Quick reviews – Merrell Chameleon Evo Mid Syn GTX boots and Vaude Norrsken mattress

Merrell Chameleon Evo Mid Syn GTX boots
A good all round pair of hiking boots



MERRELL CHAMELEON EVO MID SYN GTX BOOTS

These Gore-Tex lined mid cut boots have been everywhere with me for the past few months. They’ve covered several hundred miles now and I’m pleased to say they’ve performed brilliantly. Only now are they showing some signs of wear and tear.

Size 10.5 with a weight of 1040g (on my scales) they’re light and extremely comfortable. Overall feel is more akin to slipping on a pair of trail shoes to be honest. You’ll find a decent insole inside to position your foot snug at the heel and the shoe’s cushioning is excellent.

Torsion stability is just about right too if you like to be quick on your feet on varying terrain. They’re not overly stiff but not too flexible either. You can get away with the odd impromptu grade 1 scrambling in them but any higher and they’ll become cumbersome in truth.

The deep 5mm lugs on the vibram sole are still going strong even though some have broken away in places (which is to be expected) but the overall grip has been excellent. I do find vibram soles with their varying composites and traction can vary wildly from brand to brand never mind shoe to shoe. But in this case I’ve been confident striding along muddy tracks, grease-like grass declines and rocky hill sides of all geological types.

The stiff rubber rand around the toes helps of course, keeping sharp accidental knocks at bay. So, despite their relative light weight for a pair you don’t feel vulnerable or wary when out tramping in the outdoors.

They look pretty cool too with no need for garish colours as you often find these days – if fashion is your thing at least.

However, being Gore lined boots some may find their feet will feel hot when actively on the go. Thankfully, there’s lots of vents dotted about the shoe and though this helps immensely in regulating your feet’s temperature and breathability but there is a down side to this.

Merrell Chameleon Evo Mid Syn GTX boots
They look OK here, but get too much crud in the mesh panels and you’ll get very sweaty feet.

Unfortunately, the way the boot is constructed with it’s numerous mesh panels can mean they clog up easily with mud and crud, consequently having a negative effect on the overall breathability of the footwear. Even so, with some care and consideration this shouldn’t prove to be too much of a problem. There’s only been the odd occasion where I’ve slipped my feet out at camp to find them really rather damp.

It’s worth noting too that in deep snow despite the mid ankle cut, the mesh panels can contribute to making your tootsies feel like they’re taking a cold bath. It’s not problematic of course if you wear the right socks but it’s worth bearing in mind when it comes to fitting.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed using the Merrell Chameleon Evo Mid Syn boots. They’re another cracking pair of shoes from this brand that fit my wide feet spot on, have proven to be tough and extremely comfortable.

VAUDE NORRSKEN AIR MAT

Air mattresses are all the rage nowadays for backpackers – and why not?

They tend to be less bulky, lighter and a helluva lot more comfier than traditional self-inflating mattresses.

I’ve used quite a few in the past couple of years and am a real convert to them now. You can’t put a price on a good nights sleep, in my opinion – especially if you’re hiking for days on end.

What’s interesting about Vaude’s Norrsken mat is it’s packed size (25cm x 12cm), weight and R Value. It claims to be one of the warmest winter use air matts around yet it weighs only 560g (my average scale weigh in). Admittedly, it’s of a 3/4 length (short as they call it) which for my 5’11” body means my feet will hang off the end mid way down my calves. So, you will need your rucksack or other gear will help to prop them up and keep them off the cold ground.

As most are aware, air is a great conductor of temperature and so via convection with you sleeping on such mattresses, you may find yourself comfortable but quickly discover your losing heat rapidly (in winter at least). To compensate this, companies such as Exped use synthetic fill or down within each air chamber to trap any heat radiating from your body as you sleep. And in the main it works.

Vaude Norrsken mat
Pull, twist, blow, push, click, twist – oooo errrr missus!

Vaude have gone a step further with this though. Each tube consequently overlaps the other from top to bottom. The idea being it further prevents any air moving around inside which in turn slows down the rate at which a user loses heat. And to finish it off, each tube is laminated with foil which has Primaloft Infinity synthetic fill adjoined. So, not only does the foil act as a repellent, but the fill traps warm air (or at least the air you will inevitably warm up of course) and each tube overlaps to prevent cold spots.

Sounds great eh? Vaude give the Norrsken an R Value of 4.7 which should be adequate to keep you warm when camping out in the winter.

You’ll find the mat concaves slightly as you lay on it too – essentially keeping you on your bed. This is thanks to the outer most tubes being slightly larger acting as a prop or cushion. So, if you toss and turn in the night sleeping on your side as I do, you shouldn’t find yourself waking up shivering lying on the groundsheet of your tent. Width is 51cm bang on, by the way.

The fabric of the mat consists mostly of TPU coated polyester to give it some grip on tent floors and durability too (it’s tear strength is 30D so punctures shouldn’t arise with care).

All said and done, I have to say that I didn’t find the Norrsken lived up to it’s billing as a winter camping air bed. More often than not in sub zero temps I found myself reaching for a foam mat to combat heat loss through the mat. I was really disappointed on this front given the mat’s excellent weight and pack size.

At first I thought it might just be my physiology with that particular camp (being tired and out in the cold all day, for example). But after numerous trips I still woke feeling the cold after a few hours.

I’ll give the mat it’s dues – it’s a toughie (you get a repair kit with it). I’d happily use this under a bivvy on the ground be it rock or turf. It really is that good. And it don’t take more than 2 mins to inflate by lung power. It’s the most rapidly deflating mat I’ve ever used too. There’s no faffiing around squeezing the air out of every nook and cranny when packing up.

The nozzle is fab as well. It’s a screw, push/pull design. So, no leaks are likely from there in the night.

Vaude Power Tokee UL and Vaude Norrsken mat
Comfy bed for the night

At just shy of 6cm thickness, it’s very comfortable- so you see, there’s much to admire about the Vaude Norrsken mattress. It packs small, weighs bugger all for a winter bed, inflates and deflates quickly and is hard as nails – it’s just not that bloody warm for winter camping.

Other mats I own, I can happily sleep on through the night in warmth and comfort from the frozen ground and wake up thinking I’m at home in bed. Alas, though I was comfortable with the Norrsken and continued to use it – in my opinion it’s not quite up their for thermal resistance.

I can’t fathom why either. All the stats and trickery pokery are there but in the end it’s just a 3 season mattress in terms of performance. Holding it up in to the light when inflated you can see the foil laminated within each tube and I’ve noticed they aren’t as wide as can be found in Exped mats (synthetic ones at least). Whereas on the Expeds it’s literally the whole tube circum laminated with foil – on the Norrsken it appears to be a strip around 1-2 inches wide at best.

All in all, this could’ve been the perfect winter backpacking air mattress. It’s close but no cigar for the Norrsken. Aye, it ticks most boxes but when it comes to actual performance as a winter bed – it fell short by my experience.

Now we head into warmer climes with summer not too far away, I’ll admit I still use the Norrsken. It’s fine for warmth now but it’s the product’s durability that appeals to me. Other mattresses of this type I’ve used have failed after prolific and regular use and so far this Vaude camping bed is still going strong.

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