Here are the latest gear reviews, indoor and out.

Mushroom Hunting in Kent



I’ve always been fascinated by wild mushrooms and my father taught me to identify common field mushrooms. As a result I’ve picked and cooked many of these and lived to tell the tale. Beyond that my knowledge is limited, even though an Autumn stroll through the woods reveals many varieties. Now a new book by Geoff Dann should change all that. He’s the UK's first full-time professional mushroom foraging teacher, an adviser to cooks & chefs, and is keen to promote the fun and flavour of foraging safely, for both beginners and experienced foragers

I take the train to deepest Kent to meet up with Geoff and be taken on a mushroom safari. It’s a fine day with no rain, so he’s brought along some varieties that he collected earlier, just in case we don’t have any luck. As we walk across the meadows he picks some field mushrooms and I proudly claim I can identify them. Although they are easier to recognise, he tells me that it’s easy to confuse them with the poisonous Yellow Stainers, the cause of the majority of poisoning.

Out of his bag he produces the delicious Penny Bun, or Cep, which is definitely on the gourmet list. Other edible species he’s collected are Shaggy Parasols, Chanterelles, Coastal mushrooms and Porcelain or Poached Egg Fungus. His poisonous examples include Fly Agaric with a red speckled crown, Deathcap, Deadly Webcap and Brown Rollrim. He says the trick of mushroom foraging is to recognize the inedible or poisonous lookalikes of edible species.

We set off into the woods and there seem to be no mushrooms to be seen. Geoff explains that this year has been very dry and he hasn’t really seen as many as he would normally. I’m beginning to think we’re on a hiding to nothing, but suddenly, on a decaying trunk he spots a Jelly or Jew’s Ear, a small brown specimen which apparently is edible. A little further on he finds some poisonous Yellow Stainers, easily identified by their yellow stem when cut.

Suddenly there’s a sighting of a group of Shaggy Parasols, in far better condition than the ones he’s brought along. He collects these and then there’s a clump of Hen of the Woods brownish fungus at the base of a tree. The Japanese call these Maitake and they often make it to the menus of gourmet restaurants. We find a Stump Puffball, also edible, but it’s past its best, and Geoff’s advice is that if a mushroom is beginning to rot, then it’s best avoided

We make our way back to the woodland camp and heat some oil for a tasting. It’s a simple matter of slicing them up and frying for short time, adding salt when they’re ready to serve. I must say they’re all delicious and there’s a wide range of flavours. On the train home, I leaf through the book making a mental note of the mushrooms we’ve found and eaten.

Geoff has spent five years taking photographs of each species and he lists the easy varieties first, the ones perfect for beginners, and shows how you distinguish them from their lookalikes. It’s certainly given me more confidence in my own foraging – I'm just waiting for some damp weather.

My journey to Kent was on Southeastern trains and it took less than an hour from London.

Edible Mushrooms by Geoff Dann is published by Green Books at £19.99.

Verdict: 5 Stars

Is the KEEN Uneek the Ultimate Travel Sandal?



I’m always looking for footwear that’s comfortable, yet stylish, so I was interested in trying these sandals. In fact I’ve road tested them over the last few months and they’re smart and stylish enough to work in formal situations, yet tough enough to sustain some lightweight hiking.

The clever idea is that these fit to your foot by just two pieces of parachute cord: one is woven into a pattern that secures your foot in place, and the other works like a lace to tighten them around your foot. I found them a bit of struggle to get on in the morning but, once there, they were so comfortable that I could forget about them for the day. The interesting thing was that other people remarked on them, perhaps because of the yellow and black colour scheme, and their feedback was all positive. I never thought I would be at the forefront of fashion wearing sandals but the Keens seemed to do the job.

They’re not particularly light, weighing in at 290g, but that’s because of the combination of the microfiber-covered foot bed, providing arch support, a PU midsole and a treaded outsole of rubber which provides excellent traction on slippery surfaces. What you get is a versatile sandal which keeps your feet cool, because of natural ventilation blowing through the cords, but yet is strong and tough enough do some adventuring.


The other great thing is that they’re completely washable so any mud or grime can be sponged off and you can even wear them in the shower. What you shouldn’t do is wear socks in that inimitable English style, as they’ll just get soaking wet in the rain. I liked these sandals and they’ve become my footwear of choice over this summer and they seem to be extremely durable.

Specs:

- Lightweight PU midsole
- Metatomical footbed
- Microfiber footbed cover
- Microfiber heel back
- Non-marking rubber outsole
- Polyester braided cord with Polyamide core for increased strength
- Razor siping for improved ground traction
- Secure fit lace capture system
- Price £89.99


The Uneeks come in 12 colours and there’s a new version which uses thicker 8mm cord. For more information visit the KEEN website.

