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Woman in snowy mountains wearing the blueNorrøna Lyngen 35L Ski Touring Pack

Kit Review – Norrøna Lyngen 35L Ski Touring Pack

The Norrøna Lyngen 35L ski touring pack is the ideal pack for day trips into the backcountry.

Product description

Norrøna says: ‘The highly functional Lyngen 35L pack is our lightest backpack designed for ski touring’. It’s described as ‘a ski mountaineering pack with room for your equipment during a full day in the mountains.’

The review: Norrøna Lyngen 35L ski touring pack

At first glance, this bag has everything you’d expect of a touring pack. There’s a dedicated compartment for your avalanche safety gear and skins, including integrated dividers for your probe and shovel so they don’t slide around. And at 35 litres, there’s just enough space for layers and food.

When you come to inspect the pack more closely, you’ll realise (with some delight) that there are more design features than you initially thought. Some of them are simple, yet subtly work to make your life easier. Take the separate compartment for your safety gear, for example. It has red zip ties, while all the others are blue. In the panic of an avalanche burial, you’ll waste no time zippering and unzippering the wrong pockets. As they say, the devil is in the detail. And it seems Norrøna has really taken the time to consider the details, allowing them to create a product that’s truly fit for purpose.

When you reach the trail head, this pack starts working for you straightaway. First up, you can secure your keys to the internal key hook. Then, you can put your helmet in the external helmet carrier (which, by the way, can be rolled up and stowed away for the descent). The net does a great job of keeping snow out, because let’s be honest, no one likes a damp helmet. There’s also an ice axe/pole attachment, although I’ve not had cause to use this yet. The top pouch provides a convenient place to keep your googles. And if you need to boot pack, the two loops at the bottom of the bag enable an A-frame ski carry system. It’s also possible to carry your skis diagonally, if that’s your jam.

Woman on skis in snowy mountains
The helmet carrier at work

While you’re on the move, the large hip pockets allow easy access to snacks and other items, like your phone. You can also wriggle your way into the main compartment from the left-hand hip pocket, allowing you to drag out a deeply packed layer or camera without having to take off your pack.

Talking of the main compartment, this is where all your other gear lives, including your layers and water. The entire back panel opens up, a clever design that allows you to see and organise all your clothes, even when your skis are attached to the pack. Inside the back panel is a large zippered compartment which is perfect for housing a water bladder. You can then route the hose through a hole and straight into the shoulder strap, which zippers open and shut to provide a hydration sleeve. This is so pleasing, as your tube isn’t flapping around and benefits from a layer of insulation. The back compartment also has a mesh pocket for those items that can easily get lost, such as a head torch, compass and first aid kit.

The hose sits inside the shoulder strap

When the pack is empty, it’s lightweight at 1.19kg. It’s also incredibly comfortable. The heat moulded back panel acts as padding, and there are plenty of straps and cinches so you can get the fit just right. I’m a petite female with a small frame. As such, I’m normally very aware of my backpack while skiing. But thanks to the ergonomic design, this pack sits tight when you need it to, regardless of whether you’re skinning up or making your descent.

If there is one drawback, it’s that the material is water-resistant and not waterproof, although this is pretty standard. My first ski tour with this pack was during a wet west coast day near Vancouver. The clothes in the main compartment fared well and were only slightly damp, thanks to their location at the back of the pack. Everything else got pretty soggy and I was glad none of my electronics were in the hip pockets. As a result, I’ve started putting things in waterproof stuff sacks to ensure they stay dry. Also, at 35 litres I would definitely class this as a day bag. Those wanting to do multi-day tours will want something with a larger capacity.

Open backpack on snowy ground
The back panel opens up

Time will tell how well this pack endures. Worryingly, Norrøna themselves have rated the pack as only three out of six for durability. However, the five-year warranty provides extra peace of mind.

The verdict

The Norrøna Lyngen 35L ski touring pack has been thoughtfully designed to meet all your day touring needs. It has a mid-level price point compared to other products, yet performs extremely well, combining comfort with high-level functionality. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.

