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Preparing for the Alps

Preparing for the Alps

Me-on-Cneifon-Arete-copy

On Cneifon Arete

With my first summer alpine trip not far away I thought I’d better make an effort to spend as much time as possible getting used to long days in the mountains. So last weekend I headed to Snowdonia with the idea of doing a long low grade rock route or scramble which also took in a summit or two and could be finished as a round trip.

Wales is ideal for this sort of thing as there is a plethora of long less technical climbs with plenty of options for some additional distance. The original idea was to do something on Lliwedd and finish via Crib Goch or walk down the Watkin Path, as we were staying at the Nant Gwynant campsite. However, based on the weather forecast we decided to change this to the Cneifon Arete in Ogwen as Lliwedd was likely to be seeping and generally a bit damp. This proved to be a good choice as the tops in the Snowdon area remained clagged in for the majority of the day whereas in Ogwen we stumbled upon plenty of sunshine.

We ended up doing Glyder Fawr via Sub Cneifon Rib, Cneifon Arete and Y Gribin ridge. Sub Cneifon Rib gets vdiff and we pitched all 4 pitches, I also switched to rock shoes for it as well. At the top we traversed to the base of Cneifon Arete and soloed it. It gets diff, but this is only for the first pitch, the rest is a thoroughly enjoyable scramble of massive holds and great positions of varying difficulty. From there we crossed ‘the football pitch’ and scrambled the Y Gribin ridge to the Summit of Glyder Fawr. From the summit we descended the path through Devils Kitchen back down to the valley.

My aim of the weekend in terms of the upcoming Alpine trip was to get familiar with my gear and to get used to spending a long time moving over technical ground with a pack on.

The Gear

Arcteryx-SS15-Squamish-Hoody-T

Arcteryx Squamish Hoody

Most of this stuff I’ve used before and know how it performs. However, I hadn’t ever tried the Bridgedale Liner Socks before and thought they were great. I’ve previously just used thin cotton socks or no sock at all under the mid weight hiking socks. The liner socks did make my feet feel noticeably cooler and dryer and I will be using them every time I go out in boots from now on. They worked very well with the Bridgadale Trekker Socks and I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t work with any hiking or mountaineering sock as long as there’s enough room in your boot for the combined thickness of your chosen socks.

The other new bit of kit I had with me was the Arcteryx Squamish Hoody and it turned out to be a great weekend to test it as the weather was warm, but really quite windy. The Squamish Hoody dealt very well with these conditions whilst I was moving. It wasn’t warm enough for belaying in the shade, which is when I switched to the Sabretooth Jacket.

Montane-SS15-Terra-Pant-T

Montane Terra Pant

The Sabretooth is a few seasons old now and Montane don’t make it any more, though there are plenty of similar midweight softshells available (which are now probably a bit more breathable). I think that it’s great for climbing as it offers enough protection when you’re belaying and breathes well enough to keep you comfortable. I do find that it’s too warm for walking and scrambling when I’m moving constantly for longer periods. For activities where I’m moving constantly and the Sabretooth is too warm the Squamish hoody fits in nicely for warmer days and I actually use my Rab Stretch Neo Jacket on cooler days, even when it’s not raining.

The Terra Pants are great, ideal for this sort of thing, they’re probably a bit lightweight for Alpine use but I plan on having a pair of waterproof over trousers with me which I can throw for extra protection. One tip with the Terra Pants, and one which will probably apply to all lightweight softshell trousers, is to empty your pockets when using them on the mountain, the material does wear through incredibly quickly when objects on the inside are rubbed against rock on the outside. The only other downside to the Terra Pants is that everyone seems to wear them! Though there’s obviously a reason for this.

Deuter-Guide-Lite-32-T

Deuter Guide Lite 32

The Deuter Guide Lite 32+ is a fairly recent purchase for me, I’ve used it for day ski touring and it’s ideal for that. It’s also ideal for big mountain days in the UK and I can see it being perfect for the Alps too. The size is perfect as there’s enough room for everything, yet it’s small enough so that there’s no room to carry anything unnecessary. I’ve found that this has been the case for both touring and mountaineering. NB my helmet goes on the outside most of the time. It has a comfy fit and I find that there’s plenty of adjustment on all the straps, I particularly like the way the pack moves with you and has a large range of adjustment which allows you to pull in the top of the pack closer to the shoulder straps. This is great as you can change the centre of gravity depending on how the pack is balanced and dependent on what activity you’re doing.

What did I learn?

I’m quite happy with my gear selection; I will need a long sleeve synthetic base layer for the Alps as currently I only have merino long sleeve base layers. Long sleeve is necessary for protection from the sun and synthetic base layers are cooler than merino ones.
I must remember my Rab Meco Boxers as I forgot them this time and regretted it! They were a must have discovery from last year.

Ogwen-Valley

Cwm Idwal and Ogwen Valley

Pro Review – MSR Hubba NX

MSR-Hubba-NX-M1
Dave from Climbing Gear Reviews UK looks at the redesigned ultralight solo tent from MSR.

Expertly engineered for 3-season camping, the lightweight, compact tent won’t slow you down, whether you’re striking out early to earn solo views along a popular route, or finding your stride on a 10-day trek into the Alaskan wilderness.

