All posts on this topic ‘Tips and Tricks’

Tips for Great Outdoor Photos

14. November 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

1. Wait for the golden hour

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

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

2. Lines guide the eye through the photograph

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

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

3. Change your position often

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

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

4. Having people in the photograph reinforces the perspective

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

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

5. Wide-angle lenses enhance perspective

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

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

6. You can take fantastic pictures in the dark

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

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

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

7. Longer exposure times open up new possibilities

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

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

8. Obstructions in pictures can be interesting

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

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

9. Incorporate reflections into the image

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

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

A brief explanation of technical terms in photography

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

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

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

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

Camping in winter: Getting used to the cold

26. October 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

Cold-exposure training: Body and mind

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

Training your body

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

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

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

Training your mind: Acceptance and acclimatization

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

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

Damn, it’s still so cold!

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

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

Mini digression: What is cold?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drinking/melting snow

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

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

Cooking

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

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

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

Fuel

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

Cold exposure training: Clothing

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

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

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

Adapting to the cold – Your sleeping bag

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

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

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

Liners and VBLs

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

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

Hot water bottlesor heated rocks

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

Sleeping mats

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

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

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

Adapting to the cold – Your tent

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

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

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

Location

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

Tent setup

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

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

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

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

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

Heating your tent

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

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

Summary

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

How to trim your climbing skins properly

23. October 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!

Speed Hiking – Hiking at top speed

8. August 2018
Tips and Tricks

Speed hiking – If you’ve spent any time at all online lately reading about any topic related to the outdoors, you’re bound to have run into this term at some point or another. Still, as ubiquitous as it might be, the exact meaning remains unclear to a lot of fans of the great outdoors. As the name suggests, speed hiking means hiking rapidly over rocky terrain both on and off trail. In football terms: Speed hiking is to normal hiking what Gareth Bale is to Per Mertsacker.

Both are excellent football players, but the former is quite a bit faster. Or, even better: Speed hiking is to normal hiking what the Flash is to the Hulk. Ok. I’ll stop with the comparisons. Allow me to be more specific: Speed hiking consists of several elements from other outdoor disciplines, but mixes them up, gives them a good shake and rolls the dice anew, creating a brand-new outdoor experience that you’re bound to love! In fact, you could say, it’s the best of many worlds. If you want to know more about speed hiking and why it’s greater than just the sum of its parts, keep reading! We’ve got a lot to talk about.

What is speed hiking, anyway?

Zooming through nature on foot sounds a lot like trail running, doesn’t it? Well, no it doesn’t! Even though speed hiking has a few things in common with trail running, many of its aspects are much different. Like what?

Well, trail running usually describes a fast run on hiking trails or mountainous terrain that is limited to a specific time or route. And, of course, you’re running most of the time. A speed hike, on the other hand, can be any length, from short bursts to extended multi-day trips in the mountains and even overnight stays in huts. Plus, in contrast to running, neither speed, running times nor your overall athletic performance in comparison to others plays a role.

True, speed hiking is high-paced walking, but you don’t necessarily have to be running the majority of the time, as you would when running the trails. Speed hiking allows you to linger a bit and take your time. Instead of PRs, KOMs, etc., your own personal limits are your benchmark. Speed hiking allows you not only to get to know and experience your own body in a different way but also to discover the great outdoors. Whilst a trail runner usually goes at it alone, speed hiking is oftentimes a collective experience – be it with your partner, friends or family.

Before we put this comparison of disciplines to bed, here’s just one more difference: Whilst trail runners often head out to the trails with some functional garb, a running pack and very little gear, speed hikers take equipment along as well. Depending on the length of the trip, they could have a backpack, GPS device, maps – basically anything you’d have for a hill walk as well.

The core of a speed hiker’s gear is their walking poles, which give hikers an extra boost on the uphills and take the strain off of your joints on the downhills. If you’d like to know more about speed hiking gear, you can have a look at our upcoming post on the topic! We’ll keep you posted!

