Tracks and Trails / Booking & Info / Blog and Chat

We are delighted to be collaborating with Chloë Lanthier on our 2018 Chamonix trail running camp. Chloë, founder of the Chamonix based x-training school, is an extremely gifted and accomplished athlete with over two decades of experience competing across the globe.

Originally from Canada and bilingual in English and French, Chloë is based in the Chamonix valley and brings a wealth of practical knowledge and trail running acumen gained from many years of competition, coaching and educating at the highest international level. For many years Chloë has also been an extremely active advocate promoting the sport in her role as a Patagonia Trail Running Ambassador.

In addition to her being an accomplished athlete (including having placed first amongst the women competing in Alaska’s gruelling Iditarod Trail Invitation, a 560km unsupported winter bike event, and winning the title of World Champion at the 24 hours of Solo Mountain Biking in Canada), Chloë also has an impressive record in sports rehabilitation and performance training, founded on her BA in Exercise Physiology and her Masters in Science in Biomechanics and Human Performance.

Complementing her passion for trail running, Chloë is also an avid backcountry skier, mountain biker and enjoys sharing her insight and knowledge of a diverse range of subjects relating to the outdoors through her writing. Chloë has authored many engaging pieces for her readers on topics such as developing a balanced and healthy lifestyle in the mountains, sports nutrition and performance training. Her bi-weekly blog can be read here.

Chloë will share her extensive knowledge on one exclusive trail camp this summer 1st-8th July 2018 whilst working along side french qualified International Mountain Leader Sebastien Gros. Chamonix born and bred Sebastien has only ever known a life living and working in the mountains. Sebastien has a Masters in Sport, Tourism and Local Development and is qualified as both an 'Accompagnateur en Moyenne Montagne' (International Mountain Leader for hiking and trail running) and an Alpine Ski Instructor. He's passionate about trail running as it allows him to explore new places. Seb has already guided many of our trips be it through the Gorge du Verdon, around Mont Blanc or along Mallorca's GR221. We feel that together this collaboration of skills and experience will offer any avid runner the opportunity to enhance their skills and experience on any mountain trails. Runners will be in very safe & accomplished hands!

NEW EXCLUSIVE: Chamonix Trail Running Camp

We have chosen the newly renovated 3* Hotel Aiguille du Midi as our base for this week of trail running activities. A traditional French mountain hotel perfectly situated at the foot of the famous Glacier des Bossons. The hotel offers a spacious living area, free wi-fi, spa facilities, massage room and garden with a gorgeous pool that boasts splendid views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks. The dining facilities at the Hotel Aiguille du Midi are also excellent. Each evening you’ll enjoy healthy, local cuisine with a 3-course dinner; whilst breakfast and lunch each day will feature wholesome and nutritious foods to keep your energy levels sustained so as to ensure you’ll get the most enjoyment from your time running the trails. We can cater for vegetarian and other dietary needs — just get in touch and we’ll be happy to make the necessary arrangements. To find out more about the itinerary and a detailed list of activities for the Chamonix trail camp, visit the dedicated webpage. It’s also possible to take part in our trail running week on a guiding-only basis without accommodation: to check availability visit the booking page here.

To find out more about all our trail running trips to the Dolomites, the Jura, Verdon Gorge and other destinations this coming summer visit the main page for our info page on trail running holidays. If you’ve any questions or need help with selecting a trip to best suit your ambitions and experience level, please get in touch — we’re happy to help!

We are pleased to announce that Tracks and Trails Director and co-owner Julia Tregaskis-Allen has been awarded the position of Ambassador for the British-owned outdoor clothing and equipment company Montane. As a member of the BAIML (British Association of Mountain Leaders), and one of four International Mountain Leaders chosen to represent the brand, Julia is very proud to have been selected and is looking forward to taking up the role:

"As a mountain professional quality equipment and clothing is an essential part of the job. Montane products are highly regarded in terms of design and performance across a broad range of mountain activities. I’m delighted to be working with Montane as an Ambassador and to be involved with the development of their brand."

Julia will be engaged in testing, improving and developing new products, as well as promoting the Montane brand to outdoor enthusiasts.
Find out more about Julia in her recent interview with Montane here.

 

Julia's been an International Mountain Leader and BASI ISIA Nordic Ski Teacher for over 10 years. During this time she's specialised in guiding and organising adventure holidays in the Alps and Scandinavia and led treks and expeditions in Africa, South America and the Himalayas. The 10 years prior to this she combined working as a sports coach / personal trainer with outdoor education.

Be it on foot, skis, by bike or on rock she's never happier than when on a journey through the mountains.

Thank you Lizzie for sending us your wonderful cross country skiing story.......(to date!)

Mention cross-country to skiing to most of my friends and colleagues and I am usually met with a response along the lines of ‘that looks a bit too much like hard work’..... well, it can be hard work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, and for those people who enjoy trail running, long hikes or just some fresh air in the great outdoors away from the crowds, then it might just be worthwhile giving cross-country skiing a try.

I’ve long been a fan of the outdoors, fresh air and travel. I have also always enjoyed alpine skiing, so when I discovered Tracks and Trails ‘Introduction to cross-country skiing’ long weekend in Italy, I thought I’d give it a go. Right for the off-set something clicked....although unfortunately it probably wasn’t the technique! The stunning scenery at Val Ferret was the perfect setting, and within a few short hours of basic instruction, we were heading off on an adventure (or at least to the far end of the valley to the restaurant). There is something really satisfying about tucking into a hearty meal in a location you can only reach under your own steam. And no guilty conscience about having cake, because there was always going to be a couple of hours skiing to get back to the start of the trail! The introductory weekend did everything it said on the tin. It gave you a real taste for what you could achieve with cross-country skiing. I was hooked!

I was soon booking myself onto a week in Norway, at the Venabu Fjellhotell. Norway - the home of skiing, for good reason. There are seemingly endless trails across fells and through woodlands. Filling a week and never repeating a route, with expert instruction, my skiing came on leaps and bounds. Whilst the accommodation at Venabu is marvellous, as someone who loves long distance treks and journeys of discovery, my aspiration was to become competent enough to do a multi-day journey. Tracks and Trails offer a number of these and my sights were set on their ‘Trolls Trail Tour’ - 175km from the Rondane to Lillehammer their hardest tour no less (I’m never one to like an easy option!).

