All posts with the keyword ‘Trekking’

Making a Fire Part 1 – the Right Preparation

31. July 2019
Tips and Tricks

You may be asking yourself why bother making a fire when you can get all the heat you need from a stove and all the light you need from an LED lamp. Is it because people like sitting together in a cosy group or because being outdoors isn’t just about functionality – it’s about the atmosphere, too? Well, that’s part of it, but there’s much more to it than that. Fire doesn’t just deliver warmth and light – it can also be used for cooking, sterilising and protection. If you don’t know how to make a fire in the great outdoors, this article is definitely worth reading.

The first thing to remember is that you can’t really stroll into your neighbourhood forest and light a couple of sticks on fire. Along with the physical challenge of building the fire, there are rules and regulations to keep in mind as well, especially in Germany. We’ll take a closer look at these before we delve into actually building the fire. But, let’s get a little definition out of the way first.

Not all fire is created equal

When we talk about “building a fire”, it generally refers to “open fire” – not a fire in a stove, fireplace or oven. To put it more simply: fire is “open” when it is not lit in a closed chamber, so campfires are clearly open fires.

But incinerators, hobo stoves, barbecues as well as some types of camping stoves are also considered “open”, so it’s easy to get lost in a morass of grey areas, forcing you to use your own judgment. For this reason, this series of articles will focus solely on traditional campfires in the great outdoors.

What do you mean it’s not allowed? Rules and regulations

At first glance, the answer is as simple as it is sobering: in Germany, open fire and naked flames (candles, torches, lanterns) are forbidden in forests and within 100 metres of the forest edge. Smoking is normally forbidden between 1 March and 30 October, and disposing of glowing cigarette butts is, of course, also prohibited. There are also restrictions and prohibitions for meadows, fields and shore areas.

But, as always with rights, rules and prohibitions in Germany, the ones concerning fire are complicated and comprehensive. The German Federal Act for the Protection of Nature and the Federal Forest Act provides the regulatory framework, but many things are also regulated at a state level and can even vary from one municipality to the next. This means that the rules can be contradictory on various levels. According to outdoor and survival expert Kai “Sacki” Sackmann, when in doubt, the state-specific regulations apply. Sackmann’s very interesting article is one of the few detailed and clearly structured commentaries on the legalities of outdoor fires in Germany.

But why are things so complicated and heavily regulated in Germany? Well, there are a lot of people there (225/km² on average) who share relatively few, generally small natural areas. The rules and regulations aren’t there to annoy outdoor enthusiasts; they are there to protect the remaining forests and natural habitats from fires and other damage.

The great majority of forests are freely accessible, but not in the least wild. They are usually properties used for forestry, belonging to cities, states, municipalities or private individuals. Even permission from the property owner doesn’t always mean that you can do whatever you want because restrictions also apply to private properties – especially when they are near a forest. When in doubt, it’s better to just leave fire out of the picture entirely…

Environmental aspects

Even though the millions of grill aficionados don’t like to hear it: every fire produces air pollution. For that reason, you should always ask yourself whether your grill or campfire is really a sensible thing to do – regardless of the legalities.

You should also always be considerate of residents or other campers who might be bothered by the smoke. You might even be able to get them on board by inviting them over for some bread on a stick.

Even when fire is permitted, it doesn’t mean you can just toss any flammable materials you want into the fire. Generally speaking, only dry, untreated wood or charcoal should be burned. Wet materials create excessive smoke; treated material (such as lacquered wood) is harmful to the environment and your health.

The legal situation in Switzerland and Austria

If you’re a mountaineer, the legal situation in the Alps is obviously also of interest as well. So, what do Germany’s neighbours to the south have to say about fire? The Swiss put a certain amount of trust in people’s common sense when it comes to nature, so they take a more liberal stance on the issue:

At the federal level, there is no law that would generally prohibit building a fire in the outdoors”, Rebekka Reichlin from the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment explained to the Swiss consumer magazine “Espresso”, which is published by the broadcaster Radio SRF 1.“There is no explicit prohibition on the use of fire in Swiss legislation on forests, hunting or natural conservation. This means that, in principle, building a fire is permitted.”

That may be great news for fans of grilling and fires in Switzerland, but it doesn’t mean that you can just light fires anywhere you want. There are very well regional and temporary prohibitions, most of which are in place as a result of the risk of wildfires. According to research performed by the SRF, there are at least 500 official fire pits that are pretty luxurious (free firewood)!

The situation in Austria is similar to that in Germany. Here, too, it can be generally assumed that fire is prohibited in the forest. As for other areas, it’s always a good idea to ask the responsible municipality first to be on the safe side.

Where? The right place for a fire

Fortunately, there is more to life in the outdoors than just prohibitions. Outside of protected areas, you’re certainly free to ask the responsible forestry authority for permission. According to “Sacki” Sackmann, experienced bushcrafters have a success rate of about 50%.

Other than that, the question of where you can find a suitable and “definitely permitted” spot for a fire almost answers itself: use designated grill areas and fire pits, which are usually marked on walking maps or signs in the local area. You can also sometimes find a list of official fire pits on the website of the local tourism association. Google Maps will occasionally show these locations if you search for “fire pit”, “grill area” or similar.

You should try not build a fire within the forest itself. If it must be in the forest, choose the most open area available, such as a clearing.

Furthermore, not only should you be aware of the fire risk caused by smouldering coals and flying sparks, but you should also avoid leaving an unattractive hole in the ground vegetation. For this reason, you should use existing fire pits whenever possible. In general, sand, gravel, rock, and mineral surfaces are the best choices. These surfaces are also the easiest to remove traces of fire from.

If no such surface is available, dig a hole and carefully repack it before leaving. A strong knife or a foldable spade can work well for this. But be careful: on peat, moorlands, and marshlands, organic material can smoulder unnoticed underground long after the fire has been put out, which can cause fires!

It goes without saying that the fire should be built at an appropriate distance and on the downwind side of your tent, away from any flammable objects.

Preparation: what else do I need to look out for?

Some outdoor enthusiasts build fires that are much too large. Not only do these burn more material than necessary, but they’re also harder to regulate. When you’re cooking, it doesn’t do any good if the fire heats a huge area, but then you can hardly touch the pots or pans.

Once you’ve determined the right size, you should clear any leaves, moss or other organic materials within approximately a one-metre radius around the fire area. This also applies to any damp materials that could catch fire after the moisture has evaporated.

Before lighting the fire, you should also have plenty of tinder and firewood in various sizes close at hand to get the fire started and keep it burning. Frantically gathering it just before it goes out is counterproductive. We will cover tinder and kindling in a later article, which will detail the proper way to start a fire.

Fuel

As was already mentioned, only dry wood and charcoal should be used for fuel. Straw and brushwood (thin, dry twigs) are suitable only for use as tinder because they burn so quickly, produce a great deal of smoke and come with a high risk of flying sparks.

