2018 Retrospective

Its nearing the end of the year and as many will do its that time to look back and reflect on the year gone by. It’s easy for us to just list all the good things that happened so I will reflect on some of the bad which I haven’t shared with others on social.

At the start of 2018 I was unsure how the year would pan out, prior to Christmas having just been made redundant and was on a low from this. Regardless of age, being made redundant is difficult and not something everyone expects but at 25, I was devastated and really shook my confidence.

It’s important to remember in these situations that you may not have control of everything so all you can do is your best, pick yourself up, brush off the dirt and plod on and that’s what I did and thanks for to my family, girlfriend, the ladies in my new job at Brand Pilot and the guys in the TwitterTogFest who supported me and made SnowdoniaTogFest2017 such a laugh.

January like most years is pretty uneventful in terms of photography and I remember it raining an awful lot but with the new job in full swing a lot of my time moved from outdoor photography and doing my own thing to video, animation and spending a lot more time focused on the day job. Drastic change compared to before Christmas.

It didn’t stay like this for long however and the following month I joined Chris Dale, Dave Fieldhouse and other togs to celebrate our success in the IGPOTY.

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In the following few months the achievements kept rolling in with my outdoor, expedition book being published with Kozu Books, my Duke of Edinburgh Gold award presentation at Buckingham Palace, becoming a Vanguard Photo ambassador and moving in with my girlfriend.

With all these amazing highlights it’s great but you feel a little underwhelmed when nothing happens the following month and you feel you need to keep on a high and it wasn’t to long until the next big blow to motivation and work happened.

Another redundancy… Yep you read correct. Two in less than 5 months, what shit luck with work is that! Fortunately not my main role which brings in the money but one of my bigger passions and enjoyments in life being an outdoors leader for the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, feeling sad and gutted was putting it mildly. Several months on it’s still raw as to why the decisions were made to close the units. I won’t go in to the reasons why and politics behind it all but to put it simply it was stupid and blind sighted decision on many peoples part which has spoilt the award for kids involved.

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This was one of the final straws for myself. I was getting sick and tired of my fate being decided by others and it was the small people being left hung out with no explanation and struggling to continue after. This was the catalyst and tipping point for me this year where I’ve said enough is enough, stop making excuses and start doing stuff for yourself again.

Which is selfish, I agree but for my own self-esteem and keeping a roof over my head and money to continue coming in I had to make the decision to leave all my other voluntary roles and stop working for free and put my focus in to myself with my website, reviews, photography and trips away.

Since this decision I have ramped up the photography and in hindsight now was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time and the past 5 months has been pretty amazing and social with other likeminded people. Thanks to Grant, Jim and Gareth who I’ve joined on several outings now across Wales and they’ve helped lift my spirits and feeling bitter about the DofE situation and continued the fun of expeditions, wild camps and outings.

So thank you gents! Very much looking forward to our future camps and trips we’ve discussed for 2019.

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The year has been pretty turbulent with work but as a whole it’s been an enjoyable year and in the last few months I end 2018 on a high. I have now been working with MyOutdoors for two years, in October I was involved in a number of special features with Home of Millican and ThryveWorld, after a year of working with Snugpak I have been made a brand ambassador and joined 11 amazing photographers in the DiscoverCymru 2019 calendar, and although a wet week, SnowdoniaTogFest2018 was another great laugh and plenty of photographs of the back of this trip. Many of which I have put forward to OPOTY which will be my final competition as 2019 I will be moving away from competitions and focusing on educating, workshops, more photography and outings with other togs. All the fun things verse the stresses of social media and competitions.

So without further a due, thank you to all you for the support and making this past year, one to remember!

Thank you to:
The teams at Vanguard Photo UK, Spain and US, Snugpak, Home of Millican, Wigwam Socks, ThryveWorld, DiscoverCymru, VisitWales, Visit Brecon Beacons, Time to Log Off, 84.5mm filters, Click and Learn Photography, MyOutdoors, LType, The TwitterTogFest group, Jim Cossey, Gareth Danks, Grant Hyatt, all the brands who I’ve worked with on reviews and features and finally the brilliant ladies at Brand Pilot Ltd.


My most popular photo of 2018 is my “Hot Hikes on the Carmarthen Fans” which was taken at the end of a long and hot 12 mile hike over the Brecon Beacons and finishing at a lake called Llyn y Fan Fawr.

Features in the DiscoverCymru 2019 calendar and Landscape Photography Magazine Galleria winner

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When did you first discover Snugpak?

You will have seen from recent announcements between myself and Snugpak and our continued collaboration with each other with myself now as part of the team as a brand ambassador.
I’m very proud to continue this working with Snugpak whom I’ve relied on for many years now for my outdoor kit but as asked last week by the Snugpak team on social media when did you (I) first discover Snugpak?

 My Kozu Books story - Detox
The book brings together a series of expeditions and trips across the UK in to a book about getting outdoors and enjoying what the country has no matter the weather.

The book takes you through a natural journal as if you were walking a series of paths, woods or mountains to get from camp to the coast.

I first discovered Snugpak back in 2015/2016 whilst on my own Duke of Edinburgh Gold expeditions who were run by Expedition Wales. The team at ExpedWales had selected Snugpak’s highly popular Scorpion tents because they were robust, 4-season, easy to repair and cheaper compared to similar tents of its range which were upwards of £600+ a tent and when putting in bulk orders of 10+ tents cost is going to be a factor and even more so when you will be taking the tents out 6, 7 even up to 10 times a month for 8 months of the year and being left with a group of teenagers in the wilds of Wales the tents better hold up on their own and withstand the conditions and mistreatment in the field.

Above: Pumlumon Fawr, Cambrian Mountains, Wales - 600m base camp with the clear skies but high winds the tents were extremely stable and protecting us from winds on the highest peak in the region.
Below: Same location but looking towards the peak - This is my winning photograph from the 2016 MyTentView in collaboration with MyOutdoors and Terra Nova equipment which was one of the starting conversations I had with MyOutdoors which has led me to continue working with the team as a equipment reviewer.

As a Scout leader myself at the time I likely appreciated the quality of the tents more than the others in the exped team, having to run similar gigs myself in the same manner with cost being the biggest driver.
Lowest cost but highest quality for the range which is certainly possible and as an outdoors leader my two most recommended tents I suggest to people on a budget are:
Snugpak’s Scorpion II or III tents and the Vango Banshee tents. Both of which I can speak for from experience being used by hundreds of teenagers across the year on exped in remote locations, in varied conditions and the only causalities we’d typically get at the end of an exped is pegs.

Fast forward two years and my Snugpak kit has grown considerably using clothing as well as the camping equipment but still to this date my favourite item from the brand is the Scorpion II tent.

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Transparency Notice: Please note that I am a Snugpak ambassador and receive the products for free to review from Snugpak. The review is no guarantee of endorsement. I receive no monetary gain from Snugpak from the reviews.

SnowdoniaTogFest2018

Another year on and the merry band of mad photographers in the next big Togfest is here but this year has been tough, several of the guys couldn’t make it and have been missed so we will be putting together another TogFest for the New Year in the Brecon Beacons. This year, myself, Matt Dartford, Neil Burnell, Dani Colston, Toby, Chris Pope and Dave Fieldhouse ventured up to North Wales for a week of photography, cold, rain and mountains. Shaun Mills, Matt Garbutt, Darren Rose and Stuart McGlennon will be missed.

Like last year a bunch of photographers rallied together and headed of to a rarely visited location and visit numerous points around the area in a hope to capture something different. Now the week running up to the TogFest2018 it had forecasted snow so a few of us were certainly excited to seeing the white fluffy stuff for a change. (When I mean a few of us were excited, me mainly). But this wasn’t meant to be and the temperatures rapidly increased from the -10ºc to plus 14ºc so quite the change and along with this warmer weather was a lot of rain and wind. Not ideal for long exposures or any photography to that matter.

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With the weather change in mind a few of us decided to cut our drive up and stop off at Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire hoping for some better conditions.
I was the first to arrive at 7:30 as the sun began to rise and in the car park it was great. No wind and sheltered but as soon as you got on top near the radar stations on top you were quickly blown off your feet so any long exposures we had hoped for with these structures was going to be difficult not to mention the flat boring light we had. Anything slower than 1/10th second was picking up movement on the smaller tower which when you approached and got closed you could hear rattling in the wind.

Myself, Dani, Neil and Toby stayed around here until 10/11am where we tried to find a new location around Clee Hill. Toby thought he had seen some tractor like machine object coming out of a shed and looking all ominous with trees and plants growing over the top of it. I still laugh now seeing Neil’s reaction as we pulled up on this roadside to look at this shed and watching Neil shaking his hands out of the car window as our convoy started a traffic jam. As quick as we pulled up next to this shed of nothing we quickly turned around and began our final part of the journey up to North Wales.

Fast forward two hours we all arrived at our very warm cottage. We arrived at 1pm and hoped we might be able to get some more time out or that the weather hadn’t really been that bad but it was so we waited until Chris arrived. Packed our kit ready for the Sunday and then headed up the road to the pub for some dinner and beers.

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As you see from above our visit to Dinorwic was wet to say the least and it was a case of planning shots between rain showers and the cameras living in rain sleeves for the better part of the visit. We arrived just after sunrise at 8am and tackling in what can only be described as a small stream rather than a road up to the upper levels to have an explore. For most of us this was our first trip to the upper levels and although we all knew how vast Dinorwic quarry is. It’s only when you spend some time on the upper levels do you see how big and how much of a maze this slate playground is.

Despite the heavy rain and difficult working conditions we stayed out on Dinorwic for most of the day and only returned around 3pm to head back to find Dave. On Dave’s arrival he was hopefully for some better conditions in the last hour of light but as we all peered out of the window we could just see more bands of rain coming through so plan A stayed. To the pub!

Dave didn’t have to wait long for those better conditions however. The following day was clear, still and not a cloud in the sky. It was quite the surprise. If you’ve been to Snowdonia or similar areas you will know that the mountains cause micro climates and today was the reminder how different it can be as we all split up and went off to different areas of Snowdonia.
Dave and Toby headed to Ogwen Valley, Neil, Dani and Chris were at Newborough woods on Anglesey but first paid a first to the Lone Tree on Llyn Padarn and I headed over to Beddgelert and Nant Gwynant. This was a welcome split and meant we all would get something different, unlike the previous year where many of us had the same shots and only our styles of editing would make each distinguishable.

On Anglesey, the guys had long exposures and detailed macro shots, Ogwen valley with traditional landscapes and vantage points and myself in the woodland, rivers and lakes.

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We all stayed out from sunrise to sunset. The guys from Anglesey came back over and joined me in Llanberis at Llanberis quarry. Now we owe Greg Whitton as usual a big thank you for the tip of this quarry and all four of us repeated his shot looking over the hole of the quarry out to Llanberis with Dinorwic in the distance.

One issue, this composition only works in stormy, cloudy conditions. The blue sky just looked to happy and odd, it was as if someone Photoshopped this awful sky in to what is a great view. I think I speak for most of us on that visit to the quarry in that nothing was a real keeper.

As the light started to fade and some clouds began to come through we opted to leave the quarry for better compositions. We were going to revisit our roadside spot opposite Dinorwic to shoot the orange trees and slate which we was the plan up until we parked here and Neil quickly muttered going to Llyn y Dywarchen instead.

We all agreed and off we went but all of us completely forgot actually how far it was and by the time we arrived the light had been blocked by the mountain range by the fishing lake. Leaving nothing but a flat shaded ground against a bright blue sky with little clouds for anything special.

