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.


  1. Beef and Ale is the worst Fuizion meal I have tried.  Normally they are fantastic.  Not that one.  

    NeoAir is overrated and not comfy.  Do what I have done and get ride of it.  Raptors are perfect.  You're poor feet must be relived ditching boots.  Don't go back.   Gorilla pack is a firm favourite of mine.   Only grip is the material leaks and allows water to get in the pack with ease.   A good dry-bag is a must with it.   

  2. Have to say I liked the Beef and Ale stew and it was the highest calorie count for the weight but I'll be trying the others in July.

    NeoAir is very much overrated and the POE Peak Elite AC will be my mat of choice for at least a little while.

    I agree the Raptors are good and the switch to trail runners worked well. There is a huge difference on your dexterity and your energy levels without boots. I am conscious of foot placement however as I used to be less worried about it when I had boots on but the more I get used to trail runners the better. 

    Gorilla does get wet, yes - I think it's not just leaking but also the nylon wets out very easily. I always have drybags - two 13 litre Alpkit Airlok bags or the S2S 13 litre Ultralight bags. Both weigh 40g for a 13 litre bag. Not a fan of silnylon for waterproofness as you know but the Alpkit bags have done fine so far.

  3. It's always good to give your gear a proper test. That's a very helpful set of reviews and provides some food for thought. 

    I have the Vapour Rise jacket and love it - I've pretty much lived in mine since putting away my thick winter layer at the end of March. It does seem to do an amazing job of adapting to the climatic conditions and works surprisingly well under an eVent jacket, as you found. I'm still to hit on the best sock for use with unlined trail shoes so it will be interesting to hear what you have to say on the other X-socks.

  4. The Raptors look well worth seeking out if I can find any in the shops.  My Inov-8's are wearing out and need replacing soon.  All reports on them are positive so far.

  5. Thanks for the comment Nick. You're right - for a thick, substantial garment, the VR does adapt well to a range of conditions and that's what makes it so versatile. It will be my primary top for the CHR this August. I'll compare the other X-Socks and see what they feel like but to be honest, I am not convinced there'll be a major difference...

  6. Hi Maz, Good to see you out and about and doing lovely gear tests. I’m pleased the Tumalo pants worked and dried quickly. 
    I gave the Inov-8 mistlites a bit of a hammering last week and they did well. I will be carrying these now instead of the Bergans.The Raptors look good but i have a pair of Carns to wear out first, but i like the look of them.I am going to stick with my 2 layers of Merino wool base layers. One thin short sleeve and one thicker zip top, which i can interchange depending on conditions, i like the lack of smell after a few days of toil and rain. i am now using a short sleeve Rohan Ultra silver Tee as my spare. At 60gr you hardly notice you have it.I too loath the Neo Air and i am going to get a cheapo £22 Multimat Adventure Air. For one, i can see if i like the principal of longitudinal tubes without spending too much. But for 440gr for the large size i might just use it anyway.Fuizion foods. Well i had my first trial run with them last week and i am not 100% with them. I agree that the actual “food” seems better than others, except Real Turmat, but the potato chunks and the red meats take longer than 12 minutes to rehydrate and by that time the bag is getting cool. It would be cold if the current ambient temps were towards zero. I would have to use a cosy.X- bionic undies, nothing to beat them when the temperature starts to fall but for warmer times, if we get them that is, i now like the Rohan cool silver trunks.X-socks. Fantastic quality just a pity they are made so tight i can hardly pull them on. I have given up on them which is a pity because i think they are the best.And finally for me, you cannot go far wrong with any OMM gear. Not always the lightest but well made and does the job.
    I had better go and have a lie down now after all that typing!

  7. Alan,

    I like 2 merino base layers as there is real versatility there and, with the exception of the CHR in August, that will be what I normally use. Thanks for the tip about the Rohan - Golite do a similar one but the Montane Bionic is 110g so I'll probably keep that for now. Before you get a Multimat Adventure - have a look at the new Exped Synmat - 430g and good down to an ambient temperature of -4C. Maybe a little more expensive at around £80 but probably a better mat.

    Thanks for your comments as always and I'll keep you updated when I get some more X-Socks. You're right about OMM and I recently had a chat with Andy at OMM about going to see the factory in Lancaster - always loved their kit so that should be interesting.

