Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Scarpa Charmoz- 3rd time lucky?

A few weeks ago I mentioned that my second pair of Scarpa Charmoz boots had failed in their waterproofing. To be honest, I was never really certain that they actually *were* waterproof in the first place, I just didn't wear them much, and when I did wear them, my feet got damp - for the whole story, read the other blog. 

They got sent back to Mountain Boot Company, Scarpa's agents in the UK. I emailed them detailing their use, and the guys at MBC said that didn't sound right, and to send them in for testing.
Brand new. Ready to be tested. 
They got sent about a month ago and I didn't hear anything from them for 4 weeks. A little concerned, I emailed again to ask if they had arrived safely and got a very prompt call back apologising for the lack of response.

The boots had indeed been tested, and there was a defect in the Goretex membrane in BOTH boots. As such, they were replaced, and a new pair arrived on the doorstep the next day.

I am in 2 minds about this.
Fantastic that they have decided to exchange my rubbish leaky pair for a brand new (original style), apparently non-leaky ones.
However, having already had 2 pairs which have been leaky through no fault of my own, I am now faced with another pair of exactly the same boots, which I kind of view with a bit of suspicion. Which is a shame, as I really want to trust them.

The best thing to do is to get them on and get out and stand in a stream, I suppose.
Not that I'm going to do that this evening. But I will have to do so in the next few days. Soaking feet on a test near the house is a much better option than leaky boots while hacking up a hill with a stretcher on your back.

Still. I should reserve judgement on them. I note from a good number of users on UKC that they have had nothing by joy from their boots. Not a leak in sight. So I hope that the membrane will hold out, and, third time lucky - will keep my feet dry and warm.
Thanks to MBC for the new pair. Now lets see what happens.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Ueli Steck- Driven

Lynne and I visited the Big Smoke on Thursday to see Ueli Steck give a lecture at the Royal Geographic Society.
If you haven't heard of him, he is the bloke that climbed the Eiger in 2 hours 38 mins, enchained the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau in a day (with the help of a paraglider), soloed Shishapangma in 10.5 hours, and recently successfully soloed the South Face of Annupurna in 28 hours.

So a fairly accomplished climber, and one whom I was eager to hear speak about his experiences.

I won't go through the whole thing here, for obvious reasons, but I will say that he is a very inspiring speaker, and a really humble guy. There are a couple of things that will stick in my mind about the talk and slideshow.

The first is his readiness to recognise when he is not up to a task. He turned back from the summit of Everest, not all that far from the top. Why? Because no mountain is worth losing your toes for. He knew he was dangerously close to frostbite, and turned back. No big deal.
He turned back on Annupurna a few times because conditions weren't right for his style of climbing. Others may have gone on- potentially to their detriment. He took intelligent, calculated decisions, and they were the right ones, as he was able to go back at another time and realise his ambitions.

The second was his concentration on weight training, rather than necessarily just going out and running and climbing all the time - which is what most people imagine him doing. The reason for it is to be as strong as possible when the going gets tough. He put the demise of a fellow mountaineer down to not being strong enough, and attempting to keep up with another party that was stronger. The unfortunate bloke basically got wasted and was not able to continue climbing, got altitude sickness and passed away. Had he been stronger, it might not have gone that way.

The last thing (yes, there are loads more, but I'm not going to go on and on), was his feeling of embarassment
when others refer to him as "the swiss machine", and put him on a pedestal of greatness. In his words, he is "just an ordinary guy". Which is great. But if he is ordinary, I'd quite like to be that ordinary as well.
He is driven, able to hone his concentration to a sharp point, and has the ability to focus on his objective to the exclusion of virtually everything else. All while being a thoroughly nice guy.

If you get a chance to see Ueli speak, I'd highly recommend it. He is inspiring, amusing, and seems to have this constant astonishment that people find his exploits and stories interesting enough to listen to him.
Thanks to Mountain Hardwear for organising the evening, and thanks to Ueli for sharing his story with us.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Kinder Trial 2014

So after half a week of hacking about on Bleaklow putting out checkpoints for the Marmot Dark Mountains event, came Kinder Trial. A Navigation event around Kinder, put on by the indomitable Luvshack and the
The queue for registration
Rucksac club.
I was quietly hopeful of a pretty good place in this one, having come 3rd in the Festive Disorientation at the end of last year, however, this was not to be the case. Tiredness and a few nav errors ensured that I started dropping down the scoreboard pretty fast.
The first was (apparently) going the slow way around - anticlockwise. It has to be said that the vast majority of runners went clockwise, certainly all the guys at the sharp end of the scoreboard went clockwise. So maybe that's something to think about next time.

