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 The most obvious change though is a cosmetic one; the large button on top of the torch has gone and been replaced by two smaller buttons underneath the housing.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

 

Rooster Sailing Neoprene Sock Review

Fell running in winter results in wet feet, there’s no avoiding it!

Over the years I’ve tried different brands of so called “waterproof” socks but found that after a couple of outings they cease to be waterproof, water that does get in stays in and you end up with a heavy, soggy sock. Yes your feet stay relatively warm but they certainly don’t stay dry. Also, waterproof socks are expensive so when I threw my last pair away I wanted to replace them with something cheaper that would keep my feet warm if not dry.

running through puddles

winter running means wet feet! (photo Fell Running Guide)

Someone recommended Rooster Sailing neoprene socks as a cheaper alternative to waterproof socks so I thought I’d give them a try. (I got the 3mm neoprene Superstretch Wet Socks) As the name suggests, these socks are designed for sailing rather than running and my first thought on seeing them was that the stitched seam that runs under the heel would be uncomfortable. However I needn’t have worried as it was much less noticeable than I feared. The extra thickness of the 3mm neoprene means that your shoes will feel tighter than normal and so you might struggle if your shoes are already a tight fit. The stretch of the material makes the socks easy to get on and off and the top extends to the lower calf and gives a snug fit.

Rooster Sailing sock

3mm stretchy neoprene

On short runs I was pleased to find that my feet were warm and damp at the end but the real test would come on longer runs in very cold conditions. Luckily the Trigger fell race provided an excellent testing ground; 24 miles across high moorland with melting snow!

runners crossing river

ideal testing conditions! (photo Mossienet)

After four and a half hours with wet feet from the numerous river crossings I was very happy that I could still feel my feet! Other runners were complaining that their feet felt like blocks of wood, mine were fine. Since then I’ve used the socks for long runs in bad weather and always found that my feet end up warm and damp rather than cold and wet.

The Verdict

The Roosters aren’t the cheapest of neoprene socks, (a pair will set you back about £20) but they feel robust and well made and they are still significantly cheaper than a well known brand of waterproof socks. The super stretch material fits the shape of your foot without any baggy areas and so gives a comfortable fit.  It is worth keeping your big toenails trimmed to avoid wearing a hole in the socks – which I seem to have done with previous waterproof socks – although unlike waterproof socks a hole in the toe won’t compromise the effectiveness of the sock.

runner crossing stream

another wet run! (photo Fell Running Guide)

I can certainly recommend Rooster Sailing Neoprene Wet Socks, I’ve worn them in some pretty harsh conditions this winter and I haven’t had cold feet!

runner in snow

cold weather, warm feet (photo M. Scotney)

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runner wearing Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

Inov-8 AT/C SOFTSHELL PRO FZ Review

Windproof running jackets are usually very thin and lightweight and offer little thermal protection to the wearer. The Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ is different.

It is made with a mix of materials; Pertex Quantum® which is the type of fabric you expect to find in a windproof and Pertex Equilibrium® which is a stretchy softshell fabric. These materials are zoned so as to give both protection from the wind and offer more warmth than in a traditional windproof. It is designed for cold, windy days when you need more protection from the cold than your regular windproof allows.

Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ windproof

Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ windproof

First Impressions

“I’d wear that every day!”  Rather than being a shapeless windproof the Softshell Pro FZ has a tailored look and it wouldn’t look out of place if you wore it down the pub. The 4 way stretch  softshell allows a nice snug fit without feeling restrictive. The jacket feels more substantial than a flimsy windproof and my size XS (well done Inov-8 on catering for us small folk!) weighed just over 300g.

Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ on scales

304g for the extra small jacket

Features

The full zip (FZ) makes the jacket easy to get on and off. Two zipped waist pockets allow easy access to map, compass, gloves etc and a drawcord hem allows the jacket to be tightened at the bottom. There is also a small internal hole that allows you to route a cable from each pocket to inside the jacket. This means that you can carry a battery in your pocket and run the cable of your head torch up the inside of the jacket. (oh and you could do the same with your phone and listen to music if you weren’t a fell runner!)

Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ features

nice features: hem draw-cord, 2 pockets & internal cable routing

One of the things I like most about the jacket is the hood. Often jackets have a hood but no way of tightening it which means that in very windy conditions it flaps around at best or even blows down. No such problems here as the hood has a rear volume adjuster and two elasticated tensioners at the front allowing it to be fastened down nice and tight. This also lets you twist your head and still see where you are going.

inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ hood

adjusting the hood

AT/C Softshell Pro FZ hood

a hood that stays put!

When not required the hood can be rolled back and kept in position by a small press-stud to prevent it flapping around.

AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

hood rolled and secured

The cuffs can be extended to cover the back of the hands and held in place with a thumb loop. This results in a tight fit which is great for keeping draughts out of your sleeves but if you wear a watch you’ll need to put it on over the jacket if you want to look at it!

AT/C Softshell Pro FZ cuffs

extendable cuffs

On Test

I’ve been wearing the AT/C Softshell Pro FZ for a few months and in a range of conditions including cold, cloudy winter days and crisp, frosty winter mornings. I’ve worn it with the hood up and down and in both still and windy conditions.

