Archive | September 2014

Buying power – footwear

Okay, you need some new outdoor or travel boots, sandals or shoes

What’s best for you? The ones that match your needs and any aspirations you may have…

It’s a common sense approach that’s been thought about after years of walking, travelling and selling both town shoes and activity footwear of all different kinds.

I’ve had people ask me about materials used in the making of footwear. Some wanted a Vegan product whilst others didn’t want items made of leather or pigskin because of their respective religious beliefs. Some wanted a waterproof lining, others didn’t.

One thing that’s always worth doing – use a bricks and mortar retailer rather than an internet outlet. You can try on as many pairs as you like, you can pick the brains of the sales staff and even take your purchase home and try them before using in anger.

You can also try the ones you like on, then go for a coffee and try them on again later as a means of ensuring that you have the right pair for you and that you’re a happy bunny!

There five rules to bear in mind when you’re buying new footwear for outdoor or travel use

Don’t leave it until the last minute.

I’ve had people coming into the shop I used to manage who were wanting boots to wear on the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge – the following day…

They were kitted out, but only after trying on several different pairs and a recommendation to buy appropriate socks and a couple of packs of Compeed blister plasters to use as preventative maintenance on their heels and little toes.

Go shopping in the afternoon (unless you’ve just done a night shift!).

Your feet can spread between a half and a full size between morning and afternoon, so it makes sense to go shopping in the afternoon when your feet are at their broadest.

Buy the best footwear that you can afford rather than going for the cheapest. 

It’s also worth mugging up on how long a particular footwear model has been around for. If it’s been around for years and is virtually unchanged, then that’s good as it would indicate that the brand got that model right first time or has made subtle changes to get it right.

Give yourself at least an hour to do the deed and try on as many pairs as possible in order to get the one that is suitable for purpose which also fits you well.

Let the assistant know what your plans are as they should know what each model they sell is suitable for.

Different brands can have different size and width fittings in their products. I know from my own experience that I may take a size 8/42 in one brand’s footwear and a size 9/43 in a rival’s footwear. The assistant should know about any sizing traits in models sold.

Walk around the shop and take advantage of any slope or step simulators the store may have.

Or indeed walk around the shop and then up and down any stairs they may have. Are there any pressure points? Is your heel being cupped nicely or is it moving up and down as you wander around the shop?

If you’re happy with the size and the fit of the footwear, ask a very important question –

“Can I take them home and try them indoors for a longer period of time and if they’re not right, can I bring them back and get a full refund?”

Any retailer that’s worth their salt should say yes to this and give you a specific time period in which to return that item of footwear. The main proviso is that the item can be resold as it is and it hasn’t been worn outside of the house, flat or bedsit or been given any kind of use, proofing or treatment that has changed the outward appearance of the footwear.

If the answer is yes, then it’s almost time to get the card out and pay for them. If the answer is no, then it’s time to take a long walk out of that shop’s door and go elsewhere.

I’d also ask about the best ways to look after the footwear in terms of cleaning and proofing the product and whether there are any specific cleaners or proofers that should be used to do those deeds.

I’d also get a spare pair of laces, and think about investing in a boot bag to carry the footwear in both before and after use. The latter’s the most important here as it’s always easier to clean the boots and boot bag after a muddy walk than it is to clean damp or dried on mud, grit or animal dung off the car’s carpets or boot lining…

And the last pointer? Find out what the guarantee is on the item and always, but always keep the receipt and the box the item came in for the duration of the guarantee. If the receipt is printed on thermal paper (most are nowadays), keep it in an envelope and file and use the box for storage in your office or whatever…

Kindling…

Yes, I confess! After years of being a bookworm, I succumbed two years ago and bought a Kindle

The decision wasn’t a hard one to make as Caroline’s two sons had Kindles and her youngest bought her the then top end model as a present on International Gift Giving Day. The version I bought though was at the other end of the scale – the one with a four-way controller, no lighting system and wi-fi for the buying or downloading of book buys.

