Archive for the 'My reviews' Category

Review – Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams – now with sound-effects!

Posted by on September 22nd 2010 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

Another update on the Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams from Fitness Footwear Ltd....

Well, they're still comfy and grippy, but there's a problem - they've started squeaking!

At first I thought it was a sole issue, but after further investigation it turns out to be due to some of the innards. In each shoe there are two fillets of support material (closed-cell padding, I suspect) beneath the lining in the areas marked in yellow in the next two pics. These fillets all now squeak whenever they are compressed, i.e. every time a step is taken. The noises started out as quiet mouse-like squeaks last week but now it's akin to walking on whoopee-cushions. It's a shame that such a good bit of kit is now ruined by this annoyance.

 

 

 

I was putting the insoles back in after taking the above pics when I noticed the sizing on the underside. I'm still trying to figure out why size 8.5 insoles have been put into size 8 shoes (that's nominal size 8, of course, as in reality they're probably 7.5s or maybe even 7s).

 

 

I'm now of the opinion that if I'd paid for these I'd be sending them back to the retailer for replacement or refund, as they're no longer fit for purpose after less than three months of generally casual use, and as Merrell have put in the wrong insoles. Sadly this would be harsh on the retailer as it is a matter beyond his/her control, being the fault of the manufacturer.

Review – Salomon Exit Aeros – First Thoughts & The First Two Weeks

Posted by on August 27th 2010 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

A couple of weeks ago Adam at Fitness Footwear Ltd. was kind enough to supply me with a pair of Salomon Exit Aeros for review.

I'd opted for the Swamp, Dark Grey and Moss version, on the basis that after a good walk they'd probably end up with that colour-scheme anyway. They don't look too bad:

 

 

After the sizing confusion with the Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams I was expecting similar issues with these Salomons, but these were fine - definitely size 8s and they fitted reasonably well - there was much more room in them, enough to allow a decent pair of socks without feeling too snug. The arch-support is a little less that I'd usually choose, but it's acceptable in such bendy footwear. They do move around on my feet quite a bit though, so the feeling of security is less. The soles flex and twist a bit too much for my liking, but bear in mind that I'm used to stiffer footwear. Grip-wise, they're rather odd - in the dry they grip well, and they squeak like crazy on polished floors, but on wet ground they've been rubbish - I've already slipped over on the damp yard while wearing them, and they've been no good on damp grass or up ladders either. They do dry quickly, however, and the meshy uppers allow remarkably good airflow to the point where I get noticeably colder toes whenever I wear them in a breeze.

Like the Wrap Slams, they're still waiting for a decent test off-piste, but I know now that these aren't going to be the footwear of choice for my next outing to the Lakeland Fells - the risk of slippage is just too great. Maybe I'll wear them for the walk down to the Fish Hotel and back again, that way I can blame any slippage on the beer-intake!

In short, I don't like them for any of my usual outdoor activities, but that doesn't mean that I won't wear them - to dismiss them so soon would be unfair. I'll try to give them a fair work-out over the coming months and then report back in due course.

If you're interested in laying your hands on some Salomons, have a look at the items here.

Review – Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams – The First Few Weeks

Posted by on August 16th 2010 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

Just a quick update on the Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams from Fitness Footwear Ltd....

I've worn them almost every day and so far they've given me no discomfort despite the size-issue that I mentioned in my initial review. My toes are still close to the end of the toe-box, but I've suffered no "toe-bash" yet. That said, I've not done any serious up-and-down walking in them yet, as the opportunity for that sort of activity has yet to arise.

The uppers are showing few signs of wear and they're easy to clean - after getting them caked in mud I just hosed them down and let them dry in the sunlight. I can live with that sort of maintenance regime.

The soles have retained their impressive grip (they provided excellent traction on damp grass when I wore them for a power-kiting session) and they are wearing evenly, which suggests that they are well-suited to the way that I walk. I find the scaly, reptilian sole-pattern quite appealing - they leave curious foot-prints which the kids find amusing.

One very minor gripe - the combination of the thick ankle-padding and the fabric that covers it is a magnet for the spiky stuff that gorse and heather throw at your feet as you walk by. Thorns and similar pointy bits tend to get embedded quite easily and it's worth digging them out now and again before get in too deep. Once they get fully beyond the fabric they can poke back through and spike you at will, and they're a sod to get out.

