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Spot testing in Wales

My  SPOT Satellite Messenger  is a second hand Gen 2, purchased from someone who has upgraded to the Gen 3.

The SPOT is a GPS tracking device that uses the Globalstar satellite network to provide text messaging and GPS tracking.  I was about to put it through it’s paces in the Clwydian hills.

But first, lets rewind a little…..
Spot Tracker Gen 2 DeviceThe SPOT is a small (9.4 x 6.6 x 2.5 cm), light  (150g ), rugged, bright orange device.
On the front is the on/off button and three function buttons. Two other buttons are behind protective flaps. It is intuitive to use but can be awkward when wearing gloves.

The three AAA lithium batteries  are housed in a compartment  which is secured with two screws although they can be opened and closed without needing a screwdriver.

Before using it, I had to register my SPOT on their website, www.findmespot.com and pay the annual subscription fee. I also added on the tracking service (included in the Gen 3 basic subscription).
Including VAT, this set me back €164.04 (£138)

So, what was all this money getting me?
I see it a like an insurance. You pay insurance on your home, car or travel hoping you never need to use it, it’s the same with the SPOT.
If  I’m ever in trouble I can get a friend or family member to come to my aid or (if in dire need) the emergency services. Conversely, there is an ‘OK’ button so if I’m in an area where a disaster has taken place, I can let people know I’m  safe at a time when I might not be able to reach them via a mobile phone.
With these scenarios  in my mind, I used the SPOT website to set up two different profiles, each with their own set of messages. You can only set up these messages on the website, not while you’re out in the field so it’s worth taking your time writing them. All messages contain your text and your exact co-ordinates which link to both the SPOT website and Google maps

The first profile I called ‘Walking’, this would contain the details for messages sent while I was out hiking.
First, I set up the Help/Assist. This would send texts and emails to family members if I got in to trouble. I set the following text; “Some minor problem at this location I aim to contact you within the next  hour” My contacts would receive this message and if they didn’t receive a call or OK message they would know where to find me.
For Check In/Ok  I used the following text; “All OK here If you’ve received any ‘help’ messages, they can be ignored” This would be sent to the same people as the Help/Assist.
Next was a custom message, for this I entered something simple, “This is where I am today“.  The message along with the co-ordinates, would be sent to a larger circle of family and friends.

My next profile was called ‘Holiday’. The wording used in my holiday profile is slightly different, knowing family won’t be able to come to my aid if I’m thousands of miles away.

I then had to make sure the correct profile was selected As no holidays were planned, it went to Walking mode.

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There is one generic setting for SOS. If you press the SOS button, the emergency services of the country you are in are alerted via GEOS, International Emergency Response. A  message is also sent to the telephone number of your primary and secondary contacts.
An SOS message is transmitted every 5 minutes until the battery dies or it is cancelled.  Unlike the other messages the SOS message will be sent also even if the device can’t locate GPS

Now to set up the tracking by clicking on the ‘Share’ and ‘Create a Share’ links.
As I wasn’t planning any multi day hikes, I set the ‘Share GPS locations to 24 hours then shared the URL with friends and family.
You can set up several pages here and choose what to share with particular people.

website
Spot tracker in useSo now to try it out in the wild.
I parked up in the Coed Moel Famau car park, turned the SPOT on and strapped it to my arm
The power and GPS lights were flashing.
I pressed the tracking button for three seconds and it’s green light also began to flash.
I get little or no phone signal in this area so it would be a good test  for the SPOT.
It was also raining. The heavy drizzle was forecast to remain through out the day, an opportunity to see how water proof it really is!
The device should work in temps between -30C and +60C and up to altitude of 6500 meters. (A SPOT has been used on top of Mt Everest)  so it should easily withstand anything I could throw at it.

Buying egggsI headed North East from the car park and continued towards Brithdir Bach. Here, there was a clear view of the sky so I tested sending a custom message. I pressed and held the button until it flashed. I then paused to take a photo then pressed the tracking button again before heading to Bryn Alyn for some eggs!

I didn’t pay much attention to the SPOT much after that just taking the occasional glance to make sure the GPS, power and tracking lights were flashing.
It felt reasonably comfortable on my arm  over my mid layer and waterproof jacket.

It was a pleasant route covering paths I’ve not  walked previously, it was just a shame it was so wet, muddy and unseasonably chilly (for July) . The 10 mile/16km route is available as a GPX file.
When I got home I eagerly fired up the SPOT website to see how well it had recorded my route…..
……it hadn’t.
It had recorded 6 points along the way covering just two miles of the ten mile route.
I checked my email for the custom message I had sent in the field.  That hadn’t arrived either.I was disappointed when I compared the SPOT track with the track recorded on my phone using View Ranger
spot tracker
ViewRanger
Reading around it seems it doesn’t work too well under tree cover, saying that, as the maps above show, I was hardly spending the entire day under dense forest.
I also read other users carrying out a pre -walk routine of  turning Spot on at the start point, place it down with a clear view of the sky, start tracking, and then send an ok/check-in message.
Remembering the text I had used on my OK message, I didn’t want to start firing those off to various members of family, so my plan was to set up a Test profile with messages sent to only my email account.
With this new approach, I did a very quick test to track my drive to Fencing training and back. Success!
Since then, results have been mixed using it in various locations around Europe.

