Inov8 Mudclaws

Having been a devoted wearer of Salomon Fellraisers for the past few years, a slippy run out with Chris finally convinced me that it was time to invest in some shoes with more grip. So we invoked the nuclear option, and went with Inov8‘s ultimate-grip shoe — the Mudclaw.

Whilst working at planetFear, I’d dabbled with the old version of the Mudclaw, but found the slightly odd heel didn’t work well for me. I spent most days after running with the old Mudclaws suffering from foot pain, so I’d stayed away. Never the less, Chris convinced me that the new shoe was a different beast all together and how right he was!

So far, the Mudclaws have been taken round a couple of mountain marathons, a couple of training runs, and a (nearly) half marathon up Hedgehope in Northumberland.

The Mudclaws feature 8mm (8mm!) studs and a 6mm heel-toe drop and I have found them to provide stable placement for my feet when out running. In particular, the stability provided by these shoes is hugely important for me, due to over-pronation caused by a misaligned left ankle. I have also noticed an improvement when descending as the outrageous grip provided by the Mudclaws allows for greater margins of error. The lacing running the length of the shoe allows for a snug fit along the entire foot and has saved the loss of a shoe on more than one occasion!

My one complaint is that I cannot get the lacing very snug around my ankle but this may be more to do with my orthotics taking up more space than Inov8 would anticipate in their design.

Grip on (wet) rock also leaves a little to be desired, but I find this is almost always the case with any shoe and so I don’t really consider this a negative against the Mudclaws

They seem to be holding up reasonably well for the time being, but having only done ~100 miles in them it’s early days to be making any comment on the Mudclaws’ durability.

So the take-away message is: a comfortable shoe, with a middling drop and just utterly outrageous grip for anyone who battles through deep mud or slippery grass.

As always with shoe reviews, this is only my own opinion. Everybody’s feet are different so please take the comfort/fit comments with a pinch of salt. Oh, and always try new shoes out at least once before a race!

Brynje Super Thermo Mesh

Sometimes old tech is better than new tech, especially if it’s improved via the use of new(er) materials. Brynje Super Thermo Mesh is a prime example of this.

To put it simply, and quite frankly, Brynje Super Thermo Mesh baselayers are far and away my best outdoor purchase this year, and probably within the last three years. Let me first say that I’m not sponsored by Brynje, a Brynje supplier, and even paid (almost) full RRP for these bad boys. But they’ve been worth every penny! Although you probably shouldn’t wear them to go to the pub…

It’s difficult to really explain how effective these are. Let’s first start with a little fuzzy science (by that I mean I’m not going to use any quantitative information, and rely more on anecdotal evidence backed up with some sound reasoning).

In a “traditional” layering system, you aim to keep yourself comfortable by insulating yourself sufficiently from outside influences (rain, wind, etc.), whilst preventing your body from overheating and sweating too much whilst working hard, and subsequently cooling down too much when stopped or at a reduced effort.

For now, we are going to exclude the shell (which is mostly responsible for acting as a barrier), and mid layers (responsible for increasing insulation when necessary) and focus on the base layer. We can consider the base layer as a mechanism primarily responsible for insulation (usually by trapping air next to or near the skin), and for moisture management (i.e. moving sweat or errant rain away from the skin). Modern base layers are generally pretty good at the first job, whilst often fairly poor at the second.

This is because even modern technical clothing, whilst capable of drying out much more rapidly than the bane of all outdoor enthusiasts – cotton – still retains moisture within the fabric until it is able to escape from the fabric to the outside world. Until this moisture can escape, it sits in the baselayer, cooling you down when you stop, and making you feel a little uncomfortable otherwise.

Unlike solid-weave clothing, Brynje mesh really excels in both respects.

Envisage it as fishnet clothing with smallish holes. The string which makes up the fishnet creates pockets of air next to your skin. These air pockets are responsible for insulation, as long as there is an extra layer on top of the Brynje (for instance a wind shirt); it’s the same idea as a knitted woolen jumper. Conversely, if you’re too warm it’s easy to vent heat quickly just by exposing some skin (probably a bad choice of words).

