Tips for Great Outdoor Photos

14. November 2018
Tips and Tricks

You have spent several days flying, driving, travelling by train or perhaps even using a combination of all of the above to reach your desired destination. Then, the approach turned out to be more of a challenge than you had expected, so you’re exhausted but so mesmerised by the landscape that you absolutely have to take a picture. After all, this is what you’ve always dreamed of, and there it is, right before your very eyes: the mountain, the one your climbing mates have told you about a hundred times and the one you were boasting about at the climbing wall not too long ago.

It goes without saying that you’d like to capture this moment in all its glory with your smartphone or fancy digital camera. So you do. But, once you get home and look at the pictures on your computer, you realise that not only does the magic of the place not come across in the photos, but you have absolutely nothing to show for your efforts and your unforgettable trip! A tragedy for anybody who is remotely interested in photography! Fortunately, we’ve got a solution. If you’d like to prevent this happening the next time you head to the mountains, do read on. We’ve got some tips for you…

1. Wait for the golden hour

The best time of day to take spectacular pictures is in the hours shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset. When the sun goes down, light becomes much softer, the shadows longer and the colours much more intense. Overall, there is significantly more contrast compared to daylight. The light during these precious hours make for a much more dramatic atmosphere, and it’s precisely this mood and emotion that we want to inject into our photos. The golden hour allows a photographer to experiment and play with shadows and silhouettes in creative ways.

You can find out what time the sun rises and sets in your region online. Plus, there are several outdoor watches, such as the Suunto Ambit/Spartan or the Garmin Fenix that can display this information as well. But, no dawdling! The sun sets faster than you think.

2. Lines guide the eye through the photograph

Certain elements in an image can help guide the eye through a photo. These elements can be roads, trails, waterways, fences or the like. But, natural things like sand dunes, waves, trees or mountains are ideal as well, especially when the lines connect the foreground with the background. Why? Because they help to create a sense of depth.

If your photograph still doesn’t look that dynamic, oftentimes a change in your position or the point of view can help create the desired effect of depth. Take a few steps forwards or backwards and try to retake the picture.

3. Change your position often

We are used to perceiving the world from the level of our eyes. That’s why, you’ll always find adverts at eye level. That way, we’ll definitely see them! By changing the perspective when taking your next outdoor photo, your image on Instagram will stand out from the rest. For example, you can climb up a cliff and take a picture from above, revealing the entire area from a bird’s eye view, or kneel or lie down on the ground to get a low perspective.

Even one of the most frequently photographed places can look totally different when shot from a “new” perspective. There is simply so much to discover above and below eye level.

4. Having people in the photograph reinforces the perspective

By taking a picture of a person in a landscape, the human eye can better understand where the image was taken from. This trick also has the added bonus that it can even make the person looking at the photo feel as if he or she were the one being photographed. Having a person in the photograph also increases the dynamics of a landscape and gives an impression of how far away the mountains in the background really are.

If the weather is bad or the light less than optimal, a person wearing bright and vibrant outdoor clothing can give your photo a boost. If there’s nobody there but you, a tent or animals in the foreground can also help to achieve the desired effect.

5. Wide-angle lenses enhance perspective

When you finally reach the summit of the mountain, you can often see for miles and miles into the distance. But, how can you capture this feeling of standing above everything and looking into the distance in a photo? Well, the answer is wide-angle lenses, which can help capture as much of the landscape as possible in a single photo.

The panorama function of digital cameras also allows you to get a large scene in one photo. And, if you’ve only got your smartphone on you because you’re trying to save space, there are special wide-angle lenses you can use for this purpose. All you need to do is clamp it to the front of the phone’s lens and you’re ready to go!

6. You can take fantastic pictures in the dark

After you’ve got your tent all set up after a long day of walking and night begins to fall, there are still plenty of opportunities to take some impressive pictures. You can have a friend stand completely still while wearing a head torch pointed at a certain spot. This will prevent the light from the lamp coming across as a kind of “veil” in the picture. You can also illuminate your tent from the inside using some kind of light source. Use a tripod to get a sharp image and avoid shaky pictures.

Even stars in the sky above those stunning mountain peaks can be photographed relatively easily. However, in order to ensure that you get the best results, you need to make sure the settings on the camera are correct. The camera should be firmly mounted to a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, you can use a sturdy rock or a hut’s windowsill as well. The aperture should be opened as wide as possible to let as much light in as possible. Then you can experiment with different exposure times. If the exposure time is too long, the stars in the sky will move as a result of the rotation of the earth and appear blurred. The ISO value should be between 1600-5400 depending on the camera model.

You’ll get the best results when the moon is really bright. And, the further away you are from civilization, the better, because “light pollution” – the artificial light from cities -, makes the stars in the sky less visible than they are out in the wilderness.

7. Longer exposure times open up new possibilities

Long exposure photography is an exciting tool that can be used to create creative images. When there are moving elements, such as water – be it in the form of a stream, waterfall or the sea – long exposure photography can be used to make the water’s movements appear softer. You can experiment with exposure times between 1-30 seconds. The longer the exposure time, the greater the effect.

You don’t have a tripod? As with night shots, you can let your creativity run wild and use natural elements, such as a tree stump or a rock to stabilise your camera. You should also use the camera’s self-timer function or an external one (there are wired, wireless or app options provided by camera manufacturers). Otherwise, the camera may shake slightly when you press the button, resulting in your image becoming blurred.

8. Obstructions in pictures can be interesting

If you want to take a picture of something in the background, obstructions in the foreground can enhance the composition of the photograph. Branches, plants, walls or flowers all work well as intentional obstructions. It’s even okay for it to be a bit chaotic at times. It is the wild after all!

Tip: Are you already packed up and ready for your next big outdoor adventure? Then don’t forget to charge your camera batteries and insert a memory card before you leave. A lot of modern cameras (and obviously smartphones) can be charged with a USB cable and a power bank when you’re on the move, so it doesn’t matter if you’re gone for 3 days or 3 weeks. That way, you’ll always be ready to capture the beautiful landscapes and exciting moments.

9. Incorporate reflections into the image

You can use water for your own composition. Reflections on lakes, seas or even in puddles after it rains can make a picture appear very dynamic and there’s a nice symmetry to it as well. But for this to work, the weather needs to be calm. If the water is moving too much, the reflection won’t come across as well in a photograph. Try to find a spot where several or one interesting element of the landscape is reflected in the water.

You don’t even need a proper camera – a smartphone will do just fine.

A brief explanation of technical terms in photography

Shutter speed (exposure time): indicates the length of time when the camera shutter is open. During this time, the sensor inside the camera is exposed to light. Shutter speed is usually measured in seconds. Short exposure times (1/500) make it possible to virtually freeze the movements of fast-moving objects (birds in the sky, sports photography). Long shutter speeds (1-30 seconds) allow you to smooth out moving water, capture the starry sky, and make something visible in the image even when there is little light.

Aperture (F-stop): changes how wide the lens’ opening is. The more the lens is opened, the more light falls on the camera’s sensor. Lower f-stop numbers (f/1.4 – 3.5) give you a very small depth of field and a blurred background. Therefore, the lower f-stop numbers are ideal for “isolating” an object from the background (portrait, macro shot of animals or plants). Higher f-stop numbers (f/5.6 – 22) are perfect for landscape shots. The shot has more depth of field, while the background is still in focus.

ISO (sensitivity to light): The ISO value controls how sensitively the camera’s sensor reacts to light. As a rule of thumb, an ISO value between 100 and 250 is recommended for bright light conditions (day, sun). Because there’s hardly any light at dusk, in the evening and especially at night, you need an ISO value between 1600-3200 to get good pictures.

Wide-angle lens: A wide-angle lens has a short focal length (10-24 mm) and a wider field of view than normal. This means that objects that are far away appear even smaller. This results in a smaller image scale and allows you to fit more into the frame compared to a longer focal length (50-100 mm).

Buyer’s Guide to Avalanche Gear

7. November 2018
Buyer's guide

During search-and-rescue operations, teamwork is absolutely crucial. It may come as a surprise, but if your companion is buried under merely 30 centimetres of packed snow, their chances of getting out without your help are slim to none. For this reason, the majority of the mandatory avalanche safety gear for today’s mountain sports are designed specifically for search and rescue. Avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels, for example, have all been constructed for this purpose. These are so important. Both you and your companion have to be able to trust them with your life. The only piece of equipment designed for self-rescue is the avalanche backpack.

This contains loads of technology and costs as much as all the other tools altogether. Despite how expensive these packs can be, you shouldn’t hesitate to invest in one if you frequent the backcountry. After all, as the frequency and length of your adventures increase, so too will the probability of you running into an avalanche. An avalanche airbag that is deployed in time can significantly increase your chances of survival.

