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Stephiej

Stephiej
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Member since: 02.08.2010

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      03.01.2012 10:34
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      Well worth a visit

      I'm sure most people will have heard of Lake Garda, even if they haven't been there themselves. Lake Garda is the largest, and arguably the best known, of the Italian Lakes. It lies in northern Italy, spanning the regions of Trentino, Lombardy and Veneto. These regions are similar to British counties, but each has a very distinct and separate identity, with individual cultural, political and gastronomic characteristics, and for some residents a strong sense of regional pride and identity.

      I have previously visited many parts of Italy, but Lake Garda had never really appealed to me in the past. I had preconceptions of it being overrun with coach trips and tours full of elderly people (not a problem in itself, but I doubted I would have many common interests), and very touristy (something that I usually try to avoid). I finally visited Lake Garda with my Mother and Grandfather. My grandfather had his 80th birthday, and my mother and I, wanting to get something special to mark the occasion, pooled our funds to take him on holiday as a birthday gift. I volunteered to research a suitable location, and make the arrangements. After many weeks of researching various destinations, and before my laptop exploded through overuse, we finally settled on Lake Garda as a destination that appeared to have something to offer to three generations.

      Although all three of us live in the West of the UK (West Midlands and Wales), we chose to fly from Gatwick, because the times of the British Airways flights from there suited us better than flights from local airports. The two Italian airports primarily used to access Lake Garda are Verona Catullo, to the south east of the lake, and Brescia, to the south west of the lake. Although we were staying in the town of Salo on the western shore of Lake Garda, we flew into Verona because we had planned to spend the last day of our holiday in Verona before returning home. From Verona Catullo airport it was about an hour by car to the town of Salo.

      Salo is one of the larger towns on Lake Garda, and sits within its' own bay on the western shore of the lake. It is a very affluent town, and although it appears to have fewer tourists than some of the lakeside towns and villages it is very popular with the yacht set. Possibly partly due to the main boatyard being owned and run by Alberto Arcangeli, son of Giuliano Arcangeli, who designed and built the famous, and now rare, Arcangelis. But also certainly due to the great boating facilities in the marina and the natural calm harbour offered by the bay of Salo, as the main body of the lake can get choppy in rough weather. Salo doesn't have the major tourist attractions that many of the other towns have like castles, cable cars or ancient ruins, but we found it to be the perfect base from which to visit other towns during our holiday. One of the most compelling things Salo does have to offer the visitor is the longest promenade on Lake Garda. We found it a very enjoyable experience to stroll along the promenade with an ice cream after our evening meal, or to sit at one of the many lakefront bars/cafes and sip an after dinner drink whilst watching the visitors and locals stroll past in their best attire. It is a fantastic place for people-watching, and everyone really does make an effort to dress up for their evening promenade.

      There are some really good restaurants in Salo , and also some pretty poor ones! We found the worst to be found in the main tourist area (no surprise there!), and the best were Papillon Pizerria, at the north end of the promenade which has tables outside on the edge of the lake and was frequented by locals as well as visitors, Lungolago Pizerria, again at the north end of the promenade, near the Duomo (Cathedral), which offered fantastic organic pizzas, and Osteria Di Mezzo, a small and very atmospheric restaurant in a tiny back lane in the middle of Salo, offering a limited by very good quality menu including lake fish and local desserts. The best Gelateria in Lake Garda (in my opinion) can be found in Salo, in the Piazza Duomo, where you can choose from a fabulous range of flavours of ice creams and sorbets, costing 1 Euro per scoop, a great way to indulge in Italian cuisine whilst keeping costs down.

      Salo has a pebble beach at the south end of the promenade, with a row of Cypress trees behind, where you can hire chairs or loungers, or have a drink at the small beach bar. From this beach you have a great view of Salo, looking across the bay to the Duomo, and watching the ferries and yachts go by. It is very tempting to go for a dip in the lake on a hot day, but from experience I can warn you that no matter how hot the day, the lake is always freezing - be prepared!

      Salo has a good range of shops and boutiques selling clothing, shoes, homewares, books, perfumes jewellery and lifestyle stores, some designer and all upmarket, you won't find any tourist shops with gaudy plastic mementos here! Most of the shops are along one road which runs parallel to the lake front promenade. The more basic everyday retail necessities, like supermarkets, are located away from the lake front area in the suburbs. There is a market which travels around the towns of Lake Garda, and is in Salo every Saturday morning; it is large with a variety of stalls selling everything from food to clothing. We found a super cheese stall, where the owner encouraged us to sample lots of the cheeses, many of which were locally produced and unfamiliar to us.

      Salo has a small tourist train (Il Trenino), which only runs on Saturdays, and for 2 Euros will take passengers around the roads and lanes of Salo. Although this wouldn't normally appeal to me, on this occasion it was very useful as my grandfather had found the pace of the holiday to be quite demanding, and he welcomed the opportunity to see the sights whilst sitting in comfort for an hour. The train runs around the whole of the old town of Salo, taking in both town gates, much of the lakefront promenade, the Duomo, the marina and the main Piazzas. It was nice, on a hot day, to feel the warm breeze blowing through the open carriage as we saw the sights. There is no commentary or guide, so to get the most out of the Trenino ride you do need to have an idea of what you are seeing, or a good guide book on your lap!

      The Piazza del Vittoria is the square where the lake ferries stop at Salo, and the town hall encompasses one side of the square, offering a public access Internet terminal 24 hours per day. In the evenings there is often entertainment in this square, during our 10 day stay there were events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Once a food fair, with locally specialities of food and drink available to sample and buy, on another night a dance show, with a local dance school producing a show of ballet and modern dance, another night was family entertainment with a magician and a comedian, another night had a couple of bands playing. This is not the place to go if you are looking for bouncing nightlife, there are two discobars the outlying areas of Salo, although I can't comment on these because I didn't go, but evening entertainment in the town focuses largely on the lakefront bars and organised entertainment in the Piazzas.

      I thoroughly enjoyed staying in Salo, and although it was great to see other towns and villages around the lake I was always glad that we had chosen Salo as our base. It is less lively than many of the other lake towns, and is more expensive than most, but it was very clean, with friendly and welcoming residents (I guess they don't suffer from tourist-fatigue to the same degree as residents of towns and villages more dependent on tourism) a lovely promenade, regular connections to all other destinations on the lake by the lake ferries, and a comfortable, relaxed feel. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for somewhere chilled out to stay; it is probably more suitable for families and older couples or groups than for young people looking for lively nightlife. We rented an apartment with a fantastic lake view, overlooking the promenade, which was perfect for us, but self-catering accommodation is hard to come by in Salo. There are several large 4 and 5 star hotels, and a few smaller hotels in the town, as well as a couple of Agriturismo (farms offering B&B) in the mountains surrounding the town.

      From the ferry stop at the Piazza del Vittoria in Salo we were able to catch the lake ferries to visit other towns and villages around the lake. These ferries are all run by one company and details of the timetables and fares can be found on their website www.navigazionelaghi.it There are two options for ferry travel, either rapid or standard ferries. We found that although the rapid ferries were a little more expensive, they worked out better for us most of the time, allowing us to spend more time at our destination. The slow ferries include a paddle steamer, we travelled on this once, and it has wonderful fittings and furnishings inside, a fleet of slow boats which offer cafeteria/bar services and often accept bikes, and a car ferry which runs across the width of the lake. The fast ferries include catamarans and hydrofoils. Dogs are allowed on all ferries except hydrofoils, for an additional charge of 1 Euro 50 Cents, and there are generous reductions on ferry ticket prices for passengers over the age of 65, this delighted my grandfather who loves a bargain even if he's not paying! There is also the option to purchase an open ticket for unlimited travel around either the south or north parts of the lake for a day. Tickets for the ferries are bought from the small ticket offices (usually wooden boxes in most towns) by the ferry dock, they can also be purchased aboard the ferry, but this incurs an additional charge.

      I would recommend anyone visiting Lake Garda tries to see as many of the towns and villages around the lake as they can. It is so easy to do using the ferries and in my experience they are all very different, and most have something unique to offer. During our recent holiday we were able to visit:
      Gardone Riviera - a small town on the western shore, just above Salo. The village is separated into two parts, the lower town by the lake, with beautiful flowers and rows of bitter orange trees on the lakefront, and plenty of cafes and bars with lake views on the short promenade. The upper town has several places of interest worth visiting, including Vittoriale degli Italiani, an interesting house and gardens built by an eccentric poet, it houses half a ship in the gardens as well as an open air amphitheatre which has a great view over the lake and has concerts throughout the summer. The Hruska botanical gardens; which has an array of unusual sculptures, as well as plants. The upper town is a very steep walk uphill from the lake, however, Gardone also has a small tourist train, which leaves from the ferry dock, and takes passengers to the main places of interest in the upper town. The train does a round trip, so you can spend as long as you like, and catch the next train back to the lakefront, never more than a 20 minute wait.

      Limone - again on the western shore, above Gardone Riviera. Limone is impressively built on a small area of land by the lake and is surrounded on the other three sides by imposing mountains. Because of its' dramatic location, space is pretty limited in Limone, and the streets are all narrow and steep with real character, I found it very pleasant to wander around the town looking at the buildings, and when we visited in June, like Gardone, it was full of flowers. I was surprised to learn that the town is named not from the lemons that are grown here on steep terraces up the mountainsides, but from the days of ancient Rome, when it was considered a frontier town (Limen is Latin for frontier). In spite of this the town of Limone is now synonymous with lemons, and when we went we visited The Lemon House; a museum of citrus fruit production in the area throughout the ages, and a set of terraced citrus groves to explore. I found it impossible to leave without buying a couple of bottles of Limoncello, a powerful locally produced lemon liqueur, as gifts.

      Riva - located at the far north west of the lake, Riva is the watersports capital of Lake Garda. There are many sailing and windsurfing schools here, and throughout the day the lake around Riva is dotted with colourful sails. Riva has a distinctly Alpine feel, and was once part of Austria. We found the town to be over-run with tourists, mainly German and British, and there are several lidos and shingle beaches as you walk east along the lake front, towards the village of Torbole, all very busy when we visited. A couple of kms north of Riva is an impressive waterfall, Cascata Varone, we visited this by catching a bus for just a couple of Euros, from the Cascata Varone there is a breathtaking view down to Riva and the lake. In Riva itself there is a large pedestrian Piazza by the ferry dock, lined with cafes and bars, which also has a clock tower you can climb for 1 Euro, to give a good view over the town and lake, the stairs are very steep, and tall people need to mind their heads as they near the top!

