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 The most obvious change though is a cosmetic one; the large button on top of the torch has gone and been replaced by two smaller buttons underneath the housing.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

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

 

 

Lake District Trail Running – book review

Lake District Trail Running is a handily sized book detailing 20 off road runs in the Lake District National Park

The selected routes range from 5km to 17km in length and vary in difficulty in terms of type of terrain and amount of ascent. Each run includes a brief description of the route including distance, ascent, navigational difficulty and estimated time to complete whilst an altitude profile shows you where you will encounter the ups and downs. A more detailed description breaks each route down into legs with easy to follow directions which are clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map extracts.

Lake District Trail Running

Lake District Trail Running

The softback book is well set out with the shortest runs at the front, the longest at the back making it easy to flick through and find the one you fancy. It is useful for runners of all experience and ability and is ideal for anyone planning a trip to the Lakes who doesn’t want to plan their own route. Packed with colour photos it is interesting to read and makes a great addition to any trail or fell runner’s library. It is even small enough to stuff into your bumbag!

Lake District Trail Running by Helen Mort is published by Vertebrate Publishing and retails for £12.95

Also check out the sister publication Peak District Trail Running: 22 off-Road Routes for Trail & Fell Runners.

Peak District Trail Running

Peak District Trail Running

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

 

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

head torch collection

What is the best head torch for running?

What is the best head torch for running? I’ve heard the question asked lots of times.

The answer is a bit harder to determine, a bit like asking which is the best car; whilst a Ferrari might be great for some things it’s not what you’d choose for taking the family on a camping holiday.  Go on any forum where the question is asked and you will have people swearing that their torch is the best and that everyone should buy the same model that they’ve got.  Well those people are wrong!!  What they actually mean is that think they have the best head torch for the type of running that they do. Whilst it might suit them it won’t suit the requirements of everyone. The person who says that their 100 lumen torch is perfectly adequate obviously doesn’t try to run down rocky, uneven ground at speed!

head torches for running

is your head torch a Ferrari or a camper van?

There is a huge range of head torches to choose from: cheap, dazzlingly bright Chinese imports, torches that automatically react to the ambient light levels, USB rechargeables, AAs, AAAs, 18650s, batteries in the head unit, batteries worn on the back of the head, batteries carried in an external pocket or waist belt, additional white, red and green LEDs, SOS mode, adjustable zoom, combined flood and spotlight…. the list goes on.

So rather than asking what is the best head torch you need to ask yourself some further questions.

What type of running will you do?

If you only intend to run at an easy pace on fairly even ground then you don’t need a very expensive or very bright torch. However if you’re planning long nights out on remote terrain then a more powerful torch with long battery life is essential.  If you are only going to be running for a couple of hours then again long battery life isn’t vital and so a torch with fewer batteries will suffice.  If you think you might progress to longer or more remote running it might be better to buy a torch that will be suitable for that rather than buying one that suits what you are currently doing and then finding that you need to upgrade.

Alpkit head torches

inexpensive torches for less challenging runs

Is brightness everything?

Some people mistakenly think that a brighter torch with more lumens is best; ever heard someone say “I got a cheap 1000 lumen torch off Ebay!”?  In some situations having a very powerful beam is important, for example when you need to see a long way into the distance, but if you’re night running rather than on a search and rescue exercise then the extra brightness can be overkill. What’s more it can dazzle other runners and dazzle yourself too if you are reading a map! Brighter torches need more powerful batteries which means extra weight, so your mega bright torch might weigh twice as much as your mate’s head torch which does just as good a job. In misty or foggy conditions a bright beam is actually worse than a dimmer one as the reflected light makes it harder to pick out features.

More important than brightness is the beam pattern. A bright, narrow beam is good for looking into the distance but doesn’t give a good spread of light. A wider, flood beam allows you to use your peripheral vision to see things rather than needing to turn your head and so is better for running, especially on technical ground.  A torch that lets you easily switch between spot and flood is a good option.

more expensive torches give a better spread of light

more expensive torches give a better spread of light

What features do you need?

