Gear reviews?! 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.
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 gear I buy falls apart, leaks, hurts, looks absurd, weighs a ton or in some other way embarrasses and inconveniences me.
Reviews are everywhere 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.
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. Walking with poles means cold hands, so gloves for me are essential, 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. 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.
Merino wool is famously good at felting. Oh dear. Shrunken inelastic gloves are useless. Apart from anything else, you can’t get your great big 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 horizontal 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.
For my next blunder into the hills I’d be needing new gloves. In a mad rush of blood I went 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. At least 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 shop. Twenty-five quid! Sigh.
In comparison these generic microfleece gloves (above) 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. As an unscientific experiment, 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 lightweight, minimal overmitts.
You can buy easily and for almost nothing ‘ski mitts’, clumsy, fat-fisted things with vulgar logos, 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 science and wildlife TV presenters. As always with gear, to get less you have to pay more.
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’. The British Army must have enormous hands, these medium mitts are vast! Each one would form a serviceable sleeping bag for a full-grown ferret, they go all the way up to my elbows! Obviously therefore one could not wear them over a shell jacket, this would be an error of elementary hydrology as silly as on one rainy Pennine morning sleepily putting gaiters on top of overtrousers (who would do that? ahem…).
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.
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. So, all I have to 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….
I’ve now used these overmitts on the Scottish National Trail and the Pennine Way and been very pleased I had them with me; obviously there’s no warmth in them but they’re wind and waterproof and as a system with warm skinny gloves inside them the whole caboodle becomes much more versatile in varying conditions than just a single pair of bulky warm and waterproof gloves. You also have some redundancy in your system if you lose a glove. Not bad for a tenner.