Getting Out in Rab’s MeCo 120 Boxer Shorts

Boxer shorts from Rab made out of 120 weight MeCo fabric.
Boxer shorts from Rab made out of 120 weight MeCo fabric.

There are some items of outdoor gear that you don’t often see reviewed in the outdoor magazines and websites. Jackets, tents, rucksacks, baselayers, softshells, fleeces and boots all get regularly tested and reviewed in detail, but outdoor underwear doesn’t get reviewed much and, if it does, the reviews tend to be a bit cursory. Maybe it’s because it’s a little hard to review briefs, boxer shorts and so on without descriptions getting too graphic or crude and using photos that give the review an adult rating. That’s a bit of a shame because good underwear can make days in the mountains more comfortable. So, to redress the balance and point out the virtues of good mountain undies, this is my review of the Rab’s MeCo 120 Boxer. Just to be clear before we start, there are no photos of me testing this underwear (there’s no telling where they may end up if I post them online), but there might be some graphic details. Read more

Walking by Pavements, Erratics and Holes

Limestone pavement above Thwaite Scars near Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales.
Limestone pavement above Thwaite Scars near Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales.

Walking and climbing in the mountains gives me an opportunity to see some amazing and beautiful rock formations. I sometimes regret that I don’t know enough about geology to always fully appreciate what I see, but what little I do know makes what I see and climb a little more amazing. It’s great that I don’t have to be somewhere with soaring peaks to experience amazing rock forms. My trip last weekend to the Yorkshire Dales was full of stunning rock in the area around Ingleborough, from limestone pavements, to scars, potholes and Norber Erratics. Read more

First Peak

My son, Leo, got to the top of his first peak today.  Snuggly wrapped on his mummy’s back, he got to the top of Craig Wen in Snowdonia.  Summiting a 608m peak is pretty impressive when you are eight months old, can’t walk yet and have to battle cold winds and rain.  I’m proud of how well he did.  It feels good to be introducing him to the mountains and I’m really looking forward to going with him to the tops of many more peaks.

There and Back Again – Countisbury to Heddon’s Mouth and back

After probably the wettest winter on record in the UK I thought I might have another walk sealed in my waterproofs as gusts of wind made me zig-zag like a drunkard as I walked over the hills.  Instead, the sun shone on my visit to Exmoor and I wore a T-shirt most of the time.  I walked along stunning coastline and through beautiful woods of ghostly trees yet to come into bud.

The following photos give a flavour of this great weekend.  They are of my walk last Saturday along the South West Coastal path between Countisbury and Heddon’s Mouth and back again via a slightly different, often higher, route.

Woolly Hats for Big Heads

Me on a windy day in the Brecon Beacons wearing the Mammut Eisberg Beanie.
Me on a windy day in the Brecon Beacons wearing the Mammut Eisberg Beanie.

One size does not always fit all.  My larger than average head means that I have quite a bit of trouble finding any hats that fit.  This can be a problem as a woolly hat is essential for keeping my head warm on cold, windy mountains (particularly as I increasingly have less hair to do this job).  I don’t think that I’m the only person in this situation as people keep coming to an earlier post of mine via Google searches for climbing helmets for people with bigger or extra large heads.  So, for those of us blessed with a generous cranium and a love of the mountains, here are my reviews of some of the woolly hats for hiking and climbing that I’ve found fit my head. Read more

Ropes into Rugs and Other Ways to Recycle and Reuse Outdoor Gear

Old gear pile_1Lurking under my bed, buried in a drawer, shut in a box or in the dark in my wardrobe.  These are the places where my unused outdoor gear lives.   These are the bits of hiking and climbing gear, clothing and equipment that have been superseded when I upgraded to new, better kit, no longer work as well as they should, never really fitted me that well or were retired because they too old to be safe any more.  Now they take up space in my small London flat and provide a home for dust bunnies.  I’ve decided that they need to go.  I’ve also decided when they do go I want them to be put to good use rather than rotting or rusting away in a landfill.

A few of my unused bits of gear are still perfectly functional and someone could use them if I can get them to a new owner by selling or donating them.  However, there are some things that couldn’t have this second life with someone else.   For example, climbing ropes, slings and harnesses all degrade over time and past a certain age they have to be permanently retired because there is a risk that they will break in a fall.  However, this doesn’t mean I couldn’t reuse my old climbing rope by turning it into a rug (see SummitPost for some instructions on how to do this yourself).   The plastics and metal in my old gear could also be recycled and made into something else. Read more

My Climbing 2013 in Pictures

Walking the rim of the Creux du Van

Approach Creux du Van from behind and it’ll surprise you.  Walk over Le Soliat from the south and it looks like the rest of the Jura – a pretty landscape of rounded mountains covered in woods and meadows with the odd bit of limestone sticking out of them.  But as you walk towards the northern side of the mountain, a crescent moon of rock appears, dropping roughly 150 metres deep and stretching around 1,400 metres wide in-front of you.

