Posts tagged ‘Webtogs’

August 22, 2011

The North Face Men’s Apex Elixir Jacket

by backpackingbongos

As a backpacker I have to admit that I have never really ‘got’ softshell jackets, I have never seen the attraction of them.  For nearly two decades the tried and tested baselayer, microfleece and waterproof / or windproof system has served me well.  For when backpacking, clothing needs careful thought into how one item compliments another.  For example if it is cold I need to be able to wear everything that I am carrying, adaptability is key.  I have therefore approached this review from a backpackers perspective.

The North Face Men’s Apex Elixir Jacket was supplied for testing by Webtogs, for transparency I get to keep items provided by them unless stated otherwise.

The jacket came in a rather fetching red / charcoal combo.  The medium size fits me well, relaxed without being baggy, the Apex material being very stretchy.  The North Face describe this material as their stretchiest and most breathable soft shell fabric and say that it is ideal for high-output aerobic activities in cold, dry climates.  The fabric is finished with DWR to enable it to shed water.  My medium size weighs in at 434 grammes on my kitchen scales.

The jacket is relatively short, sitting just above my backside.  The arms are a good length and don’t ride up when reaching upwards.  I really like the way the cuffs can be adjusted, velcro with a slightly rubbery tab.  Much more preferable to elasticated cuffs.

The collar has a nice soft fleecy lining which although comfortable against the skin means that the collar does not stretch.  I have to admit that I found it a bit too tight and restrictive when fully zipped up.  I think that the best thing about this jacket is the pockets, they are large and sit above a pack hipbelt making them accessible.  Each one is plenty big enough to fit a large laminated map in, a huge bonus for me on the hill.  The inside is a soft mesh which is comfortable on the hands and which also serves as a good vent.  The main zip is a standard ykk which for some reason zips up the wrong way round, as in female garments.  This throws me each time I put it on!  Finally the hem drawcord is tucked away nicely and is easy to use.

As you can see from the photo below the material really does have a great deal of stretch to it, with my hands resting in the well designed pockets.

So all in all a good jacket when standing around and fiddling with it at home, however conditions in my house are very different to that on the hills.  How did it get on?

I took the jacket out to the hills on four separate occasions, and as much as I wanted to like it and enjoy wearing it I have to admit that I did not.  The weather conditions that I encountered varied considerably considering it was only worn in July and August.  I experienced warm and sunny, cold and dry, and cool damp windy weather.  For backpacking in summer I usually wear a smartwool long-sleeved base layer with a pertex wind shirt over the top if there is a breeze.  A lightweight microfleece at hand if the weather gets cool.

After a warm but breezy first day on the hills where the jacket kept me comfortable, the evening turned much cooler.  I was soon shivering as the Elixir provided me with virtually no insulation.  I had my microfleece at hand but underneath the jacket it felt bulky and uncomfortable due to the jackets fit.  A day in the Moelwyns provided me with what could possible be called ‘typical’ British mountain weather.  Warm and humid in the valleys and cool, damp and breezy on the summits.  On the climb up into the hills I found I overheated too much, even with the pockets fully opened.  I had to remove it and pull on my lightweight pertex windshirt, sort of defeating the object.  On the cool windy summits I put the Elixir back on, it blocked the wind but I felt cold when stopping.  On a positive note it did handle the damp claggy air well, moisture beading up on its surface.

For backpacking I feel that at the end of the day it is an over engineered, heavy and expensive wind shirt.  It is well made and looks good but I feel that it is much better suited to other activities.  A rock climbing friend thought that it would be ideal for a day on the crags.  Its excellent stretch and durable fabric being suited for climbing.  As a windshirt for high activity in cold and dry weather it may well be a winner.  But for backpacking in the damp, changeable British hills it is less than ideal.

The North Face Men’s Elixir Jacket can be purchased here.  Webtogs also have loads of other soft shells on their website.

