Showing posts with label Tramping Equipment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tramping Equipment. Show all posts

Monday, 4 June 2018

Tramping Equipment: Choosing socks for tramping

...or do good socks maketh the tramp?

I have talked at length on this blog about boots and walking shoes but never about tramping socks.  This is an oversight as good quality, well fitted socks are just as important as the footwear you use.

Me wearing my Mund tramping socks in Rod Donald Hut, Banks Peninsula

 Here is a buyers guide to purchasing tramping socks.

Considerations when buying socks for tramping


Quality boots need quality socks...

A good quality pair of  boots these days will often retail for anything between $300-$700 NZ dollars. In many respects you get what you pay for...while a cheap $300 pair of boots may do the business, those $600 boots will probably last longer, fit better and make the experience so much more enjoyable.

Lowa Ranger III' $600 NZ dollars they deserve good socks

I firmly believe that good boots/shoes deserve good socks to get the best possible use out of them. Again, you get what you pay for. A cheap pair of socks might do the business but a good quality pair will last longer, fit better and be a pleasure to wear. 

A good match: Darn Tough socks and Vasque boots

Unfortunately quality has its downsize...price. A good pair of tramping socks will cost you $25-$50 a pair, which on top of other gear is expensive. Do what I do and buy them when there is a sale on!

Use the right sock for your purpose

 I am continually surprised to see the socks people wear out tramping. I have seen people wearing cheap rugby socks, cotton tube socks, thick woollen socks in the height of summer and thin liner socks in deep snow...all are ridiculous.

Use the rugby socks for rugby- not tramping!

What you need is a sock fit for the purpose you extend it to fill, don't wear socks that do not match the conditions you are walking in.  Some examples: if it is cold go for thicker woollen socks, if it is the height of summer a lighter wool/synthetic mix will work better. If you are wearing trail shoes or hiking shoes a crew or ankle high sock is better than one to the knee.

Use common sense people....!

Wool or synthetic?

There is much debate about what constitutes a good tramping wool better than synthetic fibres or vice versa. Personally I think a good sock will have both, wool for its warmth and durability and synthetics for fit, strength and comfort. The best quality wool is obviously merino as it is warmer and softer than other types of wool, it is also much more expensive.

Hiker wearing some light weight Darn Tough woollen socks

A good quality sock will have a high merino wool content, but will also have nylon, polypropylene and Lycra to help it keep its shape. Different brands and types have different percentages of these fibres but a reasonable mix for a mid weight sock would be:

    Fibre Content:
  • 44% Merino Wool
  • 38% Nylon/Polyamide
  • 17% Endurafil/Polypropylene
  • 1% LYCRA/Elastane

One thing to note: cotton has no place on the feet of a serious tramper/mountain runner/climber when they are on the trail. They do not wick moisture efficiently, can damage your feet with extended use and do not insulate well. However, they do make excellent sleeping or hut/tent socks.

What to look for in a sock design...

Key features to look for in a quality tramping sock are:
  • made of a breathable, wicking material (some wool content is best)
  • quick drying, easy to clean
  • cushioning on bottom of foot and around heel
  • good arch support system
  • flat seams on toe and heel to prevent blisters
  • design assists fit
Great features to look for in tramping socks

If you are a novice to tramping and want some assistance I would suggest you go to your local outdoor retailer and see what they have in stock. Talk to a sales representative and tell them what kind of activity you are into and what you are looking for. I generally find they are an excellent source of advice.

The brands I use: Bridgedale/Smartwool/Mund/Lorpen/Icebreaker

There are many different brands of socks but I will only address those I have personally used.

I tend to use medium to light weight trekking socks but I do own some heavier socks for winter snow and light ankle socks for walking. I favour a mix of merino wool, nylon/polypropylene and other synthetics in a rough 45/35/20 percentage mix.

Bridgedale (United Kingdom)

Bridgedale are my current go to sock brand, I have several pair and find them to be comfortable, durable and a pleasure to use. These socks are produced in the United Kingdom, the company have been making socks since the 1910's. They are not the cheapest option but you only need 2-3 pair at a time and at $42 a pair they do not break the bank.

Bridgedale Woolfusion Trekker- my preferred tramping sock

The type I use are the Woolfusion Trekker, so perhaps more information might be useful. These socks are designed to be used year round. The hi-tech materials and construction means dry, warm and comfortable feet in a variety of conditions. 

Features of the wool fusion sock:
  • Uses hi-tech sock design elements
  • quality materials mean performance and durability
  • good balance between insulation and moisture wicking
  • variety of weights available
  • limited anti microbial features added    

  Fibre Content:
  • 44% Merino Wool
  • 38% Nylon/Polyamide
  • 17% Endurafil/Polypropylene
  • 1% LYCRA/Elastane

A selection of Bridgedale tramping socks...

