Women’s Paramo Velez Light Smock

I do not like waterproofs; but I do like my Paramo!

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My Paramo and I having wintery fun in Glencoe early this year. It kept me snug in the wind and snow on the top of Stob Dearg and comfortable all the way down. Thanks to Isabel Jones for the photo!

I have always disliked waterproofs and have never found them to be very effective. As I started climbing and walking in the Scottish hills, I upgraded from my old Regatta jackets, through two Outdoor Research waterproof jackets, to a Rab Vidda jacket (which was a second-hand emergency buy when I needed a helmet compatible hood for a winter skills course). None of them have kept me dry: not in summer nor winter. So, I would avoid wearing them, often to the point of getting rather wet. I don’t believe that all these jackets can have leaked, which leads me to the conclusion that it is a condensation problem, particularly as I get very warm when on the move. So, finally having had enough of being damp and suffering the awful cold clamminess of wearing a hardshell over a t-shirt in summer, I decided to try something different: I bought a Paramo jacket.

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The peaked hood ensured I was still happy despite driving rain near Loch Lomond in August 2015. Chris is also wearing his Paramo Velez smock (not the light version).

The fabric and comfort

For their waterproof clothing Paramo use Nikwax Analogy waterproof fabric, which works differently to any hardshell fabric: as well as being breathable, Paramo claim the advantage that it isdirectional too. Their waterproofs are made up of two layers: an inner layer, the Nikwax Analogy Pump Liner, which is designed to push water away from your skin and protect your insulation, and an outer layer of directional microfibre that deflects wind and rain. As a wearer, the first obvious difference between this fabric and that of hardshells is the feel: it is very soft. In particular, the Velez light fabric is almost silky to the touch, more so than that of the Velez, which has a slightly tougher material. This means that it is extremely comfortable to wear, even next to my skin.

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It provides great windproofing and insulation in cold dry conditions too! And sheds snow nicely when you fall into a snow drift! Beinn Ghlas in Nov 2016.

Features

The Velez light smock is described as suitable for all outdoor activities; I use mine for walking, munro bagging, back packing, scrambling and winter hill walking and it has been wonderful for them all. The smock has a fully adjustable hood and high collar, which both pull in tight around your face for good protection against driving rain or snow. The large chest pocket is very useful as it isn’t compressed at all by the waist belt of my rucksack, as other pockets usually are. It can fit a lot of items in it, although it isn’t very flattering when full, but that isn’t my priority on the hills! There are two two-way venting zips that run from the bottom of the smock up to the pocket, which also allow access to the two inner zipped pockets; I haven’t used these pockets much as I usually have a pack on, but I use the vents a lot, even when it’s raining. The back of the smock is longer than the front, to keep your bottom warm and dry, without restricting leg movement, and there is a draw cord around the base for adjustment to your preferred fit. Finally, it also has adjustable, reinforced velcro cuffs to keep the weather out: these have a tough bit on them for biting if the need arises!

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Comfortable despite the warmth, drizzle and fog whilst climbing munros near, and including Lochnagar, in the summer of 2015. You can see how short the smock is at the front, the two-way venting zips and the size of the front pocket.

Warmth & Waterproofing

My main worries about buying a Paramo jacket were that it would be too hot for me, and that I heard conflicting reports on how waterproof they are. As mentioned earlier, I get very hot when on the move but I have happily worn this jacket in summer and winter. In warm weather I’ve worn it over a short-sleeved base layer and although I have been warm, I’ve also been much more comfortable than in my previous hardshells. In winter conditions, I wear a base layer, wind-proof gilet and soft-shell jacket underneath it: this keeps me plenty warm enough and the jacket also provides great protection from the wind. In the very coldest conditions (or when stopping for lunch), I can throw a synthetic down jacket over the top or underneath.

It has also been bomb-proof in terms of waterproofing; the only time I feel like it may have let in a little water, was on one side of my neck when we were in torrential rain and wind so strong it was knocking me off my feet in Wales. Otherwise, it has kept out lots of Scottish rain and sleet very reliably!

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Struggling to stand upright in North Wales in October 2015; the only time I’ve felt like it might have let in a little water (at the neck on the windward side)

Size

The sizing is quite generous: I wear a size 10/12 and needed the size small smock and there is still plenty of space for extra layers. It is also not the most flattering fit: my Rab jacket looks a  bit sleeker but it really doesn’t matter.

