Q&A with Walk's new gear testers

A tent upon a hill, with two adults and two children beside it looking at the view 

Walk’s new gear testers are passionate about the outdoors. They’ve written several walking guidebooks, completed ultramarathons and adventure races - and spent a year living under canvas with their two young children. Their first walk Gear on Test feature is out now.

Who are you?

We’re Jen and Sim Benson and we’re guidebook authors, outdoor adventure experts, the new independent gear reviewers for Walk and Mum and Dad to two young children.

Where do you live?

We work from home in the Cotswolds but also have family living on Dartmoor so, happily, we’re able to divide our time between the two.

What is your background?

We’ve always been passionate about the great outdoors, from walking, running and rock climbing to competitive orienteering events. We first met working in an outdoor clothing and equipment shop during our university holidays, so we’ve been involved in the industry for a while now. Sim studied environmental earth science and has been all over the world walking and climbing, both with the British Exploring Society and on self-guided trips. Jen studied podiatry, completed an MSc in sport and exercise medicine and then went into post-graduate research, running over 50 marathons along the way.

How did you get involved in writing?

When our children arrived we both had full-time jobs but craved more time together as a family. We researched and wrote our first book, Wild Running, with our eldest in tow and absolutely loved the whole process. So we decided to put everything into turning our passion for writing, photography and the great outdoors into our job. We even lived under canvas for a year in order to reduce our overheads and get to know Britain’s wild places better.

To date we’ve written six books including The Adventurer’s Guide to Britain, Amazing Family Adventures, Day Walks in Devon. Our latest book, Day Walks in Cornwall, was published earlier this year by Vertebrate Publishing. We have also been lucky enough to work with the National Trust, the Forestry Commission and the Wildlife Trusts, bringing adventures to beautiful places in harmony with the local wildlife and communities.

What do you know about reviewing walking gear?

We’ve been testing and reviewing walking, running and adventure kit for more than five years and we’re also involved in product development and long-term testing for several brands. We like to test kit as thoroughly as possible, putting it through the full range of its intended uses in all weathers. It’s fascinating to see how technical kit is evolving, particularly in the direction of more responsible and sustainable production, and it’s really exciting to be part of making those changes happen.

Two adults and two children outdoors, on a hill

Best thing about being in the great outdoors?

The incredible discoveries there are to be made. Even when you’re somewhere you’ve been many times before there’s always something new and exciting outside.

Favourite spot for a view?

The unexpected ones. Those moments when you round a corner, or the cloud lifts, and it takes your breath away.

Favourite coastal walk?

We’ve both spent many years in the south west and we’ve walked or run every mile of the South West Coast Path. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite bit, but the north coast of Cornwall between Pendeen and St Ives, passing Bosigran and Gurnard’s Head along the way, is definitely a contender.

Favourite family-friendly place to walk?

The eastern edge of Dartmoor, where we’re lucky enough to spend a lot of time, is amazing for kids. It’s like a magical kingdom with enchanted woodland, sparkling streams, eerie caves and fluffy Dartmoor ponies.

Top three essential items of walking kit

Jen:

  1. Camera. As well as often needing to take photos for our work, capturing landscapes and the people and wildlife within them is a real passion. Because we take photos wherever we go they’re also a great a visual diary.
  2. Hat. I’m never without a hat – it keeps my wayward hair out of the camera shots! I like a Finisterre merino beanie for the winter and a cap or Tilley hat for the summer.
  3. Down jacket. Unbeatable warmth for its weight and pack size, perfect on its own on a summer evening or under a waterproof when it’s wet, my Arc’teryx Cerium LT comes everywhere with me.

Sim:

  1. OS map. I love maps and I’m always interested in what’s around the next corner or over the next hill; a map is a ticket to adventure.
  2. Pack. I’m currently testing a Fjallraven Keb 52 which is tough, well designed and beautifully made. It’s perfect for everything we do, from long days in the mountains to walks with the kids.
  3. Waterproof jacket. A lightweight but fully featured waterproof jacket doesn’t take up much room in the pack but offers a lot of extra protection when you need it. My current favourite is the Vaude Larice which combines good ethics with a protective hood and zipped vents.

Complete the sentence, when I go out walking I….

Jen: …wish I was better at identifying all the wildlife I see and hear - I’m working on it!

Sim: …am happiest exploring new trails especially in the mountains.

Favourite post walk tipple

Jen: A cup of tea, brewed up on a camping stove.

Sim: Fiery ginger beer. Or maybe an actual beer – preferably something dark and rich like Hibernator by Black Isle Brewing.

More information

To find out more about Jen and Sim Benson’s work and adventures, visit adventureplaces.co.uk 

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