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Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month he looks at choosing the best cycling sunglasses and what difference a decent pair of eyewear can make to walkers and cyclists alike.
My early days of cycling and mountain walking led me very quickly to realise the value of wearing sunglasses. Cycling fast, I had various run-ins with bees and flies with a combined impact speed probably around 45mph! Then there have been those times on cycling holidays when a series of tiny fly flew into my eyes and started to dissolve leaving me to have to emergency-stop and flush the critter out before I swerved to the wrong side of the road. My early days on walking holidays in the mountains with inadequate sun protection resulted in squinty, tired and gritty feeling eyes. Soon I was investing in decent cycling sunglasses!
One should note at this stage that when we talk of sunglasses, very few brands these days are actually made of glass. Ray Ban, Persol and Vuarnet, for example still make lovely sunglasses from glass, but these may not be always so good for sporting activities; being heavier on the nose bridge than plastics. There is also the slight worry that a glass lens could break or chip in sport and get into the eyes although this is highly unlikely. Most sports sunglasses are a type of plastic such as silicon or Perspex. Generally speaking these are very strong materials, although not necessarily very resistant to scratching. Oakley were one of the companies that pioneered this manufacture and once boasted ‘bullet proof technology lenses at 10 metres’, their advertisement showing the pock marking on their lenses after a shotgun blast impact, rather than a sniper rifle! Oakley make well-loved sports glasses but may not perform or last as well as models made by manufacturers such as Julbo, Enduro, Tifosi and the likes, for a third of the price. So much for bullet proof protection, my beloved Oakleys eventually fell apart!
Nevertheless, it is probably wise not to buy really cheap shades, slight optical imperfections can in the short-term cause headaches and may do lasting damage in the long-term. Also, importantly the lenses should be shown to block harmful UVA and UVB blue light as this has proven to cause cataracts and retinal problems.
You don’t have to buy an expensive pair of glasses for cycling or hiking, as long as perhaps they are from a reliable make, have UV protection and are manufactured for the category of light that you are going to expose yourself to. Reasonable specification glasses will normally be marked on the frames or box with ‘Category’ (or CAT) 0 to 4: indicating the Visible Light Transmission (VLT) of the lenses. So, Category 0 is like a safety glass, or a clear cycling glass for grey weather and have a VLT of 80-100% whereas a CAT 3 pair have a VLT of 8-17%, which is fine for most walkers or cyclists. CAT 4 glasses are designed for long periods on snow and ice or in bright conditions such as a beach and have a VLT at 3-8%. CAT 4 sunglasses are provided by manufacturers such as Julbo and Vuarnet – both with side pieces or wrap rounds and the latter still using some optically correct glass lenses.
Especially for cyclists it is worth considering a pair of polarised sunglasses. Ordinary tinted sunglass lenses only cut down on ambient light that reaches the eye, or VLT. However by their very nature, they cannot block glare. Only polarised lenses can block glare and not having that option could be dangerous if you are riding your bike.
Tests show that the most protective sunglasses are wrap rounds that protect the eyes from incidental ambient light entering from the side. The wrap round can either be a continuation of the lens, or plastic frame or more traditionally, leather side pieces. Quite a number of cycling shades now have some cut-outs of lens material between the frames and the lens, although this may slightly increase incidental light. The real advantage of this for cycling is that it ventilates and defogs the glasses when you are cycling or running which is really useful. Examples include the expensive Oakley Jawbreaker and the much cheaper Endura Mullet.
There is a fashion at the moment for lenses to have a tint that is as reflective as a shaving mirror. However, even on expensive glasses, mirrored tints can easily scratch and even wear off. A lot of manufacturers have their own style of tint, but fundamentally the most common lens colours are brown, then green, then grey. This is because these lenses are 'colour neutral'- they cut down on overall brightness without distorting colours thereby accentuating relief. Quite a few cycling sunglasses have a range of interchangeable lenses with different tints that can be used in different riding conditions. Oakley and Rudy Project do this at the top end and Endura, Maddison, DHB, Tifosi and others do so at the more economical end. Of course it can be a bit fiddly changing lenses, so for some people photo-chromatic lenses maybe a way forward as they darken or lighten depending upon light intensity (for instance: Julbo Aero bike glasses).
No matter how good the lenses are, it won’t help if the frames let you down - they are after all, the support for the structure. Make sure that when you try the glasses that they fit well and you don’t have to keep sliding them up the bridge of your nose like Agnes does with her glasses in Mrs Brown’s Boys. A lot of the sporting shades do have rubberised ear and nose pieces which make them more secure and stop them from bouncing around when you are doing sports. Frames bend out and fatigue; if you keep them on the top of your head when you are not using them, they will tend to overstretch and then they never fit snuggly anymore. Instead, keep them in a case clipped to your rucksack if walking and if you are not using them while cycling, do what the cycle pros do, and insert them upside down- sliding the arms through the helmet ventilation slots. Watch out also for sunglasses with ‘crystal’ frames (clear transparent plastic) as clear frame can cause light refraction at certain angles around the lens creating dazzle in your eyes.
The hinges of sunglasses will normally break under any kind of stress. Metal frames are more durable than plastic ones and some have a spring induction dampener to prevent overstraining.
Cleaning & Caring of Your Sunglasses
Sunglasses need cleaning regularly especially after cycling or walking when they may be covered in sweat-salt, sun cream, sand particles or even the tiny flies I mentioned earlier. Wash them in warm soapy water, then rinse off. Use the manufacturer’s microfibre wipe for gentle wiping off smears and breathe on the lenses and wipe for polishing. Wash the microfibre wipe regularly. Any screws keep tight, but don’t over tighten.
The more expensive glasses can be made to a prescription order at some expense. Of course, some manufacturers still produce clip-on sun lenses to go onto the frame of your standard glasses.
