Equipment reviews


On our tours we were able to put several outfitters' products to the test and get a picture of our own of their utility under tough touring and expedition reality. Not all the heavily advertised and highly recommended articles keep the promises made by the producers and outdoor magazines. And often the strong and the weak points of a material show up after a long period of time. Here some items from our fund are presented, which have proved reliable. However, we have not spared the major flops from being mentioned, either.

Here the following products have been assessed:

Backpacks/Duffle bags: Bach Fat Maxx 3 >>
Bach Hiker 35 >>
Bach Ultimate Duffel 2 >>
Camping stoves: MSR Pocket Rocket >>
MSR Whisperlight International >>
Primus Multifuel MFS >>
Clothing: TNF Evolution Tri Climate Jacket >>
Head lamps: Brunton L3 >>
Petzl Tikka >>
Knifes: Linder Super Edge 2 >>
Puma Outdoor Palmwood >>
Victorinox Swisstool >>
Navigation: GPS Garmin etrex >>
Shoes: Meindl Nordkap Gtx winter boots >>
Sorel Caribou winter boots >>
Sleeping bags: Ajungilak Kompakt >>
TNF Snowshoe (Polarguard Delta) >>
TNF Solar Flare (Dryloft) >>
Sleeping pads: Evazote Sleeping pads >>
Tents: Helsport Fjellheimen 2 Camp >>
Others:                               Energizer Lithium Batteries (AA, R6, Mignon) >>
Seam sealer: McNett Seam Grip >>

Backpack: Bach Fat Maxx 3 *****

Bach's Fat Maxx is a voluminous backpack for trekking and expedition use when a large amount of equipment and heavy loads need to be transported. As a replacement for my well-worn Dana Design backpack Bach took on an enormous task and proved its standing on my first attempts at walking. On a trekking tour in Lapland's Sarek National Park I carried about 35 kilograms in this backpack. I would not want to claim it was sheer joy walking about lugging that weight, but Fat Maxx with its M.A.D. strap system excellently diverted the weight to the hips. I am a great fan of "Angel Wings", the straps that run diagonally from the backpack to the hip belt and which add stability and convey the weight to the hips even more. The reliable Cordura material is non-chafing and non-tearing. Choice is the voluminous cover pocket and the hardly showing small side pockets. Also the pouch for the sleeping bag is large enough to take a big one made of synthetic fibre. Another detail worth noting is the fastening tapes that loosely feed through the cover pocket. Thereby the cover is best fitted to the volume and the outer shape of the main case. Especially pleasing is the simple and functional design. This backpack shows no stupid gadgets but offers what you really need hey stop! one thing is really superfluous: the bottle holder fixed to the side dangles about annoyingly if it is really used to carry a heavy bottle. Dear Bach designers: In future do without it and rather include a rain cover for the backpack! fs

Conclusion: Near perfect backpack for trekking and long excursions with a heavy load.

Backpack: Bach Hiker 35 *****

Bach Hiker 35Hiker 35 combines a classic hiker backpack design with modern materials and an effective carrier strap system. In Canada we use the Hiker 35 as a voluminous all-round and day-tour pack. It accompanies us on our day-tours on dog sleds as well as on hikes with or without snow shoes, when ice-fishing or when shopping in town. Its volume is sufficiently large for short weekend trips or slightly longer hikes from lodge to lodge carrying light weight.

The option to separate the backpack into a main compartment and a base pack makes Hiker 35 a flexible backpack solution for a variety of uses. I also like the two side pouches which offer easy access to an additional pair of gloves I carry with me as a rule, and a few muesli bars. The roomy cover bag takes the other bits and bats (e.g. compass, GPS, hand warmer and First Aid Kit). Besides, the Hiker 35 gives you the option of fitting a water bottle and drinking pipe. Thus you have the opportunity of drinking enough while hiking without having to put down the backpack. The Hike-SVS carrier system ensures a comfortable transport even over long distances with relatively agreeable ventilation. The hip belt transmits the weight load to the pelvis outstandingly well for a backpack of that size. fs

Conclusion: A versatile and sturdy hiking backpack for day excursions in a classic design with interesting features. The relatively voluminous size even qualifies it as suited for weekend outings and hikes from lodge to lodge.

