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Polyester vs Merino Wool: Which is Better For You?

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A man hiking in the mountains.

Most people don’t realize how important the type of material in their clothing can be. For casual wear, you can get away with not thinking too much about whether your socks are a spandex or elastane blend. But when it comes to clothing for outdoor trekking, skimping on the details can be a huge mistake.

If you are new to outdoor recreation and are feeling overwhelmed by all the types of clothing, check out this guide on what to wear when hiking.

Two of the most popular fabrics on the market right now are merino wool and polyester. On paper, they seem like they couldn’t be any different, but they have a surprising amount of similarities. For example, they are both remarkably versatile. Base layers, mid-layers, outerwear, innerwear, and everything in between — if you can name it, odds are you can find it in wool or polyester.

But the versatility is part of the issue. Since these fabrics can do so much, they sometimes do too much. It can be hard to decipher whether something is made from polyester because it is a better material than wool, or simply because it is easy to make — the reverse is equally as good a question.

Luckily, you won’t have to find out the hard way or do any extensive research. This review condenses the polyester vs wool debate down into a few of the key points so you can better know which fabric is right for you. To start here is some basic info about both of the fabrics.

 

A person holding wool.

Both polyester and wool are easy to dye and retain color well, making them popular yarn bases.

 

Polyester

Polyester is the biggest synthetic fabric out on the market. The fibers are derived from man-made polymers, which may sound scary. It means polyester fabric is made up of plastic, similar to polypropylene. This gives it a few unique characteristics. It holds its shape well, is resistant to wrinkles and abrasion, is lightweight, and it is harder to stain than other fibers. In part due to the 1970s and the infamous polyester suit, polyester became widely regarded as cheap and uncomfortable, but the fabric has come a long way since.

 

Merino Wool

When people hear “wool” when discussing clothes, one of the first things they think of are heavy, itchy sweaters and socks. But those days are long behind the world of clothing. Merino wool comes from the Merino breed of sheep, and it has surged in popularity as a versatile and comfortable fabric.

Since it comes from sheep, wool fabric is composed of natural fibers. This means on top of being biodegradable and a renewable fabric, Merino wool is also naturally odor-resistant. Natural fabrics are also much better at handling heat, so you are much less likely to burn or melt them while ironing than synthetic fabric.

 

Durability

Nothing is quite as frustrating as spending a bunch of money on a nice piece of new clothing, only to have it get destroyed after only wearing it a few times. That’s why you need to make sure that the clothes you are buying are made from durable fabrics.

Remember how polyester is made from plastic? Plastic’s most impressive quality is its versatility, but its durability is a close second. A well-kept polyester jacket will last ages without every stretching, shrinking, or wearing thin. The construction of the tightly woven synthetic fibers also means you aren’t likely to tear or rip the fabric on an exposed nail or branch. In general, polyester is much tougher than Merino wool.

Though, that isn’t to say that Merino wool is flimsy. It’s still a fairly durable fabric, just not AS durable as polyester. It does require a bit more care to last as long, but it can be done. One specific disclaimer in the category is abrasion. Merino wool can wear out quickly when exposed to high rates of friction, so runners will see the thighs and armpits of Merino wool clothing run thin pretty quickly.

Polyester also has its own Achilles Heel for durability. It is way less tolerant of heat than Merino wool. This won’t come up too often since the temperatures required for it are somewhat high, but polyester will melt, burn, warp, etc. In temperatures that won’t hurt Merino wool nearly as much. So, ironing, high-temp drying, or if you leave it next to something like a stove eye or a campfire, can all ruin a piece of polyester clothing in mere moments. Merino wool would eventually get destroyed in these conditions too, but they can handle them for way longer, giving you more time to save them.

 

A man hiking in the mountains.

One of the biggest concerns is that polyester is made from plastic, meaning that any clothes you get made from it will not be biodegradable.

 

Breathability

This quality is often overlooked when considering clothes and fabrics. You want your coat to be sturdy and robust enough to provide you with ample protection, but you don’t want it so thick that you end up just feeling stuffy and uncomfortable. You should always make note of what fabric an article of clothing is made of because it can heavily affect how breathable it is.

Unless it is a high-quality polyester woven tightly together, typically polyester fabric is more porous. Despite this fact, it is not as breathable as Merino wool. This has to do with the way the individual wool fibers and polyester fibers are shaped. As long as the fabrics you are comparing are of similar thickness and weave type, a Merino wool garment will have better breathability over a polyester one.

One corner case where polyester overtakes Merino wool is specifically when dealing with layers. A high-quality polyester mid-layer will usually be a more breathable option than a woolen mid-layer. Merino wool is a spectacular fabric with high breathability on its own, but it can be finicky when mixing with other fabrics. If you can get a full set of layers all made of Merino wool, then you’ll be fine, but if you start mix-and-matching, you can cause the magic of Merino wool to be disrupted and create a stuffy mess.

Related to the topic of breathability is the specific comparison between the drying process for these. Whether pulling them from the washing machine or getting caught in a rainstorm, polyester garments are quick-drying when compared to Merino wool garments of similar type and quality. Polyester is less absorbent overall, meaning it has less water to evaporate before it becomes dry. That being said, when wet, Merino wool will feel much less clammy and uncomfortable against the skin than polyester due to its natural moisture-wicking properties. More on this in the section about temperature control.