Runner wearing Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

on test on a cold winter day

Runner wearing Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

and on a frosty winter morning

The Pertex® material wicks moisture away even when running fast and the close fitting, stretchy material gives an athletic fit that hugs the body and doesn’t billow in the wind unlike some windproof jackets. The softshell material certainly adds a bit of warmth, so much so that one morning after early fog had burned off I felt a bit too warm.

What would I use it for?

The softshell is not designed as a super-lightweight windproof, it is intended as a more substantial running jacket to be worn in colder, windy conditions. It is great for winter days when you know that you want added protection from the cold. It would also be good for longer runs when you might not be moving particularly fast and thus not generating as much heat, for example on something like a Bob Graham round. It is also ideal for cold days out in the mountains and will work well under a waterproof as an additional mid layer. It is also good for wearing pre or post race and will even look good worn as a casual jacket.

Verdict

The Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ is an ideal jacket for cold, dry winter days or for mountain running in cold, windy conditions. It is comfortable and well designed with useful features. It looks good too and it almost seems a shame to wear it for running – I’d happily be seen wearing it to the pub!

More details about the jacket can be found on the Inov-8 website

runner wearing Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

ideal for a cold, winter morning run

fell running guide

Staying Motivated for Winter Running

Grey, dull days, bad weather, long dark nights… It’s not very inspiring for running!

Inov-8 Stormshell in the rain

grey, dull and not very inspiring!

So with the long winter months ahead of us how do you stay motivated to get out running? Here are 5 tips to help get you off the couch and onto the trails, even on the darkest of days.

Treat Yourself

New kit always inspires you to use it so get set to tackle winter with some new toys! Go on you deserve a new waterproof, grippy shoes or even that fancy watch that counts how many calories you’ve used. Or if you don’t want to spend that much then just a nice new base layer, warm gloves or even some new woolly socks will give you more reasons to get out running whatever the weather.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

new shoes for winter!

Embrace the Dark

Just because it’s dark by the time you get home from work doesn’t mean you can’t still get out and run on the trails and fells. A reasonable head torch will give you enough light to carry on running through the winter months. What’s more night running is exciting, your senses are more alert to sights and sounds that you might not notice in the day time. A run on a clear, cold night under a full moon is a fantastic experience!

night running on technical terrain

night running fun

Buddy Up

When it’s chucking it down outside it’s easy to make an excuse for not going for a run. But if you’ve made a plan to go and your mates are waiting for you then you’re more likely to make the effort to get out and not let them down. Having a regular slot in your diary each week for a social run gets you into the habit. If it chucks it down then you’re all in it together rather than struggling on alone. If the run finishes at a pub or cafe with a cosy fire you’ll soon forget how grim the weather is!

singing in the rain?

singing in the rain?

Find New Routes

My favourite runs are out on the Peak District fells. However when the weather’s wet and wild running there can be a real struggle so I head for more sheltered areas. Running in woodland can give you shelter even on the windiest days whilst choosing low level valley routes will also keep you out of the worst of the elements. So if the forecast is bad then check out some new, less exposed places to run, you might even find some hidden gems that you would never know about if you stuck to your usual routes.

woodland offers shelter in bad weather

woodland offers shelter in bad weather

Set a Goal

Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated to run if you don’t have a purpose. If you know that you are training towards something then you’re more likely to keep at it. So, rather than just going through the motions have a look at the race calendar for next year and pick out an early event. That way, even in the depths of winter you will be able to tell yourself that your run is preparation for the race.

set a goal

set a goal

So with a little bit of self motivation you can make it through the dark winter months, and whilst there might be plenty of dull days there will be the odd day like this to look forward to!

running under winter skies

stunning winter running

fell running guide

Inov-8 X Claw 275 Review

Inov-8 have introduced a new model to their range of fell shoes; the X-Claw 275

The aggressively soled Mudclaws and X-Talons in their various guises are already well established favourites amongst fell runners; you only need to look down whilst at the start line of any fell race to see that Inov-8s tend to be the shoe of choice. So this being the case you might ask where does the new X-Claw fit in and is there any real need for it alongside its siblings?

photo of Inov-8 X-Claw 275

Inov-8 X-Claw 275

X-Claw 275 – Features

At first glance you might think that the X-Claw is a new model of Mudclaw. Although not identical the sole unit certainly shares the same aggressive look with triangular 8mm lugs whilst the upper has the durable water resistant material, rand and toe bumper that Mudclaw users will be familiar with. It requires a closer look to spot the differences.

Looking at the outsole of the  X-Claw you notice a change in the stud pattern compared to the Mudclaw (a design that it shares with the new X-Talon 225) It still uses the “Dual C” mix of hard and sticky rubbers aiming to give both friction and durability .

