ISBJÖRN MONSUNE Hardshell Jacket Review

We’ve had the Monsune from Isbjörn on test since the tail end of last winter, so time for some words I think.

It’s in a two later fabric with a nylon outer which I like from a durability angle bonded to an own-brand waterproof and breathable membrane. The loose liner has mesh around the body and hood with microfibre in the arms, this is the best option for breathability and comfort, easier to get the arms down the sleeves whatever you’re wearing.
The fabric has a soft feel, it’s a supple jacket and doesn’t rustle or crinkle particularly under movement. Waterproofness is as described, breathability is hard to judge. While often out of breath and hot, the test subject would not sweat enough on a regular basis and so was always dry. Maybe that’s a sign though?
DWR is good, rain is still bobbling quite happily in most areas.

The cut is excellent, trim but not tight with excellent articulation, be as active as you want and the hem stays put. The body is pretty long, although the Monsune is a bit alpine looking, it’s definitely outdoor as your backside is covered. The arms are long too, high reaching or snowball throwing is fine, no bare wrists or waist.

The hood is a good shape and fits well on a bare or be-hatted head. The peak is stiffened, holds its shape in use and pulls back into shape just fine when balled up inside a pack in the walk in.
The adjustment is effective and the front cords are accessible and usable with gloves on. The rear volume adjuster is accessibly placed and the cord cinches in the right place but the cord lock isn’t tethered so it need two hands to operate it, this means it gets left alone. It’s a minor fix but it’s something they should look at.
There’s a soft chin guard/zipper garage for the chunky front zip.

The cuffs are velcro tabbed and half elasticated. It works fine and I had no complaints, tucking gloves in takes a few extra seconds which is why I prefer non elasticated cuffs, as well as the venting options, but it’s probably a personal preference thing.

The inside of the cuffs have a little clever addition. There are inner cuffs in a soft stretch fabric and there’s a hem in the lining with orange thread that you can let out to lengthen the inner arms. It tunes comfort as your arms grow and extents the life of the jacket a wee bit.

The napoleon chest pockets are huge and like the main zip have chunky YYK waterproof zippers. These zips have been okay, hard to tell for sure on the pockets as they don’t always get zipped back up all the way, even in the rain… The main zip has an inner storm flap in case anything gets through, but I’ve had no complaints.
The chest pockets have nice zipper garages and all the zips have grippable zip pulls.

Isbjörn have put together an excellent all round mountain or outdoor shell which I would happily wear, but as I’ve hinted at, this was Holly’s test jacket.
The spec is excellent, the hood and cut are spot on, Isbjörn haven’t made any compromises because the jacket is made for youngsters.

The fabric breathability performance is an unknown, kids just don’t sweat the same way as bigger folk, but that probably works out as money can be spent on design complexity instead of paying for a big name membrane, especially since the jacket has limited lifespan for the original wearer. Still, it’s well made and durable, the Monsune will go to someone else, it’s life isn’t over by a long way.
The fabric is Bluesigned and the DWR is fluorocarbon free, there’s a lot to commend the choices made in the design and construction.

Youngsters won’t wear stuff they don’t like, increasingly fashion conscious youngsters won’t even try stuff on they don’t like the look of. I’ve had no trouble getting Holly into the Monsune and she’s enjoyed it, pulling the hood up and grinning happily at even a hint or rain or snow.

Brilliant jacket. Hmm, I’m jealous.

556g for a size 146/152, current UK price £150

Trouser and base layer reviews on the way.

Komperdell Hikemaster Compact Review

Poles are not exactly sexy. They are often useful, occasionally vital, but never something particularly exciting to look at.
So it’s quite heartening to see the manufactures always making new models and trying something a little different, especially given the scope of what you can actually do with the format. Add wheels or a bottle holder maybe?

Weight is the obvious target and packed length is important for me as poles spend a lot of time as ballast.
Adjustability is something I don’t actually think about after years of usually using fixed length poles, but that’s because that fixed length works for me. Even using tarps I’ve worked around fixed length poles.
I was a reminded of the wider real world on a run round the Lang Craigs where a pal had her poles set at an inbetween size, what’s this subversive behaviour I said. 103cm? Madness, madness.

So, adjustability is important, as is flexibility of length. The Hikemaster Compacts have that stuff.