I noticed quite early on that I couldn't get on with the way that the tongues kept pulling up on my toes during the course of a walk, so I re-laced them to bypass the tongue lace-tabs. This is a much better set-up for me.

So far I'm very impressed with their performance, I just need to give them a proper work-out on some rugged terrain. We're scheduled to spend a weekend in the Lake District sometime soon, I'll wear them then (if the conditions are suitable) and report back accordingly.

 

Review – Merrell Siren Ventilators – First Thoughts

Posted by on July 21st 2010 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

So, here is a preliminary review of the contents of Package 3 - a pair of Merrell Siren Ventilators in Desert Sage from Fitness Footwear Ltd..

Like BG! I have actively tried to avoid any footwear with the word 'trainers' in the description for the last 30 years. I am not so out of touch that I haven't noticed that things have moved on in design terms from the last pair that I owned (dreadful plasticky, black and yellow Gola trainers only bought because the school PE kit list demanded them), but having seen my children's feet suffer whenever  I have foolishly bought them trainers that hadn't been fitted at Clarks - I was reluctant.

Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised when I first tried these on. They felt firm and supportive but they were not crushing my E width-fitting feet.  I will say that due to the curved footbed, if you are exactly a size 4 rather than just a bit longer than a 3 and a half like myself, I would probably go up a size. I have less room beyond my toes in these than I do in a normal size 4, but they are really comfortable.

 

 

As you can see from the picture, they may not make it into a Gok Wan top ten list of stylish footwear, but when I asked my highly critical 15 year old daughter if they looked OK with my jeans and shirt, she said they were OK and was more concerned about me not wearing a belt over the shirt.... Apparently it would have shown off my 'not-so-tiny' waist! Personally I think that they look good, so far I have worn them at the gym, shopping, on a country walk and on an evening out when the dress-code was smart casual and they haven't drawn any unwelcome attention in any of those situations. I am going to get a lot of wear out of these.

So, how do they perform technically?  Well I wore them for an hour's work-out down the gym on a day so hot that they had almost all of the doors open and the fans going. I was sure of my footing through all of the lunges, step-ups etc and they didn't affect my unimpressive performances on the rowing machine or the cross-trainer.  I'm not a naturally athletic person and I guess there must be footwear specifically designed for this type of indoor exercise, but these trainers either helped or did not impede my exercises. It was good that the grip did not make it difficult to do the stretching exercises at the end, in other footwear I have had to go barefoot. I foolishly did not wear any socks, but apart from some very slight soreness on the heels, my feet were fine - not bad seeing as they had only been out the box for 3 hours.

Later that day we went for a couple of hours walk around Croft Hill. This time socks were worn, and by the end of the walk the socks were damp, but the inside of the trainers were dry - they weren't joking about the ventilator bit, it is very efficient. They felt like a more protective version of my walking sandals, very light but much more support for my feet. Obviously on a slope there is no ankle protection so I had to be more careful about my footing, but in the dry the grip is secure. Now in very hot weather or when I am pregnant, my feet swell up at the end of the day so I had to remove the trainers in the evening after the walk as they were too tight on my little toes, but the good news was that nobody complained about the smell. The anti-odour treatment was doing it's job.

So in summary, these are good all-round trainers and will definitely be packed on my next summer business trip. I may even get round to using them in a hotel gym instead of just going for a evening walk and then "resting" in the hotel bar.

If you're interested in laying your hands on some Merrells, have a look at the sale items here.

Review – Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams – First Thoughts

Posted by on July 14th 2010 in My reviews, New tricks for an old dog, Shiny new kit

So, down to the preliminary review of the contents of Package 2 - a pair of Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slams from Fitness Footwear Ltd..

I'd opted for the Army Green and Black version, on the basis that it would be a fairly neutral colour-scheme, nothing too flash. I mean, this is the first pair of trainer-type shoes that I'd acquired during the last 30 years (aside from some "trendy" toe-tectors), so I didn't want to overdo it (I must admit to being tempted by the Charcoal and Red version, though). The first image below shows the things in general, but the colour is better-represented in the second pic:

 

 

With some trepidation I pulled them on over a pair of thin trainer-socks and was pleasantly surprised by the fit, as I'm usually hard to please when it comes to this sort of thing. The arch-support is just right, and that's important to me as I have "flexible flatfoot" - a condition that's never a problem unless I'm barefoot or in flat-soled footwear. The best thing about the fit, though, is the security - with significant padding around the heels and below the ankles these things grip onto my feet perfectly, there's no slipping and sliding around inside, it's almost as if they're glued on. The soles flex in just the right place and don't have excessive torsion, and at the moment they have impressive grip on all sorts of surfaces. My only minor gripe is the sizing - I've been a size 8  for a few decades now, but these feel more like a 7.5  - there wasn't as much space beyond the toes compared to the other 8s that I own. That said, I reckon that 9s would have been too big and I guess that I'm just between sizes for this brand/model.

