Monday, 30 April 2018

Wolf Tracks (International) Iceland

Iceland, fire and ice

          A few weeks ago I decided to take a short break and go to a country  hadn`t been to, (to be honest this is one of my goals this year, to visit at least three countries I haven`t been to) and with the ever reliable Groupon discount voucher scheme I decided to fulfil to bucket list entries, see the northern lights and visit Iceland, I chose the 3 nights package and promptly filled everything out that I needed to, with everything sorted I now just had to wait for the date of departure, well actually the day before the date of departure.
          As I was flying from Luton airport very early in the morning I had made the decision to go the night before as most people would, what I found slightly amusing was it took longer to get from where I live to Luton than it did flying to Iceland, Colchester to Stratford by train, Stratford to West Hampsted via London Overground, train to Luton airport.
I had my first big shock of the trip when I arrived at the hotel I had booked for the evening, to say it was overpriced was putting it mildly, £120 for one night in a box room!
          after a pleasant two and half hour flight to Iceland the adventure could really begin, the bus ride in Reykjavik provided the first of many many spectacular sights, the mountains beyond the city at once calling me to walk in and explore them.

           My hotel was located just outside the city centre, reception was open 24 hours a day and although I had to wait for my room to be ready having arrived at the hotel early the reception was a pleasant place to spend an hour or so with plenty of books to read and leaflets to browse to make plans for the next few days, although a couple of things had been planned at the time of buying the package deal I had been left with a couple of days where I had to plan my own excursions, with so much to choose from I had to narrow it down for budget and time reasons, I eventually chose the Golden circle tour, with this tour there are two versions, the Golden circle and the golden circle direct, out of the two I went for the direct tour, this tour is shorter and misses out one of the usual stops but you still get the essence of the Icelandic wilderness, our tour guide was fantastic at pointing out places and points of interest as we went along, as most of you will probably know the vast majority of Iceland`s electricity comes from geothermal technology (a technology I`m hugely in favour of, its just a shame that Iceland is only one of a few countries that can exploit it effectively) however the Icelanders also use the the hot water to directly heat their homes making it doubly effective, the golden circle tour takes in several waterfalls as well as a well known geyser, please don`t ask me to pronounce the names of the waterfalls because I really couldn`t do it, although there are some interesting stories surrounding them 

the next stop on the tour was the geyser, interestingly the geyser that people might associate with Iceland is longer the case, a few years ago an earthquake in the area changed the geology of the area and changed the active geyser.

the above photo is the geyser that people used to visit although it no longer erupts it is still "active"

it was unfortunately while at the geyser site that I encountered my first "problem" I was trying to film the geyser erupting but kept getting interrupted by other tourists particularly of a certain nation which I wont mention here, either pushing me out of the way for their own selfish behavior or standing directly in front of me blocking my view. it took me at least a dozen times to get the resulting video.

opposite the geyser is a visitors centre selling all the usual stuff, at this I decided it was time for lunch, although I don`t eat red meat I had been persuaded to try the lamb and I have to admit, it was one of the sweetest succulent pieces of meat I had had in along time and was well worth the price which ironically cost more than the Irish coffee I had with it, after lunch it was back on the bus to the next waterfall, this was where the conservation movement in Iceland really took off, without going into too much detail it involved a young girl, her father and an electricity company, geologically the waterfall is interesting as the waterfall and the gorge it flows through was formed at the same time during an earthquake and in one movement.

from one spectacular site to another, in this case the geographical fault line between the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American Tectonic plate, many people think that this gap is only a few feet across but actually its a couple of miles wide, 
the hills on the left of this picture are on the North American plate and the hills on the right are on the Eurasian plate, the white building in the bottom right of the picture is the approximate position of where the worlds oldest parliament took place (from 900ish AD) before it moved into Reykjavik, 

I haven`t seen the show but I`m also told that this is where part of Game of Thrones was filmed. 

