Backpacking Equipment

Introduction

I have struggled on many occassions to find a decent review of many items of backpacking kit online. To ease this frustration for others, and as a place to generally tell people about the kit I use and provide advice to people about to purchase kit I have formed this page.

Some notable bits of kit will get their own page, like the Crusader Cooker and mug others I will just give a small explanation here for you. This page is liable to change and grow, so check back regularly

Contents

Rucksacks, and carrying equipment

Burghaus Vulcan

Alice in all her glory, complete with two PLCE side pouches and an original berghaus pouch fixed to the front for extra capacity. Total size in this picture: About 118 Litres.

Off the shelf the berghaus Vulcan has a capacity of 100 litres. Including the two side pockets. However you can easily expand this by replacing the stock side pockets with PLCE side pouches. This adds another 10l to the capacity. If you are really nuts you can add another side pouch to the front of the pack with a couple of krabs and some ingenuity. Increasing the capacity upto a 120l or 125l depending on pouch used. Fill this and you will find yourself struggling to lift the bag. However, once you have it on your shoulder, the bag is really comfy to carry.

Other modifications you may want to make are to wrap up the excess on alot of the straps. Most of them are very long, and wrapping them in a little ducttape can really improve things. Also, I recommend tying a loop of paracord just under the snow lock, around the top of the frame, this you can then clip small items too and saves you having to rummage around too much. This can make things alot easier. Other than this, the only other major modification you may want to make is to purchase a rain cover, the pack is pretty water resistant, and in the couple of downpours I have been out in its kept the contents dry but if you are hiking all day in torrentorial rain, a rain cover is worth its weight in gold.

Side Note

I found I was spending alot of time in airports, on trains, waiting at stations etc... With just a book and my backpack for company. So I decided that I was going to name my pack, it being the most common travelling companion I have. And so I named her Alice. Don't ask me why, I don't know. But when I go travelling, I take Alice with me.

Summary

Things I really like about the Berghaus Vulcan:

  • Capacity
  • Comfy to carry
  • Compatibility with PLCE Side pockets
  • Hard Wearing
  • Strong
  • Front Grab handle

Things I don't like about the Berghaus Vulcan:

  • Cost
  • With such a large capacity it can be tempting to fill it up, and thus it becomes very very heavy

Other information:

Snugpak Rocket Pack

Whilst the Berghous Vulcan is a very nice pack and wonderful on long trips, taking it on shorter trips is very much over kill, and makes it far to easy to succumb to the temptation to fill it up. And so I started looking around for something smaller, but just as well made. I wanted something around 40L in size, which was light, comfortable to carry when loaded, and had provision for PLCE side pouches.

The Snugpak Rocket Pack met this need perfectly. The main pack is 40L, with the ability to add another 40 with side pouches. Just the right size. The pack comes with only one entrance, the top, which is fine for such a small pack, and also makes the pack stronger. The lid has a pocket in both the top and the bottom, which is useful for things you need quickly. On each side there is a mesh pocket which is accessable when there are no pouches attached, ideal for things like water bottles. There are also compression straps on each side, ideal for tents, sleeping matts etc... Finally, in the base there are not one but two rain covers, one black, one DPM. A nice feature. Inside, you find a nice ali frame, and a small internal pocket designed for a water bladder, complete with hole for the hose to come out to the outside. The pack has a snow skirt on the top, which has a draw string, and then the lid clips down with your normal Clip release clips.

The pack is well made, and very comfortable to carry, even when heavy. It fits well above webbing, and doesn't interfer with the rest of your clothing - pockets etc... Unfortunatly, after a year, of relatively light abuse, the pack is already showing signs of wear. The zip on the bit where the rain covers are has broken, despite being opened no more than twice, and the toggle on the draw string has snapped off. Worst yet the zip on one of the side pouches has failed spectacully. This is a shame really as other wise this is a good pack. This said, even with these failures, as a pack it still workes pretty well, tho with only one side pocket, and at the price you can't expect it to be as bomb proof as the Vulcan or the PLCE Bergen, both of which cost almost tripple the price. My final gripe with this pack, is that the rain covers don't appear to be removable, this would be handy to change them, say to replace the DPM with desert DPM, or orange or something, not a major issue, but something that would be nice. I would still suggest this pack as a good option to anyone in need of a slightly large day pack, or similiar, however you have to offer it slightly more respect than say a Vulcan. All in all, mostly good.

