Walkhighlands

My latest review is up here and is backpacking rucksacks. I suppose given my predisposition for wanting not-heavy and having pockets the winners were never in doubt but the big beasts in there still had their good points.

More than that is the fact that I am now desperate to get out into the hills for the night after finishing the write up. I missed my chances with the recent fantastic weather and it’s pish out there just now.

Me

Kit in the Cairgorms

I was in the Cairngorms last autumn with the good folks from Rosker, Spring PR and Skookum to try out some new kit. It was fun to put some names to faces and to catch up with some familiar well worn faces that I haven’t seen for a wee while.
It was a great trip, we got perfect weather, had a lot of fun and as Stan Marsh might say, I think we all learned something today.

The bushcraft guides had us eating leaves and bugs scavenged from scenery during the walk in from Glenmore. Some stuff I know, some stuff I hadn’t thought of, some stuff I didn’t want to know because it was still moving and I wasn’t go to eat it with a days food in my rucksack. Still, nice to have possibilities,

The walk into Utzi’s Hut in the Rothiemurchus Forest was very pleasant indeed. So often the forest is an inconvenience to pass on your way to the hills, here I was just enjoying it. The hut is near the edge of the trees to light floods in, but its surroundings lush, plush and a fine pace to spend an afternoon.

There were a bunch pf activities related to some of the kit that we were using and just some stuff for fun. It was all about food initially so we looked at some stoves and cookwear.

Three mega fancy Primus stoves were demoed. Above is the Kinjia with the Campfire Cookset and awesome wooden utensil set. There’s wood all through these stoves, proper old school feel to that which I like.
The Kinjia runs off a regular canaister that we would carry for a mini stove, so although it looks like it’ll be set up on the tailgate of a Range Rover, it’s as portable as you’ll get for this size of twin burner stove.

The Tupike above is a different design of twin burner. There’s a nice lid with wind flaps to the side and legs to give a bit of height if you’re using it on the ground.

The Onja is a quirky design, it folds out to make it’s own stand, has a chopping board as a lid and has a strap for carrying it. Madness, I loved it.
There’s a bunch of textile extras here, all of which come made from Fjallraven fabrics, which shows a bit of commitment from Primus, they could have gone in cheap with the carrying cases and covers.

These are expensive bits of kit and market for these is car campers and day trippers, I’ll never need anything like this but it’s nice to see this kind of kit done well.
I remember nearly slicing my fingers off on a badly finished edge of a bright blue twin burner I used to take on trips to camp sites up north before I took the tent into the hills with me.

The bushcraft folks demonstrated they ways to do it and then had us lighting fires and cooking with just what we cold find in the forest.
There were mixed results from the teams, but we all had a hot lunch and a hot cuppa. And the forest remained safe at all times.

Nothing beats a fresh made cuppa outdoors.

Then we had some visitors and all the jaded journo’s all tured into a bunch of kids. Well, how often does a reindeer herd come over for lunch?

A fantastic band of big beasties, and one wee cutie there too.

Had a preview of some of the new Fjallraven tents. The Keb Dome is a fine bit of kit, designed in Scandinavian fashion so there is weight to deal with there but strength when pitched and space inside to compensate for the effort carrying it.

 

Some headed on for a night in the heather, some were too scared of the reindeer. Well, you just never know.

Haglöfs Skarn Winter Pant Review

It was when I went to find the Skarn’s the other day and they were still manky from the day before in the wash basket I realised just how much I wear them. Time for a review.

Haglofs put winter pant in the name of the Skarn’s but it’s not as simple as that. I’m doing winter softshell pants for winter 2016/17 on Walkhighlands and there I’m mostly looking at heavy fabric and a lot of features where the Skarns are a lighter trimmer all round.
The fabric is the familiar own-brand Flexable, a non membrane softshell in a stiffer feeling medium to heavy weight. It’s still got good stretch though as well with high wind resistance and good water repellancy. The wind has to get strong and cold to feel it to any degree, it’s a good trade off for better breathability most of the time.
It does breathe well and dry fast, it’s good for overnighters and pleasant enough to drive home in after a day walk without squelching in the car seat all the way doon the road.
It’s tough as well, trees, rocks, cutlery, all have been repelled successfully. Fine after repeated washes too.

