Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Polartec NeoShell vs Gortex Active Shell

At the OutDoor show 2 new fabrics were being shown. Polartec was demonstrating their new waterproof and breathable fabric, whilst Gore-tex was showing their latest addition; Active Shell. Naturally it is difficult to give a detailed review of a fabric I haven't worn or used on the hill, however this review contains my personal first impressions of both fabrics.

Polartec® NeoShell

As I mentioned in the Mammut Eiger Extreme review below, I was very impressed with NeoShell for a number of reasons. NeoShell represents a very odd combination of feeling and performing like a soft shell, but bringing with it the waterproof qualities of a hard shell. In particular my favourite jacket with this fabric was the Mammut Gipfelgrat jacket (see review further down). I can already see the benefits of this fabric for winter climbing, the fabric has stretch in it to give great comfort and freedom of movement, it's warm like a soft shell, but gives protection from the weather like a hard shell. On the Polartec® stand was a short demonstration of how the fabric works:

As you can see the fabric is fully breathable; allowing oxygen to pass through it into the liquid, however non of the water above gets through the fabric into the container below. The fabric in the right hand container was not named, so could be anything. NeoShell also claims to be machine washable without any loss of waterproofing on the jacket - another big claim that can't be substantiated at this stage. The other thing about NeoShell is that it seems like more of a 'beefy' fabric, it's not designed to be super light weight, so from an adventure racers point of view this fabric could be less that ideal. Full details of NeoShell can be found on the website:
Overall I was very impressed with NeoShell, the neat little demo on the stand, the substantial feeling fabric, the proof will be in the pudding, but if NeoShell delivers what it promises then this could represent a real step forward in terms of performance fabrics.

Gore-tex® Active Shell

Active Shell is the latest fabric from Gore-tex designed to provide a high degree of waterproofing and breathability. From Gore-tex;

"Ideal for all weather fast forward athletes seeking durable protection and comfort during highly aerobic, done in a day activities such as trail running, mountain biking, and fast alpine ascent."

(Left) Mountain Equipments new Firefox jacket uses Active Shell

My first impression of Active Shell? It felt like Paclite crossed with ProShell. It felt very thin, and light. I found it hard to get very animated about Active Shell, because from my point of view it is just another Gore-tex fabric that is waterproof and breathable. I also had to sit through a lecture one morning that was supposed to be about outdoor gear targeting the ageing market, however when the Gore-tex woman appeared to do her section, she just talked about the various fabrics available instead of staying on topic, however listening to her all the fabrics made the same claim: waterproof and what exactly is new about Active Shell? From Gore-tex website:

"combines extreme breathability and durable wind- and waterproofness with minimum weight and pack volume."

Sound familiar? Thats because the above was taken from the description of Gore-tex Paclite. My point is that Gore-tex new fabric just seems to me to be "just another waterproof fabric".  4 of the 5 fabrics on the Gore-tex site claim to be waterproof and breathable, and on feeling and trying on Active Shell jackets, it feels like another one for the collection; an updated version of Paclite, that perhaps provides slightly more breathability and waterproofing, however once again the proof will be in the pudding. Website:

In summary; I am finding it very hard to get psyched for Active Shell, I'm sure it will be a step forward in terms of producing a shell that is; lightweight, breathable and waterproof. But to me it just seems like it's nothing new. NeoShell on the other hand seems to be exactly what I have been looking for in a soft shell, but with the added bonus of being as waterproof as a hard shell. I was impressed with NeoShell to the point that I gave V12outdoor an email this morning to see about pre-ordering a Mammut Gipfelgrat in September.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

OutDoor show Friedrichshafen 2011 - New electronics

Naturally I was keen to get some info on the latest GPS sets out there. I focussed on getting info on the main 3 GPS brands available in the UK; Magellan, Garmin and Satmap....

Magellan eXplorist series

The eXplorist series are Magellan's latest GPS handsets, as well as being available to view and trial at the Magellan stand it was possible to borrow one and test it out. The eXplorist series comes in several models; GC, 310, 510, 610, and 710. All the models

have a loop at the bottom to attach a lanyard (useful feature), waterproof to IPX standards, and include some maps (varies depending on model.

The GC version is designed for Geocaching, and comes with a preloaded database of 1000's of Geocaches. It also comes with a 30 day premium trial on It can hold around 10,000 Geocaches. However it does not come with any maps included. The 310 and 510 include world mapping (roads, river, some relief shading, land use worldwide), however the 510 has a larger 3 inch touch screen, and a 3.2 mp camera built in. The 610 and 710 are the 'big daddy's' of the series and both include topographic "summit series" mapping. The summit series mapping is 1:50,000 and includes all the detail you would expect from a map of that scale. The 710 includes turn by turn navigation (US only at moment).

