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Category Archives: Drifters News


Size Matters – MSR Trailshot Water Filter

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The smartest solution to clean water on fast-paced adventures.

Clean water all day—without the weight. That’s the advantage the TrailShot Microfilter provides. Designed to hide in stash pockets and deploy quickly, this tiny water filter lets you drink directly from sources along the trail for instant hydration, and fill your vessels with clean water. Easy one-handed operation filters one liter in a mere 60 seconds, so you can get back on the trail quickly and moving again. At just 142 g (5 oz.), the TrailShot water filter is the ultimate filter for fast-paced, high-mileage adventurers, like trail runners, hikers, fast-packers and mountain bikers.


When is backcountry water safe to drink?

Altra LonePeak Mid 3.0

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The Altra Lone Peak Mid is an exciting addition to the Altra shoe lineup. Combine all of the aspects of the Lone Peak 3.0 with a Neoshell Fabric and added support of a ankle stability and you have the Lone Peak Mids 3.0. The LP Mid 3.0 has all the comfort and weight of a trail running shoe with the ankle saver benefits of a hiking boot. The upper is a basically waterproof Neoshell fabric up to the ankle. We can see why a lot of AT, PCT and long distance hikers are making this shoe their boot of choice.

Thanks to the Foot Shaped Toe Box, the hiker has a wide toe box which enables the hiker to have plenty of room to wiggle his/her toes and also help to avoid the buildup of moisture thereby preventing blisters. The Mid has a high- raised ankle lateral support with added padding to help prevent any rocks/debris/roots from getting in and of course providing all around comfort to the ankles. The secure fit around the heel and the arch, give the hiker a more relax fit while walking with the support and stability desired for long hikes.  The midsole cushion delivers comfort through a day of hiking in the wilderness. There are two metal rings to properly secure the boot around the hiker’s ankle.  The LP Mid 3.0 has awesome traction thanks to the new rubber compound, giving hikers the confidence to take them anywhere. The hiker will have the choice to strap a gaiter with gaiter trap on the back on the hiking boot, and metal loop on the base of the laces. The Lone Peak Altra Mids 3.0 is built with Weatherproof/breathable materials which enable the hiker to keep their feet dry and warm on those colder days.

The Altra Lone Peak Mids 3.0 are extraordinarily well built to last on long hikes and endure any condition the weather might bring. Incorporating all aspects of the Altra brand in a hiking boot makes it a solid competitor in the hiking industry, and a great option for those who already love their Altra trail running shoes or want to use this as winter training option to keep your toes warm and dry.


Suggested optimal use: Hiking, snowshoeing, Multi-day fast packing

Knife review – Spyderco Tenacious

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Knife Review: Spyderco Tenacious


In my continuing quest to find my favorite budget folding knife – which for my purposes I am defining as anything costing less than $50 – I decided to pick up a Spyderco Tenacious on a Black Friday special. It is one of those knives that I have always heard good things about, but never had the opportunity to use for myself. Throughout my testing, what I found was a knife that challenges preconceptions, and may force some people to face hard truths.

Detailed Specs
Manufacturer: Spyderco
Blade: Leaf Point, 8Cr13MoV Steel, Full Flat Grind, Satin Finish
Rockwell Hardness: 57-59 HRC
Scales: G10
Pivot: Adjustable
Locking mechanism: Liner Lock
Opening method: ambidextrous thumbhole
Clip: 4-Position – Right or Left Hand, Tip-Up or Tip-Down
Country of Origin: China
MSRP/Street Price: $69.95 / $42

Dimensions (measured on this test sample)
Overall Length: 7.79”
Handle Length: 4.4”
Handle Thickness: 0.455″ (not including clip)
Blade Length (tip to scale): 3.39″
Sharpened Length: 3.4”
Blade Thickness: 0.12”
Weight:  4.15 oz



If you look at the specs for this knife, the steel is the only clue that you are not holding something that costs twice the $40 that the Tenacious typically sells for. The 8Cr13MoV won’t light any fires for the steel junkie, but it is perfectly serviceable and offers very similar performance to my favorite entry level metal,AUS8.


Moving on from the steel, you get a nicely textured set of G10 handle scales that add just enough grip to inspire confidence, and an open-backed construction that makes cleaning a breeze and leaves little space for pocket lint to collect. The liner lock engages nicely and is also easy to disengage, thanks to the generous cutout on the presentation side.