The Compact collapse down to 59cm which works fine for stowing on my smaller packs and extends to a max of 121cm which is where I use them.
Others will need more length so if you like the format there’s a regular Hikemaster which extends to 140cm but packs to 65cm.

Weight is 502g for the pair which is okay for the aluminium construction. They certainly don’t feel weighty in the hand, they have a nice swing to them and a robust feel.

The handles are quite slim feeling with only light shaping for finger placement which I’m happy with. The handle feels like its bi-component, a lighter rubber coating over a harder shaped inner. The outer looks stitched so, it’s likely a sock pulled over the inner.
This is great with any gloves but slidey with bare sweaty hands, I’m just so used to mesh.

The wrist loop is great, nice and wide and east to adjust. It says “padded” on the official speil but it’s just lightly reinforced on the inner non-logo-ed face with a smooth stitching effect which is probably better than padding would be.

I really like the Powerlock 3.0 mechanism for the length adjustment. It has a low bulk, the levers are east to catch with a bare of gloved thumb to operate but don’t stick out too far so that they catch on the undergrowth. There’s a nice smooth action to them as well, the cam action is just right.

The pointy end is pretty standard, tungsten tips and mini baskets pre-fitted.

The finishing is excellent, smooth and flawless and the overall construction is the same.
The poles break down for drying and cleaning very easily and as the locking mechanism is all external the chances of handless people breaking them when putting them back together is much diminished.

I like the Compacts, the locking mechanisms are excellent and the quality overall finish surprised me as the prices I see online are right in the mix.
Easy to pack, use, adjust and clean. No pointless antishock to go wrong and add weight and there’s a 3 Year no argument guarantee according to the official page.

Haglöfs Winter 2019/20 Preview Part #1

 



I have history with Haglöfs. Way back when I first started this place and was looking at gear, Haglöfs were the first brand to really “get it” and see how a blogger using and reviewing kit was a step away and a step forward from the bland compromise of magazine grouptests.
It started an unexpected wave of change for me and while everyone today with an online presence is reviewing something or other, eleven years ago it was innovative, even a gamble for a brand to trust a random like me with kit.
I was already a Haglöfs user (blame the much missed West Coast in Ft Bill for that, after Karrimor shat the bed at the start on the new century, Haglöfs appeared in its place), I fitted the sample size large perfectly (amazingly, still do, aged 50…) and I was in the hills constantly so it was an easy thing to do, plus the gear was usually good and caused me little trouble.
Over the years I started to drown in kit and eventually sold out and became a gear editor for a while. I drifted off from regular looks at the Haglöfs range and from a distance they seemed to be becoming a little generic, the stand out individuality that had caught my eye was becoming average alpine.

However, these are times of change for everyone, not least Haglöfs. Renewed focus, embracing their heritage and Swedish roots, making environment and sustainability a priority and unashamedly making gear for outdoor folk, not just alpinists?
This is what I was told, and this is what I went to see. I’ve had a smattering of current kit on test the past few months, but I haven’t seen the future.

Now, the lighting in the new shed is horrible, so we have bunch of out of focus and oddly coloured photies coming up. 
My co-stars Gus and MT have never looked quite so strange.

Remember, it all comes in wummins versions. I think.

Had Haglöfs ruined the hoods with a redesign was my first worry, but it was okay, me and MT made sure of it.

This is the Roc Spire, a bad weather and winter all-rounder Gore shell at 500g for a large. Decent body length, big chest pockets, excellent hood with a RECCO reflector laminated into it. This is common across the range now, no added weight or bulk but a life saving chance built in. Go Haglöfs.
There’s a nice 80’s/90’s feel to the look of these, the retro blocks of colours. The yellow is gorgeous as well, again very 90’s. Love it.

I like this weight of jacket if I know I’m going to be wearing it in winter. I feel the cold a little more than I did and adapting to that is worth an extra few grams.

Is this the future? Gore-Tex Shakedry is a light, water resistant two layer fabric with a waffle inner cut into this 400g L.I.M winter jacket. Here it’s got a Gore Topo insert in the back (above) which is super stretchy for free movement.
Looks a bit odd, but it’s incredibly comfy on. Designed for snow sports, it just looks like a winter go-to for mountain folk.
Reports of the breathability are exciting and development is ongoing, including dying the outer so you don’t look like Action Man Frogman. Which actually, is fine for me if I think about it.