 Mudclaw 300, X-Talon 225 and X-Claw 275 compared

get a grip! Mudclaw 300, X-Talon 225 and X-Claw 275 compared

The X-Claw has an 8mm drop (compared to the Mudclaw’s 6mm) with a midsole that is said to give better shock absorption and energy return. A significant feature is that the X-Claw 275 comes in “Standard” fit whereas the X-Talon and Mudclaw are both “Precision” fit. This means that the shoe is wider in the toe box. This may come as welcome news to runners with wide feet who like the grip of the other models but find the precision fit too tight. Likewise, runners doing particularly long distances might prefer the extra cushioning and toe splay that the X-Claw allows. Looking at the X-Claw and Mudclaw together you notice that the shape of the heel cup is slightly different with the heel tab being ever so slightly higher on the X-Claw.

inov-8 X-Claw & Mudclaw

heel to heel X-Claw (L) Mudclaw (R)

inov-8 X-Claw & Mudclaw

and again Mudclaw (L) X-Claw (R)

X-Claw 275 – Tested

Anyway, enough of the technical stats – what are they actually like to wear? Although I’ve had the X-Claws for a while and been keen to give them a blast it’s only recently after a bit of wet weather that I’ve had the chance to try them in the conditions that they are designed for! I wear either X-Talons or Mudclaw 300’s for racing depending on the distance and type of terrain, and Mudclaws for winter training on the fells so I had a good idea of how I wanted them to feel.

First on they felt comfortable, I’m a 6.5 in almost all shoes and the six and a half were fine (and well done to Inov-8 for going back to making men’s shoes starting in a 6 – saves me having to get the women’s model!) Being used to the precision fit of the Mudclaws and X-Talons I wondered if the standard fit might feel a bit sloppy but it didn’t. I noticed that it wasn’t as tight but I didn’t feel that my foot was moving around inside the shoe. I was pretty confident that the grip was going to be positive even on the wet and muddy stuff, and so it proved as I was able to run quickly through thick mud, hopping over the biggest puddles and landing without slipping.

fast running on muddy terrain

fast running on muddy terrain

Running on mixed terrain the X-Claws gripped excellently on the gritstone boulders (as expected) but also coped well with thick muddy ground and damp fallen leaves.

running through mud

dealing with the deep stuff

On downhill sections of soft ground they allowed me to run fast with confidence and they were reassuringly grippy on steep wet grass. All this hints that they would make a good race shoe despite not being as snug as my usual choices.

Inov-8 X-Claw 275

race pace descent on soft ground

running downhill

reassuringly grippy on steep, damp grass

My only concern is with the heel tab; I’ve had achilles problems in the past and my old yellow Mudclaws used to aggravate it. However I’ve been using them for 3 weeks now without a problem so hopefully it won’t be an issue.

What are they good for?

The design of the new X-Claw 275 makes them suitable for longer training or racing over rough, muddy and boggy terrain. That makes them good for most of the year! They will particularly suit runners with wider feet who find the precision fit models too tight. I think that anyone attempting one of the big rounds i.e. Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley or Charlie Ramsay rounds would find the X-Claws to be an ideal shoe.

Personally I will be using them as my autumn / winter / spring training shoe on everything apart from hard packed trails whilst saving the X-Talons and Mudclaws for race days.

The Inov-8 X-Claw 275 are available from good retailers including Pete Bland Sports

fell running guide

 

Inov-8 Trail Talon 275 Review

The British Summer gives a small window of opportunity for running on dry, hard packed trails.

Most of the year I tend to wear a shoe with an aggressive tread to cope with the underfoot conditions of the moors and mountains where I work, train and race. But what about a shoe for those few months when the sun shines and the trails dry out? Step forward the Inov-8 Trail Talon 275.

Inov-8 Trail Talon 275

Inov-8 Trail Talon 275

Trail Talon 275- Features

The Trail Talon is designed for hard packed trails. Lightweight (my size 6.5 tipped the scales at 272g) and comfortable it is ideal for long days out. Inov-8’s “Standard Fit” gives plenty of room in the toe box suiting runners with wider feet. This, along with the 6mm cushioning should mean that your feet don’t hurt after a long run even if your legs do! An 8mm drop – 2 arrows for those familiar with Inov-8’s system – gives a good compromise of responsiveness and protection (runners who prefer a lower, more responsive feel can opt instead for the Trail Talon 250 with its 4mm drop). Despite being at its best as a dry weather shoe the 4mm lugs give enough grip to cope with the odd muddy patch that hasn’t dried out.

Trail Talon 275

the ideal shoe for hard packed trails

For trail runners whose preferred terrain is dry footpaths and hard packed trails the Trail Talon is a great choice. It also comes into its own as an Ultra Distance training and racing shoe whilst for those lucky enough to be running or racing in Europe this summer, covering long distances on hard, dry ground then the Trail Talon would be a hard shoe to beat. (It will be interesting to see if many runners choose it for races such as the UTMB)

Verdict

The Trail Talon 275 is an ideal shoe for running long distances on hard packed terrain, giving a balance of comfort, cushioning and grip. It’s the sort of shoe to wear on those long, dry, dusty trails – long live the British Summer!

fell running guide

 

 

Montane VIA Fang 5 Review

Montane VIA Trail Series Fang 5 Backpack Review

Montane VIA Fang 5

Montane VIA Fang 5

I have used a Montane Jaws 10 running pack for a while now on long training runs, certain long races and for my day to day running work and so I was interested to see what changes had been made for the 2016 updated VIA Trail Series. Here I test the smaller Fang 5 pack.

