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 approach shoes for all of my 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 given up on waterproof over-trousers and gaitors completely – 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.
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 carrying.
As I 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| ULA Epic | Lowe Alpine Khumbu 65:80 | Geigerrig 1200 |
Berghaus Freeflow III 35+8
After years of use the Berghaus Freeflow III started to play up, 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).
Shelters: Tarptent Scarp 1 | Rab Ridge Raider Bivi | 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.
Sleeping Bags: Cumulus Quantum 350 | Quechua S5 Ultralight | Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Bag Liner
Currently using the Cumulus bag year round, including in full winter, albeit with the liner, lots of warm clothing and blankets too. Another good purchase, but if I look like doing much more winter camping then a winter bag is going to be needed. The rest of the time the Cumulus is a good combination of warmth, weight and pack size for my needs.
Sleepmat: Pacific Outdoor Ether Thermo 6
My POE mat seems to be on the way out.
Stove: Caldera Cone | Trangia 27 | Gelert Backpacking stove
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 through 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.
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.
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.
Jackets: Haglöfs Viper Soft Shell | Quechua Bionassay Soft Shell | Berghaus Furnace Down jacket | Uniqlo Down Parka | TNF Summit series soft shell
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 over just a thin (200 weight) merino top and a trek shirt and was quite warm enough.
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 just 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. This winter I rediscovered my leather boots, in part because they will (just) take a crampon.
Winter: Kahtoola Microspikes | Grivel G10 | Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe
All of which I’ve only started using this winter. Still getting used to the latter two, but already love the microspikes.
Electronics: Powermonkey Extreme & Minigorilla | Samsung Galaxy Note | 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 GPS watch was a bargain at £100 as it has bought accuracy to my mid-walk decisions. I can judge my pace and progress really well now and most of the time I navigate using only map and altimeter.
Hydration: Camelbak 3ltr bladder | Drinksafe Travel Tap
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.