All posts with the keyword ‘Trailrunning’

HOW TO CLEAN AND CARE FOR HIGH-QUALITY GORE-TEX® PRODUCTS PROPERLY

12. November 2020
Care tips, Tips and Tricks

GORE-TEX® products are particularly robust and durable. To make the most of these benefits for as long as possible, regular care of clothing is essential.

This is the only way to ensure that the dry treatment always performs reliably and can optimally protect the ambitious hiker, mountaineer and outdoor enthusiast from adverse weather conditions. This article is dedicated to the cleaning and care of GORE-TEX clothing. You can find an article on the correct care of shoes in separate care instructions.

How to correctly care for GORE-TEX® clothing

In order to avoid unnecessary strain or even damage to the fabric in the washing machine, it is important to close all zips. This applies to the front zip as well as to all pockets with zips and ventilation zips. You can then put your clothing into the machine without hesitation. The optimum result is achieved at a temperature of 40° C with a little liquid detergent. Nevertheless, the manufacturer’s care instructions should always be followed before washing. After washing, rinse sufficiently clear to remove all detergent residues. Powder detergents, fabric softener, stain remover and bleach should never be used as these can clog and attack the membrane.

In order not to wrinkle the clothes too much, it is best to keep the spin cycle as low as possible. Ideally, you should also avoid washing heavily soiled clothes together. If dry cleaning is required, it is important that this is carried out with a distilled hydrocarbon solution. In addition, before drying a water-repellent dry treatment should be sprayed on.

Drying and ironing clothing

GORE-TEX® is best air-dried. As this is not always easy, particularly in cities where you have a lack of space, you can also use a tumble dryer. The clothes should be dried at a warm temperature. Once dry, put into the dryer again at a low temperature for about 20 minutes on a gentle cycle. This reactivates the water-repellent dry treatment of the fabric and allows it to regain its full protection.

By using the tumble dryer, additional ironing is generally no longer necessary. However, if you haven’t used a tumble dryer, ironing at a low temperature and without steam is recommended. To protect the fabric sufficiently, place a cloth between the clothing and the iron The heat generated by ironing always reactivates the permanent dry treatment (DWR).

The water-repellent dry treatment of the clothing

If the water-repellent dry treatment of the individual garment can no longer be reactivated, it is possible to add additional dry treatment. This is usually available from shops and retailers offering GORE-TEX® garments.

GORE-TEX® gloves – how to care for them properly

Generally, GORE-TEX® gloves can be washed by hand in warm water. For more detailed information, you should also consult the manufacturer’s care instructions. If there is leather on the upper material, make sure to keep these areas free of soap. After washing, press the water from your fingertips to your wrist. Do not wring as this may damage the material!

To dry the gloves, place them or hang them with the fingertips pointing upwards. The gloves can also be tumble-dried at low temperature and steam-ironed warm. As with clothing, it is advisable to place a towel between the outer fabric and the iron.

The correct care and cleaning ensures a long life for GORE-TEX® products

Clothing, shoes, gloves: proper, regular care of individual GORE-TEX® products extends the life of the dry treatment and if necessary, reactivates it. This, in turn, results in more fun off-road and offers adequate protection against wet and cold on a wide range of tours. So after the tour, invest a few more minutes in cleaning so your equipment is ready for the next trip!

LIGHT UP THE NIGHT: TIPS FOR FINDING THE RIGHT HEAD TORCH

10. November 2020
Buyer's guide, Equipment

Watching the sunset from the summit is a wonderful thing – romantic, dreamlike and sometimes breath-taking.

But as the daylight slowly fades, you face a problem: without additional lighting, the descent can be difficult and even dangerous.

And because you might need to use your hands for other things than holding a torch, a head torch often makes the most sense.

Here’s some tips on what you should consider when buying one: (more…)

VEGAN ON THE GO – ANIMAL-FREE PRODUCTS FOR OUTDOOR PEOPLE

5. November 2020
Equipment

It’s an unavoidable topic nowadays: the issue of sustainability dominates the outdoor market like no other. Manufacturers have put the concept of “social and ecological responsibility” on their agenda, obtaining certifications such as bluesign or developing their own. This is, of course, very welcome!

With this background, product lines for vegetarians and vegans are now also being developed. As this is becoming increasingly topical, every now and then a customer asks, “What vegan items do you have in your shop?” We wanted to explore this question…

Vegan for your feet – walking boots

One of the first things that comes to mind when talking about vegan outdoor equipment is probably shoes. Of course, leather is ubiquitous in trekking boots and walking shoes, so this is particularly problematic when looking for animal-free alternatives. However, its not just the material itself that can pose an issue. The devil is in the details and for example, the adhesive used on the shoe may contain animal protein.

