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GEAR CHICK - KRISTIN HOSTETTER - ASK THE EXPERT
Submit Your Question

Does a down sleeping bag go bad?

Q.} Does a down sleeping bag go bad? I have an old The North Face expedition down bag. It has been in storage for 35 years. It looks good still, but will it fall apart?
Submitted by: Richard - Thousand Oaks, CA
A.} Impressive—a 35-year old down sleeping bag! Sounds like it might belong in a gear museum (like the one at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, CO).

No, down bags have no expiration date, but only if they have really, truly been properly stored. Take this quiz:

-Has your bag been living in a large, roomy, breathable sack? Think cotton pillow case, not black, plastic garbage bag. Small, non-breathable sacks compress and permanently damage the feathers, while air circulation is key to prevent mold and mildew.

-When you take it out of its sack and fluff it up, is it still lofty? Or is it flat and sad-looking? Warmth comes from plentiful air pockets inside the bag, and if your bag is flat, so are the air pockets.

-Has it been stored in a cool, dry storage facility or a damp, hot basement? Thirty-five years of basement dank does not do down any favors.

-Has it been safe from UV rays or been exposed to long periods of direct sunlight? If the latter, the fabrics may have deteriorated. A simple visual and manual inspection, and you’ll know.

If you answered yes to all the above questions, and the shell fabrics still seam strong and in tact, take that bag out and use it! (It will not spontaneously fall apart while you sleep!). But you may want to wash it first. To learn how, check out this video.

Ed Note: We were so impressed by Richard's ancient bag that we asked for pics. Turns out there's a matching jacket...and the condition looks pretty good from the photos.

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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Jim aka Beans Morocco
Feb 11, 2014

I have an Alpine Designs High Loft down sleeping bag that has gone many miles with me and she is still a great bag. I bought the bag in late mid to late 70's from a mountaineering shop in Philly or it may have been Yardly, PA can't remember the name of either shops. I store my bag on a hanger in my closet, take her out when it gets chilly and use it as a bed cover, my wife loves it as well. Haven't been hiking in awhile maybe when I retire I'll finish the AT only have North Carolina down to go. My best recommendation is keep her dry, air her out but not in the sun and hanger her up in the closet on a large hanger, don't wash her she just smells better.

Star Star Star Star Star
BaNosser
Dec 08, 2013

Just before finding this article as I had Googled REI down parka 1973, I pulled my original 1973 or 74 REI Down parka out from my gearroom... I had this jacket in Jr High school back in SD (I'm now 52), as I convinced my parents it would keep me warm in those bitter winters we had back then (I remember getting 'goose down jocks' and such for Christmas after that from my brothers).. after I grew out of it my mother used it.. then when I finally moved out to the PNW I don't know why but I brought it.. and it had sat in my gearroom ever since... I'm sure it has never been washed.. it is pretty flat.. tho was always stored folded on a shelf when not in use.. I even still have the snap-on hood.. the fabric is in remarkably good shape.. its front zipper has a down draft tube that snaps over it.. the cuffs are adjustable by snaps also.. the tag is pretty beat up but says REI medium.. It is currently getting a down wash bath in our frontloader.. If it is rejuvinated, perhaps my 11 yr old can wear it to school this week! We have had a cold snap into the teens.. that should give it a good test...

Talk about full circle :)

Star Star Star Star Star
Kurt
Sep 11, 2013

On my last trip a few weeks ago I used a Woods down bag circa late 1960s. I have three of them with different amounts of down, all in perfect condition. TCan't tell the difference between it and modern rectangular down bags. hat's one of the many great attributes of down compared to synthetic. It doesn't break dow over time, if stored properly. I do use my Marmot mummy for high altitude autumn and winter.

Star Star Star Star Star
Lonnie
Sep 10, 2013

Does anyone know what happened to Trailwise by Ski Hut in Berkley? I have a Slimline down bag that my father bought for me in 1968. As best I can tell, it is the same as when I got it. I began using a synthetic bag a few years ago when my down bag became too warm. I do not remember a rating for my down bag; but I have recorded 14 degrees with just my BVDs, and I was comfortable.

