A Mailbag for Your Thoughts

Nov 22, 2005
Outside Magazine

We get all sorts of interesting mail here at Gear Guy Central. And of course, given the crushing volume of correspondence, we—meaning I, the Gear Guy—can't answer all of it. But so much of it is offbeat, intriguing, or downright ludicrous that I thought it was time to rifle through the ol' mailbag to address those burning questions for which you're still awaiting my pearls of wisdom.

Is the rarity of narrow boots a result of the fattening of America?
Just as American bodies are getting larger, by the same measure American feet are getting larger. The American Podiatric Medical Association notes that increased weight places more demands on your dogs, so naturally shoes are being increasingly designed with an eye to supporting these weighty concerns.

Any shoe or boot maker interested in selling the maximum number of shoes isn't going to make too many in narrow sizes, leaving it a niche market (bell-curve economics mean oversize shoe makers fill a niche, too). American society is also graying, and our feet expand when we get older as ligaments and tendons loosen a little. American kids, meanwhile, have bigger feet than in past generations because they're more apt to wear comfortable athletic shoes rather than constricting leather dress shoes.

While it's true that it's hard to find boots in narrow sizes, it's not the end of the story. There are still a number of companies offering a decent range of narrow sizes, among them Cabela's, Dunham, L.L. Bean, Lowa, and Vasque. Beyond that, be sure to try on several pairs of shoes in the store as shoe lasts vary from maker to maker.

Why do all recumbent riders come with facial hair?
Ha! A year or so ago I said something mildly dismissive (OK, very dismissive) about recumbent bikes, which stirred up a hornet's nest of low-slung, thin-skinned, and almost uniformly bearded (the men, at least) recumbent riders. In fact, since then in a totally unscientific survey, I found that four out of five recumbent riders I encountered sported facial hair. Conversely, of the 15 to 20 guys I ride with at least occasionally, none has a beard (one has a moustache).

A friend of mine suggests that recumbent riders' hairy self-image stems from a somewhat hippie-ish (think Jerry Garcia strung low), even mildly rebellious attitude, and so their fashion and coiffure choices fall a little outside the norm. That actually seems pretty spot on, although I'm open to comment.

Should I wear fishnets or stockings?
A simple question from a writer in London—with no background provided. Answer: Fishnets.

Why do they make boxers or briefs with no fly? What is worth the inconvenience?
As in so many cases, it's because they're cheaper to make. That and they don't leave unsightly seam lines on my cycling tights...

What are your favorite books with campfire stories?
None come to mind, but never sit at the 10,000-foot level of Mount Rainier and read Jonathan Waterman's Surviving Denali a week before heading for that same mountain. It gave me the clear impression that there would be mayhem all around. But no! We saw only three harrowing helicopter rescues take place, stepped over only one dead body, and came home with only mild frostbite. Piece of cake.

Can you please tell me how much postage is to send to Northern Ireland?

What three or four skills should a true outdoorsman be able to do with a knife?
Well, I'm stumped. Any suggestions out there? Possibly, the ability to whittle wood shavings for an emergency fire would be one requisite skill. I don't hunt, but obviously skinning out a deer or bear would be one for those who do. I'd also suggest being able to use a knife to carve and erect an emergency post-and-beam house would be another, but maybe that's aiming too high...

How can you weigh down in a down jacket to guarantee you are indeed getting what you paid for?
Easy. All makers specify how much down is in a jacket. So use the knife (see above) to lay open the seams, take out the down, and weigh it.

On a more practical level, what's most important is the quality of construction. One thing to do: Hold the piece up to a light. You shouldn't see any obvious spots where the light is shining through only fabric, no down. If it does, then you'll have cold spots.

Would those multi-fuel camp stoves be able to run off vodka? 151-proof rum? Moonshine?
Vodka, no. Moonshine, if 180 proof, yes. 151-proof rum? Probably. But what a waste of good rum! And the other substances in the rum likely would clog the stove quickly...

I am getting ready for my first ski trip and being from the South, I have no clue what I need.
Questions like this come in on occasion, and on occasion I really do try to help. But c'mon. This is like saying, "I am from the Earth and am going to the Moon. What do I need?" At the very least, one needs a minimal recognition of how conditions are going to be different in place B versus place A, plus a tentative plan to cope with that change.

Is the Marmot PreCip jacket considered to be waterproof or just resistant? I love this jacket but had it totally wet on the inside after being caught in a torrential downpour for about 15 minutes.
The PreCip really is waterproof—Marmot has tested this fabric, as have retailers such as REI that sell it. Trouble is, a thoroughly wet garment also becomes one that doesn't breathe as well. So it's almost 100 percent certain that you were experiencing condensation caused by your own body vapor. Inside the jacket, especially if you're exercising, it's warm and humid. When that moist air hits the cold interior surface of a wet jacket, it not only can't escape (the wet fabric on the outside blocks off the tiny breathing vents), it cools and reverts to liquid.

Ps. Learn this phrase and use it often: "I DONT KNOW."
Another satisfied reader. But in the course of writing this column I've answered approximately 3,000 questions. I get to be wrong once in a while!

In making of gear in powder metallurgy process, what features of the part tend to favor powder metallurgy manufacture and determine whether the desired properties could be achieved by a commercial ferrous powder with the densities commonly achieved by a normal press-sinter method of fabrication?
I couldn't agree more.

In the military I was taught that sleeping naked in your bag maximizes your warmth. Is this true?
This one also comes up a lot, with only the first clause changing ("While pledging a fraternity house..." "While the only female member of an all-male Polar expedition..." "While working one summer as a cowboy..."). The answer: Insulation keeps you warm, so if you wear insulation in the form of, say, long underwear, then wrap more insulation around yourself in the form of a sleeping bag, then you will be warmer than if you start out buck naked.

But is there any grain of truth to this proverb? Perhaps. In days of old, cotton was a much more common material in outdoor clothing. And going to bed while wearing damp cotton likely would be colder than climbing into a dry sleeping bag au naturel.

How can I protect my tent from burglars, or are there tents that are stab-proof with locks?
No one has yet made a tent with Kevlar. But it could happen!

I have a friend who has HUGE feet, and he's having a hard time finding a decent selection of boots for his size-15 dogs. Is there any hope?

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