Fortunately, there are companies that have recognised the need for vegan alternatives. LOWA, for example, is conquering the hearts of all wanderlust vegans with its own product line. A textile/synthetic material is used for the upper and the built-in GORE-TEX membrane makes the shoes waterproof. The Swiss outdoor company Mammut offers a very similar design with its T Aenergy models. The shaft is made of two differently structured polyamide yarns, which makes it abrasion and tear resistant. Gore-Tex ensures that the shoes remain waterproof. In the Approach footwear segment, the Vegan Award goes to Salewa, whose Wildfire series also manages without animal components. For climbing shoes, Red Chili also offers vegan versions with the Durango VCR and Durango Lace, and last but not least, the The One by SO ILL should also be mentioned.

And today, you don’t have to sacrifice good performance just because you wear synthetic shoes. Leather shoes are very durable, but the development of synthetic shoes has progressed so far that, with the right care, they too can be a faithful companion for a long time. Genuine leather adapts to the shape of the wearer’s foot but expands over time. This does not usually happen with synthetic leather or synthetic shoes. They retain their shape. Synthetic shoes are also particularly suitable for everyday use, as they are very easy to clean and do not require the intensive care of a leather shoe.

Vegan on top – what to look for in clothing

Vegan outdoor equipment does not stop at footwear, although this is probably the area where the issue is most relevant. There are also a few things to keep in mind when it comes to outdoor clothing.

The big elephant in the room is ‘down’. This comes from geese or ducks, so is not vegan. The alternative is synthetic fibre. This insulation technology based on polyester has now also progressed so far that there are numerous jackets and thermal layers that can keep up with their down counterparts and even surpass them in some areas. The key concept is ‘thermal performance with moisture’. Companies such as The North Face are trying to imitate the structure of down. In marketing speak, this is known as “Thermoball“.

Generally, you will be able to see in the attributes on our product page, whether animal components have been used. It will say “contains non-textile elements of animal origin”.

If you’re interested in the ecological production of clothing and the sustainable conservation of resources, you should look out for products made of recycled polyester. Production from melted PET bottles consumes between 50 and 70% less energy than the conventional production of a chemical fibre from crude oil. Some brands such as Bleed (which also explicitly offers vegan clothing), Klättermusen, Patagonia and Vaude already have such products in their range.

You should take a look at the label, which will explicitly state whether recycled content is used. The American outdoor outfitter Patagonia, which has long been a pioneer in the industry when it comes to environmental protection, has gone one better. Patagonia operates its own take-back system. This means that customers can bring their clothes back to the shop or send them to the factory and new clothes will be made from them again. Patagonia also offers to repair broken or damaged clothing to prevent products from ending up in the bin too soon. Pyua from Kiel has also specialised in this and takes back goods after use. This creates a cycle in which outdoor clothing made of synthetic fibres is always reworked into new garments after use.

Back to the Roots – Back to natural fibre

You can even go one step further and use natural fibres. I know what you’re thinking, “Do clothing made of natural fibres and sweat-inducing activities really go together?” At first glance, you might think that you’ll start to smell quickly, and for a long time the idea was considered unthinkable. Until now, base layers have been made of microfibres that had to be treated with nano-silver to prevent odour formation.

But it works. The Swedish company Fjällräven has used its reliable G-1000 material since its foundation. Today, although it is no longer 100% cotton, it is still one third cotton. The big problem – at least from an animal perspective: many Fjällräven models feature leather applications and the wax that makes the clothing weatherproof contains beeswax.

Lundhags, on the other hand, offer polycotton technology similar to Fjällräven, but models such as the Women’s Gliis Jacket and the Lomma Jacket forego leather appliques. However, this synthetic hardshell material is still not quite up to the job in terms of rain resistance. And you still need to check carefully here, as polycotton is occasionally offered in a waxed version.

Vegan food on tour

Of course, there is also the issue of nutrition. After all, what would a hike or trekking tour be without a snack to keep you going? Anyone who has been a vegan for a long time probably has a good idea of what works and what doesn’t in terms of nutrition anyway. But of course there are also companies who supply suitable trekking food, such as Adventure Menu, BLA BAND, Lyo Food, Innosnack and Chimpanzee –to name just a few.

In case of doubt, check the ingredients list, as this will tell you exactly which ingredients are in the product.

At the end of the day…

…whilst vegan clothing and outdoor equipment are not yet dominant in companies’ product lines, they have at least made it onto the radar in recent years. And fortunately, it’s even reached well-known companies who produce high-quality animal-free products. In light of the fact that more and more people are changing their lifestyles, this is certainly a welcome development.

