Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas to everyone who reads my blog!

I hope you all have splendid New Year's in 2009.

Take care and see you next year.


Heat loss from head - continued!

Well, I've looked into this a bit more and found some interesting stuff. Bear with the biology lesson, it's worth it.

Under normal circumstances the blood flow to the brain doesn't change because the demand for oxygen is constant. This being the case then the head accounts for about 7% of total heat loss. So far so good and pretty much what I said in the previous post.

Blood flow to the brain however does vary according to cardiac output. This means the faster your heart beats, then more blood flows to your head. This increase in blood flow causes an increase in heat loss. So when you start to exercise, more blood flows to your brain. This increases the heat loss from the head to about 50%! But, as you continue to exercise, muscles demand more oxygen and more blood. In order for your body to maintain its core temperature it now needs to shunt blood to other parts of the body eg blood vessels in the skin vasodilate to help cool the body.

This means that blood flow to the brain decreases causing the total heat loss from the head to decrease back down to about 10%. Once sweating starts this will drop back down to about 7%. Cool eh!

There is a big implication here for victims of hypothermia. Someone who is hypothermic but not shivering will be losing about 7% of total body heat through there head (see above). However, as soon as they start shivering, they are, in effect, exercising and so heat loss can rise to 50% or more through their head. So it is important to protect a hypothermia victim's head from the cold especially if they are shivering.


Friday, 19 December 2008

If you want to get ahead, get a hat!

Recently, scientists have decided to bust some myths. One of them is how much heat is lost through the head. It would seem that many of us having been labouring under the misapprehension that we lose anywhere between 20% and 50% of our body heat through our heads (Guardian article).

This would appear to be total rubbish that has come about from some flawed research done by American scientists in the 1950's. Scientists, eh! Anyway, the upshot is that the amount of heat loss from any exposed skin is about the same no matter where on the body that skin is. The heat loss is proportional to the amount of exposed skin. Pretty logical really. The head accounts for about 10% of our body's surface area, so, in order for it to lose 40% of our heat, the skin on our heads would have to lose 40 % more heat, per square inch, than any other skin on our bodies. Not likely, is it?

The skin on our neck and head is more sensitive to temperature which is why wearing a hat is so cosy on a brisk winter's day. It just feels like it is stopping more heat loss rather than actually doing so.

I find this interesting so will probably look into it in more detail and post something else about it later.

Have fun!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Radio gaga

Well on Monday this week I was on an informal discussion panel on local BBC Somerset Radio.

It was good fun and lasted for an hour and we talked about local and national news. I enjoyed it so much I hope to be invited back in a few weeks time to have another go! It was also a good way to get myself some publicity.

I'll keep you posted when I'm on again.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Everest in 5 days!

Well sort of! There are a couple of guys, Darren and Bryn, who are raising money for a number of charities. and they intend to climb the equivelant height of Mount Everest, but here in the UK.

The plan is to cover 10 peaks in the UK over 5 days which will amounting to nearly 33,000 feet of total height - a bit over the height of dear old Everest. You should really go and check out their website at UK Everest Challenge and spare them a few quid.

The charities are very worthwhile and ultimately they are trying to raise at least one pound for every metre they climb - this is not a huge amount of money so I'm sure we can help them reach their goal.

Please take a look and if you feel you can help then it is easy to do so!


Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Smartwool Light Cushion PhD sock

This is a technical sock with quite a few features - both terms I never thought I would use to describe a sock! Pretty much a sock has been a sock but this one is something a bit different (for me at least).

As I said in a previous post, I normally wear Smartwool socks but these tend to be a bit heavier weight than the PhD's so I was a little sceptical about them at first. Anyway, these socks have what is called a '4 degree fit system' and 'WOW technology'.

To quote the blurb the 4 degree fit system consists of '4 compression bands and flex zones that provide a high performance all day fit' and these bands are in the ankle, arch of the foot, upper instep and lower instep as well as a contour flex zone where the foot joins the lower shin. I was dubious when I read this but as soon as I put it on I was impressed. The sock sits very comfortably from the get go - so much so it is actually quite hard to tell you are wearing it!

