Sunday, 15 August 2010

Tour du Mont Blanc - Pre-Departure Final Gear Analysis

Firstly, we'll be staying largely in Mountain refuges, in dortoirs, so I have obtained the 2010 list of refuges and other accommodation from the Tourist Office at Les Contamines. It can be found here


It's a very different prospect, packing for a two or three day hillwalk, camping high in the hills, than it is packing for a mountain walk in the Alps which will take 11 days but where the shelter overnight will be in form of mountain refuges. It requires a different type of analysis of kit priorities. A truism it is, of course, that no shelter or sleeping equipment is required. Conversely, more clothing is needed. Or, at least, those are the basic principles. Clearly, given the distances between refuges are measured in 10's of kilometres, injury might still mean an overnight wait for rescue. It is on that basis that we decided that we would accept the hopefully dead weight of an emergency shelter - the Power Lizard would hold us both and be robust enough to withstand most weather conditions. At 1050g between us, we could live with it. It is reviewed here and here. I'll be taking a silk sleeping bag liner for the dortoirs - an import from NZ. The Tilley and Power Lizard are missing from the photo below as they are being brought on Friday by my TMB partner. Didn't think I'd add in passport etc to the photo - you know what they look like!




To start with, then: the pack. The Gorilla and I have formed a bond, an emotional attachment that neither of us can deny. A lean, startled monkey, clinging recalcitrantly to my lumbar region, at 40 litres, it has space enough for everything I need. It was never going to be a contest. It has been reviewed here.

Boots or shoes? Agony, this. Serious mileage each day, with serious ascent, but on largely well-trodden trails. It seems tailor-made for Innov-8 Terroc 330's. Yet, I remain low on flying hours with trail-running shoes in the hills of the UK, let alone the Alps, an unknown and potentially treacherous terrain. Prudence dictates more time with the Terrocs on my feet and those feet on rocky, menacing ground - this is not the trek for them. Instead, my old Scarpa ZG-40 GTX boots will fit the bill. I am used to them, they are proven performers on longer trips, even sodden wet ones like Glaskogen in Sweden, and so I think they will suit me the best for now. They'll need cleaning and re-proofing before I go which I did last night with Nikwax cleaner and a Nikwax re-proofer. Three pairs of Smartwool Hiking Medium Crew socks will come with me - even the two pairs that still have a pleasingly barbecued odour from when I dried them next to a fire in Glaskogen. They do not dry particularly quickly, but they are by far the most comfortable sock I have ever worn and, with the Gore-Tex lining of my boot, they breathe very well indeed. 


An addition, unlikely to be repeated except in very cold weather, are Integral Designs Hot Socks - these are more about a lightweight option (140g for my size 12 feet) to be worn in the refuges themselves which would also have some use in later life - I can see them keeping my feet warm on cold, winter treks so they are not a one-off purchase. They are a Pertex microfibre shell outer, with 4oz Primaloft insulation. The heel panel is powerstretch, which is a good idea as they slide on and off easily, but remain a snug fit. The footpad is 500 denier, abrasion-resistant cordura which makes them ideal for huts, but a touch on the slippy side.




Also from Integral designs, for use when wearing shorts, are the Shortie eVent gaiters. I am not a wearer of gaiters usually - I have never found the need for them - but when wearing shorts, they may come in handy. They are short, lightweight (70g for the pair) and breathable so worth taking. Insteps are re-inforced, which is good for me, and the secure via a clip at the front, which attaches to the laces, and a shock cord to go underneath.



Clothing choices were not as tricky as I had surmised them to be. My agreement to test the Montane Prism 2.0 (reviewed here) meant the Patagonia Nano Puff (reviewed here) would go in my companion's pack as his insulating layer, as it did in the Carneddau recently. Three merino base layers, the snug and athletic Montane Bionic T-shirt, as well as two thin Lightweight Smartwool Tops - a crew neck long-sleeved T and a short-zip, high-necked long sleeved T could all be worn together, separately or in any combination to cater for a variety of conditions. These three, all lightweight, allow me excellent versatility. They form the fulcrum of my clothing selection as the Prism and the Montane Lite Speed combine with any one, or combination, of them to suit every condition feasible. So, with the Lite Speed and the Prism providing varying degrees of outer shell protection, these five items alone would be all I needed for mountain walking during the day and in the refuges at night. Clearly, the fact merino wool will not reek of old shoes after a few days is also a Good Thing. I have always found merino breathes well enough for me and dries quickly against my body. Even more so in the Bionic. I have been observing the weather for some months and proper rain protection is pivotal so the Haglöfs LIM Ozone jacket makes the cut. 




The LIM Ozone is a Gore-Tex Pro Shell jacket and weighs a reasonable 345g. I've been in terrible weather with it, both on Hadrian's Wall and in the Carneddau, and it has kept everything away from me and I could not fault it. It breathes well, even with the Prism under it, and it's a great shell jacket. It has few features - two pockets sufficient for the Ortlieb map case I normally take, as well as a hat/gloves or some food. I don't need more than that. The hood is supremely adjustable and the peak/visor works well. It's an slim fit, perfect for me, and as I said, has a number of adjustable features, the hem, the cuffs and the hood, but errs on the side of minimalism. I rather like the charcoal grey/luminous-yellow melange and it will perform admirably, I have no doubt. It also declares my love for Scandinavia... The Mountain Equipment Firefox is lighter (my chum will be taking his) but I not by much. 

