Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Category Archives: winter gear

OAC Kar 147 – Initial Impressions & Comparison

All new Finnish made outdoor products are rare. Especially interesting and well working ones. This post is about one of the gems: OAC Kar 147 backcountry skis, or fastshoes, i.e. something between a snowshoe and a ski. In the post there is some background information, some numbers, my initial impressions and comparison to the Altai Skis Hok 145 the “original gliding snowshoes”.

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OAC Kar 147 – the gliding snowshoe goes backcountry ski?

Not a ski, not a snowshoe but something in between. Natives of the Northern areas have always used also shorter skis with climbing skins for certain needs and inspired by the short skis of the natives of the Altai mountain the US-based company (with production somewhere overseas) introduced the Altai Skis Hoks: 125cm and 145cm long short and wide skis with permanent skin inserts. I had a pair of the 125cm model for test and published my initial impression on the blog about a year ago. In short: I liked them a lot. Loads of fun and good tools for forested areas in winter.

The Finnish importer of the Altai Skis is OAC and they wanted to change some aspects of the skis which soon lead to the birth of two updated skis based on the idea of the Hoks. The OAC still imports and sells Altai Skis Hoks but now they also produce and sell their own skis: Hok 145 like OAC Kar 147 and  more XCD-ski styled OAC TAO XCD 160 – both designed and made in Finland! The TAO XCDs I wish to test later this winter when OAC gets the production running but this post is about the Kar 147.

The OAC skis are marketed as “backcountry skis” and the Altai Hoks as “original gliding snowshoes” and this seems to be somewhat true when comparing the Kar 147s to Hok 145s: the latter are a bit closer to snowshoes while the first are a bit more ski-like. Both are still in a category of their own being very short (for a XC-ski), quite wide and having permanent skin inserts.

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Tools for travel: Madshus VOSS 205cm, OAC Kar 147, Altai Hok 145 and Atlas 730.

OAC Kar 147 vs. Altai Skis Hok 145 – side by side

Dimension-wise the OAC Kar 147s are quite close to the Hok 145s. The Kars are nominally the 147cm long and the Hoks 145cm long.  The width is about the same (measured without any precision instruments): 128mm – 110mm – 122mm for the Kar and 124mm – 110mm – 122mm for the Hok. Both have also permanent skin inserts, full steel edges, a bit of camber, nicely raised tip and also some raise in the tail.

There are also differences: The most notable difference is different placement of the binding. On the Kar 147s the binding is placed so that the pivot of the X-Trace binding (or the pinline in 75mm NN binding) is on the balance point. On the Hok 145s the binding is considerable more forward, approximately about 10cm in front of the balance point. (In the Hok 125s bindings are placed on the balance point.)

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Other differences include:

– Different tip and tail design: The tip of the Kar 147 is wider and doesn’t raise as much as the tip of the Hoks.
– The Kar 147s are also little bit wider on the tip, only about 4mm but wider anyway.
– And (something I consider important) the Kar 147s have about double the camber the Hok 145s have, when you strap the Kars together they fit a standard match box between them easily, the camber of the Hoks is about half of that.

Both feel about equally stiff though the Kars have more initial flex before stiffening towards the end when being pressed flat against hard surface. I assume this is because of more camber providing a longer flex range.

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The Hok 145s weight 1892g per ski with the X-Trace Pivot bindings . The Kar 147s weight 1790g each with the same binding meaning the Kars are 100g lighter per ski. They are listed to weight 1150g without any bindings but as mine are clued on so can’t check.

OAC Kar 147 vs. Altai Skis Hok 145 – in real life

I haven’t had time to do very thorough testing (in my opinion that would take at least one whole winter season with varying use and conditions) with the Kar 147s and Hok 145s but I’ve used them enough to get on idea how they perform in deep soft snow and on packed trail in rolling, forested terrain. Both of the skis are equipped with X-Trace Pivot universal bindings and I’ve used them with Meindl hiking boots and Sorel winter boots. More on the binding to be written later…

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N zig-zagging up about 25-30 degree slope. She hates steep stuff on normal skis but is quite comfortable with the Hoks and Kars.