Within the hour they were being used on another trip up and around Croft Hill in scorching weather (more on that later). OK, it's not a major expedition, but there's some variation of terrain and plenty of steep grass to contend with. After a few hours and a few miles, all still felt good - no sweatiness, nice and cool, and very comfy. I kept them on for the rest of that day, and wore them non-stop all the next day, and there's been no soreness or rubbing.

 

 

So, what would I use them for? I reckon I'd use them on long low walks in good-to-reasonable conditions, but I'd need to build up more confidence in them before committing to wearing them up on the higher and/or rougher Lakeland Fells. It's just that I'm used to proper boots rather than what some other folk would call "Jessiehikers". Maybe I need to make that leap of faith and just do it. Regarding how they fit into my collection of outdoors footwear, they neatly fill the gap between my Keen Newports and my AKU Croda GTXs (all of which reminds me that I need to update my gear page).

I do like them, in just a few days they've become the footwear of choice for the school-walk, trips to the shops and just general dossing. I'll give them a decent work-out over the summer and report back in due course.

If you're interested in laying your hands on some Merrells, have a look at the sale items here.

Grub up!

Posted by on March 3rd 2010 in My reviews
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I've been battling my way through some handy-sized pouched meals with a view to assessing their suitability as day-hiking food. There's a good range of options, including veggie meals. As you can see, they're supposed to be microwaved, but I've been treating then as boil-in-the-bag meals and they do reheat very well. The packaging fits neatly into the Jetboil mug and doesn't to taint or tinge the boiling water, so I'm finding it OK to use just the one Jetboil burn for both a hot snack and a brew. Each pack contains 200g of whatever, so it's one for a snack or two (or one with something else) for a meal.

The results? Well, they're not exactly gourmet meals but they are quite tasty and filling. The Bombay Potatoes are rather odd, being in a tomato-based sauce which makes it a curious concoction, but it's still good to eat. Overall the contents of the range are not bad considering the prices (49p to 99p according to the current offer). There is plenty of variety to choose from, this is just a small sample of what's on offer:

 

 

Tomorrow I'll have the pleasure of testing either the Vegetable Chilli or the Meatballs & Vegetables in Gravy.

You'll notice that I've blanked-out the retailer's name. That's because they've not been bothered to reply to my requests for further information regarding these products. Seems like some businesses don't care much for free publicity.

Quechua Trews – initial review

Posted by on January 23rd 2010 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

My used-and-abused Lowe Alpine 3xDry Schoeller Extreme Dryskin trews from TKMaxx are still going strong. They've been my default trews in all conditions, as they're warm in the winter yet cool in the summer, and they have great wind-proof qualities. I've proofed them with TX.Direct and they shed rain really well. However, there are times when they don't quite fit the bill. Although the fabric is tough and durable, and cut is "technical", they're a tad lacking in finesse - there are no venting options, no ankle-closure options, no "keepie-uppie" options. I needed to find something a bit more... versatile... and cheap!

That's where Elaina came to the rescue. Her post mentioned some suitable-sounding trews and soon we (me and the family, not me and Elaina) were racing off to the Nottingham branch of Decathlon. The men's version of their Quechua Bionnassay trews were duly tried on by me, bought by Chris and stashed away as a Christmas pressie. Since unwrapping them I've worn them most days in the worst lowland weather that we've had, and they've been great. I've no doubt that they will perform well when they eventually escape to the hills.

 

So, what do you get for under 40 notes?

