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Gear Choice and Reviews

The route to be completed was the Alpamayo Circuit in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range (part of the Andes) in Northern Peru. Statistics for one of the gateway towns (Huaraz - 3050m) shows temperature dipping below freezing during the night and around 20C during the day. The route almost reaches 5000m so the temperatures on the route will be quite a bit cooler than this, but there is still a wide range of temperatures to deal with.

A key question was how therefore much insulation to take, I would need a decent down jacket for evenings so I packed my RAB Infinity jacket which has 210grams of 800+ Fill Power down and fits neatly between the light 'fleece replacement' down jackets and he heavier jackets that come in just this side of expedition quality. The down jacket would also serve as a decent pillow and emergency insulation if my sleeping bag wasn't warm enough. During the day I expected to be wearing my usual zipped baselayer but would need a lightweight synthetic layer for adverse daily conditions. I didn't need very much because I had the big down jacket for evening wear. The Inov-8 Primaloft Thermoshell Smock would keep the cold and wind at bay while walking and could also double as nightwear. Plan B for sleeping was Bedsocks, longjohns, inov-8 Thermoshell over baselayer, all of which should add about 10 degrees to my sleeping bag rating.

According to the guidebook the route can take up to 10 days without re-supply, so there was going to be a lot of weight in food in the early part of the trek - this meant that weight of other kit was critical so as not to get completely overloaded.

GearChoice FactorsShort Review
Six Moon Designs Skyscape TrekkerWeight was a primary factor. The Skyscape Trekker uses trekking poles as its support, is spacious, weighs only 714grams and according to the manufacturer it sturdy when pitched. Its predominantly single skin - but I like the lower weight of single skin designs and don't mind the occasional condensation issue. It doesn't really have a porch area, which was a bit of a compromise, although there's lots of space inside for storing gear.I liked the Skyscape Trekker a lot, its a bit fiddly to pitch if like me you have some fixed length trekking poles, much better to use telescopic that you can set to the required length once inside. Its big enough to keep your gear inside so the porch is not required for storage - wind resistance wasn't tested that much but the long single skin panel looks a bit vulnerable in this respect.
STS Spark SP111As I would be camping a lot higher than the 3050m of Huaraz I expected temperatures at night o fall much lower. With a rating of -6C this was probably the minimum requirement for the conditions, especially as I sleep cold these days and need a bag where the Comfort Limit matches the temperatures I'll be camping in. I knew I'd have a decent down jacket with me, and longjohns, so I had backup - you can't be too optimistic about how warm its going to be in any mountain range as temperatures can go surprisingly low at any time of the year. The Spark SP111 is a very light solution and the lightest bag with this rating we've found.

 The Spark series of sleeping bags from Sea to Summit are outstanding, they have used ultralight materials to minimise the weight and the highest quality down to deliver outstanding warmth to weight ratio.

Features have been minmised, but the important ones are there - such as zip baffles and boxed foot. Its a remarkable piece of kit.

Six Moon Designs Fusion 65With 10 days food to carry I needed quite a large pack and one that would support the load quite well. The Fusion 65 pack met both these requirements and had the necessary extra conveniences such as hip belt pockets and outer stuff pockets etc.The Fusion is a comfortable pack designed to transfer the load well to the hips - for me this is important for loads above 25lbs which I carried on this trip. The features suit backpacking with larger stretch pockets on the outside and useful hip belt pockets for your small stuff.
Neoair XLite RegularI was tempted to take the NeoAir Xtherm or even the Exped Downmat UL but I expected that the XLite would be warm enough and its lighter than both those alternatives.This was the ideal mat for this trip, I like a full length mat these days and this is the lightest inflatable airbed type we've found. It crackles a bit but I don't notice - it behaved flawlessly for the duration of the trip.
RAB Myriad Jacket

I didn't want to go for one of our 'superlight' waterpoof jackets because I'd be carrying a 35lbs+ pack weight for some of the time and the waterproofing could be compromised by pack straps over an extended period of time. Any of the 400g and heavier eVent shells would do the job but I was keen to try a Polartec Neoshell garment which is supposedly more breathable. The RAB Myriad jacket was the lightest NeoShell available - so that's what I took.

