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.

The North Face Point Five

Time was when TNF was seen as the absolute top-end, the kit was iconic, bold looking and as technical as you could get. The Point Five Jacket in for test takes me right back to those days.

Now relax there at the back, the Point Five is part of the Summit Series, so I haven’t found anything on here that’s not mountain-specific.  This size large is 592g of heavy duty winter armour. It feels old-school in many ways, but the Gore-Tex ProShell is more supple than the old 3-layer Taslan or RipStops ever were. The fabric is a tougher variety with the slick microgrid backer and it’s microtaped at the seams to maximise the breathable area. The only other things to see on the inside are the fleecy patch at the back of the neck (a feature I have come to love) , a hang-loop and the channel for the drawcord that runs hip-to hip across your back. The adjustment for this is inside the big chest pockets, although to slacken it you have to find the cordlockswhich are inside. The pockets are huge, with long water resistant zips, no nesh or anything, so wet gloves are welcome in there. The right-side one has a small inner stretch pocket for “stuff”. Also terminating inside the pockets is the hem drawcord (for slackening the cordlock is fixed inside the hem and easy to operate), so with two bungees in each pocket it doesn’t feels like you’re carrying elastic bands around when you put your bare hands in there.
The same nice grey zips are used on the full-length front closure (with fleece chin patch and stiffened and subtley shaped inner storm flap) and the double-ended pitzips.

The cuffs are wide, you can get them up past your elbows and the velco adjusters have no-hairy-bits sections at the end so you can grab them without picking at them when they’re stuck down or snagging threads on your liner gloves. Hurrah!
The hood is a beast, zipping it up and cinching it in is denying winter is only a few inches from your nose. The peak is stiff and wired, and face coverage is very good. The adjustment around your face is easily done, exposed bungee loops to pull with one finger and cordlocks in the hood to squeeze to slacken it off. The volume adjuster at the back is easy to tighten, but the cordlock is hidden under the flap, in a little pocket, an arrangement that TNF seem to love and which has turned out to be a pain in that arse with gloves on, I have to work it with bare fingers in all the hooded TNF jackets. It’s not a deal breaker, the strengths well outweigh it, but there are easier ways to resolve this feature.

Articulation is great, and it’s a good fit too, I seem to get away with medium and large in TNF, more evidence for actually being a size XM: Extra Medium. The waist cord is a good feature, keeps the front neat but draws the jacket in. and the hems stay down too.
Of all the shells I’ve got in for test, this feels like it bridges my favourite points of reference the best, the protection and minimal features that I used years ago and the modern fabrics and construction that make life lighter and better.

I hope it’s the sum of it’s parts. We’ll see by next Spring.

Inov8 X-Talon 240

I got the X-Talon 240’s in for test, what, a year ago? And it’s high time I spoke about them.

The Gore-Tex lined Roclite 288’s earned the nickname of Suicide Socks, but the X-Talons are the rightful owner of that title. The upper is softer, and does feel more like a sock than a boot. Add the thin sole unit and your feet feel pretty damned bare. What surprised me though was the lack of lace pressure, the thin tongue held no horrors, and the X-Talons are unexpectedly comfy. This extends to the trail, and the mixed terrain of my Kilpatrick hills routes suits the boots perfectly, the naked feeling is quickly lost and replaced by a sure footed confidence. The myth that you bash your toes and twist your ankles in lightweight footwear is just put about by nayayersto circle the wagons of doubt around their own fears. I’ve had less problems with my feet in the past few years that I’ve had in all my previous lives, other than when I spend 3 years as a centipede in the late 15th century.
But I digress. The sole unit is a cracker, soft rubber and grippy lugs, it will bite securely into soft ground and there’s enough give on the long-ish lugs to make hardpack issue-free. You can feel every detail of the ground under your feet too, boot wearers will take some time to get used to that, and feet will get tired, but fit feet will love the positivity you get from the tangible connection to the ground.

So why get a non waterproof boot when the trail shoe version is available and lighter? One reason is keeping the crap out of your sock with the higher ankle, another is heel fit. A lot of folk have issues with Inov8’s heels, and these boots address that indirectly, you can fit various insoles without popping your foot out of the shoe altogether like you would in the X-Talon 212’s, and have a chance at getting some of the benefits of that sole and flexibility.

