All posts with the keyword ‘Climbing’

Brewing coffee in the great outdoors

21. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant coffee

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

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

Cowboy coffee (aka Turkish coffee)

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

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

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

Drip coffee

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

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

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

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

Filters and filter holders made out of plastic

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

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

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

Moka coffee: the Italian way

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

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

Moka pot 2.0: the outdoor version

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

Espresso for experts

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

French press coffee

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

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

AeroPress: half filter, half press

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

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

All in – Interview with the climbing family Ravennest

7. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a competition within the family?

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

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

What about motivation? Is everyone always at 100?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will you do next? Any plans so far?

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

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

A buyer’s guide to bivouac tents

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.

DWRs – Blessing or a curse?

7. September 2018
Care tips

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

What properties does a DWR have?

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

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

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

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

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

What is a DWR treatment?

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

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

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

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

Reactivating or renewing a DWR treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are DWRs harmful to the environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. 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?

Care instructions: How to wash your outdoor socks

7. September 2018
Care tips

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

General tips on how to wash outdoor socks

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

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

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

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

How to wash different kinds of socks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why no fabric softener?

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

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

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

Can the sock go in the dryer?

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

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

Say goodbye to wet feet: shoes with Gore-Tex membranes

8. August 2018
Equipment

Having wet shoes is one of the most unpleasant things we have to deal with in the great outdoors. The wetness not only makes your feet cold but also leads to dragging between your foot and the shoe, resulting in blisters. Plus, wet shoes become much heavier as a result of the wetness, and it can take several days before they’re completely dry.

Because of the negative effects water can have on our performance, it is absolutely imperative for outdoor athletes to have footwear that keeps their feet dry in all conditions. When it’s wet and muddy, your best option is to go with waterproof shoes with a GORE-TEX® membrane. With models designed for the outdoors and everyday wear, these breathable and waterproof shoes are guaranteed to give you a boost in comfort. When it comes to walking, trekking and mountaineering boots, there’s no outdoorsman who would go without these membranes.

Extended, Performance, Insulated and Surround – the differences between GORE-TEX® shoes

All shoes with a GORE-TEX® membrane are waterproof and breathable. The microporous structure of the GORE-TEX® layer prevents any water getting into the shoe’s interior. The pores are so small that water can’t get in from the outside, but large enough for water vapour to escape through them. On a single square centimetre of the waterproof membrane, there are about 1.4 billion of these tiny pores – making it possible for sweat in the form of water vapour to escape.

To guarantee optimal performance, GORE has continued to adapt their technology to engineer shoes with GORE-TEX® membranes that are perfectly tailored to the needs of athletes. You’ll find their waterproof membranes in everything from ankle-high walking boots and insulated winter boots to lightweight running and multisport shoes.

Waterproof shoes with GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort

GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort was designed to have optimised breathability. The shoes are usually low-cut and made of mesh and often leather (or artificial leather). As a result of the high vapour permeability of the membrane and upper materials, the shoes move moisture away from the skin very efficiently in moderate to high temperatures, making them excellent for higher activity levels. The waterproof GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort membrane is thus often used in running, trail running and other athletic shoes. Walking shoes, casual footwear and even golf shoes are equipped with GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort as well.

Walking shoes with GORE-TEX® Performance Comfort

This GORE-TEX® technology guarantees durable waterproof protection and optimised climate comfort in walking, trekking, approach and outdoor footwear. Even during physically demanding activities and in continuously wet conditions, the (usually) ankle-high boots with the waterproof membrane will keep your feet dry. Deeper puddles, old snow and wet grass are no problem for GORE-TEX® Performance Comfort. The upper, which is usually made of leather, artificial leather or synthetics, does get wet, but the water can’t penetrate into the shoe. Plus, the breathability of the shoe has been optimised for physical activities like hiking and trekking.

