Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Review: Alpkit SkyHigh 800 (Down Sleeping Bag)



N.B.  I Apologise for the colour on some of the images, I’d put the camera in the wrong mode. I hadn’t noticed until I’d packed everything away and reviewed the images on the PC…

There are many sleeping bags on the market. Some cheap, some expensive. You can get one on offer for a Tenner, or spend five or six hundred pounds on one. There is a big difference between a cheap bag and an expensive one, and there is also a big difference between brands as well. A good sleeping bag will allow you to camp later into the season, or all year round.

There’s advantages and disadvantages to the different types (a proper argument of which would take up an entire post). So to put it in a nutshell, Down is lighter and warmer for weight than synthetic, but more expensive and trickier to clean. You’ll often hear that synthetic stuffing will retain more warmth when wet, but if either was sodden, you’d be cold that night, whatever it was filled with.


I’m a proponent of Alpkit and they have long been respected for their sleeping bag range, which offered a good bag at a reasonable price.

They have two lines, the SkyHigh (I’ll shorten to SH from now on) and PipeDream (PD). The ranges are then categorised with the fill weights (hence names like SH600, SH800, SH1000 or PD600, PD800 etc. (the bigger the number, the warmer the bag)).

The PD range pack smaller, lighter, are made from more exotic materials and have a higher fill power (warmer for weight) down filling. Of course having a PD comes at a price (about 40% more when I bought my bag).

I chose the SH800 because it was within my price range (an important consideration), it’s rated to –10’c and I’d fit in it. You see, I’m quite a big lad. I’m 6’2” and there’s a vicious rumour that I have a fairly impressive beer gut Winking smile. The SH bags thankfully come in small, regular and large (and now a kids size too). They come with a well made compression sack that’s been treated to help keep water out and a storage sack to help keep the loft when it’s in the cupboard. There’s a storage pocket inside the bag and it has an excellent draft tube and collar to keep the heat in.









I have camped in temps around –8 and slept well, so it does what it’s supposed to. It’s roughly comparable to a North Face Blue Kazoo (£180) or a Rab Ascent 700 (£200). When I bought mine It was £110 (+£5 for long size), meaning it was exceptional value. (Alpkit have made a comparison chart HERE)

Now however, they are £140 (£145 for long).. So there isn’t that much difference between this and the Blue Kazoo, especially when you consider that you might get an offer on a North Face bag (or one from another major manufacturer).

Buy from Alpkit and the price is what you pay – no shopping around for bargains. This didn’t used to be a problem as their stuff was priced so competitively.1


The bag I have does have shortcomings as well. The two main issues I had are: The cord to cinch the hood had been stitched into the bag (as I couldn’t wait for the next batch, I just cut the cord and knotted it). It’s not a major problem in itself, but does possibly indicate slipshod workmanship or poor quality control. The other thing is that they don’t vary the amount of filling in the sizes, So the small is warmer than it should be and the large has a couple of panels that could really do with a bit more filling as it’s stretched that bit further. I didn’t mind paying a bit more for a long, but I was a bit annoyed when I found this out – I expected that they would be standardised across the range.


I like my SH800 and it has served me really well. It’s much lighter and packs far, far smaller than a synthetic bag. It lofts to a ridiculous amount. It’s kept me warm in the snow, toasty in the autumn and I’ve used it in the height of summer too. I’d love to say I’d buy another and would have, but with the price hike it puts the SkyHigh range uncomfortably close to the big brands..


There is nothing inside this bag, It really does loft to this thickness!


1  (sometimes they have clearance on some items. when it comes to sleeping bags however, It only applies to seconds, or ones with minor defects.. They’ve had such a good name and offered such great value that they often sell out within a few days of getting stock).

Friday, 2 September 2011

Review: Fiskars K40 Vs Gerber Crucial knife



I’m Pitting two very different knives against each other. One is a fixed blade with sheath. The other a folding knife/plier combo.



First, the Gerber Crucial. This is a folding knife and contains a blade with a blunted tip with scalloped serrations. There are two screwdriver heads, a mini crab style clip and a pair of pliers with several gripping surfaces including wire cutters.


The clip opening is reversed, which cleverly allows you to open your bottles with it.

I’ve had this knife for a good 6 months or so and it’s been walking, camping, used in the car and house. The knife has retained it’s edge and the tools have all worked well. They lock positively in place with a liner style lock, easily used one handed for the blade. The posi drive screwdriver is a little odd as it is narrowed, but works well, even on larger screws. The flat blade is large and feels indestructible but was difficult to open on my sample.

The pliers grip particularly well and the wire cutters have worked well, but did struggle slightly with multi-strand wires.

It feels substantial, heavy even. But put it on the scales and it tips in around 140g which is similar to other brand’s take on this style of knife.




The Fiskars K40 is a completely different beast. It’s a fixed blade, with No serrations, tools or gadgets. But this means that it can concentrate on being just one thing. Being sharp. FiskarsK40KnifeBlogBlade

I have to say I was weary of this knife at first as the handle is the hollow type that Fiskars tend to favour. I’ve tried to wreck it (through use – I haven’t run over it or blown it up) and it faired well. It retained its edge well and the 10cm blade is still seated solidly

What is the K40’s coupe de grace to make you consider it for your pack?.. It weighs a surprisingly svelte 70g.BigYellowTeapot

I already own a knife similar to this, a high carbon steel knife which is also excellent but requires more care, due to the type of steel it’s made from. The Fiskars knife uses Stainless steel, so it’s easier to look after, making this a better choice for beginners, infrequent users or anyone camping on the coast.



Which knife would I use?

For wild camping the K40 has the ‘edge’ (ho ho!) due to it’s light weight and a fixed blade can be used more confidently. Maybe you suddenly feel the need to carve a spoon, or make a pan stand. This knife can do this for you. The extra weight of the Crucial does give the advantage of pliers to grip a pan, but a decent pair of plastic pan grips weigh less, and grip more firmly. For wild camping, the driver heads and bottle opener/clip are essentially dead weight in your pack

If I was car camping, I’d simply take both.

If I owned a caravan or were simply walking I would take the crucial. The built in tools would come into their own and this would be a handy piece of kit that looks and is much less threatening than the K40.