Osprey Atmos 65 Review

Introducing the Osprey Atmos 65

My Atmos 65 was both a very last-minute and, as it turned out, a very fortunate purchase. 

Back in 2018 when I went to Seattle to spend a few days hiking Section J of the Pacific Crest Trail, the rucksack I had taken with me was a Vango Contour 60+10; a decent but by no means top-end piece of kit that had served me fairly well on a rainy three days wild camping in Scotland but which I was becoming increasingly nervous about using. I could ignore most of its (myriad) flaws but the one thing I couldn’t ignore was that what must have been a one-off construction fault meant that the shoulder adjustment strap on one side would always end up digging into my neck, no matter how much I tried to move it. 

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Garmin Instinct Review: The Ultimate GPS Watch?

Introduction: A Huge Garmin Instinct Review

I’ve now had the Garmin Instinct for over six months, so I finally feel in a position to write a reasonably thorough review of it. I’m going to start off with quickly explaining why I bought it, on the basis that since almost all Garmin products are essentially pretty good, the question here isn’t so much ‘is it a good watch’ as ‘is it the right watch for me’, and hopefully understanding my thought process will help you figure out if the same applies to you.

So, I’ve had Garmin watches for running for years – I think I’ve had five watches in that time, and with my last one (the Vivosmart HR+, which James has reviewed) I made the switch to it being my everyday watch. I really appreciate the notifications as well as the health and sleep tracking, so those were key for me. Aside from that, my use of the watch is probably 70% running, 20% hiking, and 10% other sports. A big factor, however, is that I am a serving Army Reservist and wanted a watch that was rugged enough to use in the field, and could replace the features of my Garmin Foretrex which, while brilliant, was feeling increasingly outdated.

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Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review: Initial Thoughts

Although I’ve had it a while, I’ve finally decided to write this Garmin Vivoactive 3 review. Okay, let’s see how this sports and fitness watch stacks up.

Before we move on, take a look at what we think are the best hiking watches of 2020.

I realised (after buying the Vivoactive…) that it’s only been two years since I last upgraded my running watch, which was itself the fourth Garmin running watch I’d owned. In some ways it’s hard to justify all the upgrades – my very first watch did pretty much what I need for most runs, in terms of providing me with distance, time, pace and a few other key metrics. None of that has really changed – it’s all the additional features that have kept me coming back for newer watches and, in this case, it’s the mix of a decent running watch with all-day lifestyle fitness tracking functionality (sleep, 24/7 heart rate, steps and more) that made this attractive.

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Osprey Duro 1.5 hydration vest revie

I don’t actually do a lot of really, really long runs, except when I’m in marathon training, but I’ve nevertheless been after an ultra-running vest for a while, and eventually bought myself an Osprey Duro 1.5. The thing is that around this time of year I often end up running with a hat, gloves, water, a snack, sometimes a lightweight shell, and always an iPhone that is now so large it doesn’t fit in any of my running short pockets (and even if it did fit, is so heavy that it tends to pull them down…). To see what I’m talking about, check out my post about essential running kit for the winter.

Many of those items end up getting put on and taken off at various points during the run, and I’m desperate to have somewhere easy to stash everything, but that is as comfortable and unobtrusive as possible. Hence wanting a small hydration vest with plenty of pockets.

Hydration vests come in a bunch of different types, from those that are almost a small backpack, to the very simply that do little more than contain a water bladder or a couple of soft bottles. What I wanted was something in between, and the Osprey Dura 1.5 is exactly that.

Osprey Dura 1.5 Running Vest

A close-fitting vest with a wide gap at the front, across which sit two adjustable straps. the Osprey Duro 1.5 has one main compartment in the back that is designed to contain a water bladder but could, if the bladder was removed, easily contain a reasonably compressible jacket or some food. At the back there is also a smaller, zipped compartment – which is the perfect size for my Arc’teryx Squamish running shell – and then two stretchy pouches on either side of the lower back, which can just about be reached without taking the vest off. These are perfect for shoving a hat or gloves into and retrieving them on the move. There’s also a little loop on the back which I’ve found extremely useful for clipping a little red flashing light to, which is a must when running in the dark on country roads.

On the front, each side has two stretchy vertical pouches, a long one designed to hold a water bottle, and a smaller one on top of it. The left hand side also has a zipped compartment that is perfect for even quite a large mobile phone. I don’t use the front-mounted water-bottles, though I might on a very long run or for running on a very hot day, but these pouches are also useful for keys, a touch, and snacks. Just below each shoulder are also loops for storing hiking/running poles, although I’ve not tried using these as I don’t run with poles. Finally, there is also a little whistle, which is a tick in the box for one common essential item on ultra-marathon kit lists.

