Helmets for Big Heads 2

Whether it’s due to excess brains or empty space, I have a larger than average head. This makes it hard to find headwear that fits. Anything marked “one size fits all” does not include me in the definition of “all”. This might be only an annoyance if I were not a rock climber. I need a helmet to protect my head from falling rocks, dropped bits of gear, smacking my head into a cliff when falling off and banging my head against overhangs (which is a habit of mine). If a helmet is to protect my head properly, then it has to fit properly. Unfortunately, there is only a small selection of helmets that will fit my big head.

Me climbing at Stanage in the Salewa Vega helmet.
Me climbing at Stanage in the Salewa Vega helmet.

My head is a bit over 62cm in circumference but most climbing helmets on the market only go up to a circumference of 61cm. I don’t think I’m the only climber whose head is bigger than 61cm in circumference and so I have written the following helmet guide for climbers with generous heads. Read more

Got Giddy – a review of Giddy balms

Giddy produces brilliant balms that manage to pull off the trick of moisturising hands while not weakening calluses.

Giddy Hard Lotion, Balm and Salve.
Giddy Hard Lotion, Balm and Salve.

My son loves opening the mail. It’s probably because there is something intrinsically fun in ripping open envelopes and pulling apart parcels to discover what’s inside. Sometimes he discovers something fun, although mostly he finds a bill for me or yet another request to switch broadband provider.   Recently he enjoyed opening a parcel from North Carolina to find shiny tins of balm from Giddy. Each time we opened up a tin my son would say “that’s lovely!” at the fresh and zinging smell of the balm. Read more

A Cut Above – Arc’teryx Straibo Hoody Review

The Straibo Hoody from Arc’teryx has the style to work well as a casual hoody and the technical features to perform brilliantly as a hoody for bouldering.

Bouldering at Fontainebleau in the Straibo Hoody
Bouldering at Fontainebleau in the Straibo Hoody

When I bought the Straibo Hoody early in 2015, Arc’teryx was selling it as part of their Whiteline collection for skiing and snowboarding. Their sales pitch was that the Straibo Hoody combined “contemporary looks with performance fabrics and design” to provide a jacket that “travels from a day on the mountain to a relaxed evening in town.” In other words, Arc’teryx had crossed an urban-style hoody with a technical, mid-layer fleece to produce something that was practical without looking geeky. Since then Arc’teryx seem to have stepped back a bit from promoting the practical, mountain applications of the Straibo Hoody and are now selling it as part of their 24 lifestyle (i.e. urban) range of clothing. All of this makes me think that Arc’teryx’s marketing department hasn’t realised what the Straibo Hoody really is. It might be good snowboarding wear and it certainly looks pretty good as casual wear around town, but what the Straibo Hoody really excels at is being a bouldering hoody. Read more

A Good Turn? Review of Mammut’s Tec Step Bionic Turn 2 via ferrata set

The Tec Step Bionic Turn 2 is Mammut’s top-end via ferrata set. It’s robust, handles well and has some brilliant features, but a swivel joint that doesn’t swivel enough and a couple of simple design issues mean that it isn’t perfect.

Me climbing the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand using the Mammut Tec Step Bionic Turn 2.
Me climbing the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand using the Mammut Tec Step Bionic Turn 2.

Two things persuaded me to buy the Tec Step Bionic Turn 2. The first were the strong safety claims made about it by Mammut. The second was the swivel joint designed to eliminate that annoying problem of your lanyards getting twisted during a climb.

Safety

Mammut states that that the Tec Step Bionic Turn 2 “incorporates the most recent findings from safety research” and that:

  • the lanyards are of “an extremely strong and robust construction”;
  • that the shock absorber that has been optimised to “brake falls even more gently and thus better protect the body”;
  • that the maximum impact force of a fall has been reduced; and
  • that it will still safely hold a fall “in the case of a 180 degree misuse” i.e. a fall when only one carabiner is attached to the cable.

