Webtogs team mountain biking trip to Afan, South Wales.

Team building is an incredibly important part of any business which values the welfare of it’s employees. This is mainly due to the fact that it stops you all wanting to throttle each other but it also creates a bond between you and your fellow colleagues. The bond that was made for us, as employees of Webtogs, was made last weekend when we decided to all go to Afan, near Port Talbot in South Wales, to camp for the Friday evening and then do some pretty knarly mountain biking up and down Afan before returning home on Saturday afternoon.

We left on Friday afternoon after work and arrived in the evening around 8ish. Not a bad time considering the slow moving traffic over the Severn Bridge and beyond. We had driven in a car and a bongo van, the car driven by speedy Lavelle Gonzalez arrived early at Glyncorrwg Ponds Camp Site to set up the tents while the bongo van slowly meandered it’s way up the valley only to come to a halt at Afan Lodge where we were to dine for the evening and await the arrival of the rest of the troops from the camp site.

At around 8.30 we sat down to eat supper and chat about the adventure that was unfolding in front of us. The main topic of conversation was to do with the weather because when we left North Dorset it was pretty fair however as soon as we arrived in Wales the clouds rolled up the valley and the rain set in. It didn’t stop raining at all until we hopped back over to England so you can imagine what cycling up a Welsh mountain was going to be like.

at the finish line

In the morning we woke to a grey and wet Welsh welcome so we warmed up with a cup of tea and croissants before shooting off down the valley to pick up some hire bikes and helmets. The hire bikes were great and my goodness we put them through their paces. The bikes definitely took a bit of a battering with some of the guys making friends with trees, toppling off the board walks and landing upside down after rather a steep drop coupled with a sharp bend. We are still here to tell the tail but with less skin and more bruises.

The bad weather did nothing but accelerate our enthusiasm for getting on with the ascent and at first I think we were all, except Keith and Jon Stock our North Face rep, a little taken aback at how technical it was. We soon found our rhythm and with a few tips from the more experienced riders we all made our way up through the twists and turns of the densely forested Afan mountain. It took around 2.5 hours to arrive at the top and then the descent kicked in. An hour and a half of navigating narrow tracks, sharp U turns and board walks. Amazing fun but most amazing of all was that none of us got a puncture, one guy we passed on the trail was fixing his 5th in two days. All 9 of us made it to the bottom covered head to toe in scratches, bruises and mud but all with huge smiles plastered on our muddy faces.

Webtogs Afan 11

Next stop was to the cafe at the foot of the mountain where Sue, Kuma and a welcome warm cup of tea and some good honest Welsh Rarebit were waiting for us. We all tucked in and shared our favourite and most scary sections with each other and had a laugh, all the while still looking like a team of rugby players after a tough match. Next it was to the showers which were, well, warmish to say the most but a shower non the less. After the showers packing up was the name of the game and all clubbing together to take 6 tents down doesn’t take long, even in the wet.

There are reports coming in from the passengers on board the bongo van that to keep Mike on his toes they were all singing along to the Paul Simon Greatest Hits album to pass the time, I’m not sure how many businesses there are on the planet where the employees are that comfortable with each other that they can perform a full rendition of ‘You can call me Al’ in front of each other? It’s a Webtogs thing I guess.

Another boost for moral on the journey home was the appearance of the sun, who decided to arrive just as we hopped back into England. It honestly felt like we hadn’t seen it for weeks so it was a welcome sight along with another cup of tea when we arrived back at home. A great weekend had by all and I can say that I now have the mountain biking bug along with a few others no doubt.

I thought we’d add a few quotes from the guys to sum up their weekend below so enjoy reading them.

Charlie – “Never had so much fun in the mud.”

Gareth – “Can’t stop the bruising, but I can’t stop grinning either!”

Lucy – “I cant think of anything better to do on a rainy Saturday than to play in the mud in Wales. Cant wait to go again!”

Jon – “Flying squirrels have nothing on the Webtogs crew!”

