All posts on this topic ‘Buyer’s guide’

The proper boot for the via ferrata

28. February 2019
Buyer's guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should your shoe be able to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sole

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

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

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

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

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

The upper

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

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

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

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

Textile or leather? Both!

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

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

Lacing

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

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

Just for the via ferrata?

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

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

What do the experts say?

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

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

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

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

Bergsteiger Magazine divides via ferrata boots into two weight classes:

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

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

Buyer’s Guide to Avalanche Gear

13. December 2018
Buyer's guide

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

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

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

Avalanche transceiver – Searching for avalanche victims

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

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

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

Avalanche probe – Probing for the victim

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

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

Avalanche shovel – Rescuing the avalanche victim

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

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

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

Avalanche ball – Get found faster

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

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

Avalanche backpack – Floating on the surface of the avalanche

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

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

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

Avalung – A possible addition

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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.

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

26. September 2018
Buyer's guide

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

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

What is a quilt?

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

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

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

Recommended use for a quilt

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

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

Finding the right quilt

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

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

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

Quilts in winter

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

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

Conclusion

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

An overview of Scandinavian outdoor brands

8. August 2018
Buyer's guide

Table of contents

Scandinavia and the outdoors – a match made in heaven. Rodane, Hurrungane, Sarek and Kebnekaise are all music to the ears of outdoor enthusiasts. Scandinavia is home to just about as many outdoor enthusiasts as it has great destinations. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but the message remains the same: Being outdoors is the Scandinavian way of life.

If you’ve never heard this before, allow me to put it into perspective. In Norway, where according to surveys almost 90% of the adult population are outdoor enthusiasts, you can climb jagged peaks high above a fjord and cross plateau glaciers on skis. In Sweden, you can go hiking or dog sledding, and in Finland you can enjoy the sauna and do some crazy winter swimming! Neither snow, rain, cold, wind or darkness can stop you! In Scandinavia, you embrace the great outdoors no matter the weather!

Despite some of the clichés mentioned above, it’s no secret that Scandinavia has a lot to offer when it comes to outdoor activities. In fact, the people of Norway live by a philosophy of getting outdoors and connecting with nature that goes beyond anything the people of Central Europe are familiar with: Friluftsliv is what they call this concept, this way of life. It’s such a big part of their culture that you can even study it at university.

Considering how rough the climate is up north, Scandinavia’s enthusiasm for the outdoors couldn’t just be rooted in the love of some free-time activity. In fact, their connection with nature goes much deeper than that – it has much more to do with the absolute necessity to adapt. After all, who would want to be trapped in their room for six whole months waiting out the winter? The Scandinavians wouldn’t. There’s a reason that old adage “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” comes from Scandinavia of all places. And, the Scandinavians know a thing or two about clothing. In fact, a large number of Scandinavian manufacturers have dedicated themselves not only to making “proper” outdoor apparel of the highest quality but also to supplying outdoorsmen and women with everything else they need to enjoy the stunning landscapes between Denmark and Finland.

In the following, we’re going to try our best to put together an extensive, but certainly incomplete overview of the bigger and smaller outdoor brands of the North, all of which are primarily known for apparel but really know their tents and camping gear as well.

What are the big brands?

Most fans of the outdoors and Scandinavia will probably think of the brand with the red polar fox first: Fjällräven. Even though Norway is usually associated with the wind-whipped mountainous areas known as “fjäll”, the Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven really lives up to its name, producing clothing that is built to withstand the adverse conditions in both countries. When it comes to their clothing, the Swedes have a very high standard and they rarely fail to deliver. Not only are the opinions of experts a testament to this fact but those of their customers are as well.

Thus, the reputation of their backpacks, tents, sleeping bags and textiles has been impeccable since the 1960s. This is due in large part to their use of extremely tough, functional materials for designs that have never conformed to any fashion trends. That’s not to say that their designs aren’t aesthetically attractive. On the contrary: they boast a clean, distinctive style that is even appealing to those who have nothing to do with the outdoors.

Because Fjällräven gear is so timeless, durable and produced in accordance with strict social and environmental standards, the sustainability of their products speaks for itself.

There’s probably no brand better known outside of the realm of outdoor and mountain sports than this Norwegian label: Helly Hansen Their elegant jackets and bags may be becoming staples in cities around the world, but it wouldn’t be fair to reduce them to a streetwear label. Clothing and accessories from Helly Hansen are made for an unbelievably wide variety of activities, from sailing to skiing to working on oil rigs.

What are the classics?

In Norway, many of the founders of the outdoor companies we’re talking about today were and still are old hands in the outdoor world and dedicated practitioners of the friluftsliv way of life. This is true of Bergans as well, which also happens to have one of those classic founding stories. After going on a hunting trip, the avid hiker and hunter Ole F. Bergan was extremely disappointed in his clothing and thus took it upon himself to create something better. And, that’s exactly what he did. Since the company’s founding in 1908, Bergans has been a complete success. The jackets, trousers and backpacks created by Bergans of Norway have enjoyed great popularity among adopters of the friluftsliv-lifestyle all over the world.

One of the truly classic brands is the Norwegian sleeping bag manufacturer known as Ajungilak. Even though they have been taken over by Mammut, the sleeping bags with the distinctive yellow-and-black logo are still Norwegian at their core and well known for their reliability and durability.

The Swedes have a classic outdoor brand to show for themselves as well, namely Haglöfs. Founded over 100 years ago, Haglöfs has continued to pursue the very same mission they had formulated at the beginning: to protect local hikers on their adventures into the rugged landscape that surrounds them. And, apart from constant improvements to their products and a larger customer base, not much has changed about this mission since the company’s founding. Today, Haglöfs has maintained a strong focus on sustainability whilst creating a variety of products and fit options for their customers.

Keep in mind, this small selection of classic brands is completely subjective and may be modified at any time. The same goes for the insider tips below.

What are some lesser-known brands?

So far, we have only talked about the better-known Scandinavian brands of the outdoor industry. Now, let’s focus our attention on the lesser-known Nordic brands, which arguably have just as much to offer avid outdoorsman and women as those mentioned above.

It’s pretty easy to get lost in the dark and seemingly endless expanse of forestland in Sweden without the right equipment. Fortunately for us, the Swedes have a solution: Silva. The Swedish brand Silva produces exceptionally well-designed equipment for the outdoors, including head torches, compasses and binoculars, all of which are known for excelling in the worst of conditions.

Another high-end brand is the Swedish glove manufacturer Hestra. Hestra develops gloves for a variety of applications ranging from skiing to mountaineering to construction work.

Some may object, but let’s consider Iceland part of Scandinavia for the purposes of this article. That way, we can include 66° North in our list of high-quality Scandinavian brands! As the name already suggests, the brand, which was founded back in 1926, derives its name from the latitudinal line of the Arctic Circle, which, as you may know, is not known for having particularly nice weather!

The Norwegian skier Kari Traa is better known as a former Olympic skier than she is as a skiwear designer or knitter. But, truth be told, she has mastered these skills at a level comparable to her skiing! It’s pretty amazing, and women around the world have come to love the colourful and functional creations from the former gold-medal winner.

Lesser known than the last two, but a legit outdoor brand in their own right is the Swedish backpack and clothing maker Klättermusen. In addition to their sustainability credentials, the brand is known for their durable and brilliantly designed products. Interested?

The following is a list of brands that are not as well known on an international scale, but still make products of the highest quality. We’ve divided them up into groups according to their country of origin.

Norwegian outdoor brands

Within the groups of countries, we’re going to list the brands in alphabetical order. Otherwise, things would just descend into chaos! It may come as a surprise, but there are tons of fantastic Scandinavian outdoor brands that you may have never heard of before.

