Christmas List 2019

Every year there’s a rash of outdoorsy blog posts about the best 10 christmas gifts for people who like to get outdoors. So here’s mine

We all know what it’s like to be wet and cold, we’re hikers, climbers and adventurers, we see weather as part of the challenge but we choose to be out there. So here’s our first and only item.

  1. Help someone get INSIDE for Christmas by donating to Crisis

Crisis provide hot food and a bed, medical and wellbeing checks, CLEAN CLOTHES, counselling and companionship over the christmas period as well as on-going support throughout the year.

We’ve donated all the money made through affiliate links on this site, and while it’s not a lot we have managed to reserve a place in a crisis centre for someone who needs it.

So you could buy a new fleece or jacket. Splash out on a new pair of boots or a backpack. OR you could get someone warm and dry and fed.

Merry Christmas.

Review: SIGG Gemstone

SIGG Switzerland Bottles sent us this product to test out and review.

A flask is a tricky thing to review. If you want all the technical specs then try the SIGG website , but at the heart of it a flask either keeps things hot, or it doesn’t, so I thought I’d talk about how a flask could help us out on the trail.

We have a bit of a routine on the trail. I’m always the first to leave the warm embrace of my sleeping bag and keenest to get packed up and start knocking off some miles.

Hazel and the kids are a little different and have to be “persuaded” to get up and about. For Hazel, the biggest factor is the presence of tea. She really will not get out of her bag if her cuppa isn’t made. So that’s the first job every morning. Get the stove out and brew up.

Once she’s has a lovely, warm beverage, I put the stove back on to boil water for our little SIGG flasks, which keep a brew lovely and hot all day. By the time we’ve packed up we’ve had our tea, AND got the next one sorted out already.

Here’s the first problem. Hazel is a tea monster with an asbestos tongue. So while my little flask can last all day, hers is usually empty by lunchtime. The other issue is the kids. Clearly we’re not sharing my coffee with 3 kiddos under 12 but we do carry some hot choc powder for them. So by the time lunch rolls around I’m brewing up again. So maybe a larger flask is a good idea.

We haven’t as yet taken the Gemstone out on a long trail, that’s in the planning stages, but we have taken it out a couple of times when we’ve headed up the woods or on a little day hike and the access to a litre of hot chocolate has really gone down well with the children. It’s also saved time as I haven’t had to carry and set up the stove and all the gubbins required to brew up mid hike.

The last time I reviewed SIGG products I gave a list of reasons why I liked them, so here’s something similar for the Gemstone.

  1. It looks really cool. Ours is silver and I could probably use it as a shaving mirror (If I also bought a razor), although I’m sure it’ll get battered over coming months. Which brings us to …..
  2. It feels really solid and robust. The lid is sturdy and feels like the leakproof claims will hold up and I feel confident that it’ll take a fall or get kicked about at the crag without taking anything but superficial damage.
  3. It’s light. Which should be number 1 really as it’s a massive factor when packing for a long trail. Now the kids are bigger I’m sure one of them will mange it for the promise of hot choc.
  4. Sustainability. This is a massive thing for us as we continue to aim for plastic free hiking and a product that helps us reduce our footprint is always a plus.

We’re heading off on the South West Coast Path in the coming months so we’ll give this a real thorough test on a long trail and let you know how it performs.

Review: Alpkit Numo Sleep Mat

I bought this product with whatever money I had left after the kids had been fed, clothed and sheltered.
The opinions expressed in the post are my own.

Here’s an idea. Plan a hiking trip with your family. The kids are small and can’t carry much but that’s ok because Mum and Dad can carry most of their stuff. We won’t go far, just around 100 miles on the West Highland Way. That will be a perfect first hike. Great. Until you grab your pack and realise its just far too heavy to carry for even 2 or 3 of the proposed 96 miles. So you start culling stuff. That extra fleece can go, how much underwear do I really need. Those 2 self inflating sleep pads that weigh nearly a kilogram each are probably overkill, and what difference do those thin foam ones make anyway.

IMG_0117
Our Massive Packs for the WHW.

