Welcome to Laconia

Snowed on again. Still just a light dusting, but we’re getting there. In such conditions why walk when you can ride.

Or indeed write when you’re now captivated by The Unfinished Swan.

The Road Down

If I hadn’t seen the colours creeping over when I was in the car park saying some goodbyes I’d have gone back inside and had another cuppa and fannyed about packing my kit in a much neater fashion.
Hitting the road was a much better idea. Wonderful light, a dusting of snow, a cuppa and a scone on the way, some days all seems right with the world.

The bit in the middle

Ah, what a lovely day that was. My legs are tireder that I’d expected and I’m in the unusual position of having partaken of single malt with a nice bunch of folks.
Snow fell on me for the first time this winter too. Hurrah for stuff and things.

Writing right and wrong

We stopped off at a garage on the way home, I needed diesel and the fridge needed milk. And we all needed a box of Tunnocks Tea Cakes. £56-odd at pump 4, you just have to blank it out really.
There were a few other comings and goings on the forecourt while I was at the pump and as I faffed around in the shop, which wasn’t the best stocked. But when I’d had enough aimless shuffling I just decided I now had all I needed and went to the till.
Pump 2?
Naw, it’s pump 4.
Er… what’s happened to pump 2…
What, has someone done a runner? I saw someone at pump 3 next to me but…
She was too distracted to hear me. 
How much was…
£56-something, pump 4.
Oh my god, I know what I’ve done, that last customer’s paid for your fuel.
Ah. I said. 
I waited to see what was going to happen next, I had a sleeping four year old and a Joycee with a rapidly draining iPhone battery in the motor outside, I wasn’t hanging about at the counter while a drama unfolded that I didn’t buy a ticket for.
She looked outside, back at the till, at me and back outside. I know… she said slowly,  You can pay for their fuel…
Oh aye? I enquired, preparing dig my heels and wallet in at the boundary.
That’s £58 in total.
Sold to the man in the Black Sabbath t-shirt. £52 for their fuel plus my groceries, I made money on the deal.
The lassie behind the counter couldn’t get me sorted and out of the shop fast enough and I wasn’t going to fight her for the right to pay the extra, how could I anyway? The computer said it was all done at pump 4 before I even got to the counter, the computer said no.

Will the other motorist notice? Unlikely, I know how many times I’ve arrived at the till barely remembering what pump I was just at never mind how much fuel I’d just put in. So there’s a lesson for us all here, concentrate or you might just get humped.

On Monday, I saw a purse lying on the road when a car drove over it and it bounced in the air shedding some of its contents. I pulled over, reversed back and scooped it up, sticking the cards and keys back inside. I took it straight to the polis office just up the road to hand it in, hoping the owner might be local and head to the same place.
The boy behind the counter looked slightly dismayed, “I’ll get the book…”  “Sometimes it’s easier to just leave it lying…” He murmered as he wandered off.
While I was waiting an old boy staggered in banging the doors, kicking the furniture and breathing like a man making the most of his last few breaths. “You okay?”
“Bastards” he said “Bastards, making me come down here to answer a summons, they should come to my house and get me, bastards”.
Indeed. Old hard men are rubbish. I went back to watching for the boy coming back which he did with expert timing.
“I’ll just ask you a few questions… Are you claiming any reward?”
He looked up and my expression answered the question for him.
“Sorry, we have to ask, you’d be surprised.”
Just imagine you’ve lost your purse or wallet, your cards, cash and house keys are in it, the panic and desperation that would instantly set in. Who the hell would want to profit from that situation?
We filled out the rest of the form and he was pleased to tell me that by doing so that I was protected against the owner claiming that I’d stolen anything from the purse before I’d returned it.
Marvellous. What an entirely unpleasant experience doing the right thing turned out to be.

California Dreamin’

There’s a secret code to the five years worth of random titles you know. If you write them all down using 24 high Countdown font and arrange the many sheets of A4 in an asterisk shape, when viewed from exactly 13ft above, the post titles blur into a map.
This map shows the location of the hidden cave entrance in the northwest where deep within in lies a sealed iron box, never once opened in 300 years it waits to grant its secrets to only the cleverest and bravest of all internet users, a revelation which will… Wait, I’m not supposed to give this stuff away am I.

I don’t half talk a lot of shite. It’s like a radio switched on in the next room that I can’t be arsed switching off, even though I don’t want to listen to it, pretty soon I’m singing along on the laptop keyboard.

Or, its all just an excuse to get a nice photie up that I found.

