Big Lake, Small World

You know those ‘small world’ moments? When you get talking to a complete stranger, hundreds of miles from home, and it turns out they went to the same school as you? Or they used to go to your local pub? Or they worked in the same office as your sister?

Well.

Over the years, we’ve got to know loads of you – by nattering about where you’re heading (and chatting about how you got on once you’re back), by meeting you out in the mountains or at race events. So, for anyone looking for friends of PHD, cold and rugged places in the middle of nowhere would be a reasonable hunting ground to choose.

The middle of nowhere is still the middle of nowhere though (and we’re not exactly a massive outfit) so although that’s where PHD folks tend to end up, it’s still not all that likely that you’ll bump into someone we know!

It was quite a pleasing coincidence when we realised that – entirely independently – two of our friends were going to be crossing Lake Baikal at the same time. Michael Stevenson was going to be part of the Frozen Tracks team: he and his team-mate Scott Gilmour intended to break their own world record for an unsupported crossing of the frozen lake. Rosie Stancer was doing The Long Haul: a ‘double solo’ crossing of the lake with Mike Laird, to raise money for Veteran’s Aid. Mike had suggested they go together, but Rosie – veteran polar explorer and never one to shrink from a challenge – thought it would be more interesting for them to start at opposite ends and cross in the middle!

While Michael and Scott were going for the fastest crossing, Rosie and Mike were going to be the first to hit the most southerly, westerly, easterly and northerly points of Baikal in one expedition. And although it was one expedition, Mike would be moving in the opposite direction, making Rosie the first woman to cross the lake solo.

By most people’s reckoning, the metre-thick ice of the biggest lake in the world (in Siberia, surrounded by mountains) probably counts as the middle of nowhere. As mentioned above: prime PHD territory. For us to know two people from two different record attempts there at the same time though: still pretty unusual.

And then this happened:

Mike, Rosie & Scott

Funny who you bump into, isn’t ?

Yup, that’s Michael and Scott from Frozen Tracks with Rosie in the middle!

We haven’t caught up with Rosie or Michael properly yet, but then Rosie’s still not home and – true to form – Michael was on his way out to the mountains with Bolton Mountain Rescue when we got in touch! We know that neither trip went entirely to plan: Rosie was picked up from the ice by 4×4 after a storm, and unfortunately Michael had to pull out part way due to an infection in his foot (but Scott pushed ahead to claim the record).

We’ll tell you more about their stories, of course, but for now it’s simply nice to consider that although it’s a big world, it’s sometimes a very small one too.


Rosie Stancer has Polar Mitts and a Xero Jacket (now rather blacker than standard thanks to the smoky fuel she had to burn!)

Michael Stevenson also has Polar Mitts, as well as a Xero 1000 Sleeping Bag, Polar Socks and a Yukon Jacket. He hasn’t yet mentioned how sooty they are…

The view is well worth the climb

Jamie Mountain

Yes, it is a painting

A mountainscape can be awesome – truly awesome, in the traditional, literal sense. The perfectly captured light glinting off the savage majesty or peaceful beauty (or both) can really stir something deep within. And when that image is captured the old fashioned way – by hand, with a brush – it’s a tremendously enviable skill!

So we’re always happy (not to mention a little jealous) whenever Jamie Hageman’s in touch about what he’s been up to. Jamie’s a landscape artist, and to really get the essence of what he’s painting, he camps out in the mountains and sits with his brushes, immersed in his surroundings.

When he contacted us, he mentioned he’d just been camped out at about -10°C, tucked up inside his Hispar 500 on Sgurr a’ Mhaim’s “Devils’s Ridge”. Isn’t that a fantastic name?!

He’s also been using a Kappa Jacket for a number of years. It was made for the wet cold of the Scottish and Lakeland mountains; we had climbers and rescue teams in mind when we designed it, to be honest, but if it works for a painter, it works for a painter!

Recently, Jamie’s been featured in a film by Dave MacLeod – a climber renowned for some of the hardest and boldest ascents, so a chap who’s no stranger to a harsh mountain environment – which debuts at the Fort William Mountain Festival (20th – 24th February 2019). At the time of writing, it’s 22nd February and we’re not at the festival, so we haven’t seen it yet! We’re rather looking forward to it though.

