All posts with the keyword ‘Trekking’

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

13. Juli 2018
Equipment

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

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

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

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

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

Waterproof shoes with GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort

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

Walking shoes with GORE-TEX® Performance Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

Open sole, side openings or side ventilation

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

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

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

 

An overview of Scandinavian outdoor brands

11. Juli 2018
Buyer's guide

Table of contents

Scandinavia and the outdoors – a match made in heaven. Rodane, Hurrungane, Sarek and Kebnekaise are all music to the ears of outdoor enthusiasts. Scandinavia is home to just about as many outdoor enthusiasts as it has great destinations. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but the message remains the same: Being outdoors is the Scandinavian way of life.

If you’ve never heard this before, allow me to put it into perspective. In Norway, where according to surveys almost 90% of the adult population are outdoor enthusiasts, you can climb jagged peaks high above a fjord and cross plateau glaciers on skis. In Sweden, you can go hiking or dog sledding, and in Finland you can enjoy the sauna and do some crazy winter swimming! Neither snow, rain, cold, wind or darkness can stop you! In Scandinavia, you embrace the great outdoors no matter the weather!

Despite some of the clichés mentioned above, it’s no secret that Scandinavia has a lot to offer when it comes to outdoor activities. In fact, the people of Norway live by a philosophy of getting outdoors and connecting with nature that goes beyond anything the people of Central Europe are familiar with: Friluftsliv is what they call this concept, this way of life. It’s such a big part of their culture that you can even study it at university.

Considering how rough the climate is up north, Scandinavia’s enthusiasm for the outdoors couldn’t just be rooted in the love of some free-time activity. In fact, their connection with nature goes much deeper than that – it has much more to do with the absolute necessity to adapt. After all, who would want to be trapped in their room for six whole months waiting out the winter? The Scandinavians wouldn’t. There’s a reason that old adage “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” comes from Scandinavia of all places. And, the Scandinavians know a thing or two about clothing. In fact, a large number of Scandinavian manufacturers have dedicated themselves not only to making “proper” outdoor apparel of the highest quality but also to supplying outdoorsmen and women with everything else they need to enjoy the stunning landscapes between Denmark and Finland.

In the following, we’re going to try our best to put together an extensive, but certainly incomplete overview of the bigger and smaller outdoor brands of the North, all of which are primarily known for apparel but really know their tents and camping gear as well.

What are the big brands?

Most fans of the outdoors and Scandinavia will probably think of the brand with the red polar fox first: Fjällräven. Even though Norway is usually associated with the wind-whipped mountainous areas known as “fjäll”, the Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven really lives up to its name, producing clothing that is built to withstand the adverse conditions in both countries. When it comes to their clothing, the Swedes have a very high standard and they rarely fail to deliver. Not only are the opinions of experts a testament to this fact but those of their customers are as well.

Thus, the reputation of their backpacks, tents, sleeping bags and textiles has been impeccable since the 1960s. This is due in large part to their use of extremely tough, functional materials for designs that have never conformed to any fashion trends. That’s not to say that their designs aren’t aesthetically attractive. On the contrary: they boast a clean, distinctive style that is even appealing to those who have nothing to do with the outdoors.

Because Fjällräven gear is so timeless, durable and produced in accordance with strict social and environmental standards, the sustainability of their products speaks for itself.

There’s probably no brand better known outside of the realm of outdoor and mountain sports than this Norwegian label: Helly Hansen Their elegant jackets and bags may be becoming staples in cities around the world, but it wouldn’t be fair to reduce them to a streetwear label. Clothing and accessories from Helly Hansen are made for an unbelievably wide variety of activities, from sailing to skiing to working on oil rigs.

What are the classics?

In Norway, many of the founders of the outdoor companies we’re talking about today were and still are old hands in the outdoor world and dedicated practitioners of the friluftsliv way of life. This is true of Bergans as well, which also happens to have one of those classic founding stories. After going on a hunting trip, the avid hiker and hunter Ole F. Bergan was extremely disappointed in his clothing and thus took it upon himself to create something better. And, that’s exactly what he did. Since the company’s founding in 1908, Bergans has been a complete success. The jackets, trousers and backpacks created by Bergans of Norway have enjoyed great popularity among adopters of the friluftsliv-lifestyle all over the world.

One of the truly classic brands is the Norwegian sleeping bag manufacturer known as Ajungilak. Even though they have been taken over by Mammut, the sleeping bags with the distinctive yellow-and-black logo are still Norwegian at their core and well known for their reliability and durability.

The Swedes have a classic outdoor brand to show for themselves as well, namely Haglöfs. Founded over 100 years ago, Haglöfs has continued to pursue the very same mission they had formulated at the beginning: to protect local hikers on their adventures into the rugged landscape that surrounds them. And, apart from constant improvements to their products and a larger customer base, not much has changed about this mission since the company’s founding. Today, Haglöfs has maintained a strong focus on sustainability whilst creating a variety of products and fit options for their customers.

Keep in mind, this small selection of classic brands is completely subjective and may be modified at any time. The same goes for the insider tips below.

What are some lesser-known brands?

So far, we have only talked about the better-known Scandinavian brands of the outdoor industry. Now, let’s focus our attention on the lesser-known Nordic brands, which arguably have just as much to offer avid outdoorsman and women as those mentioned above.

It’s pretty easy to get lost in the dark and seemingly endless expanse of forestland in Sweden without the right equipment. Fortunately for us, the Swedes have a solution: Silva. The Swedish brand Silva produces exceptionally well-designed equipment for the outdoors, including head torches, compasses and binoculars, all of which are known for excelling in the worst of conditions.

Another high-end brand is the Swedish glove manufacturer Hestra. Hestra develops gloves for a variety of applications ranging from skiing to mountaineering to construction work.

Some may object, but let’s consider Iceland part of Scandinavia for the purposes of this article. That way, we can include 66° North in our list of high-quality Scandinavian brands! As the name already suggests, the brand, which was founded back in 1926, derives its name from the latitudinal line of the Arctic Circle, which, as you may know, is not known for having particularly nice weather!

The Norwegian skier Kari Traa is better known as a former Olympic skier than she is as a skiwear designer or knitter. But, truth be told, she has mastered these skills at a level comparable to her skiing! It’s pretty amazing, and women around the world have come to love the colourful and functional creations from the former gold-medal winner.

Lesser known than the last two, but a legit outdoor brand in their own right is the Swedish backpack and clothing maker Klättermusen. In addition to their sustainability credentials, the brand is known for their durable and brilliantly designed products. Interested?

The following is a list of brands that are not as well known on an international scale, but still make products of the highest quality. We’ve divided them up into groups according to their country of origin.

Norwegian outdoor brands

Within the groups of countries, we’re going to list the brands in alphabetical order. Otherwise, things would just descend into chaos! It may come as a surprise, but there are tons of fantastic Scandinavian outdoor brands that you may have never heard of before.

  • Aclima: Based near Oslo, the family-owned business Aclima is a brand like no other when it comes to environmental sustainability. Plus, they do it without sacrificing style or function.
  • Dale of Norway: If you’re looking for hand-crafted Norwegian jumpers made of 100% Norwegian wool with traditional designs, Dale of Norway is the place to go.
  • Devold: Similar to some of the brands described above, Devold is not only named after its founder but also started out manufacturing functional products for fishermen and others working in the outdoors. Today, the brand is primarily known for its high-quality jumpers and merino underwear.
  • Helsport: Sleeping bags, tents and backpacks have been this 60-year-old family-owned business’s speciality for years. Since their founding, Helsport has invented the tunnel tent, been awarded various prizes for their designs and developed gear for Norwegian expeditions to the Himalaya.
  • Norrøna: Founded in Oslo in 1929, this brand could/should be listed amongst the classics, especially considering the fact that we’ve all seen their memorable logo in one mountain sports magazine or another. And, many of us have probably heard that they were the first European brand to use Gore-Tex. Norrøna takes a back seat to no other when it comes to creating highly technical gear and clothing for alpine-style Scandinavian mountaineering.
  • Sweet Protection: Their speciality? Hardware! Yes, indeed. The Norwegians know their hardware as well. As their name already suggests, Sweet Protection’s protective gear, especially the stuff they create for snowboarding and mountain biking is not only of the highest quality, but will also make you feel safe. Another plus? It’s comfortable too!
  • Ulvang: And here’s yet another Olympic champion from Norway – In 1995, the Norwegian cross-country skier, Vegard Ulvang, brought his very first wool sock to market. Since then, he has expanded his assortment of products and established his brand as one of the leading manufacturers of merino apparel.
  • Viking Footwear: The shoes designed by this small, yet excellent brand are like a ticket to unlimited adventures in the Nordic wilderness. If we were to collect some adjectives to describe Viking Footwear, we’d probably say dry, safe, reliable and suitable for everyday wear.