The waterproof membrane with extra insulation: GORE-TEX® Insulated Comfort shoes

As with the walking and trekking boots engineered with GORE-TEX® Performance Comfort, outdoor shoes with GORE-TEX® Insulated Comfort are perfect for active hikers and hill walkers. In addition to the reliable waterproof protection and high breathability, GORE-TEX® Insulated Comfort has an extra insulated layer. This makes them an excellent option for cold weather conditions in winter, in the mountains and in colder regions. Whether you’re mountaineering, hill walking in the winter or just looking for a warm, waterproof winter boot, GORE-TEX® Insulated Comfort will serve you well by keeping your feet warm and dry.

Walking boots and casual shoes with GORE-TEX® Surround®

In order to improve the breathability of shoes worn during physically demanding activities and in moderate to high temperatures, GORE developed the GORE-TEX® SURROUND® product technology. GORE-TEX® SURROUND® is as waterproof as the other GORE-TEX® shoes. The difference lies in the innovative construction of the sole. The sole has special ventilation outlets on the side to allow for better water vapour permeability. These openings accelerate sweat removal even in high temperatures and during high-intensity activities – meaning that they provide an optimal microclimate and high level of comfort. GORE-TEX® SURROUND® is used in outdoor, sport and casual shoes. The construction of GORE-TEX® SURROUND® is visible from the outside and embedded in the shoe’s respective design.

Open sole, side openings or side ventilation

GORE-TEX® SURROUND® for casual footwear is available with an open sole. In the bottom of sole are openings that allow excess heat and moisture to escape. Despite these openings, a GORE-TEX® laminate surrounds the foot to prevent water penetrating from the outside. To protect the laminate and your feet from stones or sharp objects, a special protective layer made of extremely strong fleece is used.

Casual shoes with GORE-TEX® SURROUND® are also available with side openings (ventilation grids) in the sole. Heat and moisture are conducted both via the upper and downward through the laminate into the ventilation grid where they can escape through the side openings. The GORE-TEX® SURROUND® construction ensures that your feet stay cool, balanced and comfortable even in higher temperatures.

GORE does not use ventilation openings in the side or bottom of the sole in walking boots. The side openings are positioned somewhat higher. The open construction of the shoes allows moisture and heat to escape from below through the laminate into a spacer. From there, moisture and heat are conducted out of the shoe through side ventilation outlets. This innovative construction makes it possible to offer walking and outdoor footwear that not only have tough, high-traction outsoles but also excellent ventilation, breathability and 100% waterproof protection.

 

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.

 

GORE-TEX® PRO: built for the extremes

8. August 2018
Equipment

When you’re out and about in extreme conditions, GORE-TEX® Pro offers maximum weather protection and the highest level of durability. Be it sharp rock on a mountaineering adventure, heavy snowfall on a ski day or heavy rains on a long trek, the most durable of all GORE-TEX® fabrics is built to withstand it all. It is made for activities and weather conditions that would cause most other materials to eventually fail.

If you combine a GORE-TEX® Pro hardshell jacket with a pair of GORE-TEX® Pro trousers, you’re guaranteed to be comfortable and protected from wind and water. In fact, this combo is so comfortable that it is perfect for longer trips, regardless of whether they extend over multiple days or multiple weeks. You can always rely on functional garments engineered with GORE-TEX® Pro, even in the most difficult conditions.

Extremely strong and optimally sealed

The combination of the microporous GORE-TEX® membrane and the support material is then referred to as a laminate, and an extremely tough one at that. Both the lining and the outer material used for GORE-TEX® Pro garments are extremely durable, so you can be sure that they’re built to last. As a result, any wear and tear caused by repeated contact with rock and ice or simply carrying a heavy pack on a long trek or approach to your favourite crag won’t damage the material or the membrane.

