Review: The North Face Men’s Apex Bionic Soft Shell Jacket

I love the idea of soft shell jackets – jackets which are nicer to wear and more breathable than traditional waterproofs, yet give you more protection from water and wind than a fleece. It is a combination that sounds brilliant, and I was finally able to put one to the test this month when I was sent a North Face Apex Bionic Soft Shell Jacket to review by Webtogs. ┬áCan a soft shell replace a fleece / waterproof jacket combo?

[Disclosure – this jacket was provided by Webtogs for me to give my own personal opinions on it and they have no influence on these views and no editorial control.]

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Inspiring hikers of the future… or not!

As a kid, I always loved the outdoors. We lived in a house in the countryside with a large garden, orchard and three small fields, and I have memories of being outdoors in all weathers climbing trees, playing soldiers with my brothers (fir cone wars) and creating bmx tracks. Although I do remember going on walks, it was not until I was about 13 that I discovered the joy of hiking when I did my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award.

At my school, the expedition element of the award was done in a single week based at an army base in Devon. The kids doing the award were split into teams, with each team assigned an older leader from the cadets. After lectures on kit, route planning, and safety – the teams, under the guidance of their leader, planned and undertook a two day route across Exmoor. This practice hike was a chance to learn the basic skills needed for backpacking. Afterwards there were a few rest days where there were activities like abseiling, an assault course and a mock night time military exercise on the dunes. The mission for the exercise was to navigate as a team to contacts on each dune in the dark, whilst avoiding enemy “soldiers” hunting you (for extra effect there were usually a few flares fired into the air to keep you on your toes). The exercise, as well as being fun, was a chance to learn and practice map reading and navigation. Finally at the end of the week, the teams, this time without their leaders, had to plan and undertake their own expedition (this time along the more populated coast).

I enjoyed the week so much, that I went back every year for the next three years as a leader. The whole experience inspired me and provided the ground work for the pastime I now enjoy so much. I do not think I actually ever completed my Duke of Edinburgh award, but it achieved what it was there for.

When I found out a friend’s 15 year old daughter had decided to do her Duke of Edinburgh, I was excited for her – then the kit list turned up.

With that list you could be forgiven for thinking they must be going on some epic expedition… but nope this is the kit list for a two day hike in Northamptonshire in June. My overall concern is the thought of these kids having a miserable time lugging all this unneccessary kit across the countryside – that is not going to inspire them but put them off for life!

Sure, most of the kit on the list has a use, at some point or another, on certain types of trips in certain conditions. But no one has explained to these kids what half the stuff is (apparantly the teacher was unsure what was meant by ‘binos’), how to use it (rope for example)) and how to decide what equipment to take on what trip. Their first training walk is tomorrow (with all this kit) – when they planned their routes they were told not to walk near any water (rivers, canals, ponds etc.) as the school insurance only covers such dangerous areas for their main hike……

In an age where kids are unhealtier, fatter and stuck indoors on their game systems, is this really the best we can offer them? Surely we should be inspiring them and teaching them skills to reconnect with the great outdoors, not sending them out as overloaded dumb pack animals?

Fortunately this 15 year old girl has already climbed her first mountain, experienced the beauty of moorland bleakness, and discovered the joys of camping – she just wants the award!

Dartmoor: Western Moors and Tors

Great Staple Tor

After successfully tackling Fur Tor and the wilder parts of Dartmoor the previous day, the plan for the Sunday was to explore the more popular Western moors and Tors (a route lifted almost entirely from Backpackingbongos). We were camping at Langstone Manor, a lovely quiet campsite (with it’s own bar serving pretty decent meals!) tucked on the edge of the moor, so, after consuming some bacon sandwiches, we left the campsite and began the gradual climb onto Whitchurch Common.

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Dartmoor – Fur Tor

Taking a break on DartmoorWe left Bristol early on Saturday morning (fuelled by bacon sandwiches) to head down the M5 and A30 to Dartmoor in a convoy of three cars (6 people, 1 big dog and lots of car camping kit). During breakfast, I had been updated by @DanSantillo that the hills were still shrowded in mist, and I was a little nervous as the haze covered countryside flew past. Fortunately though, by the time we arrived at the tucked away Lane End carpark, the sun had done it’s job of burning away the mist leaving mostly blue skies and glorious sunshine.
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