Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Black Mountain: Gear Debrief

After a post about the comfort of finally settling on kit which fulfils its purpose without trouble or fuss, this was an overnighter for testing some newer items as well as relying on old friends. My clothing set up was almost entirely new - Golite Tumalo pants, Rab Vapour-Rise Hooded Pull-On, OMM Cypher Smock, X-Socks Sky Run socks and La Sportiva Raptors. The only recidivist was my X-Bionics Trekking boxers.

As it turned out, there could have been no better test on a short hop overnighter than the Black Mountain on 22nd and 23rd June this week. Winds up to 40mph, rain, sun coupled with wet, boggy ground and river crossings at differing volumes before and after the copious rainfall all made for a useful testing ground for kit.

In terms of cooking and stove system, my views on my new Trail Designs Ti-Tri Inferno Sidewinder are to be found here. That's a keeper.

Golitle Tumalo Storm Pants
I used these as general purpose walking pants as well as a waterproof shell layer. I walked in them for 7 hours on tuesday and 2 hours on wednesday in different conditions. On the ascent up to Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog, there was both wind and sun. In the wind, they managed to shrug off a fair percentage of the chill, biting gale but they themselves felt cool against my legs and I could feel I was losing a fair amount of heat that way. In the sun and during the hard work of the ascent, they breathed well but felt a little clammy on occasion. Where they excelled was in the wet. In the rain, they kept my legs protected (I cannot say dry for reasons which will be come clear). When we forded rivers, especially on wednesday morning when all were engorged and the volumes much greater than the day before, I often went in up to my knees. The Tumalos dried within moments and kept a great deal of water away from my X-Bionics socks and consequently kept my feet more comfortable. As I will go on to explain, at no stage were my feet ever really 'dry' throughout the trip but they were comfortable. The Tumalos had a lot to do with that. They are comfortable to wear but difficult to adjust in gloves as the waist is so loose. It's a minor point and not one that would put me off them. I liked them.

Rab Vapour-Rise Hooded Pull-On
I wore the Vapour-Rise with nothing else for the ascent and for the first few kilometres on Fan Hir. It vented well, and breathed well but was certainly warm. It kept out the wind for much of the time and kept me warm but when we got to the upper part of Fan Hir, at around 600m, the temperatures sat around 8-9C and the wind was murderous. The Rab failed to keep enough of it out to obviate the need for a shell layer. I was forced to don the OMM Cypher as a shell layer to protect against the wind. That said, that was all I was wearing and it felt very pleasant.  At 540g, the V-R weighs the same as a base layer and a hooded micro fleece and, in a sense, that is what it is but with a very wind and water resistant layer in addition. I liked the versatility of this single garment - it operates in a multitude of arenas very effectively.

OMM Cypher Smock
I loved it. I used it as a shell layer for the wind and the rain. It was excellent. I loved the cut, the range movement and the articulation. It was easy to get on and off, and to vent. The thumbloops were great and I prefer them to adjustable cuffs any day. I even used the Napoleon pocket to store my compass (shock, horror). The hood worked well and is easily adjustable. I usually had it and the hood of the V-R in unison and this partnership worked efficiently being easy to deploy and take down together without any difficulty at all. The three layer eVent breathes well and kept the rain at bay. It's a great shell layer and performed exactly as expected.

La Sportiva Raptor Trail Runners
It's a real change to move from waterproof, lined boots to unlined trail runners. In short, you get used to walking in wet feet - it's that simple. To be honest, given the rivers we had to ford, I'd have been far worse off in boots (don't get me started on changing to sandals or similar). Walking with wet feet is scarcely a hardship. After a few moments, the water reaches the temperature of your body and most of it has drained away. Damp socks which dry quickly may well stay damp but warm up to your body's temperature and that feels comfortable enough. Whether they dry overnight is another matter and not one I am able to comment on for reasons I'll deal with when I look at the X-Socks. The Raptors were light, supremely comfortable and offered endless grip. It's hard to compare them to other trial runners as I have little in the way of a frame of reference apart from the odd hike in Terroc 330 trail runners. The Raptors are far superior than those. Compare them to boots? That's a whole different proposition and one you have to be ready for personally.

