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.

 

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.

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?

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…

Karrimor Whillan’s Alpiniste Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*I’m saying “back in the day” is anywhere from the mid 70’s back to 1745.

Gearing up again.

Outdoor gear has always been a big part of these pages and it’s been as absent as I have. Hey, if the hills are pissing me off I’m not even looking at what I’m using never mind typing an opinion on it. But, this has left me with many months of gear use and showroom visits of which I have said nothing. I can either pretend none of it happened and start again or I can backtrack and write reviews of everything.
I’m going for the latter option. Aye, some stuff is out of season and might be discontinued or whatever, but what the hell, I’m going to pick it out, photograph it and say things about it. There will be in depth reviews, mini reviews and quite possibly just a sentence or two about things I used last winter and didn’t fancy that much. It’ll be fun. Maybe.
I’ll get it all out of the way and then get on with this winter’s kit, new gear, new brands to these pages and mountains to sleep on top of with it. Plus, have you seen all the adverts for men’s autumn winter fashion? Big beards and denim is in, I’m ahead of the curve for the first time in ages. Let’s rock!
First review coming up later, I’ll start with something simple I think. In the meantime here’s a photie of Gus demonstrating Haglofs U-turn when they decided not to discontinue the Rugged Mountain pants after all. Mind you, that was for spring summer this year, guess I’ll just bypass that ancient showroom visit and go straight to this winter’s Haglofs gear in a day or two?

A spit of kit

There wasn’t much new on the Fisherfield trip, after my down time I think I needed familiar stuff so I didn’t really have to think or worry about anything at all given the miles I was covering.
Mountain King sent up a new set of their brilliant Trail Blaze poles, now in a coppery-orange colour, and taking these out was comfy and familiar. Nice to be using a completely straight pair again and they are a handy device for keeping your flysheet door open, I’ll need to do a photie of that some time.
The Berghaus Asgard Smock is the eternal talisman of good luck for me, every time I pull it out of my pack the rain disappears, I’m glad it’s light as all I ever do is carry it, poor thing.
Took a warmer sleeping bag as frost in the glens was forecast, shouldn’t have bothered as I was roasting, the PHD quilt would have been perfect, could have stuck a leg out the side to cool down. Next trip for sure.
Wore my new berry coloured Chocolate Fish Taranaki t-shirt which was a joy as expected, comfy and stink free despite being attacked by sweat in three flavours: exertion; desperation; panic.

That theory of tried and trusted was pants in reality though, it was one of my most-worn pairs of shoes that caused me the most grief, my Montrail Hard Rock Mids.
Not the shoes fault, they’re just past it. The uppers are delaminated in most places, the inner lining fabric is loose and moves independently of the rest of the shoe and the outer layers are detached from each other with some patches of fabric missing now too with a couple of small holes right the way through. The Gore-Tex lining is long gone, as if it’s just disappeared, water is immediately felt on my foot wherever it splashes on the shoe.
The outsole is very worn, there’s chunks missing and slashes through the rubber with some sections of tread peeling off, but the grip is still good which is a little frustrating. The midsole is crushed and has lost a lot of it’s elasticity, it’s a bit ragged too. The invisible foot protection plate is still working okay and the general flex seems okay.
The heel cup is fine, and the upper around the cuff and tongue is also fine, it’s the most-flexing parts and those in contact with the scenery that are goosed. And the insoles, which look like two bits of old lino cut from the damp kitchen floor of an abandoned tenement.

I’ve had these for a few years, they’ve been a regular choice and I think they’ve lasted really well considering they’re just a pair of high-cuffed trainers. I think it might have been the screes of Assynt last year that threw them over the side and it was definitely the wet trek across Rannoch this year that sunk them.
For me it confirms that a lot of the shite talked about lighter footwear self destructing in the mountains is speculation from folk that don’t use it, but also that Gore Tex in flexible footwear is a temporary joy. It will not last as long as the shoe.
I’d buy another pair of these if I could, the replacement models just aren’t the same.

