Vintage Gore-Tex versus McNett Seam Grip

Age does not come alone, I have been discovering this over the past few years, and the passage of time also weighs as heavy on your gear.
As much as I enjoy my vintage Gore-Tex most of it has required some maintenance to keep it reliably functional and the biggest issue is the seam tape.

Back in the day the tape was big and wide, it sealed the seams but it did reduce the area of breathability and modern micro tape functions better from that point of view as well as being more flexible, I’m not daft.
The old taping has a familiar wear pattern, around the body of the jacket the tape stays stuck but the edges get a little abraded, unless you have a waist drawcord along which which the tape can peel with the extra pressure and accentuated wear from the concertina effect of the fabric when worn or just left tightened.

The hood however takes a beating. The concentrated 3D shaping in a small area, the tension from multiple adjusters, the constant movement, the pull of a rucksack straps, it all conspires to loosen and peel the tape from the neckline and the rest of the hood.
Sweaty necks are another thing her as well, it attacks the fabric and you can get delamination. The three layers separate leaving the Gore-Tex membrane stuck to one of the other layers. It doesn’t necessarily leak I have discovered, but the membrane is going to be vulnerable to abrasion from movement and it apparently makes professional seam repair troublesome.

Given that I have a bunch of old jackets that I wear regularly I looked at getting some professional retaping done. It was outright too expensive, especially for fixing more than one jacket which I really had to do. The repairs would be more than picking up a replacement jacket on ebay – only old The North Face and occasional Berghaus (who ever dreamed that a Mera Peak would be collectible…) go for big money.

I looked around at the options. I’d done iron-on seam tape many years ago and it was rubbish, there’s a more modern version but I really wanted to patch what was there as the bits that were still stuck were secure.
McNett Seam Grip was the one that came up all the time, approved by Gore even. However after reading a great many reviews I wasn’t sure at all. Some folk said yes please, some folk were sitting crying in their kitchen with their hands covered in glue and ruined jackets.

I decided that the truth was probably in the middle somewhere and reading between the lines a little it seemed like the best results were done with preparation and patience. I have both of those available, so I decided to try to fix one hood, the one that needed it most, on a ’98 Karrimor Summit.

Preparation and patience are vital, it took me over two weeks to fix that hood, including redoing an early bit after I got better at it. But it worked really well and after months of regular wear I stopped checking the inside of the hood to see if it was coming apart again and I just wear it.
Maybe longer term it’ll need some further patching but that’s okay, I’ve gotten used to the smells of the chemicals now and have moved onto fixing other jackets.

I reckon seam sealing works if you do it right. It helps extend the life of old gear which has got to be a good thing financially and environmentally and also it’s er, fun.

Here’s what I do, demonstrated Haynes manual style on a mid 90s Karrimor Diamond Jacket, their top end mountaineering shell back in the day in what feels like Taslan Gore-Tex, a tough 3-layer fabric.

Wash the jacket, rinse it well and gather your tools.

Rags are best, not paper towels for the first cleaning part, they will come apart leaving little bobbles of paper all over the work area.
Rubbing alcohol for cleaning. I had industrial stuff I could use at first but when that was finished I thought I’d try stuff from the chemist and it’s fine, what ever additives are in the domestic version don’t affect the results.
A little tub for the sealer and a small paint brush because the one that comes with the tube is rubbish, throw it away.
Tape, properly sticky tape. The thin duct tape I use would pull your skin off if you put it the back of your hand.
McNett Seam Grip. Under a tenner from GoOutdoors in Clydebank.

Prepare, I can’t stress this enough. Clear the area, get your kit sorted, get strips of tape cut so you can grab them and remember this – the jacket has to go somewhere when you’re finished. That somewhere has to be where it will sit undisturbed and unstressed for at least 48 hours.

Once you’re sorted identify what you want to fix first. Don’t try and do it all, especially if there’s a lot of continuous tape failure, be patient.

Below is the neck seam, it’s pretty bad on the Diamond and I’m doing it in several pieces.

