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thru-hiking

We view WeatherWool as Hardcore Luxury. Thru-Hiking is one of the Hardcore uses. We’d be very interested in speaking with someone who plans on some thru-hiking right away ... we would be interested in providing the clothing in exchange for blogging, pics, etc.


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The following is a lightly edited email exchange we had with a guy planning some serious hiking but he won’t be starting for a couple of years because he is fighting his way into trail-shape after a broken back. Our answers to the hiker's questions are in bold italics.

5 January 2017

Sir,

When you are preparing your section about specific situations. These are some things I would like to know and think the questions/answers will help all your customers.

I like to hike, and am considering several of your products for hikes down the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Each trail has specific problems regarding clothing and some general problems that affect all hiking.

I have listed several issues that long trail hikers face and given some general consensus comments from hiking blogs.
Well … remember all garments have their strengths and weaknesses. We think wool is overall the best, of course! But perfect does not exist.

Problem 1. Sometimes it rains. If you are hiking a long trail, you have to hike in the rain. You are going to get wet head to toe. It's going to rain for a week at a time with no chance to dry out. So here I am hiking in heavy rain for days at a time. Does your wool shed the water?
We shed lots of water but that depends also upon the garment and the baselayers. However, one of our customers, a SERIOUS outdoorsman, tells me when he expects heavy rain he treats his WeatherWool with Nikwax and it works perfectly (makes the WeatherWool completely waterproof). And washes out easily when he wants. I haven't tried this yet, although, now that you've reminded me, i will call Nikwax tomorrow to find out what they recommend. I go out in the rain often and just ignore it. But again, it depends on the garment i am wearing. The double yoke of the All-Around Jac makes that impervious to rain, but it might be too heavy for a long trekker.

Does it soak up the water after some time? (Does it get really heavy?)
Yes it does soak up water. That’s how wool works, and how it keeps you warm even when wet. It will absorb significant amounts of water, although very slowly … and trap and even generate heat from the moisture. The books claim wool can absorb 30% of its own weight in water. Remember tho … if you are walking, the water falls almost exclusively on your head and shoulders. A little on your forearms and a little on your thighs. The indirect rain just rolls off. The Hats handle rain really well. So it is really just the shoulders that are the issue. So long as you are upright, anyway. And a second layer of wool across the shoulder area will shed crazy amounts of rain. If I was thinking about wild miles like you, i would probably experiment with a very small synthetic rain-cape. Try to get something that would be completely impervious to rain that would cover the areas where the rain hits directly downward. That is the only problem area and if i was covering ground and wearing a pack i’d be dressed light, even if temp was barely above freezing … so i might want to avoid extra layers of wool.

Will it shrink, stretch or wear badly from hiking in the rain and while drying over weeks of being wet?
It won’t stretch. It will shrink slightly if you don't block it (tug it by hand, as if trying to stretch it) when you set it out to dry. Days or weeks in the rain won’t really matter but don't dry it by making it hot. And remember to block. BUT … if you expect hours and days of steady rain, put on a rain poncho that lets air circulate underneath but still keeps the rain off you. These can be inexpensive and pretty packable.

How well will the wool keep me warm if it is wet and very cold.
If it is very cold, you won’t be wet because, at least to me, that means below freezing. The toughest conditions are right at the freezing mark or a little above, and heavy rain. The wool can really shine here. If you need to be out in conditions like this for hours or days, with no warm and dry shelter available to dry off your clothes, then by all means put a poncho over the wool. Whatever water drips onto the wool won’t matter. If you decide to forgo the poncho you might get wet but if you have ALL WOOL (baselayer too, Woolpower is what we recommend) you won’t get cold. I have worn WeatherWool in dawn-to-dark rain and not gotten wet. BUT I had a warm dry place to spend the night and let the wool dry out. The WeatherWool outer layer got wet from the driving rain but I did not because the wool inner layer did not get wet. You would need to experiment with the garments on day trips. Go out for an hour or two or a whole day in the worst of conditions and see what happens. If you have warm dry shelter to get to at the end of the day then you will be in good shape no matter what. But again, you must wear good wool base in cool wet weather because other base layers will fail you and might get you killed out on the trails.