Gore-Tex Active Shell

I missed the press day at Peebles where various trade and media folk were getting the proper presentation about Gore-Tex’s coming-soon waterproof and breathable Active Shell fabric before being issued with their test jacket for a test on the trails on foot and mtb. So for better or worse, my test jacket came through the post and I’ll just have to judge the fabric on its own merits without looking for the impossible to notice miracles of physics and fabric production that I’d have had at the forefront of my mind if I’d made the press day.

The jacket itself is a basic unbranded run/bike style, hoodless and with just a small inner zipped pocket. Gore are restricting the amount of double fabric on the production jackets anyway, so pockets will be minimal and expect all the brands to be stretching their imaginations to to work round the guidelines and get the best solutions. I like it, a lightweight arms race of sorts. The tester also has back vents, my initial thoughts come from having a pack clamping them shut, so there’s no performance advantage from having them.

The notion was that with eVent giving up the fight, Gore Tex would just sit back with it’s feet up on the desk and laugh, and we’d see no real forward movement in fabric performance. So whatever the outcome, it’s just good to see Active Shell as it really is a step up. The construction is different, the membrane is thinner for a start and will come with a variety of face fabrics, but the tricot backer is laminated on using some new fancy dancing, so no glue and therefore more breathable surface.
Sticking with that tricot backer, it feels nice against the skin in a way Paclite never will, coupled with such a soft-handling and light fabric, it feels like you’re wearing a polycotton shirt.
I’ve worn this a handful of times but the best indication of performance came during the week o the Kilpatricks where Phil took the shots. I wore it over 190g merino, Polartec R1 (the grid backed stuff) and then under the Primaloft and Pertex as it was so cold. Now, on the descent the temperature got up and when we got back into the fog I was pulling my hat and gloves off to cool down, but left the Primaloft on just-in-case. When I got down, the Pertex was damp inside and out, so that’s from sweat and from walking through fog, but the Active shell was completely dry inside. I went “Whoa”, and the last time I did that was when I tried a Montane Air Jacket some years ago, the first eVent jacket I’d used.

Now, I’m not saying Active Shell is as breathable as eVent, I’m saying it might be. Time will tell on that, and on the durability too, it really is a thin fabric.
So, we’ve got the lightest and most breathable waterproof fabric from Gore-Tex, and the worlds biggest brands are only allowed to make lightweight race and alpine-style high performance garments (there’s pants as well) from it, which they are, and fighting to get the best and lightest too.

Magic :o)

Grivel Haute Route

In for test is a another take on the lightweight ice axe, the Haute Route from Grivel.

It’s billed as ski-touring axe, and normally I’d take that labelling as manufacturer arse-covering, hoping folk won’t take their lightweight axe mountaineering. But the features on the Haute Route do make sense of the designation, the pick is a little shorter that we’re used to for a steel blade, keeping it lower-profile on a skiers pack.
The blade has an easy curve fro self-arrest and some nice teeth cut into it, so it’ll be wield-able if needs be, the adze is welded onto the blade and again a little smaller in scale, keeping sharp edge in a little further.
The shaft is light, with a nice matt finish and a good spike (with clipping hole) for easy plunging, and it’s B-rated noting its lighter construction. This 58cm sample comes in at 412g with the leash, and the 53cm is billed as 320g. The leash is fine, thin webbing with wrist and head adjustment, there’s also a spike protector threaded on there too.
It’s nice enough, and fits well in the hand. I wonder how well it’s brake with that short pick? I’ll try when I’m out see.

I’ve always felt confident in Grivel kit when I’ve used it over the years, and I’m not expecting any surprises from a more basic model. A swing tag proclaims “Hot Forged in Italy”, so they never cut any corners, just shrunk them a little…
Another interesting thing was on another swing tag,  and that’s Grivel’s use of solar power. One claim being that Grivel will save 687kg of CO² every day. Good lads.

More later.

Hoka Mafate

“Madness in a shoe box” has already been said, but I am very glad indeed that the swing towards barefoot running means nothing to some people who are still steering their own course in footwear design. So, it’s with a big grin that I took Hoka’s Mafate WP’s on test.