Backpack: Bach Ultimate Duffel 2 *****

The Ultimate Duffel made by the Irish backpack specialist Bach is a sturdy, no-frills carry-all. Made of solid Cordura nylon it is well equipped for the tough everyday use travelling on expeditions. It has already offered us invaluable service on our trip to Canada and while working as dog-sled guides. It reliably protected our equipment on its way to Canada, served as our" wardrobe" in our small log cabin and carried our complete luggage on our long excursions with the dog sleds. Size 2 with a capacity of 70 litres is even big enough to safely transport an injured dog home on a sled. fs

Conclusion: Sturdy, no-frills carry-all made of Cordura-Nylon for challenging travelling and expedition operations.

Camping stove: MSR Pocket Rocket *****

This small but nice gas stove accompanied us on our crossing the Pyrenees and went on pleasing us on numerous short hikes. We were always surprised and delighted by the enormous performance of this economical stove (30). We used a lightweight, foldable wind shield (Primus or MSR) to protect the flame from the wind. Of course you are always confronted with the problem of finding suitable cartridges when out and about. In the Pyrenees it was not always easy to find the screw-on cartridges but that really is no fault of the producer.

The only drawback: the somewhat low-grade metal in the burner head attracts surface rust after the stove has been used several times. That does not impair the handling but all the same is not really nice. Material of a higher quality would surely get rid of that problem. fs

Conclusion: A small and light-weight fire breather with an enormous performance at a really reasonable price.

Camping stove: MSR Whisperlight International *****

There seems to be no such thing as the perfect fuel stove. But the people at MSR have come pretty close to perfection. Somehow, however, they seem to have finally lost all interest while tinkering around. In the last few years I have made use of several Whisperlights and the same problems keep occurring.

  1. Unfortunately the mount of the stove is somewhat rickety. If you use a larger and heavier pan every now and then the twisted wire legs tend to flap about happily. Put a pan on for boiling and everything remains stable, but I would rather have a sturdier fixture. Also the welding seam of the frame tends to break. That is no major deal, but it reduces the stability even more.
  2. MSR Whisperlight InternationalThe pump unit of MSR is the weakest point of the whole system. It seems to be made of some cheap plastic. And it likes snapping off a few bits here and there. The predetermined breaking points are the plunger and the locking system which fixes the plunger in the pump. I experienced a near miss of a worst case scenario on a skiing excursion in Lapland when the sealing ring between bottle and pump burst. The leaking fuel immediately caught fire and the whole construction was ablaze. We were able to extinguish the fire at once, but the pump unfortunately had melted in the heat. It was sheer luck that the totally deformed part continued to function so well at least so that we were able to end our tour. No blame can be laid on MSR for the faulty sealing ring since the owner should definitely have exchanged it after a few years in operation. But a pump of higher quality (made of metal, e. g.) would have tolerated the heat under load better. The unreliable pump makes me take along a replacement pump when I am on tour. MSR by the way ask for an outrageous price of about 40 for the pump.

But despite all this grousing, kudos go out to MSR for several reasons:

Conclusion: A reliable, low -noise fuel stove with substantial risks due to the plastic pump.

Addition: This report is based on the pump system of 2005. In the meantime MSR has revised the pump system. We will report here shortly on any improvement.

Camping stove: Primus Multifuel MFS *****

This stove was a complete annoyance. We had bought this model as a replacement for a damaged MSR Whisperlight. The obviously more stable pump system had originally won us over. The option to be able to use not only petrol and paraffin but also gas cartridges was an additional incentive. The first runs in moderate temperatures using gas cartridges were completely satisfactory. The performance of the stove was promising, although the burner was quite noisy due to its construction. When on skiing tour in Padjelanta National Park and when snowshoeing in Sarek National Park this device proved to be a complete failure. I have listed the main bones of contention here.

  1. The producer's idea to let the fuel lead burn dry proved to be totally unsuitable. As soon as the bottle was more than half-filled this method didn't work any more. We had to simply turn the stove off in order not to waste gallons of fuel. (The new Primus pumps are of a different construction so that the problem may not occur so badly.)
  2. Although we used purified fuel (Coleman Fuel) we had to take the stove apart every four or five days for cleaning because the valve or the lead was constantly blocked. With temperatures at -20 C this was less than a thrill. I have never experienced anything as bad with MSR stoves using non-purified fuel.
  3. The additional tool for cleaning was totally useless. The fine needle to pick the valve clean snapped after a few attempts.
  4. The pump was not adequately protected from any moisture seeping in. Again and again moisture got into the pump and froze up the pump's mechanism. Before the next cooking, the pump had to be unscrewed again and freed from any ice.
  5. The option that seemed so practical, namely to run the stove on gas cartridges caused yet another problem when out on tour. Was there still some pressure in the fuel container, the coupling of the fuel bottle to the gas valve fitting always released a little petrol which dribbled over your hand. The temperatures were not so low as to cause damage by evaporation chill. It was worse that we had petrol all over our hands. We could not touch any food like that. Whoever experienced food contaminated even by a slight bit of petrol will know what I am getting at.

