1000 Mile Trail Socks – Review

Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of putting on a new pair of socks?

Ones that hug you and feel soft beneath your feet rather than those mis-shapen, threadbare and holy things that you seem to have been running in recently! 1000 Mile Trail Socks are my new socks; a blend of acrylic and Merino wool that are anatomically shaped offering different amounts of padding to different parts of the foot.

photo of 1000 Mile trail socks

1000 Mile trail socks

The forefoot, heel and toes have more padding for comfort and this extends up the achilles to reduce friction and offer more protection. The top of the foot and under the arch has a thinner construction allowing more ventilation and the elasticated top hugs the calf, without being too tight, and prevents the socks from riding down.

photo of 1000 Mile Trail Sock

padded achilles and elasticated top

I found the socks comfortable and soft and I liked the fact that I couldn’t feel the toe seam meaning there would be no friction issues on long runs. They are quick drying and the Merino wool helps keep your feet warm when wet whilst its antibacterial properties means that they are likely keep your feet fresher that purely synthetic socks, especially when damp or sweaty.

1000 mile trail socks

different padding for different parts

Comfortable and affordable the 1000 Mile trail socks are ideal for cooler months when you might want a slightly thicker sock and for runs where you don’t mind having wet feet.

RRP £12 (twin pack)

More info about 1000 mile socks here: https://1000mile.co.uk/

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Heart Rate Monitors: chest strap versus wrist based.

Heart Rate Monitor watches come in two forms: chest strap and wrist sensor – but which is best?

Advances in technology mean that watches which measure heart rate are no longer the preserve of sports scientists, and now many moderately priced sports watches offer a heart rate monitor (HRM) feature. The first generation of such watches rely on a sensor that is worn around the chest, next to the skin and which measures the heart’s electrical impulses and sends a signal to the watch. However it is now possible to get a watch with an inbuilt optical sensor that measures heart rate through the skin and so dispenses with the need for the chest strap. These sensors are built into the back of the watch, which is worn against the skin and can measure the light being refracted at different rates as blood pulses through your veins. So, which of the two versions is best? Here are my pros and cons:

Wrist based (optical) monitors

In my experience watches using the wrist based optical sensor give less accurate readings than chest straps. However this doesn’t mean that everyone will experience the same issues; skin tone, visceral fat, body hair, and skin temperature can all affect the optical reading although advances in technology may iron out some initial problems with early model optical sensors. This photo shows me wearing two wrist based HRM watches, one showing a heart rate of 118 beats per minute, the other 147, a big discrepancy! Which, if any, should I believe? Note I also wore one watch on each wrist and tested them several times, seldom getting the same reading.

photo of wrist based heart rate monitors

big discrepancy between watches!

On the plus side, wrist based monitors dispense with the need for the chest strap that some people find irritating and uncomfortable.

Chest strap monitors

As mentioned above, both from personal experience and other anecdotal evidence, if you want accurate readings you’re better opting for a watch that uses a chest strap. However these are not without their shortcomings: my old chest strap would only work if it was moistened before wearing – licking it seemed to work (my current strap which came with the Garmin Fenix 3 is much more reliable); they can be uncomfortable and can slide down whilst running if they aren’t tight enough and they get sweaty and start to smell if not washed regularly. Also the battery needs changing occasionally although this is a fairly straightforward procedure.

photo of HRM chest strap with transmitter

HRM chest strap with transmitter

One bonus of the chest strap version is that some of the more sophisticated watches use the transmitter to measure “running dynamics” such as ground contact time, vertical oscillation and left / right ground contact balance. Whilst this might be more information than many runners might need I find it really interesting from a coaching point of view and also to analyse my own training, for example comparing ground contact time at different stages of a run or race.

picture of running statistics graph

geeky stats comparing ground contact time etc.

I also find it interesting to compare ground contact balance (the percentage of time each foot is in contact with the ground during a run). I’ve noticed that injuries or niggles lead to changes in the balance, a sore left hamstring for example will mean more time in contact with the ground on the left foot.

ground contact time comparison

more geeky starts – injury on right leg?

Another major reason that I prefer the chest strap over wrist based monitors is to do with how easy it is to see my watch during a run. I often glance at my watch whilst training, for example to check my heart rate so that I’m not running too fast on what is supposed to be an easy paced run, or if I’m doing intervals to know when to stop (e.g. 4 minutes fast, 2 minutes jog). Or it might simply be that I want to know how far I’ve gone or how long I’ve been running for. I prefer to wear my watch over my jacket or long sleeved top meaning that I can simply glance at it whilst running. It also means that the buttons are easily accessible to switch screens or record a lap.  If I was wearing a watch with optical HRM then the heart rate recording wouldn’t work if it was worn over layers of clothing. I’d need to pull back layers of clothing to see it and access the buttons or wear my sleeves pulled up slightly which would mean getting cold or wet wrists and arms in bad weather. In summer when wearing short sleeves this wouldn’t be an issue – but for most of the year it is!

photo comparison of heart rate watches

under or over? optical sensors need to touch the skin to work

Verdict

So for me the accuracy, the additional running dynamics offered from the transmitter and the fact that I can wear the watch over layers of clothing whilst the HRM is recording mean that I would choose a chest strap device over a wrist monitor.

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DIY Ice Studs for Running Shoes

Running in snow and ice is difficult and it can also be hard to know what shoes to wear.

