and issued her statement “Hmm. Dad, never wear that in front of me again”.
The ultimate parental superpower, the power of embarrassment. Awesome.

 

20YOC Gear, Coleman, Ajungilak and Rab.

I’m enjoying this. I was looking for an old Camping Gaz (as it was, now it’s Campingaz and much harder to say, and indeed look at) canister top stove and found this Coleman Alpine instead.
This was a great stove in its day, low and stable so excellent for use in a tent porch. The remote canister adds to the stability and means you can keep the gas can warm or run it upside down (very carefully so it doesn’t flare) as the burner has a preheat tube to evaporate the the liquid fuel into gas before it gets to the burner.
The pot stand is wide and grippy, just not as good for the smaller pots I use these days. The burner is well shaped, great on the smaller pots I use these days. Hmm.
It’s chunky with a large pack size and getting a little heavy, don’t know the grammes, I can just feel it, but it doesn’t look too far away from what would catch my eye today.
No idea about fuel useage, I’ll see what happens. In general though, I think this will work just fine.

Age is mid 90’s, this went to Morvich camp site on my first ever Five Sisters trip around ’97. Some trips stay with you. I do think the hose is newer though, the original might have been the orange rubber that always cracked and the hose clips look like I did them: rough.

Pots are going to be a problem. I had a kettle thing I used with this. It died tragically years back when on an engineering contract with no power and no water.
I was heating the kettle for our tea with an oxygen/acetylene torch because we didn’t have anything else on the first day. It went well at first, then it went all wrong.

Sleepy times will be familiar indeed, from the mid 90’s is this Ajungilak Kompakt 3. From Ajungilak of Norway made in England by Snuggledown of Norway UK, now of course made in China by Mammut of Switzerland. It’s a small world.

I loved this bag when it was new, silky smooth inside and cut a little wider than I’m used to now which will be nice and comfy but it’ll probably make it a little cooler than I’d like.
Smooth running zip, terrible old school shoelace style adjusters, a well shaped hood and a huge pack size due to the beefy synthetic fill. It’s still pretty fat feeling so I think it’ll insulate well enough.

It’s a wee bit fusty, so I did think about getting it washed in giant washing machine somewhere. Might just air it outside for a few days, see if that freshens it up.

Just in case it is a bit cooler, I have this rather old Rab fleece sleeping bag liner. I think it’s karisma fleece, the wind resistant stuff used in among other places, the front of old Karrimor Alpiniste fleece’s, old Mountain Equipment Ultrafleece jackets and currently by Hilltrek on a rather nice looking smock and some er, joggers too.
The shape fits the Kompakt (maybe I bought it for it?) and the drawcorded opening is wide enough to wriggle out of quick enough for a pee at 1am.
Simple, even dull bit of kit which I’ll use if I need to. The weather will decide.

The stuff sack is teal. Where did teal go to?

Straight Outta Trostland

It looked cold. Cold or raining in the truck is fine when I’m solo, with the two of us and our gear in there and it’s standing room only. Except there’s no room to stand.
We drove into the sun, looking for the snow. We found both, sometimes one at a time, sometimes at the same time. I came late to this winter but it’s lingering just enough for me to feel that I haven’t missed it altogether.

The tops came and went, the glens swirled, the blue patches tore past as the sun picked out patches on the slopes like it was a searchlight chasing an escapee who’d made over the wall. The Southern Highlands were showing themselves at their best.

Some red cheeks and muddy gaiters along the way were evidence that the ridges and tops had been attempted, I wonder how many times the winds and spindrift won today.

This man was a winner, with a grin forged from the trail and an accent from far away, he left us with some photies on his phone and words fished up from experience (whether he wanted them or not) on his way north on the West Highland Way. What a perfect time to be doing it, his next two days will be spectacular in these conditions. Bridge or Orchy to Ft Bill. Oh, that sounds nice.

 

Gearing up for a 20 year old challenge

This is going to be a landslide of contradictions. But so am I, so what the hell.

After a year out I’ve been updating myself, seeing what’s new, confirming to folk I’m not dead yet, seeking out any exciting or revolutionary ideas. Even evolutionary ideas would do.
There’s tinkering, there’s cosmetic changes under the guise of performance updates, there’s recycling (of ideas, not fabrics), dull colours in the shops and still there’s an inability of the outdoor world to admit defeat and just put Dr. Martens Air Cushion Soles on all outdoor footwear. Really.
I’ve got some new kit in already, stuff that I do like the look of, but in general I’m not that inspired yet.

The season by season rush has continued, product produced to price points and deadlines instead of innovation and ideas being honed and released when they’re ready.
My first thought when looking at this aspect again was watching David Attenborough talking about the plastic in the oceans while patting a sad looking Polar Bear. It then cuts to him squaring up to Donald Trump and punching him right in the face. Every night this programme is on. Just after I fall asleep.

The plastic worry is real though. I don’t care how many swing tags outdoor kit has on it saying recyclable, ethical, or green, it’s still part of the problem and we all know it. A swing tag should never dull our conscience.
So what do we get in return for killing the planet just a little bit more? With this season’s latest developments are we really more comfortable in the rain at 900m? Is that tent that fits in your pocket giving you the best sleep of your life? Are the adverts talking a lot of shite and we just give away our money too easily?

I’ve used a lot of gear. In the past 11 years pretty much every trip I’ve been on has been with review kit of some kind and I’ve gotten used to that, the unfamiliar is now familiar. The truth is that most current kit is okay, I’ve never had anything genuinely bad. The biggest difference is in how it works for you, your body shape, how hot you get, do your ears stick out, do you need lots of pockets because you’re a faffy bastard.