I’ve skied around in gently rolling forests and flat swamps with deep soft snow, pulled sled on the track and off the track, climbed 25-30 degree slopes with soft snow and skied them down doing turns with my bad technique – and had fun all the time! And that is what the Hoks and Kars are about in my opinion: fun tools for winter travel.

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Me going up…

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… and trying some telemark on the way down.

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And coming down again. Damn it’s fun!

The Hok 145s feel and act like the Hok 125s but being longer there is more surface area and thus they provide better floatation, a nice feature for someone in my weight class or if using them with a heavier backpack. Being only 145cm long they are still very agile in my opinion, basically just as agile as the 125cm version. (Take into account that I’m 186cm, for considerably shorter people the shorter version might feel more agile.) And as the binding is moved in front of the balance point the Hok 145s distribute the weight quite equally and thus sink in the snow in horizontal position instead of going “tail first”. The binding placement also gives them a bit more snowshoe-like feeling when compared to normal skis, or the Kar 147s.

The Kar 147s feel a bit more ski-like than the Hok 125 and even more than the Hok 145s. They track better on hard surface and are easier to control when going downhill but as a downside the tail of the ski sinks deeper than the tip in certain conditions (especially on soft snow on top of almost supporting layer of crust). I think this is because they have more camber and mostly because the binding is placed into the balance point as on normal skis. The advantages are clear and the downside is familiar for most people who use skis in similar conditions meaning that most can live with that but for some it might be an inconvenience.

The wider and flatter tip and tail work just as well as the more tapered and higher raised ones of the Hoks: the tip jumps on top the soft snow when gliding the ski forward and you can do 180 degree turn on hard surface just as easily as with the Hoks (but in both cases the skins stop you instantly and damn near knock you over). The Kar 147s also have slightly smaller skin insert which (according to the people of OAC) is made of higher quality material and thus it should give the same grip with less friction but as the test pairs I had were of different age, I can’t verify this. Both provide easily enough friction to haul a 60kg sled on hard surface, easily enough grip to navigate in soft snow on gently rolling terrain but not enough grip to push directly up 25 degree slopes with soft snow, those have to be zig-zagged up. The grip is naturally better on hard surface.

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Initial verdict

As a simplified and very much precursive verdict I’d say that the Kar 147s are still mostly like the Hok 125s I tested a year ago but with some differences:

“They work and they are fun.

They are very maneuverable and provide decent good floatation.

The Kars Hoks seem to be sort of go-anywhere-do-anything tool but such things come with compromises.”

This time the compromise is taken closer to a ski and a step away from the snowshoe. This gives better tracking, better control for downhill and more ski-like feeling but at the same time looses some of the snowshoe-like feeling in deep soft snow. And of course the bigger surface area gives better floatation. In my opinion the Kar 147s are more ski-like and thus well suited for people looking for agile backcountry skis or something to have fun on local hills. On the other hand the Hok 145s are probably better tools for traveling on soft snow with gentle terrain and also maybe better suited for people who plan to use them a lot without poles (photography, hunting, etc.)

Which ones you prefer, is up to you.

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Availability & price

In Finland the OAC Kar 147 are available from the usual suspects like Partiokauppa (399eur with bindings, not in stock) and SOS (419eur with bindings, in stock. The best price I’ve seen this far, and the only retailer listing the Kar 147s also without bindings, is from Hiking Travel HIT at Ylöjärvi (near Tampere) who has them for 285eur without bindings and 390eur with the X-Traces.

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Disclaimer: The nice people at OAC Finland lended the skis for me for test on request but with no obligation of reviewing them. And unfortunately I have to return them.

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Hats for winter

This post is all about headwear and about (nearly) all the headwear I own. And especially on headwear for winter as the winter has finally arrived also to the Southern parts of Finland! The post is a follow-up for the old Gloves for winter post and inspired by Dave Chenault’s post who seems to have quite a different approach on winter headwear but apparently also different needs. Here I present my winter headwear divided into three categories and int the end introduce the selection I usually carry on winter tours.

Thin headwear

A Buff is a great piece of headwear all year round. Never leave home without it!

Buff Original – maybe the single most used piece of outdoor clothing I have! I rarely go out without a Buff or two. Usually I use them as a pirate style scarf, a beanie or as a neck warmer. I’ve even used the Buffs as mittens when I got my gloves accidentally wet on a ski trip on lake ice. I’ve tried also other versions of Buff but still find the Original the best. It could be two centimeters longer but otherwise it’s perfect for me.

