Saturday, 26 February 2011

Mountain Hardwear Micro Chill 100wt Fleece

Mountain Hardwear Micro Chill

When it comes to fleece I tend to just buy cheap ones from places like Primark rather than from outdoor shops and to be honest the ones I have work fine. I have one fleece jacket by Mountain Equipment from years ago but it’s made from what was called Ultrafleece (also known as Karisma or K2 fleece) and is quite thin but slightly more wind resistant than regular polar fleece. In addition when I started to get back into walking I bought a thin fleece zip neck from the Mountain Warehouse, similar to 100wt fleece but I’ve rarely worn it. The cheaper fleece stuff I own is similar in weight/thickness to 200wt polar fleece and I have a couple of zip neck pullovers from Primark and a full zip hoodie from Uniqlo mentioned previously.

Just recently however I received a Mountain Hardwear Micro Chill zip neck from Webtogs for review. The micro chill is made from 100wt Polartec Classic and while it’s nice enough I can never quite decide if 100wt fleece is a heavy base layer or a light mid layer, and I’ve never really felt that my ‘wardrobe’ was lacking.

The Mountain Hardware Micro Chill is at 1st glance a fairly basic design, a zip neck with no pockets, loose cuffs and no means of tightening the waist. In this respect there doesn’t appear to be any reason to choose it over similar garments from other brands. On closer examination there are a few things that are probably worth mentioning.

The seams are flat stitched for comfort and the sleeves are raglan style which means there are no seams on the shoulders, the other nice touch is the way the neck zip is finished off, there’s a little pocket that the puller sits in when fully zipped so you can’t feel the zip when it’s fully zipped.

I checked out what else was available from the other Brands in similar style and using the same fabric and there are a few with TNF making 3 very similar looking zip neck pullovers, the Khyber, Glacier and Glacier Delta, Mountain Equipment have the Micro Zip T. Comparing them I couldn’t really see any reason to choose one over the other apart from maybe the Mountain Equipment one which has a zipped chest pocket and given a choice that‘s probably the one I‘d go for although if used as a base layer the pocket won‘t be accessible and having no waist draw cord rules it out as a mid layer for me.

I wanted to take my canoe out at the weekend so decided that rather than wear my Paramo VAL over a base layer I’d try the Mountain Hardware Micro Chill instead. With only a long sleeve base layer under the Micro Chill I was warm enough as I was wearing a buoyancy aid although I did need to pull on my Montane Flux once I’d stopped for a snack and had taken my buoyancy aid off.

In use the Mountain Hardwear is ok but not outstanding, I certainly wouldn’t rush out to buy one. I haven’t found myself needing a 100wt fleece and even if I did there’s nothing that makes it stand out from the others. As far as I’m concerned it really comes down to the intended use, if it’s a base layer then I’d choose from the ones mentioned above and make my decision based on fit, if it’s a light mid layer then I’d be looking at something with pockets, hem drawcord and probably a full zip. To be honest it doesn’t offer much that I can’t get from a £4 fleece from Primark and at £40 it’s just too expensive for what it is in my opinion. You can get perfectly adequate fleeces on the high street but of course they’re not exactly technical, unfortunately neither is the Micro Chill. It could be argued that the Micro Chill is worth the asking price as it’s made from a premium fabric but the thing that goes against it in that respect is that for an extra £10 you can get the full zip version by Mountain Hardwear which adds a zipped chest pocket, 2 x zipped hand warmer pockets, dual waist draw cords and internal cuffs and those features take the jacket to another level above what you would get in a generic high street fleece.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Oookworks UK, Inner Nests for the Golite Hex/ShangriLa 3

Oookworks Mesh Inner Nest

Although I don't use a Golite Hex/ShangriLa 3 myself they're quite popular in the UK especially with those who like to go Lightweight and/or benefit from the space/versatility that single skin shelters offer. Of course you could be forgiven for questioning why anyone would want to carry a single skin shelter that once you add the bits and pieces required to actually pitch weighs more than some 2 skin tents. It's a question I've asked myself but having used the flysheet only of my Phreeranger 2 skin tent I can see where the benefits are.

One of the main advantages is space, I've tried a TN Laser and a Vaude Power Lizard and while they're light, as little as 1.0kg in the case of the Power Lizard they don't have anywhere near the same useable space as something like the Golite ShangriLa or my Phreeranger fly for that matter.

The other thing that I suspect appeals to a lot of people is versatility, certainly thats what I like about my Phreeranger. I've used it as intended, with a footprint only and with a footprint/bivvy bag and I know that a lot of folks who use the Hex/ShangriLa 3 do the same. One further advantage of something like the ShangriLa 3 is that if you use trekking poles then you don't need to carry a dedicated tent pole.

The only issue I have with my Phreeranger set-up is that while my bivvy bag, a Titanium Goat Ptarmigan has a midge net hood it isn't quite as useable as a midge proof inner tent. Golite make a mesh inner tent which they call a 'Nest' but it's a full size (3 person) inner and heavy at 850g, they also make a footprint/groundsheet for the ShangriLa which again covers the entire floor area but at 535g it's also quite heavy.

There are quite a few people using the ShangriLa 3 as a solo shelter however so a half inner or footprint would still provide a large sleeping area but also create a very large porch/vestibule for cooking and gear storage, unfortunately Golite don't provide a half inner and that's where Oookworks come in.

