Waterproof document bags and phone screens don’t mix!

Super quick post.

I use a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone as a GPS as it has a nice big screen. To keep it dry I bought an Ortlieb A5 waterproof document bag to keep it in.

Recently the phone became difficult to remove from the bag. The screen stuck to the plastic and, after a few struggles, I gave up keeping it in the case. Afterwards I noticed that the screen was unusually dirty but thought nothing of it, just developed the habit of frequently cleaning the phone with a soft cloth. However, after a few weeks, I took a closer look and noticed something weird.

There are permanent marks on the screen which are only visible when the screen’s dirty. They look like regular greasy patches but after a clean they reappear, identically, as soon as I touch the screen. In sunlight they make the screen very difficult to see.

A google search revealed that smartphone screens (including Samsung’s) have an oleophobic coating that’s lipophobic and hydrophobic. i.e. It repels fingerprints. These coatings can become damaged and it sounds like this is what’s happened to my phone. This kind of damage isn’t covered under warrantee but I’ve managed to save my phone. Cleaning the screen removed the marks and adding a screen protector covered up the damaged areas so they can’t get greasy and reappear. Phew!

Although I can’t be 100% sure that the document case caused the damage it’s the most likely explanation. Ortlieb don’t advertise this case as a phone cover or protector so the product can’t be blamed for what happened. I just want to let people know, probably best not to use these document cases as waterproof phone cases, just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More Wild Country Zephyros 1 Musings

Following on from my rave review, subsequent pole failure, and adventure with Terra Nova customer services, I took my Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent away to Leicestershire for the weekend with the Backpackers Club. With some trepidation that it might not be as reliable or comfortable as I need a tent to be after a long hike.

I’m pleased to report that I’ve fallen in love with this tent all over again. It was reliable, comfortable, and I found a new feature!

We had a big rumble of thunder Friday night and then an almighty downpour for about 10 minutes. After that I can happily confirm my Zephyros is still absolutely watertight after 10 months of use.


Then I was reminded how cosy it is despite the small dimensions.

The inner is rectangular, about the size of a mattress, but there’s an additional triangle of space in the middle at the back. This space is large enough to store a significant amount of gear, including my rucksack, without feeling cramped. The inner sags a bit but not a great deal. The vents at the head and foot help keep it airy. The zip goes right the way down the side and can be opened up and rolled away leaving the whole porch accessible from the inner, an advantage over similar tents that have just a half sized door.

The porch initially looks small but there’s bags of storage space. A gap between the inner and outer at each end can be used for storage and the line that attaches the inner to the fly can be used as a washing line. This can all be easily accessed because the inner zip opens right up to the ends.


All this storage leaves the main porch clear, accentuating the spacious feel of this tent. All in all, rather than feeling cramped inside when the door’s zipped shut, it feels very homely.

And finally I discovered a new thing!

The Terra Nova Laser Competition, which this tent is a cheaper version of, has a neat feature where the ends of the fly can be raised for ventilation.


Now I’m not convinced the Zephyros is designed to do this, but you can vent the ends in a similar way. First unpeg the outer at each end, tuck it up inside, and attach the peg loop to the line between the inner & the outer. Ta da!


I just thought I’d try it after checking out some Laser Comps on the meet and was amazed when it worked. From inside you can see out through the head/foot vents in the inner which is neat. I’ve never had any condensation issues with the Zephyros but on a hot, still night this would be a bonus. Plus it’s useful in the morning to help everything dry off. I was so excited when I discovered it I ran around telling everyone. Sad but true.

So there you go. The Zephyros is back in my good books.

My Backpacking Gear May 2014

I’ve written this blog post because… everyone else is doing it!

Osprey Exos 46 backpack.

Backpack:

I’m currently using an Osprey Exos 46 to carry my gear. The Exos has been updated this year and I picked up this, older version, in a sale. I actually prefer it as there’s plenty of room for all my gear and the newer version has a capacity of 48 litres rather than 46 and hence is heavier. The large number of outside pockets makes grabbing things on the run nice and easy. I keep my waterproofs, the tent, a drinks bottle, snacks, cash, and first kit all on the outside of my bag so that the gear I don’t use during the day is safely tucked away in a waterproof liner in the main compartment and doesn’t get disturbed.