In addition to or instead of the Buff Original I sometimes take a thin fleece beanie. It’s an old Jack Wolfskin micro-fleece beanie. Very thin and simple beanie with two layers of fabric on the headband. It’s perfect when the Buff is not enough and often gets used also as a sleeping and camp hat. It’s very breathable but the down side is that it’s not windproof at all.

Thin headwear layered. The micro-fleece beanie worn under a Finnsvala Windproof Ski Cap. Picture from Hvannadahlsnjúkur at Vatnajökull.

For windy conditions I add a thin windproof hat. I have and old Goretex Windstopper one from Haglöfs but more often use Windproof Ski Cap from Finnsvala. It’s good as a standalone piece for windy but not especially cold conditions and when you layer it on top of a Buff and fleece beanie the combination can handle also quite cold weather. And if the weather is totally terrible, I move the Buff on my neck, layer the headwear and pull up the hood from my shell jacket. System is the name of the game.

Thick headwear

But if it’s really cold, it makes sense to have some thicker and warmer headwear in the system. My lighter warm option is Extremities Polartec 200 Took hat. It’s quite a simple hat made of 200 weight fleece with nicely fitting headband and good protection on ears. The good and bad thing is again that it’s not windproof.

The Extremities 200 hat after a morning and night in balmy -39C. Also visible the hoods I like having.

The Extremities 200 hat after a morning and night in balmy -39C. Also visible the two hoods I like to have in winter.

If it’s both cold and windy I pull out the TNF High Point Windstopper hat. It’s made of 300 weight Polartec fleece with Goretex Windstopper membrane and thin fleece lining. It sports quite good headband and ear protection but not as well-fitting as the Extremities version. The positive side of looser fit is that it can fit a Buff or a thin beanie under it for the coldest of days.

Just like with gloves, I’ve been thinking about getting also an even warmer hat. Something super warm like a fur hat with seal skin outer (naturally waterproof) and sheep skin lining (warm!). This would be good for those unusually cold days below -40c, especially if driving with dog sled or snowscooter in the extreme cold. But hat like that costs around 250-350 euros, so it’s a no-go with my salary…

N modeling a fox hat. Would be super warm!

N modeling a fox hat. That or similar would be super warm!

Hoods and balaclavas

I’m not especially big fan of hoods in clothes as I find them restricting my senses and movement. I mean, some people like to have a hood in every single garment they own from socks to hats but I’m fine having a hood only in my shell jacket and another one in my warm puffy jacket and using them when I have to. But when I have a hood, I want it to be really good as it’s the extra protective barrier against the harshest conditions, different forms of rain and stormy winds. I like especially the hood in my Sasta Everest jacket accompanied with a fur ruff. My winter down jacket (Marmot Greenland jacket) has also a good hood though it doesn’t really work well layered on top of the Sasta’s hood.

Feeling invisible sheltered in the hood of Sasta Everst jacket. Visible also goggles with hard face mask. Good addition for skiing in winter storms.

Feeling invisible sheltered in the hood of the Sasta Everest jacket. Included also goggles with hard face mask, a good addition for skiing in winter storms.

In addition to hats and hoods balaclavas come handy in bad conditions. I’m not a big fan of balaclavas  either but sometimes they just make sense.  They offer very well sealed protection to you neck and head but I find them too somewhat restricting and use them only when I really need to. I have few different models from Finnsvala: the merino-based Extreme for the less extreme conditions,  the windproof Power with detachable fleece nose-protecor for really bad conditions and the Commando with Jonaset warmer , though I haven’t found much use for it.

The Finnsvala Extreme balaclava with home made nose protector layered with micro-fleece hat after a skiing trip in below -30C.

The Finnsvala Extreme balaclava with home made nose protector layered with micro-fleece hat after a skiing trip in below -30C.

The system for longer winter trips

My headwear system for summer trips (which in the North can be anything from +30C sunshine to below zero snowstorms) is quite simple: Haglöfs Box Cap, Buff Original, maybe a thin fleece beanie and the hood in my shell jacket, plus a mosquito headnet in bug season. If the trip is short and weather stable one or two pieces can be left at home. But in winter I like to have a bit more in my inventory.