Wait, did you say walking with poles? Is speed hiking just a cooler way to say you’re Nordic walking? Again, a resounding “no!” Whilst walking describes a more intense type of walking with poles on mostly flat terrain, speed hiking is quite a bit faster and takes place on much more technical terrain. Depending on your knowledge and experience, you may even go really high up in the mountains.

Speed hiking is not just some simple hybrid of different outdoor activities. In addition to experiencing nature, you also get quite the workout, one that trains a variety of muscle groups. In fact, the specific way you move when speed hiking trains your entire body, since you incorporate your legs, upper body and core.

Because of how hard all those different muscles have to work, speed hiking is considered to be quite the physically demanding cardio workout! It trains your endurance and cardiovascular system. Plus, you also work on your muscle coordination and balance in the process. Despite how physically demanding speed hiking can be, it is still very relaxing. In addition to experiencing the great outdoors, there’s a lot of things to love about speed hiking. For one thing, there’s no competition – no PRs, KOMs, or the like. You can just go at your own pace, enjoy yourself and let your mind be at ease. By the way, since you use poles when speed hiking, the activity itself isn’t as hard on your joints as, say, running is, either!

Who’s speed hiking for?

Basically anyone can become a speed hiker. Regardless of whether you’re young, old, athletic or a couch potato, the sport is easy to do. Speed hiking is for everyone! But, if you end up being completely exhausted for days after an easy speed hike, then you should definitely build up slowly.

Fortunately, it’s really easy to do thanks to the various levels of difficultly the sport allows for. I know I said that speed hiking is for everybody, and it is; but be careful. If you’re not all that active and get your 10,000 steps a day only in the virtual world of computer gaming, it’s very important to go to a specialist in sport medicine for a check up first. They’ll be able to tell you what your body is capable of and what you can do to get started.

Preparation

If you want to try your hand at speed hiking, we recommend taking baby steps. Don’t try a multi-day trip through the Alps or something mad like that. Speed hiking over tough terrain and at altitude can put your body under too much strain and even cause permanent damage in some cases.

Before starting, it’s also important to listen to your body and take a break if you can’t keep it up. Afterwards, make sure to slow down too, so that the same thing doesn’t happen again. If you get really exhausted, start cramping, have pain in your joints or major shortness of breath, it’s probably a good idea to call it a day. The same applies if there’s a severe weather warning or you see a storm coming. That being said, it is important not to go too far out into the wilderness or plan too long a trip so that you can make it back safely.

When speed hiking, it is absolutely essential to estimate the distance correctly as well. Since you’re moving more quickly, you’ll be covering larger distances in shorter periods of time. This means you’ll be demanding more of your body per hour than you would on a normal hike. To make sure you don’t put your body under too much stress, it is extremely important to plan your route beforehand.

Check the distance on a hiking or walking map. Also: Consult a walking guide book, as they can provide very important information on elevation, terrain, difficulty, where you can take breaks or even sleep for the night. Again, don’t take on too much and allow yourself enough time to take breaks and enjoy the great outdoors. By the way, for certain hiking regions, there are even speed hiking-specific guide books available.

Keep your pack as light as possible and keep your gear to a minimum. Pack everything you need but remember that every extra gram will seem heavier than it would on a normal hike. Another tip that I often ignore myself: make sure you break in your new speed hiking shoes thoroughly beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with hot spots and painful blisters and nobody wants that.

And where can you go speed hiking? That’s entirely up to you! The only restriction? It’s got to be outdoors in nature! For beginners, it’s always a good idea to go somewhere in the vicinity. If you don’t live anywhere near high mountain ranges, just go to the popular walking regions in your area. When you improve and get to know your body and its abilities, you can then venture out to higher and more difficult spots. Simply put: Start small. Head out to lower mountains and leave the Alps to the professionals. In terms of distances, day-long speed hikes range anywhere from approximately 8 to 30 kilometres, with shorter distances being in the 8-12k range and the longer distances between 20 and 30k for more intense adventures. You can always hike shorter distances, if you want. More experienced speed hikers often combine day-trip routes to make their trip into multi-day adventure.