Just one more trip before feeling confident enough to tackle the Trolls Trail, I booked onto a Traverse of the Black Forest in Germany. Cuckoo clocks and Black Forest gateau in abundance, the trail proved to be a great journey too. 100km from Schonach to Belchen, the trail winds through forest, before heading over Feldberg Mountain and starting the descent to the finish. Some of the best scenery in Germany, and again great organisation from Tracks and Trails. Our bags were moved on each day, so you could enjoy the fresh air and exercise, safe in the knowledge that there was always going to be a hot shower and comfortable bed at the end of it.

Almost 2 years to the day after I first put the skinny skis on in Val Ferret, I arrived back in Norway to do the Trolls Trail. The journey didn’t disappoint. Over the course of a week, our adventure took us across the Rondane to Lillehammer. There were days when we didn’t see another skier from one stage to the next. A real highlight for me was a night in a traditional Norwegian hut. A big effort during the day ensured we were there early enough to bagsy a bed, but it was great meeting other skiers passing through on their own journeys and sharing tales over huge pans of steaming pasta by a fire.

I’m completely caught the cross-country bug. I can’t wait to plan my next trip, which I would really like to be another multi-day journey. However, another challenge awaits slightly more imminently. A group of colleagues asked me if I would consider joining them to do the Birkebeiner. It’s a 54km race finishing in Lillehammer, and this year is the 80th Anniversary. It is legendary in Norway. I couldn’t say no! I am now wondering what on earth I have done, but it has given me something new to focus on, and on the basis that I love a challenge, what could possibly go wrong?

So there you go, complete novice to aspirant Birkebeiner competitor in 3 short years. And the best thing about it all are the marvellous people that I’ve met and the adventures I've had along the way. What am I up to right now? Spending New Year 2018 with a great bunch of people, enjoying the fabulous hospitality at Venabu again! I have a race to prepare for and what better way to do it then with Tracks and Trails!

So, is cross-country skiing hard work? Well it is more demanding than sitting on a ski lift.....but also so much more rewarding. Now when I mention cross-country skiing to my Norwegian colleagues and friends, they say ‘ but you’re a Brit!’.....yes I am. But one that loves the loipe and I can’t wait to tell them that I’ve done the Birkebeiner!

Lizzie Norton

It’s chilly here in the Alps, and colder still in Scandinavia, the snow's arrived and winter has begun! Permission is granted to get excited about your winter holiday.

Be it on snowshoes or skis preparation for your trip is not only fun and can lift the spirit, but also meanS you'll make the most of your holiday.

Time spent getting in condition and preparing kit for your trip are opportunities to dwell on the fantastic experiences just around the corner! Just imagine snowshoeing through a tranquil forest of pine trees laden with snow, or gliding across wide open meadows on skis en route to a cosy chalet for lunch by an open log fire.

It’s amazing how even the anticipation of our next adventures can prove uplifting. Just the same, a modicum of 'practical preparation' is also a very good accompaniment to a little self-indulgent contemplation!

Read on for ideas of how to enhance your winter trip and suddenly your holiday will feel just around the corner!

1. Conditioning

Strength is not just physiological, but also stems from increased mental awareness: physical training helps prepare for new challenges in winter sports, whilst at the same time making your feel good. It’s a good idea to begin working on your fitness and flexibility well in advance of your trip. Fortunately, there already exists an excellent resource to guide you step-by-step in a series of exercises that can performed anywhere. BeFit Apps is based at the renowned La Clinique du Sport in Chamonix, France. Developed by physiotherapist Neil Maclean-Martin, the video-based apps and online training programme provide clear and easy to follow guidance on improving core stability, strength and flexibility. The exercises are suitable for all levels with the aim of improving strength in key muscles, suppleness and balance. The series of exercises specific to snowsports can be performed either at home or in the gym and form an 8-week training programme.

Please remember that these are ideas and not suitable for everyone. As with all new forms of physical exercise you may wish to consult your doctor or a sports professional before engaging in this or any other new activity.

2. Fitness

Panicked attempts at boosting lagging fitness levels a couple of weeks before a trip generally are not effective! Regular exercise is the key and a great way of countering the weariness associated with the dark nights drawing in. If you’ve booked a holiday and the departure date is approaching, don’t worry too much just do what you can as every little effort to get in shape will make a difference. We wouldn't suggest starting something new if there are only a couple of weeks until your holiday, but try getting outside, or into the gym and doing an activity you've done before (be it walking, running, cycling, or rowing) and aim to slowly build up the duration and intensity. It will all help improve cardiovascular fitness while burning calories and increase your self confidence too. The earlier you start the more you’ll reap the rewards on your trip and you are less likely to pick up an injury.

3. Cross Country Skiing - The full body work out!

For cross country skiing in particular, an improved range of motion and flexibility will pay dividends prior to your holiday. Cross country skiing or 'nordic skiing' is a great way to improve your overall health. It's an all over mind & body work out!

Nordic skiing combines both a lower body and upper body workout, while simultaneously working both the “pulling” and “pushing” muscles of each region. The workout comes due to using your own locomotion to move through the terrain. ....Even muscles that don’t seem to be in use are actively involved to balance and coordinate the body......because no one muscle group should be overused, the activity can be sustained for hours on end. Maintaining an elevated heart rate during exercise can strengthen and improve your heart’s capacity to pump blood efficiently and effectively. Read the Top 10 Benefits by Health and Fitness Revolution.

However, if you are new to cross country skiing or booked on a multi-day skiing trip then some pre-ski physical training is advised. It can help reduce post exercise soreness, reduce the chance of injury and over stretching and enable you to enjoy getting the most out of every day. The sliding or 'kick and glide' action of the legs and opposite arm to leg motion does activate the whole body, but here are a few examples of exercises or training methods that can help.