You can find vegan products by searching for ‘vegan’ and then filtering. Or, simply follow the link below:

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Walking, hiking, trekking…: the language confusion guide

8. June 2020
Alpinetrek-Experts

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

Walking is not just walking

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

Awkward German and cool anglicisms

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking

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

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

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

Hillwalking

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

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

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

Trekking

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

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

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

The location can also be used to differentiate:

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

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

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

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

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

Long distance walking

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

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

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

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

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

Pilgrims

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

Speed hiking

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

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

(Nordic) Walking

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

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

Fastpacking

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

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

Creative and exotic disciplines

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

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

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

keep-your-merino-in-good-sh

Merino wool – the functional fibre in detail

23. June 2020
Equipment

At the end of the 1980s, many outdoor fans considered functional clothing made of synthetic fibres to be the ultimate products – after “normal” wool and cotton had become obsolete due to their “unsuitability”. At that time only a few pioneering companies in the outdoor sector such as Icebreaker, Smartwool, Woolpower and Ortovox were using merino wool. Nowadays however, almost all outdoor clothing manufacturers offer products made from this “new wool”. The merino sheep has become the favourite animal of many sports and outdoor enthusiasts. Once you have worn merino wool clothing, you will not want to go without it again. But what is so special about this natural high tech fibre? In the following we will take a closer look at merino wool and its properties:

Where does merino wool come from?

Merino wool is a natural product obtained from sheep’s wool – indeed, from the wool of merino sheep. The animals originally come from the North African plateaus of the Atlas Mountains and are now among the oldest and most hardy sheep breeds in the world. merino sheep lived there in extreme, often adverse weather conditions of the kind you only get when you spend all four seasons up in the mountains. They had to – and still have to – withstand extreme temperature fluctuations of minus 20 to plus 35 degrees in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. That’s why they have a coat, which is perfectly adapted to such harsh conditions. In the Middle Ages the sheep reached Spain, where their wool was sold as valuable “Spanish wool”. In the 18th century, the first merino sheep were exported to Australia, which has since become the largest global exporter of this precious commodity, along with other wool-producing countries such as New Zealand, South Africa and South America.

What are the properties of merino wool?

Merino wool has a number of natural and very beneficial properties:

  • It doesn’t itch.
  • It warms when it’s cold.
  • It cools when it’s warm.
  • It warms when wet.
  • It does not develop unpleasant odours even after being worn several times.
  • It is water and dirt repellent.
  • It is particularly lightweight with a high heat output.
  • It has natural UV protection.
  • It does not accumulate electrostatic charge.
  • It’s flame-retardant.
  • It doesn’t crease.

These are all excellent qualities when it comes to producing functional clothing for outdoor activities. First let’s look at the most important features in detail and find out why merino wool has these properties.

Why doesn’t merino wool itch?

Merino sheep belong to a breed of fine wool sheep. The coat of these sheep is made up of very fine, soft and highly curled hairs with a fibre thickness of only 16.5 to 24 microns (the fibre thickness of wool fibres is expressed in microns; 1 micron corresponds to 1 micrometre, i.e. 1 thousandth of a millimetre). This means that the fibres of merino wool are only about half as thick as “normal” wool fibres and only a quarter as thick as a human hair. The finer the wool fibres are, the more they bend when they touch the skin. While thicker wool fibres hardly bend at all, merino fibres curl with up to 40 directional changes per centimetre. As a result, the nerve endings of the skin are much less irritated and there is no unpleasant itching. The human sensitivity limit, above which fibres are perceived as scratching, is around 25 microns. This is why normal wool is perceived as scratchy, while merino wool feels pleasantly soft against the skin.

How does merino wool warm when it’s cold?

Merino wool has excellent insulation properties in cold weather. This is due to the ingenious structure of the merino fibres. The fibres of merino wool consist – in relation to their total volume – of up to 85% air. The fine, wavy fibres lie so loosely on top of each other that air chambers can form between them. And as air is a poor conductor of heat, it provides excellent insulation – against both cold and heat.

The effect is comparable with double-glazing on windows. The air between the two panes has an insulating effect – both in winter and summer. Merino wool is not warming itself, but it prevents body heat from escaping by enclosing insulating air cushions. It keeps the heat of our body where we need it when the ambient temperature is cold. In addition, the merino fibres have fewer contact points with the skin due to their strong wave and therefore dissipate less heat. In a nutshell: The advantage of the curled fibres of merino wool is that more insulating air is bound in and less heat is emitted.

How does merino wool cool when it’s warm?

The human body has a natural air conditioning system. In warm temperatures or during intensive physical activity, we start to sweat. The body secretes moisture in the form of sweat to cool down and keep the body temperature at a constant level.

Merino wool supports this natural bodily function perfectly. It functions like a second skin, which further enhances the cooling effect. On the one hand, the air cushions in the merino fibres insulate not only against cold but also against warm ambient air. And on the other hand, the fibres behave uniquely towards moisture. The level of moisture management that they achieve has never been reached with any artificially developed textile fibre. The fibres of merino wool can absorb up to a third of their own dry weight in moisture – for synthetic fibres, the value is less than ten percent. The fibres owe their high moisture absorption capacity to their chemical structure. They are hygroscopic, which means they can bind moisture in the form of water vapour, and they can do so in great quantities and very quickly. Sweat or rainwater is quickly transported to the inside of the fibre through a network of tiny channels.

