All posts on this topic ‘Tips and Tricks’

Snow blindness and the dangers of UV radiation

10. April 2019
Tips and Tricks

Is snow blindness really something we ordinary alpinists have to deal with? Doesn’t it only happen to the polar explorers and Reinhold Messners of the world? That’d be nice, but I’m afraid it happens much more frequently than you’d think, especially in places where intense solar radiation with a high proportion of ultraviolet light hits snow and other very bright surfaces. You can even get “snow blindness” when sailing or even on a long-distance flight.

When your eyes are unprotected for hours on end, things can get very unpleasant. It starts with your eyes reddening, which is relatively harmless, but then it can morph into temporary blindness, which can cause permanent damage to your vision. For solo adventurers, snow blindness is twice as dangerous because limited vision makes orientation difficult to impossible. To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, we’ve put together all the important things you should know about snow blindness.

How can this happen?

The bright light from unobstructed sunshine in snowy and icy regions can put such a strain on the eyes that sunglasses – or more specifically – category 4 glacier glasses are absolutely essential. Only the latter provides sufficient protection in such conditions. And no, the sunglasses you can get from a street vendor won’t do the trick! If you’d like to know more on why you need glacier glasses and which glasses you should go for, you can check out the Buyer’s Guide to Glacier Glasses (currently only available in German).

You might be thinking, but wait, the sun isn’t always that strong! After all, clouds and fog often “swallow” a lot of its light. Does that mean that the risk of snow blindness isn’t high as its made out to be? Sorry to disappoint, but it’s not the visible light that you should be worried about, but rather, as already mentioned above, the invisible UV rays, which penetrate through clouds and fog. According to an article on the DAV’s (German Alpine Club) website “more than 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds and fog”, (quoting the compendium „Gebirgs- und Outdoormedizin“ from the Swiss Alpine Club SAC ) (…) “On a sunny summer day, the UV index on the Jungfraujoch (3570m) is 13, which is just as high as it is during the summer in Southern Australia.”

Unfortunately, some mountaineers fail to differentiate between visible and UV light and “forget” to wear glacier goggles when it is cloudy or foggy. True, it’s more comfortable and you can see a lot better without them, but by doing so, you leave your eyes completely exposed to a significant amount of UV radiation. Depending on the duration and intensity of the radiation, the consequences of not wearing proper eyewear will be noticeable a few hours after your outing.

Before we take a closer look at these consequences, allow me to clear up one potential misunderstanding. Just because we’re singling out UV light as the main cause of snow blindness does not mean that overexposure to visible light is harmless and has no consequences! On the contrary, this can cause permanent retinal damage and even lead to blindness. That being said, protecting your eyes with dark, tinted lenses in ice and snow is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity.

What happens when you get snow blindness?

You can think of snow blindness like a “sunburn to your eyes” caused by exposure to UV radiation. Ultraviolet light has a shorter wavelength than visible light and is “beyond violet”, or just outside the visible range, on the electromagnetic spectrum. Short-wavelength UV rays have high energies, so UV-B radiation with wavelengths between 280 and 320 nanometres is more dangerous than the longer-wavelength UV-A radiation with wavelengths between 315-380 nm.

The electromagnetic energy transforms into other forms of energy, such as heat and movement, when it comes into contact with sensitive body tissue, which usually causes some kind of damage. When this energy comes into contact with the eye, the initial harm is in the clear, protective outer layer of the eye known as the cornea. As with a “normal” sunburn, the skin cells are thermally and mechanically damaged (by oedema-like swelling). This results in the cornea having fine spotted defects (keratitis superficialis punctata) in the outer layer, which typically cause severe pain, eyelid cramps, increased tears and a reduction in visual acuity.

The destroyed cells begin dying about three to twelve hours after irradiation and is accompanied by an inflammatory reaction of the surrounding tissue. Depending on the duration and intensity of the radiation, the conjunctiva, which is the clear tissue covering the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids, can be damaged as well. In this case, things can get really unpleasant, because it ends up exposing nerve endings, “resulting in severe pain, extreme sensitivity to light, increased tears, reddened eyes and a foreign body sensation in the eye.” Affected people also have the feeling that they have sand in their eyes and have to get it out.

What is welder’s flash?

Snow blindness is often associated with the terms “welder’s flash” and “flash burns”. It may sound a bit strange and somewhat like how they erased memories in “Men in Black” using that fancy flash thing. However, the terms have nothing to do with memory loss, but rather refer to UV-related corneal damage caused by things other than sun’s reflection off snow. The most common cause of welder’s flash is, as the names suggest, working with welding machines without sufficient eye protection. Strong UV light is emitted during welding work as well.

