The Paramo Problem

Over the last six months or so we have seen a growing number of complaints about the effectiveness and robustness of Paramo gear. And following this year’s TGO Challenge there were a lot of complaints about system failure. So, what’s going on?

My take on the current state of Paramo gear and its suitability for lightweight backpacking in winter conditions and why I’m having to consider a rethink. 

Introduction

There have been few more fervent supporters of Paramo than me. The system is very effective and makes a lot of sense in UK winter conditions. Paramo’s system is comfortable, has non of that annoying crisp packet rustling that you get with hard shells and it is warm. Go to any outdoor show and you’ll find that Paramo is the busiest stand. They sell jackets by the container load. This system must now be by far the most popular amongst leisure walkers and ramblers.

On a horrible wet and windy winter’s day I love my paramo but it is heavy. However, many of us have used the gear for cool weather backpacking and how had cause to be grateful. The Third Element, for example, is a weird but fabulous product. Sadly, it never really sold in the volumes needed and it has been discontinued which annoys me no end and I shall probably be replacing mine soon after five or six years of hard work.

But the pressure is on even a company like Paramo to reduce the weight of their system. In the younger and more active outdoor market weight in grams and not just functionally is important. In the main a Paramo jacket replaces a conventional jacket and a mid layer but the weight stats still seem all important.

Paramo have responded by developing their new range of lighter fabrics used for their outer layers and this seems to be where the problems are. The new layers are not only far less robust but do not seem to handle extreme weather conditions as well.

Wetting Out

All kinds of jackets can wet out in really bad weather but Paramo’s design puts their waterproofs in a slightly different place. Try sitting down in Paramo waterproofs on a damp surface. Pressure will force water through to your skin. As I tend not to sit in puddles this is not normally a problem. But I’ve had real problems with my lightweight Velez trousers couple of times recently.

The problem seems to be with serious rain and driving wind. The weather on this year’s TGO Challenge was even more dramatic than on the 2011 event with the third day being particularly challenging — here many Paramo owners complained about serious ater leakage.

This day found me walking the long road to Struy. The wind was hitting my back and there was no protection from trees or landscape. It rained constantly and I became completely soaked through. Much of the water will have dripped down my neck or through the front zip — I didn’t have the internal storm flap fixed. This has happened to me before, but perhaps only 2 or 3 times in ten years.

This weekend saw a repeat of these conditions. On Sunday I walked for fifteen miles or so  through weather conditions that were just as bad. On high ground the winds were pretty dramatic and there was no let up in the rain. This time the jacket — which uses the conventional weight outer layer — was soaked but when I removed it in the tent the inner was dry. But the Velez trousers holds a different story.

I should add here that these trousers were a new pair and had only been used once in drizzle before this year’s Challenge. They were factory proofed and beading very well. Although worn every day for two weeks I hadn’t re-proofed them for this trip although that would not have made any difference.

The problem was with the wind. As soon as I hit the main ridge of the Long Mynd and felt the full force of the wind my Velez trousers were in trouble. The wind was pushing the water through the outer layer and the inner layer could not either repel of absorb the water effectively and so I got soaked. Whenever I changed direction I could predict where my legs would feel water! In the end I walked for four and a half hours with soaked through legs!

As soon as I was in camp I removed my wet clothing and base layers and climbed into my down jacket, trousers and socks; all was then right with the world. As on the Challenge the next morning was lovely, dry and sunny. I grudgingly put on my wet layers but was soon dry as I moved around. But if — on either occasion — the morning had been as bad as the evening I would not have been a very apply bunny at all. 

I really am beginning to wonder whether this lighter fabric is up for winter conditions.

The Durability and Robustness of the Lightweight Uppers

Sadly, the problems do not end with water leakage. The fabric of the Velez trousers is very fragile and the stitching very vulnerable to coming apart. My current pair of Velez trousers are my third in as many years. Two weeks wear on the TGO Challenge has seen the stitching begin to come apart on all three pairs and each of them has a hole or two in the backside as a result of deer fences I think or maybe even just sitting on rock.

I am not the only person who is in the same position. Shap McDonnell who is also a great supporter of the Third Element is also now on his third pair after having the same problems with the stitching. You only have to look at the stitching on a  new pair of Velex trousers to see how fragile it will be.

The sad thing about this is that in many ways these trousers are ideal for cool weather backpacking where traditional Paramo trousers would just be too hot — my Cascada trousers would, I think, survive a nuclear attack. Shap and I both wore Velez trousers every day on the Challenge and they remain comfortable even on hot weather days. It really is great not to have to faff about with over-trousers.