There are pockets numbering four. Tow hip which are nice and deep, one thogh which is also a decent size and one at the back which is positioned just low enough actually be useful when you’re wearing a pack. The zip entry to the back pocket has a storm flap and it follows the asymmetric lines on the stitching line which makes it a little easier to use. The pocket bags are a lighter softshell fabric.
However all the zips are a bit sticky when trying to close them if they’ve opened full, a combination of stretchy fabric and the zip choice I think. Could be a pre-production issue so I’m not saying it’s a deal breaker, I am saying try it the shop though.
There’s a wee integral belt too, works fine and doesn’t revolve in it’s tunnel in the wash like so many similar designs seem to. The inner waist has a nice light fleeciness to it.

The fit is “retro”. None of your baggy arsed boot cut fashion designer bollocks that have blighted outdoor trouser the past few years here. No, a slimmer cut with a lower leg that tapers in and doesn’t snag on the scenery and doesn’t attract mud and crap from a radius of ten feet.
The cut really is excellent, just room enough for longjons underneath with good knee articulation for high stepping (like an Indian brave*) and all day comfort.
The lower legs have a zipped gusset for less technical monenst and for letting your attach the internal gaiters to your boots. These wee gaiters are great, in a lighter fabric but they’ve stayed in place through snow and bog.
Right there next to the other ankle stuff in the photies there are the kevlar crampon kick patches, which I have not yet kicked. Why? because the Skarn’s have a slim fit at the ankle. Ha. Plus I don’t tend to kick myself in the ankle much anyway.
I do have a pair of winter pants with one shredded ankle, so I’m not saying I’m superior at walking in a straight line or anything. Maybe just getting better as I get older. Maybe just slower now I think about it.

In the harshest of days I can feel cold creeping in when I’ve been exposed or at rest, but the Skarn’s have been excellent for much of the time. The slightly lighter fabric choice has means I haven’t missed having leg vents as I don’t overheat on warmer days. For the same reason I wear them on my ranger rounds of the deer fence in the Kilpatricks where that lower leg is perfect in the mud and open pathless hillside. Also I don’t look like a lost mountaineer because they’re kinda plain and understated looking. And a bit like jeans from a distance.

Good pants. Yes please. Check the zips in the shop.

 

*Dancing On Your Grave – Motörhead “Another Perfect Day” 1983

Kit that broke, kit that didnae

Some gear doesn’t fit the Walkhighlands schedule which I’ve tightened up as time’s gone on and I still get a lot of one-offs sent through so I’m going to have a look at some of this from time to time, maybe do proper reviews on here if I can be arsed.

A couple of things from Monday are worth a mention, up first are the Trail Blaze Carbon poles from Mountain King. Been using these for a couple of months, they have the same layout as the regular Trail Blaze with four sections, an internal cord securing system and a mesh covered slightly squashy handle with a wrist loop.
I’ve done countless miles with various versions of these poles, the format is ideal for me, giving propulsion and stability, they weigh too little to worry about and they fold away to nothing. The new carbons are stiffer though, still featherweight but they feel more direct, the shaft still flexes but less so than the alloy’s and it makes a difference. More energy going into forward motion that used flexing the pole every time you push off? It’ll be minimal amounts I’d imagine, but I’m liking the feel very much. I’ve been treating the carbons rough, I had a fall where one had a big flex under my full weight with no damage to report and they’ve been scraped over the scenery every time they’ve been out. The glossy finish is getting scraped, but no chunks or gouges yet so it’s looking good so far.

Second is a pack that got buried in the to-do pile and just popped back up last week, the Millet Torong 42 MBS. I didn’t like the look of it at first which is why it slipped my mind, but when I saw it at the weekend and had a second look at the features I knew it was worth a try, plus the fit was instantly right, something you don’t argue with too much.
It says fast hiking on the label, but it feels like a winter sports pack with the clean exterior and fancy ice tool storage loops, which I really like. But the hipbelt is fixed with a big metal swively thing so no one is winter climbing with this I’d imagine. Nice external mesh pocket, sneaky zipped access to one side if you don’t want to open the lid, underneath straps for a tent or mat and two mesh bottle pockets. There’s tensioning straps running through/across these bottle pockets which as a design choice always annoys me but I can get my bottle in and out okay so I’ll withhold judgement here in the meantime.
The lid is the wrong way round , it clips shut at your neck which works great and makes for a very neat and weatherproof seal but the buckles are too small to work with big gloves on and I was shouting at them when I needed to get to my donuts within.
Excellent harness, instantly comfy on my frame and that swively hipbelt thing works fine, it’s subtle though, not overly mobile, feels like a flex rather than a swivel if that makes sense.
I think it’s got the makings of a nice overnighter pack, it feels lighter than the website says it is (I haven’t checked yet) and has a good capacity for light nights out. Kinda glad I took it out on Monday.

