Friday, 31 December 2010

2010: A Gear Odyssey - Six of the Best

odyssey |ˈɒdɪsi|noun ( pl. -seys)a long and eventful or adventurous journey figurative :his odyssey from military man to politician.

Despite the rather unappealing eponymous bon mot of a title, 2010 was indeed rather an odyssey for me in relation both to equipment and to my future outdoors. A complete reassessment of my lightweight philosophy into the realms of ultralightweight and the opportunity to redesign the kit I use completely. Some successes and some failures - I am ever open to experimentation. The most notable chagrin for me was the Vaude Power Lizard UL. It did not meet my expectations and some elements of the tent were both ill-conceived and poorly constructed. There are many positive facets to this very robust and light 1-2 man tent but it was simply not good enough for me. It does, however, occupy a hallowed place in the go-to list of my hillwalking companion. The Evernew DX system was another source of regret for me - it plainly does not function effectively enough in a UK hill environment for me. Some were not so much failures as incontrovertibly not what I was looking for - the Thermarest NeoAir is a singularly remarkable enigma. It is a genre-defining epiphany which is propitious but not quite perfect (or perhaps I need to assess my use of it). It is not a piece I will shelve or discard, but nor am I overly enamoured with it either.

However, there have been some rather spectacular coups too and here is my pithy, concise précis of what they are, why they flourished and the prognosis for 2011.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla rucksack
There can be no doubt that this should be the first of my six to grace this enumeration. It has been an intimate soulmate this year. On each hike or trek it has excelled itself in comfort and functional efficacy. It has, in and of itself, reduced my base weight by 400g (from the base weight when using my modified OMM Villain). It has also made my life easier with its cavernous mesh front pocket swallowing everything I need to have to hand, and everything that gets wet. The Y-shape top-loop is secure and easy to use. The SitLight pad prevents conductive heat loss when I sit on cold ground to eat and provides a stable base for my drybag pillow at night. It is genius.

iPhone 3GS
Is there nothing the iPhone cannot do? There have been myriad posts from various bloggers on the relative merits of applications for the iPhone but I find the following elements of particular use: 

the phone and SMS system;
Email and Safari internet browser;
the GPS, compass and Motion X application;
Google Maps;
the iPod for music and video on inclement nights and long train journeys;
Weather prognostication applications - Met Office, WindGuru and Fourth Day;
Hill Lists;
SAS Survival Guide and St Johns Ambulance First Aid;
Awesome Note; and
the Good Pub Guide.

At 134g, it must have the most serious efficacy-to-weight ratio of any piece of kit I own. Add another 41g for my Sennheiser CX-870 earphones and the package is one of sheer, invaluable proficiency.

Montane Bionic Short Sleeved Base Layer
This really thrived on the Tour du Mont Blanc. As a merino wool and polyester blend, I feel it marries the best of both. It is comfortable to wear, stretchy, dries quickly, does not reek after two or three days of constant, unstintingly arduous employment and breathes exceptionally. I have worn it alone in some utterly rotten weather, tugging on the Montane Lite Speed to close out the wind and first spots of rain. I have worn it as a base layer beneath the Montane Prism 2.0 when temperatures dipped and the cold began to bite, and I have laudered it in an ice-cold, frigid Alpine hut shower and set it to work again the next day. It feels resilient, lightweight and the cut is snugly athletic enough for me. It is the perfect 3-season base layer. I cannot fault it.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 tent
Setting aside testing for the sake of testing, I have been through four one-person, lightweight tents in the last four years. The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 is the last of those and, without prevarication, I take the view the best single person tent on the market for my purposes. It does not shock me that I like the layout of the shelter - the head and porch located in the same place, the angle of the door permits star-gazing, copious clearance above the head when lying down, and the shape of the groundsheet means equipment is not kept at the foot-end and all your gear is within easy reach in the darkness of night. It is ultralight - 970g - and that still bestows a good deal of space. It is solid in all manner of conditions - pitch the sharp, rear-end into the wind and you have aerodynamic perfection. Sure, it has a hydrostatic head of 1200mm and that means that extended use, both in the short-term and long-term, may call into question the waterproofing. The Laser Competition is better in this respect. So be it - I'll cross that bridge IF it ever presents itself and I am by no means convinced it ever will. This is not to say I shall not experiment with tarps, bivvy's and quilts next year, but when it comes to a single-man shelter for 3-4 season use (I think the Fly Creek UL1 could well creep into some of winter) - there can be no better choice for me.

