Sunday, 28 April 2013

Trade Fair

Trade Fair

In a bid of shameless self-promotion this week I exhibited at a local small business trade fair.

                The actual plan to exhibit had been in place for a few months now but Thursday was the actual event, although Murphy`s law intervened a number of times the day was a success.

                The fair itself wasn`t until the afternoon which, I thought, would give me enough time to get a few last minute things done and arrive at the venue with more than enough time to spare, I`d packed the car the night before so didn`t have that to worry about, the only things I needed to do was collect some materials for basic cordage and have some pictures printed, this was Mr Murphy`s second intervention (I’ll mention the first later), 5 of the machines at the supermarket had broken down and the only one left had a long queue to use it, luckily it was only 10 am and I still had 4 hours to go…unfortunately no because of the backlog I had to wait nearly 2 hours to get my pictures, time enough to get a coffee.

                With 2 hours left to go and having only half an hour’s drive to get the venue, at least according to the sat nav I still had plenty of time and so decided to nip back home quickly and collect my cordage materials, that done I set the sat nav and left, 34 minutes to get there and it was 1pm, I had 25 minutes once there to set the space, easy…. no of course not, Mr Murphy had decided to come along for the ride. I was directed through a town to the dual carriageway, on to the dual carriageway, off the dual carriageway and back through the town I had just been through!  I knew there was a reason I didn’t trust sat navs, fortunately enough the venue was near a town that I knew quite well anyway so headed off in that direction.

                I made it to the golf club that was to be the venue with about 20 minutes to spare, this still gave me enough time to set up and also talk to the organisers, which brings me to the first instance of Murphy`s law, in the week prior to the event the organisers had sent me an email asking for my business name, business logo and website address, which I duly sent, however when I went searching on their website under the exhibitors section I discovered that not only was the name of my business wrong, they had spelt forest with 2 r`s, but also the website address which took people to the living word bible church website, I did wonder aloud with them how many potential clients I had lost because of this error, (the poor quality logo was my fault and I don’t blame them for that), within minutes of this discussion with the organisers both the name and web address were changed but I still wonder how many hits I missed out on.

                5 hours of fair lay ahead and with this being my first one I had no idea what to expect, a short wander around the hall revealed that I wasn`t alone however and found that a few of the exhibitors there were newbies as well, interest in the stand was steady and a number of people were trying their hands at getting a spark from flint and steel, all eventually successful. About an hour into the fair I was approached by an outdoor education company and asked if they could utilise me for some bushcraft sessions at their sites, to which of course I said yes and at the same time proved to myself that this was the money i`d spent on the stand. The only downside to the whole experience was the music system, after 3 hours of the same music I was I had brought something with me to throw at the speaker.

                Although the fair had cost a lot of money, it has potentially paid for itself in the contacts I have made.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Budget outdoor equipment


(all prices given are full retail prices and are correct at time of writing)

Most people shudder at the thought of the words `budget equipment`, images are conjured up of cheap nasty gear that fits badly, causes pain, falls apart, is heavy and generally makes an outdoor experience a miserable one, there may be many reasons why someone chooses budget equipment besides price, these may the persons first time in the outdoors and therefore they may not wish to spend money on equipment they will never use again, they may not have the experience to know what is the best fit or works best for them, they may not have heard of the more expensive brands or cannot see why they are different from the budget brands.

A Prime example of this `Cheap, nasty tat` is a 65 litre rucksack from a supermarket, cheap to buy and for good reason, it is a very poor example of what constitutes a rucksack, cheap nylon, poor stitching, no frame to carry weight comfortably and a non-adjustable fixed harness (although this does have its advantages) this would probably be the worst choice that someone could make but how do alternatives compare?

First what do I consider to be budget equipment? To me budget equipment should be shops own brand equipment but that shop should be specialise in outdoor equipment, such as Millets (Eurohike) Black (Eurohike, Blacks), Mountain Warehouse (Mountain Life) ETC, where advise on equipment is available. 