Summary

Things I like about the SnugPak Rocket Pack

  • Light
  • Comfortable
  • Rain Covers
  • Works well with webbing
  • Price

Things I dislike about the SnugPak Rocket Pack

  • Showing signs of wear after just a year
  • None removable rain covers

Other Information:

Deuter Futura 32 AC

Recently the zip of my ever faithful nomad daypack gave up. I used that pack for ten years as a hiking day pack, for college, then university, and everyweek to carry my shopping home. This failure left me with a hole in my backpack collection and the choice of either carrying my shopping home in carrier bags, or use one of my larger packs (and their ever present temptation to fill them with chocolate). I was looking for a comfortable day pack with about 30L capacity, durable, and learning from the failure of the previous daypack, a none zip closure.

I picked up the Deuter Futura 32ac in Field and Trek on sale, for £38. I hadn't intended to buy the pack, had gone in there to look at shoes, but since its purchase, the pack has barely left my back.

I use this pack as a general day pack around town, typically carrying around my camera, and a few other misc items. I have also used it for carrying the shopping home. And this is where I have had the biggest issues. Whilst my old pack was quite comfy even upto 12kg, this pack starts to get abit uncomfortable after 7kg or so. Which can easily be reached with a weeks shopping. What I have also noticed is the air comfort back system that it uses to stop your back getting to hot and sweaty when carrying the pack, makes the inside shape of the pack not the most efficient when carrying large flat items like books, and folders. Whilst these are obviously not your common hiking items so you can kinda forgive Deuter for this shortcoming.

Overall tho, I think this pack is comfortable, and big enough for most day hikes, and for weekend city breaks. It doesn't really work well with incredibly heavy loads, and its not perfect for carrying paperwork about. But all things considered this is a great pack. And, if you can get it in a sale like I did, Great value for money.

Side Note

Since I purchased my pack it would appear deuter have released a new version of this pack, the version I bought seems to be no longer available. I have yet to try the new version, but it looks to be very good. The new version can be found Here

Summary

Things I like about the Deuter Futura 32ac

  • Light
  • Comfortable
  • Rain Covers
  • Price

Things I dislike about the Deuter Futura 32ac

  • Doesn't work well with loads over about 7KG
  • Shape doesn't work well with some items

Other Information:

PLCE Webbing

Sometimes you don't want to carry a backpack, you're just going out for a short walk and only need a water bottle, a mars bar and a coat. Or perhaps you don't want to have to keep delving into your backpack everytime you want a drink. At times like this, you want a webbing set.

A webbing set at its simplist consists of a belt, a yoke (shoulder straps) and some pouches. There are many different types of webbing sets, but they all tend to be of military Origin, so tend to be designed with weapons use in mind. As such you get alot of ammunition pouches which aren't much use to the civilian hiker. But the water bottle and Utility pouches are sized such as to be rather useful.

I personally use the british PLCE (Personal Load Carrying Equipment) webbing. I have it in Olive green so it doesn't look quite so much like I fell out of a military academy. I have a belt, a yoke, and then 2 Utility pouches and 2 water bottle pouches. In this I tend to carry:

Sleeping bags and sleep mats

Snugpak Special Forces Sleeping System

PLCE Webbing

Sometimes you don't want to carry a backpack, you're just going out for a short walk and only need a water bottle, a mars bar and a coat. Or perhaps you don't want to have to keep delving into your backpack everytime you want a drink. At times like this, you want a webbing set.

A webbing set at its simplist consists of a belt, a yoke (shoulder straps) and some pouches. There are many different types of webbing sets, but they all tend to be of military Origin, so tend to be designed with weapons use in mind. As such you get alot of ammunition pouches which aren't much use to the civilian hiker. But the water bottle and Utility pouches are sized such as to be rather useful.

I personally use the british PLCE (Personal Load Carrying Equipment) webbing. I have it in Olive green so it doesn't look quite so much like I fell out of a military academy. I have a belt, a yoke, and then 2 Utility pouches and 2 water bottle pouches. In this I tend to carry:

Sleeping bags and sleep mats

Snugpak Special Forces Sleeping System

Special Forces 1, uncompressed with NATO 1 litre water bottle for scale

The Snugpack Special Forces sleeping system is comprised of 3 parts.