In reality it seems that reasonably active hikers will need to replace their Velez trousers each year at £145 a time. We’re getting very close to disposable hiking trousers here.

At Easter I raised these problems with Brian at Stewart Cunningham’s at Betwys-y-Coed (my favourite gear shop in the world). These guys are one Paramo’s Premier Dealers and I’ve always found Brian and Alan to be remarkably honest in their discussions. Brain told me that I seemed to remember some problems with Velez trousers when they first came out but that these had been production problems. Nobody had been back to the store to complain directly about them. Perhaps, this means that those being them are using them infrequently or in less demanding conditions than Shap and myself. Or maybe, those using them are simply seeing them as short-lived trousers?

The Verdict?

Paramo’s traditional range of waterproofs remain justifiably popular. I have used these for over a decade now and have only had seriously water leakage on a couple of occasions,  both in serious winter weather conditions on high mountains. The gear remains, for me, very reliable.

But the lighter waterproofs present problems in serious conditions and I’m not sure they really make the grade. I don’t expect these to be as durable but do expect more wear out of them than I am getting. But it is the water leakage problem that is most serious. When the weather is foul and cold these trousers simply do not give you the protection that I think you will want to rely on.

I have been talking about trousers here but my problems with these are consistent with the criticisms I’ve read about the new lightweight jackets — they too seem to become overwhelmed by bad weather.

So, these lighter waterproof garments may be best used for the warmer months but — as no doubt many of you will point out — there are many other options to consider.

And Finally …

My Paramo commitment for UK winter backpacking is now being even more tested by the  wear on my Third Element. The wear is consistent with other Paramo garments I have had. I’ve used the Third Element as my main waling jacket for hikes and backpacking trips for the last four years and it has served me well. There is now visible rucksack ‘ burn’ on the shoulder areas which is only to be expected. Also — like all Paramo jackets I have owned — the outer fabric has worn to the point that it just always looks dirty. AT the weekend I started walking in a clean Tech Washed jacket and arrived home in something that looked as if it had been camping for two weeks.

This wear problem is not really much of a concern in a hiking jacket expect in the way that I use the Third Element. Removing the arms allows me to be more comfortable in cafes, bars and civilisation when I am hiking and means I generally don’t have to carry a mid layer. I not only like the convenience of this but I have come to rely on it. I know all hikers are grubby when they come into civilisation after a few days on the hills but the wear on this jacket makes it look even more iffy — probably more a psychological than a practical issue. On Challenge number 1 I used a conventional Velez jacket which worked wonderfully but without a mid layer I was either too hot or too cold on many occasions indoors — the Third Element solved that problem! I know I could have carried a mid layer but really didn’t want to (although I could have done with one this year).

The last Paramo jacket of mine to get to this state was an Alta II. At about the same state of wear the outer fabric soon developed holes and then the main zip failed. I’m now getting a little nervous about the arm zips on my Third Element and probably will start thinking about replacement soon.

The irony here is that I would love a new Third Element but it appears to have been discontinued permanently.

So, my backpacking demands have now taken me to a crossroads. For both upper and body waterproofing I am now looking elsewhere. A real shame.

Comments

  1. In the constant search for ever-lighter weight gear, something has to be sacrificed, and that is invariably durability and performance. With many years experience of textiles (not just the woolly stuff) I can assure you that it is simply not possible to have everything. It’s a simple equation – the lighter the fabric the more prone it will be to wear and tear and the less well it will perform under a variety of conditions.

    Performance and durability should always be the primary concern, especially when almost all synthetic gear comes from unrenewable, non-biodegradable resources and so also carries a very heavy environmental impact.

    • I take your point Amanda. But have a look at the photographs I have just published. I don’t expect these to be as Robust as others — but I expect more than 12 or 13 days!