At the same time there is only string in contact with, at a rough guess, 30% of your skin, and the weave is made with polypropylene which is inherently hydrophobic, reducing the amount of water it will naturally absorb. This combination of relatively low contact area and low water absorption means that very little moisture is held against your skin, even after extended periods of hard effort. Instead, moisture is moved quickly away from your body, keeping you warmer and more comfortable.

A personal favourite is to combine Brynje with a super-breathable softshell, such as Vapour-rise, which really excels at moving moisture outwards. As an example, at the end of each day on my Spine recce, the outside of my jacket would be soaking (or at least visibly very damp) but the Thermo Mesh and my skin underneath would be almost dry!

Another example comes from my recent trip to Scotland. Walking up to our camping spot for the first night we experienced some of the worst weather I have ever had the pleasure of encountering – sideways driven wet sleet anybody? – and was thoroughly miserable by the time we made camp. After pitching my tent in a short window of reasonable weather, I dove inside to get rid of my very wet outer clothes to find that my baselayer and skin really weren’t far from dry, and when morning rolled round there really wasn’t any discomfort when I put my (slightly damp) baselayers back on. In fact, they warmed back up so quickly that it made putting all my other clothes back on pretty much a non-issue. The thicker threads of the Brynje separates damp outer clothing from your skin enough that you don’t feel particularly damp and clammy, and if clement weather (or even just no precipitation) rolls round, it gets a chance to dry off.

Honestly, I could go on for hours about how good the Brynje mesh is. Basically, if you feel you can deal with the fashion faux-pas that is string underwear, get some. You won’t be disappointed.

Phantom 20 follow on review

Following my sparkling endorsement of the phantom 20, I have found a fairly fundamental issue with the phantom 20. I still consider the carrying system (i.e. the yoke system to avoid asymmetric loading whilst running) to be exceptional, but the issue is related to the back panel.

During long runs (longer than about an hour), the thin foam panel which should reduce or prevent abrasion works its way out of its sleeve in the back of the pack. This is probably exacerbated by the presence of a bladder, but especially for Lite events, a bladder is an unavoidable necessity.

The result is excessive chaffing on the lower back which has happened every time I’ve used the bag fully loaded. The nub of the issue is that the foam back panel is too soft and therefore rucks up during a run, and coupled with a top-flap which is insufficiently secured, the foam rides out of the bag over and over again.

The solution is pretty simple; add a few grams to the bags’ weight. Increase the overlap of the flap at the top with the panel below, and add more Velcro. Three times the amount that’s presently there would make a reasonable start by my reckoning. Add some sticky rubber to the foam back panels, and increase the rigidity of the foam back panel to prevent or reduce it from riding up whilst running.

On that note, I’m off to make some changes to my bag. And to OMM – it’s frustrating; the Phantom 20 is so close to being an excellent bag. Please, please, please sacrifice some grams on the bag, and fix the one issue I’ve been banging on at you about for over a year!

OMM Phantom Hoody

The OMM Phantom Hoody is a recent edition to their range, released in the autumn of 2014. As with the Nordisk Telemark 2, I first encountered the Phantom Hoody whilst working at the 2014 OMM in the Cheviot Hills, and as soon as I’d seen it and given it the obligatory test wear, I knew that my water-proof jacket collection would be expanding.

For those of you familiar with the OMM range, the Phantom Hoody is made from their Kamleika material, and to my mind, is the logical progression of the Kamleika series. It feels that the OMM have really considered the requirements of their competitors, and have created a lighter, even further stripped down version of the Kamleika Race Smock.

If you like to get nice and nerdy about your kit (and I certainly do), the Phantom Hoody is given a weight of 220g for size large, compared to the 230g for a large Kamleika Race Smock. Not much of a weight saving there, but the removal of the zip seems to really reduce the pack-size, allowing the Hoody to be rolled up incredibly tightly into its own hood without the problem of a zip getting in the way.