It’s easy to blame Neil here for making this decision of location so I will. Neil you messed up! What this visit was good for was scouting the location and seeing the vantage points for compositions for later in the week when the weather was due to worsen.

As the last of the light went we all agreed this would be a brilliant spot for some astro but as we mutted the words astro our stomachs began rumberling and on that note we all left to go get dinner and find a Matt Dartford.

On arrival back at the house we found Dave and a very sleepy Toby.
Poor Toby had been taken on a loop around Ogwen Valley, venturing up Pen yr Ole Wen to the classic waterfall view to Tryfan and the stone wall up top, back down and over to Y Garn and back down and up to Llyn Caseg-Fraith so both guys put in some serious leg work with the mountain climbs here.

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This didn’t stop Toby who was keen to get back out very quickly to try his hand at some astro photography in which Dani joined him and the pair ventured back to Ogwen Valley and shooting from Cwm Idwal. This is also where we parted with Chris who had been in the Lake District days before and with a solid week of walking and lugging a heavy rucksack. His shoulder was now playing agro so opted to return home to recover and beat the traffic.

Shortly after the trio left, Mr Dartford stepped through the doors, unpacked and those of us left at the cottage once again returned the pub.

Now to plan for the next day, both Neil and Matt were keen to go where Dave had been in Ogwen Valley so I offered to take the pair up Pen yr Ole Wen to get the classic shot and vantage points. Dave opted to take Toby over to Watkin path and find something here having just been in Ogwen Valley before. In the whole week, these were the hardest conditions to shoot in with heavy, driving rain coming in to your face. We only had three photo opportunities and all three we needed to keep shooting in hope to get something between cleaning the lens and lifting the rain covers.

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With all three of us soaked we decided to head back to dry off and recover before venturing back out once more. Before we headed out both Dave and Toby returned and here the two parted from North Wales too. With work calling and the weather forecast not improving they made the decision to leave before things got worse.

The three of us left, our next location was in the centre of the National Park in Blaenau Ffestiniog at a slate quarry called Cwmorthin and much like the morning it was wet but with some improvement with some breaks and at least we weren’t on a mountain side and had the shelter of the quarry from the wind. The three of us remained here till sunset and would had likely stayed longer if the wind hadn’t changed direction and the rain started once more. We also made the silly mistake of climbing to the upper levels here which had nothing but ruins and more lethal wet slate on the ground. Both me and Neil nearly slipped up here with tripods and cameras still locked in on the end. Don’t panic nothing broke but both of us quickly opted to put the cameras back safely in our rucksacks.

Having climbed unnecessarily up this slate mountain for no reason we began the slow trudge back down to the better compositions in the lower valley but as soon as we arrived back down to view the church and path back did the rain return. Tired, wet and now very hungry we opted to leave and find dinner where we descended on Blaenau to find dinner and bought half the contents of a local Co op store.

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Wednesday morning was a little more promising weatherwise and the day started cloudy with breaks from some decent sunshine breaking through.
However it wasn’t to last very long. As quick as we arrived in to the local woods at Capel Curig did the rain once again come in…

For me personally, the woodland shots was something different and somewhat challenging. Having moved away from woodland and now spend more time focusing on mountains being in such a confined area and working on a micro level was eye opening again, this is likely the reason I’ve never gone full macro and purchased a lens in this medium. However it was enjoyable and although not on the same successes as the previous days out I got a few images I’m fairly happy with.
Both Matt and Neil they were in there element, especially Neil with his new behemoth of a lens! Sigma 105mm f/1.4

The lens weighed 2.5kg and was larger than your face, it really was a daft lens but the results from what Neil showed me on the back of the camera were stunning. This lens is a bokeh king but a heavy one.

After returning from the woods and spending nearly a good hour for our pig to be killed and served up to us we decided to part our ways and go to different locations.
Neil returned to Llanberis quarry to reshoot here with some better moody conditions, myself opted to go up Snowdon along Crib Goch and Pyg Track for some gear testing and shooting above the lakes. Whereas Matt decided the wet weather was enough and opted to return home. So here three became two.

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With now just myself and Neil we opted to spend our Thursday at several quarries and lakes, first revisiting Llyn y Dywarchen and then on to Dorothea quarry.

As you will have seen from above where I first mentioned this fishing lake with the blue sky it did nothing for us and we knew it needed some mood and clouds to make this area and that is exactly what we got on our return! Soft light, hazy clouds hanging around over the tops of Allt Maenderyn (Snowdon’s South ridge) in the distance. Everything we shot last time, we both knew was being binned off in comparison to what we had now. Everything we took was a keeper and had opportunities for us to use later, whether this was a classic moody and atmospheric shot or some further post production to make a darker surreal photo.

As we finished at the fishing lake we ventured further in to the valley to find Dorothea, a quarry we had wanted to visit for some time now but had heard most, if not all the buildings were boardered up and you had no access to the walk any more. This wasn’t strictly all true but the labrinth on the opposite side of the quarry was fenced off but not completely blocked off. It does however make it very difficult to get any wider photos of the ruins but in the heavy rain that now joined us at Dorothea this worked to our advantage.

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With the walk out of Dorothea being a very wet and miserable one we both had to make a decision when we returned. Remain in Snowdonia until Saturday as planned and hope the weather was changing for the better or leave early Friday to spend the weekends back at home.

To put it simply, our last night was spent watching Wicked Tuna and a few beers whilst packing up our kit. The following morning we loaded up the cars and headed to one last location where it would be sheltered and some morning light before the storms blew through. It’s been another great week of photography and plenty of keepers and editing now to do. Even finishing writing this I still have so many untouched photos from the week which I will sit on until I revisit over the Christmas period when work is quieter and I can spend some time on each.

This will be our final year visiting Snowdonia having visited the last two years so we will be changing where we go next year. Currently we are looking at Cornwall/Devon for a similar time next year and South Wales in the Brecon Beacons and Gower coastline in March time. Below is a list of locations and my map to show you how wide and varied each location was.

During my time in North Wales I ran a number of reviews which can be found below:

Snugpak Torrent Jacket

Vanguard Photo Vesta Strive Range

GoToob+ travel bottles

GoalZero30 power bank

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Locations visited:
Clee Hill, Pistyll Rhaeadr, Dinorwic slate quarry, Ogwen Valley, Llynnau Mymbyr, Capel Curig, Pont Aberglasyln, Beddgelert, Dorothea quarry, Snowdon, Cwmorthin quarry, Anglesey, Tŵr Bach Lighthouse, Cwyfan Church, Newborough, Llyn y Dywarchen, Llanberis, Llanberis quarry, Llyn Caseg-Fraith, Pen yr Ole Wen, Cwm Idwal, Watkin Path, Nant Gwynant, Moel Siabod and Llyn Crafnant

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GoToob+ review

What Humangear say:

The first GoToob was the original, patented soft travel bottle, and it set the standard in this category for a decade. While others have been busy trying to copy the original GoToob, we’ve been busy making something even better. Small, medium, and large are available in all colors. X-Large is available in clear, blue, and green. Pre-packaged 3-packs are available in three-color assortments.

The new GoToob+ keeps the features people love: it’s still made from soft, rugged silicone that’s easy to squeeze and gets every last drop out; the small, medium, and large sizes are still air travel approved (TSA); and all four sizes are food-safe (FDA). But the GoToob+ also offers a bunch of new features that no other soft travel bottle in the world has.

The GoToob+ features a new, larger opening making it both easier to fill and clean. The bases of all the GoToob+ tubes have been contoured so that they can now stand up easily for even easier filling. There are larger size indicators on the silicone (making the size clearer to TSA agents so you can breeze through security), not to mention the tubes come in new shapes, sizes, and colors. And we haven't even told you about our patent-pending LoopLock yet. 

The GoToob+ collar has our exclusive LoopLock, which makes it almost impossible to accidentally open the cap, further reducing the chance of any leakage. The LoopLock can also be used to hang the tube from a hook or clip it to the outside of a pack. There’s also a textured area on the collar where you can write in the contents with a permanent marker - the texturing helps the ink stay in place and prevents it from being rubbed off.

The small 1.7 fl. oz. size slips easily into pockets, bags, purses, and other tight spots. The small 1.7 fl. oz. size, medium 2.5 fl. oz. size, and large 3.4 fl. oz. size are all TSA carry-on approved. Going on a super long trip and need lots of lotion for those hard-working hands? Humangear is now offering a 6 fl. oz. size as well.  New, large size indicators on the tubes make their sizes clear to TSA agents, to help you breeze through security.  All GoToob+ are 100% BPA-free, PC-free, and Phthalate-free. They are also covered by our lifetime warranty.

Colors: Clear, Green, Blue, Red, Orange, Pink, Aqua, Purple, Dark Blue ,Teal

Materials: Tube: Silicone, Cap Valve: Silicone, ID ring and cap plastic: #5PP (polypropylene), All materials: FDA food-safe, BPA-free, Phthalate-Free

On Review

These oddly shaped bottles are to put it simply a stroke of genius which until you’ve used them, you wouldn’t know you were missing them from your life.

In this latest review I take the GoToob+ bottles out to try out in everyday life and out travelling. Firstly, they come in a variety of sizes from small up to x-larger which provides plenty of sizes for your travel needs whether this be hiking, holiday away or taking abroad. They can be purchased individually or as a group in a pack of three from small up to large. The small is 53ml, medium being 74ml and large 100ml.

I often only stuck to the smaller sizes of the small and medium which I found was plenty for a week’s trip or weekend away. I found the small the best personally as it’s so small and easy to throw in to a bag and not worry about. With all the GoToob+ bottles a clip lock has been designed in to the cap so using this I knew I didn’t have to worry about any leaks or the cap failing. The clip lock was simple to use by simply sliding the lock out and pushing up over the flip lid. It would need some force in order for an object in the rucksack or case to cause the lid to fail.

As for the bottle itself the rubber case is plenty strong, and these mighty strong bottles are almost like bouncy balls and can be thrown about and take a fair beating before they would puncture. Again, it would be a miracle/freak accident for something to puncture the bottles. The bottles themselves come in a variety of colours which you can select on the website when purchasing. The three packs have less variety but still cover the main spectrum of colours available.

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At first appearance they might seem expensive at a small bottle being £6 and a medium at £7 or a pack of three mediums is £20 from Cotswold Outdoors. You must remember these are re-useable and when you consider flying you need to sift through products and buy smaller items in order to take aboard your flight these will mean you can save money in the long run by using products from home in a safe and secure means without the worry of security at boarding. If you consider the small travel items you would have to take away such as shampoo, shower gel or toothpaste can set you back near £10 and you’d struggle to get change from that.

My partner found the larger sizes in particular the medium especially more helpful from a women’s perspective and found it cheaper and better for her travelling with work in and out of the country. She could fill up the GoToobs with her usual products from home and this would cover her for several trips and worked out cheaper rather than buying several lots of miniatures for each trip.

These bottles aren’t just for cleansing products but can be used for food and are BPA free so much like the issues of small shower gels costing the same as a large bottle you can simply fill one of these little bottles up using a standard sized product such as Mayo or Ketchup to take away. This could be very popular with hikers who would like some extra flavour or sauce with their dehydrated meals out hiking. Or if you have a van you take away, rather than lots of glass bottles potentially smashing or taking up lots of space you can save space and time with these small squeeze bottles.

