Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260 V2 Review

The Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260 Version 2 is a wider fitting shoe offering aggressive grip for muddy conditions.

Inov-8 X-Talons have long been a favourite shoe for runners seeking good grip in muddy conditions but most of the versions are tight fitting and maybe don’t suit the runner with a wider foot. The Ultra 260 is a wider fitting shoe and as its name suggests is designed for longer runs where aggressive grip is required.

photo of Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260 V2

X-Talon Ultra 260 V2

Features

Whilst branded as an X-Talon the Ultra 260 V2 doesn’t share the same appearance as other X-Talons. Noticeably the tread pattern is different and it actually looks very similar to the discontinued X-Claw 275 (remember them?) The lug depth is still a super aggressive 8mm, but the studs are wider and more triangular shaped than on other X-Talons. The compound is StickyGrip™ rubber rather than Graphene.

photo of Inov-8 X-Claw 275

X-Claw 275 – spot the similarity?

The Ultra 260 have a width fitting of 4 on Inov-8’s scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the widest). This not only makes them wider but gives more volume in the toe box. The heel cup is well padded and there is more underfoot cushioning than on other X-Talons, making the shoe more comfortable on longer runs.

close up photo of X-Talon Ultra 260

cushioned heel cup and 8mm drop

The shoe has a much firmer toe bumper than other X-Talons, offering excellent protection for the toes. Whilst they do offer some flexibility there is noticeably less than on other versions of the X-Talon such as the G235 and 212.

close up of Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260

sturdy toe bumper

On Test

Prolonged wet conditions in the Peak District gave perfect conditions in which to test the Ultra 260 V2s. As expected the 8mm lugs gave excellent grip in the muddiest of conditions and the shoes were a great choice for proper wet, boggy, fell running terrain.

photo of running in mud

great grip in the mud

Coarse gritstone rock allows most shoes to grip, so running around the rocky Dark Peak terrain posed no problems. The wet flagstone paths offered a sterner test. I found that for the most part I could run with confidence although every so often a wet, smooth, slightly lichen covered slab was slippy. I don’t know of any shoe that would offer a grip on wet, smooth, greasy rock!

running on wet flagstones

testing on wet flagstones

I found that the width 4 fitting meant there was too much room in the toe box for my feet. I prefer a tighter fitting shoe offering more precision, certainly for races or fast training runs. However the extra room in the toe box allowed me to wear a thick, waterproof sock which would otherwise have been a bit of a squeeze in a narrower shoe; this makes the Ultra 260 a good winter shoe for me.

Technical Specs.

Weight 260g, Drop 8mm, Lug depth 8mm, Compound STICKYGRIP™, Midsole Powerflow Max with stack height 16mm /8mm, Fit scale 4

RRP £125

Overall impression

The Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260 V2 is a shoe offering aggressive grip for soft conditions whilst catering for the runner who needs a wider fit. The extra width also allows the shoe to be worn in winter conditions combined with a neoprene or thicker waterproof sock. The new Ultra 260 would be an ideal shoe for longer runs or races on soft, muddy terrain such as the Spine or Marsden to Edale (Trigger). They would also be a good choice for a very long run on wet or soft terrain; the Bob Graham Round for example.

The video gives a quick look at the X-Talon Ultra 260 V2

Click link to purchase or see more details about the X-Talon Ultra 260 V2

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Cimalp Blizzard Thermal Jacket Review

The Cimalp Blizzard is a running jacket specifically designed for use in cold conditions.

Although not widely known in the UK, the French company Cimalp have been producing specialist outdoor clothing for over 50 years. With the weather taking a turn for the worse in recent days it seems like a good time to review their Blizzard jacket.