Wet your rag with the alcohol and get rubbing. Don’t be gentle either, lean on it and you’ll see old adhesive bobbling off as you cut through to the fabric below.

Above is after a few minutes of rubbing and it’s as good as I can get it. You can see a shadow of the old contact area but it’s clean. I also cleaned the tape above and all the other surfaces that are being bonded just as carefully. Not being half arsed here really helps.

Leave it be and let it dry, watch some telly, have a cuppa.

Put a little seam sealer in a cup or tub, even a bigger plastic bottle top would do. Squeeze a bit out from the tube and put the lid back on. The sealer now has a limited life, they’re not joking, the tube contents will now start to cure. They say it’ll last two months if you keep it in the freezer and I’ve got to three months on this tube although the contents are definitely thicker so this was it’s last outing. Use two months as a guide, it seems about right. Stick it in a zip lock bag, stick in the freezer after use.

Paint sealer on the surfaces to be mated. Don’t go crazy with it and don’t scrimp either, a light but even coating. You want to have a good adhesive surface but you don’t want to squeeze a lot out when you mate it all together. You could even try it on scrap fabric, bits of paper, anything at all to help you judge it.

Once the surfaces are coated, press the tape back down nice and gently. The tape will stretch and the fabric will not, it’s easy to make creases in the tape if you’re overzealous here.
Smooth it out, some sealer will squeeze out, hopefully not too much and wipe it clean along the direction of the tape with a bit of paper towel. It doesn’t have to be as out of focus as it is below.

Duct tape the repair, overlapping the fabric and original seam tape with your duct tape as evenly as you can to get the glue surface in the middle. This is partly for security and also for getting it right on longer runs, if you get into the habit of keeping it centered it’ll help here.

Rub the duct tape flat so it has good grip, if the tape is well stuck your repair is well stuck. You can see the edge of the Gore-Tex tape showing through my duct tape below, this is good.

Put the sealer in the freezer, wash the brush and tub out with the alcohol, stow everything safely. Go about your life.

48 hours, I’m not joking. Stick the jacket somewhere where the repair is sitting without pressure or unwanted flex and leave it for two days. Or more, just not less.

Above I’m peeling the duct tape back off and I’m doing it in a very specific fashion. I’m pulling it away from the repaired seam and keeping pressure on the repair with a finger while I’m doing it. It’s vital not to stress the repair while taking the tape off, especially when the duct tape as is sticky as this.

Even after two days you might find the edge of the repair hasn’t completely cured, it might be tacky. That’s fine, leave the jacket where it is for another day.

When the repair edge is dry, clean off any excess sealer with alcohol and a rag, rubbing along the line of the seam tape so you don’t stress the edge of the repair.

It took a me a few attempts to get this right and I’m used to making and fixing on a daily basis. Glad I stuck with it (ha), it’s brought some of my favourite kit back into a usable state.
It really is a very doable thing. Repairing your own gear is enjoyable and brings a wee bit of self satisfaction too.

Remember, preparation and patience.

That jacket below, the whole hood has been patched and so far, looking good.

70’s Karrimor Tote-Em Rucksack with K2 Frame – Part #1

There are a few random threads that knotted together to bring this post around.

One thread is vintage or just old gear, I’ve been using it and talking about it for ages and it’s something that seems to be seeping into the general consciousness which is a very good thing. Maybe folk will look back, see the good bits and then cast a more critical and skeptical eye over new kit, some of which is vintage reissues. Ha.
Another thread is my life as a heritage heating engineer where I crawl about old buildings making things works that have no right to still be functional or creating new things that look like old things. At my core I am part Victorian.
This engineering eye is what I see outdoor gear with, I see processes and construction, inspiration and ingenuity and I see skill and thought in even the most basic bit of kit. It stirs the geek in me.

