Friday, 20 April 2012

Haglöfs Fang Jacket Review – A Scandinavian Saga In 3 Acts

This is the first piece of outdoor clothing by Haglöfs I have ever bought. It’s a brand I have been interested in trying for some time – in fact I’ve tried jackets on before and quite liked what I’ve found, but somehow I’ve ended up choosing something else. I must also confess that despite a growing interest in trying their stuff I’ve found the prices slightly scary being, as they are, towards the upper end of the range.

However you do often get what you pay for. Their products look good and garner positive reviews in product tests, so when I was looking for a soft shell jacket and saw this model substantially reduced, I decided to take the plunge and give it a go.

RRP = £240
Price Paid = £140

Because of our current “not walking” status, I’ve decided to do this review in 3 parts: first an overview of the jacket with product stats and technical features, followed by a more detailed report on the jacket in use when I get the chance, then a final appreciation after a decent period of test time.

Act 1: The Technical Stuff

Initial Impressions:

First off, the Fang is a good-looking jacket whose style and use of distinctively coloured fabrics make it stand out from the crowd. Now I know this might not be to everyone’s taste, but personally I find the usual gamut of garments in monochrome red, blue, grey or black to be rather utilitarian and uninspiring. For the sorts of prices asked, what is wrong with wanting a garment to be attractive as well as functional?

Anyway, whatever the merits (or otherwise) of the colour options available, it comes down to quality in the end, and this is what I want to cover in this first appreciation of the product.

The term “soft shell” has an enormous range of meaning these days, and an equally enormous range of products and prices to match, ranging from products that are little more than an alternative to the basic fleece to those that are much more technical altogether, offering high levels of breathability, durability, weatherproofing and comfort. The Fang definitely falls into the latter category, probably upping the “technical quotient” of my gear collection by 50% in one fell swoop, and has a wealth of features to examine.


The salient points of this jacket (as listed by the manufacturer) are summarised below:

· A versatile Windstopper® Soft Shell® jacket for winter related activities.
· Two different weight fabrics used to balance features with low pack size.
· High degree of stretch for comfort.
· Completely windproof.
· Excellent breathability.
· DWR treated surfaces provide excellent weather resistance.
· Helmet compatible 3-way adjustable hood.
· 2-way main watertight front zip with wind flap & chin guard.
· Highly durable woven face fabric provides excellent abrasion resistance.
· Offset seams in key areas to prevent bunching and chaffing.
· Articulated sleeves with underarm pit zip ventilation.
· 1 zipped chest pocket.
· 2 zipped hand pockets, placed for use with a harness.
· Velcro adjustable cuffs.
· Single-handed adjustable waist draw cord.
· Weight in g: 705 (L)

That’s quite a lot of features, so it’s perhaps worth enlarging on them to explain some of the benefits.

The use of more than one type of fabric in a garment is not a new idea, but one that seems to have been gathering pace in recent years. Usually, this type of zoning is done to concentrate attributes in the places where they are needed, rather than all over, and this is the case here, too. A lighter, less bulky fabric is used for the underarm areas to increase breathability, enhance movement and reduce pack size, whereas as a heavier, more robust fabric is used for the rest of the jacket providing additional durability in heavy wear areas and increased weather protection.

At 702g in size XL (as per my electronic scales – a shade below the stated weight for size L) it’s not the lightest of jackets, but I’ve found it very comfortable to wear. The cut is excellent (for me) and on the couple of occasions I’ve worn it so far (so no stylish pictures of me modelling it ... yet) I’ve found it to stretch nicely with my movements and, although it might sound like an odd claim, it doesn’t feel as heavy as stated once it is on.

One minor gripe here, though, is the sizing. Although Haglöfs is a Swedish manufacturer, the sizing appears to have been based on some other, more petite nationality altogether. You will almost certainly have to go up a size – I did, needing an XL to get the right fit rather than the more usual L in regular clothing – particularly if you intend to wear anything other than the most minimal of base layers. Haglöfs are not the only culprits in this respect – there are several others – but why some outdoor gear manufacturers feel the need to do this, I don’t know, unless (in this age when so many reviewers dismiss a product on weight alone, regardless of how good it might be – something that annoys me greatly) they want to make the weight per size appear as low as possible.

As far as many of the other features go, I have yet to discover the full benefits. But early indications show that the pockets are well placed, the zips all run smoothly, the cuff adjustment is simple and effective, and the fabric and build quality makes for a really durable product. Testing so far has been very limited, but so far it has successfully blocked out a cutting breeze and effectively turned a light shower.