  • Special Forces 1 Sleeping bag
  • Special Forces 2 Sleeping bag
  • Zip in baffles

The Special Forces 1 is the same as the Softie 6 Sleeping bag that snugpack make, except with a center zip. This bag is designed for usage late spring to Early autumn (based on UK weather). I have used it in late april, and realised the hardway the importance of a decent sleep mat under you. The official rating is comfortable to 5°C with extreme of 0°C, but as with all manufacters specs, you need to take this with a pinch of salt.

One of the things which amazes most people when they look at this bag is the size, its tiny. Compressed down you can comfortably hold it in the palm of your hand. If you are travelling really light the bag half fills a PLCE side pouch, leaving enough room for a tooth brush, a change of underwear, a hammock, and a poncho.

Things I like about the Special Forces 1 Sleeping bag:

Special Forces 1, compressed with NATO 1 litre water bottle for scale

  • Small size
  • Light weight
  • Centre zip
  • Warm

Things I don't like about the Special Forces 1 Sleeping bag:

  • Outer Material can be very easy to snag
  • Stuff sack is very small and makes packing the bag again a pain
  • Expensive

I haven't had a chance to test fully the Special Forces 2 bag. However from what I have used of it it appears to suffer the same faults as the SF1 bag. How it performs warmth wise, I shall let you know.

German Folding Sleep Mat

One of the key items that can make or break a camping trip is the sleep mat. The difference a comfortable nights sleep can make is amazing. The German Folding Sleep Mat appears on paper to be rather nice. It folds up rather than rolls up, thus taking up less room, you can pack it inside your pack rather than having a large wide load effect you get with foam rolls, and its relatively cheap (less than 10 ukp). However when you get it and try and use it you immediately notice its down fall. Its really thin, less than a 1/4 of an inch. And this for most situations, is woefully inaddiquate. Even in a British summer I have been cold sleeping on this mat. Just to make matters worse, the thinness means that you feel every bump and every stone. It can make sleeping uncomfortable.

Having said all that, its not all bad news. There is another use for this mat, and that is as something to sit on to keep you from the cold or the wet for short periods.

More compact than a foam roll it is really easy to slip into a day pack for when you stop for lunch. I have also found it useful to sit on in stations and the like when waiting for trains. The other area I found it handy was during photography, where the full padding and insulation of a foam sleep roll isn't needed. Its compact size also means I can bungy it easily onto my PLCE side pocket for even the lightest of strolls.

To summerise

  • As a sleep mat it is too thin and lacks insulation
  • As an general usage mat to keep you dry why you eat lunch, its invaluable.

Other information:

Shelters, and tents

Vaude Hogan

The hogan erected on a campsite near Hay-On-Wye, England. The two packs in the forground are the Berghaus Vulcan(Green) and Snugpack Bergan(Black)

I was searching for a lightweight, 4 season, 2 person tent which pitched outer first, or outer + inner together. Whilst searching I realised that a) I don't really need a 4 season tent, and b) lightweight and 4 season are an oxymoron. However what I did discover was the Vaude Hogan.

I was dubious at first, when I saw it it looked like something out of War of the Worlds. But Dave from action outdoors threw it up in the shop in about 30 seconds (I kid you not). I was sold.

For speed of pitching alone, this tent is worth the money, frequently when a group of us have arrived at a campsite, I have had my tent up before most people have worked out which pole goes where. This is a massive advantage when you are cold and knackered and just want to snuggle down in your sleeping bag and make a brew.

But it doesn't just go up amazingly quickly, it stays up too. The strings holding it to the poles are elasticated, meaning that they give and stretch as the wind blows it. This makes it able to withstand winds which would break most lesser tents. A few years ago in Ireland we had a storm which blew down nearly every tent on the site. With the exception of mine, and a few pitched in the shelter of a wall. I was impressed.

The only slightest hint of a gripe I have about this tent is the size of the porch, I can't fit two backpacks in it and still get in and out. But thats no major problem, in remote locations I leave the pack outside the tent wraped in a poncho and pegged down. And for such a well made tent, its worth putting up with

Things I really like about the Vaude Hogan:

  • Very fast to pitch
  • Light weight
  • Amazingly strong

Things the Vaude Hogan could do better:

  • Slightly larger porch

Other Information:

Hammock And Poncho

I have devoted a whole page for Hammocks, and their use Here

British Goretex Bivi Bag

I bought myself a DPM bivibag. It was ex british army, but it was brand new, still in its bag. Until now I had always been put off bivi bags by the cost, but finding a decent goretex bivi for under 60 quid, it was too good to miss.

