Category Archives: gear

Treasure in the wardrobe

I was clearing out one of our wardrobes yesterday and I came across some treasure: a Paramo Viento jacket, Cascada trousers and some Rohan Superstrider trousers. I knew I had them somewhere!

I had forgotten what an excellent jacket the Viento is, especially for colder weather. With arm vents, waist vents and huge chest pockets, it has great venting. The roll away hood is excellent. A deep collar means you can tuck your chin out of a cold wind. It’s long enough to cover your backside and go well below your waist. The sleeves are long and the overall cut is a touch baggy, great for layering. I’ll give it a good wash and proof and it will be like new in no time.

Looking at the current range of Paramo jackets, personally, I think I prefer their older jackets. The Viento is an excellent design. My favourite is the Vasco, which has a slimmer and shorter cut with a floating yoke on the back for venting. I like the old style Velez too, with a detachable hood. We mustn’t forget the weird and wonderful 3rd Element jacket either.

That’s not to say the new jackets are bad. The Quito is pretty good (although there are some tweaks I’d make if I was being critical). One area where the old jackets win hands down is colours. The old cobalt blue is my favourite (Vasco and Velez). The Viento is a rather attractive Smoke Blue, while I’ve got the 3rd Element in a nice Red and Grey. The modern jackets have a very strange mix of colours and I wouldn’t be seen dead in most of them.

I had completely forgotten about the Rohan Superstriders. These are serious winter trousers, if a bit over stuffed with pockets. Nonetheless, I’ll probably take them on my next trip. I was hoping to go to the Lakes this week but weather and a leak in the roof meant I’ve postponed until January.

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rescueME PLB1 Personal Locator Beacon

After a lot of thought, I’ve bought a Personal Locator Beacon. PLB’s are simple devices which alert the rescue services if you need rescue and evacuation. There are no bells and whistles. It simply sends a signal to the relevant SAR centre and they alert rescue teams. There’s a short explanation here.

The rescueME PLB1 is probably the smallest and lightest PLB on the market, weighing 113g on my scales. Battery life is seven years. It has self test functions to make sure it’s working without alerting SAR. To call help, it simply requires extending the aerial and  pressing one button. It sends a signal for about 24hrs and SAR can home in on it. There’s a sturdy flap to prevent you pressing the help button accidentally. More details can be found here.

The beauty of a PLB is that it has no subscription, although it is a one shot use and you have to send it back to the manufacturer for a new battery after use. I looked at SPOT and Delorme, but decided that they were too sophisticated for my purposes. I’m not bothered about tracking and communication when I’m out in the wilds, but like the idea of a safety net if I break a leg and there’s no mobile signal. A PLB is ideal for Scotland, for instance.

The PLB1 comes with a soft case, a lanyard and a clip housing. I’ll probably just put it in a rucksack pocket and hope I never have to use it. If you’re a kayaker, the PLB1 doesn’t float so you’d probably want to consider some alternatives. For backpackers it looks an ideal unit, compact and lightweight.

In the UK, you are obliged to register your beacon with the Epirb Registry, which you can do either on the paper form provided or, as I did, online. It’s a simple and painless process that took a couple of minutes. If you backpack on your own in remote areas with no phone coverage, it’s a no brainer. Mine cost £179.

Tread Lite Gear Cuben Roll Top Dry Bag Camera Strap Pocket

I twisted Paul’s arm to make me a shoulder strap roll top camera pocket in cuben fibre hybrid fabric. I’ve been using a bulky Berghaus camera pocket on my Lightwave Ultrahike for a while (the Lightwave won’t accept hip belt pockets). It worked ok but was a bit awkward. This is much more slimline and elegant.

My Sony RX100 fits perfectly into it. It is secured by two elastic straps and a slik clip. I’ve had to sew a grosgrain loop onto the Lightwave shoulder strap as there’s no daisy chain. I’m really pleased with it. It doesn’t swing around like the old Berghaus one and access is easier as it has no padding and liner. It is fully taped so should be pretty waterproof although not immersion proof.

Paul has made eight for sale on his eBay shop. They are a bit fiddly to make, so they are unlikely to be a regular item. If you’re looking for a rucksack strap camera bag, it’s well worth considering.

Disclaimer: I have no financial relationship with TLG and bought this item with my own money.

Exped Flash Pack Pocket mod

Great pack though it is, the Lightwave Ultrahike 60 lacks a mesh stash pocket on the front. A while ago I bought an Exped Flash Pack Pocket. I haven’t used it because I wasn’t that happy with the attachment system. Unadjustable elastic with open hooks is a bit Heath Robinson for my liking. Initially I used some glove hooks instead of the open hooks. However, I’ve come up with a better solution using side release linelocs.

Here’s the pocket in position. As you can see, it fits the Ultrahike nicely.

At the top, in the centre, I’ve used a small carabiner which is hooked on to a grosgrain loop (one that I sewed earlier for a shock cord attachment that goes over the top of the snowlock). This stops the pocket slipping down and makes it easier to put gear into.

At the top, on the sides, I’ve used a combination of a glove hook, which attaches to a loop on the pack, and a side release lineloc for quick release and adjustment.

At the base there’s no convenient loop, so I sewed a grosgrain loop on the hip belt stabiliser with a side release lineloc. This system has two advantages over the original elastic and hook system.

