Paramo Ladies’ Andina Jacket Review

I’ve had a Paramo Ladies’ Velez Adventure Light Smock waterproof jacket for many years and it’s terrific. Even in the worst of heavy downpours it’s never failed and, after many winters, it still looks like new. My main, rather major, problem is that I overheat in it. The smock doesn’t have a full length zip or sleeve vents. So unless there’s ice on the ground it stays on the coat hook.

So I’ve taken the plunge and bought a Paramo Ladies’ Andina Jacket to replace the smock. The Andina is designed for walkers and backpackers with “demanding levels of activity”. It isn’t Paramo’s lightest waterproof jacket (that’s currently the Mirada) but it does have a map pocket and mesh-lined shoulders and back (for when you’re wearing a rucksack) which the Mirada doesn’t have.

Here’s Paramo’s video about the Andina…

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Colour:

I have the lavendar/cobalt version which, in my opinion, is the only decent colour it comes in. The Andina also comes in pink/purple, bright red, or er… another red. Luckily “lavender/cobalt” is just light/dark blue. Due to the nature of Paramo fabrics and the bright colour the Andina in blue is a bit ‘shell suitey’, but only a bit.

Size:

The Velez in Large is generous on me but in the Andina it fits perfectly with room for a medium weight insulation layer underneath. (I usually wear a UK size 12 or 14.)

Weight:

The Andina in L weighs 675g on my scales. (My smock weighs 615g.) So this isn’t a light jacket. However it feels robust and if I don’t have to take my jacket off then I don’t mind it weighing a bit more which brings us to…

Breathability:

Recently I hiked up and down Offa’s Dyke with a 10kg backpack in typical autumn weather, hot sun one minute and cold wind/rain the next. Everyone I met had been playing jacket-off-jacket-on all day and yet I hadn’t felt so hot I had to take off my Andina. When it got too hot I unzipped the front and generous sleeve/torso zips. When I reached the windy top, in cloud and rain, I zipped everything up.

The breathability of fabrics is something clothing manufacturers like to go on about and I do believe in the technology, to a point. There’s nothing more breathable than an open zip which is where the Andina excels compared to the Velez.

Comfort:

One of the benefits of paramo jackets is that the waterproof fabric is soft and quiet. It’s also windproof and, obviously, waterproof. Plus, in the case of the Andina especially, the jacket and hood are well designed for comfort even during activity. The Andina doesn’t hinder movement at all, is nice and long at the back, and has a well fitted hood with extra room in case you have long hair. Additionally it has practical pockets. Although the ‘valuables’ pocket is too small for my smart phone that fits in the map pocket and the 2 hand warming pockets are perfect for hands (or dog biscuits and keys). I’m so comfortable wearing this jacket that I’ve worn it pretty much every day since I got it.

Waterproofness:

I got the chance to test the Andina’s waterproofness in the Chilterns last weekend when autumn threw everything she had at us and I stayed warm and dry. Now, the caveat is that this is a brand new jacket. The DWR coating is new and still working as it should. Paramo jackets need regular washing and reproofing (like any waterproof) so only time will tell if this jacket is as waterproof as my Velez. I’ll update this post with how it performs over time.

Feature list:

  • Uniquely shaped hood to accomodate hair comfortably, fully adjustable with wired peak to protect vision.
  • Large sleeve/torso vents for rapid on-the-move cooling with minimal rain ingress.
  • Fully articulated shoulders and elbows for maximum freedom of movement.
  • Pump Liner reinforcement on shoulders and back for extra protection when load carrying or in heavy rain.
  • Reflective strip (front and back) for improved visibility.
  • Internal secure zipped pocket.
  • Internal map pocket.
  • Two hand-warming pockets, easily accessible during activity.
  • Two-way zip with internal storm flap.
  • Long sleeves for protection with cuffs that are easily pushed or rolled up.
  • Generous length with scooped tail to protect lower back.
  • Hem drawcord for easy temperature control.

Suunto Core Classic Watch Review

I bought my first outdoor watch a few months ago and Deskbound Girevik asked me to write a review so here it is!

This is the Suunto Core Classic Watch in ‘all black’.

