Saturday, 22 October 2011

Alpine Kit 2011-2012

Twelve months ago I wrote a post entitled Winter and Alpine Hillwalking and Mountaineering Kit. It proved to be one of the most popular posts on this journal of mine with in excess of 1600 views. I look back now at my choices then, largely informed by research rather than actual time on the ground, and conclude I was not far off when it comes to winter - for example, a Scottish Winter climb will involve much of the kit I analysed back then. Páramo remains my staple, and everything else is built around that. Yet, this is simply not the right selection for alpinism. The Classic Haute Route and, to a lesser extent, the Tour du Mont Blanc, taught me that. So I had to rethink early this year and, whilst in Zermatt, I sat poring over my kit selections in a bar nursing a cold beer, and considered carefully what kit had been effective and what had not. This post is the culmination of that process.

Normally, I write a Gear Debrief at the end of a trip. Not this time. Instead, I am going to approach it from a different angle. There has been quite a lot of debate about kit in outdoor blogs this year. Whether it affects our credibility and impartiality to accept freebies or jollies from companies like Gore and how kit reports/reviews/analysis should be drafted. I am not going to change my views on freebies (see my comments on Hendrik Morkel's Hiking in Finland on this post) nor am I going to change my analysis. If you like my online journal that's wonderful and it genuinely pleases me. Thank you for coming. If you don't there are some quality blogs out there that might be more to your taste - start with Hiking in Finland, Blogpackinglight and Summit and Valley and then move on from there. Check out my Resources links to the right.

So, after that, I would like to move onto the analysis of my Alpine Kit. The purpose of this post is to detail what I have settled on, and why, for anyone planning similar trips who feel they would benefit from my insights. It also invites those with their own experience to comment on selections. I like people commenting on my selections - it helps me refine my own choices.

Rucksack - Crux AK-37 and Osprey Mutant 38
In October last year, I was looking at the Osprey Mutant 38 but discounted it as a consequence of weight, opting instead for my OMM Villain MSC. At 1kg, the Villain seemed superficially attractive and I had always previously found it comfortable. Yet on this trek, I carried much more weight than I would normally when wild camping in the UK. Firstly, this was a 12 day traverse. That in itself requires more kit. Secondly, it was a traverse across high, glaciated alpine terrain. These two factors taken together meant my pack weight was, on approaches where my cold weather kit was stowed, around 7.3kg without food and water. In cold weather, it was that much lighter at 6.6kg. With crampons and ice-axe out, that would drop again to around 5kg. Of course, this is all illusory as I was either wearing or carrying that kit in my hands rather than in my pack so my body still needed to haul the weight. Additionally, the problem was that I did not account for the fact that I'd also be carrying, frequently, 2kg of rope. I'd also need to add, on occasion, around 1kg of water as we were not always able to find water en route. Usually, food would consist of chocolate bars as we'd normally be at huts for lunch so I'll add a few hundreds grams there at most. All this means, at worst, I was approaching 9kg on ascents. This was not something the OMM Villain carried well as the shoulder straps have padding which is too thin in the stitched area. It bit into my clavicle far too much and my bones became bruised early on. Also, the Villain's MSC compressor annoys me in the Alps. I want simple, as few straps as possible, and light. So, when Go Outdoors asked me to test some kit for them, we settled on the Mutant. Adam agreed and I await its arrival. I also liked the Crux AK-47 but the second thing I realised on the CHR is that 40+ litres is far too much. 37 is fine. Hence the Crux AK-37 arrived a few weeks back and I am very impressed. At 960g, it's the lightest alpine rucksack I could find. It is brutally simple and a favourite of the UK Climbing forum. It needs a rope strap at the top of the pack like the others in the range but I may well sew one of my own in. It seems a very comfortable carry but the back comes in one length and it is right on the cusp of being too small. This, again, is something Crux could easily look at for a 37 litre alpinist's pack. Two lengths would be better.

Technical Gear
Crampon choice has not altered and my crampons remain the Grivel G12 New-matic and, for alpinism, the Grivel Evo is my favoured ice-axe. The reason for that particular ice axe choice is covered in another post and my views on this remain unchanged. The Evo is robust, stable and efficient enough for alpine use and the rubber grip is, in my view, essential as I do not use a leash. The G12 crampons are great all rounders - solid, great points, not too heavy, easy to fit and tough.

