I learned quite early on how important it was to be warm and dry in the hills. I walked the northern chunk of the Pennine Way as a lad of fourteen with my ‘brother with the hair’, who was twelve at the time. We were wearing Blacks of Greenock cotton anoraks: Mine was a natty orange, and my brother’s a tasteful blue. We were wearing ‘TUF’ work boots. I remember quite vividly the cold water seeping down my back and into my pants as we clambered down into the Hen Hole looking for a spot to put up the Good Companions single skin cotton ‘A’ tent… We were wet. miserable and knackered. We continued our walk as far as the Roman Wall before baling out to a warm & dry youth hostel.
I suppose, ever since then I have searched for outdoor clothes that would keep the nastier of the elements outside my skin.
When I was seventeen I invested in a bright red cagoule, which was great for the first half hour or so, until the humid air of the interior fug condensed onto the cold shell and then slowly soaked first my anorak, then my jumper and finally my shirt and of course, me.
After university, there was a gap in my outdoor pursuits of ten years or so as I had a young family. When I started to look again at waterproof coats (for Wainwright’s Coast to Coast some twenty years or so ago) Gore-Tex had been out for quite a while and I bought a bargain 2-layer job in bright red. It was a bargain, of course, because no-one else wanted it. It had a lousy floppy hood, was a size too big (I realise now) and because of its size, it flapped furiously in the wind
However! I did stay moderately dry and warm. The only water that got in really was through the gaping hood and the cuffs that wouldn’t do up tightly enough around my girly wrists.
My first Great Outdoors Challenge in 1995 demanded that I sorted out this deficiency. There were better funds available now and so i went straight out and without thinking too much about it splashed the cash on a Berghaus “Mera Peak” jacket. This was the business! But it weighed a ton. I had combined it with a 300 wind-stopper fleece (deep purple, very fetching) that could be zipped into the jacket. This assured a very clammy crossing, again being very damp, in the humid conditions of the crossing that year.
There then came a blinding flash of light! I was told i could ditch all this fleece and Gore-Tex and undershirts and just wear this stuff called Buffalo. (Richard Bannister, it was, I shall never, ever forgive him…) Unfortunately my walking mate at the time also believed this buffoonery and we spent a miserable two weeks walking across Scotland in the wild & wet Challenge of 1998. I damn near died of hypothermia and mould grew in great patches all over my skin for weeks afterwards that had to be treated with creams and pills from the doctor.
So – it was back to Gore-Tex, but this time with a lighter weight fleece and a lighter weight jacket, from Mountain Hardwear. It was a bad buy. I had gone for light weight but it was of a voluminous cut that billowed like a sail in the wind. Again, I had chosen a jacket with a crappy hood – unwired and flappy. The result was a sodden backpacker once again.
And then, along came my first Paramo Velez jacket.
What a revelation! It had a sturdy feel to it, a detachable hood that fitted reasonably well and it was really breathable. It did come out at a hefty 950 grams though. It kept me reasonably dry, though you couldn’t lean on wet ground on your elbow as water would force it’s way though the fabric. But, all in all I was pretty happy and it lasted three years, with only minor niggles – holes were beginning to appear under the hip-belt and the Velcro tabs were wearing out so that the sleeves would gape. It was replaced in 2005; the new black jacket was 200 grams lighter.
This jacket did sterling service: five years of TGO Challenges and a four month LEJOG in 2007. It was fantastic. It weighed 775 grams. In the end though it had to be pensioned off, as the side zips kept splitting in the wind, the Velcro cuffs gave up the ghost and I got fed up with the wind whistling through the gaps between the hood and the collar.
I replaced it with this Paramo Velez Adventure jacket in a natty ‘stealth’ green combination:
This jacket had the hood permanently attached and weighed in at 765 grams. not too heavy. I avoided the lighter weight alternative as I felt that the nylon covering was just too flimsy, having had two previous jackets develop holes through wear around the hip-belt area.
I have now been the proud and happy owner of Paramo jackets for ten years or so, but I was beginning to detect an unpleasant pattern.
On my LEJOG, back in 2007, I was very, very aware that you really had to keep the jacket constantly clean and re-waterproofed. I kept to a regime of washing and proofing it every four weeks or so, which I felt was surely enough. Well, it wasn’t. On a few occasions later on in the walk I was soaked literally to the skin. HERE is a fine example – and that was only four weeks or so after it had been totally re-proofed.
This year, on the TGO Challenge, there was Stormy Monday. I was soaked to the skin in the morning and after drying out in front of the fire in the Fife Arms, again in the afternoon. I had re-proofed the jacket prior to the PreWalkDaunder, so the jacket had been dealt with properly just four weeks prior to my soaking. I might just as well have been wearing my old Blacks of Greenock cotton anorak from forty two years ago, the amount of protection it offered.
Now I know that those conditions were pretty dreadful, but Phil Lambert had stayed dry in his Paramo because he had re-proofed his immediately prior to setting out for the Challenge.
On the recent trip to the Yorkshire Dales, Martin Rye was soaked to the skin in his two-piece Velez jacket whilst I was fortunate in staying dry, because I had spent the preceding days washing and proofing my Paramo.
The thing is, I am just getting fed up with the constant worry of washing and proofing the thing with the constant nagging doubt that if i don’t do it prior to every trip I am going to get a miserable soaking. I have enough hassle in my life and I don’t want to have to nanny my jacket on top of everything else. When it works, Paramo is an absolute dream. When it fails, it is a complete and utter nightmare.
The new Gore-Tex jacket weighs some 300 grams less than the Paramo Velez Adventure. I know i am sacrificing some warmth, but that just means taking a slightly heavier fleece, say adding half the weight saving back onto the weight of the replacement fleece. I also realise that I will have to keep the Gore-Tex jacket clean and proofed, but I am sure it won’t need the continual fussing that the Paramo jacket requires.
I am not doing this to shave a few grams here and there. I am going back to try Gore-Tex again to see if it is a more trustworthy system that I don’t need to nanny on a continual basis.
What do you think? Will this end in tears? (whichever way that is pronounced).
Have your say and leave a comment.