with the golden circle tour done and the relativity close sights taken in it was time to return to the hotel and plan for the next day. 
the next day had already been planned for me by the people I booked the trip with, this was a trip to the famous blue lagoon, the natural geothermal hot springs on the outskirts of the city, stunning is one way to describe this attraction and rightly so, another word is expensive, something I will mention later on, unfortunately slightly too expensive for me, although I did have a drink and watched other people enjoying themselves in the lagoon.

  after a couple of hours at the lagoon I returned to the hotel and prepared myself for the afternoon activity which in this case was a self guided tour of the city, there are numerous maps taking in different parts of the city, 

the tour took in some of the more interesting sights including a couple of museums and the artworks in the pictures above, i did have to cut the tour short however and head back to the hotel to prepare for that nights excursion.

the northern lights

          So of course the main reason for visiting Iceland was to see the northern lights, this was also part of the package that I had bought, I will state right now that I didn`t get any pictures of the lights themselves as I didn`t have the right equipment (a camera with a slow shutter speed), I was staying in Iceland for three nights and tried every night to see the lights, every time we ended up going to the same place to see if we could see them, and every night I encountered the same issue I had with the geyser, other tourists, in what was supposed to be a setting of awe and natural spectacle I found myself surrounded by people ignorant of where they were, selfish towards others (letting camera flashes go off when asked not to, shouting to each other, pushing people out of the way and being loud) this really did spoil the whole atmosphere for me, so did I see the lights? yes on the third and final night I was rewarded with the spectacle of the lights and for a brief moment everyone there was quiet and enjoyed the same sights I was witnessing.....until a massive whoop was shouted and everyone went back to their ignorant selfish ways, being late in the season (March) the lights weren`t as bright or distinct as you see in pictures but the ribbon of greens and reds dancing across the sky made me more than happy and crossed another thing off my list.

the only thing left to do was enjoy my last night in the hotel before heading back to the airport and heading home.

this trip was made possible through Groupon, the deal I selected cost £379 and included a three night stay in a selected hotel with breakfast, the northern lights tour and blue lagoon, flights were with Easy Jet flying out of Luton airport.

Is Iceland as expensive as people say it is?
I found the prices fairly reasonable for a Scandinavian country but you have to remember I was travelling alone, I can see however that for more than one person Iceland does get very expensive, a basic meal by myself cost the equivalent of £15 of course double this for two people and so on, alcohol is expensive as you would expect, a small bottle of beer was the about £6.50, if you are planning a trip to Iceland take all of this into account.

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Friday, 6 April 2018

Expedition Equipment

Expedition Equipment

 So its now April, its officially spring which means alot of people are starting to think of their next outdoor activity, it also means that Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and such like are going to start running properly again, this means lots of kit list, lots of choices and lots of money spent, money that could potentially be wasted, how? I hear you cry, think about how many people buy something use it once and thn either grow out of it, throw it away or wont do it again because something was uncomfortable, point of note here I`ve been in this position many many times whilst growing up, boots that dont fit was my biggest nightmare in one case resulting in a blister that covered my whole heel, it was that big I had to use duct tape rather than compeed to cover it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of equipment but will concentrate primarily on the three most important pieces of equipment to buy;

Boots, Rucksack and Sleeping bag. 

Why are these the most important things to concentrate on? why not waterproofs or insulation?
its quite simple, unless you are very unfortunte you won`t be wearing your waterproofs all day but you will have your boots on all day so they need to be comfortable and supportive and no trainers will NOT be OK, rough ground and a heavy load on your back require ankle support, something not provided by trainers.

Speaking of heavy loads you will also be wearing your rucksack for anything up to six hours on your back so it must not only support the weight you are carrying but it must also fit properly and be comfortable, a badly fitting rucksack can cause back ache, shoulder ache, neck ache, make knee problems worse, potentially giving a poor nights sleep.

sleeping bags, hands up those of you who have heard tales of sleeping bags that don`t work...there is nothing worse than 8 hours of cold misery when your sleeping bag just wont keep you warm,  (there are a few tips I will give later that will make sure you get the best possible nights sleep you can) and as this can affect the next days adventure it is essential to get a good, well insulated, easily compressible sleeping bag.

