Gear walking and gear talking….

Rab Ridge Master Bivi, wild camping, Yorkshire Dales National Park
I’ve been using the Rab Ridge Master Bivi for a while – but I’m not talking about this today….

Despite how it may appear, I’m no ‘gear freak’ but I am fortunate enough to be involved in testing gear from a number of manufacturers. I don’t always talk about it because…well, I’m no gear freak and I’d rather talk about my trips outdoors. Besides, often the gear I’ll be playing with are prototypes but I may mention them or send a pic of them via my Twitter feed. After all I consider outdoor parallel to be a tools to a means.

The means to do my work and enjoy those camps out on the hills and moors.

At the end of the day, ignoring that bit of sentimentality and a romanticised version of the time I spend in the mire, winds and rain here’s a quick look at some gear I’ve been using in recent weeks and months….

WESTCOMB POLARTEC NEOSHELL SHIFT FT HOODY

Westcomb Polartec Neoshell Shift FT Hoody, Lake District National Park
Well, it was the best pic I could find of me in this jacket even if I look a bit of a poser!



“…this is one of my favourite bits of gear I’ve used for quite some time and one I’m reluctant to leave at home when out and about….I absolutely love it.”

First off a new garment from Canadian company, Westcomb. A lightweight NeoShell waterproof jacket that’s piqued a few folks interest in the virtual world. The sample I’ve been using prolifically for the past 3 months or so is a size large and weighs no less or more than 340g.

Yep. You read that right. 340g for a size large NeoShell jacket. That’s from an average mean weight on my scales and to be sure I even popped to the local post office near me to double-check. Each and every time it came in at 340g. Unusual to say the least it has to be said.

It’s not the lightest waterproof of it’s type by any means, but as some of you may well be aware most NeoShell garments come in considerably heavier and bulkier than this. I have to admit that I’m a big fan of Polartec’s NeoShell too. It has stretch, is as breathable as any eVent garment I’ve ever used, waterproof and best of all still performs as new when filthy. A brilliant fabric that doesn’t require endless cleaning to fulfil your expectations  performance-wise. I’ve been banging on about the merits of NeoShell on here and elsewhere for quite some time but I think most folk have been put off by it’s weight when it comes to backpacking. Not for much longer, eh?

I absolutely love the Shift FT Hoody. The cut is relaxed and slips on easily and it gives considerable cover down the base of your back to prevent water ingress when bending over during activities such as scrambling or picking up your rucksack when hiking. You’ll find a cinch cord at the waist, behind your head outside the generous hood, velcro wrist attachments and a stiffened visor. The hood isn’t wired which would make it perfect but in truth you can cinch it so tight around your head that you certainly don’t feel like an astronaut moving their face around inside when peeping out to the wider world.

You’ll find a small but not very useful inside pocket which isn’t mesh but it’s positioned on the opposite side to the large outside chest pocket. The chest pocket has a water resistant zip for access and a generous storm flap too but best of all (and I really like this) the zip is found on the inside of the storm flap. The idea being it’s a further added measure to prevent any water ingress in foul conditions. It works a bloody treat too.

Such attention to detail is a hall mark of this garment from Westcomb. The main zip is again water resistant and underneath is a very generous storm flap. You’ll find patches of simple fleece lining on the inside of your collar when shut tight as well.

Westcomb Neoshell Shift FT Hoody, outside jacket pocket
Attention to detail – water resistant zip on inside of storm flap.

This truly is a brilliant waterproof jacket from Westcomb at a quite remarkable weight given it’s made with the minimum amount of NeoShell patches (think one piece leather on boots) all seam sealed with care inside.

I really cannot praise this jacket enough. It packs small and light enough to stash in your pack in case of those unexpected storms, and is so comfortable to slip on and wear for hours on end. Performance-wise it’s top drawer. I’ve yet to clean it, but it still performs as new like most NeoShell garments I’ve had the pleasure of using.

You’ll discover you won’t get too over heated with prolonged use and even if it ‘wets out’ in places such as the wrists, you’ll be bone dry with the minimal amount of damp sweat inside. It really is that good.

In a nutshell, this is one of my favourite bits of gear I’ve used for quite some time and one I’m reluctant to leave at home when out and about testing other gear now. I absolutely love it. It’s just a damn shame that Westcomb currently don’t have a distributor in the UK to reach out to our masses. A real shame, cause if this jacket is anything to go by I reckon they’d do very well commercially in the outdoor market here.

I don’t normally do ‘scores’ for gear because at the end of the day, it’s really all quite subjective to the end user. Anything I waffle on about in this tiny piece of the virtual world is just my thoughts and experiences and if it helps that’s great. But in this case if one was to force my hand? I’d give this jacket a solid 9.5/10. It may not be to everyone’s taste naturally.

Some folk love Gore’s Active Shell for example. I don’t. I just don’t like it at all. I get hot and sweaty quicker than most – so the likes of Paramo, eVent and now Neoshell are much more suitable to my internal combustion engine.

