As 2012 draws to a close I’ve been thinking about the trips I made and the gear that helped make them enjoyable. Old favourites dominated of course but I was impressed by some new gear – by which I mean items new to me, not necessarily ones new in 2012. Here are ten of them, in no particular order.
Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar
Having heard much praise from experienced backpackers about this deceptively simple shelter I decided I really must try it for myself. Initially I used the cuben fibre version (thanks to Tony Hobbs for the loan). Whilst I could see the advantages of the design I wasn’t convinced by its adaptability. This turned out to be due to the fabric, as shown in a comparative pitching test with Colin Ibbotson. The silnylon version proved to be much better and I used one on the 2012 TGO Challenge crossing of the Scottish Highlands, where it coped extremely well with some really wild weather. I relished the space as well as the strength and it’s now my favourite shelter.
OookWorks OookStar & OookTub
The Trailstar is just a shaped tarp with no floor or inner. Initially I used it with a flat groundsheet, which was okay as long as I was careful to keep puddles off it and gear on it. The OookTub, a groundsheet with short walls and an asymmetric shape designed to fit the Trailstar, proved to be much more versatile, as I discovered on the TGO Challenge, when I often camped on sodden ground. Later in the year, when the midges came out to play, I replaced the OookTub with an OookNest inner, which kept them out.
Berghaus Mount Asgard Hybrid & Ramche Hydrodown Jackets
|Mount Asgard Hybrid|
The very wet TGO Challenge also gave me the opportunity to really test the water-resistant down used by Berghaus. On that trip I took the Mount Asgard Hybrid jacket, which has Primaloft on the shoulders and arms and down in the body. I quickly found that I didn’t have to worry about getting it damp as the performance was hardly affected at all and it dried quite quickly. I also found there was a big psychological advantage – I didn’t need to worry about keeping it dry. This autumn and early winter I’ve also been trying the much warmer Ramche jacket, which I really like.
|Wearing the Mount Asgard Hybrid in a damp bothy on the TGO Challenge|
Ecco Biom Hike boots
Last June I was invited to be a judge for the ScandinavianOutdoor Gear Awards, which involved testing the gear in the Swedish mountains. There was much excellent gear nominated for the award but I was particularly impressed with the eventual winner, the Ecco Biom Hike boots, which I found immediately comfortable with a good grip and supportive uppers. I’ve since worn them a great deal in the Cairngorms and remain impressed.
Lowe Alpine Nanon 50-60 pack
Some items of gear take time to have an effect on me. This pack was an example. I’d used it before and quite liked it but never really felt it was anything special. Then I took it on a couple of 2012 trips and was surprised to discover that I was really impressed with the features, the carrying comfort and the light weight. I’ve never seen much mention of this pack from lightweight backpackers. I think it deserves more attention.
Rab Infinity 500 Sleeping Bag
I’ve always rated Rab sleeping bags as some of the best around but I hadn’t tried one of the new Infinity range until the 500 was nominated for the TGO Awards (in which it was Highly Commended). When I did try it I was very impressed. The bag has a new baffle system to maximise loft and really is very warm for the weight as well as being very comfortable.
Sony NEX 7 Compact Systems Camera
The NEX 7 was covered in detail in this post, which turned out to be the most popular of the year. I’m still enthralled with it, especially the compact size and weight. I now have the new pancake 16-50mm zoom lens to go with it, which means I really can carry it in a jacket pocket (and am looking for a smaller padded case). Being able to produce the best quality images I’ve ever had from such a small camera is wonderful. No more DSLRs for me!
Paperback books have always been part of my backpacking load – natural history books, guide books, books to read in the evening or during dull stretches of walking. The weight adds up though – occasionally I’ve even carried a couple of kilos worth – and books are bulky too. An e-reader seemed the answer and early in 2012 I finally bought a basic Kindle (I wanted the lightest, smallest model). I took it on the TGO Challenge and it was a revelation. I usually read a book every three to four days so on a two-week trip like that I’d need at least four books. With the Kindle I could have as many as I wanted, for less weight than most single paperbacks. I no longer needed to worry about running out of reading matter and to my delight I found I could read in the rain by having the Kindle in an Aquapac waterproof case.
Aquapac Waterproof Cases
I’d used these thin, tough, lightweight cases before but only with the addition of an e-reader and tablet to my gear has their worth really been shown. I can operate electronic devices inside the cases in the pouring rain without fear of getting them wet. They’ve become essential items.
Google Nexus 7
Smartphones make good GPS units but the screens are small, as they are on standalone GPS units, so you can’t see much of the map. The first tablets seemed too big and heavy for the outdoors so I never bothered with one. Then the Nexus 7 caught my eye and I soon found it just the right combination of weight and size. The big screen is wonderful but it will still easily fit in a jacket pocket. As well as ViewRanger OS maps I’ve loaded it with natural history guides, which aren’t much use on the black and white Kindle screen. I wrote about the Nexus 7 here.