Gear Review: Amundsen Peak Anorak, Knickers and Gaiters

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Elaine sporting the Amundsen Peak anorak, knickers and gaiters.

In the modern world of ski fashion and clothing, knickers and anoraks rank somewhere in the same spectrum as a pair of 205 cm Rossignol 4SKs. These days, it’s all about steezy (style + ease) Gore-tex garments with baggy cuts, uber high tech shells and colors that resemble a bag of Skittles. Classy style has given way to bright colors that look flashy on social media posts. That’s a shame, as the timeless looks found in those old black-and-white 1960’s ski photos hearken back to a time when skiing was stylish, soulful, sexy and functional.

To which I say – thank goodness for Amundsen Sports. I was first exposed to Amundsen Sports gear back in 2016 in a tiny gear shop in Tromsø, Norway, a real ski town, ringed by mountains that sits close to 69° north latitude. The skiing around Tromsø is the best I’ve ever experienced, with sheer, glacial carved mountains dropping straight into the Arctic Ocean.

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Just a bit of skiing in Tromsø. Elaine enjoying some svelte turns on Store Kjostinden above the Arctic Ocean.

The shop was perfect. Ski gear was packed into what can only be accurately described as an attic. To access the “attic,” there was a swinging rope bridge, not unlike what I imagine explorers would use to board old wooden ice breaker ships. Skis, boots and bindings were packed inside, a Jotul 602 stove was burning crisp birch and the walls were lined with skiing posters from across the eras – the Lange girls, signed racing photos of the great Norwegian ski racer Lasse Kjus and ancient grainy images of polar explorers crossing some distant land of ice and snow in the extreme latitudes of our planet. And everywhere, there was wood. The walls were wood, the wooden slats on the floor creaked when walked upon, and stacks of birch logs sat by the wood stove, ready to heat the shop on the cold arctic days and nights. When Elaine and I fulfill a dream and hopefully open our own gear/ski shop some day, it will look and feel a lot like this one.

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The ski shop in Tromsø where I first found Amundsen Sports clothing. When a place has as much character as this place does, I tend to believe what they sell is legit. To make a ski shop look like this, it has to be run by skiers.

Tucked in a corner, was a small wooden rack of clothing that caught my eye. It was a throw-back to the skiing days of my youth – the entire rack was covered with knickers and anoraks. Yet these weren’t cheap thrift store items from a by-gone era. A snazzy patch that said “Spirit of Amundsen” adorned the highly technical garb. It was expensive – apparently all made by hand in Europe – but I remember thinking to myself, remember this stuff.

My next exposure to Amundsen Sports came last winter. We were working at Larry’s Bootfitting, the premier bootfitting shop in the country, knee deep in another busy day fixing people’s hurting toes, when two gentlemen with an accent walked up to us and introduced themselves as Trygve and Christian. Their English was impeccable and it quickly became clear they were from Norway. They told us they had been trying to find us, as they had heard about our result in Expedition Amundsen the previous winter.

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Roald Amundsen statue in Tromsø, and the inspiration behind the Amundsen Sports brand. Amundsen was an explorer extraordinaire, the first person to reach the South Pole, and an inspiration to skiers everywhere.

Turns out Trygve and Christian were reps for Amundsen Sports, and wanted us to try some of their clothing. They handed us a catalog and told us to pick out a few items. Honestly, we were a bit stunned by the interaction, as people do not “seek out” Elaine and I to try their gear.

Fast forward to this fall and Elaine and I were working at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder. I was talking to the clothing buyer at the store, a wonderful woman named Erin, who was running down the clothing brands we were carrying this winter. The list was what one might expect…Patagonia, Arcteryx, Rab and…Amundsen Sports?

I was instantly jazzed. I told Erin our story of the little shop in Tromsø and our interaction with Trygve and Christian the previous winter at Larry’s. Turns out we were going to be one of the first stores to carry this brand in the United States. Long story short, the Amundsen Sports clothing arrived, we were impressed, so Elaine and I decided to purchase some of it to try out this winter.

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Perfect clothing for a little tour around Brainard Lake on mountain touring skis and leather 3-pin boots. Warning – you’ll get a LOT of questions about this stuff if you wear it.

We decided to purchase the Amundsen Peak anorak and Amundsen Peak knickers. The anorak was a no-brainer. I’ve always enjoyed pull-over Anoraks, as they provide great warmth, a fantastic hood when the weather turns bad and, most importantly, a massive chest pocket for stashing a camera, a chocolate bar, a map, some wax and whatever else one might want to put in there (you could get a bottle of cheap red wine in the front pocket in a pinch). The Amundsen Peak pocket also has a sewn hole for running a set of headphones from the pocket into the jacket for your listening pleasure.