      Malcesine - This town is on the north east shore of the lake, and its' backdrop is the highest mountain in Lake Garda, Monte Baldo. Although it is possible to walk up Monte Baldo, and there are well-marked trails, we took the more leisurely option of using the cable car (Funivia) which has cars leaving every 30 minutes, and costs 18 Euros per person for a return ticket. Dogs are also allowed in the cable car, for an extra charge, as well as mountain bikes, at certain times of the day. The view from the top of Monte Baldo is breathtaking, and certainly worth the trip. We were fortunate to have a clear day, and we were able to make the most of it by having a picnic lunch on the grassy slopes. We visited an Alpine Chalet-style cafe near the cable car station for a cafe latte macchiato before catching the cable car back down to Malcesine. The cable car station has very clean, spacious toilet facilities, and a cafe inside the station, but although it has large windows looking back down the cableway to the town, it appeared to be more of a cafeteria-style place, without much character. Malcesine also has a 13th Century castle on the lakefront, Castello Scaligera, which houses the Museum of the Lake. We visited this museum and found its interactive exhibits to be very interesting; it's a great place to visit on a rainy day.

      Bardolino - continuing south on the east coast is Bardolino, a town famous for producing Bardolino wine. The land around Bardolino is much flatter than further north, and there are many vineyards and wineries in the surrounding area. We visited Zeni vineyard, a 20-30 minute walk out of Bardolino, where they have a small museum, wine tasting, and a shop. The museum and wine tasting were free; obviously their hope is that visitors will make purchases in the shop before leaving. From Zeni vineyard we continued walking, to walk off the wine we had tasted!, to the suburb of Cisano, to visit the Olive Oil museum, again there was a small museum with free entry, and a shop, selling not just olive oil but also food and cosmetics based on olives. We walked back from Cisano to Bardolino along the lakefront path, and although there were some lovely spots along the way, and plenty of benches to take a breather, we found this town less appealing than many others around the lake. We passed several caravan/camping sites along the lake shore which were scruffier than I expected, and the area appeared generally less well cared for than some other towns, it was busy with tourists and seemed to be a very busy, bustling town.

      Sirmione - a small village, at the centre of the southern shore of the lake, located on a narrow promontory extending into the lake, often called 'the crocodile'. Sirmione has a very impressive 13th century castle, the Rocca Scaligera, which costs 4 Euros to visit, although my grandfather got free entry (the generous man on the gate said he had already paid enough in his life!). We were able to climb to the top of the tower, giving a magnificent view up the lake, and enabling us to look down on the enclosed castle harbour. The old town of Sirmione is pedestrianised, although just outside the castle walls we found the Tourist Information office and a large coach park. Returning back to the old town, we took a short walk to catch another of the little tourist trains, which cost 1 Euro and took us to the end of the promontory where the Grotte di Catullo is located. These are the ruins of a large first century Roman villa, fascinating and well preserved, in a super location, there is also a small museum displaying some artefacts. It was easy for us to spend half a day wandering the ruins, taking a break in the shade of an olive tree every now and then, and soaking up the beautiful views up the lake. It is worth noting that we found it hot it June, and frequently needed to seek shade, so I imagine for anyone visiting in August it would feel very exposed with the hot sun beating down. There are toilets at the entrance to the Grotte di Catullo, and a cafe just outside, where the tourist train stops. Sirmione has a nice lido and small pebble beaches on the east of the promontory, between the village and the Grotte. It is famous for its thermal spas, although we didn't visit these, there are day tickets available. My overwhelming impression of Sirmione was of a small village totally overwhelmed by the mass of tourists descending on it. The streets were crammed, and apart from those working in the shops and cafes it was a challenge to pick an Italian voice out of the hubbub, as we visited in June, I dread to think what it would be like at the peak of the holiday season. There were a plethora of tourist shops selling gaudy plastic snow globes, key rings and postcards, which looked incongruous in the beautiful medieval walled town. I left on the ferry feeling a little guilty for being a part of the tourist trade that I feel has imposed a scar on what was clearly once a lovely little village.

      I feel I owe Lake Garda an apology for my preconceived ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday here, and I think Lake Garda has something to offer most people, from the more sedate, relaxed holiday we experienced, focusing mainly on sightseeing and regular cafe stops, to the more lively family-oriented theme parks and water parks available in the south, to the more sporty activities on offer in the north. The lake area offers a fabulous Mediterranean climate, breathtaking panoramic views, and ever changing scenery, from the flatter, softer, rolling countryside of the south, to the more Alpine, rugged and mountainous north. Most importantly, my grandfather hasn't stopped talking about his wonderful holiday to anyone who will listen, since we got home!

      I would recommend Lake Garda to most people, with the possible exception of young groups looking for a variety of options for lively nightlife. Although the old walled medieval towns around the lake are mostly lovely, I would also recommend taking time to explore outside these areas, in order to get a feel for the 'real' area. I had considered renting a car, but now I'm glad I didn't, the ferries are the ideal way to get around the lake and we enjoyed the experience of using public transport and walking to explore further afield.

      I apologise for the length of this review, if you managed to get this far I am very grateful to you, and I hope you have found it to be of some use.

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        16.06.2011 09:34
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        Porridge, the easy way.

        I love porridge for breakfast, but I've recently started working earlier and I just can't face eating breakfast at 6am, before I leave home. As a result I have been looking for a convenient, quick, easy and satisfying breakfast that I can take to work with me, to eat later in the morning.

        I found Quaker Oat So Simple Express Pots in my local Co-Op for 98 pence per 50g pot. I bought the plain version, but they are also available in Golden Syrup and Apple & Blueberry flavours. The pot is made of thin plastic, with a cardboard sleeve around the body of the pot, displaying all the information I would expect to find. On the front the label tells me that I just need to add hot water for 'perfect creamy porridge', and that it will only take 2 minutes. On the back of the label is the list of ingredients, allergy advice, instructions and nutritional information. The lid of the individual pot is made of thin foil, like a yogurt pot, which can be easily peeled back without ripping. On top of this foil lid is a clear plastic top, which clips neatly into place. All the plastic, and the cardboard label, can be recycled.

        Quaker Oat So Simple Express Pots really are easy and convenient to make. The label advises that the ingredients should be gently mixed with a spoon first, then add boiling water up to a clear line on the inside of the pot, stir thoroughly for 15 - 30 seconds (I find I need to make a little effort to ensure that all the oats at the bottom of the pot have been thoroughly stirred in), the plastic lid should then be replaced and the pot left to stand for 1 minute. It is then ready to eat after a further quick stir.

        This porridge is made of rolled oats, which are much smaller and finer than some of the more coarse traditional steel-cut varieties available, but it still manages to make a hearty porridge. The porridge made from rolled oats is smoother, and with a slightly milder, less obviously oaty taste. It doesn't have the robust, almost nutty, taste that traditional porridge has, but it still manages to deliver a warm, comforting, natural tasting hit to the stomach. The mixture also contains skimmed milk powder, which produces a surprisingly rich and creamy taste, rather than the powdery, synthetic taste that I sometimes associate with powdered milk. The ingredients list also states that sugar is included, however, I can't detect any sweetness, and I find I need to add a little something to sweeten it; usually half a teaspoon of honey, a little chopped banana or a couple of strawberries. I do have a sweet tooth though, so many people may be happy to have it straight. When made according to the instructions it produces a thick porridge, which suits me as I prefer a thicker consistency, for those that like thinner porridge this can be easily achieved by adding a little more water.

        As for the appearance, well, what can I say? Its porridge, therefore it looks like slightly greyish lumpy cement, or wallpaper paste. Porridge isn't a beautiful food, but it is truly satisfying, and I don't even think about eating again until lunchtime when I have had an Oat So Simple Express Pot for breakfast. I have a very healthy appetite, and although these pots aren't large, they contain enough for me to feel I have eaten a good breakfast. Each pot provides 187 calories, 2.9g fat and 31.3g carbohydrate. I find these great for breakfast if I have been for a run in the morning, and they would be ideal for anyone watching their weight.

        I enjoy the porridge from these Oats So Simple Express Pots, I find it tasty, satisfying, rich, creamy, and it definitely has the comfort factor. Despite this, it is not as flavoursome as traditional steel-cut oats, and probably wouldn't appeal to porridge purists. Despite the convenience, unfortunately, I struggle to justify the price to myself as I know I can buy a big bag of porridge oats for less than a pound it feels wrong to spend nearly as much on one portion. Although I will continue to buy these pots for the convenience they offer when I am having breakfast at work, I will buy them with a slightly guilty feeling, and I will certainly be on the look-out for special offers.

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          30.05.2011 15:10
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          A truly great product that really works - I just wish it cost a little less.

          Now I'm in my mid-thirties I am finding the make up routine I used when I was younger no longer gives the same results. I have combination skin, and consequently I have larger pores on my nose and chin, which foundation can sink into and accentuate. I have tried many different foundations, from shockingly expensive to budget brands, and as all of them do this, some quicker than others, I concluded that the problem is my skin rather than the foundation. I also have a few small scars from spots when I was younger, and I'm definitely starting to get 'smile' lines around my eyes, so my skin is quite challenging. I am enough of a realist to acknowledge I'm never going to have perfect, flawless looking skin again, but I can't help longing for the smooth, glowing skin of my younger years! I had previously tried a couple of make up primers, but had been disappointed with the results, one made my skin break out in small spots under my skin, the other made no noticeable difference, but on the recommendation of a good friend I decided to give Lancome La Base a try.

          Lancome is part of the cosmetics giant L'Oreal. They started over 60 years ago, initially creating perfume, but have since diversified into skincare and cosmetic products. As one of L'Oreals companies, Lancome has a dubious history when it comes to animal testing. In 1989 Lancome, along with several others of L'Oreals subsidiary companies, stopped testing their products on animals, however, they are still using substances in their products that have been tested on animals, although they state in their press releases that they plan to stop this in 2013.

