Travel in Africa is largely associated with ‘roughing it’, and for good reason too. So much of Africa, even in its most developed countries, is wild – which is of course why we all love it so much! As someone who particularly loves roughing it, I find there are few things better than browsing around a shop dedicated to outdoor equipment and apparel. It’s another form of armchair travel I suppose.
Not only is the technology intriguing with breathable wicker t-shirts, sleeping-bags which keep you toasty at sub-zero temperatures and watches which can be submerged in water for hours without breaking, but something about looking at and trying out all of these things sparks my imagination.
That’s the best bit. Spotting some piece of equipment and imagining how it might be useful – would it be the perfect tent to pitch on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia? Or the greatest pair of hiking boots for ascending Mount Kenya? Ooh and where could I possibly go that would necessitate such a high calibre, technologically over-whelming compass?
This ability to imagine the adventures that could be coming next is one of life’s simplest joys for me, and outdoor adventure stores certainly have their role to play here. Something I’ve noticed over the last year or so though, is just how much they can aid one’s wild imaginings. Because I have found myself in more Cape Union Mart stores lately than any other outdoor shop, I will use 3 of their Cape Town branches to illustrate my point.
Store number one is in Cavendish Square. It is relatively small compared to the other branches and dedicates most of its floor space to clothing – technical and otherwise, with a few shiny gadgets beckoning to you from glass cases.
The Shop at the V&A Waterfront is a little more novel. For starters, part of the store boasts a view of the harbour and sections of the floor are made of thick glass so you can see parts of the dock-side sand through the floor. There is also a whole floor dedicated to gadgets, and another one to backpacks and sleeping bags. Basically the shop is bigger and so has more variety of stock, which in turn provides added fodder for imaginary wonderings.
By far the leader of the pack is the Cape Union Mart in Canal Walk, a self-proclaimed ‘adventure centre’. It is huge. It seems to have everything. There is space to try out everything, including crawling into a pitched tent and stretching out on the high-tech air camping mattresses. Even better though, are the props and set pieces which take up much of the store’s space.
Let me explain. Should you say, wish to try out a waterproof jacket at the Cape Union Mart in Canal Walk, you are welcome to do so. Try it on, stretch, twist, make sure it fits nicely. Then, to make sure that it actually performs its waterproof duty, the staff will invite you to step into the rain room. Yes. Open a door, step into a shower cubicle (with its walls decorated to imitate the scenery on a mountain slope) and get blasted with water in a manner similar to the way that rain falls in nature. If you like the fit, the feel and emerge dry, you know you’ve found the perfect jacket for your imaginary mission.
Over by the shoe section there is an interesting patch-work pathway, raised off the ground to different degrees and made up of differing textures – slippery, ‘rocky’, standard – so that when you try out that pair of hiking boots, you can see how comfy they are for walking as well as check out how well they support your ankles as you negotiate bumps in the road and grip the ground on odd surfaces.
The best part of Cape Union Mart, Canal Walk, according to me, is by far the climbing wall. In some ways it’s odd that they have dedicated so much wall space when climbing is such a specialist sport and certainly not their focus in terms of stock, however, that doesn’t subtract from its awesomeness as far as I am concerned.
So, while all outdoor shops are great (and each is great for different reasons), as someone who isn’t going anywhere particularly soon, and doesn’t really need to invest in really good quality stuff just at the moment, bumbling around the Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre in Canal Walk definitely takes the cake for now.
If randomly testing out odd bits of equipment is not quite your style (I understand it’s not for everyone), you might want to indulge your wanderlust with some armchair travel instead. Here’s a list of great travel reads to try.