I wore each pair for 4 days in a row to test longer term comfort, odour control, stretching etc. I can safely say that the socks performed admirably in all cases. They retained a good comfortably grip on my foot, there was no discernible smell after that amount of use (trust me, that is impressive), again no discernible stretching during wearing - so much so that pulling wellies on and off didn't move the sock (unlike other socks which can end up staying in the boot). After prolonged use in wellies they still managed not to move around on my foot. As they are a bit thinner than I normally wear I still found them to be pretty warm on cooler days but my feet did get colder quicker when in wellies than other socks, but that is to be expected.

So what's so WOW about them? Well WOW stands for Wool on Wool technology and is basically a higher density wool (I think). There are a couple of high density impact zones that use Smartwool Duroyarn (WOW) and these are in the heel and metatarsal areas. These are very comfy and give a nice cushioning effect under your heel and toes which didn't seem to get any less comfy even after 4 days. There is also light half cushioning in the sole. The toe seam is flat-knit to avoid pressure points.

Overall, I'm very impressed with the sock. I would prefer a slightly heavier weight sock as my feet do tend to get cold but I may try some other pairs in the future. I'll see how these hold up to more wear and tear but if they are anything like my other pairs of Smartwool socks then I expect them to last well.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Good bye old friend!

Now, I'm someone who likes to get the most out of their kit. A lot of my stuff is at least 10 years old and still going strong. But I have had a recent tragedy. My trusty Karrimor has gone to the great rucksac in the sky.

It was a 30l Munro (I think!!!) that has gone through thick and thin with me for over 15 years. It has travelled all over the world with me; it was on my back when I fell off a cliff and it has been out in the woods with me on most of the days out. Structurally it was still very sound but the problem was that it had started to delaminate and was not at all waterproof any more. I know I could have kept things in dry sacs but that can be a bit of a pain.

So after such a long and distinguished career it was finally retired. It will be forever immortalised on film as I was wearing it for the trailer ( This does of course mean that I'm now on the lookout for a replacement! I was thinking of another Karrimor such as the Sabre but I'm open to suggestions. As always, price is a bit of a factor.

Please feel free to recommend kit!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Smartwool Socks

I am a huge fan of wool clothing. I love Merino baselayers and I have a quite a selection of wool socks. For last few years the only socks I have worn are those made by Smartwool.

I find them comfortable in all sorts of temperatures, they tend to be pretty much odour- free even after extended periods of wear and they do tend to keep my feet warm.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I had a problem with one of my socks where some of the wool had started to ruck up causing a bit of a pressure point. I wrote to the UK distributor ( to ask if this was a known problem. They were very quick to respond and offered to replace said socks. Well, they turned up very quickly despite the fact that they were in the middle of an office move! I was deeply impressed with the level of service.

So I now have some new socks to review. I'll give them a go over the next few weeks and let you know how I get on.

Friday, 24 October 2008

IOL National Conference 2008

Well I survived the National Conference! I think there should be a badge for it myself. Anyway, I took a workshop at the conference this year about the ways tracking can be used educationally - not just for the sake of tracking. I think it went well, I had 20 people or so come and listen, which was pleasing and at least 3 people were really switched on by the ideas I was proposing. That to me is a great success.

There were a lot of talks and workshops over the two days so there was plenty to do. As the conference was aimed at outdoor professionals and educators many of the workshops were completely over my head - a lot of educational jargon that I didn't understand, though despite that I still did learn stuff. We also had a workshop on bushcraft which was very good as well as some input from Forest Schools. It just goes to show that the ancient skills are becoming more mainstream again.

I'm glad I went. It helped raise my profile as well as giving me more practice at public speaking, which is no bad thing. I got a chance to chat to a lot of people I would not otherwise have met. I also think I generated a bit of interest for my friends at Bushcraft & Survival Magazine.

It was a long way to go but overall I think it was worth it.

Until next time....

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Exmoor wild food festival

Well on Saturday I shall be taking part in the Exmoor Wild Food festival at a local lake, Wimbleball. This is a week long celebration of local foods and produce.

Wimbleball is running a more practical look at the food to be found around Exmoor. There will be yours truly there showing people how to light fires, sharpen knives set traps and all that fun stuff. There is a wild food walk, people will be shown how to skin and prepare a rabbit and they will get a chance to eat it a bit later in the day, and there is going to be a haangi as well!