Features:

The VIA Fang 5 pack comes in two sizes: S/M and M/L. I have the S/M which weighs 270g when empty. The most notable feature of the new Trail Series version is that it no longer uses rigid water bottles affixed to the shoulder straps, but opts for twin 500ml soft-flasks (supplied) instead – so no more sloshing! These are housed in pockets on the front straps of the pack, one of which is zipped, the other an open top stretch mesh. Above these are two smaller pockets, again one with a zip the other open topped stretch material. With the soft-flasks stashed in the lower pockets the upper ones are ideal for storing gels, compass, phone, car keys etc. The zipped pocket contains a small emergency whistle which can be removed if required.

Montane Fang 5 front view

pockets galore!

In addition to the four front pockets there are also two stretch pockets, one on either side of the pack above the hip. These are easily accessible whilst wearing the pack and are ideal for storing hat, gloves, food or a folded map section.

Montane Fang side pocket

accessible side pocket takes hat, gloves etc

Although the Fang 5 comes supplied with two soft-flasks there is also the option of using a bladder (not supplied). A large rear pocket with hanging loop will house a 1.5 litre bladder whilst loops on the right hand side of the pack retain and route the hose. If you choose not to use a bladder, this pocket can be used for additional storage but you’d need to pack it carefully as the mesh material offers little in the way of padding.

Montane Fang bladder pocket

large rear pocket takes a bladder (optional)

Low down on the back of the pack is a zipped, water resistant pocket that is large enough to carry a set of lightweight waterproofs. This ensures that the bulkiest items are carried low down and adds to the pack’s stability. An elasticated bungee cord allows the pack to be cinched down if required although I have never needed to use this. Two smaller bungee loops form an attachment point for carrying poles; not something I would use in fell running although the higher loop makes a handy attachment for a compass lanyard.

Montane Fang water resistant zipped pocket

water resistant zipped pocket and bungee cord

The pack is fastened using a wide, elasticated hook and loop belt at the waist and an elasticated chest strap that can be adjusted by clipping to any of four attachment points on the front straps.

Montane Fang chest strap

adjustable, elasticated chest strap and compass in top pocket

The elasticated waist belt allows the pack to be fastened snugly and because the belt stretches, along with slight elastication in the main chassis, the pack expands with your ribcage rather than feeling constrictive.

Montane Fang waist belt

elasticated hook and loop waist belt

On the top of each shoulder strap a small elasticated tab allows a rolled up map to be carried and forms a retaining point for the optional hose system.

Montane Fang map loop

map can be carried in shoulder loop

What I Like:

The Fang 5 is a very comfortable pack. I like the way the elasticated waist belt can be fastened tightly so that the pack fits snugly and doesn’t bounce around when running quickly or whilst descending. Despite the snug fit the Fang doesn’t feel constrictive, if you bend forwards to adopt a hands on knees approach to attack steep climbs the elastication in the pack adapts to your change of position rather than restricting your movement and breathing.

The amount of pockets and hydration options make it a really versatile pack. There is plenty of accessible storage from the hip and front pockets and using both soft-flasks gives you up to a litre of drink. Take just one soft-flask and you have another spare pocket or add a 1.5 litre bladder and you have enough fluid for a long run or race where replenishing water supplies is an issue.

What could be improved:

Very little. If I was being picky I would say that the hook and loop material sometimes snags on things such as other pieces of clothing and so I find it best to store the pack with the waist band fastened. The chest strap only fastens on the right hand side meaning you need to undo it with your left hand, whereas my older Jaws pack fastens on the left so it takes a little getting used to.

When would I use it:

The new Fang is ideal for long training runs or longer races when I want to carry more kit than I can comfortably fit in a bum bag. It would be a good choice for long days out or 24 hour attempts such as the Bob Graham Round. I used it on the Marsden to Edale “Trigger” race when the bad weather conditions meant that I wanted to carry more kit than on a normal race. The race required frequent use of map and compass which were easily accessible in the front pockets, much more so than with a bum bag.

Montane Fang in use

Using the Fang on the Trigger fell race

Verdict:

A comfortable, versatile pack with lots of storage options. I’ll use it a lot.

fell running guide

 

Charlie Ramsay Round

The Charlie Ramsay Round is a running challenge in the Scottish Highlands, the aim being to cover 56 miles, 24 Munros (mountains over 3000ft) with a total of over 28,500 feet of ascent in under 24 hours.

Ramsay Round

56 miles, 24 Munros 28,500ft

Standing outside Glen Nevis Youth hostel on a sunny day in late May I was feeling a little nervous.  The plan was to tackle the “round” with my mate Ian with only limited support; a couple of people meeting us at Loch Treig (about eight and a half hours into the run) with food and supplies for the next leg, and someone at a remote point by Loch Eilde Mor another 6 hrs later, again with food and enough supplies for us to get to the finish.  We would have no support on the hill so would have to navigate ourselves and carry all our own kit.  This also meant that we would have to “manage” ourselves i.e. keep an eye on our schedule, make sure we were eating and drinking enough and motivate ourselves when the going got tough.

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery on a previous reccy

My main concern wasn’t the physical difficulties of the Ramsay Round but the fact that I’d only managed one reccy of it and had no knowledge of the route through the Grey Corries. This was going to make route finding a bit more difficult and meant that we hadn’t had chance to check out the quickest lines. I was pretty confident that we could navigate the route but we couldn’t afford to spend lots of time studying the map. Choosing a bad line would be costly.  Not having run the first section also meant that it was difficult to know what schedule to use as we had no idea how hard it felt.