In addition to these four standard pieces of equipment, there are two rarer devices called an Avalung and an avalanche ball. These don’t have anything to do with rescue per se, but they can increase a buried individual’s chances of survival by either increasing the length of time he or she can breathe or reducing the search time. We will provide more detailed information on these items at the end of the post.

Avalanche transceiver – Searching for avalanche victims

The basic principle of avalanche beacons is quite simple: they transmit radio frequencies to determine the devices’ location. If each member of a group has a device, the rescuers will be able to locate the victim using their receiver. The great thing about these devices is that the victim’s device is automatically switched to send mode.

The newest devices are almost as easy to use in practice as they make it out to be in theory. Most of the technical problems and operating difficulties of the past have been completely eliminated with the new generation. The new devices now have a digital display that not only shows the distance but also the direction by using arrows pointing to where the victim is buried. Plus, thanks to multiple antennas (usually three), multiple victims can be displayed at the same time. A marking function for multiple burials is now a standard feature as well. If you find yourself in the vicinity of a victim, the acoustic search guidance will help with the fine search.

Even with all these innovations, it is absolutely essential that you take an avalanche rescue course and practise using the equipment on a regular basis.

Avalanche probe – Probing for the victim

The newest generation of avalanche transceivers are by no means perfect (yet). They do not show the precise location of the avalanche victim, nor do they show the burial depth. This is where the avalanche probe comes in, which is a thin, collapsible aluminium pole. Since these avalanche rescue situations force you to act as quickly as possible, whilst often dealing with quite a bit of resistance from hard clumps of snow, probing is not as easy as you might think.

In terms of material and functionality, the different models are more or less the same. It’s when it comes to length that you need to have a quick think: You should always consider the fact that the probe should fit in your backpack when collapsed.

Avalanche shovel – Rescuing the avalanche victim

Once you’ve located the victim, you need to dig them out as fast as possible. And, this is something you won’t be able to achieve with your skis or snowboard, especially in hard avalanche snow. Instead, you need a relatively small carbon or aluminium shovel that collapses and can be carried in your backpack.

Depending on how steep the slope is, you should not dig from above but rather from the side toward the victim. This will not only help to prevent you standing on top of the victim but also reduce the risk of injurying them with the shovel. Plus, it is easier to dig this way.

As with shovelling, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when choosing the avalanche shovel itself, because the minor differences in the size and shape of the parts can have such a major impact on a shovel’s performance.

Avalanche ball – Get found faster

The avalanche ball was invented in Austria. The compressed ball is meant to be carried in a backpack. If a skier gets caught in an avalanche, the ball is released and rapidly expands by way of a spring. Because the ball is connected to the avalanche victim by a six-metre-long safety cord, it remains on the surface of the avalanche like a red buoy. Once the avalanche has stopped, this device allows rescue teams to immediately locate the burial victim. Then all they need to do is pull the cord to determine the precise location.

The cool thing about this device is that the release mechanism does not require gas cartridges or any other kind of propellant and can thus be used repeatedly – even multiple times on a single tour. Weighing only a single kilogram, the ball will hardly add any weight to your pack and can be attached to any standard backpack. This along with a standard avalanche set is quite the powerful combo, even without an avalanche backpack.

Avalanche backpack – Floating on the surface of the avalanche

The avalanche backpack is quite light as well, with the airbag system adding only about two kilos to the pack’s total weight. That may sound like a lot to some, but considering the fact that those two kilos could potentially save your life, it’s actually not that much at all. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee your survival – the airbags “only” give your chances of survival a significant boost – quite literally in fact!

They use the physical features of a flowing avalanche in which the chunks of snow are sorted: the smaller ones rise, whilst the larger ones sink. If you activate your airbag pack in time, the airbags will inflate, giving you an additional volume of up to 170 litres within mere seconds. The added volume gives you a major lift in an avalanche, significantly increasing your chance of landing of the surface of the avalanche once it has come to a halt.

Today, there are four different systems, each of which have certain advantages and disadvantages. There are models with additional protection for your head and spine, detachable systems and models that allow for multiple releases in the event of additional avalanches.

Avalung – A possible addition

The Avalung can be added to your avalanche safety gear but is not intended to replace an avalanche airbag. It is worn around your upper body like a sternum strap and is designed to help you to continue to breathe with snow packed around your body.

However, to be able to do so, you’ll need to have the mouthpiece between your teeth at the very moment you’re submerged. Somehow you have to manage to get the tube to your mouth during an avalanche and keep the mouth piece there, even when subjected to the brutal force of the avalanche. Even though there have been people who have actually managed to do this and it has indeed saved lives, it can also go horribly wrong. For this reason, never let the Avalung lull you into a false sense of security.

Conclusion

If you’re planning a trip in avalanche-prone areas, it is incredibly important to go about it in a responsible manner, meaning all participants must be capable of planning and executing avalanche rescue missions as quickly and responsibly as possible.

To do this, it is absolutely essential that everybody in your party know how to use the safety equipment mentioned above – preferably in their sleep. You shouldn’t rely on mountain rescue teams. Even though the rescue teams in the Alps may be the quickest and most efficient in the world, it’s difficult for even them to rescue an avalanche victim in time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising professional mountain rescue teams by any means – we’re merely trying to emphasise how important it is to plan your trip accordingly, taking the risks of avalanches into consideration.

If you still get caught in an avalanche, only then is it time for your safety equipment and mountain rescue to act.

Alpine Trekkers visit DMM in Wales

31. October 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

Well, here we are, on the banks of Llyn Padarn in the small village of Llanberis, which is located in the land of unpronounceable words and place names. A few minutes later, we’re at a local climbing shop where we’re greeted with a grin. “Hey team ‘no shoes’. How are you doin’?” Good thing we can laugh again. Shortly thereafter, we’re sat at the front door with our buddy Ben from DMM with three pairs of new climbing shoes, eating fish & chips, as Hazel Findlay walks by. A few chips go around before we pack our backpacks and head off into the evening for some climbing.

Why no shoes, you ask? Well, it all started a few hours ago: We arrive at the airport in Stuttgart, where we are forced to explain the unexplainable to airport security. Yes, the lump of metal in our duffle bags is for climbing. All we get is a look of disbelief. And yes, all the white powder in the little bags is for climbing, too! No, it’s not coke and it’s definitely not explosives! After making it through security, we board our plane to Manchester where we leaf through our Selective Guide for North Wales. Slate quarries, trad climbing, paying a visit to DMM and great weather – the next 4 days are looking good!

Upon arrival, though, reality sets in. None of our three checked bags even boarded the aeroplane. So, we go to the counter to express our dismay, only to find a bunch of other distraught passengers looking for their forgotten luggage as well.

After informing the airline that the lost luggage contains climbing equipment worth several thousand euros, we are assured that not only can we buy the essentials (all at the expense of an Irish budget airline that shall remain nameless) but our belongings will be forwarded to us as quickly as possible. So far, so good. So, we grab our hired car, whiz over to Wales and buy the essentials: climbing shoes and sleeping bags.

The first climb on Welsh rock

Fortunately, because this is an official visit to DMM with a small group of Alpinetrek employees, we don’t have to worry about there being a lack of quickdraws, cams and nuts.

They also let us rent some climbing harnesses, half ropes, helmets and the like thanks to Ben. He had already got us a discount and told the local climbing shop about our arrival. Pretty sweet. Kitted out and ready to go, we set off to finally lay our hands on these wonderful Welsh rocks ourselves!

For me personally, the first four pitches were my first in trad climbing, a great feeling – no bolts, no rules. Only one line among hundreds, as far as the natural structure goes. The only problem I have is that I don’t really trust my brand-spanking-new shoes from Scarpa yet, but that will come. So, there we stand, admiring the stunning view with a beautiful sunset at the edge of the valley.

One moment of happiness follows another

The next day, a glorious Sunday. Early in the morning the temperature climbs above 20°C, forcing us to seek out some of the few shady places there are to climb. My first trad lead climb – Whoop whoop! And that before breakfast!

As a reward, we get an English Breakfast with bacon, beans, eggs and sausages in the open air. Not everyone’s thing, but I love it! The wonderful scenery with Snowdon (1,085 m) in the immediate background is the icing on the cake. In general, you could say that North Wales is a true El Dorado for outdoor enthusiasts… We see mountain bikers, road cyclists, backpackers and above us there’s a single paraglider flying over the quarries. Oh, and the Atlantic is not far away either. There’s even supposed to be an artificial wave pool as well.

You’d think it’d be easy to find a good spot to climb, considering how nice the weather is, but’s just so hot. Beneath the clear sky in the famous dark grey slate quarries, you feel like you’re melting. But here, in the quarries, time seems to have stood. The area is riddled with abandoned mining structures, rusty rail and cable systems…did I mention the scorching heat? Being here is like travelling back in time, especially when you consider the fact that the Dinorwic quarry (formerly the second largest slate quarry in the world) has been abandoned since 1969.

