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

 

Charlie Ramsay Round

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

Ramsay Round

56 miles, 24 Munros 28,500ft

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

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery on a previous reccy

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

Starting the Ramsay Round

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

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

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

pit stop at Fersit

pit stop at Loch Treig (photo Pawel Cymbalista)

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

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

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

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

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

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor (photo Masa Sakano)

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

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

Equipment I used:

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

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramsay round map

laminated map with route notes

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

Food & Drink

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

Navigation

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

Schedule

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

Ramsay Round schedule

schedule with split and actual times

Lessons Learnt

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

Low Point

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

High Point

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

Thanks

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

Ramsay Round finish photo

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

Map used:

Click the logo to see more of what I do:

 

fell running guide

Black Combe route choice

Tips for Navigating in Bad Visibility

Thick hill fog greeted runners taking part in the first English Championship fell race at Black Combe in the Lake District this weekend.

Predictably the poor visibility meant that quite a few runners went off course and missed some checkpoints. For some runners this meant a lengthy detour, adding extra climb and distance to their route to get back on course whilst for others it resulted in a DNF as they failed to visit all the checkpoints.  The attached Strava traces show some interesting route choices!

Black Combe route choice

interesting route choices!

Bad visibility is not uncommon in fell races where navigation skills are seen as a key requirement for competitors and carrying a map and compass is compulsory.  However, carrying a map & compass is one thing, using them is another and in the heat of the race it’s easy to simply play follow the leader in the hope that someone at the front of the line knows where they’re going!

So what tips are there to avoid going wrong or to get back on track if we do find ourselves going astray?

Do your homework!

Before the race spend some time looking at the map to familiarise yourself with the route and try to memorise some key aspects of the route. Look at some of the key features you would expect to see during the race. Think about what direction you will be heading and if it will be uphill or downhill. Work out the distance between each checkpoint and how long you think it might take.

Mark your map

Jot some key notes down on your map or back of your hand such as compass bearings, estimated time taken or features to look out for. (see D’s below)

make notes on the map

jot some notes on the map

key bearings written on map

key bearings written on map

Don’t follow my leader follow the D’s

Break the race down into legs between checkpoints or obvious features and think of the following:

Direction – which direction should you be running? This could be approximate eg Northeast or precise eg 38 degrees.

Distance – how far is it from one feature or checkpoint to the next?

Details – should you be running uphill, downhill or flat? Should you pass any noteable features eg streams, valleys, walls, buildings etc. Can you identify something that will tell you you’ve overshot and travelled too far?

Duration – how long should it take you to get from one feature or checkpoint to the next?

Get your compass out early.

Lots of runners seem to carry map and compass in their bumbags, only getting them out when they get lost. By then it’s too late, they are meant to stop you going wrong in the first place! Running with your compass in hand will let you have a quick glance to check that you are going the right way whereas a quick look at the map can remind you that you should be heading downhill for example.  This would have helped in the examples below.

Example 1

navigation error

example 1

The green trace shows how a runner failed to navigate between checkpoints 3 and 4. They narrowly missed 4 and continued downhill then around and back up to eventually locate it. Using the D’s how could they have avoided this?

Direction – they weren’t far off, heading roughly southeast and only missed the checkpoint by about 100 metres but didn’t see it in the fog.

Distance – the distance from checkpoint 3 to 4 is about 500 metres however visibility was less than 100 metres so they wouldn’t be able to see checkpoint 4 until very close (they obviously weren’t close enough!)

Details! – this they could have used. The map shows that after checkpoint 3 the ground drops steadily then flattens off for around 200 metres (where 4 is located) before dropping steeply again. If the runner had noticed the ground flattening they would have known not to continue steeply downhill.

Duration! – this should have been a give away. How long does it take to run 500m metres downhill? Work it out; if you can do a 10k in an hour then you can do 1k in 6 minutes (so you can do 500m in 3 minutes) As this is downhill in a race it will probably be faster than that for most runners. A quick look at the watch or a press of the lap button at checkpoint 3 and if you haven’t arrived at 4 two minutes later then it’s time to stop!

