Monday, November 24, 2014

Make Any Glove Touchscreen Compatible

It's no fun to expose your phone-swiping digits to the cold. Sure, you can avoid chilled fingertips by investing in a pair of touchscreen friendly gloves, which have proliferated alongside the never-ending explosion of mobile devices. But if you're like me, you probably have a collection of perfectly serviceable gloves—and no desire to add to the collection.

Photo: Gesa Henselmans/Flickr
So I'm intrigued by AnyGlove, a liquid treatment you can apply to any set of gloves to make them touchscreen friendly. Per the video instructions, you simply coat the desired fingertips (usually the index finger and thumb) and either let it air dry or accelerate the process with two to three minutes of hot air from a blow dryer.

So does it work? After a thorough perusal of online reviews and comments, including a good comment thread on Amazon, I'm going to give this a qualified yes, with at least one important caveat.

In order for the stuff to work, it almost certainly needs to completely saturate the fabric from the surface of the glove all the way through to the inside in order to create a connection between your finger and the touchscreen. Thinner, around-town gloves? No problem. But when it comes to thicker gloves that feature a layer of synthetic insulation (nylon ski gloves, for example) or gloves that feature a separate liner, AnyGlove appears to be much less reliable. (To help avoid this, one commenter suggests treating both the outside and inside of the glove.)

Other considerations include the fact that 1) this is not a permanent treatment—you'll need to reapply it from time to time depending on use, 2) it can discolor lighter colored fabrics, and 3) it's unclear what the elixir is made from; there are no details on the company web site regarding the chemicals used in the stuff.

So my takeaway? Overall, a decent option for the lightweight pairs of gloves I use in my daily winter life, but not something I'd use on my heavier winter handwear.

A bottle of AnyGlove runs $14.95 and is available in formulations for both synthetic and leather gloves. Per the product specs, each 15ml bottle can treat up to five pairs of gloves.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sleep Tight, All Winter Night

If there's one item of winter gear that merits a splurge, it’s a good sleeping bag. Few things are as luxurious—or as essential for an enjoyable cold-weather camping experience—as a cozy and warm night’s sleep. A winter sleeping bag is a significant financial investment, however, making it all the more important to find the perfect bag for your needs.

This column originally appeared in the November/December print edition of AMC Outdoors. You can read the full story here

Photo by Shutterstock.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Winter Is Here: Cold, Snow, and Downhill Skiing Arrive in Northern New England

As I write this, it's 23.8 degrees atop 6,288-foot Mount Washington—a balmy morning compared to Saturday, when the summit clocked in with a high of 6 degrees and a low of minus-2. Month to date, the Mount Washington Observatory has received just over 20 inches of snowfall, with more coming down today. As of last night, six inches of snow and ice blanketed the ground.

There's no doubt that winter is here for the season, its arrival boosted by the continuing effects of last week's "Bering Sea Bomb," a super-storm that drove frigid polar into the central and eastern U.S. The chill is forecast to deepen further over the coming days, with the mercury forecast to plunge into the single digits across the higher summits of New Hampshire.

Ski on! Hitting the slopes at Bretton Woods on Monday, November 17. Photo courtesy of Bretton Woods.
Downhill Ski Areas Open
The upside of this wintry blast? Skiers in need of an early-season fix can rejoice. At least seven New England ski areas are now currently open for (limited) business. They are:
Follow the Arrival of Winter
To keep tabs on the progression of winter—and opportunities for cold-weather fun—I recommend the following resources:
  • The NERFC Snow Depth Map for New England and New York, which is updated daily by NOAA and the National Weather Service.
  • The great collection of White Mountain web cams, most of which are operated by the Mount Washington Observatory (which also recently launched a redesigned—and excellent—new web site).
  • AMC's Backcountry Weather and Trail Conditions, which provide the latest info for the areas around its lodges and backcountry huts. 
  • The daily Avalanche Advisory for Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines, which will soon be updated daily by The Mount Washington Avalanche Center. A must-read for backcountry skiers, climbers, and hikers tackling Mount Washington in winter.
Let the winter fun commence.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How to Keep Your Feet Warm in Cold Weather

Moisture drains heat from your feet. Once your feet cool down, it takes a lot of energy to re-warm damp socks and boots. Keep them dry, keep them warm. Here are some tips:

  • Block snow from your boot tops with gaiters or snug-fitting pant cuffs. 
  • Carry a pair of dry socks to change into. 
  • Consider vapor barrier liner socks, a thin non-breathable layer added between a liner sock and thicker outer sock. VBL socks prevent foot moisture from escaping into your boots in the first place and add significant warmth. Plastic bags will even work. 
  • Winter campers should bring their boots (or liner boots) into their sleeping bag to avoid frozen morning footwear. Put them in a plastic bag to keep moisture out of the sleeping bag. 
  • To keep the chill out during breaks or around camp, stand or rest your feet on a piece of wood, which conducts cold much more slowly than snow, ice, or rocks.

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMC Outdoors along with the column "Give Winter the Boot: Keep your feet toasty all season long."

(Photograph by iStock.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Rise of "TurboDown" and Other Down-Synthetic Hybrids

This winter season, Columbia Sportswear is heavily promoting its new line of TurboDown jackets and vests, even featuring it in prominent TV ads during last week's World Series. Besides having some marketing snazz, what exactly is TurboDown? And what does it say about the current state of goose down in general?

The TurboDown sandwich: synthetic below, down above.
As I've noted before, the price of goose down has dramatically increased over the past few years due to a combination of increased demand and reduced supply. The result is that many down-puffed outdoor items have increased markedly in price over the past season or two. (This is particularly evident in down-filled winter sleeping bags, which easily cost an extra $100 or more compared to just a couple years ago.)