For a typical winter trip of one-week or more in Scandinavia I usually take:
– a Buff Original (or two)
– a fleece hat (the thin microfleece, the 200 weight fleece or the thick TNF High Point)
– a thin windproof hat (Finnsvala Ski Cap Windproof)
– a balaclava (Finnsvala Extreme or Power)
– and of course the superior hood of my Sasta Everest jacket for the worst of conditions

If trip is short and conditions stable I leave a piece or two at home to make things more simple and light. But on a long trip I like to have a nice selection of headwear to match the conditions even though I’m not sure if it’s necessary. For example on the Vatnajökull 2012 expedition we had very varying weather but in addition to the hood, I only used an Original Buff and the windproof Finnsvala cap as standalones or as combination. So maybe I should leave a hat or two at home the next time?

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So, what’s your choise of winter headwear?

Heads up: New Altai Hok fast shoes!

I had a pair of 125 cm long Altai Hok “gliding snow shoes” or “fast shoes” for test the last winter and I really liked them (see my Initial Impressions). Though there were few things I would’ve liked to change. I would have preferred:

– the longer model (wasn’t available for test at the time) for more floatation,
– maybe removable skins or some other way to make them a bit faster
– and a bit more camber for better skiing.

I was told some secret information about new models being developed in Finland but I never got any specific details…

Lurkin’ down a forested hill with the Hoks. It’s fun!

But now it’s all public information!

According to my sources the new models are designed and made in Finland by OAC! The new models are:

– “Kar” 147 cm, 125-110-122, 2700g (i.e. 2cm longer and 50g lighter than the original Hok 145)
– “XCD Tao” 160cm, 85-72-80, 1850g (i.e. very different design, maybe better suited for relaxed telemarking on forested hills?)

On paper the Kar looks almost identical to the original Hok 145 model so what’s the point? This: both models have more camber than the original Hoks and have more narrow skins which should make them better suited for cross-country skiing travel. And the Tao seems quite different from the original Hoks, more like a short Karhu Guide XCD. To me it looks more like a cross-country downhill type of ski just like the name implies.

Click to see the official info (in Finnish).

I have to say that I’m quite excited! The 147 cm long Kar sounds like a perfect tool for traveling the forested and bushy areas of Finland. It should provide more flotation, be faster and about just as agile as the 125 cm model I was testing. I was planning to get a set of “alpine touring” type gear (Dynafit stuff) for the winter but as that gear is expensive as hell and people only have two kidneys, I might seriously consider buying the new Kars, 75mm bindings and some low-cut plastic tele boots…

Hok 125s at camp after a day of skiing through bush.
Notice also the new X-Trace baseplates that I was testing. They are now in production!

Monthly highlights of January: -38,5C!

Monthly highlights” is a series of post concentrating on a 10-month wilderness guide course I am taking this year at Niittylahden opisto near Joensuu in Eastern Finland. These posts try to summarize the best parts of each month and are naturally published at the end of each month (or few weeks after…) Hopefully you enjoy it!

The lesser highlights of January: snowmobile course and hare hunting

The school started in the mid January after a six-week internship period (of which I spent four weeks at a small husky farm at Taivalkoski). The first week was filled with entrepreneurship lectures and exercises in the classroom that didn’t get especially good participation. On the second week we had two days snowmobile course in Nurmes but as I see snowmobiles as tools and don’t support leisure driving and the course wasn’t especially good either, it didn’t make it to the highlights of the month. The course was more like a short snowmobile safari followed with a longer safari with no special emphasis on teaching how to use the snowmobile as an efficient tool in different situations. But after the snowmobile course things got better…

Early start for the longer snowmobile safari.

The snowmobile course was followed with a hunting course that gave enough the information to participate to a Finnish hunting license test on the following week. But as I already had a hunting license I was just hanging on the lectures and learning some new things and recalling a lot of things I had already forgotten as I haven’t been actively hunting. The information about animals and legislation was very useful even if one is not intending to get the hunting licence. On Friday, at the end of the course, we went for a hunting trip to hunt some hares. Our teacher, few local hunters and one of the students were equipped with shotguns while the rest of us skied through forested areas driving the hares out of their hideouts. We didn’t get any hares from the first three drives but from the fourth one we got two big European hares. We disemboweled the hares on spot, skinned them on the following week, put the meat into freezer and prepared a tasty dinner later.

