REVIEW: Keen Women’s Shasta Walking Boots

March 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last weekend a gang of 13 of us packed into some small, unreliable cars and drove from Cardiff to Snowdon. Watch out for a proper post on how much my buttocks ached after scaling the peak, coming soon! However the mountain was also the perfect place to give my pretty new Keen boots (which cost £76.49 on Web Togs) a real work out, and to see if they could go the distance without giving me blisters.

The product description: “The Shasta is an affordable walking boot that will take you where you need to go without problem, a great all round boot. The Shasta has an internal support mechanism called a metatomical footbed. This is anatomically engineered to provide excellent support and cradle the natural contours of your feet so making the walking boot very comfortable during long days on the trail. The WP in the title of the boot stands for waterproof and the Shasta can do this because of the Keen.Dry lining that is integrated. This allows your feet to breathe when it gets warmer while still preventing water from entering the shoe.”

Test 1: Hiking
I had tested my boots around my house the week before the Snowdon trip, and the heels rubbed. Instead of worrying about this not insignificant factor I took them to the mountain anyway. The boots were obviously pretty excited about getting out of the house because they behaved perfectly – the day wandering around the house had been enough for them to mold to my feet like a second skin, and the sole felt thick and bouncy even after six hours of trekking. I needed to lace them pretty tight to give me proper support, but once they were strapped in I forgot I was wearing them. Perfect.

Test 2: In the wet
I was a little bit wary of the Keen boots as they don’t have Gore-Tex, which I had always considered the only reliable waterproofer. Instead they come with Keen.Dry, an integrated lining that allows your feet to breathe when it gets warmer while still preventing water from entering the shoe. To test them I:
Stood in a puddle for fifteen minutes – dry feet.
Waded up to the lace holes in the sea – dry feet.
Put my feet up to my ankles in the bath – immediate wet feet, but unless you are planning to go for a swim in your Shastas, I can’t see that being a problem.

Test 3: On the beach
The only issue I had during my week of constant testing was the tops of the boots. I may just have skinny ankles but they felt quite wide – another lace hole might have solved this, but as a result just walking along the beach for an hour meant I ended up with boots full of sand.

Test 4: As a fashion accessory
I love the colour of mine (dark shadow and grape nectar, if you must know – who comes up with these colour names?) and they also come in a less girlie slate black and nectarine. My Keens are quite chunky in the toe, which made me slightly worried I looked like I was wearing golf clubs on my feet, but the general consensus from my hiking friends was they looked pretty good for walking boots.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much I care how they look – they are so incredibly comfortable I find it hard to take them off.

Verdict from the top of Snowdon:

xx Sian

INTERVIEW: Log cabin style

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

My new online style crush is up-and-coming website Log Cabin Style, where “fashion, adventure and nature” live under one little wooden roof. Their nature inspired printed tees featuring rabbits, deer and birds are perfect for spring picnics and rambles. I had a chat with the girl behind the cabin, Gemma Evans.

What is Log Cabin Style?
It’s all about the stuff a girl needs on a little adventure.

What makes it unique?
We think the high street outdoor clothing shops don’t always cater for the sub-35 age group. Our aim is to generate a new brand for a new generation of outdoor lovers.

Where did the idea stem from and how did you develop it?
We spotted a gap in the market to develop an outdoor brand for a younger, fashion concious, audience. We market researched the idea, had countless conversations with our target groups, asked people what they wanted and scrap-booked many ideas. From that we developed our first T-shirt designs.

How do you incorporate nature and outdoors into your designs?
We consider many things before we create a new design such as the environmental impact and using the right organic inks. We use nature-inspired designs to promote the great wildlife we have in the UK and write about outdoor adventures on our Log (Blog).

What kind of girl (or guy!) wears Log Cabin designs?
Someone who likes to head off with a group friends for an adventure, be it a weekend festival or a stay in a cabin somewhere.

Who designs Log Cabin’s tshirts, and how do you choose which designers to feature?
We are lucky to have some well regarded artists on our books, people whose work we appreciated before the label got off the ground.

What designs and products are you planning to expand to in the future?
We still have a long way to go with our ideas. We are looking at camping/outdoor accessories.