Luckily, however, we have people with us who not only really know the area and its historical significance in climbing but also manage to find one of the few shady places to climb: the Serengeti. Here we spend the rest of the day with some of the rare bolted sport climbing routes and beautiful crack lines where we put almost the entire DMM line up of Dragon Cams, Wallnuts, Offset Nuts, Brass Offsets, Peenuts as well as I.M.P.’s to the test. An intro to climbing hardware at its finest!

Factory tour in Llanberis

At the start of the new week, we find ourselves in the DMM offices in Llanberis. We have the pleasure of chatting with various employees and product developers before taking a closer look at the heart of Welsh craftsmanship: the factory complete with their own CNC machine facility. Here is where DMM bends, presses and forges their carabiners, belay devices and pulleys and performs their quality controls.

The entire production cycle of DMM’s products takes place here. Due to environmental reasons, anodising is the only step in the production process that is carried out elsewhere. It is a really fascinating to see, especially considering the fact that all this hardware is stuff we trust with our lives!

Our long-lost luggage

Meanwhile at Manchester Airport: Our luggage is supposedly finally on its way here. How it’s going to get here and when it’s going to arrive remains a mystery. Anyway, since I only have one pair of underwear, I decide to go wash them in the lake. Probably not so good for the indigenous fauna, eh? Meh, I’m sure they’ll survive ;-) I guess I won’t worry about my t-shirt. We’re going to be on the move all day anyway – a fresh tee won’t make much of a difference.

What I do miss, though, is a decent pair of approach shoes. My sneakers are comfortable, but less suitable for hiking. In the afternoon, we’re going to the Idwall slabs which has quite a few really nice, moderately difficult pitches (VD – HVS). Perfect for experimenting with mobile belay techniques. And so, the hours pass, and before we know it, it’s early in the evening.

Only after hearing the thundering roar of a twin-prop aircraft from the Royal Air Force do we look at the fire-red horizon and realise it’s time for us to pack up and go home.

Off to the Rainbow Slab Area with self-made carabiners

It’s our last day before we head back to Germany, and still there’s no trace of our luggage, but we don’t really care at this point. In the morning, we head to DMM again. One of the many highlights of our trip was the opportunity to assemble half a dozen carabiners each under the watchful eye of our friends at DMM, complete with official approval, laser engraving and random tests of their breaking strength. It’s quite impressive how much the carabiners and slings can take before they break and what a negative impact external factors, such as ageing, UV rays and corrosion have on their ratings.

Bursting with confidence in our new hardware, we do the first thing that comes to mind – we go climbing! Our goal today: the Rainbow Slab Area. When we arrive, we lay eyes on the prominent crack line running up the centre of the rainbow slab. We climb “Bela Lugosi is Dead” (E1 5b), a stunning route, using basically all the gear our harnesses can hold, including everything from cams and medium-sized nuts to really small brass offsets.

Now, we’ve all got trad fever. Or to put it in the words of our climbing guide: “The Rainbow Slab itself is mostly old-school trad classics with minimal or no bolting giving run-out and technical routes requiring deft footwork, strong fingers and a very steady head”. There is no better way to describe the huge differences there are between trad climbing and the traditional sport climbing we know here in Germany. At nightfall, we leave the area and treat ourselves to plenty of celebratory Guinness, cider and fish & chips!

Wales, we’ll be back

Before we head back to Germany, we quickly test one or two boulders and then say goodbye to Ben and DMM with a huge thank you (not least for all the gear we borrowed). In the car, we find out that our luggage is on its way to Wales. Yeah, thanks for nothing, cheap airline from Ireland, whose name shall, once again, remain nameless. An entire week goes by before we get our beloved half ropes, climbing shoes and racks of trad gear back.

Despite the less than optimal experience with the airline, we only have positive memories of our trip to Wales. I think I can speak for all my fellow travellers when I say that the trip was an absolute success and extremely informative. Wales, we’ll be back!

Camping in winter: Getting used to the cold

26. October 2018
Tips and Tricks

When you’re in snow and ice, your skin and muscles are basically the last line of defence against the cold – and quite frankly, the most important. Why? Well, if you’re completely frozen to the marrow, even the cleverest techniques and coolest hacks can do little to remedy the situation. This is why it is particularly important to plan your winter adventure according to both your individual abilities and fitness level. Careful planning is even more important in winter than it is in summer.

Because your body and mind are just as important for camping in winter as your clothing and gear, we’re going to go about this from the inside out. First, we’ll discuss how to get your body and mind adapted to the cold and how important it is to familiarise yourself with the cold itself. This knowledge will give you the resources you need to come up with your own techniques and strategies as opposed to learning a thousand tricks by heart. Then, we’ll provide you with some valuable tips on sleeping and cooking before moving onto the gear you use to shield yourself from the cold, i.e., your clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and tent.

Cold-exposure training: Body and mind

Let’s start off with something you probably didn’t know: How you perceive cold and your sensitivity to it are not predetermined by genes, but can actually be influenced and trained, much like your muscles. This is far from being a new discovery, but it is surprising how many outdoor enthusiasts are unaware of this fact. Interestingly enough, most of the articles I have found on this subject hardly addressed this at all, treating it only as a side note or ignoring it altogether.

Training your body

Controlled encounters with the cold are pretty hip at the minute because they are considered to be good for your health and even give your immune system a boost. But, how, you ask? Well, you can train yourself to be less affected by the cold by regularly going outside in winter, taking progressively colder showers more often, taking contrast baths and not wearing thick scarves and polar jackets all winter long.

One of the most influential individuals in the whole cold-exposure training scene was a slightly eccentric Dutchman named Wim Hof. More akin to a walking thermostat than a man, Hof feels just as comfortable diving in the Arctic Ocean as he does running a marathon in the desert. Because he supposedly controls his vegetative nervous system and does other things that are medically impossible, he has long been considered to be a unique genetic case or simply dismissed as charlatan. But, after being scientifically examined, he began giving workshops on his method now known as the “Wim Hof Method”. These workshops have proven so effective that after about a week of one, the participants end up going hiking to the summit of a mountain on the Polish-Czech border in t-shirts and shorts.

As amazing as that is, we’re not trying to promote any gurus or seminars. After all, there is quite a bit of free information out there you can use to train your body. This is simply the first generally accessible method that I know of that ordinary people can use to train themselves to become significantly less sensitive to cold.

Training your mind: Acceptance and acclimatization

Another important part of cold-exposure training is changing your attitude to the cold: Because most of us only see its hostile aspects, we usually forget the intensively invigorating element (which you can experience after a cold shower, for example). Think about how tiring the air in an overheated office is… exhausting!

It may come as a surprise, but thinking “warm thoughts” can be more effective than you think. In fact, the Tibetan Tummo meditation technique (which the Wim Hof method is based on) works with the visualisations of flames to contribute to the generation of actual body heat, and experienced practitioners of this technique can generate so much heat that they melt through the ice floes they sit on. Now that’s amazing! Even though this is something we probably won’t be able achieve by the time we head out on our next winter camping trip, it does show what a dramatic effect our minds can have on our physical sensations and the world around us!

Damn, it’s still so cold!

If a positive attitude and good cold-exposure training fail to keep you warm, it’s important to get on your feet and get your blood pumping: You can do this by running around with heavy rocks, doing squats, jumping jacks or whatever else comes to mind. And do it for as long as it takes to warm you up without working up a sweat. After that, you will have really earned your warm sleeping bag!

Of course, this will only work if your body still has some energy left. If you’re so exhausted that you can hardly get up, it’s high time you started questioning your planning and thinking about throwing in the towel (which is hopefully still possible)…

Mini digression: What is cold?

A better understanding of cold is not only helpful in developing remedies, but may even help to overcome unnecessary fears. Heat and cold can be regarded as states of motion: molecules are in rapid motion when it’s hot, and they are slower or don’t move at all when it’s cold. The colder it gets, the less moves until at some point everything becomes stiff. Since movement takes up space, a cubic metre of warm air contains fewer air molecules than a cubic metre of cold air. In cold air, the molecules are closer together, which is why cold air is “heavier” and sinks to the ground. The warm air rises and cools down.

However, if you manage to “envelop” a layer of warm air and cover up the object you’d like to keep warm (e.g. your own body) as much as possible, the cold air will no longer be able to displace the warm air. This is basically how all thermal insulation works: Winter clothing, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and shelters are all designed to trap warm air in some sort of shell. Down jackets, synthetic sleeping bags or double-glazed windows all trap a relatively warm layer of air that repels the cold air from the outside.

Combatting the cold: Cook, eat, drink, digest and let it out!