Ross – “Proud recipient of the Webtogs stabiliser award for falling off every 5 minutes”

Mike -”That’s my idea of a dirty weekend away”

Lee – ” What a roller-coaster of emotion, weather conditions and hardcore welsh terrain – loved it, epic adventure”

Sue – “smelly wet dog is nothing compared to 9 wet and muddy mountain bike riders”

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Crazy and the Great Divide

Some people think I’m crazy… crazy to quit my job so I could cycle through Africa. The same thought, albeit fleeting, went through my mind before I actually set off.

But craziness, like many things, is relative.

So that when you’ve just cycled 25,000km through Africa, the idea of cycling 4,400km through the US, seems like a holiday.

But when I mention that I’m going to cycle the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, an off-road route that crosses the continental divide some 80 times, and I’ll have to pedal or push up so many hills that by the end I will have effectively scaled the height of everest 7 times…. people still say I’m crazy.

But even I have my limits, and the borderline for craziness to me is cycling that same 4,400km route as a non-stop race. Yes, that’s 4,400km with all those hills, cycled in about 3 weeks. Now why on earth would you want to do that?! Well, several people do want to do it. And they do….

Well, actually I do understand – it’s for the challenge, to physically push yourself to the limit, to see what your body can withstand and it’s to satisfy the mildly masochistic nature that lies within some of us and drives us to undertake such seemingly pointless trials and adventures.

The Tour Divide, the race, is currently underway. It started on the 10th June. Of the 66 riders who started, two have already finished and 14 have dropped out. The others are still racing. The winner made it in just 15 days! (I shall be taking much longer…)

You can follow the rest of the crazy racers on the Tour Divide website (www.tourdivide.org) and see a map of the route which I’ll be following later this year.

The craziest of all, have to be the three men on single speed bikes. I have no idea how you cycle up the hills with only one gear. I’m just glad I don’t have to!

 

 

 

 

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GoreTex Active Shell – What’s the story?

The 1980′s saw a fabric introduced that revolutionised outdoor clothing – the introduction of Goretex. As the worlds first waterproof yet breathable fabric, it was a sea change in the way that people enjoyed outdoor activities. Before, your choice was simple. Drown in your own sweat, or drown in the rain. I wasn’t the only one who dreaded being made to wear a “Cagoul”, and the feel of wet clammy rubber against my skin. The world outdoors definitely became more of a comfortable place as a result.

One of the first Goretex pieces, the Berghaus Lightning Jacket

So here we are nearly 30 years later, and Gore have come up with the latest version of their technology, called Active Shell. We are going to be getting in several Active shell pieces this winter, and before they come in, we wanted to explain just why we think these new pieces of clothing are so darn cool. Our job is so easy though. We can sum it up thus

1) It’s more breathable than previous versions of Goretex. High aerobic folks such as runners, cyclists, and climbers are going to be big fanboys and girls of this new fabric

2) It’s lighter than any of their other fabrics. It’s ideal for those who want to move fast and light, yet retain decent levels of weather protection.

3) This is just our own opinion having tried on a couple of different jackets, but we think that they are a step up in terms of comfort as well. Less like a crisp bag, they are a bit more flexible and comfortable next to skin. Please note that this is based on the samples we have tried on, so the real deal could be different. Oh apparently the value of your house can go up as well as down.

So how have they done it I hear you ask? Well you will be pleased to know that there was no magician with a rabbit, or a pentagram on the floor. They have managed to make the membrane itself lighter, and by getting the scrim, or backing fabric to integrate straight on to the membrane itself. Both of these manufacturing processes have made the garments lighter, and reduced resistance for water vapour and sweat to get through.

Now we have two of these new jackets coming in for Winter, first up, the Adidas Men’s Terrex Gore-Tex Active Shell Jacket. Adidas are a relative new player in the outdoor market but they have hit the ground running in our humble opinion. We actually got to have a bit of a sneak peak of their gear earlier in the year. The weight is a paltry 370 grammes, we love the laser cut and bonded detailing, and the built in vents. Check out our Video on the whole range here, the new jacket is first up;

Second up is a British classic, it’s Mountain Equipment’s Firefox Jacket. Now the firefox jacket was released a couple of years ago with a unique fit. The fit’s become much more of a standard ME fit, and they have now changed the fabric to Goretex Active Shell as well. The weight is slightly lower than the Adidas coming in at 320 grammes, it features their Mountain Hood adjustment system, and pit zips in case you are on fire.

