Gear review policy
The primary purpose of this blog is not to test and review gear, or to derive income or free stuff by doing so. Occasionally, though, I am given or offered something to test or review, and I usually try to only accept things for review that I can find a use for.
The vast majority of gear that I talk about in my blog is gear that I’ve bought myself, and unless a review indicates otherwise you should assume that to be the case. If I’ve been given gear for review it will be very obvious at the top of the post. All my gear reviews are also categorised as “gear I’ve bought myself” or “gear given to me” and these can be found by following through down the Gear menu structure.
I’m not going to go into an analysis of every single piece of kit I’ve got, but there are some items in my gear cupboard that are consistently good (or bad for that matter), and which I mention in my blog entries. So the intention is to maintain living reviews for these key items of gear.
My gear philosophy
Like many people when I started hill walking, I largely kitted myself out from the High Street, with a few in situ purchases thrown in on top when on a trip. It’s taken me a few years to gain confidence in my gear, and to work out what I like and what works for me.
Of course the main evolution in my gear has been a move to lighter kit – particularly in terms of footwear. I wear trail shoes for all of my non-winter walks now, although on a long distance walk I am tending to use a mid-cut version more and more. Until I stumbled across them recently when preparing for a winter trip, I hadn’t seen my leather boots for nearly 3 years.
I think the biggest challenge has been finding the balance between comfort and “good enough”. I’m a confirmed soft shell wearer in all but the heaviest of dowpours, and I’ve almost completely givenup on waterproof over-trousers and gaitors – I simply wear a pair of North Face Apex soft shell pants in all conditions, unless it’s warm enough for shorts. Although having said that I’ve been wearing a pair of Paramo Cascada trousers this winter – although I don’t consider them really overtrousers as such since I wear them next the skin as my only legwear unless it’s really cold. I’ve found that my comfort and progress isn’t affected much by getting wet below the waist or even soaking wet feet, so I’ve stopped worrying about that as long as I have something to change into in the evening. The secret I have found is to keep moving – not necessarily fast though. until recently, I didn’t really do winter walking in the hills, because of where I live, but clearly if that picks up more then some tweaks are going to be needed.
Choosing gear has actually become much harder recently – I used to buy on impulse much more, but now I conduct extensive research first. This often leaves me with a shortlist of possibles where I am trying to decide between different combinations of functionality and weight. A good example was when I wanted to be able to charge my electrical gadgets in the field. In the end functionality won over weight and I bought the heavier Powertraveller Minigorilla instead of a Powermonkey and solar panel set-up. I still think I made the right call, for me at least, especially having also subsequently bought a Powermonkey Extreme which I can’t get on with at all.
Occasionally I see a piece of gear which is so good that not much analysis or comparison against other products is done first. The best example of this recently was Pacerpoles. These have actually brought significant predictability to my walks – simply through enabling me to maintain my pace, meaning I walk the distance planned in the time planned. They have also made me faster and enabled me to carry more weight. Or perhaps I should say that they have enabled me to fell less burdened by the weight I am already carrying.
As I first wrote this page in early 2012, I was on the cusp of beginning wild camping and undertaking a much more serious long distance walk later that year. I find that now I am starting to push my boundaries in terms of gear as a result. I upgraded my tent for a specialist item rather than one from a mainstream manufacturer, and I’m embracing finding and treating water as I go. I’d never have done this without the confidence gained through my move to softshell and lighter footwear and the discovery that it actually worked. I don’t think I’ll ever be a true ultralight freak though.