Durability

I was also a little worried about damaging the apparently delicate outer fabric, but it is now nearly two years old and, despite constant use in the Scottish hills, only has one mark that I have noticed on it, which happened when I caught it in the zip of my primaloft jacket; however it is only tiny and superficial, so I’m surprised and pleased with how durable it seems to be.

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Hours of rain and sleet in the Monadhliath hills after waking up to snow on the tent (spring 2016): only my feet got wet though….

Packing convenience

I also thought it might be bulky and heavy, but it folds up smaller than the Rab Vidda jacket as it is softer and doesn’t feel any heavier: I carry it happily in my rucksack whatever the weather.

Downsides

There are only two very small things that I’m not keen on, which are how cold and wet the cuffs get: the very ends seem to only consist of the outer fabric and it can sometimes get very cold on your wrists if they aren’t covered by something. The other is that when it is very windy, the material of the hood flaps a lot and is very noisy.

Conclusion = Great!

Overall, I absolutely love this jacket and I would recommend it for all the activities I use it for.v In it, I feel like I can take on anything Scotland can throw at me! I will also happily wear it all day even when it isn’t raining, which for me is a revelation: rather than hating my waterproof, it is now one my favourite pieces of kit!

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Still in the Monadhliath…still raining….but also still dry and happy!

Scarpa R-Evo GTX Women’s boots: first impressions

Choosing a new pair of walking boots can be hard: at first glance there is a huge variety of possibilities across a wide range of prices, but these options can quickly become limited as you start to think about what exactly you want from the boot. Having suffered the hardships of Scotland for five years, my old boots came to the end of their life, when the sole fell off one of them on a day out on Ben More and had to be duct-taped back on for the remainder of the day.

I have another pair of boots that I bought second-hand for winter (Scarpa Charmoz GTX men’s size 41) when I couldn’t face another day in the boots borrowed from Glenmore Lodge during a winter skills course.  So I wanted my new pair to be suitable for everything else: I wanted them to be lighter and less clumsy than my previous pair (also a men’s), comfy for long days and multi-day trips, cool enough that my feet wouldn’t boil in the British summer and tough – that was very important, I definitely wanted something with a toe rand so they wouldn’t be destroyed by rocky terrain or hours of heather bashing on the Scottish hills. However, I was not fussy about leather or synthetic material as I have had both and not had a problem with either. I also wanted to be able to use them for scrambling if I needed too, so I didn’t want too thick a sole or too much of the rocking motion that can come with some very comfortable boots designed for walking long distances.

I have quite wide/large toes so Salewa and Meindl boots were too narrow and Salomon felt too clumpy. I had been fairly happy with my Scarpa Charmoz, although being men’s they are a little spacious, so when I spotted the Scarpa-R-Evo GTX boots on sale, I thought they were definitely worth a try.

Out of the box

My first impression was that they were very pretty: I love the splashes of colour. They were also instantly comfortable: I felt like I wanted to walk in them straight away. They seemed to have everything I wanted. I bought a size 41 and there is plenty of space for thick socks and toe wiggle room.

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Just arrived

Two months later

They are designed using Scarpa’s sock-fit technology, and so far I like it. I have found other boots to hurt my ankle bones when done up tightly but these just feel so snug and comfortable, as if they are part of your ankle: it’s a nice reassuring feeling.

I’m not going to repeat all the technical features, you can check them out on the Scarpa website, but I’ve now been using them for two months and I am extremely happy with them! I feel confident going downhill: the Vibram soles are grippy and I don’t feel clumsy in them. Their first outing was a five hour walk in the French Pyrenees in July, where they were hot, but that is not what I intend to use them regularly for. Since then I have been using them on long walks across the Scottish hills (nothing less than 4 ¾ hours) and they have always been comfortable. My feet haven’t been too hot for Scottish summer walking but they feel sturdy and my feet feel well-protected. I have slipped a bit on wet rock but I don’t think any worse than in other boots. They have got very muddy but a brush under water has brought them up fairly clean again. We basically walked up a stream two weeks ago and no water came in so I feel positive about the waterproofing. The lacing system works very well and allows for good adjustment.

Overall, I love them and think we will be very happy together – I’ll give you an update in a year’s time to see how well they last! In the meantime, if you are looking for a fairly robust 3 season boot, I would definitely recommend giving them some consideration.

