Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Book Review - the Lakeland Pack 2 by walkingbooks.com

 The phrase “book review” is possibly a slight misnomer, as this isn’t really a book at all.  Perhaps “pack review” would be more relevant – as this is one of the range published by Walking-books.com.

So what is it?  Well, it is a box which opens up to show a map on the left side of the region covered – the Lake District in this case – and on the right is the collection of walks.  These are on loose cards which are laminated and contain all the info about the route on one side and the route shown on an Ordnance Survey map on the reverse.

Walkingbooks.com originated this style of publication, and, as with any major innovation, found it copied by several other larger publishers.  However, generally speaking, the rivals have re-used walks they already had published in other books, whereas Walkingbooks.com's versions have been written from scratch.  The other major difference are the size of the pack – Walkingbooks.com (herein WB!) originated the style using an A5 sized pack, and the rivals have generally used a smaller format.

This is the second series of the packs published by WB and they've had a complete make-over from the first outings – which date way back to 1999.  Times and designs have moved on a lot since then, and fortunately WB have taken the opportunity to radically bring the layout and style into the 21st Century.
Firstly, the main difference is in the style of the pack; the original series of WB packs were made from a fairly lightweight cardboard - which damaged easily – and had a difficult opening flap - as seen on the left. That’s gone now, in favour of the much more sturdy box which opens easily to the left – like a book.

But that’s not as much of a difference compared to the design of the cards themselves… they have had a complete make-over.  The originals were a mass of plain text on one side, and the OS map on the flip side.  As I’m mentioned, WB have kept this style for the new packs, but a designer has given the layout a fresh feel.

These new cards have an info bar to the left of the card and another at the top, which give similar details to the “Essential Info” box on our own Walks Around Britain website.  The walking route itself is split into 4 or 5 numbered stages, which are highlighted on the OS map on the reverse of the card.

These numbered stages have type in two colours, with the black text describing the route and the blue text providing interesting information – such as historical details, stories and such like.  This method works very well, the helps you distinguish between the route and the additional details.
Another handy feature is the correct Ordnance Survey map number is shown at the bottom left hand corner for each card – along with contact details for the relevant Tourist Information Centre for that walk.

OS Maps on The Lakeland Pack 2
Turning the card over shows the Ordnance Survey map for the walk – and this is really WB’s major selling point, as almost all the competitor packs of a similar style don’t have full-blown 1:25,000 Explorer mapping on their cards.  But here is my first, and really only, note of disappointment.
OS Maps on the older packs

The quality of the maps are a bit of a let-down; they tend to be a fuzzy and not very sharp.  Some are better than others, but I do feel perhaps the OS hadn’t supplied high enough quality mapping to WB for the printing process.  Ironically, this is the only point in which the original series of packs are better – as the quality of the OS maps in those are excellent and pin sharp.

Accompanying the pack is a booklet which at first glance only details how to use the walking cards.  But the booklet actually is a tiny treasure, with information about walking safety, suitable clothing & equipment and much more.  And finally, hiding underneath all the walking sheets is a clear plastic wallet which you can pop a card into, keeping it safe and dry from the Lake District weather.

What are the walking routes?  Well, in this pack there is a great mix of easy, moderate, difficult and strenuous, and there’s also a nice spread across the whole of the Lakeland area – not just sticking to the honey pot of the Central Lakes.  Heck, there’s even a walk in Barrow-in-Furness – part of the area not often covered by walking books.

My favourite is perhaps number 12 – a 4 ½ mile wander from Waterhead through Troutbeck to the Lake District Visitors Centre at Brokehole – a lovely walk.  But then, so are the other 24.  Jim Rubery and Michael Law have selected some crackers, and you won’t be disappointed with any of them.

