Archive | November 2014

Camping Creature Comforts

Well, after several cold and clear days, the weather’s changed a bit here in West Yorkshire.

Which is a good thing in some respects as we’re probably helping someone move over the next few days and I’ve already had to pass on a visit to see and hear what Nikwax are up to because of this.

If it keeps on raining, then loading/unloading a Transit van and my car isn’t going to be a wonderful experience! Spending a few hours relaxing and unwinding in a tent on the other hand can be… even if it is teeming down for hours on end.

After an almost full week of rain whilst camping at Voss in Norway and six weeks of living on a campsite near Skipton when I first moved down to Yorkshire, I can say that the presence of some creature comforts whilst loitering within tent can make a difference.

Food and drink are always, yet always, prepared away from the tent when it’s bad weather – I’ve seen a stove go wrong before and it’s not a pretty sight. If there’s a washing up area, then the stove, pan set and food are taken there and prepared undercover.

If conditions dictate, the meal’s eaten there and the washing up is taken care of too. What does get taken back to the tent though in all conditions is a hot drink at this time of year. During the summer months, Caroline and I use basic Aladdin insulated mugs, but when it gets a bit cooler, then the slightly heavier duty stuff makes an appearance.

One of the winter mugs is the one that’s on the desk at the moment. It’s also an Aladdin mug, but it’s insulated, made from recycled plastic and has a lid with a drinking aperture that’s can be covered if you’re not taking a drink.

It doesn’t weigh too much more than our summer mugs, but it’s easier to drink out of and is currently doing a very good job of keeping some Taylors Rich Italian coffee in prime drinking condition.

An alternative to this are the flask style cups from Lifeventure. When I worked in retail, most of the staff had these to either charge up on tea or coffee when needed or to take with them on trains or buses.

They’re also available in a few different colours so if you have two, you know which one belongs to who. Caroline and I though put our tongues firmly in our cheeks when we bought our brace of these. We both went for the plain white version and if anyone asked, we just said that they were iCups

Now I am awaiting the delivery of a couple of packs of Grower’s Cup tea and coffee as I write this and once they have arrived and have been tried out, then I’ll be writing about them. In the meantime though, it’s only fair to say what goes into our mugs whilst camping at the moment.

If it’s tea, then it’s usually made in the mug from Lifeboat tea bags sourced from the RNLI. My supplies are either bought mail order from RNLI or picked up when I’m passing a lifeboat station that has a shop attached to it or nearby (I also go for RNLI fudge too – possibly the best fudge around, but bought and appreciated in small doses rather than pigging out!).

Coffee is a different matter. I’ve already mentioned the brew of choice, but it’s made in an ‘unbreakable’ coffee press. My original one by GSI is still in use, as are a couple of more recent models by Bodum.

Yes, they go in whatever bags that go along with us and they’re a luxury item, but what would you rather have when camping or even in a hostel or hotel? An instant coffee or a full-on coffee experience?

If we’re not using the car, then Caroline and I take one small coffee press each plus the appropriate brew. If we do have the car then a larger model from M&S is packed and used.

And there’s usually one or two comments received from those camped next to us or those who are also using the hostel kitchen at the time.

It may seem decadent, but let’s face it. It’s around £10 for a large coffee press and packs of Taylors coffee are currently 2 for £5 at Sainsbury’s as I write this. Now think about how much an equivalent coffee would be in a hipster-friendly coffee shop… QED?

Mini food flasks also come in useful. We’ve both got Berghaus Food Flasks and use them as a means of keeping costs down when we head off for a day out or a week away.

Given the costs of say soup and a roll or a lunch in a pub or cafe, we fill the flasks on a morning and then feast on the contents later on. This can be in the car, on a train, in a bus shelter or back in the tent. If it’s cold and wet, the folding spoon that’s hidden in the top of the flask can be used to down soup, curry, pasta, stew, meat balls, an all-day breakfast or whatever else you care to cook up for lunch.

The end result of the meal may be from a can or it may be freshly prepared. Sometimes there’s a combination of bought and cooked fresh pasta with some pesto stirred in for good measure. Sometimes there’s food from a can that has been mixed with fresh stuff.

A small GSI chopping board has come in very useful, as has the same brand’s mini cheese grater. Fried mushrooms and onion can be added to a can of spaghetti loops for instance or mixed with freshly sliced local cheese before being used as a filling for a baguette to accompany soup or whatever else is in the flask.

The chopping board can also be put to good use whilst preparing fresh chicken and veg for a stir fry or for salad or chopping fruit to go with porridge for breakfast or fruit on its own as a sweet course. A small tub of parmesan or fresh herbs or spices for cooking can also come in useful.

Any other worthwhile camping creature comforts?

Loads I guess, but I’ll just mention a few more. A good camping pillow – either an inflatable or a small sized padded one, an inflatable sleeping mat (I bought a Therm-A-Rest twenty five years ago and have never regretted it) an LED head torch for pitching the tent after dark, cooking, finding the way too and from the loo or just reading in bed…

A silk sleeping bag liner to give added warmth on cool nights. An appropriate season sleeping bag or one up the ladder if you’re one who feels the cold (Caroline does, I don’t), hot chocolate as a night cap (with or without added alcohol!) and a charged Kindle for reading.

