Category Archives: Travel and Sports Advice

Three Simple Post Workout Recipes for Dinner

Like many people, I tend to squeeze my exercise in after work – there’s no way you’re getting me out of bed before six on a weekday, and even less of a chance of that happening on a weekend. Which is great and all, except when it gets to 9-10 at night, and I’m tired, hangry, and losing the will to care about anything except stopping that growling noise in my stomach.

While it’s really tempting to simply say screw it and order a takeaway or grab a supermarket pizza, after the initial food cravings have subsided, the rest of my body will complain about the junk I gave it to eat after it put out all that effort for me.

With spring races quickly approaching and a particularly difficult 6C climbing route mocking me after my every failed attempt,  I knew I had to do better for my body if I was to beat these challenges. And so a compromise was reached – I would cook dinners that were nutritious, delicious, and most of all, easy and quick to make, and in return my body would put out its best effort.

Listed below are my now go-to post workout recipes for weekday dinners. They’re quick, healthy and can easily be tailored to your own tastes – I prefer to throw in extra vegetables and cheese where possible!

#1 Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes

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Brought to you by the talented folk at the Minimalist Baker, there is nothing to not love about this recipe. With the delicious combination of sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a lemon, garlic and lemon sauce with a liberal helping of spices and herbs, this is one of those unique recipes that is equally healthy and appetizing (although if you want to crumble some feta cheese over the top, I’m right with you there). Plus, it only takes 30 minutes to prepare and cook, which is perfect for those late evenings at the gym.

If you’re like me and hate spending money on small-portioned, over-priced lunches at work, then this recipe is simple to have as a lunch the next day. Just double the ingredients and microwave when you want to eat.

 

#2 Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables and Haloumi with a Basil Dressing 

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This particular post workout recipe is good when you’re feeling a little under the weather. With lots of tomatoes, peppers, lemon and garlic, all those Vitamins A and C make this meal an ideal boost for your immune system.

Simply chop everything up, whizz the lemon, garlic and olive oil in the food processor, and combine together to roast in the oven for 40 minutes. Ten minutes before the end, add the haloumi slices on top. For those wanting an additional protein hit, simply roast a chicken breast with the vegetables, or add a salmon fillet – the dressing goes great with fish!

#3 Chorizo Pilaf

Okay, so maybe the hearty amount of chorizo partially cancels out the health benefits of this recipe, but chorizo is too good not to include! Also, if you are looking to make this healthier simply add some chopped okra and broad beans.

Add sliced chorizo and onion to a pan on medium heat, and cook until brown. Add the spices, then the rice and vegetables with the stock, and let everything cook for approximately 15 minutes on a low heat.

Throw in some parsley and an extra squeeze of lemon at the end, et voila!

Credit to the Minimalist Baker, Waitrose and BBCGoodFood for the images – there’s no way my food sticks around long enough for me to take a photo of it!

What are your go-to recipes after a workout?

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What Outdoor Clothing and Gear Should I Splurge and Save On?

Spring is (finally) rearing its pretty, sunshiny head, and as a result people are tentatively stepping outdoors again. It’s the season of mild weekend walks, morning runs and the anticipatory exercises for summer trips.

It is also the season of renewed fitness promises, as we leave the back end of the winter season holidays, and all its gluttonous festivity, and herald in our new, fitter selves.

For many of you though, this year might mark the beginning of your first foray into hiking (and may I say good choice!) and as you head to the various outdoor retailers to prepare yourself for the elements, it is understandable that your bank balance might shudder at some of the prices of the outdoor clothing and gear. While spending within a budget is important, it is just as important to choose the right outdoor clothing for your activities – otherwise it might cause you to end up disliking the sport, not to mention injuries or illness. Listed below are what I believe are the most important items to spend a bit extra on (knowledge gained from multiple unfortunate experiences by yours truly), followed by items you can get away with tightening the budget over.

Waterproof Jacket

If you plan on doing any walking over five miles, or spending a considerable amount of time outdoors in changeable weather, then this is the most important bit of outdoor clothing to splurge on. Comfort benefits aside, getting soaked in torrential rain in cold weather can cause all kinds of health problems, not to mention chaffing between a wet shirt and heavy bag. When looking for a waterproof jacket, look for one with a breathable membrane, such as Rab’s E-vent technology or the renowned Gore-Tex brand. Basically, these jackets have a thin film of plastic-like substance between the inner and outer layers that bears lots of small holes. These holes are small enough that water cannot penetrate it, but big enough that air molecules can pass through, allowing any hot air caused by exercise to ‘breathe’ through the jacket and prevent excessive sweating.

