Gear Reviews

Gram-counter Gear LiteHouse SOLO

Vested interest up front - I designed this tent - that said I hope I can be objective. It did everything I asked of it, I took the optional rear pole and removable side guys.

The tent stood up well to stormy conditions and kept me and my gear dry despite heavy rain. By the end of the trip (the last night in fact) I arrived at camp just as it was starting to rain - the tent was up - back to the wind - in a few minutes and I cooked in the vestibule with one door open.

The tent is spacious, you can sit up and get changed easily enough and access is improved by setting the trekking pole to one side creating uninterrupted access.


GoLite Adrenaline 1+ Season Sleeping Bag

The Adrenaline 1 season sleeping bag felt spacious enough - I tend to roll around in the night and the bag wasn't restrictive at all. I even boosted its performance by wearing the Crux Halo top and even this didn't make it uncomfortable.

The central zip is more convenient than a side zip, bags in the 1 season category tend not to have full length zips and this was fine.

The hood is well designed as well, fitting snugly around my face. So all in all a decent sleeping bag!

There was one problem; it isn't rated for the conditions I encountered, for example one morning there was a very heavy frost, I had to 'crack' the ice off the tent as I folded it away; so the temperature had fallen well below zero! During this night I was cold, despite wearing the Crux Halo top as further insulation. A thermal liner would have helped but given the choice again I would take the Adrenaline 3 season.

Having said all that I didn't freeze - and actually got some sleep - it just wasn't as comfortable as I'd wanted - I was also sleeping in the LiteHouse SOLO - single skin with good venting means less warmth from being in the tent.


Thermarest Neoair Sleeping Mat - Small

Lots has been written about the NeoAir - so I'll keep it short - it has everything - comfort, a degree of insulation, very low weight and miniscule packsize - for the ultralight backpacker its superb!

I've had some feedback that it's too noisy - so be warned if this might keep you awake (but I've never felt it a problem) and I would probably consider something else for winter camping - but these are not criticisms - just observations.


Fizan Compact Trekking Poles

No complaints, honestly - these trekking poles work like countless others - a twist fit that can stick over time if left for long periods, and the internal expansion joints will eventually wear out.

The handles are a comfortable foam and the lightly padded straps are comfortable and stay at the length you set them.

What sets these apart from the norm is their weight - or lack of it - in use they are so light they feel different to other poles - yet they do the same job - its so much easier to wield these and place them where you want them.

With abuse they probably won't stand up to the same treatment that poles twice their weight will endure - but the payoff is well worth it.


GoLite Jam Rucksack

I reckoned my top weight was 28lbs. The Jam was certainly big enough for my needs, though with a bigger sleeping bag things would have gotten tight.

The Jam doesn't have a frame so you pack carefully and use your gear to stabilise the load and protect your back from sharp edges.

I love the hip belt pocket, which are an excellent size, and the large stretch mesh side pockets - which are reachable when on the move.

I had intended using the front pocket for the tent - especially in the morning when it was wet, but found that because there isn't a lid (with large pocket) on the top of the pack then I used the front pocket for lots of items that I didn't need to hand - but needed easy access to - such as wash kit, first aid etc..

I had a bit of rain at times - the Jam soaks up water so I think a pack cover is a must if any rain is expected - I didn't have one and found the pack to be a lot heavier after a shower.

The 'carry' was fine - and a lot of people rave about the Jam and its bigger brother, the Pinnacle - but I was hankering after slightly heavier framed pack that would transfer the load to the hips more effectively. Its a personal preference - but for loads ovwe (say) 22lbs and approaching 30lbs I would reach for something else.


Granite Gear Air Zippsacks

Yes - we like these! The smallest size is ideal for a days food - by keeping your food in daily bundles its easier to 'budget' your food for the whole trip.

The design means you can dump them on the ground as well, without fear of the contents getting waterlogged.


Multimat Protective Cover

This is the only stuffsack we've found thats this shape/size, its designed to protect a bulky closed cell foam sleeping mat but I chose it because it'll contain a pair of trekking poles - among other things.

When flying I like to carry the key items as cabin luggage, and I decide whether something is key by whether it can easily be replaced at the other end. Trekking poles must go in the hold, if the airline loses my hold luggage I can replace them relatively easily - perhaps not with the pair I'd like - but it won't stop me doing my walk.

If I had to replace tent or sleeping bag that would be different - I'd end up adding serious weight and bulk - not to mention cost to the enterprise - so these go in the cabin, with my pack.

Using the Carrisak as hold luggage worked really well - in addition to trekking poles I placed food, cutlery, pocket knife, pegs, washkit etc.. leaving the key items in the cabin with my rucksack reduced to the required size.


Mountain Hardwear Ravine Shirt

I prefer a loose fitting shirt for trekking, especially if I'm expecting it to be hot. The Ravine shirt fits the bill in terms of the fabric, venting, pockets etc.. but was let down by a few minor irritations.

Starting with the positive though - the mesh side panels are good for keeping you cool, breast pockets are excellent as extra vents but are also big enough to take large-ish documents.

The collar has an extra length to it so that it can be used to protect your neck from the sun - not bad but also not 100% effective and I wouldn't like to reply on it.

The other thing is the shirt dries very quickly, wringing is very effective.

The negative points I found were the sleeve length - too long for me - but maybe ideal if you generally find sleeves are short on you. Also the buttons at the cuff were difficult to fasten and unfasten.

Overall though a great shirt.


Granite Gear Hiker Wallet

When we first stocked these I thought I'd want something bigger - but now I've used one I think they are just the right size - brilliant for keeping notes and credit cards (plus a few coins) in one place.