Luckily we were able to return this stove after our trips and exchange it for an MSR. In the meantime one of our friends also had had a bad time with an unreliable Primus Varifuel and had traded it again for an MSR. And when I take a closer look at the new generation of Primus stoves my suspicion grows that the boys and girls from the product design department have never been on tour with their own stoves. Otherwise the stove's four legs cannot be explained. Ever tried finding a perfectly flat base in the woods or in the mountains to place a four-legged stove without it wobbling? That can only be successful at the lab table of the product designers of Primus... fs

Clothing: TNF Evolution Tri Climate Jacket *****

When I was scouting around for a new, light-weight jacket for everyday wear and ready for outdoor activities, such as short hikes, biking and canoeing, this jacket happened to find my attention. I was not really looking for a double jacket because as a rule these models don't appeal to me in their cut and finishing. However, this jacket appealed to me by its simplicity and its functional details. It has got whatever I would want a good outdoor jacket to have: a well-fitted hood, a fleece-lined collar (ideal in cold, wet weather), adjustable cuffs made from fabric and Velcro fastening (and not those idiotic elastic strips with Velcro fasteners that have become so fashionable in high end jackets) and zip fasteners on the lower arm of the sleeve for ventilation. Add to that the inserted pockets that have been fitted so high up that they can even be used with the backpack hip belt fastened. The outer material is robust enough to carry a medium-sized backpack for a longer period of time. The water-proof and breathable Hy-Vent coating is a good and more reasonable alternative to the Gore-Tex membrane. I normally don't wear the inner lining zipped in, but rather use it as a separate fleece jacket.

For me, this jacket is a good and reasonable alternative (200) to the fanciful high-tech jackets of renowned producers which are so far off the mark of any practical use with their much too short cuts, impractical strings and stiff zip-fasteners, allegedly so to be water proof. fs

Conclusion: A good and reasonable all-round jacket for moderate outdoor operation.

Head lamp: Brunton L3 *****

When working as dog-sled guides we got to know the limitations of our Petzl Tikka head lamps. Their scope was simply not sufficient enough for some operations. So I scouted around for a more powerful head lamp and found the Brunton L3. In this high-tech head lamp the product designers have fitted a 3-Watt-LED combined with a focussing lens. Since you don't always use the full beam, beside the extremely bright power mode (more than 60 m) there is a power saving mode with a scope of a few meters (approx. 20 m) and a mode for a medium scope (35 m). Furthermore a switch makes it a blinking light.

The lamp is run on four AA batteries stored in two battery bins at the back of the head. This spreads the weight comfortably on the head. Optionally these two battery bins can be removed and replaced by an external battery bin with four C-batteries. This battery box can be kept warm under the clothing and also offers the advantage of having to carry less weight on the head. An important bonus point for me: whereas some LED lamps are not made to take lithium batteries, the use of this source of power is no problem for the Brunton lamp. Brunton gives a service life of up to 200 hours with one charge of batteries. I did not time-check how long the lamp has been in use up to now, but I spent the whole of winter on the dog sled with one set of AA-lithium batteries.

I consider the use of white plastic for the lamp case helpful. It helps you find the (switched off) lamp in poor light. I would prefer a fluorescent shell even more. A real weak point is the fitting of the head lamp to the elastic head band. The two plastic webs on the lamp case behind which the strap is lead are simply too frail. On the one side the web has already snapped off, so I had to stabilize it with an adhesive tape. On a lamp of that price category - it is otherwise an excellent tool - that should not happen.

A further bone of contention is the way the lamp is fitted to the head. I would like to have an additional strap that runs across the centre of the head thereby effectively preventing the lamp from occasionally slipping down to the ears. fs

Conclusion: Economical high-end LED head lamp with a large scope and minor shortcomings.

