Brewing coffee in the great outdoors

21. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

When you’re backpacking, trekking or mountaineering far removed from the hustle and bustle of civilisation, you always have to do without a few luxuries. No widescreen televisions, no pool table, no massage chair – nothing. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Well, at least you have one luxury out there, and that’s a good cup of coffee. That’s right! Even if you’re bivvying in dizzying heights, you’ll never have to go without your precious brew!

In the following, we’re going to show you the coffee-brewing options for travelling outdoors or in the mountains, as well as how they stack up against each other. We’re going to go down the line, discussing a plethora of coffee-brewing methods, starting with the super-simple instant solution and ending with an outright coffee extravaganza!

However, in this little overview we are not giving our two cents on which is “really the best” by demonising instant coffee and claiming that dripped coffee “tastes about as bad as your shirt smells after a few days in the wilderness”. Even though some chaps don’t like to admit it and will deny it until the day they die, taste is subjective. Of course, how your coffee tastes not only depends on the coffee you use and the tools you have at your disposal, but also on the coffee-brewing method and how you execute it. Even the smallest changes in brewing time, temperature, water pressure, stirring frequency or “contact intensity” between the water and coffee, as well as how long you let it steep can result in huge differences in taste. Even though most of us don’t really want to think about such nonsense before adventuring outdoors, it’s definitely worth it. After all, there’s nothing like finding your brand and your method after going through a lot of trials and errors.

Even though there are electric “outdoor coffee machines”, we’re going to stick with the stuff that doesn’t require electricity. And, we’re not going to go into any depth about stoves and other heat sources, since it doesn’t really matter how you heat up the water when you’re making coffee (well, at least with most methods).

Coffee pads, packets and pouches: little effort, lots of rubbish

There are so many different kinds of soluble coffee available on the market today that you could go to any supermarket and buy a huge variety for your next backpacking trip without putting much thought into it. Then, after stuffing as many little packets in your rucksack as you like, all you need is a cup and hot water. Brew it, stir it and enjoy!

As an alternative to the little packets, you can even use those coffee pads designed for machines when you’re adventuring. All you have to do is put the pad in hot water, push down on it with a spoon, and the coffee is as good as ready. The great thing about pads is that they are pre-packaged in single-serving sizes.

However, as practical as this method is, there are a few downsides: 1) the packaging waste, 2) the high prices of small quantities and 3) the taste, which, thanks to loads of artificial flavours, sugar, milk powder and other ingredients, can make the coffee taste like the opposite of “real coffee”.

Instant coffee

Instant coffee is available in large containers and small packets. To ensure that the coffee powder dissolves in water, it has been freeze-dried. As with pads, all you have to do is put it in hot water, stir it and it’s ready to drink. Because you can easily limit the amount of instant coffee you take with you, you won’t have to worry about lugging around a bunch of added weight in your pack. Even though instant coffee is available in small packets, you can also fill up small containers or re-sealable bags at home to reduce the amount of waste you produce.

The downside to instant coffee is mainly the taste – it just doesn’t taste like a classic cup of coffee, to put it mildly. There’s also an environmental issue with instant coffee, namely the freeze drying. Freeze drying consumes a lot of time and energy, which isn’t particularly environmentally friendly.

Cowboy coffee (aka Turkish coffee)

While this method is nothing for (self-proclaimed) baristas, it’s definitely a viable option for all you (self-proclaimed) “real men” out there. All you need is a pot, a mug and coffee grounds. Then heat up the mud, stir and voila – it’s almost ready to drink. Since you’re pouring normal coffee grounds into a pot or cup, you have to give the grounds time to settle at the bottom first. So, either wait two to three minutes or sprinkle a little cold water on the grounds. Really! This actually does help the coffee grounds to settle to the bottom. If you prefer milk in your coffee, pour some cold milk in it and then you can call it “Turkish coffee”. After the grounds have settled, pour the coffee into your cup. If you did it properly, the coffee grounds will still be in the pot.

Depending on your preference, you can either heat the coffee grounds with water in a pot (which is the only way to make “genuine” cowboy coffee) or pour them into hot water afterwards. Then stir and let it steep. The advantage of the latter is that your pot will be clean, that is, free of any coffee grounds. If you have a tin mug, you can brew your coffee in it directly over the fire, just like a real cowboy!

Regardless of which method you choose, the taste will convince even the pickier coffee aficionados – and not just because coffee tastes better in the great outdoors anyway!

Drip coffee

Since strawberry lattes and caramel macchiatos started calling the shots, good ol’ drip coffee has lost a lot of its appeal. But, when you’re adventuring, filtered coffee can be quite the tasty option. This is due to the simple fact that using a filter opens the door to many different variations, all of which have two things in common: 1) the coffee grounds never come into direct contact with the water; 2) filtered coffee requires very little additional equipment.

The simplest method involves you holding a paper filter filled with coffee grounds. The downside to this is that it does require some skill in order to avoid bending the filter or it slipping out of your hand. You also need some patience and perseverance, at least if you want your coffee to be strong. In order to make a strong filtered coffee, the water needs to drip through the filter very slowly. If you just pour water over it, the contact time is too short, which will result in your coffee being too thin. You can speed up the process by brewing the coffee cowboy-style and then pouring the coffee mixture through the filter.

As a makeshift filter you can use any water-permeable material that would hold the coffee grounds. A great option is textiles, which, of course, should be untreated and clean. So, please clean that old pair of socks before filling them with ground coffee. ;-)

You can also make your very own makeshift coffee pad by creating small pouches and tying them shut with thread or floss. When it comes to aroma, this may not be the best method, but it works and it’s clean.

Filters and filter holders made out of plastic

If you prefer filtered coffee on your adventures, you presumably don’t want to deal with flimsy paper filters all the time. To avoid this, your best option is to get yourself a free-standing filter, a sturdy filter attachment or a filter holder made of plastic or stainless steel. Many of these filters have a small hole in the bottom for the coffee to go through, whilst others have an integrated sieve, rendering paper filters completely unnecessary. There is a variety of outdoor coffee filters with different attachments on the market today. Most have plastic or metal clips that clip onto almost any mugs, small pots and insulated flasks. Most outdoor filters are very lightweight and foldable (or collapsible).

You can also use a tea strainer to make coffee. Whilst tea strainers are nice and light, they can be pretty fragile, so it might get squished in your rucksack.

If you just want a fast and easy solution, the Grower’s Cup is a very convenient option. All you have to do is open the bag, pour in boiling hot water, wait and then fill up your cup. The bag replaces the coffee pot and contains an integrated filter in addition to the organic coffee, of course. It brews two cups. The downside is that you have to dispose the bag.

Moka coffee: the Italian way

If you like your coffee strong, you should definitely think about getting a moka pot. Contrary to popular belief, these pots make a kind of mocha, not espresso (since the brew pressure is too low), but the result is still quite satisfying. The pot is obviously more cumbersome than filters and small bags, but it’s indestructible. Plus, the pot has everything you need, so you won’t produce any waste (with the exception of the biodegradable coffee grounds). And, cleaning it isn’t any more difficult than cleaning a filter. You only have to rinse out the pot and filter with water.

Small, compact aluminium pots like the Espresso Maker from Relags are also affordable, lightweight and efficient. These things will brew you a delectable cup of coffee in a matter of minutes!

Moka pot 2.0: the outdoor version

Instead of the screw-on pot, the compact and extra-light outdoor version of the espresso maker has a spout that guides your morning brew directly into your mug. There’s no simpler or faster way to make an aromatic cup of coffee.

Espresso for experts

If you absolutely have to have your shot of espresso in the great outdoors, you can take a portable espresso machine from Handpresso with you. Weighing in at approximately 500 grams, these pump machines are not the lightest, but they are practical. They come equipped with a pump in the handle that can produce enough pressure to make a real Italian espresso (if hot water is provided).

French press coffee

The cafetière is a coffee maker consisting of a lid, filter, plunger and carafe, which makes it extremely easy to use. Coffee is brewed by placing ground coffee in the carafe and pouring hot water over it. The coffee grounds are then mixed with the water and eventually separated by the plunger that holds them at the bottom of the carafe, keeping them away from the coffee itself. This not only makes a delicious cup of coffee but also leaves only the biodegradable coffee grounds as waste. If you wait to press the plunger down, you can intensify the taste and strength of the coffee. The disadvantage of this device, when compared to the moka pot, is that you need a separate container to boil the water in. Fortunately, outdoor enthusiasts usually take a pot along, anyway.

A French press is usually made out of glass, which is not really practical for the outdoors. Fortunately, there are alternatives made of plastics like polycarbonate. Alternatively, you can use your camping pot or mug as a French press, provided you find a matching plunger. Jetboil and MSR are two of several brands that make compatible accessories.

