David Lintern begins his round up of some of his favourites from an outdoors year in gear.
OK, so the easy rhyme of the title aside, this is not the definitive list… because no such thing exists. It’s just my definitive list of keepers. It may seem like a fairly random selection, but these bits n’ bobs were cherry picked for a combination of value, durability and design from much wider comparisons of similar items. It’s not all brand-new-for-this-season either, just new to me… it’s possible you might find some of these on the bargain rail come the new year. So it’s a guide, not the gospel, and your mileage will vary… but hopefully it might give you a few clues as to what works and why…
Berghaus Explorer Active shoe £110
I’ve worn these trail shoes over many weeks during the last 9 months and grown to really like them. They’re generalists – equally at home on my local run, on the bike or on the hill, and so while they’re not cheap, they are good value. The fit is relaxed and comfortable, with a tidy, close fitting heel cup but a roomy toe box – so no heel rise and no bruised toes, even on loose scree and talus high up on summer Munros. The sole is Vibram, and more than grippy enough on rock as well as grass and mud, and the Goretex surround has seen me reassess my usual scepticism of ‘waterproof’ claims in shoes. The Explorer is both highly water-resistant and very breathable. An ortholite footbed and EVA midsole means they are comfortable all day long. Aside from the blue Asic highlights, they conceal their technical prowess beneath a modest exterior and have proven very durable – even the relatively soft sole is holding up well. I just wish they made a non-GTX version – then my search for the perfect 3 season multi day hiking shoe would be over. Weight per shoe 425g
La Sportiva Mutant £95
We’re into the realm of high spec trail running with these, and if you don’t want a waterproof liner in your running shoe then these are exceptionally well designed for that purpose. The heart of the beast is a very sticky sole, using something called FriXion XF (ah yes, of course, the old FriXion XF…?!) but anyway, the lugs are really deep, cling to the ground and refuse to let go. Compared to the Explorer shoe above, the heel is low drop but there’s a nice chunky rocker midsole, which promotes a different gait than we’re used to with regular footwear but does offer plenty of cushioning and support once you get used to it. As with most purpose-built fell runners these are non-GTX, so they’ll wet out but also dry more quickly than the Berghaus offering.
Extra innovation comes in the form of the wraparound tongue with built in gaiter, which reduces grit inside the shoe and means a very snug and stable fit while moving over uneven ground. La Sportiva’s Ultra Raptor shoe is my personal footwear of choice for big backpacking miles in 3 seasons, and these came very close to stealing that crown. However, the fit is a little snugger across the toes with the Mutant, which seems to works best for me as a running/jogging shoe. In that role, the Mutant is really excellent. Weight per shoe 303g
Paramo Enduro Fleece £145
Please excuse the teapot pose – it’s to show off the extensive zippage. So I’m cheating a bit with this – I’ve had it for a little more than a year, and while I wasn’t sure at first, I’ve grown to realise just how durable and versatile it is. For me, it often needs to be really cold to wear Paramo comfortably, but if you run on the cooler side this may suit you well outside of the deep freeze. For those of us who tend to cook easily, there are vents a plenty here – enormous pit zips, which are sensibly 2 way so vent from the ribs as well as the arms, plus a neck-to-belly front zip, also 2 way. There’s a small chest pocket and 2 handwarmers, all zipped, and the cut is slim, long and scooped, so it integrates well with a harness. The hood is adjustable and sits nicely under a helmet, and the whole lot is designed to work as a waterproof system with the Enduro windproof, although I’ve not tried it in this combination.
