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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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.

crux

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.

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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.

seat

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?

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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.
Alright.

Kit that broke, kit that didnae, and other stuff before I forget.

While hardly and epic endurance test of equipment, there’s some stuff that deserves a mention.

On my back is a new arrival which is making its first trip, the Boreas Buttermilks 40. I’d seen the press releases, and when I saw it in the courier box I raised an eyebrow as it looks a bit like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in this colourway. But, when I looked at the detail I was interested, when I loaded it I was pleased and after using it I’m have to stop myself enthusing out of proportion to my experience of the pack.
The Buttermilks felt just right from the off and I’ll come back to it in a wee while once I’m sure. It’s not perfect, this I know already, but still, yes please.

The Alpkit Kraku stove was okay. I like the general design, it’s vulnerable to wind but it’s stable enough in its own right and it’s great for hiding in a pot with a bigger sized gas canister.
Long overdue is the Haglöfs Ulta in Windstoper Softshell. You might think it was the colour that attracted me, the purple never made it to production and the, but it’s actually a brilliant jacket which I’ve worn a lot. Soft with a good stretch, quick drying time and great features and it was perfect in the conditions last week. It’s a cool or cold weather jacket but vents well enough that I can wear it back down to the roadside.
Great pockets, mountain hood, velcro cuffs that push well up my forearms, pitzips, nice. Available in black or blue. Christ.

The trousers are an oddball, sample X-Bionic Mountain Pants that I rediscovered when I was packing. I don’t think they ever made it to the shops, in the UK anyway probably due to the scary price, but they’re brilliant. Great fit, nice tapered legs that don’t flap around and attract mud, clever pockets, fancy rear yoke that keeps your lower back dry and fabric that’s a nice mix of stretch, toughness, breathability and quick drying.
I’m keeping these handy this time.

The Alite Monarch Chair was fun. It was also completely fit for purpose, I could have sat there rocking as the sun set all night. It won’t be right for or taken on every trip, but it’ll be seen a lot, it makes me smile and keeps my arse off the damp ground.

Well seen on here the past few months has been the Berghaus Ramche Hydro Down Jacket. My bright green model has been on every trip and more since November last year and it has indeed been rained on, stuffed, slept it, compressed to death and it’s still getting picked all despite my initial skepticism.
I’ll have a review of the Ramche and the Mount Asgard Hybrid Jacket which Joycee nicked when it came in. These came in for test for the Mournes trip last year, we got them in Celtic and Rangers training top colours.
Yes, there were comments.

The tent deserves a special thought. The Force Ten Helium 100 Carbon was hung out today and I went over the whole thing looking at the damage. The pole broke at one of the joints, a pretty clean snap too, no carbon weave delamination or jagged shards although the force of the wind was enough to push the broken end through the tent sleeve. This damage is nothing though, I wouldn’t even bother fixing it.
Some guys lines were trashed as the end of the tent thrashed around but there was no damage to the tabs on the fly or inner. The same end had a hole ground through the floor where it was over a rock, the constant movement gave it no change. I can get my had through the hole, but it’s fixable.
That’s about it, no fabric tears to burst stitching, although it was straining, some of the taping on the fly has delaminated in areas of no concern, again at the end where all the damage was.
As odd as it might seem, I feel more confident in the Helium seeing how it coped, I’ve got a dozen other tents here that wouldn’t have survived the night. The pole’s been replaced already, I took the aluminium one out of the old Helium and it fit just fine. It’ll be back on the hill at some point.

Plenty more gear coming and the trips to use it. Skye, Glen Affric, a Black Mount traverse, Torridon again, Ben’s Hope, Loyal and Klibreck, the Cairngorms (really), Assynt and some closer to home favourites.
Can’t wait.

 

Kit that broke, kit that didnae, and other stuff before I forget.

There’s been a bunch of test kit that started it’s life last autumn and had to take a wee holiday away from the hills with me. Sandwood was a wee refresher for some it, so some words, photies and reviews to come.

Joycee’s test pack the past year has been the Osprey Ariel 55. It’s got the usual endless adjustments that Osprey packs have which caused some grumbling along with the unladen weight, so we’ll see what she says. Joycee spend more nights in tents during her project work last year than I did, so she knows her mind on this one.