It’s the first night in the tent, in Scotland, in very early April. We’re wishing we had carried the sleeping mats. The kids have got one of the foam ones each and are surprisingly cosy but Hazel and I are freezing. I emptied my pack and slept on the empty rucksack. Turns out those mats make a huge difference so we picked up 2 more foam pads before hitting the trail and we were much less cold.

 

This year I treated myself to a new sleep pad. I was tired of carrying the weight of the self inflating one and the foam ones were just a little bulky so I thought I’d try an inflatable one. After a while trying to decide which to go for, I went for the Numo from Alpkit. It was reasonably priced and so much smaller and lighter than the ones we had. It was cheaper than similar options from other manufacturers and I felt a nice warm feeling inside by supporting a smaller UK company besides, I’d previously bought a top and a crash pad from them and was very happy with the speedy service and the hand written thank you note that was in the package.

It came out of the box, even smaller than expected and weighed next to nothing in my hand. I immediately went to the Gear Store (or the cupboard under stairs as Hazel calls it), grabbed the old one for comparison and bounced into the living room to excitedly show off the size difference to anyone who was there. Evan said it was cool but no-one else seemed interested.

Time to blow it up. The info said you could inflate with 12 breaths and it wasn’t many more before I’m lying down on it in the kitchen. It was nice and comfy and surprisingly non-slidy and as soon Hazel had tried it out (again on the kitchen floor) I was back on the computer ordering one for her.

Lils Birthday - 17
Wild camp with Lil on Brook Down. Numo hidden under sleeping bags.

So we’ve used them for all this years camping trip since our snowy Glyndwrs Way hike where they would have been useful. They’ve performed really well in the tent and under a tarp both with and without a groundsheet. I would be extra careful if you don’t have a groundsheet because I’d imagine a gorse or bramble thorn would lead to a harder nights sleep but so far no punctures and we’ve been wild camping more this year than we have been to camp sites.

There are a couple of huge outcomes for us after buying these mats. The first is the weight and bulk savings, and while I’m sure you could get a lighter mat, I reckon you’ll struggle to get one at this price point and made from the same tough material. The second is that we actually sleep well on them so we’re better rested to wrangle 3 kids along the trail

The only drawback is that the kids want one each now I’m happy to get them one because they’ll last them for a couple of years at least, I’m not sure if I can fit 5 of them in our little blue tent.

 

Children! Know Your Limits.

I was just reading another blog about hiking with kids and they mentioned the importance of  “Knowing your children’s limits.” Now my first reaction was “Well, obviously” but then I thought about it a little.

Every time I plan a trip, it’s at the top of my considerations.

  • How far can they hike in a day.
  • How much can they carry in their packs.
  • How much food do we need to carry to keep them happy/full/not crying/on a sugar high
  • Can they cope with the weather and trail conditions
  • How far is it to the trailhead, do we need to stop on the way?

And many other considerations I can’t remember. I suppose its everything you would think about for yourself but your making that decision for someone else, much smaller than you.

So every time we hit the trail, I’ve gone through this process of asking myself these questions and at times they can cause some anxiety, am I doing the right thing? What if we haven’t enough food? or do the kids really want to hike 10 miles today?

The problem is, it’s all wasted time and effort. Every time I thought I knew my kids limits, they’ve surpassed them and more. If you would like some examples please read on;

October 2015. The kids are 4, 6 and 8 and we hike up Snowdon for the first time. It takes us 9 hours up the PYG track and down the Miners. There is no carrying, no crying and nothing but good spirits and excitement. The furthest they’ve walked before today is 3/4s of a mile around the rather flat Gratham Water. Tomorrow they’ll hike the Mynffordd Track up Cadair Idris and our family love affair with the mountains begin.

cropped-cropped-west-highland-way-116111.jpgApril 2017. The West Highland Way. I plan the trip to last 12 Days, each one spent hiking for approximately 8 miles. The kids will carry as little as possible, maybe their water bottles, a few snacks, a teddy and their waterproofs in the unlikely event they aren’t wearing them.
We complete the trail in 9 1/2 days, including an almost 13 miler on the penultimate day. The kids carry their own sleeping bags, as well as the stuff I had planned on and Ev carries a full 25l rucksack over 100 miles by the time you add on travel days. Isaac is 5 and hiked every single step.