Problem 2. The East Coast is Humid. The general consensus about wool on the Appalachian Trail (AT) is that it will never dry out.
This is no problem at all. I have not hiked the AT but I can say it is better to be wet with water than with sweat. Wear something waterproof/windproof/(NOT!)breathable and stew in your own sweat … or wear wool … naturally breathing garments. Nothing is perfect but wool outperforms everything else. Humidity is no problem at all. Wool will totally stomp the comp in humid weather. If you are talking downpour, break out the waterproof poncho that lets air circulate well underneath it. Our Big Brim Boonie Hat will shed rain all day long and your head will stay warm and dry. Our Pants are not much affected by rain either, while you are walking. It’s only the drops that land on a flat surface like the shoulders that really wind up getting the wool wet, eventually. You need to experiment to gain knowledge and confidence.

Problem 3. The Rockies are Windy. The general consensus about wool in the rockies is that it is too heavy, and once it gets wet the wind will blow right through it. At the mountain tops, we get temperatures down to -25 and winds up to 70 mph.
If weight is the primary factor, wool will lose to various synthetics. But weight should not be the primary factor. Surviving insane conditions has to be the decisive factor. And again, wool will outperform everything else. Wind does not blow thru wet wool any more than it does dry wool. It’s just that when you are wet you feel wind more. Again … when temps are much below freezing, the only wetness you need to contend with (short of falling thru ice) is sweat. You need to try not to sweat. OR … you need to pace yourself so that by the time you slow down for the night or whatever, the sweat has dissipated. Don't get all sweaty and then sit around in a cold wind. If wind really kicks up, break out the storm shell. Any garment that can withstand high wind does not, in my opinion, breathe enough to be useful to a hiker. And I know plenty of them claim windproof/waterproof/breathable. I will just say I’ve never worn anything that was all three.

Problem 4. The West Coast has widely varying temperatures going from the desert to mountain tops and back again over the course of just a few days. I know wool is an excellent choice for this, but you might want to talk about it.
We talk about this plenty on the website, thanks. Check the FAQ. Also, this is the subject of pages of Wool and WeatherWool.

Problem 5. Brush Wash. Moreover, the West Coast (PCT) is dry in the south and wet in the north. I usually wear a kilt made from Tyvek (Cuban fiber) to keep the brush from poking holes in my clothes and keep the water from the surrounding brush off me. Is your wool resistant to punctures from brush?
No … long thorns will go right thru the wool. They won’t DAMAGE the wool but they can certainly pierce it. The wool does provide significant protection. I go thru briers that I would NEVER attempt if i was just wearing shorts and a T-Shirt. I push my way thru but turning/spinning as I go. This is much, much better than trying to just bull straight thru. But I still get scratched up some. The wool itself is not damaged tho.

Does it shed the water?
Our wool doesn't care about wet brush. Although i should point out that a hiker would probably want our MidWeight Pants which are not as water resistant as FullWeight. But still, wet brush would not be significant.

Should I keep the kilt?
Sorry, my friend ... no comment on kilts! Except to say we'd enjoy to see a kilt made from WeatherWool ... I mean ... kilts come from Scotland, where wool is king, right?

Problem 6. Insects. The consensus is that you need to wear tightly woven nylon clothes to protect from mosquito and black bug bites. I am much more concerned about ticks than mosquitoes. Typically I soak my clothes (except socks and primary base layer) in a water (not oil) based permethrin. Does wool protect against black bugs and mosquitoes?
Black bugs i have no experience. Black flies need bare skin to bite. They can’t touch you thru the wool. Neither can mosquitoes except POSSIBLY if our MidWeight Pants were stretched tight and flat across a knee or something, a skeeter might be able to sneak its proboscis thru, but i have not noticed this. What I have noticed is the skeeters avoid the places covered by wool and find an easier place to get you.

Will permethrin hurt the wool?
Permethrin will not hurt the wool. I’m not so sure it really stops ticks either, but everybody is convinced it is at least helpful. If I was hiking in tick country I think frankly I would strip naked every night and go over myself and clothing very carefully. And as long as the temp is above freezing, ticks can be active. I hate them.

Do you have any recommendations for insect abatement?
No. Sorry!! I will say we have had great results with Therma-Cell. I don't know about using a Therma-Cell on a thru-hike ... but they are light and they work!