AeroPress: half filter, half press

For specialists, there are other options as well, like the AeroPress. When it comes to flavour, the AeroPress, which is like a hybrid between the immersion and pressure method, is considered to produce the most delicious coffee. Well, that’s according to the German coffee expert Thomas Schweiger. Schweiger draws a clear distinction between drinking coffee for pleasure and drinking it just for the caffeine: “If I want to enjoy my coffee, I’ll take my equipment with me. If I just want the coffee to wake me up and don’t really care about taste, then I’d use instant coffee.” By the way, if it’s just about getting your dose of caffeine for the day, you don’t have to drink coffee. There are loads of powders, gels and energy bars with caffeine in them as well.

True coffee connoisseurs would probably turn their nose up at that idea and even take it up a notch and pack a portable coffee grinder as well. Yep, nowadays you can buy coffee grinders that hardly exceed the size of the small pepper mill in your kitchen. Of course, they’d also insist on taking the highest-quality coffee because cheap coffee – even if brewed using the best method – tastes, well, cheap. But that’s neither here nor there. Find what works for you and enjoy your brew!

The perfect spot for your tent

19. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

In the following, we’re not going to talk about finding a spot at an overcrowded campsite. Rather, we’re going to give you some tips on how to find the perfect location when you’re wild camping in the great outdoors. Finding the perfect place can give you an gratifying feeling of fulfilment and personal achievement, especially if the search was long and difficult.

However, in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises once you’re in your tent, you may want to consider some potential difficulties that could pop up. Many of these problems, which I will go over in detail below, may seem trivial to experienced campers, whilst others can be solved on the spot with a little thought. But, I’ll go out on a limb and assume that nobody really has every single one of the following aspects on their radar.

Do your homework

Even if you find the perfect location, it will be all for naught if you can’t pitch your tent properly. Thus, it’s incredibly important to practise pitching your tent at home, check for damage and to see whether you have all the necessary parts. If you didn’t just buy a new tent and are taking an older one, it’s always a good idea to take along one or two spare pegs and a some materials for repairs. The latter doesn’t have to be some official kit – all you need is some tape (duct tape) to patch things up!

An admittedly odd-sounding, but useful tip is to take some piton with you. These are perfect for rocky terrain.

Because the ground is also an important factor to consider when choosing a pitch, it’s always a good idea to start looking at least 2 hours before sunset. Ok, that was probably one of the tips you would’ve thought of yourself. Let’s get to the stuff you may not know.

Rules and regulations

Being spontaneous and free is nice, but it’s always a good idea to do some research on a suitable spot for your tent before you go. As you probably already know, popular national parks have lots of rules and regulations, and oftentimes there are designated sites for tents. Sometimes, you even have to make a reservation. Regardless of whether you’ll be camping in a national park or elsewhere, you should always familiarise yourself with the national and local rules for tents and camping in advance. More often than not, you’ll find that camping in the wild is not really permitted but not really prohibited either. It’s definitely a grey area, but it will usually be tolerated as long as you’re not trespassing and pitch your tent out of eyeshot of towns and paths.

Since you’re never really alone in the “wilderness”, you’ll have to follow a few rules of conduct as well. This means you shouldn’t set up your camp and block the view of other campers. Rather try to become part of the scenery. You can do this by using already flattened spots from previous campers instead of levelling beautiful untouched meadows yourself. If you were happy about happening upon a beautiful, untouched piece of land, you don’t want to leave behind a dump. Or do you?

Unfortunately, there are some “pragmatists” who have no idea what to do with such thoughts. What such people are often unaware of is that it’d actually be in their own interest to put them into practice. Why? It’s simple, really: The more trouble we cause by camping wherever we want, the more rules and regulations there will be.

But that’s enough of that. Let’s get the the more practice-oriented tips.

The ground

When pitching your tent, make sure the surface is flat and not on a slope. Even the slightest incline can make you slip right off your sleeping mat (or make the sleeping mat slip around on the smooth tent floor). If a slight slope is unavoidable, try to position the tent or sleeping mat so that your head is higher than your feet. It’s actually a pretty comfortable position to sleep in (the other way around less so).

The best spot for a tent is of course a grassy surface. As long as the weather stays dry, a sandy surface can be quite pleasant as well. The best surfaces are usually free of any rocks, roots, pine cones or brambles. Other soft things like pine needles, leaves or moss are great too. If there’s hard or sharp objects, you shouldn’t remove them for the sake of your tent and your own comfort. If you don’t mind carrying some extra weight, you can protect the tent floor with a groundsheet.

But, if the soft ground you’ve found is in a low-lying area, you may want to opt for the higher, harder and uneven surface instead. Oftentimes, the ground is soft because water tends to accumulate there.

In the wintertime, “higher is better” is the rule to live by. This means that you should pitch your tent in higher areas as opposed to low-lying areas, because cold air tends to accumulate in hollows and valleys.

Before guying out your tent and making yourself comfortable, do a quick lie down first to see if there are any pebbles or unevenness that could disturb your sleep. Since you haven’t secured the tent yet, you can still move it a few centimetres to find the perfect spot.

Now that we’ve talked about the ground, let’s move on to the tent surroundings. Depending on what the surroundings are like, you might have to keep looking.

Eliminating risks

When it comes to the feel of the ground and overall comfort, there’s no universal rule to go by. After all, every person is different and has their own pain threshold. There are, however, certain criteria that are universal.

Water

Water is something we always want to have close by, but also not too close. Access to water is much more important than a nice view. After all, how are you going to drink, cook and bathe without water? Fortunately, there’s usually no shortage of water, unless you’re adventuring in the desert or dry, grassy plains, like the steppes. In the mountains, there’s almost always clean, flowing water nearby. But, as seductive as it is to stay on the water, try to keep your distance. The ideal distance is about 50 to 100 metres away somewhere above the body of water – just not on a path leading to the water that would otherwise be used by wildlife.

Water in the mountains can rise surprisingly quickly – and not just during a storm but also when a dam is opened. Another thing to consider: The sound of flowing stream in the mountains can get pretty loud after a while, so taking some earplugs along on your trip to the mountains can be quite helpful.

Riverbeds and narrow ravines are some of the worst spots for pitching your tent – even if they look dry. Even if it looks like a clear day, it can be bucketing down upstream. Then, a surge of water could suddenly come rushing your way, leaving you just enough time to save your own skin – and that’s it.

In contrast to the mountains, you can find some quality spots on seashores. Here, you need to make sure you’re above the tideline. The tideline is easy to find by locating a strip of washed up shells, algae, pieces of wood and waste. And, don’t forget to account for high waves before you set up camp.

Always keep in mind that there are a lot of mosquitoes and other pesky insects around standing water. Here, it can be beneficial to find a spot that’s a bit airier or windier.

Whilst the cooler air in low-lying areas can be quite pleasant in the summertime, moist ground in the immediate vicinity of water never is. Wet or damp surfaces draw warmth out of the tent’s interior and consequently cause moulding and mould stains when the tent isn’t properly ventilated and stored afterwards. If you opt to pitch your tent on a wet surface anyway, you can store your tent in your pack for a few hours or even one day. This won’t do your tent any damage, but you should try to get it dry as soon as possible.

Water from above

Usually, rain shouldn’t be a problem – after all, most tents are designed to protect you from it. But, if a rain shower turns into a long, drawn-out storm and you’d rather not stay in the same spot forever, you may have to take down your tent in the rain. For situations like this, tents that allow you to take down the inner tent first (like Hilleberg tents) are the best choice.

If you already know that long rains are on their way, you can dig a drainage ditch around your tent. The quickest way to do this is with a strong stick or pole. A ditch can really make a difference when trying to stop water accumulating under your tent floor and directing rain water away from your pitch. Even a ditch that is only a few centimetres deep and wide can do this. If the ditch runs directly around the edge of the tent, it will catch the rainwater from the roof of the tent as well. But only do this if the conditions allow for it. Digging on campgrounds is usually prohibited. After all, there are usually shelters and common room areas you can use.

Storms and strong winds

It’s always a good idea to find areas where you could seek shelter in the event of high winds or heavy storms. Your best option is often boulders, ledges or small crags. Trees and bushes in the direction of the wind are not bad, either, especially if their canopies prevent it getting cooler at night in addition to breaking the wind. But, you should only trust young and very strong trees and keep your distance from others. If there is any chance of a tree falling or being uprooted, your distance from it should be at least equal to the height of the tree.

The next precaution you should take when it comes to wind protection is the the direction in which you pitch your tent. It is extremely important to reduce resistance. In the case of a tunnel tent, direct the narrowest parts toward the wind. The entrance should be facing away from the wind. On the side facing the wind, the tent should be taut and secured.

Very strong gusts of wind can break tent poles (especially lightweight aluminium poles). If this happens to you, you better have repair sleeves with you. To “splint” a broken pole, simply slide the sleeve over the broken section. If the sleeves are not included or have been lost, take your poles to your local DIY or hardware store and choose a light metal/aluminium tube with a diameter as close as possible to the diameter of your pole. You can even have it sawed down to the right length. For curved tent poles, these pieces should be very short, otherwise you won’t be able to slide it over the pole.