June 18, 2011

Xsocks: Trekking Expedition Short & Trekking Silver

by backpackingbongos

A week or so before I set off on the TGO Challenge, Webtogs got in touch to see what I would like to test next.  My Challenge gear was already sorted, well-tried and tested, essential for a long trip.  There was however one essential bit of kit that I needed before setting off, one that is easily overlooked in the drive to buy the more expensive stuff.  This being the humble sock.  My old Smartwool ones were looking a bit tatty with holes appearing in the heels.  Webtogs sent me a pair of Xsocks Trekking Silver and I purchased a pair of Trekking Expedition short the day after.  With a 180 mile walk they were going to get a thorough testing!

Before I go on to review them I need to mention the footwear I used on the TGO Challenge.  I took a risk and wore a pair of unlined Inov-8’s, the first time I had worn unlined trail shoes on a long trek.  The weather on this years challenge could be described as a bit on the ‘damp’ side and I was usually submerged up to my ankles in the wet stuff.  This needs to be taken into account when deciding if these socks are for you.

There are a huge range of Xsocks available and I found that making an informed choice just by looking in the internet was difficult.  Although the two pairs both had the word ‘Trekking’ in the title they are different beasts altogether.  By the end of the Challenge I ended up loving one and slightly disliking the other!

Both pairs are shaped for the left and right foot, with a L and R embroidered onto each sock.  Why don’t more manufacturers do this instead of producing a sock which is designed to fit both feet?

First the good………..

Xsocks Trekking Expedition Short

I was worried when ordering that these would turn out to be ankle socks due to the name.  No worries as they are the usual mid calf length.  Pulling them on the first thing I noticed was their fit.  It felt like they were designed for my feet, a good snug fit without being too tight.  There are no noticeable seams at the toe and they feel nice and soft.  The main body of the sock is thin with a slightly open weave to it, the heel and forefoot is made up of a denser material and there is extra padding for the bony bit on top of the foot.  Putting on my Inov8’s they somehow just felt ‘right’.

Within minutes on the Challenge my shoes were soaked as I walked through streams and plodded through saturated ground and bog.  After the initial shock of the cold water my feet soon warmed up and I forgot that they were wet.  After a couple of hours of walking on a dry track my socks were only slightly damp.  I have to admit to wearing this one pair for most of the Challenge, on a couple of occasions for three days straight without being washed.  At the end of the day when I was in my tent I would shorten my trekking poles, put them upright in the porch and pull a sock over the handle of each one.  They were usually dry in the morning.  After the third day they would become too stiff to wear for a fourth!

Because they do not soak up too much moisture I never got ‘prune’ feet which can be an upleasant side effect from them being wet all day.  All in all the best sock that I have found for wearing with unlined trail shoes.  They can even be worn for a few days without stinking out the tent too much.  Sadly they are now showing signs of wear and tear with the fabric getting a bit thin in a couple of places.  Also the thicker fabric on the heels have become a little rough on the outside, rubbing away at the insides of my shoes.  The heel of the socks now being speckled with the bright green lining.

All in all the best pair of socks I have found for wearing with lightweight trail shoes.  When this pair dies I will definitely be ordering another pair.

And now the not so good…………..

Xsocks Trekking Silver

These are altogether a more substantial sock than the other pair.  The sole is more padded with a softer thicker weave and there is SilverNODOR woven within it.  This is meant to keep your feet dry and prevent the growth of bacteria which should in turn stop those nasty smells.  The heel has more padding and there is soft layer of padding for the top of the foot.  When I first pulled them on they felt much more comfy than the others with a less snug fit, in general they also felt much softer, more akin to a brand new pair of Smartwool socks.

