Category Archives: Product Reviews

A Year In a Van

Just couple days ago I celebrated my vanniversery. I was stuggling to comprehend the fact that one year has passed and I lived in my van through out the British winter. 

I have received a number of questions about how I moved into my van; what to look for and what would I change; etc.

After spending a year in my yellow passion wagon – I feel confident and experienced enough to write up my, for some people, very odd choice to become a van dweller.  

Are you sitting comfortably?.. 

Then I will begin. 

Van as a vehicle always seemed to be the ultimate four-wheeled dream. You can have all your gear and friends with you and you can sleep in it comfortably. 

After having a car, a small sedan, for a year I was constantly looking at vans, because I knew that my VW Bora is just a stepping stone.

SIZE DOES MATTER

First, you need to answer a question to yourself. Will I live in my van full time? 

For those who are not going to give up on paying morgages and leave their beloved houses, and only go on (climbing) trips on weekends and some longer ones on their annual leave from work. I would recommend a vw caddy or citroën berlingo type of van. 

  • They are small,  but big enough to sleep 2 people, fit your gear, let it be crashpads, ropes, etc.;
  • Good for their fuel consumption;
  • Comfortable to drive like a normal car; 
  • Cheeper toll if driving on French motorways. 

Transporter, Vivaro, Traffic… sized vans are more likely to satisfy somebody who wants to spend most of the year on the road. 

  • Easy to park and drive around cities;
  • Choice of different wheel base lenghts to accomodate those who want more space, but don’t feel like going for a bigger van like MB Sprinter, VW LT, VW Crafter, Fiat Ducato and other similar models. 
  • Normally still pretty good on their mpg

I know several people who live in a van like mentioned above, but personally I find them too small for full-time living, especially if you are not fortunate enought to have sponsors who pay you to climb. 

The bigger, the better, right? 

Sprinter vans or their equivalents manufactured by other companies are in my opinion the sweet spot for a person who wants to be a full on van dweller. 


My trusty ‘ol van is short wheel base and low roof. Which makes it bigger than a transporter, but still very easy to park and drive in town. 

Like trasporters, LT vans have a range of heights and lengths. 

If I was to upgrade I believe my choice would be medium wheel base high roof van. 

Let’s say you ended up with a van size like mine – three seats, and an empty space the size of a small crevasse behind them.

The joy of moving into a van is not buying a kitted out one, but planning and making everything yourself and with the help of your friends.

Steps I had to take to arrive to where I am:

  1. Rip out the old ply lining, remove bulkhead and clean the surfaces to get them ready for insulation. If there is any rust make sure you get rid of it and treat it right. 
  2. Insulation…It depends how cold/hot it will be wherever you plan to be. 
  3. Ply lining/cladding depends on your personal preference. I ply lined and carpeted walls and the roof, but put vinyl on the floor, for easier cleaning. 
  4. Furniture and the size of it, the arrangement and the size depends on each other. 
  5. Lights, leisure battery.
  6. Sunroof installation.

At that point I had no lights, nor leisure battery installed. Charging phones out of the cigarette lighter and using head torches to light the van up when it got dark. The best thing about the summer is that sun sets late and after a whole day of climbing you tend to hit the sack and you barely need lights in the van. 

Week later I was traveling all over Europe. Nobody likes a smelly person and to stay clean I was taking showers wherever I could, but when climbing I look out for rivers, lakes, hot springs… Just outside Chamonix we were swimming in the lake Passy. Brilliant antagonist training and refreshment after a day of climbing. There were instances when I was stuck and had to clean myself with a wet wipe, more a bunch of them. It works, just looks unusual. 

One of the best things in my yellow submarine is the gas cooker. That allows me to cook pretty much whatever I can come up with, and I do love a good bit of cooking. Check out my COOK + CLIMB (I will post them here as well) series launching 9th September and you will see that pretty much anything can be done in the van! 


STORAGE

We built a big top loaded storage box. Fits two people, but now that I intend to put anybody there. Storage under the bed is usefull, as you can put stuff you need to access frequently. Kitchen unit stores most of the cooking related items and some food. 25 litre water tank is there for all those trips when fresh drinking water is an issue.Normally I have several plastic bottles which I refill daily if there is a drinking fountain or a spring somewhere. In a city is a lot easier with that. Maybe I will put a roof rack for crashpads when on bouldering trips, because it can get a bit tight inside with 4 boulder pads and one more person.


