Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The best waterproof running jacket.

Review of the Salomon Bonatti Jacket

It’s not often that I’m willing to make a sweeping statement about a piece of kit but for the Salomon Bonatti Jacket I will make an exception. Waterproofs that can truly cope with running a few and far between, for years my main preference has been the Haglöfs Endo. Made from Gore-Tex Active Shell it provided a reliable, durable and very well fitted option for running in whatever precipitation the sky wanted to throw at me as well as providing protection from the wind. The one downside for me was it’s bulk and weight. When I first got it I thought it was the lightest thing since sliced bread and most lighter jackets were just sweaty plastic bags in disguise. Compare the Salomon Bonatti to the Haglöfs Endo and you’ll be able to feel the 82 gram difference straight away.

I see the requirements of a waterproof running jacket as the following:
  1. Waterproof
  2. Lightweight
  3. Breathability
  4. Compact
  5. Well fitted
  6. Durability

The reason I’ve listed durability last is it tends to be the most subjective of the features. Everyone wants one that’s ‘properly’ waterproof, is as light as possible etc. However some people may look for a highly durable jacket, either because they want it to last a long time or because they’re going to give it a tough life. This is the tipping point, if you’re looking for a super durable waterproof then I’m afraid the Bonatti isn’t for you. BUT if you want the lightest, most compact breathable waterproof jacket then you’re in the right place.

As soon as you put the Bonatti on the active cut is immediately noticeable, the arced sleeves, the tapered tail and fitted hood. It's made with Climapro which has a hydrostatic head of 10,000mm and a breathability rating of 10,000 g/m2/24h. The Climapro is 4 way stretch which really helps the fit and allows the jacket to move with you instead of tugging on the elbows and shoulders. Despite not having a fully adjustable hood it fits well with or without a hat and the peak gives your eyes enough coverage when you’re head on into the elements. It's got an elasticated part at the back and front which give a comfortable fit without any toggles bashing you in the face. Let’s not pretend that looks aren’t important, the Bonatti looks awesome and who doesn’t look good in red?!… Having said that I’m not here to give you fashion advice, nor am I at all qualified too. It's also available in Yellow/blue and black or blue in womens.

I’ve had the Bonatti out in rain, hail, snow and strong winds (welcome to spring time in Yorkshire) and glanced off everything that was thrown at it. My biggest concern was breathability, I heat up quickly when I run and have often decided not to wear a waterproof, even in the pouring rain just because I would end up so sweaty. I almost didn’t believe how breathable the Bonatti was, even out on a challenging interval session I got hot but never overheated, whilst the rain was kept well and truly outside. It’s fully taped too so none of this, I’ve found an awesome bit of kit but I can’t use it in a race because it doesn’t meet the qualifications.

One feature that no doubt will be changed on future editions is the zip and rain gutter behind it which can easily get caught when putting it on. It’s easy enough to work out how to put it on without letting it snag - put the top of the side of the jacket with the gutter on under your chin, keeping it tight while you do it up. Not really a show-stopper but one to be aware of, no one likes getting a new bit of kit with unwanted surprises.

Packed down the Bonatti fits into a much smaller space than most waterproofs, yes there are some very packable, lightweight waterproofs on offer, Montane in particular have a very good selection but the Bonatti has a higher all round score sheet than any of these that I have tested. In terms of storage the Bonatti has one small pocket, on the mens version it sits on the left breast and on the womens version it's on the right hand side of the back, it's easily big enough for an iPhone/MP3 player (there's a handy headphone wire access point on the back of the pocket) or a cut out bit of map, gloves/hat etc. Personally I don't like heavy things in any jacket pocket as they tend to bounce around but it's always good to have a bit of space to stash things away.

I mentioned earlier about durability, it feels (I've not had it wear out or tear yet) less durable than Gore-Tex Active Shell but more durable than most own-brand waterproof fabrics - which most running waterproofs are made from. Apparently the Climapro is Ripstop but funnily enough I'm not prepared to walk through a bramble bush to find that one out!

To summarise, the Bonatti is a genuinely fantastic waterproof for running, it’s combination of high breathability, good protection from the elements, lightweight and compact, well fitted and decent durability is bang on the money and most definitely should be considered next time you’re looking at options. It’s not often that a product comes along and really stands out, the Bonatti most certainly stands out as a high quality, well researched piece of running kit.

