Extremities ‘Merino Thinny’ gloves. British Army surplus ‘Goretex’ mittens.
I’ve really dithered about doing gear reviews. It’s been pointed out (by for example Nastassia whose blog is well worth a visit) that gear reviews are already superabundant online. I’m not any kind of expert on outdoor gear and don’t want inadvertently to misinform or mislead. Photographing gear is boring and time-consuming (hence my photos will be slapdash and impressionistic, as you can see). Life’s too short. Etc.
So why gear reviews? Because I’m hopeless at choosing outdoor gear for my rather specific requirement of multi-week lightweight backpacking in hill country. With astonishing regularity and predictability the outdoor gear I buy falls apart, leaks, hurts, looks absurd, weighs a ton or in some other way generally embarrasses and inconveniences me. Reviews are everywhere, yes, but reviews of the specific gear I’m interested in and applied to my specific needs I can never seem to find.
Reviews are everywhere, yes, but many seem solely to consist of somebody who has only just bought a piece of gear patting themselves on the back for doing so and reciting the manufacturer’s awesome specification, which I can read for myself, thank you. Gear reviews by people who’ve trashed their stuff in the hills until it fell apart are sadly rare. Perhaps because such folk have all perished, due to their rubbishy gear. Perhaps also, whispers a little voice in my head, because bloggers who recount, harshly but fairly, how their gear disintegrated in tough conditions are unlikely to blag any more freebies from that manufacturer. This shouldn’t be a concern for me as it seems you need to be young and glamorous to blag freebies. That’s good.
And also this – rather than claiming expertise, I’m asking for help here! My posts will be not so much gear reviews as gear bleats. They will be quite discursive, exposing my lame ignorance of general gear principles. They will ask – what am I doing wrong? Can anybody suggest better stuff? I’d be ever so grateful for any hints or tips.
Consider these gloves (above). If you’ve looked at my Pennine Way blogs you’ll know I walk with trekking poles, and also that I’m not in the first flush of youth. I’ve a bit of ticker trouble, hence very poor circulation. Walking with poles means cold hands, so gloves for me are most definitely a thing. In fact I’m in big trouble without them. My preferred system is a thin pair of fingered gloves for basic warmth, plus lightweight, minimal water- and windproof overmittens for when it rains and/or the wind gets cold. My fingers stay much warmer in mitts, which are also lighter than waterproof fingered gloves.
In the past I’ve used ‘Sticky Thinny’ gloves by Extremities and been very pleased with them. By 2016 these had worn out and I was wondering if there was anything now available that was even lighter, even stretchier, and even more minimal. ‘You need merino’ chorused the kids in the outdoor shop, ‘merino is the way of the future. Everything’s merino now’. So merino gloves I duly bought, and very snug and light they were. They seemed just the job.
Felt is one of humankind’s oldest manufactures, probably as ancient as flint tools. It’s a brilliant material if you want to make a yurt or a fez, to line your jousting armour or to model charming kitschy animals for your Etsy store. It occurs with breath-catching spontaneity whenever wet wool experiences repeated friction. Try it, it’s amazing. One traditional way of making felt, funnily enough, is to bring wet wool into repeated violent contact with a stick or pole. You can see a very young-looking Ray Mears demonstrating that here. When wool felts it shrinks dramatically and loses all elasticity. Merino wool is famously good at felting. Oh dear. Shrunken inelastic gloves are useless. Apart from anything else, you can’t get your blooming great freezing hands into them any more.
Yes folks, I stupidly tried using wool gloves with trekking poles and, after about ten days of continuous wet friction against the pole handles, they quite suddenly and dramatically felted. Shrunken and useless, who knew that would happen? In the absence of retail opportunities, I was left to complete the Pennine Way with only my seventeen year-old Extremities Goretex ‘windstopper’ overmitts (below) to keep my hands warm.