I always advise that even if you are buying budget equipment that the two pieces of equipment that you should never compromise on is boots and rucksacks. A badly fitting pair of boots will rub, cause your feet to become sore and cause blisters; a rucksack that is badly fitted or does not have a frame would cause pain in the shoulders as the weight pulls on them and pushes into the lower back causing pain throughout the back as well.

A pair of budget boots should cost no more than £80 regardless of whether they are leather or fabric, in this price range don’t expect to see Gore-Tex waterproof linings or vibram rubber soles however there are occasionally some surprises,

Boots from the Peter Storm, Thomas Black and Mountain Life ranges are good examples of what good quality budget boots should be. Although the majority of Peter Storm boots do not have Vibram rubber soles or Gore-Tex they are still fully waterproof and have decent soles, of these the Ormskirk (fabric) and Langdale (leather), retailing at £50 and £60 respectively are probably the best buys within the range. 

Men's Ormskirk Mid Walking BootsMen's Langdale Waterproof Leather Walking Boots

                The Thomas Black Jura can almost be viewed as upgraded Peter Storm Langdale, and indeed the family resemblance can be seen when the Langdale and Jura are placed side by side, the upgrades start from the ground up, literally, although both have Vibram rubber soles, the Jura is stiffened even further with a metal shank running through the mid sole, the stitching on the leather has been has been reduced to a bare minimum and a soft leather ankle cuff is used to provide even more comfort. Although pushing the top end of what could be classed as budget at £90 these would be an investment as they would last for a long time.

Men's Jura Leather Walking Boots

                The Rapid boots (fabric) from Mountain Warehouse also represent very good value for money at £59.99 although without Vibram rubber soles the rubber on these boots is still made from a hard rubber compound adding to its durability and although not Gore-Tex lined they are again fully waterproof and have a soft ankle cuff to provide more comfort.

Mountainlife Men's Rapid Waterproof Walking Boots

With the amount of weight that could end up being carried investment in a decent rucksack is a must, as stated earlier rucksacks can be picked up very cheaply from supermarkets however with no technical features this may end up being a bad decision, as a bare minimum a rucksack needs to have some sort of frame to carry and distribute the load evenly, the absence of a frame in this size of bag should be a real concern as a relatively average weight of ten kilos could end up causing pain to the shoulders and push into the lower back, there are many different designs of bags from bags with no sleeping bag compartment, to no top lid pocket, to bellows side pockets but as long the bag is big enough to take everything you need, fits properly and is comfortable when loaded the choice of design is ultimately yours.

                Three bags I would recommend would be the Eurohike pathfinder 65, the Blacks Alpine 60+10 and Mountain Warehouse Tor 65, the pathfinder 65 is perhaps the most basic of these, with the classic design of main compartment, sleeping bag compartment, two side pockets and a top pocket, it does have an adjustable harness and a frame and retailing at £79.99 it won’t break the bank either,

With three bags to choose from the blacks range I have chosen the middle of three, the Alpine 60+10, retailing for £75 this is a technical bag as you can get from an own brand budget range, with a frame an adjustable harness, bellows side pockets, a main compartment that boasts a waterproof roll top lining, a sleeping bag compartment, top pocket, hip belt pocket, bungee cord holder and several gear attachment loops, there is a lot this bag has to offer.

Mountain warehouse equivalent is the Tor 65 which retails for £79.99 and like the Eurohike pathfinder 65 boasts an adjustable harness, a sleeping bag compartment, main compartment, two side compartments, a top compartment and gear loops.

Mountainlife Tor 65 Litre Rucksack

To apply the same rules to waterproofs that I have done to boots and rucksacks to boots and rucksacks would result in close to 100 jackets and trousers so additional conditions need to be applied in this case I have a applied a £40 upper limit to jackets and a £30 upper limit to trousers. Again in this price range don’t expect to see Gore-Tex, eVent, waterproof zips or extremely lightweight fabrics but what you choose does need to be waterproof and not water resistant and also needs to be breathable, although in this price range these jackets will not be as breathable as some of the higher priced equivalents.

