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.


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.

Haglöfs Summer 2014 Preview Part 4: Clothing

Here’s the last part of my Haglöfs Summer 2014 Preview and it’s a monster. I had fully intended to trim this down but what the hell, here it is with all 80 or so photies.
There are some things in here I’m genuinely excited about, some left-field genius and lots to smile at too. And remember, you can’t have it until spring next year.

Above is the Roc Hard Jacket with the Roc High in grey. The Roc High is the Spitz usurper and is still beefy but more of an all-rounder than the Spitz was, different cut, feels longer to me too. Gore-Tex Pro Shell, awesome hood, good pockest, venting and they canned the bright colour for 2014. Can’t have it all. Or can you…

This blue marvel is the Roc Lite Pull and lets not fanny about here, I love this.
375g in Pro Shell with a mountain hood, perfect articulation, good length and a pouch pocket. The pocket zip is slanted to make it easier to pull and the pocket has a 3D bellows-type bag so you can cram stuff in and not pull the front of the smock out of your belt or harness.
I’ve used a lot of shell smocks and it looks like this one has been built from similar experiences to mine as it’s correcting my personal niggles.

Below is the Roc High Q, the girls version. Clean lines and I think I like the monotone better than the blokes version.

Above is the Roca Lite Jacket in a soft stretchy Windstopper. Nice form to it, an all rounder in a fabric that doesn’t scare me anymore.

The nice looking Scoria Pant below comes in Flexable fabric, a non membrane softshell which I know well and have nothing but good words to say about. The zip fly is mountain specific, or something. From experience this format does work, but the zip pull on these needs a garage, it’ll catch on stuff I think.

Lizard Pants and Shorts, his and hers except the orange pants above, they’re the ladies Skarn Pants which are bit fancier with kick patches and reinforced knees.
All good. Colours, yes please.

More Lizards and a close up of the mean’s Skarn Pants. Will anyone stock them?

The Lizard jacket above in the health and safety colourway. The weight of Flexable fabric used in the Lizard range is a genuine do it all, I wear it summer and winter and it wears very well too. My original pre-production Lizard top is still going strong and it gets worn and washed all the time.

I’m getting bored of increasingly baggy outdoor trousers and the Mylonite (sounds like an alien race from a 50’s movie) Pants brought much joy. Slim, fitted, stretchy in Flexable fabric with good pockets and a low profile adjustable waist.
I like these. Hopefully we’re seeing the death of bootcut outdoor pants.

Paclite! Above is the Telis II, an all rounder which is aiming to save the refutation of everyone’s punchbag fabric. Hey, wear less under it and you’ll be fine.

Below is the Astral II in 2-layer Gore-Tex. Comfy and dry to wear, 2-layer deserves better that relegation to dog walking jackets. These three look plenty mountain yes/no?

Aye, Haglöfs are taking on the country life, stalking, farmers’ market punters here with some remarkably tweedy looking Gore-Tex shells.
Left to right we have the Ridge Jacket and two Ares Jackets.
I tried them, the fit is good, the features are usable, will Haglöfs prise folks out of their Barbours?

The Fjell Jacket Corduroy with some of its his and hers siblings in cord and plain Climatic polyester.

Synthetic polyester cord, you got love that. The jacket has a casual fit and look, but technical capabilities. It weighs a ton, but so what. I’m bored of adverts telling me I should be an alpinist.
I hope shops are stocking this stuff.

More casuality with the 75% recycled polyester Zolo and Zolo Q’s above and the Swook and Swook Q’s below. Smooth above and knitted look below, again it’s a mix of street and outdoor. Value for money? I’ve got a couple of upcoming reviews on just that subject.

The above design won the Haglöfs competition to design a new t-shirt. Really. My skull and crossed ice axes never even got a mention.
And yes, the design is someone sticking their middle finger up at you if you squint your eyes.

I like the other designs below. Some levity in there to brighten any over serious outdoor kit box. The tees are are various fabrics, cotton, cotton/poly, recycled poly content etc.
Different to the usual, which is nice.

Just needs a skull that one.

The Ridhe SS Zip Tee is all-polyester so a bit more tech in its appeal. I like this format for summer trekking and it looks good too, not overly mountain man (or wummin).
Like a lot of these tees it has “Lava” in it, an anti-odour treatment developed from volcanic ash minerals. It’s a Bluesign approved product, so it’s environmental cred looks good.

Ridge Q Tees for the gurls and Zuma Q SS Shirts for other gurls. The tees are polyester for quite drying and the shirts have a 60% cotton content for summer cool. I like the colours. Hmmph.

Rugged Crest Shorts, for which if you’re thinking “Rugged Mountain Shorts” you’d be near as dammit.

It’s all there, the mighty pocketing, the arse of destruction and the fabric of doom. The only danger here is you’ll stride out with confidence and forget only half your legs have the legendary protection and act in a fool hardy manner near the jaggy bushes.

Maybe even better are the Mid Trail Shorts in techno corduroy. There’s a stretch yoke at the back to add good movement, excellent pockets, good leg length and looks that’ll match a softshell top or a Black Sabbath t-shirt.

Mif Fjell Pants and Mid II Flex’s in the pale grey. Glad to see they’re sorted the leg pockets on the Flex’s.

Below are the nicely detailed Fjell Shorts.

This is the corduroy version of the Mid Trail Pant which comes in regular flavours as well. This is the best one, by far. Outdoor cords, it’s like the old days, I can dress like Tom Weir. Yes!

