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Alpkit are a relatively new manufacturer providing products in the outdoor sports sector. Still a small company they have managed to keep very high levels of quality and customer service beyond what you could ever expect. Based in Derbyshire they are perfectly placed to get good input from many users of their products and all the products seem to be simple and do the job perfectly well and a good focus has been placed on reliability which is key to happy customers, definitely don't want things to break when stuck miles from civilization. You won't find Alpkit anywhere other than their own site. They dont appear on online shopping sites such as Amazon or in shops you'd expect to find them like Blacks or Millets. They also do not sell anyone elses products through their site. Their name and reputation has spread quickly through their target market and are know well known amongst my club mates and through forums of campers and climbers. Their products include tents, sleeping bags, bouldering mats (crash pads), air beds, clothing and associated small accessories. Their tents are were released in September 2011 as far as i'm aware and haven't seen or used one so can't comment on them. Sleeping bags are all down filled making them lightweight for the warmth they give. Bouldering mats are the cheapest on the market and are still up to the quality of their competitors, they also have the best names, the whoomf and phud. Clothing ranges from standard cotton t-shirts with some good designs through to the super warm down jacket, again far cheaper than anything else out their. Accessories include tent pegs, cooking equipment and torches. What Alpkit seem to be most famous for is their sleeping mats, their are hundreds of options out there but Alpkit seem to have designed their products perfectly for the user. Luxury campers can go for the heavy but amazingly comfy Dozer, lightweight users can go for the Base or Numo and they even have the Little Kipper for those taking children with them. I have heard reports that Alpkit have given substantial discounts to customers when replacing a mat after some significant use which has led to punctures or leaks, i wouldnt imagine many other companies to do that. Alpkit also pride themselves on their ethical policy, sustained suppliers, no child labour etc. This would usually lead to higher costs but somehow they've managed to stay very competitive. Personally i dont use theirs or anyone elses products in very extreme conditions but according to others they wont be up to the performance of some of the leading brands but they are more than capable in all British conditions.
The Lifa Warm from Helly Hansen is a baselayer designed to be used for sports during the colder months. The design consists of a layer of 'Lifa' a smooth polyester type material against the skin which is then covered with merino wool. The polyester has no absorbancy at all which means that no sweat is stored against the body which can get really cold when you stop for a break it also has pretty much zero heat retention. When wearing a polyester baselayer alone i find i need to wear a snug t-shirt to prevent drafts getting between layers, this often leads to annoying rubbing of seems as the garments do not move as one. Merino wool is a great material, it has very low water absobancy but still holds heat. For those sensitive types out there as soft merino is I end up with irritation especially around the shoulder and elbow joints. Having the Lifa layer completely negates this. The seems are flat and positioned so that they do not rub aginast the skin or if you are wearing a ruck sack. This is something that really frustrates me with sports garments and Helly seem to have got this spot on here. The quarter zip neck means the neck can go higher (around the adams apple) than the standard HH round neck designs for even more warmth. I have quite a large neck in relation to my body size (15.5inch shirt collar, size small) and find doing the zip up all the way leads to a bit of a choking sensation so i typically leave mine undone an inch or so which can get drafty in the very cold but i always keep a Buff handy. These type of garments need to be fit snug to get the benefit from them, the sizes quoted are pretty realistic but its definately something to try on in store rather than ordering on line. A friend just doesn't fit Helly base layers no matter what size or design. As they fit tight they do tend rise up at those times where you may be carrying a bit of extra 'christmas weight' and they aren't that long so the tall may not be able to tuck them in, so again, the need to try them on in the flesh and do strange dances in the shop to test them out. The extra warmth i get from this means i've ditched a microfleece, the extra manouvreability is great for active sports and for those keen on minimal weight and packsize they are a great investment. At around £30 they cost the equivalent or less than going for 2 layers.
