ADVENTURE: January Bushcraft Microadventure.

After several weeks stuck indoors due to incessant rain. I was looking for any chance to get out for a night in the woods. This weekend showed a clear window where not only should it not rain, but it may even drop below 0°C. It seemed a perfect chance to get out and test my winter kit.

I was joined on this trip by my friend Lyn, and we headed to a bit of woodland somewhere in east Kent.

The woodland is made up over overstood hornbeam(Carpinus betulus) coppice with a smattering of Silver Birch(Betula pendula) and Chestnut(Castanea sativa).

It was a 10 minute walk from the car to our chosen camp site. When we got there Lyn pitched her tent and I started gathering fire wood. I was planning to just use my bivvi bag with no tarp, so would leave the pitching of my camp (if you can call unrolling a bivvi bag and inflating a sleep mat pitching), until I was ready for bed, that way my kit shouldn’t get damp from any dew. I hung my pack off a tree by my selected camp spot, and cleared the larger logs and anything that might dig in out the way.

Wood gathered, I set a small cooking fire and sat back to drink tea in the woodland surroundings.

Pot over camp fire

Boiling the Kettle

As it started to get dark, I preped dinner while I still had some light. Lyn started her dinner on the grill over the fire, while I stuck a jacket potato and my char cloth tin in the embers underneath.

Cooking dinner over the fire

Cooking dinner over the fire

While dinner cooked I played around with my fire lighting kit I had brought with me. I tried lighting a bit of char cloth with a flint and steel. The char cloth wasn’t very good, it was from a batch that hadn’t charred all the way through, so I didn’t hold out much hope. I was just doing it to pass the time. Thus I was rather surprised when the char cloth caught a spark on the second strike. Normally it takes a few strikes to get a spark to land on the cloth. Not wanting to use up all my char cloth I put the fire kit away and warmed my feed by the fire while dinner cooked.

Socked feed warming by a camp fire

Warming my feet by the fire

Dinner eaten we sat watching the fire, enjoying the surroundings until it was time for bed.

Glowing embers.The fire started to die back to embers, the sky clouding over, it was time to turn in. I pitched my camp under the hornbeam tree, and crawled into my bivvi bag to watch the clouds slowly drifting across the sky.

Woods at night

View from my bivvi bag.

Despite my efforts to warm my feet by the fire both big toes were slightly chilled in my sleeping bag and as I lay there they got colder, so do did my legs. After about half hour of hoping they would warm up, I admitted defeat and commenced the solo wrestling match that is trying to put a pair of trousers on inside a sleeping bag liner inside a sleeping bag inside a bivvi bag when the sleeping bag is a tight fit anyway… I also tried to warm my toes with my hands. Not wanting to risk being too cold I took the opportunity to put on my Páramo Torres insulated Jacket.

Fully dressed I lay down in my sleeping bag feeling hopeful of a warm nights sleep.

A few restless hours sleep later I woke with a full bladder and very numb toes. Returning from the bushes I gave my toes a longer session in my hands to coax some warmth into them. This seemed to do the trick, and as the sky started to show some signs of lightening up, I snuggled down into my sleeping bag for a few more hours sleep.

I was woken in day light to a snow flake landing on my nose. I wasn’t expecting precipitation so hadn’t used a tarp. Looking out from my bivvi bag it didn’t look like this was a concerted effort at snow fall, and opted for cinching my bivvi bag down to a hole just large enough to breath through, rolled onto my side and went back to sleep.

Eventually the prospect of bacon was enough to lure me from my cocoon, and I grudgingly left the warm to investigate breakfast.

Bivvi bag under a tree.

My camp for the night.

Lyn lit the fire and I cooked a couple of rounds of bacon rolls along with some coffee as we both woke up properly, trying to put off the inevitable.

Fed and watered and with the first spits of rain, we broke camp and returned to the outside world, refreshed by a very pleasant night in the woods.

REVIEW: Páramo Bentu update

Just days after I posted the review of the Páramo Bentu windproof and fleece, I noticed that the zip on the windproof had become separated from the body of the jacket about ⅓rd of the way up. I phoned the Wadhurst store at 0900 on Saturday morning, and explained the situation. As the Jacket was so new they agreed to replace it rather than repair. I posted the jacket by Royal Mail secure delivery first thing Monday morning, they received it just after 1000 on Tuesday morning. The brand new replacement arrived by Royal Mail 48 hour delivery this morning (Thursday). I’m guessing Páramo will repair the jacket and it’ll appear in the Páramo seconds shop on ebay in due course

Páramo didn’t quibble, and did a really fast turn around. Great customer service.

REVIEW: Páramo Zonda and Bentu Jackets.

I’ve used my Páramo Quito jacket for all of last autumn, winter and spring as my main jacket, be it cycling to college, hiking the Downs, or just wandering to the shops. It has worked pretty well, breathing better than any membrane based jacket I’ve owned, but like much of the Páramo range, it has one major draw back. It’s warm.

In the middle of winter the fact I can hike in just a jacket and base layer has been useful, I can leave the fleece at home. If I was warm, I could use the pit zips to vent. But as summer approached, no amount of ventilation was able to counter the laws of physics. Páramo is warm.

With this in mind I did some research into alternatives that might be more suitable to summer use, particularly when a cool breeze takes otherwise T-shirt weather, and makes it chilly. My research led me to the Páramo Zonda windproof and fleece combo.

For those not familiar with the way Páramo works, rather than having a moisture permeable membrane (like goretex), they use multiple layers of polyester fabric, treated with wash-in black magic from Nikwax to create a waterproof garment with what Páramo call “directionality”, and what users call “great moisture management”.

