Rab Nimbus

Rab Nebula

Hilleberg Soulo

It’s no secret I have a bit of a manlove thing going on for Hilleberg tents; they may not be the lightest, they’re certainly not the cheapest, but they’re absolutely bomber bits of kit, the manufacturing quality is excellent. I added a Nallo 2 GT to our selection of tents a couple of years ago, and it’s rapidly become  the mobile accommodation of choice for the Pratt household.

I’ve been after a one person tent for a while now, but have been struggling to find something that ticks all the most important boxes for me; it has to be big enough to accommodate my two collies as well as me, it has to pitch outer first and, most importantly, it has to not give me a foretaste of my ‘eternal rest’ when I’m lying in it. I had a look at the Wild Country Zephyros in one of the local outdoor stores recently and, while it was clearly a lovely bit of kit, I managed about 30 seconds inside it before I started to get claustrophobic and had to get back out before I started raving and clawing at the fabric.

Another of the local stores had the Hilleberg Akto, which seemed much roomier inside, and had steep enough walls to the inner that they don’t sit just above your face when you’re lying stretched out, contemplating a cold, lonely eternity. Although the Akto ticks all the boxes, I wasn’t sure if I wanted another tunnel tent, and fancied a look at the Soulo before coming to any conclusions that involved seperating me from my meagre allowance of ‘gear tokens’ for the foreseeable future. None of the local stores stock the Soulo, and getting up close and personal with one seemed less likely than encountering the Holy Grail until a conversation with one of my climbing buddies revealed he was getting one on a 90 day test drive from Hilleberg. Being a more generous sort than me, he offered to let me have a play with it, on the condition that I didn’t scratch the paintwork.

First Impressions

I thought I might as well have a play with it as soon as I got it home, so the furniture got cleared out of the TV room in order to transform it into a suitable pitch for the Soulo. The tent came with the inner and outer linked, and the various tension bands in place, so erecting it was, theoretically, a simple matter of sliding the poles into the mini-sleeves and clipping the remainder of the flysheet onto the 3 supporting poles. First time round was a bit faffy, not helped by me overlooking one of the tension bands sitting over the top of the flysheet, rather than underneath it, which necessitated a bit of deconstruction to get it into its proper location. The short sleeves are colour coded, which will help with quick identification of the correct sleeve, and the combination of sleeves lower down and clips higher up certainly offer a way of setting up the Soulo that would be much less of a wrestling match in windy conditions than the more traditional full sleeve. Whether this was a primary consideration in the design of the Soulo is anyone’s guess, but the end result is a tent that can be pegged out flat, then have all three poles secured in place before starting to raise the fly and inner. Working round the clips from the bottom up braces the poles nicely as the fabric structure rises up.

Although the inner and outer can be left clipped together, I tend to keep them separate when camping, as then a wet flysheet can be packed in its own drybag. Setting the outer up on its own gives a huge shelter which gives plenty of space for wet dogs and owners to be dried off and gear organised before the inner is set up and sleeping kit brought out.

Once the tent was up, I inflated my Hylite Peak Elite AC and tossed it in the tent, along with an Alpkit Pipedream 800. Even with a fairly large down bag inside, there was plenty of space on the floor of the inner tent and, while it would be a struggle to get a second mat in, I reckon there’s definitely enough space for two smaller people to crash out in the Soulo in extremis. For one person and two dogs, there’s bags of space, and plenty of room in the porch for a 50-60 litre pack to be stored and still have space to get a stove up and running in bad weather. Height-wise, I’m 5’10” and there’s space for me to sit up in the tent without my head brushing the roof at the centre of the inner. The inner itself has a double door system, which means the entire side of the inner tent can be rolled out of the way, while the end nearest the flysheet has an additional mesh panel which can be exposed in warm weather to give a hefty dose of ventilation.

I haven’t had the scales out to weigh it yet, but the official weight is 2.2kg, which puts it in the ‘hefty’ category for all those people used to carrying sub 1kg shelters, but is a weight I’m happy to live with if it means having a practical size and bombproof shelter from the weather.

