Webtogs Halloween Competition – WIN £50 and more!

So it’s getting close to Halloween, and over at Webtogs HQ we have decided to run a small competition to celebrate! To enter, all you need is post your most entertaining outdoors Halloween story to date on our Facebook Page.

The person with the story that gets the most comments or “likes” will be awarded the grand prize of a £50 voucher to spend on any Togs stuff!

What’s more, all entrants will receive a 10% discount voucher code to use on the website. The competition will end on the 2nd of November – so get writing! :)

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First steps in the Alps – An introduction by Mountain Guide Nick Parks.

For most hillwalkers and climbers from the British Isles leaving our shores and tackling the mountains of our nearest neighbours for the first time, the barriers to success and enjoyment often seem overwhelming and a bigger challenge than they are wishing to tackle.

In this short series of articles we explore the differences between the UK mountain experience and the Alpine one and show you how these barriers can be surmounted safely to allow you to enjoy even more rewarding mountain adventures.

Its never been easier to access the Alps, with low cost flights and fast trains its as quick to get from London to Chamonix as it is to Capel Curig. They have beauty and wilderness in common but that’s where the differences between Tryfan and the Triolet end. First off is quite simply the huge difference in scale. Add altitude acclimatization difficulties to overcome and the glacial environment to safely negotiate and it’s easy to appreciate why tackling the Alps can be so daunting.

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Tryfan….impressive but not Triolet

Scale What are we talking about and how to adapt?

In the UK 300-400 metre long routes are rare, in contrast many Alpine routes can be 1500 or even 2000 metres long. Four times the size means that successful climbing in the Alps requires you to plan thoroughly, work to a timetable and use every part of your day productively, thereby avoiding epics like night-time descents. Gaining information, be it online, or from guidebooks is essential in helping you make correct route choices so that you don’t take on more than you can tackle. Seeking up to date information is critical too as the Alps are constantly changing, especially in these times of accelerating climate change. Glacial recession and rockfall can create drastic change even over the course of one season.

Top tip: Start off on alpine routes that are similar in length to those you are used to in Britain.

Preparation

Many of the skills necessary for safe success in the Alps are the same as those needed in the British hills; sound navigation; rock climbing; scrambling and in winter snow and ice techniques. All of these are directly transferable from our crags and mountains. Learning to move safely together on alpine ground is a key skill. Many alpine routes, like the Hornli ridge on the Matterhorn, although exposed are technically straightforward. However their length is such that climbing it in pitches aka British rock climbing style you would need a week to climb the route. Moving together using running belay techniques, gives a sufficient measure of protection whilst allowing you to get down in time to celebrate.

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The Matterhorn – an Alpine icon

Top tip: Practice moving together techniques like short ropeing, on long scrambling routes in the British hills e.g North ridge of Tryfan

Nick Parks is a leading British Ski and Mountain Guide who has been guiding parties for 25 years in mountain ranges across the globe. Particularly well known in the ski industry Nick is also a highly regarded safety expert to the adventure film industry. A keen photographer he contributes regularly to outdoor magazines and professional publications.

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Nick Parks – Ski and Mountain Guide

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Primaloft jackets – Keeping warm in the wet British winter.

It’s said there are just two certainties in life, death and taxes, but I’ve long thought there’s another certainty that should be included in this elite list – if you’re out in the British hills it’s going to rain. In summer it’s not a problem, with hardshells, softshells, packlite and a million and one choices to pick from, but in winter it’s not so easy.

Outside it’s that most perfect of walking days; that combination of cool blue, cloudless skies, a chill in the air and an inviting crispness to the ground. It’s a day just made for your favourite down jacket and a camera, but you just can’t avoid the fact that this is Britain and no matter what it looks like now, chances are the rain will find you and down and rain don’t get on well.
The alternative to down is Primaloft, a synthetic fibre that keeps working even when wet. Being synthetic it doesn’t quite match up to down for pack size and weight, and isn’t quite as warm ounce for ounce as a filling, but it’s got definite advantages when it comes to the British climate. Primaloft is water resistant, and even when it does get wet it retains the majority of its insulating properties and dries quickly. It’s often overlooked, but Primaloft garments are usually machine washable, whilst down means a trip to a specialist cleaner.

