Well suited to a life of adventure

Pancoe Suit Everest

Alex Pancoe: “Your suit did great. From the Lhotse face in hot temps to the summit.”
Photo – Roman Tschupp

We’ve been told a lot of stories recently about successes on Everest, with a very pleasing thread running through them about these adventurous folks using our Double Suit – as you’d imagine, when people contact us, they talk about the gear we make.

Is it OK if we just, um…?

Of course, if we tell these stories then it could seem rather like we’re blowing our own trumpet, and it’s probably very British of us to be so concerned about that…but, well, we are, so that’s the way it is. So before we commence tootling our merry tune, if it’s OK, we’ll take a minute to explain!

PHD has its deepest roots in Peter Hutchinson’s climbing shop, where he’d natter with people and make the gear they needed, then natter again when they came back. And broadly speaking, that’s still the way we do things – we love to chat about what you’re doing, and then all the info you give us can be fed back into product development. So obviously we’re excited when people show us their photos and tell us their stories, and we want to talk about it!

But it’s more than that. Peter had some innovative, visionary ideas and, unfortunately, he passed away last year. To hear these stories of his innovations being so successful is, for us, very heartening.

So, what have they said?

Well, for example, Roland Thomas was climbing Everest on behalf on DHL on the occasion of their half-centenary, raising funds for the Direct Relief medical charity, and had this to say about his double suit:

“Although with a wind chill factor the temperature was about minus 40°C, I confess to not feeling cold at any time during my 17 hour summit push. Even in the notorious queue back down the Hillary Step, I did not once feel cold. I give credit to my PHD Double Down Suit for this. Then on the descent to C4 it was a Godsend to be able to remove the down jacket and be way more comfortable than the majority of other climbers on the mountain. In fact, the one-piece base down layer was so effective that I only had to wear the outer down layer on summit day.”

Exactly!

That’s bang-on, and we couldn’t be happier. That’s why the suit was designed – to safely allow climbers to adjust their layering – but it was always possible that people would be reluctant to take a new approach to kit for such a serious mountain, so that’s a wonderful vindication of Peter’s vision. Of course we tested it extensively before making it available, so we knew it worked…but the idea is that everyone who uses the gear is part of the ongoing testing. Yes, it was Roland who actually climbed Everest, but it’s still great news for us!

Every one is different, because everyone is different

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Phei Sunn Sim

Making everything to order (another unusual approach that Peter took and that we’re continuing) meant we were able to offer the windsuits ordered by the team of Sherpas in yellow and red: DHL’s colours! That’s a pretty niche benefit though: the real advantage to being able customise is to make sure that the gear fits properly.

Singapore’s Phei Sunn Sim, who finds most gear too big, told us “Just wanted to say that I love my customised PHD gear…the Double Down Suit kept me very toasty on summit push! Thanks!” and rather closer to home (for us in the UK anyway), Rowena Lewthwaite, another lady of slight build, said “I absolutely loved your double suit on Everest and I would recommend it to all my climbing friends especially as it can be made to fit smaller people.”

Whatever you think we need to know

Strohfeldt Suit Everest

James Strohfeld, still not exactly ‘flaunting’ his inner suit…but then you don’t really flaunt when you’re that high up

Like we said, the info gets fed back into product development: we pay attention to whatever you want to point out. When James Strohfeldt climbed the North Ridge of Everest recently, his decades of mountaineering experience meant he was able to pay attention to numerous aspects of the suit’s design and how they interacted with climbing techniques, and give us really detailed feedback: ideas about the hood and the accessory loops, and suggestions about fabric. Some things may be personal issues, some may be general ideas that would work for everyone, but all of it gets stirred into the mix…

One thing that draws comment but won’t be changing, by the way, is the white inner suit: it’s there to reflect radiant heat, so it’s actually very important. To begin with it wasn’t exactly to James’s taste, but “By the end of the trip, I was positively flaunting it, I was so pleased with it. Great suit. I look forward to my next chance to use it.”