The looks are somewhat striking, and the reasons for that huge sole unit are explained here. But it’s a shoe, not a curio, so what have we got? The fit is good in my usual UK9, the toe is slightly tapered fell-shoe style, and they do seem to have a little asymmetric curve like you see on some scrambling/alpine footwear. The heel cup is nice and deep with a high back which is notched to take the strain off your achilles tendon, the sides are pretty low cut, so although they look big, the uppers certainly don’t feel it. The uppers are mesh with some some strengthening stitching, overlays and synthetic leather patches at the high ear areas at the heel, foot opening and tow, where there’s some extra abrasion patches. There’s an own-brand waterproof liner, which in a low-cut shoe is as always a topic of discussion on its own.
The outsole has plenty of multi-angled lugs and quite a bit of exposed midsole foam too, this will help flexibility through the thick sole, but it will probably take a beating on rough ground, although only time will tell. In sole is a basic thin foam affair.
On my foot they were a little odd at first, I’m a good couple of inches taller for a start, but the upper doesn’t pivot on the foam, it does feel like a single unit which was a relief and means when I take them out I won’t be gingerly padding along like I was wearing stilettos on cobbles.

Interesting for sure, no idea how this is going to go, but I’ll be back with more.

Sole Exhale

I saw samples of the Exhales a while back and it’s the sort of thing that just makes you grin and want a pair regardess of any actual practical application. But, I got a pair in for test, and they aren’t a novelty item after all.
I wear Sole insoles most days, they make rubbish steel toecapped boots issue-free and the inclusion in Haglöfs footwear was a smart idea. The Sole insole shape is what the Exhales are built around, but here the footbed is fleecy, a wooly wonder for under your foot.
The Exhale is meant as a warm-down shoe, sticking on after a day in the mountains on skis or crampons (trail shoes?), and whatever your views on the science behind what different folk want you to do with your arches, the psychologiocal effect is probably enough on its own to perk you up, from experience pulling on down socks or boots in the tent I feel like a new man every time, so I’m expecting similar here.
The Exhales are very usable, there’s a proper patterned rubber outsole, so camping, hut, hostel, general bumming around indoors, whatever, it’s all good. The polyester upper has a suede rand to protect it, and the upper is also insulated, so they’re warm. The heel is convertable, wear it up for a shoe, or fold it down for a slip-on.
They’re built to shoe-spec, so it looks like they should take proper long-term use. They are comfy, so I’m wearing them, admittedly to the amusement of the girls, but I’m used to that.

Aye, I thought the fireplace was the place for the shot :o)

A smear of gear

Lightweight axes are all you need, they can happily take digging through frozen verges to save your mothers motor…
Elsewhere, Berghaus insulation is really proving it’s worth, Phil packed the  synthetic Ignite Belay Parka (proper look imminent) and I took the Extrem Down Duvet. They’re both belay jackets and sized to go over other layers which they do perfectly, and this has suited the weather, I don’t think I’ve ever walked with my insulation layer on so often as I have so far this winter. The Down Duvet has really grown on me, I’m not sure how warm it is compared with the Rab Infinity, too many variables, but it is more protective feeling, more psycholigically soothing when it’s freezin’. Sometimes that’s totally worth the extra weight, but not when you’ve got a sleeping bag too. I think that makes the Extrem the day-jacket and the Infinty the camp jacket maybe?
I had the Haglöfs Cirque on for a few hours, and I used four of the pockets simultaneously, that’s including the internal bottle one to thaw out my iced-up Robinsons Lemon.
I also quite happily wear a single-pocket smock in winter, this leads me to believe more than ever that folk dissing lightweight gear are just talking shite, the fact of the matter is you adapt to what you’ve got, it’s how good the features are, not how many of them there are. Six pockets or one, don’t care, I’ll make it work for me if it’s been sewn together right.
It’s a cracking jacket in general, and does feel quite a bit different to the Crux which I’ve used which I said it was an evolution of, it turns out that there’s a lot of changes, it really is a different beast.
Despite the lack of on-the-move accessible pockets, I took my old Alpiniste 45+10 again, it’s just so damned comfy, and with Phil trying the Berghaus Arete 35 it was an old school battle of the brands.

The merest hint of kit.

Gear wasn’t on the agenda as such, but a couple of things are worthy of note.

