Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Odlo thermals

So. As captain sceptic, I was shown some new thermals a couple of months ago. Something that apparently was as good as Icebreaker, if not better.

Icebreaker, as we all know is made from merino wool, and as such, does not smell, does not really need washing for a fairly long time, and is a very versatile and warm bit of kit. As someone with sensitive skin, however, I have sometimes found them to be a little itchy and irritating. Wash them with some jeans, and they become comfortable and bearable, but still, just a tad itchy.

Odlo have taken the synthetic idea and run with it, which is great news if you are slightly (or very) allergic to wool in any way shape or form.
I have been wearing Helly Hansen thermals for years, and am fully used to the horrific smell emenating from them at all times- though apparently this has now been fixed- I'll go onto that another time. Silver has been used in the past- woven into the polyester in order to give the fabric an anti-bacterial finish.

(silver ions are highly toxic to some bacteria, fungus and algae)

The woven silver thread was good, and did the job, until the fabric was worn, the thread broke down, and hey presto- once more, a garment that reeks.

Odlo has apparently got around this by adding silver ions to the polymer mix in liquid form before the extrusion of the fibres, so when the fibres are actually extruded, the silver is actually a part of the fabric itself. The Antibacterial qualities are inherent within the thread.

Does it work?

Well, onto that in a minute.
The trunk of the top is woven in a circular pattern up the body, which means that there are no seams on the trunk. Seamless construction, which also has an element of elastin in there, so, very stretchy indeed. (at this point, I have to point out to the pedants that yes, there are 2 seams where the arms join the torso, but thats it).
There is a whole "body mapping" thing going on as well. (body mapping being the buzz word of the season, it appears). What this means is that they have worked out where the body gets hotter or colder and added or removed layers of polymer where needed- or not. So you get a body contoured effect on the torso which makes you look something of a greek god. Which isnt bad.

Well, thats the premise.

Ive been wearing one pretty much constantly for the past few weeks in the shop and around town, (not heavy exercise at the moment).
In terms of heat quality, its coming in at about Icebreaker 200- 220 or so. Quite warm enough for pretty much everything in the autumn and winter, no problem there. The stretchi-ness is excellent, and it feels really nice on.
As soon as I wore it, there was no feeling of slight --mmm--- not sure about this, as I did with icebreakers, and Ive had no issues with it at all.

Another neat touch is that the care instructions are woven into the hem- so no labels to cut off and lose. Nice.

I wore it for 2 weeks first, without washing it, and figured that perhaps it might need a bit of tlc, or else I might start repelling customers and the general public. Taking it home, the majority of the top still smelt like it was new, un worn and straight from the box. (under the arm was a slightly different matter, but anything that can still be non-smelly after 2 weeks of that must be witchcraft).

Having washed it now, it is still comfortable etc, and smells fine- im now into the first week since washing it, so we shall see how it goes.
As a final note for the moment, the fabric on the arms is fraying sightly where I think I may have caught it on some velcro, but we shall have to see how that goes. Its not massively fragile, but its worth noting at this point.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Garmin VS Suunto

A lot of people have asked me about training watches in the past, and each person wants a very different thing. The ones we used to sell in the shop came in 2 types, Garmins and Suuntos.

The Garmins are generally an all in one affair, with GPS, Heart Rate and all the bits and pieces you could really need. In one watch, with a HR band that goes across your chest.
I must point out here, that if you want to know speed and distance when running, GPS or a foot pod are the only 2 ways in which you will be able to achieve this.

GPS will tell you pretty much exactly where you have been, generally you can upload this onto your computer, and in many cases of GPS software these days, you can then look at where you have been on google earth, or a similar mapping programme.
A Foot pod is an intelligent pedometer, it will generally use accelerometers to tell where you foot is, and when it lands etc. It needs to be calibrated to your stride, but after that, it is pretty damn accurate. Note that Foot Pods do not tell you WHERE you have been, only how far you have gone, and what speed you have been running/walking at.

Garmin uses GPS to tell you how far you have gone, where you have gone, what speed you have been running at, how many metres you have ascended and descended, averages of speed and distance, and the Heart Rate belt tells you all of that gubbins, but about your Heart Rate. However, it is an expensive bit of kit.
The original one was the Forerunner 205- which was known for its slightly dodgy GPS signal, rapidly losing any type of knowledge of where it was if you went under tree cover or near a building. The 305 was a vast improvement on it, and is the best if you are on a budget. (I'll do a comprehensive review of it later as I still use mine a lot).
The 405 was released next and has a rather snazzy touch bezel, which goes mental in the rain, or, more annoyingly, with sweat that you may drip on it as you run around the park. (in my opinion this was a step back in the evolution)
Next out was the 310XT, a step away from the touch bezel and back to the 305 style watch. This was made pretty much specifically for Triathletes, and is waterproof. However, the GPS doesnt work particularly well on the arm as you swim, so I know a couple of guys who own this watch who put it in their swimming cap, which is apparently fine, and a good low-tech solution to the problem.
I haven't used the most recent versions like the 610, but if someone wants to lend me one, I'd love to have a play with it!