I’ve found it’s shrugged off wind and light rain effortlessly, and the dense weave Analogy fleece (actually more like a brushed cotton in feel) is lovely against the skin and has kept me warm, dry and comfortable without recourse to a shell most of the time, which is great in the 9 months of the year that usually make up the Scottish ‘shoulder’ season. It never seems to smell or need washing either – weird. Sleeves are not elasticated but are cut on the slim side, and do roll up (and stay up) in order to dump more heat. It does feel a little heavy on the front – I could do with 1 or 2 less pockets and therefore less fabric on the chest, which would make it a little cooler – the venting works well but ends up looking like an 80’s power blouse when fully open. I also sometimes feel the pitzip seams a little under a heavier rucksack. On the expensive side for a fleece, but then it’s quite a bit more than that, and built to survive many years of abuse. Weight 430g
Rab Torque Pants – £85
Updated for 2016, the Torque uses a very stretchy fabric called Matrix DWS (they’re at it again with the special names), which moves well with the body on complicated ground and sheds both sun and light showers with ease. The new version apparently has lighter weight fabric on the knees and instep, but it’s proven plenty stiff and resistant to rock and wetting out. When the fabric does get wet, it dries fast in a breeze. Front, hip and rear zippers are all inverted and I’ve found the ankle zippers really useful for getting on and off wearing different footwear. There are also loops on the ankle to attach webbing and keep the trouser leg down on the boot in snow. Available in a variety of garish colour schemes – looking like a human jelly baby isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but perhaps there is a case to be made for mountain safety? Be seen on bad weather days, and spot ticks quickly. Not too warm in the summer, and can be paired with thermals for faster moving winter mountaineering, too. Great value and lightweight at 335g
Montane Black Ice Jacket 2.0 £200
More catalogue man nonsense to illustrate the fit of the 2016 update for a very practical and toasty warm jacket – a firm favourite of mine over the last year. It uses Primaloft ‘Gold Blend’ insulation – a mix of 70/30, 750+ fill goose down and Primaloft synthetic fibres – to keep the warmth in and the wet out. In practice this hybrid works far better than the 90’s coffee granules it’s named after, and resists water splashes, drizzle and the wet insides of tents, as well as bouncing back from general damp and condensation well, even on boat trips when everything tends to get fairly humid after a couple of days. The compromise is a beefy, winter-ready duvet jacket that is slightly less compressible and breathable than 100% down, but in soggy UK conditions this has proven a compromise more than worth making.
The jacket is boxwall on the body to reduce cold spots, and stitched through on the arms to improve movement. Pulled down, it’s just long enough to cover my bottom, and roomy in the body which is great for layering without compressing the down. Exterior pockets are sensibly all zipped, and there’s a big internal water pocket and another zippered smartphone sized pocket on the inside to stop the (other 2) essentials freezing. The hood is capacious, helmet compatible with a wired visor and is also adjustable, with 3 toggles. There’s an adjustable hem and sleeves, a waist baffle and a full on collar to further lock in the warmth. This is all much too much for the summer months, but from damp and blustery mid Autumn through to late Spring it’s been a huge source of comfort and joy. It’s also great piece of mind knowing that a keystone piece of insulation isn’t going to bat an eyelid at a bit of bad weather. Weight 706g
Montane Endurance Pro £430
I’m trying to look all mean n’ stuff because the Endurance Pro really is hardcore! New this season, it’s a full on winter mountaineering hardshell, and therefore overkill for 3 season hiking and backpacking… but if you enjoy the harsh stuff, then read on. It’s made from 2 thicknesses of Goretex Pro: Hi wear areas get 70 denier, low wear gets 40 denier… and as you’d hope at this price point, the jacket is 100% waterproof (so far at least) and in my experience this fabric is about as breathable as a hardshell can be. Again, the fabric means it should last, unlike lighter materials which can delaminate after a season or 2 in regular contact with rock or backpack straps.
Features wise, the hood is superbly adjustable, stays where it’s put and has a wired peak, and alongside pocket placement the whole affair is helmet and harness compatible. Sleeves are gusseted, on the long side for climbing and equipped with Velcro adjusters that can be grabbed easily with a beefy glove on. I also like the small details that add to functionality – gusseted chest pockets, internal electronics pockets (made from mesh and suspended to drain any water ingress) 2 way zips on under arm vents and at the front, as well as a press stud at the hem to stop the zip slipping up under a harness or hipbelt. It’s bulky, stiff and certainly not cheap, but in harsh Scotwinter conditions this should earn it’s keep for several years and then some. Weight 532g
Berghaus AQ Mountain Glove £45
It’s not all about the money – for me these gloves hit the sweet spot between price, durability and dexterity. The fit is unisex, there’s a leather palm, a nosewipe, an elasticated wrist cuff (which dispenses with unnecessary ties) and a long adjustable gauntlet cuff, which sits over a jacket easily. They are roomy inside but not too long in the fingers – I find gloves that are too close fitting will restrict blood flow, so it’s great to have some wiggle room in these. The fleece lining isn’t as warm as some of the heavier gloves out there, but it is warm enough for me when on the move, and a lack of bulk means plenty of dexterity – I can (just about) operate a mirrorless camera with these. Wrist leashes, essential on a winter gauntlet in my view, are also present, and unlike some are comfortable and elasticated. The price is excellent, but there’s no compromise on quality.
I tested these alongside gloves worth 4 times as much, but funny enough the pricey ones won’t make you 4 times as good a Munroist! These might not be the warmest or the most technical, but the AQ waterproofing works well, and this pair were hammered last season and still look nearly new. There’s really nothing to fault. Weight per pair 165g
Later this month David will pick out his favourite 2016 packs (both for your back and your bike), crampons, a tent and gear for kids.