ME Firefox Jacket

So more breathable, lighter and more comfortable is the new order of the day with Goretex’s Active Shell. We’re getting them in this September and already the anticipation is building here. If you have any questions at all on the new fabric, or any comments, please post away below.

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Attack of the Chacos.

We’re pretty chuffed to have lined up a new brand for next summer which will need no introduction for our US fans, it’s Chaco sandals.

Ladies Chacos

Sue and Lucy try the Chacos

So whats the deal I here you ask? well, these are seriously bombproof sandals, and having seen them today, they aren’t wrong! They have Vibram sole units on most of the range, and their Luvseat platform gives amazing support for your arches, which controls pronation. The quality of the sole is the best we have ever seen. Premium grade PU that is guaranteed for life means that you have a sandal that is just going to last and last.

More Chacos

Blokes Chacos

Roll on Summer 2012, we can’t wait to sport some funky tan lines with these bad boys!

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Marmot Rocks North Wales

Eleven of Marmot’s best European climbers recently came together to push their own personal limits on some of North Wales most challenging routes.

The whole week was documented on film by ‘Image Impossible’ who is owned and run by action camera man Ian Burton. Ian is well known for his previous work on the BBC’s Climbing great buildings series and one of the camera men behind The Asgard project.

This short film covers all the best climbing action and some behind the scene footage showing the less glamorous side of being behind a camera lens.

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Stealth Camping

Lightweight. It’s not a new mantra, but it has become an increasingly loud one within the outdoor community over the last few years. Whether you class yourself as someone who is looking to reduce their packweight, a lightweight backpacker, ultralightweight backpacker or supreme ultralight lightfantastic godlike backpacker, more and more people are gradually realising that the lighter your pack is, the further and longer you can walk for.

I’m not sure about you, but whereas my pack was getting lighter when solo backpacking, I found that when I was heading off with the family, I was actually taking more and more stuff. Two burner stoves with a grill that could just about cook a marshmallow. A full set of table and chairs. The solid, niche, canvas frame tent that are legends to longevity and stability. A box of toys that would put a small nursery to shame. Whereas at work I would gaze in rapt admiration of the Nemo Obi tents, at home I was looking at the portable kitchen station with space for a washing up bowl.

Un-stealthy camping

The end result of this was that I simply could not be bothered to go camping en famille. It meant getting together a load of stuff, putting a load of stuff up, taking a load of stuff down and finally putting a load of stuff away again afterwards. So last August, me and the better half sat down and had the following plan which we called stealth camping.

Our aim was simple. Make camping as a family easier and lighter. Our new mantra was to just leave it all behind. Not to go and buy a load of lightweight gear, but instead just focus on the basics. So unless something was utterly critical, it got binned. We decided that we were not allowed to camp for a long time (weekends only) and could only decided to camp on a Thursday night, to leave Friday night. This, more than any other choice,  has had the trick of really making us focus on the gear that was important.

Stealth Camping (chickens optional)

In the end this is what we got down to, it’s not an exhaustive list, but it pretty much sums it up.

Lightweight family tent. – We’re currently having fun with the Limestone 6P, but we also have a Robbens Double Dreamer.
Trangia Stove – nothing big or fancy thanks very much
4 bowls and 4 spoons, a sharp knife and a spare plate
Cool Box
4 x sleeping bags, 3 sleeping mats and a cot.
1 outside toy for each boy.
Child Carrier for Ellis
Torches, duct tape, penknife, first aid kit
Clothes
Maps, compass and map case

I'm a bit lost

Erm thats it I think.

We tried it out for several weekends at the end of last summer, and just had some of the best outdoor weekends we have ever had. The boys ended up going nuts outside and playing with natural stuff they found, rather than the toys they brought. We no longer stressed about what we had forgotten or not having stuff, and instead just got out and about and enjoyed ourselves. We felt free. We felt liberated. We fell in love with camping again as a family.