 

Comfort matters

Form and function are only part of the equation. The best looking and most effective clothes in the world won’t make you happy if they are uncomfortable. There are plenty of people who judge clothing first by how comfortable it is. You don’t have to go that far, but definitely don’t ignore it as a factor.

Synthetic materials like polyester have a bit of a reputation for being uncomfortable. Plastic is not exactly people’s first choice when it comes to comfort, and your clothes will definitely feel plastic-like if you chose some low-grade polyester. This is why most clothes you see are polyester blends. Fabrics like cotton are mixed in to help the discomfort, but percentages are kept low to avoid changing the composition of the clothing item too much.

The higher the quality of the polyester you buy, the better it will feel. But there is definitely a curve to the pricing, as it is hard to get polyester fine enough to feel as good as other fabrics. Even at the top of the quality spectrum, polyester clothing can still feel unpleasant to people with sensitive skin or athletes whose frequent movement causes increased friction against the skin.

Merino wool, on the other hand, is well known as an incredibly comfortable fabric. Unlike with polyester, there isn’t too much of a curve when it comes to comfort to pricing ration. Merino is already a quality wool, so it is hard to make something bad out of it. This is the reason why Merino wool is the primary choice when it comes to base-layers. Plenty of people would choose to wear a Merino wool t-shirt casually, and almost no one would do so with even a polyester blend shirt.

 

Cold weather

Wool and polyester are perhaps best known for their use in mid-layers, the one most important for insulating you from frigid temperatures. You’ll also see them used for things like gloves, hats, and scarves. This isn’t by mistake either, they are both phenomenal options for staying insulated in the cold weather.

Wool in general is known for being a warm fabric, so you might be inclined to think merino wool has an edge in this category. In reality, polyester stacks up to it pretty well. The quality of the specific fabric as well as its thickness and density have a way bigger effect on your ability to remain warm than what kind of fabric you chose. 

That being the case, polyester does technically have a small advantage here. Since it is lighter than merino wool, you can create an equally thick and warm garment that is lighter than its merino wool counterpart. In a measure of pure cold weather combating, these two fabrics are neck-and-neck.

 

Warm weather

The type of fabric your clothes are made of is just as, if not more, important when considering warm weather. You might suspect that since merino wool and polyester are both great at keeping in body heat, that they’d be terrible choices for high-temperature garments. However, since they are so breathable, they are both great choices that won’t cause you to overheat.

Merino wool has a considerable advantage in this category because of a few unique factors. As mentioned earlier, it is the more breathable of the two fabrics, so naturally, it allows air to flow well and help keep you cool. Another minor point in its favor goes back to the comfort discussion — you are more inclined to wear less clothing in warm temperatures, meaning you will rarely want to go above base-layer clothing. Since merino wool is more comfortable as base layers, it gets an edge over polyester when it comes to warm weather garments.

A much more tangible advantage merino wool has over polyester is how much better it is at moisture wicking. Due to the way the merino wool fibers are constructed, the fabric is naturally one of the best at wicking away moisture. What this means is that it pulls sweat away from the body while it is a vapor, after your body heat has caused it to evaporate. The sweat then passes through to the surface of the merino wool garments and dissipates right away, preventing you from getting damp and overheated.

This natural wicking property part of the reason merino wool socks ranked so highly in our review of the best socks for sweaty feet.

Polyester fibers are much less effective at this, and usually absorb and transport the sweat once it has condensed against the skin. This can lead to the unpleasant clammy sensation mentioned in the breathability comparison. Outside of discomfort, it causes you to sweat more and feel warmer because the sweat is pulled away before it can complete its job. Plus, your body wastes energy from having to heat the surface of the garment to evaporate the moisture away.

 

Odor control

This might not be as big a concern for people that don’t regularly participate in intense physical activity or extended trips away from a washing machine. But anyone who has ever gone on a backpacking trip will be able to confirm that clothes start to smell bad after a while — even worse than yourself sometimes.

Luckily, merino wool is naturally antimicrobial. That doesn’t mean clothes made from merino wool fabric will never smell bad, but you have to subject them to much worse than your average shirt. The wool fibers are also capable of absorbing the smells that do accumulate on them, meaning they can’t escape and offend your senses. But when you wear the garments, the odor-causing bacteria is pulled right out. It sounds a bit gross, but it isn’t a whole lot different than hitting a shirt with air freshener — which many people are guilty of and don’t care to admit.

Polyester doesn’t even begin to do the same thing. Unless you get a polyester fabric that has been specifically treated with an antimicrobial finish, clothes made from this fabric begin to smell almost immediately. Even if you get the treatment, it wears off eventually, especially if you wash the garments often. Some of the treatments leave their own odd smell too, which can defeat the purpose if you are bothered by the odor.

This category isn’t even remotely close. If you need to make sure your clothing can stand up to some use before it starts to reek, you need to be looking for merino wool clothing.

