Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Pimp My Rucksack

I am horribly jealous of bloggers who get free gear to review.  I have never been offered free gear.  Let’s be frank.  I would love to be offered free gear.  Why hide it?  Which of us wouldn’t?  This blog post is therefore a naked attempt to get sent free kit.  When the incisiveness of my views and writing is seen, when the extent of my discerning and trend setting, influential readership is understood, I will be flooded with lovely stoves, soft shell, hard shell, boots, tent pegs and other shiny items to try out.
So why haven't I been sent free stuff up until now?  Perhaps it’s because manufacturers think my blog is rubbish.  Perhaps it doesn’t get enough readership.  Perhaps I am not regarded as competent to pass a judgement on their kit.  Perhaps no-one out there has ever heard of me.  Probably all these things!
But let me tell you, I could put on a new jacket and walk down to town in it, even if it were raining, and then pass comments on its merits or otherwise. I could put up a new tent and examine it in my back garden.  Crikey, if I got a free tent I might even be prepared to lug it up Wansfell Pike to photograph it with my Kodak Instamatic.
So I have decided to show all the gear heads out there that I too have lots of stuff.  Some of it has been used more than once and I have an opinion on it.  As with all mere mortals ie those not called Chris Townsend or John Manning, my experience of other products for comparative purposes is relatively limited so all of what follows could be complete crap.  Could be?  You decide.
So here goes, Fellbound’s own light touch, in-depth, scientifically dead dodgy, self-opinionated views on some bits of kit that he owns.  These are based on 40 years of experience of bumbling about semi-competently on the hills.  Obviously, all the stuff reviewed below was bought with my own money because, as I implied, the bastards that make it will not send me any for free.