Suunto-Core-All-Black-504

Functions:

  •  Time
    • Day and Date
    • Alarm
    • Time in another time zone
    • Sunrise/Sunset times
    • Stopwatch
    • Timer
  • Barometer
  • Temperature
  • Storm Warning Alarm
  • Altimeter
  • Compass
  • Depth Meter for Snorkeling

I bought this watch for hiking. In particular I thought the altimeter, sunrise and sunset times, and storm warning alarm would be useful.

It turns out the compass is useful too. On a recent trip to the New Forest I used it, along with a map, to navigate to the pub off piste through the woods. Worked like a dream. Even got me back again after a pint of cider.

The temperature reading is fun. I tend to check it a lot and inform people how hot/cold it is, I’m sure they’re interested. On a cold morning in the tent it’s a good indication of madness.

Last weekend I used the alarm and it was discrete and yet woke me up. I don’t like too loud an alarm when I’m camping near other people as I like to get up early and don’t want to disturb others.

The controls and menu are intuitive and easy to navigate. One of the Suunto Core’s best features in my opinion.

The second best feature is that, despite its size, the watch is very comfortable to wear. It’s light and has a low profile. It’s something I wear often, even when I’m not hiking, so that’s a good indication of how wearable it is as I rarely wear jewellery.

It is possible to change the battery yourself on this new version. (I think this was a problem on previous models.)

All in all, a useful piece of kit and I’m very glad I got it.

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More Wild Country Zephyros 1 Musings

Following on from my rave review, subsequent pole failure, and adventure with Terra Nova customer services, I took my Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent away to Leicestershire for the weekend with the Backpackers Club. With some trepidation that it might not be as reliable or comfortable as I need a tent to be after a long hike.

I’m pleased to report that I’ve fallen in love with this tent all over again. It was reliable, comfortable, and I found a new feature!

We had a big rumble of thunder Friday night and then an almighty downpour for about 10 minutes. After that I can happily confirm my Zephyros is still absolutely watertight after 10 months of use.


Then I was reminded how cosy it is despite the small dimensions.

The inner is rectangular, about the size of a mattress, but there’s an additional triangle of space in the middle at the back. This space is large enough to store a significant amount of gear, including my rucksack, without feeling cramped. The inner sags a bit but not a great deal. The vents at the head and foot help keep it airy. The zip goes right the way down the side and can be opened up and rolled away leaving the whole porch accessible from the inner, an advantage over similar tents that have just a half sized door.

The porch initially looks small but there’s bags of storage space. A gap between the inner and outer at each end can be used for storage and the line that attaches the inner to the fly can be used as a washing line. This can all be easily accessed because the inner zip opens right up to the ends.


All this storage leaves the main porch clear, accentuating the spacious feel of this tent. All in all, rather than feeling cramped inside when the door’s zipped shut, it feels very homely.

And finally I discovered a new thing!

The Terra Nova Laser Competition, which this tent is a cheaper version of, has a neat feature where the ends of the fly can be raised for ventilation.


Now I’m not convinced the Zephyros is designed to do this, but you can vent the ends in a similar way. First unpeg the outer at each end, tuck it up inside, and attach the peg loop to the line between the inner & the outer. Ta da!


I just thought I’d try it after checking out some Laser Comps on the meet and was amazed when it worked. From inside you can see out through the head/foot vents in the inner which is neat. I’ve never had any condensation issues with the Zephyros but on a hot, still night this would be a bonus. Plus it’s useful in the morning to help everything dry off. I was so excited when I discovered it I ran around telling everyone. Sad but true.

So there you go. The Zephyros is back in my good books.

My Backpacking Gear May 2014

I’ve written this blog post because… everyone else is doing it!

Osprey Exos 46 backpack.

Backpack:

I’m currently using an Osprey Exos 46 to carry my gear. The Exos has been updated this year and I picked up this, older version, in a sale. I actually prefer it as there’s plenty of room for all my gear and the newer version has a capacity of 48 litres rather than 46 and hence is heavier. The large number of outside pockets makes grabbing things on the run nice and easy. I keep my waterproofs, the tent, a drinks bottle, snacks, cash, and first kit all on the outside of my bag so that the gear I don’t use during the day is safely tucked away in a waterproof liner in the main compartment and doesn’t get disturbed.

