The supposedly easy choice of the right outdoor socks

8. April 2020
Buyer's guide

Walking socks – not a lot to talk about, right? But if you take a look at any manufacturer’s description of their latest high-tech socks, you’ll probably lose all hope. Hundreds of material combinations, plus a wide variety of yarn counts and innovative product treatments make the once ordinary knitted sock from yesteryear a product that now requires a great deal of advice. It might be hard to believe but choosing the right outdoor socks is an underestimated task.

What should walking socks do?

The first question is: are you looking for socks for hillwalking, which are normally worn with mid-cut, lightweight and breathable shoes? Or are you shopping for more serious trekking tours where you’ll be carrying a heavy backpack? Or do you need socks for a winter hike?

Die richtige Outdoor-Socken findenFirstly, there is a right answer for all these uses. In general, however, an ideal sock should protect the foot from friction and therefore, from blisters. It should offer cushioning around the heel, support for the ball of the foot when rolling and it should quickly transfer moisture outwards. This last point is particularly important, because you lose up to a quarter of litre of moisture in sweat from your feet every day.

It makes sense then that the vast majority of manufacturers of functional socks rely on synthetic fibre materials whose core competence is the transfer of sweat. These make the perfect team with a suitable pair of Gore-Tex shoes. In addition, there are various proportions of elastane (for stretch socks), merino wool (and not just for the feel-good factor) as well as treatments of all kinds (e.g. Polygiene) to prevent odours and more.

Sock Buying Essentials

Point 1: a wrinkle-free fit! No matter what kind of trip you’re planning for, your socks – thick or thin, synthetic fibre or merino wool – must fit perfectly. If they wrinkle at the toes or anywhere else, this results in unpleasant friction and pressure points, which can lead to blisters. Good shoes mean nothing if your socks don’t fit.

Die richtige Outdoor-Socken findenPoint 2: with or without padding? As a rule of thumb: the heavier bag on your back, the better the padding on your socks should be. There is a wide variety of designs – with more cushioning in the heel area, the midfoot and/or the toes. For summer day trips in low mountain ranges, you can definitely go for a thinner pair with little or no padding. If you’re heading off on a trekking tour with a tent and sleeping bag on your back or walking in winter, you should pick a thick pair of socks and also make sure the padding fits well for you!

Point 3: the material. Polyamide, polyester, merino, elastane? This is a personal choice. All materials have their own pros and cons, it’s all about the perfect blend. Polyamide, for example, is generally more abrasion resistant than polyester and is mainly used in particularly stressed areas such as the heel and toes. Merino at the ankle and midfoot provides comfort and padding, while a stretch-polyester blend on the instep improves fit and breathability. In addition, there are inserts which increase the compression pressure to promote blood circulation. Every company has their own recipe for the perfect outdoor socks!

Trivia and practical tips and tricks

Three simple questions to find the perfect socks:

  1. Which season am I walking in? This helps decide whether the socks should be thin or thick and whether they should have a higher content of virgin wool (in winter).
  2. wool_compression_socksWhat kind of touring am I planning? A hiking tour with light footwear? Then a mid-cut pair with little to moderate padding is recommended. A difficult mountain or trekking tour? Then go for a shin-high pair with more padding. Ski touring or trail running? Compression socks can be very useful.
  3. What kind of shoes am I wearing? Even the most breathable pair of socks isn’t much use if you’re wearing full leather shoes. Socks with a higher proportion of virgin wool and padding to reduce friction and pressure points would be appropriate here. For breathable and lightweight Gore-Tex shoes on the other hand, I prefer socks with Coolmax, Fibretech or similar polyester/polyacrylic fibres.

I shouldn’t complain either when my good old cotton socks feel like heavy, wet rags after 800 metres of ascent because of dripping sweat. The right combination of shoes and socks makes the biggest difference – and this is something that everyone has to find for themselves.

And last but not least two comments on frequently asked questions: Never wear freshly washed socks! this may sound disgusting to cleanliness champions, but there’s a serious reason behind it: detergent residues in the sock fabric can attack the sensitive foot skin and when mixed with sweat, can cause irritation. You can easily avoid this by wearing your walking socks at home after washing and before the next trip.

The second point is about the debate on wearing two pairs of socks at the same time. I don’t want to take sides at this point, but I’ll weigh up the advantages and disadvantages from my own experience. When military service still existed and young recruits had to march 30, 40 or 50 kilometres with luggage, we were instructed to wear two pairs of socks if we had problems with blisters. And lo and behold, I have never had problems with blisters – despite or perhaps even thanks to wearing two pairs of coarse cotton socks together.

In my own time, I enjoys hikes and hill walks in a proper, modern pair of walking socks – and lo and behold, they were also great. The most important thing is that the socks and shoes fit perfectly. Recently, I was embarrassed to have problems with pressure points whilst mountaineering (admittedly, I was wearing pretty new mountaineering boots). And who would have thought it, all my worries were forgotten with a second pair of socks…

Climbing Technique Part 2 – Types of Handholds

15. August 2019
Tips and Tricks

To someone who has never climbed before, an artificial climbing wall may just look like a wall with a bunch of randomly placed hand- and footholds. But an experienced eye will see an array of climbing routes and movements. Plus, an experienced climber will also more quickly recognise how to best grip a climbing hold and which position his body should be in at any given moment. This and the next article will help you develop a better eye for holds.

Types of climbing holds

Jugs:

Every beginner’s favourite hold. But they’re few and far between on more difficult routes, unless there is an overhang.

Even if jugs make it tempting to climb using brute force to pull yourself up, this “technique” will just frustrate you in the long term. Pullups won’t get you very far on rock walls and difficult routes. For these, proper climbing technique is much more important. That’s why you should practice on vertical routes, and those with a slight overhang, indoors to practice the basic techniques. When the difficulty increases and the jugs only serve as a spot to rest, good climbing technique is more helpful than pure strength.

Ledges

One of the first major hurdles you will encounter are the very small ledges (often called crimps) where only one or two fingertips have space. If you have excellent finger strength, these usually don’t pose a problem. But because annular ligament injuries in the fingers are among the most common injuries in sport climbing, ledges should always be “enjoyed” with caution. Depending on how you place your fingers, ledges can really put a strain on your fingers.

Correct placement reduces the risk of injury. We distinguish between three grip techniques:

  • full crimp
  • half crimp
  • open grip

The safest but most technically demanding grip is the open grip. Because of the smaller angle, the body needs to be positioned more carefully. This is why most climbers use either a half crimp or full crimp when climbing. This creates a larger angle, which allows you to actively pull on the grip when moving through a wider range of motion (see image). In a full crimp, you also use your thumb, but this position puts a high amount of stress on the annular ligaments.

As far as injury prevention goes, it makes more sense to climb using an open grip. But, climbing with crimped fingers is a part of climbing and is unavoidable on very small edges. You can learn more about preparing your fingers for the stresses of climbing in our article on finger strength (currently only available in German).

Pockets

Slim fingers tend to have the advantage here because the size of a pocket determines how many fingers you can stuff in there.

But just as with ledges, there is a high risk of injury, which is why you should pay a lot of attention to how you position your fingers. Pockets with sharp edges place additional stress on your ligaments. The two-finger pocket is the most common type of pocket hold. Which fingers you use is generally not all that important because there’s no difference between the combination of ring and middle finger and an index and middle finger when it comes to muscles. However, because of the anatomical differences in the lengths of the fingers, one of the two options will be more comfortable.

Sloper

These large, smooth holds should be gripped with the entire surface of the hand. These holds are all about friction, and this is dependent on both the pressure you exert and the contact area. Some slopers also have small raised bits that can be held onto like edges.

One of the most important factors when it comes to slopers is the direction of pull (see article 1). On easier routes, there is usually a foothold directly underneath so that you can “dive” right under the hold (as seen in image 2). More difficult routes will require more technique and strength. It’s often necessary to create counter-pressure using other parts of the body (as in image 1).

Volumes

These aren’t all that different from slopers and, because of their size, they can also be used for support as in the first image. But if you’re underneath a volume, it can be a bit trickier. They’re easiest to grab hold of if you place your fingertips at the edge of the volume.

Supports

You don’t always need to pull yourself up using holds; it can also be helpful to support yourself with your hands. If there’s a good hold with less support options, you can press your hand against the wall to take the stress off of one foot.

Pinch

Like twisting a bottle cap! By using the thumb for opposing force you can create additional pressure in a pinch. Depending on the size of your hand, wide pinches will be more or less difficult to hold. Aside from that, you should pay attention to your positioning; it may be possible to hold them like a ledge.

Horns and edges

One hold that is rarely found outdoors, but frequently in climbing gyms, are holds that stick out of the wall like a branch. These allow you to grip with the entire heel of the hand to relieve the stress on your finger muscles.

What’s next?

In this article, you learned about the different types of holds. But there are subtle differences between the individual types that can end up being the deciding factor between success and failure on a route. You’ll learn about these in the next article.

Until then, have fun climbing and bouldering!

Climbing Technique Part 1 – Climbing Basics

1. August 2019
Tips and Tricks

When people first start climbing, they tend to concentrate primarily on the handholds. They pull themselves up first and then their feet follow. Why? Because our fingers play a very big role in the motor and sensory areas of our brains. As a result, they give us a feeling of security, and people tend to pull themselves up rather than climbing more technically. This might work at the lower grades, but more difficult climbs will require more than just brute force.

A basic principle of climbing/bouldering is to use your own strength on top of the climbing techniques to get yourself up the wall efficiently. It takes experience to feel secure in different positions and footwork. The following series of articles will show you different skills and techniques that will help you to climb more efficiently.

The first article details the basic principles, which will reduce your physical effort as well as the risk of injury while climbing. Whether or not you can use a particular technique depends entirely on the route and situation; not all techniques can be employed on all routes. But after a few hours of practice, everyone will find their own unique style of climbing and start to understand how the techniques should be used.

The following skills will be helpful:

  • Climbing with straight arms
  • Paying attention to the direction of the pull
  • Distributing the load on both hands
  • Perpendicular climbing
  • Optimal gripping technique
  • Not re-adjusting your grip
  • Using a gentle grip

Climbing with straight arms

A general mistake is pulling yourself up with your arms rather than using your leg muscles, which are much stronger. Your hands should just help keep you from falling off the wall; the upwards motion should come from your legs and hips. In order for this technique to work properly, it’s important to twist your hips toward the wall and have three points of contact at all times.

Twisting refers to moving from the hips – you twist your hips so that the hip on the side of the arm that is reaching further is closest to the wall. This makes it easier to use your legs and torso to propel yourself while climbing. And this is all easier to do when you have three points of contact with the wall. It can also help to press your foot against the wall in such a way that it can rotate more easily.

PS: A lot of people have the habit of looking at upcoming handholds only, even though it’s also incredibly important to look down at the footholds so that you know where they are as well.

Paying attention to the direction of the pull

To put pressure on the holds in the direction you want to pull, position yourself to the left of the holds. That’s because gripping a hold enough doesn’t always mean using all your strength but rather positioning your body ideally in the direction of the pull and shifting your weight to the footholds.

By twisting your hips to the left using the muscles in your torso and right leg, you shift your weight to your left foot. This takes the stress off your left hand, allowing you to reach up with your arm extended. As soon as the handhold is within reach, you should look down toward your leg in order to position your feet properly for the new position and next move.

 

 

The arrows in the pictures show the direction and intensity of the force that the climber is applying to the wall.

Distributing the load on both hands

You should try to move to the next handhold as late as possible. The longer both hands are gripping a handhold, the longer the load is shared between the two hands.

In the next images, you can see that the climber’s right hand stays on the handhold until the position of his body allows him to grip the next hold at the best possible angle. The movement comes exclusively from the legs and the hips; the hands are only used to keep the climber from falling off the wall.