If any reader wants to send this on to any contacts at Berghaus, Rab, Vango, Evernew, Tarp Tent, Rohan, PHD, MLD, Clam Cleats (I love tent pegs I do), Inov8, Brasher, Paramo,  North Face or the like, do not hesitate.  Send me some free stuff you swine.  And being well over 6 foot tall I will do something that the likes of Chris T. cannot do. I will specialise in reviews “for the taller man”.
Some of my kit reviewed
Optimus Primus Express Stove.  You light it, it heats up your water quickly, it weighs about 90 grams.  Nuff said.
Evernew 900ml titanium pot: Light, tough and used by Chris Townsend since he were a lad. Nuff said.
Light My Fire Steel:  It sparks almost every time and it lights your gas stove.  Nuff said.
Plastic spork: You can eat your food with it.  It melts if you get it too hot.  Nuff said.
Tent pegs:  I have some blue ones, some gold ones and some red ones.  The red ones bend.  The gold ones are not made of real gold unfortunately.  They all hold my tent up.   The blue ones set my steely blue-grey eyes off nicely.
ULA Catalyst Pack.  A pack must have two attributes. It must be a comfortable carry and it must have space for all your gear.  Everything else is belts and whistles.  In many cases literally.  I am very tall (6 foot 3 inches) and the Catalyst is the only pack I have owned this side of 1975 which has a hip belt that sits on my hips and so takes some of the weight.  So I love it.  It leaks like a sieve, mind, and it would be improved with a zip fastened outer pocket, and would also be better if there weren't large strap holes in the side water bottle pockets which thus allow small items to fall out.
Osprey Talon 33.  Holds all my day stuff and will take my winter gear too.  Can’t fault it except for the high hip belt (see above).  And not too heavy.  It's had a lot of wear and is getting past it now.  Please can Osprey send me a new one to test?
Hilleberg Akto:  Nuff already said about this tent by everyone else.
Tarp Tent Scarp 1.  I have only used this for one night so my opinion is utterly worthless.  But here it is.  Quite simply, anyone want to buy my Akto?  Roomy, decent headroom, the taller end struts mean that tall people aren’t sleeping with the inner on their face.  But why the guylines are so short is beyond me.  And I agree with Robin at about the zip.   Rather than being J shaped, an inverted T zip would be much better.  Also, the inside pockets are pathetically small.  And the ties that are supposed to hold the inner doors open don’t do this properly.
MLD Trailstar:  Yes it’s massive.  Yes it has won every award under the sun short of the George Cross.  But if you are over 6 foot tall it’s over hyped crap, absolute crap.  My feet are always sticking outside under the sides by the morning, and I either wake up wrapped around the centre trekking pole or my face is right in the dripping wet, low angled sides.  And usually both.  Further, is it possible to get in and out without getting a soaking back from the internal running condensation?  Yes it is, but only if you crawl out on your belly like a snake.  So I always have soggy back syndrome when using it.  I’d sell it, but it may be better than a tent when Hyperpup is a little older and comes out backpacking with me.
Neo Air Xlite sleeping mat.  When did Lilos become so expensive? My first Neo Air Xlite, a regular size, failed after 3 nights.  Blessing in disguise,   Cotswold Outdoors agreed I could have an exchange and pay the extra for the large size rather than the regular.  Much better if you are tall and I would highly recommend this.  Worth the small weight penalty.  Now waiting for this one to fail on me. 
PHD Down Minimus Jacket with Dri Shell and Hood.  My birthday present the year before last.  It’s very snuggly and let's face it we all secretly like snuggly stuff.  I love it, except it’s too short in the body and sleeves despite being XL size.  Do PHD base their sizing on Japanese men?  Just after it arrived PHD started offering a more customised measure yourself version, but I can’t justify the cost of changing it.  Bugger.
Rab Sleeping Bags:  I own more than I should ie 3 of them.  The Neutrino 400 Endurance (semi-waterproof shell) is possibly the most versatile, as with extra layers it can do for most of the UK winter but is not too hot in summer.  So if you can only get one decent bag this is for you.  The blue colour sets off my eyes nicely too.
Footwear:  Why do reviewers bother to refer to boots and shoes as being a “good fit”?  Useless information.  We all have different shaped feet.  I own some Scarpa Gore-tex lined leather boots and had similar from a different maker before these.  Never, ever, again.  The liners fail and then they are awful.  If buying boots I would get traditional leather like I always used to use.  With regular proofing such boots usually kept my feet dry in my first 35 years of hill walking trips.  Now, La Sportiva Raptor trail shoes do me very nicely on many walks.  These grip like a limpet (I think somebody else used the expression "stick like dog shit on your shoe" but that is so vulgar).  However, with trail shoes you have to get used to the looks of disapproval from people in big boots when out on the hill.  The black and yellow Raptors also attract love sick bumble bees.
Hard Shell:  I have a range (ie 2) of Berghaus Gore-tex Jackets, and have owned others previously. I think all the debate and hype about the different types of Gore-tex over eggs the differences.  I have kept reasonably dry in all that I have owned.  I currently tend to wear a Berghaus Paclite jacket which is just fine in the conditions I experience. The Paclite trousers are the dog's dangly bits.  Light, pack small, keep your legs dry.  What more can be asked?
I also own two Paramo waterproofs.  I do not dare express an opinion on these otherwise a lynch mob may turn up, whether I comment favourably or not.
Rohan Merino 200 Long Sleeved Zip Base Layer.  I love it.  And it was perfect until Martin Rye wrote in a tweet (@Rye1966) that he hates merino as it gets soggy.  I hadn’t noticed until I read that, but now I do.  Every trip it is soaking. Still love it. I have a blue one and a red one.  The blue one sets my eyes off nicely. 
Smart Wool Socks:  People swear by them.  I chucked mine out yesterday after only 3 wears. They had stretched horribly, the heel bit was half way up my ankle and I had my first blister in over 20 years wearing them.  The pair I had were clearly the work of the devil. And that devil is one nasty creature, I can tell you.

Now send me some nice gear please.

(“That’s enough about gear, you could bore for England you could.”  Ed.)


  1. Smartwool socks:
    Boil them to buggery. They go nice and "felty" and don't stretch then.
    Pity you chucked them out, really.

    1. Wished I had known that, Alan.

      Actually, the bin men haven' t been yet this week.......

  2. Best socks x-socks trekking.
    Now,about Paramo....;-)
    Bloody excellent post that.Msde me titter.:-))

    1. That's like made but spelt with an S :(

    2. Hi Andy

      I agree re the X socks. Wear them with my trail shoes. They are great and they have a label on each sock so you know which is your right foot and which is your left. If you ever forget which is which you can just whip your shoes off. So socks and a senility aid. Drinks all round!

  3. Staying dry is about good wicking base layers and a fleece over it under a shell for me to work. I'm like Alan and notice getting wet in Paramo, but others seem to not notice getting wet in it. How is beyond me!

    Anyway great honest views. On Merino I only use it now with a synthetic mix to aid faster drying. 100% is not for me. Neobackache is not for me either. How is the lighter version less harsh than the old one everyone deflates 50% to get a comfy sleep with.

    Scarp is good kit, Trailstar has its fans and me too, but I sold it on. You know why.

    I like RAB bags and my Alpine 600 is ace. But have a incredible summer bag now by Marmot.

    Always enjoy a good kit post and thanks David.