Some More Thoughts
Many people, such as myself, normally carry two pairs of sunglasses, just in case one pair gets sat on, gets blown off my face or has a lens or frame failure. However, I have decided not to have such an expensive pair for outdoor activities having wiped out a few pairs over the years. I just leave a nice pair of glass-lens & folding Ray Bans in my main bag for après action, chilling and sightseeing use. Sometimes walking around with cycling glasses on, just makes you look too much like a space cadet!
Just to point out that the only sunglasses that lasted me more than 10 years have been a solid pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers, with large metal hinges, and a pair of Rudy Project cycling and running glasses. There are also my beloved heavy duty Vuarnet Alpine glasses that have been with me for 15 years and I just can’t quite get rid of, even though I maybe should..!
For more of John’s Gear Matters blog articles on topics like knives & multitools, water bottles, gaiters and much more, have a look at the complete Gear Matters blog articles overview.
If you have any questions on what gear you should bring on your walking or cycling holiday, please do get in touch with John and the rest of the Sherpa team. We are happy to assist you with specific questions.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month he looks at hiking gaiters and cycling overshoes to keep your feet dry and warm when on your trip.
One particularly wet day crossing the Pennines on the Coast to Coast with Sherpa Expeditions a few years ago was an extreme case in the realisation of how important gaiters can be. There is a section called White Mossy Moor, which, in normal conditions, is a saturated peaty morass. I was wearing Scarpa Yeti gaiters which came up to the knee and had a rubber rand which sealed over the boot. I didn’t get wet feet at all and they were perfect for this walk. This contrasted with the fortunes of a lady in the group who insisted on wearing low cut boots for the wetter sections; they got sucked off by the mud and she was left hopping around in her socks! We had to dig a trench around the boot to liberate it from the bog.
Hiking gaiters have come and gone in different styles and fashions over the years. They originated from the military Puttees, which were woollen or proofed canvas bands wrapped around the top of boot and leg in spirals to stop water, dust and stones entering the boot.
Today, the simplest and cheapest gaiters (such as the Regatta Caymen pictured above) are a tube of canvas or nylon that folds around the top of the boot and either up to the knee, to the mid-calf or just to the top of the ankle (in the case of the ankle gaiters). The two edges of the fabric are usually connected via a zip or Velcro, and there is normally a tie at the top to prevent the gaiter sinking down the leg and sagging around the ankle. Hiking gaiters usually have a hook which you pull to extend the (elasticated) bottom tongue of fabric over the top of the boot which connects to the boot lacing. There is normally also a strap which goes under the sole to help prevent the gaiter riding upwards.
More expensive gaiters such as the Berghaus Yeti (pictured below) have become elaborated with for example Goretex type fabrics to make them more comfortable or rubber rands, for a better waterproof seal and with insulation for high altitude walking.
Some trail runners now use light ankle gaiters to stop stones jump up your ankles such as the Montane Via-Sock It (pictured above).
If anything apart from for high altitude mountaineering, gaiters have gone slightly out of fashion with the range of more lightweight, sporty footwear most people are walking in these days. These are quick to take off and empty out, are freely draining, or have breathable fabrics.
Waterproof trousers have also got better so in the rain, people instead just wear these over the boot. Hiking gaiters can be a bother to put on and zips and Velcros don’t work too well when they are soiled. Besides, under-straps and rands wear out fairly quickly and gaiters are easily snagged by crampon points. However, they will help save you from frost bite in snowy conditions.
For cyclists, the equivalent to a hiking gaiter is an over shoe and these really do aid comfort by reducing the incidence of wet and cold numb feet. They are recommended for touring cyclists as much as for sporting riders as a great aid to all day comfort in poor weather. Overshoes can vary in price depending on the materials used: the cheapest tend to be neoprene and the more expensive elasticated Goretex-type fabrics.
Neoprene overshoes, such as the Seal Skinz (pictured below) are fine but can result in warm sweaty feet in some conditions. This however is better than cold frozen ones.
If you want a minimalist approach to keep your toes warm, there are toe covers to wear over your shoes. These can easily be stowed in your cycling jersey pocket and can be put on quickly when you’re in need to keep toes toasty. An example for this can be the Carnac Toe Cover (pictured above).
It is important to have a good fit for your over shoe. If they are too tight, they are too hard to get on. If they are too loose, the wind can conspire to pull them off or they start to rub annoyingly against cranks or even get snagged in your bike chain.
Overshoes can never be really fully water tight as rain or splash water would potentially run down the cyclist’s leg. Also, the overshoe leaves exposed the underside of the cycle shoe so that cleats can be used in the normal way.
Read more Gear Matters blog articles >>
(Winter) walking in Europe may bring in the occasional rain shower and also when on a cycling holiday in Europe, you may encounter some wet weather. No longer does this lead to your maps and documentation getting soaked or disintegrated. There is a new generation of waterproof map cases and in this post John brings you tips & advice.
It’s not long ago that most people carried just a clear polythene bag to protect their maps and documents from bad weather. Many suffered the fate of their expensive maps dissolving into a blob of papier-mâché; rain water driven by the wind having infiltrated through the opening and small holes in the bag that had not even been noticed. There were some early 'proper map cases,' which claimed to be water resistant. They were essentially a pouch having a fabric back, clear plastic front and a Velcro closure. However, in the rain the water seeped through the hairy Velcro to turn the map once again to papier-mâché, an insidious rising damp. The map cases were normally really tight and if you had to quickly put the map in it, say on the onset of a rain shower, it was easy to tear the seams of the case. The next generation barely fared better: this had a double seal closure actually in the plastic rather like a sandwich bag and would often pop open. Soon the plastic cracked along the seam around the closure rendering in useless.
