Field Test – SNOWGUM Micro 600 Down Sleeping Bag
I remember with great excitement the first time I grabbed my overnight pack, stuffed it full of all the hiking and camping gear that I owned and headed out into the great unknown. There is something really quite special about immersing yourself in nature and facing the elements with nothing but the pack on your back and the clothes you are wearing of course.
Like most people new to overnight hiking (pack carrying) I didn’t have the funds or the inclination to run out and purchase ultra-light gear for my first adventure. Who knows if I would even like it? So for my first few outings I lugged an 18kg + pack around with me with my big old sleeping bag and 3kg tent. It didn’t take many outings though before I was hooked so my priority was to reduce the weight of my pack. In my mind this could only be achieved by eliminating unnecessary items and reducing the size and weight of the items that I packed.
One of the largest items that I carried at the time was a sleeping bag that I also used for car camping. It was big and warm and consumed about a quarter of my 60 litre pack. Without a second thought I jumped on to eBay and searched for the smallest bag I could find. How cool, without much effort I found one that less than $100 and was so small it would pack down to fit into the palm of my hand. So I bought it.
A few days later I headed into the Lerderderg Gorge with my super cool sleeping bag, ready for a night close to nature. With tent set up and sleeping pad inflated I crawled into my sleeping bag for a relaxing night sleep. But sleep I did not. As I was so new to hiking I had completely failed to understand that sleeping bags actually came in different packed sizes for a reason. It has a lot to do with their insulative qualities. Basically, if you are buying a sleeping bag that costs less than $100 and fits in the palm of your hand you can safely assume that it won’t keep you very warm at night. Especially when the temperature drops ten degrees below the rating of +15 that is clearly labelled on the bag. I should also note that this sleeping bag weighed in at 1.8km. Lesson learnt, time to do some more research.
I am pleased to report that I now own a very sensible sleeping bag with an EN rating of -110C which is absolutely perfect for most conditions throughout Victoria. Unless you want to bury yourself deep in the snow.
As with most things you purchase in life it is impossible to find one product that does everything and this is especially true when it comes to sleeping bags. You can’t expect your bag to keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures and then not cook you when you are hiking in summer or spring. What you really need is a combination of bags to suit all seasons.
I was grateful to have recently been sent a Snowgum Micro Down 600 sleeping bag to review.
The Micro Down 600 is an ultra-lightweight and compact down sleeping bag designed with spring and summer hiking in mind. The EN Rating of the Micro Down 600 Sleeping Bag states it’s designed for +10°C with a Transition Limit of +7°C, pretty much the perfect spring/summer sleeping bag for the mild Australian Climate. The coldest night I’ve put this sleeping bag through was around the 6°C point during a recent hike to Mount Feathertop in the Victorian Alps. My shoulders were a bit cold as I didn’t sleep with thermals on, but even without a bag liner I certainly wasn’t uncomfortable pushing this sleeping bag beyond its thermal range.
Once zipped up and the hood draw cord pulled tight, the sleeping bag did exactly what it’s supposed to. It kept me warm, but not too warm.
Anything above 15°C and you might start to feel like you are in a slow-cooker, but luckily this bag can be zipped open all the way to open flat. This serves as a great blanket right up to temperatures where sleeping in a liner is warm enough. Another great feature of the Snowgum Micro Down 600 is that you can join two bags together in order to create a double sleeping bag. The downside to any sleeping bag with a full length zip is that the zips can leak some of your valuable heat making them not that suited to colder climates.
When I first unpacked the sleeping bag I was amazed at just how thin it was. You start to question how something this thin can possibly keep you warm. Down bags are a lot puffier than synthetic bags but not when you first unpack them. Just remember to give it a good shake before crawling in for a good night sleep.
As far as sleeping bags go, this one is really comfortable. Unlike one of my mummy shaped bags that hugs your every curve, it is wide enough around the knee area to move around a bit, which is essential if you’re anything like me and can’t stand sleeping on your back, but not so wide that it loses insulating properties or adds too much bulk when packed.
The Snowgum Micro Down 600 only comes in one size which does add to your pack weight if you are shorter and don’t need the extra length but the overall bag weight of 600g is so low it really won’t make much of a difference in the scheme of things.
The Snowgum Micro Down 600 comes with a stuff sack that houses your bag in a less than bulky package. The stuff sack can be further compressed if required (simply tighten a compression strap around the stuff sack) but the overall size of 14x23cm is so small that it easily squeezes into your pack.
A quick note on transporting and storing down bags. Down sleeping bag filling also contains a small amount of “small feathers” which assist in keeping the down loose and assists loft (the amount the bag fluffs up when taken out of the stuff sack). As with any down bag, transporting in the provided stuff sack ensures the down suffers minimal damage and allows the feather to puff up to maximum strength in a relatively short amount of time. If you do transport it in a compressed state, ensure you don’t store it this way. For long term storage use a large open weave sack.
In the Snowgum Micro Down 600 the down is distributed around the bag in a series of channels or baffles that ensure you have the right amount of filling for each part of your body – eg more on top than the bottom and more around the chest than the legs. Whilst down is unrivaled for warmth to weight ratio and is resilient to compression it is not very effective when wet and will take some time to dry.
A sleeping bag is an important purchase since it will keep you warm and protect you from the elements. Weight, form, heat rating and reliability are all factors to consider when purchasing a bag. Understanding the basic features and getting a feel for how sleeping bag ratings work can help you select the right bag for your needs and keep you warm in the process. You can read more about how to choose the right sleeping bag here.
All and all the SNOWGUM Micro 600 Down Sleeping Bag is a great sleeping bag for mild climates and I would highly recommend it.
Buy direct from Snowgum for $299.95
(club price $149.95)
- Downproof Nylon Fabric
- 90/10 Duck Down – 500 Loft
- DWR Water Repellency
- Zip down length and across feet, fully unzips to open flat
- Hood draw cord
- Internal draft tube for added warmth
- High quailty zip
- Supplied with a storage sack
- Rating/Season: Spring / Summer +10c
- Shape: Semi-Rectangular
- Outer Fabric: 20D 410T Tactel Nylon Downproof Nylon + Water Repellant Treatment
- Inner Lining: 20D 410T Tactel Nylon Downproof Nylon
- Fill Type: 90/10 duck down
- Fill Amount: 350g with 600 Loft
- Length (including Hood): 215cm
- Length (from Shoulder): 183cm
- Width (at Shoulder): 75cm
- Width (at Feet): 44cm
- Packaged Size: 14cm Diameter, 23cm Length
- Weight (including Stuff Sac): 600gm
Field Test – Klymit Insulated Static V Lite
Unless you are participating in the ultra-light movement and can be found sleeping under a tarp or snuggled up in a bivvy you would have to agree that the most important item required for an overnight hike is your tent. Coming a close second would have to be your sleeping bag, particularly when hiking in colder months and when you wake to a snow covered tent .
