Trail, June & July ’09

I had a 3-season synthetic sleeping bag review in the June issue, they’re not up on LFTO yet, I’ll post a link when they appear.
That was interesting to do, and quite difficult as they were often huge, and indeed sometimes rubbish. But there were some gems in there and the winner from Mountain Hardwear was just a good bag whatever way I looked at it, pretty much trouncing the rest. Temperature ratings made life difficult as they were either wrong for the test or a pack of lies.  Some bags looked good but the rating was ludicrous, and because they were all synthetic there’s no weight clue like you have with down to make an educated guess. Nightmare. 
Folk look at Trail reviews and bitch because something gets apparently odd comments and does badly despite being good kit, well, I know why. When Trail order stuff for a group test, the request is often quite specific: Can we have item A, around £X, rated at 27 pobs and weighing between 100 and 150 piffs.
You’re then in the hands of the distributors and agents who sometimes send in something completely inappropriate, or just don’t send stuff.
So while I might still sit and look at Trail reviews with my face screwed up saying “No, no, no…”, at least I understand a little better these days. Yes, I know individual reviews without an umbrella heading would solve that. Hey, that’s why we have the internet.

Moving on to the current issue, I was utterly horrified to see the selection of packs in the 35L test. Praise Jimmy they didn’t ask me to do this one. There were three in there, three, that I liked the look of. Maybe four.
I’ve got a Used & Abused of the Vargo Titanium Nails in there, spreading the word about such things is what it’s all about.
We’ve got six reader’s lightweight waterproof reviews, featuring familiar face Moggy with his Haglöfs LIM Ultimate. His review has a very important phrase in there that stuck out: “…gave me the impression it might not be as hard-wearing…” was used rather than “this is going to wear out by lunchtime”. Reviews need that kind of awareness.
GT’s lightweight section is interesting as it reminds me of my own constant evolution, a year or more ago I’d have been agreeing, but now I’ve changed my mind. Again.
Sleeping with clothes on I’ve mostly abandoned as I’m using better sleeping bags and mats and carrying no more weight because of it. I carry a mug these days rather than just a pot so I can have a cuppa while I’m boiling water for my apple and custard dessert, and of course the spork is dead to me (for now…) and the spoon is king.
Special mention goes to Matt for tackling the Cuillin ridge. Good lad.

24 thoughts on “Trail, June & July ’09

  1. ;o)

    They missed out a word in my review bit…micro from in front of fleece…i dont think u would get any sort of proper fleece under it, nor would you want to ;o)

    our lass has a synthetic bag and im having trouble getting her to swap it for a down one, its a rab s3, its 1200g so not exactly light but its so big and fluffy she loves it, i think it cost £50 which in my minde made it great value for money, much better than the vango supposedly 4 season one she has for car camping.

    the only other synthetic bag we have is a mountain equipment one, can’t remeber its name but its really thin and does me for summer.

    as for the mug thing – because there are two of us we usally take one mug plus the jet boil, although im going to order a couple of snow peak mugs from the USA at some point so we can both have a cuppa while boiling water for desert.

    totally agree with the spoon thing…used my expedition foods one last week…it kicks spork’s arse.

  2. Ditto all of the above: I used to have a Mountain Equipment Skyline 3, which originally took up 50% of a 90L rucksack and was rated down to -15. After a few years of compression, howevever, it took up much less of my sack and was decidely on the chilly side.

    Mugs are good things, especially if kept in aside pocket for quick drinks at streams.

    Sporks seem like a good idea until one encounters a meal with a thin sauce…

    ..and a Best Buy 35L sack that weighs 1.8kg must be made of gold.

  3. i’ve also stopped carrying my 3 litre camelbak in the lakes and started to carry naglene bottles plus steripen…much easier!

    im going to try and get my kit into my 35litre sack and see what happens as i rekon without our lasses gear in my sack i should have no bother fitting it in now.