Regardless of where your hike takes you, remember these three things: forget about the stresses of everyday life, enjoy the outdoors and have a good time. That’s the most important advice I can give you!

Antagonist training: Exercises for boulderers and climbers

8. August 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

What is antagonist training, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

Case 1: Improving shoulder stability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exercises for rotator cuff:

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

Important:

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

Exercises for the adductors and shoulder stability:

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

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

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

Important:

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

For the trapezius, deltoids and rhomboid muscles

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

Important:

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

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

Important:

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

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

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

Important:

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

Case 2: Strengthening your fingers and wrist extensors

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

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

For your finger and wrist extensors

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

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

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

Case 3: Paying more attention to your legs

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to set up your tarp with and (almost) without hardware

8. August 2018
Tips and Tricks

Tarps are extremely versatile sheets of material that you can use in various ways – be it as a sunshade, shelter for you and your gear or as a makeshift tent. The problem is: they can be quite tricky to set up, especially when you start watching all the Buschraft and survival hack videos on Youtube where the instructions are far from being comprehensible and in all actually merely based on the YouTuber’s personal preferences. If you then consult instructions provided by bloggers or the manufacturers themselves, you’ll often find them saying that the possibilities are virtually endless.

That’s all well and good, but instead of more detailed information, you usually get advice first, like decide whether your tarp should serve as a sleeping area, a briefing area, sun shade or wind protection.

But, what if I want my tarp to tick off multiple items on that list? How about you tell me which knots to use for a particular setup instead? Yeah, there’s really no end to my list of complaints, so let’s just get started, shall we?

Keep it simple

Setting up a tarp may seem daunting at first, but the good news is: All you have to do is understand the basic setup and all your remaining questions will be answered (more or less)! Once you’ve understood the basic construction, it will be relatively easy to do, even with all the variations mentioned above. Assembly and disassembly should go off without a hitch.

To keep things simple, we’d like to teach you how to set up a tarp without all the poles, pegs, guy lines and the like. That way, you won’t be completely helpless if something breaks during your holiday. Plus, you’ll be able to leave all the little metal and plastic bits at home and save some weight as well!

The basic construction

Here’s the basic construction: you have a square tarp with eyelets or the like at each of the four corners to which a long cord is attached. And a single person who sets it up. The tarp is spread out between four trees that just so happen to be standing about two metres away from the corners of the tarp. A short time later, the tarp is pulled tight between these trees, shielding you from the rain. This is the setup we’re going for.

Where to set up your tarp

The first step is to find a suitable place to set up your tarp. The same criteria apply to selecting a site for your tarp as for a tent: Find a natural windbreak and avoid water-related issues. Other than that, the site should be spacious enough for you to sit or lie down comfortably and offer enough anchor points to secure the tarp.

The site should have at least four fixed points, or one cliff edge or the like along with three other anchors. If you only have three, one corner of the tarp will always flutter in the wind and/or hang in rainwater.

It’s always better to look for a potential site in advance than to find out later you don’t have enough space to put up your tarp or that the lines are too short and you have nothing to extend them with. Which is why you should know the dimensions of your tarp and the length of the lines!

This may sound trivial, but it’s not, especially if you borrow the tarp last minute or are travelling with a friend and use your their tarp (the tarp set up with two or more people can make things easier or even super complicated – more on that later).

The setup: Spread out your materials

Once you’ve found your ideal site, spread out everything you’ll need for assembly and move anything that might get in the way off to the side.

  • Got your pegs and poles?

The best way to go about this is to make use of the things Mother Nature has to offer, especially since you can save the weight of your poles and pegs. The downside to using the little things you find along the way is that they usually don’t allow for as much flexibility as the artificial stuff. Not to mention, tent poles and pegs save you a lot of time.

When travelling in mountainous areas at higher altitudes, it can be especially hard to find suitable “tree constellations”, strong enough branches or enough heavy rocks. That being said, when planning your trip, you should definitely take the terrain into account as well. If you’ll be travelling for a longer period of time and don’t know were you’ll be setting up your tarp, you should take a set of at least one (telescoping) poles and two or three small pegs. If you have walking poles with you, you can use them as well. Pegs can be made using (sharpened) sticks and branches found in denser areas of the forest.

