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.

 

Review: SIGG Water Bottles & Flasks.

*I bought this product with my own money.
The post contains an affiliate link so if you choose to purchase this product from that provider, we will see a small kickback if you use the link provided.
We have also included direct links to the manufacturer if you prefer to order direct.
Rob.

 

IMG_0848It seems it’s really hard to review a water bottle. I’ve been sat here for ages, typing a bit, deleting, starting over. How do you review a bottle. It holds water. Done. What I think I’ll do is try to tell you why I like these particular bottles so much. And if that helps you in the decision making process, I’ve done alright.

  1. They feel solid. These are the metal ones and feel really durable. We’ve bought cheaper alternatives before and once they’ve been dropped a couple of times they split. These bad boys have already been dropped numerous times and wear their scars beautifully. Also the lids fit well while on cheaper ones there’s always a fear that the seal will go or the lid will get cross-threaded, not on these.
  2. The Hot and Cold bottle does exactly what its supposed to do. The heat retention is amazing. I take one with me for work everyday and because I work so, so hard, I can make 300ml of black coffee last all day. And it’s still hot, not warm but hot. In fact, after making my coffee at 7 am, it’s just about cooled down enough by lunchtime. The instructions say to warm the flask before filling but unless you like your coffee at the temperature of a thermo-nuclear war you may want to skip that step.
  3. sigg-trinkflasche-colour-your-day-black-touch-orange-06-l-8536-90They look good! For once I’m not the guy on the trail or at the climbing gym with a scrunchy plastic water bottle. People have even commented on the coolness of my SIGG bottles (the black & orange one especially) and believe me as I near 40, cool matters!
  4. And this is probably the biggest factor. I use them. Maybe it’s my subconscious justifying the extra money spent on these bottles but I’ve always got one nearby, so I drink more water, which I’m told is good.
  5. As we’re yet another blog taking on single-use plastics with our Zero Waste Hiking plans, I need to mention this. Any reusable water bottle, even the cheap ones are better than their single use alternatives but by spending a little more cash on a simple item, we look after it better. The chance of it getting left behind is reduced as is the risk of dropping off a ledge, and while these seem to last longer than others, if you do lose a lid, SIGG actually sell spare parts!

So thats 5 reasons we love our SIGG bottles and once our children’s plastic bottles for school get lost/broken/chewed we’ll be in the market for a few more.

View the range of SIGG products on Amazon UK*

Review: Mountain Hardwear Lamina 0 Sleeping Bag.

So here’s a story. Last Christmas my dear old Mum gave me this sleeping bag. Brilliant, a nice warm sleeping bag for late autumn/early spring, just what I needed. Turned out she had bought it for my brother who didn’t like it, and so she gave it to me instead. Again brilliant, it would be perfect for our Easter trip on Glyndwrs Way,  and if a little heavy, it would be warmer than the one I already had.

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Trying out the new sleeping bag (thanks Mum)

A post shared by Rob Jones (@justupthetrail) on

At some point before we go backpacking, Mum decides she would like to join us for a couple of days on the trail. No problem. Whats that? She needs a warmer sleeping bag? Well being a dutiful son I suggest she use the one she gave me for Christmas and I’d make do, and when she leaves the trail, she can take my old one home and I’ll continue on with this one.

Snowy Tent

Now if you’ve read our trip report from Glyndwrs Way you’ll know just how cold it got and how we called the trip off after a couple of days because of the weather. I never got to try the new sleeping bag but on a positive note, the kids didn’t have to dig out Nana’s frozen corpse when the snow came.

Once Spring arrived properly I put this bag away until just last week, when I thought I might like a little extra comfort on our Round the Island hike, after all at the end of October we could get ALL the weather. It was quite a bit heavier than my alternative but it packed down nicely into the same size dry bag and to be honest, once I started hiking I didn’t really notice the difference.

The first night of the hike was quite chilly, around 5°C, so while setting up bed for the night I got out my spare fleece, puffy jacket and woolly hat and used them as a pillow and handy extra layers. I didn’t use them although I did get a little cold in the early hours. The second night we were a little further inland and it felt a little warmer and I was more than warm enough but the 3rd night we camped on the cliff tops right next to the sea and it was freezing out. I did climb into the bag with a fleece on and was glad of it for a start but woke up sweaty about midnight so I lost that extra layer and slept soundly for the rest of the night. The last night of the hike we spent “camped” in my Mother in Laws basement which was pretty luxurious and I used the bag as a duvet so I could stick a leg out easy enough to cool down.

