Attitudes and Altitude: Gear ReviewGear
Written by Alex Roddie // Photography by James Roddie
A review of the gear Alex Roddie used for fastpacking across the Alps: pack, clothing, poles, shelter, tech, and more.
In summer 2022, our editor Alex Roddie set out on a fastpacking trip across the Alps: 900km from Ventimiglia to Zermatt, featuring countless mountain passes. This is part of a series of online stories about his project, helping you to go higher and faster in the mountains.
THE FULL SERIES
Attitudes and Altitude: Mountains of the Mind Feature Story
Attitudes and Altitude: Tranter’s RoundAttitudes and Altitude: Destination Guide to the Grande Traversata delle Alpi
Attitudes and Altitude: How to Go Fastpacking
Attitudes and Altitude: Gear Guide for Alpine Fastpacking
Attitudes and Altitude: Gear Review
Montane Trailblazer 30L Backpack
I like my rucksacks minimal and with as little faff as possible. That means low weight and few additional features. But a pack for fastpacking also needs to have a close-fitting and adjustable harness, because running puts different strains on both pack and body. The Trailblazer 30 has an excellent harness with just the right amount of padding on the hipbelt and shoulder straps. I found the twin elasticated chest straps great for keeping the load stable and centred, hugging the pack to my body with close to zero bounce. The 30L capacity proved to be just big enough for my needs, although I ended up overloading it at the start with five days of food and several litres of water – I don’t recommend this! The stretchy mesh external pockets do give you plenty of options for storage, but the mesh can tear with hard use and if I’m being picky I’d prefer more spacious side pockets for water bottles. On the plus side, the mesh lid pocket is a stroke of genius – it expands to store so much more than you expect.
LEKI Ultratrail FX.One Superlite Poles
I’ve long been a convert to hiking poles, but am a newbie to using poles as a runner. The FX.One Superlite poles were a revelation, and far lighter than you’d think they’d be – at one point I handed them to a friend and he almost dropped them in surprise. The low weight had a tangible impact on energy levels over days and weeks, as I found myself expending less effort. They’re also impossibly strong for carbon poles. Several times, I found myself slipping, and my entire body weight went onto one or both of the poles. But they bent instead of breaking every single time. I don’t recommend this treatment, but it shows just what these poles are capable of. I also used them to hold up my tarp on many nights and they proved more than strong enough, even in high winds.
Montane Men’s Sabre T-Shirt
Weight: 105g (medium)
I often prefer a long-sleeved base layer when hiking, but for running I find a T-shirt essential – especially in hot weather, when ventilation and moisture wicking are all the more important. I wore the Sabre T-shirt every day of my 900km route, and I never found it too hot or sweaty, despite heatwave conditions. The fit was also perfect for my build, and thanks to the Polygiene anti-odour tech the pong never got too offensive, even with a week or more between washing clothes. What about durability? After weeks on the trail under a backpack, not a trace of wear is visible.
Montane Men’s Allez Micro Fleece Pull-On
Is it a fleece or is it a base layer? The beauty of this lightweight piece is that it can do duty as either, depending on conditions. In winter this is my base layer of choice, but in the Alpine summer it works really well as a featherweight mid-layer, offering just enough insulation for fast-paced movement. The minimal Polartec fabric features a raised grid on the underside, which traps air and makes the garment much warmer than you’d expect – but it also regulates temperature well for a synthetic fabric. In practice this means that it takes longer before you start to overheat too. Thanks to the use of Polygiene, I only needed to wash it once (I didn’t wear it every day). One of my favourite items of mountain clothing, full stop.
Montane Men’s Featherlite Down Jacket
The Featherlite Down Jacket is perhaps the ultimate all-rounder. You get very good 750fp down – which is hydrophobic, making it more practical to use in damp conditions – and a sensible design that treads a fine line between weight-saving and mountain comfort. The hood, for example, is wonderfully comfortable and even has a wired peak. Fit is good – roomy enough to fit a layer underneath, and it’s even long enough to cover my backside. This down jacket manages to be luxuriously warm and cosy despite weighing only 380g. I found it ideal for Alpine summer fastpacking, providing crucial warmth for chilly evenings and early starts.
Montane Men’s Dragon 7″ Shorts
Good shorts for trail running need to get out of the way and offer maximum freedom of movement and ventilation with minimum fuss. The Dragon Shorts achieve that. I found the fabric extremely breathable, no matter how hot and humid the weather, and due to the high degree of stretch I never felt constrained, even when bounding over rocky and technical terrain. They’re long enough to avoid giving every passing marmot an eyeful, too. Downsides? The gossamer-thin fabric isn’t the most durable, and the surface pilled slightly where it rubbed against my pack. But I think that’s a small price to pay for this level of trail comfort.
Montane Men’s Dragon Long Trail Tights
I carried these tights in case I ran into prolonged chilly, wet weather, and also to wear in my bivvy on cold nights. The latter scenario came up a few times, but it was never cold enough to need them during the day. However, I wore these tights for local trail runs quite a bit throughout late winter and spring, and I find them ideal. The fit is snug (as it should be) and they’re exceptionally breathable.