Detecting snow blindness

It’s quite easy to detect the first warning signs yourself. You’ll notice the reflected glare of sunlight from snow and the other surroundings, with your eyes beginning to feel strained, overstimulated and eventually very tired. To detect potential snow blindness in somebody else, keep an eye out for intense squinting and swollen veins in their eyes. If you notice anything like that, now’s a better time than any to put on sunglasses.

However, you may only begin to notice the symptoms afterwards, especially if the sun has been hidden behind clouds and fog for most of the day or you were so full of adrenaline that you neglected to listen to your body. Unfortunately, though, reality will set in a few hours afterwards: You’re eyes will begin to redden and become very sensitive to light, and you’ll experience pain (in the form of a foreign body sensation), lacrimation (flow of tears) and have impaired vision.

Treating snow blindness

In most cases, the corneal burns are not so severe that the body can’t regenerate them itself. In fact, the cornea and corneal epithelium are constantly regenerating, so they will heal themselves within only 24-48 hours.

There is no need for treatment, apart from protecting and taking it easy on your eyes (cooling, bed rest, darkened room). Of course, it is highly recommended that you do something to relieve the pain (use cooling eye drops, anti-inflammatory eye drops and taking pain relievers).

If there is no significant improvement after 48 hours at the very latest, you should consult an ophthalmologist or, if necessary, a hospital. If you experience severe pain and visual impairment, seek professional help immediately. In the best-case scenario, quick medical attention will not only prevent corneal scarring and thus irreparable damage to your vision, but also reduce the risk of bacterial infections, which could lead to complete blindness.

The better solution: Prevention

As mentioned above, you should never forget that you can be exposed to high levels of UV radiation even in cloudy and foggy conditions. If you spend a lot of time in the mountains, you should definitely invest in a pair of sunglasses with interchangeable or self-tinting lenses. The article we mentioned above provides some detailed info on the subject (currently in German only).

The only way to prevent snow blindness is to wear proper sunglasses, glacier glasses or ski goggles that cover your entire field of vision. The glasses should cover your entire field of vision because UV light can reach the eyes from below, above and the sides as a result of “scattered radiation”. Sunglasses that provide adequate protection against UV radiation can be recognized by the CE marking and category 3 rating (lower is no good); in snow and ice, you need category 4. Both the CE marking and the categories can be found on the temple.

Yeah, that’s about all the preventative measures I have for you. Boring, I know, but effective. I’d love to recommend cutting slits in a piece of cardboard or other cool MacGyver-like tricks, but they’re just not as effective as the proper eyewear!

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

10. April 2019
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

What is visual height intolerance?

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

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

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

When do you have a head for heights?

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

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

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

What is acrophobia?

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

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

Immediate strategies to cope with visual height intolerance

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

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

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

Immediate measures to cope with acrophobia

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

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

Long-term training to combat visual height intolerance

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

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

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

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

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

Long-term training and therapies for acrophobia

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

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

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

What is surefootedness?

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

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

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

Improving your surefootedness

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

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

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

What is skyrunning?

28. February 2019
Tips and Tricks

It’s six o’clock in the morning in Val Masino, the Italian bit of the Bernina Range, or more precisely, in the southern Bergell mountains. It’s freezing cold as a group of crazies eagerly await the start of “Trofeo Kima”. Among them is one of the absolute legends of the sport, the Spaniard Kilian Jornet. But today we’re not planning on climbing the Piz Badile or one of the valley’s many famous boulders, as you might expect.

Today, we have set out to tackle the “Sentiero Roma”, a high-alpine mountain path with seven spectacular passes as high as 3000 metres. And, this route hardly ever takes you onto a hiking trail. For the most part, the terrain consists of moraine, snowfields and exposed crests as well as challenging climbing sections with fixed ropes and chains for safety. But, you have to keep in mind that we only have a maximum of eleven hours for the 50 kilometres and 4200 metres of gain and loss – a distance a hiker would need five days for. Welcome to skyrunning!

Even though the name seems to suggest otherwise, skyrunning doesn’t refer to running on the clouds, but rather to a more technically challenging, alpine form of trail running. But what is the difference between skyrunning and running on hiking trails? When do you become a sky runner?

