Keela - Testing Outdoor Clothing in Testing Conditions
How do you write a blog about outdoor clothing? Wear it for a week, go out for a walk in your local park and then write about how marvellous it is? Or do you test it day in day out in some of the harshest and most inhospitable conditions found in the British Isles? This is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past year for Keela who are my clothing partners.
Me 'in the field' wearing Munro kit - Pic by Christoph Ruisz
I believe that to really give an honest and true review of technical outdoor clothing it has to be both put through its paces and tested to near destruction. I have a reputation within the Howard household for not treating my photography gear with the utmost of care but to me they are tools and there to help me to perform my job as a professional wildlife photographer.
Posing for the camera, with a camera! - Pic by Jason Curtis
I’m in a very privileged position to be able to call the Cairngorms ‘my office’ but like all things that sound too good to be true they often are. For example, take a recent day out I experienced in the mountains when I had a client booked for a day of Ptarmigan photography. The forecast was marginal and could have gone either way, but in the end it turned into a foul day with low cloud and persistent rain, the type of rain that seems never-ending, and by 2pm it was time to call it a day and leave the Ptarmigan to the conditions they are more adapted to. It’s on the decent off the Cairngorms that I realised my feet were sodden, my hair was dripping wet and my hands were swollen and freezing from the wind-chill and rain but my legs and torso were all but dry. It was at this moment that it dawned on me that I was now ready to write my review of my Keela clothing.
Rather than repeat myself about how my partnership with Keela came about here’s a link to a blog I wrote last year. Keela Clothing Blog
Me wearing a Pulse fleece & Op's Pants - Pic by Christoph Ruisz
Pulse Micro Fleece
The first garment I’m going to review is the Pulse Micro Fleece, which retails at less than thirty quid. This essential base layer is the garment I wear almost every day, not only in the mountains but to the shops and around the house. I have two of these and they have been washed dozens of times. Often with fleeces after a few washes they show signs of piling and the pile will flatten. Not so with the Pulse Micro Fleece, mine still look fresh and like new. Features of the Pulse include a half-length zip and collar, high thermal property for the weight, and being soft, it makes for an excellent makeshift camera protector/spare clothing layer, especially when using a rucksack rather than a camera bag.
On the coldest of days of last winter I’d wear a merino wool thermal base layer then a Pulse Micro Fleece. This would be then supplemented with a heavier pile fleece or thin down jacket and finally a wind and waterproof shell, in this instance a Munro Jacket and salopettes.
Mountain Hare Photographed in 'Challenging' Conditions.
Munro Jacket & Salopettes
The Munro range of outerwear was designed in Scotland and is constructed to be worn in the harshest of conditions, not only in Scotland but worldwide. Packed full of well thought-out features this is a serious outdoor jacket and at less than £200 it packs a punch way above its more expensive and inferior counterparts. Trust me I know, I fell for the hype from other outdoor clothing manufacturers before re-discovering Keela and blew almost £400 on a top-of-the-range jacket that was as waterproof as a teabag. It has a nice label though and celebrity naturalists seem to like it!
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, if you spend time out in the country and want a tough and functional shell jacket you’d be mad not to consider a Munro. I’ve worn it in blizzards, gales, driving rain and sleet, just about all that Mother Nature could throw at me. It’s been scuffed against abrasive Cairngorm granite, dragged over sharp rocks on Mull and has survived me crawling along on my belly. Put it this way, if it’s good enough for mountain rescue teams that’s all the recommendation I needed.
The Munro is packed full of features (Click here) and has a high breathability and waterproofness due to Keela’s System Dual Protection. To make it nice and simple for you the material is made from two layers of high-tech materials, the outer layer is for waterproofing and robustness, the inner layer is for breathability and insulation.
A word of caution before we go any further, I don’t care what outdoor clothing manufacturers say, no jacket is or can be totally waterproof and breathable at the same time. If you are heaving heavy camera equipment up a mountain and are layered up with a zipped up outer shell on, you will get sweaty, so how do we combat that? Take the shell jacket off and put it on when you’ve stopped exerting yourself, if it’s raining, take off a couple of mid layers. As far as being waterproof is concerned again in sustained and torrential rain there will inevitably be a small amount of water ingress, with the Munro jacket I’ve found this to be minimal, virtually non-existent if the double zip flaps are fully Velcroed up and the map pockets are zipped up.
So you’ve heard the good news, here is the bad news. The outer material isn’t made from a quiet soft material; this isn’t an issue for me for all but one of the species I photograph, Otters. The rustling of the material on a calm windless day can be a wee bit too noisy. Keela are addressing this with a new product line called the ‘Heritage Range’ and I’m hoping to test some of that range very soon.
Me in my Keela kit as seen on BBC's The One Show
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wear my Keela soft shell jacket or gilet. Mine are black and are embroidered with my logo on them, so not only are they extremely practical garments they are a great advertising tool for me. I wash them using a Nikwax soft shell proof as this adds water repellency to the material. Again these garments just wash and wash and come out like new every time.
I love my Op pants; they are supremely comfortable and extremely durable. Whilst striving to find the perfect low angle image I spend a crazy amount of time crawling around on my belly, and this type of activity really tests the durability of my trousers.
Op pants are made from a stretchy and tough material that is lightweight enough to prevent perspiration but are thin enough to make them ideal as wind stoppers. I wash mine in Nikwax Techwash as this adds an extra bit of water repellency.
On a recent trip to Shetland whilst I was stalking an Otter I ended up a lot closer to the sleeping Otter than I had expected, as the Otter slept just five metres away from where I was. I didn’t want to (and couldn’t) move as any slight noise would have alerted the animal to my presence, so I had to lie down where I was and stay put, and this happened to be on very sharp and painfully uncomfortable rocks. After I’d lain there in a contorted position for about twenty minutes, the otter awoke, gave me a cursory glance and headed off to do some fishing. It goes without saying I got the image I was hoping for!
The point of this story is that despite my legs ending up covered in blood from cuts sustained by the sharp rocks, my trousers showed no signs of cuts or tears! I just wish my legs were as robust!
Otter in Shetland - The results for the suffering!
If you want to try some Keela clothing for yourself I have a discount code I can share with you, this is only valid on items purchased through Keela's website. Terms and conditions apply and the code is only valid until 31/12/16
20% Discount code - AHAK36
T & C's apply - Voucher not valid with any other offer. Not redeemable for cash. Limited to one use per customer.
Ptarmigan at First Light - The Type of Conditions I love working in.