This might not have been so disastrous had the mitts been new, but seventeen years is a long shift for Goretex. Dry wind they still stopped, but continuous sheeting Pennine rain was another matter. It quickly became obvious that my vintage mitts no longer identified as waterproof. Late in life they had, in fact, come out as wet/dry non-binary. They had elected henceforth to be known as ‘fluid’. Into a bin they also went, the bin of a long-suffering BnB at Edale whose owners have no doubt disposed of an incredible diversity of filthy and shattered outdoor gear over the years.
For my next modest blunder into hillier terrain, I’ll be needing new gloves. In a mad rush of blood to the head (and hopefully its retention in the fingers), I’ve gone and spent £25 on these Rab extravagances (below).
These are light, stretchy, and quite engineered. They resist a fair bit of cool wind but water soaks in almost immediately. Genuine Polartec should be hard-wearing, my ‘Sticky Thinnys’ in similar stuff lasted more than ten years. I didn’t really need the grippy blobs, but they were the only sensible gloves they had in the outdoor shop and the cute saleslady said they looked awesome. Twenty-five quid! Sigh.
Consider the gloves above. These generic microfleece gloves can be had in any supermarket or discount store, sometimes for as little as one pound – I think I paid £1.79 or something for these in Tesco, unless they’re one of the many pairs of gloves my Mum has stuffed into my pockets over the years, with a stern ‘where are your gloves?’, bless her. I decided to perform the first of many Oldie Outdoors Gear Lab©®™ unscientific experiments on these and with a cheapie glove on one hand and a Rab glove on the other I hung both hands out of the window into a sleety February breeze. Brrr.
To be honest, I couldn’t detect any difference in short-term hand warmth, or rather lack of it. Obviously the Rabs will be more durable, at least they’d better be for twenty-five quid, but I think I’ll carry the cheapies as a 38g backup. This leaves the issue of mitts.
What I need is some ultrathin, ultraminimal, ultrasimple, ultracheap breathable waterproof mitts. Ha ha ha ha ha…
Everywhere you can buy for almost nothing Chinese-made ‘ski mitts’, clumsy, fat-fisted things with vulgar logos and dangling with extraneous and undesirable clips, carabiners, straps, elastications and general botherations. If you want lightweight minimal mitts, the price is outrageous. Mountain Equipment hyperminimal Goretex shell mitts, for example, are a mind-boggling fifty quid, confirming my impression that the only people who can afford that brand are highly-paid BBC science and wildlife presenters. I live on a pension, I can’t afford fifty quid for mitts. This whole mitt situation confirms one of the soon-to-be-famous Oldie Outdoors Golden Rules of Gear©®™ – to get less, you have to pay more.
Consequently I’ve indulged in a slightly mad shopping experiment – I gambled a tenner on a pair of British Army surplus ‘Goretex’ mittens, described on eBay as ‘size medium’. Well, all I can say is the British Army must have enormous hands, these mitts are vast!
Each one of these mitts would form a serviceable sleeping bag for a full-grown ferret, they’re super-roomy and go all the way up to my elbows. Obviously therefore one could not wear them over a shell jacket, this would be a schoolboy error of elementary hydrology as silly as mistakenly on one rainy Pennine morning sleepily putting gaiters on top of overtrousers (who would do that? ahem…) You’d have to get the huge cuffs under the jacket somehow, or the mitts would simply fill up with the water pouring down your arms.
They also have a large strap across the wrist, although this is actually clear of the trekking pole strap (above) so not as much of a nuisance as I feared. Even better, it may actually be possible to reverse the strap as shown below, so it tightens ventrally rather than dorsally, if wrists can be said to have tummies and backs. Sorry for the blurry photos, life’s too short to photograph your own wrists. I hope you like my new Black Diamond poles, by the way. More about poles soon.
The good thing about these mitts is that, apart from their tentlike acreage, they are very minimal, just a thin shell in fact, and definitely they are hyperlight at just 65g each even with all that length. What I think I might do is take a sewing machine to them, cutting down and re-hemming the cuffs and perhaps removing the straps altogether. I may then actually have serviceable overmitts for a tenner. Or I may have to spend fifty quid after all. Watch this space, and please feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments below. As you can see from the first of my gear bleats, I need all the help I can get. Thanks!