Monday, 25 January 2010

Landrover S1. . . how tough is it really?

Well how tough is it? I've had this phone since december now, and whilst I did some initial testing to check general toughness (throwing in water etc) I'd been wanting to push it a bit further. I was working this weekend, and one of the kids I was working with spotted my phone clipped to my belt. This sparked off a series of "Sir can I smash your phone on the ground" and "Sir can I tip my drink on your phone". Now whilst not keen on letting a group of lads from Stoke boot my phone around part of me was curious to see what would happen. And given it had a 3 year guarantee on it with the tagline "you break it for any reason we replace it" I was tempted. Later on in the day we were up in the high ropes tower doing the "parachute jump" (very cool indeed and worth checking out, weekend bookings available :) )and one of the kids said "Sir if your phone is that tough then proove it".

Never one to back away from a challenge, I looked over the edge of the tower to check for people below(see pic) then promptly dropped it over the side of the tower. If nothing else this achieved a loud gasp from the group of lads in question. But what was even more impressive was when I got back down to the ground and inspected the phone, not only did it work fine, there was not even a scratch on it! Impressive!

During the weekend I did a number of other tests on the phone, including dropping it out of the bouldering room abseil hatch onto concrete, dunking it into my tea, leaving it in the freezer, and various other horrible things, and it still works perfectly.

The only problem I experienced is that if you drown it in water, water can get into the speaker hole, best way I've found it to leave it upside down for a short period to allow water to drain out. I should add this doesnt damage the phone just water getting stuck in the the hole!

Awesome piece of kit!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Black diamond Blizzard accessories

RRP £5.99 (Clipper) & £8.00 (holster)
I have a black diamond blizzard harness, and I've always loved it for it's comfort, good fit and quality build. Black diamond also do 2 accessories for this harness to aid the budding winter climber. I now have both of these;

Black Diamond Blizzard Holster:
This small webbing holster attaches to the blizzard (or any other harness) and allows the user to holster one or both of their ice tools whilst placing gear etc. I would say its a nifty little accessory, but can be a little bit fiddly holstering 2 tools, however to holster one tool at a time is very easy! Overall, nice addition to my harness and easy to use.

Black diamond ice clipper:
This is the best few quid ive ever spent! It is such a great bit of kit. It allows you not only to rack your ice screws easily, but also when trad climbing its very easy to stow gear when seconding, or clip you belay device to avoid fannying around at the top of route finding it. The ice clipper will fit to any harness, however the BD blizzard has custom slots to slide these in, making them even more secure! My friend Matt Reynolds also loves these:

"BD ice clippers. These little plastic 'biners are simply like the most innovative idea ever (not just BD ones, I mean the whole concept). For those that don't know then they are little plastic 'biners that are held sort of poking out from your harness so you can rack screws (or anything you want) on them. I brought 2 initially as I was trying to expand my summer harness with more gear loops (I just brought a DMM Renegade in the end, another quality piece of kit)."

Taken from (worth a read for some of Matts Crazy Stories!)

Overall Black Diamonds 2 cheap accessories make a good harness even better, and for the few quid involved its very worth investing! I now have a holster for my axes AND an ice clipper on the left and right of my harness for ice screws and anything else!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Mountain Equipment Kongur MRT

RRP: £320

This Christmas my parents wanted to buy me a new jacket to update my Millet Hardshell that I’ve had since I was 18. When thinking of which jacket I wanted the first think that sprung to mind was “Mountain Equipment”. I am in no doubt that Mountain Equipment is one of the (if not THE) best company out there at the moment. I own a number of mountain equipment products, all of which have stood the test of time, and been damn good in the process. But any hardshell I bought would have to be as good as my Millet one (no easy task!). My Millet jacket has been my faithful companion in sub zero temperatures in the depths of Scottish winter, at 18,500ft above sea level in the Himalayas, in dust storms in Iceland glacial plateaus, through my ML training and ML assessment, and through countless crap days in Stoke! So in replacing it I needed a jacket that would fill that gap. I had already tried on the ME Kongur and had liked it. At £280 the Kongur was not cheap. I was also aware of the Kongur MRT a beefed up stronger version of the Kongur. The Kongur itself came highly recommended, it had won Trail’s ultimate waterproof test twice and had ringing endorsements from numerous reviewers. The MRT version was £40 more than the Kongur. However on reading about it I figured I might as well get that one.
The Kongur came on Christmas day and good lord is it good! The jacket uses Gore’s latest Gortex fibre – proshell. It feels very crinkly, I don’t know whether this is just because it is a new jacket! The toughened fibres on the shoulders, arms, and back feel very substantial, almost feels like a canvas material in a way. All the zips are waterproof including the pit zips (for added ventilation), and the cut of the jacket is perfect. What I would also say about the jacket is unlike a number of mountain equipments other jackets, the sizing is slightly larger on this. The XL fits me with plenty of room for extra layers underneath. The mood is the usual level of high quality I’ve come to expect from Mountain Equipment, plenty big enough for a helmet underneath – my salamander has quite lower clearance, however I have tried it with an Elios and Ecrin underneath and they fit just as well. The other added perk to the new Kongur is the reflective stripping added to increase visibility in bad conditions.