  • Aclima: Based near Oslo, the family-owned business Aclima is a brand like no other when it comes to environmental sustainability. Plus, they do it without sacrificing style or function.
  • Dale of Norway: If you’re looking for hand-crafted Norwegian jumpers made of 100% Norwegian wool with traditional designs, Dale of Norway is the place to go.
  • Devold: Similar to some of the brands described above, Devold is not only named after its founder but also started out manufacturing functional products for fishermen and others working in the outdoors. Today, the brand is primarily known for its high-quality jumpers and merino underwear.
  • Helsport: Sleeping bags, tents and backpacks have been this 60-year-old family-owned business’s speciality for years. Since their founding, Helsport has invented the tunnel tent, been awarded various prizes for their designs and developed gear for Norwegian expeditions to the Himalaya.
  • Norrøna: Founded in Oslo in 1929, this brand could/should be listed amongst the classics, especially considering the fact that we’ve all seen their memorable logo in one mountain sports magazine or another. And, many of us have probably heard that they were the first European brand to use Gore-Tex. Norrøna takes a back seat to no other when it comes to creating highly technical gear and clothing for alpine-style Scandinavian mountaineering.
  • Sweet Protection: Their speciality? Hardware! Yes, indeed. The Norwegians know their hardware as well. As their name already suggests, Sweet Protection’s protective gear, especially the stuff they create for snowboarding and mountain biking is not only of the highest quality, but will also make you feel safe. Another plus? It’s comfortable too!
  • Ulvang: And here’s yet another Olympic champion from Norway – In 1995, the Norwegian cross-country skier, Vegard Ulvang, brought his very first wool sock to market. Since then, he has expanded his assortment of products and established his brand as one of the leading manufacturers of merino apparel.
  • Viking Footwear: The shoes designed by this small, yet excellent brand are like a ticket to unlimited adventures in the Nordic wilderness. If we were to collect some adjectives to describe Viking Footwear, we’d probably say dry, safe, reliable and suitable for everyday wear.

Swedish outdoor brands

Even though Norway’s neighbour didn’t get quite as many spectacular landscapes, there’s no shortage of manufacturers of high-quality outdoor equipment there.

  • Didriksons Outdoor Fashion: Didriksons’ functional clothing boasts a casual flair and has proven to be quite effective in stormy coastal climates. They make everything from beanies to jackets.
  • Houdini: Named after the great magician who could get himself out of any jam he found himself in, Houdini produces functional clothing crafted to withstand the elements. Just like Houdini on the stage, the clothing from this young Swedish company are guaranteed to amaze.
  • Icebug: This lesser-known shoe manufacturer situated on the west coast of Sweden is all too familiar with muddy, slippery terrain and, as the name suggests, ice. Outdoor shoes from Icebug are built for the slippery winter streets and frozen trails of this world.
  • Ivanhoe: Name after the legendary knight, this family-owned business creates extremely high-quality (merino) wool and cotton apparel and certainly has an eye for distinctive designs. Today, the brand still makes around 80% of its products in Sweden.
  • Lundhags: Making reliable footwear for tough winter excursions has been the focus of the company founded by shoemaker Jonas Lundhag in 1932 since the very beginning. Even today, there are boots still being made according to the shell principle. But now, their product range has expanded to include jackets, trousers and backpacks for demanding adventures. Lundhags has become one of the best known and largest Scandinavian labels – and rightfully so.
  • Pinewood: Scandinavian outdoor clothing has a good reputation, but is not necessarily the cheapest stuff out there. Fortunately, Pinewood, who has been stirring up the functional clothing scene since 1990, shows that Nordic quality doesn’t have to be expensive. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
  • Woolpower: As warm and as comfortable as possible – that’s one way of describing classic Woolpower clothing. The Swedish clothing manufacturer started out with nylon tights until they developed the fabric Ullfrotté Original in collaboration with the Swedish Army. The fabric is made of 70% merino wool and 30% synthetic fibre. The former tights manufacturer is now one of the world’s leading manufacturers of comfortable functional garments.
  • Peak Performance: “Real ski clothes for real skiers” is this innovative company’s motto. Like their colleagues from Klättermusen, Peak Performance comes from Åre in northern Sweden. The functionality and quality of Peak Performance textiles makes their garments incredibly versatile but also allows the brand to focus on creating apparel for individual sports as well.

  • Primus: This Swedish company has a long tradition of engineering outdoor cooking equipment and has had the privilege of outfitting adventurers such as Roald Amundsen and Edmund Hillary with extremely durable and reliable stoves and tableware. Today, Primus is more popular than ever and makes sure campers and adventurers get the warm meals they need, no matter where they are. Need some new cooking gear?
  • Sätila: Many Scandinavian outdoor brands are considered to be obsessed with the minor details. Well, the same can be said about the headwear experts at Sätila – and for good reason. In the wild and rugged expanses of Scandinavia, the little details are often essential for survival. And, having the right hat is a good place to start.

Finnish outdoor brands

  • Suunto: Even though the glory days of Nokia have faded into the past, the world is still well aware of the fact that the Finns know their technology. The high-end watches, compasses and dive computers manufactured by Suunto substantiate this fact. Not only are their instruments wonderful toys for outdoor lovers to play with, but they’re often absolutely vital. Thus, it will come as no surprise that Suunto has established itself as a world leader in the field of measuring instruments.
  • Kupilka: Kupilka is a brand for special outdoor tableware and cutlery made of a natural fibre composite invented in Finland that is not only environmentally friendly, but also eliminates a number of disadvantages that other materials have. They are light, robust, dishwasher-safe and won’t burn your fingers.

Danish outdoor brands

Now, let’s take a little trip down south. Yes, Denmark is also part of Scandinavia, even though it is separated from the big peninsula by Kattegat and Skagerrak. The nature here is significantly less wild than up north, but the weather can be pretty similar. At the very least, the outdoor brands know what their material is up against.

  • Nordisk: This is probably Denmark’s best-known outdoor brand. They have been offering a wide range of clothing and equipment for more than 100 years. Their focus: to create the simplest designs possible to keep the weight down and weak spots to a minimum. Many products are designed for casual wear, but there are also lines engineered for extreme adventures.
  • Ecco: The best shoes in the world? That’s debatable, I guess. But, what’s not up for debate is that Ecco is one of the few shoe manufacturers in the world that operates its own tanneries and shoe manufacturing sites and thus produces products of the highest quality for sports and everyday wear.

If you want more proof that Scandinavian outdoor goods don’t have to be expensive, you should have a look at Oase Outdoors and its three successful brands:

  • Robens: This brand manufactures everything that makes camping and being outdoors comfortable, and that at an affordable price.

  • Outwell: When you go camping with the whole family, Outwell products are the perfect choice. This brand values comfort, fun and that holiday feeling, and it comes across in their products.
  • Easy Camp: Easy Camp is another brand that puts user-friendliness and comfort first. Their products are also an incredible value for money.

Well, that’s about all the Scandinavian brands we have for you. If we’ve forgotten something or you have a favourite you’d like to share, feel free to leave us a comment. We’d be happy to hear from you!

A buyer’s guide to sleeping bags

7. September 2018
Buyer's guide

Down or synthetic? Mummy or rectangular? Such existential questions have been plaguing outdoorsmen and women since the beginning of time, especially when lying awake in an ill-fitting or poorly insulated sleeping bag on an extremely cold night. If this has happened to you, don’t fret – you’re in good company. We’ve all been there. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. With the help of our insightful buyer’s guide to sleeping bags, you’ll have all the info you need to sleep comfortably outdoors. In this post, we’re going to go over the following:

Area of use

There are several reasons for buying the wrong sleeping bag, including asking the wrong questions or just getting poor advice in your local shop. The first question a customer will usually ask is: “What kind of sleeping bag do I need?” A good salesman would then answer the customer with another question, like: “Well, where do you plan on going?” This is an extremely important question to ask because it will narrow down the possibilities by focussing on sleeping bags made for a particular area of use or purpose. After all, you would need an entirely different bag for Mexico than you would for the Alps, long distance hiking or a trip to Norway. Unfortunately, when it comes to sleeping bags, you’ll never find “the one” that can do it all.