It’s not the lightest backpack on the market (I have the “S” back size and it weighs just over 1Kg) but it does have a solid frame and is of the build quality you’d expect from a company like Osprey. Besides 1Kg is a very reasonable weight. (You’ll notice this is a running theme with my gear: not the lightest but still, reasonably light.) Osprey don’t make a women’s specific version of the Exos but I’ve found this unisex version very comfortable. Some people criticise Osprey for adding too many features which raise the weight unnecessarily. In the Exos I quite like the gimmicks. You can get a drinks bottle out of the side pocket and stow your trekking poles without stopping.

One thing I’ve noticed to be a particularly British trait is to keep the tent on the outside of the bag. This enables pitching in the rain before opening up your rucksack and packing everything away inside the tent on a rainy morning, minimising gear getting wet and/or dropped in mud. It’s a mystery why Brits in particular would be mindful of this. I keep the tent pegs in an outside pocket, the poles in the side pocket, and the tent itself attached to the bottom of the rucksack.

There’s one waterproof liner in the main compartment, a Exped 40L Folding Ultralite Drybag, and some smaller waterproof bags in the outside pockets.

Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent.

Tent:

*** This tent had a failure! Please read blog post Terra Nova Customer Service ***

I wrote about it in my last blog post and here it is again, the Wild Country Zephyros 1. I’ve done some research and can’t find a better deal on a reasonably light solo 3-season tent. I’d like to replace mine with the updated, lighter version but for now it does the trick. My set-up weighs about 1.5Kg including pegs, poles, and bag. (The new version is approx. 300g lighter.)

I don’t bother with a groundsheet. The tent was so cheap and the floor so tough I don’t worry about putting a hole in it, I can always patch it if I do.

Top Row: Toakes Ultralite Solid Fuel Ti Cook System (stove, mug, windshield (not shown), Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Women’s Mattress. Middle Row: Sawyer Mini Water Filter, Headphones, Titanium Folding Spork, 2 x 12″ Nite Ize Gear Ties, Swiss Army Knife, Petzl e+lite Headtorch. Bottom Row: Decathlon Inflatable Pillow, Platypus 500ml Water bottle.

Stove:

Experts say that there are 3 big items you should focus on to reduce the weight you’re carrying. Firstly the backpack itself, secondly the tent, and thirdly the stove. In this third category I’m doing pretty well. My favourite stove is a titanium solid fuel stove, a titanium mug, and a titanium windshield weighing in total about 100g. (Pictured above top left.) It’s made by Toakes and sold as the “Ultralite Solid Fuel Ti Cook System” and it comes with a titanium folding spork and some little bags to keep everything in. It’s only good when I’m solo backpacking due to the size of the mug/pot but it’s a lovely little set-up.

Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag, occupied.

Sleeping System:

Currently I’m using a Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag which weighs 1.04Kg on my scales. I really could do with a lighter one for the summer. Currently it’s used as a quilt in the warmer weather or paired with an Alpkit bivi bag for sub-zero temperatures.

A Thermarest NeoAir Xlite inflatable mattress (355g) and an inflatable pillow from Decathlon which was stupidly cheap and works really well (81g) finish off my sleep system and altogether they’re extremely comfortable.

Viewranger app with OS map and route tracking running on Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Other Bits and Pieces:

Those are the key items but obviously there are lots of other things in my backpack. I mainly use Viewranger maps on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 as a GPS. There’s an mp3 player and headphones to help me sleep if a campsite’s noisy. A spare water carrier (either a 1L or 2L Source collapsable water container), lighter, money, toiletries, etc.

In terms of clothes I take a lightweight Rab waterproof jacket and, if rain is forecast, waterproof trousers. In the summer months I wear a Tiley hat to keep the sun out of my eyes and the rain off my head. In the winter I’ll take a warm hat, gloves, buff, and merino thermal layers. Wet feet on a weekend in Norfolk taught me to always pack a dry pair of socks. Recently I’ve added a cheap pair of cotton shorts to the list to wear inside my tent when my walking trousers are particularly wet and muddy. I also have a Rab insulated down vest that packs down very small and is a real comfort on a chilly evening.