In Action…

I put the Soulo to the test over a snowy weekend on the hills around Ardverikie. There was a fair bit of snow on the ground, and a couple of inches fell overnight, with a blustery wind blowing the new snow into fairly deep drifts. The wind shifted direction slightly during the night, which meant a fair bit of snow built up against the walls of the tent.  The weather wasn’t nearly bad enough to really test the abilities of the Soulo in that respect; I’d expect it to cope with far worse in terms of wind or snowfall. That said, it was noticeably quieter in the wind than my existing Nallo GT, with very little flapping fabric. One aspect of the tent that was clearly effective was its snow shedding abilities; as I settled down for the night, I was lulled to sleep by the soft ‘shuss’ sound as accumulating snow slid down the steep sides of the tent. The inner of the tent started to get wet with condensation pretty quickly once I got in there with the dogs and started cooking. In better weather I’d usually cook outside to limit this problem, but the Soulo is a tent that’s built for bad weather, and you’re not going to have the option of going outside to make a brew in bad weather. On this occasion, it was undoubtedly made worse by the presence of two damp dogs inside the the tent, and my need to melt snow and warm water for their needs and my own – that’s a lot of additional water vapour being created in the course of one mealtime. Later in the evening, I found I had to wipe down the inner of the tent at least twice with a small microfibre cloth, which needed to be wrung out a couple of times during the process. The outer of my sleeping bag got pretty wet during the night, although not enough to compromise the warmth of the bag, and I’d opted not to use the cover I’d brought with me as I was already fairly hot.

I did discover another problem later in the evening, after I left the top of the door open to try and vent some of the condensation, when snow began to blow in through the open door and build up on the roof of the inner tent. It was easily knocked off and didn’t cause any problems, but it does highlight one aspect of the Soulo’s design that might create problems; because the tent is shaped like an elongated ellipse with the door on one quadrant, it’s a little tricky to pitch it so that the door is in the lee of the wind unless you start to turn the tent broadside on the the wind direction. I’d set up camp with the door on the opposite side to the wind, but a shift in wind direction of as little as 30-45° during the night resulted in the door then being directly in the wind. Part of the problem might have been caused by me thinking like a tunnel, rather than a geodesic, tent owner; in reality, I could have pitched the Soulo broadside on the wind and it would have handled it without a problem, especially as I’d guy’ed it out thoroughly from the start.

Overall…

the Soulo is definitely a tent I’d consider buying as a totally bomb-proof shelter for late Autumn through to mid-spring use. Like any tent it requires the acceptance of certain compromises, the most obvious of which is the extra kilo of weight in your rucksack in order to get it to where you’re going to be camping. With some changes to the way its pitched, it should be possible to eliminate some of the problems with condensation, although the only real solution is to use a less heat retaining inner which would allow more airflow, which in turn would result in a colder environment in which to spend the night.

The problems I had with the siting of the door were really more about my lack of experience with this particular tent; if I was using it again, I’d adjust the way I pitched it into the wind, to ensure that the door was properly sheltered. Setting the tent up, even in a strong wind, is relatively straightforward, helped enormously by the short  pole sleeves which allow the fabric to be pegged out and the poles inserted securely before the fabric is then attached higher up the poles with chunky clips which are easy to manipulate with warm gloves on. Looping the guys round the poles is fairly straightforward, although the double guy points make getting them pegged and tensioned a little more fiddly. Once that’s done, you can get inside and get your head down, safe in the knowledge that, should the Apocalypse arrive, the only inhabitants of planet Earth pretty much guaranteed to survive are cockroaches and any human who happened to be sleeping in a Soulo. Guess its time to start saving then…

Rab VR Alpine Lite

I’d be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a gear junkie – I tend to impulse buy kit I don’t really need, decide I don’t like it, whereupon it languishes in the back of the wardrobe until the inevitable date with Ebay.  Every now and again though, I buy myself a bit of kit that I fall head over heels in love with…

One of the best kit purchases I’ve made in a long time has been the Rab Vapour-rise Alpine Lite jacket. I’ve had a bit of a liking for Rab’s vapour rise kit for a while now, being the proud owner of one of the earlier VR pull ons (which is getting a bit baggy for me now, but I can’t bear to part with it and I’m hoping that I can make use of it come winter as part of a layering system with my new VR Alpine Lite).

I bought the VR Alpine Lite on the recommendation of Michael Thomson, who is a fellow fan of Rab’s VR concept – you may find his thoughts on the matter over on Scottish Mountaineer. In essence, VR is a windproof pertex outer layer with a drop lining which resembles a cross between fleece and velour. It’s not without it’s drawbacks, not the least of which is the difficulty of pulling it on over a merino wool base layer, an activity almost guaranteed to strip you of all dignity as the layers bind like Velcro and leave you looking like Quasimodo wrestling a goat in a straitjacket.