THE BED

I came across several different configurations for a sleeping space in a van. Small van benefits from a rock and roll bed as it saves space when upwards and is a fully functioning seat for passengers. Bigger vans with high roof are ideal to have a bed higher up and that way storage underneath fits crash pads easily. 

In my case the bed is a bench when folded and needs a bit of clearance to flip it down. 

This bed sleeps two and one more person can sleep under the bed as it is half of the bed’s width. One person can sleep at the front on the seats and if you are not over 6 foot tall you will be fine. 

Now my van is pretty much at its’ final stage. Honestly, I can find what to add and improve all the time since it was my first can conversion and the next one will be a lot better.


I have put a sunroof to make sure I don’t roast in my tin while travelling around Chamonix, Dolomites and Switzerland climbing some crazy multi-pitches! Amuerte mode is on!

I wanted to say a big thank you to: 

The Reach Climbing Wall for allowing me to use their showers and climbing surface to train, and tools to work on my van; Rokas, Kristupas, Mindaugas for being those extra hands when I needed whilst converting my van to what it is now; and everybody else who gave me the advice; 

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Three Countries in a Week

Hello people! As always, it was a while since my last post, but hey! I was busy training and climbing and doing everything else what normal people do.

I am back from my Euro traveling. In last couple of weeks I have been to Lithuania where I competed at Lithuanian Nationals. Well done Vilimantas Petrašiūnas for becoming the champion. Problems at the competition were really good. The credit goes to Juozas ‘J’ Bobina, Gediminas ‘G’ Monastyreckis, and Dmitrijus ‘Dima’ Monastyreckis. Keep it up guys!

Not long after the nationals almost whole Lithuanian team gathered in Val de Masino for annual bouldering festival Melloblocco. It was a first time I took part in Mello, but definitely not the last. The atmosphere was different from anything climbing related I had experienced so far. About 3000 people marching up and down the road with crash pads on their backs going from boulder to boulder. The event is notorious for the rain, but this year we were rather lucky. It only rained 1.5 out of 4 days.

Next year I will go there as well. On a rainy/rest day one can meet a lot of likeminded people, chat to representatives of many climbing clothing, footware, hardware companies.

Photo: Rokas Juozapavičius

Photo: Rokas Juozapavičius

I approached Vertics. This german company specialize in forearm compression sleeves. Earlier this year I have used them in Albarracin for almost a month.

This brings back memories of my first experience of compression socks in hospital after falling of my mountain bike in Scotland. Torn kidney and strict bed rest for five days is not the most pleasing memory.Hospital tag

What do they do?.. First and foremost keeps your forearms warm. With temperatures hitting subzero some days in Albarracin, it was helpful. Second, Vertics increase blood flow in forearms, thus a climber can beat that pump for longer. Third, when warming up, whole process is speed up a bit. Forth, wearing Vertics sleeves for couple of hours after climbing helps to boost muscle recovery, since more blood flows through climbers forearms it all seems logical.

I have only used them when climbing outdoors and was pretty happy with the product. In coming weeks testing whilst training will commence.

Watch this space for more info!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes.

Hello to everybody who reads this blog. We, climbers, rely on our feet sometimes more than on our fingertips and the piece of rubber we have on our feet is why we can do so. First climbing shoes were invented a while ago. The evolution of a climbing shoe is pretty interesting: From Mountaineering boots, to canvas trainers with rubber soles, to experimental climbing shoes, and to the modern climbing shoe in many different styles, rubber stiffnesses, etc.  How many of you got more than one pair of climbing shoe?  If one climbs occasionally I suppose they will be fine with only one pair, but I suspect, athletes and passionate climbers will have at least 2 pairs if not more. Downturn, flat, high/low volume, no-edge, lace, velcro, slipper – all that is choice.  Is it just a piece of rubber we could not live without?.. It would be hard to push limits in the climbing scene with no climbing specific footwear.