Problem 7. Trail Care. The AT is 2257 miles long and typically takes 100 days. I plan to hike it up and back for 200 days on the trail, roughly 4500 miles. The other two trails are much longer. We hit town about once every 10 to 15 days. I expect to wear a silk bottom-most base layer that can be rinsed out when it's warm and there is water. Also on the trail, you sit on the ground and spend a lot of time kneeling to cook.
Yeah … I know three people who have done the AT ... and one of them is Advisor Mike Dean.  But they all did it South to North!!! You won’t need any baselayer with WeatherWool Pants. When I talked about baselayer above I really just meant on top. If really cold you might want longjohns but as a hiker I think you'd be generating plenty of your own heat. Also remember … wool doesn't really care about a camp fire. Embers will destroy the synthetics.

Do you have any tips to keep the wool clean day to day?
Cleaning will not be an issue. The wool will be fine. You might want to read the story about NEPAL on our website. It was only two weeks, but our customer Michael experienced a lot of conditions and literally did not take the pants off the whole time.  And he liked WeatherWool enough that he is now an Advisor.

Should I expect to dry clean the wool every so often in town?
I don't think you'd need to clean it at all.

Is a basic hand washing in cold water sufficient?
Yes.

Perhaps Woolite in the hand wash water?
Fine, if you like.

How long does it take to dry?
Depends totally on humidity and to some extent temperature and of course air circulation. Sorry. Can’t be specific. But there is also no reason why you couldn't just put it on before it was totally dry … if you really wanted to get rolling again. But frankly I don't think you’ll really need to wash it.

Will the knees and elbows stand up to this type of heavy use... particularly when wet.
Yes … the water will not affect the durability.

Problem 8 Temperature. Something I was curious about that you don't really address is temperature. I know temperature is quite subjective. I am expecting to do heavy exercise during the day and then sit quietly in the dusk before bed. Perhaps you could offer a general guide for layering to different temperatures? Is such a thing possible?
Yes, I tried to do this. But the way people experience temperature is so wildly subjective it is very difficult. I talk to a lot of people and for some, temps well below freezing and they wear shorts. For others, an hour in the snow is close to terrifying. The biggest factor really I think is experience. But handling variable temps and weather conditions without needing to do anything at all is one of the reasons we love wool. Nothing else is nearly as versatile, IMHO. What I wear in 70F I can also wear in 20F.

I'm thinking silk primary base layer (no permethrin)
We recommend only wool as a base. And generally you wouldn't need any base under our pants.

Wool additional base layer (no permethrin)
mid weight shirt jack
great
full weight vest
great
all around jacket
The AAJ might be too heavy/warm for most of the trip. But i guess you don’t have to carry ALL the gear the whole way. You will be changing your kit from time to time I imagine.

mid weight pants
yes. I would love to find out how they bear up over 2200 miles!!!

wide brimmed boonie hat
yep

neck gaiter
yep

scarf
yep

possibly adding a poncho for the very cold of the CDT. -25.
Yes, maybe.

Personal. The more I read about your products, the more excited I get about trying them. I am not expecting to hit the trail until 2019, and will happily blog about your products when I hit the trail with them.
I very strongly suggest experimenting with our gear prior to your trips!!!! We would be interested in working with you somehow on these epic outings!! Why not phone me when convenient!

THANKS AGAIN. Glad to get more questions. You are right, this info can be useful to lots of people ---- Ralph


Thank you Ralph, this was superbly helpful.

I hope it gives you some material for your specific situations section.

I will absolutely keep in touch and happily write detailed reviews from my long hikes. I'm a 54 year old reformed rocket scientist. The plan is to hit the trail in 2019 (AT) 2021 (PCT) and 2023 (CDT). The truth is that I am terribly out of shape from breaking my back about 10 years ago... (work place accident) and this is a goal that keep my exercise routine focused.

Every time I hit town I will be resupplying my consumable supplies and modifying gear as needed. My gear shake out is ongoing. I'm tempted to write a book just about my gear choices. The first time I hiked the AT, I carried about 100 lbs of gear plus food. Today, I am looking at about 20 lbs of gear... debating if I want to go full Spartan (9) or Turkish Prince (28). The goal is between 15 and 18.

I hiked the AT in 1978 and 1989. These two events were somewhat like a marathon, where I suffered through the event to come out focused. I have spent a lot of time planning this trip so I enjoy the journey. I really don't want to be the severely unprepared, cold, wet, mosquito buffet with blisters that I was in 78.

26 January 2017