The Vault Regulars

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New A-Z Adventure Map titles

 The guys at A-Z maps have been busy again recently and have now released some new titles in the handy and lightweight booklet form. 
I previously posted about the Adventure series earlier here.

      The new titles are:-
The above titles are clickable.

Whilst these 7 maps are new and being promoted, Geographer’s  A-Z are offering a £2.50 discount  from the usual price of £7.95 by using the code GETWALKING which is entered in the relevant box on the order page of the website.

The discount will run until the end of August. Enjoy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Brenig's New Waterproof shell - The Aran Smock.

 We may have just had the warmest day of the year and waterproofs are probably the last thing on peoples mind at the moment so you may wonder why i’m posting about a new one.

 Last year whilst walking Cadair Idris, we got talking about routes in North Wales that would be fun to do. When i got back home i started a google search and came across the Brenig Trail. Considering i’m not that far from North Wales i had never heard of it. Searching for further info then brought me in a roundabout way to specialist gear manufacturer, Brenig.

 “Who"? I can hear some say, and yes i admit that was my reaction too. Well i had to find out more.
 Brenig are not too well known in mainstream outdoor gear and you won’t find them hanging up in The Cotswold Shop for example. But make no mistake this very small company based in Holywell Wales make some superb outdoor equipment and there is more to come, imminently.

 Brenig owner Graham Ogle has his roots in the mountains but also has an interest in cycling, walking, sailing and also amateur radio, GW8RAK.
 The company started 18 yrs ago after Graham got soaked on Tryfan and decided a new waterproof was needed. Having checked out the outdoor shops he decided not to pay the £400 but to have a go at making his own.
 Since those very early days Graham and his two seamstress have supplied Polar expeditions, numerous outdoor pursuit centres in this country and New Zealand, dog sled mushers in the USA, forestry workers, farmers, canoeists and now of course, Me.

 I fancied the smock rather than a jacket, it is a very simple, honest, no frills performance bit of kit. It was exactly what i wanted but looked a bit heavy.
 I like smocks and although i have heard all sorts of reasons why people don’t like them, i usually disagree. For example, “they are awkward to put on and take off”. Nonsense. I can put on and remove a smock faster than i can locate the zip ends and zip up a conventional jacket. Fact.

 I telephoned Graham about sizing and materials.
 "The lightweight fabric cannot be classed as a truly lightweight fabric" i was told, but it is in line with jacket weights which will be used in our sport/hobby in the demanding wet and cold UK conditions.
The fabric is polyester microfibre. I purchased one.

 We had a good chat about the products and it resulted in Graham asking me if i would be interested in trying out some new materials that he was planning on using in his 2013 range and giving some user feedback. I was more than delighted to help.
In due course, I received 2 pre-production smocks. Both completely different weights and materials, and usage of course. 

 I have now been using them over the winter and into spring/summer, walking in temperatures down to minus 3.5 deg C, in snow conditions, in torrential downpours, in longer spells of rain and in particularly cold high winds and more recently, decent temperatures. I have even tried my hand at Mountain Biking in the rain.
 I have given them a thorough testing in numerous areas of England and Scotland and the lightweight smock in particular has been a constant companion and a topic of conversation with my walking companions.

The current web site can be found hereBut note there is an new site under development and almost ready to go live as i type. The new products i have posted about below will become active to customers on this new site Here but please bear in mind that this website is still under development. You should still be able to use the site if required or phone Brenig direct on Tel: +44 (0)1352 719603 or 

There is a Facebook page too. 

 I will start with the lightweight smock for reasons which will become clear later.

 The lightweight smock will be found on the new website named the Aran smock.

I have tested a medium size which would suit people with chest sizes up to 40”. It has been designed for people who want to stay dry and move light and fast during multiple activities.

The weight of it is 390 grams as can be seen below. (SizeM)

 There are no frills to the smock, it just functions and does it superbly well, where it matters, ie the hood, breathability and shedding water is excellent. There are lighter shells around but this is certainly what i call a functioning lightweight shell for all weathers.

