Friday, 18 November 2011

Is a sub-two gram sleep mat within our grasp?

Unbelieveable as it sounds, resarchers in america have found a way to build a lattice out of tiny fibres that weighs an incredible 0.9mg per cubic cm. As a point of reference.. That's about one hundredth the weight of styrofoam.
As this material is a lattice, it apparently also has excellent insulative properties and although strong, also has some give. It also returns to it's former size after compression (they do state there is a little loss on the first use).

Working on standard mat size, say 180x90x1cm, then the mat would weigh less than two grams.

Now all we need is a name for stuff this light..
Super-ultra-lightweight?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Is it time for a new coat?

I think it's time to start looking for a new jacket. I've had a few years out of my current one and it's also been used on a day to day basis. I'll make sure I do a post when it's retired ..
So, once more unto the breech my friends as i re-enter the world of buying a new jacket.. Something breathable, light, dependable and in my budget..... In a colour I like ;)

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bad things come in small packages too... (mobile post)

yep.. You guessed it. I'm poorly. Depending on whether you're my boss or not, the timing is impeccable..
Ya see, i'd got this monday off and had a loose plan to get out. It's been impossible with other stuff going on, so i'd taken a day's holiday and was going to shuffle the weekend back.. (you know, treat sunday like it was sat, get on with sunday's chores on monday) leaving today free to go out.
Of course, i've spent today with a thick head, dozing off everytime i sit down and generally feeling like crap..

Ah well, there's a few weekends left in the year... :)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A nice round number :)

Just a quick note from the mobile to say that, this weekend I finally broke TEN THOUSAND pageviews :)
Thanks to all those who read the blog, and to those who help me..
Cheers,

Toby.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Where to go for a walk in winter? (mobile post)

As you will have spotted, I've not been able to get out much since the twins were born two years ago.
It's amazing how much time twins take up and how little time I can spend getting out there.
This means that any trips need to either be places I know, or very well planned. Otherwise I'd overrun the time I've put aside, or not have enough time to accomplish what I wanted..
For the last few years, the winter walks have always ended in Edale. This is because it's easy to get to, there's a good selection of bus stops outside the valley and the trains run through any snow we've had.. Edale is also beautiful in itself, there's a great pub, a shop, somewhere to get a breakfast and perhaps most importantly - a well sheltered campsite that opens all year.
As daft as it sounds, it's proving damm difficult to find a replacement. Either the campsite is closed in winter, or the village is easily cut off by snow. Somtimes there isn't a pub..
My favorite contender so far was Threlkeld, but no all year camping..
Who said sorting a walk would be easy?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Review: Alpkit SkyHigh 800 (Down Sleeping Bag)

 

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N.B.  I Apologise for the colour on some of the images, I’d put the camera in the wrong mode. I hadn’t noticed until I’d packed everything away and reviewed the images on the PC…

There are many sleeping bags on the market. Some cheap, some expensive. You can get one on offer for a Tenner, or spend five or six hundred pounds on one. There is a big difference between a cheap bag and an expensive one, and there is also a big difference between brands as well. A good sleeping bag will allow you to camp later into the season, or all year round.

There’s advantages and disadvantages to the different types (a proper argument of which would take up an entire post). So to put it in a nutshell, Down is lighter and warmer for weight than synthetic, but more expensive and trickier to clean. You’ll often hear that synthetic stuffing will retain more warmth when wet, but if either was sodden, you’d be cold that night, whatever it was filled with.

 

I’m a proponent of Alpkit and they have long been respected for their sleeping bag range, which offered a good bag at a reasonable price.

They have two lines, the SkyHigh (I’ll shorten to SH from now on) and PipeDream (PD). The ranges are then categorised with the fill weights (hence names like SH600, SH800, SH1000 or PD600, PD800 etc. (the bigger the number, the warmer the bag)).

The PD range pack smaller, lighter, are made from more exotic materials and have a higher fill power (warmer for weight) down filling. Of course having a PD comes at a price (about 40% more when I bought my bag).

I chose the SH800 because it was within my price range (an important consideration), it’s rated to –10’c and I’d fit in it. You see, I’m quite a big lad. I’m 6’2” and there’s a vicious rumour that I have a fairly impressive beer gut Winking smile. The SH bags thankfully come in small, regular and large (and now a kids size too). They come with a well made compression sack that’s been treated to help keep water out and a storage sack to help keep the loft when it’s in the cupboard. There’s a storage pocket inside the bag and it has an excellent draft tube and collar to keep the heat in.

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I have camped in temps around –8 and slept well, so it does what it’s supposed to. It’s roughly comparable to a North Face Blue Kazoo (£180) or a Rab Ascent 700 (£200). When I bought mine It was £110 (+£5 for long size), meaning it was exceptional value. (Alpkit have made a comparison chart HERE)

Now however, they are £140 (£145 for long).. So there isn’t that much difference between this and the Blue Kazoo, especially when you consider that you might get an offer on a North Face bag (or one from another major manufacturer).

Buy from Alpkit and the price is what you pay – no shopping around for bargains. This didn’t used to be a problem as their stuff was priced so competitively.1

 

The bag I have does have shortcomings as well. The two main issues I had are: The cord to cinch the hood had been stitched into the bag (as I couldn’t wait for the next batch, I just cut the cord and knotted it). It’s not a major problem in itself, but does possibly indicate slipshod workmanship or poor quality control. The other thing is that they don’t vary the amount of filling in the sizes, So the small is warmer than it should be and the large has a couple of panels that could really do with a bit more filling as it’s stretched that bit further. I didn’t mind paying a bit more for a long, but I was a bit annoyed when I found this out – I expected that they would be standardised across the range.