At the same time, the fibre surface remains dry because it is water-repellent. This is why merino wool still feels dry even when it has absorbed a lot of moisture. Amazing, right? The hygroscopic fibres function like a storage tank that optimally balances the moisture fluctuations in the environment.

Warm ambient air now ensures that the moisture absorbed inside the fibre evaporates on the outside of the garment. However, for the process of evaporation – i.e. the transition from a liquid to a gaseous state – the water molecules need energy. They extract these from the nearest ‘body’ – the merino fibres – in the form of heat. The fibres cool down, causing the skin and the body to cool too. This process is called evaporative cooling, and it causes a pleasant cooling sensation on the skin.

Synthetic fibres, on the other hand, can store almost no moisture in their interior. This results in a particularly rapid transport of moisture to the outside. This causes a build-up of heat and the body reacts by increasing sweat production to induce cooling. Of course, this needs correspondingly more energy, which is then no longer available for performance – for example during sporting activities. Studies at the University of Graz have shown a higher lactate increase in athletes who wore synthetic fibre textiles. All in all, the natural function of merino wool also contributes to a higher physical performance – what more could you want?

How does merino wool warm even when it’s wet?

Compared to cotton or synthetic fibres, merino wool retains its good material properties well even when wet. Unlike a cotton t-shirt, a merino shirt does not stick unpleasantly to the skin when it gets wet. And in a sweaty merino garment, you don’t experience any unpleasant shivering either, as you would when you take a break on the summit in a synthetic t-shirt. But why?

Ultimately, this warming effect in a moist state is also based on the ability of merino fibres to absorb moisture. When moisture is absorbed, an exothermic process takes place, which generates absorption heat. That means that the fibres heat up when they absorb moisture. Sounds incredible, right? But it’s true! Merino wool actively warms as long as it absorbs moisture. This is because the protein molecules of merino fibres release energy in the form of heat when they come into contact with water molecules – enough to cause a temperature increase of up to ten degrees, depending on the quality of the fibre.

This process continues until the wool fibres are saturated with water molecules. A slightly damp merino baselayer can therefore generate heat, whereas a layer that is completely soaked from the rain cannot. But even then, the merino part still keeps warm – due to the frictional heat of the fibres that is generated mechanically during movement. But, with light rain it actually makes sense to wait a short time before putting on a waterproof jacket. If the merino t-shirt gets slightly well, it will start producing warmth.

The warming process works best if the merino functional clothing is completely dry beforehand, because then the fibres can best exploit their potential for absorbing moisture. It is therefore sensible to completely dry the garment before starting an outdoor pursuit – especially in winter. This is best done in a warm room with the lowest possible humidity, such as a room heated by a stove or central heating. Spare clothes made of merino wool should be packed in a waterproof stuff sack or a plastic bag before your trip, so that the wool fibres cannot absorb moisture from the ambient air. After all, you only want them to warm up when you put them on!

Why doesn’t merino wool smell even after wearing it several times?

The unpleasant smell that we often perceive on ourselves and our clothes is not actually sweat. Fresh sweat is odourless. We first start smelling when the skin bacteria begin to break down the sweat into its individual parts. Sweat provides nutrition for them, and they like to multiply especially in warm and humid regions – like the armpits. Of course, sweat and skin bacteria also settle in our clothing, so these – at least if they are made of synthetic fibres and do not have an odour-inhibiting treatment – will also start to smell unpleasant at some point. So why are garments made of merino wool different?

Synthetic fibres have a smooth surface to which sweat and bacteria can adhere particularly well. Merino fibres have a scaly surface, almost like a tiled roof. The bacteria don’t stand a chance. In addition, the fibres absorb the moisture of the sweat so quickly that the bacteria do not even have time to break down the sweat. The water-repellent fibre surface also prevents the development of a humid climate, which the bacteria need to grow.

Finally, wool fibres have a specific fibre protein (like all animal hair) – keratin – which breaks down the bacteria responsible for the bad smell. Merino wool therefore has a natural antibacterial effect – and its permanent, because the effect doesn’t weaken. Even the silver ions incorporated in synthetic fibres, which are intended to inhibit odours, cannot match this ingenious biological function. But that’s not all! To perfect this mode of action, merino fibres also have a mechanical self-cleaning effect. This is because the core of the fibres consists of two different cell types that can absorb different amounts of moisture. This means that they swell unequally when absorbing moisture. This results in constant friction, which the fibres use to continuously clean themselves.

Why is merino wool water and dirt-resistant?