Hoho! I hear you cry; surely for the sake of 10g, it’s worth having a zip to be able to vent?

But I’m not convinced.

If you’re anything like me, you only put on your shell when the weather is absolutely foul, especially during high-intensity activities (such as Mountain Marathons). In these situations, a zip just isn’t that useful; what’s the point of putting a shell layer on if you’re then going to let all the rain piss in through a massive hole at the top? About as useful as a chocolate teapot really!

All the above is just posturing though; if you’d asked me 3 years ago, when I was fresh faced, and only just moved back up from London after working in Covent Garden, I’d have said “take the extra 10 grams, it gives you the option to vent”, but no more. The reason for this is simple: pure, hard-won experience.

My Phantom Hoody got its first use in anger at the 2015 OMM. Conditions on the Saturday morning were horrific, although probably just normal by OMM standards. So to stave off, or mitigate the rain, wind and seeping cold, the Phantom Hoody was on from minute one. On the start line, it was a little chilly. We had to get moving more quickly than we would have liked, in order to stop ourselves from seizing up, and this is where the Phantom Hoody started to shine.

I run warm, all the time, which means I’m usually that nut-case jogging past in just a pair of skimpy shorts in the middle of the winter. Keeps me at the right temperature you see. What was interesting about the Phantom Hoody, was that it also kept me at the correct temperature. There was an initial period, of about 5 to 10 minutes where the “micro-climate” inside the Hoody had to build up, but once that was established I was comfortable from then on. So much so in fact, that the Hoody remained on until way after the rain had stopped, until the sun suddenly burst out from behind the clouds, and my body immediately screamed “T-SHIRT TIME!”

The point I’m really trying to get across here, is that although the zip has been removed, you really didn’t need it anyway, and the Phantom Hoody provides that no-fuss garment to throw on over whatever you’re wearing at the time to keep out the weather.

I feel that I should give a quick overview of the fiddly details here, to bulk out description and help with decision making. Aside from the lovely 4-way stretch Kamleika material used, the features really have been kept to a minimum.

The hood is nice and snug, and with a medium-high collar it’s possible to cinch down the hood around your head and neck, keeping pretty much everything out. This is achieved by adjusting two elasticated cords either side of the hood, and one at the back to reduce volume which is nifty, and more importantly, means the hood stays put, even in foul weather. There is one more adjustable cord around the bottom of the Hoody, and again, it allows a nice tight seal to be created, keeping out the nasties.

The arms are a little longer than normal for a jacket, and this is because there are thumb-loops in the sleeves, allowing you to protect the back of your hands, should you so desire; very handy (hahaha). Interestingly, I also found the sleeves fairly easy to roll up to the elbow, and whilst my fore-arms aren’t quite what they used to be, it does indicate that very few people should have an issue with this aspect. As a side note, rolling up my sleeves allowed plenty of venting to keep me happy throughout the first part of the race.

There is one final feature; a Velcro tab which can be used to stow the hood away if not in use. I didn’t really feel the need to utilise this if truth be told, but it does double up, with a bit of thought, as an excellent retainer to keep the hoody all wrapped up inside itself when not in use.

Overall, I have to rate the Phantom Hoody very highly. I’ve run in some pretty awful weather, in a selection of waterproof garments, and have to say that I was by far the most comfortable in the Phantom. Other garments also include those made with Gore-Tex Active Shell, which I just found to be too hot and sweaty. I also like smocks, there’s very little to go wrong with them, and OMM have managed to take the smock concept all the way to its end point, without rendering it dysfunctional. An excellent waterproof for excellent running, I’d be surprised if I didn’t re-invest when (if) this one wears out.

One final note, and I’ll let you get off. It has to be mentioned that the Kamleika fabric isn’t as tough as some alternative waterproof garments. I know many people who swear by their Kamleika jackets for every activity under the sun, but if it was me, I would use something a little tougher for trekking, or other activities which require a heavy bag. The Phantom feels like a piece created with a job in mind, but it does that job fantastically well. Once again, thank you OMM.

