Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Gear Thoughts for Summer 2012

Outdoor blogs are fluid creatures. Good ones adapt to changes in attitudes. Reviews of kit have always been useful to new purchasers - that much is clear from the traffic to my own journal. Discussions on kit and changes to technology, as well as what works and what doesn't (and why or when), are also useful to those taking part in the discussions as well as those observing them from afar. We learn from others' mistakes (or successes) rather than making our own. It saves us time and money, as well as frustration. Personally, I enjoy trying kit that others have disliked - perhaps it is the curmudgeon in me but I prefer to make my own observations. Sometimes I agree, often I don't. I like making mistakes, I learn more that way. I have no problem with bloggers getting free kit in return for testing/reviews - I don't think it necessarily compromises their independence - only you the reader can ascertain that from reading their blogs. The more kit I am asked to test, the better the chance people following me have of learning, as I do, from my mistakes (and, of course, successes).

I am testing kit this year, and next, on behalf of Arc'teryx. This is something of a coup for me as I have long admired their innovation and attention to detail. Their kit is uniformly superbly manufactured and they have long been front-runners in creating new approaches to old ideas as well as using fabrics others do not. So I am thrilled to be working with them. They sent me a number of items to test over the course of this year, on the most important of which - the Atom LT Hoody, an insulation layer, and the Venta pant, a soft-shell alpine trouser - I'll do a short Initial Analysis and Review which I'll update later in the year after more use. Later this year, I'll be testing some more kit for them, including a new lightweight pack.

I am also changing my approach to shelters. Despite the protestations of Martin Rye, I have a cuben Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid on order and Sean Clayton, of Oookworks, has created for me a bespoke Oooknest for it. Robin Evans loaned me his Silnylon Duomid for Jotunheimen and the Oooknest had a quick run out during that trip. I'll detail my reasons for this change, beyond sheer devilment, when I post on the Duomid and Oooknest once my cuben version arrives in a month or so.

I have also been sent an Icebreaker Quantum 260 Hoody from The Nature Shop in New Zealand which I have been using as my cold weather base layer for a few trips now. There'll be a post on that shortly, but I like it a lot. I am a fan of merino, not particularly bothered about the sourcing of it as long as it is ethical, and I find it very effective. I know others have different opinions but so far I have yet to find anything that is as comfortable, adaptable and which does not smell after days of hard use on the trail. Perhaps in that post, there'll be some discussion about base layers and the sourcing of merino wool, two somewhat inflammatory topics.

For winter and cold conditions, I am enjoying my new Rab Infinity 500 bag. Brand new from Rab, taking the Pertex Quantum technology from the Infinity Jacket and making a bag from it, I took it to Jotunheimen recently. Stop Press! It was good. Down to -9C and only 848g without it's stuff sack (I put it directly into a 13L dry bag which compresses it better too), it's big but warm. It fills a wintry void which the Summerlite cannot.

Finally, as a consequence of a (slow and plodding) move towards professional photography as an essential cog in a new career path, I now take a DSLR into the hills with me. I want to talk a little about why I do that, how I carry it and what kit I take with it. I also want to talk a little about what I have found about shooting in RAW and using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 and Elements 10 to process my RAW exposures. Thanks to Terrybnd for the photo above and my brother-in-law Sofus (with me in Jotunheimen) for the one below. I think you'll agree both are very different but equally superb exposures in their own way. Mood and emotion conveyed completely differently.

So, there'll be some new posts coming up dealing not only with specific items of kit, but also the essence of their function in the outdoors. I'll be interviewing a few people too - publicising some good commercial companies and (well known) charitable organisations that deserve some great PR. Early 2012 has been a little slow on the Journeyman Traveller. The second half will see some great new content. And my burgeoning feature writing career means that there'll be some posts on a variety of outdoor subjects rather than just kit reviews and trip reports. That said, there'll be more international trip reports as I am working on two guidebooks at the moment, and I may well have another one or two in the pipeline as well.

As always, thanks for reading and please keep commenting. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter - @JourneymanTrav or stop by my 500px page to see some of my better photography work as I experiment and grow.


  1. Nice that you have a DuoMid on the way. I hope you're as happy with it as I am with mine. My OookNest arrived this week. too, and is begging to be tested.

  2. I'm looking forward to using it. I like the room inside, the head space, the ease of pitching and the fact I can easily use it in a variety of situations - an alpine emergency shelter, a beach wild camp tarp, a dual skin tent (with the Oooknest) and all based around the fulcrum of a good, strong pole. It remains to be seen whether the Luxurylite Big Stik is strong enough, or whether I need something more durable. In terms of weight - I like walking with a single pole, so I would have taken it anyway which means the additional weight of this as a shelter system for my backpack is around 800g with the Easton stakes (which I think are great). A 200g saving which is not tremendous, but when you think of the space involved, the ability to cook (for 2 people, which is very comradely) in poor weather and sit up comfortably whenever you like - it's quite a boon. Martin Rye thinks it'll be unstable in strong wind - Andy Howell disagrees. I think Joe has not really used his in strong wind yet as he generally finds good, sheltered spots - guess we'll see. I'm a bit contrary - when something has quasi-legendary status but is potentially remarkably flawed, I like to see for myself. That's why I got the Akto. So far, I like the Duomid - it has a good feel about it. If it is rocking all over the place in strong wind, then I may reconsider.

  3. The space in the Duomid makes it hard to go back to smaller shelters. I don't think the Duomid is unstable in wind. It won't go anywhere but the walls will deform a bit and it does flap a bit. No worse than a Laser Comp tho.

    Look forward to reviews of the other gear.