Burning green waste or garden waste is generally prohibited due to the poor flammability and, most importantly, how harmful the smoke can be to the environment. Doing so can result in heavy fines.

Which wood for which fire?

What is the purpose of the fire? Do you want it to burn hot and fast+ to boil a pot of soup or water for tea? Or should it last longer and burn evenly in order to grill or simmer something? Perhaps, you just need a big fire for some warmth? Basic knowledge of the different types of wood and their characteristics is extremely helpful, even if you won’t always be able to find the right wood.

The first principle is to use only deadwood rather than taking “limbs” from living trees. Deadwood that is still standing (or hanging) is ideal. Wood found lying on the ground can also be used, but this tends to smoulder rather than burn because of the moisture content. But when the fire is really burning, damp wood can be dried next to the fire to some extent and then added to the flames.

Living wood is known as “green wood” among experts. Because of its high resin content, it produces a great deal of smoke and sparks when burning. This is especially true of coniferous woods. They are relatively soft, burn easily, and produce a lot of heat, but they create much more smoke and sparks than they do embers. Pinecones can be used to help with this issue, as they smoulder brilliantly.

Wood from deciduous trees such as beech or oak is more difficult to light than coniferous wood, but it burns longer, produces longer-lasting embers, and creates less smoke and sparks.

What can you do when there are no trees in the area? You can use stuff from bushes and shrubs or driftwood from beaches and riverbanks. However, the latter is very dry and burns accordingly hot and fast. In emergency situations, grass, moss and reeds could also be used; they should ideally be tightly compacted before use. Additional emergency solutions include peat and dried animal dung.

Fire accelerants such as alcohol or gas are a bad – and sometimes deadly – idea! Aside from the fact that the fire could get out of control, you also run the risk of it backfiring while you’re pouring or spraying the accelerant, meaning that the flames could suddenly leap out at you.

Wind, rain, snow: fire in difficult circumstances

If the area is wet or full of snow, you’ll need a bowl or other base (such as sand, gravel, rocks, damp greenwood) because the fire could otherwise sink and go out in a puddle. If wood is used as a base, place similarly shaped twigs and branches next to each other like a grate.

If there are strong winds, protect it with a fallen log, a wall of rocks or with other available materials. However, because fire needs oxygen, be sure to allow for enough airflow. Instead of building a wall, you can also build the fire in a pit – we’ll go into that and the different types of fire in our next post.

When it’s raining, the lower branches of coniferous trees are usually fairly well protected. If you remove the outer layers of spruce or pine branches with a knife, you’ll get firewood that is still relatively dry even in wet weather.

Last but not least: use caution on wet or icy rocks! They often have water in the pores and cracks that increases in volume as it turns to steam. This can create so much pressure that it causes the rock to explode, turning it into a dangerous projectile! This risk can be decreased by heating the rocks very slowly.

After all this thorough prep, were ready to get this fire started! In the next article, we’ll not only discuss how to light a fire but also tell you how to keep it going. We’ll also introduce a few other useful types of fires. See you in part 2!

Northern Playground – “Drop your Trousers” in Norwegian

24. July 2019
Equipment

As the saying goes, “men are often just big boys”, and it’s just a fact that boys often go running to their mothers for help when certain incidents happen at the playground. After all, Mummy is always there, and she knows what to do. Clothing tips from Mum are often unappreciated, but nonetheless they influence practically every generation in their own special way. So it’s no wonder that even big boys often seek advice from these free, ever-changing offline encyclopaedias. When it comes to choosing the right underwear, that’s certainly a little weird, but Northern Playground’s story shows how it can lead to real success.

But what exactly is Northern Playground? It has nothing at all to do with a playground in Trondheim, Oslo, or Stockholm; it’s an up-and-coming manufacturer of innovative and functional outdoor clothing. What exactly it all has to do with (little) boys and their mothers will be explained in this article.

So let’s get started by asking the question:

Who or what is Northern Playground?

Northern Playground is a relatively young company that was founded in 2012 in Oslo, Norway. The story of the company’s founding is as logical as it is weird. Founder Jo Tobiassen has been an outdoor sports enthusiast for as long as he can remember. He’s particularly fond of ski touring and mountaineering, but it was important to him not to miss out on experiencing nature and enjoying a certain amount of comfort in the process. However, as we all know, this can be difficult when you’re sitting in sweaty clothes at the summit of a mountain, unable to enjoy the view or your lunch because you’re freezing your socks off. This problem – and its solution – is basically the company’s core competence and its founding myth in one.

That’s because Jo’s path took him from the cold, wet experience in the mountains straight home to his telephone. He needed his mum’s advice! And look at that! After a brief stint at the sewing machine, they had designed a piece of clothing that looked like a cross between one-piece pyjamas and a super-hero costume without a cape. Even if the designer piece looked a little unusual, it still laid the foundation for a new type of outdoor clothing: base layers that can be taken off on the move without having to take off your jumper, shoes, or even your overtrousers.

They quickly found a suitable partner: Magnus Aasrum, who – staying true to the motto “bare it all” – was intrigued by the idea of innovative outdoor undergarments. After a little self-experimentation with sewing clothes and wearing women’s undergarments, they were finally ready. Northern Playground launched its first collection in 2012.

OK, so we’ve cleared that up. But…

What makes Northern Playground different from other brands?

What sets them apart are the products that started it all: long underwear with zips on the sides designed for skiing, which Northern Playground refers to as Ziplongs. The thought behind it is as easy as it is simple: If you work up a sweat when trudging up a long, steep ascent, some of your clothing is bound to get wet. And, the breathability and quick-drying properties of even the best functional fabrics can fail in such situations, depending on how they are combined with other clothing and how much the wearer sweats. In the worst-case scenario, you could find yourself hanging out at the summit in wet clothes, only to be freezing moments later. Imagine trying to take in the panoramic view or enjoy your lunch or even the peace and quiet in that condition. Impossible!

This is exactly where the Zip Wear Collection comes in. These are basically long johns with a zip on the side. “Boring”, some of you are probably thinking. But the idea behind it is just as clever as it is simple: sweat helps regulate the body’s temperature by allowing water to evaporate off the skin. When we exert ourselves, our body temperature should theoretically increase; we get warm. We sweat to regulate our temperature. Ideally, sweat should be free to evaporate so that the resulting cooling effect can bring the body temperature down or keep it constant. When you’re naked, that works perfectly.

But in combination with (functional) clothing, things get trickier. When other factors such as sunlight, wind and precipitation come into play, the interplay of individual layers – and, subsequently, their breathability – can suffer considerably. The result: sweat gathers in certain areas of the clothing, if not in all of it, and continues to evaporate even after the cooling effect is no longer needed.

A simple solution: The wet clothes have to come off. And that’s exactly where the Zip Wear Collection from Northern Playground comes in. These are essentially long johns that have a zip on the side. That makes it possible for you to take off even something as seemingly inconvenient as long johns whilst you’re adventuring without having to completely strip.