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The anorak pocket is plenty big enough for nine squares of chocolate and two pieces of Babybell cheese.

When pulling sleds, where it’s required to wear a chest harness, that center pocket is a godsend. With a regular jacket, it’s a complete pain to access the normal side pockets because harness straps go right over them. With an anorak, that’s no longer a problem. To me, anoraks have always been the ultimate ski shell. They are not currently overly popular in the United States – it seems Americans have a problem pulling something over their head as opposed to unzipping – but don’t knock it until you try it. What you lose with the minor inconvenience of having to pull the anorak over your head (and there is a massive side zipper to make this no problem), you more than gain in full weather protection.

The Amundsen Peak anorak was a far cry from the old waxed cotton anoraks I wore as child learning to nordic ski on the Nordmarka trails above Oslo. The shell is made of Schoeller fabric, a waterproof yet highly breathable material that is the epitome of high performance backcountry clothing.  I’m always flabbergasted at the amount of people skinning uphill in full Gore-Tex shells, sweating to the hilt. It’s important for gear to breathe, and also protect from the inevitable wind and snow that pounds the alpine. The Schoeller fabric in the Amundsen Peak anorak does that very well. And if it’s still too warm, the anorak features full pit zips for more ventilation.

The anorak also features snaps that allow the wearer to attach a coyote fur ruff to the hood. In arctic and above timberline environments where wind and cold are at a premium, the fur ruffs create a weather barrier that protects the face well. Coyote fur is certainly a controversial subject, and if you’ve spent anytime reading this blog you know my stance regarding predator hunting (I’m against it). That said, our trip to Greenland exposed us to different cultures where some things that offend the typical Boulderite are the norm, and indeed necessary for survival. Let’s put it this way – we didn’t get the coyote ruff for now, but when we return to the polar regions where conditions are extreme, we will.

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Amundsen Sports gear in its natural environment.

Unlike the anorak, the knickers were something of a gamble. Knickers were THE style back in the 1950s in nordic ski racing. In the “Ski Mountaineers Handbook,” a book written about backcountry skiing in the 1950s by David Brower (ex-Sierra Club executive director and one of the most prominent environmentalists of all time), he described knickers as the perfect ski pant because, “the knee is free for action!”

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Free the knee, drive the ski!

And yet, logic begs the question – how is this the perfect ski pant in backcountry conditions? If the snow is more than ankle deep, won’t socks and boots get absolutely soaked and frozen? Ah, but the folks at Amundsen Sports have a solution to this. In addition to Schoeller knickers, it is absolutely imperative that one order the corresponding gaiters to go with them. The gaiters button to the bottom of the knickers, pull over the top of the boots and strap underneath the sole, keeping the socks and boots toasty dry and warm.

In addition to being made of Schoeller, the Amundsen Peak knickers also feature some fantastic pockets, including a right leg pocket that is great for stashing items that, for some inexplicable reason, can’t fit into the massive Anorak pocket. They feature full vent zippers, which I found absolutely necessary in all but the coldest conditions on the uphill. The knickers have a clasp on the bottom that allows for tightening or loosening depending on how much venting the skier in looking for. Regarding zippers, the ones on the Amundsen Peak line are heavy duty and absolutely bomber. This stuff is clearly made to last. All Amundsen Sports clothing is made of materials sourced in Europe, and they are one of the only companies in the outdoor industry to make their clothing in Europe as well. That’s good not only from an ethical standpoint, but from a durability one as well.

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Closing down the Brainard Lake parking lot after another day of skiing. Elaine is 5’6″, 120 pounds and comfortably wears women’s small in all Amundsen Sports clothing.

The gaiters come in two models, slim fit and boot cut. The slim fit gaiter is meant to be worn over leather nordic boots, or possibly very narrow alpine touring boots, while the boot cut is for everything else. I would recommend the boot cut gaiter for any alpine touring boot, as I am unable to secure the slim fit version over my Dynafit TLT 7, one of the narrowest cuffed boots there is. I wear a size 26.5 boot…but even my wife who has the same boot in a size 22.5 has a tough time getting it to secure over the boot effectively. That’s an easy solution – just order the boot cut version.

When moving in the mountains, I believe these gaiters are the perfect ski pant. I find them to be more free feeling than a normal ski pant, and I enjoy the classic look. My only slight beef with them occurred during a winter camping excursion with blowing snow and 60 mph winds, where a little bit of snow sneaked in between the gaiter and the knicker. We talked to Christian about this, and he told us about a little secret clasp on the gaiter that tightens it to the knicker and prevents this problem. On our next excursion, utilizing this little technique, the problem was solved.