For years I placed all of my emphasis on these two items alone and happily carried my foam sleeping pad with me for overnight adventures without even giving that item a second thought. I was hiking and camping overnight, having an uncomfortable night’s sleep was all part of the adventure. Or so I thought.
In my experience sleeping pads are possibly the most under-rated piece of gear in the outdoors; they are critically important, but often an after-thought purchase. This was so true in my personal experience and it wasn’t until after waking up feeling still and sore on several occasions that I decided it was time to make a change. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my foam pad as it was one of the smaller pads on the market at the time but things have changed a lot in that space so if you are looking to make a purchase or upgrade your existing pad then do some research as there are a lot of options now available.
One such pad is the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite. I was grateful to have been sent one to field test.
When I first opened the box I was really impressed by the packed size. 127 x 203mm. It is certainly not the smallest that I have seen but given the features of this pad it certainly packs a lot onto this small package. It fitted easily and neatly into my pack, complete with its own storage bag which maintains compactness and provides protection while traveling.
My first experience with the V Lite was an overnight to Sealers Cover in Victoria. The weather was mild and the overnight temperature only reached five degrees so I couldn’t really test out the insulation qualities on this hike. Needless to say I had one of the better night’s sleep that I have had in a long time.
Removing the deflated pad from it storage bag I unrolled it into the tent. My initial reaction was one of slight disbelief as the pad extended the full length of the tent floor. We were using two on this occasion and side by side they engulfed the full width of the tent. This would be great if you didn’t want to store any of your packed items inside the tent but I always have things inside with me that require room at my feet.
Oh well, what could I do now. Popping open the single nozzle I puffed steadily into the pad. Quite amazingly it only took about 8 breaths and about 20 seconds to inflate. I do have large lung capacity so I would expect, at worst, for inflation to take 10-12 breaths and up to 30 seconds. Very quick, and certainly not challenging at all. After inflation the nozzle simply closes with a click and feels very secure.
Fully inflated, the pad covers an area of 1830 x 590mm and was certainly a lot wider than my mummy shaped foam pad. One feature that I really liked, and is worth mentioning, was the diagonal ribbing which creates a V-chamber in the centre of the pad. I have used pads in the past that have horizontal ribs and the problem I found with them was that as I tossed and turned at night I forced air into the opposite side of the pad which often resulted in me failing off the pad and onto the floor. Another thing I love about the Static V Lite is the texture of the poly top. Other pads I have used might be slightly lighter weight but the material used is like lying on a packet of chips. Whenever you roll over you generate a crackle that can be annoying, particularly if you are having a restless night sleep. The 30D poly top is softer and hardly makes a sound when you move about in your sleeping bag.
In addition to the V-chamber, the V Lite also has an inflated rib around the perimeter of the pad. This nice little feature helped my body to remain centred on the pad and further reduced the risk of me falling off onto the cold tent floor.
Even with the sealed sections between the ribbing the pad did a good job of raising me off the ground with an inflation height of 65mm. I have slept on pads with as little as 10mm thickness and believe me, this pad was like sleeping on my mattress at home in comparison.
As mentioned earlier, my first outing didn’t really allow me to test the thermal qualities. So I ventured back out on the trail, this time to Mt Ligar in Victoria. Time to experience a bit of Alpine chill.
Outside my tent it felt winter. The wind was howling, the rain was pouring and my tent was perched high on a saddle facing the full force of the chilling wind. Temps that night were predicted to hit sub zero but I was quietly confident as I had an insulated pad. Fighting off the wind chill I climbed into my tent and sub-zero sleeping bag, with the Insulated Static V Lite and thin tent floor serving as the only buffer between myself and the cold wet ground below. I closed my eyes and fell fast asleep, waking only when the sun peeked over the mountainous horizon. I am sure I tossed and turned during the night but I can’t recall and never once fell off the pad onto the cold ground.
It may have been freezing outside, but on this pad, I was warm and comfortable enough to sleep soundly.
When packing up in the morning the V Lite doesn’t present any challenges. Stowing the pad requires the air to be expelled and this is done simply by pulling the nozzle and pushing out the air from the foot of the bad. I do this by loosely rolling the pad up first. It then needs to be folded a couple of times before rolling. It’s not too challenging, but does take around 2-3 minutes and might need two attempts on your first go. The storage bag is slightly larger than needed which means you don’t need to roll it perfectly every time.
The pad also comes with a repair kit stitched in a pocket inside the storage bag. This is a neat little feature is you are like me and are constantly losing yours.
In my opinion there are a few important boxes to tick when selecting your sleeping pad.
- Is it large enough?
- It is comfortable?
- Does it insulate the user from the ground?
- It is compact and light to carry?
- Is it durable?
- Is it affordable?
I haven’t yet slept on every pad on the market, but from my early experiences this pad is certainly ranks among the best I have slept on and for the price is really is a great investment. It is large enough, comfortable, is insulated, affordable, compact and easy to pack. With regards to durability. As I have only used this pad on two outings I am not able to comment on that aspect. I have a few more hike planed over the coming months and will continue to test this pad in everything from icy cold nights to more temperate conditions and will update this review.
Buy direct from Klymit for $169
At just 556g and with an R-Value of 4.4, the Insulated Static V Lite delivers exceptional comfort and insulation for minimal weight. The V shaped chambers minimize air movement and are filled with light, warm Klymalite™ synthetic insulation for thermal performance in winter conditions. The ergonomic design and dynamic side rails cushion and cradle the body for a better night’s sleep. Advanced ultralight materials and smart construction shed grams without impacting performance, making this a versatile choice that handles for winter ski tours, summer backpacking and all season adventure.