Women’s Berghaus Helvellyn Gore-Tex trousers: waterproof trousers for short legs

I am a girl and I have short legs; this makes it difficult to find good quality waterproof trousers that don’t break the bank.

About five years ago, just before going on field work, I panic bought a pair of Berghaus Paclite Gore-tex trousers and was fortunately very impressed. However, after a lot of use, they are now heavily patched up with duct-tape and I needed some new ones. I scoured the shops and the web for some time: in the shops, choice was often very limited, usually to a couple of cheap pairs and perhaps one or two very expensive options that would only come in regular length: I need a short (I’m around 5ft3 /162cm with short legs). Few of the big outdoor brands do short options online and those that do were out of my price range. So, in the end I came back to Berghaus, which seem to be one of the only brands that do most of their range in a short leg length and also have a broad price range.

I was looking for trousers that would stand up to Scottish winter conditions and rough terrain: the Helvellyn trousers looked like they might do the job. Importantly they have kick patches at the ankles, which was I was keen on for use with crampons, and long (3/4) zips down the side, which is essential for getting them on and off when wearing walking boots, and good for ventilation too. They also felt a lot tougher than my previous pair, which I was always worried about damaging. The only thing I was sceptical about was the mesh lining, which I didn’t think was necessary.

They aren’t currently available from Berghaus, as you may have noticed from the link above, but they are available elsewhere, e.g. Absolute-rock and Taunton Leisure 

I’ve now had them for over six months and they’ve been out in the snow in Scotland and in some terrible rain and wind in Snowdonia. I am very pleased with them: they have kept me 100% dry, and very importantly for me, not too sweaty! I enjoyed them in the snow, where I felt well-protected and comfortable, and they have really kept out all the rain Wales and Scotland have thrown at them. I like the red flap under leg zips, it adds a nice splash of colour and reinforces the waterproof zips; they pack down small enough to carry around (approx. 374g), just in case (so always in Scotland!), and the inner mesh hasn’t bothered me at all, if anything it probably helps against condensation, which I suffer from.

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Being lashed with rain on a ridge in northern Snowdonia ….shortly after this I had to descend on my bum as the wind knocked me over. My legs stayed dry though!

The only negative point for me is that they are very generously sized; the size 12 leaves me with lots of space for layers and for movement, but means they are large around the legs so I found that after a long walk, the material rubbed between my legs, which was irritating. Furthermore, despite being the short version, they are only just short enough!

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Almost identical I know but this is Scottish rain….we walked most of the day in snow, sleet or rain, but I was warm and dry…until we had to wade across a river, but the winter boot-gaiter-waterproof trouser combination did keep out most of water despite it being almost knee deep!

However, overall, I am very happy with them and would recommend them for anyone looking for some fairly hard-wearing but not overly expensive waterproof trousers, particularly if, like me, you have little legs!

Mountain Hardwear Super Chockstone Jacket Review

I thought I would take the time to write about one of my favourite pieces of kit: my Mountain Hardwear Super Chockstone jacket. This jacket has been with me since October 2015, and in that time we have been through Scottish winter, many quality mountain days for my Summer Mountain Leader assessment, as well as my assessment itself, rock climbing days, a number of Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and out and about as casual day wear. It is safe to say that I hardly ever take it off.

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A sunny day on Crib Goch

The Super Chockstone is a lightweight soft-shell with a durable but stretchy fabric giving you great flexibility. It has two massive side pockets allowing you to easily fit maps, big gloves and even a couple of bottles of ale (if you so wish). There is also a great smaller chest pocket which I have used for my compass, small maps and my phone (not at the same time as my compass!). The whole jacket can be packed into this pocket, bringing it down to the size of a potato and making it easy to pack. The hood fits snugly to your head and is great for keeping the wind or the sun at bay.

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Coping well with cool temperatures on Tryfan

 

My only complaint is that there has been a fair bit of bobbling on the underarms and now it’s creeping across the chest. This is purely cosmetic, so has not affected the performance of the jacket at all and other than that there’s not a scratch on it.

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The size medium fits well on 5’10” of me

I love this jacket, and not just because it has orange zips, but because it’s a good fit and the stretchy fabric allows me to move freely. Furthermore, it keeps the wind off, performs as a great mid layer during winter, is superb over my base layer in spring and summer and it looks good. I reckon I will be wearing this jacket until it either becomes one big bobble or falls apart (which I don’t think it ever will) and then I will just buy a new one!