X-Socks Sky Run
James Boulter recently reviewed the X-Socks Trekking Expedition Short. Andy Howell recommended, by way of comment on that post, the X-Socks Trekking Light. I could find neither in time for this overnighter so I got a pair of Sky Run socks from my local running store, reasoning that they would fulfil some sort of role being a marathon-level, breathable trail running sock. The material composition is as follows, utilising that famous Skin Nodor fabric which makes the X-Bionics Trekking boxer so effective but adding far more Mythlan to wick moisture away from the feet:

31% Skin Nodor®
23% Mythlan™
18% Nylon
14% Silver Nodor®
11% Elastane
3% Robur™ 

Neither the Trekking Expedition nor the Trekking Light use Skin Nodor, the Expedition adding Merino Wool to the mix and the Light adding AirGoTex instead. I doubt any of this will make any real difference except to professionals and heavy users but the Sky Run was very comfortable and my feet were reasonably "dry" after a few minutes walk after a bit of a dunk. Certainly, there was an appreciable difference when I used the Smartwool Medium Hiking Crew - a much thicker sock - the next day. I cannot say it dried overnight as the rain-created lake I found myself sleeping in ruined that test (I had draped them over my shoes to see how dry they got without human body heat) - hence my turning to the Smartwools for the walk out. The Sky Run is quite low as it is a runner's sock and I would have preferred a higher crew but in reality that's just more to get wet so really, I was not disappointed. We'll see how they develop but I'll get some Trekking Expedition and Trekking Light to try those as well.

Other Notes
I should say that this night in the Fly Creek was interesting in the light of my post on Hydrostatic Head. Although it sat, with my weight and the weight of my sleeping system and clothing, for several hours, in a pool of water, depth measured in inches, none of that seeped through the groundsheet. Given the Fly Creek is "only" 1200mm hydrostatic head, you might have expected some wetting out or penetration but there was nothing. In fact, the only water ingress was due to me getting dressed and the water coming in over the top of the bathtub in the porch area, by which time I did not much care as we were packing up anyway. It's well known that I am a fan of the Fly Creek UL1 and this really reinforces what a great tent it is for less than 1kg. I still have yet to meet a situation where I needed a footprint.

The other notable was the Neo Air - although I am seduced by its weight, I do not find it comfortable and Lord knows I have tried. I am on the lookout for something more comfortable and the Peak Elite AC may well have to be it. It's 160g heavier and takes up more space in my pack but it's full length and warmer. In all but a balmy summer night, that makes a real difference.

The X-Bionics Trekking Boxers are terrifically expensive at around £40 a pair. I've reviewed them elsewhere. Whilst the cost is high, they are excellent and I have yet to find a more comfortable bottom base layer. They do not shift at all when walking; the above-the-knee cut means a more comfortable crotch area with no chafing and they were dry at the conclusion of each day. I wore them solidly for two days, even coming home on the train carrying two kit bags full of two people's kit and they were bone dry without offensive odour. The waist area was always comfortable, snug without being too tight and the whole boxer sufficiently form-fitting to be athletic and supportive.

Fuizion Food continues to be the best freeze-dried food on the market. At 850+ calories for the Beef and Ale Stew, 110g of weight and only 310ml of water to rehydrate, they cannot be beaten on weight, energy, efficiency of rehydration and taste. The only flaw is the bag which cools down far too quickly and, after the requisite 10-12 minute wait for the food to rehydrate, it could be warmer. I could get a bag cosy, I know, but can I be bothered...?

Every time I use the Gossamer Gear Gorilla it feels superb. This trip was no exception. Having a pack that suits your needs all of the time without fail is perhaps the single greatest coup in any kit list and the Gorilla is a masterpiece. Add to that the fact that Lee found the name hilarious (sending me email after email ridiculing it - for example, "We can always cuddle the gorilla to keep warm"), his last to me was perhaps the best: "You know what we needed to carry us over the raging torrent? A gorilla." Perhaps you had to be there...