So all in all I liked the eXplorist series, the signal was very constant (even inside the centre), navigation was simple enough using the buttons, I would imagine the touchscreen versions with larger screens would have been even easier to use! Overall, good range of GPS sets, some good features, and the price point is also pretty good.

Garmin eTrex 10,20 and 30

So having visited Magellan the next stop was Garmin and their new eTrex revamp. The eTrex has been a stable GPS in terms of sales and popularity for some time, most likely due to it's ease of use and cost (the eTrex basic model can be picked up for around £50). However Garmin obviously decided it was time for a change around, so their new eTrex series was created. There are 3 models; 10 (£100) ,20 (£130) and 30 (£150). All models have the same interface which consists of a small scroll stick in the top right, and a number of buttons on the sides which control various functions. They all also feature waterproofing up to IPX7 and have a 2.2 inch screen. The pricing is very good, and with only a 33% difference between the top and bottom model's it would definitely be worth considering getting the eTrex 30 for the additional features. The eTrex 10 is a basic model featuring no maps, the 20 comes with a colour screen and expandable memory to allow new maps to be added. The 30 comes with a barometric altimeter for more accurate height readings, a worldwide basemap and a 3 axis compass, as well as wireless sharing for sharing routes between other compatible units. Overall I really liked these units, they were a good size, had good features, good ease of use, and most importantly the price point was excellent (much cheaper than the Magellan units). It should be pointed out however that the Magellan sets include maps where the Garmin sets do not, so factoring in the cost of expanding the maps brings the costs up to around equal. The new eTrex series will be appearing in the UK soon!
The other unit that caught my eye on the Garmin stand (and OutDoor industry award stand) was the Garmin Montana. The Montana is another big daddy unit and comes in 3 versions (600, 650 and 650T) each with slightly different features. The Montana has a massive 4 inch colour touchscreen. The top version is the 650T, which includes a 5meg camera and 100k topographic mapping. It can be expanded to include 1:25k mapping, and is waterproof to IPX7. However at £500+ this is not a cheap option! And when you consider that £500 does not include any 1:25k mapping it starts to look like a very pricey option, especially when units like the Airo A25 are now dropping in price. Despite the price I did like this unit, it felt incredibly solid, the touchscreen was easy to use, and despite the glare from the sun outside, the screen was very clear thanks to the sunlight readable screen. Overall, if you have he money then this unit is great, however not many people would spent £500 on a GPS set!

Last on my tour of electronics was SatMap. Whilst there were no new products from Satmap this year in terms of GPS units, there were a few extra bits that may be of interest to anyone who has, or is thinking of getting a Satmap set.

First up is the ProShield. The proshield is a rugged case with a belt clip. This is designed to bring the Satmap up to IPX7 standard for waterproofing. It protects the unit from drops onto concrete, water and dust, as well as protecting the screen from scratches and damage. It comes in 3 colours (left) and is very easy to fit. The belt clip is also large enough to fit onto a rucksack loop or strap for ease of access. The second thing is that all 1:25k maps from SatMapSatMaps now have new software which increases their efficiency and reduces the chances of the unit freezing. I guess from Satmaps point of view they have decided "if it ain't broke don't fix it!".

So there you are, new releases and updates on the top brands of GPS available in the UK, some good stuff on the way!

OutDoor show Friedrichshafen 2011 - Crazy lightweight gear

Personally I have never been huge on "Super Doopa ultra lightweight" gear, of course I am not adverse to having gear that is lightweight, however I feel the next 3 products will be most suitable for those crazy trail runners who want to carry as little as possible while retaining functionality. The first product is the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. This one really does have to be seen to be believed. At 48g this wind shirt is made from 7D nylon fabric which provides a good degree of water resistance. The jacket is incredibly minimalist and has a simple zip at the front. The jacket does come in green which makes it look a little less like a sandwich bag! Very cool product, not for me, however ultralight hikers, back packers and trail runners will love this product.