At the end of the day, all these stories are yours

So, of course we love to hear about how our gear’s doing, and of course we love to see Pete’s ideas working so well out there. But this only happens because you all put in the effort in the mountains – otherwise there’d be no stories to tell us. So, congratulations and huge thanks to James Strohfeldt, Phei Sunn Sim, Roland Thomas, Kirsty Watson, Rowena Lewthwaite, to Roman Tschupp and Alex Pancoe, to Daniel Wehrly and Thomas Becker, to Sophie Hilaire…and to many more of you who’ve taken our suits out into the world (but they’re the ones who’ve been in touch recently).

 

 

 

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.

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.

Many Happy Returns!

 

Catalogue 2

OK kids, this is what we had before the web. Yes, there was a before…

We’re 20!

Happy Birthday to us, Happy Birthday to us, Happy Birthday PHDee-ee…

Happy Birthday to us!

That’s right folks, two whole decades of PHD. Doesn’t really sound like much, does it? Well, it’s a bit deceptive, perhaps: Peter Hutchinson’s actually been making gear since the ’60s. But making this gear, this way: that began back in August 1998, when we had a printed catalogue (remember them?) and selling online seemed like a bit of a flash-in-the-pan novelty!

So, how are we celebrating?

Good question. And you know what? We’re not sure. In all honesty, we’d completely forgotten about it! There was a half-distracted comment in the office (“Hang on…I think we’re 20 this month…I think…?”) which led us to go and look it up, and sure enough, yes we are.

So if anyone fancies baking us a cake, that would be lovely.

Maybe you could say it’s quite fitting: making to order means not having to launch new ranges every year, so of course we didn’t notice how many years there had been! Or as Pete put it: “PHD is too peculiar, too small and too busy with the present to spend time compiling a record of past achievements: our history is best defined for us by the living stream of customer reports we receive.”

On the other hand, maybe we’ll have to have a big bash when we hit 21 next year and properly come of age…

 

 

First ascents in Kyrgyzstan’s Djenghi-Djer

dundurWe were approached, a little while ago, by a chap called Will Rowland, who wanted to talk about sleeping bags. Nothing too unusual in that: as you might imagine, people ask us about sleeping bags pretty much every day! This stuck in our minds though, thanks to an old family connection.

Decades ago, when Pete Hutchinson Designs was still simply Pete Hutchinson and his designs, Pete made a sleeping bag for Clive Rowland, an accomplished mountaineer who’s known for (among many other things) saving the lives of the seriously injured Doug Scott and Chris Bonington on the Ogre in 1977. Will, as it turns out, is Clive’s son, and figured that if it was good enough for his Dad, it was good enough for him.

The apple, as it turns out, has not fallen far from the tree: Will appears to be a pretty adventurous climber too…

He wanted to chat about sleeping bags as he was one of a team who were heading to Kyrgyzstan, looking for unclimbed peaks. It may seem that there is nowhere new left to explore: everywhere’s been visited and every mountain climbed, surely? Well, not quite. There are still a few regions hidden away, where climbers’ eyes light up at the prospect of being the first to set foot on a new summit.

In August 2016, the remote Kyrgyz range of the Djenghi-Djer was visited for the first time by a climbing expedition; they put up a number of first-ascents, and noted that there were many more for future teams to explore. And that’s exactly what Will and his friends had decided to do.

After few conversations about what they’d need (and what they may be likely to need for future trips), the team decided on Hispar 500 and 600 bags. One of the 500s was shelled in waterproof HS2 fabric, to put up with the sort of cold, wet conditions normally more associated with arctic exploration, so we’ll hopefully have another expedition to keep an eye on in future!

For now though, the team look to be having a great time out in the Djenghi-Djer. If you’d like to see what they’re up to, you can check out their blog, and see the latest updates on Facebook.

Bivouacs, a personal view

Nowadays, PHD gear is used all over the world, from weekend camping and lightweight backpacking to Himalayan peaks and polar expeditions, but the story really begins with a young man, sleeping under the stars in the north of England. So, we thought it would be interesting to hear what Peter Hutchinson – our founder, and now not quite such a young man – has to say about the freedom and the sense of adventure which comes from the bivouac.

peter-hutchinson

Peter Hutchinson

The good old days

These are random recollections of bivvies which made a lasting impression on me. No advice is intended, except maybe what not to do.

Minimalism

My first memories of bivvying belong to the start of the 1950s, when I spent school holidays running all over the hills and dales from Yorkshire to Northumberland by myself. It was a real pleasure to travel light, which meant a couple of sandwiches and a bar of chocolate in my pocket, nothing else: no rucksack, no extra gear. When the weather was good, I was often temped into staying out. Even in mid summer the results were predictable, familiar I guess to anyone who has done the same.

