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Gear of the Year 2016 – Part Two

David LinternDavid Lintern continues his round up of his favourites from an outdoors year in gear. You can see his pick from 2016s trailshoes and layers – including jackets, trousers and gloves – in the first part here.

Pack

Millet Prolighter MXP 60+20 £160.00


This is my other cheat on the timing front – I’ve actually used the Prolighter for about 20 months now and it’s become my go-to winter heavy lifter. I think it’s a good general purpose hauler, but comes into its own for winter backpacking and mountaineering, with a removable hip belt, zoned 1000d Cordura for extra durability at the wear points, a zipped snow/storm collar and a floating top lid. There are pole and ski friendly compression straps, expandable side pockets as well as useful lid pockets. The ice tool attachments are slimline, secure and efficient. Otherwise things are kept fairly sparse. The hip belt eschews pockets for rack space – I’d prefer the former at least on one side, but hey you can’t have everything. The back system is one size fits all and consists of fixed moulded foam that ‘flows’ into the shoulder harness and shrugs off snow easily. There’s an internal sleeve carrying a removable sleeping pad and some tubing to give the pack structure.

I’ve seen this attract less than favourable reviews, but the carry for me is fairly typical of a lean pack. Admittedly there is less padding in the hipbelt to soften the blow of heavy loads, but the weight transfer to the hips is still good and the balance is great. The taller, thinner shape does means you need to pay attention to how you pack, but the Prolighter is tough, lightweight and built for the mountains. I’ve also seen it in Tiso for a lot cheaper than the list price. Weight 1490g

Crampons

Petzl Charlet Irvis crampons £115.00


These crampons were a standout favourite last winter season and for the few days we’ve enjoyed this season too. You need to be careful where you stand wearing the Irvis – the points are ridiculously sharp, cling like limpets to ice and while they have rusted a little they show little sign of blunting after some rough use. The points are a fair bit shorter than others I’ve used, but that works well for Scottish mixed ground, where longer points can feel unstable and stress the ankles over a few hours. I own the semi auto variety (leverlock), which will account for at least some of my confidence in these, but there’s more: They pack down tiny – the smallest of my sets of sharps. The linking bar can be adjusted for boot stiffness, the binding lock is an exceptionally secure design, and the balling plates are simple, stiff and faultless. Overall, I just feel really safe in these, which is the desired effect. Just watch out for your trousers when stepping up!

They are also available in universal bindings, but if your needs are less technical and you don’t own a pair of B2 boots, then I’d highly recommend the Grivel G10 new classic in Universal bindings. Any more than 10 points on a bendy hill-walking boot is unstable in my opinion (I’ve tried, and had the scars to prove it)… and the G10’s are tried, true and built to last. Petzl have revised their crampon range for 2016, but the Irvis remains. Mine weigh 876g per pair

Shelter

MLD Duomid XL $365 (plus shipping from US)


I’ll confess I’m a fan of this American company’s products, and this ‘pyramid’ style tarp style shelter is no exception. The design is simple – a pole front of centre (or use 2 walking poles with a section of joiner between them), with roughly 70% of the internal space behind the pole. This allows for 2 people behind, with plenty of space for another person, all your gear and/or a dog in front. There’s lots of headroom too – much more than in a conventional tent. If you prefer an inner (and most will) it can be purchased as an extra. This gives you the option to leave it at home outwith the bug season.

With all the guylines in place these shelters shed wind, snow and rain exceptionally well. I understand Ron Bell (MLD’s owner and designer in chief) has added corner guylines on the 2016 model, so it’s even more stable. Cooking and changing out of wet clothes and boots is easy due to both the headroom and huge ‘porch’ in front of the pole. A top vent, plus clever catenary curves between the pegging points mean an airy shelter with no condensation issues. I’ve not used the regular sized Duomid – this XL version is 30% bigger, and even on my own I enjoy the space. It’s super roomy but still lightweight, and versatile enough to use as a solo shelter, plus enjoy with a friend – significant, furry or otherwise – as the need arises. You’ll need to sort out the pole, pegs, inner and seam sealing yourself, but for the weight and price, the sturdiness and simplicity of these shelters is second to none. MLD are total fabric tech and design geeks, and it shows. Weight 625g (fly only)

Wild Cat Gear ‘The Cat’s Whisker’s’ £250 (bike not included)


Aging hipster that I am, I’ve been bitten by the bikepacking bug over the last 18months, both as a way to access more remote mountains and just to enjoy some longer glen routes in limited time sans family. Wildcat Gear are the other small, independent producer in this lineup, and ‘The Cat’s Whisker’s’ is a complete set of luggage you need to get bikepacking straight away from stratch. Included is a half-frame bag (Ocelot), plus a seat pack (Tiger) and a handlebar harness (Lion) that both act as holders for drybags into which you stuff your gear. In addition there’s a very useful front pouch (Lioness). There are options to size up all individual parts of the bundle for longer trips – the wider ‘Fat lion’ would suit carrying a small tent or sleeping mat on the front better. All items are made from tough ballistic nylon but are still lightweight, mainly because there’s nothing extra here – just the bare bones required to keep your kit securely fastened to your stead.

