All posts with the keyword ‘Climbing’

Buying Advice Backpacks

10. September 2020
Buyer's guide, Equipment

If you want to buy a backpack nowadays, you are suddenly faced with a huge number of different models and applications. There are daypacks, travel backpacks, trekking and touring backpacks, extra ski touring and climbing backpacks.

However, what is hidden behind all these terms and what kind of backpack do I need for myself? We will try to answer these questions in the following article.

BASIC

No matter which backpack you choose, the most important thing is always that the backpack fits well and is comfortable to wear. Otherwise it can quickly lead to pain or tension.

To carry the backpack as comfortably as possible, it is important that it is adjusted correctly. It must sit close to the body and compact.

Due to the different anatomies of men and women, some manufacturers offer extra women’s backpacks. This makes sense and should be considered when buying.

But now to the backpacks:

DAYPACKS

We start small with the so-called “daypacks”. As the english name suggests, these are backpacks for day trips to carry food, drink and clothes for one day. So these backpacks are quite small. They settle between 10 and 30 liters pack volume.

You can find them in all price ranges from 20 Euro to 200 Euro and more. Carrying system and hip belt are recommended if you want to use the daypack also for hiking. This is not absolutely necessary for a gentle stroll through the city.

Many daypacks can be folded very small, so they are easy to transport or store. Especially when travelling, this is highly recommended, because you don’t have to carry around a big backpack all the time.

In summary, you can recommend daypacks to everyone, because it is always handy to have a small backpack at hand, which can be used in many different ways. Here is an overview of the types of use:

  • Everyday life
  • City stroll
  • Day hikes
  • Additional backpack for travelling

TRAVEL BAGS

Travel backpacks are characterized by large volume as well as compact and robust construction. Most travel backpacks have an adjustable back length in order to fit exactly to the carrier. However, some manufacturers also offer different fixed sizes to choose from. They are available in all sizes from 40 liters to 110 liters.

Compared to trekking backpacks, travel backpacks have a cut similar to a travel bag, i.e. they are wider rather than deeper.

The pocket-like design is reinforced by side openings. This type is especially recommended for long-term travelers, since you can quickly access the complete main compartment.

Due to the size of these backpacks, they are all equipped with a carrying system.

Some travel backpacks have a removable daypack backpack integrated in addition to the main compartment, which can be fixed to the large backpack. So you only carry one backpack instead of two. As an example there are the backpacks, “Overland” from Bach or the “Waypoint” from Osprey.

But there are also other types of travel backpacks. Vaude for example offers with the Tecorail 80 a special highlight. This backpack can be used as backpack or as trolley. It has an integrated roll system with an extendable handle – and is therefore a perfect mixture between trolley and backpack.

Intended use:

  • Travel
  • Trekking

TOURING BACKPACKS, TREKKING BACKPACKS

The difference between tour/trekking backpacks and travel backpacks is not too big. With many tour/trekking backpacks there is an additional rain cape for absolute waterproofness, so that you can be on the way even with long rain of dry backpacks.

An important question to ask yourself: what kind of tour do I want to do? For a multi day tour with food I need a backpack with at least 70l, but for hut tours 40l are already enough.

With the large backpacks (70l+) it is recommended to pay attention to a head recess, so that you can move your head freely even with a full backpack. Another special feature of some of these backpacks are divided main compartments to accommodate the sleeping bag or clothes in the lower part. This has advantages, you can divide your stuff into 2 parts and both are accessible from the outside. However, this makes the backpack a bit heavier.

The carrying system is adjustable. However, even more importance is attached to comfortable carrying, because they were designed for long hikes and heavy luggage. For this purpose, there are backpacks with flexible hip fins to distribute the force evenly evenly during heavy passages. These hip fins also consist of several layers of foam to adapt as anatomically as possible.

In order to avoid excessive sweating on the back, a system is built into the backpack which pumps air through the existing foam by the movement of the running person and thus ensures air balance.

Most trekking backpacks are compatible with a hydration system.

Use of tour/trekking backpacks:

  • Trekking
  • Multi-day hikes
  • Hut tours

SKI TOURING BACKPACKS

Ski touring backpacks are available in different versions. On the one hand, there are backpacks for high-altitude and multi-day tours, which have a large pack volume, up to 60 liters, and are equipped with many fastenings to attach helmet, skis, rope, ice axe and other things to the outside of the backpack.

The other big category are backpacks for day trips, which are smaller and can also be used for freeriding. Depending on the model, they are also available with many attachments for the above mentioned equipment. Many of these backpacks also have an integrated back protector to protect the back. They stand out due to their beautiful and stylish design with intelligent space allocation.

Almost all ski touring backpacks have a separate compartment to store shovel and probe. This compartment is easily accessible from the outside to have everything you need at hand in case of emergency.

As additional safety, both categories are available with avalanche airbags, such as Pieps’ Jetforce, as well as avalanche backpacks made by ABS and Mammut.

In cooperation with Ortovox, ABS has developed a clever system that allows you to carry the ABS airbag with you at all times. However, the size of the backpack can vary depending on the tour. For this possibility the ABS backpack must be equipped with the M.A.S.S. system. With this system, you can “zip on” the airbags with backpack pockets of different sizes. For example, the Ortovox Free Rider 24 ABS Avalanche Backpack can be used as a basic frame.

You can find more information about avalanche backpacks here.

Intended use:

  • Ski-/High tours
  • Freeriding

CLIMBING BACKPACKS

There are again several categories of climbing backpacks. It is important to consider what you want to use it for, whether for sport climbing or for multi-pitch climbing. Of course you can use any backpack for anything, but there are certain advantages and disadvantages.

Backpacks for sport and indoor climbing, like the Black Diamond Shot or the Mantle, are built like bags. They have a carrying system. However, they do not have a lid pocket and can be opened to their full length. This allows a good overview in the backpack. In addition, extra loops are sewn on the upper end to which the exes are attached so that they do not go around in the rucksack. The rope is tied to the outside of the rucksack.

There are also climbing backpacks like the Black Diamond Demon or the Edelrid Cragbag II, which are backpack and rope bag in one. Both have a tarpaulin for the rope attached to the backpack. So the only question is where to put warm clothes and food.

Haglöfs – Roc Rescue 40 – backpack
Climbing backpacks guarantee sufficient freedom of movement

Another category are multirope length backpacks. These backpacks are designed for maximum freedom of movement. The center of gravity is set so that it has as little influence as possible on the climber’s balance. For this reason, they are cut narrowly and fit tightly to the body. They also have removable hip fins, as these are often disturbing. The carrying system is flexibly constructed so that the rucksack can follow complex movements. Anatomically shaped shoulder straps also increase freedom of movement.

The pack volume varies between 12 and 35 liters. The small versions (12l) resemble light daypacks, the large versions are more like trekking backpacks.

The third category is the haulbags. They are for all those who want to make long tours in the wall or who have to climb technically and therefore have to pull material behind them. The Haulbags are like robust sailor bags, but they have a removable carrier system. This allows you to carry the Haulbag to the wall, and when the carrier system is removed, the Haulbag cannot get caught anywhere on the wall when pulling material behind it.

Intended use:

  • Sport Climbing
  • Indoor climbing
  • Multi pitch tours

TRINKING BAGS

Drinking backpacks are backpacks that are only designed to hold the hydration system and maybe a few bars. These backpacks are very popular with trail runners, because they are usually very, very light and are almost unnoticeable or annoying even when jogging.

The drinking backpacks are also available in versions with more packing volume. However, they can then be called daypacks, as there are no striking differences.

You can find more details in the Buying advice for a drinking backpack in our online store.

Intended use:

  • jogging/trail running
  • Everyday life
  • Hikes

If you still have questions, our customer service will be happy to help you. Daniel is our backpack expert here. You can reach him under the number +49 (0)7121/70 12 0 or by e-mail.

There is a lot going on in the climbing and outdoor sector. New products are invented, existing ones are revised or improved and we also learn a lot every day. And of course we want to pass on our knowledge to our customers. Therefore we regularly revise our articles in the base camp. So don’t be surprised if after a few months a few things are different. This article was last revised on 03.03.2016.

How to pack your rucksack

Flyweights for the back –  the world of ultra-light backpacks

17. August 2020
Equipment

Can you still remember your first trekking tour or multi-day hike? For me it was like this: I borrowed the backpack, and it was actually much too big for the tour I wanted to do. But since you famously can’t set off with your backpack only half full, I ended up managing to pack in a load of bits and pieces, so in the end the backpack was full to the brim. This of course had nothing to do with being ultra-light; in fact, it was ultra-heavy! This meant that the backpack – despite having a good carry system and many other comforts – became not just a burden, over time it became a real problem.

Anyone who has had a similar experience has surely sworn: “Next time I’m taking less and lighter equipment in my backpack!” How do you do this sensibly, though, if you don’t just want the contents to be lighter but to reduce the weight of the backpack itself? To answer this question, let’s dive down deeper into the world of (ultra-)light backpacks.

What makes a traditional backpack different from an ultra-light backpack?

The ultra-light class is characterized by one thing above all: minimal material usage. In the trekking field, for example, to make a backpack with approx. 70-litre capacity that weighs under a kilo, everything that isn’t absolutely necessary is discarded. This includes mainly the internal frame along with thick padding. Another important way of reducing weight is the materials used.

This is now starting to sound really crass and like a really crappy backpack that can’t do anything. But of course, this isn’t really true. So let’s take a look at where weight can be spared in backpacks, and what the details might look like.