I switched to Bridgedale socks in 2018 because my other preferred brands Smartwool & Mund are becoming difficult to source in Christchurch. I'm not sorry I changed, as the Bridgedale socks are super comfortable.I buy these from Hunting and Fishing Tower Junction.

Smartwool (USA)

Smartwool is an American company who utilise New Zealand Merino wool in their socks. I have several pair of their socks and have enjoyed using them over the last 2-3 years. They have a strong following in the US long-trail community because of their price, durability and comfort. A pair of Smartwool socks cost around $30 NZ dollars a pair, they are available from Torpedo 7 stores.

Me in some Smartwool mid weight socks on the Abel Tasman Coast Track in 2017
The medium weight Smartwool trek socks I use

I also have some ankle high Smartwool socks for walking, they are good for this task but I still prefer Icebreaker socks in this role.
Crew style running socks from Smartwool

Mund (Spain)

Mund socks are manufactured in Spain, I used these exclusively from 2010 to 2015 and really enjoyed the experience. I have used several different types over the years the ones I still own are shown below...they are winter weight Mund Explorer socks.

My winter weight socks: Mund Merino Explorer

I wore Polar Circle socks from Mund as my main sock type up until 2015, they are excellent socks. 
Mund socks: the mid weight Polar Circle sock

Wearing my Mund socks in Magdalen Hut, Winter of 2016

I really like Mund socks and still have two pair as my winter weight socks. I had to change brand as the one place in Christchurch which stocked them have discontinued the brand. These cost between $20-$40 a pair depending on the size, type and thickness.

If you can find them I recommend you try them out.

Lorpen (USA)

Lorpen socks are also made in the United States, they are o.k. socks but cannot compete with the better quality Bridgedale and Mund products. I have used their light weight T3 light Hiker and also T3 All Season Trekker socks in the past.

The Lorpen T3 lite hiker sock

Lorpen T3 All Season Trekker

 Because they made from less durable synthetic materials, they just don't seem to take the punishment of tramping as well. They are good socks to start but quickly get holes, develop a 'wool glaze' or start unravelling.

Me in some Lorpen T3 trekker socks, Quail Island 2018

Lorpen socks are a lot cheaper than other brands, they will set you back from $15-$30 for a pair. Personally, I would rather spend a few more dollars and get some nice Bridgedales/Munds.

Icebreaker (New Zealand)

Icebreaker are a well known Kiwi company specialising in merino wool clothing. Icebreaker are my go to brand for walking socks, I use them for general fitness walking and also when I'm wearing trail shoes. I usually carry a pair of these as camp socks because in an emergency I could wear them instead of my main socks.

Wearing a pair of Icebreaker Lite+Hike mini socks on the Christchurch 360 trail

I like the ones that reach to just above the ankle, Lite+Hike minis...when you are wearing trail running shoes this is all you really need. They changed the colour scheme in 2017 so these are now two tone grey or black/blue.

My daughter in some Icebreaker hiking socks

Icebreaker Lite+Hike minis in grey

Section walking the Christchurch 360 Dunes/wetland section 2015, Icebreaker socks

Icebreakers are the most expensive socks I use, they cost from $35 a pair which considering how little material they use is shocking. But they are worth it as they wear well, wick well and keep your feet cool on a hot day.

Other brands

Although I have not used them myself I have heard good things about many other brand of socks including Ininji (the famous toe socks), Thorlos, Karrimor, Darn Tough and Seal Skins. It would be worth searching for reviews of these products if they are sold near you.

Classic Iniinji toe socks...

Unless buying your socks on-line you will need to use what is locally available.

After you buy the socks...

Here are a few things to consider once you have located and purchased the socks you intend to use on that next tramping adventure.  

Care of your socks

So how do you best care for your socks once you have brought them?

 It is a good question...really your best bet is to go with the care instructions on the sock packaging. All of the socks I have used for walking and tramping have care instructions included, if there are no instructions try searching on the internet for care instructions for that brand and type of sock.

Care instructions on the back of some Karrimor Trekking Socks

In general terms wash your socks before using them to remove detergents and oils acquired during manufacture. I just use liquid laundry detergent but you can buy special products just for cleaning socks (I think these are unnecessary).

If you are washing your socks in the field then please use a biodegradable soap and dispose of any wash/rinse water at least 25 metres from any waterway- remember the leave no trace precepts. 

Biodegradable soap for clothes and body

Either line dry or tumble dry on a low heat, high heat will damage merino wool so take care. Check the packaging to see what the manufacturer recommends.