Verdict: 5 Stars

 

Testing the Sony Alpha 7R Camera on Hampstead Heath with Joe Cornish

A master class with ace landscape photographer, Joe Cornish, on London's Hampstead Heath, with the new Sony Alpha 7R camera, is too good to miss.

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I'm no stranger to tramping around Hampstead Heath and I love its mixture of wilderness and parkland. It's big enough to get lost in, yet easily accessible from my home in North London. Joe Cornish, is a brilliant landscape photographer and his work for the UK's National Trust is particularly noteworthy.

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The Sony Alpha 7R is a full frame mirrorless camera, easily competing with full-frame SLR's, yet much smaller and lighter. So imagine my joy in being invited to spend time in the company of both Joe and the Sony.2014-05-12-SonyAlpha7R.jpg

It's a warm sunny April day when I set out, ideal for testing the camera and the light is crisp, a mixture of cloud and sunshine. The a7R feels comfortable in my hands, the body weighing only 465g, and I've been given a 35mm lens for the day. So far, there are only five native full-frame E-mount lenses but Sony promises fifteen by 2015. In fact the camera has the unique ability to adapt to nearly every 35mm lens ever made thanks to a wide array of available adapters, so this is not a problem at all - just remember you'll probably have to focus manually.

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I take my first shots looking out over London from the top of the Heath. It's slightly hazy in the distance but I'm pleased with the view. Next I move into the woods and get some pictures in the shade, avoiding the mud from the previous day's showers.

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The camera handles well and I like the facility to swing the viewfinder away from the body, great for low and high level shots. Over lunch at Kenwood House, Joe sets the day's challenge - take intriguing pictures of everyday objects in such a way that they can't be recognised. It reminds me of the quizzes they used to have in children's comics and I realise I'm going to have to be ingenious. It's tricky with the 35mm lens but I find I can get really close and fill the frame with detail. A tight shot of a drain cover and a fragment of bark on a tree are some of my successes.

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The trouble is that they are not great images - finally I see a coloured inflatable ball lying in the grass and get down and shoot it from ground level. I'm ensuring that the background is out of focus, by shooting wide open, and I decide that this is my best image.

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Joe encourages me with faint praise for my efforts and I'm pleased that I've managed to pull my weight. I realise that I'm only really scratching the surface with what this camera can do, and would love to have it for a longer period of testing.

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The Alpha 7R is not cheap but is ideal for both serious enthusiasts and professionals, looking for a more portable full-frame camera. It does have a slightly cheaper cousin, the Alpha 7, with fewer features and a resolution of 24.3 megapixels rather than the Alpha 7R's 36.3 million, but if you take your photography seriously, I would advise the 7R - at £1,699 for the body only, it's a stretch, but well worth it.

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For full specifications of the camera, visit the Sony website.

 

Is the Fujifilm FinePix F800EXR the Ultimate Travel Camera?



Of course, as you know from this site, I'm always on the go and therefore constantly looking for the ultimate travel camera. I need a big zoom, the ability to control settings manually and also to be able to shot RAW as well as JPEG's. At around 230g, the Fujifilm Finepix F800EXR seemed light enough to fit the bill with a major attraction of a 20X optical zoom.

I usually tend not to use automatic modes but in certain circumstances I use this just to see how well the camera handles a changing situation. Setting Auto ISO at 3200 and using Program(P) Mode the images tended to work well. My only problem was in dark forested areas where the camera choose longer exposures with blurry results, but I resorted to the Sports setting and all was fine. I didn't really explore the EXR settings as I tend to do my own post processing and it all gets too fiddly if you're trying to catch a moment.

I also didn't use the Wireless Image Transfer tool to instantly upload my images but prefer to process them on my laptop and then post them on Facebook or Twitter. My verdict: pretty much fits the bill and I particularly enjoyed using the long end of the zoom to get close. Of course a lens like this is bound to be a compromise in terms of aperture, but I found that that I could get round this by upping the ISO without too much problem. Until something better comes along, I'll be using this camera and you can see the results scattered over the site.

Specs:
• 16 megapixel EXR-CMOS II sensor
• 20x optical zoom
• Up to 40x Intelligent Digital Zoom
• 3 inch, hi-contrast LCD screen
• Full 1080p HD movie recording
• RAW shooting
• Wireless Image Transfer
• Advanced Filters

For more information visit the Fujifilm website.

Verdict: 4.5 Stars

 

Is Cabin Max Stockholm the World's Lightest Trolley Bag?



I’m always on a mission to cut down on weight so I was interested to receive the Cabin Max Stockholm Trolley bag that only weights 1.45 kg when it’s empty.  With dimensions of 55x40x20cm, the Stockholm fits the allowed IATA limit, although you have to be careful of bulging pockets.