Cleaning the bottles out is fairly easy and even on the smaller bottles there is plenty of room to fit a small sponge or fingers inside to clean out the contents, using the small bottles for a recent trip I used them for toiletries which as most know shower gel or shampoo isn’t good to digest. A good clean they were used days later for food and my partners toiletries for her trip abroad and post the clean the bottles didn’t smell or taste like shower gel or washing up liquid for that matter. Due to the rubber bottle I found leaving them to air dry on a rack best rather than using a towel which meant fluffy and fabric from the towels remained on the exterior.

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These simple bottles are really rather clever, and I had previously never heard of them but having now used them I can see so many uses for them and not just with travel requirements but to reduce plastic and food waste around the house. Outside of this the obvious aid these bottles can offer in cost saving and space saving for travels abroad, in the country or just getting away to camp is a great option.

For those out on the hills using these to hold Ketchup, Fruit juice for water or just shower gel, shampoo for holidays. The list keeps going and as I opened with these are simply put a stroke of genius which is time, money and space saving all round. There is a little up-front cost of course as with any item, but the use goes beyond one use and can be continued to use for further trips.

Comparing power banks

Recently I have reviewed the FREELOADER Off-Grid Power bank and GoalZero Venture30 but I also personally own a Xtorm hybrid solar power bank and each offers various features for different prices and this is just three power banks. There are 10’s maybe close to 100 hundred brands which offer power banks from £1 cheap banks to fit in your power to big solar kits to keep you going for an entire week but what is best?

I compare the three power banks I have reviewed/owned in order to help you decide what is best.

Starting with the Xtorm Hybrid power bank:
10,000mAH solar power bank offers recharging option from solar power or direct from a power source, whether mains or from a computer via USB. It’s a light weight package in a thin but large design which is rain proof IP44. The bank can charge a smart phone 4x and weighs in at 250g.

The Xtorm power bank can take a full day to recharge using the solar panel built in so can be a little slow to recharge but does give you the option to as well as charging two devices at the same time. In addition to the charging and solar power recharging the power bank has a bright torch on the rear which is plentiful bright but does drain the bank rather quickly so use sparingly. A carry loop is also built in to the design on top to help fasten to rucksacks to continue charging on the go.

Retail price = £35 (Not available to purchase brand new anymore).

Up next the GoalZero Venture 30:
A 7,800mAH waterproof power bank which as standard doesn’t offer solar recharging as an option but can be purchased with a larger +7Watt panel which is rather large for on the go requirements but perfect for vans, cars or hiking long distances with a rucksack. This bank can charge a smart phone 2-3 times.

Much like the Xtorm is housed in a strong robust exterior which is not just rainproof but waterproof to IPX6 and offers dual charging and a torch light on the front. Similar to the Xtorm hybrid the torch can drain the bank rather quickly but does offer various levels of brightness for different needs. Unlike the Xtorm it comes with a built in micro USB used for charging devices or the bank itself.

As it can't not be charged with solar power built in, its restriction is once dead you have to charge via the mains or if you have the large +7 Watt panel to charge at base camp. I found charging the power bank very slow and from 10% life to 90% would take a good 7 hours using a laptop device or in the mains slightly less at 4-5 hours.

Weighing in at the same weight at 250g but slightly smaller design, the GoalZero can fit nicely in to a pocket which is just as well as it doesn’t feature a carry loop on top for strapping to rucksacks but with no solar panel why would you need to?

This bank is also the most expensive of the three at £99, with the nomad 7 watt panel = £180 and 7 plus watt £200

Finally the FREELOADER SiXer off-grid bank:
The smallest mAH of the three at 6,000mAH but offers a lighter and more compact design with more features at a lower price point in comparison.

The bank is freeze and waterproof at IPX6 much like the GoalZero and comes with built in usb and apple connection cables for dual charging and a third USB port for more devices or charging the bank. As with the Xtorm the bank as a solar charger which is quick to charge even in power weather and coupled with the larger 5W supercharger which is smaller and lighter but waterproof compared to the 7watt nomad of the GoalZero panels its a good option for adventurers and photographers looking to get off the grid with a small, lightweight package.

The bank can charge 2/3 smart phones as well as camera batteries with the photographers bundle using a universal charger. The bank as standard comes with a rubber sleeve for protection and with this weighs 260gram but can be lighter without the sleeve but not by much.

With various price points the bank on it’s own is £70 or with the supercharge is £110 and the photographers bundle is £135, all of which are supplied with USB cables for numerous devices.


Xtorm Hybrid power bank:
10,000mAH

Built in solar panel

IP44 - rainproof

250g

No cables provided

Built in lamp

Carry loop built in

Approx charge smart phone 4x

Cost = £30

No extras can be purchased

GoalZero Venture 30:
7,800mAH

Solar panel bought separately

IPX6 - freeze and waterproof

260g

Built in tangle free micro USB cable with additional USB port

Built in lamp

No loop built in

Approx charge smart phone 3x

Cost = £99

Extras can be purchased

FREELOADER SiXer off-grid bank:
6,000mAH

Built in solar panel with larger panel purchased separately

IPX6 - freeze and waterproof

240g

Built in tangle free Thunderbolt cable and micro USB cable with additional USB port

No lamp

External shell provided with carry loop and straps

Approx charge smart phone 2 1/2 times

Cost = £70

Extras can be purchased


GoalZero Venture30 power bank review

What GoalZero say:

Rugged and ready, the Venture 30 features 7,800mAh to keep your phones, headlamps, and other USB gear powered up and ready, no matter the weather. Includes a micro-USB cable.

7,800mAh Recharger
Power phones, tablets, cameras, and more. Lightweight and packable from the airport to the trail.

Weatherproof Design
Spray it down, take it to the beach, leave it in the rain. Engineered with an IPX6 rating to handle whatever Mother Nature can throw at you, no rubber plugs needed.

Dual 2.4A USB Ports
Two high-speed ports capable of dishing out the fastest charge possible, at the same time. Power two devices at once or share with a buddy.

Built-in Micro-USB Cable
Tangle-free charging for phones and tablets. Certified cables for efficient charging.

Charge Times

  • Nomad 7 Solar Panel: 8-16 Hours

  • Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel: 8-16 Hours

  • Nomad 13 Solar Panel: 6-12 Hours

  • Nomad 14 Plus Solar Panel: 6-12 Hours

  • Nomad 20 Solar Panel: 5-6 Hours

  • Nomad 28 Plus Solar Panel: 5 Hours

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When you first pick up this power bank you certainly notice the weight and how well made it is. The Venture 30 is a simple packaged power bank which gets the job done but it’s pricey at nearly £100 a unit which will put off a lot of people but is this high price worth shelling out for?

My most recent power banks I’ve reviewed for the outdoors, this has been the smallest and compact design but also the heaviest, equally it has been the largest offering in battery power at 7800mAH which should give you two, pushing three complete charges with a smart phone and can even power a camera battery charge to give you a full charge or charge a tablet twice at a push. This is a decent offering from a small bank but unlike most power banks recently the Venture 30 lacks a built-in solar panel so unless you own the Nomad 7 panel which GoalZero offer at a further £100 you will need to charge the bank from the mains or USB powered source such as a laptop.

Not a deal breaker in my eyes but it would had been nice to had seen the solar panel built in or have a cheaper option. The obvious reason with the lack of solar panel is to make the Venture 30 more robust and waterproof. The Nomad 7 solar panel I do feel is very steep in price but having not used one I cannot comment any further about size or quality of the product but my first thoughts as I mention it seems expensive.

At 250g it’s a good weight and compared again to previous models I have reviewed this year there is 10-30g between each, but this is certainly the heaviest of them but on that note is the most robust!

I happily threw this across a quarry car park and mountain side in to streams and puddles and not a scratch or any concern. This power bank is like a tank and a very reliable one at that. Even in low temperatures of -10ºc the bank had no issues charging my devices and in the torrential rain or sat in a pool of water it still worked and charged devices. You just have to make sure your device you’re charging is weatherproof. You would think the ports would be the weak points but nothing. Not a worry and that is a big relief knowing you won’t be out of power in any condition. Just make sure it’s charged otherwise you just have a brick sat in your bag.

The supplied USB cable is useful but a little short and I found I had some issues with the rubber on the cable. In order to protect the plugs and ports in the bank extra rubber has been built around and this makes plugging it in to some devices awkward. So, if your device you desire to charge is indented like some torches are or a phone inside a case you will find the rubber prevents you from plugging it in. I had to remove my phone case in order to charge the device using the supplied USB cable. Fortunately, the Venture 30 has another USB port on the top in which you can plug in your own cable and charge devices which I have had to opt to do moving forward to accommodate all devices.

The USB cable when wrapped around the Venture 30 bank and plugged in can be used as a hooking system but this is not the most secure and I wouldn’t suggest doing for long periods of time. The power bank itself doesn’t have any loops on the body so you won’t be strapping it to the exterior of a bag any point soon. This is a huge shame considering how tough the bank is and plugged with the Nomad 7 panel you could leave it strapped to the exterior of your pack and not worry in any weather.

When it came to charging the power bank I only had a few options: By the mains or by USB in to my computer. The best method was in to the mains which took no more than a few hours to full charge and by the USB on a computer was very slow! From 25% to 90% it took a slow 8 hours, and this wasn’t a full charge. This is likely due to the power outage on the USB on the laptop rather than the power bank. This is why many wearable tech and sports watches ask you to recharge on a laptop as it has a lower outage vs mains.

When storing the device I had no issues with the battery cell or function to the device with no use over a weeks period and in a variety of conditions. Whether left in the car, rucksack or inside a wardrobe in a hot house.

Although the Venture 30 lacks loops or much to the exterior of the bank, it does feature a nice powerful and bright lamp which is simple to use with just a push of a button. This will of course drain the banks power and over time when the bank loses power you will notice the lamp dims. I found the lamp was especially helpful inside the tent with its bright and wide beam which would light up the entire tent. Even from the outside of the tent the lamp was bright enough to light up a good 5 metres around.

Don’t rely on this as your only light source! This is a lamp for in the tent or searching in your bag. By no means can it replace a headlamp out in the hills and mountains.

I turned my tent in to a lighthouse!

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The GoalZero Venture 30 bank is certainly a tough bank and if you’re expecting to be in challenging areas such as climbing or at the coast I would highly suggest this over other banks. For longer trips on expeditions where you know you won’t be near a mains power source I would suggest looking at buying this with the Nomad 7 panel to help keep you charged on the go but this bundle isn’t cheap at £180 collective. However, for this price I doubt you will find as tough and secure device in wet conditions.

Just be prepared to spend a little extra for this robust bank and expect to carry a spare USB cable for some devices. Having spent the past month abusing this bank and it doesn’t have a scratch or issue with the device it’s very well made. It’s lightweight, compact and robust and the great companion for those in the outdoors.

Snugpak Torrent Jacket review

What Snugpak say:

The Torrent jacket, built to battle everything nature has to throw at it. Insulated with exclusive Softie® insulation and taped seams making it fully waterproof. This fully featured jacket is equipped with a detachable insulated hood that can be rolled away or removed when not in use, dual adjusters on the sides and rear of the hood allow for a perfect fit.

Deep hand pockets allow you to store your gloves or valuables safely and thermal linings also help to keep your hands warm and comfortable. You will also find a deep hidden chest pocket inside the jacket.