Our winters tend to be mild and wet and for most of my runs I’ll wear a long sleeved base layer plus a waterproof jacket if needed. However, occasionally we get very cold days where staying warm is more important than staying dry. What to wear on days like these? When the Arctic wind blows, a thin waterproof or windproof jacket might not offer enough insulation and a more substantial jacket is needed. The Blizzard fits that bill.

photo of runner wearing Cimalp Blizzard jacket

Cimalp Blizzard jacket, at home in the cold

Features

The Blizzard is a mid-weight jacket; my size S men’s weighed 404g. Don’t confuse it with a thin, ultra lightweight windproof that packs down to the size of an apple, that isn’t its purpose. The CIMAFLEX material is slightly stretchy and has a warm, fleecy feel on the inside with a smoother finish on the outside. The shoulders and upper back have panels of more durable Cordura offering protection from abrasion when wearing a rucksack or race vest. It has a full length zip and there is a reasonably sized zipped, outer chest pocket that will take a folded A4 map, compass, car keys etc. Thumb loops allow the sleeves to be held snugly in place and a high collar helps keep your neck warm. The collar also houses a hood which can be zipped away if you prefer. Reflective details front and back allow you to be seen when illuminated by headlights or head torches. The jacket is wind resistant and breathable and performed well at wicking away perspiration when I was working hard (slogging uphill in deep snow!) My version is blue with black trim, it is also available in red / black.

photo of runner wearing Cimalp Blizzard jacket in the snow

a warm jacket on a cold day

On Test

I’ve worn the Blizzard for several winter runs in very cold conditions. I’ve found it to be comfortable; my size small is quite a snug fit with the stretchy material providing sufficient give so as not to feel restrictive. It really does offer some thermal protection from the biting wind and I like how the high neck keeps the cold out. The CIMAFLEX material repels water and I noticed that snowflakes simply brushed off rather than melting and soaking in although you would still need to wear a waterproof shell in heavy rain. As well as being a good jacket for cold, winter runs the Blizzard would also be a good choice year round when you need a bit more insulation, for example on overnight Bob Graham support where you might not be moving fast enough to stay warm. It would be fine to use for hill walking and its stretchy nature would make it a good choice for climbers too. It also looks good, i.e. not like a running jacket, and I’ve worn it just as a casual jacket.

photo of runner wearing Cimalp Blizzard jacket

high neck keeps out the cold

The thing I least like about the Blizzard jacket is the hood; it just doesn’t fit. I’ve only got a small head and yet the hood only covers three quarters of it! Whilst the rest of the jacket is a snug fit the hood is loose. If you face into the wind it blows down straight away!

photo of hood on the Cimalp Blizzard jacket

the hood doesn’t cover my head!

The Cimalp Blizzard jacket has some good features and it offers much more protection from the elements than a lightweight windproof jacket. It is great for cold and windy conditions where it is best used as a top that you know you are going to keep wearing for the duration of your run, rather than putting on and taking off as needed. I really like it – apart from the hood which is useless!

photo of running in snow wearing Cimalp Blizzard

totally warm – nearly!

Pros
Warm, slight stretch ensures comfortable movement, reasonably priced.

Cons
Poorly designed hood.

Weight
404g (men’s size Small on my scales)

RRP
£89.90

Full details can be found on the Cimalp website.

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Nitecore UT27 Headtorch Review

The Nitecore UT27 is a lightweight Dual Beam head torch ideally suited to trail and fell running.

Following on from the UT32, Nitecore have produced another lightweight, dual beam head torch; the UT27, available from November 2021

Design

The UT27 is simple in its design with the battery housed in the same unit as the lenses. Having the battery on the front of the head rather than in a separate rear housing can sometimes make head torches feel “top heavy” and unbalanced but not this one. The UT27 weighs in at a remarkably light 75g including battery. This is one of the lightest head torches that I have come across, at least that can realistically be used for fell running. The main body of the torch is plastic and although lightweight it doesn’t feel flimsy. The torch has two separate lenses mounted side by side; floodlight and spotlight and operation is by two buttons (W and T) on the top of the torch which control each of the beams respectively. I don’t know what W and T stand for, F and S would make more sense! The UT27 has an IP66 rating so should be water tight even in really bad weather! The battery compartment glows in the dark after it has been illuminated – theoretically that could make changing the batteries easier but it would still be a tough challenge without a second light source and not something I’d be wanting to try whilst out on the fells in bad weather! The torch comes supplied with battery, recharging cable and a small carry bag that acts as a diffuser which is useful when in a tent.

photo of Nitecore UT27 Dual Beam headtorch

Nitecore UT27 Dual Beam head torch

Battery

The UT27 is versatile in that it uses both a rechargeable Li-ion 1300mAh battery pack (supplied) as well as standard AAA batteries. The pack is recharged via the supplied USB-C cable and can either be removed from the torch or left in place with the battery compartment open during recharging. An LED on the battery pack turns from red to green when fully charged.