Inflated Size: 1830 x 590 x 65mm
Packed Size: 127 x 203mm
Inflation Time: 8-14 Breaths
Fabric: 30D Poly Top, 30D Poly Bottom with Anti-Microbial Laminate
Accessories: Stuff Sack, Patch Kit
From a young age I have always loved exploring outdoors but it wasn’t until immersing myself in the Viking Circuit that I realised just how lucky I was to be living in a state that had so much to offer.
I have hiked many times in the Alpine National Park and on most occasions someone would always tell me about the dreaded Viking Circuit. The name alone sounded threatening. Intrigued by this apparent nemesis I would often sit at my computer Googling in order to find out just how challenging it would be. Accolades such as not for the faint hearted, one of the toughest hikes on the Victorian Alps, The Holy Grail, left me wondering if I had the necessary experience to even consider such a hike.
Ahhh, why not. So the planning and trip preparations began.
The Viking Circuit took us deep into the heart of the The Razor – Viking Wilderness, a large area of remote rugged undisturbed land. There is no vehicle access into or within the Razor – Viking Wilderness. Likewise, there are no signposts or walking track markers. Here we needed to be well equipped, self-reliant and experienced in navigation; and prepared to meet nature on its own terms. And meet it we certainly did.
Day one started out to be a perfect day, weather wise. We headed out across the Cross Cut Saw, a narrow and rocky ridge clearly representative of its name sake, on our way to Mount Speculation. We were all happily snapping photos along the way and were in awe of the way the clouds forced their way among the many peaks on our trail ahead. What was everyone talking about? Everything could not have been more perfect.
At the blink of an eye everything changed. Clouds quickly turned a menacing shade of grey, thunder roared through the valley below and fierce lightning strobe the sky as it if was the gods themselves warning us that we had entered their realm. We all looked at each other in sheer disbelief, how had things gone from taking selfies and giving each other high fives to scrambling frantically for our wet weather gear and wondering what on earth we were doing in the middle of this remote wilderness.
For the remainder of the day torrential rain pummeled us. Not just from above but from every angle imaginable. At times it even seemed to be coming from under our feet as we scrambled cautiously across slippery rocks and slid down muddy spurs. The entire time I’m drowning with guilt for leading a group of close friends into this war zone. On reaching our camp, late in the day, thankfully the downpour relented enough to allow us to make camp, cook a hearty meal and set a fire to dry out all our gear. We all went to bed praying that tomorrow would be a different day.
I lay silently in my tent, eyes closed, listening intently to the rumble of thunder in the distance. Was it getting closer or moving further up the valley below. I could hear the gentle patter of rain on my tent and was thankful that it didn’t sound like a hose was turned on me as it did last night. Peeking out through the zipper I was excited to see that it was no longer raining. Maybe today would in fact be a different day. The storms had moved on and in their place had left a heavy fog that engulfed everything that stood more than five metres in front of us. Fantastic, no rain, no storms, no threatening lightning and no views. All this for a section of the trail that was supposed to reward us with 360 degree views of the Razor-Viking Wilderness.
For the next six hours we forged on through the fog. Occasionally a sharp breeze would force its way over an approaching saddle and offer us a glimpse of what we were missing. We all agreed that it was a reason we would have to return. But would we really want to? The hike is far from over yet.
All of the experts recommend that this hike be undertaken in four full days of hiking. As time was not on our side, given the long weekend, we were attempting to complete the 40km circuit in three days instead. What this meant was that day two would not end at the Viking Range. Instead we continued beyond the rocky sentinel and descended into the Wonnangatta Valley below. The spur we were following seemed straight forward and with the fog lifting slightly now, due to our lower altitude, we could not foresee that any challenges lay ahead. Slowly we descended, following a barely visible foot trail into the heart of the spur.
The undergrowth grappled at our legs, twisting our feet into awkward, unpredictable angles as the spur steepened aggressively. On we pushed, following a trail that was slowly evolving to become more like a goat trail than a suitable foot pad. The undergrowth thickened; maturing into a solid wall of saplings which rose up before us, completely blocking the trail ahead. With a warped sense of humour, the gods, at this moment, opened the skies to a relentless rain that fell heavily upon us.
So with exhausted legs, dampened spirits, and a longing to reach our campsite on the tranquil Wonangatta River, we fell through the bush. Stood up, took two steps then fell through the bush again. For the next three hours this was the routine until finally we stumbled onto an escarpment overlooking the river and our potential campsite. Sounds great doesn’t it! The reality was that we had hiked slightly off to one side of the spur and found ourselves high above the river with nothing but blackberries below. There was no way we were turning back to find a trail that may not have existed so without further ado we carefully picked our way down the face of the escarpment. The next half hour of the day was spent stumbling along the river bed and chopping our way through blackberries until we finally found a clearing large enough for our tents. Camp was set in record time and we didn’t see each other again that evening. It was a hell of a day, literally.
Day three is short in detail but not due to lack of distance. Hours of ascent from the Valley floor via the Zeka Spur. An unforgiving and unrelenting 4WD trail that winds its way, almost vertically, to the plains above. I lost count of how many 4WD enthusiasts pulled over to applaud our efforts, laugh uncontrollably, or just stare in disbelief as their vehicles clawed their way slowly into the distance. It was a tough day to end the circuit and we were all over-the-moon to finally be hiking on a man-made trail.
A finishing note… with some inviting features such as The Crosscut Saw, Mt Buggary, Horrible gap, Mount Despair and The Viking this is not an easy hike. Over 4 days you will cover close to 40km in distance which includes approximately 2,700m of accumulated vertical ascent. Oh yeah, and all that with a full pack.
I would like to add to the accolades ‘If you can handle the Viking, you can handle anything‘.
Want to do this hike? Find all the info here.
Author: Darren Edwards – Trail Hiking Australia
Field Test – SNOWGUM VaporTEC® Ultra Jacket
(Valdez for men and Vienna for women)
You might be expecting perfect weather, gentle showers or full-on storms. Regardless of the forecast (particularly in Victoria) it is my opinion you should always take a waterproof jacket wherever you are hiking – just in case.
Waterproof jackets (or hard shells as they are also known) are the final protective layer in your layering system. This layer provides a waterproof barrier.
The main difference between these waterproof layers is the fabric they are made from and the level of breathability that this will give you.
The level of breathability you need is dependent on your chosen activity:
- High aerobic activities (such as mountain climbing, hill walking etc) necessitate the use of highly breathable fabrics.
- Less arduous activities (such as day to day use, or lowland walking) require a less breathable garment.