You’ll notice that in this review and all my other gear reviews I don’t mention cost and value for money - This is too subjective, everyones view on value for money is different and reading about mine wont help you. If I can explain about features, what I like and don’t like about a product then you can add that to other opinions and your own to make a decision about whether you want it in your kit bag.

Thanks for reading and happy running!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Race Report: Buttermere 10 (2015)

90% chance of rain, these were odds I was looking forward to while I ate breakfast. After last years antics of waking up two hours too early I’d set two alarms which thankfully went off at the right time. Having a race on the same day the clocks go forward adds that little bit of panic that you might wake up late and end up at the start line in your boxers with only one shoe on.

Photo: Grand Day Out Photography

Since racing it last year the Buttermere 10 (last years race report here) is now one of my favourite races, a fairly flat course which is mostly technical single track which requires you to pay constant attention to where you’re going. With just over 1,100ft elevation which almost all come at the end of the 10 mile course it forces a fast pace right from the start. Last year was hot, which is not my cup of tea. Give me a wet windy and cold day please!

I’d spent a little while considering what kit to take, I packed the usual range of clothing, windproof etc but shoes were going to be key. Not just because I didn’t want to run barefoot but because the wrong shoes, given the range of terrain and weather, would prove a total disaster. I remembered that there were slippery stone flag sections, boggy parts, rocky and gravelly parts as well as neat compact trail. No obvious choice sprang to mind, but in the end I went with Salomon Speedcross 3. Aside from the blissful comfort I knew they would give me a good grip on almost all surfaces - I was a bit wary about the wet flag stones but figured I’ll just have to pay more attention.

Course Profile

From the start you cross a small footbridge to a wide path which follows the shoreline of Buttermere, I was very aware of my usual error of starting too fast so held back a bit to make sure I didn’t have to pull myself through a burnout later in the race. After a couple of KMs the path doubles back on a slightly higher wooded route, getting more rocky and technical. A long downhill takes you back above the path where the start was and a smiling crowd of spectators cheered us on as we splashed along the trail. The trail was now more like a stream than a path, I’d run through the first puddle and was thoroughly enjoying splashing along in the mud. I could feel that my Speedcross were giving plenty of grip and tested them on the odd wet slab here and there to see how much trust I could give them when we reached the flag stones later on.

As the forest opened out to boggy shoreline the wiggly trail crossed several streams, most of which had a bridge which I ignored, choosing the wet route straight through the water. Before long the stone flag sections came, I tried to push my speed up a bit as I knew maintaining a speed wouldn’t be too bad over the stones but trying to go faster on them would increase my chances of slipping. The path was scattered with rocky sections where the path divided and reconnected which meant scanning which route was best before committing, I could remember most of the small route options from last year apart from once I was caught out mid leap as I tried to change my mind when it was too late. The boggy sections weren’t as bad as I was expecting, and before long I could see the end of Crummock Water approaching. Photographer Stephen Wilson (Grand Day Out Photography) braved the elements crouched by the wall as I looked at the gate to see how I could get through as quickly as possible. I’m convinced that you can save a lot of time in a race by getting through gates as quickly as possible, mainly not slowing down too early and getting back up to speed as quickly as possible.

What Buttermere & Crummock Water looked like last year...
RD Ian Mulvey stood on a pebble beach welcoming runners past as the drizzle kept everything wet. Weirdly I felt dry, even though I was in a tech top and shorts, I wasn’t though, much closer to drowned rat. At the next gate a spectator (I think?!) was holding the gate open which was a welcome start, this was shortly followed by a couple of small, slippery bridges which brought you to the head of the lake. A marshal pointing the direction of the trail up into another forest section. The path quickly got less technical and allowed for nice long fast strides. I’d got about half way through my OVERSTIMs which I felt were helping to keep me buzzy and full of energy. With the path being less technical I switched off for just a second and nearly missed the tape leading up to a gate. I gave myself a frank few words, I was too close to the finish now, I can’t throw time away not paying attention! The path wiggled up out of the tree line to the road where a marshal stood with drinks, with it being nice and cold I didn’t feel the need to stop and just gave a quick wave, started tapping my way up the first of the two main ascents on the course. The path was wide and grassy, the music on my headphones helped me keep rhythm and pace up to the bridge where it dropped back towards the road. The second ascent is much shorter but much steeper, mostly rock steps in the fell side. It was getting harder to ignore the pain and I felt a stinging stitch starting to form as I reached the welcome downhill.

