Search

Black Pudding Gaiters

Hiking, travelling, gear

Category

Gear

Flat out in an Abarth 124 Spider

Ok, so the idea of this blog is to post about all things outdoorsy, however, one needs to get to the hills in the first place!

My car ownership has been rather limited. I learnt to drive in the family Fiat Strada then, after passing my driving test, I bought myself a Fiat Uno i.e. Start  A cracking first car . I also occasionally borrowed parent’s Fiat Punto Mk 1
….see a  theme here?!

After a year, I traded my Uno in for a Mk 2 Punto.  I then continued through the Fiat Punto range owning pretty much every iteration, each time getting a slightly more powerful engine before purchasing the  Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir Turbo.
A highly enjoyable car to drive but then along came Abarth who opened (and promptly closed) a dealership close to my home.

I’d never seen an Abarth up close.  I’d read about them and had seen photos of these sexier, souped up versions of Fiat cars. They were the next ‘step up’ from Fiat and they’d introduced a version of the Punto just at the time I was about to trade in…it was a no-brainer!

Abarth Punto and 500s
My Abarth Punto on the right of the picture at Silverstone

In the Abarth, the drive around winding country lanes became as enjoyable as the walk I was driving to.  I can unleash my inner ‘girl racer’ from traffic lights yet it is  refined on long motorway journeys.
Without doubt, this is the best car I’ve ever owned but sadly Abarth pulled the model. Fiat and Abarth both concentrating on the popular 500 family

….then they threw a curve ball….

Original Abarth 124
Original Abarth 124

The original Fiat 124 Spider  was released in the late 60’s with the Abarth version introduced in 1972.
Several years on, the Spider is making a return, with both Fiat and Abarth updating this iconic car.

The Fiat version is a very nice looking car with plenty of bells and whistles.
Abarth, however,  take a good car and make it better with (slightly) more power, Brembo brakes and superior handling  thanks to the  mechanical limited-slip differential and Bilstein shocks.
It also look gorgeous!

New Abarth 124 Spider
The Abarth comes in two body styles; solid colour and, my favourite, the heritage pack which adds a contrasting matte black bonnet and boot. It has a real ‘Marmite’ response. People love it or hate it.  Personally, I think it looks great with a definite nod back to the original styling.

The inside of the Spider is far nicer than my Punto, things have progressed a lot in the last 4 years. Thee dashboard is swathed in alcantara and  a decent amount of equipment provided as standard including climate control, touch screen sat nav/entertainment and heated seats. Parking and rain sensors are available in an optional viability pack at an additional £1250.
It’s  reassuringly nice to see an analogue rev counter and speedometer behind the steering wheel and,  just in front of the gear stick, is the shiny ‘Sport Mode’ button. Much better looking than the plastic switch on the Punto.  This firms up the ride a little more and makes the throttle more responsive. I doubt you’d ever want to take it out of Sport mode!

Underneath the bonnet is the 1.4 Multiair engine with a Garrett turbo, very similar to what is in my current Abarth Punto.  It throws out 170hp but it’s the torque you notice, there is tonnes of the stuff.
The lump upfront gets  you from 0 to 62 mph in 6.8-seconds. Abarth claim around 44mpg but my experience in the Punto would suggest closer to 33 – 35 mpg.

Abarth 124 spider twinair engine

Boot space is minimal. My one worry with this car is it’s practicality, however, once the engine started I soon forgot about that, the sound is amazing! I would have happily have placed an order for the car simply on the noise made from the Record Monza exhaust!

But, the real test was out on the track. I put on my Abarth branded crash helmet and made my way out to the cars.  The 124s were at the front, behind them were the new 595s and behind those the completely bonkers 695 Biposto….more about that in a bit!

124 Abarth Spider
I was asked to choose between manual or automatic. Despite being my first time in a left hand drive car I decided to try out the 6 speed manual and got in to one of the red and black cars.
I was mentally going through these ‘wrong way round’ controls as my instructor introduced me to the Silverstone track, arguably the most iconic track in England ….wow!!
We made our way back to the pits then it was my turn. I had 20 minutes to take this awesome vehicle around the international circuit.
“It’s your test drive”, I was told “go as fast or slow as you like”
Needless to say, I planted my right foot!