All in all, more questions answered and even closer to a fluid, yet clear and concise kit list for all occasions. That, let me tell you, feels bloody good.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Moelwyns and Cnicht 2010 - Draft Rewritten

When I first started this blog, I drafted reviews of the Vaude Power Lizard UL and it's first trip to the Moelwyns. It was also the first trip to Snowdonia and hillwalking wild camping for the friend I spend most of my time in the hills with. Although we had done the Hadrian's Wall Path the year before, there is not much in way of hillwalking to be done on that path and this trip was something special. It was such a salutary trip that when I looked at the post this morning, I was somewhat disappointed - early work, I guess, marred by a keenness to get something 'on paper'. I have re-written it and added some more images to demonstrate what a sublime inaugural high-level wild camp it was for him and what an awe-inspring mountain Cnicht is. I hope you like it.

Moelwyns and Cnicht 2010.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Black Mountain: Raging Torrents in the Darkness

My first ever wild camp was in the Brecon Beacons. Consequently, there was a karmic character to my return as I had brought with me a close friend for whom it would also be a first wild camp. Whereas mine took place in the eastern end of the national park, this time I chose the Mynydd Du - the Black Mountain - in the west. Starting from Glyntawe, we would ascend Fan Hir, and trawl the escarpment peaks of Fan Brycheiniog, Fan Foel, Bannau Sir Gaer and Waun Lefrith before traversing the access land to Carreg Yr Ogof and then south east  to our wild camp spot next to Afon Giedd. I had eyed the weather forecasts throughout the week with the nervous eye of one who is to be responsible for the well being of a friend - the last thing I wanted was miserable, nay dangerous, weather. I was to be left somewhat in limbo by the prognostications of the Met Office. We parked at Dan yr Ogof campsite and made our way to our ingress point at the Tafarn-y-Garreg pub. Clouds loomed a deep, charcoal grey across the sky with momentary breaks through which the sun peeked nervously. At 400m, en route up to the Fan Hir escarpment, there was little in the way of wind but when we reached the area just beyond the 463m Allt Fach, the maelstrom began. 

We pushed on, labouring against the steep ascent and the brute force of the squall, and revelling in the mercilessly brief moments of the sun's warming caress. Eventually, we reached the Fan Hir escarpment and began a more sedate ascent, with the corollary that the wind grew ever stronger. Unlike the rugged, gnarly majesty of Snowdonia and the Lakelands Fells, the Brecon Beacons has more rolling, undulating tranquil smoothness to it - dangerous, because when the fog descends, navigation turns from essential skill to art form. The views of rest of the Beacons National Park, including Pen y Fan and Cribyn in the far eastern distance are still spellbinding. Framed by a dark, portentous mantle, they were ever more so.

The peak of Fan Brycheiniog at 802m is a relatively straightforward Trail 100 to bag, but that does not diminish its rightful place within that list - views along the entire escarpment develop, like ageing a fine wine, getting better as Fan Brycheiniog is left behind and the windswept austerity of Twr y Fan Foel and Fan Foel begin. These latter brothers gift staggering vistas of the Llanddeusant valley, the hills of Mynydd y Lan and the Glasfynydd Forest. Here we rested, sheltered by the cairn, eating and drinking our fill before moving onto Bannau Sir Gaer. The wind dropped, its influence shunted unceremoniously aside by the leeward contours of Nentydd Blaen-Twrch, and the sun took its chance.

Bannau Sir Gaer and Picws Du turn this circuit on its head and bestow a completely transformed vista. A steep ascent to the top of the peak and suddenly, at 749m, Llyn y Fan Fach and the sheer face of the Glastir y Picws dominate the landscape. It is a shock, even a knowing one, to see the Llyn at base of this enormous scar. Bathing the face in the early evening light, the sun itself peeked from behind the clouds, eager too to gaze upon this awesome sight. We circled pools left by the rain and delighted in each moment the sun joined us. From time to time, we would gaze back along the escarpment in awe.