Tomb Raider Legend is another of Lara's adventures in finding hidden treasures around the globe. The story in Legend takes Lara through many countries and is a based a lot more outside the ancient tombs than a lot of previous games. The graphics are very clear and the action is smooth. The camera does have an annoying habit of regularly being in the wrong place when being attacked or searching around. The gameplay is a lot more shooting and finding and flicking switches than the problem solving and agility that made the series an initial success and which has lead to numerous games failing to meet the high standards set out back in the ninties. A major annoyance is that the button configuration is different to the Anniversary edition released a year later and is available as a double pack. Configuration cannot be changed in the options. Playing one game after the other leads to frustration as you run towards a cliff only to shoot the other side rather than majestically leaping to safety. Ignoring the other games in the series its a good game in gameplay, graphics and story line and for those who don't like puzzles which are too in depth will really enjoy this as a platformer/shooter/adeventure game. For fans of the Tomb Raider puzzles you may find you finish the game feeling a little let down.
Having owned the original Tomb Raider on the Playstation many years ago many obvious hints were passed out when i got my PSP. The game follows the exact story line from the original however the levels are completely remade with very little repitition of the puzzles. Graphically it is brilliantly clear and smooth for the PSP for both the backgrounds and the moving objects. Lara moves a lot more fluidly than the original which was obviously programmed using large blocks of defined distances, the remake uses the full 360 degress of motion compared to the old 8 directions. What is relieving is that the developers did not change was the general gameplay, reverting back to the original feel is exactly what fans were crying out for and they have achieved in perfectly. The main aim is to get to the end of each level by solving puzzles, using carefully timed jumps, swing and rolls and tackling enemies in the shape of animals or rival tomb raiders. Controls are kept simple which can be a let down on some more modern games and with a game requiring accurate timing to succeed its good to see that more than just appearance was thought of. Each level contains 3 hidden relics which you won't come across during normal gameplay, they take a special effort to search every corner of the levels, so definately one for the truly dedicated, all you get for your effort is extra outfits so not really worth it for me. Completing the levels in a fast time will open up cheat options such as infinate ammunition or no drowning, a valuable addition for those looking to get everything out of the game. My only complaint is that due to the game taking place in dark temples and underground the contrast between surfaces is hard to see so you get the annoyance of falling off platforms when you can't see the end. Its also means that playing in bright light is almost impossible so definately one for indoors or evenings. For any fans of adventure games this should be top of their list for the PSP.
The Puzzler Collection is a game where you play the most popular number and word puzzles on the PSP. Over 2000 Crosswords, Sudoku, Wordsearch and Fitword puzzles are in the game so you won't end up repeating puzzles unless you play very often. The puzzles can be tackled individually by selecting the types of puzzle and difficulty leve. A tournament mode is also available where you progress by proving your worth at each level before being allowed to progress further. The puzzles are nice and clear so even in full glare it can be played. Being a PSP game the main negative with the game is inputting the answers. Having no qwerty keyboard or mouse makes it quite slow and error prone entering the words or numbers. Obviously this isn't a game for fans of action or adventure but is a good time killer and in situations where you can't 100% concentrate on a game it'll pass the time without the risk of being killed or having a complicated story line to follow. It's also proved handy in passing time on long car journeys as the passenger can read out crossword clues to the driver, not perfect as the driver can't see the letters but can help make boring journeys a bit easier. If you typically buy a puzzle book from an airport to amuse you on a flight this game could pay for itself within a few trips.
Alpkit are a brand who have come into a busy market place in the camping world. They only sell through their own website and have a great customer service record. The Dozer is their comfiest self inflating mat. A foam core is filled with air through 2 valves (automatically and a few puffs to get a firm finish). At 7.5 cm thick and 60cm wide it's one of the best nights sleep you can get on a mat like this. Being so thick it's also very warm. A 75 denier cover is strong enough to prevent a lot of accidental damage and the mat comes with a repair kit for any accidents that do happen. The repair kit really works and a well (experienced after an encounter with a pen knife) made repair will last the life of the mat, 20 nights after the repair and still no sign of further leaking. The fabric is a soft touch non slip material to make it even comfier and prevent you slipping onto the cold hard ground in the middle of the night. I've often rolled off or slipped down the gradient with a cheaper mat that doesn't have a non slip coating, this leads to a big loss in temperature which takes a significant amount of time to regain through body heat. Slipping down which can end in touching the outer skin can cause moisture to wick into your sleeping bag, an event which ends in an awful nights sleep and takes at least a day to dry out in dry weather. At 2kg its really not designed for being carried anywhere, the lightest self inflating mats come in under 500g but wont result in anywhere near the comfort you get from this. At £60 you get a lot of material for the money and when you look at it based on the number of nights of comfort versus price it will be seen as a bargain. For anyone who finds themselves unable to get comfortable while camping or gets cold very easily this could well be the best purchase you make. This is by far the comfiest mat i've used and is the first item on my packing list for any car camping trip.