Swedish outdoor brands

Even though Norway’s neighbour didn’t get quite as many spectacular landscapes, there’s no shortage of manufacturers of high-quality outdoor equipment there.

  • Didriksons Outdoor Fashion: Didriksons’ functional clothing boasts a casual flair and has proven to be quite effective in stormy coastal climates. They make everything from beanies to jackets.
  • Houdini: Named after the great magician who could get himself out of any jam he found himself in, Houdini produces functional clothing crafted to withstand the elements. Just like Houdini on the stage, the clothing from this young Swedish company are guaranteed to amaze.
  • Icebug: This lesser-known shoe manufacturer situated on the west coast of Sweden is all too familiar with muddy, slippery terrain and, as the name suggests, ice. Outdoor shoes from Icebug are built for the slippery winter streets and frozen trails of this world.
  • Ivanhoe: Name after the legendary knight, this family-owned business creates extremely high-quality (merino) wool and cotton apparel and certainly has an eye for distinctive designs. Today, the brand still makes around 80% of its products in Sweden.
  • Lundhags: Making reliable footwear for tough winter excursions has been the focus of the company founded by shoemaker Jonas Lundhag in 1932 since the very beginning. Even today, there are boots still being made according to the shell principle. But now, their product range has expanded to include jackets, trousers and backpacks for demanding adventures. Lundhags has become one of the best known and largest Scandinavian labels – and rightfully so.
  • Pinewood: Scandinavian outdoor clothing has a good reputation, but is not necessarily the cheapest stuff out there. Fortunately, Pinewood, who has been stirring up the functional clothing scene since 1990, shows that Nordic quality doesn’t have to be expensive. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
  • Woolpower: As warm and as comfortable as possible – that’s one way of describing classic Woolpower clothing. The Swedish clothing manufacturer started out with nylon tights until they developed the fabric Ullfrotté Original in collaboration with the Swedish Army. The fabric is made of 70% merino wool and 30% synthetic fibre. The former tights manufacturer is now one of the world’s leading manufacturers of comfortable functional garments.
  • Peak Performance: „Real ski clothes for real skiers“ is this innovative company’s motto. Like their colleagues from Klättermusen, Peak Performance comes from Åre in northern Sweden. The functionality and quality of Peak Performance textiles makes their garments incredibly versatile but also allows the brand to focus on creating apparel for individual sports as well.

  • Primus: This Swedish company has a long tradition of engineering outdoor cooking equipment and has had the privilege of outfitting adventurers such as Roald Amundsen and Edmund Hillary with extremely durable and reliable stoves and tableware. Today, Primus is more popular than ever and makes sure campers and adventurers get the warm meals they need, no matter where they are. Need some new cooking gear?
  • Sätila: Many Scandinavian outdoor brands are considered to be obsessed with the minor details. Well, the same can be said about the headwear experts at Sätila – and for good reason. In the wild and rugged expanses of Scandinavia, the little details are often essential for survival. And, having the right hat is a good place to start.

Finnish outdoor brands

  • Suunto: Even though the glory days of Nokia have faded into the past, the world is still well aware of the fact that the Finns know their technology. The high-end watches, compasses and dive computers manufactured by Suunto substantiate this fact. Not only are their instruments wonderful toys for outdoor lovers to play with, but they’re often absolutely vital. Thus, it will come as no surprise that Suunto has established itself as a world leader in the field of measuring instruments.
  • Kupilka: Kupilka is a brand for special outdoor tableware and cutlery made of a natural fibre composite invented in Finland that is not only environmentally friendly, but also eliminates a number of disadvantages that other materials have. They are light, robust, dishwasher-safe and won’t burn your fingers.

Danish outdoor brands

Now, let’s take a little trip down south. Yes, Denmark is also part of Scandinavia, even though it is separated from the big peninsula by Kattegat and Skagerrak. The nature here is significantly less wild than up north, but the weather can be pretty similar. At the very least, the outdoor brands know what their material is up against.

  • Nordisk: This is probably Denmark’s best-known outdoor brand. They have been offering a wide range of clothing and equipment for more than 100 years. Their focus: to create the simplest designs possible to keep the weight down and weak spots to a minimum. Many products are designed for casual wear, but there are also lines engineered for extreme adventures.
  • Ecco: The best shoes in the world? That’s debatable, I guess. But, what’s not up for debate is that Ecco is one of the few shoe manufacturers in the world that operates its own tanneries and shoe manufacturing sites and thus produces products of the highest quality for sports and everyday wear.

If you want more proof that Scandinavian outdoor goods don’t have to be expensive, you should have a look at Oase Outdoors and its three successful brands:

  • Robens: This brand manufactures everything that makes camping and being outdoors comfortable, and that at an affordable price.

  • Outwell: When you go camping with the whole family, Outwell products are the perfect choice. This brand values comfort, fun and that holiday feeling, and it comes across in their products.
  • Easy Camp: Easy Camp is another brand that puts user-friendliness and comfort first. Their products are also an incredible value for money.

Well, that’s about all the Scandinavian brands we have for you. If we’ve forgotten something or you have a favourite you’d like to share, feel free to leave us a comment. We’d be happy to hear from you!

A buyer’s guide to sleeping bags

4. Juli 2018
Buyer's guide

Down or synthetic? Mummy or rectangular? Such existential questions have been plaguing outdoorsmen and women since the beginning of time, especially when lying awake in an ill-fitting or poorly insulated sleeping bag on an extremely cold night. If this has happened to you, don’t fret – you’re in good company. We’ve all been there. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. With the help of our insightful buyer’s guide to sleeping bags, you’ll have all the info you need to sleep comfortably outdoors. In this post, we’re going to go over the following:

Area of use

There are several reasons for buying the wrong sleeping bag, including asking the wrong questions or just getting poor advice in your local shop. The first question a customer will usually ask is: “What kind of sleeping bag do I need?” A good salesman would then answer the customer with another question, like: “Well, where do you plan on going?” This is an extremely important question to ask because it will narrow down the possibilities by focussing on sleeping bags made for a particular area of use or purpose. After all, you would need an entirely different bag for Mexico than you would for the Alps, long distance hiking or a trip to Norway. Unfortunately, when it comes to sleeping bags, you’ll never find “the one” that can do it all.

Other questions a salesman might ask would be the following:

„What is most important to you? Warmth? Weight? Comfort and space? Susceptibility to moisture? Packability? Or maybe even several of these things?

Finding a sleeping bag that has many of the above-mentioned characteristics is not impossible, but it does have its price. Let’s face it: you won’t get both sophisticated technology and quality craftsmanship at some discount retailer. So, if the last question is something along the lines of „How much are you willing to spend?“, then you know you have a good chance of sifting out the ideal sleeping bag for your individual needs.

If you know where you’re going to use your sleeping, the question of „down or synthetic?“ usually answers itself. However, the decision is further complicated by the fact that there is a wide variety of down and synthetic bags of varying quality. This means that the best synthetic fibres can actually trump the seemingly more powerful, “higher-quality” down in a less than optimal model. This is also reflected in the price of high-end synthetic sleeping bags, which can be even more expensive than simpler down models.

That being said, the best thing to do would be to go over a list of criteria and rank them according to importance. So, that’s what we’re going to do now! Here are the criteria that most outdoorsmen and women would deem important:

The shape

Shape is usually the easiest criterion to tick off. When it comes to pack size, weight and warmth, mummy bags (a snug-fitting bag that tapers toward the feet) are basically the only viable option, with the occasional exception of some eggshell bags, which are wider at the hip and knees. The blanket shape (rectangular) is more intended for indoor use – for motorhomes, holiday homes or at home as a guest bed.

The mummy shape is the narrowest, so not only does it have less material as a whole, but the interior warms up the fastest as well. The eggshell may be more spacious and comfortable, but you pay for it with more weight and volume and poorer insulation. However, for outdoorsmen and women with a larger build, the eggshell shape can often be the best option in terms of function.

Temperature

“How warm is it?”, “How warm does it have to be?” This is a concern for many an outdoorsman. Coincidentally, we have already written an article with the answer, which you can find right here. Instead of forcing you to read the entire article, allow me to summarise it, with the assumption that you are a person with an average sensitivity to cold:

Think about the lowest night-time temperatures you’re expecting to encounter on your trip and choose a sleeping bag that has this temperature as the comfort temperature. Make sure it’s not the comfort limit or the extreme temperature rating. You’ll find all of these three ratings on each sleeping bag. Although the comfort limit temperature is often referred to as the “area of use“, the limit describes the lower threshold. Only under the very best conditions will it feel “comfortable”. If you find yourself in the extreme temperature range, it’ll be quite the epic night – and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Since there is an EU standard temperature rating system for sleeping bags used by almost all manufacturers worldwide, they are relatively comparable and reliable. For you, this means: Only if the air temperature is no colder than the comfort temperature will you be able to get a good night’s sleep in the sleeping bag, even in suboptimal conditions.

