Tag Archives: Rab Neutrino 200 SL

Dartmoor daunder gear roundup

DSC01272One reason for going to Dartmoor was to firm up what gear to take on the TGO Challenge. The major items under consideration were shelter system and sleeping system.

Let’s start with the shelter. I took my Trailstar and OookStar nest. In many ways, the conditions were ideal for a real test, high winds and heavy rain. Overall, the TS and OS passed with flying colours. I had a small amount of leakage near the apex of the TS, where I hadn’t sealed properly, which dripped onto the OS. I was glad of having a solid inner, as it cut down draughts significantly.

Having said that, it was definitely colder than a true tent, because of the open door. That’s not a criticism, but just a fact of the design. Once you get the hang of it, erecting the Trailstar is quite easy, although it needs a bit of fiddling around to get totally right. What was pleasing is that it is easier to erect in high winds and to take down than I thought it might.

There is a lot of room inside, but the true liveable room is really around the pole. There’s plenty of storage room, but headroom is quickly restricted near the shelter walls. This was OK for me, but I could see why taller people have problems. The porch groundsheet was a great success, both for storing things on and for sitting on to get in and out.

DSC01230Karabiner and cord mod

I’ve made two modifications to the TS/OS. I’ve added an Alpkit karabiner at the apex of the TS to make clipping on the OS much easier. I’ve also added a small length of cord at the apex of the OS so I can secure it to the handle of the trekking pole. This tensions the fabric of the OS better.

I found I was ducking, twisting and turning more than in my other shelters, which made my back a bit sore. I think I need to be a bit more careful in future. Overall, I like the TS/OS. However, I’m not taking it on the Challenge. I’m going to revert to what I know and trust: the Scarp.

I just like the Scarp. All the space is usable. It has great headroom and is definitely warmer. More or less, it doesn’t matter what direction the wind is coming from or if it changes direction. It has a smaller footprint, which can be useful in some circumstances. If you factor in more (and heavier pegs), heavier flicklock poles and the porch groundsheet, then the weight differential with the Scarp is extremely modest at around 60g. So, on balance, I’m going to take the Scarp, although I will be using the Trailstar again.

The other major decision was about sleeping bag and sleeping mat. In the Monadhliath, I chickened out and took my Alpkit Pipedream 400. Dartmoor was an ideal opportunity to test my modified Rab Neutrino SL 200. I was really pleased with its performance.

The addition of Climashield APEX 167 insulation into the underside panel, where there was no insulation before, has transformed the bag. Insulation is virtually on a par with the Pipedream 400 and the bag is 75g lighter overall. The Climashield is noticeably warmer than down on the underside.

Despite the additional insulation, it still compresses into the original Rab stuff sack, significantly smaller than the Pipedream. The addition of a down collar was a success as well. Coupled with the As Tucas Sestrals balaclava, it is now a decent three season sleeping bag. I will be taking this bag on the Challenge.

Mountain Equipment are now making a hybrid bag, the Matrix 1, but it is a lot heavier (915g vs. 665g) and has less down (175g vs. 200g), so I think my modified Neutrino is a bit of a winner.

For a sleeping mat I used my Nemo Zor short. I was generally comfortable and warm, even without using the silk sleeping mat cover that I usually. However, I think I’m going to take my Thermarest X-lite as it’s even more comfortable and probably kinder to my back. It also has a higher insulation rating.

IMG_0917Air Beam frame

I used the Air Beam frame in my Mariposa in the Monadhliath, but it didn’t seem quite right. I was determined to give it a proper trial. This time I used it properly with no foam pad behind. Much, much better! It was very comfortable and moulded to my back much better. Compared with a foam pad, it ventilates a lot better and makes the pack sits better on my hips For the sake of around 100g, I think it’s a worthwhile improvement for comfort. I’ve no idea how robust it is, but it seems OK. I also used it as a sleeping mat extension under my pillow in my tent.

DSC01274Air Beam as mat extension

In terms of clothing, I had hoped to try a pair of Marmot Essence overtrousers but they didn’t arrive in time. Instead I took a pair of Montane Atomic (Entrant DT) overtrousers. This was the first time I’d used them in serious rain. I’m sorry to say they failed and were damp around my backside. I think it was more likely to be lack of breathability rather than failure. I wished I’d taken my Rab Drilliums, which are still the benchmark for me. This version of the Atomics is no longer made. I threw them in the bin when I returned. The Drilliums will be going on the Challenge.

On a slightly arcane note, I was very pleased to have an umbrella and waders. Both will be going on the Challenge. Little things can make huge difference. I’m finalising my Challenge gear list and will share soon. It’s about 9kg, which is about what I expected.

Rab Neutrino SL 200 mod

My Rab Neutrino SL 200 arrived back from As Tucas today. I’m really pleased with the work Marco has done. Just to recap, I asked him to insert some Climashield APEX 167 insulation into the underside panel where there is no insulation, converting the bag into a proper sleeping bag from being a top bag.

IMG_0658The picture above shows the panel with insulation. Marco has added a small strip of Pertex at either end to seal the sleeve. I’m impressed with the loft of the Climashield, which feels a lot more puffy than the Primaloft 100, which Rab use for the underside of the leg section of the bag.

IMG_0659Marco has done a very neat job. Apart from the different colour of the material, you would be hard pushed to know it wasn’t part of the original design. I also asked Marco to retro-fit a down collar to the neck. In my experience, down collars make a significant contribution to sealing in the warmth of a sleeping bag.

IMG_0657Again, it’s a very neat job. The photo is slightly misleading as the colour match is rather better than it looks. The bag now weighs 665g, which is pretty good for a 3-season bag. Before the mods, it weighed 573g, so the additional weight is 92g.

It will be interesting to see how it stacks up relative to my Alpkit Pipedream 400 bag (740g). I reckon they will be pretty similar for warmth. However, the Climashield on the underside of the Neutrino should allow me to dispense with the sleeping mat cover that I use as it should provide better insulation when compressed than down. This will save me an extra 100g, meaning that the total weight saved relative to the Pipedream could be 175g.

IMG_0654I was also pleased to find that I could still use the excellent dry bag that was supplied with the Neutrino. Even with the dry bag, it weighs less than the Pipedream on its own. The cost was €40 for the Climashield panel and €25 for the down collar. I think that’s good value for converting the bag into a very lightweight proper sleeping bag.  I will make another report when I’ve field tested it.

Marco at As Tucas has done a great job and it’s well worth contacting him if you have a project like this. It’s been a pleasure doing business with him. I’ve got another couple of small projects for him up my sleeve.

Disclosure: I have no formal or financial relationship with As Tucas.

Gear feedback from Lakes

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.

 Footwear

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)

 Carrying

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

 Clothing

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

Sleeping

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.