Peter Clinch

Peter Clinch has reviewed 13 products

Silva Expedition 54

Posted: 02 November 2010
Overall: The Silva 54 has been my compass of choice for many years, originally based on a recommendation in Peter Cliff's "Mountain Navigation".

For the most part it's a standard Silva protractor compass, working like any other but the difference is a rose rather than a needle (no harder or easier to use) and a small sighting prism built in to the housing. The great beauty of the design is that the sight doesn't in any way get in the way of the standard operation of the compass, but it gives you a more accurate option for taking bearings if you want it. The sight lets you look at your target at the same time as the precise bearing from the floating rose, which is easier to use than the more common mirrors and doesn't bulk up the compass and give you a case you need to open any time you want to use it.
The only issue is that it's not often you need to take especially accurate bearings. That's always been the case but in the days of routine GPS availability, even more so. It may be worth putting the extra cost towards a GPS unit if you want particularly accurate positioning these days.

Ron Hill Trackster Classic

Posted: 11 May 2010
Overall: An outdoor icon. They seem to have fallen from favour with walkers in recent years, who appear to want to spend more on more restrictive, heavier, slower drying "trekking trousers". But lots of folk still use them as they're cheap, simple, and just work really, really well.

It is worth spending more for higher spec for serious cold but if it's not too chilly then "Rons" are ideal for many outdoor pursuits. Runners love them because of the excellent freedom of movement and that's a compelling reason to wear them for walking and climbing too.

The lack of pockets can be an issue, but if you wear upper garments with pockets then that sorts that out and means that your pocket contents don't interfere with freedom of movement.

The material plus close fit means they dry incredibly fast and you have to be in a real deluge for them to get unpleasantly wet.

I've come across a lot of folk rejecting them over the years on aesthetic grounds ("the world isn't ready to see me in Roh Hills!" or similar), but they're not nearly as body-hugging as e.g. fleece tights, and in the Big Wide Outdoors World there's not really anyone much to care as long as you can take it yourself. If you can't, just leave your mirror at home...

Hilleberg Kaitum 3

Posted: 01 September 2008
Overall: We got this tent as something light-ish and low-bulk enough to cycle tour with but which we'd have lots of living space in and be reasonably sure it would take a lot of flak. With those requirements in mind I've not seen any other tent I'd rather have, I've been most impressed with the Kaitum 3.

Fabrics are very good, as is the workmanship holding them together. The outer is the lighter of Hilleberg's two flavours of high tenacity ripstop nylon with a silicone elastomer coating on both sides, but though it's light it's still very strong and shouldn't let you down. The groundsheet is also the lighter gauge that Hilleberg use but it's still a sensible thickness so can be used wild camping without excessive contrivances or the necessity of a footprint (though one is available, if you are habitually camping in rougher places or out of a car or boat where the extra weight doesn't matter. With typical Hilleberg attention to detail the footprint can be attached to the tent and deployed as one with the rest of the tent, and it covers both porches as well as the groundsheet). All the fixtures like zip covers, tensioning buckles and ties for doors etc. are well thought out and do their job well, with nothing about the tent feeling half-baked in any way.

Being a Hilleberg it's designed to be easy to put up: peg one end, insert the poles (all go in from one side, no need to have two hands 2 meters apart, the mid pole is longer than the end ones but is marked both on pole and at the end of the sleeve), pull the other end out and peg that, peg the guys, tension everything, job done). Inner and outer go up together, though you can unhook the inner (or just part of it) if you want extra party space, bicycle/kayak repair garage out of the weather or whatever. Each of the three poles has two guying points at each side with good strong lines with high quality plastic runners attached. There are also guys on the porch vents that anchor at 3 points around the vent and lead to a single pegging point. Though Hilleberg's marketing points out you only need 4 pegs to pitch the tent, in practice you'll probably want to guy it out as it makes the tent enormously more stable in any sort of wind. The pegging set provided has 9 square-section skewers and 9 light V-stakes, enough for a full pitch (4 end corners, 6 pole-ends, 6 double pole guys, 2 vent guys). The skewers are very good, the V-stakes a bit bendy, but they work well enough. As with all tents, a user may wish to fettle the peg selection a little according to conditions and preference, but what you get is enough and it works.