Looks like it will be a fun day out with plenty of things to do - so if you feel like popping down - go for it and say hi!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Bear strikes back!

Well dear old Bear Grylls has been interviewed and has made some comments about Ray in return!

Bear Grylls Question time

I like:

"Your great TV rival Ray Mears called you a boy scout.

I love boy scouts. One of the best things this country has ever done is boy scouts. I love Ray Mears. He's brilliant. He's so rude about me in the press, it's outrageous!"

A very clever interview I thought!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Bear v Mears

I know this is old news but hey, what can I say! Take a look at this article in the Daily Mail regarding an interview with Ray Mears - Bear v Mears.

What interest me about the article is this -

'I think the viewer knows that if you want to really know how to take care of yourself in the wild, I'm the person to talk to.'

Very modest Mr Mears, very modest!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Bugs save pest control man!

This is a survival story from the BBC a few months ago that I have only just discovered - Bug feast save Outback pest man

I won't copy out the whole story but I will describe the salient points. A former pest control officer got lost in the Australian Outback and thought he would die until he stumbled on a termite mound and "got stuck in".

Theo Rosmulder survived for 4 days eating termites and other insects before being found by local Aborigines. All he had with him was a penknife, a torch and a metal detector. He believed he wouldn't be found so decided to "crawl into a hole and just call it quits". After spending the night in a cave, he chanced upon a termites nest, knocked the top off and began to eat them. A Western Australia Police spokesperson said the termites had provided him with moisture and protein!

Mmm, let's think about this for a while. It certainly makes a great story but how likely is eating a bunch of termites going to keep you hydrated? Personally, I don't think it would help at all and could possibly worsen the situation - here's why.

To start with, there is going to be very little protein in your average soldier termite. They are going to be mainly chitinous exoskeleton and not a lot else. The body uses water to metabolise food, and protein is the worst culprit for using up your internal stores of water. So, that being the case, by harvesting and eating these termites he may well have used up more water than he would have gained and thus compromised his own survival! You can certainly live for quite some time without food so, again, eating the termites was probably not the best plan. If you have little or no access to water it is better not to eat - even if the food is available due to the amount of water used during metabolic processes.

He said he was holed up in a cave and had basically given up hope. To me, this means he probably spent a lot of time in the cave where it was cooler and shaded and didn't do much 'work'. This would have reduced the amount of water he lost through perspiration. That is probably what saved him - not the termites! He may well have been well hydrated before he got lost and this would have helped considerably as well.

Overall, I don't think the termites helped at all but like I said, it makes for a good story!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Cows point the way.

This is an amazing piece of research conducted by scientists (so it must be true). It would seem that the humble bovid has a tendency to orientate themselves on a north-south axis!

Researchers have shown that cows have a good sense of direction and tend to point towards north. They are also pretty good at weather prediction. Scientists from the University of Duisburg-Essen studied images of cattle from Google Earth and noticed that they tend to face in north-south orientation. These images were from a number of different countries and continents, at different times of day and in a variety of daylight conditions, so the scientists concluded that the common factor in all cases had to be the earth's magnetic field. Pretty cool, eh! Many of the images weren't clear enough to show which way the cows were pointed, in other words whether they were head onto north or tail on.

The researchers also looked at deer and found that they tended to face north when grazing or resting in a similar way to the cows. This ability of cows to find north is thought to be a throwback from the days when their wild ancestors needed to migrate across the plains of Africa, Asia and Europe.

I always knew there was more to a cow than meets the eye. How useful this could be in terms of natural navigation, I'm not sure. My gut feeling is that there will be a lot of local factors that will influence a herd of cows but I shall certainly be taking more notice of them in future to see if the there is any 'truth' in the whole thing.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

The waiting is over!

Well at last I can reveal what my 'secret' project is all about. Through my contacts in the film and media industry I am going to be presenting a new survival series! Yep, that's right - a new series - not a Ray Mears clone, nor a Bear Grhylls fiasco but little old me doing my best.