In the wintertime, you can see how the wind is blowing by analysing the texture of the snow. If the snow has a hard, but brittle texture, whilst the other surfaces in the area are soft, you can assume that there are often strong gusts of winds. If this is the case, you should pitch your tent elsewhere.

Thunderstorms

We’ve already written another post on the topic of camping and thunderstorms with tips on how to choose the best location in stormy weather. So if you’d like to know more, we recommend reading that article. After all, it’s extremely important, because a tent is far from being a Faraday cage. If your tent gets struck by lightning, only ash will remain.

So, your little holiday abode should never stand alone on a hill or other places where lightning tends to strike, such as in the immediate vicinity of electricity pylons, power lines, poles, a forest’s edge or individual trees. But, it is relatively safe to set up a camp between several trees and tall bushes – of course, considering the restrictions mentioned in the section on wind and storms. Also: don’t forget about the risks of a sudden rise in water levels as a result of thunderstorms.

Other important safety tips and a clever thunderstorm distance calculator can be found in this Base Camp blog post.

Sparks, rocks and avalanches

What do you think of when you think of a (camp) fire? Sparks and crackling sounds, right? While both make for a cosy atmosphere, the situation can get ugly really quickly if your tent finds itself in the way of the sparks. They can fly a few metres away from the fire and burn holes in a tent just like that.

Rocks, however, can do much more than just put a hole in your tent. For this simple reason, try to steer clear of anything that could throw rocks your way, like all rock faces that are more than a few metres high.

Small rocks can come loose on steeper slopes and hillsides and cause quite a bit of damage if they fall from a high enough location. The good thing is that you can easily recognise areas of frequent rock fall by the signs of impact. In the mountains, swaths are formed in many places, at the lower end of which the rocks accumulate. Water, mud or snowfall are also frequent characteristics for the formation of swaths. In winter, snow accumulation under steep slopes, chute-like clearings and bent trees are clear indications of avalanche tracks.

At this point, it’d probably be good to mention a few downsides to trees: firstly, resin sometimes drips out of trees, which make the flysheet stick together; secondly, they occasionally drop their branches without warning; and thirdly, after rain, they can drip for several more hours on your tent.

Sun or shade

Which is better depends primarily on your geographic location and the season. I assume you’d go with shade when camping in hotter regions. If there isn’t any “natural” shade, you can make shade by using a towel, tarp or something similar.

But even in the desert, during the summer season and in the early morning, it can be very chilly, so you might even prefer some morning sunshine! If trees or bushes are nearby, you can set up the tent in such a way that it is heated in the morning or in the afternoon. Of course, in doing so, think about the tent itself: direct UV light is not good for polyester and nylon fabric. This is especially important to consider on longer trips and long stays in one area.

Animal visitors

In popular outdoor regions, such as the southwest of the USA, it’s not at all rare to encounter snakes or other territorial creatures. In subtropical and tropical regions, as well as steppes and deserts, this is something you should expect as well. Fortunately, if you don’t leave food or strong smelling substances lying around in your tent for all to see and smell, you shouldn’t have much of a problem. If you want to be on the safe side, don’t leave your tent open.

Depending on where you are, there are bigger predators as well. Surprisingly (and fortunately), the thin flysheet will act as protection. Only rarely have these larger animals ever ripped open tents. This form of protection even works on bears, even though they are known to have ripped open a few tents in their days. But this only happened because they wanted some of the delicious food which the campers left inside.

Last but not least: scenery and the view

You can choose where to pitch your tent based on the scenery or view, as long as you have ticked off all other criteria mentioned above. A beautiful, comfortable pitch without any risks hard to find. But that’s a good thing. After all, one of the things we love about nature is the fact that it is unpredictable. As long as you can wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to start the new day, all is well, right?

All in – Interview with the climbing family Ravennest

7. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

The dream of every climber is probably to engage also their little offsprings in the fun. We talked with Fibi from the UK, whose children are all in the climbing game and are even achieving outstanding results in comps. The children are training four to six days a week and recently even formed a squad with Louis Parkinson as their trainer. But how do they tackle their family life with climbing? That’s the question we were eager to know!

Fibi, I presume with four climbing children it is always busy and buzzing with you. Am I right? Everyone healthy and happy?

Oh yes, thanks! We arrived back home yesterday from being a few weeks in Fontainebleu. Everyone is missing being there, but it is nice to be back home as well.

I admire that all of your children are climbing. How comes? Did you just went into a climbing gym and let them have a go?

Well, as climbing parents we always have been in and around climbing walls indoors as well as outdoors. When Layla was a toddler she always went with us. She had her first attempt outdoors in Arco, in her little harness with a sling attached to my husband’s harness. This way we knew that she was able to come down again and we could sort her out. Safety comes always first :) – and she really liked it a lot. So she was able to climb but did not yet walk.

Having had this experience we also always took the other children with us and they also started to climb on in a very early age.

Also we had a small climbing wall at home with which the children could play along.

Furthermore, the climbing was always a hit, because they could have picnics high up or similar.

As parents we had to learn that there is no formal route or a special training for our children. It was just playing around but if you look at it, you will see that they climbed a lot and did the most amazing moves just because they wanted to do it.

The children are doing competitions at the moment. How are they doing?

The older two love to be on comps, the little two do not find a lot of comps where they are allowed to compete. But when they go, all the children are happy about their results. Especially Mia is very happy that she became 3rd in a comp for under 16s. Layla competed on a world cup style competition for under 14s and became 3rd.

In general Mia is always first, something she is very proud of. Except once when she planned to be third and succeeded.

Layla is struggling a bit as she is in a field of around 8 girls; all of them with the same ability, which means that often it is not about climbing but about mental strength. She is more of a quiet type, someone who does not want to show of. Yet, sometimes if you look at the scores you see that she is in the winning field and even first. This is what counts.

Lea would love to do more comps, but she has to wait a little longer. This is not easy for her, especially as the competitions she is allowed to join are set for taller children and she just cannot reach the holds.

Each of our children wishes there were competitions with height instead of age categories.

How often are you doing competitions? It must be difficult to organise the driving!

We tend to do around one every or every other month. The organisation is not so difficult as we as parents are sharing the children. Often I stay at home with the little ones. Otherwise they would get bored. Anyway, the children love travelling and meeting new people. So going to comps is quite easy.

Is there a competition within the family?

Oh yes, way too much! We tend to have 2 pairs. Layla and Mia are one team, Laurin and Lea the other one. In each team is a strong and a technical climber. This means that there is always one who is dominating and this leads to loads of tears and crying.

Nevertheless, the children know that during training and competitions they have to work as a team and not against each other. When they feel that the other one is struggling they are marvellous.

What about motivation? Is everyone always at 100?

Oh well, we are nearly everyday bouldering or training. So sure there are days or even phases where the children (or at least one of them) are not in a climbing mood. But let it be the next day or a new phase and they are on a high level again, sometimes even more motivated than they used to be. I do not put any pressure on them. Fun comes first. I had to find out that especially in growing phases they tend to do less. If I would push them during that time, I would destroy the fun and they would not speed off again as happily and full on as they do when the phase is over.

All in all for us as parents, climbing is a life style. It offers a great friendly community for the children to grow up in and to find friends of all ages and from all walks of life. It is about learning to push yourself and to find your own limits and goals. To stay healthy, active and happy. All of this would not be happening if they were pushed into to it.

With every comp, with every hard coached training, we ask them before if they really want to do it. If their answer is ‘yes’, they have to stick to it and be 150% motivated. If they say they don’t want to or there are other issues, we don’t force them. In such cases we tell them that they don’t have to and should concentrate on other things.

We are very lucky to have Louis Parkinson as their amazing coach who encourages them in the same manner. For him it is all about fun, ability and motivation.

What about other activities? Is everything just about climbing? Or is there somethig else they are doing?

Play play play! All the children love to swim and the girls love to do aerial circus skills. Furthermore, all 4 love to engage themselves with music. Especially Laurin is always making music, from the moment he wakes up until the moment when he falls asleep.

During wintertimes we like to go skiing. This winter we will be in the alps for 5 weeks. The children are home educated, which means that we take the school with us wherever we go. This allows us to go travelling and to use walls and other places when no one else does.

What will you do next? Any plans so far?

Bouldering and climbing holiday :) We will take our tent to the Chassezac, the Estrel area and then back to Font again. This is going to be a good mixture of climbing, bouldering, adventure and fun. Chassezac has amazing caves that wait to be explored. It is great that the children are able to climb and learn to know their rope work better. One is for sure, we can do loads of fun stuff there.

Thank you Fibi for this interview and letting us get a glimpse of what it is like to have a climbing family! If you want to you find out more about Fibi and her ravens check out their instagram page.