Overall rating: ★★★★

I owned an MSR Carbon Reflex 1 before I got the new MSR Hubba NX and loved it. When I took groups and clients on my Lakeland Mountain Challenge they used to call it my Spaceship tent. I loved the space, the lightness and the ease in which it went up.

I believe the MSR Hubba NX is another step up in the evolution of this genre of the Hubba range of tents. The Hubba NX is a single hooped design as many lightweight tents are. The main loop is longtitudinal which, I believe offers more internal space than a latitudinal hoop design. I can sit up quite comfortably in the Hubba NX and feel I have a lot of internal room and one of the main differences is that the tent is freestanding and way more stable in windy conditions thanks to the unified hub and pole design.

msr-hubba-nx
The MSR Hubba NX retains the classic shape but has some great improvements

The basic shape of the MSR Hubba NX remains similar to the MSR Carbon Reflex but I felt the tent pitched better and easier with the Y shaped pole hub. The tent is pitched inner first so expect to get the inner wet in rainy conditions unless you are super speedy. But the inner is very roomy and has partially solid walls to half height, this is another improvement on the Carbon Reflex as it offers a little extra warmth. You do, however, pay for that in weight but I feel an extra 138g is worth the extra stability and warmth – I can lose that by taking less clean clothing! This does make the inner freestanding which means I can move the tent around to find the most comfortable position for it and it is plenty big enough for my 1.75m, in fact it feels one of the roomiest solo tents I’ve owned and there is plenty of room for me and my kit.

The integrated pole system works well and was easy to deploy. A quick snap together and the poloe system was up and ready to use, a nice feature that has been well thought out. The central cross bar on my Carbon Reflex was always really difficult to get in the tape holes and desperate to release with cold hands. The Hubba NX seems mercifully straightforward – enough tension to keep the roof inner spacious but easy enough to take out when packing up. The poles are DAC Featherlite NSL weighing in at 340g, DAC have also really made environmental strides in using Green Anodising technology and cleaning up the chemical process.

msr-hubba-nx1
The integrated pole system meant it was a breeze to pitch

The inner fabrics are made up from a combination of 15D Micromesh, 20D Ripstop Nylon and the Groundsheet 30D Riptop Nylon with a Durashield PU coating.Even though the bathtub/groundsheet fabric feel a little thin I’ve had no major issues with water seeping up through the ground sheet other than the typical dampness you always get with camping. There’s an integrated storage pouch and if you are staying somewhere a little more long term you can buy a gear loft. The inner also has a more windproof half liner, this makes it much warmer than the fully meshed inner of my Carbon Reflex.

Everything about the MSR Hubba NX is about keeping it light, the zip pulls, tension straps, cord locks and guy lines and the excellent Groudhog tentpegs and the oversized storage bag is great, no faffing putting the tent away in damp and windy conditions.

msr-hubba-nx2
The oversized bag was great for just chucking the tent in

And talking of windy the MSR Hubba NX is what I would consider a tent suitable for fair to blustery conditions. It isn’t going to withstand the full force of the UK mountains in storm conditions so I wouldn’t advise pitching on a summit in the autumn but for most short term trips in reasonable weather (when let’s face it we’re more likely to be out) the tent is great and don’t get me wrong it shed rain very well and stands up to windy conditions.

The tent can also be pitched fly only (with a groundprint bought separately) and inner only for star gazing on those warm balmy nights (!!!) so the weight can be kept to the bare minimum.

In conclusion, the MSR Hubba NX isn’t the lightest 3 season solo tent out there as even in the MSR range as you can still buy the Carbon Reflex 2. But the improvements are excellent and the living space is what makes it worth a closer look. The range comes in two colour options- Green (as tested) and Silver/Grey.

PROS

  • Easy to pitch and pack down
  • Great living space
  • Great oversized stow bag
  • Nice and light
  • Good venting

CONS

  • Pitches inner first
  • Not suitable for really adverse conditions
  • Could do with Dyneema guy lines

Climbing Gear Reviews are an independent reviewer of climbing, skiing and mountaineering equipment. Fronted by Kevin Avery, a trainee IFMGA mountain guide and former Gear Editor at UKClimbing.com, alongside Yorkshire based MIA Dave Sarkar, they provide completely honest and 100% impartial reviews. Click here to see their page.

Product Video:

MSR Hubba NX Features:

  • Ultralight livability for one
  • Two Fast & Light set up options
  • Large StayDry door with rain gutter
  • Large entry vestibule
  • Compression stuff sack
  • Rain fly 20D ripstop Nylon
  • Inner – Micromesh 15 D Nylon & 20D Nylon
  • Floor – 30D Nylon ripstop Durashield – 3,000mm HH
  • DAC Featherlite poles
  • Ground Hog tent pegs

Full MSR Hubba NX description here.

Facewest’s ‘How To’ – Lightweight Camping

The guide to Fast & Light Camping

The first article covered luxury camping and the second how to lose a bit of weight from this gear. This article will go through some ultralight camping gear which is definitely worth while if you’re looking to do a long distance trek, a mountain marathon or some fast and light peak assaults.

Exped-Synmat-Winterlite-7-M1

Exped Winterlite

Sleeping Mat: As with the other articles your sleeping mat is a key one. For the ultimate in comfort, minimal weight and space the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite or NeoAir Xtherm and the Exped Hyperlite 7, Winterlite 7 or Synmat Ultralite 7 are the mats to look at first. If you’re bivvying on rough ground then the Z lite SOL is worth a look.