The main jacket zip and pocket zips all use YKK weatherproof zips, to keep you protected from the elements. The Torrent jacket also features underarm ventilation zips with mesh covering, to allow you to vent and regulate your temperature. Available in Blue, Olive and Black and RRP £160 in a unisex design

  • 100% Waterproof with fully taped seams, PU 10,000mm HH

  • Insulated with exclusive Softie® insulated for warmth

  • Breathable 5000mm

  • Fully adjustable hem

  • Adjustable Velcro wrist cuffs

  • Under arm ventilation zips, with mesh inner

  • Weatherproof main & pocket zips

  • YKK Zips used throughout

  • Deep hand warmer style pockets

  • Hidden inside chest pocket

  • Insulated hood with peak and dual adjusters

  • Fully detachable and stowable hood

  • Brushed polyester neck warmer for added comfort and warmth

On Review

I first got my hands on the Snugpak Torrent Jacket back in September just before returning to the Brecon Beacons with Owen Vachell to take him around the area and introduce him to wild camping and this area of Wales. Of course, like most trips even the best laid plans can become a wash out and this was much the same on this weekend visit. Forecasted to be dry at the beginning of the week, a storm quickly blew through and the weekend was now forecasted to just be wet and misty.

Not a problem for myself but as an introduction to wild camping, mountaineering and at this time of the year Owen had a bad weekend to introduce him which was a huge shame, but it hasn’t put him off. Survive this and anything else is a bonus, safe to say we both walked away with some nice photos and a good weekend despite the weather but I for one am very glad I had the Torrent jacket.
Although a little warm still for the time of year the Torrent jacket was only needed with one layer below which goes to show you how insulated the jacket is. With Snugpak rating it down to -5ºc comfort and -10ºc extremes, matching that of the ML6 smock I reviewed earlier in the year but speaking from experience with the “Beast from the East” the ML6 can keep you extremely comfortable with the Impact fleece and smock combined where we saw temperatures drop to -20ºc in areas with the heavy snow and winds.

So I for one can foresee the Torrent jacket matched with the Impact fleece or even SJ3-6 to be an outstanding jacket for winter conditions, especially as it’s fully waterproof. Rated at PU 10,000mm.
On the mountain and hill tops around Pen Y Fan the jacket provided excellent protection, keeping me warm from the wind which was more a concern, only at lower levels in the valleys and waterfalls was the rain a concern where the wind levels died right down but in both situations the jacket provided excellent protection from the elements. However, in these lower valleys where wind levels dropped, and we were walking through woodland the jacket was a touch on the warmer side of comfort.

Opening the jackets front and underarm ventilation zips helped to maintain heat levels which the underarm zips are very easy to use one handed and doesn’t require you to remove the jacket in order to zip back up or down. The jacket features a large detachable hood which can be removed when not needed which is a simple zip along the back and two velcro tabs on the front which tuck in to provide protection and create a chin guard which also has added polyester material to keep your neck warm. The hood is fully adjustable on the back, so you can use with a woolly hat or helmet if required and across the body adjustable hems on the wrists and waist to provide further adjustments if required.

The Torrent jacket is packed with plenty of deep pockets which can all fit an OS map inside, phone or even a small camera. The two main pockets are fleece lined for added warmth when needed and the larger hidden inside pocket just by the main zipper to the left is great for papers and as mentioned before an OS map or for you photographers storing filters or lens caps when not needed and although by the main jacket zipper and on the outside remains protected from the cold and wet of the exterior.

The jacket is a little on the heavier side and a difficult to compact down compared to its counterparts of the ML6 Smock or SJ range from Snugpak so if you wish to take it away for camping a large pack of 50-60L plus and at nearly a 1kg its the heaviest of the three but in comparison is the most robust and durable of the three. The ML6 is one of my favourites of the Snugpak range and I already know it’s incredibly well made and durable in extreme conditions, but I do feel the Torrent jacket with its waterproof and stronger exterior will be a better suited jacket for Winter conditions. Packing the two will certainly have you covered for all extremes the UK weather has to throw at you.

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Following my week in North Wales which had first been forecasted as Wintery with heavy snow showers on the peaks and light dusting around 400m, but this couldn’t had been further off if the weather tried!
Instead the week was very wet with strong gales at 60mph and plenty of rain but remaining very warm for the time of the year at 13ºc.

With this new forecast I was disappointed as I was looking forward to some snow and digging out my much loved ML6 Smock, but I have to say I am ever grateful for having the Torrent Jacket. In these Autumn conditions and somewhat stormy conditions, the jacket was ideal and perfect! I only used this jacket during the week up in North Wales with the fleeces when it got colder. The jacket was the perfect piece of kit needed and suited the higher levels of Pen Yr Ole Wen, Snowdon and Dinorwic or the lower valley levels.

With the temperatures being fairly high for this time of the year I noticed the warmth of the jacket a little more. Only on Snowdon and the early start on Dinorwic did I need to wear a fleece underneath the jacket but for the most the jacket alone was all that was needed in the week. Using the under-arm ventilation was always a huge help to keep temperatures down and avoid sweating, especially with the amount of rain fall which prevented me from opening the jacket.

In the windy conditions the jacket really took the chill of the wind out, even when I wasn’t moving on the mountain side in the wind. The hood when pulled tight was very snug and you can feel the whole hood wrap tight around your ears which was like wearing a pair of ear muffs the only issue was when someone tried speaking to you in the wind and the hood on you had to take two and ask for the odd sentence to be repeated but I’m sure this was more down to the high winds over the jacket. The cords to tighten the hood are very easy to use and can be pulled with one hand but for ease two hands is of course better. Even in the extremes on Clee Hill where I could stand at a 45º angle I was still very warm on the hill side so this jacket will certainly stand the tests of Winter.

The pockets I found were plenty big and the most useful for me during the week was the interior pocket on the chest. It’s surprisingly big and can comfortable fit an OS map, mobile phone/GPS and extras inside. Although on the front of the jacket the pockets contents stay dry so there were no concerns here as I tested by leaving my lens cloths and phone in this pocket throughout the week and never had an issue with either getting wet.

The exterior of the jacket is also very tough and a great layer to help protect you when climbing through the undergrowth or climbing around quarries and mountains. I wasn’t precious with the jacket and happily leaning on wire, slate, rocks and trees and climbing in and out of holes for vantage points for photos and the jacket did get dirty but never tore and was very easy to clean down in the rain. When finished for the day and returning back to the cottage it was a case of drying the kit out ready for the next outing. The jacket was very fast drying and would dry off in an hour and not placed near a heat source but left on the back of a door.

I have really enjoyed using the Torrent Jacket. It’s tough, keeps you very dry and is incredibly warm making it great for Autumn in to Winter and can foresee it being very useful in the Winter months. However, I have found it a little too warm at times and this is where I believe Snugpak need to expand the Torrent and create a wider range much like the SJ or ML ranges, so you can have 100% water/wind proof protection throughout the year. The Torrent jackets price point of £160 and unisex design makes it an affordable option for experts and those new to the outdoors and even in the colder months the jacket has plenty of space inside to wear a fleece or another jacket which is certainly helpful if you feel the cold.

The jacket is on the heavier side compared to down jackets such as the ML6 or even the SJ6 jackets which are better suited for those in the mountains for camping and hiking long distances on expeditions but it’s not silly heavy just you can’t compact it down as much in comparison which the SJ6 has a convenient pouch to compress in the rucksack. If you plan on taking this jacket on longer distances expert to be using a larger pack such as a 60L+ bag to accommodate the jackets size.

Don’t let this put you off however as it’s easy to store the jacket, just don’t expect it to be the same as a down jacket as it’s a whole lot better in protection from the elements. The Torrent Jacket gives you 100% protection no matter where you are whether on the coast, mountain top, valley or woodland.

Visit Snugpak to read more.

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Transparency Notice: Please note that I am a Snugpak ambassador and receive the products for free to review from Snugpak. The review is no guarantee of endorsement. I receive no monetary gain from Snugpak from the reviews.

Source: https://www.snugpak.com/outdoor/torrent

DiscoverCymru Meet the Photographer

Visit the DiscoverCymru website to purchase your calendar today and use code “mihollandphoto” to get 10% off your order.

Meet the Photographer - DiscoverCymru calendar 2019

  • Tell us more about your photo?

I wanted to explore the area further having only visited for Duke of Edinburgh Expeditions leading groups around Sugarloaf so Grant Hyatt kindly offered to take me on a tour around his local area and on our Saturday we planned to hike across the Black Mountain range.

Our hike took us from an old mine in the West as we ventured across the range in 34°c heat on one of the hottests days of the year.

We finished at the lake called Llyn Y Fan Fawr, where Jim Cossey joined us that evening and the three of us spent the evening wild swimming and photographing the sunset across the range at Llyn Y Fan Fach and finally wild camped under Fan Brycheiniog. What a way to spend the end of a weekend and a long days hike in Summer.

  • Where are you from? Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello, I’m Matt Holland. I live near a place called the Chilterns which is a beautiful area, but it lacks mountains. So, I love nothing more than driving a few hours across England in to Wales to get out and enjoy whatever the country has to give.

 Ivinghoe Beacon on a foggy morning

Ivinghoe Beacon on a foggy morning

  • How did you first get into photography?

I’ve always been in to photography and it first started thanks to my dad who taught me everything to do with film. My first camera I got was an Olympus OM2 and my dad taught me how to shoot, understand the exposure triangle, tracking and developing so I’ve been well taught in the medium.

It’s only in the past 6-7 years have I moved in to digital and picked up my first DSLR at university, but I have always had a film camera with me and can never give it up.

  • How about landscape photography?

Landscape photography has tied in to my outdoor lifestyle. As with photography I have always been involved with Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh award, so I spend a great deal of my time in the outdoors on expeditions, camping and hiking.

I don’t enjoy shooting portraiture all that much and I do a great deal of product and event photography/video for work so landscapes and the outdoors has always been my fall back and my enjoyment to get out away from the usual hustle of work.

 A night spent photographing the Perseid Meteor shower and camping under the shadow of Pen y Fan with Grant Hyatt, Jim Cossey and Gareth Danks

A night spent photographing the Perseid Meteor shower and camping under the shadow of Pen y Fan with Grant Hyatt, Jim Cossey and Gareth Danks

  • Where is your favourite location to go and shoot? And you favourite location in Wales if your answer to the above was not Wales? 

Tough! I have too many on the list, but it is most certainly Wales.
I have a few spots but my favourite two has to be Snowdon and Dinorwic. Both have so much to offer and plenty to photograph and both involve a fair bit of walking/climbing too so it ticks both my outdoors activities and photography in one.

 The upper levels of Dinorwic Quarry looking at an old winch house with Snowdon just off too the left

The upper levels of Dinorwic Quarry looking at an old winch house with Snowdon just off too the left

  • Digital or film? And DSLR or mirrorless?

Digital for convenience but film has a style that just can’t be achieved so I often take both when I can. As for the DSLR vs Mirrorless, both have benefits and I had up until Autumn 2018 used a Nikon D500 but now shoot with an Olympus OM-D EM5 mkII which offers the same spec but in the a much smaller body and weight which is a huge benefit with climbing and hiking long distances.

  • What’s on your essential kit list when you go out and shoot?

A good waterproof is a must and a tough pair of boots but above all of that a stove, flask and good cup of coffee on the mountain side is always a must.

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  • How has Instagram influenced the way you work? For better or worse…

For the worse! If I could and didn’t need any of them, I would sack them all in tomorrow, but they have a huge benefit for me with work both my outdoor gear reviews, photography and my day job as a multimedia designer. My day job is now some 90% of my work ends up on Social media so I can’t complain, I would be out of the job overwise.

  • Who are your favourite photographers?

Far too many people to name but most recently I have really enjoyed doing photography meet ups and we venture to locations and enjoy the outdoors. Some of my favourite photographers are Greg Whitton, Mark Littlejohn, Neil Burnell, Grant Hyatt and Jim Cossey.