If you’d like to see more of Jamie’s work – and it really is worth seeing – you should hopefully be able to track down the new film, and you can of course take a look at jamiehageman.com.

Come on and get down (most of the time)

 
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OK, fine, yes, this would be a problem
© Jay Gooby

A quick word, if we may, about something which has been mentioned a few times to us recently: should you eschew down bags in favour of synthetics for UK camping?

It sounds like a simple enough question. And in reality, it pretty much is. The answer is no.

You were probably expecting more than that, weren’t you?

OK then.

To start with, what’s behind the question? Why the concern? Well, down fails if it gets drenched – the fluffy clusters collapse and can’t trap warmth – and it takes ages to dry (and that drying takes effort). Decent synthetics – like the Primaloft we use in our Zeta series bags – are more resistant to water, continue to offer some insulation when wet, and can be dried out far more easily anyway. That all being what it is, you’ll see why some are wary of using down in such a reliably unreliable climate as ours. Even though it’s lighter, more packable and longer lasting than the best synthetics, if it’s wet it doesn’t work. And working is pretty important.

Why did we say no then? The key is in the ‘if’. Down fails ‘if’ you get it wet. So don’t get it wet!

Seriously, keeping your down safe and dry needn’t be something to worry about. Keeping it dry when stowed is simple enough with a waterproof liner in your rucksack, and keeping it dry when camped isn’t a problem as long as you’re in some sort of shelter. Sure, if your breath condenses onto the bag and soaks through to the down (or if condensation dripping from the tent does the same thing) it could compromise the insulation, but that’s precisely why we use coated water resistant Drishell and Ultrashell fabrics.

We know what it is to camp in the damp of the UK, so these fabrics are available on even the lightest of our minimalist Minim series bags. Our very earliest pre-PHD beginnings were when Peter Hutchinson camped out in the north of England in the 1950s, and wished he had the equipment to deal with it!

So, although you may have heard that you simply don’t use down bags for UK camping because of the wet, the reality is that the amount of wetness necessary to cause problems isn’t a feature of normal camping. Pitch your tent in a water course or floodplain and you’ll have an issue, but that’s not really the fault of the bag, now is it?

We sense a question approaching…

Why do we make synthetic bags at all?

Yep, thought so! It’s a fair point. We think of them as climbers’ bivouac bags: bags for situations where you might not be able to avoid the wet. Even if you’re wild camping in wild weather, you can find somewhere to park yourself then unfurl your sleeping bag once undercover. If you’re improvising camp on a belay ledge though, you get what you’re given as far as location is concerned, and you might spend the night in the teeth of a storm.

This specialist usage was what we created our Zeta bags for, and that’s why they have things like cowl covers, and twin front zips to create armholes – so you can sit up and cook while still in your bag – which aren’t really necessary in a more conventional camping setup!

Back to the question which kicked this off then: should you eschew down bags in favour of synthetics for UK camping?

You can use synthetic bags – it won’t do you any harm – but do you need to? No, no you don’t.

Put your back into it!

In January 2019, a rather remarkable thing happened. The Spine Race made the national news. Now, the Spine is a very challenging event – covering the 268 miles of the Pennine Way National Trail from Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders, in winter – and the physical and mental effort required to complete it is extremely impressive. But it happens every year, and, well, fell running tends not to make the news.

Jasmin, running, in the middle of nowhere, with a big smile. Pretty much what you can expect, really.

This year, however, it did. The course record was beaten – not with a few seconds or minutes being shaved off, but by 12 hours. That was made possible in part by simply not sleeping for any more than three hours during the whole event, which apparently lead to some pretty interesting hallucinations for the victor. That’s all very newsworthy of course, but what really caught the popular imagination was that while historically, the very fastest athlete over any given course tends to be a man, in this case the winner – who stopped periodically to express breastmilk – was very definitely a woman.

Moreover, she’s not a professional athlete, she’s a vet. In fact, she ran the Spine during a week off from writing up her PhD, which is due in in March. She also wrote to PHD (Ha! See what we did there?) to discuss how suitable her limited edition Minix bag would be for the Spine. We’re really very pleased that – having done the race – she told us “I do love your sleeping bags, perfect and toasty for someone who likes to be warm at night and travel fast by day!”