Star Star Star Star Star
Mike
Sep 10, 2013

I worked at REI for a few years recently. One evening a woman came in with a brand new 35 or so year old down/synthetic bag. She'd received it as a gift and spent one night in it and found it too warm. She put it into the cotton storage sack and hung it in the back of a big closet. She forgot about it until she was downsizing in preparation for a move. She wanted to know if she could return it. REI gladly gave her some $$ for it. It wasn't in the next used-gear sale so I assume that it's in some REI museum or some such.
I have a brand new cook kit from the same era that I found at a used gear sale. It still has all the tags, etc. Not sure that I'll ever use it.
(Down/synthetic = synthetic on the bottom and down on top.)

Star Star Star Star Star
Don
Sep 10, 2013

I got you beat on 35 years
I have a Snow Lion down jacket and down bag at almost 40 years and a North Face 5 degree at 30 years plus. I've gotten others but these...... Still cozy, comfy and in good use condition

Star Star Star Star Star
David Yazvac
Sep 09, 2013

I still have my circa 1973 North Face Chrysalis down bag (bought with paper route money - about $110.00 at that time) that I used just about every weekend in high school and college. I have stored it unstuffed in a large cotton storage bag. I still use it for winter camping. My Sierra down jacket is definitely a conversation starter. Replaced the zipper a couple of times because I could not part with it long enought to send back to the North Face for repair. The electrical tape patches have held up for several years. Look like I've been in more than a couple of fights with a black bear. I have a replacement down jacket, but they just don't make them like they used to.

Star Star Star Star Star
judi
Sep 09, 2013

I bought my Alpine Designs bag in the mid 70's. I washed it occasionally and stored it loose in a closet. It really held up- might of lost some of it's temp rating but still good. Just doesn't compress down very small for backpacking.

Star Star Star Star Star
Ron in Yucaipa
Jun 03, 2013

Wow! I have the same yellow down North Face bag. Seldom use now. I got it from a friend who I helped move.

Tom ,N.Illinois
Nov 22, 2012

Just found an old Alpine Designs down bag at a resale shop for $8. Used it hunting and was very warm.It's a tapered bag light blue in color and is labeled w/ Boulder,Colo. label.Made in 60's?

Clark
Oct 26, 2012

I had an old North Face Chamois (-5)from approx 1978. I noticed that a baffle near the foot area had gone flat around 2001. Sent it in to North Face and they fixed the baffle and completely restuffed the entire bag and billed me $30. I came back so lofty that it is probably a -10 or better now...

St
Oct 25, 2012

My wife is 70 years old and still works...talk about an old bag.

St
Oct 25, 2012

My wife is 70 years old and still works...talk about an old bag.

Meema
Oct 25, 2012

I have an old Army down bag, circa WWII, which makes it just about the same age I am. I use it as a mattress pad in my 'personal size rv' (aka an suv), with a folded foam mattress pad inside. Very comfy, and warm on the bottom side.

Daryl
Oct 25, 2012

Bought our Snow Lion down bags in 1978. They still work fine but some down loss and age has decreased their insulating value to less than winter camping levels.

Bill
Oct 25, 2012

I have a Sierra Designs Superlight (it replaced the #100) from 1974. I use it every year. For museum bags, I'd love to see pics of the Gerry and the Holubar.

Eric Hallander
Oct 25, 2012

I have an old LL Bean 0 degree bag that my Dad gave me in 1977. It is no longer a 0F degree bag, as an old college roommate with razor toenails opened a hole.

This bag has consistently shed feathers over the years, but I still use it in conditions that don't drop below 30 degrees F.

I have washed it a couple of times, and I did have to sew up the toenail hole, as well as separated seam. I used duct-tape and sewed it in place. That is still holding up.

I like the bag, because it is nice and light and really packs tightly. I have kept it in a large plastic garbage bag in the attic, completely loose until I need to use it.

It is not by any means considered a pretty bag! The cinch mechanism on the hood leaves little to be desired, but I never find myself in cold enough situations with it to need that, although I did take this bag with me on a Mid-May trip through the Zion Wilderness on the Trans-Zion Trek, and did have to wear my base layers to bed to sleep comfortably. I won't make that mistake again :).

Cheers
Eric

Ron, Geneva, IL
Oct 25, 2012

I have an Eddie Bauer 40 below bag that is from 1976 (back when EB was an otufitter and not Lands End), still use it in the Illinois winters and it's great. Have 2 other down bags from the late 70s that work great. My Mom has that yellow NF jacket in the pic and its the same! It's all about how you store it! We leave ours open in a closet on the floor.

