Nov
25
2012
0

Preliminary Experiments with a Vapor Barrier

I was recently reading about vapour barriers (Andrew Skurka’s site and Section hiker). It sounded impressive.  The gear is not very expensive from Stevenson’s Warmlite (possibly the only R-rated outdoor gear catalogue in the world), so I ordered a shirt, gloves and socks. I’m nominally an XL, but L would probably fit better.

It wasn’t that cold over the weekend with temperatures into the low thirties, but I gave it a try. What seems to work is a wicking shirt like a polypro top, followed by a vapour barrier layer and then insulation.  It was surprisingly warm with even a thin outer layer.  Stevenson’s says it adds 15 degrees F when sealed up, and this seems realistic.

This got me thinking about cheaper ways to test out vapour barriers – I could have just worn my frogg toggs underneath and seen how that worked.  But then what would I have done for rain (if it rained?). I’m tempted to try using a bivy sack inside of a sleeping bag (well sleeping quilt) to see if that works before finding a real vapor barrier liner.

Oct
27
2012
0

Sometimes you get what you pay for.

My trekking poles are feeling their age. They’re twist-locking springy poles from REI and have (as long as I periodically clean the mechanism) served me reliably for 4 years or so (and something like 400 miles of backpacking or walking). However one pole received a slight bend at Philmont, trying to hoick down a bear bag line, and it has gradually increased to where it interferes with opening and locking. (It took more than a few more miles to happen – so the pole worked very well).

So it is time to replace them.

I’d read good things about some of the relatively cheap poles found at places like W******t and C****o. So I took a look. They looked the part and were about 1/4 the cost of an REI set. The locking mechanism felt a bit sloppy – so I read the warnings on the package. There was a warning in slightly larger than normal fine print – these poles should not be expected to hold your entire weight. In other words, they look the part, but aren’t likely to be reliable. It really is important that the poles hold most if not all of your weight, at least transiently, because you will put a lot of load on them on the downhills.

Disappointed, I looked at some of the other gear. The 48-cent lexan spoons were good value, and I like their inexpensive water-resistant bags, but there were other traps for the unwary. Water filters that “improved the taste”, but didn’t filter microbes. Water purification pills that were not particularly effective. Steel tent pegs, heavy tarps and inadequate tents. (on the other hand if you know what you’re doing these can form the basis for re-engineered gear).

So it is critical to look carefully at the gear – sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it isn’t.

Written by Rob in: backpacking,gear lists |
Oct
17
2012
1

Fast and Light cooking system

Based on a review from section hiker, I wanted to test out the olicamp heat exchanger pot. While I’ve found esbit stoves to be the lightest for a solo weekend, they just won’t work as well for a group. In my hands alcohol stoves have been too touchy, and white gas – while very good – is a bit complex and heavy. I’ve never been keen on canister gas as the canisters are a pain when empty and the stoves I’ve seen have been, to put it politely, rubbish.

I was wrong.

The combination of an olicamp heat exchanger pot with an MSR microrocket worked extremely well. It took about two minutes to boil 3/4 of a liter of water for dinner – on the trail. It took less than a minute for smaller amounts for tea. Everything folds up and can fit into the pot. (though I did wrap the stove in a bandanna rather than the case MSR supplies).

The pot itself is not particularly expensive (about $20 from Amazon), nor is the stove. There are less expensive stoves than the MSR one that have similar heat outputs, but I needed a stove and it was what REI had.

This system is robust enough to be useful for scouts and is safer and lighter than white gas.

Written by Rob in: backpacking,gear lists,scouting |
Jul
20
2012
1

GPS and Linux

I’ve posted the occasional trail map on this blog. The paths were determined with a Garmin GP60csx, which is a fairly nice unit. However, it doesn’t come – in the US – with baseline maps for Europe or the UK. The maps are available, for a price, but the price is comparable to buying a new unit.

So it was time to retire the venerable old GPS and try a new one. The Etrex 20 is about 1/2 the weight (a significant savings) and uses the new Russian Glonass system as well as the US GPS satellites. This dramatically improves the accuracy as the errors in the two systems are uncorrelated – thus allowing accuracies of about 10 ft. To put this in context, the 10 year old etrex units could put you on one side of a football field or soccer pitch, the 5 year old 60csx could place you to about 15-20 meters, and this does about 3 meter precision. Not bad. The sensitivity is much improved as is the accuracy of the estimated track distances. (GPS units tend to creep up in distance due to shifts in estimated positions – so even standing still – you can add mileage).