Much of this particular story has – as mentioned – been covered in the press, but this sort of thing really isn’t out of character for Jasmin. For example, she’s the current British Fell Running Champion, and holds the record for the Ramsay Round: a 58 mile route over 24 mountain summits (including Ben Nevis). Later this year, she and her husband Konrad will be competing in the PTL (300km in the Alps).

So, if you find her as inspiring as we do, you can find out what she’s up to on her blog, “Talking of fells,…

A really very remarkable lady

Middle of nowhere? Check. Little cart to live in? Check.
Head to toe in PHD? Check. Indomitable smile? Check.

A bit of a disclaimer to begin with: this isn’t the whole story. It’s not really even a little bit of the story. More a signpost to the fact that there’s an incredible story for you to discover.

Frankly, there wouldn’t be enough space here to tell you everything.

So, a bit of background…

Rosie Swale-Pope was born in Switzerland just after World War II, and grew up with her Grandmother in rural Ireland. It wasn’t an especially conventional childhood. She didn’t attend school all that much until she reached her teens, for example, and she rode a saddled dairy-cow in a gymkhana.

They had loads of animals – orphans, the elderly, the lame and the unwanted which they bought for a few shillings from local farmers – and though she would have loved a horse, she never managed to save enough. So she put a saddle and halter on old Cleopatra and rode her to the Pony Club.

You’re possibly starting to grasp why we’re not going to try and tell her whole story here!

Life continued as unconventionally as it had begun. Rosie sailed around the world with Colin Swale – her first husband – and daughter Eve, giving birth to another child during the trip. In the early 80s, now on her own, she was trying to get an ageing 17ft wooden boat ready to sail solo across the Atlantic, when she met Clive Pope. He helped her rig the boat, and she did indeed sail it solo across the Atlantic, before returning and marrying him.

This wasn’t ‘settling down’ though – together they completed a 1000 mile walk around Wales in 1987, for example. And then, in the mid 90s, a dog-eared copy of Runner’s World in a doctor’s waiting room inspired her to try running, so later that day, she did. And she loved it. So the following year she entered the London Marathon, and then the Swiss Alpine Marathon…and then several more.

Clive’s death from cancer in 2002 brought to light the fact that if he’d been screened earlier, it might have been caught in time for him to have survived it, and this inspired Rosie to run some marathons for cancer awareness. The thing is though, quite a few people who run marathons do that, and by now you’ll have noticed that Rosie doesn’t generally do what quite a few people do.

                “I had been looking at the map of the world on my wall, wondering if I could afford overseas marathons, when something took hold of me by the scruff of the neck; a thought broke through my grief and seized every part of my being.

                I would run around the world instead.”

That’s more like it.

Yes, Rosie saw that if she went far enough north, she could actually run right around the world – oceans and all – without needing to take boats or planes, and so that’s what she did, towing her life in a little cart behind her for five years. As well as cancer awareness, she raised a quarter of a million pounds for a charity supporting Russian orphans. She’s also run across America, from New York to San Francisco (adding hundreds of miles to the journey by going via Texas), again to raise awareness of the importance of screening for cancer. Among other things, the cart she towed had “Stupid Cancer” written across it.

This year – about a year after breaking her hip – she ran from Brighton to Berlin, for similar reasons. And honestly, she shows no real signs of stopping.

Back when the cancer was attacking Clive’s bones and everything hurt, Peter Hutchinson made him a lightweight down vest to stave off the cold. Then when Rosie set off round the world, he outfitted her with the sort of gear necessary to keep warm in the huge range of temperatures she was going to encounter, and we’re extremely proud that she’s been PHD-clad on all her adventures since.

So that’s just a little bit about Rosie and what she’s been up to, but there is of course a great deal more! The quote above is from her book “Just a Little Run Around the World” – which is well worth reading, and you can find out more about her (and maybe even arrange to have her tell you a few stories) at rosieswalepope.co.uk. You might find she’s rather too busy (surprise surprise) for that to be completely up to date all the time, but you can keep an eye on what she’s up to on Facebook or check out @RosieSwalePope on Twitter.

Peter Hutchinson: carrying on in his name.

In an old textile mill on the outskirts of Manchester, there’s a door which bears the name “Peter Hutchinson”. On 2nd November 2018, Peter Hutchinson passed away, but the door will continue to bear his name, and so will everything which comes out of the workshop behind it. He was the PH in PHD; the reason we do everything we do, the way we do it.

