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Scramble News (March 2024)

The News!

2023 + Upcoming 2024 Kit Tests, Store Updates

This is quite a feast, so strap in.

In this post we're going to run through items lined up for the upcoming 2024 kit tests as well as mention some hits and misses from 2023. But before all that we have some manufacturing and SYSTEM store updates.



SYSTEM Store & Manufacturing Updates

SYSTEM Store Stock Updates
  • Machine Belt Bags: an initial small run of 500D (Midnight Blue and Blue-Green) and 1000D (Grey) belt bags are now in stock. Once we have the initial batch of new Towers completed we'll be working on producing more Midnight Blue and Blue-Green MBBs but in the heavier 1000D fabric.   
  • Cook Kit Stuff Sacks: these UL 5L stuff sacks are finally back (now in Grey as well as Grey-Green)
  • Carabiners UL ( 2 to 4g): ultralight mini wiregate carabiners have been re-stocked
  • Aluminium Tent Pegs:  our aluminium Y and nail peg stocks have been replenished (and the Y-pegs have received a cord upgrade)
  • Scramble Spider Windshield: we hope to have these back in stock for the end of May

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

11L Towers (v.2)

For the new iterations of the Towers, we decided to go ahead with the side-strap alteration (for strap-centering when horizontal, as pictured below). This, and some logistical issues, has resulted in a delay. However, these are currently being manufactured in a range of fabrics and we hope to have them on SYSTEM in May/June of this year.

The new 11L Towers have an extended bottom loop to aid horizontal centeringThe v.2 Towers have an extended bottom loop to aid centering when horizontal.

As we've not had a winter this winter, we're planning instead to do an extended wet-weather kit test in April (which presumably means we'll get a drought). We'll do a final test-run of the new Towers before releasing them, just in case there are any issues we've overlooked.

We always like to have at least one high-viz option in the Tower range for climbers / mountaineers that may wish to be easily found should they get in trouble. Though most of the Towers are offered in a sober and somewhat subdued palette consisting of slate and wolf greys, muted olive greens and dusky midnight blues, our "Electric Peacock" EcoPaks are the high viz stand-out option. So, if you see a drenched flash of neon turquoise plodding up a Welsh mountain in April, that could well be me. 

2024 Kit Test Items

  • [ Supplemental Insulated Utility / Wind "Shirt" ] Marmot Alt HB Pullover (230g)
    A long sleeve lightweight insulated pull-on using the same Octayarn Warp-knit found in Mountain Equipment's Kinesis apparel.
  • [ Lightweight (<350g) Softshell HOODED Jacket ] Outdoor Research Ferrosi Anorak (320g, Size = M)
    Unlikely to displace either the Rab Borealis or ME Echo, this is an interesting item nonetheless and may be vying for a special mention. If Mountain Hardwear's Super Chockstone mated with Rab's Borealis Pull-On, you'd likely get something like Outdoor Research's Ferrosi Anorak.  A hooded pull-on with two open hand pockets and a centred zipped pouch pocket. For anyone not interested in a 4-season modular approach, this jacket would be up against the ME Echo. The Ferrosi offers an alternative design and as such may warrant a special mention.
  • [ Extremities / Accessories ]
    Brubeck M-Pro Half Balaclava (L/XL)
    Brynje Tactical Merino Wool Beanie (One Size, Olive - Olive Tan in reality)

    Our hope is that these two items will combine to solve two problems at once: a good, well-fitting light balaclava and an active wool-bias beanie to replace the discontinued Bergans of Norway Varde Beanie. For those looking for a full-on mountaineering balaclava, the Black Yak Mountain Shemagh Balaclava is the way to go.
    Brynje Super Thermo Helmet Hat (Black, L/XL)
  • [ Modular Tent (1. Body): Best Hooped Bivvy) ] Macpac's Bush Cocoon (Updated Pertex Version) [EDIT: 25/03/24]
    Almost forget a major bit of kit. We'll be testing the updated Bush Cocoon to check there's no drop in performance against the old eVent version. Feedback we've had suggests there's no noticeable difference. It's nicer looking IMO.
  • [ Modular Approach to a 4-Season Sleeping Mat ]
    Klymit Inertia X Lite Short Mat (159g + 4g Stuff Sack) +
    Gram Counter Gear Featherweight Evazote Foam Mat (XL, 90g + 4g strap) +
    Multimat Superlite 25S Self-Inflating Mat (340g)