snow

Easter 2018. Glyndwrs Way. I plan for good, if a little damp trail conditions, cool temperatures and the potential for sunshine, warming days but potentially cold overnight. We aim for 12 miles a day to complete the trail in the time we have.
What we get is a corridor of ankle deep mud, persistent drizzle and a cold wind. We can’t find any rhythm to our hiking due to the constant slipping and sliding. We manage 10 miles on day one and nearly 15 on day two. We wake up on the next morning covered by 3 feet of snow. The kids are excited to press on. We lose the trail in zero visibility. We are cold and wet, the tent is soaked from the previous night and there is no where to get dry. The forecast is for more rain and snow overnight. I make the decision to call it off. Now the children cry, they want to keep going. In the hardest hiking conditions I have ever encountered, they are loving it.

October 2018. Isle of Wight Coastal Path. We have 9 days to do 68 miles (on paper) We travel light. We can pick up food most days. The kids carry all their own stuff (except tent and stove which we all share). We finish the trail in 5 days covering 78 miles (according to the GPS), averaging 15 a day but including two 18 mile sections. The kids are amazing, even on the never ending road walking of day 1.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that whatever challenge we give them, they rise to it. They never cease to amaze me and while there is some sense in “knowing their limits”, surely it’s better to be constantly surprised by their determination, capability and adaptability and embrace it wholeheartedly.  After all, they are the biggest adventure.

Round the Island; Not a Trip Report

So while this isn’t quite a trip report of our hike around the Isle of Wight, which will come in the next couple of weeks once we’ve sorted the 1300ish photos, I do feel I want to write something about the hike which we finished less than 48 hours ago. (Today is Friday, we finished Wednesday evening, and this should be up Monday).

Lets call it a highlights package!

Day One – Gurnard to St Helens. 17 and a bit miles.

Ryde Seafront

Highlights – The section from Ryde to St Helens. Our first real experience at night hiking. Isaacs reaction to reaching St Helens, which he recognised, even in the dark, from a recent school trip. £6 Camping.

Lowlights – “Tarmac-geddon”. Apart from maybe the last mile and a half, the whole day was on tarmac or alongside a road, and after leaving East Cowes we hardly saw the coast until Ryde esplanade.

Hazels Round the Island - 110Day Two – St Helens to Shanklin. 13 ish miles.

Highlights – Through the Duver and across the causeway at St Helens. The climb up Culver and resulting ice cream. Late lunch on the beach. Playing the Penny Arcades on Sandown Pier (Kids Vote for that one).

Lowlights – The Penny Arcades on Sandown Pier (Dads). More tarmac. Few wild camp opportunities so had to use another campsite.

Day Three – Shanklin to Somewhere along the South Coast – 14 ish miles.

Hazels Round the Island - 263Highlights –  The landslip from Luccombe to Bonchurch, the Sea wall to Ventnor. The Cliff tops to St Lawrence, Steephill Cove, finding new beaches, the views from above Blackgang, Wild Camping on the cliffs beyond Chale, the whole day really.

Lowlights –  None, best day on the trail.

Day 4 – Chale – Totland -Around 17 miles

Hazels Round the Island - 371Highlights – Trail all except last mile. Expansive views.Ice Cream at Totland. Climb up Tennyson Down and along to Needles. Spotting a fox about 3 feet away from us and having a staring contest with it.

Lowlights – Views of Needles obscured by the Old Battery which requires entry fee and was closed anyway. Once again someone commoditising our natural landmarks!

 

 

Day 5 – Totland to Home – 18 and a half miles.Hazels Round the Island - 554

Highlights – Second breakfast in Yarmouth, Bouldnor Forest and Hampstead. Thorness Bay and the last 1/2 mile to Gurnard Beach where we were practically jogging to catch the sunset from our local beach.

Lowlights – Some very dodgy road walking through Shalfleet and around Porchfield. Running out of trail.

We had a really good time on the trail and would definitely repeat some of it again, probably Shanklin round to Yarmouth, but you can keep East Cowes to Ryde, I’m never hiking that section again. #Tarmac-geddon.

I’ll do a full trip report in the next couple of weeks so keep your eyes peeled, click the follow button or find us on social places @justupthetrail

Cheers

Rob