GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Soloist Review

A camping pot is a camping pot is a camping  pot… Correct, something to boil water in and cook basic meals is all you really need, how many of those old school folding handle aluminium mess tins are still sold?
So to spend real money on sexy cooking kit you have to find a tangible advantage over something basic, be it weight, design or features. I’ve got the lightest and coming up over the winter I’ve got the fanciest to talk about, but on review here just maybe I’ve found one of the handiest in GSI’s Pinnacle Soloist which I’ve had on test the past few months.

The Soloist is modular space saving kit which is always a good thing but there’s some real thought gone into it.
I’ll start on the outside with the stuff sack which is where the usability starts, no cheapo mesh bag to hold it all together, here we have a welded seam bucket that holds a litre of water all by itself. Great for topping up your pot, filling with snow for the same task but also useful as a wash bucket and general storage. It’s a tough fabric, fits the pot fine although another half inch in height would make it perfect with a better overlap on the pot lid when you pull in the drawcord, which has a proper cordlock by the way. 32g for the stuffsack.

The pot is 1 litre+ and I usually boil 700/800ml in there for a cuppa and a meal where it stays very stable (dependent on stove used as well) as the shape isn’t too tall. The pot is quite squat which I think also helps stop it boiling over if it’s very full.
It’s anodized aluminium with a Teflon inner coating which has a little colour to it, like past sauce has dyed the inside of the pot. Worth both noticing and remembering before you take a Brillo pad to it. The coating is supposed to spread heat as well as be non stick and the like and it’s definitely easy to keep clean, rust marks from a gas canister base come straight off.
The finish inside and out looks to be tough, no real damage other than scratches to the base and the pot itself is tough, it’s dent free and I think it might stay that way with normal use. 194g for the pot.

The handle is a cracker, long and coated in orange plastic which keeps bare finger from getting singed and is easy for gloved hands to grip. The handle folds away and locks open nice and securely, when closed it clamps the lid neatly onto the pot.
The lid is a clever wee thing at 20g all on its own. It fits the pot one way up and the mug the other way up. It’s not tight on the pot so you don’t have to struggle with it while the bubbling contest threaten your happiness, but it presses neatly into the mug so you can seal in your drink and not worry about the lid coming off and hot coffee taking your face off.
The lid has a spout/sipping slot which serves well at both disciplines and a straining bit for when you want to drain the water out of your cauliflower or boiled tatties at camp.  The lid has a bit of flex top resist breaking and is molded in pretty clear plastic which is useful, it’s resisting scratching okay so far too. It’s replaceable  if you lose yours which is nice, it’s a standard GSI accessory item.

The mug is wide and low making it hard to spill in a tent. The polypropylene shell is lightly textured outside and smooth inside for easy cleaning and a bit of grip for both your hand and the neoprene insulation band that slips over the outside, that removability makes it a breeze to keep it all clean too.
But, the insulation brings with two helpings of joy, one is that it keeps your drink warmer for longer, especially with the lid on and the other is that I don’t burn my lip on it. I love my purple titanium mug, but damn an unburnt lip is a thing to be treasured. All for 46g too.
The mug makes a decent wee bowl as well, porridge sachets or pots fit well as do breakfast sized dehydrated meals. All of which can be worked with using the supplied 7g spork, of foon as they like to call it over their shoulder as the paddle furiously against the tide. It’s a nice wee thing and folds telescopically but at full length it’s great for stirring or porridge but no good for eating from a bag, way too short, you will get saucy fingers.

299g complete and I’m happy with that given the amount of functionality, it’s simply very usable. Inside you can store the big 250ml gas if you want, you might not get the lid on properly with your stove etc in there too, but it will all still fit into the stuff sack. A 100ml gas inside leaves room for drinks etc as well.
Magic bit of kit.

Coming soon, the Halulite Minimalist. Is the wee brother struggling in the shadows?

Haglöfs Summer 2014 Preview Part 3: Packs

The Haglöfs pack range is always an intriguing line up of the weird and the wonderful. The LIM and Intense packs are what caught my eye from the 2014 lineup.

Above is the LIM Susa 20 which has been tweaked and for some reason I didn’t take a shot of the front. It’s a nice wee pack, with some race derived features like a big stuff pocket and a climbing friendly tapered shape. Nice big hip fin pockets, good harness, 500g for its 20 litres and it looks like a decent regular-use go-to pack.

Below is the LIM Susa 40 or 30 which is similar to the above but here there’s a buckled lid rather than a zip and big double entry side pockets. I’ve got many happy memories of miles covered with an old style LIM 45 pack. Good to see the name getting ready to carry more backpacking loads.

The Gram Comp gets some sensible updates with a better harness and better fabric. It’s a great pack, I’ve used an original for a couple of years or so and the race derived layout of flexible and accessible storage is perfect for anyone who wants to keep their eye on the scenery and dig through their pack for their gloves.
320g for 25 litres capacity. I’ve used one with winter kit inside and outside without any problems.
Yes please.

The Gram Comp 12 is a zipped access go=faster pack at 260g. Great harness for running and biking and as Gus demonstrates can be worn as one of those pretend pregnancy belly things that dads-to-be wear so they can understand a woman’s discomfort and get stuck in narrow supermarket aisles etc.
Nice big hip pockets and side pockets. Worth a look this one.

This is the bike-specific Ardent pack which comes in 15 and 20 litres in this format. Above it fits Gus like a coffee table strapped to his back, below in the riding position it form fits just nice despite being crammed with poly bags to explain the advanced concept of “3D” to visiting store buyers.

It’s covered in weather resistant access and storage and inside there’s a nice Haglöfs branded 2 litre reservoir from HydraPak.
Below it looks creepily organic I think. Just out of sight are the retractable tendrils for holding both XC and full face helmets.

The Ardent 5 in green here is a stripped down version. Biggest change apart from capacity is the simple wide elastic waist belt. Nice harness too.

The Gram Hydra is a wee hydration pack with a HydraPak reservoir and enough room for trail essentials. Again a great feeling harness which has no tiny or fiddly buckles or the like.
The trend running through these packs of meeting lightweight half way to practicality is a good move I think. I would feel unnecessarily loaded wearing any of these and I can work everything wearing gloves.

Haglöfs Summer 2014 Preview Part 2: Footwear

I was grinning widely at the new Haglöfs footwear models for 2014.

Above is the star of the show, the LIM Mid. Developed with shoe experts ASICS this could be a lightweight trekkers dream come true at 220g a shoe and no water proof membrane to spoil our day.
The mesh and synthetic upper has a nice smooth construction for happy feet in thin socks and there’s enough sole to keep your feet from getting too tired on a long day as they’re bucking the barefoot trend which I’m glad to see and the heel drop is sensible 5mm. The sole has medium depth tread with rice husks through it (which you can see, I should have taken a photie), as the rubber wears the husks should add a little bite and like the cork bits in some soles it’s lessening rubber use with something heading for landfill.
There’s a gel insert in the heel, it’s a trekkers shoe not a runners shoe after all, the toe is strengthened and randed and the whole things flexes nicely with a well shaped and substantial feeling heel cup. £100 when it hits the shops at the end of Febuary in his (6.5 – 12.5 UK) and hers (4-8 UK) sizes.

Above and below are three Gram models from the Intense/Trail range, all available in hims and hers sizes. The pink one is the Gram XC an all-round trail runner with mesh upper, the middle one is the Gram Comp which is the lightest model at 260g for one shoe and the end one is the Gram AM GT, Gore-Tex lined if you like that sort of thing with a studded sole which from many days in Icebugs I confirm is a good thing.

There’s a lot of going on in the shoes, anti gravel tongues, gel inserts, rock protection plates and heel drops ranging from 7.5 mm on the comp( that half a mil makes all the difference…) to 8mm on the other two models here and 10mm on the invisible Gram Gravel which is actually a lightweight rigger boot in pink. Maybe.

Back to the LIM collection here with a selection of the different colourways on the LIM Low and the LIM Low GT. The basics follow the LIM Mid above, we’ve just got a low cut ankle which is fine by me and there’s a mix of Gore-Tex and unlined shoes. They way to tell them apart is easy, the smooth toe fabric on the black shoe in the foreground below means unlined, it’s just got extra protection from a nylon overlay. Open mesh toe+GTX.