So I’m in a church hall attic tracing out long forgotten braided electric cable expecting to see sparks in the dark and a large cracked Bakelite shell at the end of it. I shone a torch through piles of dusty gear and saw my goal, but I’d have to dig it out.
I was digging through time, sooty old aluminium pots, heavy canvas and rigid pole tents, a wooden and canvas stretcher, taped up boxes, disintegrating poly bags of miscellaneous crap and then at the bottom a flash of red.

I knew it was outdoor gear, most of the other stuff I was shifting was in that vein in a 60’s Outward Bound sort of way but this fabric was bright, it looked good, it looked better quality that everything else around it. I immediately had suspicions, I dragged it into the clear and shone my torch on the label, it read: A Karrimor Product, Avenue Parade, Accrington, Lancs, England.
I whooped out loud and sent the photie above straight from my phone to my facebook page where with some further shots, some discussion followed.
It’s a Tote-Em external frame pack, 70’s vintage.

I found my electrical fault/horror. No spare parts to be had, the manufacturer of the oddball item went out of business in ’75 and some things I just can’t make myself and stay legal. However, I have a good plan and I’m on it.

When reporting all this to the customer I mentioned the pack, is there any chance... ? I ventured. Inquiries would be made they said.
After the weekend we talked about the job and my plan for getting things running and the word came through just as we were finishing up “Oh, just take that old haversack”.
It was in the truck in less than an hour.

I was impressed by the lightness for the apparently large capacity, I was impressed by the condition for its age and the design intrigued me but it was manky.
The environment it was in was dry but dirty and dusty and there had been an element of asbestos in the storage area in the past and although everything is certified as clear, 35 years of dealing with the substance and the consequences of exposure to it to many folks around me has taught me caution.
I stripped the pack and cleaned it, not a gentle wipe down either, it’s head went right under the bath water with a nail brush in my hand. Hey, it’s UK made Karrimor gear with a lifetime guarantee isn’t it? I knew it would be fine.

I inspected it all closely and it had come up well. No major damage at all, just regular wear from long forgotten adventures. The fabric is fresh, a few small holes which I probably won’t touch unless they fray in use. The webbing and buckles all look good and now run a lot smoother.
And, the whole thing smells vaguely of NikWax Tech Wash.
I let it dry for a couple of days then got down to the task of reassembling and adjusting it to fit my back, because it’s not a museum piece or for home decor, it’s going out to play.
I did some research, there’s stuff out there but not too much and Mike Parsons, Karrimor legend and designer of the pack had some insights from it’s creation.

So with a single phillips screwdriver and a basic knowledge of knots, it’s time to bring this Tote-Em back to life.

The frame is labelled a K2 and there were different configurations and lengths, clicking on the Tote-Em page on the excellent Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection site gives you a couple of catalogue pages where you can see the options. The one I have here seems to be a standard Tote-Em, I’ve got the same configuration as the one labeled 5301 on the old page.

The frame is made from 7/8″ aluminium tube. What’s interesting here is that metal wasn’t exactly Karrimor’s medium but it’s easy to see Mike Parsons getting some tools together, learning the methods and wrestling with tube in a workshop until he got what he wanted.
Once the design was finalised in-house tooling was commissioned for punching the holes and local engineering firms made the frames.

There’s no fat in the design, it’s all simple, practical and consequently light.
I make stuff like this now, and 45 years on if I was making one of these it wouldn’t look very different doing it from scratch.
The holes for the horizontal bars are stamped with the outer holes countersunk so that the screws sit flush. The attachments are done with pop rivets and shaped bar.

Aluminium can be horrible stuff to work with, it work hardens which can lead to tearing or crushing.
Bending it with either poor material or poor technique leads to a full scrap bin, you have to get your bend right first time and the shaping here is rather nicely done.
The shelf corners are the bottom end are lovely.

The centre bars are fixed with long steel screws which tighten into threaded plastic inserts. It’s a good design, secure with a bit of flex but it relies on the user not being handless. The pack is designed to be dismantled and adjusted by the user and the cynic in me can see chatrooms and forums in 2019 full of folk cross threading, over-tightening and sticking screwdrivers in their hands.