Once it's up, you have a choice of a door at each end, both accessing a generous porch that is roomy enough to store a good pile of gear and cook in reasonable safety out of the elements. The tent is symmetrical with each end the same. Each porch has a vent in the end panel (the flysheet doors open on one of the side panels of the porch) which is covered by a good sized hood with a wired stiffener to keep it in shape. The vent is closed by zip, with a breathable panel for some venting even when it's closed. Unlike it's heavier and tougher cousins in Hilleberg's line of tunnel tents (Keron and Nammatj) the vents are not mesh backed so insects can get in when they're open. That's a shame, but it also helps keep the weight down and shaves a little off the price too. If the weather's nice it's easy to keep the door open with a provided tab and loop, if it's nicer still you can roll back the vent panel too, or even nicer and the whole porch can be rolled away (though you'll need the end-pole guys in place to keep the tent up if you do this). Each or the three panels that make up the porch has a retainer so you can easily tie it back when rolling panels away.
That's the flysheet, now the inner... the doors cover the whole ends of the inner and have a full-size mesh screen which can be covered completely with a zip-out "solid" panel. Open them up (and optionally tie them back with the hook and loops provided) and you find a *lot* of space. Enough for 3 full-size sleep mats side by side, with generous height all through from end to end (a little more in the middle, and a little extra width there too as the mid pole is bigger). It's a nice cheery yellow which helps keep the interior light and bright. There is a mesh pocket in each corner just above the bathtub groundsheet to help organise things.

That was the tour, now for impressions about living in/with it. All the fixtures provided are genuinely useful, with tabs and loops to tie back anything you might want to tie back with a minimum of fuss. Peg and pole tensioners are easy to operate and work well, and everything that's been added is there for a reason that forgives its weight and any extra complexity. The vents work well and being a twin-ended design you've got a lot of option on what to open up so condensation can be minimised. The amount of space is quite exceptional for a tent of this weight and bulk, with plenty of room for the occupants to not get in each others' way and generous height close in to the walls and right the way to the doors. The combination of usable space with the flexibility of twin-ended porches and entrances to give comfortable convenience is what really sets this tent apart from its peers at the weight in my opinion.
It's not perfect of course, as no tent is. Put the Kaitum in a brisk wind and it is certainly noisier than a similarly sized (but much heavier!) geodesic with the large spans of unsupported fabric along the tunnel moving quite a bit. When we had our tent in a ca. Force 6 light gale with no shelter there was no apparent danger of the tent failing, but the unsupported fabric did move around enough in gusts to set up small drafts inside from the fabric motion, a little disconcerting at first! So if you like your tents quiet and static, then the Kaitum is probably not for you: get a tent with more supporting poles, but you'll pay for it with more weight or less convenience and/or space; you choose, you lose!

The Kaitum is also available in a 2 person version, which is 40 cm narrower at a (still generous) 140 cm max inner width, but 300g lighter. 300g doesn't seem much for the extra space, so we opted to get the 3 person version though it's typically only 2 using it. As a 2 person tent it is a palace. There should be a GT version available in 2009 with one standard and one extended porch and extra forward pole to support the extension, like the Nallo GT's. It is worth noting that the porch space is generous as it is and that the porches have plenty of clearance and ventilation for cooking, so the GT will be something if you want a real superabundance of space rather than something you'll need to make the tent practical at all.

Aside from the wind noise and movement the only real downside is the cost, which like all Hillebergs is considerable. I think you can get tents well towards this good for a lot less money, but if you have the money and are more interested in outright performance than performance/cost then it's well worth a good, hard look. You can get lighter, but they won't be as nice to live in, and you can get tougher and/or quieter, but it'll be heavier to carry. All tents are compromises, if the one you're looking for priorities space while giving good strength and reasonable weight then the Kaitum should be on the short list.

