2013: gear review

It may surprise you but I haven’t bought much gear this year. However, I’ve made plenty of posts on gear. So here’s a round up of some thoughts on the gear that I’ve used in 2013.

Shelters

The tent I’ve used most this year has been the Force Ten Nitro Lite 200, which I bought near the end of 2012. I’ve always wanted a tunnel tent. While it’s very good tent, I’ve found it needs several modifications to make it into an excellent tent.

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For the modest weight, you get an amazing amount of room, all of which is usable, unlike some other designs. With the double side guys and Tension Band System, it is very stable, although side-on winds will always make tunnel tents flap a bit. Generally, it’s a well thought out design and I like it a lot.

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For many, the million dollar question is: “is it better than the Scarp1?”. Back in January, I did a long-term review of the Scarp, which I think is one of the best tents ever designed.

My answer is still that the Scarp is slightly better but the gap has narrowed. My reason for still preferring the Scarp is that it sheds wind in all directions, even side on, which means it is more flexible when selecting a pitch. Like the Nitro, the Scarp needs some modifications to push it into the excellent category, which you can find here.

The other shelter that I used during the year was my cuben MLD Duomid. You won’t be surprised that I modified that as well! I still like the Duomid, especially for summer. During the year I acquired a MLD Trailstar and OookStar inner. As yet, I’ve not tried them out, but I’m looking forward to using them.

Packs

I’ve only used one pack this year: the Gossamer Gear Mariposa. I think it’s an excellent pack and I posted a long-term review in August. In October, I bought an AirBeam frame for the Mariposa. I’m looking forward to using it.

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Sleeping mats

Sleeping mats have become a bit of a topic in backpacking circles, with the initial enthusiasm for air mats mats fading as longevity and puncture issues became apparent. I wrote an assessment back in January. This year, I’ve mainly used the Nemo Zor self inflating mat. I’ve found it more comfortable than I’d expected and will continue to use it, especially with my bespoke silk cover.

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As Tucas cuben stuff sacks

Near the end of this year, I ordered some cuben stuff sacks from a new cottage manufacturer in Spain, As Tucas. After my initial order, I liaised with Marco and ordered a bespoke cuben rucksack liner/drybag. Obviously, I’ve not tried these yet, but the workmanship is very good. Marco has some other interesting items and is open to bespoke orders, so go and have a look.

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Fuel4: a potential game changer?

In November, I was sent a free sample of a new fuel for backpackers by Fuel4. Fuel4 is an alcohol jelly. I did some tests and was impressed. For me it addresses two of the major drawbacks of meths: the smell and soot deposits. I shall do some field tests in 2014 and report back. I still like the immediacy and convenience of gas, but can see the attractions of Fuel4.

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Boots

As most of you know, I prefer mid boots for walking. While I’ve used trail shoes, most of the time, I just prefer mids. It’s a personal thing. I’ve been a big fan of Salomon Fastpackers but they are now out of production. The nearest replacement is the X Ultra Mids, which I used in the Lake District in September. To my delight, these are even better than the Fastpackers. They are even more comfortable and have a better grip.

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Clothes

There’s not been much new in the way of clothes, but two items I used for the first time in 2013 were my Paramo Fuera Ascent jacket and Mountain Equipment Ibex trousers. The Ibex trousers (not pants!) are superb. They are by far the best soft shell trousers I’ve tried. I’m seriously thinking of using them for the Challenge. I also like the Fuera Ascent windproof. OK, it’s quite heavy, but it’s a lovely jacket with fantastic venting. For summer, though, I really like the Rohan Windshadow jacket as a windproof. It’s a shame the hood isn’t better designed. I also like the Rohan Pacific shirt in summer.

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Lifeproof Fre iPhone 5 case

Lastly, if you’re an iPhone user, it’s well worth considering the Lifeproof Fre case. It makes your iPhone waterproof and shock resistant but is low weight and surprisingly slim. I’ve started using my iPhone as a GPS and have 1:50,000 maps on it. Since buying this case, my SatMap has become redundant. I liked the case so much, I bought a second case in lime green, so it stands out more if I drop it.DSC01169

Disclosure: with the exception of Fuel4, all these items were purchased with my own money. Fuel4 sent me a free sample to test. I have no formal or financial relationships with any gear manufacturers or retailers.

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13 thoughts on “2013: gear review”

  1. Been rather busy so not had too much to read recently but I’m looking forward to seeing your review of the alcohol Jelly. Assuming you have been able to use with all meths stoves without any issues?

  2. Seeing the Air Beam frame takes me back to the mid 1970s when I read a library copy of the Backpackers Handbook by Derrick Booth. One of the kit lists featured a Brown Best Ariel pack which utilised some form of inflatable frame. I was in my mids teens at the time so the company is long gone. Just goes to show there is nothing new under the sun! I am interested in the Mariposa after reading a few reviews, including your own. I was also considering the Granite Gear AC Crown but have seen a couple of negative reviews concerning the weakness of the frame sheet and the supposed cooling channels on the back having the opposite effect to that intended..

  3. good round up Robin. I do like, and always have done, Vango tents. They have come on leaps and bounds in recent years with the weight aspect and they continue to tweak as well as innovate

    If its any consolation, I havent bought much camping gear this year :D

  4. I’ve spent 70 nights in my Scarp 1 this year and I consider that it’s the best tent I have owned. The crossing poles add something too which make it a UK four season. My only grumble is that without the poles in heavy winds water can pool at the windward end and has to be kicked off from inside. Apart from that I think it’s fantastic. Mine is still in good shape too though a little stained on the inner from insects…

    I too like the Paramo Fuera Jacket. You may be interested to know that Paramo are looking to extend their range of windproofs so there will be more like the Fuera and the Bora at some point in 2014.

    I treated myself to some AS Tucas stuffsacks recently. I like. I also bought an ookworks silnylon stuff sack and like that too.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts on the Nitro 200. Having camped with Terry Abraham who has the Force Tent Argon, it is a tough choice as to which is the better tent and one I would like to go with. The geodesic design of the Argon may have the edge, but it is a inner pitch first tent, so the Nitro 200 may still have it. Decisions,decisions – I still like the look of the Wikiup-3 as well, but no porch !

  6. Having tried unsuccessfully to source a Helium 200 Lite last summer and contacting Vango I got the impression it may have been discontinued. Worth checking whether there will be a new batch for 2014.

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