Brand new bivi in hand, I then started trying to wonder quite what I was going to use it for. Most camp sites tend to get annoyed at people turning up and crashing in a bivibag, and I didn't have any wilderness trips planned. So it wasn't till a friend got one as well that a plan formed to test them with a night on kinder scout.

Testing the bag out was interesting. Having hiked up Jacobs Ladder in beautiful sunshine we were presented with force 8 gusting 10 winds on the plateau. Fortunatley we were able to pitch the bivi's in the lee of some rocks. In doing so we learned a couple of important lessons.

  • Pitch the bag feet into the wind. Else the bag just fills with cold wind
  • Even tho Goretex is windproof, the close proximity of the bivi bag to the sleeping bag means that wind chill is still a problem

The first point is just common sense, however the second one was an interesting point that we hadn't realised just how significiant it would be. Because even tho the bivi bag keeps most of the wind out, and the rain off. Its still something you want to be pitching behind natural shelter.

Aside from being not the simplest device to get the hang of the use of initially. "What do I do with my boots?" being one of the first questions asked as we went to get into the bags. The bag is actually bloody useful. It packs down into a PLCE water bottle pounch, meaning it fits on the webbing easily. It weighs next to bugger all, which is also useful. It means in summer, you can easily get away with a full night out, on just webbing. You can also sleep in smaller, and perhaps not so flat spots as you would with a tent, allowing a different set of places to sleep to become available.

All in all the bivi bag is a wonderful bit of kit, but it does require abit of getting used to and testing before using in anger. Also needs to bare in mind that a thicker sleeping bag is needed than might initially be considered.

Other Information:

Cooking, stoves, food, and Cook wear

MSR Whisperlite Internationale

A few years ago, when I embarked on my first backpacking trip, I realised I needed to take with me something I could cook on. Through long and protracted discussions with Dave in Action outdoors, I decided upon a petrol fueled stove. This was by and large for the following reasons:

  • Availability of Fuel
  • Cost of fuel

When you leave the shores of the UK, what fuel is available changes dramatically, many places outside of the built up areas of europe do not stock the gas cylinders for many gas stoves, and worse yet, as Dan Found out in scotland, there are several different types of fitting for the cylinders. This rules out Gas. Leaving solid fuel or liquid fuel. Solid fuel is fine for warming things up, but is not the best thing for cooking a fry up on. So that leaves liquid fuel stoves. This really comes down to meths, "Coleman fuel", or multi-fuel. Meths falls for much the same problem as solid fuel. Coleman fuel fails at the availability hurdle, Its just not as all pervasive as petrol.

Most multifuel stoves will burn some or all of: Coleman fuel, Petrol, Diesel, av-gas, kerosene. Not all multifuel stoves burn all of these, most only a subset. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. But the ability to get one or more of the above in pretty much any small outpost of humanity, means that you can be almost certain of getting cooking lunch.

Having decided upon the type of stove, I then had to look at the options available. I finally settled upon the MSR whisperlite internationale. It was a close call, ideally I would have like to go for the MSR Dragonfly. But budget wouldn't allow. The main feature the Dragonfly has that the Whisperlite lacks, is the ability to burn diesel. I didn't think this would be a major issue. So, with Whisperlite in my pack I set off for my first trip. Only to find that my friend who had turned up with a Landrover had a jerry can of diesel. Doh. This was something I found several times, ease to get hold of Diesel compared to petrol. But, this wasn't that significiant an issue, and I eventually managed to get some petrol.

Once I found fuel, the MSR Whisperlite International has proved to be a very fine peice of kit. Well made, and supurb performance. Its very easy to service, and pretty light. I have been very happy with it.

There is a small downside tho. When burning petrol, it soots up something chronic, and the fuel line and internals gunk up quite rapidly. This means that it needs a service regulally, but being fully field servicable, this isn't a major issue. Once a year seems regular enough.

Several times now I have cooked full 3 course meals for a number of people with this little stove, and found it almost a joy to use. One 650ml fuel bottle of petrol easily lasts me for a whole week long trip.

All in all, this is a fine peice of kit, that as long as you keep it well maintained, will provide years of service.

MSR Dragonfly

The MSR Dragonfly glowing red hot, ready to start boiling dinner

Despite years of faithful service from my Whisperlite, I decided eventually to get myself a Dragonfly. I needed a second stove as there were 5 of us going on a trip, and whilst I can cook full meals on a single stove, having 2 helps alot. After the performance I had got from the Whisperlite, choosing the Dragonfly was a no brainer. Once the Dragon fly arrived, I realised yet again that MSR have excelled themselves. Easy to light, clean, and very hot. The Dragonfly is a dream to cook on. It does however have a minor downside, it does sound like a jet engine at take off. You suddenly understand why the Whisperlite is named as such, its alot quieter. I have only used the dragonfly for one trip, but it has already proved a good peice of kit, and earned itself a place in my pack on all future camping trips.