  4. ElShalimo it was the Lamina, and I’m sure the comfort limit was -6C. The bags never got tested at Leeds University as planned, and I had it nowhere near that temperature so I can’t agree or disagree with the figure. I’d happily take out it out in cold weather though. Good bit of kit.
    The warmest bag in the test was the Marmot Wave, you could feel it as soon as you got inside, but it was 2.3kg in its stuff sack!

    35L Moggy, alright! Bring that when you’re heading up here :o)

    David has there been more Scottish mislabeling…

    What worries me is the next issue. I’ve got some stuff in that, and as sure as I am that it’s all perfectly accurate, if it proves otherwise there’ll be no place to hide.

  5. Sleeping bags craze me at the moment. The Rab bag Q250 has a tear in it. The other one bag I use is now eyed with suspicion for tears and failings. I should have got a Mountain Equipment bag as they never let me down in the past. My point you ask? well your point “I’m using better sleeping bags and mats” I have a better mat but did I get a better bag? Not sure I did now. Those Zero bags are now on the radar and PHD ones as well. How is that big comparison for Alpkit coming on? We need lots stuff on sleeping bags here PTC I need to get the perfect bag for the NeoAir for the perfect nights sleep.

  6. I got my Snowpeak Ti Gigapower from Dale Hollow Outdoors in the States – cracking company, arrived in no time, and snuck past Customs’ beady eyes in the run-up to Christmas!

  7. Martin, the ME Xero 250 & Xero 350, plus the MontBell and Rab test bags that I haven’t used since last year have just been taken out of storage. I’ll be using them all again over the next couple of months.
    I always had in mind an all encompassing bag-versus-bag thing, but the results of even using the same bag all the time are inconsistent, so I’ve given up on it.
    I’ve got the Marmot Atom plus Snugpak and a couple of surprising random elements from a High Street chain in the mix, so it’ll be sleeping bag central in here soon!
    It’s good for me to use other stuff again, I’ve got very comfortable in the PHD stuff as it just works so well for me.
    Alpkit, you know, the PD 400 is absolutely fine. Folk defend it so aggressively just it because they’ve paid for it, but there’s better down fill and better design out there for more money. I know there’s a feeling that I’m anti-Alpkit, but I’m just realistic. They know me well.

    Good job Kate, nice stove too! Always good to beat the customs man.
    On that subject, I’ve got a Brunton Flex stove on its way. Heavy, but flat and supposedly better machined that the Optimus vesion (the Crux). And it’s orange.

  8. I was totally shocked (And pretty pissed off) regarding the Inov-8 Race Pro 30’s showing in this months Rucksack tests. Last year it won ‘Best In Test’ and in this months edition it gets a right kicking. Trails argument would probably be that they’ve had a year to crash test it and it now merits its lower score. My point is this: What changed between then and now? Theoretically it should have been tested to destruction in the first place and all faults and niggles aired in the original review. I bought the sack on the basis of the initial review and am really happy with it (Aside from the mesh pockets which dont have a drawcord fastening). This is why I only read Trail in WH Smiths and wont pay for it anymore (It has a few good points I’ll admit). TGO is a bit boring and old-fashioned but at least I can trust the reviews.

  9. The difference is in the reviewer I think? I’m sure GT did the adventure racing packs last year, and Claire did the review this time. She probably just didn’t fancy it. She hated all the packs I liked in there too.

    In an ideal world everything should be tested to destruction, but the magazines would have to have an army of reviewers working 40 hours a week in the mountains to acheive that (no shortage of candidates for the jobs though I’d imagine!).
    I like the fact that on here I get just the right amount of kit sent in for me to really use it and use it over the long-term as well, test kit is my regular kit. So when I do eventually write something up I’m confident that I’m telling it like I’ve found it.
    But that’s a problem as well, any review is partly based on opinion and personal suitability and neither Trail or TGO come anywhere near addressing my needs in the reviews. But they can still a good source of information, and once you know the reviewers preferences you can use that to read between the lines.

