Pinhole repair

Recently on a trip on the Ourthe Orientale river, I got a small hole, about 15mm wide, ripped in the floor of my packraft. The damage already occurred about 200m on the river after the put-in. I’m quite sure I didn’t hit a rock but that it was a metal rod or something instead. I had my camera tripod stashed on the floor of my raft between my legs and this sure was the cause for the occurrence of the leak in the collision as the rod bumped against the tripod and pinned the hole in the floor. Besides the leak, there are also long scratches carved in the floor around the leak. If I didn’t kept my tripod on the floor inside the raft, chances were high I only had some scratches and not an additional leak. Again a lesson learned. Upon closer inspection I even noticed I had two leaks, the second one being very small.

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I’ve repaired the leaks and the scratches with Aquaseal by the method described by Alpacka Raft. The pinholes got a thicker layer of Aquaseal on top. This movie also shows the rejuvenation method by Alpacka Raft. An almost pinhole on the tube now also received a thin layer of Aquaseal.

A small additional note: Mcnett’s Aquaseal is sold in Europe under the name Aquasure. You can easily find it at scuba diving shops like this one for example or you can try the alternative Stormsure glue from Packrafting store. When the repair is done, store the tube in the freezer or use it further to reinforce the seams on your new trailrunners. ūüėČ

My Llama is ready again to re-enter the water and that should happen already next week in the Austrian Alps!

How to re-coat a shelter?

Since last year I’ve received several further questions about the re-coating of my tarp. I had made a rather brief post about it, without explaining my method in much detail. Now as I’ve re-coated my tarp again a few weeks ago, I now can show you a more comprehensive explanation about my method. This post will probably bring no news to many of you, but for those who don’t have experience with coating a shelter and like to hear my method, I hope it will further clarify the process.

Amblève 201203
The fabric of a new shelter (this is Willem’s silnylon Solo Trailstar on its very first pitch) should repel water droplets perfectly for many years.

Why and when re-coating a shelter?

During my recent trip to the Verdon, I noticed the fabric of my tarp was starting to suck up moisture on a few spots again and rain droplets didn’t bead up nicely anymore everywhere on the fabric. As soon as you notice the fabric of your shelter doesn’t repel water anymore it is wisely to re-coat your shelter, especially if you have plans to make a longer trip with it soon. If you don’t and let the coating further degrade, the fabric of your shelter will start to suck up moisture each time in the rain or on a condense loaded morning and will become more heavy then necessary. Furthermore the fabric will become very slow to dry once saturated. The ultralight silnylon fabric, which is used in lightweight tarps and shelters today, will even start to mist in heavier rain and you eventually risk to get wet under your shelter. Spinntex/spinnaker fabric (though not used anymore in new shelters these days it seems) will even start to leak quite badly. This misting or leaking does not happen with all tent fabrics however. I’ve never noticed any leaking through kerlon fabric of Hilleberg tents, even when the coating was totally eroded, though once the coating is degraded Hilleberg tents will suck up a lot of moisture also as all other tents will do. A new shelter doesn’t need a new coating soon and the water repellency should remain working for many years at best, though after those years of use you’ll notice the coating on the fabric will eventually degrade. The fabric will start to suck water and you should think about re-coating your shelter for the first time. As soon as you’ve applied a first coating yourself after the first degradation, you’ll have to re-coat the fabric again every one to four years depending on your frequency of usage as your own new applied coating will degrade too over time.

Amblève 201203
On my Grace Solo Spinntex tarp the coating recently showed signs of degradation, though not really noticeable in this picture.

Can I re-coat every shelter?

Shelters made out of cuben fabric never need re-coating. All other fabrics do have a coating which will degrade over their lifespan, mainly due to rubbing, the degrading effect of UV light from the sun and storing it wet. Shelter fabrics usually have either one of those two coatings: a silicone coating or a PU-coating (polyurethane). Tent floors usually have a PU-coating while tent flysheets usually have a silicone coating. However, a PU-coating is still used by some manufacturers on their tent flysheets. It is important to know which kind of coating has been applied to your shelter as each of these two kind of coatings need another product and solvent for re-coating. Some tents like for example those of MSR even have a different coating on each side of the fabric of the tent fly, a silicone coating on the outside and a PU-coating along the inside. If you’re not sure about the type of coating, try to contact the manufacturer.