Of course, my technical gear comprises more than just a piolet and crampons. My harness is the Black Diamond Couloir which I have found to be perfect for me. Unlike a proper climbing harness, it is not padded and would be very uncomfortable after a day of falls or climbing out of crevasses. Of course, I think I have made it plain that I don't intend falling frequently so comfort after a fall is not a primary consideration. Lightweight, strong and with enough loops for minimal gear, it packs down small and is easy to get on and off. I can wear it at the end of a day without feeling it. Those are primary considerations.

The Alpine Club recommend a number of items of technical gear for F and PD routes which, for 2011-2012, is my intended stage. So I'll carry two prusik loops, both 140cm from 6mm Beal Accessory cord. I also have two slings - a short and long one - both DMM dyneema. In addition, an 86g DMM Aero HMS crab, and two c.50g lightweight smaller crabs - the Black Diamond Vaporlock and the DMM Shadow. I also carry a 43g DMM Shadow Quick-draw. Everyone moving on glacial terrain should have an ice-screw and I carry a 16cm 145g Black Diamond Express screw. All of this is stored in an Alpkit stuff sack. Simple.

Shell Layer - OMM Cypher Smock and Golite Tumalo Storm Pants
I didn't use either of these on the CHR but at 455g for a complete, extremely breathable, very packable, comfortable and performance waterproof shell system, I am content with both. I have analysed each already in previous posts but the highlights are, in addition to the above, the ease of use - the Tumalo in particular are very easy to pull on over anything and can be worn comfortably on their own and breathe well enough when working hard. The Cypher is a great smock and I cannot see a much lighter, 3-layer eVent waterproof coming along. It breathes well, the thumb loops are great for wearing gloves over and the athletic fit is excellent. Both are easy choices at the present time.

Approach Layers - Icebreaker GT150 Velocity SS Crew and Arc'teryx Palisade Cropper
Whilst I like the Montane Bionic, I keep gravitating back to 100% merino wool. It's a comfort thing. Icebreaker's GT150 range is ultra lightweight, sleek merino, with lycra interwoven which keeps the fit athletic and makes drying swifter. I wash my base layer frequently in the alps, so quick-drying is essential. I also find that a full-length trouser simply does not permit airflow as much as a pair of shorts. That said, I don't really like shorts. Nigel Shepherd, the guide we used on the CHR and with whom we'll be climbing again in November and perhaps even in the alps next year, works with Salomon and Arc'teryx, and sported a nifty 3/4 length number on the CHR. I liked them and so got a pair. The Palisade Cropper arrived recently from Germany - the only place I could find them - and I have high hopes. Very light (256g), they are quick drying, light and stretchy TerraTex fabric (a blend of nylon and spandex). I like Arc'teryx - they are so often the founders of superb and innovative kit concepts and copied relentlessly - the only problem is they are, like Norrøna, eye-wateringly expensive. These cost €100. The proprietary TerraTex feels great - like stretchy crépe paper - with a fleece lining around the waist and wind-proof zips with vents. They come just below the knee and feel very good indeed - in a hot, balmy alpine ascent, they will be very nice to wear whilst keeping the sun off my legs, knees in particular, as much as possible. There was nothing at all wrong with the Terra pants which these will replace, although I confess to finding the waist uncomfortable - the Palisade series is far superior in that regard - I just don't need a full pant for approaches and valleys.

Altitude/Glacial Layers - Mountain Equipment Liskamm pants & Rab Vapour-Rise Smock
As soon as you set foot on a glacier, it feels like opening the door of a freezer. The temperature drops palpably and falling on a glacial is like falling on sharp, rugged glass. Long sleeves are essential, not least because the glacier reflects the sun as well so protection from UV is also desirable. In the Mountain Equipment Liskamm pants, I found a supremely comfortable, stretchy, durable, breathable and exceptional pant. Perhaps too many zips for my liking, but they vent well as a result so I am not complaining. I wore them high up, with nothing but X-Bionics boxers underneath and felt no cold at all, and I wore them low down as well when the heat did not cause me to sweat uncontrollably. They were excellent. I cannot speak as to the gaiters in-built because I always wore gaiters with them anyway.