Find as sheltered a spot as possible, lie down, look at the night sky and fall asleep. Wake up cold a bit later, then spend unbelievably long hours shivering and dozing until the first faint light appeared in the sky. I got up each time convinced what a bad idea it was, but I loved the freedom and I was young and daft enough to go through the chilly experience again and again. The worst one was when I woke up stretched out on top of a dry stone wall: warmer than the ground, but not something I ever wanted to repeat.

Warmth and ambience

Starting to climb brought some sense. The warmth of a sleeping bag meant a night’s sleep, or should have done. A few nights in the cave on Stanage were enough to teach me that ambience was just as important. The racket of drunken climbers trying to climb back in after the Hathersage pub had closed warned me it was worth staying awake to avoid being stepped on. After that I preferred Lawrencefield or Stanage North End for a quiet night. The only time I tried to repeat my previous habit of sleeping without gear I couldn’t stand it, so I got up and walked home twenty miles over the hills by moonlight instead.

A couple of other UK bivvies had both warmth and ambience. One was among the huge boulders on the summit of Glyder Fach. In the early 1950’s sleeping and cooking gear were incredibly heavy to hump around by modern standards, but we were rewarded with a superb slow dawn that unfolded in utter silence before we stashed the gear and trotted off to do the Snowdon horseshoe.

The other was also in Wales, but quite different. It taught me the meaning of schadenfreude. Given a few days army leave, I hitched down to Wales with a sleeping bag, a little stove and no plans. The weather was mixed, so I looked around the slopes below Llyn Bochlwyd and was lucky enough to chance on a big boulder with a slot underneath just big enough for me and my gear. Next day a party pitched their tents on the inviting turf by the stream below just as the rain began. On the second night the stream became a raging torrent which swept right through their tents and sent them away bedraggled at first light, adding to my smug pleasure safe in my little private lair.

Alpine bivvies

My limited experience of alpine bivvies belongs to the days when lightweight down gear was well developed on the continent, but was extremely expensive in UK. State of the art for most Brits was an extension flap on the rucksack to put your legs in and an extra sweater, guaranteeing a long cold night much like my minimalist days. Huts or tents were a better proposition. But not all bivouacs are planned, and cold and ambience are not the only problems, as I found out.

Chamonix

In 1959 I was camping with Colin by a tiny pool we had found high under the Blaitiere above Chamonix. It made a great base for climbs on the Aiguilles, but a bivvy was inevitable when we set off on the long walk round the end of the Aiguilles, then up the full length of the Mer de Glace and the Geant Glacier to our climb, the Bonatti on the Grand Capucin.

We had a normal chilly bivouac on the first ledge above the bergschrund, while we decided about the next day. Bonatti had used well over a hundred pegs on the first ascent, so as well as the bivvy gear we had brought a lot of ironmongery with us. No chocks or nuts in those days, not even any lightweight krabs, just a deadweight of steel. Hauling that lot up the route would mean another bivvy for certain, while going light might get us up and down in the day. We had heard that the route had a lot of pegs in situ, so we set off with six pegs and fingers crossed.

Things started well. Then the pegs gradually thinned out the higher we got, until we reached  the crux, the 40metre wall, which had been completely cleaned. That took me a very long time to lead and blew away any hope of getting down again the same day.

The unavoidable bivvy was on a nice big ledge with all the ambience we could wish for. A superb night sky with the lights of the Helbronner Ski Station twinkling at us across the glacier. It was cold, but that was insignificant compared to the real problem caused by our own inexperience. We had completely run out of water and after a long hot day in the sun raging thirst kept us awake all night. Next day we climbed the rest of the route (which had also been cleaned) to the summit and descended, as slow as old men, until we were revived by a huge bottle of sparkling water in the Ski Station.

Dolomites

Not many Dolomite routes need a bivvy in summer. This time it was a different element that changed the game. The weather.