Other questions a salesman might ask would be the following:

“What is most important to you? Warmth? Weight? Comfort and space? Susceptibility to moisture? Packability? Or maybe even several of these things?

Finding a sleeping bag that has many of the above-mentioned characteristics is not impossible, but it does have its price. Let’s face it: you won’t get both sophisticated technology and quality craftsmanship at some discount retailer. So, if the last question is something along the lines of “How much are you willing to spend?”, then you know you have a good chance of sifting out the ideal sleeping bag for your individual needs.

If you know where you’re going to use your sleeping, the question of “down or synthetic?” usually answers itself. However, the decision is further complicated by the fact that there is a wide variety of down and synthetic bags of varying quality. This means that the best synthetic fibres can actually trump the seemingly more powerful, “higher-quality” down in a less than optimal model. This is also reflected in the price of high-end synthetic sleeping bags, which can be even more expensive than simpler down models.

That being said, the best thing to do would be to go over a list of criteria and rank them according to importance. So, that’s what we’re going to do now! Here are the criteria that most outdoorsmen and women would deem important:

The shape

Shape is usually the easiest criterion to tick off. When it comes to pack size, weight and warmth, mummy bags (a snug-fitting bag that tapers toward the feet) are basically the only viable option, with the occasional exception of some eggshell bags, which are wider at the hip and knees. The blanket shape (rectangular) is more intended for indoor use – for motorhomes, holiday homes or at home as a guest bed.

The mummy shape is the narrowest, so not only does it have less material as a whole, but the interior warms up the fastest as well. The eggshell may be more spacious and comfortable, but you pay for it with more weight and volume and poorer insulation. However, for outdoorsmen and women with a larger build, the eggshell shape can often be the best option in terms of function.

Temperature

“How warm is it?”, “How warm does it have to be?” This is a concern for many an outdoorsman. Coincidentally, we have already written an article with the answer, which you can find right here. Instead of forcing you to read the entire article, allow me to summarise it, with the assumption that you are a person with an average sensitivity to cold:

Think about the lowest night-time temperatures you’re expecting to encounter on your trip and choose a sleeping bag that has this temperature as the comfort temperature. Make sure it’s not the comfort limit or the extreme temperature rating. You’ll find all of these three ratings on each sleeping bag. Although the comfort limit temperature is often referred to as the “area of use”, the limit describes the lower threshold. Only under the very best conditions will it feel “comfortable”. If you find yourself in the extreme temperature range, it’ll be quite the epic night – and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Since there is an EU standard temperature rating system for sleeping bags used by almost all manufacturers worldwide, they are relatively comparable and reliable. For you, this means: Only if the air temperature is no colder than the comfort temperature will you be able to get a good night’s sleep in the sleeping bag, even in suboptimal conditions.

The categories are divided up according to the temperature range:

  • Summer sleeping bags: Comfort temperature above 12°C
  • Three-season sleeping bags: Comfort temperature up to about 0°C
  • Winter sleeping bags: Comfort temperature significantly below 0°C

Keep in mind that the temperatures are only estimates because the three sleeping bag categories are not clearly defined. Also: the category ”three seasons” covers the majority of an outdoorsman’s needs, as it is suitable for such activities as summer hill walks and alpine mountaineering as well as summer treks in Norway and Lapland.

Those of you looking for something significantly warmer have probably noticed that such bags either have temperature ratings from the manufacturer or none at all. This is due to the fact that the testing methods employed for the EU standard only work up to a certain fill weight. If a sleeping bag has a high fill weight, it is not possible to determine a comfort temperature, so you have to rely on the information provided by the manufacturer. Fortunately, this is rarely an issue, since only reputable manufacturers produce sleeping bags of this calibre and have a reputation to lose!

Weight and pack size

Another important aspect to consider along with the temperature ratings is weight, which can be lower or higher depending on the fill material, shell material and size of the bag, among other things. Since most of the material used is for the insulation, down and synthetic fibres will dominate the discussion here. We’re not going to go into too much detail, seeing as the topic of insulation material is intricate enough to fill an entire book, but what we will do is summarise two articles we have already written for purposes of comparison (the links to the articles are coming soon):

Down

The fluffier or loftier down is, the higher its fill power. And the higher the fill power, the more air down can trap and the warmer it will be for its weight. The fill power of down is measured by placing a set mass of down into a cylinder, lowering a disc onto it in order to compress it and subsequently releasing it. The volume of the space the down fills after expanding is called fill power.

It’s measured in cubic inches, which is why “cuin” is used to indicate fill power. Down with a fill power of 600 cuin or more is considered good. 700 cuin is really high quality, and 800 cuin is regarded as extremely high quality. Although the measurement with cuin is standardised like the temperature ratings, there are differences between Europe and North America.

For example, a rating of 650 cuin in Europe would be at least 700 cuin in North America. For this reason, two sleeping bags with the same fill power value can differ in their “plumpness” or “firmness”. The sleeping bag with less will probably bear a North American logo. However, this difference does not mean that North American sleeping bags have down of “poorer quality”. You might just want to go for a higher value.

Another important value is the down-to-feather ratio. It is extremely rare to find a sleeping bag filled with pure down and no “supporting feathers”. However, in contrast to popular belief, mixing feathers in with down has little to do with reinforcing the down and much more to do with making production more economical. In fact, when it comes to large goose down, feathers actually have a negative effect on both loft and weight, increasing the latter and hindering the former. However, since hardly anybody can afford pure down, almost all down sleeping bags you’ll find on the market have a down-to-feather ratio. The first number in the ratio indicates the percentage of down, the second the percentage of feathers: there are ratios of 70/30; 80/20; 90/10 or, for high-end sleeping bags, values of 95/5. The more down, the better!

Now let’s move on to the pros and cons:

The small pack size and low weight will be something you’ll definitely appreciate when you’re lugging it around all day. The softness and balance temperature inside a down sleeping bag will keep you nice and comfortable at night. If you care for your down sleeping bag properly, it will last you a long time, even if you use it on a regular basis.

Down is more susceptible to water and moisture and when wet will lose its loft and insulating properties. Do keep in mind that the effect moisture has on down is often exaggerated, almost as if down were as sensitive as cotton candy. Your sleeping bag would have to get directly rained on or there would have to be some major dew for the down to lose its insulating properties. If airing out and drying your bag proves difficult, you can always opt for a sleeping bag with water-repellent down and a waterproof and breathable shell. But, these, of course, have their price.

You can find out more about these kinds of sleeping bags in Buyer’s Guide to Down Sleeping Bags.

Synthetic

As with down sleeping bags, synthetic sleeping bags should trap as much air as possible with as little material as possible. The more complex constructions (such as the shingle construction) usually achieve better warmth-to-weight ratios than the simpler constructions (such as the simple quilted through layers).

Because synthetic fillers insulate when wet, it’s always a good idea to opt for a synthetic bag for adventures in wet conditions. The lower price tag is another advantage synthetic bags have over their down counterparts, but in the end, this is usually offset by their lower durability.

In the short term, synthetic material is actually more resistant to wear and tear (e.g. spilled drinks or people constantly walking on their sleeping bag at festivals). Plus, in contrast to down, synthetic materials also hardly ever cause allergic reactions. And, last but not least, there is no direct link between synthetic insulation and maltreatment of animals, which is music to the ears of vegans and animal lovers. But, there are ethical downsides too, one being the petrochemical industry…

Even though synthetic fillers may have the same temperature ratings, they do tend to weigh more and have a larger pack size than down. Their long-term durability pales in comparison as well. Whilst down can be “like new” when properly or even professionally cleaned, any damage to your synthetic bag will really destroy it. Cleaning and caring for synthetic material is much easier and quicker than down. However, unlike down, synthetic fills cannot be refilled or replaced.

