Okay, so I am going to be truthful – socks for Christmas isn’t my first choice of exciting present, and let’s face it, we have all heard the moans about novelty socks. But for us outdoors types, actually, good socks are a great stocking filler (sorry) and worth spending a little more on.
This season, we have been wearing Heat Holders and Wigwam Hudson Bay socks.
Heat Holders are available just about everywhere these days, in a variety of colours. To my mind, these are perfect for home and in the caravan – they are thick and truly fluffy inside, and unless you have roomy boots, might just be a little on the hefty side for walking boots. The have a non slip grip, but really are incredible warm and comfortable, and wash really nicely as well. If you suffer with cold feet at night, these would be the perfect bed sock for chilly camping trips and winter caravan breaks. They do a thinner version for hiking which I haven’t tried yet, but if they are anywhere as good as these, they will be perfect.
The Wigwam socks are a different breed. Luxuriously soft, these are an acrylic blend with a touch of wool, and very stretchy. At mid calf height, and thinner than the Heat Holders, the Wigwam sock is ideal for inside boots, with no slippage and anti moisture / wicking properties. They also have an anti odour property, although this is slightly difficult for me to test, having happily non smelly feet, even after a days trek! These have also washed very well, as acrylic usually does and hold their shape nicely.
Last but not least are the Berghaus mid weight hiking socks, which are a staple and old favourite – again anti odour, but comfortable, warm, and not too thick for my boots. They have an ergonomic design – very technical for socks, but basically mean no slippage and less blisters, as well as extra heel cushioning to keep you comfy and avoid blisters.
For some of us, music is such an integral art of life that any holiday or trip wouldn’t be complete without a good source. We have looked at a variety of Bluetooth speakers over the years on the blog, and the run up to Christmas seems like a good time to look at some new offerings. This time, we look at 2 kits from August, manufacturers of good quality, good value equipment including headphones and speakers.
The SE20 is a tiny traditional boombox stereo style player with Bluetooth connectivity and radio with alarm clock. We have one in white, and although it is small, it packs in two 3w speakers and 7 hours worth of battery. It came fully charged, was simple to set up, and sounds pretty impressive for its size. Obviously lacking in bass, the all round sound is perfectly ample for a small space and would be perfect with the easy set up clock for a caravan bedroom system.
The MS515 is in a rather different league. What is better than a Bluetooth speaker? Why, 2 bluetooth speakers, of course. This is a sleek, matte rubber style set of two triangular speakers. The set comes with a couple of aux in, connector (which is a decent length to truly optimise the stereo) and a really handy split mini usb cable so that you can charge both speakers at the same time. Aux in as well as Bluetooth means it is compatible with a variety of formats, and in my tests, it does live up to the 15 hour advertised playback. The rubberized casing and sturdy feet minimise reverberation and movement nicely and this bit of kit feels like it ought to cost more than it does (currently on Amazon at around £35) for both speakers.
This may well be the perfect portable device for the outdoors brigade – you can use just one speaker if slinging it in your back pack, and it feels sturdy enough to carry around. Plug it in your caravan, and it provides a really rich, true sound, even on bassier tracks. At this size of course, it will never equal huge separates, but in a small space with limited storage, these are bang on. Recommended.
This years NEC Motorhome and Caravan Show is rapidly approaching – it starts on 13th October and runs through to the 18th. The UKs largest show, on in both October and February, this is an ideal spot for considering a first time purchase, upgrading your caravan, or simply window shopping some of the amazing examples of new vans, statics and fabulous RV’s.
This year sees an attempt to build the worlds largest caravan made entirely from Lego, as well as new products launches, demonstrations and much more.
As well as manufacturers, there are aways oodles of accessory dealers, packed to bursting with gadgets both simple and elaborate to make outdoor life that bit easier. A host of experts will be on hand to offer advice and ideas, and some of the retailers will be offering some serious show based discounts, so if you have a model in mind, now is the time to get down and have a chat. Tickets are available online at £7.50
It has seemed like a rather dismal school holiday this summer, with rain, damp and cold making outfoor living feature rather less heavily than usual on our agenda.
We were truly lucky the weekend before Bank Holiday on a mini camping break in pretty Hertfordshire, with a wonderful family environment, music, vodka, and the best star gazing we’ve seen in a while. The weather held right until pack up on sunday, and we even saw a shooting star (in amongst the myriad aircraft waiting to land at Luton) on the Friday.