          Lancome La Base comes in a silver cardboard box with all the information I would expect to find printed on it. The primer is contained in a small opaque glass bottle, with a transparent, smoky grey coloured plastic lid which pulls off to reveal a black and silver plastic pump dispenser. This bottle contains 25ml of primer. The cheapest price I have been able to find for this primer is £25.00 from Boots. Although I have never found this primer reduced, Lancome frequently has special offers of a free make up or skincare set when two or more of their products are purchased. Although at £25.00 this is certainly not a budget buy, I find that a little goes a long way with this primer, and using it once or twice a week a bottle last me almost six months (it has become a regular on my Christmas and birthday lists!). The pump dispenser is ideal, because the product doesn't come into contact with my skin as it would in a pot or tube I don't need to worry about contamination so it doesn't worry me that I have the same bottle on the go for nearly six months. I find that the amount dispensed through the pump is easily controllable, and I usually use one and a half pumps each time. The pump dispenser can be screwed off the top of the bottle, which I do when I am running low, to enable me to get every last drop out of the bottle.

          When dispensed the primer feels like a really smooth, silky, silicone gel. It reminds me of the anti-chaffing gels I used to use for running long distances. It is not at all greasy, odourless, and dries rapidly, leaving a totally transparent, matte, super-soft, even layer on the skin. I put a small amount on my nose, chin and forehead, which I gently smooth outwards and downwards across my face and neck, with my fingertips. Within a minute it has dried completely, and is undetectable. This is where the magic comes in; as I apply foundation over the primer I can feel it gliding smoothly over the even base and rather than sinking into and accentuating my large pores, it creates a uniform base, creating the illusion of almost-flawless textured skin. As well as delivering deceptively smooth looking skin the primer has light-diffusing properties which, when used with a sheer foundation, makes my lines less apparent, and gives a hint of a healthy, dewy, glow. I feel that I look as though I've had a few really good nights sleep, or just been on holiday, when I use this primer. Because it blurs the lines around my eyes and evens out my skin I don't need a heavy foundation, and I look significantly brighter, fresher, and healthier. I look at it like painting a wall; no matter how good the paint is, the wall won't look good if the plaster underneath is cracked and lumpy!

          The primer also helps make up last longer. I find eye shadow doesn't crease, and foundation doesn't need reapplying or touching up, even after a long night out. The matte base provided by the primer prevents my oily T-zone from causing my make up to disappear, something I used to experience frequently in hot or humid conditions. Lancome states that this primer is non-comedogenic, so it won't clog pores and aggravate problem skin.

          I can't feel this primer on my skin once I've applied it, but I definitely notice I'm wearing it when I look in the mirror. It's pleasant to use, and easy to remove along with the rest of my make up using my normal make up remover. Despite my initial reservations about primers, it hasn't caused any of the problems I experienced with the primers I had tried previously, and I am absolutely convinced it makes a real difference. It can't give me back the skin I had in my early teens, but it does make the skin I have now look infinitely better, and for me that's worth the price. I don't use it every day, as I'm happy with tinted moisturiser for work, and I don't really do heavy make up, but for special occasions and nights out I wouldn't be without it.

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            07.05.2011 11:45
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            Brilliant blow-up bed without excessive bounce.

            I've been camping regularly since I was a child, but as the years have gone by I've become less inclined to rough it and comfort has become more appealing. In my early 20's I could easily manage a week at a festival with just a foam mat, but now I'm in my 30's and those days are long gone! These days I expect a full nights' sleep in a bed as comfortable as the one I have at home! Now I know that's a big ask, and I tried quite a few camping beds in my quest for a satisfying slumber before settling on my Outwell Luxury Flock Airbed.

            Outwell is one of three brands produced by Oase Outdoors Aps, a family owned and operated Danish company. They started in 1984, and today are widely regarded throughout Europe as the leaders in family camping, consistently winning awards for their outstanding products. They are regularly at the forefront of camping innovations, some of the concepts Outwell introduced were luminous reflective guylines, skylights, carpets and footprints for tents, as well as a variety of camping accessories such as beds, chairs and cooking equipment. Although Outwell camping equipment is never the cheapest, because I own several Outwell products I know the quality is good, and I don't mind paying a little extra for a well made product that I can be confident will last.

            I bought my Outwell Luxury Flock Double Airbed last year from an online camping store, for £54.99, which may seem expensive for what is basically a posh Lilo, but in my opinion it is worth every penny. Outwell have produced a new version this year, called Deluxe, which appears to be exactly the same as the Luxury apart from the colour, being brown rather than the black/grey version I have. The benefit of this to anyone thinking of purchasing an Outwell Luxury Flock Airbed now is that the price has reduced significantly with the introduction of the newer version, and the Luxury Airbed can now be found for just £37.95 on Amazon.

            As with most airbeds it is made from PVC, which is considerably thicker and stronger than I have found on other makes of airbed. The PVC is black, with a pale grey velour fabric on the top of the bed. This velour is a great idea, as I found the shiny PVC surface on previous beds caused me to roll off when I turned over in my sleeping bag (of course, having a double rather than a single helps with this as well!). The only disadvantage of this velour top, is that it tends to attract and trap fluff and small pieces of cotton, which I have only been able to remove by going over the surface with a strip of sellotape wrapped around my hand sticky side out. However, I have only needed to do this once so far, and having used it many times over the past year this isn't too much of an inconvenience for me. Obviously, being a fluff-magnet doesn't affect the beds' performance in any way; it just doesn't look as smart as it once did. Because of the material, there was a slight smell when this bed was new. It smelled a little like rubber to me, but a friend commented the smell reminded her of the dentist! This smell wore off after one or two uses.

            One of the major advantages of this bed is its' height. When fully inflated it is nearly 30cms high, and having a bed raised this far off the floor means that the cold dampness that comes from the ground overnight in a tent doesn't reach me, it also makes it feel more like a real bed, and is easier and more comfortable to get in and out of. The construction of the air pockets in this bed means that the edges are stabilised, so if I sit on the edge of the bed it does not collapse completely down to the floor. The other dimensions are 205cms long, by 135cms wide, so it really is worth checking whether the sleeping area of your tent can accommodate this airbed, because it is larger than most.

            I have a bit of a Goldilocks complex when it comes to camping beds. I don't like a bed to be too soft, but if they're too firm they can be overly bouncy, which is a guaranteed way of disturbing a good nights' sleep. I was delighted to find that when fully inflated this airbed is neither so soft that I sink into it like a marshmallow, nor so firm that the slightest movement propels me several inches into the air, in fact, it is just right.

            Due to its' size, this airbed does take a while to inflate. I inflate it using a hand pump, and it takes me just under 10 minutes to inflate fully, with a rest of a minute or so halfway through. It is also possible to inflate this bed using a battery or electric pump if you want to reduce the effort required. The valve has a large aperture which helps to speed up the time it takes to inflate, and a double-seal closure feature which reassures me that it is less likely to leak air overnight. It involves securing an attached plastic tab over the valve, and then pressing the entire valve unit inside the bed, which creates a further seal. The only difficulty I have experienced with this valve is that it can be a little fiddly to pop the valve unit back out when I am ready to deflate the bed. After a little trial and error I have perfected the technique, and it's worth a little fiddling to know I won't wake up in the middle of the night to find all the air has leaked out and left me lying on the ground. I have slept on this airbed many times for a night or two, and once for 8 nights. Over that longer period, I found I had to top up the air after 5 nights, which is pretty good going for an airbed.

            It is easy and quick to deflate, simply opening the valve and rolling around on the bed to push the air out until it is fully deflated does the job for me. I the fold it lengthways several times, starting from the side furthest from the valve to ensure every last bit of air is squeezed out, and then folding in half twice. I find I can then easily pack it away. There is no carry bag supplied with this airbed. Instead it comes in a nylon 'sleeve', which does a good job of keeping it together, but doesn't provide the convenience of carrying handles.

            This is the best airbed I have found, and it has been a very worthwhile investment for me. Now I look forward to snuggling down in my sleeping bag on my luxurious camping bed, which is a far cry from the old days when I hoped I would have drunk enough alcohol to be able to ignore the discomfort!

            I have hesitation in recommending it to regular campers, but it may not be worth the cost for those who only camp occasionally. This bed could also be very useful indoors if you have more guests than beds, and I find it far more comfortable than those folding guest beds, with matresses as thick as a postage stamp, when I can feel the springs digging into my back all night. It is a very large bed, and weighs half as much as some of my tents, at just over 4kgs, so it is certainly not suitable for backpacking or wild camping, but if you are going to be parking your car next to your tent and you want a little luxury, this is definitely the bed for you.

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            • More +
              04.05.2011 12:39
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              Disappointing lenses

              I have worn contact lenses for over 20 years now. I started with regular soft contact lenses, then I progressed to monthly disposable lenses, and for the last 10 years I have been wearing daily disposable lenses. Although I've been very happy with my daily disposables, like many people I am currently looking for ways to economise and minimise my regular outgoings. The daily disposables cost me £22 per month, so when I visited my optician last year, I asked about cheaper alternatives.

              My optician recommended returning to monthly disposable lenses as a cheaper option, and when he quoted £26 for a pack of 6 of lenses (3 months supply if you have the same prescription in both eyes), I very quickly agreed. I realised later, however, that I hadn't factored the cost of the cleaning solutions into my calculations, so although they are definitely less expensive than the daily disposable lenses, the swap does not generate such a huge saving as I originally thought (luckily, I don't work in Banking!).

              These lenses are made by Bausch & Lomb, a US company that started as a small optical shop in 1853 and has now grown into a multi-billion dollar corporation with products sold in over 100 countries. As well as producing a range of contact lenses, they also make a variety of pharmaceutical products, and products for cataract and retinal surgery.

              Soflens 59 monthly contact lenses are supplied in a cardboard pack containing 6 lenses. Inside the cardboard pack each individual lens is stored in a blister pack, with a plastic bowl at the bottom, and a foil lid on top (like a yogurt pot lid), which keeps the lens sterile. The lens floats in a buffered saline solution within the plastic bowl. Saline is a sterile solution of sodium chloride in water, in the ratio 9 grams per 1 litre of water. This is similar to the ratio found naturally in optical fluid, so it does not irritate or sting the delicate cornea when the lens is placed in the eye.

