Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Life of your PFD

A question that gets asked a lot but doesn't get answered very often is "When should I retire my PFD?" It was asked of me the other day and the only answer I had I couldn't trace back to a source. What I said was retire a PFD when the color in it starts to fade. This is showing deterioration of the nylon. What this has to do with flotation I have no idea, so I started doing some research.

I started hitting the FAQs of various PFD manufacturers. I started with Astral Buoyancy since that is what I use, this is what their FAQ said:

PFDs are made of nylon fabric, buoyancy inserts (either plastic foam or Kapok) and some hardware. Over time these components may degrade or lose their structural integrity. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend that a PFD should be replaced every 5 years or after 300 days of use (whichever comes first). Also, we recommend an annual inspection of the PFD at the beginning of every season.
I think this is good solid advice. I also think this means that my PFD is dangerously close to needing to be retired.  So lets check out what some others say:

Extrasport has a little video for care and maintenance, and at the end of the video they recommend doing a flotation test at the end of the season. Simply float in your PFD and see if you notice any difference in the amount of flotation compared to previous seasons.

Stohlquist says it is all about care. Store in a cool dry place, don't place it under deck rigging (it can cause a lot of wear to the materials) and that a PFD can last from two months to 20 years! With an average life span exceeding five years. 

Kokatat didn't have anything on their website about care and maintenance of their pfd's - they did have a lot of info about care and maintenance of drysuits however! - So I sent them an email, and they said that PFD's break down over time, resulting in a loss of flotation. They also said that everyone was at Outdoor Retailer and that I could get a more technical answer in a week or so. My fault for doing this during OR!

So what does this mean? To me, it means there is no hard and fast rule, but you should be vigilant in checking your PFD for signs of wear and tear. When it is getting frayed, and discolored, when you see hardware breaking, or a loss in flotation it is time for something new. I also think a lot of this does depend on storage of your PFD. Which brings me back to Astral Buoyancy's site:

Q. How should I care for my jacket between uses?

A. Proper care and storage your jacket will help your jacket to maintain its structural integrity and buoyancy. It’s easy, here are a few tips:
If you used your PFD is salt water or water that seems especially dirty, rinse your jacket thoroughly with fresh water. (If you just used it in relatively clean fresh water, you can skip this step.)
  • Thoroughly dry your jacket after each use.
  • Store your PFD in a cool and dry place.
  • Do not keep your jacket in direct sun for prolonged periods of time.
  • Avoid unnecessary compression of the jacket, especially during storage,
  • Do not store your jacket in extreme heat.
I am guilty of storing my jacket in extreme heat. I rarely take my gear out of my car in the summer because I am paddling so frequently. I think I will have to stop doing that. Which brings me to one last PFD topic. It may seem pretty obvious but your PFD doesn't do you any good unless you are wearing it. It - surprisingly - doesn't work if it is on the deck behind you under the bungies. I think wearing a PFD is like wearing a seat belt. No one plans on getting into an accident. So be prepared. 

    Friday, July 13, 2012

    It's about customer service

    One of the things that makes the outdoor industry special is customer service. People spend a lot of money on their gear, then we take that gear and beat it mercilessly. We still expect it to perform well. I may have written about this before, but in 2006 as I completed my instructor course with NOLS I had a  very old (12 years I think) Patagonia shell jacket delaminate. Delamination is when the inside of the jacket peels off and showers you with what looks like snow flakes. It renders the jacket useless. This occurred in April in British Columbia, a bad place to have a rain jacket become useless. A couple of months later I finished working my first course with NOLS - this time in Alaska - and I had an equally old North Face jacket do the same thing. I was in the process of balling it up and throwing it in the garbage when someone said 'send it back to them, what do you have to lose? The price of shipping! Give it a shot!'

    And so I took a shot. I packaged up both jackets along with a note about how great a product it had been right up to the point of failure. I told them I knew they were old, but if there was anything they could do I would appreciate it. The response wasn't fast, but it was good. From The North Face, I was offered 50% off anything in their product line. Not bad. Around 8 weeks after I sent the jacket to Patagonia, I called them. They said I should get something in the mail in the next day or two. What I got the next day was a Patagonia gift card for the original purchase price of the jacket. I found that very impressive.

    Patagonia had previously impressed me. Years before, getting out of a tent I brushed a candle lantern. I was wearing a loved - and old - patagonia fleece. It had a very intricate, almost aztec pattern. After brushing the hot candle lantern it had a hole in the sleeve near the shoulder about the size of a fifty cent piece. I sent it back to Patagonia. I told them how much I loved it, how special it was and that the hole was entirely my fault! I got it back about a month later. Someone had found a bolt of the old fleece material, and done a fairly good job of matching the pattern.