The farm is a great location for campers – not too far from the city, but idyllic with working animals, pretty tea rooms, a well stocked famr shop and otsof kids activities. The Sleep Under the Stars weekend also boasts a bar, homemade flavoured vodka (try the tarragon if you get a chance – odd, but delicious), bonfire, and live music. Yes, portaloos, but very clean and tidy, and portable hot showers made this a really pleasant venue, and the kids loved yomping through hay bales and saying good morning to the piglets.
There is also alovely country pub opposite the entrance to the farm, The Jolly Waggoner, with excellent pub grub and traditional ales.
Coleman Double Airbed
The trip proved to be the perfect opportunity to try out our latest airbed, the Coleman Durarest Raised Double. The bed is a tough, high level double with soft velour effect top with a coil support system, and has its own wrap and carry bag attached for easy pack away.
Despite not having a built in or included pump, which actually I think is a shame for the price, this is a lovely, quality airbed. It held its shape beautifully, was very comfortable and warm, and supported an adult and child with no roll together even after several days. Ours is a fetching sea blue, and the attached carry bag makes it a cinch to pack away fast.
Enerplex Packr solar back pack
Much as I like to recommend the simple life, free of gadgets and modern communications, it’s a fact of life that it can be very annoying trying to keep phones, laptops and other devices charged while camping.
We have had our Packr for a while, but a recent trip (to Weymouth, so lovely in May) enabled us to test it out properly – it is a back pack with a difference – a built in solar panel made of thin, light and flexible material with a charging port inside.
The manufacturers suggest the panel can provide 3w of power, enough to charge a smartphone or similar within around 4 hours. The panel really is light, so the back pack is no different really to carrying around a standard pack in terms of weight, and the panel is fairly discreet, too.
Purely as a backpack, the Packr gets good marks from me. It’s comfortable, with side water bottle pockets, a myriad of internal pockets for pens, gadgets and supplies, plus a padded sleeve to take a laptop or tablet safely. The panel really is light enough to make no difference in weight to a normal pack, and the straps are wide and comfortably padded. Our version is a snazzy charcoal and orange – discreet enough on the outside but with a flash of colour to brighten it up, and the fabric seems of lovely quality, so I do think this will last.
The charger works as you would expect it to, and is quick enough on a days hiking for me – good for camping and walking holidays, but actually, if you are the type to carry a backpack on a more regular basis, I would definitely go for this – smartphones are notorious for battery use and having this to charge on the go at any time is rather comforting. Win!
Booq Taipan Shock padded back pack for 13 – 15” laptops – around £90
Although not solar powered, we have also had a nose at the Booq Taipan shock this week, and as a backpack, it does compare favourably. In a hardwearing dark grey fabric, it has covered zips, comfortable padded straps and a handy sternum strap which clips to provide extra support if you are carrying heavier loads on your trip. It is also waterproof top provide your gadgets with a bit of extra protection.
Space wise, there is a small front pocket, zippered stretchy side pockets roomy enough for a water bottle and several internal pockets in the main section including pen holders and a mesh section for smaller items. Behind this is a protective padded section perfect for holding a laptop or tablet safely, whilst keeping your back comfortable with the load. The fabric is breathable too, so on a longer or hotter trip, it isn’t too sweaty.
Booq also have a system known as Terralinq, which essentially works as a unique reference code which can be registered online, so that in case of loss, if the bag is found the finder can contact Booq who will then do their best to reunite you with your possessions. That of course assumes it will be found by someone with the conscience to follow it up and that it contains no identifying features, but it’s a nice security quirk.
It’s taken a while to get the full picture on both these products, but finally I am ready to fill you in.
Simple, and inexpensive, the Kilrock range is probably already familiar to most van owners fighting the constant worry of damp problems.
We had a look at the Damp Trap and a mould cleaner called Blast Away.
The moisture trap is a slimline tub filled with a water absorbing substance which claims to protect against mildew and damp, trapping airborne moisture straight from the air. Kilrock say the product works for 6-8 weeks – in our experience this is about right, although this clearly varies with how damp your environment as the substance has a finite capability to hold water.
