Winter Skills Course - Part 2, Kit and reviews

This post carries on from Part 1 of my Winter Skills Course blog.....

Kit List and reviews

Deuter Guide 45+ rucksack - this rucksack is fast becoming my favorite mid-sized bag for any activity.  My first real test (here) was in the South Downs but since then it's followed me on the majority of my walks and hikes.
This was its first outing in snow, ice and the vicious wind of the Cairngorms and it performed amazingly.

I used Alpkit stuff sac's to keep everything dry and compartmentalized but other than that kit went in and that was that.
The ice axe straps took a bit of getting used to but once figured out they're just as easy to use as any other system.
Size is ideal for winter day and even light overnight trips and even with my Alpkit SkyHigh bag, bivvy bag and cooking gear I still had enough space for everything to fit neatly and for the pack to remain comfortable on my back all day.

Haglofs Rugged Mountain Pant - these were a bit of an impromptu purchase I'll admit ("killing time" in Tiso outdoors in Perth) but they are so tough and versatile that I'm glad we stopped and they had my size in stock this time.
Rugged hits the nail on the head perfectly as they feel like a go-anywhere, do-anything pair of trousers and stand up to wind and mild rain very well.
The only issue that I have with them (if I have to come up with something) is that when worn under waterproof trousers they do get very hot and condensation can occur fairly easily - but it's worth putting up with for the rest of the benefits.

Rab Vapour Rise Guide Pant
New for this season, Rab has launched a "Guide" version of the Vapour Rise trousers that have added features; toughened sections on the inner ankle area to stop crampon tears and reflective piping on the rear.
They are very comfortable but the fit is more snug than some other makes (I guess they are assuming the most true guides will be slightly more svelte than I am!).
The vapour rise piling inside does a great job of both wicking moisture away and keeping you warm and not once, on a very wet and windy day during my winter skills course, did I feel cold or even slightly uncomfortable in these.  I wore these, and my Extreme Smock as my single layer (top and bottom) on the first summit day of Caringorm and wind-chill was around -19C so if that's not testament to their ability I don't know what is!

Montane Extreme Smock -

I wrote about my first impressions of this jacket here but the Winter Skills course and the slopes of Cairn Gorm was to be it's first real test and one in which it excelled and performed above my expectations and hopes.

As mentioned in part 1 of this post it was on Ron's assistance that I wore this as a single outer layer (next to the skin) which did admittedly gain some interesting glances from people in car parks while I was "stripping off" half-way up Carin Gorm to get out of my nice warm fleece or jacket and pull on (or off) my Smock!
But Ron's knowledge and advice proved correct and the jacket performed amazingly.  Worn next to the skin the vents in the sides of the jacket, aided by the vented hand-warmer pocket, allow for the jacket to go from completely "snug" and enclosed to open and vented in seconds and the hood allows you to completely encase you head (while wearing a helmet) in the deep pile lining and stay warm and dry even in the worst of Scottish weather.
One one ascent of Cairn Gorm I had the side facing into the snow and rain zipped up with the other, left-hand, side open to vent and keep the temperature down which compensated for the heat generated by walking up-hill - this is something that you are not normally able to do with traditional Gore or eVent layers and something that I came to find invaluable and has made me look around more closely at other clothing systems - such as Paramo.

In the rain the smock does get wet, and this will permeate through the jacket to you but due to the fantastic ability of the pile lining to wick moisture away from your skin it drys very quickly and not once did I feel wet or uncomfortable at all.

So do I have any criticisms? Well not criticisms as such but maybe points that I think need to be made about this jacket which is, overall, excellent;
1) Hood - in really cold and damp temperatures (such as Cairn Gorm summit in a blizzard) the Velcro on the hood can (and did) ice up making closing the hood impossible.  I got around this by clipping the two elastic drawstring cords together with a small krab.
2) Its bulky - and if you get too hot and can't vent the heat any more then you are a little stuck - this is more down to clothing choice before you walk to be honest so for most winter trips this is ideal and the only top you'll need..
3) another outer layer?  If the top does get wet, or you stop and start to cool down, then you will need a synthetic layer over the top (such as the Buffalo Belay jacket or Montane Flux) and this will add weight to your bag and take up space.  But the conditions are going to need to be very cold and wet for this to be an issue!

PHD Yukon down jacket - as with the Extreme Smock I jotted down some of my first impressions of this jacket (here) but haven't really had the weather to wear this properly or to test it anywhere near its potential - I blame the English weather system and the damage we've done to the world daily for this!

However, sitting in the snow hole on the side of Carin Gorm it did an admirable job of keeping my snug and warm while cooking and making detailed adjustments to the inside of our home for the evening.
More impressive was Fi's story about spending a night in the Alps at 3500m wrapped snugly in her Yukon Jacket and no sleeping bag - that's way more of a test of the jacket's abilities than I will be able to give it in the near future so I'm going to take that as a glowing endorsement!

Grivel G12 crampons and DMM Cirque Ice Axe

As with a number of pieces of winter kit this was the first time I'd been able to strap on my crampons and start using them so as a test it was fairly limited as I have neither the experience in their use or knowledge of other makes/types to write a balanced review - this also is true of the DMM ice axe.
I can say that both were given the once over by Ron and passed as both good and ideal for the course and conditions - for the crampons this is further enhanced by the fact that 90% of people wearing crampons on Cairn Gorm whilst I was there were also wearing these!
I'm hoping that (weather providing) I'll get many more chances to build on the skills learnt on the course and will build up more experience with both crampons and ice axe during this year and beyond.

The end - for now.  Looking forward to 2012!


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