All posts with the keyword ‘Bike’

Choosing the right cycling glasses

20. August 2020
Equipment

The trails are muddy and dirt is flying up from all sides because of the terrific tempo – and you keep having to screw your eyes shut because you left your cycling glasses at home again. Something like this has happened to every mountain biker, especially when you’re starting out.

Cycling glasses are one of the most important accessories when you’re out on a mountain bike – or on a road bike, too. We’ll now explain why you should always have them with you, and what eyewear is right for you!

 

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MIPS – Brainy Helmet Technology

16. July 2020
Equipment

Through advances in technology and scientific insights, all sports – along with the materials that go with them – are constantly being developed. This has enormous consequences, especially for skiing. The sport keeps getting faster, you ski down steeper faces, dare to take bigger jumps and do more crazy tricks.

This is all well and good – but the only logical consequence is that the safety technology has to keep being developed, too, so that you’re well protected even at higher speeds. The MIPS helmet system is just such a development.

We’ll explain where it’s come from, what it can do and who it’s suitable for.

What is MIPS?

MIPS is a safety system for helmets of all kinds. It was developed by 5 Swedish scientists from the KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) in Stockholm, and is the result of 30 years of work.

What does MIPS mean?

MIPS stands for Multi Directional Impact Protection System. In plain English, it’s a system that is designed to provide protection against impacts with different directions of movement/ force. These different directions of force are generated when the helmet is hit at an angle.

Standard helmets are best at absorbing static (straight) impacts that hit the helmet at a right angle and do not generate any rotational force.

Static impacts are unrealistic – you mostly hit the ground or other obstacles at an angle – and this is why the MIPS system was developed. It absorbs both static and rotational forces.

How do rotational forces occur?

When impact occurs at an angle, the force generated from the impact is not just transferred in a single direction but in many, because the forces are distributed according to the vector principle. This results in rotational force, which serves to absorb the force of the impact. This force holds great risks because it causes the brain to hit against the outer wall of the skull, resulting in a concussion or worse.

How does the MIPS system work?

The MIPS system is modelled on the human brain. To protect the brain, there is fluid between it and the cranial bone. When the head is hit, the resulting rotational forces are reduced by minimal movements of this layer of fluid, preventing the force from being transferred to the brain.

The MIPS copies this layer, so to speak. This is achieved using a movable second shell integrated into the helmet’s outer shell. This second shell sits directly on the head.

So, when angled impact occurs, the resulting rotational force is not transferred to the head, but is instead reduced through the movement between the first and second layers.

This system is very effective and can easily be incorporated into any helmet.

What are the disadvantages?

Since the system is still in its infancy and is only just starting to be used by helmet brands, at the moment it is still very expensive. There is also no data on the lifespan of the system or whether it must be replaced after every accident. What’s more, there is still the question of how snug the helmet has to be in order for it to provide its full protection.

The only thing you could really call a “disadvantage” is that the helmets are 50-100 grams heavier than regular ones. But for this extra safety, we’re all willing to bear some extra weight, right?

All in all, there are no discernible disadvantages, since this is undoubtedly for own safety.

Who is the system for?

The system is for anybody who wants to be well protected. At the moment, all sorts of top athletes are testing it in their disciplines, but it is establishing itself on the market more and more, and really it’s suitable for anyone. There are already helmets with MIPS on offer for cycling, too. Since the system can be built very compactly, there are no restrictions on who can wear it, either.

What should you consider when shopping for a MIPS helmet?

The helmet should not only look stylish, it should also fit perfectly. Other than that, the same “rules” apply as when you’re buying a normal helmet. You can find further information on this here in our blog.

Where can I buy helmets with the MIPS system?

You can find helmets fitted with the MIPS system from different brands in our online shop. Amongst others, companies such as POC, Giro and Sweet Protection offer helmets with MIPS. There’s a good selection available, so you’re sure to find a helmet with MIPS that suits your taste.

Even with MIPS, you won’t have to sacrifice any useful features, as the helmets mostly have the same features as conventional ones – for example, the POC Helmet Backcountry MIPS Ducroz Edition, which you can find on our online shop. As well as the MIPS system, this helmet also has detachable ear pads, an integrated Recco reflector and is compatible with Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. Plus, the size is adjustable so it can “grow” with its wearer – perfect for kids!

The ski helmet Trooper MIPS from Sweet Protection is a fantastic all-rounder: designed for all kinds of skiing and snowboarding, its size adjustment, carbon outer shell, shock-absorbing lining and cooling system are sure to impress.

The future of MIPS

The MIPS system is bound to become the standard within a few years and will also continue to be improved, because it is a system that really substantially increases our safety and that can be used in any helmet for any kind of sport. In any case, there is incentive for the big players to further develop the system so they can stay competitive in the market for the foreseeable future.