The last part takes you along the shore before you head back into the village and out the other side to the finish. The last KM I pushed on, knowing you can stop at the finish meant I wanted to make sure the tank was empty.

With a faster time than last year and somehow nabbing 3rd place (1Hr11Mins) I was very happy, everything had come together and I hadn’t done anything stupid which was a result in its self.

High Terrain Events always put on a good show and if you like technical courses then the Buttermere 10 js well worth considering. Big thanks to everyone that made it happen and all the marshals and spectators who stood out there in the cold and rain while we played in the mud. Also thanks to Ellie for keeping me on my toes in training, making sure that I didn’t forget anything on race day and getting me fed and watered after the finish.

Thanks to Salomon and Castleberg Outdoors for their ongoing support!

Another great day in the hills!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, 23 February 2015

Review: Scott Kinabalu Supertrac Trail Running Shoes

New kids on the block

Testing the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac
American manufacturer Scott is a fairly new face on the block when it comes to trail running in europe. Inov-8, Salomon, Montane and fresh-faced HOKA tend to dominate the shelves and rails of trail running departments in shops across the UK. I'm sure you'll all be familiar with Scott bikes, which is, along with ski poles and motocross is where their innovate history started. Their track record is spattered with records like first aero handle bar, first full suspension mountain bike and a whole host of records for the lightest bikes. In 2006 Scott created its first running shoe collection which formed the basis for a whole range of running kit. If you're trying to think of a pro athlete that wears them, take a look at Scott athlete Joseph (Joe) Gray, named USA Mountain Runner of the Year five times. Not many people can say they finished 1 minute behind Salomon athlete Kilian Jornet (despite suffering a fall in the late stages of the race) in the Sierre-Zinal, Joe Gray can. Having key pro and semi-pro athletes linked to a manufacturer is key, their feedback and input into designs is one of the key reasons that ensures products are at the cutting edge of design and form.

Scott Kinabalu Supertrac

Putting the Supertrac on out the box I was surprised how comfortable it was, although you can feel a little pressure on the outside of your arch from the eRide rocker in the midsole. Normally I wear minimalist shoes (Salomon Sense) so having this developed midsole was something to get used to. The traditional laces (which feel bumpy, like a snake that's swallowed a basket of apples) combined with a little elastic lace locker over the tongue held the laces tight and not once did they come undone on the trails. The upper part on the tongue (where you tie the lace knot) is more ridged than on most trail shoes and I was concerned that it might rub, but I didn't get any rubbing at all.

The overall fit of the Supertrac is fairly wide, it reminded me a little of an Altura fit which is is becoming quite popular in shoes for ultra so your foot can swell a little without causing problems. I agree this is a good feature for longer, steadier runs but if you want a short, lets have fun rushing up and down steep hills kinda run then they did slip around a bit. Sure you can tie them tighter but it's never quite enough. Considering the extra technology in the midsole they're not too heavy, just 25g heavier than the Salomon Speedcross 3.

It's pretty muddy and slippy on the trails of North Yorkshire at the moment and I was impressed how the grip held up, a lot of the mud round here sticks like uncooked cake mixture to the bottom of a shoe. This often happens at the most inappropriate times and can send you slipping down a grassy bank into a bush, just before you check to see if anyone is looking. The combination of deep, soft lugs and a shiny flat upper sole gives you grip while helping to prevent sticky mud from getting hold. Eventually it does, but to be honest I've not tested a single shoe that has not got caked eventually. The soft lugs proved to be reliable and very grippy on dry rock and not too bad on wet rock either. Having said that a wet rock is a wet rock, they are slippy by nature so I try to avoid them if possible! Overall on grip, pretty impressed.

I did feel like I couldn't run quite how I do in minimalist shoes, the eRide rocker took quite a bit of getting used to. Not that it was uncomfortable or annoying but I was very aware of it and it's effect of almost encouraging heel strike... that could have just been me expecting it to be like that though...