Down vs. synthetic in warm sleeping bags

Here’s something a lot of people don’t know: The weight and pack size of synthetic sleeping bags goes through the roof in the “warmer” versions. Whilst there are synthetic bags with a zero-degree comfort temperature and a backpack-compatible weight and pack size, the very same model with a -10-degree comfort rating suddenly becomes a 2-kilogram monster. Why? Well, the additional amount of synthetic fibres – even the best fibres – does not result in the corresponding amount of warmth. Therefore, in order to tack on just a few more degrees of extra warmth, you’d need a lot more insulation material.

When it comes to down, it’s a completely different story: Much less additional material is needed for the same increase in insulation. Thus, you can easily find a backpack-compatible down sleeping bag with a -10 comfort rating. Another point for down.

Comfort

Comfort depends not only on the fill material and its insulating properties but also the interior space and the material used for the lining. The latter also has an effect on how dry/wet it feels and, to a lesser degree, the perceived temperature. Personal preferences play a role here as well. Some like a silky feel, whilst others prefer a more “cotton-like” feel. Obviously, cotton is unsuitable as an a lining in an outdoor sleeping bag due to its lack of functional features.

Another important factor when it comes to comfort is the length and fit of the sleeping bag. As mentioned earlier, the mummy bag is probably the best choice for mountaineers and outdoorsman when it comes to fit. Although it is the narrowest, it can be quite comfortable, provided you choose wisely! It’s always better to choose a sleeping bag that is a few centimetres “too long” instead of trying to save weight by taking a shorter version. Also: A shaped foot box is a great thing to have as well and even works well for those who sleep on their sides because the bag moves with you when you roll over in your sleep.

Whether there is a right or wrong side for the zip to be on is a purely subjective question and only plays a role if you’re planning on connecting two sleeping bags. When it comes to “warm” sleeping bags, make sure yours has a a draught tube along the zip to prevent cold draughts getting in and warm air getting out.

Features

Since we’re on the subject of zips: Make sure they have an anti-snag guard (usually just a small, slightly stiffer strip of fabric) in addition to the already-mentioned draught tube so that they run smoothly. As for the length, a shortened zip that only goes down to the knees may make it less comfortable to get in and out of the sleeping bag, but it improves thermal performance and simultaneously reduces weight. It’s a great option for those who need something lighter and packable with good insulation.

  • Hood: A sleeping bag suitable for the mountains and the outdoors must have a contoured hood that can be tightened all the way, leaving a little opening to breathe out of without pressing down on your head.
  • Draught collar: Very useful when sleeping in temperatures below about 5 degrees. It is better to have to carry a few extra grams than not being able to fall asleep. A cold draught on your neck and chest can be pretty annoying. And, if there’s a big difference between the inside and outside temperature, your collar only has to be open a few centimetres to create such a draught.
  • Inside pockets: A very convenient way to keep your socks dry or your camera battery warm. There’s even room to put a small heating pad in the inside pocket, which is often located at the foot of the bag.

How to identify a good sleeping bag when you see one

What are “good” values when it comes to weight, pack size, etc.? When choosing between two sleeping bags with a comfort temperature of zero degrees, the one with the smaller pack size and lower weight is the better one. If it is made of strong ripstop nylon and other high-quality (brand) materials, all the better. If you want synthetic insulation of the highest quality, brand-made fibres are the way to go. Primaloft, Thermo ProLoft from Deuter, Spirafil from Marmot or MTI 13 from Mammut are some well-known examples. They’re also known to have a good silicone coating, something that you can’t really verify by looking at them. This coating is extremely important, as it significantly increases the durability of synthetic sleeping bags.

High-quality techniques are the material-saving shingle construction or the one-sided lamination to prevent cold spots. An example of an excellent synthetic sleeping bag is the Hyperlamina Spark from Mountain Hardwear.

As mentioned above, the cuin value and the down-to-feather ratio are the most important aspects in assessing the quality of down. Examples of high-end, do-anything down sleeping bags are the Neutrino series from Rab or the sleeping bags from Sir Joseph.

Durability

Inexpensive synthetic sleeping bags are the best option for those of you who aren’t great at giving your sleeping bag the love and care it needs. They can take the wear and tear that comes with camping in damp places, but they won’t hold up for long. Because once synthetic fibres start to “fatigue”, they just give up. The insulation is nowhere near what it was when it was new. Down, on the other hand, can be reanimated if you wash it properly – yep, even down sleeping bags you’ve repeatedly stuffed in your stuff sack over the years.

Washing and caring for your sleeping bag

Contrary to popular belief, caring for your sleeping bag is pretty easy. The easiest way to start is on your trips by shaking it and airing it out in the morning before packing up. You can leave it out in the sun for a few minutes, too, but not too long – the UV rays will ruin the material.

When it comes to packing, do NOT fold or roll up the bag. It is designed to be stuffed. If you roll it up, you’ll damage the baffles. Unfortunately, some manufacturers ignore this fact and roll them up anyway, contributing to the false belief that you should roll your sleeping bag…

Stuff it when you’re on the move, but when you get home, store it in a large cotton or mesh sack. The more space the fill has, the longer it will last you.

Wash your sleeping bag as rarely as possible. When sleeping in your bag, you should wear long clothes or thermal underwear to make sure that as little sweat and dirt gets into the sleeping bag as possible. When it comes time to wash it, our Care Instructions for Sleeping Bags will help.

Unfortunately, washing sleeping bags can be very time-consuming, especially when it comes to down sleeping bags, so it’s easy to make a mistake. If you have a very expensive sleeping bag, we recommend getting it professionally cleaned. Professional cleaners would wash the down and shell separately, since down has to be washed at different temperatures than the technical fabric used for the shell. When you get your sleeping bag back, both the down and the shell will be like brand-new. Of course, it’s far from being cheap, but given the amount of time and energy you save, it’s definitely a viable option.

Conclusion

Finding the “the right sleeping bag” can be almost as complicated as finding “the right car”. But, we hope with our instructions, you’ll be able to find the sleeping bag that suits your needs. Then, before falling asleep, you can philosophise about existential questions instead of being distressed with existential struggle against the cold.

 

A buyer’s guide to bivvy bags

21. June 2018
Buyer's guide

The term ‘bivouac’ is derived from the French word bivouac, which means an encampment or encampment for the night. In addition to sleeping in a tent or a hut, bivouacking is another common way to spend the night in the great outdoors. In contrast to the other two other options, however, there is usually no roof over your head, unless you sleep in one of the rather sparingly equipped accommodations, known as bivouac huts. If you don’t have this luxury and still need a weatherproof place to sleep, there is probably no way around getting yourself a bivvy bag. In the following, we’re going to tell you all about bivvy bags, including what to look out for when buying one.

What is a bivvy bag and what does bivouacking mean?

Simply put: Bivouacking is basically like camping, but instead of sleeping in a tent, you’re sleeping in a bag. Oftentimes, you won’t even sleep in it, but merely use it as shelter until a storm passes or wait for rescue teams to arrive in the event of an accident.

If possible, you should figure out well in advance what kind of bivvy bag you need for your trip. It’s always a good idea to have a more breathable bag, especially for shorter breaks. Otherwise condensation can build up really quickly and start dripping onto your clothes or sleeping bag.

Doesn’t sound very inviting, does it? It rarely is. Bivouacking has many faces. Here are two of them:

The nice one:

High up on this picturesque ledge under a starry sky, sheltered from the wind in this cosy, lightweight and breathable two-man bag. Snuggled up with your loved one, you can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of the mountains until you drift off into a blissful slumber.

The mean one:

High up on this remote mountain ledge, dark clouds appear out of nowhere and suddenly it starts bucketing down. Now you’re panicking, struggling to get your bivvy bag out from the bottom of your pack in face of brutal winds and rain, sweating into your already soaking-wet clothes. And, the inside of the bivvy bag ends up getting as wet as the outside.

