Himalayan Gear Review
There are times when absolutely every ounce counts and not only do you want to have the lightest gear but it has to be the best made, most versatile and most functional. It also helps if it looks good and doesn’t cost a bomb. Having said that sometimes you just have to accept that money does buy the best.
So for our round up of Himalayan gear we have sought out the lightest, toughest and best that there is. But fear not – you can also use all of this kit for Alpine, Scottish winter, cragging, ski touring, sea kayaking, mountain marathons, shopping in Keswick etc etc.
So in no particular order, do you have any of the following?
The trek in
Your feet need to be in really good order when you get to the bottom of your chosen objective, let alone being able to negotiate paths, trails, river crossings and boulder fields along the way. Approach shoes are all very well, and lots of folk are perfectly happy in them, but the consequences of a twisted ankle don’t bear thinking about. So choose from the following for footwear that will not only get you there but will also delay the inevitable need for plastics:
La Sportiva Trango S. An excellent light weight boot for just about everything from scrambling and glacier crossings to easy snow and ice. Not the warmest boot out there but extremely versatile and, now that the ankle is double stitched and no longer falls apart, very reliable and durable. Takes a heel clip and thermoplastic toe piece / french straps type crampon with care.
Scarpa Cerro Torre Thermic and Scarpa Cumbre. Both are excellent boots, especialy for those people who don’t have Sportiva feet. Reasonably heavier than the Trango S but will see you through thick and thin and may even get you to the top of your route depending upon your circulation and how cold it is.
La Sportiva Nepal Top Extreme. They may have been around for a while but still a real winner. Again slightly on the heavy side but will see you right for just about anything you can throw at it.
Not everyone’s cup of tea this is becoming an increasingly complicated market with new innovations being ‘invented’ almost for the sake of it and so that the sales folk have something positive to say. Personally I’d go for a lighter rather than heavier model, with a feeling of robustness about it and with an easy adjust system. The screw to adjust models can be a veritable pain in the arse when they are wet or just coated with frost in the morning. Having said that the clip lock models are often a tad longer when retracted and tend to cause no end of problems with ropes, boulders and people when they are strapped to the side of your sack.
One sack or two? Depends upon whether you are on a multi day single push route or carrying loads to and fro. So let’s assume that weight at the airport check in is a consideration and you can only bring one along.Berghaus do the excellent Crag Extrem (45+10) There is the good old Macpac Ascent (45+10) which has been a long time favourite with it’s tough water resistant fabric and indestructable feel about it. If neither of these fit you then seek out the PoD Black Ice or Crag Sack, both of which are extremely hard wearing, carry well and are functional with no unnecessary frills. From Lowe Alpine I’ve also recently had an Ion (50l) and their Alpine Attack (65l) both of which are incredibly well made and hard wearing. They were being used in Greenland as this was going to print so watch this space for feedback in future issues.
Dossing around base camp
A lot of the kit you will want with you will fill a multitude of roles but don’t be without a few extras for mooching around camp on your rest days. An absolute essential (well the best bit of luxury kit you’ll ever have) is the good old Rab Extreme Down Jacket which may be a little on the heavy or bulky side for your route (depends how minimalist and hardy you are) but is an absolute God send for Base Camp. The North Face also do the Baltoro down jacket which is hellish expensive but very cosy. The elasticated cuffs are a littleon the tight side and make it a little bit of a fiddle to get off. You can get by without but you’ll wonder how you ever managed once you have one (bit like microwaves and mobile phones).
And last but not least get rid of that Sigg and invest in a Nalgene Lexan Wide Mouth water bottle or two. They are easy to fill, won’t burn your hands when hot (they make great hotties for bo bos time) and won’t stick to your lips when cold. They come in a variety of sizes and colours and are virtually indestructable.
Right, this is what you are really here for. This is where you need kit that is the lightest and most durable and which is highly functional and won’t let you down.
Camp 1 to Camp 3 – You’ll be needing a tent to sleep in. It’s got to be totally and utterly bombproof and your life will depend on it if the weather clags in and turns nasty. Weight is also pretty crucial as it is probably the heaviest and bulkiest item that you’ll be carrying. Outdoor Designs have recently brought out a range of single skin tents with carbon fibre poles which are pretty hard core. Being single skin tents they are cooler than their traditional counterparts but then they are so much lighter and you can always just wear all your clothes to bed. Then there is the Crux A50 which is exceptionally well made, totally bombproof and a little more spacious. The fabric and materials these guys have used are brilliant but make sure you have an extra twiddly section where the poles meet on either side just in case.
For sleeping arrangements you’ll probably want to be considering a Thermarest ¾ length Guidelite or one of the newer mats from Expedition which are slightly bulkier and a tad heavier but are down filled and slightly warmer. Depending upon your personal thermostat you’ll be looking at a 3 to 5 season sleeping bag, which is where the Rab Quantum range comes in to its own. Made from Quantum Pertex they are incredibly light and pack down improbably small but are up to the usual excellent Rab standards. Available with or without zip and with or without an extra water resistant coating. And then you’ll be needing a silk liner (£55 from Rab or £12 from Kathmandu) and a bivvy bag. Again Rab are at the forefront and do the Survival Zonewhich is half the weight of a Gore-Tex bivvy bag, packs down a whole lot smaller and at £55 is a third of the price.
For cooking there is no alternative to an MSR Titanium Panset, Pocket Rocket stove and Woolworths plastic spoon from their 6 piece picnic set retailing at £3.99. A medium sized gas cylinder fits in the larger pan (the smaller may as well be left at home) and will provide you with 10 to 11 litres of melted snow which may do you for a few days depending upon personal requirements (70/30 Propane Butane mix if you’re going high). For summit day this combination weighs less than a second litre of water so take it up with you and brew up along the way.