As I went up for the first checkpoint, storming up Elle bank and across the top, I managed to wander past it in full on daydream mode, and by the time I had been back to pick it up, I was already being passed by 2 Daves and Alan from Pennine. Not the greatest of starts.

I determined not to make any more silly errors, but was confounded almost immediately as I started out toward the next checkpoint, but looked up at Dimpus Clough, a different direction, where an awful lot of other people were heading... Check the map again, and there were 2 more controls that I hadn't even seen which now needed to be taken into consideration.
To be fair, I was swearing at the map for the entire way around. I don't know why, but I found it very difficult to take in exactly where each of the checkpoints was. I just couldn't get my head around it, and for some reason the map just felt a bit wrong. (we worked out later that although it was 1:25k, it had been blown up a bit, so the distances weren't quite what you expected, also, the checks were denoted by small dots, not circles, which makes them very hard to see when running, and getting blown about by the wind - still, its all excuses really).

The map. Hopefully zoomable....
I spent the next few checkpoints trading places with Dave Ward and Alan Kirk, me gaining time and positions, and then getting confused, and losing time and positions. It wasn't until we came off the back of Kinderlow Caverns that I decided to take a different line and go for a different checkpoint that I really found myself alone and enjoying it. No longer that feeling of following, or being followed.
However, the route I decided on was good in terms of directness, but not so on underfoot conditions. I crossed the 3 knolls to a checkpoint, and then had to bash across heather and energy sapping undergrowth to get to another one. Looking at the map, post race, there were better alternatives which would have made the running a lot faster, and the navigation a bit easier.
Still swearing generously at the map though.

Arriving at the end - pretty tired out. 
The navigational amusement aside, I carried on around to the final few checkpoints with not too much trouble, hitting them pretty much bang on, and not missing any out, as I had been in danger of doing earlier in the race.
Coming back off Kinder, the darkness of the clouds was looming in, which spurred me on my way
homeward. I knew I hadn't made excellent progress across the hill, and was pleasantly surprised with 16th place. Tom Brunt came in 1st, some 40 mins ahead of me, which is quite incredible. Had everything gone right, I'd have maybe been 5 or 6 mins faster, but 40? Not a chance.

Post race tactics conflab.
Always nice to know what others did.
Still a good day out on the hill, and I was very glad that I managed to get back before the rain. A number of the runners did indeed get caught, and ended up looking like drowned rats as they came in.

Thanks muchly to Luvshack for his continued efforts to make this fabulous race interesting and competitive. There is only so much you can do to keep the interest of runners when you run a nav race in the same place every year, but he still manages to pull some interesting things out of the bag.
Thanks also to the wonderful people that made soup and provided refreshments at the end. It was most appreciated.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Marmot Dark Mountains Course Setting

Not much time to write a blog review this week as I've been bashing about up on the hill putting out checkpoints for the Marmot Dark Mountains event this weekend. (If you check out the website, there are a couple of videos of me out on the hill).
I had about 15 points to put out over the past 3 days, and its a bit difficult to carry the gear for more than 7 at a time.

Having the right gear for the job was definitely an advantage though. My OMM jirishanca swallowed all the flags, the boxes, my warm gear (which was most certainly a necessity after nearly getting hypothermia on one foray) AND the stakes, with ease.

I know a fair few people doing this event, and I haven't told any of them that I was anything to do with the course setting. Apologies for that guys. I couldn't risk having a conversation about it, without thinking that I was going to give some information away! Still, all the controls are out now, ready for some good route finding and navigational ability. Good luck.

No, really. Good luck.
The ground is really soggy up there. Although there was a bit of snow and ice, it hasn't frozen solid enough to stop you from going through it and right into the bog beneath. Big grippy shoes will be the order of the day, waterproof socks, and decent windproof layers.
The air temperature wasn't all that bad, but the wind was really really cutting. What with the ground underfoot not being entirely conducive to fast running, I probably wouldn't rely on speed and effort to keep warm. In fact, the fact that it'll be slow going underfoot, and you'll be potentially spending time pacing out from features to get controls, I'd suggest running hotter, rather than colder, BIG gloves, waterproof/warm socks, and a shed load of food. Oh, and a torch bright enough to make me think that the sun is coming up when I look at the hill from the house. (with spare batteries).