In soft snow I find that my usual trail or fell shoe with a decent tread works well enough. On paths where the snow has been well trodden and compacted down and then frozen hard or where snow has started to melt and then refrozen again then I’ll opt for Microspikes which give excellent traction.

photo of runner wearing Microspikes

Microspikes are great for very icy conditions

But what about mixed conditions; say where there hasn’t been any snow but very cold temperatures have resulted in icy patches? Here you can find yourself running fairly quickly on firm ground with a good grip only to be suddenly confronted with a patch of treacherous ice. In this case Microspikes would be overkill for the majority of the run and yet you wouldn’t want to be stopping to put them on just for a few metres of frozen ground. For these conditions you need a shoe that can deal both types of terrain. Some running shoes have tungsten spikes built into the tread – the Inov-8 Oroc is a good example. These type of shoes with the tungsten “dobs” have been widely used by orienteers as they give good grip on wet roots often found in forests.

photo of runner on ice

caution, grip needed!

I’ve got a huge collection of shoes and couldn’t really justify buying another pair so I had a think about improvising and making my own studded shoe for the winter conditions!

You will need:

One pair of trail shoes that you don’t mind experimenting with! – I chose a pair of Mammut shoes that I rarely wear.

One pack of 3/8″ Slotted, Hex sheet metal screws. You could use different types, I chose the slotted head as I thought they would give more grip. Obviously they need to be short enough that they don’t protrude through the sole and stick into your foot! (I couldn’t find any from UK suppliers so had to get them from the US via Amazon, they only cost about £8 for a pack of 100 including shipping.

One screwdriver with 1/4″ hex drive adapter.

photo of DIY ice studs

DIY kit

photo of 3/8 inch slotted hex screws

3/8 inch slotted hex screws

I simply screwed the screws into the shoe at various points around the out-sole on both the heel and forefoot. In all I attached 12 studs on each shoe which probably took less than half an hour. The screws don’t really damage the shoes so I knew there was nothing lost if the experiment didn’t work.

photo of trail shoe with DIY ice studs

DIY ice studs!

Testing:

This winter has been prolonged so has given me a good opportunity to test them out. The first run was on the hard packed trails of the Longshaw Estate in the Peak District followed by some rock hopping on snow covered gritstone boulders. I was really pleased with the grip they afforded on the rocks, although I did slide a couple of times on the snow covered grass.

photo of runner on rocks

grip testing

I then wore them for a road run (shock horror – I thought you were a fell runner!?) when the snow was so heavy that a drive out to the Peak District was impossible. There was hardly any traffic on the roads due to the conditions which allowed me to run in the tyre tracks rather than in the deeper snow. The studs gave a really good grip where they contacted the tarmac (and a satisfying sound!) and it was amusing to see people watching me run fairly confidently as they slithered along the pavements. The real test came in the park where the tarmac path rises very steeply in places; there was just enough of the path showing to let the studs bite and grip to allow me to continue running rather than slipping. By the end of the run I felt fairly confident running at a decent pace on snowy tarmac.

photo of runner in show

good traction on snowy tarmac

I can’t say that I’ve hammered down any hills whilst wearing them, I’ve kept to a fairly well controlled pace. A few times, especially when jumping the rocks, I’ve wondered if I’d lost any studs but so far so good, three runs and almost three hours of running and they are all still there.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the results. The screws probably won’t last as well as shoes that have an inbuilt stud and I can envisage having to replace a few but for half an hours work and less than a tenner spent I think they’re pretty effective.

Kahtoola & Chainsen Snowline Microspikes Review

Running in icy conditions can be hazardous but thanks to Microspikes you can still enjoy those cold, crisp winter days.

What are Microspikes?

Basically they are a form of crampon designed for walking or running rather than climbing. They consist of a set of small, stainless steel spikes connected by chains and attached to a piece of tough rubber (an elastomer). They are designed so that they can be worn on your footwear simply by stretching the rubber cradle over your shoes.

photo of Microspikes attached to a running shoe

Microspikes attached to a running shoe

Microspikes attached to a running shoe

Microspikes held in place by a strong rubber cradle

Kahtoola microspikes are probably the best known brand but I also have some Chainsen Snowline Snowspikes which are virtually identical (but a bit cheaper!) I have the Light version which only weigh 235g for a Medium sized pair. The Kahtoolas are slightly heavier at 338g. They are available in different size ranges, I’ve found that you need have them quite tight to prevent them coming off whilst running through deep snow.

Chainsen Snowline Microspikes on scales

The Chainsen Snowline spikes, 235g size Medium

What conditions are they for?