A buyer’s guide to bivouac tents

5. September 2018
Buyer's guide

Yep, it sure is strange: the thing is called bivouac tent, but it is neither a bivvy bag nor a tent. But the name works, anyway, because it’s a pretty good hybrid between the two. Even though the solution for closing the gap between the two is rather obvious in retrospect, the outdoor industry took their precious time before becoming active in this area. Surprisingly, bivouac tents have only been on the market for about ten years now, and the selection has remained relatively small to this day. So, despite the outdoor boom, bivouac tents are still a niche product.

What did the manufacturers do in terms of construction to close the gap between tents and bivvies? Well, they added poles and pegs to the bivvy bags so that you can set it up and secure it to the ground. Seems easy enough, right? Well, not exactly. The difference between a “luxurious” bivvy bag, or bivouac tent and a simple 1-man tent is often not that clear.

The standard construction of a bivouac tent

The traditional construction of a bivouac tent consists of a synthetic fabric cut similar to that used for a bivvy bag, but with a tougher, more durable base. A bivouac tent also has an arched pole at the head and the foot end of the bivvy. These poles are really what differentiates a bivouac tent from a bivvy bag. The arch at the foot end is smaller than that at the head of the bivvy, and both are much smaller than those you’d find in a conventional 1-man tent. While a tent has enough space for you to sit down relatively comfortably, a bivouac tent does not. The material will hang down pretty close to your face, even when you’re lying down. The amount of guy line points is slightly less than you’d find on a “proper” tent, but the guy lines and pegs are the same.

Who should use bivouac tent?

As with all outdoor products, the answer depends on a variety of different factors, including the trip you’re planning and your personal needs and desires. But, let’s get a little more specific: Bivouac tents are definitely more geared toward solo adventurers who want to be fast and flexible and don’t mind sacrificing comfort in the process.

A while back, I was travelling in Patagonia with the Vaude Bivi (which has unfortunately been discontinued) and was very happy with its overall performance. I felt I was getting excellent value for money. But, I have to admit that the unusual good weather made it possible for me to spend several nights out in the fresh air, so I didn’t have use the rather cramped space all too often. I don’t mean to sound negative. After all, bivouac tents aren’t meant to be particularly inviting, but rather designed to serve for a particular purpose!

If you’re going on a trekking or cycling tour in a group of two, then you will be better off with a “proper” tent. Trying to share an already cramped bivouac tent with a fellow adventurer who undoubtedly smells just as bad as you (and probably worse ;) ) is certainly not the bee’s knees – even if you are more than just friends. And, even if each of you pack a 1-man bivouac tent, there’s really no advantage in terms of weight and pack size over a two-man or multi-person tent, which is significantly more comfortable. Of course, there are exceptions; one of which being travelling in steep, high alpine terrain, where you tend to find several smaller places to sleep rather than one large spot for a tent.

For groups of more than two people the same basically applies, but these groups have a third option: Group bivouac shelters with walking poles as a brace. And, the British brand Rab offers just that with their high-quality Group Shelter 2. Equipped with recesses in the roof to use walking poles as a brace, this bivvy bag may be designed for only two people, but it is so light and compact that a group could easily take several of them on a trip.

Before your first night in a bivouac tent: What is there to consider?

The short distance between the single-walled fabric and your body is definitely something you should consider when choosing a sleeping bag. If the sleeping bag is too thick, it will rub up against the single-layer tent wall. This will cause moisture to be “pulled” from the outside to the inside and then into the sleeping bag. In windy conditions, the tent wall will be pressed up against the sleeping bag even more (at least when it’s Patagonian wind combined with continuous rain, as I had the pleasure of experiencing). That being said, you should only sleep in bivouac tents if you have a water-repellent or, even better, a waterproof sleeping bag. Your clothing should be resistant to water as well. But, remember: You should test all of this beforehand in a safe environment. Don’t just head out and hope for the best.

Important features a bivouac tent should have are strong, smooth-sliding zips (preferably YKK) and high-quality, brand-name synthetic fabric that is breathable as well. Speaking of zips, keep in mind that longer zips may very well make getting in and out of the tent significantly easier, but they have some disadvantages as well. They not only slightly increase the overall weight of the tent but also constitute weak points in combating extreme weather. You should also make sure that the guy line points are nice and strong. Lastly, some bivouac tents have intersecting poles that can be set up without guying out, if necessary, which can be a very nice feature to have.

Differences between a tent and a bivouac tent

Advantages of a bivouac tent

  • Less weight and a smaller pack size.
  • Requires less space, giving you more options when setting up camp.
  • Quicker assembly and disassembly, so you can relocate in case of unforeseen complications (e.g. if your camp gets flooded or too cold).
  • You can take the bivouac tent all the way up to the top of a mountain without much effort and be prepared for sudden weather changes. A huge advantage for longer adventures.

Disadvantages of a bivouac tent

  • You have nowhere to cook in bad weather (unless you take a tarp or something similar with you – but that would increase both weight and volume of your pack so much that you may as well take a “proper” tent instead).
  • Other activities are pretty uncomfortable in bad weather as well (e.g. you can’t sit upright and eat in a bivouac tent – you have to do it lying down). Going to the toilet, changing your clothes or getting stuff out of your pack is a nuisance. But, on the plus side, you can read and plan the rest of your trip relatively comfortably.
  • Your rucksack has to stay outside – unless it’s really small and you are too! The same goes for your wet boots.

Differences between a bivouac sack and bivouac tent

Advantages of a bivouac tent

  • More space and more comfortable, giving you better chances in the event of an accident and emergency situations (especially in high alpine terrain).
  • Much better protection from wind and water because the shell is further away from the body.

Disadvantages of a bivouac tent

  • More space necessary. A bivvy bag can be spread out everywhere. You can’t do that with a bivouac tent.
  • More weight and larger volume.

Hopefully, you have gained some insight into bivouac tents, what they are, what they’re best used for and what to look out for when buying one. If you want to find out even more about bivouac tents, you should check out our Base Camp post on bivvy bags and tents.

DWRs – Blessing or a curse?

24. August 2018
Care tips

DWR stands for “Durable Water Repellent” and refers to a coating that is added to fabrics used for functional clothing and footwear. Thus, DWR is not a name for a specific material or system, but merely a description of a certain property. However, there are chemical and technological differences between the various treatments that manufacturers provide.

What properties does a DWR have?

For quite a long time, I had been under the impression that clothing sold as breathable and waterproof automatically had a durable water repellent coating. But, reality set in pretty quickly when I noticed the outer fabric of my Gore-Tex jacket had become saturated with water, leaving me to feel cold and clammy after relatively few uses. I immediately thought the membrane had been damaged, leaving the jacket leaky and no longer waterproof.

Fortunately, I was wrong – the jacket was still completely waterproof and otherwise in tip-top shape. The only thing was that the DWR treatment had lost its integrity, as these coatings are known to do over time. The reason why these coatings are so important is that they form the very first exterior barrier against water on the majority of functional garments. True, laminates and membranes do keep water at bay, but what they cannot do is keep water from penetrating into the outer layer of fabric. Once the water has coated the outside of the fabric, the material not only becomes wet but also loses its breathability. This is known as “wet out”.

A DWR treatment prevents the water from flowing together by keeping the fibres and the surface of the fabric very smooth. It then forces water to bead up and roll off the surface of the fabric instead of being absorbed by it. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. For example, in Gore-Tex materials, the treatment penetrates the fibres and reduces the surface tension of the outer fabric, causing the water to bead up and roll off rather than be absorbed.

However, these treatments quickly lose their effectiveness as a result of general wear and tear caused by dirt, oil, detergents and frequent use. The term “durable” should thus be taken with a grain of salt. The good news is that DWR treatments can be reactivated or restored quickly and easily, but we’ll talk about this in more detail a little later.

It’s worth mentioning that DWR treatments are not “waterproof”, but only “water-repellent”. It cannot withstand heavy or continuous rain by itself – it needs the support of a membrane and taped seams.

What is a DWR treatment?

You can find out how a DWR works just about anywhere, but it’s rare to find any info on what kind of substances and technologies are used for it. The lack of info is most likely due to the simple fact that you would have to do a deep dive into the world of industrial processes and technology and deal with a large number chemical substances:

Depending on the requirements for washing, cleaning and weather resistance, paraffin and wax emulsions as well as film-forming silicones and fluorocarbons, which provide durable protection, are used as DWRs. (…)”

For the most part, the finishes have been mainly polyfluorinated or fluorocarbon-based (PFC) because fluorocarbons are the most effective at repelling dirt and water. In the outdoor industry, there are two fluorinated compounds worth mentioning, namely perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Since not just PFOA and PFOS, but all fluorocarbons are now considered to be harmful to the human body and the environment, more and more manufacturers are looking for alternatives. Some alternatives work – simply put – on the basis of hydro and fatty acids (aliphatic carbon acids). You’ll find more about PFCs and the search for alternatives in the section on the environment.

Applying a water repellent to a fabric can done using various methods. The best known is the wash-in method by which the fabric is soaked in the DWR treatment. A new, more precise method is the spray method.