Ach, but maybe not, backpackers and outdoors folks tend to be more hands-on than most.
I just get that feeling of disconnection that modern life is bringing. I mean, modern big brand packs look they were hatched from an egg. The Tote-Em looks and feels like it was made by folk in Lancashire, it’s the organic tattie to a box of McDonalds fries.

The shoulder straps are basic and you’ll see the same design across many Karrimor packs of the same era. There’s thickish padding which hasn’t deformed or crushed in use with a light nylon shell.
The webbing is pretty stiff but is now running better through the buckles after the deep clean. The metal buckles are all perfectly functional and there’s a nice wee touch of an eyelet at the end of the adjuster so that it won’t slip through the buckle.

The back system is again simple and light but adjustable. There are three sections of 4″ wide webbing which can be placed anywhere on the back as they slide up and down the frame sides.
Moving the bottom one with the waist belt attached around really changes the back length, when I took it apart it was set for someone a lot shorter than me but the adjustment was all quite obvious. It might look like a bag of knitting below, but it’s all simple to do.

You can flip the waist belt left to right or upside down to fine tune, it makes little differences to the fit. The big metal buckle is fine, but there’s just enough webbing in that belt for my current waist line. Must have all been super skinny in the 70’s.

The webbing has drilled aluminium inserts at the ends, three holes drilled in each for manufacturing simplicity with cords for tightening the webbing onto the frame and adding tension to this simple back system.
The waist belt has double cords for extra security and stability, although it’s rudimentary, it seems to be intended that it will take some of the load.

The body of the pack is a little amorphous without the frame and it’s huge too, I think it’s 65 litres, but it’s nicely split into compartments.

The fabric is a bright red nylon and it must have been such a change from all the dull canvas around at the time when it hit the shops. The fabric is somewhere between stiff and supple and has aged very well.
There’s some small holes here and there but they never crept and no attempts were made at repair, so the owner must have been happy enough and who am I to disagree, there will be no modern repairs for now.

The lid is a simple flap and the elastic edging has a little bit of stretch left in it. The old logo makes me smile and in general the branding is very strong and subtle all over the pack. The buckles, even the cord lock all have KP or Karrimor on them. This is ahead of its time, it gives the pack a strong overall identity but I do wonder if it was partly to stop the factories making the parts selling the bespoke component designs to other pack manufacturers?

The tough webbing is in excellent condition. Good lengths on the flap webbing so you can open it fully without taking it right out through the buckles, we’re pre plastic clips here remember.
The side pockets open pretty fully too and all the webbing on the body is running smoother since its bath.

The body is split internally, the bottom 1/3-ish being a separate zipped compartment. The zip is good, runs smooth and has double zip pulls.

Although the internal divider is fixed there are corner holes for any water ingress to pass through from the top which was good thinking. Could probably get modern tent poles down there too, but I don’t think I’ll need to, there’s plenty space.

The side pockets are huge and high up on the sides. There’s a single ice axe loop and buckle, again in great nick and fully functional. I have a wooden axe if the snow comes back for me taking this out.

The closure is a simple cord through eyelets format with a big chunky cord lock. It work just fine and the big flap covers it all completely.

The back shows where the bars sit, the aluminium has left a particularly nice line where the harness bar sits. What trails were trodden when that mark was ground into the fabric? I bet they went by train or bus, I bet they had can openers and bottles of meths, tartan shirts and the widest grins.

The pocket seen above and below is where the load sits, the top bar locates here through the elastic loops (still stretchy, oof!) with the frame sides poking through little gaps in the corners.
All very snug, simple and effective.

The other pack to frame attachments are done with webbing and double rings, a brilliantly simple and effective system which you probably see most often these days on crampon bindings.

Time to put it back together. The back length is adjustable, the shoulder strap bar has two sets of holes to fix onto.
I used the lower one, with the waist belt set further down it feels like a regular back length, keeps the shelf away from my hips and as daft as this might sound, it sits on my back just like I see it on old photies I’ve found. Now there’s the gold standard source to make adjustments by.