Onwards we strode, invigorated by this wondrous spectacle, until we reached Waun Lefrith and the real challenge to my navigation. We would traverse the access land, pick up the bridleway amid the tussocky grass and undulating landscape and, after a quick ascent of Carreg yr Ogof, head south east to our wild camp spot by Afod Giedd. The ominous portent from dark, foreboding clouds to the south, driven towards us by the south westerly wind, instilled in me no small disquiet. I was not impressed by the prospect of hill fog making navigation more challenging that it needed to be.

As we picked up the bridleway and headed south-east, the ground became ever more boggy but the rivers were tame and uncomplicated to ford. Neat waterfalls, ensconced in depressions in the earth, fairly dawdled into the various rivers in the valley. It was all rather pleasant and inoffensive. If only we knew. The wind had abated little as we descended the valley and I was keen to find a sheltered spot by Afon Giedd. We found a small hollow, about 20m from the river in the lee of enough shelter to make the camp a good one. We selected spots and pitched. The pegs went in easy and perhaps that should have alerted me - the ground felt soft underfoot but not unduly so, nor was it moist. It seemed like a good camp. We set about getting the Sidewinder going and preparing hot chocolate and our Fuizion evening meals. All was well. The hill fog I had been concerned about now shrouded Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog but we had done what we came for and paid it no mind. We retired to bed just scant moments before the rain came and light began to fade. We slept well until around 3.00am the next morning...

I awoke to a strange sensation beneath me, admittedly dulled by the Neo Air. The floor of the Fly Creek seemed alive when I moved. I pushed at the ground and it gave way beneath me, billowing as if air were trapped beneath it. As I reached for my XP2 to, literally, shed light on the problem, I knew deep-down we were in some trouble. The porch was beset by a literal pool of water nearly 4 or 5 inches deep and the same had insinuated itself beneath the Fly Creek, running the entire length of the tent. The rain, assaulting the fly in great sheets of percussive fury, was the final clue I needed. I shouted to my friend and started to get dressed - we would have to break camp as any moment the bathtub of my groundsheet could by breached and I'd have more than the condensation of a Yewbarrow winter wild camp to dampen my down sleeping bag. The rain abated momentarily as I exited the Fly Creek, and slowed to a light drizzle. We packed our sodden tents, as well as the rest of our kit, and made off. As we reached Afon Giedd, knowing we'd have to ford what had been a relatively sedate brook, we stared simultaneously horrified and oddly enervated. The pleasant rivulet of yesterday had been engorged by the rainfall and was now a raging torrent two or three times as wide. There would be no easy way to cross. I strode up and down searching for a ford of some sort but, after a while, I knew there was nothing for it and did a Phil Turner. Hell, I was wearing trail running shoes and had been putting up with wet feet all day yesterday anyway so who gave a damn, eh? I went up up to my knees and picked a path across, wary of the water's strength. My companion did the same.

Light began to dawn, and we moved with purpose. Fog surrounded us, veiling our path in a misty obfuscation. We took a bearing, heading south-east, and made our move. As the light grew steadily better, we could see just how sodden the valley had become. Fog permeated everything, scattering a damp, silky sheen across the earth. We were tired but new we'd end up much earlier back to our car and, consequently, tea and bacon sandwiches - in such situations, small luxuries keep you going.

Yet the fog created some mysterious lighting effects and from time to time, we would stop and gaze in spellbound rapture. We were conscious that the weather might change and make navigation even worse, so we moved quickly and mostly without pause, but the infrequent hiatus was worth it. Two more rivers to ford, deep raging cascades of fast-moving water which put my friend up to his waist at one point, requiring me to pull him up from the other side. We cared little and ploughed on.

Eventually, we made it back to Dan yr Ogof and after a short drive, found ourselves a place to eat bacon sandwiches and slurp hot tea. It was an odd volte face from our expectations but nothing is ever a bad experience if you want to view it positively. In the end, I quite enjoyed the challenge...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Settling and Nostalgia

I enjoy testing new kit. Over the last few years, I have had access to sundry tents, sleeping bags, rucksacks, stovesets, cookware and clothing from a wide variety of manufacturers and there is no denying the (vaguely geeky) fun to be gained from comparing the relative merits of each against the others. I have been fortunate that a number of manufacturers have sent me odd bits of kit to test and I have been able to develop, between myself and my hillwalking and mountaineering partner, a library of kit that we can use at a moment's notice and also loan to others who join us.