The last 25 years however, there has been a real breakthrough with plastic design with the manufacture of Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). This is a class of polyurethane plastics with many properties including elasticity, transparency, and resistance to oil, grease and scratches. The resulting map case is truly waterproof - if the closure is properly fixed, and highly durable. It is made from an uncrackable slightly stretchy plastic membrane with welded seams that take a lot of stress. You need to look no further than the Ortlieb range of waterproof map cases, cycling map cases and document wallets for your active holiday.
To seal, you need to make sure the documents are totally in the pouch; then squeeze the case to purge as much air as possible from it; then tightly roll the end and engage the male and female Velcro tabs. Make sure the corners are rolled properly. The bag should now be totally waterproof and you are ready for your walking or cycling holiday.
These present-day waterproof map cases are very good as well for carrying things like tablets and important documentation that could otherwise get wet in your rucksack.
Tips for using waterproof map cases
Fold to fit
Firstly, fold your map as best you can to fit into the waterproof map case. It is usually best to buy a larger map case than the document and then fold the case around the map area. If using a large map like a UK Ordnance Survey, you may want to prise off the cardboard cover so that you can fold it better. Try to fold the map along existing fold-creases if possible. It helps to make visible all the area that you are travelling through on the day, sometimes you can fold the map in a way that you can use it on both sides. Obviously with scales such as 1:25,000 this is hard to do as you can easily walk off your map. For cycling it is generally better to use 1:50,000- 1:100,000 scale maps. The thing you have to try to avoid as much as possible is having to remove the map to refold it which is hard to do in windy conditions and of course you will have to try to avoid doing this in the rain. If you have access to a good photocopier, why not make A4 or A3 panel copies from the map of the route you are taking? They will be the correct size for fitting into the map case neatly and you can always carry the original map in your rucksack as a backup or if you want to see the 'bigger picture.'
Avoid the 'Flap-Case' scenario
Managing your map case is very important. Many beginner walkers can be seen striding across the hills with their map cases flailing about them in the wind, hitting them in the face and threatening to strangle and entangle them. With an ‘Ortlieb’ type case this is quite easy to rectify; either roll or fold the case and map into a smaller area which thus becomes more wind resistant. You could use large elastic bands to keep the map compact. It is quicker and easier navigating working on a smaller area of map, using your finger or thumb to press on and trace the route as you go, so you can quickly resume navigation from feature to feature. At intervals unfold the case to check on-going progress or features to come. If you are cycling, you don't necessarily have to have a purpose built handlebar mount to put your map on, although using it may be easier. Some people like to keep their handlebars uncluttered as much as possible. You can wind a map case around the top tube of the bike frame, hold with bungees and just move it as necessary.
Negative issues of waterproof map cases
Very few! After 8 years of use, though the plastic was still in very good condition, the Velcro seals on my Ortlieb map case eventually separated from the plastic! but these can be refixed using an appropriate bonding glue. Obviously, you need to keep Velcro closures clean. The plastic also yellowed slightly. I bought a second A3-sized Ortlieb, now 4 years old, no issues as yet. I have also bought an A3 map case made by Silva. It is similar to the Ortlieb, but has sandwich bag type seal which is not as strong as a Velcro and roll seal. It can pop open if the air is not purged properly from the case and care is needed to make sure that the map does not overlap with the seal.
The other option: Waterproof maps
So, why not cut out the map case altogether and just use water proof maps? This option is fine, although there are comparatively few maps that are waterproof. Harveys Maps are mostly waterproof: they are a print-coating on a plastic sheet backing. The O.S went down the route of map lamination with their folded series. The drawbacks? After heavy rain the coatings on Harveys maps can wear or scratch off the map easier. The Laminated OS ‘Active’ maps are plastic coated weatherproof versions of paper maps, they are more durable and can still be folded. However, over time the plastic will crack and let in water, they also tend to be a little bit heavy.
Looking for more information or have any questions on waterproof map cases? You can contact John and the other Sherpa Expeditions staffers via our website, email or phone. Find the correct contact details here.
Some waterproof map case producers
- Ortlieb A whole variety of map cases and 'safes' are made for ipads and mobile phones etc.
- Silva the M30 from Silva is a durable and functional map case which protects your map whilst allowing you to navigate even in heavy rain. Its fully transparent design allows you to view your map from both sides of the case while the comfortable enclosed neck strap provides a secure and safe way of keeping your map on your person and ready for action.
- Aquapac see the Stormproof and Waterproof Kaituna Map Case
- Sea to Summit Large Map Case Made from TPU, totally welded construction and a super-strong Ziploc closure to provide fully waterproof and dust-proof performance. Designed with a detachable neck strap and corner anchor points for versatility.
Different countries in Europe are famed for their own style of the camping knife or pocket tool and in this month’s Gear Matters blog article, John takes you on a tour to learn about the various types of blades, potential usage of pocket knives on a cycling or walking trip, EU law, and maintenance.
Some people don't use them, others can't live without them on a walking or trekking holiday. They may be left alone in their pouches for the whole trip or maybe used several times in a single day. A camping knife or pocket tool is available in all sorts of shapes and sizes. With Christmas fast approaching, a new knife or multi-tool could make for a beautiful compact gift. Often you can even have them inscribed for the Ray Mears, Bear Grylls or Mykel Hawke in your life.
Most of us get attached to our knives over time, but the stories of people leaving their forgotten prized piece of cutlery in their hand luggage when taking a flight and losing it going through security are legion. For me especially on camping trips, a good knife or multitool combo is more or less essential.