              Each blister pack containing a lens has relevant information printed on the top. This information includes the power of the lens, useful if like me you have different prescriptions in each eye. It also states the expiry date, which is usually several years in the future, the lot number, confirmation that the product is sterile, and confirmation that the pack can be recycled. Information on the fit of the lens can also be found on the lid, the base curve of these lenses is 8.6 and the diameter is 14.2. These measurements relate to the size and curvature of the lens, and will affect how comfortable they feel when placed on the cornea. For me, this is the ideal fit; it is exactly the same as the daily disposable lenses I had previously been using.

              The lenses are made from a moulded silicone hydrogel, called Hilafilcon B. It is a very soft, but durable, material however, the lens is noticeably thicker than the more delicate daily disposables. This increased robustness, along with a faint tint, which is not detectable when worn, makes them much easier to handle and insert.

              The level of comfort experienced by contact lens wearers is often directly influenced by the water content of the lens. These lenses have a mid-level water content, with the lens being made up partly of water and partly of silicone hydrogel.

              I believe the difficulties I experienced with these lenses are due to a lower water content than I had become used to with my previous lenses. Although I have always tended to wear lenses for longer periods than is generally recommended, when I started using these monthly lenses I was very careful to ensure I didn't exceed the specified periods. Despite this, I found that after a few hours my eyes became dry and itchy. I tried using eye drops designed for contact lens wearers, and although this resolved the problem in the short term, I found that relatively quickly they became increasingly uncomfortable. Despite persevering for a couple of months, in the hope that my eyes would adapt, I eventually found myself unable wear these lenses for more than 8 - 10 hours per day, and the last few hours would be uncomfortable. Most evenings I was left with sore, slightly bloodshot eyes, and frequently found them difficult to remove, as they had dried out a little whilst in my eyes. I also found the thickness of the lens itself meant that I was aware that I was wearing them, and could feel them in my eye at all times, for me this wasn't ideal.

              I was really disappointed that these lenses didn't suit me, and I have now returned to using daily disposables. These Softlens 59 monthly lenses are certainly a good price, and may suit people with less sensitive eyes than mine. The vision correction they provided was faultless, and although I can't recommend them based on my own experience, they may well be worth trying if you know that you are not susceptible to experiencing dry eyes.

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              • NiQuitin Minis / Health Product / 108 Readings / 103 Ratings
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                02.05.2011 11:56
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                A helping hand to kick Nic into touch

                I had been smoking for over 20 years, having started with the odd sneaky smoke by the running track at secondary school when I was 14. Throughout that time I made many half-hearted attempts to quit, usually lasting no more than a couple of weeks before I caved in and started smoking again. Last year, when I had my 35th birthday and realised I was on the downhill slope to 40, I became determined to stop for good, before I started to see the adverse effects on my health.

                Being a realist, I recognised that I was not going to be able to give up by willpower alone. Having tried several methods of nicotine replacement therapy in my previous failed attempts I was reluctant to return to a method that I had not been successful with previously. After doing a bit of research I found Niquitin Minis, which are tiny white lozenges, that I felt would be easy and convenient to use, unobtrusive even in work.

                Niquitin Minis come in 2 strengths, one containing 4mg of nicotine, and one containing 1.5mg of nicotine. They also come in Original, Mint and a new Cherry flavour. The minis are available in single packs, containing 20 mini lozenges, and triple packs, containing 60 mini lozenges. Available from most high street pharmacies as well as online from Amazon and similar sites, the price varies according to strength and the size of the pack, but you can expect to pay under £15.00 for a triple pack of 4mg Minis. They are produced by Glaxosmithkline, a familiar household name for over the counter painkillers, medications, toothpastes etc. The reverse of the packaging displays brief instructions for use, health warnings and a list of ingredients, and there is a leaflet with full instructions enclosed in the pack.

                I mentioned the flavours, but don't be misled, these are certainly not lozenges anyone would want to use for pleasure. The taste is virtually undetectable, as the nicotine released in the mouth quickly overpowers any intended flavour with a strong almost burning sensation (think extra strong Fishermans Friends). For me, this was actually useful rather than unpleasant, as I felt that they were clearly doing their job.

                I started with the stronger 4mg mini lozenges, but within 3 weeks I was using the lower strength 1.5mg mini lozenges. The idea is that the lozenges are not sucked, but placed in the mouth, either under the tongue or between the cheek and gum, to dissolve, so the nicotine can be absorbed quickly through the soft tissue in the mouth into the blood stream, and reduce the physical craving. I found these mini lozenges to be really effective, and for me they reduced my cravings within less than a minute of popping one in my mouth. The maximum number of Minis that should be used in a day is 15, and I found that 8 -10 per day were sufficient for me initially. I had previously smoked 20 - 25 per day, and I didn't ration my use of the Minis, but had one whenever I felt the need. Over a period of 8 weeks I gradually reduced both the strength and frequency of Minis, until after 10 weeks I found I was frequently going the whole day without having needed to use one.

                They are not a magic wand and are certainly not going to give up for you, a significant amount of willpower and determination are still required, but they provided me with the additional support I needed and I don't think I would have managed to quit, at least not without falling out with several friends and family members, without them!

                As with all medications, there are some adverse side effects that people may experience, and Minis are not recommended for anyone suffering from stomach problems. I personally experienced only minor temporary side effects, which were explained on the advice leaflet included in the pack, and in my opinion were a small inconvenience compared to the benefits. Although everyone will react differently, my experience of adverse effects included; a sore throat for the first few days, a sore tongue (probably my fault as I tend to play/fiddle with the lozenge with my tongue), and intermittent slight stomach upsets which disappeared after a week or two.

                So they worked for me (I feel safe saying that now, 1 year since quitting!), but are there any negatives? I found the lids of the plastic tubes they are contained in to be extremely frustrating. They have a sort of 'child-proof' design, which requires you to push in a very stiff plastic lever, and keep it depressed, before flipping open the cap. This is a considerably more difficult design than the familiar 'push and squeeze' or 'line up the arrows' design of child-proof caps. I experienced a very sore thumb, and snapped several fingernails through opening these lids. Eventually I overcame this by decanting the mini lozenges into a different container. This was an inconvenience for me, but I would imagine it would be impossible for people with health problems such as arthritis that cause difficulties with manual dexterity.


                Overall I found these Niquitin Minis met my needs, and were definitely an unobtrusive way of easing my cravings.

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                • Gelert Sleeping Pod / Sleeping Bag / 122 Readings / 119 Ratings
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                  20.03.2011 19:45
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                  Overall a comfortable sleeping bag - if you're not too tall

                  I love camping, and because of this I have quite a lot of camping gear. I'm always keen to try out new products when it comes to camping equipment, so when I came across Gelert sleeping pods last year I just couldn't resist. For many years I have been on the look-out for the perfect spring/summer sleeping bag, although I have an old army sleeping bag which is perfect for really cold nights, I was looking for a lighter alternative to prevent that feeling of being trapped in a sauna when waking up with early morning summer sun baking down on my tent. I find it difficult to sleep well when I'm feeling restricted by my sleeping bag, and I tend to move quite a bit during the night, so a spacious sleeping bag has always been my ideal. I previously tried double sleeping bags, but found these so large they were a little chilly with only one body inside; the sleeping pod seemed like the ultimate solution.

                  Gelert is a Welsh company, based in Snowdonia. The name is derived from a Welsh folk-tale, which you can read here http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/so ciety/myths_gelert.shtml if you want to find out more. I have had positive experiences with Gelert products in the past (with the exception of their pop up tent), so I had no doubts this sleeping pod would be a good quality, well made, product.

                  Gelert produce three versions of the sleeping pod, a junior, standard and XL model. I have the XL model, and I will explain why later. The Gelert XL sleeping pod is available in three colours; black, red or green. The smaller sizes have a greater variety of colours, including camo and floral pink patterns. Last year I paid £54.99 for the XL, from my local outdoor shop, but already they can be found online for quite a few pounds less.

                  The sleeping pod comes packed in a colour co-ordinated compression sack. This compression sack is conveniently attached to the bottom of the pod, which means it won't get lost, and is always handily located. The sleeping pod is relatively easy to stuff back into the compression sack, and there are adjustable webbing straps around the sack to aid compression and reduce the pack size. As you would expect with a larger than usual sleeping bag, even when fully compressed in the sack the packed size is not particularly small, mine now packs down to approximately 45cms by 30cms, so it is not ideal if you have limited packing space.

                  I had initially bought the standard sleeping pod, but once I got it home and took it out of its' compression sack, I could see straight away that although it's very generous in width it wasn't going to be long enough for me. Luckily, the outdoor shop I bought it from allowed me to exchange it for the XL version the following day. I am not an Amazonian, in fact I'm a pretty average 5'8'', so I would suggest unless you are very petite, it's advisable to purchase the XL version. After all if you are considering buying the sleeping pod, comfort is probably a priority for you. The XL sleeping pod is 220cms long, including the hood, and a very generous 110cms wide, at its widest point, so I certainly don't experience that straight-jacket feeling I have with some other sleeping bags. Although the pod does taper in slightly at the bottom, this doesn't have an adverse impact on the level of comfort I experience because it is sufficiently long for me, however if you are 6 foot or over you may find the end of the pod is still a little restrictive.

                  My pod appears to be well made, with strong seams, and a sturdy zip that runs smoothly and doesn't catch. It has a polyester outer shell, and the lining is also polyester. This lining is not the most comfortable, particularly when it is hot. I think this sleeping pod could be improved tremendously by replacing the lining with a polycotton mix, as I find the polyester causes me to sweat when the night is warm.

                  The sleeping pod is marketed as a 2-3 season sleeping bag. The filling is 300g per square metre, and is made of spirals of polyester fibre. It feels light and soft, but not particularly dense. For me it has sufficient warmth for summer and warm spring/autumn nights, but I consider it to be more of a 1-2 season bag. The level of warmth meets my needs, but those who tend to feel chilly at night may want something more substantial, especially if you don't want to be wearing thermals in bed. Alternatively, there is actually room in this sleeping pod for a hot water bottle!