Retailing at £40 is the Peter Storm Journey jacket, this jacket although basic is still fully waterproof and breathable has 2 normal pockets as well as a chest pocket and an MP3 pocket all of which have zips to secure any items and are covered to prevent any rain getting in, the hood does not have a stiffened peak but does roll away into the collar and has draw cord to adjust the volume and size whilst wearing it.

Unfortunately Blacks has no equivalent to the Peter Storm Journey jacket so I’ll move on to Mountain Warehouse, the waterproof Trek jacket retails at £64.99 and is the cheapest fully waterproof and breathable jacket in the mountain life range. This jacket has fully taped seams and a fleece lined collar for more comfort, the hood is detachable and has a volume adjuster for a better fit.

                With sleeping bags unless you are very lucky you will not find down fill within the budget range, this means that all the bags that you will find will be made from synthetic materials, although this means an increase in weight and size but a decrease in warmth to weight ratio they do however have an advantage in that they are water resistant and wont suffer if they get damp, the list of must have in a sleeping bag include a stuff sack with compression straps and a desirable feature is women`s specific fit.

                The Eurohike adventure 200, retailing from £25, has a long history and called many things over the years and is currently the nucleus of a range 2 and 3 season sleeping bags, the technical capabilities of the standard 200 bag are a hollowfibre construction giving an extreme temperature of 0 degrees, an overall length of 220 cm and a width of 80cm, the bag also comes with a square toe, women`s specific fit and junior sizes, as well as it warmer and bulkier 3 season version.

                The Blacks equivalent is more or less the same as the Eurohike but with a better extreme temperature rating of – 16, this is reflected in the price of £35, this means that although you will survive in your sleeping bag at this temperature you will not have a comfortable night.

Quantum 200 2-Season Sleeping Bag

Mountain Warehouses Odyssey 200 retailing from £29.99 is certainly a better option for the slightly taller person as the overall dimensions of this bag are bigger at 230 cm and an almost standard 80 cm in width the filling is polyester which does mean that the overall warmth rating is affected and comes in at an extreme rating of 0 degrees.


Odyssey 200 Sleeping Bag

The next thing I shall be looking at is the mid or insulation layer, this comprises of both fleece and synthetic down, as with everything when it comes to outdoor equipment the choice is ultimately yours, once again i`ll apply a price restriction of £50 and a full zip restriction to items as well.

Even with these restrictions in place there are still a number of choices, within the Peter Storm range two fleeces stand out as being the most suitable for budget purposes, these are the Carrick fleece retailing at £25 and the full zip micro fleece retailing at £20.

The Carrick fleece is made from 100% polyester fleece features an interactive zip and 2 zipped pockets, being a basic budget fleece this is all you would really need.

The peter storm full zip micro fleece is a lighter weight fleece than the Carrick and does not boast an interactive zip, to make up for this shortfall however it does have one extra pocket in the chest, the lighter weight and smaller size does mean that this fleece can be worn under waterproofs without feeling too bulky.

Mountain Warehouse also have 2 fleeces that meet the criteria, the Ash and the Evergreen, unfortunately neither of these fleeces are interactive but is this really a necessity?

Both the Ash and the Evergreen have adjustable hems and anti pilling fabrics and are made from 100% polyester fleece, the difference between them lays in a slightly different design, with the Evergreen (£39.99) having two zipped pockets and the Ash (also 39.99) having three, two on the outside and one inside.

Men's Ash Fleece


Evergreen Men's Full Zip Fleece


The last thing I will be looking at will be base layers, the worst thing to wear in an outdoor activity environment is cotton, this is because although cotton feels cool, it absorbs sweat and doesn`t wick it away from the skin, eventually causing you to become cold, it also takes a long time to dry compared to other materials and has also been known to causing chafing to the skin.

Again there are plenty of options within the base layer market to choose from including wool, polyester and a blend of both, however with the budget end of the market in mind, the vast majority of the base layers will be polyester or a synthetic material.