Claimed battery life ranges between 6 (Spotlight HIGH) and 13 hours (Floodlight LOW) although I haven’t fully tested this claim yet.

Nitecore UT27battery pack

USB-C rechargeable Li-ion battery or 3 x AAA

Modes

Each lens has two settings; simply high or low. Floodlight High gives 200 lumens, Low 55 lumens. Spotlight High gives 400 lumens, Low 100 lumens. There is also a Turbo mode where both lenses are illuminated giving 520 lumens. Two single LEDs also give either constant or flashing red light, useful for emergency signalling or when you only need a very low setting. These red LEDs also indicate how much battery power is remaining. Each button controls each beam i.e. one button (marked W) for the floodlight, one (marked T) for spotlight. A long hold switches that particular lens on after which another press toggles between high and low brightness. To switch to the other lens simply press the other button. A quick double press of either button turns on turbo mode which automatically turns off after 30 seconds to preserve battery life if you forget to turn it off manually. The red LEDs are turned on by double clicking either button from when the torch is off. The torch can also be locked off to prevent it being switched on by accident.

close up photo of Nitecore UT27 head torch

a button for each lens

In Use

I found the Nitecore UT27 easy to operate. The twin buttons on top of the torch are reasonably easy to use whilst wearing gloves and the sequence of presses is fairly intuitive. The two beams are noticeably different, the floodlight giving a white light whilst the spotlight is a much warmer yellow light. This yellow beam is unusual compared to most other head torches that I’ve used and does take a bit of getting used to although I  do find it better for map reading as there is less harsh, reflective glare than with the white beam. In spotlight mode on high power the beam gives an impressive throw of light; 128 metres according to Nitecore’s statistics.

photo of Nitecore UT27 on floodlight setting

floodlight setting, high

photo of Nitecore UT27 on spotlight setting

spotlight setting, high

The torch can be angled down through a number of positions as far as 90 degrees (useful if tying your laces or looking in your bumbag) and the ratchet is firm enough that the chosen position stays fixed, even when running on uneven ground. It is comfortable to wear and the light weight would mean that it would remain so for extended periods, you hardly notice the weight.

photo of Nitecore UT27 head torch

head unit angled to 90 degrees

Overall I’m very impressed with the light weight and ease of use of the Nitecore UT27. It’s a great little torch for fell running and takes up very little room in a pack. It would be a good option for camping as well as running.

Pros

Very lightweight, easy to operate, versatile battery options.

Cons

Not the cheapest, yellow light takes a while to get used to.

Weight

Claimed 74g including battery and headband (75g on my scales)

RRP

£56.95

UK Distributor:

https://www.nitecore.co.uk/Shop/Torches/Head-Torches/14098-Nitecore-UT27.html

US Distributor:

https://www.nitecorestore.com/Nitecore-UT27-Rechargeable-Headlamp-p/fl-nite-ut27.htm

Full technical details: Nitecore website.

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Osprey Duro 15 Review

The Duro 15 is the largest of Osprey’s three backpacks designed for trail running.

Having already tested and used the smallest pack, the Duro 1.5, I was keen to look to the other end of the size scale to see what the 15 litre version had to offer.

Features:
The first thing I noticed about the Duro 15 was the number of storage options; the pack has no less than 8 zipped pockets and 5 mesh pockets, all of various sizes! The main zipped compartment on the back can easily hold items such as spare clothes, emergency shelter, waterproofs etc. whilst a rear stretch mesh pocket with clips gives faster access to items; useful when it’s an on – off waterproof day. A smaller rear, zipped pocket has a retaining clip for keys and can fit a wallet or phone. Two decent sized side zip pockets are big enough for hat, gloves and food and are just about accessible without having to be double jointed! I found that these side pockets are also deep enough to hold rigid water bottles without them bouncing out whilst running.

photo of Osprey Duro 15

rear side pockets can be reached without being double-jointed!