I had been looking at the then new Paperwhite Kindle, but it had just been announced and as the demand for it was so high, Amazon had sold out and were awaiting another delivery of what was an already successful product. So I went for that four-way model, bought a cover for it and a separate charger that could be plugged into the mains whenever I needed to top-up the battery.

Setting up the Kindle was quite easy once I’d got the gist of how to do it. It’s logged onto our home wi-fi system and once the wi-fi reception mode is activated on my Kindle, books are downloaded and ready for reading in a matter of seconds.

Once the download’s done, then the Kindle is put back into Aeroplane Mode to optimise the battery life of the unit. If I’m heading off for a week or two then the Kindle is fully charged before I go, but I usually find that a full charge usually lasts around four weeks on the amount of reading that I do on a daily basis.

Apart from switching the Kindle onto Aircraft mode to save the battery, I also avoid using the screensaver mode on the unit. When I’m finished reading, I keep my finger down on the on/off/sleep button until the screen goes completely white – this indicates that the unit has been switched off and that the battery is going to last that little bit longer.

Although I have what was until quite recently the most basic Kindle model, I have over 200 books or booklets available to me for perusal on the Kindle or on our Mac Mini as I’ve downloaded the appropriate reader program from Amazon’s Kindle site.

My Kindle currently has around sixty volumes in its memory, but there’s another 149 books or booklets stored in the Cloud that can be rebooted at a moment’s notice when the wi-fi is switched on. The mix of works available for reading at any one time is an eclectic one.

The first book purchase was Empire of the Clouds by James Hamilton (it’s about aircraft development) and there’s also works by H.G. Wells, Dickens, the Brontes, David Niven, Andrew Marr, Guy Martin, Tom Peters, Rick Stein, The Hairy Dieters, Stuart Maconie and Karen Darke.

On the whole, I find that the biographies, novels and business primers work well on the Kindle, unlike travel guidebooks or cook books. If I’m travelling, then the paper version (or parts of it as photocopies or cannibalised guide) of the appropriate guidebook goes with me.

This is largely as a result of not getting on with eBook guides in either Kindle or PDF formats. I’d rather carry the book and refer to it than try to find the appropriate page(s) on a Kindle or a computer. I do have eBook guides on the Kindle and the Mac Mini, but I’ll refer to the paper version when I’m at home or away rather than the electronic version.

Apparently I’m not alone in this either as similar comments were made on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forums recently.

Cook books weren’t mentioned, but it’s easier to use paper ones in the kitchen! So, I like my Kindle. And I use Amazon, a company that has its fair share of critics in the big wide world. All of my Amazon purchases do help a very good cause though as I use a link from the RNLI website that ensures that Amazon donates a minimum of 5% of the value of all orders to the RNLI. That link? http://rnli.org/howtosupportus/otherwaystohelp/Pages/Amazon.aspx

In the day or so leading up to my writing and posting this piece, an updated range of Kindles has been announced. Full details about the new range are on Amazon’s website along with details of chargers and covers for your Kindle. The new range is due to made available in early October.

If you would prefer to take a look at a Kindle, then it’s worth checking out the Kindle line-up in bricks and mortar branches of Waterstones as they sell Kindles and a range of accessories too. Staff are also on hand to answer questions about the various models and as to the ways and means of purchasing books for your Kindle.

Other eBook readers are available, but the one I chose just happened to be a bog standard Kindle rather than a superior model, a Kindle Fire or a Nook, iPad, iPad Mini or an eBook program on an Android tablet or any of the many variations of smartphone systems…

My Kindle doesn’t have a lighting function and neither does the case, so I use either the tent light if camping or a head torch when trying to read the screen in a hostel with below-par lighting in their communal areas. I may look like a berk, but I’m still reading my book, sorry, my Kindle!

Phew!

