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Dear Professor Nikwax: How do I care for my footwear?

Dear Professor Nikwax,

My summer plans have me climbing several peaks, riding my bike along the California coast, and wearing my sandals to the Farmer’s Market. Of course I’ll also be logging a lot of time in the office. I’ve invested in some good shoes for the different sports, but I want to take care of them so they last through the season and beyond. Help!

-Wanderluster

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Dear Wanderluster,

Your instincts are correct; even the highest-quality footwear needs regular cleaning and conditioning to last.

Congratulations on taking the time to learn about the best steps for caring for your kicks.

I’ve put together a handy chart to remind you about what to do for different shoes and when. Print it out and hang it in your gear closet!

Then, read on for a break down by sport.

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Hiking/mountain climbing

As you know, stable boots or hiking shoes with lateral support, excellent tread, and waterproofing are priority number one when you’re heading to the high country.

Leather: Before you do anything, clean ‘em with Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel. This gets rid of the dirt and establishes a clean slate for the next step: waterproofing.

Are they pretty beat up? Treat them with Conditioner for Leather, which is absorbed into the leather and helps keep the material supple.

Then, even if your boots come with a waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex, waterproof them. We’ve got both a wax and liquid waterproofing product, and both can go directly onto wet leather. So sit down, clean, waterproof, and leave to dry.

Finally, send me a picture from one of the peaks you climb this summer.

Fabric and leather combo: Whether we’re talking about your ultra light trail runners or your low-top hiking shoes (which is what I use in all but the most epic mountaineering adventures), this leather and fabric combo needs to be cleaned with the Nikwax footwear cleaning gel and then treated with our Fabric & Leather Proof product. I guarantee this will add water repellency and keep your shoes in better condition, longer.

Biking

Until recently, I thought high-end, leather cycling shoes were the purview of professional cyclists. Then I got a pair. Wow. They’re comfortable, lightweight, and they make me feel powerful. I, like you, want to return the affection. So I use the same products on my leather biking shoes that I do for my leather hiking boots: clean, condition, waterproof.

Sandals

The worst thing about sandals is the stench. Sporty sandals with a rubber sole and technical fabric upper can collect stinky bacteria and, put simply, reek. Fortunately the Nikwax Sandal Wash deodorizes and sanitizes those bad boys.

Office/Daily wear

Are your office shoes nubuck or suede? Then treat them with the Nikwax Nubuck & Suede Proof waterproofing. Leather? See the instructions for leather footwear above.

I hope that answers your questions. Follow these tips and your shoes will last far beyond this summer.

Happy travels!

Best,

Professor Nikwax

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Why You Should Pay Attention to Chemistry on this Earth Day

It's up to all of us to do our part to take care of the earth. Photo: NASA

It’s up to all of us to do our part to take care of the earth. Photo: NASA

Chemistry is hard. That’s why most American students put it off until the end of their K-12 years. That’s why university professors allow cheat sheets. That’s why Nikwax employs a gaggle of white lab-coated PhDs on our research and development team.

Those scientists have dedicated more than 30 years to developing Nikwax formulas that produce effective and non-harmful chemical reactions for waterproofing and cleaning.

By “non-harmful,” we mean intentionally avoiding any chemical content or reaction that may be noxious to humans or the environment.

Nikwax is clear on our stance: we believe fluorocarbons have a deleterious effect on humans and the environment, so we don’t use them in any of our products. We have pages and pages of scientific resources on our website to support our belief.

External studies support our stance. Specifically, a 2012 independent scientific study that was commissioned by Greenpeace found perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), in every piece of name brand rain gear they tested.

The apparel industry uses PFCs for coating and finishing outdoor garments or sporting goods, or for the production of breathable membrane. The report calls these PFCs, which do not occur in nature, “environmentally damaging toxins.” What’s more, the report calls for more stringent regulation of all PFCs.

Conclusions from the 2012 study include the following:

  • There is an urgent need to ban PFCs from outdoor wear production.
  • The outdoor clothing industry must continue to develop safer alternatives [to PFCs] and use them in processing their products.
  • PFCs and other chemicals reach drinking water, food and ultimately human blood and breast milk from such various sources as manufacturing and household wastewater, dust and the disposal of textiles.
  • The outdoor clothing industry can go without using PFC and nevertheless manufacture items that meet most customers’ demands for functionality.