Over the years I have carried every kind of jacket in my pack in case of inclement weather. From the old style hard shell plastic waterproof rain jackets (that make you sweat profusely every time you move) to water resistant insulated shells, hybrid shells, soft shells and now back to the more modern waterproof hard shell which are now able to provide surprisingly increased breathability to their predecessor.
I should point out that nothing is able to be completely waterproof and also breathable. To be completely waterproof the garment needs to be a plastic bag and you can’t wear one of those without sweat condensing on the inside of the garment.
So membranes and coatings have been developed which keep water out but allow water vapour (sweat steam) to pass through. The trick to it is the balance between water resistance and breathability because basically the more you have of one the less you get of the other.
The differences explained
We call a jacket ‘waterproof’ when its water resistance is sufficient to keep out driving rain. Though companies disagree on test standards, you can trust that any gear that a major brand designates as ‘waterproof’ can stand up to a serious squall. You can read more about this under ‘tech specs’ below.
Waterproof/breathable: This type of performance rainwear keeps rain from getting through to your skin, while also moving sweat back through to the outside world. If you’re planning any activity that gets limbs and lungs pumping, this is your kind of gear because both precipitation and perspiration can soak you.
Water-resistant: Also breathable, this is gear that can handle light rain for a brief time—windbreakers and featherweight jackets, for example. If precipitation lingers or starts coming down sideways, these won’t be up to the task.
Waterproof/nonbreathable: Think rain slicker or emergency poncho. If you simply need to keep the rain out while sitting or standing around, this gear does just fine—and costs very little money. If you do any exertion, though, your rain slicker will be slick inside, too. And it won’t take much wind to make a poncho largely ineffective.
The main reason I have had a go at everything was based on price as who can afford to fork out $800+ on a waterproof/breathable jacket when they first start hiking? You need to know you are serious about it until going to that level.
Up until this year my jacket of choice was a waterproof softshell. For the most part on light to reasonably heavy rain I managed to keep nice and dry and remain warm. My optimism came to a brisk halt though following a really downpour that seemed to last the entire day. In fact, I think it did. I returned to my car looking like a drowned rat and feeling about 20 degrees cooler than I should have. (I know that’s not medically possible or I would be dead).
So the search began for a reasonably affordable, lightweight, waterproof, windproof and packable jacket. Yep, that’s a big ask but with today’s fabric technology there had to be something available. Right?
As chance would have it I was talking to Ross from Snowgum one day when he told me about their VaporTEC® Jackets. He was really excited about the fabric and for a non-fabric enthusiast he even had me excited by the end of the conversation. OK, so what is it? Apparently only The Lightest 3 Layer Waterproof Breathable Jacket on the Market!!! According to Ross this jacket is equally at home in the snowy Swiss Alps, humid Northern Thailand or using as an everyday jacket at home. I was sent a jacket to field test.
The SNOWGUM Valdez VaporTEC® Ultra 3-layer Jacket is a lightweight waterproof rain jacket made utilising a 3 Layer Membrane. It has a Waterhead Rating of 9000mm and Breathability Rating of 7500g per m2 per 24 hours.
Weighing just 400g in a size large, the Jacket in fully featured with all of the bells and whistles you’d find on much more expensive jackets. I’ve been wearing mine for four months in a wide range of temperatures and there’s precious little that this jacket can’t do.
It is 100% seam sealed, has an adjustable, packable hood with side cord-locks so you can cinch down the opening, along with an extended brim to keep rain off your glasses and forehead. The front zipper has a fold-over rain flap to keep water off the zipper and can be zipped up over your chin to keep water off your face in blowing rain.
There are two pockets on the inside of the jacket, handy for carrying a hat or gloves and electronic devices (complete with headphone access) and comes with its own stuff sack so that you can stuff the jacket into it when not in use. In addition, there are two large hand warmer pockets on the outside that can be used while wearing a backpack hip belt, along with a draw cord in the hem and velcro cuffs on the arms to keep the rain out.
I’ve worn this jacket in everything from freezing rain to heavy thunderstorms and it will keep you warm even if you’re hiking in the pouring rain. When water hits the surface of the jacket, it beads up and rolls off as you’d expect, rather than soaking the fabric and chilling you. The fact that the VaporTEC® Jacket has its own 3-layer membrane, means that you never have to worry about a DWR coating wearing off or having this jacket wet-out, the most common point of failure for rain jackets made using waterproof-breathable fabrics.
This jacket’s breathability ensures that it doesn’t retain a lot of heat when you’re active or allow it to escape in cold weather. I start to sweat when the temperature is about 20 degrees or higher, with or without rain. There is nothing more uncomfortable than becoming wetter inside your clothing due to heat than what is pouring down external to your clothing.
If you’re like me and tired of waterproof-breathable rain jackets that don’t live up to expectations, I suggest you give the SNOWGUM VaporTEC® Jacket a try. This jacket has found a home on my hiking gear list and it might just restore your faith in more affordable waterproof rain gear.
Buy direct from Snowgum for $299.95
(club price $199.95)
- Material: 100% Nylon Outer
- VaporTEC® Ultra 3 Layer Membrane
- Waterhead Rating: 9,000mm
- Breathability Rating: 7,500g per m2 per 24 hours
- Fit: Regular
- Weight: 400g
A little bit more information on waterproofing and breathability
There are two main internationally recognised test standards, the American ASTM standard and the Japanese JIS standard. As far as breathability is concerned, the ASTM standard is far more conservative… an ASTM breathability rating of 5,000 is more than 10,000 via the JIS test method. Check out Wikipedia ‘breathability’ for the full low-down. Snowgum uses the ASTM method and always has.
Waterproof jackets will be 2 layer (the outer fabric plus a coating or membrane), 2 ½ layer (the outer fabric plus a coating or membrane plus a printing on top of the coating or membrane to provide some protection to that layer and also to reduce the stickiness of it, 2 layer lined with a drop lining or 3 layer which consists of the outer fabric, the coating or membrane, plus a third layer of tricot or mesh to protect the waterproof layer.
I’ve mentioned ‘coating’ and ‘membrane’ here as the waterproof component. A coating is applied in liquid form to the inside surface of the outer layer fabric. A coating is not as consistent, not as durable and not as effective in performance as a membrane, but it is cheaper. A membrane is a separate waterproof/breathable film that is completely uniform and is bonded to the inside of the outer layer fabric. A membrane is much more durable than a coating.