Donald N wright
Sep 02, 2012

Who bought out Gerry of Colorado Springs?

seatosky
Jun 15, 2012

My down bag was passed down from my great uncle who delivered mail in the arctic, trying to date it exactly but never the less it is at least 60 yrs old. If anyone here has heard of a "Chinook" patent sleeping robe. specially designed for arctic and alpine conditions. Made only by Howards. Ottawa Ontario Cananda. "Surveyor Model" would be grateful ..

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I love being outside when it's cold, especially hiking, and I wear glasses.
I have a hard time wearing face masks or balaclavas because my warm breath fogs up my glasses as I breathe out into whatever is covering my face. Any suggestions on being fog free?

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I'm a sweaty sleeper. Any tips?
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I'm a cold sleeper. How do I sleep warmer?
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What's your method for storing and hauling your trash on a multi-day trip? I usually just use plastic bags but there's got to be a more packable way.
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Kristin, can you recommend a good glove system for colder hikes? Should I bring one pair or two? What should they be made of? Oh, and with longer gloves that bungee up my wrist, should that portion go over or under my jacket sleeve?
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What's the proper teeth brushing procedure in the woods? Is there one?


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It's getting cold out there--when do I need a hardshell and when do I need a softshell? I've never really understood the difference and when to use which jacket. Help!
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What's a good set of on trail eating utensils--fork, spoon, etc?
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Hey Kristin, this doesn’t seem to come up very often but should I be wearing a different kind of underwear in the backcountry than I do every day? Any recommendations?
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I'm having trouble deciding upon an insulating layer. I can't decide to go with fleece or PrimaLoft. What are the downs and ups of the two?


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How should my daypack fit? Should it fit differently from my weekend or week-long pack?
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Hey Kristin, I've got a great sleeping bag but I can't sleep without a pillow. Do you have a recommendation for a lightweight pillow or so kind of trick for making one with my gear?
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I've read many outdoor books to get up to speed on camping, cooking, hiking, etc. I would like to hear what your choices of books might be in the outdoor education area. One of my complaints is that they all start to sound the same.
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Going to the bathroom in the wild. What do I need? Do I need to pack out my waste? How? I'm going on a multi-day trip and am not sure what I need.

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How do I remove pine sap from my down sleeping bag (and other gear for that matter)?
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I love hiking and camping, but not alone. I'm one of those people who think about running away when I hear one stick break in the woods. Is there any way I could mentally prepare myself for sleeping alone in the wilderness?
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Hey Kristin, I'm a navigation newbie. Basically, I just head to the trailhead, look at the map there, and go. Is there essential, basic navigation equipment that I should have at all times, even on a dayhike?
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Dear Kristin,
Time and miles have taken their toll on the knees with one total knee replacement recently. I am getting back to limited hiking and some of the folks I pass on the trail are very high on the use of trekking poles. I would value your advice as to tips on how to adjust them to the proper length and techniques for most advantageous use of the poles to both reduce stress on the knees and ensure stability (twisting artificial knees is very painful!). I sure hope these poles are a benefit and not just an equipment fad?
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Kristin,
My wife and I are becoming more serious backpackers and l am shopping around to replace the tent that I've been using since childhood.  Could you explain what “minimum weight,” “packaged weight,” and similar terms mean? Thanks, Rick

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I know I'm supposed to use a bear canister all the time in bear country but they can be bulky. If I'm going on an overnight trip, do I really need one? And if I do, is there a sealable bag option that might work?
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What's the best way to keep pack contents dry. Pack covers and pack liners have failed repeatedly. Should I just rely on zip lock bags?
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Baselayers. I need a good one. I know wool is great but frankly, I itch and get pretty hot when I'm mid hike. Any suggestions?
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How do I get the campfire stench out of my gear? I tried washing it but no-go.
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What can I feed my dog throughout the day while we are hiking to keep his energy up?