This does have it’s limitations, we are limited to camping realistically within a 3 hour radius of home, but hey that means we don’t cream cracker the environment. Occasionally, you may suffer the pitying looks of people who gaze at you from their portable decking with the BBQ and camping chairs, but it’s a small price to pay.

It’s a Thursday today. Nobody has said anything yet. We’re not allowed to you see, but the diary tells me I haven’t got anything on this weekend. Game on?

 

 

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New for Old competition winners!

Wow – we have been amazed by the entries in our new for old competition. We were bowled over by the quality, the stories and history behind the gear you have loved (and abused!)

Judging such entries proved a lot tougher than we first thought, with some seriously deserving cases in there. We cogitated and deliberated however to finally come up with a winner, and a runner up as well, as deciding between the two proved tough!

Mary's jacket

First up, the runner up. Mary Pollard sent in this picture of her Teddy wrapped in her Berghaus raincoat circa 1980ish. It is we think a lightning, one of the first Gore-Tex coats that were available for sale here in the UK. So not only is the Teddy cute, but the jacket is a piece of outdoors clothing history!

Kevin's boots
click me to make me bigger......

 

The Winner however are these boots from Kevin Woods. We are frankly amazed that he is actually still walking in his Meindl Burma Pros. The rubber rand has pretty much worn totally away, and the leather has completely split on the sides. Couple that with the fact the toe has worn away to reveal the Gore-tex on the left hand boot, and we knew we had our most deserving winner! All we can say is that it is a testament to Meindl’s build quality that they are still going.

So a huge congratulations to them both, Kevin will be getting a new pair of Burmas and Mary some goodies, but we have also sent a thank you to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for our next competition on facebook for the chance to win gear EVERY week this summer!

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Charlie enters the outdoor scene

Hello, I’m Charlie, 25 years of age and I’ve been working at Webtogs for nearly 2 years. I started work as a warehouse operative just for pre Christmas help in September 2009 and have, through persistent ear bashing, made a more permanent job for myself here. So now I’m Webtogs Website Manager and loving it. I’m not just saying that, I do genuinely love coming to work and all the guys we work with are great fun, I think it would be hard to find another work place which is as dynamic and intuitive as this one (plus I live 3 mins walk away so they know where I am if I’m ever late).

Now, Webtogs, as an official retailer of Outdoor Clothing, Equipment and Footwear, are obviously pro-outdoors and I to be honest have never had much experience of camping or hiking, mainly because I love the snow. I have previously focused most of my energy on disappearing off to the Alps on that eternal quest for virgin powder and have on occasion found it. As far as I am concerned it’s worth every penny, believe you me. I’ve completed a couple of ski seasons in Italy and Switzerland and the passion still burns from within, but now it has to fit in with work holidays so no bumming off for a season here and a season there anymore – work beckons and this has opened new doors to the adrenaline fuelled outdoor entertainments.

off piste

I play hockey for our local team a few times a week and have a friend who teaches at King’s Bruton, where I used to attend. They are paying for him to get all his Mountain Leader Safety courses and complete all the necessary exams needed so he can take the pupils off to train for the Ten Tors and Duke of Edinburgh awards. So I suggested that he take me with him whenever he decides to go off to remote parts of our glorious countryside. We only decided this last week and this blog is going to give you guys, if anybody reads this, the chance to see my progress in grabbing a foothold in the hiking world.

Just to give you the heads up on where I stand at the moment I don’t even own a backpack or walking boots so it’s going to be an epic journey I think. Oh, and I had an email through from the dude I play hockey with, we’ll call him ‘Bob’ for now as I haven’t asked him if he’d mind being plastered over the interweb yet, I probably won’t either so Bob will stick, anywho, the email It said… drum roll please……”I am also seriously considering climbing Mt Blanc next year in the summer so that would be something to maybe work towards. I think that you would love it and it would be a chance for you to try the kit out first hand.”

Oh dear, so now I’ve literally been roped into climbing a mountain? Instead of skiing down mountains I’m going to be climbing them – I have one ace up my sleeve though, Webtogs do happen to stock some pretty gnarly gear which means I’ll be well stocked up for the tasks in hand wherever they may be! There is one thing I do know, It’s going to be a bloody steep learning curve.