  • What are your tips for anyone just starting out with photography?

Don’t be put off by the weather! Some of my best photographs I have taken have believe it or not been when it’s raining and really dire conditions. Equally if you don’t go out don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work out. There is always plenty more opportunities to go out again.

Also, don’t assume the biggest, most expensive kit will make you better. Educate yourself first and push a cheaper camera to its limit then upgrade. 

 A morning waking up on Cribyn looking over the Brecon valley before the storm blew through and spoiled the weekends plans

A morning waking up on Cribyn looking over the Brecon valley before the storm blew through and spoiled the weekends plans

  • Any good stories of photography trips gone wrong?

I often forget my camera filters. I’ve driven to the opposite side of the country and then checked my bag and found I don’t have an adapter or a filter. This has taught me to get away without needing them and as I often end up having rain at some point on my trip. Filters are a pain when it’s raining and its more kit you have to clean. 

Beyond that I have fallen in plenty of rivers, ponds and bogs ruining boots and socks.  

  • What’s on your bucket list for travel and photography next year?

The usual locations like Iceland, Norway and Faroe Islands as well as Isle of Skye but for next year I will be focusing on my business and photography and helping others with my new workshops I plan to launch soon which will allow people to build the confidence and explore these mountain ranges across the UK with an outdoors leader.

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Source: https://discovercymru.co.uk/meet-the-photographer-matt-holland/

DiscoverCymru 2019 Calendar

I am delighted to share I am in the 2019 DiscoverCymru calendar with my shot from Picws Du, Brecon Beacons during June/July heatwave.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the calendar please visit here and for a 10% discount use my code “mihollandphoto” at the checkout.

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Source: https://discovercymru.co.uk/meet-the-photographer-matt-holland/

The Outdoors with Snugpak

Matt Holland is an award-winning Creative Designer and Outdoors leader. Most recently he has completed his Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and continued teaching the next generation as a leader for the award. He has always had an interest in the outdoors and for the past 20 years has been involved with the Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh award including the last 12 years as an outdoor leader.

Matt combines this passion, working with MyOutdoors as a gear reviewer and as an ambassador for Vanguard Photo UK and Snugpak. Most recently Matt has been a finalist in the RHS Photographer of the Year and International Garden Photographer of the Year and this year launched his first solo book which showcases his outdoor photography, expeditions and trips from over the years. Many of which showcase Snugpak’s equipment. With this experience, we asked Matt to give us a steer on what to consider for any photography trips in the mountains.

Throughout 2018 I have been away every other weekend to Wales to climb mountains for training towards my Mountain Leaders course. To count I have climbed some 30+ mountains this season and I still have several Winter climbs scheduled, now with all these mountains and hiking comes a lot of equipment to keep me going no matter the weather.

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What’s in my bag?

My kit is a mixture of brands but some 70% of it is produced by Snugpak, who I have trusted for many years now and served me well through my own Duke of Edinburgh expeditions as a participant.
I rely on Snugpak because it is cost effective, reliable and offers light weight options which do the job. As a gear reviewer I get a huge variety of equipment and many would think the more expensive a product is, the better a product should be which isn’t always the case. Which is why I have always enjoyed using both Snugpak and Vanguard Photo equipment. Pro level kit at lower price points which neither compromise on quality or features.

When it comes to photography I now use a small mirrorless camera from Olympus and for bags, protection and tripods I use Vanguard Photo, again I have trusted in this kit for several years and neither have let me down in any situation whether this be on a mountain side or in my studio shooting products or video for clients.

A full list of my gear can be found here.

Rucksacks: If you’re planning on camping out in the mountains a large bag is required and the 40L is the smallest I would recommend to anyone who is planning a trip similar. For longer weekend trips many will find the 50-60L better suited for extra space, certainly this time of the year where thicker jackets and bags are needed which take up more space.
I use the Snugpak Endurance 40L which shocks a lot of people in how I manage to pack all my gear PLUS photographic kit inside this bag all the year round.

Sleeping bags: You want a good quality bag for heading outdoors. You cheap bags won’t cut it, especially when camping on mountain summits! Even in Summer you will need a bag that can keep you comfortable down to 5°C in some instances, just because it’s 34°C in the towns it’s going to be an average of 10-15°C on the summits and add in wind chill, rain and night temperatures the summit temperature can range from 0-5°C and in Winter as we just experienced beginning of October. Snow forecasts and night temperatures down to -5°C.
I use two bags, the first being the AR sleeping system for Summer conditions and for the rest of the year the Softie 12 Opsrey. Why two? the AR sleeping system is lightweight and comfortable down to 5°C and also a lot smaller which makes hiking across long distances more comfortable. The Softie 12 is a four-season bag which has kept me comfortable in a tarp down to -5°C so far and even then, I was toasty. However, this bag is both bulkier and heavier but in Winter I typically don’t walk as far in comparison to Summer, so the extra bulk is not a concern.

Mats: Now many ask what the point in these and it’s is one of the top questions as a leader we get too. Especially the big foam mats which you often see strapped to the back of rucksacks. A classic sign of a DofE or Scout group on expedition. The purpose of roll mats is not just for comfort but to keep your core temperature from dropping. A thick sleeping bag isn’t enough and lying on the ground for prolonged periods will dramatically drop your core temperature. Many are put off by inflatable mats because they are expensive, especially when you start looking at down filled mats.
I recently took out the new Snugpak airmat with footpump which has replaced my usual mats due to weight and sheer cost! And I highly recommend the new mat for both seasoned campers or those new to the outdoors.

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Tents/Tarps/Bivi bags: There is a lot to choose from, personally I prefer tents and one of my favourites in particular is the Scorpion tents. Most recently I have started using tarps and tipi's which are even lighter but not as stable in stormy conditions. On my recent trip to Snowdonia, due to low temperatures and expected gusts I opted for to use the new Journey Duo tent which was great as it allowed us to cook in the porch but enjoy the warmth and comfort out of the wind.

Clothing: Clothing can be awkward as you often need to pack for every condition – wind, rain and warmth.  I have seen people out in these conditions with a pair of jeans and lightweight jacket on. Is it any wonder why you’re cold? So, bring a mixture of layered items from fleeces, t-shirts and down jackets as well as a couple of thick walking trousers not to mention waterproof jackets which you can never have enough off.

Friday night the climb up to Y Garn was warm and we were down to t-shirts and one light weight jacket, Saturday day was t-shirt weather and we nearly broke out the shorts as we explored Dinorwic but fast forward to the climb up to llyn Caseg-Fraith and exploring the tops here we were in Winter trousers, gaiters, two down jackets and a fleece to stay warm. Down jackets are great as they can compact down and take up little space and weight. Not all are waterproof, so a waterproof is required just in case. For example, I take a Snugpak, Impact fleece, SJ3, AR Windtops, ML6 jackets and enhanced poncho to keep me warm on the mountain sides.

On the note of clothing a good pair of boots is needed. Not trainers and certainly not flipflops and yes, I have seen people out in these conditions with just flipflops and the other week on Pen y Fan I saw a couple with no shoes on. You don’t need to spend hundreds on the latest and greatest, I use a £140 pair of hiking boots which are perfect for scrambling, winter conditions and long-distance hiking.

Cooking and hydration: I use a bladder pack for ease, but bottles do the job too. You will need at least 2L to get you through a climb, night and morning for cooking. It’s a good idea to bring water filter systems or tablets to purify water if you come across any water sources to keep you going. I also pack a large tank in the boot of my car which holds 20L so I can top up water when I come back down off the mountains if there is no suitable water sources nearby.

Of course, a stove and gas. You won’t want anything big and heavy. A 0.8 pot which several on the market can be compacted down to hold everything inside.
My pot can hold everything inside and has a French-press for coffee. Coffee is a must in the mountains and you can go as far as bringing beans and a coffee grinder if you’re a real connoisseur.

Some extras to pack: Gloves, buff and hats; Bug spray and sun cream; Torches, lamps etc; Battery packs; Multi-tools

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Camera kit:

For those who are enjoy this creative side along with the mountain hikes know that the two combined is great fun but also makes thing a lot more expensive! Between camping kit and photographic or video you quickly see your money disappear. However, costs aside the next issue is weight and keeping it down for those of you not privy to the ‘suffering’ us photographers go through for that mountain shot. The packs and weights are big! I used to use a DSLR camera and between the body and three lens it came weighing in 3kg, add a tripod in to the mix too that is a further 2kg if you are lucky to get an expensive lightweight model.

If you carry a drone and spares you can quickly see the kit hitting 8kg easily and with a 14kg pack already with camping kit you have a back breaking 20kg your lugging up a mountain which is no fun.
A rule we teach in DofE to participants is your pack weight should be no more than 1/4th of your weight, for example I weigh 11.8 stone which is 74.9kg so my max I should carry is 18kg which I have yet to hit more recently but have previously carried 21kg and this was horrible and made the whole expedition difficult and unenjoyable.

My Top Tips:

  1. Don’t be disheartened by bad weather.
    I say this a lot with photography as well and the same applies here in with camping and hiking. The conditions are forever changing and as you will know the outdoors is very unpredictable and even the best laid plans can be ruined but as they say there is not bad planning just bad packing. Always pack a fleece, hat, first aid kit and waterproofs and if the conditions changed you are prepared.

    On our most recent trip to North Wales the weather was looking perfect and clear for the whole weekend, but Saturday night/Sunday morning changed very quickly during the day. Thick fog and rain were now forecasted. So, our ideas and what we wanted to photograph and wild camp at had gone out the window, did it stop us. Of course not! It was still an enjoyable evening and morning running around the top of the mountain trying to photography Tryfan’s reflection in the lakes nearby. Now we know this area a little better we will certainly be returning very soon for attempt two and we will continue until we get that shot we want.


  2. Saving weight is a dangerous and expensive game.
    Speak to anyone who regularly climbs mountains and lives in the outdoors they will tell you they are trying to cut that extra 200-400 grams anywhere they can. Investing in several hundred-pound sleeping bags or the lightest tent to do so but this isn’t always best. Having the lightest kit doesn’t mean it’s always the most reliable. The lightest I got my kit at one time was 7kg, but I ended up sacrificing several creature comforts which actually impacted the enjoyment of the weekend. Settle with a set up that works for you and gives you the most enjoyment. Who cares if the next guy has 3kg lighter than you, ask yourself are you happy.


  3. Don’t be influenced by social media or believe everything you read online.
    I say this one as well with photography and again I feel it can influence a lot of people which can be dangerous especially if it’s to a location that is known for deaths; most recently I have seen a lot posting wild camps or scrambles up at Crib Goch and the comments making it out to be very easy to get here but this is a notorious scramble with its knife edge that can claim the life’s of even the most experienced. Fortunately, a lot on social media are calling people out on this. For some of my walks to help those who are interested I have been tracking with ViewRanger and this shows you the height gain, distance and terrain. You’ll see no lies from me.


  4. ALWAYS, always check the weather!
    Never wing it. If the weather changes you will know what is coming and you can be better prepared and pack the appropriate kit for the trip. Some apps and weather sites I use to help plan my trips are: PhotoPills, ViewRanger, Met Office Mountain Forecast and XCWeather. Photopills is to help with direction of stars and alignment with the moon and sun so I can know I’m camping in the right location to catch that sun rise or core of the milky way. ViewRanger of course for maps but always pack a paper OS map with compass. XCWeather is another weather map provider and I’ve found is very accurate and gives me more details compared to others.