Specialist? Not necessarily, if they fit, you’d be in for a surprise on the trail in these.

High5

When the High5 package came in for test, it felt like I’d come home, I used to fire this stuff down my neck on a regular basis. But as I slowed a bit and carried a tent more I drifted away from it. Now that everyone is trying to be “real food” with their sports and energy bars it’s actually rather refreshing to see a brand that’s not checking into Hype Hotel.
I’ve had inconsistent use the past wee while, but it’s still good fuel when you use it, ages since I’ve used gels, and I can see why Holly gets a spoonful of jam and runs away with it to eat it, it’s kinda nice. The drink mixes have always been good, their isotonic has long proved the concept of techno hydration for me (and I do mean me personally, not as a concept for everyone), on the bike and in summer anyway. The energy bars? McCowan’s Highland Toffee for the active person.

The debate about fancy fuel is eternal and pointless, it’ll do its work differently for everyone, and even the thought of it will horrify many. Some racers drink plain water, and eat a bananana to win, others digest only their sponsor’s products to win, I’ve had my day saved and my legs revived on many occasions by sachets or bars and also by a handful of water from a mountain burn.
So the choice is yours, and it’s choice that’s important.

Garmont Tower GTX

It’s definitely getting a bit alpine on here, in for test Garmont’s Tower GTX.

The model on the website is different to the one I’ve got here, don’t know why, but I will say that the version I’ve got feels and looks like a proper alpine boot, where the website one looks a little self-consciously modern if you know what I mean? Whatever, I like the looks of this one, I suspect it means business with that blunt expression.

The upper is a mix of suede and fabric. The fabric’s an odd one, looks highly textured but is actually completely smooth, a fancy weave I suspect. There’s a huge rand right round the boot to protect it, and having shredded trail shoes tramping through crusty neve,  such things do preserve your investment.
The fully-gussetted tongue has a medium padding and folds nicely away when laced. Nothing fancy with the lacing, eyelets and hooks and two webbing loops to help pull the foot into the heel cup.
The well-padded ankle cuff isn’y too high, and there’s a nice flex too it. So many of the modern winter boots are allowing ankle movement, what will the British safety man say about this?
The upper is Gore-Tex lined and inside there’s a basic footbed which will be just fine. The secret to solving foot problems might not lie in buying one fancy branded insert and putting your faith in it, it might just be getting footwear that fits and using a couple of different pairs to break up any possibility of a problem pattern forming.
But I digress, the sole is a Vibram unit, with a tread that looks like a tweaked version of the all-time classic Carrarmato. It should grip well, and the curve should make the walk-in less of a hassle as the midsole is nice and stiff to take crampon with a heel-clip. The moulding for the clip is well shaped and the back of the boot is reinforced well enough that the clip lever won’t press on your achilles tendon.

Stuff like this is coming home for me, years ago boots were dragging my ass down and I was liberated by finding the winter possibilities for trail shoes and bendy boots. After a few years of that I found my limits, steeper stuff can sometimes be a hassle, certainly contouring steep slopes on crampon points in soft footwear is very tiring on your feet, and trail shoes in snow can be cold at times. But in the gap where I was completely bootless, lots of models have come out that are lighter, more flexible, will take bigger crampons and won’t destroy my feet, give me shin splints or make me shout at them once I take them off.
It’s not about whether you chose one type of footwear or the other, it’s about having choice and being able to exploit all the variations to your best advantage.

These fit very exactly, rock shoes but with room for my toes. I’m relishing being able to wear my old Grivel G12’s for the first time in years, and I dare say I’ll have plenty so say about these through the winter.

LaSportiva Stratos Ski-Mountaineering Boot

Just in for test… Nah, no way I can keep a straight face saying that. Normally press releases and the like get scanned and filed if something immediately appropriate doesn’t jump out, but I met up with Si from Lyon Equipment the other day and I spotted these monsters.
The Stratos were the result of a project to make the best and lightest ski touring boot, and with a remit bypassing cost and manufacturing complexity concerns, they pushed the boat out somewhat.
Something like 1200g a pair for carbon fibre, dyneema and titanium hand-made Italian madness, and flat-out they can make around five pairs a week. There’s an element of  “Nah nah, look what we can do” about these which I absolutely love.
The British Olympic Ski Team have ten pairs of these, but you can have them too for just £2,500.
Aye, you’ll never complain about the cost of your footwear again will you?