The 3-way hood adjustment works very well, with adjusters placed at the side of the face, the back of the head and the nape of the neck. Even without a helmet (or much in the way of hair) it is possible to get a nice, snug fit without acres of loose fabric to flap around in the wind or inflate.

Haglöfs market the Fang as a jacket for winter-related activities, and I had this in mind when choosing it. I was looking for a versatile layer that would bolster my winter layering (as a mid-layer, providing more protection than a standard fleece against wind and weather) and that could also be worn at other times of the year as a more versatile outer layer, with more weather protection than a fleece and more breathability than a waterproof. In this respect, I think it will suit perfectly well.


There are two main fabrics used in the Fang:

WINDSTOPPER® 3-layer, 94% Polyamide, 6% Elastane, Soft Shell stretch face fabric with 100% Polyester Micro Fleece backer and ePTFE membrane.

WINDSTOPPER® 100% Polyester Soft Shell fabric with knit backer and ePTFE membrane.

For those who are interested in more details on the fabrics, further information can be found on the Windstopper website:

In summary, though, the fabrics aim to offer “total windproofness and maximum breathability, combining the comfort of a soft mid-layer and the water resistance of a shell in one garment.” It is also DWR coated, so it will be interesting to see how this performs in tough weather conditions, but the benefit of total windproofness (preventing chilling after exercise) is likely to be a massive boon compared to traditional fleece products.

Initial Conclusions:

I’m pretty impressed with this jacket so far. Admittedly it is still early days, but it seems a comfortable, robust, well-thought-out jacket that has been designed with a clear purpose in mind, and I have no concerns about it’s ability to perform as suggested.

I was going to post a link to the product as well, but this model seems to have been phased out. I contacted the very helpful people at Haglöfs UK to find out the latest situation. This is what they said:

“The Fang … was a Fall/Winter 2011 item and does not carry over into the Spring/Summer 2012 range as it is more of a winter jacket … in the UK you could use it all year round with our weather.

There is nothing the same as the Fang in our SS12 range … the closest would be an Eryx Hood … this is lighter and will not be as warm as the Fang … the only difference I can really notice between the two is the Fang is warmer and heavier. Some MRT have been using the Eryx Hood and their feedback has been very positive.

Fang Jacket RRP £240 Weight on a Men’s large 705g
Eryx Hood RRP £275 Weight on a Men’s large 520g

See this link for the Eryx Hood:

For FW12 the Fang does not carry over but … there is more choice with the new Fin Hood £220 (closest match to the Fang), Pelamis Jacket £220, Eryx Hood – new colours £275, and the top of the range … Suta Hood at £350 – more snow sports orientated … I have no links for these … as they are not available till around late August / September.”

So there you have it - so far .....

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Round England Coastal Path

I heard a couple of things recently that have got me thinking again. Firstly news of the Wales Coast Path, a continuous 850-mile path that runs right round the coastline of Wales (including Anglesey) that links with the Offa’s Dyke Path on the eastern side to make a complete circuit of the country. It takes a number of existing routes, such as the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, and stitches them together with newly created sections to make the whole continuous route. The official opening appears to be scheduled for May 2012, although sections are already open and I think someone is already underway with walking it as we speak.

The second thing that happened was that I was flicking through an old copy of Walk (the magazine of The Ramblers) and saw a small piece on the progress of a new National Trail – the England Coast Path – the first stretch of which will be opened in time for the Olympic Games.

Created by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, people will eventually be able to walk round all England’s open coast, with improved access to parts of the coastline currently off-limits and “spreading room” to protect this access and quickly re-establish the route in case of serious erosion. In many cases new paths will need to be installed, and lengthy negotiations with the many landowners involved mean this will necessarily take effect at different times in different places, and the planned full route is many years away from completion.

Now I’m usually the first to argue the case for improved access, whether coastal or otherwise, and I have always felt that large swathes of the countryside have been closed to walkers for far too long. So, in that respect, I think the opening up of thousands of square miles of upland Open Access Land in England and Wales through the Countryside and Rights Of Way Act 2000 (CRoW) has been an absolute triumph for campaigners and a huge victory for the wider walking public. True, making full use of this new access has got off to a slow start, and the full benefit might not be felt for a generation or two as new routes get established and more and more walkers are brought up in this Brave New World, but it has had the effect of laying to rest the lie spread by some disingenuous landowners that “their” land would be immediately overrun by thousands of havoc-wreaking litter louts with nothing but disrespect for the countryside.

