Gear Reviews – Rab SilTarp, Hi-Tec Altitude Pro, Thermarest X Therm, F10 Argon 200, Asolo Retsons, Rab Pulse and Berghaus Bio Flex

Rab SilTarp 1 wild camping Lake District
Rab SilTarp 1 in action overlooking Buttermere, Lake District last summer.

It’s been a wee while since I’ve had a chat about gear on here. I much prefer to share my thoughts on the likes of Twitter along with some photos as folks get to see it in action – if they’re interested of course. Either way, in this post I’m going to bullet point some musings on a small selection of kit I’ve been hammering on and off in recent months.

I’m not going to go in-depth about it all. There’s plenty of info online if folks are so inclined to dig out more specs and so on. Treat this post as ‘pub chat’, where we’re having a pint of local ale after a nice hike in the hills and we share some opinions on outdoor gear. You could say I’m being lazy and conjuring up my own version of a Trail Magazine gear review – alas the difference being I really have been battering the kit in action outdoors and not lugging a selection of kit up Wansfell Pike for a photoshoot or where ever their favourite place is of late to tick some boxes off ready to print. Aye, I’m being sarcastic.

Needless to say, much of my time has been spent on or around the Scafells for the past year – all terrains, conditions and seasons – but I’ve been about elsewhere too including Scotland as some of you may well know.

It seems to be all the rage at the moment, so I’ll join in for fun….and mention a wee disclaimer. Most kit I review is given to me by the manufacturers (I’ll mention if I dug deep and coughed up some cash for something). And not all of it I talk about on here (though I do on Facebook etc sometimes so go look if gear’s your thing). So I only post what interests me. Gear is a tools to a means. And all manufacturers know if I don’t like something, I’ll say so. And if I love something, well errrr I’ll say so!

Great! Let’s crack on shall we?

HI-TEC ALTITUDE PRO RGS

hi-tec altitude pro rgs boots lake district
The Altitude boots in Eskdale.

The marketing blurb for these hiking boots claims something along the lines of “…slip these on your feet and you’ll be comfortable from the off”. And you know what? They’d be right! 2.2mm full grained leather (which smells and feels nice!) with their own waterproof liner and a decent rubber rand around the toes – there’s not a lot to dislike with these updated boots for the hills. They’re relatively light too. My size 9.5s weigh just a smidge over a kilo for the pair and that’s with my own in-soles inserted inside! I’ve been suffering from some minor fasciitis in the past couple of years and I often find the in-soles on boots and shoes to be next to useless so I use my own now. I do this with all brands so this isn’t a moan at Hi-Tec. Well, it could be….I do wish manufacturers would use decent footbeds. Would save me money. But they’re all as bad as each other at the end of the day.

Anyway, Hi-Tec boast about their new “Vibram Rolling Gait System which is proven to reduce muscle fatigue” after “extensive research”. To be honest, I’ve not noticed any difference on this front when compared to the usual footwear in it’s class. I must say though, that the bend in the sole reminds you of tough trail shoes (I’m thinking something like The North Face Hedgehogs for example) but the twist is nice and stable if you’re scrambling or side walking down steep declines. They’re just about right basically. For most outdoor activities at least. Ankle support is good. If you want it anyway. The cushioning is above average but you can still keep them loose if you don’t like the feeling of being strapped in tight.

I’ve been using the Altitude Pros since February on most trips so they’ve not yet covered as many miles as other footwear I’ve been testing. They’re OK in snow but it’s worth noting that flexible hiking crampons like Grivel’s G10s can struggle to fit on them. So I had to ditch them and go back to more appropriate footwear when I was out and about in the snows of Scotland (there was bugger all in the Lakes really). Even so, the sole grips well on most terrain (no idea on the rubber compound they’ve used on these boots to be honest) they don’t need breaking in due to feeling greasy shall we say. Lugs are good too.

hi-tec altitude pro rgs boots hardknott lake district
Admiring a view of the Scafells.

The waterproof liner does the job but then to be fair that’s likely down to the leather. And I’ll be the first to admit these boots have not been cared for by me. I’ve yet to clean them. But they’re still performing as new. No leaks. No tears or stitching coming loose.The Pros are proving durable. The sole is still going strong too. The liner combined with the leather would suggest one’s feet would overheat inside it has to be said.

But on the whole I’ve generally been comfortable and have no complaints at all. Which is more than can be said with some own-brand waterproof liners. It’s all subjective of course. But I can sweat loads. After some hikes and shoots, my liner socks can appear stiff as cardboard when I reach camp! Yuk, I know!