So, is this new series of walking packs from WB an improvement on the originals?  Definitely.  The box is stronger and won’t get squashed in your backpack; the cards are laminated and won’t get damaged on route; they have a fresh, clean design which is easy to follow and get the info you need – and the 25 walks offered are top routes too.  It’s just a shame about the fuzziness of the OS maps…

What’s good
The 25 walks are stunning and well worth trekking out on
Walking cards are laminated and should be safe to use in most weather
Clean, fresh inviting design of the walking cards
Sturdy box which won’t get squashed easily
Extremely helpfully booklet

What’s bad
Quality of the OS maps – a few are fuzzy and not too sharp.
Perhaps slightly expensive for fair weather walkers

 The Lakeland Pack 2 by walkingbooks.com - Rough Price - £14.99

Walks Around Britain rating  8/10

Order it online from Amazon here.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Gear Review - Easy Camp Day Hiker 25 daysack

When you think of backpacks makers, the names which come to mind are perhaps Deuter, Black Diamond, Vango, perhaps Regatta…  One name certainly not towards the front of that list would be Easy Camp.

Easy Camp are part of the same group as Outwell – a brand well known in the camping world as possibly the best manufacturer of tents and associated gear.  But Outwell's quality does come at a cost, and so Easy Camp is the groups’ budget brand – with a range of tents and accessories to satisfy the cost-conscious outdoor fan.

So when Easy Camp released a new range of backpacks, we were interested in getting our hands on one – and the Day Hiker 25 dropped onto our mat.

At first look, the Day Hiker 25 is attractive – we got sent the “Black” version – which is around 80% black with a smattering of light blue and a light grey inner.  The packs 25 litres capacity puts it firmly in the daypack area – and so should be perfect for day walks.  So is it?

Well, let’s start at the top.  Unzipping the now common compartment on top of the lid reveals a good size pocket for small items you might want easy access to.  I can reach behind me with my left hand and unzip to compartment whilst the daysack is on my back… but that might tell you more about my bendy-ness than anything.  Most people will have to get the daysack of their backs before gaining access to the compartment – but that’s the same as all the others though.

The collar, which can be drawn together with a pullcord – is wide enough for easy access to the main compartment of the daysack, and offers further protection from the ingress of rain or snow.  Easy Camp have helpfully included a carry hand at the top too – which can also double as a hanging up hook when you need to store the sack away.

The main compartment is large and with the exception of the sleeve at the back, there is nothing else inside: one big compartment to store your stuff.  The sleeve is designed for a hydration bladder, but I often use them for storing maps, directions and other documents in a place where I can find them!

Moving to the front, and there’s a very useful front-mounted pocket with a vertical zip allows for a GPS unit and a supply of batteries… or if you are recording a podcast, it is perfect for a portable audio recorder.  Pull cords allow for control over the neck of daysack, and nicely designed hidden expanding sections – rather like a pleated skirt – allow for the daysack to grow when it needs to.  Two clips, one on either side, secure the lid down whilst you are walking.

On both sides there’s an almost full-length zipped pocket which would be useful for snacks or bottled drinks.  And talking about drinks, if you do use the internal sleeve for a hydration bladder, there’s even a port at the top of the daysack for the associated hydration pipe.  Thinking of double uses, this is actually a great place to pop the cable for a pair of headphones through – and have the player in the daysack!
There's also attachments to carry walking poles too.

Right, to the back.  The straps are fairly long, with a good amount of adjustment possible to fit most bodies.  They aren't the most padded I've seen, but you've got to bear in mind this is a daysack, and therefore there isn't perhaps the need for massive quantities of padding.  That said, I can point you to a pack from Tesco which has a lot less…

A chest support made with elasticated strips with clips supports the daysack on the shoulders, but there isn't a full-blown waist strap with this one.  There is, however, a rather nifty back ventilation system made of a padded, springy mesh – and I have to say, it works surprisingly well in keeping a flow of air between your back and the daysack.  Helping to keep your back sweat-free will make this pack endear itself to you…

Last, but by no means least, is the compartment at the underneath of the daypack – again accessed by a zip – and this one contains the rain cover for the pack.  Now, unlike some other daysacks, the rain cover provided isn't attached to the pack in a secure way.  There is a lose strap on the cover and a free buckle on the pack, so I presume that’s the connecting method should you wish it… but having the cover lose means that you can at least pop it on a radiator to dry it out – or leave it at home and use the compartment for something else!
In tests, the rain cover does an admiral job for a while, but does succumb to the water after a while –so it is still a good idea to put your stuff in carry bags first and then put the bagged items into your daysack if you’re sure it is going to rain.