Few posts on here this week as there’s been an outpouring of words for another outlet this week – it’s a long time since I wrote 10,000 words in less than a week! Taking a week off from computer matters to go searching for the Northern Lights this weekend and sort out a few things too. There will be three updates a week on wisepacking from week commencing Monday 29th September 2014 and these will include clothing, equipment and footwear reviews plus ‘how to’ pieces and comment posts too. The weather forecast for the weekend is good, so boots are going to be donned and used – have a good one whatever you’re up to!

Comments facility – it’s alive!

Hello there!

Yes, I can confirm that the comments facility is alive and kicking!

Constructive comments are more than welcome on wisepacking, but the only trolls that are welcome here are those cute-ish critters from Norway that were all the rage in the 1960’s or the not so cute ones as personified by the fridge magnet that was picked up in Bergen three years ago!

Hasta la vista… whatever that means (I can’t do an Austrian accent!).

Bags and bag sensibility

When I was in retail, it was always interesting to see and hear what people wanted in the way of bags for short or long haul trips. 

Some wanted big packs, some wanted small packs. Some wanted big packs with wheels whilst others wanted bigger packs with wheels. Some even wanted packs that they probably couldn’t carry anyway if they were filled to the brim.

Many wanted big packs to take with them to South East Asia, a destination where the common consensus amongst travellers using Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forums is to take a 30-35 litre pack. Some wanted to take everything they would need with them – even when it was pointed out that you could get toiletries, contact lens solutions and, yes, any extra clothes to replace those that had been damaged or lost along the way.

There’s a lot of different bags out there. Some are fabric based whilst others are hard shell. Some have carrying handles whilst others have rucksack harnesses hidden behind a zipped flap. Others have extending handles and wheels so they can be pulled along behind the traveller that’s bought them.

My personal preference after years of using packs as an outdoor instructor is for a fabric bag with a rucksack harness that can be hidden away. It should also have grab handles, one or more pockets to take the stuff that needs to be shown at an airport’s security desk and it should also have zip pullers that can be locked together to deter thieving toe-rags…

After using Karrimor and Lowe Alpine travel bags over the last twenty years, I think that I may have found the bag that ticks all of the boxes that I needed to be ticked when it comes to picking a bag to use for hand luggage only trips – the Osprey Farpoint 40.

Now I stress that this is my personal choice here, but it’s one that appears to have been made by a few people in Thorn Tree’s online community. I’ll be posting my thoughts on this bag on wisepacking in the next week or so, but as I say, this is my choice and it may not be yours.

Fabric bags have many advantages. They’re space efficient, lighter in weight and have external pockets so you can stash items where you want to. Some bags are available in different sizes too which is great if you’re Ronnie Corbett rather than John Cleese…

They can usually be cinched in so you can adjust your bag to suit the cabin size limits of any airline you’re flying with.

They can also be picked up and run with if you’re late for a bus, plane or train. Or carried onto a bus or into a taxi to avoid any bags in the boot charges. They’re also easily placed into left luggage lockers if you don’t want to cart them around during the day (Caroline bought her own Farpoint 40 after trying mine out and we managed to get both packed bags into one locker at Rossio station in Lisbon last year).

Now some may want to get hold of a wheelie bag for their travels, but my advice would be to think long and hard about going down this route. A hard shell wheelie bag has a lot of dead weight to think about, a factor that can eat into any cabin baggage weight allowance.

It’s also worth doing a spot of people watching in the rush hour on a railway station and then doing the same in the middle of a busy town or city centre. 

You’ll probably see a whole load of commuters and ‘suits’ using wheelie bags of all sizes and whilst there probably won’t be any problems in the railway station or in a shopping mall, when it gets to the streets, it’s where the fun starts!. Especially if there’s cobbles around, kerbs or areas with mixed surfaces for decorative purposes or to give people with visual difficulties an idea where crossings are. 