Edelrid Vacuum Bottle

I’m packing for a press launch day type thing up on a hill on Friday and while looking at cuppas options, I don’t care what we’re testing, I need cuppas available at all times, this fine wee flask came up as a fine option, so it’s a good time for a quick review.

Normally this kind of thing gets branded up and lines shop shelves hoping to catch somebody that came in for an expensive jacket and is leaving without one but just has to have something anyway. But, Edelrid have put enough effort into their Vacuum Bottle to make it proper bit of kit.
I picked up this 500ml version on the DB Outdoor stand at KORS earlier in the year and the first thing I noticed is the reason I still like it, it has a grippy coating. It’s textured a bit like emery paper with a thin coat of gloss paint over it if that makes sense? It’s not abrasive, but is grippy wet or dry and it’s proving durable enough too, a couple of sincere enough scrapes haven’t taken the coating off.

It comes in at 326g which is a little lighter than Edelrid list which is nice. The wee cup has the same coating for cold hands and gloves to manage and then pourer/plug is a push-in type which works fine but long-term cleanliness inside its workings is something I’ll be keeping an eye on.
The white colour is really easy to spot, I’ve got no other kit that’s white so it sticks out in a tent, your pack or on a crowded shelf full of multicoloured flask and bottles.

Maybe flasks aren’t the most compelling bit of kit, but handy and practical for sure, especially when you just can’t be arsed with a stove.

Isbjörn Wind Pro Jacket, Technical Fleece Review

With winter coming it’s nice to have a snug hoody on a peg ready to pull on. You’ll need a top fabric, an active cut and technical features that give performance and protection. The Isbjörn Wind Pro Jacket looked to have all that so I was glad to have it for test. Except I’m not testing it, this sample fits a crazy (nearly) five year old.

Holly’s had a few bits of outdoor gear on test and Isbjörn Wind Pro Jacket continues what I think is fantastic trend in real technically styled and specified clothing for kids.
The Polartec Wind Pro fabric is a great choice for kids wear as it’s not completely windproof, so a bit cooler than it might be. This means that Holly keeps it on, just unzipping it when she gets warm.
Wind Pro feels a bit like a beefy Powerstretch, fleecy inner face for insulation with a smooth outer for a bit of weather and abrasion resistance, probably a bit more so than Powerstretch at the cost of some drying time and breathability. Nothing wrong with that though, and in a kids jacket its what you want, you know how hard kids are on their kit.
It’s still soft though, the fabric has plenty of stretch, so the jacket is unrestrictive even with what I would call a technical cut, long body and arms with a slim general fit. It’s definitely a real outdoor jacket.

The features are good. The thumbloops cuffs are a winner with the girl, she likes to wear them and pulls her hands out of them when she gets too hot. The articulation in the arms is excellent as well, high reaching without pulling up the waist, vital in a weans jacket.
There’s one chest pocket, which I did raise an eyebrow at, should it not have handwarmers? No as it turns out, adults warm their hands in pockets, kids put stones and snails in theirs except when stomping out of school in bad mood when hand pockets are used for dramatic effect with hands thrust deep into them. The pocket’s a big one a soft stretchy lining for easy cramming with niknaks, with a reversed zip for a smooth touch and a big zip puller for little hands.

The hood’s a different take on the safety restrictions for such things. There’s no adjustment, but it’s very well shaped so it stays on Holly’s head pretty well, results do vary on the days hairstyle though. It has an extra microfleece lining wich helps to keep it in place when it’s pulled up and adds extra insulation as well. The whole thing is held on by five poppers for easy on/off as necessary, but also means it if gets caught on something the hood might pull off of the jacket where a zip-attached one definitely won’t. I know its a worse-case scenario that stuff, but when it’s your little one on a fairground ride/ hurtling past on a bike/ running through the trees, these things seem suddenly important.

The whole jacket is well finished with flat-lock seams and neat stitching throughout. The neck seam is taped, the zips inner face is well finished and smooth despite it not being taped and the cuffs and hem have a nice soft and stretchy lycra binding. There’s a chinguard/zipper garage at the top of the zip with lycra edging which does its job, but because it’s not full length down the whole zip it can have a tendency to snag when pulling the zip up, b0th Holly and I are getting fly for it now. 

Getting back to the fabric, its recycled with is nice and there’s a pattern to it, a sort of flowery snowflake effect, Holly has decided its an ancient celtic pattern to fit in with her current Disney Brave fixation and the “slash” motif on the sleeve adds to that, it’s Mor’Du the bears clawmarks.

