The Yorkshire Three Peaks – an almost perfect one-day hike

A few weeks ago, while on holiday in Cumbria, I was after a bit of a challenge and a fun day hike so we decided to hike the Yorkshire Three Peaks. Taking in the Pennine peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, it’s a roughly 24-mile route with some spectacular views and some glorious landscapes. Alongside the national Three Peaks Challenge, the Yorkshire Three Peaks is one of the UK’s best known hiking challenges, but it’s also probably as close as I’ve found to a ‘perfect’ one-day hike in the UK.

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Q&A: Should you wear GORE-TEX boots for hiking?

Between us, James and I have owned and worn a lot of different hiking footwear over the years. Classic leather boots. Chunky, rigid, water-proof boots issued by the army. Light-weight trail shoes. And of course modern, high-tech, waterproof boots. I recently bought a new pair for some winter hiking in the UK, and ended up pondering a question that I can see has occupied a lot of people online; are GORE-TEX boots a good choice for hiking?

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Rab Cirrus Flex Hoody Review: Lightweight, Synthetically-insulated Jacket

The last few times I’ve bought insulated jackets I’ve tended to go for real down. It’s warm, compressible, and it just felt like the ‘superior’ option versus artificial insulation. Fleeces aside, my only synthetically insulated jacket prior to buying the Rab Cirrus Flex was the very lightweight Arc’teryx Atom LT. However, on a trip to the Cairngorms a couple of years ago, down jackets were strongly discouraged and I ended up borrowing a synthetic jacket. The reason, simply, is that even the very best hydrophobic down just does not perform well when wet. And it’s almost always wet in Scotland. Wet down clumps together and loses its loft, and suddenly what you thought was bombproof insulation is about as effective as wrapping yourself in damp newspaper. You can read more about what makes a down jacket warm here. So perhaps it’s no wonder that, for a lot of hikers and climbers in the UK – where it pretty much rains all the time – synthetic insulation is seen as a better choice. In other parts of the world, where cold but very dry conditions can be guaranteed for weeks at a time, real goose down is of course an excellent choice.

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Garmin Fenix 6 Review

Introduction

The Garmin Fenix 6 is, essentially, Garmin’s top-of-the-range activity watch (with the debatable exception of the almost-identical Tactix). It has ended up at the top of the food chain in almost every category: not only is it their most fully-featured hiking and navigation wearable but also one of their only watches with true multisport functionality for triathletes, their premium lifestyle and smart watch, and a running watch that is at least as good as anything in the Forerunner series. Almost every feature that exists anywhere in the Garmin wearables range is available in the Fenix, especially the Fenix Pro.

In a way, that makes it an obvious choice – if you can afford it (and that’s a big if), why not buy it, and be confident that you’re unlikely to be missing out on anything? On the other hand, given that it’s comfortably twice the price of some of the excellent watches in the Forerunner range, or the superb Garmin Instinct – is it really worth the sizeable investment? Read this mega-review to find out my thoughts after a month of extensive testing in as many conditions as I could manage.

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PreTents Ridgeline Review: a serious 2-person expedition tent

This post was last updated on August 31st, 2020 at 02:02 pm

Introduction

PreTents is a new arrival on the tent scene, but with some serious pedigree behind it. Though information is currently fairly sparse online, the brand is a new venture between Hong Kong-based cottage outdoor gear designed Tara Poky and well-established Chinese tent manufacturer The Free Spirits. In the UK, PreTents can be purchased from Valley and Peak, who kindly loaned us the PreTents Ridgeline for testing and review purposes (it was returned afterwards, and neither PreTents nor Valley and Peak had any input into the content of this article).

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Osprey Atmos 65 Review

This post was last updated on July 20th, 2020 at 10:12 am

Introducing the Osprey Atmos 65

My Atmos 65 was both a very last-minute and, as it turned out, a very fortunate purchase. 