 

I like my SH800 and it has served me really well. It’s much lighter and packs far, far smaller than a synthetic bag. It lofts to a ridiculous amount. It’s kept me warm in the snow, toasty in the autumn and I’ve used it in the height of summer too. I’d love to say I’d buy another and would have, but with the price hike it puts the SkyHigh range uncomfortably close to the big brands..

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There is nothing inside this bag, It really does loft to this thickness!

 

1  (sometimes they have clearance on some items. when it comes to sleeping bags however, It only applies to seconds, or ones with minor defects.. They’ve had such a good name and offered such great value that they often sell out within a few days of getting stock).

Friday, 2 September 2011

Review: Fiskars K40 Vs Gerber Crucial knife

 

FiskarsK40KnifeBlog

I’m Pitting two very different knives against each other. One is a fixed blade with sheath. The other a folding knife/plier combo.

 

 

First, the Gerber Crucial. This is a folding knife and contains a blade with a blunted tip with scalloped serrations. There are two screwdriver heads, a mini crab style clip and a pair of pliers with several gripping surfaces including wire cutters.

GerberCrucialBlogBlade

The clip opening is reversed, which cleverly allows you to open your bottles with it.

I’ve had this knife for a good 6 months or so and it’s been walking, camping, used in the car and house. The knife has retained it’s edge and the tools have all worked well. They lock positively in place with a liner style lock, easily used one handed for the blade. The posi drive screwdriver is a little odd as it is narrowed, but works well, even on larger screws. The flat blade is large and feels indestructible but was difficult to open on my sample.

The pliers grip particularly well and the wire cutters have worked well, but did struggle slightly with multi-strand wires.

It feels substantial, heavy even. But put it on the scales and it tips in around 140g which is similar to other brand’s take on this style of knife.

GerberCrucialBlogPliers

 

 

The Fiskars K40 is a completely different beast. It’s a fixed blade, with No serrations, tools or gadgets. But this means that it can concentrate on being just one thing. Being sharp. FiskarsK40KnifeBlogBlade

I have to say I was weary of this knife at first as the handle is the hollow type that Fiskars tend to favour. I’ve tried to wreck it (through use – I haven’t run over it or blown it up) and it faired well. It retained its edge well and the 10cm blade is still seated solidly

What is the K40’s coupe de grace to make you consider it for your pack?.. It weighs a surprisingly svelte 70g.BigYellowTeapot

I already own a knife similar to this, a high carbon steel knife which is also excellent but requires more care, due to the type of steel it’s made from. The Fiskars knife uses Stainless steel, so it’s easier to look after, making this a better choice for beginners, infrequent users or anyone camping on the coast.

 

 

Which knife would I use?

For wild camping the K40 has the ‘edge’ (ho ho!) due to it’s light weight and a fixed blade can be used more confidently. Maybe you suddenly feel the need to carve a spoon, or make a pan stand. This knife can do this for you. The extra weight of the Crucial does give the advantage of pliers to grip a pan, but a decent pair of plastic pan grips weigh less, and grip more firmly. For wild camping, the driver heads and bottle opener/clip are essentially dead weight in your pack

If I was car camping, I’d simply take both.

If I owned a caravan or were simply walking I would take the crucial. The built in tools would come into their own and this would be a handy piece of kit that looks and is much less threatening than the K40.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A wild camp in the Peak District (A bumper post).

 

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I've returned from a camp in the peaks.. I've tried a few new things and I've tested the "extra weight = extra fun?" theory to the full.

The post is a long one. So, If you’ve time, kick back with a brew and read on.

 

A while ago I rang my mates and asked if they fancied another wild camp in the peaks...

We were supposed to be having a full day on the hill but the best laid plans and all that.. One of the lads couldn't start early cos he would be drinking heavily the night before, then he had to pull out entirely. That left James and I.. Then due to an accident at home, we didn’t get to set off till late.

 

This was going to be "Wild Glamping" (if there is such a thing). For tea we would have garlic mushrooms to start. Then large Rib Eye steaks, flame grilled on an open fire with ember roasted new potatoes and toasted garlic ciabatta bread for the main.

All this would increase the weight we'd have to carry, but would it be worth it?..

On the day, as we ended up leaving very late (not hitting the hill until about 4 o'clock). We'd decided on a smash and grab approach, as we'd got the extra weight and because we were setting off so late in the day.

There's an unconscious exodus from the hills. So when we passed the last straggler (about 4:45, a lone man on the trail). We had a big section of the park to ourselves. We’d managed to get fairly pleasant weather to this point. Not too windy with some sun peeking through the clouds. It was another lazy wander over the tops, stopping at whim to enjoy the scenery.

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This area of the peaks did another great job of trying to impress. The hills here look bigger than they are, green verdant valleys and khaki tops. 

As we travelled along the edge, we were attacked by large black flying insects.. like flying ants, but much too large. Maybe they were beetles.. I'm not sure. They were everywhere for a good way and we were worried we'd be pestered everywhere. Thankfully they slowly petered out.

As we were admiring a local landmark from above, the rain came in. The rain was heavy, but thankfully it stopped almost as soon as it started so we were only wet for a little while. We came to where I'd decided we'd come down the hillside, which proved to be a problem. It was very, very steep. We zig-zagged down the hill (it was steep enough that you could reach across to the floor, steadying yourself on the hill. Trying to stay on clumps of heather (which offered better traction than wet grass), we slowly made our way down the side of the valley.

As we came through the heather I noticed that the hillside was covered in (I think) bilberry's.. We didn't try them in case I'd got it wrong, but they looked tasty.. I’ll have to make sure I go walking with someone who knows his (or her) stuff when it comes to wild plants..

A little way down, we'd drifted a little way off course and I decided to contour on a small path / sheep trail, but before we'd attempt this the decision was made to stop for a quick breather Where I took this photo, you can see how wide the path is and the slope of the hill.