The Vango Spectre 200 is a 2 man tent which is generous enough inside so you don't feel like you are sleeping on top of eachother. The symetrical design means that 2 friends can sleep in opposite directions without one having the flysheet in their face, a nice luxury as you won't have the awkward situation of waking up in an almost loving embrace with your friend. Pockets inside the bedroom tent help organise small items and reduces the wind effect keeping you warmer on drafty nights. At each end of the tent is a storage compartment accessed from inside, a novel design which really helps keeping organised, big enough for a back pack it means no gear needs to get in the way of the access to the tent, be careful though as moisture can get to your gear so use your rucksacks rain cover or everything can get damp and heavy. A very bad discovery to wake up to. A small porch on the side of the tent is ideal for keeping dirty footwear from the bedroom tent and for storing cooking equipment but it isn't large enough to cook in when the weather gets bad. However storing things in the porch means you tend to fall over them when trying to get in and out of the tent. Your sleeping camping partner will not appreciate being woken up with you falling onto them if all goes wrong. The Spectre can stand up to harsh weather conditions with the 5000mm of hydrostatic head and strong aluminium poles supported by the tension band system the strongest wind or rain won't harm a comfortable nights sleep. Pitching is simple once the instructions are followed however the pegs are weak so a sturdier set is recommended. The guy ropes are reflective to avoid tripping people up in the dark. At 2.7kg its an ideal weight for 2 people to take on an expedition and cost less than £100 it would be tough to find something as reliable and light for the price. As a weekend tent for 2 this tent i find it provides enough room for a relaxed camp at a lightweight and robust design to be carried and give the confidence i like when the weather turns on you. For car camping i like something with a bigger porch for more storage and plenty of protected space for sitting, relaxing and cooking. This tent was therefore replaced by something smaller carrying and a larger one for luxury space. For friends camping together this could be an ideal tent.
The Vango banshee is a lightweight 2 man tent ideal for hiking. Designed for 2 people it is very much the minimum required with not much space going spare. The bedroom area is 120cm at its widest point tapering at the head and feet. A row of pockets is suspended from the top of the tent providing much welcome storage off the ground and i've found that the extra weight keeps the bedroom tent from moving in the wind which leads to a more comfortable nights sleep and reduced the chance of the inner skin touching the outer as the inner bows downward slightly. With only 2 poles pitching requires a number of attempts repegging to get the outer skin taught and away from the inner, on flat ground it goes up easily but any ground that doesn't slope uniformly can lead to readjustment and worry that the 2 layers could touch. The pegs are quite weak so buying a set of stronger replacment pegs are advised for all but the softest ground, i bought this tent to be carried in a rucksack, i don't want to be carrying a mallet to be used on such soft pegs. For 2 tall campers the lack of storage and the inability to store gear at your feet may make this tent a bit too small for comfort. I'm 5ft7 ish and can lay out at full stretch but without too much room, so if you slip down your mat it can cause water to wick through to your sleeping bag. A small porch is present around the entrance which can store dirty boots and cooking equipment but not big enough for 2 to store rucksacks. Although the instructions say do not cook inside or near the tent, i've found that you can pull back the inner tent to give more clearance from the stove to the tent material, sometimes a warm drink or eating something warm can make a big difference on a wet and windy night. The banshee should be able to stand up to the toughest of conditions. 5000mm of hydraulic head can withstand the heaviest of downpours and the low profile shape and tension band system protect against strong gusts of wind but it's not a self standing tent so strong peg placements are needed. This tent is designed for the minimalist so isn't for those wanting comfort whilst camping but for those looking for a lightweight (less that 2kg) and reliable tent then for between £65-85 it competes with tents many times its cost. I've only managed one night in it with a companion and wouldn't want another, for an extra few hundred grammes i'd prefer something with more space. As a solo tent its perfect for carrying and being made of high quality materials it's nice to feel safe when the weather comes in overnight. For those who are seriously after a lightweight tent for a long hike then the Banshee may be perfect and compete with some of the much more expensive manufacturers offerings if they value weight over room to sleep in.