Back in 2018 when I went to Seattle to spend a few days hiking Section J of the Pacific Crest Trail, the rucksack I had taken with me was a Vango Contour 60+10; a decent but by no means top-end piece of kit that had served me fairly well on a rainy three days wild camping in Scotland but which I was becoming increasingly nervous about using. I could ignore most of its (myriad) flaws but the one thing I couldn’t ignore was that what must have been a one-off construction fault meant that the shoulder adjustment strap on one side would always end up digging into my neck, no matter how much I tried to move it. 

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Garmin Instinct Review: The Ultimate GPS Watch?

This post was last updated on August 28th, 2020 at 09:15 am

Introduction: A Huge Garmin Instinct Review

I’ve now had the Garmin Instinct for over six months, so I finally feel in a position to write a reasonably thorough review of it. I’m going to start off with quickly explaining why I bought it, on the basis that since almost all Garmin products are essentially pretty good, the question here isn’t so much ‘is it a good watch’ as ‘is it the right watch for me’, and hopefully understanding my thought process will help you figure out if the same applies to you.

So, I’ve had Garmin watches for running for years – I think I’ve had five watches in that time, and with my last one (the Vivosmart HR+, which James has reviewed) I made the switch to it being my everyday watch. I really appreciate the notifications as well as the health and sleep tracking, so those were key for me. Aside from that, my use of the watch is probably 70% running, 20% hiking, and 10% other sports. A big factor, however, is that I am a serving Army Reservist and wanted a watch that was rugged enough to use in the field, and could replace the features of my Garmin Foretrex which, while brilliant, was feeling increasingly outdated.

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Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review: Initial Thoughts

This post was last updated on August 11th, 2020 at 10:41 am

Although I’ve had it a while, I’ve finally decided to write this Garmin Vivoactive 3 review. Okay, let’s see how this sports and fitness watch stacks up.

Before we move on, take a look at what we think are the best hiking watches of 2020.

I realised (after buying the Vivoactive…) that it’s only been two years since I last upgraded my running watch, which was itself the fourth Garmin running watch I’d owned. In some ways it’s hard to justify all the upgrades – my very first watch did pretty much what I need for most runs, in terms of providing me with distance, time, pace and a few other key metrics. None of that has really changed – it’s all the additional features that have kept me coming back for newer watches and, in this case, it’s the mix of a decent running watch with all-day lifestyle fitness tracking functionality (sleep, 24/7 heart rate, steps and more) that made this attractive.

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Osprey Duro 1.5 hydration vest review

This post was last updated on August 28th, 2020 at 09:15 am

I don’t actually do a lot of really, really long runs, except when I’m in marathon training, but I’ve nevertheless been after an ultra-running vest for a while, and eventually bought myself an Osprey Duro 1.5. The thing is that around this time of year I often end up running with a hat, gloves, water, a snack, sometimes a lightweight shell, and always an iPhone that is now so large it doesn’t fit in any of my running short pockets (and even if it did fit, is so heavy that it tends to pull them down…). To see what I’m talking about, check out my post about essential running kit for the winter.

Many of those items end up getting put on and taken off at various points during the run, and I’m desperate to have somewhere easy to stash everything, but that is as comfortable and unobtrusive as possible. Hence wanting a small hydration vest with plenty of pockets.

Hydration vests come in a bunch of different types, from those that are almost a small backpack, to the very simply that do little more than contain a water bladder or a couple of soft bottles. What I wanted was something in between, and the Osprey Dura 1.5 is exactly that.

Osprey Dura 1.5 Running Vest

A close-fitting vest with a wide gap at the front, across which sit two adjustable straps. the Osprey Duro 1.5 has one main compartment in the back that is designed to contain a water bladder but could, if the bladder was removed, easily contain a reasonably compressible jacket or some food. At the back there is also a smaller, zipped compartment – which is the perfect size for my Arc’teryx Squamish running shell – and then two stretchy pouches on either side of the lower back, which can just about be reached without taking the vest off. These are perfect for shoving a hat or gloves into and retrieving them on the move. There’s also a little loop on the back which I’ve found extremely useful for clipping a little red flashing light to, which is a must when running in the dark on country roads.

