Wednesday, 31 January 2018

'Britain's Favourite Walks: Top 100' on ITV

The ITV programme, 'Britain's Favourite Walks: Top 100' has caused a bit of a stir.

In my view, rightly so. Too many flat city walks and nowhere near enough walks in Scotland!

On the other hand, it does mean the better routes are left for the rest of us to do in quiet. Result!

My best walks are exclusively in Scotland, Snowdonia, Brecons, Lakes & Howgills, Peak District, Dales, Pennines and Dartmoor. OK, so there are some other cracking venues but for me the outdoors means mountains and wilderness (and for that you need to be in Scotland).

So here are some of the best walks I've done / recommend:

- Helvellyn via Striding / Swirral

- Helvellyn via Nethermost Pike and back down by Dollywagon Pike, Lakes

- Coledale Round, Lakes

- Fairfield Round, Lakes

- Coniston / Wetherlam, Lakes

- Blencathra via Sharp Edge and Halls Fell, Lakes

- Snowdon via Crib Goch and down via Y Lliwedd, Snowdonia

- Tryfan to Bristly ridge, Glyder Fach, Snowdonia

- Y Gribin, around the tops and back down via Hell's Kitchen / Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia

- The Cobbler, Arrochar Alps

- Aoanach Eagach ridge traverse, Glen Coe

- Buchaille Etive Mor and its four 'tops', Glen Coe

- Ben Nevis via CMD Arete

- Ben Macdui via Fiacaill Ridge, Cairngorms

- The Mamores (can do all in a day but better to take some at a time)

- The Torridon Hills (Beinn Eighe, Liathach, Beinn Alligin, Torridon Munros

- Ben Lomond etc, The Trossachs

- The Cuillins (pretty much anywhere), Isle of Skye

- The Newlands Round, Lakes

- Buttermere - Fleetwith Pike, Haystacks, Red Pike

- High Cup Nick, Cumbria

- Malham Cove, Yorkshire

- Belstone / Yes Tor / Black a tor Copse, Dartmoor

- Carnedd Dafydd / Carnedd Llewellyn via Mynydd Du

- Lochnagar, Cairngorms

- Pretty much anywhere around Glen Coe!

- Scafell Pike / Scafell either via Lord's Rake or via Corridor Route from Seathwaite or from Langdales, Lakes

- The Langdales / Crinkle Crags / Bowfell, Lakes

- Nantlle Ridge, Snowdonia

- Cadair Idris, Snowdonia

- An Teallach, Northern Highlands (Scotland)


The list could go on....

And on...

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Rab Latok Alpine Gaiters Review

I've been using the Rab Latok Alpine gaiters for two years now.

Previously I was using a pair from 'Highlander' but these started to show the classic signs of cheaper gaiters - namely they were unbreathable and caused more moisture inside the gaiter than they kept out. The same is true of clothing and hard shells in general.

The lesson is don't compromise but wait and buy what is good quality unless you absolutely cannot. The Rab gaiters are quality!
Rab Latok Alpine Gaiter - image from Rab's website

These have travelled to Wales, Scotland, the Lakes and Dartmoor and have been invaluable. Not only do they help keep rubbish and muck and rain from your trousers or waterproof hard shell, they are hard-wearing and do what they need to do. They've got a tough exterior and a crampon patch on each gaiter all the way around the lower part of the gaiter.

The gaiter features a velcro closure, a popper at the top, a drawstring at the top, a strap over closure at the foot of the gaiter and a hook to connect to the laces of your boot. There's an adjustable strap for under the boot which can be adjusted from inside the gaiter cleverly.

Drawstring at the top of the Rab Latok Alpine gaiter


These have been worn in the snow, the rain, the mud and on ice. They've climbed up things, scrambled over things, walked through Dartmoor heather and gorse and held up pretty well.

Rab Latok Alpine Gaiter showing velcro, strap, closure tab, hook etc


The eVent has breathed brilliantly as expected and the only issue has been that the eVent on the rear section of the gaiter has begun to rub away on the stretchy part. Nothing too serious but being stretchy and strapped to the back of the boot inevitably causes some wear. Seems to have happened on one gaiter more than the other.

Where the gaiter's eVent has 'rubbed' on the inside, presumably from the back of my boots


The gaiter did get a rip in one of the gaiters from one of the spikes on my crampons (always a risk), so I patched it up with Tenacious Tape which has been pretty solid. This didn't happen on the stronger corder lower leg part but on the 'normal' gaiter part (

Inside of the Rab Latok Alpine gaiter showing the eVent material

I did think I had a picture of the Gaiters on in the snow, but in fact you can't see them. Sorry...

