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Zoe Goes Carlife: the dirtbag of Dirtbags

Because vanlife is too mainstream

It has been a minute. I’ve not gone many places, other than some of the darker zones in my mind. But we’re back now and exciting things are happening, and who best to tell but you guys. Aren’t you lucky? 

So now, when people ask where I live, I tell them ‘Astra Estate’ – it’s amongst the ranks of the X-Mansion, the Umbrella Academy and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – in the small town of Vauxhall. It has a white exterior and large windows, no double glazing but excellent natural lighting, complete with an office and a walk-in wardrobe…. Also four wheels and an engine.

YES I have moved into my car like any normal, itchy-footed, travel-starved gal would do when overseas exploration is off-limits and she also wants to hold down full-time study and two jobs in her beloved North East England.  

Why? Oh, for so many reasons, but namely – why not, and why not now? I have always fancied van-life but, well, I don’t have a van and can’t afford one right now. Life changes and it seemed like the opportune moment to get on the road. Plus, one of my jobs involves a lot of late-night travel in the car anyway and I don’t want to be chugging down the motorway at 60mph guzzling more diesel than my mileage contributions can cover.

Zoe sits in front of her white car with an open boot cooking tea in front of rolling hills.

I’ve sacrificed space and headroom for a better fuel economy, comfy riding and WAY easier parking. 

I’d like to say it’s stealthy… but it may well be even more obvious than a van when all of the reflective window covers go up. I found cooking difficult enough in a fully equipped kitchen, but I reckon I’m better with a penknife and plastic chopping board anyway. My hygiene levels have actually probably increased because I make a conscious effort to battle the usual stigma. My wallet thanks me because I’m not allowed to buy more clothes or toys as I simply have nowhere to store them. 

Internet? Unlimited data deal.

Showers? University/climbing wall/flannel and water/the sea. 

Toilet? Nature’s bathroom. Or time it with a supermarket run. 

Tea? Obviously.

Views? Spectacular. Also, incredibly ordinary. And I love both.

I figured to use a lint roller in lieu of a hoover

Talk about making mountains out of mole-hills, I found a new way to store away my blinds and my day was MADE. I discovered a little cubby-hole that is now dedicated to hot drinks, and don’t even get me started on the car-kettle.  I’m getting the highs of summitting mini Everests on the daily.

Honestly, my biggest problem is that the ‘carlife’ hashtag on Instagram is taken over by Ferraris and Aston Martins that wouldn’t fit a picnic basket, let alone the whole life of a dirtbag climber that works the mornings in muddy fields and the afternoons in a research lab.

It’s been about one month already and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.

I’m also making it a little harder for myself by trying to be as plastic-friendly as possible – no single-use wipes or cotton pads, soap bars instead of bottles, refillable water containers, loose-leaf tea etc. In fact, there are several aspects of car-life that are arguably more environmentally-friendly such as water usage, electricity and food wastage, but that’s another blog.

I will strongly emphasize that this is entirely my choice. I am no more financially strapped than your average student and I have a wonderful network of family and friends that offer unlimited home-comforts which I gladly accept if I’m feeling particularly starved of convenience. 

Looking forward to sharing some more of this adventure and always on the look-out for new park-ups. Anything in particular you want to know or read about? Any neat tricks or personal anecdotes to share? Need someone to cat-sit for a weekend? Tell me!

Finally, keep an eye out for when I’m headed your way – I’ll make you a Trangia tea and let’s catch up. 

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Not feeling blue: repurposed sleeping mats.

Introducing our Petrol Blue collection.

These special products are made using old inflatable mats sent to us from Alpkit to repurpose. And repurposed we have, nothing goes to waste here.

They are tough, and water resistant. And what’s more, we will send £2 from every order made from this collection to the Alpkit Foundation. If that isn’t circular enough, then I don’t know what is.

What is the Alpkit foundation?

In a nutshell, Alpkit support grassroots projects to get people into the outdoors, and to help people protect the outdoors.

To read more:

We are part of the Continuum Project.

In every Alpkit store there are donation boxes so you can donate your old and unwanted outdoor gear. Many of these donations go to brilliant charities and good causes such as:

Cumbria Youth Alliance

My Great Escape

The Thomas Theyer Foundation

Nottingham Bikeworks

But..some things these organisations cannot use. And this is where Dirtbags step in. Any wetsuit, broken beyond repair items, and now climbing rope will come to us for repurposing.