All in all the extra £40 is definitely worth it! The toughened fibres are brilliant! The Kongur MRT is on offer on at £240 at the moment which is a fantastic offer for a fantastic piece of kit. I also like the fact that the colour scheme of red and black is similar to my trademark red and grey Millet hard shell.

• 3 Layer Gore-Tex® Pro Shell Ascendor
• 3 Layer Gore-Tex® Pro Shell Lofoten reinforcements
• 3M® reflective detailing for visibility in poor weather & darkness
• Super longer cut provides exceptional protection
• Award winning helmet compatible Stealth construction hood
• Stealth construction techniques used throughout
• Slim double centre front storm flaps
• 2 large chest pockets can be used whilst wearing a rucksack or harness
• 2 external map pockets allow hidden access to stored items
• Underarm Water resistant pit zips for ventilation

Monday, 4 January 2010

Layering systems – What’s that all about?

Another in the series of things I’ve been wanting to write about lately! This article will cover a little bit about types of layer and what each is suitable for.

A number of different layers exist. When looking to get a layering system, it can be very confusing to understand all these layers and where they would fit into your system. Easiest way to look at layering is to start at the inside layer (closest to your body) and work outward:

Base layer: The base layer is as it says; your base. It is the closest layer to your body. A number of different base layers exist, some designed for summer, some for winter. Some designed to be warm when wet and some designed to dry quick. As such it is impossible to categorise base layers into any sub categories. However as a general rule summer base layers wick sweat away from the body ensuring you stay dry, but also ensuring air circulation so you stay cool. Winter base layers are designed more to keep heat in, usually comprised of wool or synthetic fibres, winter base layers are also slightly thicker.

Mid layer: “Mid layers” covers a wide variety of layers, fleeces, jumpers, down jackets and soft shell jackets. The idea of the mid layer is to provide additional warmth depending on the environment. Down jackets that are not waterproof are usually worn in the mid layer position depending on temperature (they are very warm) and weather (they are not usually waterproof). Soft shell jackets is arguably a category on its own, however I have included soft shells in mid layers. Soft shell covers jackets that provide additional warmth, but provide some protection from the elements. Soft shells (sometimes called wind stoppers) are usually windproof, and shower proof, they are however not suitable for heavier rain.

Hard shell: Hard shell jackets provide a complete barrier against water and some protection against wind. They are however not warm, so need to be supported by mid layers which provide the warmth. The hard shell basically protects anything underneath it from getting wet. Hard shells vary in quality, with the best (in my opinion) being Pro shell Gortex. Other waterproof materials include drilite, hyvent, event and paramo.

Other outershells: Synthetic belay jackets, waterproof down jackets. Belay jackets are designed to be thrown on over the top of other layers whilst climbing or in bad conditions. They are usually waterproof or highly water resistant, with either synthetic or pure down for warmth. Jackets like this provide both warmth and protection from bad conditions.

Friday, 1 January 2010

My winter loadout

I’ve been meaning to write about my winter gear and what I take with me winter climbing, so I decided that with photoshop reinstalled I would go through my gear (I’ve always wanted to have a bash at those cut away diagrams!). Below is all the gear I would personally take for the kind of routes I do in winter (I don’t bother with tough mixed climbing, I tend to stick to good condition grade I,II or at a push III and enjoy good mountain days!)

Please note: This is by no means a guide as to what to take, merely my explanation of what I take and why. If you are new to winter climbing or just want some additional reading, I recommend “Winter Skills, Chapter 1 - equipment” by Andy Cunningham and Allen Fyffe, a good read and a good basis for a new climber. Also worth reading “Winterising your rack” by Rob Jarvis (

So onto my gear! The cut away diagram (click to enlarge!) shows the various layers I would wear for a winter mountain day.

1. Helmet – essential if winter climbing to protect you from falling ice and rock, especially if you are belaying from belay, your leader will most likely kick ice and snow down onto you so having a comfortable helmet you can wear all day is important. I have a Grivel Salamader, it’s light and very comfortable, the headtorch elastics are excellent also. However at around £60 it’s not a cheap one!