  • Guy lines

If you don’t have any (more) guy lines, you shouldn’t rely on the cords you’d find in a DIY or craft shop because they’re either not capable of withstanding the high stress, are often too stiff, don’t last very long or fray very quickly. Your best option is to use thin accessory cords with a 3-4 mm diameter (3mm accessory cords have about 1.8 kN or 180 kg breaking strength. Heavier loads would make the tarp itself more likely rip than the cord). These cords can be cut to the appropriate length (melt the ends with a lighter to prevent fraying).

Paracord is also supposed to be well suited for tarps, and many survivalists swear by it, but since I don’t have any experience using them, I can’t confirm that claim. Due to my lack of personal experience with Paracord, the following comparison is based on theoretical impressions only: Accessory cord is more static and has a rougher texture, which facilitates knotting and tensioning. However, opinions vary widely on this topic. My personal opinion: You probably won’t even notice the pros and cons of either one in 90% of tent configurations. If you’ve had experience with both, feel free to leave a comment below.

Spread out your tarp

Spread out the tarp and the guy lines as smoothly and neatly as possible – toward the anchors you’re going to secure them to. If it’s raining, you can already slip your backpack or other unneeded material underneath tarp to keep them dry. If it’s windy, weigh down or secure a corner of the tarp first, or even better: the entire side facing the wind.

Then lift the corners of the side facing away from the wind one after the other and secure them. Since a tarp is usually not built to withstand strong winds, it should lie relatively flat in really windy conditions. The side facing the wind should then extend all the way down to the ground to prevent the wind getting through.

Anchors

Here’s some more good news: Almost anything that has some weight to it can be used as an anchor, be it larger rocks, roots, cliff edges, fences, poles driven into the ground or even a bag filled with something heavy.

You can secure the tarp to your anchor by either tying a knot within the anchor point or by wrapping it around it and then tying a knot. Both options require knots that can be tied under tension and remain in position without slipping.

Knots

The knots you use should be as easy to tie, adjust and remove as possible. The knot you choose to use depends on the situation.

Fortunately, for most situations, there is one do-anything super-knot. With this super-knot, you can secure, adjust, move and loosen almost any rope or cord without any additional tools – even around huge anchors.

If you haven’t figured out which knot it is yet, it’s high time you acquainted yourself with the clove hitch. Most climbers and mountaineers have mastered this knot anyway, since it is used for fixed climbing anchors and crevasse rescue as well as all sorts of other situations. It can be placed directly around tree trunks, branches, stones and other anchor points.

Make sure you’ve really mastered it though, meaning you can tie it upside down, in the dark or even blindfolded. The clover hitch is the simplest knot for setting up a tarp and has the fewest weak points.

In some situations, though, tying a clove hitch can get a bit awkward. For example, when tying a line around a tree, as shown in the video, the taut line hitch knot recommended by the tarp manufacturer Hilleberg may make more sense.

It is easier to adjust and release. However, the knot shown by Hilleberg with its additional loop is actually a taut line hitch plus a loop knot. Without this extra loop, it is not easier to open than the clove hitch. And the loop must be opened to move or adjust it.

In short: the taut line hitch is best for use on lines under tension. It is great when the length of a line needs to be adjusted periodically in order to maintain tension as well.

In general, the tarp setup should be as simple as possible and require as few knots and as little material as possible – which, as was already mentioned, always constitute weak points in the structure, even though it goes without saying that extras, such as adjustable line runners, are very useful and convenient for more complex and high-quality tarps like those from Hilleberg.

One anchor point after the other

With the help of the two knots mentioned above, you can set up your tarp basically however you want and even adjust the height if necessary – pretty cool, right? As a rule of thumb: After each step, add some tension to the setup so that it can withstand gusts of wind, but leave it loose enough so that the tension doesn’t hinder your next step.

