I learned most of my wilderness know-how from experienced paddlers, who taught me that you should always have a set of dry clothes set aside for sleeping. Now, I'm branching out into hiking and wondering if that advice still holds true, or if I can shave a few ounces off my poor back and knees (and save a few bucks, to boot) by wearing the se polar fleece day and night. What do you think? Catherine Montreal, Quebec

I wear sunglasses for mountain biking, both for sun protection and shielding my eyes from flying branches and stuff, even during night riding. The climate here in the Bay Area has my glasses fogging up most of the time. I've tried the Smith No-Fog cloth and Cat Crap, with no real success. Do you have any suggestions to prevent this problem?

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I love the athletic look of soft shells and would love to buy one. The only problem is I've heard they're just that: shells, meant more for layering than for providing a single layer of protection. In your opinion, are there any soft shells that can provide both heavy-duty warmth and stand up to the rain and snow? I'll use this shell more for "getting around town" than I would for aerobic activities, so I want something that would keep me very warm in cold temperatures. Megan Spokane, Washington

I've been looking into soft shells to take on a NOLS [National Outdoor Leadership School] expedition to the Himalayas and have narrowed the selection down to Patagonia's Mixmaster or Beyond Fleece's Cold Fusion. I was hoping you could help me choose one based on durability, performance, and warmth. Kevin Mahopac, New York

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What's the deal with Ex Officio's Buzz Off shirt and pants? They claim to ward off skeeters. Does this really work? Does the protection wear off after repeated washings? Mark Chantilly, Virginia

My friend and I are planning a one-week ice climbing trip north of Lake Superior to an area known as Agawa Canyon, where the mean daytime temperature is less than zero degrees Fahrenheit. I would like to get a pair of mountaineering boots for the trip that will keep my 41E feet warm, so I was considering either the Scarpa Invernos or Alphas (both plastics). Is my foot width too wide for the Alphas? Having the extra feel of the lighter boot would definitely be a plus in my book. Are there any single-boot alternatives that might suffice, or are doubles my best bet? John Toronto, Ontario

I'm planning on climbing Mount Rainier, so I'm trying to find the best clothing setup. I'm interested in combining a soft shell with a lightweight hard shell, but having a hard time sorting through all of the options. I'm partial to gear from Patagonia and Marmot, so is there anything I should consider between these two companies? Is Marmot's PreCip enough for this type of climb if I use it in combo with a soft shell, or do I need to go with a more substantial waterproof-breathable jacket? Bob Sterling, Colorado

I've bought the upper-body clothing in preparation for some winter backpacking near the SoCal beaches, followed by Yosemite next summer. But what should I get by way of pants? Would The North Face's Apex's or Arc'Teryx's Gma LTs be too warm? Or should I just pick up some plain or convertible nylon pants? Matthew Claremont, California

Lieber Ausrüstungmensch: Looking at the change of seasons and your report on the latest and greatest in the gear world, I'm trying to come up with a clothing strategy that maximizes economy of budget and weight. I'm a keen hiker currently living in Germany (near the Alps), but who will be moving back to the East Coast of the U.S. (Smoky Mountains!) soon. I want a system that will cover me when it's warm, cool, and wet. Should I go with a fleece-plus-shell combo, lugging around the deadweight when I'm not using it, or should I buy one of the do-it-all soft shells? Patrick Frankfurt Main, Germany

I know it's only August, but I have recently taken up running and looking ahead to the looming Ottawa winter. In preparing to outfit myself, I have been doing some reading about soft-shell jackets. The claim seems to be that I won't need to do the usual layering job with one of these—the soft shell can do it all. Is this right? Would a soft shell be the answer to a big part of my winter running wardrobe? Eric Ottawa, Ontario

I've collected the very best ensemble of outdoor gear, but I still require one last item: sunglasses! Price is no object, but quality is. I need the best all-purpose outdoor fres that are compatible with prescription lenses. Cebe comes to mind, but do you have any other suggestions? Paul Boulder, Colorado

I looking into buying a soft-shell jacket and interested in the Cloudveil Serendipity, the Arc'teryx Gma, and another jacket from Salomon. What are your opinions on these jackets and are there any others that I should consider? Mike Kane Rock Island, Illinois