The categories are divided up according to the temperature range:

  • Summer sleeping bags: Comfort temperature above 12°C
  • Three-season sleeping bags: Comfort temperature up to about 0°C
  • Winter sleeping bags: Comfort temperature significantly below 0°C

Keep in mind that the temperatures are only estimates because the three sleeping bag categories are not clearly defined. Also: the category ”three seasons“ covers the majority of an outdoorsman’s needs, as it is suitable for such activities as summer hill walks and alpine mountaineering as well as summer treks in Norway and Lapland.

Those of you looking for something significantly warmer have probably noticed that such bags either have temperature ratings from the manufacturer or none at all. This is due to the fact that the testing methods employed for the EU standard only work up to a certain fill weight. If a sleeping bag has a high fill weight, it is not possible to determine a comfort temperature, so you have to rely on the information provided by the manufacturer. Fortunately, this is rarely an issue, since only reputable manufacturers produce sleeping bags of this calibre and have a reputation to lose!

Weight and pack size

Another important aspect to consider along with the temperature ratings is weight, which can be lower or higher depending on the fill material, shell material and size of the bag, among other things. Since most of the material used is for the insulation, down and synthetic fibres will dominate the discussion here. We’re not going to go into too much detail, seeing as the topic of insulation material is intricate enough to fill an entire book, but what we will do is summarise two articles we have already written for purposes of comparison (the links to the articles are coming soon):

Down

The fluffier or loftier down is, the higher its fill power. And the higher the fill power, the more air down can trap and the warmer it will be for its weight. The fill power of down is measured by placing a set mass of down into a cylinder, lowering a disc onto it in order to compress it and subsequently releasing it. The volume of the space the down fills after expanding is called fill power.

It’s measured in cubic inches, which is why “cuin” is used to indicate fill power. Down with a fill power of 600 cuin or more is considered good. 700 cuin is really high quality, and 800 cuin is regarded as extremely high quality. Although the measurement with cuin is standardised like the temperature ratings, there are differences between Europe and North America.

For example, a rating of 650 cuin in Europe would be at least 700 cuin in North America. For this reason, two sleeping bags with the same fill power value can differ in their “plumpness” or “firmness”. The sleeping bag with less will probably bear a North American logo. However, this difference does not mean that North American sleeping bags have down of “poorer quality”. You might just want to go for a higher value.

Another important value is the down-to-feather ratio. It is extremely rare to find a sleeping bag filled with pure down and no “supporting feathers“. However, in contrast to popular belief, mixing feathers in with down has little to do with reinforcing the down and much more to do with making production more economical. In fact, when it comes to large goose down, feathers actually have a negative effect on both loft and weight, increasing the latter and hindering the former. However, since hardly anybody can afford pure down, almost all down sleeping bags you’ll find on the market have a down-to-feather ratio. The first number in the ratio indicates the percentage of down, the second the percentage of feathers: there are ratios of 70/30; 80/20; 90/10 or, for high-end sleeping bags, values of 95/5. The more down, the better!

Now let’s move on to the pros and cons:

The small pack size and low weight will be something you’ll definitely appreciate when you’re lugging it around all day. The softness and balance temperature inside a down sleeping bag will keep you nice and comfortable at night. If you care for your down sleeping bag properly, it will last you a long time, even if you use it on a regular basis.

Down is more susceptible to water and moisture and when wet will lose its loft and insulating properties. Do keep in mind that the effect moisture has on down is often exaggerated, almost as if down were as sensitive as cotton candy. Your sleeping bag would have to get directly rained on or there would have to be some major dew for the down to lose its insulating properties. If airing out and drying your bag proves difficult, you can always opt for a sleeping bag with water-repellent down and a waterproof and breathable shell. But, these, of course, have their price.

You can find out more about these kinds of sleeping bags in Buyer’s Guide to Down Sleeping Bags.

Synthetic

As with down sleeping bags, synthetic sleeping bags should trap as much air as possible with as little material as possible. The more complex constructions (such as the shingle construction) usually achieve better warmth-to-weight ratios than the simpler constructions (such as the simple quilted through layers).

Because synthetic fillers insulate when wet, it’s always a good idea to opt for a synthetic bag for adventures in wet conditions. The lower price tag is another advantage synthetic bags have over their down counterparts, but in the end, this is usually offset by their lower durability.

In the short term, synthetic material is actually more resistant to wear and tear (e.g. spilled drinks or people constantly walking on their sleeping bag at festivals). Plus, in contrast to down, synthetic materials also hardly ever cause allergic reactions. And, last but not least, there is no direct link between synthetic insulation and maltreatment of animals, which is music to the ears of vegans and animal lovers. But, there are ethical downsides too, one being the petrochemical industry…

Even though synthetic fillers may have the same temperature ratings, they do tend to weigh more and have a larger pack size than down. Their long-term durability pales in comparison as well. Whilst down can be „like new“ when properly or even professionally cleaned, any damage to your synthetic bag will really destroy it. Cleaning and caring for synthetic material is much easier and quicker than down. However, unlike down, synthetic fills cannot be refilled or replaced.

Down vs. synthetic in warm sleeping bags

Here’s something a lot of people don’t know: The weight and pack size of synthetic sleeping bags goes through the roof in the “warmer” versions. Whilst there are synthetic bags with a zero-degree comfort temperature and a backpack-compatible weight and pack size, the very same model with a -10-degree comfort rating suddenly becomes a 2-kilogram monster. Why? Well, the additional amount of synthetic fibres – even the best fibres – does not result in the corresponding amount of warmth. Therefore, in order to tack on just a few more degrees of extra warmth, you’d need a lot more insulation material.

When it comes to down, it’s a completely different story: Much less additional material is needed for the same increase in insulation. Thus, you can easily find a backpack-compatible down sleeping bag with a -10 comfort rating. Another point for down.

Comfort

Comfort depends not only on the fill material and its insulating properties but also the interior space and the material used for the lining. The latter also has an effect on how dry/wet it feels and, to a lesser degree, the perceived temperature. Personal preferences play a role here as well. Some like a silky feel, whilst others prefer a more “cotton-like“ feel. Obviously, cotton is unsuitable as an a lining in an outdoor sleeping bag due to its lack of functional features.

Another important factor when it comes to comfort is the length and fit of the sleeping bag. As mentioned earlier, the mummy bag is probably the best choice for mountaineers and outdoorsman when it comes to fit. Although it is the narrowest, it can be quite comfortable, provided you choose wisely! It’s always better to choose a sleeping bag that is a few centimetres „too long“ instead of trying to save weight by taking a shorter version. Also: A shaped foot box is a great thing to have as well and even works well for those who sleep on their sides because the bag moves with you when you roll over in your sleep.

Whether there is a right or wrong side for the zip to be on is a purely subjective question and only plays a role if you’re planning on connecting two sleeping bags. When it comes to „warm“ sleeping bags, make sure yours has a a draught tube along the zip to prevent cold draughts getting in and warm air getting out.

Features

Since we’re on the subject of zips: Make sure they have an anti-snag guard (usually just a small, slightly stiffer strip of fabric) in addition to the already-mentioned draught tube so that they run smoothly. As for the length, a shortened zip that only goes down to the knees may make it less comfortable to get in and out of the sleeping bag, but it improves thermal performance and simultaneously reduces weight. It’s a great option for those who need something lighter and packable with good insulation.

  • Hood: A sleeping bag suitable for the mountains and the outdoors must have a contoured hood that can be tightened all the way, leaving a little opening to breathe out of without pressing down on your head.
  • Draught collar: Very useful when sleeping in temperatures below about 5 degrees. It is better to have to carry a few extra grams than not being able to fall asleep. A cold draught on your neck and chest can be pretty annoying. And, if there’s a big difference between the inside and outside temperature, your collar only has to be open a few centimetres to create such a draught.
  • Inside pockets: A very convenient way to keep your socks dry or your camera battery warm. There’s even room to put a small heating pad in the inside pocket, which is often located at the foot of the bag.

How to identify a good sleeping bag when you see one

What are „good“ values when it comes to weight, pack size, etc.? When choosing between two sleeping bags with a comfort temperature of zero degrees, the one with the smaller pack size and lower weight is the better one. If it is made of strong ripstop nylon and other high-quality (brand) materials, all the better. If you want synthetic insulation of the highest quality, brand-made fibres are the way to go. Primaloft, Thermo ProLoft from Deuter, Spirafil from Marmot or MTI 13 from Mammut are some well-known examples. They’re also known to have a good silicone coating, something that you can’t really verify by looking at them. This coating is extremely important, as it significantly increases the durability of synthetic sleeping bags.