Others like all the bells and whistles on waterproof jackets, some want something tougher and so on. In this case from the point of view of a UK backpacker who only wishes to carry lightweight waterproof garments as back up to our temperamental weather (and when it’s bad it’s bad!) then this could be your winning lottery ticket for all year round use in terms of staying dry for as long as possible in comfort.

KATHMANDU MOONRAKER E-PROOF DOWN SLEEPING BAG

Kathmandu Moonraker E-Proof down sleeping bag
Sleeping bag gets a nice airing at camp in the sun.

“It’s the sort of winter sleeping bag you get in that gives instant warmth and comfort and one you’ll reach for if you choose to go bivvying or tarping in colder climes.”

With a UK RRP of £300+ what we have here is a durable and resilient winter down sleeping bag from New Zealand based company, Kathmandu. I’ve enjoyed using a couple of their products over the past winter (even though arguably it’s extended well into spring this year!) and this is one of them.

Size large it comes in at 1.3kg on my scales excluding a tough dry sac for when on the trail (you also get a large cotton bag for storage at home). There’s 770g of goose down with a loft power of 700. Comfort rating is in the -12c region for the average male. So for warmth to weight it’s not the best on the market in which case some may wish to consider other options out there.

Even so, what I will say is don’t overlook it too hastily. You get a full length zip with internal down filled baffle to keep out drafts, internal collar and a roomy hood which can all be cinched shut tight. However, you’ll find a peculiarly placed small pocket with water resistant zip on the outside near where your chest will be underneath. It’s a tad too small for my liking and a bit awkward to open. More importantly if you want to keep your mobile phone warm or anything like spare batteries (like I often do) in sub zero temps then it’s next to useless. It would be much better to have such a pocket positioned inside the sleeping bag as opposed to the outer.

For example, I may well use my phone for setting up a wake-up alarm and when it begins ringing out I have to unzip myself from within the confines of my toasty warm home to reach out and get into the external pocket. Not ideal by any means but you get the gist.

Saying that, it lofts exceptionally well and I’d swear it was an 850 fill sleeping bag as opposed to a 700. The e-proof fabric is it’s major selling point in truth. You won’t find any down leaking through and more importantly it keeps you and the down bone dry while letting the feathers within to fluff up to it’s maximum fluffiness. It’s also breathable but it’s worth bearing in mind it’s best to let this bag air for a while longer when at camp in the morning to ensure you don’t leave any condensation inside the baffles that could form on real cold nights.

To emphasise how water-resistant the shell is, it will come as no surprise to learn the sleeping bag takes some manipulating to squish back inside your rucksack (though you can pack it flat as a pancake). It’s even worst if you use Kathmandu’s dry sac but I tend to dispense with such pieces of gear and stuff the bag into a larger dry sac in my pack anyway to ensure it fills the space more and consequently create more room for other bits and bobs.

Vaude Bivi 1 and Kathmandu Moonraker E-Proof
A good combination. Bivouac and the Moonraker sleeping bag one winter’s night.

All in all, the Moonraker sleeping bag is well made, very warm and roomy (with great freedom at the foot end), gives no cold spots and has a fantastic outer shell to shed moisture and ice. I’ve spent nights out in this portable bed in temperatures down to -15c and been perfectly warm in just simple baselayers though on the odd occasion I’ve woke in the night feeling like I’m being cooked alive.

It’s the sort of winter sleeping bag you get in that gives instant warmth and comfort and one you’ll reach to if you choose to go bivvying or tarping in colder climes. I really like it despite the niggle of a silly outside storage pocket and I suppose testament to this is the fact I’ve chosen not to use any other winter bag during the past few months.

LOWE ALPINE APALACHIAN 65:85 RUCKSACK *

Lowe Alpine Apalachian 65:85
Normally you’d see a lot more than this strapped to my pack!



“…a solid all rounder. The Apalachian has proven to be a good friend to me over the past winter lugging my shelter and other gear about on the hills and moors and it still looks like new when given a quick wipe down.” 

I expect changes in the months ahead to much of Lowe Alpines rucksack range given their recent takeover by Equip Outdoor Technologies Ltd. I know there’s a new design team in place now via Rab who are part of this company. All said and done, this pack has served me extremely well over the winter season.

It’s proven to be tough, durable and extremely comfortable when carrying significant loads. And when I say significant, I mean loads in excess of 20kg!

Yep, with all my winter kit packed, a few days supply of food and then all my video gear the scales tip over the 20 kilo mark easily. Thankfully the Apalachian distributes the weight well and I’ll hardly notice it’s there on my back at times. Reminds me a little of Berghaus’s C series of packs but without the squeaking twisting hip belt.

What you see is what you get with this rucksack. Classic backpacking design and fully featured too. Aye, some folk prefer simpler for less weight and so do I by and large. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good load carrier.