Even though merino fibres can absorb relatively large amounts of moisture, their fibre surface is water and dirt repellent. This is because the fibre contains the wool grease lanolin. When the wool is processed, a large proportion of this is washed out, but some remains on the fibres. The wool grease acts as a protective layer. Dirt and odours stick to the fibre surface and can’t penetrate inside. Lanolin can also have a pain-relieving effect on rheumatic joint complaints, which is why people who suffer from this like to wear woollen clothing. Due to the strong curling of the fibres, water drops only have a very small surface area to attack and simply roll off due to their surface tension. This works in exactly the same way as with certain plants, which have fine hairs on the surface that ensure that water drops roll off.

Merino wool in the outdoors – are there only pros? Or are there cons too?

We’ve probably spoken enough about the advantages of merino wool in the outdoor sector. For all the reasons mentioned above, it should be clear this “high-tech wool” is particularly well-suited to outdoor use. In summary, merino fibres are true all-rounders that do what is needed in every situation – they warm when cold, they cool when warm, they warm when wet, they do not develop any unpleasant odours and last but not least they feel pleasant on the skin. With this flexibility, merino wool garments are naturally perfect for outdoor activities. Because no matter whether it’s warm, cold, wet or dry outside – when you’re outdoors, you need clothing that is just as flexible as the weather we’re exposed to.

Above all, the temperature and climate regulating properties of merino wool are a huge advantage in many outdoor situations. The body temperature always remains at a comfortable level despite different temperature conditions and different activity levels. And these are common conditions – especially in the Alps. Changes in the weather or temperature play a major role when you’re covering hundreds of metres in altitude. You might be sweating in the valley, but once you start rising up to the breezy ridge, you’ll start to shiver. And when you need to take a break at the summit, a material which can warm when wet is invaluable. The temperature-regulating wool is also ideal for activities such as cycling, ski mountaineering and skiing, where activity levels and temperature conditions vary greatly as you go up and down the mountains.

The odour-retardant property of merino wool is particularly beneficial when you are out and about for long periods and aren’t able to wash. On a trekking tour or backpacking trip, where you are travelling with the least possible weight, you’ll want to take merino clothing which can be worn for an unlimited period of time. After all, it takes quite some time until they smell strong enough that you feel the need to wash them. And thanks to the elastic fibres, a merino shirt won’t crease much even if it’s squashed into your backpack for days on end.

Basically, there are almost no limits to the use of merino wool garments in outdoor activities. Whether you’re a keen train runner, climber, yogi or just want something for everyday wear – the material is simply great. However, there are a few disadvantages that should be mentioned. Merino fibres are not as robust or resistant to wear and tear as other natural or synthetic fibres.

If you wear a pure merino wool t-shirt under a heavy backpack, it might damage the fabric. If weight and pack size are your most important considerations, synthetic fibre garments usually perform better. They also usually dry faster. Sometimes clothing made of pure merino wool can feel too warm in summer despite their cooling properties. And last but not least, there are particularly sensitive people who find that merino wool is itchy.

However, the outdoor textile industry has now found possible solutions to eliminate these disadvantages of merino wool – by using fabric blends.

What types of fabric blends are there?

The current outdoor trend is to combine merino fibres with other natural fibres such as silk or synthetic fibres. Synthetic fibres include synthetic fibres such as polyamide and polyester, but recently also synthetic fibres that are artificially produced from natural cellulose – such as Lyocell or Modal. This allows the strengths of the natural and synthetic fibres to be combined to get the best of both worlds. Different materials are used depending on the manufacturer and application.

For example, Icebreaker adds a small amount of elastane to its merino base layers. This is not a classic blended fabric, but a sandwich construction that ensures that only pure merino wool lies next to the skin. The addition of elastane makes the fabrics more tear-resistant and durable, as the fabric can stretch more under mechanical stress instead of tearing. As even finer wool fibres can be used in this way, the fabric feels more comfortable, especially for sensitive people, than fabrics made of pure merino wool. At the same time, the fabric has a pleasant stretch effect as well as a mostly body-hugging fit.

Ortovox and Icebreaker also offer collections which use Lyocell fibres together with merino wool. Lyocell is the generic fibre name for a fibre made from bamboo wood. It is marketed by the Austrian fibre manufacturer Lenzing AG under the brand name Tencel. The addition of Lyocell or Tencel gives the fabric a pleasantly cooling effect on the skin, which is of course particularly beneficial in summer. The Lyocell fibres have a particularly high basic moisture content, which does not feel wet but cooling on the skin. Furthermore, the material is more durable and long-lasting.

Modal, for example, is used by Ortovox to complement merino wool. Modal is made of beech wood cellulose and has a particularly smooth surface. As a result, Modal fabrics feel very soft and have a silky feel. It is especially loved by those with sensitive skin.

Falcon and Angel produce outdoor clothing with a mix of merino wool and silk. These textiles also feel very soft and pleasant on the skin. Silk also gives the garments a shimmering sheen.