The zipped pockets on each hip are easily accessed on the run and provide another option for smaller items such as snacks, gels, compass, car keys etc. Finally a zipped pocket on one side of the chest is just large enough to fit a phone although it’s a tight fit if you have a full soft-flask on the same side.

photo of Osprey Duro 15

zipped hip pockets are easily accessible

 

photo of Osprey Duro 15

2 mesh pockets and a zipped chest pocket holds a phone

On the front straps there are two deep, mesh pockets that house the soft-flasks or can be used as storage (another option for accessible phone storage). They also have elastic retainers for the soft flasks and an emergency whistle. Two smaller mesh pockets below these would hold a compass, gels, electrolyte or salt tablets etc. There are also two elasticated pole loops on the top shoulders for carrying lightweight hiking poles when not in use. To be honest I didn’t try to use these as I don’t have any poles, but I can’t see that they would be particularly easy to access whilst wearing the pack.

The Duro 15 offers versatile hydration options coming supplied with two 500ml soft-flasks with straws and a 2.5 litre bladder that fits into a dedicated zipped pocket with clip to keep the bladder in position. The bladder has a wide mouth which makes refilling and adding energy or electrolyte powder easy and the hose has a clever disconnector which allows the bladder to be removed whilst keeping the hose in place. This is really useful for mid run refills and stops you having to unthread and re-thread the hose and also makes for easier cleaning. The hose has a bite valve with a twist closure to prevent accidental leakage. Whilst running the hose can be kept in place by a strong magnet that attaches to the sternum strap. This does a surprisingly good job at keeping the hose in place but has the downside that you need to keep your compass well away from it! The magnet is easily removable if this is an issue and I’d recommend taking it off if you are using a compass.

photo of Osprey Duro 15 bladder

wide mouth 2.5L bladder and hose connector

If you don’t want to use the bladder, then two 500ml soft-flasks (supplied) can be stored in mesh pockets on the front of the pack on the lower chest. The long straws make drinking on the go fairly easy, however I found it quite difficult to get the full bottles into their pockets as the fit was too tight. Also it wasn’t possible to put the straws behind the straps designed to keep them in place without bending them in half (something I’m not sure is good for the straws). Osprey do make smaller 250ml flasks which are a better fit.

photo of Osprey Duro 15

500ml soft flasks: tight fit and the straw is difficult to position

The Duro 15 is a unisex pack that comes in two sizes, Small / Medium or Medium / Large, mine being the smaller version. There is lots of scope for adjusting the pack with tensioning straps on the front, hips and waist plus elasticated straps across the chest that can be unclipped and attached in a number of positions.

photo of girl wearing Osprey Duro 15

unisex fit in 2 sizes

photo of Osprey Duro 15 adjustment straps

straps allow the pack to be adjusted to fit

The elasticated straps allow your ribcage to expand and so don’t restrict your breathing. The chest straps can be unclipped single handedly although I found them a little tricky to fasten at first. The back is slightly padded with a mesh design to help breathability and I found the pack comfortable, although as with any pack without a “back plate” you need to pack carefully to ensure that nothing hard digs in and causes discomfort.

photo of Osprey Duro 15

adjustable, elasticated chest straps and magnet for hose

At a touch over 500 grams the Duro 15 isn’t a super-light pack, but this means it is more comfortable and has more features than a lighter pack. With an RRP of £140 it isn’t cheap, but it feels like it is built to last.

What would I use it for?

The Duro 15 isn’t designed as a lightweight race vest, it is more suited to longer days on the hill where you need to carry more equipment, for example mountain running in winter or in bad conditions. It would also be a good choice for multi day races and it has become my go to pack or for supporting long distance challenges, using it on the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley Rounds where I needed to carry equipment for someone else as well as my own. I would also use it as a summer walking pack.

wearing the Duro 15 on Bob Graham support

wearing the Duro 15 on Bob Graham support

Pros:

Loads of storage, good hydration options, comfortable, durable.

Cons:

Not cheap. Difficult to get the 500ml bottles into their pockets!

Verdict:

A comfortable pack with lots of storage and hydration options. Ideal for long, remote runs, multi day events or runs where slightly more carrying capacity is needed.

RRP £140

Available from Osprey https://www.ospreyeurope.com/shop/gb_en/duro-15-2019

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Mud and Blood Windproof Jacket Review

Mud and Blood trail running clothing is designed and developed in North Yorkshire.