  • Cross trainer or rowing machine in the gym for all over aerobic fitness
  • Hill walking with trekking poles - if time and location allow then there's nothing more invigorating for that 'feel good feeling' than exercising in nature.
  • Nordic Walking - originally adapted by the Finnish cross country ski teams as 'summer cross training' Nordic Walking is now recognised as a specific fitness technique. With the use of poles (the same as those used for cross country skiing) you can replicate an 'off snow' aerobic work out engaging the upper body and legs.
  • Hip Flexors - Strengthen, mobilise and activate your 'hip flexor' muscles. Your hip flexor muscle although small in comparison to other muscles plays an integral part in cross country skiing. Used to aid moving the thigh back and forth this little muscle can easily be strained so we can't stress highly enough how important it is to get them into shape. If you've already cross country skied you'll know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. Here are some ways how to strengthen those muscles healthline.com
  • Yoga for flexibility, strength and stability - concentrating specifically on exercises working the arms, legs and hips here are some interesting articles that can help get you started or help you concentrate your current practice. 6 Yoga Exercises Every Skier Should Know and Benefits of Regular Yoga for Cross Country Skiers.

4. Rest, Recovery & Nutrition

Consider reducing the intensity of your exercise in the last 2 weeks leading up to your holiday and instead add a little more emphasis on getting enough rest, sleep and good food. Relaxation coupled with a healthy diet will help you arrive invigorated, motivated and ready to enjoy your snowshoeing or cross country skiing! If expert diet and nutritional advise is something you are interested in we recommend the services of Rebecca Dent MSc / BSc

5. Research

Our winter trips have been designed to explore the subtle nuances and 'off the beaten track' of the fantastic destinations we visit. We recommend our guests engage in a little research before departure to help enhance this discovery. Investigating the history, geography, people and culture of the region you’ll be visiting is a great way to acquaint yourself with the environment you will be experiencing first hand. Guidebooks, travelogues and historical accounts can all provide unique insights that bring to life the traditions and customs of the mountains you’ll be visiting.

6. Sustenance!

We are fortunate to travel to destinations which produce wonderful local food. Eating adequately while on the move is essential: nutritious and tasty snacks provide the sustenance that will ensure you get maximum enjoyment from your activity — this is especially important when the weather’s inclement. Remember to pack a flask and research a water bottle that won’t freeze when the temperature drops! You may also wish to bring a goodie bag with your favourite snacks for on the go; again, you’ll want to consider how well these fare in colder climes: frozen snacks aren’t the easiest of challenges when you’re needing an energy boost!

7. What to Wear

We provide you with a kit list before your trip. Please consult this well in advance! Determine if you’ve all the required clothing (or, indeed, whether you can treat yourself to some retail therapy and a few new items for your wardrobe!). In short, you’ll need warm layers, including fleece and down, gloves (2 x pairs one thick and one thin), snow goggles, sports sunglasses - consider different coloured lenses for different light, a breathable outer layer such as a GoreTex jacket, well-fitting foot boots (if you’re snowshoeing, are they waterproof, warm, have good ankle support, comfortable for use in the snow?). Quality socks are a necessity for both snowshoeing (choose either synthetic or wool) and for cross country skiing (there are now specific models that work really well in cushioning and supporting the foot). It’s good to carry a spare pair too for after the activity when you’re cooling off: dry feet are happy feet! You’ll need a reasonably sized backpack to carry your kit for the day (if in doubt about size do check our kit list). If you’re purchasing a new pack, consider taking along the kit you plan to have with you: you can then get an idea if you can comfortably fit everything in. Avoid the temptation to get a giant pack — this risks encouraging you to overfill with extra items you won’t need, and the additional weight of the pack itself will be a hindrance. Equally a pack that's too small can also be a problem if you cannot fit everything in after you have cast off a few layers. If in doubt ask us, we are always happy to advise.

8. Do your Homework!

Social media including Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and especially Instagram can be great for finding out more on your trip destination. Instagram in particular is a great resource for acquainting yourself with the natural environment, culture and traditions of the region you’ll be visiting. Studying the photography is also a great way to develop ideas for your own photos. Many of the social media posts also share interesting suggestions and ideas as to the local cuisine and crafts that you might like to learn more about.

9. Cold Weather and Kit

Before packing for your trip we’d advise giving thought to which of your electronic gadgets you’ll be bringing. Bare in mind that keeping smartphones running in cold weather can be challenging. You may need to keep your phone in a warm pocket under a few layers — so it’s important to consider whether this might prove a challenge if you’re an avid photo taker! If you plan to use your phone for taking photos, a pair of gloves that work with touchscreens is a good investment: these are designed with conductive fibres in the finger tips to ensure you can type and swipe to your heart’s content! When looking for a good pair of gloves you should also check to see they’ve anti-slip rubber, silicon grips or dot patterns integrated — these make it much easier to grip phones and cameras on a chilly day. If you’re using your phone to collect data and track your progress using an app such as Strava, think carefully about the amount of battery power this will consume. It could be a good idea to carry a separate small compact camera (and a spare battery) if you want to guarantee to capture that glorious Alpine sunset at the end of the day. Batteries have a rather annoying habit of giving up at the most inopportune moments! An excellent back up solution is a portable battery charger. We recommend the Kodiak Mini 2.0 charger — it’s compact, waterproof, lightweight and ultra reliable. Just don’t forget th charge cable!

We hope this blog helps prepare you for your winter holiday. If you’ve any questions, or indeed further tips, do get in touch: we’re always happy to help with advice.

Find out more about our Tracks and Trails snowshoeing and cross country skiing trips this winter — we’ve an adventure to suit all tastes and levels of outdoor experience: join us!

Julia (International Mountain Leader, BASI ISIA Nordic Ski Teacher and Personal Trainer)

As we enjoy the beautiful autumn colours and experience the first frosts the mountains across the northern hemisphere are starting to get their winter coat. Winter enthusiasts and the mountain resorts are preparing for the coming season.

  • Have you ever wanted to experience the mountains in winter but get off the beaten track?
  • Maybe you are unfamiliar with snow or would like to try something new?

Then we'd like to introduce you to 'snowshoeing'.

Snowshoeing is quite simply walking in winter wearing a pair of snowshoes. If you enjoy walking, then snowshoeing is the perfect winter activity for you and making it enjoyable for all ages and fitness levels. Although it's vital to know where you can safely snowshoe it's not designed to be extreme so an ice axe and crampons are not essential.

Walking with snowshoes means that you can venture into nature often where skiers and climbers can't reach. Exploring valleys & forests covered in a blanket of snow, reaching peaks or mountain villages 'shut off' by winter.

While snowshoeing began thousands of years ago as a means of travel and a way to hunt it has in recent years become a popular winter pastime for fitness and recreation. Every winter more and more summer walkers are turning to snowshoeing as their winter activity.