All the proper features, pockets, adjustable hood and cuffs.

No Gore and I don’t mean it’s a PG, this the L.I.M Touring jacket cut from Haglöfs’ own Proof fabric which they’ve been improving since my last look and it’s used on 12% of the 2019/20 clothing range.
It’s Bluesigned, has recycled content on the Eco version and I get the feeling it’s giving them options to create and experiment with kit and probably going Gore a wee nudge to keep pushing.

The L.I.M has a good layout, nice pockets, big side vents, where they actually work and an excellent hood. That 90’s yellow again too. 550g.

Be still my beating heart.

These are the Edge Evo Parkas, made in recycled nylon Proof fabric. The colourful one is the Kurbits version which incorporates traditional folk art from Dalarna where Haglöfs originated.
It’s a brave move doing this and I love it, the racks of miserable conservative black shells need this in the middle, mocking their limited vision and timid outlook.

I suppose they’re beefyish for a pull-on at 675g and the hood is a little pre-war antarctic expedition, but it all fits together beautifully so for general use and gadding about in comfort in winter, sign me up.
There’s a 3D pouch front pocket that made me smile. Complicated and difficult to make, probably unnecessary and most folk won’t pick up on the detail of it, but it’s there because it’s just nice, because someone designed it that way and thought it was cool.

I love the concept and I love the execution, and the very offset zip is excellent, put that on a mountain jacket.

In two different Proof Eco fabrics these are the Grym Evo (yellow and RAF blue at the left) and Eco Proof (the other two).
The Grym is in tougher recycled nylon as suggested by the name and the Eco has recycled polyester.

Easy to dismiss this stuff as dog walker jackets but the shells I probably wear most are long patch-pocket jackets, they keep my arse dry and out of the wind when I’m walking the fence line in the Lang Craigs or gadding about around the hills rather than on them.
They’re lighter than they look at 580g with all the usual adjustments, proper hoods and pockets and a surprisingly trim and articulate fit. 

I like this stuff. I am not ashamed.

Aye, there was a fight for the Kurbits.

L.I.M means lighter and here’s the 265g Comp above on GoreTex Active shell and the Proof Multi below at 290g.

Both light, well articulated, two pockets, decent and slightly oddball hood but different fabrics. Pick a side? I’ve had one of these on test for months, more on that in a bit.
The design though while well weighted and small enough to pack, carry and forget can also be used to stare into a blizzard. I wish I could say the the same for my glasses.

Above and modeled by the lovely MT below is the Proteus jacket. A light nylon shell with a QuadFusion polyester lining, think Polartec Alpha or maybe even Rab VapourRise or Marmot DriClime.

It’s dead simple, very light at 270g and I’ve been using one for months. Not giving it away yet, I need some more snow to the west, just to be sure you know?


Haglöfs have this QuadFusion fluffiness in the Essens Mimics seen below. It’s an attempt at synthetic down and it compresses well, with some good instant feedback from the insulation when you pull it on.

The shells are Pertex Quantum, made from 100% recycled polyamide.

The cut of the jackets is much improved from the the early samples I tried. packable, good articulation, brilliant hoods on some.
Good weights at 440g for the jackets and 485g for the hoody.

Nice colour palette too, and that black and white one looks like a baseball jersey, love it.

The Mojo Down Hood above is a beast, so much fill it stands up by itself. 390g of 800 fill, box wall, excellent hood, 815g, Pertex Quantum shell in two different weights (both recycled nylon), big pockets inside and oot.
It’s a roaster.

Below is the L.I.M Essens. 70g of 800 fill, nylon ripstop shell, handwarmer pockets, packs to nothing at 165g. Oof.

L.I.M Barrier Shorts, along with the skirt insulation for racers at rest or folks still on the move? I’m a big fan of insulated pants so I can see the appeal for folk fitter than me. 140g.

The Barrier Neo Hoods are below. I still have a Barrier Hood from years back, 2008 maybe and I love the simple design which looks largely unchanged, just tweaked and lightened, which I like. Too many changes are due to seasonal selling demands and trying to look sexy again rather than actual necessity or natural evolution. 405g.

Ha, you can’t kill me you bastards, I live, I live! Said fleece when questioned.