Just to give you an idea, I very nearly became hypothermic within sight of Snake Summit from hail/snow/windchill yesterday morning, so please don't skimp on gear.

Whatever happens, its going to be a fun night. I'm praying for horrendous clag, but that's just coz I'm mean.

Sunday, 19 January 2014


Language. It's a funny thing, and has an edge that many people don't realise.
It doesn't come easy.
Don't make it any harder. 

I've been doing morning runs- Dawn patrols- for about 4 months now. It is an effort, getting up, getting out and heading off, even for a short run. The strings pulling me back to my nice warm bed are thick with sleepiness and coziness.
Mornings have never been my time. Getting up is a struggle. Normally I'd wander around for an hour, bumping into things, not talk to anyone, or even acknowledge anyone, and struggle to function properly until at least 9 or 930, despite having been "up" for 2 hours.
With the run, I'm up and out before even realising it, and the precious 30 minutes of wake up process occur in the open air. Sometimes in the rain, sometimes in the ice cold brisk dawn, sometimes shared with owls, but always ending with me being social, awake and ready for the day.

If you told me a year ago that I'd be doing this, I would not have believed you in any way shape or form.

Recently, we thought it might be nice to tell others that we do this. These early morning runs, and it might be nice to open up the opportunity to others, previously lacking in motivation or just not really thinking that doing something before 7am was practical, or even possible. Just a pleasant invite to those around us. If you want to join us, this is what we do.

A few have joined. A few have called us "mad". And that pisses me off.
In the beginning, it was hard. Hard to get out of bed. Hard to go out before breakfast. Any excuse was a good excuse not to go, and I had to work hard to get going. It was so, so easy not to do it.
People do not seem to recognise the impact their words have on others.

Saying that its "mad" to get up early, and then even contemplate going for a run, is a negative comment. The person saying it is being derogatory to the people that are trying to get out and improve themselves. Attempting, perhaps without realising it, to bring the do-ers back down to the mediocre level that works for the majority. I have enough trouble with my own little voice in my head telling me to go back to bed, and wouldn't it be easy not to run today, without some insensitive swine telling me I must be "mad" to do what I do.
Keep your bloody opinions to yourself.
Let those who at least try to rise above the dross at least try and damn well do it. Yes, you may be comfortable doing what you do, but that doesn't give you a right to shoot down anyone who tries to do differently. If people doing something that is challenging makes you feel inadequate, makes you feel like you need to tag them as "mad", STOP. Stop attempting to drag them down to your level, and maybe think about actually trying to raise yourself to theirs instead.

Not everyone can cut out the negative comments and crap that comes from your mouths. If you have a negative opinion, THINK before you say/post/tweet it. You might think you're being funny and erudite. You aren't.
You are showing that you can't be bothered to make a positive contribution to other peoples lives, and are attempting to make up for your own lack of motivation and ability with excuses and comments aimed to stop others from even attempting what they want to do.

To be honest, with that attitude, I'd rather you didn't join us. Leave us to enjoy the dawn without you, and don't bother letting us know how "mad" you think we are.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

2014 new stuff from Montane. Pretty exciting actually!

I remember seeing a press release about the new Montane gear quite a while back - probably last August. Not entirely useful at that point as none of the gear was actually due in shops for another 6-8 months.

Now, however, it is only a month away, if that, and I had a quick peek at the product catalogue the other day, just to remind myself about the rather cool stuff that they are bringing out. No idea if I'll end up buying any of it, but it is great that there is such choice and thoughtfulness in British outdoor design at the moment.

I won't go into too much eye aching detail, but rather just an overview of stuff I'm pretty excited to see.

The first thing that caught my eye (mainly because it is the first thing in the catalogue) was the sleeping bags. As the majority of you will know, not a normal thing for Montane to be into, but this is their first foray into the world of sleep comfort, and it appears to be an intelligent and well thought out one - if not a little on the expensive side. Which- unless you are Alpkit, it seems, is a bit of an unavoidable issue.
The most obvious and interesting design solution in the Montane bags is the cut away area around the feet, creating a foot shaped space at the end of the bag. No dead space for cold air to accumulate, and a very distinctive look to the bags. No idea if the idea will actually work in practical use, but it seems like a bit of a stroke of genius which has been waiting to happen for a while.
You've got to admit - it looks really good. 
Other nifty ideas include internal pockets, glo-in-the-dark zips, and slightly sticky bobbles on the underside so that you don't side down your thermarest.
Time will tell, and with a choice of 6 different bags, 5 of them goosedown, one using primaloft, all of them utilising some kind of pertex as the outer, and ranging from ridiculously lightweight, through waterproof, and up to proper insulative sleeping heaven, a good few people should be buying these for a vast range of conditions. Also, the fact they already won a few prizes at the Outdoor Awards last year, would indicate these bags are going to be hot property.