Starting the Ramsay Round

and they’re off! Leaving Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (photo Masa Sakano)

We set off clockwise just after midday on Monday (our original plan for a weekend attempt had been postponed by bad weather) in warm sunshine. The forecast was for dry weather and equally importantly light winds. After 15 minutes of jog / walking up the Ben Nevis tourist path we passed a group of lads looking hot and tired who asked us “how far to the summit?” Not sure they believed our “a few hours!” reply!

Things went well for the first few hours, the rock was dry, visibility was good and navigation was straightforward. After Aonach Beag we found a good line down “Spinks’ Ridge” named after the line Nicky Spinks took on a previous round. We were slightly behind our schedule but had heard that it wasn’t a big deal to be slow on leg one and not to worry if we were 15 minutes or so down. However towards the end of the leg Ian wasn’t feeling too good and by Loch Treig we were over half an hour down. Helen and Pawel our 2 support crew were sheltering on the dam wall from the un-forecast rain shower (thankfully the midges hadn’t yet emerged) with our supplies and we were soon wolfing down some real food.

pit stop at Fersit

pit stop at Loch Treig (photo Pawel Cymbalista)

Ten minutes goes very quickly and no sooner was my chilli con carne scoffed than it was time to go again, picking up fresh drink, food, map and head-torch for the night leg.

We’d had the chat beforehand about splitting up if one of us was struggling and so as we headed up the lower slopes of Stob Choire Sgriodain Ian did his “Captain Oates” impression and urged me to press on. That was definitely the lowest point of the round, leaving my mate who was struggling and heading off into the gathering gloom alone. It was going to be a long night!

I hit Sgriodain on schedule and turned my torch on. The good news was that I was back on schedule for that summit and confident that I could make up lost time, the bad news was that low cloud was covering the summit and navigating to Chno Dearg was going to be tricky. I wasn’t looking forward to the next section, I had reccied it and knew it involved a rough, steep descent off Chno Dearg and an awful, steep climb through heather up on to Beinn na Lap. In daylight I had been able to pick out the lines of least resistance but it would be harder in the dark.

Coming off Beinn na Lap in the dark I was trying to run on a compass bearing but managed to get myself into some thigh deep heather with large boulders that hadn’t been there on my reccy! Thankfully it didn’t last long and I was soon on the good track leading to Loch Treig and I knew I could make up time with some fast running. I’d opted for support at the ruin at the NE end of Loch Eilde Mor which meant crossing the river (Abhainn Rath). I hadn’t reccied this bit but had marked the exact crossing point on the map based on a friend’s attempt. Once I’d successfully negotiated this I could again run quickly on a good track to the support point. I was relishing the thought of a welcome brew when my head torch flashed, warning that the battery was failing! I was still a good 10 minutes away from support, track or no track; “Please don’t fail on me now!”

Masa had cycled in from Mamore Lodge the previous evening and was waiting by the ruin in his tent with hot water and my supplies for the next leg. I struggled with my ration pack bacon and beans but the licorice tea was fantastic! I had made some time up on the previous leg despite being solo in the dark and with a grey hint of dawn in the eastern sky I knew that the worst was behind me. I’d reccied almost all of the next leg through the Mamores and as long as I kept eating and drinking I felt I could continue to make up time.

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor (photo Masa Sakano)

Refreshed and resupplied and with Masa’s spare head torch I set off on the long haul up Sgurr Eilde Mor. By the summit the torch was off and I’d whacked 9 minutes off my schedule without killing myself. With the night behind me and the sun rising into a cloud free sky I knew that I could do it. It was just going to be a long run, in lovely weather in the glorious Scottish mountains – what was not to like!

The Mamores passed without incident apart from meeting two people!  At each summit I looked ahead and identified my next target, then looked at the schedule and said to myself “No way!” The time allocated seemed impossibly short “It will take me loads longer than 35 minutes to get up there!” But it didn’t, I was knocking time off at every Munro. Feeling strong towards the end I was able to push on and when I managed to take 12 minutes off the Stob Ban split I knew that barring disaster I was home and dry.

Equipment I used:

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried on the Ramsay Round

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried

The route is a mix of different terrain: rocky, heather, track, short grass so for footwear I chose Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 which I knew would cope with everything. My feet were sore at the end and I had a couple of bruised toenails but no blisters. The only time I noticed my feet hurting was coming along the hard track and road at the end – you could possibly consider changing into something more cushioned for the last 30 minutes or so.

Running for over 23 hours with a backpack means that it needs to be comfortable! I used the Montane Jaws 10 which was big enough to fit in enough kit for a solo attempt. Mine is the older version with rigid bottles and I carried one bottle which was easy to refill from streams. The front pockets carried my compass, folded map and emergency phone whilst I adapted the pack by using an attachment from another bag to carry my Garmin Etrex GPS.

I wore a short sleeved cycling top with rear pockets to carry my food for the hill and long socks to protect my legs when in long heather (also in case I encountered any snow patches, again to protect my shins). Shorts were Ashmei 2 in 1 Merino (expensive but wonderfully comfortable!)

I chose the Petzl Nao head torch for 2 reasons; its long battery life and its reactive capability which would make map reading more comfortable (it automatically dims and so doesn’t dazzle with reflected light from the map). Unfortunately I made the mistake of selecting high power reactive rather than low power reactive which meant I only got four and a half hours from the battery rather than the anticipated 6 hrs +. Thankfully it got me through leg 2 – just!

