WELL that’s it. After a fortnight hobbling around like a fettered goat I’ve got the all-clear to start walking and cycling again.
Thanks to some serious physiotherapy (thanks Julie) and even a session of acupuncture, the pain and discomfort in my Achilles Tendon has almost gone, although I’m still a little bit wary of testing it too hard so there won’t be any big hill descents for a while yet.
I’ve always been pretty lucky when it comes to injury and in 40 years or so of climbing hills the only time I was sidelined was after a fell running accident in the early nineties when I broke my wrist and an ankle. Before that I slipped a disc once but I could still walk, although the high tops were out for a few weeks.
So this Achilles problem has hit me sore, in more ways than one. Apart from niggling problems in my thigh, knee and calf – sympathy pains – it’s been the psychological aspect of not being able to get out that has hit me the most. Talk about cabin fever? Having said that I’ve put the time to pretty good use – getting all my writing up to date and tackling my company tax returns.
Anyway it’s hopefully behind me and just in time. I’m heading off next week to do some filming for The Adventure Show and as well as taking a rather interesting walk to a very special place I’ll be testing some budget walking gear.
One of the criticisms we’ve had on the Show is that the gear we’ve tested recently has tended to be at the top end. That’s not strictly true as it happens but we get the point and I think more and more people in these hellish economic times want to know if cheaper gear is any good. Does it work? Is it value for money? How long will it last and more importantly, will it protect me from the elements?
I spent last weekend on a shopping spree. I wanted to get a full clothing kit for less than £100 – that’s base layer, fleece, trousers, socks, gloves, hat, gaiters, boots and waterproofs. I managed it, but will the gear I bought be any good? I’ll find out next week.
We won’t be going very high on the hill – my brief was to put together a clothing list for people who might want to take up walking, but not necessarily going high and certainly not equipping themselves for winter hill walking or mountaineering.
So what do I personally think of the cost of outdoor equipment? In short I think it’s grossly overpriced! When you start to think about paying over £350 for a waterproof jacket or almost £300 for a pair of winter boots then you have to seriously ask what you’re getting for the money. Gear has certainly improved no end in the past 20 years but I remember being just as happy in my Army and Navy Store bits and pieces when I first took to the hills.
There is undoubtedly a tendency now for many people to want to look the part – some folk you meet on the Scottish hills look as though they’ve just stepped out from a Field & Trek catalogue while others look as though they’re setting off for Everest.
I don’t really have a problem with that – although I do recall becoming incredibly bored with people on my last TGO Challenge who only wanted to talk about gear all the time. There is undoubtedly a snobbish element to it all too and wearing the right label has become important to many hill goers. I even remember someone stopping me and telling he was really surprised that I was wearing a Regatta fleece – as though I was lowering the tone of hillwalking!
And it’s amazing how many people email after one of our television walks to ask about the gear I use. Not about the route, or the views, or the things I’ve come across along the way but why was I wearing trail shoes and what kind were they, and why didn’t my waterproof jacket have a manufacturer’s label on it, or why do I wear light coloured trousers when they can get so dirty.
So, for many people out there the gear is almost as important as the act of walking or climbing the hills and that’s probably why they are prepared to spend huge amounts of money on it. And the manufacturers and the retailers know it. For others, especially beginners, the price of gear can be prohibitive so I’m going to try and find out how cheaply I can buy semi-decent gear, gear that will do a satisfactory job without breaking the bank. It should be interesting…