Post by Johan

Edit (23/04/17): I should have added this a while back, so for that I apologise. Whilst using the Phantom Hoodie in warmer conditions – i.e. not wearing a fleece as an intermediate layer, but with the hoodie in direct skin/t-shirt contact – the build up of sweat inside appeared to draw water through the fabric from the outside. Unfortunately this left me cold and soaked through. I have to admit to not being a materials scientist, so I’m not sure if that’s an exactly accurate description of what happens, but it fits with my experience.

However, please understand that this only seems to happen when working hard, with the fabric directly next to the skin. When used on cooler races with an intermediate layer, I’ve not had any problems. If you also run cooler, it seems highly likely that you’ll experience no problems. As a double check, I’m off to stand in the shower with my hoodie on; I expect I’ll stay dry :).

Nordisk Telemark 2

At the Spring OMM Lite, Lucy kindly purchased a Nordisk Telemark 2 (not at full price I must hasten to add) for me to use on future OMM events. The Telemark 2 came in very handy during the 2015 OMM at Tweedsmuir, and consequently I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences with the Telemark 2 in the hopes that it they be of some help.

So why choose the Telemark 2 instead of a more established alternative? One reason for me, if I’m being entirely honest, was that the tent was available at the time I’d chosen to go and compete in the OMM for a fantastic price, but this was by no means the only reason. I’d notice the Telemark2 whilst working for planetFear at the 2014 OMM (Cheviot Hills), and even then its small pack-size and low weight had really impressed me (about the same width but 1.5 times the length of a Nalgene bottle, and approximately 950g).

When I enquired about the Telemark at the Spring OMM Lite, you could see Stu’s face light up; I think the OMM lads had been waiting to showcase their newest import, and here was the perfect chance.

The first impressions were excellent, and I mean really excellent. The little details have obviously been thought out by someone who uses tents. A magnetic storm-flap retainer is used instead of the usual Velcro, preventing the build-up of unwanted bits and pieces such as the perennial surprise moss. The inner is spacious for a sub-kg tent, and the pack size borders on the ludicrous, especially if you have the time to really cinch down the tent in its stuff-pouch*. If you are on a solo trip, or you’re the only one staying in this rather expensive “one man palace”, there is a toggle attaching the inner to the tensioning strap under the hoop, which provides the ability to expand and contract the volume of the inner, and thus contract or expand the room in your porch – very handy, and very, very clever!

Watching the tent go up for the first time gives a good sense of how little faff is involved. One hoop offset towards one end of the tent is formed with a single lightweight DAC aluminium pole, then two pegs are used to position and anchor the hoop. From here, four smaller pegs are used to pitch out the corners at the correct distance from the hoop, and voila! The guylines on the corners of the tent have metal hoops which the pegs are put through to pitch, and allows the tent to be tensioned with ease, and also allows the tent to “auto adjust” to some extent in high winds.

It has to be added here that pole-sleeve on the tent I have is, in all honesty, a little tight, but to my mind this is the only gripe I have found with the Telemark 2 so far. It’s not an issue which has been mentioned anywhere else I have seen (either the TGO review, or on the UKC forums which are usually a fairly harsh judgement ground), and so I can only conclude that it’s a one-off problem, and it really isn’t a big problem.

I guess the next task is to look at the real nitty-gritty of how it worked when used in anger. The Telemark got its first real use on a walk along the most northern section of the Pennine Way from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm. Camping in mid October on an exposed summit at 500m provided an excellent test of the Telemark’s abilities, and it did not disappoint. Wind speed was probably at around the 10mph mark, with stronger gusts here and there, and once the tent was pitched there was never any worry of it being flattened or blown away. In the morning, the tent was still perfectly stable after a pleasant uninterrupted night’s sleep, but there was a bit of condensation evident. Personally I think this is to be expected with tents, and especially small tents, but it may be a point of consideration before purchase; my feeling is that to achieve greater venting the tent would have to be heavier, or less stable, or less waterproof, so to my mind the Telemark performs its role fantastically well.