Read more about the Continuum Project here:

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They’re here: unique boulder pads made in Cumbria.

We use crash pads, we wanted crash pads, we made crash pads.

We are so excited to present our first lot of boulder pads, made with love and using many different recycled and repurposed components, if you are looking for something unique, ethical, and ecofriendly – these are for you.

These boulder pads are made in small batches (storage space at a premium) and each one is completely unique.

How are they made? What aspects are recycled?

Made in our sewing room at our workshop in Gatebeck, the boulder pads are truly the brain child of James Dickinson. Using a design which blends new and old materials without scrimping on quality, the bases and sides are double stitched and made using 1000 denier water resistant fabric. Each top sheet is made carefully using fabric offcuts and remnants – rucksack front, caving jacket, tent outer, for example. We only use the best bits – but using all sorts means that every one is totally unique.

Here are our favourite upcycled aspects:

The Fat One

Laden with bags, kids, and pads? Dream of strolling round Font (other bouldering circuits are available) without having to fully pack up heavy pads and rucksacks each time you move blocs?

This small, but thick pad is on the lighter side, folds in two, taco-style and is carried like a satchel. Snacks, guide books and shoes can be shoved in the centre for moving without dropping out of the bottom. It works well on its own or in addition with your current pad. Being just 100cm long, it means it can fit in the middle of the longer ones on the market (it snugly fits in our Moon Warrior pad). Alternatively, it fits happily rolled up within our thin pad enabling the satchel carry to be converted into a rucksack style carry.

The Thin One

Cover a larger area, and cover gaps between pads. This pad has 25mm closed cell foam to add extra protection alongside other pads. It had rucksack straps and rolls around the Fat One. so you can carry them both together. Thinner, but bigger than the standard boulder pad.

The Sit Start

Slim boulder pad suitable for sit starts, filling gaps between pads and for low traverse problems. Cushions your coccyx from low falls.

Check them out here:

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Unnatural habitats: working from home.

Inside the life of working from home for the kind of people who like to spend more time outside of it. The outdoor community have had a year of adapting and of changing, and not only in terms of getting a daily dose of adventure and fresh air without being strangled with red tape, but also in terms of our working lives. So much goes on behind screens and we are so much more than a name at the bottom of an email. We are all still out there; planning, yearning, coping. We reached out to this community, and asked: what does working from home feel like to you?

James, lecturer

As humans we are always planning whether we realise it or not, Without truly understanding the importance of our plans, hopes and dreams, each day, week, month I make plans for our future. Plans, for me which, mainly involve the outdoors, climbing, a bit more climbing, climbing trips with friends and family. The vacuous hole of time I now face each day is slowly eeking the energy not only from my body but also from my drive, my get up and go for aspiration chasing and general energy for life. I am a teacher. An engineering lecturer, a full on 9 to 5, on my feet all day, talking to students all day, coffee guzzling weekend warrior. The eternal lockdown has rendered my high speed life somewhat stalled and confused. I now sit seemingly endlessly everyday 8am until probably 9pm, uncomfortably at a kitchen table starring at Teams icons of students initials , cameras off, mics off. I know they are fed up too. but sitting on my arse all day feeling old injuries return due to the lack of movement and growing weary of answering endless emails from worried people regarding grades and missed lessons, is grinding my spirit down and changing my personality, my relationship and my purpose.

My entire understanding of who I am has been flipped and seemingly overnight I have become a polar opposite in character, I can no longer plan anything or do anything other than be a virtual comfort for a hundred students. Suddenly I have realised the importance of being able to make plans and carry them out. We are fulfilling dreams in our heads. You must feel it also?….the call of the wild!

