Sunday 27 August 2023

How does well-used old gear perform now? A test in winter conditions.

Early morning in Coire Ardair

This piece first appeared in a slightly different form in The Great Outdoors magazine and describes a trip in December 2022.  As this was a commissioned feature I was accompanied by photographer James Roddie, whose excellent photographs appeared in the magazine. For that reason I didn’t take as many photographs as usual so I’ve used some from other trips to show the gear.

Coire Ardair is a long winding valley that cuts deeply into the Creag Meagaidh massif, ending with great cliffs rising above the dark waters of Lochan a’ Choire. Creag Meagaidh became a National Nature Reserve in the 1980s and since then birch woodlands have spread out in the lower valley as overgrazing by deer has been reduced, making it a wonderful inspiring place.

James Roddie in Coire Ardair

I set out up Coire Ardair with James Roddie on a freezing December day, with a pack full of old well-used and well-looked after gear as the idea of the trip was to see how it performed now.* There was a thin snow cover, enough to give a wintry look to the landscape but not enough to impede walking. The snowshoes I’d brought stayed in the car. Black grouse flew low through the trees as we made our way through the birches, this being ideal terrain for them.

The summits were sheathed in cloud, but we could see stark mountainsides rising into the clag ahead. Behind us, across hidden Loch Laggan, bands of mist drifted across the hills with occasional shafts of sunlight illuminating ridges and hills.

As the trees thinned out and the white ribbon of the path curved into the upper glen we could see the cliffs above Lochan a’Choire briefly free of cloud. Leaving the path we plunged through snow-covered deep heather and grass over a series of moraines and down to flatter ground by the Allt Coire Ardair. Ice fringed the rushing water, but it was mostly running freely. I’d thought I might have to melt snow and had brought enough stove fuel for this. I wouldn’t need to do so.

After stamping out an area of snow I pitched the Trailstar shelter. There was moss under some of the snow and I reckoned this might be too boggy for a camp in summer. In this freeze it was fine. Shelter pitched and my gear sorted out inside I settled down to light the stove and heat up water for instant soup. James wasn’t staying overnight and headed back down the glen. He’d return the next morning.

Under the stars, Coire Ardair

The temperature quickly dropped, settling at -7°C. I was warm though wearing my insulated jacket and half in my sleeping bag. The stove soon produced hot water and I felt quite content, here alone in the mountains. So content in fact that I dozed off, waking a few hours later to see stars shining. I ventured outside to tramp round in the snow watching the sky and the dark outlines of the hills. The stars came and went in drifting clouds, the great winter constellation of Orion standing out.

After starting the stove again for water for a meal I read for a while, wrote my journal, then fell asleep again, this time until dawn.

Sitting up when I woke I brushed my head against the tarp fabric and felt coldness. The whole of the inside was coated in frost. The pale fabric looked darker than usual. I poked my had outside. A thin layer of snow coated the Trailstar. The sky was heavy with cloud. More snow looked on the way.

After coffee and a breakfast of muesli porridge – frozen solid in the pan where I’d left it to soak overnight but soon thawed and heated up over the stove – I heard a voice and there was James, ready for more photography and more walking.

Coire Ardair

Once I’d packed up, we continued up the glen into the wilder country at its head. Again once moving I found the Aspira jacket over a Paramo Cambia Zip Neck base layer all I needed to keep warm. Occasionally a light breeze blew. My fleece hat came on and off. I was glad it had a neck cord so I could just push it back off my head when too warm. I’d got one pair of gloves soaked pitching the Trailstar and another pair similarly sodden taking it down so while walking I wore Buffalo Mitts, stuffing them in a jacket pocket whenever my hands felt too warm. I had an even thicker pair of mitts in the pack plus some waterproof shell mitts. You can’t have too many pairs of gloves and mitts in winter!

The river was still running as we approached Lochan a’ Choire, though the ice was encroaching on either side, leaving just a thin twisting snake of water. The lochan was mostly frozen. High above we could see ribbons of ice on the sombre cliffs. This is a popular winter climbing area, but we saw no-one else this day.

We were here to look not climb and after gazing at the crags we turned away and headed back down the path. Soon afterwards the clouds dropped and the cliffs and mountains vanished. By chance we’d timed it just right. Only a few minutes later and we’d have had no views.

Black grouse

Light snow fell at times as we descended. As we reached the first trees we spotted half a dozen black grouse sitting in a big old birch, a magnificent sight. 

*It all performed well. 

Paramo Aspira Nikwax Analogy jacket                 

Paramo Aspira jacket, Paramo Cascada II trousers, & Outdoor Designs Windiush hat, February 2019

The Aspira has been my first-choice winter jacket for over twenty years. It’s not light at 885 grams but the double-layer fabric is tough and warm. It’s also very breathable, keeps out snow and rain, and has a great design with an excellent wired hood, underarm zips for ventilation, and four pockets accessible when wearing a pack hipbelt. On this trip it easily dealt with light snow and the odd gust of wind. I took it because I knew if the weather worsened I could rely on it for good protection.

Paramo Waterproof Cap

Paramo Cap, Cairngorms, December 2021

I’ve been using this 70g hat regularly since 1998. Made from the same Nikwax Analogy fabrics as the Aspira jacket it’s very breathable and easily sheds snow and rain. It’s warm enough for all but the coldest weather and has ear flaps, a neck cord to keep it on in the wind, and a stiff peak for protection against sunshine and snow. I can’t fault it. I took it on this trip because I take it on every trip outside of hot summer days. I wore it the first day and it was as comfortable and effective as ever.

