Friday, March 15, 2013

Dressed to distress; borders, bikers, Bolsheviks and black fingerless gloves.

There was a little story from the AP yesterday that I'm sure will have been read more closely in Finland than in most other countries;  Vladimir Putin wants to commemorate the Soviet soldiers who died in the Winter War against Finland in 1939-40. According to the AP:
Putin said Thursday at a meeting with military historians that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin launched the war to “correct mistakes” made in drawing the border with Finland after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
I'm not sure if many historians would agree with that analysis but that's by the by. Anyway, the Washington Post had illustrated the story with the somewhat tangentially connected picture of Putin giving an award to the head of some Russian biker group, Alexander "the surgeon" Zaldostanov for his patriotic youth work or some such. A quick google on Mr. Zaldostanov shows that he and Mr. Putin have been friends for some time, but more to the point the both seem keen on black fingerless gloves!

It's a long time since I last noted the black fingerless glove issue in these pages, but it's a 'thing', honest guv'! My global-mayhem-fashion/black fingerless gloves all-encompassing theory of international relations is still developing, but tentatively I'm will to say, when they are worn (or worse - when just one is worn) be nervous.

(There are more images of Putin with fingerless gloves on in this photo essay along with some frankly disturbing shirts-off imagery.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Engaged with the world

I found some old notes today, typed hurriedly years ago whilst I was reading My Trade: A Short History of British Journalismby Andrew Marr - a good book for anyone interested in journalism, journalists and how their work interacts with and mediates our world. I remember reading on climbing forum a couple of summers ago someone asking "why is everyone talking about riots?" This person wasn't interested in the news; cynical about all politics, she had made a conscious decision simply not to watch or read any, and as a result was unaware that there were major incidences of public disorder breaking out across the UK including, if I remember correctly, in the centre of the city where she lived. Whilst this struck me as misguided, it also seemed an almost heroic decision to make - it must take quite some mental effort to ignore all news, not to absorb any. I feel I get news, and hence am engaged in politics, almost by osmosis these days - what you eat, how you travel around, using a library, paying a bill all seem to be political acts in some way as a result. Anyway, Marr writes:
I know people who barely read a paper and who think most broadcast news is mindless nonsense. I think, however, they are wrong. They might go through their weekly round, taking the kids to school, shopping, praying, doing some voluntary work, phoning elderly relatives, and do more good than harm as they go. But they have disconnected themselves from the wider world; rather like secular monks, they have cloistered themselves in the local. And this is not good enough. We are either players in open, democratic societies, all playing a tiny part in their ultimate direction, or we are deserters. (p.63)
Sometimes it is nice to switch off; to go for a walk in the mountain, for a ski in forests - but switching off forever? Is Marr right that this is desertion?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Simond Alpinism Pants - a review.

I thought I'd write a review of these just because they are so good value for money. Doing gear reviews for UKclimbing, I get sent some amazing kit, but of course that sort of stuff is often very expensive, much more than many, including myself, can often afford. For obvious reasons, I've always been interested in kit that works well and doesn't cost the earth and these softshell trouser really fit that category.

Warm, windproof, stretchy, tough and cheap. What more do you want?
Simond is a brand with huge heritage amongst climbers, particularly those who have been in the game for a couple of decades. The brand disappeared from the UK market over much of the 1990s and 2000s, but anyone who has looked at pictures of the groundbreaking Scottish winter routes of the 80s will recognise the distinctive (and oddly mismatched shapes) of the Simond Barracuda iceaxe and Chacal hammer. When I was active in Scotland in the 1990s, Simond Piranhas had taken over as the tools to have for the aspiring ice jedi; I felt quite radically alternative when I bought a pair of Charlet Moser Pulsars instead.

The Simond Alpinism Pants
I'm not sure if Simond was actually failing when the French sports superstore Decathlon bought them a few years back, but clearly the massive heft of Decathlon has reinvigorated the brand. They continue to make technical gear as they always have (their ice gear is still for sale in an independent climbing shop here in Helsinki) plus Decathlon is rebranding much of its mountaineering oriented clothing and accessories as Simond. My wife has near-to-identical softshell trousers to mine that she bought a few years ago; just branded Quechua - Decathlons house brand for outdoor equipment - whilst mine say Simond on them. It's interesting as to whether Simond's legacy will mean sales to people who might not have bought Quechua gear, I guess that's what Decathlon are counting on. But, regardless of the name on your knee, these softshelltrousers at 40 quid or (EUR 50), represent about as good value for serious outdoor gear as you can currently find.

Pockets and thigh vent details
The basics: a heavyweight stretch woven generic softshell material. Not using membrane softshell makes them less windproof and water-resistant, but the thickness of the material means that they are windproof “enough”, whilst keeping the breathability and stretchiness that softshell should be all about. For me these are definitely winter trousers where their warmth is an advantage and their heftiness easy enough to ignore. In terms of features they have plenty but not much more than I want. They have removable braces to keep them up, but no belt-loops should you remove them. All the pockets are zipped, two at the hip and one on thigh. The fly is, wonderfully, a double ended zip, meaning “comfort breaks” for the harness-wearing gentleman at least, are so much easier to perform. There are zipped vents on thighs, backed with mesh for less pasty flesh to show when open. I could probably live without these, but can understand that when skinning up on ski tour in warm weather they will help, indeed I used them whilst snowhoeing recently in the sunshine. The ankle has a short zip and is adjustable with velcro – this has a tendency to catch snow and come open in sticky conditions. Inside the cuff is an internal gaiter; I've been pretty impressed with these; they seemed sized to fit a mountain boot rather than a massive ski boot and have a lace hook to hold them down. They don't though have an eyelet for attaching bungee elastic which would make them more usable. As they are, they will keep light and not too deep fluffy snow out of your boots, but aren't much defence against boot packing through deep snow or warm, heavy late season gloop. The gaiters are, though, 'zip out' so can be easily removed for non-snowy conditions or if you use an external gaiter. The finish of the trousers seems great – no obviously weak seams or popping stitching, and there are nice touches like 'zip garages' and every zip puller having an extender on it to make them usable with gloved hands. The only criticism is that velcro adjustment on the braces seem sized for giants; I couldn't get them tight enough for me so had to remove the velcro an re-position it so the braces would be tighter.
Internal gaiter and crampon patch

If you are climbing dripping icefalls you soon realise the limitations of softshell; the Simonds will ward off a reasonable amount of falling water and seem to dry out once you are out of the 'shower zone', but they are not close to waterproof. But with the exception of very drippy icefalls (which normally means steeper and more complicated than I can climb!) or rain, I can't think of many winter pursuits that the Simond softshell trousers don't work well for. I've used mine since getting them in December for ice and mixed climbing, snowshoeing, piste skiing, ski touring, and tracked XC skiing. The big brands may well make something as good or better; but for two or three times the price.
And streeeetch... the author climbing at Rajis, photo courtesy of and ©H. Matilainen

(p.s. for any Finns reading this post who haven't visited a Decathlon anywhere else in Europe, they have spread as far north as Stockholm! Worth a visit if traveling through, and Decathlon - next stop Helsinki?)