Efficiency of motion

You can also see in these images that properly positioning the hips takes the load off the right hand. The climber in the picture shifts his centre of gravity under the left hold and onto the left foot, taking the load off his right hand and allowing him to reach up with it.

Your centre of gravity should be directly above a foothold or somewhere around the middle between two footholds, so perpendicular. This transfers the load primarily to the legs. In this position, you should always make sure that you have good body position before reaching for the next hold.

Gentle grip

Another important factor is gripping holds gently to save your strength. People often tend to squeeze the grip more firmly than is actually necessary, which is why you should make a conscious effort to grip with as little physical effort as possible. Paying attention to the direction of the pull and focussing on your centre of gravity on the wall allow you to grip the handhold with less force. Your body must be positioned so that your legs bear the majority of the weight. If you make an effort to grip more gently, you’ll save strength for the more difficult moves, which can sometimes require brute force.

Know your handholds

If you don’t have experience with a particular type of handhold, you might not know the best way to grip it. But the “grippiness” of a hold depends primarily on the optimal gripping technique. You can only take full advantage of your hand strength if you use as many fingers and finger joints as possible. The fingers should be placed as closely together as possible.

In the next article in this series, I will describe the most common types of holds and what you can look out for.

Not re-adjusting

Especially when climbing easier routes, try to get your grip perfect on the first try and avoid re-adjusting. This saves you time, energy and allows you to concentrate on your upcoming moves. Ideally, you should plan your route up the wall in advance. This takes a bit of practice and will be rather frustrating at the beginning, but the mistakes you make in the beginning will help you improve quickly.

Making a Fire Part 1 – the Right Preparation

31. July 2019
Tips and Tricks

You may be asking yourself why bother making a fire when you can get all the heat you need from a stove and all the light you need from an LED lamp. Is it because people like sitting together in a cosy group or because being outdoors isn’t just about functionality – it’s about the atmosphere, too? Well, that’s part of it, but there’s much more to it than that. Fire doesn’t just deliver warmth and light – it can also be used for cooking, sterilising and protection. If you don’t know how to make a fire in the great outdoors, this article is definitely worth reading.

The first thing to remember is that you can’t really stroll into your neighbourhood forest and light a couple of sticks on fire. Along with the physical challenge of building the fire, there are rules and regulations to keep in mind as well, especially in Germany. We’ll take a closer look at these before we delve into actually building the fire. But, let’s get a little definition out of the way first.

Not all fire is created equal

When we talk about “building a fire”, it generally refers to “open fire” – not a fire in a stove, fireplace or oven. To put it more simply: fire is “open” when it is not lit in a closed chamber, so campfires are clearly open fires.

But incinerators, hobo stoves, barbecues as well as some types of camping stoves are also considered “open”, so it’s easy to get lost in a morass of grey areas, forcing you to use your own judgment. For this reason, this series of articles will focus solely on traditional campfires in the great outdoors.

What do you mean it’s not allowed? Rules and regulations

At first glance, the answer is as simple as it is sobering: in Germany, open fire and naked flames (candles, torches, lanterns) are forbidden in forests and within 100 metres of the forest edge. Smoking is normally forbidden between 1 March and 30 October, and disposing of glowing cigarette butts is, of course, also prohibited. There are also restrictions and prohibitions for meadows, fields and shore areas.

But, as always with rights, rules and prohibitions in Germany, the ones concerning fire are complicated and comprehensive. The German Federal Act for the Protection of Nature and the Federal Forest Act provides the regulatory framework, but many things are also regulated at a state level and can even vary from one municipality to the next. This means that the rules can be contradictory on various levels. According to outdoor and survival expert Kai “Sacki” Sackmann, when in doubt, the state-specific regulations apply. Sackmann’s very interesting article is one of the few detailed and clearly structured commentaries on the legalities of outdoor fires in Germany.

But why are things so complicated and heavily regulated in Germany? Well, there are a lot of people there (225/km² on average) who share relatively few, generally small natural areas. The rules and regulations aren’t there to annoy outdoor enthusiasts; they are there to protect the remaining forests and natural habitats from fires and other damage.

The great majority of forests are freely accessible, but not in the least wild. They are usually properties used for forestry, belonging to cities, states, municipalities or private individuals. Even permission from the property owner doesn’t always mean that you can do whatever you want because restrictions also apply to private properties – especially when they are near a forest. When in doubt, it’s better to just leave fire out of the picture entirely…

Environmental aspects

Even though the millions of grill aficionados don’t like to hear it: every fire produces air pollution. For that reason, you should always ask yourself whether your grill or campfire is really a sensible thing to do – regardless of the legalities.

You should also always be considerate of residents or other campers who might be bothered by the smoke. You might even be able to get them on board by inviting them over for some bread on a stick.

Even when fire is permitted, it doesn’t mean you can just toss any flammable materials you want into the fire. Generally speaking, only dry, untreated wood or charcoal should be burned. Wet materials create excessive smoke; treated material (such as lacquered wood) is harmful to the environment and your health.

The legal situation in Switzerland and Austria

If you’re a mountaineer, the legal situation in the Alps is obviously also of interest as well. So, what do Germany’s neighbours to the south have to say about fire? The Swiss put a certain amount of trust in people’s common sense when it comes to nature, so they take a more liberal stance on the issue:

At the federal level, there is no law that would generally prohibit building a fire in the outdoors”, Rebekka Reichlin from the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment explained to the Swiss consumer magazine “Espresso”, which is published by the broadcaster Radio SRF 1.“There is no explicit prohibition on the use of fire in Swiss legislation on forests, hunting or natural conservation. This means that, in principle, building a fire is permitted.”

That may be great news for fans of grilling and fires in Switzerland, but it doesn’t mean that you can just light fires anywhere you want. There are very well regional and temporary prohibitions, most of which are in place as a result of the risk of wildfires. According to research performed by the SRF, there are at least 500 official fire pits that are pretty luxurious (free firewood)!

The situation in Austria is similar to that in Germany. Here, too, it can be generally assumed that fire is prohibited in the forest. As for other areas, it’s always a good idea to ask the responsible municipality first to be on the safe side.

Where? The right place for a fire

Fortunately, there is more to life in the outdoors than just prohibitions. Outside of protected areas, you’re certainly free to ask the responsible forestry authority for permission. According to “Sacki” Sackmann, experienced bushcrafters have a success rate of about 50%.

Other than that, the question of where you can find a suitable and “definitely permitted” spot for a fire almost answers itself: use designated grill areas and fire pits, which are usually marked on walking maps or signs in the local area. You can also sometimes find a list of official fire pits on the website of the local tourism association. Google Maps will occasionally show these locations if you search for “fire pit”, “grill area” or similar.

You should try not build a fire within the forest itself. If it must be in the forest, choose the most open area available, such as a clearing.

Furthermore, not only should you be aware of the fire risk caused by smouldering coals and flying sparks, but you should also avoid leaving an unattractive hole in the ground vegetation. For this reason, you should use existing fire pits whenever possible. In general, sand, gravel, rock, and mineral surfaces are the best choices. These surfaces are also the easiest to remove traces of fire from.

If no such surface is available, dig a hole and carefully repack it before leaving. A strong knife or a foldable spade can work well for this. But be careful: on peat, moorlands, and marshlands, organic material can smoulder unnoticed underground long after the fire has been put out, which can cause fires!

It goes without saying that the fire should be built at an appropriate distance and on the downwind side of your tent, away from any flammable objects.

Preparation: what else do I need to look out for?

Some outdoor enthusiasts build fires that are much too large. Not only do these burn more material than necessary, but they’re also harder to regulate. When you’re cooking, it doesn’t do any good if the fire heats a huge area, but then you can hardly touch the pots or pans.

Once you’ve determined the right size, you should clear any leaves, moss or other organic materials within approximately a one-metre radius around the fire area. This also applies to any damp materials that could catch fire after the moisture has evaporated.

Before lighting the fire, you should also have plenty of tinder and firewood in various sizes close at hand to get the fire started and keep it burning. Frantically gathering it just before it goes out is counterproductive. We will cover tinder and kindling in a later article, which will detail the proper way to start a fire.

Fuel

As was already mentioned, only dry wood and charcoal should be used for fuel. Straw and brushwood (thin, dry twigs) are suitable only for use as tinder because they burn so quickly, produce a great deal of smoke and come with a high risk of flying sparks.

Burning green waste or garden waste is generally prohibited due to the poor flammability and, most importantly, how harmful the smoke can be to the environment. Doing so can result in heavy fines.

Which wood for which fire?

What is the purpose of the fire? Do you want it to burn hot and fast+ to boil a pot of soup or water for tea? Or should it last longer and burn evenly in order to grill or simmer something? Perhaps, you just need a big fire for some warmth? Basic knowledge of the different types of wood and their characteristics is extremely helpful, even if you won’t always be able to find the right wood.

The first principle is to use only deadwood rather than taking “limbs” from living trees. Deadwood that is still standing (or hanging) is ideal. Wood found lying on the ground can also be used, but this tends to smoulder rather than burn because of the moisture content. But when the fire is really burning, damp wood can be dried next to the fire to some extent and then added to the flames.

Living wood is known as “green wood” among experts. Because of its high resin content, it produces a great deal of smoke and sparks when burning. This is especially true of coniferous woods. They are relatively soft, burn easily, and produce a lot of heat, but they create much more smoke and sparks than they do embers. Pinecones can be used to help with this issue, as they smoulder brilliantly.

Wood from deciduous trees such as beech or oak is more difficult to light than coniferous wood, but it burns longer, produces longer-lasting embers, and creates less smoke and sparks.

What can you do when there are no trees in the area? You can use stuff from bushes and shrubs or driftwood from beaches and riverbanks. However, the latter is very dry and burns accordingly hot and fast. In emergency situations, grass, moss and reeds could also be used; they should ideally be tightly compacted before use. Additional emergency solutions include peat and dried animal dung.

Fire accelerants such as alcohol or gas are a bad – and sometimes deadly – idea! Aside from the fact that the fire could get out of control, you also run the risk of it backfiring while you’re pouring or spraying the accelerant, meaning that the flames could suddenly leap out at you.

Wind, rain, snow: fire in difficult circumstances

If the area is wet or full of snow, you’ll need a bowl or other base (such as sand, gravel, rocks, damp greenwood) because the fire could otherwise sink and go out in a puddle. If wood is used as a base, place similarly shaped twigs and branches next to each other like a grate.

If there are strong winds, protect it with a fallen log, a wall of rocks or with other available materials. However, because fire needs oxygen, be sure to allow for enough airflow. Instead of building a wall, you can also build the fire in a pit – we’ll go into that and the different types of fire in our next post.

When it’s raining, the lower branches of coniferous trees are usually fairly well protected. If you remove the outer layers of spruce or pine branches with a knife, you’ll get firewood that is still relatively dry even in wet weather.

Last but not least: use caution on wet or icy rocks! They often have water in the pores and cracks that increases in volume as it turns to steam. This can create so much pressure that it causes the rock to explode, turning it into a dangerous projectile! This risk can be decreased by heating the rocks very slowly.

After all this thorough prep, were ready to get this fire started! In the next article, we’ll not only discuss how to light a fire but also tell you how to keep it going. We’ll also introduce a few other useful types of fires. See you in part 2!

Northern Playground – “Drop your Trousers” in Norwegian

24. July 2019
Equipment

As the saying goes, “men are often just big boys”, and it’s just a fact that boys often go running to their mothers for help when certain incidents happen at the playground. After all, Mummy is always there, and she knows what to do. Clothing tips from Mum are often unappreciated, but nonetheless they influence practically every generation in their own special way. So it’s no wonder that even big boys often seek advice from these free, ever-changing offline encyclopaedias. When it comes to choosing the right underwear, that’s certainly a little weird, but Northern Playground’s story shows how it can lead to real success.