The frame and the carry system

Backpacks from the ultra-light segment usually have no frame. The reason for this is remarkably simple: the less is in it, the lower the weight. Because of this, sophisticated frame designs and the carry systems that often go with them are intentionally forgone. To make sure it’s still comfortable to wear, it’s therefor important that the rest of the backpack isn’t loaded too heavily and, for good measure, that it’s packed perfectly. We’ve put together the most important dos and don’ts of packing a backpack in a separate article. But I’ll give a simple trick away right now:

Your sleeping mat (in the ultra-light world, foam mats are usually used) can be used to reinforce the back panel. Not only does this ensure the backpack is well stabilised, the mat is also stowed away neatly. Companies such as Exped also offer conventional backpacks, like for example the Mountain Pro 40, that can be slimmed down as required, and can be lightened by nearly a third of their own weight.

Compartments and pockets

It is indisputable that having several compartments in and on a backpack make it more organised. At the same time, though, the compartments themselves also add more weight and often cause the backpack to be packed according to its own organisational system rather than from a functional perspective. This is why the majority of ultra-light backpacks mostly do without extra compartments. This means that the backpacks often come with only one large main compartment and 1-2 smaller compartments or pockets. Many ultra-light backpacks also have a roll closure, so there’s no lid compartments or anything similar. Depending on the model, ultra-light backpacks may also have ways of attaching pieces of equipment to them. A holder for trekking poles or ice tools has practically become standard here. You won’t have to do without compression straps on most larger ultra-light backpacks, either. Especially in the region of volumes of around 45 litres, this is a time-proven construction. Backpacks of this size are usually also absolutely enough for multi-day touring.

Materials

It’s also possible to spare some weight when it comes to the materials. Lighter, which often also means thinner fabrics don’t always have to be worse than their heavier colleagues. Through the use of materials such as Dyneema, a good and, above all, durable result can also be achieved in the lightweight segment. It’s important here, though, that the backpack isn’t overfilled, but that would render the concept of the ultra-light backpack absurd, anyway. Sharp and pointy objects have no place in your backpack, either, and, unless they’re packed well enough, should be fastened to the outside of the pack. If you want to see a good example of a large-yet-light walking backpack that’s made to last, we recommend the Radical from Ferrino. With this large walking backpack, it’s not only that everything that adds extra weight has been discarded, lightweight materials such as Cubic-Tech and Dyneema have also been used, making the backpack robust and hardwearing despite its low weight.

Prejudices and misunderstandings

Sometimes it seems like the world has been divided into two camps: the ultra-light disciples and those who have a fetish for robustness. At least, when exchanging experiences with friends and acquaintances and also when researching this article, I keep coming across countless prejudices, half-truths and open questions. This is why I’ve presented three of the most frequent topics of discussion below. In doing so, I do not wish to take sides with either the “ultra-light” faction, nor the “ultra-heavy” club.

  • Prejudice 1: ultra-light = ultra-expensive

The short story: this isn’t true. The somewhat longer story: it’s not always true. In the ultra-light sector, there are of course pieces of equipment that, because of the materials, the design, or the innovative technologies, come with a heavier price tag – excuse the pun – than other comparable pieces of equipment. But this also happens in the realm of “standard weight” equipment. Especially with backpacks, though, because the design is usually rather simple (no elaborate carry system etc.), ultra-light backpacks come off well in terms of their price compared to their conventional counterparts.

  • Prejudice 2: ultra-light = ultra-flimsy

This prejudice must also be contradicted. But the following question also needs to be asked: what do you actually want from the backpack? If you’re looking for a super robust backpack for spelunking and chimney climbing, then, admittedly, it’s going to be difficult to find something in the ultra-light backpack range. Especially for (multi-)day hikes and trekking tours, though, there are many ultra-light backpack models that can compete with their heavier cousins when it comes to durability.

  • Prejudice 3: ultra-light = ultra-uncomfortable

Admittedly, adjusting from a backpack with a sophisticated carry system to one with a simple contact back was a bit strange at first for me, too. This was, however, also because I had always imagined that you had to carry a lot of weight. But this is not what ultra-light backpacks are designed for. It wouldn’t make any sense at all to first remove every possible gram of weight from the backpack itself, and then to carry a lot of weight on your shoulders anyway because of the heavy equipment you’re taking with you. You have to make a clear distinction. If you want to set out with lightweight and minimalistic gear, and if the planned tour allows for this, then an ultra-light backpack is definitely a good choice. But if your tour is such that, along with a considerable amount of equipment, you also need to take e.g. food and water (which is crazy heavy since unfortunately they haven’t managed to dehydrate it yet), a backpack designed to carry larger loads is definitely needed. In this case, it’s better to try to keep the weight of the contents to a minimum.

Conclusion

Ultra-light backpacks certainly have their place. Depending on what you’re using them for and what you put inside them, they can make a significant contribution to a carefree and successful tour. If you want to get into the ultra-light game, the backpack is certainly the piece of equipment where you can save the most weight. But it’s also important to make sure that the desired model is suitable for what you’ll be using it for and your own personal needs, too. So what are your experiences with lightweight backpacks? Are there any other misconceptions that you would like to clear up once and for all? Write a comment and let us know!

Climbing and bouldering in Scandinavia

Training tips for strong fingers

13. August 2020
Tips and Tricks

“How on earth are you supposed to hold on there?” This is a question I get asked sometimes, and that I ask myself much more often when I’m faced with routes that are clearly beyond my limits. I now know the answer: Amongst other things, it comes down to a good deal of finger strength combined with a really good climbing technique.

Without doubt, finger strength counts as one of the most dominant factors in being able to climb really difficult tours. This can also be seen if you take a look at elite climbers. As different as the physical appearance of these “super humans” may be, they all have one thing in common: They can grip quite small holds damned well, and have a lot of experience with this. But there is hope for us mere mortals. Even though genetic components play a major role in how strong and susceptible to injury our fingers are, with a little time and patience, they can become really well trained.

Perhaps I shouldn’t begin extra training yet?

Before we get started, a few words for beginners of our great sport. To you I would say that climbing is more than just pure strength. In the first few years, all aspects of climbing can be improved really well just by climbing. Targeted finger training is linked to a high risk of injury for beginners. So instead, it’s better for you to first concentrate on technique, tactics, getting a feel for the movements, your mental capacity etc.

Sound strength building requires a lot of time

Even if it may seem like the hand ends at the wrist, its extremely complex system extends through many joints right to the shoulder. It’s important to know that the hand’s musculoskeletal system is made up of a large number of complexly interconnected bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles.

The latter gives us the strength to grip small holds. They can be trained easily and make progress quickly. But it’s a different story when it comes to the tendons and ligaments in our hands and forearms. They require higher training stimuli and also a great deal longer to develop the same capacity. Finger tape doesn’t help with this either, only time does!

If we begin finger training at an early stage in our climbing careers, our muscle power develops too quickly and can lead to injuries when climbing. The injury process then happens as follows: The hand and arm muscles are trained and capable of gripping small holds, but the tendons and ligaments in the fingers are not yet tough enough. But with your new strength, you now embark on your long-term goal of finally reaching the top.

But suddenly, at the crux, your foot slips and you absorb the momentum with your upper body. Either you hear a “pop” straight away, and you’ve got acute trauma to one of your annular ligaments, or you repeat this scenario and cause chronic strain. Both cases are typical patterns of injury for climbers and increase the risk of injuring yourself again in the future.

It turns out that you should take a rather conservative approach to the subject of finger strength. Keep in mind that an injury will set you a long way back; the healing process for fingers can take six months or longer.

Reasons to strengthen your fingers

It makes sense that strong fingers can grip smaller holds. But finger strength has an additional benefit. You can hold on for longer. Why? The reason is maximal strength. This is the maximum force that you can initiate in a muscle through purely deliberate effort. Through good training, you can get your discretionary capacity closer to the limits of your emergency power reserves. This means that the muscle cells are supplied for longer and you can stay longer on the wall. Long story short: the stronger your fingers are, the smaller holds can be before the performance of your muscular system is reduced.

Start training right

For finger training to achieve its full effects, you must be well prepared. Part of this is a sufficiently long break between the finger training sessions. It’s recommended that you do finger training a maximum of twice per week. So, between the training sessions, you can take a 48-hour break and you still have time for climbing or bouldering.

On the training days, it’s especially important to do a proper warm up. It’s best to start with exercises such as jumping rope or doing jumping jacks to get your circulation going. Then you can dedicate yourself to your fingers, with repeated hangs on large holds and a little stretching (<10 second strain).

When you are hanging correctly, or training on a fingerboard, you put weight on both your fingers and your shoulders. This is why it’s important to hang onto the board with the right technique. You should therefore consider the following criteria:

  • Only hold the training board with open hand, or with the fingers in half crimp and not supported by the thumbs.
  • To stop your shoulders from getting overburdened, it’s important to tense your shoulder muscles. This is especially true for training with added weight!

Through the repeated hangs and stretches, you reduce the risk of injury and increase your capacity for the next training.

It is recommended that the following training programs be followed for four weeks each, and that you take a break for at least a week afterwards. Then you can either use the same programme and increase the intensity, or do one of the other two programmes. Of course, you can also get used to your new strength first and let a few weeks go by without any finger training. We’re not pros, and we don’t have to keep to perfect training regimes.

