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The Catstycam Blog

  • Merino Wool, The Ultimate Natural Fibre

    The Evolution of Base Layers

    A Fine Looking Lady

    Back in the day, we were told to wear cotton T Shirts and woollen jumpers when we were hill walking (if you don't remember ask your Dad). Then synthetic base layers and fleeces came along and we were told wool is the worse thing to wear. And so it was for many years until someone cuddled a Merino Sheep (probably a Cumbrian, we're like that) and thought what a lovely warm comfortable creature it was. If only there was a way of making Flossy into socks and base layers we would all be warm and comfortable wearing a natural fabric. Well. Human perseverance being what it is, especially where sheep are concerned (or maybe that is just a Cumbrian point of view), we have been wearing Merino Wool for a while now and it is wonderful.

    The Merino Wool Crack

    The reason Merino Wool is so comfortable to wear next to the skin is because it is such a fine yarn. Wool is graded according to the thickness of it's fibre in microns (a millionth of a meter). The lower the micron count the finer the yarn. A human hair is about 100microns thick, coarse wool for carpets about 35 microns, and Merino Wool for base layers should be between 11 and 18 microns thick. The best Merino Wool is finer than cashmere and mohair which

    explains why it is so comfortable.

    Merino Wool keeps you warm in the winter, cool in the summer and is naturally breathable. Merino Wool has a natural crimp in the yarn that gives it great elasticity, and these crimps interlock to create thousands of tiny air pockets. Combined with Merinos low heat conductivity this gives it it's great insulation properties and keeps your temperature constant irrespective of the weather. Merino Wool protects naturally against UV rays, and it absorbs up to 35% of its weight in water vapour then transmits it away from the body, keeping your skin dry.

    Because Merino Wool is so fine, it is not as durable as synthetic fabrics and will not last as long. Merino socks and base layers will need replacing before their synthetic cousins, but the improved performance and comfort more than makes up for this. You need to wash Merino Wool products at 30 degrees to make sure they don't shrink, and treat them a bit more carefully as it is such a fine fabric, is every sense of the word.

    Teko Socks. Kind To The Planet, And Your Foots Best Friend

    Mid Weight Teko Merino Hiking Sock

    Teko use Argentinian Merino Wool from farms that have been raising sheep organically for decades. Only non-motorized methods are used to herd the sheep. They are fed only organically-grown food and are not subjected to hormones, vaccinations, mulesing, or chemical drenches. Their grazing area is never sprayed with pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Strict water conservation methods are employed, as are protections against overgrazing. Organic merino wool is substantially more expensive than the non-organic alternative, but Teko believes the investment is worth it, both for consumers and the planet. Teko's factory in America is powered by wind and all the packaging is recycled. If you like to shop with a clear conscience then Teko socks should be at the top of your sock shopping list.

    We have a Mens Lightweight sock, a Ladies Lightweight sock, a Mens Midweight sock, a Ladies Midweight sock and a Unisex Heavyweight sock from Teko. They are all made from the best organic Merino Wool, and they are all a touch of luxury for your feet.

    The Most Comfortable Clothing To Wear Next To Your Skin

    My Favourite New Merino Top

    We have just got Edz Merino Wool clothing in and it is fantastic. They use superfine Merino Wool from New Zealand and the fabric is so soft and comfortable next to the skin, the 200g Long Sleeve Zip Neck I have just purloined has become my favourite top. We are really pleased to have Edz in, they are a Cumbrian firm (you see, us Cumbrians love sheep, wherever they come from) based in Maryport. We always try and support local businesses, but it was the product and the price that made this the best Merino range to go with. The 200g Long Sleeve Zip Neck I have pinched cost £49.99, a good £20 cheaper than the competition for the same quality, and it comes in a great looking Grey Marl. We also have a Ladies 200g Long Sleeve Zip Neck in the same Grey Marl. We have a Mens 165g Short Sleeve Tee in Blue at £29.99 and a Ladies 165g Short Sleeve Tee in Red. These are great for summer or winter and really practical if you are travelling, as these can be worn for extended periods of time with out getting smelly & they are not as bulky as cotton so take up less space than a cotton T-shirt. But best of all, we now have Merino Boxer Shorts in stock!!! These are an absolute must have for anyone familiar with Betty Swollocks or who has suffered from a cold bum. Most people head out to the hill covered in wicking

    Look after your middle bits!

    base layers, technical walking socks, and all the right stuff to wear, except for the middle bit which is wrapped in cotton soaking up sweat or freezing. Look after your middle bits, they serve you well.