It would be interesting to see how the 10m Hydrostatic Head stood up to trap pressure and a good downpour.

I had a couple of wet days, one particularly so, so I had a good opportunity to test out the Neo Shell fabric - I have to say I was impressed, I remained perfectly dry with noticeably less condensation than I would have expected.

Feature-wise the jacket is exemplary as is typical of RAB gear.

Minimus PantsAlthough I was going in the dry season everything's relative and I could expect some rain at some point during my trip. The long range weather forecast was predicting a few days of unsettled weather with a fair chance of rain. As I didn't expect to be wearing overtrousers for more than a few days during the trip I opted for the lightest waterproof pair. My guidebook suggests that you don't need them at all - though I don't agree with this - and indeed without them I would have got very wet.I had to wear these for most of a day during the downpour I experienced and they worked very well, keeping me quite dry. I have used them a few times over the last few years and they are my first choice when I want a pair that are ultralightweight and don't need to be as durable as more traditional fabric.
Inov-8 Race Elite 2 reversible thermoshellWith possible high daytime temperatures and cold nights I decided to take a high spec down jacket to serve as my main insulation - this meant that I wanted the lightest possible synthetic insulating midlayer for daytime wear that I could find - because the chances were I'd be warm enough without it. Inov-8's Race Elite Thermoshell was the perfect choice - its very light and provides moderate additional warmth which is just what you need when moving in a cool environment.I loved this garment! Really easy to wear and it seemed to be comfortable over a wide range of conditions - ie it was warm enough to wear when packing up camp on a chilly morning but I continued to wear it into the day - only needing to take it off when in full sun.
RAB Infinity Jacket inc stuffsackThe Inifinity Jacket was my insurance - its a mid range down jacket but very high quality - jackets with the same amount of down in them weigh more than this one - making it the ultralight choice. I could wear it to boost my sleeping bag and it would keep me warm if the evenings got cold. By having this with me I could also save on the weight of a pillow - though I would be a bit short if I was wearing it to keep warm.

On paper this is an awesome down jacket, you only have to look at the amount of down inside compared to its overall weight to know that it has a great warmth to weight ratio - and it packs down very small when you need it to. It provided the ideal insulation level for me as it got close to zero on some nights - I was warm enough without resorting to wearing the Inov-8 Thermoshell as well.

Astroman SS ShirtVery lightweight trekking shirt. Easy enough to carry or wear while traveling.Really comfortable to wear and very lightweight - the perfect companion on an ultralight trip.
OR Echo LS Zip TopFor a zip top OR's Echo LS is extremely light and looks good enough for travel wear. 
Petzl e+Zip headlampI slipped up a bit here, I failed to realise that it was winter in Peru and therefore it would get dark quite early, if I'd realised this I'd have taken a more powerful light. As it was however I opted for the super lightweight option. I had an Inova Microlight as a backup. 
Helinox Passport TLA130My all time favourite poles are Helinox's Passprt poles, but these are fixed length and I needed poles that would adjust to 115cm in order to pitch the tent I was taking. Luckily, for a few more grams I was able to take the new adjustable length Passport poles whose minimum useable length is 115cm! I also like these poles because of the very short packed size which means they go easily into your rucksack for traveling. 
Scarpa Zen Pro, Size 10I wanted a walking shoe because I expected to be on trails most, if not. all of the time. Conditions dictated that I would not necessarily need waterproof footwear and would probably rather have better breathability. I settled on the Scarpa Zen Pro as they are both comfortable and supportive and I could get away with them as a travel shoe - thus wearing them for the full trip. 
Montane Terra Stretch PantsLegwear was a difficult choice, I didn't want too heavy and hence possibly too warm in full sun, but there again it would be cool during the evening which meant super lightweight trekking pants were probably also out of the question. I also like stretch pants as they tend to be a slimmer fit than non-stretch. I settled on Montane's Terra Stretch Pants as a good compromise choice with a good DWR coating but not true softshell. 
Helios Sun HatI love my Sunday Afternoons Solar Bucket but decided it was time to try something else - OR's Helios Hat has a wide brim, is light and fairly crushable.