I’ve been using a second generation prototype of the Vango Canyon 50 pack. It’s basic, stripped down in a climbing pack way more than a lightweight backpacking way and it’s a great fit on me. It’s better than the first version I tried, the fixed lid works better and the back system is spot on. Weight and comfort are good, you can throw away the raincover to gain an extra wee pocket and the big mesh pockets are brilliant.
Scary cheap in the shops these are, but no, you can’t get it in the purple, this is the only one.

This one photie above will have to cover many testing things, lots of which are in there but you can’t see them.

The red bowl belongs to the Primus Eta Express which has been very interesting indeed. Coming back to it was a good thing as we used if for boil in the bag for the first time and it turned out to be very stable on just the sand.
It’s not perfect though, there one very daft bit of design, but it’s not as big and bulky as I once thought, and it’s bloody quick.

My sleepkit is a Thermarest combo, an Altair down sleeping bag and a NeoAir XTherm matt. Over-specced for the 2degC on this camp, but elsewhere a work of genius. Little shades of a top bag’s stability but without cold spots. Love it.

The tent disappearing below is a Force Ten Argon 200 which is the first 2-person tent I’ve on test for years. The extra bulk and long poles makes packing more careful than usual but there’s plenty space for two to live in comfort, especially if it’s the misses. Pitching is easy once you’ve done it once and this thing is rock solid.

A wee bookmark, more coming up.

Montane Mashup: What’s now and next

Had a nice wee meet up with Rob from Montane and Phil at the Tiso cafe for a catch up with this, that, the other and Montane. If was going well until my camera died before it saved the first photie, so its just as well my phone was fully charged. However, it hates low light so many of the photies below are rubbish and do little justice to the handsome faces or kit portrayed within.
Some are actually making the kit look like they’re made of hessian or roofing felt, I shall point out what to ignore as we go.

Above is the updated Extreme Smock. Always a nice bit of kit, the pile is now finer textured and lighter, the hood is better too.
Below  there’s a couple of the new Primino base layers, long sleeve zip neck and crew. The fabric feels very nice indeed as it’s a blend of 50% merino, 25% polyester and 50%Primaloft fibres, which doesn’t means it’s overly warm, Primaloft is just a very good polyester fibre. I’ve had Primaloft fibre running socks to test and they were just soft and comfy.

Above is the Axion Neo Alpha jacket, a monster ski, architect site visit jacket with  Polartec Neoshell outer and Alpha 100g fill.
Looks pretty classy.

The first on a few Pertex/Primaloft stuff bags of joy. This Fireball hat might make you look special, but it weighs nothing and in a tent in winter who cares what you look like.

These two  tiny weightless stuffsacks contain what will become vital kit for many of us I’d imagine.

Above are the Prism Gloves with the Prism Mitts below. Pertex Microlight outers, Primaloft Gold (used to be called One) lining with a great fit. Love, and indeed need both of these. I feel the cold on my hands more than ever, mitts and warm gloves are where it’s at for me and when it comes small and light but still performs it’s a big win.

The Punk Balaclava is a mix of Polartec and  Pertex, but I still look like an old hippy. That skip is nice, sits well on its own but should layer well too as it’s soft enough.

The pack range is going all mosnter with the Dragon 20, Jaws 10 and Fang 5. Similar concepts run through them but they are all different packs with a similar outlook, low weight, stability and on the go accessibility.
There’s elastic wasitbands, multiple storage options from stash pockets to bungee webs to shoulder bottle attachments. The packs are all zipped access, waterproof zips too as the fabric is waterproof and the seams are taped making for a very weather proof pack indeed. For biking and running where you just end up minging in bad weather these guys are looking good.

The contact area of the front harness/storage straps should keep the pack stable, I’ve used this concept before and I like it. The detailing and thought built into the packs looks sound.
Weights are 320g, 282g and 247g for the three capacities, in the order you’d expect with no obvious corners cut to meet the numbers. We’ll see.

The classic Flux gets an update and also gets matching Flux Pants. The outers are Pertex Classic Eco with a mic of 100g and 60g Primaloft in the jacket and 60g in the pants.
I’ve reviewed the Flux in the past and the newer models don’t stray too far from the script, it’s not the lightest for the warmth but it’s just such a usable jacket, wearable instead of just a pull-on for rest stops or camp.