Have fun reading about my progress and I’m sure there will be some photos arriving soon of my first baby steps into the Great Unknown that is the British Countryside.

Thanks, bye. C

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North Ridge of Tryfan

I’ve been to Snowdonia many a time, but never had the pleasure of tackling the North Ridge of Tryfan as my better half is not fond of scrambling. So I was pretty chuffed a couple of weeks ago to catch a quick weekend away with Sean from the Vale Mountaineering club. Wild camping on the Molewyn’s the night before, I woke up and headed down to meet with him.

view from my bed.

sunrise over Craig Wen

I’m a photo, click me to make me bigger.

Meeting up at Nant Gwynant car park, we headed back to the Pinnacle sports cafe in Capel Curig for a bit of ballast for the day ahead, and to decide what we wanted to do. It wasn’t by any means decided on what route we would do for that day, but Sean kindly agreed on the North Ridge of Tryfan, and so we headed down the Ogwen valley to park at it’s base.

 

looking up at Tryfan


I think Tryfan is perhaps the most beautiful mountain to look at in Wales along with Cadir Idris, and I was genuinely excited to be climbing it. I don’t have a huge fondness for heights, attributable to being up the Kyoto Tower when a 6.3 richter scale earthquake hit on our honeymoon. Sean was decent enough to keep me away from the more exposed elements to the east, but at the same time, we took more of an interesting route up, away from the standard smooth rocked trail.

A steep ascent gave us some rapid height, and the route that Sean had us following led to a massive grin on my face. I had ditched the large sack from yesterday, and just had a small scrambling sack. Pausing to drink in the Carneddau opposite, I struggled to think of a time when I had more fun on a mountain. I was loving the physical challenge, but not feeling too exposed, and I really started to enjoy myself. Heres the route I took on social hiking;

 


 

 

having fun on the north ridge of Tryfan

Getting nearer to the top, the final section of Tryfan came in to view, looking like nothing else but a selection of rock lego bricks piled up by Ifor, my three year old. The top came too soon for me, and we perched for a while, catching our breath and some amazing views.

top of Tryfan

View from Tryfan

The descent was down by Llyn Bochlwyd. By this stage my feet had realised I had walked for a while the previous day, and decided to let me know that they weren’t happy with me. I’m sure other people feel the same as well, but I really have no fondness for going down hills. I would rather climb all day than have to step down. We soon reached the saddle leading down to the lake, and Sean pointed out Bristly Ridge. Keith has often said in conjunction with the North ridge of Tryfan, it is one of the best hill days out in Wales. It certainly looked like a hell of a lot of fun, but sadly we had a 6 hour journey in the car ahead of us, plus our exertions from the day had left us both zonked so we meandered gently back to the car.

The journey home was made in a comfortable haze of tiredness, Sean driving down through mid Wales, a route I had never taken before which was a treat in itself. Heading past the other side of the Moelwyns, Rhinogydds, Cadair Idris etc, plans were hatched for the next hill visit. I usually drive whenever we go anywhere as a family so I enjoyed the rare treat of not having to drive at all. Soon my head was lolling around like a broken doll and I awoke just as we came past the black mountains in the Brecons. Tempted to stop for an evening stroll, we resisted the temptation and continued down to Dorsetshire and home.

Snowdonia has so many memories for me as we frequently, visited the Rynys campsite in Betys y Coed to stay with a wide variety of friends and family. Heading home, I realised that these times are what we live for. The memories, experiences and challenges we gather from the hills, are many times the potency of the experiences we pick up from every day life. It has been too long since some proper hill time for me, but a couple of weeks after my visit, I am still casting my mind back to an amazing weekend.

I’ll write shortly about the gear I used, but in the meantime you might want to have a look at all the photos I took on Flickr

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Social Hiking Interview

As promised folks, today we are interviewing Phil Sorrell, the man behind Social Hiking. Last week saw us look at Viewranger, and how their buddy beacon let’s you track friends and vice versa. Social hiking is a tool that lets you share your progress on a route by using the buddy beacon. You can then embed your tweets, photos, videos, audio and other media as you wander along. So yesterday just after Phil’s get up time of 10:30 (the life of a developer eh?), I caught up with him on Skype for a quick natter.