It’s not the lightest backpack on the market (I have the “S” back size and it weighs just over 1Kg) but it does have a solid frame and is of the build quality you’d expect from a company like Osprey. Besides 1Kg is a very reasonable weight. (You’ll notice this is a running theme with my gear: not the lightest but still, reasonably light.) Osprey don’t make a women’s specific version of the Exos but I’ve found this unisex version very comfortable. Some people criticise Osprey for adding too many features which raise the weight unnecessarily. In the Exos I quite like the gimmicks. You can get a drinks bottle out of the side pocket and stow your trekking poles without stopping.

One thing I’ve noticed to be a particularly British trait is to keep the tent on the outside of the bag. This enables pitching in the rain before opening up your rucksack and packing everything away inside the tent on a rainy morning, minimising gear getting wet and/or dropped in mud. It’s a mystery why Brits in particular would be mindful of this. I keep the tent pegs in an outside pocket, the poles in the side pocket, and the tent itself attached to the bottom of the rucksack.

There’s one waterproof liner in the main compartment, a Exped 40L Folding Ultralite Drybag, and some smaller waterproof bags in the outside pockets.

Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent.

Tent:

*** This tent had a failure! Please read blog post Terra Nova Customer Service ***

I wrote about it in my last blog post and here it is again, the Wild Country Zephyros 1. I’ve done some research and can’t find a better deal on a reasonably light solo 3-season tent. I’d like to replace mine with the updated, lighter version but for now it does the trick. My set-up weighs about 1.5Kg including pegs, poles, and bag. (The new version is approx. 300g lighter.)

I don’t bother with a groundsheet. The tent was so cheap and the floor so tough I don’t worry about putting a hole in it, I can always patch it if I do.

Top Row: Toakes Ultralite Solid Fuel Ti Cook System (stove, mug, windshield (not shown), Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Women’s Mattress. Middle Row: Sawyer Mini Water Filter, Headphones, Titanium Folding Spork, 2 x 12″ Nite Ize Gear Ties, Swiss Army Knife, Petzl e+lite Headtorch. Bottom Row: Decathlon Inflatable Pillow, Platypus 500ml Water bottle.

Stove:

Experts say that there are 3 big items you should focus on to reduce the weight you’re carrying. Firstly the backpack itself, secondly the tent, and thirdly the stove. In this third category I’m doing pretty well. My favourite stove is a titanium solid fuel stove, a titanium mug, and a titanium windshield weighing in total about 100g. (Pictured above top left.) It’s made by Toakes and sold as the “Ultralite Solid Fuel Ti Cook System” and it comes with a titanium folding spork and some little bags to keep everything in. It’s only good when I’m solo backpacking due to the size of the mug/pot but it’s a lovely little set-up.

Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag, occupied.

Sleeping System:

Currently I’m using a Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag which weighs 1.04Kg on my scales. I really could do with a lighter one for the summer. Currently it’s used as a quilt in the warmer weather or paired with an Alpkit bivi bag for sub-zero temperatures.

A Thermarest NeoAir Xlite inflatable mattress (355g) and an inflatable pillow from Decathlon which was stupidly cheap and works really well (81g) finish off my sleep system and altogether they’re extremely comfortable.

Viewranger app with OS map and route tracking running on Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Other Bits and Pieces:

Those are the key items but obviously there are lots of other things in my backpack. I mainly use Viewranger maps on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 as a GPS. There’s an mp3 player and headphones to help me sleep if a campsite’s noisy. A spare water carrier (either a 1L or 2L Source collapsable water container), lighter, money, toiletries, etc.

In terms of clothes I take a lightweight Rab waterproof jacket and, if rain is forecast, waterproof trousers. In the summer months I wear a Tiley hat to keep the sun out of my eyes and the rain off my head. In the winter I’ll take a warm hat, gloves, buff, and merino thermal layers. Wet feet on a weekend in Norfolk taught me to always pack a dry pair of socks. Recently I’ve added a cheap pair of cotton shorts to the list to wear inside my tent when my walking trousers are particularly wet and muddy. I also have a Rab insulated down vest that packs down very small and is a real comfort on a chilly evening.

Well there you have it, my kit list. In total it weighs about 6Kg before I add water, food, and fuel for the stove. Definitely not ultra-lightweight but it is on the lighter end of the scale. I’m too fond of my comfort items (mp3 player, tent socks, pillow) to ever get down to ludicrously lightweight so I’m reasonably happy with my reasonably lightweight set-up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Country Zephyros 1 Tent Review

*** This tent had a failure! Please read blog post Terra Nova Customer Service ***

 

This is a review of the original Wild Country Zephyros 1. Terra Nova have released an updated version of this tent, the Zephyros 1 Lite, which is slightly lighter (and slightly brighter). I’m posting a review of this original version because…

  1. Terra Nova are still selling it
  2. At the time of writing it’s on sale at Cotswold Outdoor for £99 which is an absolute bargain for an excellent backpacking tent.