The phone has killed this one, in reality the Power Up Hoodie above is gorgeous, cut from smooth Polartec Powerstretch in a lovely bright blue. There’s a simple hood, zipped chest pockets and two handwarmer pockets placed just above a pack hipbelt.
On of my favourites of the day.

Above on the left is the Alpha Guide Jacket, a hybrid jacket with Polartec Alpha in the body for core insulation. The outer is Pertex Microlight, weight is around 458g and it comes with a simple hood and neat cut which Phil fits and I don’t. Damn you Montane and your sample sizing.

Its beefier looking neighbour is the Alpha 100 Jacket, a warmer take on the Alpha technology with a Pertex Quantum outer and an adjustable mountain hood.

Above in an overly grainy shot is the Rock Guide Jacket. Pertex Microlight Stretch outer, honeycomb inner, feels like nice all-day jacket and it’s good a nice hood, which has quirks. There’s two little zipped slits at the side so you can slip a helmet chin strap through it and still get face protection.
You can also smoke a pipe or eat a Curly Wurly through the gaps.

Below is the Spitfire One Jacket which is a wee step up from the Ice Guide Jacket which has served me well on numerous occasions. There’s Pertex Endurance to keep the weathe off your Primaloft fill and the same pocket layout as the Ice Guide. Nice.

The Chonos Ultra Down Jacket. 650g, Pertex Quantum Y ( different fibre, it’s Y shaped, I saw a photie), 259g of 800+ fill 90/10 non-live plucked goose down. The construction is box-wall, thew body is long, the hood is awesome, the pockets are big and there were smiles all round. Not from me though as it was too small to try on. Dammit.

Above is the Minimus Hybrid Jacket, Pertex Shield with 60g Primaloft fill. A kind of outdooorsey lifestyle jacket, ski maybe, but one of those jackets that would get a lot of use as it’s generally useful.

This is the Trailblazer Stretch Jacket made from Aquapro Dynamic which is yet another wonderful Montane name here used for a super stretchy (see below) waterproof laminated fabric. The hydrostatic head and MVTR performance on paper looks good and the jacket is specced just right with a weight of 328g.
This is one to watch.

The sleeping bag range is full of quirks and different looks at common issues. Here we have the Alpinist whose rating you can see below.
The outer is Pertex, Endurance on the bottom for water resistance and Microlight on the top. Inside the 1450g total weight is 670g of 800 fill goose down, non live plucked.

The zips have anti snag detailing that actually works, seriously, be as aggressive as you like and it doesn’t snag. Will it still work at 3am when it’s -15C and I need a pee? Here’s hoping.
The bottom has some grippy dot printing to help keep you on your sleepmat. It’ll be interesting to see what effect this has. The baffling is trapezoidal and very well shaped, it’s a very 3D bag, especially the foot section which has to be the most foot shaped foot-box I’ve seen.

The hood is genius. A skip to catch drips from your condensation soaked inner, multiple adjustments of the closure and cleverly shaped inner baffle and inner pockets, one for whatever you like and another zipped one for camera batteries. Yes, it is.

The Minimus has a waterproof Pertex Shield outer, 360g of down in it’s kilo total and it’s got a good temperature rating too. Good for a bivy maybe?
Definitely impressed with the bags, like they did with the packs they’ve hit the ground running by the looks of it.

That’s that then, good to get myself up to speed again. There were a few things I couldn’t cover or forgot to take photies, the trousers got passed over which is a bummer as the Terra Stretches are nice and then there were the new pants I can’t show you, they look like a very good beefy but stretchy mountain pant, I like them a lot, very rugged.

 

Fjällräven Greenland Parka Review

If you’ve met me over the past three months the chances are I’ve been wearing the jacket in this review. Most of the outdoor gear I have looks technical and feels technical which means I feel a little conspicuous in it anywhere below the 300m contour and consequently it stays on the peg while I head out in all weathers wearing denim and leather, which, by the way is the best way to preserve your lightweight shell jackets.
So, when Fjällräven sent through some suggestions for winter test kit I skimmed over the thigh length Greenland Parka as country wear or winter protection for hardcore dogwalkers. But I went back to it a couple of times, read more and found either boxes being ticked or buttons being pressed, can’t remember which, but it was one of the two. Outdoor performance, practicality and usability, understated good looks, really? Here’s a review of my favourite jacket, the Fjällräven Greenland Parka.

