Outdoor Gear Terms explained

Travel clothing and outdoor gear increasingly use complex manufacturing processes and highly technical and fabrics to keep you comfortable or to do more with less. If you're new to outdoors sports or looking for travel gear for the first time you may find these terms unfamiliar. Much commonly used outdoor gear and travel clothing terms are included in the short glossary below. The principles are usually straight forward, so we hope this will help you choose the gear ready for your next adventure.


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Anti-shock walking poles have a spring built into the pole which softens the jarring when walking on hard surfaces. Trekking poles with anti-shock absorb much of the shock that would otherwise travel through the pole to the wrist, elbow and shoulder.



Breathable fabrics allow water vapour (eg sweat) to pass out through the fabric, but prevent liquid water (eg rain) getting in. This prevents clamminess from a build up of moisture inside the garment. In outdoor and travel wear, breathability is very important for maintaining comfort and temperature control.


Cold Spots

Cold spots occur when insulated garments and sleeping bags have places unprotected by the insulation that heat can escape from. Cold spots commonly occur at seams and zips. Good sleeping bags and clothing use special construction methods to shield potential cold spots.


Cooling Crystals

These small crystals absorb and retain water when soaked, and then allow the moisture to slowly evaporate over several hours causing cooling. Worn around the neck in a tie for example, they will help keep you cooler and more comfortable in hot weather.


Directional Clothing Systems

Directional clothing systems use special fabrics, or combinations of fabrics, that act like a one-way system for water. They keep you dry by resisting water getting in, and actively drawing water and perspiration out. Directional clothing systems are versatile, extremely comfortable and give very good bad weather protection.



Down is the soft fluffy insulating feathers that keep birds warm. Down has superb thermal properties being lightweight, highly compressible and naturally trapping air (an excellent insulator). Down is used for the best insulated clothing and sleeping bags and is often combined with high tech protective fabrics to keep it dry.


Fill Power

Fill power is the amount insulating materials expand to trap air. The more air for a given weight, the better the insulation and the higher the fill power. Top quality goose down gives the best fill power. High fill power results in light weight, packable, clothing and sleeping bags used for cold climates.


Fill Weight

Fill weight is the weight of the insulation material used in a piece of clothing or sleeping bag. It's generally better to try to keep the fill weight down and get the warmth by using a higher fill power. Fill weights are useful for comparison.



Fleece is a synthetic insulating material. It has a good warmth to weight ratio and absorbs very little water making it an ideal replacement for a woollen jumper. Fleece comes in a wide range of weights, styles and qualities, allowing you to find one suitable for comfort whatever your chosen activity.


Gore-Tex, Event, Porelle, Triplepoint & many others.

These are proprietory brands of membrane or coating applied to different face fabrics to make the face fabric waterproof and breathable. The face fabric determines the weight, strength and wear properties while the membrane or coating determines the degree of waterproofness and breathability. Used extensively for outdoor and travel clothing.



Fabrics made from hemp fibre are breathable and naturally resistant to UV light, mould, mildew and salt water. Hemp fabrics are now being used as an alternative to synthetic fabrics to make environmentally friendly and practical outdoor and travel clothing.


Hydration System

Hydration systems are a combination of a water bladder or reservoir with a drinking hose and bite valve. Hydration systems are easily fitted into most rucksacks and allow you to drink on the move without carrying hard and heavy bottles. Hydration systems are ideal travel in hot climates and high energy activities.


Hydostatic Head

Hydrostatic head is a measurement of how waterproof a fabric is. It's the height of the water column the fabric can support without leaking. A fabric must have a minimum of 1000mm to be classed as 'waterproof'. Good waterproof fabrics used for travel and outdoor clothing have much higher hydrostatic heads. An alternative is Directional Clothing Systems.


Layering System

A layering system combines different layers of clothing, to suit the weather, activity or climate. Layers usually include a wicking base layer (next to the skin), a warm mid layer and a weatherproof shell or outer layer. Mixing and matching layers provides comfort in a wide range of conditons without carrying lots of extra clothing.



LED's or Light Emitting Diodes are small, light and very robust electronic components. Because LED's produce light much more efficiently than standard bulbs they give a long lasting light from fewer and smaller batteries. LED torches are ideal for travel and outdoor sports being small, light and very reliable.


Merino Wool

Wool from the Merino sheep is intrinsically soft, non-itchy, lightweight and has wicking properties. It retains its warmth when wet and the lanolin in the wool is naturally antibacterial and thus helps prevent odour build-up. Merino wool is increasingly used in good base layer clothing for outdoor activities and travel.



PrimaLoft make high performance synthetic insulation that is soft, compressable, warm, breathable and water resistant. They have some of the highest warmth-to-weight ratios for synthetic insulation and retain insulating capabilities even when wet. Used by many top brands for high performance insulating garments.



Ripstop fabric is specially woven to resist tearing and ripping - ideal for outdoor gear subjected to severe wear and tear. Ripstop can be made in many different weights and strengths and out of many different fibres including cotton, silk, polyester, polypropelene and nylon. A square or diamond shaped weave is typical of ripstop fabrics.


Shell Garment / Shell Layer

The outer weatherproof clothing layer that provides a protective 'shell' over the inner layers and the wearer. 'Shells' can include the ultra light weight, wind resistant tops used by runners and cyclists up to full blown mountaineering stormproofs used for high altitude winter ascents.


Sleeping Bag Ratings

Most sleeping bags now give a standard EN rating. This rating gives a 'comfort' temperature range and an 'extreme' temperature. Extreme is the lowest temperature that users may encounter. Comfort is the temperature range that the bag should provide a comfortable night's sleep in - allowing for a base layer, hat and sleep mat.



A softshell is an outer layer that is wind resistant, highly breathable and often water resistant. Because softshells are often more breathable and more comfortable, they are worn when fully waterproof outer layers aren't necessary, and also for high-energy activities. Softshell covers a very wide range of garments!


UV Protection UPF & SPF

The UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating and SPF (Sun Protection Factor) indicates how effective a fabric or sun lotion is at blocking out solar radiation. In both 50 is the highest protection. Testing is done to ensure that UPF certified clothing still protects your skin from harm after 30-50 washes.


Vapour Rise

Vapour Rise is a softshell / directional clothing system made by RAB with Pertex Equilibrium outer, with a microfleece wicking inner. The results are extremely versatile lightweight garments that can be used alone or in a layering system in a wide range of conditions, climates and activities.



Wicking materials draw perspiration away from the skin. Once away from the skin perspiration can evaporate without an uncomfortable chilling effect on the body. Comfort is maintained by the skin staying dry and at an even temperature. Wicking maintains a temperature balance, even between exercise and rests.



A windshell is a very lightweight and packable windproof garment used to reduce heat loss caused by wind and movement during high energy sports such as running, cycling and fast mountain activities. They're usually more breathable and pack very small for ease of carrying. Often shower proof, they can be used as part of a layering system but not for arduous treatment or prolonged or heavy rain.

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