Training for maximal finger strength – you don’t always have to completely drain yourself

The following training methods are different in terms of length, intensity (hold size/added weight) and rest time. Each variation of these factors has a different training effect on the finger muscles, as well as on the tendons and ligaments.

To train your maximal strength, the training stimulus has to be very high intensity, which means the exercise can only be done for a short time. A longer rest is then necessary so that you can do the next round at full capacity again. After a training session like this, you’ll feel unexpectedly fit. But don’t be fooled, your body has done a lot and needs a break.

With these kinds of training routines, it’s above all your nervous system that gets a workout. The effect is ultimately that your body improves the activation of your muscular system. This can mean that more nerve impulses are sent to your muscular system, more muscle cells are activated at the same time, and more powerful types of muscle fibre are activated earlier. This neuromuscular adjustment is a qualitative feature of the performance capacity of the muscular system, and, in this case, of your grip strength.

Eva Lopez’ minimal board training

Eva Lopez researches training methods for climbing. Based on her studies, she has recommended the following training programme for maximal finger strength. For this, you need a large range of training boards. She uses, for example, the Progression training board. A little less choice isn’t bad, either. From amongst the holds, choose one that you can hang from for just 15 seconds at maximum effort. This is your training hold. It will be your friend for the next 4 weeks.

  • 12-second hang
  • 3-minute break
  • Repeat 4 times

Points 1 to 3 make up a set. After a 5-minute rest, you can do another set. Beginners should leave it at 2 sets. The advanced can do up to 5 sets using different holds.

Advanced climbers (UIAA 8 to 9) and boulderers (Fb 7a) can use this protocol as an introduction to fingerboard training and make significant progress.

Maximum strength training with added weight (after Eric Hörst)

After you have done the first programme over several training cycles, the holds that you can hang from will be very small, and at some point also very painful. Now if not before, it’s come to the time to choose bigger hold in the board again and to increase the training intensity through added weight (an extra 10 to 50 kg). When adding the extra weight, remember that this is supposed to be about sensible training and not about impressing anyone else. First choose a training board that you can hang from with the first phalanx. Add enough weight so that you can hang onto it for just 13 seconds.

Soon I’ll show you how to choose the right weight in a video on our YouTube channel. Using this board, you train with the weight as follows:

  • 10-second hang
  • 3-minute break
  • Repeat 4 times

Then rest for 5 minutes and do another set.

Keep the amount of added weight the same for at least 4 weeks; then you can check if you need to adjust it.

Strength endurance – when “getting drained” works

When you’re climbing, you don’t just want to be able to grip the smallest holds, you also want to get to the top of the route. For this, you need to repeatedly grip onto holds and let them go again. The longer the route, the more often we have to keep gripping. You feel your forearms getting tighter and tighter, and they begin to burn. The following programme will make it easier to tough this phase out.

Intermittent hanging (repeaters)

The Beastmaker (Ned Feehally) may well have made this training programme famous, or at least, I see a lot of people training using the Beastmaker app’s programme/intervals. A lot of people also talk about the good results that they’ve got with this method. Essentially, this programme is really good at training your fingers specifically for climbing, but it’s wrongly labelled finger strength training. Because of the high number of repetitions and the comparatively low intensity, it should be categorised as strength endurance training. This becomes particularly apparent from the physical reaction to the training.

The gripping and releasing corresponds to the pattern when you’re climbing, and “pumps” the forearm. It is precisely this pumping that shows that we’re in the realm of energy production through the “lactic anaerobic system”. This means that the muscle gets its energy primarily from partial glycolysis. It is partial because the energy needs to be available more quickly than the biochemical process can supply it.

This process is not a problem for the body. It just leaves a few things behind, including lactate. This lactate accumulates in the muscle, and can only be broken down again at a particular intensity. As soon as the intensity of the exercise exceeds this threshold, the muscle starts to burn. Above a certain lactate threshold, the muscle will ultimately fail.

Through the following programme, you train strength endurance by improving this break-down process and the muscle’s lactate tolerance. You have two options for doing the programme:

  • Option 1: Get yourself a Beastmaker and the app that goes with it (the intervals suggested are quite challenging, so they shouldn’t be integrated into a bouldering or climbing day).
  • Option 2: The Eva Lopez method. This can be integrated into a bouldering or climbing day.

For the training, choose a hold that means that you can only just grip it when you get to the last repeater of a set. This means that you need to do a session first to find out the right hold.

  • A repeater is a 10-second hang and a 5-second rest
  • You do this repeater four or five times in a row
  • Then you rest for a minute and repeat these actions three (not too bad) to five times (quite hard), depending on your training level.

Regardless of the training programme, please do remember: tendons and ligaments don’t adapt as quickly as muscles. This means that, when we’re climbing, we have the ability to grip smaller holds, but the load-bearing capacity of the finger is not necessarily guaranteed. This is why you should be particularly careful directly after a finger strength cycle so that you don’t hurt yourself while climbing or bouldering. It’s also important to strengthen the finger flexor muscles’ antagonist muscles. You can find out how this works by reading our article on antagonist training.

 

Walking, hiking, trekking…: the language confusion guide

8. June 2020
Alpinetrek-Experts

Hiking, mountaineering, long-distance walking, walking, trekking, hut trekking, speed hiking, backpacking, fastpacking, undertaking a pilgrimage: all terms that describe walking outdoors. Why are there so many words to describe such a simple and beautiful activity, which ultimately is just putting one put in front of the other? How do all these “disciplines” differ? Are there any significant differences at all? We’re going to take a closer look at these different terms to try and answer these questions. To make it a bit simpler, we’ll limit ourselves to moving at walking speed and without any equipment (like snowshoes or skis).

Walking is not just walking

An initial answer to this question could be: on-foot outdoor activities are becoming increasingly popular and therefore more diverse. The spectrum ranges from simple day trips around the Sauerland to trips lasting several weeks to Karakorum. The different disciplines differ in their duration, geographical location and in terms of effort and demands. Another distinguishing criterion for outdoor walking activities is in the equipment used. The reasons behind undertaking the activity can also be used to differentiate. For instance, some people are doing it for pleasure, others for sport and others have mental or religious reasons. Religious or spiritual motivations have also become a mass phenomenon with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Awkward German and cool anglicisms

The fact that nowadays every kind of walking in nature has its own name is probably related to the fact that we like to categorise people. Marketing departments in the tourism and outdoor industry certainly must take some of the blame, a wide range of different activities suits a wide range of different products. In Germany, many English terms have added to the naming confusion with their cool and sexy sounding names. Well, sexy at least in comparison to their German variants, which sound rather awkward. Speed hiking is certainly more appealing than “Hochgeschwindigkeitswandern” and fast packing much cooler than “Leichtgepäckschnellwandern”.

However, this language diversity has also created ambiguous terms that cannot always be translated one-to-one. If you do try, it’s easy to get confused. Both languages use hiking and trekking, but not always in the same manner – for instance, the English ‘hiking trousers’ is often translated into German as ‘Trekkinghose’. So, is trekking different to hiking? Yes, so it seems. But the translations are not always consistent…

And if all this confusion wasn’t enough, as well as trekking, hiking and walking, there’s now also backpacking and fastpacking. While the first three describe being on the move, the latter two refer to moving but with a backpack. But hold on, when you’re hiking, you’re still carrying a backpack. So, it’s all just rubbish? Not quite, it’s more a question of region- and country-specific uses of terms.

We’ve already established that hiking and walking are virtually synonymous, and are usually used interchangeably on tourism websites. According to Outdoor Magazine, both are “day trips that use a daypack with a volume of 20 to 30 litres”. Both are usually used when you’re returning to a fixed sleeping place in the evening. Touring when you’re staying over night (in huts) can also be described as hiking.

The many other terms for walking outdoors don’t overlap quite so much, but there’s not always clear differentiation. Maybe that’s why you shouldn’t compare so much, but simply explore all the terms one after the other and then the differences will become clear.

Hiking

If a walk lasts several hours, it can be called a hike. According the German Hiking Association, there is an arbitrary minimum of one hour. They also say that “hiking” should include “appropriate planning, the use of specific infrastructure (…) (and) suitable equipment”.

Hiking can be through forests and meadows, hills and mountains or along rivers, coasts and beaches. The degree of difficulty is limited, because “good, marked paths are used, which do not present any alpine difficulties”. The terrain can be walked without or with minimal aids such as a walking stick. However, a stick is not standard equipment, which is limited to robust, suitable footwear and clothing appropriate to the local climate.

There we go – a definition as simple as hiking itself.

Hillwalking

The definition is in the word: this refers to walking in hilly areas. Most of the time this is on marked or easily recognised paths, which can be walked without any climbing equipment. Exposed areas are often secured and there are only short sections without paths.

The boundaries between hiking and hillwalking are about as well defined as those between hillwalking and mountaineering. Attempts to define them according to individual criteria such as altitude and differences in altitude would be utter nonsense as they would never be able to do justice to the diversity of landscapes and tour possibilities. A wide range of criteria including equipment requirements, duration, planning effort and fitness demands, orientation ability, surefootedness and freedom from vertigo would also then have to be included and compared. It’s simpler just to say that the criteria are just ‘a bit higher’ than just walking.

Hillwalking covers a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from walking on wide forest paths to a managed alpine pasture to climbing an ice-free 3,000m peak in the main Alpine ridge. There are also many variations including high-altitude hiking, which covers hikes that take place at high altitude but don’t involve a great difference in altitude and traversing, which usually refers to travelling between mountain huts.