Purchased from: Gooutdoors.co.uk

Crusader Cup and cooker

I have devoted a whole page for this Here

NATO 1L Water Bottle

At first sight, choosing a water bottle sounds simple. It needs to be water tight, and thats about it. Hell, just reuse an old coke bottle. Well, I used to think this. Until an old coke bottle split coating my leg in water, and I found another water bottle I had left in a pack to long, and it had gone green in the light. At which point, I started looking around for something abit better.

I found the NATO 1L water bottle whilst looking through the local army surplus shop for some webbing. At first I thought they were bit over priced for just a water bottle. Then I considered how important it is to have water when travelling, and I decided that it was worth the investment. I now have 3.

Side Note

Be aware of the cheap copies of the NATO water bottle. They are not built to the same standard as the real ones, and do not live up to the abuse they will see.

The NATO 1L water bottle is very strong, light weight, and black. This final point is surprisingly important. Light is key to life, and without it, many aquatic nasties (like algae) can't survive. Light penetration through this bottle is zero, making the water in it last longer.

The final selling point for this bottle, is the integration with the rest of the my kit. The Crusader Cup and cooker slots very nicely onto the bottom of the bottle, reducing the space it takes up in the pack to practically zero. The PLCE water bottle pouches are very good for carring the bottles, and even have a small slot in the lid for some puritabs. All in all, these bottles are perfect for the task, and even for something so simple, are very well thought out.

Summary

Things I really like about the NATO 1L water bottle:

  • Indestructable
  • Light weight
  • Integration with the rest of the PLCE system
  • Black

Things I don't like about the NATO 1L water bottle:

  • Nothing

Other information:

Highlander Deluxe Cookset

Cookset

Originally I started off with a pair of good ole british forces mess tins, but found them lacking. So a purusal of the choices at the local shop, I decided to give this cookset a go. I took it on a trip, and on the first meal, managed to beautifully deform the bottom of the saucepan. Doh. Breakfast saw me melt through the frying pan. This did not please me atall. On my return I took this straight back for a refund. I am sure this cookset is fine with a meths or hexy stove, or even a small gas one. But with the petrol stove I had. Just wasn't upto the job. A disappointing peice of kit.

Highlander Camp 2 Copper Bottom Cookset

Cookset

The damage done to the bottom of the copper bottomed pots.

Following the dissappointment of the above ali cookset, I thought I would give a stainless steel set ago, heavier, but much higher melting point, hopefully this wont distort or melt like the aluminium one did. And on first investigation, it was a definate improvement, better built, sturdier. Great.

On the bottom of the pans is a copper coating. This is designed to conduct the heat more evenly and provide better cooking. Sounds great on paper. However, the copper bottom was this sets big failing. The first meal on the next trip saw this being burnt off. Leaving me a stainless pan, with the remains of a copper coating. Doh. It was a good try, but just not upto the heat from the Whisperlite.

MSR Alpine Guide Cookset

Following the dissappointment with the previous two cooksets, I looked around to see what else I could find. I quickly realised that my best bet was to go for something made by MSR, simply cos it had a much better chance of withstanding the heat from the stoves. It being likely that a MSR stove would work well with an MSR cookset.

Guess what, I was right. The MSR Mountain Guide Cookset worked like a dream. No problems with melting, deformation, or anything, just nice warm food. Yay. The pans seem very well made, and the pan handle works wonderfully. The whole set packing inside each other to take up less space. Then I can even get the stove to sit in the middle. The whole lot working together as one system. I just wish I could have saved some cash and not wasted it on the first two sets.

The main disadvantages of this cookset tho, are its price, and its weight. Price wise its not cheap, significiantly more than the highlander stuff. But you get what you pay for. Weight wise, the whole set is 1.4KG, which seems like alot, but if you need all bits of the set, then chances are there are plenty of you to distribute the kit round. And if you don't need all of it, you can save weight by taking just the bits you need. This said, Stainless steel will never rival Aluminium on weight.