Elizabeth, student

Student life from home, wild. Absolutely wild I tell you.
In one sense it is because I have swapped my (infrequent) nights out and (much more frequent) climbing trips to the peak with mates for solo walks/runs in the fells or chasing ice and snow to go wild swimming or winter climbing. I love these things; they are the main thing keeping me going at the moment. What I don’t love is the countless lectures, struggles with dissertation and “how on earth do I read a scientific paper” that I now do alone. Gone are the late nights in the library, commiserating with each
other over the state of our degrees, the informal catch ups with friends in lectures, the hastily grabbed lunch as you peg it to the next bit of useful information to stuff in your brain. The events, trips to the climbing wall, evenings at church and Uni talks where they give you free pizza that I used to cram into my hectic week feel like someone else’s memories now. I miss busy days, structure and independence. The support around you that inhabits all those small moments of human contact, that we can do this together, that we are all finding it hard but that everyone gets through vet school eventually, is sorely lacking at the moment. Instead, my computer screen stares wearily back at me, my dissertation process is slow, lectures no longer interactive and friends pixels on a screen.

But I have learnt some things. I’ve learnt that being outside fixes every black mood or lack of focus puddle I get myself into. I’ve learnt to seek out my friends and make time to call. I’ve learnt to value family time. I’ve realised how lucky I am to be living in the Lakes, having spent previous lockdowns in cities. I’m grateful that I have another 3 years of Uni left to enjoy and feel for all my friends graduating in this mess.
I worry about my lack of focus incessantly. I worry about my placements and whether I’ll be able to do them, I worry about the friends I haven’t seen in aeons, I worry about how online exams will be. I worry about a ‘missed Uni experience’. But I also hope. I hope for the stupid student antics to return, I hope for the vet teaching I have coming, I hope for the catch ups over tea, messing about at the climbing wall for hours and the late-night knocks on the door asking “whether you’ve made dinner yet” at 10pm. I hope for the opportunity to share my runs, swims and climbs with friends again, to fill a valley with the laughter of a group of mates. For now, I’ll be running the fells and freezing my toes off in lakes, reminding myself to be grateful for what I have, and cajoling myself into focus until Uni gets cracking again properly.

Sophie, wilderness guide

How does a wilderness guide work from home?
When the pandemic madness was starting to happen I was up working in the arctic. I just about managed to finish my trips before getting a flight back to the UK. Normally I spend a few months back in the UK between guiding jobs so a permanent place never made much sense. I had a camper van, some lovely parents and lots of willing friends. With all the pandemic chaos I found myself moving in with my boyfriend who was working a short term job in the centre of Manchester. I’d gone from endless Finnish wilderness to a city centre. 
With Manchester being one of the areas with what seemed like never ending restrictions we have felt pretty trapped. It’s not known for its abundance of green spaces, and we just round ourselves walking around the city or along the same river trail. I’ve gone through every phase; the insane sweaty indoor workouts, the craft projects, the climbing guidebook bucket lists of climbs I’m gunna send. At one point I was going to pay like $200 dollars for a street dance lesson subscription…I did a one week trial and realised that money cant buy co-ordination. 
It’s been wild. A whole new type of wild than where I felt comfortable. I gave up trying to replace the things I loved doing because nothing could really compare to that. At times, like everyone I felt immense guilt that I was just moping, I felt like a spoilt child that couldn’t handle reality, and in some ways I am. My life previously was full of challenges, and adventure and people – but most importantly…incredibly beautiful places. But now I guess I’m just grateful that I’ve found my happy place, I know exactly where I do thrive, and now I understand where I don’t. And that’s cool. To just come to terms with the fact that so much of who I am is instilled in my time in the outdoors, and when I’m forced to stay inside and keep myself busy I’m not really me. I’m like a weak vimto.

Alistair, product manager

I’ve been working from home for about a year. This has given me flexibility, time, and new ideas for adventures. It used to be a much longer day when I had to commute, but I can now be on an adventure within ten minutes of finishing work. I can still get out onto high places and woods, but this latest lockdown has hit home a bit harder. Everything is getting a bit samey and running out of ideas to go. Starting to get the trapped feeling and trying to keep positive but it is getting difficult. I’m now focussing on planning a trip in September when hopefully we’ll all in in a different place.

Helen, student

I normally live away at Uni, but since the pandemic began in March I’ve been living at home, apart from about 2 weeks in September, when I quickly realised students + COVID made me more worried than it was worth. Living at home I’m pretty far from my friends, so even when we haven’t been in lockdowns, I haven’t really seen them which is a little bit rubbish. If you didn’t enjoy group work at Uni/collage I can tell you, online it’s a whole new level – lots of blank screens and muted mics whilst I talk to myself… but it is pretty good being able log on seconds before the lecture starts, breakfast in hand. I’m not 100% sure I’m coping, but the ways I’m trying to are, getting some movement in, setting my alarm every day and using it as an opportunity to really focus on my work – the rocks and mountains would definitely have distracted me otherwise! And finally, I’m just trying to think how exciting the world will feel when this is all over.