Trekking

The word “trek” refers to “march” or “hike” and various types of travel on foot. The word “trekking” is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as, “the activity of walking long distances on foot for pleasure.”

This gives it a very similar meaning to ‘hiking’ and even ‘walking’. So, it is all rubbish after all? No, of course not, usually trekking is used to refer to walking longer routes with more luggage. The difference is in the duration and the equipment. According to Trekkingguide.de there are also further differences in terms of movement and means of transport:

“Trekking for us is travelling over several days on foot or with simple, human-powered vehicles such as a canoe or bicycle, usually with luggage. You could of course also call it ‘multi-day hiking’, ‘multi-day water boating’ and ‘multi-day cycling’.”

The location can also be used to differentiate:

“Isolated, poorly developed areas with untouched nature and traditional culture are therefore the preferred destinations for trekking.”

This reflects the classic idea of trekking as a kind of preliminary expedition stage in remote and often culturally traditional areas. In addition to a sleeping place (in the form of the tent), a larger amount of provisions are also transported.

The well-respected Outdoor Magazine has its own opinion. They say,

If you stay overnight – whether in a hut, guesthouse or tent – it becomes ‘trekking’.

A somewhat exclusive viewpoint, but still pretty legitimate. We can agree that trekking often leads to countries far away from the Alps such as Nepal or Canada and takes place further away from “civilization” than classic hiking. Plus, you usually have more luggage and you might experience real wilderness.

Long distance walking

Long distance walking could mean covering long distances over several days or even weeks – and it’s another of these phenomena that come into the public eye like a pop-up window. If you take a look at social media and the blogosphere, the whole world seems to be crossing the Alps in some way. Why is everyone so keen to walk around for days and weeks on end? The Wandern.com portal might have an answer:

When you’ve walked a long way and have 30 or so kilometres behind you in a day, when you reach your hostel with burning feet and an aching back, and at the end of your energy, your soul rejoices and your heart sings. Your success – and the high oxygen levels in your blood – gives you a real rush of happiness.

Hostel is a key word here, because unlike trekking, with long distance walking you’re never discovering unexplored terrains. If a hiker reaches another hostel rather than returning to their starting point, they are named a long-distance walker.

The Alpine Clubs Trail Book differentiates long distance walking even further based on route length: “Fernwanderwege” are over 500 km long and go through at least three countries. “Weitwanderwege” are over 300 km long and go through at least three German states. Of course, these precise specifications do not prevent anyone from planning as many national and regional long-distance hiking trails as they like.

With their attachment to local resources and infrastructure, long-distance hikers are far more important economically than trekkers. Therefore, advertising often appeals to the former. This economic component is also one of the less romantic explanations for the long-distance walking boom. As part of this, more and more paths are being connected, marked, developed and marketed as long-distance hiking trails.

Pilgrims

“Long distance walks with spiritual motivation” – is one way of describing a pilgrimage. The Camino de Santiago in Spain, with its atmospheric landscapes and dense network of hostels, attracts long-distance hikers from all over the world. The most famous leads from the Pyrenees to the tomb of the apostle James in Santiago de Compostela.

Speed hiking

We recently devoted a whole article to this ‘ turbo-charged hiking’. This intensified type of hiking often goes through demanding terrain with strong poles and lightweight equipment. Poles are used to stabilise the body and strengthen the upper body muscles.

Initially, speed hiking was mainly practised as a compensatory sport or training method for other mountain sports such as ski touring and trail running. In recent years, it has become a discipline in its own right, which is great for conditioning and developing coordination skills. Speed hiking also fits into the current ultra-light trend. Of course there are now also competitions, with different distances and levels of difficulty for the growing number of athletes of different levels.

(Nordic) Walking

At first glance, this brisk walking with an accentuated use of poles seems to be the same as speed hiking, because the poles swing and it’s performed at high speed. However, Nordic Walking rarely involves altitude gains or particularly long distances. The terrain and speed are also more comfortable than they appear at first glance. Nordic Walking should be somewhere between walking, hiking and jogging.

Also known as power walking, this walking variant has, in contrast to speed hiking, a slightly more leisurely image, so you’ll rarely come across young (Nordic) walkers in the forests or fields. Nordic Walking doesn’t really count as a mountain sport. Its followers tend to focus more on the health aspects and the social side.

Fastpacking

Just like speed hiking, fast packing is part of the growing ultra-light movement. Fastpacking is a blend of (speed) hiking, trekking and trail running. It motto is “fast and long”. This means several days on foot through remote mountain terrain, over rugged peaks and unexplored mountain ranges. Ideally, you will stay overnight in a bivvy or just out in the open as nature intended.

Fastpacking is not for mountain novices, as the minimalism requires an advanced level of training and an experienced and creative handling of the equipment. The quick and easy flexibility of fast packing is based on the Alpine style of mountaineering. However, despite all the ambition, the aim is to minimise the overall effort without neglecting safety and comfort.

Creative and exotic disciplines

Geocaching is a scavenger hunt for the young and young-at-heart adventurers. The GPS device provides that little nudge to tempt even reluctant nature-lovers outside. The GPS device helps to locate the “caches”, which are now hidden all over the mountains. With geocaching, (hill) walking becomes less daunting for young walkers.

Barefoot walking doesn’t add anything to hiking rather it takes something away – shoes. What might seem like a nightmare to some, feels like total liberation to others. Beginners should start by walking short distances on suitable terrain (grass, sand or earth) and feel their way (quite literally) into it. Of course, you can always put your shoes back on if you don’t like it.

As you can see, the list of “walking activities” is getting longer and longer. And as we humans are forever inventing new outdoor activities, it will be fascinating to see what other disciplines will be added in the future. So, to be continued…

Flyweights for the back – the world of ultra-light backpacks

5. June 2020
Equipment

Can you still remember your first trekking tour or multi-day hike? I remember mine well, I had borrowed a backpack and it was far too big for the tour I was doing. Of course, it’s never possible to leave empty space in a backpack, so I managed to fill it with all sorts of odds and ends until the backpack was full to the brim. Of course, this was far from ultra-light; it was more ultra-heavy. This meant that, despite the backpack having a good carry system and numerous other features, it was not only heavy, but became a real problem.

Anyone who has had a similar experience will have surely proclaimed, “Next time, I’ll put less and lighter things in my backpack!” But what’s the best way to do this if you want to save weight in the backpack itself as well? Let’s go deeper into the world of (ultra) lightweight backpacks.

What makes a ultra-light backpack different from a traditional backpack?

The ultra-light class distinguishes itself above all by one thing: minimal material usage. In order to produce a backpack with a capacity of approx. 70 litres for trekking, that weighs less than one kilo, you have to do without anything non-essential. This includes things like an internal frame as well as thick padding. Another pretty significant way to save weight is in the materials that are used.

This sounds like it would produce a pretty crude, basic backpack. Obviously, this is not the case in practise. Let’s take a look at where weight can be saved on backpacks and some of the finer details:

 

frame and carry system

Ultra-light backpacks generally don’t have a frame. The reason for this is very simple: less inside means less weight. This is why elaborate frame constructions and the associated carry systems are deliberately omitted. In order to achieve good carrying comfort, it is important that the backpack is not too heavily loaded and is packed in the optimal manner. In another article, we have summarised the most important do’s and don’ts when packing a backpack. I’ll give you one simple trick here though:

Use a sleeping mat (in the ultra-light sector, these are usually made from foam) to stiffen the back panel. This not only ensures that the rucksack is stable, but also that the mat is neatly stowed away. Companies such as Exped also offer conventional backpacks, such as the Mountain Pro 40, which can be slimmed down as required, to reduce its weight by almost a third.

Compartments and Pockets

There is no question as to the practicality of compartments in a rucksack. However, these compartments also add extra weight and often result in the rucksack being packed according to organisation rather than functional benefits. That’s why most ultra-light rucksacks don’t have additional compartments. These backpacks often only come with a large main compartment and 1-2 smaller compartments or pockets. Many ultra-light rucksacks also have a roll-top closure, so there’s no lid compartment or similar. Depending on the model, ultra-light backpacks may also have attachment points for pieces of equipment. A holder for walking poles or ice tools is almost standard. Compression straps are crucial on most larger ultra-light rucksacks. They are particularly effective on bags larger than 45 litres. Backpacks of this size are usually completely sufficient even for multi-day tours.

Materials

It is also possible to save weight in the materials. Lighter and often thinner materials are not necessarily worse than their heavier counterparts. Materials such as Dyneema allow quality, durable products to be produced in the lightweight segment. It’s important that these materials  aren’t overloaded – but then that would kind of miss the point of an ultralight backpack.

Sharp and pointy objects shouldn’t be loose in the main backpack; they should either be packed carefully or attached to the outside of the bag. If you want to see a good example of a large yet lightweight and durable walking backpack, we recommend the Radical by Ferrino. This large walking backpack has removed everything that adds on extra weight. In addition, lightweight materials such as Cubic-Tech and Dyneema have been used, ensuring that the backpack is robust and resistant despite its low weight.

Preconceptions and misunderstandings

It sometimes feels like the world has split into two camps: the ultra-light enthusiasts and the durability fanatics. During discussions with friends and colleagues, and during the research for this article, I have come across several preconceptions, incorrect beliefs and unresolved questions. Therefore, I have once again listed three of the most frequent discussion points. I won’t take sides with either the ultra-light group or the ultra-heavy club.