In a market dominated by international brands I was interested to hear about Mud and Blood and put some of their products to the test and the cool autumn conditions were ideal for trying out their windproof jacket.

photo of man running in the Mud and Blood windproof jacket

running in the Mud and Blood windproof jacket

Made of ripstop nylon with a durable water repellent coating the smock style jacket is very lightweight (my size Small weighed exactly 100g) and packs neatly into its own zipped pocket.

photo showing weight of Mud and Blood jacket

exactly 100g (size small)

This makes it easy to store and it takes up little room in a bumbag or running pack. Features include a fold away hood which fits into the collar and is secured with velcro, a two way zip, elasticated cuffs with thumb holes and a rear zipped pocket.

On Test:

I wore the jacket for most of my runs over a two week period in both dry and showery conditions. I liked the fit (although fit is always subjective depending on your body shape), style and colour scheme; an understated grey with red trim (also available in neon yellow or white). The hood is a basic design and can’t be tensioned or adjusted in any way and so tends to blow down if you’re running into the wind, a problem I’ve found with several more expensive jackets.

photo of Mud and Blood jacket

stowaway hood

The thumb loops allow you to pull the cuffs down and prevents the sleeves from riding up and so helps to keep your wrists warm. The jacket didn’t feel as breathable as some other windproofs that I’ve used and there was a bit of moisture build up on the inside during a couple of runs. Having said that the DWR coating did help prevent me getting wet during a couple of short, sharp showers although I would always choose a fully waterproof jacket in heavy rain.

photo of Mud and Blood jacket

thumbs up for thumb loops

The thing I found least useful on the jacket was the rear pocket which is situated on the lower back like you would find on a cycling top. This made it fiddly to unzip whilst wearing it and I found that I had to stop completely when I tried to put my gloves away mid run as it was impossible to reach behind me and unzip whilst on the move. It you only intend to use the pocket for your car keys this isn’t a problem but it isn’t very useful for gloves, map, compass, gel etc that you might want to access during your run. Also the shape of the pocket is quite shallow (think mobile phone shape) and so it doesn’t hold much. I think a much better design would be to have the pocket on the breast.

photo of Mud and Blood jacket

rear pocket is hard to reach

At RRP £40 the jacket is cheaper than several of the more well known brands and so offers good value for money.

Verdict:

Neat, lightweight and affordable. Pity the zip isn’t on the front.

More details of the Mud and Blood clothing here: https://www.mudandblood.com/

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The OMM – Elite Kit Choice

The OMM is a two day navigation event that requires paired runners to carry all of their equipment including kit for an overnight camp.

The OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) takes place in October, when weather conditions in the UK can be bad, and visits remote upland terrain. Thus competitors are faced with a conundrum:
To go fast and light, carrying as little kit as the rules allow and thus skimping on comfort or..
Take a bigger pack and more comfortable kit but at the expense of having to carry the extra weight around the hills for two days.

A glance at runners’ pack sizes on the start line clearly shows those who have opted for a decent sized tent, roll mat and warm sleeping bag whilst others seem to have hardly brought any kit at all (and are facing the prospect of a cold and uncomfortable night ahead!)

My partner Spyke and I entered the Elite class with the intention of being competitive and so opted for the minimalist approach (what’s one night of discomfort between friends?) aiming to limit the amount of weight carried as far as reasonably possible.

The weather forecast for the event was for bitterly cold northerly winds with possible snow showers which had some bearing on my kit choice. Here is a breakdown of the equipment I carried with some explanations of my choices.

photo of Mountain Marathon kit

Mountain Marathon kit

Mandatory Kit (each competitor must wear or carry the following):

Taped waterproof jacket with hood
I used the latest version of the OMM Kamleika smock. Not the absolute lightest of waterproof jackets but more robust than some very lightweight options and likely to keep me a little warmer if the weather was as cold as forecast. I ended up wearing the jacket continuously whilst running and taking it off to use as a pillow overnight.

Taped waterproof trousers
Again I chose OMM Kamleikas for the above reasons although mine are an earlier model. They stayed in my pack during the day but I rolled them with the jacket as a pillow at night.