                  The additional width provided by this sleeping pod makes it far more comfortable than standard sleeping bags. I am able to sleep and move around in the night unrestricted. For me, the increased comfort outweighs the disadvantages, and I will continue to use this pod in warm weather, but it does have a few negative points that should be considered. The zip doesn't run all the way around the bag, so it can't be opened completely and used duvet-style. The lining is pure polyester, which doesn't allow you to 'breathe' very effectively and promotes perspiration in very hot weather. The pack size is too large for backpacking/motorbikes etc.

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                  • Platypus Hoser / Sports Equipment / 126 Readings / 120 Ratings
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                    20.02.2011 14:01
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                    Don't get the hump with water stops, get a Platypus.

                    I enjoy walking and cycling, but the same as most people, I never enjoyed having to stop every so often to take off my rucksack, dig out my water bottle, drink, put my bottle back, and put my rucksack back on. It doesn't sound like too much of a challenge I know, not like crossing a ravine on a tightrope blindfolded (not that I've ever done that!), but after the tenth stop it does begin to feel a bit inconvenient. Because of this inconvenience I tended to delay drinking until I felt really thirsty, which as we all know, is really too late to stay adequately hydrated.

                    I bought my first Platypus Hoser about 8 years ago, it was the 1litre version, and about 6 years ago I also bought the 2 litre version. The Platypus Hoser can be purchased from most outdoor shops, and online with some really good prices to be found at places like Amazon. The prices have reduced over the years and a 1 litre Hoser can now be found for under £10. In addition to the 1 and 2 litre versions, a larger 3 litre version is also available, as well as accessories such as an Insulation kit to prevent freezing in extreme cold, a cleaning kit, and a wide-mouth zip-closure version of the Hoser.

                    The Platypus Hoser is produced by Cascade Designs, a company based in Seattle, USA, who started by producing the Thermarest self inflating mattress in 1971. The company went on to produce a number of innovative products which are now familiar to most people who take part in outdoor activities, including camping stoves and sleeping bags. In addition to the Hosers the Platypus brand also produces hand-held bottles.

                    The Platypus Hoser consists of a transparent flexible bladder made of triple layered polyurethane, and lined with food-grade polyethylene. The size of the 2 litre bladder is 11 cms high and 7.5 cms wide. It has a strong thick seam running around the edge, and a gusset at the bottom. This gusset enables the bottle to stand up when full of water, but fold down to completely flat when it's not in use. Because it's so soft and flexible I was initially doubtful about how reliable it would be, and imagined taking it out of my rucksack to find everything inside soaked, but I'm glad to say this has never happened. They are deceptively strong, and after many years of use I have never experienced any leaks from my Platypuses. I have, however, always taken care to ensure it is protected from any sharp objects in my rucksack.

                    At the top of the bladder is an anchor loop. This is a sealed hole that can be used to secure the bladder upright in your rucksack. When I bought my first Platypus I used it in an old rucksack, and simply sat it inside with hose poking out of the top, this worked well whilst I drank the first half of my water, but as it became emptier the bladder began to fold down on itself and eventually collapsed and fell over in my rucksack, preventing the water from flowing smoothly through the hose. This resulted in making it difficult to suck through the tube, and caused me to look like I was entering a gurning competition every time I tried to take a sip (not a good look!). Shortly after this experience I invested in a new rucksack which has a purpose built hydration bladder pocket, and a clip inside I can attach the anchor loop to, ensuring that the bladder remains upright at all times. Since using this new rucksack I have had no further problems, and I find the water always flows smoothly.

                    Towards the bottom of the bladder is the spout through which the bladder can be filled and the hose attached by means of a screw on lid. This spout is located at an angle on the side at the base of the bladder, enabling almost all of the water to flow out. The attachment is very tight-fitting and secure, and I have never experienced any leaks.

                    Those hose is made of transparent plastic, mine is clear but I believe newer models have blue hoses. It is very flexible, and sufficiently long, at just over 100cms, to easily fit through a purpose designed hole in the top of a rucksack and comfortably reach around the wearer, so the end can be conveniently located. There is a clip towards the end of the hose, which can be used to attach the hose to an appropriate place and prevent it flapping around. I usually attach mine to the shoulder or chest straps of my rucksack. At the end of the hose is the bite valve, which is made of soft silicone. This valve is very secure and even after years of regular use I still don't experience any drips from it. It is operated by biting down gently to open the valve and sucking to draw up the water through the hose from the bladder. As long as the bladder is upright, only a gently suck is required to get a good mouthful (no more gurning for me!), and because the silicone is so soft, biting down on it doesn't make my jaw ache at all, even after using it all day.

                    Although Platypus produce a cleaning kit I have never felt the need to buy this, as I only ever put plain water in mine. I simply rinse it through, paying particular attention to the bite valve, and hang it up to dry thoroughly. Before I pack it away for the winter I soak it in a bowl of warm water with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, rinse it through with plain water, and hang it in my airing cupboard to dry completely before packing away.

                    For me, my Platypus has now become an essential piece of kit, I take it on all my walks and cycles because of its' convenience and ease of use. I do, however, use it for additional purposes that I'm sure the manufacturers would not recommend. I like to travel light, because I'm carrying my gear myself, and after all I'm just a girlie not a 6' 6'' muscle man, but I still like a little comfort. My Platypus really comes in handy when camping in cold weather because I use it as a hot water bottle. For just over £1 I purchased a screw on cap for the bladder without a hose attachment. This plain cap means that I can fill the bladder with hot water (I boil a camp kettle and allow the water to cool a little before putting it in the bladder), screw the plain cap on securely, and pop it in my sleeping bag just like a hot water bottle. In warmer weather, when I don't need a comforting hottie, I partially fill it with water, wrap it in a sweatshirt or fleece, and use it as a pillow. In the summer, when walking in the heat, I pop my Platypus in the freezer for a couple of hours before setting off, this gives me slushy ice water, which slowly melts through the day, but stays beautifully cold and refreshing.

                    I have no hesitation recommending the Platypus Hoser, but with a word of caution that it's worth investing in a rucksack that that can hold it upright securely in order to get the best out of it. I now find that with my Platypus I drink more throughout the day, without consciously thinking about it, or disrupting whatever activity I am doing. The only real disadvantage to the Platypus is that it's not possible to see when you are running low on water, but as most people have a good idea of their hydration needs, and will use the appropriate size bladder to meet those needs, I don't see this as a major problem.

                    Thanks for reading.

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                    • Vango Alpha 200 / Tent / 109 Readings / 108 Ratings
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                      18.02.2011 12:09
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                      An ideal festival tent for one person

                      I camp regularly for pleasure, but I also attend festivals frequently, and bought the Vango Alpha 200 about 8 years ago as a festival tent. I have distinct requirements for a successful festival tent, which are quite different from the tents I prefer to use the rest of the year. Festival tents need to be lightweight and compact, as there is often a considerable distance to walk from the car carrying your gear, they need to be reliably waterproof, as there is no alternative accommodation on site should you find yourself waking up in a puddle (unless you have a good friend willing to share!), and lastly they need to have a separate area to store wet and muddy gear.

                      When I bought my Vango Alpha 200 it cost around £50, but they can now be found online for under £30. It is available in variety of colours, mine is two shades of blue, but red/black, green/black are also available. The tent comes in a colour-coded, zipped bag with strong carrying handles. Unusually, in my experience, I have had no difficulty getting my tent back into this bag after a camp. This can frequently be a tricky operation involving a considerable struggle, but with my Vango it slips back in easily for storage. The packed tent weighs just 2.75 kgs, so it is relatively easy and comfortable to carry.

                      The tent has a flysheet made of Protex coated polyester, and the manufacturers' state that it is 3000HH. This means the material has been tested as waterproof with a column of water 3000mm high on top of it, and the HH refers to Hydrostatic Head; the column of water. In practice this is sufficiently waterproof for normal use in UK rain, but I certainly wouldn't want to risk it in a prolonged heavy storm. There is a built-in groundsheet made of polyethylene in the main tent, which it sufficient for normal use, but is definitely not the strongest groundsheet available, this is a clear give-away that it is not a top quality tent, and I always take care not to risk ripping it because it doesn't feel very hardwearing. The inner tent attaches easily to the inside of the flysheet by a series on plastic toggles on elastics, and is made of polyester.

                      This tent also has a small porch area, with a flap of groundsheet that extends from the main tent and covers most of the floor area of the porch. This porch groundsheet is not built-in, so it is inevitable that rain will blow in under the bottom of the porch area of the tent. This makes the porch unsuitable to store anything perishable or valuable, but it is perfect to keep muddy boots and wet waterproofs overnight. The porch is small; with just enough space for me to fit in sitting cross-legged, with my head bent (I'm 5'8''). To access the main tent through the porch, which is the only way in or out, I need to crawl in on my hands and knees, consequently, this tent is not suitable for anyone with mobility difficulties. The main sleeping area of the tent has sufficient height to sit comfortably and move around, but not to stand up (95cms high). The porch has small clear plastic windows on either side, which have built in colour co-ordinated blinds, handy if you are sitting out a downpour, as this small tent could feel a little isolating without a view onto the outside world.

                      The tent is erected easily, by threading two long flexible fibreglass poles through colour-coded sleeves diagonally across each other. These poles are the magic wand type, with several separate poles joined by an elastic cord which runs through them, joining them together. The ends of these poles then sit securely in metal rings at the four corners of the main part of the flysheet, causing the main tent to rise up in a very stable dome. Another, shorter, pole is threaded through the material that creates the entrance to the porch, and forms an arch by securing each end in rings attached to the main part of the tent. It is simple to put up, and takes 5 - 10 minutes to erect completely. There are several pre-attached guy lines, but I have replaced the original guy lines because I found them too short to allow me to easily peg around buried boulders (I also prefer fluorescent guy lines as it reduces the chances of someone tripping over them).

