A quick mind-dump on some of the stuff that's going through the mill at the moment including Polartec Alpha, new Gore-Tex Pro, Platypus and Julbo.
As well as the kit that's regularly reviewed on the front of the site, there's often other stuff on the go. Sometimes it's so secret even I don't know what it is. Actually that's a lie, but quite often we get kit in that's a season early, so we get the chance to use it properly before it's actually in the shops.
Polartec's Alpha 'fluffy' is one of those things. In fact we now have three Alpha items: a gilet from Polartec, an interesting hybrid affair from Marmot, which I've already talked about a bit and now a full, hooded jacket version that's 100% pedigree Alpha courtesy of Rab.
One thing, although Polartec says Alpha is 'puffy insulation', it doesn't work on the same principle as synthetics like PrimaLoft or indeed, like down. It's a kind of sandwich with a sort of fluffy mesh stuff in the middle. It's not super warm, more sort of light/medium warm, but its main claim is that it is loads more breathable than the alternatives out there, which makes it useable for active stuff without you boiling alive.
So I've used if for running, biking and some, erm, mountain-ing layering in the latter case, under a new Gore-Tex Pro jacket. And you know what, in scenarios where I would have boiled in the bag in a conventional PrimaLoft jacket, I've stayed comfortable. The one exception to that was when I layered it under a VapourRise Lite jacket which for some unknown reason I'd absent-mindedly proofed with wash-in Nikwax stuff - cue condensation on the outside of the Alpha as the VR Lite no longer wicked - doh... fixed now.
Talking of Gore-Tex Pro, I've been using the frighteningly bright, Arc'teryx made test jacket made from next winter's fabric and, so far, it's been impressive. It genuinely does seem to be appreciably more breathable than the current Pro fabric and while not quite as good as Active Shell, really isn't far off and should be tougher with it.
Go With The Flow
Other stuff? This weekend I reacquainted myself with Platypus and the small-capacity Tokul XC 5.0 pack. More about the pack another time, in brief it just seems to work, but it's been a while since I used a Platypus reservoir and in particular, their bite valve. Mostly I've been using Osprey or Camelbak valves and I have to say that I'm disappointed at the flow rate from the Platypus in comparison. You seem to have to put in a lot of effort to get relatively little out and if it were my pack, I'd probably swap it for a Camelbak valve at considerable expense - okay for walking, I think, less clever for running or biking.
Sunnies In The Sunshine
Last but not least, the Julbo Trek sunglasses did a brilliant job of conjuring up sunshine after several weeks of Mordor-like gloom in the Peak, so they got dragged out for a 70-mile hilly road bike ride. Good points: great, comfortable, secure fit, rapid and unobtrusive darkening and lightening from the Zebra Photochromic lenses and no obvious optical distortion. Some glasses make it feel as if you're about a foot higher up than you really are, which is diconcerting.
On the down side, the lefthand lens got seriously misted on a long haul up Holme Moss - not sure why, possibly the wind was coming from the right and that cleared the lens on that side, possibly the removable brow spoiler thing reduced overall ventilation as well. It's coming off next time and I'll see how it goes.
Oh, and downstairs is a large box of Jack Wolfskin winter 2013 kit - unfortunately it appears to be the wrong size... time to eat more.