Head lamp: Petzl Tikka *****

When several of my friends acquired the then relatively new Petzl Tikka as their head lamp I was extremely sceptical. I could not or did not want to get used to this strange diffuse white light from the three LEDs and continued to use my conventional Petzl Zoom which had a greater range with its halogen bulb than the Tikka.

In the meantime Claudia and I also use the Tikka on most of our trekks. The small head lamps are used in winter when skiing as well as in summer when canoeing and trekking. We are especially thrilled by the extreme economy of these lamps, their stability and low weight. The somewhat sluggish slide switch is really great. It effectively prevents switching on the lamp accidentally in the backpack or bag and using up the charge. It is easy-going enough to be used with heavy gloves on. In the mean time I think the light is very pleasing. The only drawback is the relatively small range of the lamp. For all the jobs in the camp, for reading and to find your way about on the site at night the Tikka is well suited. However should you need to lighten up something further away you will need a different source of light. fs

Conclusion: Extremely economical and light-weight LED head lamp of medium range.

Knife: Linder Super Edge 2 *****

Linder Super Edge 2This hunting knife with its fixed blade has proven to be an excellent tool on our trips into the wilds. Made of high quality ATS 34 steel it really has a stable cutting blade and can easily be kept sharp outdoors using a good diamond point (I use a lightweight DMT model.) The anti-slip Kraton grip ensures a securely firm hold even in wet conditions and is well insulated in the cold. The blade of 11 cm length and a thickness of nearly 0.5 cm along the ridge is well-suited for many different uses. I use it for easy cutting jobs as well as for gutting fish, splitting fire wood etc.Suggestion for improvement: The grip is rather thin for (my not very large) hands. Especially when I need to exert pressure from the top (e.g when splitting wood) I would prefer 'a bit more meat' in my grip.

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The blade could be a little more pointed for any stabbing task. That could be achieved without changing the shape of the blade by milling the front section of the ridge of the blade with a grinder. fs

Conclusion: A great all-round knife for outdoor life with minor hitches.

Knife: Puma Outdoor Palmwood *****

Puma Outdoor PalmwoodThis knife is a practical multipurpose outdoor knife. Its sufficiently sturdy blade of 13 cm length can be excellently used for heavy duty (like splitting wood). Due to the shape of the blade, however, the Outdoor Palmwood is not well suited for stabbing. The 440C steel keeps its edge fairly long and can easily be re-sharpened.

I don't really like the leather sheaf. It might look very pretty but after a short time the first seam came undone. Also my knife was not sharpened very well and I had to completely re-grind the blade. Later, I saw further knives of the same make which did not show this problem. fs

Conclusion: Reliable outdoor knife for heavy duty. The leather sheaf deserves better processing.

Knife: Victorinox Swisstool *****

Swisstool by Victorinox is the Swiss answer to the multi-tools made by companies like Leatherman or Gerber. And (not surprisingly!!) the designers from the Alpine country have done a really good job. The design might appear rather more rustic and simpler than most of the modern multi-tools, but this here is a really well thought-out and practical outdoor tool. When backpacking I rarely have my Swisstool with me, since I think it is much too heavy to take out and I don't really have any use for the pliers and the assortment of screw-drivers. But when out cycling, skiing (repair of bindings, dismantling of fuel stoves), dog sledding (repairing sleds, opening frozen snap locks) and when fishing (fixing lead shot and removing fish hooks) the tool is always close at hand.

All tools are accessible (except the pliers) when the pliers are locked. That offers the advantage of not having to open the pliers in order to get at the tool for every use of a screw-driver, a knife etc. Furthermore each tool is lockable. That is a great help, especially with the screw-drivers. They would fold up constantly if the pressure on the tool and its screw drivers was not exercised completely vertically.

Open the pliers and you find the grips are rounded off. Thus pressure can be exercised on the pliers without pressing sharp edges into your hand as is the case with some of the other tools.

Its relatively high weight and its size prove to be a disadvantage. If Victorinox was to make the tool shorter by about one centimetre and save itself two tools (I have never used the very wide screw driver nor the chisel) the pliers would most likely be sufficiently large. However the complete tool would not be so bulky and easier to carry in its belt pouch. I don't really like the saw on the Swisstool. I must say I have seen more efficient saws-even on knives and multi-tools! fs

Conclusion: Straight-forward and practicable if somewhat weighty multitool for simple repairs in outdoor use with a flaw with the saw!