DSCF1126Blog

We found the woods I was looking for. We continued into through the warmer, calmer wood. Although the hill was at an insane angle all the way to where we would go across. Leading to where we would camp for the night. For a short while, it seemed we'd missed our spot, but my internal compass had done me proud. We came into the camp, bang on line and in time to set up, get a fire going and start on the food before dark (and it is dark here - miles from and with with no line of sight to, any street lights, in the bottom of a steep valley.. DO NOT FORGET YOUR TORCH IN A PLACE LIKE THIS)!

The fire was completely hassle free. I have to admit that last year, I'd made a bit of an ass of myself. I have one of those flint firelighters, i use to light my stove and similar and I was determined to start a fire with it.. I failed miserably and had to resort to using a bit of tissue and a gas lighter..

There was none of it this time though.. I'd heard about making a firelighter by wiping cotton wool in Vaseline.. I'd done a few, opening them so the Vaseline would sit in the middle and then folding them closed again. 4 good size buds were enough to fill a Kinder egg without crushing them.

It lit on the second spark, and burnt with a big, hot, long lasting flame, which grew quickly into a decent size fire.

DSCF1131Blog

My esteem renewed, we started on the food. We boiled new potatoes in a pan, put the steaks on a BBQ I’ve had for a while, which is perfect for camping (I’ll do a separate post on this, It’s a handy bit of kit). Jim got the bread slathered in garlic butter and toasting on a stick on the edge of the fire. Once the potatoes were cooked through, Jim fried off the mushrooms in garlic butter (we ended up with one large main course). While we ate the steak etc. I put the potatoes on the grill to blacken.

To pull off all this fresh food, I’d saved a couple of shoe boxes form the girls (child size 6 if you care) and inside each went a steak my local butcher had vac sealed, some of the potatoes, a blister pack of garlic butter from Morrison's, some mushrooms, one ciabatta roll and a couple of rashers of bacon (again vacuum packed by the local butcher). By doing it this way, everything was fresh, and the lids of the shoe box became the plate, going into the fire when we’d finished eating..

It all tasted great, washed down with a couple of bottles of wine – There’s something really satisfying about red meat and red wine. It really is good for the soul.

Now, I’d mentioned in my previous posts that I was going to try something that could shave Kilo’s of my pack weight.. I was going to sleep in a hammock.

Now I didn’t know if it would work at all, armed only with the information I had found on the net and a hammock I procured from TK Maxx for the princely sum of £12 (about half price, which is still cheap for a hammock).

When slung properly a hammock is very comfortable. There no need for a pillow, it doesn’t matter if the ground is even (or even if there is any ground) but it does need somewhere to attach it to. Handily, we were sleeping in a wood, so It only took a few minutes to put up (if you don’t count my false starts Winking smile) and a couple more to put a tarp over the top. (you could use a bivi bag instead, but I don’t own one). Et Voila. You have somewhere to sleep.

Did it work? Well, as you’ve guessed, it wasn’t entirely successful. I’d neglected to use my mat under the sleeping bag and this was a mistake. Wind chill takes heat out of your back very quickly, so I was cold. The hammock was cheap, so the cordage was nylon, which stretches. So I ended up with my feet higher than my head.

I could have jumped out, shortened the cords and blown up my mat, but as I was cold, I just huddled deeper into my bag. Pretending I was OK and Sleeping fitfully till I got up at 7 (that’s practically the middle of the night to me).

Would I use it again? I would, but I would either use my mat, or take some bubble wrap (which I suspect would work just as well to insulate my torso, as it doesn’t have to take the lumps out of the floor) and I’d hang it tighter than I thought it needed to be, to allow for sag in the night.

I think it could work well, and be really comfy… But a bit of practice or someone with experience is a definite advantage here.

As for the ‘more weight=more fun’ maxim, If I’d not taken the tent then the pack would only have been marginally heavier than normal as the hammock weighs about 600g. (and the tent 2Kg). The steaks and stuff must have weighed about a kilo and the BBQ weighs about 650g (though as no gas or stove is needed, you could offset this weight as well if you didn’t mind starting a fire in the morning for brews and breakfast). It was well worth the weight of the grub. The BBQ was handy, but I suppose you could use sticks to suspend the meat over the fire to cook if you wanted.

Having steak et all, cooked on a fire was great and I would do it again. For me, it was worth carting every gram if it. I know people who would disagree, but I’d be as smug as a very smug thing, watching them eat dehydrated rations, while I tucked into a big, juicy, steak..

 

We did have a bit of drama with the route, but this time, it was the route out. We decided to walk out of the valley, and round, rather than over the top. It was born of pure laziness on our part, which backfired majestically.. The route, which I’d expected to be longer, turned out to be an endurance test that took over 4 1/2 hours for that section on it’s own. Through driving rain, then when we were nice and damp, bright hot sunshine. All the time walking into traffic flying along a busy A road.. It went on and on and… I always forget that roads are incredibly boring to walk on. I also forget how hard on the feet tarmac is as well..

No food left and what was left of the water ran out near the end (until i got close enough to refill my filter from a reservoir).

 

To make up for this, we stopped for a pint and a bowl of chips on the way back.. Perfect!

PintBlog

Saturday, 23 July 2011

So. It's all over. The shuttle has landed for the last time and from my perspective it seems to have been more of a wimper than a bang.
All the time it was there, not once did it pass over at night. So I didn't see it either.
I'm sure the new capsules will be capable, but honestly... They are not a proper spaceship... Rust in peace my friends, I will miss you.

On a brighter note, I'm finally off into the hills again. I've two weeks off so there will be some time spent getting out there.
I've also got some new kit to review and I'm going to run some skills posts.. It's going to be busy for a while.. :)

Thursday, 7 July 2011

STS-135.

It is not the beginning. It is not the end of the beginning. It is the beginning of the end.