  5. The old age argument but in all honesty pack both.
    I’m talking about navigation both digital vs paper maps, both have their advantages so ignore snobbery and the argument and use both. On our weekend trips we pack both and most of the time we rarely use either but for speed and convenience we use our phones for GPS and use the OS map for further details of the area. Most evenings or mornings we will typically dig out the paper map and lay it out on the table with food and decided what locations to go to and programme our phones with the routes.


  6. Similar subject to navigation - Don’t trust anyone.
    We teach participants when they go out on expedition not to take instructions or believe what others might say. More often than not other walkers think they know where they are and then get confused and this can end up confusing the groups. Most people can’t read or get confused with paper maps and most, certainly won’t know where you are so trust your own judgement and take your time to find yourself. So politely say no thank you we’ve got this.


  7. On the subject of manners - Don’t be a grumpy so and so and say hello or morning.
    I really despise coming back after a weekend away not just because I have the Monday blues dreaming of being on a mountain again but because people don’t talk anymore. On all the walks and climbs in Wales this year we’ve stopped to talk to other hikers as they go past. A Simple hello how are you etc. It makes a big difference to wellbeing. I return back to South East England and everyone is grumpy and gives you a funny look when you say good morning or hello as you’re out on a walk.


  8. Finally, it’s not all about the latest and greatest kit.
    As with an industry, products change, and new editions come out quicker than you care to catch up with. I don’t use it now, but I still have a Vango Sherpa 70L rucksack which is some 10+ years old now and there is nothing wrong with it at all, few cuts here and there but still useable. So, don’t feel that you need to buy new kit every year and if you are at least donating your old kit to activity groups, charities and recycle that old kit you no longer want.

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One thing you wished you knew when you were starting out

I’m very fortunate as when starting in the industry and getting in to the outdoors I have always been involved with a club like Scouts or DofE, so I’m very fortunate that I’ve had the support structure, equipment to hire and help when needed and someone to give you the confidence but what if you’ve never been with Scouts or DofE and just found your inspiration to go outdoors now but lack the confidence or knowledge?

This is one of my most frequently asked questions I get after trips and with my photography. How do you have the confidence to go out on to these locations and spend the night up on these mountains?
Well minus the obvious answer above from my years of being involved in the clubs with formal training, qualifications and awards my best answer to give is: I have been trained and educated so my advice would be to sign up to a navigation course or look for workshops and walks with outdoor leaders who can lead you on guided walks to build your confidence. You’ll meet likeminded people who are looking for something similar and you can work together to make a trip happen in the mountains.

Going away with a couple of you is far more fun and socialible and my trips this year have been rememberable thanks to the company. More often than not we forgot about the photography and just enjoyed the laughs and a cold beer on a mountain top. In 2019 I will be offering a confidence course to help others build their confidence in these locations, it will be primarily photographic based with the opportunity to go shoot astro photography and see some of my favourite shooting spots around Wales to start with but it is open to anyone who wishes to build confidence or even just get away for a weekend and find some new spots.

Snowdonia with Cossey

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A few weeks ago myself and Jim Cossey headed up to Snowdonia for an explore and prep some content ready for Jim’s talk at London Camera Exchange Bath Optics Show.

When we planned the trip last minute the weather was looking perfect and my day started out clear and around where I work in Marlow we had several inversions in the valleys so I was very excited to say the least. If we had inversions in the Chilterns. Snowdonia was sure to have something. Before I could get to Snowdonia however we both had to contend with the usual traffic nightmares. For me travelling along the M40, M6, M54 and A5 most of which had heavy traffic or just closed from several burning HGVs from the morning. So both our journeys were 6+ hours and neither of us arrived until after dark around 11pm at llyn Ogwen but you wouldn’t had thought it was dark with how bright the moon was.

By the time we had both finished faffing with bags and sorted ourselves out it was coming up midnight so clearly we weren’t in a rush. As we began our climb up to Y Garn we decided to stop by Cwm Idwal for some moonlit reflections.

Below our the two routes we took to get up to Y Garn and llyn Caseg-Fraith, both of which link to my ViewRanger so you can follow the route yourselves.

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We’ve both visited the area numerous times and yet neither of us have ever had Cwm Idwal so still like this so for the next hour we spent a fair amount of time just playing and running around the lake side trying to find the right composition.

It was great specially with the moon so bright, neither of us had to bother with headlamps but trying to get any chance of capturing the stars as well was slim. Both of us were shooting at f/2.8, ISO 500 and shooting 7-14 second exposures and some of these were still blowing highlights. I for one am looking forward to returning back here in a few weeks as I’ve worked out a few more shots I would like to achieve but require day light. Anyway moving back to the weekend, after running around at Idwal for an hour we decided it was about time we headed up Y Garn to find our pitch and get some sleep.

For those who have never climbed up Y Garn this route, it’s not to difficult but its very steep! The steps really help and remain this way most of the way up until the summit. For our spot we planned to pitch lower and just below the summit at Llyn Clyd Bach just off the main route up Y Garn, approx 280metres below the summit but still offers superb views! Our reasoning for this was being a little lazy as well but also looking at the weather we saw the morning was due to be very windy so we hoped this outcrop would offer some protection. The lazy reason was we had less to walk and climb back down in the morning as we planned to climb Snowdon via Crib Goch.

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Now this lack of wind was the case for most of the night until the early hours where the wind changed direction which we knew was going to happen but our sheltered spot or what we thought was going to be sheltered turned in to a wind tunnel. As you can see from the tent below which was essentially on it’s side. A few outcrops of rocks along the front did offer some protection for us to sit between whilst the sun came up over Tryfan.

With all this wind we knew we had no hope of cooking up here so we packed up our kit and headed down to a lower level in order to have breakfast.
As Jim was busy grinding away his coffee several others continued to climb past us and what struck me the most and always surprises me even now is how friendly everyone is and always say “Good morning” or asks how you are. Compare that to where I live near Reading, everyone here to be blunt are grumpy arse holes and if you even look at someone they assume you are up to no good. Forget even saying good morning or holding a conversation.

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With the strong winds on the higher levels we were a little anxious as to the conditions and ability to cross Crib Goch but we made our way round to Snowdon at 11am. Yes we had a very slow and lazy morning considering sunrise was at 7:30am. I have climbed Snowdon five times now and to date this is the busiest I have ever seen Snowdon. There was no parking at all and we ended up driving half way down A498 and finally I spotted a place to park.

Crunch…

Wheel spin…

“Jim… HELP!”

Yes that’s right I got my car stuck in a ditch, the spot I thought was clear was actually clear for a reason and the grass was so wet it gave way under the weight of the car (of course). Fortunately it wasn’t difficult to get the car out. One push and the car free but if anyone who has been in this situation before the noise you hear inside the car is horrible but on inspection the car was completely fine.

So no parking remotely close to Snowdon we opted to abandon the plans and head over to one of my new favourite spots to explore - Dinorwic.

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I forgot to mention to Jim who was driving his little van, that the roads up were interesting and steep at points. Anyway we managed to arrive but even Dinorwic’s little car park was packed but we found some where. Having prepped our kit earlier at llyn Ogwen we needed to faff some more and change our kit over for a more leisurely walk around rather than scrambling.

What we weren’t expecting was the heat! It was forecasted to be low teens but we were down to tshirts and could have happily changed to shorts as well.

It was a brilliant afternoon wondering around the old slate quarry and it was great to see the area with some more life. My last visit here was in Winter during Storm Brian the year before and most of the trees and area was sodden or lacked colour on the trees. Its alarming just how big Dinorwic is and we didn’t even scratch the surface of the quarry before it hit 4pm and our previous night of 3 hours sleep was catching up so we called it a day to head back to make some coffee and decide where we would spend the night as well as getting an update on the weather.

The weather was saying low lying fog so we began to get very excited at a possible inversion and atmospheric conditions so we wanted to go some where new and decided on llyn Caseg-Fraith which follows the Miners track from the main road (A5) up past Tryfan and over the 800m mountain top of Y Foel Goch and Glyder Fach. Up here it offers brilliant views… If the conditions were clear which they weren’t for us. Once again the weather reports weren’t accurate.

As we climbed up the wind was increasing and our thoughts quickly turned from planning a clear evening by the lake to getting inside a warm tent out of the wind. The climb up along the Miners Track was fairly easy but both myself and Jim were struggling. By this point we had clocked in some 24000 steps which is roughly 12 miles and the three hours sleep the night before this gentle walk up the track was tougher than first looked.

The last 500metres of the track is incredibly steep. You are actually climbing up scree and good boots were needed, between this, wind and lack of sleep really started to take its toll on us but we pushed on.

That evening Mat Price joined us for the night having spent the afternoon exploring Glyder Fach and us over the range on Dinorwic.

The climb for all of us was about an hour from the road but as soon as we approached the top we started to struggle to find suitable locations to pitch up. The top here was just bog! What did we all forget… Gaiters.

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As we ventured off the top plateau we began to see several other tents spread along the outcrops to the edge. Clearly they had the best idea, the outcrops offer plenty of cover and the ground was dry around here.

By the time the tents were pitched and dinner cooked the light had gone. Not that we had any good light to capture Tryfan in the lakes and with the wind it really put us off.
Many say Autumn/Winter wild camps you will get the best and longest night sleep and up until now we were skeptical as to how considering our average wild camp sleeps ranged from 2-4 hours.

Saturday night stayed true however and by half 8 we had all retired and gone to sleep.

I woke up around 11pm to see if the sky had cleared up and it had but only briefly, the wind was still whipping up around me and with two down jackets on and considering grabbing my sleeping bag just for one shot I quickly gave up and headed back in to the protection and shelter of the tent.

8 hours later and a good nights sleep we woke up to no view out of the tents. The low lying fog wasn’t low it was very high. At 7am when we peaked our heads out of the tents it was just completely white. You couldn’t see the edge where we had pitched up near and as for Tryfan that was a right off too.

Around 10am the fog finally lifted and we had some what of a view but this was only brief so we finally ventured up on to the plateau top where Caseg-Fraith sits and began shooting long exposures in an attempt to hide the wind in the reflections but to no avail. As you will see from the photos below. Having spent some 20 minutes up on the exposed tops we gave up and returned back to our pitch in order to pack up and just as well we did. Moments after packing up the kit the cloud that had settled began to empty it’s contents.

The final climb down was a slow trudge in the rain back to the cars and the walkers who had braved the mountain tops with us that night were just ahead although most of them on their backs as they ran down the scree sloop. Not that we can comment as we all at one point on the climb down did the same. The pathways became bogs or small streams as the water rolled off the tops.

So to cheer ourselves up and recover from the cold we finished our weekend at Moel Siabod cafe with a fry up and several coffees.


Update following my cars MOT 6th December - Car failed MOT as the rear left tyre has been dented and damaged following being stuck in something - Couldn’t think what that might had been.


Fitbit stats from the weekend:

Calories
Friday 3200
Saturday 5350
Sunday 3650
Total = 12,200

Steps
9650
34,514
14,615
Total = 58779

Floors
42
356
90
Total = 488

Miles
4.2
16.86
6.84
Total = 27.9

Sleep time
Friday 3 hours
Saturday 8 and half hours

Climbs & Walks:
Cwm Idwal walk / Y Garn / Dinorwic / llyn Caseg-fraith / Miners Track

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Snugpak SJ3 review

What Snugpak say:

The Softie® Jacket 3 is our spring and summer jacket, keeping you comfortable down to 0°C. It comes in Silver, Red, Blue colourway plus our traditional Olive, Military Black (Clear Logo), Multicam camouflage and A-TACS camouflage colours.