Wild Country Zephyros 1 pitched without the inner.

The Zephyros 1 is a solo 3-season backpacking tent.

It’s an almost direct copy of Terra Nova’s successful Laser Competition 1 and is made by the same company (Wild Country are a cheaper range made by Terra Nova). However there are a few major differences.

  • It’s made from cheaper, heavier materials. Terra Nova claim a packed weight of 0.93Kg for the Laser Comp and 1.57Kg for the Zephyros.
  • The Zephyros comes fully seam-sealed, the Laser Comp needs to be seam-sealed by the customer.
  • The pole sleeve is attached to the tent, unlike the Laser Comp where it’s separate, and this makes it easier to pitch.
  • The Laser Comp costs £330 and the Zephyros 1 costs £120.

I bought mine last year and it’s my go-to tent for the colder, wetter months when I’m solo backpacking. In terms of space I find it tall enough to sit up in (I’m 5’6″) and there’s plenty of room to sleep and cook.

I’ve not found condensation a problem. The inner door is half mesh and there are small mesh panels on the inner at either end. The porch has a 2-way zip so you can open a ‘window’ at the top if extra ventilation is needed (although obviously not when it’s raining).

The porch isn’t massive but there’s room to cook inside. Note: cooking in tents can be very dangerous, not just because of the potential for combining fire and highly flammable fabrics but also the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. I’d advise against using a stove inside a tent unless you have lots of ventilation, are very cautious, and are experienced with the stove you are using. Always have a plan.

The second time I pitched this tent I did it in the dark, in the rain and managed it without too much swearing. Compared to some backpacking tents, where getting the sides taut is an art-form, this is pretty easy. There’s one big pole that goes over the middle and 2 short end poles. The tent comes with the end poles left in when the tent is packed away but I remove them and store them with the main pole. That way the fly & inner can be squished down to a much smaller size without the end poles getting in the way.

I haven’t pitched this tent up a mountain in 50 mph winds but it’s been out in heavy rain and reasonable coastal winds and it’s held tight, no problems or leaks.

The colour is an advantage when wild camping as it’s not too lurid.

My Zephyros 1 on the Isle of Wight Backpacker’s Club trip.

 

Modifications:

A very easy mod is to swap the guy ropes for lightweight dyneema and mini line-loks. There are only 4 guy ropes on the tent so it doesn’t make a great different to the weight but at the same time it’s not a big job to do.

Carry lighter tent pegs. My set includes some light v-shaped pegs that came with a Nemo tent and some titanium ‘ti-pins’. The Zephyros uses 10 tent pegs when completely pitched.

Lose the stuff sacks if you don’t need them.

The door doesn’t stay open very easily with the in-built catches so a peg or clip is useful.

Door held open with clip.

 

Summary:

A great, cheap tent in a popular, well-tested design. Ideal for a solo hiker on a budget.

It’s hard to find fault with this tent. Although it’s a little heavy for a solo tent compared to some other tents on the market it’s a third of the cost. (The set-up I have weighs 1.4Kg not including the pegs.) It’s very sturdy and the Pu Polyester feels stronger than Si Nylon. Not having to seam-seal a tent is a real advantage. A little more room would be nice but there’s plenty of space for one. I only paid £99 for mine and I really feel like I got a bargain. This is a tent I have confidence that I’ll be comfortable in.

Extra option:

Today I pitched the Zephyros without the inner. This tent will pitch with just the fly but the end poles could sink into soft ground. Nick Miles, chairman of the Backpacker’s Club, has suggested using the tops of milk cartons to keep this from happening. In this config, counting just fly sheet and poles, the tent weighs 835g.

Without the inner the end poles could sink into soft ground.

 

Full Specs:

  • Sleeps: 1
  • Season Rating Spec: 3 season backpacking
  • Free standing?: No (tent requires guy lines to be pitched)
  • Minimum Weight: 1.41Kg (3lb 2oz)
  • Packed Weight: 1.57Kg (3lb 7oz)
  • Pitch Time (estimate): 5 mins
  • Number of Porches: 1
  • Number of Doors: 1
  • Pitch Type: Fly and Inner pitch together
  • Pack Size: 52cm x 14cm
  • Flysheet: Pu Polyester R/S 4000mm FR
  • Floor: Pu Polyester R/S 6000mm
  • Poles: 8.5mm Wild Country Superflex Alloy
  • Peg: 10 x Aluminium V-Angle
  • Guylines: 4 x black reflective 2.3mm
  • Inner Door: Half Mesh

Dimensions

Good tents attract small dogs and sunsets…

Quechua Forclaz 300 Women’s Hiking Jacket Review

What Decathlon say:

Protection from the rain and wind, and keeping your body dry while MOUNTAIN HIKING. Waterproof, breathable, and ventilated, the Forclaz 300 L has all the essential properties of an authentic trekking jacket at an absolutely unbeatable price.