To ensure that these functional textiles have no weak spots when it comes to the waterproof protection they provide, all seams on GORE-TEX® fabrics are sealed with Gore-Seam Tape. This prevents moisture getting in through the seams, even during periods of intense and prolonged rainfall. The patented seam-sealing technique is a basic GORE technology used in every GORE-TEX® Pro product – with absolutely no exceptions.

Breathability and sport

GORE-TEX® Pro is not just designed for extreme weather and the most rugged conditions, but it actually allows outdoor adventurers and mountain athletes to perform to their full potential under the most extreme of conditions as well. Regardless of whether you’re on an expedition, multi-week trek or multi-day mountain or ski tour, you need excellent breathability in addition to durability and weather protection.

Thus, the laminate with the microporous membrane offers very good water vapour permeability as well. When compared to GORE-TEX® membranes designed for highly aerobic activities, like trail running, GORE-TEX® Pro has a slightly lower level of breathability. However, this is by no means a downside. In fact, this results in the perfect combo of vapour permeability and laminate strength. GORE-TEX® Pro prevents a build-up of sweat, thereby providing maximum comfort during physical activities. Plus, GORE-TEX® Pro is so efficient that it is guaranteed to maintain the same level of comfort when you’re alternating between physically demanding activities and recovery phases.

Tested for extreme conditions

To meet their performance standards out on the trails and up in the mountains, GORE has developed extreme testing procedures to put their weatherproof hardshell jacket and trousers to the ultimate test. In these tests, they challenge their fabrics by simulating long, heavy rains with strong winds to ensure that the products can withstand the harsh environments they’ve been made for. Only when the GORE-TEX® Pro garment withstands the vertical and horizontal shower GORE throws at it, will the design of the garment be worn by athletes who then test the GORE-TEX® garment out in the mountains under extreme everyday conditions.

Do keep in mind that optimum breathability is only guaranteed by combining functional underwear and mid-layers that support the vapour permeability. In order to ensure that GORE-TEX® Pro garments perform to their potential, it is essential that all layers of garment draw moisture away from the body. The proper care of GORE-TEX® garments is also crucial for maintaining breathability and durability.

How GORE-TEX® membranes work

3. August 2018
Equipment

Today, GORE-TEX® is the epitome of waterproof and breathable garments. Regardless of whether you’re skiing, cycling, mountaineering at work or just going about your everyday life, you can always rely on the high-quality products engineered with GORE-TEX® membranes – at least that’s what the American brand claims. In the following, we’re going to have a closer look at the composition of this membrane and what makes it so special.

Bill Gore sees the potential of PTFE

The development of the GORE-TEX® membrane was more than just a lucky coincidence for the US chemist Bill Gore. Gore worked as a researcher at the chemical company DuPont in the 1950s, which has made a host of valuable contributions to the outdoor industry in the form of ground-breaking inventions and innovative fibres such as nylon, Lycra, Kevlar and neoprene. Interestingly enough, DuPont failed to see any benefit in continuing Bill Gore’s research on polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE for short), but Gore did.

In 1958, Bill Gore realised his dream and founded his own company, W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc, which grew from a classic American start-up based in a cellar into a global corporation with over 10,000 employees. Bill Gore had initially dedicated his research to new applications for the electrical industry until his son Bob accidentally discovered ePTFE, the material used to make all our dreams of breathable & waterproof outdoor apparel come true.

By the way, the ePTFE membrane is not just used in waterproof gear – GORE’s portfolio includes industrial applications, medical implants (e.g. artificial arteries) and industrial applications based on the research into and development of PTFE and ePTFE.

From PTFE to ePTFE – from ePTFE to the GORE-TEX® membrane

Since we and the majority of our readers are laypeople with limited knowledge in chemical processes, we thought it’d be best to explain how ePTFE was discovered like this: When Bob Gore was experimenting with PTFE, he yanked the material suddenly, discovering that it could stretch quite a bit without getting ruined. The expanded (i.e. “e” PTFE) material not only remained solid after stretching, but formed a microporous structure as well.