Our teacher returning with the first European hare.

Preparing dinner...

The highest highlight of January: My coldest trip yet

On the last week of January we were to have a four-day hike in the woods. The hike or course is known as “Talvierätaidot” meaning winter wilderness skills and concentrates on hiking in forested areas in winter. I was very excited when the meteorologists were forecasting temps below -30 C. Then it changed to much milder but luckily it changed back to even colder just before the trip. And cold weather was what we got!

The hike took place near Patvinsuo National Park near the Eastern border of Finland. To be able to build fires (which are big and important part of the Finnish hiking and wilderness tradition) we didn’t camp in the national park but did a round trip from the North-Western edge of the national park. The plan was to ski a little bit every day and spend most of the time in camp concentrating on surviving in the cold and having good time. We skied about 2-3 hours every day covering about 3-5 km in the soft snow and occasionally dense woods. Everyone was hauling a sled and everyone else was skiing with traditional Finnish “metsäsukset” (I was using the Altai Hok 125 fastshoes).

We started the trip with sun shine, blue skies and relatively mild temperature of -24 C or so. After few hours of easy skiing we got to our planned camp spot on a small lake. The first night was to be spent in tents. Most of the people pitched their tents on the ridge as the air up there is slightly warmer because of inversion. Me and my buddy T pitched our tent on the lake ice to get most out of the cold weather as the first night was forecasted to be the coldest night. Most of the people spend their time sitting and cooking by fires while me and T spent most of our time in my Hilleberg Keron 3 GT warmed with white gas stoves in the expedition style. We had hearty dinner followed with some Ben&Jerrys icecream and generally had good time. Surviving in the cold is easy with the right kind of equipment. We also participated in fire wood gathering and hanged out with the other people before retiring to our sleeping bags. While going to sleep the temperature was already below -36 C on the lake ice and -32 C up on the ridge. To make most out of the cold we opened all the tent doors making it effectively only a tarp. During the night I woke up being uncomfortably warm and sweaty and decided to check the thermometer which was showing -38,5 C! I removed two pairs of woollen socks and went back to sleep.

We woke up at 07:00 and started the stoves to get the tent warm. I had a little problem with the pump of a MSR XGK as it was too cold for the standard O-rings (they fail around -40 C) but I got the other stove (MSR Dragonfly) running without pumping and when the tent warmed up the other pump stopped leaking and we got on with our morning chores. It also became obvious that in temperatures near -40 C you can’t work for long periods in thin fleece gloves. Morning chores outside were executed in 30 second intervals of working nad then warming fingers on the neck or groin. After breakfast we got news that two students were to be evacuated because of the cold (no cold damage  and we would stay in the camp untill noon. After the two students were evacuated from the road side we continued with a short skiing with sun and -25 C or so. The second night was to be spent under tarps by a fire so we pitched our 3×3 m Erätoveri tarp and found a good place for fire with plenty of firewood available nearby. During the evening the thermometer crawled back towards -30 C and below. We made a big pot of popcorn to share with the group and went to sleep after some chatting by the fire.

In the morning we got the fire going ans started to prepare breakfast in -32 C. Me and T were acting as the day’s guides with me orienteering in the front and T skiing last checking that everyone stays with us. We departed from the camp a bit after 09:00 and saw fresh wolverine tracks just after few hundred meters of skiing. It’s a wild place! Maybe it was bad navigation or just simply bad terrain but the terrain was occasionally challenging until we arrived to snow-covered gravel road and as the hares and moose were also using the road, so did we. We continued along the road to a sunny lake ice were we had lunch break in relative warmth of about -24 C before crossing the little lake to our next camp.

In the camp we piled snow for quenzees and while the snow settled we learned to make a fire from fresh birch. This was new to me and though I knew the technique in theory it was nice to see that it worked also in real life. it’s good to know that usually when you make fire you’ll get warm: you walk around in snow gathering and chopping fire wood and then you get a big nice fire. You stay warm during the whole process. When making a fire from fresh birch you sit on your butt snapping and sorting little twigs and in the end you have a smoking and hissing pile of twigs that can boil water… But it works!