The SJ Range is our latest development in all-weather jackets. Designed to give you the perfect outer shell whatever conditions you're facing throughout the year. All four jackets in the range benefit from our high tech Paratex Micro outer and Paratex Light inner, keeping any moisture away from your skin, so you stay warm, comfortable and dry. And our Softie Premier filling has excellent insulating properties, trapping heat and maximising comfort.

The new design is tailored to fit the contours of your body, with a water-resistant main zip, and a high neck design that keeps out the draughts. The Softie® Jacket 3 features a roll-away hood for unexpected showers and also keeps you comfortable down to 0°c. It comes in Silver, Red, Blue colourway plus our traditional Olive, Military Black (Clear Logo) and Multicam camouflage colours.

Available from sizes: XS - XXL at £109.95

  • Water-resistant main zip for greater insulation and dryness

  • Featuring a roll-away hood

  • Sleek, concealed side pockets

  • Lightweight

  • Stuff sack included

  • Made in the UK. Support UK manufacturing and enjoy superior British quality

  • Adjustable neck

  • Adjustable Waist

  • Two-way zip

  • The left chest inside pocket with a zip

  • Water resistant main zip

  • Thumb loops

  • Elasticated cuffs

  • Front logo & small back logo

  • YKK zips

  • Snugpak branded zip tassels

  • Shaped fit

  • Unisex design

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On Review

In my latest review with Snugpak I take the SJ3 jacket out in Autumn which is past its suited seasons as advertised by Snugpak. This jacket is designed for Spring and Summer rather than the colder months of Autumn or even what we would experience on the lower levels when wild camping on the mountains currently. For the review I was using a blue, large SJ3 and at 6ft 2 I found I had plenty of length on the body and arms.

Although passed its advertised seasons for use, the conditions have been from -5 to 0 degrees in the wet or mountain tops with gusting winds on top and I have been very warm and comfortable wearing the SJ3. In fact, at times I’ve been to hot especially when climbing up the mountains in the first instances as my recent trip to North Wales. Climbing up Y Garn, Miners track and around Dinorwic quarry in all cases I started with the jacket on but half way up the climb I would have to take the jacket off. It would only be when we stopped for a break would I want it back on for wind protection.

It’s very lightweight and compact. One of my favourite items from Snugpak is the ML6 smock which I am looking forward to digging back out again for Winter but the ML6 is very bulky and takes up a lot of space. The SJ range, certainly the SJ3 is smaller and better suited for long distance hiking and climbs with its stuff sac and light, fitted designer. Weighing in at 580g it’s a great down jacket and in Spring and Summer I can see it being useful for night times if not a great pillow in the stuff sac.

When the temperatures dropped below -5 while at llyn Caseg-Fraith in North Wales the combination of the Snugpak Impact Fleece with the SJ3 was the perfect combo.
Wearing a pair of gloves, beanie hat and buff just to cover the extremities I was again very warm and had no issues staying out in the wind. On the neck and waist, the jacket can be adjusted to fit closer and give further protection, I didn’t use the waist adjustments but certainly the neck which was easy to use with a pull cord on the back. The neck has a good height and provides plenty of protection. The main zipper I had no issues with using in cold or wet conditions either or whilst wearing gloves.

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Now the SJ3 jacket comes with a hood built in which is compact and rolls away. I just kept the hood rolled away in the neck. Personally, I didn’t get on with this and found it a little flimsy and in strong winds found it blew off easily even after tying off the cinch points. On its own I wouldn’t rely on the hood but using the hood with a beanie hat or something to keep it tight on your head will dramatically reduce wind chill on the neck.

Working down the jacket, the sleek design features two padded pockets both with YKK zippers to protect the contents inside. When you don’t have a rucksack on and a hip belt covering the pockets, they are very warm and provide plenty of protection. One of my zippers did loss the branded zip tassel but this does nothing to the pocket itself just one less branded item on the jacket. On the inside of the jacket is a larger chest pocket which can fit a small tablet, OS map or what I typically used it for was my phone and the stuff sac when not in use to keep it in a safe protected area when needed. Even when filled with a phone or map this pocket doesn’t feel one sided as there is no counter sided pocket to balance out the two sides.

The cuffs of the jacket are great and have a double tie off both of which are elasticated to give plenty of stretch when needed. One lower down on the wrist and around the thumb loops which have a good size and give for larger gloves which can be used under the thumb loops. With gloves on the loops don’t feel tight or feel like they are pulling in to the hand. A comfortable loose fit to allow movement when needed.

Between the jacket, a fleece and gloves you will be very warm and protected from the elements.

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I found the jacket wasn’t just for cold and dry weather. On a number of occasions, I have kept the SJ3 on with rain and fog and remained dry underneath thanks to the sleek, weatherproof design. While walking I could see the water just running off the jacket and much like the ML6 smock, padding the jacket down helped keep the worst of the water off.
Although the jacket features YKK zippers across the body and provides protection and keeps you dry. I wouldn’t use this in heavy or prolonged rain and as for snow. I’m sure it will be suitable but moving up to the SJ6 or SJ9 would be better suited to keep the cold out.

The Softie Jacket 3 is a good design, offering a sleek, fitted design for both men and women in this unisex style. The jacket is lightweight but doesn’t compromise on protection. I found I was very comfortable down to temperatures of -5 and when it was a little too much the combination of a fleece and the SJ3 was a perfect combination.
I did find the hood was the only poor point on the jacket and found on its own was a little unreliable but used with a beanie or buff over the top to keep it down kept the wind off my neck. The SJ3 is the perfect companion for longer hikes and climbing given it’s lightweight and compact design. When packed in to the stuff sac it made a great pillow and took up little space in the rucksack.

Visit Snugpak to read more.

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Transparency Notice: Please note that I am a Snugpak ambassador and receive the products for free to review from Snugpak. The review is no guarantee of endorsement. I receive no monetary gain from Snugpak from the reviews.

Source: https://www.snugpak.com/outdoor/sj3

Thryve Photographer Spotlight interview

Hey Matt, thanks for chatting to us today. In your own words can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?

Hello, thanks for having me. I'm Matt, 25 years old and currently working as a multimedia designer but I have a big obsession with the outdoors which has stemmed from my love for photography and years of involvement within Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh award.
My day job is great as I get to be creative on a daily basis but equally this is a big strain so I enjoy nothing more than getting away when I can and just switching off from the world.

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How did you get into photography?

I've always been in to photography and it's all thanks to my dad who first introduced me to film on an old Olympus OM2 and later taught me how to use medium format and so on. From there on I have always been in to something creative and couldn't see myself doing anything else, mainly because I was pretty useless at everything and found it boring so from very early on I always knew I’d end up doing something creative for a living.

The outdoors and photography have only really overlapped in the past few years. I've always been in to landscape photography, but it's only ever been a little side thing when on holiday or road trips and never really took it all that serious but now I use it as the perfect excuse to get away and fuel my trips. The past few years I feel I’ve been fairly successful with my personal photography and landscapes with two positions as a finalist in RHS photographer of the year and International garden photographer of the year as well as launching my first solo book.

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What style/feeling do you try and create with your images?

I try to capture the atmosphere at that moment, what conditions I am experiencing and of course with most landscape photography and the outdoors the weather plays a big role.
I seem to only attract bad weather and almost every trip away in the past few years has had nothing but rain, low cloud and fog. So a lot of my photography is rather dark and tends to focus on smaller detailed pieces rather than the big vista's, simply because they look rubbish when it's just cloudy and wet.
This style has crept over in how I shoot in general now and although you can't help and grab the vista shot in a big epic sunset/rise or view, I swap to a telephoto lens and start picking off trees in the distances or looking for paths and patterns in the landscape to create smaller more intimate photos.

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What equipment do you use?

To this day I still use those same Olympus OM's my dad taught me when I was younger but I often stick to digital now for ease and for my client work which is typically a lot of video and animation.
I use a Nikon D500 which is a bit of a beast but it's worth carrying the extra weight knowing it can survive pretty much anything the outdoors throws at me and it's super because you can do pretty much everything you need with it, whether it is time lapse, video or photography.

I always have a tripod with me, it's such a vital piece of kit for me it just lives in the car or on my rucksack now. I use a Vanguard Alta Pro 263CT or Veo2 which both are lightweight and again gives me unlimited options whenever I need it. Whether it’s coastal, landscape, mountains, strong winds, macro or studio.

As I am big fan of the outdoors and previously an expedition leader for DofE and writer for MyOutdoors I have a wardrobe full of kit. I'm not even going to start going in to what I own but there is a lot! It’s quickly coming to that time of the year where I review my kit and then donate old kit to local Scout groups and charities, so they get more use elsewhere. It’s something I highly recommend to anyone if they have surplus kit.

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Can you show us your favourite photograph that you have taken in the UK and tell us a little bit about why you love it?

That is a tough one, but I'll have to go with my favourite from this year as I have a lot to choose from.
It was my first visit to Durdle door and it was very wet! It was as we came over the top of the cliff to see the stairs down to the beach you could see a few brave (or mad) people out and were dotted along the beach and all you could see was the coats and the big white cliffs standing out in the sea mist.

The second choice would be my Dinorwic Pattern as you’ve seen above, I’m still very proud of this photo. Not because of the competition placement but because of the lens and conditions I was in to capture it. It was raining, and I was using a very old somewhat broken 12 year old telephoto lens and this trip was the last time the lens would get used as the rain finally got in and ruined the lens. The quarry is some distance from the road side so to get this frame you need to zoom right in with a 300-400mm lens and add the wind and rain it’s an interesting task to get without trying to crank up the ISO.

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Are there any other photographers who you admire or who have influenced your work?

More recently I've stopped looking at other photographers and even Youtuber's and started looking closer at my social media or disregarding all of this and doing my own thing. I used to watch a lot of Youtube photographers and their trips. This was not only motivating but also the opposite and putting me down, I found I was getting more and more depressed because I couldn't get out and the flip side, I was spending my time watching the videos rather than being out.

So, I stopped comparing and watching others and just do my own thing now, if I want to go somewhere I go, if I get a good photo then perfect but it's more about the experience and getting out. One benefit I have found with social media has been the meet up's and over the past few years I've been about the country meeting loads of other photographers who we see on the weekly competitions and this has been great fun to do. Some of the trips we arrange such as SnowdoniaTogFest, London or Brecon Beacons have been better and stood out compared to past trips. As you are now surrounded by likeminded people out to enjoy the outdoors and photography. 

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Can you tell us about any projects you are working on right now?

My current project I am working on is my weekend trips to the Brecon Beacons. It's not an area I've explored much of, so I wanted to get to know the National Park a little better and now after 12 weeks of back and forth visits I know it a lot better.

I've climbed a lot of mountains, spent a lot of nights in a tent and been in every weather condition bar snow yet and it's been great fun regardless of weather. I'm personally looking forward to some colder weather and getting back out for some Winter camps.

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What’s your favourite place in the UK to shoot?

Now that is an easy question to answer. Wales, I love the country and visit every year to numerous areas, this probably has developed from all the family holidays to South Wales around Pembrokeshire which is a beautiful stretch of coast and well worth a visit if you haven't been.
More recently I've visited the Brecon Beacons and the Gower to have an explore anode course the much-loved Snowdonia is hard to beat. However out of all the locations across Wales, Elan Valley and the Cambrian Mountains has to be my favourite area.
It's away from all the tourists and crowds of Snowdonia, it's more remote than the Brecon Beacons and has some good mountains to climb and woodland to get lost in and plenty of bothy's and trails to enjoy whether you are hiking, horseback or cycling.