So how much should you spend?
Allow me to answer a question with a question, how much do you want to spend?
I`m being serious just on those three item alone you could spend up to £900, yes really,

£500 for a sleeping bag, (arctic sleeping bag)
£200 for boots (summer walking boots, winter boots can cost up to £400)
£200 on a rucksack,

Thats the extreme end of course but gives you an idea of what you could spend if you really wanted to.

I will make clear right now, I don`t get paid to write this blog and is not intended to be a full review of each item, so what I will say is completely from the heart, don`t scrimp on these three item spend as much of your budget as you can on them, don`t borrow this equipment if you can help it, this stuff needs to fit you properly to make your expedition enjoyable and now with that out of the way, what would I recommend.


weather its your first time wearing boots or the 100th pair you`ve bought, spend time breaking them in, don`t go to the shop the day before and ask for a pair, its the quickest way to blisters and sore feet, most stores have a policy that as long as they are not worn outside they will allow you to bring them back if they don`t fit. be sure to have your feet measured as the "add half a size for socks" doesn`t always work, for example I have size 9 feet and only one pair of boots did I need to go up half a size (they were my winter boots so extra padding was required), you will of course have a choice of leather or fabric, the difference here is not in the waterproofing but in the weight and support, leather boots tend to be heavier but are more supportive where as fabric boots are lighter but not as supportive, although honestly it really doesn`t make that much difference.

When it comes to boots there are two varients to look at, mid Boots and full boots, mid boots tend to be softer, easier to wear, lighter, more flexible however they don`t offer the ankle support or weight baring of a full boot, whereas a full boot has more ankle support but takes longer to break in and is heavier, for a first pair of boots I would recommend full boots just for that peace of mind that it less likely  you will hurt your ankle.

The options I put forward here are by no means your only options so shop around and see what you can get, for this catagory I have set a budget of £50, £100 and £150 and I will start with full boots.

Image result for peter storm brecon boots

Peter Storm Brecon boots £49,

full leather and waterproof lining this boot blurs the boundary between mid and full while supple enough to be a mid it is also high enough to be considered a full boot.

Image result for hi tec bandera

Hi Tec Bandera currently £40 (usually £80)

if you prefer fabric this is probably your best option lighter and more flexible but still waterproof thanks to the lining.

for those of you who would prefer a mid boot the options to consider are

Image result for peter storm camborne
Peter Storm Camborne £40

as I say these boots do not offer the same protection as full boots but are more flexible and dont take as long to break in, these boot are however still fully water proof.


Image result for hi tec dexter

Hi tec Dexter £40

as above this boot is still fully waterproof but you do lose the support of the full boot

moving on to the £100 range, this is by far the most inclusive price range with the most variety of boots and brands as well as fit.

Image result for peter storm snowdon
Peter Storm Snowdon £80

with its full full grain leather and waterproof lining this boot will keep your feet dry as well as offering considerable support for your ankle too.

Image result for brasher country walker

Brasher country walker walking boot £99 (normally £120)

classic boots, very popular and for good reason, they never wear out, the only downside to Brasher is their naming policy which can get confusing, these are the country walker boots but also in the range are the country roamer, country hiker and the country trekker which are completely different.

Image result for brasher country trekker
Brasher Country Trekker, £99 (normally £120)

Essentially the fabric version of the boots above although more flexible

in terms of mid boots, ones I would recommend to look at would be,

Image result for berghaus expeditor trek
the Berghaus expeditior trek 2.0 £100,

still fully waterproof but just remember that its not got the support

Image result for salomon mudstone mid 2 gtx

the Salomon mudstone £99 (originally £130)

Image result for merrell moab rover mid

Merrell Moab mid £89 (originally £125)

As you can imagine going up into the £150 range offers almost everything you can think of in terms of what you would ever need, with the exception of being crampon compatible

boots in this range to consider are

  Image result for berghaus hillwalker 2 gtx
Berghaus Hillwalker 2 £130,

a couple of years ago Berghaus and Brasher merged into one company as such names of products switched round, these were originally the Brasher hillwalkers, which many people adored, the only thing that has changed is the name, the quality is still exactly the same, full leather fully waterproof and a proper classic.