The 124 responded beautifully. I only need to use third and fourth gears which were easy to engage using the short throw shifter.
It responded quickly to both braking and acceleration and was very happy around corners with just a little bit of understreer on the more extreme corners. The 124 is responsive to small steering inputs and extremely confidence inspiring. It will be interesting to see how the stiff suspension handles  bumpy, holey British roads  but at Silverstone it works brilliantly.

Although based on Mazda this is a true  Italian.  The powertrain, Record Monza exhaust,  the design and all the tweaks which makes the car so fun to drive is handled by Officine Abarth. Each car is tested and certified by an Abarth technician and moreover, it just feels like a nippy little Italian sports car should feel.

My laps were over far too quickly but my track experience wasn’t.
After a short break, I was back out for another 20 minutes of so in the 595. If I have to be honest, I admire what Abarth have done with what is a very popular Fiat model but, personally, I’m not a huge fan of the styling although it seems I’m alone in that!
Abarth have managed to squeeze 180 hp out of this little engine and it was a blast around the track. Like the 124, this car also has mechanical limited-slip differential and Brembo brakes.
Almost £10,000 cheaper than the 124, this is a great alternative and is still good fun to dive but there is no doubt which of the two I’d prefer.

The last car I tried was the 695 Biposto albeit as a passenger.
A stripped down car which is at the other end of the pricing scale at almost £33,ooo. Gone are the rear seats,door inserts, air conditioning and radio  instead you get something which feels like a proper little track car, full of the classic Abarth insanity!
I occasionally glanced over at the G-meter on the dashboard, it is remarkable what this pocket rocket is capable of although it’s definitely not something you’d purchase for your trip to the shops.

As I left, I was handed a gift, a black envelope containing four beautiful drawings of the 124. These will look very nice on my wall.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Al in all, an unforgettable day an a car I am very tempted to purchase.
I hate to say too many good things about any Abarth cars as I love the exclusivity of the Abarth, waving to other owners  and arranging meet ups….so no, don’t buy this car! (-:

A good, if slightly long, video review of the Fiat, Abarth and original 124 is available on the Autogefühl YouTube channel

 

 

Coleman CHT 15 Headlamp

This last winter has seen the start of some night walking.
A fairly new experience for me, yes, I’ve done often take a ‘passeggiata’ on holidays but up in the hills, away from the sodium lighting of the roads, towns and villages was something very different. It can get dark, very dark!
I needed to invest in a decent head torch, however, given that I was new to night walking, I wasn’t prepared to spend large sums of money.
Moel Famau view at night

I went to my local GoOutdoors to pick up the Coleman CHT 15 Ultra Bright Headlamp.   Winner of Trail Magazine’s Best Value award (February 2014), it is surprisingly good despite it’s ‘budget tag.

headtorchPowered by 3AAA batteries, it provides  150 lumens which illuminate up to 180 feet on it’s highest setting. This setting can be activated with a single press of the big easy to use (even with gloves) button. This button is also used to cycle between the different modes, red, blue, low (35 lumens), medium and full power.
The red setting is useful when taking a break and don’t want to dazzle the people you’re with  as the colour does not appear as bright to the human eye as white LED and it prevents loss of night vision.
The blue light makes for easier map reading as it retains the map’s colours. Blue is the also only light which can cut through fog.

The battery life is around 6 hours on full power. There is a red battery power indicator that warns when the battery is running low. however, changing the batteries is fiddly and best first attempted in the comfort of your own home until you get the hang of it.
A mounded key is attached to the strap buckle and used to unscrew the battery housing end cap. Reattaching doesn’t give a reassuring click but does appear to be tight enough.

It is a reasonably comfortable fit, stays on well, doesn’t feel too heavy and doesn’t leave mark on your forehead.  The headband is elastic, fully adjustable as is the light itself which can be moved to aim the beam.  I’ve worn it in the rain without issues and it does feel durable and can withstand being dropped – although I don’t want to test that too much!

To conclude, for my first venture in to night walking this head torch proved to be a good purchase  Yes, I would always take a spare torch (or two!) but I’m pleased with the Coleman and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a novice night time walker or camper.

