The ability to adapt

Nigel Vardy By Nigel Vardy

Losing his fingers and toes to frostbite hasn't stopped GetOutside Champion Nigel Vardy getting outside. Finding the right, adapted equipment and kit has been key to him keeping active.

None of us are the same. We all have subtle differences which make us unique, but these can also hinder our abilities to get outside.

Nigel's hands with no fingers


To some, the journey I’ve undertaken after losing my fingers and toes to frostbite is heroic, but the disability it brings has made every day of my life extremely challenging.

Few ever see the private pains that I go through as I face them behind closed doors, but suffer them I do. They’re not going to get better or go away, so I work with them, rather than complain about them.

It’s here that sharing your experiences and accepting the help of others can make your life a great deal easier. Well fitting, quality equipment has made all the difference to me in returning to the outdoors.

Changing bodies need changing clothing, changing kit and changing attitudes.

When your fingers and toes are amputated your extremities suddenly fit nothing found in an outdoor shop window. Industry doesn’t cope with anyone who doesn’t live in the world of S,M,L,XL (and fearfully XXL), but if you look and ask, its wonderful what you can find.

I’m a Brand Ambassador for an outdoor company who alter their products to fit me and we have worked together for many years. I'm very lucky to be in such a partnership. If you don’t have that luxury, find a seamstress and you’ll be amazed at what people will do to help. I’ve seen all lots of kit altered and often for a reasonable price.


Holding things has changed for me. As an example, when I buy a camera I have to be able to pick it up and take shots one handed. This sounds easy enough to most of you, but for me it’s difficult. I’ve been using the same shop for years and they know me well.

We line up a row of cameras and I pick them all up, feeling the weight and button layout, purchasing the one that fits. My choice is that simple. All the gadgets and settings in the world are useless to me if I cant use them.

On another note, I vividly remember having a car salesman extolling to me the virtues of a new vehicle, but I couldn’t open or close the electric windows as the buttons were too deeply set into the door handles. I don’t think he really understood...

Footwear has been a nightmare for me since I lost all my toes and the ball of my left foot. People ask me what size my feet are and when I reply that I don’t know, they seem truly stumped (bad joke I know..!) All my footwear needs a kevlar plate fitted inside to help me with spring in my step.

Nigel's feet with no toes

Every boot is different, so I need to sit with a range and try all of them on. Specialist footwear is actually simpler to fit as the experts already exist. Fitting my Telemark boots brought both myself and the fitter great entertainment. If you give someone an interesting challenge, they tend to get stuck into it with great vigour. Talking of feet however…

Sports orthotics. They’ve made the difference between me hobbling and walking.

My advice is to stay away from the one size fits all inserts with their so called guarantees. No-ones feet are the same and when I once challenged a seller at a well known outdoor show, I was told that ‘these are the best in the world and have just come over from the States. They're a snip at under £300..!’

I see a qualified sports podiatrist who ensures that my walking is balanced, my pelvis is balanced and works with my battered feet for £80 a time.

Nigel holding a fishing rod


I've taken up fly fishing and have been amazed at the interest and ingenuity that people have offered. All kinds of modifications can be made and there is a myriad of devices to help you tie knots on fine line.

I'm still exploring this avenue, but its wonderful to see people offering their help. The greatest thing that I've learned through my injury and adaptions is that you need to ask.

Ask people/shops/companies what they can do or help with. I find that the smaller independent shops tend to be better at this as you can build a relationship over time and work together. I'm sorry to report that many of the larger stores lack this, but they are swamping the market.

Recently I've lost two of my best shops in mountaineering and skiing and I'm on the hunt for replacements. I'll find them in time…

Nigel Vardy By Nigel Vardy

About:

Nigel is a frostbitten mountaineer who doesn't wasn't to die in an unused body.

Find out more about Nigel Vardy.

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