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Scramble News (December 2022)

The News!

2021 Kit Test, Upcoming Kit Tests, Scrambler Tripod

Firstly, a very happy Christmas and a highly sociable and adventurous new year from all at Scramble.

In this post we're going to preview the upcoming Winter Kit Test 2023, provide some product, site and store updates, explain our decision to skip the 2022 kit tests and provide a brief, picture-book tour guide for the "Summer" Kit Test of 2021.



Scrambler Tripod Development

Camera System: MFT

In the early days of Scramble, I used a decent Panasonic travel zoom which was petite, inexpensive, reasonably reliable and something I didn't have to care too much about. Going off-path, I seem to stumble and fall quite a bit and occasionally I'll crash through some moss into bog, so I never wanted anything too fancy and expensive. However, its lack of RAW support and the small sensor resulted, at least in difficult conditions, in a far from ideal output. 

GP-Net Media suggested I switch to Micro Four Thirds (MFT) and offered me a supply of Panasonic GX1s and that's the camera I've been using ever since.  The VW Golf of cameras, it's solidly built, compact and reliable with excellent handling / ergonomics (made when the MFT duo of Panasonic and Olympus focused on smaller, lighter bodies and compact lenses).

Ultralight Tripods

Over time I'd become frustrated with my tripod (cheap, flexible, plastic, absolutely crap ball head and prone to breakdowns) and so I contacted my photography experts at GP-Net with a list of requirements for an ultralight all metal tripod and they went to work.

After much testing and back and forth, they've come up with a mini trekking tripod that's already making my life a lot easier and my photography hopefully a little better.  Here's how GP-Net sum it up:

"an all metal, ultralight yet highly durable modular tripod kit for extreme outdoor pursuits: a quick release, column and ball head for the Novoflex Micropod and other lightweight mini tripod bases"

The whole Scrambler Tripod story is outlined much better by GP-Net over at Studio, so for anyone interested in this kind of thing, check out their post on the Scrambler Ultralight Modular Tripod.

The Scrambler Ultralight Trekking TripodImage copyright GP-Net Media

GP-Net have now released the Scrambler on their SYSTEM store.

Pictured below are the two cameras I now use for all Scramble images attached to the Scrambler tripod: the Panasonic GX1 (with the Panasonic 12-32mm, 24-64mm FF equivalent, pictured right) and the tiny Sony RX0 in a cage for when conditions get nasty (or I need to do a selfy as I'm drowning in a bog).

The editor's Two Current Cameras on the Scrambler TripodThe Sony RX0 (lef) and the Panasonic GX1 with the 12-32mm zoom (24-64 FF equivalent)

The 2022 Desk Job, Product News & Store Re-Supply

The beginning of 2022 was frustrating. Waiting for winter to arrive, but it never did.  I've spent the whole of 2022 in office mode; making connections with manufacturers and new suppliers, ordering from European suppliers who, post-Brexit, have worked out how to ship to the UK after decoding the bureaucratic mysteries that Brussels and the UK had invoked (proving that these bureau and technocrats either have never worked a single day in the real world or are utterly corrupt and waging war on small businesses.  My take?  It's likely a bit of both).

So, aside from small treks testing our tripod, from spring through to late autumn, I was desk-bound, receiving deliveries, working on future products and sourcing items from oversees. So we decided to make 2022 a review write-off and instead just released our findings from the 2021 Kit Tests.

The result of course is a necessary investment in the future and a backlog of gear to test.  So please accept our apologies for the lack of interesting reviews. 2023 should see us return to form and there's plenty of kit queued up for testing.  But before we get into that, let's look at one beneficiary from all this office work: our re-stocked store on SYSTEM.

New Items and Re-stocked Favourites
  • DAC Poles: the 9mm and 10.5mm DAC poles are back in stock
  • Carabiners: we've now got a complete range of ultralight carabiners
  • Tent Pegs:  likewise, we've now got a complete and well stocked supply of all the aluminium and titanium tent pegs we recommend (absent the MSR snow pegs)
  • HD Tarp Bags: made by a new manufacturer we've been working with (which may be promising for future Towers, Machine Belt Bags and other items we've struggled to find a UK manufacturer for)
  • Black Yak Balaclava: high performance winter mountaineering balaclava from Black Yak
  • Edelrid:  new products from Edelrid (more cord choices)
  • Scramble Spider Windshield: recently restocked

Click on the image below to see all the re-stocked items....