The bare frame as above is 670g. Now that might not look light but it feels light, maybe because I’m looking at metal and expecting more, but maybe because the weight is spread out?
Hey, perception is a hard thing to quantify.

I repositioned the webbing a few times, flipped the waist belt over and tried it both ways round and I’ll probably make more changes as I go.
My fears are that the shelf digs into my hips on the trail or that the shoulder straps or the harness bar can be felt in ways I don’t want and I can’t adjust it away once I’m out there. I’ve played as much as I can but until it all settles in after a few miles with a proper load I won’t know, but I’ll be ready to adjust where I can.

Weight with webbing and harness attached 1050g.

Clean, fresh, as well fitting as I can get it and ready to go.
Complete and trail ready it’s at 1685g.

To the modern outdoor eye the Tote-Em might seem alien, but this is a product of innovation, discovery, ingenuity, trial and error, testing and all done here in the UK.
Everything has a first time and then we learn from that for the second time.
My interest in old gear is an appreciation of that as someone who makes things himself, some joyful nostalgia for the days when I moved from army surplus into real gear and a fear that too many good ideas are being left behind for the wrong reasons.

So, a bit iconic and a bit melancholy is that flap below.

When the weather says yes, the Tote-Em will be in the hills. More to come.

Barn find

I’ve just been in a church attic digging through piles of fusty shite to get to old electrics that I suspected were at the root of the purpose of my visit.

I found manky pots and pans, an ancient wood and canvas stretcher, boxes of misc. shite, assorted cuttings of wood and right at the bottom a vintage Karrimor Totem Senior.

Negotiations have opened with the customer.

 

Seasonal Ranges are the Pits

Being back in the world of gear after a fashion one of my long term bugbears has returned to catch on my socks like the toenail that grew back in an odd shape after I tore it off one winter in Kintail many years ago.

Seasons.
A seemingly innocuous term for the flow of newness and imposition of order in the outdoor gear world. I believe however that it’s bullshit and causes more problems than it solves.

Also in the mix of this train of thought is a notion I had last year of revisiting and using just old gear. The scary hot summer tripped up that plan a wee bit but it did have me digging out, cleaning up and using old gear. That hasn’t stopped, I mix and match vintage and current kit all the time.
One of the thoughts was that I could happily trash my old kit around the Lang Craigs but what’s subtly happened is that I started to choose old gear first by preference and it doesn’t get trashed, that wee bit of extra weight seems to offer a disproportionate amount of durability. Interesting.

Nikwax sent me their whole range of kit which I’ve been applying and testing for many months and I’ve also been seam sealing, sewing and duct taping all over the place.
It’s adjusted my mind set a little. For ten years or more I’ve always been in the newest and the best, now I’m swapping that around with the older and, in some cases anyway, better.

There’s a lot of chat on Facebucket and Twatter about stuff like this just now and it’s probably fueled by a mix of things from nostalgia, to curiosity to environmental concerns. Whatever, folks are talking and thinking, so it’s a good thing.

I’m going to try and pull all this and more into a series of posts from my own experience and perspective. It’ll help me make some conclusions and might actually be useful or interesting to someone. Once I’m gone…

Spoiler Alert for the last page…
99% of old footwear is shite, modern is better here.

Anyway, seasons

Seasonal ranges artificially influence they way we perceive of the evolution and development of our gear. Tiny changes and tweaks every year, new colours, bolder claims, bigger plans that have to be funded by selling even more bland gear that’ll never see a mountain. I was in Tizo* last week and it’s just racks of uninspiring black and dark blue interchangeable dullness. Swap the logos around the jackets and no one would notice, characterless, generic alpine nonsense.

It’s so far removed from the user driven trade it once was, but that’s what expansion brings, it’s the nature of business. I’m not judging on that, just voicing my frustration as an enthusiast because of the effect it has on our choices.