One scenario that ticked me off recently was a couple towing wheelie bags behind them in the centre of Ambleside. It was obvious that they weren’t local, but they weren’t aware that their bags were taking up a fair amount of a narrow pavement. Or that their bags were moving trip hazards… 

Fortunately nothing happened, but one thought did cross my mind. How cool would one or both members of this couple look if they inadvertently rolled their wheelie bags through a pile of dog poo or any other organic matter of a similar nature? I’ll let you decide that one!

As a measure of the various criteria that airlines have when it comes to hand luggage and hold luggage too, it’s worth taking a look at www.antler.co.uk/baggage-allowance-guide for more guidance. 

Antler have a range of different bags to cover most eventualities – but remember, other brands are also available (and I’d recommend that you see and try a selection of bags in a shop before you buy rather than making choices online.

Accessories, accessories, accessories…

Are something that I use quite sparingly, usually because I’ve packed too many in the past.

Some items are always packed though: 

Personal medications plus appropriate paperwork. 

My reading glasses and a spare pair of my usual specs. 

A basic Casio watch with an alarm function. 

A roll-up 0.5l reusable water bottle.

Ear plugs. 

First aid kit – waterproof plasters, paracetemol, tick remover, lavender & tea tree oils.

Fabric wash.

Travel clothes line.

Sink plug.

Small wash kit – toothbrush, travel size tooth paste, travel size shower gel and part used roll-on anti-perspirant in a plastic rather than glass shell.

Travel towels – two of for washing and to help squeeze water out of washed and worn clothing to help them dry quicker.

Small pack of Wet Wipes,  small bottle of hand sanitiser.

Kindle eReader – charged and switched off when not in use rather than in sleep mode.

Nikon Coolpix 3100 digital compact camera – fits in shirt or trouser pocket, charges quickly.

Camera charger, Kindle charger and destination appropriate plug adaptor.

Small torch with an LED bulb (less likely to blow…) OR

Head torch – usually by Petzl. Choice of torch depends on destination & accommodation.

Moleskine notebooks (two of) and three Paper Mate Flexigrip Ultra pens (stored in my trouser pocket).

Old wallet containing out of date debit & other cards plus a small denomination bank note – just in case someone plays silly sods…

Discrete wallet with debit cards plus driving licence & bank notes in zipped trouser pocket.

As visits of any length are usually conducted using hand luggage (exception comes when camping or when using the car), the items that go inside my bag are well organised. 

Not because I have any degree of OCD, but because it helps to know what is where, and where anything is that may be needed on a bus, in-flight, on a train or when simply wandering around. 

A small packing cube is used to store the camera charger, cables and plug adaptor, spare glasses and illumination. Another is used for travel undies and t-shirts plus first aid kit, ear plugs, clothes line and sink plug. A medium sized cube is used for other shirts and a pair of swim shorts whilst a larger one takes care of a fleece and spare trousers.

The Kindle has its own neoprene pouch that’s also used to store the spare Moleskine notebook. This is stored at the top of the bag on flying days so it can be switched on in order to prove it’s operable – same goes for the camera too.

My wash kit and those oils go in the plastic bag that’s obligatory for taking liquids onto aircraft at the moment. Meds go in a similar bag that can also be examined if necessary. Both go in the top pocket of my bag on flying days.

The travel towels go in a couple of poly carrier bags inside the main bag whilst the Wet Wipes go in a shirt pocket for on the plane. Any paper items such as maps or guide books also go in a carrier bag inside the main bag.

Ear plugs, tick remover, fabric wash. travel clothes line, sink plug and travel towels are usually available in outdoor or travel specialist shops  (i.e. Itchy Feet in Bath). 

My purchases on these themes are all by Lifeventure or Lifesystems as is the pocket first aid kit that I’ve slimmed down for my travels. Lavender oil is used for sleep factors and as a anecdotal protector against bed bugs whilst tea tree oil is used as a personal antiseptic on small cuts and as a shaving oil too. My packing cubes were bought from Rohan back in 2013.