Can't fault it.


Nuun Hydration Tablets

When I was a lad you could buy powdered orange juice to make up with water - I can't find any these days - obviously not much call for it - yet it was great to have a big mug of orange juice in the morning - takes the edge off drinking plain water all day.

Recently I was given half a dozen NuuN tablets - I am mightily impressed! They are basically a sugary drinks tablet, which, when dissolved in water provides 500ml of great tasting energy boost.

On a recent trek I used one per day to vary my drinking and it made a huge difference - tangibly: drank more, gave a sugar boost, was better for morale.


Vargo Hexagon stove with Decagon stove inserted

I used this setup witht he Tibetan 1100 mug - when trying to boil 0.5L of water it doesn't reach a 'rolling boil' before the fuel is spent. This was OK though because the water was hot enough to use and smaller amounts of water did come to a rolling boil.

Boiling water in this way for adding to meals or making drinks is what this stove setup excels at - if you intend boiling rice or pasta from scratch then using this will require more than one filling of fuel - so if fiddling about bothers you this isn't for you.

I burned wood on the Hexagon alone for the first time - this was very successful, and better than meths in some ways - for example you can add fuel as you go. I found that burning wood was slower than using the Decagon but the abundance of fuel lying around makes this a very attractive option for long trips where fuel re-supply may be difficult.

You may know that cooking on a wood burning stove or open fire makes a mess of your pans, Tibetan pans come with a mesh bag that protects gear from the crud - this is essential to protect your other gear. After a few days use the pot cleaned up well using a metal scourer.


Sunday Afternoon Hat

I got a few second looks with this hat, basically because it looks a bit odd - however its performance is fantastic - what it offers is complete protection from the sun for your head and neck. The design is ingenious and if you are like me - you don't like using sun lotion - then you need something like this.

So if you can stand being a talking point then this hat is what you should buy.

After a couple of weeks of being stuffed into my rucksack it did look a bit worse for wear but this is just an irritation.


X-Socks Trekking Expedition Short

Found these to be excellent - just enough padding without your feet feeling constrained.

Very quick drying when washed - I was going head to head with these and the Bridgedale Trekker Ultralight and these dried much more quickly.


Platypus Big Zip SL - 2.0L

As a hydration system the Big Zip SL is very good indeed - easy to fill and carry around - the quick disconnect of the tube from the bladder means you can leave the tube in situ and handle the bladder separately.

The bite valve assembly also incorporates a flow shut off valve which helps avoid accidental spills when the bite valve gets squashed under the pack - for example.

With previous Platypus Hosers that I've used I also used the bladder for handling water about camp, thats not so easy with the Big Zip SL though, because it can't be used as a bottle. With a hoser you can either fit the tube when on the move - or a closure cap when sing it in camp.

In summary then - a great hydration system - not so good when it comes to dual use for backpacking.


Sea to Summit Delta Insul Mug

This was a luxury item - I hate drinking out of metal pans so taking a plastic mug is highly desirable. It also means I can have a brew st the same time as tucking into my meal.

The Delta Insul Mug is a good design and essentially does the job, however the lid on mine became loose after a few days, the first time this happened I managed to spill some coffee down my front - so care is necessary.

It has faint volume graudations inside so was a useful measure as well - at 400ml it was just the right size for most uses.


X-Bionic Trekking Shirt

I had intended wearing this on its own, but you need to body for it - I haven't!! Its small but very stretchy - thats intentional, for it to work well it must hug the skin.

In truth I found it to be too hot for summer trekking where I prefer to wear something that lets the breeze in. On the days when it was cool - and I've recently worn it for autumn jaunts - its superb - wicks away sweat like nothing else I've worn - you hardly know you're wearing it.

Its also very tough and like all X-Bionic doesn't need wasng every day to keep it smelling reasonably OK.


X-Bionic Trekking Underwear

Like the shirt I found these to be superbly comfortable in most conditions but too warm in the summer - unless at altitude. The wicking properties are really excellent and they will keep reasonable fresh for days.

I would recommend wearing the Energiser for summer use and these for the other three seasons.


Ortlieb Chartcase

When I was a lad map cases were wierd and wonderful, heavy and let the water in. These days they are much better and lighter - and now huge.

This is the first time I've used an A3 size case and its a revelation - to keep weight down I didn't want to take complete maps so I sat down one afternoon with an A3 template and the maps I'd need and cut out about 8 sheets to cover the whole route.

These sheets slipped easily into the chartcase and stayed dry and in perfect condition for the whole trip - the weight saving was excellent. I'd probably hesitate to cut up a map of an area that I go to frequently - but on a long trek in an area you may never return to; this is the way to go.


Black Diamond ION Headlamp

Excellent piece of kit with a suprisingly bright light - enough for walking at night so long as the terrain is sympathetic (if your are actually planning to walk at night a more powerful headtorch is more appropriate).

It is swirtched on by depressing the switch and holding it for a second or two - this had me baffled at first but once you know - its not a problem - I see why they've done it - the ION won't get turned on accidentally!

So an excellent light - I had occasion to use one recently at minus 10 and it failed - as I had tested it before leaving home I can only assume that it was the extreme cold that caused the problem.


Sea to Summit 10L Sink

I've been carrying a 5 litre kitchen sink for years now - its just big enough to wash pots and your hands! I decided this time I'd carry the extra weight and take the bigger model - now I won't go back to my old one!

The convenience of the bigger bowl is great - I could even get a foot in, and get a proper wash.