Lockdown 3

So here we are again, and to us outdoor enthusiasts, we face the onset of another frustrating time. As we view pictures of pristine snow conditions on mountains in Scotland and Wales posted (presumably) by people living in the shadow of those summits, many of us are limited to the immediate area of our homes and probably getting under the feet of our “nearest and dearest”. So what can we be doing rather than staring out of the window all day?

Equipment

Lockdown is a good opportunity to rejuvenate all your kit. Wash and proof your waterproofs, replace overstretched elastic where need be and perhaps repair pockets or resecure loose buttons. If you are capable, maybe fit new Velcro or press studs where needed. Look at your boots, give them a deep clean with some boot cleaning gel, maybe use some conditioner, then give them a good re-proofing. Sharpen everything that needs sharpening, oil everything that needs oiling, replace old batteries or re-charge them all to keep them ok, and replace out of date first aid items. For the really nerdy, open up a spreadsheet, take out your scales and weigh every item of kit you have. Enter them on the spreadsheet and then produce a second that adds up the weight of any kit list you make up. This could prove to be a long and tedious job, but might pay dividends when you start planning your next big trip……which brings me to….

Plan

Get out your maps, all those coffee table books of wild areas, watch some videos and get inspired. Then come up with a really great trip to celebrate getting out of this mess later in the year. You may be best to keep it UK based for now, but there are loads of really great adventures we can hope to have, and lots of enjoyable and enlightening hours to be spent working out logistics, menus, kit-lists, routes, goals’ communications….even perhaps sponsorship. Pick something challenging or quirky, follow in the footsteps of someone out of history or make a study of things you pass on the way. Think about how you will record your adventure, will you keep a diary, blog or vlog, will you photograph or sketch? Maybe learn a new skill in lockdown to enable this. How will you travel? On foot, by paddle or pedal? Or all three? I’ve got myself so excited now, I’m struggling to stay here and finish this blog, as my head buzzes with new ideas. Maybe I could paddle the Kennet and Avon Canal stopping to sketch each lock, or ride all of Wades military roads through the Highlands, Or walk the South West Coast Path doing a Pasty survey (I’ve been practising pasty sampling for a while now). Why not involve a friend? This will give you both something to talk about on zoom all through the winter.

Keep fit

We are still allowed to exercise, ideally from home, so build it into your routine. Your home area may sound a bit boring to exercise in, but try to change your focus. Look more carefully, and see what is under your nose. There are new discoveries to make (new to you if not new to science), and this is an opportunity to learn about the little things we take for granted. Exactly what species of fern is that growing out of your garden wall? What bird is that singing on the phone line? Which direction is this cold wind coming from? What direction was the wind coming from when that ice was deposited on the fence post? Learning to be more observant will pay big dividends enhancing your enjoyment when free to roam in the mountains again.

Revise your skills

No matter how well skilled we are in our chosen pursuit, lack of practice will result in skill or knowledge fade, so try to take time out to do some learning or revision. Obviously you can’t practice Kayak rolling in your living room, but you can review your knowledge of tidal charts or re-read your 1st aid handbook. A really good way to learn or revise a skill is to teach it to someone else…so why not try teaching the kids how to bandage a wound, or deal with a burn, a great skill for them to gain. If you are a member of an organisation like Mountain Training, there will be online CPD training on their website…and while you’re there, make sure your logbook is up to date if you hold or are training for qualifications.

Hopefully some of this will be of use to you, but if you are still struggling you can always switch off Facebook…..those snowy pictures are only going to make you envious and frustrated!

Bringing Woodland diversity to pasture fields.

I read a lot about rewilding and I hear a lot more about it. Usually the theme is planting trees or allowing trees to regenerate naturally in uplands and pasture land. I don’t intend to go into the rights and wrongs of converting these areas to woodland, but to focus on one aspect of the mechanics of the process.

