Review: Living With the Altra Lone Peak 3.5

Altra

I didn’t, perhaps, get the opportunity to test these on the Challenge as much as I wanted. However, these have been used in a variety of real world conditions, on steep grass slopes, on mountain tracks — good and bad, and tarmac (rather too much). I worse these exclusively for a couple of weeks.

The longer use of these shoes confirmed what I described in the First Impressions: Altra Men’s Lone Peak 3.5 post.

I should say at the outset that these are probably the best trail shoes that I have used to date!

Comfort and Fit

A reminder; my feet are rather broad and with a high instep. One of my feet is significantly different in size to other. For me to find shoes to be comfortable they have to have a wide fitting and to still continue to grip the heels of both feet. The Altras succeed on both counts.

On first inspection these shoes appear not to be quite as wide as the Inov-8s that I have been using but I really don’t think this is the case. I’ve had no problems wearing these, even in very warm conditions. What makes for the difference in the feel is, I think, that these shoes are far more robust than the Inov-8’s. They appear to be less flexible but for my wide feet they are no problem at all. Altra recommend that you go up a full size from the UK equivalent, so for me that meant going from 9.5 to 10.5. This worked well. The Altra website has a size calculator which will give you guidance for other size measurements; on this experience I would expect this to be spot on.

General Performance

These shoes perform admirably. They grip grass well on steep slopes. They shed water as quickly as you would want The sole unit is firmer and tougher than that on Inov-8. The sole unit will wear down a little but so far these are holding up more effectively than they Inov-8’s. There is more cushioning in the sole unit, not over the top this but enough to be very effective on rocky paths. they are also far more comfortable when walking distances on a tarmac surface.

The robust nature of these shoes is not simply down to the sole unit. look closely at the photograph and you will see that the top of the shoe features mesh that has been reenforced with red stretching. The mesh itself sheds water very well and efficiently. The ditched mess seems to give more strength to that mesh top. Bashing through heather when your shoes are damp often leads to holes in the mesh but so far there has been sign of such a problem with these shoes.

The extra build of these shoes does mean they weight about 750 grams, a little more than the Inov-8’s, but they are still very light and I have not found this weight increase to be significant at all.

Zero Drop

I mentioned in the first impressions post that I was a little wary of the zero drop heel. Mainly this was because of an ongoing problem I have with a sore achilles. These shoes have not caused any problems and, indeed, the heel cup works as effectively — if not more effectively — than any trail shoes that I used to date. This might seem odd but with these she’s your feet — and heels — are more lightly to go exactly where you want them to go! they certainly encourage you to heel and toe properly.

Conclusions

There is almost nothing to dislike about these. True, they are expensive but these are a quality product. So far, I have found these to be the best trail shoe that I have used to date.

I’ll continue using this throughout the summer and right a long term review  then. But on my experience so far, these are simply excellent trail shoes.

Available in both men and women’s fittings

 

Altra Men’s Lone Peak 3.5

Review: Speedster Combined Windshield and Pot Rest

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Speedster Windshield and MSR Titan Pot

I’ve finally got round to having a good play with the Speedster Windshield.

Alcohol stoves need a good windshield. For a few years now I’ve used either a titanium Honey Stove (from backpacking light.co.uk) as a windshield, or a Caldera Cone system. Both of these have their advantages and disadvantages (more later) but what about this system?

The first thing you notice about this windshield is that it is tough and robust. It is far tougher than the foil Caldera Cones and easier to put together than the Honey Stove. The shield comprises of six sections, hinged together, that pack flat.

Flat packing is a great advantage in my view. The Honey Stove packs flat but is a bit fiddly to assemble, particularly after prolonged use; there is no hinge here, interlocking tabs hold the whole thing together. The original Caldera Cones (I still use one with a large pot) had to be kept in a plastic caddy to protect the foil. These caddies could also hold you stove and a full bottle but they were bulky and a bit of a pain to pack.

In recent years Caldera have got over the problem by introducing the ‘sidewinder system’. The cone rolls up and is kept in a cone shaped piece of Tyvek material and the cone fits into your pot for ease of packing and protection. However, the Sidewinder is not available for all pots including the MSR Titanium Titan Kettle. This kettle is very popular with solo backpackers. It has a good capacity (about 650 ml) and a decent profile — it is not too tall which aids stability.  The MSR kettle is about the easiest of these products to find in high street stores, which no doubt aids its popularity. So, it is a good thing that this system is available for the  Titan Kettle.

I’m not quite sure what the Windshield is made of but it is a reasonably strong gauge of metal but not too heavy. This windshield, together with its soft fabric pouch, weighs 75 grams. This is heavier than a cone but more robust. And the windshield includes a secure pot rest. The cone system secures your pot around the rim but over time and use the pots can slip down into the cone which is a bit messy at times.