    I hope you have found this useful, and if you are in the market for new socks or base layers seriously consider moving into Merino Wool. I can't stress how well it performs and increases your comfort on the hill. And after the wheel and the Brevil sandwich maker, Merino Boxer Shorts are the best invention ever!!

  • Boot Lacing Techniques

    In the Heart of Boot Country.

    Being at the foot of Helvellyn, on the Coast to Coast walk, and slap bang in the middle of the best walking area in the Country, we get a lot of people coming in with boot fitting problems that are spoiling their holiday. We always enjoy a challenge and it’s great to be able to help people and send them on their way back into the hills. Especially when people come in with a long face expecting to have to buy a new pair of boots and we can sort them out with a pair of socks and some good advice.

    We know about Feet!

    There are many different ways to change the fit of a boot, or relieve pressure on a point of your foot. Here at Catstycam we have all been on the Anatom Academy boot-fitting courses, and we have learned a lot from our customers over the years, as well as improvising and winging it which is a favourite of mine. I wouldn’t like to guess at the amount of feet we have had in front of us, some real freaky ones too but I don’t want to name names. What I am trying to get at is we know about feet, and boots, and how to bring those 2 things together in a comfortable and long lasting marriage.

    There are about half a dozen things we are always telling our customers to try, to improve the fit of their boots.

    1             Lace up your boots as tight as you can, starting at the bottom and making sure every section is good and tight, but don’t do it so tight your foot turns purple and drops off.

    2             If you have a high instep and get pressure on the top of your foot then simply don’t cross the laces at that point, take them parallel up to the next D ring.

    3             You can have the top of your boots looser for easy flat walking without the looseness working its way down the boot. A lot of boots have a lock-off nut, if not simply do a surgeons knot a few hooks from the top. Remember to tighten them up again for ascents and descents though.

    4             To relive pressure around the ankle without making the boot loose, from the 3rd hook from the top, go straight to the top hook then come back down and tie your knot on the 2nd hook from the top. This can also help with heel lift as you can pull the boot tight around the ankle without losing the flexibility.

    5             Volume reducers, heel lifts, tongue depressors and Superfeet. All great ways of changing the fit of a boot. Reducing volume from above or below the foot, or to eliminate heel lift. Superfeet do an amazing job, not for everybody, but certainly for most people. We will go into more detail on Superfeet in a further article.

    6             Socks. These should be number 1 really because a good sock can make the world of difference to the comfort of a boot. Thick or thin to make the boot fit, different fabrics for different temperatures, and most importantly Ladies, not your husbands’ old socks that are 5 sizes too big for you and ready for the bin anyway.

    I know these aren’t the best descriptions and it would not be easy to follow them, but thankfully technology is at hand! We have made a video to try and explain the different ways to lace walking boots by showing you on a giant boot we borrowed from Meindl. Thanks Meindl! It is a really cool boot. It is probably about size UK25 and it is a real boot. It’s made the same way as their fabric and leather Gore Tex boots. But massive. How cool is that?

    Watch & Learn.

    Click here to see our video on getting your boots to fit properly

    I hope this video can help you to make the most of your walking boots and maybe solve some old problems. Please come and see us at Glenridding if you need help getting your boots to fit right, or if your boots need modifying for a better fit. And when you are ready for your next pair of walking boots please come and see us for a coffee and a proper boot fitting.

  • The importance of holidays (or at least getting up a hill)

    Boarding in the 3 Valleys

    Above Meribel in the 3 Valleys France

    Holidays are very important. Believe it or not sailing the good ship Catstycam through difficult waters takes its toll on a fella, and now and again I need a break. Winters are always easier for us because it is a lot quieter, but the last few winters have been scarily quiet. What's wrong with everyone? This weekend we have had blue sky and plenty of snow on the mountains.

