Thursday 31 December 2015

Favourite New Outdoor Gear 2015

Testing the Hoka One One Tor Ultra boots in the Cairngorms

As every year I tested a large range of outdoor gear for The Great Outdoors magazine in 2015 (you can see my 2014 choices here). These are the items that impressed me most. Again as always this doesn’t mean they replace old favourites but they are products that I’ll go on using. So, in no particular order, here we go….

Jottnar Hymir Neoshell Smock

Lightweight (350 grams) and compact this waterproof top is ideal for long trips. Being made from Neoshell it’s very breathable and the design is functional with an excellent hood with wired peak and a mapsize chest pocket. I’ve used it in torrential rain and daylong drizzle and it’s proved very comfortable.

 PHD Elite Racer

Truly ultralight this sleeping bag weighs an astonishingly low
247 grams. The shell fabric is very thin but still wind resistant and downproof. There’s no zip but there is a hood and a shaped foot. It’s filled with 950 fill power down and is rated to +12°C. At +3° I was warm wearing just light clothing in it (thin base layers, very thin insulated top, medium weight wool socks). For summer backpacking this is a tremendous bag. The rest of the year it could be used as a liner in another bag.

Hilleberg Enan

The Akto has been one of my favourite tents for two decades now. However there are now quite a few good alternatives that weigh less. The Enan is Hilleberg’s own one of these. It weighs 1.1kg but has the same inner and porch size as the Akto. Ventilation is actually better than with the Akto due to two large mesh panels at each end. 

Jetboil MiniMo

The MiniMo is the first integrated stove/pot/heat exchanger unit that I’ve really liked as it’s the first with a wide rather than tall pot, which makes it more stable and easier to use for cooking and eating. In fact I was so impressed with the MiniMo that I ended up using it on almost all my 2015 camping trips.
 Sherpa Nangpala

Insulated with Primaloft Gold Down Blend, a mix of 70% water-repellent down and 30% Primaloft, this warm jacket is water-resistant, quick drying and breathable. It weighs 444 grams and packs up small. There’s a warm hood and handwarmer pockets.

 Berghaus VapourLight Hypertherm Hood
 At just 224 grams this insulated jacket is amazingly warm. It has a hood and handwarmer pockets and is great for three-season conditions or combined with another warm top in freezing weather. The shell fabric is windproof so it can be worn as a mid or outer layer.

 Nigor Wickiup 3  

 Amongst many products I was sad to see disappear with the demise of GoLite the Shangri-La 3 pyramid tent  was especially missed. The Wickiup 3 is a more than adequate replacement however. It’s the same shape and size as the SL3 but has more guyline attachment points and is made of lighter fabric. I mostly use the flysheet with just a groundsheet, a unit that weighs 1.3kg.

 Nigor Zero G

The Zero G is another Nigor product that resembles an old GoLite one, in this case the popular Jam pack. The Zero G is made from the same tough Dyneema fabric and has the same big rear pocket. It’s more comfortable with heavier loads though as it has an internal frame and a thicker hipbelt. The capacity is 53 litres and it weighs 1.1kg. I found it comfortable and stable and ideal for summer backpacking.
Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Light Suspension Upgrade 
The Exodus was one of my 2014 favourite new items of gear. This new version is designed to carry more weight (14kg rather than 11kg) and has an inflatable frame and a slightly larger and more padded hipbelt. I found it fine with loads up to 16kg. The total weight is 652 grams, making this a real ultralight pack.


Hoka One One Tor Ultra
These unusual-looking boots have a very thick midsole that provides great cushioning. The leather/nylon uppers have an eVent lining. I find these boots very comfortable and quite warm – I’ve worn them in the snow.

Osprey Atmos AG 65
For heavy loads where comfort and support is more important than the weight of the empty pack the 2.25kg Atmos AG 65 is superb. It has a frame and a tensioned back and hipbelt. The latter wraps itself round you to really take the weight off your shoulders. As well as very comfortable this pack is also capacious and stable.

Fjallraven Keb Eco-Shell Jacket
The chemicals used for DWR treatments on waterproof jackets have been found to be harmful to the environment. With this jacket Fjallraven has used a different eco-friendly treatment and also recycled polyester. The design is good too with a wired hood and large chest pockets. I’ve used the jacket in heavy rain and found it comfortable and breathable.

Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat
Sea to Summit mats have an unusual dimpled appearance as the air chambers are small and circular rather than the usual long tubes. These chambers deform individually when weighted to conform to your body. The Ultralight Insulated version weighs 462 grams and has synthetic insulation inside. There’s also an innovative valve that makes inflating and deflating the mat easy.

Rab Paradox Pull-On

Designed as a midlayer this insulated top is very breathable as the shell fabric isn’t windproof. That makes it very comfortable to wear under a waterproof jacket. The filling is Polartec Alpha which, like the shell, is very soft. The Paradox weighs 360 grams.

PHD WaferLite
Down clothing has become lighter in recent years but this vest is just ridiculous as it only weighs 84 grams. It’s still warmer than a midweight fleece though. Packed size is minute of course. I find it very comfortable and at this weight and size it need never be left at home.

Monday 28 December 2015

Wild Camps of 2015

On Ben Macdui in April

There were no long backpacking trips in 2015 but plenty of short ones and although the walks were often fine it's the splendid wild camps that I remember most. Here are thirteen of them.

Glen Feshie in March

Ben Macdui in April 

Above The Saddle, Cairngorms, in May

Glen Feshie in May

Cwm Cneifion, Snowdonia, in June

Allt Coire nan Eoin,  Killiechonate Forest, in July

Braeriach in August

Camsunary, Isle of Skye, in September

Ben More Coigach in September

Lochan Bealach Cornaidh, Quinag, in September

Feith Buidhe, Cairngorms, in October

Sgor Gaoith in October

Glen Feshie in November

Meall a' Bhuachaille - the begining and end of my hillwalking year.