But what exactly is Northern Playground? It has nothing at all to do with a playground in Trondheim, Oslo, or Stockholm; it’s an up-and-coming manufacturer of innovative and functional outdoor clothing. What exactly it all has to do with (little) boys and their mothers will be explained in this article.

So let’s get started by asking the question:

Who or what is Northern Playground?

Northern Playground is a relatively young company that was founded in 2012 in Oslo, Norway. The story of the company’s founding is as logical as it is weird. Founder Jo Tobiassen has been an outdoor sports enthusiast for as long as he can remember. He’s particularly fond of ski touring and mountaineering, but it was important to him not to miss out on experiencing nature and enjoying a certain amount of comfort in the process. However, as we all know, this can be difficult when you’re sitting in sweaty clothes at the summit of a mountain, unable to enjoy the view or your lunch because you’re freezing your socks off. This problem – and its solution – is basically the company’s core competence and its founding myth in one.

That’s because Jo’s path took him from the cold, wet experience in the mountains straight home to his telephone. He needed his mum’s advice! And look at that! After a brief stint at the sewing machine, they had designed a piece of clothing that looked like a cross between one-piece pyjamas and a super-hero costume without a cape. Even if the designer piece looked a little unusual, it still laid the foundation for a new type of outdoor clothing: base layers that can be taken off on the move without having to take off your jumper, shoes, or even your overtrousers.

They quickly found a suitable partner: Magnus Aasrum, who – staying true to the motto “bare it all” – was intrigued by the idea of innovative outdoor undergarments. After a little self-experimentation with sewing clothes and wearing women’s undergarments, they were finally ready. Northern Playground launched its first collection in 2012.

OK, so we’ve cleared that up. But…

What makes Northern Playground different from other brands?

What sets them apart are the products that started it all: long underwear with zips on the sides designed for skiing, which Northern Playground refers to as Ziplongs. The thought behind it is as easy as it is simple: If you work up a sweat when trudging up a long, steep ascent, some of your clothing is bound to get wet. And, the breathability and quick-drying properties of even the best functional fabrics can fail in such situations, depending on how they are combined with other clothing and how much the wearer sweats. In the worst-case scenario, you could find yourself hanging out at the summit in wet clothes, only to be freezing moments later. Imagine trying to take in the panoramic view or enjoy your lunch or even the peace and quiet in that condition. Impossible!

This is exactly where the Zip Wear Collection comes in. These are basically long johns with a zip on the side. “Boring”, some of you are probably thinking. But the idea behind it is just as clever as it is simple: sweat helps regulate the body’s temperature by allowing water to evaporate off the skin. When we exert ourselves, our body temperature should theoretically increase; we get warm. We sweat to regulate our temperature. Ideally, sweat should be free to evaporate so that the resulting cooling effect can bring the body temperature down or keep it constant. When you’re naked, that works perfectly.

But in combination with (functional) clothing, things get trickier. When other factors such as sunlight, wind and precipitation come into play, the interplay of individual layers – and, subsequently, their breathability – can suffer considerably. The result: sweat gathers in certain areas of the clothing, if not in all of it, and continues to evaporate even after the cooling effect is no longer needed.

A simple solution: The wet clothes have to come off. And that’s exactly where the Zip Wear Collection from Northern Playground comes in. These are essentially long johns that have a zip on the side. That makes it possible for you to take off even something as seemingly inconvenient as long johns whilst you’re adventuring without having to completely strip.

And the material leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. With everything from synthetic fibres to merino wool, Northern Playground uses all the right fabrics to create comfortable and functional outdoor clothing.

But now… drop your trousers! In the truest sense, because…

But how sustainable is Northern Playground?

According to their own 12-point system, Northern Playground describes their sustainability concept as follows:

  1. Northern Playground is based in Norway. To keep production as close to the sales market as possible while keeping production costs low, the garments are manufactured in Lithuania.
  2. Recycled materials are used whenever possible.
  3. All articles of clothing are packaged in cardboard boxes; no plastic is used.
  4. The products are produced with no “expiration date” or any “predetermined breaking points” and can be used for a long time.
  5. The high quality of the clothing and the materials used ensure a long usage life. This isn’t about “fast fashion” – it’s about products that the wearer should enjoy for a long time to come.
  6. The wool they use is produced without using mulesing or superwash.
  7. There are various collections with organic wool and organic silk.
  8. Select products are produced right in Toyen, Oslo .
  9. Northern Playground is also politically active in the field of environmental protection in industry. For example, the company is calling for the introduction of an environmental tax in Norway.
  10. Utenos in Lithuania is the most important producer for their collections. The majority of Northern Playground products are manufactured there. Utenos is very aware of its responsibility towards the environment and fulfils strict requirements.
  11. To think and work “green” is one of Northern Playground’s most important guiding principles.
  12. Honesty and openness are its defining values, so it’s not at all uncommon for them to give customers a look behind the scenes.

Basically, everything at Northern Playground has something to do with sustainability, environmental protection and openness. This also includes their cooperation with the Norwegian development fund “Utviklingsfondet”, which is active in development and environmental work. Among other things, they are attempting to compensate for the company’s carbon footprint as much as possible with tree-planting projects in Africa.

But that’s enough about environmental activism for today!

So what about their products?

Northern Playground’s product line can be roughly divided into two main areas: “The Zip Wear Collection”, which is mostly (ski) undergarments with strategically placed zips, and “The Organic Collection”, which consists of clothes made from organic wool and organic silk.

The Zip Wear Collection

We’ve already described the idea behind the clothing with side zips above. Now, we’d like to go into more detail about the products they actually have.

Thermal bottoms in various lengths

The most innovative products from Northern Playground are the thermal bottoms with side zips. They are available in long, short and three-quarter length, so they can be used for a wide variety of activities. They also offer bottoms with a padded seat.

Jumper with front zip

Jumpers with a half-length zip are absolute basics, so it’ll come as no surprise that Northern Playground has some in its collection. The material used for these garments is a blend of wool and synthetic fibres, which combines functionality and comfort to perfection.

One-piece

The Zipbody is a practical one-piece with long sleeves and short legs. This makes it particularly well-suited for (ski) tours and other alpine activities. A long zip around the back means it can be taken off easily on the go without needing to completely strip down.

Underwear

What is there to say about underwear, really? It’s just underpants und sports bras. The difference here is that these garments have a strategically placed zip that allows them to be taken off quickly when you’re on the move.

The Organic Collection

A second major category is the organic collection. According to the manufacturer, only high-quality natural materials are used. Let’s take a look:

Underwear

From long johns to bras, Northern Playground offers everything that belongs in a respectable underwear collection. What makes their products stand apart from the rest is the material. All garments are made from a blend of organic wool and organic silk that is very comfortable to wear.

Shirts

The second major part of the collection is the t-shirts and long-sleeved shirts. These are also made of a blend of wool and silk. What makes them special? The long-sleeved shirts are also available with a button placket and as hoodies.

Accessories

Aside from the two major product lines, Northern Playground also has some pretty cool accessories. From tube scarfs to ski socks, they offer a variety of products that are comfortable, practical and stylish.

What else is there to say about Northern Playground?

The products from Northern Playground are rather unique not just because of their excellent quality and comfortable materials. The modern design and clever concepts behind the individual pieces make them a must-have for the great outdoors. Ziplongs, long-sleeved shirts, etc. are just the ticket for anyone who spends a great deal of time outdoors and would rather not freeze. The company’s philosophy of transparency and their active contributions to sustainability add the finishing touches to Northern Playground’s image and make the brand one of the small but mighty clothing manufacturers of the far north.

Alpine hazards and how to avoid them

17. July 2019
Alpinetrek-Experts

There are so many dangers you can encounter in alpine terrain. For example, the other day there was this chap who got his beard caught in a figure eight descender. Can you believe that? Oh, have you ever heard the story about that person who got nailed in the thigh with an ice axe? Where was that again? I think it was in Chamonix. There was even someone else there who got strangled by the sling he had around his shoulders. And, what about the woman who drowned in a half-thawed snowfield? Awful. When you start thinking about all the potential risks and hazards you could encounter in the mountains, you might be tempted to cancel the next adventure you had planned with your mates at the last minute. But that isn’t necessary – after all, there IS such a thing as being too careful!

Even though it’s important to be aware of the hazards of the high mountains described in this article, try not to focus on them too much. As a healthy compromise, we recommend you learn what you need to know in order to recognise as many realistic dangers as possible (without making yourself crazy). Recognise and acknowledge the positive aspects of the mountains at least as much as you do the dangers, but don’t let anything lessen your excitement about your upcoming trip.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to draw the line between healthy optimism and recklessness. Most accidents in the mountains happen when someone incorrectly assesses this line. That’s why, especially if you’re a beginner, it’s important to reduce the difficulty and demands of the climb you’re planning if you aren’t absolutely sure of yourself. And remember: it’s always better to turn around if any uncertainties or delays pop up (such as weather developments or the pace of other members of your group).

Sources of danger

In the mountains, almost anything can become a potential source of danger: the slippery, loose terrain, the wrong shoes, a storm cloud lurking behind a mountain, or the trail that leads to a wall of boulders. Even cows were recently identified as an alpine danger – a series of unusual attacks really caused people to rethink the supposed harmlessness of the wide-eyed ruminants. But, overall, the risk of being gored by mad alpine cows is fairly low. Let’s look instead at the “classic,” more regular mountain dangers.

The mountain and its environment

There was a time when being anywhere near a mountain was considered dangerous. Not only did you have to worry about avalanches and ice, you also had dragons and evil spirits to contend with. The super-natural threats may have gone by the wayside, but the mountains still have plenty of other hazards to throw at you.

Terrain

High rock walls, narrow ridges and paths that snake along ledges. Falling from icy rocks has been the most emblematic danger of all ever since the drama of the first ascent of the Matterhorn. And it’s true – climbing that high gives you plenty of opportunities to fall all the way back down. But, it doesn’t even need to be an incredibly steep ascent. If you’re travelling on hard glacial ice, even a slight incline is enough to end in an unstoppable slide if something goes wrong.

Avoiding danger: Plan your trip in accordance with your skill level and stay focused when you’re travelling through terrain that could increase your risk of falling. If you need to rope up, you should know the techniques and your equipment like the back of your hand. If not, you should turn around.

Rocks

Weathering, erosion and permafrost determine how stable the rocks and mountains are. Wherever the rock formations are crumbling, loose rocks, blocks or even entire rock formations can come loose. The former is referred to as rockfall; the latter as a rock slide. A major rock slide is called a landslide. In this situation, of course, a helmet won’t be much help. But the risk of getting hit by such large amounts of rock is fairly low.

In most alpine regions, there is a geological monitoring system that predicts rock slide and landslides so that the areas can be closed off in time. But there is still no guarantee when it comes to these forces of nature.

Avoiding danger: An appropriate helmet can help to prevent injuries cause by loose rock or blows to the head while climbing. It’s always important to remain alert and ready to react quickly when travelling through terrain with a high risk of falling rocks. When rocks come tumbling down, move as quickly as you can while staying as close as possible to the slope or rock face (under a ledge, if possible, with your face turned towards the rock face) and protect your head with your backpack or, if that isn’t possible, with your arms.

When climbing, there is also always the risk that a hand or foothold, or an anchor could give out. The best way to prevent this happening is to test the rock’s stability by tapping it. A deep, quiet tone indicates that it is stable. A loud, echoing, hollow sound, on the other hand, means caution.

Ice

Ice is also known to come falling from above. This isn’t something hikers usually encounter, but mountaineers certainly do. Mountaineers often have to deal with icefall or even hanging glaciers. The level of risk depends mostly on the temperature and the stability of the ice formation. The basic rule is: the faster the ice froze, the lower the risk that something will break off.

Safety measures are more or less the same as with falling rocks. However, timing and planning are even more important here. You should get past areas in which there is a risk of falling ice as early in the day as possible.