 The Storm Hood.
 Has been designed so that it is compatible with a climbing or cycling helmet, although it doesn’t suit the cycling helmet with the pointed rear. There are 3 adjusters for when no helmet is worn. One at the back to reduce volume and one each side to fully enclose it around the face. The chin level is quite high, which i like, and therefore provides excellent weather protection.

 I found the hood worked well and moves with the head. The wired peak is very effective and can be easily reset to suit conditions. You can see from the photo below what a good peak the hood has. Rain ran down the sides of the hood and not once have i suffered water ingress.
 The shock chords are held with standard industry chord grips. They can be adjusted single handed due to the restraint put on the chord grip but i found it better to adjust them separately.

 The Main zip. 
 In the past i have made it clear that my experience with water resistant zips has not been good. My OMM Cyphur smock YKK zip leaked and even though the garment went back for tests it came back with no fault found. I tend to believe that the main problem with the Cyphur is having a 2 way zip. It is going to leak for sure. Why would you want a 2 way zip on a smock?

 The Aran, thankfully will have a Riri, a one way Riri Aquazip with a baffle behind it. The Riri zip is made with interlocking plastic teeth that form a hydrostatic seal and are completely waterproof. I am pleased to say it has performed perfectly throughout and has made me re-think my opinion on zips.
 I did add a 40mm zip pull as my smock only had a small zip pull. I found it difficult to grasp when wearing gloves. Maybe the production units will have a longer or extra Brenig pull.

This LINK will explain better than i can the subtle differences of the Riri and YKK and why the Riri is best suited to outdoor jackets.

 Raglan style cut and the cuff closure is by a rubber hook and loop system. If anything i would have preferred an inch longer sleeve so that i could pull my clenched hand up into the sleeve when i didn’t want to wear gloves. But that’s personal preference and may not suit everyone except maybe bikers and climbers for instance.

 Closure is again shock chorded with chord tensioners on both sides. The smock length is slightly longer than current lightweight fashionable trends and for me i found it much better dealing with the elements. After all that is what we want. It keeps the derriere covered and is well below my rucksack hip belt. Other lightweight jackets sacrifice this length to reduce the weight spec.

AtmosAktive is how the material will be known.

 Breathability is specified as 10,000 gsm/24hr MVTR (RET factor of 4) but i must say that this jacket has performed better than my Cyphur jacket*, which is specified as 17000 gsm/24hr MVTR. So forget about figures because our bodies tell us how a jacket performs.
 I actually found that i could wear this smock as a windproof in all temperatures up to about 10 degrees C without feeling clammy. Therefore i could leave my windproof at home. I couldn’t do that with the Cyphur.
 After 10 degrees C i wanted to wear my Montane litespeed purely from a weight point of view.
 Even when pushing the pace and i knew i was hot, there was no sign of any moisture vapour on the inside. At one point during a walking trip in the Lammermuirs i was asked, "was i not sweating cobs wearing my waterproof”, so i had to prove the inner was still dry.

 Breathability is always subjective. Its absolutely paramount that you wear a good wicking baselayer with any waterprooof. If you don’t, then your warm body heat cannot be transported through the layers. You will end up wet and cold and then blame the waterproof for not working. Also important is your rucksack. If it sits directly onto your waterproof then it doesn’t matter how breathable the material is you are not going to transmit your body heat through the sack. It will condensate and stay wet. You need to have a gap between your waterproof and sack.

 Waterproofing. Again specified as 10M hydrostatic head. Throughout my walks in driven rain and snow i have been perfectly dry. The membrane material is hydrophylic and it doesn’t have any holes to get clogged and reduce efficiency like other membranes do. Therefore it doesn’t need washing every few months.
 All the seams are tape sealed and i found it worked perfectly well.

Inner face layer is a wicking knitted scrim that provides the dry feel. Just like when you wear a good wicking base layer, without one the difference is soon noticeable. It is very comfortable and warm to touch.