Knives with a Tang
A good quality knife should have a sharpened edge on one side and be made of high carbon or stainless steel. I think it is best to avoid ceramics, they can shatter and break easily. The finest forged knives (e.g. from Norway or Sweden) have a cutting edge of differing hardened steel which is sandwiched in a layer of softer steel. A good outdoor or bush knife will have a 'tang' (the handle end) that extends into the end of the handle and that can be heavy duty plastic, wood or even horn. This will then be attached via brass rivets which will resist oxidation. Knives like these are superb for cutting and wood carving; the handles offer good grip to be used quite safely for controlled cutting. The Swedish Fällkniven forest knife can even be used for splitting small pieces of wood in lieu of an axe and some have claimed that these are the best bush knives in the world. Similarly, Norwegian Helle knives are great for carving. These can be bought in Flam on Sherpa's Fjordland trip. The camping knives of this brand are great for bush-craft and they make an excellent range including a beautiful model with curly birch, leather and antler handles. Their blades come in different lengths, materials and thicknesses and are handmade.
Folding & Multitools
Then we have the category of folding knives and multitools. These are generally a sandwich of aluminium and steel plates. The main blades are always a bit of a compromise, as they will never be as strong as a full tanged knife. Swiss army knives are rightly very popular; being very compact and having some wonderful useful features. They are ubiquitously available on all of our walking holidays in Switzerland an in every town in various guises. They have been used in the Swiss military since 1897. I have personally possessed three Victorinox Swiss Champ knives in the past 35 years. Two, you've guessed it, lost going through the customs x-ray in hand baggage by accident. I have used every blade for all manner of things including clearing ice from cross country ski binding cleats, to removing ticks, making holes in leather belts, opening cans and bottles, and even filing down bike spoke ends. There is a tiny driver that tightens all those minute screws that people always lose from their glasses and take it or leave it, the standard toothpick! The main blades are 'Inox' steel and very good quality, the scissors are the best of any multitool that I have seen and the can opener works really well. The downside is that with most Swiss army knives (and there are some exceptions) the blades do not lock, so you have to be very careful during any cutting activity that the knife doesn't fold onto the fingers. Also the classic acrylic side panels of the handle engraved with the Swiss flag, can scratch easily, although they are surprisingly durable.
Then there are the multitools based upon pliers, the most famous ones being from manufacturers such as Leatherman and Gerber. These normally have a main plier with the auxiliary blades and tools folding neatly into the handles of the body. The better ones have mostly or all locking blades. These are great, but I have sometimes been a little disappointed with the quality of some models: flimsy knives, scissors with poor action and hard to use tin and bottle openers. The hinges can loosen over time and you may need to remember to take a specialised tool to tighten them.
Simple Folding Knives
Some people are very happy with a simple folding knife on their travels, such as the Victorinox 'Hunter' or even the more basic and popular French made 'Opinel.' These are great for cutting cheese and salami on picnics. The latter one has a nice wooden handle with a simple twist lock that kind of half locks the blade, so some care is needed. Recently, Opinel have jazzed up the camping knife with coloured handles including a built-in whistle and a main blade with an unusual spanner aperture for tightening sail shackle pins of all things!
Some walkers may like to carry a beautiful French handmade knife and on our Way of St James walking holiday in France, you will go very near to where the Laguiole knives are being manufactured. Several village shops in the region will sell this charming model and it makes a great memento of your trip.
Camping Knife Maintenance
All knives and multitools require periodical maintenance: wash and dry them thoroughly and use a light machine oil on hinges and smeared on blades, especially if you will store your knife for some time. Vaseline is also quite useful in this regard. Wooden handles, leather pouches or sleeves should also be waxed occasionally. Follow the manufacturer’s sharpening instructions; knives should be sharp and without burrs.
Knives & EU Law
Most countries in the EU have their own laws on knives. The UK, quite rightly, has enforced laws over carrying knives, although it is pretty vague. The basic rule is that 'you cannot carry a knife in public without good reason, unless it has a folding blade with a cutting edge 3 inches long or less.' If you have a long fixed bladed knife or a multitool with a locking mechanism on the blades (which just about covers all multitools sold from outdoor or tool shop), they 'are not classed as folding knives and are illegal to carry in public without good reason.'
The 'without good reason' part explains it all; it's about perceived intended use. For example, you can buy a 20-inch carving knife from a hardware shop (a public place) and walk with it back home through a high street or mall (another public place). It is unlikely that you will ever be inquisitioned. Although police can be arbitrary at times; it is a question of being sensible if you are on a walking, backpacking or cycling holiday. To make things simpler your camping knife should be sheathed and in your backpack not about your person.
For more advice on the gear to bring on a cycling or walking holiday, contact our team of travel experts.
For more in John’s series of Gear Matters blog posts and tips and advice for cycling and walking gear, see the full overview of outdoor gear articles from the past months.
Leaves are falling from the trees and bonfire nights, Halloween, country walks and hot soup remind us that the cold weather is approaching. Now is the time we start to think about winter clothing, whether or not we are intending to walk into the high mountains or stick to the lower trails along to the country pub.
A Step Back in Time
Thirty years ago, most of us outdoor types wore more simple fibre pile (polyester fibre-hair lined) jackets from Helly Hanson or Berghaus. The large duvet (puffa) jacket was very much the provenance of the mountaineer. Companies such as Mountain Equipment produced amazing down-filled duvets at the higher end with Gore-Tex shells which would keep you warm in Scottish, Alpine or Himalayan conditions. The level of insulation was determined by the quality and weight of the duck or goose down mix. Most of these were way too warm as soon as the temperatures became slightly bearable and all of these winter jackets commanded a high price tag, unless you opted for the Dacron (artificial fibre) filled alternatives which were heavy.
Some common points were that the fibre piles when soaked became a sponge and heavy and had to be carefully rung out. Duvet jackets once wet became like huge tea bags, lost their insulatory value and had to be left to dry and re-lofted.