I carried OMM Kamleika waterproofs (top & bottom) and had to wear the jacket (smock) when it started raining towards the end of leg 1. I kept this on until dawn, the deep zip allowing me to vent the smock when working hard. I wore thin gloves for the night leg and carried a buff (not worn). I carried an OMM Rotor Smock as an emergency layer as well as a long sleeved base layer (not used). Other emergency kit incluced a SOL emergency bivvy along with a small first aid kit comprising of bandage, plasters, paracetamol and 2 sheets of toilet roll – not needed! – and a mobile phone. I also took 2 spare batteries for my GPS.

I laminated sections of map, annotated with route notes and compass bearings. Having these back to back meant that I needed 5 separate maps for the whole round.

Ramsay round map

laminated map with route notes

I recorded the run on an old Garmin Etrex hand held GPS (I changed the batteries after 15 hrs) and recorded the split times on both a Garmin 910XT (which lasted about 16 hrs) and a Polar 610 sports watch (non GPS).

Food & Drink

Being unsupported on the hill meant carrying my own food and so was a balance between taking enough and being overloaded. I found on the Paddy Buckley round that I took too much and the same was true this time.  Food for the hills was a mix of Nakd bars, Aldi pressed fruit bars, Cliff Shot Bloks, assorted gels and my secret weapon: baby food in the form of Ella’s Kitchen pouches. I used Elivar Endure and Hydrate Plus powder mixed with water that I found on route and from the 2 resupply points. I ate “real food” at the resupply points: Adventure Food chilli con carne with rice and bacon and beans.  I was planning to have my favourite Bombay Bad Boy pot noodle in the middle of the night but as I was behind schedule I didn’t want to wait for it to rehydrate (it tasted good at the end though!) I had a bottle of Lucozade at Loch Treig support point and cup of licorice tea at Loch Eilde Mor. Water was plentiful on the route. I started fully hydrated and rather than carrying drink from the start I put powder in my bottle and filled it when I got to the Red Burn.

Navigation

This was by good old fashioned map and compass with pre prepared maps annotated with split times, heights of significant points, important compass bearings etc. I also had most of the summit waypoints loaded onto my GPS so that I could confirm that I was in the correct place if needed.  I only used this twice, to check that I had reached Chno Dearg in the dark and clag and to confirm the correct location for the river crossing on the night leg. There was still a bit of snow on the Ben and on a couple of north facing slopes but nothing that caused us to deviate from the planned route.

Schedule

We planned to start soon after midday going clockwise. The thought process behind this is that you’re starting having had a decent night’s sleep and have only been up for 4 hours or so (an evening or early morning start means that you’ve been up for hours already and are starting “tired”). A midday start also meant that we would run the long flat section after Beinn na Lap in the dark. Navigation on this section would be easy and the terrain conducive to fast running, lessening the need to slow down in the dark. Also psychologically dawn is a good morale boost which is more welcome after several hours of running. We were hoping for a 23.30 round looking to start on schedule and pick up time on the last leg. The chart below shows the schedule times and indicates where I was behind (red) and up (blue) on schedule.

Ramsay Round schedule

schedule with split and actual times

Lessons Learnt

The schedule wasn’t realistic. In hindsight I’d add time to leg 1 and take some off leg 3.
Know thy torch! I chose the Petzl Nao for its long battery life – having it on full power defeats the object!
I took too much kit. I could have done away with the long sleeved top and about a quarter of the food.
It is very unlikely that two people running on the same schedule will be evenly matched; one may be finding it easy whilst the other is struggling so it’s good to have a plan for that situation.

Low Point

Leaving Ian, behind schedule and setting off alone into the night.

High Point

Approaching Binnein Mor around 5am and getting back on schedule. The sun rose into a cloudless sky and a little bird was singing away. I felt then that I was going to do it.

Thanks

A big thank you to Helen Smith and Pawel Cymbalista for supporting us at Loch Treig where they waited in the rain, optimistically arriving early in case we were up on schedule! Also to Masa Sakano for cycling in to Loch Eilde Mor at night with a tent, stove and food for both of us (and for loan of his torch) and for waiting for Ian to arrive and lending him his bike to get back to Kinlochleven. Also thanks to Ian Loombe for his company on leg 1 and for encouraging me to press on when he was struggling.

Ramsay Round finish photo

back where it all began 23 hrs 18 mins later (photo Masa Sakano)

Click the logo to see more of what I do:

 

fell running guide

waterproof running jackets

Waterproof Running Jackets

It’s the UK, it’s winter, it’s wet – you’re going to need a waterproof jacket.

For anyone heading out for a run on the fells in winter a waterproof jacket is essential. Even in the middle of summer the weather can be wet or unpredictable, where sunny summer mornings can lead to heavy afternoon showers, especially in the mountains. And if you’re planning on entering a fell race you’ll need to carry waterproofs for certain races even if there’s a heatwave. With such a wide range of choice it can be difficult to know the best jacket to buy and I often get asked for advice on what’s best. Here I compare five jackets specifically designed for running and look at the pros and cons of each one.