This microporous structure of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene is, of course, extremely small and not visible to the naked eye. However, you can see the large openings in the material under an electron microscope. There are about 1.4 billion of these tiny pores on a single square centimetre of the waterproof membrane. And as luck would have it, this pore size just happens to be ideal to guarantee both waterproof protection and breathability in functional clothing as well!

Much smaller than a water droplet and large enough for water vapour

Water vapour molecules are very small, much smaller than the pores in the GORE-TEX® membrane. The pores are even 700 times larger than the vapour molecules, so the latter can travel from one side of the membrane to the other unhindered. For the outdoor athlete, this means that the vapour from sweat can escape through the membrane, keeping you dry.

As for liquid water, water droplets are much larger than the pores in the GORE-TEX® membrane. In fact, the pore in the microporous membrane is about 20,000 times smaller than the smallest drop of water, so there’s no way it’s getting through those microscopic pores, even if there is a lot of them or you run into some heavy rains.

The GORE-TEX® membrane becomes a durable laminate

An expanded PTFE membrane looks like a thin, flexible plastic film. Even in its raw form, the membrane is already windproof, waterproof and breathable, but its strength has yet to reach the optimum level. Mechanical abrasion or damage caused by sharp objects can lead to holes through which water can penetrate.

This is why the GORE-TEX® membrane used for functional clothing, gloves and outdoor footwear must be made into laminate first. This means that the GORE-TEX® membrane is bonded to a backer material to form a single unit. For outdoor garments, the outer material used with membranes is usually a hard-wearing synthetic fabric made of either nylon or polyester. When bonded together, the outer material and membrane form a solid laminate. Fortunately, neither the breathability nor the waterproof properties of the fabric is affected as a result, which is due in large part to the careful choice of the outer fabric and excellent production processes.

Whether we refer to the laminate as a 2-layer or 3-layer GORE-TEX® laminate depends on the lining. The three-layer construction uses a lining that is bonded directly to the membrane from the inside. This means that the GORE-TEX® membrane is sandwiched between the outer material and the comfortable lining, providing optimum protection from dirt and damage from both sides. In contrast, a two-layer construction uses a separate lining.

The specific differences and characteristics of each of the GORE-TEX® products, such asGORE-TEX® Active, GORE-TEX® Pro, GORE-TEX® Paclite®, GORE-TEX® C-KNIT® or GORE-TEX® 2-layer products will be explained in detail at a later date. What we will say, however, is that some of the main differences between 2-layer and 3-layer laminates lie in their weight and strength. While ultra-light GORE-TEX® jackets for trail runners are made from lightweight laminates, those extremely tough expedition jackets designed for mountaineers are made from stronger, more durable laminates.

Getting the most out of a GORE-TEX® membrane

The finished laminates with integrated GORE-TEX® membranes are the basis for windproof, waterproof and breathable hardshell jackets, ski gloves and walking boots. But, in order for the microporous membrane to perform to its potential when you’re adventuring, exercising or working, you need to keep a few things in mind:

To ensure that the membrane maintains complete breathability, which is responsible for transporting water vapour molecules through the GORE-TEX® membrane, there has to be a difference in temperature and humidity between the inside and the outside of the garment. This means that the breathability of a jacket with a GORE-TEX® membrane works best in low to mid-range temperatures.

To ensure the long-term functionality of GORE-TEX® products, it is absolutely essential to care for them properly and regularly. With frequent wear, the insides of functional garments inevitably become contaminated with sweat, dirt and sunscreen, all of which can negatively affect the breathability of the fabric. However, if you wash your GORE-TEX® products on a regular basis, both the durability and the breathability of the garment will be significantly improved.