High-quality techniques are the material-saving shingle construction or the one-sided lamination to prevent cold spots. An example of an excellent synthetic sleeping bag is the Hyperlamina Spark from Mountain Hardwear.

As mentioned above, the cuin value and the down-to-feather ratio are the most important aspects in assessing the quality of down. Examples of high-end, do-anything down sleeping bags are the Neutrino series from Rab or the sleeping bags from Sir Joseph.

Durability

Inexpensive synthetic sleeping bags are the best option for those of you who aren’t great at giving your sleeping bag the love and care it needs. They can take the wear and tear that comes with camping in damp places, but they won’t hold up for long. Because once synthetic fibres start to „fatigue“, they just give up. The insulation is nowhere near what it was when it was new. Down, on the other hand, can be reanimated if you wash it properly – yep, even down sleeping bags you’ve repeatedly stuffed in your stuff sack over the years.

Washing and caring for your sleeping bag

Contrary to popular belief, caring for your sleeping bag is pretty easy. The easiest way to start is on your trips by shaking it and airing it out in the morning before packing up. You can leave it out in the sun for a few minutes, too, but not too long – the UV rays will ruin the material.

When it comes to packing, do NOT fold or roll up the bag. It is designed to be stuffed. If you roll it up, you’ll damage the baffles. Unfortunately, some manufacturers ignore this fact and roll them up anyway, contributing to the false belief that you should roll your sleeping bag…

Stuff it when you’re on the move, but when you get home, store it in a large cotton or mesh sack. The more space the fill has, the longer it will last you.

Wash your sleeping bag as rarely as possible. When sleeping in your bag, you should wear long clothes or thermal underwear to make sure that as little sweat and dirt gets into the sleeping bag as possible. When it comes time to wash it, our Care Instructions for Sleeping Bags will help.

Unfortunately, washing sleeping bags can be very time-consuming, especially when it comes to down sleeping bags, so it’s easy to make a mistake. If you have a very expensive sleeping bag, we recommend getting it professionally cleaned. Professional cleaners would wash the down and shell separately, since down has to be washed at different temperatures than the technical fabric used for the shell. When you get your sleeping bag back, both the down and the shell will be like brand-new. Of course, it’s far from being cheap, but given the amount of time and energy you save, it’s definitely a viable option.

Conclusion

Finding the „the right sleeping bag” can be almost as complicated as finding “the right car”. But, we hope with our instructions, you’ll be able to find the sleeping bag that suits your needs. Then, before falling asleep, you can philosophise about existential questions instead of being distressed with existential struggle against the cold.

 

Light & Fast: Speed hiking gear

14. Juni 2018
Equipment

Speed hiking is booming. Not only is it a great way to train, but it’s also a lot of fun. But, what all do you need for this increasingly popular outdoor sport? Do beginners have to spend a lot of money on super-expensive gear to get the most out of the sport? Or will something basic be enough to get you started?

What’s the best equipment to hike with? What should I pack and what can I leave at home? Well, if you keep on reading, we’ll try to answer all your burning questions and more!

Hiking is easiest when you go light

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: You don’t have to spend all your savings on expensive speed hiking gear in order to get started.

Sure, to maximise the fun and minimise your risk of injury on the trails, you need quality equipment. But don’t fret. Even though high quality and high prices often go hand in hand, there are plenty of affordable options out there as well. Besides, all you need to zoom over the trails is good clothing, good shoes, a small backpack and sturdy walking poles.

In other words, you don’t need to deck yourselves out with an array of new gear and relegate your old stuff to storage. Instead, invest your hard-earned money in the essentials.

Speed hiking gear is subjected to high stress and a lot of wear and tear, so it has to be able to withstand quite a bit. But, most important of all: your kit should be light. After all, nothing is more taxing than carrying around extra weight! Having to carry too heavy a load will slow you down, deplete your energy stores, damage your joints and could even lead to permanent problems. That being said, light and durable are paramount. If you’d like to find some super-lightweight shoes, backpacks and functional clothing, you can have a look at the ultra-light products in our shop!

The core of any speed hiking kit: the poles

Now to the nucleus, the MVP, the key player or the core of a speed hiking kit: the speed hiking poles! Poles not only help to provide stability in technical terrain but also support your arm muscles to propel you uphill and take the strain off your joints by distributing the weight on the downhills. The more intense the route, the higher the stress on the poles. As with your other pieces of kit, your poles should be as lightweight as possible. The best option here are carbon poles, which are incredibly strong, yet lightweight. In fact, it doesn’t get much lighter than carbon-reinforced plastic. Plus, they give some joint-friendly shock absorption as well.

And what about the kind of poles? Your best option would be Nordic walking or trail running poles. Ordinary walking poles won’t do because of their lack of wrist straps. The straps on walking or trekking poles have been specifically designed so that you can slip your hands out quickly. Speed hikers, however need specially shaped straps that fit well around their wrists to promote the proper walking technique and rhythm. That’s why you’ll find that many manufacturers are now making speed hiking poles that have been specifically designed to meet the needs of speed hikers.

Clothing and backpacks for speed hiking

In addition to speed hiking poles, you need speed hiking clothing: The clothing you choose should be light and allow for enough freedom of movement. In other words, you can use anything you’ve used for outdoor activities in the past. The only thing is, it should be comfortable and functional.

Because speed hiking is such a physically demanding sport, the last point is of utmost importance. Breathable clothing, preferably with ventilation options, prevents your body from overheating and makes it possible to maintain a certain level of performance. Some popular brands even have their own speed hiking range, like Salewa with their Pedroc series.

Your choice of clothing also plays a crucial role in how much weight you save. Depending on the route and weather conditions, you could strip it down to the bare essentials so that you don’t have to lug around any unnecessary weight whatsoever. If you’re planning on going on a multi-day hike, a layering system is the way to go. All the stuff you don’t need at any given moment, like your waterproof, can be stuffed in your backpack. Of course, this won’t make the weight disappear David Copperfield style, but at least you don’t have to wear it. The trick is that it does indeed make your movements quicker.

Speaking of backpacks, what kind of features should it have? As you’ve probably already guessed, your backpack should weigh as little as possible. So, try to find a compact and lightweight backpack with comfortable, ergonomic shoulder straps. Your speed hiking pack should fit snugly against the back and not wobble when you make quick movements.

Another important thing to consider is ventilation. The back should be ventilated so that there’s no build up of heat or excess sweat. Running or trail running packs are a great option, provided that they have enough storage. Once you’ve found the right backpack, pack it carefully. Make sure you have a walking map, first-aid kit, GPS device and of course enough water. But, remember: Every extra gram on your shoulders weighs twice or even three times as much when you’re speed hiking.

A fast foot needs some quality footwear – What are some good speed hiking shoes?

And now for the part of your kit that your speed-hiking self quite literally rests on: your shoes and socks! First, let’s talk shoes. Your choice of shoes depends on the trip and speed. But, you still need to keep weight in mind.

Your shoes shouldn’t be too heavy but durable enough to be able to withstand the wear and tear that comes with the trails. If you’re a fast speed hiker and rarely veer off hiking trails, low-top trainers (like sturdy trail running shoes) are an excellent choice. They will give you the traction and surefootedness you need for the trails whilst ensuring that your ankles remain mobile.

If you’re venturing into more difficult terrain, you may want to opt for shoes with more ankle support to prevent rolling it and getting injured. Regardless of which shoes you choose, be sure to break them in thoroughly beforehand to prevent blisters and hot spots!

In terms of socks, you just need to make sure you are comfortable. Socks should not be too loose, but fit snugly. Otherwise, they will have a negative impact on the shoe’s fit and cause chafing, which can lead to some painful blisters. Some speed hikers also swear by compression socks. These are thought to prevent swelling in your legs as well as over-acidification in the calf muscles by improving blood flow, leading to improvements in your performance.

As you can see, the investment you have to make to get started isn’t all that big! So, what are you waiting for? Start speed hiking!

GORE-TEX® ACTIVE: Stay light and fast

14. Juni 2018
Equipment

Because of the efficient weather protection it provides, the GORE-TEX® Active laminate is the ideal solution for physically demanding endurance sports in cool and changeable weather conditions. This fabric has been specifically designed for highly aerobic outdoor activities and is characterised by a high level of breathability, low weight and a small pack size.

This makes GORE-TEX® Active the perfect fabric for producing windproof, waterproof and breathable outdoor clothing geared toward athletes who want to move as easily and quickly as possible in the flatlands or up in the mountains. The efficiency of the extremely breathable GORE-TEX® Active fabric really shines during fast-pace, high-intensity sports like trail running, running, ski touring, cross-country skiing and cycling – be it road cycling or mountain biking.

