This footwear business continues to be something of a challenge. What do you do when you are not sure? Have a chat to Chris Townsend that’s what.
Chris reckons that the best trail shoes he has used in the last couple of years are the Berghaus Vapour Claw. I remembered the review on TGO, looked it up and thought these would do for me. Chris and I share wide feet so, generally, anything that works for Chris works for me.
So, off I set. I could find these but not in my size, indeed, they seem not to be available in the most popular sizes. Even Berghaus’ own site has very limited availability of the these shoes. Either they are about to be updated or deleted.
So, I’ve fallen back on the La Sportive Ultra Raptor. Reports will follow. Luckily I have one pair of Terrocs left and I’ll keep these in their box until just prior to the Challenge.
Routebuddy’s new Coast to Coast Challenge Map utilises the company’s unique screen ‘stitching’ technology to reduce a new map and add-ons that will be useful to anyone planning a coast-to-coast walk across the Scottish Highlands.
On this occasion I thought it would be more useful to you if I produced a video review, as you really have to see it in action to appreciate what this system can do. The review is in html format and should be viewable by all up-to-daye systems including tablets.
The 1:50K base map is available at a reasonable £19.99.
In addition, Routebuddy has created a number of specific 1:25 add-ons which stitch into the base map. These range in price depending on the ground covered. They start at £4.99 for part of the Torridon hills to £25 for the Cairngorms — good value for money.
Any other Routebuddy map can stitch into the base map and this review also displays a Harvey/BMC 1:40 working with the base map.
Not only can you view stitched maps on the same screen but you can print out the stitched maps on the same sheet of paper.
For a couple of years now I have been looking tropical my main waterproof. This has served me well but after almost a decade of use the fabric has got thinner and the jacket stopped being properly waterproof a few years ago!
Choosing a replacement has been difficult. I’ve tried on a couple of jackets in shops that seem to be sized weirdly, X Large jackets that seem not to the right size across the shoulders. The next problem has been price. The cost of the latest designs and fabrics has become quite ridiculous. I’m simply not going to pay silly money for something that might be a wee bit more breathable.
It was fellow Challenger that first recommended the Alpamayo to me two or three years ago. Gordon is a sensible chap. He likes his gear lightweight but not at the cost of comfort of effectiveness. Everything from PHD I hoverer bought has been top-notch and so in the end I finally got round to following Gordon’s advice!
The first thing you notice about the Alpamayo is its size. PHD size their jackets to allow for the wearing of their down jackets below which is helpful I think. The smock fits nice and loosely but is not flappy. There is no scope tail but the smock has a decent, protective, length to it which I like.
The main zip on the jacket is tough and solid and protected by a proper baffle and waterproof seams. A single chest pocket also uses a similar zip and waterproof protection. There is also an inside pocket with a key holder. The hood is properly adjusted and is probably the best hood I have used on a waterproof jacket. The wire frame is tough and the hood is easily adjusted by an adjuster at the read and my two adjustable toggles on the base. The smock cuffs feature very tough and solid Velcro adjusters. Everything about the construction is very solid and the smock oozes quality. The fabric is not thin but is smooth to the touch
In the use the smock is totally waterproof and windproof without being heavy. The walk on the Black Mountains was a real test of any waterproof garment; the smock design proved more comfortable and protective than I think a jacket would have been. The sealed zips and zip protection proved to be very effective.
While the weather in on the Black Mountain Trip was pretty foul it was mild. Fighting against the wind meant working hard and at no time did I feel the smock lacked for breathability.
The Alpamayo uses PHD’s own HS3 fabric. I’m not exactly sure what this is as many waterproof fabrics — including eVent — can be licensed to be used under individual brand names. What I do know is that this fabric is more than breathable enough for me.
My Alpamayo is X Large size and weighs 470 grams. It costs £259 and can only be obtained from PHD using website. Long experience of buying from PHD tells me that you cranky on their sizing guide — for example, you would have to pretty large to have to go up to the XX Large size (which can be ordered). I idk the over sizing as I thing the option of using a down jacket in cold weather — that is not compacted too much — can be a real bonus. There is a jacket version of the smock available which adds about another 100 grams.
You won’t see this garment reviewed that often as it doesn’t use one of the main name fabrics. However, this is a first rate piece of kit that simply won’t let you down.
Over the next few months I will continue testing and report back with a long term review.
f8, 1/400, ISO 50 at 38 mm
In this internet age it is tempting to think that we know all about the great trails of the world even if we have never ever hiked them ourselves. There are many tells journals to read. There are many hikers who now blog or micro blog as they walk. We know all about the trail infrastructure, we can download the maps and, of course, we all now know about the famous Trail Angels of the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT.
Chris Townsend walked the PCT over 30 years ago. Back then the trail was a reality but it was nowhere near as popular as it is today. I think the year Chris hiked it only 11 people completed it. It has taken 30 years for Chris to produce this book and it seems he only embarked on the task after encouragement from his new publishers, Sandstone Press. Sandstone should take a bow as this is a very fine book indeed. When reviewing Chris’ recent Grizzly Bears and Razor clams (I think it was) put forward the view that Chris’ writing is just getting better and better. Rattlesnakes confirms this.