That’s fine, but what is really exciting is that the Etrex actually can be used with linux! Not using Garmin software, mind you, and not directly, but in a really useful way none the less. When plugged into a USB port the unit acts like a mass storage device and the garmin/gpx directory contains the tracks you’ve saved. I suspect, but haven’t yet tried it, that you can put a track there as well. There are some files that contain the current position, but I’m not sure that it will update in real time.

The tracks can be read from the unit, and then displayed in a mapping program like Google Earth or FoxtrotGPS. This is amazing – now I don’t need a windows machine with my GPS!

Written by Rob in: backpacking,gear lists,outdoors |
Jul
20
2012
0

So What Should I Carry?

A glock 17/22 (22 caliber conversion) with a holster and 10 rounds of 22lr weighs 753 grams. (the 9mm version would be about 200 grams heavier)

My crew-sized first aid kit, which has everything needed to stabilize some fairly severe injuries (though not gunshots) and treat minor injuries for a couple of weeks, weighs 506 grams.

So which is it that I should carry in the backcountry?

Written by Rob in: backpacking,gear lists,rant |
Dec
25
2011
2

Back to the future?

I’ve had a chance to play with a scanner – to save some of our old slides and negatives so that they can survive the digital transition.

The Epson v600 photo scanner is supported under Linux and the drivers/programs load easily.  I found xsane to be easier to use that the Image scan program that comes with the drivers, but that is a matter of personal choice.

What is fascinating is the quality of the scanning.  Color slides worked reasonably well, but the quality of the black and white was impressive (even as a 256 level scan). Almost makes it worth using film again.

our dog in the 1970s

our dog in the 1970s

Since I write about outdoor gear more than a little bit, this shows what it looked like in the 1970′s.

my 1970's pack on a rock

my 1970's pack on a rock


This picture of one or my friends on a spring break scout trip (sort of what venturers do today) shows what we looked like.

Hiking in the not so distant past.

Hiking in the not so distant past.


We did about 50 miles in a week (Penmar to Mt Holly Springs). Less than I’d do today, but not bad given the gear and our experience. None of the packs were the huge conventional “backpacking packs”, and we were glad of the shelters as it snowed. (you can pack 10 people into an “5 person” shelter).

Oct
24
2011
3

Gas Downdraft Stove (mod 1)

Gas downdraft stoves are an interesting backpacking tool.  So I thought I’d make one and try it out.  It has passed the “driveway tests” with flying colors.  The design is derived from plans available from section hiker so I will mostly describe the differences.

The major difference is that I used one large piece of hardware cloth and four #6 bolts with standard washers, lock washers and nuts.  Two of the bolts hold the hardware cloth wrapping together and the other pair of bolts stabilizes the alignment between the can and the hardware cloth (keeping it all square).   I found that the fancy t-washers were largely a waste of money and didn’t help with either assembly or stability.

Schematic drawing of stove

Schematic drawing of stove

This made the manufacturing process easier and makes the stove cooler to handle as the hardware cloth is removed from the side of the can. The total weight after burn in is 101 grams, so this is not a large weight penalty.

To use the stove, fill with short pieces of wood laid sideways (some designs place them up and down, which didn’t work quite as well). The wood should not be much larger than a pencil. I was able to use pine straw and small tinder to start it (pile on top and let it burn down). Once it is going the nearly colorless flames extend quite high.

The working stove

The working stove

It is hot, burns for about 10-15 minutes and I think will work. I’m more optimistic about this than ethanol stoves.  (it is also approved in the “guide to safe scouting” as it isn’t a home made liquid fuel stove)

Sep
26
2011
0

A Trip to Ellicot Rock

As part of a scout trip (as a backpacking merit badge counselor), I had a chance to try a loop in the Ellicot Rock wilderness.   The scouts have to make three trips of two nights and at least 15 miles (as well as a five day trip of 30 miles), and this was the first for this lot.   It gave me a chance to try some gear.

Map of the trail

Map of the trail

I was particularly interested in trying out some innov8 trail shoes and gaiters as well as using my Mountain Laurel Designs trail star tarp and quilt. Three of us (my son, the troop’s scoutmaster and me) had just been to Philmont and were lending our expertise to a group of (mostly) 8th grade scouts on their (mostly) second trip.

We drove up Friday night to Burrell’s ford campground (no reservations, first come first serve), so our first day’s trip was the quarter mile or so from the parking lot to the camp.  Saturday was intended to be about 13 miles (by the maps and usually reliable guidebooks) followed by an easy 3-4 miles back to the cars.  HA!.  In one of my first posts, I described the inaccuracies of the maps in this area, and they came back to haunt us.   In fairness the distances estimated by Google Earth are closer to the guide book.  The profile in the trail map shows the 16 miles we did on Saturday.   The distances weren’t the only problem, on some sections of the trail there was a downed tree about every 200 metres or so (maybe to keep the rif-raf out).