Similarly, versatility is the watchword for trousers. Montane Terra shorts and Terra pants will meet the dry weather and Montane Venture pants will resolve the wet. The Venture pants are incredible - eVent breathability, legendary now, means I have yet to sweat wearing them, even in sunny, windy conditions. They are articulated at the knee to engender ease of movement and have high-tenacity nylon reinforcement on the backside and the knees. Even the eVent is bulletproof. This makes them far more than bottom of the pack, wet-weather gear. For that, they are worth their weight, literally. In the Carneddau, knowing there would be rain, I took them safe in the knowledge that in the muggy, misty conditions my legs would still breathe well enough on the steep, technical ascent to Pen yr Ole Wen as well as the long, sweeping paths up to Llewelyn, Foel Grach and Gwenllian. The Terra pants, unlikely to be worn very often during the day, will also fit the bill as refuge wear and back-up walking trousers combined. I've take one webbing belt to be alternated between the Terra pants and Terra shorts. I've added some Campwash from Nomad Adventures Stores which will wash me, my clothes and anything else I care to wash but is eco-friendly too. I plan to wash my kit halfway through.





Helly Hansen Lifa boxers (2 or 3 pairs) will complete my base layer collection apart from the Divide and Conker merino leggings I've been wearing for years. They're comfortable to sleep in, as a base layer and as camp-wear (the latter not being the sort of thing Mrs. M needs to know as they are not sexy). No cooking required so no Evernew DX system or MSR Titan Kettle on this trip. For washing, I'll be taking a basic washkit - toothbrush and toothpowder (secured from my dentist), campwash which will also wash clothes as well as me, and a S2S microfibre towel (40cm x 80cm), all of which will be in a small S2S drybag.


As usual, my miscellaneous items will include my Suunto Vector, a Swiss Army knife (the Ranger), a compass (despite there being compasses on the iPhone and the Vector, I like a proper compass as well - navigation cannot take a back seat, anywhere or anyhow which was proved to me in the Carneddau recently) and the item always first on my kit list - spare loo roll!


A word on the Suunto Vector - I have always liked this watch and found it to be rugged, robust and useful. It is completely waterproof yet the battery can be changed using a 10p piece. I've changed it once already, in 2 years of regular use, and it cost me something like £5. Apart from the usual digital watch functions, it is an extremely accurate compass that is re-calibrated periodically and very easily; an altimeter that is pretty accurate but not to be relied on to the metre, rather I have found it to be accurate to 15m; various trip log-books for altitude and so on; and a reasonably accurate barometer and temperature gauge. Note, however, that the temperature can only be accurately recorded when the watch is off your wrist as, otherwise, bodyheat is recorded rather than the ambient temperature. The face scratches easily when brand new, but that bothers me not one jot.




The sunlight could be fairly harsh reflected off the snow, so I'll also be taking Oakley Flak Jackets and contact lenses. I've already posted on my new best mate - the Tilley TH5 which was really good in the Carneddau keeping the rain off me well as the wetness beaded and rolled off. 


Clearly, passports, travel documents and the like will be required but much of the travel stuff will be on the iPhone  (and charger) which I'll be taking along with some black Sennheiser CX-300 earphones - the best noise-reducing/cancelling earphones I have ever used. Everyone knows how versatile the iPhone is, so I'll not waste your time with analysis of it - suffice to say it is with me all the time, every day, and I find it hugely useful. I will also have the Cicerone TMB Guide by Kev Reynolds which is small but weighty. It has all the details of the trek as well as the contact details for the various refuges so we can call ahead whilst on the trail.


My newest purchase, which I'll have to learn how to use whilst en route, will be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 camera and a Lowepro case to protect it (218g and 87g respectively). I want to take the next step in my photography by learning, as I started to some years ago, about light, exposure, shutter speed, ISO, aperture and all those other cool things in order to improve my photography. I can think of no better testing ground than the Alps.


Most of this kit I've been using for a while now, but some is really on test on this, my longest trek. I'm very, very excited.

12 comments:

  1. How good is that Gorilla pack? Do you need a foam pad to be comfy with it, or can you leave it out. On base layers I like merino but find it gets damp and dries slow. Those Montane ones whit their mix of materials look good. I have a lot of Montane kit and some Haglofs kit and cant fault it.

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  2. My view is that, so far, the Gorilla is very good indeed. The wide shoulder straps make it very comfortable, the hipbelt is also very comfortable and supportie (you can chose a different sized hipbelt to that of the torso size of the pack for a really good fit), the mesh pockets have small 210D patches at the bottom to the protect them, the front mesh pocket is very useful and there is a bladder pouch inside which I use. It's got enough space for me at 40-45litres and the 210D fabric is very robust indeed. You do need the pad at the back - the fabric underneath the pad would not withstand rough use against your back for long, in my view. The Sitlight pad is actually quite useful - it's fairly easily removed for sitting on during rest breaks, in cold weather this prevents convective heat loss. You could also use anything up to 8 sections of a Z-Lite in there, although that would be tight. The frame of the pack can be removed but I like it - it arcs the top of the pack towards your shoulders making for a more comfortable carry. It's a great pack.

