Monthly Archives: January 2016

Gear talk: Looking at new materials- Shola 230 Esker hat from Kora

Esker hat- from Kora

I have been looking at the Kora products, on-line only, since I first became aware of them in 2013 when they launched their first two products, a thermal zip top and leggings. I was intrigued by them not only because of their ethos, but also the apparent functionality of the products.

Kora founder, Michael Kleinwort, had been trekking in the Eastern Himalayas and was struck by the efficiency of the yak’s shaggy coat in keeping them warm at extreme heights in extreme winter conditions. Much of this was down to the soft underwool beneath the shaggy outer coat. It was this underwool, shed naturally each spring and sold by the herders, that Michael worked with to produce the company’s first fabric, called Hima-Layer™ Original 230.

A new product arrives in the post. Complete with re-usable, durable zip pouch

A new purchase arrives in the post. Complete with re-usable, durable zip pouch… bonus

I have long been a fan of Merino wool. It doesn’t irritate my skin, feels comfortable and we all know of its pong-resistant abilities. I prefer the lighter weights of merino, layering as necessary. The only thing that slightly discourages me is an apparent lack of durability. I have made holes, worn holes, put my finger through holes and, basically, knackered, more expensive baselayers than I am really happy with. The most durable baselayer top I have used in recent years has been a Rab Meco long sleeve Zip Tee. These were available in three of the four weights of MeCo fabric that Rab used. MeCo is a mix of 65% merino wool with 35% polyester with activated carbon. While not quite as soft as pure merino it continues to hold up well. I note that this product seems to have been withdrawn from Rab’s catalogue in recent years, a shame.

However, I do like to stick to natural products where I can, my theory being that something that has evolved over thousands of years has proven itself suited to specific needs and environments, and any synthetic product development is always going to be playing catch-up. Which brings me back to Kora and their use of yak’s wool. The theory of a natural wool adapting over multiple generations of beast in harsh climes sounds good to me.

I have been looking at improving my sleeping layers- long sleeve top and leggings worn at night to not only give a little additional warmth, but also keep the skin and associated sweat and grime away from the quilt. Such base layers can also be bought into use in extreme weather conditions during the day on longer hikes. I have used silk in the past as well as synthetic products but none of these were particularly to my liking. A few years attempting to get to grips with a silk sleeping bag liner failed too, combined with my night long thrashing about and constant turning meant that I tied myself in knots in the damn things.

Not quite ready to commit to the, admittedly quite expensive, high-end baselayer products that Kora supply, I recently decided to dip my toes in the water as it were, and purchase one of their Shola 230 Esker hats.

A new purchase arrives.

Shola 230 Esker hat from Kora in Obsidian Blue

Available in two colours (blue and ‘Shale Black’) and in one size, I eschewed my normal grey or black choice and went for the Obsidian blue, shown above.  The ShoLa hat is made of the, 100% yak wool, Hima-Layer Original 230 fabric for which Kora make bold claims- 66% more breathable than merino, 40% warmer, weight for weight. The usual wicking abilities, odour resistance, 40+ UPF and, importantly for me, softness and consequent no itch.

OK, so its only a hat I have purchased. But I am also quite impressed with what Kora are seeking to achieve. They work with the Kegawa Herders Cooperative, a group of more than 80 nomad families from whom they commit to buying yak wool at a premium. While some additional wool is purchased from local agents, Kora are working to move more closely to the herder families for their supply. Importantly, the products that Kora are providing seem to be not only fairly stylish (as much as base layers can be!), but also effective. Which is, after all, the bottom line for outdoors wear. It is early days for me and my little purchase. Not yet having been washed, the material appears to not be as soft as 100% merino. The Kora product has a lovely fine and tight weave and flat stitched seams. The reversible hat is comfortable and I am hoping for both performance and durability. I note that it can also be pulled down nicely to cover the eyes and ears completely, which may mean that it is especially useful if also worn as night time attire, my quilt lacking a hood. If these important factors come up to scratch, I look forward to dipping further into Kora’s developing product line. These are high end and fairly expensive products but if the durability is there, they will pay for themselves.

