Saturday, 26 January 2013

NeoAir Xlite

I always seem to suffer from chilled feet when winter backpacking. Maybe it's just the way I am or maybe it's what I lie on at night or maybe a mix of the two. What I've used for years is a three quarter length Thermarest Ultralight with my legs from the knees below overhanging. To the Thermarest I attach a length of cell foam mat which is attached by a strip of Velcro. This is fine for much of the year and the two, when I'm on the move, are rolled (the Thermarest deflated) inside my frameless backpack.

However, I decided that enough was enough. When it's really cold outside, cold feet are a problem, causing sleepless nights and discomfort. I decided that the NeoAir Xlite was the possible solution and the main reason for going for it was its light weight and small packed size. A full length one was essential in order to keep my feet off the cold ground. The lengths for men are Small (119cm), Regular (183cm) and Large (196cm). My length from top to toe is 167cm (5ft 6ins in old money) so none of these was quite right. However, they do a women's one in a single size of 168cm. This has a slightly higher heat rating (3.9 compared to 3.2). Apparently, women need a little more warmth than men. NeoAir refer to this as the R-Value. I decided that I could do with this higher rating as well and the size was spot on. The women's also has an almost indistinguishable pattern on the upper surface. All NeoAirs come in one colour - yellow.

It arrived quickly and I had to try it out, even if it was in the back garden at home. As it happened, there were several inches of snow. Perfect. I cleared some snow away, just enough for my body outline and set up the tarp. Using a tent would have meant more snow clearing. It didn't snow any more during the night but the temperature dropped to -7C. My feet started reasonably warm, I wore thick, warm socks and was in a down sleeping bag rated to -5C. Result! I spent a very comfortable night and overslept.

Bought online from Gaynor Sports of Ambleside for £84.99 in their sale. Very good value.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Sealskinz socks

Like most people, I don't really like hiking with wet feet. Preferring to walk in trail shoes, I think that those with a waterproof lining are a waste of money because water will easily go over the tops and wet feet will quickly result. Some years ago, I discovered Sealskinz waterproof, breathable socks. They weren't cheap but if they worked then they sounded good. I found them comfortable to wear and found that my feet didn't sweat. They seemed ideal and for a while they kept my feet dry. But not for long. I returned them to Sealskinz for replacement and they didn't quibble. The replacements only lasted a few outings before being returned. In all, I've had four pairs of them now although only paid for the first pair. Last weekend, although I knew they were suspect, I wore them but they were very soon letting in wet. Unlike ordinary socks which will let wet out and dry eventually, Sealskinz tend to keep it in. So, my love hate relationship with them is now at an end. I binned them when I got home and won't bother returning them. Surely I can't be the only dissatisfied customer and to have four out of four pairs fail with really only quite light use must mean that there is something wrong with the product. I really would like to like them and if Sealskinz would like to send me another pair specifically to test and review on this blog then I will do it but perhaps they won't want to risk a bad review.

Water most certainly didn't go over the top of the socks. Each pair that I've had have been well cared for and washed by hand in warm water.

An alternative waterproof sock (although very different in design and construction) is the Trekmates Amphibian, now discontinued. I have a couple of pairs of these. They are surprisingly comfortable and do keep my feet dry. However, even with these, I am tending to accept wet feet during the day by wearing ordinary socks and then wearing the Amphibians in the evenings so that I can wear dry socks but in wet shoes. But they won't last forever and, apart from Sealskinz, there doesn't seem to be anything else on the market.

I have a pair of Sealskinz gloves as well; one of these lets water in. A Sealskinz Winter Hat which I have is excellent.

Frogg Toggs review

Having heard about these waterproofs, Frogg Toggs Ultra- Lite Rain Suit, I was interested in giving them a try. I bought them with my own money, sourcing them on line from a supplier in the USA. Here was a full set of breathable waterproofs weighing just nine ounces and costing twenty dollars! Mind you, the cost of delivery almost doubled this but I was sufficiently interested. The colour is a light to mid green. According to the website, the suit is "constructed from an ultralight waterproof, breathable, non-woven polypropylene construction. The patented bi-laminate technology with "welded" waterproof seams and unmatched sweat-free breathability is a great value in affordable rain wear." They certainly were light and fitted reasonably well. There are no frills. Thus no pockets in the jacket or trousers. The jacket cuffs are elasticated but OK. The trouser waist is also elasticated and I had no trouble putting them on over trail shoes. The hood is not elasticated but had a draw cord either side. It wasn't a bad fit and turned with my head. Obviously, it's not wired at all and it is best worn with some sort of hat underneath. Basically, the suit kept me dry and I didn't suffer from condensation inside so I suppose it is breathable.

So, it's quite good but what about the bad points? Well, the suit isn't going to last as long as other similar products and I would think that durability would definitely be an issue. The material is thin and I wouldn't want to go through brambles in it. I think that it would very easily be snagged by thorns although would presumably be easily repairable with duct tape. I wouldn't want to rely on it on a multi day hike but for day use on clear trails it is ideal. It packs down small and weighs very little. I liked it.

Backpackers Dorset weekend

My first outing of 2013. I was keen to get out and finally get rid of the 'flu that had been plaguing me since just after Christmas. There were six of us by Friday evening on the site at Sixpenny Handley, south of Salisbury. The weather forecast wasn't that good. I took my tent, the Laser Competition, rather than a tarp, for that little extra bit of warmth. It rained over Friday night and Saturday morning was cold and wet. Starting with a short road walk, we went on to a track in Chase Wood and from there headed west over a golf course to Rushmore Park. It was wet and muddy in places but this was to be expected and the rain continued on and off. By Sandroyd School, we took a muddy track up Malacombe Bottom and then, after a while emerged on a lane leading to Higher Bridmore Farm. Passing this by, we shortly entered a track leading back into Chase Wood, eventually returning to our camp mid afternoon. A feature of much of the day was encounters with locals out shooting game. Eleven miles walked.

Sunday morning was cold but dry. Parking cars in the Martin Down Nature Reserve car park, we headed south east on one of the many tracks crossing the reserve. We went by the start of the Jubilee Trail at Bokerley Dyke, an 88 mile trail ending at Forde Abbey in Dorset - one to be done another time. Then up and into woodland at Blagdon Hill, there was an elevated walk with good views before descending on a muddy track into the village of Martin. The, leaving the village along a flodded lane, we entered the reserve again and returned to the car park, a distance of around five miles.

No photos as the camera batteries were flat.