There is a small band of us involved in the project. We aim to keep full control over every aspect of the production so it doesn't get hijacked by well meaning but clueless TV execs. This means as well as presenting the show I'm having to write it as well. No pressure then! We are starting more filming in September and aim to finish the bulk of the first series by Christmas. At the moment there is no guarantee that it will be aired on telly but we do have contacts at the Discovery Channel which could help considerably. The main aim is to produce a quality product that can be sold on DVD or bought as downloads from the internet, getting on TV would be a bonus. The whole thing is being shot professionally using the latest camera equipment and in full HD to broadcast standards. It's not being shot using consumer level equipment - very serious stuff indeed!

There is a trailer available for viewing which lasts for about 4 minutes. It's a big file so the first play through is always very jumpy until the whole file has buffered down to the machine - second play should be a lot smoother (almost as smooth as an Italian gigolo). Please take a look and let me know what you think!

Follow this link to the website and then click on the Vimeo link just above the contact form.

I really hope you enjoy it and like it - I'm taking quite a gamble on this :)

Monday, 28 July 2008

A week of tracking!

A couple of weeks ago, I was up at Canonteign helping Max of Shadowhawk teach tracking. We started off with an Advanced course and then a back to back /fundamental and intermediate - 6 days worth of tracking. Fantastic!

We were lucky with the weather and the people we had. It stayed dry (which is unusual for the area) and the people we taught were brilliant. We pushed all of them hard and they managed to up their game each time. We had a really good time with the Advanced course because it gave us instructors more chance to be creative in our scenarios, shall we say!

The back to back guys picked up the principles very quickly indeed and gave us a run for our money trying to keep up with them. It was great to see all the 'eureka' moments that people had and there were a lot of those. I would like to take all the credit for their fast progress but it wasn't just down to me and the other instructors - they were all very good and quick learners.

On a separate note, I have been promised that there will be something for people to see, concerning my secret project, before the end of the week. I really hope that is the case because I'm busting to let people see what I'm up to and get some feedback.

I will keep you posted. Until later ....

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Paperback writer.....

Well not quite! I have just had an article published in the Bushcraft & Survival Skills magazine on tracking. This is the first of many (I hope) and I think it looks good - even though I say so myself.

I really recommend you go out and buy the magazine because it is full of great articles, pictures and me (only kidding). Follow this link if you want to see my humble offering - tracking article and choose tracking.pdf.

Hope you like it!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Lifesaver Water Bottle (Part 1)

As promised, a first look at the incredible Lifesaver Water Bottle. This bottle may not be the most elegant of beasts but it is probably the most important invention to hit the survival/bushcraft market in recent years. It is a highly significant evolution in portable water purification systems. You may think this all sounds a bit OTT, perhaps it is, but the bottom line is that this is an awesome piece of kit, taking water purification to new heights.

In an earlier post (The OS Outdoor show aftermath) I mentioned meeting the inventor of the bottle, Michael Pritchard. A very nice chap whom I gave a rather hard time over the design and the principles of the system. He graciously answered all my questions and after 3 days I became convinced about the concept.

So, I put my money where my mouth was and bought one! So far, I have only primed the bottle because I had to give it to someone else for a trip to Russia and have only just received my replacement. Anyway, overall, the bottle is very easy to use but does take a little getting used to. The bottle comes with a fitted activated charcoal filter as well as a spare, a spare teat, a strap, a small pot of lubricant and an instruction manual. It is important to follow the priming instructions before you use the bottle in anger, so to speak. I did find that tap water still had a taint after the priming process so I just repeated the last stage another 5 or 6 times to lessen this - no doubt more use will reduce it totally.

To fill the bottle is simplicity itself. Unscrew the bottom, ensure the filter is covering the water inlet hole (this just removes large debris like leaves) and scoop up the water, screw the bottom back on, give it a couple of quick pumps and drink! It is a very fast process. You use your teeth to pull up the drinking teat and also to close it and you can literally start drinking it after pumping. The pumping process does pressurise the water meaning it will squirt out quite vigourously at first. This did catch me by surprise the first time I used it and I nearly choked! So be warned. It does mean that the bottle can be used at any angle (see picture below). That's not me in the picture by the way!

