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.
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;
the iPod for music and video on inclement nights and long train journeys;
Weather prognostication applications - Met Office, WindGuru and Fourth Day;
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.