However once I had pulled on my snug fitting trail shoes they were no longer as comfy.  My shoes grip my feet like limpets, in this case they gripped my socks like limpets.  Because the socks were slightly looser than the Trekking Expedition short my feet moved around inside them.  I thought that this would be a recipe for a blister but on the trail this in reality did not cause much of an issue.  What was an issue was their ability to soak water up like a sponge.  The soles are thick so moisture just sat there next to my skin, soon causing the dreaded ‘prune’ feet.  They did not last a full day without being changed, even so they had taken on much more of an odor in that time than the others did in three days.

However they did make nice comfy bed socks and that was the purpose they served for the rest of the Challenge.  I am not dismissing them as they will probably be ideal in more conventional footwear.  I am sure I will get plenty of use out of them in the winter.  They just are not the ideal partner for unlined trail shoes in persistently wet conditions.

If you are looking for a sock that is a perfect partner to unlined trail shoes I can highly recommend the Trekking Expedition Short.

The Trekking Expedition Short cost £15.49 and can be purchased here.

The Trekking Silver cost £18.49 and can be purchased here.

All the technical info can be found there.

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March 16, 2011

Adidas Men’s Terrex Seamless Trail Running Shoes

by backpackingbongos

For me there is something pleasantly old school about the name Adidas, bringing back images of the retro trainers of my youth.  They sometimes reissue their retro models, perfect for knocking around at work,  although perhaps not what you would choose for the hills.  I did not even realise that they did outdoor footwear until Robin mentioned on his blog that he had purchased a pair of Adidas Terrex Fast X FM Mid GTX boots.  Despite sounding like a dodgy radio station they looked to be pretty good.  Therefore I was pretty keen to test their running shoe counterpart, the Adidas Terrex seamless trail running shoe (another mouthful of a name) from Webtogs.

Now I have to admit that I have sat on the fence for a long time on the debate of whether running shoes are suitable for walking hills and mountains.  Some people swear by them whilst others are vehemently against them.  I have hill walked in Inov-8’s a couple of times and thought they were ok, but ended up wearing them out walking to and from work instead.  Time to give running shoes another go in the wet and boggy hills.

It is good to see that the Terrex has the usual Adidas three stripes down the sides, made of a rubbery plastic.  The blurb from the manufacturer says that they feature a seamless upper, this basically means that there is no stitching.  How this will affect their long-term durability I don’t know, lets just hope that the welding / gluing is up for the job.  The main thing I noticed was the speed lacing, something that I was not overly keen on when I first got them, preferring good old-fashioned laces.  However they work really well enabling me to get a good snug fit and the toggle has not slipped in use yet.  The toggle tucks away nicely under the lace bungee.  The sole is a sticky rubber, being much shallower than say an Inov-8 shoe, I initially thought that this would be an issue, more about their grip in a bit.

The Terrex are on the narrow side which suits my feet perfectly.  I struggle to find footwear that does not feel like I am wearing oversized wellies.  Although narrow they do give room for my toes to wiggle a bit.  The heel cup is pretty firm and although low grips my heel well.  The inner has a small amount of light padding throughout making them instantly comfortable, but would this make them like a sponge in the wet?

The Terrex have been on my feet for four-day walks over the last month, three on Dartmoor and one on the Dark Peak.  Being February / March this means only one thing, boggy!  The walks ranged from 8 to 11 miles.  Compared to say an Inov-8 they are fairly well cushioned under foot, although to start with they felt a little too firm under my heel.  You can still feel stones etc on tracks but with a nice spring to your step.  The padded upper with a tough outer means that you do not feel a breeze like you do with other running shoes.  This made them nice and warm for mild winter days.  They are definitely not waterproof, although they do shrug off water unless they are submerged for more than a couple of seconds.  I wear then with Smartwool socks and when they first let water in it is unpleasantly cold, however your feet soon warm up again (unless sloshing though bogs for a couple of hours!).