Something else that I'm quite taken with is the larger extension to the Montane Pack range. I blabbed on about the ultrapacks in a post last week, but I'm actually a little more interested in the 70 litre Grand Tour pack. Mainly from a Mountain Rescue perspective. My current bag weighs about 3kg+ just on its own, and then with all my kit in, and a radio, and then a 12kg firstaid kit with oxygen bottle in it, can get a little wearing, especially over 8 hours or so, getting sodden, even heavier, and then being involved in a stretcher carry as well.
The Grand tour, as well as being lighter, should be pretty robust, has a decent number of pockets for stashing food for on the go, bags of space for carrying extra kit, and seems to do everything you'd need it to do. Could well be one to watch. Can't find a picture of it anywhere though.

The clothing range is ever widening, but I'm most interested in the lighter weight running end of the spectrum, I see that the Spektr smock has now been dropped, which I was fully expecting it to be, but it has been replaced by another lightweight smock, with a pocket, and with an offset zip. I'd be tempted by this, if only it had a decent hood volumiser! Yes, I know I have a small head, but a hood that blows around is pointless, even on the lightest of shell layers, and is a complete dealbreaker.
Polartec's neoshell, a hyperbreathable shell, perhaps even more so than event has been used on a couple of jackets, and the one that I'd love to try out is the Further Faster jacket. It looks solid, dependable, not quite as light as other jackets, but a decent shell.
Montane continue with their love affair with pertex, with the rest of the lightweight shells being made of various grades of the crazy light material. Always good, but when it comes to the crunch, I'd rather be wearing something made of eVent.
Also- the concern about the FRA waterproof regulations mean that we have no idea if Pertex is actually going to be allowed as a "waterproof" - no matter how waterproof it is. However, if you're not worried about rules and regs, some of the lighter weight options look really really good.

Prism gloves. The answer?!
In the Insulation range, the ridiculously lightweight Fireball smock is still in pride of place, as is the Fireball Jacket, but it is the Prism jacket and Vest both look great again this year. The Prism concept, which is played out in the sleeping bag section, as well as in the gloves is a pertex microlight skin with varying layers of Primaloft Eco being used around the body for different levels of insulation. This jacket is apparently used by MR teams up and down the country, but unfortunately not ours- we do, however, have the ever wonderful Mountain Equipment Fitzroy as the alternative.

I'm slightly disappointed there isn't a Prism Mitt alternative to the Prism glove. As a convert to mitts, it would have been great to have the concept taken that little bit further. However, the Extreme mitt is still in the mix, which is fab. And who knows, the Prism Gloves might actually be the glove that actually works!

No- I'm not sponsored by Montane, I just happened to get my hands on a catalogue, and thought I'd get some thoughts out there. I can't wait to see those sleeping bags and jackets!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Are we destroying the thing we love?

My plans for running the Trigger were cruelly snatched away from me by my better good sense this year. I have an exam on the Monday morning, and have spent the best part of today doing some very necessary revision.
The decision was not made until about 3 weeks ago, by which time I had already done my reccying for the route, all of 2 forays across Bleaklow and Kinder looking at very specific points of the route that I wanted to make sure I got right. Beyond that, I was just going to pretty much head south.

Obviously it wasn't just me going out and having a quick look around Bleaklow and Kinder, and that was very evident as I went for a quick blast over the moor as a mid-revision break last week on a route that took me past Herne Stones and Wainstones, and an increasingly large trod - more of a muddy path now- of footprints in a swathe across the moor.
Much the same could be seen on the line up from Wildboar clough to the Pennine way.

No- not a trigger line. Just a trod to grinah
I may have been a little facetious a couple of days ago when I described the Trigger race route across Bleaklow as a "muddy trench", but to be brutally honest, it isn't all that far from the truth.