  • A fabric that's very similar to Schoeller, but without the textured inner surface of the high-grade stuff. It's tough and durable, with just the right amount of stretch. It's billed as "Splash proof but not waterproof, not suitable for rainy weather", but when treated with TX.Direct it's got good waterproof qualities. All zips are dependable YKKs. The stitch-work isn't the neatest in the world but it's safe and strong.
  • A part-elasticated waistband with popper and fly. There's also a triple-elasticated velcro-adjustable shoulder strap which fits onto loops on the waistband, and which is easily detached. If you've got a short torso you might want to reposition the velcro on the front and cut off the excess straps. The website pics show what appear to be belt-loops but they aren't on the trews that I have.
  • Two decent-sized fleecy-lined (not net-lined as per the website spec) hand-warmer pockets and an unlined upper-leg pocket. All three have water-resistant zips.
  • Good-sized and well-positioned mesh thigh vents, closed/opened with water-resistant zips.
  • Shaped single-layer knee-sections to allow good articulation. Not reinforced as stated in the website spec.
  • Well-protected ankle areas thanks to large patches of reinforced heavy-duty fabric.
  • Ankle closures - zipped with velcro tabs. The fixed velcro needs to be longer to allow the tab to be pulled further around the ankle.
  • Zip-off internal gaiters with water-resistant lower and high-stretch upper sections, closed with a velcro strip. The hem is elasticated and lined with a grip-strip, has a two-position popper and a lace-hook for keeping them snug against whatever footwear you're wearing. The lace-hook webbing needs to extend beyond the hook to give something to grip while wearing gloves, I'll probably add some sort of puller to it sometime soon. The fixing zips are baffled so there's no zip-chafing when wearing these trews without the gaiters. Contrary to the website spec there are no under-shoe straps, which is no big deal for me as I hate the things.
  • A good fit. Yes, I know that we all have different body-shapes, but there's no denying that the waist/leg-length ratio of these trews is biased in favour of the taller figure. I've had a look at the way they're put together and reckon that it would be possible to lose a couple of inches off the length between the knee-sections and the tops of the ankle-sections, if necessary, but so far I've not felt the need to shorten them.

 

So, they're similar to what the ad promises, but there are quite a few differences. I knew what I was going to get, having seen them prior to purchase, but I would imagine that some folk who mail-order them might be puzzled.

Performance-wise they do well. Windproof, snow- and shower-proof as bought, waterproof when treated, and the vents actually work. They are comfortable to wear, stretching and bending in just the right places with no chafing. The shoulder-straps are effective and fit well, and the fit to footwear is adjustable and secure. Weight-wise they're middling - the dry component weights are as follows: trews 666g, shoulder-straps 76g, internal gaiters 43g each, giving a total of 828g. For the domestically-capable, they wash at 30C, dry on a cool tumble and, if you're odd enough to like pin-sharp creases in yer trews, can be ironed on a low setting.

 

These pics should be fairly self-explanatory. Click them to see bigger versions:

 

Bob’s Honey Stove – first test

Posted by on November 13th 2008 in My reviews, Shiny new kit
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OK, I found the last of the meths. Only 18ml, but it was more than enough to get the steel glowing and to provide sufficient raging flames to boil 0.5l of water in 3 minutes. I just let it rip, not bothering with the simmering ring, so a lot of heat was lost up the side of the mug, hence I'm fairly convinced that I could have been a fair bit more fuel-efficient. Here it is, sooting-up my nice shiny mug:

 

So, apart from the boil-time, what other info did you get? First, I can confirm the information provided in the instruction leaflet - the panels do warp when heated, but they do go flat again after they've cooled.  Even when warped, the top grill stayed in place. Second, in the temperate climate of my kitchen, the panels cooled sufficiently to allow handling within 2 minutes. Third, the tea's going down rather well 🙂

So, do you like it? Yes, very much. It's well-made, simple to use and very versatile. There's nothing to compare it with, as there's nothing quite like it on the market at the moment. I reckon Bob's onto a winner here.

Any more thoughts? Well, I've never had any need to take a shaving-mirror into the hills, but I'm sure that one of the nice shiny side-panels would suffice. Who knows, in dire emergency you could use one as a signalling-mirror. Oh, and those rows of holes in the side panels - they're ideally-placed for fitting a hanging-kit. I'll test the stove in a different fuel-mode as soon as I can spare the time.

Bob’s Honey Stove – first mods

Posted by on November 13th 2008 in My reviews, Shiny new kit
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Right, before we start, I just want to say that these mods weren't necessary - it's just that I like to tinker with things to make them fit in with my personal intended use, and that use doesn't necessarily align with the intended modus operandi for the equipment. The unadulterated stove is clearly capable of being used with a Trangia™ burner, Bob's demonstrated that on his site, but I wanted it to work in a different manner, so I went out on a limb and did what I felt was in the best interests of what I wanted to achieve.