Dicken, electronic engineer

Since the first lockdown in March, I have only travelled to work 3 times.  I used to commute by bike every day, rain or shine and spend my time in a busy office.  I long for conversation outside of my household, with colleagues and friends, not living a digital life on Skype, connected to my laptop.  The cycle was a means of therapeutically turning off from the day’s work but now the separation of my time and work time is blurred.  

I am fortunate to have a small well-kept green space near my flat.  From the beginning of the lockdowns, I have walked around this space once or twice a day, to get a breath of fresh air and to escape the confines of my city flat.  I watch spring blossom in 2020, I have seen the autumnal leaves turn from green to golden orange and fall.  Through what has felt like a long, dark and oppressive winter, the Snowdrops have begun to flower.  The first sign that winter won’t last, and spring is coming.  These signs, the changing seasons, are how I have managed to differentiate the days, so the last 10 months did not become one.  The small things are much more special to my daily life.    It won’t be forever but I cannot wait for the day that I can disappear into the mountains, equipped with my tent and a stove.

Mirjam, writer and translator

I dreamed of being a freelance writer and translator for a long time. Since getting stuck in Venezuela because of Covid-19, I made this dream a reality. It is the first time I am working for myself and working from a “home” that is not my own home, has its very own set of challenges. But what helps me is having a dedicated work space and do yoga outside daily. I recently splurged on a proper office chair that cost me 80 dollars, but has been worth every penny.

This all sounds so boring, but I think having a positive mindset and making yourself as comfortable as possible (and some nice backstretches) really do work wonders. Even if it seems impossible at times.

Meghan, archaeologist

Working in the construction industry, to a large extent the practical elements of my job haven’t changed all that much. We’re still out doing fieldwork, just with extra precautions. Where there are several of us on site, we must all travel separately (hello, environmental angst!) and stay socially distanced at breaktimes. So it’s a lot less sociable than normal, which is a shame ‘cos when you’re out in all weathers battling with the elements, it’s quite nice to come inside and have a mass whinge about how miserable you all are and pass some brownies round. Where there is only one of us on site, it’s a bit of a roulette in terms of what facilities you get and how “covid-safe” they feel. Sometimes it feels like we’re making an awful lot more effort than some of the other contractors! Once fieldwork is done, the report-writing is now done from home, with the usual combination of  distractions, internet connections that aren’t quite up to the load, and temperamental remote access drives etc. Personally, I’ve  been working on my own since November, with only the odd day on a site with some of my colleagues. It’s been cold, wet and utterly miserable standing around watching the contractors dig holes.

Managing the consumption of tea to somewhere between ‘maintaining core temperature above hypothermic’ and ‘spending all day on the loo’ has been quite the balancing act. Consumption of chocolate and biscuits may please Mr Kipling (if we could afford him) but would certainly disappoint my dentist (if I ever see him again). Getting outside for daily exercise is great at the weekends but when I’ve crawled home, sick to the pit of my stomach from being not-quite-warm-enough all day (and often a bit leaky in the face department), the motivation to go and slog round the same limited selection of knee-deep and/or icy routes is kind of small.

I find myself scrolling past Facebook or Instagram posts of people who live in more mountainous areas without even looking, because I don’t want to see what they’ve got and we haven’t. Our last proper hill day – of any kind –  feels like years ago. Most of the time I try to remind myself how lucky the two of us have been, but every now and again I get quite frankly sick of being grateful, and just want to wallow in misery for a short while. Music and making simple things, like food or hand-sewn patchwork, has become more important than ever. Just about, we’re managing. 

Pat, Dark Ventures

I run a small climbing distribution company, lockdown 3 and WFH has been a real challenge compared to the previous lockdowns. I have an 8 year old lad and a partner who is also working two days a week at her place of work and the others helping with the climbing distribution. The really challenge for us has been the home schooling whilst also running the business, home schooling has evolved through the lockdowns and school closures to nearly a full a full school day and a daily zoom meeting at 9am to start the day. Running the business has not really slowed through the lockdowns as we are evolving to deal with the new situations of lockdowns as well as Brexit and with now also teaching 9-3 it has put a lot new of pressure on us. Also we worry about the mental health of our lad and all the other young children who really miss their friends, class mates, extended family as well as all the activities that had to stop, it is a lot for them to try and understand with the situation changing each month. We are lucky to have the support of the climbing community and other small outdoor business that we can chat too  and that one day we will soon be back see each other and share our stories face to face over a coffee!