This isn’t meant to be a list of recommendations, it’s simply a list of what I use – because it suits me or in some cases because it’s what I’ve ended up with. Having said that there are a few items that stand out from the rest, so I’ve bolded them. Crossed out items have recently been retired:
Rucksacks: Golite Jam 2 (50L) | Gossamer Gear Mariposa | ULA Epic |
Lowe Alpine Khumbu 65:80 | Geigerrig 1200 | Berghaus Freeflow III 35+8
After years of use the Berghaus Freeflow III, a pack I found hugely comfortable and stable, started to play up, with zips getting stuck and breaking, although not before I let my son borrow it. But I was ready to move on anyway. My normal backpacking and hillwalking pack is now the Jam which I use for everything in the middle ground between short daywalks (Geigerrig) and multi-day expeditions (Epic or Khumbu). The Epic is an interesting item, comprising a waterproof dry bag attached to a carrying harness. With both 35L and 65L drybags (it comes with the 65L, you have to buy the 35L separately) it makes the pack work for a day walk or a longer backpacking trip. Expect to see this on any trip where the weather forecast is a bit manky. Having used the Epic exclusively as my multi-day backpack for the last year, I’ve started to develop some niggles so have recently invested in a Gossamer Gear Mariposa, largely on the strength of the pockets (especially the one sized to hold a Scarp) and the number of other backpackers that also have them.
Shelters: Tarptent Scarp 1 | Rab Ridge Raider Bivi | HiGear Soloista | Quechua T2 Ultralight Pro | Trekmates storm shelter
Quite possibly one of the best gear purchases I have ever made, the Scarp is a serious bit of kit and will stand up to conditions wilder than I actually would want to be out in. I’ve had some windy nights and woken under a thick covering of snow, but the tent’s taken it all. I run out of superlatives when describing this tent. Get one.
The Scarp replaced a much cheaper starter tent from Decathlon – the Quechua T2 Ultralight Pro. Apart from a lack of guying on the sides (which I’ve now mitigated by adding some), this is a perfectly good tent and is still going strong, although it only really comes out when my son joins me for the annual birthday camp.
Possibly the best value for money purchase I’ve made, the HiGear Soloista only cost me £20 because I timed it right. A superb shelter for the money and although seriously low is a lot less claustrophobic than the bivi, which I’ve been struggling to get on with. The Soloista is largely used for stealth wildcamps of one, or at a push two, nights.
Sleeping Bags: Cumulus Quantum 350 | Cumulus Prime 700 (winter) | Quechua S5 Ultralight | Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Bag Liner
Have been using the Cumulus Quantum bag year round, including in full winter, albeit with the liner, lots of warm clothing and blankets too, but have just invested in a warmer bag for winter – again going with a Cumulus because I like the Quantum so much and like the warmth/weight balance of the Prime. Most of the time the Cumulus Quantum is a good combination of warmth, weight and pack size for my needs. I only use the Quechua bag in really warm conditions, or when “camping” on someone’s floor in their house.
Sleepmats: Exped Synmat 9UL | Pacific Outdoor Ether Thermo 6 | Thermarest Trail Pro | Karrimor Karrimat Extreme | Beacon Products Tent Underlay
My POE mat seems to be on the way out, losing much more air overnight nowadays. It’s a crap insulator too, but paired with the Karrimat it’s fine. I’ve been experimenting with the tent underlay as a much lighter option than the Karrimat, and using it to double up as back support in a backpack. Recently bought the Exped as something warmer for winter use, and as the main replacement for the POE mat.
Stove: Caldera Cone | Trangia 27 | Gelert Backpacking stove
It’s meths all the way for me. I’ve loved Trangias since I first used one in the ’80s as a scout, so it was no surprise to anyone when I bought one as my first stove. Although, I’ve tried others, the Trangia is the one I keep coming back to. It’s stable, has never let me down and it’s the one piece of gear I own that I don’t care what it weighs. On a trip of any length, I’ll take the Trangia in preference to the Caldera Cone, although the Cone’s fine for 2-3 days before I then want to throw it down the hill. The backpacking stove is one of those £4.99 ones you find in the cheapo shops. It uses solid fuel tablets but I’ve also used it with the Trangia burner quite effectively. I used this on the Cumbria Way for the handful of nights that I used camping barns rather than hostels, as I wanted something small and light considering the relatively small amount of use it was going to get. Although the Trangia sounds like massive overkill to the UL-freaks, I do use it as a modular system and have recently just been using the burner in conjunction with a compact/light stand/windshield. In short, for each trip I take the bits of the above 3 stoves that I need. I’m currently using up my stock of meths with a view to switching to Fuel4.