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Can a water purifier purify pee?
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Alas, pain in my shoulders and hips is destroying my ability to camp. I can no longer sleep on the ground, even with a thin mattress underneath. What is the best, most cushioned, and lightweight pad that might help solve this problem?
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I commute by bicycle to work 15 miles one way. Where can I find a backpack for clothing and hydration that is visible to vehicles?
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Is it really necessary to have big hiking boots with really sturdy ankle support? I've always used trail runners on multi-day trips without a problem.
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Times are rough, and I don't have the spare cash to blow on top-dollar gear for every essential. If I have to skimp on one, which one should I cut corners: tent, sleeping bag, pack, or boots?
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What would you suggest for a windproof lighter that is simple and dependable?
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I am going to summit Kilimanjaro, but I only have summer weight sleeping bags good to 40 degrees. Given the high cost of lightweight, warm bags and that I don't winter camp, would it be effective to double bag a couple of my summer bags?
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How should a shell fit? I can't decide between a large or an extra large. Is it best to have ample layering room or should it be tight and form fitting? I can't decide whether to go up or down.
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Does Talc powder block the GoreTex Membrane of my boots? And what is the best odor killers for GoreTex Boots?

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Do campfires deter bears?

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I have been backpacking for 15 years and I have not been able to find a way to stop black toenails. I have changed my lacing especially going downhill, always trim toenails and had several different types of boots. Help!
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On a recent backpacking trip, the sole of one of my hiking boots came loose. I was able to use a tent cord to tie it on and hike back to the trailhead. How do you repair loose soles on hiking boots?
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I'm an extremely heavy sweater no matter what the weather. Should I really trust my hi-tech clothing to be absolutely dried by my body heat? Or is it better to carry extra clothing to change? I can't imagine risking the chance of sleeping damp.
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What is the best way to clean my down bag? Should it be dry-cleaned or can I just throw it in the wash?
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I have been backpacking for a little over a year and would like to try some cold weather backpacking. I am wondering how to keep warm in the tent at night. Is there a such thing as a backpacker tent heater? Any suggestions are appreciated.
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How do you remove poison oak or ivy sap from boots?

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I am tired of iodine for water purification and I am considering a filter (like the Hyperflow), but I see that it doesn't filter viruses. If I only backpack in America, do I have to get a filter with a purifier, or will a filter for bacteria only suffice? Going to Big Bend in 3 weeks and I'm clueless...
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Kristin, I was wondering about your thoughts on waterproofing your own
clothes, particularly pants. I have never used any sprayon or wash in
waterproofing product. Would something like that work to waterproof your
pants or would that be a waste of time?


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Is steel better than aluminum when choosing crampons?
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When camping in subzero temperatures whats the best way to keep my food warm long enough to eat it and whats a good way to clean the pot once the food has frozen itself to the sides?
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My favorite trail is snowed over now but I still want to get out there. Should I use snowshoes or crampons? Or is there something in between?


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I'm an amateur hiker/backpacker and I'm wondering how much gear I should pack. I don't want to bring too little, and I don't want to be overexerting myself with too much. What's in the ideal pack?
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What are the best products for re-waterproofing Gore-Tex rain jackets?
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Is it safe or advisable to use Febreeze or other "fabric refreshers" on my down sleeping bag?
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Dear Kristin, I just started hiking through mountain trails in the last year or so. I'm ready to take on full weekend backpacking trips. My main concern is food. What are some important tools to take along for good food prep?
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Dear Kristin,
How do I prevent chafing? I have been on many long distance hikes in the last year and seem plagued by raw spots. I have tried talc, shaving and even gone commando to the summit of the South Sister. What's the deal and what really works?
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Should I be worried about hiking in bear country when menstruating?
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Dear Kristin
I've never really understood the principles of layering. For cold weather treks, should my baselayer be cotton or wool? What about my midlayer? Wool? Fleece? What are the basics of layering for any occasion?
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Dear Kristin, How can you carry on trekking poles when flying a commercial airline?
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I take long dayhikes (20-30 miles) and am looking for an emergency shelter to use in case I don't make it out before nightfall. I don't want to carry a tent. I have been considering a bivy sack - something just to keep me warm and dry. Will a waterproof bivy sack on its own be sufficient in case of rain?
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Is it okay to keep your backpack in your tent at night? There seems to be two opposing camps (no pun intended, or maybe it was)on this issue.
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I wear size 11 EE boots. I have tried to get hiking boots via mail order without success because they are always far narrower than marked. Do you know of a boot maker who makes really wide boots that are true to size? Thanks.
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Canister backpacking stoves are becoming so popular, but I have a concern about them that I can't find much info about. Are the canisters refillable or recyclable? Or are we just creating more waste when we purchase these stoves in the quest of lightness?
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Is there a multipurpose helmet out there I can use for skiing, climbing etc. or should I just plan on getting one for each season/sport?
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I'm confused about the capacity figures that backpack manufacturers claim. With daypacks it seems that the figures advertised are always about 20 percent higher than what the pack actually holds. What gives?
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Is it true that mummy bags should not be stored in a stuff sack, but rather hung in closet between trips? Seems like a waste of space.
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When camping in frigid temperatures, what's the best way to keep my food warm long enough to eat it? And how can I clean my pot once the food has frozen itself to the sides?
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Dear Kristin,
I plan on backpacking Europe for about a month. What is the most suitable backpack for me to use?
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I do a bit of camping on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I am looking for a 3-person tent that can withstand the howls and gusts of the winds without collapsing or flapping so loud it keeps me awake. No $3,000 tents please.
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What is the best way to wash my fleece so that I get longer use out of it?
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I just returned from a trip to the High Sierra and found a 1/2 inch tear in the bottom of my Big Agnes tent. The fabric is silicone treated nylon. How do I fix it?
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My wife and I have decided we want to hit the trail and take some overnight and weekend trips.

