Dartmoor gear round-up

As usual, I’m going to give you a quick round-up of how my gear performed over the four days I was on Dartmoor.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa 2012: this is a brilliant rucksack. The “carry” is very comfortable, with the new style, thicker hipbelt contributing significantly. I also think the aluminium U stay is an improvement over the old style carbon stays. I’m coming to appreciate the “over-the-top” closure system. Replacing the draw cord  with a small karabiner worked perfectly. I like having the outer pockets made from solid material rather than the mesh of the old version. The stretch mesh on the front pockets is also an improvement. I was dubious about the small pocket on the lid, but it was very useful for maps and phone. The hip belt pockets are also good for camera and snacks. However, it would be a good idea if GG used either water resistant zips or rain protection flaps. I think this is a really excellent pack and one I’ll be using for years to come.

Exped Synmat UL: this mat has many excellent features. It’s very comfortable, gives good insulation and folds down small. However, durability is poor. On the last night, I suffered a puncture. Fortunately I always put a thin foam mat underneath, which doubles as a back pad for the rucksack. While the ground was hard, it gave me some insulation. I reckon I’ve slept about fourteen nights on it, so it’s not very impressive. I’m going to return it to the retailer for replacement. It makes me rethink whether I want to rely on air mats. While they are comfortable, they don’t appear to be very robust. If it had failed on the first night, I would have had an uncomfortable time.

Rab Neutrino SL 200 sleeping bag: I used this earlier in the summer and came away with mixed feelings. It worked better with the Exped sleeping mat (when it wasn’t deflated!) than the POE mat I used in the summer. The lowest temperature was about 8c in the tent. At that temperature I felt it was about the limit of its warmth. As usual, near dawn I needed to don and extra layer. The key to keeping warm with a top bag is to ensure the down baffles are always on top. This sounds obvious, but requires a conscious effort when you are a side sleeper and move about at night. At least with a top bag, unlike a quilt, you don’t need to worry about draughts. Although this is an excellently made bag with high quality down, I found myself wanting to go back to a conventional sleeping bag. There’s nothing wrong with the bag, but, for me, I think I’d only use it in summer. Even then, I think I might prefer my WM Highlite.

Rab Drilium overtrousers: like most walkers, I hate overtrousers. However, the Drilliums are an exception. They are the most breathable and comfortable overtrousers I’ve ever worn. I hardly sweat in them. They are almost like wearing a normal pair of trousers. The material is also quite soft and quiet, adding to the illusion. I’m really impressed with them. At 240g they are not the lightest, but they are by far and away the most comfortable and I’d be loathe to change them.

Paramo 3rd Element jacket: this is the first time this year I’ve used Paramo. While it certainly performed its function as waterproof and windproof well, for me,  it doesn’t combine well with a merino base layer. On the first day, I was damp and sweaty more than I wanted. From then I used a Rohan baselayer (Cool Silver T, no longer made) and it performed better. I used a very old Arcteryx micro grid fleece jumper as a mid layer. The other annoyance was the poppers that secure the hood and arms when not used with the gilet were constantly getting under the pack straps and digging in. As I don’t intend to use the hood and sleeves on their own, I cut them off with no loss of function. I’m going to return to a windproof top, fleece, hardshell combination rather than using Paramo as I think it is more comfortable and flexible. I’ve bought a very interesting new windproof top, so watch this space.

MLD Gaiters: gaiters are another piece of gear that I don’t really like. However, in places like Dartmoor, they are very useful. The MLD eVent gaiters are a superb bit of gear. They breathe extremely well and they don’t fall down. I wore them for most of the trip and hardly knew I had them on, except for keeping water out of my boots! They only weigh 101g, so it seems stupid not to take them in case any bog trotting is needed.

PHD Minimus jacket and hood: the Minimus is a brilliant warm layer and I used it not just around camp but to supplement my sleeping bag if needed. I used the detachable hood as a sleeping bag hood, finding it more comfortable and less restricting than using the actual sleeping bag hood. It’s much warmer and more effective than a conventional sleeping bag hood.