All in all, the boots are good – almost feeling like upper end weight trail shoes. I like them. I’m still using them in fact. They might be a bit too hot as summer (hopefully) kicks in proper but for most walking out on the hills they’re spot on. And great value too. A quick search online shows you can pick these up for under £100. Would I recommend them? Aye. Pop down a store that stocks them and check em out. You may well save a bit of money. Hi-Tec have come up with a solid, good all-rounder here.

My score? 7.5/10. But let’s make it 8/10 for a great value leather boot!



RAB SILTARP 1

rab siltarp 1 wild camping great end lake district
Rab SilTarp 1 on Great End, Lake District.

Ahhhhh, tarping! The best way to enjoy the outdoors in my opinion. You get a real sense of being in tune with nature and the elements. Some folks thrive on the exposure (me being one) and others don’t. Either way, tarps are adaptable shelters and make for a great adventure when out on the hills camping.

And here we have what was formerly Integral Designs kit labelled as Rab – the SilTarp 1.

This baby packs down to about the size of two medium sized apples. Heck, you can put it in a trouser pocket if you wanted. That pack size can be compressed further still. The SilTarp weighs just over 220g on my scales and adequately unfurls to cover one person and some kit when pitched ‘A frame’ or ‘Lean To’.

Strangely enough Rab’s SilTarp packs smaller and feels lighter than Backpacking Light’s own Micro Tarp (which I own) and the old version Terra Nova Competition 1 tarp. Go figure!! Check out the specs via the linkys I’ve embedded (Terra Nova have updated their tarps for 2015 and I’ve got one in to test now as it happens).

One of the great things about Bob’s Backpacking Light tarps is the attention to detail. Loops in the right places, durability and so on. I love his Micro Tarp but I’ve ditched it now and use Rab’s effort instead. It’s larger for starters and equally has all the right loops and lifters too.

Rab SilTarp 1 on Blencathra lake district
Recent camp on Blencathra, Lake District.

The SilTarp is quite translucent but don’t let this fool you into thinking it’s not durable. It is. Believe me. I’ve been using it regularly for over a year now and the 30D Cordura material is still as good as new. Not a stitch loose or tear. I’ve not even given it a coating with silicone yet despite it’s heavy use. I sleep under it, I use it as a pitstop shelter when filming – you name it. I make the most of a tarp’s flexibility.

Reinforced loops and lifters have withstood some strong winds too. And best of all, you can easily fold it in half and make a bomber micro tarp shelter with it thanks to a carefully positioned lifter. Of course, you ought to use a bivvy with a tarp in our maritime climate. But I’ve generally found the SilTarp 1 to afford me just the right amount of cover. Some may prefer more in truth and I wouldn’t blame them. But it does me just fine. I know my friend Chris Townsend prefers larger tarps but I think even he’d be impressed with this particular shelter from Rab.

Basically, there’s no excuse not to take one of these when out on a hike. It packs that small and feels much lighter than the scales say. It’s tough and adequate in cover and without a doubt one of my favourite bits of outdoor kit I’ve hammered in the past year. Top drawer. My go to tarp of choice.

My score? 10/10. Perfect for my needs and wants and better than most other tarps out there. And can be had for about £40 online!

THERMAREST NEOAIR X-THERM

Thermarest NeoAir X Therm mattress wild camping
X Therm at camp last autumn in Wasdale, Lake District.

This is one bit of kit I bought while working on ‘The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend’ due to another failure on yet another Exped winter rated mattress (bloody tubes kept popping and bulging or leaking but enough of that). I’m no fan of the original NeoAir mattress and one of the reasons I reluctantly persisted with the Exped mats is for their comfort! They’re ace! And the NeoAir’s set up just didn’t compare for me.

Even so, I have to admit that the NeoAir X-Therm  has changed my mind when it comes to comfort. I’ve no idea if Cascade Designs have tweaked the design slightly or what. But now I look forward to collapsing on it after a hard days graft in the hills.

The X Therm is winter rated for warmth, yet rolls up to the size of a litre bottle. I’ve been using the medium size which including the stuffsack (and ditching the pump bag nozzle) comes in just under 500g. It doesn’t feel that heavy mind. But when compared to other winter rated mattresses it’s really rather light – it certainly packs a lot smaller!