The Vango Tempest is my favourite tent for short trips and sits nicely between lightweight and functional. The 200 model is designed to house 2 people giving each camper 65cm of width in the bedroom area. This does taper down towards the feet end though so wide camping mats need to be overlapped. At 210cm long, even the tallest of campers won't need to curl up. The height is 100cm at its maximum so standing up is impossible but anyone 5ft10 or under should be able to sit without touching the tent. The bedroom tent has pockets down both side for starage of small item and a handy hook for hanging a torch from. I've found that filling the side pockets with clothes reduces the wind coming into the bedroom when its gusty outside which can really make a difference to a good nights sleep (as well as keeping a small tent tidy). The door is circular meaning it opens easily and has a pocket to store it in so no need for fiddly toggles which you find on a lot of other tents and can get really annoying when its dark. 2 panels at the foot of the tent and a bug net on the door provide plentiful air flow to combat condensation. The porch area is big enough for storage on back packs and cooking equipment and a third pole gives a full height area for sitting in when the weather is bad. Over the porch area is a mesh panel which has a removable rain proof cover. This provides a great chimney for cooking inside when its raining. The porch groundsheet is independant from the tent so can be left behind when going light weight is important and also allows for easy cleaning on the area which is most likely to get dirty from muddy shoes. I made the mistake of not thinking what was being stored in the porch. Rain does get in as the outer skin doesn't quite hit the ground so anything absorbant will soak up any small amount, so camping chairs and unprotected food need to be kept inside the bedroom, raised off the ground or put in a waterproof bag or box. Soggy bread and a wet chair does not make for happy campers. Pitching is easy if the instuctions are read and a few tweaks of the pegs gives a very stable tent which can cope with some harsh winds. Its outer pitching first which means the inner bedroom tent can be kept dry when pitching in the rain. The pegs are quite weak so use in hard ground or trying to step them in will lead to bent pegs so purchasing a stronger design is recommended. The guy ropes are very reflective so they are easy to avoid tripping over at night. The ventilation flap on the foot end of the tent is aligned with the internal ventilation sections, great on a nice weekend but when its blustery it can let too much air in, especially as the shape of the tent means pitching feet into the wind gives extra stability. The outer skin is rated at 5000mm of hydrostatic head meaning it will stand up to the most harsh conditions and the low profile round shape means it isn't affected by the wind as much as some bigger tents. The aluminium poles are strong and lightweight and don't deform as much as the fibreglass altenatives. The patented TPS(tension pole system), supports the poles from bending in high winds and is a great addition, having had the tent in strong gusts recently it stood strong when others experienced a snapped pole and very wet bedroom tents after the outerskin lifted. When heading back to camp after some bad weather has come in, its nice to be confident that your tent will be standing and all your gear dry. At 2.5kg its a lightweight tent especially if 2 people are splitting the weight. Costing around £85 there aren't many tents that can compete for it's stability, waterproof rating or functionality.
The Lego series of computer games takes a well known film series turns it into a series of levels and populated them with a lot of things that can be smashed apart. I was a fan of the original Star Wars version, was fun to see films you know so well in Lego form. The let down with the Batman version is that it doesn't follow any of the film franchise rather its merely a selection of levels which uncovers a new charachter each time. Gameplay is very similar to the others in the series, get to the end of each level, killing the bad guys on the way and destroying everything in sight to get you lego 'bits' at the end of the level you fight the boss who will have some sort of special power. A simple and fun enough concept. The graphics and movement are smooth as you would expect from such a simple cartoony game. Each charachter has a special feature which you will need to get through the game or achieve maximum rewards from the game, whether it be flying, fire proof, setting bombs etc. Each level has 3 extra aims. Getting enough bits, collecting the lego parts and the special red bricks. Each will give you access to bonus items to help you through the game or extra levels. A good way to get a lot more out of the game. The main story line is simple to complete, being that you can't die in the game. Should you lose all your energy or fall down a big hole you regenerate and lose some of you bits. This makes it a great game for kids to play as they won't lose their concentration by hitting a point they can't overcome. It does struggle on some levels as the game doesnt explain what is required so it may take a lot of running, driving or flying around until accidently figuring out what to do. Frustrating at times but you can't get stuck in the game so theres always a way out. The major problem is the loading time, it take up to a minute to load a level. Sort of understandable when its available for much more powerful consoles.