Hardshell clothing is generally worn as part of a layering system and forms the weatherproof outer shell, which is responsible for shielding you from wind and rain. However, to ensure that the fabric is just as breathable as it is waterproof, the rest of your layers have to move water vapour away from the body just as well as your shell does. If you’re wearing anything that lacks moisture-wicking properties under your hard shell, the GORE-TEX® membrane won’t perform to its full potential. This is why outdoor athletes opt for functional underwear and warm mid-layers made of breathable synthetic fabrics. These allow water vapour to travel quickly and unhindered to the outside.

As you’ve probably already gathered, there’s really no way around GORE-TEX®. It’s a staple in the outdoor industry and it seems like it’s here to stay. There are pros and cons to this, especially when you consider the fact that ePTFE is not entirely safe, but we won’t go into that here. If you have any general questions about GORE-TEX®, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Antagonist training: Exercises for boulderers and climbers

8. August 2018
Tips and Tricks

“It’s annoying, doesn’t really look all that cool and is quite frankly incredibly boring…Yep, you guessed it. We’re talking about antagonist training. And, I’m speaking from experience – awful experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything about bouldering: the planning, the challenge of problem solving and the variety of movements. Everything. It just has so much to offer. And, I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that. But, antagonist training? Ugh. Ok, ok. I admit, it’s not as bad as I am making it out to be. Antagonist training really doesn’t deserve all the flak I and many others give it. After all, it benefits boulderers in so many ways, helping us to boulder efficiently and injury-free for a very long time.

Another important benefit from this type of training is that it helps rid ourselves of any imbalances, which can lead to poor posture and in turn to an increased risk of injury. A well-known example of this are those extremely strong boulderers with rounded, turned-in gorilla-like shoulders. Ever seen those before? It may come as a surprise, but even these mounds of muscle have deficits and imbalances of their own. Who would have thought?!

What is antagonist training, anyway?

The word “antagonist” may be unfamiliar to some of you, so here’s a short explanation: Where there are antagonists, there are agonists. Basically, all this means is that you are alternating exercises to target opposing muscle groups. Here’s an example:

To bend your arm, you need your killer biceps brachii muscle, but to stretch it out, you need the trifecta: the triceps brachii muscle. In this case, your biceps would be the agonist and the triceps the antagonist. Easy right? Well, not exactly. Every muscle can be an agonist or an antagonist. For example, if you finish with a mantel move at the top of a boulder, it would be the other way around. The triceps would be the agonist, pushing up the body, and the biceps the antagonist.

Bouldering forces you to use certain muscles more frequently and intensively than others, making the ones you use the agonists and the one’s you’re not antagonists. Because of the neglect the poor antagonists suffer, they’re not as well trained and thus weaker. And believe you me: this neglect will eventually come back to haunt you in some way or another. I warned you!

Ignorance doesn’t help here, either – it can affect anyone. The revenge of the antagonists (sounds like a good movie, doesn’t it?) can rear its ugly head in the form of tense muscles or even more severe injuries, which could side-line you for weeks or even months. And none of us want that. That said, it’s better to take precautions instead of dragging your feet and drooling over your favourite boulders from afar!

In the 10 years I’ve been climbing and bouldering, I’ve been fortunate enough to have never really been seriously injured, but I have had my fair share of strains and such. I’ve never had to stop completely, but the injuries did force me to slow down a bit. In the following, I would like to detail some of my little injuries and give you some tips on how to avoid them. The focus will be on the shoulders for the simple reason that muscular imbalances in this area can cause some serious injuries.

Case 1: Improving shoulder stability

I was at a qualifier for the German Championship and obviously really wanted to get to the finals. I didn’t really know how things were going and just wanted to do as much as I could in the little time that remained. Plus, it was a bonus hold, which required a dynamic move on a pretty small hold that you really had to hold on to.

And that’s exactly what I did. But, unfortunately, something in my right upper arm was not having it and let me know pretty quickly with a rather loud crunch. I’d later learn that I didn’t even need the bonus to reach the finals…C’est la vie. Anyway, I didn’t feel anything for the rest of the day, but the day after was a different story: I couldn’t move my arm a single inch without experiencing severe pain. Fortunately, after going to my physiotherapist a few times, the worst was behind me, but it took me several months to gain complete trust in my shoulder again.