Rab Guides Siltarp 2

Shelter: Facewest stock a small range of high quality MSR lightweight tents ideal for trekking and hiking trips. The Hubba Hubba HP is a lightweight 2 man tent capable of withstanding British weather. The Hubba NX goes even further and is a one man tent with a lighter weight inner – perfect for British summer and more settled climates. For those who are serious about saving weight or know that pitching a tent is not going to be feasible then there are always tarps and Bivis. Click here for all of our Tents, Tarps and Bivis. If you’re out with the bare minimum it’s definitely worth having a foil blanket – we’ve got some Blizzard ones on offer as well as some from AMK and Care Plus. They’re in our Emergency Shelters category.

Stoves: The Pocket Rocket, Micro Rocket and Crux Lite are excellent minimalist stoves which don’t get much lighter they all weigh less than 100g, though you will need a lightweight pot as well. Titanium is the lightest and most durable option, the MSR Titan Kettle a tried and tested bit of kit. The classic all in one solution is of course a Jetboil of which many have made some serious ascents.

Optimus-Crux-Lite-M1

Optimus Crux Lite

Food: There’s no point buying a load of super light gear and then lugging jars of pasta sauce with you. We stock Expedition Foods and Mountain House, both of whom offer high quality freeze dried meals. OK they’re not pub grub but they are pretty tasty for food which needs rehydrating and there are plenty of different meal options and flavours. Just add boiling water and tuck in – Freeze Dried Foods.

Drybags: Change your standard or tough drybags to ultralight ones. OK, they’re not as durable, but they are a significant weight saving and for such a useful item it’s definitely worthwhile. Have a look at our Lightweight and Ultralight Drybags.

Lightmyfire-Firesteel-2-M1

LightMyFire Firesteel 2

Bits and Pieces: A spork, the only piece of cutlery you’ll need, get a plastic one so it doesn’t damage the surface of your pots. A Fire Steel is a completely reliable method of getting your burner going. Matches can get wet, piezo igniters aren’t always reliable and lighters can run out of fuel or break. They do take a bit of practice if you want to use them to start a fire though.

If your kit is still too heavy then it’s probably time to either leave things at home altogether or start cutting bits off them. If you’re on a short trip and can accept a night or 2 of broken sleep then leaving your sleeping mat at home is an option – it’s not for everyone though. To really take it to the extreme people have been known to cut labels out of their clothing and snip the end off their toothbrush!

 

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Video – Stu takes you through the luxury Thermarest Fast & Light range:

Facewest’s ‘How To’ – Trek & Travel Camping

Camping Guide: Trek & Travel

This is the 2nd article in a series of 3 articles taking you through camping gear for various types of camping trip.  The previous article goes through luxury camping and how you can make yourself as comfortable as possible.  In this article we’ll cover some gear which is better for a lighter weight camping trip, ideal if you’re going trekking or need to transport your gear frequently.

Trek & Travel

Thermarest-NeoAir-All-Season-M1

Thermarest NeoAir All Season

Sleeping mat: As covered in the previous article there are some great luxury sleeping mats and they offer an amazing night’s sleep, but they tend to be pretty big and heavy.  This is a key area where you can save weight and space with your kit without suffering from lack of sleep.  If you’re really not sure about going for something much thinner then the NeoAir Camper is a good option.  It weighs just over 1kg, and that’s the XL size.  Compare this to the others mentioned above, all of which are considerably over 2kg.  The second reason is the pack size.  The XL rolls up to 10cm x 44cm, even the smallest of the heavy mats don’t go that small.

If you want something a bit warmer and even lighter then the NeoAir Trekker or All Season are great, as are the Exped Synmats.  At a lower price point there is the NeoAir Venture which still provides that excellent NeoAir comfort.  You can get good mats at an even lower price point too with the BaseCamp providing great value.  The Trail Pro and Trail Lite mats are also good options,  as they offer a good compromise between price, comfort and packability.  For more information have a look at our How to Choose a Sleeping Mat article.

Primus-Spider-Stove-Set-M1

Primus Spider Stove Set

Stove: Away from a large burner and gas canister there are some good mid size stoves which are big enough to cook a simple meal for 2 – 4 comfortably, but pack away inside themselves to save space.  The Primus Power Stove Set is great for cooking for up to 4 people, whilst the Primus Spider Stove is a slimmed down version for 1 or 2 people, similar to the Optimus Electra FE.  There are plenty of additional pot sets if you only need the one burner but extra cookware.

Sleeping Bags:  For trekking and lighter weight camping trips a down sleeping bag is much lighter and more packable than a synthetic bag.  This is because down compresses more than synthetic insulation and because its insulation properties are superior to man made equivalents you can get away with having less.  The Mountain Equipment Classic Range is ever popular.  The only thing you really need to watch out for is that they are kept as dry as possible as down does not work well when wet.  If this is a concern then a Synthetic Sleeping Bag is a better option, the Mountain Equipment Starlight range, the Rab Ignition range and the Mammut Kompakt range are all excellent for this type of use. Have a read of How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for more information.