 

It all began on the 12th of April 1981. The same year brought us the launch of MTV MTV-Logo.svgAT-AT(1st August). Billy Idol and Phil Collins launched their solo career. For Christmas, the big ones (I remember) were: The The AT-AT walker from The Empire Strike back (film released in 1980) , The Big Yellow Teapot and The Masters of the Universe figures.BigYellowTeapotMotu_logo

 

This is Archive BBC footage of the first Shuttle launch (Columbia, mission STS-01).

 

If you didn't know, Tomorrow (Friday 08/07/2011) at around 3:26pm (GMT), (*EDIT from Thursday evening: Due to poor weather, the launch may now not take place until Sunday) The Space Shuttle Atlantis will become the last Shuttle to go into space.

The shuttle has been around for most of my life. It inspired me as a child. At at time when a lot of people started to ask if we really are alone out there. I sat in the garden looking at the stars. I’d watch the moon chasing us in the car and I really, really wanted a ride on the shuttle (and still do. I’d go in a heartbeat). It horrified me when things went wrong (challenger in ‘86 and Columbia in ‘03).

In films, the shuttle has saved the planet from asteroids in Armageddon, rogue satellites in Space Cowboys, taken James Bond to space in Moonraker and even put a group of kids in orbit (Space camp). It did all this, with just 1MB of ram.. A toaster probably has more memory these days.

Without the shuttle, the Hubble telescope would either not have happened, be nowhere near as large. It would probably still be short sighted, even if it had made it into space.

I felt it was a small step back when Concorde was retired, but this is one giant leap back for mankind. It really affects me on a personal level. I can’t describe how sad I feel. Damm, I’m gonna be drunk for the landing..

The official NASA countdown clock is HERE:

 

Now. YOU!.. over the next couple of weeks, you have the chance to see the shuttle - in space. All you need is a pair of binoculars (or better - a small telescope), a clear evening and this site: HEAVENS-ABOVE. Put in your location, and it will tell you when to look, where to look and how long you should be able to see it for.

If you do manage to see it, please leave me a comment below, or give the image on my Facebook page HERE: a ‘like’. I’d love to know people from around the world are as saddened as me about the loss of this incredible machine.

Make the most of it my friends, It won’t be around for long.

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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

News: THE next big thing in outdoor clothing?

 

Have you ever heard of Jason Locklin? No? me neither.. He’s a researcher for theJasonLocklin_UGa University of Georgia and he may have just made a quantum leap for outdoor clothing.

He’s discovered a way to make an anti microbial treatment that doesn't wash out, even on a hot wash cycle. So you're socks will stay fresh and you should be able to whip off your shirt, wash your pits, shirt back on and into the pub.

Apparently the technology is also re-applicable, so if it’s removed by abrasion, you should be able to re-treat your clothes.

 

Even more interestingly but seemingly down-played, it’s stated that: "It can change a material’s optical properties—color, reflectance, absorbance and iridescence and make it repel liquids. All without changing other properties of the material.” (Gennaro Gama, UGARF senior technology manager).

How true all this remains to be seen, but if it is as good as they say, there could be a serious new player on the the market in the next couple of years.. If the tech isn’t picked up by another company…

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Barn Farm Campsite, Birchover.

 

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Last weekend I went camping at Barn Farm in Birchover. While sat there in the rain I realised I’m being too hard on myself. I may not be able to be out there every day, but I WetTarpBlognever had time to do that. I may not be able to go to the lakes at a moments notice, but I do perhaps feel I’ve been avoiding going out to some places because I felt like they would be boring to you.

It’s a bit stupid and it’s not true. If it was, why would there be so many people out there this weekend. Family's, DoE groups, Lone backpackers, Teenagers, middle aged caravan owners and older.

We were there because this is what we enjoy. The first day we were there, it was wet. Really, really wet by the time I was in my sleeping bag. but it didn’t matter. The tarp I’d thrown between the two tents kept us mostly dry and my son had his first taste of real freedom, being allowed anywhere on (quite a big) site, as long as he told me where he was going first. I barely saw him except when he was hungry.

He’d come running past with several friends he made, in and out of each other’s tent’s (if he turned up in you’re tent, even for just a few minutes, thank you. You made his weekend).

There was one family In a dark blue transit van. Inside someone had made some caravan style bed/bench seats out of chipboard, with a caravan awning on the side. It may not have look like a bought caravan, but it did look damm comfy (if a bit darker). I applaud anyone who tries stuff like this. Without backyard tinkerers there’d never have been a caravan industry for people to buy from anyway.

 

The site itself is a big one. 4 fields, each one a good size. This did mean that the toilets were often in demand, but you rarely had to queue for more than a minute or two.CamppBarnFarmBlog

The showers are hot (and surprisingly, free). The busy toilets are cleaned regularly and I’ve never known them be out of loo roll. They’re building a small shop (not yet finished) and there’s a laundry and games room for the kids. There’s two pub’s close by, both of which have a good reputation for their beer and a small village shop that carries the usual essentials.

If you want a walk, there’s a several stone circles and standing stones nearby (I wanted to visit these, but with the weather being so unpredictable we skipped these for the sake of the kids and went to Bakewell instead). The Limestone Way  also runs fairly close to the village.

There’s also Matlock as well as Bakewell, nearby for shopping. There’s the heights of Abraham, or If you like old houses (or it’s forecast to chuck it down all day) Haddon Hall is only a short car ride away..

A word for those with camera’s.. one of the alpaca’s has a ‘stealth cloak’ and is therefore unphotographable, coming out only as a silhouette Winking smile

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So, Yes, I like this site. It can be very busy and finding it in a car is a navigational pain in the ass, but it’s worth it.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

I’m ending my Hiatus.

 

I’ve not been posting for a while. Partly because imageI’ve been really busy. The kit I've acquired I’m not yet discussing, because… That’s part of a story I’m going to tell later in the year. It’s a bit of a secret for now.

My son’s been away with his granddad, so I’ve been a bit down. I haven’t had time to go out, or take photos.