If you choose to use the hydration bladder, the tube can come round either shoulder, and has a nice magnetic connection to the upper chest-strap, making it very easy to quickly take a drink and then snap it back into place so it’s not flapping around. The only disadvantage is for anyone doing a run that requires navigation with a compass, in which case they just need to be well-aware of the magnet or remove it and find another way to secure the drinking hose.

The Osprey Duro 1.5 is one of those bits of kit that’s become absolutely essential for me, even on relatively short runs; it’s a comfortable, practical way to carry water, a phone, keys, and a few pieces of spare kit. By and large, I don’t really notice it’s there, although the first couple of times I wore it while hauling myself up a steep hill, I did find myself heating up a bit more and wishing it didn’t feel quite so ‘body-hugging’ – I think that’s partly just something you get used to. Where it will probably prove less useful is on the longer runs I occasionally do that require a train ride home at the end, simply because there’s no way I could shove a warm coat into it in the way that I can in my OMM ultra 15L pack, which remains my go-to for running with kit. I think it could, however, just about contain all of the mandatory kit for most UK ultra-marathons, as long as post-race kit was being transported for me.

Mini Camino del Norte: Irun to Bilbao

The Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) is an unusual beast. A near infinite fractal network of long-distance hiking routes across France and Spain (mostly), it’s also an ancient historical pilgrimage to the town of Santiago de Compostela, and a modern phenomenon that often changes the lives of people who undertake the full journey.

I’ve been interested in it since seeing the Martin Sheen film The Way, and even more interested in it since ending up in a relationship with someone who works for the Confraternity of St James, the UK charity that supports and facilitates pilgrims. I’d love to do an entire route one day, but for now we decided to just take a week and start the Camino del Norte, the northernmost route in Spain, that runs from the town of Irun on the border with France, along the coast to Santiago.

It’s a very different type of hiking to, say, the PCT. The terrain and gradients are sometimes similar, but it’s much less wild and pilgrims generally stay in a town each night, and often even stop in several towns and villages each day for lunch and snacks. That means it can be done with a very light pack, and makes it a mix of hiking, exploration, and tourism that I thoroughly enjoyed. The scenery is spectacular, but every town we stopped in was also beautiful – almost all with a magnificent church, a pretty little square, and at least a couple of bars where we could get a cafe con leche, or a small beer, depending on the time of day and how we felt.

The route took us to larger towns like San Sebastien and Bilbao, as well as tiny ones like Etxebarria, with a single bar and shop, and the only food on offer being a handful of pintxos in the bar.

Hiking the Camino is a very different experience to, say, hiking the PCT or even many routes in the UK. Few people wild camp, with hostels or bed and breakfasts being the typical form of accommodation, and most routes pass regularly through small towns meaning that food is more likely to be a serrano roll or a slice of tortilla in a pretty little cafe than re-hydrated pasta that you’ve carried with you for the last four days.

This isn’t necessarily a better experience – I love the adventure of remote hiking and wild camping – but it allows for a far lighter pack and a much more relaxed approach to the trip. It is as much a tourist experience, walking in and out of tiny towns that you would never otherwise visit, as it is a hike.

Overall, I can’t recommend it highly enough and I definitely intend to do another section of the route at some stage, and perhaps the whole thing if I can ever get sufficient time off work.

Wild camping in England and Wales – Laws and Advice

I recently came across a campaign on twitter, trying to promote ‘legal wild camping’ by facilitating arrangements with landowners where you book and pay to camp on their land in a designated location. Now, some might say that if you book and pay to camp on a landowners land in a designated location then that’s called… a campsite. But let’s not get into semantics.

Instead, I’ll just say that this is an idea that I think needs considerable work.

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How to get into the Virgin London Marathon

Some of you may have been hearing about, or watching, the London Marathon this weekend and wondering how hard is it for you to get a place in next year’s race? You may have heard that it’s difficult to get a spot, or that doing so requires you to be a great runner, or to raise a load of money for charity. None of those is exactly true, on their own, but they are all part of the truth. So, here is a quick overview of how to get a sport for the 2020 London Marathon (and a bonus couple of ‘how not to!’ tips)

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What’s in my foot-care kit, and why

foot care kit

One of my ‘must-carry’ hiking items that probably owes a lot to my military training is my foot-care kit. Although it could be seen as unnecessary weight, and probably is by many ultra-light hikers, for me it’s a crucial way to make sure I stay reasonably comfortable and healthy for day after day of hiking, potentially in pouring rain or through streams and rivers.

A basic footcare kit really needs just some blister plasters or tape, and some foot powder, but mine is a bit more substantive, and incorporates a few ‘health and wellbeing’ items that aren’t strictly foot-related. Here’s what I include, and why:

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Review: Rab Ascent 700 Sleeping Bag

I’ve now taken my new sleeping bag, the Rab Ascent 700, on a few adventures including several night of wild camping in both Scotland and Washington State, so I thought it’s time to give it a bit of a review.