Cheaper jackets will be covered in a laminate coating on their surface. This will cause water to bead and glide off, but is not permanent and will need relaminating after awhile. This also means no breatheability, essentially trapping heat exerted through exercise close to your body and producing sopping wet base layers as a result. Unless you are looking for something compact to throw on while walking the dog, don’t be tempted with the cheap prices of laminate coats – you will thank yourself later!

Hiking Boots

Your feet are what get you up and down those mountains and trails, and they won’t thank you if you force them to do it in shoddy footwear. Hiking boots come in a very wide range of sizes and widths, and walking in the wrong shoes can cause serious damage to your feet. I have written previously on how to choose the right boots, so make sure you give it a read before visiting a store!

Rucksack

Rucksacks can come in a wide range of sizes, features and quality, which also means pricing can vary wildly. Before buying a rucksack, decide how you plan to use it and pick one that contains features that match your needs. Most importantly, choose one that fits well. A poorly-fitted rucksack can cause extreme back, shoulder and hip injuries, and the last thing you want to happen is your bargain-bucket rucksack to break and lose all your belongings in the middle of nowhere.

I can say I have learnt not to scrimp on these items from my own first foray into hiking. Being a relatively poor student and taking on the Ten Tors challenge, I decided to find myself some bargains, and went on a sojourn to Bath. After a quick dash to a discounted camping goods store I emerged an hour later, my purse £100 lighter and burdened with all the gear I could possibly need. Gleefully self-congratulating myself, I began to anticipate all the future camping trips I would take with the money I saved.

All seemed to go well, until the day before my team were supposed to take on the Ten Tors challenge. In the middle of a field in Dartmoor, the bottom of my bag decided to give, unceremoniously spewing my possessions over a particularly muddy patch of ground. We managed to patch it up, but uncertainty over how long this quick-fix would last loomed like an overcast cloud in my mind as we began hiking.

As for my boots – hot damn, I think I can truthfully say I have never cursed so much in my life at something as I did those few days in Dartmoor. At the time I assumed hiking boots were all the same size and style, and as a result picked the cheapest, widest, stumpiest pair possible. Turns out I have long, scrawny feet, and as we trundled our way round Dartmoor my feet at times literally swam in the shoes, repeatedly knocked against the end of the boot like a door-to-door salesman, and wiggled about in such a wanton manner I began to have visions of my ankles snapping like twigs.

In the end my feet had so many blisters and sores, they had to be bandaged until I resembled a mummy.

So where can you afford to save some money on outdoor clothing?

Fleeces

We are talking about basic fleeces here, not the non-pulling, temperature regulating fleeces you will find in the mountaineering and climbing sections of stores. Fleeces are made essentially from the same fabric, but some might be more soft than others depending on the quality of the fabric and whether it’s been treated. Technically speaking however, there’s no difference between the £80 basic designer fleece that you catch non-skiers posing in by the chalet bar, and the bog-standard £20 range you can find in most outdoor stores.

Base layers

Now don’t get me wrong, base layers are important outdoor clothing. They help transfer sweat off the body and through the layers. But these too can cost upward of £40 or more, and if you are doing any multi-day treks then multiple purchases can easily add up.If you need to save a bit of money, then look at wearing any tops you already own that are manufactured from man-made materials. These are more breatheable than cotton, and will help transfer it through your layers, but you will be quite smelly by the end of your trek!

Do you have any tips on saving money on outdoor clothing and gear? 

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Simple Exercises to Improve Your Climbing

Photo credit: Sky Noir / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Last week the lovely folk at the Swiss Cottage Climbing Centre invited me to try out their newest class – a military-style fitness session aimed at improving strength for climbers. After an hour of non-stop pushing, pulling and jumping up and down holds I ached all over, had ‘Bring Sally Up’ on repeat in my head, and was (dare I say it?) feeling pumped and having a great time.

Despite the initial aches and pains a few days later I was back on the climbing wall and noticed a definite improvement in my endurance and strength!

The instructor, Jack, designed the class to focus on core strength and muscles in the forearms and legs, which help you climb over ledges and build strength for small holds and awkward angles, without losing any flexibility or technical ability vital for climbing.

While few of us have our our climbing wall at home (I’m still dreaming of the day I have climbing Twister in my imaginary backyard), many of the exercises practiced in the class can easily be done at home. Below I’ve given a selection of the ones I found the most beneficial to improving my climbing ability.