The bottom line is that the Wind Pro is a cracking jacket, I’d wear the same thing in my own size, just maybe with skulls in the fabric pattern instead of flowers. The size we got sent is 122/128 which is sized for a little older than Holly, but as she’s tall I took the gamble and it turned out just fine as it fits well and there’s room for some growth in there which the jacket will last through I’m sure.
Holly wears it by choice, I can’t recommed it better than that.

Another Perfect Day

It’s been a funny week. School holidays but no spare time, shite weather and the three of us have the cold. I was supposed to be up mountains in various places for various reasons and it was all postponed until next week because I’d just cough myself into a ditch. Aye, I’ll fit it all in. Not.
So after a night where the three of us coughed in unison until 0300 it looked like Sunday was over before it began, but never underestimate the power of a beautiful autumnal day witnessed through double glazing. We washed and brushed up, dressed and phoned Granny to see it she wanted to come as Jimmy was heading out on the boat. It was after lunchtime when we picked Granny up, but we were on the road, the sun was shining and were going to find a car load of smiles whatever.

Glorious is the only word. The colours, the mood lighting, the warm air with a chill lurking in the shadows. We walked through the forest above Aberfoyle with take-away cuppas from the temporary visitor centre while the lodge gets revamped. The trees are loud and proud, burning with colour and we explored for more time that we’d paid for at the car park.
We found fairy dells, Mor’Du’s hideout, wisps and more. I’ve never seen the forest look as beautiful as it did today, nature played a winning hand.

Back in Aberfoyle after a potter around the tartan emporia we soon realised we wanted chips from the Tasty Fry in nearby Callendar, so off we went on the twisty road through more blazes of colour as the sun lowered and mist started to creep across the fields.
The Tasty Fry delivered as did the riverside car park and picnic benches where we dined as the sun went to bed. The friendly ducks and swans were joined at dusk by bats which swooped with silent precision inches away from us. Every now and then the water was broken by salmon leaping clear of the water, the splash they made was the only thing louder than the hungry ducks around our feet.

We watched until it was dark and our hands were cold. Back on the road we drove though layers of mist under sky lit by a moon and the fading embers of the sun. We managed to get a whole day out into half a day and we were all burst.
Today’s photies are special for me, it’s a day I wouldn’t swap for anything. If only Jimmy hadn’t been out on that bloody boat.

 

I bet they call it plaid

Disnae are never slow to pass a marketing opportunity and while looking for tartan stuff for Holly, who is still local culture crazy I’m happy to record, I discovered that there’s an official Disnae Pixar Brave Tartan registerd at the proper place.
It’s quite a nice tartan, modern looking but with a nicely understated natural colour choice. Of course, any attempt to use it without written persmission from Walt’s frozed head will be met with excessive force by the local authorities and subsequent extradition to the USA for a lengthy and dramatic court case after which you will be placed on Disnae Death Row. Here the guards are dopey vultures with steel helmets on and you share a medieval-style cell with a big sad dog who has a story which will give you hope and a somewhat coincidental and comedic way out of your predicament…
Stealing images of the tartan from Google is a simple lethal injection though.

Wenger Realtree AP Blaze 55

Wenger Realtree AP Blaze 55 is a helluva name for a Swiss Army Knife isn’t it? I like getting unusual stuff in for test and this is the first of two new knives that have been doing the rounds the past wee while.

I carry a tool all the time, both at work and outdoors be it on foot or on a bike. It’s vital stuff I think, and can’t think of many trips where I didn’t use it for something or other. The Blaze is big fella putting it the work bracket for me, but also into the bushcraft category too, the main blade is big, sharp and locking, you press in the little Swiss logo to disengage the lock and close the blade.

The blade and saw are super useful for me, my work tools must have both of these and the others come into play as well, the reamer means you don’t risk breaking the main blade tip for reaming or digging something out (done that many times) and the screwdriver is always handy. It doesn’t have a philips/pozidrive screwdriver blade which I was initially worried about, but truth be told, its the first thing I always break on a Swiss Army Knife, so maybe this will increase the longevity of the Blaze as a work tool?

It feels like a solid bit of kit at 163g, the grip is pretty good with some dimples on the casing, which is also orange realtree camo. Easy to find in your toolbox or rucksack and invisible to deer as you sneak up behind it to cut its ear off. Or whatever deer stalkers do.

Nice bit of kit and actually very different to Victorinox which is good, nice to have options. I do miss the toothpick and mini tweezers a bit, although they do quickly become unhygienic, but these features are available on plenty other Wenger Swiss Army Knives.