The PCT is an epic trail and 30 odd years ago walking it was even more epic as the trail infrastructure that we have today simply wasn’t there. To make things even more dramatic Chris walked the PCT after one of the heaviest snow falls recorded making much of the first section of the walk quite a challenge.
The PCT runs for 2,650 miles, starting at the Mexican borders and running North (at least that’s how most people tackle it) through California, Oregon and Washington States. The trail takes in the Mojave desert, the High Sierra Mountains, The Cascade Mountains and many of the great US forests along the way.
This PCT walk was Chris’ first mammoth hike and this book combines both the excitement of that youthful walk with a maturity of reflection that is simply beguiling. Above all else it is the natural drama of the trail environment that is the star of this book but the way Chris details the development of the PCT (both before and since his walk) is fascinating.
A modern journal on the PCT would inevitably feature a lot of words about gear and while this is a book about moving through landscape there’s enough to keen gear junkies happy. For this trip Chris was provided with some of the first Gore Tex waterproofs that landed in the UK. It was also on this trip that Chris saw the light and turned (mid trip) to lightweight trail shoes from heavy boots. There is the drama of a broken pack and the search for a replacement. But mostly this is about the walk.
The heavy snowfall results in a trip that seems a very different one to many accounts that I have read. Chris is famous for walking alone but the snow heavy sections dictated walking in small groups for safety. Not only was there a lot of snow to cross but tiny and often dry creeks had turned into raging torrents. What comes over nicely is the relationship that is built up amongst these trail companions. Chris remarks towards the end of the book tat he had walked much of a thousand miles with some of them and yet they ended up knowing little about each other’s lives back in the ‘real world’. However, you do get a great sense of the trail intensity of these friendships. While not having undertake a venture like this myself this — levelling of human experience — is a feature of any long trail walk and, I think, is one of the reasons for the longevity of the TGO Challenge where you often have little idea about the people you are walking with save for their own views of the immediate experience
A lot of the other usual ingredients are on show here, stories of serial breakfast eating in tiny, backwater, trail towns, the joys of a shower after weeks of walking and so on.
But what makes this a joy to read is the sharing of Chris’ discovery of life on a trail like this, the beauty of the desert, the joys of the high mountains, the fascinating variety of the forests and the glorious wildcamps along the way. I wish I could describe this all a bit more eloquently but you’ll just have to go and read the book!
This was the trip that I guess formed the Chris Townsend that most of us know today. I’m glad that he took a long time to write this as I think we’ve ended up with a fascinating and probably more enduring book.
When I finished reading the book I rang up Colin Ibbotson who told me that the book had made him want to go out and hit the trail again. I know when he means. Putting the book down I had to go out for a walk and spend a night camping on the side of the hill, a far more modest experience without doubt but this is what Chris’ books do. They shake you out of lethargy and install in you that love of the natural world that keeps us all going.
This is very firmly recommended.
This is one for our resident business insider Charles Ross (come on Charles) I’m tossing the ball for you!).
I’ve written before about the problems of specialist gear with small runs. Gear is designed and produced using strict schedules. Order numbers have to be calculated way in advance of sales. Occasionally something can be a great hit, perhaps, unexpectedly. I suspect the internet has made this more of a problem. By the time the item is flying off shelves like hotcakes the designers have moved on two or even three design generations. This is frustrating for us but understandable when you think about it.
But what about when a long time winning formula is changed?
While I’m play around with the journal I thought I’d deal with gear here. I’m getting a lot of requests to talk some more about the Tramplite Shelter but I’ve already written this review from the Challenge — you can read it here.
So, what worked well?
PHD Alpamayo Smock
I’ve reviewed this in some detail before. The 2015 Challenge came with some foul weather,lots of rain and driving wind. I really appreciated the smock in these conditions as it gives you maximum protection. This zips are robust and waterproof which helps and the hood excellent.
The Alpamayo is made of something PHD call HS3 fabric. I’m not what this is but I can report that it is more than breathable enough for me. There was so much rain I was often working hard with this jacket fully closed up and it was comfortable enough. You can order this with arm pit zips but I really don’t think they are needed. Great stuff.
PHD Ultra Vest
A few people were a bit sniffy about this when I bought it on account of its price. Ofter using this for a year I feel that — even for the price — this represents great value for money. This doesn’t replace my down jacket but what it does is just give me a quick shot of extra warmth when needed. It weighs net to nothing and can be packed down very small.Down is ultra breathable and so is very comfortable under a shell jacket. On a couple of occasions it got wet but I found that simply leaving it on it dried with natural body heat quite quickly. In winter this accompanies me everywhere. It will be the fist thing I turn to when packing next time.