Well there you have it, my kit list. In total it weighs about 6Kg before I add water, food, and fuel for the stove. Definitely not ultra-lightweight but it is on the lighter end of the scale. I’m too fond of my comfort items (mp3 player, tent socks, pillow) to ever get down to ludicrously lightweight so I’m reasonably happy with my reasonably lightweight set-up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Country Zephyros 1 Tent Review

*** This tent had a failure! Please read blog post Terra Nova Customer Service ***

 

This is a review of the original Wild Country Zephyros 1. Terra Nova have released an updated version of this tent, the Zephyros 1 Lite, which is slightly lighter (and slightly brighter). I’m posting a review of this original version because…

  1. Terra Nova are still selling it
  2. At the time of writing it’s on sale at Cotswold Outdoor for £99 which is an absolute bargain for an excellent backpacking tent.

Wild Country Zephyros 1 pitched without the inner.

The Zephyros 1 is a solo 3-season backpacking tent.

It’s an almost direct copy of Terra Nova’s successful Laser Competition 1 and is made by the same company (Wild Country are a cheaper range made by Terra Nova). However there are a few major differences.

  • It’s made from cheaper, heavier materials. Terra Nova claim a packed weight of 0.93Kg for the Laser Comp and 1.57Kg for the Zephyros.
  • The Zephyros comes fully seam-sealed, the Laser Comp needs to be seam-sealed by the customer.
  • The pole sleeve is attached to the tent, unlike the Laser Comp where it’s separate, and this makes it easier to pitch.
  • The Laser Comp costs £330 and the Zephyros 1 costs £120.

I bought mine last year and it’s my go-to tent for the colder, wetter months when I’m solo backpacking. In terms of space I find it tall enough to sit up in (I’m 5’6″) and there’s plenty of room to sleep and cook.

I’ve not found condensation a problem. The inner door is half mesh and there are small mesh panels on the inner at either end. The porch has a 2-way zip so you can open a ‘window’ at the top if extra ventilation is needed (although obviously not when it’s raining).

The porch isn’t massive but there’s room to cook inside. Note: cooking in tents can be very dangerous, not just because of the potential for combining fire and highly flammable fabrics but also the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. I’d advise against using a stove inside a tent unless you have lots of ventilation, are very cautious, and are experienced with the stove you are using. Always have a plan.

The second time I pitched this tent I did it in the dark, in the rain and managed it without too much swearing. Compared to some backpacking tents, where getting the sides taut is an art-form, this is pretty easy. There’s one big pole that goes over the middle and 2 short end poles. The tent comes with the end poles left in when the tent is packed away but I remove them and store them with the main pole. That way the fly & inner can be squished down to a much smaller size without the end poles getting in the way.

I haven’t pitched this tent up a mountain in 50 mph winds but it’s been out in heavy rain and reasonable coastal winds and it’s held tight, no problems or leaks.

The colour is an advantage when wild camping as it’s not too lurid.

My Zephyros 1 on the Isle of Wight Backpacker’s Club trip.

 

Modifications:

A very easy mod is to swap the guy ropes for lightweight dyneema and mini line-loks. There are only 4 guy ropes on the tent so it doesn’t make a great different to the weight but at the same time it’s not a big job to do.

Carry lighter tent pegs. My set includes some light v-shaped pegs that came with a Nemo tent and some titanium ‘ti-pins’. The Zephyros uses 10 tent pegs when completely pitched.

Lose the stuff sacks if you don’t need them.

The door doesn’t stay open very easily with the in-built catches so a peg or clip is useful.

Door held open with clip.

 

Summary:

A great, cheap tent in a popular, well-tested design. Ideal for a solo hiker on a budget.

It’s hard to find fault with this tent. Although it’s a little heavy for a solo tent compared to some other tents on the market it’s a third of the cost. (The set-up I have weighs 1.4Kg not including the pegs.) It’s very sturdy and the Pu Polyester feels stronger than Si Nylon. Not having to seam-seal a tent is a real advantage. A little more room would be nice but there’s plenty of space for one. I only paid £99 for mine and I really feel like I got a bargain. This is a tent I have confidence that I’ll be comfortable in.

Extra option:

Today I pitched the Zephyros without the inner. This tent will pitch with just the fly but the end poles could sink into soft ground. Nick Miles, chairman of the Backpacker’s Club, has suggested using the tops of milk cartons to keep this from happening. In this config, counting just fly sheet and poles, the tent weighs 835g.

Without the inner the end poles could sink into soft ground.