Woman stands on mountain wearing trail running vest

Kit Review – Patagonia Slope Runner Vest 4L

The 4-litre Patagonia Slope Runner Vest is a stripped-back, no-nonsense trail running vest, perfect for shorter training runs and races.

Product description

Patagonia says: ‘we designed the Slope Runner Vest for long-haul comfort with enough storage to keep extra layers, nutrition and hydration organised and within easy reach.’

The 4-litre version (as opposed to the 8-litre version) is described as ‘close-fitting and breathable for all-day comfort with just enough room for an extra layer and snacks.’

The review: Patagonia Slope Runner Vest 4L

Hats off to whoever wrote the product description because it’s bang-on. The point of the 4L Patagonia Slope Runner Vest is that it’s minimalist. It weighs just 160g (5.6oz) but still delivers the fundamental requirements of a trail running vest – simply without any unnecessary design features.

The vest fits really snuggly and doesn’t bounce around. The adjustable ties at the front, and the bungee cords at the sides, mean you can adapt the fit according to your shape. The back panel is made of high-flex monofilament mesh, which does indeed improve breathability, as promised.

It comes with two 500ml HydraPak flasks. These slot into the front of the vest, which itself sits high on the chest. This means you can bend your head down and drink straight from the bottles, without having to remove them. There’s a large compartment at the back, so you can carry a water bladder if you prefer.

Inserting the bottles can be a tad fiddly, but I’ve now mastered the technique of stretching both upper and lower chest pockets at the same time. This allows the bottle to drop back in. The elasticated fabric keeps them in place, so they don’t fall out or slide downwards while you’re running.

There’s a selection of storage pockets of varying shapes and sizes, most of which are easy to access while on the go. As the product description suggests, it might prove difficult to pack a lot of layers. However, the vest is surprisingly spacious. I went on a 30km outing carrying four sandwiches, two homemade energy bars, a Patagonia Houdini jacket, an extra base layer, phone, keys, and a headtorch – and I still had plenty of room leftover.

Woman stands in meadow
Plenty of room for sandwiches in this vest

There are two zipped pockets. One tucks into the back pouch and is useful for storing things such as keys. The other is hidden underneath the left-hand water bottle and is intended for your phone. This is perhaps my only gripe with this vest. It’s very difficult to insert your phone while the water bottle is full, and the space isn’t big enough for most modern-day devices. Even so, a phone can easily be stashed in one of the other pockets.

As you might expect from Patagonia, the vest is made out of 100% recycled polyester ripstop, giving it extra points for eco-credentials.

The verdict

All in all, the Patagonia Slope Runner Vest delivers everything you could want from a 4-litre vest – enough room for all the essentials, but so streamlined you hardly notice you’re wearing it.

La Sportiva trail running shoes

Kit Review – La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX Trail Running Shoes

When I was given a new pair of trail running shoes for Christmas, I immediately took them back to the store and switched them for a pair of Wildcat 2.0 GTX shoes by La Sportiva.

I’m not ungrateful! It’s just that the original pair were way too big, whereas the Wildcats were a good fit for my feet (which is why I have a pair of La Sportiva hiking boots, too).

Product description

Also, as the product description says: ‘The Wildcat 2.0 GTX Women’s is a highly stable, neutral trail runner that provides excellent cushioning and a secure fit. The waterproof Gore-Tex® lining keeps your feet dry in wet conditions, and the aggressive outsole and supple midsole combine to ensure comfort and stability on rough trails.’

Living on Vancouver’s North Shore, this ticked a lot of boxes for me. My local stomping ground is steep, technical and often slippery. So, I needed shoes that were waterproof, sturdy and had good traction.

La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX Trail Running Shoes
La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX Trail Running Shoes

The review: La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX Trail Running Shoes

I can safely say that the Wildcats deliver on all these points – almost too effectively.

The Gore-Tex technology works well. I regularly cross creeks and splash through puddles but my feet stay dry. The uppers are described as breathable, although I find my feet get sweaty in warmer weather. So it’s not ideal as a summer trail running shoe.

