You have questions about your equipment. We have answers.

Curiosity is the root of adventure. You can let it direct you to the next switch, the next show, the next track. Likewise, it might prompt you to ask questions — about everything from the color of the sky to why you’re killing your knees. We collected the most pressing queries and spent weeks searching textbooks, deciphering schemes, and questioning experts for the answers. Results? Dozens of factual facts that will impress even your most read hiking partner and leave you with a new appreciation for our world. (Here, we answer questions about equipment. Check out our deep dives into the physiology and nature of a hiker.)

Why does condensation form in tents?

While you sleep, you exhale warm water vapor. This vapor cools when it touches a cold tent fly, causing airborne water molecules to slow down, clump together, and collect into droplets.

Why do sticky shoes stick to rubber?

The attraction between the atoms in your shoes and the atoms on the ground causes friction. The larger the contact area, the more interaction the atoms will have. The “sticky rubber” is just a formulation of very soft rubber, and a step can crush it into the microscopic tissues of the rock in order to dramatically increase the contact area – and thus the atomic attraction.

Are women’s sleeping bags warmer than men’s?

yes. Most sleeping bags come with an internationally standardized designation called “EN” or “ISO”. this says
What temperature range is right for you, from super hot (“comfort” limit), to decently warm (“extreme”). Usually, women sleep cooler than men, so women’s bags are rated ISO for “comfort” while men’s bags list the “extreme” rating, says Ryan Bertrand, product manager at Sierra Designs. Example: A women’s 20°F bag might have an ISO comfort rating of 20°F and a maximum rating of 14°F, which means it will keep the average man comfortable up to 14°F. This does not mean that men should buy women’s bags to get more buzz for the rest of them: women’s bags have different dimensions than men’s bags.

Cotton kills. And it makes you stink. (Photo: Zohar Lazar)

Why is wool so good at repelling bad smell?

Bacteria grow best on moist, smooth surfaces. Therefore, you can think of the shiny, sweaty synthetic fibers in a polyester tee as the perfect petri dish for odor-producing microbes. Wool fibers, on the other hand, are covered with microscopic scales – natural structures that bacteria are not eager to multiply in everywhere. Plus, wool absorbs tons of moisture and separates it. No outside moisture on your skin or clothes = no mites bacteria.

How do hollow pore water filters work?

Hollow-pore filters are filled with micro-suctions, each of which is made of a very fine mesh. These tubes are folded in half to form a “V,” which is stuffed into the filter housing and glued in place. The pressure created by the filter forces the water towards the V-tip at one end of the tube. The pores in the mesh are so small that water molecules can pass into the tubes, but bacteria, sediment and other floaters cannot. Voila: Pour clean water from the open ends of the tubes onto the other side of the filter.

Do trekking poles help or ruin my gait?

It helps reduce the load on the lower extremities by up to 16 percent, according to physiologist Ashley Hook. “We’ve seen consistent research showing that the use of canes relieves pain in the knee,” she adds. Is it the only time they might cause trouble? Leaning forward on sticks while hiking on soft slopes can take your balance forward, causing slips and slides.

How does DEET work, and if it can dissolve a rain shell, why isn’t it toxic?

DEET repels insects without harming them. It’s so effective — and non-lethal — that farmers can spray DEET along with a killer pesticide to deter honeybees, and keep them safe, says CDC entomologist Jeff Blomquist. Interestingly, scientists are still not 100% sure how DEET works. One of the best theories, Blomquist says, is that DEET targets the nerve endings in mosquito antennae, causing them to become temporarily blind to delicious smells.

What is its impact on human health? “After 80 years of using these things, there is little evidence that they are dangerous,” Blomquist explains. Yes, high concentrations can degrade equipment, but “humans are fortunately not made of plastic,” he says.

Why don’t compasses point to true north?

Humans use “true north” – a fixed geographic point at the top of the globe – as a navigational reference. But compass needles don’t actually “point” to the North Pole, they simply align with the lines of the Earth’s magnetic field, which is formed by the flow of liquid nickel and iron around the Earth’s core (badass, right?), and are influenced by the solar wind. That’s why it turns constantly, usually up to 37 miles a year. Since “true north” and “magnetic north” come from completely separate mechanisms, they roughly line up, and the similarities differ at different points on the Earth’s surface. Hence, deviation.

How long can I keep the stuffed sleeping bag before I destroy it?

You can forget about that compression bag for up to a month before it’s a lost cause, says Ryan Bertrand of Sierra Designs. “But please, please don’t push your luck.” What keeps you warm in a sleeping bag isn’t the stuffing – it’s the air trapped inside. Squish those feathers together long enough to warp them, and you’ll reduce the area of ​​air where heat can settle, allowing cold to seep in.

Do high-heeled shoes provide more stability to the ankle than low-heeled shoes?

“In our research, we compared hiking shoes and shoes with a medium heel. We studied muscle activity, joint forces generated, and physiological variables during strenuous walking… and found that there were no fundamental differences between shoes and shoes.” —Ashley Hawke, researcher in physiology at Northern Michigan University

A scientist leans on test tubes
It’s no secret that some camping fuels work best in cold weather. To understand the cause, you must get the molecular. (Photo: Zohar Lazar)

Why does fuel work differently in cold weather?


Isobutane and butane have the same components: four carbon atoms and 10 hydrogen atoms. However, the butane molecules are zigzag-shaped, so in cold temperatures, they tend to clump together rather than bouncing around inside the can. The result: a slow, lazy fuel stream.


The isobutane molecules are different from the regular butane form. They have a “tail”, which means they can’t get very close to each other. Therefore, the particles keep moving, creating higher pressure inside the fuel canister – and more fuel flow at lower temperatures.


The small particles are not attracted to each other as strongly, so the small particles in propane bounce around inside the can a lot more than butane. That’s why propane canisters have to be so strong – and why they stay under high pressure even in the cold.

white gases

White gas, a blend of petroleum-derived fuels, is the most reliable option in winter conditions. This is because liquid fuel stoves that use white gas allow you to manually regulate canister pressure, ensuring a constant flow of fuel regardless of temperature.

Why does a good package suspension system make loads appear lighter?

“Our spines have a set of small pads and pivot points. When the weight of your bag rests on your shoulders, it is clamped and compressed. This reduces upper body movement and makes loads heavy and uncomfortable.

“So, the goal is to pull the load toward your body and push it down at the hips. A good suspension is strong enough to resist the downward forces from gravity and external forces from the compression belts, directing the loads straight down into the pelvis. The result is increased range of motion, making you feel like you’re Unlinked. In addition, the force is now distributed across your hips, which is a larger area than your shoulders. If you have the same amount of force, but spread out over a larger area, that means less pound of force per square inch (and therefore less pressure) and a sense of weight “. —Dana “D3” Gleeson, Product Manager and Packaging Designer at Mystery Ranch

Why are rain shells less effective over time?

Rain shells consist of three main parts: an outer fabric, a waterproof coating (DWR), and an inner waterproof membrane. The membrane has many small pores through which water vapor can pass but liquid water droplets cannot. Your pit sweat is full of evaporating moisture, which is drawn through the pores of your crust into the drier air outside. But when the durable waterproof coating on your shell gets dirty or becomes oily, it just stops working. The water then sticks to the texture of your peel, essentially clogging your pores. This makes your membrane impermeable to the window in both directions: rain is trapped outside and sweat is trapped inside. Results? You feel damp and sweaty, even though your membrane is still completely waterproof. To fix the problem, wash your peel with a technical laundry detergent.

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