A waterproof laminate with next-to-skin comfort

The ultra-thin membrane in the GORE-TEX® Active laminate has a microporous structure that allows the water vapour molecules to escape through the pores to the outside. Because these pores are much smaller than water droplets, the GORE-TEX® membrane is also impervious to rain, giving you a waterproof garment that will keep you dry, even if it’s really bucketing down.

With the GORE-TEX® Active laminate, the liner and membrane are directly connected to each other, guaranteeing comfort, optimum breathability and vapour permeability. GORE calls this Next-To-Skin, a technology designed to reduce the amount of sweat underneath the fabric.

Lightweight functional apparel for aerobic activities

GORE-TEX® Active products are the perfect solution for strenuous endurance sports and changeable weather conditions. The high breathability (RET<3) and reliable weather protection provided by these fabrics allow athletes to keep their GORE-TEX® Active hardshell jackets on without sacrificing comfort. Even if you’re anticipating sunny and milder conditions, the Next-To-Skin technology will ensure that you stay dry and comfortable at all times. That way, you won’t have to keep taking your jacket off and putting it back on.

In order to achieve the low weight and level of breathability GORE-TEX® Active garments are known for, GORE uses lightweight fabrics for the outer material. These fine high-performance fabrics have an excellent weight-to-strength ratio, but GORE-TEX® Active fabrics have nowhere near the level of durability that GORE-TEX® Pro laminates are known for. In other words, whilst a GORE-TEX® Active jacket isn’t suitable for wear with heavy trekking rucksacks, the functional fabric is durable enough to withstand the load of a light day pack or hydration pack, even when used on a regular basis or during very intense physical activity.

Get the most out of GORE-TEX® Active with proper care and the right functional underwear

Thanks to the use of Next-To-Skin technology, you can sport GORE-TEX® Active fabrics right up against your skin and still feel nice and dry, so you can choose to wear a short-sleeved or long-sleeved base layer under the breathable hard shell. For your base, you want something that wicks away moisture quickly and efficiently, like high-quality functional underwear made of synthetic fabric, or a tee or long-sleeved shirt made of merino wool. Depending on the outside temperature, you can also add a warm, breathable mid-layer.

Because of the amount of sweat the body produces during aerobic activities and how dirty that sweat makes your jacket, it is extremely important to wash, care and proof GORE-TEX® Active clothing on a regular basis. This will keep the microporous structures free of any contaminates and maintain the high level of breathability for a long time to come.

Speed Hiking – Hiking at top speed

4. Juni 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

What is speed hiking, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s speed hiking for?

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

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

Preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How GORE-TEX® membranes work

21. Juni 2018
Equipment

Today, GORE-TEX® is the epitome of waterproof and breathable garments. Regardless of whether you’re skiing, cycling, mountaineering at work or just going about your everyday life, you can always rely on the high-quality products engineered with GORE-TEX® membranes – at least that’s what the American brand claims. In the following, we’re going to have a closer look at the composition of this membrane and what makes it so special.

Bill Gore sees the potential of PTFE

The development of the GORE-TEX® membrane was more than just a lucky coincidence for the US chemist Bill Gore. Gore worked as a researcher at the chemical company DuPont in the 1950s, which has made a host of valuable contributions to the outdoor industry in the form of ground-breaking inventions and innovative fibres such as nylon, Lycra, Kevlar and neoprene. Interestingly enough, DuPont failed to see any benefit in continuing Bill Gore’s research on polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE for short), but Gore did.

In 1958, Bill Gore realised his dream and founded his own company, W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc, which grew from a classic American start-up based in a cellar into a global corporation with over 10,000 employees. Bill Gore had initially dedicated his research to new applications for the electrical industry until his son Bob accidentally discovered ePTFE, the material used to make all our dreams of breathable & waterproof outdoor apparel come true.

By the way, the ePTFE membrane is not just used in waterproof gear – GORE’s portfolio includes industrial applications, medical implants (e.g. artificial arteries) and industrial applications based on the research into and development of PTFE and ePTFE.

From PTFE to ePTFE – from ePTFE to the GORE-TEX® membrane

Since we and the majority of our readers are laypeople with limited knowledge in chemical processes, we thought it’d be best to explain how ePTFE was discovered like this: When Bob Gore was experimenting with PTFE, he yanked the material suddenly, discovering that it could stretch quite a bit without getting ruined. The expanded (i.e. „e“ PTFE) material not only remained solid after stretching, but formed a microporous structure as well.

This microporous structure of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene is, of course, extremely small and not visible to the naked eye. However, you can see the large openings in the material under an electron microscope. There are about 1.4 billion of these tiny pores on a single square centimetre of the waterproof membrane. And as luck would have it, this pore size just happens to be ideal to guarantee both waterproof protection and breathability in functional clothing as well!

Much smaller than a water droplet and large enough for water vapour

Water vapour molecules are very small, much smaller than the pores in the GORE-TEX® membrane. The pores are even 700 times larger than the vapour molecules, so the latter can travel from one side of the membrane to the other unhindered. For the outdoor athlete, this means that the vapour from sweat can escape through the membrane, keeping you dry.

As for liquid water, water droplets are much larger than the pores in the GORE-TEX® membrane. In fact, the pore in the microporous membrane is about 20,000 times smaller than the smallest drop of water, so there’s no way it’s getting through those microscopic pores, even if there is a lot of them or you run into some heavy rains.

The GORE-TEX® membrane becomes a durable laminate

An expanded PTFE membrane looks like a thin, flexible plastic film. Even in its raw form, the membrane is already windproof, waterproof and breathable, but its strength has yet to reach the optimum level. Mechanical abrasion or damage caused by sharp objects can lead to holes through which water can penetrate.

This is why the GORE-TEX® membrane used for functional clothing, gloves and outdoor footwear must be made into laminate first. This means that the GORE-TEX® membrane is bonded to a backer material to form a single unit. For outdoor garments, the outer material used with membranes is usually a hard-wearing synthetic fabric made of either nylon or polyester. When bonded together, the outer material and membrane form a solid laminate. Fortunately, neither the breathability nor the waterproof properties of the fabric is affected as a result, which is due in large part to the careful choice of the outer fabric and excellent production processes.

Whether we refer to the laminate as a 2-layer or 3-layer GORE-TEX® laminate depends on the lining. The three-layer construction uses a lining that is bonded directly to the membrane from the inside. This means that the GORE-TEX® membrane is sandwiched between the outer material and the comfortable lining, providing optimum protection from dirt and damage from both sides. In contrast, a two-layer construction uses a separate lining.

The specific differences and characteristics of each of the GORE-TEX® products, such asGORE-TEX® Active, GORE-TEX® Pro, GORE-TEX® Paclite®, GORE-TEX® C-KNIT® or GORE-TEX® 2-layer products will be explained in detail at a later date. What we will say, however, is that some of the main differences between 2-layer and 3-layer laminates lie in their weight and strength. While ultra-light GORE-TEX® jackets for trail runners are made from lightweight laminates, those extremely tough expedition jackets designed for mountaineers are made from stronger, more durable laminates.

Getting the most out of a GORE-TEX® membrane

The finished laminates with integrated GORE-TEX® membranes are the basis for windproof, waterproof and breathable hardshell jackets, ski gloves and walking boots. But, in order for the microporous membrane to perform to its potential when you’re adventuring, exercising or working, you need to keep a few things in mind:

To ensure that the membrane maintains complete breathability, which is responsible for transporting water vapour molecules through the GORE-TEX® membrane, there has to be a difference in temperature and humidity between the inside and the outside of the garment. This means that the breathability of a jacket with a GORE-TEX® membrane works best in low to mid-range temperatures.

To ensure the long-term functionality of GORE-TEX® products, it is absolutely essential to care for them properly and regularly. With frequent wear, the insides of functional garments inevitably become contaminated with sweat, dirt and sunscreen, all of which can negatively affect the breathability of the fabric. However, if you wash your GORE-TEX® products on a regular basis, both the durability and the breathability of the garment will be significantly improved.

Hardshell clothing is generally worn as part of a layering system and forms the weatherproof outer shell, which is responsible for shielding you from wind and rain. However, to ensure that the fabric is just as breathable as it is waterproof, the rest of your layers have to move water vapour away from the body just as well as your shell does. If you’re wearing anything that lacks moisture-wicking properties under your hard shell, the GORE-TEX® membrane won’t perform to its full potential. This is why outdoor athletes opt for functional underwear and warm mid-layers made of breathable synthetic fabrics. These allow water vapour to travel quickly and unhindered to the outside.

As you’ve probably already gathered, there’s really no way around GORE-TEX®. It’s a staple in the outdoor industry and it seems like it’s here to stay. There are pros and cons to this, especially when you consider the fact that ePTFE is not entirely safe, but we won’t go into that here. If you have any general questions about GORE-TEX®, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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

4. Juni 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

Keep it simple

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

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

The basic construction

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

Where to set up your tarp

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

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

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

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

The setup: Spread out your materials

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

  • Got your pegs and poles?