The outer is a tight weave fabric with rubberized strips which provide good protection against rocks, bushes and anything else that you shoes might rub against.

All in all I can see the Supertrac being a great training and racing shoe, particularly for long distances. I would hesitate to use them on road with such a soft rubber compound on the grip... but who wants tarmac when you can have dirt! Look out Europe, Scott is here and judging by this shoe, they'll be here to stay.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Short film shows what great things happen when women and mountains meet

Ellie West filming "From the Heart"
Improvements in equality, particularly regarding gender has been an increasingly important topic over the last 15 years. In the Outdoor world we're finally starting to see decent clothing and kit ranges for women, and not just available in pink (although there still seems to be a fair bit!). Female athletes are equaling and beating fellow male athletes in a wide range of sports and slowly but surely getting the recognition they deserve.

From the Heart is a short film featuring Shepherdess Alison O'Neill (and her famous sheepdog Shadow) who, through hard work, determination and making decisions others would run from, has made a life working with the land. As well as a Shepherdess, Alison is a published author, designer and public speaker who inspires many to reconnect with nature and most importantly have adventures of a scale that they can achieve. In this short film you can meet Alison and find out what makes her tick and watch her roam the magnificent and rarely visited Howgill Fells. The Howgills are a fantastic place to walk, run and explore as well as one of Wainwright's favourite spots.

With brands like Red Bull showing us their adrenaline filled athletes do things no-one thought possible there's an invisible pressure to be the ultimate or kinda don't bother. If you can jump off a cliff backwards with your eyes closed, carrying a suitcase filled with sushi wearing a parachute or ride a mountain bike backwards through lava while juggling spoons then awesome, go do it. Walking the dog, explore somewhere new, dip your feet in the sea - these are easily achievable adventures that everyone can have (you obviously need a dog for the first example and the sea for the last, but you catch my drift). This is one of the key messages in "From the Heart", yes the film highlights these things from the point of view of a woman but the key message is the same whether you're a guy or a girl.

Great things happen when women and mountains meet - Alison O'Neill, The Shepherdess

You can find the highly sought after tweed clothes and bag that Alison was wearing in the film on sale on her website.

The fantastic music you heard in the background was Cumbrian band Stooshie.
Available on iTunes, Amazon and their website.

The sheepdog, Shadow recently had his first birthday, Happy Birthday Shadow!

Ellie and I run Summit Fever Media, outdoor production company specialising in aerial filming.

Please don't try jumping off a cliff backwards with your eyes closed, carrying a suitcase filled with sushi wearing a parachute or ride a mountain bike backwards through lava while juggling spoons... it's just not safe... but if you ignore me and do it, kindly film it and put it on youtube.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Review: Salomon S-Lab Sense Set

Kit just seems to get lighter and lighter, every time I think things can't possibly get any better, they do! The vest style of packs is something that has always been around but only really taken off over the last few years. Now almost every brand has their own take on this design which keeps the weight high, kit accesible and a comfortable fit on the body.

The Salomon S-Lab Sense Set is an ultra light, minimalist and slimline pack from the Sense range which has a great deal of design input from Salomon athletes like Kilian Jornet. No doubt some of you will have noticed Salomon athletes including Kilian and Stevie Kremer (who wore it when she won the Matterhorn UltraKs) wearing this new pack in pictures all over social media.

Let's start with over all look & feel - you can see straight away that this is a minimalist piece of kit and at 90g it's very light. My first concern was that this lack of weight and solid structure would make it unstable and flimsy but due to the good snug fit and adjustability it sits tight and comfy. If anything it's more comfortable than it's predecessors. It looks slick, and yes it comes in black if you don't like the white look. It's one of those bits of kit that make you feel like a pro in the final stage of the WS100 even if your just chasing the trails round your local park. Let's face it, anything that makes your run more fun is a good thing, even if it is a bit of kit! Fit wise, it comes in two sizes XS/S and M/L, previously I have always found the M/L fit much better but with this pack I found the M/L a bit big and would probably go for the XS/S. To give you an idea of size I normally wear a small or medium size tech t.