If you get 300 participants in a race all wanting to look out the best lines across a Peat bog in the middle of a particularly sodden winter, there is going to be erosion. The same can be said for the Derwent watershed line - I'd imagine between now and February there will be a fair few people hacking across there as preparation for the High Peak Marathon.
It's just that this erosion seems to be getting worse year on year, and I'm afraid that maybe I am one of the ones that is helping it to get worse.

(As an aside - funnily enough, if you look along the line of the Metropolitan boundary around Outer Edge - a boundary, not a footpath - and then look at exactly the same place on Google earth, its uncanny how a massive peaty line is exactly in its place- almost as if people have looked at a map and thought- Oh! a footpath- thats a good place to walk! - and have turned it into, well, not a footpath, more of a peaty, muddy ditch, really).

When I first came to Glossop, I could barely make out the line of the Shelf Moor race route - it was a bit of a mystery to me as the line itself roamed around between groughs and peat hags. Now it seems to have become a trade route and away from the race day I try and stay off it as much as possible to avoid further erosion. Ditto the trod up from Wildboar clough. I remember coming up there with a couple of other Harriers on an evening run and making our way across unmarked moorland. No such luck now. As a part of a race route, there are places where it might even be better to put down some paving slabs to prevent more of the moor being broken away.

Am I being nostalgic?

I don't think I've been here for long enough for that. I wonder if lines of muddy prints appeared in random places across the tops as people recced for Tankys Trog in years gone by, which then faded away over the rest of the year? I don't think I've ever really come across any Tanky-specific trods. Or is the gradual popularisation of offroad and fellracing a part of the straw that is breaking the back of our countryside? Creating muddy trods in the winter, which then can't recover over the summer and continue getting worse, year on year.

Normally we like to blame others- those on quadbikes and scramblers, the cyclists straying from their bridleways, the large parties of ramblers and such like. Yes, to a point they may be to blame, but, in the same breath, so are we. And I'm not sure what to do about it.

Beautiful. Fragile. 
Would banning people from reccying specific lines of races work? Trying to prevent excessive footfall on exactly the same bit of ground, creating trods, then paths, then a quagmire in need of the dreaded paving slabs? Maybe changing race routes and not telling people the route until the day? But then what happens to the classics? Do they even have this problem in the Lakes, or is this very particular to the Peak District, with its specific and fragile environment?
Perhaps we should take more care over where we are running?

Maybe we should think a bit about the kind of erosion we are causing by doing the same thing over and over again? If you know a route, why do it again? Why not go and find somewhere else to explore? Use a different bit of the moor, spread the footfall over a wider area. We are in danger of getting a tracked out quagmire in places on the tops, and a bit of personal responsibility might not go amiss.

If you think I'm talking about you, you're probably right. But I'm also talking about me. Bleaklow is my adopted stomping ground and I'd hate to stop people from going up there and enjoying it, running, walking, whatever. I'm not suggesting banning people from the moors, and not in anyway suggesting more rules and regulations - there are already enough of them. However, I look on in sadness and disbelief as areas of previously quiet and mysterious areas of the moor are turned into veritable sludge packed motorways. I certainly don't want to see more places turned into a paving slab lined path like the Pennine Way - but what if that was the best way of preventing considerable erosion without banning people from the place? What then?

Are we being careless as a community, or is this simply a march of the times, an inevitable process as outdoor pursuits, racing in particular, become ever more popular?
Are we destroying the thing that we love?

Thursday, 9 January 2014

2014 - the year of the ultrapack?

Could this be the year the Ultrapack comes of age, and makes its way into more of the mainstream of offroad and trail running?

Yes, I know they have been around for a while, and have been used a lot by affectionados for a good couple of years, but they haven't really got into the collective psyche of runners.
Vest packs always seemed to be a bit pretentious. A bit too much. Maybe it was because of the expense, maybe it was a bit because they were a bit too much like a bit of clothing that wasn't really clothing. I don't know.

I was always fascinated by the Salomon Vests from a good few years ago. As far as I know, they were the first company to really make inroads into proper Ultra vests. A pack which you could carry stuff on your back, but have a load of pockets within easy reach for all the stuff you need to eat/drink/map read while on the go. Never actually having to stop to take anything out of the bag unless the weather changed, or you needed to change your clothing, or something.

The other option was for those doing seriously long multiday ultras. The much more rucksack shaped vest by Aarn. I've only really seen these awesome rucksacks being used on things like the Marathon de Sables, and that kind of thing, but what I'm looking at here are more of the VEST-packs, rather than the vest-PACKs if that makes sense.