Gus, give it man, you’ll never  make it work. Rugged II Mountain Pants in cosmic pink with man colours below. Orange, oh mama.
There’s new side tensioners like you get on mountain bike shorts, I wonder how they’ll work out?

Just for the girls are the Mid Trail Q Skirts above and the Skorts below. These are rather popular I was surprised to learn. Why should I be surprised? Even at my advanced yearage, women still hold their mysteries for me.

I think these are MId Fjell Q’s below, I liked the detailing and the marled looking fabric.

The Intense collection races ahead (see what I did there) with Gram Jacket, Scramble Jacket and Gram Comp lined up above.

Below are some Scramble LS G Tees and a pair of Ardent mountain bike shorts. The shirts are recycled polyester, Lava treated and have nice thumbloop cuffs.

For the girls above is the Puls II SS Zip Tee and Ardents in pink.

Below is the Intense Zip Top in stretch polyester with Lava treatment. The simplicity of all this kit is like a breath of fresh air. The Intense Tights with them bring back the nice wee stretch thigh pocket that we’ve seen on Haglöfs leggings before. There’s mesh panels on there too, for tights there’s a lot going on.


Below are the Intense II Q Skort with a Puls II Q Tee in pink and a Puls II Zip Tee with Intense Knee Tights. Again, simple, functional and usable. Do we need more than that?

I don’t care if it is this season’s big pre order item Gus, I’m not putting it on for the photies.

Ah, the joy of the return of L.I.M – less Is More. The last round of L.I.M kit got it right, I’m still using it which firmly sticks to fingers up at the notion of light kit being weak.

This yellow fellow is the L.I.M Active Jacket.  A 375g mountain shell in Gore-Tex Active. Seams are minimal and cleverly placed for form as you’ll see below, the hood is a real fully adjustable hood, there’s two mesh chest pockets, great articulation. good length in the body and the arms and it bears the new mark of L.I.M on the hangtag – the stripes or yellow, white and orange.

The black version has some subtle colour splashes.

The long running LIM Ultimate Jacket is now the L.I.M III Jacket. Same single pocket full zip format and now using a much improved Paclite fabric. It says here.
Gus doing the neat folding away trick below.

These are L.I.M Versa Jackets. Neat fitting, shaped for being active and made from Paclite at 295g. These feel great when worn and the look is going to mark them out in the crowd. I hope we see these make the shops.

Yes, I am the Irn Bru man.

I remember the days when jackets were long and they kept the rain off your arse. On steep ground you unpopped the bottom couple of buttons and carried on. With the L.I.M Parka, those days are back again.
295g of Paclite, pockets, hood, all as you’d expect, but it’s cut long for trekking. If I was going on the West Highland Way again, this is what I’d be taking.
A brave move making this, I hope it sells. I’ve got a similarly long jacket in for test from another brand and I’ve worn it almost every day for the past three weeks.

L.I.M III Pants, 230g shell pants in Paclite. Paclite is a great pant fabric, especially over softshell, these coild be a good call. The old versions were great.

It’s a bit shell, a bit softshell and the fit is close with great movement. The L.I.M Proof jacket is 230g in Haglöfs own Proof waterproof fabric, Simple, clean and functional design, this fabric has a good bit of stretch to it and is 2.5 layer, you can see the internal printing in the close up below.
Prices are good, I was told them and went “Oh!”, but don’t ask me for details. It’s going toe to toe with OMM’s Kamelieka, how will that go I wonder?
These are going to worth a look, I was enthused.

The L.I.M insulation is another grin inducer. The L.I.M Essens Jacket above is light and packable with 800 fill of ethically sourced down with a size large weight of 185g. I tried on the mens black version when the girls orange wouldn’t fit and the cut is neat giving instant warmth feedback. Match it to a down vest and you’re all-season ready.

The L.I.M Barrier Pro Hoods below have Quadfusion sythetic fill and come in at 205g. All the fabrics here are nylon, so tough for the weight.
Lighter than a 100 weight fleece and a windshirt, something to think about is that.

The grin is maintained by the L.I.M Flex Hood. A 315g Softshell which as you can see below isn’t trimmed to hit that weight, I’m uncompressed and unrestricted using the thumbloops, the hood fits and sits just nice and the own-brand fabric has good stretch to it.
Two mid height chest pockets add to the functionality and if the fabric performs well, it could be a winner.

L.I.M is more of a complete system than it was before and here the Powerdry Hodds and Tops. These will work as base layers or light midlayers and the light hood feels great on, unrestructive and well fitting.
The fabric has a gridded inner face for faster moisture movement and drying, but it also feels warm under a shell. Great fabric and great looking tops.

L.I.M  Tee’s and LS Zip Tees in Lava treated recycled polyester. The fabric is silky feeling and the the colours bring me joy, even if the purple is only for the girls. Hey, purple had to come up at some point.

I saved the best for last, the Equator II Cap in Flexable softshell.

Well, I didn’t leave much out. But that’s because there’s a bunch of stuff that had me going Ooh and Aah. The Roc Light Pull looks awesome as do the Mylonite Pants. Seeing corduroy presented as genuine outdoor fabric brings me joy, plus it just looks and feels good on. The whole L.I.M range had me grinning as I tried every bit of it on.

How much will we see in the stores? Who knows, times are hard which makes us careful and store buyers scared, none of which makes for racks of inspiration in-store when the new season comes around.

At least looking above is window shopping at its safest, you can look as much but you just can’t buy even if you wanted to. And you can make up your own prices too, because I’ve no idea what they are.


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.