Western Mountaineering Summerlite sleeping bag
A full-zip, water-resistant, high-quality down bag, rated down to 0 deg C and weighing 580g in its stuff sack? Those figures make impressive and compelling reading. The construction is peerless, the cut, shape and feel of the bag when snug inside are faultless for most people (there are other WM bags for the sturdier fellow) and it is an impeccable all-year bag for me. I say 'all-year' on the basis that, down to around the -10C mark, with a Sea to Summit Reactor and a down jacket, I am confident that the Summerlite will keep me safe and cosy.

Scarpa ZG-40 GTX boots
Each of the foregoing are new purchases this year. My Scarpa ZG-40 GTX boots are not. They are old friends, constant companions who never desert me and perform with uncomplicated consistency. My feet remain perpetually dry, blister free and the grip they permit me is nothing short of limpet-like. They are robust and indomitable - every stitch, eye, rand, loop and fabric remains perfect and functional. For boots of this quality they are also surprisingly lightweight. Of course, I could stray into the debate surrounding trail shoes and I almost certainly will in 2011 - I adore my Innov-8 Terroc 330's - but each and every time I encase my feet in the ZG-40 boots, I feel like Legolas in Tony Stark's Iron Man suit - every step is sure-footed poise.

Rather than a tawdry headline, I think this year has been a gear Odyssey for me - an adventure with failures and successes - but each failure has been infinitely more valuable to me than each success. Sadly, some of the most intriguing materiél will only be tested in January and February 2011 so will have to wait until this time next year - Páramo, perhaps most notably, but also Scarpa Manta boots adorned with Grivel G12 crampons spring to mind given the affection with which I pull on my ZG-40 boots. Also, the PHD Yukon and the Primus Express Spider are high-profile acquisitions and come with hefty reputations - they have the most to lose. A more recent purchase - a winter base layer and 3-season mid-layer which is almost certain to be trying to book a place in the Alps in August 2011 is my newly purchased Patagonia R1 Regulator Hoody. Another legendary piece, I expect great things. I look forward to 2011 as it is the next step in my outdoors development.

MYOG: Crampons and Ice-Axes are expensive? Not to some...

There is no doubting that outdoor kit is expensive. Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands and, short of robbing bank (which is apparently illegal - go figure) you'll need to engage in some MYOG jigger-pokery. I saw some modfications of interest to crampons, involving the impromtu installation of unlikely anti-balling plates and to a Black Diamond Raven Pro ice-axe in Dave Lintern's blog, Self-Powered, recently and loved it. I hope you do too.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

The Little Man's First Winter Wonderland Trail

Christmas is largely celebrated on the 24th across Scandinavia, and much of Western Europe, so the 25th is a quiet day of introspection, recovery and repose. To achieve our own state of tranquility, the Little Man and I took our first proper walk together in the forests north of Copenhagen, spending the festive season in Denmark as we are. With temperatures at -7C we both wrapped up warm, paying our respects to a diligent layering system, and set off into the profuse, abundant snow. The paths through the forest were well worn - skiers and walkers alike blazing a trail through the half-metre deep drifts of pure, white powder. We strolled slowly, cautiously, blissfully, devouring the enchanting domain encircling us and exalting in each other's company. The Little Man variously slept, gurgled and stared, revelling in (as babies do) the light around him - so easy for his eyes to pick out the dark, silhouetted arboreal spectres against the pearly-white background. We stooped to capture for Mrs M the beauty and majesty of the towering, spidery giants garbed in white and to sit and watch nature in its own serenity. I can think of no better way to celebrate Christmas than this, followed by a hearty lunch with family and a warming hot chocolate.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

2010 - Sunset Reflection on a Halfway Juxtaposition

As the sun sets on 2010, and I begin to reflect, I do not think I can recall a year which has been such a contrast of personal fortunes and experiences, the bifurcus of which can be observed through the auspices of an explicit and conspicuous inception which, in and of itself, had no discernible catalyst - a simultaneous fork in the road of each of my lives with neither explanation nor symmetry except that each divarication seemingly occurred in concert. Prior to June 2010, my professional life in disarray, marred by unconscionable stress and misery; my personal life somewhat without direction, with the exception of my indomitable guardian angel, Mrs. M, I was a maelstrom of conflicting emotion.