For nordic ski touring there really isn’t a finer clothing set-up available than the Amundsen Peak anorak, knicker and gaiter. It’s designed perfectly for this type of skiing. On cold days I also use the knickers for easy classic skis at the local nordic center (Amundsen Sports has another lighter weight knicker/anorak set up for track skiing called the 5-mila series – another review for another blog). I’m excited to try the knickers for spring skiing, as I imagine they will offer the perfect temperature range for booting up steep snow climbs, sans long johns, and then skiing back down.

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Protected from the elements on a deep day at the Fowler-Hilliard Hut.

One of the nicest features of wearing gaiters is how functional they are after the ski. In the mud room, simply take off the gaiters and remove boots. The knickers are high enough so no snow tracks inside. The knickers are absolutely comfortable enough to hang out in for lunch, eat a bowl of bolognese pasta and drink a glass of mead, and then head back out for an afternoon skiing session. Or, if I really want to kick off the aprés ski session right, I’ll toss on a nice sweater and a pair of mukluks and hit the town.

For this review I’ll give the Amundsen Peak anorak, knickers and gaiters the highest rating available. It’s a throwback item that is highly functional, technical and stylish. It’s not cheap, but after a winter of hard use the stuff barely shows any wear and tear. To quote the old adage, you get what you pay for. What’s not to like about that?

Amundsen Peak anorak, knickers and gaiters are available at amundsensports.com.

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Amundsen Sports, bringing back style one skier at a time.

Gear Review: Hilleberg Anjan 2 Tent

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San Juan Mountains, Colorado

In the long distance thru-hiking world, taking a tent over a tarp is sometimes considered a luxury. But the Continental Divide Trail is a different beast from the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. It’s the highest elevation continuous trail in the United States and has more weather extremes, from harsh desert sand in New Mexico and the Great Divide Basin to weeks of sleeping above 12,000 feet in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. North bounders will almost certainly encounter crisp fall weather and snow in northern Montana. The insects in the Wind Rivers can be maddening. All these factors start to move the tent from a luxury item to something bordering on necessity.

Elaine and I initially started the trip with a pyramid style tarp. It worked quite well and was light. But the reality of a five month trip versus a week or even month long trip is that your shelter truly becomes your home. We craved more, something with a floor for muddy conditions, and a cozy feel of a home where we could really rest at night. It needed to be durable for the five month trip and a master of different terrain, including above-timberline alpine conditions. And of course, as is always the mantra in thru-hiking world, it needed to be light.

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Near Mount Taylor, New Mexico

Hilleberg is not a popular brand among thru-hikers. Indeed the most popular models on the trail come from the brands Z-Packs and Big Agnes, well established in the thru hiking cult of gear. Some of this is weight based, but some comes from lineage. Hilleberg is a Swedish brand, well known in the polar exploration and mountaineering circles but much less so in thru-hiking world. Hillebergs are also known for being a bit more expensive than competitors – the Anjan 2 retails for $650.

Of course weight is also a factor. The Anjan 2, with stakes and poles, weighed 3 pounds, 2 ounces. It’s not the lightest tent on the trail, but between the two of us it was absolutely fine, basically 1.5 pounds each. When balancing lightweight with strength however, we were very pleased with the Anjan. There was never a time where we thought “Oh wow, this tent is too heavy and is really bogging us down.” That simply was not a factor. A solo traveller might consider the Hilleberg Enan which weighs right around two pounds.

We spent approximately 120 nights in the Anjan 2, putting it through the paces in wind, snow, rain, sun and everything in between. While not a free-standing tent, we found this was not an issue. It’s very easy to set-up. Basically, slide the two color coded poles through their respective sleeves, stake out one end, “snap” the tent to make it taught and stake out the other end. There are four guyline in addition to the end stakes, which we used every night in case of bad wind.

Wind River Mountains, Wyoming

Speaking of wind – this is where the Anjan and Hillebergs in general shine. The were many nights on the divide where the wind was between 20-50 mph but the Anjan almost seemed oblivious to it. It’s ideal to face the front or back into the wind, but even if this is not possible the guy lines make it so the tent can handle a cross breeze with aplomb. Tunnel style tents like the Hilleberg do well in the wind. There was one night in particular just south of Rogers Pass in Montana. A cold front was moving thru and we had to camp in the open because all the trees were dead from beetle kill. The wind was howling. While it wasn’t the most restful night, the tent held strong and fast.