 

Full Specs:

  • Sleeps: 1
  • Season Rating Spec: 3 season backpacking
  • Free standing?: No (tent requires guy lines to be pitched)
  • Minimum Weight: 1.41Kg (3lb 2oz)
  • Packed Weight: 1.57Kg (3lb 7oz)
  • Pitch Time (estimate): 5 mins
  • Number of Porches: 1
  • Number of Doors: 1
  • Pitch Type: Fly and Inner pitch together
  • Pack Size: 52cm x 14cm
  • Flysheet: Pu Polyester R/S 4000mm FR
  • Floor: Pu Polyester R/S 6000mm
  • Poles: 8.5mm Wild Country Superflex Alloy
  • Peg: 10 x Aluminium V-Angle
  • Guylines: 4 x black reflective 2.3mm
  • Inner Door: Half Mesh

Dimensions

Good tents attract small dogs and sunsets…

Quechua Forclaz 300 Women’s Hiking Jacket Review

What Decathlon say:

Protection from the rain and wind, and keeping your body dry while MOUNTAIN HIKING. Waterproof, breathable, and ventilated, the Forclaz 300 L has all the essential properties of an authentic trekking jacket at an absolutely unbeatable price.

  • Waterproofing: 5000mm waterproof NOVADRY membrane. 100% taped seams.
  • Breathability: NOVADRY hydrophilic membrane (RET=12) limits condensation inside the garment.
  • Ventilation: Underarm ventilation zips: aid perspiration wicking.
  • Flexibility: Hood folds into the collar.
  • 2 year guarantee.

It also has the following features.

  • Two reasonably sized hand pockets with zips.
  • Inside pocket with zip.
  • Storm flap over main front zip.
  • Adjustable cuffs via velcro tabs.
  • Adjustable bottom via pull-cord.
  • Adjustable, peaked hood with draw-cord
  • Soft collar and chin protecting fabric over top of zip.
  • L size = 461g

At the time of writing, for sale for £44.99. I bought the jacket on offer for £39.99.

I bought this waterproof jacket for the warmer months to replace my Paramo Velez Adventure Light Smock which is just far too hot and heavy to carry in the Summer. After hunting around and doing some research I’d actually decided I wanted the Rab Kinetic or the Marmot Crystalline.

The Kinetic weighs 220g and the Crystalline 176g! Obviously both much lighter that the Forclaz 300 (461g). However the Kinetic (at the time of hunting) cost £128 and the Crystalline £120 and neither jacket was available to buy in the colour and size that I wanted. So, on the spur of the moment whilst passing time in Decathlon, I bought the Forclaz 300. It was on sale and looked like a bargain.

The Good Stuff:

  • Features of a modern high-end waterproof (see list above) in a cheap jacket.
  • A very flattering and comfortable jacket. Long at the back, fitted at the waist (but not too tight). Long sleeves to keep hands dry.
  • Loose sleeves that can be pushed up or cinched tight. (I can’t stand elasticated wristbands.)
  • Excellent hand pockets for hands or bits and bobs. Also a good-sized inside pocket with a zip that takes a smart phone.
  • The pit zips, sorry “underarm ventilation zips”, are excellent and easy to use one-handed.
  • The colour. My Mum thinks it’s a bit bright but I love the turquoise blue. Reminds me of the seaside.
  • The price. Quite honestly, if I lost or ripped this jacket tomorrow I wouldn’t shed a tear.
  • It’s waterproof!  Like the Quechua tents this jacket is, so far, bombproof.

The Bad Stuff:

  • The hood isn’t perfect. On my Paramo I can move my head around and the hood moves with me and the peak is excellent. On the Forclaz there’s a bit of movement and the peak isn’t ideal.
  • The weight. At 461g it’s not particularly light but then it’s still about 200g lighter than my Paramo and it packs down to about 2/3rd the size.
  • I imagine this isn’t as breathable as a more expensive jacket? I ask this as a question as it’s never something that’s been a particular problem for me since the cagoule I had back in the 80s.

In Summary: I’m really pleased with it. If I could have sourced and afforded a Rab or a Marmot jacket I would have bought one but all my extra money would be getting would be less weight and a smaller pack-size. In terms of features the Forclaz 300 is an excellent waterproof for a remarkably low price.

Aside: It took a month and a half for me to test the waterproofness of this jacket because from the moment I bought it all rain clouds were repelled from me. Including during a weeks walking on Dartmoor! For me that’s worth £40 alone 😉