Reece, support worker

My job has changed drastically throughout the pandemic; and still hasn’t stopped changing! It involved taking young people on outdoor residentials and doing projects out in the community, flash forward 10 months and most of my work is done inside and online. Most of the fun parts about my job aren’t possible due to the pandemic, so supporting young people remotely and online has been a real challenge. Staring at a computer all day isn’t normal for me so that part of it has felt very unusual and has resulted in many a headache!

I think the aspect of working from home I’ve found the hardest is not having that separation between work life and home life. Because my work space and my living/relaxing space are now all in the same four walls it’s been difficult to prevent them from overflowing into one another, which can make it hard to fully relax when your brain knows that all your work is still around you. It’s mainly being stuck inside that bothers me the most. Being outside, doing practical things and working with loads of different community groups is what I love about my job, so trying to make the same impact on young people’s lives without those parts is difficult and frustrating.

My partner is also working from home, and we have found it challenging doing our very different jobs in the same space. We often have virtual meetings at the same time so one of us (usually me!) has to go into another room, and we can’t usually time our breaks/lunch to have them together. Being able to nip out for a lunchtime walk together is a real treat, though.

However, there have been aspects about working from home that I do enjoy! I can sleep in a little bit longer, can wear comfies most of the time and I’m not spending all my money on Greggs. The money I’ve saved in petrol has financed the extra load of teabags I’ve had to buy to keep the constant flow of brews going! All in all, I feel so grateful to still be working, and the changes to my working life, although not easy, have been a small adjustment to make considering how other people’s lives have changed because of the pandemic. I can not wait to be back outside in the community, working with a huge range of people and helping those who need it the most… but I think I’ll take a few flasks of tea with me this time!

Christina, interior designer

My job is usually spent on my feet most of the day, meeting new people and going out to customer homes. During lockdown home visits became virtual meetings and communications with everyone were phone calls or messages on Teams. I don’t have a working computer at home and I often forget about my phone outside of work hours so to suddenly be spending 8hrs a day (or more) glued to it as well as being sat down was difficult to get used to. I started with back problems from working at the dining table on wooden chairs, then gradually prepared the flat for working at home. Work could lend everything I needed to work from home comfortably (a computer desk chair), yet still I found it difficult to motivate myself. Most of our new work comes from meeting new people, inspiring people with large fabric samples, design software and products to feel and interact with. Interior design is a very visual and interactive process, so to translate this on only a screen (fabric textures, scale, even sofa comfiness! etc.) was sometimes challenging. 

I’m lucky to say my workplace did everything to make staff feel comfortable. Home visits were stopped, our daily routine changed to include a full clean of all surfaces first thing in the morning, and at regular intervals throughout the day. We were also given tablets to airdrop information onto TVs at a safe distance, so we could talk to customers whilst maintaining social distancing. But equally it was a big change in the environment and pretty exhausting to get used to. You couldn’t read anyone’s facial expressions anymore, or even visibly smile at someone when welcoming them into the shop.

I think the hardest thing to deal with was the change in energy levels. A combination of both furlough and restarting work with a new covid-regime (3 times over with each lockdown) was really difficult. Once my energy went it was difficult to motivate myself to stay sat down for most of the day. 

The perks of my WFH situation were… I was still able to meet new people and have interesting conversations about things other than covid. I also started to question my job in new ways, asking what helps us to connect with people from far away? This improved my work significantly and I became more motivated than ever because it felt like progress during lockdown. It wasn’t until lockdown 3 that I found my best coping method; 8am workouts with my sister via Zoom. In January my sister found a fitness trainer offering a free 28 day challenge, with the ethos to just show up and move at your own pace. It’s great to see her regularly and puts me in a much better mood to start the day.

Some entries have been edited for clarity.

If you need help or advice, please reach out -to professionals, to friends and to family. Talking always helps.