                      Inside the tent the main sleeping area is accessed through the porch, through a D-shaped zipped door in the inner tent. This door has a mesh layer at the top, providing the option of additional ventilation without compromising protection from biting flying creatures. There is a small built in storage pocket inside the sleeping area, which I find handy for keeping things I need easy access to. It also has a small hook at the top to attach a lantern to. There are ventilation flaps in the flysheet, with a mesh layer to prevent bugs from entering, but as with any tent you can expect a degree of condensation to build up overnight. I find this tent is more prone to condensation than any of my other ones, which I presume is down to the material being less breathable. I frequently find a significant amount of condensation on the inside of the porch windows, but again this is to be expected as they are made of plastic.

                      The Vango Alpha 200 is sold as a 2 man tent. In my opinion they would need to be very small men. I find it offers sufficient space for my needs at a festival, but with a large rucksack in the main area I have no room for anything else apart from a single inflatable mattress. It is certainly not a suitable tent to spend much time in, but as somewhere dry to lay my head in the early hours, it is fine. I prefer dome tents to any other design, as I find them more stable, and this tent has withstood some strong winds and heavy rain admirably. It is not a tent that would be suitable for holidays, but for festivals, or for children with parents in a separate family tent, it is ideal. All in all, a good, reliable basic tent that does its' job, but only for one adult or two children.

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                      • More +
                        29.01.2011 15:39
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                        The best walking boots I have found.

                        I've always been a bit outdoorsy, and over the years I've owned many different pairs of walking boots, but never found a pair that was quite right. They always rubbed on some part of my foot or ankle, or weren't completely waterproof, the soles started to come away, or some other problem became apparent after a few wears. My grandmother had always told me never to be thrifty when it came to buying shoes or beds, because if you're not in one you're in the other. With this advice in mind I was prepared to pay whatever I needed to, in order to get the right boots. I was sick of having to stop to apply blister plasters, or just squelching through the remaining miles of a walk when my boots had let in water early on. After trying several different makes including Brasher, Salomon, and Merrell with no success, I stumbled upon these Berghaus boots. I'd had some experience of Berghaus already, having some of their equipment and clothing, but this was my first step into the world of berghaus footwear.

                        Berghaus started in Newcastle in 1966, and was established by two climbers who identified a niche market, through their own experience of being unable to find high performance outdoor gear in the UK. They imported products which they sold in their Newcastle shop called the LD Mountain Centre. From here the climbers began to design and manufacture their own range of clothing and equipment, called Berghaus. The reason for this name is that it is German for 'Mountain Centre'. After more than 40 years Berghaus is now an established and respected brand of outdoor gear, which diversified into footwear in the early 1990's. They now produce a range of Berghaus boots and shoes for both men and women, along with an array of accessories like gaiters and cleaning/waterproofing products, as well as producing the Brasher brand.
                        My search for the perfect boots came to an end when I bought my first pair of these Berghaus Explorer Trek boots. Unlike all the other boots I'd tried over the years these didn't need to be worn in, and were comfortable from the moment I put them on. I found with other boots that I needed to buy a ½ size larger than my shoe size to accommodate the thick, warm, walking socks I like to wear, but with these boots my normal shoe size of 6 was perfect, and they don't feel tight even when I wear my thickest socks on winter walks. The comfort of my boots can make or break a day of walking, so I really appreciate the soft warm padding inside these boots, this padding extends upwards from the foot around the ankle of the boots, and in addition to providing extra warmth it ensures there are no pressure points to rub and cause soreness. The result is a pair of boots that fit as snugly as a glove.

                        Breghaus Explorer Trek boots have a recommended retail price of £90, but by shopping around you should be able to find them for under £70. The mens' boots are available in Black, Navy or Brown, and sizes 6 - 12. The womens' are available in Grey, Navy or Brown, and sizes 3 - 8. These Berghaus Trek boots have a fabric upper constructed from a combination of coated suede leather and Cordura mesh, which overlays a Goretex membrane to ensure the boot is fully waterproof. The Cordura mesh allows feet to breathe in warm weather, and the Goretex really does keep any water out as I have tested this in many shallow streams, rock pools, burns, and waterlogged undergrowth. The only times I have experienced wet feet is when I have been in water deep enough to seep in over the top of my boot, it doesn't even seem to find its way between the tongue and sides with the laces! Berghaus also produce alternative model s of these Explorer Trek boots called Explorer Ridge, which have a full leather upper, and Explorer Light, which are more lightweight, but for me the Explorer Trek is perfect. They are designed as a 3 season boot, which is ideal for most UK conditions, keeping my feet toasty in the winter months, but with sufficient ventilation to ensure they do not overheat in the summer.

                        These boots incorporate an Ergonomic Holding System, which means they are designed to hold to foot securely in place, providing a degree of stability that I really appreciate on rough terrain. My heels are cupped securely but comfortably, and I have not experienced any heel slippage, which is something I have often experienced with other boots; always resulting in painful blisters. Although these boots are strong and supportive, they do offer a certain amount of flexibility, so they may not suit anyone who prefers a stiff, rigid, boot. I do not find them excessively heavy, averaging 1250g (depending on the size), so they are not fatiguing to wear. They have strong laces, which do not slip when tied, and I have never had to replace my laces.

                        The PU sole has deep tread, and I have found delivers secure footing on a variety of surfaces. I have had my current boots for over 2 years, and although I am not a regular walker they have certainly had plenty of use. These boots have seen me through multi-day treks along the costal paths of West Wales and South West England, up Snowdon, the Dolomite Ferratas, several volcanoes, and around many festivals, as well as frequent day walks in the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains. I have total confidence in the grip of these boots, and they have proved themselves to be reliable on scrambles up loose rocks on the Snowdon ascent, as well as wet grass slops in the Brecon Beacons. They are even good around town in the snow, but not on ice!

                        I am now on my second pair of these boots, the model was updated in 2009 so my review refers to the current model. I suspect I would still be using my original pair, which I bought in 2005, if I were a little more diligent in my cleaning, but after 5 days of being totally submerged in mud during a particularly muddy Glastonbury festival, I considered them unsalvageable. These boots are very hardwearing, and if you are considering them for moderate use, they should last you for several years. I find them supremely comfortable for my average width feet, and because there is plenty of space for thick socks in boots that are my normal shoe size, I expect they would also be comfortable for those with wider feet. The footbed is deeper than many walking boots, so those with particularly narrow feet may find them a little too generous.

                        These boots are not the most technical ones available, but I find them extremely comfortable, with reliable grip across a variety of surfaces and a good weight. They are perfect for the average walker, who may occasionally tackle more demanding terrain.

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                          22.01.2011 17:06
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                          A fantastic piece of kit that I am confident I can rely on.

                          I kayak and windsurf, although I'll admit my windsurfing is usually limited to summer and autumn months. Although all watersports carry inherent risks, safety equipment goes a long way towards mitigating those risks, without spoiling the fun! In the same way as we wouldn't drive a car without a seatbelt on, it's hard to think of a good reason to go out on the water without a bouyancy aid. I've had my Yak Kougar bouyancy aid for several years now, and I haven't come across a better one.

                          Yak is one of the brands produced by Crewsaver, a British Watersports company based in Gosport. Yak is Crewsavers' range of kayaking and canoeing products, and it is a well established and respected brand, which in my opinion, consistently produces high quality products.

                          The Yak Kougar bouyancy aid is available from watersports shops and online from £60 - £70. I bought mine about four years ago from my local watersports shop for £64.99. There are certainly less expensive bouyancy aids available, but after trying on several different styles and makes, this one suited me so well there was no competition! I believe safety equipment should not inconvenience or hinder me in any way, so because I can put this on and forget I'm wearing it, the cost is totally justified for me.

                          A bouyancy aid designed for paddling is slightly different from those personal flotation devices or life jackets designed for many other nautical activities. They are designed to provide positive bouyancy without significantly restricting the paddlers movement. This is achieved by the layered polyethylene foam core, which produces the bouyancy, being concentrated at the front and back, with very little at the sides. The Yak Kougar is a model example of this design, with no foam at the sides, allowing completely free movement of the arms. For me this design is ideal, there is nothing on the sides except a thin layer of material and adjustable straps. This means I can move my arms totally unobstructed, enabling me to employ a range of paddling styles and to rotate my torso easily. The manouverability and freedom this bouyancy aid provides means it is an ideal multi-purpose piece of equipment, so I can easily use for windsurfing as well as kayaking.

                          The style of the Yak Kougar bouyancy aid is a vest-style one piece, which is pulled on and off over the head. Personal preference plays a large part in chosing the style of a bouyancy aid, but I believe this shorter vest-style design allows me to lean further forward when neccesary to facilitate quick turns and increase comfort. The only disadvatage to this design for me, is that sometimes after a really challenging paddle, it can be hard to raise my arms above my head to pull it off!

                          This bouyancy aid is only available in one colourway; black and grey. This is not the most visible colour on the water, but there are reflective strips on the shoulders, front and back. It is available in three sizes; small - medium, medium - large and extra large. These sizes apply to the weight of the paddler, from 88lbs to 154lbs. The degree of lift provided by a bouyancy aid is measured in Newtons (N), this Yak Kougar provides 45N - 50N, which equals the equivalent of 11lbs of flotation. Clearly this is less than a life jacket, bouyancy aids are designed to provide support for competent swimmers who are concious, they should not be relied upon to keep an unconcious person or non-swimmer afloat, but they are ideal for that extra bit of reassurance when kayaking.

                          The PE foam is contained within a tough, hard-wearing cordura outer shell. This material is often used for luggage, motorbike clothing, and other purposes that require tear-resistant, long-lasting, strong material. My bouyancy aid has had a lot of use over the past few years, sometimes being scraped over rocks, but it doesn't show any signs of wear yet. Another advantage of this fabric is that it dries really quickly, a significant benefit since bouyancy aids degrade faster if they are not dried thoroughly after use.

                          It has adjustable webbing straps at the shoulders and sides, which are easily tightened even with wet hands or when wearing gloves, although I find it a little trickier to loosen them again. There is strong elastic running through the bottom of the bouyancy aid that can be tightened and held in place by a sturdy plastic toggle attached to the looped ends of the elastic that protrude from the bottom of the vest at the front. This, along with the straps, ensures it fits snuggly and securely, vital if you ever need rescuing, because the easiest way to pull someone aboard is often by hoisting them up by their bouyancy aid! There is also a harness attachment point, which I have, fortunately, never needed to use, but it is reassuring to know it's there if a rescue situation ever arises.

