Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The North Face Prism Optimus Hoodie Review

I recently received a The North Face Prism Optimus Hoodie for a recent trip to the Alps. This trip wasn't a normal winter alpine adventure. I didn't ski, I didn't exactly climb any ice falls. Instead I spent lots of time sat in darkened rooms and stood around looking at things. That's right I was at the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup!
Prism Optimus Hoodie in Italy

With all this standing around I was going to need something rather well insulated to keep me warm. The 700 fill of down found in the Prism did this brilliantly. I did get a bit chilly at times but I think this was probably mostly down to getting cold feet, drawing heat away from my core, as apposed to directly losing it. The jacket claims to have synthetic insulation in the shoulders and arms, and down in the torso. I haven't really noticed any difference between the different insulation though.

I got the jacket quite large as to allow layering underneath.  This would typically cause the jacket to feel quite bulky, but surprisingly it doesn't. An interesting feature of the jacket I didn't expect were its cuffs. Typically the elastic part of a cuff is the part of the sleeve which sits furthest down the arm. In the case of the prism this is not so. Instead a cuff of insulation sits down below this. Despite initial reservations I really liked this feature. It eliminated the cold spot which could develop between a glove and the jacket. The hood was rather large and can accommodate a helmet if needed.

I thought this jacket looked pretty smart. I have it in the TNF Red colour, which is a quite pinky sort of red. It also happened to be the same colour as the Korean national team jacket, and the Koreans are quite good at ice climbing. I guess if I look the part it might transfer to my climbing as well.
Taking the Prism Optimus Hoodie for a snowy walk

Pockets are the simple little things which makes a jacket work. Their positioning, size, shape and zips, or lack of, are important things to get right. The Prism features 2 zippered hand warmer pockets, a zippers chest pocket and a cavernous internal pouch. The hand warmer pockets are even big enough to fit 2 hands in, if your girlfriend decides it's too cold! The internal pouch can be used as a stuff sack as well.

Build quality
The North Face is quite well known for good build quality. This is obvious in the Prism with very little loss of down in the main torso. This is achieved mainly by having no sewed seems, which are instead welded. The fabric feels soft to the touch, but also hard wearing.

I was almost inseparable from this jacket once I returned from Europe. I even had to force myself to hang it up in a cupboard so that I didn't ruin it. Although I can hardly comment on its use for climbing or mountaineering what I can say is that it performed brilliantly for everything I asked of it.

I give this a maximum rating of 2 thumbs up.

This jacket is available from with a massive 60% off!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Korean ice world cup

This past week I have been competing in the uiaa ice world cup in Korea. I have had a really good time with my team members Scott and Matt, old friends and new friends.
The trip started pretty badly as Scott and I lost our bags in transit. They were luckily returned just before the competition started.
The competition itself didn't go great for me. I was first to climb, which is exactly were I didn't want to be, and ripped the very first ice hold! I was allowed to restart and climbed quite slowly. I came 20th in my group, so roughly 40th overall.
The next day Matt and I competed in the speed event. This went better putting me in 18th, missing out on the next round by just 2 places!
The last couple of days we have spent in Seoul training. Firstly we went to a small boulder wall where I picked up some great tips from the Korean route setter and today we climbed on an outdoor wall which allowed us to use crampons.
We are now in the airport waiting for our flight and I'm looking forward to a few days at home training and then the European comps!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Haglofs Gram 7 Rucksack Review

I received the Haglofs Gram 7 Rucksack this summer with the view of using it as a running pack, after starting fell running in July. It has mostly been used for this, but I have also found it useful as a small climbing pack.
The basic rucksack design is pretty standard, with 2 comfortable shoulder straps, waist and chest buckles and pockets on the hips. The bag features a large main compartment with a small valuables pocket and a pouch for a hydration system.
Running sack (Photo Credit: Esk Valley Fell Club)
To be any good as a climbing or running pack it needs to be light. The Gram 7 weighs in at a mere 395 grams, which isn't too bad at all. It has a compact design preventing it from flapping around when running, or getting stuck whilst climbing.
The fabric which the pack is made from seems pretty strong, so I'm not too worried about scratching around against rough rock with it on.
Winter climbing sack (Photo Credit: Robert Taylor)
This is a small bag so there isn't much room. I have been unable to find any quoted sizes, however I suspect it might be 7 litres, thanks to the name. This is perfectly big enough for fitting in your fell running kit or a jacket, guide and some food for a climb.
There is nothing that special about this bag, but it doesn't need to be special. It was worked perfectly for everything I have used it for.
I give this 2 thumbs up!
The Haglofs Gram 7 is available from with 40% off! Yes nearly half price.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A busy weekend

