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Hiking Equipment Reviews
Ady Gray on Blencathra - one of the Wainwrights
These reviews have kindly been provided by Ady Gray who completed all 214 Wainwright peaks in a 12 month period.
Now he is sharing his experience of the equipment he found which worked well for him.
Finding your Way
Ok, so we all know that heading out for a walk without a compass or a map is just plain daft. The Mountain Rescue teams remind us all the time when they get called out to help some lost soul and find that the intrepid hiker set off without map or compass - easy enough items to learn how to use correctly and a vital set of equipment. But what about cold, wet or windy days? Reading a map in those conditions I have found is difficult, sometimes to the point of being impossible.
Well, if you're into your walking, and if you do enough of it, there is another option, isnt' there? Your Smartphone...err, not! Yes, you can get free apps to use your phone as a route-finder but, quite frankly, you'd be mad to rely on it. The battery, for instance, will run down quickly and you might need that for an emergency call. Getting a good signal all the time is not always possible. Then there's the issue of the screen size and detail. No, an OS map is better. However, a dedicated outdoors GPS, well that's another matter. Things have moved on quickly in the GPS world and technology, especially America releasing the satellites for recreational rather than just military use, has caught up with our needs.
I NEVER set off without a map and compass - old school habits die hard - but, then again, I NEVER set off without my trusty Garmin Montana 600.
The Montana 600 is Garmin's flagship model - big screen, great functions and a price that isn't too scary - around £480 with pre-loaded 1:50000 maps of the UK. They do have cheaper models and there will be one to suit your budget from simple systems that use a compass and pointer to guide you on your route to ones that offer OS mapping and geo-tagging cameras for those all-important photos of your trip. The Montana 600 eschews the camera, which others offer so you can take a photo and guide yourself to it again at another time, in favour of better and more useful functions. I use a normal camera! The Montana 600 does offer you the means to upload a photo from your computer into routes though. With functions such as an altimeter, barometer and waypoints, you'll find all you need in this model to keep you on the right track wherever you are. for those wanting extra detail, OS 1:25000 maps can be added though I haven't found a need to use them yet.
My Berghaus jacket, boots and Lowe Alpine rucksack are vital, as is a bivvy shelter, enough fluids and energy bars. My Garmin Montana 600 joins that list happily.
Waterproof to IPX7 standard, with a huge screen and easy to use functions, this device is a valuable piece of kit. it rescued me and another hiker I met in heavy mist in the Langdales and has helped me find shorter, quicker routes down when the weather has closed in.
Buy British? Buying boots? Buy Berghaus? Yes, it's a British brand - based in Sunderland of all places - but that name throws people into thinking Norwegian - well it did me at first. The name literally means "mountain house" in German so the confusion is understandable but it's a British brand with products that compete with all the big names from abroad. You only have to witness the fact that Sir Chris Bonnington and Alan Hinkes swear by it, as does the latest expedition into the Antarctic, to have some measure of faith in the quality. My boots - well my leather three-season ones, are Berghaus Explorer Ridge with a Gore-Tex membrane and priced around £120. These boots represent good value for money; are definitely two-season - though I have used them as three-season boots. They offer good grip for minor scrambles, have an easy to use speed-lacing system which shuts out the weather, are very lightweight, take little to no breaking in as Berghaus have "engineered" them "from the inside out"; are comfortable and warm; and have lasted me for 214 Wainwright peaks with over 200,000 feet of ascent. Add to this the fact that, when you find boots you really like, they can be re-soled for around £45 and you have a bargain on your hands, You've also bought British which is no mean feat these days...
Hiking Rucksacks for Women
Rucksacks. Can't live without one can we? Female. Hmmm, there's a problem. Different anatomy. Seems not all manufacturers know this. Or perhaps they don't care? Anyway, Lowe Alpine certainly do and they have an impressive range for women. Take The Nanon ND50-60. In fact, literally take it. Take it out on the fells and you won't be disappointed. Cut to suit the female form, extremely lightweight and very waterproof, the bag is, so I am reliably informed by a female fellow hiker, a treat to wear. It sits snugly on the back, carries loads easily and is very accessible. Hip-belt pockets are perfect for energy snacks and the main compartment is accessed from top or bottom making it perfect for getting to the parts of your load you have separated.