So, for over a year I’ve used this mattress and I have to say it’s excellent. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea for comfort (which is all subjective at the end of the day) but what I can say is it’s DEFINITELY WARM and DURABLE. I’ve slept on it on bare ground too and experienced no punctures.

No leaks. No tears (and a few filthy stains from dirt on it now I can’t seem to clean). Thanks to some coating it’s grippy, so no slipping and sliding about within a tent. This is a superb winter mattress and arguably due to it’s relatively small pack size and durability, one you can use ALL year round. I do! Aye it’s expensive. But cheaper than Exped’s downmats. There’s no doubt you can get your money’s worth back out of the X-Therm. Why buy their Trekker mats? Buy this instead! It’s warmer. And to think I bought this mattress out of desperation at the height of winter while out in the Cairngorms? I did think I’d be chucking money down the drain. Thankfully not.

My score? I’m feeling happy today. I’m off to the Lakes for a while tomorrow. Plus it’s never let me down. 10/10.

BERGHAUS BIO FLEX 95+10 RUCKSACK

berghaus bio flex rucksack
Camp on Esk Pike, Lake District.

Aye, I know! I can hear you all now, “What the hell? How big a pack?”. Yeah well I need one this big for much of the year. Takes my camping kit, food for a few days and of course all my video gear.

Berghaus kindly sent me this pack some months ago. I think it was last July. My old version of this pack had died after a good innings. So how’s this one done?

Sadly not very well at all. Very disappointing. After my first trip out, the fabric tore in places. One on the bloody lid which meant it would leak in heavy rain. Duck tape sorted that out but as time has gone by the BioFlex looks like it’s being held together by nothing but duck tape due to tears here there and everywhere.

It’s comfortable in use I’ll give it that much. More so than the original design from years back. But where Berghaus have chased weight savings, it’s compromised the durability on what should be a tough pack for heavy loads!

For example, one of the shoulder straps has recently snapped clean off. OK, I’ve hammered the pack since receiving it. But even so, the old one never let me down on that front. The straps now are just too lean and weak!!

The hip belt is OK, but a little too shallow. I can live with that.

But where the rucksack ultimately fails is on the shoulder straps as you hike (never mind the reference above). They’re too thin, too soft and consequently twist, fold and dig into your shoulders. It becomes painful within an hours walk. Quite simply they’re not stiff enough! I’ve persevered in recent months but now it’s on the scrap heap. For good.

I’m sad. The pack died miserably.

And to be honest I’m gutted. The pack has a lot going for it. It’s lighter overall than the original and there’s some fantastic attention to detail when it comes to it’s layout and purpose. It fits all my gear spot on.

For example, you can remove the lid and use it as a bumbag (handy for day hikes when basecamping). There’s a hipbelt pocket (just the one though. Bit odd there’s not two!). The side pockets are deep. Beginning from the top of the main bulk of the pack right down to it’s base. Mesh bottle pockets can be located on the sides and so on and on and on. On paper it ticks lots of boxes. More than smaller packs for backpacking.

I wanted to love this rucksack I really did. But it’s just not fit for purpose when it comes to what it’s designed for. ie, lugging about heavy loads outdoors. I’d feel rather ripped off spending well over £150 on this beast.

Shame. Does make me wonder what the other bags in the range would be like. Though I guess being smaller means they’re not taking the stressful loads a 100 litre pack would.

My score? Pah. I’m peed off. 1/10. If they could sort out the shoulder straps then it could’ve been 7/10 or more perhaps.



FORCE TEN ARGON 200

Force Ten F10 Argon 200 wild camping Lake District
Home in Great Langdale, Lake District last winter. The Argon 200 from Force Ten.

Well, well, well….Force Ten have done it again! Another top tent from the revamp they’re doing with their product range. I’ll admit I’ve done some commissioned work with them – pictures and videos – but that doesn’t mean I don’t say what I think when it comes to their kit. F10 know this only too well. I’ve constantly given them feedback on pre-production models and it’s been nice to see they have made changes too which I and others have recommended. For example their Nitro Lite 200 tunnel tent I rate very highly and I’m not the only one in the virtual world who thinks so. Next year’s model has a couple of tweaks. And the final production model of the Argon 200 has too.

Fair play to them. It’s great they listen to users suggestions. The above two tents I think are my favourite in their range to be honest. Well, they are now anyway.

The Argon 200 I’ve been using isn’t the final one you’ll see in the shops. And in truth the tweaks are minor. Even I may not notice (but would in given conditions and in time). Essentially though they’re almost identical anyway.