Halls Fell in the snow (from slushy snow to nevé). Can't see the gaiters, sorry. But there were on!


I did a mini review of these on the Go Outdoors website, which says the following:


They've gone through 'field and fountain, moor and mountain' (not always following yonder star) but been brilliant. They've been scrambled in, walked in, climbed in, 'summer, spring, winter and fall' and even suffered an ice axe piercing (tenacious tape to the rescue). Incredibly breathable compared to other non 'branded' membranes, easily adjustable and strong velcro etc. I did get them in large as a medium male but possibly could have got them in medium. The back section (around the heel) which is stretchy (great idea) is beginning to lose some of the eVent on the inside but aside from this, all good!


The final thing to say about the gaiters is about the sizing. Mine are the large and while they are fine, I wonder whether medium would have fitted better. My feet are size 9 1/2 - 10 (UK) and I've got an athletic build if that helps.

So overall these are brilliant gaiters and when they give out I'll get another pair. No problems with the eVent and breathability. I've cleaned them fairly regularly with Tech Wash and have re-proofed once. They're gaiters. They work. Say no more.


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

No To Zip Wires in Thirlmere thank you

Looking down to Thirlmere from the Swirls path up to Helvellyn

The Context


Plans are afoot to build a zip wire across Thirlmere in the Lake District. The proposers of this plan (Treetop Treks) have a zip wire and high line activities around Windermere and Brockhole, both hidden away in forest areas. They also have links to Zipworld in Snowdonia which includes Europe's longest zip wire. These are located in old mining sites at the edge of the Snowdonia National Park.

The plan is to have eight zip wires spanning the lake at Thirlmere. There would be significant development of the Swirls Car Park as well as car parks on the other side of the lake such as Armboth. There would be an estimated 50,000 users of the zip wire each year. People using the zip wire would each be kitted out in red overalls and be driven up to the start point of the zip wire in 'military style' vehicles. People would then zip wire over Thirlmere, leaving from near Fisher Crag and landing behind Swirls Car Park.

According to the managing director of Treetop Trek, Mike Turner, this would have 'a minuscule environment impact' as hundreds of people would daily and noisily arrive at Thirlmere, need parking and transport, then be driven up newly built roads in noisy 4x4 vehicles before arriving at the top of Fisher Crag, being fixed to the wires in their red outfits and then noisily scream their way across with constantly buzzing wires. According to Terry Abraham, those locals who originally welcomed the zip wires in Snowdonia are now fed up with the noise they create.

A number of organisations have rightly spoken out against the zip wire proposals, including: Friends of the Lake District, the BMC, the National Trust, The Wainwright Society (eventually), the Campaign for National Parks, the John Muir Trust, TGO Magazine and The Ramblers (albeit with one of the weakest statements I've ever seen).

Vested Interests and Conflicts of Interests?


Of concern is the number of Lakeland organisations that have welcomed the proposals. One of these organisations, 'Cumbria Tourism' has Mike Turner from Treetop Treks as its small operator representative on the board, although they make clear that Mr Turner was not present in discussions about the zip wires.

Terry Abraham publicly stepped down as ambassador of the 'Lake District Foundation' after they expressed neutrality towards the zip wires. The Lake District Foundation's trustees include the National Park, the National Trust and Cumbria Tourism. According to someone who has researched Cumbria Tourism, two of those behind Cumbria Tourism include the Lake District National Park and United Utilities. The Lake District National Park will make the final decision about the zip wires, although their decision making must be based on legislation.

United Utilities own the Thirlmere land and will receive a rent from Treetop Treks if the zip wires go ahead. It's also interesting to note that Treetop Treks have promised to donate money to the Lake District Foundation if the zip wires get permission. Further muddying the mix is the closeness of a staff member of the LDNP and a staff member of Treetop Treks.

At a public meeting of the Parish Council of St Johns, Castle Ring and Wythburn, it was stated that United Utilities had gained permission from the Lake District National Park for the Thirlmere Link Mains, despite saying they had asked local landowners. According to a member of the public this was not true and local landowners were not in support the proposals. Other concerns raised at this meeting included noise, impact on helicopters and MOD flying and that traffic increases had not been properly assessed by Treetop Treks to intentionally underplay the impact. The councillors had sent out 195 surveys to the local residents. Of these, 96 were returned, representing a total of 202 adults. Of these, 1 was in favour, 1 was undecided and 200 were against the proposals. The councillors also expressed their public opposition to the Thirlmere zip wire proposals.

