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.


  1. I doubt you will be disappointed with your Express Spider, just watch out for pot slippage (operator error in my case), nearly lost my morning coffee on the last trip a potential disaster.

  2. Boots are bad, NeoAir is nearly bad and the Spider is good. Now the Gorilla is a saint. Happy new year.

  3. Nice list and it sounds like 2011 will be exciting to watch! I've been on the hunt for the R1 in the UK, where did you get yours?

  4. The comment about the iPhone is just spot on. The usefulness of such a device specially with it's numerous applications just cannot be understated.

    The GPS is a lifesaver and apps like the "SAS Survival Guide" ( bring survival techniques right in the palm of your hand. It's my favourite app on the iPhone and can't recommend it enough to all hikers & travellers out there.

  5. Roger: thanks - I will. As its primary purpose is when the weather is too bad to be outside in, so I will be cooking in the porch of the Akto, care will be taken!

    Martin: boots good, Terroc's probably better, NeoAir good idea but needs improvement, Gorilla definitely to be canonised. Happy New Year to you to, sir and good luck with the TGO! Hope to meet on a hill very soon.

    David: looking forward to 2011, yes! I got my R1 from High Sports online (next day special delivery, free) and Mountain Intelligence do it too. Currently it is at the sorting office waiting for me to pick it up when I get back to the UK.

    Anon: I've had Lofty's books as well as the iPhone App so knew what I was getting. Has not been used et, but certainly pleasant in your tent, when the rain is pounding, to peruse.

  6. Hi Maz,
    Happy New Year.
    Fraid i'm with Martin, Boots bad, Neo-air not for me although i have one and i can't afford to change it yet.
    Would like a Gorilla but again i cannot justify ditching my Villain.
    The Primus may be the next on my list to get after Rogers report in -15.
    And i really fancy the R1 hoody as well as the HH warm baselayer. I think those 2 items would suffice most temps.
    Tent wise i fancy the Moment. I am considering a new 1 man for spring.
    Cost plays a big part so the Akto is out of my league. There are some good deals on the BA 1 and i know you like it so it's worth a look.

    We have enjoyed your blog this year. Keep up the good work.

  7. Alan: I have a Seedhouse not being used. Bit heavy at 1.25kg but very much like the Fly Creek (a little bigger at the back). Fancy borrowing it for a while?

  8. Wow, thanks for the offer Maz, very generous. Its not easy to decline an offer like that but i want to go under a kilo for solo trips. Hope you don't mind and are not offended.

    As you may remember we got the Scarp 2 earlier in the year so that covers our dual backpacking needs for the next couple of years.

  9. Alan: not at all offended of course! I'd loan you the Fly Creek but I'll probably need it myself - maybe if you want it during February you can use it as I'll be in the Cairngorms on a mountaineering course. Let me know - my email is 34winchester at googlemail dot com

  10. Maz, Thanks very much. If i can plan a solo for Feb i may be in touch.
    I never got chance to do a mountaineering course in Scotland so i am envious. I would have loved it.
    I did a course at Plas y Brenin and a couple of courses in Eskdale and Mungrisdale but Scotland would have been the one. I also did a mountain instructors course but never got the certificate and badge because i didn't complete the final first aid course. No, i don't have the inclination now to complete it.
    Good luck on the course, i'm sure you will find the challenge tremendous and rewarding.

  11. I do like the look of the Gorilla pack, would it be big enough for the TGO challenge? What sort of weight could it comfortably carry?

    Happy New Year!

  12. I used a Gorilla for 11 days on the TMB but did not have a sleeping mat or bag to carry in it. I did carry a tent (the Power Lizard) as an emergency precaution in case either of us were injured. I had a lot of space left. I think it'll comfortably carry 9-10kg before it gets a little funny but that may be me being pessimistic. I know BPL take the view it'll comfortably carry more. It's a genuinely superb pack.

    Happy New Year to you too!

  13. I just wanted to let you know that I have linked your blog up on Extreme Adventure News on my 'Adventure Links' page. You can find it by clicking my comment name.

    I really like your gear reviews and look forward to following some of your adventures.

    Jason A. Hendricks
    Extreme Adventure

  14. Saint Gorilla. Amen brother!

    NeoAir. Was revolutionary, good but flawed. Now lagging behind. What they come up with in response to the new leaders will be interesting to see.

    Dear Montane, can we have a hooded Bionic baselayer please?

  15. Joe - just got back from some wintry action in the Lake District and the Gorilla managed to take not only all the kit I wanted to take but I could stow ice axe and crampons as well without destroying it - that said, I still prefer the Villain for winter (but my brother in law had it). As for the hooded Bionic - I used the Regulator R1 (I know you have one) and it was superb. Not the same as the Bionic - much thicker - but more versatile, especially in winter, and the weirdest thing was that even when the outside was cold and wet, the inside was drier and much warmer. Putting a wet R1 on in the morning was not as deeply distressing as I thought it would be and I was warm enough when moving. Post on that 3 days coming up.

  16. Maz, I have been unable for a number of reasons to concentrate on walking and blogging recently. So I am catching up with all the blogs. A good gear list you have here. I will respond to your recent e mail as soon as poss.