Seasons are convenient, planned-out selling to shops and fixed dates to design and manufacture for. But materials and construction advances don’t run to a timetable and neither does inspiration and discovery.
Real advances come through accident, through feedback, through mistakes and through time.
While I was away from regular gear stuff very little has actually changed, I think LED tech is the only thing that’s really taken a big step, some fabric evolutions and everything else is styling. Which is not necessarily bad, retro is in after all. Reissue Rab Kinder smock anyone?

When I was with OMM’s Lead User Group, we worked on advances from testing samples, making adjustments and then testing those, when it was ready it was ready. That’s what you get when it’s a small independent, it was mobile and proactive. No giant factory ship to crew and feed while they wait for the next actually new thing to appear.

So is the new season bringing you something new?  Maybe, maybe not. You can’t properly measure progress in seasons, it takes years, in some places maybe decades. Seasons are good for business but bad for us, we come to expect new, assume it to be better, then we expect the same again in six months and I know all the gear isn’t that much better, I’ve spend a year proving it to myself.
In saying that, my current favourite combo is a current rather quirky current midlayer and 90s Gore Tex, more of which later.

*Made up name to protect the real retailer who I’m sure is very nice and totally didn’t make my daughter cry when she walked on their pretend stony path. Bastards.

It’s a thread I’ll continue, but it’s important to say that I’m not criticizing the designers or anyone else behind the scenes at the outdoor brands, I know enough of them now to know that there is passion and knowledge as well as huge capacity for practical application of their products. It’s just that most of them are welded to the rigid structure of big business now. It must be so frustrating at times. Imaging what these folks could do if set free from crosses on a calendar, we’d have the lightest, most durable, most ergonomic, most breathable… The brands would all go bankrupt too. See, I understand you have to have turnover in a big company, I just get twitchy thinking about this stuff.

So, pit zips.
The top one is from 1997. Multiple storm flaps with hard to manage velcro and a regular zip. Hard to operate, complex to manufacture and best left alone when wearing the jacket unless you’re really, really hot.
Next one down is a couple of years later, slightly simpler but still faffy, still bulky and complex, still a pain in the arse to use.

Then we have the early 2000s, water resistant zip with stitched and taped seams but with a storm flap (including a really clever wee bead in it that keeps it in place) because, you know, will this zip leak when in wears in? Usable and practical.
Below is current, a lightweight water resistant zip welded in. Easily used and you can’t even feel it on the jacket.

Fifteen years from first to last, that’s an example of evolution from available technology and probably also nudged along from Gore’s influence with the “Guaranteed to Keep You Dry” swing tags. As the zips got better, the external protection slipped away and disappeared.

More to come and the next one is called “Lightweight gear is rubbish, it wears out too fast”. I have evidence.

For the defence.

20YOC Gear: Karrimor Summit & Phantom Gore Tex Shells

For something that probably doesn’t get used in anger as much as our other outdoor clothing, a waterproof jacket is something that seems to attract the most attention and debate.
And money.
A shell jacket as as much a symbol of intent as it is a practical garment, it looks wrong hanging on a peg in your hall. Just like a vintage BSA Gold Star, it shouldn’t be on it’s centre stand, polished up and sitting in the garage, it should be screaming down the A82 getting paint chips.

I made do for a long time, years in army surplus and PU coated nylon cagoules worn over woolly jumpers were actually just fine. Gore Tex was plastic, expensive and to be treated with suspicion.
Until one day in the Arrochar Alps where the sweat between my Peter Storm cagoule and my jumper froze. It was time to change up my clothing a wee bit.

Sprayway was my first call, but the flappy removable hood on the Torridon TL was annoying and although the velcro strips I added helped, it still wasn’t the best. That Gore Tex though, it really worked, especially worn over the assortment of fleeces I soon accumulated.
I kept trading up through the 90s, but my eyes were always drawn to the Karrimor Summit jackets in West Coast Outdoor in Fort William. It was a lot shorter than I was used to, but soft and it felt so light. It was expensive too, it was a proper mountaineers jacket. It had a nice wee multicoloured mountain logo on it. Ach, probably not for me.

