Thursday 29 December 2011

Top Ten Favourite New Gear Items 2011

Going through the many items I’ve tested for TGO magazine in 2011 I’ve come up with my favourites. They’re not necessarily the best in their class – though several of them are – but they are ones that have impressed me most this year.

I’ve only included gear that is generally available (though with one item this does mean ordering from the USA and then waiting awhile) so I’ve omitted Colin Ibbotson’s superb range of Tramplite Skins packs (see      my post for April 21 and April 22) as Colin has decided that producing these at present would interfere with his long distance walking plans. Much as I’d like to see his packs on the market he definitely has his priorities right.

The items are in no particular order.

Rab Stretch Neo Jacket in Polartec Neoshell

After a decade with no significant developments in waterproof/breathable fabrics 2011 saw two new ones launched. The first of these was Polartec Neoshell. I had the chance to test a Rab Stretch Neo jacket in this fabric back in February on a two week trek on the Southern Upland Way and was impressed with the performance. Neoshell is certainly as breathable as eVent, the best fabric so far, and maybe more so. The Neo Stretch is a well-designed jacket too, especially for mountain storms.

Gore-Tex Active Shell

Not to be outdone Gore-Tex came up with its own new fabric called Active Shell. Only available in garments weighing 400 grams or less this is more a fabric for summer use and lightweight backpacking. I tried two garments, the Berghaus Velum and Haglofs Endo, and found the fabric as breathable as Neoshell or eVent. Of the two designs I preferred the Velum, mainly due to the big chest pockets.

Patagonia Ultralight Down Shirt

At a mere 158 grams – lighter than many base layers – and compressible into a tiny ball Patagonia’s down shirt is astonishing for the warmth provided. It’s also one of the most versatile down garments as it can be layered with a synthetic fill or fleece top in cold weather or used on its own as camp wear in summer. Indeed, the weight is such there’s no reason to ever leave it behind.

PHD Hispar 500

I like to sleep comfortably and have never been one for saving weight on a skimpy sleeping bag. At the same time I don’t want any more weight than necessary. At 948 grams the Hispar 500 is much lighter than most other bags with the same temperature rating. It’s currently my favourite winter bag.

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1

Despite the frightening expense and a somewhat fragile groundsheet I just had to include the first cuben fibre two-skin tent from a mainstream tent company due to the ridiculously low weight (anything from 580 to 800 grams depending on pegs used – after ditching the toothpicks that came with the test model I ended up with a weight of 788 grams including stuffsacks). I used the Laser Ultra 1 on the Southern Upland Way and whilst a roomier shelter would have been nice for the long winter nights it kept out the weather.

Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler

Innovative, ultralight and fun to use this modern take on the venerable chimney kettle is an excellent meths/wood water boiler for backpackers. The history of its design and development is fascinating too.

Jetboil Sol Ti

I liked the original Jetboil stove because it was innovative and fuel efficient. However it was still quite heavy for backpacking compared with alternative stove/pot combinations.  The Sol Ti is much lighter at 248 grams (347 grams with all accessories) and a joy to carry and use.

Primus OmniLite Ti

The third stove of the year is Primus’ lightweight version of the excellent OmniFuel. Usable with gas canisters, petrol or paraffin it’s a versatile stove for backpacking abroad. It’s also powerful enough for cooking for two or three and light enough for solo use, especially when used with canisters, which can be inverted for better performance in freezing weather.

GoLite Terrono 70 pack

GoLite’s fully featured Terrono pack may seem a strange choice due to its 1.95kg weight. Whatever happened to lightweight? For a comfortable carry with heavy loads this is light weight though. I used it on my winter walk on the Southern Upland Way and had 24kg in it at times. It felt fine and I was glad to have a pack with such a supportive harness.

Nemo Meta 1P tent

My full review of this tent won’t appear until sometime next year but in the meantime I can say I like it as it’s roomy, light weight and quickly pitched with one trekking pole. It also has better breathability than most single-skin tents whilst still keeping out the weather.

And finally a quick thumbs-up for the Jetboil CrunchIt, a little tool for puncturing empty gas canisters so they can be flattened and recycled. A great device.


  1. Hi Chris, the Nemo Meta 1P looks a bit like the Six Moons Lunar Solar Solo. If it is, should be a really good 3 season tent. Very quick to put up I imagine and quite a taut pitch too.

  2. Thanks Chris for the mention and I'm flattered that my packs are even considered as one of your favorite new gear items for 2011. I think you would be impressed with Skins 3 design that remove most of the less friendly aspects of the Skins 2 pack you have.

    There has been comments elsewhere that there wasn't much innovation in 2011 and, while wrong, I can see why that conclusion was reached. To be fair these were directed at the cottage industry rather than mainstream. Of course the mainstream haven’t stood still and ignored the treads, and because of that the gap between the two has narrowed significantly. How many NEW ways are there to design a tent? Pack? Stove? Many features and materials that were once exclusive to the cottage guys are now the norm. Just look to Terra Nova for a good example of that with their use of Cuben Fiber. This has to be good overall for us but…

    My personal opinion is that we have reached the peak for lightweight gear and designs, and that without new materials weights will start to creep up again. Reading some of the forums this week it appears that many will be happy with this. This creep will mainly affect the mainstream producers who feel a need to refresh their product range each year. If you start with a simple lightweight product then you can only add features (and weight). Golite are the perfect example of this happening right now. The gap between mainstream and cottage will then widen and everybody will be happy again!