    We'll discuss how we think we can combine these items for sub-zero use in the next section.
  • [ Sleeping Mat Protector / Changing Sit Mat ] Scramble Tyvek Hardstructure + Porcher Skytext 27 Sleeping Mat Protector (prototype v.4)
    We're still perfecting this and it's gained a few grams as a result but also has gained some function.  The only problem is, if we decide to go ahead and manufacture them, we can't get hold of the Skytex 27 fabric from Porcher (at least not yet). All the fabric ends up in the far east where the paraglider manufacturers are based. We'll keep trying to find a source.
  • [ Solo Cooking Pot ] Keith Titanium 900ml Single Walled Pot (Ti3209, 120g)
    This is, as far as we can tell, identical to the old Alpkit version. Alpkit made a strange decision to go for a tall narrow pot in its favour and so we're now recommending the Keith pot.  In addition we'll be testing the heavier (+30g) but almost 40% cheaper Tiartisans Titanium 900ml (Ta8316, 150g). We'll be switching between these over the coming years, but we can categorically state the Keith pot is our current recommendation.
  • [ Lightweight (<400g) ~20L Pack (+ Side Pouch) ] Mountain Hardwear UL 20L Backpack
    As we warned Blue Ice when they cost-cut the spine out of their Dragonfly packs, they were now competing against the big boys. Their packs have jumped in price and dropped in quality in our opinion.  We'll be testing Mountain Hardwear's UL 20L pack as a potential replacement.
  • [ Focused Beam Torch ] Lumintop Tool AA 2.0 (24g not incl batteries and diffuser)
    After initial tests this looks like a viable replacement and upgrade for our budget AA focused-beam torch, replacing the discontinued iProtec Pro 100. We'll also be testing Lumintop's EDC-01 XP-G3 120 Lumens AAA (15g) as a light backup and "around camp" hanging light / torch. The nice thing about Lumintop is they include diffusers with many of their torches and these are quite handy to have around camp when you just want some extra "environmental" lighting.
  • [ Power Bank (18650, 21700) ] LiitoKala Lii-100C Charger (43g excluding batteries)
    We're going to add a section on power banks (solar and non-solar) to our lighting post at some point. The LiitoKala Lii-100C looks like it might be the ideal power-bank, as it allows the user to control the quality of the batteries used and dial-in exactly the amount of capacity (mAh) required for the trip.

Note: There are a number of other items in circulation being re-tested that we haven't listed above.

2023: Kit Test Items Reviewed

It's always nice when a good deal of initial research pays off.  A number of the items we tested in 2023 garnered reviews (either official or "special mentions").  The reviews are linked below: 

2023: Failures, Near Misses and Items of Note

We don't normally go through all the kit we've tested that didn't make the grade, and we're not going to here either, but we will mention a few items that we felt were worth discussing. We'll start with the positives and finish on the negatives.

Items of Note: Grivel Explorer Micro Crampons

We've tested a number of "micro-spike" trail crampons over the years (Hillsound, Kahtoola, Pogu etc ..), the best has been Grivel's Explorer Micro Crampons.  Pictured below are a size Large (8 - 9.5) which require a little strength to pull-over my size 9 Altberg Bergens, but once fitted remain securely in place. The chains don't seem to want to break or come loose (as has happened with a number of others models) and the spikes are more aggressive than most.