With autumn already upon us and winter creeping up we thought we’d give you the low down on four of our top name Primaloft jackets, all under £150.

Mountain Equipment Fitzroy Jacket
Price: £134.99
Weight: 620g/22oz
Features: Turn-with-you adjustable hood, 3 external pockets, Primaloft 100/60g combination for weight saving.

Mountain EquipmentFitzroy
The Fitzroy’s been with us for a couple of years now, and picked up the “Best in Test” from Trail recently with its combination of Primaloft and Drilite Loft. The main body is filled with 100g Primaloft One – the highest grade Primaloft, with 60g filling in the arms to give your core warmth but keep that extra flexibility in the arms, and keep weight to a minimum. A double layer of Primaloft in the hood completes the insulation, with windproof, water resistant Drilite Loft covering the critical areas and a more breathable UltraSoft face fabric everywhere else.
The Mountain Equipment hood is legendary, and justifiably so with a good volume adjuster that’s truly helmet friendly and a stiffened peak that stays stiffened in the wind. The same attention to detail has gone into the draw cords for the hem which now have “capture points” to prevent snagging, and Velcro cuff fasteners you can manipulate with gloves on. You get four pockets, 3 on the outside and an internal zipped map pocket. The lower pockets are set a bit higher and a bit further in from the sides than on the other jackets making them easily accessible with a rucksack on.
Our View:
Value for money water resistant synthetic insulation that keeps working even when wet. Well positioned pockets and excellent hood from a name you can trust.

 

Berghaus Combust Jacket
Price: £143.99
Weight: 775g/27oz
Features: Highly tear resistant outer, close fitting baffles, Primaloft PL1 filling, Raptor hood.
Berghaus Combust

The Combust jacket is from Berghaus’ Extreme range and features Primaloft PL1 filling and a coated nylon outer. Instantly recognisable the Combust’s outer shell uses a DWR and PU coating to keep the water out, with a unique combination of 15 denier nylon and 50 denier yarn making it highly tear resistant. The innovations don’t stop there, though, with a DWR coating applied to the lining and unlike the other jackets on test a storm flap over the main zip.
The Combust features an enormous, but fully adjustable hood that will happily take a helmet and still close up tight against the elements, and an elasticated internal pocket ideal for keeping your drink above freezing perched on a Scottish winter ledge. The two hand warmer pockets benefit from a soft-touch lining and the cord zips are just long enough to use gloved, though lack any form of toggle on the end. Once on you can’t fail to notice the sleeping bag style baffles in the main body which pull the jacket into you for a closer fit. The close fit also applies overall, and if you’re planning on using it as a traditional belay jacket to be thrown on over everything else when you stop then removed for setting off again, then you’ll probably need to step up a size.
Our View:
Innovative tear resistant construction combined with top quality insulation and a close fit give a very warm product. Not the lightest jacket on test, but it is cut a little longer and the generous hood will take a helmet with ease.

 

Rab Generator Alpine Jacket
Price: £139.99
Weight: 520g/18oz
Features: Technical version of classic Generator, Pertex Endurance shell, Roll down hood, Extra length.
Rab Generator Alpine

The Rab Generator jacket is a legend in its own lifetime, renowned for its versatility in typical British conditions. The Alpine takes the best of the Generator’s features and adds to them. Like the Mountain Equipment Fitzroy the Generator Alpine uses 100g Primaloft One in the main body and 60g in the arms, but the outer shell is made from hard wearing Pertex Endurance.
Unlike the other jackets on test the Generator Alpine features a helmet compatible hood that you can roll down and secure when not needed. You only get two external pockets and one zipped pocket on the inside, but the back is slightly longer than the standard jacket and zips are water resistant. The Pertex Endurance fabric gives a more heavyweight feel to the Generator Alpine on the outside, but on the inside Rab have chosen to stick with Quantum for a softer feel.
Our View:
The roll down hood makes this an ideal jacket for winter belays or sitting around the camp fire in the colder months. A stronger, more hard wearing, version of a classic jacket with excellent warmth per gram.