Creux du Van
Creux du Van

The Creux du Van is a limestone cirque formed by erosion and landslides caused by the water from a long-gone glacier.  It sits in the mountains a short drive from Neuchatel in Switzerland.  It’s probably because it isn’t in the Alps, that Creux du Van is not particularly well known.  Which is a shame because it is as dramatic as its bigger cousins further east and is in wonderful walking country.  On the other hand, this lack of wider recognition makes it a quieter place to visit than a lot of the tourist areas of the Alps. Read more

Review of Rab’s Neostretch Gaiters

Rab’s new and award-winning NeoStretch Gaiters have great breathability and lots of clever touches, but a few simple design issues stop them from being perfect.

In the mudI’ve got mixed feelings about gaiters.  They’re brilliant for keeping snow and water out of your boots, but they can make for lower legs that are hot and damp with the sweat the gaiters haven’t allowed to escape.  This is a particular problem on those days in the mountains when it’s warm, but gaiters are still needed.  Even if rain isn’t forecast and the sun shines warmly, gaiters can be essential because of the risk of putting your foot into a bog or slipping when crossing a stream.  In Alpine conditions you can be toasted while on a sun-baked glacier and have to wear gaiters to cope with the snow on the peaks you’re going to climb.  Rab hold out the promise that their NeoStretch Gaiters will make life more comfortable in such situations by combining one of the new breed of highly breathable fabrics and Rab’s usual, excellent design work.  To see if this was true, I tried these gaiters out on walks in a snowy Lake District as well as warm weather and continuous, sometimes torrential, rain in Snowdonia. Read more

Bias Can Get You Lost

I like to think that I’m a rational person and that I make reasoned decisions on the basis of a considered weighing up of all the information.  This is important, as sound decision-making is vital for the safety of me and other people in the mountain sports that I do.  The truth is that I am as vulnerable as everyone else to my decision-making being distorted by biases that lead to less than rational thinking.Where am I going?

Confirmation bias is the tendency people have to accept information if it supports what they believe and to reject information if it contradicts these beliefs.  This is because people give more weight to information that supports their existing beliefs and are more likely to look for such information.  Conversely, confirmation bias means that people tend to give less weight to information that challenges their existing beliefs and are less likely to look for it.  If they do find such disconfirming information, people are inclined to explain it away or attempt to discredit it. Read more

Outdoor Gear Competition Nut

I love entering competitions for rock climbing and hiking gear.  I like the possibility, no matter how small, that I might be lucky enough to win shiny new stuff.  It allows me to daydream that the latest, most technologically advanced piece of kit that I can’t really justify buying or else couldn’t afford might be mine.  Wanting new outdoor gear is like lusting after the latest smart phone or must have gadget.  Competitions provide me with a chance to have this gear and I enter as many competitions as I can.

Some of the magazines I look for competitions in.
Some of the magazines I look for competitions in.

Its not just competitions to win gear that you can enter – there are also competitions to win opportunities to put such gear to use.  There are often competitions with the prize of taking you and a friend away to mountains around the world or of being coached by a top climber.  Money and time stop me having these experiences the vast majority of the time, but a few clicks on an online competition and I can daydream about being the lucky winner of a trip to the Rockies or to ski in the Alps.

The odds of me winning any of these competitions are small, but the odds are much worse if you don’t enter and the possibility of winning is fun. Read more

The Beauty of Rime

Rime on a boulder on the summit of Glyder Fawr in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.
Rime on a boulder on the summit of Glyder Fawr in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.

I love rime.  I love how these tails of ice seem to form on rocks, fences, walls, posts and anything bold enough to stand upright on a frozen, windy mountain.  I love how rime’s strange, white crystalline structures seem to sprout from the dark surfaces of rocks to either bring them into relief or bury them in ice.  It amazes me that rime can form as a razor of ice down one side of a single blade of grass and as an icy lattice inches deep on a wire fence.  What I especially love about rime is how it adds a new beauty and character to these small things as well as to a whole mountain landscape.  Rime is also wonderful for being something that is superficially simple – frozen water – that forms from an interesting process into something varied and complex. Read more

Be Seen on the Mountain

I couldn’t see where the cries for help were coming from.  The rocky hulk of Tryfan was almost black in the twilight and was shrouded in cloud.  I could tell the shouts of help were definitely coming from high on Tryfan’s west face, but they were just disembodied voices in the growing dark.

The Moon over the west face of Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park, Wales.
The Moon over the west face of Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park, Wales.

I was in a group that had climb Tryfan earlier in the day before moving on to climb Glyder Fach next door.  It was November and we had decided to head down by the Y Gribin ridge as the light dimmed.  Cutting cross-country to get back to the cars, we heard cries of “help!” and headed in their direction to see what we could do. Read more

In praise of Builders Bars

It’s hard to write about Builders Bars without sounding like an advert.  They may only be protein bars, but they are great protein bars.  They are also brilliantly convenient if you want to recover after rock climbing and don’t want the hassle of protein powder drinks.

A Builders Bar

Clif, the company that makes the eponymous power bar, makes Builders Bars.  They are basically chocolate-coated biscuit bars that contain 20g of protein for building muscle and aiding recovery after exercise.  There is even a picture of a ripped climber on the packaging to give you an idea of what to aim for (I’m still trying). Read more