Photo: British Journal of Sports Medicine

What is the most climbers look at when buying a pair?
It is clearly a mixture of price, comfort, design(appearance of the shoe, not technical side), technical aspects(which affect performance).

What is your priority?  PRICE     COMFORT    DESIGN    TECHNICAL ASPECT

With no fear of being wrong I can state, that beginner climber looks at the price before anything. It completely makes sense, since it does not mater how technical, what fastening the shoe has, beginner won’t feel any difference in climbing performance. Any climbing shoe is 95% better than pair of trainers on the wall. High-end climbing shoe only gives a tiny percentage when it comes to better climbing performance compared to any other climbing shoe. If I left you thinking, “So, what shoe is good for a beginner?” My advice is – anything not too technical and tight, because your feet might not be used to such tensions, but not too loose either.

The aspect we should really look at when buying a pair is COMFORT. All round snug feel in a shoe is the goal. However, we all have different feet and what is good for me, might not be good for anybody else. I tried to break down comfort into more detail. Some of us define comfort as just bearable pain in the shoe – masochistic nature I suppose.

TOES:  square shaped front or more pointy front of foot. Asymmetrical or symmetrical shape. Some people cannot climb in asymmetrical shoes, because the way their feet are.  For both of them the room around toes is important. Well supported toes and with no big air pockets is what it should be.

MIDDLE: arch supported, but not forced in unpleasant way. Shoe wraps around and foot does not move neither rotate inside the shoe.

HEEL: well supported with no big air pockets. The back of the shoe should not be cutting into your achilles.

The last thing climber should be concerned about is design (colour of the shoe, etc.) Just wearing only a blue(or any other colour) pair and sacrificing comfort will not bring you good results in the  long run.

 

Before I received sponsorship from Wild Climb shoes, I used to climb in Evolv Shaman and La Sportiva SpeedsterOne day I took my notepad and all of my shoes to the wall. Here is the comparison review. I tried to be as objective as possible.

The first one to be looked at was my long time favourite – Evolv Shaman.

Toe Box

Wide and square great for people with wide feet and toes similar length. Evolv’s signature ‘the love bump‘ fills the pocket under the big toe and supports it really well. However, after a year of wearing a pair, ‘the bump‘ flattened a bit. There is plenty of TRAX rubber with great edge and loads of it on the upper side, which helps with toe hooks. I used to drag my feet a lot but there is so much rubber on the top, that I didn’t go through it.

Heel

The heel fits my foot pretty well (that’s one of the main criteria for me when trying a shoe). It snaps right down and does not stick out as 5.10 and Scarpa heels do. Compared to other shoes I am reviewing the heel is higher volume than WC Pantera’s, but lower volume than Speedster’s. There is thick layer of rubber on the heel and I think slightly too much. It is hard to feel the heel on delicate tiny holds.

Tightness

Sole is in two pieces – toe and heel, that allows the shoe to be more aggressive and support arch better. Three opposing velcro straps are good to adjust the tightness of the shoe. Straps are pretty strong and velcro sticks well. I have noticed that straps get worn at the point where they go through the metal ring. However, compared to longevity of La Sportiva Solution strap it wins the battle big time. The material of the shoe is synthetic, so do not expect Shamans to stretch a lot, they strech, but merely as opposed with Speedster.

The other pair I looked at is La Sportiva Speedster.

Photo: Vaidotas Monstavicius

Photo: Vaidotas Monstavicius



Toe Box

It is very soft but narrower than shaman toe box. I found it being pointier as well, people with wide feet and similar length toes might find their toes stack/overlap. This can lead to some discomfort if worn for longer periods. Toes are all round comfortable in the box. The XSgrip2 rubber is very soft and the one piece of rubber going around the toe to the top of the shoe is great it adds compression and stability to the toe. I was intrigued by no-edge technology and loved it. It felt strange at the beginning, but you get used to it very quickly. As a toe dragger I went through all the rubber on the side of my toe just under the edge of the rubber on top. At that point I had to tape my toe to stop getting it bleeding after every session. I suppose that made me to place my feet a bit more carefully and improved my footwork.