A YouTube video from Andy Beck (the author of the 'Wainrights in Colour'), posted on 6 October 2017 revealed a 'hardcore' laid track from near the Armboth car park all the way up to within a 150m walk of the proposed jumping off point of the zip wire (Fisher Crag) with a nice turning circle area. No marking of trees for cropping had taken place and previously this had only been a basic track up to enable all-terrain vehicle access. As Andy Beck stood there, all you could hear was silence. Something that would be very lacking if the proposals go ahead.

I just need to be extremely clear that I am not against any of these organisations, nor am I alleging any kind of corruption or 'golden handshakes' in darkened rooms etc. It's just clear that there are a number of potential conflicts of interests in the decisions made by organisations (not necessarily by individuals within those organisations who may hold differing opinions than official company policy at times).

Arguments Against Zip Wires over Thirlmere


So what of the zip wires and the arguments against them. Friends of the Lake District have an excellent summary of the arguments but here are some of mine...

Trees around the southern edge of Thirlmere


1. The zip wire is contrary to the founding of the National Parks and their charter. It is against very clear legislation such as the Sandford Principle which states that nature and the environment must always take precedence.

On January 4, Michael Gove said this:

"So the imperative to husband, indeed wherever possible, enhance our natural capital – safeguarding our oceans, cleaning our rivers, keeping our soils fertile, protecting biodiversity – has to be at the heart of any plan for our country and our world."


2. There would be a huge increase in traffic to the area that is already very busy in summer. Any traffic problems would grind the area to a halt.

3. The incessant whirring and buzzing noises would prove a constant irritation. Already B&B owners are concerned they would lose visitors. According to Terry Abraham, the noise in Snowdonia is already a concern for some locals that had supported the zip wires, within months of launching the zip wires.

4. The zip wire is something that is an end in itself. People are not coming to the Lakes for anything else. Once over they'd leave without much consideration of the area. On a BBC Breakfast interview, it was stated by Mr Turner that the Lakes should be a place for 'fun' and 'thrill' as much as 'tranquility' and 'peace.' This is a straw man argument as the Lake District already is a place for fun and thrill.

5. The zip wire does not engender a respect for the environment. You come, gear up, go down the zip wire and go home. I imagine litter will become a huge issue.

6. The zip wire is very expensive - it will be in the region of £50 to £80 per go. This is not something for the average person - getting to the Lakes and paying for the zip wire would be a very expensive day out with little going to the local economy (but instead to Treetop Treks). I can drive to the Lake District and back from the South West of England for less than a zip wire ride!

7. The argument is that the zip wire would provide employment but employment in Keswick is almost zero. Already positions in the Lakes are filled by (hard working and to me, highly valued) Eastern European staff living in multiple occupancy rooms due to low wages and high living costs in the Lakes. Zip wire employment rates would inevitably be low / minimum wage.

8. The arguments have been made that opposition is from the 'tea brigade' meaning older people (as if their needs should be ignored?) Yet I am in the Lakes regularly with people in their 20s and 30s (all of whom live in Cumbria / north Lancashire) and all are opposed to the zip wire.

9. A zip wire can already be experienced in the Lakes or in most places in the UK. Why do we need one going over Thirlmere? Put it in West Cumbria which badly needs tourism.

10. Many argue that Thirlmere is 'man-made' yet this is spurious. Yes it's a man-made reservoir but it has been done to fit in with the existing environment, unlike zip wires which are an offence to the natural environment. Yes there was mining, but this was in the past. Understanding our world as we do now means that we don't intentionally damage our natural areas. Mining (in its time) was there by necessity. Zip wires are simply there for profit and greed.

11. Things have to 'move on'? Really. Would you say there are areas of life where in our attempt to 'move on' we have made things worse in our world? Oh yes. In many places. Moving forward and progressing has to be done in a responsible and even moral way, otherwise we reap destructive behaviour that costs more to fix than it ever benefits.

12. There is a huge need for areas of quiet, of nature and of serene environments. Stanford University (2013), the '30 Days Wild Survey' (published Feb 2016) and many other surveys have proven the need and positive effects of people being in a peaceful, natural, green environment. These have huge positive impacts on mental health, physical health, ADHD, stress and depression. Our world is full of noise, depression, ill health. Why damage the very places that help people be restored? It's criminal.