Whilst some areas have regenerated well under their own steam so to speak, with some sensitive grazing, or protection from grazing, other areas have proved reluctant. In moorland areas where purple moor grass has become dominant, and in pasture where rye grass has a stranglehold on everything regeneration can be slow. This of course would not be a problem if woodland cover were not a vital part of resolving a global environmental emergency and a mass extinction. But we are where we are, we have little time to spare and so land managers have to act as the catalyst for accelerated change.

We can of course plant trees already nurtured in nurseries, preferably in an apparently random way, to get things started, and hope that self- seeding will increase tree cover going forward, and no doubt it will, but it may be surprisingly slow. Rye grass of the agricultural variety is a tough nut to crack, and Molinia is similarly difficult stuff. There are other issues too, true woodland has a complex soil ecology all of its own, and tree roots need that ecology to maximise tree growth. Without it regeneration is likely to be much slower than it would in say a woodland clearing.

So to solutions. Well hedgerows are likely to have similar soil ecology to woodland, so we can perhaps steadily regenerate the pasture by working out from the hedgerows and woodland edges, a few metres at a time. This might produce a reasonable woodland but its still a slow way of going about things.

If we were trying to change rye grass to flower rich pasture, we would first sow yellow rattle to weaken the grass and let the flowers come through. It seems to me that if we could scatter enough leaf mould onto the pasture before or during planting it would assist in suppressing grasses and start to create the absent ecology. Tree leaves decomposing tend to be good at suppressing other species. It could also randomly scatter seeds mixed up in the leaf litter.

Well that’s all well and good but we can’t go digging up ancient woodland (unless you work for HS2) to take away the leaf litter, we can’t destroy one wood to create another, so where is this leaf litter coming from?

Every Autumn huge amounts of dead leaves fall into our roads, they wash downhill, and gather in huge quantities at the bottom, often clogging drains and causing localised flooding. These leaf heaps are left for some months rotting and getting wet, as the council only wants to sweep them once. These heaps will hold lots of seed from trees and hedgerows, and plenty of fungi and bacteria typical of a woodland ecology. It seems to me that this nuisance debris on the roads could be utilised as a top dressing and seed source for areas destined for regeneration. It might be negotiated with the local authority to obtain it, or volunteers could just take  pick-up trucks to known locations where such heaps amass (I have one round the corner from me) and just harvest it themselves, saving the council having to process it.

Now there are possible downsides, this may be a way to spread disease, so I think it would be something to do in a very local way, using leaves from within a few miles radius of the planting/ regeneration site to mitigate this.

I’m not an expert, so I’m happy to be shot down over this approach, by any knowledgeable expert, and I’m keen to hear from people who have tried or experimented with this approach, or to hear how other people deal with the problem.

Over to you.

Realigning our political landscape to the environmental landscape.

Regular readers of my blog could be forgiven for believing that it’s just a page about walking kit, but in reality its about any issues impinging on the hillgoer, and environment is central to the hillwalkers raison d’etre. Environment is also more controversial than which boots are best, and it should be understood that I’m “putting this out there” to provoke reasoned calm debate, not a ranting competition.

I want to start with rivers. There is evidence that for at least 3500 years rivers have divided us, both physically and socially. Look at almost any parish boundary and it will use a river to mark it during part of  its run. Bronze age Reave layouts seem to utilise rivers as additional boundaries, and many countries and counties use rivers as borders. Rivers boundaries have marked the great events of history, such as Julius Ceaser crossing the Rubicon. This is strange, because physically rivers join things. Rivers carry trade from source to mouth and back, they link watershed to the sea. They form one of the important links in the water cycle that keeps us all alive, and most importantly for this argument, what happens upstream impacts on everything downstream.

So looking at the UK as a case study, we have developed our boundaries and borders, over the thousands of years, tweaking here and there on purely political and arbitrary lines, using the rivers as a cheap way to save on boundary stones and little more! This has got us to where we are today, I’m not saying that it’s worked, just that it’s happened. However we are now facing a National and Global environmental emergency in more ways than one. The environment is biting back, and we find ourselves with a system of political boundaries that is less than ideally designed to deal with this.