I used the CAMP XLC Nanotech crampons which have heel clip and probably shouldn’t be used on the old Haglofs Gryms I had them on but, it’s an excellent and secure combo so safety man can sue me. The point shape and layout on the alloy XLC’s does take a little adjustment of approach but last winter a different pair I was using had a point layout that you could slide downhill with like you were wearing skis if you placed your feet the right way so nothing is er, perfect.
The MSR Windboiler is still keeping in my affections, the Petzl Summit Evo ice axe is a joy and my winter secret weapon is a now well worn EDZ All Climate One Piece Base Layer, basically a mountain onesie. The synthetic fabric works well, it keeps me dry although it isn’t the best at keeping odour away but it’s the layering aspect that makes it a winner, you can’t pull the top up and get you a cold back, your bottoms can’t slip down and bunch at the crotch. Under softshell trousers it’s a just a joy.
The two way zip makes peeing straightforward, anything that needs a squat though, you’re getting naked in the mountains so not the best for longer trips.

More soon?

Walkhighlands Review

This odd winter has kinda messed with my review schedule on Walkhighlands, so I’m now looking at testing the stuff for next winter just now as forward samples are becoming available, never will I have been so organised. Aye, we’ll see.
So, I pulled in the kids gear review which has been on the go for many months. Holly and my buddy David’s youngster Jake have been abusing the gear since early last year and as I’ve found over the years doing kids kit, it’s pretty damn good.

I was just in the Kilpatricks doing visitor surveys with fellow ranger Jo in the wind and rain when a dad and two boys came down from the crags towards us and were happy to stop and answer our damned fool questions.
Dad had his hill kit on and the boys were also head to toe in the right gear, waterproof trousers, jackets, rucksacks, hats and gloves. They’d walked over the hills from Clydebank and knowing the route these youngsters who are about Holly’s age 8 or 9 had done exceptionally well both with the distance and the weather. They were warm, still enthusiastic after a lot of miles and told me that their plans were to start the Munro’s this year. They even had their whistles on the pack chest straps and proudly told me what they were for and how to use them.

I did the survey, so I know this a family who doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around but they still had it so right. The kit and the smiling faces told the story. I was just so pleased to see it and so happy for them to be doing it. It really was a wee emotional moment for me, the dad and the mountain man in me shared the joy equally.
Best of luck to them.

Control

Just finishing up my next review for Walkhighlands which is, should I say what it is? It’s good anyway, something a bit old school. As much as the brands and technology want to keep moving us forward onto the next thing, some basic stuff just works. I think it works better with a hood too.
The next few months is what’s making me think, the seasonal range changes can make a review only a few months old out of date which is kind of annoying, gear really shouldn’t date so fast.
But I still don’t want to repeat any of last years review subjects so I’m trying to get to winter 2016 without a single retread of something. I’ll be cutting it close at times, lightweight waterproofs where I did winter weight last time around, backpacking and larger capacity rucksacks where I’ve just recently done day sacks. Hey, if it all gets too much I’ll do socks. Oh, socks, the difference between a good day and a bad day? Goes to look at 2016 socks…

While I think about that, here’s me in the recording studio thinking about why I’m trying the 17th take on a guitar solo I’ve been playing live and in rehearsal for a year.

Phones

Walkhighlands

I’ve still been in the hills, still been using gear and my reviews are up once a month right here. The next few months are looking good too, I’ve tried not to repeat any of the review subjects from the last year. See how long I can keep that up.
There’s a stack of stuff has fallen the rough the gaps and I’ll be catching up with that on here with a bunch of reviews over the next wee while.