On the front, each side has two stretchy vertical pouches, a long one designed to hold a water bottle, and a smaller one on top of it. The left hand side also has a zipped compartment that is perfect for even quite a large mobile phone. I don’t use the front-mounted water-bottles, though I might on a very long run or for running on a very hot day, but these pouches are also useful for keys, a touch, and snacks. Just below each shoulder are also loops for storing hiking/running poles, although I’ve not tried using these as I don’t run with poles. Finally, there is also a little whistle, which is a tick in the box for one common essential item on ultra-marathon kit lists.

If you choose to use the hydration bladder, the tube can come round either shoulder, and has a nice magnetic connection to the upper chest-strap, making it very easy to quickly take a drink and then snap it back into place so it’s not flapping around. The only disadvantage is for anyone doing a run that requires navigation with a compass, in which case they just need to be well-aware of the magnet or remove it and find another way to secure the drinking hose.

The Osprey Duro 1.5 is one of those bits of kit that’s become absolutely essential for me, even on relatively short runs; it’s a comfortable, practical way to carry water, a phone, keys, and a few pieces of spare kit. By and large, I don’t really notice it’s there, although the first couple of times I wore it while hauling myself up a steep hill, I did find myself heating up a bit more and wishing it didn’t feel quite so ‘body-hugging’ – I think that’s partly just something you get used to. Where it will probably prove less useful is on the longer runs I occasionally do that require a train ride home at the end, simply because there’s no way I could shove a warm coat into it in the way that I can in my OMM ultra 15L pack, which remains my go-to for running with kit. I think it could, however, just about contain all of the mandatory kit for most UK ultra-marathons, as long as post-race kit was being transported for me.

Buy the Osprey Duro 1.5 vest below:

Mini Camino del Norte: Irun to Bilbao

This post was last updated on July 27th, 2020 at 11:27 am

The Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) is an unusual beast. A near infinite fractal network of long-distance hiking routes across France and Spain (mostly), it’s also an ancient historical pilgrimage to the town of Santiago de Compostela, and a modern phenomenon that often changes the lives of people who undertake the full journey.

I’ve been interested in it since seeing the Martin Sheen film The Way, and even more interested in it since ending up in a relationship with someone who works for the Confraternity of St James, the UK charity that supports and facilitates pilgrims. I’d love to do an entire route one day, but for now we decided to just take a week and start the Camino del Norte, the northernmost route in Spain, that runs from the town of Irun on the border with France, along the coast to Santiago.

It’s a very different type of hiking to, say, the PCT. The terrain and gradients are sometimes similar, but it’s much less wild and pilgrims generally stay in a town each night, and often even stop in several towns and villages each day for lunch and snacks. That means it can be done with a very light pack, and makes it a mix of hiking, exploration, and tourism that I thoroughly enjoyed. The scenery is spectacular, but every town we stopped in was also beautiful – almost all with a magnificent church, a pretty little square, and at least a couple of bars where we could get a cafe con leche, or a small beer, depending on the time of day and how we felt.

The route took us to larger towns like San Sebastien and Bilbao, as well as tiny ones like Etxebarria, with a single bar and shop, and the only food on offer being a handful of pintxos in the bar.

Hiking the Camino is a very different experience to, say, hiking the PCT or even many routes in the UK. Few people wild camp, with hostels or bed and breakfasts being the typical form of accommodation, and most routes pass regularly through small towns meaning that food is more likely to be a serrano roll or a slice of tortilla in a pretty little cafe than re-hydrated pasta that you’ve carried with you for the last four days.

This isn’t necessarily a better experience – I love the adventure of remote hiking and wild camping – but it allows for a far lighter pack and a much more relaxed approach to the trip. It is as much a tourist experience, walking in and out of tiny towns that you would never otherwise visit, as it is a hike.

Overall, I can’t recommend it highly enough and I definitely intend to do another section of the route at some stage, and perhaps the whole thing if I can ever get sufficient time off work.