Click for all the re-stocked Scramble items on SYSTEMImage copyright GP-Net Services

Upcoming Kit Test Items

  • [ Cold Weather LS Baselayer Top ] Brynje Super Thermo Crew Neck LS Mesh Base Layer With Shoulder Inlays.
    The price of quality merino-synthetic mix baselayers seems to rocket up every year. For a long time now, we've wanted to test the polypropylene baselayers by Brynje and use them in conjunction with a tee or baselayer that will get use in the non-winter months. In our opinion mesh layers require a semi-fitted layer over them to trap the warm air.
  • [ Lightweight (<300g) Softshell Jacket ] Rab Borealis Tour Jacket Softshell (290g) + Mountain Equipment Aerofoil Full-Zip Jacket (120g)
    No major finding expected, but we want to test these together.
  • [ Midweight (~700g) Insulated Jacket ] Rab Generator Alpine Jacket
    Unlikely to displace the Keela Belay Smock due to the major price difference, but if specs are anything to go by this may get a special mention. Another Primaloft Aerogel item, that's 120g lighter and should be a little warmer than the Keela. 
  • [ Lightweight (~250g) Insulated Gilet ] Haglofs LIM Barrier Vest (144g)
    The gilet version of the excellent Barrier Jacket. We'll hopefully slip it into a Summer Kit Test. 
  • [ Lightweight (<300g) Waterproof Jacket ] Sub Zero Lightweight Waterproof Jacket (306g)
    Slightly overweight for what we're after, but we want to test this polyester-based waterproof from Sub Zero.  There's always an interesting battle between polyester and nylon when it comes to waterproofs.  Nylon is tougher but less natively hydrophobic and thus more prone to "wetting out" than polyester.  Generally, a polyester based item is likely to be a little heavier but more waterproof. If this outperforms the Keela (our current pic) it will be a close run thing.
  • [ Lightweight (~200g) Thermal Sleepwear Bottoms ] Mountain Equipment Kinesis 3/4 Pant
    Unlikely that these will topple the Rab Powerstretch Pros, but we're interested in testing the "Octoyarn Warp-knit's" thermal properties.
  • [ Extremities / Accessories ]
    Black Yak  Mountain Shemagh Balaclava
    Rab Ninja Balaclava
    Haglofs Betula Beanie
    Sub Zero Factor 2 Fingerless Glove
    Outdoor Research PL100 (modified cut-offs)

  • [ 3 Season Sleeping Mat x 2 ] Vango Aotrom Short Sleeping Air Bed Mat (308g + Vango 10g Stuff Sack), Klymit Inertia X Lite Short Mat (159g + 4g Stuff Sack)
    We hope to test each of these mats in the Summer 2023 Kit Test in conjunction with our prototype short sleeping mat protector (weighing 150g and made from Tyvek Hardstructure and SkyTex 27 for mats up to 140cm long).
  • [ Towel ] Lightwave RAP-VAP Towel (60 x 95 cm, 89g without case)
    This is the lightest, best performing towel we've been able to track down.  It's not cheap but will save some meaningful grams.  Ingeniously, Crux / Lightwave realised that certain baselayer fabrics such as Polartech's polyester have excellent wicking properties and thus pull moisture away from the body and then distribute it across the surface of the fabric. Since the moisture is not actually absorbed by the fibres, it evaporates more quickly. That's the theory we shall be testing.
  • [ Focused Beam Torch ] Manker E02 II + RovyVon Aurora A1X (corded with quick release)
    A non-budget (£40 to £50 all in) focused beam backup light combo.  These two ultralight mini torches pack quite a punch and function really well together. The Manker is a right-angled torch and can clip onto a pack or jacket (with a max beam of 420 lumens) and with the RovyVon Aurora you get a short blast of 650 lumens to light the distant way ahead. This kind of power and throw is very handy when crossing treacherous terrain in the dark and for being able to judge what can and cannot be traversed. The combination weighs just 56g including batteries, cord and micro quick release (the latter two items do not come with the products).
  • [ Sub Zero Lighter ] Titech Titanium Peanut Lighter & Fuel Canister (~40g total)
    Pizzo-electric and butane lighters are pretty useless in sub-zero conditions. Petrol based lighters are really the way to go. We've stored zippos in zip-lock bags in sub zero conditions and the naphtha fuel still evaporates. This combination is around 20g lighter than a zippo and appears to solve the fuel evaporation issue. Both items are screw tops with o-ring seals. The Peanut lighter has a smaller fuel capacity but extra fuel can be carried in the canister. This looks like a likely solution to a problem that has caused us to not recommend any sub-zero lighting solution to date.

2021 Kit Test Items

It's always nice when a good deal of initial research pays off.  Many of the major items we tested in 2021 garnered reviews (either official or "special mentions").  The reviews are linked below: 

Knife: QSP Piglet

We recently tested a knife that is well worth a quick mention. Due to its weight (100g), the QSP Piglet doesn't displace our current recommendation, the Ka-bar Dozier, however, if I was going away for a long time, I'd be very tempted to take the QSP as my primary knife and have the Dozier as a backup. It has a thicker blade stock than many in its class (3.7mm) which resolves to a fine point. The handle is rounded and very comfortable in my (size 8.5) hands.  The opening is silky smooth and can be opened and closed one-handed. In addition, the choice of Sandvik steel is excellent for a budget knife. We're no great experts on knives, so if you want to find out more, there's numerous YouTube videos on this knife and an excellent written review here.

The QSP Piglet - A capable locking folder at a good priceThe QSP Piglet is a great knife, sensibly priced, but a little heavy (100g) for general purposes.