Grivel Explorer Micro Crampons during the 2023 WKTGrivel's Explorer Micro Crampons came in handy on the 2023 Winter Kit Test.

A very handy item when there's still snow on the peaks but it doesn't look too permanent and conditions are variable. In the 2023 Winter Kit Test, the Grivels made what would have been a tricky icy climb a hell of a lot safer.  The only issue with all these "micro-spikes" is the lack of anti-balling plates. So, when you get away from the icy rock onto the snow-covered peaks, you end up with platform boots made of blocks of compacted snow and ice. But when full on crampons look they might be over-kill, the Grivel Explorers are a good bet and save me around 300g over my Grivel G1 crampons.

Items of Note: Marmot Bantamweight Anorak

Where Black Yak's Bruna UL Waterproof is first and foremost a very light waterproof that due to its outstanding breathability also functions as a heavy duty windproof, Marmot's Bantamweight Anorak is very much the inverse: a light (size L = 138g) wind-top that is also an effective ultralight waterproof.

The Bantamweight uses a 2.5-layer laminate with Pertex Shield, has fully taped-seams and has a minor degree of stretch. It features a pretty decent hood with a single cord adjuster at the back and packs into its own pocket.

Theoretically, you pay a very heavy price for such a lightweight envelope-pushing bit of rain-tech (full RRP = $250 USD and in the UK it was as high as £270). We didn't pay anywhere close to that and it's likely that Marmot had to slash their prices rather vigourously due to the poor reception their initial gambit received. Hopefully Marmot will continue their work in this area and set prices to sensible rather than greedy.  

Marmot's Bantamweight is an impressive but hyper-expensive ultralight waterproofMarmot's Bantamweight - ultralight waterproofing at a high cost.

The Bantamweight is impressively waterproof but will wet-out eventually. It's a luxury item, in that it won't replace a full-on waterproof for extended treks, but when the weather is mixed and you want a windproof that will keep two hours of steady, moderate rain at bay, it's fantastic. That said, when the heavens opened on the summer kit test, I noticed I immediately grabbed the Black Yak Bruna.  

The other thing that impressed me was that for such a light item, it's not that delicate. I had a fall taking liberties on some large wet boulders and went arse over tit, landing on a boulder below (thanks to the Blue Ice Warthog + Tower pictured above, no cracked skull as I landed on my back). I was certain when I slowly got up and checked for damage I would see a large rip in the Bantamweight, but it, like everything else, including me, was unscathed.  Maybe just luck, but I was impressed. It will be interesting to see what Marmot does with the Bantamweight, at present it looks like they've cleared the decks.

Items of Note: Sunglasses

Not going to say much here, as head sizes vary and sunglasses are a very subjective thing, but these two pairs of "budget" sunglasses have impressed us for a while. At present the dhb Clark Revos (24g without case) are my favourite and don't cost too much (~£20 if you shop around). Both pairs are cycling sunnies that hold well to a cap, are light and reasonably durable.

Some budget sunglasses worthy of noteSunglasses by dhb and Cebe that have impressed, YMMV.

Near Misses / Still Under Review:  Vango Aotrom & Klymit Inertia X-Lite

We wanted to look at some 2/3 length air-beds and the best candidates on paper were the Vango Aotrom (short) and the Klymit Inertia X-Lite. Both mats were tested in our Summer 2023 Kit Test (which was a mixed bag temperature wise, but overall cool/cold for August).

The two items are quite different, especially in terms of weight, but also dimensions and design:

  • Vango Aotrom Short (1-Season): 140 (H) x 55 (W) x 5 (D) cm, 308g (measured + 10g sack) = ~320g.
  • Klymit Inertia X-Lite: 107 (H) x 46 (W) x 4 (D) cm, 159g (measured + 4g sack) = ~163g.

You'd think that the Vango would be substantially more comfortable, but this wasn't the case.  It was a little more comfortable certainly, but not by much. Both provided very little insulation from the ground, and it was the cold that was the source of any discomfort, not the unevenness of the terrain.