                          Two zipped pockets are provided in the front of the bouyancy aid, a knife pocket and an additional pocket. I find these really handy, as although I store most of my gear in a drybag inside my kayaks' cockpit, small things that I need quick access to, like a camera, can be easily stowed in these pockets. The zips are strong and run easily, without sticking, but even after considerable use they still haven't started to slip or unzip on their own. This bouyancy aid also has several attachment points for karibiners, always a bonus when additional safety equipment needs to be carried.

                          I find this bouyancy aid extremely comfortable, it is well cut, and allows unrestricted movement. Although it is not specifically designed for females, the many adjustable straps means it fits perfectly. It has lots of extra features, but they are all useful, and contribute to the function and safety aspects of the vest. It has proved to be durable, and despite some challenging experiences it still shows no signs of wear or degredation. Unlike some bouyancy aids this one didn't need to be 'worn in', and was comfortable from the first time I used it. All bouyancy aids need to be replaced over time, as the PE foam used to provide the flotation will shrink eventally, and the degree of flotation provided will reduce, but I have not been able to detect any signs of shrinkage yet, and going on it's performance so far, I expect it to last for a few more years.

                          Thanks for reading.

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                          • More +
                            21.11.2010 19:10
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                            A backpack masquerading as a 'grown up' suitcase.

                            I'll be the first to admit that at nearly £150.00, 6 years ago, this suitcase cost me far more than I would normally be willing to pay for something I would only use a few times a year. What prompted me to invest this much in a suitcase was a plane journey to Scotland, when I used a band new Marks & Spencer suitcase, which I collected from baggage reclaim in pieces. I had thought that M&S, being a good quality store, would produce a strong, reliable suitcase, now I may have just been unlucky, but having previously experienced broken handles and wheels with various makes of suitcases I was determined that my next suitcase would be strong and robust enough to withstand the rigours of a journey and the over-enthusiasm of baggage handlers.

                            Jack Wolfskin is a German company, they started producing outdoor clothing and equipment in 1981. They now sell their products throughout Europe and Asia, and are particularly popular with Hikers and climbers. In 2010 they agreed a sponsorship deal with Liverpool Football Club, to raise their company profile in the U.K.

                            I came across this Jack Wolfskin Treck & Roll Phantom suitcase at a local outdoor activity shop. It is only available in one colourway; black/grey. I bought it for £149.99 on sale (RRP £189.99), but they are now available for much less if you shop around online. It is a semi-hard case, with a rigid back, structured but flexible sides with reinforced corners, and a soft front. It is made from super strong 600 denier polyester, which is abrasion and UV resistant. It weighs 3900g when empty, which is really light, and I find ideal because the case itself doesn't add much to the overall weight of my luggage. When standing upright the height is 65cms, the width is 37cms, and the depth is 23cms. I find it spacious enough for my needs. I have used it for a 6 week holiday travelling around various islands in the West Indies. Although I do try to pack sensibly, being a girlie I needed quite a lot of stuff for 6 weeks, including a hairdryer and several other items that could be considered luxuries, as well as my diving/snorkelling equipment. With a little effort I was able to fit everything I needed into this case, including my fins!

                            The main part of the case is an empty cavity, which has a volume of 55 litres, with no separate pockets, secret compartments or zipped sleeves. I prefer this, as I like to organise my packing in my own way, and I have often found with other cases I have put small items in separate pockets, forgotten about them, and experienced moments of intense panic while rummaging around trying to find them! The cavity is lined with very strong polyester fabric in a pale grey colour. Through the back of this it is possible to feel the handle which runs up the back of the case, but it does not encroach on the space available inside. The only other feature of the inside of the main case is four adjustable webbing straps, which connect to a small zipped pocket made of pale grey polyester with black mesh on the front of the pocket. These straps can be used to secure and compress the contents of the case in the usual way, with the additional benefit of the small zipped pocket that lies flat on top of the packed items and its' extra surface area helps to keep them in place. This main cavity opens with a very strong zip around both sides and the top. This zip is very robust, and despite the extreme pressure I have put it under at times e.g. needing people to sit on the case so it is sufficiently compressed for me to be able to do it up, it has never stuck, split or caused me any problems whatsoever. It is a two way zip, with two separate zip runners, that can be closed to meet at any point around the case. I prefer to have the zip runners meet on one of the long sides, as I believe there is less chance of them catching on anything during transit when they are tucked away at the side under the small fabric valance. The runners are metal, and have two small holes that meet when the zips are fully closed, and can be used to pass a small padlock through to secure the case. I would ideally have liked a mini-padlock to have been supplied with the case (as it is designed with this feature), but a padlock is not supplied. This is not a major problem as they only cost a couple of pounds, and I prefer a combination padlock which is not usually supplied with items like this anyway.

                            The case has two very sturdy, in-line skate style wheels, with ball bearings to keep them running smooth and straight. This is the first wheeled suitcase I have ever had, that after a couple of years hasn't tried to emulate a supermarket trolley and head off in its own preferred direction. I find it rolls easily and smoothly, has a good degree of directional stability, and never veers off in an unpredictable direction. Also on the base, opposite the wheels, are two plastic feet, which allow the case to stand upright securely. When packing I tend to prioritise fitting in as much as possible, rather than considering how well balanced the contents of the case are, but even with my 'unbalanced' packing style, this case manages to stand up, remaining reliably steady and stable.

                            There are two built in handles on the top and side of the main case. These handles are made of webbing, and are attached to the case by strong stitching. Although this is not a huge case, I do tend to push the limit when it comes to baggage weight allowances, so I have often hauled this case around by either one of the handles, whilst considerable weight was creating pressure on it. Even after 6 years of regular use these handles are showing no signs of wear and tear yet. Both handles have a thickly padded piece of polyester wrapped around them, which is secured with two press studs. This improves comfort when using the handles to lift a heavy case, and prevents webbing handles from digging into my hands.

                            There is a strong, retractable, handle at the back of the case. This handle can be extended to two heights, by pressing a plastic button recessed in the top of the handle, which then locks into place when the handle is retracted. One of my favourite features of this case is the ability to zip the retracted handle away, so it is hidden behind a small zipped flap at the top of the case when it is fully retracted. This reassures me, as a previous case I had with a button operated retractable handle snapped off during transit - I presume the button must have been depressed whilst baggage handlers were moving it, and the handle was snapped as a result of this. With my Jack Wolfskin case I know once I have securely zipped away the handle, there is no chance of it being damaged.

                            Another feature that, for me, makes this case stand out when compared to others is the ability to convert it into a rucksack. At the back of the case is a zip which runs around the two sides and top of the case. When this zip is undone, the flap of material covering the top two thirds of the back of the case can be folded down and secured to the underneath of the case by a handy velcro strip, there are also two material pockets built into the flap which slip neatly over the wheels. Folding down this flap reveals a padded back, and two well padded, adjustable, shoulder straps, which enable me to wear the case as a rucksack. I found this invaluable when travelling in places where there were no roads or pavements, making a wheeled case more of a hindrance than anything. I think this is a really useful addition to the case, the flexibility this gives has been invaluable to me, and I feel this convertible function alone justifies the price of this case. My only complaint, or suggestion for improvement, would be if a waist or chest strap had been added, as I find the weight of my case is often too much to be comfortable over long periods as a rucksack, without the extra strap to distribute the weight more evenly.

                            The front of this case has a 10 litre daysack attached. This daysack it completely zipped to the main case, creating a strong, secure attachment. Initially I was concerned that this may become detached, or be easily damaged during transit, but after 37 flights (including a couple on 'elastic band airlines'), this has not happened, and it is still as secure now as it was when I bought it. The daysack makes the case an unusual shape, which is handy as it helps me spot it at baggage reclaim, because the case is certainly not a colour that stands out. The daysack can be detached from the main case, revealing padded, adjustable shoulder straps and an air-flow ventilated back panel. I often use this as a pack for day trips when I have reached my destination, and I find it perfect for this. The daysack has a small zipped pocket on the front, elasticated mesh pockets on the side, which are just right for a bottle of water or something similar, and the main compartment zips open to reveal a large cavity that also has a laptop/notebook padded case and lifter incorporated in it - although I have never used it for this purpose.

                            This case has withstood the rigours of travel for 6 years, and although I can now find a couple of minor scuffs on the corners if I look closely, there are no obvious signs of wear - despite the best attempts of some baggage handlers. I would have no hesitation recommending this case, and although there are a couple of small improvements I think could be made, like the addition of a waist/chest strap to the hide-away rucksack straps, and the inclusion of a padlock, I don't think there is a better case available. It is especially useful for people who may need a regular suitcase sometimes e.g. business trips, and a more adaptable, practical case for personal travel. I love this case, because it's multi functional, and for me it really is worth the price tag.

                            Jack Wolfskin = Jack of all trades, and in this case, master of them too.

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                              07.11.2010 11:02
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                              I will certainly be stocking up on this before the Christmas party season starts.

                              I was introduced to Dioralyte many years ago and it's been an essential in my first aid kit ever since. I am fortunate to have the digestive system and general constitution of a concrete elephant, so I have never needed to use it for sickness or diarrhoea. Dioralyte does, however, have another use which I frequently benefit from, particularly over the forthcoming festive season.

                              Dioralyte is produced by Sanofi Aventis, a company based in France with a world wide presence. They produce a wide range of prescription and over-the counter medications, including cancer drugs and common cold relief products.

                              Dioralyte comes in a cardboard box containing six individual sachets of powdered rehydration salts. A box costs approximately £3.50, and they are available in a range of flavours including blackcurrant, citrus, natural and sugar-free. Larger boxes of 20 sachets are also available for approximately £10.00. The box contains an information leaflet, and the vital information is also printed on the back of each individual sachet e.g. directions for use, dosage and warnings. I find this really useful as I tend to throw away the original box and take individual sachets when I am staying away from home or on holiday. This product is suitable for both adults and children, but should not be used by infants under the age of two. The powder is used by mixing one sachet with 200ml of drinking water. Once made up, it can be stored for up to 24 hours if refrigerated, otherwise it should be drunk within 1 hour.