My doctor had suspected it was an overuse injury that resulted in biceps tendonitis. Of course, there are several ways this can happen. In my case, it was probably due to my weak antagonist muscles.

If one muscle is stronger than the other, the shoulder will shift from its natural position, putting more strain on other areas of the body that shouldn’t be under that much stress in the first place!

Here is a list of important muscles or muscle groups that are neglected in bouldering and are responsible for shoulder stability:

  • Rotator cuff: These muscles support the arm at the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff consists of four muscles: the supraspinatus muscle, the infraspinatus muscle, the teres minor muscle and the subscapularis muscle.
    • The infraspinatus muscle
      Function: To externally rotate the humerus and stabilise the shoulder joint.
    • The teres minor muscle
      Function: To rotate the humerus laterally and modulate the action of the deltoid
  • The trapezius muscle The trapezius muscle is responsible for a lot of rotational movements of the shoulder blade, among other things.
  • The rhomboid major and rhomboid minor muscle: The rhomboid minor and major are responsible for retracting the scapula.
  • Deltoid: The deltoid is responsible for raising the upper arm and stabilising the shoulder joint. It consists of several parts.

When you consider all the functions of each of these muscles, it is not at all surprising that the shoulders lean forward when there’s an imbalance. But what can we do about it? Well, here are some exercises I do on a regular basis:

Exercises for rotator cuff:

I always use a yellow Thera-band. The resistance is completely sufficient. The starting position can be seen in the picture on the left. Move your arm outward (picture on the right) and slowly return to the starting position.

Important:

  • Keep your shoulders down
  • Keep your elbows close to your body
  • Stand straight
  • Keep your hand “”active”” and stable, i.e. spread your fingers and wrap the Thera-band in such a way that you don’t need to hold on to it.

Exercises for the adductors and shoulder stability:

Again, a light Thera-band will do the trick. Secure it slightly higher than your shoulders. If you want, you can put it up a little higher than in the picture. The starting position can be seen in the left and right-hand picture. Stand straight. Stretch out your arm, but no higher than the height of your shoulders!

The final position can be seen in the picture on the bottom left. Move your hand to your thigh, with the back of your hand pointing toward the wall. Then slowly return to the starting position.

Other positions for this exercise can be seen in the small pictures on the right. Here, too, the back of your hand should be pointing toward to the wall.

Important:

  • Keep your shoulders down
  • Your hand should only go to the middle of the thigh, otherwise your shoulders will lean forward again.

For the trapezius, deltoids and rhomboid muscles

This trapezius exercise is designed to strengthen the trapezius muscle and can be done with or without a wall. The more slanted the wall is, the harder it gets. The intensity increases with the height of your elbows on the wall. The maximum height, however, is shoulder height. Position your feet in front of the wall. Now press off the wall so that the shoulder blades are no longer touching it (green arrow). Then slowly return to the starting position. True, it’s just a tiny movement, but it’s really tough after a few reps!

Important:

  • Keep your shoulders down
  • Avoid lumbar swayback
  • Keep your palms flat and pointing down

The reverse butterfly is great for training your rear deltoids and lower trapezius. The starting position can be seen on the left or bottom left (rows). Bring your arms to your side like a T without completely straightening your elbows. Hold it for a moment and slowly return to the starting position. It is also possible to complete the T-shape along with the V-shape and the H-shape all in one set. The more inclined your stance, the harder it gets.

Important:

  • Don’t try to get momentum out of your back, this exercise is for other muscles!
  • Body tension! Don’t droop and avoid swayback.

Suspension trainer rows train the inner back, i.e., the middle and lower trapezius, along with the rear deltoids and rhomboid muscles. The starting position is the same as for the reverse butterfly, but here the arms are pulled close to the body, as can be seen in the picture in the middle.