Down the Line
All these years down the line, technology has meant these things have changed at least to some degree! Fibre pile has largely disappeared being replaced by compact fleece jackets often with stretchy 'Polar tech' fabric, some with hoods, extended thumb loop sleeves and hand warmer pockets. Fleeces are ubiquitous, competitively priced and are usually easy to compare in the shop just by putting on and testing what feels best. They come in many different thicknesses, all the main brands do them and the price is directly proportional to the brand name and the complexity of the product.
Duvet jackets are back in favour with loads of manufacturers offering different takes on design. You can decide whether to look like the ‘Michelin Man’ or maybe something a bit sleeker. We are concerned in this discussion about duvets from outdoor gear manufacturers rather than with those of fashion companies. The mountain duvets are generally lighter and have a better cut to allow movement than they ever used to.
Down vs Fleece Jacket
In making a decision about jackets, you should have a budget in mind and also know how you feel the cold. A duvet jacket can easily cost five times as much as a fleece and If you overheat easily, a duvet may not be for you in most cold conditions; a fleece might be a better option. Good quality duvets are rated by numbers which refer to the amount of down to the volume of the jacket and is quoted 500, 600, 800 etc. These jackets can be extremely compact and light and can be carried in a rucksack in addition to having a fleece if you want to invest in a possibly lifesaving piece of kit or perhaps something for the base camp on a high walking holiday. The Montane Featherlite jacket is very impressive in this category.
New developments to increase the efficiency of down jackets include the use of mixed linings as a compromise between weight price and the thermal range of a jacket such as in the Berghaus Asgard Jacket.
Some jackets now use 'Hydrophobic downs' that are meant to absorb less water, see the Mountain Equipment Dewline range or the Rab Microlight for example. Synthetic duvets have got a lot more compact than they were and of course keep you warmer when soaked than purely down jackets. Examples include the Rab Altus or Montane Prism.
Some things obviously have not changed: fleeces and duvets still succumb eventually to rainfall and will need to be worn under, or in some cases zipped into, good waterproof jackets. This can make duvets impossible to wear if you are doing anything active.
Duvets need quite a bit of care in order to keep them in good condition - don’t wash too regularly, use special down detergent and be careful to fluff out or re-loft after washing and drying so that all the down is not concentrated in a few places.
Also don't store them in their stuff sacs for prolonged periods as this can damage the fill.
For more advice on the gear to bring on a cycling or walking holiday, contact our team of travel experts.
For more in John’s series of Gear Matters blog posts and tips and advice for cycling and walking gear, see the full overview of blog articles from the past months.
With so many trail guides out there providing you with directions on your cycling or walking holiday, which of the walking guide books is best for you? John discusses three.
There is an old English joke: 'What's worse than a guide in your pocket?... A brownie in your underpants!' Let’s face it like this joke, some walking guide books are pretty terrible as it for example can be hard to follow the routes using the book rather than a map. One of the main issues of weakness in regards to interpretation, which is not always understood correctly is distance.
A typical sentence in a trail guide would be 'Turn left at the junction and then turn left at the thatched cottage.' When you are on this walk you turn left at the junction, but how far is it to the thatched cottage? From the description, you might expect it to be shortly after the left turn, but after 15 minutes of walking you still haven't found it, frustration sets in. Another 5 minutes and you do actually reach two thatched cottages, but there is no left turn, so you go on and there is a modern house with a tiled roof by the left turn which may have replaced a thatched cottage that in reality burnt down two years ago…
This example points to two possible flaws; the book was out of date and/or there is no estimation of timing or distance to the turn off. It is a hard thing for authors and publishers to get right, especially with a copy of a guidebook that looks new but is actually a reprint of a book which was written 15 years ago and has not been updated.
There are other details that can lead to confusion, especially if the book has been translated from another language. Typical in these cases, a direction could go something like 'pass by the river', but does this mean literally pass the river or cross it? A typical oddity in some translations done by French publishers into English is 'Follow the bifurcation' - literally the branch.
Different types of guidebooks suit different types of people and a lot also depends upon whether you can read maps and if the walking route described is waymarked or not. If the walk isn't waymarked, there will be much more obvious reliance on books and maps.
Today, I will talk about three types of cycling & walking guide books which are popular, while none of them will appeal to everyone.
National Trail Guides
For many years the National Trail guides have been the benchmark guidebook for the UK long distance trails. The guides are well written books which use detailed OS map panels in the text. The descriptions have masses of historical and anecdotal detail. They also have walking details, which go in a sequence of lettered nodal points that are printed on the maps. The trail guides assume you can read and follow the maps. Although there is hardly any information on shops, B&Bs, pubs and public transport, they are great walking guidebooks for negotiating the 'Nationals' in the UK.
Cicerone Guide Books
Cicerone guide books are the quintessential pocket walking guide books. They have a huge international range and the style of writing varies between authors and some have more detail than others. Their wide-ranging UK walking guides include some publications with supplementary OS map booklets covering the route which is really handy. On these guidebooks, there will be added lateral mapping detail. The books are well laden with photos and have a lot of historical detail as well as practical panels. Useful feature of the Cicerone books are that the information text is either coloured differently to the walking text, or italicized. Some of the publications have a durable plastic cover.
Finally, there is the newer kid on the block, the 'Trailblazer Guide' series. They take the novel approach of completely rearranging cycling and walking maps into a cartoon form that could be interpreted by most map illiterate people. You just follow panel to panel through the book, and timings between points are given on each panel and some GPS coordinates are given at critical junctions. There isn't so much verbal text describing the route, but each stage has an introduction and there are useful pages on things like public transport etc. Another strong point is the town mapping showing the location of some B&Bs, shops and pubs. There is enough historical information in panel form, although this might not be enough for some. They have taken a few ideas from well-known travel guide series by having listings of accommodations and where to eat in each town or village. The Trailblazer books are revised every couple of years and the new edition is clearly marked on the binding.