The polished pocket clip sports a laser engraved Spyder logo. It looks great and you won’t have to worry about any paint chipping off over time which will keep it looking fresh. The flip side is the clip is less discrete than typical black variations. Retention is good though, and four sets of screw holes ensure that any carry preference is accommodated.

That’s all of the “spec-sheet” info out of the way, so lets take a minute to admire how nice some of the design elements are.


Aesthetically the knife is pleasing to my eye. Like many knives in the Spyderco lineup, the thumb ramp lines up nicely with the scales in a closed position as well as when open. The lanyard hole is framed perfectly by the pocket clip and has a hollow tube running through both sides to protect your lanyard from the sharp edge. Nice, attentive design all around.


I’m glad to see there is no bead-blasted metal anywhere to be found, and all the steel has a bright satin finish. This contrasts nicely with the black G10, and I daresay the knife has an almost classy streak.


But by far, my favorite thing about the design is the short distance between the handle and the start of the blade edge. Because of the mechanical limitations that go along with most folding knives, the edge often starts a little distance away from the pivot… sometimes far away (see Ontario RAT-1). But thanks to the angled plunge line on the Tenacious, the edge is able to make it all the way back to the grips, and the handle design allows you to choke right up on the blade as well. The curve of the edge even picks up the curve of the liner lock. Have I mentioned that this knife is very smartly designed?

Fit & Finish


“Quality” is a hard thing to quantify, but the amount of quality that you get for the price is astonishing. The construction of the Tenacious is as good as just about anything I have seen from Spyderco. If you slapped an S30V blade into it and told me it was made in the US, I would believe you. Seriously, I can’t find anything to fault on the build of this knife.


The G10 scales are solidly attached and perfectly aligned. The blade is centered when closed and the liner lock keeps it rock solid when open.


I am used to feeling a little bit of blade play on any folder, but there was none on the Tenacious.


The initial edge on the Tenacious was also good. I was able to whittle fine curls of magazine paper with no trouble at all.


The microscope reveals and edge that is slightly rough, but better than many I have seen in higher price ranges.


That little bit of toothiness helped when I tested the edge on ¾” manilla rope. The blade pushed through a taut section fairly easily and the scales did not dig into my hand too much with a single cut. However, gloves would be appreciated if doing a lot of rope cutting.


In hand comfort is good, but not overly hand filling regarding its width. The edges of the G10 are chamfered so nothing digs into your skin, but the general thinness of the handles would make long whittling sessions uncomfortable if not wearing gloves.

The dual skeletonized liners impart just enough weight to the handle without feeling like a boat anchor. Balance is decent as well, thanks to the skeletonization.


Because of the integral thumb ramp the Tenacious, like most Spydercos, feels very natural in a saber grip. The jimping on the ramp skillfully bridges the gap between large and small – the grooves are deep enough to work while wearing gloves without being too sharp or large for barehand work.


The knife doesn’t have a finger guard per se, but there is an offset between the end of the handle and the start of the edge. The jimping on the liner-lock release also provides some traction to keep your fingers secure.


A pinch grip at the pivot also feels natural and allows for excellent control over the blade tip.


Food Prep


The Tenacious has a blade profile that works well in the kitchen. It is a great slicer and makes short work of potatoes, onions, and other vegetation. The curved edge even allows for good rocking motions provided the handle has enough clearance past the edge of your work surface.


The blade is a little bit too pointy for tasks that require much belly, so hunters look elsewhere. As a tiny approximation of a chef knife however, it does a fine job, and the open backed construction is appreciated come cleanup time.


If there is one thing I’ve learned in my time as a TTAK reviewer, it is that a knife with average steel and a thin grind will outperform “better” steel with a thicker grind in our cardboard test. The Tenacious lived up to that trend.

Thanks to the edge coming all the way to the handle and the lack of any sharpening choil, I was able to start my slices by setting the edge on the end of the cardboard to make very controlled draw cuts. Handle comfort was good and the Spyder-hole was a good index point to hold my thumb.

As I was paring my way through just over 400 feet of the corrugated stuff, I decided to name this knife “Long Tall Sally” in honor of its high flat grind. The performance was fantastic and only starting to slow down by the time I reached that milestone. I checked the remaining edge on newspaper, and with care I could still make rough slices.

Good job Spyderco with the heat treat on this one!

Ease of Sharpening

Part of why these “inferior” steels test so well on cardboard comes down to how easy they are to sharpen. Before I do any cardboard I always run a blade through the medium and fine rods of a Spyderco Sharpmaker  and make sure that the edge is hair shaving sharp. This is about all I can do to attempt consistency between test results, but it is far from a perfect solution.