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Gimme Shelter

My latest Walkhighlands review is live here. I suppose it might look like I was doing a stunt of some sort, but I’ve been doing this stuff too long to even try any of that fancy shite these days so what it is is a straightforward account of a night in an emergency shelter.
I did learn some new stuff doing it and one thing that’s been in my head since then is that I’ve now spend the night in a £20 shelter and a £1200 tent in recent times and the difference between the experiences isn’t as big as the price gulf would suggest.

I did have a fine day to wake up to and this is the view I got when I sat up.

Dawn 3

Dawn 1

Here’s the decent enough kip area and my kit, that down gear really isn’t as straightforward as it looks. Detail in the article.

Camp 2

Gear 1

Hats Off and On. Haglöfs Fanatic Print Cap and Haglöfs Equator II Cap

The Fanatic beanie is cut from Polartec Powerstretch and has been on my head or in my pocket on almost every trip for along time. It’s slightly oversized so it can be pulled down right over my ears and cover the back of my neck or pulled up where the fabric helps it sit like a normal beanie with an optional wee sticky up peak at the crown of my napper if I’m in the mood.
The fabric is excellent, it’s a top-end polyamide faced grade of Powerstretch so bobble resistance is excellent with regular wear and washing. It wicks fast, it dries fast, it has a little wind resistance and has the right amount of warmth for winter days and summer summit camps.
The best thing about it is I can sleep soundly in my tent at minus whatever degC while wearing it as it doesn’t itch or pull at my hair or make me too sweaty and the like. 

I like peaked caps, they keep the sun out of my eyes, the rain off my glasses and the sun of my thinner than it used to be hair as well as giving a proper shape to some of those floppy hoods you get on test jackets.
The Equator comes in baseball cap flavour with a stretchy headband for one size fits all, a very stiff peak to ward off the wind and wet and its cut from a light softshell Flexable fabric which breathes and dries well and gives a close grippy but not compressy (I can’t of another word, so that one says what I want to say) fit which also means that the winds doesn’t easily pluck the cap off my heid when the wind gets under that peak. There’s reflective detailing to spoil your night time selfies too.

Maybe not vital kit, but it’s nice to know that thought and effort goes into producing genuinely usable bits of gear of a sort that we all suspect is really just a way of getting a brands logo onto somebody.

Wigwam Weather Warriors

The Weather Warriors have been top of the list on cool or cold days for along time and have been through the washing machine pretty regularly as you can see in the photie.
After washing I’ve been pleased to discover that they return to shape very well and the looped inner surface is still bouncing back despite racking up the miles. The same applies to the end of the day when I pull them off my feet in the tent; they retain their shape well, meaning they keep their comfort the next day. There is nothing worse than damp shapeless socks the next morning, the make your boots feel like they’re someone else’s.
They dry fast, they wick very fast and do seem to keep my feet dry on the move even in winter boots, something that usually fills me with dread as I just think of hot spots, toe nails falling off and the years of anguish before I went back to bendy footwear.
The Weather Warriors are a rare breed for me in that I don’t carry spares when I wear them on an overnighter because they do dry completely if I leave them inside my sleeping bag and don’t smell for a few days.
However, I just got a new set and they took the little pull tabs at the top off. Aw, man.

Rab Xenon X Pull-on

The Xenon got a little lost in amongst the other Rab jackets that came in for my recent Walkhighlands reviews as they all looked a little better featured and for want of a less patronising expression, a bit more technical. However, the light weight, small pack size and rather fetching non-primary colour of the Xenon has seen it jammed into a rucksack or behind the drivers seat of the retro truck regularly as well as pulled on when just nipping out to the shops or up to 300m in the Kilpatricks to check a deer fence in the snow. It’s got an unassuming simple and accessible design that works just nice.

The spec is just what you’d want with Pertex Quantum inside and out for low weight, softness and decent weather resistance with 60g Primaloft One inside for a good level of heat retention and excellent compressibility – all for 352g in this size large.
There are two deep handwarmer pockets which meet in the middle, in an almost but not quite pouch fashion, a zipped chest pocket and a two-way main zip so you can keep the neck sealed to keep out the wind but still vent your core. It sounds faffy and pointless, but it works. The neck is fleece lined and the fit is slim-ish making it a good call as a winter midlayer if you feel the cold or want to layer up warm under a shell at camp. Should be a good summer camp jumper too.
Aye, it is a jumper and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Aku Transalpina GTX