Navigation: GPS Garmin etrex *****

Garmin etrexSince I like navigating with a map, a compass and an altimeter and never had the urge to use anything else, I did without a GPS tool for a long time. Having gone through the experience of a white-out several times (you can't see anything but white due to snow and fog) and realizing just how GPS made navigation easier if not possible on winter hikes we finally bought such an instrument. We use it in addition to the classical navigation methods. In poor visibility we switch on the device every one or two hours and check whether we are still on the right track and to read the new direction for the compass. For this a simple GPS tool is more than sufficient.

The Garmin etrex is the kind of compact basic equipment for satellite guided navigation. It affords the storage of many thousand track points, 500 way points and all in all 20 routes with 125 way points each. Thus, our memory capacity was always sufficiently large, even for weeks of hiking in the wilds. Of course it offers basic functions as "GOTO" (directs the user back to the chosen way point) and "TracBack" (guides the user back to the starting point on a stretch already covered).

The navigation menu of Garmin etrex and the handling using five controls is relatively simple after a short familiarization phase. Even with thick fingered gloves the kit is convenient to handle. Slightly time consuming and unnerving, however, is the denomination of the way points. Due to the few controls one has to go through the complete alphabet and the numbers 0-9 for each letter of the name intended for the waypoints.

A further bone of contention is the map outline Garmin etrex creates using the way points, track points and routes. The use of a real digital map is not possible with Basis-etrex. Unfortunately your own position is always shown slightly below the centre of the display. Should you want to have a greater overview of the surrounding way points you are compelled to change the scale in the display. Unfortunately, scrolling back and forth is not possible. However if you change the scale all the way points nearby cause a confusing picture. One can adjust to the display but it is neither nice to look at, nor is it sensible!

A great advantage is the power supply using two AA-batteries (Mignon, R6). These batteries are the most reasonable and most sought after type of battery in the world. Besides, most chargers are designed for accumulators of this calibre. Since we only rarely use the device to check our position while on tour, a good set of batteries for several weeks of hiking is sufficient. If the set is to be run continually however a new set of batteries or accumulators is needed every few hours.

In cold conditions (several degrees below 0 C) both the power supply and the display show their limitations. When the device is cold the display panel takes some time to set up the display. And so you can use lithium batteries in winter keeping the GPS warm under your clothes and close to the body. That is how we managed to prevent any breakdown of the tool even in temperatures below -30C.

A PC-interface (unfortunately even in the age of USB it is necessary to buy an expensive special lead) allows to establish communication with a computer. The program "Mapsource Trip & Waypoint Manager" makes it possible to prepare waypoints and routes on the computer ready to download on the GPS system or rather to save data gathered while trekking on computer later on. Rather than use "Trip & Waypoint Manager" the downloadable free program "GPS TrackMaker" (download see http://www.gpstm.com) is an option.

Finally once again the advice that we only ever use GPS as an additional option to the classical navigation aids. Should the electronics fail (batteries flat, the device water logged, loose contact, faulty display etc etc) you should still be capable of reading a map and compass to establish your whereabouts and work out your route from there. fs

Conclusion: Easy-to-handle and compact GPS tool as an addition to map and compass with minor faults in its operation. Well adapted for most outdoor activities.

Shoes: Meindl Nordkap Gtx winter boots *****

In Nordkap Gtx Meindl provided us with an excellent winter boot for our work as dog sled guides in Canada. Contrary to most winter boots I was able to test so far, the Nordkap Gtx offers perfect stability in the bootleg and is extremely light in weight. On the dog sled both these aspects are important, since the musher has to actively assist the team running and pushing the sled uphill. A heavy and soft boot definitely makes it an exhausting and accident-prone task for the musher. Meindl Nordkap Gtx can be tied firmly and so becomes a well equipped boot for winter hikes and snow shoeing even in somewhat difficult terrain.

Every day the Gore-tex-Membrane of the overshoe kept our feet and socks reliably protected against water, snow, wind and sometimes even dog pee. At the same time it afforded a breathability that so far I have always missed in my winter boots. The main drawback in classic winter boots with a rubber galosh (e.g. Sorel, Kamik.) is that moisture gathers in the foot section and within a few hours drenches the insulating inner shoe. And if the insulation is wet the feet become cold. Using Meindl Nordkap so far we had not a single day troubled by perspiration water in the boot.