Reactivating or renewing a DWR treatment

As already mentioned, “durable” does not mean “eternal”, so a DWR will inevitably have to be reactivated or replaced with a new one after frequent use. It’s really easy to find out which route you should take: sprinkle a few drops of water on the garment and see if they bead up. If it does, your DWR is in tip-top shape.

If the water is partially absorbed, one should first try to reactivate the old treatment. After washing your garment according to the manufacturer’s instructions, dry your garment using warm air only. You can do this either by tumble drying it on a warm gentle cycle at 60°C, by using an iron (no steam; no direct contact with the garment, but with a cloth in between) or by using a hair dryer. The heat should be applied for about 20 – 30 minutes. Afterwards, test your garment’s DWR again as described above. If it works, you won’t have to reactivate until the next wash.

If the water droplets are absorbed by the fabric, it’s time to apply a new DWR treatment. You have two options: either the wash-in or spray-on method. Regardless of the method you choose, the garment should be dry and clean before you apply the treatment.

If you opt for the wash-in method, it is important to be sure that the detergent drawer in your washing machine is clean. Then add the manufacturer’s recommended dose of the wash-in product and wash the clothing at 40°C on a gentle cycle. Then, depending on what the manufacturer recommends (see tag), either line dry or tumble dry at the lowest level.

The problem with the wash-in method is that the inside of the garment is coated as well, which can have a negative effect on the breathability of the fabric. There are different reactions depending on the membrane and the textile blends. Sometimes, manufacturers recommend having the garment treated by a professional cleaning service. Although this has the advantage that you don’t have to handle with any chemicals and it may result in a durable coating, the breathability problem remains.

The spray-on option may expose you to chemicals, but it has the huge upside that you can distribute the treatment only on the outside of the garment. In addition to treating the outer fabric, you can also apply it to particularly sensitive areas such as the seams, cuffs and shoulders. In the world of water-repellent sprays, only pump sprays do not use harmful aerosols as a propellant. Still, you should only use these sprays outside in a well-ventilated area and try to inhale as little as possible.

Soft shells are another garment with DWR coatings that need to be renewed from time to time. For this purpose, you can use Toko and Nikwax water repellent sprays. These wrap around the fibres like a water-repellent tube without stiffening the fibres.

You can find out more about wash-in vs. spray-on products as well as renewing the DWR finish on your garment in our guide to properly reproofing your waterproof jacket.

When it comes to applying a new DWR to shoes, your only option is the spray-on method. Grease, oil and wax almost always ruin the breathability of the fabric. However, not every spray is suitable for every shoe, so once again, it’s definitely worth consulting the manufacturer’s care instructions and following them as closely as possible.

Here’s one more tip: Don’t get your hopes up. The newly applied DWR will rarely be as good as the original. And, if you apply a lot, the breathability of the fabric will suffer as a result.

Are DWRs harmful to the environment

Let’s put it this way: DWR treatments and the environment don’t really see eye to eye. The focal point of the discussion are PFCs, which, simply put, remain in organisms for years and don’t degrade in the environment. Traces of PFC can be found in the remotest corners of the earth. For a long time, we had been under the assumption that there were no direct health risks associated with these compounds and that “only” producing, washing and disposing of outdoor products were the problems. Hmm. But, a growing number of studies on both humans and animals have suggested that there are indeed health risks associated with PFC, with adverse effects on vital areas of the human body, such as the immune system, hormonal balance and reproduction.

Just how significant these risks are has been a topic of heated debates. There has been a lot of speculation as to where which PFCs accumulate and to what degree and as to which degrade and how quickly they do so. For this reason, C6 PFC based fluorocarbon water repellents were deemed safe, while C8 DWRs were not. However, critics, such as the founder of Nikwax Nick Brown called this a “fairy tale”. Brown believes that only the complete elimination of PFCs could really reduce the health and environmental risks.

Due to Brown’s convictions, Nikwax became the first company to refuse to use PFCs and has continued to do so to this very day. Because scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated that all PFC compounds really are harmful to our health and the environment, more and more manufacturers are beginning to follow suit. In addition to Nikwax, Toko also offers PFC-free care and proofing products, but do so more to accommodate the increased interests of their customers than because of pressure from lawmakers.

It had been long regarded as “technically impossible to produce an equally efficient DWR without PFCs“, that is, a treatment that not only repels water but dirt as well, thereby maintaining the breathability of the fabric. PU or silicone treatments may be environmentally friendlier, but they pale in comparison to PFC when it comes to functionality.

But, as the pioneer in all things sustainability, Vaude, states in their 2016 sustainability report: “Thanks to today’s innovative technologies, this is now no longer a problem.“ The only “drawback” to PFC-free DWR treatments is that they’re not oil-repellent, but Vaude claims that this is not really necessary. And, it’s kinda true. Think about it: how often do you have problems with oil being on your functional clothing in the forest or up in the mountains? Probably pretty rarely.

Like in so many other areas, Vaude is paving the way with its DWR Eco-Finish. There are several more fully functional environmentally friendly alternatives currently in research and development, so hopefully there will be a few others that reach market maturity at some point.

Whilst Vaude plans to manufacture its entire collection completely PFC-free by 2020, other manufacturers already have one or more PFC-free collections. A real milestone could soon be achieved by Gore-Tex, whose materials are known to be used as precursors in many garments from numerous outdoor brands. Gore-Tex has announced that they will eliminate PFCs by the end of 2023.

Until then, you can turn to the following PFC-free and environmentally friendly alternatives:

  • Bionic-Finish Eco is based on hyper-branched hydrophobic polymers, which significantly improve the water and dirt-repellent effect and are even highly wear-resistant and hold up when washed as well. Plus, a Bionic Finish Eco will not ruin the breathability of a fabric. Eco Finish is Vaude’s DWR finish made of biodegradable substances.
  • Ceplex and Dermizax can be regarded as alternatives to DWR treatments as well but work in a different way. Ceplex is a PU coating, and Dermizax is a kind of PU membrane with moving molecules.

Water repellents are an extremely important part of your arsenal against wet weather. So, if you don’t want to walk around soaking wet, you better make sure you have one and keep it in tip-top shape! But, don’t use any old thing – be sure to go environmentally friendly! Your health and the environment will thank you for it!

GORE WINDSTOPPER®: Your shield against the wind

22. August 2018
Equipment

Regardless of whether you’re a cyclist, hill walker, climber or mountaineer, there’s one challenge you always have to face: the weather. Snowy, rainy or just outright cold weather is one thing, but strong winds in the mountains are another ball game. If your clothing isn’t up to snuff, it can be disastrous. In fact, even the slightest amount of air permeating your clothing can result in your body temperature dropping quite a bit.

The so-called wind chill factor describes the temperature we feel on our bodies as a result of the combination of temperature and wind speeds. Interestingly enough, the wind speeds don’t have to be incredibly high, either. In fact, lower wind speeds have been shown to affect our perceived temperature so much so that our felt temperature can be as much as 15°C, 20°C or even further below the actual temperature. At higher wind speeds, wind chill rises to a level that is not just unpleasant but dangerous as well because your body cools down so much as a result.

The windproof membrane from GORE-TEX®

Of course, the waterproof GORE-TEX, GORE-TEX Pro or GORE-TEX Active laminates deliver superb windproof protection as well. However, in comparison to the tough functional textiles made of hardshell material, GORE WINDSTOPPER® is not only lighter and more flexible but just as windproof. Admittedly though, the membrane is less effective against rain than the waterproof GORE-TEX membrane.

A garment qualifies as “windproof” when its air permeability does not exceed GORE’s strict windproof standard of 5 l/m²/s. This refers to volume of air that can pass through one square metre of fabric in one second. Then and only then is the functional fabric “windproof”. This is a standard set for all GORE WINDSTOPPER® products – regardless of whether they’re gloves, caps, jumpers or jackets.

Breathability and the GORE WINDSTOPPER® membrane

The GORE WINDSTOPPER® laminate consists of a windproof membrane that is bonded to an outer textile. The membrane is made of PTFE and has a microporous structure, which blocks wind completely but allows water vapour molecules to escape through the pores to the outside, guaranteeing maximum breathability.

Even during high-intensity activities and physically demanding endurance sports, GORE WINDSTOPPER® allows sweat in the form of water vapour to pass through the tiny pores to create the perfect microclimate. In doing so, it prevents the build-up of heat under your clothing and you overheating during physical activity. Thus, the proper combination of GORE WINDSTOPPER® and other layers of clothing not only helps to prevent hypothermia caused by strong winds or headwinds but also reduces the risk of overheating.

Warmth and water resistance

Functional textiles engineered with regular GORE WINDSTOPPER® are available with a variety of outer fabrics. The different fabrics vary in terms of weight, durability and degree of stretchiness. They often come in 2-layer constructions with a loose inner lining or a 3-layer laminate with the membrane bonded to the outer fabric and the lining. The various constructions result in a different feel and insulation performance. However, what all the functional textiles with GORE WINDSTOPPER® have in common is the high level of windproof protection and breathability.

