How about finding a lost rucksack after 20 years?

There are a quite a few outdoor videos that we love, but we haven’t seen any that beat this reunion of Jeff Lowe’s pack by Josh Wharton after a small 20 years lost on the north face of the Eiger!

Jeff Lowe’s Pack Retrieved from Eiger North Face from Jeff Lowe on Vimeo.

Jeff abandoned his backpack in 1991 when couldn’t find any anchors at the end of the rope. He left his pack behind as he went rope free on the last 50 feet to the summit ridge where he was plucked off the mountain by a helicopter. A couple of hours later one hell of a storm descended on the Eiger so he was one seriously lucky man!

Unbelievable to think he actually got it back after all these years. Mental.

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The Last Leg

Entering Zambia from the DR Congo was like entering another world. Not only were there beautiful tarmac roads which I had to cycle on the left side of the road for the first time in a year, but there was suddenly also plenty of wildlife. Congo seemed devoid of animals. Unless of course they were being served up for dinner. Zambia on the other hand was alive with the sounds of birds.

Namibian desert - just rocks, sand and sky

The only shade - looking at the Brandberg mountains, Namibia

The advantages of wild camping - Damaraland sunset, Namibia

I have been amazed by the wildlife I have seen throughout Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. And I didn’t even have to go on safari to see it either. Elephants, lion, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, crocodiles, hippos, impala, kudu, oryx, springbok, bat-eared foxes, ostriches. My camp has been visited by hyena and jackal too, but in the first case I didn’t get out my tent to see them and the second time I was out when the jackal stole my food.

Me and my bike in Damaraland, Namibia

Wildebeest on the salt pans, Botswana

My main concerns were from elephants on the roads as they don’t seem to like bikes. If I failed to see them (for big animals, they hide very well) I would be so close when they finally smelt me that they would get upset and flap their ears and raise their trunk and turn to face me. I’d pedal furiously before they thought about charging. And then there was a lioness on the road, which I thought it prudent to get a lift past!

Zebra at the Makgadikadi Pans, Botswana

Elephants on the Chobe River, Botswana

Victoria Falls, Zambia

Victoria Falls on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border is fantastic and the scenery of Botswana – the salt pans and Okavango delta – and Namibia – plenty of desert – during the rainy season with all the plant life in bloom is simply stunning. So southern Africa has been like a holiday from the challenges of travelling through central Africa. Although the last couple of weeks were tougher with the corrugated gravel roads, strong headwinds and incessant flies.

Dunes at Sossusvlei - unusually with water too

The Kuiseb Pass, Namibia - in full bloom

But now I’m just a few days away from the border of South Africa and only about 1,000km to Cape Town, my final destination.

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All new Adidas winter 2011 collection – including Terrex Active Shell

We recently had Jon down from Adidas to guide us through the new Autumn Winter collection 2011. We were rather excited to have him down as this will be the first time we will stock both the Adidas clothing range as well as their footwear. You can tell just how excited I was from this video below!

There were quite a few pieces that really stood out, first the Terrex Primaloft Parka.

Terrex Primaloft Parka

Terrex Primaloft Parka shoulder

Terrex Primaloft Parka hood

It looks like a great belay jacket with some about town practicality. I was particularly impressed with the adjustability of the hood. Coming in at roughly 900g it’s a solid piece and is backed up with Climaproof storm, Adidas’ own waterproof breathable fabric.

Terrex Hybrid pant

Next up was the Terrex Hybrid pant. This is a fully featured mountain trouser with a great combo of Gore Windstoppper for most of the trouser, and Climaproof for the high wear areas. You have built in gaiters, and some nice touches with rubberised elastic bands on the inside of the trousers to help grip & keep the trousers up. At £130 this is great value for such a high spec pair of pants.

Terrex Active Shell Jacket


Terrex Active Shell detail

This was the one that really got my attention. There has been a great deal of noise recently in respect of new technologies when it comes to waterproof, breathable fabrics. Mountain Hardwear have released their Dry-Q for later this year, Polartec have their Neo Shell and Goretex have released Active Shell. All are competing to be the lightest most breathable waterproof fabric out there.

What was immediately different for me was the feel of the Active Shell jacket. I was expecting a light jacket, but the feel was also subtly different to a hard shell being a little more flexible and not quite as noisy when moving. It also felt great next to my skin. Aside from the feel of the fabric, I really liked the permanent built in venting, the helmet compatible hood and the overall weight at just shy of 370g. I am really looking forward to this coming in so will keep you updated as soon as we get to test it in anger on the hill.

Womens Fleece pink

Womens Fleece blue

We also had a couple of women’s fleeces in some vibrant colours, Lucy tried them on and the cut got the thumbs up.