A third layer on the inside of the fabric provides protection to the membrane or coating and also aids breathability because it creates a space between the waterproof layer and your skin to allow sweat to vaporise, it also creates a greater surface area depending on what is used as the inside layer.
In the past the problem with 3 layer has been that it increases the weight of the jacket substantially and creates stiffness and discomfort. Snowgum have overcome these negatives in their new Vaportec Ultra range – they are as lightweight, soft and comfortable as most 2 layer garments. And all Vaportec garments incorporate membranes, not coatings.
In terms of outer shell there are basically two materials used – polyester and nylon. Polyester is less durable, less tear resistant but softer. Polyester is generally used for travel and streetwear garments. Nylon is more durable, has a much higher tear resistance but is not as soft as polyester and is usually noisier (crinkly). For this lightweight Snowgum garment they have used a 20 denier very fine nylon which is very durable but very lightweight. In polyester this garment would not have a very high tear strength.
Field Test – Fitbit® Surge™
Navigating the trail is one of the most important aspects of heading off into the great unknown. You can have all the right gear, be carrying plenty of food and water, be as fit as an Olympic athlete but if you don’t know how to navigate what lies ahead you will quickly find yourself in all kinds of trouble. You need to know how to return safely.
Thanks to the multitude of quality navigation apps in the marketplace, smartphone trail navigation has become a very common hiking tool. Unfortunately, some people think they are magical devices that keep people from getting lost – Nope! They are useful tools but should never be relied on. Continued use of GPS running in the background can dramatically decrease battery life. They can stop functioning in cold climates, if they get wet or break. You should always have a compass and a map as a back-up, and know how to use them.
For the past few years I have experimented with a combination of handheld GPS units and watches when recording all of the trails on www.trailhiking.com.au. I have found the hand held units to be more accurate, as you would expect due to the somewhat massive antenna protruding from the top of the device. The downside to these units is that they can add considerably to your pack weight which is particularly important on multi-day adventures.
For all hikes I undertake I now use a GPS watch for recording the trail and use my smartphone as a quick update on my current trail position as unlike a watch these allow you to view detailed topographic maps, even in airplane mode. An important note though, I always plan my hikes using a scaled topographical map and I always carry a map and compass in my pack as these will never fail you.
I was recently sent a Fitbit Surge to review. I was well aware of the buzz surrounding Fitbit as everyone who was active seemed to own one in order to monitor their heart rate and see how many steps they accumulated that day. What I didn’t know was that the Fitbit Surge had integrated GPS. So yes, I was interested in strapping one to my wrist and seeing how it performed.
Fitbit Surge is the most powerful Fitbit yet, complete with GPS tracking, real-time workout stats and a heart rate monitor. The Fitbit Surge offers all the features you would expect from a Fitbit. You’ll find it keeps track of your daily steps, distance, floors climbed, active minutes, and calories. The Surge also offers automatic sleep tracking, continuous heart rate tracking, and has GPS for distance, pace and elevation climbed. The GPS is actually one of the key features of the Surge, which is part of the reason why Fitbit has this one billed as the “fitness super watch. These metrics can easily be shown on the watch at any time by just swiping left or right on the display. They can also be synchronized to your smartphone using the Fitbit app or synced to your desktop and the Fitbit website using the wireless sync dongle. With that you can display all captured information in a much more colourful and graphically pleasing environment than on the device itself.
As soon as I received this watch I strapped it to my wrist and didn’t take it off for weeks, except when I was in the shower (as it isn’t waterproof) or recharging the unit (approximately every 6 days). I was amazed at just how much information it recorded and loved the fact it synced with my iPhone so I could keep track of everything I did every day. I could go on for hours about all of the features of this watch but the main purpose of this field test and review is to focus on how the Surge can be used for hiking. And what is the most important factor? GPS Accuracy.
As far as I am concerned, GPS accuracy falls into two basic categories; is the distance correct, and does the track look right? The only way to test that is to get out on the trail and hike. In order to determine distance accuracy first you need to know how long the hike is. Now this is not always possible given that terrain can vary, trails can be realigned or you may wander around looking at view-points, back tracking to take photos or duck off to use natures bathroom. So if the trail notes say the hike is 23km it may in fact be 26km by the time you factor in all of the above. So the only way to check this is to carry a number of other devices on your hike and compare the distances at the end. For all of my test hikes I carried a Garmin handheld, Garmin Fenix, Fitbit Surge and my trusty iPhone. As mentioned earlier, I have always found my handheld to be the most accurate so relied on this as the baseline.
In total I tested the Fitbit on ten different hikes over distances ranging from 6km through to 32km and on terrain varying from easy forested tourist trails through to difficult and steep alpine hikes. It is interesting to note that on all of these tests the Fitbit and Garmin handheld produced very similar distances while the Garmin Fenix watch was way out. So much so that I sent it back for a replacement, three times.
What I discovered is that the Fitbit Surge does really well in ‘normal’ conditions. By normal I mean reasonably flat to slightly undulating terrain where you aren’t encountering long and steep, near vertical ascents. Under normal conditions the distance accuracy was always within 2-3% of my handheld. For hikes that I undertook in the more mountainous alpine regions I found the level of distance accuracy (as compared to my handheld) dropped to around 6-8%. I found that the inaccuracies generally occurred when I was steeply ascending or descending a long spur where it must not have been able to calculate the gradient of the ascent.
At the beginning of each hike the GPS generally took a minute or two to lock in to the required number of satellites, and once locked it was generally solid and accurate. Using the Surge to track a hike, you will have easy access to a number of key details. The display will show how long you have been hiking and also show your current distance traversed. The activity display also shows your current heart rate, which as mentioned earlier, is continuous. Perhaps even nicer is how the heart rate tracking doesn’t require any additional hardware. Simply put, you will not be wearing any chest strap monitor with the Surge. The watch will also show you your position in coordinates allowing you to easily find your location on a map.
Does the track look right?
It is important to understand that with any GPS they all require a direct path to at least three satellites in order to receive their radio transmissions. If the signal is being blocked either because you’re under thick cover, near many tall trees, or as a result of atmospheric effects the GPS simply will not work. Where GPS gives you a more accurate measure of distance than pace-counting alone, the actual accuracy depends on both your environment and the weather. If a GPS looses signal for any reason what it will do is estimate your route the next time it connects to satellites. If a long period of time has passed you will see this on your recorded track as a straight line and the altitude data will generally be represented as zero.