Snow

Snow masses pose a danger primarily to ski tourers, snowshoe goers, freeriders, and other winter mountain athletes. It’s important to carefully check the avalanche warnings and become well acquainted with the subject in both theoretical and practical terms. A good place to start is, for example, the Base Camp Blog article about planning a ski tour.

Solitude –infrastructure – supplies

Despite dense development in the Alps, hikers and mountaineers will still occasionally find themselves in places where it’s not as easy to get your next latte macchiato fix. To ensure that you always have enough energy to meet any challenges that come your way, you’ll need sufficient fuel in the form of food and water , since the latter can be very scarce above the snowline.

Avoiding danger: The great majority of emergency situations can be avoided from the get-go with forward-looking, cautious, and – when possible – flexible planning.

The sun at high altitudes

The more intense UV exposure isn’t the only sun-related risk in the mountains – the heat can be a problem, too. At high altitudes, the harmful UV rays are reflected and absorbed to a lower degree because the atmosphere is thinner. Instead, they come straight through to our skin. Heat can start taking a toll on you much more quickly at alpine altitudes than down in the valley because of the dry air and the often high level of exertion. The strong sunlight, which is reflected intensely by the snow, can really strain the eyes and lead to headaches or even snow blindness.

Avoiding danger: Most people should be familiar with the relatively simple and efficient protective measures needed here: wear a well-fitting sun hat, use good sunblock and have a good pair of sunglasses or glacier glasses. Top that off with small sips of water at regular intervals to prevent you feeling to thirsty and you shouldn’t have any problems with the sun in the mountains.

Air pressure – oxygen level

When people reach high altitudes, various temporary changes to the body become noticeable. Depending on the speed and altitude of the ascent, these changes can be more or less intense and unpleasant. At an altitude of 2000m or so, most people notice a difference in the way they feel compared to sea level. They might get tired more quickly, get headaches or feel dizzy.

If you ascend too quickly, life-threatening altitude sickness can occur. This is caused by rapid exposure to lower amounts of oxygen. Whilst the oxygen percentage is actually the same at any altitude, at higher altitudes the air is “thinner” and there are fewer air molecules available, which means there are fewer oxygen molecules.

It’s very easy to avoid this danger as well: give the body enough time. It has no problem adapting to the reduced oxygen – it just needs to produce more red blood cells. This process can take anywhere from an hour to days, depending on the altitude and speed of ascent (or even weeks, if we’re talking about the biggest mountains in the world). During the adjustment period, the body is operating at reduced capacity and has an increased need for fluids, so it’s important to take in enough water and minerals.

In the Alps, you can head to the highest summits after spending a few days at 2000m altitude and getting acclimated with one or two tours on smaller mountains at an altitude of 2500 – 3500m. There’s also the “trick” of ascending and descending so quickly that the body “doesn’t notice” the change in altitude. While this strategy might indeed work on some four-thousand metre mountains, it puts a lot of stress on the body and is not entirely safe, either. You wouldn’t want to get stuck up there somewhere.

Weather

The higher you are, the more heavily you are exposed to the wind and weather. This is mostly due to the fact that, at increasing elevations, there are less obstacles and frictional resistance to wind flow from the ground and terrain. Other weather elements, such as precipitation and temperature, are more intense because the mountains build a barrier where clouds accumulate, pile up and release rain. This is why weather changes and storms usually occur more suddenly and violently in the mountains than in the lowlands.

Avoiding danger: How to best protect yourself is no great secret here, either. First, make sure to get the most accurate weather forecast possible and base your (more cautious/defensive) planning on that. During the trip, observe the weather as continuously as possible and compare it to the forecast. Of course, you should always bring an insulated jacket or an insulated jumper as well as a waterproof jacket with you in the mountains, even in the most beautiful summer weather.

The most complicated risk: people

Warning – things are about to get philosophical. Believe it or not, the complexities of human beings travel with them into the mountains, along with their various behaviour choices and opportunities to make mistakes. People also tend to be irrational and make decisions on the basis of extreme internal and external states: from exhausted to wide awake, from annoyed to euphoric, from resigned to inspired, from panicked to reckless. All these states can increase or decrease the dangers ¬– it all depends. One can lead to a shortening or cancellation of the trip just in time or result in very risky decisions.

Being in excellent physical condition, for example, can lower the risk when someone is travelling more quickly. But it can also increase the risk if it leads someone to take on more than they can handle.

Physical conditioning 

When turning around is not an option, or you find yourself high up on a challenging mountain, (premature) fatigue becomes the greatest risk factor. Subjective feelings of tiredness can be deceptive, which is why you should pay attention to external signs. Slower reaction times and waning concentration and coordination are reliable markers of physical fatigue.

The lower your physical fitness is, the more quickly you will become fatigued. It sounds trivial, but in practice it can be tricky to manage. You need to know your own body quite well to be able to compare your own abilities with the numbers and data of the route you’re planning. If the comparison is successful, you’ll have a realistic self-assessment and will feel neither over- nor underwhelmed on the trip.

Most people need experience (including a few failed trips) to arrive at a realistic self-assessment. Ideally, the increasing experience comes with increased fitness from training and improved technical skills (better ascent and climbing technique, more efficient handling of gear, etc.).

Physical capacity is influenced by a great number of physical and psychological, internal and external factors such as orienteering skills, equipment or tactics. The more you know about these factors and the more you consciously incorporate and train them, the lower the risk the planned route will have.

It gets even more complicated when multiple people are travelling together. Then the psychological factors gain in importance and the group dynamic produces its colourful results.

Equipment

The more challenging the route, the more sources of danger there will be and the more your equipment will become a potential risk factor. There are an infinite number of ways that ice axes, crampons, ropes, carabiners, etc. can be used incorrectly and land you in hot water. The book series “Sicherheit und Risiko in Fels und Eis” by Pit Schubert [translation: “Safety and Risk on Rocks and Ice”, available only in German] explains the absurd mishaps and accidents that can happen in these situations.

Are there subjective and objective risks?

The traditional way of describing mountain hazards divides them up into subjective and objective hazards. Subjective dangers are said to be those that come from within, meaning that they develop within the person themselves. Objective hazards are said to be those that come from outside, that is, from the mountain. This differentiation suggests that only some of the hazards can be entirely avoided, whilst the remaining objective hazards are uncontrollable and should be considered a residual risk.

But now, many take up the position that there are no objective hazards because risks only arise as a result of subjective decisions. Even the risk of falling rocks and avalanches comes from the subjective decision to travel in the mountains in the first place. By making this decision, people willingly put themselves in a bit of danger – much like when we willingly accept a certain amount of danger by getting in a car.

Conclusion

Yes, there are many hazards ‘lurking’ in the mountains. That’s the bad news. But the good news is: the great majority of these risks can be easily eliminated or minimised. As long as the trip is planned appropriately for the members of the group and the expected weather, more than half the battle is already won! And, the more (sensible) trips you go on, the more experience you will gain – and experience is one of the most valuable resources of all. It makes it possible to develop “mountain sense”, a feel for the mountainthat is like a sixth sense or a radar for recognising alpine dangers. You develop this sense by accumulating experience and how you reflect upon your experiences.“ That being said: take care of yourselves and have a great time in the mountains!

Polygiene: How does the stink-blocker work, and is it sustainable?

5. July 2019
Tips and Tricks

(Warning: the following introduction may contain traces of irony)

They say that, in the mountains, some practice the so-called “primitive” custom of not immediately showering or changing their clothes after they’ve been sweating. Disgusting, right? I mean, how gross, and – most importantly – how inconsiderate towards other people! The reason for this sorry state of affairs is the mountain huts, which don’t have showers or even hot water around the clock. The aroma wafting through the cramped rooms there would be enough to trigger a hazmat alarm in a big city. When will the EU finally get around to creating a law that requires these stinky huts to be air-conditioned and outfitted with some kind of air purifier or scent dispensers?

As long as life in the mountains is so poorly regulated, we’ll just have to improvise. One option would be to reduce physical exertion to the point that sweat no longer leaves our pores. The many new cable cars and roads that are being built are a pretty good start. But what are we supposed to do when sweating is unavoidable, and all the high-alpine shower facilities are still in the planning stages?

How does the odour get into our clothes?

The answer can be found in technologies like Polygiene. Unlike perfume and deodorant, Polygiene has – and the irony stops here – more to offer than just an optional luxury. It has some very real advantages, and you’ll understand why after we take a closer look at the reason why sweat stinks so much and what effect it has. Although, to be honest, there isn’t much to misunderstand here. I’m sure anyone who has ever sweat knows how sweat comes to be and what its purpose is. When our bodies warm up, moisture is excreted from up to 2.6 million sweat glands and cools the skin by evaporating. This cooling effect is essential for our survival; our bodies need it like an engine needs coolant.

But what some people may not be aware of is that sweat itself doesn’t have any odour at all. What it does have, though, is proteins and fatty acids that provide nutrients to bacteria and other microorganisms living on the skin. The microorganisms break down these components, which – much like human digestion – produces strong-smelling waste products. In warm, humid conditions, these deposits accumulate on the skin and clothing along with ever-increasing numbers of microorganisms.

Not only does this stink, but it also begins to attack the fabric. The waste products contain acids and salts that can damage the clothing by both chemical and mechanical means.

What is Polygiene?

Long story short, Polygiene is a silver salt made using recycled industrial silver that is incorporated into the fabric. It also happens to be the name of the manufacturer, which is located in Malmö, Sweden.

There are multiple types of silver salts. Like most outdoor clothing, Polygiene uses silver chloride, which is not water soluble and does not wash out of clothing. Wear and tear on the fibres and ion exchange with sulphur compounds might cause a minimal quantity of silver ions to be released during a wash, but in Polygiene’s case, these are not harmful to living organisms or septic systems (more on this in the section on sustainability).

Polygiene is based on silver chloride obtained from 100% recycled silver sourced from photographic and industrial applications. It is never mixed with mined silver sources. It is applied to the garment fibres much like dye. This requires only a tiny amount of silver: the amount of silver in a ring would be enough for around 5000 Polygiene garments.

According to the manufacturer, the Polygiene silver treatment lasts for the entire lifespan of the garment and won’t come out in the wash. Moreover, Polygiene is not nanosilver, which is made of silver ions that are only nanometres in size (10-9 metres). There is some suspicion that nanosilver particles could detach from the clothing and enter the body through the skin. The silver ions used in Polygiene are more than 100 times larger, making them too large to penetrate the skin.

In addition, Polygiene assures us that their silver salts will not detach from the fabric, even after extended periods of use. They are also only active on the outside of the textile base material, so they don’t have any effect on perspiration or the natural bacterial flora on the skin. Consequently, Polygiene-treated fabrics have received Medical Class 1 approval in Europe, the same class that includes bandages for direct contact with open wounds.

Polygiene is generally available in pre-treated functional base layers, but can also be applied as a spray or laundry additive.

How does it work?

The tiny silver particles work much like an antibiotic: they kill a broad spectrum of microorganisms and prevent their growth. The particles are an “indigestible clump” that brings the organisms’ metabolic processes to a screeching halt.

But the question isn’t just how it works – we also want to know how long and how well it works. Outdoor Magazin, a German publication, put it through a thorough test over the course of 14 days and came to the following conclusion.

We received a Capilene Thermal Weight base layer shirt from Patagonia and a pair of walking socks from SaferSox for our test. Polygiene recommended that we test the t-shirt for 8 days. They said we should exercise and get it really soaked in sweat, then just hang it up to dry. We were not allowed to wash the shirt between wears.

In our test, we took things a step further. Our tester wore the Patagonia t-shirt for a total of 14 days. The result: there was no odour from sweat in the base layer.

There were other odours, like those from food or deodorant, but the number of Alpine Trekkers who have a problem with that or expect their functional clothing to offer a solution should be reasonably low.

What are the advantages of odour reduction?