But I love it. Seeing a sharp mind somewhere has tweaked something in a way I didn’t expect making something better, smoother operating or lighter. There’s a real joy in that. It’s not about the gear, it’s about the person behind it.
The best time I had with this was when I was on the OMM Lead User Group, working on new designs and evolving the existing. Seeing the ideas forming, the little lights going on above folks heads and being put on paper then appearing as samples taught me that gear isn’t just product to sell, good gear is someone making something because they think it’ll work and they want to use it too.
I’ve still got sample stuff that never saw the light of day, good ideas that were never quite finished. How many times does that happen across the many design teams? Newer ideas always come along though. People are good at that.

So, all these contradictions have been swirling about in my head the past couple of weeks, and it got me to thinking. How much have things really changed since I got sucked into the outdoor gear arms race in the 90’s. I was in army surplus before that, maybe a Javlin jacket (see, there was purpose to that old advert) along the way?
I noticed right away what I’d been missing when I wore Gore-Tex for the first time, when I wore Polartec 100 over a Smelly Helly. What I haven’t noticed is the difference from then to now.
How far have we really come? Are current fabrics really that much better than they were? Are we really just a wee bit better and just styled differently?

I want to know.

In recent times I’ve been clearing cupboards and attic boxes and finding all sorts of stuff. It’s partly this that got me thinking about old versus new in amongst so many memories, so much stoor, so much purple lycra.
With this in mind I have set myself a task of sorts, a 20 year old challenge.

One bit at a time I’m going to see if I can put together an entire kit list for an overnighter with gear that’s at least 20 years old, then head out with it.
It’s entirely pointless, but I think it’ll amuse me putting it all together.

I do mean entire kit list, socks and boxers as well as shell jacket and compass. I’ve been mentally ticking stuff off that I know is stored away somewhere and some things I’m not sure about. A tent might be iffy, I sold my Rab Glacier down jacket years ago so I’m hunting for something that I only have a vague memory of. I think it was blue though.
It’s surprising what I still have around, there will be some cleaning and maintenance I dare say, but it’ll put it together. I’ll let it slip a little if I have to though, maybe make the space year 2000 a cut off. We’ll see.

However, first up and the spark for it all. the Petzl Zoom.

I’ve had this for more than 25 years. It’s been so many places, shone a light on so many things and I found it caked in crap on the top shelf in the workshop where it’s been for maybe 15 years.
This was the torch to have back in the day. The bezel rotates to change from a wide to a focus beam and the yellow light would dim slowly as the huge and heavy 4.5V battery drained ever faster as you got closer to the car park.
It should still work, I’ll strip it and clean it, get it powered up. The straps are replacements, it was a bright green and sky blue pattern originally but they stretched out and had to go. Maybe these ones which still have a bit of elasticity in them are where the colour obsession started?

I can still get the big batteries or convert it to AA’s, even put an LED in it, but I’ll keep it as original as possible I think. Damn though, it’s just so big.
Anyway, that’s the first thing sorted. I’m sure there’s an old stove in the garage…

Crossing the road

We looked in the fridge and weren’t inspired. “Out for breakfast then?” The A82 was under the loose grip of a grey and shifting sky, thoughts of food and a galavant were more inspiring than the weather.
Luss was pretty quiet, it’s the calm time before easter brings with it the first of the summer-long waves of neds that make the place a no-go area at the weekends.
Breakfast was shared with the ducks, who were very insistent today. What’s on their minds, what are their plans? I’ve been watching them a long time, there’s been an ongoing power struggle between the old drake with the faded beak and scar (really, he looks awesome) and the skinny youngster with the bright feathers. The old timer is holding on but the massed feathered minions seem to be hanging back, watching and waiting before they pick a side.
I think if junior stages a successful coup, the Luss car park will be a very different place indeed.

Now well fed and with pockets full of soor plooms and fudge for ongoing refueling we headed a little further north to Firkin Point. To most this is a bog standard car park and toilet facility, somewhere to use and discard a disposable barbecue, somewhere to walk your dog and leave the bags of shite in the undergrowth for someone else to deal with.
But a few feet away on either side is a walk into the past, my own past as well as the lochside’s. Here runs the old road, the original A82 which clung to the water’s edge like the silver trim on the hem of a deep blue ballgown.
There’s 4km of the road left, and it’s just as I remember it when I used to drive it 30 years ago. I suppose it’s not unlike to the road north of Tarbet, but closer to the water here, you really feel you’re by the loch. I loved it then as spun along in my Escort van, I love it now too, especially on a day like this.

The previous grey of Luss was now finding some energy. The wind was getting up and the loch was getting choppy. The colours were drained from the slopes above us and across the loch, the snow line faded up into the lowering cloud as a cold rain pattered down as we walked.
We reached the north end of the road and turned back, the pattering on our hoods was now heavy rain in our faces. It was funny at first then our cheeks were stinging and our glasses were wet, looking up meant we couldn’t see a thing. We marched past the little beaches we had played on on the way there, looking down so we could keep our glasses clear, by the time we got to Firkin Point we were almost running.
I got the truck heating up as quick as I could and my soaking wet jeans pulled every hair out of my legs as I squirmed around trying to find my bag of industrial wipes somewhere behind the drivers’ seat to help dry us a off a bit.
We were soon sitting quite happily though, warming up, snacking once again and waiting for the windscreen to clear so we could hit the road home. Aye, not a bad wee excursion.