What I suspect started out as an MYOG project has developed thanks to demand from those with a Hex/ShangriLa3 who either don't have the time or expertise to make their own inner tent. Sean at Oookworks makes a nicely designed nest which is available in full mesh for maximum ventilation or plain ripstop as a warmer more draftproof alternative, both available with a choice of 2 (at present) groundsheet weights. As the nests are made to order for the time being Oookworks can customise them to suit individual requirements, they also offer a repair/modification service.

Oooknest Mesh Inner, Porch Space is Massive!!

Ripstop Oooknest, Ample Sleeping Space for 1 with room for odds and ends

Quite often on UK outdoors forums you hear people lamenting the lack of a UK cottage industry so here's an opportunity to support someone who's trying to change that. Have a look at the Oookworks website and if there's anything you want to know use the Oookworks contact form, that's what it's for after all :-)

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler, Ultralight Chimney Kettle

Some of you may be aware of Devin Montgomery and his effort to design and manufacture an Ultralight alternative to the more well known Chimney Kettles from the likes of Ghillie Kettle, Kelly Kettle and so on, if not check out Backpacking Light forums.

If you've read the relevant threads and the updates on the Boilerwerks blog you'll know that Devin spent a great deal of time and energy designing his kettle and trying to get it into production. It was originally intended to be named the M(ontgomery)kettle but surprising as it seems another product (almost) identical in appearance but heavier appeared a while back, built in the UK and even more surprisingly bearing the same name!! Devin has now re-named his kettle the 'Backcountry Boiler'

I've seen a Ghillie kettle in action and the performance was pretty amazing but way too heavy for backpacking (the guy using it was in a sea kayak), the 'Backcountry Boiler' is light enough to backpack so if anyone is interested in getting one or just interested in reading about how Devin developed it check out his blog.



I've posted in the past about kit I've bought from Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo, in particular the light down jackets. I bought one last year and was so impressed that I bought another when the price was reduced. I also tried out their thermal baselayer range, Heattech, again I'm really impressed with Heattech as it's very soft, has just enough stretch, doesn't feel restrictive and dries very quickly.

One other item I purchased last year was a hooded fleece jacket, I hadn't worn it much as to be honest while the down jackets were fine in size Small the fleece was just a little tight. I have been wearing it recently though and although it's currently out of stock I would buy one in Medium if they get them back in.

The final item that I bought was brought to my attention by 'Moonlight Shadow' who posts on Outdoors Magic. Uniqlo do a range of trousers under the title of 'Easy Trousers' I'd ordered fleece lined ones last year called ' Easy Warm Trousers' but returned them as I thought they'd be too warm for walking. The ones Moonlight Shadow mentioned are called 'Easy Windproof trousers'.

Starting with Heattech, the range consists of long and short sleeve t-shirts in a variety of plain or patterned fabrics, both are available in crew or v neck and additionally the long sleeve version can be had with a roll neck. Most of the range comes in a plain weave but the long sleeve t-shirt is also available in a waffle knit. The fabric is 40% Acrylic, 34% Polyester, 21% Viscose, 5% Elastane.

As I mentioned my 1st items were standard long and short sleeve t-shirts (1 of each) when I checked a week ago the price was reduced again so I ordered 2 more short sleeve t's at £6.99 (reduced from £9.99) each, 1 long sleeve crew neck and a pair of longjohns at £9.99 (reduced from £14.99) each.

I've tried a few different synthetic base layers, my favourite being Sub Zero F1 but given the price difference and the fact that I can't really see any difference in performance I think I'll stick with Heattech.

The hooded fleece jacket is made from a slightly furry fabric but it's very soft. The hood is double layer and the cut is slim. The overall design is fairly basic having 2 un-zipped hand warmer pockets 2 inside mesh pockets and one way zip and lycra bound cuffs. The hood is big enough to go over a beanie and has an elastic shockcord and captive cordlocks. I paid £24.99 which is quite a bit more expensive than my usual Primark £5 fleece pullovers but it's still a bargain compared to technical hooded fleece jackets from the well known Outdoors brands. I can't say that there isn't a significant benefit buying a branded fleece, I simply don't know but to be honest I'm slightly cynical when it comes to fleece and I'm not sure I'd want to pay £100+ to find out.

Finally the Easy windproof Trousers, I only really bought these to wear when canoeing as I figured that they'd dry quickly even if the weren't water-resistant and would retain some warmth thanks to a thin brushed lining. The trousers have a sew-in belt with a fastex type buckle, a studded waist and zip fly, a back pocket with a velcro clousure, 2 x handwarner pockets with a stud fastener and a zipped pocket on the right thigh. In addition they have a zipped gussetted opening on the outside of the leg from just below the knee and a shock cord in the hem to draw them in. These were reduced to £14.99 so at the price I wouldn't be worried about trashing them from kneeling in a canoe. The outer fabric is 100% Polyamide and the lining 100% polyester, the swing tag states that the product was developed jointly with TORAY Industries Inc, the same fabric supplier used by Alpkit for their down sleeping bag and down clothing range.

As it turned out I wore them a few days ago when out walking and in spite of a few showers they managed to keep me dry. The outer fabric wetted out on the inside of my calves as I wasn't wearing agiters but in spite of that I didn't feel them wet through. I didn't wear a baselayer underneath but they were comfortable, warm and definitely windproof as there was a really strong wind and I didn't feel any cooling effect. To illustrate how they performed I was wearing a Paramo VAL over 2 x heattech t-shirts (short sleeve with a long sleeve on top) and while the VAL performed as expected the Easy Windproof trousers matched the VAL's performance and didn't look any wetter at the end. I expect in prolonged rain the Easy windproof trousers would wet out and wet through before the VAL but the VAL too has it's limits as I've discovered.