With spring here, summer on the doorstep, new adventures on my mind, it is time to look back on some pieces of gear which have served me well during the past winter. So in the next days I shall take you back into that cold time, and review a couple items which made winter more enjoyable.
The first piece I'd like to tell you about is the Sir Joseph Koteka Down Jacket, a seriously light down jacket which has kept me very warm between November and March. Sir Joseph is a small mountaineering company hailing from the Czech Republic, producing very well made gear for Mountaineers as well as UL backpackers.
The important bit: Size M is 440 gram on my scale. Of which are 220 gram of 800 cuin down. Which makes it the lightest down jacket on the market.
But you know me, weight ain't everything. Functionality needs to be there as well. I'm glad to report that the jacket is able to pack a punch of functionality in those 440 gram, though there are some shortcomings, to which I come latter.
Lets start with the outer and inner material. It is an Sir Joseph exclusive material which they developed themselves called Softex® Micro - it reminds me of Pertex and is quality-wise in the same league. It keeps the down inside, though the breathability ain't too good. It is, like Pertex, a very sensitive material - keep away from flying sparks and bushwacking through thorn invested undergrowth I also wouldn't do in it. Other than that it is a very nice material, soft and comfortable on the skin, and keeping water and snow out thanks to a very good DWR.
I'm not a big fan of velcro, but sir Joseph has made their homework when designing the elastic and adjustable velcro cuffs. I find them really functional, easy to operate with thick gloves, even with one hand. That is really useful in -34°C, when you don't want to have heat escape or needing to get your gloves out to adjust something.
You know I am spoilt with the hood of my Haglöfs OZO so the bar is high, and the Koteka doesn't come close to that mark. But it keeps my head warm and the cold wind and snow out, so it does the job. I do think however, that the neck part could be made a tad longer, which would make it easier to turn your head. I also would prefer that if they try to have a sort of visor, that they make it more useful or leave it out - now it is just a tiny shield at the front which doesn't have much of a purpose. The elastics for adjusting the hood could also be improved, now they have a tanka on the outside and the elastic cord goes to the inside, which makes adjusting fiddly and involves opening the jacket a bit to do it properly (you can adjust them from the outside, but it's suboptimal). Yeah, I am spoilt.
On to the zipper. As the jacket was new, the zipper drove me mad. It was very fiddly to get the two sliders to align properly to be able to close the jacket, so I don't know if I got a bad zipper or if YKK, the zipper manufacturer, set out to drive me mad. As usage continued this situation got better, though, and nowadays I can close the zipper without even looking at it. However, the memory remains, and I wonder if a simpler, one way zipper wouldn't be much better and also save a few more grams. On the inside it has a wide draft stopper which works very well, and protects the zipper from rubbing against your chin or neck when closed; and the label on the slider gives a good grip for operation, also with thick mitts around your hands.
A long back keeps my bum warm =)
The hem has two tankas and double elastic cord to adjust tightness, which works well, though I think one tanka and one cord would be enough and cut some more weight down. The long back has a good cut and goes just over my buttocks to keep them warm in the blazing cold we had, and thanks to the elastic hem it stays that way.
Pocket zipper which you pull down to close. Genius.
The Koteka jacket comes with two zippered hand pockets which are massive in size, I can fit in a pair of thick woolen gloves, an extra Buff, windproof over-mitts, a few chocolate bars, my knife, compass, firesteel, a map... Yeah, they're big. Lovely. Warm. And their zippers you pull down to close, which is so much smarter than normal zippers (which you close pulling up). This makes them safer and easier to close, even with thick gloves. Perfect.
About the construction of the jacket then. Now according to some research on BPL it doesn't matter if the garment is sewn-through or baffled, but for what its worth, the Koteka jacket has H-chambers which should to be, according to other research, warmer. All I can tell you is that it is massively warm, and if it's less than -20°C then I am fine with only a 200 Merino longsleeve beneath it. It is very warm, and I never got cold wearing it. That's subjective field science!
The bottom line is that despite some small shortcomings it is a topnotch jacket for people who go hiking in winter and seriously cold temperatures. It comes in black. It is the lightest down jacket on the market, with the most down (some competitors of this jacket include the Rab Infinity, PHD Yukon, and Montane North Star which are all heavier and have less down!). It keeps me warm in -36°C and a stiff breeze. It packs into a 8 l stuff sack with spare room for your down booties or extra socks. It has a great cut for us lean and athletic guys, with enough room underneath to wear up to three layers. It's black. And made in Europe. Yeah, I'm gonna keep it.
If you too want to wear the lightest down jacket on the market, the Sir Joseph Koteka down jacket, and earn yourself a 10% discount on one order of over 100€ at trekking-lite-store.com on any products you purchase, then all you need to do is Like the trekking-lite-store.com Facebook page and when you check out your order give them the Coupon code "Finland10" and voilá - you save 10% on your sweet UL goodies! This offer is valid till 31. May, so you got enough time to browse their shop and make up your mind.