Fact of the matter is, less wear resistant steel will come out the other end keener than a higher end steel, and it definitely showed in the case of the Tenacious. The 8Cr13MoV is easy to keep at razor sharpness.


I was initially worried that the handles would prevent the Sharpmaker from hitting the very back of the edge. It would have been a shame if such a good knife did not work well with their marquee sharpening system, but thankfully that was not the case. When on the pointy side of the triangle, the stone just barely clears the handle scales. I know I keep harping on the smart design of this knife, but it bears repeating.


The Tenacious has set a high bar for the sub-$50 folder category. It is going to be tough to beat going forward. Despite its low price, it doesn’t feel like there were any corners cut in its design or construction. The Tenacious is a knife that doesn’t need to make any excuses about itself or where it comes from.


Because of the low cost and smart execution of this knife, it can appeal to a wide range of users. If you are into higher end knives and are looking for an inexpensive beater, the Tenacious is good enough to not dissapoint your sensibilities. If you are on a budget or just starting out and want something smartly designed and nicely constructed, it is also a fantastic option.

Photo by Patrik Ilijev

If you don’t like the blade size, the Tenacious has some sisters that should meet your needs. The Resilience is larger with a 4.25” blade, and the Ambitious and Persistence are smaller with 2.25” and 2.75” blades respectively. I’m going with factory specs on blade length so I can not guarantee those measurements are absolute. However, the length on this Tenacious is very close in length to the 3.375” listed as factory spec.

That hard truth I mentioned in the beginning? The days when “Chinese made knife” automatically mean “inferior” are over. The Tenacious can hang with the best of them. There is a reason this knife carries the Spyderco brand, rather than their byrd sub-line. It is, quite simply, that good.

OSPREY – Behind the Seams: A Lifetime Commitment to Quality

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Since Osprey was founded in 1974, every single product design bearing the Osprey name has passed through the hands of owner and founder Mike Pfotenhauer, undergoing relentless scrutiny. From stitching the first lines of custom-fitted packs, to meticulously designing innovative products with intuitive features, to forging personal relationships with the sewing operators who construct the packs, Mike has been the unbreakable thread that makes Osprey a company like no other.

Mike remembers backpacking as a young boy in his home state of Oregon with his brothers and father, wearing a backpack with an awful fit. With the help of his mother, he learned to sew, and created his first backpack at age 16.

As a young entrepreneur in Santa Cruz, California, Mike opened a retail shop in the front of his rented house where backpackers and travelers – drawn by word of mouth – came to get measured for the custom-fitted, made-to-order packs. Each was constructed by Mike himself over the course of several days. To these avid travelers, the legendary packs were worth the wait. The original name of Osprey Packs was Santa Cruz Recreational Packs.

By 1987, Osprey started selling wholesale and Mike delegated much of the sewing to seven or eight employees while he focused on design. As the demand for the great-fitting packs increased, Mike and business partner/wife Diane Wren found themselves in Dolores, Colorado, population 864, the exact day a local Gore-Tex factory was closing down. Soon after, they rented the 8,000-square-foot building – originally built in the 1920s as Ford Model-T factory.

They recruited a team of women sewers from the nearby Navajo reservation, many of whom had built upon their traditional sand painting and blanket weaving skills to sew at area factories. Mike trained these experienced sewers in the art and science of constructing Osprey Packs. In 1994, they expanded sewing operations to Cortez, Colorado, and five years later, Osprey moved all operations to this facility in preparation for more expansion.

By 2000, manufacturing in the U.S. became increasingly challenging. As domestic fabric mills closed, sourcing quality materials became more difficult. Moreover, Osprey’s competitors had moved manufacturing overseas to reduce product costs and prices. There were issues with capacity. As Osprey signed on with distributors around the globe, the company was missing deadlines and business opportunities. Moving manufacturing overseas was crucial to the company’s survival.

Osprey began working with Korean manufacturers that owned and managed facilities in Vietnam. Distance didn’t dilute Mike’s incessant desire to ensure that his packs were built with the utmost quality and according to his design specs, which meant he was spending months traveling between Cortez and Vietnam. The trip alone took two days.

In 2003, Mike and Diane relocated their family to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and set up a design center where Mike could more closely manage production. Intending to live there for two years, they stayed for four. Mike recalls, “We visited the factories almost daily to make sure production was running smoothly and that our designs were produced accurately and faithfully.” Mike hired a Vietnamese designer to create the prototypes and samples. Then he hired another local to manage quality assurance. Now, Osprey’s fully-staffed product development office continues to ensure face-to-face relationships with the factory technicians as well as transparency with the company’s suppliers.

To celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2009, Osprey launched the All Mighty Guarantee, an enhancement of a lifetime warranty that was already one of the most robust in the industry. Free of charge, the company will repair any damage or defect in its product – whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If Osprey is unable to repair the item, it will happily replace it. The All Mighty Guarantee: any product, any reason, any era.
Mike isn’t the only one ensuring that every product meets the exacting standards worthy of this lifetime guarantee. Hired in 1990 as one of the original Navajo sewers, Marilyn Jones has had a hand in creating Osprey packs for 20 years. She is now responsible for all pack repairs. “Sometimes a pack comes in and I’ll recognize it,” Marilyn says. “I see how it’s held up over the years, and what adventures it’s been through. Then, I make sure it goes even further.”

Mike says his innovative designs and commitment to top-notch manufacturing shows in every product, even, or especially, decades later. “Osprey is, in large part, about exceptional relationships,” says Mike. “Between the pack and its wearer. The pack and its makers. The company and its staff.” He continues, “So many of our staff have been with the company for decades. It shows how fervently we believe in our process and products. The All Mighty Guarantee proves it.” No wonder there’s such a close relationship between the words “Osprey” and “quality”. You could say it’s a lifetime commitment.


Osprey History Timeline
1953 – Mike Pfotenhauer, Osprey Packs founder and Head Designer is abandoned as a newborn in Roswell, New Mexico – complete with sample patterns and an odd assortment of buckles in hand
1974– Mike Pfotenhauer and Laurie White start up Osprey Packs in Santa Cruz, California

1976 – Breathable mesh panel introduced on Osprey packs
1979 – First Osprey travel pack, the Outlander, released upon the masses
1986 – Osprey adds partners Gabriella Salinas and Diane Wren and begins selling packs wholesale
1990 – Mike Pfotenhauer and Diane Wren move Osprey into former Gore-Tex factory in Dolores, Colorado (population 864). Hires new skilled workforce, primarily from Navajo Reservation.

1993 – Osprey introduces the Isis an innovative custom fit women’s backpack, the first in a legacy of women’s custom fit
1994 – Osprey moves production to new location in Cortez, Colorado.
1995 – Pika kid’s pack receives Backpacker Magazine Editor’s Choice Award
1995 – Recycled HDPE framesheets introduced in Osprey Packs
1998 – Mike Pfotenhauer literally dreams the Straightjacket suspension compression system
1998 – Osprey ErgoPull hipbelt closure and introduced to the masses and changes backpack hipbelts forever.
1999 – Osprey expands facility in Cortez and all operations are moved from Dolores.
– Osprey begins to move some production offshore to Korea and Vietnam
2001 – Aether pack graces the cover of Time Magazine