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

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

  • Guy lines

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

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

Spread out your tarp

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

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

Anchors

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

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

Knots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One anchor point after the other

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

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

Setting up a tarp with walking poles

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

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

Possibilities, possibilities…

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

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

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

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

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

Setting up a tarp higher up

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

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

Improvisation

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

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

Taking your tarp down

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

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

Material: What is carbon?

21. Juni 2018
Equipment

All you adventurers out there have surely heard of carbon. After all, it is used in all kinds of sports equipment and is celebrated by many a gearhead because of its lightness and stiffness (not strength!).

If you have any questions as to the reasoning behind this distinction, you should definitely read on. In this post, we’re going to take a deep dive into carbon, describing its properties, composition and advantages and disadvantages as compared to materials that tend to be cheaper, such as aluminium.

What is carbon anyway?

Lightweight carbon is a becoming more and more popular option for all kinds of sports equipment. The word carbon comes from the Latin word for coal (carbo) and refers to the chemical element carbon. Carbon is pretty important stuff. Without it, the earth would be nothing more than a rock without any biological structures – so obviously no humans either. In other words, you could consider the carbon used in our outdoor gear to be a natural material, at least if you look at it over its long process of transformation. Coal’s carbon comes from an array of different substances, but most notably from decomposed plants, from which petroleum is derived. And it is petroleum, which consists of several hydrocarbons, that serves as source material in plastic production.

Admittedly, this isn’t the whole story and really only half the truth. What we colloquially refer to as carbon actually only consists in part of the wafer-thin carbon fibres. That’s why, it would actually be more correct to say: carbon fibre reinforced polymer(CFRP). Still, this doesn’t really explain what carbon is. So, let’s get even more specific and talk about what carbon is made up of.

What is carbon made of?

For a start, allow me to mention that what we commonly referred to as carbon is a combination, with the only the fibre bit consisting of carbon and the rest of other chemicals. In other words, it’s a composite material. To make things even more complicated, composites of CFRP and GFRP are also treated as carbon. GFRP is short for “glassfibre reinforced plastic“.

The carbon fibres/glass fibres are combined with a matrix, usually a polymer resin. The matrix serves to bind the fibres together in grid-like structure and fills in the gaps. A common polymer resin is epoxy, which is a thermoset resin, which contains all sorts of chemical elements, but no carbon fibres. To put it simply, thermoset is a plastic that is not malleable after curing by means of heat and can withstand high mechanical stress.

Carbon is stiff but not necessarily high strength

Don’t worry, we’re not going to give a lecture on the science of this material, but we are going to delve just deep enough to ensure that you have a basic understanding of the properties of carbon equipment. This will then enable us to compare carbon to other materials, such as aluminium. Whilst the carbon fibres add high strength and stiffness to the composite material, the matrix prevents the fibres from shifting against each other when under stress. Since the composite material is only really stable in the direction of the fibres, the fibres are usually laid out in different directions.

These complex patterns are what gives carbon the stiffness it’s known for. Stiffness is, however, not to be confused with strength. The former describes a high resistance to (elastic) deformation – the material does not vibrate or move under increasing stress, but then breaks apart abruptly under high stress. Strength, on the other hand, is the resistance to mechanical stress. A material that is very stiff does not necessarily have to be strong, and can in fact be easily broken.

Carbon is not always carbon

Since there are various carbon composites and fibre arrangements, all of which produce different tensile, compressive, impact and breaking strengths as well as different levels of stiffness and damping properties, it is very difficult to get an idea of the exact construction and properties of the carbon used, independent of the manufacturer’s specifications.

The complicated composition of carbon not only makes it less transparent in general but also more expensive than similarly durable metals. So, why opt for carbon over aluminium, when the latter seems to have all the properties you would want? Well, when it comes to sports equipment such as walking poles, road bikes or fishing rods, you need an extremely high level of stiffness at the lowest weight possible. And here, high-quality carbon is second to none. Wait, high-quality carbon? Doesn’t that imply that there’s an inferior kind of carbon?

Low-quality carbon may be rare, but it does exist. And, contrary to popular belief, high-quality carbon doesn’t necessarily have the highest amount of carbon fibres, but the best composites in the best matrix. Here are some examples: To have a pole made of „100% carbon“ would be overkill because although it may be ultralight and stiff, it would also break quickly because of how brittle it would be.

80-90% is ideal, as it provides both stiffness and damping properties along with breaking strength. 60-70% carbon usually means an increase in weight but also more stability (and a more affordable price tag). If a pole has less than 60%, there’s really no advantage over aluminium poles in an identical or lower price range, according to experts.

However, the percentage alone does not determine the quality of a product. You’ve got to have additional information and at least some expertise in order to determine other important contributing factors. Fortunately, though, you can rely on manufacturers such as Leki or Komperdell to use high-quality materials. As long as you don’t opt for some cheap model at a random discount store, you can generally expect your poles to perform reliably in normal conditions. You’d really have to get majorly stuck between some massive rocks or roots to break a high-quality pole.

Carbon vs. aluminium

Simply put: Aluminium is harder to snap, whilst carbon is stiffer. In other words:

Aluminium vibrates under stress and is unlikely to break under high stress, whilst carbon tends to fail with jagged breaks.

In theory, the slower buckling of aluminium is less dangerous in the event of a fall. However, this only applies in situations where an average adult’s entire body weight falls abruptly on the pole. But no need to worry: As long as the walking poles aren’t some cheap knock-off, they can only snap as a result of unfortunate lateral pressure applied during uncontrolled movements on loose ground.

However, caution is advised when the poles are extended to nearly full length, especially when it comes to aluminium poles because it can have a negative effect on their stability. For this reason and because of their better shock absorption, high-quality carbon poles are recommended for Nordic walking, which is popular among heavier individuals. In general, tall or heavier outdoor enthusiasts should opt for more stable, high-quality and slightly heavier poles.

Neither is better – just different

Whilst carbon and aluminium poles have approximately the same breaking strength and stability, the carbon models have a slight advantage when it comes to their weight, namely about 10% as compared to their aluminium counterparts. And, this is reflected in their higher price. When it comes to basic models for beginners, aluminium seems to be the better option, mostly because of the lower price tag. But, these are just estimates based on the options we have available in our shop. Also: the lighter your poles are, the better the handling will be and the slower you’ll fatigue.

Another factor is water: If you consider the fact that aluminium poles tend to corrode when exposed to water and should be taken apart and dried after walks in the rain, one could think that you should opt for carbon instead. But this is not necessarily the case. Carbon is not necessarily better than aluminium. For example, alpinists who often travel on rough gravely terrain, (good) aluminium poles would be the better choice.

Since the advantages of carbon and aluminium are not mutually exclusive, several manufacturers like Leki or Black Diamond use both in the same model to achieve the perfect balance between things like stiffness and robustness.

Of course, the balance of advantages and disadvantages of carbon varies depending on the type of equipment. Because of the malleability of aluminium, carbon would be the much better option to use as a stabiliser in the sole of your ski touring boots or the upper on your cycling shoes than aluminium ever would be.
We hope this article has shed some light on carbon!

A buyer’s guide to bivvy bags

21. Juni 2018
Buyer's guide

The term ‘bivouac‘ is derived from the French word bivouac, which means an encampment or encampment for the night. In addition to sleeping in a tent or a hut, bivouacking is another common way to spend the night in the great outdoors. In contrast to the other two other options, however, there is usually no roof over your head, unless you sleep in one of the rather sparingly equipped accommodations, known as bivouac huts. If you don’t have this luxury and still need a weatherproof place to sleep, there is probably no way around getting yourself a bivvy bag. In the following, we’re going to tell you all about bivvy bags, including what to look out for when buying one.

What is a bivvy bag and what does bivouacking mean?

Simply put: Bivouacking is basically like camping, but instead of sleeping in a tent, you’re sleeping in a bag. Oftentimes, you won’t even sleep in it, but merely use it as shelter until a storm passes or wait for rescue teams to arrive in the event of an accident.

If possible, you should figure out well in advance what kind of bivvy bag you need for your trip. It’s always a good idea to have a more breathable bag, especially for shorter breaks. Otherwise condensation can build up really quickly and start dripping onto your clothes or sleeping bag.

Doesn’t sound very inviting, does it? It rarely is. Bivouacking has many faces. Here are two of them:

The nice one:

High up on this picturesque ledge under a starry sky, sheltered from the wind in this cosy, lightweight and breathable two-man bag. Snuggled up with your loved one, you can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of the mountains until you drift off into a blissful slumber.