Snowshoes are very cheap to rent and with just a little guidance is easy to pick up. In no time a trip snowshoeing has given you not only a new activity but access to the winter back country!

Gear Tips

One of the great attractions of snowshoeing is its simplicity making it very accessible and affordable. If you already have summer walking kit and clothing then you can use more or less the same items. As snowshoeing has grown in popularity (it’s currently France’s fastest growing outdoor winter sport), the number of manufacturers catering for this flourishing market has expanded too. This development has been great both for innovation and competition: consumer demand has driven fantastic transformations in the design of snowshoes (making them lighter, easier to fit and adjust, and more efficient to walk in) whilst at the same time also driving down the prices of the kit you’ll need. Whilst there are many different styles of snowshoe, the best all-round models will allow you to comfortably and efficiently walk on rolling hills and maintain control in icier conditions. They’ll also allow easy walking on flat terrain and compacted trails. At Tracks and Trails we use the popular TSL snowshoes that have proven reliable, easy to fit and facilitate comfortable hiking on the longest of days — watch our short video so see how they’re worn.

Also of importance is footwear. Suitable boots for snowshoeing feature adequate insulation for the colder temperatures and waterproofing to keep feet dry and warm. A good pair of winter boots will incorporate a thick insulating sole and have rubber or leather uppers that provide the necessary ankle support. Whilst specific models are available for purchase, many types of leather hiking boots also work well for this activity, especially if they include a waterproof fabric liner such as Gore-Tex, or similar. Gaiters are frequently worn when snowshoeing to ensure snow is kept out of boots. Consider purchasing a waterproof and breathable pair of gaiters that are mid shin height: in amongst the pine trees of the Alps it’s surprising just how deep the snow gets!

Telescopic poles or adjustable poles are very popular amongst walkers and trail runners providing them with improved balance, even weight distribution, rhythm and protecting the knees from the impact of descending. They work well for snowshoeing for exactly the same reasons! If you’ve already a pair for hiking you may just need to equip yourself with slightly bigger snow baskets to ensure they have enough surface area so as not to sink too deeply when you place the pole in softer snow!

As with summer hiking you will need to carry a backpack to stow spare layers, food, water, flask and if necessary your snowshoes for any non-snowy sections. So we recommend a pack with adjustable side straps to be able to do this of a minimum of 28-35 litres in size.

Finally, we always provide you with three pieces of essential winter safety equipment; an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. Although we don't intend to use them in anger by law we must carry them so training and instruction will be given on how to use them.

Layer Up!

Snowshoeing is a low impact form of exercise that provides the whole body with a good workout. It’s an excellent means too of training for balance and proprioception. As you get moving in the snow you’ll be surprised just how quickly you warm up - layers are definitely the answer, then, to regulating and maintaining a comfortable body temperature. As a general rule you can layer clothing such that you may feel a slight chill for the first 5 or 10 minutes of the activity: enjoying the freedom of movement and limbering up as you stride through the snow, in very little time the activity will have you nice and warm. It’s also important to keep your head and hands covered up to minimise heat loss. We suggest you bring two two pairs of gloves, one thick & one thin. On warmer spring snowshoe trips you’ll also need these along with a high factor sunscreen to protect yourself from the glare of the sun and UV damage that would otherwise be caused to exposed skin. All importantly, you mustn’t forget your feet! Quality socks made of wool or synthetic fibres promote wicking of moisture and assure warm, dry and happy feet!

Getting Started

At Tracks and Trails we’ve over a decade of experience providing snowshoeing excursions in the Alps and further afield. This winter you can join us snowshoeing for Introductory or Intermediate level trips in the world-renowned winter resort of Chamonix, or try one of our explorer trips in the Italian Dolomites, the southern French Queyras region, Samoens or go 'point-to-point' in the Chablais. We’re also able to offer tailor-made trips for weekends or week-long adventures: do get in touch if you’d like to discuss the possibility of us creating a specific itinerary to fit your calendar, either on an individual basis or as a group.

Find out more about all the Tracks and Trails snowshoeing trips on our dedicated webpage. If you’ve any questions then do contact us for assistance — we’re always happy to help!

While out enjoying nature we often wish to capture 'the moment' so that we can later relive our experiences, or share our excitement with others online and through social media. In fact it almost seems that, nowadays, decent photos are a prerequisite from any trip to prove a few bragging rights! There’s almost nothing more frustrating though, then, in returning from a great hike, ski or a day snowshoeing and find that those snaps you took while out on the trail weren’t quite as sharp as you’d first thought… so how did it happen?

Well, in the excitement of the moment we often overlook the fact that a photo can look quite acceptable on the small LCD screen of a compact camera or smartphone, only for us to discover later that when viewed by friends and family on their PCs and iPads it’s a little blurry — and doesn’t quite excite everyone’s interest as we had initially hoped for! The good news is that acquiring a little knowledge on how to take sharper pictures is actually not that difficult: this blog shares a few simple tips to improve your photography and produce sharper images from your camera (or, indeed, smartphone) when enjoying the outdoors.

Improving your technique - first steps
Getting the sharpest possible photos when shooting outdoors is all about technique. Almost nothing will spoil an image more than the blur that camera shake produces. As such, it’s vital to try to reduce the movement of the camera when taking shots. As you’re outdoors, this can prove a little tricky! However, first, think about what’s causing the movement of the camera while you compose and focus your picture: is it the wind? If ‘yes’, then it could help to seek a little shelter or otherwise reduce your exposure to the buffeting effect the wind has on your ability to steady the camera and prevent shake. If the wind’s gusty and you’re not in a rush, be patient and wait for a lull and shoot the frame when it’s calmest — you’ll observe a big difference in the resulting image.

Waiting for a calm moment is also a good exercise in observing changes in illumination — air currents and swirling winds interact with the clouds, resulting in shifts in ambient light: experiment and see just how different a scene can look as nature casts different tones and shades across the landscape.

Tripods - and their (weighty) limitations
Without exception, any respectable guidebook or blog on photography will advise first of the necessity of using a tripod to get sharp images from your camera. A decent tripod is considered a critical part of sharpness technique, and yet you’ll rarely see anyone even on a day hike (let alone a multi-day trekking trip) carrying one. Why? Well, even the newer carbon versions are still relatively heavy and a nuisance to fix to a backpack.