Today I can sit on one side of a river where the landscape is being managed for environmental benefits by one district council and look across to the other bank, in another local authority and see an industrial estate being built. Today the people of York can have their homes flooded due to the decisions of district councils upstream, over whom they can exercise no electoral control.  Rivers join us. They join the miner in the hills with the fisherman in the silted up harbour. They join the gardener who planted Himalayan Balsam with the Waterways worker trying to unchoke the canal. They connect the forester on the moorlands with the townsman drinking water from the tap, and the grouse shooter on the moor with the flood refugee on the plains below. We need a re-alignment of our boundaries.

We need to draw our District Council boundaries along watersheds so that the catchment area (or cluster of catchment areas) become the District Council area. This might result in some very large and/or long districts (think Thames or Severn), but it will mean that what is done within that District will be much more joined up. The people making plans about flood alleviation will be accountable to the people getting flooded. Everything being done within a District towards environmental sustainability can be dovetailed because it is all within the same river system. We cannot go on thinking about environmental work in small parcels of land operating in seclusion and linked to other habitat poorly if at all. Without bigger, catchment wide strategic thinking, conservation, rewilding and schemes to support  increased species diversity are doomed to fail and at best become exhibits of what might have been.

I hear you point out that this is a drastic step and would be very difficult to achieve…..well you would be right, but then a reset once every 3500 years can’t be all that bad, and would set a better foundation on which to build our brave green new world. It would also prevent the laughable arbitrary alteration of borders to achieve better electoral results for the ruling party we have seen in recent years, so hey there’s a bonus!

OK so I’ve put this out there and what I hope is that better minds than mine give it consideration, point out the advantages and pit falls I’ve missed and work out whether it’s the way we, or any other country, should proceed in. Over to you!

Looking at this seasons technical waterproof jacket offerings at Cotswold Outdoors

In this review I’m not going to comment on colour choice as it’s such a personal thing, and can be better gauged online or in store. I have not worn any of these garments in anger, but as I occasionally work at Exeter Cotswold Outdoor, I have had the chance to examine them all, try some on etc. Fit again is a personal issue, so I’m not commenting on that overly what I’m looking for is what they are best suited for and comparative value. So work out which ones suit your needs then try them on and pick a colour! I’ve focused on the Cotswold stock because there will be a store within reach of most people, and the standard of advice tends to be better than some other chains.

Arc’teryx Beta AR: £500 460g Made of the new Goretex Pro (most rugged) fabric in 40D which is how it attains it’s light weight. It doesn’t have the reinforcement areas of the Lhotse though so it will be interesting to see if it is as resilient as the price-tag will lead buyers to expect. It has two external pockets and pit-zips. The hood/collar arrangement is new and again it will be interesting to see what buyers make of it. It’s only 40g lighter than the Lhotse and £100 more expensive, but is a little more packable perhaps. The main zip can be pulled open with out needing to use the slide, which is useful with gloved hands….as long as the zip doesn’t start opening by itself as it gets more worn. All in all this is one for the people who really need the special features of this jacket, which is not many of us who don’t ice climb as our main source of fun or work.

Arc’teryx Zeta SL: £280 310g Made of Goretex Paclite Plus the Zeta SL has two pockets and the hood is not compatible with helmets, however it does adjust well. It is intended as an emergency jacket and for that it excels, but at £100 more than most Paclite jackets it’s expensive for something that is intended to remain in your sack most of the time. Don’t think that because it’s priced like the Rab Kangri, that it will be as resilient, because it won’t so don’t buy it for expedition backpacking.

Mountain Equipment Changabang: £500 680g This is very much a snow sports jacket, made of Goretex Pro (most breathable) 80D fabric throughout and fitted with a ski pass pocket on the arm and a snowskirt inside. It has 4 large pockets chest pockets, which not only give a lot of storage capacity but increase the amount of wind protection you have from the front. For ski touring, Ice climbing, and anywhere that you may be flailing around in powder snow this is a great jacket, but for backpacking and day walking its too heavy and bulky, although to some degree this is mitigated by the snow skirt being removable.

