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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir

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Reviews

Aug 16, 2018

Unbounded: Cotton Hoodie-Wearing Newbs Go Expeditioning Across Patagonia

We love expedition documentaries, but weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry while watching total newbies packraft without knowing how to swim, or put on makeup before hiking the Greater Patagonia Trail… wearing cotton sweatshirts.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

The Greater Patagonia Trail (GPT) is a 3,000km route running north-south through Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia. I call it a “route” rather than a “trail” because, the GPT is more of an idea of a trail, rather than an actual trail at this point. Much different from the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian trail, the route does not have one clear trail to follow. The route follows horse trails, foot paths, dirt roads, and rivers from Santiago, Chile all the way to a glacier just south of Fitz Roy, Argentina. Sometimes the “trail” map simply shows a straight line moving in a certain direction, and hikers are expected to use GPS or map and compass to figure out how to bush-crash their way there. Testaments about the GPT have dubbed it the hardest long-distance “trail” in the world. The route brings hikers through jungle-like brush, scree fields, and peat cliffs. It brings hikers up cliffs, across rivers, down rivers, and through mountain passes. The route is dangerous, remote, committing, and not for the inexperienced.

the GPT is more of an idea of a trail, rather than an actual trail at this point

Last year, a group of four backpackers and filmmakers set out for four months on the GPT to document the route and their journey. Their documentary film, Unbounded, highlights the lack of experience the group had coming into the trip (extremely unprepared), and their resulting learning experiences throughout the journey.

The film begins by introducing each group member, describing their purpose on the team, and their level of experience in the backcountry. Only one (if that) out of the four team members had the proper backcountry experience necessary to safely pull off an expedition of this caliber. Seriously, they were packrafting a section of the route, and one team member didn’t even know how to swim! That isn’t exactly what I would call safe decision-making. Nearly half of the film’s narrative is based on the struggles, mishaps, and dangerous situations the group gets into due to their lack of backcountry experience and knowledge.

Seriously, they were packrafting a section of the route, and one team member didn’t even know how to swim!

While reviewing a documentary like this, I can look at it one of two ways. I can either judge the group harshly for going into this expedition without the proper experience, or I can celebrate them for putting themselves out there, getting uncomfortable, and enduring a bit of suffering in order to make the expedition a success. Yes, the group was very unprepared, and yes they probably put themselves at serious risk by coming into this with such little experience. But despite all this, I am surprisingly finding myself inspired by their tenacity to keep moving forward through the suffer-fest. The group didn’t exactly make the best safety decisions in the backcountry, and they struggled quite a bit because of it, but I think these struggles and mishaps actually made the film more interesting. I am therefore going to choose the latter of the two options for this review and congratulate the team on their film.

With the majority of today’s adventure films being about world-famous mountaineers with high-profile sponsors, it was actually a bit of fresh air to see a film about the average joe seeking out an epic adventure and making it happen. I liked watching the group take a risk by deciding to throw themselves full-on into this expedition, just because they wanted to. No sponsors, no professionals, no fancy gear. Simply a group of like-minded individuals seeking out an epic adventure in the backcountry of Patagonia. In an expedition-based film, I would never expect to see the expedition members wearing cotton sweatshirts while backpacking through Patagonia, or applying makeup before a 16-km day (I laughed so hard when I saw that). There were many times in the film where the expedition members would outwardly admit their incompetence. But instead of being stupid about it and continuing to make bad decisions, they would learn from their mistakes, and keep chugging along with their mission. The film turned into a coming-of-age story as the expedition team made poor decisions, suffered a bit, and eventually learned to make better decisions! I found myself laughing at the team members a lot, but also feeling a bit of empathy for them as I was reminded of the poor decisions I have made in the backcountry.

The last ten minutes of the film strayed a bit from the group’s journey, and instead turned into an advertisement for Patagonia, leave no trace backcountry principles, and environmental conservation. I like that the film is promoting environmental conservation and good backcountry ethics, but I would have been happier if the message had been more subtly added into the story throughout the film. Having the promotional message in a seemingly separate segment at the end felt like I was being preached at.

I found myself laughing at (or with) the group members as they made mistakes, then felt proud of them when they overcame the difficulties.

All in all, I enjoyed the film and the message it portrayed. I found myself laughing at (or with) the group members as they made mistakes, then felt proud of them when they overcame the difficulties. I do think the group took a massive risk in taking on such a big expedition with such little experience. While I would definitely not recommend this approach to backcountry expeditions, it ended up being fun watching them learn from their mistakes and eventually accomplish their goals. And, despite my slight negativity about the way the film pushed the environmental message in the last ten minutes, I really shouldn’t complain. It is an important topic that needs to be openly talked about, especially when referring to wild areas like Patagonia that are under threat of development.

Photo: VentureLife Films

You can watch the film for yourself in the following places: iTunesAmazonGooglePlayVimeo

Filmed by VentureLife Films

 

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Reviews

Jul 03, 2019

Gear Review: Dark Peak NESSH Jacket

Buy one, give one. A Sheffield, UK-based startup outdoor brand brings the one-for-one business model to outdoor clothing.

