What is Gore-Tex?

Some backpacking clothing and even boots might be coated with a waterproofing treatment called Gore-Tex, which makes the item more expensive. Is it worth spending the extra money? While a backpacker should always consider the merits of waterproof boots or jackets versus non-waterproof items when purchasing equipment, remember there are lots of ways to stay dry and Gore-Tex is only one of them. However, Gore-Tex the market leader.

Gore-Tex is a branded waterproofing process licensed to clothing manufacturers

Gore-Tex is a branded waterproofing process licensed to clothing manufacturers

Gore-Tex is a proprietary coating developed in 1969 to provide both waterproof and breathability characteristics to clothing and footwear. From their website:
The secret of GORE-TEX® products — which are both completely waterproof and completely breathable at the same time — lies within its revolutionary bi-component membrane. The membrane contains over 9 billion microscopic pores which are approximately 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water, but 700 times bigger than a molecule of moisture vapor. So while water in its liquid form cannot penetrate the GORE-TEX® membrane, as moisture vapor it can easily escape. In addition, all garments using Gore Tex must also have taped seams to provide added protection against water.

Gore-Tex keeps rain out but lets perspiration escape.

Gore Tex keeps rain out but lets perspiration escape.

Many clothing manufacturers licence the waterproofing process from Gore-Tex and advertise their relationship. Other clothing companies have opted to develop their own waterproofing processes or license competing technology from companies like Polartec (called NeoShell) in an increasingly competitive industry. However, analysts report that Gore Tex still commands at least 65% of the market.

Waterproof fabrics do have their limitations. Extreme humidity or ongoing rain can make it difficult to transport moisture away from the body, creating a “greenhouse effect” under your jacket. This is especially problematic when the temperature is in the 30s or 40s. Waterproof and breathable products also get dirty over time, reducing their effectiveness. That’s why there are products (like Nicwax Tech Wash) that can be used to clean the garments and mostly restore their effectiveness.

Waterproof boots are great in winter, when snow and slush are just waiting to get your socks wet and ruin an outing. However, in the summer, waterproof boots keep moisture (sweat) inside and that can contribute to blisters. This is why many outdoorsmen have a waterproof pair of boots for cold weather and a breathable pair for summer hiking.

“Be Honest and True Boys”

This poem was published in the children’s periodical “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” in 1887, a few decades before the founding of Boys Scouts. It was featured during a flashback episode in the television series “Boardwalk Empire,” which also had several references to the Boys Scout movement.

Boy's Life was modeled after popular magazines like "Golden Days for Boys and Girls"

Boy’s Life was modeled after popular magazines like “Golden Days for Boys and Girls”

Be honest and true, boys!
Whatever you do, boys,
Let this be your motto through life.
Both now and forever,
Be this your endeavor,
When wrong with the right is at strife.

The best and the truest,
Alas! are the fewest;
But be one of these if you can.
In duty ne’er fail; you
Will find ‘twill avail you,
And bring its reward when a man.

Don’t think life plain sailing;
There’s danger of failing,
Though bright seem the future to be;
But honor and labor,
And truth to your neighbor,
Will bear you safe over life’s sea.

Then up and be doing,
Right only pursuing,
And take your fair part in the strife.
Be honest and true, boys,
Whatever you do, boys,
Let this be your motto through life!

— BE HONEST AND TRUE, by George Birdseye.

Lightning Strikes

There are lots of myths and misconceptions about lightning strikes on outings. However, one thing to always remember is that there is no place that is absolutely safe for Scouts during an electrical storm. Scouts and leaders have been hit by lightening (and killed) in shelters as well as open spaces. In fact, during one especially terrible storm at the Griswold Scout Reservation in New Hampshire, 23 Scouts who had taken shelter under a canopy were hospitalized after a lightning strike that hit close to them. The problem is serious enough that BSA has studied it and revamped the lightning safe procedures in the Guide to Safe Scouting, even mandating that leaders complete a Hazardous Weather course before going on outings. The result has been a decline in lightning related injuries and fatalities at Scout activities.

A lightning strike is an electric discharge between the atmosphere and an earth-bound object. According to the NOAA, over the last 20 years, the United States averaged 51 annual lightning strike fatalities per year, placing it just behind floods for weather-related deaths. In addition, lightning strikes hundreds of people every year that survive, and (depending upon the source) up to 80% of survivors sustain long-term injuries. Metal objects in the victim’s pockets (like smart phones) can concentrate the charge and make the injury even worse. Contrary to popular belief, however, a direct hit by a lightning bolt coming down from the sky is actually pretty rare and not a common way that Scouts are injured by lightning during a storm.

Lightening strikes are common - and dangerous

Lightning strikes are common – and dangerous

More than half of all lightning injuries and fatalities occur when lighting hits the ground near where Scouts are standing (or sheltering). The electrical current runs through the ground to nearby objects (like Scouts) that act as conductors to receive the charge. The result is burns on the body, and in extreme cases – death. If there is a nearby strike, touching your feet together at the heels can reduce the pathway of the electrical charge and minimize risk. In other words, if your feet are touching, the electricity will go up one foot and down the other. If your feet are not together, the electrical current will travel up through your body and have no easy exit point.

The second most dangerous lightning strike is called a “side flash.” The lightning hits a tall object (like a tree or tall pioneering project) and arcs sideways to objects of less resistance – like people standing nearby. (The lightning does not follow the tall object to the ground.) This kind of strike represents about a third of injuries and fatalities. A very similar danger is called “Upward Leader strikes” and accounts for about 10% of human injuries. In this case, the lightning is attracted to a taller object and then moves to something nearby. That is one reason why safety procedures stress having everyone crouch to get them into approximately the same height.

Lightning will often strike the tallest object in the area.  Do not stand next to a single tall tree during a thunderstorm.

Lightning will often strike the tallest object in the area. Do not stand next to a single tall tree during a thunderstorm.

The least common causes of lightning injuries or fatalities (5-10%) are direct strikes and coming into contact with an object that is transmitting high voltage like a metal fence or electrical wire. (Philmont call this a “touch-volt” strike.) The best way to protect yourself from both is to move to a safer area – preferably before the storm envelops your crew.

You can estimate the distance to a lightning strike by counting the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder that follows. (One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, etc.) Divide the number of seconds by five (5) and this will be the approximate distance to the actual lightning strikes. Studies have shown that a second strike can occur 6 to 8 miles away from the first strike. Therefore, when the time between the strike and the thunder is less than 40 seconds you could be in danger if the storm is moving towards you. So, if you can hear thunder you might need need to take action quickly. There is no absolutely safe place outside in a thunderstorm, but here are some reasonable safety procedures.

• Separate and, if possible, find cover under clumps of shrubs or trees of uniform height.
• If there is no cover, crouch down with feet and knees together, chest on knees, and hands covering ears. Keep your feet together and touching.
• Always, spread out 25′ to 30′ from each other, but maintain voice contact.
• Stay off ridges and exposed passes. You are typically better off at lower elevations.
• Stay out of broad open areas like meadows or lakes.
• Caves are not safe.
• Avoid single high trees. (Do not set up your tents near them either!)

If you happen to be in a tent when a storm approaches, sit on your foam pad and pull your knees into your chest to create the smallest contact with the ground. If the lightning strikes are very close, cover your ears and close your eyes to reduce potential injury.

It goes without saying, that Scout leaders should be checking the weather forecast to understand the risk of potential thunderstorms in the area they plan to visit. However, it a thunderstorm does come up, play it safe.