Overall, this sleeping bag was great. It was a little on the small side for my larger frame and I’m not sure it would have been very comfortable if I hadn’t lost 2 stone over the summer, however it was easy to get in and out of, the zips worked and didn’t snag every time I used them. I didn’t notice the extra weight once I got hiking and I know if I had taken my other bag I would have been wearing all my spare clothes to stay warm, especially when we camped closer to the coast.

So it’s a great bag for late Autumn/Early Spring and a great gift. If I was choosing for myself I might get something slightly bigger so it’s not quite so tight, or I could lose some more weight! Oh and remember it kept my Mum alive in a Welsh snowstorm, which is kind of a positive.

Affiliate Link: Amazon UK

Review: Xero Shoes Terraflex

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.
*There are affiliate links in this post which will earn us a small commission if purchase these shoes.

Back in the summer I was in the market for some new trail shoes. I like to hike in trail runners rather than a heavier boot, especially in the summer, and while some of our American hiker friends don’t bother buying “waterproof” shoes, I’ve always looked for something that will keep the water out.  To be honest, when you have size 13 feet, the choice of shoe in my budget is rather limited, there’s plenty of choice in the budget range and a bit more in the high end but little around the £60 – £100 mark which for me is a real investment. I ended up with a choice between 2 well known brands but I’ve had well known brands let me down plenty of times in the past.

A couple of days later I stumbled upon a Facebook post from Xero Shoes which pricked my interest. Barefoot/Minimalist trail runners might work for a hiking shoe. But they’re over in the states and won’t have my size. Not only did they have a UK online store but they also carried my size, and in my budget. I made a decision. If I’m risking £80 of my hard earned cash on shoes, I’d rather give it to this smaller company thats doing things a little different than another global behemoth. Two days after ordering they were on my feet.

First impressions were great, really comfy, good fit and looked great. Having read a little about going to minimalist footwear I knew I shouldn’t go out and hike around the Isle of Wight first time. So I started with a few shorter hikes, an overnight hiking trip with my daughter and other than a little extra soreness in my calfs, they were really good and coped with the lowland, Isle of Wight terrain.

Time for a test. We hiked a 20 odd mile loop in the Brecon Beacons including a climb up Pen y Fan and again they performed really, really well. And when the rain came and my feet got wet, they dried out in no time. Another benefit, which may be from the shoes or could be from some weight loss was a lack of the usual knee pain I suffer from while coming down a mountain. I’m no scientist but something was improved.

Over the rest of the summer they have become my shoe of choice for everything except work and so when we decided on our last big trip of the year, I was always going to wear them for hiking around this little island. So how did these shoes cope on a 78 mile hike on mixed terrain at the end of October.


Xero Shoes

TerraFlex Trail Running and Hiking Shoe

XeroShoes UK


Overall they were great and any downsides can be placed on the trail itself. At the end of the first day, the soles of my feet were in agony but they had just hiked 17 miles on tarmac and my wife’s feet were just as sore in here well padded boots.  A little calf soreness the next day which went away after the first mile or so and the shoes felt great on every terrain except tarmac, which wasn’t a major issue again until the last day.  The soles of my feet were sore for the day after finishing but by the second morning they were fine, and there was never the thought of blisters on the whole hike.

I’m glad I took the risk with these shoes and while they may take some getting used to if moving from traditional hiking boots, I’ll definitely be continuing my foray into barefoot hiking. I may try out the Daylite Hiker next season, they look really cool but only have womens sizes on the UK store at the moment.  Now If only they’d do a minimalist work boot!

Review: DD 3×3 Tarp

*Originally posted back in January 2018.  Updated after our Wildcamp on Pen Y Fan, this summer.

After carrying our 3kg tent for 96 miles on the West Highland Way, and hiking past some lovely spots unfortunately unsuitable for a tent but perfect for a tarp I bit the bullet and ordered a 3×3 tarp from DD Hammocks.

Last summer (2017) we only used it on a handful of occasions mainly as an additional shelter to our little blue tent when the weather has been awful but also once as our only means of shelter when Evan and I hiked through the New Forest (Watch the video here) and camped on the heath, hidden and secluded. That night we used a tent style configuration as Ev was a little nervous about wild camping. (It was his first stealth camp in England and he knew the rules were a bit different to Scotland where we had wildcamped before). It went up fairly easily, although we had practiced setting it up this way in garden on the previous weekend. It stowed perfectly in the side pouch of my small rucksack (also from DD Hammocks) and to be honest, I hardly noticed the weight.

We’ve set it up in different configurations too, as a rain shelter for the kids to play in while camping in the Brecon Beacons, to shield the tent entrance and provide storage space in Snowdonia, and to protect our washing machine drum fire bucket and BBQ while camping in a friends orchard for Lil’s birthday.

tarp

I really like this tarp especially the seemingly unlimited set up options which will give us many more camp spot choices when we head out in the future. I’ll happily carry it on our next long trip even it’s “just in case”.