Our bladders get full, our stomachs rumble and we have to listen – that’s just the way it is. Yep, the rhythms and limitations of the body also play a major role in winter adventures. If you don’t want your bowel movements to control you and would rather retain that sense of freedom and adventure you were out for in the first place, we recommend following these tips and rules about your food and drink intake. Actually, it’s just one rule, which is unfortunately not the easiest to follow: Try to schedule your intake of food and fluids in such a way that you don’t have to get out of your sleeping bag in the middle of the night.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t eat or drink anything for as long as possible before going to sleep? No, not at all! A lack of fluids and food at night is bad for sleep and recovery. You need the energy in your stomach to keep warm while you sleep. The body demonstrates this quite clearly by making it very difficult for us to sleep when we’re hungry or thirsty. You can eat one to two hours before going to sleeping, but try not to drink too much during this time. I don’t know if this is worth mentioning, but yes, it’s true: the hotter and higher-energy the drinks and soups are, the better. It’s even better to have an insulated bottle to keep your drink warm for the next day.

Ginger, chilli and other hot spices are a good way to keep warm as well, but you shouldn’t overdo it before going to bed because the stimulating effect they have on blood flow can end up making it difficult to fall asleep.

Drinking/melting snow

In cold weather, you may feel less thirsty, but you still need a lot of fluids. The air is often very dry, and your extremities can only be supplied with blood if you have enough liquids. If there’s snow, there is no need to worry about staying hydrated, as long as you have enough fuel for your stove.

Depending on how dry the snow is, it can take a little longer to melt. If you use ice, you should chop it up into the smallest possible bits. When you do this for the first time, it can be hard to figure out the amount you need for hydration and cooking, which is why you’ll often have warm water left over. But don’t waste it! Pour it in your insulated bottle for later use.

Cooking

If there is no shelter from the wind outside, you’ll have to cook in your vestibule. Ideally, you will have already dug a hole in the snow beforehand, which creates a place to sit and serves as a trench for cold air to sink into. To prevent it snowing into the trench, make sure that it doesn’t jut out past the end of the tent.

When cooking in your vestibule, attention is paramount. A lapse in concentration for a single second could be disastrous. The stove must be as stable as possible and as far away as possible from anything flammable. It is also incredibly important to have enough ventilation – otherwise, you could get carbon monoxide poisoning.

Thefirst sign of a lack of oxygen is a flickering and “puffing” flame. As the amount of oxygen decreases, you start to feel drowsy and can even die! This is especially risky when you are travelling alone, so be careful!

Fuel

In very low temperatures, gas and alcohol stoves have clear advantages over the otherwise favourable gas cartridges. Their compressed propane/butane mixtures do not evaporate properly in extremely cold conditions. Of course, you can try to keep the cartridges warm in your clothes or sleeping bag, but since this is kind of pain, it’s better to use gasoline or multi-fuel stoves in winter.

Cold exposure training: Clothing

Don’t bundle up too heavily out there. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but when you consider how physically demanding a winter adventure can be, you will work up a sweat pretty quickly, even when it’s freezing cold. And this results in moisture getting into your clothing and onto your skin, which will not only make you feel clammy the second you take your first break, but can also make your body cool down faster for the rest of the trip. Thus, a thickly insulated jacket is usually only used during breaks and at camp.

In general, it is best to stick to layering. Put on and take off your clothes in layers, preferably before you start to freeze or sweat. The great thing about layering is the fact that a small layer of air forms between each layer of clothing, which provides insulation. More layers will only bring more heat if they’re not pressing up against each other. Layering systems don’t just work for your body but for your head, hands and feet as well. When it’s extremely cold, you can keep your tootsies warm with down booties. For your head, you can combine a knit cap with a Buff underneath or – if you’d rather go for a more intimidating look – a balaclava.

Important: Even the best protection from the cold is useless without the proper protection from water. Hopefully, our brief description of the impact of sweat in a layering system has made it clear just how quickly the protection against the cold can be undermined by water. That said, when you’re out in the snow, you should always have enough protective layers at hand – be it your rucksack, sleeping mat, bivvy bag or space blanket. The latter is a lightweight, stable and inexpensive helper in many situations (as an underlay, extra blanket, for bundling up, etc.).

Adapting to the cold – Your sleeping bag

A winter sleeping bag should have a snug-fitting contour hood as well as a draught collar that can be tightened. Only this can really prevent cold air getting in through the neck and chest area.

Not only should your sleeping bag be thick, but it should also fit the shape of your body and hug it relatively tightly, but not too tightly. You should still have some wiggle room so that you can roll over and don’t negatively impact the insulation. If there’s any pressure applied to a sleeping bag that is already too tight, you’ll end up crushing the fill, which will result in cold being able to penetrate and cold spots forming. Too much empty space in your sleeping bag will rob your body of precious warmth.

Ideally, the sleeping bag should have just enough space for you to wear a few more layers of clothing. However, keep in mind that these only provide additional warmth if they don’t press against the fill or your own skin, because as I said before, heat is mainly retained by trapping air. The big advantage of sleeping with several layers of clothing: you won’t be half-naked and shivering when you get up in the morning.

Liners and VBLs

Instead of wearing additional clothing, a liner is often recommended as a way to add warmth and simultaneously protect the sleeping bag from moisture and dirt. Unfortunately, it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world to lie in a sack inside another sack, which can bunch up and shift whilst you sleep.

A special kind of liner is the vapour barrier liner (VBL). A VBL is made of a non-breathable fabric and is recommended for use with down sleeping bags in very cold regions. Because the body produces a salty discharge, even when it’s really cold out, which can permanently damage sensitive down fibres, the VBL is designed to absorb water vapour and sweat to protect the bag, keeping it fully functional. But, as a result, you will literally be stewing in your own juices. Your sweat will not be wicked away to the outside.

Hot water bottlesor heated rocks

A mobile mini-heater in your sleeping bag can be a blessing. You can use either a bottle filled with hot water or a rock placed somewhere near the camp fire. Of course, you should make sure that the bottles or rocks are cool enough to touch and nowhere near hot enough to damage the fabric of your sleeping bag.

Sleeping mats

If you’ve understood how a sleeping bag works, you’ll know why a thick sleeping mat is indispensable in winter. Without one, the heat trapped in your clothing and sleeping bag would immediately escape through direct contact with the ground. However, a mat’s insulation performance not only depends on how thick it is but also has a lot to do with its construction. The latter determines how much air can be trapped in the mat.

In the past, this required thick foam, but now even wafer-thin chamber walls can achieve an astonishing insulating effect. This is where the R-value comes in, which is a measure of resistance to heat flow through material. The R-value is a whole number between 1 and 6. The larger the number, the better the mat insulates you from the cold ground. A mat with an R-value of 4 or above insulates against ground temperatures of about -10°C and is generally considered suitable for winter use.

However, these can be extremely pricy. A less expensive alternative is to combine two inexpensive sleeping mats or add extra layers to a mat by using stuff sacks, clothing or rescue blankets. However, these solutions are only temporary and neither comfortable nor particularly effective. And, you’ll usually need the stuff again at some point, anyway.

Adapting to the cold – Your tent

A winter tent must be sturdier and thicker than a light summer tent. The poles must be able to withstand the load of wet snow. We recommend using a double set of poles or a replacement pole set plus a few matching tube sections in case a pole snaps.

Your tent should have a lot of space in both the vestibule and inner tent to accommodate all the clothing and gear you’ll have with you. Another important thing to consider is airflow. It is just as important as it is in summer. After all, you don’t want a build up of moisture in the tent, do you?

But do make sure that the vents are relatively high up and can be closed in the event of prolonged snowfall. Lastly, saving money in the wrong places can end up being disastrous on winter trips in the mountains. Reliable and high-quality tents are the only way to go.

Location

When it comes to camping in winter, it is particularly important not to go for beauty alone – make sure you’re safe. That said, be sure that no snow masses or branches can fall on your tent. You should also avoid avalanche-prone areas, such as snow-covered slopes or snowdrifts. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should be out in the open. Setting up camp in a wind-protected area is always a good idea, which is why you should choose a spot behind a rock or a fallen tree over one on an open field. If possible, the entrance should be facing away from the wind.

Tent setup

Before heading out, be sure to practise pitching your tent so that you can get it done safely, even in harsh conditions. If the snow is not deep, it is best to dig a shallow platform with your avalanche shovel so that you can pitch the tent as you would in other seasons as well. Plus, bare ground is better than snow or ice-covered ground in terms of temperature. If you don’t want to dig, you can also create a level platform by stomping the snow (with skis, snowshoes or boots) and letting it sit for about an hour. Then, you can pitch your tent using pegs for snow or sand. You may have to compact the snow around the pegs again before securing the tent with your guy lines. Alternatively or additionally, you can also use skis, poles, rocks, or any object that can be buried in the snow.