Then one day in ’98 I was in West Coast and they had a stack of Summits with £100 off. It was the fancy new colours they said, folk didn’t like it. I tried one on anyway, it felt fine to me.
I pulled up the hood and that was all I needed to know, I was walking to the till.

The standard was set right there and then, my expectations now had a benchmark. Every hood I have ever pulled up since has to measure up that that moment in West Coast (it was up the stairs, on the left just before the shoes) where it was “just right”.

There’s been a lot of membrane’s under my bridge since then and features have changed a lot, weights have come down and styles have changed.
The current retro outdoor trend that is seeing 1990’s The North Face and Berghaus Gore Tex jackets sell for hundreds of pounds has allowed me to wear some of my favourite gear this winter without people pointing and laughing. I was even wearing one today now I think about. Where the hell did that rain come from and why is 20 year old 2-layer GTX ripstop so comfortable?
So, more than the other 20 year old gear I’ve dug out, I’m already very used to old Gore Tex again and you know what, I’m quite happy in it.

I have older Gore Tex, my Phoenix/Karrimor Diamond being a belter and still in good condition and the right size, but it’s just too big and heavy for this time of year. So I’m going with either of the sets below. One made in UK from ’98 and one Chinese from ’99, and Gore’s first proper step into lightweight.

1999 Karrimor Phantom Jacket and Pants, pre-production samples.
Jacket £200, 414g Size Large
Pants £120, 294g Size Large, including bits of duct tape and the two kevlar ankle patches I sewed on after shredding them with crampons.

The Phantoms probably fit with my current wants and needs for waterproofs given the weight and features but it’s not as simple as that.
The design is pretty clean looking, but it’s hiding some interesting stuff.

A lightweight jacket with proper cuffs, wide, big velcro adjusters. Get your gloves under or over these.
The elastic is lasting too, still some bounce left in it and the cuffs will pull up to my elbows. The arm articulation is pretty decent, some elbow shaping and armpit gusseting which gives a good range of movement, scarmbling friendly but not climbing friendly. The jacket is too short anyway, it barely sticks though the bottom of a pack waist belt so it would pop out of a harness all the time unless I’d imagine.

The hood is terrible. It’s a huge shapeless bag (space helmet compatible) with a single ineffectual volume reducing strip of bungee cord running vertically at the back. The peak is okay, not wired but keeps its shape. But just as you’re feeling better about it all the bungee running round your face pulls the hood in and it feels like your falling down a manhole in the street as the circle of light gets smaller in front of your eyes. It doesn’t move with my head either.
However, it rolls up with a velcro tab so you don’t have to deal with it.

The chest pockets are excellent. Nicely angled for stashing gear or warming hands and the inners are mesh which vent very well.
The pocket zips are regular zips which run so smoothly it makes using a current water resistant zip again an instant annoyance. The storm flaps cover the pockets perfectly well with a single velcro tab at the bottom corner to seal them up tight.

The big news here was the Gore Tex Paclite fabric. Lighter, more flexible, more breathable they said. It’s two layer, the PTFE membrane is visible, protected by the little rubbery dots printed on.
There was a great wailing and moaning when this version launched, Paclite I we’ll call it – version II was garbage with an inner coating and the dots, III was better with just an inner coating that does help manage condensation a wee bit.
The complaints came from the inner wetting out, which it does especially if you wear a lot under it or are working hard, over just a base layer it works fine for me at times, but it was always difficult to get a consistent performance.
The other worry was durability and actually that turned out to be okay for me, the membrane has discoloured in places, I’m assuming oils and dirt contaminating the lamination in some way, but it never delaminated or peeled, even on the pants which had some hard use over the years.

The matching pants are excellent in every way other than the weak ankles which had to be patched with the kevlar cut from the knees of some too-small Rohan techy pants.
The lower legs have zips and velcro flaps and the elasticated waist has a drawcord, that’s about it. The real revelation is the cut, these are the best shell trousers I’ve ever had regarding fit and mobility.