Clothing suitable for mountain running and walking
I wore a long sleeved merino wool cycling top. It was quite thick and whilst I have lighter base layers I felt that I needed something a bit more substantial given the forecast. It had quite a deep zip that I could undo to regulate heat.
I chose a pair of Ashmei 2 in 1 shorts with a long merino wool inner. These really help keep my glutes, hamstrings and quad muscles warm and so are more comfortable than a pair of tights. These combined with knee length CEP calf sleeves meant that only my knees were exposed to the elements. I chose calf sleeves over knee length socks because they stay fairly dry allowing me to keep them on at camp whilst swapping my wet socks for a dry pair. The calf guards also gave some protection to the lower legs when running through deep vegetation (we encountered heather, bracken and gorse on both days).

Spare base layer top
This was an old Helly Hansen and was the lightest base layer I had. I put it on over my merino top as soon as we reached camp.

Spare full leg cover
This was a pair of Asics tights and again these went on over the top of my shorts as soon as we got to camp.

Warm layer top
I chose my OMM Rotor Smock. This primaloft top has really good warmth to weight properties, retains its insulating properties when damp and packs down very small. I put it on as soon as we reached camp and slept in it.

Hat, Gloves & Socks
On my head I wore a simple windproof beanie with a buff round my neck which I pulled up over my nose and mouth when the wind was coldest on day one. I wore a pair of Rooster Sailing liner gloves and carried a pair of Goretex Extremities Tuff Bag mitts in case the weather got very cold and wet (I didn’t actually need these but they stayed easily accessible in the jacket pocket of my waterproof jacket).
Socks were a pair of 1000 mile trail socks with a spare pair of lightweight Salomon socks for the overnight camp. I put the wet ones back on to run in on day 2 – nice!

Footwear designed for trail and fell use
I used the trusted Inov-8 Mudclaw 300s for the maximum grip possible, particularly useful for the steep grassy downhills but generally good on all off road terrain.

Head torch capable of giving useable light for a minimum of 12 hours
This was a tiny Petzl E+Lite. I would have struggled to run or do much meaningful navigation with it but I figured that if we weren’t back at camp by nightfall then we wouldn’t be running anyway.

Whistle & Compass
Whistle was an integral part of the strap on my pack. Compass was a Silva Race Plate Zoom chosen for its fast settling needle. It doesn’t have bearings marked on the dial which takes some getting used to and means that you can’t set a pre taken bearing.

Map (as supplied)
Harveys 1:40,000 handed out at the start of each day.

Insulated Sleeping system
This was the OMM Mountain Raid 1.6 sleeping bag. The Primaloft fill means that it is still effective when wet so is a good choice for bad weather. My concern was that at only 450g it wouldn’t be warm enough. My sleeping mat was just a small piece of foam carpet underlay to which I’d stuck a layer of bubble-wrap. It only weighed 55g and was just long enough for me to fit hips and shoulders on it if lying in the foetal position. We also used our emergency survival bags as additional ground insulation and protection from the damp sides of the tent. This worked to some extent but they rustled at the slightest movement and mine wouldn’t repack into its bag in the morning and had to just be stuffed into by pack.

photo of improvised Mountain Marathon camping mat

don’t expect to get much kip on this!

First aid equipment
A few basic bits from a standard first aid kit plus 6 sheets of toilet roll and four paracetamols.

Pen/pencil and paper capable of being used in wet conditions
This was one sheet of Rite in the Rain waterproof paper and a stubby Ikea pencil. I also carried a permanent marker in my pack hip pocket in case I wanted to mark anything on the map (not used).
The First Aid kit, notepaper and pen plus head torch were carried in a tiny dry bag.

Survival bag (not a sheet)
I used an Adventure Medical Kits emergency bivvy. This is a really useful bit of kit to have with you for remote runs.

Rucksack
This was my Inov-8 Race Elite 20. (no longer available) It is a very lightweight pack with zipped hip pockets for access to food and was just about big enough to fit everything in.

photo of Inov-8 Race Elite 20L pack

Inov-8 Race Elite 20L packed and ready to go

Emergency rations
This was basically the extra food that I didn’t eat on the hill. For each day I carried 3 packets of Clif Shot Bloks, 3 Nakd bars (or Aldi equivalent) and a couple of gels. I had a packet of Shot Bloks, a Nakd bar and a gel left at the end. I find the Shot Bloks very easy to consume even when I’ve got a dry mouth. They are a lot more expensive than Jelly Babies but I find these way too sickly and can’t stomach them.