    Ullswater winter 10

    Looking over Ullswater from Heughscar

    Around Ullswater it's like the Alps on days like these, but you're not coming to enjoy it. I hope you're not going to the Trafford Centre or the Metro Centre shopping for bargains when you can cleanse your soul with a hike in these beautiful snowy mountains for the price of a bus ticket.

    We have had a big project on this winter to distract us from the lack of customers, the new entrance at the Glenridding shop. It is not finished yet but what's done is looking mighty fine, and when the new show cases and lighting are in I defy anyone to walk past the shop without thinking “that looks like a nice shop, let’s have a look in”.

    Anyway, back to holidays. I have just come back from my annual pilgrimage to sliding around on the snow on a tea tray, or snowboarding to give it its proper title. I love snowboarding, it is one of the few activities I can actually do, not being a naturally sporty or co-ordinated chap.

    A big rock

    A big rock high in the 3 Valleys

    To be in the high mountains, surrounded by big snow-capped peaks, with beautiful sparkling snow all around gives me a buzz like nothing else, and that's before I start swooshing and zigging and zagging my way down the slopes.

    I came back from holiday feeling refreshed, optimistic and with a sense that all is well in the world. Then I got back to work, saw the bills that need paying, and how little the shops have been taking, and the harsh reality of life soon kicked out all those happy memories and replaced them with the need to think carefully about the business and do some hard work. So after a few days back in work the holiday is already a distant memory and my sense of well-being gone. But I found it again! On top of a mountain of all places.

    Snow on t'ill

    The Top Of Blencathra

    I went up Blencathra with Mary and Sete and my sense of calmness and order returned. I'm not about to get all hippy or religious on you, but a good walk in a beautiful place does more to replace my faith in the world than anything else (except snowboarding). When life gets tough, and it is getting a lot tougher for a lot of people right now, the desire to crawl onto the sofa and block out reality with a good dose of TV can be a strong one in me. And I'm not knocking it either. I love TV. I have learned most of my wisdom from Homer Simpson and Bear Grylls. But when you feel like you could really do with life giving you a break, get up a hill and look around you. Take in the beauty of your surroundings, marvel at the crags and valleys and the millions of years they took to form.

    A big mountain

    A Big Mountain in Austria

    Follow the lines of rock in the side of a mountain and imagine them as sea bed getting pushed up thousands of feet by continents forcing into each other. This planet has been here a long time and nature has had plenty of time to get it right. We on the other hand, are living our lives in a completely new way. Disconnected from nature and the planet, told what to do by the most disconnected people of them all (politicians of any party), we are living as alien a life as it is possible to on the planet of our birth, unless you believe in the Golgafrinchams, which does make a lot of sense to me.

    I have great faith in nature, and thousands of years of human evolution has seen us living in small communities, made us hunters, then farmers, then in five minutes we have all become computer programmers or middle management, not producing anything and wondering what life is all about. To turn our back on nature and live our lives in towns and cities must come at a cost.

    And this takes me back to holidays. A chance to re-connect with the planet we call home. A week in the Alps snowboarding, a long weekend in the Lakes, or three hours on Blencathra.

    Snow in the valley

    Looking South from Blencathra

    It is vital to feel the connection we have with nature. Without it we get overwhelmed by modern life and all its stresses and pressures and we forget that we are all animals, still evolving (though I fear Health & Safety has put an end to Natural Selection), trying to make sense of ourselves and each other.

    There are two phrases I find myself saying a lot these days. “It's not easy being alive in the 21st Century” and “Be kind to yourself”. Both of these are quite relevant to what I have been saying here. Life's not easy, so accept that and give yourself time to connect with nature, get things back in perspective, spend time with people that matter and who's company stimulates you. Come to Ullswater with a group of your favourite people and climb a big hill. Or a little hill. Or walk along the Lake-shore path. Just do something with people you love in a place that feels natural and it will have the same effect as a week’s holiday on your well-being.

    Crazy Chick with an Ice Axe

    Mary on Blencathra

    The other phrase is “Be kind to yourself”. So if you fancy getting drunk, eating everything you can then spending a day in bed do it. Life's tough and a bit of what you fancy does you good.

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