The immediate advantages of not stinking should be fairly obvious. Not only does is allow you to feel more comfortable and have more pleasant social interactions in cramped quarters, but it’s also more hygienic. The absence of bacteria and fungus also means fewer potential skin irritations and other health problems.

The fact that Polygiene fabrics can be changed and washed less frequently also has other less immediate advantages. You can get away with bringing considerably fewer changes of clothes with you, which keeps the weight of your pack down. The product lifespan is also increased because the fibres are more resilient to microbes and washing, preventing the fabric showing signs of wear as quickly. Plus, less clothing is thrown out and replaced, which is a positive for both the environment and your wallet. And that brings us to the topic of sustainability.

Why Polygiene is sustainable

The beginning of this article should have already made it quite clear that Polygiene is pretty sustainable. But it isn’t just a little sustainable – it’s absolutely, totally sustainable. Why? Not only are the materials and technology themselves sustainable, but the direct and indirect effects are as well. Environmental organisations and regulatory bodies also recognise this fact. That’s why the permanent fabric treatment is bluesign certified and fulfils strict, independent environmental and product lifecycle standards such as the EU environmental and waste regulations and the ISO 14001 standard. Polygiene is also on the Oeko-Tex lists (I-IV) of independently tested and certified products.

Health

The certifications ensure a high level of consumer safety because the higher the environmental standards for the material and manufacturing processes are, the lower the impact on human health. For that reason, the purity of the silver is continuously tested to ensure that there are no traces of other metals. Potential side-effects resulting from the silver’s contact with the skin were also thoroughly researched. A study was carried out at the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the USA to find out whether the antimicrobial silver could disrupt the skin’s bacterial balance. The researchers found that antibacterial clothing has no confirmed effect on the microflora of healthy skin. True, test results should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt, but in Polygiene’s case you can assume that the risk would be minimal, anyway, because of the way the clothes are constructed.

Resource consumption

This is where Polygiene really shines when it comes to sustainability. In all phases of the product lifecycle, resource consumption is kept to a minimum. As previously mentioned, the raw silver is obtained from recycled materials (electronic scraps) and used at a very low concentration. Furthermore, Polygiene can be applied in a single production step with other treatments, so it does not require the use of any additional water or energy. No adhesive agent is required to attach the Polygiene molecules to the fabric.

The greatest conservation of resource occurs when the Polygiene garment is used, because it is washed far less frequently than traditional sportswear. The latter often makes its way to the washing machine after every single use. That isn’t necessary with Polygiene because the unhygienic bacteria and odours never develop. Once the sweat evaporates and the fabric is dry, the garment is actually clean enough to be worn again. Not indefinitely, of course, but far longer than untreated synthetic fibres or cotton material. A set of Polygiene base layers can be worn for about as long as a set made of merino wool without getting gross.

Not only can Polygiene garments be washed less frequently, they can also be washed at lower temperatures. This helps to reduce energy consumption and improve the product’s lifespan. And when it finally does give up the ghost, the garment can be recycled – along with the Polygiene treatment.

All in all, it creates a simple but effective formula for sustainability:

Less washing =less water consumption, less detergent, less energy consumption + longer product life + more free time + money saved!

The whole thing is explained on the Polygiene website with a variety of statistics. They even provide statistics about the savings in time and money – an estimated 28 minutes of work and US$ 1.34 for each load of laundry. It is estimated that, overall, approximately two-thirds of a garment’s ecological footprint (water and energy consumption; water, ground, and air pollution) is the result of washing and drying it.

Although wear and tear on the fibres and ion exchange with sulphur compounds might cause a minimal quantity of silver ions to be released at some point during washing, Patagonia says that these will quickly bind with sulphides in the environment to create a chemically stable, non-soluble silver sulphide which is not harmful to living organisms. So the silver ions are deactivated as soon as they make their way into a natural waterway. “This is also how they are deactivated in a wastewater treatment plant so that they don’t put a burden on the bacterial or biological stage of the treatment plant or contaminate the treated water or the sewage sludge.“ And at any rate, small amounts of silver chloride and silver sulphide are also naturally found in drinking water, seawater, and in the ground.

Conclusion

Polygiene is a prime example of outdoor technology that combines functionality with sustainability. The treatment helps to maintain a certain level of comfort in sportswear and outdoor clothing for a significantly longer time. And that can help to leave the urban need for cleanliness, along with its sometimes absurd expectations of comfort, down in the valley, rather than dragging them ever higher into the mountains. That being said, Polygiene might even help to stem the mania for development that sometimes runs just as rampant as those nasty little stink germs…

S.Café – Coffee You Can Wear

26. June 2019
Equipment

Coffee is slowly turning into one of our most talked-about topics. First, we had the long article about brewing a good cup of coffee in the great outdoors, then we delved into the topic of the revolutionary shoe innovation to solve the irritating problem of coffee-to-go stains on your trainers. And now, fabric made from coffee grounds has arrived on the scene.

Of coffee grounds? Yep, it’s technically possible, and the clothing created using this technology even has some extra inherent functionality. Upon hearing this, a lot of questions come to mind: Can you use the stuff to brew a life-saving cup of coffee when you’re about to die of exhaustion in the mountains? Can you tell your fortune with S.Café clothes? No, unfortunately the coffee clothing can’t do any of that. But we’ll tell you more about what it can do in just a minute. First, we’ll take a look at the idea behind the brand S.Café and how it came to be.

You’re probably thinking the idea came from California or Scandinavia, as is so often the case with functional clothing. Well, sorry to disappoint! This time round, the nerdy outdoor innovation came from the Far East – from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, to be precise.

The idea behind the material made of coffee grounds

So, why is this new textile wonder made of coffee grounds and not banana peels or tea bags? Because Jason Chen, CEO of the company Singtex, and his wife Mei-hui had their stroke of genius in a coffee bar. They watched curiously as an older lady asked the barista to give her the coffee grounds. In response to the couple’s inquisitive look, the barista explained that coffee grounds are good for removing odours from the refrigerator. In other words, the odour-reducing properties of coffee grounds were already known.

Chen’s wife then made the joking suggestion that he should use coffee grounds in his textiles to get rid of the smell of sweat after his frequent marathon training sessions. According to legend, Jason thought for moment, turned to his wife, and said loudly: “GOOD IDEA!” So it was Mei-hui’s idea and Jason’s implementation that were born here.

The idea came at just the right time and was patented before Chen even knew how he was going to get the coffee into the textiles. Singtex had already invented multiple new processes and fibres, but these were usually quickly copied by competitors on the Chinese mainland and offered at a lower price. For this reason, they were on the brink of bankruptcy and didn’t want to repeat the same mistake.

How it came to be and how it was developed

Chen put together a group of partners and began researching how coffee grounds could be incorporated into threads. Implementing the seemingly simple idea took four years of research and hard work. In 2009, it was finally time to present their invention to the world under the brand name S.Café.

They quickly gained success, and demand for S.Café rapidly increased. In Taipei, a whole network of partnerships with Starbucks and local cafes took shape, allowing the used coffee grounds to be collected systematically. At this point, a large number of vehicles were roaming the streets, collecting around half a ton of coffee grounds each day throughout Taipei. The other material used in the garments – polyester – is also obtained from a sustainable system of primarily local waste: recycled PET bottles.

Further developments

Shortly after the launch in 2009, Singtex had developed undergarments, sheets, shoes, and a growing assortment of additional products made from S.Café. They also developed other variations on the material itself, known as P4Dry and Mylithe. These were made with new configurations of polymers and coffee grounds in order to offer other specific features. Mylithe uses an “air-structure” technique to give the fabric a cotton-like feel – without losing the original S.Café properties.

And since Jason Chen is an innovative and hard-working CEO, they naturally developed new applications and areas of business. The growing popularity of S.Café is driven by constantly expanding international collaborations with an ever-growing number of leading textile companies like Timberland, American Eagle, The North Face and Puma. But all this growth shouldn’t come at the expense of the environment, even in the future, which is why Singtex continues to strive for certifications, such as bluesign, Oekotex and Cradle to Cradle that guarantee their compliance with high standards.

Production

The first step in the manufacturing process takes place at roasting facilities and coffee bars. The beans not only need to be roasted at temperatures between 160 and 220°C but also need to be pulverised and brewed so that they can be formed into fabric along with the polymers from the old PET bottles.

During the roasting process, the coffee beans swell, which means that their interiors become larger. When the coffee is brewed, the hot water removes material from the resulting hollow spaces. After the grounds are “prepared” in this way, they can be used to obtain the extract, which is incorporated into the plastic filaments in a low-temperature, high-pressure process. Afterwards, it is formed into a thread that combines the properties of the source materials.

Only about 2% useable coffee extract remains after the extraction process, but all in all that isn’t such a bad yield. According to Chen, the remains from a cup of coffee are sufficient for around two to three t-shirts.

The material’s properties

It’s mostly the properties of the coffee grounds that really come to the fore in the final product. The micro-pores in the coffee absorb odours, reflect UV radiation and dry twice as quickly as cotton. S.Café fabric continuously moves moisture away from the skin and distributes it on the outer surface of the material, where it can quickly evaporate. The evaporation helps to reduce the skin’s temperature by 1 to 2°C compared to traditional fabrics – which is enough to make a noticeable difference.

Together, all these properties create a more comfortable, more natural-feeling fabric compared to traditional synthetic fibres.

Because the coffee components are found in the interior of the S.Café fibres, there is no need to be concerned about a decrease in functionality. It is capable of withstanding normal machine washes without any issues and lasts just as long as the properties in other functional textiles.

All this makes S.Café interesting for both outdoor apparel and sportswear and several other applications, including everyday household items.

Sustainability

Of course, Singtex has woven a philosophy of sustainability around its flagship product. But this isn’t an artificial PR product; it’s a natural expression of their way of doing business. The cycle of sustainability is clearly recognisable: the otherwise unsustainable effects of coffee culture are (in part) transferred to a sustainable system. The waste products resulting from people around the world leading urban lifestyles and drinking increasingly more coffee are used to create a useful product. And it turns out that, in this system, a great many more hidden products and technologies are waiting to be uncovered.

The fact that clothes made from S.Café can be composted when they have reached the end of their useable lifespan fits into this exquisitely simple concept perfectly. If the rest were then used in the production of coffee, a full lifecycle would be complete.

Conclusion

The catchy marketing slogan for S.Café is: „Drink it, wear it“. It’s memorable and a great way to summarise the entire company’s philosophy. Their enthusiasm for coffee drinking is understandable in this context as well. After all, without all the hard-working coffee drinkers, the coffee grounds would end up being an expensive material as opposed to recycled waste.

But we probably shouldn’t take the encouragement to drink (even more) coffee all too literally. “Meritocracies” are already driven by more than enough coffee, and Singtex has no cause for concern about running out of grounds to use. Besides, caffeine tends to make our personal performance go down rather than up in the long-term. So, consider taking a nap a little more often, instead of downing the next double espresso. Of course, that’s easier said than done – we’re all short on time and just taking a rest is an almost subversive act. But I’m starting to ramble and get off-topic. Although… I AM still talking about coffee, right?

Snow blindness and the dangers of UV radiation

10. April 2019
Tips and Tricks

Is snow blindness really something we ordinary alpinists have to deal with? Doesn’t it only happen to the polar explorers and Reinhold Messners of the world? That’d be nice, but I’m afraid it happens much more frequently than you’d think, especially in places where intense solar radiation with a high proportion of ultraviolet light hits snow and other very bright surfaces. You can even get “snow blindness” when sailing or even on a long-distance flight.

When your eyes are unprotected for hours on end, things can get very unpleasant. It starts with your eyes reddening, which is relatively harmless, but then it can morph into temporary blindness, which can cause permanent damage to your vision. For solo adventurers, snow blindness is twice as dangerous because limited vision makes orientation difficult to impossible. To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, we’ve put together all the important things you should know about snow blindness.

How can this happen?

