Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hiking boots and shoes

Annual hiking amounting to 3 500 kilometers has provided some insight into footwear. There are back-packing boots specifically designed for hiking with a heavy pack.  These boots are stiffened for the purpose and are not sufficiently flexible for day hiking or walking. Footwear for day hiking or walking is covered in this article.

Some prefer boots and others prefer shoes for hiking. Boots are better in snow and mud and they offer additional ankle support, if you need it. Hiking shoes permit freer ankle movement and enable the hiker to be more nimble. Hiking subjects footwear to rugged use and you need something that will stand up to wear and tear, especially if you are an avid hiker.

Modern hiking footwear has been influenced by the ubiquitous running shoe that has emerged in the last three decades. Most hiking shoes are often little more than slightly beefed up running shoes. The basic construction of the running shoe consists of the tread or wearing surface of the sole, a mid-sole of spongy shock absorbing foam and the upper part of the shoe.

The spongy shock absorbing mid sole of most running shoes is a material called EVA or ethylene vinyl acetate. It gives the shoe a comfortable feel and absorbs shock well when new. Unfortunately, the material tends to compress permanently and loose its bounce. This can happen after 500 kilometers of use. Most hiking shoes also use this material in the mid sole. Wear and compression of the mid sole puts strain on the upper part of shoe and it can deteriorate. Further, compression of the mid sole exposes the foot to poking from sharp rocks and stones if the tread or out sole is thin.

Vibram is a leading maker of sloes for hiking footwear. Their thick compressed rubber soles were and still are the standard on quality hiking footwear. However Vibram also makes a variety of thinner soles for hiking shoes and boots. A thin Vibram sole on a EVA mid sole can have a limited life expectancy of about 1000 kilometers.

The secret to durable hiking footwear is the use of polyurethane in the mid sole as opposed to EVA. The material feels slightly harder to the foot when you first put the shoe on and may not feel as comfortable as the softer EVA. However, if you walk 10 kilometers or more on the polyurethane mid sole, your feet will feel much better than on EVA. Polyurethane  mid soles and thick Vibram out soles or tread are the hallmarks of durable hiking shoes or boots. Shoes or boots of this type of sole construction and a good leather upper can last for 6 000 kilometers of hiking. They may even give some further service in the garden after the cleats on the tread are worn down. While hiking boots or shoes of this quality are more expensive initially, their cost per kilometer of hiking can be substantially less than poorer quality footwear.

Vibram or other rubber soles provide good grip on dry rock. Thread patterns with more smaller cleats provide better grip or traction. Traction of Vibram or other compressed rubber soles is much reduced on wet rock especially if it has algae, moss, or a scattering of leaf litter on top. These soles offer almost no grip on wet wood or roots. Foresters and loggers often wear caulk or spiked boots to provide sufficient grip in the forest. However, these are not necessary if you are on trails. Some hikers prefer hobnail boots for traction, but these are almost a thing of the past. Thick leather soles required to take the hob nails or caulks usually make for a heavy boot. Viberg is a manufacturer of these specialty boots.

Most of the hiking shoes that look like running shoes are little more than glorified running shoes with EVA mid-soles. These only suffice for occasional use and are good for about 1 000 kilometers of hiking. A notable exception are Vasque Mantra hiking shoes with a polyurethane mid sole with a life of approximately 3 000 kilometers.

If you want durable hiking boots or shoes, the European hiking and mountaineering footwear manufacturers are the best bet. Quality leather uppers will outlast synthetic materials if you take care of the leather. Make sure that it is a hiking boot rather than a backpacking boot and look for polyurethane mid soles. We have two pairs of Scarpa leather hiking boots with 7 000 kilometers of use. The soles are worn but the leather uppers are intact. Scarpa is an Italian make but some of the other well known European hiking footwear manufacturers make good quality.  The German footwear manufacturer Lowa is less well known in North America but makes excellent hiking boots and shoes. The polyurethane mid soles of Lowa boots and shoes are lightweight and more advanced in construction. Lowa uses good quality leather and you can get boots and shoes lined with glove leather. Leather linings absorb moisture and do not become wet with sweat like most of the synthetic liners. Leather linings protect against blisters. Some Lowa models come in a boot or shoe. The shoes have the durability of the boots. I am currently hiking in a pair of Lowa Renegade shoes. They look like new although they have 2 100 kilometers of use to date.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Truck Loggers: afraid of Goliath?