    But aye, the amount of times I’ve been sat in the van with a cuppa shouting at a magazine because it’s missed the point when they were talking about a great bit of kit…

  10. “Alpkit, you know, the PD 400 is absolutely fine. Folk defend it so aggressively just it because they’ve paid for it, but there’s better down fill and better design out there for more money. I know there’s a feeling that I’m anti-Alpkit, but I’m just realistic. They know me well.”

    which other bags do u suggest for the same cash….our lass might have to get a new one soon, i was going to get her a PD 400 as ive got one but i just noticed its gone up a fair bit since i bought mine in 07

  11. Yeah it’s a tricky one. I find the best reviews are when they’re written as personal opinions, but that doesn’t necessarily make the most useful buying guide.

    TGO’s group reviews probably strike a better balance in that respect. Having said that I think it was last month that they marked down the LIM Ozone because of the fit being too narrow and restrictive for the reviewer. Which is fair point for the barrel chested chubsters to keep in mind but not a particularly valid reason for marking down a jacket overall maybe?

  12. Got to remember the review criteria too. Annoyingly they don’t give these directly but if you read some of the comments/the day sacks header etc I’d guess it was basically ~30l sacs for bimbling.

    So maybe toughish, midrange 30 litre around costing around 40-60 pounds and maybe ~1kg. A fairly alien concept to most here I suspect but you see enough of them in the shops….

    In practice they seem to have tried to review anything vaguely close to the right size. So the poor reviewer had to compare ultra light running sacks, a minimal climbing sack, some small backpacking sacs and even a few things vageuly near spec…. I’m deeply impressed she didn’t just give up in utter despair :)
    (or perhaps she did, thus explaining the winner!).

    It tends to be this sort of disorgnisation which annoys me in Trails tests.

  13. I had a quick look at the reviews today. It’s a strange selection of packs for the criteria.

    Disappointing to see the unique charms of the LIM 35 score only two stars. I’ve had one over a year now and it’s a wonderful sack. The roll top’s different but I’ve found it very easy to get along with. Her criticism of the wide hip fins on up-hills was something I was concerned with when I first tried the pack but I’ve found they move really well with my body and weren’t an issue. I’ve even run with it (not particularly far mind) and it’s proved incredibly stable. It’s certainly not a perfect for everything sack but it’s probably one of the comfiest carries I’ve used for a day sack, which is the most important thing. Especially as it’s bloody hard to get a sack that works with my longish back and wierdy collar bones.

    Fit is everything.

  14. I’d like to add my other regular point that most kit these days from the usual names is good, it’s only excellent if it hits all your personal markers.
    Another thing that haunts me is brand loyality, it should be designer loyalty. Two major UK brands have just changed head designers, one defecting to the other and I’ll bet the customers don’t follow.

  15. Noubt wrong with the barrel chested chubster, and if the review specified that the jackets on test were for people of wider proportions and no one else then it’s a perfectly good reason to mark a jacket down.

    However as it was more of a round up of lightweight waterproofs for everyone it seems a little harsh that a slim fitting jacket gets marked down for such a reason, as it’s migth be the perfect fit for some.

    The real problem with the mag reviews I find is having a score and a single best buy option. I think that’s misleading, especially as people always look at scores more than the actual words. It’d be better if it was just a detailed write up of the jacket with pro’s and cons like what ptc does here. Or is that me?

  16. Nah, you’re right. Ignore the scores on the reviews and just look at the info in the text.
    I have extreme difficulty with the ou-of-five stuff for Trail, but it does give the newsagent skimmer something to latch onto maybe?

    The LIM Ozone is a fantatsic jacket, yes it’s slim on the chest and all the better for it if you’re the right shape. It’s probably the best waterproof I’ve got here at the moment (might change with Montane’s new lightweight winter jacket…). It’s also discontinued for 2010, which is daft I think.

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