And the material leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. With everything from synthetic fibres to merino wool, Northern Playground uses all the right fabrics to create comfortable and functional outdoor clothing.

But now… drop your trousers! In the truest sense, because…

But how sustainable is Northern Playground?

According to their own 12-point system, Northern Playground describes their sustainability concept as follows:

  1. Northern Playground is based in Norway. To keep production as close to the sales market as possible while keeping production costs low, the garments are manufactured in Lithuania.
  2. Recycled materials are used whenever possible.
  3. All articles of clothing are packaged in cardboard boxes; no plastic is used.
  4. The products are produced with no “expiration date” or any “predetermined breaking points” and can be used for a long time.
  5. The high quality of the clothing and the materials used ensure a long usage life. This isn’t about “fast fashion” – it’s about products that the wearer should enjoy for a long time to come.
  6. The wool they use is produced without using mulesing or superwash.
  7. There are various collections with organic wool and organic silk.
  8. Select products are produced right in Toyen, Oslo .
  9. Northern Playground is also politically active in the field of environmental protection in industry. For example, the company is calling for the introduction of an environmental tax in Norway.
  10. Utenos in Lithuania is the most important producer for their collections. The majority of Northern Playground products are manufactured there. Utenos is very aware of its responsibility towards the environment and fulfils strict requirements.
  11. To think and work “green” is one of Northern Playground’s most important guiding principles.
  12. Honesty and openness are its defining values, so it’s not at all uncommon for them to give customers a look behind the scenes.

Basically, everything at Northern Playground has something to do with sustainability, environmental protection and openness. This also includes their cooperation with the Norwegian development fund “Utviklingsfondet”, which is active in development and environmental work. Among other things, they are attempting to compensate for the company’s carbon footprint as much as possible with tree-planting projects in Africa.

But that’s enough about environmental activism for today!

So what about their products?

Northern Playground’s product line can be roughly divided into two main areas: “The Zip Wear Collection”, which is mostly (ski) undergarments with strategically placed zips, and “The Organic Collection”, which consists of clothes made from organic wool and organic silk.

The Zip Wear Collection

We’ve already described the idea behind the clothing with side zips above. Now, we’d like to go into more detail about the products they actually have.

Thermal bottoms in various lengths

The most innovative products from Northern Playground are the thermal bottoms with side zips. They are available in long, short and three-quarter length, so they can be used for a wide variety of activities. They also offer bottoms with a padded seat.

Jumper with front zip

Jumpers with a half-length zip are absolute basics, so it’ll come as no surprise that Northern Playground has some in its collection. The material used for these garments is a blend of wool and synthetic fibres, which combines functionality and comfort to perfection.

One-piece

The Zipbody is a practical one-piece with long sleeves and short legs. This makes it particularly well-suited for (ski) tours and other alpine activities. A long zip around the back means it can be taken off easily on the go without needing to completely strip down.

Underwear

What is there to say about underwear, really? It’s just underpants und sports bras. The difference here is that these garments have a strategically placed zip that allows them to be taken off quickly when you’re on the move.

The Organic Collection

A second major category is the organic collection. According to the manufacturer, only high-quality natural materials are used. Let’s take a look:

Underwear

From long johns to bras, Northern Playground offers everything that belongs in a respectable underwear collection. What makes their products stand apart from the rest is the material. All garments are made from a blend of organic wool and organic silk that is very comfortable to wear.

Shirts

The second major part of the collection is the t-shirts and long-sleeved shirts. These are also made of a blend of wool and silk. What makes them special? The long-sleeved shirts are also available with a button placket and as hoodies.

Accessories

Aside from the two major product lines, Northern Playground also has some pretty cool accessories. From tube scarfs to ski socks, they offer a variety of products that are comfortable, practical and stylish.

What else is there to say about Northern Playground?

The products from Northern Playground are rather unique not just because of their excellent quality and comfortable materials. The modern design and clever concepts behind the individual pieces make them a must-have for the great outdoors. Ziplongs, long-sleeved shirts, etc. are just the ticket for anyone who spends a great deal of time outdoors and would rather not freeze. The company’s philosophy of transparency and their active contributions to sustainability add the finishing touches to Northern Playground’s image and make the brand one of the small but mighty clothing manufacturers of the far north.

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

10. July 2019
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

How does the odour get into our clothes?

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

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

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

What is Polygiene?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does it work?

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

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

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

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

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

What are the advantages of odour reduction?

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

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

Why Polygiene is sustainable

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

Health

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

Resource consumption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

S.Café – Coffee You Can Wear

26. June 2019
Equipment

Coffee is slowly turning into one of our most talked-about topics. First, we had the long article about brewing a good cup of coffee in the great outdoors, then we delved into the topic of the revolutionary shoe innovation to solve the irritating problem of coffee-to-go stains on your trainers. And now, fabric made from coffee grounds has arrived on the scene.

Of coffee grounds? Yep, it’s technically possible, and the clothing created using this technology even has some extra inherent functionality. Upon hearing this, a lot of questions come to mind: Can you use the stuff to brew a life-saving cup of coffee when you’re about to die of exhaustion in the mountains? Can you tell your fortune with S.Café clothes? No, unfortunately the coffee clothing can’t do any of that. But we’ll tell you more about what it can do in just a minute. First, we’ll take a look at the idea behind the brand S.Café and how it came to be.

You’re probably thinking the idea came from California or Scandinavia, as is so often the case with functional clothing. Well, sorry to disappoint! This time round, the nerdy outdoor innovation came from the Far East – from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, to be precise.

The idea behind the material made of coffee grounds

So, why is this new textile wonder made of coffee grounds and not banana peels or tea bags? Because Jason Chen, CEO of the company Singtex, and his wife Mei-hui had their stroke of genius in a coffee bar. They watched curiously as an older lady asked the barista to give her the coffee grounds. In response to the couple’s inquisitive look, the barista explained that coffee grounds are good for removing odours from the refrigerator. In other words, the odour-reducing properties of coffee grounds were already known.

Chen’s wife then made the joking suggestion that he should use coffee grounds in his textiles to get rid of the smell of sweat after his frequent marathon training sessions. According to legend, Jason thought for moment, turned to his wife, and said loudly: “GOOD IDEA!” So it was Mei-hui’s idea and Jason’s implementation that were born here.

The idea came at just the right time and was patented before Chen even knew how he was going to get the coffee into the textiles. Singtex had already invented multiple new processes and fibres, but these were usually quickly copied by competitors on the Chinese mainland and offered at a lower price. For this reason, they were on the brink of bankruptcy and didn’t want to repeat the same mistake.

How it came to be and how it was developed

Chen put together a group of partners and began researching how coffee grounds could be incorporated into threads. Implementing the seemingly simple idea took four years of research and hard work. In 2009, it was finally time to present their invention to the world under the brand name S.Café.