Buoyed by the success of CRoW, the Ramblers then swung their campaign efforts behind the debate that has culminated in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, another victory in the battle to allow us the public access to it’s own countryside. Of course quite a substantial proportion of the coastline is already accessible – the South West Coast Path, the Norfolk Coast Path and around half of the Cleveland Way, for example, are National Trails with a significant coastal presence, and there are hundreds and hundreds of miles of other equally renowned if less celebrated routes. However, this Act paves the way for gaps between these existing paths to be infilled, connecting into one continuous route.

The arguments for the creation of the England Coast Path – indeed any major new route – are well known. Every £1 invested in their creation brings back several times that amount in tourist spending, boosting local businesses and providing work in areas often devoid of other income opportunities. That’s before considering the benefits to the economy to be gained from a healthier population, incoming tourism and the increased opportunity for cash-strapped families to enjoy a damned good, low cost holiday.

On the face of it, this all seems wonderful. However, those of you who know me know there’s a “but” coming, don’t you?

But – and for me, it’s a big “but” – in all my time chatting with fellow hikers, reading blogs and posting on forums, I haven’t once come across anyone really gunning for this route. In fact I’ll go even further than that – I haven’t heard a single comment in support of the project at all.

Now that’s not to say there’s been a slew of negative criticism, there hasn’t. But despite all the positive benefits of the scheme outlined above, overt support across the walking fraternity seems somewhat underwhelming. Admittedly that is often the case with anything new. Even so, there is usually a small but vocal contingent to be found relishing the prospect of a new opportunity; one not in evidence here as far as I can see.

At a time when money for the ROW network is in short supply and many authorities are facing cutbacks to staffing and funding levels, is it right that significant sums are directed at a project with – I suspect – limited real support amongst walkers?

When our ROW network is increasingly under threat from militant landowners trying to overturn hard-won access rights, and when the Government is potentially undermining existing protection of the network in their so-called “war on red tape,” is it right to be looking to a major new project like this, and all that it entails, instead of ensuring that which we already have is properly protected and walkable?

With the huge pressure currently being applied from all quarters to the valuable resource that is our countryside from the planners – new housing stock, wind farms, transport infrastructure, etc – would that financial resource be better utilised preserving those under threat areas we already have?

At a time when the bodies on which we rely to look after the outdoor Crown Jewels are being seriously under funded and under resourced, I feel these are genuine concerns, and there is a real risk that if we as a walking community take our eye off the ball too much all we will be doing is creating a new prospect at the expense of the old. Are you really prepared to swap proper protection of the Peak District (such as the proposed sell-off of The Roaches by the impecunious PDNP, for example) for the creation of a bit of coastal path between a chemical plant and an oil refinery that few, if any, will ever use? Is that a call you want to make? I’m not trying to be over-dramatic here, just that it might actually come to that.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that an England Coast Path is an admirable objective that will add much to the cache of the National Trail network and, eventually, massively improve access to the coast for everyone. And I’m not saying that the Ramblers are misguided in any way – after all, they do a lot hard work maintaining paths, working for the good walkers and campaigning on important issues. I’m just saying, in this case, I am not a supporter of this particular profligate project at a time of hardship for the network and those that protect our special places, although I understand the political expediency of the situation.  

What I am questioning, though, is whether it is the right thing at the right time?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

10k "Trip" Report

I've noticed logging on this morning that this blog has reached a minor landmark - 10,000 page views.

Don't get me wrong, I know compared to thousands and thousands of blogs that 10k is a pretty tiny figure as such things go - even amongst those specialising in outdoor matters! 


When I first set out on this journey, the principle aim of this blog was to act as a record for me to look back on in years to come (as I am notoriously hopeless with dates), and to put down on paper all those thoughts on hiking and the outdoors - my main passion in life - as they occured to me.

Also, I wanted to record my trips in a way personal to me - a style pitched (hopefully!) somewhere between route notes/guidebook and article, with an element of story-telling to each one. That way, when I re-read them in years to come, I am reminded of the thoughts, feelings, sensations and experiences of each trip we have done, as well as the routes themselves.

Anyway, regardless of the success or otherwise of the blog, there has been an unexpected and delightful consequence to all this: the discovery of a burgeoning online community that has made me realise just how many like-minded folk there are out there - in the blogosphere and on the hills - and just how many different voices and diverse perspectives there are on this wonderful pastime of ours.

So just a quick note to say a big "Thank You" to everyone who has dropped by and read my ramblings. The same goes if you have left a comment - I do read them all, and they are all greatly appreciated.

As for the future - who knows? Maybe we'll meet again in cyberspace soon or perhaps even on a hill somewhere.

It's been great so far, and I'm really looking forward to the next 10k.



Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Best In Test?

Gear: we all love it, don’t we? Let’s face it, after talking about where we’ve been to it’s probably the number one topic of conversation. And every month, page after page of magazine or blog space is dedicated to discussing the finer points of this versus that.