A couple of Seasons ago, as Salomon ramped up their ultravest range, with the help of Kilian Journet, the poster boy of ultra distance running, and a load of really nice (and really expensive) bags were released onto the scene. At the time of writing, the SLAB range has 6 different offerings ranging in size from 3 to 14 litres, and ranging in price from £100 to £150. There are a fair few of them out and about that I've seen, and Salomon seem to be the only company that are producing the vests in different sizes - I'm guessing I'd be a size small, but I know a good few people that would struggle to fit into anything that I can wear. Offering different sizes makes sense, as rucksacks come in different back lengths, and clothing comes in different sizes, and these are a combination of the 2. Salomon, at least, have the clout and budget available to provide the choice.

At about the same time, Raidlight also jumped into the water with a couple of really nice offerings, and at that time, that was pretty much it, in terms of options for useful and well made bits of kit, Nathan also has a few offerings which I've been seeing some clubmates wearing, which seem light, robust and well thought out - though I would place them a little more on the "hydration pack" scale of things - more like your traditional camelbak than an ultravest.

Last year saw the arrival of hyperlightweight Ultimate Direction bags, which I had a look at in the summer - if you click that link you'll see what I thought of them. Created with the assistance of various massive names in the ultrarunning world- like Anton Krupicka and Scott Jurek, They are fantastic, and do everything you would expect them to do, but still on the expensive side, northwards of a ton to get the larger ones. Seemingly made more with the intention of running in hot summer, they are insanely lightweight, though very robustly made.

The new offering from Inov8
This season sees the entrance of two British manufacturers into the race. Montane and inov8. To be fair it was only a matter of time before inov8 got in on the act.
Originally a footwear only manufacturer, inov8 have been aggressively expanding into different areas over the past couple of years, and a move into what is traditionally an "ultrarunning specific" pack was pretty natural, to go along with their ultra specific shoes, and the clothing range.
I saw a prototype of this being used on the Old County Tops last year (only very briefly though, as Mr Abdelnoor shot off into the distance). It looks lightweight, stable, and built to let water shed through it should it rain, rather than attempt to keep it out. As with all vests, it has places for water bottles, somewhere for a bladder if you're that way inclined, and enough stabilising straps to be as solid as a rock around your torso. I expect to be seeing a fair few of these out on the hills in the next year, especially with an rrp of about £80.

Montane, traditionally in the mountaineering range of things have been getting more serious about the lightweight thing now, especially with the sponsoring of Morgan Donelly- 2011 English Fell Champ. Trail running certainly seems to have made a big impact on outdoor companies, none more so than Montane, who, only last year started making rucksacks, are now offering no less than 3 different ultra vests. The Dragon 20, Jaws 10, and the Fang 5 - which will be released and in the shops (and indeed on their website) in February
From what I can see, they seem to be well thought out, with the belts across the front of the pack being velcro on the lower one and a "normal" clip on the top, and the whole bag is based around a dynamic stability harness- which- theoretically should stabilise the whole thing on you, while giving room to breathe and not constricting airflow.
The bottle attachment seems to be very specific to Montanes own design, relying on a clip on the top of the neck to attach it to the bag, and then a bit of elastic to secure the bottom of it, so if you drop/lose/break/forget one of those bottles, you can't just use any old bottle to replace.
They are made of a weatherproof fabric- Raptor Hydroseal, so should be pretty solid against the worst that the British weather can throw at them - in contrast with the Ultimate Direction packs, which seem a bit more focussed on hot weather running.
Equally, despite them being marketed as Ultra packs, they seem to be more like lightweight packs with waterbottle access on the front straps, without having a load of different, easy access pockets, as I would tend to immediately think of something of the ultrapack genre of bag.
Having said that, the Dragon won a best in show prize from Gear Junkie last year, which obviously shows a lot of promise!
Still, we're looking at an rrp of between £75 and £95 for one of these, so well within the realms of the Ultimate direction packs - in fact, in direct competition with them, and a good few notes less expensive as well. I'll reserve judgement on them for the moment, having only seen a couple of concepts and pictures, and not actually in the flesh.

So in only about 3 years, having virtually no choice at all, where you basically bought Salomon, or carried merrily on your way with a bumbag or a rucksack with a couple of pockets on the hip belts, we are now seeing a veritable explosion of choice. (I suppose 3 years is about the amount of time for a company to see something someone else is doing, and get their own version from drawing board to market). Whether you are looking for a hydration vest with more pockets, or a rucksack which is more like a vest with other bits and pieces, the choice is now there to be made.