  8. Hi Maz,
    I don't want to spend £80 on a new mat until i have a few trips on the top to bottom tubes set up and see if it suits my sleep pattern. At £22 it doesn't break the bank. I will keep in mind the Synmat but i won't change just yet.
    The 60gram Rohan Tee's are great. Very silky, feel great, weigh so little and wick away perspiration well.
     Worth checking both the Tee's and the undies out, even if you don't buy them you can way them up and then put them back on the rack.

  9. Want to borrow my Big Agnes IAC? Bit heavy at 510g but is a very cheap (i.e. free) way to see if you like the vertical tube system.

  10. A note regarding Fuizion foods: I really like them, some of their meal are the best tasting freeze dried meals I've ever eaten. But in many cases the nutritional values are clearly wrong which lead me to believe that they might be generally wrong in every meal. I mentioned this in my blog when writing about the food for my Svalbard skiing expedition.

    For example the Bee Ale Stew:
    - You say there's over 850kcal in 110g meal. That's pretty much impossible as the highest energy content (or density) is in pure fat (oil) which is 9000kcal/100g. Pure carbs and proteins are around 400kcal/100g.
    - At Fuizion homepages they say there is 535kcal/100g on dry Beef Ale Stew. That sound about right but when you count the carbs, protein, fats and fiber together you get 107,2g of dry nutritional ingredients per 100g!
    - So the truth might be that there is about 480kcal or less in 100g of dry Beef Ale Stew meal ingredients.
    And this is clearly impossible. I've sent e-mail to Fuizion about this problem but they haven't gave any answer.

  11. Thank you for your detailed comment. I did wonder about the veracity of the claimed 800+ calorie content when almost every other meal was around the 550+ mark for the same weight. I am not clear exactly what you are saying in the last two bullet points - I don't understand why, if your analysis is correct, that 480 calories is impossible - that's not clear to me at all - and I don't know where you got that figure from (100g as a percentage of 107.2g applied to 535 calories?). Also, bear this in mind - it is a dehydrated weight we are talking about whereas the energy content of pure fat is calculated as against food that weighs significantly more when hydrated. So really 110g is not the accurate measure to compare as against other, hydrated, foods. In any event, it's interesting because the nutritional information should be accurate. I am interested to see what Fuizion say about this.

  12. Hi Maz,
    I will take you up on your kind offer and i will be in touch when i get back from the Lakes on Sunday.
    Btw, the mountains up here are absolutely stunning today. Crystal clear. Pity we are at Sheila's mums on a meals on wheels trip and not taking advantage of such great views. Oh well.

  13. Hi Maz,

    do you mind me asking where you pitched up for the night on the trip? Was it somewhere near Carreg Las? I am hoping to get up that way in the next few weeks. Its about time I did the Western Beacons again (this year almost all my walking has been in the central and eastern sections). I fancy a bit of the wild landscape again for a change :)

    Re boots....gave them up 20 years ago. Apart from depths of winter, inlined trail shoes are what I use exclusively. As you say, after your feet get wet first off, you dont notice afterwards. I was up last weekend by Tal-y-bont and it was boggy on the tops so had a squelchathon at times :)

    re the Peak AC, I have got the 2/3 mat and it is a joy to use. not quite as warm as my exped 7 but not far off. its a great bit of kit

  14. Twyn Tal y Ddraenen - or just south of it near the Afon Giedd. I don't much mind the squelchathon to be honest - just a matter of getting my socks dry the next day.

    Re: The Peak Elite AC - POE sent me a pre-release one last year and we used it in the Lake District in winter on Yewbarrow. It was well liked and I think, even though it is heavier, the longer length and vertical tubes will suit me better than the Neo Air.

    By the way, love the photos of your Talybont trip. I recommend it - see here: http://backpackbrewer.wordpress.com/2011/07/02/tal-y-bont-circular-walk/

  15. thanks for the kind comments. I really like the layout on your blog btw, its easy to follow and well written.

    I have been uber lucky with the weather recently and it always helps to have a good
    camera (helps out with average photographers like me!)

  16. I also know where you camped now......due east from where I thought but close enough :)

  17. Thanks for your remark on the layout - I wanted to keep it simple so glad you like it. I would also say that weather and landscape make for reasonable photography but you have to have an eye to frame it properly and be able to use your camera to get the best out of it. So a lot more is down to your ability than you (modestly) admit!

  18. Indeed, not far from Garreg Las - almost exactly due east. You could see the Pwyll y Cig lakes from our site perhaps 150-200m away.