Speaking of Ultralight; Terra Nova recently announced their new Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 tent. A 1 man tent that weighed only 495g. The interesting thing about the Laser Ultra was that despite it's lightweight, the fabric used in the tent boasted a high level of water resistance that most other tents. The ghostly clear fabric is so opaque because the fabric is too thin to be dyed. I was impressed with the Laser Ultra, firstly because I like Terra Nova, but secondly because it represents a leap forward in the design and build of tents. When I got to the show I was keen to get my hands on the Laser Ultra, however when I reached the Terra Nova section I was greeted with something even newer....The Voyager Ultra. The Voyager has long been a cracking 3 season tent in Terra Nova's collection, but they have taken it a step further by following in the steps of the laser and creating an ultra light version. The voyager Ultra is much lighter that the Voyager superlite, but just as strong, which is amazing when you think about it. The Voyager Ultra weighs in at 880g (120g lighter than the superlite and 1.1kg lighter than the original Voyager), and is built of the same highly waterproof fabric as the Laser Ultra. Considering the Voyager Ultra is a 2 person tent, the weight of it is just incredible! 

As well as their range of ultra lightweight tents, Terra Nova have produced a range of lightweight
packs. The Ultra 20 (left) is a 20L lightweight pack that weighs a mere 136g (111g without waist belt). Despite it's light weight it still has generously padded shoulders and drawcord closures. This pack is very cool indeed, the fabric feels tough considering how light it is, but at £120 you are paying a lot for the luxury of less weight!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

OutDoor show Friedrichshafen 2011 - New climbing hardware

So one of the things I was looking forward to most about the OutDoor was the new climbing hardware, and I wasn't disappointed! Walking into the show on the first day a giant poster informed me that Black Diamond were showing their new Magnetron karabiners; definitely worth a look! The Magnetron system is currently in 2 different karabiners; the grid lock and the rock lock. The concept is simple; 2 small magnets hold the gate closes in the same was the screw does on a screw gate. When the user squeezes the green pressure points on the gate the karabiner can then be opened. Simple concept, very easy to use, and very innovative. Really liked the karabiners, they felt very solid and the Magnetron system was very easy to use! 10/10 for something new!

Next up is Mammut's new via ferrata set; the Tec Step Bionic. The system builds on Mammut's previous climbing hardware "Bionic" products. The karabiners look great as with other products from Mammut, titanium grey and electric blue karabiners, and black lanyards. The karabiners use a new locking system where the back bar of the karabiner needs to be depressed before the gate will open. This is not a unique system, and similar products where shown from a number of other companies. But out of all the similar sets shown, I liked this one the best! See short video below on how this product works.

Petzl demo'd the new Reverso4 also. The Reverso4 is not very different to the Reverso3, it has the same function and design at the 3, the braking grooves etc are all the same. However the 4 is an ultra lightweight version, 25% lighter than the previous version. However all in all there isn't anything different! One product I was impressed with was Climbing Technologies Alpine Up. This is a new version of CT's Click Up assisted braking device. The new version is capable of providing the same function as the Click Up, but with double or half ropes. The device is multi purpose and can be used for belaying on a single rope, belaying on double or half ropes, and abseiling. While not a huge brand in the UK climbing technology continue to produce innovative new gear, and the Alpine Up is no exception.

The last product that caught my eye  was Beal's Diabolo rope. Chatting to one of the sales rep's on the Beal stand, he explained that the rope used a unicore system. What this does instead of being a traditional rope with a core and a sheath, the 2 parts are bound together. The idea of this being to illeviate rope slippage and increase the rope lift. Another example of a great new product!

There were a number of other climbing related gear releases including new DMM rebels (they have different handles in the 2011 version), a new climbing helmet from Edelrid, and many many more.

OutDoor show Friedrichshafen 2011 - Mammut Eiger Extreme

One of the things that caught my eye most at the show was Mammut's new range for Autumn 2011 called the Eiger Extreme series. The range has been constructed to celebrate 150 years of Mammut, and I have to say I was very impressed. The range features a number of items; jackets, boots, hard shell's, soft shells and more. The whole range uses every fabric and technological advance available to create a no holds barred set of technical clothing. First off I love the colour scheme, I think the orange/blue/black combination looks incredible, if a little similar to Adidas's new gear...

The first product that really impressed me is the Gipfelgrat Jacket. (right). The jacket is one of the first to use the new Polartec Neoshell fabric, I was very impressed with the demo going on at the Polartec stand, which showed the waterproofness and breathability of the fabric. The jacket itself feels incredible; the fabric feels tough and is exactly what I expect from a softshell jacket. There are 2 large front pockets that are high enough up that wearing a rucksack shouldn't reduce the effectiveness of the pockets for hand warming. All the zips in the jacket are waterproof. At nearly 800g this jacket is by no means a lighweight option, however it is my idea of what a perfect softshell should be, and if the claims Polartec have made about Neoshell turn out to be true then this jacket could represent my dream of a perfect jacket! At £390 this jacket is very expensive, but compared to Arcteryx for example...this is fast becoming the standard price tag for high end technical jackets.