Within the Peter Storm range there is one base layer that stands out, this is the Peter Storm ½ zip stretch base layer top (£30), as its name suggests it has a ½ zip for further ventilation, is made of stretchable polyester and can be worn as a base layer.

The Mountain Life Endurance base layer comes in both long and short sleeve varieties but no zip, like the Peter Storm it is high wicking and quick drying and also boasts a UV protection of SPF30.

This is just a short choice of products suitable for budget hiking and is by no means a complete list.

As with all outdoor equipment personal preference is key to any decision you make.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

highest points

Is it possible to travel to the highest points of 5 counties and get back home all within the hours of daylight? This was the question that was going through my mind as I was staring at a list of the highest points on the internet and the fact that the highest points of Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk run in an almost straight line in a northeast direction made this even more of a temptation. At 6.01 I started my car determined to prove that it was possible (yes I have heard of the 3 peaks challenge, the 4 peaks challenge and the 5 peaks challenge.)

                What could this possibly achieve, Apart from using a hell of a lot of fuel, creating a lot wear and tear and wasting a day? It would give a foundation on which to extend the principal of reaching the highest points to the whole of the UK with the aim of raising money for charity. With the engine ticking over I entered the first set of coordinates in the sat nav, 99 miles and 1 hour 52 minutes, (yeah right!) according to the mapping software the whole trip would take me 8 hours and 3 minutes so about 9 hours if I included breaks and walk ins and would be 390 miles in total. With sunrise at 06.04 I only had a couple of more minutes to wait, of course with anything like this the doubts start creeping in will the car breakdown? Have I got the coordinates right? Will I fall asleep! The clocked ticked over to 6.04 and the challenge had started, knowing the roads of the UK and the fact that I had to use the M25 didn’t fill me with confidence but it didn’t put me either.

                The A12 was unusually quiet and with cruise control sat at 70…ish, I started thinking maybe this would be easy, and then I reached that glorious traffic jam known as the M25, mile after mile of 50 mph road works with their associated average speed cameras and truck drivers who don’t know the meaning of the words “stay in lane.” Blessed relief came once I had turned off the M25 and onto the A41, I could finally get my mind back on the task in hand, Hertfordshire`s highest point just outside Tring and no more than 30 minutes’ drive away, the point I was looking for was in the middle of a field but was the field accessible? I`d find out that it was and also (almost) handily marked by a lone tree, it was 8.15 and had taken me over 2 hours to reach this point, never mind time to push on, (coordinates SP914091).


                It was on the way to Essex that I realised that I could have also added Bedfordshire`s highest point to the list as well as the route I was using took me straight past this.

                Essex, land of the fake tan, fake hair, fake everything…well not really. Where I was going was actually on the border with Cambridgeshire, I didn`t know Essex had a border with Cambridgeshire until this point. Parking at a church in Langley I followed a path for about a kilometre until I reached the point I was looking for (TL443362), with the pictures taken I headed back to the car and programed the sat nav for Cambridgeshire’s highest point, it came back as being 4 miles and 9 minutes away, I didn’t think this was right and tried again, 4 miles and 9 minutes away.

With nothing else to do I decided to follow the sat nav and within 5 minutes was in Cambridgeshire, curiously a village hall had been built right next to the highest point with two skate ramps in the grounds…did this mean that the highest point in Cambridgeshire was a skate ramp? (TL427386) probably, I`ll let you decide.