The trouble is, I'm a big guy: 6 feet tall and 325 lbs. Big. Since no amount of vertical stripes and black cloth can conceal that fact, I'm not going to wait for the flab to fall off so I can enjoy nature, so I've already begun to accumulate equipment. Unfortunately, I've come to an impasse; that being the distance between the clips on the hipbelt of every pack I've tried. My question is, are there any companies that make packs for bigger guys, and a 54" waist? I'll avoid going for a Krispy Kreme while I await your suggestions.


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In your video on Camp Stoves, why do you keep one of the gas canisters in a pan of water?
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I bought a pair of Swiss Gear poles from Wal-Mart for $17.00 just to see if I liked using them and have been very satisfied. I learned I do like using the poles and I've seen much more expensive ones in my local outdoor shop. What's the difference? Should I step up and buy the pricier ones? Thanks
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The plastic buckle on my pack's hip-belt slips. Is there a way to make it stay in place, or a better buckle? I have to cinch the belt really tight to keep it on my hips, but in 20 minutes or less, I'm adjusting it again.
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Dear Kristin,
I've been told that when using a down sleeping bag, sleeping in the buff will keep you warmer than sleeping in clothing. Is this true? (I've yet to do my own experimenting, as I like to wear long underwear to bed in order to keep my bag cleaner.)
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We're an experienced group of backpackers/fly fishermen here in Colorado. We will be camping in tundra this summer and we were wondering about our food bags. Since there are no trees to hang the food, what are our options? Thank you.
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Some friends and I are planning to backpack the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail over spring break. We are all Eagle Scouts, but we have concerns about travel speed. We have 106 miles planned and are trying to figure out a good distance to travel each day. We are novice backpackers and one member of the party is rather out of shape. What is your mileage recommendation?
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Dear Kristin, I want to start going ultralight. I've looked at tarps and bivy sacks but what do you think about hammocks? They look nice, but do they really work?
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What is the best way to get rid of leftover white gas, before I get on the plane to fly home?
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Do you have any suggestions on camp shoes? After backpacking all day in my hiking boots I don't really feel like wearing them around anymore.
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What causes–and how do you prevent–air bubbles from showing up in liquid filled compasses? Just about every liquid filled compass I have used usually gets a small air bubble in it.
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Over the years I've hoarded a lot of dehydrated food. Does this stuff ever go bad?
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I'm looking at down jackets. Some labels say 650-fill, some say 700-fill–what does it mean? Is it a unit of density of the down material or is it the quality of the down material or is it something else? How does it relate to the degree of insulation of a jacket or a sleeping bag, for that matter?
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Dear Kristin, I am getting ready to buy a new tent and I've heard that bears are attracted to brightly colored tents, but that they ignore dull colors. Does it really matter whether the tent is bright or subdued?
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Dear Kristin,
After reading many of your ultralight articles, I am seriously going to give it a try, starting with my kitchen gear. How good are the alcohol stoves at high elevations and/or any elevation?
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What's the best way to re-attach seam seal tape that is pulling away from waterproof fabric items such as a waterproof stuff sack or tent fly?
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Down versus synthetic sleeping bags: What's the deal?
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