Usually, garments engineered with GORE WINDSTOPPER® are both snow and water repellent. But, it gets better. There are also GORE WINDSTOPPER® products with water resistance for enhanced protection in wet conditions. These are seam-sealed and have been treated with a DWR, which forces water droplets to simply bead up and roll of the fabric instead of getting absorbed by the fabric. In light rains, water-resistant GORE WINDSTOPPER® products will keep you dry for a relatively long time. However, for heavy precipitation, we recommend using GORE-TEX products instead, since GORE WINDSTOPPER® reaches its limits pretty quickly.

In addition to specialised GORE WINDSTOPPER® products for light rain, GORE also creates outdoor clothing with a layer of insulation. The GORE WINDSTOPPER® products with insulation protection combine reliable windproof protection and maximum breathability with warm insulation. This soft, warm synthetic insulation underneath the GORE WINDSTOPPER® membrane prevents overheating during physical activity whilst simultaneously preventing your body temperature from dropping. Since it’s not at all rare to be cold and wet when you’re active in the winter, the GORE WINDSTOPPER® products with insulation protection have also been treated with a DWR to fend off snow and water.

More than just a down blanket – the advantages of a quilt

17. August 2018
Buyer's guide

If you’re looking to reduce the weight of your kit on your next trek but don’t really know where to start, then you’ve come to the right place! The heaviest pieces of kit are what we like to refer to as the big three: your sleeping bag, backpack and tent.

A quality three-season sleeping bag usually weighs 700-800 grams at the very least – and often even more. The best way to rid yourself of all that extra weight is by using a quilt instead of a “classic” sleeping bag. The great thing about a quilt is that it manages to cover 3-season temperatures at a weight of only 400-500 grams, which is almost half the weight of a sleeping bag. Have I got your attention? I thought so!

What is a quilt?

A quilt is basically a sleeping bag that is lacking a part of its fill. And, instead of a zip, a quilt uses a drawcord as a closing mechanism. The lack of a zip and some of the fill are major contributing factors to making a quilt lighter than a sleeping bag, and it does this all whilst retaining a similar temperature rating. Not bad, eh? Apart from reducing the overall weight, the lower fill weight in a quilt makes for a smaller pack size as well, which will certainly be music to the ears of any weight-conscious trekker.

Now, you’re probably asking yourself whether the lower fill weight also results in a decrease in insulation performance. Well, the answer is no. Since a sleeping bag is almost completely filled with insulating material (either down or synthetic material), you can’t really avoid lying on some of the insulation. As a result, the fill is compressed by your body weight, rendering the insulating properties of the material (especially down) completely useless. This means that the warmth in this area of the sleeping bag is not from the sleeping bag itself but from the sleeping mat, which serves to reduce the amount of heat less through the ground. Thus, the lack of fill in a quilt is not a disadvantage when it comes to insulation within a certain temperature range.

If you’re worried about the lack of a hood, you can use the hood of a down jacket or wear a beanie to compensate for it.

Recommended use for a quilt

Another advantage a quilt has over a conventional sleeping bag is its versatility. The drawcord on a quilt is much easier to adjust than a zip and allows you to convert the quilt into a blanket in warmer conditions in no time at all. This feature also provides better ventilation than a zipped-up sleeping bag.

What are quilts usually used for?A good example is long treks, the ones that take you through changing weather conditions, such as the long American trails like Pacific Crest, Appalachian Trail or El Camino as well other European long-distance trails. On trails like these, you’ll be confronted with different conditions and will hardly be able to adapt your kit to the weather. A quilt gives you more options on those kinds of adventures. Quilts are also great options for shorter, less ambitious undertakings in temperatures just below freezing.

Finding the right quilt

Before choosing a quilt, it is important to note that you’ll need a 3-season sleeping mat with an R-value of at least three to go along with it. The quilt can then be attached to the sleeping mat using the drawcord so that you can take full advantage of the insulation the combo provides.

Now we can go quilt shopping. The American sleeping bag specialist Western Mountaineering makes very good and extremely lightweight quilts. Filled with very high-quality 850-fill down, their quilts are always worth looking into.

A model like Nanolite down quilt from Western Mountaineering was built for temperatures just below freezing and weighs in at only 360 grams. The Australite down quilt, on the other hand, will keep you warm in temperatures down to -5°C. Considering it only weighs 480 grams, it’s pretty hard to beat.

Quilts in winter

Now, let’s talk about the limitations of quilts. Quilts are not intended to be used in perpetually cold conditions. The above mentioned temperature range is the maximum you can get out of a quilt and you will only find 3-season quilts for spring, summer and autumn. You can go beyond this range by using a winter sleeping mat, but a quilt is simply not made for winter.

Since a sleeping bag does really nothing other than insulate and store body heat, it is very important to keep the space within the bag to a minimum and keep it zipped shut to maximise insulation. A quilt cannot do this at the level a sleeping bag can.

Conclusion

Let’s keep this brief: If you’re planning on adventuring in regions with changing temperatures that don’t fall far below zero, one of the best ways to save weight is to use a quilt. Because it lacks some of the useless insulation you’ll find in sleeping bags, a quilt can help you save valuable grams. Plus, this design allows for a very high degree of flexibility. You won’t sweat on warm summer nights and won’t freeze when it’s chillier out – what more could you ask for?

Care instructions: How to wash your outdoor socks

15. August 2018
Care tips

“Yuck! Keep your stinky feet away from me!” Yeah, we’ve all been on the receiving end of one of these rather unpleasant statements after a long foot march. But, it’s not our fault, right? All that moisture and bacteria have been hard at work all day, transforming our socks into a disgusting, foul-smelling beasts that you wouldn’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole. Not to mention all the mud, debris and other stuff that have found their way into our shoes and taken quite a toll on our socks. It’s high time we wash them! But how? What should we keep in mind when washing outdoor socks? I’m glad you ask! Here’s our how-to guide on washing outdoor socks.

General tips on how to wash outdoor socks

Don’t worry, washing socks isn’t as complicated as you may think. There are, however, some important things to keep in mind. Let’s start with a few general tips on how to wash your socks properly. The guiding principle behind sock washing is simple: Always pay attention to the specifications provided by the manufacturer! This is incredibly important when it comes to functional fabrics because they require special care.

Turn your socks inside out before washing. Why? Sure, the socks may look dirty on the outside, but it’s even more important to get rid of all the odour-producing bacteria and skin particles on the inside as well. When it comes to the wash cycle, you can err on the side of caution and choose a gentle cycle if you rather don’t want to use a regular cycle. But, always have a look at the manufacturer’s specifications beforehand.

Here’s another tip – this time on the mystery of the disappearing sock. Whether the socks are stolen by mischievous goblins or travel through a wormhole in the drum to another dimension, I guess we’ll never know. Fortunately, there is a way to stop the socks disappearing.

Use mesh wash bag to wash your socks. This will keep the socks together and protect more sensitive functional socks (or fine merino socks) from damage caused by the drum or zippers, buttons or rivets on other garments.

How to wash different kinds of socks

Now, we’re getting down to business! Regardless of whether your socks are made of wool, synthetic, cotton or merino wool, there’s no reason to wash them at an extremely high temperature to get them clean. Although the temperature does depend on the material, 30°C is plenty for merino wool, while a maximum of 40°C is sufficient for functional synthetic materials.

Even at low temperatures, modern detergents are capable of thoroughly washing your socks, just as advertised. Temperatures above 40 degrees are not just unnecessary – they can cause permanent damage to the fabric. Plus, washing at lower temperatures will save you money and protect the environment as well. So, as is so often the case, less is more.

What about detergent? Well, there are several options to choose from out there. The main thing is that you steer clear of additives such as bleach, chlorine, optical brighteners or fabric softeners. That being said, using universal or 3-in-1 laundry detergents is simply not an option due to the aggressive additives and brighteners contained in these products. The gentlest alternative to these products is a delicate laundry detergent. This is a gentle detergent solution that acts like a kind of foamy airbag that protects the socks during the spin cycle.

Delicate wash detergents are highly recommended for functional textiles because they are gentle on the fabric and don’t contain any additives that could damage the fabric or its properties. Personally, I like to use a colour detergent every now and again. It may not be quite as gentle as a delicate detergent, but it doesn’t contain any bleach or similar additives. Plus, it prevents discolouring and colour bleed. But keep in mind that colour detergent is not suitable for wool or silk!

Merino Socks are usually incredibly easy to care for. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that you should wash them at 30°C and use the gentle cycle, if possible. The best option here is to use delicate or wool detergent. The latter should always be used for socks made of “regular” wool because it doesn’t contain protease. Protease is a proteolytic enzyme that permanently damages wool fibres.

If you have a foot fungus, there are special medical and anti-fungal detergents that combat the fungus on the sock. The temperature should be at least 60°C, otherwise 10 to 15% of the spores will survive if washed below this temperature. But, always consult the care instructions provided by the manufacturer beforehand.