  • Waterproofing: 5000mm waterproof NOVADRY membrane. 100% taped seams.
  • Breathability: NOVADRY hydrophilic membrane (RET=12) limits condensation inside the garment.
  • Ventilation: Underarm ventilation zips: aid perspiration wicking.
  • Flexibility: Hood folds into the collar.
  • 2 year guarantee.

It also has the following features.

  • Two reasonably sized hand pockets with zips.
  • Inside pocket with zip.
  • Storm flap over main front zip.
  • Adjustable cuffs via velcro tabs.
  • Adjustable bottom via pull-cord.
  • Adjustable, peaked hood with draw-cord
  • Soft collar and chin protecting fabric over top of zip.
  • L size = 461g

At the time of writing, for sale for £44.99. I bought the jacket on offer for £39.99.

I bought this waterproof jacket for the warmer months to replace my Paramo Velez Adventure Light Smock which is just far too hot and heavy to carry in the Summer. After hunting around and doing some research I’d actually decided I wanted the Rab Kinetic or the Marmot Crystalline.

The Kinetic weighs 220g and the Crystalline 176g! Obviously both much lighter that the Forclaz 300 (461g). However the Kinetic (at the time of hunting) cost £128 and the Crystalline £120 and neither jacket was available to buy in the colour and size that I wanted. So, on the spur of the moment whilst passing time in Decathlon, I bought the Forclaz 300. It was on sale and looked like a bargain.

The Good Stuff:

  • Features of a modern high-end waterproof (see list above) in a cheap jacket.
  • A very flattering and comfortable jacket. Long at the back, fitted at the waist (but not too tight). Long sleeves to keep hands dry.
  • Loose sleeves that can be pushed up or cinched tight. (I can’t stand elasticated wristbands.)
  • Excellent hand pockets for hands or bits and bobs. Also a good-sized inside pocket with a zip that takes a smart phone.
  • The pit zips, sorry “underarm ventilation zips”, are excellent and easy to use one-handed.
  • The colour. My Mum thinks it’s a bit bright but I love the turquoise blue. Reminds me of the seaside.
  • The price. Quite honestly, if I lost or ripped this jacket tomorrow I wouldn’t shed a tear.
  • It’s waterproof!  Like the Quechua tents this jacket is, so far, bombproof.

The Bad Stuff:

  • The hood isn’t perfect. On my Paramo I can move my head around and the hood moves with me and the peak is excellent. On the Forclaz there’s a bit of movement and the peak isn’t ideal.
  • The weight. At 461g it’s not particularly light but then it’s still about 200g lighter than my Paramo and it packs down to about 2/3rd the size.
  • I imagine this isn’t as breathable as a more expensive jacket? I ask this as a question as it’s never something that’s been a particular problem for me since the cagoule I had back in the 80s.

In Summary: I’m really pleased with it. If I could have sourced and afforded a Rab or a Marmot jacket I would have bought one but all my extra money would be getting would be less weight and a smaller pack-size. In terms of features the Forclaz 300 is an excellent waterproof for a remarkably low price.

Aside: It took a month and a half for me to test the waterproofness of this jacket because from the moment I bought it all rain clouds were repelled from me. Including during a weeks walking on Dartmoor! For me that’s worth £40 alone 😉

Rab Women’s Vapour-Rise Lite Alpine Jacket Review

Originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of Backpack, the journal of the Backpackers Club.

 

New for March 2012, a lightweight version of Rab’s popular Vapour-Rise jacket. Breathable, wind/water resistant, quick-drying “soft-shell”. Made from Rab’s Pertex Equilibrium fabric with a tricot fleece lining.


Sizes: 8 – 16

Weight: 290g / 10oz (size 12)

Colours: Beluga (black), Anemone (pink), Aegean (blue)


First impressions are that the Vapour-Rise Lite Alpine is light, soft, and very comfortable. The hood can be rolled up and clipped out of the way. Stuffed into its own pocket it has a pack size of approx. 22cm x 17cm x 12cm.