  • Preconception 1: ultra-light = ultra expensive

In short, that’s not true. And in more detail – it’s not always true. Admittedly, in the ultra-light range there are pieces of equipment which, due to their material, design or innovative technologies, are considerably more expensive than other comparable pieces of equipment. However, this is also the case with “normal weight” equipment. Especially with backpacks, however, ultra-light backpacks, due to their mostly rather simple design (no elaborate carry system etc.), come off well in price compared to their conventional counterparts.

  • Preconception 2: Ultra-light = ultra sensitive

This preconception must also be challenged. However, the question also depends on what the backpack is actually supposed to do. If you are looking for a super robust backpack for spelunking and chimney climbing, then ultra-light backpacks might not be the right choice. But for (multi-)day hikes and trekking tours, there are numerous ultra-light backpack models that can easily keep up with their heavier counterparts in terms of durability.

  • Preconception 3: Ultra-light = ultra uncomfortable

Admittedly, changing from a backpack with a sophisticated carry system to one with a rather simple contact back was strange for me at first. But that was also because I was imagining carrying a heavy weight, and that’s not what ultra-light rucksacks are designed for. It wouldn’t make any sense to save all the grams possible on your backpack, only to then fill it with heavy equipment. A clear distinction must be made here. If I want to travel with lightweight, minimalistic luggage and the trip allows, then an ultra-light backpack is certainly a good choice. But if my tour requires me to carry a lot of equipment as well as food and water (which isn’t freeze-dried), I’ll need a backpack that is suitable for heavier loads. In this case, I should just try to reduce the weight of the contents to a minimum.

Conclusion

Ultra-light backpacks certainly have their place. Depending on their usage and contents, they can contribute to a successful and enjoyable tour. If you’re looking to join the ranks of the ultra-light, the backpack is certainly one of the pieces of equipment where you can save the most weight. However, it’s important to make sure that the model you want fits your usage and personal needs. What are your experiences with lightweight backpacks? Are there any other preconceptions you would like to dispel? Leave a comment!

Altitude sickness – prevention and treatment

7. May 2020
Tips and Tricks

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can strike anyone, from professional to amateur mountaineer, and often hits quickly and unexpectedly. And you don’t have to be climbing an eight-thousander for it to strike. Athletes can be affected even on 3,000m peaks in the Alps or when cycling across mountain passes. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the symptoms as well as how to recognise and treat the condition.

Altitude sickness: the symptoms

A distinction is made between acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Below, you can find the main symptoms for each to differentiate the conditions.

However, all three conditions have common factors that significantly increase the risk:

  • the absolute altitude
  • the speed of ascent
  • insufficient acclimatisation
  • individual predisposition

When assessing the risk for one of the altitude diseases, it is important to consider the ascent profile (how many meters of altitude are to be covered), the sleeping height and past individual susceptibility.

Symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS)

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness

Symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE)

  • Significant loss of performance during ascent
  • Dry chesty cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cyanosis (blue colouration of mucous membranes and lips)
  • Crackling noise when breathing

Symptoms of high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE)

  • Severe headache
  • Signs of paralysis
  • Loss of consciousness, up to coma

The most common form of altitude sickness is acute mountain sickness (AMS). The most common symptom is a headache. In addition, there are usually unspecific symptoms such as a general feeling of illness, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea and insomnia. Acute mountain sickness manifests after min. 4 – 6 hours from an altitude of 2,000 to 2,500 m.

Acute mountain sickness is often most pronounced after the first night at high altitude. Intensive physical exertion such as long, technical ascents further intensify the symptoms. If the patient doesn’t ascend any higher and rests, symptoms generally disappear in 24 to 48 hours. However, the danger increases if they continue to ascend despite existing symptoms – and acute mountain sickness develops into high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Then, they must descend immediately.

It is important to listen to your body and pay attention to any changes. It is equally as important to observe your companions when you are not travelling alone. Is my long-time mountain buddy just tired? Or are they moving a lot slower than normal? A noticeable loss of performance at altitude and the first signs of acute mountain sickness are usually noticed more quickly by others in the group, so that countermeasures can be taken early on.

High-altitude pulmonary edema

An early symptom and warning sign of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is an excessive loss of performance during the ascent, often accompanied by shortness of breath and, initially, dry coughing. High-altitude pulmonary oedema develops after very rapid ascent to altitudes above 4,000m in a period of 2-3 days.

How can altitude sickness be prevented?

The most sensible way to reduce the risks of altitude sickness is a slow gain in altitude as well as being sufficiently physically fit for the tour. Sleeping lower than you have ascended during the day is also important for effective acclimatisation. If you know you are susceptible to mountain sickness, you should aim for no more than 500 m ascent per day above 2,500 m during trekking and (hut) hikes. If you have been susceptible on previous tours, you should also avoid ascending quickly (e.g. on a cable car) to heights above 3,000 m. Symptoms often only appear on arrival at the hut. Before undertaking a trekking tour in mountains such as the Himalayas or the Andes, it is also advisable to stay overnight in the Alps above 3,000 m.

How is altitude sickness treated? Are there medications?

The most effective treatment for the symptoms is to improve oxygen supply. This is most easily achieved by descending to lower altitudes. If there are indications of cerebral edema (HACE) or pulmonary edema (HAPE), you must descend immediately! In most cases, this requires a reduction in altitude of 1,000 metres in order to significantly alleviate symptoms. Mild symptoms of acute mountains sickness (AMS) often disappear within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of the disease, if you rest and undertake symptomatic treatment (drink lots of water!).

When staying at high altitudes, in areas with no infrastructure or in technically demanding terrain, it is often not possible to descend immediately. If necessary, the use of medication can temporarily relieve the symptoms and in the worst case even save lives. However, medication should only be administered by doctors or mountain guides trained in high altitude medicine! Therefore, this article will not go into any more detail about medication for altitude sickness.

Coca tea in the Andes

In the Andes, locals swear by coca tea. To make it, hot water is poured over the leaves of the coca plant. The mountainfolk in the Andes mix the plant with chalk or ashes as a to produce something between chewing tobacco and chewing gum and it is very popular. Firstly, because coca dispels hunger, fatigue, stomach-aches and headaches as well as the cold. But also because coca is effective against altitude sickness. In fact, the leaves seem to increase oxygen uptake in the blood. However, the plant is also used to produce cocaine, which is one of the reasons why the plant cannot be purchased in Germany.

Oxygen deficiency and the symptoms

Hypoxia is the medical term for lack of oxygen. Hypoxia specifically refers to the lack of oxygen in the body’s arterial blood. Characteristic symptoms of oxygen deficiency are changes in breathing, acceleration of pulse and/or chest pain. Mental symptoms such as spontaneous euphoria, delirium and feelings of lightness can also indicate a lack of oxygen. Dizziness, weakness and general discomfort are also among the most common symptoms when on the mountain.

If body tissue is undersupplied with oxygen for a longer period of time, it can lead to weakened circulation and ultimately, loss of consciousness. Another symptom is nausea without any actual digestive complaint. Manifestations of an oxygen deficiency can come to light in many different ways. Particularly deceptive: the typical complaints are usually unspecific symptoms, which can also be signs of numerous other diseases.

A few closing words…

In summary, altitude sickness can be an extremely life-threatening situation. For those who are susceptible and predisposed, the first symptoms can appear at an altitude of about 2,000 m. With slow acclimatisation and careful preparation, the occurrence and possible symptoms of the disease can often be alleviated, if not completely prevented. However, acclimatisation only works up to a certain point. That’s why you often hear about the so-called ‘death zones’ on the seven and eight-thousanders – areas on the mountain where the body literally begins to die and which no acclimatisation, no matter how perfect, can prevent. Specific preparation, physical fitness and a slow ascent remain the best measures for healthy trekking and mountaineering at high altitudes. The motto “climb high, sleep low” is the definitive mantra of all mountaineers who want to get up high.

How to sh** properly in the woods…

24. April 2020
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

Some Facts

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

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

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

The unhealthy business…

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

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

But animals do it?

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

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

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

So, what should you do?

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

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

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

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

Climbing Technique Part 2 – Types of Handholds

15. August 2019
Tips and Tricks

To someone who has never climbed before, an artificial climbing wall may just look like a wall with a bunch of randomly placed hand- and footholds. But an experienced eye will see an array of climbing routes and movements. Plus, an experienced climber will also more quickly recognise how to best grip a climbing hold and which position his body should be in at any given moment. This and the next article will help you develop a better eye for holds.

Types of climbing holds

Jugs:

Every beginner’s favourite hold. But they’re few and far between on more difficult routes, unless there is an overhang.

Even if jugs make it tempting to climb using brute force to pull yourself up, this “technique” will just frustrate you in the long term. Pullups won’t get you very far on rock walls and difficult routes. For these, proper climbing technique is much more important. That’s why you should practice on vertical routes, and those with a slight overhang, indoors to practice the basic techniques. When the difficulty increases and the jugs only serve as a spot to rest, good climbing technique is more helpful than pure strength.

Ledges

One of the first major hurdles you will encounter are the very small ledges (often called crimps) where only one or two fingertips have space. If you have excellent finger strength, these usually don’t pose a problem. But because annular ligament injuries in the fingers are among the most common injuries in sport climbing, ledges should always be “enjoyed” with caution. Depending on how you place your fingers, ledges can really put a strain on your fingers.