 The outer material is made from a re-cyclable Polyester, made in the UK, which is then laminated to the inner fabric in Austria. The cut and manufacture is then completed in Wales. The outer fabric has been treated with a DWR treatment that contains no flourocarbons. This gives good rain beading and helps prevent dirt and stains.

 Aftercare. The smock can be washed at either 30 degrees C or 40 degrees C depending on needs but the DWR treatment will last longer the lower the wash temperature. The usual 3rd party proofers like Grangers or Nikwax can be used if or when necessary but the DWR treatment should last a good half dozen washes. In my case thats quite a long time.

 Cost. What i understand at this pre-launch status is that the RRP for the smock will be £145 and as an initial internet launch there will be a special price of £120.

 The material the Aran smock is made from will also bring to the market a shell jacket called the Berwyn and also a pair of over trousers. More news on these items to follow.
Costs will be RRP £170 for the Berwyn jacket and £90 for the OT’s. Again a special launch price will be £140 for the jacket and £70 for the OT’s. So keep an eye to the website or i will do a separate post when this happens. 

Release date for the new waterproofs is Mid September.

The New Aran Smock and Berwyn Jacket

*(I have mentioned the OMM Cyphur smock as a comparison garment simply because it is the only other smock i possess. I am not saying the Cyphur is poor.)

Verdict on the Aran Smock.
 Smocks are not everyone’s cup of tea but for me the fewer the places that water can get in the better. Having a short zip and no pockets provides a superb pure and simple waterproof. It’s comfortable to wear, lightweight and small to pack. It's extremely breathable with a superb hood and dries very quickly. All at a cost that won’t break the bank. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed testing it and can recommend it with confidence.

Similar products, OMM Cyphur smock £180.00 and PHD Alpamayo. £247.00
 The 2nd of the 2 smocks.
The material is known as Aclimatise.
 It looks and feels exactly the same as the Aran smock, therefore no need for further photographs, except that it has a different membrane that includes 30% aluminium.

 It is said to be thermoregulating, which in short means when the temperature inside and outside changes, the material modifies to either cool you down or warm you up.**

 I tried it a couple of times backpacking but quickly came to realise that it is far from perfect for this activity within the majority of temperatures we encounter in the UK. I felt clammy very quickly and worse at temperatures above 8 degrees C.
At temperatures down to -3.5C ambient with a strong cold easterly wind making it feel much colder, i was still able to wear just a 150 grade Merino baselayer without feeling cold. Quite amazing really and i think this coat is best suited to very cold conditions where it would be an asset.

 It’s a lovely jacket if your outdoor activity is less active and i will certainly be using it for my fell race marshalling duties where i am static in exposed positions on summits. It may possibly work in Scottish or Scandinavian winter conditions when temperatures are well below 0 C. But i havn’t proven this one way or the other.

 I see this product best suited for people who take on duties like, Climbing instructors, marshall’s at events like orienteering, cycling, marathons, cross country, fell racing. I can also see it being perfect for farmers, dog mushers, county council workers, forestry or walkers who walk more sedately or who get cold quickly.
 But not hiking and backpacking in the majority of UK conditions. The RET factor is 6.

 **If this type of jacket or smock is of interest to you then you may wish to read more about it's technicalities. Click on the link here to read more.

 The weight is also higher due to the additional membrane material but still very reasonable considering how the jacket performs in the cold and wet.

Weight of the Aclimatise smock.  539 grams for a medium size.

 I would like to thank Brenig and Graham in particular for allowing me the privilege to assist in the testing of these products. It’s been quite challenging and has got Sheila and I out on the hills in some foul weather when i otherwise would have waited for the weather to abate. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Guide Bridge to Manchester City Centre

 Terry, a non hiking friend of mine likes to go for the odd walk and especially around his birthday. So i suggested a canal walk from Guide Bridge to Manchester along the Ashton Canal. He does like canals being a narrow boat man at heart and i also asked fellow blogger JJ if he wanted to come as well.