It does seem odd, but a couple of these scattered around the caravan, particularly near windows where condensation is a problem really do help stop damp. They fill up, with the water absorber becoming soft and mushy over time, showing they have worked. They are pretty inexpensive too, and refills are available online in large packs, making these really quite an economical damp buster. We like.
Blast Away Mould Brush on Gel
This product is a brush on applicator gel designed to completely remove black and brown staining left by mould and mildew. Its gel formula is easy to use – you can use the brush to put it on walls, around taps or windows, and it won’t drip and stain your soft furnishings. It is bleach, so do be aware before squiring it around willy nilly, but its very easy to use on most surfaces. Squeeze on, spread with the brush, and leave for the recommended time.
Again, this is an inexpensive product, and it does work. A couple of spots needed a second application, but nothing overwhelming. I would hope that with proper ventilation and storage, plus the moisture traps, we can avoid any more major damp / mould issues, but if not I’m confident this stuff will do the trick at removing any nasty stains left behind.
With the last week or 2 of Christmas shopping looming before us, here are a few ideas for caravanners and campers alike for any last minute purchases!
The Pure Pop Mini DAB digital and FM radio would be good for a camper, as its small size, excellent range and easy to use large pop up power button are both space saving and easy to use. It can be plugged into mains or run on standard AA batteries – there is also the option of a ChargePAK so that you can charge it up to use without mains or 12v supply
The alarm clock is large enough to be easily visible and also offers a dimmer function, meaning it is perfect for the bedside table without keeping you awake with too much light in a confirmed space. The DAB works perfectly, and it’s square, mini design will fit nicely into a modern or retro style ‘van.
A bit of a whimsical stocking filler this, but the Mystical Fire colour changing sachets would be a lovely idea for those who love a good old campfire sing song. These little sachets contain a ‘magical’ powdery substance which changes the colour of the flames. You simply drop the whole sachet onto the fire and watch the flames turn into blues, greens and yellows! The effect lasts around 40 minutes and is really very pretty.
How about a PowerPot? A nifty gadget which works to convert conventional heat into electrical power. Place the pot on your heat source filled with water, and plug your device into it’s USB, and voila, it charges. It can be used for conventional cooking, or boiling water for tea, and charges at the same time via a heat proof cable – genius!
If you decide to redo your little caravan vintage style, one of the biggest pleasures is looking at fabrics, for curtains, hangings, bedding and more. A brilliant way to really add personality to a refurbished van is to look at vintage fabrics, although the cost / availability of many of these is becoming more of an issue in recent years what with Kirstie Allsopp and her ilk snapping them up and encouraging everyone else to do likewise.
Many specialist suppliers have become very exclusive, charging an awful lot for sourcing original, designer fabrics, and even more commercial fabrics can be quite an investment sourced this way. Other options are the auction sites (look for sheets, table cloths and curtains as well as fabric) but beware, as there are serious collectors out there willing to pay serious money to add to their stash. Charity shops are always worth a look; again, sometimes a large pair of retro style curtains can be cut down, especially to fit dinky caravan sized windows. Jumble sales likewise. And if you are handy with a needle, pillow cases and smaller items can be repurposed beautifully into quirky vintage quilts, just the thing to add warmth on a cool Spring evening in your van.
If the thought of finding and then repurposing such items is beyond your skill level or patience, then take a good look round some of the modern equivalents. Suppliers such as Terry’s Fabrics (www.terrysfabrics.co.uk) are an endless source of pleasure for browsing vintage style fabric collections in every conceivable design and colour, and also offer some excellent ready made alternatives including curtains and bedding. From fabulous ‘Britastic’ 60’s style bedding to a more cottagey, gentle floral, the possibilities are endless – and you don’t have to limit yourselves to just one, either. Most of the successful retro style design makeovers we have seen on vintage vans have mixed and matched pretty vintage style fabrics; combing bright stripes with ditsy floral’s, elegant shabby chic with bolder accents and so on.
We particularly loved the Summer Holiday Blues fabric, a soft but durable, 100% cotton fabric which is priced at £7.99 a metre and features a cute floral, bicycle and tepee repeat in pinks blues and reds on a neutral background, and makes a perfect scatter cushion or curtain fabric.