Anyway we trekked up the foothills trail, then down the fork mountain trail, and back the chatouga river trail to the car park.  There was a well-mannered 2 foot or so copperhead about half-way up the foothills trail which was a great addition to the scouts’ list of critters for those working on first class.  We camped in North Carolina, just north of Ellicot’s rock and the commissioners stone that mark the boundary.   Troop 543 was camping at the campsite at the junction of the river trail and the fork mountain trail, and fortunately the site was big enough for us as well.  (They’d come to fish – which for some reason isn’t interesting to our scouts).  Graciously they shared with us and Sunday led us to the rocks (which you will miss unless you know where to look).

The innov8 shoes worked very well, the gaiters broke in the first seven miles, and the tarp and quilt performed flawlessly.  The scouts thought the trail star tarp was cool.  It certainly fit my son and me with room for two more in a pinch.

Jun
21
2011
0

Pack Weights

As part of practicing for Philmont, we’re bringing packs to tonights troop meeting.

Carrying the crew firstaid kit and the clothes I’ll wear, I’m at 20 lbs – which isn’t bad for a skin out weight.

I’m going to try the 40 degree MLD quilt & bivy sack, but carry a warmer bag that I can pack if it is too cold on the nights before we hit the trail.  With this I’ll carry a warm jacket – which is part of the sleep system.  (of course if the warmer quilt I ordered actually comes, I’ll definitely use it).   This is right at the border of the temperatures that the NWS predicts for the area.

For Philmont especially – carry extra platypus’s and an expansion bag (the food is bulky).

Written by Rob in: backpacking,gear lists,scouting |
May
28
2011
0

Getting ready for Philmont (yet again)

Sorry for the long gap in posts, it’s been a crazy (yzarc??) spring.  Classes are finally over and well, I’ve been very busy.

Anyway it’s off to Philmont again, this time with a new crew.  We were really lucky that we could put together a second crew and get the same trip dates.  So we have two crews that correspond nicely to two patrols.  I’m excited because my crew is going off the reservation where the trails aren’t marked on the map.   This is going to be more like real backpacking than Disneyland backpacking.

A view from Mt. Phillips

A view from Mt. Phillips

Weight matters, and yet again I’m proselytizing about light-weight backpacking. This unit backpacks much more that the other one, so I’m not overly worried, except when they went last time many scouts had 40-55 lbs packs. (mine was all of 32 lbs, with food and 7 litres of water). Internal troop tensions are going to be an issue, as there are a number of the adults, all “pillars of the troop”, who don’t believe I know what I’m talking about. (they aren’t going and don’t have children in either crew – not that this stops them from trying to throw a monkey wrench into things). Apparently, in their opinion, I was a fool to go solo backpacking in Henry Coe state park, and it was only luck that I did about a third of our trek in a weekend. If all went by rights I should have been eaten by a bear or panther.  That I came back, un-bitten and unhurt, was a gross miscarriage of justice.  Being prepared, filing a backcountry permit, and knowing what I’m doing had nothing to do with it – in their opinion.

So I do what I can to educate. Those who listen will have a great time. (the rest will too, but have a higher risk of problems).

Some new ideas to think about:

  1. not just turkeybag cooking, but use the packets themselves to rehydrate. Sort of like the AT method of eating oatmeal.
  2. leukotape P. Various backpacking blogs have raved about this as a replacement for both moleskin and duct tape.
  3. treats – what to bring along for the inevitable low points on the trail. I  took some hard candy, wrapped in a nondescript paper wrapper saying road flares, last time.  Wonder if something else would be better?

Crew Gear list (approximate)

  • 2 pots (big and medium or small), cooking utensils (minimal – at least/most one measuring cup & a spoon)
  • turkey bags for easy cooking of some meals.
  • 2 stoves & fuel.
  • cleaning things – scraper maybe a scrubby
  • the infamous frisbee filter (philmont supplies)
  • bear bag setup (4 bags, ropes and pulleys (heavy – philmont supplies) )
  • tarp
  • tarp stakes (6-8)
  • tarp poles (not needed if enough people bring hiking poles – I’m bringing mine, but need one of the two for my tent)
  • water purification pills. (Philmont issues micropure and they work).
  • first aid kit
  • MAP and COMPASS
Written by Rob in: backpacking,gear lists,outdoors,scouting |

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