How does the Day Hiker 25 feel?  Well, it is very light but does give you the impression it is well made.  On the back, once adjusted, it is comfortable – with the back ventilation system working well to keep that sweat away.  And with a total of 4 pockets and the main compartment, there’s plenty of storage space too.

I have to say, I really like it.  Styling is spot on; the right quality at the price; feels safe and secure whilst it is on – and for just under £30, you can’t go wrong.

What's good...

Great quality for the price
Lightweight but durable
Good number of pockets/compartments
Excellent fit and comfortable on the back

What's bad...

Difficult to really complain at this price.

Day Hiker 25 daysack by Easy Camp - Rough Price - £30

Walks Around Britain rating  9/10

Friday, 11 January 2013

Gear Review - Extremities Hiker socks by Terra Nova

Socks.  Ok, perhaps not the most exciting pieces of walking and outdoor kit - forgotten about almost as opposed the other essentials required for trekking.  Well, of course.  After all walking socks can't have anything like the immense technology which goes into a waterproof jacket these days... And surely socks are socks... one pair can't be any different to other?

Well, all that is wrong.  Socks are very important.  And the specialist walking pairs do have masses of fabric technology in them.  And if you've ever suffered from cold feet, itchy feet, blisters or sore toes whilst walking, then changing your socks to a pair of specially designed walking pair will make an amazing difference.

One of those specially designed walking socks are the Extremities® range from British company Terra Nova.

And as soon as you unwrap them from their packaging you immediately start to understand how their difference to the run-of-the-mill M&S stuff.

For starters, the loop construction all the way up to the shin is designed to give greater comfort in stiffer boots.  And that's just the beginning of the planning which have gone into these socks.

There are no fewer than 10 versions of the Extremities range - each one proudly made in Britain.  I tried the Hiker version, designed for use on year-round hikes and the more demanding backpacking trips.

Look, no toe seems!
As soon as you put them on, you feel your feet starting to love you more.  Your toes are the first to say thank you... they particularly like the specialised toe seams - finished by hand - which don't dig into your toes.

Putting on your walking boots and you feel like you can walk for miles.  Whereas ordinary socks can rub along the in soul of your boots, the specially positioned padding, support areas and grip zones for the Hiker socks are all designed to stop that.  As a result, steps are more comfortable and you feel like carrying on for longer.

In the interests of testing - and to replicate a multi-day backpacking - I wore the socks for 3 days running... to see exactly whether they would carry on the rest of the walk on their own...  And I can happily report that even after 3 days of constant wearing whilst walking, these Extremities socks didn't smell like I should have thrown them in the bin - and perhaps more importantly neither did my feet!

The fact the Extremities socks are made in Britain at Terra Nova's factory in the Midlands only makes these socks even better.  Excellent for walkers of all levels - in fact I feel sure if you've just started on the path of the walking hobby, then a pair of these socks will allow you to go further and keep your feet feeling loved.  So... socks... pretty important then.

What's good...

Great quality
Lightweight but durable
Warm and supportive
Washes very well without bobbling

What's bad...

Price - possibly a tad steep for the more casual walkers

Extremities Hiker socks by Terra Nova - Rough Price - £18

Walks Around Britain rating  9/10

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Inspirational photos from Wastwater Photography

Many artists have been inspired by the beauty which is the English Lake District.  One such modern artist uses a camera instead of a paintbrush - but the results are more stunning than any 19th Century painter.  Mark Gilligan of Wastwater Photography produces images which really do leave you lost for words.  Mark has kindly shared a few with us here, and if you'd like to find out more, visit his website here or follow him on Twitter.

Autumnal Sunset on Wast Water from the Slabs
Gathering Storm over Ennerdale

Great Gable 'explodes' on an autumnal sunset

Last rays of winter sunshine

Mist Sunset over The Esk Valley

Passing light on the bracken by Wast Water

Serenity on Wast Water as the Autumn evening closes in

Sunset Fire Sky over Wasdale from Irton Church

Wast Water sunrise 

Mark featured in the 8th edition of our podcast.  You can listen to it here...

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Podcast Edition 013 - Show Notes