This multi layer fabric combo is comprised of a inner most “pump liner” which is a very fine micro fleece, and a water resistant outer which is a tightly woven polyester fabric. With this combination of micro fleece and tightly woven polyester, you can see why Páramo garments are well known for being too warm for summer use. Especially if you’re only after the wind proof feature.

What the Zonda windproof and fleece does, is take these two layers and split them into two garments. A thin lightweight wind proof, and a thin light weight windproof fleece. Wear them together and they perform the same as any other waterproof made from Páramo’s “Analogy Light” fabric. Great, sounds perfect.

I wandered along to the Páramo store in Covent garden with cash in my pocket ready to buy a Zonda windproof and fleece combo.

Which is when things kinda didn’t goto plan…

First thing that struck me was the colour choice, neither the neon blue or the pink clover are particularly muted, they both screamed “GIRLIE!” In a loud way. Maybe the I could live with the blue… it’ll mostly be under a backpack anyway. Let’s try it on…

I picked the largest size off the rack put it on, went to do the zip up, and failed. I could do the first inch or so over my stomach, but as it approached my upper chest there was no chance of being able to zip it closed over my breasts… ladies fit… made for women… women have boobs… well not those Páramo is targeting their women’s range at obviously. I had a lengthy discussion with the very helpful staff and tried on various items from the women’s range. Nothing fitted. I’m not exactly massive, most of my clothes are 16-18 depending on where I buy things1.

There is a men’s version of the Zonda combo, called the Bora, but this is a smock format, not a jacket format, so while I could find something to fit, I really wanted a jacket rather than a smock.

Having been shut out of any of the women’s range due to having breasts, I turned my eye too the men’s range.

Where the ladies range covers various sizes of pixie, the men’s range is much wider, covering sizes large enough I could fit my back pack inside the jacket2. Maybe something here will fit…

Following the same principal of splitting the classic Páramo layers into two garments, there are a few options in the men’s range. As well as the previously mentioned Bora smock, there is the Enduro jacket (ladies version: Ventura) and the Bentu jacket (ladies version: Zefira).  There is also the Fuera ascent jacket, and Fuera smock, tho there two don’t have matching fleeces3 to go with them unlike the Bora, Enduro and Bentu. The fleece that pairs with the Enduro is a smock, not a jacket, so I discounted that. This just left the Bentu windproof jacket and fleece.

The Bentu is available in two colours, a blue, and a green. Tempted tho I was by the green for not standing out when on the hill, the shade of blue used is sufficiently dark as to be acceptable.

The Bentu has two chest pockets, both big enough to take an ordnance survey active map, and two hand warmer pockets. The fleece has two hand warmer pockets and a Napoleon pocket, just the right size for a compass or small wallet. The main zip is two way to aid in ventilation. But unlike the Quito, Enduro or Fuera ascent, it doesn’t have pit zips4.

The windproof has a pump liner layer on the shoulders and hood, which makes it more rain resistant than it would otherwise be. The sleeves are a loose cut with a Velcro adjuster on the cuff, this allows you to roll your sleeves up for venting.

The cut of fleece is quite loose, and it reminds me of a cardigan in it’s fit. There is no hood, and no adjustment on the loose fitting sleeves. Again you can push them up for ventilation, but without the Velcro, there’s nothing to stop them falling down.

But what about the important part, how well does it perform?

Both the windproof and the fleece have proved to be windproof, if it’s not raining, which of the two layers you wear for wind protection comes down to temperature. Warmer, wear the windproof. Cooler, wear the fleece. In a light shower both keep most of the wet out, tho the fleece seems slightly better in drizzle or a short light shower. I had wet forearms wearing just the windproof in the rain, but the rest of me was dry.

The cycle ride to college today was your typical early autumn rain, not hard enough to make you think you need a jacket, but enough to soak you if you didn’t wear one. I wore the Bentu fleece for the ride and arrived at class nice and dry, with lots of droplets of water beading on the outside. A success.

By the time I left college for the ride back to the station, the rain had picked up, so I chose to wear both layers. Alas the fleece hadn’t completely dried during class and the forearms were still a little damp. A good chance to test the moisture management me thinks…

I set off into the Kentish night, hood up against the rain, and peddled my way the half hour to the station. As I rode the warmth of my body drove moisture from the fleece. Even with the additional liquid water falling out the sky. By the time I had spent 20 minutes on the platform waiting for my train, the inside of the sleeves of the fleece were no longer wet, but somewhere between damp and moist. By the time I got home, they were almost dry. The rest of me stayed dry throughout.

I can’t fault the performance, together the fleece and the windproof work just as well as my Quito, yet at the same time providing me greater flexibility for when it’s dry, warm, yet windy. So what are the downsides of this performance? The main down side is the weight. Neither item is particularly light. My size large fleece measures 420g, and the Windproof 458g. By contrast my size Large Quito is 545g, a weight similar to what I would expect a Zonda combo to weigh, if it had fitted me. Other than that the only other niggle is the absence of a hanging loop on the fleece, making it so I can’t hang it up on the hook as easily.

In summary:

Páramo Zonda Windproof and Fleece combo:

  • Pros: Unknown
  • Cons: Women’s XL is too small for me.

Páramo Bentu Windproof and Fleece combo:

  • Pros: Great performance, great breathability
  • Cons: Weight.
  1. I wear a size 16 RAB MeCo Baselayer
  2. S, M, L, XL, XXL in mens, vs XS, S, M, L, XL, in womens. Mens L is larger than Womens’s XL…
  3. The Fuera ascent was designed to go with the Summit hoodie, but this is no longer listed on the Páramo website
  4. Interestingly while the men’s Enduro has pit zips for venting, the ladies Ventura doesn’t… do women not get warm?