Let's get the Vango out of the way.  It's okay. Its main virtue is that it packs down quite small. But for close to the same weight and with much better comfort and insulation you can get a self-inflating Nordisk Ven 2.5 or Multimat Superlite 25S. In addition it can be a bit of a pain to pack away, due to the valve which you have to push down to deflate. There's a knack to it and, with time, users will become expert, no doubt.

Two very different airbed mats - one has modular potentialThe Klymit at just ~160g looks like it may function as part of a 4-season system (TBD).

The Klymit Inertia X-Lite is much more interesting. Not on its own but, because of its incredibly low weight, it offers some interesting modular opportunities which we shall be experimenting with over the 2024/2025 kit tests. Below is how we're thinking about the Inertia X-Lite:

  • [ Summer ]: Klymit Inertia X-Lite (160g) + Gram Counter Gear Featherweight Evazote Foam Mat (XL, 90g measured)
    The 3mm Gram Counter mat is 195cm long and can wrap around the Klymit (top to bottom) with both inserted into our Tyvek / Skytex "envelope" mat protector. That 6mm (dual layer) foam should provide enough insulation for summer use and in conjuntion with the mat protector will fill the Klymit's skeletal gaps.
  • [ Spring / Autumn ]: Self Inflating Mat (25mm, ~350g) + Mat Protector only
    The Klymit and Gram Counter Mat (optional) can sit out these seasons.
  • [ Winter ]: Klymit Inertia X-Lite (160g) + Gram Counter Gear Featherweight Evazote Foam Mat (XL, 90g) + Self-Inflating (25mm) Mat (~350g).  Total weight = 600g.
    Basically, you have the same set-up, but the Klymit + Foam Mat is being used to suspend the self-inflating mat off the ground and bolster insulation for the self-inflating mat.  It may be possible to have the self-inflating mat inside a hooped bivvy with the Klymit and Mat protector slipped underneath the bivvy.  All this needs to be tested.

We're hoping this kind of setup may function well enough, to not only provide a good deal of flexibility and weight savings over the 3 seasons, but will replace the sadly departed Multimat Expedition Summit Compact 38S for winter.


Sub Zero's imaginatively named "Lightweight Waterproof Jacket" (pictured below) is a strangely mis-named 2.5 layer garment. It's lightweight, yes - but it's not waterproof. We would suggest it's actually water-resistant.

I would describe Sub Zero's piece as a very good looking, water-resistant, outdoor utility jacket. It's quite breathable, it blocks the wind well and will keep you dry in a shower.  But in persistent rain, the jacket quickly wets-out, and you get wet.  Why this is the case, we're not entirely sure.

Another team member reported this and I thought they must have a dud, but during the 2023 Winter Kit Test my experience was exactly the same. My guess is that Sub-Zero felt the polyester outer (which is more hydrophobic than nylon) would do a lot of the heavy lifting and as long as they sealed the seams, which they did, they could get away with a less effective membrane. That's my guess (and it's only a guess). It's a shame, because the hood is good and it looks the part.  Unfortunately, at least for Scramble's purposes, it's a failure, but one worth noting.

Sub Zero, Rab, Mountain Equipment don't always get it rightA few items that failed to impress.

Pictured above (centre image) you can just about make out the face of someone disgruntled.  That would be because they feel like they're wearing a horse feed bag. This is the Rab Ninja Balaclava and it may be ideal for some, but I have a reasonably average size head (Medium = ~57.5cm) and for me the fit was terrible.  I would guess, if you have a very large head it may be more fitted and perhaps ideal. But we expect balaclavas to be far more forgiving and this was another failure.

Finally, not really a failure per se, is the Mountain Equipment Aerofoil Full-Zip Jacket (pictured above right, Large = 122g measured). It's not the lightest in its class, it has a minor degree of stretch and it's perfectly decent, but not £110.00 decent. It's just completely over-priced in our view. If this was £70, we'd be still think it was pricey, but we'd be more forgiving, but it's not, so we're not going to be either. A fail on price alone. 