Camp Light: Nebo Lumo

Something of an impulse purchase that I expected to be rather useless and gimmicky, the Nebo Lumo actually got quite a bit of use and being so lightweight (25g including carabiner clip and 3x LR44 batteries) it's the kind of luxury that's easy to excuse slipping into your pack.

It provides 25 lumens in a dispersed glow.  Basically it's just enough light to see what's in your immediate vicinity (around your tent or tarp) without having to don your head-torch. Attached to a tarp pole, it's easy to locate in the dark and though it's nowhere near a must have item, it's not a waste of money either (and as an emergency, near-view, static hanging light, it's quite usable). What it won't do is light the way ahead.

The Nebo Lumo - Opulent porch lighting for a fiverThe Nebo Lumo may be non-essential porch lighting on a budget, but it's far from a gimmick.

2021 "Summer" Kit Test: A Brief Look back

We won't go into great depth regarding the Summer 2021 Kit Test (mid-August), except to say that for the first 10 days it was a distinctly Welsh summer; like everyone else's October or November.  Temperatures at the warmest time of day failed to reach 20℃. There was a consistent chilly wind and on most days, a considerable mist. I didn't get the feeling the planet was "burning up". This was my summer-wear for almost the entire trek.

Rather than focus on the gear, this time I thought I'd take you on a quick pictorial guided tour. The kit test started in Merthyr in South Wales and aimed for Cnicht (a pointy little mountain in Snowdonia in the north), taking in the Usk Reservoir, Elan Valley (the "Green Desert" west of the Claerwen Reservoir, pictured below), Machynlleth, Barmouth, the Rhinogs and Maentwrog.

No paths, no people.  This plateau in mid-Wales, leading up to the Claerwin Reservoir  offers tremendous, seemingly unending isolation and in more calamitous conditions, perhaps a sense of desolation.  

Heading North to the Claerwin ReservoirEntering the Green Desert (Elan Valley)

As you get closer to the reservoir a few more undulations and waterways appear and a sense you actually are somewhere, or at least getting somewhere.

Approaching the waterways feeding the reservoirMarshy and dangerous in late autumn / winter.

North of the west side of the reservoir, under-foot conditions improve and you can make quick progress.  Further ahead, some treacherous bogs await and you have to be somewhat tactical about how to connect the elevated sections. In poor conditions caution is warranted.

Keeping to the high ground, quick progress can be madeA dash due north, toward a climb and final descent off the plateau.

Exiting the plateau you come down and see, what on scorching summer days can look like ancient middle eastern ruins, but is instead the old Cwmystwyth Lead Mine. Over the ridge and heading NNW you hit a forest section. Speedy progress and more desolation in the ever-present mist.

Trees in the mistThe forest section before Nant-Y-Moch.

Through the forest and exiting at a place called Dyffryn Castell gets you across the A44 and after "sheep in the mist", there's a little climb onto a speedy path running north along the east side of the Nant-Y-Moch reservoir.  

Sheep in the mistThe bottom part of the climb up to the ridge overlooking the Nant-Y-Moch reservoir.

After the descent, there's a good deal of foresty crap to deal with before you get to the various paths, then roads, that lead to Machynlleth.

Heading due north out of Machynlleth you face a reasonably long trek through a mixed, mazy bag of steep forested slopes. Through the forest and over the ridge you descend passed an old slate quarry, which, to my untrained eye, resembles some kind of Japanese landscape.  A central column of flat cascading abundance framed by arching foreground vegetation. But what do I know?

Slate quarry in the Japanese styleA slate quarry north of Machynlleth.

Across a flood plain and over another ridge and you begin the descent down to the rail and foot-bridge that crosses the estuary to Barmouth. I camped out on the slopes and here the weather began to improve. 

Sunset over BarmouthSun sets at seven over Barmouth.

Over the Barmouth Slabs and across the Rhinogs with a few steep ups and downs you reach Maentwrog. NNW out of Maentwrog gets you near Croesor where a gorgeous sunset awaits.

Sunset near CroesorHeading NNW out of Maentwrog and the sun sets over Snowdonia's peaks.

Lose track of time taking photos and exit stage right to hunt in the dark for a dry slither of slope. Rise the next day to find yourself in a giant drainage basin catching the run-off from Moelwyn Mawr.

Keep going north and race to the top of Cnict. Job done. 

Heading back to Maentwrog is a lake called Llyn Mair, which was eerily still as it self-consciously held its pose for this "photographer".

Llyn Mair keeping very stillLlyn Mair, a still lake, north of Maentwrog

Back in Cardiff, surveying the damage, mostly caused by underfoot conditions in the mid-Wales section. Pretty superficial. 

Foot damage? Only superficialSome minor superficial scuffs courtesy of mid-Wales.

And of course. Scramble's editor is leaving Wales - let's switch on summer and godspeed.

Scramble Summer Kit Test 2021Scramble Summer Kit Test 2021

Merry Christmas and see you in 2023.


Last Updated: 22/12/22

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