They say it’s made from ultra-strong, non-tear honeycomb nylon and is guaranteed to hold a massive 44 litres.  This is a major advance on most trolley cases which lose space because of the wheels and frame. My only worry is that if you pack it too tightly, the zips may not be quite up to the job, but that remains to be seen. There are also 2 front zip compartments, but realistically they’re only really useful for documents, of anything that packs flat, like a spare pair of socks.

The main compartment has elasticated straps which are useful for holding clothes packed flat and you might even arrive without those dreadful creased shirts and trousers. The lightweight trolley mechanism is detachable and the whole case can be packed flat.  Since it’s so light, I can see that packing it in your main luggage, and pulling it out to fit in the things you’ve bought would be a great bonus.  Indeed I would be wary of using it as my only luggage but bringing the souvenirs back home is another matter.


I do think this is a great innovation and will be testing it in the future to see how well it endures the rigours of the road.  At £29.95 you can’t really go wrong.

  • Lightweight 1.45kg
  • Honeycomb ripstop fabric
  • Dimensions 55 x 40 x 20 cm
  • 44l capacity - folds flat for storage
  •   Telescopic handle

For more information visit the Cabin Max website.

Verdict: 4 Stars for innovation

 

Tasmanian Tiger Flight Case – the Perfect Carry-On Bag for Business?



This slightly more expensive version of the Tatonka Flight Case 1150 is apparently designed for the police but does that make it the perfect business carry-on case?

I've used a Tatonka Flight Case for the last 20 years and it's never let me down. Perfect as carry-on baggage, yet strong and spacious enough to take all that I can pack into it, it's the perfect flight companion. This new version really does look like a serious piece of kit, with the top cover of the main compartment transformed into an organiser, offering pencil holders and a zippered pocket. The lid is also redesigned so it's padded to take a laptop and case is made of strong Cordura 700 DEN material.

The one thing that's stayed constant are the IATA approved dimensions of 55 x 40 x 20 cm and the flight case meets these and is even slighter slimmer at 32 cm wide. Thankfully there are no wheels, and the rear zipped compartment opens up to reveal shoulder straps – now, unlike the 1150 flight case, these are not padded and there's no hip belt. It works perfectly well as a rucksack although I don't think you'd want to use it to trek in the Himalayas. But it's designed more for the business traveller and there's a padded shoulder strap so you can just slip it over your shoulder. Two padded handles make it easy to carry and quality is excellent throughout.

So how did it perform? The padded compartment in the lid is really useful for a large laptop, although you can also pack extra shirts and trousers there to avoid creasing. The organiser on the inside is perfect for all passport, credit cards, mobile phone, keys and camera, and the smaller zippered pocket will take a pair of shoes. Quality is excellent throughout, although the extra-strength Cordura does make it slightly heavier than the 1150. Best of all, it looks smart, more a case than a rucksack, perfect for business and, of course, all the extra size zips work like a dream. If you don't have to carry it for long distances, this could be the perfect carry-on bag – and if you're a policeman tracking an international criminal, it's the perfect way to stay incognito…


Main Features
Harness cover
Carrying strap
Outside padded notebook pocket
Main body with strong #10 zipper
Organizer and zipper pocket inside flap
Compression straps
Material: Cordura 700 DEN

Height 55cm x Width 32cm x Depth 20cm
Weight 1.95 kg
Capacity: 40 L

For more information visit the Tasmanian Tiger website.

Verdict: 4.5 Stars

Tatonka Flight Case 1150 - The Perfect Carry-On Travel Bag?



This new improved design of the original Tatonka Flight Case shows significant improvements and may well make it the perfect carry-on bag.

For the last 20 years, in my job as travel journalist, my luggage of choice has always been my faithful trusty Tatonka. I can't say I've been kind to it, always stuffing it with all the extras you acquire on press trips, but it's never let me down. But, as with all faithful retainers, there comes a time when retirement beckons so I thought I'd test their latest version.

Now there's been a major redesign, so it becomes more like a real suitcase than a backpack. As well as the main compartment, there's another full size compartment in the lid and the bag opens out flat so you can pack both sides. Gone are the interior compression straps to be replaced by mesh covers which zip over each compartment. There's also a roomy exterior pocket at the front which is useful for stashing all those items that security demands to see, like laptops and liquids.

The one thing that's stayed constant are the IATA approved dimensions of 55 x 40 x 20 cm and the flight case meets these and is even slighter slimmer at 32 cm wide. Thankfully there are no wheels, and the rear zipped compartment opens up to reveal padded shoulder straps and a hip belt with an excellent back system. Strangely there's no chest strap, which I always found useful to stabilize heavy loads, but apparently this is available as an extra. If you don't want to utilise it as a rucksack there's a padded shoulder strap so you can just slip it over your shoulder. Two padded handles make it easy to carry and quality is excellent throughout.