                              The powdered rehydration salts consist of a mixture of essential salts and sugars, which the body loses when dehydrated. The electrolytes contained in the mix are sodium, potasssium and disodium hydrogen citrate, to aid the absorption of these electrolytes glucose is also added to the mix, and it is made more palatable with the addition of flavourings and the artificial sweetener saccharin.

                              I usually use Dioralyte as a hangover preventative/cure. As hangovers are primarily caused by dehydration, Dioralyte provides really effective relief from the unpleasant symptoms. I make up two sachets with 400ml of water before going out, and keep it in the fridge. I drink half of this when I return home at the end of the night, so it can start to work magically combating the dehydrating effects the alcohol I drank whilst I am asleep, then I finish the remaining half in the morning when I wake up. Although I don't find the taste particularly appealing, it is not terribly unpleasant either. It retains a very powdery taste, even when fully dissolved, and the artificial sweetener is easily identifiable, but I don't find this unpleasant as I regularly drink Diet Coke it is a taste I am accustomed to. My personal preference is the blackcurrant flavour, although it is similar to some fruit teas in that the smell is more obvious than the taste, I think the concept is to try to trick the mind with the smell rather than actually create a genuine taste of the fruit! So does it work? Well, yes it certainly does for me. When I drink it the morning after I can feel the effects within 10 minutes, it seems to find its' way to all the fragile parts of my body and brain, and refreshes them, relieving that dry, 'sawdust-head', feeling, and delivering a boost of energy that doesn't wear off within a few minutes but lasts all morning.

                              I've also used it to treat my teenage cousin who, despite my best efforts, refused to drink enough water or stay in the shade when I took her on holiday recently, and ended up with sunstroke. After a dose of Dioralyte and a couple of hours in a cool darkened room, she was raring to go again for the evening.

                              I would recommend everyone has a few sachets of Dioralyte in the cupboard. In my experience it works very well for hangovers and sunstroke, and I have no reason to doubt it would be effective for its' intended purpose of rehydrating and replacing electrolytes during and after a bout of sickness and diarrhoea. In these times of austerity; I recently tried to replace my usual Dioralyte with an electrolyte sports drink after a particularly heavy night out, thinking that it would be more cost effective. Unfortunately, although it was certainly better than nothing or pure water, it didn't deliver the fantastic effects of Dioralyte. I've now gone back to the old 'perky powder' to prevent the inevitable self-induced sawdust head, nausea and dizziness that are frequently the souvenirs of a good night.

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                              • Typhoon Tornado Fins / Water Sport / 103 Readings / 99 Ratings
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                                27.10.2010 18:38
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                                Kick up a powerful storm with Typhoon Tornados.

                                Diving/snorkelling fins come in two main types; open heel (strap on) or full foot fins. My first fins were open heel, and these are most common for UK divers, as they allow the diver to wear wet suit booties for additional warmth in our chilly waters. I bought my first pair of full foot fins before a trip to the West Indies that included frequent diving and snorkelling. Full foot fins are more commonly used in temperate climates as they are generally more comfortable, and the need for the additional warmth of booties isn't so great. After having used them for several years I am still glad I chose Typhoon Tornado fins.

                                Typhoon International is a British brand, originally called ET Skinner and founded in 1947. The founder, Oscar Gugen, also started a small diving club that grew over the years and is now known as the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC). Typhoon produces a range of diving, sailing and general watersports equipment, supplying the RNLI and the British Armed Forces as well as selling to the general public.

                                Typhoon Tornado fins are available from most diving shops and online, however, I would always recommend visiting a shop to ensure you have the right fit, even if you do ultimately decide to purchase the fins online. The cost varies hugely from retailer to retailer, but you can expect to pay between £18.00 - £40.00. They are sized using normal UK shoes sizes, but these sizes are grouped in pairs e.g. size 3-4, size 11-12. Tornado fins are available in a variety of colours, so divers/snorkelers can co-ordinate their outfits (although admittedly the accompanying full body neoprene suit is never going to be haute couture). My fins are silver, and I was warned by an old conch fisherman that I shouldn't wear silver in the water, because the reflection attracts predatory fish and may cause them to attack. I have researched this, and there appears to be no conclusive proof that any colour attracts predators or makes them more prone to aggression; however it does seem to be a commonly held belief that bright colours are more risky. My personal experience is that I have worn my silver fins whilst swimming with barracuda, Caribbean reef sharks, and various other predatory fish, and none have tried to take a bite out of my fins yet. If this concerns you it may be advisable to stick to black or dark blue fins, which are generally thought to be the colours least likely to attract attention from the toothy denizens of the deep. The fins come in a large, strong, transparent plastic bag, with product information and instruction on the care of the fins printed on it. The bag has a rigid black plastic rim at the opening, with a handle that clips apart to open the bag, and can be securely closed again. This is quite robust, and I stored my fins in this bag for several months. Rigid black plastic inserts are supplied in the foot pocket (or shoe-part) to help retain the shape.

                                The fins have two parts, the foot pocket and the blades. The foot pocket is made of moulded black composite neoprene rubber. This makes it very soft and comfortable; I have never experienced any rubbing, chafing or slipping with these fins, and have comfortably worn them for periods of several hours. With full foot fins wearers have the option to wear neoprene socks under the fin, I have always worn them with bare feet, but socks can increase comfort levels for some by providing additional cushioning. I find the foot pocket of these fins to be very flexible, and it has sufficient stretch to make it easy to put on and remove. The most important factor that impacts on the comfort of these fins is the fit. The easiest way to check whether full foot fins fit correctly is to try them on whilst seated, stretch one leg out in front of you, hold the top of the blade and flex your ankle up and down; if your foot stays comfortably in the fin it is probably the right size, if your heel slides out of the foot pocket try a smaller size.

                                The blades of these fins are the traditional paddle style. There are a variety of other innovative designs available e.g. split fins, force fins etc. but for me, as just a recreational diver using fins as much for snorkelling as diving, the paddle design is more than adequate. The purpose of fins is to provide additional propulsion through the water, the blade creates a greater surface area to push against the water, maximising efficiency and minimising the physical effort required. These Tornado paddle fins have small channels, or grooves, on the blades to help channel the water behind the wearer, and they are more rigid on the sides to increase stability, and I find them to be very effective. Very little effort is required for me to generate a lot of thrust, and I find I can move quickly and strongly through the water, which is reassuring when encountering currents. I generally use a flutter kick, but when swimming close to the sea bed I occasionally use a frog kick to avoid stirring up too much silt and compromising my visibility, and I find these fins work well with both styles.

                                These fins are comfortable, lightweight, and effective. They have lasted me for several years, and show no signs of wear yet. I would recommend them as inexpensive, but good quality fins, for occasional, recreational diving or snorkelling.

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                                • Typhoon TS3 Snorkel / Water Sport / 111 Readings / 108 Ratings
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                                  24.10.2010 10:47
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                                  Very good basic snorkel

                                  I enjoy snorkelling and bought my Typhoon TS3 snorkel a few years ago for a holiday, having lost the original snorkel I bought when I started diving. I wanted a basic, but comfortable and reliable snorkel, and I didn't want to pay a fortune for what is, after all, just a plastic tube.

                                  Typhoon International is a British brand, originally called ET Skinner and founded in 1947. The founder, Oscar Gugen, also started a small diving club that grew over the years and is now known as the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC). Typhoon produces a range of diving, sailing and general watersports equipment, supplying the RNLI and the British Armed Forces as well as selling to the general public.

                                  The TS3 is a J - shaped snorkel, consisting of a plastic tube with a mouthpiece attached. It is available in a variety of colours, mine is silver, but they are also available in black, yellow, blue, pink and clear. They can be purchased from watersports shops and online, and are available from under £10.00. The snorkel comes in a sealed plastic bag, with the Typhoon company details on, and some basic information on the care of the snorkel.

                                  The main part of the snorkel is the breathing tube. In the TS3 this is a hollow oval plastic tube, 2cms in diameter at its' widest point. It is the simplest of designs; a purge snorkel, this means that eventually waves will find their way down the tube, and the water will need to be purged from the tube. I have tried other designs; semi-dry and dry snorkels in the past, and have not found them to be totally effective, I think it's best to accept that when snorkelling you are in the water, and water will eventually find its' way everywhere despite your best efforts - so it's best to be expecting it! This breathing tube has a small plastic clip around it, which can be used to secure the snorkel to the strap of a diving mask, ensuring it stays in place even when not in use.

                                  Attached securely to the breathing tube is a hollow corrugated pipe made of soft, flexible, silicone. For me, this is preferable to the snorkels that are constructed entirely from rigid plastic, as it allows the wearer to move their head without jeopardising the positioning of the snorkel, and makes it a far more comfortable piece of equipment.

                                  The corrugated pipe leads to a purge valve and soft silicone mouthpiece. The purge valve sits below the mouthpiece, and is made of rigid plastic, it houses a small opening, which contains a one-way valve. A thin circular piece of rubber covers this valve, allowing the wearer to expel water through the valve, as the pressure of the expelled water forces the valve to open, but not allowing water back in. Above the valve is the soft mouthpiece, consisting of a large oval lip flange, and a bite-piece. The name of this bite-piece is a little misleading, as no pressure is required. I found when I started using a snorkel I had a tendency to bite hard on this, not surprisingly I found I had an aching jaw and a headache after 30 minutes or so of snorkelling. The lip flange should sit comfortably behind the lips, providing an additional barrier, but the seal is created simply by the lips gently but firmly covering the flange. The size and flexibility of the mouthpiece it what will really dictate whether a snorkel is comfortable or not, and for me the TS3 offers the perfect combination. The newer version of the tS3 also contains a built in whistle, but my slightly older version of this model does not, so I am unable to comment on the reliability or usefulness of this feature.

                                  This is a snorkel I would recommend unreservedly. It is so cheap even if you only use it couple of times, you will soon recoup what you have saved on renting a snorkel. It is a great piece of kit, which I love for its simplicity, comfort, and ease of use.

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