Creature comforts…

It’s a cool and crisp sunny day here in West Yorkshire – the second in a row in fact.

It’s on days like these that creature comforts come into their own. Caroline’s just headed out on her touring bike to get some miles under her wheels and to catch up with her son, daughter and grandkids.

As she left, she picked up a couple of pieces of kit that come into their own on such a day as today – a Buff and her SealSkinz cycling gloves.

The Buff comes in a few different guises now and has a few imitators too. The original is still the best though and the few that I have in one of the gear drawers upstairs is a testament to the effectiveness of the idea behind the Buff, the range of designs, colours or logos and the selection of variations on the theme.

There’s the original company logo version, the one for Sprayway, the one for Mountain Equipment, the Saltire one that was bought the last time I was in Scotland, the Long Way Down version for UNICEF/Ewan McGregor/Charley Boorman, the winter one with the fleece/microfibre combo and a few others besides.

They’ve been worn as neck gaiters in the summer, face masks in the winter, balaclavas, cold protection in colder-than-they-should-be retail outlets, as added warmth under cycle helmets and as hand towels, face cloths and a few things that aren’t highlighted on the information film that seemed to be running in every outdoor shop the last time I did the rounds of such things.

They’ve become almost ubiquitous – I’ve used them while walking, cross-country skiing, cycling, climbing, mooching around town, travelling and whilst serving in shops with duff heating systems too. Caroline’s used hers whilst walking, travelling or cycling and her two sons have used theirs for backpacking, climbing, cycling, parachuting or motor cycling.

SealSkinz gloves have also gained a few fans too around these parts. I first came across the original version years ago whilst doing a glove review for Cycling Plus. Yes, they were unusual to wear at first, but the combination of warmth, waterproofness and grip made them ideal for cycling, cross-country skiing and winter walking whilst using trekking poles.

The version Caroline’s using today is the insulated and waterproof take on the theme. They’ve been used over the winter months for ten years or so and yes, she finds them comfortable and useful too (she’s an all-weather cyclist as she uses the bike to get to work as she’s never learned how to drive. She also finds that she can get to work on the bike quicker than she can in a taxi when there’s snow on the ground…).

One thing that came to mind recently was how effective these gloves are. Caroline thought that she’d lost one because there was only one in her winter kit store. Luckily, the other one was at the back of her locker at work because she was about to go out and buy another pair because they had proved to be so useful to her whilst commuting or on long rides and whilst we were wandering around a very cold Prague at 6.30am one February morning in an effort to get some photos down at the Charles Bridge.

It’s on such cold days that another creature comfort comes into its own – wool base layers. I have a couple of Icebreaker and a couple of Tog 24 merino wool tops plus one by Smartwool. I also have a pair of the latter brand’s underpants too – warm, comfortable and they’re neither itchy or scratchy…

I’d been used to using standard base layers for years – polypropylene ones that honked something rotten after one day on the hill or a selection of mixed fibre fabrics that didn’t have the ability to clear a way to the bar by simply raising your arms to expose your pits!

Some brands have used merino wool in combination with other fibres and whilst it’s a good lower cost alternative, I still prefer to use a pure wool base layer instead. I’ve been known to wear those Icebreaker, Tog 24 or Smartwool tops for days at a time either at home, at work or on days out.

At one point I didn’t have access to a washing machine, so the added benefit of the items not needing to be washed at the end of one day’s wearing did come into its own.

The choice of garment that you make is entirely down to you. I have merino wool t-shirts, long-sleeved crew neck tops and also zip neck tops too. The one I decide to wear can be determined by the activity that’s going to be undertaken on the day or indeed by which one just happens to be close to hand when I open the appropriate drawer in my wardrobe.

The next layer above whichever base layer I’ve chosen is likely to be a zip neck fleece pullover. There’s a host of different fleeces to choose from in different weights of fleece fabric, but the one I’m used to wearing is inevitably one made from microfleece.

When it comes to microfleece zip necks, I don’t have a favourite. Yes, a few of them are in black, but others are various shades of blue or riff on a theme of red.

There’s zip neck items from Berghaus, Craghoppers, Peter Storm, Rab, Regatta, Rohan and The North Face in the cupboard and a couple of crew necks too by either Craghoppers or Peter Storm in there too for days or nights when a change is called for, especially in surroundings when a dress code of sorts is in action.

The other fleeces of choice are of a much heavier weight fleece. I have medium weight and heavyweight fleece snap neck fastening fleeces by Patagonia and whilst they’re both starting to show their age, I’m reluctant to part with them because a) they’re still nice and warm and b) because they’re expensive items to replace!

Like the other fleeces mentioned here, they wash easily and can be dry again the following morning. The chest pocket can take a smaller smartphone or a pack of coffin nails if you’re into such things and like the base layers or the microfleece pullovers mentioned above, these fleeces can be used as part of a decent layering system.

But the microfleece and these heavier weight pullovers do have another trick up their sleeve – they can also be used as base layers themselves when the temperatures plummet to levels lower than you’re used to. Layer up with these on and you can put the toast into toasty quite quickly – useful if you’re heating fails and you live in a Victorian era flat with single glazed windows because it’s in a conservation area!