Now this is a veritable minefield and you will no doubt have your favourite items already. But if you are needing anything new then be on the lookout for the following:
Outer – It’s those guys at Rab again with the Latok Suit. Lowe Alpine are bringing out their New Integrated Alpine System that looks pretty innovative – watch this space for feedback and reviews in autumn.
Base, Warmth & Layering – Good old Down is the traditional warm layer but there have been some advances recently with Primaloft leading the pack. Berghaus do the Infinity Lite jacket. For the base layerBerghaus have the Xstatic range of tops which are impregnated with silver ions to keep the pong at bay and on a similar vein. Helly Hansen have gone back to the drawing board and have redisgned the original smelly helly and have done a great job with their latest wicky tops. For extremely versatile mid layers checkoutMarmot’s Driclime range, Mountain Hardwear’s Tempest, the Berghaus Fury and Rab’s Vapour Rise. They can all be worn against the skin, as a mid layer or as a windproof outer and pack down to not a whole great deal.
Legs – What ever happened to the good old fleecey salopettes? Well now it’s down to the likes of the MarmotDriclime pants, Helly Hansen, Lowe Alpine Multipitch pants, Mammut Champ Pants (still available in 26 sizes) and Haglofs pants to do the job. If you need a little extra insulation then the Berghaus Xstatic tights or Marmot thermal bottoms should be right up your alley. That’s presuming that you aren’t on an 8,000er or in winter conditions in a Rab Down Suit or The North Face Himalayan suit of course.
Hands – Now yet another veritable minefield. It partly depends upon your circulation and how much dexterity you require. A spare pair of down mitts weigh in at next to nothing, are easy to pack into tight spaces and are a great back up. They are available from Rab and The North Face. Outdoor Designs have brought out the Trigger which is a lobster style Primaloft filled glove that performed exceptionally well and have lasted well and Terra Nova do the Ice Gauntlet which has a liner glove and an outer that is tough as old boots (that’s a compliment by the way) but don’t let them get cold in the first place as they become very stiff.
Feet – Personally I can’t get away with anything other than plastic so it’s the Scarpa Vega for me which is available with a High Altitude Inner if you are expecting very cold conditions. Plastics seem to be notoriously difficult to source and try on in the UK so you may need an EasyJet special (from £15) to pop over to Cham for the weekend and try on some Asolo’s, Koflachs and Kayams. For leather boots see the trek in section earlier. In the sock department try out Smartwool socks by as well as the good old Thorlo Mountain socks.
In the gaiter department Outdoor Designs have a range to choose from but be really careful of the models with the lighter zips as they are not up to the job. In my view you should be able to grab the zip tag and give it a good old pull rather than having to squeeze the material together and to coax it up carefully. TheExtremities Terragaiter has been redesigned and has suffered the consequences. Great material but the lower popper has disappeared and the stirrup straps aren’t stitched particularly well. Mountain Hardwear do theVentigaiter but with just a velcro fastening at the front they may open up a tad if you are ploughing through deep snow.
Miscellaneous – Well to keep out the old UVs a pair of Julbo photochromatic glasses which means that you’ll still be able to see what you are doing with the DMM Bugette and Petzl Reversino – (both in OTE 103)
And if you have a diddy widdy belay device you will presumably have bought it not only cos it is light but also because it is designed for the skinny ropes out there. The Beal Iceline has been around for quite a while and lead the way in the skinny revolution but catching up is the Mammut Phoenix which is thinner still and mine is still going strong and not showing too much sign of wear and tear.
The DMM Super Alpine harness is no more (shame) so go in search of the Troll Alpine Harness which is the best all round Himalayan / Alpine / Scottish harness that you can get. It is light, minimal, packs down real small and has one big-easy-to-do-up-even-with-big-gloves-on-buckle. And then there is always the Black Diamond Bod (with its associated drawbacks with the drop loop at the front and karabiner orientation) or the newer improved Super Bod.
So what about crampons? Well heel clip and thermo plastic ‘Y’ toe piece or french straps will give you a lot of versatility (particularly if you have a couple of pairs of boots) – but beware trying to fit metal toe bails on to Scarpa Cerro Torres or Cumbres as they probably won’t fit so well. Petzl/Charlet have brought out some excellent new crampons with the Vasak being a very clean looking and slimline crampon. The sidelock system is a little fiddly with big gloves on and you’ll have to be careful if you start to wear out the front of your bootsas they only come with a metal toe bail option. Another two top favourites have still got to be theCharlet Moser S12 and the DMM Aiguille. On the axes front I’d stay with what you already have unless you are looking to do some really steep ice and want more than your Scottish grade V tools – 6 piches up your necky north face first ascent route in the Himalayas is not the place to be dicking around with new tools only to find that they don’t come up to your expectations.
And I guess you’ll be wanting to know how high your efforts have got you up the mountain and so aSynchronic Altimeter Watch will perhaps be in order. With the same ‘change-it-yourself’ battery compartment the Synchronics have nudged the Suunto into second place with the features being a lot easier to navigate, the graph display showing the barometric trend over the past 48 hours or your altitude over the last 24 and it’s a cinch to change from ft to m and from ºC to ºF.
And last but not least don’t forget your factor 3 million suncream which will set you back the same as the annual budget of a small Polynesian island if you buy it in the UK (there is no such thing as a healthy tan).
So there you have it … a bit of everything really. And a great excuse to go and get some toys for the boys.
Tim Mosedale is available for summer and winter guiding and instruction and is organising a trip on Ama Dablam this Autumn (hurry while stocks last). Check out www.timmosedale.co.uk or phone on 017687 71050 or 07980 521079