The sharp spikes grip really well on smooth ice and hard packed, frozen snow. It takes a bit of time to build up your confidence but after a while you realise that you can run at your normal pace, even on the iciest of surfaces. Whilst they can be worn in snow they don’t really offer much more grip than a running shoe with a good tread.  They also work well on frozen ground such as grass and mud, even if there is no ice cover. You tend to find that you alter your stride slightly and land more flat footed than you would ordinarily do. Whilst they aren’t uncomfortable initially they can start to hurt a little if running for long periods on very hard surfaces. I once ran for about 15 miles wearing a pair and the soles of my feet were a bit sore afterwards!

photo of runner wearing Microspikes

Microspikes work best on hard ice

Most winter runs involve a variety of conditions; you might be running through fresh snow where few people have been but then encounter a well walked path where the snow has been compacted and refrozen. The first part wouldn’t require spikes but the second bit could be pretty treacherous. The good thing about both Kahtoola and Chainsen Microspikes is that their size and weight means that they can easily be carried in a bumbag or running pack and it only takes a few seconds to put them on. So you can take them on a run, put them on if you encounter any icy stretches and quickly take them off afterwards. The Chainsen spikes even come in a tough little pouch to prevent the spikes from damaging your bag.

photo of Chainsen Snowline with sturdy pouch

Chainsen Snowline with sturdy pouch

I have used them for winter running in the Peak District and also on a recce of the Charlie Ramsay Round in spring when conditions were still wintry. (note Microspikes are not suitable for ice climbing!)

runner wearing Chainsen Snowline spikes

I used Chainsen Microspikes whilst recceing the Charlie Ramsay Round

Are they worth it?

At around £40 a pair they are worth getting if you intend to continue running outdoors throughout the winter. They don’t need to be confined to running, they can be worn over walking boots and even shoes meaning that you can tackle the icy pavements with confidence. I know people who’ve worn them for a trip to the pub!

So, if we continue to have cold winters a pair of Microspikes are a good investment, allowing you to enjoy running safely in conditions like this!

photo of running wearing microspikes

safe running wearing microspikes

The video below shows how easy the spikes are to put on and how effective they are on icy terrain:



Inov-8 Stormshell Jacket Review

The Inov-8 Stormshell waterproof jacket has been around for a few years but it got an updated design in 2017 – so what’s it like?

wet weather run wearing the new Inov-8 Stormshell

wet weather run wearing the new Inov-8 Stormshell

First Impressions

The Stormshell is designed as a lightweight and easily packable jacket for racing and training in wet weather, and it certainly is light. My size Extra Small Men’s weighed in at 163g. It packs neatly and easily into its own chest pocket allowing it to be carried in a bumbag or race vest with ease.

Inov-8 Stormshell on the scales

lightweight Stormshell (size XS)

Packed size can be seen compared with a £20 note (although the jacket costs considerably more!) and can be compressed even further if needed.

Inov-8 Stormshell pack size

not much bigger than a £20 note (but costs a bit more!)

The fit is athletic, it’s not designed to be worn over lots of layers making it ideal for racing and faster training and well done to Inov-8 for making it in a size that fits us smaller than average chaps! First glance also shows that weight hasn’t simply been saved by doing away with useful features.

Features

The Stormshell now comes with a full length zip rather than as a half zipped smock. This allows greater ventilation, for example when the rain stops but you don’t want to take the jacket off. There is also a small press stud just above chest height that prevents the jacket from flapping if it is unzipped in windy conditions.

Stormshell's press stud to prevent flapping

press stud to prevent flapping

The external zipped chest pocket (that the jacket packs in to) just about fits a map section if folded small. It could do with being a little bigger to take an A4 laminated map folded in half.

Inov-8 Stormshell zipped chest pocket

zipped external chest pocket

The elasticated cuffs have thumb holes and material that extends to cover the palm and back of the hand thus adding a bit more protection to the hands in cold conditions.

Inov-8 Stormshell cuffs

good cuffs

The hem doesn’t have a drawcord but is elasticated to prevent the jacket riding up. My biggest complaint with lightweight waterproof jackets usually refers to the hood, i.e. why pay over a hundred pounds for a technical jacket that has a hood that doesn’t stay up!? I’m happy to say that I’ve no complaints about the Stormshell – an elasticated drawcord on the back of the head allows the hood to be tightened nice and snug and a wired peak can be shaped to fit. This means that the whole hood moves with your head when you turn it and you can run into strong winds without the hood blowing down.

Inov-8 Stormshell elasticated hood

elasticated hood adjuster

The zip comes right up over your mouth so that you can keep out the elements in really bad weather and the Inov-8 logos are reflective making you more visible in the light of a head torch or to vehicles on unlit country lanes.

Inov-8 Stormshell hood

the hood can be tensioned to give a tight fit

The Technical Stuff

Material: Pertex Shield 2.5 layer fabric with fully taped seams.
Waterproof Rating: 20,000 mm
Breathability Rating 20,000 g
RRP £170

My Verdict

I’ve worn the new Stormshell whilst running in a variety of conditions including several short runs in the rain and a two and a half hour run in strong winds and frequent heavy showers. I like the fit and features of the jacket particularly the hood which actually stayed up in strong winds. The pocket could do with being a touch bigger to take a folded map. On short runs in the rain I stayed dry with water still beading on the jacket although at the end of the long run my base layer was quite damp in places. However I must add that I have yet to find any waterproof that keeps the rain out and allows sweat to escape whilst running fairly quickly for much more than an hour in heavy rain.

runner wearing Inov-8 Stormshell

wet weather training in the Stormshell

At £170 it’s certainly not cheap and I’d be tempted to “save it for best” i.e. use it only for races and specific training runs rather than my everyday winter training jacket. This way I’d hope to prolong its life.

The Inov-8 Stormshell is a lightweight waterproof with some good features. It is ideal for training and racing in bad conditions and as a lightweight race jacket that is going to stay in your pack on dry races.