Why no fabric softener?

We’re all fine with no bleach, no chlorine, etc, but why no fabric softener? After all, the stuff usually smells pretty fantastic, and the clothes feel so soft and cuddly afterwards. Well, it all comes down to things called cationic surfactants that are in fabric softener. These surfactants form a film on the individual fibres, making the fibre surface appear smoother and feel softer. Sure, that sounds pretty terrific, but it’s really not – believe me.

The film reduces the ability of fabric to absorb moisture, which is definitely more of a negative when it comes to functional textiles. Your socks may be super soft, but your feet will be sweaty and smelly. Fabric softener also damages the elasticity of synthetic fibres, causing them to lose their flexibility, get stretched out and become brittle. A nightmare for the sock cuff!

The benefit that fabric softener has on your clothing is thus questionable at best. Some softeners also contain additives such as silicones, solvents, dyes or formaldehyde that have a harmful effect on the environment as well.

Can the sock go in the dryer?

To find out whether you can tumble-dry your socks, have a look at the manufacturer’s care instructions. In most cases, however, the socks can be tumble-dried at a low heat and delicate setting. However, I would always prefer air-drying them either outside on a clothesline or on a well-ventilated drying rack. That way, the socks will stay in tact and the cuff won’t lose its elasticity.

As you can see, washing your outdoor socks properly isn’t a big deal. If you keep a few little things in mind, even the most stubborn of stains and odours won’t stand a chance and your socks will be ready for their next adventure in no time at all.

How to transport gas canisters safely and dispose them properly

10. August 2018
Equipment

Besides liquid fuel stoves and alcohol stoves, canister stoves are among the most widespread fuel-burning products for mobile outdoor stoves. The gas canisters are available in different sizes, all of which weigh different amounts. Canisters usually come in sizes as small as 100g, but go up in size to 230g and as much as approximately 450g.

They are usually filled with a liquid mixture of butane and propane. These two types of gases have the advantage that they condense into a liquid when you compress it and will stay that way at low pressure. Thus, the canisters don’t have to withstand high levels of pressure, so the mixture in the cartridges is much safer to transport and handle. The liquid gas used for camping stoves is often identical to the mixture used in lighters.

Screw-on cartridges and puncture/pierceable canisters for camping stoves

Depending on your stove’s design, you can either use pierceable or screw-on gas canisters. Older stoves in particular tend to use pierceable canisters. The seal on the stove ensures that the gas doesn’t leak out unintentionally. The downside to these is that once the canister has been pierced, it may not be removed from the stove until it has been completely used up and emptied.

The screw-on canisters don’t have this problem. Equipped with an integrated valve and thread, this gas canister can be unscrewed from the stove as often as required and screwed back on when you’re ready to cook. Another great thing about the screw-on variant is that it can be disassembled and easily packed for transport in a backpack, on your bike or in your car. Plus, there’s no risk of gas leaking from the canister during transport.

Transporting gas canisters in a car

Usually, you can transport gas canisters in a car without any problems. For safety reasons, however, be sure that the canisters are never exposed to temperatures exceeding 50°C. Since the 50°C limit can be reached rather quickly in a car when it’s hot out, it is better to pack the canisters in the boot to protect them from direct sunlight. If you don’t store your gas canisters directly behind the windscreen, you won’t have to worry about too much exposure to the sun and hot temperatures.

If the canister gets too hot for any reason, it usually starts to expand at the base. However, a gas canister can only become explosive if it’s lying in a fire and is ignited in the process. That being said, gas canisters are very safe and can be used without any hesitation.

For longer trips, it’s definitely better to unscrew them for transport in a car. Even though the canister won’t unscrew itself while you’re driving, gas could leak from the cartridge inside the car if the valve on the stove isn’t closed properly or comes loose on a bumpy road. In other words, it’s better not to take any risks. Simply unscrew the canisters and store them in a cool place away from sunlight.

Transporting gas canisters in an aircraft

Gas canisters are not permitted in your carry-on luggage or your checked baggage. This applies not only to gas canisters but to all other flammable gases and liquids as well. Fuel is an absolute no-no on an aircraft. The only exception is a single (gas) lighter, but this must be carried on your person (it is not permitted in luggage). Petrol and windproof lighters as well as lighter refills for lighters of any kind are prohibited as well.

Fortunately, the rules that apply gas canisters and fuel do not apply to the stoves themselves. Regardless of whether it’s a gas stove, multi-fuel stove or alcohol stove, all outdoor and camping stoves may be carried in checked luggage. However, this only applies if the stove has been emptied of its fuel, cleaned thoroughly and is a free of any residues. This is especially important when it comes to fuel containers, which can still contain flammable vapours. If this is the case, the airline can refuse to transport it. So, be sure to clean everything thoroughly before check-in to avoid running into any problems at the airport.

Availability of gas canisters at your destination

Gas canisters for outdoor stoves are not available in all regions of the world. Sometimes there are no pierceable canisters, sometimes no screw-on canisters. In fact, it’s not unlikely to find no gas canisters at all. So, depending on your destination, think about availability in advance and consider using a multi-fuel or petrol stove. If screw-on cartridges are available, they’re a great option because of the uncomplicated transport via aircraft (no time-consuming cleaning).

If you’re travelling around Europe, you’ll be happy to know that camping gas is available almost everywhere. However, there are different regions that prefer pierceable canisters, while others opt for screw-on gas canisters. So, if you can estimate what you’re going to need before the trip and are travelling by car, you save time (and usually money) by buying the necessary canisters with some backups before the trip.

Recycling and disposing of gas canisters

Hopefully, this goes without saying: Never leave your empty fuel containers out in nature! Empty gas canisters are not just regular old rubbish you can toss in the bin – they must be properly recycled. In Germany, you can just stick in the yellow sack (Gelber Sack), as it’s so lovingly called, while other countries have systems for collecting recyclable materials. Oftentimes, the empty containers are just disposed of with normal household waste and sorted out later to be recycled.

Before disposing of an old gas canister, it must be completely emptied. If you’re using liquid fuel, be sure to empty every last drop, as there tends to be some left over after use. For pierceable cartridges, all you have to do is remove the stove and wait a few seconds until the fuel has evaporated. Emptying screw-on canisters is not quite as easy. Fortunately, Jetboil has developed the CrunchIt, a practical recycling tool that completely empties fuel canisters. In order to get every last drop out of the canister, it is punctured with a sharp object, which allows the last remaining bit of fuel to evaporate through a small hole. When canisters are emptied in this way, they are ready for the recycling bin. However, be careful with canisters that haven’t been completely emptied: they are still considered hazardous waste and must not be disposed of using the regular recycling collection service.

If you have any questions to this effect, ask your local council to see when and where you can dispose of hazardous materials.

Find yourself and your way with a map and a compass

8. August 2018
Tips and Tricks

Imagine this scenario for a second: You’re out up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere and want to make sure you’re following the right trail. You take your phone, try to unlock it only to realise the battery is dead. Brilliant. Then you look around for some signs…of course, there is not a single one in sight. Then, you think, “Ah, I can charge my mobile with my power bank!”, but alas, it’s not in your pack where it should be. What to do, what to do…

To prevent you finding yourself in a similar situation, it’s probably good to think about adding a classic tag team to your kit: the good ol’ map and compass. Some may consider it ‘old school’, but a map and compass have a lot going for them. They’re not only extremely small and lightweight, allowing you to stuff them in any pack, but they even work without power! Imagine that!

For these simple reasons, they’re still the perfect alternative or addition to a smartphone or GPS device. In the following, we’re going to give you a brief overview on how to navigate using a map and compass along with some other useful tools.

Navigating with a map & compass – Determining your location

Using a map and compass, you can determine your location and thus the direction you need to go in. Before you can get this far, though, you need to clearly identify two to three features of the landscape. This can be a mountain, lake or church spire you can see in the distance.

Then look for this feature on the map. Once you’ve located it on the map, take your compass and put it on the map so that edge of the plate points toward that feature, as it is displayed on the map. Now rotate the compass housing until the orienting arrow and the needle are on top of each other. The “N” should then be aligned with the red bit of the compass needle. Now you have the right angle.

Navigating with a map & compass – Determining the direction

With the right angle, you can now put the compass on the map and turn it until the “N” on the bezel points to grid north (the top of the map). If you trace the edge of the base plate with a pencil, you’ll see the line you are on. Then repeat the process for your second and third feature that are within view. Where the lines meet is where you are! If the lines you’ve drawn don’t meet, you should repeat the process to determine your precise location.

After you’ve determined your precise location, you can now go about finding your direction of travel. To do this, take your compass, hold it in your hand and turn yourself around until the red end of the needle lines up with the orienting arrow. Now you’ve found the right direction of travel! Let the adventure begin!