A nice touch, the tape depicts contours of the Himalayas and colours of Tibetan prayer flags

A nice touch, the tape depicts contours of the Himalayas and colours of Tibetan prayer flags

My most direct comparison for the Esker hat would be my Icebreaker beanie. This 100% merino wool hat is probably a 150 weight fabric, weighing 68g against the Esker’s 57g. Both are a double thickness of fabric.


Breakfast- Power food


“Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses,

but in Scotland supports the people”

A dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson, 1755


These days everyone from mainstream manufacturers, through cottage industries to hikers themselves are knocking together their own personalised mix of grains, seeds, pulses and whatever. Not to be outdone, I have been experimenting with my own mix. Samuel Johnson may have been having a pop at the Scots when he delivered his definition on the humble oat but those Scots know a thing or two, and I agree with them.

Three Points of the Compass has been a long time believer in the great powers of the oat. My fondness for both black pudding and haggis not only probably owe much to their oat content, but sadly, does not warrant further comment here. While I have struggled to make oatcakes palatable (that battle remains to be won), porridge or oat based granolas have been staple breakfasts for many years. However I frequently wish to simply get going and not faff around with pans etc. followed by subsequent cleaning and packing up. While day hikes, especially in the winter months, mean much shorter days and breakfast on the go can be the norm.

Various oat based granola bars are good, some of them are very good (and some truly awful), but are often insufficient in themselves. Hence my efforts to improve on this and build a breakfast that is both palatable, pretty healthy and provides sufficient energy and can also be consumed over a longer period rather than simply as a one-sitting breakfast. My body (and yours) can only process about 400 calories an hour so it is important for me to snack throughout my day’s activity rather than as I might at home, in two or three sittings. So I decided to have a go at mixing a few additional ingredients, that all prove beneficial for one reason or another, in with my simple oats. It turned out rather good.

A carefully thought out mix of ingredients though this can easily be varied, if for no other reason than to relieve boredom

Six of a mix of a carefully thought out ingredients, though this can easily be varied if for no other reason than to relieve boredom. From top left- Fruit granola, Mixed seed and goji berries, Jumbo raisins, Oat flakes, Oat bran, Chia


Porridge oats- a power food in itself

Porridge oats- a power food in themselves

As the ingredients would indicate, there is a high fibre content to this mix. Much of it from the mix of oat included.



The benefits of oats are well known. Their high fibre content (specifically beta-glucan) mean that they help remove cholesterol from the digestive system, they also enhance immune response. Because they have a very low glycaemic index (G.I.), they are slowly absorbed into the body’s blood stream meaning a slow release of complex carbohydrates (energy) which helps stabilise blood sugar levels. Oats are a pretty amazing food stuff- containing vitamins B1, B5, B6 and E, zinc, iron, soluble and insoluble fibre, carbohydrate, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium, folic acid and potassium. Oats have the highest protein content of any cereal. Oatbran contains 13.4g of protein per 100g. There are some individuals whose bodies cannot handle oats for one reason or another, fortunately I am not one of them.

Rolled oats (oatmeal) are the whole oats, the flat flakes being produced by rollers. While oat bran (providing selenium) is only part of the grain. As mentioned, in common with whole oats, oatbran, with 18.2g of fibre per 100g,  is also a good source of beta-glucan soluble fibre which lowers blood cholesterol, absorbing excess cholesterol and taking it with it as it works its way through the body.

Once the husk is removed from the oat the 'groat' is left, it is the outer shell of the groat that contains the bran

Once the husk is removed from the oat the ‘groat’ is left, it is the outer shell of the groat that contains the bran

Seeds and berries

Linwoods seeds and berries

Linwoods seeds and berries. A source of omega 3 fatty acids,  iron, zinc and vitamin E

A mix of milled seed and berries produced by Linwoods simplifies my separate sourcing of some desired ingredients- Added flaxseed provides Omega-3 fatty acids, not delivered by the oats. I am not going to go into every benefit offered by some of these ingredients as such things are easily researched online. However it is worth noting that, by providing manganese, both oats and flaxseed aid the body in metabolising nutrients which supports energy production. And if there is one thing a hiker needs, it is energy production!