    This is the kind of customer service that we expect in the outdoor industry. It doesn't exist in most of the retail world, so we should count ourselves as lucky. I have gotten great customer service from Delta Kayaks, Werner Paddles, and Kokatat. But this week I really felt like Immersion Research Outdid themselves. 

    The product was my loved and trusted IR sprayskirt. Because I love rolling, and paddling in cold and wet (I guess everyone paddles in wet...) I use a heavy duty whitewater spray skirt. I have had too many touring spray skirts leak when I roll, and a few that just won't stay on when I roll. So I have put an IR skirt through it's paces. While working on my greenland roll - the post is coming - I realized how badly my skirt was leaking. Upon inspection I found that most, if not all of the tape covering the seams was coming off. So I gave them a call. 

    A guy answered the phone, I wish I could remember his name - Grant maybe? - I said I wanted to talk to someone in customer service, and he said 'you can talk to me.' This is a good start. Either, everyone at the company does everything or the company is so small everyone has to do everything. It was really nice to not have to go through a decision tree hitting '1's' and '2's' or saying 'customer service' and having the computer think I said something else entirely. 

    Grant - I'm gonna call him Grant because I can't remember his name! - said that their primary goal was to keep gear out of land fills. They would look at, and determine what if anything could be done. He said most repairs cost around $20. I expressed a concern to 'Grant' that if it wasn't going to be bomber, I would rather just buy a new one. I didn't want it to fail in Iceberg Alley. He said to send it in and they would be in touch. He also said it would take about a week, and they would pay the shipping return in the same manner I sent it to them. So, I followed the instructions online, got an RA# and sent it off to IR in Pennsylvania. 

    I got an email when I created the RA# saying they would keep their eyes out for it. I got an email when they got it, and what they were going to do to it. I got gently admonished for using aqua seal to fix some holes as it made it near impossible to make anything stick to it. They told me what to use in the future. I got an email that it was done and being shipped back. I had it two days later. Total time away from me, seven days and one of them was the fourth of July. This is the box it came in. 

    Sure enough, they like keeping things out of landfill. On the left is a sticker on the box that says IR 'hearts' ugly boxes. On the right is the box. Reused many times. I don't know where Villa Frizzoni is, but now I want Italian food.

    Nice work Immersion Research. You've got a fan for life! 

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Hydration - myths and systems

    I've got some real issues, with the issue of Hydration. It is vitally important to stay hydrated when we are doing things in the outdoors, everyone knows this, but most people do it wrong. I had a conversation with a friend, Beth who is a personal trainer. She has a degree in Kinesiology. She said most people should use drink additives for recovery and that you don't need an additive when you're working out - or doing whatever your outdoor pursuit is - unless you are at 80% of your max heart rate for long periods of time. Essentially endurance athletes. As my son is riding cross country on his bike - doing centuries most days, and in areas with high heat - he needs additives in his water. When I go paddling for four hours I don't. Our conversation actually started over dinner, we were talking about people at my gym, and she was saying that they are taking in calories they don't need. Water is the key. When I paddled the inside passage and I felt myself getting sluggish I used a water additive called zip fizz. It worked beautifully but I think primarily because it had caffeine in it. I am sure it was helping me hydrate as well, but the nature of a kayaking expedition means that water will work just fine.

    My Astral PFD has a sleeve in the back panel that can hold a water reservoir. I stopped using it after a few days in Alaska because it only held 1.8 liters of water which simply wasn't enough. I also found it hard to fill. When I used a Lotus designs PFD there was a small backpack accessory that I used which held a bladder. It too was too small.

    Which brings me to my biggest dilemma. Staying hydrated while paddling. Some people put a water bottle under their deck bungies. This works well on a day paddle, but not for extended trips. I have put reservoirs under my spray skirt, but it can be difficult to work with as the hose has to come up through the skirt. If it comes up through the bungie on the side water can get in to the cockpit. If it comes up through the tunnel on the skirt you have to deal with it every time you get out of your kayak. Think about doing a rodeo re-entry with a three liter bag of water dangling between your legs. Getting tanged in the boat while you're trying to get back into the cockpit. Water bottles under the spray skirt never work, as you can't quickly access them. When on expeditions I generally have most of my stored water in the cockpit in an MSR dromedary. This way if I need water, or have access to flowing water and can refill my water supplies I have easy access.