If you have further questions or aren’t sure which product to choose, our customer service team will be glad to assist you. Philip is our inhouse expert when it comes to helmets. You can contact him during the week on +49 (0)7121/70 12 0 or by email.

There is always something happening in the climbing and outdoor worlds. New products are developed, existing ones are revised or improved, and we learn something new every day, too. And, of course, we want to share our knowledge with our customers. That’s why we regularly revise our Base Camp articles. So don’t be surprised if a few things have changed after a couple of months. This post was last updated on 01/02/2016.

How to sh** properly in the woods…

24. April 2020
Tips and Tricks

It’s a perfect day: the sun is shining and you’re heading climbing with some friends. You arrive at the foot of the wall, pack your things and get climbing. It’s your turn to belay first, which isn’t too bad because the sun is so beautiful and a bumblebee is flying around entertaining you as your friends tell stories; life is beautiful. Then suddenly the wind turns and you think Hm, that’s not wildflowers that I can smell.

At some point during the morning, you feel a twinge in your bladder. You run a few metres into the forest and behind the next bush hides a frightening sight – it’s a minefield! White ‘flags’ lined up in rows warn against continuing along this path. You realise where that smell was coming from. Going any further is not an option.

The more people climbing, the greater the problem of what they leave behind. But while it’s relatively easy to dispose of cigarette butts, bottles, paper waste and other rubbish, and these kinds of things will often be picked up by kind passers by, getting rid of poo is a little… harder. Yet this waste is more problematic; not only does it look and smell bad, it can also become a real threat to the environment as well as human and animal health.

Some Facts

“It’s completely natural and will decay, so why clean it up?” This is true, but few people realise that it takes a long time for these things to decay. Tissue, for example, takes about three months. Excrement doesn’t take so long, but will still be lingering after about two weeks.

Let’s do a simple calculation. We are at a beautiful climbing wall. Every weekend, about 100 people come here to climb. If everyone left their business, that would be 100 dumps and 100 tissues. As these dumps take a long time to disappear, that’s 400 dumps a month. Just think about how the forest will look and smell after one season. Admittedly unbleached toilet paper decays faster, but even that takes a few weeks and it doesn’t look nice.

Tissues are also questionable from a sustainability standpoint because of the manufacturing process. A lot of water, energy and wood is used in their manufacture. In addition, dangerous substances are discharged into water bodies through chemical treatment. You can find more information on the Federal Environment Agency’s webpages.

The unhealthy business…

Actually, there is not much negative to discover about excrement, stool or faeces – apart from the fact it’s just gross. In the ecosystem, faeces play an important role, for instance as fertiliser or as food for fungi and mites. The scarab beetle even uses excrement to reproduce by laying its eggs in it.

However – and this is where it becomes problematic – excrement can also transport a lot of nasty substances. Simply put, it contains everything that our body either cannot digest or simply wants to get rid of very quickly. Therefore, countless bacteria, viruses, bacilli, parasites and other unpleasant things can be found in faeces. It becomes particularly unpleasant when pathogens travel and enter areas where they are not actually native.

But animals do it?

Yes, animals also poo in the woods, but that’s not a reason we should; the comparison is flawed. Animals also transport pathogens in their faeces, so water from streams near grazing fields should not be drunk unless it’s been filtered.

And, animals usually spread their excrement over large areas. A deer has the whole forest at its disposal, while climbers are usually limited to a few square metres near the wall.

And, animal waste can also be pretty nasty. Many farmers have to deal with dog poo which contaminates their hay.

So, what should you do?

  • Use suitable facilities: take some time after a good breakfast to do your business in the comfort of your own home. If you’re not ready at that point, maybe you can stop at a service station on the way. Some areas have even installed toilet facilities. Granted, they may not have the most pleasant odour, but it’s for a good cause.
  • Distance matters: going a couple of metres further into the woods has never hurt anyone – except maybe in bad horror movies. Stay away from the nearest water and any favourite bushes. If you are above a body of water, you should take extra care to ensure sufficient distance between yourself and the water. When i

    t next trains, your waste will be washed in and travel along the whole water course. And nobody wants that.

  • Burying: Dig a deep hole (30 cm) and do your business in there. Digging a hole has many benefits. The poo decomposes much faster, animals cannot dig it up so quickly, the rain does not wash it away and it spares others from seeing and smelling it- and stepping in it. But what should you dig with? Approach shoes have pretty hard soles, sticks can be helpful, or if you know you will be digging for a long time, you can get shovels for that purpose.
  • If you can’t bury it: sometimes the ground is too hard and too dry to dig a deep enough hole. In that case, you’ll have to take it with you. You’ll need a bag (plastic is recommended) and the aforementioned shovel. Wrap the bag around the shovel, pick it up and then roll the bag back so it encases everything. The mine is wrapped up. When you next reach civilisation, you can dispose of it. If you’re away for a longer time, we recommended bringing an extra box to store the waste.