Sunflower seeds are rated one of the World’s healthiest foods. Having a very high oil content, they are a main source of polyunsaturated oil. They are an excellent source of vitamins E and B1 and copper, and a good source of manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins B6 and B3 and folate.

Both sunflower and pumpkin seeds are very high in phytosterols, believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol and enhance immune response. You may be unaware that vitamin E comes in various forms (as I was). Pumpkin seeds, with their antioxident benefits, are exciting considerable interest amongst nutritionists as it has been found that not only do they contain vitamin E, as do many other foods, but they also deliver it in a wide diversity of forms. Pumpkin seeds are a very good source of manganese, phosphorous, copper and magnesium and a good source of zinc, protein and iron.

The jury is still out on the perceived benefits of goji or wolfberries. There are those that proclaim great things from these. I will take a chance and accept there is likely to be something in what is claimed. Certainly they have formed part of Chinese medicine for many hundreds of years. I shall not go down that route, you can always look up such things yourself and form your own decision, suffice to say, they are the most nutritionally and protein dense fruit known. They contain all essential amino acids and twenty-one trace minerals and are high in fibre, as well as iron, calcium, zinc and selenium.

Cited as possibly being the oldest condiment used by man, sesame seeds have  the ability to lower cholesterol and help prevent high blood pressure. Of interest to those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, in common with sunflower seeds, sesame is an excellent source of copper (proven to reduce pain and some swelling in sufferers) and a very good source of manganese. They are a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and dietary fibre. It appears that scientists have yet to agree where selenium lies in relation to cancer, it is possible that a deficiency can increase the risk but it is not yet determined. It is clear that selenium is a requirement for antioxident protection and other benefits. Of global concern is the increasing instances of sesame seed allergy. It has also been found that many people with a nut allergy will find themselves intolerant of sesame.

chia seeds are an excellent source of  antioxidents and omega-3 and are also a very good source of dietary fibre and manganese and a good source of calcium and phosphorus. The seeds can absorb up twenty-seven times their weight in water so it is important to mix them with other food and ensure water is consumed as well. High in both fibre and protein, chia has 22.9g and 21g per 100g, respectively.

Oat granola

Most people are familiar with the breakfast cereal Granola, usually consisting of rolled oats, nuts and honey, often baked until crisp. Dried fruits and chocolate may be added. As a named product, Granola was a name trademarked by John Harvey Kellogg in the late 19th century for a food consisting of whole grain crumbled and baked until crisp, Kellogg had changed the name from his earlier Granula but again changed the name to avoid infringing on an earlier breakfast patent, (note-another cereal, Muesli, is neither baked nor sweetened). Kellogg’s later change was to the familiar ‘Corn Flakes’.

To give me a little variety in taste, I have added a decent portion of a branded granola. This is Jordans Tropical Fruits Oat granola. While this contains 65% toasted wholegrain British Oats, it also delivers 15% fruit- dried papaya, coconut chips, dried pineapple chunks and dried banana chips. There is also a touch of sugar, honey, almonds and other stuff present. At some point I shall knock up another bunch of my breakfast superfood, swapping out the Tropical Fruits granola for Jordans Fruit and Nut granola or perhaps simply add dried banana chips, mango and nuts.

There is a lot of fibre here, all good stuff, we know that. Such a meal does require a decent amount of liquid intake as well to not only let it do its job, but also to prevent bloating. Once soaked for eating, that is insufficient in itself and good additional quantities of water are advisable.

Added dried fruit

The addition of Jumbo Raisins adds a little sweetness to the mix and makes it all a good deal more palatable. Being left to soak overnight means that the raisins are additionally juicy. Low in salt and saturates with no saturated fat or cholesterol, raisins are 23% sugars.

Peanut flour

Peanut flour

Peanut flour- a very fine texture, clumped here

sukin peanut flour- a great source of protein

Sukrin peanut flour- a great source of protein

The addition of Peanut flour is an effective way of adding protein to the mix. Many hikers will be aware that protein contributes to the growth and maintenance of muscle mass and the maintenance of normal bones. I have long been a fan of peanuts and I feel for those who suffer an intolerance. Not only do peanuts taste great, (easily my favourite snack), but they are also rich in the minerals magnesium, iron, copper, potassium, zinc, calcium and selenium. Instead of adding whole or crushed peanuts to my morning mix, I went the flour route.