The Final Fantasy series has been going strong for decades and many fans of the series still hold fond memories of their seventh installment from the mid ninties. A series of follow ups were made on consoles, mobiles and films but they held back from making a full scale RPG follow up until Crisis Core for the PSP. The game focusses on a charachter who had a cameo in the original games flash back scenes with limited amount of information being revealed. The game spans the time line between the flashbacks and the start of the original with many of the main charachters from your memory cropping up. One of the main reasons 7 was so successful was its engrossing story line and charachter development, Crisis core sadly lacks this aspect almost completely. Thinking back through playing the game through i'm struggling to remember any of the charachters or even the main storyline, whereas my 15 year old memory of 7 is still pretty good. The game play is pretty good. Every FF game has a different method of building up your charachters and using special attacks and magic. This game uses a method called fusion, two magic objects are combined to make a different third which can be more powerful than the original, items can used during the process to add boosters such as increased strength to the the product. It is somewhat trial and error and as usual with Final Fantasy games, some online research is needed to fully understand the system and get the most out of the game. Side quests are limited with the main one being a series of training missions fighting a variety of enemies is a limited number of locations, it can get quite repetative but as the enemies change new tactics are regularly needed. Completing this side quest will make your charachter so strong that the rest of the game will be a breeze, a flaw which has been present in a few Final Fantasies and i feel provides a negative rather than positive experience. Graphically its very good for the PSP in all game modes. Sound is good, but not great and doesn't have the memorable soundtrack of the original. For another game in the series its quite good but for those picking this up from outside the Final Fantasy 7 world they may feel a bit let down as stand alone this is merely an average RPG.
Looking to get some extra cash money savings expert pointed me in the direction of survey sites. I signed up to about 5 of these including Valued Opinions. The idea is that companies pay Valued Opinions to undertake market research and then valued opinions pay their members for taking part. Payment is in the form of vouchers which can be high street shops, supermarkets, amazon or cash. Once you have accrued £10 worth of surveys you can choose your gift. Signing up is simple and then you need to spend some time going through the profiling stage. A half hour exercise to gain as much information as they can so you are targeted correctly. Surveys are released regularly albeit there are busy times and quiet times. When its busy you can ge up to 5 a day, when it's quiet it can be a week between invited to take part. The surveys are valued depending on the time taken to complete and are typically around 50p to £1 for a survey stated to be between 10 and 15 minutes. Some require a lot more effort such as logging on daily to complete a diary but these are rewarded up to £5. Funds take up to 28 days to be credited but typically much shorter than that. One of the frustrating part of using valued opinions is that some surveys require you to pass the profiling stage, for example, if a company is launching a modern womens perfumes it will only let females under 35 partake in their survey. This is completely understandable however some surveys are designed so that 80% of the survey is completed just to let you know you aren't suitable. What is very good about Valued Opinions is that they email you when a new survey has become available so you have every opportunity to partake. You need to be pretty quick to get onto a survey, with user numbers increasing it can take less than an hour for the required participants to be met. I've installed the android app but finding anything on their is extremely rare. I did however get an email from the site team explaining that they will become more frequent, a survey arrived the next day but nothing since. Another annoyance is that some surveys don't show up on your rewards pending list, making you think its failed to credit you but so far they have all bypassed pending and go straight into the reward pot. I claim amzon vouchers as they have the widest range of uses and many other sites have them also so you can combine vouchers for larger purchases. The vouchers are email issued so they are with you within a few days. I'm earning around £10 a month from the site for about an hours effort per week. Its not a life changing amount of money but enough to treat yourself for time you would have wasted anyway.