The weight of the Greenland Parka isn’t a issue, it just nudges past a kilo for my large which is still lighter than some Gore-Tex shells I had back in the day, it’s jacket to wear not to carry in a pack and does feel light on. It’s cut to be worn as well, by that I mean it’s not a baggy overcoat, it’s trim and well fitted with articulation built into the arms that gives you the same movement you expect from any good mountain outerwear.
The parka has a scary amount of features too. The hood is basic, no adjustment but it fits my napper well enough and its low bulk is right for the jacket. It’s gives a nice high collar when pulled down which is also nicely high at the front to keep the heat in and dip a cold chin into where the need arises, like when you’re not concentrating and carve too much beard off on the wrong trimmer setting. Nightmare.

The main zip is big and chunky YKK with a Fjällräven arctic fox embossed on the puller, I only mention that because Holly likes the fox logo, especially the big leather one on the arm. The two way zip is extremely practical given the length of the parka, on hill stuff I undo the zip and bottom popper (the zip has a full length poppered storm flap) so I can make step-ups. This is why outdoor jackets used to be long, protection and free movement are both possible, why even ramblers are dressed like alpinists these days I do not know.
The arms are nicely long and have popper adjustable cuffs. Poppers are all over the Greenland Parka in fact, all the external pockets have them too and they’re a good chunky variation, again with wee foxes on them.

Talking of pockets, there are pockets everywhere. And, I have used them all. Inside there’s a zipped pocket which is placed a little lower than you might expect and I found out why, one is that you can access the pocket when you’re wearing a seatbelt in a car and also it’s so that the pocket contents don’t interfere with the external handwarmer pockets when your hands are in them. It’s a little thing that makes a big difference.
Also inside is a bigger velcro flapped poacher/map pocket with your instructions for applying the Greenland Wax to the outer fabric which increases wind and water repellency. I have the wax but I’ve never used it, the G-1000 polycotton outer fabric is a great fabric with a decent shower resistance, I’m well used to it’s properties from other Fjällräven kit and I’m happy enough with it, I just don’t take it into heavy rain. But, wax it and you could if you want.

The outer pockets are a joy. There’s two high on the chest with single popper flaps and centre bellows pleats, two mid-height with poppered slit entries and microfleece lining to warm your hands and two at the bottom with a square cargo-carrying design and double poppered flaps. It’s like having a utility jacket, family days out just got simpler when I take this parka.

The parka works for me from regular days over a t shirt to properly cold days where there’s just enough room to layer up underneath. It’s got warmth all by itself as the inner has a layer of quilted synthetic insulation under a nice soft-touch polyester lining. It’s a good level of insulation, not too warm for walking and it’s also easy to wash, no thick padding to endlessly rinse, destroy or worry about which is important for me as the parka gets worn all the time.

The weather resistance is good, wind is never a worry, showers are deflected and the fabric dries fast if you do push your luck in it. I don’t want to say it’s a perfect all-round “everyday outdoor” jacket as Fjällräven describe it, but other than maybe a slightly more developed hood I can’t find anything on the Greenland Park I’d change.
I wear the parka most days and it’s going to age very well, the G-1000 makes sure of that. Its looks won’t date, you see similar designs in nasty fabrics and terrible cuts on the racks in the high street at the start of every winter and the Greenland Parka will still be there blowing a raspberry at them  for years to come.

 

…in with the new. Let’s start with Alpkit.

What the hell? Nearly half way through January and not a lot to show for it. However, a visit to the physio on Thursday went well and I’ve been cleared to ease myself back into physical activity as long as I don’t push my luck and do my exercises, which are now more than pulling rubber bands, I’m lifting weights. It’s been a wake up call this, I don’t want to leave myself so open to injury again. There’ll be some changes I think. I’ve missed camping, a lot.