The Rab Vapour-Rise has proved to be something of a gem. If I sweated profusely as a consequence of the effort of climbing in snow, the next day it was dry even if hung up in a damp room. I wore it against the skin alone, or on top of the Patagonia R1 hoody and it was excellent. Wind simply bleeds off it. The hood is good - functional and easy to adjust (it won't take a helmet though) and the water-resistant DWR finish means that snow is repelled sufficiently. This is not a waterproof, nor does it claim to be, but it does just about everything else. It's also very pleasant to wear. The deep zip is a two-way so I found I would often vent my manly chest to the elements on ascents. The pockets (three of them) are also vents.

Insulation and Hut wear - Patagonia R1 Hoody and Rab Generator Vest
The Patagonia R1 has been a favourite of mine this year - a classic, redesigned and re-released, it is excellent for wearing under a harness. I also use it as my primary top in huts. It dries quickly inside, especially after a sweaty day like the one we had on the Pigne and pretty quickly outside too. It is comfortable and the only gripe are the thumb loops which mean that the wrist area gets wet - either from wear or from snow - if you do not have gloves on. It's not a major issue for me. However, I also found that an express Primaloft One insulation layer would have been useful had the weather been worse. I do not need a full jacket, and I needed something big enough to go over the top of anything I was wearing - on a belay or when sitting on a summit or outside a hut. A vest/gilet was therefore the obvious option and down was clearly not going to work if the vest was to be outside everything else. The Rab Generator has been getting rave reviews for years, is lightweight and I find Rab kit to be exceptional quality - sam Haraldson once accused me of being a Rab Poster Child. He may be right but Rab seem to be in halcyon days right now, producing reams of top quality new kit. And 100g of Primaloft One beats the 60g in my Patagonia Nano Puff and it weighs almost the same at 260g.

Underwear - X-Bionics Trekking Shorts and M&S Cotton Boxers
I cannot fault the X-Bionics Trekking Shorts with one notable exception - they have a hole in them. Given the nature of the fabric, stitching is unlikely and so a patch will be necessary unless I just leave and see what happens. I am surprised and disappointed but they are so comfortable, easy to wash and dry overnight and so effective that I can live with this minor issue. Still - I wonder whether X-Bionics would say this is a one-off or whether others have had this problem. M&S Cotton boxers? Really? I sleep in them and frankly, sleeping in comfort is essential. So yes. Really. I haven't weighed them yet, though.

Gloves - Ninja ICE HPT gloves and Buffalo Mitts
Ron Walker put me onto the Ninja ICE HPT gloves which come from Canada and I looked at them in detail when looking at my CHR kit prior to the trek. They allow me significant freedom of movement and real world warmth in Scottish Winter cold, let alone alpine cold. They're very good. Buffalo mitts are stashed in a lid pocket for when we hit cols or summits and I need to get my hands warm but I am not using technical equipment so the Ninja gloves are stashed away. They're so light (50g) and versatile - warm when wet, quick drying and easy to pull on.

Boots and Gaiters - Scarpa Manta and Rab Latok Mid
The Manta was perfect. Sure, lots of people in the Alps have La Sportiva Nepal boots which are B3 boots, and the consummate choice for the mountaineer. And they look great - kinda sexy if you can say that about a mountaineering boot. But the Manta is just that little bit more flexible. Just that little bit more comfortable. And no one else wears them on the continent so I don't look like another guided mountain groupie. They were great on the CHR - comfortable, great on rock, solid in crampons, breathable, waterproof and frankly, exactly what I want. No questions, no answers. Just good.

I don't need a full length gaiter. They're heavy, stop my legs breathing sufficiently well and are unnecessary even in deep snow especially with the Schoeller fabric in the Liskamm pants. A mid gaiter is fine. So the Rab Latok Mid is on order and I'll post on them some other time. Essential points are adjustability, easy fitting in the morning and lightweight at 144g.

Other Equipment
Fraser put me onto the Petzl XP2 head torch - at 88g with batteries it is light but very powerful. It also has a red light function which does not ruin your night vision in a hut at night, nor does it disturb people if you absolutely have to get up to go to the loo - in the Bertol Hut, this is a genuine experience but you've already heard about that. I did not take my Suunto Vector, choosing instead to rely on the Garmin Foretrex 401. I think, in fact, from now on I'll take both as the Vector is more than simply useful on the hill - getting to and from the alps really does require a watch! The Foretrex is a pleasant thing to have and so much of it crosses over with the Vector that I should perhaps ditch it but it's light, the batteries are the same as the XP2 and knowing what the statistics are at the end of each day is something I enjoy. So it stays.