They quickly gained success, and demand for S.Café rapidly increased. In Taipei, a whole network of partnerships with Starbucks and local cafes took shape, allowing the used coffee grounds to be collected systematically. At this point, a large number of vehicles were roaming the streets, collecting around half a ton of coffee grounds each day throughout Taipei. The other material used in the garments – polyester – is also obtained from a sustainable system of primarily local waste: recycled PET bottles.

Further developments

Shortly after the launch in 2009, Singtex had developed undergarments, sheets, shoes, and a growing assortment of additional products made from S.Café. They also developed other variations on the material itself, known as P4Dry and Mylithe. These were made with new configurations of polymers and coffee grounds in order to offer other specific features. Mylithe uses an “air-structure” technique to give the fabric a cotton-like feel – without losing the original S.Café properties.

And since Jason Chen is an innovative and hard-working CEO, they naturally developed new applications and areas of business. The growing popularity of S.Café is driven by constantly expanding international collaborations with an ever-growing number of leading textile companies like Timberland, American Eagle, The North Face and Puma. But all this growth shouldn’t come at the expense of the environment, even in the future, which is why Singtex continues to strive for certifications, such as bluesign, Oekotex and Cradle to Cradle that guarantee their compliance with high standards.

Production

The first step in the manufacturing process takes place at roasting facilities and coffee bars. The beans not only need to be roasted at temperatures between 160 and 220°C but also need to be pulverised and brewed so that they can be formed into fabric along with the polymers from the old PET bottles.

During the roasting process, the coffee beans swell, which means that their interiors become larger. When the coffee is brewed, the hot water removes material from the resulting hollow spaces. After the grounds are “prepared” in this way, they can be used to obtain the extract, which is incorporated into the plastic filaments in a low-temperature, high-pressure process. Afterwards, it is formed into a thread that combines the properties of the source materials.

Only about 2% useable coffee extract remains after the extraction process, but all in all that isn’t such a bad yield. According to Chen, the remains from a cup of coffee are sufficient for around two to three t-shirts.

The material’s properties

It’s mostly the properties of the coffee grounds that really come to the fore in the final product. The micro-pores in the coffee absorb odours, reflect UV radiation and dry twice as quickly as cotton. S.Café fabric continuously moves moisture away from the skin and distributes it on the outer surface of the material, where it can quickly evaporate. The evaporation helps to reduce the skin’s temperature by 1 to 2°C compared to traditional fabrics – which is enough to make a noticeable difference.

Together, all these properties create a more comfortable, more natural-feeling fabric compared to traditional synthetic fibres.

Because the coffee components are found in the interior of the S.Café fibres, there is no need to be concerned about a decrease in functionality. It is capable of withstanding normal machine washes without any issues and lasts just as long as the properties in other functional textiles.

All this makes S.Café interesting for both outdoor apparel and sportswear and several other applications, including everyday household items.

Sustainability

Of course, Singtex has woven a philosophy of sustainability around its flagship product. But this isn’t an artificial PR product; it’s a natural expression of their way of doing business. The cycle of sustainability is clearly recognisable: the otherwise unsustainable effects of coffee culture are (in part) transferred to a sustainable system. The waste products resulting from people around the world leading urban lifestyles and drinking increasingly more coffee are used to create a useful product. And it turns out that, in this system, a great many more hidden products and technologies are waiting to be uncovered.

The fact that clothes made from S.Café can be composted when they have reached the end of their useable lifespan fits into this exquisitely simple concept perfectly. If the rest were then used in the production of coffee, a full lifecycle would be complete.

Conclusion

The catchy marketing slogan for S.Café is: „Drink it, wear it“. It’s memorable and a great way to summarise the entire company’s philosophy. Their enthusiasm for coffee drinking is understandable in this context as well. After all, without all the hard-working coffee drinkers, the coffee grounds would end up being an expensive material as opposed to recycled waste.

But we probably shouldn’t take the encouragement to drink (even more) coffee all too literally. “Meritocracies” are already driven by more than enough coffee, and Singtex has no cause for concern about running out of grounds to use. Besides, caffeine tends to make our personal performance go down rather than up in the long-term. So, consider taking a nap a little more often, instead of downing the next double espresso. Of course, that’s easier said than done – we’re all short on time and just taking a rest is an almost subversive act. But I’m starting to ramble and get off-topic. Although… I AM still talking about coffee, right?

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

20. March 2019
Care tips

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

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

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

When is a repair worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

How do repairs work? What are the possibilities?

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

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

Alternatively, the following three options remain:

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

Exceptional case: Warranty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of the manufacturers that replace soles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any questions? Feel free to comment below!

Aramid/Kevlar: A Super Material for the Outdoors?

28. February 2019
Equipment

A lightweight, cut and puncture-resistant fabric that is used for bulletproof vests, heat-resistant uniforms or even aircraft construction. Yeah, at first glance, aramid, otherwise known by the brand name Kevlar, seems much more suitable for superhero costumes than for outdoor sports. But the properties of this very special fabric come in extremely useful in a variety of outdoor products, including gloves, trousers, helmets, backpacks and cordage. In other words, it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at aramid and how it can benefit us mountain and outdoor athletes.

What is aramid?

In a nutshell, aramid is a kind of polyamide and thus another one of the numerous hydrocarbon or petroleum-based polymers. On Wikipedia, the definition is a bit more precise, but more complex:

Aramid fibers are a class of heat-resistant and strong synthetic fibers. […] The name is a portmanteau of ‘aromatic polyamide’. The chain molecules in the fibers are highly oriented along the fiber axis. As a result, a higher proportion of the chemical bond contributes more to fiber strength than in many other synthetic fibers. Aramides have a very high melting point (>500 °C).

Why is it called an “aromatic polyamide”? Good question! This group of substances (at least in parts) actually releases intense (scented) aromas, which are often perceived as pleasant. As interesting as this may be, we’re much less interested in the smell than we are in the material’s functional properties.

But before we get to the most interesting and relevant ones, here is some more information on the development of the material: In the mid sixties, the American DuPont Group conducted quite a bit of research on the practical use of aramids. In the process, they developed the best-known kind of aramid Kevlar and made it ready for commercial use. Kevlar is presumably the only trade name you as an outdoor enthusiast have ever heard, seeing as this aramid fibre is often used in outdoor and mountaineering products. Actually, Kevlar is the only aramid fibre found in this area, which is why we’ll focus primarily on it and leave aramid products, like Nomex, Teijinconex, Twaron or Technora to fire fighters, soldiers and astronauts…

Production

The production of aramids is diverse and complex, to say the least. They are produced more often as fibres than as films. In the complex world of fibre science, a distinction is made between low-modulus and high-modulus fibres, the functional properties of which differ somewhat from one another.

High modulus fibres are spun from a liquid crytalline solution of poly-paraphenylene terephtahalamide in concentrated sulphuric acid. After the surface treatment, high-modules fibres are mechanically stretched to yield a highly oriented polymer. The “high degree of orientation” makes for a clean-looking pattern. The exact geometry is just as characteristic of aramid as the golden yellow colour, which brings us to the properties of aramid.