Suunto originally had the X series, which was taken over by the T-series a few years ago, which is still the best Suunto series for serious training. The new M-series has just come out, which is the "movement" series, which is good for general exercise, but won't give as much information about how you are training, and is a bit more of a watch that tries to make you exercise...
The Suunto way is to get you to buy a watch which is also a Heart Rate monitor, and if you want, get pods which expand the watches capacity- so you can then buy a foot pod, a GPS pod and/or a bike pod. It is a good thing to note that the T-series watches (except for the T6) do NOT connect directly to your computer, and you have to buy a PC pod in order to be able to upload all your training information to the computer. (This used to be called a PC pod, but is now, somewhat more snazzily) called a "movestick".
The T1 is the most basic of the series, and is basically a watch with a Heart rate monitor. You can't expand it- in that it won't recognise any other pods. So if you just want a watch that tells you what your heartrate is and never want to know how fast you are going or anything like that, dont want to load your info onto a computer, or anything, it works. It is functional.
T3 is the next one up. This is expandable, you can use any and all of the pods that Suunto offer, it has more memory in it and will remember more stuff. Gives info about training zones and percentage of Max HR, and is generally the middle of the range Suunto that I would recommend.
The T4 is exactly the same as the T3, except that it has a "coach" function on it. Ostensibly you tell it your info- height, weight etc, and it works out a program for you to follow in order to get fit. I think it may be the precursor to the M series. My girlfriend used one for the bike commute to and from work for about 5 months, and eventually ended up on the highest setting... I think its not worth the extra money- so if you don't want a T6, buy a T3.
The T6 is the daddy of the T-series, it has more bells and whistles than I know what to do with. This is the only T-series watch that does elevation gain/loss, it also records EPOC (which is the amount of time it takes for your breathing to return to normal after exercise- working out how long it takes to re-synthesise lactacte in your muscles), and generally has more information than a sports scientist actually needs to know about your exercise. So, if you are a total geek about information, and like looking at lots and lots of numbers, this is the watch. It doesnt come cheap though.
It is also worth pointing out here that the Suunto GPS pod does NOT tell you WHERE you have been, or WHERE YOU ARE. It uses the GPS signals to work out how far you are going and at what speed. Don't expect to be able to download your track information from a Suunto. (unless it is the X9 or the X10- but these are GPS watches, and hence marketed as different beasts)

I have not used the M-series watches, but I know of them and have had a play- these are great as a builder between the T1 and T3- basically plugging a hole with a pretty watch for people who want more than the T1, but not something that looks like a T3.

Ah, one final point.
The Suunto range is basically built upon a watch that does other things- hence it uses watch batteries that you can replace yourself. The batteries last different amounts of time depending on how much you use the watch and what for. My girlfriend got through a battery in her watch and a battery in her bike pod in about 5months. Its a good option if you want a scaleable training device, which is also a watch, where you dont have to buy EVERYTHING all at once.

The Garmins are GPS training devices which you CAN use as a watch if you really want to. However, they are bulky- because of the GPS reciever that is built into the watch, and they have a relatively short battery life- hence they are rechargable- generally by USB. The longest I have seen mine run for- while tracking GPS signals was about 14 hours. Garmins are excellent if you are going to use them as a specific training device, and you already own a watch which you use as a watch.

If you are after a GPS watch- realise that the battery life is going to be short- and that all of them are rechargable.
The longest I have seen an X9 run for- without being switched onto GPS, just running as a watch- was about 18 days.

The X series are Suuntos version of the GPS watch- but I dont have space here, so I'll write about that at some other point.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Inov8 roclite 265

So these are meant to be womens shoes.
Ah well, they fit me.

The rather delightful grey and light blue-ness of them really doesnt detract from their usage, I have to say.
When I first put them on, in comparison to my previous mudrocs, they felt like they had a much better heel grip, much less blister-ablility all-round, though perhaps not quite as much grip.
Having used them a fair amount as a running shoe and as a biking shoe, I can happily talk about them with a bit of authority- well in terms of comparing them with the mudrocs.

