My first job at South Africa’s oldest travel magazine, Getaway, was as the Gear Editor. I learnt loads about tech and admired the specs of all travel kit while compiling features on everything from hiking boots to solar panels, tents to blow-up mattresses, cameras to paper maps and more.
That's why the lovely folks at Hi-Tec asked me to check out the new Lady Lizzy 3-in-1 jacket. I took it for a spin in the wintry Drakensberg Mountains.
So, what makes a good jacket? If it’s for hiking and travel, it’s got to be lightweight, keep me warm and definitely dry. Nothing complicated. What makes a great jacket? It’s got to make me look and feel good too.
I love versatile kit that doesn’t look like typical (ahem, old-fashioned) hiking gear. You know, the bulky, shapeless and normally brightly coloured, noisy clothing.
While the inner fleece of the Lizzy 3-in-1 is nothing extraordinary, it certainly kept me warm with extra cosiness around the neck collar, roomy pockets (there’s nothing worse than having my cold wrists poke out) and I like the peach-coloured accents on the zipper. It also connects really easily to the outer shell with clips and fasteners in all the right places so no fabric catches when you join it to the outer shell - hence, 3-in-1 one jacket.
My favourite item has to be the low-tone purple outer though, with specs to impress. The exterior shell is lined with a 3000mm waterproof membrane (which is better waterproofing than you get on some tents) and taped seams to keep out any wayward water.
Despite keeping the elements out, it still has really tiny ‘holes’ for great breathability too. The Lizzy is then ideal for sweatier mountain slogs in cool weather, when you need to simultaneously cool down and keep the cold off.
Things the specs don’t tell you
I’m normally a size medium, but because it’s two jackets rolled up into one, creating a third all-powerful jacket, it is bulkier so I had to get a size bigger. Luckily, the inner drawstring belt gives the jacket some shape and it’s also nice and long so it covers my butt, but not too long that it becomes a trench coat. There's a hood that folds neatly into the collar when not in use and, with the fleece removed, the waterproof rolls up into a small package for carrying in a backpack on the trail.
It styles pretty well too and the durable fabric doesn’t pick up anything on hikes, like those damn blackjacks that cover everything else. I'm being fussy now, but my perfect jacket would just be black or grey in colour so it’s a little snazzier.
The Hi-Tec Lady Lizzy 3-in-1 Jacket costs R1999, duesouth.co.za
Other tips for keeping warm in the Champagne Valley
The Champagne Valley is a thriving hub for holidaymakers with both solitary corners for a weekend hideaway and awesome activities for the adventurous too. Artisan shops have sprung up (beer, cheese and chocolate are all made in the valley), but it’s the incredible hiking that brought everyone here in the first place and it sure is a trekking kingdom littered with wonderful day hikes.
Work up a sweat with these top day hikes
The Blue Grotto Hike leaves from the Drakensberg Sun and is an easy two-hour return trail. The path is pretty easy and at the end, there's a gorgeous pool of water with a waterfall flowing into it. Not ideal for swimming in winter, but certainly breathtaking nonetheless!
The Sunset Trail begins at Champagne Castle. An institution in the valley, this hotel has been running since 1934 and this is one of the best trails to tackle according to hotel staff.
For the avid, there is always the Big Five. You'll get a certificate for each peak conquered and if you finish all five your name goes onto the honours roll. The peaks are all arduous though: Matterhorn (1995m), Gatberg (2408m), Amphlette (2620m), Sterkhorn (2973m) and Champagne Castle (3377m).
Warm up with real hot chocolate
Chocolate Memories offers free chocolate tastings and you can pick your favourite to be transformed into a mug of molten goodness for just R18. The delicious chocolate is made from the pure cocoa butter and natural bourbon vanilla without modified fats or palm oils. There’s also a chocolate fondue (R85) if one cup just isn’t enough. Open 9am-4pm daily and 9am to 2pm on Sundays.
The hottest places to stay
Hot to trot, the Valley’s highest mountain stay has an old-fashioned charm and views to die for. Winter treats include a heated towel rack, complimentary sherry, a heater, hot water bottles, and - the best part - fresh jam and scones served on the deck everyday between 3.30 and 4pm.
From R1960 per room full board or last-minute deals from R930 per person, champagnecastle.co.za
Dragon Peaks Mountain Resort
A little lower in the valley and set around a picturesque water feature, the new lakeside suites make for a sizzling self-catering retreat. You’ll find electric blankets and a heater, plus plenty of locals at the Dragon Pub. Join them at the fire for a glass of gluhwein.
From R670 per person sharing, dragonpeaks.com
The Goodland Cottages
A scorching escape, this cosy cottage is just a little way out from the valley and perfect for those after some country solitude. There’s a fireplace, hot water bottles, electric blankets, a Nespresso machine and (the most thoughtful little extra) a packet of microwave popcorn too.
From R1150 per night, thegoodlandcottages.co.za