If you prefer, there are large cabbage rose prints (oh so retro!), Cath Kidston inspired colour palettes or quirky patchwork effects
Our other favourite has to be the Eau di Nil Shabby Chic songbird bedding, which comprises crisp cotton, a neutral background and delicate, pretty birds and foliage print with ribbon and a textured, quilted affect. The quality is fabulous, and the print provides a subtle yet strikingly vintage tone. This is a great set for those interested in the vintage vibe but not quite ready for the vivid hues and sugary tones of the brighter examples. We looked at the duvet set, but curtains and a soft, quilted throw are also in the range, and look perfect in a bedroom either at home or in a van.
Upholstery fabrics should be hard wearing and easy to clean, as well as comfortable and fairly resistant to damp. Also check that they comply with British Standard fire regulations. Vintage style fabrics can be particularly useful with colourful patterns which both brighten up and disguise every day wear and tear.
Scouting round for retro items for the perfect vintage look means we have seen an awful lot of music players and readios which are somewhat removed appearance wise from the more techy bluetooth players we have been looking at over the last year. After looking at various options, we settled on this stunning example from View Quest.
The View Quest Retro Radio
This DAB radio is another firm favourite available from Viking (www. viking-direct.co.uk) and a variety of suppliers – Viking kindly sent us one to play with in keeping with our current theme. We have looked at a variety of small and portable wireless / Bluetooth music players over the years on the blog, and while this isn’t portable in the same way as, for example, the Jabra Solemate which we love, it serves a very different function.
This unit comes in cool cream, sleek red or black, and a ditsy Emma Bridgewater print, and has a new range, the ColourGen range which boasts a host of sunny vintage ice cream colours including teal and mustard. We have seen this in both cream and a rich, emerald green, both of which really do this unit justice lookswise. It is modelled like an old style 60s / 70s radio, with wooden housing and cool leatherette trim, with a discreet display panel and handle. The panel does not have dimmer, which I personally would prefer for bedside use, but it isn’t overbright. It looks simply marvellous in any setting, but would be an absolute winner in a vintage style caravan (or for that matter, home, office or modern caravan – we love it that much!) or VW. The buttons and display are small, in keeping with the retro style, but I must say I didn’t find it fiddly to use once I’d read the instructions properly.
It can be battery operated, and lives up to its claim of 15 hours run time, or connected to the mains. What’s more, it has a lightning connecting iPhone dock, meaning you can both stream your MP3s and charge your phone or iPod at the same time. The dock is a nifty little tray which pops out and hides away again when you are done – very useful for those with minimal sockets available in their caravan who still need charging ability without adapters or having to plug / unplug. If you don’t have an iPhone, you can still use the aux in port to play MP3s from a different source.
Using this at home, the WiFi connectivity is seamlessly easy, and there are plenty of preset stations available. Out and about, DAB, DAB+ and FM work equally well, making this the perfect machine for those who want the combined convenience of DAB, FM and iPod in one. Sound output is via 2 10 watt speakers, which is more than ample for a bedside / caravan / kitchen radio. We pushed the machine quite hard, and again, I’m not a sound system expert, but my take is that the quality is very good indeed until we reached a fairly high volume. It wouldn’t hold up against a large party, but in a caravan, you won’t need it to, will you? The sound is solid and clear, which is what we were looking for.
Last but not least, beautiful looks aside, the final feature of the View Quest is a clock (which auto sets the time helpfully) and a dual alarm, which means you can set it for 2 different times, and choose to woken with the radio or MP3s. The alarm is easy to use and has turned this from an attractive, useful bit of kit to pretty much a caravan essential for us.
What about the BeeWi Mini Coupe car? It isn’t exactly traditional caravan gear, on the other hand, outdoor toys and games to entertain the kids are just as important as accessories and camping kit, if you ask me.
Unlike tradition remote controlled cars, BeeWi works by connecting with your existing technology, so different versions are available to connect with iOs or Android devices. It’s battery powered and after you download a simple control pad app, is paired and controlled via your phone – either with the on screen interface or with the phone or devices accelerometer; meaning you tilt the device to steer.
Pairing the first time took a little doing, but we did get it going, and while it isn’t exactly décor, the classic British Mini Cooper Coupe design is so in keeping with our retro vibe we had to include it. Battery life is ok – my daughter got a few hours of non continuous use zooming this round outside. Detailing is lovely, and it really is good fun to ‘drive’.
It does disconnect from the phone at times, which is annoying, but on the whole this isn’t a huge issue. Its tester (age 4 ½ years) was most disgruntled at giving it back!