Joycee’s bimbling along with her Kimmlite (that’s pre-OMM) 22SSL (I think?), great wee pack make in mental pink Pertex fabric. It’s dead light but with all the spot-on features you’d expect like bottle & hipfin p0ckets, low-profile harness and one oddball, and MSC compression panel that’s sewn-in at the bottom. It’s brilliant and should have been used else where. The pack suits shorties like JYC so I’ve never been able to use it. MMffff.
Also there are a Wild Roses Powerstretch jacket, TNF Dhaulagiri II GTX boots and a special edition 2011 Buff, more of which later as JYC must speak upon it. But the condemnation of Silva’s Siju headtorch was instant and absolute, piss weak light and a faulty switch that repeatedly turned itself off just as she stepped into icy patches in pitch darkness.

I had a voyage into the past as I was wearing a proper fleece (the TNF Scythe) for the first time in ages, and you know what, it was nice. Cozy, comfy and oddly cheerful too. It layered well under a shell, stayed dry and it’s perfectly ergonomically formed, no old-school boxiness here.
The grey straps evident below are the all-new coming-soon Berghaus Octans 40 adventure racing pack, and more of that shortly.

Some test kit’s come in that’s going be a talking point, first some Hoka trail shoes. Oh yes. And, a test jacket from Gore-Tex in their new super light and ultra breathable (they say) Active Shell 3-layer waterproof. The jacket it must be said is on the er, basic side, but it’ll be good to see what the fabric’s like.

Gear Diary

I haven’t got a hope in hell of getting any more test kit up this side of Christmas. Which is a shame as there’s a bunch of good stuff to come, including the Edelrid Opilio remote canister stove and Edelrid gas, Petzl’s Core and Ultra Belt, Grivel’s Haute Route lightweight axe, Outdoor Research’s sub-200g Helium Jacket, Berghaus’ Octans pack and Ignite Belay jacket, an Ultralight Kettle, there’s a Wigwam sock giveaway and then there’s the Akto of course. Next week. Probably.
I’m also sitting knee deep in single-person tents and tarps, stuff I’ve never used too, Gossamer Gear, Gram Counter Gear, Exped, Helsport, Nordisk, Snugpak, as well as new models from all the regulars like Nemo, TNF, Terra Nova, MSR etc. I’ll be looking for volunteers in a couple of weeks…
After some thought, I’m also going to do a personal Top 10 of kit I’ve used this year. Aye, I’ll be off the fence and naming favourites or kit that’s been on every trip. It won’t be what folk are expecting either.
Anyway, you don’t need all that fancy gear, that bloke’s at 1000ft in the snow wearing canvas work pants and he’s still smiling.

Haglöfs Winter 2011/12 Preview

Lost in a wilderness of colour, it can only be the Haglöfs showroom. No longer a shed, but the same faces and huge array of kit as usual.
There’s a bunch of new stuff as well as updates, some personal highlights are the new merino base layers, the new Paclite killing (I’m not supposed to say that) Gore-Tex Active Shell cut into an frighteningly light and racy jacket and a new ultralight insulation range.

So, here we go, I’ve got pretty much the whole Winter 2011/12 range below. There’s a mix of his and hers, remember Haglöfs usually make equivalents of every single model, but there are exceptions, like the new wummins specific technical shell that the guys are going to want…

The base layers have some new colours. The Cool models above have the nice two-tone green and the ubiquitous black. I like the Dryskin fabric they use here, very soft.
The Regular weight models are below, zoned in the super sweaty areas to let the nasty out.

Above is joy hanging from hooks, the new merino baselayers. There’s long sleeve crew and zip necks, longjons and ¾ leggings, all in three colours of 153g mulesing-free Aussie merino.
I’ve tried in it on, long body and arms, nice high collar in the zip-necks and the fabric feels great against the skin. It’s an interesting weight of fabric they’ve gone for, and that with the long cut it puts into a little niche of it’s own. Ah man, look at the leggings, you can dress up like a superhero. It looks like good kit, looking forward to testing it.