Should have been in the hills to celebrate this weekend, snow, some blue skies and the wind seemed to have tired itself out. But, I’m in the recording studio on Monday and as much as I like to wing it in these situations, it also costs money and I’ve been prepping for it. So I’ve been tweaking lyrics, writing down all the extra guitar parts I’m planning to overdub and singing, a lot, much to Holly’s dismay. She’s now at the age where dad becomes a superhero and his super power? The power to wield embarrassment.

There was a sad loss, one felt by the whole family. My iPod died suddenly. I’ve had this iPod since December 2007 and it rarely been out of my pocket, I can’t remember being in a tent without it, driving anywhere with out it and it’s been a more than a music box, it’s been reassurance, comfort and has saved my day many times both by it’s contenst and by it’s screen which is a brilliant emergency light.
Holly was upset and improvised a grave for it so we could remember it. The headstone puts it better than I ever could. Will it’s replacement last as long and perform so well? Doubt it, Apple are just having a laugh these days.

Lots of other new kit and one which made me smile was a parcel from Alpkit that arrived just before Christmas, in for test a MytiCup with some thing inside it you wouldn’t even know was there it’s so light, the Kraku Micro Stove.
It’s a neat design, no less stable than many others twice the weight and feels very robust, more engineering than camping which is a good thing. We’ll see how it does soon, I’ll be back in a tent pitched on snow shortly.

Alright!

Fjällräven Keb Jacket Review

Fjällräven’s Keb Jacket is something else altogether. It’s been my first choice as my woodland ranger jacket, partly because it kinda looks the part but also because it’s perfect for the task. But it’s a complex bit of kit and it’s given me dilemma’s when using it. I shall explain.

Looking at the basics the Keb jacket is cut from the same fabric as the Keb Trousers reviewed immediately below this post. The lighter coloured fabric is the G-1000 polycotton and the darker panels are the softshell.
The same attention to user detail and function apply here too along with a slightly fitted but not too neat cut with perfect articulation around the arms. Over a baselayer the size large (794G) is a joy to wear with a good length on the body and nicely long arms

The paneling of the fabrics is done the right way with the G-1000 where you need it’s wind resistance on the chest and it’s abrasion resistance on the shoulders, forearms and hem. The big softshell back section is positioned to keep you drier and a pack cuts out most of the wind so it works well in most situations.

There’s zipped side vents which can be zipped open from top or bottom and these are great hand warmer as well which is usefull as the chest pockets are napoleon style. These pockets are a big with stretchy softshell external bags sewn onto the G-1000 which mean you can stuff kit into them without any effect of the fit of the jacket. Both popckets have wee internal stretchy extra pockets for your phone or things of a similar size and shape to your phone, like someone else’s phone or two Nestle Animal bars perhaps.
There’s another small zipped pocket on the left upper arm and like at the zips it’s got a magic wee leather pull tag with an arctic fox on it. Love that wee touch.

The main zip is chunky and has stiff internal and external stormflaps with additional poppers top and bottom to seal you in. The lower hem is adjustable, a bungee cord with caoptured cordlocks and the cuffs have old-school self-fabric wide velcro tabs. The cuffs pull around half way up my forearm which has been fine, there’s enough venting here for me not to need them up to my elbow in the cool weather the Keb works best in.

Then there’s the hood. The hood is all G-1000 and based on a polar design which gives you a tunnel in front of your face for complete protection. The stiff peak can be folded back to give you better vision and even when folded down the hood protects with a high collar, I can get my nose in it when the jacket’s zipped right up.
There’s velcro tabbed volume adjustment and cordlocked bungees to draw it in around your head and face.
The hood is a work of art.
But, it doesn’t fit on the this jacket for me, it’s too heavy and bulky and offers more protection than the rest of the jacket, so you you’ll have to throw on another layer in bad weather and this hood will not layer under anything I have, even the biggest helmet compatible hood.

I’d keep the G-1000 up to collar height and then make a more basic hood from the softshell so it can be layered more easily. The fabrics used are very breathable and quick drying, they layer under Gore-Tex and eVent perfectly, but the hood thing had me keeping the Keb at home and taking out other kit although I knew that the rest of the jacket would work perfectly.

I love the Keb Jacket and I use it all the time around the Kilpatricks, but the hood limits it for me. It’s been incredibly frustrating as it’s a jacket that’s been built for the mountains.