I know it’s not particularly appetising, but, hey, it’s natural and you should be able to do it if you’re tough enough to take on this kind of adventure.

The supposedly easy choice of the right outdoor socks

8. April 2020
Buyer's guide

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

What should walking socks do?

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

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

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

Sock Buying Essentials

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

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

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

Trivia and practical tips and tricks

Three simple questions to find the perfect socks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

20. March 2019
Care tips

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

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

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

When is a repair worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

How do repairs work? What are the possibilities?

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

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

Alternatively, the following three options remain:

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

Exceptional case: Warranty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the manufacturers that replace soles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any questions? Feel free to comment below!

Aramid/Kevlar: A Super Material for the Outdoors?

28. February 2019
Equipment

A lightweight, cut and puncture-resistant fabric that is used for bulletproof vests, heat-resistant uniforms or even aircraft construction. Yeah, at first glance, aramid, otherwise known by the brand name Kevlar, seems much more suitable for superhero costumes than for outdoor sports. But the properties of this very special fabric come in extremely useful in a variety of outdoor products, including gloves, trousers, helmets, backpacks and cordage. In other words, it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at aramid and how it can benefit us mountain and outdoor athletes.

What is aramid?

In a nutshell, aramid is a kind of polyamide and thus another one of the numerous hydrocarbon or petroleum-based polymers. On Wikipedia, the definition is a bit more precise, but more complex:

Aramid fibers are a class of heat-resistant and strong synthetic fibers. […] The name is a portmanteau of ‘aromatic polyamide’. The chain molecules in the fibers are highly oriented along the fiber axis. As a result, a higher proportion of the chemical bond contributes more to fiber strength than in many other synthetic fibers. Aramides have a very high melting point (>500 °C).

Why is it called an “aromatic polyamide”? Good question! This group of substances (at least in parts) actually releases intense (scented) aromas, which are often perceived as pleasant. As interesting as this may be, we’re much less interested in the smell than we are in the material’s functional properties.

But before we get to the most interesting and relevant ones, here is some more information on the development of the material: In the mid sixties, the American DuPont Group conducted quite a bit of research on the practical use of aramids. In the process, they developed the best-known kind of aramid Kevlar and made it ready for commercial use. Kevlar is presumably the only trade name you as an outdoor enthusiast have ever heard, seeing as this aramid fibre is often used in outdoor and mountaineering products. Actually, Kevlar is the only aramid fibre found in this area, which is why we’ll focus primarily on it and leave aramid products, like Nomex, Teijinconex, Twaron or Technora to fire fighters, soldiers and astronauts…

Production

The production of aramids is diverse and complex, to say the least. They are produced more often as fibres than as films. In the complex world of fibre science, a distinction is made between low-modulus and high-modulus fibres, the functional properties of which differ somewhat from one another.

High modulus fibres are spun from a liquid crytalline solution of poly-paraphenylene terephtahalamide in concentrated sulphuric acid. After the surface treatment, high-modules fibres are mechanically stretched to yield a highly oriented polymer. The “high degree of orientation” makes for a clean-looking pattern. The exact geometry is just as characteristic of aramid as the golden yellow colour, which brings us to the properties of aramid.

Properties

In their own description of their Kevlar product, DuPont emphasises that these fibres are “better, stronger and safer” in the great outdoors: “DuPont™ Kevlar® aramid fiber allows people to Dare Bigger. It’s used to make a variety of clothing, accessories, and equipment safe and cut resistant. It’s lightweight, durable and extraordinarily strong. Yes, it’s best known for its use in ballistic and stab-resistant body armor, as Kevlar® brand aramid fiber continues to evolve and allow heroes to be heroes. But it’s also on the ski slopes, the switchback trails, in demanding desert terrain, even the outer limits of space.

The wide range of applications is due to the fibre’s high (tensile) strength, high impact resistance, medium to low elongation, the good vibration-dampening properties and heat resistance. Instead of melting, the fibres begin to carbonise at about 400°C. Neither solvents, fuels, lubricants, salt water, fungi or bacteria can do much harm to aramid fibres. They are only sensitive to some strong acids and alkalis. In other words, aramid is very tough.

When it comes to compressive strength, however, aramid fabrics are more middle of the pack and fairly poor in terms of UV resistance and water absorption (up to 7%). UV radiation leads to the fibre losing up to 75% of its strength. However, this can be counteracted relatively easily by means of UV-absorbing coatings or laminates. In general, aramid can be easily combined with other fabrics, which means that its functionality can be optimised and expanded in many different ways.

Applications

The unique properties of aramid make it ideal for a wide range of applications, including construction and industry applications. The sports and outdoor industry love the material for its toughness, tensile strength and low weight. Aramid fibres are used for cords, paragliding lines, sails, bicycle tyres and more.