Image result for scarpa terra gtx

SCARPA terra GTX £145

one of Scarpa classic boots, many people have started in these boots and stuck to Scarpa ever since again full leather with a Gore Tex lining.

Image result for salomon quest prime gtx
Salomon Quest Prime £140

the quest range from Salomon has been around for a while so there is a pedigree when it comes to these boots, very solid for a fabric boot with Gore tex lining and a contra-grip sole

in terms of mid boots the option are as wide and varied as you could imagine, my pick from this range would be
Image result for scarpa bora gtx

the SCARPA  Bora £120, remembering that mid boots do not offer the same ankle support these boots make a nice compromise between comfort and support

Image result for salomon ultra 3 mid

the Salomon ultra 3 Mid £125, these would be my other choice for a mid boot, well priced in its range and very comfortable too.

and just as a little bonus if money were no object the boots I would go for in terms of a full boot would be

Image result for meindl bhutan mfs

The Meindl Bhutan, £210 but just putting this boot will make you realise why this boot tops my list,

for fabric boots

Image result for asolo flame

the Asolo Flame (my actual boots) £150, snug fitting, comfortable, light weight, almost perfect for me.


A well fitting rucksack is a thing of joy and can really make the difference between a painful expedition and a expedition to remember for the good times, whichever rucksack you buy make sure it at least has a frame inside it, a frame in most cases is two bars that run down the inside of the rucksack to help carry and distribute the weight, as you go up in price the frame can become more elaborate but will never be outside the rucksack itself. Also do not even consider a travel bag, these tend to be the bags that have a smaller bag attached on the outside and therefore end up upsetting you centre of balance considerably. As I already mentioned please don`t borrow a rucksack if you can help it, while one rucksack may fit the person you are borrowing it from it may not fit you properly, again as with the boots I will list the rucksacks that I would choose in particular price brackets but again please shop around until you find the rucksack you are happy with.

the budgets I will use are

£60, £100, £150 and £200

the reason I have started at £60 and not £50 is most of those at £50 do not come with a frame
AmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking Backpack with Rainfly
amazon basics £49.99 (55l)

a basic rucksack with a frame a rain cover, the only issue with this is you wont be able to try on before it reaches you.

Vango Sherpa 65L Rucksack

Vango Sherpa, classic bag that has been around for ages, fits most people,

in the £100 range the three bags I would consider looking at would be

Berghaus Men's Trailhead Outdoor Rucksack

the Berghaus Trailhead, £99 this is a bag that`s been around a while and has had a number of tweaks in its time to get it to the point where it is a highly respected rucksack.

Lowe Alpine Cholatse II Men's Hiking Backpack – Tabasco/Amber, 82 x 37 x 34 cm 55 Litres FMP – TB

Lowe Alpine Cholatse £85, check the price on this one as I have seen it for several different prices

in the £150 range the options for quality rucksack really open up.

 Image result for lowe alpine atlas 65

Lowe Alpine Atlas £115, this rucksack is from a line of ruicksacks that can trace its heritage back to the 1960s, Lowe Alpine has always been on the forefront of rucksack technology.

Image result for berghaus ridgeway

Berghaus ridgeway £115, essentially a more advanced version of the Trailhead

Image result for exos 58

Osprey Exos 58, £150, slightly smaller than the others I`ve picked but if you can get your gear in here you will not be disappointed,

in the £200 range you are obviously paying premium prices but trust me, just try them on weighted and you can see where your money will be going.