After the fire making exercise we gathered some first class fire wood for a proper fire, carved the quenzees, had dinner and made some improvised brownies on frying pan. I walked to the lake ice to admire maybe one of the best full moons I’ve ever seen. Standing there alone in the bright moonlight breathing crisp cold air under the starry sky was quite an experience! Then it was time to retire to the quenzee for the night. Inside me and T had cups of tea and ate the rest of the ice cream. Outside the temperature was once again plummeting  below -30 C but the inside temperature was around – 10 C meaning that it was nice and warm.

We had decided that we’d make the breakfast inside the quenzee instead of getting out and making a fire. After good nights sleep we punched a hole to the side wall and placed the roaring MSR stoves under it and prepared breakfast. Not very smart if you’re going to use the quenzee for several nights but in this case with cold outside temperatures it was a good move in my opinion. After packing all gear we tested the durability of our quenzees. The roof hold over 100 kg weighting T easily. He went through the roof on his first jump but only made a whole to the roof and was not able to collapse the thing.

After playing destruction derby on our shelters we started the last short skiing session back towards the road and the cars. We ended up in some pretty fucked terrain with dense woods and little rocky cliffs, generally a bad place to be with a pulka. The progress was so slow that my toes got cold despite wearing Sorel Caribou boots and I didn’t get them warm until we got on easier ground and I got to ski in the point with good pace.

When we arrived to the cars everyone was probably very warm but the cars were not. It took some time to charge the car batteries and warm the cars with a generator we had with us but after an hour or so we got both cars running and headed back to civilization. It was my coldest trip yet but very enjoyable none the less. I would have liked a bit more skiing but who cares when you have great weather and beauty of nature surrounding you.

Few words on gear

For this trip I had mostly my typical tried and true winter kit. It was mostly the same stuff that I had for the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition. Few things were different or performed differently so here are couple word about them:

For the whole trip I wore military surplus synthetic fill puffy bib pants instead of the typical Goretex. They worked very well: warm enough for the camp and not too warm for the short daily transitions because of good ventilation options. And I started to think if a synthetic buffy overall with good venting options, good hood and a drop seat would actually be near the optimal shell clothing for this type of trips…

I was using the Altai Hok 125 short skis, or fast shoes, instead of the 2,5 meter long traditional Finnish “eräsukset”. The Hoks were a lot more maneuverable and doubled also as snowshoes in camp but they were slower on easy ground. More of my initial impression here.

Because of the X-Trace universal binding I could use my Sorel Caribous, the warmest footwear I own but even they were not warm enough towards the end of the trip when energy levels were low and progress was slow. They also caused small blisters to my heels. The good thing is that they doubled also as camp shoes. Maybe I should have tested vapour barrier socks with them.

The 168 cm long Fjellpulken pulka was a bit of a trouble in the dense woods just as I had expected. Probably the optimal system for long trips in dense woods would be the Altai Hoks (145cm long ones for soft snow), a small pulka with crossing shafts (or an incredible rulk?) and a small backpack if more capacity is needed.

Just before the trip I had changed my incredibly warm Cumulus Alaska 1300 based down bag to lighter Marmot Couloir bag. I wasn’t sure if it would be enough when combined with my Carinthia Explorer Top MF XL synthetic topbag but the combination was easily warm enough down to the -39 C we had. But because of changing to thinner sleeping bag the 10 mm CCF and regular Ridgerest combination wasn’t warm enough anymore and I had to use my puffy pants as an extra insulation between the pads though that wasn’t a problem when recognized and fixed.

Even though sitting by a fire in the middle of a silent forest lighten up by the pale moonlight is an incredible experience, I prefer the expedition style warmed tent in harsh winter conditions. Nothing prevents you from sitting by the fire even when hauling the tent and stove with you but having them makes life a lot easier. And for prolonged trips and expeditions in challenging winter conditions I see it as the best way to go. Not ultralight but ultra-well-working.