Dry Bags:  An obvious one but worth a mention as they are definitely a necessity once away from the car, tent or a building.  We have a ridiculously large array of dry bags.  For a camping trip a selection of a few different sizes are indispensible for organisation and keeping your stuff dry.  A rucksack liner is also a requirement as soon as you head out away from base. Check out our dry bags here – Dry Bags.

Petzl-Tikka-M1

Petzl Tikka

Head Torches:  Again, Facewest stock a massive range and there is something for every eventuality.  The Petzl Tikka is a tried and tested classic and will get the job done without breaking the bank.  If you want something a bit more fancy or are planning on being out it the dark a lot then more advanced torches with extended battery life and pre-programmable outputs are available – have a look at our Comparison Chart.

Bits and PiecesCare Plus do a range of travel sized health and hygiene products which are ideal for travelling and camping.  They are well priced, quality products which have all been scientifically tested.  Hydration. Everyone needs a decent sized reliable water container, you could also consider swapping your solid water bottle for a soft bottle, these are surprisingly tough and can save a considerable amount of space in a day pack.  Towel. PackTowls come in a range of sizes and although they feel a bit weird if you haven’t tried one before they are a massive space saver – ideal if you think you might fancy a dip in a secluded lochan.

Click here to read the next and final article on camping, covering some must have gear for those who want to go ultra light.

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Video – Stu takes you through the luxury Thermarest Trek & Travel range:

Facewest’s ‘How To’ – Luxury Camping

Luxury Camping Guide

This is the first in a series of 3 articles going through camping necessities, starting with luxury camping, then leading on to how to make your kit a bit smaller and lighter and finally on to how to go ultra lightweight and get away with the bare minimum.

Always fancied getting out into the great outdoors for a weekend? Getting back to basics? Don’t want to be cold and/or wet? Can’t sleep on one of those uncomfortable air beds?

There are plenty of solutions to all of these problems, luxury camping is a great way to get into the outdoors without suffering the loss of those must have home comforts.

So what’s going to make your camping trip comfortable?

Thermarest-MondoKing-M1

Thermarest Mondo King

A comfy sleeping mat: One of our Thermarest Camp & Comfort mats or an Exped SIM Comfort are good starting points, but there are loads to choose from. Don’t forget to buy a pump, particularly for large mats, as blowing them up can be quite an effort. Some of them come with a pump, for those that don’t there are a few options at a good price. For more information on choosing your mat have a look at our guide on How to Choose a Sleeping Mat.  A Thermarest Fitted Sheet will also make your mattress just that bit more like your own bed at home and is great if you can’t get used to the nylon finished on the top of many sleeping mats.

If you’re not a fan of sleeping on the floor then Thermarest Luxury Cots are an excellent option, they’re sturdy and pack down pretty small for a bed. They come in a few different options and have various add-ons.

A good sleeping bag or blanket: We have a huge range of Sleeping Bags, for a luxury camping trip a synthetic bag will be fine. Down is great as it provides more warmth for the weight and it packs up smaller, but it is more expensive and unless you plan on camping year round it’s not really necessary for this type of trip. Having a sleeping bag liner is also recommended as they make sleeping bags comfier, cleaner and add a little extra warmth. The Mountain Equipment Starlight or Rab Ignition ranges are ideal starting points. Have a look at our How to Choose a Sleeping Bag page for more information.

If you don’t like sleeping bags then Thermarest have a blanket system which is compatible with most Thermarest mats. The Regulus blanket is the synthetic option and the Auriga blanket the down one. These are compatible with most Thermarest sleeping mats up to size large and offer a great alternative if you find sleeping bags restrictive, have a look here – Thermarest Blankets.

Thermarest-Treo-Chair-M1

Thermarest Treo Chair

A Chair: This is quite an important one if you’re after a comfortable camping experience. Sitting on the ground gets uncomfortable very quickly, and when you’re away for the weekend it’s nice to have something to sit it when chilling at the campsite. The Thermarest Treo Chair is the obvious one for those who want a bit of luxury, it’s sturdy and packable. There are also a number of Chair Kits and Seats to make things more comfortable for your behind.

Lanterns: Lanterns are great, particularly if you’re going camping in spring and autumn and the nights draw in a little bit more quickly than around mid summer. They just extend those warm evenings when you can sit up and chat, read or play cards before going to bed. Battery life is always being improved and even powerful lanterns can now last a surprising length of time – just make sure you remember to turn it off when it’s not being used and to bring some spare batteries with you. You can find our lanterns here – Lanterns.

Black-Diamond-Voyager-M1

Black Diamond Voyager

Bits and pieces: We have loads of little bits and pieces designed to make all sorts of travel that bit easier and more comfortable – Travel Accessories. A few special mentions from this category. The Black Diamond Ember Power Light is a great little multi use torch. It is rechargeable and can be used as a torch or an additional power source and has a quality finish and feel to it. The Exped Mesh Organiser Set – for any trip where you’re away for longer than a couple of days this little set of bags is indispensable for keeping your stuff together. A Water carrier, not glamorous but entirely necessary, the Source Liquitainer Water Carrier is a good 4 litres – big enough so you don’t have make constant trips but small enough so that it doesn’t weigh a ton when full and the nearest tap is a bit of a walk.