Next in the series is the Nordwand TL boot. This boot was nominated for an OutDoor industry award, and when holding it I can see why! The boot is very well designed and includes an integrated gaiter similar to that in the Scarpa Phantom. It has a strap around the top of the boot to give addition security, a diagonal waterproof zip, and loops inside the boot to aid with putting it on. Of course these are first impressions, but to me the boot felt like an excellent B3 mountaineering boot, however I expect the price tag will reflect the quality of the build! But overall I really liked the Nordwand TL and hopefully will get chance to try them on at some point in the not too distant future!

The last item from this series that I liked was the Felstrum smock. The jacket uses the new Gore Tex fabric ActiveShell. The jacket is a lightweight alpine smock, featuring a half zip, a helmet compatible hood, pit zips, and a bright orange colour ideal for use in bad conditions. The fact that Mammut have constructed a jacket that uses ActiveShell as well as one that uses Neoshell really does show they are making uses of all the current innovations to create a varied collection of technical clothing. I spent around an hour looking at the whole series, and I have to say that in my opinion there wasn't a "weak link". All the collection has been built to an incredibly high spec, and there have been no compromises on quality at all. However they are likely to have high price tags attached. Do I care? No, I have already started saving up to get a Gipfelgrat jacket, as it was without a shadow of a doubt my favourite piece of gear from this years show.

OutDoor show 2011 - wow

Well me and Si are back grom Germany. We actually got back early tuesday morning (2am). However I then went out again at 8am on expedition. Having successfully guided another 85 talented young people through their DofE I am now back, brew in hand, and I finally have some time to reflect on my few days in Germany.

First of all, it was everything I had hoped and more. The whole atmosphere and buzz around the place was incredible, and it was amazing to be a part of it. Not only did I get to see the latest gear months before it will appear in the marketplace, but I also got chance to meet Ueli Steck and Dave Macleod, both cracking guys! There were climbing compeitions to watch, movie nights, parties, lectures, breakfast meetings, and tonnes of gear!

Over the next few days I will be putting together all the information I gathered so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The OutDoor show 2011

The time has come, bags packed, camera charged, German revised, and tickets printed. Simon and I will be making our way down to Gatwick tonight at around 11pm. Simon has only just arrived back from the Alps so our journey down to London should be interesting! Our flight leaves the UK at 0700hrs, and gets into Zurich, Switzerland around 0950hrs. We will be meeting Juho at the airport and making our way accross the border into Germany. We will be spending the duration of the conference camping, and hopefully making some new friends. Needless to say both of us will be involving ourself in as much of the show as possible. From a personal point of view I will be attending some (not all) of the main lectures, the Polartec party, the movie nights, climbing competition, as well as visiting as many of the stands as possible! I will be adding as much content onto here as possible, me and Si are hoping to do some blogging while we are there, but the majority of content will be added once we get back. A big thanks to Juho and Tribevine for making this possible, hopefully we will contribute enough content to Tribevine to repay the kindness we have been shown. A big thanks also to Mark and Paul Dix at the Outdoors Company for providing me, Simon, and Juho with high quality North Face polo shirts embroided with the Tribevine logo. To everyone who reads this blog; watch this space....

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Outdoor centres: making local walks more engaging

Outside of DofE work I often lead groups on short local walks and expeditions around the centre as part of their week long residential. The format for these days is usually;

Brief group
Walk to lunch spot
Cook and eat lunch
Walk back to centre

From an instructor point of view there is a huge variation in the skills and level of understanding of the groups that come to the centre each week.  Some of the young people grasp the fundamental concepts of map reading, navigation, and cooking very quickly and easily. Some however often see it as “not their cup of tea”, at which point it’s up to the instructor to engage them in any way possible. New technology can provide an additional tool in the instructors “toolbox” when teaching local expeditions and walks. If we look at each of the above 4 sections:

Brief: I have seen a number of briefs on expeditions over the time I have worked in the outdoors. These range from a long droning speech from an instructor steadfastly standing at the front of the room, to an animated and concise brief that captivates the attention of the group with ease. Modern technology can be an instructor’s friend when carrying out a brief. Many centres now have smart boards and projectors equipped in their teaching rooms. This provides the opportunity to use a well-designed PowerPoint to assist with the brief. It is essential that anything that you use is not just simply text on a plain background, there are a number of ways you can “jazz up” a PowerPoint;

1.       Animations: these vary from text flying from one side, to using “Motion paths” to create moving diagrams. For example, I created a diagram to show how to pack a bag. The slide consisted of a black rucksack outline with pieces of equipment round the outside. When you click the mouse 1 piece of equipment would “fly” into the bag in its correct space.