I have done lots of planning, for future trips. But only in my head, in the car, at lunch at work, or while I’m laid in bed unable to sleep (I’m a bit of an insomniac) But these are half formed, and would be boring to hear about.. I’ve heard nothing on the grapevine, nor seen a revolutionary piece of kit.

In short, There’s nothing been happening. How do I make that interesting?

 

I am however going away this weekend with my son. It’s gonna be great to get back under canvas (ok, laminated plastic thread), stretch out with the cool air on my face. I always wake better in the morning in a tent. I’m also borrowing a tent, so I’ll give my opinions on that as well.

 

 

I liked the last quote, so I’m gonna give you another..

 

“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”
Charlotte Bronte

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Hmm.. I’m having a bit of a lull.

I’ve not managed to get out recently, I’ve not got time to review kit in the evenings and my muse seems to have left me.

Don’t worry though. I’ll be doing to review on a popular piece of kit over the next couple of days and there’s a particular walk I want to (and will be) covering soon..

 

I’ll leave you with the words of the American Playwright, Thornton Wilder:

" It’s when you’re safe at home that you wish you were having an adventure. When you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home. "

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Is more expensive gear better?

 

Years before, a lot of kit was just old army gear. There was a small, elite market, but this was very expensive, often custom made. The preserve of the well off, going to the alps, or further afield. Slowly, through the last half of the century things slowly got better. LitchfieldCombat1Blog

When I used to camp in the 80’s I had a Litchfield combat 1 (a small, one man ridge tent). It has a cotton inner and that woven plastic floor you find in family tents now. It weighs a whopping 3 1/4 kilo’s (and that’s without pegs). But It’s double skin and it’s bomb-proof. There’s no porch, in fact the front door is part of the inner, made of nylon. The fly just covers the edges of the door, but it does it’s job perfectly.

When I was in my mid-late teens in the 90’s, my mate bought a dome tent. It had lightweight poles and the fabric came from NASA. We decided to go out one weekend. I took my old steel-poled ridge tent. A duvet to sleep on and a caravan sleeping bag I’ve had as long as I can remember. This was everything I used to take with me, that wasn’t in my pockets. I’d roll the tent and duvet in the sleeping bag and tie it off with an old belt to carry it with.

When we pitched up it was a bit windy, and raining. While we were in the pub, we could hear the rain on the windows increasing. By the time the pub had kicked us out, It was horrendous. The rain sounding like a drum and base track on the fly. The tent snapping in the howling winds. I laid there thinking that it wouldn’t be long before my tent was ripped away from me and I would have to hide in my mates car.

We had also, perhaps unwisely, decided to take our girlfriends with us.. It turned out that being in a tent in a gale is not an aphrodisiac for most women..

When I got up in the morning, It was glorious. The clouds had gone, the sun was out and it was shaping up to be a cracking day. There was the sound of shuffling from my mates tent and his head popped out, squinting into the morning sun. I said something about how the weather had improved. “yeah, it got better around 6”.. “why did you get up at 6?” I asked.. He hadn’t.. He was still trying to get to sleep. The tent with it’s high spec, lightweight features flattened completely in the wind, slapping him in the face. Before popping back up when the wind dropped, showering him with condensation.. Mine may had been noisy, but I (and my girlfriend at the time) had slept.

 

Is It really fair to compare an older, heavier, less roomy and less expensive tent in this way? of course not. But I still do.. How often do people tell you that for ‘x’ feature, you have to make a compromise?

There are compromises in everything that is outdoor related. It’s lighter - but isn’t waterproof. It’s smaller - but won’t fit anyone over the age of 11. It’s more economical - but takes an ice age to do a job. It’s really cheap - but badly made, heavy, not waterproof and an awful colour

 

This is where common sense comes in. If something is smaller, lighter and more economical, it may well become a worthwhile piece of kit. But if it disturbs your sleep, or makes you uncomfortable I just don’t think it’s worth it. Sometimes it really is worth justifying the extra cost and sometimes there is a genuine bargain to be had.

I also tend to have the heaviest pack. I’ll be the one that adds a tarp, so when we’re sat around in typical English weather, there’s something to sit under. I’ll take extra chocolate, or cooking spices, or a bigger cook set. Maybe it’s taking a small cook set, when no-one else bothers. I know these things slow me down, but I’d rather be half an hour behind and have a brew in the sunset, than be watching it from the car park, getting ready to go home.

So be proud when you are the one with the heavy bag.

You will be the one with the iPod to listen to, the book to read (and a lantern that you can actually see your book by). You are the one with the thicker, softer sleeping mat. You are the one who will sleep, not the one who gets slapped in the face by his kit……

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Defining your moments.

Think back over your life and I’m sure you’ll have lots of memories you can call on. Your first girlfriend (or boyfriend), The first time you bought beer in a pub, your children being born and the first time you.. umm.. Well, you get the idea.

How often do you know in that instant that you’ll remember it forever?

When you think about it, your defining moments were usually chaotic, emotional times and you were so busy doing whatever it was, you just didn’t realise it for what it was.

 

I know what you’re gonna say… But just think about it for a moment.

When my first was born, people said beforehand that I would never forget seeing him for the first time and that’s true… But I didn’t think “I’m gonna remember this forever” at the time.. I was too busy counting toes, checking the missus was ok and generally worrying, to have the realisation right then and there..

It’s a bit like realising you are dreaming, while you are dreaming.. Or knowing, just as the ball leaves your foot, that it’s going to be a goal.. It just doesn’t happen very often.

 

I’ve had a few of these moments though.

I was on the top of Bleaklow one one such occasion almost a year ago. I can still feel the wind rushing past my face, through my hair and whipping my clothes. At the time, the clean feeling I had bordered on the spiritual. I can’t describe what I felt inside, but right there, at that exact moment, I knew I’d never forget it.. I knew that I’d have that memory for the rest of my life.