 

Pricing

Let’s be honest, quality and functionality are important, but sometimes you can’t afford to go all out on a pair of gloves and a jacket. If you are shopping on a budget or don’t mind sacrificing some advantages to get a smaller price tag, here is the reality of the numbers:

Polyester clothing is almost always cheaper than merino clothing. This is true across all the different types of clothing and throughout the various levels of quality. There are some corner cases where they are about the same price, but rarely will merino wool be cheaper than its polyester equivalent.

This is just the nature of the fabrics. Since polyester is a synthetic material derived from plastic, it is much easier to source and manage than wool that has to be grown, gathered, and processed from a specific breed of sheep. 

 

A man hiking in the mountains.

Wool and polyester have been popular choices for outdoor clothes for a while, and they have recently made a comeback as a stylish suit material.

 

Final Verdict:

The comparison between these two popular fabrics is much closer than expected. Partly because they both have roughly the same number of advantages over the other, but also because some of the advantages are by such narrow margins that it’s questionable if they even count. Fundamentally, the answer to which of these fabrics is better for you comes down to what you value most.

If you are looking for an inexpensive but durable fabric that doesn’t require too much fuss, then polyester is for you. If you prefer a comfortable fabric that fights odors and is great for regulating body temperature, then merino wool is the best choice. If you still feel uncertain in this comparison, then try to keep in mind how you most anticipate using the item of clothing. Running, rock climbing, and similar pursuits are better complemented by polyester. Casual wear, hiking, and comparatively less physically demanding activities are better left to merino wool.

 

Bonus tip: If you’ve been bothered by all this talk of just the outdoorsy forms of merino wool and polyester then check out this video discussing the pros and cons of wool suits vs polyester clothing:

 

 

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How The Annual REI Dividend Works

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rei annual dividend explained

What is the REI Dividend?

The dividend is a sum of money that is awarded back to REI co-op members every year. The amount of money is based on two primary factors: a percentage of all eligible purchases made by a member and any rewards they accrued on their REI Mastercard during the previous year. You can think of it a bit like a tax return and purchasing points on your credit card — only instead of frustrating points, it’s just money. You can also get any unused amount of the previous year’s dividend added onto the next one, but this isn’t always the case.

REI is short for Recreational Equipment Incorporated, an American company that offers outdoor gear, as well as courses and vacation options.

If you aren’t familiar with their brand, they are known for having high quality and ranked highly in the review of the top tent brands on the market.

What sets it apart from other outdoor retailing competitors is that it follows the co-op business model. That means they offer a wide range of perks to their members, one of the most unique of which is their annual dividend. Since this is such an unusual benefit to the company, understanding the ins and outs can be difficult. So, here are some answers to many of the FAQs people have when talking about the REI annual dividend program.

 

REI, also know as Recreation Equipment International, is well-know for its outdoor supplies.

How do you earn the dividend?

First of all, only REI co-op memberships can earn a dividend. The good news is that being a member of the REI co-op is both inexpensive and easy. To become an REI member, all you have to do is go here and sign up for a lifetime membership. The upfront, one-time membership fee is only 20$, and there isn’t even an annual fee to keep your membership. However, only members that are considered active receive a dividend notice.

To be an active member of REI, all you have to do is spend at least 10$ merchandise in a year, unless it is the year that you first sign up. If you ever lose active status, getting it back is as easy as to resume making REI purchases.

REI Members earn toward their annual dividend by making eligible purchases. Almost any merchandise you buy directly through REI is considered eligible as long as you are purchasing full-price items. This includes the physical REI stores or through REI.com. One notable exception is that gift cards do not count toward your REI dividend. However, when you use a gift card to make purchases, that can be considered eligible as long as it otherwise would be.

The percentage that goes back into your dividend varies depending on how well the company did financially the previous year, but it tends to be around 10%. The calculation is made based on the product price alone, so sales tax and any other fees such as postage are not counted.

Unfortunately, none of REI’s experience purchases are considered eligible. This means that classes, special events, and the popular REI Adventures don’t get counted into your annual dividend. Service charges don’t count either, so rentals and labor fees are not factored into the dividend. The initial membership fee also is not eligible.

Any returns you make are removed from your dividend amount in the final calculation, and if it has already been calculated, then the dividend amount counts against the return amount you would receive. 

You can also receive a retroactive addition to your dividend based on eligible purchases you made at other retailers on REI merchandise, as long as it was in the same year. For example, if you bought backpacking equipment from Amazon that was the REI brand, then you can get that counted. You’ll just need to have your receipt handy to answer some information about the purchase. You cannot get retroactive additions to your annual dividend if the purchase was made before you became an REI member, though.

There is a slight workaround with the discounted merchandise, though. Members can receive an REI co-op Mastercard. As mentioned earlier, this has a built-in rewards system. One such reward is that when you use the REI credit card to purchase sale items, then you receive a 5% kickback into your dividend. It’s a much lower percentage than what you would expect to receive from a normal eligible purchase. However, savvy shoppers will be able to notice when the reduced pricing and smaller kickback turns out to be a better long-term value. 

 

When would I receive my REI dividend?