Yet there is a certain security and satisfaction to be found in settling on a system. Whether it be my faintly anal, "on the spectrum" sensibilities that require the comfort of certainty or whether I simply don't have the time to sit and plan every eventuality so a last minute dash to the car does not engender hours of thought on what to take and why, I know not. Lately, I have come to realise there are staples in my kit selection diet that, over the years, have been placed in a cupboard whilst other, newer arrivals took centre stage, only to quietly sneak back into my rucksack with the self-confident ease of an old friend. Additionally, there are those new arrivals that impressed so completely that to leave them behind would be something approaching sacrilege. 

I believe also that as my horizons broaden into slightly different arenas, I am introduced to new kit largely because those theatres require a different approach - the Alps, whatever time of year, require a different kit selection to the UK in winter or summer. A UK winter leads me to Páramo. A UK summer to a marriage, variously, of Patagonia, Smartwool, OMM, Montane, Golite and Rab. Yet, mountaineering is different and 2,000m does not equate to the same approach as 4,000m. Rucksacks also require a different approach - UK winter and Alpinism do share a theme here - heavy metal in the form of ice-axe and crampons take up space and weight.

So, what is this post about? A celebration of the sanctuary to be found in settling on the piece of kit which will, without fail, fulfil its role with aplomb. Like my decision that, even for 11 day treks, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla is nonpareil during the 3-season theatre. Knowing that, unlike others, I need no longer search for something to carry all my kit in. And in winter (or for the Alps), despite an initial dalliance with the Osprey Mutant and the Crux AK47, my OMM Villain MSC - initially eBay-bound - does a superlative job. I've butchered it and this week added some Alpkit zip-pulls to assist cold, gloved hands. Everything on it and in it does what I need it to do and no more. It is an extension of me.

Or my Montane Terra pants - so widely unsung, they are consistent performers in mine, and so many others', kit lists. Yet they are not sexy, nor are they novel. For me, they are, however, without equal. I have tried others and not yet been impressed by anything as comfortable, lightweight, water resistant, wind resistant and durable as these stalwart characters. 

Shelters is perhaps the most verdant area for discussion and diversity. This year, at some point, I will get round to ordering the Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar and a couple of Superlight Bivys. I had nights in the Mountain Hardwear PCT 1, the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1, the Vaude Power Lizard UL, the Terra Nova Laser Competition, the Hilleberg Akto and the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1. Each and every occasion has led me back to the Fly Creek with unstinting alacrity. I look forward to each night I spend within the comforting surrounds of that sub-1kg shelter, notwithstanding that the Trailstar and Superlight Bivy combination, shared between two of us, will measure out at half the weight. 500g is a lot when your pack weight is currently sub-5kg. Yet, even as I snooze under the Trailstar's palatial environs, I shall harbour a small pang of guilt for my old friend the Fly Creek. Perhaps its greatest moment was withstanding the wind and rain in winter every bit as well as the Hilleberg Akto.

Or my omnipresent Suunto Vector - never on the hill without it - functional, redoubtable and comforting. A timepiece, compass, barometer/thermometer and altimeter, all of which function sufficiently well to justify an inclusion in a small, neat package on my wrist. Like so many of the others mentioned here, it hardly gets top billing - it just performs quietly and without ostentatiousness.

And I remain ever faithful to Smartwool 200 weight merino wool. Sure, it takes a little longer to dry but it's so comfortable, so eminently layerable, so easy to wear in Alpine towns before and after a trek without looking like some bionic 2000AD military castoff and the lack of smell - that alone makes it worth its weight in gold. I have a crew neck and a zip neck - often I'll take both on longer trips as they gift versatility beyond all else. Whilst, in a hot, balmy summer, I love the Montane Bionic, there is a familiar comfort from Smartwool that I get all nostalgic about.

