Gear of the Year 2017
In 2017 we tested a lot of gear. Infact, we tested more than ever before and our reviews are becoming increasingly popular. It is great that both manufacturers and consumers see the benefit of real world testing by professional users who give the kit a realistic beating. We also ensure our reviews are thorough, detailed and honest - if something doesn’t do what it is supposed to we are more than happy to say so.
So, we decided to give an end of year shout out about our 2017 top gear choices. We’re calling it ‘Gear of the Yekar’ because, as you may have already worked out, gear rhymes with year! There are always things that are either new and revolutionary or existing designs that have been improved in some way. This year’s top 10 is a mixture of both. We will be adding a new one to this page every day for the next ten days - just time to reveal all ten before Christmas. We hope it gives you some inspiration and a few ideas for your future adventures.....
1. Leki Tourstick Vario Carbon V Poles
The first of our Peak Mountaineering 2017 Top Gear choices is something that we actually tested in 2016 (and the review was published on December 30th), but we won’t tell anyone if you don’t! We still wanted to include these highly featured trekking poles for this year simply because they are a brilliant product. The design is the now familiar avalanche probe Z pole style which allows for a compact folded length and lightweight and, while Z poles sometimes lack adjustability, on these there is a 20cm adjustable section. The pole closes with Leki’s efficient and glove friendly Speedlock 2 closure and, being an external adjustment, it means the mechanism can’t freeze up.
The upper pole sections are made from carbon fibre with a durable alloy lower pole and they have ultralight and very comfortable Aergon Mid Grip handles. The final surprise with the Toursticks is the Trigger S Vertical leash system - a really clever system whereby the leash is attached via a clip in system at the back of the handle while a Flexband is worn over the hand to keep the leash in the optimum position for power transmission. This also offers additional safety because, in an emergency, the loop is designed to detach.
Over the last year we have used these poles for everything from skiing and mountaineering to general hillwalking, and really cannot fault them. They are made to Leki’s usual high standards and all the features are extremely well thought out. Another big plus for us is that, as we don’t always use wrist loops, the detachable Trigger S system suits us perfectly - wear them when you need and leave them behind when you don’t. All in all, another great Leki product and we are really delighted to share it as our first 2017 gear choice. Please do check out our full review here .
2. Katadyn Be Free Water Filter
A few years ago a friend walked in to a remote camping spot in the Highlands, set up camp and enjoyed a drink of water from the stream. Within a few hours he had extreme sickness and was forced to wait in his tent for a couple of days until he found the strength to stumble out. There is contamination risk even in the most unlikely places and so we always purify or filter mountain water.
Over the last few years our chosen system for the U.K. (we use other systems abroad) has primarily been micro filtration units which are simple to operate, light, cheap and effective. In 2017 we tested the best we’ve come across and now, completely happy with its performance and reliability, we are delighted to make the Katadyn Be Free our second Peak Mountaineering Gear of the Year choice,
The Katadyn Be Free incorporates a 0.6 litre flexible bottle with a screw in 0.1 micron hollow fibre filter and it really couldn’t be simpler to use - just fill up the bladder and screw in the filter. Then the user squeezes the bag and, as the water is pushed through the filter, bacteria and protozoa are unable to pass through the narrow tubes. It is efficient and effective.
We have used a number of these but particularly love the Be Free because the flow rate is extremely fast (you can easily empty the bladder in under 30 seconds), it packs down extremely small when empty and, at about £34, it is great value. The bladder is fairly small but, if you are out and about in the UK mountains, you won’t be far from a stream and can simply top up as you go. It is a brilliant design and has so far stood up to plenty of use without any signs of a durability problem. You can find full details on the Katadyn website here. Just a heads up too - we are planning a Be Free giveaway early next year so please keep checking back.
3. Osprey Raptor 10 Rucksack
We’ve only recently finished the review for this product, but it simply had to go in our top ten guide. One or other of the Peak Mountaineering Team has been using this dedicated biking rucksack almost every day over the summer and autumn and we absolutely can’t fault it. It is a superb biking rucksack with every feature you could possibly want.
The fit is great, there is an Osprey Hydraulics hydration system (we also reviewed one of these this year here and love that too) included, it has just the right amount of storage space for a full day’s riding and there are great extra features like a tool roll, efficient helmet carry system and various well thought out storage pockets. We even found we could pack in enough for an overnight stay on our October Lakeland 4 Passes adventure (please check out our account of that awesome adventure here).