  2. Eddie says:

    Hi Andy,
    My take on the Paramo Analogy waterproof system is fairly simple and is based on having worn it as my main winter hill walking upper body clothing system since around 1995. Firstly an original Alta, then a Velez (separate hood was a weakness) and now a Velez Adventure.
    These Paramo items are designed to be worn and not carried. They are too heavy. So if it is likely to be too warm for one of these tops, then I don’t use it. As general rule, I start using mine in November and it goes in the cupboard during April. However, I did use the VA on 2 outings in early May this year, which is the first time that I can recall that I have done that. But early May was cold!
    As such, I am less likely to encounter the persistent heavy rain that you experienced on the TGOC. Similarly, I am more likely to be higher up the hill than in the glens. The closest weather conditions that I am likely to experience and have done so many times, is the transition from snow to wet sleet.
    If it is likely to be a long trudge in these conditions, then I put a Fuera smock over the VA and I have never experienced the failures that some have had. The plus side is that I continue to get the Paramo breathability.
    I am realistic about the likely wet weather performance of Paramo Analogy and in doing so, I have never had a failure such as those you refer to.
    Having said that, my original assumption is that I do not expect Paramo Analogy to be as waterproof as a hardshell.
    So outside my Paramo season, a simple light hardshell goes in the rucksack.
    As for their trousers, there are two problems for me, warmth and freedom of movement. I had a pair of Cioch made to measures once, their equivalent of the Cascada’s and I sold them within 5 or 6 months. Too warm and not enough knee lift flexibility. So I don’t wear Paramo Analogy troos in winter. Modern stretchy troos and Paclite O/T’s do the job perfectly.
    Regarding wetting out of the Paramo troos, I can’t think for the life of me why anyone would want to sit on sodden ground without a sit mat of some description but I can easily see why you would get a wet backside if you did.
    When I replaced my Velez with a Velex Adventure (simply on the grounds that the VA hood was integral and larger) I had a look at the VAL, but I did not like the feel of the lightweight outer. I had the immediate impression that it was an inferior product — for the situations that I use my Paramo gear in.
    For winter backpacking trips, I do not wear Paramo. I switch to traditional layering as i have found that this gives me more flexibility, especially when i might need to wear some of the clothing inside the bag on cold nights, which you can’t do with a wet Paramo top.
    So for me, Paramo is superb for cold weather hill walking, not so good for winter backpacking and too warm for anything else.

  3. Eddie,

    I can see why you wouldn’t buy the lightweight Velez jacket — it is certainly not up to the mark IMHE.

  4. I gave up on Paramo after ten years or so. I was completely fed up with getting soaked. you can read my take on it and the vast discussion that followed on my blog by clicking HERE
    This year I took a Berghaus Temperance II Pro-shell jacket and stayed totally dry in the storms of the first Sunday.

    I shall never go back to Paramo. Over-hyped under-performing. Useless when you need it most.

  5. Hi Andy,

    Just to stick up for the Paramo Velez Adventure Light smock, I have had one for the last three years and wore it on the last two Challenges. On “stormy Sunday” I was out in open for 9 hours. At the end of the day, my smock was damp, but the only part of the fleece I was wearing underneath that was at alll damp was the end of one sleeve that was sticking out, so I can’t fault its performance.

    As you can imagine there was a bit of gear talk on the Challenge, and I met other Challengers whose Paramo had left them soaked through. No firm conclusions were drawn, but one interesting suggestion was whether the performance of Paramo pump liners was affected by whether the users run hot or cold and/or how hard they were working as they walked. I’d be interested in anyone’s views.

    • Emma, sounds as if the upper layer is better than bottom. Interesting theory about running hot or cold!

  6. Conversations I had about Paramo this year suggested that the wetting through happens with a strong wind. It was suggested that the cheapest lightest pertex shell over the top (which is windproof but not water proof) would allow the Paramo system to start working again.

    • That might work Paul. I have a wind proof but I really need a larger size for it to be comfortable over my Paramo jacket. But it kind of feels a bit like missing the point, a fix to make a waterproof jacket work!

  7. I tried Paramo gear for the first time early this year. I had an alta jacket and a Velez Light smock, both were soaked completely through in heavy rain on dartmoor. Not impressed at all.
    Like the feeling of the fabric compared to normal waterproof (montaine), but it needs to work. On one walk me and the dog had to get into our emergency shelter to wait for the rain to stop and warm up, I was that drenched.

    Wez

  8. John Atkin says:

    I was one of the first to buy a VAL ( from Whalley warm and dry )in an attempt to save weight over the standard product.It’s first outing was along Crib Goch with the clouds down. I was quite nervous and did a lot of sliding and gripping of rocks. I stayed dry but on inspection afterwards I found several patches of material which had become polished and concluded that the garment wasn’t suited to rough outdoors activity and wouldn’t last that long. Paramo, bless
    ’em eventually swapped it out for a full blown VA.
    Basically the waterproofs are too heavy, need too much maintenance and quickly smell if you don’t use a base layer.
    For me the base layer tops are badly tailored in that I’m constantly
    putting them on back to front ! but they seem to work, at least as well as others.
    I really do go for the Explorer mid layer, but, but, but, when are we going to see a revamp of the colours, across all the range.