Firstly, the linelocs are adjustable, so the pocket is more secure and can be fine tuned for different loads. Secondly the side release linelocs can also be more quickly and easily released and re-engaged.

One of the nice things about the Flash Pack Pocket is that it can be reversed. On one side it is mesh, better for drying. On the other side, it is solid, better for rainy weather. With this system it is very quick to flip around much easier to re-engage securely.

I’m very happy with the way this has worked out. Anyone with a modicum of sewing skill could copy this if they wanted to.

Mending Mariposa mesh

My Gossamer Gear Mariposa rucksack is starting to get a bit battered. On the Challenge I ripped the rear mesh pocket on the first day, ducking under some fallen trees. I effected a temporary repair with some Tenacious Tape. However, I wanted something more permanent.

I asked Paul of Tread Lite Gear to make me a patch from an offcut of dyneema grid stop fabric to sew over the top of the tear.

The first thing to do was to sew up the tear. Not the neatest of jobs, but it should hold.

Next I folded the patch over both sides of the tear and secured temporarily with some small clips. I stretched the top of the pocket with a ruler. Then I tacked the four corners with a few stitches. Lastly, I sewed the four sides. This was a pretty fiddly job. Stretch mesh is not the easiest base to sew on. With a bit of patience, I did a reasonable job.

I think the result is pretty good and has rescued my favourite pack. While I like mesh pockets, they are definitely a weak spot on many packs and not easy to repair. I think pack manufacturers should give a bit more thought to having more robust mesh.

MSR Guardian Water Purifier

Back in June when I was in the Lakes and in September on Dartmoor, I used the MSR Guardian water purifier. You can find all the technical details on the MSR website. Hitherto, I’ve been using the Sawyer mini filter, which is very light and easy to use. The main draw back is the slow filter rate and its susceptibility to clogging. Admittedly, backwashing with the provided syringe is quick and easy to cure clogging.

A couple of people I know have started using the MSR Guardian water purifier. On the Challenge I was given an impressive demonstration of the ease of use and impressive flow rate. The other attraction is that it’s a much more stringent purifier than the Sawyer, filtering out pretty much everything except chemicals. The downside is it is quite heavy (c.500g dry and 600g wet) and bulky.

However, I reckon it’s a good choice if you’re concerned about water quality. I’ve always been wary about small pools of static water and areas where there might have been contamination by animals or humans.

For instance, when I was on Dartmoor in September, camping at Taw Marsh, there were a lot of cattle and sheep roaming free. Even with freely running water, it’s not possible to know whether it is contaminated with faeces or not. Personally, I’d rather not take a chance. With the Guardian the chances of getting anything nasty are basically zero because it will filter out even viruses.

Some tarns in the Lake District are contaminated with human waste. At least with the Guardian you can be sure that you won’t catch anything. You can even filter water from puddles and be confident. To a degree, this can offset the extra weight of the Guardian as you can utilise any small source of water, obviating the need to carry extra water. This might be particularly useful for high camps, where you can use small pools/puddles which would be difficult with many other systems.

Two other features make the Guardian an attractive purifier. It is self cleaning, so there’s no mucking about with backwashing. It is also freeze proof, unlike the Sawyer filter, so you don’t have to worry about it in colder months.

I found it really straightforward to use. The long hose means it’s simple to put in any water source. Pumping was easy and the flow rate was impressive. The bottom of the pump mates with Nalgene bottles and “cantenes”. I use a 1L HDPE bottle and an 3L collapsible cantene/bladder. While there’s next no no leakage after use, I stow the Guardian in an Exped dry bag as the hose and pre filter remain wet.

All in all, I think this is a great bit of kit if you want absolute certainly that the water you’re using is potable (as long as you avoid chemical contamination). Obviously there is a weight penalty, although if there’s more than one of you, it soon becomes very weight efficient. For a group of people, it’s a no-brainer with the security and rapid flow rate. I will still use my Sawyer filter where water quality is better and weight is a consideration. For the rest of the time, the Guardian is my choice, especially if water sources are dubious. It is very expensive relative to other filters, but should last a lifetime.

Disclaimer: I bought this with my own money and have no affiliation with MSR

dhb Windslam Stretch Cycling Gloves Review

I’m lucky as most of the time I don’t need to wear gloves as when I’m walking I seem to generate enough body heat to keep my hands warm. However, there are times, especially when it’s windy when I need a pair of gloves. The trouble with most gloves is they are either too hot to wear for any length of time or they aren’t windproof enough. I find that gloves with a full windproof membrane often become too warm and sweaty. Most of the time simple thin fleece liner gloves work well, but when it’s windy they don’t provide much protection.

Enter the dhb Windslam Stretch Cycling Gloves. These are simple thin, stretchy  fleece cycling gloves with a silicone pattern on the palms and fingers for grip. However, the back of the glove, including the fingers but excluding the wrist is made from windproof fabric. This is ideal as the back of your hand is most exposed to wind when using trekking poles (and cycling). The lack of a membrane on the inside means that heat can dissipate and there’s less likelihood of over heating and sweating.

I used a pair for the first time in seriously windy conditions in the Brecon Beacons and found they worked really well. Unlike other gloves I have used, my hands stayed at a comfortable temperature and I didn’t have to keep taking them on and off to be comfortable. The silicone stripes gave a good grip on my trekking poles too. There’s not much else I can say other than they worked perfectly.

Disclosure: I purchased these gloves with my own money and have no affiliation with the manaufacturer or retailer.