Does backpacking comfort now come at too high a price?

Temporary Roclite 315 fix in Pyrenees

Temporary Roclite 315 fix in Pyrenees

Browsing around in Google Reader just now, I saw that my pal Andy Howell has posted some thoughts on the new Paramo Velez Adventure Trousers. He had the chance to fondle some at the Paramo Store in Covent Garden last week.

The new pants are apparently more tailored than Cascadas, and made from a combination of Paramo’s (i) standard and (ii) lightweight Nikwax Analogy fabrics. Andy says they feel considerably lighter than Cascadas, and certainly the ‘average weight’ figures produced by Paramo suggest that they should be, the blokes’ Cascadas weighing in at 572g whereas the Velez trousers apparently bound off the scales at a sprightly 398g.

All this sounded very interesting to me, and so I shot across to the Paramo site to check up on the pricing. When the price hoved into view, though, I made a bit of a strangled gasping sound and reached for my inhaler. £137.50 is the RRP for the Velez trousers, as opposed to £110 for the Cascadas.

I’m still wearing the Cascadas I bought in Braemar on the Chally in 2006, but even though I’ve not worn them loads (I didn’t do the Chally in 2007 or 2008, and naturally I didn’t take them to the Pyrenees or Corsica) they’ve already each developed a small hole near the bottom of the inside leg. I’ve never used them with crampons or knowingly caught them on anything, and I wash and proof them regularly. It seems to me that they’ve simply worn through, as a result of ordinary and inevitable rubbing as I walk. That may be partly due to the relatively baggy nature of the lower leg that Andy refers to in his post.

Wear holes in my Cascadas

Wear holes in my Cascadas

Before I bought those Cascadas in Braemar I bought a used pair on Ebay. They were made from the heavier materials that Paramo used to use, and I still have them somewhere in a drawer. Sadly, they soon split at the crotch… oops… but I put that down to operator error and happily bought the second pair in Braemar.

To be honest, I’ve been a bit fed up to see my second pair develop little holes so quickly. After all, Paramo purports to be fairly hard-wearing stuff, and it’s quite expensive. Until now I haven’t though of asking Paramo to repair them free of charge, though, probably because I’ve simply been too idle to contact them about it. Seeing this morning, though, that their new and considerably more expensive trousers are made from *even lighter* material I’ve been spurred into action.

Casting my mind back, since I bought them in 2006 I’ve worn the Cascadas (i) for the last 3 days of the 2006 Challenge, (ii) on the Coast to Coast in 2007 (12 days), (iii) on the Pennine Way in 2008 (I only did 10 days of it) and (iv) on the Dales Way a few weeks ago. I’ve also taken them on some weekend backpacks, and if it’s raining I wear them in the woods when I’m walking Piglet. All that doesn’t seem to me to add up to a great deal of use.

I’m going to email Paramo to ask them how durable their Cascadas and Velez Adventure trousers are meant to be. I need to send the Cascadas back for a repair in any event, because one of the side zips has broken (a problem that I also had on my Viento jacket), and I’m going to ask them to take a look at the wear holes at the same time.

The Lifetime Guarantee as it appears on the Paramo website is worded as follows.

I have a problem with my Páramo garment, what does my Lifetime Guarantee cover?

1. Any manufacturing defect such as stitching, poppers, zips, drawcords, Velcro cuffs – these will be rectified free of charge indefinitely.
2. Damage to the garment by accident or normal ‘wear and tear’ can be repaired by Páramo at reasonable cost.
3. The weather protection systems employed by Páramo, maintained correctly, will outperform membrane and coating based systems.

Clearly the wear holes constitute ‘normal wear and tear’, but should it be normal for Paramo Cascadas to develop holes in each leg after the equivalent of no more than 2 months’ continuous use? I don’t think so; and at the prospect of being invited to spend £137 replacing them with an even less robust pair of trousers I begin to feel that things are getting out of hand.

Did the old-style heavier Paramo materials begin to disintegrate quickly in this way? I can’t say, because I’ve only been using Paramo for a few years. I’d be surprised to learn that they did, though, because if they had then I can’t see how Paramo could ever have built up the reputation it currently enjoys for producing not only effective but also hard-wearing kit that has the potential to last a lifetime.

It’s not just some Paramo products that seem to me to be distressingly flimsy. I still use Inov8 Roclite 315s for much of the year, because ultimately the most important thing about a pair of shoes is that it has to fit, and the Inov8 Roclites do fit my rather weirdly shaped feet quite well. As many others have observed, though, the Inov8s are not as robust as some of the other trail shoes on the market.

I think I started using the Roclites for walking in 2005/6, and I’m now on my 4th (or is it my 5th?) pair. The sole began to peel off the pair pictured at the top of this post within days of my first starting to use them in the Pyrenees in 2006. That struck me as dangerous, considering the ground I was walking on. When I got home I sent them back, and eventually Inov8 replaced them. I was told that there had been a design flaw, and that it had been fixed, but although the new pair didn’t develop the same problem the brand new pair I bought for the GR20 in 2008 went exactly the same way. I intended to send them back for a replacement, but in the end I had too much other stuff going on when I got home, and so I didn’t get round to it.