So how did it perform? The extra compartment in the lid really does seem to add extra space, so I found I could get more in, without straining the zips. The old version had small inside pockets in the main compartment which I used to stash charging leads, alarm clock and other sundry items, and initially I did miss these. I soon got used to stowing these in the lid in an extra pouch but there is a danger that if you put too much there, the bag expands to exceed the IATA dimensions. It's not a real problem, you just have to take care with your packing if you're travelling on one of those airlines that insists on checking your luggage with one of those steel frames at the gate.


When I was researching this article I did see that Tatonka do make a slightly more expensive model under their Tasmanian Tiger brand, called the TT Flightcase, apparently designed for the police. Now this looks like a serious piece of kit with the top cover of the main compartment transformed into an organiser, offering pencil holders and a zippered pocket. The lid is also redesigned so it's padded to take a laptop and it looks like the case is made of stronger material. I can't wait to get my hands on one of these and will let you know how it performs in my next review.

Main Features
Zip-away carrying system
Padded hip and shoulder straps
Separate compartment on the inside of the lid
Large main compartment
Flat zip pocket on top of lid
Hanging strap to go over body
Practical compression straps

Height 55cm x Width 32cm x Depth 20cm
Weight 1.65 kg

For more information visit the Tatonka website.

Verdict: 5 Stars

UPDATE: This has performed well in all circumstances, just don't pack the inside pocket too full, or you'll breach the size restrictions.

Kathmandu Litehaul v2 – the Ideal Carry-On Travel Pack?

Checking your luggage into the hold is always a risky option, but the Kathmandu Litehaul gives you the chance to take only cabin baggage.

In my job as travel journalist I'm always at airports, catching planes to far flung destinations, but flying seems to get more stressful as I get older. Anything that can relieve some of that pressure is always welcome so I always try to take only carry-on baggage – that way there's no anxiety at the baggage carousel at the other end. It does mean that you have to pack wisely and I'm always on the lookout for the perfect bag. When I heard about the Kathmandu Litehaul it seemed to be just the solution I was looking for.

Now many people swear by wheelie bags, but I find them too heavy, with the wheels taking up much needed space. I prefer to go for the rucksack option, with the straps folding away behind a zipped compartment, and the Litehaul has a proper semi-rigid harnessed back system with padded chest straps and hipbelt. This is also detachable, a good idea as it means you can slip the bag over your shoulder for short term use.

As a man with only one cabin bag, the sight of the steel frame at the departure gate always fills me with considerable dread, particularly on the low budget carriers. Baggage restrictions do differ from airline to airline so the published dimensions of the Litehaul at 55cm x 31cm x 23cm seem to satisfy them all, apart from Ryanair which only allows a depth of 20cm. When pressed, I suppose you just squeeze the bag into the frame and squash it to fit. I usually just sling the bag over my shoulder, as though it weighs nothing at all, smile at the official and hope for the best.

This is the updated version of the original Litehaul and they've added extra pockets without increasing the dimensions. There's a small front pocket, large enough for a couple of paperbacks, a fleece lined pocket on the top which can take a compact camera and a large full-length zipped compartment, accessible from the outside, designed for a 15" laptop or a couple of sweaters. Helpfully there's even a bottle pocket on the side.

Inside the 3/4 opening flap there's one main large compartment, and there's also a 3/4 length mesh pocket on the underside of the lid, perfect for a pair of shoes or your dirty laundry. The stated storage space is 38L and one thing that I miss from other similar bags is horizontal securing straps to keep everything compact. Apart from this, I did manage to fit everything in from my normal packing list, and kept the weight down to less than the 10kgs stipulated by many airlines.

The bag seems well made, a mixture of 840D ballistic nylon, 420D nylon check, with a polyester lining, and comes in red, blue and black. The zips seem strong, and the padded shoulder straps and hip belt make it a comfortable carrying proposition. With a recommended retail price of £89.99 it's not cheap but, as you say, you gets what you pay for – it should serve me well for many years to come.

Main Features

  • External access 15" laptop sleeve
  • Lockable main zip
  • Convertible hipbelt
  • Zip-away harness
  • Bottle pocket
  • Organiser pockets
  • Height 55cm x Width 31cm x Depth 23cm
  • Weight 1.44kg

For more information visit the Kathmandu website.

Verdict: 4.5 Stars

UPDATE: This doesn't take as much as the Tatonka and probably not as durable, but is ideal for a few day's travel - it even fits under an aircraft seat.

If you need a review of any of your products, please get in touch planetappetite@gmail dot com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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