How does it all fare on the bike? The Lion has ingenious strapping (under the fork crown) that has survived a 5km run of fast, rough downhill and a good deal more up n down without flinching. It’s a bit of a faff to attach but once on, does not budge. There’s a ‘tongue’ underneath (optional) that protects your drybag from wheelspray. The Lioness also sits perfectly on top without slipping – it’s great to have the extra (approx. 3 litres) capacity for bars, torch, keys and so on. The Ocelot is ingeniously designed with both map pocket and tarp pole slip pocket, although I still prefer a full framebag for extra days without resupply (which is an option). The seatpack is the best of the bunch – others I’ve used have a tendency to flap around and unbalance the ride, but armed with a huge Velcro seatpost buckle and clever compression straps, the Tiger was super stable and kept the drybag suspended high above the rear wheel. It’s all nicely finished and built to withstand lots of abuse – kit does get knocked around a fair bit on biketrips, so it’s good to have burly luggage to protect it.

I’ve used competitor’s kit before and since owning the Wildcat Gear, and in comparison you get what you pay for – the build quality, attention to detail and design of Wild Cat Gear is exceptional.

Kids

Spotty Otter Patrol 2 Suit £79


Outdoor gear for kids is definitely a growth market, but the Patrol Suit rises above the competition as beautifully designed and made by a UK company. The outer is as waterproof and breathable as the best of the rest, but also soft and has a decent amount of 4 way stretch. There’s a particularly deep and cosy pile fleece liner, and elasticated Velcro ankles and cuffs. Reinforced knees and reflectors are present and correct too. So far, so good, but where it really stands out is the hood, which is detachable, adjustable, deep but not flappy, and has a wide peak to protect the face. Access was the best we tried, with full-length zips down both legs. This makes a massive difference especially when the little terror wants out in a rush, or there’s a nappy to change.
The company say their gear is generously sized but compared to the other full suits on offer it’s shorter in the body, which I think maybe more suited for a UK fit. It’s also Bluesign® approved, so manufacture is about as environmentally friendly as is possible – I think it’s very interesting to see the kid’s gear companies leading the way in this alongside Patagonia, Paramo and now Vaude. It could maybe use an external pocket, but that’s a quibble. We’ve purchased other Spotty Otter gear and it’s always brilliantly comfortable and functional.

Jack Wolfskin grow up sleeping bag £40


I think this sleeping bag strikes a pretty perfect balance between value and quality. It’s a summer weight, synthetic sleeping bag for kids, designed with their first few years of adventures in mind. Those first trips are likely to be limited to the warmer months, and the microguard insulation here is more than up to that job. The bag extends from 140-170cm, so although it’s way too big for our little’un right now it’ll keep her warm at night for a fair few years to come. The extra length is concealed in a zippered enclosure in the foot, and provides additional insulation to keep younger legs comfortable. There’s an internal pocket (torch and bunny friendly) and a fully adjustable hood. The outer fabric is easily wiped down and whole thing is machine washable. We’ve discovered that part of successful camping with our daughter is showing her she has equivalent gear to us – this is a fully-fledged summer bag she really enjoys. It’s not very lightweight at about 700g, but it is very good value at this price and will take a long time to outgrow. As to the ant design on the outer – I’m not sure if it’s ‘funky’ or ‘creepy’ but the wean doesn’t seem to mind either way.

Yepp ‘Maxi’ Childseat approx. £80

This bikeseat pretty much revolutionised our child friendly outdoor adventures this year. I might scribble some more for Walk Highlands about that come the spring, but for now suffice to say it’s been the answer to staying relatively mobile with a sometimes intractable toddler in tow. There are several sizes, and two fittings available – the one shown fixes to the seat post. We’ve actually used both now; my partner was finding a growing, wriggling youngster a bit too unwieldy for her small wheelbase MTB, so I’m now on taxi duty with a rear rack based seat. I’d say both are very solid, but the rack mount is more so – it depends on what your bike (and the rider) can manage. Having read ALL the safety blurb I wouldn’t have chosen any other brand. Reassuringly, the Yepp seats have won loads of awards in Europe for both safety and design, and the seat itself is easily sponged and seems very comfortable. Shoulder and feet straps are both soft and secure. And once again, the nipper really enjoys it… which makes all the difference to whether we can get out as a family or not. The Dutch company don’t sell direct, but we’ve seen these online through a small number of UK distributors.




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