Read more

crossFIXE for Climbers

crossFIxe Hands Creme and Hands Tube
crossFIXE Hands Creme and Hands Tube

The crossFIXE range of products is meant to sooth, moisturise and provide maintenance for your skin before and after training. It’s made using all natural, food-grade ingredients by the same people who make the ClimbOn range of skincare products for rock climbers. I was curious to see if the crossFIXE range was as good as ClimbOn and whether it does anything different or better that would encourage me to use it instead of ClimbOn. Read more

Diplomatic Review – a review of the Arc’teryx Diplomat Jacket

Arc’teryx’s smart-casual Diplomat Jacket is stylish, nicely finished and surprisingly warm, but its elegant and clean cut may not fit some people.Diplomat_1

It’s often easy to spot rock climbers and hikers in London because there’s something they’re wearing that gives them away. Maybe it’s the Suunto altimeter watch worn with a suit, the alpine-style rucksack over the shoulder when walking to work or the top end GoreTex jacket worn in an April shower. I’m regularly outed as a rock climber in this sort of way. Maybe outdoors people like us use our outdoor gear in the city because we want to wear what’s practical and comfortable. Maybe it’s because outdoor gear is so expensive and we want to get full use of it. There could be a bit of brand loyalty to our favourite outdoor manufacturer in there too. Maybe, unconsciously, even a bit of us showing which modern tribe we belong too. Whatever the reason, outdoor gear manufacturers have tried to tap into this by making clothing and bags for the city. The idea is that the knowledge used to make something like a good mountain jacket can be applied to making a better urban jacket. This is the approach Arc’teryx has taken with their 24 lifestyle range. This includes some really interesting products, one of which is the Diplomat Jacket. Read more

Climb On Adventure Bar and Creme Lite Review

Adventure Bar_1My hands dry out and can crack like the bed of a river in a drought when the weather is cold or wet and when I’ve had my hands in climbing chalk.   This means I’ve taken an interest in the balms and moisturisers designed to keep a rock climber’s hands in good condition and reviewed a few of them before. Recently I’ve been trying out the Climb On Adventure Bar and Climb On Crème Lite, made by SKINourishment of Texas using natural and food grade ingredients. Read more

A Beta Balm?

Beta BalmRock climbing isn’t kind to hands. Thankfully, there are quite a few balms available that aim to revitalise, repair and moisturise the cracked, parched and cut mess a climber’s hands can become if they are not shown some loving care. I reviewed some of these balms a while ago and gave the highest score to Climb On balm. Now I’ve come across another balm that is right up there with it.

Beta Balm is made by Simplici from Chattanooga in Tennessee. Simplici describes Beta Balm as “a powerful herbal moisturizer formulated to naturally rejuvenate dry, cracked, sore and irritated skin.” Read more

Getting Out in Rab’s MeCo 120 Boxer Shorts

Boxer shorts from Rab made out of 120 weight MeCo fabric.
Boxer shorts from Rab made out of 120 weight MeCo fabric.

There are some items of outdoor gear that you don’t often see reviewed in the outdoor magazines and websites. Jackets, tents, rucksacks, baselayers, softshells, fleeces and boots all get regularly tested and reviewed in detail, but outdoor underwear doesn’t get reviewed much and, if it does, the reviews tend to be a bit cursory. Maybe it’s because it’s a little hard to review briefs, boxer shorts and so on without descriptions getting too graphic or crude and using photos that give the review an adult rating. That’s a bit of a shame because good underwear can make days in the mountains more comfortable. So, to redress the balance and point out the virtues of good mountain undies, this is my review of the Rab’s MeCo 120 Boxer. Just to be clear before we start, there are no photos of me testing this underwear (there’s no telling where they may end up if I post them online), but there might be some graphic details. Read more

A Better Balm – review of hand balms for rock climbers

Chalky handA rock climber’s hands can get some rough treatment.  Pushed and twisted into cracks, grazed on course rock, cut and ripped on edges, worn down until the finger tips split and dried out by chalk and the elements.  The results of this harsh treatment can be irritating and painful as well as impairing climbing performance.  To help climbers keep their hands in working condition manufacturers from major companies to people working out of their kitchen have produced balms for climbers’ hands that aim to moisturise, revitalise and help skin heal. Read more

Woolly Hats for Big Heads

Me on a windy day in the Brecon Beacons wearing the Mammut Eisberg Beanie.
Me on a windy day in the Brecon Beacons wearing the Mammut Eisberg Beanie.