From the shepherd to the modern athlete: the history of skyrunning

Moving fast through the mountains is really nothing new. While the motives in the past had more to with the herding of animals on a mountain pasture, harvesting hay or smuggling goods, today it’s much more about enjoying recreational activities in the mountains.

It will come as no surprise that the concept of running up and down mountains for the fun of it was unimaginable for previous generations. After all, the conditions can be pretty harsh in the mountains, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean people didn’t traverse the treacherous terrain of the mountains. As one of the pioneers of sport, the Italian Bruno Brunod from the Aosta Valley, aptly put it: “My ancestors were skyrunners. My grandfather crossed the mountains to get to work. We may be doing it a little faster today, but it’s basically the same as it always has been. Skyrunners have always existed”.

Races in the mountains aren’t new, either. The famous Ben Nevis Race in Scotland has been going strong since 1895. And, as early as the 90s, “races” were being held on Mont Blanc and the Monte Rosa massif in the Alps.

The inventor of modern skyrunning, Italian mountaineer Marino Giacometti founded the International Skyrunning Federation in 1995. The federation is the governing authority of skyrunning and organises the official skyrunning events, all of which must meet course requirements.

A skyrunning course must be in alpine terrain above 2000 metres, with climbing difficulty not exceeding II° grade (according to the UIAA scale), and must include steep sections of at least 30%. There might be glaciers and snow fields to contend with as well. In other words, skyrunning has distinctive features that clearly distinguish it from both mountain running and modern ultra running. In fact, many of the sport’s most successful athletes have a background in mountain sports rather than classic road running.

Skyrunning disciplines: steep, fast and long

There are now more than two hundred official Skyraces worldwide, all of which can be divided into three very different disciplines:

“Vertical”

As you’ve probably already gathered from the name, “VERTICAL” races take you up. This variant is the most similar to traditional mountain running with key differences being that Vertical races must have a maximum length of five kilometres and vertical climb of 1000 metres (hence the name “Vertical Kilometer”).

The steepest is the “km vertical de Fully” in France, which is only 2 kilometres long and has 1000m of vertical for you to climb. The fastest athletes can master this ultra-steep route in just over 30 minutes.

“Sky”

The most variable of the skyrunning disciplines is known as “SKY”. Skyraces range from 20 to 49 kilometres in length and must include a minimum gain of 1300 metres. Of course, the skyrunners don’t just run up, they’ve got to run back down as well, so you can imagine their quads are really beat up by the time they reach the finish.

Courses like the “Limone Extreme Skyrace” at Lake Garda boast several metres of gain and impressive views. The great thing about this race is that it’s not just geared toward professional skyrunners, it’s a great option for skyrunning newbies as well, thanks to the generous cut-off times.

“Ultra”

The longest Skyraces are known as “ULTRA”. These races can be anywhere from 50 to 99 kilometres and have a lot in common with ultra trail races, which are very popular among trail runners. However, like the other races, ULTRA races have to meet certain requirements too: Not only do they have to have a minimum of 3200 metres of gain, but the allotted time must not exceed 16 hours.

Some of these races, such as the Tromso Skyrace in Norway, the Glen Coe Skyline in Scotland and the Trofeo Kima in Italy, also feature challenging stretches of via ferrata, exposed ridges and moderate rock climbing terrain. For these and similar races, you not only have to be an endurance runner, but also have to have the ability to master stretches of terrain with II° grade of difficulty and A/B via ferrata in trail running shoes.

Training for your first Skyrace

What do you think? Wanna give skyrunning a go? You should!

But, before you sign up for a race, you’ve got to make sure you have enough experience in trail running and more specifically in running on single track alpine terrain. There is nothing better than regularly going up to the mountains and running and conquering those technical routes. It doesn’t have to be the north face of the Eiger, but it’s absolutely imperative for you to get used to moving through technical mountain terrain, since Skyraces usually take place on rocky and often treacherous terrain.

To train for the long ascents and descents, you could do a fast hike in the mountains, combining speed hiking on the uphills with trail running on the downhills. Even the pros “hike” at a fast pace with their hands on their thighs when things get really steep.

You don’t live in the mountains? When you’re not on holiday in the mountains, you can also run up and down the hill behind your house. Or, if all else fails, you can always run the stairs in a multi-storey car park.

In terms of kit, some races allow you to use running or walking poles, which can help you conserve energy and strength, whilst simultaneously providing some extra stability in steep terrain. When it comes to shoes, you should definitely choose a trail running shoe with a grippy outsole that won’t let you down when things get wet. Remember: Your first race doesn’t have to be the most technical route with crazy, exposed ridges and difficult climbs, but after that the sky is the limit!