Montane Men’s Spine Waterproof Jacket
I’m a difficult customer when it comes to waterproofs for ultralight backpacking. The lightest jackets aren’t always waterproof or breathable enough, and sometimes lack essential features like hoods that stay put in the wind. On the other hand, the last thing you want is to carry a heavy, full-featured mountain jacket for hundreds of kilometres if it will rarely be used. The Spine Jacket solves this problem. It’s really light and compact, but it also performs. When I got caught out in thundery downpours, it kept the rain out, and was breathable enough that I didn’t end up marinated in my own sweat. This isn’t easy to do in a jacket that’s made from such lightweight materials. Better still, this level of performance held up for the entire trip and beyond. Oh, and the hood actually works too!
Montane Men’s Pac Plus Waterproof Trousers
Although extremely minimal overtrousers for runners are available, I decided to pack slightly beefier hiking-focused overtrousers on this trip, as from experience I know that I tend to trash thinner ones quickly – and I like my full-length leg zips for ease of putting them on over shoes. The Pac Plus trousers aren’t the best for actually running in, but on the few occasions I needed them I was glad of the extra protection. They’re even durable enough to protect your legs in thorny undergrowth. Great lightweight hiking overtrousers – and all you really need outside of deep winter.
Montane Coda Running Cap
Probably the lightest and most minimal peaked cap I’ve ever seen. Even the peak is mostly thin fabric, stiffened by plastic struts, and when I first held it I didn’t think it’d be up to the job. However, it proved surprisingly durable, and the thin fabric has a major advantage: it’s really airy. Perfect for running, and it kept the sun off my head while drying quickly after rain. The minimal fabric peak proved to be a stroke of genius, too, as it made the cap flexible enough to fold up and stash in my pack.
Montane Via Trail Gloves
The only item in my pack that wasn’t used at all! These are lightweight softshell gloves offering breathable weather protection, but it never got cold enough for me to need them. I used them extensively earlier in the year, though, and found them ideal for faced-paced mountain travel in filthy conditions – horizontal sleet when you’re working hard and generating body heat, for example. The fleece cuffs are comfy and the fingertips are touch-sensitive, so you can use your phone while wearing them. Perfect for fastpacking, especially in the shoulder seasons.
Darn Tough Men’s Stride Micro Crew Ultra-Lightweight Running Socks
I tend to destroy socks quickly, but Darn Tough socks are made with high durability in mind. Having already put thousands of kilometres of wear on a pair of hiking socks from the brand, I thought that these minimalist merino running socks would be ideal for a long-distance fastpacking challenge. I was right – they were close to perfect. Comfortable, quick-drying, lightweight enough that my feet never overheated, and never gave me a blister, despite zero cushioning. They also held up well to the rigours of 900km of Alpine trails, with very little visible wear. Highly recommended. In fact, I’ve been recommending them to anyone who will listen…
Outdoor Research Alpine Ascentshell Bivy
Although my original plan was to use a lighter and more basic bivvy bag for this trip, ultimately I decided that the greater weight of a hooped bivvy was justified. The curved pole gives you more headroom, great for waiting out heavy rain. It also makes the bivvy more pleasant to use the rest of the time, too – on most nights I just zipped up the bug netting to keep insects off my face (something you can’t do with a more basic bivvy). I also loved the really durable bathtub groundsheet. This would be great for wetter environments such as Scotland. One downside: it only has two pegging points, and I managed to rip both of them. Probably my fault for rarely pitching anywhere completely flat, but still! I would like to see more pegging points and ideally ones equipped with elastic loops to absorb strain. Breathability was excellent in drier conditions but when it rained I found that condensation inside could be heavy.
Garmin inReach Mini 2 Satellite Communicator
In recent years I’ve come to find satellite comms a must for mountain adventures, even in places with abundant phone signal that aren’t particularly remote, such as the Alps. Why? A tracker gives a set-and-forget solution for family and friends to keep tabs on how you’re doing, and one that works even through cell signal black spots and without draining your phone’s battery. It’s also an emergency lifeline. I used the inReach Mini 2 as a tracker, satellite text messenger, and backup navigation device – luckily I never needed to use the SOS function. Battery life is much improved over the first version and it’s now compatible with Garmin’s Explore app, making it easy to wirelessly transfer GPX files to the device from your phone. Downsides? I did have a glitch near the end of the trail. An error message on the device meant that it did not transmit tracking points for almost a day, and I only realised that something was wrong when my wife sent me a message to ask why I hadn’t got going yet. However, this may have been due to user error. In general, I found the device reliable and easy to use.
Garmin GPSMap 66i
The Garmin GPSMap 66i is a handheld GPS with a difference: it features a built-in inReach communicator. The result, though a bit chunky in the hand, is a highly capable device. You get the full suite of traditional GPS navigation tools (including mapping on a large colour screen), plus the same satellite communication functions as other inReach devices – and it can work with your phone over Bluetooth, too, as it connects with the Explore app. Although I didn’t carry the GPSMap 66i on my trip across the Alps, I used it extensively on shorter fastpacking trips earlier in the year where I knew I’d face more extreme conditions, such as winter mountaineering in the Scottish Highlands. I really appreciated its speedy operation and big screen for viewing maps. Much easier than squinting at maps on a tiny watch face! It’s a bit large and heavy for running, but perfect for hiking in remote areas in challenging conditions.
Alex Roddie ran and hiked 900km from Ventimiglia to Zermatt via the Grande Traversata delle Alpi, Tour of the Matterhorn, and Tour of Monte Rosa – a journey involving 60,102m of ascent. A version of this story was first published in Sidetracked Volume 25.