Coatings based on silicone are the easiest to renew. In case of a PU-coating it is more difficult to find the right product and solvent. Most outdoor stores also sell a specific product that can be used to re-coat or revive the water repellency of your shelter, like for example Nikwax Tent and Gear SolarProof. You can use these, but I find them very expensive if you want to coat a whole tent compared to what you can do yourself with products from the hardware store and I’ve found Nikwax’s solution less effective and durable then my own re-coating method.

Ok, what do I need?

These are the necessary items for a silicone coating:

  • White spirit
  • A tube of silicone: transparent and odorless (without additives)
  • A silicone syringe
  • A clean pot or jar
  • An accurate weighing scale (one gram accuracy recommended)
  • A paint brush
  • A pair of protective gloves (you’ll notice I didn’t wear gloves but you should know better)

Re-coating the tarp
What is needed (notice I forgot a pair of protective gloves).

For a PU-coating you’ll need an urethane based product and an appropriate solvent. I’ve no experience yet with adding a PU-coating so I cannot give advice about what exact products to search for. Anyone with experience with applying a PU-coating, please feel free to share your experiences. You can also try the expensive option like¬†Tent Sure Tent floor sealant from Mcnett or the Nikwax variant. Otherwise the method for a PU-coating will be rather similar as I’m going to explain for a silicone coating.

This is the method I use:

  • I pitch the tarp or tent in a way so that it is easy to reach the fabric. Best is to choose a well ventilated place. Just outside in the garden is the place I recommend. It is not a good idea to try re-coating inside the house as your house will smell for days and become dangerously unhealthy to live in! I’ve once re-coated a tent in the garage with the garage door wide open. Even in these circumstances I had to pause regularly to search for a fresh breath of air because I started to get dizzy from the dangerous odor of the white spirit. Outside in the garden I’ve never had that problem so I really recommend to do it outside. Choose a day with the correct weather forecast, this is not too windy and no rain if you don’t have a roof available. However during the spring season there might be a lot of anther dust and/or fluff hovering in the air during fair weather days. This will creep into the coating while drying so I try to avoid this type of days, even though it is not a disaster if some anther dust gets embedded in the coating. Sticking fluff is another matter however.

Recoating Hilleberg Akto
To coat the Hilleberg Akto I used two battens nailed together at the centre and pitched the tent onto it with the aid of nails beaten on the slats at the right places. This way you can put the tent upright against a wall and easily reach the fabric everywhere. I use this method also to simply wash my tents after a trip. You can follow a similar approach with many other tents.

  • Then I clean the tent or tarp from any dirt and oils that have accumulated on the fabric during its usage. I do this by washing the fabric with a non aggressive soap (like Nikwax Techwash or plain simple dish soap), rinse well with water afterwards and rub dry with a towel. Be sure the fabric is completely dry before you start with painting.

Re-coating the tarp
Cleaning the tarp from any dirt.

  • Then I prepare the silicone mixture. This is done by pouring white spirit and silicone into a clean pot or jar in a weight ratio of about 15:1 respectively. This means I have 15 times the weight of white spirit in the pot compared to silicone. How many silicone should you take? I count for about 1,5 grams of silicone per one square meter of fabric for one layer on one side. So for the Trailstar for example which has a fabric area of about 10,5m¬≤ or 21,0m¬≤ for both sides and if I would choose to apply one layer to the inside and two layers on the outside, I should then take a total of 47 grams (3 layers x 1,5 grams x 10,5m¬≤) of silicone and 705 grams of white spirit. Then I stir well with the brush in the pot until all the silicone is dissolved into the white spirit. This might take a while. If the silicone is very difficult to dissolve you can try to warm up the mixture a bit (don’t exaggerate!). At warmer temperatures I’ve noticed that silicone dissolves easier into the solvent.

