This is a piece about Stuff. We all love stuff. I particularly am a huge fan of useful stuff, stuff I can use in everyday scenarios. I've just got back from a holiday (my holidays are never really "just" holidays, I'm not one for sitting on a beach with a book) in Italy and with me I had quite a lot of new "stuff" not necessarily new to the market stuff, but new to me. After a week of climbing up frozen waterfalls, going for unscheduled rides in Helicopters, snow shoeing and even just sampling the delights of the local watering holes and pizza joints, all my stuff had performed so amazingly well I just felt like sharing my good fortune.
So without further ado I'm going to go over each item and tell you why it worked for me - Take it away guys.
"Impervious to wind and very unfriendly to water, the Kingpin Jacket derives its amazing properties from Polartec® Power Shield® fabric, which uses a perforated membrane to effectively manage air permeability and wind resistance, even during strenuous activity. Packed with pro features, its also highly abrasion resistant, to deliver years of flawless performance"
That's what Marmot have to say about it - This softshell jacket is equally good to wear on the hill or in the pub, as I have done on many occasions. It looks good and feels better, I wore it for a weeks ice climbing over the top of a thin base and mid-layer and felt perfectly "toasty" The hood is cut to allow you to wear a helmet and on windy belays this feature was very much appreciated. Four front pockets (two large) and a small ski pass / key pocket on the wrist are well thought out as is the slightly longer cut of the back which keeps your bum warm. It also packs up pretty small so can be packed away easily.
Really loved this piece the moment I unpacked it and after using it for several months now I'm not disappointed by any aspect of it.
"A no-compromise solution for hard-charging shralpers who don’t make excuses for the weather or surface conditions. The remarkable performance of Polartec® Power Shield® windproof, water-resistant fabric is married to a wealth of features, including removable suspenders for those deep powder days, and zip leg cuffs with internal gaiters. This is one tough pant for hard-core sliders"
I love my Pro Tour Pants. They're everything I want from a pair of trousers that I'm going to go skiing, climbing and walking in.
I've had a pair of these for about 2 months prior to going away and even though it hasn't been particularly cold here in England, as usual it’s been wet. I've worn them in torrential downpours and even though they aren't advertised as being waterproof my legs have stayed dry. In fact the only time they've got wet was on a hanging belay up an Icefall in Italy. The Sun was out and the Ice started to melt, the bolted belay was directly under the drip, drip, drip and after about 40 minutes my right knee succumbed to the bombardment and got a little damp, but it was soon forgotten and dried out very quickly.
I haven’t actually been Skiing in these pants yet but I'm sure they'll be awesome, they fit me well, don't have an excessive amount of useless pockets everywhere and I love the fact that I can "zip off" the braces, or Suspenders as our American friends like to call them. The cut isn't too tight fitting round the legs, nor too baggy near the ankles (so you don't have to worry about tripping over them in your crampons) I wore them in a couple of feet of powder while trying to "swim" up to the base of a route and the internal gaiters stopped any snow creeping up my legs.
I've also used them for just wandering around in the Derbyshire peak district near my home; they are light enough to feel comfortable even in mild weather.
On my trip to Italy I wore them with the Kingpin jacket, definitely one of the best combinations I've ever used.
"A unique magnetic closure allows this glove to convert from bombproof winter armour to lightweight fingerless glove in seconds. Perfect for all-season alpinists, GORE® WINDSTOPPER® fabric fights off chills and biner loops are compatible with any rig"
Never mind "biner loops" what about camera dials? Yep loved these little beauties from the moment I got them, simple idea, but then the best ideas always are. They're a pair of Mitt’s that turns into a pair of fingerless gloves, genius. Peel back the top third of the glove to expose the more dexterous fingerless part, while the bit you've just peeled down is held out of the way by a clever little magnet, which is hidden away inside the material.
I don't often suffer from cold hands, if I'm working in very cold conditions I tend to work on the premise that I wear a "silk weight" glove so I can actually feel the controls of my cameras and when they get unbearably cold I stick em in the chest pockets of my jacket. This works most of the time but after a prolonged period the old fingers tend to seize up and "Hot Aches invariable set in, O hot aches how I loathe thee! I used these gloves on a really windy day while I was photographing Dog sledding and when I wasn't shooting away it was just a flick of the wrist and the Mitts were back in place whilst I moved to a new position and the fingers were toasty all day - result.