Mountain Equipment Lhotse: £400 500g made of Goretex Pro (most breathable) 40D fabric with 80D reinforcement areas. Alpine cut. This jacket should satisfy the demands of almost any mountaineer. You can pay an extra £100 for the Arc’teryx Beta if you need the extra features such as the zip you can pull open with mitted hands, but be honest with yourself…will you use these features. If not the additional pockets of the Lhotse, and the tougher shoulder and arm areas of the jacket should seem a snip at £100 less than the Beta. Like all the M.E jackets listed the Lhotse has a Helmet compatible (HC) hood, and articulated arms (ME make their sleeves quite long). It is an Alpine cut and has generous pit-zips for ventilation. This jacket has been a standard that others are measured by for years.

Mountain Equipment Tupilak: £380 500g This jacket is made of Goretex Pro (most breathable) 80D fabric throughout. It has an inner pocket and two external pockets. It has all the cut and technical features of the Lhotse and the Shivling. The key thing is that 80 denier fabric which makes it tougher than both. This is a jacket for people who give their kit a real hammering from all directions. It avoids being heavier than the Lhotse by having less pockets, but I think that’s a price I might be prepared to pay, especially when the Tupilak is £20 less.

Mountain Equipment Shivling: £240 (02/12/20 usually £360) 410g This jacket is exceptional value at the sale price, being made of Goretex Pro 40 denier material throughout. It  has the usual hood and alpine cut features, but only has two pockets. Less pockets and being 40D fabric, adds up to make it significantly lighter than the Lhotse. If heavy backpacking into winter Munros on multi day trips is your thing though I’d probably go for the Lhotse compared with the full price of the Shivling.

Mountain Equipment Makalu: £300 585g Made of 75D Goretex throughout this is a tough jacket with a good range of external and internal pockets and good pit zips. Its competes against the Rab Kangri, and justifies the extra £20. The womens equivalent can be seen as M.E.s Nanda Devi model. It is also comparable to the M.E. Rupal (£270) which Cotswold Exeter don’t currently stock, all you need to decide is if the extra pockets are worth an extra £30. For me the answer is “Yes”. It is slightly heavier and less breathable than a jacket made of GTX Pro though so if you can pick up a Shivling at sale price, or stretch to one at full price, do it!

Mountain Equipment Saltoro: £240 430g The Saltoro is something of a hybrid jacket, attempting to span the gap between jackets best suited to day walking and those suitable for heavy backpacking. To this end it has Goretex 75Denier fabric over the shoulders and along the outer side of the sleeves, as well as the lower back where a rucksack would rub. The rest of the jacket is 2.5 layer Goretex paclite, a lighter fabric that does have a reputation for being a little “sweaty”. For this reason I’m disappointed that the under-arm zips are only half the length of most and don’t therefore gape open the way most do. The hood is still Helmet Compatible but the peak is less stiff than the more expensive M.E. offerings. In many ways M.E. have made a good all rounder here, but it could have been better, either by better pit-zips or none at all.

Mountain Equipment Garwhal: £185 340g The Garwhal is made of Goretex paclite 2.5 layer fabric, this means that the inside surface of the fabric is a coating rather than a woven material. Paclite is less breathable than some Goretex fabrics but it is light, and so is this jacket. The Garwhal has two large pockets and a helmet compatible hood, along with a generally alpine cut. It competes with the Rab  Meridian, the Montane Pack Plus, Berghaus Paclite Peak and the Patagonia Calcite. Only the Montane and Berghaus manage the same price point however.

Rab Kangri £280 525g made of Goretex 70D fabric throughout, so not as waterproof and breathable than Pro, but quite rugged. The jacket has enough pockets (including one internal) and good pit zips. This is a good hillwalking jacket and competes well with the M.E. offerings such as the Makalu (it has one less pocket but is £20 cheaper and is 60g lighter..about right).

Rab Firewall £225 517g The only jacket here made of 3 layer Pertex shield with some stretch in it, which none of the other jackets have. This material comes close to Goretex  levels of performance, and it has a great cut and usable features, including three external pockets and pit-zips. A good climbers jacket, but robust enough for backpacking, and a better jacket for the price than the Meridian, if a little heavier.

