Many of us enjoy the restorative qualities of a long walk. Some of us go further and revel in the challenge of full day yomps through some of our most beautiful landscapes. And then there are those who like to take things a little further, or rather, a lot further. Welcome to the world of the ultra-long distance Thru Hike.
And for aficionados of the sport there’s a new 3,034km long-distance trail that’s opening this year for the first time. The Hexatrek is divided into six stages across Southern and Eastern France. Beginning at the border with Spain and traverses the Pyrenees, The Alps and the Vosges and ends on the border with Germany.
And this year we’ll be joining with British Ultra long distance hiker Nigel Olden as he undergoes a punishing training schedule around the UK before heading off to Biarritz to begin this incredible 5-month challenge. As part of his preparations Nigel wanted to test his equipment and ensure he was taking only the very best kit along with him. The natural qualities of Merino wool are well documented so he turned to Woolf and our new PureFleece® to discover if it can improve his performance. You can read more on the qualities of Merino and its legendary warmth and breathability at the Woolmark site
Along the way the trail winds through no less than 14 National Parks and some of the most breath-taking scenery in the world. The full Hexatrek site has further info, including an inspiring intro film.
Finding the best mid layer fleece.
“Weight is the biggest enemy, and it’s vital that everything I wear, or carry has completely earned its place” says Nigel when we caught up with him recently, with 12 weeks to go. He was heading off from Eastbourne to Winchester to complete the South Downs Way, wild camping across the 100 miles, for 4-days.
“I wanted to test out my kit in lower temperatures - a new sleep system, a Katabatic 15f Quilt and Thermarest Neo air sleeping pad and silk liner. And my Woolf PureFleece, a Merino fleece mid layer top” added Nigel.
“I was eager to find if the fleece could keep me warm without making me wet, while hiking on the move and provide warmth around the camp at rest. This PureFleece did both and well...! It was great to know that it was there, ready to wear when I needed it” Continued Nigel “It wears really well, fits nicely over base layers. The touch and feel is luxurious, that’s different for many thru-hikes”
Warm and breathable. The magic of Merino
"It was certainly a strange feeling, leaving home in late February, for the South Downs Way hike,100 miles in 4 days - this time from Eastbourne to Winchester WITHOUT MY DOWN PUFFY…!! I needed to test and definitively know, that its replacement… a merino wool PureFleece from British manufacturer, Woolf, would be a better choice for this colder trip.
My Rab micro down puffy, weighs in at 280g vs The Woolf PureFleece, 520g. So, why would I even look to replace it? Well, my upcoming trip in the Pyrenees and Alps will be hard work and I shall be generating a lot of heat over many weeks and months.
Also, the micro climate will certainly bring storms and rain… and thats where the PureFleece will become invaluable. As I marched up the seven sisters hills out of Eastbourne, I never suffered from the dreaded internal condensation from wearing my beloved puffy… the merino wool properties simply wicked and drew in the moisture from my hard work… and the magic of the properties kept me dry. Furthermore, had this been the 2nd straight month of hard work, the wool properties would keep that hard sweat smell away from my Cafe’/ Refugios peers.
When you only have 40 litres of backpack to home everything you need for 5 months of thru-hiking, then packability will become an issue.. and the Fleece will be a little less packable. The weight will be double too but, my biggest concern will be the cold and wet up over 3000m. We become very protective over our down sleeping bags/quilts, knowing that once wet, it's usually game over..!! Same for our beloved puffy. For that reason, synthetic puffy jackets are trending over down as a way to prevent hypothermia in downpours. But they are not so packable and not so light…
This is not just a fleece, its Merino Wool PureFleece… thats different all together..!! Its Climate control… its durable…its water friendly, its stylish!!… and pair it with a lightweight rain/windstopper…its all I need! Merino Wool PureFleece by Woolf….. same mountain, different experience..!!
We'll take that as a positive Nigel. And great copywriting too!
After testing his kit he's now narrowing his equipment choice - "The Hexatrek is a 3034km, 4-5 month thru-hike with temperatures between -5c and 40C. Weight and packability will play a part but due to the large temperature swing my thoughts are leaning towards:"
Nigel has paused training while shaking off a bout of the dreaded Covid, but will soon be heading out to Snowdonia for scrambling practice followed by the Yorkshire 3 peaks Challenge.
You can follow him too on his blog www.ontwofeet.co.uk as he finalises his preparations before we join him on his monster hike through France this summer.
Nigel trains for the Hexatrek on the South Downs Way in Woolf PureFleece