And what’s your favourite outdoor spot or adventure?
Somewhere in the mountains!

xx Sian

HOW TO: Wilderness skills for girls lost in the woods

March 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

My guide to Bear Grylls-style skillz for the next time you get lost in the middle of nowhere. Just make sure you have a few matches on you…

HOW TO LIGHT A FIRE
A fire will keep you warm and dry, it’ll cook your food, it’ll purify your water, and it’ll keep tigers at bay. It’s your best mate in the outdoors.
First you need to find a sheltered site free from wind and debris that could be flammable. Start your fire on flat solid ground or a layer of flat stones.
You need to begin with small pieces of wood (tinder) which must be completely dry. Forage for tinder such as small sticks, paper, leaves, grass or bark.
Light the tinder (yes, you need a match or a lighter. Realistically, rubbing sticks together will just exhaust you and waste your precious daylight time) from upwind, sheltering the fire with your body or a jacket.
Nuture your tinder – slowly add more as the fire starts to grow stronger, and watch like a hawk. When the fire is looking healthy start to add kindling (small dry twigs and sticks).
Once your kindling is crackling merrily you can add larger pieces of firewood – the drier the better. Dead trees are the best source of dry wood.

HOW TO BUILD A SHELTER
If you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere without protection you won’t last long. Luckily, a shelter is easy to make and the components are readily available in the woods.
Choose dry, flat ground that is sheltered from the wind. Make your shelter as small as possible for the number of people it has to hold, as your body heat will be better trapped inside.
Find a long, sturdy pole – this will be the main beam of the hut. Prop it up on rocks, tree stumps or a branch so that you can comfortably sit underneath it.
Lean smaller branches at a 45 degree angle from the roof beam. Fill in gaps with wide branches. Cover this framework with leaves, ferns, more branches or bark.
Place softer branches or moss on the floor of the shelter, as your body heat can ebb away into uncovered ground. Finally, build a door of branches and leaves that you can pull over the hole once inside.

HOW TO LIVE OFF INSECTS
Creepy Crawlies are actually a fantastic source of protein, containing 60% more by weight than beef. I know they don’t look as appetising as a steak, but when you’re starving and alone in the wildernesss, caterpillars start to be pretty appealing, I promise.
Make sure you avoid anything that stings, bites, lets of a weird smell or any kind of goo, is a scary colour or is hairy.
Look under rotting logs, in holes, under stones or in bark. Bugs with hard outer shells need cooking before consumption, but larvae and worms are fine eaten raw. If you can’t face putting a wriggly thing in your mouth, try mashing the insects into a paste and eating with vegetation. Delicious!

xx Sian

Festival special: Top ten under £100

March 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Missed out on Glastonbury tickets? Or feeling the pinch and want the outdoors experience for less? These beauties are the finest fests in the land, all for under 100 squids, chosen and (on the whole) personally experienced by me. Book tickets now and get ready for a very chilled out summer.


Croissant Neuf

Tag line: Greenest festival in the land
Where: Secret location near Usk in Wales
When: Unconfirmed
Costs: £88 for a weekend ticket
About: Incredibly chilled out, family-friendly festival that somehow doesn’t lose an inch of cool by it. The music is all in circus big tops in this festival extension of one of Glastonbury’s most popular areas. You won’t have heard of any of the bands here but it doesn’t matter in the least – you’ll be having too much fun attending drunken tea parties and meditating with hippies in the woods.
Highlights: The huge campfire and amazingly friendly atmosphere.

2000 trees
Tag line: New and underground British music
Where: Upcote Farm, Gloucestershire
When: 14th-16th July
Costs: £59 for weekend ticket
About: Dirt cheap tickets and a stunning festival site. Big on music but lots of atmosphere – there are nature walks and sheep dog trials for those rare moments when you’re not drunk down the front of the main stage. 2000 Trees is the best place to fall in love with bands you’ve never heard of and spend the rest of the year irritating your mates with references to them.
Highlight: set by Los Campesinos – do not miss.

Beach Break
Tag line: The UK student festival
Where: Pembrey Country Park, South Wales
When: 16th-20th June
Costs: £99 for weekend ticket
About: A student staple on the festie circuit, but definitely a good shout if you’re under 25 and not adverse to semi naked young ladies dancing to Tinie Tempah around you for a few days. Beach Break has it’s very own beach for sandy dancing, myriad bars and a strictly pop music line-up that makes it a recipe for a salty, messy weekend costing just shy of £100.
Highlight: Watching the sun come up on the beach, surrounded by passed-out revellers.

Park Life
Tag line: Officially the best value festival in the UK
Where: Fallowfields, Manchester
When: 11th – 12th June
Costs: £58.50 for weekend tickets
About: Six arenas and a huge main stage playing big names including Chase and Status, Mark Ronson and Annie Mac, Manchester’s answer to London’s park parties includes themed chill out zones and giant bouncy castles and is your best bet up for festivals up north. With weekend tickets selling for a little over £50 there’s a real emphasis on value for money.
Highlights: Fantastic quality food stalls and sexy massage ladies.