Yet, as the year grew older, and the summer began its ingress into the chill of the spring, several seemingly unconnected things changed all at once. My professional life re-invented with a new posting - not a complete reprieve from the rigours and stresses of the previous 18 months, but a new regime in place to make the management of that stress easier. My personal life grew fuller as we anticipated the impending arrival of the Little Man in a way possessed of greater understanding and a gradual edification. And of course, I began to realise a long-held ambition - I started a journal.

I have long loved writing and, upon discovering the blogs of Robin Evans and Martin Rye, it seemed a natural way to indulge my desire to chronicle for myself and my family my various experiences, and to write. Over the coming months, more and more people began to comment and follow or subscribe to my journal and I began to realise the other immutable joy of blogging - connection with like-minded people. On the whole, there are myriad modern-day philosophers with whom I have conversed at some length and with whom I hope to meet and walk hills. In relation to this, may I take the time to thank each and every person who has spent their precious time reading what I write and commenting on it. It would be a grave fallacy to suggest that writers and journalists do not appreciate those who take the time inject their own conceptions into their oeuvres - it is the greatest compliment.

My own understanding of the principles of lightweight and ultralightweight backpacking matured through the patronage of those very same bloggers who persuaded me to begin my journal in the first place. There are some many of them, I would not seek to detract from my enjoyment of them by naming some and potentially missing others. They know who they are - I comment on those blogs I enjoy - and I thank all of you warmly. If we meet in 2011, I should find that very agreeable indeed. The understanding and application of those UL principles permitted me a freedom of the outdoors, and a level of enjoyment, that was a progression of the deepest significance for me - a cathartic catalyst for a redefining of how I viewed my place in the world and, more importantly, how I viewed the path I would take over the coming years.

We are created, over the course of our lives, by our experiences and it seems to me it is only death - our passing on to another place - that ends that creation. We are never finished - we continue to learn and to develop and mature. Each an every experience adds to that creation and the latter half of 2010 was a far more positive contribution to that development than the first half. The Tour du Mont Blanc, largely as a consequence of the people I met and trekked with, but also as an introduction to Alpine walking, sparked in me a desire to add another dimension to my hillwalking and trekking. It stimulated an excited anticipation of a fresh genre which, in fact, was not at all new but had always been there.

And the latter half of 2010 brought to myself and Mrs M the most cataclysmic shift in our lives - our Little Man - which opened our eyes to what life could really mean. The most stressful, thrilling, lovely and beautiful gift is your own baby's smile. What more can I say?

My fondest and warmest wishes to each and every one of you for 2011. Thank you for reading.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Rab Infinity Jacket Initial Analysis

Rab have been producing superlative outdoor equipment for decades. However, in the last year someone appears to have slipped something into their macchiatos. With the Demand Pull-On, the Xenon Jacket, Exodus Jacket and the Infinity, to name but a few, they have stepped up their quality and design innovation to an utterly unprecedented level. Taking advantage of their long-term relationship with Pertex, and the introduction of the new Pertex Quantum fabric, GL, their clothing is now shrouded in one of the most effective symbioses of ultralight, windproofness, durability and water resistance. Detailed, comprehensive reviews of the Demand by Hendrik Morkel, the Infinity and Exodus by Terry and the Xenon by Joe Newton demonstrate Rab's commitment to producing supremely crafted kit. 

I recently considered purchasing either the Infinity or the Yukon and, on balance, the Yukon was my final choice. I have already penned my initial thoughts on the Yukon. My usual hillwalking and mountaineering companion opted, largely to test them in parallel, for the Infinity. We'll each of us use both of them and effect a direct comparison.

My initial impressions of the Infinity are hugely favourable. I have always been a devotee of Pertex in its various guises and Quantum GL sits comfortably within the range with its own unique functionality, just as do Microlight, Endurance and Equilibrium. It has a silky consistency and is extremely comfortable to wear. It has a judicious measure of water resistance which, for a winter jacket, is utterly essential. Clearly, no sane person will be relying on a down jacket in the rain but winter conditions in the UK entails unavoidable precipitation in some form. Conversely, the Drishell fabric of the Yukon feels more robust and less liable to degradation due to abrasion. Note what Pertex themselves say about Quantum: 

"We strongly believe that less weight shouldn’t mean ‘please be careful’. Pertex Quantum stands its ground and shows the best strength to weight ratio. Tear strength and seam strength are good for its weight and it can easily be used in shell jackets and withstands the abuse of hardcore use. The abrasion resistance however is not comparable with standard weight 44 decitex fabrics."