We were camping beside the Lavaredo Hut (probably forbidden now), so the north faces of the Tre Cime were just round the corner. Four us strolled around  and tossed for which pair would go first on the Comici on the Cima Grande. Al and I lost, so Pete and Bas went off first and gradually pulled away from us. We were enjoying the route so much  that we paid no particular attention to the growing heaviness of the day until a crack of thunder warned us that the weather was changing. We had no view of the sky to the south, but the first little tendrils of cloud were already twisting around the summit above us.

Time to speed up. Pete and Bas disappeared into the mist and we found out next day that they had made it back to camp. Al and I finished the route  and blundered around trying to find the way down in  thick cloud as the thunder came closer and the hail and lightning started. So we settled down under an overhang to wait. And wait. The storm went on for hours and we had no head torches anyway, so it ended up as another unplanned bivouac. Even without gear it wasn’t really cold, but we didn’t realise till later that we had made a dangerous choice. Apparently lightning likes overhangs, just another little bit of useful info for the future.

Norway

Not the Alps, but the mountain walls are even bigger. I was in Romsdal with Colin in 1961, having a look-see at what we could do in this dreamscape of vertical rock. It was a light-hearted trip and it didn’t take long to dismiss the unclimbed Trolltind Wall, but Mongeura in the sun across the valley looked tempting. It was a big wall with no routes as far as we knew, which made it irresistible. It turned out to be a strange and very relaxed experience, both the climbing and the bivvy.

This was a fun outing, so we took no hardware and no bivvy gear. The wandering route we found was unique in our experience: every pitch or two seemed to land us on another comfortable ledge with bushes and flowers and bees buzzing. Higher up the climbing became more and more continuous until a nasty little pitch of rotten rock turned us back, but there was none of the anxiety we might have felt in the Alps. We had no bivvy gear, but it was easy to rope down to a nice ledge to sit out the very short northern night.

De Luxe Bivvies

This little section has nothing to do with cold and everything to do with ambience. Nothing technical about it, just the pleasure that can sometimes be found by hobos who can’t afford a bed for the night or simply prefer to spend their nights outside.

One year four of us were trying to do the Cassin on the Badile, but each time we walked up to the Sciora hut there was another storm that left the face completely white from top to bottom. To give it time to melt we drove down to Lake Como and chanced on some little caves tucked away on the shore line. Besides the lovely outlook we had a bonus in the endless oranges which came floating past every day: they must have been discards from somewhere, but they tasted perfectly fine to us. In the end only Bas and I went up the third time to snatch the route before the afternoon storm, while the other two lotus-eaters couldn’t bear to tear themselves away from the idyllic Como bivvy to risk another disappointment.

Another special place was the Calanques, where a bivvy was sheer pleasure as long as one kept out of sight of the gendarmes who patrolled by helicopter because of the fire danger. At different times with different companions I spent several nights sleeping in the open at D’en Vau before hiding the sleeping gear under the thickets of large bushes by day. Fantastic skies at night and delightful white limestone rising from blue blue water in the morning sun. No luxury hotel could do it better.

Modern Times

From the early sixties other commitments cut out most of my climbing, but ignited my interest in the software involved. The interest has never waned, an expression I guess of the closest I can come now to some of the most vivid experiences of my active years.

Developing Bivvy gear

In 1960 when Pete and I were twiddling our thumbs waiting for customers in our Manchester shop, we pulled apart one or two of the best examples of lightweight continental down gear, one of them a pied d’elephant. The use of down bivvy gear was new to us, but the potential was obvious if we could make it. We could. A bit crude to start with, but in my slow solo apprenticeship over the next decade I learned to improve on the originals.

As I climbed less and less most of my bivvies were to try out new gear. The idea was to push the sleeping gear beyond its rating and see how it felt. On one early occasion I got all I could have wished on the modest hill of Holme Moss. Snow had blocked the road, so I trudged up with the test bag and a bivvy sac and bedded down hurriedly in a mounting storm on the summit. The bag worked a treat and I woke in the morning to find to my amazement that I was almost buried in a drift and there were foot long icicles standing out horizontally all along the wire fence a few yards away. A low hill, but I’m not sure I would have survived that night in the open without the gear. A long way from my free-wandering early days, but I had a lot to find out about what was possible with the right kit.