Some walkers do however find it hard to interpret some of the map panels and if somehow they walk off the panel they can easily get lost. However, but this is the same for other strip maps in guidebooks if auxiliary maps aren’t carried.
Art for Arts’ Sake
Now I come to mention it, if you want something that is less practical to use as a walking guide, but brilliant on artwork and idiosyncratic description, I have something for you. Go no further than viewing Alfred Wainwright's masterpieces which date from the 1950s and were first sold from Patterdale Post Office. If you do a UK walk such as The Pennine Way or The Coast to Coast, you should perhaps reward yourself at the end with one of these classic trail books.
A Waterproof Case
All these guide books have one universal flaw of course, in heavy rain they turn to paper mâché. My advice therefore is, take a waterproof map case like an 'Ortilab' large enough that you can have the guide book open within it as you go along if it rains. Even then you must be careful when you need to turn the pages!
In the future, walking guide books will of course be interactive and use a GPS and downloaded map package on a phone or tablet. These will then enable you to follow the trail while details of shops and B&Bs or places of interest will pop up, much as they do with some of the phone functions at the present. This is a great development, as long as you can see the screen even when the sun is bright and when you can keep your device powered up. But that’s another topic, which you can read up on in one of my previous postings on USB chargers.
Do you have questions on guidebooks for walkers and cyclists? Or do you like to know more about one of the walking routes John mentioned in his blog article, please do get in touch with our team of travel experts.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month, he looks at the best portable chargers and some points to consider when choosing to buy a power bank for your next cycling or walking holiday.
The following scenario is a possibility on any tour, but more significant when you are walking in the mountains. There is an accident, you reach for your phone to make the emergency call, but, you forgot to recharge it last night and the one bar of power left is already flickering! However, help is at hand: you reach into your backpack and pull out a USB connected portable charger from which the device can feed off and perhaps recharge from fully. It could literally save the day.
I have been carrying one of these chargers on my walking holidays for some time now and had to use it to recharge my phone and camera, especially in remote destinations where there was no power supply.
Size & Capacity
Most portable battery chargers either are lipstick sized or a similar size to a mobile phone containing a lithium battery. Specifications of course vary, but they nearly all have USB couplings to power any kind of device that can be USB recharged. The size of the power bank will of course effect the weight, but also how many times you can do a full recharge. Measured in milliampere hours (mAh), the number of times a unit can recharge your phone or camera depends on its capacity and the capacity of the device itself. In order for your device to get at least one full charge from the charger, make sure the phone’s capacity is no more than 70 percent of the charger’s capacity. Another important consideration is the portable charger's power output. The higher the better, as it means it has the potential for powering up a device more speedily.
Hardware at Low Charges
Nearly all the portable phone chargers are very economically priced. On the small side, but beautifully light at less than 100g, are the little Barrel rechargers for example by Belkin or Anker. They have capacities of around 3000 mAh - enough to recharge a smartphone once or twice. At the other extreme, weighing five times as much, is the Zendure A8 Pro. This one has a capacity of 25,600 mAh and has four USB slots so you can really go to town recharging basically anything. In between these options, you can look at popular and cheap models from places such as Amazon, such as the AmazonBasics Portable External Battery Charger of which you can get models with different power ranges from 2,000 mAh to 16,100 mAh.
Before you head for the hills and set off on your walking holiday with your portable charger, let me supply you with a couple of obvious suggestions:
- make sure that the charger is itself fully charged (this can take hours depending on the capacity) and
- take the correct USB coupling cables for your devices before you leave.
For more advice on the gear to bring on a cycling or walking holiday, contact our team of travel experts.
For more in John’s series of Gear Matters blog posts and tips and advice for cycling and walking gear, see the full overview of blog articles from the past months.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. In this post, he takes a closer look at compact binoculars. Get the basics of binos, learn about testing, find out about the difference between Porro and roof prism and much more.
The whole walking experience can be enhanced by bringing with you a decent pair of compact binoculars. Maybe you are walking and you catch a bird flitting about and you would like to identify it; maybe there are two paths some distance ahead and you want to check which is your route; and is that a bull or a horse running across the field to greet you? Nowadays, the best compact binoculars are light and hardly get in the way. You could bring bigger ones on your trip, but they are heavier and if you just carry them in your rucksack, you will never use them! So here we just concentrate on some of the smaller models.
Then comes the question of how to choose binoculars. There is a whole range from ‘el cheapo’ ones with plastic lenses, ones with dodgy hinges that break after a few views, all the way up to compacts with titanium chassis and beautiful optics. From personal experience, I would always aim for a mid-range pair, but it depends on how you want to use them.
Let me first focus on the basics. Binoculars are often referred to by two numbers separated by an "x". For example: 8x25 or 10x42 or 10x50. The first number is the power, or magnification, of the binocular. With a 10x42 model, the object being viewed appears to be ten times closer than you would see it with the unaided eye. The second number is the diameter of the objective or front lens measured in millimetres. The larger the objective lens, the more light enters the binocular and the brighter your image appears. The utility of more expensive pairs such as Leicas, Opticrons or Swarovski are increased because of the quality of their lenses and prisms which allow the binocular to be used in low light situations, observing that owl floating along at dusk for example.
Not all compacts are created equal and there is a difference between ‘Porro prism’ and ‘roof prism’ compact binoculars. Many of the cheaper options are built using 'Porro prisms', in this case the lens and the eyepieces are unaligned. This prism design means that the compacts will be less compact when folded than the roof prism varieties. But the quality can be very good.