First off, after a while running and biking the mudrocs, the centre grips on the shoes seem to have worn away quite significantly, they seem to have a much stickier, and hence less robust and longer lasting rubber. The Roclites appear to be lasting much better than the mudrocs.
Ive been out on them in all weathers, and have done a fair few fell races in them. Alright, they don't give quite as much grip, or inspire quite as much confidence on the crazy slick mud as the mudrocs, but I havent slipped yet.

The only place where they have let me down is on slick wet rock. My old shoes worked really well in bad situations like that. Crossing rivers and the like, I wouldnt have thought twice about jumping on a wet rock- the roclites- not a chance. As soon as I even think about it, I'm off and in the drink.

My original thoughts on using them as a cycling shoe (on flats) was a little dubious. Again, comparing to the mudrocs, which felt like they were glued to my V12s, these kept slipping off. I could scarcly believe that my feet weren't anchored to the pedals like in the good old green battleships...
Again, this is down to the slightly harder wearing, but not quite as sticky rubber- and to the fact I was on a different bike (same pedals though), and wasn't keeping my heels down. Since then I have used them on a number of ocassions, and my feet didnt slip off the pedals, but still didnt feel quite as rock steady.

However, all in all, over a long adventure race, if you dont want to have to change your shoes, these are a good pick. I wouldnt go back to the heel destroying mudrocs, these are comfortable, and run well, with a fair degree of cushioning to make long days running relatively non stressful on the feet.

I have a pair of Baregrips to try out as well, so when Ive been out in them a few times I shall write about them... but Im not just going to go out and race in them, no matter HOW comfortable they may be at first feel.

Inov8 mudroc 285

Used the roclite 265 incarnation for a couple of years, and have quite literally destroyed them.
Known as the "greens"- for obvious reasons, they didnt stay green for long, more a muddy brownish green, but thats really not an issue.

The mudroc sole unit has excellent grip. In fact, ridiculous amounts of grip. Ive twisted my ankle because of going around a corner, expecting my foot to slip, it didnt, and I just went straight over on my ankle... Big styley ouch.
However, they have gripped through mud, bog, slime, gravel, chalk, clay, you name it, its been through it, and come out the other side. Ive never had such a grippy shoe going down hill, and never been so surefooted on every type of surface.
That grippiness comes with a price, and the rubber is quite soft, rubbing the cleats away in a few months. (especially when used in conjunction with V12 pedals... to be fair, they are the things that have totally ripped the bottoms to shreds)

Having said that, once on flat pedals, these things dont come off. Its almost like wearing spds, but not.

The bad thing about these shoes is the heel fit. The first few times I ran in these, they ripped my heels to pieces. I thought that they would get a little softer, but no.
Every time I went out, I had to put large amounts of compeed on, which eradicated the problem. Without compeed, just, No.

I found out about steaming the heel cups from the inov8 website, and thought that this might be the answer. It did indeed help, but I still needed compeed every time. A small price to pay for awesome shoes and great grip. If there is another shoe out there that does the same thing without killing my feet, that will be a good shoe.

one other thing- after admittidly quite a lot of) usage, there has been a minor rip out on the medial side of the shoe by the joint of the big toe. Not a massive one, but worth having a picure of.

And finally, I did have a pair of these where the sole unit was coming away from the rest of the shoe after about 4 decent runs.
I sent them back to inov8 who acknowledged that it was a manufacturing fault, and sent me a new pair within a week. Excellent service. (but I cant find the picture of that shoe)

Montane lightspeed H2O jacket

After entering a race and realising that I needed a taped waterproof jacket with a hood, and knowing that the featherlite just wouldnt do, I cast around for another lightweight jacket that would do the job.
Where else to look, but Montane who made the featherlite smock which had done me so well in previous races.
The Lightspeed is crazy lightweight, has taped seams and a hood. Perfect. What more could I need? I didnt actually need it to "work", I just needed it as a tick on my kit list.

It stuffs into its own stuffsac- about the size of a large orange- which has a velcro wrap on it. The idea of this is so that you can wear the thing on your arm as you run around, and should you need it, you just open the pouch, rip the top out and put it on, without even stopping running. Excellent idea, but I find it a bit bulky to wear strapped on the arm- it puts off the balance as I run. It generally gets stowed in the rucksac.

During the first race I used it in, it was indeed, used. 24 hours of not the nicest weather. I took it for granted that it was going to be waterproof, the first thing that was pretty cool was the reflective strips. The entire front zip piping is reflective, and there is a portion of piping on the wrists of each arm- to be seen as you signal on a bike.
Its cut quite long- so the tail easily sits over the butt as you hoon around on a bike, and the cut is a lot less "bag like" than the smock- a virtue of it being a full length zip top rather than a smock.