If you choose garments made of blended fibres, however, you should look carefully: blended fibres can be used for two reasons: either to improve the functionality of the material or to reduce costs by using a cheaper material. If the proportion of merino wool is too low, the good properties of merino wool fibres are then lost somewhat.

How sustainable is merino wool?

When it comes to sustainability, it is also worth taking a closer look when buying a product. On the one hand, merino wool is by nature a very sustainable material. On the other hand, however, there are certain problems in animal husbandry, which are among the unpleasant aspects of wool production. But first of all, let’s look at the advantages of merino wool in terms of sustainability.

Merino wool is a naturally renewable raw material. Merino sheep can be sheared up to twice a year and produce up to ten kilograms of wool per animal. Furthermore, compared to the production of synthetic fibres, the production and processing is particularly low in resources and environmentally friendly. Synthetic fibres are produced using crude oil, which requires a large number of chemicals and the use of large amounts of energy. Moreover, synthetic fibres are almost completely non-degradable. Synthetic clothing takes 30 years or more to decompose.

This means they end up in landfill after use. Products made of pure merino wool, on the other hand, are biodegradable without any residues. You can just throw them on the compost heap. A merino t-shirt buried in the ground will completely decompose within 90 days and can then be used as fertiliser. Furthermore, merino wool has natural properties such as its UV protection or odour inhibition, so it doesn’t need any environmentally harmful chemical additives. This is because the “technology” is already contained in the fibre. Last but not least, the self-cleaning function of merino fibres also protects the environment, as the garments do not need to be washed as often.

However, animal welfare is not always the top priority in merino wool production. In Australia and New Zealand, there is an issue with fly maggot infestation in merino sheep farming, which can cause the deadly disease, myasis. The animals are virtually eaten from the inside. In warm temperatures, such as those found in the Australian summer, the flies lay their eggs in the poorly ventilated skin folds on the anus, which are smeared with faeces and urine. In Australia – the country with the most merino wool producers – a brutal method is unfortunately used to prevent fly maggot infestation – mulesing.

This involves surgically removing a plate-sized part of the skin folds around the anus, tail and vulva of lambs up to eight weeks old. This is usually done with a hot cutting device, without anaesthesia and while the sheep is fully conscious! The wounds are not treated, but must heal and scar by themselves.

Great pain is inflicted upon the animals during this bloody and mutilating procedure. Studies show that the sheep still flee their tormentors 113 days after such an operation – that’s how traumatic this experience is. At present, there are very few uncontroversial alternatives to solve the problem of fly maggot infestation. Particularly because the fly maggots were probably – just like the merino sheep – only imported to Australia and New Zealand during the colonial period. More complex and expensive methods include regular shearing of the skin folds around the anus, regular checks of the sheep and timely medical intervention in case of infestation. Animal welfare activists therefore demand the targeted breeding of sheep with fewer skin folds on the buttocks. In fact, Australian merino sheep were deliberately bred to have more skin folds and thus a higher yield of wool.

In view of these gruesome facts, when buying a merino product you should consciously make sure that only mulesing-free merino wool was used. This is guaranteed by the ZQUE seal of the New Zealand merino industry, for example. Many companies such as Icebreaker or Ortovox also state exactly where they get their wool in a traceable way. Merino wool that does not come from Australia or New Zealand is always mulesing-free, as there is not the problem of fly maggots.

Most outdoor companies such as Icebreaker, Ortovox, Bergans, Woolpower, Smartwool, Rewoolution, Devold and many others do not use wool if mulesing has been practised. If you are unsure, you should contact the manufacturer or dealer. If a merino garment is a very reasonable price, it may be due to the practising of mulesing. It is worth taking a closer look and maybe spending a little more. In return, you’ll get flawless quality and support the species-appropriate keeping of merino sheep.

Still have questions?

Whilst this seems unlikely with the amount of information provided, there will always be more questions. As it is always important to ask questions, you are of course welcome to contact our experts in customer service. They are available during the week on +49 (0)7121/70 12 0 or by email. Alternatively you can of course leave a comment below the post.

Thinsulate – the life of a product family

5. June 2020
Equipment

If you spend a lot of time outdoors and aren’t a fan of the cold, you’ll know that a good fleece is worth its weight in gold. Warm gloves and a comfortable beanie also go a long way to improving your wellbeing. So today, we’d like to introduce a material that is not only often used in fleece clothing, but has also been on the market for decades: Thinsulate.

 

 

 

But what actually is Thinsulate? Where is it used and what can it do?

Thinsulate Insulation is a microfibre material from 3M, which is known for its excellent insulating properties. A brief look at the history of this fleece fabric shows that it has proven itself for decades. 3M was already experimenting with microfibres in the 1960s. Thinsulate Insulation technology was first used in skiwear in the 1970s. When the 1988 Winter Olympics were held in Calgary, Canada, Thinsulate got involved. In the course of the 1990s, 3M expanded the Thinsulate Insulation product family and since then has been synonymous with a wide range of materials used in a variety of areas, from occupational safety to sports and fashion. The product family continues to impress today with lining material in winter clothing and sleeping bags as well as material for beanies, balaclavas and gloves.