Fjällräven Keb Trousers Review

I reviewed the Fjällräven Abisko Trousers last year and they’re now all-time favourites and still in regular use, in fact they got to go on some extra trips the past wee while because I forgot to repair a barbed wire induced tear on the Keb Trousers I’m reviewing here. However, the Keb’s were sewn up in time to go to the recent Mournes trip and after all their hard work through they year I think they deserve a few words.

Fjällräven make the Keb Trousers in five colours and nine sizes for the men and four colours and eight sizes for the girls. There’s some delightful wacky colours in there which were out of stock in my size when my samples were ordered up, but to be honest I think it worked out well as the green and grey combo is wearing well, looks fine when dirty and contrasts well with all the other bright stuff I wear. I’ve been quite happy.
Size wise I’m a 52 in the Keb’s and the Abisko’s which fits in fine with my regular large or 34/36 jeans waist size. The legs on the Keb’s are perfect on me as they’re around 33/34″, but aren’t adjustable as the hems have a few features and there’s no leg options to buy.

The Kebs are very well engineered and are very well featured. They’re cut from G-1000 polycotton which is a fantastic fabric, it keeps out the wind, dries quickly and wears well. It’s tough, I wasn’t upset that the arse tore on a fence, it was my fault. In normal use it takes the knocks and abrasion very well and polycotton feels better in warmer temperatures than synthetics I think. Plus, longjohns winterise it just fine giving you a do it all pant if that’s what you’re after. Application of Greenland Wax at home or at your local stockist who has a machine will waterproof your G-1000 and it’s something that will wash out too, so there’s no gamble in trying it out. Good for the lower legs if you don’t wear gaiters.

The grey sections are a stretchy softshell fabric which has a high nylon content to give it strength but the best thing it brings is total freedom of movement. It has a matching quick drying time and the stretch panels are well placed and shaped to make the Keb’s fit and forget.
The crotch is designed for leg lift rather than relying just on the stretch fabric and the knees are articulated and doubled layered which again adds to the movement and durability. The inside ankles are doubled up too.

Trekking trousers with mountaineering levels of design and detailing? Aye, exactly.

The waist has belt loops with a zip fly and a two-button closure. This spreads the load and makes a nice flat panel which is addressing the possibility of a pressure point, it’s little niggles like the this you notice when it’s fixed like it is here.
There’s two big hip pockets which would probably take a loaf of bread and below them on the front thighs are big cargo pockets. On the right leg the closure has two poppers and an internal stretch phone (etc..) pocket and on the left leg the double poppered flap hides an additional zipped closure. Both pockets have bellows to give them good storage capacity without distorting your trousers or making you walk funny

There’s long zipped vents on the thighs and the lower legs with smooth zipper faces and zipper garages at both ends of all the zips. The vents are great, I had them all open on the whole Slioch trip earlier in the year and they don’t interfere with the drape of the trouser when they’re open. The lower vents stop sensibly short of the ankle cuffs so you can cool down and still seal the crap out of your shoes.

The ankles are made tough and retain their shape which helps when you seal them onto your boots with the wee concealed hook. Adjustment is old school with big poppers and webbing inside the hem. It works fine even with the metal parts being well scuffed now.

You can see the repair below, it’s neater than it looks in the photie! The Keb Trousers have a lot of thought put into them, they’re complex in design and to produce which shows how seriously Fjällräven regard the humble trekker and backpacker like you and me. It means the Keb’s are a pair of pants you can pull on, set off and live in.
Wearing these I’ve got kit and niknaks to hand all the time even if my pack’s lacking in accessible pockets. I’m comfy, unrestricted, I can cool down if I need to and I can layer under and over if the weather wants to play dirty. The cut is sensible too, straight, neither neat nor baggy. Nice to see some trends being ignored.

Bottom line, the Fjällräven Keb’s are a fantastic pair of outdoor trousers.

Rounding up the sheep: Missing merino reviews from Smartwool, Woolpower and EDZ

I’ve being using these tops for a long time, quite a while and a good bit respectively, all of which are standard imperial testing measurements, as you know I don’t do metric.
Having such long term use, coming back to them after big gaps has cemented my opinions, especially as I’m using synthetic base layers as much as merino now.
Merino versus synthetic isn’t as clean cut as it once was for me, lots of synthetics I’ve used have caught up in terms of smell control which was merino’s winningest feature, so merino for me has to better than ever for me to wear it. There’s more too it of course, and I’ve pointed out what in the reviews.
Clicking on the names above the photies takes you to the brands own product page.