The Kevlar elements in textiles serve primarily as reinforcements that protect the body and increase the lifespan of garments. The Kevlar reinforcements are particularly popular in cycling, motorcycle and motorsports apparel as well as in high-wear areas of outdoor trousers and backpacks. Kevlar stitching is used in ski and via ferrata gloves as well.

Because the material is so tough, there is a certain amount of stiffness to it. This can definitely be a plus, but there are some downsides to it as well, especially in the outdoors. This is illustrated by the example of the relatively new Kevlar cords, which are also available as sewn cord slings in various sizes. The core is made of aramid, while the sheath is made of polyamide, as is the case with “normal” cords and ropes. The aramid core is brownish in colour, so it’s easy to distinguish from the conventional, dazzling white polyethylene core of your usual cord, rope and webbing material.

The 5/2014 issue of the German-language DAV Panorama magazine highlighted the high strength and high cut resistance of the material as some of the main advantages. Plus, the material is not only very abrasion and heat resistant, but it also boasts a tensile strength far greater than that of polyamide cords. Kevlar cords also offer a much higher breaking strength than conventional accessory cords with the same diameter.

As a disadvantage, Panorama magazine points to the greater amount of sheath slip shown by Kevlar cords when compared to pure polyamide. They also point out that the quasi-static material is not to be used in dynamic belays for leaders.

Because of its lack of elasticity (more precisely: low elongation to break), Kevlar is not suitable for dynamic ropes. But, the material’s stiffness really comes in useful for rock tunnels or rappelling off an Abalakov set up.

Conclusion

When it comes to strength, durability, longevity and safety, there’s hardly a material better than Aramid/Kevlar. Its properties can be extremely useful in certain outdoor situations but less so in others. It doesn’t have as many applications in the outdoor industry as it has in cycling and motorsports, occupational health and safety and other areas, but it’s still quite useful!

What to do about ticks?

19. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

In the words of Sun Tzu, it’s always wise to “know thy enemy”. And these little blood-sucking, bacteria and disease-carrying monsters we call ticks are public enemy number one in the eyes of many outdoor enthusiasts.

Since we can neither ignore them nor get rid of them, we should instead put ourselves in their disgusting little shoes and view the world from their point of view. A heart for ticks, huh? Well, we wouldn’t want to go that far. We just want to know more about who the beasts are so that we can better understand why they like to pester us as much as they do. In a perfect world, maybe, just maybe, we could even distract them in some way, shape or form so that we’re not as interesting to them.

What are ticks?

What the tiny, eight-legged arachnids look like is no mystery. Neither is the fact that they are extremely tough and resilient. Ticks can easily reach an age of 9 years, some even 20! They seem virtually indestructible, just like their similarly disgusting and despised colleagues, the cockroaches.

With approximately 900 different species, the tick is an arachnid and constitutes the subclass Acari, along with mites. The blood of animals and humans is their favourite food… Fortunately, the little droplet of blood we lose isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things and the bite itself is hardly noticeable. But, we still fear ticks about as much as we fear scorpions and snakes. We will go into detail on this a little later, but first let’s have a look at their behaviour, range and habitat.

Behaviour

It is often said that ticks drop from trees and land on their victims. But that’s not true. Fortunately for us, such purposeful tick base jumps are very rare, if they happen at all. Ticks actually prefer to wait on blades of grass, in plants and hedges at a height of up to 1.5 metres. Then, when we brush past, the tick clings to us.

Most tick species, like the widespread castor bean tick, are passive watchers and hardly ever move of their own volition. Only certain types, like the brown dog tick, actively search for a host, moving approximately 5-8m per hour.

Ticks are aided in their search for food by their ability to detect vibrations, changes in light and substances that a potential victim emits, breathes and sweats out. They often crawl around on the skin of humans or animals for up to several hours at a time until they have found a warm, moist feeding spot with a good supply of blood. In humans, ticks seem to prefer the back of the knee, armpits, neckline, groin area, navel or the thin skin behind the ears.

When the tick bites, it releases saliva into the wound to inhibit blood clotting and the pain felt by the animal or human being. Thus, the victim often notices nothing at all. As silent as the dead, the tick then lingers there until it has basically gorged itself with the host’s blood and grown multiple times its normal size. Then, it lets itself just fall off the body of the host. The whole thing seems pretty grotesque and excessive by human standards, doesn’t it? Well, the tick is more of an occasional drinker and not a full-on drunk. Only three times in its life does the tick need to refill: in its developmental stages as larva (here the tick is most dangerous because it is very small and extremely hard to see), as a nymph and as a full-grown tick. Some tick species can even survive up to 5 years without a “meal”!

Range and habitat

Ticks are – unfortunately – distributed all over the world. In Germany (especially in southern Germany’s damp forests and meadows) there are very favourable conditions.

Tick season in Germany is from March to October, but if the winter is mild it can go even longer. And, in extreme cases, tick season may last all year. Many tick species can also survive frost for several days without being harmed.