 58 minutes away was Suffolk`s highest point (TL786558) and a relatively easy drive mostly along duel carriageways, I could actually see the point I was heading for some distance away thanks in part to the mast constructed at this point, which also meant that I could actually park the car on the point I was going for, after a brief rest stop it was time to get back on the road and head for Roman Camp just outside Cromer, this was going to be the longest stint of driving and as it was getting close to lunch time it would also mean stopping off at some point, this posed a problem, dodgy sandwich from a garage or dodgy burger from a van? In the end the garage won and a slightly dodgy sandwich was more than made up for with a surprisingly good coffee. Arriving at roman camp I was not only to find a car park but a campsite at the top of the hill , the walk in to Beacon Hill (TG183414) was disappointingly short but was more than made up for by the views out to sea.

 with all the points done it was time to head for home another 2 hour drive lay ahead but with the sun due to set at 19.51 and it having on just gone 13.35 I had more than enough time to make it home, on the way home I started thinking about the wider ramifications of my journey, yes it was possible to do this type of journey, yes it would be possible to reach more than one point in a day. However this would not always be the case especially as I got further north and I would need to plan the route very carefully to minimize wasted time on the road and maximum time in the hills, I now also know that not all mapping software is accurate as the software I used said the journey would take 390 miles and 8 hours and 3 minutes to complete, 350 miles and nearly 10 hours was the final journey statistics, with careful planning and attention to detail a journey to reach the highest county points of the UK should take no more than 4 to 5 weeks.  


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Is there still a place for Trangia’s in the outdoors?

Is there a person out there that participates in outdoor activities that hasn`t at some point used the venerable Trangia stove? The familiar sound of clattering metal as the 3D jigsaw is put together, the sight of methylated spirits disappearing into the side well as if by magic and the frustration as you realise you`ve put the top on too soon and melted the rubber ring to the burner (you only do it the once!) with more and more alternatives coming onto the market how much longer will Trangia be with us?

 Having both personal and professional experience with the Trangia I can say I both love it and hate it. From a professional instructors perspective the Trangia is one of the best stoves on the market, the size, shape and low centre of gravity of the base of the unit makes it very difficult to tip over and spill contents over clients, the windshield is very high compared to the position of the burner meaning less heat is lost to the wind, the lack of any moving parts (if you discount the pin on the simmer ring) makes the Trangia one of the most reliable and maintenance free stoves on the market, with the exception of cleaning, another benefit of these aspects is that very little training has to be given to anyone in terms of cooking on Trangia`s, in most cases it is safety that has to be reaffirmed with most groups.

However from a personal perspective compared to other stoves the Trangia is very bulky, approx. 22cm x 10cm, very heavy 1170grams, very slow to boil one litre of water approx. 15-20 minutes (all dimensions based on Trangia 25)and fuel can be hard (but not impossible) to find.

Over the years alternatives have been slowly coming onto the market these range from flameless cook sets through lightweight wood burning stoves to homemade stoves, but do they really spell the end of the Trangia?

Trekmates flameless cook system

This is claimed to be a “revolution in cooking outdoors” and is one incredible piece of equipment, no liquid fuel is used, neither is gas or solid fuel, just add water to a sachet and within seconds heat is produced, within minutes the heat reached cooking temperature this stays hot for a few hours allowing potentially more than one meal to be cooked by one sachet, it has less bulk and weight than a Trangia, is just as maintenance free and is just as reliable. However the relative cost of running these stoves is high, £10 for 5 sachets, and each sachet can only be used once. There is also the amount of waste generated by the product, not only the used sachets themselves but the wrapper as well, all of which has to be carried out, although the same can be said about food in general, although a very good product the cost has to be considered as well as obtaining these sachets.

Wood/multi fuel stoves

These stoves have been gaining popularity in recent years within the bushcraft community because of there lightweight, compact and versatile nature, there are many different types of these stoves offered one example of which is the “honey stove”, this is several pieces of interlocking metal that clip together to form a rigid hexagonal stove capable of burning small amounts of wood or if a centre ring is used a Trangia burner, it can also be used in a square shape just using the Trangia burner, the advantage to this stove is depending on where you live fuel is always available and free in the form of small sticks for burning, it packs away to virtually nothing and weighs very little. However when burning wood using this stove takes practice and patience the risk of burns increases as does the risk of failure. Again a good product however training to use these stoves would be required to use them properly.