Loose cuffs at the end of extra long sleeves keep hands warm and dry, or can be tightened with velcro tabs, or pushed up to the elbows in warm weather. The jacket is cut on the small side, particularly around the waist. The length in the torso is good, low at the front and back, which makes the two-way zip indispensable when sitting down.


Having a hood on a soft-shell makes a lot of sense if you want it to be truly useful in the rain. The fully adjustable hood and wired peak maintain excellent peripheral vision. The two outer rucksack-friendly pockets are fairly useless except for the lightest and slimmest of objects but the inside pocket is a unusual bonus on a women’s jacket.


This is a great jacket for middle-of-the-road weather. It stayed dry in a light shower but wetted out on the shoulders and sleeves when tested in a heavy rainstorm (with hail). In a brisk wind it’s a fine protective shell but not warm enough for a very cold day. It’s cooler than a full waterproof and is half the weight (compared to a Paramo Velez Adventure Light).


For an all round lightweight Summer walking jacket this is a winner plus it can also be used as a mid-layer on a colder/wetter day.


Rab


 

Nemo Meta 2P Tent Review

Nemo Meta 2P - cooking in the porch

(Photo by Grant Currin)

Recently we realised that, although our Wild Country Duolite Tourer is an excellent tent, we didn’t have a tent that was light enough for one of us to carry on a solo backpack. The Duolite Tourer weighs 2.95kg, has a reasonably large pack size, and has another disadvantage. With just one exit from the inner and a narrow tunnel shape, getting up requires the other occupant to also be awake (or at least be prepared to be trodden on in the middle of the night).

We were fairly settled on getting a Mini Peak II because of its low weight (1.48kg with the 1-man inner), twin entrances, and large internal size (5.25m2). However it’s only available with the 1-man inner for now and the square based prism shape, with a single apex held up by a single trekking pole*, might be impractical for two.

Having a final scout around I stumbled upon the Nemo Meta 2P.

The Nemo Meta 2P is a lightweight two-man tent held up with 2 trekking poles. On our digital scales at home the Meta weighs 1.55kg including dry-bag stuff-sack, tent pegs, and peg bag (excluding tags

)

The Meta is a hybrid between a tarptent (single-skin) and a tent with an inner. Two sides are single-skin and the front and back have no-see-um (insect proof) mesh between the sleeping compartment and the doors. To combat condensation two long vents run down the sides with another two on each end.

Both front and back have identical entrances and vestibules so both occupants have their own storage space and door. So in the middle of the night when one person needs the loo they don’t have to disturb the other. The sewn-in bucket groundsheet covers just the sleeping area leaving the vestibules free to store wet/muddy gear separately. Total floor area is 5.5m2, 3.5m2 in the sleeping area and 1m2 for each porch.

Another helpful design aspect of this tent is that the trekking poles tilt forward a little over the end of each porch so, when the door’s open, the overhang mostly keeps the rain out. Making it easier to cook in wet weather. In good weather, both sides of each vestibule can be opened up and tied back, on each end. Which mimics the closer-to-nature feel of a tarp but with the added insect protection of the mesh.

Having two trekking poles, rather than one like the Mini Peak II or Golite’s Shangri-La 3, means there are two internal points of maximum height. The tent isn’t as tall inside as the SL3 or MPII (only 109cm) but it does allow each person to sit under an apex. Also the highest points are at the entrances/porches which is where you need the height to get in and out of the tent more easily. Also it seems to me that two poles are more stable.

Nemo are an American company but, unlike some American tents, the Meta is available through UK suppliers and is already seam-sealed.

Last weekend I took the Nemo away to Dartmoor and it performed fantastically in wind and rain. Luxurious space for one. The 2 porches were perfect for storing wet gear, muddy boots, and still having space to make dinner. There was some condensation on the cold night but nothing terribly impractical, a quick mop around with a microfibre towel sorted that out. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone significantly taller than me (5’6″) as the sleeping compartment isn’t very long. The dry-bag stuff-sack was very useful Sunday morning to pack away the wet tent for the journey home. Another thing I appreciated was the coloured cord attached to the tent pegs, which were easy to find in the long grass.

All in all, it’s a joy finding a Nemo in your backpack at the end of a day out walking.