Paramo Casacada II trousers     2019

These trousers are the third Nikwax Analogy garment I took on the trip and by far the newest, being only four years old. Like the Aspira and the Cap the trousers are very breathable, waterproof, and comfortable. They have two-way long leg zips that are superb for ventilation. On this trip I opened and closed them several times each day. They were just right for the weather, as expected. I had long base layer leggings with me that I’d have worn if it was much colder.

Paramo Torres insulated jacket   

Paramo Torres at the Coire Ardair camp. The headlamp is not old!

This eleven-year-old thick 695g synthetic insulated jacket is very warm and comfortable. It’s particularly good in the wet, which didn’t apply on this trip. The design is excellent. It has a good wired hood and roomy pockets. It’s sized to go over all your other garments so you can just pull it on when chilly or when you stop. On this trip I only wore it in camp where it was especially useful when outside star watching during the night.

Paramo Mountain Pull-On          

Paramo Mountain Pull-On & Outdoor Designs Windiush Hat, Glen Affric, April 2008

Twelve years old now, this 425g top was one of Paramo’s first fleece midlayers. It’s an over-the-head garment with a big pouch pocket and stud-fastened neck. I find it warm and comfortable but hadn’t worn it for a few years before this trip. I now wonder why not as I found it excellent. I did only wear it a short while when walking as I was soon feeling hot with it on under the Aspira jacket, but I put it back on in camp and in combination with the Torres jacket it kept me warm at -7°C.

Helly Hansen Double-Pile jacket

Helly-Hansen Double-Pile Jacket, August, 2023

This 580g fibre-pile jacket is forty-one years old and a veteran of my 1982 through-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail where it was my only warm wear much of the time. It’s fluffy on both sides and very warm. Warmer than I remembered in fact as I hadn’t worn it for several years. In the morning it kept me warm at -3°C without anything over it. It’s not windproof so I donned the Aspira jacket over it when outside packing away the Trailstar.

Buffalo Mitts                                   

I brought these ten-year old warm, lightweight (80g) Pertex/pile mitts as backup to my thinner gloves. As I managed to soak both pairs of those putting up and taking down the Trailstar I wore the mitts whenever my hands felt cold on the second day. They keep out the wind and dry quickly when wet, which didn’t happen on this trip. They pack down really small so I could easily stuff them in a jacket pocket when not needed. They came on this trip because they come on every trip in cold weather.

Outdoor Designs Windiush fleece hat

The 75g Windiush has been my favourite fleece hat for twenty years. It’s made from Polartec Wind Pro fleece with a wicking lining and is wind resistant, breathable, and warm. It has earflaps and a neck cord so it can be pushed back off the head when not needed, something I did several times on the second day. I wore it in camp that morning as I find a hat without a peak better inside a tent or tarp and just kept it on when set off. It was as comfortable as ever. I always take at least two hats in winter in case I lose or soak one. The Windiush and the Paramo Cap make a good combination.

Brasher Hillmaster boots              

Brasher Hillmaster Boots, August 2023

I wear these mediumweight (1.4kg) boots regularly in winter if I’m not venturing on terrain verging on the technical. They can be used with walkers’ crampons, a pair of which I had with me but didn’t need on this trip. They’re ten years old now but still in good condition as I wax them regularly. On this trip any snow on them just slid off. The wide fit is just right for me, and I find them very comfortable. They have a Gore-Tex lining and I find them warm enough in snow.They're still available as the Berghaus Hillmaster.

Gregory Shasta pack                      1998

Gregory Shasta pack & Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar, Coire Ardair

This pack is a monster. It weighs 3kg empty and has a capacity of 82 litres. It is however very tough and very comfortable with a big load. I had 18kg in it on this trip and it handled it easily. I carried much more than that when I used it on the Arizona Trail in 2000 and often had to carry a gallon of water and more. Now 25 years old the pack is in good condition and ideal for winter trips. It has big chunky buckles and zips that are easy to use when wearing gloves. I brought it on this trip to see how it compared with more modern packs. It’s just as comfortable as the best I’ve used and probably more durable.

Gregory Shasta on the Arizona Trail, March 2000

 Trangia 27 Stove                                  

Trangia 27, Coire Ardair

Forty-five years old and a veteran of my first ever long-distance walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 1978 this stove will outlast me. The design is rugged, functional, and simple. Until this trip I’d recently only been using it for car camping due to the weight (880g) and bulk compared to more recent stoves but as this was an old gear reunion trip I brought it along. It worked fine.

Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus & RidgeRest           

Prolite Plus, May 2004

On cold weather trips I don’t like relying on just an inflatable mat – I’ve had too many punctures – so I always take a foam pad as well. On this trip the latter was a twenty-year old 400g RidgeRest, on top of which I used a 490g Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus, itself also twenty years old and so far unpunctured. The combination kept me warm camped on frozen snowy ground.

 Mountain Equipment Snowline     

Snowline sleeping bag at a camp in the Cairngorms, February 2010

Looked after properly – which basically means storing them loosely somewhere dry – down bags last well. The Mountain Equipment Snowline I brought on this trip dates from 1994 and was used extensively on the ski tours I led back them. I haven’t used it so much since as it’s too warm most of the time. On this trip it was just right at -7 without the hood being closed. It weighs 1485g.

 Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar 2012

Morning view from the Trailstar

Ten years old now my Trailstar tarp has been used on hundreds of nights, including several multi-week walks, and is still in good condition. I took it on this trip for the space, always welcome in winter, and because I knew it would stand up to high winds if necessary. As it was the night was calm. The Trailstar is also lightweight (482g), which somewhat balanced the heavier older gear.


  1. Hi Chris You should have contacted us for a Ventile Jacket

  2. Great to see the Trangia. I use one which is 40 years old and which I actually drove over once - just bent it back into its original circular shape and it works fine. I also still use a 1974 Karrimor backpack too.