Click here to read the next article, in which we go over which bits of kit you can make smaller and lighter without sacrificing too much comfort.

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Video – Stu takes you through the luxury Thermarest Camp & Comfort range:

 

 

 

Pro Review – DMM Pivot

DMM-Pivot-M1
Dave from CGR takes a look at the new Guide Plate from Welsh gear legends DMM.

I use guide plates (or autoblocks) a lot, I use them in my own personal climbing and when I am working. They are very useful for a variety of reasons. I can be hands free for a time, to take photos for instance or put some extra clothing on. I can bring two clients up to the belay more efficiently so I have been a real fan of them ever since the ‘magic plate’ days. They have come a long way since and we have reviewed many on the site.

The new offering from DMM has been getting some reactions when I have showed it around at the crag and amongst mates – mainly that ‘it’s just another gimmick’. At a first glance that may seem so but a closer inspection gives away a great innovation.

dmm-pivot-indirect
The moving head on the DMM Pivot was useful when using an indirect belay.

There are usually two issues with autoblock devices, one your screwgate does not have complete freedom. That is the actual locking part of the carabiner will not go through. This may seem trivial but when you are winter and ice climbing it can be a real pain in the backside faffing around. Well I won’t need to faff any longer as the head is massive and easily takes any screwgate you throw at it.

Secondly, lowering some-one is always a little more tricky that you think it’s going to be. There are some tricks you can use to assist lowering but the DMM Pivot made it a breeze. They have really thought about this weakness – the pivoting head stays in place whilst the slightly elongated head takes most carabiner noses to make levering so much easier. Genius!

dmm-pivot-autoblock-2
The DMM Pivot was easy to use in Autoblock mode.

Another plus is the fact I can move the head out of the way when I am belaying ‘normally’ (as in an indirect belay). This helped in feeding and taking in rope. The Pivot performed well in all test situations, autoblock, indirect belay, abseiling and ascending. The official weight is 72g and the trusty CGR scales weighed it in at 71g.

The DMM Pivot is a beautifully engineered and made belay device. Hot forged in Wales, the stated weight is 72g. The colour schemes are standard DMM Red, Blue and Green and instructions for use are laser etched at the sides. The Pivot is rated for rope diameters of 7.3 to 11mm ropes. I felt it wasn’t so smooth with fatter ropes, but generally the paying out action was fine.

Overall rating: ★★★★★

So in conclusion, I feel the DMM Pivot is not a gimmick but a great innovation. If you are using a guide plate a lot you are going to notice these changes and if you think about it, if you are lowing something it’s because there is a problem. When there is a problem you want things to run smoothly, the DMM Pivot will really help.

Climbing Gear Reviews are an independent reviewer of climbing, skiing and mountaineering equipment. Fronted by Kevin Avery, a trainee IFMGA mountain guide and former Gear Editor at UKClimbing.com, alongside Yorkshire based MIA Dave Sarkar, they provide completely honest and 100% impartial reviews. Click here to see their page.

Product Video:

DMM Pivot Features:

  • Multi-use lightweight belay device
  • Pivot ensures easy rope control
  • Suitable for ropes from 7.3mm to 11mm

Colour: Blue or Red
Weight: 72g

Full DMM Pivot description here.

Facewest’s ‘How To’ – Mountain Marathon

MM

Stu at the LAMM 2015

A mountain marathon is a 2 day test of mountain craft and fitness. Most people run them but there are walking classes in some events and plenty of walking done by the runners. You will be out, unassisted, for 2 days and be required to eat, sleep and take care of yourself whilst navigating a course in a mountainous environment, whilst carrying all your gear. If you are thinking of doing your first mountain marathon or aiming to improve, these guides may be helpful. A mountain marathon can be thought of as a cross between an orienteering race and a long distance fell race.

Ever wanted to give it a go?

stu-review

Our Mountain Marathon expert, Stu, has written a couple of guides to provide you with a little bit more information and some great tips and advice on Mountain Marathoning.

Mountain Marathon Guide. Part 1 – Prepare
Mountain Marathon Guide. Part 2 – Tactics

 

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Pro Review – MSR Reactor Stove

MSR-Reactor-Stove-M1

Pro Reviewer:

kevavery
MSR claim that the Reactor Stove System is: “the fastest and most fuel efficient stove ever made” and that it “delivers that level of performance in the cold and wind of the real world.” Kev took that as a gauntlet thrown down and has since tested it in some of the most challenging situations in Europe from the Eiger North Face to the motorway service stations of the UK! What’s his verdict?

msr-reactor
Using the hanging kit to melt snow in the tent porch.

The MSR Reactor is an integrated cook system where the burner and pot/heat exchanger are designed to all work together as one unit for maximum cooking efficiency. The pot/heat exchanger comes in 3 sizes: 1l, 1.7l and 2.5l . I tested the 1l version which is perfect for a pair, allowing you to melt snow to make water or simply boil water to make hot drinks and add to freeze dried meals. The obvious downside of this system is you are pretty limited with your cooking options but it is essentially a water boiler and let’s face it, the reality is that you are not really going to be cooking a gourmet meal strapped to an alpine north face or big wall. I use this sort of system for convenience and efficiency and if I’m car camping, I take a double burner and proper pans!