Storage is obviously the name of the game and the main function of the pack. It is listed as having a capacity of 1L but after rummaging stuffing the pockets I would say it's at least 1.5L or 2L at a stretch (not including two 500ml soft flasks, which the pack comes with). Theres's a zip pocket on the top right which easily fits an iPhone 4S and is big enough to fit an iPhone 5 ... Not sure about the six! On the opposite side is an open topped elasticated pocket which is good for snacks, a cut down map or gel wrappers when you're finished with them. The two pockets for the 500ml soft flasks are quite snug, good side is this stops them moving around too much but can make it a little tricky getting them in when full. If you plan to swap bottles at CPs or with your crew then I would definitely suggest practicing before hand! It's worth noting that the bottles are positioned more to the front, this means you no longer have to run with your elbows out like a chicken, unless you want to. There is an emergency whistle attached tot the top of one of the soft flask pockets which tucks neatly by the bottle and ticks off one of the mandatory pieces of kit for a lot of races. Two pockets slung under the bottle pouches are good for stuffing minimalist wind-stoppers into but not loose small items as the top is only elaticated and if you're on technical trail stuff can jump out. Two zip up pockets on either side are really easy to get to and have a surprising big space (for a small pocket!). The outer of this pocket is stretchy so you can stuff it, but  remember, like all light weight kit, it's not mega durable and you can pull the stitching!

At first I thought the storage space was a bit too small, but after going out on the trails with it I found myself being able to fit the kit wanted in quite easily. I always used to feel like the 5L vest was too small, but maybe I was just bringing unnecessary things?! Obviously there are times when a pack this small is not appropriate, but for training and many events, even some long stuff this would be a good option to go with.

The fit of it is more snug and tailored than the originals Salomon vest packs, which it needs without the rigidity which it used to have. Main thing is that it's really comfy. With tech t's and mid layers it grips nice and tight but it did slip around a little when a waterproof worn underneath... solution: wear waterproofs over the top!

With a price of less than £100 this is a cutting edge piece of kit for less than cutting edge prices, don't worry you won't need that second mortgage just yet! Overall I was genuinely impressed and after some initial scepticism I was won round by this great new pack!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Review: Salomon S-Lab Hybrid Jacket

Kilian Jornet training in the Hybrid Jacket - Photo: Kilian Jornet
Running Jackets come in all types of designs but they tend to fall into one of three categories. Waterproof, windproof or insulating. Granted, some jackets fulfil more than one of these but they have at least one feature. The new Salomon S-Lab Hybrid Jacket has features of both waterproof and windproof jackets.

You can see Salomon athlete Kilian Jornet here training in the S-Lab Hybrid Jacket on the bike. Let me give you a quick run down on some of the features of the Jacket:

  • The front and outer of the sleeves are made from a stretchy waterproof fabric
  • Laser cut holes by the cuffs and under the arms provide additional breathability
  • Elasticated cuffs, elasticated hood headband
  • Elasticated waistband which the jacket can be rolled down into when worn
  • Windproof fabric on the rest of the jacket
  • Athletic fit (for swinging arms and the like)
Let me cut to the chase, the Salomon S-Lab Hybrid jacket is for the runner that has all the kit. Having only partial waterproof fabric, untaped seams and laser cut holes means it doesn't comply with FRA (fell running association) rules or race requirements where a waterproof jacket is required. Rules aside, the fit of the jacket is comfortable while running, your arms can swing around without tugging on the shoulders and the fact it rolls down into the elasticated waist belt is neat.

I did struggle to find the right conditions for it, I know that sounds like it makes no sense. The autumn here in North Yorkshire has brought us the initial wave of cold weather and rain. I only really felt comfortable in the Hybrid jacket when it was cold and misty/very light rain. In heavy rain water came through the laser cut holes in the sleeves and soaked my arms. the lack of a visor on a hood meant the rain also was straight in my eyes, also a bit annoying!

The elasticated band in the hood keeps it firmly on your head, this was good and comfy but made it awkward if you wanted to wear a buff/hat on your head too.

The S-Lab Hybrid jacket suits cold and drizzly type weather but not particularly tolerant of other conditions, so this might fill a gap if you have a waterproof and windproof already.

Personally, if it's a short run, I'd rather go without any jacket (maybe take a waterproof). As for longer runs, I'd take a fully taped waterproof, as the conditions where I run can change dramatically in a short period of time..... it does look good though.... ;)

Thanks for reading/watching!