13. We also know that being active also releases endorphins. Sitting in a harness on a zip wire may be a brief thrill but it is not being active, nor does it get you anywhere. The ride is the start and the end, it is not adventure in any form.

14. We live in a world of quick fixes and cheap thrills. These actually devalue the essentials of humanity and of being alive. They also bring a long-term cost. Wisdom is the ability to make decisions now that you will be happy with later. This is not a wise decision.

15. People coming for a zip wire are not coming for the Lake District but to 'do the zip wire'. When someone comes to the Lakes, in order for their to be sustainable tourism, something has to be deposited that causes someone to value the place and want to return. A zip wire cannot by its very nature be that thing.

16. There are already a huge amount of activities available in the Lakes. These are done (or should be done) with a view to conserving, protecting and being sensitive to the area. A zip wire is none of these things. Mr Turner in his interview with Breakfast News on 12 January 2018 spoke about getting people onto the 'fells'. But people wouldn't be coming for the fells or getting 'out' onto them - they'd be coming to do a zip wire then zip off home...

17. The impact must also be considered on those who currently visit the Lake District. If the zip wires were to go ahead, how many would wish to visit the Thirlmere area or walk around, cycle around with wires buzzing over their heads? Many would want to reconsider visiting the area. I would.

18. Let's be very clear that 'profit' is not simply about money. Money is a useful tool but it is there to serve and not be served. The love of money can be the root of evil. Just because the zip wires may bring in some money is not a reason to have zip wires. True happiness doesn't come from things but from people, from love, from faith, from hope, from doing good and leaving a lasting legacy in this world and beyond.

19. Some of the things said by those who favour this application have been unhelpful at times and even angry, with the rare reasoned exceptions. Comments on Facebook about ' you lot need to give your heads a wobble' or comments made about Terry Abraham being a 'failed' film maker (wrong) are unhelpful and do a dis-service to the cause. There have also been other things said that have been wrong. Treetop Treks at one stage stated that 'most people who responded to a consultation were in favour' of the zip wire. One wonders who the consultation went out to in the first place... Other disinformation has also been spread in order to undermine those opposing the application or to put a positive angle on things that are highly tenuous at best. If there is a need for 'fluff' and 'spin' then you know that your argument is already not a good one.

20. Fundamentally a zip wire is actually quite selfish. More is explained below...

Helvellyn from Red Tarn

Making Adventure vs Buying an Easy Thrill


Most things in life that are good have to be worked at, fought for or earned. It may be chasing after the girl of your dreams and then spending time truly loving her. Or it may be developing a good app for iPad. It can be training hard so you can join the Royal Marines. Or simply doing your job well.

When you come to the fells and mountains, they demand exploration and ask for your respect and time. You're coming into their presence more than they are in yours. But it is mutual.

It also requires work and effort. Adventure is about going somewhere and doing something worthwhile (a bit like Alpkit say). If it can be accessed easily then it's not adventure, it's simply a cheap (or expensive) thrill. If it can't be earned then it loses much of its value. A diamond is priceless because of the forces of nature and time required to work on it. A common stone is less 'valuable' because it's so abundant and is just 'there'.

A zip wire ride requires no effort except mentally to undertake it. It requires no adventure, no real time invested, no thought, no respect, no serious planning, no energy. It's just there. You get in. Strap in and go. That's it. It's easy, effortless and demands nothing. It doesn't improve your character, increase your fitness, open up new worlds, ask hard questions, cause you to evaluate yourself.

A zip wire is a quick fix that means little, lasts no time, gives a brief thrill that wears off and is quickly thrown aside in order to find the next fix. It therefore holds little value. A zip wire is basically self-seeking, self-serving and self-indulgent.

But the mountains demand our time, respect, effort, consideration, planning, time and energy. They require something more, test us beyond our comfort, draw us out into something more and something beyond ourselves. We are forced to go to places that we don't go to normally. They throw challenges at us that we have to respond to. They require the recognition that there is something bigger and more than us and this grounds us as humans. Mountains / fells require sacrifice, service and selflessness: all things that a zip wire can never demand or give.

This isn't some kind of self-righteous, piety about the grandeur of those who use mountains being 'better' or 'above' others as this clearly isn't true. Nor is everything done by people in the mountains necessarily beneficial or caring of those mountains. But mostly people who go to the mountains are those who care about the mountains and they care well.