So the MSR Reactor stove system is best for missions where you need simplicity and are short on space and weight. Alpine climbing, backpacking, big walling etc. I have primarily used it for melting snow to make water to drink and also rehydrate freeze dried meals but it has also had the odd outing in motorway service station carparks when I’ve been too much of a tight arse to buy their overpriced coffee (MSR do a French Press accessory so you can even have the real thing)!

In use I was very impressed with the performance of the MSR Reactor Stove System. I need to point out there were no scientific tests going on so anything I say is just based on observation and anecdotal comparison from having used other similar units, but here goes. It boiled water quickly at low altitudes, MSR claim 0.5 litre of water boils in 1.5 minutes and at low altitudes I would say this was fair if there was no wind and the temperature was above freezing. Remember that altitude, temperature and wind will always affect the performance of a stove. MSR do point out that any comparisons they did were in a lab and you can see some test results in the diagram below, although the competition is not specified.

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The main test for me is how well a stove performs when melting snow, and at this job we felt it was awesome, definitely quicker than rival systems I have used. The main limiting factor was nothing to do with the stove itself and more to do with the performance of the gas canister in cold weather and at altitude. It is definitely worth insulating the base of the canister from the cold ground (MSR make little feet for the canister to do this job, but you can also use their excellent hanging kit or perch it on your foam sleep pad) and even going as far as wrapping the canister body in a piece of foam. I tend to sleep with the gas canisters in my sleeping bag too as this speeds up getting your morning coffee no end!

The MSR Reactor Stove is high quality, feeling robust but light. It is not the lightest or most compact system out there but it is one of the most reliable I have used, although not 100% reliable. Whilst bivvying on a cold, windy night below the Matterhorn’s North Face we really struggled to light the burner and keep it lit. Once the heat exchanger pot sits on the burner it does shelter it from the wind but in the meantime we just couldn’t get it to light due to the exposed position we were in. I did wonder if the stove was faulty but a pair of friends up there with us had the same stove and it also had exactly the same problem. Luckily we were able to descend and find enough shelter so we didn’t go thirsty but half way up a huge face, this may have been a different story.

One other point about the way the pot/heat exchanger sits on the burner is that it doesn’t attach in any way like for example, Jetfoil stoves do. It simply sits on the burner. This has pros and cons but the only major drawback is it is easier to knock the pan over than with the locked on systems, but at least if it’s not all connected you only knock the pan over and not a towering raging furnace, that you then have to risk burning yourself to knock off.

The Reactor Stove System does not have a built in igniter and you need to carry a lighter, matches or flint and steel. This is mainly a good thing as I’ve found that any stoves I’ve had with integrated ignition have usually broken within a few uses. However I do wonder if it would have helped in the above situation (where it wouldn’t ignite in the wind) as you could light it whilst the heat exchanger pan was already on the burner which would offer wind protection. You can only light the burner over the top, not from the side though.

The lid and pan handler are integrated and easy to use which is a nice touch, and the pan features a pouring spout allowing easy drainage. As I mentioned earlier, MSR make a hanging system to go with the Reactor and this is a really useful accessory, being light simple and compact. It also securely integrates the pot and the burner making it much more difficult to knock the pan over.

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Great for alpine bivies.

I did find the nesting of the burner in the pan for storage to be a little unsatisfactory. MSR claim the burner and a 4oz gas canister nest perfectly in the pot with the lid on but I could never seem to get the burner to sit in and still get a canister in. Either me being incompetent (probable!) or the dimensions needing a rejig?

So all in all the MSR Reactor Stove System is a great stove for backpackers and alpinists who want to boil water or melt snow. You’re not going to cook in it as such but it’s designed more with rehydrating freeze dried meals in mind. It is high quality, efficient and robust. We did have problems with performance in the wind though and the burner doesn’t nest satisfactorily with a gas canister in the pan.

Climbing Gear Reviews are an independent reviewer of climbing, skiing and mountaineering equipment. Fronted by Kevin Avery, a trainee IFMGA mountain guide and former Gear Editor at UKClimbing.com, alongside Yorkshire based MIA Dave Sarkar, they provide completely honest and 100% impartial reviews. Click here to see their page.

Product Video:

MSR Reactor Stove Features:

  • Unmatched Wind Protection: Radiant burner head is enclosed by heat exchanger for maximum protection in even the windiest conditions
  • Maximum Efficiency: Patent-pending radiant burner and heat exchanger make the Reactor the most efficient all-condition stove system, so you carry less fuel
  • Integrated System: State-of-the-art stove and high-efficiency pot are combined into one compact, easy-to-use system

Weight 1L: 474g – pot and stove
Weight 1.7L: 496g – pot and stove
Weight 2.5L: 588g – pot and stove

Full MSR Reactor Stove description here.

Graham’s Coast to Coast Cycle

In June I took a week out of the office to cycle the Coast to Coast. The route I planned to take was created by Tim Woodcock which starts on the West coast of England at St Bees and finishes in Robin Hoods bay on the East. The route is almost entirely off-road and cuts right through the glorious North of England, including the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors national parks. The plan was to spend the week covering the 210 miles and carrying all my own gear.