#1 Pull-ups

Quite possibly the most difficult of exercises for anyone, find a sturdy bar (or perhaps door frame?) that can withstand your weight, and practice pulling your chin above the bar. When doing this exercise, the main muscles you should be using are your forearms, to help build muscle that can easily pull you up to holds. If you find you are unable to pull yourself up, just try dead hanging for as long as possible.

 

pull up

Photo credit: sirgious / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

#2 Leg Lifts

Laying straight on your side, lift your leg straight as high as it can go, hold it for 20 seconds. Then bring it down, careful to ensure that you continue holding it just above your resting leg. Do this for approximately five minutes. At first I thought this exercise was easy, but by the end my legs wouldn’t stop shaking! This exercise helps build strength in your legs, which means more power to push for holds and less reliance on your arms.

 

oblique leg lift

photo credit: Kathryn Wirsing/Hearst

 

#3 Planks

Keeping your forearms rested shoulder-length on the ground as well as your toes, hold your weight for 30-second increments, with 30-second rests in between. This exercise works your core muscles, which are essential for helping you push yourself over ledges or give you strength on steep-rock overhangs.

 

planking

Photo credit: suanie / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

Most importantly however, is to remember to push yourself. It is easy to stop when your muscles feel a little tired and you have no-one to motivate you, but your muscles will only benefit from the exercise if you give them something to work with.

Interested in the classes? Then head to the Swiss Cottage Climbing Centre on Thursdays for an 8pm start (classes cost £8 a session).

 

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A Peek Inside my Suitcase Essentials….

Eurobreakdown.com recently asked travel bloggers what they packed inside their suitcase, which made me ponder what essential items I bring on each trip. Below is a mixture of the practical and the fanciful, the technical and the traditional, but all well-used and well-loved.

Copies of travel and medical information: Admittedly the least exciting but most important, I always keep copies of my passport, travel insurance, address of residence and medical information with me in a watertight folder. In the event your passport is stolen, having a copy makes it much easier when notifying the embassy, and

Many countries will ask you for the address of your hotel or residence when entering the country – having this on hand makes going through airport security much easier than trying to find it on your phone at the desk!

Bringing a copy of medical information is particularly important for those with medical-related allergies, such as penicillin or plasters. Should you become unconscious at any point on your trip, having a copy of this and travel insurance on your person will prove helpful for medics and any travel companions trying to seek medical assistance for you.

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Merino wool buff and/or pashmina: Whether the climate is unseasonably cold or you plan on exploring religious heritage sites, a plain extra layer is always handy, particularly for women. Buffs are extremely versatile and can be transformed into hats, scarves, even balaclavas. They take up little space, and with the merino wool fabric models, do not retain odours.

A pashmina scarf is travel’s biggest multitasker. Whether it is covering your head and shoulders when visiting temples, acting as a cover-up on the beach, a blanket or towel in desperate situations, or even as a shawl for fancy events, the pashmina is a lady traveller’s best friend on the road.

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Canon 400D SLR camera with 18-200mm lens: It might be heavy, take up a lot of space and create a nagging neck pain by the end of the day, but a camera phone or digital camera simply won’t do when it comes to capturing memories of a trip. The lens in particular is a travel photographer’s dream, with the 18-200mm scope doing the work of up to three lens in one.

Kindle: Almost nothing can beat the reading experience of a hard copy of a novel….except the weight of carrying a dozen books on your back as you attempt to traverse hot, stuffy airports. Kindles are lightweight, have a long battery life and you are not limited to purchasing whatever selection is available in the small English-speaking section of the local bookstore.

Notebook and pen with inner folder: The essential tools of any travel writer, the humble notebook and pen can record all your memories, notes of your favourite places, even drawings of your favourite architecture. Try to look for a notebook that includes a mini folder inside it, to store all those pamphlets and business cards you want to keep from your trip. Moleskine do a good, rugged, and compact version, but for those wanting something that won’t break the bank, Paperchase do their own version. I always end up arriving home with a bag bulging with business cards, pamphlets and souvenirs from my favourite places to remember for future posts – my notebook definitely helps me organise all this!

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Hand sanitizer: Sure, it might not smell great and you will potentially be tarred with the ‘tourist’ stereotype, but if you want to save yourself stomach illness or any other sickness hand sanitizer is an essential. Try to choose one that doesn’t require water, in case you plan on travelling to an area where it is scarce.

Packet of tissues: No matter where you are, chances are you will either catch a bug, be trapped in an unfurnished toilet cubicle, or even require kindling for a fire. Tissues solve all these issues, and more – just remember to pack them in a waterproof pouch! Which brings me to the last item….