 

 

Asda flask, Alpkit cup

Since starting some winter walks recently, I’ve found a warm drink is very welcome.
Popping to my local Asda, I picked up a 0.5 litre thermos flask and christened it on a walk in Wales on a mild Autumn day.
It was quite pleasant stopping for a nice cup of Douwe Egberts , albeit from a slightly leaky vessel.
All was good……at least until the weather got colder…

It was a chilly day in February when I climbed Foel Fenlli in North Wales. Two hours in to the walk I stopped near a stream, the sun was shining and here was a good place for a warming cup of coffee.
The push button pouring lid was badly implemented and  coffee dripped out on to my rucksack and trousers before  I poured  (and promptly discarded) a cold cup of joe.
The same happened again during a walk in Cheshire. Yes, the outside temperature was only 3 degrees Celsius but, I’d only been walking a couple of hours and again, the coffee was stone cold.

A different approach was required.
Rather than try and keep the coffee warm during a walk, why not brew it during a walk!

Step forward a simple meths burner and the Alpkit MytiMug 400.  The titanium construction means this mug is light (74g) and strong. Perfect for chucking in the rucksack yet big enough to hold  400ml (the clue’s in the name).
Not only is this a good size to hold a drink but I can also store my meths burner, lighter, meths bottle, spoon and a couple of coffee sachets in it.

The Myti mug is supplied with a handy little bag and a lid.  A lid doesn’t sound much but it makes a big difference when trying to boil water on a small meths burner. It also keeps your drink warmer once brewed and if you forget to pack a spoon, you can just chuck the coffee in and swirl the mug around without too much splashing!
Finally, the two handles fold away for easy storage, they can get a little warm after sitting on the burner but I’ve no real issues.

In conclusion, a far better way of getting your dose of coffee during a walk!
A larger mug, the 650 and a 900 pot are also available which are more suited for cooking.

Alpkit Myti 400 mug

 

 

True Mountain

We’re constantly being told to ‘shop local’, ‘save food miles’ and such like, but what about walking/running/cycling gear?

Yes, lots of companies claim to be British, using stylised Union Flags on their logos or attaching pages of information proudly detailing their English heritage, but, look on the label and invariably  the garment was produced several thousand miles away.

Step forward True Mountain.
Their products are manufactured only 40 miles or so from my home and where possible, even the materials and components are sourced  from the UK.
True Mountain beanie hatI stumbled upon True Mountain via a re-tweeted message on Twitter.
After taking a quick look on their website, I registered for their mailing list then won one of their Expedition Sportwool beanie hats   This obviously gained them a few Brownie points!
The beanie is a nice tight fit, stretchy and warm.

Before I had chance to try out the beanie, I ordered the SportWool long sleeve baselayer  Shortly after placing the order I received an email stating  there was a delay as they had noticed a flaw on the top and were making it again. If this was a problem, I could have a refund.
That’s not the quality of customer service you get from most kit producers!

Sport wool top
Excuse the crap model!

I ordered my usual size and the fit is good, especially on the arms (often a problem for me).
The top is tight enough to wick away moisture but not too restrictive.
Sportwool (a Merino Wool and Polyester blend)  is soft and not itchy like some wool products.
The stretchy side panels gave good flexibility  and the  thumb loops  add a nice additional layer under gloves.
The design is simple but it works, you really don’t need anything too fancy on a baselayer. Another nice touch is the lack of washing instructions. Some companies attach novels, all you end up doing is cut it off. True Mountain print their washing instructions on a separate magnet. Much better idea!

It’s first outing was a few days in the Lake District. I wore the top for three days without it getting smelly, each morning it felt as fresh as if it had just  come out from the wash.
Now I am nesh, very nesh. I’d complain about a draught in the Sahara in the middle of summer, however, while others were walking past  layered up in jumpers, big  coats and hats, I was only wearing this top.

Admittedly, it was unseasonably mild during my Lakes trip, but, in colder weather and on  night walks both the top and the hat have kept me nice and toasty.

When they do need a wash, both dry nice and quickly. The top even comes with a little hanging loop on the back.