I like the look of these, decent soles, great weight (which will be confirmed to me later) but looks like under 200g for unlined and just over for the GTX. Plus the colours of course, that would brighten up any pair of sad looking feet.

Haglöfs Summer 2014 Preview Part 1: Sleeping Bags and Accessories

I was at Gus’s Haglöfs shed last week where much sugar was consumed and we fannyed about with gear well into the night. There’s a lot of new stuff that I’m enthused about, the new footwear looks excellent with a mid height trail show with no membrane lining, the LIM (Less Is More) concept makes a comeback with a range of light and functional kit and there’s just a general freshness about the 2014 kit.
I’m going to cover pretty much all of it so I’ll split it into sections over the next few days. First up is sleeping bags and associated bits and pieces.  Haglöfs sleeping bags are much overlooked in the UK, I’ve slept in a mix of their down and synthetic bags and the slightly relaxed mummy cut they use can feel like a palace next to some of the knee stranglers I’ve tested.
Well made, excellent materials including non live-plucked down fill, they’re worth alook if you can find them. Next years line up is all-new, new bags with new specs and new names. The star is the Perseus seen above and below. But, are you sitting down?

This is the warmest bag I’ve ever slipped into. Feedback was instant and intense, the  temperature rating stell you all you need to know. -26C for the blokes with an extreme of -50C.
£800 is the price to keep you this warm. I told you to sit down.
But, if you need this level of protection, you’ll pay it because you’ll be in a position to be able to afford it or have a sponsor pick up the tab. It’s a lovely bag, with a centre half zip which I love having used the same format on a couple of bags over the years.

I offered Gus what I had in my wallet, but he just lay on top of it and said I couldn’t have it. or he could just have been demonstrating that it does actually pack down pretty well for your polar exped.
There’s spots of synthetic insulation where your pressure points are to keep you suspended above your mat, big draught baffles, pockets and heavier fabric at the head and toe. All for 1720g. Not too shabby for the performance at all.

Test one on the floor of your local Cotswolds camping dept. Ha.

The Leo above come in -10C and 0C ratings at 920g and 625g respectively. It’s a nice shape, trim mummified, like all the Haglöfs down bags it lofts like a bastard and it’s got a quarter length zip to save weight and cut down on pack size.
This is their winter racer or light hiker bag, trimmed down but not to much so. I like it.

Haglöfs made me smile with the Indus Blanket. 200cm x 130cm, Pertex Quantum and Pertex Classic shell with Quadfuson synthetic fill. It’s got poppers to make it into a poncho while you’re cooking breakfast and it rolls up pretty small for its 685g.
It’ll be great in a damp tent where down blankets can be vulnerable, I liked it. Will we see it in the shops this spring?

Haglöfs have new selection of base camp accessories as they’re calling them and above at the Pictor Sleeping Sheets (big( and Pillow Cases (wee). It’s a nice soft polyester fabric they’re using. I used to use bag liners all the time, and this one would be great next to the skin but the pillow case especially is a wee cracker (folded out below). Weighs 25g, which no one can feel, and packs to nothing and gives you a properly shaped stuff sack to cram jackets etc into. Also, the fabric will make it a great wee pack towel as it’s absorbent and quick drying. Magic.

The Apus Pillow (folded up in the top photie) is pure luxury and for porter to carry or for car camping. It’s full of polyester insulation and it’s got a sleeve to cram more kit into if you want a firmer resting place for your napper.

Nice line up of kit and none of it what is folk normally associate with Haglöfs which is a shame as it looks like they’re trying hard with the range.

Tomorrow: Footwear.


Multisport kit review: The North Face and Inov-8

I’ll continue with the recent mountain bike theme I think and cover some of the kit I’ve been using. The jacket and shorts from The North Face have been regulars, the shorts in fact are the only bike shorts I’ve worn since they came in for test. The Inov-8 pack has been out on the past few trips after having a rest over the summer when I was using it’s lighter sibling, the colder weather means a wee bit more kit is getting carried.

The North Face are a bit frustrating when it comes to bike wear, they do it very well but don’t seem to get behind it with as much conviction as they might. The prices are good and quality is high, not something you often find in bike wear which seems to be largely divided into tat and extortionate.
I can’t link to either of these items on The North Face’s pages, but they are still widely available in the shops. I checked.

The North Face Muddy Tracks jacket is a waterproof bike jacket, but not so design specific that you can’t use it for running or walking, as long as you take a hat as it’s hoodless of course. It’s nicely sculpted for the riding position, great arm movement and arm length with a scooped tail that keeps your lower back  well covered. The tail also has a pocket with zipped flapped access, so it’s pretty weather resistant on the outside with a mesh inner pocket bag.
The cuffs are velcro adjustable and pull up a little short of my elbow, is slightly looser and lycra cuffed better? It’s personal thing and I’m on the fence, but I would cut them a little looser whatever so I roll them up further.
The collar is lovely, fleece lined and well shaped to catch water running off the back of your helmet and it fits round my neck perfectly when zipped right up in the riding position, no restriction or rubbing. The main zip is just a reversed fine toothed affair rather than a water resistant type, but that means more flexibility and the 1″ wide internal storm flap isn’t letting rain in, I checked again last night.

The jacket’s cut from HyVent which keeps the price down and the sweat in. Normally I’d throw my hands up in the air at this on a mountain jacket, for for a days blast on a bike where I’m coming home and there’s a good chance of getting oil on it and tearing it in a crash, it’s absolutely fine. Comfort on the move is still great, and the DWR was excellent when new and has lasted well which helps plenty with the limited breathability.
It weighs 270g for a sample medium, which fits me perfectly as if it was a slim large.  It packs down very well, more important on a bike than on foot. There’s a chest pocket with a nice wee zipper garage and a smattering of reflective detailing.
I like the Muddy Tracks, it’s got a fantastic fit and the trade off with the average breathability is a price that won’t have you in tears when you tear the arm open on a tree branch.

The North Face Storm Track softshell bike shorts with liners are a joy. The relaxed fit outer shorts, my sample mediums are a perfect fit, are cut from The North Face’s own Apex fabric which in this Aerobic flavour is very soft and stretchy, quick drying and tougher than expected, a gritty arse on a saddle will destroy shorts quickly.
The cut is good, full unrestricted movement through a mix of the fabric and a gussetted crotch. Good features with pockets agogo. Two front jeans-style with one little coin/key pocket and two zipped rear pockets with velcro tabbed flaps to keep crap out of the zips.
There’s no belt loops but you’ve got two waist adjusters at the side which give a good range of adjsutment, bith to ever fluctuating waistline and seasonal layer variations. There’s a zip fly and a  double popper closure which I’d change to a buckle, going for a pee mid ride usually sees me popping these which is mildly annoying.

The inner shorts are in quite a light fabric, great in warmer weather. The waistband is comfy is not the widest, all the seams are invisible to my personas I wear them and the long legs sit perfectly well without any grippers at the leg ends.
The pad is a good on, it hasn’t deformed much with use and as it’s Coolmax it’s working to keep me dry as fast as I can fire mud at it from my back tyre.
The outers and inners have little tabs to attach them to each other, something that’s always struck me as odd about bike shorts and all the brands do it. Surely separate layers moving independently gives more freedom of movement? Sodden outers slipping down taking the inners with them? Not a criticism as such, I just don’t see the point having tried it many times over the years.
Anyway, the Storm Tracks are great shorts and shall be worn until the snow demands I wear something else.

The Inov-8 Race Elite 8 is a small, lean pack for racers, bikers and runners, as well as for lightweight days at any pace. I’ve been carrying insulation on the bike the past couple of weeks and the Elite 8 has been perfect for that, snacks, tools and tube, bits and pieces, waterproof and a warm jacket in a stuffsack. The important thing is that the pack isn’t overstuffed, nothing worse than that on your back when you’er on the bike, that 8 litres goes along way.
At a genuine 244g it’s lighter than Inov-8 think it is and it’s also very well featured. The slim tapered main compartment is accessed by a  big central waterproof zip with a nice big zip puller. Inside there’s a little hanging zipped pocket at the top which has a key loop and that’s where I keep my garage door key and change for a coffee on the way home. PU coated nylon gives the pack good weather resistance and only in persistent rain have my contents got damp.