Nemo’s website

 

Few more specs:

Capacity 2P
Minimum Weight 2 lbs, 15oz / 1.3 kg
On the Fly Weight N/A
Trail Weight 3 lbs, 9 oz / 1.5 kg
Floor Dimensions 96 x 53 in / 244 x 135 cm
Floor Area 37 sq ft / 3.5 sq m
Vestibule Area 22 sq ft / 2 sq mm
Interior Height 43 in / 109 cm
Number of Doors 2
Frame Description 2 Trekking Poles or Meta™ 2P Pole Set
Packed Size 5 x 7 in / 13 x 18 cm
Shell Fabric 20D PU Nylon
Vestibule Fabric 20D PU Nylon Ripstop
Fly Fabric 20D PU Nylon Ripstop
Canopy Fabric N/A
Floor Fabric 30D PU Nylon Ripstop (5000mm)
Color Birch Leaf Green

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 11.43.51

Confirmed by email Aug 2013:

“The Meta 2p tent has 1500mm of waterproofing on the tent body, and 5000 on the floor.
Oliver Fisher
Customer Service Representative NEMO Equipment, Inc.”

Update June 2014 – Pitching:

Set your trekking poles to 125cm. Start by pegging out the 4 corners of the groundsheet, diagonals first, ensuring that the guys are long so they can be shortened later if needed. Then, with the doors zipped closed, add the trekking poles and peg out the 2 porches. To do this adjust the black tape so it’s as long as possible on the vertical line between the peg and the door and ensure the horizontal black tape is lying relatively taut on the ground and is in line with the tent roof. It’s okay if there’s a large gap  between the doors and the ground. (If you try to reduce this gap the tent will deform and be slack in all the wrong places. I believe it’s designed this way to create good air circulation through the vents and hence reduce condensation.) Finally guy out the two side vents. Sticks or an extra set of trekking poles can be used here to lift the sides of the tent to give more head/foot room inside. After an hour or so, if the tent has stretched, you can tighten up the guy lines.  In total the tent uses 8 tent pegs. I’ve switched out 6 for lighter Ti-pins but still use the original v-shaped pegs for the two porches. If it’s windy it can be worth using 2 pegs in each porch guy point to ensure they are secure.

* The idea being that you’ll be carrying trekking poles anyway so they might as well be used to hold up your tent, saving the weight of a tent pole in your backpack.

Surprising Kit! Merrell Siren Sport Trainers

Yesterday I cleaned my walking trainers. This is a rare event but after a 7 mile bimble along the Ridgeway with @krider2010 my shoes were 2 heavy bricks of brown mud. These are shoes that get worn for dog walks, supermarket trips, pub outings, and long treks. They’re unappreciated, used, and abused daily.

Hence when they came out of the washing-up bowl looking remarkably healthy I was surprised enough to blog about them.

They’re are a pair of Merrell Siren Sport GTX (Gore Tex) bought in late 2010. Actually they’re replacements for the originals I bought in early 2010.

My first pair of Siren Sports cracked on the edge where my toes flex and did so well within a year. This crack led to water seeping in otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed as they were extremely comfortable. In fact, when brand new, I rather stupidly wore them for a long walk in the Brecon Beacons and amazingly suffered not a single blister.

Luckily I’d kept the receipt for this original pair and Cotswold Outdoor were more than happy to swap them. At the time they didn’t have anything else that fitted so I ended up with another pair of Sirens despite my concern that these too would fail within a year. However they’ve survived so I can only assume the originals had a fault or Merrell redesigned the shoe in 2010.

Looking at my current, now clean, pair I can see hairline cracks at the sides where my toes flex and the sole has worn down on one heel. The lining is still remarkably waterproof. The Ridgeway was covered with giant brown puddles (in a drought, in June) and it was only when water flooded over the top of my foot that I got a soggy sock. (At the time our tiny Jack Russell Chihuahua was practically swimming so I wasn’t surprised.)

 

Hopefully they’ll be around for a while yet but, when they eventually go to shoe heaven, I’ll be buying another pair. Merrell are still selling them and I’ve included some marketing bumpf below.

“A Siren that sounds the alarm when the weather comes up bad, and keeps pace with the worst it can throw out. Mesh upper backed by GORE-TEX® membrane has the highest level of breathability while being completely waterproof without any unwanted bulk-up. Narrow gauge webbing and synthetic leather strapping provide support while anchoring speed lacing. Underneath it’s all about cushioning and alignment, with proprietary Merrell® Air Cushion matched to QForm® stride-centering.