Bivvies with lightweight gear were no problem, but to try out warmer stuff it’s often been hard to find  really cold conditions in this country just when you want them. So I had to ‘bivvy’ in cold chambers a few times when it was necessary to make sure of the low temperatures required for the test. The most recent occasion just a few years ago was perhaps the nearest to a real bivvy, where the temperature was kept down to -21°C by the air blown out of huge fans. An artificial situation and not a bundle of fun, but it helped us to confirm some of our ideas about PHD’s Sleep Systems.

State of the Day

It’s interesting how things change. In the alps huts and lifts kept improving to the point where they were the natural choice for access to the mountains and bivvies became rare, for emergencies only. There are signs now that the intrinsic values of a bivvy, the freedom, the flexibility and the experience, are being rediscovered. Add in the long trails that have been developed all over the world and it’s possible to see why there has been a revival of interest in the simplest possible way of sleeping out.

For me the personal process of refining bivvy gear began in the little shack where I was living and working nearly sixty years ago. Since then it’s been a long slow upward curve, until recent improvements in fabrics, down and design have made PHD’s current bivvy gear unbelievably light and efficient by comparison with the old days. Now the comfort and safety it offers will add minimal weight and bulk to any pack. Of course it’s an unending process of improvement and it will surely be lighter than ever in the future.

Other bivvy items, cookers, headtorches, etc, have also advanced. The possibilities have increased these days, excitingly so, and it’s up to the individual to decide. You can still be as close to a minimalist as you wish or opt for almost any level of safety and comfort you like.

I always found bivvies rewarding, the comfortable, the bearable, even the grim (in retrospect). With the new kit available they offer a wonderful alternative way of spending nights outdoors. You can have the magic without the misery. Except of course when things don’t go quite as you expect …..!

If you are into bivvying, you probably already know more about it than I do. If it’s new to you, I can’t recommend it enough. The experience, the freedom, and the mistakes. Whether you’re just roaming, travelling the world, sitting on a mountain ledge, or tied to a hanging belay, I wish you good nights under the open sky. I hope you get as much from them as I did, even from the ones that went wrong. I’ll let Gaston Rebuffat have the last word “Some mountaineers are proud of having done all their climbs without bivouac. How much they have missed !

Peter Hutchinson 2017

A Suit Less Ordinary

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Anja Blacha

Many, many moons ago, a certain Mr. Don Whillans approached a certain Mr. Peter Hutchinson, and asked him if he could make something to keep him warm on his high altitude exploits. Peter duly did, and the down suit was born. Peter – the PH in PHD – kept making them, and now of course, they’re de rigeur for anyone heading way up high.

Rather more recently, we received a call from a young lady who was heading for Everest and needed a down suit. Well, normally of course, that’s fine. The problem was that Anja – like Don – is about 5’5” (which puts her in a size Small) but – unlike Don – she’s rather slimmer than the fit of an Extra Small, and that’s the smallest size we do. Nevertheless, we were able to make her a Xero Suit which was effectively an S/XXS hybrid, and that’s what accompanied her to the summit of Everest.

Another of Peter’s innovations has been working out just how much warmth you get from layering different sleeping bags, or sleeping bags and clothing: the Sleep Systems concept. This too proved very useful in Anja’s case: when she asked us if we could make an Overbag to boost the warmth of her Hispar 800K for the Himalayan trip, we checked the figures and actually, her Xero Suit would be able to boost it by pretty much the same amount. And as she’d obviously have that with her anyway, she could save weight.

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Anja Blacha

So that’s what she did. At Base Camp she had the Hispar 800K, then at ABC and Camp 1 she teamed it with an Ultra Quilt “…which was really soft and warm and still lighter than everybody else’s single sleeping bag! I was warm enough just wearing tights and a long-sleeve T-Shirt.” As she got higher, she was able to combine the Xero Suit with the Hispar “which again was very warm and comfy, and I still had enough room to move.”

So, what’s next? Well, inevitably, the tinkering with new ideas continues unabated. Earlier this year we released our ingenious Expedition Double Down Suit: if you get too hot, now you can easily shed a layer. The really clever part is that you can shed a layer even if you’re roped up. Now, stir that into the Sleep Systems mix and you’ve got an exceptionally lightweight, versatile setup to take you from the foothills to the summit and back down again.

You don’t have to be going to upper reaches of the Himalayas to take advantage though. We all approach our adventures differently, so even if your trip doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary, that doesn’t mean your kit shouldn’t be…