It all started because he was a climber, his mates were climbers, and back in the early ‘60s – when it wasn’t quite so unusual to make your own gear – he made gear for himself and his mates. It turned out to be really good gear and, for the next ten years, he worked alone, in a chicken shed, quietly making gear and quietly making a name for himself.

It became apparent that if he was going to supply everybody who wanted his gear, he was going to need a proper company with a proper factory, so in the ‘70s, he acquired the tools, the skills and the people needed for mass manufacture, and Mountain Equipment was born. The business expanded as successful businesses do, backed by investors with an eye for profit, which meant that manufacturing eventually moved offshore…which meant Peter was no longer nattering with climbers and making them what they needed. But that – for him – had always been the point. He missed doing what he’d been able to do in the chicken shed.

So he took the very unusual step of realising that success isn’t measured by the size of your business, it’s measured by how much you get to do the things you love doing. So he jumped ship.

Hands – quite literally – on: Peter inspecting the down in the workshop.

He started all over again, went back to innovating, to designing and making things directly for the climbers who needed them. And that was the birth of Peter Hutchinson Designs. For the next 20 years – the remainder of his life – he stuck to that ideal, and built a company around it. He was able to listen to – and work with – extraordinary climbers and adventurers, and that enabled the company to develop ground-breaking new equipment. In this way, growing organically, PHD has prospered: something Peter was justifiably very proud of.

In PHD, Peter created a family of specialists who share a love of his way of doing things, who between them have the knowledge and the skills to keep creating and developing exceptional mountaineering kit, tailored to the needs of those who are using it. Together, we continue to strive for his goals of innovation and quality, as Peter said “the best way we know how”.

In an old textile mill on the outskirts of Manchester, there’s a door which bears the name “Peter Hutchinson”. It will continue to bear his name because without him, nothing behind that door would be there. So actually, it’s worth correcting something we said at the top of the page. It was almost right, but a little too much in the past tense:

Peter Hutchinson is the PH in PHD.

It goes OMM, and OMM, and OMM…

Heidi Parsons (L), PHD's Emma Harris (R)
You thought it was cold, wet and horrible, didn’t you? 
But see those smiles? Those are real smiles.

Way way back in the mists of, well, ages ago, a mountaineer and orienteer by the name of Gerry Charnley took out an ad in an outdoor magazine, looking for people to compete in a two day event which would combine those skills: navigating as quickly as possible between checkpoints, and generally getting on with being out in the hills.

Several dozen folks duly showed up to Muker in the Pennines, and set off on the first incarnation of what was to become the OMM: the Original Mountain Marathon.

Moving around all over Britain (it doesn’t really work as a route-finding event if it’s always in the same place) the OMM has been held every year since. This year – fifty years on from that inaugural race – it was in the Black Mountains of Wales. It might have been more convenient had it been back in North Yorkshire where it all started though, as one of the many competitors lining up for OMM 2018 was (not for the first time) our very own Emma Harris.

We’ll pause here to say that yes, of course Emma and her race partner Heidi were using PHD gear, and of course it worked! Check out our race calendar if you’d like any info on what sort of gear to take, or get in touch: we’ve got a pretty reasonable idea of what will work!

Meanwhile, back to the OMM…

Originally it was an elite event, the preserve of wiry hardcore fell runners (and they are still in evidence, to be fair), but with each passing year, its scope has widened considerably. The sport of adventure racing – which was quite possibly inspired by the OMM – has mushroomed, and that high profile has in turn helped to popularise the OMM. Now there’s a variety of courses for competitors of differing abilities, and 300 of this year’s competitors were first-time entrants.

Admittedly, conditions can get rough – this year the beautiful weather turned to sleet and snow, and the temperatures dropped to -11°C – but with the right gear, the right skills and the right attitude, that’s not a problem. It certainly doesn’t require you to be an elite athlete, and Emma would be the first to admit that she isn’t a runner. Between family life, managing the office here at PHD and working on her farm, she really hasn’t got the time to be!

The point we’re making is that an event like the OMM needn’t seem out of reach. It’s still a challenge – and the elite can still compete at their elite level – but the nature of challenges and achievements is that ultimately, they’re personal. So it doesn’t matter how elite anyone else might be, it’s about what you can do.