 Image result for osprey atmos ag65
Osprey Atmos 65ag £190, always a favorite, always a winner

Image result for gregory rucksack 65l

Gregory Baltoro

Image result for mammut creon crest

Mammut Creon Crest £192.95, being an "alpine" style backpack this has minimal straps on the outside to get caught on anything.

as with boots there are many many many options to choose from, so shop around for what you feel is best for you.

if it was a case of money no object the rucksack I would choose personally would be

Image result for osprey levity 60

Osprey Levity 60l, £240, a 60 litre bag that weighs less than a kilo....

Sleeping bags

you will find two types of sleepingbags for sale, synthetic and down, as a basic overview, down is warmer for its weight, compacts down smaller so fits in your bag easier and is lighter on the downside however if these bags get wet they lose all their insulation capabilities from which it is almost impossible to recover. synthetic bags on the other hand will lose some insulation properties but not all when wet, but these bags are heavier and bulkier and not as compressible, I would recommend synthetic for your first sleeping bag but of course this is entirely up to you.
As promised have a couple of tips on keeping warm in a sleeping bag,

firstly, sleeping bags reflect whatever heat you put into them so if you wear seventeen layers when you climb into your sleeping bag it will have no heat to absorb, less in this case is better.

buy a decent sleeping mat to go underneath your sleeping bag, a thick roll mat mat is good but doesn`t provide a lot of comfort, the other alternative is a self inflating mat, warmer, more comfort but requires maintenance. 

secondly, and this also goes with good maintenance as well, with the exception of your expedition do  not keep your sleeping bag stuffed in its stuuf sack as it will lose it insulation abilities over time.

I will stick to the £50 £100 and £150 and the first category will be synthetic, comfort rating is subjective and temperature listed is as a guide only,

Coleman  North Rim Unisex Outdoor Sleeping Bag available in Olive Green/Black - 208 cm

Coleman North Rim, £49.95, comfortable down to -2, but bulky to pack away

Vango Latitude 300 Sleeping Bag

Vango Latitude 300, prices vary, comfortable down to -5, bulky but not as bulky as above

Image result for berghaus transition 200 sleeping bag

Berghaus Transition 200, £50, comfortable down to 0 degrees, least bulk at of all on here

in the £100 synthetic range, my pick of the bunch are

Mountain Equipment Starlight II - Reg
Mountain Equipment starlight 2, £100, comfortable down to 0 degrees

Glacier II

Robens Glacier 2, £80, comfortable down to 0 degrees.

and now for the £150 range, if i`m honest the insulation in these bags is probably going to be a little too good however these bags compress down next to nothing .

Montane MT PRISM 0 C

montane MT prism, £150, comfortable down to 0 degrees, least amount of bulk

Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z Flame Sleeping Bag Long yellow/olive Design left 2018 mummy sleeping bag

Mountain Hardwear lamina Z flame, £150, comfortable down to -7

Mountain Equipment Adult's Starlight IV Sleeping Bag 197 x 78 x 10 cm in Cobalt / Midnight
Mountain Equipment starlight 4, £150, comfortable down to -7, very bulky

onto the down sleeping bags, as I mentioned these bag have to be kept dry otherwise they will not keep you warm.

I have to skip the £50 range as I could not find anything


Vango Fuse 2° Hybrid Down Sleeping Bag - Nuclear Blue

Vango fuse 2Degree, hybrid down, £100, this bag is a fusion of synthetic and down insulation and as the name suggests comfortable to 2 degrees

Kathmandu Pegasus Down Sleeping Bag

Kathmandu Pegasus, prices vary, comfortable down to 0 degrees

last but not least in the £150 range

Vango Venom 300 Sleeping Bag

Vango Venom, £150, comfortable down to 0 degrees, absolute classic of a down sleeping bag

Mountain Equipment Helium Solo - Reg
Mountain Equipment Helium £150, comfortable down to zero degrees, another classic that hasn`t changed in years, because it really doesn`t need to.

Vaude Lightweight Cheyenne 200 Unisex Outdoor Right Zip Sleeping Bag

Vaude cheyenne 200, £130, comfortable down to -3

as I said at the beginning this was only intended to be an overview of what is available in the price ranges, do some reasearch before purchasing and please remember what I said about getting a good fit for you.

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