2002 – Aether 60 receives the Grand GG award from Outdoor Life Network

2003 – Aether 75 receives the Outside Magazine Gear of the Year Award
2003 – Osprey partners Mike Pfotenhauer and Diane Wren and family move to Vietnam
2003 – Design and Quality Control Center in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is formed with Vietnamese staff
2004 – Switch 55+5 is awarded Editors’ Choice by Backpacker Magazine
2005 – Osprey introduces Custom Molding technology
2005 – Osprey Atmos 50 is awarded the 2005 Outside Magazine Gear of the Year Award
2006 – Osprey Meridian 22, the first wheeled travel pack designed by Osprey Packs, wins the 2006 Outside Magazine Gear of the Year Award
2007 – Osprey Circuit daypack designed using 71% recycled materials by content is awardedOutside Magazine’s Green Gear of the Year Award
2007 – Osprey expands Cortez, Colorado headquarters incorporating LEED like standards and adding an additional 3600 square feet of office space
2008 – Osprey Packs Inc awarded REI’s Vendor Partner of the Year Award
2008 – Osprey expands U.S staff to a total of 29 Team Members while the Vietnam Design Studio increases to 12
2008 – Osprey selected by Outside Magazine as one of America’s Best Places to work
2009 – Osprey celebrates 35 years of independent design and innovation
2009 – Osprey Exos 46 awarded Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year Award
2009 – Osprey Ace 48 receives Backpacker Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award
2009 – Osprey receives Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work Award for the second year in a row
2009 – Osprey awarded REI’s Vendor Partner of the Year-Camping Division
2009 – Osprey Packs expands product warranty coverage introducing the All Mighty Guarantee-Any Reason, Any Product, Any Era
2009 – The Osprey Exos 46 wins a 2009 Good Design Award for the World’s Best Design
2009 – Osprey Manta 25 hydration pack receives Gold Industry Award for design from Outdoor Europe
2010 – Osprey releases first dedicated hydration packs, the revolutionary Hydraulics™ Series featuring the Manta and Raptor.
2010 – Osprey Raptor 6 receives 2010 Best of Adventure Award from National Geographic Adventure Magazine
2010 –
Osprey establishes Mill Valley, California design studio to help meet the challenges of 21st Century Design
2010 – Osprey receives Men’s Journal Magazine 2010 Gear of the Year award for the Raptor 10 hydration pack
2010 – Osprey receives Outside Magazine’s 2010 Gear of the Year award for Sojourn 25″ / 60L travel luggage
2011 – Osprey hits 15,000 Likes on its Facebook page
2011 – Osprey’s Pro Deal Donation Program breaks all previous records donating a total of $10,470.00 to select nonprofits including the Breast Cancer Fund, Women’s Wilderness Institute, Colorado Environmental Coalition, American Hiking Society and The Conservation Alliance.
– Osprey expands operations to include an additional five warehouse complexes in addition to the main headquarters and distribution center
2012 –
The Aether 60 is awarded 2012 Best Buy from Outdoor Gear Lab
2012 –
Osprey releases the Poco Series to critical acclaim raising the bar on technical child carriers forever.
2012 –
Osprey becomes the first corporate sponsor of American Hiking Society’s Hike the Hill event supporting trails, outdoor recreation and conservation.

Feathered Facts (one man’s 800-fill will be another man’s 650-fill) by Andy Kirkpatrick (Psychvertical)

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I seem to have had the conversation about fill weight and loft of Down filled jackets fairly often these days.

So here is the article that I often reference by long time climber and gear-review guru Andy Kirkpatrick.

Two years ago I wrote an article entitled ‘beyond car camping’ that dealt with down insulation versus synthetic insulation. The piece was aimed at climbers tackling routes where they couldn’t guarantee that their sleeping bags wouldn’t get wet. Synthetics won out in the article and many climbers afterwards seemed to think that I was saying that down was dead.

Well, to reset the balance I’ve decided to do justice to down and dedicate the whole of this month’s gear notes to our friend the feather, plus take a look at the stand-out down pits on the market that show just what is possible in this medium.

The down in your sleeping bag isn’t just the feathers of any old dead bird. The feathers come from the smaller clusters found on the under plumage of waterfowl like geese and ducks. Land fowl like chickens aren’t used as the quality is too poor – although saying that, I expect you might find quite a few chicken feathers in your budget market stall ‘puffer’ jacket.

This natural fibre, while highly variable in nature, provides more warmth per ounce than any other material. Down’s unique structure is responsible for its tremendous ability to trap warm air, with its filaments divided and sub-divided to reach out into its surroundings, creating dead air space that slows the movement of warm air.

By its very nature, a down-filled sleeping bag is as much as 35% lighter than its synthetic counterpart and is infinitely more compressible, providing the most warmth with the least bulk. Down is also known to have the greatest longevity and it will outlast any other insulation by three to five times, making it the most economical choice after its initial investment. Down also helps the sleeping bag drape luxuriously over the body and ensures good coverage and warm contact. The bigger the down cluster the better the insulation and loft. The size of the cluster is determined by several factors.

The bigger the bird the bigger the down cluster, so that’s why big geese make better down than smaller ducks. The climate in which the bird is raised also has an effect, with thicker clusters being found on birds that need more insulation (unfortunately Siberian geese are rare). Perhaps it’s for this reason that Vietnamese and Caribbean down isn’t as highly prized as more northerly grown down. Most down is a by-product of the food industry and so the size of a down cluster is determined by when the bird gets the chop.

China is the chief source of down and in the last 20 years they have gone from just supplying the raw product to also manufacturing the majority of the world’s down products. This has led to a dramatic drop in price forcing the home grown down manufacturers to move their focus – like many western industries – from bread and butter bags to the more specialized end of the market. Most of the 500-fill to 600-fill down comes from Chinese geese, with the birds being killed at only 12 weeks (weighing 2.7kg to 3.6kg).

