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 :).