 We caught the bus into Manchester at 8.00am and met up with JJ who had also brought along Viv and Rick at Piccadilly rail station at 9.30am. Tickets bought, coffee drank, we found our train and dead on the dot of 9.48am it pulled out. It’s only a short train journey to Guide Bridge being around 6.5 miles.

 Leaving the train station i/we looked for a path down onto the canal towpath which i found the last time i did this walk. It was a bit overgrown and slippery and the reason for that became apparent about 2 minutes later when we came across a dedicated access to the towpath from the main road. This was locked and wired up the last time i came. Oh well.
 The steep and slippery slope to the towpath

Guide Bridge over the Ashton Canal which opened in 1796.
 The Ashton Packet Boat Company’s Guide Bridge boatyard
 Some rather expensive property
Very low and tatty bridge at Lumb Lane
 Lots of work and money is being used at Fairfield Marina and adjoining land. 
These ugly buildings are now finished.
 Maybe a couple of them are short of insulation.
The fantastic double lock at fairfield. (lock 18) The LH lock is now not used.
They knew how to build in those days.
 The day was warming up although it was cooler than recent days. There was some cloud cover and it made for pleasant walking and chatting.
We stopped to watch a small narrow boat at lock 15 and JJ noticed the lady having a struggle with the winding mechanism and so lent a hand. JJ was having no luck either and so i got a 2nd key and released the paddle on the opposite side. This one worked.
 What seems to be the trouble Madam?
 Give it here! Mmm its not working!
 A watching Heron

 We finally got them on there way after about a 10 minute struggle. The others had wandered on a bit but waited at the next lock when they realised we were missing. Somehow they resisted calling in the Strawberry Duck for a quick beer.
Strawberry Duck at Crabtree Lane. 
There used to be a swing bridge here that linked the two halves of Crabtree Lane.
 Modern Housing. Looks like an old water tank.

 4 photo’s above. Some of our Industrial heritage now derelict and looking very sorry.

Some modern housing looking like old warehouses.

Some old warehouses looking like modern homes. Very sympathetic use of fantastic architecture.
Even keeping the chimney.
Manchester city centre was fast approaching and the work being done in New Islington looks excellent. Lots of development work is being done around the Etihad stadium. Big money is being spent here and it’s great to see.
 Development at New Islington

 Strange Sign. Why would anyone want to steal a canal. Ha
 Strange vehicle. Surely this isn’t road worthy. Unique all the same. I wish we could have had a closer look but this was the best i could get with a zoom shot.
 We left the canal just before Dale St. as we were now heading to Manchester’s northern quarter. The smell of a curry was like a magnet pulling us to This and That, our favourite curry house near Shudehill bus station. For some reason, probably hunger, i didn’t take a photo of our meals. From there we went part way to where JJ, Viv and Rick were to get the tram back home, we bought a beer in The City Arms.

A most enjoyable short excursion. Thanks to each for your company. And happy 58th birthday Terry.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Duddon Wander

 We sold a tent to a friend in Broughton in Furness and i also had a Platypus bottle and tube that i had sterilised for another friend in Seathwaite and both needed delivering. It was only right to make a weekend of it and so on Thursday night we headed off.

 The tent was going to Jane at the Square Cafe in Broughton and she had kindly offered to make us an evening meal and we take the wine. We had a good night chatting, the food was excellent and the wine went down well and midnight came all to soon. Thanks Jane for the meal and the company.

  So after a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast we headed off to Seathwaite. Turner hall campsite to be precise. It was a stunning day. Summer had arrived. Jackdaws were noisily going about there business and the Buzzards were being buzzed by all the other birds, and especially the Peregrine.
The Duddon Valley
 We got the tent up and chilled out in the sun for an hour or so until hunger had us raiding the supplies.
After lunch i had always wanted to climb one of the local Ghyll’s. I cannot post the name of it because it provides drinking water for quite a few residents and they wouldn’t be too pleased if hoards of Ghyll scramblers started using it for recreation.