When you’re both finally inside the bag, you have to zip it up completely and crouch down so that the wildly fluttering fabric doesn’t keep hitting your face. It’s moments like these when couples hate snuggling. Plus, despite the protective cover, it seems to keep getting colder, and the air quality is getting progressively worse. In situations like these, it’s important to keep the material at a distance because when it comes into direct contact with you, it will cool you down instead of warming you up. And, since weather is so unpredictable, you have no idea if the storm will have passed a half an hour from now or a half a day. Time to go to your happy place…

Most bivouacking experiences lie somewhere between these two versions. The starry sky will certainly be the rarer occasion of the two because if the sky is clear enough to see and enjoy, you probably don’t need the bivvy bag. In such cases, a sleeping bag will suffice, especially if it provides some warmth and protection from the wind whilst keeping moisture at bay. This is something that a lot of sleeping bags are perfectly capable of doing nowadays.

Even those surprising changes in weather will become rarer with time, considering the fact that we have devices that provide weather forecasts and allow us to plan our adventures in real time. At least this is true for those more moderate adventures in the Alps and Central Europe. However, as long as unpredictable weather conditions and remote areas still exist and people go on physically demanding adventures spanning over several days, our beloved bivvy bags will continue to exist.

What is a bivvy bag and what do I need it for?

Simply put: a bivvy bag is the bag in which you sit or lie when bivouacking.

The simplest version consists of a more or less waterproof top and bottom made of synthetics that is sewn together. The top bit has a slit that allows you to slip inside and serves as an opening for your face. There are bags for one or two people, with the latter having the advantage that it generates more heat and the disadvantage that it is more difficult to use.

A bivvy bag is lighter and cheaper than a tent and makes it possible (at least theoretically) to set up a weatherproof shelter anytime and anywhere. Unfortunately, just having functional clothing is not always enough. When bad weather lasts long enough, water usually always finds a way in. In such cases, bivvy bags can be a life saver.

The basic characteristics of a bivvy bag.

Less expensive bivvy bags can provide acceptable protection from wind and water for shorter periods. However, they cannot withstand the violent gusts of winds and are less resistant to abrasion, so when the come into contact with shoes and other equipment, they won’t last long. Plus, the pressure exerted on the material by sitting or lying on it cause moisture to permeate the fabric surprisingly quickly.

Here you should make sure that the base material has a hydrostatic head of at least 2,000mm(significantly more is better, because the pressure applied to the material can be much greater when you’re squatting).

It is rather difficult to say how much warmth any given model will provide. Why? Well, it depends at least as much on the situation as it does on the model and individual physiological factors. So, no blanket statement can be made here. More important than the strength of the material is the layer of air that serves as insulation between your body and the bivvy bag.

Simple enough, right? Well, things get a bit more complicated when the breathability of the fabric comes into play and with it the coatings, membranes and laminates, which are either on the top, bottom or both sides.

Then, there is an array of other features, including completely closable 3D hoods with mosquito nets and anatomical foot boxes, tent-like pole structures and heaps of other bits and bobs that can be added to the bivvy.

How do bivvy bags differ from one another?

Based on what we’ve talked about so far, it should be clear by now that the perfect bivvy bag has to meet all sorts of different requirements. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a do-everything bivvy bag. Maybe someday, though!

Until some genius creates this miracle bag, we have to navigate between the following three points when deciding on a model:

  1. Comfort (breathability, spaciousness, features)
  2. Low weight and pack size
  3. Weather protection (Quality of the material, robustness, complete sealability (for lack of a better term))

There is no bivvy bag that meets all three criteria equally. It’s like buying a car. Despite all the high-tech euphoria, you still can’t get a family-friendly and environmentally friendly hybrid race car.

However, when it comes to bivvy bags, we can at least have two of the three mentioned above: i.e. 1) and 2) or 1) and 3). A combination of 2) and 3) is much more difficult or significantly more expensive, but still feasible.

What materials are used for bivvy bags?

The desired criteria determine the composition of the material and the construction of the bivvy bag. Let’s list the materials first:

The key component of most ultra-light models is a a metallised foil. Such bivy bags may be damaged or unusable even after a single use, but are also intended for emergencies only, similar to a rescue blanket.

The more durable basic models have a tent-like nylon or polyester fabric with a polyurethane coating (PU coating). Nylon, polyester and cotton blended fabrics are not waterproof without such a coating. PU gives the material its functional properties due to its high density and flexibility.

In addition to PU, silicone is also used, which is usually classified as being of a higher quality. Silicone coatings are more elastic, more durable and more expensive than other coatings. They not only increase the fabric’s tear resistance, but its UV resistance as well. They are also significantly lighter than PU coatings with comparable levels of waterproofness.

Are there bivvy bags with membranes?

More complex bivvy bags also use membranes. If you prefer a membrane, let me say this: In practice, you will notice only minor differences between the different membrane brands when it comes to breathability. As a rule, all technologies reach their limits at a certain amount of moisture and/or temperature distribution.

All coatings, laminates and the like increase the weight and pack size just like any other additional feature. The more protection, versatility and functionality the fabric offers, the more weight you’ll have to carry and the larger the pack size will be. Every other little addition, like more room or covered zips add more weight as well.

Bivvy bag shapes and designs

Most bivvy bags are cut like a slightly larger sleeping bag and lie flat like a blanket. The volume of the bag results from our bodies or other little extras like stiffeners, guying options or small poles.

The latter offers additional headroom, which can come as a welcome relief when sleeping in it for multiple nights in a row. However, the stability of models with this simple frame should not be overestimated. Some can stand upright only when the zip is completely closed, whilst others tilt towards your face as soon as a little breeze picks up. More reliable are the more complex constructions like the criss-cross pole structure found on the Carinthia Observer. However, so much comfort and weather protection is neither light nor cheap.

An important question you may need to consider is whether the bivvy bag should close completely. After all, there’s no way to be completely protected from the elements unless the interior can be sealed off completely with a strong zip. Drawstrings, hook-and-loop fasteners and vents always leave small gaps and openings, which in extreme cases will have to be facing away from the the direction of the weather.

Oftentimes, that’s easier said than done. However, sealing yourself in to this extent is only for ambitious projects in higher altitudes or colder climates. For most other emergency situations and “normal” bivouacking adventures, you’ll be fine with with bivvy bags that can “only” be closed with buttons, drawstrings or the like.

Conclusion

Bivouacking is more than just an emergency solution in adverse mountain conditions. It allows you to experience nature in a way you never have before and is a flexible option between camping and sleeping “completely unprotected” out in the open.

However, bivouacking is not recommended for people who prefer not to be in direct contact with the ground, materials or other peoples’ bodies. But, if you discover the urge to be in the great outdoors and can overcome your inhibitions, you may end up loving it! Then, you’ll venture a little further out, head up to the mountains and realise you need to start looking for the proper bivvy bag! We hope this article will help with that.

A buyer's guide to rain covers

A buyer’s guide to rain covers

21. August 2018
Buyer's guide, Equipment

Ever head out on a trip and run into rain? No worries, we’ve all been there. It can be extremely frustrating, especially when rain seeps into your pack because you forgot to cover it up like the rest of you. What may seem like a minor mistake on the face of it can have pretty major consequences: All your clothes, electronics, maps and other important items can get completely soaked and perhaps even ruined. In order to prevent such a catastrophe taking place, we recommend taking a rain cover with you everywhere you go, regardless of where your are outside – be it the mountains, the hills or on your bike.

Since constant weather changes are the bane of an outdoorsman’s existence, having sufficient protection is extremely important.

Backpacks with integrated rain covers

High-quality backpacks usually come with an integrated rain cover that has small pack size and its own designated compartment. When needed, you can simply pull it out, wrap it around the entire pack and tighten it using a bungee. Of course, a rain cover isn’t designed to cover up the straps or the back panel. Otherwise, it would be pretty uncomfortable. This still keeps the backpack protected from rain, though. They’re made of waterproof synthetic fabric that forces water to bead up and roll off the surface of the fabric.

Dimensions and volume

If your backpack doesn’t have an integrated rain cover, we highly recommend getting yourself one before you head out on your trip. And, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the one recommended by the manufacturer of your backpack. Other models from other brands work just as well. You just have to make sure that the cover is compatible with dimensions and – most importantly – the volume of your backpack. So, before buying a rain cover, find out how many litres of volume your backpack has.