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WRITTEN BY

Apoorva Prasad

Does the world really need another [insert new clothing or gear item]? After more than a decade as an outdoor journalist and having hit the floor of trade shows year after year, I found it impossible to show any kind of genuine excitement or interest over the latest [insert marketing-driven fancy-word-for-a-zip-or-waterproof-layer]. For years now I’ve been content with a few pieces I’ve acquired over the years that have proven their worth. A bomber Millet down jacket for hardcore use, an Arcteryx ultra-light shell for alpine climbing among others. The cold, hard truth is, apart from the invention of some very lightweight and strong fabrics, incrementally improved waterproof-breathable inserts and coatings; clothing technology has not significantly advanced in the last decade or so. Whatever we do, 99% of the consumer population who buy outdoor gear or clothing don’t need anything beyond what already exists and has existed for a while. Making and buying new stuff simply perpetuates a flawed economic model that encourages consumerism and is bad for the planet.

So what the world does need is a better business model.

When Dark Peak reached out to us to do a review of their Kickstarter-launched NESSH down jacket, we were, therefore, intrigued not because of the impressively complete tech specs of the product itself, nor the genuine credentials of the team – those were a given for any new product today – but by their mission and business model.

  1. A reasonably priced jacket that sells direct to consumers – unlike mainstream brands, built around a lot of marketing and distribution costs, requiring the company to sell even more simply to justify their model.
  2. Buy one, give one away to someone who really needs it. Just like well-known consumer brands Tom’s and Warby Parker, Dark Peak donates a new jacket (via homeless shelters) for every jacket sold on their website.
Press Photo

This model is not new, of course, given that Tom’s has been doing it since 2006. However, the outdoors industry – a USD 800+ billion behemoth – has, for the most part, refused to leverage its size to genuinely do good in the world. So it was a refreshing change to hear Dark Peak’s pitch and note their Kickstarter success.

Cut out the expensive retail spaces, middle-men, third-party licensing fees and so on, and you get a high-quality product (it is made in Asia, like all other major brands) at something like half the price.

The jacket they give away is not the same as the one you buy, of course. It’s non-branded and made with different, less performance-oriented but equally warm, weather-resistant materials. Given our own beliefs at The Outdoor Journal, we felt this deserved a real review.

Dark Peak launched the jacket on Kickstarter, blowing past their goal of £15,000 to eventually raise £107,084.

It took a little while to get my hands on the actual jacket – shipping couriers seemed to have some problem with my address in Helsinki, Finland, which is where I tested it over the winter. In other words, yes, the weather was cold.

I received a maroon colored, lightweight NESSH (UK S, US XS size) jacket that came with some very positive first impressions. The build quality and shape were almost better than I initially expected. But I was genuinely struck by the weight or lack thereof. A 340g winter jacket is very, very light indeed. It comes complete with details that are more common in the higher-end models of more mainstream and expensive brands. Integrated wrist gaiters with thumb loops? Check. Two-way YKK zips? Check. 10D Nylon shell inside and outside? Yep. 850 fill down with hydrophobic coating? Check. (The company says that the down is “responsibly sourced” and certified by Responsible Down Standard). You can also choose to get the same jacket with 3M synthetic insulation too, should you prefer that (or spend more of your outdoor time in wetter conditions).

The jacket is clearly made for outdoors people (in other words, shaped to fit your body, and not built like a rectangular sack, unlike many a brand. I find it almost impossible to fit in many other jackers, which, understandably, seem to be built for people who have bulging middles and larger waists than shoulders).

If you haven’t spent time in Helsinki, Finland, well, the weather in winter is a bit weird. It can go from -20 C to 0 C overnight – and then repeat the thermometer yoyo again and again. It was almost disconcerting to have such a lightweight jacket on while going about daily life, but it worked as long as it was not too deep in the negatives. More importantly, it worked while I was active, including a bit of skiing and ice-skating – in fact, it was a great deal more lightweight, athletic and comfortable than most of the major brand-name jackets I’ve used or own. That may relate to the fit and cut – in general, I fit better in the UK or European brands than US ones, which is a function of body type – but it felt like the Dark Peak team had made an effort to build a product that is genuinely for outdoor enthusiasts, and not the average retail consumer (think about it – bigger brands need to sell to the widest possible audience to maximize revenues and profitability). While I haven’t taken it on an all-day, multipitch climb yet, so far it really feels like this may soon become my favorite warm layer to have with me, assuming the jacket survives the shred. I’m really quite curious to put it through the serious beating in my pack and up a climb, later in the year.

Press Photo

Dark Peak’s jacket genuinely feels like a very high-quality, ultra-light high-end 850 down jacket, the kind you’d usually buy from a well-known brand like The North Face or similar and expect to pay nearly twice as much for. And the fact that they’ve indeed gone with the one-for-one business model, makes Dark Peak’s NESSH a jacket we’ll recommend without hesitation. Go buy yours on their website here.

Pros: A highly affordable, high-quality technical jacket backed by a purpose-driven business model.

Cons: The website feels incomplete and buggy. The athletic cut and shape and technical nature of the jacket may not be for everyone, or appropriate for business meetings!

Rating: 5/5.

Full Disclosure: The Outdoor Journal received one NESSH jacket for the purpose of this review.

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