The bright light from unobstructed sunshine in snowy and icy regions can put such a strain on the eyes that sunglasses – or more specifically – category 4 glacier glasses are absolutely essential. Only the latter provides sufficient protection in such conditions. And no, the sunglasses you can get from a street vendor won’t do the trick! If you’d like to know more on why you need glacier glasses and which glasses you should go for, you can check out the Buyer’s Guide to Glacier Glasses (currently only available in German).

You might be thinking, but wait, the sun isn’t always that strong! After all, clouds and fog often “swallow” a lot of its light. Does that mean that the risk of snow blindness isn’t high as its made out to be? Sorry to disappoint, but it’s not the visible light that you should be worried about, but rather, as already mentioned above, the invisible UV rays, which penetrate through clouds and fog. According to an article on the DAV’s (German Alpine Club) website “more than 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds and fog”, (quoting the compendium „Gebirgs- und Outdoormedizin“ from the Swiss Alpine Club SAC ) (…) “On a sunny summer day, the UV index on the Jungfraujoch (3570m) is 13, which is just as high as it is during the summer in Southern Australia.”

Unfortunately, some mountaineers fail to differentiate between visible and UV light and “forget” to wear glacier goggles when it is cloudy or foggy. True, it’s more comfortable and you can see a lot better without them, but by doing so, you leave your eyes completely exposed to a significant amount of UV radiation. Depending on the duration and intensity of the radiation, the consequences of not wearing proper eyewear will be noticeable a few hours after your outing.

Before we take a closer look at these consequences, allow me to clear up one potential misunderstanding. Just because we’re singling out UV light as the main cause of snow blindness does not mean that overexposure to visible light is harmless and has no consequences! On the contrary, this can cause permanent retinal damage and even lead to blindness. That being said, protecting your eyes with dark, tinted lenses in ice and snow is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity.

What happens when you get snow blindness?

You can think of snow blindness like a “sunburn to your eyes” caused by exposure to UV radiation. Ultraviolet light has a shorter wavelength than visible light and is “beyond violet”, or just outside the visible range, on the electromagnetic spectrum. Short-wavelength UV rays have high energies, so UV-B radiation with wavelengths between 280 and 320 nanometres is more dangerous than the longer-wavelength UV-A radiation with wavelengths between 315-380 nm.

The electromagnetic energy transforms into other forms of energy, such as heat and movement, when it comes into contact with sensitive body tissue, which usually causes some kind of damage. When this energy comes into contact with the eye, the initial harm is in the clear, protective outer layer of the eye known as the cornea. As with a “normal” sunburn, the skin cells are thermally and mechanically damaged (by oedema-like swelling). This results in the cornea having fine spotted defects (keratitis superficialis punctata) in the outer layer, which typically cause severe pain, eyelid cramps, increased tears and a reduction in visual acuity.

The destroyed cells begin dying about three to twelve hours after irradiation and is accompanied by an inflammatory reaction of the surrounding tissue. Depending on the duration and intensity of the radiation, the conjunctiva, which is the clear tissue covering the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids, can be damaged as well. In this case, things can get really unpleasant, because it ends up exposing nerve endings, “resulting in severe pain, extreme sensitivity to light, increased tears, reddened eyes and a foreign body sensation in the eye.” Affected people also have the feeling that they have sand in their eyes and have to get it out.

What is welder’s flash?

Snow blindness is often associated with the terms “welder’s flash” and “flash burns”. It may sound a bit strange and somewhat like how they erased memories in “Men in Black” using that fancy flash thing. However, the terms have nothing to do with memory loss, but rather refer to UV-related corneal damage caused by things other than sun’s reflection off snow. The most common cause of welder’s flash is, as the names suggest, working with welding machines without sufficient eye protection. Strong UV light is emitted during welding work as well.

Detecting snow blindness

It’s quite easy to detect the first warning signs yourself. You’ll notice the reflected glare of sunlight from snow and the other surroundings, with your eyes beginning to feel strained, overstimulated and eventually very tired. To detect potential snow blindness in somebody else, keep an eye out for intense squinting and swollen veins in their eyes. If you notice anything like that, now’s a better time than any to put on sunglasses.

However, you may only begin to notice the symptoms afterwards, especially if the sun has been hidden behind clouds and fog for most of the day or you were so full of adrenaline that you neglected to listen to your body. Unfortunately, though, reality will set in a few hours afterwards: You’re eyes will begin to redden and become very sensitive to light, and you’ll experience pain (in the form of a foreign body sensation), lacrimation (flow of tears) and have impaired vision.

Treating snow blindness

In most cases, the corneal burns are not so severe that the body can’t regenerate them itself. In fact, the cornea and corneal epithelium are constantly regenerating, so they will heal themselves within only 24-48 hours.

There is no need for treatment, apart from protecting and taking it easy on your eyes (cooling, bed rest, darkened room). Of course, it is highly recommended that you do something to relieve the pain (use cooling eye drops, anti-inflammatory eye drops and taking pain relievers).

If there is no significant improvement after 48 hours at the very latest, you should consult an ophthalmologist or, if necessary, a hospital. If you experience severe pain and visual impairment, seek professional help immediately. In the best-case scenario, quick medical attention will not only prevent corneal scarring and thus irreparable damage to your vision, but also reduce the risk of bacterial infections, which could lead to complete blindness.

The better solution: Prevention

As mentioned above, you should never forget that you can be exposed to high levels of UV radiation even in cloudy and foggy conditions. If you spend a lot of time in the mountains, you should definitely invest in a pair of sunglasses with interchangeable or self-tinting lenses. The article we mentioned above provides some detailed info on the subject (currently in German only).

The only way to prevent snow blindness is to wear proper sunglasses, glacier glasses or ski goggles that cover your entire field of vision. The glasses should cover your entire field of vision because UV light can reach the eyes from below, above and the sides as a result of “scattered radiation”. Sunglasses that provide adequate protection against UV radiation can be recognized by the CE marking and category 3 rating (lower is no good); in snow and ice, you need category 4. Both the CE marking and the categories can be found on the temple.

Yeah, that’s about all the preventative measures I have for you. Boring, I know, but effective. I’d love to recommend cutting slits in a piece of cardboard or other cool MacGyver-like tricks, but they’re just not as effective as the proper eyewear!

Confidence in the mountains – Improving your surefootedness and getting a head for heights

3. April 2019
Tips and Tricks

Who wouldn’t want to do all the spectacular things that the professional mountaineers who grace the covers of all our favourite magazines do? You know, those superhero-like characters who make climbing big walls look easy and run along terrifyingly narrow ridges like it’s no big deal. It’s amazing, they seem to have absolutely zero interest in the seemingly endless depths that lie beneath their feet.

True, not all of us have to be THAT adventurous, but most of us do have a desire to tackle routes and paths that require “surefootedness and a good head for heights”, right? Well, in the following, we’re not only going to clarify what that phrase entails but also help you figure out how to get to the point where you read it and can say with absolute certainty: “Yeah, I’ve got that”.

Let’s get things started with a question: Why can some climbers pull off the most acrobatic of moves with 1000 metres of air beneath their feet, whilst others feel paralysed the second they get as high as three? Does it just take some getting used to? Is it training? Are some people just built that way? Or does it have to do with genes?

Whatever the reason, some people have visual height intolerance, whilst others don’t. If the feeling of anxiety begins immediately after you leave the “safety of the ground”, you might even have acrophobia, which is otherwise known as a fear of heights. Visual height intolerance and a fear of heights are by no means the same thing, as you will find out shortly. They are similarly troublesome, but very different phenomena that require different approaches (provided that you’re interested in mitigating or eradicating one of them).

After addressing these two topics, we’ll also take a closer look at surefootedness, since it’s often mentioned in the same breath as having a head for heights. We’ll also try to figure out if there’s a connection between the two and how you could potentially benefit from it.

What is visual height intolerance?

We’ve all experienced this to a certain extent, some of us more severely than others: you’re standing on a tower, balcony or some high place and experience a feeling of instability, queasiness and trembling. Depending on the height and degree of exposure, you might even feel like everything is spinning or swaying. And you’re not wrong, at least to a certain extent. Things look like they’re spinning because of the lack of stationary objects in your peripheral vision. Stationary objects are essential as a reference to help orient you. Your head then automatically begins to sway slightly so that the eyes can create a sharp, three-dimensional image of the surroundings. This can then spread throughout your whole body, impairing your postural reflexes.

As a result of disruptive breathing issues (usually hyperventilation), you may also experience a feeling of dizziness akin to the one you get after standing up suddenly after squatting for a long period of time. In the most extreme cases, you may even feel like you’re losing control over your body and are about to fall. Dizziness can lead to paralysis, panic, fainting and unconsciousness. If you do nothing, things can get extremely dangerous (more about what to do later).

This blend of feelings is known as visual height intolerance. Depending on the situation, there is nothing abnormal or pathological about this bodily reaction. On the contrary, some research suggest that a healthy fear of heights is an innate, subconscious survival instinct that prevents both small children and animals from simply falling from a drop-off (cliff-edge phenomenon). The real danger arises when we physically and psychologically overreact to the risk of falling. We might not be in any real danger at all, but we end up creating or increasing the risk of falling because of these overreactions. It is particularly dangerous if your body starts to sway back and forth, which causes more stress and can thus lead to a fall.

When do you have a head for heights?

The “trick” to having a head for heights lies in the severity of stress reactions: Simply put, the subconscious doesn’t perceive the ground below as a threat. As a result, all those warning signs and symptoms associated with stress hardly manifest themselves – if they do at all –, allowing you to maintain your concentration on your immediate surroundings. Thus, you perceive your position and posture as safe and stable, even when the path or route is very exposed.

The good news is that you can change and reduce the amount of stress you experience by systematically desensitising yourself to such situations and using various other methods to combat the anxiety. But, before we get into that, it’s worth mentioning that there is no clear distinction between having and not having a head for heights, so we don’t really have a clear definition to work with. According to Wikipedia, having a head for heights means that “one has no acrophobia, an irrational fear of heights, and is not particularly prone to fear of falling or suffering from vertigo“. “Not particularly prone” implies that you could be somewhat prone to a fear of falling.

Based on my own experience, I suspect that for most mountaineers height does indeed play a role. While most would probably be unimpressed by a 30-metre drop, a 300-metre one is a completely different story. Whether or not they experience a spinning sensation also depends on how steep and direct the drop is. The steeper and more direct the drop, the less there is for the eyes to “hold onto”, so while many alpinists can move relatively uninhibitedly in exposed sections of a route, they would never walk over a steel girder on a skyscraper or transmission tower without the protection of a rope. That kind of nonsense can be left to extreme athletes, crazy(?) roofers and other people who work at great heights and could be described having a “head for heights”.

What is acrophobia?

If an individual experiences an irrational fear of heights in everyday situations, such as when climbing a ladder or crossing a bridge, one could say that he or she suffers from a fear of heights. The stress reactions occur despite the fact that they’re well aware that they’re not in any real danger. They can work themselves up to the point that they have a fear of the fear itself, which goes hand in hand with the fear of losing control. They’re afraid of being drawn toward the depths and tumbling down to the ground below.

True, people with a “normal fear of heights” have these thoughts as well, but they usually disappear as soon as they take a step back from the edge. If you’re truly acrophobic, the thoughts persist and the stress ends up restricting your freedom of movement, even in everyday life. These cases require action, often in the form of professional treatment. Now let’s talk about what you can do about visual height intolerance.

Immediate strategies to cope with visual height intolerance

Take a deep breath. This little piece of advice almost always works and has the added bonus of helping with dizziness. Taking a deliberately calm, deep breath and holding it in for a bit is the best way to respond to a spinning sensation. You should also look away from the ground below and focus on stationary objects in your immediate surroundings, keeping them in your peripheral vision. Avoid tilting your head and looking up, into the distance or at moving objects, as they will increase the feeling of dizziness. Of course, you can make quick glances toward your feet to adjust your footing, since the spinning sensation usually arises after a delay.