This saturday saw the first round of the 2014 British Tooling Series at Beacon Climbing Center in North Wales. The British Tooling Series has evolved from the popular Scottish Tooling Series, which has been running north of the border for a few years already.
The Beacon put on a great show, with additional excitement thanks to it also being their 20th birthday weekend. Happy Birthday Beacon! The day saw, in addition to the tooling comp, a fun boulder comp, a talk my Tim Emmett and Will Gadd and an Indian meal.
The dry tooling competition took place on 8 qualification routes. These were a combination of routes using Alpkit figfours and normal axes and had something for all abilities.

There was a good turn out on the day with some old STS faces as well people new to tooling and others that are just starting out in competitions.
After all the competitors had tested themselves on the qualifying routes it was time for the finals. There were two finals routes, one for the female finalists and one for the males. Both of these looked thin and sketchy and generally pretty hard, but what else would you expect being set by the master of sketchy climbing himself, Nick Bullock.
The female finalists were Anna Wells, Katy Forrester and Megan Beaumont, while the male finalists were Tim Mueller, Will Woodhead, Matt Pigden, Dave Bowes, Scott G and myself. I was second to last out so I didn't watch any of the female finals, however the competition was won by dry tooling guru Anna Wells. I didn't see much of the mens finals for the same reason either, so we join it at my attempt.
Walking out of isolation I didn't know how everyone had done, so I just had to do as well as I could. There was no time limit for the final, it was just who got furthest, which suited my slow style of climbing. I made very slow progress up to the last hold on the route, which I ended up ripping off while getting into a position to clip the lower off. Scott was last up and climbed the route with ease, but got the rope caught around a hanging pipe, causing terrible rope drag. This eventually caused made him to fall off. If it wasn't for this I'm sure he'd have won, but it in the end my attempt was just good enough to win it. DMM very generously donated a rope for each of the winners.
The British dry tooling scene is a really cool thing to be involved in at the moment with loads of psyched climbers. Its shaping up to be a really good series and started in fine style at Beacon Climbing Centre. Get involved!
Despite being really tired from the comp on saturday I was not done with competing for the weekend. Sunday was the British Fell Relays, held on Middleton Fell, just north of Kirby Lonsdale. I was running as part of York Knavesmire Harriers A team. The other team members were Neil Stabbs, Chris Roberts, Giles Hawking, Tom Ratcliffe and Simon Collins.
Mass start for leg 1
The race was in 4 legs. 2 short legs, run first and last, a long leg run second and a navigation leg run third. I was on the final short 10k leg.
The race started at 10am, and about 3 hours later it was finally my turn to run. The rest of the team had put me in a good position, although we were never in contention to win we could achieve a respectable position.
Knavesmire (yellow and black) at the end of leg 2
The weather wasn't great for my run with strong winds, low cloud and rain on the tops of the hills. Despite this I tried my best and brought Knavesmire home in a respectable 57th place, running my leg as the 50th fastest.
It was all together a good weekend, although I was very tired on monday morning!
There are a distinct lack of photos for the amount of text, but I was busy doing things.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