The Spire Mid Hood is an awesome feeling hoody in Pontetorto stretch fleece. Handwarmer pockets, chest pocket, thumbloops and a fitted hood that’s brilliant under a shell hood, apart from the one that doesn’t have a hood of course.

Practical, undemanding, long lasting, easy care, cheapish, fleece is till good and I still wear it.

The Heron top MT’s got on is the kind of thing I wear every day, folk just want fancy stuff so they can look like a TV presenter and complain on the internet about how much it costs and how their lightweight specialist sports equipment wore out of after months of daily use on their commute to work.

Heron Tights and Knee Tights. I used to wear 3/4’s all the time. They were perfect with gaiters and long socks, you could regulate your temperature really well and there were no wet trouser ends in the tent.
Softshell pants killed all this stuff, not all simple and old ideas are bad. Liked the Pontetorto fabric here, a nice texture and look to it.

Bungy Polartec Powerstretch Hoods below I think?* Whatever, the one I’ve got on shows the way Haglöfs do the hoods on these tops, great design.
Also, loved the angled chest pocket, very old school Karrimor Alpiniste fleece. Stuff doesn’t fall out when the zip’s open, old ideas…

*Gus: “Naw ya fanny, that’s the Nengal** hood with recycled polyester inner and recycled ghost net*** nylon outer”.

**A more death metal product name there is not.
***I think he made this up, too sci-fi to be legit.

Two pants in the excellent FlexAble fabric,the Roc Fusions to the left and the Rando Flex’s to the not left.

The Rocs are the mountain pants and the Randos are supposed to be for snowsports but I’d just choose based on fit and features as both would work fine.
You’ve got standard pockets or more horizontal pockets, lighter weight or bigger leg vents.
Big waist bands, kick patches, lower leg zips, internal gaiters.
Haglöfs have always done excellent mountain pants.

The familiar has been updated, a while ago, but I’m just catching up.
On the right are the latest Rugged Mountain Pants and it looks to me like they’ve taken the ones I know so well and incorporated some tweaks from the Nansen pants of the old days. They’re a better cut now too, it’s a good update.

The grey ones are the Rugged Flex Pants, a bit lighter and closer cut, more mountain sports that the Mountain Man (and Woman) vibe that the original Rugged have going.

Well. There are bigger changes ahead and we’ll see that later in the year. I see more of the old Haglöfs here than I have in a while I think.
I’ve had kit on test for a while and I’ll get to that shortly.

Also, part two coming up shortly.

That’s a lot of whiles and shortlys.

 

Show and tell sometime later

I have a sneaky old school showroom blog preview going live in a day or two and I’ve also got my first outdoors trade show for a long while on this week.
For this I have prepared the following handy phrases.
 
1/ No, the white hair is real, I am not a ghost.
2/ I totally did/ am doing/ will do that review.
3/ Who the hell am I? I was briefly viewed by some people on the internet in the late 70s.
4/ I’m sorry officer, I just lost it. There’s only so many times I can take someone spelling my name with a capital F on a badge.
5/ Wait, this is the new stuff? I’m away hame.
 
My inner geek is free again, let’s go and see,

Obōz Sawtooth Low Review

Obōz were a new brand to me earlier in the year and I took the Sawtooth Low’s on test.
They’re somewhere between a trail shoe and that horrible old designation, an approach shoe. This just means I wouldn’t want to run in them, but everything else is fine. They’re chunky, but the exactly 900g for a UK9 doesn’t offend me at all and they feel light on my feet.

The fit out of the box cast my mind wistfully back to the days of Montrail before Columbia ransacked them for their intellectual properties. Tight heel cup, stiff under the heel and a wide forefoot with good flex. That was pretty much my perfect shoe right there.
However, over time the heel cup has stretched out quite a bit and I have to watch for that over longer distances in case I get a hot spot from heel movement as the laces slacken off over the miles. It’s a bit of a shame really, while not a show stopper, it’s limiting the use of the Sawtooths now to wee hills, Lang Craigs kickabouts and general gadding about.

The Sawtooth soles are decent, chunky enough and grippy even as we started to finally get some wet conditions underfoot. The rubber seems to be middle ground, not so soft that it’s wearing out fast and not to hard to grip, so longevity seems likely.
The sole is chunky at the sides which works well as it protects all that fancy stitching on the upper from a good bit of abrasion.