 

Start - St Bees

St Bees

My first day was to be an easy one; leaving St Bees at 4.30pm, I rode along the side of Ennerdale water, past the Black Sail YHA, over Black Sail Pass and into Wasdale for an 8:30pm arrival at Wasdale Head. This was the first time I had experienced Ennerdale, and I was pretty blown away with the how amazing the valley is. The Youth Hostel at the head of the valley is only accessible on foot or by bike and makes a perfect base for climbing on Pillar.

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Ennerdale Valley

Monday was a pretty tough day’s riding, starting in Wasdale and finishing in Kentmere, taking in three big climbs. I was pretty tired when I arrived in Coniston so after a good feed I opted to miss out two small sections of the route and ride from Coniston to Ambleside and Troutbeck to Kentmere via road.

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Top of Walna Scar Road

I left the Maggs Howe bunk barn in Kentmere on Tuesday morning at around 8am. I was hoping to get to the Tan Hill Inn for mid-afternoon. The riding after Kentmere eased off a bit as the terrain changes from rocky climbs and descents to long slogs over boggy moorland. Arriving at the Tan Hill inn was a nice milestone, the sighting of the ‘Yorkshire Dales National Park’ sign providing a nice little boost to morale.

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Welcome to Yorkshire!

On Wednesday I rode from Tan Hill down into Keld, through the Swaledale Valley, to Richmond and finally onto Osmotherly. I’d made the decision to crack on to Osmotherly from Richmond as there was a nice 25km or so of road riding, meaning that I could hopefully finish a day earlier than anticipated!

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I was extremely lucky with the weather, having wall-to-wall sunshine every day, much to the envy of everyone back in the office. I paid the price for this on Thursday, where I was struck with the worst sunburn I’d had for years. To finish off Thursday I rode from Osmotherly through the North Yorkshire Moors and onto Robin Hoods Bay. This part of the ride was brilliant – very fast riding over moorland double track and excellent views of the moors and East coast.

 

All credit must go to Tim Woodcock for creating this route; it packs in some really amazing riding through some incredible terrain.

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Robin Hoods Bay

 

As this was the first self supported ride I have done, I wanted to make it as comfortable as possible both on an evening and whilst riding. This meant carrying normal camping gear such as tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and cooking gear. All my gear was to be on the bike so I tried to pack as light as possible.

 

The kit list

Bike & bike bags

 

Sleeping

Tent – 1 Man bivvy Tent

Sleeping Bag – Mountain Equipment Xero 200

Sleeping Mat – Thermarest Prolite

Pillow – Exped Air Pillow UL

 

Clothes

Waterproof Jacket – Montane Minimus jacket

Waterproof Pants – Montane Minius pants

Warm Jacket – Rab VR Lite jacket

Windshirt – Montane Singletrack jacket

Riding clothes – Shorts, Bib, jersey, etc.

Buff x 2

 

Spare Clothes

Base Layer – Arcteryx Phase SL LS Crew

- Arcteryx Phase AR Bottom

Spare Shorts – Marmot

Socks – Smartwool pHd outdoor light crew

 

Cooking

Stove -MSR Pocket Rocket

Cook Pot – MSR Titan Kettle

Fire Steel

2 x Small Gas canisters

 

On top of my main kit I also carried a small First Aid kit,small wash kit and bike repair kit (spare tube, multi tool, Leatherman CS2 etc) and food. Food wise I took two Expedition Foods main meals, 3 bags of fruit and nut trail mix, 5 energy bars and 5 x gels, and picked more food up en-route.

 

 

Facewest’s ‘How To’ – Washing and Reproofing Clothing

Washing and Reproofing Clothing

Caring for your outdoor gear is something that most people probably don’t spend much time or money on – after all when you’re not out using it all you want to do is be planning the trip, not doing extra washing. However, it is a good idea if you want the performance of your clothing to last. Click the links below to skip to the relevant section:

The most commonly used phrase in this article is check the manufacturers instructions, and with good reason. Nearly all the manufacturers have a product care page on their website which is a great source of information.

Waterproof Membrane Fabrics

Why doesn’t my waterproof keep water out anymore?

Membrane fabrics work by having an air permeable porous layer within the fabric that allows water to pass through as a vapour but not as a liquid. Wearing synthetic fabrics under your shell allows perspiration to wick away from the body and then evaporate. The evaporated water can then pass through the breathable membrane. However water on the outside of the fabric is made of groups of molecules that are too large to pass through the porous membrane thus the garment is waterproof.

The outer surface of the fabric has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment, this ensures that any water on the surface of the garment will bead and shed away. However as time goes by the DWR finish will wear away, particularly in high wear areas such the the sleeve ends and shoulders where you might wear a pack. As this happens the garment may appear to be absorbing water (wetting out) and the wearer may complain of being wet. This is not because the membrane is no longer waterproof but because the membrane can no longer breathe. Evaporated moisture from the body cannot now get out and is condensing on the inside of the fabric, rather than moving through it. Yet the garment is still waterproof from the outside elements. This problem is also caused if the garment has been worn a lot without being washed as the tiny pores which the water vapour has to pass through to keep you dry become blocked with oils and dirt from the body. The easiest way to cure this problem is to wash and treat the garment with a DWR finish.

How often should I wash my waterproof?