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This second photo (sorry about the quality) shows how the pot rest works. Three wire pot supports fold out into the pot and support your pot at the optimum height for the stove. The windshield is joined as one by a metal pin which clips the two outside panels of the stove together.

When assembled get a comparatively solid windshield, I say comparatively because this is a piece of backpacking kit but it does feel more solid than a cone. You can see form the top photo that the shield almost completely encloses the pot.

I tested the system in pretty blustery weather. The shield seemed to operate well.  There was some wind blow through the small vents at the bottom of the shield and occasionally some blowing around of the flame, however, the stove seemed protected enough and — even with a 30 ml stove — happily took 600 ml of water to a rolling boil. The solidity of the system does make it a bit easier to move around. After heating the panels do get hot so you will need some kind of protector to handle the panels at first. While the panels do get hot you will need to move them in order to blow out your flame and pop the top back on the stove!

All in all this is a solid system that works very effectively. Look at the second photo and you can see how the generic kits will work. Two windshield are available for pots of 100 to 120 diameter or 120 to 150 diameter — you can see how the post rest system will accompany a variety of pots of those dimensions.

Speedster will also custom build such a windshield for your pot. My most used solo pot is from Evernew; this has the same capacity as the MSR but is slightly wider and slightly lower in profile. I’d given up using the Titan as it wasn’t quite so stable on top of a Honey Stove.

This system beats the Caldera Sidewinder for strength and rigidity although it is heavier. It beats the Honey Stove as a windshield, it is easier to put together and does not have the grate slots of the Honey Stove which can let in quite a lot of wind. Of course, the Honey stove can easily be used as a wood burning stove as well. You could use this system to protect a small wood burner such a Bushbuddy but these are  fragile and have to be stored carefully as well.

So, there’s not much to dislike here, you get a sturdy shield for only a little extra weight. The one thing I queried was the toughness of the pot rests but these seem to be pretty strong and well made; they should last for quite a long time.

The only downside with this is the pin which clips the sides together. It took a while to work out how best to use this but once you’ve cracked it this is fine. It is best to keep the clip attached as firmly as you can after disassembly as it can easily slip out of the hinges or out of the stuff sack.

A good piece of kit this.

Combined Windscreen and Pot Rest for MSR Titan Kettle

First Impressions: Speedster Alcohol Stove

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The Speedster Stove: r to l — lid, stove and Simmer Ring

My speedster order arrived with the Post Woman just as I was about to leave for the hills. I didn’t really have time to have a good look at the package, but I did throw the tiny Speedster stove into my pack and I used it for a couple of days. So, here are my first impressions.

 

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Review: Tramplite Shelter

Camp at Loch Osian.

Tramplite Shelter with beak half open, pitched on the shores of Loch Ossian

In the ten years and more that I have been writing this blog I have never had as much interest shown in a piece of gear as I have over Colin Ibbotson’s Tramplite Shelter. From the moment that this shelter arrived through the post, readers have been badgering me to produce a review. On this year’s TGO Challenge I thought about charging for guided tours of the shelter it was that popular.

The Challenge gave me the opportunity to evaluate the shelter over a multi day hike. It also gave me the opportunity to compare notes with three other Tramplite owners, most notably Shap McConnell.

So, how does the shelter measure up?

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Review: PHD Wafer Vest

I promised to post a full review of the new Wafer Vest as soon as it had a fair amount of use. Since I first wrote about this vest I’ve used it a hell of a lot, both on the hills and in just about every other scenario I can think about. When I mentioned buying this a few PHD wearing friends made comments to the effect that I had more money than sense — they were very happy with their existing PHD vests (or gilet if you are a posh person). I already own a PHD Minimus vest but in all honesty find this a bit bulky; since the zip went I’ve not really been driven to get this fixed.

Upfront: I find this a truly superb piece of kit.

The vest is filled with PHD’s ‘unique fillpower 1000 down’. I don’t know what this means but I guess it represents PHD’s ultimate warmth to weight ratio filling.

The vest is a very simple design. There is no internal pocket but there are two good hand warming pockets that have a generous capacity. My XL size weighs spot on 190 grams.

The vest is lovely and warm when zipped up. PHD rate this as useful down to zero but I think you’d be happy wearing this, perhaps, down to -5.

One of the main advantages of the Wafer Vest is that it is thin. This easily will slip under your shell jacket so that you can wear it while walking. I bought this jacket for extra warmth while moving not for extra warmth in camp and I think works very well for what I wanted it to do.

Wearing this vest under my jacket protects the down and adds little extra bulk. Although you want to keep down away from water down does wick steam and water vapour well. When working hard on the hill the vest is always very comfortable. I’ve also worn this over a merino baselayer and a Rab Vapour Rise jacket and it compliments this arrangement well, also giving me extra warmth when walking in sharp and cold winds.