Europe is the second biggest source of down, with its birds generally being raised to an older age than Chinese birds, meaning most high quality, high-fill down comes from Europe. The Euro birds get the chop at 16 to 20 weeks (6.4kg to 7.3kg), producing higher grade down of between 650-fill and 700-fill. The highest quality down comes from very old birds of over two years old (9kg). Some of these birds are ‘guard geese’, used to protect the other farmyard animals and are highly prized, meaning this down is not cheap. Much of this down is exported from the former Eastern Bloc, meaning down quality has improved since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Poles climbed all those 8,000m peaks in winter? (Well that, and being absolutely nails.)

Not all birds need to die to keep you warm though. Some Hungarian geese are plucked while still alive, while the platinum premier down comes from the living eider duck. This cliff-dwelling bird is a protected species and so the down must be collected by hand from its empty nests. Personally I’m not sure who I’d rather not be – a Hungarian goose or an eiderdown collector?

One problem associated with down coming from the food industry is the increasing early age that the birds are processed at, making good quality down from older birds harder to come by. This is an increasing problem with all the natural materials used by the outdoor industry (including leather), as intensive farming lowers the life span of the merchandise. Once you’ve got the raw material the next step is preparing it so that it can be used to make your sleeping bag.

The long and complex process of plucking, washing, drying, dedusting, sorting and blending, has a huge effect on the final quality of the down. The down is wet-plucked by processors who rip the feathers off the bird in the initial food preparation stage. Dry-plucking is now uncommon but it’s far gentler to the down. The plumage is then thoroughly washed to get rid of all the dirt. If this isn’t done correctly it can ruin the delicate structure of the down. In Europe plumage is steam-dried immediately after wet plucking, whereas in China it is traditionally spread out to air-dry in the open – a method which calls for extra treatment later in the cleaning process.

Eiderdown is hand-gathered from the ducks’ nests and contains many foreign substances, twigs, etc. The peculiar nature of the down makes it impossible to blow through a sorter, so these impurities have to be picked out by hand. A long and costly process (eiderdown twig plucker?).

Once clean the down is carefully dried and sorted. Sorting involves the plumage being blown down a chamber full of cubicles, with the heaviest material (feathers) falling into the first cubicle and the lightest (the down) landing in the further cubicles. Throughout these processes the down is dedusted to remove any undue particles.

The final process is blending the different specific mixtures of different downs or of down and feather (80/20, 60/40 etc). It is also a useful way of ensuring consistent quality throughout a batch of down by mixing it thoroughly after sorting and before bagging. To ensure consistency between winter and summer down from the same source some suppliers store down for months and blend it throughout the year.

Roughly speaking fill power is a measure of how much volume is taken up by a given quantity of down. The higher the fill power the loftier the material, loft meaning the amount of air held within the material, which translates into insulation (still air is a great insulator remember).

So if we were to compare the fill power of say one pound of potato peelings with one pound of cotton wool balls, the cotton wool would win as it would take up a much larger volume, (something worth remembering if you’re forced to make your own sleeping bag out of household items).

Firstly there is no such thing as a ‘World Standard Fill Power Test’. Each country uses its own system, UK, USA, Japan, Sweden, Germany, etc. The basic elements of the tests are, however, common to them all. Down fill power is determined by the number of cubic inches a small amount of down occupies. The down is fluffed up by an air blower, then kept at a controlled temperature and relative humidity (21°C and 65% humidity to prevent static from giving a false reading) for a minimum of three to five days. Then a small sample is taken, which varies between 20g, 30g or 1oz depending on the country.

This down is then placed into a clear tube (24cm x 60cm in the US) and agitated. A weight is then placed on to the down and allowed to settle. The poorer, denser feathers will compact more than the finer, loftier feathers and so a measurement can be made to find the cubic inches per square ounce (i.e. 500, 600, 800 etc). The test is only accurate to within 5%, so your bag may not be quite as lofty as it appears unless the tag claims a minimum fill power. The problem is that because the size of the tube, sample of down and lid weight vary from country to country; one man’s 800-fill will be another man’s 650-fill. The US test quoted by most US companies gives a result 4% higher then the traditional UK ‘Lorch’ test. Most serious outdoor down manufacturers do extensive in-house batch testing to make sure what they say on the swing tag is what’s stuffed in your bag. LONG TERM FILL POWER?

Down processing technology has increased in sophistication over the last decade allowing processes that can increase the fill power of cheaper down. This gives you the customer a budget bag with a seemingly expensive fill rating. The problem is that this bag will soon lose this added loft, leaving you with a lacklustre and disappointing sleeping bag. I know two sponsored climbers who recently found themselves stuck together high on a mountain in sleeping bags of apparent equal weight and fill. One bag was made in the UK and lofted so well it looked as if the occupant had a bad case of gas, while the other ‘top’ range bag made in the Far East resembled an old sock.