That last one really spoke to us. After all, at Nikwax, we’ve been saying that since our inception. We know it is possible to keep our clients dry and warm without dousing their outerwear with toxic chemicals.

Nikwax is 100% fluorocarbon-free, and we will always oppose the inclusion of fluorocarbons in water repellency formulations.

When it comes to chemistry, it’s okay to be confused by the scientific specifics. We don’t expect everyone to understand the chemical makeup of fluorocarbons and their varied derivatives. You may or may not understand the distinctions between the C8 and the C6 carbon chains.

We get it. But we fervently believe that as a product manufacturer we can’t pass the buck. It’s our responsibility to ask the hard questions and to take a stance when the answers show ever so clearly that we should.

That can be the difference between clean water and polluted water. Or between a sick family and a healthy one.

We leave you, on this celebration of Earth Day, with a quote from a chemistry professor, on the tumblr site Chemagical:

“In the sciences, all of these ideas were developed over decades. If this stuff were common sense, we would have had all of this stuff figured out before the 1800’s. These concepts can be difficult, and it’s a hell of a lot better to ask a question and sort out your (and possibly others’) confusion than to wallow in ignorance.”

Here’s to taking charge of our own health, and taking responsibility for the sustainability of our passions and the well being of the environments we love.

Happy Earth Day!


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Spring hiking preview

Nkwx Coast-31

It’s officially spring, which means that hiking season is here. Which means it’s time to bust out your boots (and if you didn’t store them properly last fall, time to clean and waterproof).

Got it? Great. Now the fun starts.

Whether you’re heading out for a leisurely stroll or a multi-day wilderness trek, planning your adventure is the first step. If you’re not sure where to go or you’re looking to add to your lifelist, we’re here to help. Check out the following must-dos and get those feet moving.

Easy Day Hike: Mount Independence, Orwell, Vermont

Visit one of the sites from which the British hightailed it back to Canada during the Revolutionary War, and enjoy the lush hillside vegetation on Vermont’s iconic Mount Independence. This family-friendly day hike is 2.9 miles round trip. It gains 200 feet and tops out at 306 feet above sea level. There are even a few nearby trails with wheelchair access. For more info on Mount Independence, click here.

Recommended footwear: Choose a low-top hiking shoe with lateral stiffness, grippy tread, and waterproofed upper like the La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 GTX.

Advanced day hike: Three 14ers in a day: Colorado’s Democrat-Cameron-Lincoln Loop

A rite of passage for aspiring mountaineers, summiting a Colorado 14er earns you a spot in a special “club.” But why stop at just one? This three-peak test piece was chosen by Backpacker as the best Colorado Day Hike in 2009. Don’t be fooled by the low mileage (6.95 total) The high alpine exposure and extreme elevation gain will make you work for it. Plan on encountering snow if you attempt this route before mid-July, and absolutely get an early start. Essential info about this route can be found here.

Recommended footwear: A light-weight ankle boot that breathes well will keep your feet going for miles. The La Sportiva Xplorer Mid GTX features great cushioning, lateral stability, a high traction rubber outsole, and an articulated heel cuff to ward off blisters.

Weekend Backpacking Trip: Kibbie Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

A friendly introduction to backpacking, this eight-mile, round trip route winds through some of Yosemite’s most beautiful scenery. Expect multiple stream crossings as you climb up to the lake. Camp at the shore (permits are available through the Yosemite NP permit desk) or head to the granite outcroppings south of the lake to escape mosquitos. More info can be found here.

Recommended footwear: A sturdy ankle boot that offers enough flexibility to keep feet comfortable without compromising stability is a solid choice. We like the La Sportiva FC ECO 3.2 GTX (women) or the FC Eco 3.0 GTX (men).