When the temperature begins to rise a simple opening of the front zip will loose a lot of heat. When completely un-zipped the jacket is so thin and light that you almost don’t realise you are wearing it.

The outer fabric of the vest is also very light but it doesn’t seem too fragile and has coped well so far struggling through the usual woodland but remember this vest is designed to be worn under other protective layers.

I am very, very, pleased with this purchase. At 190 grams it is always going to find a place in my pack for cool weather walking and backpacking.

The Wafer Vest will set you back £169. Yes, it is expensive but then down has seen a dramatic increase in price over the last couple of years. However, a good inspection of the gear shops in Betws-y-Coed this morning suggests that this pricing is on a par with its main competition. All in all this is such a well performing piece of kit that it seems to me to offer very good value for money.

Top, top, gear again from PHD.

The PHD Wafer Vest

Review: Gossomer Gear Kumo

Back in November I posted a piece about the Gossamer Gear Kumo pack (the post is here). This was a pretty favourable first impression but since I’ve been using over the winter how has it stacked up?

GGKumo

The Kumo

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Review: PHD Alpamayo Waterproof Smock

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.

http://www.phdesigns.co.uk/alpamayo-waterproof-smock

Living With the Tarptent Stratosphere II

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I’ve been reminded that I haven’t yet written (as promised) a longer term review of the Henry Shires Tarpent, Stratospire II.

An initial review revealed how much I thought about this tent; longer term usage hasn’t really changed these views at all. So, to recap ..

… the Stratosphere II is a backpacking tent (for two people) that manages to combine a generous size with a light weight as a result of a design that utilises you trekking poles instead of tent poles; we you are using walking poles aren’t you? And there are two of you?

I’ve covered most of the technical details of the tent in my previous review. Despite being relatively lightweight the tent appears to be quite durable with one (if not critical) exception.

Space is the main thing about this tent; there is lots of it. There is space inside of the inner tent where there is easily enough space for two reasonably high people. Space is also a feature of the twin vestibules, although one is slightly bigger than the other; I try and use this vestibule for cooking in. That being said,. the second vestibule is no slouch and can hold a lot of wet gear.

The space is really appreciated on a multi day backpacking trip. In sunny weather the tent provides a lot of shade and ventilation and in bad weather the space makes this a comfortable tent to hold up in.

I wondered whether the footprint — which is large — might cause a problem  with pitching. On the TGO Challenge across Scotland pitching spaces can be a bit cramped if you are not prepared. With this tent I tended to stop a but earlier than usual if, and when, I found a pretty large and flat space on which to pitch. However, don’t let this mislead you. I never really found this difficult to pitch in a reasonably cramped space.

I did find it important to pitch the end of the tent into the wind. With this done you always have shelter in the vestibules — keep the door into the wind closed and you will still have a lot of space through which to enter and leave the tent and with which to gaze at the outdoors. One of the features of Henry’s tents is supreme attention detail and one thing I like a lot is how the outer fly really does provide a lot of protection to the inner tent below. So long as there is not much wind you will find that falling rain does not enter the tent or splash onto the inner.

The tent comes with mid side panel tie out loops for use in poor weather. I simply use these all of the time in the UK. These tie outs help tension the tent a great deal and so I use them even in calm weather (when the tie out points also ensure greater airflow between the inner and the outer. In windy weather you will need the tie outs as they help a great deal in keeping the shelter stable and ensuring that your head or feet are not battered by flapping fabric. There is a lot of fabric on this tent.

As a result of the ventilation condensation is not really a problem. I’ve only had condensation problems once when temperatures suddenly plummeted below zero one evening, although in these conditions any shelter would have gathered a lot of condensation.

The fabrics here are lightweight but appear to be durable. The only problem with the tent I had with the tent was during its first night of use — I somehow managed to sit on an over tensioned inner tent and I pinged and snapped one of the tiny plastic connectors that attaches the inner to the outer. This was easily fixed by use of some Dyneema chord — I subsequently replaced this with a short piece of bungee chord. These lightweight clips are fragile. They are used on a lot of lightweight gear and I’ve always managed to break one on every piece of kit I’ve owned!

Some general points:

I always use the side panel tie outs (as mentioned above). This means you need two sets of walking poles but that is not a problem if there is to of you. The poles don’t need any extenders but they give a lot of headroom, especially at the ridge line that runs across the tent. If you loose a poll (as I did at Loch Ness) you can improvise as in the photo above using a branch or  an old fence post (as I did on one occasion). I could have simply run the line from the mid tie out point straight to the ground and this would have improved rigidity, however, use ‘lifters’ and you will have an altogether better experience.