One thing though is the heel. It’s very rounded which is brillinat for walking your steps just curve gently into the ground on ever footfall, but try and dig your heel in on a steep descent and there’s nothing there to catch you.
I’ve had this design on plenty footwear over the years and it’s a trade off which works fine as long as you adjust yourself accordingly.

The Sawtooth’s upper are light and flexible with plenty mesh around the suede for letting the water back out and letting my feet dry off. The tongue is padded just right and the lacing is smooth and comfortable, not had a single rub under the laces, even if I’ve been pulling the laces up a bit more since the heels have slackened off a bit.

Obōz have stuck in a decent footbed which I’ve never changed. It’s the right volume, has kept it’s shape, doesn’t trap water and sits there and does it’s job. Easy to just stick in a throwaway cardboard foot shape these days.
There’s a nice toe bumper, protective but not overly stiff, although the sole is starting to peel off both shoes there a little now, we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve worn the Obōz Sawtooth Low’s for a few months now, as much with jeans as with outdoor gear. They have a user friendly feel which you don’t often get from pretentious lightweight trail shoes.
I like the Sawtooth’s and although the heel stretch was a disappointment, it just put them into a different category of use for me. I had them on yesterday as the RSPB site at Loch Lomond but no more Munro’s for them and that’s fine, I’ll still be wearing these until they come apart.

I cast an eye across Google shopping and these non waterproof versions (the only one worth considering of course) are going for £60 to £70 on average and that’s pretty good.

Tilley LTM6 Airflo Multicam Review

I like hats in general, but in the outdoors I feel odd without one. They keep the sun off my skin and out of my eyes, they slow down the sweat heading for my eyebrows, they compensate for poor hood design and they give me a handy bowl to drop in my keys and change.
Most importantly, a hat on me is like a picture hanging on a magnolia painted wall, it takes the bare look off me.

I like wide brims, it’s a sun and rain repeller, hats aren’t just for summer. I’ve spent years with cheapo bush hats from ebay and army surplus and at the same time always tried on Tilleys in the shops but found them both expensive and frankly, a bit dull. So my wallet played safe.
When I got the press release about this new airflo vented design and saw it also in came in the nice camo, it was a chance to see what the score was.

I read the instructions on the website, I measured my head and went for one size up from what I go for in Kromer welding caps, 7 1/2. When it arrived it fitted okay but as I wore it, it slackened off a little and I did think I’d got it wrong. Because although it says the hat shrinks a little in the wash, and bravely advises you to wash it often, I always think these statements are an exercise in arse covering, so they can say “we warned you” when someone boil washes and tumble dries their hat down to a size that only fits the teddy bear sitting on the chair in their bedroom (not from experience before you ask, totally random scenario).
However, after a couple of days of heavy sweating I washed it. When dry I pulled it on and it was perfect, size 7 3/8 perfect. It sat securely but not tightly just above my ears.
Since then it’s been worn almost daily and washed maybe every couple of weeks or just when it needs it. It has maintained it’s size and shape perfectly through this, even when crushed or rolled into a rucksack for a couple of days at a time.

The brim will shape to your preference to an extent, if you look at the top photie, that more pronounced front to back curve is me rolling it up at night.

This style has a wider brim that many Tilleys and it’s the one to go for, the extra coverage has been entirely necessary in the is horrendous sunshine we’ve had this summer.
The front and back extent a little further than the sides, capping the gap between hair (what’s left of it) and collar it channels rain away as much as it keeps the sun off.
The wider brim hasn’t been a problem in the wind, it’s flexible enough that the brims deflects and folds in strong gusts and the hat stays on my head.
In constant wind I pull down the lace which I leave loose round my neck as an anchor of sorts, but it tightens in as well if you want that drill instructor look.

You can see the lace below as well as the Airflo vent around the crown. This does works, heat rises out and because the mesh is on the vertical plane, rain doesn’t really get in either.
The fabric SPF is 50+ which I suppose matters on the crown where the fabric is single layer, so a bare scalp is pretty well protected.
The fabric’s water resistant as well, but only to an extent which is actually a good thing. Rain does run off and the fabric doesn’t get saturated so that the brim flops around my face, but it does absorb enough water so that you can dunk it in a burn and get it wet enough so that you can enjoy the cooling evaporation action as you walk.