Nostalgia conjures images of fondue, of Betamax, of big hair and of bell-bottom jeans - yet it needn't be viewed that way. After all, a cliché becomes that way for a reason and originality does not necessarily equate to better. This year, there is new kit, and new theatres to use that kit in, and perhaps this time in 2013 I will be writing (affectionately) about some that kit too - but I hope equally that some of the kit I currently hold dear still sits close to my heart even then. I continue to test and, on occasion, continue to be contacted by manufacturers who would like to work with me but there is comfort in familiarity and, on the hill, familiarity certainly does not breed contempt.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

La Sportiva Raptor Trail Runners Initial Analysis

This summer was always going to be the time I switched, for at least a season, from boots to trail runners for hillwalking. Following as I have done the discussions on the relative merits of trail runners as against boots, I decided I would be (perhaps temporarily) retiring my faithful and hitherto very effective Scarpa ZG40 GTX boots. Whilst I will miss the waterproof lining of my Scarpas - that lining never having failed me - I have hiked before in trail runners and enjoyed using them. It has been said that 1kg on the foot is 5kg on the back and there is some truth in that. My perpetual independent travel and hiking companions - Innov8 Terroc 330's - are now nearing the end of their natural lives and I sought a replacement that would form the foundation of a move into trail runners, instead of boots, for hillwalking.

It was clear to me that grip was of paramount importance, along with, of course (as with any footwear) comfort. Clearly, I would need to amend my hillwalking style too - I would need to be more selective about where I placed my feet when wearing trail runners rather than boots. Yes, as Joe Newton has rightly commented, there are regimes to follow which mean wet feet are an acceptable encumbrance and easily resolved. It's a matter of personal taste but it's something I'd need to get used to, frankly, but as ever I am willing to give anything a try. Either way, trail runners are 2011 for me.

So - which to get? Martin Rye used a pair of La Sportiva Raptors on the TGO this year and was impressed with them which caused me to examine them a little more closely.

The La Sportiva Raptor is a neutral mountain running shoe with Sticky FriXion® rubber outsoles which, it is claimed, grip the rock like a climbing shoe. In fact, they are FriXion XF which means they're extra grippy. Given my search parameters, this sounds promising. The central aspect of the sole contains the La Sportiva Impact Brake System and the focus of that sole is on shock absorbing, particularly in the heel area. The IBS (quiet in the cheap seats) is intended to reduce the impact on the foot by 20%. Given the fact that I'll be ascending, and therefore descending, frequently and over significant periods, that seems like another tick in the right box for the Raptor. The aggressive and belligerent lugs coupled with that support equate to the potential for this to be the perfect mountain shoe.

Further, the upper lining of the Raptor is a very rugged mesh rather than, like for example the Terroc 330, a fine mesh. This may lessen the ability for feet to dry once wet but they'll be far better protected from rock and flora on the trail. I suspect they will mean warmer feet, particularly on summer days, but in comparison to boots that seems an almost non-existant irritant. In cooler days, they will, it seems, be warmer than a thinner mesh shoe. The fit is tight and snug - the heel area where all that shock absorbing technology has been funnelled, doesn't so much caress as cling. This is largely because the achilles tendon area sits tight against the tendon and then there is appreciable bevelled depression for the heel. I am going to try two different thicknesses of sock - my Smartwool Medium Hiking Crew and a thinner, trail running sock from Thorlo. I'll see which suits me best and revert in due course.

Comfort is essential and the Raptor is certainly comfortable. It's hard to tell what a shoe will feel like in a 50 miles time from when you are strolling around at home attempting to work out if your toe will touch the end on steep descents or whether you'll end up with heel blisters from the lack of a snug fit at the heel. However, from what I can tell so far I am quietly excited about taking these up into the Black Mountain/Mynydd Du in the Brecon Beacons next week.