There’s compression which is handy when you stick on your shell, stop the remaining kit rattling around. The shoulder straps are light but quite robust feeling, the slider tracks for the chest strap toughen them up although free movement and flexibility is great, they taper right in towards where they join the pack always a good way to free up the shoulders without compromising stability. Taking of which the pack sticks to my back, it’s super stable even without the (partly elasticated) chest strap being tight, could partly be a body fit thing, but I think the packs got it’s shaping right too.
The waist strap is a side fastener (yay!) and inbetween it and the pack are two lovely zipped mesh pockets. These pockets are backed with quite thick mesh, which I think adds to pack stability, and are shaped to take the neat Inov-8 500ml Packs Bottle. This works really well, the bottles can be taken out and replaced while the pack’s worn without hassle, praise be.
The pockets are great by themselves of course and bottle use isn’t damaging the zips. The bottle have little bungee retainers which you don’t really need unless the bottle empty as it can bounce out then and the bottles themselves are  great, grippy and well shaped for wet and tired hands.

The Race Elite is a magic wee pack all by itself and adding the bottles make it even better.

Marmot Isotherm Jacket with Polartec Alpha Insulation

Polartec’s Alpha technology is one of the new stories for this year. The basics are that it’s a lightweight low volume synthetic fill that’s designed to work across a wide range of temperatures and conditions.
I got a Marmot Isoterm Jacket in to test last winter as an example of the technology and as it’s a medium it’s been working as a slim fit on me and a relaxed fit on Joycee. It’s been around and lived a full life, poor thing. What’s the results then?

The Isotherm is a regular jacket design, no hood (a hoody is available) and low-set hand warmer pockets. I don’t really mind low set pockets, and here the tops of the pockets are set high enough to slip my hands into when I’m wearing a rucksack. The pocket entries are set well back towards the side seams as well as having deep pocket bags, so these are big badass pockets to take all your niknaks and more.
There’s a chest pocket which is external and stretchy, not too big but plenty useful. The same stretch fabric is used elsewhere as zipper garages on the pocket zips, a nice wee touch, and also on the shoulders, where it’s doing something, not sure what. The arm articulation is pretty good so I’m not sure overarm stretch is needed so I’m going for durability, the rest of the shell is Pertex Quantum and the stretch panels will take all the pack shoulder strap abuse.

The Pertex is as you’d expect, light, silky, packable with decent water resistance. It’s stronger that you’d think as well, I’ve torn Quantum on barbed wire, where it did indeed tear along the ripstop lines making for an easy repair, but in general use it last well against regular abrasion.
The collar is medium height, the main zip has a stiffened baffle and a chin guard. All the zip pulls have big pull tags on there and there’s a side-pull single hem adjuster which I’ve never used as the waist is exactly the same size as me. That’s “man sized” if you were wondering.

The outside is clean and slick but the inside is a patchwork of fabrics, all there to help the Alpha insulation do it’s thing. In amongst more lovely orange Pertex the mesh is DriClime, a long standing Marmot fabric. Who can forget the DriClime Windshirt with the horizontal chest pocket that only fell runners can understand.
The mesh is sensibly placed to try and keep you dry when you start pumping sweat out, almost all of the back has it and the upper chest at the front.

Then there’s the Alpha in the middle which Polartec say is based on “Polartec® Thermal Pro® High Loft technology platform”. I say that when you hold it up to the light it looks like a string vest made of tiny fleecy strands. So I’m going with that, techno string vest.
But, that’s not a bad idea. In winter I like wearing a base, a microfleece and a windshirt or light shell. Alpha is kinda giving you that all in one, because although Alpha is billed as insulation, it’s really on-the-move warmth or good weather insulation, it’s just not that warm as a camp jacket. Again, not a bad idea. Throw the Isotherm on at the start of the day from now until spring and until it really pisses down with rain the only clothing changes you might make are to pull on a warm jacket at lunch or camp.
I know there’s plenty of all-in-one systems like this around, Pertex and Pile, Paramo and more, but it’s the lack of warmth that I like here with the Alpha. I’m getting the comfort levels I’m used to but I’m getting it with less kit and less weight. A good thing yes/no?

322g for a medium, compare well to a microfleece and windshirt combo and it compresses down well for packing. How it will age I’m not sure, there’s no loft to monitor, so I suppose I’ll just watching for the internal string vest to come apart and fall down to the hem in the future.
The sandwich construction does make drying times longer than they might be, a windshirt and microfleece dry quicker when separated. The Isotherm layers very well, great over a baselayer and under a shell or heavier insulation.
It all works perfectly well, the fabrics used and the Alpha insulation are a perfect match, the detail and quality in the Marmot design and construction is excellent. But, I kept on looking for pitzips to cool down and the lycra bound cuff don’t quite pull up to my elbows. For me one-pieces still aren’t adaptable enough for the range of temperatures my motor runs at.
But if you like your lightly insulated Pertex, you might well love this.


UNIQLO Ultra Light Down Parka

Ha, I get to do the fun stuff with this one. UNIQLO are running a competition here. Send them an online photie, not necessarily with their kit in it you’ll be pleased to hear, with a #ULD (Ultra Light Down) namecheck and win £300 to spend on their kit, which as well as the ULD stuff, has some lovely t shirts, jumpers and flannel shirts.
I’ve got all the outdoor gear I need, so sign me up for this.

I’d planned a shot of a wistful crag top gaze into the sunset while wearing my test jacket but after I trashed my rear wheel I actually had to use the jacket properly as I sat on the increasingly cold hillside in shorts trying to straighten my spokes and kinked brake disc.
So it’s all very well having a bit of promotional fun, but is UNIQLO’s down gear actually any good?

290g for a size large, they’re right, it is light. And looking at the photie below doesn’t show any great differences between the Parka and any other number of down jackets from your obvious technical brands. The devil will be in the detail. Or under my bed, but this isn’t the time or place for that.

The layout is plain and simple, but there’s been thought put into the design. The baffles are all narrow except for the hood where they’re a little wider and shaped to give the hood a proper shape without compressing the down when it’s worn. The side baffles are vertical which means the down has settled downhill a little leaving the underarm with very little insulation in it. Not a problem as down usually gets crushed here anyway and the arm insulation picks up the slack when your arms are down. There’s good articulation built into the shoulders too, a decent amount of armlift is possible without belly or kidney exposure.
The down in these baffles is 90/10 and I’ve been searching for those ten percent of feathers, they’re soft if you can find them and I’ve had no wee feather quills poking through the fabric or the seams. The fill power can be found in the small print on the hang tags, 640 or higher. Doesn’t seem a lot by today’s 900 standard, but I suppose you have to judge it on performance, not numbers.
And price.

The fabric shell is a very fine nylon, could be Toray or Pertex in a blind touch test, but I’ve no problem with own-brand fabric, it works just as well without the burden of branding. The shell is soft, compressible and to my surprise very water resistant. I tested the same-fabric stuff sack first and water ran straight off, even with the tap on for 30 seconds. Turns out the sleeve’s just the same. The stitching will suck some water in of course, but it’s good to know a shower won’t kill the jacket.
The main zip  is one-way with a nice big pull tag and a fine toothed type so runs smooth but there’s no baffle behind it so there’s going to be a little heat loss here.

There’s two external zipped pockets with tiny wee zip pulls, big gloves will be a fumble, but they’re smooth and the pockets are big and deep, going behind the down baffles to warm my fingers when trying to fix my wheel. Inside the pocket bags are stitched up the right way to give you two big poachers pockets, good call.
The hood is a good size with a gently elasticated opening which matches it up to the hem and the cuffs. The hood has no adjustment, but a hat or a buff makes it stick to your head so you don’t have to look at the inside of the hood when you look left or right. My head’s huge, so this adjustment-free trend on down jacket hoods doesn’t affect me so much, I just fill the gaps naturally.
The chin’s interesting. It’s quite loose, obviously so casual wearers won’t feel locked-in, but mountain folk like to hide from the cold so my first thought was that it was a weak spot, but it means that the Parka layers well over other stuff and still zips right up. Nice.