Waterproof bags: Not only will these protect your items from getting soaked, but waterproof bags are also a handy way of organising your bag. Store toiletries in one colour, electronics in another, etc., and it will save you time when searching for items in your rucksack.

What is in your suitcase? Any handy tips? Leave them below! 

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Should I Wear an Anti-Theft Travel Bag or Bum Bag While Travelling?

One of the most common questions I was asked during my time working at Cotswolds and other outdoor stores was whether a special security purse or anti-theft travel bag was necessary when travelling. This can be a tricky dilemma to resolve, and I can easily understand other’s trepidation about choosing the right one. To put it blunt, some countries are more dangerous than others, and no one wants to be stranded in the middle of a foreign country with no money, passport or identification.

Before rushing out to buy one however, consider where it is you are travelling. If you are visiting European cities or other Western countries, then having one of those bags can potentially mark you as a target to thieves. Security bags are black, use an inexcusable amount of Velcro and zips, have never, ever been in fashion and stick out like a sore thumb.

Admittedly the reinforced metal straps on those bags are a great feature, but just because you know the strap is reinforced, doesn’t mean the pickpocket that is eyeing your bag knows this too. More than once I’ve had people tell me stories of a thief slipping a knife down their side, thinking one easy slash to the strap and the bag is theirs. Instead the thief ends up repeatedly slashing at the bag and the victim ends up with multiple cuts around their stomach, chest or shoulders, and an unexpected tour of the hospital.

No one wants to be robbed, and at the end of the day no bag is worth more than your life. Worst comes to worst, you can get everything back with your travel insurance;  it’s why you paid for it in the first place!

Instead, as the old saying goes, ‘Do as the Romans do’, and just bring a well-designed, everyday purse that will help you blend in with the crowds.

The key is finding a bag with the right balance of security features that looks so commonplace passersby will hardly glance at it. Key features to keep an eye out for include:

  1.   Inner zippered pockets: while you might want to store a water bottle, food, or other inexpensive bulky items in the main compartment of the bag, store money, passport, and other important documents you need with you in the smaller, discreet pockets inside.
  2.   Buckled or zipped access: pickpockets only have moments to distract you enough to dive a hand in your bag. Choose a bag with a covered zipper or, better yet, buckles, and pickpockets will less likely target your bag.
  3.     Thick, crossover strap: choose a bag with a thick strap that can go across your body
  4. Thin, delicate straps can easily be slashed, and wearing it across the body instead of one shoulder makes it more difficult for a thief to grab it.
  5. Manufactured from tough, durable fabric: look for a bag made of leather or some other equally durable animal-friendly fabric. Thin cotton fabric can easily be ripped, while leather will take much more of an effort to slash.
  6. Don’t flash the cash: using a designer handbag with brand names splashed on the front will also make you a target too. That’s not to say you can’t bring it with you, but just remember thieves are just as likely to go for the bag as they are the stuff inside it.

Your attitude towards protecting your bag is just as important as the construction of it too. When standing in crowded places, such as train stations or markets, keep a protective hand or arm over your bag when you can. Try to be discreet when getting cash out of your bag, and after taking it out, make sure you zip or refasten it immediately. Often pickpockets will watch you and wait for an opportunity – even a small moment like accepting change from a cashier is enough for them!

Whenever I’m travelling around cities, I either use an old battered camera bag with lots of pockets and compartments, or an old leather satchel that has several inner zips. So far, I have yet to be pick-pocketed, (hopefully I haven’t jinxed myself now) although admittedly it can sometimes be irksome having to undo buckles every time I wish to grab something quickly from my bag.

Some destinations however do require extra steps to be taken to protect your belongings, but for those places I would again recommend choosing something that helps you blend in with everyone else, such as infinity scarves, an incognito bra stash, or a secret money belt (although you might want to reconsider the last one due to the amount of stares you’ll get from loosening your belt every time you’re asked to pay for something in public). Better yet, go DIY and sew a small pocket into the inner waistline of your trousers to store notes.

Do you have any tips for protecting your bag from pickpockets?

Photo credit: palindrome6996 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

How to Get Fit on the Cheap

With summer fast approaching, now’s a better time than ever to get outdoors and start exercising. However, summer is also the time for holidays, camping trips away, drinks at the pub, and general social merriment with friends, which also leaves the bank balance on the zero side. Fear not, as there are a range of options to help you get fit and save pennies in the process!