The lesson is that if you want the best then buy premier bags from the companies that have a good reputation and steer clear of the meat and gravy ‘festival’ and car camping bags manufacturers making bags by the tens of thousands. Remember a good bag shouldn’t be cheap, as there are no real bargains in this high quality market, but good down will take a lifetime’s abuse, dry cleaning and stuffing.

* 400-fill is low grade insulation that is used in the budget sleeping bag market and for bedding. * 500-fill is your entry level performance fill and is used by most suppliers in their cheaper bags. These bags are usually made in China close to the down supply so as to keep the cost low. These bags can be bought for half the price you used to get them for when they were made in the UK. * 600-fill is good quality down, but this quality of down requires work by the supplier to find and maintain this level making it more expensive. * 700-fill is a rare and expensive product. Very few goose downs achieve a higher fill-power than this and for duck down it is the very top limit. * 800-fill, although bandied around in catalogues as if it grows on trees, a true 800-fill is extremely rare and expensive and only comes from one or two sources. * 900-fill is the stuff of marketing departments, overeager catalogue copy writers and legends.

Now the down is ready to be placed into the sleeping bag, but you should not confuse a mega-fill as a sign that the bag is well-made or an efficient insulator. It is now that the skill of the manufacturer comes into play in order to squeeze the most performance out of the down used.

The whole point of high quality down is to provide warmth for the least weight (otherwise you might as well use feathers – much cheaper and just as warm if you put enough in). To maximize the effectiveness of the finest fill requires good design. Down, with the highest fill power in the world, will not provide the best weight/warmth package if the shell uses inferior materials or poor construction. And such is the price of the best downs that they are an expensive folly unless matched by design and craftsmanship of an equally high order. DOWN CONTROL

Firstly, it is not the down that is keeping you warm at night, it is the air trapped within its complex structure. For maximum performance this combined structure of thousands of feathers must remain stable and to do this you need down control. This is done via the use of baffling throughout the bag and is also used to control the distribution of down throughout the bag. Poor baffling allows the down to shift and leaves gaps and cold spots, causing the down to bunch up and lose its efficiency.

Baffles are generally made in two ways. The simplest is a stitch-through baffle where the down is held between the inner and outer shell. This is cheap to do and saves weight, but the stitching line is an insulation weak point. The most common method is to join the shells via strips of netting, thereby forming boxes into which the down can then be stuffed. This is highly efficient and creates a good insulation block around the sleeper devoid of cold spots. The real test of a manufacturer is how they construct these baffles. If baffles are too large, down can move around across a larger space. Smaller baffles keep the down within a smaller area but add weight and complexity. A good way to achieve down control is to fill the baffles densely enough so that the friction within the baffle prevents movement. Sufficient density can be seen when the shell fabric firmly bulges between baffle seams.

Designers like Rab Carrington and Pete Hutchinson have pioneered other forms of baffling like cross-baffling to reduce gravity shift and trapezoid baffles that eliminate cold spots. Mountain Equipment’s excellent elasticized inner on their Extreme bags is a very effective way of achieving effective thermal contact.

Good quality bags can be split into two camps. Firstly there are those that are used with an emphasis on protection, with the shell – and often sections of the inner – using highly water resistant fabrics. These bags are intended for general purpose use, be it camping, climbing or expeditions. Shell materials like DriShell, DriLite, Endurance, Conduit and Epic are just about waterproof and very tough and go a long way to keeping their delicate insulation healthy, taking some of the stress out of using a down bag – revolutionizing the down market. These materials are more expensive and heavier than plain unproofed fabrics but the weight penalty and cost is worth it if your bag stays dry.

The second category of bags is the ultra-light variety, where the shell materials are chosen for their gossamer-like weight. These fabrics can shave hundreds of grams off the total shell weight and also help the bag to loft and drape to the down’s maximum advantage. The drawbacks are that they are non-water resistant (they are coated with DWR but this is only cosmetic) and are far more fragile than full weight fabrics. Another drawback is that they are less down proof so you may get some feathers poking through the weave. If this happens don’t pull them out as this will make a small hole. Instead pull the feathers back through into the bag. For the weight obsessed mountaineers this is a sacrifice worth taking in order to shave a couple of hundreds grams off their backs and all that is required is a little more care.