A Closer Look
Over to testing and choosing the best compact binoculars for you. Ultimately you have to make a choice in relation to the cost, but if you have a chance to test your binoculars, reject any models whose hinges don’t offer much resistance when you widen them etc. Reject models with extreme chromatic aberration, this is when things you look at may be miscoloured especially along edges. Distortion is another factor, binoculars are sharper in the middle rather than at the edge. The better models of lightweight binoculars have better edge to edge focusing. Reject any that have misaligned barrels – the image is not smooth, for example if you look at a telegraph wire, it is slightly lower from left to the right barrel. It is said that the ultimate test for your binoculars is to take them outside at night and look at a bright star (not the sun!). Then after you have the star centred and brought the binoculars in focus, the star should be a sharp near-point-like image, without any irregular spikes. It should remain a round disk.
Focus on Binocular Brands
Resolving the brands may be useful as well. If you just want a cheap pair then that is fine, but a little bit of investment goes a long way in terms of optics and better hinges. Bushnell makes a very good range of affordable compact binoculars, some claiming to be waterproof such as their H2O models. Have a look at the PowerView 10x42 or NatureView 10x42 models. Pentax, Nikon and Hawke all do varying compact binoculars at this level. A bit higher up the scale look at the Opticron Discovery WP PC 10x50 roof prism binoculars, an exceptional optical quality in an ultra-compact and waterproof design. The Discovery WP PC series are among the smallest waterproof roof prism binoculars available.
Now on to resolving different types of compact binoculars. Canon have gone down a different route with their models using image stabilisation. Their 8x25 model is the smallest in this range. These so called IS binoculars are larger and heavier than other, non-IS binoculars of a similar performance. Although the dimensions of these binoculars aren’t vastly larger in comparison with other Porro prism models (roof prisms are smaller and more compact by design), the weight is more of an issue. The Canon’s are about around 200g heavier than many of their 8x25, however you get a tripod socket, and they are easier for comfortable viewing due to the stabilisation.
A Case for Binoculars
Finally, it makes sense to have your small binoculars in a little pouch that either attaches to your rucksack belt or clips on to a handy strap from where you can access your them very quickly. Bear in mind that if your compact binoculars are not waterproof your pouch should at least be highly water resistant.
If you like more information on choosing the best compact binoculars for you, contact John and our team of travel experts by phone or email.
Interested in learning more about your walking or cycling gear? There is a whole range of Gear Matters blog articles that range from advice on walking poles, water bottles, how to clean hiking boots, and much more. Find them all under the Gear category.
When we are out walking or cycling we of course should drink regularly to stave off dehydration and exhaustion. We naturally drink more at higher temperatures and humidity, but even in cold weather we should maintain a good fluid balance. However we have never been so spoilt for choice for the ways and means of doing so. Long gone are the days of clipping an army surplus water bottle to your belt, unless of course you want to!
Why Purchase a Specialist Water Bottle?
Well of course you don't have to, quite a few people carry plastic mineral water or soft drinks bottles that they reuse until they crack as they are usually pretty thin. Let’s face it most tap water in the UK, and mainland Europe at least is perfectly drinkable and the idea is not to revert to buying bottled mineral water, which causes a huge worldwide environmental problem with discarded bottles in land fill and floating around in our oceans. However, you should ensure that the plastic bottles you use are free from BPA (a chemical used to make certain types of plastic that research shows can affect your health if it seeps into your water).
A good solid bottle however should last a long time. The best ones for a good many years were the Swiss-made aluminium Sigg bottles, still available but not so cheap. They tended to last for 20 years until finally so dented, you split the bottle trying to push the dents out! If you liked this style, you could try the beautiful stainless steel bottles from Klean Kanteen with a 'sports Mouth piece', which is easy to use on the go and there is a loop to secure it to your backpack. Also, check out the Brita Blue Sports Water Bottle, which has a filter to reduce impurities such as chlorine. The filter will need soaking every four weeks to keep it clean. It also has a hoop so you can attach it to your rucksack.
It is easy to forget about your bottles after a trip, but all bottles, flasks, bags and feeder tubes need to be thoroughly cleaned in hot soapy water and rinsed before use. Especially with water bags, they can be cleaned with lemon juice, vinegar or use sterilizer solutions such as Milton or those available for home brewing. Concentrate especially on pipes and bite valves where bacteria can build up. Most of the water bag manufacturers sell ingenious brushes which can be pulled through tubing to clean it.
How Much Should I Carry?
The amount of liquid capacity you carry should be determined by the type of activity undertaken, the environmental temperatures and the propensity on a trip to refill or purchase additional drinks. Bearing in mind that a litre of liquid weighs 1 kg (in addition to the weight of the vessel it is in), bringing 3 litres with you is usually more than enough to carry in most conditions. Obviously, you are going to drink it throughout the exercise, but too much to carry makes you work so much harder. Most people will be fine carrying two 1 litre bottles or two 500ml bottles, especially if you are cycling.
Bottles to Squash
Some people don't like the fact that they are carrying large volume bottles that take up quite a bit of room in their bags, and may not always be that light. Luckily the new ultra-running craze has provided us with some very lightweight and durable silicone based bottles, which squash flat once they are used. They also fit really well into external rucksack pockets. Check out the range of Salomon Soft Flasks, or those by Ultimate Direction.
Still very popular with walkers, runners and cyclists there are many makes of water bags to be carried in the rucksack such as Camel Back and Salomon. They come in different sizes with all manner of closure systems. The advantage being that you can drink on the hoof or at the wheel without having to lay a finger anywhere else, or take your bag off. This means that you are more likely to drink more regularly. There is a downside however, some types of closure may leak or fail under pressure in your bag resulting in your gear getting soaked. Even triple laminate plastics can fail after they have been creased a few times, although more often now the water pouch is being made of highly durable silicone. Feed leads can also come adrift and bite ends pull off quite easily or can dangle in the dirt when you take your bag off. Everyone has their preferences, but I was put off by this kind of system when I saw a 3-litre pouch just drain through a bag on a trip.... not good if you are carrying camera gear and a laptop, not so bad if you are just out running!