If you’ve got your line, your eyes on the anchor and have mastered the knot, the procedure is almost self-explanatory: you secure the tarp to the anchor points one after the other, adding some tension along the way before you finally pull the tarp taut to the desired angle and the correct height. The worse the weather, the lower and the flatter the tarp should be.

Setting up a tarp with walking poles

If you only have fixed points on the ground, use poles. First attach the tarp relatively loosely to the pegs or other fixed points on the ground, then slip the poles under the tarp to prop it up and get it in position. For stability and good use of space, the poles usually have to be pushed back and forth and the angle adjusted.

Drive the tips of walking poles into the ground whilst keeping the grips in close contact with the fabric of the tarp. Then make minor adjustments to the anchors on the ground by shifting the clove hitch knots. Pretty self-explanatory, one might think. Well, believe or not, some people set up the poles first and then wonder why everything collapses when they try to secure corners…

Possibilities, possibilities…

A tarp has a lot of possibilities, but here’s our short summary of what we find important :

  • When setting up your tarp, make sure that the sides are not the same height – otherwise rainwater could accumulate on the tarp. The slanted roof can be set up with the help of trees, poles or a cord stretched across. The open, unprotected side can be used for easy access to your campfire.
  • the tarp must be taut enough to avoid fluttering or “sagging” in the wind, as rainwater could accumulate here as well.
  • if it’s going to rain, you should build a little drainage channel whilst setting up your tarp so that the water flowing down cannot get underneath the tarp.
  • (Walking) poles are very well suited for making ridges. By the way, we also recommend using another kind of mat or pad to put under your sleeping mat for protection from moisture and dirt

The ridge gives you an array of possibilities, especially if you have a larger or hexagonal tarp. It allows you to divide your tarp up into two or more “sections”. The ridge is a line formed by the surfaces at the top of the tarp, creating sloping sides to allow the water to run off and to reduce the shaking caused by strong winds.

High-quality tarps such as those from Hilleberg usually have eyelets or the like with guy lines at the corners and on the sides for more options.

First, takes the corners and add tension as you normally would. Then, pull the tarp to the desired angle and add tension to the centre of each side, and your ridge is finished. If there are no eyelets for this purpose, you can use a separate cord instead and pull it underneath the tarp along the desired line. Of course, you would need to select your anchor points for this extra line beforehand.

Setting up a tarp higher up

If you want your tarp higher up, you should ponder the following questions: Do you want to be able stand upright under the tarp and/or have enough room underneath for a fire? If the answer to these questions is a yes, then tie the end of the guy line(s) to a peg bag with some pegs in it for added weight and throw it over a high branch. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pull the bag so that you can secure the tarp using a clove hitch to another anchor point at ground level.

If you can reach the higher anchor point safely by climbing, you don’t need to worry about the second one. Alternatively, the end of the line can also be wrapped in a tree using a walking pole or branch. Try to prevent the line rubbing up against the bark – for the sake of the material and the tree.

Improvisation

If there aren’t any eyelets or the like (e.g. because they’ve been ripped), you can bunch up the material into a sausage-like shape in the appropriate place and tie it together with a square knot. You can then use the opening for your guy line. The easiest way to attach them is by tying a square knot.

If two lines have to be connected (e.g. for extra length), these can be connected with a square knot with a loop in it. With the extra loop, the knot can be released, even under heavy loads. The Hilleberg video above illustrates this very nicely. Of course, it’s always better to have a few guy lines that are long enough to suit your needs.

Taking your tarp down

Taking down your tarp is just as important as setting it up. Let’s assume the following: you’re travelling with two or more people, have a larger, hexagonal, trapezoidal or otherwise oddly shaped tarp and have to take it down in bad weather. If possible, you and your mates should know well in advance, i.e. before taking it down, how you plan on folding it, if it should be folded at all and who’s responsible for what.

If you don’t figure out everybody’s roles beforehand, you’ll end up barking orders at one another whilst getting pelted by wind and rain. And if you’re both just set in your ways, it could get ugly! In other words, plan in advance, work together and most important of all: have fun and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors!