My wall

This summer I have been busy. Mostly I have been working but I have also had chance to do a bit of climbing. My major achievement of the summer has been building my own wall in a spare shed at home. Well when I say spare a few bits had to be moved around but there's space for it now.
The wall consists of a 40 degree board up against another board with is just slightly less than 40 degrees.
The steeper wall is made to the same specification as a moon board and I have been using this for rock climbing, while the slightly less steep board is covered in sheets of old ply, which I have been using for drytooling.
Moon Board
I have used the old ply as a cover to allow me to use my crampons without needlessly damaging the wall.
Tooling Board
The wall has made getting climbing much easier, as I don't live particularly close to any commercial walls, and it saves me a lot of fuel money not having to drive through to York every day.
This past weekend I competed in the Buxton Thunderdome drytooling competition and came third, which was much better than I expected given the strength of the field. It looks like the wall is having the desired effect on my ability. Hopefully I can continue improving and do a bit better at the 2015 UIAA Ice World Cups.
Buxton Thunderdome

I have had a lot of help with this wall, mostly from my dad who helped me build it, or rather I helped him as he probably did most of the work. MKM Driffield were a big help giving me a discount on wood, as have been Red Goat Climbing Wall, in York, who have generously supplied me with loads of old holds for tooling on, t-nuts and bolts!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Grivel Plume Quickdraw Review

The Plume quickdraw is Grivels lightest offering in the world of Quickdraws.
They come in a range of sizes with slings from 11 to 23cm. These slings a made of 10mm dyneema, which is pretty standard for quickdraws, decorated in Grivels gold and black. 
Both ends feature a plume karabiner, which has a wire gate, a nice clipping action and a large opening. These karabiners are colour coded with black on the gear end and a fixed gold biner on the rope end.
This all looks very promising, however the proof of the pudding is in the eating, or climbing in this case as they are a bit tough.
Plumes in use on The Diedre, Kilnsey (and Alex)
I have used these quickdraws quite extensively since getting them, from limestone sport crags to gneiss trad sea cliffs, and lots in between. In all of these setting they have performed very well.
Some Plume draws on my harness somehwere
These draws are very lightweight, meaning that they feel very light on your harness. Less weight means the potential to carry more gear, or just be lighter.
The large gate opening means that these quickdraws are very easy to clip. This has come in handy when you really don't want to fumble a clip, like during the awkward crux of Silkie on Dun Mingulay!
The easy clipping also makes them great to use whilst sport climbing. Grivel do a version of these with a plastic dog bone style cover, making the sling rigid. The idea behind this is to make them easier to pull on whilst working a sport route, but honestly I find these much harder to hold onto than just the basic sling.
Plume Draws in use at Traprain Law (and Elaine)
I couldn't find any faults with these quickdraws until, disaster! One of the gates became sticky and stopped springing closed. This has only occurred on one of the karabiners, and will occur in time with any wire gate karabiner anyway, although it has happened rather quickly with this one. Maybe its just the runt of the Plume litter. A bit of WD40 should sort it out.
All in all I think these are great bits of kit and deserve a place in anyones rack, however for the sticky gate I can only give them 1 thumb up, otherwise it would have been a definite two.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraw Review

Over the past couple of months I have been testing a few sets of quick draws. The first of these to get a look over by my "expert" eye are the Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraws.
As with any other draw these are made of 3 major components, 2 carabiners and a sling. The Ange carabiners are quite an interesting design featuring just a single wire for the gate. You can think of it a bit like a very narrow solid gate biner. This should have made them rather light however, weighing in at a 28g for a small or 34g for a large, gear wads will know that this is hardly groundbreaking. To lock the two end of the carabiner together when closed the gate fits into a groove in the nose of the biner. This prevents the rope getting stuck in the gate while clipping. Nice.
In quickdraw form 2 different colors are used for the biners. Blue or orange are used to indicate the rope end and silver indicates the protection end.
The quickdraws come in a range of lengths, all using the same width slings. Pretty standard really. These slings are heavily stitched, which must add a bit to their weight, and ever little helps when going super-light. When you compare these to other quickdraws in their price range, then these really aren't that light.
If you are a sport climber then you dont want these! Firstly the thin gate is very difficult to clip and secondly they don't work with clipsticks!
Despite me being quite excited about getting these to begin with they have largely been relegated to attaching my climbing shoes together.
I give this a rating of 1 thumb down. For being advertised as a super-light draw they totally disappoint.