In addition to such minerals, peanuts are high in nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins. I only recently came across peanut flour- Sukrin’s peanut flour is made from finely ground US grown peanuts, the flour is 50% protein and 11% fibre. Low in carbohydrates, it also has a low Glycemic index and low Glycemic load. Interestingly, a low fat, smooth peanut butter can be made by adding a little salt, sweetener and water to the flour. This may be a product I have to look at further for its potential as a dry-pack food to cart along with me on longer hikes. I have yet to try some of the other Sukrin flours available- almond, coconut and sesame.

Full cream milk powder

400g tin of Nido full [cream] milk powder. Larger tins are available but I have never come across them.

400g tin of Nido full fat [cream] milk powder. Larger tins and other (fortified) varieties of Nido are available but I am yet to come across them.

I have used Nido milk powder for many years for knocking together porridge. Used in this way it makes a lovely creamy offering. This full fat milk powder, (note- not the fortified variety), is as far removed from the low fat alternatives as you can get. About 130g of the powder mixed with 900ml of water will make around a litre of milk so I added 100g to my mix which seems to be a decent amount.  When mixed with the other ingredients as I have, running throughout the complete dry mix, there is no clumping or lumpiness as a result. It really is quite a palatable product.

While expensive, this full fat milk powder will keep for some months if kept sealed, in the dark, or in the fridge if possible. This is because of the high fat content, meaning that it can go rancid once opened.


The final mix

The final mix, absolutely lovely!


Ingredients Weight Calorific value (per 100g)- k/cal Notes
Scottish whole rolled chunky oats 100g  363  Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference’- Just about any brand of whole oats would suffice
Tropical Fruits Oat Granola 100g  447 Jordans- Could be swapped for another granola
Jumbo raisins 100g  293  The mix I used were Sainsbury’s Flame, crimson and golden raisins
Oatbran 50g  364  Mornflake
Cold-milled flax, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and goji berries 50g  447  Linwoods
Cold-milled chia seed 20g  493  Linwoods
Peanut flour  50g  410  sukrin
 Full full fat milk powder  100g  503  Nido- Of which 28.2g is carbohydrate. 17.6g being saturates
Thumbs up to the prepared meal, al l it requires is topping up with water

Thumbs up to the semi-prepared meal, all it requires is topping up with water

I work out the contents of this, slightly less than half full, container to be around 289k/cal per 100g. So, what is it like?

Once properly soaked through, it is a creamy consistency with a taste that I really enjoy. In short, it is bloody lovely. The change in texture and sweetness of the occasional fruit makes a considerable difference to its palatability. I have found that an effective way of taking my ‘power food’ on a day hike is to put around 130g into a 0.4lt (400ml) hard plastic beaker with a screw on lid (70g: beaker and lid). This portion size would equate to around 376k/cal. So not fantastically high in calorific value but this is a fairly modest sized portion and it does have a good balance of the nutritional essentials. If this is topped up with cold water the night before, everything is nicely soaked and the fruits etc. are beautifully plumped up and soft. Keeping this in a side pocket of the pack, I can fish it out at will. Then the lid can be simply unscrewed and a mouthful or two (or the whole lot) can be spooned out with a long-handled spoon. If I want to, another [dry] helping can be poured into the beaker and topped up with water again and left for, preferably, in excess of 30 minutes before dipping into. Obviously I could alternatively bag it up in zip locks for multi-day hikes. Note that there is very little salt in this mix, just about the only sodium present is that which naturally occurs.

There is the base here that I can alter quite a lot for variety. I have already mentioned that I could swap out the granola. Prunes, dates, figs or sliced peaches would be interesting. I might try adding some broken nuts, perhaps brazil nuts or walnut. These might add some crunch that is lacking at present. Another diversion might be to add honey or drinking chocolate, hmmm…