The beauty of this system is that there are no chemicals used in the purification process. It is all done through filtration. Speaking of filtration, it is still a good idea to pre-filter your water if it is very dirty. The only reason being that your filter will last longer! You can scoop up the nastiest, dirtiest water you like (except sea water) and the bottle will deal with it in its stride but it is always a good idea to choose the cleanest looking water you can find - no point in lessening the life of your investment unnecessarily, is there?

I will post another short review later when I have used the bottle in earnest. There is a full review of the bottle in the Bushcraft & Survival Skills magazine along with other water treatment systems. I'm not going to tell you what it says because you need to go off and buy the magazine and read it for yourself!

Go out and buy one - you know you want to!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Still alive!!!!

That says it all really! I'm still here but have been outrageously busy with some of my other work. It keeps the money coming in but it hasn't done much for my outdoor life.

I'm also working on a bit of a project at the moment. At the moment I can't say much about it - it will involve another website and a rather radical departure from my normal day to day activities (though still bushcrafty in its nature). Soon as I have something to show I'll post up links here.

I'm off again with work tomorrow for a week and a half - this time to Barcelona for 5 days then Thurock (of all places for 3 days immediately afterwards). This is the kind of thing that has kept me away from the blog! Having said that I do now have my Lifesaver Bottle and will be doing a preliminary review in the very near future - I know, I know I said that before and it has taken me 3 months to get this far.

Right, until then - see you later!

Monday, 17 March 2008

The OS Outdoor show aftermath

Don't get me wrong, it was a great three days but I am glad it is now over! It was quite tiring standing up all day, under artificial light, getting slowly dehydrated by the heating system. Well worth it though!

I must say a big thank you to the guys on the Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine stand for their hospitality and friendliness. They are a good bunch of people. You really should go and buy their magazine, you know.

I have no idea how many people came to the show this year but we were all very busy on the Saturday and Sunday. Friday was a lot quieter but we still had a good number of folk come and listen to the talks and demos.

As for kit....what can I say? There was loads of great gear around and I surpised myself by not buying much at all. Well sort of not buying...! I did buy a headtorch which I will review in a later post. I tried to buy a jacket but they didn't have my size so I will have to order that in the next couple of days (at show price I hasten to add) and I tried to buy a water purification system but that is on back order now.

I must tell you about the Lifesaver Bottle. We had the inventor of this system on the stand for the three days, Michael Pritchard. I will admit that I was initially very skeptical about the product but the more I spoke to him (well, interogated him more like) about it, the more I liked it. The product does exactly what it says on the tin. It is the only filtration system that does not require pre- or post- processes on the water, it also does not use any chemicals within it. A fantastic bit of kit!

The upshot is that I am willing to spend the money on it as I believe it will be worth every penny. Once I get my hot little hands on it I shall do a more comprehensive review of it.

Well I'm off to do some more work - no rest for the wicked, eh! Look out for my next reviews and if you got to the show, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Monday, 10 March 2008

The Ordnance Survey Outdoor Show

Due to circumstances beyond my control (only kidding), I am going to be attending the The Outdoor Show this week.

Myself and a couple of other guys are going to be covering the Shadowhawk part of the show because Max is off filming again. We are going to be attached to the Bushcraft and Survival Magazine stand.

I'm going to be there for the duration and will be giving a couple of short talks on each day. The rest of the time will be spent, either at the stand, or having a little wander around the show looking for goodies to buy!

Drop by and say hi if you are passing. Hope to see you there!

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Frog Spawn

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a walk in one of my local woodlands. Strolling along one of the tracks, I came across this in one of the puddles:

frog spawn!

I was a little surprised to see so much of it, in so many puddles! I thought it was very early for such behaviour but clearly not for my local frogs. I shall be visiting the woods again soon to see how they are fairing. There might be lots of amphibian tracks to see soon!

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Monday, 11 February 2008

Search and Rescue

On Saturday I had the great pleasure in helping Max (Shadowhawk) teach two very short man tracking 'masterclasses' to Search and Rescue personnel over at Pinkery Field Centre.

We had some guys and girls from the local Exmoor SAR as well as from Devon and Cornwall and elsewhere. We had absolutely splendid weather and the tracking was very good; helped by the low winter sun. As is often the case with these things I played the 'missing person' which can be fun. This time round it was lovely because I tucked myself behind a wall, in the sun, admiring the view. Bliss.

