Most people testing gear will go for a few days, maybe a few weeks, but Bramwell International director, Alastair Bramwell, believes that gear should really be tested to the point of exhaustion, this is why so many of our ambassadors are on journeys that span the globe and the ranges of temperature, altitude and terrain.
Alastair Bramwell decided that gear needed to be tested in a different continent from the usual mountaineering and walking venues, as well as in 10 different countries and an awful lot more different languages. The gear test could not be carried out over a fortnight trip, but actually 4 months of gear testing would give the best and most accurate summary of the high standard of equipment that the company sells.
It was also no good taking only one pair of feet and only one persons view point, but the whole family were taken out of school for a term to test the equipment. Helen, Alastair’s wife, was heard to mumble “what about their education, what if they get ill” but was soon found packing Gregory rucksacks with Source sandals, Meindl shoes and Source hydration systems. Leaving very little room for any luxuries as this was a serious gear test.
Our gear test took us on a flight to Cairo with our handcrafted Meindl shoes on. With the luxurious fit they give we could wiggle our toes preventing us from the potential threat of deep vein thrombosis on board the flight.
Walking around Tahrir Square in Cairo, the centre of the “Arab Spring” rallies, our new Source sandals, with the triple layer padding on the straps, meant we were all able to walk miles around the city and Alastair did not even have to pay for a taxi! The boys admired the tanks that were parked on most street corners and we could appreciate the tourist attractions without the crowds.
With all those pharaohs hanging around the pyramids they too had sandals on but Source were in a league of their own. With all that heat dust and sand you might think poor smelly feet, but with five pairs on test and the sensitive noses of the children, the anti-microbial compound meant out feet were cool and dry preventing the usual pong of hot sweaty feet.
In the scorching heat of the Sudanese desert, where temperatures reached 50 degrees, Source hydrations systems came into their own. In general it seems that children will avoid drinking water at all costs, but if you offer them a tube to drink through, making the whole experience fun, it is amazing how good water can taste. The insulated Source bladders kept the water cool virtually all day, even if the water was not the nicest tasting it was fantastic being so cool in those sizzling temperatures.
Driving from Sudan’s brown, sandy and hot climate to the beautiful green of the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia we were soon putting on our water proofs and walking up the rocky paths to see the Gelada baboons. They eyed our footwear with interest. Where they were stubbing their toes on the rocks, we were easily and sure footedly climbing up the paths with comfortable and dry feet.
Every Meindl boot is handcrafted so you feel the difference as soon as you slip your feet into a pair. The only complaint about our footwear was from the shoe man outside the Lallibela rock churches. Out of respect you must remove your footwear before entering the thirteen rock churches. The shoe man waited outside, guarding our shoes, and then does them up for you. You could see him thinking why oh why doesn’t Meindl have more shoes with Velcro instead of the great fit they achieve with their lacing system.
With the culture of the north behind us we were in animal territory. In Kenya and Tanzania we were competing with the local fashion accessory the tyre shoe. Now for any of you that have not come across these sandals, they are made from left over tyres and called Thousand Milers. The competition was not tough. The gear test between Source and Thousand Milers was easily won by the grip, durability and shock absorption, not to mention great fit and comfort, of the Source sandals. Even after 4 months on test the green dot guarantee, on the base of the Source sandals, was still visible so they were still guaranteed when we returned home to the UK.
With two adults and three children making up the family it meant we needed many different types of rucksack and Gregory fitted the criteria extremely well, with its excellent carrying systems we could pack our bags and carry them with ease. Every night our rucksacks were hauled into dodgy hotels, campsites and they even survived the car crash in Mozambique. Where metal crumpled on our vehicle in the crash, the rucksacks survived and were as strong and as comfortable as before.
We left Mozambique and drove up into Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia before ending our journey in South Africa at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. The time together had been very special. The family business of Bramwell International has some excellent product shots and their gear has been tested in the diversity of a Trans African journey. The children had an adventure they will never forget and their education was enhanced by the experiences they came across.
In summary the gear held up fantastically, it was all light weight, durable and did the job it was designed to do with maximum comfort, ease of use and a few extra advantages thrown in. You cannot ask for more than that. Except maybe some sandals that do the job to the same degree but don't leave you with strap marks.
Egypt to Sudan to Ethiopia to Kenya to Tanzania to Mozambique to South Africa to Zimbabwe to Botswana to Namibia to South Africa and Cape Agulhas