    John.

  9. Martin says:

    Andy,
    Many thanks for the article (I have noted the age, btw!), which I found while investigating my Velez Adventure Light problem.
    I write this from the perspective of a family man who doesn’t get out to walk too much, and really needs value from his kit. That is, I can’t just pop in and keep buying like I used to in ‘the old days’!
    Cascada trousers, brilliant. When they get hot, unzip, no problem. Clearly not to be worn from late spring, but no wetting out, and quite hardy.
    The Velez Adventure Light jacket, though… In wet spring white peak weather, hardly Snowdon in a storm, and it wetted out. It has to be said that once the rain paused, things got drier, and I didn’t get chilled and cold.
    Goretext never worked for me, and for years I was a Buffalo man, preferring getting wet, stating warm and drying out quickly to lightly poaching in other kit I’d tried.
    So from my experience, perhaps I go back to the Buffalo teclight, or consider something like a heavier weight Velez jacket.
    One thing I was wondering, however, was whether a good wash in nick wax goo would help the jacket function better, which I will try.

  10. martin says:

    Apologies, I feel a bit daft. Turns out my Velez is in dire need of a Nikwax wash and re-proof. I’ve made the visit to Cotswolds and will report back in due course, just in case anyone picks up this thread in the future!

  11. David says:

    Hi Andy,

    I just got back from an hour walk hereon the Isle of Harris. It was the first timeout for my brand new Velez Adventure trousers and after 30 minutes my legs were wet and very cold. This was in driving Outer Hebrides rain but my Mountain Equipment Lhotse jacket kept the weather out.
    The Velez adventure trousers were still beading water but the wind just drove the rain straight through the outer fabric and then soaked my legs.

    I had a pair of these 3 years ago and never experienced this problem in the same conditions. Have they changed the fabric or lightened it to save weight?

    • David,

      That sounds very much like the problem I had that stopped me using the Velez. IU had three pairs of these and it was the last pair that really had these problems in driving rain. Perhaps, I had simply not been in these conditions before; I’m not sure. However, cold, driving rain is not pleasant and why I don’t use them anymore!

  12. Martin says:

    A bit left field: do people still use Buffalo systems gear? You get wet, stay warm and quickly dry (a bit like Andy’s take on the mythologised Terrocs!), really dry really quickly. My Teclight is light and well used, though you wouldn’t use it in mid winter. I was seriously considering one of their mountain shirts this year. British made, bomb proof, and often sported by mountain rescue.

    • Martin, just back from Snowdonia where yes I saw people wearing Buffalo — and there was plenty of it in the shops as well. My only observation. Stay well upwind from someone that has been wearing Buffalo for a few days out in the wild 🙂

  13. I have been a fan of paramo gear for many years & have had satisfactory performance from all the garments.I recently purchased the new cascada 2 trousers….within 10 mins of use in driving rain i was wet through from my crotch to my ankles.It was quite a warm day ,if it had been cold, i could have been in serious trouble.Totally unacceptable & not fit for purpose.I have worn these 5 times & have been washed correctly, but not proofed My old cascada 1 have never let me down in 10 years. I will be contacting Paramo directly tomorrow.

    • This is the problem Paul. I had two pairs of the Velez trousers that were fine, the third pair were just as you said. As you can see others have had the same problem. `They’ve definitely changed something!

  14. I contacted Paramo customer services this morning and expained the problem.I was asked if i would wash them again and reproof them, & then see how they preformed.
    I declined and informed them i had put the problem out on social media.I was then asked to return them for replacement.
    I will put the replacements through a good test and advise on the results…..could be a few weeks.

    • I’m very interested in how you get on Paul. Paramo often used to comment on what was written on blogs when most of it was positive. On a couple of occasions they picked up queries and concerns from owners or would-be owners. But there has been silence about this particular problem which I do suspect is does to a change in materials of some description.

  15. Lynne Armitage says:

    I would like to complain about lightweight jacket sold as waterproof as long as I bought the matching fleece. I was assured the 2 worn together would ensure this. After serious rain today I was soaked through!! Anybody help? X

    • Lynne, I’ve never tried this take on the Paramo system but I’m not convinced! You seem to have born out my fears!

  16. Joe Salmon says:

    Good article. I laughed at the cascada trousers surviving nuclear war, mine are still going strong after 15 years, long after the jacket wore out through a decades heavy use.

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