Pulling them on is odd as my foot slides down they feel tight, then slack, the same happens on the other leg, then fastened and adjusted they’re suddenly perfect. No stretch at all and I have unrestricted movement due to the clever articulation and gusseting. The clever backside and rear waist means they don’t slip down, no cold kidneys, no readjustment on the move.
I will continue to patch these until there is none of the original fabric left at which point I will send then to someone clever and have them make me another.
I wish.

1998 Karrimor Summit Jacket and Pants
Jacket £250, 684g Size Large
Pants £200, 630g Size Large, including braces and patches

Clean and simple and maybe a bit boxy too, this is my favourite shell combo of all time.

The cut is relaxed on the jacket and it feels odd compared to the current closer fit we’ve all got used to. Breathable fabrics work better closer to the body but in the worst winter days, being able to coorie into a bigger cut jacket had a great psychological effect. I was winning, the weather was losing.
Articulation is okay, the looser cut helps this although there is some decent forming around the pits and elbows. It’s too short though, it needed an extra couple of inches on the body which they gave it the next year. They changed the rest of the jacket too though, That did not go well at all.

The hood is the work of a pact with satan, it must be. It has the same single vertical volume reducer as the Phantom above, but here it pulls the peak up and the the hood into your head. The face drawcord seals you up and pulls the whole hood in. Slack or tight, it moves with my head and the huge peak kept out blizzards out convincingly for years.

 

A main zip that literally and figuratively zips up and down, oh I love zips that move so easily. You could also leave the zip half done and touch the velcro together for a little bit of extra venting while still keeping the snow out. Storm flaps, what a clever and useful thing.
The map pocket is huge and useful. I think in more recent years I started using chest pouches because I didn’t have this pocket anymore. Kidding aside, it’s not a vital feature, but the pocket bag is a light fabric so it doesn’t affect breathability too much, so why not.

The chest pockets are excellent. Yes they’re double fabric, but I could and can live with that. The pockets have slick and fast to use regular zips, wide entries placed at 45 degrees and a big capacity. I’m pretty sure Rohan had a very similar pocket design back in the 70’s, innovative in a time when pockets were flapped rectangles.
The pockets are external and are gusseted/bellowed to make them 3D, that meas you can pack them and they don’t overly affect the way the jacket sits. Modern closer cut jackets have waterproof zips and internal pocket bags, packing the pockets affects the way the jacket sits, sometimes raising the hem up. I’ve been A/B-ing this to test the theory, I’m not making it up.
The untaped external seams let water bleed out too, you can stash wet gear in these pockets. Aye.

The fabric is great, the lightweight ripstop was way better than the Taslan I was so used to. Softer, more packable as I started to carry ever smaller rucksacks and I think it breathed better, but maybe not. I could just have been justifying my purchase to myself.

All in all: yes please.

The matching pants tell us that softshell legs were still in the future. These big fellas were to be worn over fleece or powerstretch and at that they excelled.
Braces for stability and being able to have a looser waist, full length zips for quick on/off and internal gaiters for fastening over the big boots that used to give me blisters every time I went out.

They’re nearly the same weight as the jacket and they only went out on days I knew I’d be wearing them, I used to carry cheapos from Millets otherwise until I got the phantoms.
I loved them though, the same tangible level of protection that I got from the jacket made these feel like a fortress. On the worst days, these did make a difference and if I was going back to powerstretch leggings, these would be getting packed in winter once again.

I know nothing is perfect, but I like more features on the Summit Jacket than I do on a current equivalent. It feels ergonomic despite its straight lines and boxiness, it feels utilitarian and accessible and it feels protective.

The only things that feel like they were put there to catch the eye of someone looking for a bit of style on their mountain are the strong colours and the branding.
Its definitely not a traditional Karrimor look, but I really like it and the performance of golden era Karrimor is in there.

Can it be that fabric performance has progressed and design is just going around in circles in a cul-de-sac? Did those two elements pass each other on the way to the present day and not stop to talk?

Well no, but still.

Dammit man, those old pockets.

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, swap 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.