Granite Gear Event Sil Compression Drysack

I was happy enough with my mix of Sea to Summit and POD compression sacks until I tore the whole end off my regular POD one when packing a sleeping bag, so I grabbed at Granite Gear version from the guys at 9point9 to see if it was any better.

A stuffsack in its own wee pouch, aw cute. But, the Event Sil Compression Drysack had to go to work right away and has been compressing down on a regular basis. I took an  Medium – 18L size which was what they had to hand which has been fine, but I reckon the smaller sizes would suit me better for summer weight sleeping bags. For winter bags or my PHD Combi+Ultra this size if fine. 

It’s a silky soft Sil-Nylon Cordura Body with nylon detailing elsewhere and comes in at 98g with just air inside it. The roll-top closure is a good one, nicely stiff on one side with a hypalon strip on the other, it’s easy to roll and secure when you buckle it up.
The compression comes from four LineLoc cords and adjusters. These are great to use and don’t slip, but as there’s no buckles, it’s dead easy to get the lid tangled up in all these black cords when it’s lying in the tent or stored at home. Two buckles and two LineLocs would be easier to use, but it doesn’t affect the core purpose of the thing: compressing your stuff in a watertight fashion. This it does very well, and I’d even say better than most.

The dark grey Event patch on the bottom lets air out as you compress the bag, it’s not magic though, you still have to do a bit of that by yourself before you seal the closure up. But compressing the sack with the Event patch sitting in damp ground air bubbles blow out as you tighten the sack down and water doesn’t get it. Hurrrah.

Aye, but they all do that, the advantage here is the shape, it’s oval instead of the usual round. This is genius, it’s so much easier to pack as the shape suits a rucksack better and there’s less dead space around it. Tow of these take up about 75% of the space of two round ones of the same capacity. For bulky kit, it’s definitely the way forward.

Don’t know about long term durability, but this goes on every overnighter now, so I’ll see how it goes.

Wigwam Ultimax Merino Trailblaze Pro

“Wigwam’s patented ULTIMAX moisture control system combines with soft Merino wool for the world’s greatest Merino sock”
That’s what it say on the packaging of this new sock, they’re not pissing about by making vague insinuations about performance are they?

Wigwam have sorted their range out which is something of a relief, the packaging all matches now and is colour coded which brings the brand together on a stand rather than it looking like TK Maxx at closing time on a Saturday. Green is for Trail/Outdoor Socks and the Trailblaze Pro’s here are a new range-topping super sock.
Socks can save you or ruin your day, simple as that. A wrinkle inside a boot, fabric that holds onto moisture, socks that stretch when wet inside a trail shoe, all misery and the supplier of discomfort and blisters. I’ve used a lot of Wigwam’s in a lot of footwear and a lot of different conditions and they’ve all been reliably anonymous fine performers, the worst case scenario for a review.

The Trailblaze Pro’s share the family genes and bring together all the best bits from the socks I’ve been using the past few years, below, one of the socks is ootsides in to give a better view of the construction. The toe is described as seamless and the join really is devoid of sensation on your foot, I’m still getting test socks sent in that have seams here that feel like pipecleaners have been sewn across the toe, Wigwam have got it right, and it’s a feature across the range too.
If I was pushed to give this sock some sort of tag it would probably be enduro because of the mix of styles, there’s cushioning under the foot and around the heel for soothing the miles, where the top of the foot is light mesh to dry you quicker. This works really well in mesh shoes and if you add in the Ultimax moisture control which directionally pulls moisture from the foot to the ankle to dry it, it makes for a comfy time on the trail.
Also comfy is the merino content, it’s a soft sock, performance doesn’t have to be unfeeling you know. There’s enough synthetic in there to hold it all together though, the truth is that a mixed discipline sock lasts longer than pure merino.

See this Ultimax thing? I’ve been given a pair of white socks to test the theory, you put the bottom of the sock in a bowl of water with food dye in it and the sock should suck the dye up towards the ankle. I have purple food dye, and I’ll give it a go when the girls are out for long enough and come back with the results. As long as I can still wear the socks afterwards.

For now, whatever the hype and wacky technical explanations, the Trailblaze Pro’s are a cracking pair of socks and they’re a good weight for walking in trail shoes and lighter mids or boots. They keep their shape after washing and on your feet too, be they dry or wet with sweat or from bog hopping. Stink avoidance is good, the merino content plays its part ther and there’s a Fresh Guard treatment too, which is represented by an amusing drawing of a nose on the packaging.

See, socks are more interesting than you’d think.