To keep prices in check, gear manufacturers are experimenting with a growing number of hybrid insulations that combine goose down with less-expensive synthetic insulation.

Turbo Down, for example, takes a two-layered approach to this concept. First, a layer of Columbia's synthetic "OmniHeat Insulation" is placed closest to your body. Then a layer of down is added over top of it. (Plus Columbia has s all those reflective dots on the inside of the jacket, which are designed to reflect radiant body heat and increase the warmth of the jacket. They probably do, if only a small amount, but that's a subject for another post.) The end result is a suite of jackets and vests that come in at reasonable price points.

Columbia is far from the only company embracing this trend. One of the more notable is Primaloft, which makes a variety of insulations used by many gear manufacturers. This season, Primaloft is launching its Performance Down Blend, which actually combines both down and Primaloft fibers into a single blend. Expect to see this and other synthetic-down hybrids in clothing from most major gear manufacturers in the coming months and years.

Though the primary driver of this trend is cost, it's worth nothing that such hybrid blends do offer potential advantages in moisture management and transfer, given synthetic insulation's superior ability to wick moisture, dry quickly, and insulate even when wet. Time (and consumer behavior and the dynamics of the world's geese supply) will tell whether this trend fades away or puffs big in the years ahead.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why Do Canister Stoves Fail in Cold Weather?

Canister stoves are simple and convenient to operate, and have long been my go-to three-season option. But they suck in the winter, or any time temperatures start dropping below freezing, when they work poorly to not at all. Why?

Why, stove, why???
Photo: Michael R Perry/Flickr Commons
It boils down to some basic chemistry and physics. Canisters contain a compressed blend of butane and propane. The pressure keeps most of the mixture in a liquid state (you can hear it sloshing around inside if you shake the canister), though a small amount vaporizes into a gas above the liquid. When you attach a stove to the canister and turn it on, the gas rises out of the canister to feed the stove burner and heat your food or water.

In order for this to work, the pressure inside the canister must be greater than the pressure outside the canister. But as the canister temperature drops below freezing, its internal pressure starts to diminish until this is no longer the case and the burner sputters and goes out.

Why? The primary culprit is butane, which stops vaporizing at 31 degrees Fahrenheit (its boiling point). (Isobutane—a chemical variation of butane—continues vaporizing down to 11 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Butane is the primary component in fuel canisters, typically accounting for 70 to 80 percent of the fuel mixture; propane makes up the remainder. Unlike butane, however, propane continues vaporizing even in very cold temps (down to minus-43 degrees Fahrenheit). This has some interesting implications for cold-weather performance.

Among these is the fact that the propane will burn off at a disproportionate rate in sub-freezing temperatures. As the remaining mixture shifts increasingly toward butane, less and less fuel vaporizes until eventually the canister pressure drops too low to continue feeding the stove. This means that a brand new fuel canister may work for a while in sub-freezing conditions, but can stop working long before the canister is empty.

There's also another factor at play that affects a canister's cold-weather performance. The process of vaporization—the changing of physical state from liquid to gas—takes energy. In a fuel canister, that energy comes mostly from the warmth (latent heat) in the fuel mixture itself, which is why a stove canister will become noticeably cooler while the stove is operating. In cold temperatures, this effect can drive the canister temperature down and stop the burner cold—even if the ambient temperature is above the fuel's boiling point.
  • For an in-depth and accessible breakdown of the science behind all this, this FAQ on fuel mixtures is an excellent read.
So what to do? If you expect to do much winter camping, buy a liquid fuel stove that runs on white gas, which works well even in bitterly cold temperatures. If you are out with a canister stove in borderline, near-freezing conditions, warm up the canister before you use it. Stick it inside your layers for a while, or bring it into your sleeping bag at night. Placing the canister in a shallow dish or pan with an inch or two of water can also help keep it above freezing while in use.

Stay warm!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rechargeable Headlamps: Plug In, Light Up

As daylight fades into the long nights of fall and winter, any overnight adventure necessitates prolonged use of a headlamp. These days, however, it's easier than ever to keep your headlamp running on rechargeable power, sparing you the need to purchase, use, and (properly) dispose of regular batteries.

Here's a quick look at the primary rechargeable options from two major headlamp manufacturers.

The Tikka RXP from Petzl
The Tikka R+ and Tikka RXP both offer some of Petzl's latest technology, including "reactive lighting," which automatically adjusts the brightness based on ambient conditions. The RXP is slightly brighter (up to 215 lumens) and more expensive ($89) than the R+ (170 lumens, $79).

Both recharge via a short USB cable; a full charge takes 4.5 hours, per the Petzl specs. Burn time on a full charge ranges from 2.5 hours to 12 hours, depending on the brightness and settings—comparable to their non-rechargeable equivalents. (It's worth noting that the classic Petzl Tikka provides more than 120 hours of light, albeit less bright, on a single set of batteries) 

Drawbacks include the fact that the R+ and RXP are about an ounce heavier than their non-rechargeable counterparts, and—more annoyingly—require that you purchase a separate accessory ($10) if you want to use them with AAA batteries instead (a likely scenario on longer multi-day trips).

Black Diamond
The Black Diamond ReVolt
Black Diamond offers the ReVolt, a simpler and less expensive take on the rechargeable concept. Like the Petzl models, it recharges via a USB cable. But instead of recharging a uniquely designed battery, it simply utilizes three rechargeable AAA batteries (included). This approach also means that you can just swap in standard disposable batteries if your rechargeable power runs out.

It lacks the automatic lighting adjustments and is less bright (130 lumens) than the Petzl models, but lasts a lot longer on a single charge (80 to 190 hours, depending on brightness) and costs less to boot ($59).

The bright choice is up to you.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.