Technique regarding snow shelters

I have few posts about building snow shelter from the last winter. They seem to have quite some typos and the series is still missing the posts about building a snow cave (the superior snow shelter if snow conditions are favourable) and an igloo. The posts seem to be full of typos and I’m planning to polish them at some point when completing the series. But as I consider snow shelter building as an essential winter skill (and training it to be a lot of fun!) I’d recommend checking them anyway before I get them polished for “re-blogging”.

For fun and safety
Quenzees
Simple emergency shelter

Please, share your experiences and ideas about snow shelters!  I’m very interested in the topic, especially about experiences about building an igloo (not the one with the box-tool but cutting the block from hard snow).

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There are no overnight trips or hikes for February but we already had a nice animal tracking trip in school and we will be doing some winter fishing on the next week which should be interesting… I’ve been quite busy with the preparations for the Vatnajökull expedition and by working hard you get results so things are looking quite good. But there might be some quiet time in the blog because of preparations and upcoming exams. Hopefully you’ll tolerate it and I can make it up later with nice photos from the Europe’s biggest glacier.

Altai Hok 125 – Initial Impressions

Generally I’m against initial impressions and support thorough long-term reports but occasionally there are good reasons also for writing about initial impressions. And I think, this is one of those occasions as the Altai Hoks are relatively new product and the best season for using them is under its way at the moment. So, here are my initial impression of Altai Hok 125 skis with X-Trace universal bindings.  As I weight nearly 100kg I wished to test the 145cm long version but none were available for test (and I don’t think any are available for purchase either, at least not from Finland).

The tools of choise for the initial testing.

The Skis

Well, they are not exactly skis in the traditional Nordic meaning of the word but the Hoks are closer to skis than to snowshoes so lets call them skis for a while.

The Hoks are 125cm long, erm, short and about 12cm wide and relatively light making them very maneuverable. Those interested in numbers can check Dave C’s posts: Altai Hok: by the numbers, Tools; choices (for comparing different options) and The 145 Altai Hok (for those interested in the longer option providing more floatation). The skis are built with wood core covered with fiberglass mixed with organic materials. The bases are smooth sintered polyethylene (the typical ski base stuff) and have a large glued-on skin insert in the middle and are finished with 3/4 steel edges. The skis have metal screw inserts for the standard 75mm Nordic Norm bindings (with three inserts for a heel pad) and thus also fit the X-Trace binding and there is an adapter plate for NNN BC and SNS BC bindings.

There is not much camber and it might not even work with very short skis like these. The tip has a generous amount of rise that lifts the ski on top of snow by just pushing it forward (no need to “walk”, it’s more of a motion of kicking and gliding but without much glide because of the skin) and there is also some rise in the tail. The little side cut and raised tip and tail makes then turn super easily on down hill!

The skis and the sled in camp near Patvinsuon National Park.

The Bindings

The Hoks are often sold as a package with the X-Trace universal bindings. The word “universal” means that you can use them with about any boot or shoe that has relatively flexible sole (so a no go with plastic ice climbing boots and similar).  The X-Trace is a Finnish design binding that uses snowboard binding style straps and flexible base plate. The toe strap is mounted on a fixed front piece and another strap wraps around the ankle and is mounted on a heel piece that can slide on the flexible plastic plate to adjust the size. The size i.e. the length can be easily adjusted on 8cm range which wasn’t enough for my size 46 Sorel Caribou boots but there was plenty of extra space on the flexible plate so making extra notches for adjustment wasn’t a big deal. I recognize that the binding should fit size up to 46 hiking boot without any problems (manufacturer claims fit with EU sizes 35-47,5) but the big Sorels were a bit too much and felt lined Sorels larger than size 47 or 48 are simply too big even with extra notches. The straps were barely long enough for the Sorels but for even bigger boots, there are extra-long straps available as accessory. I’ll write more about the bindings when I have more experience with different footwear.

The Use

I’ve had the skis only for a bit over a week now. I’ve used the skis on a short test run in the backyard forest and on four-day winter trip near Patvinsuo National Park in Eastern Finland. On both occasions I was wearing size 46 Sorel Caribou felt lined boots. On the short test run I was looking for the wort possible ground without a backpack or a pulka. I crossed blown down trees, ditches, climbed over some big rocks and pushed through dense forest.The skis proved to be very agile and maneuverable and on steeper down hills they glided nicely and on safe speed but on subtle slopes the skin inserts prevent real down hill skiing. Floatation was quite good but there wasn’t that much snow for a real test, maybe some 30cm.