What to do about ticks?

19. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

What are ticks?

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

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

Behaviour

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

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

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

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

Range and habitat

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

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

Why are ticks dangerous?

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

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

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

What diseases can be transmitted by ticks?

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

TBE

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

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

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

Lyme disease

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

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

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

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

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

Migrating redness: The red ring

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

Countermeasures: Prevention

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

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

Behaviour

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

Clothing

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

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

Always good: be as healthy as possible

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

Chemicals

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

Vaccination: only for TBE

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

Natural remedies: black cumin oil and coconut oil

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

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

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

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

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

Got bitten anyway: Defensive countermeasures

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

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

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

Infected or not?

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

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

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

Antibiotics

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

 

First-aid kit essentials for your backpack

19. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is a first-aid kit mandatory?

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

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

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

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

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

The contents of your first-aid kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extras for big adventures in remote areas:

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

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

Optional/special requirements:

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

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

First-aid kits for larger groups

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

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

Last but not least: The first-aid bag

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

Conclusion

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

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

Tips for Great Outdoor Photos

13. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

1. Wait for the golden hour

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

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

2. Lines guide the eye through the photograph

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

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

3. Change your position often

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

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

4. Having people in the photograph reinforces the perspective

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

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

5. Wide-angle lenses enhance perspective

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

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

6. You can take fantastic pictures in the dark

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

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

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

7. Longer exposure times open up new possibilities

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

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

8. Obstructions in pictures can be interesting

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

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

9. Incorporate reflections into the image

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

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

A brief explanation of technical terms in photography

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

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

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

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

Camping in winter: Getting used to the cold

13. December 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!

How to trim your climbing skins properly

13. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

With their mostly simple, universal attachment systems (tip hooks and a tail clip), skins you need to trim yourself are an inexpensive and rather rewarding alternative to the “ready-made skins”, if I do say so myself. Plus, as significant as the price difference is, there’s really no difference in quality, which is definitely an added bonus. Not to mention, it’s really difficult to find ready-made skins for many older ski models, so cutting the skins to size is often your only option. Here are our detailed instructions for trimming your climbing skins:

Buying the right size and attachment system

Buying the right size and attachment system is the most important step. After all, you wouldn’t want your skins to be too small. I guarantee you’d be pretty disappointed in their performance! The length of the skins must be longer than the length of the ski, and the width of the skins wider than the widest point of the ski.

You should also consider what type of attachment system you want before purchasing. Even though virtually all manufacturers try to stick to simple and universal systems, all you freeriders out there with your extremely wide tips may have size or compatibility problems.

The easiest way to trim your skins is to have a professional do it, but that would result in costs we would save by not buying ready-made skins in the first place! Besides, the DIY method is so much better, anyway, right? The procedure doesn’t require any expert knowledge or magical powers, but merely a wee bit of patience, concentration and finesse.

Work surface and preparation

First of all, your ski must be secured so that it doesn’t shift while you’re trimming the skins. The best way to do this is to place it down on its edge and secure it using two hand-screw clamps or lay it down. I prefer the former because I feel it’s the easiest. The important thing is that the edges are freely accessible and do not move when you’re cutting. Otherwise, it’ll be pretty difficult to trim them with any precision. It is best to practise the movement you would make while cutting before actually doing it so that you don’t end up ruining the skin by cutting too much off.

Methods like drawing a template and then cutting off excess material are not recommended because, despite their apparent simplicity, they end up being rather tedious and more prone to errors.

Trimming: the tail first…

In most cases, the length of the skins have to be fine-tuned as well. To do this, attach skin to the tip of the ski and stick it on as smoothly and cleanly as possible so that one side of the skin coincides as closely as possible with one edge of the ski, while the other side of the skin sticks out over the edge.

First, cut off the excess material at the end of the ski. You don’t need a sharp knife for this – you can use a (large) pair of scissors as well. But, try not to cut off too much because it may prevent you from being able to attach the hooks.

This mechanism varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and sometimes additional tools, such as a hole punch, are required for attaching them. But don’t worry, a hammer can come in useful in such situations. Besides, how to attach the skins is usually explained in the instructions in a clear and concise way.

…Now to the sides

Now we start trimming the sides. Take a sharp knife or trimming tool and slide it along the length of the ski between the skin and base of the ski.

Trimming the skin works best when you prop the ski up, secure it and cut with a motion that goes downward and to the side. Also: if you keep the bit of material that is being cut taut as you cut, it will make trimming easier.