That's the hors d'oeuvres and main out of the way, let's get down to pudding ...

2023 Kit Test Snaps

Summer Kit Test

A distinct lack of visual cues heading north across the Elan Valley plateau.

Scramble's SKT 2023 - The Elan Plateau

This is a pine forest under the purview of the Welsh Forestry Commission and I'm walking through it. Nothing spectacular, but I want to stress a point: The trees are quite tall; certainly tall enough to make a human feel rather small and not overly significant.

Scramble's SKT 2023 - A Pine Forest For Reference

These are wind turbines and that forest (in the image above) is somewhere lost in that patch of dark green (pictured below, bottom left). That's how tall these monuments to folly and corruption, destroyers of bats and birds, actually are. As eyesores go, they're huge.

Scramble's SKT 2023 - The Mid-Wales Ruination Project

When I cleared the ridge and this landfill came into view I felt a mixture of nausea and visceral anger. The best way I can convey how this made me feel, is that if I were a minor deity, I'd get out a cosmically large spray can and spray shitty graffiti all over mid- Wales simply to point out to those who commissioned these wind turbines, that you clearly have no interest in your habitat and if you're going to treat it like a wasteland, I'll turn it into one. That's how this bullshit made me feel and shame on those that profess to be "saving the planet".  They're saving the planet like the US army saved villages in Vietnam:

"It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."
so said an American major after the destruction of the Vietnamese village Ben Tre.

On a lighter note, who knew IKEA made forests?

Scramble's SKT 2023 - Forest by IKEA

Actually, this isn't that bad. A curated forest which would otherwise be another Forestry Commission tree farm. This provides easy access for the less able-bodied to get in the vicinity at least of the source of the river Severn.

Leaving the Severn and heading north ...

Scramble's SKT 2023 - Mizzle at the Severn's Source

 ... and thirty or so minutes later, it's summer time!

Scramble's SKT 2023 - Blue Lake Near The Red Barn

Back in the Rhinogs and time to get my scrambling gloves on ...

Scramble's SKT 2023 - Crossing the Rhinogs

Heading up to a steep gully near Moelwyn Bach in north Wales.

Scramble's SKT 2023 - SpikesScramble News March 2024

Clouds rolling in across Snowdonia.

Scramble's SKT 2023 - Clouds Rolling In From The North

Winter Kit Test

Off with the Grivel spikes after a steep climb over the icy rock below.

Scramble's WKT 2023 - Off With The Spikes

The mandatory sheep in the mist after escaping west, down from the insanely stormy Rhinogs.

Scramble's WKT 2023 - Escape From The Rhinogs

My favourite photo of the bunch - a typical dank winter scene of three trees in the mizzle.

Scramble's WKT 2023 - Trees In The MistScramble News March 2024

Diversity, equity and inclusion. Or just another brick in the wall?

Scramble's WKT 2023 - DEI Brick In The Wall

For some pleasant reason I don't fully understand, I hardly see anyone on these kit tests. You'll notice, there aren't any people in any of these photos; not because I'm avoiding snapping them but because they're not there.  I counted five human sightings on the 14 day summer 2023 kit test and zero up in the mountains during the 8 day winter kit test. As such, I find images like this one (below right) taken by a Sherpa on Everest absolutely bizarre.  Beyond bragging rights, what exactly is the appeal?

The Highest Queue In The World

A while back I calculated the total elevation of one of the summer kit tests, which totalled more than two mount Everests from sea-level. I realise that the high altitude makes climbing such mountains an impressive feat, but is joining the highest queue in the world really what a soul yearns for?


Last Updated: 25/03/24:  
[ forgot to include the Macpac (Pertex) Bush Cocoon to the 2024 kit test list - now added ]

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