30 years of bad experience with boots has seen me spend most of my hill time in trail shoes the past few years but now and again I get sent boots that don’t have me reaching for the Compeeds.
The Transalpina’s are a beefy fabric and suede boot at 1425g  for a pair of UK9’s, there’s enough stiffness in the upper and the sole unit for me to wear Kahtoola and Hillsound spikes or lightweight crampons which has been handy especially up the Kilpatricks. But there’s still enough flex for my ankles to move and for me to have a natural walking gait, something I don’t find overly much.
The flex at the ankle works with a decent flex point at the toe so I can put miles in without getting achy. The heel cup is well shaped for my feet,  fitted but not too neat. From the box the Transalpina’s caused me no grief and I’ve had no hot spots from heel lift.
The tongue is well shaped and padded enough just enough, I can pull the laces right in to get a good fit and I don’t feel any pressure or get sore spots after hours of wearing even in thinner socks. The Vibram outsole has decent grip although the lack of a heel counter can make muddy descents a little more sketchy to get the heart rate up.
The heel area is well supported and protected by an external plastic frame which lets me thoughtlessly stride into rocky or rough ground. I think this plastic frame has added to the longevity of the boots as although the suede is getting worn and shiny, the plastic is taking the hits first and it’s staying in good shape.

The upper is mostly suede but there’s enough fabric panels to let some of the sweat out a little quicker through the Gore-Tex membrane and the boots aren’t too hot or humid at all.
However that same Gore-Tex membrane is no less fragile than the ones fitted to any other pair of boots and both boots are now letting in a little at the toe flex point. It’s only a problem when my feet are submerged like when on a bog trot, but the day they finally cure this problem that will likely affect every well used Gore-Tex lined boot at some point will be a happy day for us all.
I know fit is a very subjective thing, these boots won’t fit everyone, but my feet are very suspicious of boots and it’s actually all being going well.

Elliot Brown Canford 202-004

Not so long ago I was all excited about a GPS watch which was super accurate and dead useful. Fast forward to now and on every trip to the hills there’s a queue of kit waiting to get charged in the truck on the way there – watch, headtorch, phone, iPod, battery charger for all the above… I’m actually a bit fed up with it all.
So when I got asked to review an Elliot Brown watch I started to see the possibilities of simple time keeping once again.

It’s not light, but it’s a tough bugger both externally and internally and essentially waterproof for what I’ll be doing with it. The big size made me think I’d made a mistake but ten minutes later it felt quite at home on my wrist and I’ve hardly had it back off the past couple of months.
The big face makes for great visibility, even without my glasses on and the webbing strap is comfy and looks to be wearing well.

More on this later, but the simplicity has made this an instant friendly face.

watch

Walkhighlands Winter Warmness Review

My latest Walkhighlands review is up here. Good timing this one given the weather and there’s some ready good bits of kit in there.
What’s been a little annoying is unlike the waterproofs review a few of the jackets really suffered from individual niggles that would be deal breakers for me, but maybe not everyone? Always a tricky one as reviews are a mix of fact and opinion.
Some of the jackets have had a kicking, that Berghaus one had been on test the longest and has seen joy and tears while the TNF jacket’s big size has seen it layered over other kit and saving me while digging up forestry nonsense the Kilpatricks in sleety horror. It’s muddy if you look close.
Anyway, they all be seen some more on here I dare say.

DSC_0330

Walkhighlands Winter Gear Review

My latest Walkhighlands review is up here.

Some really good kit in this one and it was a joy putting it together. There will be more seen of the kit in action over the next few months, as much as it pains me to scrape such a pretty selection of anodizing.
There’s a Petzl ice axe exclusive, plenty more cool hardware, a selection nice but sometime not obvious bits and pieces, a Ventile jacket and the first of a host of new test kit from Rab.

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Primus Eta Express Review

This came in for review a long time ago. Initially I thought “Mmm, it’s a bit bulky, I’ll save it for winter”. Which is daft looking back, it’s probably the same volume as a Jetboil, it just looked more difficult to pack because of the shape. So it sat in its box for a while before finally going out to play last winter. Ach, if only I’d known sooner.