After the first cut, remove the skin and stick it on again, but not in the centre. Instead, place the side you’ve just trimmed about four millimetres away from the edge of the ski toward the centre.

Then trim the ski as before along the edge of the ski. This should give you about 2mm of exposed metal on each side, while the rest of the ski base that comes into contact with the snow is covered by the skin.

The trimmed skins should now have the same shape as the skis, minus the shovel and the edges. If the edges are not exposed, you will quickly notice that there’s something wrong when you’re traversing snow and ice.

Sealing and proofing your skins

Finally, the loose fibres from the cut need to be burned with a lighter to prevent fraying.

Use a small flame and slowly and carefully slide the lighter along the frayed edges. Always keep just enough distance so that the flame never touches the skins directly!

To proof your skins, take a liquid wax and apply it with a sponge. That’s it!

Now you have a freshly trimmed pair of skins! Get out there and enjoy the winter!

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!

The perfect spot for your tent

26. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

In the following, we’re not going to talk about finding a spot at an overcrowded campsite. Rather, we’re going to give you some tips on how to find the perfect location when you’re wild camping in the great outdoors. Finding the perfect place can give you an gratifying feeling of fulfilment and personal achievement, especially if the search was long and difficult.

However, in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises once you’re in your tent, you may want to consider some potential difficulties that could pop up. Many of these problems, which I will go over in detail below, may seem trivial to experienced campers, whilst others can be solved on the spot with a little thought. But, I’ll go out on a limb and assume that nobody really has every single one of the following aspects on their radar.

Do your homework

Even if you find the perfect location, it will be all for naught if you can’t pitch your tent properly. Thus, it’s incredibly important to practise pitching your tent at home, check for damage and to see whether you have all the necessary parts. If you didn’t just buy a new tent and are taking an older one, it’s always a good idea to take along one or two spare pegs and a some materials for repairs. The latter doesn’t have to be some official kit – all you need is some tape (duct tape) to patch things up!

An admittedly odd-sounding, but useful tip is to take some piton with you. These are perfect for rocky terrain.

Because the ground is also an important factor to consider when choosing a pitch, it’s always a good idea to start looking at least 2 hours before sunset. Ok, that was probably one of the tips you would’ve thought of yourself. Let’s get to the stuff you may not know.

Rules and regulations

Being spontaneous and free is nice, but it’s always a good idea to do some research on a suitable spot for your tent before you go. As you probably already know, popular national parks have lots of rules and regulations, and oftentimes there are designated sites for tents. Sometimes, you even have to make a reservation. Regardless of whether you’ll be camping in a national park or elsewhere, you should always familiarise yourself with the national and local rules for tents and camping in advance. More often than not, you’ll find that camping in the wild is not really permitted but not really prohibited either. It’s definitely a grey area, but it will usually be tolerated as long as you’re not trespassing and pitch your tent out of eyeshot of towns and paths.

Since you’re never really alone in the “wilderness”, you’ll have to follow a few rules of conduct as well. This means you shouldn’t set up your camp and block the view of other campers. Rather try to become part of the scenery. You can do this by using already flattened spots from previous campers instead of levelling beautiful untouched meadows yourself. If you were happy about happening upon a beautiful, untouched piece of land, you don’t want to leave behind a dump. Or do you?

Unfortunately, there are some “pragmatists” who have no idea what to do with such thoughts. What such people are often unaware of is that it’d actually be in their own interest to put them into practice. Why? It’s simple, really: The more trouble we cause by camping wherever we want, the more rules and regulations there will be.

But that’s enough of that. Let’s get the the more practice-oriented tips.

The ground

When pitching your tent, make sure the surface is flat and not on a slope. Even the slightest incline can make you slip right off your sleeping mat (or make the sleeping mat slip around on the smooth tent floor). If a slight slope is unavoidable, try to position the tent or sleeping mat so that your head is higher than your feet. It’s actually a pretty comfortable position to sleep in (the other way around less so).

The best spot for a tent is of course a grassy surface. As long as the weather stays dry, a sandy surface can be quite pleasant as well. The best surfaces are usually free of any rocks, roots, pine cones or brambles. Other soft things like pine needles, leaves or moss are great too. If there’s hard or sharp objects, you shouldn’t remove them for the sake of your tent and your own comfort. If you don’t mind carrying some extra weight, you can protect the tent floor with a groundsheet.