Hand and skin care for climbers

26. April 2018
Tips and Tricks

They’re the most important tools we have for climbing: Our hands. And because they’re so important, it’s crucial that we take good care of them. There are basically no calluses, scrapes, gashes, cracks or blisters a climber isn’t familiar with, and every single one of them is usually quite painful. What can you do to prevent such injuries and what’s the best way to take care of your fingers after a hard day at the crag or your local climbing centre? Well, I’m glad you asked!

What kind of injuries can you get from climbing?

A callus (or callosity) is a toughened area of skin that has become thicker because of repeated friction. This may sound bad at first, but it’s something climbers strive for. Callused skin is stronger and keeps the other layers of skin protected as well.

One downside, however, is that callused skin is less flexible, dries out more quickly because of chalk and tens to fray and rip when not cared for properly. Once a rip is there and it starts bleeding, it pains me to say that it’s time to take a break from climbing. Unfortunately, your skin needs some time to recover and it can’t do that if you keep climbing. The bit where your fingers bend on the inside of your hand is a particularly at-risk area, since calluses are often smashed together because of pressure and movement. These raised areas are particularly likely to rip.

Preventing injuries to your hands

As a general rule, it is important to make sure you have your calluses under control. The best way to do this is to file down the raised bits, like around where your fingers bend, with a file or a rasp. Ripped areas can be filed down as well as long as they aren’t bleeding. Basically, you can do this whenever you feel like it. Just be sure have a piece of sandpaper with you to treat the area in question.

The first signs that you’re getting a blister is a burning sensation and slight redness in the same area. To remedy this, it can be helpful to relieve that area of pressure, meaning stop climbing for a day or two so that your skin gets a break. Blisters can take significantly longer to heel.

Skin care plays an extremely important role in all that. Many manufacturers, such as Climb On, Metolius, Joshua Tree or KletterRetter make lotions designed specifically for climbers to give them just the right amount of moisture and/or oil to keep them smooth.

You can also prevent injuries to your hands by using the proper gripping technique. This means: Always try to position your hand on the hold so that your actively holding it and not just hoping for enough friction.

What to do when it happens

It’s hard to keep a cool head in the heat of battle, but it’s even harder to give up at the crux just because you feel like you’re getting a blister or hands are getting a bit torn up.

So, even despite your best efforts to prevent blisters and skin rips, you can still get skin injuries. However, when tend to your battle wounds, it’s important to be patient and treat them according to what type of wound it is.

  • Blisters: If you get a blister, let it heal without popping it. Yes, you heard correctly! You shouldn’t pop it because the sensitive layer of skin underneath could get infected. If the blister’s already popped, you need to disinfect it and put a plaster on it.
  • Rips and cuts: Regardless of whether your callus rips off or you cut your hand on a needle-sharp hold, it can get bloody and the best thing to do is to just stop climbing for a bit. Why? Well, every time you put more pressure or strain on the affected area, it will tear more and take longer to heal as a result. If you simply can’t go without climbing, you can use some strong tape to keep the wound together. But before doing this, do make sure to clean and disinfect it, if at all possible.
  • Punctures: These usually occur on sharp holds as a result of too much pressured being applied to your hand. These wounds are usually easy to treat. Clean, disinfect and tape it up and keep on climbing. It’s pretty unlikely they’re rip open again.

Whatever injury you’ve sustained, it’s probably a good idea to take a break, especially when it comes to deep gashes, since they can take a while to fully heal. Besides, if you start climbing too soon, there’s always the risk of them ripping open again.

The proper treatment

The first thing you do after a hard climbing session is go to the sink. Well, ok. Maybe a beer, tea or coffee first, but then go straight to the sink and wash off all that chalk. Why? Well, the chalk causes your skin to dry out. After removing all the chalk, moisturise your hands with some rich lotion.

If you tend to sweat a lot, you won’t need as much lotion. Instead, make sure your hands are dry before you start climbing because the sweat will make your hands soft, which in turn makes them more prone to injuries.

Now, if you haven’t already today, go out and climb!

Wild camping in Germany - verboten or not?

Wild camping in Germany – verboten or not?

