Thursday, May 19, 2011

Venture Out! Beta Project

I always flipped through REI or Patagonia magazines thinking, "man, how do these people get to do this stuff?" I mean, here I was hiking in the woods, swimming in the springs, rappelling down cliffs too, why didn't I ever get a call to test out their gear? Well, someone must have heard my silent gripes, because last month I was given the opportunity to be an official tester for Columbia Sportswear along with Adam Chasey and Garl Harrold of Garl's Coastal Kayaking.

Their new product, Insect Blocker is a type of cloth that is designed to keep biting insects from biting through your shirt or pants while in wetland areas. Columbia figured that since we spent the majority of our time in the Everglades and swamps of Florida that we would be perfect candidates.

From what I've found, keeping insects at bay is one of the toughest tasks in the Everglades, especially in the summer. Bug suits are stuffy and may as well be portable saunas as they're terrible for keeping you cool. Lightweight shirts are often too lightweight and the bigger deer flies and mosquitoes can bite right through the gaps. So, Columbia designed a shirt that would breathe while offering protection through some brilliant way of infusing permethryn with the fabric.

The research and development center at Columbia gave us one month to test out the shirt and pants, asking our opinions along the way. After a month, Kristen Strott, head of R&D at Columbia and Mark Going, photographer for the company, booked a flight from their office in Oregon to come and see for themselves how the gear fared in the Everglades.

They specifically asked us to take them camping in the most brutal and blood-draining hostile place we could think of, so we picked Alligator Creek in the salt marsh of Everglades National Park. We planned to paddle the 7 miles to the campsite and stay one night amidst the noseeums, deer flies, and mosquitoes to put the gear and ourselves through the ringer. While I was a little uneasy about this type of masochism I was incredibly stoked that a clothing company would invest this much time and effort into making sure their product worked before putting it on the shelves.

Now, I'm not allowed to reveal too much about Insect Blocker, but what I will say is that it's not a magical forcefield. It works where the clothes are touching and I never once felt overheated. Yes, good old fashion bug repellant works too - but honestly, our skin is a porous living thing, and I avoid putting that stuff on at all costs. I mean seriously, it melts plastic.

While it was fun romping around for Columbia, it was even more rewarding to show a couple Oregonians a few of the reasons why we live, love, and breathe the Everglades. Here's video I put together of our trip. I hope you enjoy it!

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