I'm sure we will be seeing more of them on the hills, simply as a result of the "newness" factor, but I wonder if we will be seeing more of them in the longer fell races on the backs of the faster guys. Better ergonomics and better access to food than the traditional bumbag? It might not seem like much of an advantage, but where stopping, or slowing down for a moment to get out some food might be the difference between winning and losing, it could be all the advantage in the world.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

petzl zipka

From left to right, zipka (with aftermarket gaffa tape), zipka2, zipka+2
I've owned this little light- or at least a version of this light for about 7 years now. For that length of time, there has generally been one floating around my pack as a small, lightweight, emergency light source that I can wrap around pretty much anything.

The great thing about the Zipka is the sprung kevlar cord which, while not necessarily being comfortable for long periods of time, can be used in a variety of ways to attach the light to limbs or things around you to provide a decent light source.

Relative sizes- zipka +2 on top, and zipka below
Originally I used it as a light around my wrist as an adjunct to a head torch, mainly as a small, lower powered light to read a map by when the head torch was so bright that you got dazzled by shine-back from the map. To be honest, the original Zipka didn't have a massive amount of light, so reading and map-checking was about as far as it went. Using it to try and see where you were going was a little bit like using a mobile phone screen for a torch. Yes it produces light, and it serves quite well to ruin your night vision, but not actually any good for seeing where you are going.

The next version of the Zipka (the zipka 2) had 4 LEDs, which was a marked improvement. I didn't really
have a whole lot of experience of it myself, apart from looking at Lynnes with envious eyes as she actually used it as a torch for seeing where she was going, not JUST for map reading. Brilliant! Still the same AAA battery pack, still the same kevlar cord, but now a viable light source for wandering around in the dark, and certainly useful if you're on a hill, and everything else fails- much better than a slightly upgraded mobile phone screen. For a couple of years I was annoyed that I had given that to Lynne for Christmas... should have bought one for myself as well!

The more recent upgrade to the Zipka, I got mine last year, is the Zipka plus 2. (The green one in the photos). It has the same triple AAA battery pack, the weight hasn't gone up appreciably, the sprung kevlar strap is there, and the numerous LEDs on the front have been swapped for a single, larger, more powerful White LED and a smaller Red LED, which doubles as either a red light source and a battery power indicator.
Attached to something with a larks foot. Handy, Hands free.
THIS version of the Zipka is excellent as a single light source for walking, even running along trails and is my main go to light for dawn running. Slips on the wrist, I forget about it until I need it, and then it has enough
oomph to give light to the trail that I'm running along.
(for the geeks, thats 70 lumens- or 40m of lighting, apparently)
OK, so I wouldn't use it as a sole light for night fell running, its not that order of brightness, but for morning
patrols, it is excellent.

This, the most recent model has an option of bright, not so bright and flash, and then red, and red flash, all easily usable from the single push switch on the top.

Battery life, as ever with torches, is reported to be something incredible, 185 hours of "usable" light when on the lower lighting mode.
Which is insane.
I tend to find that I've used it for about 2 weeks worth of dawn running before needing to recharge the batteries. Yes, it still emits light, and yes it would be fine for walking, certainly more than enough for reading, but that's not what I want it for. Still. That's a decent enough amount of light.

The only minor issue with it is that occasionally when I'm out, the casing seems to have come ever-so-slightly loose - not so you'd notice - until you try and turn it on. Then there is no response from the light at all. It isn't the battery, and all it takes is a quick squeeze of the unit to make sure it is all fastened together properly, and off we go, the light goes on.
Also, yes you CAN use it as a head torch, and it stays there if you walk, but for running, you're far better off using it wrapped around your wrist, as it doesn't bounce around much there.
The way I tend to use one for pretty much everything. Hands free. 

A final point, the battery pack is now easy to get into- using a clip system as opposed to using a coin to get into it, and the light can be used with the petzl Core system- their own rechargable battery pack, but which has to be purchased separetly. No comment on that, never seen one, let alone used it.

Want a small, light, hands free torch to stick in a bag and forget about until you need to get off a hill? Need a small light to use for walks and runs on the trail? Need a small light to keep somewhere in the house in case of emergency? Need a small light to keep in the car for map reading?
THIS is the light.