**UPDATE**

This summer (2018) I think we’ve the tarp as much as the tent and it hasn’t let us down at all. Because of our wildcamp on Pen Y Fan, which turned out to be the perfect night for it, we all fell in love with our tarp. All 5 of us managed to fit under it with room to spare, I hardly noticed it in my pack and it went up with no bother at all, in fact it was our eldest, Evan, who took charge of building our shelter for the night.

Review: Kelly Kettle 1.6l “Base Camp”

There’s nothing better than a campfire but our Kelly Kettle offers the next best thing. We use it to boil water for a cuppa or to rehydrate food, usually noodles, and with a couple of handy attachments can, from time to time make the greatest camp supper ever. Instant Mash Potatoes (Smash), Hot dog sausages and baked beans. There’s a pot stand which sits in the chimney of the kettle which takes a little pot, and if you’re not using the kettle there’s a bit they call a hobo stove which can take the pot directly or pop a little grill on if you’re desperate for some real sausages. It burns just about anything so you can gather fuel from aroundabouts and soon get a nice fire going to cook on. Once we’ve finished cooking we keep it going for toasting marshmallows, it becomes a mini fire bucket really.

Boys Night Out – A trip to the beach for tea, in the dark, in the winter

We always take it when we’re out for a day hike in the winter and make up some soup and it’s our primary stove when car camping. Unfortunately some campsites don’t like it but I usually find a few bricks to protect damaging the turf. If they still don’t like it, we do have a little hiking gas stove as back up. It is, however, far too cumbersome for longer trips without the car, and the need for dry twigs etc can be a bother in a typical British summer, but we usually keep a bag of fuel with us for day hikes or a bigger bag of twigs in the car when we have it. I have, on occasion, boiled enough water for 2 coffee’s and 3 Hot Choc’s using just 2 firelighters, although this does create more soot inside the kettle.

Overall, it’s our favourite stove, it’s versatility (with the accessories) overcomes the size and occasional issues and in the end it’s just so much fun.

 

 

Review: Coleman Cobra 3. Our Little Blue Tent

The Tent that Redefined our Adventuring.

A few years ago we came to a conclusion. Camping holidays are frustrating.  We would get together all the stuff we felt we needed, cram it into the car and drive for hours, kids squashed in like sardines to a campsite that had been booked months in advance and build a camp. Then we head off to explore and return every night to basecamp. Yes we had loads of fun but we seemed to spend so much time in the car that it got too much. No more car camping. (You can read more about our decision making here)

I managed to pick up two 3 man Coleman Cobra tents at a good price and they have had a really positive effect on our camping expeditions. The idea was to be more portable while we’re away and that has definitely happened. I bought 2 tents so initially Hazel and the little ones could share while Evan and I go into the second. When the kids get older they can share and husband and wife can be reunited. That was the plan.

The first time we took them out was just to the back of the Island (or the south coast if you prefer). We set up the first tent really quickly and immediately put the second one away. These tents were massive (for 3 man tents) so we decided to experiment. As it was only for one night we all piled in and we had plenty of room.

Since then we have only ever set up one tent at a time and it’s only now that the kids are three years older that it’s beginning to be a squeeze. The second tent lives in my backpack (inside a smaller stuff sack with poles strapped on the outside) for impromptu wild camps. We have even swapped the inner for a groundsheet in the summer if we know bugs won’t be an issue

So far these tents have kept us dry and warm (it went down to -8 last March) and I have every confidence that they will perform admirably when we hike the West Highland Way this Easter. The only slight issue we’ve experienced is that condensation can be an issue but I’m sure that’s only because there’s 5 of us in it, anyway when it’s dry we generally leave the doors open so I can doze off under the stars.

Update January 2018:

The tent did indeed perform well on our West Highland Way trip last Easter the only downside was the weight. After a couple of days I really felt every gram of the 2.9kg but in fairness it kept 5 people warm and dry in at times some horrendous weather and I think I’ll struggle to find a tent that sleeps 2 adults and 3 kids for much less weight unless I spend an obscene amount of money.

There were a couple of times when we had to hike longer to get to a campsite for the night because potential wildcamping spots in the trees were too small for the tent, but would have perfect if we’d carried a tarp as well.

All in all, we love our little blue tent but this will definitely be the last year we all cram into it because the kids are growing too quickly. Whether we look for an ultralight 4 man replacement or get an additional 2 man tent for the kids to share while we stay with the Coleman remains to be seen.