Later, that same day, I was sat round a fire with two of my closest friends, drinking wine and swapping stories. Not the normal, down the pub, guess what happened today stuff, but genuinely interesting stories (and I’m aware I sound slightly vomit-worthy).

I hear the music coming from one of the phones, the crackle of the fire, the colour of the wine and the gentle smell of pine as strongly as if it were happening now. It wasn’t just me either. One of my friends commented later on this exact same thing.  (original post here)

 

So why am I telling you this?..

These are not all moments that just happen. Some were created and shaped with planning, foresight and a little luck. A favourite trick of mine is to work out roughly how long the walk will take and set off at a time that means you’ll hit one of the tops at sunset. It won’t happen every time, but when it does fall right, it’ll hit you like a freight train.

(TIP: A GPS is a help here, because it will show your ETA, you can see if you need to pick up the pace a bit, or stop and chill out for a while before carrying on. My Garmin also displays sunrise and set times for your geographical location as well).

So. Boldly go and stretch yourself. Being slightly out of your comfort zone makes normal memories slightly sweeter anyway. With a bit of luck, you’ll realise that you’ve just scored a goal, even while you’re still kicking the ball.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

I Know that you’re disappointed..

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I tend to post my thoughts on a Tuesday.

I have this great post, half written.. But as I’m completely human, I’ve put down the laptop, Picked up the beer and watched a film my wife wanted to see. If you haven't seen ‘Burlesque’, It’s a fantastic film, where Christina Aguilera wanders around half naked for most of it.. Highly, highly recommended…

Sadly as a result of my excesses I’m a bit.. perpendicular (if you’re a boy from the ‘Dwarf’, you’ll get the reference).

I’ll get back onto the proper post as soon as I'm sober enough to re-write it.

 

 

SMAKIBBFB Winking smile.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Starbucks ‘VIA’ Ready Brew Coffee.

 

CoffeeBlog

I got one of these to try. It’s a combination of finely ground coffee beans and instant. It looks and smells like proper fresh coffee, but isn’t.

You use the measuring spoon (in the bottom of the lid – see photo) and add water (with milk and sugar if you want it). That’s all you need to do.

CoffeeOpenBlog

Ok, so it’s not quite the same, but it’s as close as you’re gonna get to filter coffee without popping home. I like it and the Mrs also thinks it’s good. There’s a good hit of caffeine in there, so it’s no idle pretender either.

The can has 24 servings in it and costs around £7.

It’s pricey, but for the odd special cup, or for use when camping, I’ll be buying more.

A parable for the technologically dependant.

 

PoliceHeliBlog

I fell asleep on the settee again the other night. Normally I am awoken from my downstairs slumber for a variety of reasons. In winter it is usually the room, having had the heating turned off hours before, is now fast approaching sub zero temperatures. On other nights, I’ll be woken slowly but painfully, as my body reminds me that I’m not 17 anymore and that sleeping upright will hurt.

But this Tuesday, at around three in the morning, I was awoken by the roar of a t-rex, an earthquake and the sound of screaming.. It was (and this is because I instinctively knew I was awake), quite Terrifying.

It turns out the local constabulary were chasing someone. I have no idea who. But they decided that at three in the morning they needed to use their sirens and that having the helicopter hovering  over slumbering houses is a splendid idea.. Now if criminals were caught, I wouldn’t mind being awoken so rudely. but in all the times I’ve been a victim of crime, they never got whoever did it.. Not once.

 

 

I remember, sometime shortly after the millennium I was working on a local retail park. The building I was working in began to rattle quite badly. When we ran outside, It was apparent why. There was a police helicopter over the top of it. Why it was there though, beggars' belief.

It turns out that a short while before, a gent was caught nicking lip salve from that most exotic of emporiums, Superdrug.. A member of staff caught him and called the security based on the retail park. While the security escorted ‘the accused’ through the back of the store, they passed a fire exit and he not surprisingly, legged it. Security radioed to the main office and asked the guy there to call the local police.

The guy in the security office, was new to the job and he botched this rather badly. Instead of calling and giving a code to the police saying the thieving git has legged it, he gave the code for Holy Sh*t! Send Everyone!…

So they did… Squad cars, Chase cars, Cars with Inspectors in, Vans with dogs In, A riot van and of course, a helicopter.

 

So what does our criminal mastermind do to evade capture?..

He jumped into the canal, swam across and walked away. No officer follows him into the canal. The cars are locked into the traffic outside the shops and the helicopter is too busy blowing sheet steel of the shop roofs to notice he’s gone. I like to think he flicked some V’s just before throwing the ‘evidence’ into the canal and disappearing into a nearby patch of scrubland.

 

He was caught though.. By the local beat cop, who knew who he was and where he lived.. In the end, all they had to do was knock on his door and escort him to the station – though they didn’t know that at the time…

 

It was a comedy of errors, compounded by inexperience and over-reliance on technology. This is why you should know how a map and compass work, rather than hoping your GPS and phone will bail you out..

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Worn to destruction: Alpkit Jeanius Jeans.

AkitJJeansBlog

It is with sadness I have to mark the passing of one of my all time, most used bit’s of kit: Alpkit’s Jeanius Jeans.

This amazing piece of kit was misunderstood from the start. They were intended to be
water resistant jeans for climbers. Soon there were stories of ‘waterproof jeans’ but they never were meant to be fully waterproof.

When new, water would bead and run off and the jeans would stay dry – for a while. In heavy rain though, they’d eventually wet out. The waterproofing in the material also eventually washed out or wore off (what ever happened, they stopped being waterproof). They were also sweaty compared to normal jeans, that silicon coating on the fibres allowed the fabric to be breathable, but not as much as a normal pair of jeans. Although they kept out the wind well, I always thought it felt like the treatment had left the fabric more conductive to the cold.