When we look back on history we see all kinds of things done in the name of progress. Many of these things destroyed people's history and culture. People used to shoot, hunt and kill animals to or near extinction. I can hear people's voices in favour of the shooting back in the day using the same arguments we hear from the proponents of a zip wire over Thirlmere... "It's progress... You can't live in the past."

Yet these activities from the past destroyed animals, wildlife, environments, cultures. The price of progress was a heavy one and one that we can look back on and learn from. The benefit of studying history is that we can learn not to make the same mistakes. I would suggest we should look back and learn that not all progress is progressive and not all development develops.

At its heart the argument about zip wires over Thirlmere is really an argument about being in the landscape and mountains in a self-less way that enhances and preserves and allows people to make their own adventure and connect with the world around, vs an argument of easy come, easy go, self-seeking thrills where the ride prevails over everything else.

What kind of world do you want to live in?

Monday, 1 January 2018

Marmot Exum Ridge Gore Tex Active Jacket Review

Marmot Exum Ridge Gore Tex Active Jacket Review


The Decision-Making Process - to help guide others!


A news report in November 2017 saw Dundonnell Mountain Rescue urge hillwalkers to wear bright clothing. Donald Macrae, the team leader made the point that it can be challenging to see people out on the hills in dark clothing - but brighter clothing can be a contrast to the landscape and help find people.

It's something I'd been thinking about for a while. My time out on the hills, mountains, fells and ridges can sometimes leave me confused as to whether I'm an outdoors person or a ninja. Not just for my extraordinary abilities to move silently without being spotted but mainly due to the fact that my main waterproof jacket is black, my waterproof trousers are black and my face mask snood thing is also black.

And I have other friends who are also part-time ninjas...

Scottish Ninja Day Out

I was also looking for a slightly lighter weight breathable and fairly robust jacket. I'd tried a number of 2.5l jackets in Gaynors and Cotswolds but that clammy feeling you get just didn't work for me, despite some great jackets. I'd tried a Neoshell jacket but due to the nature of Neoshell it's pretty heighweight stuff by necessity.

A trip to George Fisher saw the team recommend me a Montane Spine jacket with Gore Tex Active. I put it on and thought, 'this may be the holy grail of jackets right now.' But George Fisher prices can be as high as their customer service (that's a compliment by the way!) so it made me stop and think. A quick check on Sports Pursuit led me to the Marmot Exum Ridge jacket with Gore Tex Active in - and at a price over £100 cheaper than the Montane Spine was at the time.

And it was a nice blue! Result.

The Alpkit Balance had been slightly reduced and offered (offers!) very similar features - but the price had gone back up from a sale price to £175. (The Alpkit Balance is a brilliant jacket by the way).

So the Marmot Exum Ridge at £125 (offer price) was the way ahead!

In practice


This jacket has now become my general go-to jacket in days out across the UK in some pretty interesting weather at times. One day on Dartmoor (I'd gone to meet some friends who'd gone out for a run before I arrived) so I thought I'd head out anyway despite some typical moor weather. I also had to wing my way up through some steep heather, long grass and moorland menagerie and make my way across to the tor through the bog infested wet / wet infested bog. I did wonder if I should have brought a raft...
A Dartmoor Day


No problems with the jacket, despite its first proper outing. Quickly adjusted the hood toggles sides and back to fit around the head and give good visibility. These are slightly fiddly to use and I wouldn't want to do it with thick gloves on in the middle of a snowstorm but that's true of most jackets. Possibly not quite as good a hood 'fit' as the North Face jacket I've got but not far off at all.

There's an elastic drawcord around the hem of the jacket that's easy to cinch - which is a big advantage over the North Face Jacket which has to be cinched together within the pockets (and seems tricky to un-cinch!) The Exum Ridge keeps it simple.

The outer is durable with a nylon rip-stop outer. I've worn it with a couple of packs and done some scrambling in the jacket and it's held up well. I haven't dragged it across rock but it's as sturdy as I need.

Yes, the Gore Tex does mean it sounds a bit like a crisp packet but I'm not too bothered about that, unless on one of my ninja missions of course...

Adjustable cuffs are pretty good and fairly easy to adjust even with gloves on. The zip does up without snagging and although it's on the 'wrong' side for UK use (the right side) it's no issue at all. There's not a zip 'park' at the top but there is a beard guard on the inside of the main zipper at the very top 5cm or so. Nice touch.