Rab Downpour Plus £130 340g This jacket is made of Pertex 2.5 shield fabric. This has a coating rather than a full layer of fabric on the inside of the material, hence 2.5 rather than 3layer. It’s a light jacket, and at a keen price, but that coating is unlikely to resist abrasion on the shoulders from heavy backpacking, so this really is a day walking jacket for fast and light hill days. The jacket stuffs away into one of the pockets too so easy to stow. I have only included it here because the coat has quite a technical cut for one as cheap as this.

Rab Meridian £220 340g Made from recycled Paclite Plus 40D fabric and featuring two hand warmer pockets and pit-zips, and coming with its own stuff sac, this is a jacket for day walks rather than serious backpacking. At £220 it is close on price to the M.E Soltoro, but the jackets are rather different. The Meridian has better underarm venting than the Saltoro but it doesn’t have the reinforced shoulders and back that allow the Saltoro to be light enough for the daysack but tough enough for backpacking.

Montane Alpine Resolve £360 480g This jacket, like the Lhotse is made of a mix of 40Denier and 80Denier Goretex Pro (most breathable) fabric which gives a very tough, waterproof and breathable garment, reasonably packable and good for most mountain activities. The jacket has pit-zips, three external pockets, and an inner pocket. The hood is helmet compatible. This jacket is a direct competitor for the M.E. Lhotse, and at £40 less it’s well worth consideration.

Montane Pac Plus £185 283g Made of 30 Denier Paclite plus, this jacket is definitely aimed at day walks when the hope is the jacket will spend most of its life in your rucksack. It isn’t as technical as the top spec jackets listed above, but when you do get a heavy shower, it will do the job. The two pockets will both accept a map and the whole jacket will stuff into one of them, and, what’s more, the pockets are mesh, so if you undo the zips they will do some venting. However if backpacking is your plan this jacket is unlikely to stand the rigours of rucksack strap abrasion for long, so look for something a bit tougher, at least the Saltoro.

Patagonia Triolet £325 is made of Goretex similar to the M.E. Makalu and Rab Kangri. It has two chest and two napoleon pockets, and the pit-zips have flaps to protect them. The helmet compatible hood is good too and the coat looks great. However it’s a little pricier than the others it competes with, perhaps there is an element of Patagonias environmental ethics in the price.

Patagonia Calcite £250 Made of Paclite Plus and Fairtrade sewn, this is a lightweight jacket, with sufficient pockets and under-arm venting…which it will probably need as Paclite is less breathable than some other Goretex fabrics. More a jacket for day walks than serious winter backpacking as the fabric is not that dense.

Berghaus Paclite Peak: £180, made of Goretex Paclite and with pit zips for ventilation this jacket competes with the M.E. Garwhal and Montane Pac Plus. It has two pockets and packs down well. But like all Paclite jackets this one is for the days when you hope to leave it in the rucksack, don’t expect it to last for years whilst backpacking through the wilderness.

Waterproof jackets:- a hole in the market?

In the beginning was the anorak…an outer garment pulled over the head with a kangaroo pouch pocket and made of various canvas materials, usually with some treatment to keep out the worst of the weather. The anorak was cut quite short and had a “frog” that passed between the legs and buttoned up to reduce ingress of weather from below. The frog was also excellent in protecting your trousers/breeches (and crown jewels) from the ravages of the Langs lay rope passing between your legs during the (almost compulsory) classic belay of that era.

Then we saw the cagoule, in short and long versions, still pulled over the head, still with a kangaroo pouch, but made of PU coated nylon, these were far more waterproof (for a few weeks until the coating started to rub or peel off) and very much lighter. They were cheap and compact and seemed like a great idea, but oh did we sweat in them!

Next came Nylon jackets with full length zips, as long as the “long” cagoules, but with two cargo pockets and a chest pocket. Slightly heavier material, neoprene inner coating, better hoods with wire peaks, the jackets were still sweaty, but we could vent them with the zip, so we felt things were going in the right direction….and then came Gore-tex!