2.       Colours and pictures: using expedition pictures from personal trips that might peak interest in the day. Creating a real expedition feel is important, and well selected pictures and backgrounds can help.

3.       Videos: A short video to talk about something is a good way to keep attention focussed for a short while. These can be filmed yourself, or taking from YouTube or other sites.

Memory map is also an excellent program for teaching map work. The 3D view allows the group to more clearly visualise the route, and also get some data on the route when they get back.
Walk to the lunch spot and back: So you are packed and under way, the key now is to keep interest in the day. Obviously there is a certain degree of teaching and learning to be done during the expedition. However the rest of the time the group will be plodding along, perhaps glancing occasionally at their map. So how do you now keep them interested? One thing I have learned from my time working with groups is this: “Kids LOVE gadgets”. So, on that basis here are a number of ways to keep kids engaged:

1.       GPS sets with real time OS mapping. The lads especially love this. To them the GPS handset becomes some kind of Call of Duty style satellite tracker. However to the instructor it’s a way of getting the group to think about maps, orientation, speed, distance and route planning. MemoryMap adventurer, Garmin Oregan, and Airo units are ideal for this.

2.       Geocaching: The US hobbie of Geocaching made it across the pond a few years ago and has been growing in popularity ever since. From a groups point of view, introducing the concept of geocaching whilst still at base can be a rewarding activity for the group. Using the smart board to visit a Geocache website and choosing a few (pre checked for suitability) caches to hunt can ensure a rewarding and interesting activity. If needs be you can set your own geocaches with small rewards for the group.

3.       Walky talkies: Allocating a few young people to be a “leader team” and giving them a set of radios can really give the group a sense of control over their day. Whilst it doesn’t have much in the way of educational value, it does really keep them interested especially when the leader group can go “recon” a path to check it is right.

4. Simplified maps: Anyone with basic Photoshop skills can knock up a quick map trace to simplify the OS map for younger groups. (See picture below) this map took me around an hour, not finished, but gives you the idea:

Cook and eat lunch: On expeditions, normally a group get the chance to “cook their own”. This usually involves the group (who have been trained to use a stove the previous night), cooking tins of food for the group. This phase of the expedition can be made more interesting in a number of different ways:

1.       Taking a collection of stoves, not just the traditional Trangia units. Personally I take along my jetboil, a hexi stove, and a small gas stove. This gives the group chance to see other expedition stoves, and feel more “in the know”.

2.       Taking expedition food: dehydrated and boil in the bag food gives more of expedition feel. It also gives the group chance to taste “specialist food”.

All in all I think what I am trying to put across it that these local walks form the foundation of a young person’s attitude towards hiking. Ensuring an enjoyable and fun packed walk can provide a positive image of schemes like DofE, and encourage young people to get involved, without the negative memories of “that rubbish long walk they had to do”.

Alpine sunshine

Greetings from the alpine town of argentiere la besse, its around 25degrees with a light breeze and I'm sitting in the sun with a glass of wine. Just had a fantastic day sport climbing on some of the local crags and then a swim in the lake. My tan is coming along nicely.

Have been wearing my La Sportiva Rock Jock shoes all day and my feet have been comfy the whole time. They stick to the rock perfectly and the technical toe and sides has been a god send on some of the 6a's. The rock has been warm and beautiful the climb on.

I've been using my longer DMM phantom quickdraws for the over hanging routes and have been good as usual, I feel however, that something lighter may have been better.

The Petzl meteor helmet has been fantastic in the 35degree heat and has kept my head well ventilated and cool (unlike my grivel salamander). Its light design and vents on the side, front and back allow you to be comfy in it all day if necessary.

My oakley straight jackets have been superb, no glare at all. The sun over here is extremely bright even from early morning.

A quick visit to the supermarket yielded an impressive bounty of 24 beers and 5 litres of wine all for 10 euros. Happy days.

Au revoir for now
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