* Neck baffles reduce the effect of convection drastically, stopping warm air escaping when shifting in the bag. The complexity and weight of the baffles depends on the intended use and temperature range of the bag. Some ultra light bags don’t feature a neck baffle and depend instead on just the draw cord around the face. * Zips add weight to the bag, both due to their own weight and the weight of the baffling and anti snag tape, seams etc. By losing the zip, or reducing its length you can save a great deal of weight. The drawbacks are the bag is harder to vent, but this isn’t a problem on ‘summer’ weight bags.

How to wash a Down Jacket

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How are you caring for your trusty (and possibly mildly odiferous) down jacket? Postseason is a great time to wash your down jacket—to bring it back to full performance in anticipation of your upcoming epics.

Down jackets are famously great insulators, but can quickly loose insulation value when wet or dirty. A recent surge in treated down has been helping with the soggy down issue, but dirt and body oils will still significantly reduce performance. Cleaning ensures all types of down perform their best, keeping you warm and looking sharp.

Most jackets can be washed and brought back to like-new performance in a front-loading, home washing machine, but read your particular garment’s care instructions before tossing it in the washer.

Down requires a gentle, detergent-free cleaner and some specific care. The new Nikwax Down Wash Direct is specially formulated to clean down garments without compromising the loft. Down Wash Direct will also maintain the water resistance of treated down and provide some exterior water repellency.

Follow these three steps:

  1. Wash: To start, clean any residual detergent from your washing machine. Read garment care instructions and the Nikwax label for dosage. Wash and rinse thoroughly.
  2. Dry: Tennis anyone? The damp down will be clumpy from the wash, and completely drying it is critical. Use a low heat setting and toss 1 or 2 clean tennis balls in the dryer to break up the clumps. Be patient—drying the jacket may take 1–3 hours. Keep resetting the timer until your beloveds are lump-free and fully dry.
  3. Storage: Until that epic trip, store your down jacket on a hanger (not in a tight stuff sack). Over time, perpetually “squished” down feathers will become more resistant to re-lofting to their original air-trapping excellence.

Results: When you pull your newly revived jacket out of the dryer, not only will it be clean, it will also be puffier. By gently cleansing the delicate feathers, Nikwax Down Wash Direct restores loft and reinvigorates the down—delivering warmth when you need it and helping your jacket serve you well on all your upcoming adventures.

Now go back to the rest of your checklist and get your stoke up for the season ahead.

Avoid Ticks In The Bush

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TickThere’s no getting around it Tick’s Suck.

These pesky pests carry a wide range of bacterial organisms, viruses, and parasites in their saliva, which the little blood suckers can pass along to you should you be unlucky enough to host one for a meal.

Tick-related illnesses, which include African Tick Bite Fever and Lyme disease, can cause a host of maladies including fever, severe headache, fatigue, swollen lymph glands and joint and muscle pain and can be serious, lasting, and even deadly.

That said, prevention is always the best cure. Here’s how to enjoy your favourite hike or bush adventure without picking up these unwanted disease carriers—and what to do if one hitches a ride out with you.

Steer Clear
Ticks can’t fly, jump, or even run. They hang out on leaves, blades, and branches waiting for something to brush by, so they can cling on and catch a meal. When hiking or biking in the bush, if you keep to the centre of the trail or road and avoid brushing up against high grasses or other vegetation, your risk of picking up a parasitic passenger is pretty low. Once you leave the trail the risk raises exponentially as this is where you will find the highest concentration. Ticks are carried by cattle, wild game as well as dogs.

Repel Them

Covering up with clothing can keep them skin contact. If you anticipate being deep in tick territory, use an insect repellant. If you know  you’re going deep in tick territory, you can treat your clothes with permethrin which is present in Vital Protection. This prevents ticks from attaching or crawling around on clothes.

Hunt Them Down
Check yourself very carefully if you’ve been walking through tick territory. The bacteria move from the tick’s intestine up into its mouth and then into you and you have about 24 hours to remove them before your risk for disease transmission goes up. Scrub off in the shower and check yourself carefully. If you don’t wash your clothes, at least toss them in the dryer for a cycle at the highest heat the garments can handle.

Get Them Off Safely
With a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick as close to its head as possible and gently pull it straight out without twisting. Wash the area with soap and water and keep an eye on the area. Rashes generally appear within three to seven days, though remember, not all people who get-tick borne diseases get rashes, so if you feel flu-like symptoms, see your doctor. Also, if you find a tick that is embedded and swelling with blood, and Lyme disease is present in area, you can see your doctor for a short course of antibiotics to prevent infection.