If you’re an REI member and have a balance, you’ll receive a dividend notice in March of the next year. All purchases you make from January 1st to December 31st are considered part of the same annual sum and will be available until January of two years later. So, if you made purchases throughout 2020, you’ll be able to use your dividend from them starting March 2021, and you’ll have the money available to you until you either spend it all or until the first day of 2023. This, however, is only the case if you don’t accrue any more dividends. Assuming you constantly make enough eligible purchases and spend roughly however much you earn from the program each year, your dividend balance should never expire.

 

Buying equipment from REI with an REI Mastercard is a great way to earn points towards your dividend.

 

So what can I do with the dividend?

This question is best answered with another question: “How do you want to spend your money?” For anyone who has ever been frustrated with trying to redeem credit card points or dealing with the restrictions of store credit, you are going to be blown away by the range of options REI gives you when it comes to your member dividend.

 

Use the dividend as store credit

The most basic option available to you is to use your dividend like store credit. If you can find it on the REI website, then you can buy it with your store credit. If your dividend balance doesn’t completely cover the total price of your purchases at checkout, don’t worry. It will still get deducted from the price and you’ll only have to pay for whatever is leftover.

If you’re near one of their physical REI stores, then you’ll be able to use your dividend to directly buy available outlet items from their stores. Your dividend works at every REI store location, so you won’t have to worry about not being able to access it if you’re shopping far from home. Just be sure to have your co-op member number ready. 

Even though buying them doesn’t sound toward your dividend, you can put your earnings on it toward booking an REI Adventure. If you’re a hardcore outdoors enthusiast, then you might be able to generate enough of a dividend to book a trip to a national park at no out-of-pocket expense.

If you aren’t quite that adventurous but still would like a fun experience, then look at spending your dividend on one of the many REI classes. There is something to learn for everyone. From riding a bike to navigating the backcountry, the basics of rock climbing to dozens of stewardship opportunities,  it’d be hard not to spend part of your dividend on enriching yourself with the REI classes.

You can also download the REI mobile apps. These make it even easier to shop with REI in general, but they can streamline the process of using your dividend in the online store.

 

Receive the dividend as a check

If you’d rather take the money that REI has awarded to you elsewhere, then you can request to have your dividend amount in the form of a check.

There are a couple of ways to go about getting the check. The most direct way is to go to a physical REI outlet once you have received a notice of a dividend balance. If you are not anywhere near an REI store, don’t worry. You can have your check mailed to you directly by filling out their request form. Once you have the form filled out, REI will have that information in their database and can mail you the check every year without any extra work from you, should you want that

The check can only be issued to the name of the primary membership cardholder. REI does not send out checks if your annual dividend does not exceed 25$, and they do not send out a check for the REI Mastercard holder reward amount that does not exceed 1$. You can request the check whenever is convenient, but they do not begin mailing them out until July 1st. 

You don’t have to receive the whole dividend as a check. You can go ahead and spend part of it as store credit on the online store. Then, whatever amount that is leftover, you can have it sent as a check. As long as all the other requirements have been met, of course. Also, if you attempt to use any of your dividend between the time of the check being sent out and you receiving the check, then it could result in either the check being void, or you being unable to use your dividend funds at all.

If for some reason you don’t want to use the online check request form, you can also make the request over the phone or by contacting them by mail.

 

You can get your REI dividend in cash or in purchase credits.

 

Get the dividend in cash

No, that’s not a joke, and there aren’t any strings attached. You can receive your annual REI dividend, in full, as cash. There are a few hoops you have to jump through, but none of them are fine print details that are going to keep you from turning your dividend sum into cash and doing whatever you want with it.

First of all, you can’t convert your dividend into cash after July 1st of the year after you earned the dividend. This is similar to the check option. Unlike the check, there is a cut-off point at the beginning of the next calendar year, so if you wait too long then your dividend can’t be turned into cash.

This option can only be done through a physical REI store, so if you don’t live near one then you will probably have to settle for the check option. If you plan on going to a store to get your dividend as cash, it would be a good idea to call them ahead of time and try to make an arrangement. REI stores only have so much free cash on hand. 

If you don’t call ahead, you might run into a situation where the store does not have enough cash to equal the dividend balance you should receive. In these cases, co-op members are given the option to receive the check. For some, that is a fine alternative, but people dead-set on getting cash should be aware of this.

One other thing to note is that the cash option is based on a specific year’s balance. This means, like the check option, if you spend any of your dividend funds as credit first, that would result in you receiving less cash in the end. Also, unlike the store credit option, you can’t compound years together. Since the years have cutoff dates that line up to where there is never an overlapping period between them, you’ll only be able to get your cash balance one year at a time, rather than building it across up to 3 years.

 

Can I check my dividend balance?

Yes! At any point, you can go to REI.com, and enter the name on your membership card along with your member number, and they will be able to tell you the dividend balance. This is not updated in real-time, so if you have been roughly keeping track and the amount looks odd when you check it, don’t worry. Most likely, it is just in the middle of being exactly calculated by members of the REI team.

 

Is the annual dividend the only benefit of Coop Membership?

Not at all! You’ve already read a bit about the REI Coop Mastercard and its reward system. You get 5% back with any REI purchases, 2% back through mobile transactions, and 1% everywhere else. This is all factored into your annual dividend along with all the usual 10% kickback from buying normal priced items. This means that anything you use the card on, even bills and groceries, is factored into your dividend.