A swift little down hill on the test run: easier and faster with the Hoks than with snowshoes or traditional long Finnish skis.

On the four-day trip I was pulling a Fjellpulken Explorer 168 sled weighting something over 30kg fully loaded. The terrain was varying but mostly we skied on small lakes, swamps and in woods. There were no big hills but occasional little slopes, banks on the shores, ditches to cross and one fucked up boulder terrain. Other people on the trip were using 225-280cm long traditional Finnish forest skis and the Hoks turned out to be a lot more maneuverable in the woods and the skin inserts provided plenty of grip for pulling the pulka and tackling little obstacles on the way. The down side is that on good open terrain they are slower than long skis because of the skins but they are still a lot faster than snow shoes. The floatation was decent even though there was occasionally over half a meter of snow. The tip rises really nicely on top of the snow by just pushing the ski forward. I recon that the 145cm model would have been better for me providing more floatation. The weather on the trip was also frigging cold with lowest skiing temps being -36C. It is advised that the bindings should not be used in temps lower than -30C but not skiing wasn’t an option and the bindings coped the use well.

Fucked up place to go with a pulka. Here shorter skis make easier going.

The Impressions

They work and they are fun.

They are very maneuverable and provide decent floatation.

The Hoks seem to be sort of go-anywhere-do-anything tool but such things come with compromises. In my opinion the biggest compromise with the Hoks is the permanent skin insert which slows them down though also adds to the agility of the skis. It might be the only sensible option for skis like this but I’d really like to see a version with fish scale base and detachable skins (like the Madshus Intelligrip but a lot wider) or skin inserts (like the ones Åsnes has). The bindings are also quite a compromise. I like the ability to use any kind of footwear with the skis but they were not especially convincing, convenient or light weight. But untill I get to use something better I’m happy with them. The Icetrek Flexi bindings seem like an interesting option but they are quite expensive.

I’d personally rather have the 145cm long model to get more floatation as I believe it would be just as maneuverable as the 20cm shorter version. I have a trip plan for the next winter where the 145cm Hoks might be just the perfect tool…

Judging by the limited experience that I have with the Hoks I’d say they are killer tools for certain conditions and I see the Hoks suiting well for:

– Traveling in dense woods, especially with lots of soft snow. The maneuverability is invaluable and floatation good enough.
– Shoulder season trips when there is still some skiable snow left or you are expecting year’s first heavy snowfall during a walking trip.
– Hunting, photographing and doing other things that require agility and maybe occasionally going without poles.
– Having fun! Hoks are fun and provide a good way to have some exercise in the backyard woods or to tread trails in the deep snow around the house or a cottage and so on.

As I saind the Hoks are not skis in the traditional Nordic sense, neither are they snowshoes. Based on the snowshoe = slowshoe word play the Hoks are often called fastshoes which is very apposite name in my opinion. My friend translated fastshoe to “vauhtikenkä” in Finnish and I’ve called them “pätkäsukset” (shorty skis).

In my opinion Hoks do good job replacing snowshoes unless you are heading to very steep hills with hard packed snow (say hiking up for some off-piste snowboarding or climbing a mountain). They are agile enough for gathering fire wood, moving in and around camp, for hunting in woods, etc. From my point of view the Hoks could also replace long traditional Finnish forest skis if loosing some speed and ease of going in easy terrain is tolerable. The floatation is good enough and when hauling a sled the extra grip is nice. The Hoks could even replace steel edged fjell skis but that would mean loosing a lot of speed so I wouldn’t personally go there.

But if I could have only one pair of skis… I might nor have skis at all. I’d have fastshoes, the Hoks.

Availability & Price

The 145cm version seems to be out of stock every where in Finland though I heart that there might be some available at Kalevan Prisma in Tampere. The 125cm version is readily available from the usual suspects like the Varuste.net that sells them with X-Trace bindings for 295 euros.

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Disclaimer: The nice people at OAC Finland (the importer and distributor of Altai Hok skis and X-Trace bindings) lended the skis for me for test on request but with no obligation of reviewing them.