Patagonia Ready Mix

Posted: 04 July 2008
Overall: Patagonia seem to aim this mainly at winter climbers, for whom the assumption it won't rain is often fair if they're not in the UK... While it will see off a shower easily enough in really heavy and/or prolonged rain you will get wet inside, and weighing quite a bit more than a simple Pertex windbreaker and about the same as a good light waterproof shell the Ready Mix has a relatively small niche to fill. If you're not particularly expecting a deluge but do want some protection from cold winds and driech it is a much more comfortable thing to be wearing than either a minimalist windshirt (nicer drape in the fabric and slightly stretchy with it, less flapping, better hood, better pockets) or a full on shell (about an order of magnitude more breathable). If I was seriously expecting serious rain I'd probably leave it at home in favour of a very light wind top and a hard shell for when the real rain started, rather than carry 2 similar weight/bulk jackets. The jacket is uninsulated, which I consider a plus. Patagonia do an insulated equivalent, but in the UK with it's associated dampness you might as well get a Paramo/Finisterre/Furtech and be properly waterproof unless the stretch makes much difference to you (it's not stretchy enough that it would for me).

The hood is a good one, adjusting well from helmet-sized to head sized without too much fuss and rolling down relatively neatly into a roll in lieu of a collar. It would be nice if it had a proper wire in it (when will the septics realise that "soft stiffened" hood peaks are hopeless compared to a proper wire) though.

The pockets are big (helps them vent, they're mesh on the inside) and will comfortably take a map, but if the zips are fully open it's not beyond the realm of possibility to lose gloves out of them. The single Napoleon pocket on the front is quite wee but is a good place for compass, snack etc. as it is big enough to be useful.

The fabric is a weave, not a membrane, and that helps its exceptionally good breathability (in a test Op Pad magaine gave it 6 out of 5 for breathability in their soft shells test as it was so far ahead of the competition) though the balance is it won't keep out water as well as, say, Powershield Lite: you choose, you lose... While it is stretchy, don't expect rubber-band like flexibility. It's enough to help comfort a bit, but it's not as good as something like Schoeller Dryskin (which has a more open weave and is heavier, let's not forget). The shoulders and upper arms have a heavier fabric, still a stretch polyester but with a more textured backing. Both of the construction fabrics are comfy against the skin. Most of the seams are welds or stitch/weld composites, which helps them lie flat and again aids comfort.

If you want a light(ish), highly breathable and very comfy jacket but don't need or want insulation and only expect to stop light rain or drizzle this is a great jacket. You can do without it more than you can do without a proper waterproof, or a very light windshell, but in its right place it is a very nice bit of kit. But definitely a luxury, especially at the price they're asking for it.

Primus Gravity PZ

Posted: 01 September 2008
Overall: The Gravity (which now seems to have changed to the "EF" designation as of late summer '08) comes in a natty wee pouch with a separate compartment for anything you want particularly secure: we stock a spare lighter in it, more on which shortly...
Taking it out of its bag you simply unfold the ends of its 4 legs, screw the valve into a gas canister and optionally place it on its fold-up reflector and inside its folding windshield. The stove is low slung so the windshield can be effective while not too big, and with 4 widely spaced feet it's remarkably stable in use. The fuel feed includes air intakes and passes over the burner so it helps ensure the gas emerges pre-heated and mixed with air for a good burn.

It's gas, so there's not much to go wrong... except the piezo electric lighter. That lasted several whole hours before it broke (the heat shrink around the trigger button, errrr, shrank and rendered the button un-pushable), an even worse performance than my OD Camp 3 micro-stove which at least struggled back to life to be used a second day before it broke... These things just seem to be too fragile and unreliable on a well-used stove so you need back up of lighters/matches anyway: I wish they'd just not bother and charge a few pounds less, at least I could spend it on something useful like beer!