People started to turn away, feeling let down by all the hype (that Alpkit had not created, but didn’t do much to dispel). My pair beaded for about 3 months, didn’t get too wet for about 9 months and then (and up till they died) they just dried much, much faster than ‘normal’ jeans. (Mine once got soaked while on the tops, by the time I was back down, they were dry again!).

Why did I love them so?

They dried very quickly.. That meant they were a feasible alternative for normal walking trousers. They were stretchy (remember – they were designed for climbers) and they wore incredibly well.

These are the only pair of jeans I’ve had, that haven’t worn through on the knee’s. I have worn these jeans on a pretty much daily basis for the last 2 1/2 years. They have been over top of kinder (thigh deep in peat), Scrambled up rocks in them, they’ve been in the sea, full of sand, in the snow, in the sun, lounged in, wet, dry, up, down, left and right. They have been with me like a favourite jacket, or a wallet.

I am, as you guessed, very attached to these.. They have lost a little colour along the way, there’s a small hole in that little pocket that never gets used. But they still fitted, did not lose their shape and most of the stitching is still binding everything tight.

So.. what went wrong? The button on the button fly has fallen off, meaning I now look like I’ve permanently forgotten to fasten them..

AkitJJeanButtonBlog

I note that the Alpkit website no longer lists these as an item. There was some talk a while ago of these being re-launched. For the moment though, there’s no news as to whether they will make a comeback (I presume Alpkit are busy trying to perfect their new tent range at the moment).

So here’s a glass raised to a misunderstood but excellent piece of kit, Alpkit’s Jeanius Jeans!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Review: Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Series Ultimate Knife

BGKside_Blog

Phew! What a title.. Bringing us to a a new piece of kit  I've been given to review, A knife made by Gerber.. The knife Mr Grylls thinks we need.

I’m very wary of kit that has a star’s name stamped on it. More often than not, It’s an excuse to ramp up the price and drop the quality. But bear with me on this piece of kit – it caught me by surprise.

 

BGKsigBlogFirst let’s get, what is for me, the biggest shortcoming out of the way.. Yes. It is serrated… I’m not normally keen on serrations, because they either can’t be sharpened, or are really difficult to sharpen. There is a good reason for them on this blade though. It makes the knife easier to use on a wider range of materials (If you’ve ever tried to slice bread with a fine edged kitchen knife, you’ll know what I’m talking about).

The knife is made from ‘High Carbon’ Stainless Steel, is 12.19 cm long (that’s 4.8 inches for those of us who use such things) and weighs 318g (417g with the sheath).

It feels right, in the hand. Balanced, with a full tang. In photos it does look a bit full on – a bit of a GI Joe, Rambo knife. In your hand it becomes the right size. Larger than a Mora perhaps, but still well proportioned. The grip is rubberised and very positive. This isn’t a knife that will slip out of your hand under hard use. It’s also drilled so you can more securely lash it to a stick and make a spear.

BGKheldBlog

 

BGKfiresteelBlogThe Fire steel included in the sheath body works well and  is capable of starting fire in tinder (tested). In fact, It felt slightly more effective than my ‘light my fire’ fire steel, although that could be down to inconsistencies in the tinder I used. It also has a little rubber seal to keep out any sideways rain.

The sheath is well made, and has several features of it’s own. It can be threaded onto a belt or on a strap that runs vertically. The knife itself is held in place with a Velcro strap and a clip on the knife guard, which strengthens what I’m calling the ‘tactical’ feel of the knife. Yet again though, this is a useful feature, reducing the chance of losing the knife and making a more positive ‘home’ feeling when drawn or sheathed. When another Velcro strap further down is undone the blade guard flips over, revealing a sharpening stone on the back.

BGKsharpstoneBlogThis brings me to a minor, but annoying niggle. The blade wasn’t that sharp when I got it, meaning I had to pull out the water stones to sort it out.. Happily for the purpose of the review this meant I could attack it with the stone on the sheath first to see if it is up to the job.

This is not a fine grit stone for getting a fine finish to the blade. It will however repair a damaged, blunted or nicked blade to a useable level out in the wild. It’s a steel plate with diamond finish, rather than a stone, meaning it’ll be pretty much impossible to break.. (After I’d used the stone in the sheath, I used my own water stones and the blade did sharpen enough to shave hairs off my arm, so another tick in another box).

 

BGKwhistleBlogI’m not keen on the whistle on the short lanyard on the handle. I know this is most likely to be the only piece of kit I may have to use here in the UK if things did go wrong, but it feels like an afterthought and always seemed to be in my way. The cord is also not long enough so that it could be slipped around the wrist to prevent the knife being dropped, which is one of the main reasons for a rear lanyard. Although this could easily be cut off (and reattached elsewhere), I’m not that comfortable bringing an unsheathed knife to my face when I’m in trouble.. If I’m dazed, hypothermic and shivering or panicking, this could cause an accident.

 

BGKhammerBlogFinally, that leaves the ‘hammer’ in the pommel or butt of the knife.. There are disturbing reports on the net that this can be smashed off.. Gerber states this problem was limited to early runs of the knife and has now rectified this, but it’s worth being aware to stay clear of older stock, or only use this part of the knife if needed – you wouldn’t use your normal knife as a hammer.. Right?

 

 

BGKpointBlogI started to realise that I’d been looking at this knife all wrong. The clue is in the title. Although it may make you laugh at first with it’s pomposity, It’s a knife designed to save your life, to be used in extreme situations, but for a price a normal person can afford. If I really was stranded a ’la Bear in the Patagonian mountains, this would excel. I can’t think of anything else that covers so many situations or eventualities, but still performs each function in a useable way.

I like this knife. It snuck up on me and surprised me at my most cynical. It ticks every box for a remote wild camp and even looks good to boot.

Is the £62 price tag justified though? Well.. Yes.