In reality, both will be deployed in situations where durability is less key than weight and warmth so the significance of this variance may be limited. When subjected to even a significant amount of water, beading and roll-off occurs without compunction. The Pertex Quantum GL fabric appears to be on both the shell and the interior of the Infinity.

 The Infinity, at a superb 458g for a large (Rab seem to be doing themselves a disservice saying 510g), and a 9g stuffsack, comes with a tiny interior pocket to store the stuffsack (and perhaps other small items), which is crafted in an ultralight nylon blend, and two waist pockets. They don't go all the way through like the Yukon & I must confess to preferring this format. It is a jacket rather than a Pull-On, but this difference is a matter of personal choice and convenience. It accounts for some of the disparity in weight, of course.

The Infinity is filled with 210g of 850 goose down - extremy high quality but not quite that of the Yukon, perhaps accounting for the purportedly greater operating temperature of the Yukon for less weight. The Yukon certain feels like it is blessed with more loft when the two are laid on a flat surface together.

 The cuffs on the Infinity are, like the Yukon, not adjustable. As I said in relation to the Yukon, I prefer this although it will not be to everyone's taste as some of the comments on my Initial Analysis indicated. Unlike the Yukon, however, they are tighter and encased in Pertex Quantum (the Yukon is simple lycra) - this notwithstanding, PHD assure me they will be assessing this consideration in the Yukon. The sleeve length on the size large Infinity is very good indeed - slightly longer than the Yukon and equally unlikely to cause riding-up when rooting around on your knees inside a tent or tarp.

The hood, less conical in appearance than the Yukon, and far more liable to attract members of the opposite sex, has a square, cubic character. Secured identically by a circumference of elastic, it is a warm, comfortable shroud of lofty down. There is also an area of fleecy beardguard around the front chin area. It does not extend all the way round like the Yukon. The waist is adjusted by two, one-handed cord-locks which are the norm in this sort of kit. They work smoothly and effectively as do the YKK zips with 'glove-grip' tabs, pleasingly embossed with the Rab logo.

It is completely reasonable, in my view, to compare the Yukon and the Infinity - they fall into the same weight category, occupy almost identical space when packed and cost a similar amount - accepting of course that the Yukon is around 25% more expensive but also purportedly warmer. So far, there is little to choose between them - one has advantages as does the other. Well - we'll see about warmth, the primary issue, in the Lake District in January...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Smartwool Hiking Medium Crew - or ARE they...?

My all time personal favourite sock for all year hillwalking is the Smartwool Hiking Medium Crew. A blend of 74% merino wool, 25% nylon and 1% elastane, they are the one-time winner of the Backpacker Editor's Choice award. TGO regulars, Chris Townsend and Cameron McNeish have applauded them and I adore them. They breathe well, feel extremely comfortable and keep my feet warm in even the coldest conditions. In winter, I add a Bridgedale Coolmax liner to the mix. Sad thing is, they cost between £12 and £13 each.

However this morning, in Costco, I saw these - Kirkland Signature Outdoor Trail Sock, Merino Wool Blend. 71% merino wool, 21% nylon, 7% polyester and 1% elastane, they are almost identical in manufacture, fit, shape and colour to the Smartwool Hiking Medium Crew. Put the two socks together and the only difference is the Smartwool moniker on the instep. They are identical in terms of cushion and thickness and have the same elastane arch brace the Smartwool sock does. Turn them inside out and the weave is identical as is the colour of the wool. Apart from the addition of polyester, which is unlikely to make them less breathable or dry any slower (my only qualm with the Smartwool sock), the only difference is the price: £8.79 for four. I've yet to wear them in anger, but they are certainly worth testing.

Scratching your chin? I didn't for long...

Update as of 18th December 2010 - I have been wearing the same pair of the Kirkland merino socks now for 5 days solid - walking to and from work (3km each way), during work, in and out of snow (in Innov-8 Terroc 330's) and in the house. Two things to report - they are still supremely comfortable and they do not smell at all. These are a true bargain.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Loneliness and Responsibility

I am alone. I lie here, listening to the whistling of the wind, hardly daring to move. Listening for the sound of the approaching storm I know is coming. I am alone and no one is here to save me when the inevitable maelstrom surrounds me and threatens to engulf me. I shove a forkful of last night's pasta in my mouth, mindful that my night could well be about to get much worse. Its bitter taste does nothing to sooth my concern. I shiver - is it the cold or the thought of my impending trauma? It could be either. Such responsibility on my young shoulders. It is the sternest test of my skills. I have thought long and hard about the gear I would need for tonight's examination and settled on the mainstream - no risks to be taken - lightweight is, tonight, not an option. I am all-in for belt-and-braces.