UPPER/LINING
• Strobel construction offers flexibility and comfort
• Synthetic leather and mesh upper
• Bellows tongue keeps debris out
• GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort Footwear lining keeps feet dry and comfortable
• Lining treated with Aegis® Antimicrobial solution maintains foot comfort
• Ortholite® Anatomical Footbed

MIDSOLE/OUTSOLE
• Molded nylon arch shank
• QForm® Comfort midsole provides women’s specific stride-sequenced cushioning
• Merrell Air Cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
• 5 mm Sole lug depth
• Vibram® Siren Song Sole/TC5+ Rubber

UK Women’s Sizes: 4-8 full sizes only
EUROPE Women’s Sizes: 36-42
Weight: 11.5oz (326g)”

http://www.merrell.com/UK/en-GB/Product.mvc.aspx/15393W/43928/Womens/Siren-Sport-GORE-TEX

(I have size 6, narrow feet, with a prominent arch. I find Merrell shoes to be very comfortable and, for example, Keen shoes to be way to wide for me. Getting shoes that fit properly is as much dependent on whether the manufacturer’s styles suit your shape of foot as anything else. In other words, your milage may vary and, if you can, try on shoes in a good outdoor store with a personal fitter. My pair weigh 720g in comparison to the 326g quoted by Merrell but they are an older design and a size 6 rather than a size 4…)

Camping: #miniholiday in Watlington

Last weekend we snuck away for a night’s camping in Watlington in Oxfordshire.

We were all geared up to go wild camping on Dartmoor. However Winter had other plans and we watched the forecasted nighttime temperatures for the weekend drop as the weekend got nearer. In the end the decision was made, with heavy hearts, that it would be unwise to go out onto the moor for a freezing night under the stars. Friday we spent at home, popping out to a local pub for lunch, dropping into our local farmer’s shop, and buying a few plants at the local garden centre. However by the end of the day we were sad that we weren’t further afield. It was turning into a long weekend of more of the same four walls. So we hopped onto Camping Ninja and booked a one night get-away at White Mark Farm campsite.

Watlington Hill:

Watlington has a big hill with a white chalk mark carved onto it. After setting up the tent we took a stroll up to the top of the hill, just as the sun decided to show her face, and caught an eyeful of the amazing view!

There were a crazy number of red kites up there. They’ve been very successfully reintroduced after having been exterminated in England in the late 18th century. We normally have a few round our home but I’ve never seen so many hunting in one place and we climbed high enough to look down on them.

The Campsite:

The campsite itself is a Camping and Caravan Club site, although not exclusive to club members. The pitching field was soft, grassy, and clean. With a nice view out of the far right corner across the valley. It’s position so close to the Ridgeway and Watlington Hill is fab and they have a small area set aside for backpackers only.

Apologies for shaky-cam.

The toilet/shower block is open to the air (although covered) so was a bit chilly! I’m sure in the Summer it’s fine but there were only 4 loos so might be a wait. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead and walked off site. There are lots of signs around that say what you shouldn’t be doing (“No smoking”, “Stop and report to reception”) and then a sign saying ‘Camping and Caravanning Club, the Friendly Club”, which did make us giggle. There’s a little shop that sells eggs, frozen homemade cakes, and other essentials. I imagine it’s idyllic in the Summer but probably also very busy with regulars with their caravans.

The Kit:

Once again we used our Quechua 2 Seconds III tent and once again it did the biz. Five minutes to pitch, about ten minutes to put it away. It’s a bit cosy but we can now confirm it’s shower proof (we had a slight drizzle during the night and we hadn’t used the guy ropes) and warm enough on a cold night. Perfect for a short camping trip with the car. Original review here.

Another item that I appreciated greatly was my Mountain Equipment Xero 550 sleeping bag. I feel the cold easily but snuggled up in this thing I’m happy as a bug in a down sleeping bag!

Our Primus ETA Express stove with a 4 season gas canister was the surprise fail of the trip. In the cold it really struggled to heat water, something I hadn’t imagined would be a problem unless it was much colder. This was more a lesson learned for us though as it’s our first trip in these kind of temperatures.

Other mentions should go out to the clothes that kept me warm: down jacket, merino wool leggings, merino wool long sleeved shirt, merino buff, and a home knitted merino wool hat. Nev was grateful for his double layered Rab fleece. Dogface sported his Equafleece black jumper which keeps him warm (but not too hot) and dry. Also we made use of our favourite short walk rucksack, my blue Osprey Talon 22 litre. Had this a while now and it’s wearing really well despite the mud, rain, and occasional pub spillages.

All images except this one taken by the awesome @nevillefenn. Check out his pics at http://fenn.smugmug.com/


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Staying Toasty Warm

Believe it or not it was only 8 months ago that the UK was covered in deep deep snow and Dogface was practically living in his black Equafleece jumper. As the days turn colder here are my top 10 ways to stay toasty warm when out and about.