Heel

For me heel was snug on the sides, but with small empty bit of space which made it less desirable shoe. I found that La Sportiva heels in general do not fit me very well. As  Shaman, Speedster goes higher up your heel. The rubber on the heel is a lot thinner that Shaman, that let’s you feel the placement a bit better, unfortunately that bit of room kills it for me on hard heel hooks.

Tightness

The overall feeling the shoe is nice. Remember it is a slipper and elastic band sucks the shoe very nicely around the arch. I suppose the all-round tight feel made me under look the heel problem when purchasing. The ease of putting the shoe on and taking it off after a climb is pleasing. There is a downside to that as well. If one is heel hooking and loading that heel a lot the shoe might slip off, since it does not have any additional fastening. As manufacturer states, you won’t need to break them in for very long. It is leather shoe an thus it will stretch more than a Shaman or WC Panteras.

My last two pairs are both by the same manufacturer and same model – a laced version and a velcro – Pantera and Pantera Velcro by Wild Climb.

Photo: Vaidotas Monstavicius

Photo: Vaidotas Monstavicius

Photo: Vaidotas Monstavicius

Photo: Vaidotas Monstavicius

Toe Box

Both versions are rather pointy and narrow, but even wide foot feels good in the toe box. WC uses XSgrip rubber which is not as soft as Speedster. That means that it is a bit less sticky on plastic, but amazing outdoors like pretty much every rock shoe.  The harder rubber helps to keep the aggressive shape for longer and supports toes very well. The red(laced) Pantera has a lot less rubber on the upper side of the toe compared to Evolv and La Sportiva shoes I have looked at. That where WC Pantera Velcro comes with significantly more rubber on the upper side than its’ ancestor.

Heel

The very first thing I have noticed in both panteras, that heel is lower volume. It does not go high as Shaman, nor Speedster, but feels very snug nonetheless. Velcro version does feel even less deep than laced pantera. I haven’t noticed any significant difference in performance. When worn heel feels very thin, which is good for delicate, precise heel placements.

Tightness

At this point panteras split their ways. The cut on the upper part of the shoe where laces are fitted goes almost to the very front of the shoe, whilst velcro one is about 2 inches shorter cut. This means that laced pair are less stiff and easier to wear for longer periods. Two opposing velcro straps are offset to the side of the shoe and make the shoe feel a lot tighter then laced model. However, new pantera lace (blue shoe) are stiffer, just like VCR. I haven’t tested them myself, that is manufacturer’s statement. Another difference between these two shoes is actual sole. Lace version is fitted with one piece sole heel to toes. VCR in this case has two parts – heel and toes. Again the less rubber in the middle part of the sole allows the shoe to stay in downturn shape for longer and it supports arch  a little better. Wild Climb used micro fibre material for both shoes and it is very soft against foot which does not hurt feet even being tight. It took me 4 sessions to break them in and now I could not think of a better shoe for my foot.

For Wild Climb shoes in United Kingdom contact sales@trolluk.com  WC shoes are not in retail until 2015.

When one finds a shoe that fits perfect it is logical to to get same pair again, but If budget is tight I strongly recommend resoling you beloved ones.

Advantages of resoling:

The shoe is already molded to your foot and broken in. 

It is up to 5 times cheaper than getting a new pair. 

You can get your shoes resoled and shrunk a size if wanted.

I have resoled my speedsters, because  loved them for my long sessions. I was surprised with quality of the resole. For just £22 I had my shoes resoled (picture of my resoled speedsters above next to the review) with same rubber as original and shrunk half a size. By the way, postage included and I have got my shoes with a fabric bag to carry them. If you were reading carefully you might remember that I had a hole on my toe. It was fixed. These guys serve massive part of Europe and do their job very quick. If you are thinking of resoling yours, grab your friends’ pairs as well and get in touch with www.restday.eu       ATTENTION!     Website is not mobile compatible and not in English, but very soon next year it should be launched in English as well.

Spend your money wisely!

P.S. Have a jolly Christmas and happy New Year!

P.P.S. If your budget is very tight ask Santa for a pair of shoes. Christmas is magical – you never know. 🙂

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Design, Creativity, and Training

It is nice to see more and more new climbers enjoying rock climbing, even if it is just indoor climbing. When I introduce people to climbing I noticed that newbies are pretty creative when it comes to solving problems.
I think that creativity and analytic thinking is very important if one tries to push one’s bar to the next level.