This past summer I started running and now have continued into the winter. On the longer runs my privates get awful cold. Is there any underwear out there made of microfleece and/or windproof fabric? I run in tights and wear cotton briefs under them. The cotton is the problem. I don't like wind pants or wearing shorts over my tights, but are they the only answer? Tom Faherty Scituate, Massachusetts

I'm wondering if you know the difference between all the soft-shell fabrics, specifically Power Shield and Schoeller Dryskin. Also, what's the deal with the ultralight rain shells like Patagonia's Microburst or Arc'Teryx's Sirrus SL? REI's Web site used to say that Sirrus SL is "truly an ultralight shell, thus should not be for everyday use." Are they suggesting the ultralight jackets are not that durable? Does it make sense to carry both a soft-shell and an ultralight rain shell on a long backpacking trip? Jenny San Diego, California

I was thinking about buying a pair of convertible pants following a trip to Mount Washington on which the weather went from warm to pretty cold. With a three-day trip planned to the Presidentials this summer, I thought convertible pants might be a good option for any varied weather. What are your thoughts? Scott Cbridge, Massachusetts

Any idea where I might look for prescription sunglasses that I could use at high altitude? My local optician says the lenses he could sell me "might" block both ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) rays, but he's not sure. Is blocking both UV and IR really important? Andy Billings, Montana

Oh, Gauis Gear Guy (bet you haven't heard THAT one before), I have a multitudinous problem. I wrote to you years ago about detached toenails, and you delivered the goods shiningly. My problem is still with my feet. The last two trips I've taken in my Zberlans boots have left me hobbled, with huge Susan B. Anthony pus-bubbles on either heel. I went to a clinic and was informed that my feet were "problematic" and that I was wearing the wrong boot. My right foot while standing is about a quarter inch longer than the left. My feet are wide and low profile, with anemic arches and narrow heels. Oh yeah, I also have weak ankles. Now I have June trips planned in the Grand Canyon and the Sierra. I've bought the Superfeet shrink-to-your-dogs prosthetic insoles, but I need a new boot. What do you recommend, outside of foot-transplant surgery? Thanks, Thomas Perkins Alexandria, Virginia

Do I need to replace my 1994 Oakley sunglasses? I wondering if the 100 percent UV protection in the lenses breaks down over the years with repeated exposure to the sun. If so, are glass and plastic lenses equally vulnerable? Joel Las Cruces, New Mexico

Much of my clothing made with high-performance fabrics, such as Coolmax, states that you should not use fabric softeners or dryer sheets. Why is that? If they are accidentally dried with a dryer sheet will they return to normal after the next wash or are the performance aspects ruined? Joe Helm Canal Winchester, Ohio

We're searching for a pair of sunglasses with a protective nose shield for a friend who has reoccurring skin cancer. Can you help us out? Tmy Tarentum, Pennsylvania

With all the high-tech lenses out there, I'm looking for a pair or two that will provide good protection in a variety of situations. I would be using them for downhill skiing, water sports, motorcycle riding, driving, hiking, mountain biking, roller blading, etc. The three brands I considering are Revo, Oakley, and Serengeti. I was also told by someone a long time ago, that it is not a good idea to wear polarized lenses when riding a motorcycle, as they will hide oil spots on the road, causing a potential slide. Can you tell me if there is any truth to that? Tom Player Toronto, Ontario

On extended backpacking trips, does it make sense to pack both a soft shell and a waterproof jacket? Or just take along the rain jacket? Also, since I come from Europe, I'm a little bit confused about what exactly cross-country skiing is. I know what telemarking is (those graceful people on the piste) and also langlauf (with the thin skis), but what is cross-country? Karl Cottenie Leuven, Belgium

Are there any objective tests comparing the hard- and soft-shell products of different gear manufacturers? Yes, there's a huge ount of marketing hype easily available, but beyond XCR's assertion that it's "25 percent more breathable than standard Gore-Tex," there doesn't seem to be any hard numbers comparing materials. This is surprising when you consider how much consumers are prepared to pay for the latest and greatest. Jeff London, United Kingdom

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