Multi-day Backpacking Trip: Wonderland Trail, Washington

Circumnavigating Washington’s captivating Mount Rainier, this 93-mile loop takes about two weeks to complete. Hikers log roughly 22,000 feet of elevation gain, and the highest point tops out at the 6,750 feet Panhandle Gap. You’ll cruise through high Alpine and sub-alpine terrain, spruce, pine, and fir forests, and plenty of river crossings. Three non-wilderness and eighteen trailside campsites are available for overnight stays with the proper permit. Visit the National Park Service site for more details.

Recommended footwear: A durable, leather hiker that’s durable, supportive, and protective, such as La Sportiva’s Omega GTX are versatile enough to go the distance and light enough to not weigh you down.

High-Alpine Mountaineering: Gannett Peak, Wind River Range, Wyoming

Wyoming’s highest peak, Gannet, 13,804 feet, lords over the state’s rugged Wind River Range. Not for the faint at heart or inexperienced, the main route summiting the peak is a 40-mile out and back. You read that right. Forty miles. Ropes, crampons, ice axes are essential to ensure safety over the varied terrain. Glacier crossing, scrambling and cross-country hiking is all part of this high-alpine experience. For the best climbing conditions, plan to summit in early summer June/July. More info can be found here.

Recommended footwear: A lightweight, burly mountaineering boot that’s waterproof, and features extensive support and torsional rigidity will get you to the summit. Check out the La Sportiva Trango S Evo GTX boot.

Speed Hike/Trail Run: North Valley Trail System, Idaho

Short on time or just looking to get in an intense heart racing workout? Check out Idaho’s North Valley Trail System. This network spans 30-plus miles through the Boulder Mountain Range from Ketchum to the Galena Lodge. Select the length and intensity of your speed hike/trail run while surrounded by meadows, streams and mountain peaks. The trails are also used for XC skiing in the winter. Click here for more info.

Recommended footwear: A neutral, stable, all-terrain shoe with a rock guard in the front and a sticky outsole like the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor keeps the miles coming.


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The Perfect Base Camp

5ws-of-tentsite-selection

Think you’ve found the perfect base camp? Remember your five W’s.

Finding and setting up the perfect camp is central to any adventure.

We’ve collected the “dos and don’ts” for three of our favorite camping experiences.

The Developed Campground

Sometimes you need a quick fix of nature and a campfire. What’s easier than rolling up in your car to live out of the back for a night or two? For a finding-your-sanity adventure or to introduce camping to a new love or young kids, a developed campground is a great place to start.

Do: Find the quietest space. This will likely require multiple laps around the campground to identify – much to the chagrin and ridicule of your new love and/or children. They’ll thank you in the morning.

Don’t: Park next to the bathroom. Enough said.

Do: Go traditional. Bring your own firewood. Pack s’mores, a dutch oven, board games and any other luxuries you wouldn’t carry for more of a wilderness-style trip. Live it up.

Don’t: Forgo a tent. You may be tempted to crash in the car, but don’t cave in. There’s just something about a tent that pulls the full experience together.

The Wilderness/Backcountry Campsite

By definition, you’re backpacking in and nature provides the amenities.

Do: Orient your site toward the morning sunrise. Regardless of how excited you are to wake up and take in the spectacular views, it’s much easier to get out of your bag when the morning sun hits you with its warmth.

Don’t: Camp too near the trail. Few things are more disconcerting than the sounds of other people when your goal is to surround yourself with wilderness.

Do: Bring a pen and paper. No, you don’t need to journal your deep thoughts – unless you’re so moved. It seems like every trip generates a new idea of what to pack next time. Jot those brainstorms down!

Don’t: Rely on the weather report. Even if NOAA calls for balmy days and crystal clear nights, never be tempted to forgo your rain jacket and a few insulating layers. At least in the mountains, the only thing reliable about the weather is that it will change. And, oh yeah, make sure your gear is prepped and proofed before you hit the trail.

The High Alpine Basecamp

Of course you’re always careful to respect your safety and the health of the environment, but high altitude camping takes it to a new level (pun intended). The fragility of both your basic needs and the high alpine ecosystems are paramount.

Do: Bring down camp booties and extra batteries. Booties are lightweight, low volume, saviors of toes and keepers of happiness. Altitude is torture on batteries, so be sure to keep some extras on-hand (and warm) for headlamps and cameras.