Totting up the Differences

Humber Lifeboat

It’s a minefield. What would YOU wear?

How do you know what jacket to put on? Well, normally, you probably look out of the window, maybe go to the door, check the weather forecast, examine your collection of pinecones and seaweed – something involving assessing the state of the weather anyway – then choose. And all that stuff only helps you choose because of your experience: you know how cold you tend to feel, and you know what you’re intending to get up to.

It’s unusual for clothing to be rated according to temperature, for pretty much the reason just given: you need experience to know how cold you’ll feel on any given day (and you need to know if you’ll be running, walking, climbing, standing around, doing star jumps or whatever), and obviously we don’t know any of that when we’re making a jacket.

So why do we use temperature ratings then?!

It’s to help you choose. You’ll find a Typical Operating Temperature (TOT) supplied for each of our garments, and the thing to remember is: we know it’s only a rough guide. It has to be, if you think about it. A figure in degrees is very precise, but human experience is anything but! The idea is that it’s a good starting point, something to help with your personal-experience-based choosing. Assuming you’re not being too energetic but you’re moving most of the time (think walking with the odd break), the TOT is the lowest temperature for which the jacket is likely to be appropriate. But if you know you don’t notice the cold that much, you’ll be fine at lower temperatures. If you’re standing around for ages, you’ll probably need a more extreme-sounding TOT than the thermometer would suggest. And so on.

Hispar Brew

Hmmm. We never factored “has mug of Bovril” into our TOT calculations. Worth a look…

It’s the same idea that you’re probably used to with sleeping bags, although admittedly in that case it’s a bit easier and more reliable: we can all be pretty certain that the activity you’ll be getting up to is sleeping. That means you just need to know whether you tend to feel the cold and – once again – adjust accordingly.

Recently, a chap called Simon Curson went off to Alaska to climb Denali: a staggeringly cold mountain. We’d normally suggest taking a Xero K Jacket (with a TOT of -40°C) and a sleeping bag like the Hispar 1000K or Diamir 1200K (-46°C or -48°C), but Simon took a Hispar K Jacket (-30°C) and a Hispar 800K sleeping bag (-33°C). He wasn’t just slumming it and making do though:

View from Glacier

How cold do you reckon it looks?

I was recently in Alaska climbing Denali and used your jacket and sleeping bag in some pretty rough arctic storms. Both performed brilliantly. The jacket was the main reason I enjoyed Denali and was able to function.
Thank you very much for your time and like I said I think your products are the bomb. They were getting a lot of attention at 14k camp from the American climbers. Some had heard of you and were talking in hushed tones about how good the kit was. Those who hadn’t heard were impressed when we did jacket swaps (although never for long!).

Simon’s an experienced climber, and part of his kit choice was based on getting things as light as possible. What he considers to be ‘too cold’ will be different from what’s too cold for someone else, so the right kit for him will be understandably different from the right kit for someone else too.

So that’s back to the beginning: if you’re choosing what to wear, you think about the weather, about what you’ll be doing, and – crucially – about how cold you’re happy to be. The TOTs are simply there because if you’ve never worn these jackets, you need some info about what they can do. That’s why we use temperatures: you need to decide on a jacket for the cold, so we use the international language of cold!

And finally, if you haven’t the experience to know whether to take TOTs at face value or adjust them a bit, that’s fine: we have! We’ve been field testing for decades – as well as talking to people like Simon (and people who feel quite the opposite way and really hate the cold) – so give us a shout or drop us a line and we’ll give you a hand.

The Superlight 400 or “Why we Love Sleeping Bags so Very Much”

Minim 400 Tent

Honestly, what’s not to love?

We know it’s unusual, but we do quite genuinely get really excited about sleeping bags. We’re not daft though: we know that not everyone does. No matter how much fancy detail goes into making them, at a glance they all look pretty similar, and most people just care that their bag keeps them warm and doesn’t weigh a ton. And even then, they only really notice it if it isn’t any good.

That’s perfectly understandable, of course. A decent sleeping bag (when it’s in your backpack) lets you get on with whatever you’re doing, or (when it’s not) encourages you to sleep: it tries its hardest to be ignored.

So, with that in mind, we’re going to shine a spotlight on our unassuming, simple-looking but nevertheless remarkably exciting Superlight 400!