Accepting that few people will wish to lug a tripod around, it’s better that we therefore focus on how best to get around this. Firstly, you might wish to consider making use of either the Leki adapter or Hama trekking pole that can be adapted to work as a monopod to mount your camera to: these provide a useful base to steady your camera and achieve a less blurry image.

Absent the conversion of a trekking pole into a monopod to stabilise your camera, you’ll need to adapt your technique to minimise shake when holding the camera. Holding the camera correctly is crucial to achieving maximum sharpness. When holding your camera, be sure not to tense up or grip it too tightly — try to clasp it gently and not squeeze the apparatus too hard: this will just make your hands more sweaty and likely lead to greater movement when you press the shutter. Either hold your camera to your eye (if you’ve a viewfinder) or in front of you at a distance where you can view the LCD back screen comfortably, then drawn your elbows close to your chest: this creates a stable platform for the camera and allows you to take sharper pictures.

Image Stabilisation
A key point when shooting a handheld is to choose a fast enough shutter speed (if your camera allows manual adjustments such as this). A shutter speed of at least than 1/60 second for wide angles, 1⁄125 second for standard focal lengths or 1⁄500 second for telephoto focal lengths is a good rule by which to work. If your camera or smartphone allows the option of digital zooming, well, you’re much better off avoiding using it — it simply crops the existing photo by zooming in on the image sensor, resulting in a more pixellated photo!

Instead, make use of image stabilisation if your camera has this functionality. Image stabilization (IS), also referred to as ’SteadyShot’ or vibration reduction, is a relatively new technology that enable photographers to take shots in conditions outdoors that would have previously resulted in much blurrier images. Depending on the make and model of your camera, image stabilization works by sensing your camera’s movement whilst you steady it, then adjusting the lens or image sensor to offset the shifts and vibration in real time — it does this using some very sensitive sensors and complex algorithms (which we needn’t go into!). IS has developed in leaps and bounds in the last decade and is definitely worth making use of. Switch on your IS system and see the results — and don’t see it as cheating!

Shooting on Continuous Mode
Sooner or later while taking photo outdoors you’ll find yourself in a situation where holding your camera steady is really tricky — perhaps the wind’s up and you really can’t wait for a lull as you need to keep moving (and your fingers are beginning to feel like they’re icicles!). A great way to maximise your chances of getting a sharp shoot is to set your camera to continuous shooting mode.

Whilst this setting is usually used for action shots, it’s actually also very handy for when you are shooting handheld at relatively slower shutter speeds and trying to get a sharp shot. Hold the shutter down for a burst of four or five shots: you’ll find that those in the middle of the batch are usually sharpest (pressing the shutter button causes movement in the camera, which settles once you have the button depressed fully). Discard the less sharp images and just keep the best one! That’s the beauty of digital photography: endless scope to experiment, explore and make changes. Indeed, we’re blessed with amazing technologies that create far more flexibility in how we choose to capture that perfect moment in the outdoors than just a generation ago. Go explore, have adventures — and bring back some unforgettable memories!

Last month’s blog looked at a range of different smartphone apps for navigation, fitness and performance logging that can help you track activities and monitor your training progress. Most of us these days have smartphones and they can be a handy entry point into discovering the utility of digital devices in the outdoors. The utility of smartphones is such that they travel with us almost everywhere: as such, taking them on a run or a hike hardly appears a burden. Indeed, for safety’s sake it’s a good idea to have a phone with you in case of an emergency, or simply to contact others to let them know of your progress or changes to an itinerary. While many great apps indeed exist to aid your exploration and discovery of the mountains, once you’ve discovered their advantages you may find yourself looking to upgrade to a dedicated device designed for the backcountry.

Those new to the delights of mountain sports such as trail running, cross country skiing and trekking often find that feedback can prove a crucial motivating factor in spurring their development and progression in their chosen sport. Important then is both the frequency and quality of the information you can collect to provide that all important guidance; this is where dedicated fitness trackers and GPS-enabled smartwatches come to the fore. A crucial benefit of these specially developed devices is their reliability and durability when it comes to performing in the challenging outdoor environment: those who’ve struggled with the irritation of retrieving data from a waterlogged iPhone will testify to the limitations of a tracking tool that wasn’t conceived with Mother Nature and the mountains in mind!

If you’re serious about keeping a record of your outdoor exploits and gauging your performance, you’ll want to keep your smartphone firmly sealed in a Ziplock and instead rely upon one of the many new custom gadgets developed for fitness enthusiasts. But, with the plethora of choices choosing the right one for your needs can seem just a little daunting! Fret not, as we’ll guide you through the process of selecting the most suitable device, based upon an assessment of their different functionalities and the actual usefulness of the seemingly endless array of bells and whistles these little technological miracles now possess.

Of course one consideration when choosing a tracker is style. Don’t worry — you’re not alone in thinking that looks matter! After all, if you’re to faithfully wear your new acquisition 24/7 you’ll want it to look the part. Fashion is, of course, a very individual affair. Many devices have replaceable straps, which offers the opportunity to change appearance depending on your mood — or the colour of whichever of the many pairs of running shoes you’ve chosen to step out in for your daily dose of exercise! While many of the devices have a fairly standard sporty/utilitarian look, some of the newer models definitely exhibit a more nuanced, sophisticated look. Some devices, such as the Apple Watch Series 3, have been designed with finesse; and as a result have sleeker, more refined bodies. These higher end watches feature swappable bands (including leather options) that increase their versatility, meaning that they won’t look out of place when the occasion calls for more a little more polish and elegance.

Rather than attempt an overview of every single device out on the market — there are simply dozens! — we thought to make the process for our blog readers a little simpler by focusing on the two main categories of tracking tools that have evolved to date: fitness trackers and GPS/smartwatches. It’s important to note that beyond monitoring your outdoor exploits, most of the devices that fall into these two groups increasingly incorporate other useful health-related capabilities such as sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, etc. Before you make a purchase, then, take time to think about all the different functions you might wish to make use of. You’ll probably be surprised by just how many are not just intriguing, but really rather helpful — providing insight into aspects of your lifestyle that can help identify how best to improve your wellness.

Fitness Trackers

The basic features that a runner should look for in a tracker are the ability to accurately track total running time, heart rate, distance and pace.

