Review of inexpensive ski touring gear
I got a call from Ian, PisteHors.com’s Pyrenean correspondent, last week. He wanted to know what were good ski touring pants for next season. Decathlon Bionnassay, 49.90 € in my local store. Stunned silence at the other end of the line. Ian had expected me to suggest some technical Goretex VCR pants retailing for five times the price. Okay, I continued, you could go for the Bionnassay 700 which has a breathable but waterproof membrane. What? The pants I suggested weren’t even waterproof? Had I gone completely barking mad?
Primark Fleece & Decathlon’s Bionnassay salopettes and ruck-sack
What of the Bionnassay? Well it is not just some tight fisted delusion. The trousers are pretty close fitting and are made of an abrasion resistant stretch fabric with ergonomic knees and inner leg reinforcing patches. The sizing seems a little out, normally I’m a medium but sized large. No they are not 100% waterproof but they are breathable and dry quickly in huts and for ski touring that is quite important. They also have side ventilation zips and braces as well as someusable zip pockets. The leg openings are zipped for easy fitting and have gaiters to keep powder snow out of boots. They are equipped with a metal heel loop which I snipped off with bolt cutters - but only after an uncomfortable day’s touring. I’ve covered over 100,000 vertical meters in my pair in nearly all conditions. If it is a really foul day or if I’m going to be sitting on lifts I may still take my piste salopettes. But don’t take my word for things, a lot of the serious French ski tourers use them.
Primark Fleece & Bionnassay salopettes, great for pisteurs
I’m a fanatic about gloves but they are also something that wears out pretty quickly. The price difference between the cheapest and most expensive isn’t really justified. Recently I’ve moved to keeping a pair of fleece gloves for the climb with a second pair in the sack so I’ve got dry, and warm hands, coming back down. The only thing Isplashed out on were Goretex over-mittens for extreme weather. Last autumn I discovered the Ultra III Tec brand in Lidl. You should watch out for sales in supermarkets like Lidl, Aldi and Tchibo. They generally occur at the same time each year and have similar gear. The Ultra III Tec is a lightweight randonnee type glove with some kind of Thinsulate liner and a reinforced suede palm and thumb and fingers. The great thing about them is that they are thin enough to do a lot of manipulation in gloved hands. No more getting frost nip trying to use a camera or tools. The crazy thing was, I used just this one pair of gloves the whole winter, okay we maybe didn’t have the extreme temperatures of 2006 but that’s not bad for 7 €. Last season’s pair have now gone into my snowchains box.
Lidl walking gloves
Goggles and Shades
For touring we usually only use googles for descents in poor visibility. Otherwise sunglasses of various shades are used. When climbing you generate too much steam for anything else. Basic requirements are a double anti-fog lens in a poor weather tint. Again Lidl came up trumps with a snazzy looking pair with orange lenses. But would a 12 € pair of goggles really rival my old but scrached 50 quid Oakleys? The answer is, not quite but nearly. They are good enough for our kind of use but I wouldn’t use them for lift served skiing where I was wearing them all day. While they certainly look the part and come up to European standards for UV protection they don’t have the same airflow and fog up more readily. It probably comes down to design experience. They are good enough but you may still want to pay more. Masque of the forum Snowhead.com recommends the £10 Tchibo goggles which he says “have a great product that’s the equal of kit at five times that price, mid amber, double lens, helmet compatible and well made.”
Lidl ski goggles
I don’t have any good steers for sunglasses. I tend to use Decathlon shades. According to an optician friend the lenses are excellent but all the glasses I’ve tried fog up when climbing. The main criteria is UV 4 protection and a good wrap around to keep out reflected and extraneous sunlight.
Bionnassay 22 and 30 litre ski touring sacks
For day touring Decathlon once again seem to have the bottom end of the market sewn up. No they are not cool and you won’t hang all your gear on the outside “gaper” style but they are lightweight and functional. For small day tours look at the Bionnassay 22. This can attachments for an ice ax and you can carry skis either on the side straps or slung off the back. In this case the sidestraps can take a rope. There is the usual Camelback drinking system hole. Inside there is sufficient room to stow a shovel, probe, some clothes and a bit of food. The only downside after 100,000 meters of use is that the material is a bit fragile and prone to wear. Still at under 20 € it is hard to argue. If you need more room consider the Bionnassay 30. This is a much more solid affair with 30 litres of storage space. it has solid waist and chest belts so the whole thing doesn’t pendulum around when skiing. The zips are waterproof for poor weather and there are the usual ski/snow shoe and ax carrying loops as well as compression straps as well as a water bladder whole and clip. Inside you have pockets for your probe and shovel handle and an easy to access top pocket for important stuff like wallet, glasses. Price 50 €.
Bionnassay 22 in action
Skinning at ascent rates of 300-600 meters uses a large amount of energy and generates massive amounts of heat. You need to regulate your temperature by removing or adding layers of clothing. Skiing far away from the relative safety of ski slopes means that you need to be self reliant. You can’t freeze up in the middle of nowhere when the weather closes in.