Why are ticks dangerous?

It’s no big secret: The danger of the tick lies in the diseases it transmits. Among all parasitic animal groups, ticks are among the most important vectors of pathogens. Relatively large numbers of people are regularly infected with various diseases as a result of tick bites.

The tick’s saliva can transmit bacteria, viruses and other pathogens into the human blood and, in rare cases, even trigger allergic reactions. If you squeeze the tick when trying to pull it out, the even less appetizing vomit from the digestive tract of the tick can get into your blood as well. Yuck.

On that note, let’s move on to some information about possible diseases and preventive measures. Because medical topics are complex, tricky and sometimes contain far less reliable knowledge than it appears at first glance, we’d just like to start by saying that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of all information provided here.

What diseases can be transmitted by ticks?

The diseases most commonly transmitted to humans are tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease. There are also a number of other possible diseases. You can find out more by clicking on this link (in German only).

TBE

The dreaded viral disease initially causes flu-like symptoms before triggering swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms are headaches, dizziness and later paralysis, which can become life-threatening. There is no conventional medical intervention to treat TBE, but there is a vaccine. Fortunately, the probability of infection is relatively low:

Even in TBE-prone areas, according to the Robert Koch Institute, only up to an average of 3.4 percent of all ticks carry the virus.

But, that doesn’t mean that three out of every hundred tick bites will lead to infection, because not every infected tick transmits the disease to humans.

Lyme disease

This similarly feared “multi-systemic infectious disease” is caused by the bacterial species borrelia. Because several of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are often found in other conditions, diagnosis can be difficult, to say the least.

Apparently, the disease hasn’t been around for that long and there’s even a conspiracy theory surrounding its mysterious origins. The first cases were observed in 1975 near the town of Lyme, Connecticut, USA, so that’s why the disease is also known as Lyme borreliosis or Lyme disease.

In contrast to TBE, there are neither typical high-risk areas nor vaccinations for Lyme disease, but there are better treatment options. Lyme disease pathogens are more widespread: in tick strongholds such as the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, more than 50% of ticks are said to be infected. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that every infected tick transmits the disease. According to studies, “only” 5% of people bitten by ticks actually have a Lyme disease infection. But, this still amounts to a lot of cases in Germany (depending on the source, about 60,000 to 160,000 people). When reading numbers like this, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a high number of unreported cases as well because, as already mentioned, many symptoms are not classified as infections from ticks.

Symptoms, severity and course of the disease do not follow a particular pattern, but are different in each person. Frequently, people have flu-like symptoms in the beginning, such as dizziness, joint and muscle pain and/or gastrointestinal problems. As the infection progresses, almost anything can happen, including everything from heart problems to changes in personality.

In the acute stage, similar to TBE, paralysis might even occur, among other things. These symptoms can sometimes lead to physicians misdiagnosing the disease as polio, which is considered incurable, thus rendering the case hopeless.

Migrating redness: The red ring

The following statement is something we hear and read quite often: A red ring or circle around a tick bite is an early symptom of Lyme disease. So, does that mean that if you don’t see a ring, you’re in the clear? That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, there are also cases where no such redness is observed in the early stages of the disease. In other words, no redness is definitely a good sign, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the clear.

Countermeasures: Prevention

Here’s some good news: You can do something against the disease-causing arachnids, and if scaring them off doesn’t work, you can defend yourself. Even though there are some tips for pets too, we’re going to focus on our fellow human outdoor enthusiasts.

Our motto for prevention is “become unattractive“. We don’t want those bloodsuckers even thinking about coming after us.

Behaviour

When reading about how to avoid ticks, experts often recommend avoiding high grass and bushes. While this is indeed good advice, you may as well say all outdoor enthusiasts should just stay home. It is much more realistic to recommend we remain vigilant in potentially tick-ridden areas and regularly check ourselves for ticks. And, it is best to do so during your trip, not afterwards, because the sooner these nasty bloodsuckers are found, the better.

Clothing

The simplest thing you can do to reduce the risk of ticks clinging to your skin is to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers and seal yourself up from head to toe. Light-coloured clothing is great as well because it makes ticks easier to find.

This sounds much easier in theory than it is in practice, because to keep ticks out, you basically have to seal yourself up like an astronaut . Why? Well, when they’re looking for a meal, ticks manage to find even the smallest cracks and the tiniest holes. But, in all honesty, who in their right might would want to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers with socks pulled over the trouser legs in the middle of summer? Not I! Be that as it may, if the weather is right, it’s definitely a good idea to keep your skin covered up as much as possible. On his website trekkingguide.de, the professional outdoorsmen Andreas Happpe recommends some clothes that protect against ticks (German only).