I like simple and I like quick when it comes to making cuppas, I’m always running late when I finally get my tent pitched and I don’t like fannying about, so a clip-together onesie stove system works for me.
What the Primus Eta Express has is a 98g canister top Express stove which has a nicely wide spread to its three pot supports and a piezo ignition, which is brilliant, as much as I love my ever more weathered firesteel, a single click to get a flame is a joy.
The pot is 226g, alloy, non stick (quite effectively too), has a one liter capacity at the brim and has a heat exchanger around the base to catch those extra BTU’s and transfer them into the pot rather than the air of your tent porch. The long plastic coated handles are sensible and welcome.

There’s a lid (64g) with a strainer/vent and a rubber gripper for lifting it which is very nice but it could do with a spout for pouring as well. I was going to cut one but never got around to it. So maybe it’s not as important as I’d like to think. Or maybe I’m just lazy.
There’s a 48g plastic bowl in there too and it’s one of the reasons I really took to the system. After years of boiling water and then eating out of a bag, I’ve started to want better food and the bowl is the key. Easy to clean, a good size and also a nice non-metallic surface for a gas canister and the stove to get packed into.
Last up is the 56g alloy windshield which clips onto the stove is a basic but secure fashion and covers about half of the flame allowing good air flow for combustion but deflecting the wind pretty well.

The flame might appear to be a little tight for the large pot, but Primus must have done their sums, it marries up very well and once I got used to it, simmering the pot contents was no problem. The pot base seems to have a good even heat and that heat exchanger seems to be doing its job as water boil times are always very good. No idea what gas usage is, it’s not greedy I know that, but I can’t compare it scientifically to other stoves. Weighing canisters and pressing a stopwatch aren’t on my agenda. Ever.

There’s one wee thing that niggles me about the general operation. It’s actually very stable despite the top-heavy looks, especially on a 250g gas canister, I’m never worried using it in the tent porch.
But the gas control lines up with the locating notch on the windshield, meaning that facing the windshield towards the wind puts the control facing into the wind. Not a problem sitting outside where you’re more likely to be sheltering the stove with your body. but cooking in the tent porch where the wind is coming from the outside it can be a pain in the arse as I’m having to swivel the whole thing around to adjust the gas or accidentally leaning the whole thing at an angle as I stretch my hand round to adjust the gas.
I’ve never spilled the pot or knocked it over yet but the gas control should be at 9 or 3 o’clock instead of 12, it’s would just make it that bit better and maybe safer for tent folk.
And yes, yes, I know we’re not supposed to cook in the tent according to every book supplied with every stove and Safety Man, but this is the real world where the weather dictates that we all do it.

Even with that niggle, the Eta Express has seen action, and lots of it. Truth is, it’s a cracking bit of kit. That big pot to cook in, the bowl, that it’s all so easy to keep clean, it’s just so user friendly.
It has seen a lot of use, from hill trips to coming to work to keeping me happy on treks around the deer fence on the Kilpatricks and it’s never missed a beat. That was until a couple of weeks ago during the Camban Bothy trip where after outgunning all the other stoves in boil time the piezo ignition chucked it.

I looked at it, the shielded wire was tight, there was nothing I could do, no slack to pull through and reset a spark gap. That was it done.
I left it in the gear pile at home for a few days then decided to take it apart and have a look. Easy enough, I’ve done the exact same operation on gas burners the size of a cement mixer and it was an quick fix if I could get the parts.
Found the ignition for £16 online, it was here in 48hrs, fitted in a minute and worked perfectly. Also, the replacement has nearly 10mm slack on it so it’ll be adjustable in the future as the tip wears down in use.

I know the most recent designs have further refined the all-in-one system, I have a couple on test just now, but the Eta Express still holds up very well. It’s been a joy to use and I didn’t think twice about buying a part to put test kit back into action. Stuff breaking isn’t an issue, it happens, what’s important is that there’s parts available and it’s cost effectively fixable.

So we’re good as new again, it’s got some fun times ahead of it yet.

Walkhighlands Winter Waterproof Review

My latest Walkhighlands review is live here. I had fun with this one, torturing these jackets on rangering duties on the Kilpatrick Hills. I was pleasantly surprised by most of them, the big names didn’t drop the ball, Sprayway have made a strong comeback and the budget names did the job just fine.
There’s a couple of stragglers which were too late to test which might crop up in next months winter monster gear special. That’s something I’m really excited about, oh the kit that’s going in there…

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