The Telemark’s second outing was during the 2015 OMM at Hearthstanes in the Scottish Borders. Again, I can only describe my experience of using the Telemark in this capacity (arguably, exactly what it was designed for) as exemplary; pack size and weight are minimal, and pitching once the overnight campsite has been reached only took about 5 minutes – and we were dicking around at the same time! It wasn’t a dry or still night, but both Fred (my OMM partner) and myself remained dry and without tent, or one another, in our faces throughout the entire experience. In the morning, it was slightly cramped when getting everything sorted, but much less than I would have expected from a tent of this spec. The really important thing I must mention is that we took the tent down, and compressed it back down to small pack size, in about 2 minutes thanks to the stuff-pouch sewn into the inner – vital for those rapid morning starts!

To summarize; the Telemark 2 is an exceptional sub-kg tent, suitable for lightweight backpacking and mountain marathon style events. Its clever construction provides extremely rapid pitching whilst keeping the tent nice and stable (although I must admit I haven’t been able to subject it to truly foul conditions yet), and the inner is spacious enough for two average size males to sleep comfortably (close friends recommended!). All in all a cracking piece of kit which has only gone up in my estimation after use.

Most importantly, would I buy it again? I think that as I plan to do much more adventure racing there would be little hesitation, even at full price! I may even go as far as to suggest that it would take a lot of convincing for me to part with it in exchange for a Hilleberg – something I never thought I’d hear myself say!

*For any folk reading who already have the Telemark2 and haven’t realised, there is a pouch sewn into the inner next to the door which you can stuff the tent into. This is incredibly easy to do, and avoids the problem of trying to get your tent into the provided stuff-bag which does seem a little small, especially if the tent is wet.


Post by Johan

OMM Mountain Raid Jacket and Half Bag

Whilst competing in the OMM 2015 I was lucky enough to borrow a test set of their new sleeping system; the new Mountain Raid Jacket and Mountain Raid 1.6 PA Half Bag.

First impressions are fantastic, both the jacket and half bag fit nicely together into a small dry bag. The half bag packs down to, unsurprisingly, about half the size of the existing Mountain Raid 1.6 full bag, whilst the jacket packs into its own pocket giving a total pack size for both the bag and jacket of about 3L.

The Mountain Raid Jacket is what one would expect of a medium-weight primaloft jacket made by OMM. The jacket as a whole feels very well put together, and once worn can be cinched down tightly at the hem and hood to trap plenty of warmth. The fabric used for the inner is comfortable next to the skin and the outer beads water well enough to repel a short shower. There is a double zip on the chest-pocket, but it seems this is a design artefact from the rotor vest carried across by the factories. All in all, the jacket is exactly what you want to keep you comfortable at the overnight camp, but with the added bonus of not having to carry the extra bulk and weight of both a full sleeping bag and jacket.

When sleep finally calls, the half bag is attached to the jacket via four poppers on either side, completing the sleeping system. Whilst only the shortest of people could realistically use all four poppers, at 5’9” I utilised three poppers on each side, and found that the bag remained securely attached throughout the night. The half bag 1.6 utilises the same primaloft weights as its full-length counterpart; 60gsm on the bottom and 100gsm on the top. With this spec, my legs felt comfortably warm whilst also wearing thermal leggings, but it felt that a lighter spec would probably feel a little cold. Again, the inner and outer fabrics felt high quality; the only issue experienced was that the shiny fabric used for the outers of both the bag and jacket meant that there was some sliding down the tent through the night.