"The new Phantom Ultra is the lightest of the next generation of the Phantom series. The new uppers are a made with combination of materials designed to save weight yet provide enough insulation and weather protection for Scottish winter climbing and summer alpinism.
The new Pentax Speed sole unit is also another innovation of combining specialist materials with the proven Vibram Mulaz outsole to create an ultra light weight and comfortable yet tough and functional sole"
These boots have been on the market for at least a season, in fact I've used their predecessor the Phantom Lite for a couple of years and absolutely loved them (the last few pairs of boots I've owned have been Scarpa) The new Phantom Ultra's are the lightest boots I've ever owned for the mountain environment / Ice climbing and without doubt the most comfortable boots I've ever worn in any situation. They're so comfy it's like your wearing a regular boot walking down into town. I'm not saying they'll fit everyone as well as they fit me, but for me this is the ultimate boot, I just don't know how in the future Scarpa are going to improve on this. Easy lacing system and removable liner / foot bed on the inside, built in gator (higher than the one on the PL's) and a great TZip on the outside. The Sole performed in all the different conditions I used it in, walking on snow and ice, climbing easy grade rock and skating across wet bar-room lino floors as well as when I donned my crampons. My only complaint and it's not really a complaint, more my inquisitive mind wondering "Why" Why hasn't the boot got a little integral loop at the bottom of the zip that you can clip your Gaiters into (the Phantom Lite did) is it because the integral Gaiter comes up higher and so Scarpa don't think you need any other form of Gaiter? I for my part agree in principal, but my Marmot Pro Tour Pants have a slightly flared bottom with a hook at the front for clipping into the laces of your boots, only with these boots there ain't nowhere to clip em. It's a small point and I did walk and Ski in fresh powder up to my knees without a problem, however the pant on occasion does ride up the leg and a simple inclusion of a small loop would stop this. To put it quite simply these are the best boots ever, loop or no loop.
"The ultimate axe for technical climbers with aerospace grade composite. Hot forged head in chromolly steel: no compromise over quality because forging internal microstructure can be oriented to improve strength, and internal defects or porosity are minimized. Available with shovel or hammer.
Carbon Composite shaft: no compromise over quality because composite materials means that the parts of the final product subject to major pressure that require more strength and rigidity can be designed specifically to enhance these characteristics. This vital aspect is made possible by the type of reinforcement and the orientation of the fibres, and the light alloy matrix transfers load to the external reinforcement in Carbon fibre"
Over the last few years Ice axes have developed into things that resemble nothing like the ones I learned to climb with, well I guess they still have a shaft and a head, the head still has a pick on one end of it and occasionally a hammer or an adze on the opposite, but all likenesses cease right there. The curved black carbon shaft, the yellow knuckle protector, the profiled rubber grip and all-in-one head are nothing, nothing like my old Simond's where. I'm not climbing any harder with my Quantum Tech's, WI5 is still WI5, but they're so much easier to use, much more well balanced and easier to swing, the Monster picks need a little modification for climbing pure waterfall ice but essentially they're almost perfect straight out of the box.
"The evolution of the modern technique of climbing ice push towards a more fluid motion, more elegant and faster, therefore it demands a crampon that makes it possible: a technical crampon, and a super-light one.
G20 is a crampon 100% technical, reliable, efficient and the LIGHTEST IN THE WORLD: less than 800 grams per pair! The new MONO-RAIL technology (patented) distributes the 12 points in an intelligent and original way"
Super light, super rigid, fits my Scarpa boots perfectly. Easy to walk in, very precise to climb in, another perfect in my eyes, really love these little beauties.