Campaign Against Living Miserably:

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DIY: Home Climbing Board

by Jake Jackson

As I’m not within walking distance to any crags/climbing gyms are shut/I can’t face another fingerboard session, I set out to build a 40-degree home board. Included is the process I used plus plenty of pictures to inspire anyone wanting to try.

Keep training, but without your mates

 Ideally you want a good solid area that you can bolt the wall too. As I don’t have a garage and the pre-built shed in my garden is super flimsy, I set about building a sturdy shed, which added a considerable amount of time, money and work onto the finished build. Tips on shed building not included, you are on your own with that one.

I had multiple anchor points to begin screwing into to form the base of the wall. The width is 2.4m so lends itself to the strips of timber and ply that come from the merchant, which saved extra cutting.

I first started with the kickboard frame as this would provide a base to how I would measure the angled beams but also helps to support the board. This measured 10 inches high and is made out of 2 3×2” timber beams with 3 supports at the middle and end.

I then bolted a 5×2” (as per my mate Eddies suggestion, thanks Eddie) above the kickboard frame which would provide a sturdy timber plank to bold the 40-degree beams against. I would do the same on the roof beams too. This took a bit of fiddling to get the right angles on the chop saw!

A spirit level is your friend

I measured the distance between the first and last angled joist, in this case, I could place beams every 2 foot. You could put them closer to strengthen even more, however I only had 5 planks left! You also want to ensure there is a beam in the middle where the joins of the plywood sheets are so you can screw into it for support!

You can see the screws I used throughout the build were a mix of 4”, 5” and 6” inches long and cost about £5 a pack from my local DIY shop (Make sure to wear ear defenders when using the impact driver)

Once I had put all the vertical angled beams in (5 in total), I then put 50cm lengths in-between each beam to provide support to strengthen the entire wall. They’re slightly offset so I can get two screws into each side, in theory this helps with the strength rather than splitting the wood if you screw in at an angle (in hindsight it’s not the easiest to screw the ply too when they’re all at random points, so you might choose otherwise!)

Got to stay warm when exiled to the shed

Because I built the wall in a shed, I wanted to insulate behind the wall before I put the ply wall up! I used some ‘earth wool’ insulation. This is essentially recycled glass bottles and is apparently as eco as using sheep’s wool. I would have done this too, but my sheep are not getting sheared until May!

I built this so it would fit two 8ftx4ft plywood sheets (18mm) and I didn’t want to have to cut them, as my straight-line skills are not the best. I then screwed every foot around the edged and through the middle to secure the ply onto the 3×2” frame behind.

Spare planks of wood are your friend when moving around heavy plywood sheets, especially in a tight area. I found myself regularly using my head as well!

I had to cut some notches on the sides when I came to fit the second sheet (I did this with my jigsaw as I was slightly out on my measurement’s!) Who said they didn’t want to cut the sheets?

Keeping with my imperial measurements, as I wanted to have a ‘system board’, I drew lines at 1 foot spacing so I wasn’t guessing where I would screw the holds onto. A tip if you’re doing this is to use clamps or a light piece of wood (I used a long strip of 3×2” and my arms were aching afterwards!!).

I began to put up some holds I’d bought from a few different small online companies (all of which are exceptional quality and provide great variety).

Holds used: Silly Goat / Taylor Made / Beastmaker

Save your wood for me

When I was at the timber yard collecting the wood for the build, I saw some tulipwood batons that were really cheap. I thought these would be perfect for some footholds/crimps. From a 2.4m length I made about 40 small foot holds and 6 crimps/undercuts! Just be careful when screwing them on (they can easily crack in half)

For tips on making your own wooden holds – please read a previous post – Making your own holds

I cut two sections of 12mm ply offcuts for the kickboard. Ideally, I would have used the same 18mm like the board itself but the 12mm felt sturdy enough with the timber behind it. This measured up at 10 inches tall and 4 foot wide per sheet.

The ‘finished’ board after a few sessions of use. Overall, the build went fairly successful and was relatively straight forward to do- I hope I gave you a few tips for your planning or when you come to make a board to train on and good luck with all your training!

It won’t replace the camaraderie of your local wall but I’m sure you can put some hecklers on speaker phone to keep your psyche high.

For more wholesome climbing related stuff, follow Jake on Instagram : @jake.jacksn