Clothing

Vaude Escape Jacket

A few years ago when working my first job after leaving school, I had a 4 mile each way cycle to work. I started in the september and in the nice warm autumn, cycling to work was loverly. The winter hit an the ride became rather cold. A cheap but warm gortex coat from the surplus store seemed to do the trick for the first winter. But then summer hit, well I say summer, its probably better to call it the rainy season. Wonderful says I, watching the rain cascade off the outside of the goretex jacket. Only to open it and find the inside running with sweat. The quilted thinsulate lining wasn't of much use now summer had arrived. Needed something more versatile.

Popping into the local outdoor shop saw me walk out the door with the original Vaude Escape jacket, in bright Yellow! Now normally the idea of such a bright colour would be blasphemy, but I wanted this to cycle to work in, so it was fine. And cycle to work in I did. Day in, day out, Rain, Wind and Shine. Even in the snow. And this coat kept the elements out, and with a fleece underneath kept me loverly and warm. Best of all when it was to warm/dry for the coat, it packs down into its own backpocket to form a pouch about the size of Nato water bottle. It even has its own waist belt so you don't need to carry a bag for it to go in when not warn. Wonderful design.

Alas it has not all been plain sailing. A few months after buying the jacket I washed it as per the instructions, and the dye from the lining coated the outside in something akin to camo pattern. I took it back, and Vaude showed their fantastic customer service. A week later I had a replacement. Washing this a month or so later, none of the same problems. Excellent.

After 4 years of using this coat day in day out to cycle to work/uni, I decided I wanted one for use when hiking, but obviously not in yellow. So I added a second escape jacket to the kit pile, this one was in black, and serves me as well as the original.

The only issue other than the original weird washing, is the zip on the original jacket. The tag bit you pull on the zipper has snapped. Its just the basic victim of metal fatigue. But, considering that it broke after 6 years of faithful service, I don't think I can complain, the coat still keeps the rain out!

Things I like about the Vaude Escape Jacket

  • Light weight
  • Dry
  • Packs down small
  • Affordable

Things I dislike about the Vaude Escape Jacket

  • Zips suffer from years of (ab)use

Other Information

Mountain Equipment Guide Jacket

Cookset

Mountain Equipment Guide Jacket

When working at field and trek we were given field and trek branded wind proof fleece sleeveless jackets. I was very impressed with the warmth and windproofness of the sleeveless jacket, that I ordered in the womens version with sleeves on. Upon arrival, I went out for a short walk in the woods to see if it was as good as the sleeveless version. Walking out into the wind, it was loverly, nice and warm, no hint of the wind cutting through, wonderful. Happy with my purchase, I turned round to head for home. It hit me then, right in the kidneys. I hadn't realised it till that moment, but the slighly more stretchy fabric panels on the back, were not, as previously thought, made from windproof fleece, but instead from normal fleece. The wind cut through these panels like a hot knife through butter. The positioning of these two panels, one over each kidney, just strikes me as ludicrous. I can't quite work out why there are there. They turn a great jacket into a useless jacket.

Having ordered the jacket into the shop specially I couldn't easily take it back, so I was stuck with it. So, grin and bear it I did, usually using the trusty Escape jacket (above) to keep the wind out if the fleece didn't cut it. I wasn't happy tho, this fleece wasn't cheap, and such a simple design flaw rendered it largely useless. What however annoyed me most of all, is that after about 2-3 months of wear, the two normal panels on the back, apart from being non wind proof, have started to bobble, alot. Meaning that in under a year, this fleece looks more warn than any other peice of kit in my wardrobe. This is quite a dissappointment. I don't know why they have done it, but Mountain Equipment have taken such a good peice of kit (the sleeeless version) and made it worse.

Things I like about the Mountain Equipment Guide Jacket

  • Light weight
  • Front is very wind proof

Things I dislike about the Mountain Equipment Guide Jacket

  • The two non windproof panels on the back
  • The fabric doesn't wear well
  • Price

Other Information

Hi-Tec Magnum Boots

When most of my friends were oggling the latest offerings from nike, and dreaming of the day they could afford such a pair of trainers, I wanted a decent pair of boots. Something light, well made, and comfortable. Checking the local outdoor shops showed plenty of options for hiking boots. I tried a few of the low end nylon/cordura boots, but these fell apart after about 3 months of use. I looked at the leather hiking boots, but these were all very expensive and had the sort of 60 yr old hiker look about them, hardly suitable for a pair of boots to wear for everything. Eventually I gave up on civi street and started investigating the options in the army surplus shop. Here I found a better selection, but most made you look like you had just fallen out of the paras, or should probably be beating the parade ground, or more usually, had a 3 digit price tag. That was till I found the Hi-Tec Magnums.