Gore-tex resulted initially in lots of jackets just like the nylon ones but made of this new wonder material….a bit heavier and bulkier but worth it because they were breathable, jackets exemplified by the Berghaus Lightening and the Phoenix Amethyst; the world seemed like it would never be the same again!

But then something started to change, manufacturers started to use professional climbers and mountaineers to become involved in the design process, we saw sponsored rock athletes and brand ambassadors. Elite mountaineers and professional instructors were involved in every stage of the design and testing process and garments quickly became much better…. for elite mountaineers and rock athletes! Don’t get me wrong, there have been many superb products coming out of these partnerships: witness Berghaus’s Expedition sack designed by Chris Bonnington, and of course the Whillans sit harness.

My point is that nobody asked Joe Bloggs, who goes rambling in the Pennines every weekend, no matter what the weather, but is more likely to be sitting in a pub than a sit-harness. Joe Bloggs hates waterproof trousers with a passion, and prefers to walk in shorts if there isn’t actually snow on the ground, so he wants a jacket that stops just above the knees, not up around his waist somewhere. He doesn’t wear a helmet so his hood doesn’t need to be helmet compatible, but it does have to be good. He does have to navigate so he wants a chest pocket that will take a map. Oh and he wants waterproof, very waterproof, 9 times out of ten he wants Gore-tex.

Ok I hear you say, there are  one or two long jackets, and of course there are, but these tend to be aimed more at the lifestyle area of the market. They are made of 2-layer Gore-tex and require a drop lining that increases weight and bulk. Such jackets are usually “Interactive” meaning you can zip a fleece into them…more weight…more bulk, and they have roll away hoods which tend to be less effective and, yes you’ve guessed it more bulky and heavy! So long jackets are compromise jackets.

I can see this, other equipment reviewers can see this, so why, when there seems so little scope for further improvement in technical jackets, can’t the manufacturers and (significantly) the retail chain buyers see this?

What many customers are asking for is a three-layer Gore-tex 75 denier jacket, reaching well down the leg, with some cargo pockets below the hip belt and at least one chest pocket above. They want a hood that fits like Mountain Equipment’s excellent hoods, but not with the excess material to make them helmet compatible and with waist and hem draw-cords. They want them in three colourways: a bright orange or red (for those that want to be seen) an olive green (for those that don’t) and a dark blue or black for those that might need to wear it in town too sometimes.

Review of the Montane Halogen 33L rucksack.

About 25 years ago, when Karrimor was still a top technical outdoor equipment brand, I purchased their 30 litre Hot Rock daysack. That sack has been everywhere and done everything with me in the intervening years, a real “Go To” bag. But now the top pocket zip has begun to fail and can’t be trusted, so it was time to look for my next “Go To” daysack.

There are a lot of good sacks on the market, but they are often very focused on one area of use and are less useful when out of their “comfort zone” and my needs were varied and specific: Lightweight (Obviously) hard wearing ideally, a good carry, streamlined enough for scrambling, voluminous and featured enough for winter mountaineering, but also able to be rolled up under the lid of a bigger expedition sack, fit inside travel luggage and be suitable for aircraft carry-on luggage. For these reasons sacks like the excellent Osprey Stratus were out as the frame which makes them a good carry and well ventilated limits their packability and makes them heavier. Working at Cotswold Outdoor Exeter I was well poised to keep an eye on new sacks as they came along, and when my eyes landed on the Montane Halogen 33 I thought I had found what I was looking for.

The Halogen 33 on a day hike on the South West Coast Path

The Halogen is a 33litre rucksack weighing in at 896g coming in size S/M, it has an outer and inner lid pocket, and internal storage pouch for a water bladder, a single main compartment and side “Baguette pockets”, It had front bungees that are great for holding a helmet, a folding snow shovel or perhaps crampons, and it has suitable tapes to allow further bungees to be attached to the lid. The sack has a system for mounting ice tools and the hip belt has two useful pockets, one of which holds my compact camera quite nicely. The lid is secured by two short straps and traditional Montane clip buckles, and beneath the lid is a snow valance with drawcord, and a further tension buckle that draws the load in toward the back. The harness utilises Montane’s Zephyr FX back system which has a mesh holding a foam sheet, heavily perforated to allow ventilation.