A little material science

Thinsulate Insulation consists of a material made of polyester or a blend of polyester and polypropylene. Thinsulate’s distinctive feature comes from the fact that its made from considerably smaller fibres than conventional polyester materials. With a diameter of about 15 micrometres, Thinsulate fibres are about ten times smaller than other synthetic fibre. This means the fibres can be processed with a very high density. The tight structure reduces the heat flow between the individual fibres. As a result, body heat is reflected by the fibres and the material keeps warm even at low temperatures. According to the manufacturer, Thinsulate should provide 1.5 times more warmth than down of the same thickness. The material is also breathable and moisture-repellent.

Application areas and product variants

Thinsulate Insulation is a product family that is divided into several different material types. Different types, with tailored properties, are used depending on the application. The following types are mainly used in outdoor and mountain sports:

Type B

This material is extremely robust and thin. With its high durability and good insulation performance at low thickness or in compressed condition, this is mainly used for footwear.

Type C

Thinsulate Insulation Type C is particularly suitable for leisure and outdoor clothing. This fleece material offers very high insulation performance and feels very comfortable. Its low weight and the thin material makes the material especially good for jackets, beanies and gloves.

Type P

Type P material combines numerous good properties. The material is not only very warming and robust, but is also very easy to maintain. This makes it perfect for clothing, which is subject to challenging conditions outdoors.

Type FR

Type FR is flame retardant. Therefore, it is mainly used in work clothing, as well as sometimes in outdoor wear.

Type TIP

This material is used in bedding such as duvets and pillows, as well as in sleeping bags. As it puffs up, it provides not only effective heat insulation, but also a high level of comfort at a low weight. The material can also be washed in a washing machine at up to 60 °C.

Care

In general, all Thinsulate products are easy to clean. They can be simply washed in a washing machine. However, as products such as jackets and sleeping bags often contain several different components, it’s important to observe the manufacturer’s instructions. Companies such as Nikwax, Holmenkol or Toko also offer detergents that are suitable for washing outdoor clothing. The exact method for washing the product can be found on the washing label on the product.

In short…

Warm, soft and fluffy are words that can be used to describe many Thinsulate products. They offer a range of excellent properties which can be utilised in different applications to provide optimal comfort. From shoes to sleeping bags, Thinsulate Insulation is a technology that has been established and proven over the decades. In addition, Thinsulate materials are breathable and moisture-repellent. This makes them ideal for use in harsh and adverse conditions and ensures the products have a long service life.

Any questions? If so, feel free to ask our experts in customer service. Hannes is our Thinsulate expert. He is available during the week from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. and can be reached by phone at +49 (0)7121/70 12 0 or by e-mail.

Altitude sickness – prevention and treatment

7. May 2020
Tips and Tricks

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

Altitude sickness: the symptoms

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

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

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

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

Symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS)

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

Symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE)

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

Symptoms of high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE)

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

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

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

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

High-altitude pulmonary edema

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

How can altitude sickness be prevented?

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

How is altitude sickness treated? Are there medications?

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

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

Coca tea in the Andes

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

Oxygen deficiency and the symptoms

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

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

A few closing words…

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

The supposedly easy choice of the right outdoor socks

8. April 2020
Buyer's guide

Walking socks – not a lot to talk about, right? But if you take a look at any manufacturer’s description of their latest high-tech socks, you’ll probably lose all hope. Hundreds of material combinations, plus a wide variety of yarn counts and innovative product treatments make the once ordinary knitted sock from yesteryear a product that now requires a great deal of advice. It might be hard to believe but choosing the right outdoor socks is an underestimated task.

What should walking socks do?

The first question is: are you looking for socks for hillwalking, which are normally worn with mid-cut, lightweight and breathable shoes? Or are you shopping for more serious trekking tours where you’ll be carrying a heavy backpack? Or do you need socks for a winter hike?

Die richtige Outdoor-Socken findenFirstly, there is a right answer for all these uses. In general, however, an ideal sock should protect the foot from friction and therefore, from blisters. It should offer cushioning around the heel, support for the ball of the foot when rolling and it should quickly transfer moisture outwards. This last point is particularly important, because you lose up to a quarter of litre of moisture in sweat from your feet every day.

It makes sense then that the vast majority of manufacturers of functional socks rely on synthetic fibre materials whose core competence is the transfer of sweat. These make the perfect team with a suitable pair of Gore-Tex shoes. In addition, there are various proportions of elastane (for stretch socks), merino wool (and not just for the feel-good factor) as well as treatments of all kinds (e.g. Polygiene) to prevent odours and more.