The lugs on the sole provide great grip, which is exactly what you need for rough terrain. They’re not the lightest trail running shoe out there, coming in at 660g for a pair of size 38s, but they don’t feel especially heavy.

La Sportiva have included several features to enhance stability, including nylon shanks, heel stabilisers and resilient outsoles. However, I do find them quite stiff. While they are comfortable enough to wear right out the box, my feet often feel slightly sore after a long trail run. I’m not talking blisters – it’s more like they’re slightly beat up. This could be due to my petite build, and generally, it’s not too much of a downside. I’d rather have solid support than too much flex.

Sometimes I also take these on summer hikes and they always perform well. They have as much grip as a hiking boot and are waterproof. Yet they are much lighter, so you can travel faster when desired.

The verdict

Overall, the La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX trail running shoes are a sound investment, especially if you’re going to be tackling wet, technical trails. If you live in a warmer climate, or will be running on mostly smooth paths, you might prefer something more lightweight with greater flexibility.

Woman stands on rock in front of blue lake

Kit Review – La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX Hiking Boots

There comes a time in every hiker’s life when their boots begin to give up the ghost. Cracks appear in the heel, the sole begins to fray, and water finds its way into every nook and cranny. If you’re like me, you’ll limp along a bit longer than you should. Then you’ll relent and go shopping for new ones.

Trango TRK GTX hiking boot by La Sportiva

So it was that I found myself browsing the shelves of Mountain Equipment Co-op. I was adamant that I wanted a fancy pair of Scarpas, but quickly discovered they are far too wide for my narrow feet. I tried on boot after boot. Finally, after much exasperation from the sales assistant, my Cinderella moment came.

The Trango TRK GTX hiking boot by La Sportiva was the perfect fit.

The Trango TRK GTX hiking boot by La Sportiva

The Trango TRK GTX hiking boot by La Sportiva

I was a little deflated. Don’t get me wrong, La Sportiva is a great brand with quality products. But boy, these boots are a little loud for someone whose wardrobe consists entirely of neutral tones. I’d been hoping for Nubuck leather. Instead I’d got synthetic materials in an array of jazzy colours.

But you can’t be so shallow about such things. This was the only boot I could find designed for slim feet. They are Gore-Tex. They have a seriously robust sole. And, as the description on the MEC website says, they are ‘built for abuse’. They were the boots for me. As they say, it’s not all about looks.

The verdict

The following day I embarked on an overnight hike to Hanover Lake from Porteau Cove near Vancouver. Unfortunately, I have very delicate skin. The steep ascent led to Deeks Lake meant there was a lot of pressure on my heels, and soon the skin had worn away, leaving fresh, open blisters.

Woman walks across logs on Deeks Lake

Road testing new boots at Deeks Lake

But alas, I’ve had no trouble since. The boots were well and truly broken in by the time I got home from their maiden voyage, and now I have only positive things to say. I’ve thrown a lot at them – hot and dry terrain, wet and slippery conditions, torrential rain, creek crossings and the odd bit of scrambling. They’ve stood up to the test in all.

Particular plus points include the high ankle support, the solid rubber toe and heel rands, the traction on the sole, and their all-round flexibility. They are sturdy, without feeling like you have iron clamps stuck to your feet. And thus far, they have remained waterproof. Which is an absolute must.

In all, the Trango TRK GTX hiking boots by La Sportiva certainly meet the necessary tick boxes. However, if you are looking for hiking boots, remember that they must suit your feet too. Otherwise you’ll never be comfortable while on the trails. If you have narrow feet, I recommend you give these a whirl.

Man with Osprey backpack hikes through mountain meadow

My Favourite Kit of 2018

Here’s a run-down of my favourites kit purchases from this year* –

Osprey Sirrus 50 Backpack

After year of lugging round an impossibly heavy pack, I decided it was time for an upgrade. And the Osprey Sirrus 50 litre backpack came out trumps. Being on the petite side, this is one of the only bags I could find that actually fits my body size. The back can be adjusted to your torso length and the hip straps just about go tight enough for me – although only just.