There’s an increase in outdoor blogs, it seems I find weekly new, interesting blogs, and thus I thought to set out and share some unsolicited advice on how to write an outdoor blog, which also might be appreciated by those who are thinking about starting one. This obviously will represent my open and free approach to blogging about my passion, and thus shall be known as a subjective treatise on “The Art Of Outdoor Blogging”.
<a href=”http://www.hikinginfinland.com/2009/04/helvetinjarvi-easter-hiking-trip.html”target=”_blank”>My first trip report</a> from back in the day.
Blogger versus Wordpress
If you start a blog, and after you have thought about a name, you will need to decide where to open your blog. I’m on <a href=”http://www.blogger.com”target=”_blank”>Blogger</a> for the simple reason that I prefer the draft editor to the one on <a href=”http://wordpress.com/”target=”_blank”>Wordpress</a>. As I spent the most time writng, an easy to use draft editor is important to me, and Blogger has a lot of new, interesting things coming. Wordpress does a kickass job, though, and has many things which I’d like as well. In the end it is a matter of taste and preferences, and what friends and acquaintances might recommend you. I recommend Blogger.
Pro Tip: Make sure to use <a href=”http://draft.blogger.com/”target=”_blank”>draft.blogger.com</a> as your dashboard, as it allows you to access all those very useful features like mobile optimization and Template Designer.
Self-hosted vs for free
If this is just a pastime, go for the free option. It saves you HTML5, CSS3, and a whole other bunch of troubles to learn and understand if you host yourself. It also, ähem, doesn’t cost you anything. Self hosting means you will at least spend for a web hotel and the domain name, and possibly for some other technology which you might need if it doesn’t come standard. Downsides to free hosting: On Wordpress you might get Ads on your blog, and Google might control even more of your life. If you’re a scared person, then self-hosting is the way to go.
Pro Tip: Support your local web hotel provider, and if possible get one which cares about the environment. Data centres are energy hungry monsters which consume vast amounts of electricity. You want to hike in the outdoors, make sure your web hotel provider thinks about that too.
Your own domain
Get it. 12$ on Blogger, 13$ on Wordpress. It is easier for your readers to remember you, and 12$ are a dollar a month so it ain’t a big investment, though it will increase your readers and “brand awareness”. Just think about it, if you tell the guys at the campsite that you’re writing a blog, it is easier for them to remember it if it is a short name without a “.blogspot.com” after it. Getting the blog to run on the new domain is also super simple on Blogger and Wordpress, with lovely instructions for all us non-geeks.
How many posts per week?
Easy answer: As much as you like. Better answer: Two to three max. I’m not reading blogs which update daily (don’t have the time), not to mention those which update multiple times per day. It is annoying. The quality isn’t there. It often feels like there is just a post for the sake of posting something, even if you got nothing to say.
If you have a lot of stuff to share, join <a href=”http://www.twitter.com”target=”_blank”>Twitter</a> (Yes, you definitely should join Twitter, at least to share your new articles!) or get a <a href=”http://www.tumblr.com/”target=”_blank”>Tumblr</a>/ <a href=”https://posterous.com/”target=”_blank”>Posterous</a> account and go ahead. For me, and for many others, blogs are about quality posts which are well written, accompanied by good photos. The chances that one can produce that on a daily basis are very low. Quality over quantity, that should be your motto.
Pro Tip: <a href=”http://www.ehow.com/how_4836251_twitterfeed-maximize-use-of-twitterfeed.html”target=”_blank”>How to Set Up TwitterFeed to automatically tweet your newest posts.</a>
What to write about?
Backpacking! Packrafting! Bikepacking! Snowshoeing! Skiing! Hiking! Your feelings when outdoors! Gear! Usually outdoor bloggers write about a combination of the above. I think with new blogs and current blogs evolving we might see new, innovative ways of looking at our passion and how to communicate it. Write about what interests you. Writing about something you have no interest in means that likely no one will be interested in it, either. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll have no problem writing about your passion =)
I strongly believe in accompanying blog posts with beautiful, well composed photos. I also know that I am not alone with that thought. They loosen up the story and help to illustrate your trip, experience, idea, or a piece of gear. A good photo for me is at least sharp, has a decent resolution and size (I’m rarely interested in clicking photos to enlarge them, so please spare me thumbnail-sized photos). <a href=”http://mcalisterium.wordpress.com/”target=”_blank”>Fraser</a>, <a href=”http://www.petesy.co.uk/”target=”_blank”>Peter</a>, <a href=”http://i-cjw.com/”target=”_blank”>Chris</a> and <a href=”http://thunderinthenight.blogspot.com/”target=”_blank”>Joe</a> all make good photos - be inspired by them. And if you’re really motivated, <a href=”http://vimeo.com/hendrikmorkel/”target=”_blank”>try video</a>. <a href=”http://picasa.google.com/”target=”_blank”>Picasa</a> or <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/”target=”_blank”>Flickr</a> are the best for hosting and integrating your photos in your articles; I use both and don’t yet have a favourite.