  4. Well, Robin - you would know as it was your Duomid that sheltered me in Jotunheimen. My thanks again for that and I'll post it back shortly. I'm looking forward to my first "bad" night in it but we both like a bit of weather.

  5. I've always found my GG LT4 pole to be strong enough, and in winter I use a BD Traverse. Neither are stellar when if comes to durability, but the seem to work fine with the DuoMid, probably because the tension is predominantly vertical, so as long as the locking system between the two sections holds tight, and it's staked out well, it's pretty solid.
    I'm familiar with Martin's reservations, but I've not yet seen an example where this has been an issue. DuoMids have been pitched in the Rockies and Alaska in all weathers and conditions by the likes of the Jordans and Skurkas in the world. Plus, the pyramid- or teepee-style shelter has been used for centuries by the nomadic and indigenous peoples of the North, by Native Americans et al. The basic structural principles – a wide base near the ground where winds are lower, and a narrow peak up high where winds are potentially stronger, are simple and sound. From what I've experienced, wind just slips around it.
    Although generally I try to pitch in at least semi-sheltered areas. I'm anticipating strong winds this weekend in exposed places, so we'll see.

  6. Comment back here when you've used it and let me know. Thanks Mark.

  7. Nice one Maz. I hope all that new gear is black! 
    I have often looked at Arc’teryx and thought thats nice, then looked at the price and thought, mm, but not that nice and put it back. So i don’t own one piece of their gear.Great to see you doing new things. I read your photography posts with interest and admit most it of went over my head. Some points will still be in the cranium i’m sure. I still can’t find a camera that suits me. My Sony dsc hx9v is good and light but not excellent and light. My Sony dsc P717 is old, heavy, great lens and great images. I can’t win without spending a fortune.Jotunheim, can’t wait to read that, after all it was one of my favourite trips. Good luck with the writing.

  8. Thanks Alan! I agree, I have always found Arc'teryx kit to be expensive but the build quality and innovation is outstanding. I am looking forward to having a long relationship with them but they know that I will be honest about their kit. They welcomed that. They also asked me to give them feedback on the kit for development purposes - which I have already done for a pack I have been using. I am enjoying that part of it too.
    As far as cameras - I am glad you are enjoying the posts On Exposure - it's really all about my learning curve and hoping people benefit from the way I rationalise things in my own head and simplify them. As to which camera to buy - I owe my starting purchases to Fraser but have a look at Joe Newton's new camera, the Panasonic Lumix GH2 (seen as a lightweight competitor for my Canon 60D). It might be exactly what you are looking for. I also love my Lumix DMC-TZ10 which is a superb compact. Or the Nikon One is receiving rave reviews. Sadly, photography is expensive!
    As for Jotunheimen, there'll be more of that and I remember you saying it was one of your favourites. Mine too now.

  9. Great move, Andrew - congratz on all fronts.

    I have some Arc'teryx kit, and rate it high (well, the Squamish Hoody soaked through as I was cycling in it on Tuesday, but after nearly two years the DWR might be a bit off - time for a re-proof).

    Great news about the Guidebooks - where about they gonna be about? Seems you're joining the ranks of bloggers turned authors - welcome!

  10. Well I needed to offset the centre pole to sleep in a DuoMid.  Not very endearing that to me. In Scotland I found it deforming in the wind.  Like I said.  Short side pulls long side up to a steep angle.  Thus it catches the wind.  Andy talked recently of his thrashing in the wind.  Thrashing! my, my.  4 season shelter that. My SoloMid had support for the steep long side.  So it thrashes less.   

    Video of a SoloMid with inverted poles supporting the sides.  I do wonder what would happen to a DuoMid without that ridged support?

    Good luck with the plans and see you in Scotland later in the year.  

  11. Thanks Martin - look forward to Scotland later in the year and some international adventures with you next year. Hopefully in the Duomid...

  12. Thanks Hendrik. Sounds like a reproof is required to me! I'm quite fastidious about that and reproof quite often but only because I get paranoid about membrane fabrics wetting out on the hill! As to the guidebooks - they're both European rather than UK and I'll post a bit more on them when I can. I have a few proposals being considered at the moment so I may end up with several books to write over the coming 24 months.

  13. Apart from the door area, i thought that the tent handled to wind pretty well.
    Any fabric box is going to billow and collapse in winds like that. Although a wind meter reading on vid would have been worth showing.

  14. Hi Maz,
    The Nikon One is way out of my price range. I will also, never buy a new camera again because they depreciate too fast. A good second hand camera is the way to go for me. I have had a Lumix in the back of my mind for ages and if i can get a cheap one, probably off ebay, i will.

  15. It did handle the wind well Alan.  It's a SoloMid.  Supported sides from the inverted trekking poles. But I doubt the DuoMid would do as well.  Wind speed would help.  But don't forget all the claims of we were out in 40mph winds, need to be backed by the reality that it gets hard to walk in  a straight line in 40mph winds. That I reckon might have been 30 mph gusts. The camera man does not seem to get moved by the wind. 

    I also find the argument about wind speed at ground level is less a rather odd argument.  I have put my rucksack down to take a photo and seen gusts of wind start to move it.  Once towards a cliff edge and my mate grabbed it for me in time. If wind speed at the level of a rucksack placed on the floor can do that, then any shelter will be hit by the same wind. The video shows how the long steep angle side catches the wind.  Just like the DuoMid does.  Like I said how well would a shelter with the same angles, with a centre pole, and not having an inverted v supporting the sides cope in those winds?  

    The person who bought my DuoMid said it's good but no Trailstar, and I add nor SoloMid.