Harvest at Jimmy’s
Tag line: the festival of food and music
Where: Suffolk
When: 9th-12th September
Costs: £97.50 for weekend tickets.
About: It doesn’t get more relaxed than this. The main stage is surrounded by hay bales and picnic blankets at this friendly mini festival (only 1000 tickets were printed in 2008) that combines famous names in music and food. Watch KT Tunstall rock out on guitar whilst noshing on amazing lemongrass chicken concoctions and getting pleasantly tipsy on strawberry cider. One to take your partner to for a weekend that won’t leave you both feeling trampled.
Highlight: Sampling sausages handmade by Jamie Oliver.

Farm Fest
Tag line: 2 stages. 2 days. Bands. Free camping. Bar. Food. Art. Activities.
Where: Gilcombe Farm, Somerset
When: 29th-30th July
Costs: £30 for early bird weekend tickets
About: Described by the Sunday Times as one of the ‘biggest bargains of the festival season’. Hats are compulsory wear at this brilliant little farm, run by a crack team of locals. All funds go to charity, giving you a warm fuzzy feeling whilst you enjoy two stages playing acoustic, dub and folk beats and a huge hog roast that is great for the munchies.
Highlight: Winning the best hat competition: respect.

Edinburgh Festival
Tag line: the largest arts festival in the world
Where: guess
When: 5th-29th August
Costs: individual event prices
About: Everyone has to go once in their lives. Book a B&B now to avoid last-minute costliness and then simply wander the streets, dipping in and out of gigs, comedians, odd little theatre productions… the range of creative performances available is huge, which means that everyone’s experience of the festival is unique. Very special.
Highlight: Seeing an unknown comic do a tiny gig in a pub and knowing you’ve discovered the next big thing.

Field Day
Tag line: music festival offering up an exemplary cross section of leftfield bands, artists and DJ’s.
Where: Victoria Park, London
When: 6th August
Costs: £44 for the day
About: Five hilariously titled stages (Eat Your Own Ears Main Stage, Adventures in the Beetroot Field Stage, Village Mentality Stage, Bugged Out! Stage and the Bloggers Delight Stage) host a massive range of performances. My favourite is the Village Mentality, which has well has hosting hip bands also oversees a sack race, tug of war and egg and spoon race. Tickets always sell out, so get in there now.
Highlight: The 2011 line-up is an indie kid’s delight.

Bristol Harbour Festival
Tag line: Bristol’s biggest cultural event and one of the biggest free festivals in the country.
Where: Bristol
When: 29th-31st July
Costs: nothing
About: Completely free and totally awesome, Bristol Harbour fest is a huge celebration stuffed with music, dancing, circus performers, food and, er, boats. 2011 is the 40th anniversary so expect exciting stuff. If the sun is shining it’s a fantastic place to be. Make sure you sample local Somerset cider, on sale in different stalls dotted around the harbourside.
Highlight: The unbelievable circus acts performing death-defying acts above the crowd’s heads.

Exit Serbia
Tag line: I’m not actually sure, as it’s in Serbian.
Where: Novi Sad, Serbia
When: 7-10th July
Costs: £89 for a 4-day festival pass
About: Fancy heading to a festival abroad? Exit is held in a fortress and is suitably European and unusual but with big music names included: 2011’s line up includes Arcade Fire, Beirut and Deadmau5. Plus, you’re right by the Danube if you feel like getting away from the crowds with a dip in the river.
Highlight: Returning home with a very limited but unusual Serbian vocabulary. Фуцк!

My favourite of all of these has to be the lovely lovely Croissant Neuf, which can only be summed up by watching this video (which handily I am in, dancing with a mustache!)

xx Sian

INTERVIEW: Steve Young, soldier turned polar explorer

March 18, 2011 § 4 Comments

Need some inspiration to get fit and get outdoors? Read my interview with the incredibly inspiring injured soldier who proved the doctors wrong – not only by walking again, but by trekking all the way to the North Pole for charity.

“A big danger are polar bears,” says Sergeant Steve Young happily, “you need to carry shot guns and flare guns. They can come up at night to investigate – I really hope we see one.”

Steve weighs in at 15 stone and looks like he could do some damage in a fight. As the 28 year-old chats about how brilliant it is to be gorging on chocolate to bulk up for his latest adventure, a trek to the North Pole with Prince Harry which will raise more than £2,000,000 for charity, he’s confident, relaxed and easy to talk to. But his forecast hasn’t always been so positive.