Example 2

navigation error

example 2

In example 2 the runner leaves checkpoint 3 heading southeastwards towards 4 but then swings off to do a huge anticlockwise loop, visits checkpoint 3 again! and then continues successfully to checkpoint 4. What could they have checked?

Direction! – between 3 and 4 they should have been heading southeast. At no point should they have been going northeast! Or northwest, or north anything! Alarm bells should have been ringing.

Details! – the route from 3 to 4 is downhill and then flattening out. This runner started downhill but then contoured on flat ground for almost half a kilometre (crossing two streams) which should have alerted them that they were going wrong.

To sum up.

I believe people think that you have to be very skilful to navigate in bad visibility whereas really it’s just about some basics. You don’t have to be able to identify every tiny kink in the contours, just being able to run in the right direction is a start! Remembering the four D’s will help as will getting lots of practice. Take the time to go out in bad conditions and run with map & compass in hand. Get to know how quickly you cover a kilometre and if you have a GPS watch check your trace afterwards to see where you went. Don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes, get disoriented and find yourself again. Much better to be doing it on a training run than halfway through a championship race!

Note – I’m certainly not perfect and have also fallen into the trap of following the crowd rather than checking the map.  I just don’t do it as often anymore!fell running guide

running on steep snow

Running in Snow

There is something special about running in snow.

Maybe it’s because our winters tend to be wet and windy with muddy conditions underfoot that I relish the chance to run in the snow. It brings a welcome change to the ordinary, a different challenge, a break from the routine. When snow is falling the world shrinks, visibility drops and the sky loses its form. The boundary between earth and sky blurs and the horizon disappears. With paths obscured even the most familiar of trails become alien as the landscape becomes uniform and it is difficult to judge distances.  The only colour that exists is on my clothing, the rest of the world is monochrome. Falling snow muffles sound, the only ones I hear are the ones I make; my footsteps creaking in the fresh snow, my breathing, my heartbeat on the hard uphills.

running in snow

the only colour that exists is on my clothing

After the snow comes a different challenge. The well trodden paths that I usually take become buried and there is no such thing as an easy run. I struggle to lift my feet clear of the drift, gratefully find a patch of hard snow that takes my weight and tentatively begin to run, trying to make myself light. A few metres gained and crunch, I’m up to my thighs again and the process starts over. Who needs the gym, this targets muscles that are rarely used – and it’s free!

running in snow

no such thing as an easy run

There is something rewarding about breaking a trail. Of standing there with virgin snow ahead of me and being the first person to set foot on it – being my own pioneering explorer.

And when the weather system has passed leaving its white blanket covering the landscape and high pressure brings clear skies and freezing temperatures, those are my favourite conditions. They are a complete contrast to when snow is falling, now colour returns and the sky is impossibly blue, the horizon stretches for miles and sound carries on the still air. Shapes and shadows appear where snow lies, sculpted by the wind.

running under winter skies

the horizon stretches for miles

I long for conditions like this and on those rare, precious days when they occur I head out into the depths of the Peak District. In midweek it is possible to spend a day out without seeing a soul, being more likely to encounter a mountain hare making the most of one of the few days when conditions suit its winter coat.

mountain hare tracks

shapes, shadows and the tracks of a mountain hare

All too soon the mild air returns, the snow thaws and the landscape reverts to its customary winter condition – damp and grey. But the memories remain long afterwards of those few precious winter days and my adventures of running in snow.

running on steep snow

adventure running

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

running in deep snow

10 things you need for winter fell running

Trail and Fell Running can be a bit more difficult in winter.

Short days, darkness, bad weather, snow and ice; all these could dissuade you from getting out onto your favourite summertime trails but with the right kit and a bit of preparation you can still enjoy off road running right through the winter months. Here are my 10 essential bits of winter kit that allow me to carry on fell running all year round.