Coming in on my scales at 2.4kg on the dot the Apalachian isn’t too heavy when you consider you get a fab back system with all the bells and whistles (literally) that is comfortable with nice thick padded straps and mesh that doesn’t rip into your shoulders or your clothing either. I’ve found no piling to occur or considerable fading of DWR on waterproof jackets.

The two side pockets are generous and can be easily accessed without making the main compartment too narrow and restrictive and you’ll find a substantial storm flap to cinch the main compartment closed which is handy if for some bizarre reason you’re chucking in everything and the kitchen sink.

Access can be made to the main compartment via the bottom of the pack where you’ll also find not only axe loops but straps for tightening everything up snug inside. Handy for rolled foamed mats.

The lid has good volume where you can access bits and bobs on the go, along with another pocket on the underside too for essentials you may wish to stash away for whatever reason.

It’s a snug fitting pack once on but you’ll struggle to reach your hip area and grab a drink bottle out of one of the side stretch pockets. It’s always nice to see such features on a pack for me, but it would be easier if they angled them inwards so you don’t have to take the pack off when on the go. Saying that, with the potential load you can carry with the Apalachian that might not be such a bad thing.

Cord on the outside of the pack finishes it all off – again a handy feature for stowing wet waterproofs or maps and such like.

Overall, it’s a solid all rounder and one that certainly is the size they claim but comfortable to wear. The Apalachian has proven to be a good friend to me over the past winter lugging my shelter and other gear about on the hills and moors and it still looks like new when given a quick wipe down. I like it a lot, but if I had to make a choice I might just consider other packs in it’s class that weigh a little less. After all, an extra kilo or two can make all the difference. In winter this doesn’t bother me so much as days are short and slow. But in the summer months? I think I’d fancy something a little lighter.

*Though all kit that I receive comes direct from the manufacturer in this case award-winning online outdoors retailer Webtogs kindly donated the Lowe Alpine Apalachian 65:85 for review

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF SOME NEW KIT I’VE BEEN USING OF LATE….


TERRA NOVA COMPETITION TARP 1

Terra Nova Competition Tarp 1 wild camp
Home sweet home!

Weighing in at under 200g this SilNylon shelter has unexpectedly proven to be extremely useful to me in recent weeks. Initially, I thought it was a bit large for a one man tarp – measuring 150cm width and 250cm length – but as is often the case once out in the field it transpires to be just about the right size.

Rectangular in shape and with no lifters but with enough loop attachments for cord or ends of walking poles, the Competition Tarp 1 has made for a great on the go shelter when I’m sitting out the rain when filming. And of course a great home for the night too.

In truth, the last time I was tarping I was using a poncho so in comparison this is somewhat of a luxury space-wise. And I’ll have to admit bar the odd excursion into woods in my teens I’ve not really used a tarp at all over the years.

Configurations have been a little tricky for me as I’ve been used to square tarps over the years and ones with lifters of some kind too. But you can buy online ‘grip clips’ which you can attach to any shelter and then produce a improvised lifter with a guy rope. I’ve not used the ones I own on this tarp just yet having found that my favourite tried and trusted flying diamond configuration to be just fine and more so with a walking pole propped up inside to give a bit more room.

We’ll see how it goes but so far I’ve enjoyed the flexibility a tarp can offer for shelter – be it for rest stops or making camp.

RAB VAPOUR RISE ALPINE LITE

Rab Vapour Rise Alpine Lite, Blea Tarn, Lake District National Park

New from Rab for 2012 is this excellent lightweight jacket. A garment that is extremely breathable, has a lining for wicking sweat and creating a bit of warmth, along with a weather resistant outer shell to shed the wind and light rain. Size large it weighs around 400g which includes a hood with a stiffened visor.

I’d go into more detail about it but all I’ll say is this – I bloody love it. I’ll never look at soft shell garments again.

RAB PULSE JACKET

Again, new from Rab this year – an extremely lightweight waterproof jacket that packs down to nothing. Made from Pertex Shield + fabric, you get not only a hood with cinching and a stiffened visor and a outside pocket (internal mesh lining) along with elasticated wrist cuffs and cinching at the waist – you get all this and more for just shy of 200g on a size large! It packs within its own pocket if you wish which is about the size of a small apple.

I like it a lot so far but the jury is still out. It’s certainly kept the wind and rain out, make no doubt. But I’m keeping an open mind with regards to this garment especially with regards to it’s durability. Aye, it’s not meant to be a tough hard-wearing waterproof. But I’m concious of how it performs after several days use in poor weather. I’m thinking of multi-day hikes you see.

KARRIMOR X-LITE 45+10 RUCKSACK

Karrimor X-Lite 45+10 rucksack 2012
It looks cool and it’s a joy to use. Great size and features for the weight too!

Part of Karrimor’s new range of kit for 2012 comes this tidy looking rucksack I’ve had the pleasure of using recently. So far, I really like using it. It weighs just a little over 1.3kg, is simple in design but not short on useful features of which some have been cleverly incorporated. I’ll talk more about this in the future but it’s tough, comfortable and a joy to use.

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