Hold it and slowly return to the starting position. Another variation: Raise your upper arms to shoulder height. Your forearms are then at a right angle to your upper arms. Again, the more inclination, the harder it gets. If you want to increase the intensity, put your feet on a box or an exercise ball or try to press your feet against a wall.

Important:

  • Don’t try to get momentum out of your back, this exercise is for other muscles!
  • Body tension! Don’t droop and avoid swayback.

Case 2: Strengthening your fingers and wrist extensors

Elbow pain is something boulderers just can’t seem to get around. Fortunately for me, though, I have never had to deal with it before. My problem had to do with the overuse of my weaker finger or wrist extensors, which can lead to tennis elbow (which admittedly doesn’t really sound like a climbing injury, but that’s neither here nor there). These muscles are opposite the flexor muscles in the fingers, so they’re their antagonists. The flexors are obviously strong. After all, you have to be able to hold on to the holds somehow.

Once the pain is there, you should do everything in your power to ensure that it doesn’t become chronic. During the very acute phase of this injury, which fortunately only lasted about a week, I got my elbow taped, stretched it carefully, massaged it and most important of all: rested! Now, I am virtually pain-free because I’ve finally started giving my poor finger and wrist extensors the tender love and care they deserve, strengthening them with the following exercises:

For your finger and wrist extensors

For this exercise, a dumbbell is quite the useful tool. As you can see, I use a 1kg dumbbell, so you can increase the weight a bit if you’d like. But don’t add too much. You don’t want to overexert yourself. You can lay your elbow on your leg or on any surface that will allow your wrist to move freely. In the starting position, keep your wrist straight and then lift it upwards. Then slowly move it back down. That’s it! Very easy and effective, as you will notice after a few reps!

As you can see, the Thera-band is crucial to my antagonist training. For this exercise, I use a light one as well. Wrap it around your hands so that you don’t have to hold it. Then spread out your fingers like in the picture above. Then bend only your wrists outward and then slowly return to the starting position. As with the other exercises, doing multiple reps is not easy.

For the finger extensors, I also use a yellow Thera-band or one of the many other things that are available for this exercise. The movement is shown in the picture on the bottom right.

Case 3: Paying more attention to your legs

We boulderers pay little to no attention to our legs. Even though imbalances are pretty rare among the muscle groups in your legs, I still believe it is extremely important to work on them and one joint in particular.The knee.

Especially when hooking, be it heel or toe hooks, the knee is put under a lot of strain. If you’re tackling a tough project and have to hook onto the same hold over and over again, your knee might just give up, saying “Enough! You didn’t prepare me for this! I quit!”

If you’re lucky, you may just suffer a very minor injury to the lateral meniscus, but if you aren’t, you could have a tear or some other more severe knee injury. What’s my point? Well, you need to stabilise your knee! And, this is something you can achieve by doing a variety of exercises, all of which can be a lot of fun!

This is one exercise I just can’t get enough of! It stabilises the back of the knee and is kind of amusing. You don’t necessarily need a partner. You can hook your feet under something instead. It’s a very simple exercise. The starting position can be seen at the bottom left. From there, allow your upper body and thighs to lean forward in a straight line until you simply fall over. Catch yourself with your arms (bottom right) and push yourself dynamically (or statically) back up to the starting position. I’ve never not been sore after this exercise.

Other exercises for knee stability are one or two-legged squats. It’s hard to believe how complicated a perfect squat can be, but it’s true, so be sure to read up on them beforehand. You can also use balance boards and do some slacklining, which is a personal favourite of mine. Slacklining is not only good for the knees, but also for your balance. Plus, it promotes an awareness of your body.

Allow me to bring this post to a close with a little piece of wisdom: Only those who don’t get injured can boulder long and strong! True, antagonist training is not guaranteed to keep you injury-free, but it can prevent a large number of injuries.

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