Saturday, 2 January 2010
A Decade of Backpacking Gear
As a gear tester for TGO magazine I try a wide range of outdoor gear every year. Over a decade this adds up to a vast amount of stuff. Out of the hundreds of items tried each year there are usually a few I really like and continue using after the test is over. Here are those items that impressed me, year by year, during the 2000s.
Pre-2000. A mention here for my favourite tent, which I’ve been using since it appeared in the early 1990s, the Hilleberg Akto, and my favourite Tilley Hat, from back in the days when there was only model.
Paramo Aspira smock. This has become a favourite for cold weather, especially when ski touring.
Jack Wolfskin Gecko microfleece. Used year round this thin lightweight fleece has proved very durable and should last a while yet.
Zojirushi Tuffslim Compact stainless steel flask. Filled with hot Rocks Organic Ginger this light small flask comes on cold weather day hikes and camping trips. It’s a little dented now but still keeps the contents hot.
GoLite Hex 3 tent. I first used this single pole, single-skin shelter on a trip with GoLite in the Uinta mountains in Utah where it stood up to torrential rain and very strong winds. I like it for winter camping in Scotland as there’s so much space, which is welcome on long dark nights.
Grivel G10 crampons. Reasonably light and able to fit lightweight flexible boots these have been used with many different models of boots over the years and are still going strong.
GoLite Coal Polarguard jacket. This is the best synthetic insulation jacket I have used. It’s a great shame it was discontinued many years ago. Mine is probably not as thick as when new but it still keeps me warm in cold, damp weather. I wish someone would make something similar.
Rab Quantum 200 sleeping bag. Very light, very compact, very warm for the weight this is my first choice for temperatures above freezing. It’s been used on hundreds of nights (and cleaned a couple of times) and is in fine condition.
ULA P-2 pack. The first lightweight pack capable of handling 15-20kg I used this pack a great deal until it was replaced by the similar Catalyst.
Smartwool & Icebreaker merino wool clothing. Once I’d tried this I dropped synthetic base layers for backpacking trips. Discovering I could wear the same shirt for two weeks without it stinking was wonderful!
Grivel Air Tech Racing ice axe. Lightweight but made of steel not alloy this is the axe I use if I think I’m likely to actually need it much.
Primus Micron gas stove. My favourite of all the tiny ultralight gas cartridge stoves that appeared in the 2000s. Tough, fuel efficient and simple.
Paramo Cascada trousers. I’d been wearing Paramo salopettes for many years for ski touring and snow camping trips but they always seemed overkill in less wintery conditions. The Cascadas give the same performance in a lighter, simpler garment and are my first choice trousers from autumn to spring.
eVent. The first eVent garment I tried was the Rab Latok and the breathability impressed me. Since then eVent jackets from Rab and Montane have been my choice from May to September, when I find Paramo jackets too warm.
A trio of down jackets. This year I tested down jackets, three of which I have continued using ever since. The Western Mountaineering Flight is very warm and very light. The PHD Minimus isn’t quite as warm but has a hood and is also very light. The Rab Neutrino is heavier but warmer and the one I take for really cold weather.
Shoes were a theme this year as I tested two models that have been my first choices ever since – the Keen Targhee II, which I used in winter and cold, wet weather as it has a waterproof membrane, and the Inov8 Terroc, which I wear the rest of the time and which have become my favourite three season backpacking footwear and been used on three TGO Challenges (the same pair).
Montane Terra trousers. Simple, tough, synthetic trousers that won’t wear out! Ideal for cool to warm weather.
GoLite Pinnacle pack. I’d been using the GoLite Gust for light backpacking loads for a few years but had always found problems with the design. The Pinnacle solved these and is my choice for loads up to around 14kg. It’s been on three TGO Challenges so I must like it!
Pacerpoles. I’d been using trekking poles for a decade without preferring any particular pair when Pacerpoles came along and I was instantly hooked. By far the most comfortable and efficient poles I’ve tried.
Windshirts. I’ve always used windproof as well as waterproof tops and my favourite had been the Buffalo Windshirt but mine wore out and the new version lacked a hood. Testing a batch this year two stood out and have been used regularly ever since – the Paramo Fuera Smock for colder weather and the lighter, thinner Montane Lite-Speed.
This was a year of new, impressive stoves. The Coleman Fyrestorm was the first stove designed to be used with an inverted cartridge for efficiency in sub zero weather. I’ve used it every winter since and it really does work well. The Primus EtaPower was the first heat exchanger stove that really impressed me – it’s too big for one but has been used for melting snow for groups on igloo trips and is my first choice for group cooking. Then there’s the Caldera Cone, a simple yet ingenious idea that provides an efficient windscreen and pot support for a meths burner whilst remaining ultralight.
Rab Phantom Grip gloves. Simple fleece gloves may not seem something to be enthusiastic about but these are the only ones I’ve had that are comfortable, quick drying, durable and wind resistant without being sweaty.
Therm-A-Rest Neo Air mattress. The most comfortable sleeping pad I’ve used. Luxurious in fact. Yet still very light and extremely compact.
It’s difficult to say which items from last year I’ll still be using in a few years time. Ones I suspect I might be are the Paramo Katmai shirt, an excellent warm weather trekking shirt, and the Rab Momentum eVent jacket, a lightweight well-designed waterproof.
And one I definitely will be is the TarpTent Scarp 1, the first tent that has challenged the Akto in my affections, especially for winter and snow due to the optional crossover poles and extra room.
Photo info: Camp on the summit of Ben Nevis in 2008 with Hilleberg Akto tent, Pacerpoles, Montane Litespeed windshirt, Montane Terra trousers, Inov8 Terroc shoes and GoLite Pinnacle pack. Canon EOS 350D, 18-55@23mm, 1/500@ f8, ISO 100, tripod, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.6