It it also important to say that the Raptor looks great and is built to Osprey’s legendary construction standards and we also reckon it is superb value for money - it is everything a Gear of the Year choice should be. You can read Paul’s review of the Raptor here and please look no further if you need a new biking pack in your life.
4. Petzl Sirocco Climbing Helmet
We love Petzl. They produce great quality and highly innovative equipment and no where is this more evident than in their history of helmet design. They shifted things on years ago with their Meteor models and this range has got better and better with every incarnation. Then, some years ago they unleashed the Sirocco. This expanded polystyrene cranium protector was super light, very comfortable, performed superbly and came in just one very very orange colour! It was a revolutionary product but we didn’t find the fit brilliant and it was just so orange - we never felt the need to jump to using that model and stayed happy with our Meteors.
Then, more recently the new Sirocco version came along. This looked far better and fitted as well as the Meteor. It was a massive improvement on the original and so comfortable and light - you really do tend to forget you are wearing this. We were delighted to test one and has now become. Paul’s ‘go to’ helmet. It is actually hard to see how Petzl could improve on this superb lid but we are sure those Petzl Genies are already working on some new must have version. For now, the Sirocco sets the standard and is an easy choice to be included in our ‘Gear of the Year’ guide. If you are in line for a new helmet, we really do recommend you give this serious consideration and please check out Paul’s review here.
5. Goal Zero Flip 20 Battery
Last month we ran our last Mountain Leader Assessment of the year and, as always, Paul’s smart phone accompanied him. On the expedition phase he was out for 3 days and 2 nights and considers his smartphone an essential part of his kit - he wanted to be able to check in for weather forecasts, watch a film in his tent in the evening, have charge available if there was an emergency and, of course, update the all important social media! A single phone charge won’t cut it for a trip of this length and so an additional charging source is needed.
During this year we tested a Goal Zero Flip 20 and have been exceptionally impressed. Infact all the Peak Mountaineering team are using them now. This lightweight and simple to use battery pack will give an iPhone 8 a couple of charges, is robust enough for outdoor use and is incredibly simple to use. It also benefits from Goal Zero build quality and is, in our opinion, very good value.
We have used similar batteries before, but there are a number of key features we particularly like about the Flip - the battery pack has an LED indicator to show how much charge remains, it has both a USB charging plug and socket built in and also features through charging which allows you to charge the battery while something else is also being charged. If you want something lighter or with more capacity there are other models in the range, but we haven’t used those so can’t comment on the relative performance. We think the 20 ticks most bases and so it is bestowed with the status of being our fifth Peak Mountaineering Gear of the Year choice.
6. Problem Solver Hanzo Hangboard
Paul has just spent the last few weeks on adventures in Myanmar. This time has involved a lot of trekking but not provided many opportunities to exercise the arms. This isn’t the best situation for a climber and so he always takes some equipment to try and keep some semblance of arm strength. Since he tested a Problem Solver Hanzo Hangboard some time ago (please check out his review here), one of these is always in his duffle bag.
The Hanzo is designed for portability with the board measuring only 380mm x 105mm x 24mm and weighing a very travel friendly 425 grams. The board is beautifully crafted from birch and has a range of hold options sized at 19, 17 and 13mm depths and there is another single 19mm slot on the back. A 4mm cord hanging system allows you to hang the board from a tree or other structure.
The Hanzo can easily be hooked up to a tree or solid object, but there is another feature that sets the Hanza apart from similar products on the market and also makes this a product very worthy of a place in our Gear of the Year guide. Problem Solver also produce a companion product to the hangboard which allows you to conveniently clamp the board over the top of a doorframe (details of this are included in Paul's review)
It is a very clever idea and has been a great travel companion on many adventures. The package of hangboard and clamp aren’t a particularly cheap combo, but they are certainly a good option for any climber away from the gym or rockface for any length of time - or even as a warm up tool at the crag.
7. Aku Alterra GTX Boots
When Paul reviewed these earlier in the year (please check out his review here) he described them as the most comfortable boots he has ever used. This is quite an accolade from someone with a boot store even Imelda Marcos would have been proud of! This is also accounting for the fact that he has now tested a wide range of Aku boots and, although he has loved them all, when we were deciding on our Gear of the Year choices this was the first item he insisted would be included.