I also took my Amazon Kindle on the CHR and found that I did indeed use it a lot. I adore reading, and I wasn't sure I'd take to a Kindle but I have and in a big way. I carry more than 50 books and PDF files (manuals for various pieces of equipment as well as trip notes and so on) on it so it's a fantastically versatile item. At 240g, it's worth its weight. Literally. I don't take a cover - it is protected in my clothing dry bag.

I also take some McNett Tenacious Tape, and it stays in a Podsacs 2 litre dry bag with my passport, tickets and other paperwork. Two other Alpkit Airlok 13 litre dry bags keep my spare clothes and pretty much everything else I need, dry.

Personal Administration
I take a bottle of camp wash which will wash both me and my clothes. 100ml is more than enough between two of us for a week or for one of us for two weeks. A Lifeventure Microfibre Pack Towel (Large, 110 x 62, 138g) is a preference to the Sea to Summit Pack Towel which I find gets wet almost immediately and does not dry me at all. The slightly heavier towel is just more comfortable and more effective. Toothbrush and toothpaste completes the picture. Riemann Suncream is expensive but very effective in the mountains. Having used it for a month in total, I can say this - put it on and do nothing for 15 minutes (nothing sweaty anyway) and then off you go. It is waterproof, sweat-resistant and works ALL DAY without re-application. 100ml lasts two people two weeks. It is an oil rather than a cream so you do not get that white mess I associate with suncream. It's really very good indeed. I also carry a First Aid Kit which I have detailed in another post.

Sunglasses - Oakley Flak Jackets
Oakley Flak Jackets are great. I love the way they look and they work well. They mist up sometimes so I may well try a pair of glacier glasses (like the Julbo Explorer Chameleon) but for now, I am happy with them. I take the case they come in too, to protect them.

Camera Equipment - Lumix TZ10
I adore the Panasonic Lumix TZ10. I reviewed it some time ago and it has not disappointed me. I am moving towards extending the boundaries of my photography and I have just bought a Canon EOS 60D SLR with a Tamon 17-50mm SP wide angle lens. I won't take the SLR mountaineering, but as I learn to play with exposure and filters, the TZ10 will permit me some flexibility too. It takes superb pictures and I carry a spare battery in the Lowe Pro Apex AW20. I also carry a Joby Gorillapod which, apart form being so versatile, is the lightest tripod I could find. It all works together. I even dropped the camera into a river whilst it was in the Apex on the TMB - not a scratch or a drop entered the pouch. Great stuff.

So that's my alpine kit for the coming 12 months. Perhaps it will change after that, perhaps not. A lot will depend on what freebies I get...


  1. An excellent gear write up, thanks for putting that together. It certainly seems like all the research paid off. There is lots of food for thought here as it seems like much of the kit has crossover potential to Scottish hiking and winter mountaineering.  I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the new camera - I'm currently looking to upgrade my kit lens and the 17-50 looks a great mountain landscape choice.
    Some things that I'll be following up on: Buffalo mitts (you've mentioned these on my gear reports before but I hadn't really appreciated they were so light!); OMM Cypher Smock (which sounds like a good eVent waterproof option as I look to replace my slightly too large Montane Venture eVent jacket).I'm right with you on the Vapour RIse - the more I use it the more I marvel at its abilities to cope with changing conditions and seasons. It has been my go to jacket almost every day since I got it in February!

  2. Nice post. I've also got a Rab VR, the Lite Tour version. I like it, especially because it has pitzips. I do find it too warm a lot of the times, even with the improved venting options over the smock.
    I usually make my own vapour rise system now; Brynje (mesh) baselayer, a thin merino wool baselayer over that (i'd like to try that new Rab MeCo) and finally a thin windshell, the Rab Alpine Pullover. The Alpine Pullover is made of Pertex Equilibrium, same as the VR outer layer, so it functions the same. Nice thing about this system is that it's modular.
    With the Rab Demand jacket I also have, you could also say about me I'm a Rab poster child :-)

  3. Camera: also looking to get Giottos tripod and ball head, along with a Lowepro Photo Sport Sling AW100. Will let you know/see the results when I have had some time to get to know all the kit and Photoshop Elements 10.

