All posts with the keyword ‘Climbing’

First-aid kit essentials for your backpack

28. November 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is a first-aid kit mandatory?

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

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

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

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

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

The contents of your first-aid kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extras for big adventures in remote areas:

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

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

Optional/special requirements:

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

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

First-aid kits for larger groups

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

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

Last but not least: The first-aid bag

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

Conclusion

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

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

Tips for Great Outdoor Photos

14. November 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

1. Wait for the golden hour

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

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

2. Lines guide the eye through the photograph

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

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

3. Change your position often

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

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

4. Having people in the photograph reinforces the perspective

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

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

5. Wide-angle lenses enhance perspective

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

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

6. You can take fantastic pictures in the dark

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

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

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

7. Longer exposure times open up new possibilities

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

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

8. Obstructions in pictures can be interesting

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

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

9. Incorporate reflections into the image

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

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

A brief explanation of technical terms in photography

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

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

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

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

Alpine Trekkers visit DMM in Wales

31. October 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

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

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

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

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

The first climb on Welsh rock

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

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

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

One moment of happiness follows another

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

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

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

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

Factory tour in Llanberis

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

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

Our long-lost luggage

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

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

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

Off to the Rainbow Slab Area with self-made carabiners

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

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

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

Wales, we’ll be back

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

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

Camping in winter: Getting used to the cold

26. October 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

Cold-exposure training: Body and mind

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

Training your body

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

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

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

Training your mind: Acceptance and acclimatization

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

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

Damn, it’s still so cold!

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

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

Mini digression: What is cold?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drinking/melting snow

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

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

Cooking

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

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

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

Fuel

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

Cold exposure training: Clothing

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

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

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

Adapting to the cold – Your sleeping bag

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

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

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

Liners and VBLs

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

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

Hot water bottlesor heated rocks

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

Sleeping mats

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

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

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

Adapting to the cold – Your tent

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

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

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

Location

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

Tent setup

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

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

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

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

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

Heating your tent

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

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

Summary

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

HyVent becomes DryVent – What it is and how it works

23. October 2018
Equipment

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

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

What exactly is DryVent?

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

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

From city goer to alpinist

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

The different types

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

DryVent 2L

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

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

DryVent 2.5L

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

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

DryVent 3L

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

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

HyVent technologies that have had their day

HyVent DT

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

HyVent DT EC

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

HyVent Alpha

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

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

DryVent - functional material in detailCaring for DryVent

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

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

Brewing coffee in the great outdoors

26. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant coffee

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

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

Cowboy coffee (aka Turkish coffee)

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

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

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

Drip coffee

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

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

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

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

Filters and filter holders made out of plastic

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

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

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

Moka coffee: the Italian way

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

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

Moka pot 2.0: the outdoor version

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

Espresso for experts

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

French press coffee

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

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

AeroPress: half filter, half press

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

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

All in – Interview with the climbing family Ravennest

7. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a competition within the family?

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

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

What about motivation? Is everyone always at 100?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will you do next? Any plans so far?

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

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

A buyer’s guide to bivouac tents

11. September 2018
Buyer's guide

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

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

The standard construction of a bivouac tent

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

Who should use bivouac tent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differences between a tent and a bivouac tent

Advantages of a bivouac tent

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

Disadvantages of a bivouac tent

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

Differences between a bivouac sack and bivouac tent

Advantages of a bivouac tent

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

Disadvantages of a bivouac tent

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

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

DWR coatings – Blessing or a curse?

23. October 2018
Care tips

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

What properties does a DWR have?

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

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

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

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

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

What is a DWR treatment?

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

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

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

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

Reactivating or renewing a DWR treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are DWRs harmful to the environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. September 2018
Buyer's guide

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

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

What is a quilt?

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

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

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

Recommended use for a quilt

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

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

Finding the right quilt

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

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

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

Quilts in winter

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

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

Conclusion

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

Care instructions: How to wash your outdoor socks

7. September 2018
Care tips

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

General tips on how to wash outdoor socks

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

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

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

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

How to wash different kinds of socks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why no fabric softener?

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

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

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

Can the sock go in the dryer?

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

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

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

26. September 2018
Equipment

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

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

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

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

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

Waterproof shoes with GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort

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

Walking shoes with GORE-TEX® Performance Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

Open sole, side openings or side ventilation

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

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

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

 

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