Tag Archives: Lifeproof fre

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.

Buttermere Bimble gear roundup

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There were only a couple of totally new bits of gear I used. One was the Salomon X Ultra Mid GTX boots. I was very impressed. I’ve been a long time user of the Salomon Fastpacker boots, which have now been discontinued. I reckon these boots are even better. I found the lacing system more positive. Generally the grip was better with a more aggressive sole pattern. They were slightly slippery on wet, slick rock, but the rest of the time they were very secure. I used Superfeet green insoles and they were incredibly comfortable. The toe box has slightly more wiggle room than the Fastpackers. The outers got damp but my feet stayed dry. I would expect that when they are saturated that breathability will suffer. I did spray them with Duxcoat but it didn’t protect them for long before the toes got saturated (which is no different to every pair of fabric boots I’ve owned). I shall definitely be using these again.

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The other new item was the Exped Air Pillow UL. At 45g, it’s nearly half the weight of the standard Air Pillow. It uses a lighter weight material which feels slicker than the standard version. Whereas the standard version can be used on its own, for comfort, I used a buff as a pillow case. The other difference is that it only has one valve for inflation and deflation. It was as comfortable as the standard pillow, especially with the buff pillow case. I find the Exped pillows give me the best level of support and are the most comfortable I’ve used. I will definitely be using this one again as well.

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I ought to comment on the Vango F10 Nitro Lite 200. This is the third time this year I’ve used it. Now I’ve ironed out most of the quirks, I’m starting to really like it. The extra rear pegging point, using double guys on the side and the rear vent closure system have all made a difference.

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The efficacy of the vent closure is a bit difficult to judge but I think it should be effective against all but the strongest winds. The double side guys make a huge difference to the stability of the hoops and I can’t see any reason not to use them all the time. I’m amazed at how few tents use double side guys on hoops (Hilleberg seem to be the exception). Lastly, the extra rear pegging point has cured the problem of the fly touching the inner.

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On the last night, I added a further tweak by introducing a short loop of cord between the fly and the rear corner pegging points on the inner (shown above). I noticed that these were under a lot of tension. This extension eases the tension and further widens the gap between the fly and the inner.

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I had very heavy rain on the last night. The Nitro proved completely watertight. The Nitro is a typical tunnel tent in wind: very stable end on, but flaps a bit side-on to the wind. Even side-on, it’s pretty stable. I’m tempted to do a mod and fit a third pole in the middle. It shouldn’t be too difficult to do and would only add just over 100g. It would help to support the fabric in the middle of the tent and stabilise it. Just to put this in context, any flapping is reasonably well controlled and not in the same league as a Laser Comp.

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I really love the amount of space in the Nitro. It’s like a palace. There’s plenty of space for all my gear and loads of mesh pockets. The porch is very roomy for cooking and storage. It’s also well sheltered for cooking. Venting is good and condensation is kept down to a tolerable amount. The inner is easy to unhook to wipe off any excess damp before packing. It is slightly annoying that a couple of the bungee connectors keep coming undone on the rear hoop.

I had some qualms about how thin the groundsheet material is, but it’s proved robust so far and I didn’t bother with a groundsheet protector. I’d still be careful of rough ground though. The fly material seems robust, despite how thin it is. The inner is also holding up well.

I thought about taking the Trailstar/OookStar, but was glad I took the Nitro instead. On a couple of the pitches the more compact footprint of the Nitro made selecting a pitch easier. Overall, the Nitro is a really good tent and I’m increasingly confident about it. However, I still think the Scarp edges it on stability and ability to shed wind in any direction.

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This is the third time I’ve used the Nemo Zor self inflating sleeping mat this year and it’s excellent (sorry I don’t have a picture of it from this trip, above is in my Duomid). I find it really comfortable to sleep on. I wonder whether the dual cores (horizontal and vertical) make it adapt to body shape better. As with my Dartmoor trip, I used my silk cover. This makes it feel really nice and adds a significant amount of insulation. This may sound odd, but it feels more comfortable and supportive than an air bed. I like not bouncing around when I turn over or when I’m sitting on it. This is going to be my sleeping mat of choice from now on.

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Lastly, I used a Lifeproof Fre waterproof case for my iPhone 5. I bought one in a rather striking lime green colour as I thought lime would be more visible than the black case I already have.

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I can’t say I’ve tested it by dropping it in water, but it seems pretty water resistant and shockproof. It adds very little bulk and weight. It actually seems to improve the responsiveness of the touch screen. I think it’s a great case for an iPhone, albeit quite expensive.

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LifeProof fre iPhone 5 case

Just before I went to the Lakes, I bamboozled an almost free iPhone 5 from my mobile provider. Apple managed to wreck the GPS function on my old 3G with iOS updates. For the brief period of time where the GPS worked on the 3G, I liked the location and mapping function. I had the RoadTour National Parks 1:50,000 OS maps loaded, which was on special offer. RoadTour don’t seem to be anywhere near as popular as ViewRanger or RouteBuddy, but the app is fine for my purposes (show location on OS map).

I was quite keen to try the RoadTour app again on my new phone. However, I wanted to protect the iPhone 5 from the elements. Previously, I’ve used an Aquapac case, but the new iPhone is a bit longer and won’t fit. Then I had an email for OutdoorsGB advertising the LifeProof fre case. Although it was a bit expensive, I decided I liked the look of it and it seemed to provide a bit more protection than an Aquapac case as well as being a bit neater.

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The case weighs 30g and is easy to fit. Just drop the iPhone into the half with the clear front. Snap the rear half on. Flip the USB connector flap up and screw in the plug to protect the ear phone socket. Removing the phone is simple. Unscrew the ear phone plug, flip open the USB connector socket protector and with a coin to prise open (gently) using the slot at the bottom right hand side of the case. All very simple, although it’s recommended not to do it too often as it might compromise the seal.

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The ringer mute and the volume controls are easily accessed. To use the headphone jack, the screw plug needs to be removed (mind you don’t lose it!). Connecting the USB connector/charger cable requires the protector flap to be flipped down. The touch screen is very positive. In fact, it’s better than some screen protectors I’ve used.

The case is waterproof to 2 metres, although I’ve not tested it, and gives some shockproof protection (2 metres drop). Although the case adds a little bit to the bulk of the phone, it’s not unwieldy. Acoustics are surprisingly good. It certainly worked well for the three days that I was out. It became absolutely essential when I discovered that I’d left my compass behind (doh!). The mapping and location on the iPhone worked really well as did the compass function. I also took some photos with it. In fact on the last day, because it was raining I didn’t use my Sony WX100 camera.

This was taken with the Sony DSC WX100

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And this was taken with the iPhone. Although not quite as good as the Sony, it’s still more than adequate, so I might just use the iPhone on occasion.

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Although it’s quite expensive, I think the LifeProof fre iPhone 5 case is worth considering to weatherproof your iPhone.

Disclaimer: the LifeProof fre case was purchased with my own funds and I have no relationship with Lifeproof, RoadTour or OutdoorsGB.