I bought this thinking it would be a good lamp to use around camp where you dont want to blind eachother with the high power of head torches. Which this lamp actually does very well, in pitch black the light is enough to let a small group sit and talk without lighting up half the camp site. Inside the tent its fine for general illumination in a 2 or 3 man but fails to light a big family tent and not enough to read from unless you position it carefully. With 12 LED's this is 3 to 4 times the power of a typical head torch but spread over a larger area so lots of light which isn't very intense, perfect. However 4 head torches would require 12 batteries to power, and you have to add this power by winding. The boz says 1 minute if winding for 15 minutes use, this should read 1 minutes of very quick winding to give 5 minutes at full power then reducing over the next 10 minutes. I dont want to be spending 10% of my evenings winding like crazy, interrupting others with the noise. Luckily the mains charger works well and on full charge you will get around 3 hours of useful light, so ideal for a weekend trip. The winder is a bit fragile and my first unit got returned because it broke off, considering this part is designed to turn elbow grease into power then surely it should be made of a stronger material. Would have been much better if they removed the wind up mechanism and added more rechargable battery storage in my opinion. For the price of this unit (£12) there are other LED lantern out there without the wind up mechanism that last up to 20 hours per charge.
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a game where you control a hunter and complete quests to progress through the levels. As you go progress you can upgrade your weapons and armour which means you can take on tougher battles. Missions are broken down into groups which include tackling one boss type creature, a number of lower level creatures or finding items. Weapons are upgraded by finding rare items throughout the battle world or harvesting them from your farm or mountain around your home town. I find the levels get very repetitive after a while where you generally walk around fighting things and healing or repairing weapons where you need until you happen upon the objective. There wasn't the sense of achievment after you complete a series of levels as it just repeated something similar on the next round. Unlike other similar games you're charachter doesn't increase in strength as the game progresses. Instead the improvement in weapon and armour make some difference but its the skill of the player that improves to help you progress. This happens somewhat however there is a lot of areas to improve which arent explained through the training area so its a lot of trail and error which can get boring or finding a guide. For example each monster has weak and strong points which arent highlighted in the game by colour or explanation its just lucky if you happen upon it and notice the difference. There is a number of side missions you can use to aid you including hiring chefs and farming but they are very much trail and error combination problems until you achieve something worthwhile. Graphically the game is very good for the PSP and movement is smooth, the camera can get a bit annoying and you end up losing your target only to get flattened from behind. The battle zones are limited so you undertake missions in the same worlds repeatedly albeit in different areas but travelling through the same areas gets quite tiresome. I think if the training was a bit more in depth then it would be easier for the average gamer to get more out of the game. Personally i like games with a bit more thinking involved so this was a bit of a let down for me.
I had a PSP bought for me to take the boredom out of commuting, i've never been someone to get really into computer games since I grew up so recieving this as a gift was great as it was all my old favourites or games that i wanted but never had as a kid. 27 games are included on the UK version (mega drive collection) with 5 secret ones. The games are perfect copies of their originals and run smoothly on the PSP. All the titles were top sellers during the mega drive reign and cover a variety of genre's: The first 2 Sonic games which i'm sure every megadrive ower owned or borrowed are there in full including the bonus level for collecting all the special crystals. One of the original and best series of platformers which are still being made today. Still a great game today. The echo trilogy guiding a dolphin around undersea caves to save his family and friends and getting highly frustrated that dolphins can't swim underwater. Not as good as i thought it was 20 years ago. Golden axe (and its 2 sequels) which was a great arcade game is reproduced so no longer do you have to spend all your pocket money just to get killed by the last boss every time. 3 of the Phantasy Star series are included which are good RPG's similar to the early final fantasy games, forgot that you had to read stories back in the 'olden' days of gaming. These take some serious hours to complete so adds to the value of the disk if you like them. Virtua Fighter which at one point was more popular that Street Fighter is here to represent the fighting genre and not many would argue about its inclusion. There are games which i dont find enjoyable Bonanza Bros and Comix Zone were discarded after a few minutes of play. What the mega drive lacked in its day was the ability to save on most games, the PSP has added the ability to pause and save the game whenever you want. In a way this takes away from the game as its possible to save and load a game rather than use one of your lives but if you just want to play through to remember the levels then its a great function. Each game has a target mission which can range from very easy to insanely hard. Each one opens up a bonus, sometimes they are pretty useless like messages from the developers, sometimes they open up cheat codes to help you through the games and the best are 5 extra games which are classic 80's arcade games which is stretches the memory even further than is healthy. This game probably wouldn't keep a youngster happy having been used to 3-d and voices rather than reading but if you want to relive your old favourites its a bargain at around 25p per game.