Overall, the sleeping system feels well put together, with just enough insulation for a night’s sleep in late October. I would thoroughly recommend pairing it with a decent sleeping mat however, as when used with a duo-mat it was just a little too cold to really drop off properly. This also ended up with frequent turning throughout the night to get cold parts of my body off the floor, and as I’d “cleverly” pulled my arms inside the jacket and then had my partner zip up the jacket for warmth, I ended up rotated within the jacket. Due to this I managed at one point to almost strangle myself with the hood, and proceeded to flail for a couple of minutes in a fairly ineffective and panicked way.

So to wrap it all up (if you’ll excuse the pun) – I found the OMM Mountain Raid Jacket and Half Bag to be an excellent light weight sleeping system which also takes up minimal pack space. The ability to use the jacket separately throughout the evening allows you to remain warm and comfortable until bed-time, at which point the half bag can be easily added for sleeping. From my experience, I would suggest coupling the Mountain Raid with a decent light-weight sleeping mat (I’m looking to invest in a Klymit Inertia X-Frame) and a pair of mittens to keep your hands warm throughout the night which should allow you a comfortable OMM night’s sleep.

The most important message however, is that I will certainly be investing in the Mountain Raid Jacket and Half Bag for future Mountain Marathon events. Cracking equipment, well worth the money if you want to reduce the weight of your kit in an effective way.

Optimus Crux Review

This year I entered the Original Mountain Marathon, prompting me to look for a light stove with a large boiling capacity. I eventually decided to buy an Optimus Crux Stove with the Weekend HE Cookset from Above and Beyond, and when the stove arrived I was excited to see how it measured up to my expectations.

Straight out of the box, first impressions are good. The HE Cookset is a well-made hard-anodised aluminium pot and pan/lid combination with a heat-exchanging ring on the bottom of the main pot (which is where the HE in the name comes from). The largest pot has a useful little spout at 90O from the handles which fold back onto the side of the pot when not in use. The Terra Weekend Cookset pots also have a greater diameter than similar cooksets which allows a medium (230g) gas canister to be carried in the main pot.

When compared to the excellent, but fairly standard pots, the stove is something else. The burner head is mounted on a hinge which allows the whole unit to be collapsed down in order to fit into the dished bottom of the gas canister, inside its own little neoprene “stuffsack”. This set-up provides a snug fit between the gas canister and the pot, whilst protecting the pot from being scratched by the gas canister and burner. The added gas means that the total stove/pots/gas weight is a little more than similar set-ups from other companies, but in my view is well worth it, especially if you have a large appetite.

So to its performance; I found the whole package to feel sturdy, well made and satisfying to use. The burner unfolds with a satisfying and confidence-inspiring click as the collar fits into place to hold it in the correct position. The attachment to the gas canister is a standard screw-on which appears to be nice and robust, although the stove is currently too new to comment properly.

All these features aside, the most important aspect is how well the stove actually performs, and in that it certainly did not disappoint. The burner head is a decent size, producing a larger burn area than most other lightweight stoves, and when turned up to 11, boil times are impressively short. It must be added that both times this stove has been used have been outside in windy conditions (the first time was on top of a 500m peak in Nothumberland, with no shelter aside from the tent), and in both cases water was boiling within two minutes . For all you tech nerds out there – only about 400ml was boiled at a time; enough for 2 boil in the bag meals. As I hadn’t actually timed the boil times whilst out, a quick test in our breezy Newcastle garden boiled 400ml in an impressive 1 minute 12 seconds! I’d probably stay away from doing anything other than boiling water with it though, as the Crux would be likely to incinerate your food and ruin your pans leaving you hungry and annoyed.

To boil it down to the basics – the Optimus Crux stove teamed with the Optimus Terra Weekend HE Cookset is an impressive lightweight stove/pot-set. Boil times are ridiculously short, even in windy conditions, and an increased pot diameter means that a larger gas canister can be carried to avoid any worries of running out of gas.

Importantly – how does the Crux compare to the competition? Incredibly well; the Crux is now my stove of choice for trips where weight and volume are at a premium.

Post by Johan

[More photos to follow]

Optimus Crux in use at The OMM
Optimus Crux in use at The OMM