Re-coating the tarp
Preparing the mixture of silicone and white spirit by weighing accurately on a scale.

  • Then I paint the fabric with the silicone mixture as evenly as possible and keep attention to avoid running droplets on the fabric. After adding one layer, I let it dry and once dried I paint another layer on top of the first one if necessary. Normally one layer should be sufficient for silnylon. Spinntex however needs a thinker coating and thus two or three layers for a longer lasting water repellency. Or in case the initial coating on silnylon or tent fabrics has already been very degraded, two layers on the outside might be more advantageous over a single layer only. Once dried, I rub over the new coating with my fingers. This way I can judge if the coating is thick enough to my liking or if yet another (possibly thinner) layer might be desirable. To control the thickness of the new coating you can off course play with the mixing ratio between silicone and white spirit (choose between 20:1 and 10:1) and the amount of layers painted, judge for yourself.

Re-coating the tarp
Painting the first layer on the inside.


Re-coating the tarp
Applying a second layer on the outside after the first layer has dried out.

  • As soon as the whole tent/tarp is coated, I let everything dry sufficiently for several hours till the coating is clearly dried out and doesn’t stick anymore. Sunlight and a breeze speeds the drying process remarkably. Sprinkling talc powder or anything similar on the fabric afterwards is absolutely not necessary (as is sometimes done with seam sealing). Afterwards you will notice the tarp/tent will show a slightly difference in shade over the fabric because it will be impossible to paint an exactly even coating. While some might find this not appealing, I personally don’t worry about it as the shading difference will gradually fade away with use during the first few trips as the coating degrades again.

Recoating Hilleberg Akto
After re-coating the fabric will show irregular differences in shade/color. This will weaken while drying and further fade away during the first weeks of use.

Recoating Hilleberg Akto
As soon as the new coating is completely dry, you can run a test. The water repellency should be 100% again, droplets will bead on the fabric and repel instead of being absorbed by the fabric.

Now your tarp or tent has a new coating and will be ready for many more trips. Hope my explanation has been helpful to you.

Free online topographic maps for hiking

Hiking maps are off course essential for planning a trip. While in the old days you had to buy a paper map first before you could start with planning your trip in detail, today you can already start planning your trip entirely from your computer screen for many regions in the world. Today the Internet is a fantastic resource for a wide variety of maps suitable for hiking:

  • Sheets of topographic maps readily downloadable in JPG, TIF or PDF-format and ready to print, usually paying but some are also available for free
  • Interactive topographic maps can be consulted in a geographical application on your screen
  • Base maps for use on a GPS device
I will keep this post limited to the first two types of maps and will only include maps that are available for free. I have a long list of these kind of maps saved under my favorites in my browser. Not that I have already used all of them for preparing a trip, far from. I’m just a map fan and I think it is an interesting list to share with you. So if you are not aware of a map that covers a region that interests you, than you can bookmark it right away. I’m sure this list will not be a complete list at all. So if you know or stumble upon other interesting map sources, don’t hesitate to mention them. I’d like to continue supplementing the list.
Sample of the interactive topographic map of New Zealand over Mount Cook.
So here’s the list:
  • This Czech list contains many topographic maps from various corners over the world.
  • Wanderreitkarte is a source for hiking trails and long distance trails in some European countries.
  • TopoMapper concerns another source for an almost global coverage in topographic maps. Australia, USA, Canada, and the coastal areas of Greenland are covered by national or local map sources. The rest of the world is covered by old Soviet military topographic maps (which are unfortunately not always that accurate). This link can be helpful to better read the Soviet Maps. New Zealand and Antarctica are not covered.
Sample of the Soviet military map in TopoMapper over Patagonia’s Torres del Paine. Place names are unfortunately difficult to read if you cannot read Russian.
  • ArcGIS Explorer is an online GIS application by Esri where you can find a wide variety of maps from a community of users. By registering you can even make and edit your own maps and share them with the world if you like. For a complete understanding of the application and how to browse the maps, use the help function. The entire USA and New Zealand are covered in detailed topographic maps. To find them, type in the search bar in the right upper corner one of the following names to find one specific map:
    • USA Topo Maps or
    • ArcGIS Online USA Topographic Maps
    • New Zealand Topographic Basemap (LINZ)

