I know gear roundups don’t find favour with some people, but I find it useful to read how gear performs in the real world rather than in the back garden. On this trip I took some different items from normal.
The first big change was to wear trail shoes. This is not the first time I’ve worn them for backpacking, but it is the first time I’ve used La Sportive Raptors. I’m very impressed with them overall but there are some drawbacks. Grip and stability is excellent, especially compared with the Inov-8 Roclites I’ve used before. The Raptors have a much better and supportive heel cup.
I felt there were some drawbacks. Firstly, compared with mid boots, they are not as good for contouring, being less stable and having a tendency to dig into my ankle. I also felt they put more strain on my toes going downhill, slowing me down.
I wore some Bridgedale wool fusion socks on the first day and then some NRS neoprene socks with some light M&S merino liners thereafter. The Bridgedales were fine but not great when wet. The neoprene socks were excellent and very comfortable when wet, even when they were soaked. My feet were cool but not cold.
However, I really didn’t like having very wet feet. Using my Goretex lined Salomon Fastpackers, my feet never get soaking. They can be quite damp, but never soaked. It’s an entirely personal thing, but I think the compromises of lined, lightweight boots suit me more than unlined trail shoes most of the time.
La Sportiva Raptors (and Integral Designs eVent short gaiters)
I used the new Gossamer Gear Mariposa 2012 and was extremely pleased with it. It improves on the already good Mariposa Plus. I think the new hip belt and the aluminium stay make for an even more comfortable carry. The new style shoulder straps also seem to fit better. I preferred the solid material on the side pockets to the mesh on the old sack. The stretch mesh on the front pocket is also an improvement.
The hip belt pockets meant I could dispense with my normal belt pack as I could put a camera in one pocket and some food in the other. The lid pocket doesn’t have much capacity but is useful for a map and compass. My big bug bear with these pockets is the zips. They really do need rain flaps as driven rain can easily get into the pockets. Alternatively they could have water resistant zips.
While I like the top closure, the shock cord which pulls the mouth half closed frequently got in the way when packing. I feel a Velcro closure might be neater and I might make one myself.
If I was being really critical, the main body material of the pack is good except that it does tend to absorb water a bit. It would be worth giving the material a decent waterproof coating. However, I used a lightweight silnylon rucksack cover, which kept out most of the rain.
Overall, I think the new Mariposa is an excellent rucksack.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 2012 rucksack
I used my Rab Sawtooth jacket for the first time. I was interested to see how it stacked up against Paramo. In relatively mild and damp conditions, I thought it did well. For the weather I encountered, in some ways, it was better than Paramo as it is more air permeable and hence more comfortable. It is still decently wind-proof and water resistant, although not as good as Paramo.
The mesh backed Napoleon pockets are not only good for storage, but also ventilation. The sleeves are wide enough to roll up, but can be secured with Velcro cuffs. I really like the material, which retains some warmth but not too much. It dries quickly and layers well under a hard shell.
It combined very well with my Marmot Driclime vest when I needed a bit of extra warmth and wind proofing.
The lack of a hood is an advantage when it comes to wearing under a hard shell, but a disadvantage in showery weather, although I used an umbrella, so it was not such an issue. A good compromise would be a roll-away Pertex hood, which would provide some wind and water resistance, but not be too bulky. I think I’d prefer to have chest pockets rather than Napoleon pockets, although the advantage of Napoleon pockets is access under layers. Perhaps a good compromise might be to have double access pockets with zips on both sides.
So is it a Paramo replacement? I think two things slightly count against the Sawtooth. One thing I really like about Paramo is very water resistant (I don’t regard Paramo as totally waterproof), which is really helpful in showery conditions. The Sawtooth is reasonably shower-proof but no more. The lack of a hood is also an issue. However, at 400g, it is substantially lighter than any Paramo jacket. I think for warmer weather, it’s a good choice as it’s more comfortable and flexible.
Rab Sawtooth jacket
It was also a first outing for my new Rab Neutrino SL 200 top bag in conjunction with the POE Peak Elite AC sleeping mat. This was a mistake. I should have used a warmer mat like the Exped Synmat UL. Not only that, the Peak Elite is very slippery, which was a poor combination with the slippery Pertex of the Rab and I kept slipping downhill when I was on a slight slope for the first two nights.
However, despite this, I found the bag reasonably warm. As I side sleeper, I had to be careful to make sure the down was on top when I turned over. It also meant that the hood was largely superfluous. I didn’t secure the bag to the mat. I don’t like constriction, which is a major reason why I don’t think I’d get on with a quilt. Being enclosed, I didn’t have a problem with draughts, but it was noticeable that there were cool spots where the uninsulated material was not in contact with the mat.
I’m in two minds as to whether a top bag really works for me. I need to try it with a more suitable sleeping mat.