Now that your tent is at least somewhat protected by the snow, it already has some wind protection. But, make sure it’s not in there too deep, especially in powder snow, because otherwise the entrances and vestibules could be blocked by snow. For situations like this, it’s always good to have an avalanche shovel at the ready.

If you’re expecting a storm and there’s a lot of snow, you could think about building a snow wall as a wind break using your avalanche shovel. This wall, which should be about 1 metre away from the tent, also prevents snow entering the space between the fly and inner tent. If you’re worried about wind blowing in from the bottom of the tent, you can reinforce the lower edge of the tent with a small wall as well.

After that, dig the cooking trench at the entrance mentioned in the section on cooking. It serves as a cold hole that keeps the sleeping area warmer, prevents snow penetrating into the tent and offers comfortable seating.

Clear instructions on how to set up Hilleberg tents in deep snow is available here.

Heating your tent

There are several heaters out there that can be used in your tent, provided you do so with caution. Some stoves even have special add-ons that also function as heaters. This is more suitable for campers staying in one spot or on longer expeditions with a base camp.

For everyone else, portable heaters are probably too heavy and difficult to use. Besides, hardly any standard tent meets the requirements for these heaters, and the list of risks associated with their use isn’t the shortest either (burns, falling gas containers, defective burners or hoses). All in all, it is better to opt for the more “traditional” methods mentioned here.

Summary

If you slowly train your body to get accustomed to the cold, you will have more fun and freeze less on your next winter trip! So what are you waiting for? Let’s start mastering the cold!

Fellow Alpine Trekker Jan on the Beacons Way

24. October 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

“It is a strenuous walk with plenty of ascents and descents. Parts of the route across open moorland can be difficult to navigate in poor weather – this and the isolation of these sections can make following parts of the route hazardous. The Beacons Way can be walked in its entirety in about 8 days but could easily take twice as long as there is so much to explore and enjoy en route” (en.wikipedia.org).

You’re probably wondering why I’ve chosen to begin this post with a quote from Wikipedia. Well, these few lines couldn’t describe more accurately just what our fellow Alpine Trekker Jan had the pleasure of experiencing first hand in August of 2012.

Anything is possible

How does one get the idea to choose Wales of all places as a destination for a a multi-day walk? True, the West Highland Way in Scotland is probably the best known option amongst the long-distance footpaths on the island, but I have to admit I’m more drawn to the unknown. I have this unrelenting urge to discover, you know, that urge to take the road less travelled. And, the few hundred people per year who dare to tackle the Beacons Way (according to various forums) can’t be wrong about it, can they? The ability to read a map and compass is generally regarded as essential for this route. And, because of the extremely variable weather conditions, thick mist and sink holes off the official route, the walk promises to be quite the adventure. And finally, the national park itself is supposed to be stunningly beautiful, provided the sun is shining.

Maybe I’ve just watched too many shows with the famous adventurer Bear Grylls, you never know. But, when I read that British special forces regularly train in the Brecon Beacons National Park, where the long-distance footpath is located, I was hooked. The terrain apparently takes such a physical and mental toll on you that the place is absolutely perfect for such military training.

Preparation is good, improvisation is better

From London, I travel by train to Cardiff, stay there for a night in a hostel and continue on to the small town of Abergavenny, the official starting point of the trip. Wait, what am I even carrying on my back? Well, I’ve got my 65L rucksack, which contains my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, warm fleece clothing, waterproofs and provisions for 7 days. You can also find a packing list for trekking here. I’ll be cooking my grub with alcohol, which I have to buy there. My plan is to be self-sufficient, at least for most of the way. Also very important: I’ve got the maps for the region: the Ordnance Survey Maps OL12 & OL13 on a 1:25,000 scale as well as a compass and a GPS device for tracking. As it turns out, it was a good idea to take a few survival essentials as well, such as a flint, parachute cord, a pocket knife and a small roll of duct tape, all of which was protected by a large rain cape – but more on that later.

The route

On the first day after walking up under a snuggly blanket, I head out on the route, which takes me over the ‘Holy Mountain’ (486m above sea level) up to a small place called Llanthony, which amounted to about 20 kilometres in total. It’s here that I choose to spend the night, alone at a campsite. Up to this point, the weather has been so-so. I haven’t been able to enjoy any real views so far, but I have got a taste for the very wet moorland and am now trying to arrange myself with the pathfinding. After a wrong turn and a long detour, I decide to look at my map more often! The official markings along the route seem rather scarce, but every couple of hours, I see one out of the corner of my eye, hidden away by some overgrowth, which makes me want to jump for joy every single time.

Fellow alpine trekker Jan on the Beacons Way.After an average night’s sleep, I make myself some warm milk and oat flakes. My little alcohol stove needs a relatively long time to make this happen, especially in comparison to modern gas stoves, but the system weighs next to nothing and has been serving me well since my time in the service. With the sun shining down upon me, I continue my journey past small, medieval villages, ruins from the 11th century, through lush green undergrowth to Crickhowell. After pitching my tent, I sit down in front of my stove, make myself a bag of noodles and study the map. Although there is a relatively large campsite in the village and a few tiny bed & breakfasts along the way, I hardly meet a soul. On the plus side, I was able to enjoy the weather without a worry in the world as well as some fantastic views over the Brecon Beacons. I hope this continues!

British weather ‘at its best’

Nothing against the British, but the rumours are true: when it rains here, it pours. Even trying to get up when it’s bucketing down like this in temperatures around 13°C is a tall task. Soon, I meet a Welsh man on the street and timidly ask what the weather is going to be like, but all he can give me is a grin full of pity and only an inkling of hope for sunshine come afternoon. So, I decide to spend the morning off the beaten track and follow the less exposed ‘Brecon Canal’ to the village of Llangyndir (yes, some of these place names are real tongue twisters. Of course, no one understands me when I say where I want to go…).

Convinced that I have discovered one of the more beautiful spots on the map, I continue for a few more kilometres to find the sun beaming its rays on me on the last climb of the day! Reinvigorated, I pay a visit to the ‘Talybont Reservoir’, on the northern shore of which there is a youth hostel of sorts with campgrounds and an outdoor education centre. At least, that’s what it appeared to be. And although I find a warm kitchen there, I decide to eat my own food first. After all, I’d rather not find out later that I’ve been lugging all this stuff around for nothing.

Day 4 – the highest peak

This section of the Beacons Way is officially described as ‘strenuous’. The weather is dry, albeit cloudy, and offers the best conditions for the 27km-long stretch. But, it’s not the distance that is the problem, but it’s the elevation gain. The route takes me through forested areas with moderate ascents at first, but very soon the path becomes extremely steep. After about 1 1/2 hours, I reach the central mountain range in the Brecon Beacons National Park and arrive on the first plateau, at which point I see some soldiers marching toward me at a pretty good clip. Visibly exhausted and carrying an incredible amount of kit, they torture themselves up and down the mountain. Amazing.

Even though I’m now standing beside a large number of day walkers on the Fan y Big (719m above sea level), there’s a short moment of silence, allowing me to take it all in. My gaze wanders over the expansive, green, hilly landscape and I estimate that I can see about 20-25km in the distance. This is exactly what I came here for! Before I continue, I grab another slice of pumpernickel as a pick-me-up. The path takes me down a steep descent, then straight up Pen y Fan, which is 886m above sea level and thus the highest peak in southern Wales. I take a quick glance behind me, only to see dark and ominous clouds on the distant horizon. I pick up the speed to reach the summit at least somewhat dry, but alas, this hope of mine quickly dissolves. Fellow alpine trekker Jan on the Beacons Way.Suddenly, I can see less than 10 metres in front of me, and after reaching the summit obelisk, I have serious trouble finding the way back down. Finally, by the skin of my teeth, I manage to find my way down despite the torrential rains. Heavily eroded paths lead the way into the valley where I reach a place called ‘Storey Arms’. After half an hour of waiting, nobody shows up, so I decide to go to a catered hut about 2km off the path, which not only gives me the opportunity to dry all my gear but also has something warm to eat! Plus, I get to enjoy a bottle of wine or two with a German family and two Scottish hikers. I couldn’t dream of a more beautiful end to such a long, difficult day.