Waterproof Jacket

It’s Britain, it’s winter and therefore it’s going to be wet and windy at some point.  These conditions, more so than dry cold, are the ones that can lead to hypothermia and so it is worth investing in a jacket that will protect you from the driving rain. There are plenty of decent jackets on the market from the very small and lightweight Montane Minimus and Inov-8 150 Stormshell which I use for short runs to the slightly more robust OMM Kamleika and Raidlight Stretch Shell which I choose for longer, slower runs.

waterproof running jackets

a decent waterproof is essential

Fell Running Shoes

Those lovely, dry, summer trails can turn into mud baths in the depths of winter and steep, wet, grass requires a shoe with a decent amount of grip. My winter shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Mudclaw as its aggressive sole lets me run confidently on even the boggiest ground.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

Inov-8 Mudclaw’s aggressive grip – ideal for winter

Head Torch

Just because it goes dark before you get home from work doesn’t mean that you can’t get out and enjoy an evening run on the trails and fells. Of course you’ll need to see where you’re going and so a head torch is vital. You don’t need to break the bank, Alpkit’s Gamma, Viper and Arc or Unilite’s HV H4 are cheap and adequate for short runs on non technical terrain. If you want to hit the high fells or mountains you’ll need something a bit brighter with a longer battery life. Torches such as the Petzl Nao, Suprabeam V4 or Hope R1 LED are more expensive, good quality torches for more serious nocturnal running adventures.

head torches for night running

head torches for night running

Warm Layer

You can stay warm even when running in the worst weather because your body produces heat as you exercise, but if you need to stop or slow down for any reason you can become cold very quickly. Carrying an extra, warm layer gives you that added bit of comfort and safety. I use the OMM Rotor Smock which is incredibly light yet offers a high warmth to weight ratio and is effective even when damp.

OMM Rotor Smock, excellent warm layer

OMM Rotor Smock – an excellent warm layer

Decent Gloves

Not only are cold hands uncomfortable they also make it hard and sometimes impossible to do simple tasks such as tying a lace, undoing a zip or opening food. Dry, toasty hands are good for morale! I like to layer my gloves starting with a cheap pair from Decathlon and adding a pair of Powerstretch wind proof gloves on top. In wet weather I use Goretex Tuff Bag Mitts over the top, these are very light and pack away to a small size.

winter running gloves

warm hands are happy hands – waterproof mitts & windproof gloves

Debris Socks / Gaiters

Don’t you hate that feeling when you run through deep snow and it gets into the gap between the top of your shoe and your foot? It then tends to compact into a lump of ice which you try to hook out with your finger, inevitably pushing it deeper into your shoe! I’ve found that wearing Inov-8 debris socks prevents this happening, they are a comfortable sock with an extra piece of fabric that folds down and attaches to the shoe to stop anything getting inside.

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

Emergency Kit

I still like to run in more remote areas even in winter in which case I’ll take a bit more emergency kit with me just in case I or anyone I’m with is forced to stop. In addition to the usual map, compass, whistle and mobile phone I carry a survival bag such as a Blizzard Bag, a torch and some spare food.

Blizzard Bag in use

Blizzard Bag in use

Rucksack

This extra, winter kit is obviously going to take up more room and so in winter I opt for a running rucksack rather than a bumbag. There are loads to choose from, I use the Montane Jaws 10 which is a very comfortable vest type pack made from water resistant material that helps keep the contents dry.

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Micro Spikes

I love getting out running on the trails in really cold conditions, even when the ground is icy.  I use Snowline SnowSpikes; stainless steel spikes attached to a rubber cradle which simply slips over your running shoe. They can be fitted in seconds and really do work, allowing you to run on hard packed snow and ice.

Snow Spikes for running on ice

Snowline SnowSpikes for running on ice

Ski Goggles

If you’ve ever been hit in the eye by a hailstone you’ll know it hurts. Even a soft, fluffy snowflake in the eye is a painful experience! If you’re running into the wind whilst it’s snowing you’ll find it almost impossible to keep your eyes open and you’ll probably end up trying to run with a hand in front of your face in an attempt to shield your eyes. I carry ski goggles if I am expecting to it to snow and these mean that I can keep running even in a heavy snow storm.

running in ski goggles

ski goggles for eye protection

So, winter’s coming but you can still get out trail and fell running – just get your kit on!

running in deep snow

bad weather? No, just challenging conditions!

fell running guide