Members get access to special pricing on certain items through REI. These are usually on things like classes and tours, as well as rentals on any outdoor equipment. This can be frustrating since the specially priced experiences aren’t dividend eligible purchases. Though, with dividend earnings and special pricing, it is easy to earn enough to pick up enough to pay for a class or two. 

Members-only events are probably the second-best part of being a member after the dividend. Some of the most popular of these events are new member-exclusive hiking trips or member gatherings to try out local brews. Without a doubt, Garage Sales are the star of members-only events.

The REI Garage Sales are hosted at REI outlet stores every so often. The merchandise of the Sales is made up of returns and other used goods, and come at a heavily discounted price. The products are as-is, and cannot be accepted for returns as of their return policy. Since the merchandise is on a case-by-case basis with the outlets, REI cannot guarantee specific inventory. All Garage Sales operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Garage Sale purchases cannot be put toward your annual dividend unless they are purchased with the members’ Mastercard. Though, the products are usually so aggressively marked down that it usually makes up for it. Plus, the Garage Sale merchandise is evaluated beforehand to assure that there are no major issues with it, so you don’t have to worry about the quality with the low prices.

 

Final Verdict:

The annual dividend is a unique benefit of being a member of REI’s coop. It saves the frustration associated with other rewards programs by just allowing the members to claim a monetary incentive. It is both pleasantly simple, offers multiple options to use your dividend as you see fit, and a great tool for people that love to maximize value in their shopping.

There are some ins and outs with the membership program to remember how to get the most out of the dividend. Though, remembering these details is more of a bonus than a requirement to earn on the dividend properly, unlike other rewards programs. On top of all that, you get several more awesome benefits for a single 20$ purchase. 

 

Bonus tip: Here’s a video from REI talking about the essential items for backpacking, which are available on their website: 

 

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Learn How To Identify 12 Types Of Trees

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Tree species are such a common form of plant life that they often go unnoticed in our daily lives. Generally speaking, as they don’t have finite lifespans, trees live much longer than other plant life. Some tree species can even live for thousands of years. Trees are no stranger to our planet — they have been around for nearly 370 years. Currently, planet Earth is home to more than 60,000 types of trees that play a vital role in the life we know and enjoy.

One of the first things children learn about in school is how common trees supply us with the oxygen we need to breathe. Our survival depends on plant life around the world continuing to thrive, including underwater vegetation, grasslands, and the approximate 3 trillion types of trees which currently grow on our planet. Learning how to identify tree species can be an important skill, similar to knowing how to start a campfire when it comes to outdoor survival. 

Throughout this article, we’re going to clarify and define what exactly a tree is and introduce you to the different categories that common trees fall under. We’ll also take a closer look at the most common types of trees that you’ll most likely come across, and explain how you can identify them correctly. Different types of trees have different types of leaves and bark that are characteristics of certain tree species. If you can spot the differences, then you’re a step closer in your quest of becoming a tree identification master. Now, let’s begin by differentiating between the two primary types of trees: deciduous trees and evergreen trees.

Related: The 10 best outdoor antenna’s for camping and rural areas

A field with a tree sunset.

All trees are either deciduous trees or evergreen trees.

What defines a common tree? 

In botany (the study of plants), trees are defined as perennial plants with an elongated trunk or stem which supports leaves and branches(Perennial plants live for multiple years, as opposed to annual plants which have a life-cycle of only one season.) However, this is a slightly limited definition, as the term “tree” can be extended to include any woody plant with branches and a trunk that grows significantly taller than the plants around it. 

Tree branches are supported by a large and strong trunk, which extends underground. Beneath, the trunk extends into widely-spread roots which collect nutrients and moisture and provide support to the tree species above ground. The branches which extend from the top of the trunk divide into smaller shoots, which spread to produce leaves. Leaves collect sunlight, converting it into energy via photosynthesis, in order to feed and grow. 

The trunk of a common tree is the strongest part, made from a woody tissue that supports the weight of the canopy. Tree trunks also contain vascular tissue, which carries nutrients from one part of the plant to another. Most types of trees also have a layer of bark around the trunk that acts as a protective shield. Although these are the general characteristics that fit every type of tree, tree species vary. 

There are two primary categorizations that all tree species fit into. The difference between these two categories is the first thing you need to spot in order to properly identify common trees. Most people already recognize the distinction between these different types of trees, but we’ll still go into detail about how you can identify them. Read on to discover which types of trees lose their leaves, and which tree species remain green all year round.

Deciduous Trees Vs. Coniferous Trees

Every single one of the thousands of tree species found on our planet fits into one of these two categories: coniferous trees (evergreen trees) or deciduous trees. Deciduous trees lose their broad leaves at a specific time of the year, typically fall or autumn. The word ‘deciduous’ literally means “to fall off at maturity”. As such, the leaves of these trees have an annual life cycle. In the spring, new leaves grow and quickly mature into broad leaves, green in color. Over time, they slowly change color leading to the wonderful fall color palette we all recognize and love, before falling to the moist soil. 

