Monday, 30 September 2013

Salewa Alp Train.Mid GTX-Pell Review

A little while ago, I had the stark choice of re-soling my Scarpa boots or trying something new and lighter. In the summer months, and even when it's raining, I like using trail runners and just keeping my feet clean and dry when in camp. But there are places, and conditions, where I prefer a boot. After the Classic Haute Route in 2011, I was chilling out in Zermatt and wandered into the Salewa store to take a look. I'm a gear geek, I suppose, so it seemed like a pleasant way to waste an hour. I saw a great pack which I nearly bought as my OMM Villain had not performed the way I'd wanted it to with 10kg of mountaineering kit in it. I also saw some great footwear.

Fast forward to 2013 and the trips I had planned meant I wanted a new pair of boots. Chris Townsend reviewed the Alp Train.Mid GTX-Pell in TGO and so I contacted Salewa to see if I get could get a pair on test. They agreed and sent me the very pack I'd been looking at back in 2011. The Miage II. More on that later.

So what to say about the Alp Train.Mid GTX-Pell. Fit is important to me as I range from an 11 in some boots/trail running shoes, to a 12.5 in others. Salewa sit perfectly in the middle and, if you are used to Scarpa boots, Salewa fit just the same. Although, buying boots online is a lottery so I'd always suggest getting them fitted in a shop (and paying for them there, if they've taken the time to advise you on fit and help you choose the best boot for you).

The Alp Train.Mid GTX-Pell is a pretty light boot for the features. I've spent so much time waxing lyrical about how clever Arc'teryx can be, it's nice to point to another company employing their grey matter with the kit they produce. Weight has been saved wherever possible and in some very clever, unique ways. In crude summary, the webbing at the back rather than full, padded liner; fabric lace-loops rather than metal; the upper fabric itself. The vibram soles have this curious climbing zone annotation where the lugs are different and sculpted for scrambling rather than walking. The 3F system around the heel to bring the lacing across the top of the foot in more snugly. It's really quite clever. And I love the little loop to pull the heel on. Nice.

They feel light on the foot as well. They fit so well, and shave around 200g (per foot) off some of their nearest competitors (590g for a size 9). It's a difference you really feel. The fabric looks a little like  cleaning will be nightmarish but after five days in some really awful mud, even the yellow came up looking like new. The gore-tex performed well. My feet breathed well in Smartwool medium hiking crew socks and remained dry and comfortable.

The grip from the vibram soles is exceptional in the dry - about as sure as placing cams and hauling yourself up a rope. In the wet, it's as good as any boot I've ever used. In bad mud, which we had on the decent down from Maglić, they were just like any other three season boot. Mud got snarled up in the lugs and the grip simply disappeared. Compromises are everywhere.

Freedom of movement is good, whilst the boot remains supportive and snug. The 3F system is designed purely for this purpose and Salewa's thinking is that changing the way nature does things is counterproductive. It makes for a more intuitive boot. The lacing at the front near the toe is specifically designed with climbers in mind and there is a multi-fit footbed to help give each size of boot the broadest range of fit and application.

Salewa have also used the same principals X-Bionics have been using to destroy the bacteria which cause odour - silver. 100% Fresh silver reduces bacteria, they explain. "Clinical studies show that silver is effective against the bacteria that cause odours. Bacteria metabolise sweat and body moisture, emitting waste products that produce strong odours in a shoe. The resultant odor is unpleasant. Treating the shoes with silver ions destroys enzymes within the bacteria that are necessary for them to live. The bacteria die off without these enzymes." Ok, then. That sounds good. And they didn't smell too bad after five days but I think more prolonged use is necessary for any analysis of that.

All in all, I was really pleased. Comfortable, light and effective in 90% of conditions. Waterproof and breathable. Easy fit. Flexible useage range. Clever features. They are very good boots indeed and, if you get stuck on a mountain in them, that yellow will be seen for miles...

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Arc'teryx Winter 2013 and the new Covent Garden Store in London, UK

Last week, Arc'teryx invited me to the unveiling of their new Winter 2013 range at the inaugural event at their first European Stand Alone Store in Covent Garden, London. This exciting new store, in partnership with Snow+Rock, is located in St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden – a lovely pedestrian shopping area linking Long Acre and Seven Dials, and also adjacent to Snow+Rock’s existing Mercer Street store. Snow+Rock introduced the UK to Arc'teryx and I look forward to working with them after chatting to the guy who heads up their ecommerce department.  More to come on that.