Learn more about the Stormshell here:
https://www.inov-8.com/stormshell-waterproof-running-jacket-mens-red

CEP Compression Socks Review

Compression socks are a bit like Marmite; some people love them, some people hate them (even if they’ve never worn them!) There are plenty of claims by manufacturers that wearing compression clothing can result in: “increased blood flow, faster clearance of lactic acid, reduced swelling, reduced post race soreness, faster recovery times” etc etc however it is hard to find any scientific studies that prove that compression socks actually improve your performance. So why wear them?

I’ve recently been using CEP compression socks and calf sleeves for some of my runs. I must admit that a couple of years ago I was in Marmite camp 2 – thinking that compression was for the European Ultra runner and was worn more for fashion rather than function. Now though I can seen some instances where wearing compression socks is beneficial.

blue sky, blue CEP socks

blue sky, blue shoes, blue CEP socks

My first impression on opening the packet was “wow, funky colours!” Most compression socks I had seen before had been black but not these. Lime and Hawaii Blue “great they’ll match my Trail Talons” Sunset and Hawaii Blue “yep got some X-Talons in orange and blue” Lime and Pink!!… (yes they do women’s and men’s versions) A cursory glance through the accompanying literature had me smiling when I saw that there were instructions for putting them on; I’m an adult, they’re a pair of socks, how hard can it be! Ten minutes later I was rummaging through the bin looking for the instructions as I was having difficulty getting them on! The trick is to start with them inside out – obvious now. Once on (eventually) the 85% Polyamide & 15% Spandex socks give a snug fit around the foot, being shaped to fit left or right feet and there are compression bands around the midfoot, ankle and calf that target the compression to specific areas. They feel snug, comfortable and well made. It’s important to get the correct size by measuring your calf’s circumference rather than shoe size.

CEP compression socks

matching shoe / sock combo – very important!

The first few runs with them I was a bit self conscious, I noticed adults having a surreptitious glance at my legs whilst young kids just openly stared. (they are available in plain black if you are really that concerned) So other than wanting to be the brightest clad runner in the Peak District when else would I choose to wear them?

Chilly mornings. I prefer to run in shorts rather than tights, even in winter unless it’s really cold and a knee length compression sock helps keep the calf muscles warm. This is especially important if I’m planning on running fast or steeply uphill where the calf muscles will be contracting more forcefully.

CEP compression socks

CEP compression on a chilly spring morning

Extreme weather. At the 2017 Marsden to Edale “Trigger” race I wore a neoprene sock over compression socks. This combination gave some protection to my feet and lower legs from the numbingly cold snow melt streams that had to be crossed. Thankfully this meant that once across the streams I could run straight away as I was still able to feel my legs and feet. Long socks also give protection against the cold and abrasions when running in snow.

Montane Fang in use

cold legs! definitely not ideal for racing

Long mountain days. I wore compression socks when completing the Ramsay Round and also whilst supporting others on their rounds. The long climbs take a toll on the calf muscles and I like the feeling of a tight sock (I don’t claim that the sock makes the climbs any easier though!) They also offer protection from stones whilst ascending and descending scree and whilst negotiating pathless sections of knee deep heather! Also they can help guard against ticks especially in areas of Scotland where they are prevalent.

wearing CEP compression on Ramsay Round support

wearing CEP compression on Ramsay Round support

Recovery runs. I often get sore / tight calves especially after races or hard, hilly training so I often wear calf compression the following day on an easy paced recovery run. This isn’t down to believing that wearing compression will speed my recovery – it might or might not – it just feels comfortable.

CEP compression on an easy paced run

his and hers CEP compression on an easy paced run

As well as  compression socks CEP also make Calf Sleeves. What’s the difference and why would I choose one over the other? The socks offer compression around the foot and ankle, the calf sleeves only around the calf. The calf sleeve is a bit easier and quicker to get on. The socks get wetter and sweatier and so need washing more often whereas the calf sleeves can be worn a few times before they need washing. Calf sleeves can be combined with neoprene or waterproof socks for winter running whereas the sock would be too thick. The calf sleeves are cheaper.

CEP full sock and calf sleeves

CEP full sock or calf sleeves? – your choice

The case for CEP compression socks:

Well made
Comfortable
Supportive
Protective
They look great!

The case against CEP compression socks:

Expensive
No firm scientific evidence to prove enhanced performance / recovery
Tricky to put on – read the instructions!
Tan lines!
They look ridiculous!

The verdict:

CEP compression socks and calf sleeves offer support and protection in a range of funky colours. Other compression products may be cheaper but CEP feel like a quality product and made to last. They may or may not enhance your performance but they are guaranteed to enhance your appearance (fell runners take their appearance very seriously!)

RRP – CEP Run Socks 2.0 £39.99 CEP Calf Sleeves 2.0 £29.99

CEP compression socks and calf sleeves are available from Millet Sports

 

Osprey Duro 1.5 Review

Osprey, the Californian company renowned for their packs and rucksacks have introduced a new range of trail running backpacks for Spring 2017 – the Duro. Available in three sizes; 15, 6 and 1.5 litres, here I review the smallest, the 1.5L version.