Note: the weights are for a size small and were measured on my kitchen scales rather than giving the manufacturer’s figures.

waterproof running jackets

choices choices

When looking for a waterproof ask yourself a few questions:

What will I use it for?

If the jacket is going to be used mainly for fell races, often being carried in a bumbag rather than worn, then light weight and a small pack size are probably your priorities. However if the jacket is more likely to be worn on a day to day basis then a slightly heavier, more robust top might be a better choice. A very lightweight, minimalist top might not stand up to being worn under a running rucksack on a regular basis and so again a heavier, more durable one would be better.

Smock or Jacket?

A smock is a top with a three quarter length zip whereas a jacket has a full length zip and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. A full length zip may be a little heavier and give a larger area where water can get in (i.e. through the zip itself and the associated stitching). If you stop to put a jacket on mid run and suffer with cold hands you might struggle to do up the zip (whereas with a smock the zip never separates at the bottom). It is easier to put on and take off a jacket as you don’t have to pull it over your head and a full length zip allows greater venting (e.g. when it stops raining and you want to avoid overheating but don’t want to take the jacket off).

smock vs full length zip

smock vs full length zip

Fixed Hood or Roll Away?

Some jackets allow you to roll the hood away when not in use. If you prefer to run with the hood down this is a good feature, particularly in windy conditions, as the hood doesn’t blow about and whack you in the face.

rolled away hood on waterproof jacket

rolled away hood

Pockets and Adjustment Cords – do you need them?

I find a zipped, chest pocket to be a great feature; ideal for keeping map, compass, food etc close to hand and accessible whilst on the run. However you may be happy to use a bumbag or rucksack for carrying such items. Also think about the placing of the pockets; for example will your rucksack strap prevents access to them?

Montane Minimus smock

handy chest pocket

Some jackets allow you to tension the hem and hood, usually via elasticated cords. The ability to get the hood nice and snug is great in wild and windy weather – but if the adjustment toggle then whacks you in the eye the feature loses its appeal!

Inov-8 Stormshell Jacket

tensioning the hood

Five Waterproof Jackets Tested

Inov-8 Stormshell 150 (weight 205g including stuff sack)

nov-8 Stormshell pack size

Inov-8 Stormshell pack size

Features:

3/4 length zip (adjustable at top & bottom)
Chest pocket.
Wired hood can be tensioned for volume and size around face. Roll back using velcro tab.
Elasticated cuffs with thumb loops.
Draw cord hem.

What I like:

Great hood that can be adjusted to get a good, tight fit for really bad conditions.  Feels a bit more substantial than some other lightweight tops.

What could be improved:

The chest pocket is a bit small.

What I use it for:

Longer runs or races when I need to carry, rather than wear a waterproof or for wearing when racing in prolonged wet conditions.

Inov-8 Stormshell in the rain

Inov-8 Stormshell in the rain

Montane Minimus Smock (weight 144g including stuff sack)

Montane Minimus pack size

Montane Minimus pack size

Features:

3/4 length zip.
Large horizontal chest pocket.
Elasticated hood which can be rolled back using velcro tab.
Elasticated cuffs.
Elasticated hem.

What I like:

Very lightweight and packs to a tiny size. Huge pocket swallows larger maps and other items.

What could be improved:

The hood can’t be tensioned and so flaps in strong winds. Hood roll back system doesn’t work very well and tends to come undone. Hem can’t be tensioned and so rides up.

What I use it for:

This is my preferred waterproof for most races where a top needs to be carried to comply with race rules. I also use it for shorter training runs in wet conditions.

Montane Minimus in bad weather

Montane Minimus in bad weather

Mammut MTR 201 Rainspeed Jacket (weight 160g)

Mammut MTR 201 pack size

Mammut MTR 201 pack size

Features:

Full length zip.
Chest pocket.
Elasticated hood which can be rolled back using a small hook.
Elasticated cuffs.
Draw cord hem.

What I like:

Very lightweight and packs to a tiny size.

What could be improved:

The hood can’t be tensioned and so flaps in strong winds. Small chest pocket.

What I use it for:

This jacket is very similar in weight and size to the Minimus and tend to use it for short, wet weather training runs or occasionally as my racing waterproof for packing into a small bumbag.

Mammut MTR 201 waterproof

Mammut shedding the rain

Raidlight Raid Shell Jacket (weight 351g)

Raidlight Raid Shell pack size

Raidlight Raid Shell pack size

Features:

Full length zip.
Twin waist pockets.
Roll away hood with toggle tensioning around the face.
Elasticated cuffs with thumb loop.
Elasticated hem.

What I like:

The Raidlight has a soft-shell feel and is slightly stretchy which makes it comfortable to wear.  It feels more like a top that you would wear all day regardless of if it was raining and I like to wear it on colder days even if it is dry. It offers more warmth than the other waterproofs reviewed here. The twin pockets are good for carrying bits of kit but get covered up by a bumbag or rucksack strap.

What could be improved:

The hood is tensioned by toggles which then become lethal whipping implements in strong winds if not adjusted correctly!  Waist pockets can be hard to access when wearing some bumbags or rucksacks. Not sure about the fluorescent yellow!

What I use it for:

This is the jacket I use for work in cold weather as a wear all day item, regardless of if it is raining or not. I also wear it for easy runs in cold weather. I wouldn’t consider the Raidlight as a race waterproof due to its size and weight but this does make it more suited to conditions when I know I will be wearing it all day.