There's a reflective 'Marmot' on the hood and a reflective logo on the right shoulder at the rear. Reflectivity on a jacket is something that isn't much but is important for those of us who run on the hills or roads (not that I often run in a waterproof!) Logo on the front is also reflective.

The cut is fairly athletic but not at all restrictive. It's got a semi-articulated feel to it - certainly hasn't 'ridden up' at all. Breathability is not something I've really faced as I use jackets  and layers pretty carefully. There's no pit zips etc but Gore Tex Active is for active lightweight use and pit zips add weight.

The pockets are mesh lined so can be opened to add breathability if needed (and if it's not raining!) In comparison the North Face jacket I own has fully waterproofed pockets.

A snow-laden day on Windy Gap, brutal winds, freezing cold and a great view of Great Gable...


The jacket has been tested in rain, wind and snow. It's been up and down ridges, sat in shelters (well, I was the one sat there), seen sun and rain, blue skies and clagged out weather in the mountains, on the fells and on the moors. Packs down well, lightweight for what it is (346g medium).

Great jacket and cracking shade of blue!!

The Gormless Snowman in the Marmot Exum Ridge Jacket


Friday, 6 October 2017

Alpkit Koulin Trail Tights review

Alpkit


Alpkit - the British company that has always been a bit different (in a good way) and has produced solid kit at solid prices. They've always been good 'bang for the buck' (or indeed pound) without ever being a 'value' or 'budget' range. Over time, they've built up their reputation with ever improving gear and the issues a few years back with stock shortages are now a very distant memory. This has always been a customer and user-driven company with their staff 'real' outdoors people who are just 'one of us' and communicate this in their marketing.

In recent times they've stepped up their game with both an increase in quality (such as using Primaloft in their insulated jackets) and a huge increase in the range of stock they provide. During this time their prices have gone up but I would say they are still very well priced in all they do. They're one of those companies that listen to their customers well and are small enough to implement changes quickly and well. They also keep their 'classic' ranges going while improving them.

Onto the Koulin tights which I feel are already a classic item. 


Tights?!


OK so you may or may not wear tights as a guy. When I initially considered the Koulin tights, hideous images of A'level drama trips flashed through my head along with people mocking me for looking like a ballet dancer on the hills. There's also the slightly sensitive issue of close fitting tights and the occasional wolf whistle from obviously deluded females, as happened in Grisedale on one run. Having to wear them into Sainsbury's once was an experience...

The Alpkit Koulin tights. Not in Sainsbury's...


Out and About


But having bitten the bullet, I pulled them on (literally) for a trail run up through Grisedale, over the Eagle Crag scramble, up Nethermost Pike, to Helvellyn and back down to Patterdale via Striding Edge. Amazing run and no-one else around save for a guy with his terrified girlfriend headed up Striding Edge. We did stop to help but decided not to get too involved! Wonder if that relationship is still going...

Eagle Crag scramble. No it's a bit harder than it looks here!


If you haven't worn trail tights then they are unbelievably freeing, light and easy. They simply flex with your legs which is liberating. The Koulin tights have just the right amount of stretch in them to move with your body. Compared to even the amazing Montane Terras, I'd liken the effect of wearing the Koulin tights to running in trail shoes compared to running in boots. On the two times I've been on Dartmoor wearing them and in the Lakes, it was also so easy to climb as the tights are so flexible but also strong.

Heading back from Great Links Tor, Dartmoor


The Fit


I'm a 30 waist (at most) and with a fairly standard, athletic kind of build. The small in the Koulin tights was a perfect fit. Getting them on requires a wee bit of tugging to get them up the legs, especially on the lower leg. At the bottom of the tights on the outside of each leg there is a zip at the bottom (about 17cm in length) which can be done up, even if it doesn't feel like it. Helps get them on and off. Some people aren't fans of zips but I found they helped. They are slightly long (I have slightly short legs I guess) but this also means the tights easily sit on or above the waist.

The Features

The tights are highly breathable and move moisture well and dry quickly. The stretch is excellent and it jumps back to shape after use and washing, so no worries there. There are meshy panels in a couple of non-essential places to aid breathability.  A drawstring inside the tights at the front will also help.

There are two side pockets which I generally use to stash my (fairly large) smartphone on one side and a compass on the other. However, they will take more than that. At the back is a red zipped pocket which will take keys or other valuables.