Do you really need 8 different modes and brightness that is fully adjustable from bright to dim?  Is that red night vision mode really useful or is it just another setting that you need to cycle through before you get to the setting you want?  What about a rear light; some torches have a rear facing red LED which is great for leading a group, but not for leading a race!  Some torches can be turned off by infra red, you just wave your hand in front of them to switch them on and off.  That’s a great idea – until you scratch your forehead and accidentally plunge yourself into darkness!  Sometimes a simple on / off, bright / dim is all you need.

Will it be easy to carry?

A compact torch with batteries in the head unit will easily slip into a bumbag or even jacket pocket and can be put on in seconds. This makes it ideal for a twilight run when you don’t need to wear it at first but need it later in the run as it gets dark. That super bright torch with battery pack extension won’t be as comfortable to carry and your mates will have put their torches on and gone whilst you’re still trying to route the cable down the inside of your jacket and into your bum bag!

some torches have the option of carrying the battery off the head

some torches have the option of carrying the battery in a bum bag rather than on the head

Will it be easy to operate?

That might sound a bit daft but some head torches have tiny buttons. They’re easy to operate when you’re in the nice warm shop but what about when you’re out on the cold hillside with your thick gloves on. Will you still be able to feel the button then?  Most of the time you won’t need to change the mode whilst you’re on the run but sometimes you might want to turn the torch off to look at the stars or turn it to zoom to look for a field exit.  It can be really frustrating if you have to go through a sequence of clicks and holds to to do this, and then again to get back to the setting you were on.  Torches with lots of modes are fine, but sometimes less is more and simplicity wins.  Also have a look at the battery pack and imagine trying to change the batteries with gloves on or with cold hands.  Some can be very fiddly – not what you want to discover on a wet and windy night!

Will it fit your head?

Again, it may sound obvious but we’ve got different shaped heads! It might be that the torch your mate loves has a battery pack on the back that just doesn’t suit the shape of your head or that your pony tail gets in the way.

will the torch be comfortable on your head?

will the torch be comfortable on your head?

Do you believe the hype?

If you read the manufacturer’s technical details you might think that your 200 lumen torch has a life of 20 hours on maximum setting. It might last for 20 hours but the chances are that 16 of them will be too dim to allow you to run. Some cheap imports claim to put out a huge amount of lumens, but how do you know that’s accurate?

Dare you trust a cheap import?

It’s true that you can pick up a very bright Cree LED torch for less than £20 on Ebay and many people have bought them and are happy with them.  But there are others who have had them pack up and even catch fire or explode whilst charging!  Are those UltraFire batteries that came with it really the genuine article or are are they fakes?  If it does stop working you’ll be out of pocket as you won’t be able to send it back but that might not be your only concern.  If the lights go out on a country lane close to home it’s not the end of the world, if you’re up a mountain in the middle of the night it’s more serious.  So depending on what you’re using it for you might want to think about paying a bit more for a torch from a reputable company.

Can you justify buying two?

Anyone from a cycling background will know that it’s perfectly acceptable to have more than one bike, even if they cost thousands of pounds each!  Likewise you might justify that you can own more than one head torch; a powerful one with long battery life for serious outings and a lighter one for less challenging runs and as your “back up” torch.

head torch collection

it’s ok to own more than one torch!

Personal Experience

I’ve tried lots of different head torches in different situations, from long night outings such as the High Peak Marathon, the Paddy Buckley round and the Charlie Ramsay Round to short fast training sessions in the dark.  I use a head torch whilst coaching on winter evenings and whilst leading off road night runs.  I’ve also tested different torches for various magazines and the thing I’ve found is that there isn’t a “best torch”.  There are torches that are really good for the type of running that I was doing at the time and torches that weren’t suited to that type of running.  Even the most expensive torches lack some features that could be useful.

night running on technical terrain

night running on technical terrain

The first torch I bought was too bulky, the second had poor battery life and let me down on a night race. Only now on my third purchase have I found what works best for me for the majority of the running that I do – but this won’t suit everybody – and even still I use other torches for other runs.

So there’s no such thing as the best head torch for running, just an ideal torch for the run that you are currently doing, but tomorrow’s run might be different!

fell running guide