The Northern Cairngorms from the ascent of Meall a' Bhuachaille

This year my first hill walk, back in early January, was up Meall a' Bhuachaille above Glenmore in the Cairngorms (see this post ). Now it looks like the last hill walk of the year will also be Meall a' Bhuachaille, an ascent seized on a day of fine weather in a run of storms. After two days of Xmas cheer on December 27th three of us set off on a cold crisp sunny day, crunching through the thin snow on the track through Ryvoan Pass, pausing to look down on Lochan Uaine, the water green and calm, the temperatures not low enough for any touch of ice.

Once we left Ryvoan Bothy and began the real climbing the snow deepened and the wind picked up. In the low sun the Cairngorms were shining. The sky was a deep alpine blue. As we climbed the strenthening wind became bitterly cold. This was a real winter's day. Harsh cries signalled two ravens crossing the hills high above. The snow was criss-crossed with hare tracks along with a few made by ptarmigan or grouse.

Carn Bheadhair from the ascent of Meall a' Bhuachaille

From the summit a white world spread all around. To the south and the west clouds were building and there were hints of colour from the soon to set sun. Loch Morlich was a shining diamond in the dark of the forest. A peregrine falcon crossed above us, beating its wings as it fought the summit winds then disappearing in a long sickle-shaped glide. A magnificent sight and one I've never seen on this hill before.

Loch Morlich

Others were about, unsusprising on a fine Sunday after Xmas, and parties went past in both directions. Those coming from the west, our initial descent route, had snow-covered boots and gaiters, suggesting deeper snow that side of the hill. And so it was, with many deep drifts, some reaching to the thighs. The snow was cold and dry, soon brushed off, but unable to bear any weight.

Walkers descending towards Creagan Gorm

All too soon we were passing the first trees and then walking through the confines of the forest. A fine hill day to end the year was over.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Freeze-Thaw Storms Continue

Almost a clear sky as night comes in

The stormy weather of the last few weeks shows no sign of abating but a pattern has emerged in recent days. In the evening the wind picks up, the temperatures rise and rain starts to fall. Later in the night the air cools and there may be sleet or even snow. The morning continues stormy and then during the afternoon there's a lull and the skies almost clear and there are touches of sunshine before the next storm blasts in after dark. So it was today, the 23rd, with wet snow and sleet all morning, sticking on the hills and in sheltered spots lower down. Then came the afternoon quietness. We ventured out into the woods and fields, admiring the fresh snow up high and watching the almost-full moon rise through thin hazy clouds. The air was still chill but after dark it began to warm. In the snow this morning it was 1C, by 10pm it was 7C. The wind is rattling round the house now. The same pattern is forecast for tomorrow. Wild, wild weather.

Fresh snow at dusk

Thursday 17 December 2015

A Kit List for Winter Backpacking

Having been asked for a winter backpacking kit list from someone about to visit the Highlands for wild camping later this month I thought I'd post one from an overnight trip in the Cairngorms a year ago. I wrote about that trip here. Many of these items were on test but the list is typical of the gear I take on winter trips.

Pack:      Lightwave Ultrahike
Shelter:  Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid XL + Nest
Sleeping Bag: Salewa Fusion
Insulation:  Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Regular/OMM Duo Mat
Kitchen :    Optimus Vega gas stove/foil windscreen
        :      Primus Eta 1 litre pot
        :      Insulated mug
        :      Go Outdoors long plastic spoon
        :      Sea to Summit spoon       
        :      dishcloth                           
        :      FireSteel/lighter                            
        :      GoLite 700ml water bottle           
        :      2x Platypus 2 litre bottles    
        :      250 gas cartridge
Footwear:  Ecco Biom Hike boots
Clothing: Wigwam Merino Comfort Hiker Socks
       :       SealSkinz Midweight socks
       :       Mountain Equipment G2 Windstopper trousers
        :      Montane Primino Zip Neck base layer
        :      Didriksons microfleece top
        :      Sherpa Nangpala Primaloft Down Gold jacket
       :       Patagonia Ultralight Down Vest
        :      Paramo Fuera windshirt
        :      Montane Further Faster Neoshell jacket
        :      Mountain Hardwear Stretch Plasmic overtrousers
        :      Smartwool boxer shorts
       :       Montane Primino long johns
        :      Smartwool Woody Creek Hat
       :       Paramo Cap
       :       Buff
       :       Smartwool Liner gloves
       :       Montane Sabretooth Powershield gloves
       :       The North Face Windstopper gloves
       :       Extremities Tuff Bags overmitts
       :       Bandanna       
 Snow:    Camp Corsa ice axe
        :      Hillsound trail crampons          
       :       Snow shovel 
Accessories:  Pacer poles
        :      Petzl Tikka XP & RX+ headlamps            
        :      Compass & whistle               
        :      Notebook, pens        
        :      Harveys maps
        :      Reading glasses
        :      First Aid Kit                   
        :      Repair Kit    
        :      Sony Xperia SP smartphone, ear phones, battery charger                 
        :      Suunto Ambit watch
        :      Kestrel 4500 Weather Station
        :      SAK knife
        :      Mini binoculars
        :      Wash kit/loo paper
        :      Sunscreen     
        :      Salomon Dark glasses    
        :      Ski goggles          
        :      Kindle e-reader
Cameras :     Sony NEX 6 & 7 cameras
        :      Sony 10-18mm, 16-50mm & 55-210 mm lenses
        :      Smartcards, batteries & filters
        :      Velbon V-Pod tripod