Should it however have become damp/wet inside the boot (e.g. because snow has trickled into the bootleg (from the top) the insulating inner shoe can be taken out for drying. The inner shoes of Claudia's and my boots are of a very different make. Her boots seem to be an older model with a felt inner shoe, whereas I use the Nordkap-Pro Gtx with its improved inner shoe. This inner shoe with its lamb fur lining offers several advantages: it is less prone to smells and seems to be a little warmer. Claudia also has problems with socks slipping in her inner shoe of rough felt. After extensive use both inner shoes however show considerable signs of wear in places where the socks rub (in the toe and heel area).

What I missed very much was an insole with an arch support. In the meantime I have equipped my boots with simple foam insoles from the sports department which in fact has very much increased the comfort while walking as well as clearly improved the insulation against the cold ground.

Claudia also faced problems with the fibre material of her overshoe. In some breaks the fibre material was roving until eventually a real hole appeared. With a seam sealer further damage could be contained here. Since this problem has so far not appeared in my boots of a later production date we assume that it has been faulty material and the issue has been resolved at Meindl in the meantime.

The temperature range Meindl gives for this boot (-35C) I think is exaggerated. As long as you are intensely moving you can handle these temperatures. As soon as you take a longer break or do things that call for less motion (ice angling, riding a snow-scooter, watching animals, photographing etc) it soon becomes cool to cold in this boot even in a range of higher temperatures. Claudia's experience was that if she didn't move a lot she had warm feet up to -10 in the Nordkap Gtx whereas I can cope quite well with temperatures of up to about -20C in my lamb fur inner shoe. Needless to say the operational conditions strongly depend on the individual feeling for cold. fs

Conclusion: The Nordkap Gtx is an extremely light-weight winter boot with excellent bootleg and sole stability for operational conditions of up to -20C. It is ideal for dog sledding, ice fishing, hiking, snow shoeing and as a working boot in cold conditions.

Shoes: Sorel Caribou winter boots *****

Sorel CaribouWinter boots by Sorel are considered to be the ace among boots. The lower part of the boot is made of rubber and reliably prevents any wet coming in. The boot leg with all its seams sealed even is made of waterproofed leather. A removable felt inner shoe provides insulation. I bought these boots during a winter in Alaska and used them for all-round wear when dog sledding, motor sledding and snow-shoeing as well as working around the house. Sorel advises their use in temperatures up to -40C. In North America I enjoyed warm feet in temperatures as low as -45C. But only as long as I was walking. Without any moving about (e.g. when ice-fishing) your toes feel the cold even when temperatures are much higher. I would not employ Sorel Caribou in temperatures below -20C. But at some time or another you are bound to feel the cold in any shoe

The greatest drawback of these boots is the low ventilation capacity which makes perspiration gather in the inner shoe. Especially my toes became damp very quickly under the rubber layer. And once the insulation is wet it soon feels cold in the boot. I can advise this shoe only for short activities when you have the chance to dry the felt inner shoe near a fire or in the airing room of a lodge. Should you not have this option on a longer outing you ought to have a dry pair of inner boots with you as a replacement.

Also the Caribou is not suited for difficult terrain due to its soft boot leg and its flexible sole. Concerning the sole it is necessary to point out that the rubber composite was chosen for service in snow. That means that the sole is prone to abbrasion. The advantage of soft rubber composites is that they remain flexible even in very low temperatures and offer a good grip on slippery surfaces as on ice and snow. Should you use the soft soles on asphalt or grit you will find the tread wearing relatively soon. fs

Conclusion: Warm winter boot for service on day trips and lodge tours in easy terrain. Since perspiration tends to gather in the felt inner shoe a good possibility to air the inlet is necessary.

Sleeping bag: Ajungilak Kompakt *****

Kompakt is a classic among the sleeping bags made of synthetic fibre. With its comparatively light weight (ca.1.6 kg) and an agreeable packing size it was a reliable companion on many treks. It could even handle temperatures slightly below freezing point. It also performed well in slightly damp bivouacs due to its non-sensitive synthetic fibre fill. I am using the past tense here because after nearly ten years of intense use I finally parted with my trusted companion. In the course of time the filling had become flattened and it became chilly even in low temperatures above freezing. My favourable experience with Kompakt (and my less favourable ones with competitive products) have always lead me to go for an Ajungilak sleeping bag. I will report here whether the new version Ajungilak Tyin (3 Jz.) meets the high expectations. fs

Conclusion: Brilliant sleeping bag with synthetic fibre fill, light in weight and small in packing size, ideal for moderate use in spring and autumn.