 

Smartwool Men’s NTS MID 250 ZIP T

Smartwool use some nice fabrics and 250 weight used in the Zip T has a close knit, very smooth merino that is soft against the skin and a joy to pull on. There’s good stretch to it and an excellent return to shape even after extended use.
The collar is tall which I like and stands up well with its double fabric construction, The collar has a neat wee zipper garage to keep my beard from getting tugged at and the zip itself is around 1/3 length with a smooth inner face which doesn’t need a baffle for me.
The cuffs and hem are plain, nice and wide with flat locked stitching, as is the whole shirt, and the cut is slightly tapered on the body with just enough length on the arms and body in a US medium which usually works fine for me in Smartwool.

The fabric weight here is the thing I had to adjust to, I like light faster wicking and drying baselayers but on cold days under softshell or 100 weight fleece the Zip T found its happy place.  If I pushed myself too hard or overlayered it too much the thicker merino would just get saturated and take forever to dry, I noticed a big difference here to 200/190 weight. When it’s wet, it’s not too bad feeling, but steaming away in a tiny tent is something to be avoided.

A cold weather winner, excellent build and fabric quality and good longevity too, it still looks great after many washes and wears.

 

Woolpower Zip Turtleneck 200

The Woolpower Zip is something a wee bit different both in style and fabrics and I’ve had a very on/off relationship with it. I’ve got a size medium which is fine on me, the body is long at the back where a huge scooped tail covers your whole arse and at the front it tuck into my trousers okay, but I’d have it an inch or two longer here. The arms ate a good length and have nice big cuffs which are low profile, layer well and don’t cause problems with gloves.
The collar is a medium height and  there’s a short neck zip for venting.
The fabric is a merino, polyester, nylon and elastane mix which should be the combination of justice as all four offer something ideal and the fabric has two very different faces too, a smoothish outer and a terry loop style inner. It’s quite an open fabric, lots of light getting through, also something that says good things about moisture management and drying performance too.

The fabric does perform very well in use, it keeps my skin dry and it dries fast itself. The merino content keeps the stink down and it’s very pleasant to wear.
But, it stretches quickly in use and after a couple of days it goes from slim fit to big and baggy which is annoying and can be faffy to layer under anything slim fit. After washing it returns to shape pretty well, so it’s not permanent.
The zip collar construction is an old-school style with a big patch of double fabric at the front to keep the chill out of a vulnerable area: you can open your jacket to breath and your doubled base layer still keeps you warm. But the inner surface here is the outer face rather than the terry softness and it it irritates my skin, I find myself scratching around the zip area.

It’s a fantastic fabric, the 200 weight is perfect for almost everything but I’d like to see more lines of stitching to tighten the shirt up and give it better form over extended use. The irritation issue won’t affect everyone, and if I’d known how it was going to go I’d have got a crewneck to test, because there’s a lot right about the Woolpower kit.

 

EDZ Merino Polo Shirt

Polo shirts are for logo-ed workwear and golfers yes? No, I’ve a few outdoor specific polo shirts and they’re a fine alternative to whatever else you might usually wear and EDZ have stepped in with some nice colourful models.
The polo is 200 weight merino with a slightly relaxed and tapered fit with some nice paneling to give it form and a nice drape. The sleeves have a bit of extra length to them and there’s a tall collar with a three button neck. The neck is reinforced bu a taled seam like the Smartwool Zip T.
The cuffs and hem are neat and like almost every seam in this whole review we’ve got flatlocked stitching. The fabric has a good bit of stretch to it, but it’s not the softest here and it always takes me a minute or two to tune into it but I’ve never had any irritation while on foot or on my bike, with or without a pack.