1. Check For Wind.

A constant North wind can turn a pleasant sunny day into a freezing one. Check the wind forecast as well as the temp before bowling out of the front door in a pair of short shorts.

2. Warm Your Middle Bit.

The most important bit to keep warm is your torso. You’ll never keep your hands and feet warm if your kidneys are exposed and cold. Make sure your tops come down long enough to overlap your bottoms.

3. Be Defensive.

Start off warm by trapping your body heat before facing Jack Frost in battle. Pre-warm your jumper and jacket and do them up before leaving the house.

4. Get Yer Thermals On.

Thermal undies are out. ‘Base layers’ are in. Look for garments made from Merino wool as it doesn’t make you sweat and doesn’t get stinky and it’s an excellent soft insulating layer. Modern base layers can look great too. Head to your local outdoor activities shop rather than Marks and Sparks. I’m very happy with my Icebreaker black leggings and long sleeved top I picked up a year ago. Still look like new, wash beautifully (non-bio detergent and no fabric softener), and they dry very quickly. Plus of course they’re toasty warm!

5. Luv A Duck.

A lot of jumpers and coats for sale have ZERO ability to keep you warm. It’s all about insulation and they just don’t have any. That military style coat from Next might look great but there’s nothing but 2 thin layers of fabric between you and the cold.

Real goose down is your friend. Buy a coat, jacket, or body-warmer with goose down in it (not synthetic foam) and you will be laughing in the face of Mr Freeze. Natural down doesn’t work well when it’s wet, so avoid making the snow angels, but nature still beats science hands down when it comes to insulation. Goose down is also light so it literally won’t weigh you down the way a heavy woolen coat will.

In the Spring sales I bought a goose down body-warmer. It ‘s my go-to item when I’m feeling the cold. 5 minutes wearing it and I’m toasty warm! It also works well in combination over or under other items. Worth every discounted penny.

6. Embrace Science.

Okay so Mother Nature produces amazing stuff, but the companies that make outdoor clothing have some smart cookies back in the lab. Fleece is warmer than wool, dries quicker, washes easily, and is better wearing. Gore-tex and Paramo waterproof fabrics keep you dry without getting soaked themselves. ‘Soft shells’ are generally wind-resistant (closely woven fabrics keep the wind out), insulating with fleece of some kind on the inside, and water-resistant all in one smart fitted jacket.

Okay so branded outdoor clothing costs more than the stuff in the department stores and supermarkets but it A) works and B) lasts. The highly competitive outdoor clothing market is pushing high levels of technological advance. Modern outdoor clothing is warmer, dryer, better wearing, and more practical than ever before. Forgot the geeky oversized ugly clothes from Millets of yesteryear too. These clothes are funky, beautifully cut specific to gender, and fashionable. Also for some brands guaranteed FOR LIFE from manufacturing defects. Plus with all the competition you can always find bargains online.

7. Be The Cat In The Hat.

It’s true that you lose a lot of heat through your head. Hats don’t suit you? You feel silly wearing a hat? Well… it’s a choice. Hats aren’t popular at the moment (they’ve been incredibly popular historically, we’re just going through a hat dry spell) so if you wear one people will probably comment in that “my eyes are directly connected to my mouth” way. So it’s a simply a choice between being comment-free or having a warm head.

8. Cultivate Warm Pockets.

A few stores sell those little heat packs that you can crack and they give off heat for a few minutes. I love them. I have 4 so that I can be refreshing a couple at home and still have two in my pockets. In addition the tiny wheat packs you heat up in the microwave are good to pop in your pockets on a cold morning before you leave the house. Good old fashioned hot water bottles are great at home. Blankets as well, although I recommend thick fleece blankets over wool ones as they wash easily and are warmer.

9. Speak Softly And Carry Secret Coffee.

A train or bus station is the coldest place on Earth at the end of a long day, in the dark, waiting to go home. Train stations really collect the wind and it whistles down the platforms making herds of commuters shiver. This is when Starbucks make big money 🙂 Save your pennies and make a flask of hot whatever-takes-your-fancy before you travel. My Web-Tex Flask is always filled with hot chocolate before a cold night’s camping just in case I wake up in the middle of the night freezing cold and the one time I needed it it was worth it’s weight in gold.

10. Watch Our For Small People.

Small people lose heat quicker as they have a greater surface area to mass ratio. Little kids, skinny teenagers, small women will all feel much colder than a grown adult male on a cold evening. Bear in mind that you may be warm in a t-shirt but the small person with you might need a coat, a hot drink, and a cuddle.