Osprey Duro 1.5 running pack

Osprey Duro 1.5 running pack

Features:

The Duro 1.5 is a unisex, minimalist vest type pack, available in two sizes; S/M or M/L. It comes supplied with two 250ml soft-flasks with straws. The pack I tested was the S/M version which weighed 283g on my scales (without flasks)

The back of the pack has two zipped pockets with large zip pulls making them easy to open. The smaller pocket has a handy key clip and will just about fit a windproof or minimalist waterproof top whilst the slightly larger, deeper pocket is designed to carry a bladder (not supplied). I found that I could easily fit a set of lightweight waterproofs into the larger pocket.

pockets on Osprey Duro 1.5 running pack

2 rear pockets for kit & optional bladder

On the top of each shoulder there is a small elasticated bungee that is designed to hold a pair of folded walking poles.

There are also two stretch mesh pockets at either side / back of the pack. These can easily take hat, gloves, food etc and I even managed to stuff a small windproof into one.

Osprey Duro 1.5 pack

2 decent sized stretch rear side pockets

On the front there are four stretch pockets, two on each side. The larger, top pockets house the 250ml soft-flasks that come supplied with the pack and have small elasticated retainers to keep the flasks from moving around (these also make a handy attachment point for a compass). The two lower, smaller pockets are again handy for hat, gloves, food and compass. There is also a whistle attached to the inside of one of the upper pockets.

There is also a vertical zip pocket on the front left which is big enough to take a phone or sections of map.

Osprey Duro 1.5 pack

zipped pocket for phone, maps etc

The pack is fastened by two elasticated sternum straps that clip across the chest and can be removed and re-positioned in 6 positions. One of the straps has a magnetic clip designed to hold the drinking tube on the optional bladder. This can be easily removed if you don’t intend to use it. I would take it off so that it doesn’t interfere with your compass. The straps can be easily adjusted to fit your chest size.

Osprey Duro 1.5 running pack front view

stretch pockets and adjustable straps

There are two more adjustment straps on the side allowing the pack to be tensioned according to size of the wearer and how much kit is being carried.

Osprey Duro adjustment

side adjustment strap

The whole frame of the pack is slightly elasticated with a ventilated mesh fabric on the inside where the pack is in contact with your body. The graphics on the pack are reflective which is a useful feature if you find yourself running on unlit roads in the dark.

How it performed:

I wore the Duro 1.5 over a couple of weeks, with and without the soft-flasks on runs of up to 10 miles at different paces and also lent it to clients on group runs to get their feedback. My first impression was that it was very comfortable to wear, fitting snugly without being too restrictive as the material stretches slightly as you move and breathe. The bottles didn’t bounce excessively even when running at a fast pace. I was impressed by the amount of storage there is despite the pack’s small size; hat, gloves, map, compass, whistle, food, drink and phone are all accessible without having to take the pack off.

If you intend to use the large rear pocket to carry items you need to pack it so that nothing digs into your back (just as you would with other lightweight packs) and the rear / side pockets are difficult to reach whilst wearing the pack. I found a way of reaching round the back with both hands that helped me remove and replace things from these pockets – ok at easy jog pace but difficult to do whilst running quickly!

Osprey Duro 1.5

reaching the rear side pockets was tricky!

The supplied soft-flasks are only 250 ml each. This has pros and cons – the weight is more evenly distributed, particularly if you only take one flask but at the price of not being able to carry much drink. I would prefer larger flasks (I tend to only take one flask as it’s less hassle – only 1 to fill and clean etc – plus extra storage space in the spare pocket) I found that it is possible to swap in a long, thin 500 ml flask although the elasticated retainer doesn’t fit (this wasn’t a problem).

soft flasks on Osprey Duro

250ml flasks supplied or find an alternative 500ml

I found that fastening the chest straps could be a bit fiddly, especially when wearing gloves. The plastic clips need to line up to locating points on a plastic rail and if you don’t line them up exactly they don’t clip on. A simple buckle would have been easier to fasten.

Osprey Duro chest strap

the clip was fiddly to fasten

I don’t use poles whilst running so I didn’t test the pole holders. I certainly think you’d have to be either very well practised or a contortionist to stow and remove them without taking the pack off!

The pack looks really neat, the bright yellow and black is a nice colour combination but mine came with grey chest straps that look a bit out of place (am I being too fussy?)!

What would I use it for?

The Duro 1.5 is just the right size for when you can fit all your kit in your bum bag but doing so makes it really big and bulky. So for example on runs when I want to carry waterproofs and a drink, yes I can fit it all into a bumbag but the bumbag then bounces around whilst I’m running. I would use the Duro 1.5 on long summer runs when I need to carry water but little in the way of clothing or on races where full kit is needed which makes my bumbag too bulky.

Recommended Retail Price is £60

Verdict:

A comfortable, well designed running pack with plenty of storage options despite its small size. Ideal for runs or races where you need to carry just that bit more than comfortably fits into a bumbag.

runner wearing Osprey Duro 1.5

a comfortable pack for racing or training

Available from Osprey https://www.ospreyeurope.com/shop/gb_en/duro-1-5-17

Asics Stripe Tights and Top Review

It’s Spring! Time to ditch the thick winter leggings, take off a few layers, forget the waterproof jacket and run in something a bit more lightweight for a change. I’ve had a few weeks trying out the Asics Stripe running tights and half zip, long sleeved top. Here’s what I found:

Asics Stripe running clothing

Asics Stripe – ideal for cool, spring training runs

Asics Stripe Tights:

I tested the small men’s tights which weighed 169g on my scales. They Polyamide / Elastane material is soft and stretchy and gave a tight, almost compression like fit. Fit around my 28 inch waist was fine (I often find a small men’s size to be too baggy but not these) so I didn’t need to tie the internal waist band to get them to stay up. Length wise I’d say they were slightly too long for me with a bit of spare material at the ankle (but that’s more to do with my tiny legs than anything else!) The athletic fit makes them ideal for both training and racing and I found that the material shed moisture rather than soaking it up.