    Montane are indeed very good and I have so much of their kit as you know. Always liked Haglöfs too. I agree - merino can often take a while to dry, but normally it dries quick enough against my skin. The Bionic is a great base layer as it mixes materials - it has much of the comfort of merino but dries like synthetic.

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  3. Kit list reads well some good choices have been made. You know what they say about the proof of the pudding though. Looking forwards to the analysis and write up. Have a good trip!

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  4. Thank Dave. I am looking forward to my second extended trip mountain walking. Should be a real test.

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  5. Hi Maz,

    Long-time listener, first time caller here...

    Please excuse the initial beginner questions, as I'm getting back into hillwalking after a long gap. I'm still catching up with the leaps in technology that most gear has taken since then, so it's been really interesting to read your gear debrief and reviews - keep 'em coming!

    One thing that seems missing from your kit list - either because it's automatically assumed to always in the pack for a trip like or goes against the ultra-light principles - is an emergency kit.

    I used to carry some essentials if the worse happened and I was separated from my tent (survival bag, matches, emergency food, whistle that sort of thing).

    Given that it's the Alps and unfamiliar territory, the Power Lizard seems a sensible addition for emergency shelter. Any other items you're taking if you can't get to a refuge overnight?

    Look forward to reading the report when you get back. Enjoy the trip!

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  6. I carry a first aid kit that I made myself. I'm a BRC registered first aider so I used the course advice to build my own kit - you can see it in a red Alpkit stuffsack on the picture. It contains a basic first aid kit, inc steristrips which I find very useful, as well as Compeed for blisters, ibuprofen, a lighter, contact lenses in case of broken glasses, antiseptic ointment & insect cream. I have a Petzl e+Lite which can signal too. Lizzie takes care of shelter so no survival bag needed. It's a hood point though - UL principles cannot, in my view, get in the way of safety.

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  7. My view is that, so far, the Gorilla is very good indeed. The wide shoulder straps make it very comfortable, the hipbelt is also very comfortable and supportie (you can chose a different sized hipbelt to that of the torso size of the pack for a really good fit), the mesh pockets have small 210D patches at the bottom to the protect them, the front mesh pocket is very useful and there is a bladder pouch inside which I use. It's got enough space for me at 40-45litres and the 210D fabric is very robust indeed. You do need the pad at the back - the fabric underneath the pad would not withstand rough use against your back for long, in my view. The Sitlight pad is actually quite useful - it's fairly easily removed for sitting on during rest breaks, in cold weather this prevents convective heat loss. You could also use anything up to 8 sections of a Z-Lite in there, although that would be tight. The frame of the pack can be removed but I like it - it arcs the top of the pack towards your shoulders making for a more comfortable carry. It's a great pack.

    Montane are indeed very good and I have so much of their kit as you know. Always liked Haglöfs too. I agree - merino can often take a while to dry, but normally it dries quick enough against my skin. The Bionic is a great base layer as it mixes materials - it has much of the comfort of merino but dries like synthetic.

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  8. Maz, coming back to this becuase I remebered your ff the cuff comment re the ME firefox. Did you develop an opinion on it? How does the cut compare to the LIM Ozone? I've sold m Hoglofs Oz i frustation and now find I need to replace it in a hurry. It's looking like the Rab demand, OMM Cypher or the firefox. Thoughts?

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  9. I found the Firefox to be much looser in the waist than the LIM Ozone and consequently, whilst it was lighter, I did not like it. I have no experience of the Demand but you'll know that Hendrik Morkel was impressed by it. My brother in law and I both love our OMM Cypher smocks - personally, if you don't need a full-length zip, I'd commend the Cypher to you.

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  10. Having used the Demand top on the Cumbria Way and now the 2011 TGO Challenge every day in the rain I can say I love it.  Stunning top and performance.  Hood is fine.  I would like a bit more peak depth but it still works fine.  Apart from that it's perfect Dave.  

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  11. Thanks gents, useful feedback. I dumped the Oz in the end because appart from being paclite I found the fit too tight. My L did,'t realy let me get any lofted insulation underneath on cold evenings. Consequently I find myself looking for a slightly roomier fit. From your comment Maz is sounds like the firefox fits the bill? Find myself missing velcro cuffs and I see teh firefox has those to. How is the cut of the demand?  I expect the Cypher will be a rather athletic cut given its pedigree? Should I be thinking about sizing up? (as ever can't try either before buying here in NL :-(  )

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  12. If you want a slightly roomier fit, then definitely a size up for the Cypher - it is very much an athletic cut. I'm a 34 waist, 38-39 chest, 6' and 78-80kg - large is perfect, athletic cut for me. As for the Firefox, it is roomier around the belly area and less athletic than the LIM Ozone (and therefore I suspect the Oz). Everything I have read on the Demand supports what Martin says about it.

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