Correct placement reduces the risk of injury. We distinguish between three grip techniques:

  • full crimp
  • half crimp
  • open grip

The safest but most technically demanding grip is the open grip. Because of the smaller angle, the body needs to be positioned more carefully. This is why most climbers use either a half crimp or full crimp when climbing. This creates a larger angle, which allows you to actively pull on the grip when moving through a wider range of motion (see image). In a full crimp, you also use your thumb, but this position puts a high amount of stress on the annular ligaments.

As far as injury prevention goes, it makes more sense to climb using an open grip. But, climbing with crimped fingers is a part of climbing and is unavoidable on very small edges. You can learn more about preparing your fingers for the stresses of climbing in our article on finger strength (currently only available in German).

Pockets

Slim fingers tend to have the advantage here because the size of a pocket determines how many fingers you can stuff in there.

But just as with ledges, there is a high risk of injury, which is why you should pay a lot of attention to how you position your fingers. Pockets with sharp edges place additional stress on your ligaments. The two-finger pocket is the most common type of pocket hold. Which fingers you use is generally not all that important because there’s no difference between the combination of ring and middle finger and an index and middle finger when it comes to muscles. However, because of the anatomical differences in the lengths of the fingers, one of the two options will be more comfortable.

Sloper

These large, smooth holds should be gripped with the entire surface of the hand. These holds are all about friction, and this is dependent on both the pressure you exert and the contact area. Some slopers also have small raised bits that can be held onto like edges.

One of the most important factors when it comes to slopers is the direction of pull (see article 1). On easier routes, there is usually a foothold directly underneath so that you can “dive” right under the hold (as seen in image 2). More difficult routes will require more technique and strength. It’s often necessary to create counter-pressure using other parts of the body (as in image 1).

Volumes

These aren’t all that different from slopers and, because of their size, they can also be used for support as in the first image. But if you’re underneath a volume, it can be a bit trickier. They’re easiest to grab hold of if you place your fingertips at the edge of the volume.

Supports

You don’t always need to pull yourself up using holds; it can also be helpful to support yourself with your hands. If there’s a good hold with less support options, you can press your hand against the wall to take the stress off of one foot.

Pinch

Like twisting a bottle cap! By using the thumb for opposing force you can create additional pressure in a pinch. Depending on the size of your hand, wide pinches will be more or less difficult to hold. Aside from that, you should pay attention to your positioning; it may be possible to hold them like a ledge.

Horns and edges

One hold that is rarely found outdoors, but frequently in climbing gyms, are holds that stick out of the wall like a branch. These allow you to grip with the entire heel of the hand to relieve the stress on your finger muscles.

What’s next?

In this article, you learned about the different types of holds. But there are subtle differences between the individual types that can end up being the deciding factor between success and failure on a route. You’ll learn about these in the next article.

Until then, have fun climbing and bouldering!

Climbing Technique Part 1 – Climbing Basics

1. August 2019
Tips and Tricks

When people first start climbing, they tend to concentrate primarily on the handholds. They pull themselves up first and then their feet follow. Why? Because our fingers play a very big role in the motor and sensory areas of our brains. As a result, they give us a feeling of security, and people tend to pull themselves up rather than climbing more technically. This might work at the lower grades, but more difficult climbs will require more than just brute force.

A basic principle of climbing/bouldering is to use your own strength on top of the climbing techniques to get yourself up the wall efficiently. It takes experience to feel secure in different positions and footwork. The following series of articles will show you different skills and techniques that will help you to climb more efficiently.

The first article details the basic principles, which will reduce your physical effort as well as the risk of injury while climbing. Whether or not you can use a particular technique depends entirely on the route and situation; not all techniques can be employed on all routes. But after a few hours of practice, everyone will find their own unique style of climbing and start to understand how the techniques should be used.

The following skills will be helpful:

  • Climbing with straight arms
  • Paying attention to the direction of the pull
  • Distributing the load on both hands
  • Perpendicular climbing
  • Optimal gripping technique
  • Not re-adjusting your grip
  • Using a gentle grip

Climbing with straight arms

A general mistake is pulling yourself up with your arms rather than using your leg muscles, which are much stronger. Your hands should just help keep you from falling off the wall; the upwards motion should come from your legs and hips. In order for this technique to work properly, it’s important to twist your hips toward the wall and have three points of contact at all times.

Twisting refers to moving from the hips – you twist your hips so that the hip on the side of the arm that is reaching further is closest to the wall. This makes it easier to use your legs and torso to propel yourself while climbing. And this is all easier to do when you have three points of contact with the wall. It can also help to press your foot against the wall in such a way that it can rotate more easily.

PS: A lot of people have the habit of looking at upcoming handholds only, even though it’s also incredibly important to look down at the footholds so that you know where they are as well.

Paying attention to the direction of the pull

To put pressure on the holds in the direction you want to pull, position yourself to the left of the holds. That’s because gripping a hold enough doesn’t always mean using all your strength but rather positioning your body ideally in the direction of the pull and shifting your weight to the footholds.

By twisting your hips to the left using the muscles in your torso and right leg, you shift your weight to your left foot. This takes the stress off your left hand, allowing you to reach up with your arm extended. As soon as the handhold is within reach, you should look down toward your leg in order to position your feet properly for the new position and next move.

 

 

The arrows in the pictures show the direction and intensity of the force that the climber is applying to the wall.

Distributing the load on both hands

You should try to move to the next handhold as late as possible. The longer both hands are gripping a handhold, the longer the load is shared between the two hands.

In the next images, you can see that the climber’s right hand stays on the handhold until the position of his body allows him to grip the next hold at the best possible angle. The movement comes exclusively from the legs and the hips; the hands are only used to keep the climber from falling off the wall.

Efficiency of motion

You can also see in these images that properly positioning the hips takes the load off the right hand. The climber in the picture shifts his centre of gravity under the left hold and onto the left foot, taking the load off his right hand and allowing him to reach up with it.

Your centre of gravity should be directly above a foothold or somewhere around the middle between two footholds, so perpendicular. This transfers the load primarily to the legs. In this position, you should always make sure that you have good body position before reaching for the next hold.

Gentle grip

Another important factor is gripping holds gently to save your strength. People often tend to squeeze the grip more firmly than is actually necessary, which is why you should make a conscious effort to grip with as little physical effort as possible. Paying attention to the direction of the pull and focussing on your centre of gravity on the wall allow you to grip the handhold with less force. Your body must be positioned so that your legs bear the majority of the weight. If you make an effort to grip more gently, you’ll save strength for the more difficult moves, which can sometimes require brute force.

Know your handholds

If you don’t have experience with a particular type of handhold, you might not know the best way to grip it. But the “grippiness” of a hold depends primarily on the optimal gripping technique. You can only take full advantage of your hand strength if you use as many fingers and finger joints as possible. The fingers should be placed as closely together as possible.

In the next article in this series, I will describe the most common types of holds and what you can look out for.

Not re-adjusting

Especially when climbing easier routes, try to get your grip perfect on the first try and avoid re-adjusting. This saves you time, energy and allows you to concentrate on your upcoming moves. Ideally, you should plan your route up the wall in advance. This takes a bit of practice and will be rather frustrating at the beginning, but the mistakes you make in the beginning will help you improve quickly.

Polygiene: How does the stink-blocker work, and is it sustainable?

10. July 2019
Tips and Tricks

(Warning: the following introduction may contain traces of irony)

They say that, in the mountains, some practice the so-called “primitive” custom of not immediately showering or changing their clothes after they’ve been sweating. Disgusting, right? I mean, how gross, and – most importantly – how inconsiderate towards other people! The reason for this sorry state of affairs is the mountain huts, which don’t have showers or even hot water around the clock. The aroma wafting through the cramped rooms there would be enough to trigger a hazmat alarm in a big city. When will the EU finally get around to creating a law that requires these stinky huts to be air-conditioned and outfitted with some kind of air purifier or scent dispensers?

As long as life in the mountains is so poorly regulated, we’ll just have to improvise. One option would be to reduce physical exertion to the point that sweat no longer leaves our pores. The many new cable cars and roads that are being built are a pretty good start. But what are we supposed to do when sweating is unavoidable, and all the high-alpine shower facilities are still in the planning stages?

How does the odour get into our clothes?

The answer can be found in technologies like Polygiene. Unlike perfume and deodorant, Polygiene has – and the irony stops here – more to offer than just an optional luxury. It has some very real advantages, and you’ll understand why after we take a closer look at the reason why sweat stinks so much and what effect it has. Although, to be honest, there isn’t much to misunderstand here. I’m sure anyone who has ever sweat knows how sweat comes to be and what its purpose is. When our bodies warm up, moisture is excreted from up to 2.6 million sweat glands and cools the skin by evaporating. This cooling effect is essential for our survival; our bodies need it like an engine needs coolant.

But what some people may not be aware of is that sweat itself doesn’t have any odour at all. What it does have, though, is proteins and fatty acids that provide nutrients to bacteria and other microorganisms living on the skin. The microorganisms break down these components, which – much like human digestion – produces strong-smelling waste products. In warm, humid conditions, these deposits accumulate on the skin and clothing along with ever-increasing numbers of microorganisms.

Not only does this stink, but it also begins to attack the fabric. The waste products contain acids and salts that can damage the clothing by both chemical and mechanical means.

What is Polygiene?