Properties

In their own description of their Kevlar product, DuPont emphasises that these fibres are “better, stronger and safer” in the great outdoors: “DuPont™ Kevlar® aramid fiber allows people to Dare Bigger. It’s used to make a variety of clothing, accessories, and equipment safe and cut resistant. It’s lightweight, durable and extraordinarily strong. Yes, it’s best known for its use in ballistic and stab-resistant body armor, as Kevlar® brand aramid fiber continues to evolve and allow heroes to be heroes. But it’s also on the ski slopes, the switchback trails, in demanding desert terrain, even the outer limits of space.

The wide range of applications is due to the fibre’s high (tensile) strength, high impact resistance, medium to low elongation, the good vibration-dampening properties and heat resistance. Instead of melting, the fibres begin to carbonise at about 400°C. Neither solvents, fuels, lubricants, salt water, fungi or bacteria can do much harm to aramid fibres. They are only sensitive to some strong acids and alkalis. In other words, aramid is very tough.

When it comes to compressive strength, however, aramid fabrics are more middle of the pack and fairly poor in terms of UV resistance and water absorption (up to 7%). UV radiation leads to the fibre losing up to 75% of its strength. However, this can be counteracted relatively easily by means of UV-absorbing coatings or laminates. In general, aramid can be easily combined with other fabrics, which means that its functionality can be optimised and expanded in many different ways.

Applications

The unique properties of aramid make it ideal for a wide range of applications, including construction and industry applications. The sports and outdoor industry love the material for its toughness, tensile strength and low weight. Aramid fibres are used for cords, paragliding lines, sails, bicycle tyres and more.

The Kevlar elements in textiles serve primarily as reinforcements that protect the body and increase the lifespan of garments. The Kevlar reinforcements are particularly popular in cycling, motorcycle and motorsports apparel as well as in high-wear areas of outdoor trousers and backpacks. Kevlar stitching is used in ski and via ferrata gloves as well.

Because the material is so tough, there is a certain amount of stiffness to it. This can definitely be a plus, but there are some downsides to it as well, especially in the outdoors. This is illustrated by the example of the relatively new Kevlar cords, which are also available as sewn cord slings in various sizes. The core is made of aramid, while the sheath is made of polyamide, as is the case with “normal” cords and ropes. The aramid core is brownish in colour, so it’s easy to distinguish from the conventional, dazzling white polyethylene core of your usual cord, rope and webbing material.

The 5/2014 issue of the German-language DAV Panorama magazine highlighted the high strength and high cut resistance of the material as some of the main advantages. Plus, the material is not only very abrasion and heat resistant, but it also boasts a tensile strength far greater than that of polyamide cords. Kevlar cords also offer a much higher breaking strength than conventional accessory cords with the same diameter.

As a disadvantage, Panorama magazine points to the greater amount of sheath slip shown by Kevlar cords when compared to pure polyamide. They also point out that the quasi-static material is not to be used in dynamic belays for leaders.

Because of its lack of elasticity (more precisely: low elongation to break), Kevlar is not suitable for dynamic ropes. But, the material’s stiffness really comes in useful for rock tunnels or rappelling off an Abalakov set up.

Conclusion

When it comes to strength, durability, longevity and safety, there’s hardly a material better than Aramid/Kevlar. Its properties can be extremely useful in certain outdoor situations but less so in others. It doesn’t have as many applications in the outdoor industry as it has in cycling and motorsports, occupational health and safety and other areas, but it’s still quite useful!

What to do about ticks?

19. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

What are ticks?

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

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

Behaviour

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

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

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

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

Range and habitat

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

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

Why are ticks dangerous?

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

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

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

What diseases can be transmitted by ticks?

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

TBE

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

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

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

Lyme disease

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

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

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

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

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

Migrating redness: The red ring

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

Countermeasures: Prevention

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

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

Behaviour

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

Clothing

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

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

Always good: be as healthy as possible

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

Chemicals

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

Vaccination: only for TBE

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

Natural remedies: black cumin oil and coconut oil

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

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

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

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

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

Got bitten anyway: Defensive countermeasures

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

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

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

Infected or not?

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

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

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

Antibiotics

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

 

First-aid kit essentials for your backpack

19. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is a first-aid kit mandatory?

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

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

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

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

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

The contents of your first-aid kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extras for big adventures in remote areas:

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

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

Optional/special requirements:

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

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

First-aid kits for larger groups

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

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

Last but not least: The first-aid bag

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

Conclusion

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

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

Tips for Great Outdoor Photos

13. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

1. Wait for the golden hour

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

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

2. Lines guide the eye through the photograph

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

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

3. Change your position often

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

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

4. Having people in the photograph reinforces the perspective

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

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

5. Wide-angle lenses enhance perspective

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

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

6. You can take fantastic pictures in the dark

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

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

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

7. Longer exposure times open up new possibilities

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

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

8. Obstructions in pictures can be interesting

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

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

9. Incorporate reflections into the image

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

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

A brief explanation of technical terms in photography

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

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

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

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

Camping in winter: Getting used to the cold

13. December 2018
Tips and Tricks

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

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

Cold-exposure training: Body and mind

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

Training your body

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

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

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

Training your mind: Acceptance and acclimatization

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

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

Damn, it’s still so cold!

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

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

Mini digression: What is cold?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drinking/melting snow

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

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

Cooking

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

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

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

Fuel

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

Cold exposure training: Clothing

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

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

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

Adapting to the cold – Your sleeping bag

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

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

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

Liners and VBLs

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

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

Hot water bottlesor heated rocks

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

Sleeping mats

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

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

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

Adapting to the cold – Your tent

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

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

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

Location

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

Tent setup

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

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

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

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

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

Heating your tent

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

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

Summary

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

Fellow Alpine Trekker Jan on the Beacons Way

13. December 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

“It is a strenuous walk with plenty of ascents and descents. Parts of the route across open moorland can be difficult to navigate in poor weather – this and the isolation of these sections can make following parts of the route hazardous. The Beacons Way can be walked in its entirety in about 8 days but could easily take twice as long as there is so much to explore and enjoy en route” (en.wikipedia.org).

You’re probably wondering why I’ve chosen to begin this post with a quote from Wikipedia. Well, these few lines couldn’t describe more accurately just what our fellow Alpine Trekker Jan had the pleasure of experiencing first hand in August of 2012.

Anything is possible

How does one get the idea to choose Wales of all places as a destination for a a multi-day walk? True, the West Highland Way in Scotland is probably the best known option amongst the long-distance footpaths on the island, but I have to admit I’m more drawn to the unknown. I have this unrelenting urge to discover, you know, that urge to take the road less travelled. And, the few hundred people per year who dare to tackle the Beacons Way (according to various forums) can’t be wrong about it, can they? The ability to read a map and compass is generally regarded as essential for this route. And, because of the extremely variable weather conditions, thick mist and sink holes off the official route, the walk promises to be quite the adventure. And finally, the national park itself is supposed to be stunningly beautiful, provided the sun is shining.