So, I’m on the hill, my bike’s grinding and “pinking”, those who have stressed their spokes will know the sound and I’m trying straighten it all out so I can get back down. The Parka went on and I got on with it as it got dark and the temperature dropped. I sat cross legged on the grass until it was done as well as could be, the disc was still going to grind on the brake caliper, but I really needed dinner, time to go. I took off the Parka and did that Ooooh thing with the clenches fists, it was bloody freezing. I pulled on my shell and got on the move.
Not scientific in anyway, but I wasn’t working hard and pumping heat into the jacket, it is actually quite a warm jacket. It’ll have it’s limits but I’m going to test it along with new tech down gear into winter and see how I get on with it.
One important point is the fit, the Parka’s slightly oversized, I could have got away with a medium no problem. But I have slim fit down vest that fits under it, so I’m good to go on my favourite camp insulation combo.


Trail Shoe Lace-Up

The gear catch-up continues with this mixed bag of test models here. I’ve had these shoes for varying lengths of time and they’ve had equally varying amounts of use. Variety is a good thing, both in design and fit, give more folk a chance to get something that works for them.
I’m going more for opinions on how they suited me with this review, the shoes are all well made and fit for purpose and you wouldn’t go particularly wrong with any of them if they’re the kind of thing you want and the fit you.
Are they the kind of thing I want?

Brasher Kuga

The Kuga’s aren’t on the Brasher website any more any more but they’re still widely found in the shops, so they’re worth a mention.
The Kuga’s have an interesting fit for Brasher, quite low volume, although there’s good room in the slightly pointed looking toe box. The heel’s on the roomy side though and it’s that alone that stopped me taking the Kuga’s anywhere but on mildly outdoorsy days out and Kilpatricks bimbling, long climbs would have eaten my heels. Not a problem, just a fit thing which won’t affect everyone.
The Gore-Tex ling is fine for what I was using them for, wet toes on paths were avoided and the pretty aggressive sole was never an issue, especially with a fantastic built-in forward rocking motion at the toe.  The sole’s stiff which I could live with, but it’s too thick for me, trying them on again I feel like I’ve grown an inch. They’re robust, built to last with randing and reinforcing at the heel and toe. The tongue is asymmetric and sits in it’s place and the laces keep the shoe locked up tight without any unwanted pressure through a thin sock.
The looks are understated to try and lure in anyone from boot-wearing trail-shoe-curious fence-sitters to those who had planned on buying shoes from M&S for they holidays in the Lakes.
They weight in at 466g for one shoe UK9.

Càrn Inca Trail

Ben Fogle made these. Or Something. Don’t knock it, he’s done more than most and all while wearing a buttoned shirt under a jumper.
You can see these are still in service, there’s a good reason for that, what a great wee pair of shoes. They look like garden centre specials but the neat fit (with toe wiggling room) and surprisingly grippy sole make these a hill shoe.
The lacing goes down to the toe which I like, they feel very secure on rough ground and rock, almost like a more scrambling oriented shoe which the stiff-ish sole kind of adds to. There’s enough flex at the toe though, so putting in the miles in these are fine.
They’re beefy made, and not particularly light at 400g per shoe for a UK9, in fact when new they felt like a pair of leather brogues. But they softened up and got progressively comfier, quite quickly too. Maybe it’s the fabric, an outer made of a cotton canvas which has taken the knocks and scrapes without issue. The Inca is well randed and there’s no daft seam placement, durability was in their minds all along I think.
There’s bamboo in there too which is meant to repel smells, these shoes have spend a lot of time submerged in mud and the like and there’s been no rotting which I’d expected from all the natural fibres and amazingly they do smell way better than their all-synthetic brothers on the shelf next door.
The sole unit’s not too thick, the heel cup is narrower than many so fits me great and I dare say I’ll keep wearing them until the sole wears flat.

The North Face Havoc Low GTX XCR

Ah, a shoe of contrasts and currently to be found mislabeled as boots on the The North Face’s website here.
I really wanted to get on with these, the slick, rough terrain-ready uppers, the heel breast for descending under control and a fantastic heel cup that felt like it had been send by the ghost of Montrail to ease my worries.
But no, I tried and they don’t work on my feet, I kept trying but trying too, but to live with either heel lift, lace pressure or an odd compression in the middle of my foot on a hill day was too much. All black too, they look like school shoes. Good grief.
There’s a lot to like here, the shaping is trail shoe with a nice wide forefoot. The Gore-Tex lining is up to you, but breathability was in the plan with big mesh areas. There’s leather elsewhere on the upper and it’s thin and supple, trails shoes should be moving this way, the future is natural. Hopefully.
Weight is 440g per shoe UK9, which doesn’t feel too bad on my feet. In fact, now that I’m wearing them again while writing this, I might take them out again and see how they do. The Vibram sole unit has a loft of wide flat pads for summer trails but staying upright is one of things I’m not too bad at. All-black shoes though. Mmmff.

Keen Tunari CNX

I loved these as soon as I saw them, I even recommended them in my Best of 2013 piece for Trail at the start of the year. They’re pretty light at 300g each for a UK9 and bridge the gap between trail shoes and folk that want to be as close as they can to barefoot running. The upper is a fine mesh with synthetic suede overlay, a good mix of breathability and scuff resistance. The mesh will let the water back out too.
The outsole is low profile, molded into a natural-esque foot shape and is a quite hard feeling rubber with a typical big block grip pattern which works better than you’d expect, there’s very little shock absorption but the rubber should last. The big rubber toe bumper is present and correct too. It’s a Keen shoe after all.
Flex is good and the upper pulls in around your foot almost like a rock shoe, but more forgiving if you know what I mean. There’s no insole, just some nice internal molding which is comfy in thin socks or bare feet.
But, the heel cup is too big for my skinny heels and it’s limited the use of the shoe for me. The light construction means that the heel stretched out a little and I could flip them off my feet if I really tried. A damn shame, it’s a great wee shoe.


The most important review I’ve ever written

Being a dad has meant many things, and one of those has been increased patronage of fast food er, restaurants. Lots of folk are sniffy about such things, “Oh, I don’t go to…” etc. Aye, well wind your neck back in, the lowest common denominator catches us all somewhere, how many folk watch X factor, shop at Asda, buy a newspaper, drink tea, breathe air, I could go on. We’re all human, work with it.

So we have what I would call the Big Three, the most easily and frequently found establishments in the places I go. They all have a captive audience to an extent but where they don’t they’re often up against each other which you would think would sharpen the attack on customer loyalty. Not so, McDonalds, Burger King and KFC are often feet apart geographically but miles apart in every other way.


No longer Kentucky Fried since the rebranding, but the grimacing face of the Colonel still leers at you at every visit. You’d think it would be hard to do much wrong with chicken, but KFC do try to screw it up as much as they can.
Joycee and I often caught the KFC breakfasts which were actually quite nice. Blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon and maple syrup with a latte for 3 0r 4 quid. But they got increasingly unreliable, no milk to make coffee some days, the maple syrup went from a wee tub to a thimbleful and then there was the times they ran out of cutlery. I was handed two spoons to cut bacon and pancakes, they were handed over with the grinning mindless sincerity of a job well done too.
Maybe you could deal with that if the place was clean. How can you be the first customer in the morning and find dirty and sticky tables, bins so full the rubbish it’s tumbling back out and last nights crap still left on the seats. I mean what the hell are the doing at night, last customer leaves, they throw their jackets on, flick the light switch and go home?
Back to the chicken. Sometime it’s great, I like chicken, I like the spicy breadcrumb coating, Holly likes the popcorn chicken and they’ve being doing nice 70’s desserts recently, it’s a sauce thing that makes them 70’s, trust me on this.
But, inconsistent quality of chicken, fries that are even more of a gamble from lovely to mummified matchsticks and the constantly dirty tables make a KFC visit a take away thing only, and an increasingly last resort.
The chicken angle makes KFC different in the market, but they seem determined to run down their outlets and make them unusable. I’ve seen great staff, frustrated and embarrassed staff and staff who fit in very well with the current business model. I don’t know if the managers are getting support as the same issues go from branch to branch but if feels like KFC is giving up, visits there can be a very dismal experience. Except for the corn on the cob which is an unfailing delight.