A much discussed topic in the outdoor blogsphere. I find comment moderation the worst thing if you want to get comments, foster communication and create a community. Nothing is more annoying than to read “Your comment is awaiting moderation” after you made the effort to write something. I am no longer commenting on blogs which have comment moderation, period. I know the arguments and dismiss them. Spam filters are excellent, Spammers on outdoor blogs few, and if the odd spam/ nasty comment comes through, you always can delete it. What you lose by enabling comment moderation is comments and easy interaction with your readers.
**Pro Tip: Get <a href=”http://www.disqus.com/”target=”_blank”>Disqus</a> as your comment tool. It is super easy for your readers to sign in (much easier than the Wordpress/ Blogger comment tools) and sharing is also super simple for them. <a href=”http://disqus.com/admin/blogger/”target=”_blank”>How to install Disqus on Blogger</a>**
If <a href=”http://www.alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design/”target=”_blank”>Responsive Web Design</a> is nothing new to you, then I don’t need to tell you more. If you can’t imagine what that means, then let me explain with a look at this photo:
As you can see, there’s a bunch of different screen resolutions to be found among my readers, and that’s only people accessing Hiking in Finland from their computers. But the important bit here are the well over 600 visits (and growing) each month from mobile devices, and especially the iPad is very strong there, with over 350 visits. The rest is from iPhones, BlackBerries, Android phones and even Nokia phones ;) It is fairly easy to enable the mobile view for your blog when your on Blogger and Wordpress, and it doesn’t affect your normal site at all - but it makes your site, when viewed on a Smartphone, a joy to navigate and read!
Pro Tip: If you’re a geek, get your blog running on <a href=”http://lessframework.com/”target=”_blank”>Less Framework</a>. ‘nuff said!
Stats don’t matter - but are nice!
<a href=”http://www.google.com/analytics/”target=”_blank”>Google Analytics</a> and <a href=”http://haveamint.com/”target=”_blank”>Mint</a> are a nice and easy to use tools to see where your readers are coming from, what they are reading, how long they stay, which resolution and OS they have, and a lot more stuff. Google Analytics is free, Mint costs $30. I use the former. Blogger and Wordpress both have some quite decent analytics tools, but if you want more information, then you should try one of the above.
Pro Tip: <a href=”http://www.eblogtemplates.com/how-to-install-google-analytics-on-blogger/”target=”_blank”>How to Install Google Analytics on Blogger</a>
Since I got to know <a href=”https://flattr.com/”target=”_blank”>Flattr</a> I have been a supporter. Let me explain Flattr with this video:
Flattr is thus a bit like a PayPal donation, just easier and more private. It shows that you value the time and dedication the writer has put into his article and blog, and it shows the writer that his articles are liked and he is motivated to write more. Its flattering! I urge you, if you have a blog or are going to start one, to install Flattr. It is a nice way to show you liked the free content someone created.
Pro Tip: <a href=”http://blog.zottel.net/2010/09/flattr-plugin-for-bloggercomblogspotcom.html”target=”_blank”>How to install a Flattr plugin for each new blog post</a>, automatically, on Blogger. It looks more difficult than it is. As I was able to do it, so will you!
A simple RSS tool for your blog is <a href=”http://feedburner.google.com/”target=”_blank”>Feedburner</a> by Google. The beauty of it is that it allows your readers to choose their RSS reader of choice to read your blog. I find it superior to the Wordpress/ Blogger RSS tools, though it is not as accurate as Google Reader in giving you the exact amount of subscribers (in case that matters ;).
Pro Tip: <a href=”http://www.eblogtemplates.com/how-to-setup-feedburner-on-blogger/”target=”_blank”>How to setup FeedBurner on Blogger</a>.
Feedburner allows your readers to use a multitude of RSS readers to read your blog.
Sharing is Caring
I came up with the <a href=”http://www.hikinginfinland.com/search/label/The%20Week%20In%20Review”target=”_blank”>The Week In Review</a> simply because I wanted to share great articles which I have found, and drive traffic to some worthy articles and blogs which otherwise might be overlooked. I do this occasionally on Twitter, though as not everyone who reads here is on Twitter creating a once a week post which highlights the best seemed like a good idea - and judging from all the great feedback from you ladies and gentlemen, I was right.
I’d encourage you to link and spread the word about blogs and articles you have enjoyed in your posts. This might take the form of a mention and link in a post, a ReTweet on Twitter, a Like on Facebook, a Stumble Upon or just telling your hiking buddy in the bar about that thought provoking post you read and he should have a look at.
Pro Tip: Sharing is Caring!
Ultimate Final Wisdom
YMMV. That is an abbreviation for “Your Milage May Vary”. It means you might have made very different experiences. Which is possible. You’re you. I am me. We are different =)