Water carrying capability
This was simply a 1 pint milk carton cut down to make a cup which I clipped to the waist belt of my pack. I didn’t take a soft-flask because 1; my pack didn’t have the pockets to carry one and 2; I wanted to keep my hands dry when refilling from streams and this is virtually impossible with a soft-flask. The plan was not to carry any water at all whilst running but to drink from natural sources as we came across them. This just about worked as the weather had been dry in the lead up to the event and some of the upland streams shown on the map weren’t flowing sufficiently to drink from. Day 2 was warmer and I did slurp from a couple of sources that I would normally have avoided but fingers crossed I haven’t suffered any ill effects! The home made cup system worked really well apart from occasionally rattling around on my waist belt buckle which annoyed me!
Water was available on the overnight camp and Spyke carried an empty 1.5 litre bladder that we filled and used for cooking and brewing up.

photo of improvised cup for mountain runner

milk carton for for a cup

Spare warm kit and insulated sleeping bag must be waterproofed (i.e. in a drybag)
As the forecast didn’t indicate heavy rain I chose to put my sleeping bag, spare base layer and leggings in a plastic bag sealed with tape. My Rotor Smock went into another smaller plastic bag, again sealed with tape. I planned to use these bags over my dry socks once in camp but other than getting up to the loo, once in the tent I just stayed there rather than wandering round camp. Had the forecast been for heavy rain I would have probably chosen proper dry bags for a better seal on the second day (it was difficult to get the used tape to reseal).

photo of improvised dry bags for clothing

sleeping bag, base layers and warm top in plastic bags

Mandatory Kit, each team must carry the following at all times:

Cooking equipment including stove with sufficient fuel for duration of the race, plus some spare for emergency use, left at the end of the event.
I carried a titanium gas stove (weighing 48g although some are now even lighter) with a 100g gas canister (200g when full) which nested inside a titanium Alpkit Mytimug 650ml. The Mytimug was used for boiling water and I used it as my bowl for breakfast. I used a simple Fire Steel as a lighter and took a small plastic spoon.
It would have been possible to save weight here as alcohol stoves or hexamine type fuel would have been lighter.  Although a gas canister is heavier it is simple to operate, clean, adjustable and there is no danger of spilling it. I wanted to be able to get the stove going as quickly as possible with minimum faff when cold and knackered at the end of day 1. We  used 60g of fuel. The Fire Steel (28g) was preferred to a lighter as it still works even when wet.

Food for 36 hours for two people
We took 2 x dehydrated chicken curry meals (600 kcal each) plus some dried couscous for the evening meal, a couple of handfuls of salted peanuts, some porridge for breakfast and 6 tea bags (we only used 3). No pudding, no hip flask, no luxuries!

Tent with sewn in groundsheet
This was Spyke’s Laser Photon, only really designed for one person so it was a bit of a squeeze! Weight with tiny titanium pegs was around 650g. Spyke carried the tent, I carried the stove and food.

The final weight of my pack was just less than 4kg but this was before the overnight food was added.

photo showing Mountain Marathon pack weight

final pack weight (without overnight food)

Overall thoughts / what would I change?

My main concern prior to the event was that I would be freezing overnight. I hadn’t used the sleeping bag before and so wasn’t sure how warm it would be. My plan was to wear every item of clothing I had with me, including waterproofs in order to stay warm overnight. Although temperatures fell below zero overnight (I know because my shoes started to freeze!) I managed without the waterproofs, just wearing 3 layers plus hat and buff (which I pulled up over my face and nose whilst trying to sleep). Luckily I had stayed dry during the day so I didn’t need to take any wet layers off or lie in damp clothing. I wasn’t warm by any means but I managed not to lie there shivering all night. However, with two people in a tiny tent you have to expect a long uncomfortable night with little sleep! I’m only 5 foot 3 and don’t take up much space which makes things a little more bearable – for my tent mate at least!

My sleeping mat was minimalist and not particularly comfortable but it was the size of the tent that prevented me from getting comfy rather than anything else. I think I could add an extra layer of bubble-wrap to make it a luxury edition!