Take a Hike – Admittedly, unless you live in the Scottish Highlands or Lake District, where mountains are literally in your backyard, then hiking for city folk will require a little organisation and forward planning. To prevent paying an extortionate amount for train tickets, check online for train times and fees; some railway journeys have a set price for tickets, while other routes are cheaper at the weekend.

In addition to this, do a little sleuthing on Google Maps and find out where the nearest forests, woods or beachside retreats are closest to you; there’s a good chance there will be trails or bridleways in those areas for you to explore. A handy resource for hiking trails includes Walk magazine, which is published and updated regularly by the Ramblers Association, provides a searchable list of recommended walks and an interactive map to help you gain some inspiration. They even have walks through cities for those days when money (or time!) is tight. You can take a look at the website here.

Gym bunny – In an effort to combat the rising percentages of obesity, many cities are now installing ‘free gyms’ in parks and local recreation areas to enable people to exercise for free. Many of these outdoor gyms provide machines that exercise a full range of muscles, which enables users to create a workout routine to suit them. Dozens have been installed in England alone, and to find one where you live check out your neighbourhood on http://www.tgogc.com/Gyms/.

Reap the benefits of membership – Nowadays, most stores understand that to gain a customer’s loyalty they want more than a 10% discount or well-stocked shelves. As a result, many companies are now offering free or discounted classes within their stores. In the UK, Sweaty Betty now offers their members free running clubs or gym classes in their stores, with choices including circuit training, yoga and zumba to name a few. All you have to do is sign up to their newsletter in-store, which is also free. Other companies like Sweatshop, the running specialist chain, or Nike, organise running clubs within each store. If you’re lucky enough to live in the Lake District, nearly all the outdoor stores there organise regular events with their customers. As for our friends across the pond, REI holds regular workshops on sports such as climbing at competitive rates.

YouTube – it’s not just for cat videos and music playlists; YouTube has an abundance of fitness videos, such as yoga or zumba. Admittedly, some are certainly better than others, but with a little searching you can easily find a video that has the exercise you’re looking for.

Employee benefits – Many large companies or corporations offer their clients free or discounted gym membership in an effort to keep their employees healthy. However a surprising number of employers forget to tell their employees about these benefits. For instance, one employer of mine forgot to mention they paid £5 a month towards gym membership until after I had been there for six months! If your employer doesn’t offer any fitness discounts, check whether they offer the cycle to work scheme, or whether a gym nearby offers discounts for local members.

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Common Souvenir Scams in Nepal and How to Avoid Them

With its combination of bohemian jewellery, exotic spices, scents and trinkets, colourful clothing and cheap prices, Nepal is an ideal place to easily grab gifts from your travels for friends and family back home. As with any destination however, there are a myriad of tricks or scams around to encourage travellers to part with more of their cash than necessary. Take a look at a few of the most common souvenir scams in Nepal, and remember to take a second look before buying when you are next on your travels!

Bone – After spending only a few days in Nepal, chances are you will see anything and everything made out of yak bone, with jewellery and kitchen utensils being the most popular. However it is fairly obvious after awhile that if all the products sold to tourists in Nepal were real yak bone, then there would hardly be any yaks left in the country. In reality, much of the items purported as yak bone is cheap plastic. If you do wish to buy a souvenir made from yak bone, make sure you take a close look at its surface; bone tends to be more porous, and a texture similar to wood. Also, don’t be afraid to give it a light tap with your fingernail, which should tell you whether it is plastic or not.

Cheap branded outdoor gear – North Face for £10? Gore-tex mountaineering jackets for a quarter of the price they charge back home? If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Nepalese tourist companies will often advise visitors to purchase their trekking kit in Nepal, and for some items, like basic ventilation tops, water bottles, etc., it is a good idea. However it is best to be aware that much of the branded items the outdoors stores stock are either knock-offs or are used gear bought off of previous travellers. If you want to buy the real branded gear, several of the most popular outdoor brands like Mountain Hardware and Black Yak have their own flagship stores in Kathmandu, while The North Face also has a store in Pokhara. The prices will be closer to those charged in Western countries, but will still be a little cheaper than back home.

Semi-precious stones and metals – Jewellery is arguably one of the most popular souvenirs in Nepal, whether it is Buddhist prayer beads, pendants with Hindu or Buddhist symbols, or Bohemian-esque earrings, bangles and chunky rings made from semi-precious stones such as amber, turquoise or garnet. Like yak bone though, many of the items touted as ‘semi-precious’ stones are just as likely to be made from plastic, glass or cheap metals, rather than silver. If you are looking to purchase a particular type of stone, do some research beforehand for tell-tale signs or characteristics to look out for before heading off on your trip. Generally synthetic stones are heavier than semi-precious stones as they are more dense. Also, glass stones tend to have bubbles or small scratches in the stones, while synthetic stones will have imperfections inside the stone. If you plan on buying jewellery in the city, take a look at all their jewellery; if you notice a couple of items are fake, there is a good chance other goods will be too.

