Climbing and Mountaineering in Scotland is always a memorable affair: horizontal rain, unexpected sunshine and high humidity ask more from our shell clothing than most Alpine excursions, summer or winter. Autumn 2013 sees the launch of a new style of analogy waterproofs using stretch fabrics that I first began testing (to destruction) in 2008. As more people turn to the most breathable waterproofs available, lighter and more tailored designs are being demanded by increasing numbers of mountaineers and backcountry skiers. As a scottish ski mountaineer myself with “short arms and deep pockets”, all weather performance trumps on-piste style every time, so the greatest surprise about these waterproofs is that they’re cool enough to wear all year round! Last November I met up with Greg Care to climb Observatory Ridge on Ben Nevis and share some thoughts on his latest Paramo designs.
“How long did it take to get this design right Greg?”
Hopefully he hadn’t seen me tear a drawcord out of the prototype jacket’s hood.
“Oh, only about 20 years!”
We were accompanied by the young Italian guide Mirko Corn. Greg strode out using his Pacer poles, so the sprint-and-stop regime of mixed climbing was tested from the start. Leading most of the pitches meant I could easily keep warm with a hat on belays rather than adding layers. I’ve been wanting to shout about these garments for years, having listened to hundreds of clients tell me how pleased they have been with their Aspira and Cascada waterproofs in winter. I can only smile and nod when visiting instructors in laminate waterproofs explain how an unusual range of colour options from the East Sussex firm made their “hot and heavy” garments unattractive, especially when heading for the Alps. The Enduro’s mesh lined pockets work with discrete under-arm vents and a more breathable parameter grid baselayer to lose heat without letting in rain. Longer sleeves mean reachy moves to start up slabs didn’t expose my wrists or waist and with chest pockets stuffed with map and mittens I could still see my feet: stretch panels and a tailored fit uses less material to deliver more mobility and less drag. After nearly 200 days climbing, sliding and cycling I hardly notice I’m wearing it. It’s even light enough to consider carrying inside a pack with planks strapped on too, so if you’re considering ski mountaineering, split boarding or building a refuge in the hills I’d be delighted to compare notes!
The trousers use a slightly stretchy fabric that enables a slim fit without restricting movement on steep ground. I love the way the new low profile waist design sits comfortably on my hips with a harness and waist belt whilst extending to cover the small of the back (not that I’ve a fading tatoo there). Only on the deepest powder days would I consider salopettes now. Analogy waterproofs are now synonymous with winter performance but since most users demand alpine sleekness at least part of the year, I was delighted to find the stretch outer paired with a lightweight (and colourful) lining. Since November I have been trying to find their climatic limits, short of flying to the tropics: Skye in May delivered 30 degree heat, a day off and even a road bike to test this. Alpine trips demand a degree of versatility enforced not by budget airlines but a fast and light ethic that doesn’t always encourage the safest choices. Heading out to Italy in June I was confident the clothes I could leave the valley in would protect me in a two day storm so with a pair of longjohns and my rucksack up to my knees I banked a good 7hrz without carrying a 4 season sleeping bag.
Unfortunately most mountaineers would rather follow their partner up a hill wearing sleaky softshells, carrying flimsy laminate overtrousers for occasional showers rather than choosing the Rescue Team ‘look’. I’ve waited five years for Paramo to bring these awesome all-weather trousers to market: please be patient whilst your companions sweat, shiver or faff with extra layers for a wee while longer… and work at not looking smug! Never have I worn a set of clothes that keep me warm, dry and cool in as wide a range of mountain environments. The latest fabrics have survived years of development on granite and gabbro: zips that don’t leak or fall to bits and quality tailoring give you the confidence to tackle the most challenging situations. What started as bombproof Greenland rain gear for me in 1999 now suits summer skiers in Switzerland too. Thank you Greg, Nick and everyone in sunny Sussex for this amazing analogy clothing. In a chaotic climate why trust anything else?