The next excellent feature I noticed was the comfort when cold, wet and hammering down a hill on a bike. We had just finished a fell running section, jumped on our bikes and headed off down hill, into a fairly windchilled area. In the smocks it would have been quite uncomfortable- not warm at all.

Did the lightspeed's zip up to the top, the hood wrapped up in the pouch behind the head enclosed around the neck, and. wow, it was like being in an armchair.
Well, not quite like that, but it was warm, comfortable, and didnt flap around like a kite as we descended.
And it still breathed. (Not crazy like, but for that price, and at that level, if I want it to breathe, I'll open the zip, or take it off).

Two minor issues, Ive had the jacket for just over a year, used it on about 5 races, and a few runs, stored it mostly out of its bag, and the taping is beginning to de-tape under the arms, and behind the neck, and there is a bit of delamming of the pertex on the back, under the arms and around the neck. These are quite high wear points, so Im not entirely surprised, and I have used this top in relatively extreme circumstances in comparison to day to day wear, but I might have expected it to last a bit longer before beginning to die.

Heres a quick pic of some detail of the delamming and seam de-taping that is going on.

Overall though, did what I needed it to do, and still does it, though a fair bit less waterproof than it was at the beginning.

If you want to geek out about numbers, the fabric is freeflow H2O....
  • 43g/m² 30 denier Nylon mini rip-stop with Monolithic PU coating
  • Waterproof to a minimum of 1,500mm (JIS L 1092)
  • Breathable with a minimum MVTR of 6,000g/m²/24hrs (JIS L 1099 A-1)
  • Spray rating 80 / 20 (JIS L 1092)

Helly Hansen Pants

I had the inspiration of getting some non cotton pants many years ago- Id had a helly top and I wanted that performance "down there"-
the thing that did it for me, was walking up a hill in wales with wet trousers and wet pants, and really really not enjoying it.

so the next day I went out and bought some helly pants.
That was in about 1999.
I threw them out about 3 weeks ago, as they were pretty much worn out. I used them day in day out for 5 years- commuting.
Climbing, walking, running, you name it, I wore them in hot weather, cold weather, wet weather, humid weather, they were awesome.

Towards the end of their life, they felt a bit.... mmmm... hard to describe, but not right.
However, they are the best things ever.

I now have a whole load of breathable pants.
If you dont have them, buy them. Its a life changer.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

icebreaker GT180- longsleeved

I have been using my tried and trusted helly hansen tops since... oh, I bought the first one in 1998 and the second in probably 2003 ish- for everything adventure racing, running and cycling, including cycle commuting, day in day out for the past 5 years.
They however, are going to be the suject for another review a little later.

I have seen icebreaker around for a while, made of merino wool, they apparently dont smell, wick sweat away in record time, and, most importantly for a wool garment- dont itch.

I make no bones about the fact that I hate wool- it itches me like crazy, and I have never really been able to wear it against my skin. I have tried on a couple of merino tops on in shops, and they havent impressed me- they do feel like they itch a bit, and could turn into absolute nightmares if worn for a while.

I have been convinced to try one- at a 180 weight. (they tend to come in a number of weights, 150 for light, 200, mid and 260 for warmth. - there is also a 320 weight but this is more for mid layers) the 180 GT I have is made as a base layer- like a helly- which can also be used as a single layer for high perspiration activities- it also has a slightly perforated effect in the side panels and down the back.

The first time I put it on, it itched. It did. so it went straight into the washing machine with a pair of jeans to soften it up.
Try again... and this time it wasnt so bad. Still a slight - ever so slight feeling- but not one of discomfort, so time to actually try it on in action.
So far I have commuted in and done a few training runs in it- and performance-wise- it has certainly been as warm- but- more importantly- more wind-proof, than the hellys. Ok- so its not a windstopper, and its not made to be, but hacking along in quite a breeze, I am noticably more comfortable in the icebreaker than I am in the helly- which the wind just cuts straight through.

The shirt seems to wick very well indeed, sweat translation is fast, but this is just on first appearances, but is as good as a helly.

There is also a small zip pocket on the right hip area, which is very useful- now I dont have to hold my keys in my hand as I run around the heath- you can also use it for an ipod, routing the cable internally and up into the cable stows by the neck area, which stop it floating about the place as you run. Used them once and they seemed to be fine, though Im not really into running with earphones anymore, however, they work.