Pashminas – These scarves are ubiquitous with shopping in Nepal, with practically every store selling some version of a ‘pashmina’. However, many stores take advantage of the fact that very few travellers are knowledgeable about the material and craftsmanship involved in making one of these scarves, and instead the term ‘pashmina’ has given rise to a subversive product made from a combination of viscose, silk, wool or a small quantity of cheap cashmere and produced in bulk lots. In reality pashminas are made from very fine cashmere wool sourced from the extremely rare Pashmina goats in India, Nepal and Pakistan. They are renowned for being very soft and fine to the touch; in fact, they are so fine they can’t hold any embroidery thread. To find out more about the pashmina market in Nepal, check out this very helpful thread from Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum here.  Be aware however that a majority of pashminas in Nepal are fakes, and if you want to see the top quality a store offers, you will need to ask them outright and expect the quality to be reflected in the price tag.

Yak wool – There has been much attention to yak wool in the outdoor media recently, with people questioning whether it is better than merino wool. Many people have jumped on the media bandwagon, and now yak wool is another popular item traveller look for in Nepal. Do some research before buying however, as in some cases in Nepal items purported as ‘yak wool’ are simply brushed merino wool. As far as souvenir scams go, its probably the least annoying one yet and you are still receiving a good deal for an item that would cost a lot of money back home. When looking for yak wool however, keep in mind that some places will sell yak hair as yak wool. Although the two sound the same, yak hair sits on the top of the yak’s hide, while yak wool is the inner insulation layer that yaks grow during winter to keep them warm, and then shed in the spring. Yak hair feels coarse and itchy, while yak wool is soft, similar to that of cashmere.

Have you got any advice for travellers when it comes to buying souvenirs?

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How to Care for your Hiking Boots

In addition to rucksacks, tents and sleeping bags, hiking boots are another investment of time and money towards any good collection of kit.  Buy the right pair and regularly maintain them, and they will last years. However, with the different fabric technologies and leathers available on the market in today’s boot collections, knowing the proper method for caring for hiking boots can be difficult to discern. Listed below are some helpful instructions and tips to properly care for your boots and ensure they will last for walks to come.

Before doing anything else, make sure you remove any excess dirt or clumps from the boots. Once any large clumps are gone, lightly wash down the outside of the boots and use a cleaner to begin scrubbing the dirt off. Make sure you choose a cleaner that is specifically made for hiking boots; household products contain harsh chemicals that can deteriorate the technical manmade fabric of a boot.

After you have finished cleaning the boots, put them in a cool, dark place to dry. DO NOT place them somewhere warm, like near a fireplace or radiator; the heat emitted from these will melt the glue that attaches the sole to the rest of the boot. If the inside of your boot is wet, stuff some newspaper inside the boots – this will help draw the moisture out from the inside.

Once they have thoroughly dried, leather boots will need to be moisturised. This part of the cleaning process is often overlooked, yet it is one of the most important parts. If the leather is not regularly moisturised, it will dry up, turn rigid and crack, leaving your boots with holes that no amount of waterproofing products or Gore-Text can fix. Not only this, but many boot designers add leather detailing to the sides of the boots to offer additional support around the arch of the foot.

After the polish or beeswax has been soaked into the leather of the boot, it is time to add a water resistant product to the boot. Even if your boot contains Gore-Tex, it is recommended to use a waterproofing agent; in some countries, like Britain, the water can very acidic and over time damage the adhesive or fabric of the hiking boot. Simply spray or wipe the agent over the shoe, and give it time to dry before wearing outside so it can effectively bond itself to the shoe.

Like moisturising the leather of the boot, the cleaning of the inside of the boot is arguably one of the most important aspects of maintaining hiking shoes, but is almost always overlooked.

After cleaning the outside of the boot, turn it upside down and knock any excess grit out of the boot. Make sure you thoroughly clean the creases between the sole, even if you need to use a vacuum, as this is the largest problem area. Grit collects in the seam of the toe box  and insole, and when the boots are worn, rubs against the Gore-Tex membrane and gradually causes holes to appear, effectively eliminating the waterproofing capability of the boots.