Burger King

BK has upped its game in recent times I think, but. I think their burgers are great, they can taste like a burger cooked fresh for you by someone in no hurry on a barbeque grill out in the sunshine. Sometimes.
While that last statement might be a little overoptimistic I’ve found the hot food very consistent in quality and pretty tasty, even to the point of enjoying it rather than tolerating it as fuel while Holly digs a fistful of chips into ketchup with glee. Holly likes it because the food “is spicy” and also because they often have a soft play corner in BK restaurants. This is a good idea as long as they keep them clean and the watching parents combined IQ’s are greater than the combined ages of the children. There’s never much food trouble in there surprisingly, but like any soft play there’s sometimes issues with older kids being too boisterous and the potential for consequent adult intervention. At the Drumchapel branch there was the memorable unexpected event of one youngster having a shite in the corner. Glad I don’t have to visit their house.
The BK desserts are good, a wee bit of imagination in there but also it’s where the preparation becomes trickier and the counter staff often fudge the issue. We’ve had ice creams handed over several time where the ice cream had been running down the hand of the staff member and your dessert has finger prints in it. No thanks.
One cracker was last week when we nipped into the Renfield Street BK for a coffee before a late movie. A Latte for me,  a ice cream dessert and a diet coke for Joycee: small order, piss easy? I got a cup of hot frothy milk while Joycee got a cup of ice cream so melted it matched the look of my coffeeless coffee, and to eat it, my favourite… a fork and knife because the had no spoons. Money back and the sole survivor was the diet coke which went to see Riddick too.
Front of house is a weak spot, dirty tables are common, but not as bad as KFC and staff often seem under pressure, even at quiet times. Management create the systems and format and these poor bastards have to make the best of it.


The golden arches of doom. Remember when foot and mouth hit back in 2001 and McD’s instantly declared that it was a British Beef free zone? Bastards. But, the food has improved no end in recent years.
McDonalds is well organised, the recent refurbishments of the restaurants has given them a better and more pleasant feel and it’s actually no great hardship to spend time in one of their places. I was in the Balloch branch last night for over an hour with Holly while Joycee was at a meeting and it was that visit which prompted thoughts of this review, such as it is. We had our dinner, on clean tables after being served by friendly staff, and then sat for ages playing the battleship game Holly got in her fish finger happy meal which was followed by some mermaid drawing with the cups of crayons and paper.
McDonalds have increasingly made an environment that is welcoming and relaxing, one where you’ll go back and get a second cuppa. The Fort William branch is an oasis, it’s often the only place open for me to eat and rest on the way home on a winter’s night.
So, well organised, more efficient that most, cleaner than the rest, staff that look slightly less harassed, we have a winner? No, the hot food’s pretty much a sea of blandness for me. The occasional specials are usually the only thing I’ll eat that’ll I’ll enjoy, except in the Ft Bill one, anything I eat in there is the food of the gods. I know, it’s a psychological thing.

Do I have any conclusions? No, not really. Burger King food server in McDonlads restaurants? KFC manned by McDonalds staff? All three chains run by McDonalds management and using a new bunch of menu makers?
My main thoughts are that times are hard and when choosing where to go and spend our money why should we have to compromise? McDonalds seems to be doing the best presentation right now, I like the restaurants, but while the food is improved it’s uninspiring, well, except for the chili chicken wrap maybe, but I digress.
The other two seem to be spinning their wheels, trying to make money while not investing it in themselves which they should be doing, not to just keep us from grumbling but maybe even to give us a positive experience in visiting them. Wouldn’t that make for a better future outlook?

My last point is the most important one. The counter and kitchen staff in all of these places must be among the hardest working and least appreciated people around.
I couldn’t deal with so many of the public and stay civil, I don’t know if I could maintain their peak time pace and I don’t know if I could live on their wages.
What is their effort to reward ratio compared to many of us? Bear that in mind the next time you got back up to an 18 year old kid in a branded polo shirt and give them attitude over a tiny thing on your order that’s easily fixed.

Smart but Casual

Exposure to so much gear in recent years has made me realise what you don’t need as much as what you do need. I was climbing Munros in cotton t-shirts and army surplus into the 90’s and was quite happy with it. A wet army parka isn’t so different from a damp Paramo jacket until you try and dry it out and my old nylon cagoule has just morphed into an expensive windshirt now.
Are we really better off spending so much money on gear? Maybe we are, modern gear makes my time easier and more comfortable, but it doesn’t make it any more possible to be outdoors. You might want it, but do you need it?

With all that in mind there’s a couple of current test pieces that have a cheeky appeal to me. The first is a Frankly base layer t-shirt in Neobi fabric which is a mix of merino and cotton. Aye, cotton base layer, brilliant.
I’ve had this a while and know where I’m at with it, so a review is incoming but I love the middle finger it’s sticking up at current convention whatever else happens.
Second, in the wee bag is an Ultra Light Down Parka from UNIQLO. It is certainly light, is it warm? We’ll see at camp in a day or two. UNIQLO are doing a media assault this month and when the gave me a shout I couldn’t resist taking a sample. It’s 90/10 down with a nylon shell, so it should be a decent performer, the baffling design has some thought to it, but it’s a casual jacket, so will it be no good on a hill?

Don’t believe the hype, reverse psychology or devil’s advocate. Or none of the above.

Haglöfs Winter 2013

I missed out a whole season of Haglöfs this year. Pity, there was some great stuff in it and we did some rather amusing photies at the showroom with the Primaloft and Powerstretch onezies that never went into production. There is one piece of kit from that visit that had a brief appearance on here at the tail of last winter and will be well seen again this winter along with a proper review, it’s the softshell I’m wearing above.  Oh the joy. (Also a free-ski Vassi suit)
Anyway, here’s some Haglöfs Winter 2013, in a shop near you right now.

Above is the pocket detail on the Roc Hard shell jacket below. The inward facing zip idea is a good one, very water resistant and natural feeling to use the zipper. Complex to manufacture, they must feel it’s worth it though.
Very nice jacket in Gore-Tex Pro Shell with the grid backing (see below), it’s 670g and is the badass model, this is your full mountain spec jacket. Yes please.

This is the Roc High, the Spitz successor. It’s a better jacket, less specific so more folk can get the use of it should they want to. Killer hood, cut from the new generation of Gore-Tex pro Shell, big pockets and weighs in at 585g.

Here’s the matching Roc Pant. Same beefy spec as the jackets above, pockets, fly and full length side zips. Good all-day wear. I had Karrimor Summit Pants in the same colour, ah memories.
I liked the fancy clippy thing.

The Roc Hard Bib is the matching choice for expedition or long route use. Pro Shell legs and stretchy torso, pockets and toilet access front and rear. I used to wear bibs years back when I was more mountaineering than backpacking and it’s a comfy and practical option.
PS, that’s a removable kneepad, not a doormat.

The Roc Ice Jacket below is a 790g duvet, Gore Tex shell, Quadfusion recycled polyester insulation, pockets inside and out and a proper big peaked hood.

New colours and some tweaks give us the Barrier Pro II. Pertex Quantum shell, Quadfusion  fill and weights from 360g for the hoody to 325g for the jacket. Great design this, I still use the original hoody when I’m not testing something new.

Here’s a beefier Barrier Pro, the Belay. Heavier fill with more features, better hood, more pockets. the grin says it all.

No idea what the hell’s happening there, but it seemed like it belonged in the list.

The lightweight Essens down gear above gets an update in colour and fit. I’ve used a first gen one of these many times, with a down vest it makes for a great flexible system. Warm and packs to F/A.

That’s the Magi II full fat down gear below. Now with Pertex Quantum shell. 700g of cozyness.