But let's not dwell on the lighter, as it's not something limited to this stove, and the stove works very well without it. It's a fair price and it does what's needed well.

R. Saunders Spacepacker

Posted: 29 November 2007
Overall: I've owned one of these tents for around 17 years now. My first one was stolen in a burglary 10 years ago and I couldn't see anything I'd sooner have than a straight replacement, and although the market is now much better served with genuine 2 person tents under 2 kg, I think I'd still stick with the Spacepacker.

It's light enough to use solo, in which case you get masses of space, but it's big enough to use as a genuine 2 person tent. While the inner is small for 2, the fact that each user gets their own good-sized porch with a choice of 2 doors makes an enormous difference to the tent's usability. Even when camping solo I much prefer 2 porch designs, and there are still very few other 2 porch options under 2 Kgs.

Fabrics are double silicone elastomer coated high tenacity ripstop nylon for the fly and breathable ripstop nylon for the inner. The fly is not seam taped because of the silicone, but in my experience doesn't leak and you can use a seam sealant if you're paranoid, and since seam taping weakens the fabric and adds weight I prefer things the way they're done here. The fly seems remarkably tough, and the inner is breathable while being lightly proofed to keep drips of condensation etc. at bay. The pole seems like a quality item and the one on my tent has taken a lot of flak over the years. The pegs are a bit bendy, but having said that I've never managed to break one, and they're easy to bend back straight...

The main problems of the tent come from the inner, which is hung from hooks along the ridge seam and then pegged out for a degree of taughtness... but only a degree. Since it's quite loose it's fairly easy to push the inner against the fly, and the sloping sides hang in close to your head when you're lying down, which can give something of a face-full-of-nylon effect lying on one's back if you're as tall as the tent would take (my wife is 5'10"/1.78m and I think that's as tall as you'd want to be using it two up, solo you can sleep diagonally which makes life rather airier!). Matters improve with careful pegging and tensioning of the inner's attached guys, but this can be fiddly and you're still nothing like the nice taught inners with all-in-one pitching like a Hilleberg. But while that's not perfect, I think it's a good trade against the tent's other advantages.

In a serious blow it stands up pretty well, especially if the wind is blowing along the pole. In really strong gusts it's like those old Weeble toys: it wobbles, but it doesn't fall down, the pole bowing in and the tent partially flattening to spring up again afterwards. Snow loading is similarly coped with acceptably rather than perfectly, the sides being steep enough to shed snow at the ridge but not steep enough at the ground, so snow gradually builds over from the edges, shortening the living space as it goes... A good sharp kick from the inside will usually knock most of it off, but you'll always get some shrinkage of living space in heavy snow.

The two porches aspect means that through-ventilation is potentially very good, and one half of each side of the inner has a zip-out mesh panel so you can keep bugs out while letting air through. It's possible to roll back the entire side of the inner where it opens on to the porch (porches are at the users' sides, rather than head/feet), and each porch has two doors and both can be rolled back to give an unsurpassed through-vent which is glorious on a gently breezy summer evening

If you're doing long two-up trips (we're happy for a week, I think longer than that would be a bit of a hack and we take something bigger but heavier), or at least one of a pair is taller than 1.78m, the Spacepacker Plus would probably be a better bet. It weighs a bit more, but still probably less than other alternatives that retain 2 good sized porches.

Mountain Equipment Liskamm Pant

Posted: 13 July 2007
Overall: Very, very happy with these after spending a fortnight walking in lots of different conditions in Norway in a pair. I've been a fan of Schoeller Dryskin for ages, but had had terrible trouble finding trousers with short enough legs. ME do these in two leg lengths and the shorter (31") is right for me.
The fabric is the crowning glory of these trousers, being a good mix of everything you want: stretchy, breathable, fairly windproof, tough, quick drying, comfortable, reasonably light, warm but not too warm. The "Nanosphere" treatment takes the fabric from good to better, acting as a highly effective DWR layer and preventing staining. I've yet to come across a better combination for general mountain use through all seasons.