Other manufacturers do cater for women, notably Osprey and Berghaus, but I have a Lowe Alpine Crag Attack for scrambling and climbing and I swear by it. From the comments of my fellow hiker, the Lowe Alpine Nanon ND50-60 women's fit rucksack is another winner.
Mammut MT Trail XT GTX boots
Yes, it is a rather long-winded name for a pair of boots; but what a pair of boots. Full leather, waterproof, 3 seasons - maybe 4 if you donít need to use anything more than C1 crampons - boots with Mammutís proprietary Motion Control system. Lined with a Gore-Tex Performance inner and a memory foam ankle and tongue covering, these boots take a little breaking in but fit like a glove keeping feet warm or cool depending on the conditions.
My first hike in them was the whole of the Helvellyn range from Seat Sandal to Clough Head, some 16 miles of up and down, rock and grass. The grip offered was superb, they stood up to extreme weather perfectly and the Motion Control system meant walking was always a natural but balanced action.
Complete with all that youíd expect from a quality boot - Vibram outsole, Ortholite insole with a brace to enable the boot to take a C1 crampon - and retailing at around £195 - though discounts are available and I got mine for around the £150 mark - the MT Trail XT GTX is a fine boot. It takes some getting used to the heavier weight than a 2 season or fabric boot and the Motion Control system feels weird at first with it rolling you on and off your heel and toes. However, stick with them. A few friends have them too and we all swear by them.
Rab Microlight Alpine down jacket
Start cool, add layers. That is the general rule of thumb when hiking. Donít layer up at the start as you may warm up too quick and sweat. Start with the basic layers needed and add them if the ascent doesnít get your internal central-heating fired up. This down jacket from Rab - around £170 - might seem pricey, although it can be found for around £120-140 on the discount websites, is a bargain in fact. So compact that it folds down into its own pocket the size of a small flask. Lightweight to the point that you donít realise itís in your backpack. However, the compromise on size and weight that usually ends with less warmth is not present here. Rabís Microlight Alpine is both: light and fit for purpose with its insulating properties. Worn under the Montane Sabretooth softshell and a long 16 mile hike of the Helvellyn range from Dunmail Raise to Clough Head in chilly November conditions was done without feeling the cold or over-heating with the odd shower not permeating the layers. Mind you, as it was The Lakes in autumn, I did have my Gore-Tex waterproof in the bottom of my ruck-sack just in caseÖ
Montane Sabretooth softshell jacket
Fuchsia is the new black. Then lime is. Then water lily-white is. Thatís fashion for you. What a con. However, in the outdoor clothing world, fashion moves slightly differently. Yes, the colours change yearly, but itís more about the technology of fabrics that fuels what we wear. Wainwright hiked in hobnail boots and a jacket with tweed elbow patches. I bet you donít these days do you? Nope, I thought not. However, all these advances in fabric technology cost us an arm and a leg.
Some, on the other hand, are worth the expense. If you havenít joined the softshell revolution then I urge you to do so. There are quite simply times when your full-on Gore-Tex waterproof just isnít necessary and can stay rolled up at the bottom of your ruck-sack. Yes, you still need to take it with you in winter, spring, autumn and even some of our summer. Most of the time though what you need most is protection from the wind, light showers and a layer of warmth. Take a softshell. Take any but if you can, take a Montane Sabretooth. ďBest In TestĒ for Trail magazine, thoroughly tested by me, including Winter walking in snow in the lakes with the wind howling, the Sabretooth is made from Polartec Power Shield which is said to stop 98% of the wind. It did. It is water-resistant - no softshell would be waterproof - and cut for active use with a droptail and flatlocked seams. The hood is easy to use; the neckline has a drawcord cinch; there are two mesh-lined pockets for hand warming and one voluminous map pocket, all of which fit perfectly around your pack straps for access, and the collar is DWR lined for comfort. It weighs a shade over half a kilo which is light; very light. However, it does keep the wind out and for extremely cold days, worn over a down jacket, the Sabretooth is better than a waterproof when itís not throwing it down and its breathability is superior.
If you want to contact Ady for information about his walks or to enquire about the photographs he has for sale (all proceeds to charity) you can email him here.