The Truck Loggers Association of British Columbia publishes a well produced magazine that covers issues relevant to coastal logging contractors and other logging associations throughout BC. Coastal loggers are an independent innovative group of people that tend to stand up for themselves. They have the characteristics of hill and mountain people and genes of the Vikings, from Sweden, Norway, Baltic countries. Other forested countries such as Austria, Germany and even cranky Scots are represented in their heritage.

Canadians tend to be conservative, not in a narrow political sense but in the expectation that our institutions and structures are basically all right and may only need a little tweaking from time to time. Conservatism is generally a good course until such time as major change is needed. In these circumstances conservatism is a recipe for extinction.

The BC forest sector had up and down periods owing to economic cycles. The financial and mortgage crisis of 2008 in USA caused a serious and lasting downturn, but their are other factors affecting the forest industry. Rapid harvesting of virgin old growth timber on the coast caused a hard landing both in logging and in manufacturing plants as lower timber volume second growth started to become the feed for the industry. In the interior of BC, a massive mountain pine beetle epidemic made a binge of wood available for a few years and left a hole in the timber supply in the long term.

The fall 2014 Truck Logger BC magazine tries to paint a rosy picture of sustainability. It says that we are into our second century of forest harvesting and that forests are growing back. This is true but are we truly sustainable? While there has been logging in BC for a long time, the system we work under really dates from WWII. BC wanted money from its forests to fund development that helped to reelect politicians.. We broke our trust to ensure that our mainly public forests would be managed under sustainable arrangements. Most of the timber harvesting rights in public forests were allocated to forest corporations to promote development.

Truck loggers have contracts with the big boys or large forest corporations. They do not want to bite the hand that feeds them, so they support the system. Truck loggers have advocated giving forest corporations long term area leases of public forests. However, their magazine has a constant trickle of complaints arising from the structure of the forest industry. The complaints usually avoid going to the root cause of the issue because that would mean criticizing the system and tackling big corporations.

Logging contractors have been going out of business in the last few years because of low or reduced rates for their work. The big boys or large forest corporations have expected their contractors to shoulder a greater share of the austerity burden of the downturn. Bankrupt contractors often leave unpaid creditors or small business in forest dependent communities, so the problem spreads at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Forest corporations literally get licenses to privateer in public forests and take the profits while passing the losses on to the little guys. Logging contractors could instead be working for a local forest trust chartered to ensure the sustainable well-being of local communities. They would be less likely to go bankrupt under this progressive arrangement.

Truck loggers have their communities at heart and they often advocate for protecting the "working forest" and its timber supply. The "working forest" is public forest allocated for sustainable timber production. More Parks or protected areas were designated in public forests in the 1990's and there is often resistance to visible logging near towns, cities, or traveled routes. This issue is a social one and the inroads to timber production are mainly due to resistance to rapid logging of virgin timber that occurred since WWII. Rather than pushing for some legal designation of a working forest, truck loggers could be advocating for a new system based on forest stewardship responsibilities rather than the present harvesting rights. Such a new system would bring improved social license and less resistance to timber production.

Truck Loggers advocate for log exports. BC has tried to restrict log exports to keep manufacturing jobs in BC. The issue polarizes communities. Pressure for log exports has increased on the coast of BC. Second growth timber was supposed to be ready for harvest at about 70 or 80 years old. However there may not be sufficient volume in a forest stand at this age to cover harvesting costs if it is on a distant steep mountain. Higher export prices can make harvesting economic and give the forest contractor work. Truck loggers are probably justified in advocating for more log exports to alleviate present circumstances. However, the problem is systemic. Logs are expensive to handle and transport long distances. There is considerable waste in manufacture in the form of bark and sawdust so even with no restriction on export, it would make sense to manufacture logs close to home. The fact that others can take our logs half way around the world and manufacture them indicates that we have problems in wood utilization. Coastal sawmills were unready for the major changes and capital costs of retooling for second growth logs. The need to export indicates structural problems. If government and the forest corporations had pursued a more gradual rate of removal of the virgin old growth, the transition period would have been longer and allowed for adaptation of plant and technology. The forest bank would have had a supply of older more valuable second growth.

An aphorism in the latest edition of Truck Logger BC States:  "Utilization of public natural resources to create economic opportunities for the people of BC should not be limited to those who achieve control of the resource". They know the root cause of their problems. The statement comes in an article entitled: "Logging Rate Negotiation: When David meets Goliath". Truck loggers are starting to look like Mr Goebbels in the WWII parody of the Colonel Bogey March.