Long story short, Polygiene is a silver salt made using recycled industrial silver that is incorporated into the fabric. It also happens to be the name of the manufacturer, which is located in Malmö, Sweden.

There are multiple types of silver salts. Like most outdoor clothing, Polygiene uses silver chloride, which is not water soluble and does not wash out of clothing. Wear and tear on the fibres and ion exchange with sulphur compounds might cause a minimal quantity of silver ions to be released during a wash, but in Polygiene’s case, these are not harmful to living organisms or septic systems (more on this in the section on sustainability).

Polygiene is based on silver chloride obtained from 100% recycled silver sourced from photographic and industrial applications. It is never mixed with mined silver sources. It is applied to the garment fibres much like dye. This requires only a tiny amount of silver: the amount of silver in a ring would be enough for around 5000 Polygiene garments.

According to the manufacturer, the Polygiene silver treatment lasts for the entire lifespan of the garment and won’t come out in the wash. Moreover, Polygiene is not nanosilver, which is made of silver ions that are only nanometres in size (10-9 metres). There is some suspicion that nanosilver particles could detach from the clothing and enter the body through the skin. The silver ions used in Polygiene are more than 100 times larger, making them too large to penetrate the skin.

In addition, Polygiene assures us that their silver salts will not detach from the fabric, even after extended periods of use. They are also only active on the outside of the textile base material, so they don’t have any effect on perspiration or the natural bacterial flora on the skin. Consequently, Polygiene-treated fabrics have received Medical Class 1 approval in Europe, the same class that includes bandages for direct contact with open wounds.

Polygiene is generally available in pre-treated functional base layers, but can also be applied as a spray or laundry additive.

How does it work?

The tiny silver particles work much like an antibiotic: they kill a broad spectrum of microorganisms and prevent their growth. The particles are an “indigestible clump” that brings the organisms’ metabolic processes to a screeching halt.

But the question isn’t just how it works – we also want to know how long and how well it works. Outdoor Magazin, a German publication, put it through a thorough test over the course of 14 days and came to the following conclusion.

We received a Capilene Thermal Weight base layer shirt from Patagonia and a pair of walking socks from SaferSox for our test. Polygiene recommended that we test the t-shirt for 8 days. They said we should exercise and get it really soaked in sweat, then just hang it up to dry. We were not allowed to wash the shirt between wears.

In our test, we took things a step further. Our tester wore the Patagonia t-shirt for a total of 14 days. The result: there was no odour from sweat in the base layer.

There were other odours, like those from food or deodorant, but the number of Alpine Trekkers who have a problem with that or expect their functional clothing to offer a solution should be reasonably low.

What are the advantages of odour reduction?

The immediate advantages of not stinking should be fairly obvious. Not only does is allow you to feel more comfortable and have more pleasant social interactions in cramped quarters, but it’s also more hygienic. The absence of bacteria and fungus also means fewer potential skin irritations and other health problems.

The fact that Polygiene fabrics can be changed and washed less frequently also has other less immediate advantages. You can get away with bringing considerably fewer changes of clothes with you, which keeps the weight of your pack down. The product lifespan is also increased because the fibres are more resilient to microbes and washing, preventing the fabric showing signs of wear as quickly. Plus, less clothing is thrown out and replaced, which is a positive for both the environment and your wallet. And that brings us to the topic of sustainability.

Why Polygiene is sustainable

The beginning of this article should have already made it quite clear that Polygiene is pretty sustainable. But it isn’t just a little sustainable – it’s absolutely, totally sustainable. Why? Not only are the materials and technology themselves sustainable, but the direct and indirect effects are as well. Environmental organisations and regulatory bodies also recognise this fact. That’s why the permanent fabric treatment is bluesign certified and fulfils strict, independent environmental and product lifecycle standards such as the EU environmental and waste regulations and the ISO 14001 standard. Polygiene is also on the Oeko-Tex lists (I-IV) of independently tested and certified products.

Health

The certifications ensure a high level of consumer safety because the higher the environmental standards for the material and manufacturing processes are, the lower the impact on human health. For that reason, the purity of the silver is continuously tested to ensure that there are no traces of other metals. Potential side-effects resulting from the silver’s contact with the skin were also thoroughly researched. A study was carried out at the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the USA to find out whether the antimicrobial silver could disrupt the skin’s bacterial balance. The researchers found that antibacterial clothing has no confirmed effect on the microflora of healthy skin. True, test results should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt, but in Polygiene’s case you can assume that the risk would be minimal, anyway, because of the way the clothes are constructed.

Resource consumption

This is where Polygiene really shines when it comes to sustainability. In all phases of the product lifecycle, resource consumption is kept to a minimum. As previously mentioned, the raw silver is obtained from recycled materials (electronic scraps) and used at a very low concentration. Furthermore, Polygiene can be applied in a single production step with other treatments, so it does not require the use of any additional water or energy. No adhesive agent is required to attach the Polygiene molecules to the fabric.

The greatest conservation of resource occurs when the Polygiene garment is used, because it is washed far less frequently than traditional sportswear. The latter often makes its way to the washing machine after every single use. That isn’t necessary with Polygiene because the unhygienic bacteria and odours never develop. Once the sweat evaporates and the fabric is dry, the garment is actually clean enough to be worn again. Not indefinitely, of course, but far longer than untreated synthetic fibres or cotton material. A set of Polygiene base layers can be worn for about as long as a set made of merino wool without getting gross.

Not only can Polygiene garments be washed less frequently, they can also be washed at lower temperatures. This helps to reduce energy consumption and improve the product’s lifespan. And when it finally does give up the ghost, the garment can be recycled – along with the Polygiene treatment.

All in all, it creates a simple but effective formula for sustainability:

Less washing =less water consumption, less detergent, less energy consumption + longer product life + more free time + money saved!

The whole thing is explained on the Polygiene website with a variety of statistics. They even provide statistics about the savings in time and money – an estimated 28 minutes of work and US$ 1.34 for each load of laundry. It is estimated that, overall, approximately two-thirds of a garment’s ecological footprint (water and energy consumption; water, ground, and air pollution) is the result of washing and drying it.

Although wear and tear on the fibres and ion exchange with sulphur compounds might cause a minimal quantity of silver ions to be released at some point during washing, Patagonia says that these will quickly bind with sulphides in the environment to create a chemically stable, non-soluble silver sulphide which is not harmful to living organisms. So the silver ions are deactivated as soon as they make their way into a natural waterway. “This is also how they are deactivated in a wastewater treatment plant so that they don’t put a burden on the bacterial or biological stage of the treatment plant or contaminate the treated water or the sewage sludge.“ And at any rate, small amounts of silver chloride and silver sulphide are also naturally found in drinking water, seawater, and in the ground.

Conclusion

Polygiene is a prime example of outdoor technology that combines functionality with sustainability. The treatment helps to maintain a certain level of comfort in sportswear and outdoor clothing for a significantly longer time. And that can help to leave the urban need for cleanliness, along with its sometimes absurd expectations of comfort, down in the valley, rather than dragging them ever higher into the mountains. That being said, Polygiene might even help to stem the mania for development that sometimes runs just as rampant as those nasty little stink germs…

Confidence in the mountains – Improving your surefootedness and getting a head for heights

10. April 2019
Tips and Tricks

Who wouldn’t want to do all the spectacular things that the professional mountaineers who grace the covers of all our favourite magazines do? You know, those superhero-like characters who make climbing big walls look easy and run along terrifyingly narrow ridges like it’s no big deal. It’s amazing, they seem to have absolutely zero interest in the seemingly endless depths that lie beneath their feet.

True, not all of us have to be THAT adventurous, but most of us do have a desire to tackle routes and paths that require “surefootedness and a good head for heights”, right? Well, in the following, we’re not only going to clarify what that phrase entails but also help you figure out how to get to the point where you read it and can say with absolute certainty: “Yeah, I’ve got that”.

Let’s get things started with a question: Why can some climbers pull off the most acrobatic of moves with 1000 metres of air beneath their feet, whilst others feel paralysed the second they get as high as three? Does it just take some getting used to? Is it training? Are some people just built that way? Or does it have to do with genes?

Whatever the reason, some people have visual height intolerance, whilst others don’t. If the feeling of anxiety begins immediately after you leave the “safety of the ground”, you might even have acrophobia, which is otherwise known as a fear of heights. Visual height intolerance and a fear of heights are by no means the same thing, as you will find out shortly. They are similarly troublesome, but very different phenomena that require different approaches (provided that you’re interested in mitigating or eradicating one of them).

After addressing these two topics, we’ll also take a closer look at surefootedness, since it’s often mentioned in the same breath as having a head for heights. We’ll also try to figure out if there’s a connection between the two and how you could potentially benefit from it.

What is visual height intolerance?

We’ve all experienced this to a certain extent, some of us more severely than others: you’re standing on a tower, balcony or some high place and experience a feeling of instability, queasiness and trembling. Depending on the height and degree of exposure, you might even feel like everything is spinning or swaying. And you’re not wrong, at least to a certain extent. Things look like they’re spinning because of the lack of stationary objects in your peripheral vision. Stationary objects are essential as a reference to help orient you. Your head then automatically begins to sway slightly so that the eyes can create a sharp, three-dimensional image of the surroundings. This can then spread throughout your whole body, impairing your postural reflexes.