Before I got tracked down by the team I got caught up in another excercise with the SAR dogs! Their training ex involved another 'missing person' who had coincidentally camped out on the other side of the wall to where I was. This meant that my peacefully reverie was shattered by an inquisitive SAR dog bounding in my general direction until it had worked out that I was not the smelly person he was after. Still it was great to see them in action.

Anyway, everyone seemed very pleased with the tracking taster and enjoyed themselves. As we said to them, tracking will never replace their search skills but it can give them an extra tool to use, as and when they need it.

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Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Oystercatcher tracks?

I was down on a fairly remote beach the other day, not far from Lynton, and came across these tracks. They are very faint but I think that they belong to an Oystercatcher. Granted I'm not 100% sure but pretty confident.

One reason why I'm confident that it is Oystercatcher is from the bill probings along side the tracks as well as the overall size and shape of the tracks themselves. It is of course possible that it is another probing wader such as Redshank but my gut is saying Oystercatcher at the moment.

Even a simple walk on the beach can turn up really interesting challenges!

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Sparrowhawk kill site

In a previous post I talked about a fox kill (Fox and chicken just don't go) and how the ends of feathers were chewed.

Well a few weeks ago I came across a Sparrowhawk kill. A totally different affair to dear old foxy!

For starters, Sparrowhawks tend to pluck and eat the breast, sometimes decapitating the prey as well (see above). The plucking is such that the feathers are pulled out in their entirety and do not have that chewed effect. Unfortuneatley, I only had my phone camera with me and I couldn't get a good enough picture of the feather base. It is also common to find fine score marks on the feather shaft where the Sparrowhawk has grabbed the feather and pulled it out. Great stuff!

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Thursday, 17 January 2008

Layering Clothing for Comfort and Survival Part Four

In this, the last installment on layering your clothing, I briefly look at the outer layer and those for the heads, fingers and toes!

The outer layer is the barrier to wind, rain and snow. The basic waterproof achieves its waterproofness through lamination, with greater repellency being achieved by heavier lamination. This hampers the fabric’s ability to breath. Greater breathability generally means less waterproof. Modern laminates provide an excellent compromise between breathability and repellency. Any waterproof should have sealed seams. This reduces leakage at the seams through the needle holes where the thread passes through.


As your core body temperature begins to drop, the body naturally starts to shunt more blood to the vital organs, resulting in constriction of the blood vessels in the extremities ie hands and feet first, then arms and legs. So no matter how good your layering system is, you still need good hat, gloves and boots. Both gloves and boots are available with multiple layers of insulation, windproof and waterproof fabrics.

In an ideal world your hat should be insulated, windproof and waterproof. Approximately 30% of your body heat is lost through your head. So it is an incredibly important part of your layering system.

Using an effective layering system tailored to your own comfort needs and body type, will allow you to experience the great outdoors in comfort no matter what the weather throws at you. It also means you are stacking the odds in your favour when it comes to your own survival.

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Monday, 14 January 2008

Les Stroud and Bear Grylls

What can I say - two very different approaches to the same subject, survival! I think that Les Stroud is great ( He spends 7 days out in a remote location lugging his own camera kit and filming himself. There is no camera crew (except on the first day) and no back up (except in an emergency) and he video diary's the jount, warts and all. If he screws up then he shows it. He is great fun to watch and very honest about what is happening. If you haven't seen any of his stuff then look out for him on Discovery Channel as Survivorman.

Bear Grylls is another thing entirely ( He caused a lot of controversy with a recent series of Man v Wild where he was accused of all sorts of fakery. His latest series at least acknowledges that he gets assistance, is occassionally provided with wild food for demonstration purposes etc. He is a likeable chap but I don't like his programmes. To me they are sensationalist and often promote dangerous courses of actions to the uninitiated. However, he is popular from a ratings point of view.

I do think that people have been extremely unfair to him. I do occassionally work behind the scenes in television and I know that there is a lot of 'fakery' going on in order to get the desired shot. This is not something that only Bear's production crew have done - others are just a guilty.

Like all these things, you have to make up your own mind. For me, it's Les all the way!