If your waterproof garment is wetting out significantly then it’s probably time to give it a wash and reproof. Unfortunately washing and reproofing waterproof membranes will never quite manage to restore the performance back to as good as it was when new. The reproofed DWR doesn’t last as long as the factory applied coating so the frequency at which performance starts to drop off will slowly increase with use so you’ll end up washing older garments more regularly. If you’re having to do it after every use then it’s probably time to think about getting a new one.

How should I wash my waterproof?

The various membranes may differ in the exact treatments to restore waterproofing, however the process is largely the same. When it comes to cleaning and proofing it is essential to follow the manufacturers instructions, though these may not tell you which cleaning and proofing products to use. Before you actually start to clean the garment ensure your washing machine is free from any detergent and fabric softener residue. The main area to clean is the detergent draw, just take it right out and wash it off under a running tap. It may be worth setting the machine off on an empty cycle to flush any residues from the insides.

Most brands recommend either Grangers or Nikwax products for washing and reproofing. Both these brands offer some different products and methods to get your waterproof garments back up to scratch…

  • Tech Wash tends to be very good but they are expensive and time consuming as you also have to buy a separate reproofer to apply once the garment has been washed.
  • There 2 kinds of reproofers. Wash in reproofers apply the DWR coating very easily and it tends to last for a decent length of time. However as the DWR finish is also applied to the inside of the garment breathability is significantly reduced. Some also require activation by tumble drying.
  • Spray on reproofers are the other option. They are quite time consuming and you do have to be thorough to make sure it is applied evenly all over the garment. The advantage with them is that the DWR is only applied to the outside, so maximum breathability is retained.
  • There are also 2 in 1 treatments which will wash the garment and apply a new DWR coating. These work fine, but the DWR finish is also applied to the inside of the garment, which reduces breathability significantly. The advantage of this however is that it’s more cost effective and quicker, although the garment usually has to be tumble dried for the DWR to be activated.

Please read the cleaning and care instructions that come with the garment or check the brand website. It is also very important to make sure your washing machine is free from fabric softener and detergent residue as these can damage the membrane permanently.

Softshells (membrane and non membrane)

Should I wash my Softshell?

Yes. Softshell fabrics fall into two basic construction types, those with and those without membranes, though the washing and reproofing process for both is the same. Just as with waterproof garments the membrane in softshells with a membrane will stop working due to oils and dirt and the DWR finish can be worn off, so if the garment does get wet then breathability and water resistance will be significantly reduced. Non-membrane softshells offer a wind resistance by having tightly woven fabrics, a DWR finish is applied to keep water off and to allow the weave to breathe. If the DWR finish does get worn off then it will need replacing to keep the garment performing at its best both in terms of breathability and water resistance.

Can I just bung it in the washing machine?

It’s best not to. Essentially these garments are treated in the same way as a hard shell jacket, they should be washed at a low temperature using a specialist washing product in the washing machine and then apply the DWR finish. Nikwax and Grangers are both reputable brands who make specialist washes and reproofers for softshells. Tumble drying some garments may improve the DWR, but check the label first and make sure it’s not done for too long or on too high a heat setting.

The other, more economic option is to use a 2 in 1 wash/proofer. This makes the whole process a lot easier, quicker and more cost effective, however the DWR coating is applied to both sides of the fabric which will result in impaired breathability.

When it comes to cleaning and reproofing softshells, whether with or without a membrane, please take the time to read the manufacturers instructions or check their website.

Down and Synthetic Insulating Garments and Sleeping Bags

Should I wash my down jacket/sleeping bag?

If it’s really dirty, yes. Washing down filled garments or sleeping bags needs care – the insulating properties of down can be seriously reduced by washing at the wrong temperatures or with the wrong chemicals and even by not drying it properly. Most people tend to avoid washing down products however, like any other garment they are going to get dirty and cleaning them becomes unavoidable. When done correctly it will also restore performance which may have been lost over time.

If you don’t need the item urgently then the best way to get down clothing and sleeping bags cleaned is professionally by a down specialist. Rab offer a cleaning service for Rab down items, you can find the details on their website here. We also recommend;

Although this does take time they do provide an excellent service.

Can’t I do it myself at home?

Yes. There are specific cleaning products available which have been formulated to clean down filled items and refresh any DWR coating on the outer fabric. Before you wash any down products please take the time to read the manufacturers care instruction. It is essential that you take the time to ensure that there is no residue from detergents or fabric softener in the washing machine, ensure that the detergent draw has been thoroughly cleaned out.

After washing any down garment it is critical to tumble dry on a medium setting in order to rejuvenate the down, this also restores the DWR finish. During tumble drying the garment should be removed every ten minutes and shaken to separate and loosen the down. Most persistent nodules may have to be broken up by hand but be as gentle as possible.

What about synthetic insulation?

Synthetic insulation is easier to handle and can often just be washed on a cool cycle in the machine. Always check the label and follow the manufacturers instructions. The care section of the manufacturers website is always worth checking.

Base and Mid Layers

Surely I can just chuck these in with my weekly wash?

Hmm well… Manufacturers don’t recommend this to maintain maximum performance, but to be honest this is what most people do. Whilst just washing it with normal detergents will not actually permanently damage the garment as it would with membranes and down, it will reduce their performance. The washing powder residue will clog up the fabric and reduce it’s breathability and wicking. To stop this there are specific products available for cleaning synthetic and wool base and midlayers, which will maintain breathability and wicking performance.