Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas

I hope everyone who reads this has or has had a Great Christmas and a Prosperous New Year. 

Not another Review of the Osprey Stratos36

Since November 2010 when I posted a review of a rucksack I had recently brought, the Osprey Stratos I have walked over three hundred miles most of it carrying the Stratos. This included four days on the Cumbria Way, when I also carrying much of Mrs G’s kit as well as my own, and five days across Lakeland from Maryport to Ravenglass.  So it’s about time I brought things up to date

As I wrote in 2010 the things that I liked on the sack was the airspeed back that does so much to keep my back cool and dry, the hip belt which, makes carrying the sack so stable and comfortable and the very usable pockets on the hip belt. All of which made this a great rucksack to carry on day, weekend and week walks (providing you don’t need to carry tent, bag, food etc.).

However, there were a number of points I was unsure about some were minor and stayed that way. Others I never really managed to sort out, prime amongst these was, ‘how to pack the sack’ and the way the compression straps got in the way of accessing the main compartment.

To take the compression straps first, these worked really well in compacting the bag and shaping it when lightly loaded, but whenever I needed to get anything out of the bag it was necessary to undo the lid buckles, loosen or undo the compression straps, then have to do both sets up again. The straps also reduced the usability of the zip access to the main compartment.

As far as packing the sack goes I never seemed to pack it the same way twice, despite this it carried everything I needed it to and was always comfortable.

I never did trim off the excess lengths of webbing all over the sack, but I did eventually use the walking pole loops for their designed purpose. As I said in 2010 there seem to be a lot of straps, zips and associated covers and extra bits even the rain cover, which worked well, had a large pocket of its own. As a result the Stratos weighs in at about 1400grammes which is dam near the same as my Atmos 50.

In summary the Stratos is a very good 36 litre rucksack, it is hard wearing, functional and comfortable, you can pack a lot into it and carry it all day with ease. However, I am not convinced it is a backpacking, hiking rucksack, it might be better used as a light travelling sack. I have recently been looking at the Osprey Exos 34 as I feel this is closer to my needs of a lightweight, top loading bag for winter and summer day walks, weekend walks or summer hostel, B and B walks. (it weighs, according to Osprey 990grammes).  I think the Stratos may be soon going on Ebay and in early 2012 there may well be a post here on the Exos.

Not a Review on the Suunto Vector Watch

Earlier this summer (2011) while bouncing around the interweb I landed on the Cotswold’s Outdoors site on an advert for an Axio watch, on seeing words like barometric altimeter and thermometer I became interested. Eventually I went along to their Nottingham store to have a look. For no good reason I was not impressed with the Axio, just felt, it was not for me. However I tried on the Suunto Vector, it was just the thing and a couple of weeks later I bought one.

When walking I want to know far I’d climbed or descended now was my chance to find out with a wizzy watch with a built in barometric altimeter. Just the db’s.
The Suunto, as you can see in the picture, has a black, hard plastic body and a soft plastic strap. It looks and feels tough and should be hard wearing, although the screen does seem a little vulnerable. The face is grey and split into three main areas, top, middle and bottom (officially Fields 1, 2 or 3). The middle area shows the watch functions, abbreviated as TIME ALTI BARO COMP, when selected each of these places data in the top and bottom areas, and enables access to the various associated displays, data and inputs. Around the side of the body are four buttons, top right scrolls across the menu, top left cycles through the displays and inputs for the selected menu item. Bottom right and left are basically plus and minus buttons.

Suunto provide a multi-language instruction book, unfortunately its written in that peculiar version of English normally only found in flat pack leaflets and white goods handbooks, the printing is so small, reading it made my eyes water. Fortunately I found a pdf version on the interweb, with better English and large print.

After carefully reading the instructions for TIME and consulting three watches, two clocks, two computers, three phones, a clock radio and two televisions (only the televisions showed the same time) I eventually managed to set the Suunto to the correct time.

From there it was all downhill, nothing I read about ALTI, BARO or COMP made any sense, the buttons I pressed, apparently had a will of their own. I even checked that I had the correct watch for the handbook, but all I got was a headache.

I left it to stew for a few days, slowly resolving that as an engineer, I should try and solve this logically. I clearly needed to determine the relationships between pressing button A and what subsequently appeared in Fields 1, 2 or 3 then noted how this changed depending on how many times I pressed button B or C.

I started a spreadsheet and plodded through the instructions line by line establishing the effect that each button press or hold had on which part of the screen. I carefully tabulated the button presses required to set the time, date and alarms. To ensure I had it down right, using the spread sheet I went through the TIME steps on the watch several times, before proceeding to repeat the process with ALTI, BARO and COMP. I admit to skipping most of the stopwatch bit plus the entire COMP (compass) bit as by this point I felt life was far too short.

Did this help, Yes big time, I now had some simple logical instructions giving the steps for each process.

The next move was to set the Suunto up so that I would be able to record the changes of height on a walk. Nothing in the instructions actually helped with this. As far as I could work out, all it explained was the processes, it did not give the story, the algorithm, to connect the processes together to produce a result.

However, on the Suunto website I found an article that more or less explained how it all works. It took half a dozen walks before I fully sorted it out. The big improvement came by changing the recording interval from the recommended 10 minutes to 1 minute. Getting accuracy apparently depends on setting the Sea Level Barometric pressure, and several times a day re-setting the Relative Height at a point of known height.

With the display in BARO mode the watch also displays the temperature, I found that quite useful. The compass works ok, but my Silva is far more flexible.

In short the Suunto Vector looks and feels good and has a clear display. Using the buttons is easy enough on a warm day. On a cold day it will be more difficult.

I do have several beefs though, the Vector is described by Suunto as a wrist top computer, which is blatant nonsense. As the barometer and thermometer are affected by temperature you cannot wear it in contact with the body as the body temperature affects the workings, I strap mine on to a carbineer on my rucksack shoulder strap.

Secondly, I know my hearing is not first class, but the alarm is so weedy I would not hear it if I wore the Vector as an ear ring, let alone under winter clothing or in a noisy environment.

Finally I have worn the Suunto mainly when out walking and the altimeter results are extremely variable out of 18 walks there are only two where the altimeter data is anything close to the ascent and descent calculated from the GPS track by my mapping software. I know maps are by definition inaccurate but the results are different by a large margin. Although checking against spot heights or even contours or the GPS the results don’t seem to be too far out.
10m height dif.
I feel I should persist with the Altimeter but am getting disheartened. To date the only functions I have found useful and accurate is the time and the temperature. As it appears impossible to know which ascent descent data set is most accurate it seems pointless proceeding with the altimeter.

So the question to be answered is, is it useful or will it become just another piece of expensive gear in the back of the cupboard or on Ebay, time will tell (no pun intended ‘honest’). I think it may well be the latter.