Asics Stripe tights

the tights have an athletic fit

A small zipped pocket on the back right is just big enough to take a car key or gel and a mesh panel behind each knee allows a bit of ventilation. This is useful for faster paced running but you do notice a chill if the wind is particularly cold.

Asics Stripe zip pocket

does my zip look big? just enough room for a gel!

Asics Stripe leggings

mesh behind the knees allows ventilation

Reflective logos on the bottom of each leg are a useful feature for night time road running allowing you to be easily illuminated by car headlights and a short ankle zip makes it easy to put the tights on and off.  The zip is particularly useful if you’ve been for a run in muddy conditions as you’re less likely to flick mud everywhere as you take them off. The zip also locks to prevent it opening whilst running.

Asics Stripe reflective leggings

reflective logo on legs, useful for dark country roads

Asics Stripe tights

zips make taking off muddy tights much easier

Recommended retail price is £40

Verdict:

A comfortable pair of tights with an athletic fit, ideal for running in cooler temperatures. I’d use them for winter races and for training in cool conditions and also for mountain running in bad weather.

Available from Millet Sports:
https://www.milletsports.co.uk/product/black-asics-stripe-mens-running-tights/260148_firstsport/

Asics Stripe Half Zip, Long Sleeved Top

Again I tested a men’s small which weighed 156g with the 100% Polyester top having a soft, slightly stretchy feel to it. The size small gave a fairly loose rather than athletic fit although the slight stretch would still allow a good fit for a larger – small runner. The high neck keeps the chill off your chest in cold conditions but then the deep zip allows good venting if the going gets hot and you need to cool down. A zip guard keeps the zip from rubbing when it is fully done up; a nice touch.

Asics Stripe LS Zip top

features: high neck, deep zip and zip guard to protect delicate skin

A reflective logo and pattern on the shoulders means that you can easily be picked out by car headlights if running on roads at night.

Asics Stripe LS zip top

reflective logo and shoulder pattern

The sleeves were easily long enough to cover the wrists and not too tight at the cuff which means that you could roll them up if you got too hot. The “Motion Dry” material is breathable and so wicks away moisture from the skin. I quite like the understated light grey with a hint of colour in the reflective yellow Asics logo – a nice match with my shoe laces!

Asics Stripe Half zip top

enough length in the sleeve and loose enough to roll up

Recommended Retail Price is £29

Verdict:

An affordable, comfortable, long sleeved top with a useful long zip. I’d wear it for chilly conditions that are too cold for a tee shirt or under a windproof or waterproof in colder, wetter conditions.

Available from Millet Sports:
https://www.milletsports.co.uk/product/grey-asics-stripe-half-zip-mens-long-sleeved-training-top/260145_firstsport/

High Peak Marathon – what kit and why.

The High Peak Marathon is a 42 mile fell race done in teams of four, overnight, in winter and covers some of the boggiest, pathless and most remote parts of the Peak District. In addition to the usual personal kit required for a long, winter fell race there is a certain amount of mandatory kit that must be carried by each team.

Deciding on the what items of kit to use can take almost as long as running the race itself.. “10 litre pack or squeeze it in to the 5? Two thin base layers or a thick one? Start in a windproof or waterproof? Thick leggings or thin? and will I really need all that food?”

This is what I wore, carried and ate on this year’s event with some reflections on whether it was the right choice or not.

High Peak Marathon team

all the gear…. (photo Jen Scotney)

Pack

My pack was always going to be a Montane but I couldn’t decide between the old style Jaws 10 litre with rigid bottles or the new Via series Fang 5 litre with soft flasks. After much packing, unpacking and repacking I opted for the Fang. With more pockets than the old Jaws the Fang actually takes almost as much kit despite its smaller size. It was important that I had easy access to certain things whilst on the run and it was this that finally swayed my choice.

My compass needed to be close to hand so went in the top front mesh pocket with its lanyard attached to the pack so that I wouldn’t lose or break it in the inevitable event of a trip or tumble. It was easy to reach when needed and also importantly easy to put away again when not required rather than constantly running with it in my hand. Maps likewise needed to be close to hand but not needed until the Bleaklow section. These easily fitted into the lower front zipped pocket. The lower front mesh pocket held a 500ml soft flask with a straw which allowed me to drink on the move rather than have to take out the flask and faff around trying to put it back in the pocket. Also in this pocket was a small ziplock bag with 2 electrolyte tablets for refills at the two food stations. The smaller, top front zipped pocket had three gels. One side mesh pocket held my Shot Bloks whilst the other had my GoreTex overmitts in and I used to stash my gloves when my hands got too hot and at the food stations.

The main rear compartment contained kit that I was less likely to need i.e. my waterproof trousers, group shelter and emergency primaloft smock whilst the smaller rear zipped pocket held my personal survival bag.