Underwear made of wicking and fast drying technical fabrics have revolutionized comfort when ski touring and climbing. You can get to a summit all hot andperspiring and be almost dry a few minutes later. In the coldest weather I tour in long sleeve vests and leggings. Again stores like Decathlon do cheap versions of this clothing and in general it functions pretty well. However for some reason the material is smelly and I prefer to spend a bit more money on Odlo or similar brands. Most of the rest of the time I wear a short sleeved zippable vest, the zip lets me get more airflow when it gets too hot, and thigh length running shorts. I then wear calf length thin silk socks such as the 9 € Argentierre brand from Decathlon although I’ve experimented with and had good results from the Lidl walking socks. If you are using thermo liners your feet will stay hot and boots should be fitted with thin socks on. Buy several pairs of the same brand. On top of this I would wear ski pants and usually a thin fleece. Any fleece seems to do. I’ve toured using 5 quid Primark fleeces, okay but no pockets but my preference are the 20 € Forclaz fleeces from Decathlon. These have zippable side pockets so you can keep a mobile phone warm and a breast pocket which is an excellent place to store sunglasses when not in use.
Decathlon Arpenaz 300 Shell
If the wind gets up or the weather gets bad you will need an outer shell for climbing and this is almost a given for the descent unless you are touring in late spring. You will want something that is waterproof and breathable but my experience is that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a big name brand. With both fleeces and shells the keyword is on compressibility for storage in a rucksack. The best shell I’ve come across is the Decathlon Arpenaz 300 range. This has a fairly solid ripstop fabric, breathable and waterproof liner, taped seams, storm hood and cuffs plus zip and popper closing. It also has another very useful chest level zip pocket as well as zipped side pockets. Retail is 40 € but I picked one up for under 20 € in the sales. The only downside is that black may not be everyone’s choice of colour as it is not high visibility but it looks smart enough to wear around town.
For climbing in spring conditions I wear the lightest, UV proof, wide brimmed hat I can find. This keeps the sun off and lets me skimp a bit on suncream which would otherwise mix with sweat and run into my eyes. Friend’s use beenie style hats which seem to work - but watch out for gusts of winds. Again Lidl is a good destination as are the UK retailer Millets. If you are in Decathlon France check out the hats in the hunting, shooting and fishing section. For the descent I favour the good old wool hat. I like the small “skull caps” from H&M for 6 €. These fit down to eye level and you don’t have any risk that they will slip over your eyes while skiing.
Now to some readers it will seem counter intuitive to be using cheaper gear for touring than for buzzing around the pistes. Be assured, I haven’t written this advice lightly, it comes from years of ski touring and significant testing. The requirements for touring, especially day touring, are very different from resort skiing where you spend most of the day sitting around on cold, damp and exposed ski lifts. When ski touring most time is spent climbing where you generate enough heat to stay warm in all but the most extreme conditions. It is really hands which get most exposed as you reach into the snow to adjust boots or across to the slope for balance on steep climbs. Clothing gets a lot of abuse, scrambling over rocks and ice, skiing through forests, even expensive gear gets damaged in these conditions.
Unfortunately when it comes to other gear you need to be more careful. This season the Tracker BCA 2 antenna avalanche beacons are excellent value. I’ve tried cheaper collapsible ski poles but really think that the money you save on clothing should go into a good pair of poles such as the Black Diamond Fliplock brand. Boots - well you pay what it takes to get a good comfortable ski fit. If you will only be touring occasionally Silvretta have some excellent value skis and boots. They produce the cheapest Dynafit compatible ski boot on the market.
Posted by davidof
on Friday, 19 October, 2007 at 04:55 PM
Nice article and inspirational reading. I fully agree that even cheap gear may work good. Lidl goggles are fully functional and I like them more than my old Uvex goggles. I do not care about the cheap look.
I would also recommend Craft brand - they produce smart and not-so-expensive outdoor clothes with decent design.
Based on my experience I always try to buy the best possible (however, this does not automatically mean the most expensive) socks, underwear (Brinje works!) and windstopper/nowind softshell jacket.
Posted by on Wednesday, 24 October, 2007 at 08:26 AM
I also recommend backcountry.com They sell some nice winter gears and stuff.
Posted by on Wednesday, 24 October, 2007 at 05:34 PM
Another recommandation for an outer shell, something really effective in the snow, a bit less in the rain, but anyway we don’t go ski touring under the rain, do we?
Well, I found the decathlon Diosaz Raid Poids Plume jacket a good replacement for my worn-out, 12-years-old Patagonia Pneumatic Pullover (at a third of the price, 45€ reg. price, found one at 30€ on sale, which doesn’t hurt).
It’s even lighter than the pneumatic (official weight 120g, not verified but less than 200g anyway, sorry I’m french and I don’t know to count in ounces) and much more compressible (to the size of my fist - it fits in a short pocket eg).
I wouldn’t bet it’s as bulletproof as the Pneumatic, but so long, so good.
It is highly breathable (the main concern for me), 100% wind proof and snow proof, and under a strong storm rain you’re definitely no more wet than with a waterproof (but poorly breathable) machintruc-tex at 3 or 4 times the price.
The only downside : the only “bright orange” color gives you the appealing look of a road-side worker from the Equipement administration. But generally, kudos to decathlon to be one of the very few gear fabricants not trying to sell anything at luxury prices!
Posted by on Thursday, 25 October, 2007 at 10:40 AM
The Plume is an excellent choice, it was only the bright orange that put me off. My friend Luc (from Bivouak.net) bought one and this is a picture of the jacket in question on a trip to the col d’Arpire.
Posted by davidof
on Thursday, 25 October, 2007 at 11:27 AM
Good information. I would just add that there are bargains to be found even at sites that are not specifically targeted to “outdoor” or “ski” equipment. Case in point, http://www.saraglove.com. They carry a huge range of “personal protection equipment” aimed at the industrial safety equipment market, but you may well be able to find a great deal on all types of gloves, certain types of hats, raingear, ponchos, and so forth..
Posted by on Saturday, 27 November, 2010 at 11:25 PM