The great and the good were there, including Phoebe Smith, one-time writer for Trail magazine and now editor of Wanderlust. Arc’teryx has built a reputation as an innovator in the outdoor industry. Arc’teryx create products that enhance performance in the outdoors. The new store will showcase the essence of the entire Arc’teryx collection, which covers hiking, mountaineering, alpine climbing, wintersports, packs and lifestyle wear. The store will also be the first place to preview many new products, as well as being a home to events with team athletes including renowned British climber James McHaffie and bouldering sensation Mina Leslie-Wujastyk.

The showstopper for the evening was twofold, introduced by: its award-winning down technology and the new Gore-Tex Pro which they say is 22% more breathable, more windproof, waterproof and rugged than the previous product generation.

Arc'teryx's commitment to making durable, beautiful, innovative and timeless products makes them, in my view, well worth the price tag. Rock these for as long as you're outside, they say. And their kit does that.

Here is a video you may enjoy:


The talk from Carl Moriarty, Arc'teryx's Head of Design, was extremely interesting. Sure, you might think that chatting all evening about membrane fabrics, down, coreloft and breathability is something only the geeky and lifeless might engage in and, maybe you'd be right, but there's something uniquely sustaining about knowing what you're wearing, why it works and where the technology has come from - so I guess that makes me one of them! Listening to the guys at Arc'teryx wax lyrical about their methods of testing fabrics, how they innovate and create and where it all comes from was supremely engaging stuff.

I won't try and translate it all myself because Arc'teryx put it succinctly enough but here's what they say about their new down range:

"For centuries people have been using goose down in the pursuit of lightweight thermal comfort. Yet in the current world of high performance outdoor garments, the challenge has been integrating the luxury of down insulation into technical waterproof apparel without compromising the integrity of either component.

To alleviate this problem, Arc’teryx utilizes its new Down Composite Mapping. Placing synthetic insulation in the areas most subject to moisture: in the hood and collar, under the arms and at the hemlines, Down Composite Mapping (DCM) protects the down and targets its warmth toward the body’s core and shoulders, where comfort is most needed.

Down Contour Construction preserves the seam sealed integrity of a waterproof shell by using an inner fibre fill jacket (Coreloft) overlaid with a layer of down. Attached inside the shell, the fiber fill liner adds extra thermal value and protects the down from any condensation that may form inside the shell. The option of a down insulated waterproof/breathable garment broadens the reach of Arc’teryx insulation into new environments."

Down Composite Mapping strategically places 80g Coreloft synthetic insulation in areas where moisture may accumulate, and 850 fill European Goose down in the core to provide maximum warmth. To achieve weight targets Arc’teryx has simplified jacket construction, for example, reducing volume in the sleeves. They say savings gained through these processes allow for the selection of more durable materials, resulting in jackets that are more durable but almost 10% lighter than any others. And I have got one of these new down jackets - the 240g, ISPO Award Winning Cerium LT - to test this winter.

Additionally, Gore-Tex Pro is causing quite a storm. Here's what Arc'teryx had to say about that:

"The new generation of GORE-TEX® Pro. Significantly more breathable, yet still lightweight and durable, the new Pro technology is refined to match the interval pace of guides, mountaineers, backcountry skiers and high performance outdoor athletes.

Delivering up to 22% improvement in breathability, with a membrane that is more durable and extends the range of user comfort, Arc’teryx worked closely with W.L. Gore to test the technology and provide feedback during the development process.

Classic Arc’teryx design values: Driving design from the point of view of solving problems and creating functional products for unforgiving environments is at the heart of every design conception. Fits that enhance fabric performance; articulated patterns to anticipate the posture of an athlete in motion and allow freedom of layers inside the shell; micro seam technology to aid breathability and reduce the overall garment weights; exclusive face fabrics developed in partnership with W.L. Gore to meet Arc’teryx standards."

So it looks like being an exciting Winter for two new Arc'teryx ranges. Worth investigating and I'll let you know how the Cerium LT turns out, and there may be a new waterproof required too...