But, if the soft ground you’ve found is in a low-lying area, you may want to opt for the higher, harder and uneven surface instead. Oftentimes, the ground is soft because water tends to accumulate there.

In the wintertime, “higher is better” is the rule to live by. This means that you should pitch your tent in higher areas as opposed to low-lying areas, because cold air tends to accumulate in hollows and valleys.

Before guying out your tent and making yourself comfortable, do a quick lie down first to see if there are any pebbles or unevenness that could disturb your sleep. Since you haven’t secured the tent yet, you can still move it a few centimetres to find the perfect spot.

Now that we’ve talked about the ground, let’s move on to the tent surroundings. Depending on what the surroundings are like, you might have to keep looking.

Eliminating risks

When it comes to the feel of the ground and overall comfort, there’s no universal rule to go by. After all, every person is different and has their own pain threshold. There are, however, certain criteria that are universal.

Water

Water is something we always want to have close by, but also not too close. Access to water is much more important than a nice view. After all, how are you going to drink, cook and bathe without water? Fortunately, there’s usually no shortage of water, unless you’re adventuring in the desert or dry, grassy plains, like the steppes. In the mountains, there’s almost always clean, flowing water nearby. But, as seductive as it is to stay on the water, try to keep your distance. The ideal distance is about 50 to 100 metres away somewhere above the body of water – just not on a path leading to the water that would otherwise be used by wildlife.

Water in the mountains can rise surprisingly quickly – and not just during a storm but also when a dam is opened. Another thing to consider: The sound of flowing stream in the mountains can get pretty loud after a while, so taking some earplugs along on your trip to the mountains can be quite helpful.

Riverbeds and narrow ravines are some of the worst spots for pitching your tent – even if they look dry. Even if it looks like a clear day, it can be bucketing down upstream. Then, a surge of water could suddenly come rushing your way, leaving you just enough time to save your own skin – and that’s it.

In contrast to the mountains, you can find some quality spots on seashores. Here, you need to make sure you’re above the tideline. The tideline is easy to find by locating a strip of washed up shells, algae, pieces of wood and waste. And, don’t forget to account for high waves before you set up camp.

Always keep in mind that there are a lot of mosquitoes and other pesky insects around standing water. Here, it can be beneficial to find a spot that’s a bit airier or windier.

Whilst the cooler air in low-lying areas can be quite pleasant in the summertime, moist ground in the immediate vicinity of water never is. Wet or damp surfaces draw warmth out of the tent’s interior and consequently cause moulding and mould stains when the tent isn’t properly ventilated and stored afterwards. If you opt to pitch your tent on a wet surface anyway, you can store your tent in your pack for a few hours or even one day. This won’t do your tent any damage, but you should try to get it dry as soon as possible.

Water from above

Usually, rain shouldn’t be a problem – after all, most tents are designed to protect you from it. But, if a rain shower turns into a long, drawn-out storm and you’d rather not stay in the same spot forever, you may have to take down your tent in the rain. For situations like this, tents that allow you to take down the inner tent first (like Hilleberg tents) are the best choice.

If you already know that long rains are on their way, you can dig a drainage ditch around your tent. The quickest way to do this is with a strong stick or pole. A ditch can really make a difference when trying to stop water accumulating under your tent floor and directing rain water away from your pitch. Even a ditch that is only a few centimetres deep and wide can do this. If the ditch runs directly around the edge of the tent, it will catch the rainwater from the roof of the tent as well. But only do this if the conditions allow for it. Digging on campgrounds is usually prohibited. After all, there are usually shelters and common room areas you can use.

Storms and strong winds

It’s always a good idea to find areas where you could seek shelter in the event of high winds or heavy storms. Your best option is often boulders, ledges or small crags. Trees and bushes in the direction of the wind are not bad, either, especially if their canopies prevent it getting cooler at night in addition to breaking the wind. But, you should only trust young and very strong trees and keep your distance from others. If there is any chance of a tree falling or being uprooted, your distance from it should be at least equal to the height of the tree.

The next precaution you should take when it comes to wind protection is the the direction in which you pitch your tent. It is extremely important to reduce resistance. In the case of a tunnel tent, direct the narrowest parts toward the wind. The entrance should be facing away from the wind. On the side facing the wind, the tent should be taut and secured.

Very strong gusts of wind can break tent poles (especially lightweight aluminium poles). If this happens to you, you better have repair sleeves with you. To “splint” a broken pole, simply slide the sleeve over the broken section. If the sleeves are not included or have been lost, take your poles to your local DIY or hardware store and choose a light metal/aluminium tube with a diameter as close as possible to the diameter of your pole. You can even have it sawed down to the right length. For curved tent poles, these pieces should be very short, otherwise you won’t be able to slide it over the pole.