21. June 2018
Tips and Tricks

For lovers of the outdoors, there’s nothing better than sleeping under the beautiful night sky and really feeling that connection with nature, is there? And, it really doesn’t matter how you go about it. No matter whether you prefer a sleeping bag and sleeping mat, a simple bivvy or a tent, the important thing is that you get a good night’s sleep without being woken up next morning by some ranger or opening your sleep-ridden eyes to the muzzle of a hunter’s gun. If you unwittingly camp somewhere where it’s not allowed, you could wake up to an unpleasant surprise – be it in the form of shock or a really expensive fine. Yep, you guessed it. We’re talking about Germany, the land of rules and regulations, where oh-so many things are strictly ‘verboten’, especially when it comes to camping. To help clear things up a bit, we’d like to provide you with some insight into German regulations on wild camping.

Some general info on wild camping

Let’s just start off by saying that the legal situation regarding wild camping and sleeping outdoors in Germany is pretty much as clear as mud. Thus, the aim of this post is to provide some insight into said legal situation, but the information provided here is by no means exhaustive, nor does it claim universality or profess to be legally valid. If you’d like more detailed information on the topic, we recommend you read up on nature conservancy and forestry laws in the particular German state you plan on camping in. And, already we’ve stumbled upon the first problem: what is allowed and what is not is regulated by the individual federal states. Ah, the wonderful German bureaucracy.

As a general rule, we can say: In nature reserves or so called Naturschutzgebieten, such as national parks, biosphere reserves or biotopes, camping is strictly prohibited. The coastal areas of Germany are also considered to be separate protected areas, so camping on beaches or dunes could end up being quite expensive as well. The basis for this regulation is the Federal Nature Conservation Act (Bundesnaturschutzgesetz) and the specific regulations at the location in question, such as those concerning designated paths and explicit prohibitions on camping, which can be found on prohibition signs in any given area. Another (nearly) universal rule is that you may sleep on private property or private forest land with the permission of the owner of that land.

The so-called right of access or Betretungsrecht states that forests and fields, be they private or not, may be accessed for purposes of recreation as long as you abide by the general codes of conduct put forward for purposes of nature conservation. According to Article 59 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act, everybody “shall be permitted to enter the open landscape on roads and pathways and on unused land areas” for purposes of recreation. Since sleeping is, strictly speaking, an integral part of recreation, it, too, should be permitted. In other words, dozing under a tree for a few hours, or even overnight, is not explicitly prohibited here. Only staying for longer periods at one location is prohibited. When a brief stay turns into a long one is a legal grey area. Sleeping – not camping in nature is thus neither prohibited nor permitted.

Camping in a tent or bivouacking?

As you’ve probably already gathered, sleeping outdoors can mean different things. The law differentiates between sleeping in a tent and bivouacking or sleeping without a tent (e.g., with just a sleeping bag/sleeping mat, hammock or make-shift (unfixed) shelter). When talking about the Betretungsrecht (right to access), I am referring only to sleeping outdoors without a tent, which is much less problematic than camping in a tent. Why? Well, in contrast to camping in a tent, there are absolutely no explicit regulations regarding camping in a bivouac.
To make things even more interesting, German law divides “the outdoors” up into different categories as well. There is the forest and what they refer to as the “open landscape”, and different protection laws apply to each of these depending on the federal state in which they’re located. The following is a brief overview of what you’re allowed to do where.

Can you camp in a tent in the forest?

No. Here, too, both the Federal Forest Act as well as the state laws in the individual federal states apply. As a general rule, we can say: Camping in a tent in the forest in Germany is verboten! In some German federal states, simply going off the designated forest paths at night is prohibited. If the forest area in question belongs to a private individual, you would need a permit to access it. Otherwise, it would be trespassing. In the state of Berlin, you should also be careful when bivouacking, for – in addition to tents – shelters and tarps are prohibited without the consent of the landowner.

Can I camp in a tent in the ‘open landscape’?

