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The next few months is what’s making me think, the seasonal range changes can make a review only a few months old out of date which is kind of annoying, gear really shouldn’t date so fast.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.



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

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.


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.


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.


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…



A Familiar Face

Optimus are being distributed by Lyon here in the UK new and when I met Si recently I got an up to date version of an old favourite to try out.
There’s a joy in the familiar, especially when it does what it’s supposed to. There’s a lot of kit rumbled under my bridge since the the original Crux Lite was one of the first things I ever reviewed on here and the news is that there’s no news – the Crux Lite is the same as it ever was. Awesome big wide and fast burner, grippy pot supports with a good reach for bigger pots and a nice long handle on the valve.
This is a bit of kit that gets it right, it could be lighter and smaller, but it won’t be as stable or it would be fiddly. Good on them for not doing updates for the sake of it.


Walkhighlands Lightweight Insulation Review

My latest grouptest is up on Walkhighlands, it’s a diverse selection of lightweight insulation. I had expected everyone to submit samples of mini-baffled down jackets but I got a bunch of far more interesting stuff. It just shows what is now regarded as insulation, I remember when it was either an extra jumper or a big down jacket if you had money.
I’ll be coming back to some of this kit on here as winter goes on, some crackers in there.


Run To The Light (On Walkhighlands)

My mighty group test of head torches is upon Walkhighlands here. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the current crop of headtorches, there really isn’t a bad one amongst them.
Special thanks to fellow Kilpatricks ranger Jo who had to keep wearing ans swapping headtorches for me so I could do A/B comparisons every time we were out doing bat surveys. Got great results though, pacing the same after dark hill routes showed the torches different strengths very well. Next month’s grouptest will be some rather nice autumn clothing.

Talking of light, was wrestling victorian cast iron in a church today when the sun shot through it’s window. Nice.


Walkhighlands Gear Review #1 – Haglöfs L.I.M

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my first review as Walkhighlands new gear editor. It looks at Haglöfs L.I.M concept and it’s right here.

This will mean a change in what gear I put on here but there’ll still be plenty gear, including some extra L.I.M kit that didn’t make the review.
I’ve got next months test well under way and the month after that is looking good too. Organization? Me?



Trakke Óg Review

The Trakke Óg has been on my back often these past few months. It quickly became my pack for ranger duties in the Kilpatricks but it also became my man-bag for carrying kit when I was gadding abound. Well, it looks good with technical fabrics and denim. But, it’s not just a pretty face.

The Trakke Krukke is a brilliant pack and the Óg is in many ways its sidekick. I wanted to say henchman there to be honest. It has the same clean lines that are a delight to look at and plunge through trees with and the same simply defined purpose: carrying kit.
It’s the way it carries kit that makes it different and that’s down to fabric and design which something old, something new, something borrowed and something brown – Ventile.

Ventile is a high quality cotton fabric with a weave which swells when wet to make it waterproof, it works, I’ve got Ventile clothing. In the Óg it makes a difference to the weight over the waxed cotton Krukke and it also gives it a softer user-friendly feel. It’s tough though, Ventile is badass, I’m happy scraping this off rock and trees, it’ll be just fine.
It’s a clean design, minimal seams and lidless too – it has a rolltop closure which is something I’ve always liked. Here the fastening is by a webbing reinforced closure and stainless steel buckle. Works great and the closure hold the top of your ice axe, poles or shovel in conjunction with the loop sewn into the base.

The base is a 3D shape, rounded, easy to pack and its rated 18litres volume goes quite far with the closure allowing a wee bit of flexibility. There’s no pocket, the zip you see is for access to a hydration sleeve with runs down the length of the pack. Alec stuck a thin plastic sheet in there when I picked the Óg up at the workshop which added no weight and gave the pack just the right amount of stiffness, so it’s stayed in there and just stop and take my bottle out for a drink. Hey, just like the old days.

The harness, again like the Krukke, is basic and starts to mold to you with use. There’s no chest strap but the more you wear it the more secure the Óg becomes and I don’t miss the chest strap at all. It’s comfortable in the different postures I have on foot and on the bike, not been running though, I was planning for that stuff the past couple of weeks but I keep finding excuses not to. I might come back to that soon.

There’s a 25mm removable webbing waist belt which I do use sometimes, but it’s stability not load bearing, unless it was full of lead shot you couldn’t get enough weight into the Óg  to need a hip belt.

There’s some extra webbing loops and I’ve experimented with these, fitting a couple of compression patches on there to carry extra gear on the front panel. This can work pretty well and I think it’s a realistic option. I’ve had a RaidLight chest pouch attached with no extra fittings too, small packs are just the start of a flexible system, easy to drift away from that notion sometimes.

The Óg is a brilliant bit of kit. It’s well made, thoughtfully designed and a joy to use. The Ventile will age and wear with me, probably slower than me mind you and there’s something natural and human about it that plastic fantastic gear just doesn’t have.

Now, the Óg is made in Glasgow from components sourced as locally as possible and I took the photies somewhere that seems to fit with that just right. I could have done them on a hill, but I took the shots in a Victorian workshop which is now part of the Scottish Maritime Museum.
The work surfaces and tools you see were used to design the ships that launched from Denny’s in Dumbarton and Trakke are continuing that legacy: design – innovate – build – export.