Raidlight jacket

the Raidlight is a good cold weather jacket

OMM Kamleika Smock (weight 266g)

OMM Kamleika Smock pack size

OMM Kamleika Smock pack size

Features:

Deep 3/4 length zip (adjustable at top & bottom)
Chest pocket.
Hood can be tensioned for volume and size around face. Roll back using velcro tab.
Elasticated cuffs with thumb loops.
Draw cord hem.

What I like:

Slightly stretchy material gives a snug, comfortable fit. Feels both light enough to use as a race top yet robust enough to wear day in day out. Good adjustable hood can be fitted tightly for bad weather. Slightly more robust than some of the other lightweight jackets reviewed here.

What could be improved:

Adding a wired visor would make the hood even better.

What I use it for:

I’ve had version 1 of the smock for over five years and it’s still going strong.  It is my preferred top for running work which usually means wearing a running rucksack.  It has stood up well to the abrasion of shoulder straps and general use. On the original version the chest pocket was on the inside (a terrible idea as you had to unzip your main zip to access it and thus let the rain in!), but OMM have now placed this on the outside of the jacket. For me the Kamleika is my work jacket although I would consider it as a race jacket if I didn’t have others.

Kamleika on night navigation

Kamleika on night navigation

Conclusion

As with many things there is an element of personal choice when it comes to features and there is always a balance or compromise to be found. Your super-light, minimalist top might be good for a short fell race but less so for a full day on the hill. A thicker jacket might last longer and keep you warmer but is too big to get into your bumbag. It might be that you can convince yourself (and less understanding significant others) that you need more than one jacket!

I have yet to find “the” best waterproof for trail and fell running, just some that do some things better than others in different conditions. When running in heavy rain I still get damp, either by water getting through the membrane or by sweat failing to escape. Brand new jackets work well, with water “beading” on the surface for a few runs but soon lose their water repellency and tend to “wet out” even despite regular cleaning with the manufacturer’s recommended products.

So there is no perfect solution – unless you stick to running on days like these!

sunny running

no jacket required!

fell running guide

 

 

Inov-8 Roclite fell shoes

Inov-8 Roclite 1000 mile review

My Inov-8 Roclites have just done 1000 miles.

I’ve had the shoes for exactly a year and have used them as a bit of a workhorse, being my favourite training and work shoe.  They are the 282 model in a women’s size 6.5 (My old Roclite 285’s were discontinued and the 295’s didn’t come any smaller than size 7 in men’s – hence the choice)  They are the shoe I used for the majority of last winter’s training and for most of this year’s training on fell terrain.  I also used them for when my training required a shoe that could cope with both fell and trail running terrain.  They aren’t my only shoe, I used other models for racing and for training on purely trail terrain and once they got tatty I had to use something newer when working with clients!

The conditions that they’ve been used in are mainly those typical of the northern Peak District, i.e. wet, acidic soils, abrasive gritstone and rough heather.  It’s quite a testing environment, so how have the shoes fared after a year and a thousand miles of use?

Trail running in the Peak District in Inov-8 Roclites

Trail running in the Peak District in Inov-8 Roclites

Uppers

I usually find that it is the upper part of the shoe that fails before the sole.  Wet, acidic conditions, rough gritstone and coarse heather all eventually take their toll.  The Roclites have stood up pretty well, there are some small holes in the mesh and damage to the rand but they haven’t been holed completely.  I have been tempted to patch these up with shoe goo but I wanted to get to the magical 1000 miles before doing so!  The shoes have also retained their fit, i.e. they don’t feel loose or sloppy and I haven’t found that I need to lace them any tighter than I ever did.

damage to the mesh and rand on Inov-8 Roclite

damage to the mesh and rand

Inov-8 Roclite, damage to the rand

damage to the rand

Heel Cup

Another area that wears is the heel tab, due to repetitive putting on and taking off of the shoe.  Again although the Roclites show some wear here it is less than might be expected after such prolonged use.

Inov-8 Roclite heel tab wear

signs of wear on the heel tab

Sole

I have found that the Roclite’s sole stands up very well to wear and tear.  Even after 1000 miles mine still have a good amount of tread left on them.

Inov-8 Roclite tread pattern

plenty of tread left!

Overall Appearance

To be honest they’ve seen better days but it doesn’t take long for a fell running shoe to go from looking pristine to well used, especially when using it in wet, winter conditions.

Inov-8 Roclite fell shoes

Inov-8 Roclite, one careful owner!

So, what to get next?  Well I really rate the Roclite, they are a great all rounder and if I could only have one pair of shoes I’d choose these.  Their versatility means that I can pack them for holidays knowing that they will cope with the conditions.  From running on Icelandic snow to sunny French mountains and wet English fells, they haven’t let me down.

trail running in Iceland

from Icelandic snow

trail running in France

to French hill reps

mountain running

from European sun

Trail running photograph

to wet English days

So it would make sense to go with another pair of Inov-8 Roclites seeing as these have served me well.  I still have the problem that the men’s 295 and 280 start in a size 7 which is too big for me so might have to go for a women’s model which come in a 6.5.

But I might just eke a few more miles out of these whilst I decide!

fell running guide