In the wintertime, you can see how the wind is blowing by analysing the texture of the snow. If the snow has a hard, but brittle texture, whilst the other surfaces in the area are soft, you can assume that there are often strong gusts of winds. If this is the case, you should pitch your tent elsewhere.

Thunderstorms

We’ve already written another post on the topic of camping and thunderstorms with tips on how to choose the best location in stormy weather. So if you’d like to know more, we recommend reading that article. After all, it’s extremely important, because a tent is far from being a Faraday cage. If your tent gets struck by lightning, only ash will remain.

So, your little holiday abode should never stand alone on a hill or other places where lightning tends to strike, such as in the immediate vicinity of electricity pylons, power lines, poles, a forest’s edge or individual trees. But, it is relatively safe to set up a camp between several trees and tall bushes – of course, considering the restrictions mentioned in the section on wind and storms. Also: don’t forget about the risks of a sudden rise in water levels as a result of thunderstorms.

Other important safety tips and a clever thunderstorm distance calculator can be found in this Base Camp blog post.

Sparks, rocks and avalanches

What do you think of when you think of a (camp) fire? Sparks and crackling sounds, right? While both make for a cosy atmosphere, the situation can get ugly really quickly if your tent finds itself in the way of the sparks. They can fly a few metres away from the fire and burn holes in a tent just like that.

Rocks, however, can do much more than just put a hole in your tent. For this simple reason, try to steer clear of anything that could throw rocks your way, like all rock faces that are more than a few metres high.

Small rocks can come loose on steeper slopes and hillsides and cause quite a bit of damage if they fall from a high enough location. The good thing is that you can easily recognise areas of frequent rock fall by the signs of impact. In the mountains, swaths are formed in many places, at the lower end of which the rocks accumulate. Water, mud or snowfall are also frequent characteristics for the formation of swaths. In winter, snow accumulation under steep slopes, chute-like clearings and bent trees are clear indications of avalanche tracks.

At this point, it’d probably be good to mention a few downsides to trees: firstly, resin sometimes drips out of trees, which make the flysheet stick together; secondly, they occasionally drop their branches without warning; and thirdly, after rain, they can drip for several more hours on your tent.

Sun or shade

Which is better depends primarily on your geographic location and the season. I assume you’d go with shade when camping in hotter regions. If there isn’t any “natural” shade, you can make shade by using a towel, tarp or something similar.

But even in the desert, during the summer season and in the early morning, it can be very chilly, so you might even prefer some morning sunshine! If trees or bushes are nearby, you can set up the tent in such a way that it is heated in the morning or in the afternoon. Of course, in doing so, think about the tent itself: direct UV light is not good for polyester and nylon fabric. This is especially important to consider on longer trips and long stays in one area.

Animal visitors

In popular outdoor regions, such as the southwest of the USA, it’s not at all rare to encounter snakes or other territorial creatures. In subtropical and tropical regions, as well as steppes and deserts, this is something you should expect as well. Fortunately, if you don’t leave food or strong smelling substances lying around in your tent for all to see and smell, you shouldn’t have much of a problem. If you want to be on the safe side, don’t leave your tent open.

Depending on where you are, there are bigger predators as well. Surprisingly (and fortunately), the thin flysheet will act as protection. Only rarely have these larger animals ever ripped open tents. This form of protection even works on bears, even though they are known to have ripped open a few tents in their days. But this only happened because they wanted some of the delicious food which the campers left inside.

Last but not least: scenery and the view

You can choose where to pitch your tent based on the scenery or view, as long as you have ticked off all other criteria mentioned above. A beautiful, comfortable pitch without any risks hard to find. But that’s a good thing. After all, one of the things we love about nature is the fact that it is unpredictable. As long as you can wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to start the new day, all is well, right?

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.

Find yourself and your way with a map and a compass

7. September 2018
Tips and Tricks

Imagine this scenario for a second: You’re out up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere and want to make sure you’re following the right trail. You take your phone, try to unlock it only to realise the battery is dead. Brilliant. Then you look around for some signs…of course, there is not a single one in sight. Then, you think, “Ah, I can charge my mobile with my power bank!”, but alas, it’s not in your pack where it should be. What to do, what to do…

To prevent you finding yourself in a similar situation, it’s probably good to think about adding a classic tag team to your kit: the good ol’ map and compass. Some may consider it ‘old school’, but a map and compass have a lot going for them. They’re not only extremely small and lightweight, allowing you to stuff them in any pack, but they even work without power! Imagine that!