This is the case with the most common trees in North America, Europe, and other countries with a mild climate. In hotter tropical countries, deciduous trees lose their greenery during the dry season. Once the leaves have fallen, these trees remain bare wood skeletons until new leaf shoots begin to grow in the spring. Most deciduous trees are broadleaf, with wide, flat, green leaves. 

Coniferous trees, otherwise known as evergreen trees, keep their leaves all year round. No matter the season, evergreen trees are unchanging in appearance. This type of tree often has needle-shaped leaves, which withstand the cold temperatures better than more delicate broadleaf types of trees. Evergreen tree landscapes are especially stunning in the winter months when all other plant life looks dead. 

deciduous vs coniferous trees

Tree Identification: Basic Leaf Types

There are three different types of leaves that evergreen trees and deciduous trees can have. Broadleaves is a wide term that encompasses leaves of all shapes and sizes — so long as they are flat. Almost all deciduous trees have broad leaves: they can be oval, round, heart-shaped, and much more. The maple leaf of the red maple tree is an iconic shape that we all know. The term ‘Broadleaves’ encompasses much more than just common tree species, it also includes a huge range of different plant life. 

Most people will recognize common tree needles thanks to Christmas trees — many evergreen trees feature this shape. Common tree needles are long and thin and typically grow together in clusters or sparsely depending on the tree species. Evergreen trees lose their needles over time, however, this process doesn’t happen all at once as is usually the case with deciduous trees. Instead, the needles are lost and replaced gradually; similar to how humans lose hair. The third category of leaves that some coniferous trees exhibit is scale-like leaves. We see these on common trees such as Juniper trees and cedar trees, where the needles resemble the scales of a reptile.

A maple leaf in the rain.

The distinctive shape of the maple leaf makes this red maple tree easy to identify. 

12 Common Types of Trees and How To Identify Them 

Tree Species: Maple Trees

Maple trees are a common tree species found across Europe, North America, and Asia. They belong to the genus Acer family and are commonly associated with Canada — just look at the maple leaf on the Canadian flag. There are more than one hundred species of maple trees, the most common in Europe being the sycamore maple tree. Red maple, sugar maple, and silver maple are also common tree species you’ll commonly see in the countryside. Japanese maple trees are a common choice for bonsai where a small tree is groomed and maintained to resemble a miniature replica. 

Maple trees are famous for the sweet syrup made from their sap, which is a big reason why maple trees are often farmed in North America. Maple trees are a hardwood tree species. Its timber is often used to make baseball bats and musical instruments. The easiest way to identify a maple tree is by its distinct leaf shape, which is the same across all maple tree species. Maple trees can be small trees, reaching only 10 meters in height, or large trees more than 40 meters tall.

maple tree

Tree Species: Oak Trees

Oak trees are one of the most common tree families across the world; their wood is very hard and durable and resistant to most diseases. Oak trees come from the genus Quercus of which there are over 90 different species in the United States alone. They have been one of the most prized trees for building material for centuries, and are used in all kinds of industries, including musical instrument production. As there are more than 300 known oak tree species globally, when it comes to tree identification, it helps to break them down into further categories. 

White oaks feature round broad leaves and produce sweet acorns that take a year to mature. Black (or red) oak trees have bristles on their leaves and produce bitter-tasting acorns. The acorns from a red oak take two years to mature and are referred to as biennial oak trees. By identifying the maturity of the acorns on an oak tree, you can tell which type of oak tree it is. Most oak tree species are deciduous tree species, however, there are a handful of evergreen oak trees. The easiest way to identify an oak tree is by its acorns — all oak trees carry this fruit. The leaves of oak trees are lobed, with either rounded or pointed tips.

Oak Trees

Tree Species: Sycamore Trees

Try not to get the sycamore maple confused with true sycamore trees — they’re only related by name. The sycamore is a large hardwood tree in the genus Platanus and is a deciduous tree species by nature. The wood from these trees is incredibly hard and dense, and therefore it’s not commonly used as a building material. Sycamores can grow up to 40 meters and are one of the easiest types of trees to identify when it comes to tree identification.  

You can spot a sycamore tree by examining its bark. Don’t be misled by its leaves, which look similar to a maple leaf tree species. Instead, look at the color of the trunk. True sycamore trees have flaky bark which gives the trunk a red and brown multi-colored appearance, often featuring patches of white and grey. The Sycamore is a broadleaf tree species. You can identify them by their leaves which have three to five lobes with toothed edges.

A sycamore tree.

Sycamore trees are very large trees, with hard, dense wood. 

Tree Species: Pine Trees

Pine trees are another common tree found all around the world. This evergreen tree family of the genus Pinus is probably the most easily recognizable coniferous tree species in the world. The pine tree is a common ornamental tree with softwood. Pine tree leaves consist of clusters of green needles. This tree species is also easily identifiable by its hard cones, often referred to as pine cones. White pine and red pine are two common trees of this tree species and can be found throughout Canada, the United States (North America in general), and Europe. 

