Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Jack Pyke - Hunters boots

Time Tested: Six months


I’d wanted a new set of boots for use in the woods for a while and spent several weeks looking around at different options. I turned up an array of options from military style boots through to the good old wellie boot, but the majority of boots didn't seem to meet my needs at a price I was willing to pay.

With several boots already in the large pile of shoes that accompanies a growing family of four (of which 20% no longer fit anyone); it helped to have a specific task in mind for them. My hiking boots were good and sturdy but a low top and not wanting to trash them with all the kneeling down and trekking through the undergrowth helped keep them in the occasional use pile. My work boots lack support but are warm and waterproof, so my criteria was waterproof, sturdy, good grip and all at a reasonable price.

I tend to look at a range of equipment suppliers from bushcraft, military, outdoor and work wear to find the item I think best meets my need and recently found that equipment designed for hunters is a good source of reasonably priced, hardworking gear.  I was pleasantly surprised when I found the Jack Pyke Hunters boots on Amazon at just under £100.

I often struggle with fit on shoes, having both a wide foot and a high instep, so Amazons easy returns appeals as it saves issues trying to return items if fit is an issue. There seems to be a variety of sizing when it comes to UK sizing and I know that a size 46 fits me perfectly (UK 11 seems to vary between manufacturers from 45 - 46) and after checking the Jack Pyke website and Amazon reviews on the fitment, I ordered my regular size 11 and the boots fitted perfectly when delivered.
After six months of use my experience with these boots has been excellent. The boots are very supportive when clambering over logs, provide excellent grip when dragging branches and cuttings on loose ground. The full grain leather upper and a waterproof and breathable liner have shrugged off the worst of a British winter without issue. The boots are still flexible enough for me to drive in, which saves time changing shoes when I arrive at the woods, and the high rand on the front protects them well from scuffs and  helps when cleaning off the mud at the end of the day.  At no point have I had wet feet and despite several muddy areas of my woods, the high tops and sturdy construction have kept me dry throughout. The lacing system is especially well thought out with small pulleys allowing the laces to be quickly tensioned and the smooth running should hopefully reduce the chances of broken laces.

Summer may prove to be too hot for these boot as they are well insulated and they have kept me warm on several cold nights. Sitting round the fire with a spot of Honey Jack, i've not found cold feet to be an issue, so not having to toast my feet near the fire to stay warm has been one less thing to worry about. The high tops and speed laces come into their own when slipping out of the hammock or bivvy for those night time breaks, and slipping the boots back on in the morning always feels like a pleasure with such a comfortable and warm boot.

The vibram soles offer a solid grip but i've had mixed luck with vibram as the soles begin to wear, finding them slippery on wet rock so i’ll be watching to see how they cope. i've also noticed that several bushcraft stores now also carry Jack Pyke gear so clearly i’m not alone in spotting this brand and I’ll been looking forward to testing these further over the summer months.

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Spending a fair amount of time outside takes it toll on equipment; especially in the winter months.
The mud and rain soon find the weaknesses of your equipment and you find what lasts and what doesn’t.

My reviews are what works for me, they might not work for you, but they should help inform your decisions.

As a general rule, there is very little equipment I have used that’s been truly terrible. I’d like to think that’s because I take time researching what I want to buy.

I don't like to waste money, so value (that’s getting good usage from something for the price you pay) is the most important factor.

One thing that frustrates me about some reviews is that they give products a low rating for one small minor niggle then the next product a much higher rating with a host of failings; or worse they say something is the best ever and then next year they're criticising it for a major failing that ‘everyone knew about’.  I’m going to try and be more logical in my reviews so I'm going to include an explanation of how I rate things:

Something’s wrong. Possibly a design flaw or a major weakness.

OK – one or two faults, I’d probably not worth buying it.

Worth considering

Very good – for the money


I should also point out that I may go back and amend a rating if something new comes to light, perhaps a failure further down the road.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Hammocks and the Italian hitch

Hammocks are the marmite of the camping world; but love them or hate them they are my preferred sleeping option on a solo night.

Being up off the ground helps you stay dry in the event of rain and even though I normally sleep on my front I have found I can still find a comfortable position to spend the night.

My first night was not the most comfortable, but over the past few months I've perfected my set up (learning to sleep at a diagonal helped a lot) and have found hammocks to be comfortable and snug way to spend a night in the wild. My only observation is that during the winter months they are not as warm as a bivi bag.

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to borrow a DD travel hammock before I bought mine and ended up buying the same one for my own use.

There were two main reasons for this 1) Price – The DD is currently £49 which I think is very reasonable 2) versatility – the water proof base means you can use it as a bivi if needed (at the wilderness gathering last year not everyone could get a spot in the trees so we saw people using them on the ground).

Together with a DD 3x3 tarp it’s both dry and warm and the mosquito net makes for a pleasant enclosed environment if you need it.

I’ve added a few extras to make pitching easier, a hammock sleeve and some tree huggers. The sleeve makes setting up and packing up much simpler as you just pull the sleeve over the hammock and its neatly contained.
Tree huggers with karabiners and the Italian Hitch make pitching a breeze.

Getting your hammock adjusted is one of the keys to a decent nights sleep and after trying several methods I settled on one that works well for me. The last thing you want is to get all nice and cosy then realise you’re not pitched right and then end up trying to undo knots in the cold and dark; so simple adjustment is key.

I've tried a few methods of pitching the hammock, using just the supplied lines worked ok, but there was limited adjustment and meant retying the whole setup if it wasn’t level. Whoopee slings worked OK but were too hard to adjust with gloves on and needed too many karabiners which added weight. I experimented with various prusik knots but found they slipped and you ended up on the ground during the night. Friends have used hammock rings with success but again that’s more weight to carry and quite expensive at £14 for four and I wanted a simple system I could adjust easily and wouldn't slip.

I fell back on my climbing background and decided to try a knot called the Italian hitch. It’s a belaying knot so adjustment wasn't an issues, but slippage might have been. Here’s a little pic of how to do the knot:

Just add a simple overhand knot at the end to stop it slipping and you’re good to go.

Here’s my setup:

Tree hugger around the tree at a level height, karabiners on the end. Use the supplied hammock lines to make an Italian hitch (lines doubled up) and adjust to the desired height. Add an overhand knot to stop it moving and that’s it.

Since starting out on the hammock journey, I've added two scout hammocks for the kids to use and a camping hammock for the wife, and so far no slippage on the knot. Even with the kids swinging around in them they have stayed put. 

After a bit of practice getting setup takes a few minutes and that normally keeps the kids entertained for long enough to get the fire going and the kettle on.

An introduction

Clearly I have a problem; all be it not a hugely troubling one and one that could be seen by some as not a problem at all.

I've too many interests.

I’m what people might call a jack of all trades; some I am better at then others but most I’d like to think that I am fairly competent at. 
They fall generally into two main categories

a) Being outdoors 
b) Making things (I’m going to class repairing things in this category as I’m making things work again).
Fallen tree crafts was born of the idea of making things and maybe selling the odd bit here and there. The trouble is that most of what I have made sells before it gets anywhere near the shop, so the sites been pretty quiet for a while. The idea of expanding the site has been in my head for a while now and so there is a range of topics that I hope to cover off, but as this is me, expect some other bits to creep in. 
So, in no particular order:

Bushcraft, Outdoor living, Wood turning, Blacksmithing, Leather work, Knife making, Children’s crafts, Motorbikes, Cycling, Mountain biking, Kayaking / Canoeing, Kit reviews, Jewelry, Cakes, Photography, Technology, Microadventures, traveling.

That should keep me busy for a bit.