The sensitive issue of your parts showing when wearing tights can be diminished by (a) not strutting around like a peacock; (b) wearing a pair of shorts over them or a long (I actually just wrote 'pong') baselayer; or (c) as I did, wearing a pair of Under Armour boxers underneath.

There is also a reflective logo and trim on the sides of the tights which is essential. They are pretty light and they seem very hard-wearing too.

If you spot this person, seek immediate medical help or counselling...

Conclusion


The Koulin Trail tights are ideal for trail running, running, hiking or even gentle scrambling. It's almost converted me away from wearing trousers when walking and certainly they're pretty good for trail running in 2 or 3 seasons. At £25 (October 2017) they're also brilliant value. Just don't tell anyone - I don't want hundreds of Alpkit gear clones out on the hills with me ;)

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Montane Further Faster Neoshell Waterproof Jacket - Initial Impressions

Recently, I started to look for a new waterproof. I have a North Face Five Point jacket which is fantastic. But I was looking at something a bit lighter, hopefully more breathable and in another colour. The North Face jacket is black and my waterproof trousers are black. My Montane beanie is, er, black... Anyone noticing a theme yet?

So in a sale I saw the Montane Further Faster jacket. At 443g it wasn't the lightest jacket but with Polartec Neoshell in, I knew it would be the most breathable fabric on the market. Contrary to the advice I received in one outdoor retailer, Neoshell is the leading breathable material on the market (as of this review, July 2017). Gore Tex Active isn't in the same ballpark. The later version of Gore Tex Pro is pretty similar but Neoshell has a greater air permeability - meaning a minuscule amount of air can get into the jacket and help the thing breathe more.

Yes, Paramo may have a unique system but in the Summer (or non-Winter) it is simply too warm for someone like myself who runs very hot.

Polartec Neoshell (due to the nature of the way it works) will not currently ever be able to be very lightweight. The lightweight fabrics are the 2.5 layer system which dispenses with a protective lining fabric (unlike a 3 layer fabric). 

So what of Pertex Shield + or other manufacturer's own brand 2.5 layer fabrics? Well, these are all fine but not as breathable (certainly not as resilient) as '3 layer' things like Pro Shell. Now, when we say 'breathable' and 'less breathable' we are not talking huge gulfs in breathability. A waterproof is designed to keep the elements out and so will never be as breathable as a windproof or a soft-shell etc, which all allow air and the elements in and out - meaning they breathe and dry more quickly but won't keep the rain out as effectively as a waterproof!

OK, so onto the mini overview. Bear in mind this is taken from a jacket I received (and subsequently didn't keep) but was able to look over and test in a home environment. So this couldn't be a real world review as the jacket was returned. But the time looking at the jacket may help some of you decide if this jacket is the right one for you...

The Montane Further Faster is compared with the North Face Five Point jacket and an old Montane Venture jacket which uses eVent.

Here's something I wrote on a forum:

This is a mini 'review' of the Montane Further Faster jacket...

I'm an athletic build medium. The first thing I noticed about the Montane Further Faster (FF) jacket (I got a medium) is how large the arms are. There is a lot of space in the arms - both the upper and lower arms. I've got an old Alpkit down jacket and the FF jacket can go over that so will the FF will work over an insulated layer. The FF jacket has a very slightly 'boxy' rather than 'fitted' design. The TNF jacket is perhaps very slightly more 'boxy' than the FF on the torso, but there's not much in it.

In the body area, the Further Faster jacket is about the same as my TNF. The FF has slightly better articulation over the shoulder area. Pockets are about the same size as on the TNF as the FF and fit a non-laminated OS Explorer map easily - a laminated version is a bit more tricky on both. The drawstring system for the waist is better on the Montane, as the TNF one is inside the pockets. The one area which is weird on the FF jacket is an elasticated area on the back 'waist' height of the jacket, measuring around 20cm. This cinches the jacket in and presumably may help rain fall off on the back of the jacket. Whatever its (valid) use, it looks weird and seems unnecessary. This was enough to put me off the jacket.


The hood is a bit more sturdy on the TNF compared to the FF and fits over a helmet a wee bit better. Both are good hoods with side and rear adjustments but TNF is slightly better and more sturdy for me. The Montane Venture hood is dire, mainly because it's an old system.

In terms of length at the front, the Further Faster jacket is about the same as the TNF one and not quite as long as the old Venture. A review on I think TGO said the FF jacket is very short at the front but it's not terrible. In the course of looking for another waterproof, I tried on a Mountain Equipment Zeno jacket which was longer front and back (and more fitted than the Further Faster). The Montane Spine jacket was also 'longer' (understand the word 'longer' doesn't mean 'long') and a way better fit than the Further Faster.