Sawyer Squeeze water filter: an excellent bit of gear. The rapid water flow means no effort or waiting for purified water. It mates well with the Source water bladders that I use. Incidentally one  of the bladders sprung a leak, which I wasn’t impressed with! I think the Sawyer Squeeze is an excellent solution to water purification. It might be a shade expensive, but it should last nearly for ever.

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13 thoughts on “Dartmoor gear round-up”

  1. I did mention some time ago about using merino with Paramo. Quoting the chap in the Paramo store at Covent Garden; Apparently the whole idea is to wick via a synthetic top allowing moisture to be pulled and escape through the pump liner!

    I do like merino but after some time I do feel damp, mainly across the back!

  2. I wear the detatchable hood from my down jacket also at night. A much more comfortable solution than a mummy bag hood for a side sleeper.

    The Sawyer filters are really great, too.

    1. I first started using the down jacket hood on the Challenge and was surprised how much better it was. The Sawyer is excellent. Can’t see why anyone bothers with chemicals or pumps.

  3. WIth regards to the Exped Synmat UL it is clearly marketed as not be as durable as the other mats in the Exped range (two year warranty versus five year warranty for example). I have used one for about 35 days on a recent bicycle tour and whilst I did have issues with it delaminating (mine was an early model) it was replaced whilst I was on the road. The replacement got a puncture in the last few days of the ride from a thorn. Thorns can puncture bicycle tyres so really had to blame the mat for that.

    So for me the mat is still staying in my gear kit as I have yet to find something to replace it, something that provides both the weight savings and more critically the pack-up size.

    1. Mine has lasted nine months, used for fourteen nights. I’ve been careful with it. It’s always been used with a thin foam mat underneath. Failing after such a short time is not acceptable, hence it’s going back for exchange. If it had failed after two years, I would have been annoyed but felt it had done its job. It’s a very good mat and I think Exped make high quality gear, so I’m not criticising them.

  4. My POE mat failed after 3 days on the Challenge. It had been used for only 2 nights previously. Reading blogs and magazines over the past year it’s pretty clear lots of people have had similar problems. The popular response seems to be ‘the manufacturer said it was an early model’ or ‘I must have picked up a dud’. I am less sure: I think these mats are simply prone to failing and the technology is simply not there yet to make a sufficiently durable product.

    1. I agree with you. I’m not sure I want to rely on an air bed for longer trips. It’s a shame because they are so comfortable.

  5. Sawyer filter was superb in the USA. We needed lots of water due to the heat. Good kit. RAB Drullum’s great and got them as a recommended from you. Like them so far Robin. MLD gaiters have been used by me for years now. I should do a long term use review. RAB top bag works great for me. I really like it. But get side sleeper issues you have. Good info from a good use of the kit. Much better than first looks with no use ever reviews.

  6. My Exped mat is good as the day I bought it, around 18 months ago. RAB Drillium trousers – I think the best I have used. Paramo 3rd Element – very versatile, PHD jacket, seen me through 3 winters and I like you use the hood with my Alpkit bag.

  7. I have had both an POE AC and an original Neoair fail me. The POE went down on the !st night of this year’s TGOC and wouldn’t stay up for more than half an hour! Fortunately I got the loan of an alternative mat after a couple of days to see me to the coast. The Neoair also deflates, more slowly, but still means reinflating 3-4 times during the night (I noted that Chris Tomsend had one of the more recent Neoairs fail him on the Challenge also). I was considering an Exped Synmat UL as had heard it was somewhat more robust than other two until I read your report!

    I am going back to a traditional self-inflating mat (Thermarest Prolite Regular) as have never had one of these fail me. The peace of mind and restful night easily outweigh the extra grams carried as far as I am concerned!

  8. Self inflating mats for me. I have an original Thermarest full length and, recently, bought a Prolite Regular for backpacking as not so bulky as the original one. No issues re deflation in either. Looked at a NeoAir but the crisp-packet noise put me off even though they pack very small.

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