I’m prepared to pay a bit of a premium for comfortable walking, and I certainly don’t expect trail shoes or waterproofs to last forever. It’s beginning to feel to me, though, as though we’re entering an era of almost semi-disposable kit at vastly inflated prices. I’m still regularly using some bits of kit that felt expensive when I bought them almost 20 years ago–a couple of Helly Hansen T shirts, some Sprayway fleece pants, a Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap and a Lowe Alpine Contour Runner day sack, to name just a few–but is it likely that I’m going to be using the things I’ve bought recently if I’m still walking in 20 years time? It doesn’t currently look that way to me.

16 Responses to Does backpacking comfort now come at too high a price?

  1. I’m in the market for new waterproof jacket, trousers and some from of boot/shoe/trainer but pinning something down is a major problem.

    I find the Cascadas are not a great fit on me, so have always stayed away from them. The new trousers look good but at that cost, I’m not sure I could warrant buying a pair.

    My waterproof trousers are a pair of Peter Storm which generally get a coating of Nikwax every couple of months (I wear them on the bike) and they work fine. A new pair only cost £30; so that’s 4 pair against the new paramo’s.

    Same with the jackets; I’ve a paramo Cascada jacket but again the weight is to heavy and the fit is not the best, most of the time I use a Craghopper’s pakka jacket. Can get a bit damp indoor but most of the time works well.

    As for the trainers I keep saying that will try the Inov-8 but I’m still not sure I could live will cold and wet feet.

    • peewiglet says:

      Paramo is baggy, for sure, but I don’t mind that as I rather like baggy, and absolutely hate wearing tight things when I’m walking. Well, at any time, really!

      Since it’s expensive, though, I do expect it to be reasonably long lasting.

  2. Phil says:

    Did I just hear a can of worms being opened? 😉

  3. backpackbrewer says:

    I love buying gear but i really cant in all honesty bring myself to even consider paying more than 100notes for a pair of troos. Looking at your “holey” Cascada’s I am inclined to think that they wont be that long lived either. I am may as well buy another couple of pairs of Craghoppers inc the lined winter version. I’d still have some dosh left over to buy other kit.
    re the Innov8s, I have been told they dont last as long. I wear Montrails and they seem to be very hardwearing

    • peewiglet says:

      It’s an awful lot of money, isn’t it? Over £100 for pants.

      I’d like to try another type of trail shoe, but I’ve been through loads in the past trying to find a pair to fit properly, and it’s so expensive having to discard the failures.

  4. Gordon says:

    Hi Shirley,

    Now, you do have a reputation for being a gear-a-holick!
    How about a nice pair or Cioch trews. If you get the reinforced knees and ankles, you’ll have less wear around the bottom. And, you know they fit like a glove – so to speak. Ummm! And, there are some cool colours too……….
    Gordon.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hello!

      In fact, I’ve got the Cioch pants and wore them on the Chally. They’re heavier than the Paramos, so will prolly last longer. Sadly, though, they don’t have an elasticated waist (well, not fully, like the Cascadas) so on fat days I won’t be wearing them *g* which I suppose will make them last longer still!

  5. baz carter says:

    I’m on my second pair of Inov8’s and I cant say that they last that long. They do get constant use though and the Terrocs I’m wearing are looking very sad indeed 😦 I’ve kept the Roclites purely for walking and they took alot of abuse in the Picos so they look shabby.

    • peewiglet says:

      I somehow mislaid my Terrocs. I’ve concluded that I must have left them at a race/in a car, as I’ve not seen them for at least 3 years! Maybe it’s time for another pair 🙂

  6. GeoffC says:

    For some items, especially footwear, I just accepted years ago that light weight often means more frequent replacement. I’m surprised these days if I get a year of use from footwear, given the number of miles I walk and the tough terrain I plough through. Actually it’s the liner that’s the limiting factor, it always fails well before the structure.
    For legwear, Tracksters forever! (not the Rudolf Nureyev type, the thicker ones). About £20 and last for years. I actually had a look at trousers last winter for interest and I hated them all (as expected). I don’t think there is a decent pair made.

    • peewiglet says:

      I’m surprised these days if I get a year of use from footwear, given the number of miles I walk and the tough terrain I plough through.

      True, and TBH I suppose I feel that a year’s worth of hard useage is fair enough for a pair of trail shoes. I only really mentioned the Inov8s because I was outraged by the price of the Paramos, and the peeling sole problem came to mind.

      I have to confess I’m with Baz re: the Tracksters *g* I used to wear them all the time, but I’ve rather gone off them in recent years.

  7. baz carter says:

    Tracksters!!! Yee Gods man this is the twenty first century 🙂

    I’m on my second pair of North Face Meridian zip offs. Lightweight, converts to shorts, thigh pocket will hold an OS map, windproof, SPF 30 and quick drying.

  8. GeoffC says:

    Hee-hee, no full length legwear comes close to Tracksters for comfort and freedom of movement.
    Shorts are even worse. I mean, how many men can get away with that?. You either need to be an obvious lean athletic runner or have a body like Sly Stallone. All those ordinary bodies I’ve seen in shorts make me feel nauseous.

  9. baz carter says:

    I can for one 🙂 I owe my great legs to years of cycling, swimming and of course walking!

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