Make sure each supporting pole is adjusted to the right height for the piece of ground it is on. One of the great things about this tent is that it copes very well with undulating land or different levels. I tend to pre extend my poles to a standard height before installing them into the tent. Next, it is a good idea to ensure both polls are extended to the full, making sure that the tips of the polls are securely located in the grommets provided. You will be surprised how the height of each pole can vary, when you take the polls down.

Practice pitching in advance of your first trip. This is an easy tent to pitch but with all this fabric you don’t want to be experimenting for the first time in a heavy wind.

The guy lines that run from the top of each door can be simply run almost vertically to the ground and fixed with the pegs that you are already using for the door. I find a longer line used in pretty much a conventional sense — pegged out away from the door — is better. tension both lines and the tent become more rigid along the horizontal ridge line in the roof. The stretch of the pitch also helps stretch out the width of the tent. You don’t need to do this in calm weather but it just makes sense to me. To do this you will want to replace the guy lines that are already attached to the tent — they imply won’t be long enough to get a 45 degree angle peg out.

Always carry some lengths of spare chord and some bungee chord as well can be helpful.

There’s really not much more to say about this tent other than it is a superb piece of kit. The design is not particularly radical in itself and you can find other examples of this design from other  lightweight manufactures. What you won’t get from the opposition are the clever finishing features of the Stratosphere II.

If it had been left to me I would probably have bought a cuben version of this type of design  from Z Packs. Dan and Christy were using one of these on the Challenge and although not quite as roomy as the Stratosphere it was more than adequate. However, not only is this tent far more expensive not everybody likes cuben as it often feels too transparent for some people (Kate included).

In conclusion, this is an almost perfect backpacking tent for the UK and cooler and rainy climates. In a very heavy wind it will rock and roll a bit but then so will an Akto or Laser! It is light enough despite being huge — remember to shake off as much moisture as possible before you put the tent away; it can hold a lot of water!

So, there you go. I have no reservations after buying this tent whatsoever and have no hesitation in recommending it.

A fine piece of kit.

First Impressions: Gossamer Gear Kumo Pack

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If you’ve read the previous post you will know that I need a new daypack overnight pack. This is the choice, the Gossamer Gear Kumo pack. this is rated at 36 litres in total, 28 litres in the main pack. My version, large back size and including a mat insert, weighs dead on 500 grams.

I’ve not had this that long but it has already spent a few days on the hills and has been taken to Berlin as my main luggage and then strolling-around pack.

So far I’ve found this to be pretty comfortable even when carrying more than the maximum carrying weight (which is about 11 kilograms).

Basically, this is simple frameless pack. Structure to the pack is given by a sit bad which skips into a fabric holder on the rear of the pack. The mat is made of the same material as the GG Nightlite mat. I used one of these mats for years and, indeed, have it down the back of my main MLD Exodus pack. The mat doesn’t help in distributing weight but it does make the whole thing a little more rigid and comfortable.

The hip belt is reasonably wide but minimalistic — there is no padding on the hip section of the belt. In practice I don’t find the belt necessary to help carry weight, it is more useful to keep the pack from moving. If I was walking on reasonably flat trails I wouldn’t be worried about using the hip belt at all; it is removable. I used this pack in Berlin without the hip belt and it was comfortable enough even when over weight.

Most of the pressure here is taken up by the shoulder straps. These aren’t padded either, rather they are made of a reasonably thin foam which does seem to absorb pressure well. It helps that the straps are generously wide to help distribute the load.

There are no pockets on the hip belt, though you can buy these as extras. The two side pockets are generously sized and have drain holes built into then. The pocket on the front (which you can see in the pic) is pretty generous. The base of the pocket and the base of the pack has extra reenforcement from another lightweight fabric.

There are no compression straps as such. On each side of the pack is a line of lightweight bungee chord that can be tensioned to both reduce pack volume and to secure tall objects stored in the pockets — you can’t see well here but this chord is securing both two poles and a water bottle/filter on the other side.

The lid is interesting. Inside the lid are two clips that allow you to tighten things a bit. The lid itself connects to the pack using two small and light line locs. This may be a lightweight arrangement but these lines work well in ensuring the pack is tightly closed. This lid has a compartment that is accessed by the zip on the left. The zip is designed so that it is closed when at the bottom of the zip line; I like this as it means the zip can’t gradually open from the top. I’m not a fan at all of  pack lids as there is a tendency to stash too much weight in here and things can get a little unstable. On this pack the lid has a limited capacity but the design means the pocket is quite useful.

So far I have enjoyed using the pack. It is a proper lightweight pack which I appreciate. it can happily carry a load for an overnighter carrying even a winter load.

I shall report back after it has had a little more use but if you are in the market for something in this range the Kumo is well worth checking out.

Review: Luxe Outdoor Mega Horn II

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There is more to life than backpacking tents — honest! Sometimes a bit more space is welcome, when you are camp site camping or, perhaps, spending a few days at a music festival. In these situations the Mega Horn II is a great option.

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