The North Face Half Dome Stretch ProShell

Yes, yes, I know about the colours, in for an exclusive test is next year’s Half Dome from TNF.

“It’s all about the fabric” they said to me when I first saw this, and now having spent a good bit of time in it, I can see what they’re saying. The whole jacket is cut from a lovely soft and light stretch Gore-Tex ProShell. It’s a nice fabric to wear, but the stretch isn’t there to cover up from a sloppy cut, the Half Dome is properly dialed-in for the active user, slim and well articulated. The stretch just seems to add a little something to the fluidity of movement if that makes sense, minimises the jackets presence maybe?! Those factors also mean that the size medium is perfect on me over a base and light midlayer.

It’s fully featured, a phrase that usually sends the needle on the scales spinning upwards, but this sample comes in at 446g. For that we get four chest pockets, all usable sizes with skinny water resistant zippers. The side-entry pockets have the hem drawcord-ends in there too for easy tightening, slackening is via the cord-locks inside the hem itself.
There’s pit-zips made from the same skinny zippers, here with double zippers for variable opening. These are easy to use, the zips run pretty smooth and all the zip-pulls on the jacket are good ones, easy to grip with gloves. The main zip is a more robust water resistant type, double-ended with a slim inner stormflap.

The cuffs have velcro adjusment, and the tabs don’t have velcro all the way to the end so can actually use the bloody things without picking at the end to release it.  Are you listening everyone else?
The hood is a cracker, double-adjustable: face aperture and volume. The face cord has concealed cord-locks and captured loops to hook a finger through, all fine with gloves. The volume adjustment follows the current TNF pattern of a cord-lock hidden under a flap at the back of your head, easy to tighten, nearly impossible to slacken without a bare hand. The peak is well shaped, a good size and is stiffened and wired. The hood sits well and follows my head well on the move, a good balance between protection and usability.

Inside we have surprisingly few seams, and microtape is well used here to keep the breathable suface area maximised. There’s some welding as well as stitching, with reinforcing patches at seam junctions where wear and tear from movement of both wearer and stretch fabric is expected to be an issue.
A nice touch is a very fine microfleece patch at the back of the neck, catching either sweat, rain or melting snow from dripping down your spine I hope.

From the use I’ve given this already I know the fabric works well, I think the gap between Gore-Tex and eVent is closer than it’s been. The spec of the jacket for the weight is brilliant, it’s a proper mountain jacket, no compromises that I’ve found as yet.
How the fabric fares over the long-term we’ll see, it’ll be getting out and about some more over the winter.

Aye, it’s got purple. How cool is that?

Go System Apollo Ti

Oh, I hope this good. In for test, the new Apollo Ti from Go System.

The link above is the to regular Apollo, the Ti version is much lighter at 198g, helped by the titanium construction and the absence of a piezo ignition.
A remote canister stove is the way to go in winter and the ingredients are all here in the Apollo. A wide base made of legs which fold away in a lovely fashion, and it folds small enough to fit inside my 900ml Evernew titanium pot with room for a gas, firesteel and Buff. The pot supports are big and grippy, it does feel quite secure although the feet are quite small so placement will be handles with caution. The big burner suits the 900ml pot very well and it has a preheat coil to evaporate liquid fuel, so your gas canister will work upside down too. The flexi is a decent length so the canister will be clear of the stove and shouldn’t interfere with a windshield.
The control is knurled metal and feels smooth in operation, it’s quite small but it should be okay with gloves.

The fact that it goes inside my winter pot is great news, my packsize isn’t expanding beyond that when I carry a canister-top stove, and I won’t feel that extra 100g.
I hope it’s a good performer as well, I had a bad experience last winter with the MSR Windpro so you’ll hear me scream anywhere in the UK if this fails me on a frozen high camp.
Oh, there’ll be more.