Mini Reviews: Best Summer Kit Purchases 2011

1) Ortlieb Classic Panniers
I had a year of commuting in London last year and used a 30litre hiking rucksack to carry my kit for my 36mile round trip between London Bridge and Heathrow. I was always a bit scolding of the 'pannier boys' who couldn't squeeze through the gaps between the red buses and couldn't track-stand as easily at the lights.
But when we started planning our France and Spain Touring Trip back in January, I clearly couldn't put off the pannier conversion any more. I researched what the round-the-world tourers used (just in case we got lost I guess!) and found that the Ortlieb Classic was world renowned as one, if not 'the' best panniers out there. So I ordered a pair and waited to see what all the fuss was about.

And now I see - they are worth the fuss! From the moment I opened the box the German manufacturing build quality was evident. These panniers are built effectively as a roll-top waterproof bag with pannier mounts. But the quality is in the detail:

  • The single pull mounting and removal system is far easier than any other I have seen before, including my touring buddies' Carradice and Altura mounting systems.
  • The shoulder strap that doubles as a securing system for the roll-top closure is very useful when you want to use the pannier as a shopping bag; a feature that again I haven't seen on other panniers.
  • The D-Clips that help to mount a rack-top dry bag are an inexpensive, but useful touch.
  • The 3M reflective material on the front and back of the panniers that are blindingly bright when illuminated are undoubtedly a great safety feature.
So do I now like panniers? Oh Yes! No more sweaty backs, wet kit or sore shoulders. I wish I had converted earlier - I will certainly be using them daily on my commute to Uni this year. 
You can pick up a pair of Ortlieb Classics for about £80 on the net now, and they are worth every penny in my opinion; I'm reckon they should last at least a decade, and that is pretty good value really. It's another classic case of you get what you pay for really; and this simple, but well built pannier system has withstood the test of time for a good reason.

A head-torch is a head-torch no? You can get expensive Petzl ones and cheap supermarket ones. 
This one is a little bit special though in my opinion. I first came across it when one of my touring companions brought one on our France and Spain Touring Trip.
It looked like a pretty neat bit of kit: it had a battery pack on the back, which always seems like a good idea to make the weight more balanced; and it was only £12.50 with free postage from Alpkit
But just as with the panniers, the real quality of this great little bit of kit is in the details:
  • The battery pack on the back has a neat little red light on it, fantastic for the bike or night-hiking
  • The biggest beam is very pinpoint - perfect for strapping to the helmet and giving a really bright light just where you want it (as good as many £100 bike lights I've seen)
  • There is a battery saving smaller white LED for when the battery is running low
  • There is a red and green LED choice on the front as well - and the red one has a flashing option as a safety light, or a fixed option for when you want to keep your night vision (or not be seen when wild-camping).
So all in all, a great little feature packed bit of kit; at an extraordinarily good price. It might not seem as massively robust as some of the £40 Petzl models, but you can lose one and break one and still have cash to spare from £40 at this price. Whether it's for a back up torch, walking the dog or as a helmet light for cycling, you could do a lot worse than getting one of these!

3) Berghaus Flare 700 Sleeping Bag
For the France and Spain Touring Trip I decided I needed a new bag. I didn't really have the cash for a down bag, and decided that it wasn't really sensible when I couldn't be sure I would be able to dry it out and stop it from getting smelly when we were wild camping. So I began looking at lightweight, synthetic bags that were compact and good quality. 
I came across this Berghaus bag at Blacks and decided it looked like a decent bet. It looked good on paper - 751grams, compact and being Berghaus it should be well made.

When it turned up it certainly looked the part; well made with some really nice (even though synthetic) materials and with some neat little features like a security pocket to put your passport in when you are asleep. 

In the field: During the trip we certainly had a variety of conditions to sleep in. From 25'C and humid in Spain and the South of France, to 5'C and misty in the Alps. I'm pleased to say that the bag performed well.  Any bag is going to struggle to cover a variety of temperatures like that. One of my companions had a fantastic looking AlpKit 500 bag, which I was very envious of in the cold mountain camp-sites, where I admittedly had to resort to wearing Skins and a thermal top to bed. But I still kept warm enough, and I was thankful for the reduced bulk and weight of my bag when we actually had to climb those mountains!

The bag itself has a quality feel to it, although being a synthetic material the liner feels almost like silk and the lining - called AT Fibre Fill is compact, yet comfortable; and even after machine washing it (something you definitely can't do with a down bag) on returning from our trip, it still looks in perfect condition and hasn't clumped at all.
There are other neat little features that suggest the quality of Berghaus kit has been continued in this product; a little tab on the velcro zip cover, so that the velcro doesn't pull threads when it is undone, and a little pocket in the hood, where you can stuff a few spare bib shorts and jerseys to make a pillow within the sleeping bag.

Overall, a great bit of kit: light, compact and well made. I have been a satisfied owner of Berghaus boots and coats before. It appears that they have branched out into sleeping bags quite effectively as well!


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