Then try to stabilise your body as much as you can by giving your hands and feet the support they need. If necessary, sit down or crawl on all fours. Then focus on your immediate surroundings, next steps and movements. Some encouraging words and a short rope can help to overcome difficult sections as well.

If these situations come up repeatedly or lead to significant delays, you should play it safe and call off the ascent.

Immediate measures to cope with acrophobia

A person with acrophobia would certainly never be in a situation like the one described above, but let’s assume for the sake of example that an acrophobic individual does head up into the high mountains – be it because of them overestimating their own abilities, peer pressure or whatever. The only difference between the situation described above and this one is that there is significantly more stress, time and “drama” involved. I say drama because it is entirely possible that the person in question feels absolutely paralysed and refuses to move, even with the help of a rope or other protection. In theory, sedatives and other medications could help, but they also inhibit motor function and responsiveness, so they should only be used for the ride back with mountain rescue.

In general, though, if you lack the experience, practice and techniques, there’s really not much you can do in acute emergency situations that arise as a result of somebody’s fear of heights.

Long-term training to combat visual height intolerance

The basic recipe for success is simple: Through repeated practice, you can become accustomed to exposed places and greater and greater heights. You can do this by deliberately putting yourself in situations at, say, the climbing gym or during less ambitious outdoor activities that would usually induce fear. Once you find yourself in the situation, wait until you feel the fear subside. If you give yourself the proper dose, the fear will indeed subside. Ideally, you will gradually start to close in your personal limits and eventually push beyond them. Do keep in mind that such training methods rarely lead to an unflappable head for heights. After all, there’s got to be a biological component at play as well.

It’s important to remember that when desensitising yourself to heights, you should also wear the proper shoes and take bodily cues and warning signs seriously, as you would on every other trip. In a German magazine called Merkur, the therapist Petra Müssig who specialises in acrophobia points out other factors that are normally never associated with visual height intolerance:

Your endurance, strength, walking technique and equipment should conform with the requirements of the routes you choose. In an estimated 70% of all cases, a fear of heights is initially caused by fatigue or exhaustion, which can be traced back to a lack of physical fitness!

Therefore, strength and conditioning training as well as selecting and planning your activities accordingly can help prevent you experiencing anxiety and dizziness in the mountains. If you work on your balance and coordination (balancing on tree trunks, kerbstones, etc.) as well, you can reduce the severity of body sway when you start to feel dizzy as a result of height exposure.

A previously rehearsed repertoire of exercises for breathing and muscle relaxation is also very helpful. This allows you to calm yourself down more quickly and effectively when you start to feel dizzy.

Long-term training and therapies for acrophobia

If none of these methods helps, you should consult a doctor to see whether you have any issues with your balance organs. If you can exclude any physical causes, you may very well be acrophobic. In this case, a look inside yourself is always a good idea. You may have a fear of heights because of unresolved inner conflicts of some kind. Competent medical and psychological consultation can be very helpful. Behavioural therapy is often recommended in such cases.

However, uncovering and analysing those internal causes should only be the first step in the process. It’s not at all rare for people to get stuck at the first step and “forget” to take the active steps to put an end to the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound judgmental. It’s only a “problem” if it prevents somebody who loves the mountains from enjoying the mountains to the extent that he or she would like it to. If the person in question doesn’t consider their fear of heights to be a problem, then it isn’t a problem.

I also don’t want to come off like I’m claiming to have any qualifications. Since I’m neither a psychologist nor a therapist, I can’t make any concrete recommendations, nor will I refer you to any. What I will do is provide you with a great source with tips on how to overcome your fear of heights that you can find here. In any case, it’s easy to see that a fear of heights is anything but a simple phenomenon with single cause and that it can take intricate individualised paths to even begin to overcome it.

What is surefootedness?

We’ve all seen people fluidly and gracefully skipping, hopping or jumping down the steepest of trails, cliffs and scree slopes like it ain’t no thing. This amazing ability to walk safely on any surface, even at higher speeds, is referred to as surefootedness.

What does surefootedness have to do with a head for heights? Well, they’re interconnected because of the effect they have on each other. While a feeling of dizziness can have a negative effect on your surefootedness, a lack of surefootedness can make you feel dizzy and unstable. Conversely, the more surefooted you are, the safer you feel in treacherous terrain and at great heights. You may have heard or read at some point that a head for heights is a prerequisite for surefootedness and vice versa, but that’s only partly true. Plenty of people are extremely surefooted and graceful when hopping over tree trunks and brooks, but don’t have a head for heights. There are also plenty of rock climbers out there who have a head for heights but aren’t all that surefooted. Such climbers have more trouble getting down scree slopes than they do climbing up a wall with super-tiny footholds.

Of course, there is an indirect connection as well: the more surefooted you are, the better your walking technique, coordination and sense of balance will be. And, these physical abilities influence the reactions of the brain and subconscious mind in exposed terrain where there’s little for the eye to work with.

Improving your surefootedness

You can improve your surefootedness with surprisingly little effort. There are loads of training options on fitness or trim trails, sports grounds or even grassy or asphalt areas. A simple and effective option is to stand and walk on bricks or wooden blocks. If you can’t find either of the two, you can simply draw them on whatever surface you’re training on. You can then experiment with variations and higher levels of difficulty and gradually increase the overall difficulty of your training, but do be careful. For example, you can increase the distance between the markings you’ve laid out, if you have mastered a certain setup and distance.

Exercises with rocks are obviously more realistic because they can move (which you should try to prevent by applying your weight evenly from above). If there’s a kid’s birthday party in your future, you can take part in some sack races or egg-and-spoon races as well.

With confidence, surefootedness and head for heights, outdoor adventures are safer and a whole lot more fun. :-)

The sole’s worn out, but the shoe’s still good? Which brands offer resoling services?

6. March 2019
Care tips

Even the highest-quality shoes have their limits, and those limits can be as low as a couple hundred miles. After a certain amount of wear, soles can show major signs of wear and tear, especially in the areas where they’re subjected to the most pressure. The material can even begin to crumble right before your very eyes, with scratches and holes developing on the rubber rand. All in all, things can start to look pretty grim down there after a while. Even with all that happening to the sole of the shoe, the nicely broken-in upper can escape virtually unscathed and have tons of life left in it.

As products of the throw-away society we live in, most of us would probably just toss the run-down shoes in the rubbish bin and go buy new ones. After all, there’s hardly anything quicker or easier than just getting rid of them.

How about you get the shoes repaired instead? After all, getting them repaired can be significantly cheaper than buying a brand-new pair, especially when it comes to expensive, high-quality mountaineering boots. This option not only saves resources and saves you money, but also allows you to get the most out of a good pair of boots. Of course, there’s always a third option. You could just keep on wearing them until they officially kick the bucket. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that. You wouldn’t want your boots falling apart as you’re climbing steep, rocky terrain, nor would you be doing your feet and ankles any favours walking around in boots with worn-out and potentially deformed soles.

When is a repair worth it?

As you probably already know, shoe soles wear out much faster than the rest of the shoe. When the tread is worn down to the point that it is hardly visible anymore, then it’s definitely time for a new sole. At this point, you should also have a look at the lower portion of the shoe for any other signs of material ageing. Of course, this is easier said than done. Oftentimes, signs of ageing can’t be seen from the outside because they’re developing on the inside as well. This has less to do with physical strain and much more to do with moisture.

There’s even a technical term for the moisture-induced deterioration of the inside of the sole (more specifically: the midsole and heel wedge), namely hydrolysis. Hydrolysis is something you want to avoid at all costs. In fact, it’s the main reason why proper care, thoroughly drying your shoes (during and after your trips) as well as storing them in a dry place are all so important!

Whether and when it’s worth it to get your shoes repaired is, of course, a question of cost as well. The costs depend on what kind of shoes they are and how many parts of the sole need to be replaced. In other words, getting a pair of walking or trekking boots repaired will be cheaper than crampon-compatible mountaineering boots.

Climbing shoes are usually the cheapest to repair. Replacing the worn-out sole of a climbing shoe will usually run around €20-€60. It’d probably be cheaper if you just went to your local cobbler, but cobblers usually lack the expertise in climbing shoes and mountaineering boots. It’s really hit or miss. For quality brand-made mountaineering boots, sole repairs can cost around €40 to €80, depending on the repairer and the time needed to finish the job. Online, the prices can skyrocket up to €100. That may sound like a lot of money, but when you think about how much you’d have to spend for new boots, it’s still much cheaper.

If your shoe has a membrane (e.g. Gore-Tex), make sure the shoes are still waterproof before getting them repaired. If they’re not, it might be a good idea to buy new ones instead. Obviously, this is a non-issue with full leather boots or those without membranes.

How do repairs work? What are the possibilities?

In principle, replacing the sole of a shoe is very simple: The old, damaged sole is sanded down or removed, and the new one is glued on – that’s about it. However, in practice, it can be much more difficult than it sounds, even if nothing else has to be replaced. That being said, it’s best to leave the whole process to professionals who are not only familiar with the process and the sole unit but also capable of replacing the shoe rand.

To get the shoes into the hands of a professional, you can usually go through the retailer you bought them from. The dealer will then send the shoes to the manufacturer. Collection or shipment of the repaired shoes will also be handled by the dealer. Returning the shoes to the manufacturer directly is only possible in rare cases, which is why several shoe manufacturers list authorised dealers on their websites. We’ll have a look at the requirements of renowned mountaineering boot brands in the Alpinetrek shop in the final section of this article.

Alternatively, the following three options remain:

  • Send it in to an online repair service for climbing shoes and mountaineering boots: This is a relatively safe option, but not the fastest or the cheapest.
  • Contact a cobbler in your area and ask if they can repair climbing shoes/mountaineering boots: It’s kind of the luck of the draw, but you might just get lucky. Keep it mind that you probably won’t get the brand’s original sole when it’s replaced. That being said, this may not be the safest route, but could very well be the cheapest and the fastest.
  • Do it yourself: Not only does this option involve using adhesives, like Freesole, but there’s also really no guarantee of success, even if you’re only replacing the outsole. Just how difficult the process can be is clear by how many people have been unsuccessful. Just read some of the posts on this topic in outdoor forums and see for yourself! Another reason for not DIY-ing it is that you’ll probably have to get other parts of the shoe replaced as well, like the midsole and heel wedge, which is where things get extremely complicated. Not only do we lack the tools to do it properly, we also lack the knowledge. But, if it really is only the outsole that needs to be replaced, you could try replacing it using this guide (German link only).

Exceptional case: Warranty

If the sole of the shoe becomes unusable within the warranty period, despite normal and “proper” use, there may be a defect in the design, allowing you to file a warranty claim.

If you bought the defective shoe or boot from Alpinetrek, they will do everything in their power to help you with a warranty claim! If the warranty claim is justified, you are entitled to a replacement or a refund, if the former is not possible. If you can file a warranty claim, do not attempt to get the shoes repaired by anybody other than an authorised professional, as any improper repairs performed by unauthorised service partners will make the warranty void. Even if the shoes are returned to the retailer, it is more likely that they will be exchanged than repaired.

Further information on this procedure can be found on the Alpinetrek warranty claim page.

Information regarding different manufacturers’ warranty policies can be found in the last section of this article.

Can all shoes be repaired? What kind of construction does the shoe have to have?

Usually, it is only possible to resole shoes with a “cemented” or ““double-stitched” construction. These constructions connect the insole, outsole and other lower parts of the shoes in such a way that a clean separation and renewal of the sole is possible.

Another kind of construction is known as Strobel, which doesn’t allow for a shoe to be resoled. At most, you could have the outsole sanded or glued. The Strobel construction involves the outsole being applied without glue using injection moulding, which makes it difficult to remove. This construction is used for softer and more flexible footwear. You can easily recognise Strobel shoes by the seam that runs along the inside of the shoe between the upper and the insole. To see the Strobel seam, all you have to do is remove the footbed. With the cemented construction, you’ll see the insole, but you won’t see any stitching.