    When planning a trackless hiking expedition in a remote region where detailed maps are hard to find or nonexistent, the following maps in ArcGIS Explorer might also be of value beside the Soviet military maps in Topomapper or any other topographic map. The topographic maps in ArcGIS Explorer only show elevation contours, hydrology and some basic ground cover information for most part of the world. The satellite images give a better idea about ground and vegetation cover. These composite multispectral Landsat images have a resolution of 15m and are sometimes a better source for the few Landsat images that still have lower resolution or cloud cover for a few places in Google Earth, Google MapsBing Map and many other sources (although these images are not completely free of cloud cover either):

    • ArcGIS Online World Topographic Map or
    • Topgraphic
    • MDA NaturalVue Satellite Imagery
MDA NaturalVue Satellite image in ArcGIS Explorer of Pangnirtung and Mount Asgard on Baffin Island. The image gives more clues about the location of moraines, quicksand and boulder fields in the glacial valley and is therefore a much better source to determine your hiking route through the valley than any topographical map can do for this rugged environment.
Finally, if you only need a map for a small area it can be interesting to just print the map from an online interactive map instead of buying the whole paper map. Sometimes I even stitch multiple cut print screens from an online interactive map just like I would stitch several individual photos into one single panorama photo. This works just fine with most panorama stitching software. To print the map you only need to make some measurements and calculations and optionally an adaptation of the size of the digital map to know the exact scale of your printed copy. Keep in mind that strictly speaking this method can only be used for personal use.
That was it. So now, start planning your next trip!

My choice for a micro compass for backpacking

One of the smallest things in my gear list is a micro compass. Before I will tell you why I prefer a micro compass above a normal magnetic baseplate compass for backpacking, let see how the thing looks like.


Clipper micro compass from Recta.

The micro compass I own is the Clipper from Recta. It is really tiny by only measuring 30x25x10mm and has a weight of only five grams. So the weight savings over an usual compass, being it only marginal, is a nice bonus. It has a clip attachment which makes it possible to clip the compass on a strap on your backpack, a sleeve of a jacket, on the edge of a map or most preferable on the wrist band of a watch. The clip attachment is intended for straps and wristbands not wider than 22mm. However I find that this locking mechanism does fix the compass also really well on many straps wider than 22mm, a map or a sleeve, even though it may fall off if you’re not cautious. It has a rotating bezel with scale markings every ten degrees. The compass needle is very responsive which is necessary I think for such a small compass. Otherwise an “accurate” reading becomes even more troublesome seen the scale markings and size of the compass. More on this later. The only small disadvantage I have noticed while wearing it on the wristband of my watch is that it started to irritate on my skin if I tighten the wristband too much on my wrist. So I keep my watch a bit more loose on my wrist what stops the irritation.


Clipper clipped on the wristband of the Techtrail Loft outdoor watch.

Micro compasses don’t seem to be a wide business so to speak and the other tiny compasses you find usually lack in basic functions the Clipper still has. The Commet from Recta is the only other micro compass on the market comparable to the Clipper I am aware of. Suunto used to offer the same micro compasses like Recta (Suunto Comet and Clipper), but they are no longer in production these days. The Comet is exactly the same compass as the Clipper. It only differs from the Clipper by not having the clip attachment. It has a small thermometer with short ruler attached to the compass instead.


Clipper clipped on a map.

