Now that the snow has melted and the weather has returned to something resembling the seasonal norm, the time has come for our staff to put away their Skis, Snowboards and Ice Axes and get ready for new rock climbing, camping and walking adventures. In preparation for the new season, our training and buying teams set about organising the summer 2013, Outdoor Product Launch Event, which allows store managers, online sales staff and representatives from head office to try out a great selection of kit from our summer ranges over two days in the Peak District National Park.
Having been lucky enough to receive an invitation, I set off early on Tuesday morning for the Peak District. I arrived in Edale at midday, just in time for a bite to eat and the chance to meet new faces. We were then broken up into small groups of five or six to visit each of the brands that were attending the event.
The first brand of the day was Vango, who had brought a selection of their Airbeam tents. These tents feature an innovative method of support, using air tubes (similar to giant bike inner tubes) in place of poles. Several members of our group were sceptical to start with and had a lot of questions, but any uncertainties were quickly put to rest as we witnessed the result of years of research and development that have been invested by Vango to perfect the technology. There was a quick demo from the rep and then a race to see who could put up an Airbeam tent up the fastest, which was won by Lucy from our Chillfactore store.
Vaude / Klymit
Next on our list was a presentation by Chris Nichols (Chris used to be a member of our buying team and now represents Vaude, Smartwool and Klymit). He began by demonstrating the Terratrio range of tents; specially designed versions of the classic Vaude Taurus that have been tailored for the UK market and offer incredible value for money. While they were not the most advanced tents of the day, we all agreed that they are a great buy. Robust and simple to pitch, these are great tents for people who want a lot of ‘bang for their buck’. After we had seen the tents we moved on to the Klymit Inertia X Frame mat. It looked quite space aged and we thought that it might be a bit of a niche product, but when we tried it out we were really impressed by how comfortable it was, even when you were lying on your side. The gaps in the frame have a double function; not only do they keep the mat’s weight to a minimum, they also allow your sleeping bag to “loft” in the space created, which provides more effective insulation.
Mountain Hardwear brought several tents for us to look at including the Skyledge DP, Hoopla, Direct 2, and Yurtini. The selection demonstrated everything from a super-light tarp style tent that uses a trekking pole as its main support, right through to a narrow single skin alpinist tent designed for fast and light summit assaults in the Alps and greater ranges. The Hoopla and Yurtini were probably the most unique in comparison to other products that are available due to their structure. Both tents have a central pole design that is similar to that of a tipi, with a pole that is made into a hoop and pressed into a shelf to extend the headroom. These tents have the advantage of being really lightweight and quick to pitch whilst still being able to withstand strong winds.
Whilst the Klymit mat is built for lightweight, technical performance, Exped mats are built for comfort. A cosy bed away from home, these air mattresses have a down or synthetic fill (depending on the model) that offers an unparalleled level of insulation. We had a brief lesson on the history of the brand followed by a demonstration that showed just how warm the mats are and how easy they are to inflate. A couple of the guys in the group made it their mission to get hold of one to test overnight as they wanted to ensure a good night’s sleep, and by the next morning they were pretty pleased that they did!
Mountain Safety Research (MSR) / Thermarest
Next up was Mountain Safety Research (MSR). We stock a large range of their tents and it was really useful to get to see key features such as the specialist pole construction for maximum headroom, high rise fly sheet for ventilation, and the extra high bathtub floor in action. What impressed me the most was just how spacious the tents felt when you got inside, despite having a small footprint. Any extra space is great for those extended periods where you might have to spend a few hours sheltering from the rain. Four people sitting and playing cards in a normal tent can quickly become uncomfortable.
We arrived at the Rab tent to see a pile of super-warm sleeping bags awaiting us; we made a quick beeline for them and got comfortable. There was a swift presentation, which took us through the range and demonstrated the different types of down used in Rab sleeping bags. It was really interesting to see the visual differences between European duck and goose down. In both cases you could see the amount of loft (the space taken up by a given amount of down) that down could produce and we were excited that were going to get to try out the bags that night.
The North Face was the final brand of the day and provided a huge range of tents and a selection of sleeping bags for us to look over. We started off with the VE25, a tent whose pedigree can be traced back to the slopes of Everest and other mountains in the Himalaya. The tent is designed to withstand the most extreme conditions, which was demonstrated by the rep who jumped onto it with his full body weight, resulting in the tent bouncing back up like nothing had happened. We then moved on to the Tadpole and Big Fat Frog, which are both great tents for the camping in the UK. The presentation culminated with The North Face’s range of high spec sleeping bags. The down bags have a really interesting feature; synthetic fill is incorporated into the underside of the bag, preventing the compression that you get with down for extra warmth and comfort.
Neil Gresham Talk (Sherpa)
The day came to a close with a much-anticipated talk by one of Britain’s best climbers, Neil Gresham. He began with a brief overview of his climbing career to date, before launching into tales of his most recent adventures, which included a trip to the Arctic Circle looking for new ice climbing routes and his completion of the Triple Crown Challenge in Wales. The Triple Crown Challenge involved climbing a hard boulder problem (Jerry’s Roof V9), a traditional climb (Lord of the Flies – E6 6a), and an ice climb (Central Icefall Direct VI). It took Neil three attempts to achieve all three in one day, and even then it was only by the skin of his teeth. The day culminated with a very close call, as the ice that he had been climbing just before he topped out on the final stage challenge collapsed with a loud crack.
Neil’s talk was a great end to an educational and entertaining day. Fuelled by enthusiasm and tales of adventure, we looked forward to the walk and climbs of the following day as well as the prospect of trying out more pieces of innovative and exciting kit.