I have now been using the Halogen 33 for about two years, and it has travelled to Nepal with me, completed most of an LDWA 100 mile walking event (it was me that failed not the sack) and has spent a few weeks winter mountaineering in Scotland bagging munro’s. Additionally it has been out on almost all the day walking I have done in the last two years.

So what do I like about the bag? Well firstly it rolls up well under my expedition sack and is fine for carry-on luggage so that’s ok. I really like the internal tension strap that draws the load in, even though it’s one more thing to undo and do up, but I was disappointed to find the snow valance draw-cord toggle failed almost as soon as I started using it. Minor but niggling! I really like the hip-belt, in particular, because it is drawn tight by a pulley  system that increases the mechanical advantage to make it easy to draw it really snug. The hip-belt is comfortable and does take much of the sacks weight, and I find the fin pockets very useful. I like the “Baguette Pockets” too, these are two elasticated sleeves one above the other, only the bottom one is closed at the bottom to form a pocket. This means that you can use the bottom pocket on its own for shorter items like a Sigg bottle or OS map, but if you have something longer…..like a baguette….you can slide it down the top sleeve and into the lower pocket…ideal for shopping for lunch on the Tour de Mont blanc! The material of the sack seems tough and two years hard use have failed to damage it at all.

What don’t I like, well I’m not all that keen on the fittings for mounting Ice axes, I’d much prefer the old fashioned loop at the bottom as the Montane arrangement is more fiddly with gloves on. The sternum strap is a special Montane feature, I don’t use them anyway and soon took mine off, but I found it fiddly in use. But my biggest dislike is the strap of the harness. In order to save weight straps have been made quite slim: too slim in fact, because they are now so slim that the friction needed to stop them slipping in the buckles is at the critical point, and every time you take the sack off and put it on, you find yourself checking the adjustment of the shoulder straps and the lifters at the top. It’s not a big problem, but it is a step too far, and mars an otherwise excellent rucksack.

To conclude I would say that yes the Halogen 33 has become my new “Go To” sack, but I’d still prefer another Hot Rock. Sometimes simple is best!

Review of Mountain Equipment Mens Rupal Jacket:

The Mountain Equipment Rupal  is a no nonsense waterproof jacket made of 75 denier 3 layer Gore-tex throughout, it comes in four colourways (two tones of blue, crimson, dark blue and two tone orange) and weighs in at 570g (20.1 oz for us dinosaurs who still remember them). It has two large chest pockets, underarm pit=zips, a two way Aquaguard front zip, a helmet compatible hood and pre-shaped sleeves. It has hem drawcords and laminated adjustable cuffs. It’s priced at £270 and available in sizes S to XXL.