Always good: be as healthy as possible

A generally good state of health may also be an effective form of tick prevention. A nurse once told me that healthy people are supposedly less attractive to ticks. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s consistent with my own experience. Granted, this little piece of advice is purely speculative, but you can never go wrong with trying to stay healthy, right?

Chemicals

There is a large selection of repellents and sprays designed to provide protection from ticks. However, only a small handful of them appear to be truly reliable. Plus, you have to reapply the products every 1-3 hours. When you think about how much you’d end up applying over the course of a day, it’s probably best not to picture all the stuff that gets into the blood through the skin… It’s no wonder they recommend washing the stuff off as soon as you get home. But, as long as you don’t use the stuff too often and only on smaller, exposed areas of the skin, it’s not a big deal. After all, having some chemicals in your blood is probably better than TBE or Lyme disease, wouldn’t you think?

Vaccination: only for TBE

Should you get vaccinated to eliminate the potential horrors of being infected with an untreatable disease called TBE? Personally, I think that this is only worth considering if you’re a real tick magnet and frequently travel through woods and meadows.

Natural remedies: black cumin oil and coconut oil

A Bavarian high school student called Alexander Betz recently discovered that black cumin oil could be used as a tick repellent. He had mixed the oil into his dog’s food to improve his allergies, but soon noticed the dog no longer had any ticks. Betz then looked into it and found that it was indeed the oil that had repelled the ticks. In 2014, he even received a prize for the experiment from “Jugend forscht” (Youth research).

Another quite effective anti-tick home remedy is natural coconut oil. One of the fatty acids it contains, lauric acid, has a strong repellent effect against ticks. This effect was also only recently “discovered”:

Employees at the FU Berlin (Hilker, Kahl and Dautel) recently discovered the repellent effect of lauric acid on ticks. In laboratory tests, they proved that between 81 and 100% of the ticks in the experiment basically ran for the hills due to a solution containing 10% lauric acid. When the solution was applied to the skin of the subjects, as much as 88% of the ticks were repelled. (…)This remained effective for six hours. Lauric acid is thus effective for a significantly longer time than other substances.

The effect of the oils are supposed to be better, the more natural, i.e. the more “organic” they are. Of course, you can never expect to be 100% protected from using gentle home remedies. On the plus side, though, they do have positive, nourishing “side effects” in addition to their tick repellence. The biggest “disadvantage” to these remedies, though, is that they are not exactly cheap, especially if you use them religiously. Of course, you could say the same about chemical repellents, which don’t work perfectly either.

There are many other alternative methods, but their effectiveness is debatable.

Got bitten anyway: Defensive countermeasures

If you’ve got one or more ticks, despite all your precautions, you have to get them out as soon as possible. You can do this with your fingers or fingernails only at the very beginning when the tick has just scratched the surface. Otherwise, you will usually find that it is difficult or impossible to get them all them all the way out. But, even in the early stages of the bite, it is better to use the appropriate tools. Otherwise, you might accidentally squeeze the tick with your fingers, and this could lead to it emptying its stomach contents and pathogens into the wound. And, we don’t want that. For the same reason, neither burning nor drizzling oil on it is recommended, either.

Instead, you should carefully pull the tick out with tweezers or even better using a special tick remover until it lets go. The fine-tipped tool grabs hold of the tick as close as possible to the skin of the victim. There are various tick removers, including tick hooks, tick tweezers, tick loops, whole tick multisets and even electric tongs with lethal electric shocks for the ticks.

If you want to be absolutely certain that the tick is not infected, keep the tick you removed and have it tested for pathogens in a lab. Note down the time and place and, if possible, disinfect the feeding spot. Bagging and taking the corpus delicti with you is also recommended for insurance purposes.

Infected or not?

Using simple test sets, which you can buy for as little as 10€, you can also test ticks for Lyme diesease from your home. As a layperson. This may sound convenient, but it’s not very reliable. If you want to be on the safe side, you better fork out the extra money and pay approximately 30€ for a laboratory test. There is no do-it-yourself quick test for TBE, but there are laboratory tests, which are not much more expensive than those for Lyme disease.

If you notice early signs of the disease or are experiencing constant discomfort, you should not play around with tests – seek medical attention immediately. As general rule, if you have unusual symptoms, it’s always a good idea to remain open to the possibility that you were bitten by a tick, even if didn’t notice or can’t remember.

As with so many conditions, the more you look into tick-caused diseases, the more complex and “blurred” the situation becomes. A little reading is not enough to really judge the (in)effectiveness of prevention and treatment methods.

Antibiotics

The best way to illustrate the problem is antibiotics: Many media reports continue to present antibiotics as a safe and fast cure for Lyme disease. However, more and more physicians are beginning to point out that there is often a rather unfavourable ratio of desired effects to side effects. In fact, when it comes to Lyme disease, especially in advanced stages, antibiotics tend to weaken the immune system instead of the disease. Thus, it’s better not to rely on antibiotics doing the trick if you haven’t taken prevention and defence seriously. The best of tick repellent of all is and remains your own vigilance!