    1. Hi Martin.

      You like a good gear post? Pity as mine was nothing like a good gear post!

      I have found the large size Neo Air much more comfortable than the regular. Main concern now is potential failure on a longer trip such as the TGO Challenge. I have a theory that they may be more prone to failure if they are fully inflated rather than partially inflated. When fully inflated with the weight of a body on them would the material and seams be under more stress? I am no scientist but guess that it might be.

    2. Yours was better than a good gear post. Some are just too bloody serious and in your face. :-)

    3. Yours was better than a good gear post. Some are just too bloody serious and in your face. :-)

    4. Thanks. It takes all sorts. :-)

  4. Thanks, Carl.

    I think the general view in our house is funny peculiar rather than funny ha ha. When my step-daughter went to Disneyland (arghhhh) with the school ( very educational, I'm sure), she bought me back a Mr Grumpy mug.

  5. Great post. I chuckled!
    Now I hope you get some lovely shiny stuff to test out :)

    1. Thanks, Wayne. I suspect that I have about as much chance of getting something shiny and free as getting a place on the next TGO Challenge AND having a fortnight of warm sunshine and fluffy clouds from May 9th next year. Which is a long winded way of saying "no chance". But if I have spread some momentary happiness to a few people by writing this piece then I can lay my tired body down by a dry stone wall with a view of Ullswater and die in peace. :-)

    2. Ha ha.

      I agree but who knows! I recently got myself a Neutrino 400 & Tarp Tent Double Rainbow and they're great. Off to South America soon to give them a full run out. I've bought all my gear but I guess that's the way of normal folk!

    3. Sounds like an exciting trip coming up for you, Wayne. Have a superb and safe time.

  6. Top tip: If you want some free gear then you have to give the manufacturers, or their agents, some way of contacting you. I can't see a "Contact me" button on your blog, so there may be dozens of firms queuing up to send you some stuff but you're not making it easy for them! Good luck with the scrounging!

  7. Good point, Judith, so thank you. I am not certain I know how to do that and my IT skills are rubbish but I will see if I can work it out.

    By the way, a recent blog post of yours inspired this post when you were sent a Berghaus day pack to try out!

    I doubt they are queuing up to send me stuff, though.

    Have just posted my 2014 TGOC entry form. Will you be on itagain this year?

  8. I've only had a couple of freebies but it's exciting to get something new and unexpected. (I'd like to try a soft shell if anyone's reading!)
    Yes, I'll be sending in the TGO Challenge form soon. Of course, there's no guarantee of a place but fingers crossed.

  9. Judith's right.
    Smart wool socks, i agree with AS.
    Disagree with the inverted T zip on the Scarp. I had my TT Moment zip replaced with an inverted T and it's better than the original but it leaves a little gap where all 3 zips come together that lets midge in. Whats required is one zip that starts at the apex and curves out from the apex towards the corner before swinging back to the current bottom end position. This then allows you to sit half in and half out utilising the position of maximum height. Hope that makes sense.

  10. Thanks Alan. I have added a contact form on the blog now. Your comment about the zip makes sense. Basically I would like a zip that runs most of the way along the bottom, just above the bathtub groundsheet. I like the flexibility of having my head at either end of the tent when sleeping which you do not have with the current J zip.

    1. Thanks Fellbound. Talking to yourself again are you? Weirdo!

  11. Great and funny (in the ha ha sense) post David. In lieu of your receiving free gear to review, some of those reviews would definitely be no good for me as a vertically challenged Hobbit Extra. I can happily say that I fit my Trailstar perfectly well :-) I was toying with the idea of getting an Xlite Short (too short to be full-length even for me) but going for the Prolite Plus Short instead as they're slightly more robust and less expensive. Agree with your view of the Express Spider stove and you've sold me on the Rab bag (Endurance version).
    Heres hoping you get some free kit soon.

    1. Thanks Elton. I actually got some dead good trousers from those kind people at Rohan after writing this.

  12. Funny...Nuff said.

    I think there's an opening for a Jeremy Clarkson of the outdoors world, and let’s face it he’s never short of offers to test drive something.
    p.s. I have a ULA Catalyst and a Circuit, and I just wish they’d supply them with shorter shoulder tensioning straps. First time out in the wind was like being bull whipped across the eye’s. Obviously designed with broad shouldered college footballers in mind. Other than that, the best sacks I’ve ever owned by a country mile.

    1. Yup, agreed John, except for that water ingress. That's posh for leaks like a sieve. I have also just got a Lightwave pack with taped seams which I will use in wetter conditions. Nuff said.