Life is full of surprises

Yeah, so not only am I’m really lost, rain and dense fog are expected to last the entire day. Great…and just this morning, I was told I shouldn’t go hiking today. Did I listen? Of course not. With a slight hangover from the night before, I thought it would be best to keep moving…

So, now I’m standing in the middle of this boggy, heather-clad plateau like a fool, cursing Mother Nature for this awful weather. My compass is showing me the general direction, but I am more than an hour away from anything that remotely resembles a trail. The last sign, if I’m not mistaken, was a cairn about one kilometre back. So, I follow my instincts and slide about 50 metres down a steep, muddy slope full of sheep dung. Great… Not only am I soaking wet, I’m covered with…ugh, you know what… Today is really not my day…

After a brief moment of reflection, I hear the sound of a small waterfall, allowing me to determine my location on the map. I conquer one kilometre after another on the ‘Old Roman Road’, which is recommended as an alternative route for walkers in extremely poor visibility, interrupted only by several fast-moving, one-to-two-metre wide streams I have to jump over with all my kit. Great… The current is so strong that it would pull my legs out from under me and throw me down the slope with ease. So, first I toss my pack over to the other side, then I follow, hoping that the ground on the other side will hold my weight. I do this over and over again before finally reaching the ‘Ogof Ffynnon-ddu National Nature Reserve’. Bless you. ;)

This area is known for its extensive cave system and karst areas with scars and sinkholes that line the path. In other words, it’s extremely important not to stray from the path, which, unfortunately proves rather difficult in dense fog. Fortunately, the larger holes are clearly marked on the map. Trickier still is the so-called ‘Area of Shake Holes’, consisting of barely recognisable cracks and holes in the ground, often overgrown and thus very difficult to see. But, in the end, I make it to ‘Tawe Cwm’ after 30 kilometres of walking, completely soaked, but thankful for my most faithful companion – my map.

Hating life (because even my last dry sock in my supposedly rain-protected pack now has enough water in to fill half a glass), I set up my camp and reflect… underwear wet, sleeping bag wet, and it looks like stalactites are forming in my tent. So, I spend the night shivering than sleeping, asking myself why I didn’t stay in that damn hut ..

A conciliatory farewell

The following morning begins with me making some minor repairs to my equipment. While hanging my still-wet socks over the stove to dry, I notice that several seams on my walking boots have come apart. Before tending to my shoes, I patch up some smaller holes in my rain cape, which were probably caused by some brambles along the way, with some duct tape. As for the shoes, they need a bit more than that. To keep the bits of material that overlap on the uppers from tearing even more, I slip two zip ties around each shoe. It doesn’t look pretty, but it’s definitely one of a kind. And, most importantly, it works – much to my amazement.

After a morning drizzle, the day promises to be much better than the previous one – I’m already looking forward to the warm sun beaming down upon me. I hang half of my kit on the outside of my rucksack to dry, at which point I am completely fascinated by the landscape again. Along the ‘Lyn y Fan Fawr’, the highest lake in South Wales, I follow the mountain range around ‘Fan Brycheiniog’ and reach my destination in the afternoon with a wonderful sunset over the gently rolling landscape of the Brecon Beacons, which had quite honestly put me through an emotional roller coaster up to that point.

The seventh and final day of my adventure had little to offer in the way of highlights. The route seems to have changed slightly before I had a chance to write this. In any case, I choose to do the “official” stages 7 and 8 together, treating myself to a wonderful 42km trek to the finish in the village of Bethlehem. With only a few metres of gain, ancient ruins and remnants of days gone by, the route allows for plenty of time to reflect. Exhausted but happy, I finally reach the wooden bench, which officially marks the finish of the Beacons Way. What now? It’s odd. I don’t know what I thought would happen when I arrived, so I sit down, eat my last chocolate bar, and eventually, I go on…

Gore Thermium® – Warm and windproof

19. October 2018
Equipment

Warm functional clothing for winter athletes is usually filled with down or synthetic insulation. However, for functional winter clothing to be able to provide optimum warmth, the material has to act as a shield against wind and snow. Otherwise, the insulation wouldn’t stay dry, resulting in your body temperature dropping.

GORE’s answer to this challenge is GORE THERMIUM®. The special construction of this laminate guarantees complete windproof protection and a high level of breathability. It keeps the interior dry and provides sufficient weather protection from light rains, snow and wet conditions. Thus, outdoor clothing engineered with GORE THERMIUM® technology is best suited for winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, winter hikes and snowshoeing.

The membrane is positioned directly over the garment’s insulation

In contrast to other GORE-TEX® products, the winter jackets engineered with GORE THERMIUM® are less focussed on having a completely waterproof outer shell. Rather, these products are designed to provide windproof protection and keep the insulating layer dry in order to ensure optimum warmth. The GORE THERMIUM® membrane is situated between the water-resistant outer fabric and the insulating layer. As you can see, on the inside of a garment with GORE THERMIUM®, there’s a soft lining as well, which makes it incredibly comfortable to wear.

For additional protection, GORE applies a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to the face fabric of their garments. This forces water droplets, snowflakes and particles of dirt to simply bead up and roll off the surface of the fabric. This construction ensures that the down and/or synthetic insulation remains protected from snow and water.

The perfect balance between breathability and insulation

When skiing and snowboarding, it’s not at all rare to alternate between intense physical exertion and resting phases. Because it is absolutely essential for you to maintain a balanced temperature during both of these phases, GORE THERMIUM® products offer maximum breathability. This means that the moisture that accumulates during physical activity has the ability to escape via your functional underwear through all the jacket and trouser layers to the outside.

Depending on the area of use, outdoor clothing manufacturers use GORE THERMIUM® in conjunction with different insulation materials (down, synthetic fibres or wool). For this reason, you can’t expect the insulation performance of garments with GORE THERMIUM® to always be the same. However, all insulation materials are chosen specifically for physical activities in the wintertime, as well as colder regions and are guaranteed to provide optimum comfort and freedom of movement.

Ideal windproof protection

When the temperature outside is around -12°C and the wind speed is approx. 16 km/h, the temperature can feel like -20°C because of the wind chill factor. Fortunately, with GORE THERMIUM®, this is no longer an issue. It is completely windproof, so it significantly reduces the negative effects of cold winds.

Like GOREWINDSTOPPER® products, GORE THERMIUM® reliably blocks the wind and ensures that the insulating layer can perform to its full potential. That way, you’ll stay warm and dry no matter where you are!

How to trim your climbing skins properly

17. October 2018
Tips and Tricks

With their mostly simple, universal attachment systems (tip hooks and a tail clip), skins you need to trim yourself are an inexpensive and rather rewarding alternative to the “ready-made skins”, if I do say so myself. Plus, as significant as the price difference is, there’s really no difference in quality, which is definitely an added bonus. Not to mention, it’s really difficult to find ready-made skins for many older ski models, so cutting the skins to size is often your only option. Here are our detailed instructions for trimming your climbing skins:

Buying the right size and attachment system

Buying the right size and attachment system is the most important step. After all, you wouldn’t want your skins to be too small. I guarantee you’d be pretty disappointed in their performance! The length of the skins must be longer than the length of the ski, and the width of the skins wider than the widest point of the ski.

You should also consider what type of attachment system you want before purchasing. Even though virtually all manufacturers try to stick to simple and universal systems, all you freeriders out there with your extremely wide tips may have size or compatibility problems.

The easiest way to trim your skins is to have a professional do it, but that would result in costs we would save by not buying ready-made skins in the first place! Besides, the DIY method is so much better, anyway, right? The procedure doesn’t require any expert knowledge or magical powers, but merely a wee bit of patience, concentration and finesse.

Work surface and preparation

First of all, your ski must be secured so that it doesn’t shift while you’re trimming the skins. The best way to do this is to place it down on its edge and secure it using two hand-screw clamps or lay it down. I prefer the former because I feel it’s the easiest. The important thing is that the edges are freely accessible and do not move when you’re cutting. Otherwise, it’ll be pretty difficult to trim them with any precision. It is best to practise the movement you would make while cutting before actually doing it so that you don’t end up ruining the skin by cutting too much off.

Methods like drawing a template and then cutting off excess material are not recommended because, despite their apparent simplicity, they end up being rather tedious and more prone to errors.

Trimming: the tail first…

In most cases, the length of the skins have to be fine-tuned as well. To do this, attach skin to the tip of the ski and stick it on as smoothly and cleanly as possible so that one side of the skin coincides as closely as possible with one edge of the ski, while the other side of the skin sticks out over the edge.

First, cut off the excess material at the end of the ski. You don’t need a sharp knife for this – you can use a (large) pair of scissors as well. But, try not to cut off too much because it may prevent you from being able to attach the hooks.

This mechanism varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and sometimes additional tools, such as a hole punch, are required for attaching them. But don’t worry, a hammer can come in useful in such situations. Besides, how to attach the skins is usually explained in the instructions in a clear and concise way.

…Now to the sides

Now we start trimming the sides. Take a sharp knife or trimming tool and slide it along the length of the ski between the skin and base of the ski.

Trimming the skin works best when you prop the ski up, secure it and cut with a motion that goes downward and to the side. Also: if you keep the bit of material that is being cut taut as you cut, it will make trimming easier.

After the first cut, remove the skin and stick it on again, but not in the centre. Instead, place the side you’ve just trimmed about four millimetres away from the edge of the ski toward the centre.