Fabric performance is fine, stink free with the trade off of relaxed pace drying that you make with pure merino. The slightly relaxed cut is great in warmer weather and it does actually layer up okay, the big collar doesn’t get in the way at all. This is aklso one of the faults, the collar is a bit too soft and doesn’t stand up well which is one of a polo shirt’s best features, the collar keeps the sun off your neck.
The buttons feel friendly and there’s plenty of venting, the looser cut helps waft heat out the opening too. The polo’s been washed and dried many times and it’s still looking good.

It’s a great top, decent fabric which has many miles on it and more to go. Polo shirts are stealth outdoor wear, you don’t look odd in them in the cafe or pub later on and buttons are nothing to be afraid of at all.

Conclusion

There is a perfect baselayer in here, but I’d have to get my scissors and sewing machine to make it. The fabric performance of Woolpower in either of the other two styles, the Smartwool collar on the EDZ, the Smartwool softness on the Woolpower zip panel, the EDZ orange on everything…
They’re too different to have a winner. The EDZ polo is an almost perfect summer hill shirt for me, if I want merinos smell destroying performance with quicker drying I’ll pull on Woolpower and if I want to be warm, cozy and go oooh when I pull it on I’ll reach for Smartwool.
So, you can have it all, just not all at the same time. Bummer.

 

Haglöfs Tundra LS Shirt Review

The photies are cheesy catalogue shots aye, but Haglöfs  Tundra LS Shirt is a serious bit of kit. Outdoor gear performance with stealth casual looks for street wear? Yes please.

The 635g the Tundra is listed as is spot on compared to my sample size large, and I have carried it in my a pack a few times as it compresses down very well, but this is something to wear on cool day from your front to door to, well, wherever you like really. I’ve had it to the shops, to work, to the park and on the hill and it was as happy as I was.

The cut is quite neat, certainly no grunge era baggyness just because it looks like a flannel shirt. Neat is good though, neat is warmer and the layer of light synthetic insulation in the body and the arms traps a good amount of body heat. The body is a good length and the arms are long with regular shirt style poppered cuffs which match the poppered front closure and there’s decent articulation in the arms too.

The whole shirt is made from recycled polyester with a smooth inner microfibre which layers very well over a  merino long sleeve or a Gildan SoftStyle t-shirt which is worth about 99p but put a Black Sabbath logo on it and it’s £20 and folk like me buy it.
The outer looks and feels like flannel, albeit a tougher variety, it’s soft and comfy. It washes well and dries well, but don’t expect weather resistance, it greets moisture from above just like any other flannel fabric, it just dries fast. I think it’s going to age nicely with use, something that modern outdoor gear doesn’t do well at all.

There’s nice detailing, like the collar which stands up to cut out the chill and has a plain fabric back which matches the useful reinforcing patches on the elbows. There’s wee bits of reinforcing at the hips and bottom of the closure as well.
There’s three pockets, two big hand warmers a single zipped and flapped pocket on the left chest which is big enough for my phone. There’s hang loop at the back of the collar.

The Tundra is a joy to wear and it performs well too, being pretty wind resistant which includes the front when its buttoned tight. It’s more jacket than shirt, it is outerwear and on dry cold days it works great for me. I can boost it with a down vest if needs be and it all goes just fine with jeans.

Favourite gear of the year contender?

 

E-Case First Look

I’ve had my smartphone for a year and I’ve had a few close calls with it getting it wet, dropping it, freezing it, cooking it, killing the battery on day one of my Slioch trip earlier in the year where the alarm feebly and constantly sounded for two days…
Just sitting in my pocket or in a stuffsack hasn’t been entirely successful, so it was very good timing when some samples from E-Case arrived for review a few weeks back. Below is an eSeries 9 with my Sony Xperia inside which fits nice and the screen is still totally usable. Also on test is one for Joycee’s iPhone and one with a waterproof earphone socket for iPod joy at camp, I’ll come back to them all in a wee while.

The case has a welded construction with lanyard attachments cut through the textured material. There’s very clear windows front and rear and the closure is a SealLock, a rubber zipper type which you close by squeezing the two halves together. The seal is beefy and it does make the case waterproof, indeed a closed case takes a good amount of pressure when closed and doesn’t pop which is great for sealing out the weather buy also makes for good protection for my overpriced phone.

It’s been nice pulling my phone out of my pocket and finding it not drenched in condensation the past couple of weeks, so the E-Cases will be getting some mileage on them. More later.