The cut is quite a bit less baggy than most walking trousers, but with the stretch fabric that has no issues for freedom of movement and means they catch the wind less and weigh less. They could be cut a little closer still but not to the point where I have any real issues with the shape as sold.
The knees have textured kevlar reinforcements: haven't "used" them so don't know how they do, but the way they're done they'll be lighter than a full double knee. They come in a contrasting grey so people can see you have "technical" trousers: could live without that myself, but it seems to be what "the market" demands...
The cut is high enough to eliminate cold spots or have your loaded pack take your trousers down!

There's an integral belt which means no extra lumps and seams for belt loops to be uncomfy uner a loaded pack's hip belt, which is good but less good is the buckle tends to slip quite easily. Not a deal breaker, but a niggle that could be improved.

Pockets, 4 of them, half are useful... The two "standard" hip pockets are fine, the rear pocket has an entrance high enough that it's unusable with a pack on, and quite why all "walking trousers" seem to need a thigh pocket continues to escape me. Put anything much in it and it rubs any time you walk anywhere, so I'd sooner save a fiver, a few grammes and a few minutes drying time and not have it. If I could have found any other Schoeller trousers without this "feature" I might have got them instead, but any such I ever came across were too long for me.
So a score-draw for the pockets. I'd prefer a double seat for perching on damp rocks for lunch than the rear and thigh pocket, and if you do keep the rear pocket a vertical entrance zip would be much more use.

The lower legs have zip-out gussets from the knee to the ankle so you can accommodate e.g. ski touring boots as well as smaller footwear, and make the trousers easier to get on and off. Fairly simple and it seems to work well.

Other stuff... scuff guards on the inner ankle area, and loops for braces. Haven't really "used" either, but the scuff guards certainly clean up more easily than the plain Dryskin on my wife's Schoeller trousers.

The niggles (half the pockets and belt buckle) are minor items, completely overshadowed by the superb material and a cut that works on me better than other alternatives I've tried (though that'll maybe only help you if you're shaped like me!). If mine disappeared I'd certainly get another pair, even at the fialry steep price. But you have to pay for the best fabric, and as far as I can tell this is either it or not far off.

Not the only Schoeller Dryskin trousers in town, but well worth trying out if you're in the market for a very versatile pair of trousers that will do most of what you might ever need (except for really hot days), and one of relatively few with the Nanosphere treatment which does seem to give them an edge.

Echo Master II

Posted: 17 January 2006
Overall: I didn't pay for mine, it came from that Nice Mr. Claus, and I'm pretty sure he had some of his Elves pick it up from F&T's sale bin at their half price offer of £40. Note that the ratings given below assume you've paid the full £80 for it, at £40 I think it rates 3s across the board and is quite reasonable value.

By default the unit displays date and time. The date is shown in much larger characters, which seems odd because one doesn't typically refer to a watch for the date as the default information. Move into altimeter mode and the time stays on where it was with the height in the bigger characters, which is reasonable in this case but in keeping basic time in the same place all the time things get especially silly when you change to the stopwatch, with hours/minutes.seconds in small characters and tenths and hundreds of seconds dominating the display. Of course, they rattle by so fast you can't read them, and if you stop the watch they dray attention away from the time aspect that really matters. This is really Quite Dopey, I'm afraid to say.

The altimeter seems to work pretty well, and is the main strength of the watch. It's easy to switch between feet and meters and as long as you appreciate the sampling interval characteristics (which are given in the manual, but not too usefully) then this is what you're really paying for here. It's reasonably straightforward to reset it at known points, though the manual writer deserves at least a minor kicking for not describing how to actually use the altimeter in practice and the effects of weather systems: it's just "push this button and this happens" stuff, nothing about why or effective limitations, which you have to work out for yourself.