I've been pretty down and out for the past week. All the New Years Resolutions have passed me by as I lay in bed, deprived of my normal physicality.
By that, I mean I got some kind of stomach bug, bad enough to stop me from running, walking, cycling, even stopped me from eating. Lynne says she has never known me not eat, so it was pretty nasty stuff.

As it is, I'm kind of thankful that I didn't get mixed up in the usual hyperbole of saying that I'm going to do this, that and the other, I'm going to lose weight (heck, I'd lost another 3kg without even trying, so thats not going to be a resolution... if it is- here is my advice... get a stomach bug, food poisoning or lop off a limb). That's a quick and easy way to lose weight.
Its not a good way, I grant you, but it might be better than self-loathing.
How do I not get legs like this?
How about not training 7 hours a day for 9 months...
Reckon you can cope with that?

Changing tack slightly, but not at all really, because it is a continuation of thinking along the lines of exercise being the best medicine, I noticed that Young Pippa Middleton the almost non-royal has got on a bike today (or yesterday), whenever it was. Which is a great thing, to a point, as it has begun to raise the profile of cycling even more within London. Added to that, I suppose that if you're a lorry driver or a taxi driver, you really are going to check your mirrors more often, as you REALLY don't want to be the person who goes down in infamy for taking out the "Rear of the Year".
(mind you, not that it helped poor Bradley Wiggins a while back, but then he's not as famous... right? right?).

What drew my attention most in the article was Pippa's comment, which appears to sum up the vast amount of female expectation of any sort of exercise, which was reported as something along the lines of:
“how do you avoid developing massive thighs like many of the Tour de France chaps?”
This kind of thing makes me bash my head against a wall with frustration for a couple of reasons.

The first being that among a certain type of person, especially those that exercise would really really benefit, any type of physical activity is immediately met with the stalling block of "I don't want to be all muscley and everything",
and the second is the implied belief that getting to look "all muscley" is actually pretty easy.

My first piece of advice to someone who doesn't want "Massive Thighs" is not to train, or ride a bike for more than, oh, say, 5 hours a day, every day for the entire season of bike racing. I wonder if Ms Middleton will be able hold back her natural enthusiasm for training long hard hours in the saddle?
Ditto people, generally the gentler sex, it has to be said, though I'm not just getting at them here - who don't want to lift a weight in case they suddenly sprout muscles like a Miss Universe.

Basically that is a non-excuse. It's just not going to happen.Why not just say you don't want to do it because you are inherently lazy? The kind of weights people tend to use on a pump class, or a generic jumpy up and down type class weigh less than your average, common or garden child, yet there is no issue with picking up a baby, sitting it lopsidedly on a hip, moving it from side to side or anything like that - but pick up a weight? No No No. Thats far too much like hard work.
"I don't want to look muscley".

Well then. Fine. Continue to look exactly how you look now. Continue to believe that you can diet off the weight you hate, continue to misunderstand the very nature of how metabolism works, but please, just don't moan about it.

And to address the second point, If you truely, truely believe that you'll suddenly get massively "ripped", and reckon that you'll do better by getting "toned", do me a favour...

Spend a little bit of time having a look at just HOW MUCH EFFORT it takes to look like picture on the right. It's not just lifting weight 4 or 5 times a week, its also crazy, crazy dieting, its counting out the number of nuts you can eat for breakfast, and paying attention to what goes in, and how much energy is expended on an hour to hour and day to day basis. Real focus and hard work. This kind of body takes serious amounts of dedication, the kind of dedication that most simply do not have. (I certainly include myself in this category - even if I wanted to do a figure competition, I definitely wouldn't be able to cope with the huge reduction in calorific intake).

The lovely lady who let me use her picture looks like this for a couple of weeks a year, max, and spends the rest of her time looking less muscley, but still a very healthy, sassy lady. She is a normal person, and dedicates herself to looking like this.
Going and doing a couple of workouts in a gym, lifting a couple of weights every now and then WILL NOT enable you look like her. You won't get close, not by a long shot, let me assure you of that. Try it, I dare you.

However, going to a couple of classes a week, swinging a kettlebell, getting healthy, getting a little stronger, losing a bit of weight is a good thing. Yes it takes some work, but not nearly so much as you think. The amount of work that you put in certainly won't end up with you looking anywhere near as fantastic as Ildi in full competition mode, however, you might just feel better about yourself, and you might just start taking some responsibility for your body. Which can only be a good thing.