I have suffered all summer in the +30degC heat we had, but out and about I was cooler in this hat than I was without it, mobile sunshade and aircon.

The inner sweatband is low profile so probably contributes to the size remaining consistent once washed as it won’t crush down over time. It’s smooth and wicks well, there’s been no irritation under heavy sweating at all.
There’s a wee pocket in the crown as you’ll see below, for mini Haribos or something. The hat floats too, just as advertised. I have tried it several times, mostly on purpose.

It’s nylon so it’s tough and it dries fast, it’s very well made indeed too, there’s not a stitch wrong on it. It’s very light at 108g and very packable too, fits into a pocket or rucksack lid. It’s £70…

…and I would pay that for a new one if this one got lost.
Not not even getting one cheek up on the fence here, I absolutely love this hat. It’s been everywhere with me the past few months and it’s instantly vital kit.
What I will say though is get the size right, I made a gamble and it worked out. Get in a shop and try them on.

Aye, get in a shop. Shops, while we still have them.

 

Bridgedale Storm Waterproof Sock Review

I’ve used waterproof socks for years but always with mixed results. Gore Tex socks were always a hit and miss affair with the chance of a perfect fit being very remote and the likelihood of taped seams being placed where they would eventually give you blisters being high.
Sealskinz were better but I never liked them for trekking, too slow to dry and just not that comfy, the stretch and form just wasn’t enough for me. However, for winter mountain biking, they were very nice indeed.

So Bridgedale’s press release raised an eyebrow, they can do socks, but can they do waterproof without all the usual drawbacks? Rarely off my feet recently have been the mid-height boot versions.

Seen above they look a bit like socks, what’s not so obvious is the slightly wetsuit-esque texture to them. The construction is a sandwich with nylon outer for abrasion resistance, a HydroTech membrane which gives you your waterproofedness and almost a regular liner sock inner with a bunch of merino in there. You can see below the pattern is pretty familiar with loopstich at the toe, heel and sole.

There’s lycra in there too and along with a big amount of stretch in the membrane this means that the wetsuit feel isn’t overpowering. In fact when I pull them on, the initial gentle compression I get everywhere but the end of my toes is unnoticeable when I get my foot into a shoe. It just feels like a normal, medium weight sock.

These mid heights are perfect for what I’ve been using them for which is bog hopping around the Lang Craigs in mesh trail shoes. The ankle stays up and there’s enough of a seal from that and the elastic cuff that I haven’t had anything running down from wet legs yet, despite a couple of soakings.

The smooth but tough nylon outer works well, I’ve purposely tried to put a hole in these by my choice of terrain. Mud full of tiny heather and grass fragments grinding away in the gap between foot and footwear has been the death of many a Gore Tex boot liner and here that tasty mix has been dried and reapplied without washing several times. Even filling the sock with water from the tap and standing there holding it over the sink, no holes seen as yet.
Actually doing that is probably a bad idea, it must really stress the membrane as there’s a lot of stretch in it, so it takes a lot of filling, which is a lot of weight. Hasn’t burst yet, I’ll keep trying.

Of course they are warmer than regular socks, but not as warm as I’d feared. On long stretches of dry trail (yes, this can actually be found, it’s not a rumour) my feet do heat up, but I’ve not overheated yet. It does make my feet sweat more though, and that’s where the sock has to do the other half of its job, get the sweat out.
I was expecting them to struggle, in a shoe, wet and covered in mud, no way they were breathing. Turns out, they kinda do.

I can’t be scientific about this, I mean, it’s the internet where opinion is presented as fact, so you know, trust me

But, my feet are keeping an enjoyable level of dryness. The inner sock wicks well and I’m assuming the constant heat source from my feet is trying to pump the sweat further through the sock layers to the outside.
When I’m regularly ankle deep in the bog and the socks are constantly saturated on the outside, taking the sock off, my bare foot feels slick, but not wet. These conditions keep my feet cool too, so the sock should be struggling and it’s still doing its best.

Another thing about being saturated is the squelching in my shoes. I’ve been convinced several times that the socks had burst and were full of water as it felt just like it, but no. What this does tell me though is that despite the apparent thickness and rubustness of the socks there’s still decent sensitivity around my foot, important in trail shoes.