So with this in mind I found the tracks recorded with the Fitbit Surge were generally accurate on all hikes. It may have wandered five to ten metres off the path, tracked by my handheld, or experienced the occasional signal loss due to environment and weather but given the size difference between the antennas this is totally acceptable. I should note that there are no guarantees that my handheld is 100% accurate either so I am pleased with the result.
The Fitbit Surge’s battery life is stated to be over a week under normal use. In my initial tests, wearing it around home and to work, I generally managed around five days before needing to recharge. When on the trail and heavily using the on-board GPS for tracking hikes I managed an average of around seven hours of life before needing to plug it back in. For most day hikes this will be more than adequate and on multi-day hikes I always carry a portable charging unit and recharge at the end of each day. I should note that there is no micro USB or wireless charging support so you will need to carny the dedicated lead with you. The Surge relies on small charging cable that clips into the back of the device and takes roughly an hour to get back to full charge from 0%.
If you enjoy moderate hikes and don’t often head into the deepest wideness areas and are looking for a wrist worn activity tracker that doubles as a GPS will then the Fitbit Surge is for you. If you are a serious adventurer who spends most of their life off trail in the mountains, then you probably already know that the more you spend and the larger the unit it the more accurate your tracking and navigation will be. The bottom line here is fairly simple. If you are looking for one device that is able to track your daily activity as well as your workouts, sleep and hiking adventures then the Surge is one to consider.
Buy direct from fitbit for $399.95
Or from a host on retail and online stores
See distance, pace, split times and elevation climbed & review routes
Long Battery Life
Lasts longer than competing trackers with a battery life up to 7 days and GPS battery life up to 10 hours
PurePulse™ Heart Rate
Get continuous, automatic, wrist-based heart rate & simplified heart rate zones
Notifications + Music
See call & text notifications on display and control songs from your mobile playlist
Track steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes, hourly activity & stationary time
Auto Sleep + Alarms
Monitor your sleep automatically & set a silent alarm
SmartTrack™ + Multi-Sport
Track runs, rides & other workouts with multi-sport modes or automatically record them with SmartTrack
Sync stats wirelessly & automatically to leading smartphones and computers
Field Test – TrekSta Kobra GORE-TEX® Hiking Shoe
Anyone who knows me will know that I own and have tested my fair share of hiking shoes and boots. Everything from trail runners, low cut, mid cut and high cut boots. Waterproof, non-waterproof, leather, suede, breathable, somewhat breathable to just plain sweaty. I have hiked thousands of kilometres, as my feet will tell you, and strongly believe that what you put on your feet represents possibly the most important investment you will make as a hiker. You may be new to hiking and only walk a few kilometres on your adventures and as such don’t give a lot of thought to your feet protectors, that’s fair enough. But trust me, once you start taking longer hikes over longer day or multiple days you will start to experience the ill effects of poorly designed footwear.
Blisters might be the first sign that things are not going well. Then comes the sore toes, bent toenails, sprained ankles, aggravated tendons, shin splints, broken bones (OK I’m only kidding about the bones, that would just be weird). The point I am trying to convey is that I started with a cheap pair of hiking boots. They went really well for a few months and then the feet and ankle problems started so I had to ditch my cheaper boots and started down the path of finding my ideal match. I will mention here that I currently own a pair of excellent hiking boots for my overnight hikes. What I was looking for was quality footwear for my day long adventures.
So I started wearing trail runners, just because they looked so cool. They were amazingly comfortable due to the spongy knobby tread and felt like I was walking on a cushion of air. But they offered no support on rough terrain and the tread had all but vanished after a few months of rock scrambling. From trail runners to sturdier, heavier hiking shoes. While they clearly offered greater all round support of arch and ankle they added increased weight to my feet which after a 28km day hike you do start to notice when your muscles are telling you to stop.
Following extensive research, trial and error and discussions with various retailers I was sent a pair of TREKSTA Kobra GORE-TEX® hiking shoes by Snowgum. Cool and thank you. (and before anyone comments, mine are black, not the pink and grey ones that my wife is wearing).
When I opened the box the first thing I saw was the GORE-TEX® logo. I love GORE-TEX® so this just added to my excitement. I will digress for a moment. Recently when I bought my overnight hiking boots I was making my selection based on the appearance of the boot. Being a designer I always believe that things have to look good so it made sense to me that I would hold the appearance in such high regard. I was quickly put back in my place though, being told that often the ugliest shoe or boot will offer you the greatest support. OK, point taken. Looking for ugly footwear now.
Back to opening the box. What lay before me were a pair of low-cut hiking shoes in a striking black and grey color scheme with chunky soles to provide plenty of cushioning and grip that looked like it would hold you to a wall. I was feeling confident but was also recalling that ‘it is not all about looks’.
Pulling the shoes out of the box I quickly noticed that there were no traditional laces to tie. I was actually quite excited to see this as my last pair of trail runners had laces with a quick release and I loved the fact I never had to tie them up. However, this lacing system was different to anything I’ve seen. The TrekSta Kobra’s are fitted with the innovative Boa lacing system, providing a reel and a steel lace cable system to crank boots instead of shoelaces. The quick adjust reel on the shoes means you’ll be tightened and ready to hike with a simple turn of the reel. On-trail adjustments are made easy with the Boa as you simply reach down and turn the reel to tighten to the correct tension or pop the reel out to loosen the fit as our foot swells. You can even do it without stopping if you possess the dexterity to reach down while your foot is coming up at the same time as missing the overhanging branch and the tree to your right.
After ten minutes of marveling about the Boa lacing system the more skeptical part of my brain switched on and I started to consider the terrain I would be wearing these shoes on. Mud, sand, water, snow, rocks, gravel, dust, the list goes on. I started to wonder if the dial and the thinness of the steel laces and complexity of the reel mechanism would be able to withstand what I needed to put them through. Reading the label dangling from the side of one shoe I was somewhat reassured about the lifetime guarantee offered on the Boa system. Alright then, let’s see. After three months of testing the shoe system is as solid as the day I first opened the box, so far I am impressed.