Overview of the Rab Ascent 700

First off, I think it’s helpful to understand the sleeping bag ‘on paper’ before I launch into my subjective views. I’d recommend having a read of my ultimate guide to the Rab sleeping bag range, which helps to ‘place’ the bag and understand what niche it fills.

So, the Rab Ascent range is, by the admittedly high standards of a serious outdoorsy brand like Rab, somewhat ‘mid-market’. It’s a high-quality down-filled bag made from top-notch materials, but it’s not the warmest or most weather resistant range that Rab makes, nor is it the most ultra-light. It’s absolutely ideal for the kind of ‘semi-serious’ hiking that I do, but if I was to try a thru-hike or heavy mountaineering in sub-zero conditions I’d probably look for something with a slightly better warmth-to-weight ratio.

Construction and Insulation

In terms of materials, the Ascent range has an outer fabric made of Pertex, a breathable fabric favored by Rab and with excellent waterproof qualities depending on the specific fabric from the range. My bag uses Pertex Microlight, one of the lighter options at under 35g/m2, but highly breathable and reasonably windproof. Breathability is essential in a sleeping bag to prevent condensation inside the bag or within the insulation layer, so bags that are highly waterproof on their own are pretty rare and this is no exception. It’s DWR coating will keep off light rain and condensation from within a tent, but it definitely shouldn’t be considered waterproof.

Now, it seems that the new season models of Ascent bags use Pertex Quantum rather than Microlight. On paper this has almost identical qualities: <35g/m2 weight and air permeability of 1.0cc. Presumably the Quantum is better in some respects but I suspect the overall difference is fairly negligible.

Meanwhile, the insulation is unchanged – 700g of 650 fill power down (for those of you who don’t know or care what fill power means, suffice it to say that 650FP is very good, and should be noticeably better than a cheaper bag with the same weight of a lower fill power down.

The main, probably only, difference between the different bags in the Ascent range is the weight of down fill. The Ascent 900 obviously has 900g of down, but is otherwise more or less identical, so much of this review should apply to the range as a whole.

It’s worth noting that the down fill is disproportionally weighted to the top (if you’re lying down). This is a smart choice in many ways – insulation underneath the body is crushed and therefore hugely ineffective, which is why a decent sleeping mat is usually essential. As a result, down placed here is largely wasted weight, and having less down under the body is a sensible way to reduce weight. Generally speaking I think this is the right decision, but it can be irritating if you roll over in the night and end up with the back/bottom of the sleeping bag on top, where the reduced weight of down may be quite noticeable, especially if you are right on the edge of the comfortable temperature limit.

The Ascent 700’s Temperature Ratings

In terms of warmth, Rab describes the Ascent 700 as a 3-season bag and it has European warmth ratings of:

Comfort -2C

Limit -8.5C

Extreme -27C

You can read more about what these limits mean in detail elsewhere, but personally I would take them all with a big pinch of salt. Obviously people vary considerably depending on their size, tolerance for cold, what they are wearing to sleep in, and whether they are in a tent, bivvy bag or neither, but my view is that the Ascent 700 won’t provide a genuinely ‘comfortable’ night’s sleep much below freezing without significant additional insulation in the form of a liner or wearing extra clothes. At temperatures around or a little below freezing, and perhaps wearing a fleece in bed, you’re certainly in no danger of dying but you may wake up chilly.

Rab Ascent 700 Features

Features-wise, the Ascent 700 comes with both a stuff-sack and a big cotton bag so you can store it uncompressed (which is best for the fill). I personally tend to hike with my sleeping bag compressed in a canoe bag, which gives me that added bit of confidence that arguably the most important item in my backpack is dry no matter what, but I realise that’s an approach that not everyone approves of.

The bag has a sizeable hood, with elastic and a toggle so it can be pulled tight. It also has a substantial down-filled baffle just inside the bag at neck height, which can also be pulled tight. This creates a snug seal above the shoulders which does a lot for warmth on a cold night. There’s a similar big baffle running all the way down the zip, preventing the zip from becoming a cold spot.

There is also a small zipped pocket at the top of the bag, which I find really useful for keeping essentials like my phone and a torch close to hand when wild camping. It’s a small detail but definitely a useful touch.

My Seven Carry-on Essentials

At the moment I’m doing a lot of travelling for work and, while I actually enjoy travelling and don’t even hate airports all that much, multiple 10+ hour flights a month takes a toll and requires a finely honed strategy for survival. Moving fast and light is preferrable to lugging huge bags across the airport concourse, and I thought you might like to see my list of the best seven carry-on essentials

Much of my strategy revolves around an expertly-packed carry-on bag to get me through the time at the airport and on the plane.

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