The photos below were taken whilst walking the Derwent moors in the Peak District.  The conditions under foot being tracks, muddy paths and open waterlogged moorland.  They were comfy and cushioned on the track and gave good grip on the wet clay like mud ascending Abney Clough.  My feet only got a little damp sloshing through the muddy puddles.  However once on the wet exposed moors my feet were wet in seconds and were cold until back on dry grass where they warmed up again.  Grip was good on the descent of a muddy bridleway.  I did feel that the grip was not particularly good when scrambling around on the wet rock of the Dartmoor Tors.  I would not feel confident wearing them on rocky mountains.

Whilst on Dartmoor I alternated them each day with my Salomon Fastpackers which were both filled with bog and water.  These would be almost completely dry two days later whilst the Salomons would be just as wet as when I had taken them off.  They are definitely going to be on my feet in the hills over the coming summer and I am going to have a go backpacking in them next month.  If they do well I may even consider them for the TGO challenge.

The weight for a pair of size 9’s is 730 grammes.

They can be purchased directly though Webtogs here, currently on sale for £56.25.

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January 23, 2011

The North Face 100 Khyber 1/4 Zip Fleece Top review

by backpackingbongos

Is there still a place for the humble fleece amongst all of the new hi-tec fabrics and garments that are available to liberate money from our wallets?  When Webtogs asked me to review a North Face fleece I secretly turned my nose up, even before I knew what I would be getting!  I asked if I could have the lightest fleece garment that they had in stock, this hopefully would make it suitable for backpacking.

Now let’s get one thing straight before I look at this fleece in more detail.  It has been in my possession for nearly a month now and it has been worn every single day since I got it!  It’s been worn on the hill, walking the dog in the woods, in the office and for lounging around the house.  Unfortunately I am pretty fussy in what I choose to wear, comfort being the major consideration.  It is the comfort factor that has sold it to me, but with the exception of its comfort, is it any good?

It is made from Polartec Classic Micro fleece which is light and very soft to the touch.  I would describe the cut as ‘relaxed’ a good fit without feeling restrictive.  It has got a deep quarter length zip for good ventilation which also makes it easier to put on and take off.  I have always had a preference for outdoor garments without full length zips as they can sometimes feel bulky under a backpacking sacks hip belt.  There are no pockets which is good as they would only provide bulk in my opinion.  The fabric itself only stretches one way which does mean that the sleeves and the back rides up a bit when reaching upwards.  The non stretchy flat seams also contribute to this.  The hem and the sleeve cuffs are not elasticated which adds to its general comfort but is not ideal on a cold and windy fell when you want to cinch everything in.  One drawback of microfleece is that it is definitely not windproof.  However I always carry a lightweight Rab windproof jacket with me, so that’s no problem as part of a layering system.

I popped it on my scales and it came in at 250 grammes which is fairly lightweight.  I think that it is a bit of kit that I will be taking on the TGO challenge.  I was going to take my Paramo jacket which I only find comfortable in cold conditions.  Because the weather in May could range from warm and sunny (hopefully) to wet, windy and possibly snowy I think that I am going to go for a lightweight layering system.  A merino wool base layer underneath this fleece and a windproof on top would be ideal for most conditions at that time of year.

A rare clothing hit with me.  It can be purchased directly from Webtogs here.

November 30, 2010

Reviewing for Webtogs

by backpackingbongos

I was recently contacted by Gareth at Webtogs asking if I would be willing to do some gear reviews for them on my blog.  Obviously I was flattered but initially a little bit sceptical about the sort of content I would be required to write.  A quick chat with Gareth confirmed that the integrity of my blog is paramount and I will be able to write my honest thoughts and opinions about any of the gear that I am sent to test.  So although I will usually get to keep the kit that I am sent to test and review, I will be one hundred percent honest in everything that I write.  Just look at my write-up of the Tarptent Scarp1 fiasco to see that if I think something is not to my liking I will say so!  Anyway my first bit of kit is on the way in the post and is by a manufacturer that is totally new to me.  It is designed for cold weather, so I hope the current cold snap holds out so it can be put through its paces!