Maybe I’ve just watched too many shows with the famous adventurer Bear Grylls, you never know. But, when I read that British special forces regularly train in the Brecon Beacons National Park, where the long-distance footpath is located, I was hooked. The terrain apparently takes such a physical and mental toll on you that the place is absolutely perfect for such military training.

Preparation is good, improvisation is better

From London, I travel by train to Cardiff, stay there for a night in a hostel and continue on to the small town of Abergavenny, the official starting point of the trip. Wait, what am I even carrying on my back? Well, I’ve got my 65L rucksack, which contains my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, warm fleece clothing, waterproofs and provisions for 7 days. You can also find a packing list for trekking here. I’ll be cooking my grub with alcohol, which I have to buy there. My plan is to be self-sufficient, at least for most of the way. Also very important: I’ve got the maps for the region: the Ordnance Survey Maps OL12 & OL13 on a 1:25,000 scale as well as a compass and a GPS device for tracking. As it turns out, it was a good idea to take a few survival essentials as well, such as a flint, parachute cord, a pocket knife and a small roll of duct tape, all of which was protected by a large rain cape – but more on that later.

The route

On the first day after walking up under a snuggly blanket, I head out on the route, which takes me over the ‘Holy Mountain’ (486m above sea level) up to a small place called Llanthony, which amounted to about 20 kilometres in total. It’s here that I choose to spend the night, alone at a campsite. Up to this point, the weather has been so-so. I haven’t been able to enjoy any real views so far, but I have got a taste for the very wet moorland and am now trying to arrange myself with the pathfinding. After a wrong turn and a long detour, I decide to look at my map more often! The official markings along the route seem rather scarce, but every couple of hours, I see one out of the corner of my eye, hidden away by some overgrowth, which makes me want to jump for joy every single time.

Fellow alpine trekker Jan on the Beacons Way.After an average night’s sleep, I make myself some warm milk and oat flakes. My little alcohol stove needs a relatively long time to make this happen, especially in comparison to modern gas stoves, but the system weighs next to nothing and has been serving me well since my time in the service. With the sun shining down upon me, I continue my journey past small, medieval villages, ruins from the 11th century, through lush green undergrowth to Crickhowell. After pitching my tent, I sit down in front of my stove, make myself a bag of noodles and study the map. Although there is a relatively large campsite in the village and a few tiny bed & breakfasts along the way, I hardly meet a soul. On the plus side, I was able to enjoy the weather without a worry in the world as well as some fantastic views over the Brecon Beacons. I hope this continues!

British weather ‘at its best’

Nothing against the British, but the rumours are true: when it rains here, it pours. Even trying to get up when it’s bucketing down like this in temperatures around 13°C is a tall task. Soon, I meet a Welsh man on the street and timidly ask what the weather is going to be like, but all he can give me is a grin full of pity and only an inkling of hope for sunshine come afternoon. So, I decide to spend the morning off the beaten track and follow the less exposed ‘Brecon Canal’ to the village of Llangyndir (yes, some of these place names are real tongue twisters. Of course, no one understands me when I say where I want to go…).

Convinced that I have discovered one of the more beautiful spots on the map, I continue for a few more kilometres to find the sun beaming its rays on me on the last climb of the day! Reinvigorated, I pay a visit to the ‘Talybont Reservoir’, on the northern shore of which there is a youth hostel of sorts with campgrounds and an outdoor education centre. At least, that’s what it appeared to be. And although I find a warm kitchen there, I decide to eat my own food first. After all, I’d rather not find out later that I’ve been lugging all this stuff around for nothing.

Day 4 – the highest peak

This section of the Beacons Way is officially described as ‘strenuous’. The weather is dry, albeit cloudy, and offers the best conditions for the 27km-long stretch. But, it’s not the distance that is the problem, but it’s the elevation gain. The route takes me through forested areas with moderate ascents at first, but very soon the path becomes extremely steep. After about 1 1/2 hours, I reach the central mountain range in the Brecon Beacons National Park and arrive on the first plateau, at which point I see some soldiers marching toward me at a pretty good clip. Visibly exhausted and carrying an incredible amount of kit, they torture themselves up and down the mountain. Amazing.

Even though I’m now standing beside a large number of day walkers on the Fan y Big (719m above sea level), there’s a short moment of silence, allowing me to take it all in. My gaze wanders over the expansive, green, hilly landscape and I estimate that I can see about 20-25km in the distance. This is exactly what I came here for! Before I continue, I grab another slice of pumpernickel as a pick-me-up. The path takes me down a steep descent, then straight up Pen y Fan, which is 886m above sea level and thus the highest peak in southern Wales. I take a quick glance behind me, only to see dark and ominous clouds on the distant horizon. I pick up the speed to reach the summit at least somewhat dry, but alas, this hope of mine quickly dissolves. Fellow alpine trekker Jan on the Beacons Way.Suddenly, I can see less than 10 metres in front of me, and after reaching the summit obelisk, I have serious trouble finding the way back down. Finally, by the skin of my teeth, I manage to find my way down despite the torrential rains. Heavily eroded paths lead the way into the valley where I reach a place called ‘Storey Arms’. After half an hour of waiting, nobody shows up, so I decide to go to a catered hut about 2km off the path, which not only gives me the opportunity to dry all my gear but also has something warm to eat! Plus, I get to enjoy a bottle of wine or two with a German family and two Scottish hikers. I couldn’t dream of a more beautiful end to such a long, difficult day.

Life is full of surprises

Yeah, so not only am I’m really lost, rain and dense fog are expected to last the entire day. Great…and just this morning, I was told I shouldn’t go hiking today. Did I listen? Of course not. With a slight hangover from the night before, I thought it would be best to keep moving…

So, now I’m standing in the middle of this boggy, heather-clad plateau like a fool, cursing Mother Nature for this awful weather. My compass is showing me the general direction, but I am more than an hour away from anything that remotely resembles a trail. The last sign, if I’m not mistaken, was a cairn about one kilometre back. So, I follow my instincts and slide about 50 metres down a steep, muddy slope full of sheep dung. Great… Not only am I soaking wet, I’m covered with…ugh, you know what… Today is really not my day…

After a brief moment of reflection, I hear the sound of a small waterfall, allowing me to determine my location on the map. I conquer one kilometre after another on the ‘Old Roman Road’, which is recommended as an alternative route for walkers in extremely poor visibility, interrupted only by several fast-moving, one-to-two-metre wide streams I have to jump over with all my kit. Great… The current is so strong that it would pull my legs out from under me and throw me down the slope with ease. So, first I toss my pack over to the other side, then I follow, hoping that the ground on the other side will hold my weight. I do this over and over again before finally reaching the ‘Ogof Ffynnon-ddu National Nature Reserve’. Bless you. ;)

This area is known for its extensive cave system and karst areas with scars and sinkholes that line the path. In other words, it’s extremely important not to stray from the path, which, unfortunately proves rather difficult in dense fog. Fortunately, the larger holes are clearly marked on the map. Trickier still is the so-called ‘Area of Shake Holes’, consisting of barely recognisable cracks and holes in the ground, often overgrown and thus very difficult to see. But, in the end, I make it to ‘Tawe Cwm’ after 30 kilometres of walking, completely soaked, but thankful for my most faithful companion – my map.