Pine trees are amongst the easiest tree species when it comes to tree identification. Pine trees are generally large trees that stand straight with needles that are mostly concentrated towards the top. Some species of pine trees can even grow up to 81 meters tall — they do it quickly, too. As pine trees grow into large trees so quickly, they’re incredibly useful when it comes to construction and furniture production. The softwood of the pine tree is easy to work with and features an attractive grain.

pine tree

Tree Species: Fir Trees

Fir trees, such as the balsam fir, Fraser fir, and noble fir, are all popular festive choices. This evergreen tree family is of the genus Abies and contains approximately 50 different species of tree. Fir trees are closely related to the genus Cedrus, or cedar trees. Fir trees have a much denser needle distribution than pine trees, giving them a fuller and greener appearance. 

Fir needles are soft and flat and tend to have two white stripes at the bottom of each needle. As they grow, fir tree cones tend to be green, purple, or blue and turn a golden brown as the tree matures. You can easily spot a fir tree as its cones grow upwards, whereas other coniferous trees have downward-pointing cones.

fir tree

Tree Species: Elm Trees

Elm trees are a common tree found mostly in forests and can be classed as either deciduous or semi-deciduous. There are about 35 different types of tree species within the Ulmus genus, including the American elm and the European elm. Elm trees are another ornamental tree species that are not generally appreciated for their wood or fruit. Elms are hardwood trees and therefore difficult to work with as a building material. 

You can identify an elm tree by its leaves, which are technically classed as broadleaf. There is quite a range of different leaves that grow on elm tree species, but they all have the same pointed oval shape. Elm tree leaves range between 7 and 16 cm long. Unfortunately, a pandemic of Dutch Elm tree disease wiped many elm trees from our streets and forests. However, conservation efforts are well on their way and the American Elm tree species is in revival.

 

elm tree

Tree Species: Willow Trees

Willow trees have some of the most distinctive shapes out of any tree in the world; their long drooping branches have a dramatic and striking appearance. There are approximately 400 species of willow trees and they are all deciduous trees. Willow trees can be small tree-like shrubs or grow to be medium-height. Willow tree leaves are always elongated ovals, but their color varies between species. Black willow trees feature dark, furrowed bark. 

Willow tree leaves can be green, yellow, or blue in hue, making these breathtaking trees even more beautiful. The wood from willow trees can be used to make wicker baskets and similar items, due to their long, soft, and flexible branches. Willow trees are arguably the easiest tree species to identify, as no other type of tree has anything comparable to its low sweeping branches. When temperatures drop in the fall, willow trees are among the last to lose their leaves.

Willow trees.

Willow trees are easy to identify from their long, drooping branches. 

Tree Species: Magnolia Trees

When people choose a tree to plant in their garden, Magnolias are an obvious choice. The Magnolia family contains both deciduous trees and evergreen types of trees, which can grow in a huge range of environments. These trees produce large fragrant flowers and cones of fruit that look like berries. In terms of tree identification, all types of the Magnolia tree are broadleaf. 

Magnolias are medium-sized trees, they grow fast and have softwood. As there’s quite a large variation in leaf size and shape in magnolias, the easiest way to identify this tree species is by the fruit. As their cone-shaped seed pods are unique in comparison to other types of trees, if you can spot these, you’ll know if your tree is a part of the magnolia family.

Magnolia Tree

Tree Species: Birch Trees

Birch trees, of the genus Betula, are a type of tree family containing about 60 species of hardwood trees. Often, the wood from birch trees is used as firewood or for making furniture. Birch tree bark is papery, often white or silver in color, and is its most identifiable feature. The branches of birch trees are long, and droop slightly, holding small, thin, triangular leaves. Oil extracted from birch trees can be used in both cooking and medicine. Birch trees are some of the most common trees on the planet with small leaves.

Birch Trees

Tree Species: Tulip Trees

The tulip tree is not actually related to the flower that shares its name. It’s called so because of its attractive yellow-green flowers. The softwood of the tulip tree is attractive but weak. For this reason, it’s often used for aesthetic purposes rather than construction. When a tulip tree is young, the bark is brown or ashy gray. As the tree matures, the color will darken, however rich and moist soil is necessary for this. 

The leaves of a tulip tree are almost rectangular in shape, featuring 4 to 6 lobes which can be up to 15 cm in length. Tulip trees bloom before their leaves grow, meaning once spring rolls around, their large leaves hide their blooming flowers. This distinctive feature makes the tulip tree easy to identify — try focusing on the leaves and the orange-yellow flowers.

Tulip Tree

Tree Species: Butternut Trees

If you’ve ever seen a tree species with what appears to be small green balls growing among its leaves, then you may be looking at a Juglans Cinerea. The butternut tree is a slow-growing,  deciduous tree that’s native to Canada and the United States. It grows in moist soil and has edible nuts that resemble green balls. You can easily identify this type of tree by its light grey bark, which gets rougher in texture with age. This large-leafed tree has no stems — its pointed leaves grow directly from the branch.

Butternut Tree

Tree Species: Cedar Trees 

Cedar trees are large trees from the Pinaceae family that can reach a towering 50 meters. Cedar trees are often used as ornamental trees and also make popular bonsai trees. This kind of tree is also a popular choice of men’s fragrance. In the United States, many of the trees that we refer to as cedar trees, such as the eastern red cedar (found in the Rockies of Colorado), are actually Juniper trees from the family Juniperus. When it comes to tree identification, cedar trees are pretty straightforward as they are one of the few kinds of trees with scaled leaves. In addition, their foliage is either dark green or bluish in color and grows in spiral clusters.