    So perhaps 2011 was more a year of refinement than pure innovation? But then has there ever been any REAL innovation or was it more a refinement of old ideas to a new audience? But with products like the Backcountry Boiler I’m all for refinement!

  3. The Nemo does pitch tightly and is well made from tough materials.

    I've been around long enough to see trends come and go and ideas repeated. Single-skin tents were popular in the 1970s! My first ever backpacking tent was single-skin.

    Packs seem to be the one area that gets heavier with design modifications. This happened in the 1980s. I do think though that one reason is that people discover that a heavier pack with a beefier harness is actually more comfortable to carry than a minimalist ultralight pack. And that pockets and other extras are useful. I liked the original GoLite Gust but wished it had a less sweaty back, mesh pockets and some padding in the hipbelt. Now, as the Pinnacle, it does and the weight has gone up. I much prefer the Pinnacle though.

    Innovation mostly comes from materials rather than designs in my opinion - Gore-Tex, fleece, synthetic insulation, silnylon, titanium, Pertex and ultralight nylon, Dyneema. None of these existed when I started backpacking and all have made a difference. Design innovation comes from seeing how materials can be used - as Nick Brown did with Paramo - rather than coming up with totally new designs.

  4. Sol Ti is superb. Its my stove of choice now.

    The Patagonia Ultralight Down Shirt is one I want and will get. Sale Price hopefully. Not cheap. Ideal from what you saying and what I have been reading. Thanks for putting us on to it Chris.

    That Tent BTW seems to flap a bit in the wind on the Webtogs video. Look forward to the review and hope we start seeing video reviews on the TGO website to go with the magazine ones.

    Happy new year Chris and have a good time on the hills this winter.

  5. Interesting list, Chris.

    One question if I may: what kind of footwear do you use in winter? I've now become a trail/scrambling shoes in the summer, but I'm still using a 13-year old pair of Mantas that are now stiff as hell.

    Any suggestions??

    And as for mice: best trap to use is the so called 'humane trap':

    Woodmice just can't help getting caught in them! Peanuts or chocolate buttons do the trick as bait.

    Release them at least a mile from the house because otherwise they're very good at finding their way back to your loft!

  6. Martin, Webtogs showed the tent without any guylines attached to the tie points. With guylines it flaps less (and you get more headroom at the ends).

    Walter, if there's much snow then I'm on skis and using Nordic ski boots. If there's not enough snow for skiing I wear lightweight boots such as Keen Targhees and carry walkers crampons. If there's no snow I wear trail shoes - I did the Southern Upland Way in Inov8 Terrocs last February.

    I've tried the Procter Traps. They worked for a while but the mice can now get out of them. I currently have a Big Cheese metal trap - this catches some but others escape.

    Happy New Year everyone!

  7. Thanks for the info re winter 'boots', Chris.

    Lowlands mice must be quite daft then, they haven't learnt how to Houdini their way out of the Procter Traps (yet). Maybe weighing them (the traps) down with a hammer or something may help? Good luck with the hunt, must have been so disappointing to find the Xmas decorations all spoilt!

    And a very happy 2012 to you too! Thanks for all the fantastic writing and all your work on behalf of what's left of our wild land.

  8. All the best for 2012, Chris.

    Mike fae Dundee

  9. I've been wanting to ask you about the Rab Stretch Neo Jacket. I have a Paramo Cascada and Vista, which I use in the winter, but I find the Cascada too heavy and warm in summer, while the Vista is just impractical with its short hem. It rides above all my mid layers and shirts underneath. But I still love the breathability of Paramo and ability to dry really fast. I'm wondering if the Rab Stretch Neo Jacket would be a versatile alternative both of them that I can use most of the year. I've been trying to reduce how much gear I have and a slightly heavier rain jacket that is long enough to cover my mid layer and base layer, and that is good for heavy rains in the mountains would be ideal.

    Or am I putting too much stock in the accolades?


  10. Butuki, the Stretch Neo is one of the most breathable membrane jackets I've tried. I don't find it quite as comfortable or breathable as Paramo - it still feels like a waterproof rather than a soft shell. It's cooler than Paramo of course and so suitable for year round use. If I wanted just one jacket for all year use the Stretch Neo would probably be top of my list.

  11. Thanks, Chris. It's taken me two weeks to think about this, but your recommendation was a big help. I've done and ordered one :-)

    By the way, "butuki" is my online name, but I'm Miguel, from BPL and Facebook.

    Thanks a for your help!

  12. Hi Miguel. I thought butuki was you but I responded to that name so other readers would know who the response was aimed at. I've had some confusion in the past when I've responded using a a different name to the one used by the poster.

    My conviction that the Stretch Neo is a good jacket came from my two-week Southern Upland Way hike last February, which was a very damp walk (that's not a good time to hike this trail but it was work!). Any jacket that basically felt comfortable on a trip like that had to be pretty good.