Multicoloured softshells of joy. The new Skarn jacket and pant combo is above in the brilliant Flexable fabric. Looks like good all-round kit. I had a pair of Karisma fleece pants from Extreme (remember them?) in exactly the same colourway, looked awesome in the snow in the photies. Should er,such things be important.

The jacket is the Roca II, a hybrid of different Windstopper fabrics and a layer of Quadfusion insulation. Winter warmth in a colour of joy.

The pants are Lizard Pants, the Lizard top and shorts are all time favourites, the fabric is just the right weight to work over a huge range of conditions. Orange. Yes.

This is Haglöfs admitting they were wrong, it’s the return of the Triton Hood. It’s a classic design which has been closely copied by many since, can the wacky Irn Bru special edition put the Triton back on top?

This is a bunch of Haglöfs ski gear, the Rando collection. I know nothing about such things, but the designs are intricate, the fabrics are good with Gore Active, Pertex, Quadfusion, Flexable, Windstopper and Pontetorto and Gus was delighted to demonstrate the armless option on the Rando AS jacket.
Help me, what sci-fi character does he look like in the third photie below.

The Intense series is clean, light and cokmes in colours and fabrics to delight. We’ve got a selection of Gram jackets and Puls jackets above all in Gore-Tex Active. The Puls is below, showing the old school back vent, always a good call for biking, the rain can’t catch you.

Bobinson’s all enthused with the Scramble mountain biking jacket. Gore Active, clever cuffs, good length at the tail, perfect articulation. Haglöfs did get bike gear right first time.

Mountain biking shorts of justice, the Ardents.

Below is a bunch of Shield tops. There’s windshirt, insulation and stretch top in there, can you tell which is which? Good, tell me and I’ll edit this. Love the colours to death.

They’re not doing a half arsed job on the Puls bike shorts. Dolomiti chamois and a good cut with quite long legs which is always nice.

Below are the Puls Thermo Tights. Cool weather leggings with ankle zips and a big stretch pocket on the leg. Haglöfs keep trying with this kind of design, it works well and is totally practical, but never lasts more than a season or too. Hopefully this time?

Above is the new Barrier III Q Parka, Q being the female flavoured version of which almost everything here has. Quadfusion fill and Pertex shell with a mix of comfort and rucksack friendly pockets.

Above is the regular Barrier III and below the Barrier III Q. These have a more regular pocket layout and hoods that bring comfort and joy.

Barrier II Knee Pant and Pants. Practical and quirky madness. Insulated trousers really are brilliant kit, I carry them in winter for camp.

Gus looks a bit like he’s in the magicians box where he’s been cut in half and his feet and sticking out the end ready to be reunited with his body. The Bivvy II Down Jacket will help ease his pain no doubt.
Below we’ve got Bivvy Q’s to your left, nice chest baffle detailing there, and his and hers Yalda’s to the right. Big, warm down jackets these, the arms are like telegraph poles.

Oot the way of the orange one, ah thanks. Gecko Hoods in Flexable fabric. Long standing fabric/format combo which I can recommend this from experience.

Above and a couple of photies below are the Ulta Pant, Vest, Jacket and Hood, men’s and Q versions. It’s in a Windstopper membrane fabric which has surprised me, the fabric is light and soft and it makes a good choice for cool hills days.
More on this later.

Pink for girls, the Stem Q jacket. Purple forgirls too, the core Q top. Both are in Pontetorto microfleece, good for light insulation and great for layering.
Fleece lives on.

Astro Top I think? Time for a rest, nearly there…

The wooly feeling Swook Hoods. It’s a very nice fabric, the colours are cheery, the fit is good. I wish winter was here already.

Technical check shirts. Mama I’m coming home.

The Tundra LS Shirt is recycled polyester flannel with a light layer of insulation, pockets, good looks and we should be seeing one of these in the hills this winter on here.

What joy.

The Mid Fjell and Mid Flex Pants have been around for ages, but new are the Mid Fjell Insulated Pants. Below they’e inside out and you can see the lining that holds in the Quadfusiuon fill. I know folk like this stuff, I suppose it’s like longjons under your trousers, so more power to them for making these, always nice to have options and with proper articulation too.

Haglöfs Haglöfs Haglöfs Haglöfs

Return t-shirts and Astral LS Shirts, more poly flannel, in a regular shirt design this time.

Haglöfs hats, what else can I say.

A flood of colour and a few nice bits and pieces in there for sure. What will be in the shops I wonder?


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

Here, been a while since I did one of these. I won’t backtrack, I’ll catch up with what’s been going on the past few months in mini reviews and the like. Here I’ll cover some of what’s been used in the past week.

The Ben Starav trip had a mix of old and new. Joycee grabbed the Montane Ultra Tour 22 pack right away and stuck the Haglöfs Gram Comp Pull in there, for insulation she took the Marmot Isotherm Jacket with the new Polartec Alpha insulation in it. We’ve both been using that for around 9 months or so and there’ll be a full review of it soon. The Gram Comp’s overdue a write up as well. Joycee was on an older pair of La Sportiva Electron trail shoes and used an Alpkit Manta on the night descent.
The PHD Wafer Jacket was stowed as well but only came out at the car at the end of the day. The jacket and pants will feature on here very soon, as well as some new PHD sleeping kit.
No gear issues were reported all day.

I was in my Fjallraven Abisko trousers partly because I tore the arse on my current Fjallraven testers and haven’t repaired them yet. No hardship though, the Abisko’s are the best mountain pants I’ve got and they made another appearance at the tree planting day later in the week. The bloody things are indestructible and enduringly comfy.
My baselayer was an EDZ Merino Polo. It’s a nice bit of kit, great fit and a big collar is always good. I like the buttons, I get fed up of always feeling “performance” ready and there’s a casualness about the feel of buttons and the look of the polo design that says golf course when it’s still totally at home in the hills. It’s all about fit and fabric, features are down to personal taste and whether you believe adverts and gear reviewers that like to tell you what to do. Review of the polo soon.

My windshirt was the Montane Slipstream GL: The Windshirt of Justice. I love this top like the brother I never had, it’s getting a little worn now at the edges maybe, but no damage as such. Long may it reign.
I had Montane Minimus rain shell, top and bottom, which is now dog eared and needing reviewed, there was my Berghaus Ilam down jacket which has seen a lot of use over the past year. It’s a fantastic jacket, fits me perfectly and the bright blue makes me smile.
My pack was a Casimir from The North Face. I got this in back in spring and it’s been a revelation. It’s an odd mix of features for 36 liters but it’s so comfy and so usable that I’ve been taking it out again and again. I’d love to see a stripped down 25L and a same-spec 45L version, they could both be perfect. Full review soon.

I was wearing old Montrail Streaks, it’s been good to have spares of this long dead model, using Mountain King Trail Blaze poles (as was Joycee now I think about it), Petzl lighting, Edelrid flask, Nathan bottle, Garmin Fenix watch (now done two 40º wash cycles in the machine in a trouser pocket with no ill effects), Wigwam socks, Julbo shades, a purple Buff, a bar of Bournville and a lovely bananana flackjack from the Green Welly in Tyndrum.

A couple of additions from the tree planting day as the return on an old Haglöfs Viper softshell which did equally well in sun and rain, it really is a killer fabric in that jacket and the recently(ish) reviewed Salomon Quest boots. I think the Gore Tex membrane’s have gone, both of my feet were soaked but the boot cuffs were dry on the outside. I’m not certain though, so I’ll be watching. If these boots are gubbed already I’ll be really pissed off.

Montane Ultra Tour 22 Pack Review

I spoke  a little about this pack at the start of the year, so we’re long overdue some conclusions.

Montane’s Ultra Tour 22 is a race pack by design, but all that means is its intentions are to be as light and possible and as functional as it can be. Something that we don’t have to be dressed in shorts and a numbered bib to appreciate.
It’s a roll top entry pack, something I’ve long championed, it’s quick and simple and here it’s also adaptable. You’ve got two choices in how to close the pack, one way is to buckle the rolled closure down the sides giving you good load compression or if you’ve filled the pack right up you can buckle the roll top onto itself like you would with a stuffsack. This is the way it should be done, it’s like having an extendable lid without all the fannying around.