Anyway, I've wielded the tinsnips and the file, and now Podcast Bob’s new Honey Stove has been adjusted to suit my needs. Here's a summary of my mods:

What’s changed? I've notched the door panel and two of the five side panels as per the following pic:

Why? To allow the top grill to be removed without taking the sides apart. It can be lifted off quite easily, even when hot if you use a pan-grabber. The top grill had to be modded too.

Tell me more! In order to allow the top grill to sit inside the walls, I snipped off two of the five tabs, it now looks like this:

Will it still fit into the slots as per the original design? Yes, but with only three tabs it'll only lock into three slots. But you guessed that already, didn't you?

So, does it work? Yes. Remove the top grill and it's easy to access the Trangia™ burner'. Replace the top grill and it supports the mug. The top edge of the stove is still capable of supporting pans, and I've not altered the bottom edge.

Are there any other benefits? Well, the weight's been reduced by a massive 4g. OK, it's not much, but it means that I don't have to saw the handle off my toothbrush.

What next? It's time for a brew, if I can find the meths.

Bob’s Honey Stove – first thoughts

Posted by on November 12th 2008 in My reviews, Shiny new kit
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Podcast Bob's been kind enough to let a select group of folk have test-samples of his new Honey Stove, and I'm one of the lucky ones. These are my first thoughts, and the results of my first attempt at testing it.

What's in the kit? A set of interlocking flat stainless-steel panels, comprising six side-panels (one of which has an aperture for accessing the interior), three grill panels (top, middle and bottom), a foil ash-tray, a cloth pouch and an A4 instruction sheet.

How much does it all weigh? The stove panels add up to 356g, the ash-tray is 10g and the pouch is 44g.

How much pack-space does it take up? Packed in the pouch provided, it's roughly 200mm x 140mm x 10mm.

And when it's assembled? 125mm high, 125mm A/F.

What's it look like? A bit like this:

Is it fiddly to assemble? Not really, I just slotted together the five standard side bits and held then in an open arc while slotting in the three grill panels. After that, I just slotted in the front panel to lock it all together. It takes 2 minutes tops, but I'd imagine that after it's been bent and dented a bit it would take a bit longer. If you can't figure it out, give it to some primary-school kids and be prepared to be embarrassed.

What about stability? Very good on a flat surface, not a hint of it wanting to come apart.

So, what fuels will this baby burn? It's primarily a wood-burner, but it's said to be versatile enough to work with a veritable plethora of fuels, see the product description for more details.

What's the difference between the three grill panels? The bottom one has small vent-holes and is primarily for supporting sticks etc. when using it as a wood-burner, but can be used for other solid fuels. The top one is a pan/mug support, so has plenty of holes to let the heat get through. The middle one is similar to the top one, but has the central section removed to allow a Trangia™ burner to sit inside. The three grill panels are interchangeable, as they each use that same tab/slot fitting. It's possible to get away with using just one grill panel if you wanted to go all minimalist, but if that sort of thing floats yer boat I suspect that you'll already have other options in your kit-stash. This stove is aimed at versatility rather than speciality.

That sixth side panel - does the aperture have to be at the bottom? No, just build the thing upside-down and you'll end up with the aperture at the top.

What about cleaning it? Eh? You clean your kit? Oh dear! Seriously, a wipe with a damp rag or through some wet grass ought to suffice. Of course, you'll have let it cool first, won't you?

So, what about that first test? I wanted to try it with my Trangia™ burner and Alpkit MytiMug, so I set it up like this:

So, how did it go? Not well. The front aperture's nowhere near big enough to admit the Trangia™ burner.  Bob's site has pics and a video where the burner's been put in from the top, and where the top grill is omitted. Fine for pans and large pots which would sit on the top edges of the side-panels, but a mug needs a support. I suppose the mug could be supported by two tent-pegs passed through some of the holes along the top edge, but I'm not in the habit of carrying extra pegs as part of a stove kit. The way around it might be to build the stove around the burner, but that's a faff which throws up more hard choices - sealing-cap off and risk spilling the meths, or sealing-cap on and be unable to reach in to take it off. Either way, if you want to use the Trangia™ simmer-ring, you'd be hard-pressed to access it through the aperture and you'd be at risk of getting blistered fingers.

What next? I was going to try it as a wood-burner next, but I want to get the Trangia™ issues sorted first.  Looks like my chosen test combi is a no-no at the moment. I'll post again when there's progress. Now, who's 'alf-inched me tinsnips?

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