TGO Challenge 2015: the Paramo experience

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With the adverse weather we experienced on this year’s Challenge, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experiences of my Paramo Velez Adventure Light smock.

To recap my previous experiences, I’ve worn Paramo jackets and smocks for probably twenty years. Over that time, I’ve come to regard them as highly water resistant soft shells. Like many, I have experienced conditions (heavy, sustained, wind-driven rain) where the material gets overwhelmed and ceases to be water resistant. As a consequence, I’ve tended to carry a hard shell in addition to a Paramo jacket.

I’ve never experienced total failure, but have been quite wet occasionally. This is partly a function of how the Paramo material interacts with the material of rucksack straps and hip belt. If the strap material is absorbent, then failure through wicking is more likely. The strap material soaks up water which is then forced through the Paramo material through pressure and rubbing. Also, there are just times when the quantity of rain overwhelms the fabric and pump liner.

On last year’s Challenge, I used my Vasco jacket, which is my favourite Paramo jacket. Unfortunately, I washed it before the Challenge, but didn’t re-proof it. The result was that the outer wetted out in several places. It was ok in light rain or showers, but I didn’t trust it in heavier rain where I used a hard shell. This was my fault, not the fault of the Vasco, but illustrates that care needs to be taken in maintaining Paramo clothing.

This year, I took my Velez Adventure Light. I took the VAL instead of the Vasco because it is about 200g lighter and packs smaller when not in use. I also took a Marmot Essence waterproof jacket as a hard shell. Although the Essence is a trim fit, it still layers over the VAL if needed.

Prior to the Challenge, I took a lot of care in re-proofing the VAL. I rinsed the washing machine with a hot wash. Then I used Nikwax Tech Wash to clean the VAL. Next, I disregarded the normal Nikwax proofing instructions. Instead of using the washing machine to rinse in the proofer, I filled a bucket with water. I mixed in the required amount TX proofer and soaked the VAL in the bucket for 24 hours (agitating it a couple of times to make sure it was completely soaked). I then spun it dry in the washing machine (without rinsing) and tumble dried it.

So how did it work? Well, the weather was pretty testing. On the first Sunday, we had heavy (though not torrential) rain with a strong wind. As I was walking up the Allt Garbh and over the Bealach an Amais, the rain stung my face when I turned into the wind. At the top of the Bealach, I was nearly blown over a couple of times. Down in Gleann Fada and along the River Doe, it wasn’t as ferocious, but most of the time it was still raining, although not as heavily.

The VAL coped superbly! Apart from a little bit around the wrists, the fabric showed no signs of wetting out at all. The rain just beaded and dripped off. Apart from dampness from sweat, I stayed dry all day. My base layer was a Montane Terra Sportwool T and an old Arcteryx gridded fleece jumper (no longer made). I have to say, I was very impressed.

The next day, there was heavy rain until early afternoon, but I was using an umbrella most of the time (a good combination!), and I stayed dry, with no wetting out. The following day, from Ft Augustus to Glen Markie, it wasn’t as wet, but was very windy with squally wintery showers. For the first part I used the VAL on its own (again no wetting out).

As we got higher, it got colder, so I layered the Marmot Essence jacket over the VAL. Despite the VAL being wet to start with, this combination worked well. Within an hour, the VAL and the inside of the Essence were dry. I was also a comfortable temperature despite the biting wind.

With my faith restored in the water repellency of Paramo, I used the VAL a lot of the time. The next significant test was the very windy and sometimes wet weather from Bynack More along the Water of Caiplich. Again, the VAL shrugged off the rain.

I’ve always liked using Paramo in cool, showery conditions. The venting options and breathability make it much more comfortable than having to wear a hard shell. It also means you don’t have to keep swapping between a hard shell and wind proof.

The Velez itself is a great smock. I still slightly prefer the Vasco jacket as a design, as the floating yoke provides better venting for your back. However the Velez has better venting at the front, has a better hood and is lighter and has a smaller pack size. The VAL in combination with the Marmot Essence jacket is a similar weight to the Vasco, but provides more flexibility and warmth.

Would I use Paramo without taking a hard shell? That’s a tough one. I can still envisage situations where Paramo might fail, but with my new proofing method, I suspect these would be very rare. However, the VAL/Essence combo weighs the same as my Vasco and less than some other Paramo jackets. For walks like the Challenge, it seems a good choice to cover all eventualities. While there are lighter soft shell jackets out there, none have the water resistance of Paramo, so I think the VAL is a winner for most conditions outside summer.

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9 thoughts on “TGO Challenge 2015: the Paramo experience”

  1. Hi Robin,
    Sorry I missed you this year.

    Good tip about soaking the Paramo for 24 Horus! Thanks.
    A great jacket, acting as a soft shell but waterproof is my Westcomb Shift Hoody. Made of Polartec Neoshell. Very light and comfortable.
    Used it last year during the TGOC. Less durable though but that’s the price for weight and comfort.

  2. As you know I’m a Paramo fan too, as you also know I’ve experienced the wetting out, although only a couple of times.

    The first time was entirely my fault, I’d washed and proofed my Velez Adventure Light before using it for 2 weeks on a Challenge. After this it was put away or the summer. The next time I used it was on a Lake District 2 night trip in the September – it failed spectacularly, I was wet through within an hour. I’m sure if I’d have washed and re-proofed it things would have been different.

    On this year’s Challenge it took along a poncho to supplement my Velez in more extreme conditions. The poncho was worn on two oaccasions in extremely heavy and persistent rain. The combination worked very well indeed: completely waterproof, plenty of air circulation = no sweating. That’s a system that works for me, I’ll be using it again.

    1. On something like the Challenge, a second line of defence like a poncho or a light hard shell seems sensible.

  3. Great advice, thanks Robin. I’m thinking of switching to Paramo to save weight, ie: not have to carry a windproof and hardshell waterproof.
    I’ve seem most peoples Paramo’s wet out, but using your waterproofing may be the answer…Steve Crofts, Malvern

  4. hello.

    I always wash (txdirect) and proof my paramo in a bucket but not for 24 hours:

    I wonder if it is the fact that the bucket is free of detergent or your 4hour soak that is most important……another experiment?

    NB rather than the hassle of cleaning the washing machine, I wondered if the cheap simple washing machines sold for caravanners might be more useful/convenient as a dedicated paramo washer proofer than a bucket?

    Regards,

    NB I like the smell of meths 🙂

    1. It was interesting to listen to Bob’s podcasts for this year’s Challenge where he said that several people’s Paramos failed. All I can say is that mine worked perfectly with no wetting out in some very adverse conditions. I’m sure that having a dedicated Paramo washing machine would be beneficial. Having said that, Paramo do recommended using a normal detergent every so often to completely strip the garment, then wash it again in Tech wash. I did that when I returned from the Challenge to my Velez. I finished off by soaking it in TX proofer.

      P.S. I still hate the smell of meths!

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