The mean one:

High up on this remote mountain ledge, dark clouds appear out of nowhere and suddenly it starts bucketing down. Now you’re panicking, struggling to get your bivvy bag out from the bottom of your pack in face of brutal winds and rain, sweating into your already soaking-wet clothes. And, the inside of the bivvy bag ends up getting as wet as the outside.

When you’re both finally inside the bag, you have to zip it up completely and crouch down so that the wildly fluttering fabric doesn’t keep hitting your face. It’s moments like these when couples hate snuggling. Plus, despite the protective cover, it seems to keep getting colder, and the air quality is getting progressively worse. In situations like these, it’s important to keep the material at a distance because when it comes into direct contact with you, it will cool you down instead of warming you up. And, since weather is so unpredictable, you have no idea if the storm will have passed a half an hour from now or a half a day. Time to go to your happy place…

Most bivouacking experiences lie somewhere between these two versions. The starry sky will certainly be the rarer occasion of the two because if the sky is clear enough to see and enjoy, you probably don’t need the bivvy bag. In such cases, a sleeping bag will suffice, especially if it provides some warmth and protection from the wind whilst keeping moisture at bay. This is something that a lot of sleeping bags are perfectly capable of doing nowadays.

Even those surprising changes in weather will become rarer with time, considering the fact that we have devices that provide weather forecasts and allow us to plan our adventures in real time. At least this is true for those more moderate adventures in the Alps and Central Europe. However, as long as unpredictable weather conditions and remote areas still exist and people go on physically demanding adventures spanning over several days, our beloved bivvy bags will continue to exist.

What is a bivvy bag and what do I need it for?

Simply put: a bivvy bag is the bag in which you sit or lie when bivouacking.

The simplest version consists of a more or less waterproof top and bottom made of synthetics that is sewn together. The top bit has a slit that allows you to slip inside and serves as an opening for your face. There are bags for one or two people, with the latter having the advantage that it generates more heat and the disadvantage that it is more difficult to use.

A bivvy bag is lighter and cheaper than a tent and makes it possible (at least theoretically) to set up a weatherproof shelter anytime and anywhere. Unfortunately, just having functional clothing is not always enough. When bad weather lasts long enough, water usually always finds a way in. In such cases, bivvy bags can be a life saver.

The basic characteristics of a bivvy bag.

Less expensive bivvy bags can provide acceptable protection from wind and water for shorter periods. However, they cannot withstand the violent gusts of winds and are less resistant to abrasion, so when the come into contact with shoes and other equipment, they won’t last long. Plus, the pressure exerted on the material by sitting or lying on it cause moisture to permeate the fabric surprisingly quickly.

Here you should make sure that the base material has a hydrostatic head of at least 2,000mm(significantly more is better, because the pressure applied to the material can be much greater when you’re squatting).

It is rather difficult to say how much warmth any given model will provide. Why? Well, it depends at least as much on the situation as it does on the model and individual physiological factors. So, no blanket statement can be made here. More important than the strength of the material is the layer of air that serves as insulation between your body and the bivvy bag.

Simple enough, right? Well, things get a bit more complicated when the breathability of the fabric comes into play and with it the coatings, membranes and laminates, which are either on the top, bottom or both sides.

Then, there is an array of other features, including completely closable 3D hoods with mosquito nets and anatomical foot boxes, tent-like pole structures and heaps of other bits and bobs that can be added to the bivvy.

How do bivvy bags differ from one another?

Based on what we’ve talked about so far, it should be clear by now that the perfect bivvy bag has to meet all sorts of different requirements. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a do-everything bivvy bag. Maybe someday, though!

Until some genius creates this miracle bag, we have to navigate between the following three points when deciding on a model:

  1. Comfort (breathability, spaciousness, features)
  2. Low weight and pack size
  3. Weather protection (Quality of the material, robustness, complete sealability (for lack of a better term))

There is no bivvy bag that meets all three criteria equally. It’s like buying a car. Despite all the high-tech euphoria, you still can’t get a family-friendly and environmentally friendly hybrid race car.

However, when it comes to bivvy bags, we can at least have two of the three mentioned above: i.e. 1) and 2) or 1) and 3). A combination of 2) and 3) is much more difficult or significantly more expensive, but still feasible.

What materials are used for bivvy bags?

The desired criteria determine the composition of the material and the construction of the bivvy bag. Let’s list the materials first:

The key component of most ultra-light models is a a metallised foil. Such bivy bags may be damaged or unusable even after a single use, but are also intended for emergencies only, similar to a rescue blanket.

The more durable basic models have a tent-like nylon or polyester fabric with a polyurethane coating (PU coating). Nylon, polyester and cotton blended fabrics are not waterproof without such a coating. PU gives the material its functional properties due to its high density and flexibility.

In addition to PU, silicone is also used, which is usually classified as being of a higher quality. Silicone coatings are more elastic, more durable and more expensive than other coatings. They not only increase the fabric’s tear resistance, but its UV resistance as well. They are also significantly lighter than PU coatings with comparable levels of waterproofness.

Are there bivvy bags with membranes?

More complex bivvy bags also use membranes. If you prefer a membrane, let me say this: In practice, you will notice only minor differences between the different membrane brands when it comes to breathability. As a rule, all technologies reach their limits at a certain amount of moisture and/or temperature distribution.

All coatings, laminates and the like increase the weight and pack size just like any other additional feature. The more protection, versatility and functionality the fabric offers, the more weight you’ll have to carry and the larger the pack size will be. Every other little addition, like more room or covered zips add more weight as well.

Bivvy bag shapes and designs

Most bivvy bags are cut like a slightly larger sleeping bag and lie flat like a blanket. The volume of the bag results from our bodies or other little extras like stiffeners, guying options or small poles.

The latter offers additional headroom, which can come as a welcome relief when sleeping in it for multiple nights in a row. However, the stability of models with this simple frame should not be overestimated. Some can stand upright only when the zip is completely closed, whilst others tilt towards your face as soon as a little breeze picks up. More reliable are the more complex constructions like the criss-cross pole structure found on the Carinthia Observer. However, so much comfort and weather protection is neither light nor cheap.

An important question you may need to consider is whether the bivvy bag should close completely. After all, there’s no way to be completely protected from the elements unless the interior can be sealed off completely with a strong zip. Drawstrings, hook-and-loop fasteners and vents always leave small gaps and openings, which in extreme cases will have to be facing away from the the direction of the weather.

Oftentimes, that’s easier said than done. However, sealing yourself in to this extent is only for ambitious projects in higher altitudes or colder climates. For most other emergency situations and „normal“ bivouacking adventures, you’ll be fine with with bivvy bags that can „only“ be closed with buttons, drawstrings or the like.

Conclusion

Bivouacking is more than just an emergency solution in adverse mountain conditions. It allows you to experience nature in a way you never have before and is a flexible option between camping and sleeping „completely unprotected“ out in the open.

However, bivouacking is not recommended for people who prefer not to be in direct contact with the ground, materials or other peoples’ bodies. But, if you discover the urge to be in the great outdoors and can overcome your inhibitions, you may end up loving it! Then, you’ll venture a little further out, head up to the mountains and realise you need to start looking for the proper bivvy bag! We hope this article will help with that.

Shoes built to last: An introduction to different shoe lasts

26. April 2018
Equipment

It’s probably safe to say that all of our readers know that there are different shoe sizes out there. The same goes for the fact that the shoe’s size usually refers to the length of the shoe, which in turn corresponds to the length of the foot with some added room at the toe. This should be 1 to 2 cm for mountain boots, since your swollen feet would otherwise eventually start rubbing up against the front of the boots on longer descents.

For a lot of people out there, that’s often all the knowledge they need to buy a well-fitting pair of shoes. For others, though, it can be more of a challenge. Why? Well, if your foot doesn’t correspond with the foot shape that any given manufacturer has set as their standard, you’ll end up having quite a hard go of it. After all, your foot type is not just determined by length AND it can deviate slightly from the norm (which is a statistical size that only exists on paper). That said, it’s important for you to know a few more things about shoes than just your shoe size if you want the perfect fit.

Foot shape = last shape = shoe shape

Since the last is often listed among a shoe’s specs, one could think of it is one of its components. But, a last is not part of the shoe. Rather, a last is something you’d find lying around in a manufacturer’s workshops or among a shoemaker’s tools, where it serves as a blueprint, giving a shoe and its sole their form. The fact that it is only a rough copy of the foot, without the toes and other fine details, is completely sufficient because the soft inside of the shoe doesn’t need to be an exact copy of the human foot.

This foot-shaped block is often carved by hand and is made mostly of wood. The ones used for mass production are usually plastic. Most manufacturers use a standard last as a guide for their shoe series and try to accommodate different foot shapes with additional insoles. Sometimes, the standard lasts are produced in a wider and a narrower version, but this can make production considerably more complex and expensive. Only very few put forth the effort to provide several lasts for different foot shapes. Since a shoe last is nothing more than just the shape of the foot and is often named after particular foot shapes , it’s a good idea to get a little better acquainted with the human foot before reading about lasts! Let’s get started.