For me, this tent just edges the Terra Nova Voyager – a semi-geodesic backpacking classic with pedigree. And in time the Argon 200 could well be seen in the same light. I certainly do now.

May 2013 is when I got hold of this new tent. And it’s performed beyond my expectations. Not so much in general use but particularly during bad storms. The strongest and most consistent winds I’ve had this out in were in excess of 60mph. That’s some considerable ‘windage’ eh? And on one occasion the Argon was being battered from the wrong direction. Wrong as in side-front and not the rear (where it’s at it’s optimal strength).

F10 Argon 200 wild camping Lake District storm
This is tame in truth but woo hoo! It lived! Trying to decamp in a serious storm one morning on Hard Knott, Lake District.

The tent was within inches from my face as I tried to sleep inside. I was certain there would be some damage. Had to be. And there was. But no where near as horrendous as I anticipated. A couple of minor buckles in the poles at one side. Inevitable really. But it still stands today despite not replacing the poles. And the 15D siliconised nylon fly is all intact. No stretch marks or tears. Impressive.

The Yunan Ultralite poles for the Argon use hubs. Moving ones at that. I’ve only seen similar on a few tents. It makes for quick and easy pitching. But the design F10 have gone for adds about 20% extra strength – so they say. And I’d be inclined to agree.

Obviously in such wind speeds it would be wise to just not be out there in the first place. But on some trips filming my Scafells film – I be just caught out. The westerlies of the Scafells area can change in just a few hours despite the best of weather forecasts.

There is a knack to taking the poles down but it soon comes naturally. It does pitch inner first though but much of the inner is DWR treated nylon anyway and will keep all but the worst rain out while you fling over and attach the flysheet.

It does go up quickly. And once inside you’ll see how F10 have made use of that added strength due to the hub pole design.

Normally, a semi-geodesic tent is highest at the front by the porch yeah? Not so in the Argon. It’s easy 90cm+ by the porch but it’s higher still when you move further inside to the middle! Initially this feels well weird. It’s unusual of course for such a tent in this class. But it’s very welcome. You feel the extra volume. You can position yourself and get changed into other clothing easily and so on. It does give the impression at times you’re in a tunnel tent in fact. Check out the pics.

There’s an abundance of mesh storage pockets above and below near the front inner and the porch is deep and wide. Overall the space can genuinely accommodate two people. But I much prefer to have it all to myself!

And why not. The Argon 200 comes in on my scales at a very respectable 1810g! Admittedly not with the pegs. You’ll dispense with the titanium toothpicks and use your own – such is the nature of the game nowadays with ‘lightweight’ tents.

f10 argon 200 wild camping Scafell Pike lake district
The inner of the F10 Argon 200 at camp on Great Gable, Lake District.

The inner door zips back open wide. Almost a complete circle. Fab. And it has a part mesh option too for a bit of air movement if you need it. The main fly door has a two-way all encompassing zip. So you can only open it from one side, having to tie back the door opposite. This is no deal breaker, but it would’ve been nice if you could have the option to tie back either side of the main door. A vent above helps keep the odd stray bit of rain from coming in during inclement weather if cooking in the porch etc. Same goes for a rear vent too. Nothing has ever side driven through the rear airflow channel (which can’t be closed).

The all-in-one pole system does add to the bulk though. So it’s best to stash them elsewhere and stuff the tent solo in it’s sack.

The rear of the tent does mean it can act as a bit of a brick wall in high winds. Do be mindful of this. What I tend to do is double-guy the rear if I’m guessing a serious storm is coming in. Do that and you’ll be fine. Just means the rear won’t flex so much when the gusts come roaring into camp. Another tip concerns the buckles which you clip the flysheet and inner together. The thread can slip if wet and in strong winds. Grab a peg, slip it through a handle on the said thread, put in ground – job done. No more slipping.

Hmmmm, what else can I say? It’s just a very good semi-geodesic tent. Great weight, reasonable packed size, pitches rapidly and exceeds one’s expectations on space and strength.

I guess you get what you pay for on this product. I would recommend you go see it pitched in a store somewhere or at an exhibition. Don’t take my word for it about the tent. Go check it out for yourself. It’s done me proud.

All said and done, and this is me nit-picking now, overall I prefer the Nitro Lite 200. Just a personal preference. I just like tunnel tents. But as far as semi-geos go the Argon 200 is up there with the best. Top quality materials that will last some time with care and good craftsmanship too. Fully seam sealed as well I have to add.