The Thumbloops are cool. Never had a top with thumbloops before, and these are great. Was out for an hours fartlek last night, it was cool, and I wouldnt have noticed not having them if I was in an old helly, however, I used them, and they were great.
Only minor issue with them was when I put them on under cycle gloves- you obviously have to take your gloves off before you can roll the sleeves up- so if you are going to have to vent quickly, its best to think about it in advance.

Does it smell?
Well, it doesnt smell as bad as the hellys, in fact, it smells different to hellys. It certainly doesnt NOT smell after a week of wearing it- its more like a slight damp wool smell than anything else. I suppose its the difference between gagging on synthetic smell, and thinking- oh, I smell like a slightly damp sheep.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

MHW Chockstone Pant

Had these for a weekend in the summer up in Wales. Expecting bad weather, but it ended up being pretty good.
So good, in fact that I thought about wearing shorts and working on my tan, but decided instead to wear the Chockstone pants and see how they faired in the heat.

First impression was - hey, a soft shell pant- stretchy, well cut, comfortable- but what the heck is up with the leg pockets?- but more about them later.

I walked in them for 2 full days over rough scree, and through bogs and massive heather fields. I skidded down a hill of rock and heather for about 40 metres, on my butt, not a problem, no abrasions, no cuts, nothing. It looked like a brand new pair of trousers. At that point I was very very glad not to just be wearing shorts or legs would have been in tatters.

Again, abrading them on rock (mostly grit and granite) proved to be fine- no issue in terms of ripping or even bobbling. Most impressive.

The pockets though- are a square shape, as a lot of pockets are, but the zip is stitched diagonally across it so that anything you put in there immediately falls out, and half the pocket is completely useless. Im sure there is a fascinating reason for them being this way- I know that they double as vents- (but the ME combin pant does the same thing- with quite functionl pockets)- so Im not really sure quite what they are playing at here.

My only annoyance was that the weather wasnt more varied- (read wet, rainy/claggy etc) for the duration of the test.
Im sure that they would be great in mist and drizzle- but not quite so great in heavy weather- (I say this because Ive seen other chockstone garments in that kind of weather, so I would imagine that is what it would be like)
The windproofness of them, along with the DWR would be effective in generic British weather nastiness for a decent period of time.

Id be happy walking, climbing, hiking, hacking and sliding in these all day, everyday, for a long time, with my only gripe being the pockets. - a minor issue perhaps, but if there was a pant out there that was cut just as well, with decent pockets... Id probably go for that.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Montane Featherlite Smock

I needed a ridiculously lightweight water resistant windproof as a top which would get me through 8 hour adventure races- something without a hood- extraneous weight- something that was light- and packed down crazy small.

I saw the montane featherlite a few years ago- no hood, made of pertex microlite- at 52g per m squared.
its a smock, (less zip to weigh it down), drop tail for on the bike, and packs down to the size of a small squashy apple.

Ive used it on about 15 races now, its always in the pack, and is un-noticable in terms of weight, and pack size. I tend to wear it just over a helly- but only when it starts to get a bit nasty. If you're getting cold, youre not moving fast enough.

When running, I have noticed that because I cinch my pack down on my back massively- so that it just doesnt move, it has melted and deformed the back of the jacket. However, thats the heat from the friction, and really, nothing is going to stop that apart from not wearing a backpack.

This is an image of the bobbly melted patch on the back of the jacket... as you can see, a crease has been melted into it.

horrendous rain and gale force winds, races that demand hoods and taped seams.
The closest Ive come to hypothermia was with this jacket, in spring on Brighton Downs. I went out for a run, it was a lot colder than anticipated, and the rain really came in, and it got nasty.
Despite having this layer on, we bumbled through another 10 miles or so, getting colder, and more depressed, it wasnt nice, and I sat in a space blanket on the train on the way home. If I had a bigger, slightly more waterproof jacket, it might not have been so bad.
However, that was my own stupid fault- but at least I found the limits of the smock.

At £45 its done me well for about 3 years of wear, I use it for cycle commuting when it gets nasty and is generally the top layer in the depths of winter. Anything else would be too damn hot.

It doesnt breathe particularly well, do not expect to stay bone dry, but expect it to keep the worst away from you for a short time, be windproof and comfortable when dry, brilliant when commuting, an excellent emergency jacket, or a top layer for an 8 hour race- (but probably not overnight- get something a bit beefier for that).

good layer
excellent "just in case" smock for people who need light light light.

melts a bit on the back with friction
not waterproof
not crazy breathable (but what is?)
might not be enough in dire situations. (but at least better than nowt)