There’s padding in all the right places, but the tensioned back panel ensures it’s still breathable. There are countless compartments, zippered pockets, loops and attachments – in fact, I’m still discovering some! At the bottom you’ll find an integrated rain cover neatly stashed away, providing protection during precipitation when needed. Oh, and being made of denier nylon means the whole thing is incredibly light.

The downsides? I could only get my hands on a plum coloured pack, which I don’t exactly dig.

The Osprey Sirrus 50 litre backpack – in plum!

Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern

I use this little lantern while on camping and hiking trips. I love that it can be recharged via a USB port or compatible solar panels. The USB cable neatly wraps around the device itself, ensuring it can never get lost. The dual LED light itself is dimmable and can you select to light just one side (allowing you to save on battery), or both sides. Because you can adjust the light as needed, I even use it at home as a bed-time reading lamp when my partner wants to sleep.

And what of the running time? The specification says that if you have both sides lit on full, it will last for four hours. However, if you keep one side lit on low, then run-time is 500+ hours. Other cool features include fold-down legs and built-in hooks and magnets, so you can stand it up, hang it up or mount it as you please! You can also charge other devices (like your phone) from the USB port.

The downsides? At 210 lumens it’s not overly bright, so it won’t light the way if you get stuck on the trails in the dark. Also it doesn’t pack down as small as a head torch, which might be an issue if space is tight.

The Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern

Exped Downmat Lite 5 M

As someone who feels the cold, I decided to progress from a foam sleeping mat to the Exped Downmat Lite 5 M. Weighing in at 683g and with a packed size of 26 x 13cm, I was a little hesitant. After all, there are more compact, more lightweight versions on the market. But boy is it comfy! It’s a decent length and width, and the air-filled cells run vertically, all of which works together to prevent you from rolling off. In fact, it cocoons you. The air cushions are thick and spread evenly, preventing any random cold spots. And with 650-fill duck down and an RV value of 4.1, this is a solid three-season sleeping mattress.

I’m always wary of popping the fabric on an untoward stone, but so far, the 75-denier fabric has proved durable enough. The duck down is less robust, meaning it is important not to inflate the mat with your breath, or it will fill with moisture. That is why the mat comes with a pump, as well as a handy repair kit.

The downsides? Inflating the mat with the hand pump can be a little trying after a long day, especially when you just want to flop into bed. There is a valve to deflate it, but again, you’ll need a bit of patience if you want to roll it tightly enough for the sack. Lastly, it is heavier and bulkier than other products available – but really, it is so comfortable, I think the extra weight is worth it.

Exped downmat lite 5m

The Deuce 2 Trowel

Being made of aluminium, this trowel by TheTentLab is strong but light. You can cut into tough, stony terrain without fear of it snapping, and you’ll be helped along by the serrated edges. This has been a really excellent addition to my backcountry hiking stash. Because you know, sometimes you gotta go!

The downsides? While seriously light at 17g, the Deuce 2 trowel doesn’t pack down any smaller. What you see is what you get.

The Deuce 2 trowel

Patagonia Women’s Houdini Jacket

Thank you, Patagonia, for my favourite ever windbreaker jacket. At 94g it is incredibly lightweight and the zippered chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack. So, you can scrunch it up until it magically transforms into an oversized jellybean. Hence the name, the Houdini Jacket.

The 100% nylon fabric is an effective wind block. That’s why I like to wear it running or cycling in inclement weather. I’ve also worn it over base layers while hiking. The specification says it has a durable water repellent coating, but I’ve found that any precipitation causes it to soak through. However, that’s not what it’s meant for, so I can’t include this as a criticism.

What’s more, this jacket comes in an XS (and goes up to an XL) and actually fits my 5’2’’ petite frame. Highly unusual! The drawcord hem, elastic cuffs and hood adjuster all ensure maximum snugness.

The downsides? My partner was so envious, he bought himself the men’s version. So now we match. Great.

Patagonia Women’s Houdini Jacket

See how it rolls up into a jelly bean!

*(Please note, these are entirely my own opinions and I have not been paid or sponsored to write any of the above).