The real reason for purchasing the SPOT was for emergency situations and, hopefully, I’ll never have the opportunity to test that functionality but, in these days of improved phone signal I really am wondering if the subscription is worth the price when I come to renew.

In conclusion, a clever device and potentially life saving but an expensive and unreliable way of sharing locations with others.

Screenshot_2016-08-06-18-16-48
Update: annoyingly, once Spot have your credit card details, they automatically renew once your subscription expires. To cancel, you have to contact them two or three months in advance. I did this via the “Contact Us” form on their website.
Numerous emails were sent back and forth until they offered me a very good deal on the subscription. I’ve renewed for another year.
Sadly I suspect it will be more haggling again this time next year.

JetBoil Flash Review

I’ve a new toy – the JetBoil Flash basically, a portable device for boiling water.

In the past, my rucksack contained a couple of flasks of juice and I would march along my route, hardly breaking stride as I reached round for a swig.
More recently I started to fill a flask. I would make up a coffee before I left home/base and it would be there when I needed it. Trouble was, I often ended up drinking cold coffee, especially in winter and much of the drink would spill or leak.
I progressed on to a meths burner. It wasn’t the easiest thing to use but it was cheap, light and usually/eventually provided enough boiling water for a drink –  just add instant coffee and milk.
I did, however, have problems in winter,  in the wet and when I forgot my lighter – the most likely problem!

Jet Boil BitsStep forward the  JetBoil Flash cooking system. It is self contained (at least it would be if I had the smaller gas canister!) and boils water in around two minutes.
Every thing except the  a screw top gas canister comes straight out the box.

I packed my rucksack and headed to my usual playground – the Clwydian Range.
Initially, I noticed the sack did feel a bit heavier but after a few minutes climb didn’t notice the extra load. Needless to say, not only would the smaller gas fit in the mug, it would also reduce the weight considerably.

I had followed the first part of the walk many times before but today seemed so much more picturesque. Spring was in full force leaving a technicolour vista punctuated by the imposing, snow capped Snowdon in the distance.
Views from Moel Famau to Snowdon

I took the Offa’s Dyke path up Moel Famau and continued to the west passing Moel Dywyll before dropping down towards the road.  I’d often been around this area and wondered where the track to the left hand side of the road went….so I followed it.
The path soon moved away from the road and I found a spot with lovely views to christen my JetBoil.

Jet Boil in the fieldSetting it up was easy.
I took the orange ‘feet’ out from the mug, unfolded them then clamped  on the gas canister.
Next out was the stove itself. Flip out the gas regulator on the site and screw the stove on to the gas canister.
Covering the bottom of the mug is a measuring pot which is handy for keeping dry ingredients  – coffee in my case.  Popping the bottom off reveals the flux ring heat exchanger.  This does the clever stuff which enables the JetBoil to work so well.
Little lugs can be found on the bottom of the mug, line these up with the stove and give it a small turn to lock in place. No chance of accidentally knocking the cup over, something that happened a few times with the slightly top heavy meths burner and mug.

I  removed the top from the mug and poured in enough water to reach the ‘2 cup’ mark.
I put the lid back on, turned the regulator to start the gas flow, clicked the lighter on the opposite side and it started to boil up the water.
Simple!
Boiled changes colourIt sounded vicious but in less than two minutes, the water had boiled.
A handy feature is the marking on the side of the mug which turns orange when the water has boiled. This takes the guess work out of the boiling and stops the urge to pop the lid to see how hot the water is getting.
The neoprene ‘cozy’ covering the mug ensures the mug is safe to lift up. Incidentally,  the side strap of the  ‘cozy’  can be used to store teaspoons.
Once boiled, stop the gas flow, twist the mug to unlock and brew  some coffee……or tea, or cook noodles, make up dried food….there are a whole load of things you can create and JetBoil have posted some recipes on their website

After my cuppa, I continued on my walk.
I could have remained on this path right around the ‘base’ of Moel Famau, however, keen to increase my mileage for the ViewRanger challenge, I turned off on to a road to my right.
At a junction, I took another right towards the small village of Llangynhafal.
A footpath passes to the left of the  Golden Lion Inn and through the campsite behind. The views from this campsite are spectacular, however (at the moment at least) the only ‘facility’ is a tap in the corner of the field.
Airbus Beluga from Hawarden
The path crosses a road before following the base of Moel Famau, at one point I got cracking view of the Airbus Beluga aircraft taking wings from the nearby factory in Hawarden.
Near a farm, the path joins a concrete ‘road’. There is a path which continues South, however, it was impossible to tell what was the route and what was a gate in to their garden even checking against my GPS and paper OS map. I wasn’t brave enough to risk trespassing so continued along the road to a junction in Hirwaen where I took a left.
There are a number of ways back  on to the original route, I took a left at Pen-y-waen, from there I headed East back to the car park.

All in all, a very enjoyable walk and I can definitely see the JetBoil getting a lot of use!

Download this route as a GPX file

 

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

 

 

 

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