Kit worn on the hill was fine. Day 1 was very cold at times with strong winds and a few snow showers but all zipped up and moving I never felt cold. Had the snow showers continued I’d have put on my Goretex mitts so although I didn’t use them they were worth taking. Day 2 was warmer although not enough to take off the jacket when in the cold wind so it was a case of zip up on the tops and unzip in the lee and on the climbs. Towards the end of the day I could have done with taking the jacket off as I was getting too warm but I didn’t want to waste any time.

I found using a compass without bearing markings to be odd. It also meant that we couldn’t check each other’s bearings. In hindsight I’d have been better with the Silva 360 Jet instead.

I was also unsure about how much food to take to eat on the hill as in the past I’ve overestimated. I think I just about got it right in terms of quantity with a bit left over at the end counting as emergency food. I struggled on day 1 and probably didn’t eat enough and in hindsight should have taken more gels or some baby food sachets that are easier to eat when your mouth is dry.

Camp food was just enough. I struggled to eat the porridge and even resorted to adding a chocolate gel to it to make it more palatable. It didn’t work! Oh and we took too many tea bags!

photo of OMM Elite vets

worth the weight! (Veterans Category)

More details of the OMM here https://theomm.com/

Note, the article contains affiliate links, you don’t pay any more if you order via them but I get a small commission.

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1000 Mile Trail Socks – Review

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

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

photo of 1000 Mile trail socks

1000 Mile trail socks

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

photo of 1000 Mile Trail Sock

padded achilles and elasticated top

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

1000 mile trail socks

different padding for different parts

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

RRP £12 (twin pack)

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

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Heart Rate Monitors: chest strap versus wrist based.

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

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

Wrist based (optical) monitors

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

photo of wrist based heart rate monitors

big discrepancy between watches!

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

Chest strap monitors

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

photo of HRM chest strap with transmitter

HRM chest strap with transmitter

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

picture of running statistics graph

geeky stats comparing ground contact time etc.

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

ground contact time comparison

more geeky starts – injury on right leg?

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

photo comparison of heart rate watches

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

Verdict

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

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DIY Ice Studs for Running Shoes

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

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

But what about mixed conditions; say where there hasn’t been any snow but very cold temperatures have resulted in icy patches? Here you can find yourself running fairly quickly on firm ground with a good grip only to be suddenly confronted with a patch of treacherous ice. In this case Microspikes would be overkill for the majority of the run and yet you wouldn’t want to be stopping to put them on just for a few metres of frozen ground. For these conditions you need a shoe that can deal both types of terrain.

photo of spikes on running shoes

DIY spikes!

photo of runner wearing Microspikes

Microspikes are great for very icy conditions

Some running shoes have tungsten spikes built into the tread – the Inov-8 Oroc is a good example. These type of shoes with the tungsten “dobs” have been widely used by orienteers as they give good grip on wet roots often found in forests.

photo of runner on ice

caution, grip needed!

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

You will need:

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

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

One screwdriver with 1/4″ hex drive adapter.

photo of DIY ice studs

DIY kit

photo of 3/8 inch slotted hex screws

3/8 inch slotted hex screws

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

photo of trail shoe with DIY ice studs

DIY ice studs!

Testing:

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

photo of runner on rocks

grip testing

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

photo of runner in show

good traction on snowy tarmac

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

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

UPDATE
It’s a couple of years since I wrote this and as of December 2021 the shoes are still working well and I haven’t lost or had to replace any studs.

photo of runner on an icy road

sketchy underfoot conditions!

Kahtoola & Chainsen Snowline Microspikes Review

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

What are Microspikes?

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

photo of Microspikes attached to a running shoe

Microspikes attached to a running shoe

Microspikes attached to a running shoe

Microspikes held in place by a strong rubber cradle

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

Chainsen Snowline Microspikes on scales

The Chainsen Snowline spikes, 235g size Medium

What conditions are they for?

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

photo of runner wearing Microspikes

Microspikes work best on hard ice

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

photo of Chainsen Snowline with sturdy pouch

Chainsen Snowline with sturdy pouch

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

runner wearing Chainsen Snowline spikes

I used Chainsen Microspikes whilst recceing the Charlie Ramsay Round

Are they worth it?

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

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

photo of running wearing microspikes

safe running wearing microspikes

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