Fitbit Charge 2

The Fitbit Charge 2 is a basic exercise tracker with built-in heart rate monitoring. It’s an improvement on the original model with more stylish looks and the option of replaceable bands. The Fitbit Charge 2 features multi-sport modes and guided breathing sessions. Whilst it does’t have its own dedicated GPS, the device does have the capability to connect to your smartphone, which allows you to see real-time stats such as pace and distance and record a map of your route. The price tag of £140 (cheaper if you shop around!) it’s good value and provides just about the right quantity of information without overloading you with data. Price: £140

Garmin Vivofit 3

The Garmin Vivofit 3 is a simple device that, well, won’t win any design awards! However, if you’re looking for a tracker that’s simple to use and is fuss-free, this could be the one for you. The Vivofit 3 has all the features you’ll need to start out monitoring your fitness level, and has the added bonus of being charger-free (it sports a 1-year battery life). The backlit display is easy to read and shows steps taken, calories consumed, distance travelled and also monitors sleep. The Garmin software that supports this device isn’t as intuitive as might be hoped for, but once you’ve learnt its foibles it’s easy enough to use. At a pretty good price point for an entry-level model, the Garmin Vivofit 3 is well worth considering for those looking to start monitoring their fitness level regularly and benefit from a more structured approach to their training programme. Price: £90

GPS-Enabled Trackers/Watches

Initially it was only the much higher end devices that incorporated GPS tracking, which works on the basis of determining your position via the triangulation of satellite signals. However, competition between device manufacturers is fierce and even the cheaper models now feature this functionality built in. With GPS your watch can determine your location and calculate the speed of your movement with much more accuracy than a basic fitness tracker, and also allows for the provision of location-specific information such as altitude: very handy of course for trail runners and hikers! Having GPS is also useful for post-activity analysis: you can download the data and view the route of your run and share it with others.

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

This Garmin watch is a higher end tracker that features lots of nifty extras — reflected in the price! Garmin have developed additional functionality for triathletes that measures the contact time of your stride, stride length, and even the estimated recovery time after a workout. Coupled with Garmin’s dedicated chest strap it can even provide an estimate of your VO2 max and lactate threshold. This watch is obviously aimed at the most serious of athletes and provides a great deal of very advanced information — before splurging check whether one of the simpler devices might not be a better solution, based on the value of the core data that the more basic trackers all provide. Price: £400

Polar M400

The Polar M400 is a great mid-range option for trail runners and hikers looking for a GPS-enabled fitness tracker. The watch is well designed, built to withstand shocks and waterproof to boot. The M400 also boast great battery life (easily charged via a standard micro USB cable) and can be synched with both Android and iPhones to allow for push notifications. Being a cheaper GPS watch it doesn’t feature a built-in heart rate monitor and its display is standard monochrome. If fashion matters as much as form, you’ll have to decide whether the tracker’s chunkiness is a badge of honour as a dedicated runner — or whether you need search for something a little more charm in the looks department! Price: £200

Apple Watch Series 3 GPS

The Apple Watch is now in its third iteration after some hefty design tweaks. The watch is certainly much more than a timepiece, or even a tracker, for that matter: whilst the Apple Watch is expensive, you’re buying into a whole ecosystem of apps and additional functionality that the device supports. From a design perspective it looks just the same as the last generation (and is still waterproof to a depth of 50 metres), but under the hood the clever folks at Cupertino have been hard at work. As a higher end device the watch features GPS, and its Retina display makes it easy to view details of your location even in challenging lighting conditions in the outdoors. The watch’s heart rate monitor, which monitors your pulse by analysing changes in your skin colour, has been significantly improved with greater accuracy. Where Apple’s offering differs from those of its competitors is in the health and wellness apps it features: the latest watchOS allows you to monitor many different kinds of workouts with smart coaching messages that encourage you to reach activity targets. A more advanced model, GPS + cellular, also allows phone calls to be routed to the tracker… but that’s not something we really feel’s essential to a running device! Still, you might wish to check out Apple’s comparison site to determine which model is best for you: as the watch is a considerable purchase, it’s worth figuring out which represents the best investment for your longer term needs. Price: from £329

It’s important, however, to remember that while digital devices are great facilitative tools and can provide a source of motivation to get out and train (especially when challenging weather may attempt to persuade us otherwise!), the information they provide should be ingested with a healthy dose of appreciation for all that’s unmeasurable in the great outdoors!

There’s no device or tracking tool (as yet!) that can quantify just how much fun you’re having while trekking/trail running/skiing or snowshoeing: in the end, enjoyment of the experience is what it’s all about. There’s certainly a case for donning whatever footwear’s needed, throwing on a fleece (or whatever layers are required to stay warm) and then inadvertently ‘losing’ your fitness band or GPS watch… thus heading out carefree in the knowledge that every once in a while it’s good to forget about the metrics and take the opportunity to really marvel at the beauty that’s all around us as we venture through the wilderness. There’s not an app, device or tracker that scientists in a lab will ever quite devise to accurately capture that!

It’s only data - enjoy your exercise!

Remember the good old days of fumbling with an OS map in a howling wind, then trying to locate the compass in one of your jacket’s many pockets (only to realise its embedded firmly at the bottom of your rucksack…)? Remember too the early heart rate monitors that ate batteries, were clunky and didn’t seem to work reliably for more than a few weeks before they’d start to provide inaccurate readings that were off the charts? Fond memories, indeed! Whilst the growing adoption of digital technologies by those heading out to enjoy the outdoors does remain a little contentious in certain circles, the pitch made by purists that hiking and running should remain tech-free, uncomplicated pursuits is less and less persuasive. Times have changed. Using technology increasingly enhances the outdoor experience, providing opportunities to enhance safety, improve communication with others, analyse performance and share information with other enthusiasts.

Today hikers and runners can choose from a plethora of different gadgets that promise to make the task of navigation and tracking performance much easier, and with far greater accuracy than we could have ever imagined. Devices have evolved in leaps and bounds in recent years and, thankfully, they are generally much more easy to use. Gone are the days of assiduously studying manuals and pouring over FAQs and troubleshooting guides to have your new toy perform the simplest of tasks: today’s tracking tools are far more intuitive and designed to be put into action straight after you’ve downloaded them.