Foot types and anatomy

There are two criteria according to which foot types are usually classified: the toe shape and the overall foot shape. There are three common toe types and four foot shapes.

The most common types of toes are Egyptian, Roman and Greek.

  • The Egyptian foot is distinguished by the big toe being the longest, whilst toes 2 to 5, when viewed from above, descend gradually at forty-five degree angle.
  • The Roman foot is distinguished by the second and (sometimes) the third/middle toe having the same length as the big one, whilst the rest are smaller.
  • The Greek foot is distinguished by the second toe being longer than the big toe and the middle toe being the same length or shorter than the big one.

This classification is admittedly more precise than just the length, but it doesn’t really say much about the rest of the foot (i.e. the shape of the foot). That’s why we classify foot types as well. The four main foot types are Romanic, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Baltic:

  • The Anglo-Saxon foot is relatively straight, narrow and elongated, with a long dominant big toe.
  • The Germanic foot is sickle-shaped and narrower at the heel than at the forefoot.
  • The Romanic type is significantly straighter than the Germanic and overall quite wide and voluminous.
  • The Baltic foot is the wide variant of the Anglo-Saxon foot, where the big toe is even more dominant and the heel is equal in width to the forefoot.

Whether or not this applies to the whole world, I can’t say, but it should cover pretty much all of the European foot shapes.

Who determines whether a foot is wide or narrow?

Width may be the simplest of the foot’s basic characteristics, but the question remains: How do you determine what is wide and what is narrow based on the length of any given foot? This info is rarely provided, so oftentimes you just have to eyeball it. You can only derive an approximate conversion factor from length and width size charts, as for example from the Bont size chart Here is an example for shoe size EU 45:

Length: 28.5 cm The width of a „“normal foot““ in size 45 would then be between 10.6 and 11 cm. A „“narrow foot““ would then be smaller than 10.6 cm and a „“wide foot““ larger than 11 cm. One could derive a conversion factor from this, but it doesn’t really make sense because it’ll change from shoe size to shoe size. It is easier to look at the chart.

Things only get worse though. If you were to combine width along with its characteristics narrow, normal and wide with the four toe types listed above, you would come to a grand total of twelve possible foot types. If these were then combined with the four foot shapes, the result would be 48. That means 48 different kinds of feet would be in need of a proper last and shoe! Since there are also many other differently shaped „“foot sections““ such as the toes, ball, heel, bridge, arch, etc., all of which can be in different proportions to each other, the combinations are virtually endless.

I know what you’re thinking: the human foot and its representation in shoes is complex stuff! Indeed, and when it comes to the anatomy of the human foot, it gets even more confusing due to the foot’s complex construction. The simplest way to divide up the foot anatomically is to take three sections: the forefoot, midfoot and hindfoot. Granted, it’s not very precise, but it is practical because you always know exactly where you are!

For more volume: the bridge

We’ve talked about length and width, but we’ve failed to mention anything about height. Height is an extremely important factor when it comes to choosing the proper shoes and is determined primarily by the bridge of the foot. The bridge starts at the toes and extends to the ankle and lower tibia. It can be flat or steep and can influence the shape of the foot in a huge way.

A “steeper” bridge would require a shoe that has quite the roomy upper. Thanks to a shoe’s tongue and lacing, the height and width of the upper can normally be adjusted for an adequate fit over most bridges. Insoles can also be used to alter the volume of a shoe, but this should be your last resort. Try to find a proper shoe first.

Special cases

Hallux valgus: What sounds like something in the stomach is actually a lateral deviation of the big toe characterised by a painful bulge of the metatarsophalangeal joint resulting from constant contact with the shoe. Hallux valgus is usually caused by frequently wearing inappropriate footwear in conjunction with an unnatural use of your foot when walking. Some manufacturers offer special lasts for this deformity, but more on that later.

Flat feet: Flat feet are so common that some manufacturers use special lasts for this as well. Here, the weakened muscles in the longitudinal arch allow the bones to sink towards the ground as opposed to holding them in place. This results in the entire sole of the foot being near or coming into complete contact with the ground. The collapse of the longitudinal arch can then eventually cause pes valgus, a condition where the foot tilts inward. If this happens, you will have a much harder time finding the perfect shoe.

Last but not least – splayfoot. This one of the most common foot misalignments. Splayfoot is a misalignment characterised by weakened muscles in the transverse arch and a wider forefoot resulting from the metatarsal bones splaying.

The above-mentioned foot problems also occur simultaneously and tend to build off of each other. But, let’s not get into that. Describing diagnoses and symptom progressions would go far beyond the scope of this post. Our aim is merely to provide and overview rather than focussing on minor details and unique cases.

So many different types of feet: Different manufacturers and their lasts

In order to accommodate the variety of foot shapes to at least some extent, manufacturers must have a selection of standard lasts. Most manufacturers use between two and six different lasts, which they divide up among different models and series. Only rarely are there different versions, such as extra wide or extra narrow, for one and the same model. Nevertheless, most manufacturers offer a wide range of sizes and shapes, which means that a correspondingly large number of different lasts are required as guides. Let’s look at some examples.

Lowa allows you to filter your search for specific models not only by standard criteria like shoe size, gender or shoe types, but also by wide and narrow lasts.

They even describe the various lasts in the menu option “fit and quality“. Lowa has modelled special lasts for each shoe type according to specific requirements and experience. Lowa also uses special lasts for the women’s models. The distinction between the last shapes is more or less self-explanatory, as they correspond to the shape of the foot:

  • Standard lasts: normal last shape
  • S-last (narrow): less volume around forefoot/ball area
  • W-last (wide): more volume around forefoot/ball area
  • WXL last: expanded toe box combined with more volume around arch/instep

Hanwag not only has slightly different shapes and terminology, but also has more variety in their lasts than virtually any other manufacturer. In addition to the gender-specific lasts, there are lasts for specific applications (e.g. slightly wider for the Trek and Trek Light series, narrower for the Rock series). Plus, there are six special lasts for people who do not have a „“standard foot““:

  • Wide lasts: The heel area has been constructed normally, but the shoe offers more room around the forefoot and ball of the foot. Wide models are for people for whom a „“normal““ shoe would be too narrow around the forefoot.
  • Narrow lasts: This last is intended for people who feel a normal shoe is too wide. The Hanwag Tatra, for example, is one of their narrow fit models.
  • Bunion lasts: Bunions is a well-known problem, especially among women, but it is also something many boulderers and sport climbers deal with. Hanwag offers a one-of-a-kind bunion last with significantly more room around the big toe.
  • StraightFit lasts: This last offers an extremely generous toe box and is intended for people with a wide forefoot.
  • Alpine Wide lasts: The normal Alpine lasts are narrower for a better performance. If you prefer a bit more space, grab a shoe with an Alpine Wide fit. You can always wear thicker socks.
  • Naturalfit lasts: NaturalFit technology promotes the natural posture of the foot and kind of imitates walking barefoot. It’s great for both travel and everyday life.

The Italian brand AKU uses six different lasts for their outdoor shoes, covering a very similar range of shapes as Hanwag. You can find out more about the lasts on their website under “The Last”.

Other brands, like Meindl don’t provide descriptions of their lasts, but they do allow you to search for specific models by foot shape or other filters.

Dachstein has also incorporated shoe width into their search filter. Unfortunately, this only covers one of the many possible shapes and characteristics of a foot/last/shoe.

Conclusion

A truly precise filter that allows you to combine several characteristics may be a tall task for any manufacturer to implement, considering how precise the specs of each shoe would have to be, but it’s still doable. But, it’s a different story for online retailers that carry X number of brands. To do it would be nothing less than a Herculean feat, if you ask me, especially since you’d need somebody with a trained eye to do it! Not to mention the fact that the series and models constantly change.

That said, there’s really no way around finding our your own foot size/shape/type. Ask yourself the following questions: Do I have a Baltic foot? Is my foot narrow or wide? All the shoe size charts online can act as a point of reference. Unfortunately, there are very few available that have more than just foot length, as the Bont chart does.

There are several solid approaches out there, but none of them has managed to incorporate foot types, lasts and shoes into one perfect blend. If you are looking for the perfect last, you’ll just have to consult the individual manufacturers. I hope this article has made things a bit easier to understand and will help you in the future.

Wild camping in Germany - verboten or not?

Wild camping in Germany – verboten or not?

21. Juni 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

Some general info on wild camping

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

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

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

Camping in a tent or bivouacking?

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

Can you camp in a tent in the forest?

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

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

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

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

What are the alternatives?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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