Tuesday 31 December 2013

Favourite New Gear 2013

GoLite Shangri-La 3 shelter and Exped DownMat UL. Taken with the Sony E 10-18mm lens.

My major outdoor experiences in 2013 were making The Cairngorms In Winter film with Terry Abraham and walking the Scottish Watershed. Both required good gear that was well-tested. Some was familiar and trusted, some was new or previously little-used. I also tested much gear for The Great Outdoors magazine. Here I've rounded up the ten items that stood out for me plus one old friend that resurfaced.

Rab Strata Hoodie

This synthetic insulated jacket only appeared in the autumn but since a sample arrived I've been using it regularly. Marrying Polartec's new Alpha insulation with Rab's excellent design the Strata Hoodie is warm, lightweight and breathable with a good hood and roomy pockets. I've worn it ski touring as well as backpacking and found it replaces a windproof top and lightweight fleece. In fact it does the job softshell is claimed to do, only better.

Didriksons Monte Fleece

This simple, lightweight, low cost jacket is close to an ideal fleece top for me, challenging my old and much-worn Jack Wolfskin Gecko. It's very comfortable and breathable and not too warm - a problem with many fleeces when worn under a shell. I can see this getting much wear in the future. (In fact I'm wearing it as I write this).

Rab Infinity 300

Airing the Rab Infinity 300
Rab's Infinity bags were launched in 2012 and the 500 was one of my favourites last year. I used it often during the Cairngorms filming. I felt it was too warm for the Watershed walk however so I took the Infinity 300 on that trip and it was ideal, keeping me warm when the temperatures dipped close to freezing whilst not being too hot on warmer nights. It only weighed 650 grams and packed down very small.
Rab Myriad

Polartec's Neoshell has been my favourite shell fabric with a membrane since it first appeared a few years ago. The Myriad is one of the lightest Neoshell jackets so I chose it for the Watershed walk. It was used far more often than I'd hoped and proved excellent. The design is good as well as the fabric, with a superb hood and roomy pockets that sit above a pack hipbelt.

PHD Wafer Down Jacket

This ultralight down jacket arrived just before I set off on the Watershed walk so I decided to take it with me as at a mere 190 grams it weighed less than alternatives that weren't as warm and packed into a minute bundle. It was great in camp on chilly nights and made a good pillow. The down isn't water-resistant but I managed not to get it damp.

Brunton Hydrogen Reactor

This little device won several awards during the year (I was one of the judges for two of them). I've only had one to try for a short time as very few are actually available so far but it worked fine and I like the idea behind it. Rather than a heavy battery it uses non-polluting hydrogen cells to charge devices - cells that don't run down when stored and which can be refilled. I'm looking forward to having one for a longer period and trying it on a long walk.

Exped DownMat UL 7

Down filled sleeping mats are extremely comfortable but the first ones were also quite heavy and bulky. This one though only weighs 583 grams in the Medium size and packs down quite small. I used it for snow camping during filming for The Cairngorms In Winter and it was luxurious.

Optimus Vega Stove

During the making of the Cairngorms film I tried out several different stoves for melting snow and cold weather cooking and settled on this little Optimus model as the best. It's compact and light (181 grams) and has a low profile for stability. The big advantage though is that it has fold-out supports so the canister can be inverted to turn it into a liquid feed stove for sub zero use.

Darn Tough Socks

I'd read many good reports about these socks from the USA but had never seen a pair until this year when they arrived in Britain. They're claimed to be extremely hard wearing. I've had a pair since September and have worn them for daily wear as well as on the hill and so far they are fine. 
Sony E 10-18mm lens

Having read excellent reviews of this expensive lens I decided I wanted one for the Watershed walk so I took the plunge and traded in all my unused camera gear - everything from lenses to camera bags - and bought one. It weighs 225 grams and the quality both of the lens itself and the images it takes is excellent. I used it with both the NEX 7 and NEX 6 bodies and couldn't see any significant difference.

Shangri-La 3, taken with the Sony E 10-18mm lens

GoLite Shangri-La 3

This isn't a new item and I've had one for many years and it's first incarnation as the Hex before that. However with other tents to test and a love affair with the Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar I hadn't used it for several years. I pulled it out for The Cairngorms In Winter film mainly, I admit, because I thought the bright colour would look good. I soon rediscovered how good a shelter it is though, especially in winter when the extra room is welcome as is the good stability. I won't neglect it again.


  1. Thanks for the short review Chris. The only piece of kit that I have is the Rab Myriad and agree that it is a excellent hardshell, with the best hood I had worn other than the one on my Paramo 3rd Element jacket. Still can't decide whether to purchase the Shangri-La 3 (or the Wiki-up 3) Lots of good plus points. Only issue I have is when using the tent with the inner nest, how to cook in stormy weather - there is no real porch, presumably if you pull the groundsheet away the inner door collapses. Any thoughts?
    Happy New Year Chris

    1. I only use the inner Nest for car camping, which means very rarely. I find the combination too heavy for backpacking and, as you say, there's no porch. If I wanted a Nest for backpacking I'd get the Oookworks one which fits in half the SL3. As it is I only use the SL3 for wild camping outside of midge season.

    2. Thanks Chris. A little annoying that Go-lite don't sell the outer now on it's own as the Oookworks option would be a reasonable add on cost.

    3. Yes, that is annoying. I don't know why they've done that. The SL3 makes much more sense as an outer only.

  2. Hi Chris, have you used the Thermarest Xtherm in winter as I'm undecided as to buy one or the exped that you mention.

    1. Hi Daniel, I haven't used the XTherm so I can't compare it to the Exped. It looks good and it is lighter weight and more compact.

  3. Hi Chris - what gas canisters do you prefer with the Vega that balance well etc? Thanks!

    1. Any 100 or 250 size ones. 450-500 are too big to invert.