Now, why have I ever considered choosing such a small thing and don’t use a normal baseplate compass or a GPS for backpacking in three season conditions? While GPS devices seem to have become quite popular these days, a map and compass should remain the tool everyone could handle for navigation in my opinion. GPS devices undoubtedly have their benefits next to a map and compass in extreme winter conditions and for off trail hiking in vast dense forests or in fog on vast plains, though a GPS also has its limitations. For me being weight and the possibility of empty batteries as the two main concerns not choosing a GPS device for normal three season conditions. Furthermore solely relying on a GPS without a map and compass as a back up can bring you in an unpleasant situation or even the worst in danger. So in summary, orientation and navigation skills with a map and compass are rather essential for backpacking, especially when going off trails.

This I was also learned on a mountaineering class I followed years ago. Needless to say there was a large chapter dealing with orientation and navigation, including a day of practicing the theorie in the field. Everyone attending the class was obliged to own a transparent baseplate compass with a least a rotating bezel with north lines and markings at least every two degrees (mine had a three degrees interval so I did not follow the rule). A declination scale or a prismatic compass was optional.

Now, it seems obvious that such a compass what allows an accurate reading is necessary for mountaineering or specific orienteering. For normal backpacking, even off trail, the need for a sophisticated compass may be different in practice. That is what I learned myself while backpacking over the years. For years I’ve been using a baseplate compass before switching to the Clipper.


My 19 years old baseplate compass next to the Clipper.

The Clipper micro compass has a rotating bezel where the markings have an interval of only ten degrees. Together with the very small size of the compass, this doesn’t sound like you can make an accurate bearing with it. That is indeed the main disadvantage you have to deal with when using such a micro compass. For me however, I don’t really feel the need for very accurate bearings in the field. Let’s explain my findings. I’ve noticed that in practice it is just impossible for a solo hiker or even for a group of hikers to keep walking in a straight line while trying to maintain the same direction with the compass in fog or dense forest. Many people seem to deviate from the direction they try to follow even without noticing it. Furthermore terrain obstacles like rocks, trees, bush, swamps can make it impossible to keep walking in a straight line. Circumventing those obstacles by making additional bearings is only inducing new errors and is often in practice time consuming if you want to do it as exactly as possible. Moreover, usually I don’t need to follow a direction accurately while hiking off trail. Deviating a bit usually doesn’t make a serious problem. In case of orienteering where you have to find a specific object on an exact location this becomes another story, but not for normal backpacking.

A few years ago I participated in a mountaineering course in the Austrian Alps were we made a week long trip on glaciers walking from mountain hut to hut while climbing peaks during the day. On several days the weather was not always ideal and we crossed a few glaciers in a white out. This was off course the ideal opportunity to test the theorie in practice. So we crossed those glaciers, each roped team on its own, by letting the last person in the team walk with the compass, giving instructions to the person in the front to maintain the right direction. Afterwards when we crossed the glacier the weather improved and we climbed a peak above the glacier. From the summit we all had a view on our tracks over the glacier and were surprised by what we saw. None of our tracks went in a straight line! Seen over the entire length all of them deviated to either right or left from the proposed direction and some even not by a negligible amount. Even one team had made an insanely meandering track. It was so exaggerated that we even couldn’t believe they had not been crossing the glacier carelessly. However the guys in the team claimed they really had not been making a joke. Navigating in a straight line and trying to keep the same direction seems to be very hard in a group. Now if exact navigation is impossible in a group, then it is even so for a solo hiker. I’ve tested this myself a few times on the snow by trying to navigate on the compass in good visibility while keep looking at my feet over a long stretch so I couldn’t correct my track by orienting on the surroundings. My track usually slowly deviates to the left. So that leads me to think why should I make use of an accurate compass if practical use proves these accurate bearings often don’t come into its own?

Dag 4: Vernagth√ľtte (2766m) - Rauhekopfh√ľtte (2732m)
Glacier walking in fog while navigating on compass trying to complete a pre-written roadmap.