 

The North Face Redpoint Optimus Jacket
Price: £118.99
Weight: 600g/21oz
Features: Seamless shoulder yoke, packs into internal pocket, Primaloft PL1 filling, Alpine Fit.
The North Face Redpoint Optimus

The Redpoint Optimus was developed for the North Face athletes team and became their favourite product with its Primaloft One filling and ripstop nylon shell. The 100g PL1 filling gives plenty of insulation and the shell is DWR coated giving all round security. A new design for winter 2009 is a snag-free, seamless, shoulder yoke that gives better flexibility for arms and shoulders.
The hood on the Redpoint Optimus is fully adjustable, and you get the traditional complement of two hand warmer and one breast pocket on the outside. The inside, zippered pocket doubles up as storage for your jacket when not in use, saving carrying an extra stuff sack. Unlike the other jackets on test the Redpoint uses softshell fabric for the cuffs, using elastic rather than adjustable Velcro fastenings. The Alpine fit is a little shorter than the Berghaus Combust and Rab Generator Alpine but the overall fit is a little less tight.
Our View:
The Redpoint Optimus offers great value for money, coming in cheaper than the other jackets on test. Rolling into its own pocket for storage it’s ideal for cold winter days when you can’t afford to worry about rain.

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Webtogs beats the postal strike

Computer weekly spoke to me yesterday about the upcoming postal strike. Webtogs will never ever let it’s customers down and we’ll bite the bullet rather than have a parcel delivered late. I wish those Royal Mail dudes would sort this out though as it’s going to have a real impact on us if they do strike. So if you can, hug a posty today and tell him you love him in the vain hope that it will be enough to get one of them off the barricades!

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When in Morocco…

Take On Africa – Latest update from Erfoud, on the edge of the desert in Morocco

I arrived in Morocco during Ramadan, which as a touring cyclist I thought could be somewhat tricky. During the hours from sunrise to sunset, which are also the hours I’d be on the road, no-one eats or drinks and it would be very rude to be seen eating or drinking while those around me are abstaining. It’s not just that no-one eats or drinks in the daytime during Ramadan, but everyone’s daily routine changes entirely to accommodate this – with many shops and restaurants only opening up once the sun goes down.

The solution to this for me turned out to be very simple – when in Morocco during Ramadan, do as the Moroccans do. So I turned in the bike for ten days, fasted during the day and then, with the friend’s and families I met and stayed with, feasted during the night. Indeed, it is behind closed doors within the confines of the family home after dark that real life happens and I feel privileged to have been treated as one of the family and can only hope that one day I can repay the kindness, generosity and hospitality I received during this time and in fact have continued to receive long after the celebrations of Eid al-Fitr in every town I have passed.

As a touring cyclist, the topic of food is continually on the mind – I’m burning so many calories when cycling, that I can dream up any combination and quantity of foods to eat throughout the day and into the evening. During Ramadan, the topic of food is continually on everybody’s mind. Having fasted for a few days however, what I think is harder than not eating during the day is not drinking anything. No I’m not just talking about a beer or a glass of wine, but not even a sip of water. Up in the Middle Atlas where I was, it was relatively cool, but I cannot imagine how those living on the edges of the desert where I’m now resting up could manage.

To some extent, those that continually live in this region have become accustomed to the heat and are certainly able to endure it far easier than a fair-haired girl from temperate England. When cycling from Er-Rachidia to Erfoud on the edge of the desert I had company from a Moroccan student and fellow cycling enthusiast, who had nothing better to do that day that join me for a ride. Over the 40km that we cycled together, I consumed about two litres of water. He wouldn’t touch a drop. And then he turned round and cycled home, still without water. He said it was good training for his body ready for when he competes in races in the mountains. I just don’t know how he did it.

This year was unusually hot in the south and it turns out that many people did ‘cheat’ and end up drinking and eating a little something during the hottest hours. Quite frankly, who can blame them.

Me, if I’m thirsty, I’m going to drink water. I’m suffering enough with the heat as it is, without compounding the problem.

strolling across the sands

storms coming in

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Nemo Morpho – blow up tent!

I’m off to the Brecons this weekend, and Keith gawd bless him, got an advance copy of the tents we are stocking for next year, the Nemo Morpho. I am now officially super excited about this as we pumped it up in the back garden of the offices to take a look.

Front of the tent with side mesh opening.

Back of the tent.

Side ventilation.