RAB Equilibrium Gloves
I love these and had lots of cause to be grateful for them this year. They appear not to be the warmest of gloves but once you have got going the are perfect. They are very breathable, wind resistant enough and dry out quite quickly.
Jack Wolfskin Activate Pants
I really, really like these, indeed, I think the Wolfskin range is underrated as a whole. These are a little stretchy, pretty tough, windproof and have good venting. JW have dedicated store in many of the big cities these days which means you can easily try them for size.
As for the rest of my gear, you will have read about it before so I shan’t go over old ground.
Nalgene Wide Neck Cantene
I love these. I had one previously but it got punctured in Snowdonia. I carried a wide neck 2.8 litre container — one scoop and you have all of the water you need for an evening. it reallyiq a lot easier to fill using one of these wide neck. Personally I prefer these to the wide openings of the Platypus range.
What didn’t work?
I’ve mentioned the Brooks Cascardia a number of times and so won’t repeat myself, except to say that the PCT boards seem to confirm that there was a major change in formula between version 9 and 10.
I spent a lot of time pondering which stove system I should carry. In the end I went for the diminutive Zelph Starlyte stove which I used with a Titanium Honey Stove. (I think this year I finally cured myself of any romantic notion of wood burning fires along the way). I love the Starlyte but this year it was often cold and very wet and I missed the roaring heat (and speed) of the Evernew alcohol stove. When wood burning is not an option I reckon my solo stove system next time will be the Caldera Sidewinder and Evernew. The Evernew is no where near as fuel efficient but with poor Scottish weather I am happy to substitute fire for fuel efficiency. However, I’ve begun to use Esbit tablets more often and think I will try these on my next crossing as the main fuel.
One strange and annoying thing was my new firestick. I carried one of the larger fire starters thinking it would be easier to use in cold weather. I fund it more cumbersome than the smaller one and found it very difficult to use with Honey Stove.
Much of the rest of my gear I’ve written about a lot before. My PHD Minimus sleeping bag is now ten yeas old and I’m thinking of replacing it as it has lost a bit of fill for the colder nights — but it is still a great bag. My Thermorest Neoair is still going strong (much against my expectations).
My pack remains the Mountain Laurel Exodus, the simple version. Although the webbing on the front pocket has torn in a few places the pack has taken a lot of punishment without much wear and tear. This year I took it to the limit in terms of weight — food for 8 or 9 days. Although I really could have done with a lighter load the pack never really felt that it was out of control — the issue was the lack of capacity.
So, nothing exciting or radical here but with sharing nonetheless.
The blog is attracting a lot of spam at the moment. I’ve changed the settings so that I have to approve all of the comments. Hopefully I can change this shortly but bear with me in the interim. I will be checking regularly and so your comments should appear pretty quickly.
Outside. it’s blowing a gale. Objects are crashing around the garden and, to be honest, I’m not going to stick my head out of the door to investigate. It’s dramatic. There’s a change a coming. From unseasonably high temperatures we should be down to a few degrees above zero by the weekend.
Out on the hill these moments are always quite transformational. Last weekend walkers would have been basking in autumnal colours, colours that warmed the soul as much as the sun warmed the skin. This weekend the landscape will have changed. Those trees that stood regal and resplendent in their golds and ochres and yellows, this weekend will be naked, stark shapes against a winter sky. When you are in the hills and witnessing such a change the effect can be quite extraordinary. Wake up one morning and the whole world seems to have changed. The place you walk in today seems somewhat different to the place you walked in yesterday.
Such drama, such change, represent the joys of the seasons and the wonders of living in such a climate zone. I think of family in Brazil, in cities where the seasons are delineated by a drop in temperature of just one of two degrees. Their dramatic night is a rainstorm. But they are back on the beach the next day. For some, I suppose, this would be paradise. But for me I want that change, I want the raw force of nature. I want to be blown from autumn into winter.
The forecast for the weekend looks cold but bright. As a friend of mine said yesterday, “that’s how it should be at this time of the year”.
It looks a great weekend for a walk. Sadly, I shall be city bound, hauling around PA system and preparing for an evening of music. But, if you are free, make plans now. For those cold, crisp and sunny days are something we should treasure.
The storm will herald in the dark days of winter but these are simply one ingredient in the cycle of renewal. Life might be dark and depressive for much of the winter. But storms such as these, ultimately, point to the beginning of the cycle. Enjoy yourselves.
Many of you will have seen this on Facebook, but then I guess not everyone uses this social media service. It reminds of of why I am so skeptical about the notions of only ‘community’. Communities are made up of real people and real relationships and yet …
I mentioned in my come back post that I really didn’t see any point of blogging while I wasn’t walking. Walking is the main deal and the best writing is inspired by this and not (say) notes on the latest pair of shoes.
However, I am a bit touched by some of the messages I have had since I have returned. They have made me want to write more. But more importantly they have made me want to get out more and get back to communicating about what I love about the outdoors.
If you are part of this community, well, thank you!