For these simple reasons, they’re still the perfect alternative or addition to a smartphone or GPS device. In the following, we’re going to give you a brief overview on how to navigate using a map and compass along with some other useful tools.

Navigating with a map & compass – Determining your location

Using a map and compass, you can determine your location and thus the direction you need to go in. Before you can get this far, though, you need to clearly identify two to three features of the landscape. This can be a mountain, lake or church spire you can see in the distance.

Then look for this feature on the map. Once you’ve located it on the map, take your compass and put it on the map so that edge of the plate points toward that feature, as it is displayed on the map. Now rotate the compass housing until the orienting arrow and the needle are on top of each other. The “N” should then be aligned with the red bit of the compass needle. Now you have the right angle.

Navigating with a map & compass – Determining the direction

With the right angle, you can now put the compass on the map and turn it until the “N” on the bezel points to grid north (the top of the map). If you trace the edge of the base plate with a pencil, you’ll see the line you are on. Then repeat the process for your second and third feature that are within view. Where the lines meet is where you are! If the lines you’ve drawn don’t meet, you should repeat the process to determine your precise location.

After you’ve determined your precise location, you can now go about finding your direction of travel. To do this, take your compass, hold it in your hand and turn yourself around until the red end of the needle lines up with the orienting arrow. Now you’ve found the right direction of travel! Let the adventure begin!

Navigating with a map & compass – Following a bearing

After finding the right direction of travel, it’s important to follow it without drifting. Otherwise, you’ll end up arriving somewhere else entirely despite having determined your precise location and direction of travel. And we don’t want that!

Here’s a little trick on how to follow a bearing: Once you’ve found the right location and direction of travel, find a special feature in that direction that you can head for when walking. Once you’ve reached this goal, you can find another one you can use as your next goal. Then repeat this process until you’ve reached your final destination.

But in so doing, make sure you haven’t turned the compass housing!

Alternatives to a map & compass

If you haven’t got a map and compass, there’s no need to despair. Look on the bright side: there are so many more options out there (some even free of charge) you can use to determine your location or direction of travel.

The sun

During the day, the sun can be a very useful tool to get a rough idea of where you are, since you know that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and is due south at noon. Using an analogue watch or an app with an analogue display (with hands), you can find South in the wintertime at the bisector of the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark. In the summertime, South is between the hour hand and the 1 o’clock mark.

The stars

If you need to navigate at night, all you need to do is find Polaris or the North Star, which is located close to the north celestial pole. This makes it the northern pole star. The North Star can be located by using the Bid Dipper. The two outermost stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper point to the North Star, which happens to mark the tip of the handle of the Big Dipper’s little buddy, the Little Dipper. Here’s something else worth noting: Polaris is not visible in the Southern Hemisphere due to the curvature of the earth.

If you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere and can’t find the North Star, you can use other stars to find your way. As a general rule, a star in the North moves to the left, a star in the South moves to the right. A star in the East moves up, while a star in the West moves down. In order to find cardinal directions, you would need to observe the movement of the stars. For example, if a star moves up to the left, it is in the Northeast.

Vegetation

In addition to the sun and stars, you can also use plants to find your way. Unfortunately, though, this is not always 100% accurate. There are always deviations, and the clues we get from plant life are not always completely clear. Nevertheless, you can use trees, shrubs and other plants as an additional source of information to navigate.

Freestanding trees and shrubs, for example, usually lean away from the main direction of the wind, i.e. mostly to the east. But, there are exceptions to this rule, as on slopes or in valleys. Moss growth is another indication of direction. Moss usually grows on the northwest side of trees, rocks, etc. This is due to the simple fact that it grows in damp areas (rain usually comes from the west) and where it is shady the longest. Since the sun never shines from the north, we think you can put the rest of this scout wisdom together yourself.

You can also use snow as an aid to find your way. The snow on the northwest side of trees stays visible for the longest period of time. Why? This goes back to the same “north-south” principle that applies to moss: because it usually snows from the west and the snow melts the fastest on the south side of trees, it remains on the opposite side the longest.

Conclusion

If you’re planning your next adventure or have already packed, we definitely recommend you think about taking a map and compass in addition to your GPS device. Also, don’t forget you can always use the other options Mother Nature has given us for free! That said, have fun and get home safely from your next outdoor adventure!

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