Care instructions from a pair of Bridgedale tramping socks

Once dry carefully store them until needed and only use them for your outdoor activity of choice. They can be repaired but do so carefully, if the damage is in a high friction area like the heal or toe re-purpose or discard them.  

My rinsed Smartwool socks line drying in West Sabine Hut

On the trail rinse your socks every night if possible in clean water to remove sweat, dirt and oils from your feet. Hang to dry...they will still be wet in the morning but at least they will be clean.

When should I get rid of a pair of socks?

Eventually your socks will wear out...the will rip or get holes, develop a wool 'glaze' or loose their shape. I generally find a good sock lasts 1-3 years with a moderate amount of use. Obviously, if you mistreat them or use them more frequently this time will drop considerably. 

Re-purpose or discard your socks when they:
  • start to feel uncomfortable to wear
  • develop a 'wool glaze' 
  • have large worn or damaged areas
  • get holes/rips on the vulnerable toe/heal area
  • loose their shape, fit or will not stay up
Damaged tramping might be time to bin these ones!

 The idea is to get rid of them before they cause any blisters or damage to your feet. Check your socks before every tramp, start your trip with socks that will last the distance. Let me tell you, 30 km's away from the road end is a bad time to learn your socks no longer perform.

For further reading there is an excellent article in Outdoor Gear Lab which covers how to select outdoor socks in detail. 

Monday, 5 March 2018

Tramping Equipment: Osprey Volt 75l pack

A lighter multi-day pack for thru-hiking...


I've been looking for a new pack for long trail trips such as the Te Araroa.  I needed carry capacity combined with a reasonable weigh and cost, while still being rugged enough for New Zealand conditions.

After much searching and weighing of options I decided on the Osprey Volt 75 pack. I like this bag as it is a fairly basic design and foregoes many of the redundant features and unnecessary weight of other packs of this size and capacity.

Osprey Volt75: front view...note the gear loops and tie down points on the front

Osprey once again

I went with Osprey once again, I really like their packs I think they may be my go to pack brand from now on. They have nice harnesses and their weigh tends to the light side. I have two now and both are super comfortable to wear even when loaded to the gills with gear.

Jon wearing the Atmos 50 AG on the way back from Carrington Hut, Feb 2018

My other Osprey pack is the Atmos 50 AG I posted about a couple of weeks ago. The Volt and the Atmos are good gear...both were brought in the Bivouac end of summer sale!

The Osprey Atmos 50 AG

The Osprey Volt 75

Osprey packs are size specific, abet with a small range of adjustment possible to fit them to the individual tramper. My Volt is a large size, these also come in small and medium.

Osprey Volt 75 in use, image from YouTube

The back panel is adjustable to allow the harness to fit correctly to someone with a long torso between 43 and 51cm long.  I know this because there is a label on the bag saying so....

One cool feature is the integrate safety whistle built into the sternum strap.

Osprey Volt75: details of the harness set up, note the integrated whistle

The Volt has a removable floating lid which you could jerry rig as a small day pack if needed. I have a light weight sil-nylon bag from Sea to Summit for this purpose so it is not a feature I will use.

The Sea to Summit ultra sil-nylon pack

Osprey Volt75: more detail of the harness and back panel

There are two mesh pockets on the side of the pack for your water bottles and one 'kangaroo' pouch on the front in this same mesh. I would really prefer a hardier material but you takes what you can get.....

Additionally there are two generously sized pouches on the hip belt, they are big enough for a small camera, phone, GPS or a couple of snacks.The hip belt is fully adjustable and the belt padding can be sized to any waist between 30 and 50"

Osprey Volt75: side view showing mesh side pockets, harness setup

This is a single compartment pack, it has a removable divider between the bottom and top of the pack for a sleeping bag/bear cannister but I will use this as a single entry pack. I carry my gear in a plastic pack liner so I have no need for a separate lower compartment. 

There are side compression straps top and bottom to allow you to secure your load.

 Here is a great review of the Volt 75 on the US based Sectionhiker website.

Osprey Volt75: side profile, note pockets and compression straps

There is also a red colour available in New Zealand if that takes your fancy, I would have brought one in this colour but unfortunately they didn't have any...

Osprey Volt 75: alternate New Zealand colour- Carmine red

I think that red and grey colour scheme is pretty cool myself...

Here are some specifications;

Weight: 1.72 kgs
Capacity: 75 litres
Material:210D Nylon, poly coating inside
Harness: Size specific (S/M/L)
Price: $254 NZ dollars on sale
Colour choices: Graphite and Carmine Red/Graphite

The Volt 75l in action...