Tommee Tippee Sterilser - about a kilo
Tommee Tippee bottles and slow-release teats - 55g each - I have four, just enough to see me through the night
Tommee Tippee bottle warmer - essential kit - warm food in 5mins - better than any canister stove
Tommee Tippee Orthodotic pacifer - a last resort - 22g
Several muslins - breathable mouth cleaning, there can be no other choice
Moses Basket - Mamas and Papas - good down to -10C if it's in a warm room
Several babygrows by TU (Sainsbury's) and Mothercare - cotton, not Gore-Tex
Merino Wool (just kidding, normal wool) blanket - by ... Mrs M's knitting needles

Yes, the storm is coming and I am alone. For the first time I have no one next to me, and a small tornado lies currently dormant upstairs, ready to awaken at any moment. I know not, right now, if the kit I have chosen is up to the task...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

PHD Yukon Pullover Initial Analysis

This is nice. Everything about the Yukon suggests assiduous, careful hand-crafted to order workmanship. Not a stitch out of place. Each zip runs smoothly. Each press-stud locks firmly into its socket. The Drishell outer feels unexpectedly and gratifyingly durable for a UL fabric. The loft is serious and effective. Everything about the Yukon suggests a step up in standard. It is meant for severe winter weather and no mistakes have been made here. It sits at the top end of my insulation layer range, filling a severe cold lacuna that the Nano Puff and Prism 2.0 do not.

PHD suggest the theatre of operations for the Yukon Pullover is -15C but that some adventure racers use it at much lower temperatures. In the -4C chill of the snow covered Surrey Hills last night, -15C did not seem unrealistic. At 445g (470g in its stuffsack), the Yukon is definitively light for the warmth and protection it provides. By comparison, the Rab Infinity is billed as 510g, although some suggest it is lighter for the smaller sizes and more in keeping with the Yukon. With a box-wall construction (to eliminate 'lines of cold' found in stitched through construction) and filled with exceptional 900 fill power down, the Yukon ought to be warm and light. Manufactured with a Drishell exterior and an MX downproof inner, it ought to be protective. Drishell, a superlight windproof and water resistant ripstop nylon, seem tougher to the touch than the satiny Pertex Quantum on the Rab Infinity, for example, and is certainly very water resistant - in fact, as the most water resistant fabric in the PHD range, it is more water resistant that the Ultra which is in MX fabric and which Will Rietveld rated, in his BPL article of 2010 as still significantly water resistant for the weight. The main zip, also YKK, segues into an area of smooth, soft beardguard around the chin which is agreeably snug and comfortable, and runs all the way round the insulated collar.

The zips, high-quality YKK examples, have long cords with thick grips for gloved hands. The pockets are in fact a single pocket going all the way through across the stomach area with an area of down insulation on top of them. I am not as impressed by the MX inner being the only thing between your hands and your body - some insulation there would have been welcome. The fit, despite the enormous loft of the pullover, is snug. Like James Boulter, I opted for a large, after speaking to PHD direct - and very helpful they were too. For your assistance, I am a 39-40" chest, 21" arms, 33-34" waist and 20-21" torso. PHD suggested a large to ensure the pullover did not ride up when bending down and moving around in camp which makes very good practical sense. It is a nice length - unlike the Rab Infinity which I found to be too short on my back - the Yukon, instead, comes down a few inches further. I prefer this, but that is my personal choice.

The hood, attached by a series of press-studs, is also insulated and has an elasticated rim. It feels snug but not over-tight and very comfortable. The fact the hood is removable, rather than part of the jacket/pullover, as with the Rab Infinity, does not affect its performance - no wind sneaks in, uninvited. It does, however, increase the pullover's versatility. There may be few occasions when, if anticipating weather which caused the selection of the Yukon, you'd be using it without the hood, but at least there is the option. I like versatility. The cuffs are the same elasticated rim as the hood and, again, comfortable. They are not adjustable in any way, but I like that - why waste weight on a pointless feature? In an environment where the Yukon would be required, you'll want your cuffs tight against your wrists - adjustability is a pointless feature. I would prefer them to be a little tighter, in fact, and I'll contact PHD about that.