Between the three jackets I own, the 2008-2009 Montane Venture has the best 'fit' in terms of fitting my body shape, without any doubt. The arms aren't as wide compared to the FF, which *feels* way too spacious, especially in the upper arms. Having said that, I measured the FF jacket arms compared to TNF one and they're not that different. FF one is slightly 'fitted' at the cuffs.

People also talk about 'noise' when moving with Gore Tex Pro. I'd say this is an issue as the Gore Tex Pro is more 'stiff'. But it's not a huge difference, with the Venture and eVent being comparable to the FF. I like that the FF has reflective detailing on it. TNF one doesn't but I use this more in winter and snow.

No idea yet on breathability or sustainability of the FF in comparison but am positive it'll be more breathable than the TNF one.

Outer fabric on the TNF is bomber - FF seems slightly less so. The FF has very long arms and covers my hands! TNF one ins't quite as long on the sleeves, nor the old Venture. The Montane Spine and ME Zeno also aren't as long. The FF arms are extremely long and presumably so to fit over gloves in a snowy alpine type situation.

I love Montane stuff normally. It's high quality and fits me like a glove. The Further Faster jacket is unusual in that it's not quite the case with especially the sleeves being too spacious. It's not a fitted jacket for an athletic build. It is very high quality and has all the features a jacket should have. Montane have gone above and beyond in terms of build quality and features but without the fitted nature of the jacket it's not quite the one for me. This is not a criticism at all, just a different use to the one I would have for it.

The search for a lightweight and breathable jacket is basically not possible. There has to be a compromise. The Further Faster is brilliant for someone who wants a fully featured jacket with the highest breathability on the market. I'll have to look for a lightweight jacket elsewhere and probably compromise on breathability!

Overall the Further Faster is highly recommended but try one on first!

Friday, 2 June 2017

Montane Terra Pants - Review

Wearing the Montane Terras on the Climbers Traverse path up to Great Slab and Bowfell

As you can't see in the picture above, I'm wearing the Montane Terras. Fear not, I am wearing them in the picture below. Phew, what a relief.

The Montane Terra Pants in the, er, 'great indoors'. La Sporitva trail shoes (amazing!) complete the look...

Lots has been said about these but I can honestly say they're my favourites outdoors trousers and my absolute go-to ones - well, unless doing some heavy duty scrambling when I pull out an older pair of Craghoppers.

Why so special?

Well they're incredibly lightweight and nice to wear. Unlike my Bear Grylls pants, the Terras don't make you sound like you're a moving paper bag. (Add in a Goretex Pro jacket and you have a combo of moving paper bag and crisp packet all in one...)

The Cordura reinforcement (black area)

The fabric is resilient and yet they feel almost like a second skin. The main fabric is TACTEL and the reinforced areas are CORDURA which is very strong. There is reinforcement in the important areas such as the knees / thighs and around the rear quarters (the 'buttocks' in the words of Forrest Gump if you've seen that movie...)

The reinforcement goes right down to the inside of the lower leg / ankle. Brilliant.

There is a great level of venting available - at the bottom of the legs and at the top of the legs around the thighs. This makes them incredibly useful for Spring and Summer excursions.

Showing a bit of leg - steady on ladies...

Venting at the top comes with mesh to help with modesty and even potentially keep out some bugs...

The pants are also articulated which may sound like a fancy word unless you've actually worn them to see how they move with your body.

Back in the day I used my army lightweights. Good and durable and solid. Then the Craghoppers Kiwis which were strong and practical. The Bear Grylls pants were a step in the right direction, let down by the rustle and excess pockets. But the Montane Terra Pants are absolutely brilliant for movement. They are unlike any other outdoors trousers I have ever worn. They are so good for moving, climbing things, scrambling around. And that's down to the articulation.

They also have some good pockets with mesh lining.

Pocket pulled out

A waist belt completes the pants with all they need. I am a waist 30 and got these in small. The one slight thing is that even with my ickle waist they are slightly tight, yet I can pull the waist out around 10cm! So the issue is with the elasticated waist possibly being a bit overzealous. But that's the only fault I can find!

I have worn these in various temperatures and they've been fine. They have dried very quickly in light showers and are incredibly breathable. They're durable and lightweight too. Perfect.