TrekSta uses NestFIT tech to ensure the shoes curves to and cradles your feet. NestFIT leaves the shoe follows the natural curve of your feet and moves away from the conventional show shape. I’ll admit, they looked and felt a little weird the first few times I put them on my feet however after the initial break in period the NestFIT delivered exactly what TrekSta promised: ‘a shoe that adapts to the contours of your feet is tough to beat in terms of comfort’. After long hikes in the Victorian alps and tough slogs along long stretches of sandy beaches my feet were so comfortable that I didn’t even need to change shoes at the end of the hike as I normally do. Just popped the Boa reel to let my feet rest. I should mention that the first hike I wore these on was 25km in length and my feet weren’t sore and I was blister free.
So what happens if water is unavoidable? With the TrekSta Kobra this is no issue at all thanks to the GORE-TEX® membrane to keep your feet dry. I gave them the customary test by standing in a muddy puddle for five minutes and are happy to report that my feet came out completely dry. Further testes in mud, creeks, heavy rain, and tidal flow the GORE-TEX® managed to keep the water where it belongs, not on my feet.
After putting these shoes through their paces I am confident in saying that you would be hard-pressed to find a better mid-priced (sub $300) lightweight, waterproof hiking shoe. The TrekSta Kobra performed well in all conditions and kept my feet comfortable and dry whilst doing it. If you’re in the market for a new pair of shoes that delivers proven performance with heaps of style, the TrekSta Kobra GORE-TEX® should definitely be on your list or candidates.
Buy direct from Snowgum for $299.95 per pair
Packed with features and exceptional support, the Kobra is the one shoe to do almost anything. Work in, travel with it, walk the dog or hike a trail in it, you will find the materials, functionality and performance to your liking. One of the most requested styles.
- NestFIT system cradles your feet, accounting for every contour as it follows the natural flow and design of the foot. Upper, insole, midsole, and outsole
come together like never before.
- Water-repellent Soft Suede synthetic and Serena sandwich mesh uppers
- Upper shoe features GORE-TEX® XCR (extended comfort range).
- BOA lacing system for easy percision adjustment.
- IceLock™/HyperGrip® sole provides traction in all conditions.
- 3D Resin Printing
- TPU Heel Support
Field Test – Big Sky Chinook 2P 4 Season Tent
When I first started hiking I spent the first twelve months of my new ‘life of adventure’ exploring the state parks close to my home in western Victoria. As my skills and confidence grew shorter half day hikes evolved into lengthy and more challenging full day hikes, often up to 10 hours and 25km in length. I discovered my passion for hiking as a solo hiker, mainly due to the fact that none of my friends were really into the outdoors. I actually really enjoyed hiking alone but longed to head out in a few multi-day hikes and to do that I needed to find myself some hiking companions. To cut a long story short, I found one and married her.
So the planning for our first multi-day hike began and we headed out on the trail with a 2.7kg three-person tent. Compared to some of the tents I had used previously for car camping this one was as light as a feather and we loved that our packs only weighed around 18kg. Looking back, I can’t believe that I thought that was light.
As our love for multi-day adventures grew, so too did our passion for the alpine areas of Victoria. Our hikes became longer, more adventurous and deeper into the wilderness of the Victorian Alps. It quickly became apparent that we couldn’t go on hauling 18kg around with us on these hikes so we started searching for ways to lighten our load. Pack, sleeping bags, tents, cooking gear, clothing, camp stoves, toothbrushes; we soon discovered that by replacing everything that we owned with lighter (more expensive) gear we could shave kilos off our pack weight. So with a limited budget, where do you start.
To me it was obvious, you start with the heaviest item, our tent. After months of research we discovered the Big Sky Revolution tent, a tent that carries with it a mere 1.7kg pack weight. That was enough to sell me. Not really, there are so many other features to this tent that I loved. It is a brilliant example of a well thought out and well manufactured product. So light to carry, so small to pack, so quick to erect and so roomy inside (we purchased the 3P tent). I could go on about this tent all day, but this is not the purpose of this article. What I want to tell you about is the Revolutions smaller but tougher brother (or sister, I’m not really sure how to tell with tents).
Enter the Big Sky Chinook 2P 4 Season Tent
Made for more serious adventures such as snow camping, mountaineering and multi-day hikes, the Chinook is designed to perform at its peak in high-wind areas and snow. Starting from the exterior, the Chinook offers double-wall protection from the elements with enough room inside the tent for you, your hiking buddy and smaller packed items. The exoskeleton design, the same as the Revolution, consists of three sturdy aluminum poles secured to the outside of the fly. What this achieves is a super-taut pitch that allows you to setup your tent in any weather without exposing the interior to the elements. We optioned the snow skirts on the fly which add an additional layer of protection by extending the fly down onto the ground. You can bury the overlap under the snow to help keep the weather out and the warmth in.
Heading inside the Chinook has two large vestibules on either side of the tent which are perfect for stowing your pack. I love that the tent has door on both sides of the tent as it makes it really easy for both parties to come and go from the tent without disturbing the other. Beyond the vestibules and two zippered doors which provide access to a surprisingly roomy interior, complete with high ceilings, deep pockets and plenty of internal clips for hanging torches or clothes you are trying to dry. I should mention here that I have always used tents that are one person larger than the number of occupants so I started this field test with a little bit of skepticism about the size, 2-person tent for 2 people? I can honestly say that I find that this tent has more room than it larger sibling, the 3P Revolution.
We have tested the Chinook on a number of overnight hikes and have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to a range of weather conditions to really put it through its paces. We have camped in heavy rain, gale force winds and even a substantial dusting of snow and the Chinook has never let us down. Having already owned the Revolution I suppose I knew what to expect from Big Sky but it still amazes me every time that a tent that is so thin and so light can be so solid and provide you with the protection that it does from the elements.
It is worth noting that the Chinook can be easily converted from a 3 season to a 4 season tent simply by adding or removing the cross pole that supports the vestibules. This will also reduce your overall pack weight if you are certain that you are in for fine weather. As with the Revolution, the Chinook is available with a mesh inner which provides excellent ventilation during the warmer nights but is not so great when you are out in a snow storm or facing strong winds from the Southern Ocean. For the Chinook we opted for the breathable fabric inner which provides greater protection from the elements and with two people in the tent it will keep you exceptionally warm. As with all solid skins this will increase the possibility of condensation building on the inside of your tent. In order to counter this Big Sky have built two ventilation flaps in the ceiling that let some of the moist air out and help reduce buildup of moisture.