    What I would really like is a large reservoir that lives in the cockpit directly under the deck. With a quick release port on the top of the deck in front of my cockpit. Then when I am paddling I could just click a hose into the side of my kayak and drink from the bag below the deck. I may just use a camelbak Unbottle and leave it under my deck bungies.

    In terms of making water safe to drink there are many methods you can use, but first you have to understand that water can be filtered, or purified, or both.

    A filter - which may be a pump or gravity fed - uses some sort of material with very small holes. The water is forced through these holes, which are big enough to let water through, but small enough to trap Giardia and Cryptosporidium - the two major causes of intestinal issues that can lead to dangerous diarrhea and then dehydration. The material itself often removes flavors and odors.

    Purification uses one of a variety of methods to kill Giardia and Crypto as well as viruses. You can do it with Chemicals (chlorine based) or UV light (Steripen or Camelbak Allclear). You can also boil your water. If you bring water a rolling boil it is purified. Most pathogens are destroyed between 165º and 180º so by the time you get to 212º the water is safe to drink. Despite myths and legends about needing to boil water for ten minutes or two minutes, once it's boiling, it's done.

    In Alaska we used a combination of things. We used the sawyer complete four liter system, and we used Aqua Mira. We chose which we were going to use based on whichever was more convenient at the time. Frequently we would paddle past a small waterfall, stop and fill dromedaries, add Aqua Mira, and keep paddling. By the time we got to camp the water was safe to drink.

    Here is another myth - I pumped/treated my water, and the next day I had diarrhea. So the device/method I used clearly didn't work. According to the Center for Disease Control both Giardia and Cryptosporidium have an average incubation time of around seven days (though Crypto can strike as quickly as two days after infection). The methods described above are effective only if done properly. Which means waiting periods for chemicals need to be followed, and you need to be careful about the process. A big area where people make mistakes is this. You fill a bottle with water by scooping the water out of a lake or stream. You treat the water in the bottle. The contaminant is still on the mouth and threads of the bottle and you get infected anyway.

    None of these processes are difficult, but you have to follow the instructions, and know the limitations of whatever system you have chosen.

    Thursday, July 5, 2012

    Beating the heat

    Thinking about buying your first kayak? I have two posts that will tell you -almost- everything you need to know:

    The first - Here - will give you the basic info you need to pick out your first kayak.

    The second - Here - will talk about all the gear you need to kayak safely.

    There is a big 'buy in' to get started kayaking, but after that it is a relatively inexpensive experience. Then when you're ready to start paddling, go Here to learn all you need to know with video lessons.

    Then have fun on the water, and soon you will be here!

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012

    An update on Patagonia inc.

    A footnote to the post a few weeks ago. Yvon Chouinard has a new book called 'the responsible company'. From the website:

    In The Responsible Company, Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, and Vincent Stanley, co-editor of its Footprint Chronicles, draw on their 40 years' experience at Patagonia – and knowledge of current efforts by other companies – to articulate the elements of responsible business for our time.

    I read somewhere that Yvon had been working with Wal-Mart in an attempt to make them more environmentally sensitive. I think that is amazing as Wal-Mart historically has been atrocious to the environment, and Mr. Chouinard is a driving force in making companies better to the environment, both globally and locally. Literally transforming the business world. 

    I am very interested in reading this book, but ironically it is only available - currently - as a paper edition. I can't download a digital copy that would have no impact on the planet, except for the $1.38 of power per year to charge my iPad. 

    Monday, July 2, 2012

    It's expedition season, and I am at home.

    Well, expedition season is in full swing, and you have many to choose from:

    WithLandOnOurLeft - is three young men circumnavigation Britain for charity. And they are going the wrong way around. By the looks of their blog they are spending a lot of time on land as the wind isn't really cooperating. But I guess that is to be expected when you go the opposite direction of everyone who has ever done the trip before you. I am very curious if they have the perseverance to make it happen.

    Aluetians 2012 - this one is already completed, and blows me away. From Dutch Harbor all the way out to the end of the island chain, Herbert island. There is no good weather where they paddled.

    Pacific Kayaker - I don't have a lot of information here, apparently this gentleman is going to paddle from California to Hawaii. His departure date is TBD (July 2 to the 4th). I am pretty sure that this route has been done once before - that makes it no less insane.

    There is one more expedition I remember reading about and this morning I can't find the link. A pair of kayakers is going from Juneau to Patagonia. This is the Inside Passage and then some!

    As for me, I am thinking about potential dates, and talking with Sarah. Last year at this time I was somewhere in the vicinity of Wrangell, Alaska I was almost certainly cold and wet, and having the time of my life.