Since I started working full time (4 days on, 2 days off, and 4 on again) it became a lot harder to fit climbing around everything else in life. I began with 5 training sessions a week. Let  me break it down for you. I trained before work, that meant waking up at 5:00-5:30, then work 10 hour shift and train after work. I would do it only twice a week and not in a row. One of the sessions would be campus board training and climbing in the evening or climbing and fingerboard in the evening. It depends what my training was concentrated on: power or strength. I would mix in 2 days of core training with a bit of cardio and a lot of stretching. We have 4 training days so far, the last one I would dedicate for technique training or just recreational climbing.
All sounds good until you realize that your body does not recover enough in very short night sleep. I managed to go like that for 2 months and then crashed, both – mentally and physically. After couple of weeks of easier training I came up with an idea to utilize time at work to train. I am a guide on the O2 tent or former name Millennium Dome.

panorama from o2

Panorama from the O2 By Vaidotas Monstavicius

After every tour up the tent we have 45-30 min break (3 breaks per shift). Inspired by rock rings and Chris Webb Parson, I scavenged some scrap wood, screwed all bits together and hang on a 6mm cord. Ladies and gentlemen! Let me introduce you the most simple piece of equipment for training – THE PORTABLOC.

PortaBlok_2

Portabloc by Vaidotas Monstavicius

Not the most beautiful creation, but hey I will be pulling on it and not hanging then in a gallery. As long as it does the job, I will be happy.

That’s how I use my PORTABLOCS http://instagram.com/p/tCjX5pnDv8/

Now I can have more hours of sleep and still train 5 days a week. I try to do core session at work as well. The most important thing is to plan your time. I never thought that working 50 hour a week of physical work would allow me to fit so much training around it and still be able to function properly.

Apart from training and working I was helping my friends and sponsors Troll with new  t-shirt designs. From next year you can order lovely Bamboo Viscose 70% and Cotton 30% T-shirts. The material is so soft and light, but strong as well, so climbing in the hot gym or warmer crags will be less sweaty.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 16.07.37

Vaidotas Monstavicius design

Next week I will start power endurance training and in about 3 weeks I will go and try to climb my project of this year. The Breathing Method F8a in Portland, Dorset.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Mountain Equipment Bivi Bag Review

The first review is on Mountain Equipment Borealis Bivi Bag. The weather conditions when it was tested for the first time were kind of unpleasant.Bivi bag

  • Altitude ~4050m Between Piton des Italiens and Dome du Gouter
  • Complete white-out (gusty hail/snow storm), visibility max 5m
  • Temperature about -6C daytime to -12C at night.
  • The 30km/h wind ,so temperatures with wind chill -14C and -20C, respectively.

Snow storm started at around 14:30, About that time I set up my bivi and stayed inside it until the storm have finished, it lasted until 2:00 – almost 12hours.
Due to strong wind and hail hitting my bivi I could barely sleep – video below shows how windy and loud it had been all that time.

Next night was in a valley and it was dry and warm, so I did not need the bivi.

So, how bivi did its’ job?..

  1. Windproof material did not let me get cold during snow/hail storm.
  2. 2-way zipper helped to prevent from getting snow inside the bivi to the bare minimum.
  3. Some people are negative about how spacious the bivi, since extra fabric = extra weight.
    In my case, more room to curl up and reach items by my feet was a advantage.

Less pleasant points:

  1. Condensation. Bivi got slightly wet and then it instantly froze, but that occurred after 8 hours.
    I could not unzip it to ventilate, because of the snow storm.
  2. The snow got under the velcro flaps which are to prevent precipitation of getting onto zippers and provide easier ventilation.
  3. According to outdoor equipment shops, the bivi bag could be lighter, but 550g are less then any other one man tent.
    The lightest tent in the world Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 holds Guinness World Record,
    and weights mere 581g according to GWR. The price for the lightest tent is almost £1 per 1g, since it costs £600.
    The ME bivi price is less than 1/3 of Terra Nova’s, £190, but it can be found cheaper on sales. I bought mine for £159.

I have not tested my bivi in heavy rain, but in near future I will, and post the short review about bivi in the rain.