This is where I finished my Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and had two fantastic expeditions and several visits after and every visit brought different conditions, so I was really spoilt on all the trips with weather and views.

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Have you always had an interest in the outdoors? Where did it start?

Since the age of six I've been involved in Scouting UK. Starting at Beavers and worked right through and eventually becoming a leader and when I could join the Duke of Edinburgh Award these went side-by-side for many years.
I finally completed my DofE awards at the age of 24 just before my birthday so I just got them in time and only recently I went to Buckingham Palace (Summer 2018) for my Gold Award presentation.

Since then I have left as a leader and continuing on my own path with my photography and outdoor work, I have some exciting pieces I am working on for 2019 which will combine photography, teaching and the outdoors.

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Do you take part in any outdoor activities regularly?

Cycling, hiking, mountaineering, kayaking, camping, climbing, archery and a lot more. Not much eh, I try to spend as much of my time at weekends outside to get away from a computer screen as I am often glued to my computer for work during the week so it's a nice change and give my eyes and brain a break from the creative world I work in.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start photographing the outdoors?

Don't be put off by the weather, if something doesn't happen don't be disheartened that the sun didn't shine or that event didn't happen. There are always other opportunities, nothing only happens once.

I've been out many times and spent countless hours waiting for events or the perfect opportunity and it hasn't happened, but it just spurs me on to keep going. For example, I joined a few other photographers recently up on Cribyn in the Brecon Beacons for the Perseid meteor shower. With four cameras pointing at the sky, only one of us managed to get the full trail but we all managed to get a small one off in the distance.

The rest of the weekend was a complete wash out so wasn't what I had imagined and planned but it was still an amazing weekend spent with great company. I will just try again next year.

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What is the most amazing moment you have experienced when out shooting?

It's a simple one but it was a sunset after the first day in the Cambrian Mountains on my first DofE Gold expedition in 2016.
The day was long and hot. Temperatures were 30+ plus with little shade. After 16 odd miles we were all exhausted and all collapsed when we reached our camp for the night. The leaders tipped us off about an old quarry which offers amazing views over the mountains and towards the coast.

It didn't disappoint! The view was golden and we all sat at the top of this quarry watching until it went dark, all enjoyed a laugh and dinner up top.
Perfect end to the first day.

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Is there anywhere in the UK you want to shoot but haven’t yet?

Scotland I've only been twice and both times I didn't have a camera so to go back and spend some time up there exploring. I've got a long list of locations I want to visit, some pretty obvious like Iceland, Norway and Faroe Islands.

What do you love most about where you live?

I live in Berkshire and not far off the Chilterns and have lived here most of my life. I'm very lucky in the respect that it's very easy to get around here with two major motorways and plenty of public transport in and around London area so it's only a three-hour drive to get to some good mountains or a little over an hour and I'm on the coast.

If it's not going further afield the Chilterns offers some beautiful walks around the countryside as well as plenty of cycling routes both on and off road to enjoy. It's also full of wildlife from deer, birds and bugs so I get to have a lot of fun with some macro and wildlife photography every now and then for a change.

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Source: https://thryve.world/journal/2018/10/photographer-matt-holland/

MSR PocketRocket Deluxe with Piezo igniter & Trail mini solo cook set

MSR PocketRocket Deluxe with Piezo igniter

Ultralight, fast-boiling canister stove.

The next-generation PocketRocket® Deluxe stove takes everything impressive about the iconic PocketRocket and combines it with a Piezo igniter making it more convenient than the last but still offers being small and light with a high-performance design.

MSR Trail Mini Solo Cook set

Our smallest and lightest ultra-pack-efficient cook set for soloists.

The size of a large mug, the Trail Mini Solo Cook Set delivers the essentials you need to fuel up—all in a cook kit that’s ridiculously small in your pack. Perfectly sized to make hot water for one pouch meal or a generous cup of coffee, its pot plays double duty as you eat-and-drink vessel. Inside, it nests a PocketRocket® 2 stove and 4 oz. MSR fuel canister. Outside, its bowl efficiently adds a second vessel, making this the ultimate space-maximizing cook set for solo minimalists moving fast with a small pack.

 The pot includes":
0.75L hard-anodized alumium pot
Strainer lid*
Polypropylene bowl*
Mini LiteLifter (pot lifter/handle)
Stuff sack
*BPA Free

A lighter option at only 203g perfect for a minimalist meal for one in this compact and efficient set.
Being able to compact: PocketRocket 2 stove, 4-oz fuel and handle inside with the plastic pot and lid on the outside.

PocketRocket with igniter only weighs 83g and can boil water in 3:30mins/1L with a power of 10,400 BTU.
Pressure regulator: Maintains constant fast boil times even in cold weather and low fuel.
Piezo igniter: Fast, reliable push-start lighting.
Broad Burner: Adds wind protection and combines with simmer control for cooking versatility.
Stove comes with stuff sack for storage

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On Review

When I first got the stove and pot I was excited to see the latest offering from MSR Gear, having heard good things about the previous PocketRocket2 the latest PocketRocket with the igniter could only mean improvements which was the case at first upon first use out. However, further testing in varied conditions drew to a different conclusion.

Firstly, the new PocketRocket has had a redesign and extra pieces built on. Not only the new and convenient igniter to the side but also a new burner which is broader and concaved to help against poor weather and wind but keeps the offering in the same compact and lightweight package as previous models with this new design weighing a small 83g but offers up the quick boil times and constant power throughout use. Combined with the Trail Mini Solo cook set the two are a great combination for those hiking and wishing to keep weight down and reduce pack size.

I didn't have to wait long to try the PocketRocket in poor weather with the first proper outing along the South Pembrokeshire coast at Castlemartin. With a route planned from St Govan’s chapel and to walk along the coastal path to Elegug Stacks and Green Bridge, it was an early start at 4am to try and catch a sunrise however with the latest weather this wasn’t happening.

In packing the bag I was thankful the stove, pot and gas combined could fit in to a small package which was no larger than a large gas canister so keeping my pack light was no difficult in this respect and in set up in the dark was easy to pull out the pots and get cooking within seconds.
The newly designed broader burner is excellent to say the least and the stormy coastal weather and high winds blowing in was no hard feet for the burner to continue through even with heavy showers and this was the same in the Brecon Beacon’s the following weekend and cooking in the clouds or lower in the car parks.

Wind or rain the burner just keeps going!

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The igniter is a handy feature to include in this tiny package. Not many stoves of this size from competitors have included the igniters built in and to be able to keep the weight down is a clever feet of design.

Although handy to have and yes, the igniter still works in the poor weather it doesn’t always light on the first click. It’s very sporadic to say the least and some attempts the igniter wouldn’t do anything so in frustration I would swap to using the old-fashioned method of matches or lighter.

Of all the occasions the igniter wouldn’t work in the better weather and would work on first click in the worse conditions, so I can’t blame the wind for blowing out the flame before getting the pot on to boil. So, with this in mind I wouldn’t rely on just taking the stove out and not carrying matches or a lighter with me. The important thing is you can still light the stove in other methods.

I used two gas cartridges other the course of the weekends. One, nearly empty and the second two-thirds full and using the two I noticed no change in consistency between strength the two cartridges being used. Even up the empty cartridge running out the flame remained consistent till the end and then just went when the fuel ran out.
Keeping this consistency is good and nice to have, I don’t want my stove to be affected just because I’m using different levels of gas.

In the poor weather cooking time remained consistent as it was to good weather and on average the water was boiling at 4 minutes for the 0.75L pot. This wasn’t at full power, so it could be quicker.

I personally didn’t get on with the size of the pot. I found 0.75L was a little small for myself as I like a large coffee with my food, between water for the dehydrated packs and for a large coffee I need to boil just a little extra after sharing out the quantities. If you aren’t greedy like myself then the pot is ample big enough.

The pot is the perfect size however for cooking up plenty of water for just dehydrated packs. It is possible to cook a pack inside the pot, but care is required as it is small, so the dehydrated packs are a better option in combination with this set up.

I found the pot handle pretty useless to be blunt and didn’t get on with this at all. It’s a little awkward to pick the pot up when full of water and to make matters worse if the pot has been cooking you have hot water with an awkward handle. I just found the handle doesn’t grip the side of the pot particularly well in wet conditions.
I would personally prefer to see the handle built in to the pot for added stability and this won’t make the pot any larger or heavier if the handles fold in.

The plastic cup that comes with the pot is interesting in the construction and idea but this as far as I would rate the product.
The plastic cup isn’t strong or insulated so if you are using it for hot coffee or tea, care is needed and a pair of gloves to hold the cup, I also noticed with the hot liquids inside the pot would bow but would always return to its shape after. This is just as well, otherwise it would make packing the cooking set back down rather awkward.

Before cooking it is also worth taking a little extra time to ensure you have removed the pot from the cooking pot before cooking. In a rush I forgot and managed to burn the plastic pot.

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My experience with the new PocketRocket has been mixed. I’m thoroughly impressed with the compact, lightweight option and durability in poor weather from the stove. The stove as a whole is great if you can get over the sporadic igniter, it’s great to see this included on such a small option but it’s not perfect and from my trips out with the stove I found it was very random in when it would work and in the most unlikely of locations vs good conditions.

Igniter would work in strong winds and heavy rain on the coast or 850m on a mountain side but in a car park in the valleys wouldn’t catch or would take numerous attempts to get to work. As this item is a sample product perhaps the final consumer edition that hits shops might be better but from my testing I wouldn’t leave the house with just this stove and not carry another source to light the stove.

Ignoring this issue, the stove is superb, lightweight and compact and easy to use and set up, the new broader burner is excellent at protecting the flame from wind and rain and as a whole is a great little set up for solo hikers.

As for the Mini Solo cook set, again mixed feelings with this set. The handle I found pretty poor and difficult to use with big hands and struggled to keep the pot steady when full of water. The pot was ample big enough to boil up enough water for a small coffee and water for a dehydrated pack, but I prefer a large coffee, and this needed extra water boiling in order to fulfil my needs.

There is no denying however how small, compact and lightweight the cook set and stove combined is. It takes up little to no room at all and the two combined weighs less than 300g and you can stove a fuel cartridge inside the pot as well as a fold up spoon, handle and stove. A few minor tweaks and I think the set are on for a real winner with solo hikers all round.

Boil Time 25/30
Boil times were consistent with little to no gas or full and even in poor weather vs good weather the time to get water up to temperature ready for cooking was quick. At full power I could get the pot bubbling away around 3 minutes but had the ability to reduce power and have a gentle simmer if required.

Weight 25/25
It’s super lightweight and better yet compact. Everything can pack in to the pot which is smaller than C500 gas cartridge. For a solo hiker looking to keep weight and pack size down this is in a different league of its own.

Ease of use 23/25
Easy to set up, the pot pulls apart quite simply and the stove simply twist the arms out and attach to the cartridge. The igniter is simple (when it wants to work) with just a click of the button or simply use matches/lighter to ignite the stove. As with most compact stoves the arms can be a little confusing at first and is like an origami art to fold back in but once you have the knack of it it’s easy.

Simmering 19/20

Total score: 92/100

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Transparency Notice: Please note that MyOutdoors receives free products for review from brands and manufacturers, but we only accept products for review on condition of total independence and no guarantee of endorsement.

Source: https://myoutdoors.co.uk/gear/gear-reviews/general/cooking-lighting/stoves/item/1590-pocket-rocket-deluxe