Cedar forest trees at night.

Cedar tree forests are some of the most beautiful natural spaces in the United States. 

Final Verdict

Throughout this article, we’ve identified 12 of the most common types of trees from across the United States and the world. Using this knowledge, you should now be able to accurately identify several of these tree species. Some of the more common tree families we didn’t cover include ash trees, hawthorn, larch, black walnut, hickory, hemlock, dogwood, walnut trees, and other species of the genus Picea. Although they’re beautiful tree species, they’re not as common as the trees that made our list. From butternut trees with green balls to huge weeping willow trees, it is our sincere hope that you enjoy identifying tree species as much as we do.

 

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Outdoor Blog

How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Campsite (Stay Safe!)

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Having a phobia of snakes is a common fear among people and some research suggests that it may even be an instinctive fear present at birth. Regardless of the reason, encountering a snake at your campsite is not a pleasant experience and can be intimidating, especially if you’re in an area where snakes are native.

While it’s not always possible to completely avoid snake encounters while camping, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of an encounter and to be prepared if one does occur.

One important thing to consider when it comes to snake prevention is the choice of campsite.

Where do rattlesnakes like to hide?

Snakes tend to prefer certain types of environments, and if you can avoid camping in these areas, you’ll be less likely to encounter snakes. For example, you should avoid camping next to rock piles or outcrops, as these can provide snakes with plenty of hiding spots.

Similarly, areas with heavy brush or deadfall should also be avoided, as these can also provide snakes with plenty of hiding places. Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid camping directly next to water sources, as snakes often use these areas to hunt and to travel.

 

10 Do’s and Dont’s on how to keep rattlesnakes away:

  1. DO stay calm if you encounter a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are more likely to bite if they feel threatened, so try to keep your distance and avoid making sudden movements.

  2. DO keep an eye out for rattlesnakes while hiking or camping, especially in areas where they are known to inhabit. Look for warning signs such as a rattle sound, a V-shaped indentation in the ground, or the shed skin of a rattlesnake.

  3. DO wear sturdy boots and long pants while hiking or camping in areas where rattlesnakes are present. This will help protect your feet and legs from a bite.

  4. DO be aware of your surroundings when hiking or camping. Avoid stepping on or near rocks, logs, or other objects that could be hiding places for rattlesnakes.

  5. DON’T try to handle a rattlesnake, even if it seems docile. These snakes are venomous and can be dangerous if not handled properly.

  6. DON’T try to capture or kill a rattlesnake. This can be dangerous and is generally not necessary.

  7. DON’T attempt to play with or tease a rattlesnake. These snakes are not toys and can be very dangerous if provoked.

  8. DON’T leave food or trash out in areas where rattlesnakes are known to inhabit. This can attract rodents, which are a food source for rattlesnakes.

  9. DON’T try to move a rattlesnake out of your way. If you encounter a rattlesnake on a hiking trail or campsite, give it plenty of space and allow it to move on its own.

  10. If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, DON’T try to treat the bite yourself. Seek medical attention immediately, as rattlesnake bites can be serious and require medical treatment.

 

 

So, what is the best type of campsite for avoiding snakes?

Generally speaking, an open area with short grass is your best bet. Snakes are secretive creatures and tend to avoid being out in the open, so if you can camp in an area with plenty of open space, you’ll be less likely to encounter them.

It’s also a good idea to choose a campsite that is well-lit at night, as this will make it easier to see any snakes that might be passing through. If your campsite allows it, lighting a fire can also be a good tactic to deter snakes, as well as rodents, which are attractive to snakes as a food source. Just be sure to handle firewood carefully, as it can be a prime hiding spot for snakes.

Another important aspect of snake prevention is food storage. While snakes don’t generally have much interest in human food, they do prey on smaller animals such as mice and birds, which are attracted to food scraps and trash.

How do you keep snakes away?

To prevent attracting snakes to your campsite, it’s important to store food and trash properly. This means sealing trash bags and disposing of them properly, being conscious of dropping crumbs and cleaning utensils thoroughly after use, and storing leftover food in airtight containers away from your tent. If possible, you should also store food in an elevated area, such as a tree branch, to further protect it from rodents. Additionally, it’s a good idea to pack away anything on the floor when you leave the campsite, such as picnic blankets and tarpaulin, as snakes can use these items as hiding places.

Even if you take steps to avoid snakes and prevent attracting them to your campsite, it’s still important to be prepared in case you do encounter one. If you do see a snake, the most important thing to do is to keep your distance and let it pass.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that most snakes are not aggressive and will only bite as a defense mechanism. If you give them plenty of space and allow them to move on, they’ll likely do so without incident. However, if you do come across a venomous snake, it’s especially important to keep your distance and avoid trying to handle it. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, seek medical attention immediately.

To prepare for the possibility of a snake encounter, it’s a good idea to do regular checks of your tent and gear. Make sure there are no holes in your tent and that all zips are shut, as snakes can sometimes find their way inside through small openings. Additionally, inspect your gear and gear storage areas before use to make

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