Homemade stoves

                These stoves have been gaining popularity amongst lightweight backpackers as they can be made at home using very basic materials, often using drinks cans, knives and pliers, there are several videos on You Tube of these stoves being made (search for “penny stoves”) they primarily run off of methylated spirits and can be built in different configurations, they are very lightweight, very compact and if built properly can be very fuel efficient and very strong, I have built one of these and defrosted a frozen block of ice to 80 degrees in one fill, they have a relatively low centre of gravity but because of there light weight can be blown around by wind fairly easily, further disadvantages of these stoves are if built incorrectly can be inefficient and spill fuel, other disadvantages include the need to carry a windshield to decrease heat loss, the cost of these stoves makes these a very promising alternative however because of the disadvantages these stoves require a lot of practice not only to build properly but to get the most out of them as well.

How have Trangia adapted?

                Although the design has changed little since its introduction, Trangia has adapted what it makes to stay current, including making the sets out of titanium, cutting a hole in the windshield to allow gas burners to fit, introducing the “mini Trangia” which is a single pot compact lightweight version of the Trangia as well as other adaptations.


                The fact that Trangia`s are still being used by various companies as their main group stoves shows that Trangia`s still have a place in the outdoors and probably will for the foreseeable future, be it because of cost, safety or ease of use.

As with all outdoor equipment personal preference is key to any decision that you make.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Social Studies and the use of Bushcraft


Social Studies are available as a course to the Sixth Form in the UK and take into account various aspects such as including ` sociology but also political science, history, economics, religious studies, geography, psychology, anthropology, and civics. ` (Wikipedia) obviously Bushcraft concentrates mainly on the Anthropology aspect but take into account other aspects from the list above as well.

                What this means in terms of teaching outdoor education in general and bushcraft in particular is that students will come to understand that people who pursue these activities are not “weird” but have a different attitude towards leisure and hobby times then other groups of society and that far from being pointless or a waste of time can contain some valuable life skills of both `soft` and `hard` skills, soft skills that are transferable between virtually every aspect of daily life such as teamwork, problem solving, interaction and hard skills such as fire lighting, cooking, shelter building. Students would also learn that these skills are still relevant in today’s world and indeed are still practiced in parts of the world as evidenced by Ray Mears TV programs Bushcraft, Northern Wilderness, Real Heroes of Telemark and Ray Mears goes Walkabout. Students on Bushcraft courses would learn that although the skills presented in these programs seem distant, foreign and unfamiliar they are actually closer than they appear, this can be summarized by the phrase “western culture is only four days deep” (unknown) this was said after research undertaken into people attitude towards both tribal/ community life and their reliance on technology, essentially groups of people were taken  on an outdoor survival and education course, given basic knowledge and equipment and whilst supervised told to use what they had learned to live in a forest for seven days, within four days the group had reverted back to almost tribal status with people dedicated to certain tasks such as food gathering and preparation, water collection and wood gathering.

                Perhaps the most surprising influence and biggest awareness that students will have of both outdoor education and bushcraft will be in the use of elements of both within video games, two of these games show the most use of bushcraft are “Day Z” (designed by Dean Hall for the ARMA 2 game) and Eidos “Lara Croft Tomb Raider” (2013 release) within these games the player is forced into a survival situation and a fight for their lives and although the use of modern tools such as an ice axe and guns are portrayed in the games, the player must still hunt animals, butcher and cook food over open fires but only they have collected fire wood and found a way to light a fire, in “Tomb Raider” by creating a fire striker and in Day Z by finding matches.

 Day Z also uses factors of co-operation within the multiplayer environment, in that to successfully survive more than a few hours of gameplay the player must join with more experienced players whilst gathering equipment for themselves, after this task has been accomplished the player can then decide if they want to stay with the group or break off on their own. Because of the familiarity of these situations it may peak the curiosity of students into finding out how easy these skills are to pick up and will also make it easier to relate these skills to their lives.

Lone Wolf can teach these skills and the relevance behind them to social science groups in safe environments whilst at the same time allowing students to learn that all their actions have consequences and being a mobile business we can come to you or use one of our third party sites to teach these skills.