Two years ago, after an IED bomb broke his back in Afghanistan, he was told by doctors he’d never walk again. Now he’s attempting a trek through 345 miles of ice and snow to the end of the world, pulling a 100k sled at temperatures of up to -40 degrees.

Steve, from Rhondda in the Welsh valleys, now hopes to raise £2million to help wounded soldiers with the trek with three other injured soldiers, two of whom hope to be the first amputees to make the journey unsupported.

The team has attracted celebrity support – survival expert Bear Grylls said: “I so admire this team and their determination to make a difference. And, boy, they are doing it the hard way.” The expedition will also be joined by Prince Harry, the patron of the charity behind the pole attempt, Walking with the Wounded.

Before recent training in Norway Steve had never skied before in his life. “I’m sure the lads enjoyed my impression of Bambi on ice” he smiles, chatting excitedly about what it was like to be snowed into a tent.
Even when discussing how he was injured he keeps a positive, ‘these things happen’ attitude which is incredibly impressive when you hear the facts.

Two years ago, on the afternoon of 1 August 2009, most of us were probably having a few pints in a beer garden and playing a bit of footie in the park. Steve was in an armoured personnel carrier somewhere in Babaji, Helmand Province, having just concluded Operation Panthers Claw. Only a few weeks before he’d been in a similar vehicle that overturned into a canal, drowning half the men inside – Steve was one of the lucky few to escape the wreckage with minor injuries.

After that he was told to remain at camp for the remainder of his tour, to recover. But sitting still clearly isn’t Steve’s style, and he managed to blag his way into a convoy leaving for Babaji.

“I was pretty stressed, as the last time I’d been in a personnel carrier I’d almost drowned. I was just starting to calm down when the vehicle exploded. A massive cloud of dust engulfed us. I was on the floor and I could hear the other lads screaming. I tried to get up to help and I realised something was wrong – my back hurt a bit.”

This is typical Steve, to describe a broken back as hurting ‘a bit’.

“I tried getting up and couldn’t. I was vomiting from the pain. There was a huge rip in my combats around my crotch and I was covered in blood, so I immediately thought the worst and asked one of the lads to check that everything was, er, intact. The blood was from a few cuts to my buttocks, so I was pretty damn happy about that.”

It took more than an hour to get Steve out of the armoured car, which had been hit by 100kg of explosives. “I remember looking up and seeing an American helicopter hovering above us – they gave me ketamine and after that, I was high as a kite.”

Back at camp, doctors wasted no time in letting Steve know that he’d broken his back and had lost almost all feeling below his belly button – the chances were that he’d never walk again.

Less than 24 hours later, Steve was back in the UK, where he had only marginally better news – he’d walk, but he’d be on crutches for the rest of his life and for the next 18 months he’d be immobile in a spinal bed. Never one to follow orders to the letter, Steve set out to prove them wrong.

“I went from 15 stone to 10 and my muscles wasted away. I was going crazy with boredom but I was exercising and every day I felt a little bit more positive – one night I managed to walk to the windowsill and back and that felt tremendous.” He smiles.

“When I could walk I started four hours of physiotherapy a day, strengthening my core. It was good for me mentally, but it hurt a lot. I was building up slowly – running for 30 seconds, walking for a minute, repeat. It was frustrating but I gave myself goals. I was out of the spinal bed in five months and last year I ran a half marathon in Kenya.”

You’d think most young men would be content with being able to walk again, let alone run, but Steve now has an even bigger ambition – reaching the North Pole.

The expedition has been organised to raise money and awareness of injured amputees. The team will set out from Norway at the end of March to walk for a gruelling month to the end of the world.

Steve is now in hard training for the trek. “I go tyre pulling every day – dragging huge Dunlops up and down the beach so my back is strong for pulling a sled! I’m also weight training regularly.”

What will the team do when they finally reach the North Pole; a goal Steve has pushed himself towards with two years of rehabilitation, training and determination?

“We’ve been given a bottle of whiskey that was taken by Captain Scott on his expedition 110 years ago. So we’re going to have a nice toast with that!”

xx Sian

RECIPE: Wild Garlic

March 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

It felt like spring today. I actually had lunch outside (admittedly in my jumper and coat) and sat on the grass (which was wet but come on, this is Wales). This is a good sign since I am going slightly mad waiting to wear flipflops and my skin is crying out for vitamin D.
I noticed on a cycle a few days ago that the wild garlic is starting to spring up. It’s the perfect find for a foraging newbie as it’s easy to spot in woodlands (look for the wide leaves, small white flowers and, err, the smell of garlic) and easy to cook with. If you’re nervous about picking leaves from the outdoors this is a perfect place to start. There are myriad recipes floating about on the internet for what to do once you have your leaves, but these are some of the best.