List of the manufacturers that replace soles

If you’re the proud owner of a high-quality pair of mountain or trekking boots, chances are you can get your shoe resoled by the manufacturer. However, this service is only offered by some of the high-end manufacturers. All the other brands will give you a replacement pair, provided your shoes are still under warranty. Once the warranty has expired, getting the shoe repaired will be difficult, to say the least.

In the following, you can find out how some of the best brands in our shop go about repairs:

Hanwag, Mammut and Lowa offer repair services outside the warranty period of two years, but it is not free. How much it costs depends on the individual case. Repairs can be arranged directly with the manufacturer, but it usually takes several weeks.

La Sportiva and Boreal do make repairs outside the warranty period upon request and only in rare cases. All other manufacturers only offer repairs within the warranty period and with restrictions. There include: Edelrid, Haglöfs, Salewa, Martini (very slow), Duckfeet (refers you to cobblers in Germany if you’re at fault or the product is no longer under warranty), Mavic, Montura (very slow).

That’s about it all the info I have on the world of shoe repairs. It may seem a bit complicated at first, but with the info from this article – and a couple of phone calls to the dealer or manufacturer – getting your shoes resoled should be a piece of cake.

Here are some of the things I found out whilst researching:

  • Lowa: can be contacted directly without having to contact the retailer first. If you would like to have your Lowa shoes resoled, you can contact the Lowa service department directly for an offer.
  • Hanwag: offers resoling for all models, but there is no way for you to arrange it with the manufacturer. The shoes must be sent in through a dealer, who also provides information as to the exact costs.
  • Mammut: has detailed information on the repair process listed on their website.
  • Meindl: also offers resoling services for all models, but the shoes have to be sent in through a dealer.
  • Garmont: doesn’t provide any repair information.
  • According to Salewa, they have “(…) established a local specialist with (their) own branch in each market since 2014 that trains partners and provides them with the necessary spare soles and parts. The fixing of new soles can therefore be carried out flexibly and quickly thanks to short transport routes.
  • Salomon: here you will only find general warranty and repair information.
  • Scarpa: does not provide repair information, but does have a dealer search function (German link only).
  • Aku: does not provide repair information, but does have a dealer search function.
  • Dachstein: does not provide repair information, but does have a dealer search function.
  • Keen: does not provide repair information, but does have a dealer search function.

Any questions? Feel free to comment below!

The proper boot for the via ferrata

27. February 2019
Buyer's guide

While there is special equipment you need for via ferratas, like an energy absorber, most of the stuff you need (like clothing, a backpack or a harness) you probably already have, provided you’re into climbing or mountaineering. The one thing you may not have is the proper footwear. Proper footwear? Can’t you just wear the approach shoes you’ve used for alpine climbing in the past? Or maybe even those crampon-compatible boots you wore on your last mountaineering trip? Do “via ferrata boots” even exist? And if so, how do they differ from mountaineering boots? And most important of all: Are they even necessary?

Well, keep on reading and you’ll find out!

What’s the difference? What makes a boot a via ferrata boot?

Most via ferrata boots differ only in part from ordinary mountaineering boots and can be positioned somewhere between soft, lightweight approach shoes (which are more comfortable in the heat) and your normal walking boots. The lighter models are usually also suitable for some (easy) climbing, while the heavier ones work for (high-altitude) mountaineering as well. True, you can climb a lot of via ferratas in regular mountaineering boots, but it’s not recommended. If you do, make sure they’re easy and you don’t make a habit of it!

Via ferrata boots usually have a stiffer sole and a narrower upper than ‘normal’ hiking and trekking boots. These features make them more appropriate for climbing for long periods as opposed to walking long distances.

In other words, a good via ferrata boot is more of a generalist than a specialist. When climbing a via ferrata, not only do you cross bridges and climb up rock steps and ladders, but you also use normal hiking paths. And there are plenty of via ferratas that force you off trail or even into ice and snow. To be prepared for this kind of terrain, you should either have an extremely versatile shoe or even combine a flexible, lightweight pair of approach shoes with a stiffer, crampon-compatible mountaineering boot.

In general, a stiff boot that has a more rigid sole and puts your feet higher up off the ground allows for less precise foot placements. However, it does have the advantage of taking the strain off your muscles when you’re standing on small holds and bits of metal work. This is especially important for heavy-set individuals, as a softer shoe would make them expend much more energy. Simply put, the more direct rock contact there is, the softer the shoe should be. The more alpine the terrain, the stiffer (and more crampon-compatible) the shoe should be.

That being said, it’s always a good idea to keep the difficulty level of the via ferratas in mind before buying a pair of shoes. And, while doing so, ask yourself the following three questions: How long will the ascents/descents be? How long and challenging will both the via ferrata and the climbing sections be? How high will the route take you?

By answering these questions, you’ll know exactly what your via ferrata boot should be capable of:

What should your shoe be able to do?

Well, it should allow you to stand stably on brand-new or rusty pins and other bits of metal work (i.e. ladders, stemples, wire bridges, etc.) and withstand heavier loads – not once, not twice but hundreds of times on each and every adventure you go on. In other words, the shoes need to be extremely durable, especially when it comes to the stitching and glued portions of the shoe.

It’s important to remember that there’s the approach to get to the via ferrata as well as the descent, so the boots should not only be stable and sensitive but also provide a good amount of cushioning and allow for a good heel-to-toe transition. These are the absolute musts:

  1. A high collar that goes over the ankles to prevent you twisting your ankle in more technical terrain.
  2. The boot should fit snugly but still be as comfortable as possible. You need enough room in the toe box so that your toes don’t slam into the front on the boot on downhills. An easily adjustable lacing system is paramount as well. Boots with laces that extend down into the toe box are perfect.

Depending on both the terrain and the difficulty level of the via ferrata, you may need to consider other features as well. The selection of via ferrata footwear is pretty massive, ranging from all-round alpine boots to lighter, more comfortable approach shoes (which are “actually” intended for approaches to climbing routes).

Regardless of the shoe you choose, the most important thing is that it fits securely and offers enough traction at the front of the sole for precision on small footholds, ledges, etc. For these reasons, slightly narrower models are often your best bet. In general, recommendations for via ferrata boots usually hover around category B or B/C boots with a climbing zone at the front of the sole.

Now, let’s go into a bit more detail on the individual parts of the shoes.

The sole

The sole not only has to be torsionally rigid but suitable for climbing as well. It shouldn’t be too high or too thick to ensure that you still have enough ground feel. That being said, your only option is a either B boots with semi-rigid and mid-high soles or, at the very most, B/C mountaineering boots.

The outsole should not only provide enough traction on rock but also be grippy enough for approaches and descents in snow, damp meadows or steep terrain that is ridden with rocks and rock outcrops. I admit, it kind of seems like we’re asking for the moon, but fortunately for us, the sole of shoe can be divided into different zones, much like the human foot.

A sole that is divided up into different zones is one of the main features of good via ferrata boots. The front of the sole should be stiff enough for you to stand on small holds on those easy to intermediate via ferratas without expending a lot of energy.

The higher the grade of difficulty, the more flexibility you need at the forefoot, as flexibility is necessary for friction climbing. To achieve this seemingly impossible balancing act, boots have a small friction zone with no tread and a slight upward curve at the front of the sole. It’s usually just under the big toe (and perhaps at the inner ball of the foot).

Under the midfoot and heel, the sole should have deep lugs for grip on both the ground and the climbing aids. There should also be a pronounced depression – the so-called bridge between the ball of the foot and the heel to prevent you slipping on wet iron bars and ladders.

The upper

The main difference between via ferrata boots and trekking or walking boots is a slightly narrower toe box. It should only give you enough room to prevent any nasty toe jarring when you’re descending.

Other than that, the kind of upper you need depends on not only the terrain and difficulty of the route but how high up the via ferrata is. A relatively “airy” upper that allows for plenty of freedom of movement is good enough for those easy and fun via ferratas you’d find near valley towns. For high alpine via ferratas where lower temperatures and loose rock are no rarity, it’s always a good idea to opt for more protective footwear. These kinds of boots come equipped with a rubber rand that runs along the lower edge of the boot, which not only protects your foot but also increases the durability of the boot.

Ideally, the upper should be more adaptive and flexible than that of regular walking boots in order to allow for more variable foot placements. As surprising as it may seem, there are well-known brands out there, like Lowa or La Sportiva, that actually manage to create via ferrata boots that meet these seemingly contradictory demands.

As with mountaineering boots, the upper on a good via ferrata boot should be breathable and at least water-repellent. Of course, these properties are more important when it comes to mountaineering boots, since people tend to steer clear of via ferrata routes in unpredictable weather conditions. Those of you who prefer via ferrata day trips at lower altitudes could consider getting a pair of breathable via ferrata boots with a membrane-free mesh lining. However, for multi-days or high-alpine routes with snow fields, you’d have to go with a waterproof boot.

Textile or leather? Both!

You have the choice between leather and synthetic textile materials. Textile elements are less expensive because they are easier to make and manipulate, among other things, while leather is breathable and water resistant, even without a membrane, resulting in a more comfortable interior.

Oftentimes, the two are combined to take advantage of the specific properties of each material. Leather is ideal for the toe, heel and sole edges, as it is more dimensionally stable and abrasion-resistant, while textile is great for the tongue because of its softness, low weight and flexibility. Most of the via ferrata and approach shoes sold in Germany have an upper with a textile/leather combo and a membrane to top things off (usually Gore-Tex).

Lacing

A precise and easily adjustable lacing system is a must in order to get the fit you need in each and every situation. For this reason, good via ferrata boots have laces that extend down to the toe box. Other than that, the lacing system on via ferrata footwear is basically identical to that you’d find on “regular” mountaineering boots.

The combination of eyelets at the bottom and lacing hooks at the top usually allow for plenty of variability. Plus, there are usually deeper hooks on the medial and lateral sides of the boot that ensure a locked-down fit. Laces that allow you to tighten the shoe from top to bottom in one go are nice but not necessary.

Just for the via ferrata?

If you’re planning on venturing into high alpine terrain beyond the via ferrata itself, then you will need different via ferrata boots. If the via ferrata takes you through ice and snow or even up to high peaks with a glacier on the descent, you definitely need a pair of crampon-compatible boots. For this, a strap-on crampon will usually do the trick. You can always refer back to the B and B/C categories mentioned above for more info.

Keep in mind that approach shoes, which can be great for those shorter via ferratas that involve more climbing, may be too soft for strap-on crampons, so you might want to ask before purchasing.

What do the experts say?

As you’ve probably already noticed, it’s hard to say what via ferrata boots you should go for without always qualifying it with a “it depends”.

To make the decision a little easier, here’s what some independent testers from the German Alpin Magazine have to say:

People always say there’s no do-everything shoe, but a lot of brands today are coming really close. We were really impressed with the Scarpa Marmolada. It’s a very comfortable shoe that has good walking abilities, but comes into its own on the via ferrata, providing plenty grip and traction. The Garmont Vetta is a great option for via ferratists; light and grippy, but better suited for narrow feet. An all-rounder that we highly recommend.

For those who need more flexibility, the magazine recommends the models Adidas TX Scope High and Five Ten Guide Teen Mid. According to the testers, they are “soft and flexible and require more strength to stand on small holds but is significantly less stable. The shoe is great for somebody looking for exactly that, but it’s nothing for newbies.

Bergsteiger Magazine divides via ferrata boots into two weight classes:

  • lightweight models for difficult (fun) via ferratas that weigh approx. 1050 grams or more in a size 45 (10.5 UK).
  • heavy alpine models that weigh at least 1700 grams in a similar size.

You can also find some more info on our via ferrata packing list (in German only). If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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