Base Layers: Icebreaker Merino | Chocolate Fish Merino |
Berghaus Tech Tee | Quechua Winter Baselayer
In 2012 I converted pretty much fully to merino, and my Berghaus tops (my original base layers) are now used for slobbing about in. The Quechua winter base layer is really comfortable and reasonably warm and I regret not buying another as they don’t seem to do them any more. The Icebreaker merino 200 weight top I wear on all my multi-day walks now, and it doesn’t pong too much at the end. I also recently invested in some Chocolate Fish base layers and pants and they’re even better.
Trousers: North Face Apex Soft Shell Pants | Paramo Cascada | Quechua Lightweight Shorts | Skinz | Icebreaker merino leggings
If it’s hot (ie rarely) it’s shorts, if it’s winter I wear the Paramo (with or without leggings underneath) and for every other time it’s the North Face pants. Since I don’t mind wet legs, I wear them pretty much irrespective of conditions. However, both pocket zips have gone and there are hull breaches and loss of structural integrity in several places due to thorns and dog bites. So I will soon have to look at replacing them.
Jackets: Haglöfs Viper Soft Shell | Quechua Bionassay Soft Shell | Montane Atomic Stretch Hoody | Berghaus Furnace Down jacket | Uniqlo Down Parka | TNF Summit series soft shell | Berghaus waterproof jackets (can’t recall which ones) | Montane Atomic
I love soft shell and as a result normal goretex jackets become just dead weight in my pack most of the time. This winter I quite happily wore my TNF soft shell (admittedly a pretty heavyweight one) over just a thin (200 weight) merino top and a trek shirt and was quite warm enough. I find movement keeps me warm enough most of the time.
Footwear: Raichle Mountain Trek GTX | North Face Vindicator Mid |
Meindl Respond XCR | Saloman X Ultra GTX
I’m now a confirmed trail shoe wearer and have sent my Meindls (which I never really liked) to the great gear shop in the sky, giving me the opportunity to get the Salomans which seem comfortable, and which I wore on my 10 day Cambrian Way walk in 2013. Last winter I rediscovered my leather boots, in part because they will (just) take a crampon. However, these boots are lethal on mud.
Winter: Kahtoola Microspikes | Grivel G10 | Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe
All of which I’ve only started using the last couple of winters. Still getting used to the latter two, but already love the microspikes.
Electronics: Powermonkey Extreme & Minigorilla | Samsung Galaxy Note 3| Suunto Ambit 2 |
Geonaute Keymaze 500 GPS watch | Garmin Etrex | Olympus SZ30-MR | Skywatch Explorer 4 | Spot Connect
I chose the Note for mapping and blogging more than any other purpose and it was the right decision. The geonaute GPS watch was a bargain at £100 as it has bought accuracy to my mid-walk decisions, but needing a new watch for everyday use I merged all of my needs into the Suunto I now wear, and it’s even better than the Keymaze. I can judge my pace and progress really well now and most of the time I navigate using only map and altimeter. The Spot has enabled me to start using Social Hiking properly.
Hydration: Camelbak 3ltr bladder | Sawyer Squeeze Filter | Drinksafe Travel Tap | Platypus bottles
I tend to now only use the Camelbak on day walks or backpacks between bricks and mortar accommodation. Most of the time I source water as I go, using a 2L Platy to hold raw untreated water and carrying a 1L Platy bottle in case I need to carry a bit more treated water. The Travel Tap provides the conversion between the two. Or it did, until I got the Sawyer which takes less space.
I won’t go into a long eulogy about the Pacerpoles as they have their own post. Suffice to say I would use no other poles.