Terrex Windstopper Soft Shell Jacket

Finally we had the Terrex Windstopper soft shell jacket, featuring some cavernous pit zips and a great athletic cut, coming in just under 590g in weight. It looks like a good value shell.

All in all a collection that has got us wishing for snow, short days and long nights again – roll on Winter 2011!

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Gregory Z25 lightweight Daypack

Whilst up in the peak district recently, I was lucky enough to try out the Gregory Z25 rucksack for my wanders. We’ve not stocked this before, and I wanted to see how Gregory’s lightweight daypack performed, having previously used the Z65 on a wildcamp before in the Brecons, and been quietly impressed by it’s weight distribution and comfort.

Gregory Z25 front view
The version I had was the grey and red, rather than the natty blue we have on the site right now. Weight was 1.3kg which is not ultra-lightweight, but for me Gregory offer that great blend between being lightweight, but not too over the top and compromising on comfort as a result.

Feature wise, it is pretty stacked, boasting the following;

* JetStream DTS Suspension
* Auto-Fit harness system
* Dual hydration ports and sleeve
* Top stash pocket
* Expandable front pouch
* Side and bottom compression
* Quick access waistbelt pockets
* Side mesh pockets with compression pass-through
* Dual axe/tool attachment points
* Interior organization pocket
* 210d double box ripstop and broken twill nylon fabrics

Gregory Z25 back view
Out of all those, what made it uber practical for me was the front pouch that is expandable. I managed to get a whole host of stuff in there and still have more space. It was super useful for gloves, hats, maps etc, all items I needed quick access to that benefited from being able to be yanked out straight away without having to unzip, dig around and zip up the main compartment again.

Gregory Z25 side view
Along with the pouch, the other thing that stood out for me was the comfort. The Z25 features Jet Stream Suspension which is engineered to the pack size, and the weight it is designed to carry. The Z25 features an ‘active’ suspension that automatically adjusts according to how much weight is loaded in the pack. Having stuffed the Z25 pretty full with a lot of gear, it performed rather well. I have never been a fan of air back systems, but the Gregory JetStream DTS Suspension was supremely comfortable when carrying all day long, despite me carrying both mine and my better half’s gear!

Attention to detail, build quality married with the Jet Stream suspension & the really useful kangaroo pouch made it a super practical daysack, . If you are looking for a lightweight, comfortable pack with some great features head on over to take a look at the Gregory Z25

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Lightweight Backpacks – The Big Question

 

How light can you go?……..

Over the last few years much of the development in outdoor gear has been in making performance gear lighter and lighter but there must be a limit, a stage where its taken too far and performance is sacrificed for weight. This is a hot topic around the office and I am not sure there is a right answer for everyone.

This all presents someone choosing a backpack with some difficult choices. Do they go for something with loads of features and well padded contact points or one of the new breed of super lightweight stripped down packs such as the Lowe Alpine Zepton. This dilemma faced me last year as I was planning my kit for the GR20. After much deliberating I ended up going for the Zepton as it was so light weight and although not as comfortable as others the carry was acceptable and was something I was willing to live with for the weight advantage.

The GR20 is a 12 – 14 day mountain walk over difficult terrain involving some long 8 – 10 hour days and some steep sections of scrambling. The big problem on the the GR20 is that there is little water to be found during the day at it gets really hot so you will need to set out with about 3 litres (3kg) of water. I have to admit I took some good lightweight kit but I managed to get the total weight of the pack to 7kg with out water and 10kg with water. For this sort of load the Zepton was perfectly comfortable on long days as well as feeling stable over difficult ground. I would certainly recommend this pack to anyone thinking about a long  distance backpacking trip but remember the rest of your kit will need to be good if you are to get away with the low volume and lack of padding.

 

 

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The North Face Hedgehog III’s have arrived

Everyone here at Webtogs loved the old Hedghogs so we were nervous when we heard they were changing. I set off to see the North Face range with thoughts of “If its not broken don’t fix it”. Well we should not have been worried as they have done a fantastic job updating the Hedgehog.

The new Hedgehog III is dripping with technology and oozing style. The all new Northotic footbed has been updated with Poron ReSourse for forefoot and heel cushioning giving a whole new level of comfort allowing you to move faster for longer.

The Hedgehog III inherits the proven Gore Tex XCR membrane which keeps your feet cool and dry even in the toughest conditions. Add this to the redesigned mesh upper and breathability is better than ever.

Traction and support is taken care of with the use of an injection molded TPU shank coupled with a North Face exclusive Vibram out sole.

 

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Through Central Africa

Finally I got the bike in tip top shape. But having spent 10 days in Yaounde living on a diet of chicken rotisserie and beer, I was less so. Oh well. Time to hit the road again.