Every once in awhile, use a hiking boot-specific cleaning product, mixed with water to clean the inside of the boot. Simply tip the mixture inside the boot and give it a good shake. Afterwards pour the mixture out and stuff with newspaper to help the water evaporate from the inside more effectively. This helps improve the breathability of the boots by cleaning the excess sweat and dirt residue from the lining and Gore-Tex membrane.

Do you have any maintenance or boot care tips? Drop them in a comment below!

Photo credit: arnybo / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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A Guide to Choosing Sleeping Bags and Finding the Right One for your Trip

 

Choosing the right sleeping bag for your trip is arguably one of the hardest decisions to make for any globetrotting journey. With so many different choices out there, and all the technical jargon used by the retailers, it easily turns your anticipation for the big trip into a headache. To help ease the strain of finding the right bag, take a look at some of the tips and explanations below.

The type of insulation used will mark the largest difference between the bags. Down feather insulation tends to be more lightweight, compactable and warmer than the other insulation, synthetic, however it does have its drawbacks. If down gets wet, it will provide zero insulation whatsoever, requires more care and tends to be more expensive than synthetic filling. It is also worth remembering that you can get different qualities of down, with European goose down generally being better quality than other options. Synthetic insulation on the other hand tends to be heavier than down, not as compactable, and generally isn’t as warm. On the other hand synthetic insulation is cheaper than down feathers, requires less care and maintenance, and will still provide the user with some warmth if it gets wet.

If choosing a down sleeping bag it is important to remember that they require much more maintenance than synthetic bags. Whilst synthetic bags can be compacted within their bags and left in the corner until your next trip, down sleeping bags cannot be left compacted for long periods of time, otherwise the feathers will bunch. If this happens, the sleeping bag will have cold pockets throughout the length of the bag, making you less warm. Instead, down bags need to be hung in a wardrobe, or at the very least, packed away in a larger bag that doesn’t constricted the baffle construction.

In addition to the extra maintenance, down bags take a long time to clean and dry and require a fastidious adherence to the washing instructions. If you don’t have the time or patience and your sleeping bag is becoming a health hazard, for a small fee you can send it to a specialist for cleaning instead. Otherwise the best way to delay the cleaning process is to use a sleeping bag liner; this will keep your bag cleaner for longer, and also offer additional warmth.

On every sleeping bag there will be several temperature numbers on them that should help you find which bag best suits your needs. Generally the three temperatures will denote the comfort temperature, the comfort limit temperature, and the extreme temperature. The comfort temperature is the temperature you will start to feel too warm in the bag, the comfort limit is the temperature you will feel comfortable, and the extreme temperature is the rating which, when caught in an emergency situation, the sleeping bag will keep you alive. These temperature gauges are generally unisex ratings, however it is generally accepted that women feel the cold greater than men and as a result some companies also put separate temperature ratings for women as well.

Sleeping bags are usually graded from one to four seasons, with one being solely for summer use and four for winter camping and mountaineering. Most sleeping bags come in a unisex design, however more and more companies are providing the market with women specific sleeping bags. These bags tend to be shorter in height than the others, and wider around the hip area to accommodate women’s’ body shapes. If you are quite petite in size or have wide hips, then this might be an option to consider when buying your sleeping bag. Otherwise, a unisex bag will suit you just fine.

Before shopping for a sleeping bag, research the weather and temperature range of when and where you are going. Most travel companies provide average temperatures and weather descriptions for all their trips, and if you’re going independently, then a simple internet search will give you an idea. This will help you find the sleeping bag with the right temperature range for your trip.

Find out how much weight you can bring with you, whether you can leave your stuff in one place or whether porters will carry it, and what kind of weather you will face once there. All these factors will affect your decision on purchasing a sleeping bag. I recently had a customer at my workplace who booked a trip to Nepal and came in demanding a sleeping bag, but had no idea which region she was going to, where she would be staying, what the weather would be like, and whether she had any porters to carry her items. As a result she nearly walked away with a one season synthetic sleeping bag when she really needed a three season down bag instead. If in doubt, ask a sales assistant for advice, and buy a sleeping bag from a store rather than the internet, so you know what you’re getting.

Generally, if you plan on hiking around a wet, cold country like England from the spring to autumn season, you will want a good quality synthetic sleeping bag. However, if you’re planning a more ambitious trip, like trekking around the Himalayas, then a three season down bag will do the job. As for those tricky tropical climes where a sleeping bag will make you feel sticky and suffocating from the heat, a cheap one season summer sleeping bag made from synthetic insulation will be more than enough. And for those that want a bag for hostel-hopping around Europe or other city destinations, either a down or synthetic insulated two season sleeping bag will be fine.