    Buffalo mitts are great - wet or dry - light, great warmth and quickly too. Worth thinking about.

    OMM Cypher - read my review on this blog but it's superb. I love it. Rab Demand is the other option in the same class. Better hood on the Demand. Hendrik has done a good review on it.

    As for the V-R - I'm thinking of starting a fan club for that wonderful top ;-)

  4. I like your system. 

    Rab MeCo is winning awards all over the place. Took a look in Cotswolds the other day and it tempted me but I think the Icebreaker GT 150 is better. The lycra keeps its shape better, and helps it dry quickly. As I said to Nick - V-R is a superstar top. I like the Demand - couldn't get one for my brother in law so he went for the Cypher which made me go for it too. Great waterproof though. 

  5. A fine review here Maz. Some gear that I do not know and will check out the links to see if this  is appropriate to my tastes and needs. I kicked myself for not buying the OMM Cypher earlier in the year for a heavily discounted price. I agree that for the weight you would be hard pushed to find a lighter eVent garment

  6. Just to comment on the Flak Jackets: They are very durable, i've dropped mine in the mud and stepped on them - not a scratch anywhere. So i think you can safely leave the heavy nuclear-safe carrying case at home. I'm however looking for some kind of light pouch to attach to my shoulder straps for storage when not in use. That otherwise great black carrying pouch/cleaning cloth combo gets lost very easily. 

  7. Thanks for that! Very useful information.

  8. +1 for the Buffalo mitts, they're awesome. Also the kindle, like yourself I'm a book addict with a decent library at home. Didnt think I'd take to it quite as much as I have done.

    Have a look at redsnapper tripods, have used one of theirs for a few years now and it is completely on a par with Manfrotto/Giottos at very good prices.
     and the Lowepro AW100 is also first class - swallows up an incredible amount of gear with careful packing and is extremely tough.

  9. Thanks for the tripod tip. Will take a look. Already have my Giottos setup ordered but they don't last forever and alternatives are useful. As for AW100 - glad you liked it and that confirms my decision!

  10. interesting reflections on some great gear.  Particularly the boots...nepal vs. mantas, very helpful.  Lusting after vapour rise for sure.  Re glasses case Granite Gear make a goodun for about 8£ sold by ULOG. 

  11. David, we need to meet up. It's about time we took to the hills together and swopped tales of derring do. I want to hear all about the HRP.

  12. Cypher is good but not for everyone. Thumb-loops may annoy some as may the cut which is very athletic. It's a very spartan smock but that may well be what some people want - it was exactly what I was after.

  13. Great post, Maz! Good details on the different gear. Can't thank you enough for recommending the OMM Cypher back in December. It worked well for hiking in winter and it worked well this summer as well. Even used it for sailing some medium distance races in Denmark this summer. Best sailing jacket i have ever had.

    Looking forward to have your input on future trips - for hiking as well as other sports.

  14. Thanks Sofus. High praise compared to the free Norrøna kit you got from your team this year!

  15. Hi Maz,

    Interesting info in there. Think I'll be testing the VR this winter.

    One thing I've been looking at for a while is a winter glove system so your post has been useful. I've looked into sourcing the Ninja HCT and found they are sold under a different name in the UK, Skylab Argon. They are an identical spec to the Ninja's and can be found in most Arco workwear stores for a reasonable £5.10. I have only today purchased them and will be testing them this season.

    Thanks for the tips,


  16. For some reason this did not get through Disqus:

    "Hi Maz, Interesting info in there. Think I'll be testing the VR this winter. One thing I've been looking at for a while is a winter glove system so your post has been useful. I've looked into sourcing the Ninja HCT and found they are sold under a different name in the UK, Skylab Argon. They are an identical spec to the Ninja's and can be found in most Arco workwear stores for a reasonable £5.10. I have only today purchased them and will be testing them this season. Thanks for the tips, DavyWA"

    Thanks for the reference to UK's Skylab Argon - most helpful and saves me sending off to Canada! It's actually Skytec Argon and the link is here:

    Thanks Davy and let me know what you think of them.

  17. Cheapest price i've found for these gloves is on if you're interested. I've just bought myself a couple of pairs.