Sleeping bag: TNF Snowshoe (Polarguard Delta) *****

After having had such a favourable experience with Solar Flare (down fill) by The North Face I procured Snowshoe by the same makers. This sleeping bag has a fibre fill (Polarguard Delta) and was intended for use on treks in the cooler spring and autumn temperatures as well as on moderate winter hikes. This sleeping bag also excelled in its fittings (offering a hood, a warming collar, a covering strip, a pouch for an alarm-clock etc.) and when first used in Norway (bivouac at about - 15C) the sleeping bag seemed to meet my expectations. But not even a year later the fill had sagged completely. And while Claudia was in peaceful slumber in her Ajungilak Kompakt on our long hike in the Pyrenees I was battling against the cold of merely around freezing point with long-johns and fleece pullovers.

However the staff at the customer care department of The North Face deserve full credit for accepting that part returned and exchanging it for a high-end down fill sleeping bag (in which my Mama now spends her nights when on holiday. fs

Sleeping bag: TNF Solar Flare (Dryloft) *****

Solar Flare of The North Face is a top class sleeping bag for winter and expedition purposes. For the last few years I have been using the older version with a Dryloft outer shell. Filled with about 1000 grams of finest down (Fillpower: 800+) this sleeping bag insulates reliably even in freezing degrees below. In Lapland even temperatures of -35 caused no problem. However I used my down-filled coat as an additional foot bag inside and was completely dressed in a pair of fleece trousers and a pullover.The water-repellent Dryloft shell protects the down reliably from any humidity which in winter condenses inside the inner tent and settles as a hoarfrost on the sleeping bag. This material was also used for the head space inside. Thereby the designers confronted the problem that you breathe a lot of humidity into the head space if the sleeping bag is zipped right up, thereby gradually moistening the down in the course of several nights.

Really smart are the V-shaped chambers on the upper surface of the sleeping bag. They reduce a sideways movement of the down when turning in your sleep. With the customary chambers any shifting aside of the down can lead to a thermal bridge in the chest region.

Hood, warming collar, and the zip covering strip are perfectly fitted and offer safe protection from any hypothermia. A nice detail is the small pouch for an alarm clock in the head space. On the other hand a small pocket on the inside of the sleeping bag would be a great improvement. Here contact lenses and medicine sensitive to cold could be kept safe from frost.

After favouring sleeping bags with a short zip fastener anticipating the reduced loss of warmth I am glad in the meantime that Solar Flare offers a long zip fastener right to the foot section. So it can be nearly completely opened and it airs quicker. And should you spend the odd night at a lodge it can be used as a duvet.

Although the signal coloured sleeping bag is more easily soiled it can come in handy when attracting attention in an emergency. fs

Conclusion: Well designed sleeping bag for winter and expeditions in temperatures up to -30 C.

Sleeping pad: Evazote Sleeping pads *****

I am always glad to find a really reasonable product standing its test in practical use and proving to be of maximum benefit. One of those rarities to me is the simple sleeping pads made of Evazote foam. They are extremely robust and insulate excellently against rising damp cold. Admitted, they are not as comfortable as the inflatable thermo-mats. But for that, they are far more robust. They tolerate without any problems being used on thorns or sharp-edged chip stones. And you can get used to the lack of couching comfort after a few nights. Although they are pretty robust you can of course wreck these pads, too. The pads that passed my hands as being destroyed had all been lying next to a car screen and had been melted by the extreme heat from sun radiation.

We use Evazote pads of different thickness and size due to the service requested. Normally, I use a pad measuring 190cm x 60cm and a thickness of 1cm. That is sufficient, even when there is a light ground frost. In winter, when a better insulation is required, I use a pad of the same size, but in a thickness of 2 cm. For short summer hikes when I want to be out and about with an extremely light back-pack I make use of a rather basic pad of 170 cm length and a thickness of 0.5 cm. Claudia also uses this pad in winter as an additional insulation under her therm-a-rest ultralight mat. fs

Conclusion: Robust insulation against rising damp cold at a sensible price.