After deciding what type of sleeping bag you need, the next thing to consider is additional details you might want in a bag. For instance, some come with an inner security pocket to hide your valuables, others are constructed using a rip stop fabric, baffle stitching, and some have a waterproof coating applied to the top of the bag. Spend some time thinking about features might help make your trip more enjoyable, and research the market to see the full range of features on bags.

Photo credit: Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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Ten Fun Tips to Motivate People to Keep Running

Although running is one of the most common sports, and with the approaching holiday season will only grow in popularity, many people fall into a rut when it comes to getting outdoors and hitting the trails. Perhaps it is raining, your busy schedule or you feel you lack the energy; whatever the reason, read the tips below and choose one to get you back on your feet.

1. Find a new route

This one might seem obvious, but with careers, families and other commitments all fighting for space in your weekly schedule, many people find themselves lucky to find the time to run, let alone plan a new route. While it might be convenient, stomping on the same ground day after day can leave your head feeling bored and your body unmotivated to get outdoors. If finding the time to map out a new route is impossible, check websites like www.mapmyrun.com or www.walkjogrun.com, where runners map contribute their running routes for others to try. Otherwise, set aside the normal amount of time you run, but go somewhere different and choose your route on a whim.

2.Get some new gear

Probably the most popular motivator, nothing beats the excitement of tying on a new pair of trainers and testing them on your favourite trails. While this motivational tip is not the most economically friendly or environmentally sustainable, if you find yourself needing new clothes or gear then choose something you want and meets all your needs, rather than whatever is the cheapest.

3. Listen to some new tunes

Listening to the Rocky soundtrack while exercising lost its humour about ten years ago; if you listen to music while running, try creating a new playlist, shuffling your collection, or adding some new songs on there to change your running routine. Has one of your favourite bands just released a new album? Promise yourself not to listen to it until you start running. When choosing music, some find it helpful to match it to their running pattern, i.e. coordinate fast-paced songs to sprinting sections, or choosing songs around the same beats per minute ratio.

4. Incorporate new fitness moves into your run

As the old saying goes, ‘variety is the spice of life’, and even the best running route can lose its appeal. With obstacle course running events growing in popularity every year, why not try to incorporate some exercises from these events into your daily running routine? Try jumping over benches, swinging from bars or pausing every so often to do some push-ups or sit-ups.

5. Give yourself goals….

Without a personal best to beat, a charity to raise money for or a gruelling event to complete, running without a distinct purpose can leave some feeling uninterested or disheartened. Instead, give yourself fun personal goals, like running a route in a record time, or reaching a certain distance or landmark.

6….Or none at all

For others, the pressure of having to achieve a certain time or the risk of not raising enough money for a charity can suck all the fun out of running. When you start to feel like that, the best thing to do is forget about training plans or personal bests and just go out for a fun run. Bring your friends, go as fast or slow as you like, just make sure you remember why you like running again when you finish.

7. Treat yourself to something afterwards

Like the old adage goes, ‘lead the donkey with a carrot’, encourage yourself to go out running by rewarding yourself with something afterwards. Just remember to make it something healthy or nourishing for your body post-run, like a banana smoothie.

8. Remind yourself why.

People run for a variety of reasons; some for the love of it, others to lead a healthier lifestyle and many to prepare for a holiday or event. Whatever your reason, the best way to motivate yourself if you’ve tripped into a rut is to place a visual reminder of your goal where you will see it often. Whether it is a picture of your holiday destination or writing your aspirational PB time on a large piece of paper, make sure it strikes a chord with you to motivate you to get outdoors.

9. Find a partner-in-crime (or preferably running)

Running on your own week after week, especially after a day spent in a quiet office, can lead to anyone feeling like a social outcast. Turn running into a social event and invite some friends to come with you. The best method is to ask someone of similar running ability, but why not organise a weekly running group with friends and motivate each other to run each week? For those that like a bit of friendly competition, websites like www.mapmyrun.com offer weekly progress reports and comparisons of your running progress and times with friends.

10. Don’t beat yourself up.

Everyone gets disenchanted with running at some point, and if you find yourself uninspired to run for a prolong period of time, take a step back, accept it, and try another activity instead. Forcing yourself to constantly run when you don’t want to will only make you dislike it more, and life is too short to spend it doing something you dislike. After awhile, come back to it, and you will more than likely rediscover the joy it used to bring you!

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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