I used my new Volt pack this last weekend on my second trip to Packhorse Hut to act as the volunteer hut warden. I didn't get a lot of photos of the pack in action but it performed very well.

The pack was comfortable to carry even loaded down with my stuff and 3 kgs of extra gear DOC needed transported to the hut. The harness was easy to adjust and overall I was really impressed with the bag.

Georgia sitting next to the Volt 75 on the way to Packhorse Hut

Georgia said it looked cool, so that is all the praise you need really.....!!!!

The pack performed well on my Travers-Sabine Circuit Tramp. It is easy to use and adjust, fits well and was super comfortable to carry. I carried it for 80+ kilometres loaded to the top with food for an 8 day trip and it carried the weight magnificently.  Even the 1000 meter climb over Travers Saddle didnt cause any back fatigue.

Highly recommended obviously.

The Volt 75 on the way to Speargrass Hut, March 2018

The Volt 75 and Pole, trekking, expedient, wood, Series II in the Travers Valley 2018

Carrying the Osprey Volt to Speargrass Hut, 2018

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Tramping Equipment: Osprey Atmos 50 AG pack

More new tramping gear for 2018...

....more weight lightening going on here. I brought a new multi-day pack for my short trips of 1-3 nights. I needed something lighter than my current 75l Vaude Ascent pack but with more capacity than my 50l Vaude Brenta pack. 

My Vaude Brenta 50 on the Nina Hut Track in 2017

 I would love to buy an ultra-lite pack from one of the US based manufacturers (like Z-Packs) but those run to $600-800 NZD and I just cant afford that. After much consideration I went with the Osprey brand who have a solid niche following in the thru hiking community.

Z-Packs Arc Haul: 62L, 700gms but $299 USD ($420 NZD + postage)

Osprey Atmos 50 AG pack

Osprey have built a good reputation with hikers over the years. While their gear is not ultra-lite they have taken notice of that movement and have begun to gradually lighten all of their packs.

I went with the Osprey Atmos 50 AG, specifications for the pack are:

Weight:1.4-1.6? kg (I have seen three different weights quoted)
Capacity: 53+ litres (I think it is closer to 55-58 myself) 
Harness: Size specific (S/M/L)
Material:210D Nylon, poly coating inside
Cost: $297 NZ dollars in the Bivouac summer sale

Osprey Atmos 50 AG: left hand front view

I heard good things about the harness system on Osprey packs and they were right.  The harness is light, breathable but sturdy. The hip belt is excellent, it is firm around the waist and holds the pack very steady.  The mesh back section dissipates heat more effectively than the more solid/rigid type. 

The backpack looks unusual but the bottom section is actually the generously sized pockets (one on each side). It is shaped almost like a climbers pack (curved), this is a feature of most Osprey packs.

Osprey Atmos 50 AG: view from the side

Osprey packs tend to use size specific harnesses, this bag has a degree of adjustment range but is tailored for people with a long to over long frame like myself. There are also small and medium sized packs in the range. 

Osprey Atmos 50 AG: detail of the harness system
The pack has a pack cover, I will probably discard this as I use a pack liner and the pack has a polyurethane coating on the inside.  Your average pack cover can weigh up to 300 gms so this is not an insignificant amount of weight to lose.
Osprey Atmos 50 AG: the integrated pack cover
The Atmos is only available in two colours the absinthe green and a dark grey colour (graphite).  I went with the green as I think it will stand out a bit better than the grey in your typical beech forest. 

Osprey Atmos 50 AG: the alternate color- graphite

If required you can remove the top lid compartment and close the bag using a handy integrated fold away flap. This allows you to use the lid as a day pack or to lighten the main bag even further. There is a pouch and a strap for hanging a hydration bladder, the port for the hydration tube is centrally located.

Osprey Atmos 50 AG: view inside the pack

The Atmos 50 AG in use:

I took the pack up to Carrington Hut at the head of the Waimakiriri river over the weekend and it performed very well. The weight, fit and comfort of the pack are awesome, and I managed to get all my gear into the bag with room to spare.

The Atmos 50 inside Anti Crow Hut, February 2018

The new Osprey on the Carrington Hut veranda, February 2018

If I use it for a multi-day tramp my tent will need to ride on the outside but I see no reason why this bag couldn't easily carry 3-7 days worth of gear.

Me wearing the Atmos while crossing Turkey Flat, Waimakiriri River Valley
My Vaude Breta 50 is now being used by my daughter Georgia as we have started going on some tramping trips together. While not perfect for her, it will suffice until I can afford to buy her a pack specially tailored to her size and frame.

Georgia checking out a side stream while wearing my Vaude Brenta pack

I will add some more photos as I use the Atmos over the next couple of years.