As a result of disruptive breathing issues (usually hyperventilation), you may also experience a feeling of dizziness akin to the one you get after standing up suddenly after squatting for a long period of time. In the most extreme cases, you may even feel like you’re losing control over your body and are about to fall. Dizziness can lead to paralysis, panic, fainting and unconsciousness. If you do nothing, things can get extremely dangerous (more about what to do later).

This blend of feelings is known as visual height intolerance. Depending on the situation, there is nothing abnormal or pathological about this bodily reaction. On the contrary, some research suggest that a healthy fear of heights is an innate, subconscious survival instinct that prevents both small children and animals from simply falling from a drop-off (cliff-edge phenomenon). The real danger arises when we physically and psychologically overreact to the risk of falling. We might not be in any real danger at all, but we end up creating or increasing the risk of falling because of these overreactions. It is particularly dangerous if your body starts to sway back and forth, which causes more stress and can thus lead to a fall.

When do you have a head for heights?

The “trick” to having a head for heights lies in the severity of stress reactions: Simply put, the subconscious doesn’t perceive the ground below as a threat. As a result, all those warning signs and symptoms associated with stress hardly manifest themselves – if they do at all –, allowing you to maintain your concentration on your immediate surroundings. Thus, you perceive your position and posture as safe and stable, even when the path or route is very exposed.

The good news is that you can change and reduce the amount of stress you experience by systematically desensitising yourself to such situations and using various other methods to combat the anxiety. But, before we get into that, it’s worth mentioning that there is no clear distinction between having and not having a head for heights, so we don’t really have a clear definition to work with. According to Wikipedia, having a head for heights means that “one has no acrophobia, an irrational fear of heights, and is not particularly prone to fear of falling or suffering from vertigo“. “Not particularly prone” implies that you could be somewhat prone to a fear of falling.

Based on my own experience, I suspect that for most mountaineers height does indeed play a role. While most would probably be unimpressed by a 30-metre drop, a 300-metre one is a completely different story. Whether or not they experience a spinning sensation also depends on how steep and direct the drop is. The steeper and more direct the drop, the less there is for the eyes to “hold onto”, so while many alpinists can move relatively uninhibitedly in exposed sections of a route, they would never walk over a steel girder on a skyscraper or transmission tower without the protection of a rope. That kind of nonsense can be left to extreme athletes, crazy(?) roofers and other people who work at great heights and could be described having a “head for heights”.

What is acrophobia?

If an individual experiences an irrational fear of heights in everyday situations, such as when climbing a ladder or crossing a bridge, one could say that he or she suffers from a fear of heights. The stress reactions occur despite the fact that they’re well aware that they’re not in any real danger. They can work themselves up to the point that they have a fear of the fear itself, which goes hand in hand with the fear of losing control. They’re afraid of being drawn toward the depths and tumbling down to the ground below.

True, people with a “normal fear of heights” have these thoughts as well, but they usually disappear as soon as they take a step back from the edge. If you’re truly acrophobic, the thoughts persist and the stress ends up restricting your freedom of movement, even in everyday life. These cases require action, often in the form of professional treatment. Now let’s talk about what you can do about visual height intolerance.

Immediate strategies to cope with visual height intolerance

Take a deep breath. This little piece of advice almost always works and has the added bonus of helping with dizziness. Taking a deliberately calm, deep breath and holding it in for a bit is the best way to respond to a spinning sensation. You should also look away from the ground below and focus on stationary objects in your immediate surroundings, keeping them in your peripheral vision. Avoid tilting your head and looking up, into the distance or at moving objects, as they will increase the feeling of dizziness. Of course, you can make quick glances toward your feet to adjust your footing, since the spinning sensation usually arises after a delay.

Then try to stabilise your body as much as you can by giving your hands and feet the support they need. If necessary, sit down or crawl on all fours. Then focus on your immediate surroundings, next steps and movements. Some encouraging words and a short rope can help to overcome difficult sections as well.

If these situations come up repeatedly or lead to significant delays, you should play it safe and call off the ascent.

Immediate measures to cope with acrophobia

A person with acrophobia would certainly never be in a situation like the one described above, but let’s assume for the sake of example that an acrophobic individual does head up into the high mountains – be it because of them overestimating their own abilities, peer pressure or whatever. The only difference between the situation described above and this one is that there is significantly more stress, time and “drama” involved. I say drama because it is entirely possible that the person in question feels absolutely paralysed and refuses to move, even with the help of a rope or other protection. In theory, sedatives and other medications could help, but they also inhibit motor function and responsiveness, so they should only be used for the ride back with mountain rescue.

In general, though, if you lack the experience, practice and techniques, there’s really not much you can do in acute emergency situations that arise as a result of somebody’s fear of heights.

Long-term training to combat visual height intolerance

The basic recipe for success is simple: Through repeated practice, you can become accustomed to exposed places and greater and greater heights. You can do this by deliberately putting yourself in situations at, say, the climbing gym or during less ambitious outdoor activities that would usually induce fear. Once you find yourself in the situation, wait until you feel the fear subside. If you give yourself the proper dose, the fear will indeed subside. Ideally, you will gradually start to close in your personal limits and eventually push beyond them. Do keep in mind that such training methods rarely lead to an unflappable head for heights. After all, there’s got to be a biological component at play as well.

It’s important to remember that when desensitising yourself to heights, you should also wear the proper shoes and take bodily cues and warning signs seriously, as you would on every other trip. In a German magazine called Merkur, the therapist Petra Müssig who specialises in acrophobia points out other factors that are normally never associated with visual height intolerance:

Your endurance, strength, walking technique and equipment should conform with the requirements of the routes you choose. In an estimated 70% of all cases, a fear of heights is initially caused by fatigue or exhaustion, which can be traced back to a lack of physical fitness!

Therefore, strength and conditioning training as well as selecting and planning your activities accordingly can help prevent you experiencing anxiety and dizziness in the mountains. If you work on your balance and coordination (balancing on tree trunks, kerbstones, etc.) as well, you can reduce the severity of body sway when you start to feel dizzy as a result of height exposure.

A previously rehearsed repertoire of exercises for breathing and muscle relaxation is also very helpful. This allows you to calm yourself down more quickly and effectively when you start to feel dizzy.

Long-term training and therapies for acrophobia

If none of these methods helps, you should consult a doctor to see whether you have any issues with your balance organs. If you can exclude any physical causes, you may very well be acrophobic. In this case, a look inside yourself is always a good idea. You may have a fear of heights because of unresolved inner conflicts of some kind. Competent medical and psychological consultation can be very helpful. Behavioural therapy is often recommended in such cases.

However, uncovering and analysing those internal causes should only be the first step in the process. It’s not at all rare for people to get stuck at the first step and “forget” to take the active steps to put an end to the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound judgmental. It’s only a “problem” if it prevents somebody who loves the mountains from enjoying the mountains to the extent that he or she would like it to. If the person in question doesn’t consider their fear of heights to be a problem, then it isn’t a problem.

I also don’t want to come off like I’m claiming to have any qualifications. Since I’m neither a psychologist nor a therapist, I can’t make any concrete recommendations, nor will I refer you to any. What I will do is provide you with a great source with tips on how to overcome your fear of heights that you can find here. In any case, it’s easy to see that a fear of heights is anything but a simple phenomenon with single cause and that it can take intricate individualised paths to even begin to overcome it.

What is surefootedness?

We’ve all seen people fluidly and gracefully skipping, hopping or jumping down the steepest of trails, cliffs and scree slopes like it ain’t no thing. This amazing ability to walk safely on any surface, even at higher speeds, is referred to as surefootedness.

What does surefootedness have to do with a head for heights? Well, they’re interconnected because of the effect they have on each other. While a feeling of dizziness can have a negative effect on your surefootedness, a lack of surefootedness can make you feel dizzy and unstable. Conversely, the more surefooted you are, the safer you feel in treacherous terrain and at great heights. You may have heard or read at some point that a head for heights is a prerequisite for surefootedness and vice versa, but that’s only partly true. Plenty of people are extremely surefooted and graceful when hopping over tree trunks and brooks, but don’t have a head for heights. There are also plenty of rock climbers out there who have a head for heights but aren’t all that surefooted. Such climbers have more trouble getting down scree slopes than they do climbing up a wall with super-tiny footholds.

Of course, there is an indirect connection as well: the more surefooted you are, the better your walking technique, coordination and sense of balance will be. And, these physical abilities influence the reactions of the brain and subconscious mind in exposed terrain where there’s little for the eye to work with.

Improving your surefootedness

You can improve your surefootedness with surprisingly little effort. There are loads of training options on fitness or trim trails, sports grounds or even grassy or asphalt areas. A simple and effective option is to stand and walk on bricks or wooden blocks. If you can’t find either of the two, you can simply draw them on whatever surface you’re training on. You can then experiment with variations and higher levels of difficulty and gradually increase the overall difficulty of your training, but do be careful. For example, you can increase the distance between the markings you’ve laid out, if you have mastered a certain setup and distance.

Exercises with rocks are obviously more realistic because they can move (which you should try to prevent by applying your weight evenly from above). If there’s a kid’s birthday party in your future, you can take part in some sack races or egg-and-spoon races as well.

With confidence, surefootedness and head for heights, outdoor adventures are safer and a whole lot more fun. :-)

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

20. March 2019
Care tips

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

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

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

When is a repair worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

How do repairs work? What are the possibilities?

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

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

Alternatively, the following three options remain:

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

Exceptional case: Warranty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the manufacturers that replace soles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any questions? Feel free to comment below!

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