 By the time we had ascended to the ghyll we had quite a sweat on and was glad of the cool water in the shade of a Rowan tree. The views down the Duddon were quite resplendent on such a stunning day.

 The Ghyll was a real surprise with a number of waterfalls and lots of copper ore in amongst the hematite and quartz.

 Reaching the top of the ghyll the water disappears underground so we sat there for about 20 minutes just enjoying the scenery. On the way back we managed a quick beer in the Newfield before heading back to the tent.

 Recently i purchased a tent from Dawn and un-beknown to me she sent me a couple or 3 stoves to have a play around with as well as the tent. I brought 2 of them with me to give them a try.
One is a Bushbuddy wood gas burner and the other is a Trangia triangle.
The Bushbuddy and Trangia triangle stoves. White Pike behind.
 Post weekend i can now say, The Bushbuddy doesn’t do it for me and that goes for all small wood burning stoves. I just don’t think they are efficient enough for our UK weather and need constant attention and charging. I wouldn’t take it backpacking but it would make an ideal smoke provider to get rid of the midges.

 On the other hand the Trangia triangle is a super little stove and it worked very well. I think a secondary windshield will be needed for bad weather but all in all i would backpack with this.
The windshield that is available on the Clickstand stove would be ideal but a little mod to the triangle would be needed.

 Saturday dawned exceptionally hot and by 6.30am the tent was sweltering. Even though i wasn’t in a sleeping bag the temperature ensured we got up and out quite early. I wanted to do Hard knott today and picked a route that i thought would provide us with some great views, especially over the Scafell range.

 I parked up just adjacent to Cockley Beck bridge and set off along the route of the old Roman Rd heading for Black Hall Farm. BHF was once a Youth Hostel many moons ago but now it’s just a hill farm. The tops of the surrounding fells were all covered in a veil of white cloud but sun lotion was a must.
Black Hall farm and Wrynose Pass
 The dogs barked at the farm as we approached but the path diverts away from the buildings and we never saw the noisy Collies. Underfoot was lush grass and we thought just how green is it here. We were headed for Castle How, an impressive upthrust of rock.
Approach to Castle How, just beyond Sheila and to the left.
 Our track bears right just before the How and skirts the North side of the forestry heading up to the shoulder of Harter Fell. The trees here had been recently felled and so the mess left was not pretty and the path up was very boggy in parts.
 We were supposed to have been on the old Roman Road over Hard knott pass which led to the Fort on the other side. There is no sign of it as far as we could see.

 Achieving the watershed the views were good to Harter Fell, down into Eskdale and in the opposite direction through Wrynose. The Fort built between AD120 and AD138 could be seen but our goal was hidden by imposing Border End.
Eskdale and remains of Hardknot Fort
Border End

 Following the boundary line on the map which isn’t to distinctive on the ground we made our way around Border End through numerous boggy bits before finding the cairned summit. There are lots of similar “Tops” in the vicinity and i would say the actual top would be awkward to locate in poor weather.
Sheila top of Hard Knott
 The top is a great place to sit and admire the spectacular views. We had picked a lucky summit today as we were cloud free whereas all around us the summits were still covered in mist. With little breeze we stayed quite a while admiring what today looked really alpine before heading north to Lingcove Beck. Here we stopped for lunch and in the distance we could see our first walkers of the day.

Stunning views of the Scafell range in mist
 The walk back down Mosedale was decidedly boggy as i knew it would be but it’s an interesting glacial valley and we didn’t mind the boggy bits. I kept looking back half expecting the Scafells and the Crinkles to be clear but it wasn’t until we got back to the car did a peak become free of cloud.
 Scafell peaking out of the mist
 Little Stand now clear and Wrynose Pass
Wrynose Bottom

 The day had been glorious. One of those days that you don’t want to end.

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