Sock Buying Essentials

Point 1: a wrinkle-free fit! No matter what kind of trip you’re planning for, your socks – thick or thin, synthetic fibre or merino wool – must fit perfectly. If they wrinkle at the toes or anywhere else, this results in unpleasant friction and pressure points, which can lead to blisters. Good shoes mean nothing if your socks don’t fit.

Die richtige Outdoor-Socken findenPoint 2: with or without padding? As a rule of thumb: the heavier bag on your back, the better the padding on your socks should be. There is a wide variety of designs – with more cushioning in the heel area, the midfoot and/or the toes. For summer day trips in low mountain ranges, you can definitely go for a thinner pair with little or no padding. If you’re heading off on a trekking tour with a tent and sleeping bag on your back or walking in winter, you should pick a thick pair of socks and also make sure the padding fits well for you!

Point 3: the material. Polyamide, polyester, merino, elastane? This is a personal choice. All materials have their own pros and cons, it’s all about the perfect blend. Polyamide, for example, is generally more abrasion resistant than polyester and is mainly used in particularly stressed areas such as the heel and toes. Merino at the ankle and midfoot provides comfort and padding, while a stretch-polyester blend on the instep improves fit and breathability. In addition, there are inserts which increase the compression pressure to promote blood circulation. Every company has their own recipe for the perfect outdoor socks!

Trivia and practical tips and tricks

Three simple questions to find the perfect socks:

  1. Which season am I walking in? This helps decide whether the socks should be thin or thick and whether they should have a higher content of virgin wool (in winter).
  2. wool_compression_socksWhat kind of touring am I planning? A hiking tour with light footwear? Then a mid-cut pair with little to moderate padding is recommended. A difficult mountain or trekking tour? Then go for a shin-high pair with more padding. Ski touring or trail running? Compression socks can be very useful.
  3. What kind of shoes am I wearing? Even the most breathable pair of socks isn’t much use if you’re wearing full leather shoes. Socks with a higher proportion of virgin wool and padding to reduce friction and pressure points would be appropriate here. For breathable and lightweight Gore-Tex shoes on the other hand, I prefer socks with Coolmax, Fibretech or similar polyester/polyacrylic fibres.

I shouldn’t complain either when my good old cotton socks feel like heavy, wet rags after 800 metres of ascent because of dripping sweat. The right combination of shoes and socks makes the biggest difference – and this is something that everyone has to find for themselves.

And last but not least two comments on frequently asked questions: Never wear freshly washed socks! this may sound disgusting to cleanliness champions, but there’s a serious reason behind it: detergent residues in the sock fabric can attack the sensitive foot skin and when mixed with sweat, can cause irritation. You can easily avoid this by wearing your walking socks at home after washing and before the next trip.

The second point is about the debate on wearing two pairs of socks at the same time. I don’t want to take sides at this point, but I’ll weigh up the advantages and disadvantages from my own experience. When military service still existed and young recruits had to march 30, 40 or 50 kilometres with luggage, we were instructed to wear two pairs of socks if we had problems with blisters. And lo and behold, I have never had problems with blisters – despite or perhaps even thanks to wearing two pairs of coarse cotton socks together.

In my own time, I enjoys hikes and hill walks in a proper, modern pair of walking socks – and lo and behold, they were also great. The most important thing is that the socks and shoes fit perfectly. Recently, I was embarrassed to have problems with pressure points whilst mountaineering (admittedly, I was wearing pretty new mountaineering boots). And who would have thought it, all my worries were forgotten with a second pair of socks…

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

10. July 2019
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

How does the odour get into our clothes?

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

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

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

What is Polygiene?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does it work?

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

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

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

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

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

What are the advantages of odour reduction?

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

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

Why Polygiene is sustainable

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

Health

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

Resource consumption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

20. March 2019
Care tips

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

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

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

When is a repair worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

How do repairs work? What are the possibilities?

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

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

Alternatively, the following three options remain:

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

Exceptional case: Warranty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the manufacturers that replace soles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any questions? Feel free to comment below!

What is skyrunning?

28. February 2019
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skyrunning disciplines: steep, fast and long

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

“Vertical”

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

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

“Sky”

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

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

“Ultra”

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

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

Training for your first Skyrace

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

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

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

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

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

What to do about ticks?

19. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

What are ticks?

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

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

Behaviour

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

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

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

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

Range and habitat

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

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

Why are ticks dangerous?

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

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

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

What diseases can be transmitted by ticks?

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

TBE

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

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

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

Lyme disease

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

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

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

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

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

Migrating redness: The red ring

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

Countermeasures: Prevention

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

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

Behaviour

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

Clothing

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

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

Always good: be as healthy as possible

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

Chemicals

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

Vaccination: only for TBE

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

Natural remedies: black cumin oil and coconut oil

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

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

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

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

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

Got bitten anyway: Defensive countermeasures

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

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

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

Infected or not?

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

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

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

Antibiotics

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

 

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