JAMIE OLIVER’s wild garlic soda bread

Ingredients
• olive oil
• 1 small handful of washed wild garlic leaves, or spinach with a crushed garlic clove
• 250ml buttermilk
• 175g wholemeal flour, plus extra for dusting
• 175g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
• 1 tsp sea salt
• ¾ tsp coarsely cracked black pepper
• 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 22g salted butter, chilled and cubed

1. Preheat your oven to 180C/gas 4. Put a wide pan on a medium heat and add a good lug of olive oil. Add the wild garlic (or spinach), stir and cook for 3 minutes, until wilted. Pour in the buttermilk, remove from heat and blend with a stick blender until you’ve got green milk.
2. Add the dry ingredients and butter to a large bowl with butter and use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until you have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and pour in your green milk, a good splash at a time. Combine with a wooden spoon until perfectly mixed and you have a dough.
3. Dust a surface with flour, pop the dough on top then roll into a large sausage, then cut into 8. Lightly oil a baking tray. Out the dough pieces on the tray, sprinkle over some wholemeal flour then put in the oven and cook for 20 minutes or until lightly golden on top. Remove from the oven, then pick one up and tap the bum. If you get a hollow sound they’re perfect, so put them on a wire rack to cool. (Perhaps you should make 9, because hot out of the oven with cold butter – seriously nice.)

GORDON RAMSAY’S wild garlic and parsley risotto

Ingredients
•1.3 litres chicken (or vegetable) stock
•3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
•3-4 wild garlic cloves (or new season’s garlic), sliced
•4 shallots, finely chopped
•350g risotto rice, such as carnaroli
•Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
•Few knobs of butter
•100g parmesan, freshly grated, plus shavings to serve
•Handful of flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped

1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep it at a simmer over a low heat.
2. Heat the olive oil in a larger pan and add the garlic, followed by the shallots. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the shallots have softened. Stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes until the rice grains appear translucent, stirring frequently.
3. A ladleful at a time, add the hot stock to the rice and cook, stirring, until almost all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladleful. When you have added most of the stock (you may not need all of it), season and taste the rice. It should be al dente, cooked but with a bite in the centre. Take the pan off the heat.
4. Stir the butter into the risotto, followed by the grated parmesan and chopped parsley. Add a splash more stock to keep the rice moist and creamy if you like. Serve at once, scattered with parmesan shavings and topped with a drizzle of olive oil.

ANNA HANSEN’S wild garlic soup

Ingredients
•A little olive oil
•1 leek, diced
•2 fennel, sliced
•1 white onion, diced
•3 cloves garlic, diced
•250g wild garlic
•1 litre hot vegetable stock
•Crème fraîche

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently sauté the leek, fennel, onion and garlic until soft. Add the stalks from the wild garlic and cook until tender. Add the hot vegetable stock and simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat, add the garlic leaves and blend in batches. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve immediately with a blob of crème fraîche.

xx Sian

Fashion gets foxy: How to make your own Mulberry fox mask

March 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

I am definitely not the most chic person in the world – I can’t walk in heels, hair accessories scare me and I’d rather wear a fleece than Fendi. But even I want to wax lyrical about Mulberry’s new fashionable take on the outdoors, as seen in their Autumn/Winter 2011 collection at London Fashion Week.

Creative director Emma Hill had clearly been reading Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. Nature motifs such as hedgerows, toadstools and wooden park benches were dotted around the room, the soundtrack played tweeting birds and the collection had a distinctive walk-in-the-country feel. If walks in the country were incredibly high fashion, of course. Hill even quoted “The English countryside, English wildlife and Turner landscapes” as her three inspirations for the collection – looks like anoraks and waterproofs are out.

The best part of the Mulberry show was universally declared to be the goodie bag, which included fox shaped cookies and the pièce de résistance, a beautiful, beribboned paper fox mask. I lusted after this for several days, until my beloved guardian.co.uk posted a PDF of the mask itself, allowing anyone to dress up and play Fantastic Ms Fox. Modelled below by the lovely Flo, The mask can be downloaded and printed – stick to stiff card, cut out, add ribbons and go and play in the woods. Who said outdoors wear can’t be chic?

See more pictures of the gorgeous show at Fashion Foie Gras or watch the collection video at Mulberry. Oh and next time, Mulberry, don’t forget my invite, yeah?

xx Sian

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