At 438g, the Raptor is something like half the weight of the Scarpa boots I usually use, and significantly, they are only 30g more than one of Terroc 330 (battered as they are at 408g). These are EU 47 sizes. Yet the Raptor is far more sturdy and supportive. I have said nothing thus far about the sharp contrasting black and yellow design - it's simultaneously gregarious and malevolent - garish yet screaming adventurous intent. I like it but it'll scare the sheep.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Trail Designs

A short post this one. Heat-felt thanks to Rand and Russ at Trail Designs. I ordered the 600ml Evernew Ultralight and corresponding Ti-Tri Sidewinder with inferno this weekend. I sent a speculative email to see whether it would be with me before I hit the hills next week. They answered that it would be unlikely unless I wanted to pay for Priority Mail. On balance, I chose not to and simply risked it. Their email communication was helpful, immediate and convivial. Without telling me, they chose to send it Priority Mail anyway, at their own expense, and I received it today - 3 working days after they sent it.

Not much more to say to that, is there?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Golite Tumalo Storm Pants

I am not the first to put pen to paper on Golite in the UK market, nor am I the first to deal with the Tumalo shell layer - Phil Turner has already looked at the Tumalo jacket. Hendrik Morkel has looked at the Tumalo Jacket and pants. I first became aware of Golite as a consequence of their sponsorship of Steve Vaught's walk across the US (more famously knowns as the Fat Man Walking). I mention this because it impresses me how clever a piece of marketing that was by Golite, but also because I was equally impressed by Steve Vaught's endeavour. Yet Golite have few competitors for the position they occupy in the outdoor gear manufacturer's market - they craft true ultralight gear for a far more accessible and mainstream market from the point of view of a large manufacturer. They are not Gossamer Gear or Mountain Laurel Designs - cottage industries that have grown into more serious propositions - they are a manufacturer of the whole gamut of outdoor equipment and apparel and the gear they produce sits comfortably with ultralight principles. In short, no other company worldwide makes UL kit, across the spectrum, as prolifically and effectively as Golite. Their philosophy, marketing blurb to one side, demonstrably underpins their kit ethos. If you were sponsored by Golite, as Andrew Skurka was, then you'd be starting from a position of strength in securing UL kit for almost any outdoor adventure. The Tumalo pant is my first foray into Golite's range but so far, I'm impressed.

As a replacement for the hugely popular Golite Reed, the Tumalo is a feather heavier from the Reed but still ridiculously light for a waterproof and extremely breathable shell layer. Crafted from Pertex 2.5 layer Shield, the pants weigh 190g for a medium and they are a fairly copious fit. The Pertex Shield concept is a fusion of Pertex's face fabric technology (the material itself) combined with their proprietry waterproof, breathable laminate and coating.

Pertex say "the fabric combines technically advanced face fabric technology with a proprietary polyurethane film laminate. It balances the best performance in breathability, waterproofness and water repellency with excellent durability. The hydrophilic nature of the polyurethane film reduces internal condensation and increases comfort range, by reducing the chilling effects caused by converting condensation build up back into water vapour." In short, it is Pertex with a DWR coating to make it waterproof. That means a lightweight, breathable product, that packs down to a tiny package and will, like the Litespeed, for example, perform very well in its chosen forum. Clearly, you cannot expect the Tumalo to be as durable as Gore-tex or eVent so it may well, for some, only function effectively as an emergency layer. For others, more used to protecting UL equipment so that it performs as a primary piece of kit rather than an emergency piece of kit, it will perform adequately in any environment. That's the crux of the Tumalo, like most UL kit - it needs to be treated kindly if it is to be used regularly.

The fabric is soft and smooth to the touch and the inner lining reminds me of the Marmot Precip. It's not something you'll enjoy next to your skin if condensation does begin to build up but I doubt many reading this blog will care much for that scant issue. Features are limited which is exactly what an emergency shell layer requires - one pocket which can be used as a vent (I wonder whether two pockets might actually make these better venting) and a short leg zip at the bottom, with 2 circular velcro tabs for adjustment at the foot. The waist is adjusted by shockcord which is diaphanous at best so these are not meant for prolonged athleticism - I doubt they would hold up for long if subjected to a wide range of movement - but they will be perfect for short bursts of heavy rain or drizzle.