We now come to, arguably, the trickiest post in this series, the one dealing with mainstream clothing. On five of my six Challenges I have relied on Paramo systems but next time I shall probably be moving back to a more conventional layer system although I have some mainstream pieces of gear to buy, like a new jacket. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the different systems.
First of all, we need to consider that Scottish weather. The old joke that you can experience each of the four seasons in one day in the Highlands is, in reality, no joke. During the two weeks of the TGO Challenge you can experience a wider range of weather conditions including horrendous storms, snow, ice, freezing conditions. The evenings can be bitterly cold but can also be warm and balmy. It is not unusual to start off in the North West in horrible conditions but to approach the East coast in the middle of a heatwave! Most Challengers will want to be able to cope with these extremes but will not want to carry too much unnecessary weight in their packs.
Paramo on the Challenge
Use Paramo carefully and thoughtfully and it can be part of a lightweight kit list. On my first Challenge I made use of the Paramo Velez jacket to avoid bringing a mid layer with me. This worked well until I got into a cafe or pub when I found I was too cold with the jacket off and too warm with it on!
The Paramo Third Element jacket (840 grams) solved this problem using its Heath Robinson system of removable arms and hood; in civilisation the jacket simply transformed into a simple sleeveless waistcoat. I was happy using this for five or so years but the jacket has now begun to wear and I am slightly nervous on relying on so many old zips. Alas, the Third Element is no longer in mainstream production although look on eBay and you can see new garments sometimes available for purchase.
On my last Challenge, the foul weather of 2012, took its toll. For the first time I felt I was not warm enough on a couple of days. Was I to use this system again I would take a lightweight mid layer to give myself a bit more protection. Fellow Challenger Shap McDonnell used the same system and he coped by wearing the ridiculously lightweight Montane wind shirt underneath his Third Element; he told me that this system worked well.
But my biggest problem with this system was that I found that the lightweight Velez trousers (370 grams) couldn’t cope with the full on wind and rain. Look elsewhere on this blog and you will see that I also have problems with the durability of the lightweight Paramo outer material.
Plenty of Challengers rely on Paramo, usually the more hard core full weight garments but these I find to be too heavy and uncomfortable for two weeks walking — especially the Cascada trousers.
If you are using Paramo make sure you have some kind of extra coverage for very cold and windy weather.
My layer system is built on a number of pieces of gear that I have used for eight or nine years. My Montane Quickfire jacket was superb in its day; it is made of eVent and weighs only 340 grams (XL). Sadly, this jacket is now beginning to show signs of wear and is, possibly, no longer water-tight! I have yet to decide what to replace it with but I shall probably stay with eVent — the silly money being charged for new fabric garments should not be encouraged!
The Montane Featherlite Windshirt mentioned above is also an excellent and inexpensive piece of kit and mine (XL) weighs only 100 grams. There are many days in the Highlands when this is all you need over a mid layer to make walking up high comfortable.
My walking trousers are Vertec trousers from Jack Wolfskin. These are well made, have breathable stretchy panels in them and are very comfortable. At 380 grams they are also pretty light. Interestingly, these are 10 grams heavier than my Paramo two layer Velex trousers — this is perhaps why the Velex trousers are not so hot in driving wind!
Waterproof over-trousers are needed in Scotland even if you spend most of your time with them stashed in your pack. You can pay ridiculous money for over-trousers. When I bought a new pair a couple of years ago I settled on Berghaus Paclite trousers at 250 grams (XL). These may not gestate-of-the-art but they are fully waterproof and windproof and as breathable as you would ever need. They pack down into a tiny stuff sack and are easily tough enough for Scotland.
This is the tricky one and my fink choice may well depend on the weather forecast in the days running up to the start of the event.
Last August, on a trip to the Cairngorms, I relied on my Rab Vapour Rise mid layer (345 grams). This is a versatile mid layer which is made out of recycled Equilibrium fabric. The Vapour Rise can cope with quite a lot of gentle drizzle or rain. It has a well designed, built-in On the inside of the garment you will find a thin layer of fleece insulation which gives just a little bit of extra heat although not enough to over-heat you as you work hard.
During that visit the winds on the Munro tops were vicious and on a couple of days I found myself wearing the Vapour Rise, the wind shirt and the outer shell jacket just to keep warm.
One other option these days may be to use one of the new jackets that are made our of the new Polartec Alpha material. Chris Townsend reckons this is the first synthetic insulation material that breathes well enough to be worn while climbing or working hard. The Rab Strata jacket took the plaudits at the last TGO Awards.
However, for colder weather trips over the last few years I have gone back to wool, more specifically the merino/possum blend offered by Chocolate Fish. This is a little heavier of 640 grams but my is this a superb piece of kit. Possum wool provides the best natural fibre heat/weight ratio. The jumper is comfortable, warm and can cope with a surprising amount of water and wind. And, when things are getting a bit damp the natural fibres will dry out far more quickly than synthetic materials. Of course, being merino and possum wool means that the jumper is very anti pong — which can help!
I’ve worn the Chocolate Fish jumper on two trips to the Highlands, a November trip to the Monaliadth and last autumn’s coast to coast jaunt. I just love this and anyone else I know who has walked in Chocci Fish’s merino/possum garments is just as envagelical about them as I am.
I find buying gloves to be a real problem. I want gloves that are not too heavy, that are stretchy and that dry out quickly. I have had many pairs of gloves that work well most o the year but simply cannot cope with two weeks in Scotland; once you get water inside of them you can never dry them out and they become cold to wear.
The Rab Pertex Equilibrium gloves that I discovered a couple of years ago seem to have gotten over all these problems. They protect from the wind and rain and are not too warm —I find I quickly end up taking my gloves off as I get going in the mornings. Most importantly, these gloves are still easy to put on when wet and they dry out quickly, especially as you walk. The palm of the hands are protected by a synthetic leather-like material which protects gloves from walking poles. I did wonder how tough these would be but they have lasted me quite happily for two years now.
You need hats in Scotland, and generally more than one on the Challenge.
My Merino wool beanie hat from Chocplate Fish gives me just the right amount of warmth in camp and also when worn on cold days. There are. of course, other brands of merino hats and they are all good. I like the breathability of the natural fabrics.
A good wind hat is also recommended. I rely on my ancient Paramo Mountain Hat which is not too hot but which protects my ears and deals well with condensation. Mine is a little worn now but is still probably good for another Challenge.
And then you may well need a sun hat, particularly in the last week. I rely on my trusty Tilly Hat (188 grams). This copes with sun and cold equally well. I simply do not leave home without it!
Knowing How Warm You Run
When considering your layers remember there is no right or wrong kit list to take. A lot depends on how warm you run. Generally I run reasonably warm and don’t want too much heat. I do though feel the cold and I’ve found that, perhaps, my most reliable piece of kit is that Montane Windshirt.
I’ll let you know what I finally chose as my replacement jacket.