The latest field notes from Wilderness gear testers
Soto Windmaster $134.90
This is a nifty little burner with a clip-off pot support that allows the stove to be packed down for safe and compact transport.
When I first took it out on a camp, I used old, partially-filled gas cartridges. Even though the pressure in these was low, and with the wind howling, I still managed to boil a 1-litre billy in just a few minutes. It did so well, it sucked my cartridges dry in no time.
This is a point to consider when using the Soto – it’s not tardy when it comes to gas usage; it will take all it can get to put out the heat, so make sure you watch it, as it boils a pot so quickly you can easily waste gas if you’re not ready to turn it off.
On a three-day trip up the Rangitata, three of us cooked all our meals on the Windmaster. We found it simmered nicely and will boil that all important cuppa in about 3min, even with the pot lid off.
It also has a nice fold-away burner control lever and, best of all, an igniter, which works even in the wind. It comes with a carry sac and an interchangeable pot support which can be purchased separately for bigger pots.
The clip on pot support, while it works well, may, in time, prove to be a little flimsy, so it needs to be treated with care and stored carefully; however the fabric storage sac it comes with is too flimsy to protect it. The heat output is an impressive 11000BTU and the windshield factor is achieved by using a fully cupped heat reflector directly beneath the burner which impedes the effect of wind on the flame. In addition, the direct straight coupling of the burner head to the gas bottle allows gas to pass through efficiently for immediate flame control.
All up it weighs only 67g. This stove is a real find, one I cannot rate highly enough. The performance is stunning and gas usage is conservative.
– Pat Barrett
Patagonia Nano Air
Patagonia has a bold series of claims for this lightweight and versatile mountain jacket.
At 354g (w: 294g), it meets the lightweight test for me as well as ticking a lot of other boxes that outdoor users look for in a jacket: breathability, full-time use when out, warm when wet and comfort when in active use.
It’s quite a wish-list and after having worn the Nano Air, which is filled with 60g of a synthetic insulation called FullRange, on numerous cycling trips on cold winter days, I then took it on a cold pre-dawn trip to a hidden valley near Porters Pass. This involved an off-track hike and climb, through river bed, scrub and gorge, and finally a steep rocky climb up a rib to the tops. I found the jacket worked exceptionally well and is as Patagonia claims: very ‘athletic’ meaning the stretch fit works well when climbing steep terrain and doesn’t have you wishing you had taken it off because it was restricting movement or riding up your back. I also kept it on the entire time out, both up and down the ridge, and was surprised at how dry it was when I eventually took it off at the end of the tramp, demonstrating it’s ability to transfer sweat and moisture.
Once I stopped at the top of the ridge for lunch I did feel compelled to put on my hardshell to cut the bitingly cold sou’wester.
The Nano Air’s lightweight construction and low volume make it especially attractive as a mountain jacket. It even handled the matagouri well.
The negatives are hard to find. I think a higher collar would be good, just for that extra snug fit when resting, and it is a little more bulky than a down jacket and the pockets, there are three, are just a tad small.
– Pat Barrett
Child carriers are the perfect way to introduce young children to the outdoors. Alistair Hall pits Macpac’s Possum against Osprey’s Poco Plus
Macpac Possum $399.95
This well-padded child carrier uses Macpac’s easy-adjust Explorer harness: simply lift and cinch to move it to the desired position – perfect for couples sharing the carrying duties.
It weighs 3.5kg and is designed to carry loads of around 20kg, but with my daughter only weighing 11kg, I didn’t come close to this – even when nappies, food and water were added – so it has a useful lifespan of several years.
I was comfortable with the load I did carry, the harness felt stable and the carrier stayed glued to my hips, moving with me through all twists and turns. The seat for the baby is well padded and soft, and my daughter never seemed in discomfort. Once strapped in and the sides tightened, it would not be possible for her to come out accidentally.
The cavernous 35-litre storage capacity is plenty for all baby essentials plus extras for parents. Accessing these items is through three external pockets. You could easily pack a day’s or weekend’s gear in here so long as someone else was hauling sleeping bags and the tent.
I found it easy to put Alice into the carrier, but found the harness a little complicated. It comes down over her shoulders from the rear to be clipped in at her thigh, which can be fiddly to access. There’s also a chest strap which I often accidentally clipped the harness into.
Because much of the testing was done in summer, I used the sunshade accessory ($34.95) frequently. Protecting young children from the sun is crucial, especially in New Zealand, and I feel Macpac should offer this as standard. The shade is effective and features a roll-down mozzie net.
The stand is super stable when locked into position, but because it is zipped away in the lower compartment, you really need someone else to pack it away or open it for you. When my wife wasn’t with me, I would balance the carrier on the ground to do all this – not ideal. Once this compartment is packed with gear, I could not access the stand without first emptying the compartment.
Overall, the Possum offers impressive comfort for both wearer and baby, but an external stand, built-in sunshade and simplified baby harness would make it a much more attractive proposition.
Osprey Poco Plus $319
Like the Macpac Possum, the Poco Plus has an easy-adjust harness to cater to the different back lengths of parents. There is also a mesh back panel which creates some space between the aluminium frame through which air can travel. Combined with the rigid frame, the carrier doesn’t so much contour to your back like the Possum does, but sit straight on it, with the weight being aimed directly at the hips. I found it very comfortable and a rock-solid fit that didn’t result in the carrier swinging or swaying as I walked.
The hipbelt uses a firm non-bulky foam. The belt itself can be extended 7.5cm on each side with what Osprey calls a ‘Fit-on-the-fly’ – the padding inlay slides out of the belt. It’s an excellent feature for those who are carrying extra girth.
I particularly liked the Poco Plus’s external stand which can be opened or shut while wearing the carrier. This makes loading and unloading baby super easy and convenient – open the stand before dropping the carrier to the ground. Because the stand is external, storage and access to your gear in the lower compartment is not compromised – the stand just doesn’t close as much when the compartment is filled.
A built-in sun shade is accessed from the top rear pocket. It slides up and folds over the baby’s head to be buckled in near the shoulder straps. The baby harness is simple to use – it comes from in front of the baby to clip into buckles near their shoulders. The stitched chest strap doesn’t need a buckle, making it even simpler to secure the baby.
The baby seat has less padding than the Possum and when first used I didn’t adjust the seat height correctly, resulting in a friction sore appearing on my daughter’s hip. Once the seat was adjusted, this problem didn’t repeat.
The carrier has a 23-litre capacity and a maximum load of 22kg. It is substantially smaller than the Possum, but because access is not hindered by the main compartment, there is probably more useful, usable space for those who want to use it frequently and on shorter outings.
The Poco Plus has some useful features like a phone pocket (too small for modern smartphones) on the shoulder strap and a hydration sleeve behind the back panel.
I found the Poco Plus to be the most comfortable carrier, but after using this and the Possum on a daily basis for two months, it was the easy-attach built-in sunshade and external stand that really won me over.