A close relative - the bonobo

Wild camping in Gabon

Sandy tracks through the border area from Gabon to Republic of Congo

I enjoyed some pleasant days cycling through Gabon. Good tarmac following the Lalara river through equatorial forest and then taking the dusty backroads to Booue. It didn’t take long for me to be covered head to toe in the fine orange dust which obscured all views when the logging trucks came trundling past. Unfortunately I was ill in Booue (from drinking contaminated pump water) and decided to take a train to Franceville to recover.

The dusty dirt roads of Gabon

Camping in the forest of Gabon

Then I cycled on towards the Republic of Congo border. I came to a sign directing me to this next country and immediately the tarmac ended in a pit of sand. Now it was time to start pushing and dragging. Very slowly I made my way through this remote area until eventually I came across more tarmac a few days later. Thanks to Chinese business interests and the President’s self-interests in lavishing funds on his family village. So from there it was a smooth ride right through to Brazzaville on the banks of the Congo River.

Me in a dugout canoe on Lac Fwa on the border of the Kasai provinces

A boat ride across the mighty Congo river to Kinshasa and I was in the other Congo – the Democratic(-by-name) Republic of Congo. With a reputation of endemic corruption and history of bloody war, some still ongoing I was more than a little concerned. But I needn’t have been. I avoided the insecure regions and met along my travels some of the friendliest people yet. Sure, travel could be hard and frustrating, and some of my toughest, most challenging days were in the DR Congo. But I found myself loving the country all the more for it.

Road block - pay the bike tax to pass

But it wasn’t just all pedalling in the Congo. I took some time off and went further into the forests by 4×4 and along the Sankuru river in a dugout. One experience was a four-day triain journey. I could almost have cycled quicker. And that didn’t include the time waiting for the train. Indeed, if you ever decide to travel to the Congo, expect to spend most of your time waiting. Patience is a requirement.

Waiting by the Sankuru River

I spent three months in this country. I could have stayed much longer. But my visa was about to expire and I set out on this trip to cycle to Cape Town. I knew I could always come back some day. So off I went, towards Zambia.

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The West End

Silence since Ghana. I apologise.

So here comes a short series of where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to in the last 9 months…

Well, the simple answer is, I’ve been cycling. A lot.

11,000km in fact.

So first up is the end to the journey through West Africa

Ghana seems such a long time ago. Indeed, I watched England fall out of the World Cup from a little bar in Cape Coast. But then I hit the road and started pedalling. Through Togo and Benin with their brutal history of slave trading, Dahomey warriors and voodoo religion. Fascinating.

Bridge to cross in Nigeria

Always plenty of people about in Nigeria

Endless Nigeria - one of the less busy roads

Then for Nigeria with it’s reputation of crime and kidnappings. But what I found was a fantastically friendly people who were as kind and generous as they were funny. A good thing really in such a populous country. Did you know that 1 in 5 Africans is Nigerian? The only danger was from the heavy traffic and reckless driving with a couple of narrow escapes where I was run off the road. I lost count of the number of wrecked lorries by the roadside.

Cameroons Highlands are beautiful if a little hilly

Slowly slowly round the hills in Cameroon

And then into Cameroon where I got my first taste of really rough roads. At the time, I would have hardly called them roads. But since then I’ve travelled through Central Africa and discovered what bad roads really look like! At least I could still pedal in Cameroon. Except up the exceptionally steep hills that is. It took quite some determination to turn down a lift when it was offered! But the scenery of the Cameroon highlands was superb and at least distracted from the tired legs a little. So tired one day I even ended the night sleeping in a hospital bed…

But perhaps the best thing about Cameroon was the beer. Didn’t matter what time of day it was or where in the country you were, you were sure to find an open bar. I left the breakfast drinking to the locals though and stuck to the 600ml bottles of coca-cola which gave plenty of energy and less of a headache!

In the city of Yaounde I took some time out and got stuck into some serious bike maintenance. I wanted a bike ready to take on what Central Africa had to offer (coming up in the next update…)

Voodoo religion remains strong in Togo and Benin

Memorial to those slaves shipped from Ouidah, Benin

Beach at Lome, Togo

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beautiful boots

I’m a little bit in love with these gorgeous Keen Auburn boots – they somehow manage to be both pretty, functional, warm and durable, which doesn’t happen a lot in the world of women’s outdoor gear. They are perfect for country pubs now and they’ll still be going strong in the summer as brilliant festival footwear.

The fair isle print is really current and will brighten up jeans and a woolly jumper (which, to be honest, is pretty much my uniform when it’s cold). You might want to invest in some suede-saving spray though, given that we don’t live in the sunniest climate in the world. Sigh.

The Girl Outdoors

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