One size does not always fit all.  My larger than average head means that I have quite a bit of trouble finding any hats that fit.  This can be a problem as a woolly hat is essential for keeping my head warm on cold, windy mountains (particularly as I increasingly have less hair to do this job).  I don’t think that I’m the only person in this situation as people keep coming to an earlier post of mine via Google searches for climbing helmets for people with bigger or extra large heads.  So, for those of us blessed with a generous cranium and a love of the mountains, here are my reviews of some of the woolly hats for hiking and climbing that I’ve found fit my head. Read more

Review of Rab’s Neostretch Gaiters

Rab’s new and award-winning NeoStretch Gaiters have great breathability and lots of clever touches, but a few simple design issues stop them from being perfect.

In the mudI’ve got mixed feelings about gaiters.  They’re brilliant for keeping snow and water out of your boots, but they can make for lower legs that are hot and damp with the sweat the gaiters haven’t allowed to escape.  This is a particular problem on those days in the mountains when it’s warm, but gaiters are still needed.  Even if rain isn’t forecast and the sun shines warmly, gaiters can be essential because of the risk of putting your foot into a bog or slipping when crossing a stream.  In Alpine conditions you can be toasted while on a sun-baked glacier and have to wear gaiters to cope with the snow on the peaks you’re going to climb.  Rab hold out the promise that their NeoStretch Gaiters will make life more comfortable in such situations by combining one of the new breed of highly breathable fabrics and Rab’s usual, excellent design work.  To see if this was true, I tried these gaiters out on walks in a snowy Lake District as well as warm weather and continuous, sometimes torrential, rain in Snowdonia. Read more

Wire in the Lakes – the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata

The UK’s first via ferrata is one of the Lake District’s biggest attractions but has also been one of its biggest sources of controversy in the last few years.  How might these controversies, and the quality of the climb, affect your decision to pay to climb this via ferrata?

The gully and the Burma bridge on the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata.
The gully and the Burma bridge on the Honister Slate Mine Via Ferrata.

It was probably inevitable that when it opened in 2007 the first via ferrata in the UK would attract some strong opinions.  The system of climbing a mountain using ladders, stemples and occasionally bridges, together with a metal cable to attach to so as to prevent a long fall, could be considered to be more at home in the Alps.  Vie ferrate have their origins in the Alps and they seem more at home among the cable cars and ski pulls that dot those mountains.  Yet a via ferrata had been constructed on Honister Crags to provide a way to climb from a little way above Honister Pass to just below the summit of Fleetwith Pike. Read more

Review of the new Beacon Climbing Centre

Earlier this week, with waves of rain sweeping over North Wales ruling outdoors rock climbing out, my fiancée and I decided to try the new Beacon Climbing Centre near Caernarfon.  We were impressed.

Tommy the bouldering elephant in the dedicated kids area at the new Beacon Climbing Centre.

The old Beacon Climbing Centre had been in the Marconi Building in Ceunant for some 18 years.  This was a reasonable climbing wall, but it was very out of the way, a bit rundown and in need of an update.  This old centre has now shut and the operation moved to a former TV studio on the Cibyn Industrial Estate near Caernarfon.  As the new location is just off the main A4086 road from Llanberis, the Beacon Climbing Centre is now brilliantly placed for climbers rained off the mountains and crags of Snowdonia National Park. Read more