Hating life (because even my last dry sock in my supposedly rain-protected pack now has enough water in to fill half a glass), I set up my camp and reflect… underwear wet, sleeping bag wet, and it looks like stalactites are forming in my tent. So, I spend the night shivering than sleeping, asking myself why I didn’t stay in that damn hut ..

A conciliatory farewell

The following morning begins with me making some minor repairs to my equipment. While hanging my still-wet socks over the stove to dry, I notice that several seams on my walking boots have come apart. Before tending to my shoes, I patch up some smaller holes in my rain cape, which were probably caused by some brambles along the way, with some duct tape. As for the shoes, they need a bit more than that. To keep the bits of material that overlap on the uppers from tearing even more, I slip two zip ties around each shoe. It doesn’t look pretty, but it’s definitely one of a kind. And, most importantly, it works – much to my amazement.

After a morning drizzle, the day promises to be much better than the previous one – I’m already looking forward to the warm sun beaming down upon me. I hang half of my kit on the outside of my rucksack to dry, at which point I am completely fascinated by the landscape again. Along the ‘Lyn y Fan Fawr’, the highest lake in South Wales, I follow the mountain range around ‘Fan Brycheiniog’ and reach my destination in the afternoon with a wonderful sunset over the gently rolling landscape of the Brecon Beacons, which had quite honestly put me through an emotional roller coaster up to that point.

The seventh and final day of my adventure had little to offer in the way of highlights. The route seems to have changed slightly before I had a chance to write this. In any case, I choose to do the “official” stages 7 and 8 together, treating myself to a wonderful 42km trek to the finish in the village of Bethlehem. With only a few metres of gain, ancient ruins and remnants of days gone by, the route allows for plenty of time to reflect. Exhausted but happy, I finally reach the wooden bench, which officially marks the finish of the Beacons Way. What now? It’s odd. I don’t know what I thought would happen when I arrived, so I sit down, eat my last chocolate bar, and eventually, I go on…

Páramo – An introduction and product review

23. October 2018
Equipment

Everything is covered by low-hanging clouds, it’s raining cats and dogs and I’m really starting to wonder what I am doing here. Oh, right. I’m hiking. Why in the pouring rain, you ask? Well, I’ve got some clothes that I’m dying to try out… They’re from Páramo, a British brand that is still relatively unknown in Germany and first appeared in our shop not too long ago. The most interesting thing about this brand is the material they use. It was developed in collaboration with Nikwax and is called “Nikwax Analogy”.

But, more on that later. In the following, we’re not only going to give you some background info on Páramo, but also provide a nice little review of the clothing we had the pleasure of trying out.

Before we begin, we’d just like to say that our opinions of these products are in no way embellished and are based solely on our personal experiences with the products. Of course, we’ve passed on our review to Páramo as well.

Who or what is Páramo?

Páramo is a British outdoor brand that has been developing, designing and manufacturing clothing for a wide range of outdoor activities, demands and climates since 1992. The company is known for its new, innovative approach to manufacturing clothing that has been driven by ethical and ecological practices since the very beginning – long before the market had even begun to play with the idea of combining functionality and sustainability.

In fact, Páramo has even managed to do without PFCs all this time and produces under fair conditions.

Páramo also has a partnership with the non-profit Miquelina Foundation in Colombia, a foundation for the order “Las Religiosas Adoratrices”. Here, both young and older women who have been freed from the clutches of forced prostitution are trained to work as seamstresses in order to build a free, independent and structured life for themselves.

Today, Páramo has over 80% of their clothing manufactured at the Miquelina Foundation, and all the products in the Directional Analogy series are manufactured there. Of course, all of their other products, which are manufactured in East Asia, are made under fair conditions as well.

Páramo is part of the same group of companies as Nikwax, which is known for washing and textile care products. Together with Nikwax, they developed Analogy technology, which makes the brand quite unique.

How does Nikwax Analogy technology work?

Nikwax Analogy technology is supposed to offer a more effective removal of water than conventional membranes, thanks to something they call ‘directionality’. This is due to the fact that whilst membranes can move small water vapour molecules very quickly to the outside, they often reach their limits when it comes to liquid water and condensation. This results in an accumulation of water and ice forming on the inside of hard shells.

Páramo’s Analogy technology is supposed to prevent exactly that by moving larger amounts of water to the outside at quite a rapid rate. You can see this amazing technology at work in this video:

How is Analogy fabric constructed?

The principle is based on proper layering: Páramo clothing (layers 3 and 4) should be combined with functional underwear (2). The functional underwear absorbs sweat from the surface of the skin (1) and transfers it to the first layer (3) of outer clothing. This keeps the skin dry and the body warm. Sounds familiar, right?

Here’s where things get a bit different. Páramo calls the third layer the “Pump Liner”. Why Pump Liner? Probably because layers 3 and 4 lie loosely on top of each other and are only sewn together at the main seams. When you move, these layers shift towards and away from each other, which “pumps” moist air outwards. The outer layer (4) is made of densely woven, windproof polyester that has been treated with Nikwax for durable water repellence. To ensure it remains effective over time, keep in mind that the water repellent treatment must be reapplied every now and again.

Our first impression

At first, we were a little sceptical. The fabric just didn’t feel like we were expecting it to. It feels so much different than traditional hard shells.

Nikwax Analogy is very soft and flexible and almost feels like those good ol’ silky tracksuits from the 1990s. Remember those? Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does take time to get used to. And, I must say, it made us even more curious to find out how the products would perform.

We really put the clothing through the wringer, testing them while cycling, hiking, freeriding, mountaineering, camping in the winter, in hours of rain, in heavy hailstorms and at temperatures of +8°C as well as at -18°C.

All in all, we can say that we were more than happy with the weather protection provided by the products with the Nikwax Analogy. They kept us completely dry in long, drawn-out rain storms where many other membranes would have probably failed.

Overall, we really enjoyed the functionality of the products, that is, the combination of windproof, waterproof and breathable properties. The two-layer, membrane-free system worked flawlessly and definitely has what it takes to become a major competitor on the market.

Which Páramo products were tested?