My score? A SUPERB 9/10. In my opinion, a potential classic semi-geodesic in the making that’s not let me down after countless nights on and around the Scafells (and elsewhere of course).

ASOLO RETSON WP BOOTS

Asolo Retson GV boots lake district
The Retsons steaming off at camp.

Another pair of boots I’ve been yomping around in for several months. And very good they are too. The workmanship is top drawer. You can see the quality and thought that’s gone into designing these boots. And almost worth every penny.

Almost? Why ‘almost’? Well, it’s that damn Gore-Tex liner again. I find Gore in footwear to be hot and sweaty. My tootsies can’t breathe and so cook inside. Plus I’ve always found that Gore liners are the worst when it comes to wear, tear and ultimately failure. I know the same can be said of all waterproof liners but from my humble experience Gore are the worst.

The Retsons are a top quality, lightweight pair of mids. Great build, top materials, look cool, grip well, and cope with all terrains extremely well. I loved them in fact! But I’m out a helluva lot. Consequently the Gore liner died before the boots did. Too soon in my opinion. Which is a great shame.

These were some of the most comfortable and durable (ironic given the liner) boots I’ve ever used on the hills. They work great with flexible crampons too. Alas, eventually a leak sprung from somewhere in one boot, followed a few weeks later by another. And at this time I was around the Great Moss area of the Scafells for long periods. Soggy boots = unhappy Terry.

I can only imagine that I unwittingly let in a bit of grit or thorn or something that pierced the lining in the boot. On the outside there’s no discernable damage at all. I’m rather careful about such things.

Even so, the actual fit is great. I know everyone’s foot is different so do bear that in mind but I think I’ve found a brand here where they designed a shape that clicks with my feet. Like most companies they say they’ve researched and blah blah to get the best fit but we all know there is no standard foot out there. But I have to say, ignoring this they genuinely are comfortable and light to wear. So much so that I’d often only become aware I had mids on when crossing streams or plodding through bogs. They’re not much lighter than the Hi-Tec Pros I’ve talked about above. But they feel significantly less in weight. That’s my perception when marching about.

The insole is almost non-existent and that’s because the Retsons have been designed for the actual sole to take all the impact. And it works. For once I didn’t use my own in-sole. All round cushioning is good too.

Initially they did feel a little greasy. Again, I’ve no idea what compound of Vibram is used but as time went by they were fine. Very grippy. Not the best lugs in the world but serviceable.

I have to add that it was after several months use when I had to ditch the Retsons so they did last some distance by any standard. If the Gore liner had lasted I’ve no doubt I’d still be wearing them now. But…c’est la vie!

My score? An good 8/10. If the Gore lasted just a few months longer I’d go for a 9/10. So, if these fit you and you’re keen, you might get lucky. Note the sole on initial use. A worthy investment to consider.


RAB PULSE JACKET

Rab Pulse jacket in Patterdale.

Hmmmm, I’m afraid I didn’t really get on with this waterproof. Including a prototype of the latest version. Aye, it packs tiny and weighs about 215g size large but it’s not very breathable, durable or in truth that water repellant.

Initially I loved the Pulse jacket. It’s got a lot going for it but ultimately it’s one of those lightweight garments best left to those on mountain marathons or weekenders out on the hills. For mulit-day use in prolonged downpours it can wet out. Usually, you’re soaked with sweat before it wets out anyway.

But the Pertex Shield+ fabric does do an admirable job of dealing with the odd shower and spell of heavy rain. Just don’t rely on it for an all day hike up Kinder in driving winds when it’s chucking it down. Think summer showers.

The fit and cut is spot on though. It’s not too slim or tight. It works for beer bellied blokes like me! The hood works well but isn’t wired and there’s only one pocket. Durability for such a garment is ‘fair’. Don’t go tumbling into bushes, down scree or out on tight, confined scrambles.

For chucking in your pack and reaching out to keep at bay the odd summer shower this jacket is a good choice. Something to rely on long-term and for events like the TGO Challenge? I wouldn’t recommend it. But then it’s not designed for that. Ironically I much rather use Rab’s ace Vapour Rise kit. Aye, I will get wetted out eventually but at least I’d be warm – when compared to the Pulse jacket. Rab’s Vapour Rise range is really rather versatile.

My score? Sorry Rab. 6/10 from me. Ideal for some activities of course and masochists out there but not for the time I spend outdoors. I still take one out as backup sometimes though. Guess that says something.

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