Furthermore before I was using the micro compass I noticed I often didn’t use my baseplate compass at all. I developed the habit to hike with the map in a ziploc bag to protect it from rain. This I keep in a pocket somewhere in my clothes when I don’t need the map while walking. Sometimes I put the compass on the map in the plastic bag, but I soon noticed I found this annoying every time the compass obstructed the view onto that part of the map covered by the compass each time I wanted to throw a quick look on the map. So I often ended with the compass put in the plastic bag on the other side of the map, in another pocket in my clothes or even in my backpack and in all these circumstances not even using it for the entire trip. This made me think why taking the weight of this compass with me while I am not actually using it? Furthermore, if I have to think about every situation where I really needed a compass to navigate over all the years, I can only remember a few situations and all those situations were winter trips in the snow where I did not have a GPS with me. In all those situations dense fog or vast forest were the elements that made orientation and navigation a hard task. On all other trips in three season conditions where orientation has been difficult, eventually I could always find an object somewhere in the field which could make my position on the map at least approximately correct without using the compass.

Dachstein 200902
On this winter trip on the forested Austrian Dachstein plateau I didn’t have a GPS with me. I tried to navigate with map and compass even though the dense forest and complex karst topography on the plateau made it impossible to know my exact location. At the end I was snowshoeing for two days without knowing exactly where I was. But by just keep going northeast I finally reached the edge of the plateau where I continued along the edge until I found a place where I could start descending down. An¬†accurate¬†compass¬†does not come¬†into its own in¬†such¬†a¬†situation.

Now I could not justify going completely without a compass, so eventually I tried switching to a micro compass which now has the great advantage for me I can clip it on the wristband of my outdoor watch so I can consult it immediately when needed while it never hinders while walking or doing any other task like checking the map. I’ve been using this micro compass for two years now and I must say I even enjoy walking with it. I notice I check the direction regularly while hiking off trails just by lifting my arm before my face while keeping the compass horizontally, while before I even didn’t bother spending the time with looking at my baseplate compass. It has not only changed the frequency I use a compass now, it has also changed my style of navigating off trail in a positive way.

So if you ever find you have comparable experiences like me when you take a compass with you while walking and actually almost never make use of it, maybe you can consider a micro compass if you don’t feel the necessity for very accurate bearings. For me this micro compass is obviously an improvement on my gear list since at least I now use a compass regularly while walking and I don’t have an arguable item anymore on my gear list which doesn’t seem to justify its weight. For those interested, the Clipper can be bought from Ultralight outdoorgear.

MYOF: Breakfast muesli

Muesli is my favorite breakfast on the trail. On trips where it is possible or even essential to bring your own food from home, I make a mixture of muesli with quite some other ingredients like whole milk powder, nuts (mostly hazel nuts), chocolate powder (Nestquick) and even dried fruits if desired. Here are two variations.

Ingredients

  • With dried fruits:
Ingredients Kcal/100g Proteins Carbs Fat Grams Kcal
Kellogg’s Country Store 355 9 68 5 100 355
Nuts 653 12 11 62 40 261
Sunflower seeds 632 18 13 57 20 126
Dried fruit 358 4 62 1 15 54
Whole milk powder 638 32 47 36 20 128
Nestquick plus 361 4 79 3 10 36
Total 468 12 50 24 205 960
  • With pronounced chocolate flavor:
Ingredients Kcal/100g Proteins Carbs Fat Grams Kcal
Kellogg’s Country Store 355 9 68 5 100 355
Nuts 653 12 11 62 40 261
Sunflower seeds 632 18 13 57 25 158
Whole milk powder 638 32 47 36 20 128
Nestquick plus 361 4 79 3 20 72
Total 475 12 49 25 205 974

Preparation at home

Grind the nuts, sunflower seeds and muesli to a fine mass (this takes significantly less space when stored in your backpack). Then mix all other ingredients together and put into plastic bags or Ziploc bags.

Breakfast muesli
The muesli mixture ready to be stored in Ziploc bags.

On the trail

Put one portion into your cooking pot and add a desired amount of water, mix and eat. I don’t heat but you can do this as you wish off course.