I’ve tried wearing them for days straight, leaving the mud on overnight and rewearing them next day. Partly so see if I could get a hole in them, partly to see how they would smell and also to see how fast they would dry.
No holes yet as the previous disappointment indicated and the smell is good. Well, not good, no sock is ever a good place to go for fun smells. Unless it’s brand new sock just off the loom made from the finest plushest alpaca fibres. Hold it against your cheek, close your eyes, breathe in deeply, feel that warmth, the security, feel the..

Anyway, moving onto drying time. They dry on my feet really fast when walking on dry terrain, taking my shoes off for lunch they dry well, lying ignored in a corner overnight doesn’t work so well. So, for backpacking, they’ll be turned ootsides-in and spend the night in the sleeping bag. They need a heat source to dry.
Washing I have done by hand and by machine, jeez the outer sucks in a lot of dirt. Fully wet like this they take ages to dry naturally. The temptation is to throw them over the top of the radiator but I’m sure that’s going to do them any good, so it’s been a manual squeeze in a towel and onto the clothes horse near a radiator.

Washing and wearing is loosening them up, relaxing them maybe. They came flatpacked, now they kinda keep their tubular foot and ankle shape.
The three striptease photies here show a typical drier day’s run in the Storms. I keep taking the socks off expecting to see a muddy tidemark on my foot, but not yet.
It’s a sock, it is waterproof, it’s comfy.

I know I’ll wear them out at some point, I’ll either hole them or the elastic at the ankle will go, that “when” is the one gap I can’t fill in my assessment.
Until then, I will be wearing these two or three days a week. I think that thought is probably what sums it up.

£32 to £48 for light versions to beefy knee highs.

ms

Blå Band

I had some Blå Band sample dried meals in the cupboard for review and this week’s trip came along at the right time, the expiry date wasn’t too far away.
Lots of leftover gear from my days at Walkhighlands, I’ll be doing some of it on here when I can be arsed.

The bags I like, a shallow shape that’s easy to fill as you can see the markings inside easy enough, they sit nice and stable with a wide-ish base and you don’t get your gloves covered in dinner as even the shortest of sporks can reach in without receiving a saucy finger. They say the packaging insulates as well, I dunno though, it’s thick with a reflective inner but nothing too fancy in the material or construction that I can see.
Instructions for rehydrating the contents are easy enough, the decilitres water measurement was amusing, don’t think I’ve seen that on anything since I was at school. I stuck to the stated prep times on both meals with the bags wrapped up in my sleeping bag hood and they were indeed fully softened, hydrated and still warm enough to be enjoyed rather than tolerated.

Dinner was Wilderness Stew which is mainly reindeer chunks in rice. This was genuinely tasty, the chunks were big enough to have a wee bit of chewing and small enough to fully hydrate. There was texture all the way through and recognisable bits of veg were evident on my spoon. With McK’s triangle oatcakes, I was rather happy with dinner.
Breakfast was Apple Cinnamon Porridge, soft, warm and tasteless. It had a decent texture, no dry flakes were found after the correct prep time, but despite having all the things I like advertised as being in it, all I could taste were oats. Fine if that’s what you’re after, but on a camp morning I need a little sparkle to get my feet into cold socks.

Prices vary, in the Green Welly we spotted that these could be had for nearly £9, on the distributors site they sell direct for £6.75 for the reindeer and £5.75 for the oats.
It’s a lot of money for convenience, but the weight is good as is the prep results. I would be tempted by the stew again, I really liked that. But Quakers Oats So Simple are a fiver for four pots and they’re awesome, plus the little pot is actually a great rubbish bin at camp in in my pack – something I’ll get back to, meant to talk about this years ago.

Walkhighlands Review

This month’s review is live here. This one was a breeze to do (did you see what I did there?), the fabrics were all good, and some of the fits fitted me very well.
Adidas was a dark horse, Arc’teryx were, well, no point in writing a review and then giving the game away I suppose.

I did the photies on the Lang Craigs. I’m sure Walkhighlands readers think the gear shots I do are really just stock press shots rather than ones actually I take, so this month I did it a little differently.
However, as we can see below, I can’t tell if the timer light is flashing in bright sunlight leading to many shots of me staring glaikitly at the camera.

Windproofs caterpillar (121)

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.

trousers 2

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