You may have gathered that the special feature with these tents is that the poles are air poles or air beams, you blow them up. Now before I saw these, I was worried about the robustness of the air poles themselves. Having seen them in the flesh now I have no such worries. They resemble two half tires going around the tent and are just as thick and solid. Design wise it has some lovely touches with a collapsible inner and a really flexible front mesh that can be opened from the front or side. It’s also huge and at just over 2kg it looks like my new fav lightweight two man tent.

I’ve got a couple of photos for you to take a look at above along with the short video clip below, I’ll let you know how I get on this weekend – next week!


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Chmonix Trip – the lowdown

Well it’s been a while in the writing but I’ve finally managed to get around writing the story of our trip to Chamonix. The weekend started less than auspiciously with damp, inclement weather gathering overhead. We packed like there was no tomorrow to enable us to shut up shop at 12 to give us enough time to get to Heathrow. Leaving Matt and James in charge to pick the final orders, the Webtogs convoy churned up the A303 and in to Terminal 5’s car park. Things didn’t get much better for Jenny, our warehouse manager,as the Bus that took us to the terminal passed in front of her car. There was a yelp of “noooooooooooo” that reverberated around the bus as Jen realised she had left her sunroof open. Suffice to say, we were all incredibly sympathetic and we queued up to console her, just after we had all stopped laughing.

The flight was instantly forgettable and we soon made our way along the motorway to Chamonix with the mountains rearing up ahead of us. Mont Blanc was hidden behind some meaty wisps of cloud and so we found ourselves in town without a good glimpse of it. The night passed swiftly after a couple of sherbets and we gathered the following morning ready for the main event, the traverse of the Vallee Blanche. For those of us who had never been to the Alps before and only been walking / scrambling in Blighty, it was like having your Lego Duplo set taken away before being handed the latest Technics box instead. You know that there will be snow on the peaks, but the sight of it really hammers home that you are no longer in Kansas.

We all kitted ourselves out with the relevant boots, crampons and Ice axes. For a lot of the team, this was the first time they had used any of these and we spent a good 40 mins at the hotel fitting and trying everything on. We then headed to the cable car at the Aiguille du Midi and headed up the Mountain. Taking the cable car itself is not the most comfortable as it heads up very quickly and those with a delicate stomach were left looking inwards. There was a stop half way up where we changed cars and it was then up to the top where we got the first view of what we were about to undertake.

Simply put, it was awe inspiring with sheen of cloud underpinning the Aiguille, views across to Mont Blanc and to Switzerland. We also got our first view of the narrow ridge leading down to the Glacier below with a 1500 drop to one side and 300m on the other. Without further ado, Matt our guide got us locked and loaded with harnesses, ropes, crampons and axes and away we went down the ridge. Jenny and Richard our Tech director had already walked down so Tom and I came down with Matt. Matt cheerfully regaled us with the fact that he and Nick had seen a couple of climbers fall down the glacier side of the ridge the week before at which point Tom who had never been in crampons before was heard to mutter “Perhaps you could mention this at another point, maybe in a couple of years….”

The route down from Aiguille du Midi

We're laughing now we're down....

Making it down safely to the glacier, we struck out for the Italian side of the Alps all roped up. Starting off in jackets, we were soon in shirt sleeves and feeling the sun burning through the thin sky. We passed underneath the cable car that would bring us home later that day that crosses from the Glacier de Geant to Point Helbronner on the Italian side. What struck me having never been on a glacier before were the crevasses that we came across and in some areas had to journey across. The glacier was not the smooth unbroken snowy landscape I had anticipated but more a living, moving animal. We passed a few Italian groups coming from the other side before stopping for lunch. I could describe the journey as a whole, but I think the pictures will tell a better story than I ever will!


Mid way across the Valley

Looking up at the cable car home!

Views across to Mont Blanc

Looking out to Switzerland

Suffice to say we finished the day exhausted but with a smile on our faces. Now where’s that Mont Blanc ascent info…. You can view the rest of the photos on Facebook and the video is on you tube

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Traverse of the Vallee Blanche

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that we had been on a Webtogs jolly out to the Alps, where everyone thats the warehouse team, techies& gear freaks had a go at traversing the Valee Blanche. I’ve been slack at writing a post (it is coming, honest!) but one thing I did manage to get done yesterday was a quick edit and upload of some of the video we shot.

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