Like all Aku products, the Alterra are a premium quality lightweight boot that will work in all weathers and is supportive enough for steeper ground and lower grade scrambling. They feature a very grippy Vibram Octopus sole, are constructed in durable Cordura with suede reinforcements in key areas, have a Goretex insert and feature Aku's Elica technology which ensures very stable foot stability. It is a great package but the feature Paul raves about the most is the stretchy tongue which moulds around the foot and means a tongue gusset isn't needed. It cradles the foot brilliantly, feels fantastic and also makes lacing the boots a breeze.
The Alterra is also available in a female specific model and we reckon there is nothing better for trekking in mixed conditions (these have been used from the hot dusty trails of Asia to the boogy loveliness of Kinder Scout). Please do check them out if you are in line for some new trekking footwear.
8. Hydroflask Insulated Drink Flask
The statistics for the increasing number of single use products being consumed is simply terrifying - 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year and yet only 12% is recycled, there are 5 trillion pieces of micro plastic in the sea and a human might ingest 11,000 pieces micro plastic per year in seafood. Horrific stats considering the average use life span of a single use plastic item is 12 minutes! Paul recently discussed all this in more detail in his blog post ‘Tackling the Single Use Curse’ which you can find here.
But, the simple way to reduce the growth of the problem is simply to encourage the use of reusables and there is a clear precedent - there were 8.5 billion plastic bags used before the 5p levy was introduced and that has reduced by 80% since the charging scheme started. Humans are capable of changing behaviours quickly given the right incentive.
At Peak Mountaineering we are passionate about protecting the natural environment and over the last few years we have been delighted to work with the premier insulated multi-use container supremo’s Hydro Flask. We rate all their products worthy of inclusion in our Gear of the Year guide but, given that we had to select just one, we plumped for their insulated flask. This high performance and stylish insulated flask keeps hot things hot and cold things cold, seals reliably, is great to drink from and is lightweight enough to carry on every adventure. Look no further for an outdoor refreshment vessel that will also protect the natural environment.
9. Mammut Masao Hardshell Jacket
Paul started testing the Mammut Masao hardshell jacket back in the winter and his review of it went live in April (please check out his review here). Since then it has continued to perform superbly and has probably been Paul’s most used hardshell during this year. It was Paul that decided this one should definitely be included in our Gear of the Year guide and he really rates it for several reasons.
Firstly, Paul loves the fit and the features which suit a broad range of users and uses - this is a ‘proper’ mountain jacket and yet has performed just as well for skiing as it has for winter climbing through to general hillwalking. There are pockets in the right places, a well designed hood and great attention to the smaller details such as the front zip system and cuffs. Everything does its job….and does it well.
He also rates the fabric very highly. Mammut have used their own DRYtech Premium 3 layer fabric and he has found it to have a user friendly soft feel, breathe well and be very hardwearing - this is a jacket capable of sustained use. Lastly, Paul thinks the Masao represents excellent value. In a market where hardshells can easily cost in the mid £300’s, we reckon the Masao, at around £240, represents great value for such a quality product. Very worthy of our ninth spot.
10. Patagonia Hyper DAS Parka
For all outdoor goers we would say it is essential to carry a spare warm layer that can be pulled on at belays, used at lunch stops or, if the worst comes to the worst, pulled on while waiting for help to arrive or to protect a casualty. For drier conditions you can’t beat the warmth to weight ratio of down but, in damper situations, it is really impossible to beat synthetic insulation. Within this category there are lots of types and weights on the market, but when it gets really cold you will need something warm.
We have only recently published Paul’s review of the Patagonia Hyper DAS (which you can read here) but it still unquestionably deserves a place on our Gear of the Year guide. It is a genius product. Patagonia have taken their much applauded DAS Parka (which we’ve been using for well over a decade) and completely reengineered it - better fit, better looks and, despite a lighter weight insulation, better performance.
This is, at around £190, an expensive product, but that is due in no small part to the R&D time needed to produce groundbreaking products and the higher construction and material costs. We know it won’t suit everyone and it is unquestionably a specialist item, but if you need a top quality and top end performer for super cold conditions, we don’t think there is anything better out there.
And so, that is it. Our 2017 Gear of the Year choices are complete. There are loads of other items we could have added, but we said we’d choose 10 and, although we’ve left lots of other favoutrites out, we’ll leave it at that. We hope you’ve found it useful and hopefully there are a few things there of interest. Happy adventures to everyone for 2018.
Posted by Cal
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