Rain covers with reflectors for better visibility

In addition to waterproof and protective properties, a rain cover should also have reflective elements. This is especially important for cyclists and runners who are often forced to take city roads. True, most backpacks do have reflectors, but keep in mind: As soon as you put a rain cover over your backpack, they’re no longer visible. Your best bet is to find a rain cover not only with reflectors but in a bright colour as well. That way, it’ll be hard for others to miss you in poor visibility. And, as we all know, visibility is always low in rainy conditions.

A rain cover with a small pack size

Since your rain cover will usually be stowed away in your pack and only used when it rains, it’s important for it to have a small pack size. Only then can you pack it down nice and small and take it with you wherever you go. That said, you need a rain cover that is foldable. But, make sure the material is made in such a way so that no wrinkles, kinks or cracks form when you fold it because all of these could have a negative impact on the windproof and waterproof properties of the fabric.

Once you’ve found a rain cover that fits your backpack, you can head out on your adventure without having to worry about the weather conditions or any potential weather changes. If it does rain, all you’ll have to do is pull your rain cover over your backpack and you’ll be good to go! It’s so quick and easy. It hardly takes more than 2 minutes! With a quality rain cover and high-quality waterproof clothing, you’ll have the best protection money can buy for the great outdoors, regardless of whether you’re walking or cycling.

Decisions, decisions: Finding the right walking trousers

Decisions, decisions: Finding the right walking trousers

19. September 2018
Buyer's guide, Equipment

Walking, walking and more walking! What could be better than that? All you do is sleep, walk, eat, walk, sleep…and, yep, you guessed it – walk! Sunrise and sunset determine your daily rhythm. Your rucksack only seems unbearably heavy in the beginning. And, as you walk you forget about your mobile, the internet and the crowded city streets, as it all drifts further and further away. Finally some peace and quiet! Wait, what’s that? Damn, I’ve got a blister on my foot! Great, now I’m limping! Blimey, my trousers are chafing! This is going to be awful by day two! To prevent your trekking trip becoming a nightmare like the one illustrated here, it’s absolutely essential that you have the right kit.

Backpack, shoes, clothing – everything should fit well and do their job properly! This is especially true when it comes to walking trousers. After all, you won’t want (or be able) to lug around a large selection of trousers on a multi-day trip.

The cool all-rounder for long treks

But what makes up a pair of walking trousers, anyway? Why not just go for soft shells? Soft shells may seem to be taking over market, but let’s be honest: our beloved walking trousers still have a lot going for them, especially on multi-day trips. For example, when it rains, your walking trousers can be worn underneath your waterproof trousers and will be well protected. Softshell trousers, however, are usually not capable of withstanding a downpour. A lighter pair of walking trousers, on the other hand, provides more breathability in fair conditions and have a lighter feel to them. And: A lot of models can be converted into a pair of shorts, which eliminates the need for two garments, automatically saving room in your pack. The more casual-looking walking trousers can also be considered to be all-purpose trousers – ones you could wear through a city, if need be.

Another small, but significant difference between the two kinds of trousers: Walking trousers usually have more pockets! The large thigh pockets are particularly convenient, as they give you a place to keep your map, so you won’t have to fumble around for it in your pack every single time you want to check your location.

What’s more, despite their small pack size and lightweight feel, most walking trousers protect you from the sun and insects as well, both of which will come in really handy on long treks.

A general overview of available products

As was already mentioned, fit and pack size are extremely important factors when it comes to trekking. For comfort, walking trousers usually come equipped with articulated knees like the FJÄLLRÄVEN – Barents Pro walking trousers. Plus, most trousers are stretchy, allowing for a wide range of motion.

As for the fabric, walking trousers are made of different materials, and it all really comes down to your own personal preference. Because of odour and those annoying swooshing noises, some walkers swear by a blend of cotton and synthetics, as in the Abisko Trousers from Fjällräven or by merino wool and synthetics, as in the Pelmo Pants walking trousers from Ortovox , whilst others prefer purely synthetic trousers. However, all high-quality walking trousers usually have a solid level of breathability and wind and/or water-repellent properties. When it comes to choosing material, it’s always important to opt for a fabric that feels good to you.

Some more important details on walking trousers

Several walking trouser models can be adjusted to accommodate changes in weather conditions. For example, many of them have zip-off legs. It’s really convenient to have a pair of trousers that not only have detachable legs but ones with a full-length side zip, like the Women’s Jasay from Salewa. That way, you can keep your boots on when you zip off the legs. Some models, such as the Exploration Convertible Pant from The North Face are even more versatile: If you’d rather not take the entire trouser leg off, you can simply roll it up and secure it using the loops provided.

Speaking of trouser legs, some manufacturers even make different trouser lengths for those who have trouble with the standard lengths. Fjällräven, for example, solved this problem with their “raw length”, which you’ll find in models like the Karl Pro Trousers walking trousers from Fjällräven. With these, the length of the leg can be adjusted ever so precisely to meet your needs. Lundhags has developed a similar feature, which can be found in the Lundhags Jonten Pant. These have an unshortened length that can be adjusted to your leg.

Walking trousers take quite a beating

Multi-day treks can be tough, not only in terms of the distance but also when it comes to the terrain. We trekkers often traverse dense undergrowth, trudge along rock and it’s not at all rare for us to sit down for a break in the sand, either! For precisely this reason, walking trousers come equipped with reinforced panels at the knee and seat. Examples thereof can be found on the Terminal 2.0 DST walking trousers for men. This tough material serves to increase the lifespan of the trousers in areas of high wear – something that is especially important when you’re going cross country.

Special areas of use

If you already know exactly where your walking adventure is going to take you, you can start looking for a pair of trousers tailored to your specific needs. For example, if you’re heading to the tropics, it’s important to have ones made of lightweight and extremely breathable fabric that will protect you from insects. In regions ridden with scorpions and leeches (yikes), cuffs underneath the trouser legs are a great thing to have. In regions with intense sunlight or at high altitudes, you’ll need a pair of trousers that provide high UV protection. If you’ll be moving along a via ferrata, it’s important that the legs are stretchy. In other words, the trousers should allow for enough range of motion for larger movements.

If you’re planning a more treacherous journey through snow, then the kind of trousers you’re looking for will change from walking to touring or winter trousers.

Three hot tips for good measure

Tip one: Before you head out, make sure your belt or the belt loops on your trousers don’t get in the way of the hip belt on your rucksack. To avoid this problem, many brands (the ones that include belts with their trousers) use flat belts with flat buckles.

Tip two: When trying on a pair of zip-off trousers, make sure the zips don’t chafe your thighs or rub up against the backs of your knees.

Tip three: Always take good care of your zipped-off trouser legs! Otherwise, you might be a half a leg short – forever!

How to dress for a high-altitude mountaineering adventure

How to dress for a high-altitude mountaineering adventure

4. April 2018
Buyer's guide

If you’re planning on mountaineering at high altitudes, you not only need quality gear but also the appropriate clothing. If you save in the wrong areas or take too much (useless) or too little equipment, the whole trip will seem cursed from the very beginning. So, what is the appropriate clothing for high-altitude mountaineering? What clothing is an absolute must and where could you save some weight or space in your pack? And finally, what should you wear when and why?To answer these questions, we’re going to work our way systematically from your base layer to your mid and outermost layers all the way down to your shoes. Sound good? All right then. Allow us to present to you the dress code for the high mountains!

What to wear underneath – your base layer

At high altitudes and in cold weather, your lowest layer of clothing is incredibly important. It’s usually made up of what we like to call the Holy Trinity or more specifically a shirt, underwear and socks. And, these are not your ordinary garments you’ve had for years just lying around the house. Itchy wool underwear and terry cloth socks are not the best option here. Instead, mountaineers opt for functional, breathable and – most importantly – non-itchy fabric. These are constructed from either synthetic fibres or natural materials like merino wool.