"The Tilopa BC has everything you need to crossover from a gear intensive day shoot or a night in the backcountry. 48-liter capacity, added reinforcements and the ability to carry the tools of most any sport make this our marquis all-‘rounder"
I've already written a piece about this exceptionally brilliant backpack - see it here It's the pack I've been waiting for someone to make for about 10 years. Essentially it's a camera backpack that thinks, looks and feels like it’s a rucksack. Just buy the ICU (Internal camera unit) which best suits you needs, they come in all shapes and sizes, just like kit. Put a small amount of camera kit in the smallest ICU and have loads of room for a day on the hill - I carried all my Ice climbing gear (crampons, axes, screws, harness, karabiners etc) as well as a belay jacket, food, water, and extra mid-layer, two pairs gloves and two 60m ropes. The pack is exceptionally well made, super comfy and has all the features I ever dreamt of from a backpack - go F-stop.
"The DMC-GH1 is not just a high performance still picture camera. Amazingly it can record Full-HD movies at 1080/25p or smooth HD movies at 720/50p in AVCHD with a continuous AF function. It also features a stereo microphone, featuring Dolby Digital Stereo Creator to record high quality audio. Just press the 'one touch' Motion Picture button, and shooting begins. In the unique Creative Movie mode, the shutter speed and aperture can be adjusted. When the DMC-GH1 is connected to a Panasonic VIERA via an optional mini HDMI cable, the TV's remote control unit can be used to enjoy playing back with a greater convenience"
This isn't a new model, there's a GH2 and now a G3, although that, at least to me, seems a slightly "dumbed down" prosumer GH2. The reason I've had one of these little gems in my camera bag for the last couple of weeks is because I'm getting old and I'm fed up of paying large amounts to physios. I haven't used the camera enough to give you an in-depth review just yet as I'm just about managing to find my way round all the controls and menus, but it does seem to work really well in sub-zero temps and works (in manual mode) with my Nikon SB800's and Pocket Wizards, which has got to be good. I'll keep you posted as I find out a little more about this incredible system camera.
"In spite of its impressive wide-angle zoom range of 7-14mm (35mm film camera equivalent; 14-28mm), this lens is surprisingly compact and lightweight for casual on-the-go use. Taking advantage of its wide, 114-degree angle of view, it enables to fit subjects into the frame easily even when shooting indoors where the distance is limited. The world looks extraordinary when viewing through the new lens, allowing photos and movies* to be recorded with a uniquely rich perspective" Amazing is the word that immediately springs to mind when I think of this lens and tiny. Its coverage is eqivilent to my Nikon 14-28mm f/2.8 but it's just a quarter of its weight and size; in fact it's so small it easily fitted in to the hip pocket of my skinny jeans! As soon as I looked through the viewfinder it was love at first sight. Adore this optic.
"The LEICA DG SUMMILUX 25mm / F1.4 ASPH. (35 mm camera equivalent: 50mm), based on the Micro Four Thirds System standard, features outstanding brightness of F1.4 realized in the compact and light weight profile. The extraordinary brightness allows a beautiful soft focus for photo and video to be even more impressive and encourages users not to use the flash even in dimly lit conditions. Certified with the name of world-renowned LEICA, the exceptional high image quality is guaranteed" A couple of months ago I Wrote a Blog about my "new favourite lens" I was talking about my Nikon 50mm f/1.4, this tiny lens from Leica is of course the same focal length with the Micro Four Thirds crop and is just an absolute joy to use.
"The lens system uses 4 aspherical lenses and 2 ED lenses to achieve dramatic downsizing despite it’s a wide and long zoom range of 14-140mm (35mm film camera equivalent: 28-280mm), while minimizing distortion and chromatic aberration. This lens suits a large variety of shooting situations, from scenery to portraits or telephoto shots, in a surprisingly compact and lightweight body"
This is the lens that comes as a camera/lens kit and I guess the word to best describe it is versatile. This would be a whopping 28-280mm lens on a 35mm, that’s a hefty piece of glass, which again is incredibly small and comes with image stabilisation to help hold it still - if I was only going to take one lens with me to cover most eventualities this would be that lens.
I'll put a proper review together for the lumix kit in a few weeks when I've had a proper chance to use it in a few more different scenarios.
All in all the kit I used on the trip was some of the best and most inspiring kit I've ever had the pleasure to use. When everything works exactly how you'd like it to work its easy to forget just how good it is and all of my new "stuff" was just about as good as it gets.