Onto the barometer, which loses points for not giving better resolution. Since the altimeter is moving several meters for each millibar of pressure it is clearly more sensitive than to the nearest millibar, so why not give us that extra decimal? The information must be there, it's silly not to display it. There is also no time trend on the pressure, so you can't wake up in the morning and see what the pressure has been doing overnight except noting it's so much higher or lower than last time you looked. Again, this is a bit sloppy and while forgiveable at £40, at twice that I'd spend more still on a Suunto Altimax or similar,

In altitude and barometer mode it also gives you a temperature readout, but as with all such devices next to a warm body it's basically useless while worn. I've been told it's nearly 30C at around freezing! It's not really fair to criticise the watch for this as it's a basic problem of physics that you can't measure an ambient usefully right next to a hot body, but it would be handy if the manual bothered pointing this out, and if it took up less prominent display space since most of the time it's basically useless.

The twin alarms and countdown timers work okay. The stopwatch has up to 10 lap times, and though being told this is the nth lap could be handy it would be better if there was some way of looking through all recorded lap times after you finish. It may be possible, but I can't really work out how if that is the case...

So in summary you get a useful altimeter attached to a functional if uninspiring watch. If you want a basic altimeter then £40 strikes me as a good price, but if you want anything much more then spend quite a lot more to get it. At £80 I would be pretty miffed to get something with this many rough edges.

Montane Krypton Smock

Posted: 18 April 2005
Overall: Got this in a bargain bin for £40, at which price it represents very good value, but it wouldn't be unfairly priced at RRP.

The Pertex outer keeps the winds out and over a week's ski touring involving a lot of Norwegian sleet and wet snow, it kept me dry too, with the lining keeping out anything that did work its way through the outer shell.
The lining is roughly equivalent to a microfleece thermally and wicks moisture well in use. I didn't boil as I tend to do in Buffalo type tops with deep pile, though I certainly wouldn't want it on a nice summer day!

The overall cut is very good for active use, with a drop tail covering one's bum nicely and all the adjustment needed coming from a hem drawcord, so nothing to get under hip belts and annoy you. The sleeves are a good length and have a simple elastic cuff which seals them reasonably without being too tight to roll them up a little. The hood isn't wired so won't keep out really nasty cack, but this isn't a top designed for hardcore cack so that's not really a major criticism. The hood does fit well and keeps sideways blown sleet off your face quite well.

The vents do improve the range of the garment acceptably well, but since they only vent the Pertex shell layer and not the lining they could be made more effective than they are by simply moving through the lining. This would also give the designers an option of access to underlayer pockets, which isn't there at present. And while on the subject of pockets...

The vents give an effective pocket with a mesh lining enclosing space behind them that's a very good size, and just as well because the kangaroo pocket is quite small, which is odd because there's as much space as the designers wanted to extend it. As it is, maps will have to go in the vents. The construction of the pocket/vent space seems a little over-fussy, and by using the lining as part of the pocket/veet space wall the internal design could probably be a little simpler for no performance loss that I can see.

So, with some design and construction tweaks around the pocket and vents I think the garment could get a little better while sacrificing none of its basic good performance afforded by its excellent cut and materials.

If you've got more money you could spend then I'd take a good look at Paramo's waterproof tops like the Velez, which will do the Krypton's job while being 100% waterproof too plus better venting and hood (though a little heavier). But at more than twice the price (even at full RRP) it damn well should be a better bet!

For a flexible top that will keep most of the worst out in typical UK conditions, you can do a lot worse than one of these.

Montane Aero Smock

Posted: 05 August 2004
Overall: Montane claim this is the world's lightest windproof top, and even if they're wrong it's not by much. It packs down to about the same size as an apple (Russet, not Bramley!) and seems to weigh nothing so you'd need to be seriously anal about pack weight to leave it out.
The mesh pocket on the chest is about the only "extra" on it, not adding much to the weight but quite handy for things like a compass.
As a minimalist way of keeping out the worst of the elements it's good kit. More elaborate variants (i.e., the Buffalo Windshirt) will be better for wearing longer term over a whole day (more pockets, more ventilation possibilities), but as something to slip into a pocket in case the wind gets turned up a few notches it's hard to fault it.