Webtogs: Hey Phil thanks for joining us!

Phil: Pleasure!

Webtogs: How did Social Hiking come about?

Phil: About 2 years ago I decided to walk Offa’s Dyke in aid of the MS Society which I completed last year. I was already using twitter, and thought wouldn’t it be brilliant if people could keep track of us to follow what we were doing, rather than come back and go “da da”, we have done it. I looked at a few solutions, Viewranger with their buddy beacon and Google Lattitude. It wasn’t possible using these on their own as they were, so I asked Viewranger if they would release an API for me to use (techy explanation of API – let’s computers to talk to one another!). After initially asking them, they came back after a couple of months and asked me “well this API, what do you want it to do?” I had the beginning of the site up in a week after Viewranger helped me, and my route was then posted live as I walked. Phil Turner then spotted what I had done on the web with my walk and persuaded me to release it to the world, so we went from there.

Webtogs: Does Social Hiking have any plans to work with any other mapping technologies?

Phil: Well the site already works with Instamapper which is a no frills location pinging app, we also support SPOT GPS Satellite units, which have much better battery life, and are not reliant on signal as it communicates directly with the satellites. Jilly is using it to cycle to China and Phil Turner used it for his recent TGO challenge. We are also having a chat with Yellow Brick who rent GPS units to large expeditions and charity events. Viewranger is however the only mapping app that is suitable for day to day hiking with their buddy beacon.

Webtogs: What additional features have you got planned for social hiking?

Phil: Support for more social media sites in the first instance as new services are released. Functionality wise, I really want to improve how people can browse walks that have previously been done. It’s less user friendly, and the experience in switching between all the media that people have shared is not as good as it could be. It would also be great to have a tab that would let you filter and browse through all the photos for that route, or tweets for that route for example.

Webtogs: What’s your favourite route that’s been showcased on Social Hiking?

Phil: My fav route has to be Jilly’s epic cycle to China for several reasons. Firstly it’s an awesome adventure, our tag line is share the adventure, and she’s really good at Tweeting and uploading photos. Secondly, although the name is social hiking, it’s not just about hiking, so it’s great to have a journey which is on two wheels. Thirdly, the sheer scale of what she is doing is incredible. If you look at her map now, she’s on 1680 beacons and as a result she’s forced me to improve map load times as she has so many, so everyone has benefited from her trip.


Webtogs: You did Offa’s dyke in aid of the MS Society, which is something you have. How much of an impact has your illness had in developing Social Hiking?

Phil: Social Hiking worked so well during Offa’s Dyke, because we interacted with people whilst we were doing it, and it definitely did help raise extra money. For me, it also helps inspire people to complete their challenge. On one day, we met a lady walking her dog who we then recognised as a friend of the person I was walking with. She had tracked us down using Social Hiking and walked with us for the rest of the day! It’s always at the forefront of my mind to have features for people doing Charity challenges.

Webtogs: What’s your favourite piece of outdoor kit?

Phil: I’ve got two? can I have two? (Webtogs : Yes laughs) First up has to be the Mountain Equipment Touchstone jacket. It’s not something I wear hiking or camping as it’s mainly a cold weather piece. I bought it as a thermal fleece camping in the North Down in february but I can’t take it off! I wear it around the house, whilst working, walking the dog. My most outdoorsy piece though has to be the Icebreaker Oasis baselayer, I wear base layers all day every day whether I am walking or not, and they are the most comfortable and practical pieces I own.

Webtogs: Right some quickfire questions here! Mountains or Hills?
Phil: Mountains!
Webtogs: Walking or Climbing?
Phil: Walking
Webtogs: Windshirt or Hardshell?
Phil: Hardshell
Webtogs Chocolate or Crisps?
Phil: Chocolate!
Webtogs: Thats it! Thanks for your time Phil, best of luck with Social Hiking and we look forward to the new developments.
Phil: You’re welcome!

 

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