Walking in Britain or elsewhere you may have a kettle in your room, or even if you don’t, if you take a lightweight heating element kettle, you can produce hot drinks including soups and carry them in stainless steel flasks, some with wide mouths, which keep them hot for hours. Most supermarkets produce very cheap vacuum flasks, which unlike their predecessors are almost unbreakable. However, do check the cap-closure pourer, the simpler the better. Anything you have to push in is likely to fail. There is a brand called Chillys that make some very pretty steel flasks, which may keep drinks hot or very cold for 12 hours. Try not to use straight boiling water in flasks and bottles. A head of steam can spray from the cap when you open it and burn you. The best thing is to put some hot water in the vessel to preheat it, pour it away and then pour in the hot drink.
On the cold front, the simplest way to keep a drink cold is to put a damp sock over the bottle and the evaporation cools the bottle. However, there are modern double walled plastic drinks bottles which do the job very well such as the Camel Back Eddy Insulated Bottle. Cyclists will also find a range of insulated bike fitting water bottles, see models manufactured by Elite or Salomon.
You've seen how race cyclists tend to throw their bottles on to the road or in the verge during a race? A way forward with all plastic water bottles may be what we are seeing in the Elite Supercorsa Biodegradable cycling bottle. Finally, Elite have produced the Supercorsa Bottle, made of vegetable oil based plastic, rather than from petroleum based plastic and it will - eventually – decompose if abandoned by the too eager cyclist. It may well be a way forward for other bottle manufacturers too.
Soles for Shoes, Choosing Walking Boots
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. Thinking about getting new footwear this spring for your walking holidays? Time to check the soles for your shoes with John!
Often people have just one pair of outdoor footwear and this may mean that they end up wearing a less appropriate shoe for their particular activity.
Soles that are too heavy for faster low level walking can leave you with blisters, whereas soles that are too light for 'proper' mountain walking could leave you lame. The development of extremely lightweight running shoes and boots with light fabrics have changed the landscape in this area completely, giving you so much choice flexibility. For a lot of walking holidays, we always advise on a degree of ankle support. Numerous people with a running background will probably have quite flexible ankles though, so could cope with less protective footwear. A good place then to look at are the Salomon Speed Cross range for example, or various trail running models from Merrell, Vaude etc. There are also shoes called 'approach shoes' in this category, which have more of a traditional walking-shoe-look about them. Some of these come with Gore-Tex fabric, which helps on wet days, although some may prefer more quick draining, faster drying shoes. The type of material is important if you are going walking in warm or cold conditions, where ventilation rather than waterproofness may be a bigger concern.
Soles for Shoes When Doing Easy-Moderate Walking
A lot of the easier to moderate walking tours that we offer involve farm and gravel tracks, through fields, forests and over downs and through dales. Generally, lowland-walking does not include sustained steep trails or climbs, or a lot of rocky paths, so the appropriate soles for these shoes and boots should be quite bendy. This will give you a lot of spring on your fore step. These types of hiking boots often wear comfortable straight out of the box. Inevitably there will be some road walking on our tours, so have as much cushioning as possible. The running-style footwear is very suited to this. Some of the soles on lightweight shoes or boots have a grippy sole of differing materials, which can mean that parts of the sole wear quite quickly. Also, on the grip part there may only be a thin 'skin' on a compressed foam midsole, which can tear or separate if it is used for mountain usage. These are quite good types of shoe for say walking in Tuscany, Burgundy, Tarn or doing the South Downs Way, or the lowland parts of the Coast to Coast or Dales Way.
Soles for Shoes When Doing Moderate-Challenging Walking
When it comes to the more moderate to challenging walks, often in national parks going uphill and on steep slopes, soles for shoes or boots should be much more rigid, flexing slightly at the ball of the foot. Vibram soles are the most famous in this department, usually with one type of hard rubber used on soles with large rubber cleats for gripping mud and moor, and the welt well bonded with the fabric or leather. There may be a cushioning element in the heel or even forefoot, but often if you want better cushioning, you may want to invest in a cushioned insole. Bear in mind though that this may reduce the clearance between the top of your toes and the roof of the shoe. This offers your foot, ankle and even calves more support. The sole of a hill-walking boot will often be much tougher and stronger than a standard rambling boot, as they are built to take on tougher terrain. See Meindl Bhutan or Scarpa GTX for example. These are ideal for tours such as the Alpine Pass Route, Tour du Mont Blanc, or the upland bits of the Coast to Coast.
Soles for Shoes When Doing Challenging Hiking
Now we come to choosing the right soles for big mountain tours like the Mont Blanc Ascent, Aconcagua, Mera and Island Peak. At this point, insulation becomes more of an issue and so does having a rigid sole. There is very little flex at the ankle and you walk around like C-3PO (the Star Wars character). However, the sole is usually a pretty solid Vibram unit, good for kicking steps in the snow or using crampons. These types of soles have become a lot lighter over the years with new materials used. My advice would be to use boots like Scarpa Mantas and Scarp Charmoz on the Scottish and Alpine peaks and chunky Scarpa Vegas or Phantoms (with integrated insulated gaiter) for winter mountaineering and bigger Andean and Himalayan peaks.
If you have booked a walking holiday with us and are unsure of the type of shoes needed for your trip, or if you like some general advice on soles for shoes, please don’t hesitate to contact John or other members of our team.
Did you know? When you book a trip with us, you receive a unique discount code for shopping at Cotswold Outdoor (with stores online and all over the UK).