Tent: Helsport Fjellheimen 2 Camp *****

Helsport Fjellheimen Camp 2Fjellheimen Camp is a super light-weight (ca. 2.5 kg) tunnel tent in a small-size pack. The extended vestibule offers enough room for all the luggage and leaves space for cooking in adverse weather. Also in the inner tent there is adequate space for two. In the Pyrenees we were caught in bad weather and we had to hold out for two days while a mighty storm raged. Gusts of wind battered the small abode again and again as we watched the rods and the canvas with apprehension. But all our worries were unfounded: Fjellheimen Camp 2 proved to be unbelievably stable in the wind. It is a really good tent for all light weight aficionados wanting to set out on demanding tours in spring and autumn. We cannot advise using Fjellheimen Camp 2 for serious winter camping. The inner tent is too small and too low for thick clothing and sleeping bags. When sitting, you are constantly touching the tent roof and showering yourself in hoarfrost. Also, the outer tent does not extend to the ground. Although that offers some form of ventilation, after a snow storm you have to clear the vestibule from snow (or you need to secure the tent before the storm by piling up snow walls).

Since we are rather taken in by this tent we would like to see Helsport increasing their endeavours once again in order to improve some aspects:

  1. The entrance flap of the outer tent always falls inwards due to the construction. Unfortunately that so happens to be the direction you move in when you want to crawl into the tent. That is especially daft in rain when the entry flap is wet. If only it opened the other way (in the direction of the annex) the problem would be solved.
  2. The original rods were a fair amount of rubbish. After only a few weeks of use several of the plug connections were slightly buckled or even split. Luckily Helsport exchanged the original rods for a sturdier expedition series. These rods are constructed conventionally (i.e. with inserted plug connections). Since then we have not met with any trouble
  3. The ventilation of Fjellheimen Camp is quite definitely in need of improvement. The exhaust vent near the entry flap could have been saved from the start. It is so small and flimsy that it is blown towards the entry flap even in light wind, thereby closing off any ventilation.
  4. Also the ventilation at the foot-end needs to be checked on. Here Helsport's constructors had a rather intricate idea: by pulling a cord system in the inner tent a type of roller blind could be used. Lifting the blind allows fresh air to flow in through a mosquito net in the outer tent into the inner tent. In rather bad weather just roll down the blind and the shelter is sealed. Unfortunately the mosquito net is not really robust and doesn't stand up to wear and tear. We had to repair ours several times because it rubbed on stones and branches. In winter this ventilation is a complete loss because it disappears in the snow. Ergo: this ventilation system is no more effective than a well designed airing socket, but rather more frail.
  5. The material or rather the seams at the end of the rod feeds should definitely be re-enforced. They ripped easily when pitching and wiring the tent. fs

Conclusion: Super light-weight and compact tunnel tent sleeping two with some constructional flaws.

Energizer Lithium Batteries (AA, R6, Mignon) *****

Lithium batteries are the first choice on winter excursions at low, freezing temperatures when common alkaline cells and NiMn accumulators have long given up. Energizer ensures full operability for its Lithium cells up to -20C.

However, we had no trouble with these cells in headlamps, photo cameras, and GPS in temperatures far below (under -35C). A further advantage is the long storage life of these batteries. They can be stored for more than ten years without any output loss.

The relatively high retail price of Lithium cells is a disadvantage. Besides, there are appliances that are not compatible to the use of Lithium cells and the use can damage them. (Some LED headlamps by Petzl, e.g.). This must be checked before operating them. fs

Conclusion: Powerful batteries with high shelf-life, fit for use in extreme cold.

Seam sealer: McNett Seam Grip *****

Seam GripSeam Grip is really on offer as a seam sealer for PU-coated tents. But furthermore it has leant itself to a plethora of repair jobs. Even holes and tears in tents, back-packs, insulation mats etc can be repaired with it. If the hole is not too big (up to 2 cm in length) it is sufficient to provisionally mend it with simple adhesive tape. That prevents the seam seal from trickling through the opening. Then apply the seam seal to the side without the tape and let it dry for several hours. Pull off the adhesive tape and apply the seam seal from the other side. Large rips ought to be coarsely stitched before sealing them with Seam Grip. Even when Seam Grip has completely dried it remains rubbery and flexible. I could even do a rough-and-ready repair job to my hiking boots when several seams went bust, sealing them with Seam Grip.

Besides, it can be used to make slippery thermo mats more skid-proof. I applied several strips of Seam Grip to my Thermarest mat. Now I don't slip off my mat even if the ground is uneven. Claudia has also applied Seam Grip to the palms of her gloves to give them a firmer grip. fs

Conclusion: Resourceful seam sealer which lends itself to a plethora of repairs and which should not be missing in any repair set when on a long hike.


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