2. Goggles – I picked these north face goggles up at TK Maxx for £20, however they are usually £90 so I got lucky! Good goggles will help you in bad conditions, and also help with the glare of the sun reflecting on the snow. Alternatively glacier goggles are a good idea. If using sunglasses then make sure you get ones with some wrap around on the sides.

3. Hard shell – My beloved mountain equipment kongur. In my opinion the best and most well designed hard shell on the market. A good winter hard shell is essential for protection against the elements whilst out. The Kongur MRT is excellent however you won’t find it cheaper than around £250.

4. Harness – Harness may or may not be needed depending on what route you plan on doing. Always a good idea to carry you harness if you are planning on doing a route you are unsure about. I have a black diamond Blizzard, with 2 ice clippers to allow me to rack gear closer to the front of my harness, given that I climb with my pack on and reaching to the back of my harness with a rucksack on is difficult. The blizzard is excellent, comfortable and easy to adjust. Can be found at around £50.

Picture above: Selection of ice gear is essential

5. Hard shell trousers – Waterproof trousers are my “weapon of choice” when it comes to winter climbing. Some people opt for soft shell trousers for the added breathability, however I use my waterproofs. My trousers are Mountain Equipment Matrix sallopette (no longer on sale), which are a combination of paclite Gortex and XCR Gortex, with toughened knees and crampon kick straps. I use sallopettes as they are more comfy and don’t ride up exposing my back.

6. Boots – I have both Scarpa Vega (B3) and Scarpa Manta (B2). I tend to use my Manta’s when out, as they are more comfy and less bulky. They do well on simple gully and snow climbs, however for anything more serious consider a B3 boot.

7. Crampons – I use Grivel G12 Newmatic fit. The newmatic binding is semi step in binding, allowing me to quickly fit my crampons when needed, the rear clip fits well on my Mantas, and will fit on any B2 boot because of the front plastic bail. These retail at up to £135 in winter and as low as £90 in summer. All depends when and where you buy them! At present the is doing them for £109.

8. Gloves – I wear lining gloves and my Millet winter gloves.

9. Ice axe – I used a Grivel Munro walking axe. The axe is excellent except for the lack of grip, however I used a tennis grip and some duck tape to fix this! I also have a set of DMM fly technical axes for use on routes that are steeper.

10. Winter rack – again this is my personal choice for the routes I do. However you rack should be as broad as possible when packing to go to an area. Make sure to read “winterising your rack” on Myself (and my partner between us) carry:

60 metre dry treated rope x 2 (Beal Iceline)
6-8 Runners depending on the route (Slingdraw)
Hexes (BD Hexcentrics)
Wires (DMM Wallnuts)
Slings (120cm x 2 and 240cm)
Ice screws x 3
Various screwgates
Belay plate (reverso3)
Prussik loops x 2

Picture above: Winter rack as described, minus 1 ice screw and sling draws

This is based on a generised rack, however I customise depending on what I am doing and where I am going.

The second half of my cut away diagram (once again very cool!) Shows what I have underneath my hardshell.

1. Softshell – I wear my softshell underneath, I use an ME Astron, an excellent and comfy softshell, however not ideal for wearing on its own in winter as it provides very little warm. The windproofness of it is fantastic however. Often I wear another mid layer underneath this, along with a base layer underneath that.

2. Leggings – I don’t bother with trousers under my waterproofs, just thermal leggings! I find it keeps me at a good temperature!

3. Gaiters – I wear my XCR gaiters underneath my waterproof trousers to provide a good seal against snow.

4. Socks x 2 pairs. I usually wear my Seal Skinz socks and a pair underneath. Seal Skinz socks and gloves are brilliant and definitely worth a buy!

Picture to the left: Layers that can be used, note the down jacket is underneath the hardshell and the belay jacket is above. This is because the down jacket is NOT waterproof

In additional to all this gear I carry a 38 litre rucksack (Osprey mutant) with the following additional gear in:

First aid kit – Stripped down version of my Mountain Leader First Aid Kit
Penknife – multi blade
Ground shelter bothy bag – 2-3 man
GPS – my Airo A25
Phone – my new Landrover S1
Insulated jacket – my Mountain Equipment Fitzroy OR my North Face Nupste Jacket
Spare gloves – Seal Skinz
Spare shoe laces
Headtorch – Petzl Myo 3

This is an indication of the gear I would take, however this gear is highly customisable depending on what I’m going to do. As I said at the start, do not take this as gospel and I would encourage you to do some background reading if at all unsure. I am not a winter qualified mountain leader (yet!) so what I write here I write as an unqualified winter mountaineer with some experience!

Happy climbing!