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Sunday, 13 January 2008

Layering Clothing for Comfort and Survival Part Three

The inner layer is mainly used for extremely cold conditions and longer term exposure. In a similar fashion to the base layer, its main job is to retain body heat and wick moisture away from the base layer. This layer should be snug but not too constricting.

The mid layer is another level of insulation that retains heat and transfers moisture away from the body. Wool, synthetic fibres or down make excellent mid layers. Fleece fabric requires less care than wool and down is an excellent insulator as long as it remains dry. All these fibres work on the same principle of trapping small pockets of warm air amongst the fibres. Synthetics outperform wool in terms of moisture control because they absorb very little water. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in water. So wool is not generally recommended for highly active sports.

A number of things need to be borne in mind when choosing a mid layer. For example, venting by way of zips for flexibility of internal temperature and properly fitting size. Pullover garments are an excellent choice with baggier sleeves to allow them to be rolled up. Zip necked T-shirts allow for good ventilation and keep the neck warm when zipped up. Again, the key is to have thin layers of air trapped between garments and not too much excess that will cause bunching, add weight or restrict movement. Too much space will push air out when moving and too large an airspace will be difficult for the body to warm up. Snug but not constricting is the key to all layers.

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Thursday, 10 January 2008

Layering Clothing for Comfort and Survival Part Two

The base layer is the layer next to the skin and is the most important element because it forms the foundation, or base, of warmth and moisture control. A damp base layer is the main source of body chill. Wet clothing against the skin will transfer heat away from the body, at a rate up to 25 times faster, than one that is dry.

Many of today’s base layer fabrics are made from artificial fibres. Some fabrics only wick moisture away from the body when in contact with skin. Others will wick from the microclimate between skin and fabric. Modern fibres are designed to dry quickly and used to suffer from odour retention. The newest fabrics are treated to reduce the odours left after prolonged usage. More traditional fibres are making a comeback with the ‘reinvention’ of Merino wool base layers. Merino is very warm and comfortable to wear and resists odours very well naturally without chemical treatments. An important aspect of base layers is that the fabric is lightweight and sturdy so it doesn’t restrict movement or be uncomfortable to wear. Base layers come in different weights and the one you choose depends on the level of activity, prevalent weather conditions and how you react to the cold yourself. People with poorer circulation will need a heavier base compared to those who “run hot”.

In general, lightweight base layers are for higher levels of activity and moderately cool temperatures. Medium weight layers offer the greatest versatility, warmth and wicking when undertaking mid-level activities or cooler temperatures. Heavy or expedition weight layers are used for higher warmth when activity is low. Since the base layer is the most critical layer, and largely a personal comfort level issue, having several weight options available is a good idea.

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Thursday, 3 January 2008

Layering clothing for comfort and survival Part One

Whilst out in the wilds, or your own backyard, your level of comfort and even your survival can depend upon your clothing. Why? Because you need to regulate your core body temperature and seeing as we, generally, don’t have fur, we need to use clothing to achieve this.

In the good old days, staying warm in cold or freezing conditions meant wearing so many thick clothes that it would be very difficult to move. ‘Michelin Man’ was order of the day! Luckily for us that technology has stepped into the breach and given us more options to help us maintain and regulate our core body temperature. The key to this regulation is called layering. The idea behind this is to combine clothing to optimise insulation, wind resistance, breathability, wicking, rapid drying, water repellency and durability without compromising your mobility.

The problem can be maintaining the desired level of comfort when activity levels vary and external temperatures change due to time of day or time of year. Early mornings are usually cold, but as the sun comes up and our activity increases, we tend to get warmer and sometimes too warm! Then temperatures once more drop as the day progresses. Throw in a stiff, chill breeze and things get more challenging. The key to dealing with such temperature variations is to use a flexible layering system. In the morning, you may well need to wear all your layers and then shed them as you warm up, and put them back on as you cool.
The number one rule for winter clothing layering systems is to never use cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture and does not dry very quickly and this moisture means loss of body heat. Cotton is great for cooling down the body in warm temperatures. Some people refer to cotton, perhaps unkindly, as cotton killer. Something to bear in mind when choosing your layers.

In Part Two I'll take a look at the first layer in this system, the base layer.

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