The following products were put to the test:

  • Men’s Velez Jacket: a waterproof jacket for general outdoor use
  • Men’s Cascada II Trousers: waterproof walking trousers for the most demanding walker.
  • Men’s Torres Activo: a versatile synthetic jacket that is both windproof and warm designed for winter sports, mountain sports and winter trekking.
  • Men’s Enduro Tour Trousers: These warm trousers are an all-rounder for high mountain activities such as skiing, ski touring and ice climbing.
  • Men’s Enduro Jacket: a waterproof alpine jacket with a light insulating effect. Made for ski touring, mountaineering and alpine climbing.
  • Grid Tecnic Hoodie: A light, fast-drying fleece hoodie with waffle grid zones and integrated hood.

Apart from the Grid Tecnic Hoodie and the Torres Active, all these products are part of the Nikwax Analogy series, so they are windproof and waterproof, but have no membrane and are free of PFCs.

And what do the reviewers think?

Velez Jacket (Jörn):

I have to admit, I was really sceptical of the way the jacket felt at first, with its odd, loose outer… That’s supposed to be durable? Well, let’s slip it on and see. It was a little big, but when is the fit not an issue? Personally, I’d prefer the Velez to fit a little more snugly.

The pockets on this jacket are particularly interesting: It comes equipped with what Páramo refers to as dual phase pockets that work as both vents and pockets. The first zip opens the vent, while the second zip opens the pocket. Pretty nifty. This along with the vents on the upper arm allows you to adjust the ventilation according to your needs. The hood fits comfortably and is easy to adjust. The other drawstrings work perfectly as well.

We’ve already said enough about the material’s functionality, but allow me to say that I am absolutely thrilled with the technology. However, I did feel like the loose layers resulted in more insulation than expected. In other words, you could get too hot, so be sure not to wear too many layers.

Cascada II Trousers (Jörn)

The feel of the Cascada II is similar and the fabric performed just as well as the fabric used for the Velez Jacket. I even sat on a wet bench for a long period of time, and the trousers didn’t mind one bit, and neither did I!

The trousers fit much better than the jacket, and the ventilation options are quite generous thanks to the nearly full-length side zips. When they’re completely unzipped, the buttons hold the trousers together.

I have to admit that I didn’t really think a pair of waterproof trousers was necessary for a hike in the rain with temperatures between 6-8°C. I thought it was a little much. But I was sorely mistaken – the Cascada II delivered in every way. I didn’t even get too hot on the uphills. Granted, I did only have a pair of short underwear on underneath.

Torres Activo (Jörn)

My favourite garment in the Páramo range and a must for cold weather. It’s like it was tailor-made just for me (a bit more athletic than the Velez). Plus, it allows for plenty of freedom of movement. When the cuffs, hood and drawcords are sealed up nice and tight, the jacket keeps you warm and comfortable.

In temperatures around -6°C and a wind that could freeze you stiff, I wore this jacket over a stretch fleece and a long-sleeved merino base layer and felt as comfortable as could be. It’d be nice if the puller on the zip were a bit bigger. They’re not very easy to use with gloves on. The side pockets are perfectly placed, making it easy to access them even when wearing a harness.

Páramo recommends wearing the Torres OVER a waterproof jacket, which may sound strange at first. But, the synthetic fibres have the ability to insulate even when wet, and I reckon it’d be quite a challenge to put on a hard shell over the rather voluminous Torres Activo.

For ski tours, winter hikes or snowshoeing, the Torres Activo is definitely a good choice!

Grid Tecnic Hoodie (Jonas)

What I loved most about this hoodie was its slim fit, low weight and the practical zipped chest pocket. Plus, waffle-like structure not only traps air and provides excellent insulation but also moves water away from your body to keep you comfortable. The large chest pocket is great for storing a smartphone or battery for your camera. Because of the warmth in this area, you’ll notice your battery lasts longer as well.

Another great thing about this slim-fitting hoodie is that the hood fits very well under a climbing helmet – perfect for moderately windy conditions.

The only downside to this hoodie is that there seems to be no odour-inhibiting treatment. True, nobody has ever stunk to death, but the Grid Tecnic Hoodie did reek a bit even after a short period of use.

In sum, we can say that the hoodie is extremely versatile. You can wear it as your first layer, mid-layer or outer layer. It performs best in cool to very cold temperatures and is perfect for those higher-intensity activities that make you sweat.

Enduro Tour Trousers (Jonas)

A warm, weatherproof choice for alpinists that also happens to be pretty versatile. The long leg zips allow for rapid temperature adjustment. With or without functional underwear, the trousers are a viable option for spring ski tours as well as for high mountain activities in temperatures around -20°C.

The trousers not only provide enough freedom of movement for climbing but also fit extremely well thanks to the high back panel and the loop for braces, which are, unfortunately, sold separately, but are still a nice feature.

I was surprised by how soft the Dyneema crampon patches were, and the snow gaiters were almost too small and there was no metal hook to secure them to my laces.

Another downside is the lack of any cords on the zips to make them easier to use with thick gloves on, but this is something that a lot of mountaineering trousers lack. All in all, these trousers are a very comfortable and versatile option for high alpine activities and can be used all year round.

Enduro Jacket (Jonas)

At almost £ 418, the Enduro is one of the more expensive jackets to say the least. In this price range, Páramo is forced to compete with the likes of Arc’teryx and other high-end manufacturers and does well – for the most part. The jacket definitely gets high marks for the functional fabric and great weather protection it provides, even in long, drawn-out rain storms. The pockets are harness-friendly, too.

But it’s not all kitty cats and rainbows, the Enduro Jacket does have some flaws. I found the zip on the inside chest pocket much too small and my field of vision much too narrow when wearing the hood. On the plus side, the hood does fit nicely under a helmet. Weighing in at 780g in size M, the Enduro is certainly not the lightest jacket on the market. And, after only two days of freeriding with an avalanche backpack on, I could see the first signs of pilling around the shoulder and armpits. Páramo will definitely have to do something about that.

Our final thoughts on Páramo

All in all, we were very impressed by Páramo’s products, especially when it came to the weather protection provided by Nikwax Analogy technology. The overall feel of the fabric took some getting used to at the beginning, but those concerns were long gone once we put them on.

We did run into some minor issues with the fit and quality, but this is not at all uncommon in the outdoor industry. We notified Páramo about the pilling we experienced when wearing the Enduro Jacket, and they promised to have a closer look at the issue.

On a more general note, we believe the sustainable and ethically sound production of Páramo products is worth mentioning as well. It has been an integral part of their identity since the very beginning, and there are no signs of that changing any time soon, which we think is a very good thing. The Páramo line up includes base layers, mid-layers and outer layers, so both hill walkers and ambitious mountaineers alike will find exactly what they are looking for at Páramo.

Who were the reviewers?

Jonas (left) works in the content department and takes care of product descriptions. In his spare time, you’ll usually see him up in the mountains either mountaineering, climbing or skiing.

Jörn (right) is in charge of our Base Camp blog and social media channels. So, when he’s not glued to his keyboard or camera, he’s usually out enjoying some kind of endurance or mountain sport or a combination of the two.

£ 5 now
For your next order
No thank you.

We use cookies to improve your shopping experience. If you use our website, you accept the use of cookies.