When it comes to shirts, it’s always nice to have one that looks more like a regular shirt than an undershirt because, believe it or not, you might get hot and end up rocking your short-sleeved shirt on its own. This is not at all rare when mountaineering in the summertime. It can warm up quite a bit during the day or when you’re relaxing on a sun terrace at a mountain hut in the Alps.

You should also pay special attention to your socks, because these, too, can make or break a mountaineering expedition. The important thing here is that your socks fit as snugly as possible without being constrictive. They should never be too big or fold back on themselves, as this could end up causing pressure points and chafing. Standard walking socks with a high cuff are a great option, having proved themselves to be perfect for high-altitude mountaineering. But, don’t just go with any walking socks. It is generally recommended to try your mountaineering boots and socks on together so that you can be certain that they work well together and don’t end up killing your feet!

The middleman – your mid-layer

The middle layer of clothing serves to provide you with the necessary warmth. Depending on the temperature and the weather conditions, your mid-layer could be anything from a long-sleeved shirt to an insulated jacket – basically anything that traps warmth around your body. Oftentimes, two garments are combined. Which combo you choose depends on your personal preference. For example, you could go with a long-sleeved shirt and a synthetic jacket or a fleece jumper with a softshell jacket. The right combination always depends on your perception of warmth as well as the weather conditions.

As for the trousers, a pair of abrasion-resistant outdoor trousers is your best bet. Usually, trousers of this kind are made of a stretchy material that is both water-resistant and breathable. These trousers are often reinforced at the knees, inseam or seat to reduce the risk of damage caused by crampons, rocks, debris and the edges of skis. The trousers should also seal up nicely toward the bottom of the leg and have width-adjustable leg cuffs, if possible. This feature not only serves to prevent snow, water and dirt penetrating into the interior but also eliminates the need for gaiters, which is nice.

Impenetrable – your outermost layer

Now that we’ve established that mid and base layers are functional underwear designed to shield you from draughts and cold air, we can move on to your outer layer. When the weather doesn’t feel like cooperating and it starts to rain, snow or just gets super cold, you need an extra layer that seals up the whole system. The icing on the cake, if you will.

The finishing touches to your layering system are waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket. These are usually packable and provide reliable protection in all sorts of foul weather. It’s incredibly important to have a good jacket. In addition to waterproof protection, it is very important for the jacket to be breathable as well. After all, it doesn’t really make much of a difference if you get wet from rain coming from the outside or sweat from the inside. Because mountaineering expeditions require you to carry a big rucksack, it’s important for the jacket to be suitable for wear with a backpack as well. Also: make sure the jacket pockets are positioned a bit higher, so that they are still accessible when you’re wearing a harness.

If you have to climb certain sections or certain parts of the route are exposed, you’ll usually have a helmet on as well. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to find a jacket with a helmet-compatible hood.

Waterproof trousers are not always necessary, but definitely a plus on ski tours and at high altitudes. Even if you’re heading out in spring and anticipate large old snow fields, a pair of waterproof trousers on you or in your pack can definitely come in handy. As with the other trousers mentioned above, these, too, should close nicely toward the bottom of the leg. That way, snow won’t be able to get in at the leg openings, nor will you have to worry about your crampons getting caught on the fabric.

Let’s see your kicks! – Shoes

The number of mountaineering boots on the market is daunting. There are all sorts of different models designed for different applications, so it’s important to find the proper pair for your intended use. Crampons are among the plethora of aspects you need to consider when looking into buying a pair of mountaineering boots. For more information on the topic of mountaineering boots, you can have a look at our blog post on the subject (currently only available in German). Because you’re bound to come upon some glaciers and firns when mountaineering at high altitudes, you’ll often need to use crampons. These are available in various models and not every model is compatible with every shoe. So, when shopping for boots, it is very important to make sure the crampons are compatible with whichever pair you choose.

Much more important, however, is to ensure that your boots fit well and don’t chafe or put uneven pressure on your feet. A boot that doesn’t fit properly will automatically turn your adventure into a torturous nightmare. That being said, it’s a good idea to break in your mountain boots before heading out on your first longer mountaineering trip and to choose the appropriate socks. True, going for a stroll in your local park on a Sunday afternoon in your mountaineering boots might look a bit silly, but I guarantee you feet will thank you for it later.

Anything else? – Summary

Of course! But we’re not going to go into it here. The list of all the “bits and bobs” you may need on a mountain expedition is so long that we’ve decided to dedicate this post to the large and most basic articles of clothing. It almost goes without saying that you’ll need an insulated or UV-protective beanie, appropriate gloves and the best glacier goggles you can find if you’re planning such an excursion. A tube scarf and gaiters can be really useful as well.

Because of all these extra things you may need, we recommend determining well in advance where and how long you’ll be travelling for. That way, you can create a list based on your individual needs and alter you clothing choices to the particular demands of that trip, if need be. This often saves an enormous amount of weight and space in your backpack!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask our experts in customer service. They are available during the week from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. and can be reached by phone at 03 33 33 67058 or via e-mail.

A buyer's guide to waterproof trousers

A buyer’s guide to waterproof trousers

21. August 2018
Buyer's guide

Bad weather can really put a damper on an outdoor adventure, regardless of whether you run into a seemingly never-ending drizzle or extremely heavy bursts of rain. But, you know what? It doesn’t have to! Just slip on your waterproof trousers and keep on moving! Wait, you don’t have any? If you’re one of those folks who have managed to get by without a pair of waterproof trousers but are interested in getting some, we’re here to help! In the following, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about waterproof trousers in this short guide.

True to the adage about bad weather and bad clothing, we’re here to tell you that a reliable outer layer is an absolutely indispensable part of your gear in adverse weather conditions. This goes for both your upper and lower body. These non-insulated overtrousers fall under the category of hardshell trousers. They come equipped with a flexible band at the waist and long zips on the legs that allow them to fit over all other trousers and even thick boots.

But, remember: One pair of waterproof trousers is not like the next! They have much more to offer than waterproof protection! Like a protective shield, waterproof trousers have to be capable to withstand all weather conditions and provide you with reliable protection in windy and cold conditions as well, preventing you getting cold. Plus, they should be breathable, easy to slip on and off and their pack size and weight should coincide with their performance.

How to find the right trousers

In the face of the abundance of waterproof trousers available on the market today, even the most knowledgeable of us can get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. The first (two-fold) question you should be able to answer before purchasing a pair is the following: What am I going to use them for and what should they be able to withstand? After all, there is no single pair of waterproof trousers that can do it all, so do make sure that they are tailored to your intended area of use. Things to consider could include: short distances vs. multi-days, scattered showers vs. pouring rain, walking vs. cycling, muddy flatlands vs. rocky ridges. As with other functional clothing, the thicker and heavier the trousers, the tougher they are.

Solid mid-range trousers for walking and cycling

Lighter overtrousers like the Fluid Pants II from Vaude or the Resolve Pant from The North Face are great for day trips in unpredictable weather conditions, a walk in the forest on a rainy day or a middle-distance cycling. A commute to work is a good example of the latter, because the distance is manageable, and if the sun does happen to come out, you can stuff the trousers in your pack at any time.

If you’re looking for a pair of waterproof trousers for a day-long trip out in the open or in rugged terrain, you should definitely opt for something more robust like 2.5 or 3-layer hardshell trousers. Both are windproof and will prevent your body getting cold. Thus, such waterproof trousers are the perfect addition to your outdoor gear, especially in stormy weather.

Waterproof trousers for the mountains

Since even the most experienced mountaineer is bound to work up a sweat some point or another, it is absolutely crucial from them to have a pair of waterproof trousers that not only keeps them protected from water on the outside but also allows moisture to escape from the inside. To meet this demand, manufacturers use fabric that is breathable and equip the trousers with side vents to help keep the temperature on the interior balanced. And, if they don’t have extra zip vents, you can open the ¾-length or full-length zips on the legs for extra ventilation.