Rain was pretty much a non-issue with the Anjan. We stayed dry and we had no problems with splash-back under the tarp. The bathtub floor is strong and waterproof. We did not use a ground cloth, in large part because with Hillebergs you don’t really need one. We did encounter a fair bit of snow, especially later in the trip in northern Montana. It was the heavy, wet variety. This is the one area where tunnel tents, especially those made of the lighter fabric, struggle a little bit. Snow sags the fabric between the two poles, although we had much better luck handling this when we made sure the guylines were absolutely taught. It’s worth noting that the Anjan is billed as a three-season tent. Eight inches of heavy, wet snow is not what the tent is designed for, but it held up despite a bit of sagging.

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San Pedro Parks Wilderness, New Mexico

Therein lies much of the beauty of the Anjan. It allows the backpacker to head out in weather that would prevent movement with some not-as-strong shelters. That’s a main reason to adventure – to get out in all conditions and see what nature is like at her most temperamental. Good gear with proper knowledge about how to use it allows one to enjoy the full gauntlet of conditions. For us, that was worth a weight sacrifice of a few ounces.

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San Juan Mountains, Colorado

The inside of the Anjan is very comfortable and roomy. There was plenty of area for my wife and I with gear, including about 10 inches of space on each side to store random items. There is also a nice pocket on each side to stash your headlamp and phone at night. There is a clothes hanging cord off the roof, perfect for getting wet socks out of the way. Finally there was more than ample space to put our wet shoes at the bottom of the tent, a necessity to keep them from freezing solid overnight.

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Idaho/Montana border country

The vestibule is absolutely huge. We cooked in it 80 percent of the nights on the trail, exceptions being very nice weather and in grizzly bear country. Generally one of us would cook and the other would hang out at the bottom of the tent writing, sending satellite messages to family and friends and relaxing. The tent tapers significantly at the bottom, but it was still plenty roomy enough for relaxing with two people.

We traded out the under-gunned stock pegs for mini-Groundhogs from MSR. Lightweight is important, but breaking stakes on the trail is no fun and causes unnecessary stress. I would recommend this upgrade for any backpacker, regardless of tent choice.

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Lake of the Woods, Wyoming

One area that takes a little figuring out with the Anjan and the interconnected fly and tent body is what to do if the tent gets wet. If the tarp is soaked from rain, dew or condensation, it’s a little frustrating to stuff the whole thing together, soaking the entire tent. We ended up paying a lot of attention to the weather and getting very proficient at separating the inner and outer tent. If a warm, dry day was forecast, we’d put the tent away wet and then dry it out during lunch. If cold and wet weather was predicted we would take apart the inner and outer tent, keeping the relatively dry body separate from the soaked fly. Using these two techniques, we never really slept in truly soaking wet tent.

That said, the Hilleberg set-up method, which is so useful and quick in heinous conditions, does require a little more thinking when dealing with multiple days of rain in a row. Of course, we’re thru-hikers, up and hiking well before things can dry. For traditional backpacking, where breakfast is cooked and the sun is allowed to warm and dry things before setting out, this would not be an issue at all.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Being a bit of a warmer tent, the Anjan does suffer from some condensation. However, it’s not worse than any other shelter. When we camped with other hikers, we noticed that we got condensation when they got condensation and visa-versa. Condensation is a product of many things – campsite location, localized weather conditions and temperature difference between the inside of the tent and the outdoors. The Hilleberg breathes fine, has a large mesh door, a mesh window, and plenty of flow space beneath the tarp walls.

After three months of desert and mountain camping, we did have some problems with the front zipper. However, clamping them down with a small pliers on our multi-tool and squeezing them together about a millimeter fixed the issue in seconds. At the very end of the trip we got a tear in the fly on a seam near the front zipper. I’m not sure how it happened, but I suspect it was a result of overtightening the guy lines on the snowy night in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. True to Hillebergs though, the tear did not increase. When we got home we called Hilleberg and they gave us simple instructions for sending it in for repair.

Red Desert, Wyoming

That’s one of the best things about Hilleberg. They are a family operated company who are passionate about one thing: tents. Petra Hilleberg, who runs Hilleberg North America, is the daughter of founder Bo Hilleberg. She is a fantastic outdoors woman and has a real knowledge of the perfect shelter for everything from a hike along the CDT to a ski across Greenland. They also have an in-house warranty and repair department, following the mantra of re-use and fix.

Bottom line: Hillebergs cost a bit more money, but when looking for a bombproof two-person tent for three season backpacking in the high and low country, it would be hard to do better than the Hilleberg Anjan 2.

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Near Stony Pass, Colorado