Navigating with a map & compass – Following a bearing

After finding the right direction of travel, it’s important to follow it without drifting. Otherwise, you’ll end up arriving somewhere else entirely despite having determined your precise location and direction of travel. And we don’t want that!

Here’s a little trick on how to follow a bearing: Once you’ve found the right location and direction of travel, find a special feature in that direction that you can head for when walking. Once you’ve reached this goal, you can find another one you can use as your next goal. Then repeat this process until you’ve reached your final destination.

But in so doing, make sure you haven’t turned the compass housing!

Alternatives to a map & compass

If you haven’t got a map and compass, there’s no need to despair. Look on the bright side: there are so many more options out there (some even free of charge) you can use to determine your location or direction of travel.

The sun

During the day, the sun can be a very useful tool to get a rough idea of where you are, since you know that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and is due south at noon. Using an analogue watch or an app with an analogue display (with hands), you can find South in the wintertime at the bisector of the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark. In the summertime, South is between the hour hand and the 1 o’clock mark.

The stars

If you need to navigate at night, all you need to do is find Polaris or the North Star, which is located close to the north celestial pole. This makes it the northern pole star. The North Star can be located by using the Bid Dipper. The two outermost stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper point to the North Star, which happens to mark the tip of the handle of the Big Dipper’s little buddy, the Little Dipper. Here’s something else worth noting: Polaris is not visible in the Southern Hemisphere due to the curvature of the earth.

If you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere and can’t find the North Star, you can use other stars to find your way. As a general rule, a star in the North moves to the left, a star in the South moves to the right. A star in the East moves up, while a star in the West moves down. In order to find cardinal directions, you would need to observe the movement of the stars. For example, if a star moves up to the left, it is in the Northeast.

Vegetation

In addition to the sun and stars, you can also use plants to find your way. Unfortunately, though, this is not always 100% accurate. There are always deviations, and the clues we get from plant life are not always completely clear. Nevertheless, you can use trees, shrubs and other plants as an additional source of information to navigate.

Freestanding trees and shrubs, for example, usually lean away from the main direction of the wind, i.e. mostly to the east. But, there are exceptions to this rule, as on slopes or in valleys. Moss growth is another indication of direction. Moss usually grows on the northwest side of trees, rocks, etc. This is due to the simple fact that it grows in damp areas (rain usually comes from the west) and where it is shady the longest. Since the sun never shines from the north, we think you can put the rest of this scout wisdom together yourself.

You can also use snow as an aid to find your way. The snow on the northwest side of trees stays visible for the longest period of time. Why? This goes back to the same “north-south” principle that applies to moss: because it usually snows from the west and the snow melts the fastest on the south side of trees, it remains on the opposite side the longest.

Conclusion

If you’re planning your next adventure or have already packed, we definitely recommend you think about taking a map and compass in addition to your GPS device. Also, don’t forget you can always use the other options Mother Nature has given us for free! That said, have fun and get home safely from your next outdoor adventure!

GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology: soft and comfortable

25. July 2018
Equipment

GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology increases the comfort of functional clothing from GORE-TEX®. Period! Clothing with GORE-TEX® C-KNIT™ backer technology is a a special kind of three-layer GORE-TEX® construction. It weighs up to 10% lighter and is up to 15% more breathable than previous 3-layer laminates. Of course, as with all of GORE-TEX® laminates, garments with GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology are durably windproof and waterproof as well.

By incorporating this incredibly soft backer technology into the interior of hardshell jackets, they were able to create a garment that is incredibly comfortable, regardless of the activity – be it hill walking, mountaineering, skiing or snowboarding. Thanks to the low weight and smaller pack size, products with GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology can be packed down nicely and stuffed in your backpack or luggage.

The backer makes the difference

In terms of its basic construction, the laminate with GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology is similar to the other 3-layer GORE-TEX® laminates. The super-thin layer of expanded PTFE is glued to the strong nylon outer so that the microporous membrane, which guarantees breathability as well as windproof and waterproof protection, is protected from the outside.

When incorporating GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology into a garment, the inside is bonded to an extremely thin, dense yet lightweight circular knit. This technique reduces both the weight and the volume of the laminate. A nice little extra is that the backer makes it easy to slip it over additional layers of clothing. The soft lining simply glides over functional underwear and warm mid-layers.

Breathable and versatile

GORE-TEX® outdoor clothing engineered with GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology is extremely breathable, making it perfect for outdoor activities. These GORE-TEX® garments strike the perfect balance between durability and vapour transfer permeability. While hard shells with GORE-TEX® Active laminates achieve a higher level of breathability, they’re much less durable than their C-KNIT™ counterparts. As for GORE-TEX® Pro, these jackets and trousers are extremely durable and rugged but not nearly as soft as garments engineered with C-KNIT™. The incredibly lightweight GORE-TEX® laminate with GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology has the best of both worlds, offering both a high level of comfort and durability.

When adventuring in the mountains or the flatlands, GORE-TEX® garments with this soft backer are perfect. They work extremely well with additional layers of clothing. GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology feels great against the skin, so you can rock GORE-TEX® jackets engineered with GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology with a functional short-sleeved shirt, if you wish. Of course, if you wear a functional long-sleeved shirt and warm mid-layer made of fleece, the GORE-TEX® fabric will ensure that moisture is quickly drawn away from the body as well.

GORE-TEX® textiles with GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology are a great option for trekking and hut trips thanks to their backpack-friendly pack size and extremely low weight. They’re act as a great back-up to keep in your pack, just in case you run into some inclement weather.

Proper care to keep outerwear functioning properly

To ensure that your GORE-TEX® garment with GORE® C-KNIT™ backer technology retains its breathable and waterproof properties after wearing it multiple times, you should wash it using special detergent designed for washing GORE-TEX® textiles. Afterwards, apply a new water-repellent treatment to the face fabric to restore the water repellence of the GORE-TEX® shell, if it cannot be reactivated. This will ensure that your GORE-TEX® outerwear has all the performance features for a long time to come!

GORE-TEX® PACLITE®: Product technology for every day

20. July 2018
Equipment

GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology is engineered to be extremely lightweight and packable. Plus, it has the full functionality of the microporous ePTFE membrane and provides excellent protection from wind and rain. Amazingly, the same pores that prevent water and wind from getting in are just large enough for moisture vapour to pass through, so you’ll get that legendary breathability as well.

Hardshell jackets and trousers engineered with GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology offer excellent weather protection for travel, free-time activities, several outdoor sports and even everyday wear. These garments are the ideal solution for hiking, cycling or skiing in unpredictable weather conditions. Not only do they take up very little room in your pack, but they also provide reliable windproof and waterproof protection.

The construction of products made from GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology

The core of the special 2-layer laminate is the expanded PTFE membrane. This wafer-thin layer is the heart of GORE-TEX® outerwear, giving the garments the breathability, windproof and waterproof protection they’re known for. The membrane is bonded to a tough outer shell material made of nylon or durable polyester.

While other GORE-TEX® laminates, such as GORE-TEX® Pro or GORE-TEX® Active have a backer on the inside that protects the membrane and adds comfort, products with GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology do not. The lack of this backer reduces the weight of the final product. To keep the interior and the membrane protected from dirt and damage, a protective layer made of an oleophobic (oil hating) substance and carbon covers that side of the membrane.

Plus, they use special GORE-SEAM® tape technology to ensure that all seams on their waterproof jackets and trousers are really completely waterproof. This allows GORE to guarantee that all clothing equipped with GORE-TEX® technology will stay dry on the interior and is able to withstand bad weather conditions even if used intensely and exposed to continuous rainfall.

GORE-TEX® Active or GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology?

Even though both GORE-TEX® laminates are lightweight and have a small pack size, GORE-TEX® Active is more tailored to highly-aerobic activities. The GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology, on the other hand, is great for hill walking, travelling and as a casual option for every day. While GORE-TEX® Active is soft and offers great next-to-skin comfort with a more fabric-like feel to the interior, the inside of GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology is much smoother. In terms of breathability, though, both laminates score incredibly high, with the GORE-TEX® Active membrane being more efficient during highly aerobic activities. However, jackets and trousers with GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology are stronger and more durable.

Functional underwear and proper care

To ensure that the breathability of garments with GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology works properly, the layers of clothing underneath should have good good water vapour permeability as well. The ideal solution is to wear a base layer made of synthetic fibres or merino wool. Cotton does not wick away moisture well, to say the least. It’s also important to pay attention to the drying properties and water vapour permeability of insulating mid-layers made of fleece or elastic synthetic fabrics to ensure that the membrane can function to its full potential.

To preserve the microporous structure of the membrane, it is of utmost importance to clean and care for your GORE-TEX® jacket or trousers on a regular basis. Otherwise, the little pores will eventually get clogged up. The garment will remain windproof and waterproof, but a build-up of dirt could have a negative effect on the breathability of the fabric. But, with proper care, GORE-TEX® PACLITE® product technology is guaranteed to last for a long time, while maintaining a high level of breathability.

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