The main compartment is rated at 22 litres, but you’ll get more in it than that using the up-top style closure. It’s plain and pocketless as there’s no lid, but inside you do get a hydration sleeve with a velcro tab and hose exit should you have a mistrust of carrying bottles.
For me the hydration sleeve has another purpose: back support with a sitmat. This pack has seen a lot of use from both me and Joycee and through time the one fault I’ve found on it became apparent, the (lightly foam padded and channeled for sweat management) back system took a sag in the middle. It’s not something you can feel on your back, but you can see it when someone else wears it or indeed points it out when you’re wearing it and reach round and stick a hand into the gap.
It doesn’t affect stability, it’s just annoying. It’s not because of the backlength which is fine, amazingly it’s plenty long but seems to work perfectly well across a wide range of wearer heights, I think it’s like a shoe, it’s wearing in at a natural crease point. An easy fix? Hope so, because let me tell you about the rest of it.

The Ultra Tour is a wishlist of usable features made real. On the front panel there’s a stretch mesh pocket with an optional bungee web (using daisy chains) across it for quick and varied storage options. Here there’s also axe/pole attachments in which I’ve carried both to good effect, although the bungees at the top should have bigger cordlocks for easier use and better grip on your axes etc.
At the sides we have compression straps which terminate inside the side pockets, don’t worry the straps don’t interfere with pocket use: others take note. The side pockets are wearer-accessible and will take up to a 700ml-ish size bottle securely.

The harness is quite light, but there’s been no signs of twisting or folding like you often get on lightweight packs. It’s mostly mesh, tape and stretch paneling but it’s secure with a load. I’ve had ice axe, crampons, stove and the like in there it’s been fine.
The shoulder straps have wee extras, on your right strap you have a wee stretch pocket for your glasses race fuel etc and on the left double bungees for holding a bottle, or in my case my lightweight Zipshot tripod.
Length adjustment is all normal stuff but the chest strap is quirky. The buckle is a slide in and pop-out thing which takes a minute to dial into, but is then fine and the strap is elastic which is fine by me as I often wheeze in deep breaths while “enjoying the view” and need the expansion.

The waist belt is a happy place. The closure is the reverse pull type with a central buckle, very comfy and secure. The hip fins are wide mesh with good sized, zipped, stretch-mesh pockets. The whole spec is one that’s been made for folk on the move to get their stuff when they need it. That quick access thing doesn’t just apply to racers, why would you want to dig around for stuff in your pack when you can just put a hand into a pocket while you’re trying to work out who’ll get to the summit first, you or that cloud over there.

I’ve used the Ultra Tour as a walking and biking pack. Biking is fine as it compresses down very well, but it’s really made its mark as a lightweight hill pack for both Joycee and myself.
I can confidently say longevity is good, from many close encounters with ice, rock, a car boot full of tools, rangering, forest school groups etc. The fabrics aren’t the lightest, the pack could easily have been lighter than its XXXg, but instead it sits at that hard to find middle ground where weight, functionality and durability sit down together and one of them doesn’t get back up and leave in the huff.

The Ultra Tour 22 is close to being perfect, the back system means it isn’t, but it’s not stopping it getting used at all. Aye, you can race with it, but you also do whatever the hell you like with it. This one has taken a beating and it’s got plenty of life to live yet.

Inov-8 RaceElite Extreme 10 Pack Review

116g. I know that’s a baw hair heavier than it says it is on the Inov-8 website, but 116g for a rucksack? It’s really just a poly bag isn’t it? Let’s see.

10L is a handy size for racing, light hill days, running and biking at any level of performance  and the RaceElite certainly isn’t going to add to your load doing any of that stuff. But, you can’t just have low weight, you have to have functionality.
The main compartment is a teardrop shape, slightly fatter at the base than at the top. Impressively it’s made almost entirely from one piece of nylon ripstop which means a minimum of seams. What seams there are are reinforced on the inside with tape which all makes for a clean and neat construction.

The fabric is PU coated and the pack is staying pretty waterproof, rear wheel spray doesn’t seem to penetrate and the reversed main zip does a reasonable job of keeping keeping crap and wet out without the additional weight and stiffness of a fully waterproof zip. Keep the zip clean through, muddy tyre spray on there will kill it if left to dry, like Lemmy says: Stay clean, it’s your only hope babe.
Durability? What can I say, it’s sitting on my back and it’s not rubbing against anything but whatever top I’m wearing so it’s looking good. Talking of pack to back interfacing, there’s no back system at all and at 10 litres it doesn’t need it. An extra 15 seconds packing it carefully before going out means no digging in the ribs from stuff and things.

The harness is stripped to the bone, the bones being mostly stitched tape with some mesh panels and fabric fillets to give it shape and usability. It’s very comfy, and also moves well with you as the construction gives it great flexibility at the shoulders. At the bottom there’s regular length adjusters but the chest strap is as light as you can get, cord, a hook and a cord lock adjuster. Works fine, tricky with gloves to get it undone, but something heavier just wouldn’t be right, it would look like you were wearing a 70’s cowboy style belt buckle or something.
There’s a few stitched-in loops to chose from to get the height right and talking of height, the pack is a good length for people who aren’t five foot eight and tighten their packs up around their necks like reversed sports bras as seems to often happen with racers. The strap also has a mini emergency whistle attached.

There’s two stretch mesh hip pockets which will take the  mini 500ml Inov-8 bottle at a squeeeeze, but will take the Wee-Bru bottles with ease. The pockets are the attachment points for the shoulder straps and the waist strap too which has a side fastening adjuster, a style which I’ve preferred since Karrimor used to do it in the old days.

The RaceElite Extreme 10 has a very thoughtful design, there’s nothing extra but there’s nothing missing, is that the definition of practical lightweight? Which is very nice in theory, but the pack is very usable, for mountain biking it’s been my first choice since the spring. You have to work with the design, there’s no compression so you have to think about how and what to pack, I usually fill it out with a loosely packed shell or insulation and it means stability and comfort.
Fully loaded it’s great as long as you don’t cram it to bursting, the light straps need to sit over your shoulders, not get stretched over them when they’ll distort. A wee sit mat in there against my back when I’m packing a stove (real cuppas on a bike ride rock) or other bulky kit is almost weight free and works a treat.

The RaceElite Extreme 10 is specialist kit, it’s really light, it fits in a trouser pocket if you roll it up, but it’s fit for purpose, more that actually, it’s bloody good at its purpose.
If you’re willing to work with it, understand it, look after it, you might be a happy racer, walker, runner, biker or that bloke I saw using one on his commute into Glasgow a couple of weeks ago. Fair play to all concerned if it’s up to that task.

GSI 1L Infinity Dukjug Bottle Review

I’ve often said it’s the little things that make the difference and I stand by it. And sit by it too, it’s the knees you know. Water carrying is what you make it, volume is one thing, too much and it’s extra weight and the associated tears and snotters, too little and you’re stopping at every burn and lochan or running dry at camp. I like to carry a couple of bottles, one in my pack side pocket to drink on the move and one big one for camp which I keep full in summer and often carry empty in winter as I can pick up water easier near camp or fill a half empty bottle with snow and sit it inside my sleeping bag to melt it.
I’ve tried all the options, including a long but doomed romance with roll up bottles and I’ve decided that 1 litre wide-mounted bottles work best for me. Aye, they’re a bit bulky, but nights in the dark trying to fill up a container to make a midnight cuppa have shown that big openings are easier and quicker, simple to pack with snow and a piece of piss to keep clean.
So, when a bunch of GSI kit came in for test, the Dukjug was going to have to trip on its shoelaces to snatch defeat from a certain victory.

