THE NORTH FACE STAFF TRAINING

05/09/14

THE NORTH FACE STAFF TRAINING

This summer saw 18 outdoor enthusiasts from various Ellis Brigham stores take part in The North Face staff training in the Lake District, a vital opportunity for the staff to get down and dirty with the latest gear out in the field. For many the journey started in and around London travelling up to Keswick by train. Staying at the YHA next to River Greta, the plan was to meet the training team from The North Face - Rob and Ross - as well as the reps from MSR and Therma-Rest and importantly our guides from Glenmore Lodge.

After checking into the hostel we all sat down together to enjoy a drink and some food before the kit distribution began. With many unsure as to what exactly we would be doing or what types of kit we would be testing, we all sat with anticipation as to what we would be given. It was almost like the night before Christmas, with everything laid out. Rucksacks with people’s name tags on them, tables covered with the latest stoves and roll mats, and a variety of freeze dried food were all laid out for people to pick. The main question was what was inside those rucksacks? The Answer: two of the latest North Face jackets - the Point Five Jacket and Zephyrus Optimus Jacket; the Venture half zip pant, and thermal Base Layer.

Rob Richardson bending over

The next morning we had an on-the-spot product training at Lower Fitz Park on the other side of the river from our hostel. From here we got to practise setting up our tents, and explored the different mountaineering rucksacks, clothing, stoves and sleeping mats we would be using.

Once the initial testing and kit check had been done we were put into three main teams. Each team made their way from Lower Fitz Park to Latrigg and up to our base camp at Skiddaw House. Upon arriving at our base camp we all paired into our tent teams and began to pitch them, many of us got to try the Westwind 2 and one team got to try a dome tent. The Westwind tent is a tunnel shaped tent which is nice and sturdy having a very spacious sleeping area, it has ample space in the porch area to either cook food or leave your rucksacks in.

We were quite lucky to be able to set up camp while it was dry, as the rain the forecast for the day after would have made for some interesting product testing!

Skiddaw
Walking through the area around Skiddaw house testing the TNF gear.

After setting up camp everyone had some time to spare so many of us decided to explore the area and take in the amazing views and we got to talk amongst ourselves on how we found the products so far. The one thing that everyone enjoyed testing was the Zephyrus Optimus - a fantastic insulated jacket with Primaloft for insulation and a Pertex face fabric in key areas to offer wind resistance. The jacket is filled with 100g of man-made synthetic material making it a lofty and incredibly warm and cosy. The great thing about it being synthetic compared to a down jacket is that it mimics the characteristics of a down jacket but stays relatively warm when wet. This was a key feature and choice when choosing this jacket as the weather can change incredibly quick in a mountain environment. It can also compress like a down-feathered jacket and is superbly light.

As we settled into our tents got to test the MSR Reactor stoves and prepare our food. As the weather slowly started to change and rain a little we all gathered around with a freeze-dried food ready to be eagerly eaten. Due to the stoves fast cooking time and fuel efficiency the whole team was fed on one small can of fuel. Even though each tent had their own stove and fuel to use when they want. It was an amazing piece of kit to see in use, only needing a short time to boil water and its flame being self-contained so not to be effected by the weather. Everyone was blown away by how fast and effective the stove was. Due to the compact nature of the stove and design everyone found it to be easy to use and store into their rucksacks.

One by one the staff had their water boiled in no time and got their food cooked quickly. After spending the day hiking there was nothing better than enjoying a good meal with new friends and amazing views of the landscape. After our meals were finished we decided to get some sleep but it wasn’t long before the heavens opened and battered our tents. This was great for testing them and seeing how they'd cope, but not so great for wanting to have a good night's sleep (probably should have brought ear plugs). Waking up the next morning having slept on our Therma-Rests keeping us comfortable and warm during the night, we all slowly started to prepare for are main hike. With a little bit of rain everyone gathered together to decide where everyone wanted to go. There were four options for the walk out from Skiddaw House:

  • Walk out through the valley to Blencathra Centre and along the old railway back to Keswick
  • Ascend Sale How to Skiddaw summit and walk off to Keswick
  • Full traverse of Skiddaw
  • Ascent of Mungrisdale Common before full traverse of Blencathra summit line.

Once we all decided which routes to take, the teams went on their way with our team deciding to go up Skiddaw. After walking for 10-20mins our Glenmore Lodge guide recommend that we take a quick break. This was to help people decided if they had too many layers on or needed a bit of water before continuing on a strenuous walk. This was a great idea as many people put a lot of effort into the first part of the hike rushing and getting dehydrated, we realised some of us had too many layers on so we resorted to just having a base layer under our waterproof jackets. Due to the hike being a bit strenuous and steep, there would be no need for wearing any other layers as we would be warm from continually walking.


The clouds parted revealing Keswick below.

The further we got up Skiddaw the harder the rain and wind was. It must have been going what felt like 30-40mph when we got to the very top. Occasional as we walk up through the heavy rain you could see couples walking through the rain but none were heading to the very top. As we got further and further up it felt like it wasn’t going to end. We could only see a short distance in front of us and then eventually we came to a rock formation representing the very top of Skiddaw. With our legs shattered and our TNF gear being pushed to its limits we gave each other a high five and a group hug. After a quick decision making we chose to head back to the hostel in Keswick. Heading back we walked down past the side of Skiddaw little man finding the rain slowly easing of. Having a brief stop to have a snack and some water, we noticed that we were starting to feel the cold having stopped moving. So one of our TNF trainers, Ross, suggested a great idea; we all nicknamed this tip as 'Doing the Ross': When you find yourself in a situation where the weather is so bad you can't risk taking your waterproof jacket off to put your synthetic insulated jacket on underneath it. All you do is put the insulated jacket on top of it instead.

The great thing about this technique is that it doesn't matter if your waterproof jacket is already wet or the synthetic jacket is about to get wet. What matters is that your body temperature doesn't drop and you don't lose energy, the jacket will still help to keep you warm when wet. And when it does stop raining the synthetic jacket should dry fairly quickly once rinsed out.

We returned back to the hostel that afternoon having fully tested the kits in both fair weather and rain. With everyone back we had our final team meeting for debrief of the kit and our experiences, the number one feature that everyone liked was the hood on the GORE-TEX Pro Point Five waterproof jacket. The redesign of the hood hugs the head comfortably without any pinching and allowing for a snug fit and fully adjustable. When the rain is coming down hard you need to know your kit is going to keep you dry and comfy. Another great thing about the jacket is its durability. especially when going on hikes involving heavy rucksacks, where a light weight jacket would have been a bad choice. The Zephyrus Jacket was loved by everyone, mainly because it was so comfortable to wear you didn’t realise you were wearing it. Many people on the training found the jacket could be rolled up into its own hood making for a great pillow, and you could if you wanted to you could either wear it under your waterproof coat or on top for added warmth.

With the debrief and product training over we all headed out to the local pub for a well-deserved pint and chat. The main topic of talk on the training was how many people ask for lighter products. After completing this staff training many of us came to realise that weight shouldn’t be the main selling point of any kit. Durability should, and the gear from The North Face was exactly that.