Waterproof hardshell trousers are also a perfect addition for trips at high altitude. Basically, if you’re travelling in a region where temperatures can drop in the blink of an eye or you could run into a snowstorm, hardshell trousers are a great option to have as an extra layer over a softshell. Plus, you can wear them as an outer insulating layer over your long underwear when ski touring as well.

Hardshell trousers with braces are suitable for activities that require a lot of movement, like climbing. These models may not be as easy to slip on and off, but they do provide reliable protection in wet conditions.

Waterproof trousers for all-weather cyclists

Braces aren’t just important for mountaineers – they’re of interest to cyclists as well. Why? Well, since cyclists lean forward toward their handlebars when cycling, both their buttocks and lower back are exposed and often forced to bear the brunt of the bad weather. The braces on hardshell trousers are there to remedy this and keep these areas nice and protected. Plus, special waterproof cycling trousers also come complete with reinforced panels at the seat and crotch. For improved visibility and overall safety on the roads, they also have reflective elements.

A standard feature on most waterproof trousers, but particularly important for cyclists, is tight cuffs or adjustable hook-and-loop fasteners on the bottom trouser leg, which serve to prevent the fabric getting caught in the chain.

Waterproof trousers – you can’t live without them

Waterproofs can be a nuisance, I know. I mean, who hasn’t tried to justify not wearing their waterproof trousers with excuses like, “Oh, it’s just sprinkling a bit” or “It’ll be over soon, anyway.” We’re all guilty of this, but as soon as our walking trousers get wet, we realise our mistake. After all, once they get wet, it’s too late to put on your waterproof pair. And, if the rain somehow gets inside, you’re in for a really bad day. Add to that the water dripping down from your jacket and your trousers will soon be soaked in no time. What a nightmare. In other words, don’t let laziness get the better of you! Put on your waterproof trousers before it’s too late!

Here’s another little tip: When purchasing waterproof trousers, make sure they’re somewhat longer than the trousers you’d wear underneath. Alternatively, you can protect them from water by way of a tighter cuff. If the trousers underneath are peaking out, cold air and water will start creeping up the inside leg. Another option is to fold up the trouser leg so that it will stay dry.

If you stay indoors, you’re missing out

Regardless of whether up in the mountains, cycling or in the flatlands, a quality pair of waterproof trousers should be an integral part of your gear, especially on multi-day trips and at high altitudes. So, yes, the old adage is true. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Besides, there’s something about hill walking in the rain, don’t you think? It’s quite nice! Plus, you won’t run into as many people!

 

A buyer's guide to approach shoes

A buyer’s guide to approach shoes

8. December 2017
Buyer's guide

The approach to your very climbing spot is often a rocky one, so it’s particularly important to have a solid pair of shoes. More specifically, you need some quality approach shoes! Wait, what are those? Well, approach shoes are multi-purpose shoes that have been designed to cope with the challenges of the approach to the crag or via ferrata (as well as your descent). But do we really need a different pair of shoes for everything little thing? Can’t we just wear some sturdy walking boots? Let me think about that for a second…no! In the following, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about approach shoes, including what you need to consider before you buy and why every climber has one pair at the very least in his or her kit. So, keep on reading!

What are approach shoes anyway?

Approach shoes are usually a pair of sturdy low-cut shoes. They help you to cope with steeper grades of rock and terrain of varying difficulty. After all, most “paths” to your favourite spot are presumably not paved or well-maintained trails but full of debris, rock, grass and whatever else nature feels like throwing at us. For this kind of terrain, we need a real all-rounder! And, that’s precisely where approach shoes come in.

When walking boots and climbing shoes love each other very much, what you get is a pair of approach shoes. That’s basically how you could describe where approach shoes comes from. All joking aside, approach shoes are a hybrid between both types of shoes. They’re made to cope with any terrain. They provide the foot with support on both steep and more well-maintained paths. Not even short climbing sections are a problem for these shoes. They are designed to be comfortable and provide traction, giving you the surefootedness you need to make it to your favourite crag. If you’re in the market for such a shoe, here’s a brief overview of what you should keep in mind before buying.

An approach shoe’s most important characteristics

If you’ve ever worn the wrong shoes, you know exactly where your feet end up at the end of the day: in the ice bucket. Since an approach can take even longer than the climb itself, it’s extremely important to find a comfortable approach shoe to get you to the crag. They should be secure and fit well and not feel constrictive or cause chafing. Even the baddest of climbers (I know that’s not the grammatically correct superlative) would rather have a solid pair of approach shoes than a bunch of yucky blisters on their feet.

Two of the more important contributing factors to a good fit are the footbed and the lacing. The higher-quality models have laces that extend all the way up to the toe of the shoe. Why? Well, this has the advantage that the shoe can be adjusted ever-so precisely to your individual foot. Another important factor is the lock down at the heel, which can be achieved by way of special heel inserts. These serve to keep the heel in its natural position whilst simultaneously absorbing shock.

Upper material, weight and lining – other important details

As with all outdoor shoes, an approach shoe’s upper is extremely important. Usually, manufacturers opt for a flexible synthetic material that is extremely tough and fit to withstand contact with rock and the like. There shouldn’t be any shortage of functionality and weather protection, either. Some weather protection will definitely not hurt. After all, your shoes are bound to get wet as you make your way to the crag. Plus, if your shoes are water resistant, you won’t have to struggle with putting your climbing shoes on with wet feet.

Functional materials like Gore-Tex provide excellent weather protection and keep the interior feeling fresh and comfortable. As you probably already know, Gore-Tex is breathable as well, so any moisture or sweat on the interior will pass through to the outside where it will evaporate. And your feet will stay nice and dry! But, more importantly, your feet won’t stink, either! That may sound trivial, but it’ll keep your climbing shoes from stinking as well.

In terms of weight, less is always more, as it so often is. Lighter approach shoes are much easier to stuff in your backpack or hang on your climbing harness when they’re not in use. There’s no reason to weigh yourself down!

The climbing zone and sole of the shoe

In order for you to be able to cope with short climbing sections, you need a capable approach shoe, and that’s where the climbing zone comes in. This is a treadless or flat area at the front of the approach shoe for edging on more difficult terrain. Yet another advantage approach shoes have over ‘normal’ walking shoes.

Now, let’s move on to the most important part of an approach shoe: the sole! The approach to the crag is no walk in the park. You usually have to traverse rough, sloping terrain and/or walking paths and asphalt. In the best-case scenario, your shoe will have a sole capable of dealing with both harsh conditions as well as paved sections. A sole that offers the same grip on slick, wet and dry surfaces. The perfect combination of flexibility and stability.

Usually, approach shoes have a sole made primarily of natural rubber like a Vibram sole. The tread shouldn’t be too deep, as that would impede the grip on the rock, but not non-existent either. As for cushioning, approach shoes are hardly cushioned – if at all – in the front. When it comes to the sole’s stiffness, it’s completely up to you.

The most important stuff at a glance

If you’ve managed to make it this far or are just skimming because you’re strapped for time, here’s a summary of the most important features:

Quality approach shoes are tough all-purpose shoes for various terrain. A robust and flexible upper is just as important as sufficient weather protection and breathability. A secure lacing system that extends down to the the toe provides a snug fit. A low weight is essential because you don’t want to have to carry around extra weight on your feet or your harness. A climbing zone at the front is never a bad idea, and the sole should offer a good combination of flexibility and stability. In sum, regardless of which model you end up buying, the most important thing is that it fits both your foot and your needs!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask our experts in customer service. They are available during the week from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. and can be reached by phone at 03 33 33 67058 or via e-mail.

There’s a lot going on in the climbing and outdoor industry. New products are being invented, existing ones are being reworked and improved, and we, too, are learning more every day. And, of course, we would like to share this knowledge with our customers. That’s why we regularly revise the articles at base camp. So, don’t be surprised if a post changes a bit in the coming months. This article was last edited on 03/03/2016.

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