Increasingly bloggers are contributing a wealth of information about products and how they perform, mainly through the medium of the single item test. The advantage of this is that an in-depth review can be formulated based on extended use of the item in question, usually tested in real-life situations.

Very occasionally a blogger may get sent an item for testing from an obliging source. Normally this comes with the proviso that the retailer or manufacturer concerned receives a name check and, in some cases, that the product is returned afterwards (for example if it’s a prototype). However, in spite of the apparent generosity of the suppliers, most bloggers manage to remain impartial in their findings, and will offer balanced reviews as far as their experience will allow them.

However, despite the advantages outlined above, there is a downside to such testing: it is rarely able to be comparative. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have enough spare cash to go out and buy all the latest gear with the sole intention of seeing how good one product is against another! For this, we rely on the group test.

In the main, group tests are the preserve of the big circulation magazines: those organs of the press with sufficient penetration to reach thousands of prospective buyers, and whose pronouncements are capable of making – or breaking – a product. Rarely, if ever, will an individual blogger get the opportunity to test all the latest releases against one another in a comparative test.

Obviously, with the increased number of bloggers contributing on-line individual product reviews, the position of the professional reviewer has subtly altered (by “professional” I mean those who work for the magazines in question). However, the professional reviewer is still in a position of some responsibility given that their views will be widely read and may, ultimately, influence the development of future product.

The question is: do they wield this responsibility … er … responsibly?

Around a year ago, two magazines were reviewing lightweight waterproof jackets. As I was reading I noticed something odd – the same jacket was awarded a 100% score from one magazine (and given “Best In Test”) yet scored only 60% in the other, just about the lowest mark given. How could this be? The same jacket assessed for the same purpose. What were the circumstances that threw up two such diverse summations of the same product?

Of course, this happens all the time. We all have our own favourites, whether we are judging baked beans, washing powder, cars, TV shows or whatever. It’s only natural: we are all different. But it got me thinking: surely, part of the reviewer’s job in a group test is to put personal preference to one side and determine what might be a good purchase for ALL potential users/buyers?

Now I’m not suggesting any bias here, or any intention on their behalf to deliberately mislead, simply that sometimes these reviews may not be as impartial as we are given to understand and that, even with the best of intentions, personal preferences might cloud the tester’s objectivity.

Amongst this months’ crop of outdoor mags I came across another gear test that threw up a couple of anomalies. For the sake of the magazine and reviewer in question, I won’t make too detailed a reference. What I will say, though, is that both have respectable credentials amongst the outdoor fraternity, and both are eminently more qualified to discuss the merits of a product that I am myself.

However, as far as I could see, it became quite clear, quite early on that a particular perspective were being applied to the test – and one that not every potential purchaser of the product might apply. As a result, it is my own personal opinion that one or two decent products were unfairly marked down and at least one product with an identified (and possibly major) flaw was scored second only to Best In Test. That can’t be right, can it?

Sadly, it’s quite usual to see decent products unfairly pilloried. Often, this is because it fails some reviewer’s self-selected opinion of whether it is right or not. Take weight, for example, one of the biggest and most arbitrary culprits, with one version being deemed too “heavy” and another “light” enough when, in reality, there is only a few grams between them. The stupid thing is that very few products at all are “heavy” these days – just compare them to 10 or 20 years ago!

Of course it is much harder to slag something off if you have paid good money for it, unless it’s a complete turkey, as it suggests bad judgement on behalf of the purchaser. Equally, though, it is easy to do so if you haven’t had the anguish of parting with your cash.

So what does all this tell us? Very little, really, except that human nature is what it is, and will often prevail no matter how hard we try to be impartial. But it does illustrate two things to be mindful of when assessing group tests: one; use any reviews as a guideline only and, especially on big-ticket items, try before you buy, and two; it is much better to express conclusions as “I don’t like this” (opinion) rather than “It is bad” (statement of fact) because it may well be good for someone, sometime.

This might seem perfectly obvious, but with so much more gear being bought on-line, and with an increasing preponderance of stores with only quite basic product knowledge, doing your own homework and understanding what YOU want out of a product seems even more essential than ever.

As I said before, I'm sure there is no intent to mislead. It's just that there are so many more commentators out there that buyers and users are getting a bit more clued up these days. I may have no engineering qualifications or wide knowledge of the whole outdoors product market, but I have been walking up and down the UK and abroad for 35 years or more, so can claim to have some experience of what may or may not work! I'm sure there are thousands of others with similar experience too, all of whom can add to the cache of information we can call on.

So, are gear tests providing you with the information you need?

What do you think?