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Planning Our Way

A little while ago I stumbled across a Facebook post about the New Forest Film Festival. This perked my interest because a couple of years ago Evan and I made a little film as we hiked across the National Park in an attempt to reach Salisbury. Once I checked the guidelines for submissions I noticed that we had filmed that hike just a little too long ago to enter it this time around, so without needing much arm twisting we set our sights on making another film. (more…)

Batteries not Included

One of the things I hate carrying but always carry extras of “just in case” are batteries. And while they can be recycled, usually they end up in bin in a trail town and we can get through quite a few.
My camera needs AA as does my GPS device, ah but my head torch needs AAA and the kids headtorches need those funny flat ones that are like the hearing aid batteries but a bit bigger. Oh, and I need a USB battery pack for the phone. And Hazels phone. And AA batteries for her camera too.

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Yorkshire Sculpture Park 2017

It’s not always strenuous hikes and long trails. Sometimes we like to find other things to do while out and about. This was the case last year when, with time between a visit to the Peak District and a family occasion in Doncaster, we headed up for a day at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A place where Mum can get inspired, the kids can be kids, and Dad can go hiking

We had camped the night before and were feeling a little dishevelled when we arrived at the park. We negotiated the toilets and as it had just started to rain a little we had look around the indoor galleries which were pretty impressive. Some of the stuff went straight over my head but Hazel was really enjoying herself and there was even an area for the kids to contribute some works of art of their own. 

Kids will be Kids

We headed outside, through what I would describe as a well kept sculpture garden, just with far cooler sculptures than I usually see in gardens through the course of a day at work, and out into the larger park, complete with a lake, parkland, woods and livestock. Now things got interesting. While we had a map we didn’t use it to navigate, we just wondered down paths and between hedges and in circles, all the while being surprised and excited by what came around the next corner. By the end of the day we had probably covered 4 or 5 miles and that counts as hiking to me.

The biggest highlight for me was simply how these massive installations just looked at home in the countryside.  The army of sculpted figures in an open space felt like that was where they were meant to be, as did the giant head amongst the trees across the lake, even the massive rabbit headed lady didn’t look out of place and I suppose that’s the point of it right? Right? Just making sure! 

I’ve just been on the website and they’ve got an exhibition of Norman Ackroyd images called The Furthest Lands until February 2019 so we might try and organise another trip in the new year.

Located in West Bretton, near Wakefield, and it’s basically a 500 acre art gallery with loads of contemporary sculptures spread throughout its park and woodland. 

It is home to pieces by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
(My far more cultured wife tells me these are important creators).

Its extremely child friendly, accessible and cheap, you only pay for parking AND you get the added bonus of a half decent hike if you explore for a whole day.

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.

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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*

Going Plastic Free on the Trail

I’ve given Rob a challenge. While I have the monumental task of making our household free from single use plastics, at a manageable budget, I want our hiking trips to be just as ethical. So he’s in charge of that!

His first reaction was that it will be easy, by the time we pay the extra for plastic free alternatives, there won’t be any money left for long hiking trips. However, we’ve made a solid start at home and he’s starting to plan how to get rid of single use plastics before our next trip.

Just Up The Trail, saving the world, one cereal bar at a time!!!

The biggest worry is food, because our usual staples of noodles and pasta snacks are usually wrapped in plastic as are our go to snacks of jelly beans, cereal bars and beef jerky. We may need to get creative. We may need to bake. We may need a dehydrator. We will need a bigger pack. And while tupperware is the easy option for storage/packing, its just not that great in a backpack so solutions for that will be necessary. We could use foil, or wax paper but won’t that get squashed/torn/wet? Research definitely needed.

Other than food packaging I can’t think, off the top of my head, of much else where we rely on single use plastic. We do have those silicon pop up bowls and plastic cutlery but those have already lasted 3 or 4 years and when they die I’ll try to get a replacement from another material. The kids have plastic water bottles but we already intend to replace them with metal bottles like Rob’s SIGG when the time comes and I can’t remember the last time we bought bottled water, anyway that’s why we have the filter.

So if anyone has any tips on packaging hiking food in non-plastics, any plastic free snacks or if you want to share some delicious recipes with us, leave them in the comments below.

I’ll check back in on the plastic free mission between now and our next big hike, which will probably be at Easter, and let you know how we’re getting on.

 

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.

Almost Off Road.

For most of our first day on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path we had to share the route with some of the busier roads on the island. Now admittedly these roads aren’t major carriageways but having to shout to each other over the incessant burble of traffic isn’t fun. We hike to spend uninterrupted time in each others company, sometimes chatting about nothing, sometimes plotting our futures and sometimes just enjoying the silence. So imagine our relief when, between Whippingham and Wootton we find the first stretch of trail where traffic can’t go and we didn’t have to share.

 

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.

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!

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

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First Time for Everything

These 3 were so excited to be climbing their first ever mountain and I can’t find the words to tell you how happy I was, just to be in the mountains with the kids at long last. It didn’t matter if we made it to the summit or not (we did) we just wanted to expose the children to the adventure of it all. 3 Years ago but it feels like a lot longer and just yesterday at the same time.