Yes and no. According to Article 44 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act, open landscapes are regarded as areas outside the forest – where an independent right of access applies – and outside settlement areas. There is no passage that explicitly prohibits camping in a tent in the open landscape. But, since it’s often difficult to know in Germany whether you’re on private property or not, it’s best not to pitch your tent in the open landscape, especially if you’d like to avoid the scenario illustrated at the beginning of this post. Simply because there is no prohibition according to state law doesn’t mean that camping in a tent in the open landscape is permitted. Of course, if you’ve already obtained a permit from the landowner to do so, you can embark on your journey to your destination without a worry!

In Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hamburg, Hesse and Berlin, for example, camping in a tent in the open landscape is not explicitly prohibited, either. However, in Lower Saxony, Saxony, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia and in the Saarland, wild camping in the open landscape is prohibited everywhere without exception. In Bremen, it is prohibited to camp on fields, but other than that, there is no explicit prohibition. In Brandenburg, camping is permitted for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and those travelling on water, provided that they are authorised under private law and not in conflict with any special protection regulations (Article 49, BbgNatschG).

What are the alternatives?

If you want to sleep in the great outdoors and would rather err on the side of caution, there are a few alternatives in Germany. The alternatives we’re referring to here are those closest to wild camping or bivouacking in their purest form – far removed from designated campsites, huts and other rest stops.

They may be few and far between, but there still are Naturlagerplätze in some parts of Germany, which will be familiar to fans of Scandinavia in the far north. These are small, open areas for a small number of tents that can be reached on foot or by bike. They are designed to be used for one or two nights at the very most. Some are outfitted with composting toilets, fire pits and cooking areas. These sleeping areas have been in Germany for a short time as a project initiated by the internet forum outdoorseiten.net e.V. in the Eifel. You can book them in advance and use them for a small fee of 10 Euros. And, the cool thing is you get more than just a place to pitch a tent – seating, a quiet little place to relax and wooden platforms will really make you comfortable and want to enjoy the fresh air.

There are also designated Naturlagerplätze in Schleswig-Holstein that are made available by both the state itself as well as private landowners. The page Wildes Schleswig-Holstein (available in German only) provides all the info on the camping areas you need.

Popular among fans of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains is what climbers call Boofen. Boofen is basically sleeping in the open air under an overhang in the sandstone rock or a cave. But, it is important to remember that you are still in a national park, so there are certain regulations you should be aware of. Fire is not allowed, and you will be punished if caught. And yes, they do keep an eye on you! It is strictly prohibited to sleep outside of these designated areas as well. There are approximately 57 designated Boofen.

Conclusion

The first article of the German Federal Nature Conservation Act should be ingrained in all of us:

“In view of their own value and as a human life support, considering also our responsibility towards future generations, nature and landscape both inside and outside the areas of human settlement shall be conserved, managed, developed and, where necessary, restored […]”

It is by no means our aim to lecture our readers, but we would just like to emphasise the fact that we should consider ourselves guests in the great outdoors and try to behave accordingly. When we’re out there, we should try to put the principle “Leave No Trace” into practice, regardless of whether we’re on private property or not. Don’t leave rubbish behind, make noise, if there’s nowhere to go to the toilet, be sure to bury the results of your bowel movement when you’re finished, and you should refrain from anything that would permanently alter the area (e. g. making fire on a meadow without a fire pit, sawing down trees for firewood, etc.). And, of course, you should leave the area behind just as you found it – regardless of whether you slept there or not.
The fact that the laws regarding wild camping in Germany – be it the woods, open landscape or private property – are extremely complicated and hard to understand will come as a surprise to nobody. Still, it is very important to get all the information about the rules and regulations in the state you’ll be travelling to beforehand. But, just as important as familiarising yourselves with the local laws is using good ol’ common sense. If you ask a private landowner nicely to set up camp at the edge of the forest or sleep in your sleeping bag for a short night in a lonely part of a field and promise not to leave a trace, he or she might just let you!

Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog post is not to encourage you to set up camp anywhere and everywhere but rather to provide you with some basic facts. The information provided is subject to change, and we cannot guarantee that it is 100% complete or accurate.

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