Considering you get the fire steel and sharpener, then it may not be a bargain – but it is value for money.

 

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

From a big bit of water, to a small one.

AlportTarnBlog

Last Friday I went out with a couple of friends to Alport Castles. I’ve been meaning to get here for some time, not having made it when I was in Alport valley last time.

I’ve been promising to take my boy out for a while as well, so I took ben, my friends and their little girl. To make things easier for them, I cut the route down as much as possible and took a simple way up and off the hill.

When I arrived at Ladybower Reservoir, the water was completely calm, like a mirror. It was cool, but not cold. I had made the decision that I would (hold breath for effect)… Wear trainers and jeans! It was the way to go. The weather forecast was perfect, the weather had been dry for a while and the really peaty bits were paved.

LadybowerCalmBlog

The start is a gravel track that runs from the back of the ‘Bridge end’ car park. It’s quite steep, but was manageable for the kids. It quickly runs up into a picturesque pine wood.

Then, my son started to flag.. I was, to say the least, surprised. This kid never stops. I mean it. He is permanently running around, jumping about and generally creating havoc. Soon he moved from ‘I’m tired’ to ‘I can’t go any further’. We might have covered maybe half a mile. I on the other hand, sit on my ass at work all day, don’t get out anywhere as often as I’d like and I’m full of cold. What was going on?

After some brief cajoling he picked up the pace very slightly and we got underway again with me explaining that when we got out of the forest, the path would get much easier.

When we did get out of the forest, the first thing that struck, was the view. It was outstanding. Clear blue sky on a (now quite hot) spring day. The route followed the top of a field, rutted with land rover tracks. It was not so high that the grass had given way to heather, so it was a lush green carpet for quite some way. The view didn’t seem to change much but as it was spectacular, that didn’t matter much.

DValleyBlog

There was a brief moment of drama when My mate’s girl had a bit of a stumble, but after we confirmed the was no damage, just a bit of (dry and therefore brush-off-able) dirt she was fine. This was in the top of some smaller valley. Just after this we had to negotiate an incredibly high ladder stile.

AlportTopBlog

After a fairly a couple of short breaks, we came to Alport castles. From above it’s impressive, then as you walk down the track, you realise just how big this place is. It is HUGE. I knew it was caused by one of the biggest landslides in the UK, but it really is massive. I had already mentally planned a spot for us to stop and eat. There’s a small tarn just west of the tower. What Google Earth didn’t show was that this spot was sheltered and picture perfect.

There are the remains of a fire pit here, so people have been wild camping here. It maybe a great spot, apart from a couple of issues. The ground is currently so parched that any fire could easily start a big wildfire. I’m not convinced that it’d be a good spot for a fire, even when it’s not as dry as it is currently either.

There were a lot of midges. As soon as I sat down, they were zinging around, annoying me. This was in the hottest part of the day, so in the late afternoon, when you’d be thinking about setting up a wild camp, or in the morning, when you’d be trying to pack up, I reckon they’d be very annoying. At least they weren’t the type that liked to bite.

AlportTarn2Blog

After some food, an Easter egg hunt and some skimming of stones across the water, it was time to start heading back. This was just as beautiful as the way out, although drinking water started to get low, lower and then ran out when we were getting close to the' ‘tallest stile in the area’.. (not verifiedWinking smile) I was still having problems with my son, with him still telling me he was tired, though not as much as on the (uphill) way out.

As we hit the top of the forest track, we stopped and I realised I still had an apple in my bag. Duly split amongst all of us, We wandered back to the car, drove to Ladybower visitor centre, quickly ordered some ice cream and a soft drink. We all sat by the reservoir and a (now sugar’d up) Ben finally perked back up and was running around with gusto again.

Now he confirms he’d love to do it again and I’ve found out why he kept flagging. He’s coming down with a cold as well.

 

 

If you get the chance, this is a great walk, with stunning scenery. Highly recommended by me if you get the chance. It’s also easy to walk and unless you were in a white out, it’d be tricky to get lost.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Review: Fiskars X5 Hand Axe.

FiskarsAxeBlog

A few weeks ago I mentioned I had been given a couple of pieces of kit by Fiskars when I reviewed the retractable saw.

I held this back as I wanted to test it before talking about it. The Retractable saw was easy to test, but I don’t have a tree in the garden to hack down and test the axe with. Thankfully this weekend, my parents needed some judicious ‘pruning’ round the back of their house, so it was the perfect time to test.

As the axe is very small, (about 9-10 inches long and weighing a little less than 500g). It’s advantages and disadvantages are clear cut.

AxeHeadBlog

It’s easy to pack and good for carving with. It’s around 10-15% lighter than comparable makes.

The handle feels nice and grippy, has no flex and and is solid when used. Most of the weight is in the head, with a strike feeling positive. Mine came with a formed plastic case that can be screwed to a wall or tool rack.

DSCF0464

BUT! A small, light axe is not an axe for a novice.

A common error when buying a first axe, is to buy as small, light one.. You aren’t likely  to hurt yourself as badly, Right?

Wrong. Any accident with an axe will most likely involve a visit to the hospital. A small, light axe is more easily twisted or deflected, increasing the chance of an accident.

 

This is no fault of the axe though.

If you are confident with an axe, this is very nice. It cuts very cleanly and comes sharp, but not sharpened if you know what I mean.

AxeLogoBlog

It didn’t stick at all when I was using it, landed where I was aiming every time and didn’t jump or twist in use. It never felt like the head was trying to overtake the bit.

I didn’t fatigue as fast as I expected either, though this might be down to balance and weight as a result of the materials used for the handle.

So. If you are confident using an axe, this is a great buy. If you are looking for a first axe, maybe look at a larger one, perhaps one that would allow 2 handed use and learn how to use it safely.

 

 

NB… Always consider if an axe is the safest tool for the job.