Don’t: Underestimate the wind. Select a tent that can handle high, sustained gusts and some snow load.

Do: Bring lightweight entertainment, like cards, dice and a good sense of humor. Most likely you’re making a summit attempt and Mother Nature may or may not accommodate your desire. Be prepared for downtime.

Don’t: Confuse arrogance with confidence. Camping at high altitude is a learned skill. Teamwork is crucial and preparation is a requisite. Watching the sun rise and set over the curve of the earth is something that few on the planet will ever experience – enjoy.

Regardless of how you prefer your adventure, be prepared and leave only footprints.


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The History of the Tent: From mammoth to man-made

The history of the tent is long and storied. From prehistoric times to recreational camping, tents have been a part of human comfort and survival. Check out our tent history infographic and read on to learn more!

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Since the days Homo erectus, every kid throughout history has heard their parents squabbling over which tent pole goes where and would that gall-darned wind just stop blowing for one miserable minute so they could get the thing up.

A tent – first and foremost – provides the basic survival need of shelter. History’s first tent dwellers likely would have ditched their lean-to for an energy efficient stone cottage with a jetted bathtub and 500 channels on cable. Today’s tent dwellers (at least in North America) are typically looking to swap those modern trappings for an experience more evocative of a simpler time.

Of course, it’s easy to romanticize the notion of “simpler time.” The first evidence of tent construction can be carbon dated to around 40,000 B.C. While structurally rudimentary, the protective elements of the tents were made from Mammoth hides. Not so simple when your after-school chore consists of slaying, cleaning and sewing the hide of an 8-ton, 13-foot tall elephant.

Over the course of a few millennia, our ancestors realized the mammoth-motel lacked in some practical applications, like portability for their increasingly nomadic lifestyle. You just can’t hold a good Homo sapien down. Enter the yurt and the teepee (depending on your continent).

The hallmark of both the yurt and the teepee is ease of mobility. Folks from around 450 B.C. could follow the beast-du-jour migration or the seasonal flow of water. Essentially, early yurts and teepees served as the first iterations of the modern cab-over camper.

Yurt and teepee designs were sound enough to stand the test of time with minimal adaptation. To this day, Homo sapiens ‘Rocky Mountain hippie-ius’ still yearn for yurt living and backcountry yurt holidays.

As societies moved from nomadic to agrarian, complicated feats of portable architecture replaced simplistic engineering. With the species settling down, a tent came to symbolize a particular breed of wildness – whether as recreational pastime or enforced living.

Child labor could no longer be counted upon for preparing hides for the shelter, and the Industrial Revolution made heavy canvas and waxed fabrics easy to find. Tents were heavy, difficult to erect and inevitably stinky. Wall tents, still the preference of the military and many outfitters, loosely followed the form of the yurt and maximized indoor space. On the flip side, camping enthusiasts and outdoorspeople favored smaller versions of tent living. They sought structures falling somewhere between a teepee and a lean-to. These were still heavy and stinky, but less difficult to erect and better suited for turn of the 20th Century “light and fast” bragging rights.

Tent technology stayed fairly static until the fabric and materials revolution of the 1970’s. Nylon, which was invented by the DuPont Company in 1935, began its longtime reign as the go-to tent material. And the same tortured minds that brought us polyester leisure suits can be credited with a gigantic leap in making recreational tents lightweight and more weather resistant. Aluminum tent poles lightened the load even further.

Today, if you can dream of a perfect tent, there’s a good chance it already exists. Lightweight, portable and extremely weather resistant, we should all take a moment to thank our ancestors for the millennia of R&D to arrive at 2013’s tent technology.

The only concern is for today’s children. With tents so easy to erect, what will the youth of today do without the inevitable family fight the first time the tent is pitched in the backyard or the backcountry? We can only hope they’ll build new memories for a new generation.

*Nylon and polyester are truly wonder materials for your outdoor shelter needs. The main drawback is that these synthetic materials breakdown under UV light. Treat with Nikwax Tent and Gear SolarProof to guard against UV deterioration and to maintain water-repellency over the life of your tent.