Then trim the ski as before along the edge of the ski. This should give you about 2mm of exposed metal on each side, while the rest of the ski base that comes into contact with the snow is covered by the skin.

The trimmed skins should now have the same shape as the skis, minus the shovel and the edges. If the edges are not exposed, you will quickly notice that there’s something wrong when you’re traversing snow and ice.

Sealing and proofing your skins

Finally, the loose fibres from the cut need to be burned with a lighter to prevent fraying.

Use a small flame and slowly and carefully slide the lighter along the frayed edges. Always keep just enough distance so that the flame never touches the skins directly!

To proof your skins, take a liquid wax and apply it with a sponge. That’s it!

Now you have a freshly trimmed pair of skins! Get out there and enjoy the winter!

Páramo – An introduction and product review

10. October 2018
Equipment

Everything is covered by low-hanging clouds, it’s raining cats and dogs and I’m really starting to wonder what I am doing here. Oh, right. I’m hiking. Why in the pouring rain, you ask? Well, I’ve got some clothes that I’m dying to try out… They’re from Páramo, a British brand that is still relatively unknown in Germany and first appeared in our shop not too long ago. The most interesting thing about this brand is the material they use. It was developed in collaboration with Nikwax and is called “Nikwax Analogy”.

But, more on that later. In the following, we’re not only going to give you some background info on Páramo, but also provide a nice little review of the clothing we had the pleasure of trying out.

Before we begin, we’d just like to say that our opinions of these products are in no way embellished and are based solely on our personal experiences with the products. Of course, we’ve passed on our review to Páramo as well.

Who or what is Páramo?

Páramo is a British outdoor brand that has been developing, designing and manufacturing clothing for a wide range of outdoor activities, demands and climates since 1992. The company is known for its new, innovative approach to manufacturing clothing that has been driven by ethical and ecological practices since the very beginning – long before the market had even begun to play with the idea of combining functionality and sustainability.

In fact, Páramo has even managed to do without PFCs all this time and produces under fair conditions.

Páramo also has a partnership with the non-profit Miquelina Foundation in Colombia, a foundation for the order “Las Religiosas Adoratrices”. Here, both young and older women who have been freed from the clutches of forced prostitution are trained to work as seamstresses in order to build a free, independent and structured life for themselves.

Today, Páramo has over 80% of their clothing manufactured at the Miquelina Foundation, and all the products in the Directional Analogy series are manufactured there. Of course, all of their other products, which are manufactured in East Asia, are made under fair conditions as well.

Páramo is part of the same group of companies as Nikwax, which is known for washing and textile care products. Together with Nikwax, they developed Analogy technology, which makes the brand quite unique.

How does Nikwax Analogy technology work?

Nikwax Analogy technology is supposed to offer a more effective removal of water than conventional membranes, thanks to something they call ‘directionality’. This is due to the fact that whilst membranes can move small water vapour molecules very quickly to the outside, they often reach their limits when it comes to liquid water and condensation. This results in an accumulation of water and ice forming on the inside of hard shells.

Páramo’s Analogy technology is supposed to prevent exactly that by moving larger amounts of water to the outside at quite a rapid rate. You can see this amazing technology at work in this video:

How is Analogy fabric constructed?

The principle is based on proper layering: Páramo clothing (layers 3 and 4) should be combined with functional underwear (2). The functional underwear absorbs sweat from the surface of the skin (1) and transfers it to the first layer (3) of outer clothing. This keeps the skin dry and the body warm. Sounds familiar, right?

Here’s where things get a bit different. Páramo calls the third layer the “Pump Liner”. Why Pump Liner? Probably because layers 3 and 4 lie loosely on top of each other and are only sewn together at the main seams. When you move, these layers shift towards and away from each other, which “pumps” moist air outwards. The outer layer (4) is made of densely woven, windproof polyester that has been treated with Nikwax for durable water repellence. To ensure it remains effective over time, keep in mind that the water repellent treatment must be reapplied every now and again.

Our first impression

At first, we were a little sceptical. The fabric just didn’t feel like we were expecting it to. It feels so much different than traditional hard shells.

Nikwax Analogy is very soft and flexible and almost feels like those good ol’ silky tracksuits from the 1990s. Remember those? Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does take time to get used to. And, I must say, it made us even more curious to find out how the products would perform.

We really put the clothing through the wringer, testing them while cycling, hiking, freeriding, mountaineering, camping in the winter, in hours of rain, in heavy hailstorms and at temperatures of +8°C as well as at -18°C.

All in all, we can say that we were more than happy with the weather protection provided by the products with the Nikwax Analogy. They kept us completely dry in long, drawn-out rain storms where many other membranes would have probably failed.

Overall, we really enjoyed the functionality of the products, that is, the combination of windproof, waterproof and breathable properties. The two-layer, membrane-free system worked flawlessly and definitely has what it takes to become a major competitor on the market.

Which Páramo products were tested?

The following products were put to the test:

  • Men’s Velez Jacket: a waterproof jacket for general outdoor use
  • Men’s Cascada II Trousers: waterproof walking trousers for the most demanding walker.
  • Men’s Torres Activo: a versatile synthetic jacket that is both windproof and warm designed for winter sports, mountain sports and winter trekking.
  • Men’s Enduro Tour Trousers: These warm trousers are an all-rounder for high mountain activities such as skiing, ski touring and ice climbing.
  • Men’s Enduro Jacket: a waterproof alpine jacket with a light insulating effect. Made for ski touring, mountaineering and alpine climbing.
  • Grid Tecnic Hoodie: A light, fast-drying fleece hoodie with waffle grid zones and integrated hood.

Apart from the Grid Tecnic Hoodie and the Torres Active, all these products are part of the Nikwax Analogy series, so they are windproof and waterproof, but have no membrane and are free of PFCs.

And what do the reviewers think?

Velez Jacket (Jörn):

I have to admit, I was really sceptical of the way the jacket felt at first, with its odd, loose outer… That’s supposed to be durable? Well, let’s slip it on and see. It was a little big, but when is the fit not an issue? Personally, I’d prefer the Velez to fit a little more snugly.

The pockets on this jacket are particularly interesting: It comes equipped with what Páramo refers to as dual phase pockets that work as both vents and pockets. The first zip opens the vent, while the second zip opens the pocket. Pretty nifty. This along with the vents on the upper arm allows you to adjust the ventilation according to your needs. The hood fits comfortably and is easy to adjust. The other drawstrings work perfectly as well.

We’ve already said enough about the material’s functionality, but allow me to say that I am absolutely thrilled with the technology. However, I did feel like the loose layers resulted in more insulation than expected. In other words, you could get too hot, so be sure not to wear too many layers.

Cascada II Trousers (Jörn)

The feel of the Cascada II is similar and the fabric performed just as well as the fabric used for the Velez Jacket. I even sat on a wet bench for a long period of time, and the trousers didn’t mind one bit, and neither did I!

The trousers fit much better than the jacket, and the ventilation options are quite generous thanks to the nearly full-length side zips. When they’re completely unzipped, the buttons hold the trousers together.

I have to admit that I didn’t really think a pair of waterproof trousers was necessary for a hike in the rain with temperatures between 6-8°C. I thought it was a little much. But I was sorely mistaken – the Cascada II delivered in every way. I didn’t even get too hot on the uphills. Granted, I did only have a pair of short underwear on underneath.

Torres Activo (Jörn)

My favourite garment in the Páramo range and a must for cold weather. It’s like it was tailor-made just for me (a bit more athletic than the Velez). Plus, it allows for plenty of freedom of movement. When the cuffs, hood and drawcords are sealed up nice and tight, the jacket keeps you warm and comfortable.

In temperatures around -6°C and a wind that could freeze you stiff, I wore this jacket over a stretch fleece and a long-sleeved merino base layer and felt as comfortable as could be. It’d be nice if the puller on the zip were a bit bigger. They’re not very easy to use with gloves on. The side pockets are perfectly placed, making it easy to access them even when wearing a harness.

Páramo recommends wearing the Torres OVER a waterproof jacket, which may sound strange at first. But, the synthetic fibres have the ability to insulate even when wet, and I reckon it’d be quite a challenge to put on a hard shell over the rather voluminous Torres Activo.

For ski tours, winter hikes or snowshoeing, the Torres Activo is definitely a good choice!

Grid Tecnic Hoodie (Jonas)

What I loved most about this hoodie was its slim fit, low weight and the practical zipped chest pocket. Plus, waffle-like structure not only traps air and provides excellent insulation but also moves water away from your body to keep you comfortable. The large chest pocket is great for storing a smartphone or battery for your camera. Because of the warmth in this area, you’ll notice your battery lasts longer as well.

Another great thing about this slim-fitting hoodie is that the hood fits very well under a climbing helmet – perfect for moderately windy conditions.