Luckily, the Dukjug didn’t disgrace itself. It’s got the basics right and adds a few wee interesting tweaks. Its 188g, which isn’t much in your hand at all when it’s empty, filled up of course it’s like a pre-cemented breeze block ready to lay on a wall. Anyone who’s worked with a filled-up fat bodied 1 litre bottle will know how easy it is to drop it, especially when it’s wet and you’re wearing liner gloves. Wet sleeping bag, another walk back to the loch, sadness/despair etc
The Dukjug has a waist above it’s squared off hips and on that waist is a silicon webbed belt. The silicone is grippy anyway, but the web squishes around making it even grippier. It’s well set into its groove so it doesn’t pull off too easily. Mind you, they say you can remove it and wrap emergency duct tape around it. That’s as may be, but I don’t want a sticky waist after I’ve used my tape, so as nice a idea as it is, they can keep it.

The body has volume markings, handy for getting your dinner rehydration amounts right and it’s made of polypropylene, no bad BPA to make you sterile and forgetful and the other stuff it does, I forget what.
The opening has a little removable lid/spout which makes for controlled pouring and sipping without spilling down the side of your face like a caveman drinking from a coconut. The opening itself is 2″ wide, it fills quick and takes UK standard (defined during the ASDA versus Tesco courtcase back in ’07, remember the headlines?) dish washing brush no problem.
The lid is shaped and ribbed for grippiness and is attached to the bottle with a wee bit of cord and a collar. I keep meaning to make the cord longer, but the fact that I haven’t got around to it means it’s probably not as annoying as I think it is.

I’ve dropped it and it didn’t break, I’ve filled it with Robinson’s lemon and orange at various times to no great lasting effect and it’s replaced my old purple Nalgene bottle as my standard issue litre bottle. Quite a feat for something not purple to displace something purple in my book.

Like I say, sort the little things and your time is ever more free of niggles and the Dukjug is a great little thing. Recommended.

The North Face Short Sleeve Nihon 1/4 Zip Top Review

Despite getting sent the wackiest colour in the range to test, The North Face’s Nihon 1/4 Zip Top has been worn plenty.

I’ve got a size medium Nihon which is a perfect fit on me. The Nihon sits inbetween casual outdoor and racey stuff in its intent, so the medium is a relaxed medium, or if you’re me it feels like a slim large. Does that make sense?
High adrenaline hiking wear they say, whatever that is. Hiking after being spotted by a bear? Trapped on the West Highland Way while being pursued by neds wielding poly bags full of carry-oot? I think really it’s general purpose outdoors with a slicker sporty look and tweaked fit, and why not indeed.

Like I say, the fit is good, the length is very good too and it doesn’t ride up and jam in a rucksack hip belt. The shoulders are neat but have a good length to keep the sun off your shoulders. Good range of movement too, no restriction evident reaching for holds on a scramble.
The zip is a good length, it reaches just below my rucksack chest strap and has a low profile puller with a chunky rubber gripper, and it’s also one of those locking types, when the puller is flat the zip locks in position. The zip’s also got a flap behind it so I don’t snag my chest hair and a zipper garage so I don’t snag my beard.
Just makes me sound hairy doesn’t it.

The zipper garage is part of my favourite feature, other than the general ability of the Nihon to make me not-naked, and that’s the collar.  The collar is tall and is of double-fabric construction so it stands up if you want it too, but it’s still soft so it doesn’t annoy or chafe. It keeps the sun off and the wind out and when fully zipped it’s still comfy and it layers well under mid layers of shells.
The collar is well finished inside too, a nice taping over the seam gives if an extra bit of plushness against the skin and will give it extra durability too.

The fabric is Polartec Powerdry which is an excellent performer, it wicks well and dries fast. They say it’s got anti-odour treatment which I do believe as it’s very good for a day or two, but it’s not so good for longer durations, your efforts do build up i the fabric and become apparent to your nose after a couple of days.
It’s a nice fabric against the skin, very pleasant for general use and surprisingly comfy when it’s very hot, it’s been a good summer shirt. The seams are all soft, positioned away from pressure points like the top of your shoulders and are flatlock stitched. The construction in general is very neat and after many wears and washes I haven’t seen any shrinking of the stitching or any other real damage or unacceptable wear to be honest.

What can I say, aye it’s just a zip neck t-shirt, but it’s cracker. That I wear it so often when it’s this colour should be testament enough to it’s joy inducing properties.

Coming soon, a matching midlayer in the same colour…


Salomon Quest 4D GORE-TEX Review

I got a shout from Snow and Rock’s media folk about reviewing some boots and as it was Salomons that were on offer I thought is was a good chance to update myself as the last Salomon’s I got sent up were the gripless Fastpackers.
Salomon XA trail shoes are still one of my all-time favourites, so it was with an open mind and tentative first step that I took the Salomon Quest 4D GORE-TEX on test.

1325g for a pair of size UK9’s with a bit of mud on them. Whatever that looks like on paper, they feel light in the hand and on the foot. There’s an unexpected feeling of the substantial about the Quests when you pull them on too, the upper is layered, but to my extreme joy there’s great flexibility as well.
That high ankle cuff is misleading, it looks like a shackle but it’s actually a water and crap repeller which matches up well with a softshell pant and has made the Quests my #1 choice for rangering in the Kilpatrick Hills. The flexibility around the ankle was okay out of the box and has loosened a little more with use, no feeling like my trail-shoe loving feet have been boxed into a corner of shin splints despair. The Quests are fit and forget, long days have been rub point and ache free as I’ve got just enough free movement to keep me upright and grinning.

The flexibility carries on to the sole unit, or at least the front half of it. The heel and arch are stiff-ish and the toe flex area is soft-ish which is perfect for me, just like the Montrails of my youth. We’ll, ten years ago anyway. I think this is a good balance between stability and control, the heel is cupped and secure and the toe can feel the ground as well as you’ll get in a boot. It makes for a comfortable long day rather than the desire to pull the boots off and wiggle my toes at every rock I pass. That stuff I will not do any more.
The outsole is surprisingly grippy. Really. It’s still a Salomon, so wet rock and the like is never going to be your best friend in the Quests, but compared the Fastpacker I mentioned above, these are so much better.
The sole pattern is quite open and deep cut while being quite flat at the same time, so they suit both hardpack and soft ground quite well and they clean on the move well enough. There’s a decent heel breast for downhill grip too, it’s a mountain sole for sure.

The upper is a mix of suede and fabric cut into trail shoe-esque go-faster aesthetics which does seem to assist a nice close fit as you pull the laces tight. This design also aids the flexibility of the upper, it moves without wrinkling or concertinaing (yes, I spelled that right).
The laces run through nice slidey lace hooks with bigger gripper types at the ankle pivot to stop the lace sliding. I was a bit worried about this at first as I had visions of the lace at this point crushing my foot, but it hasn’t happened and the laces just seem to stay secure. The full height gusseted tongue is well padded which is maybe part of it, padding is evident elsewhere too, it’s like pulling on a fluffy slipper in some ways as the light padding molds around your ankle. Kinda like they’re thinking of trail shoe users with whiny ankles?
Or dainty hill walkers.

There’s a Gore-Tex liner, the clue is in the title, which is still waterproof at the moment after maybe three months use. I really hope it lasts, we’ll just have to see, of all the other lightweight waterproof boots I’ve been sent none are still waterproof, the membrane is just too vulnerable in a constantly flexing boot or mid.
Maybe they should just give us replaceable form fitted Gore-Tex socks free with every boot which they could keep selling us through the life of the boot. But, I digress.

I love the shape of these, it feels very like the XA and below the profile of the toe looks very similar. The toe is rubber-randed (as is the heel) and pretty robust, these should make a useful light winter boot with spikes or light and bendy aluminium crampons. The ankle height definitely lends itself to snow repellency.
The footbed is Salomon’s own Ortholite variety which works fine, they’re light padded, subtlety shaped and take a good kicking. All of my Salomon’s have their original footbeds, nothing else ever seems to work for me, a sign of joined up thinking in the design maybe?

There’s a lot different influences in the Quest, I can see elements of trail shoe, alpine boot and trekking boot, but rather than trying to sit on the fence and falling between two stools, the Quest gets it just right for my feet. I was half expecting to be lacing two greased piglets onto my feet, but I found lightweight mountain boots that are comfy, definitely not gripless and I’m chosing them all the time.
All we need now are some bright colours, I mean have you seen some of Salomons trail shoes? Ach.