The hem is drawcord-adjustable through two cord-locks either side at the hips. They are easy to operate with a gloved hand and smooth-running. It comes with its own stuffsack which, although PHD suggest it does not pack down very tight, I found to be tight enough and the Yukon does in fact pack down quite small. Nevertheless, I will probably ditch the stuff sack and put it in one of my 13 litre drybags along with other stuff I'll need around camp. Down should be protected at all costs in severely cold weather.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Pacific Outdoor Equipment Peak Elite AC Initial Analysis

I recently received a pre-production sample of Pacific Outdoor Equipment's new 3-season sleeping pad, the Peak Elite AC - the replacement for the immensely popular Ether Elite 6. This arose out of a conversation I had with Aaron James, the Director of US Sales at POE, after he commented on my choice of winter pad - the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core (IAC). He clearly knows his stuff and it was an illuminating edification on sleeping pad technology. I'm grateful to him for taking the time. The Peak Elite AC will be generally available in January 2011. When I go to the Lake District in January, I'll test both mats, one each night, to give a true comparison. Phil Turner, in his excellent blog, has also filmed a rather fantastic video review.

Onto the Peak Elite AC. Immediately, in 'stretch limo' black, it looks sleek and impressive. It is well over 100g lighter than the Big Agnes IAC at 420g in its stuffsack (on my scales - advertised weight is 396g) for the 183cm version. Recall the IAC 152cm version weighed 540g. Like the catalyst for the Peak Elite AC, the Ether Elite 6, it is a mummy mat with precisely the same dimensions - it simply has RHR radiant heat reflecting aluminised coating within the entirety of the mat to increase warmth, as well as a proprietary synthetic insulation adhered to the top of the mat
rather than underneath as with the IAC; it is black for precisely the same reason - theoretically enhancing heat retention. Also like the Ether Elite, it is bio-mapped meaning the insulation is greater (R-rating 4.4) around the torso, with less insulation around the legs (R-rating 2.5).

Aaron tells me the Peak Elite AC is therefore warmer than the Ether Elite and will pack smaller than the BA IAC, but would caution it is not as durable nor insulates as effectively in the legs due to the bio-mapped insulation. It certainly packs more narrowly than the IAC but is in fact slightly longer. I've had the chance to take the Peak Elite AC in my hands and play around - I agree that it seems less robust than the IAC but not to the point where I would place it in the same category as the diaphanous Neo Air. It is certainly, on an initial analysis, tough enough for UL use constructed in 33D Diamond Ripstop nylon fabric. In contrast, the 20" IAC pads have 50D Diamond Ripstop nylon fabric. Aaron further told me "...our pads ritually are 10 to 20% warmer than comparable products in the market. You will see that sometimes our product might weigh slightly more when looking at a similar style, and this because we keep to strict rules when it comes to building a pad with more than adequate insulation for the environment it is meant to be used in." The Peak Elite AC is designed for 3-season camping rather than winter.

The fabric is finished in DWR which is a sensible touch - especially for a genuine 3-season mat. In terms of comfort, the Peak Elite AC feels very much like the Ether Elite 6 and users of that mat will be comfortably content with the Peak Elite - the 2.5" thick rounded tubes feel reasonably supportive - although I would say that I found the IAC more supportive. Its place in the POE range is as a warmer replacement for the Ether Elite 6 with virtually no weight gain. It is very well made, but the weight saving innovations are evident - alongside the slightly lighter fabric, the valve is not brass unlike the IAC, but in reality I don't know how much difference this will make - it is instead a "superlight", hard-anodised recycled composite - light as plastic but as durable as brass, say POE. It is surprisingly easier to inflate the Peak Elite than the IAC, despite the size disparity. POE suggest the Peak Elite to be warm enough down to -10C air temperature and 0C ground temperature, largely because of the lack of insulation on the legs. My own view is that with something else under the mat where legs are, it's range would be extended. I'm unlikely to be sleeping in my Páramo Aspira Salopettes so they are a prime candidate.

Aaron also makes a very interesting general point about winter mats - "we recommend that a pad must have an R-Value of at least 3 in the torso in order to qualify for 3 season camping, and an R-Value of 5, in the torso, for 4 season camping. You are pushing the limits of the product design, and [in using a mat with a 4.1 or 4.4 rating during winter] choosing to use a lower R-value than what we would recommend." It is symptomatic of UL trekking & hillwalking that we push the limits of product design and when reviewing products we must remember, and be fair to, their manufacturer's intended application.

I like the Peak Elite AC but the real test will be in January at 800m in the Lake District for 3 days when we can swap between the Peak Elite and the IAC.