Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Boring but essential gear. Socks.

I’ve heard a lot about X-Socks form fellow Blogger and Backpacker Andy Howell on his blog and was quite keen to test a pair.  With the upcoming TGO Challenge I am in the market for some decent socks.  Webtogs happily suggested I try a pair of these

For years I’ve used the same thick Rohan Merino wool socks.  These set the bench mark for all other socks, in my opinion anyway.  Warm, even when wet, loads of cushioning and don’t loose their shape when soggy.  Sadly I can’t seem to find any more. 

As mentioned before I have hot feet and as you can see from the specs from the Webtogs site they are a mixture of synthetic fibres.  I was curious to see how good these would be to dry out between inevitable river crossings and other watery adventures in Scotland as well as keeping my feet dry in waterproof boots.

As socks go they look and feel very well made.  They do have quite a tight, foot specific fit without being restrictive.  In the lined Keen  boots they performed very well.  My feet didn’t overheat even though it was a sunny day, they didn’t loose their shape and there was no rubbing or hotspots.  I couldn’t really fault them.

In the Inov-8s I wasn’t as impressed.  I purposely crossed a couple of large streams which involved full submersion of my feet.  The socks again didn’t loose their shape and again there was no rubbing or hotspots even after five miles of walking after the stream crossing.  My only slight grumble was that the socks didn’t dry as fast as my merino socks, they retained more water and my feet were colder in them after the submersion than they usually are, although they were warm in around 90 seconds so you can’t really complain there.  They were pretty wet at the end of the walk and I would have doubts they would dry out much overnight if you were backpacking.

Perhaps comparing these to the Rohan socks is unfair as the materials used are different so you can expect different results, these may be more comparable?

Apart from that small, perhaps unfair gripe I do have to say that they have performed like kit should – with no issues.  Comfy, brilliant fit, retain their shape with no hint of hot spots or blisters.  I think these particular ones are more suited to waterproof  footware and I would have no qualms in recommending them to others for such use.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

New Pack

Hello all

It's a while since I've blogged about anything that I've made myself.  I had been planning on taking a number of home made items on this years TGO Challenge.  But time and circumstances have meant that this is now looking unlikely.  I have, however been plodding away at a number of projects.

This one has been on the go since before Christmas.  I've wanted a new backpack in the 35l-40l range with mesh pockets.  It would be very simple, no frame, no fancy harness just shoulder straps and hip belt.  Whilst making this pack it's given me a good idea for another pack which eventually I'll get round to doing which will be a totally original design, but that's another blog post...

The idea for this pack comes directly from the Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Day Pack.  I love this pack.  The simplicity and the comfort really appeals to me.  As I was wandering/wondering (sorry Helen its to good an pun not to steal) along one autumn day I got to thinking what if you scaled up the size, whacked a few mesh pockets and gave it proper shoulder straps and a hip belt you'd get something like this

This is a full scale mock up, the pattern was made by picking apart the original day pack, making a paper pattern, blowing it up with a photocopier to the right size.  Making the fabric panels and putting it all together.  It could do with a little more mesh to allow more to be placed in the outside pockets, but overall it's looking good. 

If you make a mock up of the body first you get to see if there are any problems with the finished design before spending all that time on the straps.  Straps! Now they do take time if you make them from scratch.  You also get a feel for which seams should be sewed in which order.  This does make a big difference when putting a 3D project together.  I'm guessing that the pack is in the region of 35l and the mock up without straps and a zip weighs in at 108g. 

It's made from a non rip stop polyviscose material which I can't tear with my hands, it's slightly stiff and 100% waterproof.  Good pack material.  I'm not sure all my kit will fit in it for the TGO as I will need to carry up to four days food in some places but I'm going ahead with a full version as I like how it's turned out so far.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Keen Targhee II Mid Walking Boot. The first 50 miles...

Throughout winter and early spring I tend to stop using Inov8's for my main shoes.  For two reasons.  Firstly I don't tend to do as much backpacking during the winter, secondly I like a warmer and waterproof boot.  However I'm like the princess and the pea when it comes to boots.  My feet are very particular.  I have skinny heels and a very wide forefoot.  I also can't walk in stiff boots, use ski boots or anything that restricts natural foot movement too much.  I get a lot of pain in the arches of my feet.  On top of all these requirements I have HOT feet, really hot feet - goretex lined shoes are a complete no go area, far far to hot even in cold conditions.  E-vent lined shoes I can get away.  So when Webtogs asked me to test some Keen Targhee II Mid Boots I was apprehensive (I didn't tell them, don't let on).

My old Hi-Tec v-lite Recon mid boots had finally given up the ghost.  Event lined, fabric boots, very flexible with soles made by Satan himself.  If it was wet you were on your behind at least three times during the day.  I kept them for snow and ice and used microspikes with them.  In those limited conditions they were perfect.

Getting back to the Keens.  I'd seen mixed reviews from bloggers and general users alike.  It would seem that most of negative reviews were of the earlier e-vent lined models not being waterproof.  The "Keen-Dry" waterproofing seems to have gone down better.  I was also unsure about the look of the boot.  However when you put them on and look down at your feet they look like the kind of boot that means business.  Looks do matter.

First impressions were good, the way they are cut means they are very easy to get on and off, no struggling at all.  Laces that stay tied.  It still amazes me that some shoes come with laces that can't hold a knot.  Pretty light for such a sturdy boot, about 580g per boot (UK size 10) on my scales.  A good degree of flex in them as well to allow good foot movement.  A word on sizing here.  I usually fall between a 9 and 10 in a UK size.  Gareth from Webtogs suggested I go for the 10 and it fits like a glove.  If you straddle a foot size go for the larger one as they are a little conservative.

I've done about 50 miles in them now.  All of these day walks, the longest being 15 miles.  I've used a pair of Bridgedale liner socks and some thick Rohan Merino Wool socks on all the walks.  What can I say about these boots... Well they work, they work well.  Issue free walking from the outset.  No foot pain, no blisters not even hot spots, no leaks, plenty of underfoot cushioning when on tarmac and enough flex for your foot to move with the contours of the ground and not slide about on rocks and tree roots.  Also they don't cook your feet.  In fact your feet stay nice and warm.  I probably wouldn't use them in high summer but my feet do run hot.

The grip is better than most boots and most vibram soles of which I'm not a fan.  The last walk was very wet with extended sections of ankle deep mud.  What follows is a dirty video.  You have been warned.

I like these boots, they work well.  I personally will use them for the cooler months as I don't like lined boots during the summer as my feet are too hot.  If you don't suffer "hot foot" like me I don't see why you couldn't use these year round.  I think you'll find it difficult to find a better all round three season boot as this.  I will report back when they've had a few more miles on them to give an indication of wear and also to see if the stay waterproof.