Despite that shortcoming, I’ve come to love my new VR; it feels light when worn, packs down into an Alpkit XXS mesh bag and, for me at least, has a ‘just right’ feel in terms of balancing insulation and wind resistance. I’m not sure I’d want to be plodding uphill for an extended period in the summer wearing one, but stick it on when you hit the ridge or plateau and you’re right in the path of the wind, and it’s perfect. The Pertex Endurance outer manages to shed enough water to not bother with a shell on the occasions when you’re passing in and out of showers, and dries out quickly when it does get a bit soggy. I’ve brought it along on a few overnight trips, including our recent wet and chilly outing on Sgor Gaoith, and it’s been toasty over a base layer throughout the process of setting up camp and settling down for the night.

Fit is a very subjective issue, but I find the VR pretty much perfect – I can slip on my Arcteyrex Atom LT over it to boost my insulation on chilly days, and while it feels close fitting over a base layer, it still manages to make space for a lightweight fleece or powerstretch top without that ‘binding’ feeling around the shoulders that I hate.Despite the light feel of the outer fabric, it’s proved fairly robust as well; I wore it continuously during my ML training and it shrugged off scrambling about on Cairngorm granite, getting used as a foothold by fellow trainees, and body belaying. It got completely soaked during our overnight trip, but continued to give decent performance as a thermal layer, and dried out pretty well overnight (although it was still damp and cold first thing in the morning).

Overall, I think Rab have found just about the right blend of materials for this VR jacket, and it will be interesting to see what they do with some of the ‘winterised’ VR kit in the future.

Montane Terra Pants

I’ve realised that there’s a bit of a common theme emerging in most of the pictures which appear on this blog – the presence of my Montane Terra pants. I’m currently on my second pair, as the first pair had to be retired due to my shrinking waistline and the current pair are in danger of suffering the same fate, but I might manage to keep tightening the belt until Santa comes or the nice people at Montane decide to sponsor me.

Getting back to the Terra pants themselves, these things are, frankly, bloody marvellous. I’ve had them on in a range of weather from warm claggy, humid days right through to the present first hints of winter and they’ve kept me comfortable throughout. They have a thigh vent for a bit of airflow round the legs, but to be honest, I’ve rarely found the need for them as they’re made of a sufficiently light material to not suffer badly from that clammy uncomfortable feeling if it is warm and humid. On colder, windy days, the Terras are a bit of a revelation, as they manage to block enough of the wind to maintain a warm micro-climate round your legs. I’ve been comfortable with them on wearing nothing other than boxer shorts underneath on days when I’ve been wearing 2 or 3 layers beneath a shell jacket up top.

Although we haven’t hit the serious sub-zero days yet, I wore them out on a frosty start in the Cairngorms the other week, teamed up with a pair of silk long-johns underneath and again they were very comfortable. I suppose the only downside to this from Montane’s point of view is that I was being tempted by their Terra Thermostretch pants for winter, but I’m now wondering if I can get away with the Terras over a pair of heavier weight pair of leggings. I’ve gradually come round to the need to wash kit like this in natural soap to preserve water repellency, but I don’t find the DWR coating on the Terras to be that long lasting. This isn’t really a problem though, as they don’t absorb much water and dry out very quickly if they get damp. On days where it’s raining non-stop, then they’re a neat enough cut that they can be worn under a pair of lightweight waterproof trousers without feeling like you’re wearing a nappy.

I’ve also used them for mountain biking on colder days, where the adjustable ankles are a real benefit in terms of keeping the bottom of the trouser out of the chain.  The diamond gusset in the crotch is a real winner from this point of view, as it both adds to the range of movement you can achieve without feeling the trousers binding on your legs, and avoids having an uncomfortable seam running right where you and your  saddle get intimate.

I have a pair of Terra Pack pants which I tend to use for trips to the climbing wall, but on odd occasions I’ve made use of the Terras instead, and they hold up well to being scraped and banged about. The articulation in the knees works really well for me, especially as Montane are one of the few companies to bother making technical trousers in a range of leg lengths, so the more stunted of us can get Terras in a size that puts the shaped knee at your actual knee, not half-way down your shin as with some other gear manufacturers. As a result, I find I can get my knee up high to step on awkward holds without having to hitch up my trousers – something that’s a definite bonus in situations where you really don’t want to be letting go of a handhold, or where you’re trying to make a delicate balancy move.

Most of the outdoor shops tend to sell them in default ‘euro style’ two-tone black/grey, which I rather like, but they are available in a number of different colours, including all black for the sartorially conservative. Hopefully, Montane won’t do much to change them anytime soon, as I think they’re just about the perfect outdoor trouser.