An additional benefit of the external poles is that the fly can be setup on its own without the inner tent. This floor-less design provides the lightest possible configuration for weather protection and allows the tent to be used as a shelter for lunch breaks as well as an ultralight shelter for those you like to only carry 6kg on an overnight hike.
The Chinook is light weight, flexible, durable, spacious, has large vestibules which are great for cooking, and packs down surprisingly small to fit neatly into your pack. When I purchased the Big Sky Revolution I thought I had found the ultimate 3 season tent but after field testing the Chinook 4 season I have to say that the little brother/sister wins my affection as the best tent I have ever used. I know that may sound like a big call but for those of you who know how extensive my backpack and hiking boot collection is you can safely assume that I have and still do own quite a number of tents and this is my favourite child (just don’t tell the others)
Big Sky tents are available in Melbourne from Backpacking Light.
Prices varies from $779 to $1069 depending on options
Now for those who have been dying for the technical info…
- Manufactured by Big Sky International
- Fabric, fly: SuprSil, 1500mm
- Fabric, floor: SuperSil, coated on both sides, 3000mm
- Fabric, interior: Mesh (breathable fabric inner upgrade available)
- Factory-sealed seams
- Material, poles: DAC NSL 9 mm (aluminum)
- 3 four-season poles
- 2 large vestibules
- 2 top vents on vestibules
- 2 large zippered side doors
- 4 interior pockets
- Pole length, four-season, folded: 43 cm
- Weight: 1,684 g with mesh inner
- Weight: 1,694 g with breathable fabric inner upgrade
I would like to say a huge thanks to Big Sky for asking us to field test this tent. Big Sky produce an excellent product and I really do encourage you to check one out for yourself.
Field Test – SNOWGUM Cooper MKII VaporTEC® Boot
Hiking footwear needs to protect feet from damage and to provide a solid grip. Other considerations, depending on the individual or the trip, may include keeping your feet dry and ankle support. Durability, cost and weight will also come into the equation. There is quite an art to Choosing and Caring for Hiking Boots. The good news is that there are so many good products on the market now that there is bound to be something just right for you – all you have to do is find it.
When I started hiking a number of years ago I quickly realised that there was a vast range of hiking booths available in a vast range of price brackets. Being new to hiking I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on my initial purchase so opted for a cheap sub $100 pair. My early experiences with boots in this price range proved to be quite promising. That was until I started hiking more often and on rougher terrain. Its wasn’t long before I realised that these boots did not offer me enough ankle protection, arch support, heel cushioning or durability and they rarely kept me dry when I accidentally plunged my feet into water on numerous river crossings. It was time for me to increase my budget.
These days I wear hiking boots that are in the $400 price range. They offer me all of the things I need in a hiking boot and the durability has far outlasted my cheaper, earlier, purchases.
Recently Snowgum contacted me to share product information on their own branded Cooper MKII VaporTEC® Boot. These boots are priced at around $150 or $100 for club members (at the time of this review) so they fit right into the ‘first pair of hiking boots’ category. My immediate reaction was that I have been there, done that, with entry level boots but Ross challenged me to give them a go.
With any new boot that I purchase I always ensure that I break them in over a number of short hikes so that they soften and mold to my feet. I know that a lot of people don’t bother with this process so with these boots I simply laced them up and took them on a 12km hike. When I first pulled them onto my feet I was amazed at how comfortable they felt, particularly around my ankles and under my arch. There is plenty of padding and cushioning in these boots and they seemed to hug my feet in all the right places. I was pleasantly surprised. However this wasn’t the real test. I needed to put them through their paces on the trail. At the end of the 12km hike I had started to really like these boots. For an entry level boot they handled the terrain with ease. The souls of the boots displayed plenty of grip on all surfaces, including the occasional slippery rock on some creek crossings. I felt that I had plenty of support through my ankles and the sturdy suede upper easily deflected the occasional rock and sticks which threatened to attack my feet. So after my first outing I was pleased with everything the Snowgum Cooper had to offer.
As with all field tests one can not make an informed recommendation after one wear so I needed to take these boots on quite a few more hikes.
Over the past three months I have worn the Snowgum Cooper boots on multiple day hikes as well as an overnighter so that I could test them with a full pack. In total approximately 105km so far with them on my feet. On every outing these boots did not let me down. They remained stable on uneven terrain, waterproof in mud, rain and creek crossings and most importantly I never once rolled my ankle or received a solitary blister. All of the boots I have owned claim some level of waterproofing but they never really keep the water out, particularly on these cheaper pairs. On one hike I decided to really test the waterproofing so walked into the centre of a creek and stood there for five minutes. I was expecting the water to start seeping in from all sides but after walking back to dry land and removing my boots I was very impressed that they were as dry as the moment I put them on.
I will continue to test these boots for durability and will update this review over the coming months but so far they have lived up to everything that Ross said they were capable of.
If you are new to hiking or don’t quite have the budget for a more expensive boot I strongly encourage you to give the SNOWGUM Cooper MKII VaporTEC® Boot a go. If you are a club member $99 is a steal.
Buy direct from Snowgum for $149.95 per pair
The VaporTEC lining offers waterproof protection, combined with an internal lining for extra moisture wicking and breathability these boots offer excellent performance for any adventure. The Leather and Cordura mesh uppers offer strength and durability meaning these boots are made to last. The high traction, shock absorbing outsole means they are light, stable and very supportive, with a cushioned innersole that is removable for orthotics they are a comfortable fit. These boots are ideal for those buying their first pair of walking boots, day walkers or occasional hikers.
- Cow suede leather upper with nylon mesh underlay
- Brushed rubber toe and heel guards
- Removable Snowgum cushion support innersole
- VaporTEC waterproof and breathable membrane
- Moisture wicking lining
- Upper: Cow Suede Leather/Nylon mesh
- Insole: Removable cushioned inner sole
- Outsole: Strong and supportive dual density rubber sole unit with plastic shank for added rigidity and support.
Weight: 1.1 Kg
We are very excited to announce the launch of a newly redesigned website for the outdoor adventurer. The site provides powerful tools so that anyone looking for trails throughout Victoria can filter based on destination, distance, duration, grade or a combination of these categories. Discover your next Adventure with Trail Hiking Australia.
A truly exciting feature is the ability for the community to search for hiking trails ‘Near Them’. Using this feature will display all trails that commence within a 50km radius of the user’s location.
Source: The Australian Running Calendar 08 June 2016