Below is the Warm range, a nice change from the scratchy winter weight stuff they used to make. It’s a mix fabric, mainly polyester and merino, but not just blended yarn, the fabric is zoned within itself, and whatever they’ve done it’s given it a frictionless inner surface. You can see a microgrid pattern in there, but touching it is like touching the surface of the contents of an open tin of paint, it’s that smooth. It should feel great against the skin.

They’ve sexed up the Stem tops (above), thumbloops and pocketed full-zip jacket. It’s cut from own-brand Dryskin fabric, and having used it it feels like a Powerstretch variant.
Powerstretch features below in the return of the Bungy collection. The girls get the yellow and the hooded vest of course, but it’s good to see this back in the range.

See my hands in my pockets above? They’ve fixed the terrible tiny pockets on the Juniper as well as bring it out in some block colours. Aye, that’s more like it.
The tops are there as is the vest, it’s a cracking fabric they use for these.

Gus assured me that the above was the colour mix of justice from the new gear, I’m thinking about it.
The jacket is an Isogon, also in a hood version, and there’s a bit of lifestyle crossover here, a technical feeling cut with a texture-faced fabric like we see on the Arc’teryx Covert kit. I foreseethis being popular.

The woolly madness above is the Thule Hood, made from a steam-ironed black sheep. I love it, it’s a real oddball, but if feels great on.
The Zones below stay in the range, and of course that lovely ice blue doesn’t come in a blokes large.

Softshell charges on, the various Lizards above have tweaks, check out the new cuff below, very comfy and very snug.

The Lizard jacket and Boiga Hood have some new colourways. All the softshells above are in FlexAble, own-brand but awesome fabric. I like when top-end doesn’t automatically mean branded fabrics.
The Glasgow swing tag for the Reptile is below. Say it out loud and you’ll sound like me…

The Pelamis above has 100weight microfleece lining its Gore Windstopper, warm and alpine there I think.
The Fangs below are kinda the classic Sharkfin’s descendant, much more supple though, very wearable with a cracking hood. There’s mix of fabrics there, balancing weight, warmth and movement.

The Eryx above is in plain Windstopper, same general specs as the Fang, but you can layer up as you please here. Lighter too.

There’s a huge range of softshell pants as always, some colour too which is nice. I was looking for the details that I suspected were being phased out, but I was pleased to see double poppers on every waist band. There’s weights and level of insulation to cover all bases(and arses).

I’ll edit in the name of these pants above when the workbook appears, but zoned fabrics, side pockets, crampon patches and ankles that cinch in? Winter fast and light pants, yes please.

Below  and above are the Proof collection. Proof is Haglöfs own waterproof fabric, it comes in three and two layer is made of recyclable polyester, and having used it, the performance is good. The MVTR rate looks low compared to other membrane’s, but the 3-layer has a hydrophilic inner scrim that sucks moisture in and the drop liner in two-layer I’ve tested kept me dry. The features and even some prices for the Proof gear are up there with the Gore-Tex and eVent kit, so Haglöfs think it’s good enough to look other fabrics straight in the eye.
The two layer models have all this extra storage (see above), it’s so bloody handy when you use it, it causes me all sorts of dilemmas because I love a plain jacket in the hills.

Lets face face it, I was always going to pull on the orange outfit. The Crag is below, cut from Gore-Tex PerformanceShell, it’s a four-pocket general-purpose hideaway hood affair and it  gets the same styling as the top end kit. I admire their optimism in showing it to UK store buyers, Oh wait, there’s black…

That’s the Riot above, the update for the Heli which half of Western Europe was wearing at one time. 2-layer performance Shell again, cheery looking and practical. It’s always annoying when bulky or relatively heavy kit feels good when you pull it on you know.

Above and below are the Zenith jacket and pants in 3-layer Proof. The jacket’s a Spitz-a-like and is very nice, but the pants are a stand-alone and really impress.
Pockets on waterproof pants are something I’ve always liked, and here with the leg zips, soft, lightly stretchy fabric, crampon patches, wide, belted waist, we’ve got an all-day winter pant if you stick longjons underneath.