At 45 a pair when I first got a pair in 1998, they were by far the cheapest boots I looked at. I tried them on, and it was love at first sight. I bought them there and then, and even walked out the shop in them. There was no breaking in, there was no blisters, no getting my feet used to them, just wonderfully comfy boots. I didn't even need to worry about fancy thick hiking socks, just the good ole cheap cotton socks from primark.

Side Note

Since I first got my Magnums Hi-Tec have come out with a range of different types, ranging from the base, through all leather, to all leather with zips and breathable linings. However I still go for the original base model. The all leather version is to stiff for the use I give it. The breathable linings of boots I don't trust, it doesn't last as long as the boot, and I question greatly its effectiveness. And the zips, thats just lazy. If you are going to get magnum's, Get the bog standard base model pair, in black. And enjoy them!

And so I wore that pair of magnums. And I wore them. That summer I was out hiking most days, a few months later I started work, and I wore them day in day out to work. At weekends more hiking, or just walking round town. I calculated that it was an estimated 10-15000 miles I walked in those boots before I eventually retired them. I replaced them with another pair of Magnums. Which I subjected to the same level of abuse, the same high level of wear. And again they proved brilliant. However, after another 10000 miles, they too started to show signs of wear. On investigation and comparing with the original boots (I have kept both pairs, useful for the garden.) I noticed that they both had the leather crack in the same place. Abit of a think later, and I realised this was cos I just wasn't cleaning them enough. Doh. So, 7 years after the first pair, I got pair number 3, which have performed admirably. To this day, not a single blister from any of the Magnums I have owned. Excellent comfort, amazing levels of warmth in winter, relatively cool in summer. Perfect.

I wear my magnums for almost everything, work, walking, shopping, cycling, hiking, climbing, caving, even around the house. I can think of no better pair of shoes for total alround use. Well done Hi-tec

Summary

Things I like about Hi-Tec Magnums

  • Everything

Things I dislike about Hi-Tec Magnums

  • Nothing

Other Information

Towel

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

Douglas Adams had a pretty damn good point when he originally wrote the above in The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, but it isn't until you get the right towel that you realise the sense of the above quote. For years I carried a cheapy basic normal bath towel with me whilst backpacking. It was heavy, took ages to dry, and other than drying off after a shower, wasn't really of much use. So in order to lighten my pack a little bit before a trip across europe by train, I got myself a Soft fibre towel from Field and Trek. It cost me about £22, and is quite large for a towel, I beleive it was their XXL size, something that a number of people have commented on as being counter productive when you want a light weight towel for your pack. However, what I quickly realised whilst on the train across eastern germany to warsaw, was that this is more than just a towel.

The night train we ended up on was quite warm, it being the middle of summer, and the bedding provided seemed more suited to a russian winter. This meant I was left with the choice of either sweating profusely, or not quite warm enough to sleep comfortably. So, I pull the towel from the pack and use it as a blanket. Its size allowing it to cover me comfortably. I had a nice nights sleep and awoke afreshed in Warsaw central station. At various other times on other trips this towl has found other great uses to the point now that I carry it as a matter of course, even when staying in hotels and the like which provide towels.

You are probably wondering what this little review section is doing in a page about specialist hiking and backpacking gear, and why such a simple item as a towel is anything special. Well I used to agree. But not now. If you are going to shoulder your pack and go out and explore. Get the biggest you can find. The many uses you will find yourself putting it to make up for the few grams of extra weight.

Illumination

AA Mini Maglite

Side Note

Learn to change the bulb in the dark. There is a spare bulb kept in the end cap of the AA maglite. This makes it really easy to find and means you always have a spare. If you do however have to replace the mainbulb with the spare, replace the spare as soon as you can. You only forget otherwise.

When it comes to well made torches one name runs synonymous with quality and indestructability. Maglite. Maglites are made from a very tough anodised aluminium, with O ring seals and rugged design. This is true of the whole range, from the single cell Solitair to the large 6D Maglites. For general use I carry with me an AA maglite, this is about 6 inches long, silver (I have a red one too) and sits nicely in a pouch on my belt. It gives a long battery life and in the 5 years I have had this one it still works perfectly, the only maintainance required being the changing of a blown bulb.