 

First-aid kit essentials for your backpack

19. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

Do we really need to do a deep dive into this topic? I mean, all you really need is one of the many ready-made, nicely packed first-aid kits and you’re good to go, right? Well, what if there’s a real emergency? Hmm… good question. Well, the kits come with instructions, so I can just skim over those! Besides, emergencies are more hypothetical… something bad will never happen to me. Sounds familiar?

“I’ve got this all under control. Besides, I’m careful.”

As a very young outdoor enthusiast, these were my thoughts exactly (if I thought about it at all). In my opinion, first-aid kits were always optional. But my tune definitely changed when I experienced four emergency situations within just a few years where a first-aid kit was used – once even on myself. After that, I was pretty much convinced of the importance of having a first-aid kit.

I also learned that it’s always better to have too much rather than too little with you. It was my own experience that had taught me this very important lesson. When I got hurt, a paramedic, who just happened to be nearby, stuffed several rolls of bandages in a wound in my shin to stop the bleeding before wrapping the whole thing up in another bandage and (unfortunately for me) pressing on it. If it wasn’t for the paramedic and his creative use of the extra wound dressings, the wound surely would’ve become infected within an hour and a half, if untreated. I’ll tell you one thing: the few grams of additional weight for extra dressings are definitely worth it!

I also learned another lesson: you should NEVER rely on your mobile phone to get fast or even immediate assistance – not even in the German Alps. Even today, in the world of smartphones, there are plenty of places in the mountains and elsewhere in the great outdoors where there is no reception.

If someone is injured where there is no service and that individual is alone and unable to move, the only option is to send an Alpine distress signal. This consists of six acoustic and/or optical distress signals per minute. The six signals are generated for one minute, followed by a one-minute pause, which is then followed by another six signals for a duration of one minute. The reply is given with three successive signals per minute.

Flares could be useful in such a situation as well, even in alpine areas that are not remote or lonely. Why? Because even the more frequented massifs have routes that are tough to find and have areas that are well hidden and out of sight. In the event of an accident, the loud flare can be the decisive factor in rescuers finding you.

When is a first-aid kit mandatory?

Now, I even have a first-aid kit in my pack on easy hikes and for trips to the climbing garden – it’s basically a permanent fixture in the lid pocket of my pack.

Speaking of climbing: Surprisingly, not having a first-aid kit when sport climbing seems to be the norm, even though the risk of injury is by no means less than it is while hill walking or during alpine adventures. This may be due to the fact that a lot of people rely on others having a kit with them in case of an emergency.

But, if we’re being honest here and you really wanted to be on the safe side, you’d also carry one with you when cycling through the city. True, that may be a bit over the top, but it’s really up to you. If you want to have a first-aid kit on you at all times, even for your “smaller” adventures, more power to you!

After all, I couldn’t think of a valid argument against taking one along, not even an argument that pertains to weight. Most items in a first-aid kit weigh so little that most people would hardly notice the difference anyway.

If you’re embarking on “proper” mountaineering and climbing adventures that span one or multiple days, taking a first-aid kit is essential. No first-aid kit = negligent and stupid. Now, let’s have a closer look at the contents of first-aid kits.

The contents of your first-aid kit

Most of the things listed below are already included in the smaller basic sets. The somewhat larger sets, on the other hand, often contain a lot of additional material for treating wounds that you may not need for less ambitious adventures. Still, other things (especially medication) will have to be increased.

That being said, it is usually advisable to customise the set according to your personal needs and add the finishing touches with some purchases from the chemist’s or drugstore. Some items are also available in the Alpinetrek shop – in addition to several first-aid kits for different needs and travel types.

There is a simple rule for determining the scope of your kit: The longer, more remote and risky/dangerous the journey is, the more extensive your first-aid kit should be. The exact contents depend heavily on your destination. In the following list, we’re referring to equipment needed for hill walking, hiking and alpine walking. If you’re planning adventures in far-away jungles, deserts and other exotic destinations, you’ll require a different set of items. The same applies to family outings where you probably wouldn’t expect large wounds, but things more along the lines of allergic reactions or minor burns.

The following is a list of our must-haves for your first-aid kit:

  • Scissors: It should be sharp but not pointy, because you may have to act fast. If you wish, you can use the scissors on a pocket knife or nail scissors as well. But, keep in mind that they are not sterile.
  • Tweezers: Tweezers are great for removing splinters, among other things. When walking through forest, bushes and undergrowth, you should also take a tick removal tool with you.
  • Emergency blanket: To shield yourself from the cold or UV radiation while waiting for rescue.
  • Emergency whistle: For the alpine distress signal.
  • Assortment of plasters (quick wound dressing): These should be sorted and packed in at least two different sizes.
  • Moleskins for blister treatment and prevention: For shorter trips, 2-3 should be plenty. For longer trips, add 2-3 more.
  • Sterile wound dressings/compresses: For shorter trips, 2-3 wound dressings should be sufficient to take care of larger wounds/injuries. For more ambitious adventures, you should pack 2-3 more.
  • Tape: 1 roll of tape is perfect! Tape is indispensable! Why? Well, you can even use it to make emergency repairs to outdoor equipment.