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OK so that’s the manufacturers blurb dispensed with, so what’s it like and when to use it?
I have had my Rupal for a couple of years now, and have used it extensively. The 75D fabric makes it suitable for backpacking with a heavy expedition sack, so I tend to save it for those sort of occasions, using my lighter E-vent or older M.E Ogre jacket for day walks. I also use it as my working jacket when leading and teaching skills commercially. As a result the Rupal has accompanied on all my winter mountaineering in Scotland, carrying heavily laden sacks into remote locations, and on all the weekends I have been Ten Tors training Scouts on Dartmoor, where I have to carry not only all my own camping kit but additional safety equipment relating to my leader role. This kind of use tends to quickly show up weaknesses on the shoulder areas of lighter fabrics, but this 75D fabric shrugs it off and I’ve had no water ingress.
It amazes me when, working in a local gear shop, how few people think to check the hoods on jackets when trying them on. This is a serious mistake. In the case of the Rupal there are no fears: the Helmet compatible hood initially seems large and baggy, but synching in the adjusters around the face and the rear hood adjuster, a good fit is achieved, and the peak is very stiff and really excellent, with good scope for keeping your glasses dry. The face adjustment cords are channelled to avoid the ends flapping in your face and work well. When fitted properly, the hood follows the head around excellently, and you never find yourself looking at the inside of your hood.
 The pockets are well positioned and hang above any hip-belt or sit-harness. M.E advise that these pockets, although fitted with water resistant zips, are not completely waterproof, and that any electronic goods (e.g. your mobile phone) should be further protected if placed in the pockets. The pockets are large and significantly, they easily swallow a laminated O.S 1:25000 map. They are well positioned for warming hands in too if need be.
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I rarely use the pit-zips because I find it awkward to open them without removing my rucksack and probably would have the same trouble closing them, so generally I only vent the jacket between showers. I admit I sometimes get a little too sweaty in it, but often this is probably because my excellent PHD Tundra jacket is too hot for the circumstances and I should have removed it when I put on the Rupal.
I like the hem drawcords, which draw the jacket nicely in round the bum, but  the one fault I’ve had with the Rupal is the little cord ends, made of plastic on these are prone to come off allowing the cord to pull through into the hem which can only be retrieved with time and warm fingers.
A lot of the times I’ve worn this jacket have been clambering up Munro’s in winter, and this entails reaching high above the head at times. This is where the long pre-shaped arms come in. They don’t ride up and you don’t get a gap forming between sleeve and glove. I might like the sleeve openings slightly wider perhaps but they are very adequate and easily fasten with Velcro type fastenings.
The jacket is a little heavier and bulkier than Paclite, Pertex and Event offerings, but not much and it still fits into my sack with ease. Some people find it a little stiff (like being in a crisp packet is an oft used expression) but I like the bombproof feeling I get when I’m battened down inside.
The jacket is not a  M.E. Lhotse in Gore-tex Pro, with pockets everywhere, but it is £130 cheaper and  all you need. I often wish it had one interior chest pocket (I could buy the £300 Makalu but the third pocket is still external), but in the case of jackets you get what you pay for generally, and you pay £30 for a pocket. If budget is tight and you can only afford to but one jacket then this is it.
The Rupal is a great jacket, a great balance between price and features, a great jacket for day walkers wanting to step up to expeditioning and great to be in when everything outside it is crap!

Postscript: M.E also make a Rupal for women in sizes 8-16 at the same price. They have 6 different colour ways and apart from being tailored more to the female shape, they are very similar to the mens. However as women tend to be smaller and more shapely, the chest pockets may not always be as cavernous as those on the mens jackets….check before you buy. My wifes size 14 will definitely not accommodate a map.

Sad Times

Covid has impacted all of us in one way or another, and 2020 has not been good for the Outdoor Adventure Industry. We at Hillwise have had to think hard about our core income streams and some things have had to go. We have decided, with great reluctance, to surrender our NNAS providership, so we will no longer be able to run NNAS courses in our own name. Adrian will still be able to staff courses for other providers however.

National Navigation Award Silver Course 29-30/03/19

A 2 day fully practical non-residential course on Dartmoor following the NNAS Silver syllabus and assessment criteria.

Ideally you will have completed the NNAS bronze course already or be capable of completing tasks in the bronze syllabus (see www.nnas.org.uk).

Please bring full waterproofs including gaiters, a packed lunch, and dress warmly. If you own a Silva type compass (type 4 preferred) and a laminated OS sheet OL28 bring them too. Stout footwear is essential.

Booking and payment in advance..apply via our “Contact us” page.

Navigation Workshop at Venford 19/03/19 10am-4pm

A Navigation Workshop suitable for all skill levels. There is no syllabus, we just gauge your current skill level and aim to move you on a bit. You will need to dress warmly and bring waterproofs, stout footwear, a good packed lunch. If you own them a Silva (type 4) compass and OS sheet OL28 (laminated) would be useful, but these can be provided. There are 6 places on these popular courses, and the atmosphere is invariably relaxed and friendly. The cost is £20 per person and represents excellent value for money.