The only downside to this hoodie is that there seems to be no odour-inhibiting treatment. True, nobody has ever stunk to death, but the Grid Tecnic Hoodie did reek a bit even after a short period of use.

In sum, we can say that the hoodie is extremely versatile. You can wear it as your first layer, mid-layer or outer layer. It performs best in cool to very cold temperatures and is perfect for those higher-intensity activities that make you sweat.

Enduro Tour Trousers (Jonas)

A warm, weatherproof choice for alpinists that also happens to be pretty versatile. The long leg zips allow for rapid temperature adjustment. With or without functional underwear, the trousers are a viable option for spring ski tours as well as for high mountain activities in temperatures around -20°C.

The trousers not only provide enough freedom of movement for climbing but also fit extremely well thanks to the high back panel and the loop for braces, which are, unfortunately, sold separately, but are still a nice feature.

I was surprised by how soft the Dyneema crampon patches were, and the snow gaiters were almost too small and there was no metal hook to secure them to my laces.

Another downside is the lack of any cords on the zips to make them easier to use with thick gloves on, but this is something that a lot of mountaineering trousers lack. All in all, these trousers are a very comfortable and versatile option for high alpine activities and can be used all year round.

Enduro Jacket (Jonas)

At almost £ 418, the Enduro is one of the more expensive jackets to say the least. In this price range, Páramo is forced to compete with the likes of Arc’teryx and other high-end manufacturers and does well – for the most part. The jacket definitely gets high marks for the functional fabric and great weather protection it provides, even in long, drawn-out rain storms. The pockets are harness-friendly, too.

But it’s not all kitty cats and rainbows, the Enduro Jacket does have some flaws. I found the zip on the inside chest pocket much too small and my field of vision much too narrow when wearing the hood. On the plus side, the hood does fit nicely under a helmet. Weighing in at 780g in size M, the Enduro is certainly not the lightest jacket on the market. And, after only two days of freeriding with an avalanche backpack on, I could see the first signs of pilling around the shoulder and armpits. Páramo will definitely have to do something about that.

Our final thoughts on Páramo

All in all, we were very impressed by Páramo’s products, especially when it came to the weather protection provided by Nikwax Analogy technology. The overall feel of the fabric took some getting used to at the beginning, but those concerns were long gone once we put them on.

We did run into some minor issues with the fit and quality, but this is not at all uncommon in the outdoor industry. We notified Páramo about the pilling we experienced when wearing the Enduro Jacket, and they promised to have a closer look at the issue.

On a more general note, we believe the sustainable and ethically sound production of Páramo products is worth mentioning as well. It has been an integral part of their identity since the very beginning, and there are no signs of that changing any time soon, which we think is a very good thing. The Páramo line up includes base layers, mid-layers and outer layers, so both hill walkers and ambitious mountaineers alike will find exactly what they are looking for at Páramo.

Who were the reviewers?

Jonas (left) works in the content department and takes care of product descriptions. In his spare time, you’ll usually see him up in the mountains either mountaineering, climbing or skiing.

Jörn (right) is in charge of our Base Camp blog and social media channels. So, when he’s not glued to his keyboard or camera, he’s usually out enjoying some kind of endurance or mountain sport or a combination of the two.

HyVent becomes DryVent – What it is and how it works

5. October 2018
Equipment

Regardless of whether you’re hillwalking in the Scottish Highlands or cycling through town in the rain, you’re bound to see The North Face logo somewhere along the way. There are so many people who swear by the Californian clothing brand. But, what is it about these clothes that makes them so popular other than their cool designs? We’re all familiar with the prominent logo inspired by the famous Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, but what about the writing next to it? DryVent, formerly known as HyVent.

What’s that supposed to mean? There has got to be something special about it, right? After all, it’s so popular! Besides, there’s got to be a difference between your everyday TNF jacket and a TNF jacket that you’d wear for climbing the icy cold north face of a mountain.

What exactly is DryVent?

In order to achieve both optimal weather protection and an excellent level of breathability, The North Face utilised a polyurethane (PU) coating called HyVent. This coating was developed by the Californians themselves and is used for a variety of jackets and trousers in order to make them both waterproof and breathable.

This PU coating is also found in the new DryVent technology – namely in the 2-layer and 2.5-layer materials. The coating gives the fabric a microporous and hydrophobic property, making it exceptionally breathable. The term hydrophobic is derived from Ancient Greek and means “lacking an affinity for water”. In other words, water vapour – sweat – can escape, but water in the form of rain can’t get in. This is how a high degree of breathability is achieved that won’t deteriorate over time. The garments are subject to complex tests that they have to pass even after 20 wash cycles. There is also a 3L version equipped with a membrane. We’ll get to what the individual fabrics can do later.

From city goer to alpinist

The advantage of DryVent garments is that no membrane is used (with the exception of the 3L version). This results in a very soft and comfortable garment that you can feel while you’re out and about. The 3-layer version is a bit stiffer but much tougher than the normal coating. In sum, there is a type of DryVent for almost every activity and every kind of user, regardless of whether you’re a beginner, the occasional hillwalker or extreme alpinist!

The different types

In order to use DryVent to its full potential, The North Face utilises different compositions of fabric. They can be divided up into three different combinations for various applications: for everyday wear, for extended treks or for rock and ice climbing.

DryVent 2L

This is a two-layer construction that provides optimal weather protection. The outermost layer is made of a woven fabric, which reliably repels moisture and simultaneously protects from abrasion. An additional DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment provides optimal protection against water and moisture so that the fabric doesn’t become saturated.

The inner layer utilises a DryVent PU (polyurethane) coating with micro-pores, which quickly wicks away moisture and keeps rain at bay. The end result is an absolutely waterproof and very comfortable material with a hydrostatic head of 25,000mm. It is perfect for both skiwear and everyday wear. A prime example of this is the Quest Jacket, which is an incredible value for money. DryVent 2L corresponds with what was formerly referred to as HyVent 2L.

DryVent 2.5L

Both breathability and the lowest weight possible were clearly the most important aspects here. The outermost layer is made of a water-repellent fabric, whilst the lower layer has a DryVent PU (polyurethane) coating and channels moisture to the outside through its microporous structure. Plus, it prevents rain or moisture from seeping in.

As a result of their excellent breathability, DryVent 2L garments are great for high-intensity activities such as running or cycling, no matter the weather!

DryVent 3L

Breathability, waterproofness and durability are the hallmarks of the jackets and trousers made with DryVent 3L. A relatively abrasion-resistant layer serves to protect the jacket from damage and keep moisture out of the interior. The middle layer utilises a polyurethane coating with micro-pores, which quickly moves water vapour to the outside. For even more comfort, the 3L materials have a nice inner layer, which has been engineered to provide quick moisture transfer as well.

DryVent 3L garments are perfectly suited for skiing and alpine adventures as well as climbing.

HyVent technologies that have had their day

HyVent DT

The HyVent DT is based on the same principle as the HyVent 3L with the difference that the thickness of the third layer has been significantly reduced. The HyVent DT features a 0.5 skim coat of PU, which always provides a pleasantly dry feeling and eliminates the need of a liner, hence the 2.5L material. Plus, this makes it lighter and results in a significantly smaller pack size than 3-layer materials. Thus, HyVent DT is great for activities involving a lot of movement.

HyVent DT EC

HyVent DT EC makes use of natural castor oil from beans, which reduces the use of synthetic components by 50%, but the result is still quite impressive. The fabric is waterproof, breathable and performs extremely well, even in cold conditions, which makes it perfect for winter sports.

HyVent Alpha

HyVent Alpha was used primarily in the Summit Series Collection by The North Face. The outer shell is very tough and durable. It features a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment, so it will not become saturated. The outer fabric is complemented by an second layer, which allows sweat to pass through quickly and efficiently.

A thin liner is the third layer of the HyVent Alpha. It utilises a microporous and hydrophobic lamination technology that also allows sweat and moisture to pass through. This 3-layer combination serves to keep you dry and comfortable. Plus, it is extremely tough and durable. With a hydrostatic head of 30,000mm, it is totally waterproof, making it an excellent option for long and demanding trips in rain, snow and ice.

DryVent - functional material in detailCaring for DryVent

Caring for DryVent garments is pretty straightforward. It is best to use a normal detergent designed for outdoor apparel such as TechWash from Nikwax and use a gentle cycle (no spin cycle). Then line dry the jacket. You can also restore the DWR on the outermost fabric layer by using a spray. If you do, your DryVent clothing will last for countless adventures to come!

There’s a lot going on in the climbing and outdoor industry. New products are being invented, existing ones are being reworked and improved, and we, too, are learning more every day. And, of course, we would like to share this knowledge with our customers. That’s why we regularly revise the articles at base camp. So, don’t be surprised if a post changes a bit in the coming months. This article was last edited on 16/02/2016.

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.

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