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®
14% Silver Nodor®
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.
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.