Montane Fang backpack

Montane Fang and what went in to it

Waterproofs

It had been raining for most of the day and was still doing so an hour before we started. It was also forecast for more rain overnight so even though it was dry at the start I set off wearing my waterproof jacket, the OMM Kamleika Smock. I do have lighter, more compact waterproof jackets such as the Montane Minimus and Alpkit Gravitas but I feel the Kamleika is a little bit more robust and likely to withstand being worn underneath a pack. I also carried Kamleika waterproof trousers which weren’t needed.

Clothes

I chose a thin merino wool short sleeved tee shirt under a thicker, long sleeved merino wool cycling top. I specifically chose the top for its rear pockets in which I carried some food and also the zip which would allow me to cool off if it got too warm. My leggings were a cheap pair of medium thickness tights. I have thicker and thinner pairs but these seemed just right. I wore a buff around my neck – really versatile to pull up over your face if the weather gets nasty and a windproof beanie as a hat. In my pack I carried an OMM Rotor Smock Primaloft top as an extra, emergency layer. This was compressed down and carried in a dry bag and wasn’t used.

cycling top with rear pockets for food

cycling top with rear pockets for food

Socks

I chose knee length compression socks which offer great protection against the cold, and to some extent against the knee deep immersion into the peat bogs that was to come. Over these I wore 3mm neoprene socks made by Rooster Sailing. I have recently converted to these from Sealskinz.

Shoes

Extreme grip over such boggy terrain was essential so the first thought was to wear Inov-8 Mudclaws. However I’ve also got a pair of Inov-8 X-Claw 275s which offer almost the same grip as the Mudclaw but have a bit more room and a bit more cushioning. This made them the ideal choice to accommodate the 3mm neoprene socks and the long sections of flag stones.

photo of Inov-8 X-Claw 275

Inov-8 X-Claw 275 for a mix of grip and cushioning

Gloves

I wore a pair of Rooster Sailing liner gloves and carried a pair of Tuff Bags Goretex mitts.

Rooster Sailing liner gloves

Rooster Sailing liner gloves

Torch

My main torch was a Petzl Nao, programmed to give 8 hours light on reactive mode. I also carried a second torch, a LED Lenser SEO 7R worn around my waist (I’m thin!) I do this in foggy conditions as it illuminates the ground much better than a head torch as the light source is closer to the ground and you don’t get the bounce back effect off the fog. It saves carrying a hand torch, leaving your hands free to do important things like hold the map and compass.

head torch on waist

err Dave, it’s meant to go on your head!

Map & Compass

I used laminated sections of the 1:25,000 map (printed from Anquet software) with checkpoints and route notes annotated on them and a Silva Ranger compass.

Watch

I wore a Suunto Core watch with altimeter. This is a non GPS watch so there was no way of using it to aid navigation other than by knowing our altitude and time running. I calibrated the altimeter at Edale and also checked it against a known height at Swain’s Head. I knew how long we should run past Swain’s Head before turning south and also at what elevation to exit Far Black Clough.

Suunto Core showing altitude

Suunto Core showing altitude

Emergency Kit

I carried an Adventure Medical Kits / SOL emergency bag as my personal kit and a 4 person group shelter as the team emergency kit. Other members carried a Blizzard Bag and small first aid kit. I also carried 3 spare AAA batteries, some Ibuprofen tablets and a few sheets of toilet roll – none of which were needed thankfully!

Adventure Medical Kit emergency blanket

Adventure Medical Kits emergency blanket (personal kit)

Food

I took 2 packets of Clif Shot Bloks, (already opened and put into a ziplock bag as they are a pain to open) 3 Clif Shot gels (including one double espresso which I ate just as we got to Kinder to give me a caffeine boost for the last leg) and 2 Ella’s Kitchen baby food sachets (the Mango Baby Brekkie ones taste much nicer than gels and contain over 100 calories per 100g). I also ate 1 slice of malt loaf at Moscar feed station (actually it took me until the heather climb after Cutthroat Bridge to get it down!) and half a ham sandwich at Snake feed station (which was delicious and left me regretting not having picked up the other half all the way to Mill Hill!)

I started with 250ml of electrolyte drink and refilled 500ml at both Moscar and Snake. I also gulped a cup of juice at each feed station and had a few quick sips of tea at Snake.

Cliff Shot Bloks, gels and baby food

Baby food, Clif Shot Bloks and gels (double espresso for the wee small hours)

What worked and what didn’t

The pack was definitely the right choice. Four front pockets plus two accessible side pockets meant that I could reach everything that I wanted and stow any kit that I didn’t need in my hands. It didn’t bounce and always felt comfortable. Being able to drink whilst still running without really breaking stride was really beneficial.

Getting the clothing right is always the trickiest thing for me. We were aiming for a fast time so I didn’t want to be faffing around putting layers on and off and thus slowing down. The forecast was for more rain and I expected to feel quite cold on the high, exposed section to Swain’s Head when the pace would be slow. However the clothing you need for that section isn’t what you need for the immediate steep climb up to Hollin’s Cross and inevitably I felt I had too many layer on early on in the race! In hindsight I would have skipped the short sleeved tee shirt and been warm enough with just one base layer. Although it never rained save for a few spots I think wearing a waterproof from the start was ok, however a full zip rather than smock would have been better. This would have allowed me to unzip it fully on the climbs to vent more heat. We encountered lying snow on Derwent Edge and Kinder and my feet were wet for most of the night, however the neoprene socks worked fine and my feet never felt cold. Likewise, my hands were fine, I took the liner gloves off for a time early on and the Goretex mitts were never needed. The X-Claws were definitely a good choice; loads of grip on the sloppy stuff but no discomfort on the flag stones (although hats off to team mate Marcus who coped with the conditions in his Hokas!)