  • Field dressings: For less ambitious trips, you should have 1 large and 1 small field dressing (consisting of a pad of dressing with a bandage attached to the dressing pad). For longer trips, 2 additional elastic bandage rolls (self-adhesive, if possible, for easy application and to provide better support for sprained ankles, for example) should be placed in the first-aid kit as well.
  • Triangular bandage: For your easy outings, 1 triangular bandage will be sufficient to stabilise joints and bones in the event of a fracture. For longer trips, you’ll want to include an additional dressing measuring 40 x 60 cm for injuries covering a larger area.
  • Disposable gloves: And/or 2-3 wipes.
  • Wound disinfectant: (For example: hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol or iodine)
  • Coolant: (Voltaren, Biofreeze, and similar products)
  • Painkillers: (paracetamol, ibuprofen (also works for high-altitude headaches))

Extras for big adventures in remote areas:

  • Skin closure/Wound closure strips: For closing small wounds that must be treated without a needle and thread. If the wound is larger, the tissue will roll upwards at the edges of the wound to prevent blood loss, so the strips can only hold the skin together, if at all, immediately following an injury.
  • SAM splint: For immobilising bone injuries. We recommend a soft aluminium splint because it can be bent in almost every direction.
  • Thermometer: This should be very durable so that it doesn’t break along the way.
  • Charcoal tablets: Will come in useful when… you know… Montezuma’s revenge. And that can happen faster than you think when you’re eating foreign foods.
  • Water purifier: Helps you avoid the previous problem. The tablets or drops also fit nicely into a first-aid kit.

For week-long treks or expeditions, Bergsteiger-Magazin (a German magazin) recommends using additional pockets as a variable storage option. There you can store “various medications, hydration powders, wound cleansers (Care Plus), etc...”

Optional/special requirements:

  • Burn and wound ointment
  • Medication to combat altitude sickness
  • Your personal medication, such as antihistamines for allergies

At first glance, the list may seem like too much to handle, but I assure you, once you get it all packed up, it shouldn’t weigh any more than 500 grams. And for comparison: the largest sets designed for several injured people, which include things such as a respiratory mask, lip balm and blood lancets, weigh around 850 grams.

First-aid kits for larger groups

The essentials just described are generally sufficient for smaller groups of up to 4 people. Even though an accident often “only” happens to one member of a group, you never know. Several members could get hit by rock fall or the entire rope team could fall, injuring multiple people at once.

In most cases, the first-aid kit will still be in reach, even if the person carrying it is a victim as well. Of course, it’d be too risky to depend on it being reachable, though. That’s why we recommend the following for groups: the more first-aid kits, the better. And don’t just have one person carry one massive kit. Have several people carrying smaller sets.

Last but not least: The first-aid bag

In addition to the contents, you should also think about the bag your first-aid essentials are in. The downside to small sets is that the contents are often “stuffed” into a bag that you’re forced to rummage through in the event of an emergency. Fortunately, most outdoor first-aid bags have been designed very carefully with the outdoors in mind. They are made of robust nylon and open like a mini suitcase thanks to the circumferential zip. The best bags can be opened several times, have transparent inner pockets and compartments and are well organised. Many sets can also be attached to the outside of your backpack or harness, making them easy to see and access.

Conclusion

We hope this little overview has demonstrated just how essential a first-aid kit is for outdoor adventures. Before you head out without it because of weight or whatever, consider ditching some other outdoor gadget instead. You may have the “burden” of a few extra grams on your back, but you can venture the outdoors with confidence, knowing that you have the wherewithal to act in the event of an emergency. Still, we hope that you’ll never need the first-aid kit for any serious injuries!

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Tips for Great Outdoor Photos

13. December 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).

Brewing coffee in the great outdoors

26. 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!

A buyer’s guide to bivouac tents

11. September 2018
Buyer's guide

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

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

The standard construction of a bivouac tent

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

Who should use bivouac tent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differences between a tent and a bivouac tent

Advantages of a bivouac tent

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

Disadvantages of a bivouac tent

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

Differences between a bivouac sack and bivouac tent

Advantages of a bivouac tent

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

Disadvantages of a bivouac tent

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

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

DWR coatings – Blessing or a curse?

23. October 2018
Care tips

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

What properties does a DWR have?

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

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

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

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

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

What is a DWR treatment?

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

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

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

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

Reactivating or renewing a DWR treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are DWRs harmful to the environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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