It’s part of our Mountain Marathon Collection, and that means runners in autumn and winter multi-stage events (in the UK and Ireland) sleep in it to recover and recharge for the next day’s stage. So that means warmth, the ability to handle damp, and being small enough to carry when you’re running for miles. Potentially in horizontal sleet. Not that the sleet has much of a bearing on the bag itself, but if you’re having to put up with that, you’re liable to get increasingly bitter about hefting around gear that’s bulky and overweight.

Which is why the Superlight 400 is rated down to -8°C, shrugs off the condensation that drips off a cold winter tent, but only weighs about as much as a pint (without the glass).

So how do we get it to do that?

Well, the filling is 950 fill power goose down, which is so ridiculously springy that you need hardly any of it; the lining fabric is our “7X” 7 denier nylon, and the Ultrashell outer fabric – as well as being really rather light as well – has a permanent water resistant coating. And that’s all quite impressive, right enough, but the bit that really lights our candle is the way it’s put together.

Our bags generally use what’s called ‘box-wall’ construction. The outer isn’t sewn directly to the inner: a series of fabric strips are sewn in between them, creating square-section tubes to fill with down. This means the down can loft up without being pinched together by stitching. With us so far? Good.

In the Superlight, the top is still box-wall as normal, but the base is stitch-through: the lining is sewn straight to the outer. If you’re going be squashing the down in the base by lying on it anyway, then we don’t need to be quite so careful about letting it expand. And this means that there’s less fabric, which means there’s less weight.

It’s more involved to make because there’s a separate base and top, but still, it’s a deceptively simple concept, and, well, 570g for a -8°C bag: isn’t that cool?!

That really is how we feel about the Superlight 400…in fact, that’s how we always feel about sleeping bags. OK, they all kind of look of a piece with one another, but if we can make something seemingly ordinary do something remarkable, then yes, we don’t mind admitting we’re really quite excited about that.

 

Ventile’s coming home

Ventile Label

It’s weather resistant, it’s 100% cotton, it’s…well, you can read it

OK, we get it: it doesn’t really seem that much like us. Using cotton cloth that was cutting-edge in World War 2, when we normally insist on the latest and lightest. If you think about it though, most of what we do centres around down insulation, and that’s not exactly cutting edge: geese have been using it for millions of years. What we’re really bothered about is finding stuff that’s good at doing what it does.

So yes, we do get pretty obsessive about making the lightest gear, and that means finding stuff that’s the best at being lightweight. But there are plenty of other considerations besides low weight, and for a lot of them, Ventile makes a lot of sense.

It actually started with firehoses. They used to be made of linen, but as war threatened Europe in the 30’s, it looked as though there might be a flax shortage (linen is made from flax fibres), so something else needed to be sorted out. Then an even more pressing need spurred the researchers on: RAF pilots who ditched their planes into the sea needed something to protect them from the icy waters, otherwise they’d perish in minutes.

The answer, developed at Manchester’s Shirley Institute, was long-staple Egyptian cotton (the ‘staple’ is the length of the raw cotton fibres), which is spun, doubled and woven into a very, very dense cloth. When the fibres swell with moisture, they plug the tiny gaps in the weave, making it impermeable to water: impermeable enough to use for hoses, and impermeable enough for fighter pilots’ suits. In fact, it’s still used for fighter pilots’ suits!

The happy side effect of this construction is that because it doesn’t have a laminated waterproof membrane, there’s no solid barrier to moisture so the breathability is excellent. And because it’s so dense, it’s great at blocking the wind (and preventing down escaping). And because it’s cotton, it drapes nicely and doesn’t rustle.

And when you put it like that, we reckon it makes a lot of sense. It’s a been a favourite of explorers, wildlife photographers and bushcraft enthusiasts for years, but you don’t necessarily need to be undertaking anything monumental to benefit from it: winter commuting puts you in the teeth of the weather every day!

So that’s Ventile, that’s why we like it, and that’s why we’re using it in our PHD Outwear Collection. It keeps out the weather, keeps in the down, breathes brilliantly, and looks and feels even better. And because we make our gear in an old textile mill in Manchester, it seems nicely appropriate.

Baffin Jacket

An old-school, big, hefty number. Wearing a PHD Baffin Jacket