I intend to look at the slightly controversial subject of footwear separately — trail shoes v. boots and so on. However, this post dwells on foot care which is very important on a long distance trek.
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.
Fuji Pro1, 18mm, 1/60, f8, ISO 200
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.
One of the biggest challengers facing first-time challengers, South of the border, is actually getting North! Factor this into your planning now!
In general I’m sticking to my recent rule about not banging on about gear all the time. Still, I’ve always had a good response to this occasional series of posts on the Outdoor Industry. A lot has happened since I wrote the last of the these, the most dramatic occurrence I guess being Brexit. Brevity — or rather the issues around it — are likely to have a profound impact on the Outdoor Industry and that will have an impact right across the board.
While we don’t know yet the future of the UK in relation to the Single Market or the Customs Union the dramatic reduction in the value of Stirling is already having a big impact.
The first to feel the impact seem to be specialist and niche producers who are — classically in Britain — importing raw materials and turning them into a finished product. One small, specialist producer, has already told me that some product lines may have to end. Materials like cube fibre and titanium are rising in price so dramatically as to price goods out of the market. We’ve seen spikes in the market before, most notably when the cost of titanium shot through the roof curtsy of Chinese manufactures. It is likely that other materials such as aluminium will rise in price as well as anything that might be described as a specialist fabric.
The vast majority of our outdoor goods come from the far East and will be impacted by the reduction in Stirling. Many of us looked on with wonder at the rising costs of some of our premium brands over recent years. Much of our Outdoor Equipment is now in the luxury bracket. These premium brands are set to rise in price even more. What impact will this have on some our favourite brands and companies? Maybe it is too soon to tell but I suspect tin the short term marketing and production will be geared towards the more wealthier part of our demographic. Whether these brands respond by creating more affordable lines or budget brands remains to be seen. I have not idea at the moment of who buys Arcteryx; maybe we simply won’t see it for much longer in our main stores. But this challenge is likely to impact on Rab, Montane, Mountain Equipment and others. High performing materials like merino wool may well rocket in price as well. And then consider those high ends tents that are already getting very expensive.
It is perhaps time to re-think the way in which we consider the latest tech, after all we already have a host of decent performing materials. eVent is now branded as a propriety fabric by a whole host of outdoor companies and I suspect will have a new lease of life. The latest fabrics from companies like Gore Tex — already a premium price may well be priced out of our market.
We have seen a retrenchment in the market in recent years because of the crash. Many thought that the outdoors would benefit from a resurgence in cheap, outdoor, holidays but many retailers will tell you that demand has never recovered to before crash levels.
Look to the long term and things are no less certain. A couple of years ago I was talking in these pages of a move to bring production back from the Far East towards Eastern Europe. This was partially as a result of rising prices in the East but also of the desire to regulate production closer to home. However, much of this took for granted the single market and the customs union. Now, it might well be that long terms there are great opportunities for the UK in a different trading environment but it looks as if the short and medium term prospects are rocky — this is certainly the view of the Treasury as they prepare for the autumn statement.
While it is never a good idea to crystal ball gaze too intensely it is clear that outdoor gear will rise in price significantly most probably after the New Year sales are out of the way.
If you are needing new gear don’t wait too long, certainly not well into the New Year. And I wouldn’t be waiting for the launch of a new range garments or fabrics well into next year.
It is probably time for gear reviewers and bloggers to reorient themselves in the face of these changes. A focus on value for money and a bargain are likely to be more welcome.
We are lucky here in the UK to have a number of specialist retailers who deliver us niche products via the internet. I’ve not talked to any of them about our prospects next year but it will be interesting to see how they see their world over the coming year.
Based on what we have seen during the second part of the year it seems that not only will see a hike in prices but these rises will establish a new cost norm. Many of us will become more cost concious.
Interesting times, interesting times.
As I’ve written recently, one of the great things about walking in the UK are the seasons. And the changing of the seasons can be a thing of joy. And as thing of surprise, not least when the seasons seem to change in one day.
Yesterday’s plan was to retrace my footsteps of a couple of weeks ago. Back then I went out hoping for some autumn colours but was just a couple of weeks too soon. Since then the colours seem to be opening up nicely but with storms in the forecast I suspected I wouldn’t have another chance this year.
Leaving the house in the city was a surprise. For the first time this year patches of ice lay across the pavements. It was cold, with a forecast that the temperatures would scarcely rise above 2 degrees centigrade.
Out in the country the frosts were stronger and sheets of ice lined the pavements. Climbing up a tarmac road, to access walker’s paths, was more than a little hazardous. I was relieved to get to the proper path. Just beyond the junction, as the incline sharpened, a number of cars seemed to have given up and were in reverse, whether deliberately or not it was difficult to tell.
Out on the walk proper things were a little happier, there was either grass or proper paths which provided proper traction.
Climbing high in the shade of the mountain was rather unpleasant. A biting wind whipped around. Snow began to fall. At the top and along the ridge the snow began to fall with some purpose. Down vests and shell jackets sat on top of my usual layers, the woolly hat was needed and — for the first time since the TGO Challenge — there were gloves.
These are popular hills and there were a surprising number of people about. At a trig point freezing clouds of grey threatened to blow in. And then it all began to change.
The way of the mountain was to drop down to the East, walking first along long fingers of gorgeous uplands. The route chosen was one which had no tarmac decent at its base — some rather percipitous descents were made on grass or on gravely tracks.
On this second leg of the walk the sun came out and while not raising the base temperature that much it certainly warmed the spirit.
This felt like the first winter walk of the year. The air was crisp and now clear and everything inside the shell and the layers was warm and cozy.
The need to find an ice free drop meant this was a reasonably short walk but ten miles of so were still covered. And when a winter walk is over — in good time — there’s nothing for it but to nip into a warm and welcoming pub.
If you are living North of the border, in the Highlands especially, this all might seem a little tame. But we seldom do snow or horrible winter down south. Nevertheless, winter is here. And it felt good.
When considering you kit requirements for the Challenge have a good think about layers, even if you are using the Paramo system.
Being outside in the elements for days on end can be a very different experience than a normal walking holiday, even when the weather is dreadful. Relentless wind and rain can grind you down and really dampen the spirits. In these circumstances even and little additional insulation or protection can make a big difference.
If you are reading this you have probably been successful in your application for net year’s TGO Challenge. Congratulations. No doubt — like me years ago — you’ve brewed up a cup of tea and are now thinking — how the hell do I start?