I was a bit disappointed with the Petzl Nao. I had fully charged the (fairly new) battery and programmed the reactive setting to give 8 hours power, however crossing Bleaklow I got the dreaded “flash, flash” warning and a couple of minutes later the Nao dimmed to emergency mode. It had only lasted 6 hours (not bad in itself but still 2 hours short of what the computer software had told me to expect!) Thankfully it was approaching dawn and I also had my second torch. The waist torch definitely helped over the foggy sections as it meant I didn’t need to carry a hand torch so still had hands free for the map and compass.

Of the food I took I ate everything apart from half a packet of Shot Bloks and one gel; I was looking forward to the stew at the end though! I did feel thirsty at some points but not enough to warrant taking a second soft flask.

So nothing major that I’d change, maybe just a few tweaks for next time – but then the weather might be completely different next year.

High Peak Marathon team (photo Jen Scotney)

9 hours later! (photo Jen Scotney)

 

Alpkit Viper 2 Head Torch Review

There are a lot of very bright, very expensive, feature laden head torches on the market these days. But not everyone needs a hugely powerful torch with batteries that last all night. What if your night runs take less than a couple of hours and are done at a fairly slow pace on easy ground; are there any head torches that are up to the task that don’t cost a fortune? The new Alpkit Viper might be worth a look.

Alpkit Viper head torch

Alpkit Viper 2 head torch

Alpkit have built up a reputation for cheap, no frills head torches and their Gamma has become very popular. The Gamma along with the original Viper provided a lightweight effective torch for less than £20. However at less than 100 lumens these torches weren’t really bright enough for anything but slow paced running on very even ground. However Alpkit have recently upgraded their torches giving them a bit more power.

Alpkit Viper & Gamma

Alpkit Viper & Gamma (mark 1) – great value torches, but not quite bright enough for trail running

Features:

Several things have changed on the 2017 version of the Viper. The new model now offers 160 lumens (compared to the previous 100) which makes it bright enough to cope with slightly faster running on more uneven terrain. The most obvious change though is a cosmetic one; the large button on top of the torch has gone and been replaced by two smaller buttons underneath the housing. This includes the on / off button and also a boost button designed to give a quick, focused beam of 280 lumens. This is ideal for picking out distant objects such as looking for the gate or stile to exit a field.

Alpkit Vipers version 1 and 2

Alpkit Vipers version 1 and 2

Alpkit Viper buttons

the buttons are now underneath the torch

The torch still takes 3x AAA batteries contained in the torch housing and is compatible with rechargeable batteries. The head unit itself can be angled down, pivoting through 5 positions whilst the elasticated strap is easy to adjust and can be removed for washing if it gets grubby from sweaty foreheads!

Alpkit Viper head band

headband is easily removed for washing

The Viper is very easy to operate; a single press gives a sequence of; Medium (51 lumen), High (160 lumen), Low (6 lumen), Red Constant, Red Strobe, Off.  The white light being provided by a single central LED and the red light by two small side LEDs. Mine also came supplied with batteries and in a handy little stuff sack which is useful for protecting it inside a rucksack or bum bag.

Alpkit Viper 2 x red LEDs

2 x red LEDs

What I like:

The Viper is lightweight, reasonably bright and easy to use. The button sequence is intuitive – no double clicking or press and hold just a simple, single press to change lighting modes. The boost button is a great feature when you want a quick burst of extra light. Even with the batteries housed in the unit itself the torch feels balanced and doesn’t bob too much when running. 2 hours battery life on full power is enough for most night runs and using rechargeable batteries makes it affordable. At less than £20 it is a very good value torch.

What could be improved:

Having the buttons underneath the torch housing takes some getting used to and I found that I inadvertently pressed the boost button when trying to adjust the angle of the housing. (It also means that you might instinctively put the torch on upside down!) Also the buttons are quite small and can be difficult to locate whilst wearing gloves. My biggest problem with the Viper is that I found it very difficult to open the battery compartment and I was worried that I was going to snap the little clasp. I found it tricky even indoors with warm hands so swapping the batteries mid run with cold fingers wouldn’t be a an easy task!

Alpkit Viper battery compartment

opening the battery compartment was tricky!

When would I use it:

The Viper is fine for short, steady paced runs on fairly even terrain where brightness and battery life aren’t paramount. I also find it useful on night time club coaching sessions when I use the low power or red mode so that I can talk to runners and see them without dazzling them. It’s an ideal torch to go into my emergency kit for mountain running and it will also go in my bum bag on evening “twilight” runs when I might just need a torch for the last fifteen to twenty minutes of a run.

Verdict:

The new Alpkit Viper is a great value for money head torch for times when you don’t need a huge amount of brightness or long battery life. It gives enough light for trail running at a steady pace on terrain that isn’t too technical. It is great as a back-up torch or to chuck into your bum bag just in case. At less than twenty quid can you afford not to have one?

Technical Information (as measured by me, not manufacturer’s stats)

Weight: 93g including batteries
Battery life (tested with 3 fully charged AAA eneloop batteries): 2 hours on full power before dimming
Price: £18 (as of Feb 2017) direct from Alpkit