Now here’s a talking point. Gore-Tex Active Shell, Gore Tex the way it’s meant to be? Light, thin, a new laminate with no PU coating and the best breathability you can get from Gore. Gore are controlling the use of this fabric, the designs are scrutinised down to how many square centimeters of doubled fabric there are, that means pockets for example.
All the top brands are going to be wading in with something, and there’s already bitching as they sneak a look at each others designs, it’s be tears and snotters before they get to the shops, but we’ll be the winners because of that I hope. And, the fabric has to be made into a proper sports piece, no Active Shell dog walking  jackets will be made.

Haglöfs have the Endo (above and below, pant too), and the jacket feels very good indeed. The fabric is very light to wear, and the features and both minimal and well thought out. The hood is protective and fully adjustable, there’s a big stretch pocket, the cuffs have softshell palms so you can keep the rain out of your sleeve by covering your knuckles but still grip your handlebars and the front zip on the sample is some kind of wacky affair that I’ve never seen before that’s beyond description (seriously, it’s nothing like a regular zip), and probably won’t be on the ones in the shops.

I like this, and I like the fact that Gore’s got off the couch and are doing something even if eVent’s giving up the chase.

The Electron above is a Paclite/ProShell mix, and the Nebula Below is a Euro version of the Ozone I’ve got on test. It’s the same ProShell fabric, but adds an extra napoleon pocket.

Above is the wummins-only Spinx. It’s a bit like a four-pocket Spitz and it comes in the same ProShell stretch fabrics as the top-end Ratio. Nice.
Below is the Topp, essentially a Ratio to suit the worst UK conditions. One photie down, shell pants to suit any mood and almost any jacket. the black versions come in various leg lengths, something that Haglöfs they’re going to be expanding on further, pants for every shape and size?

Couliours and matching pants above. It’s like a mix and match of 1970’s track suits.

That’s the Utval directly below, Proof waterproof shell and a Primaloft Eco 100g fill. The shelled insulation has done well for Haglöfs, so they’re expanding it to new models and more colours on this winters models. Below we’ve got the Nevluk, then the Pirtuk in new colours and then the Nevluk pants.

The long-standing Barrier Performac shelled Thermolite insulation collection has had a little makeover. The excellent Hood has some new colours, the Jacket now has the same articulated sleeves as the Hood, and the vest ses the biggest changes with new quilted panels down the sides and what feels like smaller pockets.
The Barrier Pants below have a rather nice resolution to the waist adjustment with a good range of adjustment for wearing over baselayers or all your kit.

This is the new ultralight synthetic kit, the Barrier Pro jackets and hoods. It’s low profile, think Montane Prism, and a neater fit for on-the-move winter use. I absolutely love it, but it’s going to be pricey so there’s a chance there won’t be enough store orders to get it into the production. This will be a travesty.

The new down kit returns next winter, and the Bivvy Jacket gets new colours and a vest (I’m wearing it a bit further up).
I got misty eyed when I saw the Belay & Borea lineup below. I don’t care what Haglöfs call it, it’s the ice blue, cobalt, tomato and orange from the ’98 Karrimor Alpiniste series. My favourite gear of all time. I am pleased.

The Intense series goes green again, not quite budgie green, but it’s looking more familiar again. The Halo gets a face-lift, the new rear below should keep back-tyre splash out of your baselayers a bit better this time.

It had been a long day, but the new hats are a joy, beanies of every kind from merino to bobbled to shelled and insulated ones, with balaclavas and peaked mountain caps in there too. I wear a few of the beanies and l like them, neither skull-cap tight nor ridiculous smurf hat as is popular right now.

We looked at Haglöfs sleeping bags, something I know little of, only having tested a budget synthetic monster for Trail a while back. The blue Goga is a down monster with models rated down to -44°C extreme, the Green Zensor is the synthetic equivalent, the ratings are almost as good but of course the weight takes a jump up.
Hopefully we’ll see a Goga in over the winter.

 And to end, we have a Haglöfs “buff”. It feels like the same fabric as the Cool baselayers and matches that magic wee explorer guitar there.

That was a lot of kit, almost all of what I saw (some is secret for now), gloves and shoes see no real changes and it’s the all-new merino, lightweight insulation and that Endo jacket that had me grinning the most. I hope we see it all in the shops.
I’ll tell you though, there’s a lot of purple in there, you gotta like that.