In conclusion, two very nice items. The baselayer in particular will be a ‘must pack’ on my forthcoming multi day walk

 

 

 

Haglofs Vertigo II Q GT

For years I was very old fashioned in my footwear choice, when you went walking you wore big, brown, leather boots. That was it.
To be fair, there is still a place for the traditional leather boot. I still prefer them on extremely wet or snowy walks and on hills with a lot of scree, however, there is a place for approach shoes. In fact, they would probably be the best choice for most walkers.

I was disapointed with my first pair approach shoes from Merrell, too light, too flimsy.
My second pair by the Swiss brand Raichle were fantastic. Admittedly, it took a little bit of time to break them in but they soon became firm favourites.
Together, we covered many miles. They remained  comfortable and waterproof right until the bitter end.
Raichle footwear has now been re branded as Mummut, it’s parent company and, apparently, apart from the badge, little else has changed. I was tempted to stick with them for my replacements but then I discovered Haglofs.

I didn’t know much about this Swedish brand at the time and, to be honest, despite being the largest supplier of outdoor equipment in Scandinavia, they still aren’t a major player in the UK but their Vertigo shoes were getting great reviews. It’s not difficult to see why!

Haglofs Vertigo IIFor starters, gone are the days of brown boots and shoes.
Haglofs (along with other manufacturers) introduced a whole palette of colours.
I went for the rather girly purple colour. Trust me, I need all the help I can get to obtain even a slightly feminine look on the hills!
Both the men’s and women’s models come in less garish colour schemes.

 

I’ve had my boots for a good few years and they’ve traveled many, many miles around the British isles and Europe.
Up rocky slopes in Austria and snowy hills in Wales, scrambling across rocky coastal areas of Croatia. They’ve performed just as well on mountain bike rides as they do on long hikes.
Your feet always feel well supported  and never too hot.

Haglofs Approach ShoeThese shoes are a lot lighter than the conventional boot.
An EVA midsole reduces the overall weight of the shoe but still keeps it robust.
Abrasion resistant rubber is used on the toe and heel to provide extra protection and Gore-Tex is used to keep your tootsies dry.
The Haglofs are extremely comfortable and, unlike my previous approach shoes needed no breaking in at all.

In 2013 Trail magazine gave the following review:
“The quality of the all-round performance, coupled with the long-term durability of the design, makes the Haglöfs Vertigo II GT ideal for general use in a wide range of activities. It won the ‘Best in Test’ Award.”

Many retailers stock the Vertigo II and you can find some good deals, for example, take a look on Amazon  who still sell them at decent prices

 

Arc’teryx Beta LT Waterproof

Rainy walk Moel FamauI admit, Arc’teryx isn’t the cheapest brand you can buy, in fact I was mocked for the amount I paid for my waterproof. They do, however, make some very good stuff!

I have been very glad of their Beta LT  waterproof hardshell on a number of occasions. It did an amazing job of keeping me dry during the deluge on the Moel Famau to Moel Arthur walk

The Beta series refers to all-round mountain wear and, rather unsurprisingly,  LT refers to lightweight.

This is a very breathable jacket,  made from Gore-tex Pro 3 layer and N40p-X (which is a new one for me!)   e3D Ergonomic patterning is used   to give enhanced comfort and mobility.

Arcteryx waterproof jacketI’m a rather freakish build, quite tall with ape like arms, however it fits perfectly just as well over just a t-shirt as it does over the Arc’teryx Cerium down jacket during colder months.
Although big enough to wear over layers, it’s still small enough to be fitted, perhaps a little too fitted for, shall we say, some larger sized people.

Jacket inside pocketThere are a lot of adjustable bits on the peaked hood, cuffs and collar, two good sized , zipped pockets at the front, positioned so you can still access them wearing a rucksack, and there is a smaller, zipped inside pocket.

The zips on the pockets and the main zip use ‘WaterTight zippers’. Arc’teryx say they are ‘highly water resistant, but not waterproof and do not recommend keeping items in your pockets that may be damaged by moisture‘, however even in extreme downpours I’ve not had any problems.

Another bonus is it’s machine washable at 30 deg C, just make sure the washing machine is clear of any nasty fabric conditioner!

In conclusion, it’s true what they say, you do get what you pair for. This is a fantastically waterproof and very light shell. Perhaps not the best option for anyone just beginning walking/hiking for the first time, but experienced outdoor enthusiasts will find themselves making this a firm favourite!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