It’s understandable that many might be a little wary of buying a dedicated GPS tracker, altimeter watch or fitness band if they’re still unsure they’ll use it enough to justify the outlay. A good option therefore can be downloading one or more of the specialised apps available for smartphones and tablets and replicate much of the functionality you’d find on customised, sport-specific devices. If you then find the feedback the app provides insightful, this can then help inform your view if you decide to go ahead and purchase a dedicated device. Smartphones and tablets are likely to be devices with which you are already very familiar. The utility and ubiquity of these devices is such that they travel with us almost everywhere: as such, taking them on a run or a hike hardly appears a burden. Indeed, for safety’s sake it’s a good idea to have a phone with you in case of an emergency, or simply to contact others to let them know of your progress or changes to an itinerary.

With the range of different apps for navigation, fitness and performance logging expanding by the day, the oft-repeated cliché of ‘there’s an app for that!’ increasingly proves ever more an appropriate adage. Yet the huge selection can make finding the right one just a little daunting, as there’s nothing worse than a phone clogged full of useless, memory hogging apps that take an eternity to delete. Fret not, however! We’ve been busy testing the most promising apps to save you the torment and frustration of endless downloads that don’t quite cut the mustard!

Easily the most useful for those heading outdoors are the navigation apps on offer from a number of developers. For the UK and the rest of Europe ViewRanger is the best digital mapping guide to the outdoors, with powerful GPS navigation features and assistive tech to make route finding simpler. Ordnance Survey also offer an app on both the iOS and Android platforms, but it’s not quite as easy to use as ViewRanger’s offering on the different mobile platforms. Other apps that we’ve found useful include Hill Lists, Mountain Steps UK, Outdoors Great Britain and Peak Scanner.

Most of the most useful fitness apps available for phones and tablets are also tracking tools — they allow you to log exercise sessions, count calories and collect stats about your hikes, runs and bike rides: this is a great way to gauge how you’re improving over time. Strava is the most well-established of all the fitness trackers on iOS and Android and has a mind-boggling array of different features; in addition to GPS-related tracking there are also many great social network features that allow you to share your progress with friends (and workout rivals!). A handy feature is the record of different trail routes and typical times posted for circuits, which can prove very helpful when gauging the pace for your run, hike or ride. If you’re looking for a running-specific app to log your daily activity we’d also recommend Runkeeper — it’s a bit less daunting for newbies for whom Strava might seem overly complex, but has all of the functions you’ll need to start tracking and analysing your running regime. Other good apps for runners that we like are MapMyRun and Runtastic.

Whilst for runners and hikers weight is obviously an important consideration, one shouldn’t skimp on ensuring that your phone or tablet is adequately protected from knocks and scrapes and, just as importantly, from the elements. There are many different brands offering housings and protective cases to safeguard your device — amongst our favourites are those offered by Pelican and Otterbox: these two manufacturers have developed the most reliable protection in terms of anti-shock and waterproofing capabilities. Whilst a decent case isn’t cheap, a new phone is a lot more costly!

For those of you ready to make the leap, next month we’ll give our recommendations for the best value dedicated fitness, navigation and tracking devices, and explain how you can get the most out of using these pieces of equipment in the great outdoors.

A decade ago there were only a handful of off-road races around the world from which an endurance runner could choose to pit him or herself. Now, with the popularity of ultra marathons continuing to grow year by year, part of the challenge is just choosing which one to enter! Of course, one of the highlights of any mountain race is the spectacular scenery — so here’s our guide to four races that offer a sublime visual and sensory experience (and a really tough challenge to boot!):

Greek Spartathlon
The Spartathlon race has taken place each year since 1984 and is one of the toughest ultramarathons on the circuit and is founded on one of Greece’s most epic legends from the depths of history: the Spartathlon revives the footsteps of Pheidippides, an ancient long distance runner from Athens who, before the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, was sent to Sparta to seek help in the war with the Persians. The battle itself remains one of the most famous in world history, constituting a landmark and starting point in the history of civilization. According to Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides arrived in Sparta the day after his departure from Athens - a truly epic run of 250km!

Now runners can literally follow in his footsteps. The Spartathlon has been described as the world's most gruelling ultra marathon: the route runs over rough tracks, muddy paths (it often rains during the race), traverses vineyards and olive groves, climbs steep slopes and, particularly challenging, takes the runners on the 1,200m/3,600ft ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the middle of the night! All those who make it to the final descent into Sparta have completed an incredible achievement! The Spartathlon takes place this September - more info here.

Gorge Waterfalls 50/100k, Oregon, USA
The Columbia River Gorge races, which take place in April each year, feature an amazing backdrop of old-growth forests, mossy rocks and feature technical and challenging root-covered trails. The Columbia River Gorge is a short drive from Portland, Oregon, and is the largest national scenic area in the United States. The area boasts the greatest concentration of waterfalls in the whole of North America. In fact, the Gorge Waterfalls 100k is unique for the sheer number of waterfalls the route takes you past - possibly more than you'll be able to count! One, the sublime Ponytail Falls, you'll actually run right underneath! Feeling inspired? There’s a great video from the Rainshadow Running series that features the highlight of the race — watch it here.

UTMB, Chamonix, France
If you’ve heard of one trail race — it’s the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB). Now in its fourteenth year, the UTMB is justifiably a legend amongst trail runners the world over. Towards the end of August each year athletes from across the globe make a pilgrimage to test themselves in this epic race circling Mont Blanc that traverses three countries: first France, then Italy, and finally Switzerland. The 166km/approx 100 mile route has a total elevation gain of close to 9,400m/30,800ft route and begins in the Chamonix, then makes its way through picturesque valleys along forest paths, rising up through open meadows resplendent in the colours of alpine flora. Crossing into Italy the path becomes more formidable, flanked by jagged peaks and imposing cliffs.

The route then takes runners through the pastures of the Italian Val Ferret, up and over the Grand Col Ferret and into the Swiss Valais where, thankfully, the terrain is just a little sympathetic — but it’s all relative at this point!

Athletes still have a challenging journey home via Trient, Vallorcine and, back across the border, there’s a climb awaiting at the Col des Montets! Running the UTMB is as much an internal adventure as a voyage through the stunning landscape of the Mont Blanc massif, promising a truly unique experience for the dedicated trail runner. Kirsty Reade has written a great piece for The Guardian detailing her exploits in rising to the challenge of completing the UTMB - read it here.

Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon
The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon is a classic race, and one of the oldest in the southern hemisphere, having been taking place each year since 1970. The race draws sporting enthusiasts from across the globe to the scenic cape for a unique and trying athletic experience, and is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful sporting events. The 56km Ultra Marathon takes you along a stunning coastal journey around the Cape Peninsula.

Florian Neuschwander, Germany’s best ultra runner, has called it “the most beautiful ultra in the world because you directly run along the ocean coast” and noted how refuelling during the race is just little different from other experiences “…the atmosphere on the course is amazing – instead of stodgy gels you get handed potatoes by the spectators. It's a funny run.” Find out more about South Africa’s Two Oceans Marathon here.

This summer and autumn we’ve expanded our programme to cover the best trail running adventures in the Alps, Dolomites and the Verdon Gorge.

We’ve also several dedicated week-long coaching and training camps taking place in Chamonix.

Find out more about all our running trips here — and do get in touch if we can help with any questions!

Julia

While many of us carry a smartphone wherever we go and can snap photos with ease, there’s still something to be said for having a dedicated camera to capture shots of your trip that you’ll really treasure. A slim, lightweight digital compact camera will, for a modest outlay, deliver great quality images from your hike or run.

What to look for in a camera
Whether you’re taking shots on a smartphone, a compact camera or a state-of-the-art digital SLR, you’ll need a wide angle lens. A wide angle is vital for landscapes and group shots that take in a wider view of the surroundings and provide for a nice backdrop to your photo, giving context. Try and find a camera that has a zoom lens that allows for wild angle shots and close-ups (such as for taking photos of wild flowers). If your camera is a little limited in terms of how wide a shot it can take, don’t fret — free software available for download online from all the major players such as Canon, Nikon and Olympus (not too mention Google’s Picasa software and Adobe Photoshop Elements) can be used to stitch together landscape images and create great panoramic shots.

Technology from high-end DSLRs (think big, heavy, somewhat unwieldy professional tools) has over time trickled down to more affordable compact cameras and even smartphones like the iPhone. Really handy technologies such as image stabilisation, high speed continuous shooting modes and minimal shutter lag operation make capturing the moment just that little bit easier.

Image stabilization helps ensure your photo is more sharp and less blurry by compensating for any camera shake if it's freezing cold and you can't quite keep that camera perfectly still in a buffeting wind. It’s also great if you simply can’t stop and need to capture a photo while on the fly — frequently the case when trail running in a group! Helpful too when trail running is high speed continuous shooting, which allows upwards of 3-4 shots per second (even the newer Android and iPhones feature this) and helps ensure you can capture that fleeting moment of action on your outdoor adventure. Continuous shooting is especially helpful when taking action shots where the subject is fast moving or a little unpredictable (great for wildlife photos where you never know the intentions of a marmot or chamois!). For the same reason, minimal shutter lag is also a handy benefit of newer cameras - it allows you to capture the exact composition you're expecting, not what follows half a second later!

Packing - a few thoughts on what you’ll need
As with any trip, think about what layers you'll be needing. This is particularly important if you think you might need to wait a little or experiment with the composition of your shots — avoid getting cold by having the right gear! This is especially the case where you combine high intensity exercise such as trail running or strenuous hiking with the inevitable standing around that outdoor photography involves. Wherever you are, even in summer it’s always important to have a compressible down or fleece jacket in your pack along with a lightweight waterproof in case the weather abruptly changes. Thin gloves (made from silk or microfibre) are very affordable and handy (excuse the pun!) — you’ll need warm hands to operate your camera with the minimum of delay!

Getting the best shot
Firstly, good outdoor and mountain photography starts and finishes with being aware of your immediate surroundings - and being sensible about the decisions your make. Trips into the mountains always require, among other considerations, being informed about the weather conditions. Getting good photos makes proper planning even more important. Changing weather conditions can have a real impact on the light, cloud formations and how you photograph landscapes. Nonetheless, foremost you must make sure you’re focused on staying as warm and dry as possible. There are times where it’s just not conducive to wait for the clouds to part: instead, finding shelter is the priority if a storm’s brewing!

Other considerations
Low weight is indeed crucial when considering what device to purchase. Lean, compact cameras or a smartphone are a must! If it's too bulky (awkward to fit into a jacket pocket and retrieve at the crucial moment) or heavy you'll find yourself leaving it back at the hotel or cursing every time you have to claw it out from the bottom of your rucksack. Your camera needs to be available at will so that you can capture those spontaneous moments (such as the ibex you chance upon as you turn the corner of a twisty alpine trail) that will remind you of the fun times on your summer trip.

A slimline device such as a compact camera or smartphone also ensures you aren't wasting time pulling out and stashing away your piece of kit every time you wish to capture an image… which otherwise wastes precious time on a route, and can start to wrangle the nerves of your trekking peers if you’re frequently faffing with kit!

Three affordable cameras we recommend:

1. Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ100
The DMC-TZ100 offers a large (one-inch) sensor and a very flexible 10x optical zoom, which makes it an ideal travel camera. Furthermore, it has full manual controls that allow you to improve your photo-taking skills as your gain experience. Images taken with the Panasonic are bright, sharp and well-exposed. The camera also works excellently in low-light conditions: great for dawn shots or pics huddled around the campfire! More details on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ100

2. Canon PowerShot SX730
The Canon PowerShot’s incredible 40x optical zoom range is perfect if nature photography is your passion. The SX730 offers the best available zoom currently on the market and will allow you to frame a great photo without disturbing the fauna in the wilds. The camera also features manual controls, a tilting screen (handy for viewing what in frame when you’re coached down to take close-up shots of alpine flowers). More info on the PowerShot SX730

3. Nikon Coolpix A900
Nikon’s A900 is a well-designed superzoom compact with many great features. It’s zoom range is a little shorter than that of the Canon, but a 35x optical zoom should prove more than adequate. The large size of the image sensor on the A900 model provides for good image quality in a variety of different shooting situations. Whilst the Nikon has quite a boxy look to it (think 80s Volvo…) it is, like the car, well-built and able to withstand knocks — an important consideration when out and about in the great outdoors! Get all the specs on the Nikon A900 here

In next month’s blog we’ll be giving a few more hints and tips on taking photos in the outdoors. Do get in touch if you’ve any requests on advice you’d like featured!

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