Summary

Things I really like about the AA Maglite:

  • Indestructable
  • Spare bulb in end cap
  • Adjustable focus beam

Things I don't like about the AA Maglite:

  • Cost

Other information:

Petzl Duo Headtorch

Side Note

While I own the 3 LED version of this torch, since I bought it 5, 8 and 14 LED versions have come out. Also a Duo Belt version has come out which looks very good. I will probably get myself a Duo 14 Belt version should I need to replace my current Duo, or when I can afford one.

I originally bought the Petzl Duo 3 LED for use caving, the main things which appealed to me about it were its long battery life, waterproof, cost, and the fact it took AA batteries. It has lived up very well to life in caves and I have even started using it when travelling as a hands free light. I don't think I have any real gripes with it. Its served me well and I hope it will for many years.

Summary

Things I really like about the Petzl Duo:

  • Waterproof
  • Long battery life
  • Adjustable focus beam
  • Cost
  • Takes AA Batteries

Things I don't like about the Petzl Duo:

  • Cost

Other information:

Petzl Zipka Plus Headtorch

Whilst the Petzl Duo is a very nice peice of kit, and performs very well in most situations. There are occasions where the size, weight, and bulk is just too much. And for that, the zipka, is perfect. Originally I bought a Zipka second hand off a friend while I was in slovakia. I found its small size, long battery life, and brightness brilliant. A few months later, I found the main flaw in its design. Its so small, you lose it far far to easily. I lost it somewhere on a trip to the woods near canterbury. I did however decide that its usefulness outweighed the risk of losing it enough, that I have bought another. By this time, the Petzle Zipka Plus had come out. This differs from the original Zipka in that it has 4 LED's rather than 3, and that it has 4 brightness settings, full, dimmer, dimmer still, flashing. I originally thought this would represent more electronics to go wrong, but then I realised that actually, this was bloody useful.

One thing I really like about the zipka, that you don't get with the tikka, is that you don't have to wear it on the head. The strap works just as well wrong your wrist for illuminating what you are working on. It also works very well for hanging the light from things, i.e. inside of tents. The downside of the strap tho, is that it isn't as durable as the webbing strap on the tikka. Meaning that its not wholely suitable for caving. This isn't a major issue, but something to bear in mind. I do carry it in the safety kit as a backup when caving.

Summary

Things I really like about the Petzl Zipka plus:

  • Long battery life
  • Small size
  • Adaptability/versatility
  • Light weight

Things I don't like about the Petzl Zipka plus:

  • Cost
  • Easy to lose

Other information:

Underwater Kinetics Mini-Q40

I actually bought two of these to use when diving, and caving. I didn't really plan on using them for anything else. However, they appear to have become a resident part of my kit bag. Being originally designed for diving use they are of course 100% waterproof and incredibly strong, designed to cope with the pressure found at depth. This strength and waterproof capability is what has made the Mini-Q40 a perminant member of my kit bag, doesn't matter if you drop it, use it in the rain, on the beach, or when swimming at night down at the beach, it just works. The only slight downside, is they are not the lightest torch on the planet, but that is a small price to pay. A wonderful peice of kit, I just need to remember to put it back in my dive bag when I go diving...

Summary

Things I really like about the Underwater Kinetics Mini-Q40:

  • Completely waterproof
  • Light output
  • Long battery life
  • Next to indestructable

Things I don't like about the Underwater Kinetics Mini-Q40:

  • Very little

Other information:

Comments

Those of you who have read this document all the way through will notice a slight trend, namely that for low cost and indestructable. When I buy equipment, I want to use it. I want to know that it can handle being thrown into the luggage compartment of a plane, that it doesn't matter if I drop it. That it wont break in a slight breeze. Finding kit like this tends to be quite hard, until you look to the military. If the squaddies use something, then chances are its pretty damn near indestructable. Thus it becomes a good choice. Further, many items can be purchased cheaply from army surplus shops (i.e. the Berghaus Vulcan 80 ukp, down from over 180). However, this comes with a downside, namely its slightly heavier than equivelant civilian kit, but also the fact it can make you look like you just fell out of some military training camp. Whilst generally not a problem, this can be problematic, especially in some foriegn cities. Other than that, you will genereally find Ex Military kit ideal for use in civilian outdoor activities

So you think your product is indestructable?

Do you manufacture an outdoor product? Think you have something thats indestructable? Drop me and email and I will happily test the item for you

About this Document

This page last modified Saturday, 11-Sep-2010 22:22:56 CEST.