Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Hanging Out Amongst the Trees

I haven written in a while.  No excuse, I just haven't felt like it and since this blog is for me rather than just about me I have no regrets about my absence.  Now to get on with things....

Over the past six months, I have converted from a ground dwelling tent user to a tree hanging hammock camper.  It was a slow progression.  I have been a regular backpacker, a ultralight backpacker, a bushcrafter, and now a hammock guy.  I have borrowed knowledge and skills from each of these activities.  As my loads got smaller, lighter,  and I got a little less dependent on my gear, I found my choice of shelters were changing.  In short, camping under a tarp worked almost as well as a tent for most of the times I camped.  Hammock campers use lightweight tarps as well.

About eight years ago, I was tasked with gear testing a bunch of hammocks from various companies and I hated it.  After several very uncomfortable nights in one, I swore I'd never use one for camping again.  I was new to the idea and I had no knowledge on how to do it right.  It was uncomfortable and cold and I unavoidably woke up finding my sleeping bag and pads above me and unceremoniously showered on me every time I got out of the hammock for the call of nature.  Then last Spring I observed some hikers in a neighboring campsite lounging in a hammock and basically using it more as a camp chair.  It sounded like a good idea so I bought a cheap hammock and gave it a try.  It was so comfortable that I thought I would give hammocks another chance as my overnight sheltering system.  With the right gear and learned skills, I haven't looked back.

Here is an incredible resource for anyone just starting out

What I like about hammocks.

     1.  I'm getting older and using a hammock is more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.

     2.  Hammock systems are very modular so you only need to take what you need.  (ie.  If there                   are no bugs, leave the bugnet at home).

     3.  Hammock systems can be customized with components from different makers or  from                       DIY projects.

     5.  Hammock shelters can be just as light or lighter than tents.

     6.  I don't need level ground or a debris free ground to camp.

What I don't like about hammocks.

     1.  Hammocks are basically solo shelters.

     2.  Hammocks need at least two trees(or other comparable anchor points) spaced 12 to
          20 feet apart.

     3.  Unless you are a DIY guru, good quality hammock parts are hard to find locally.

The Gear 

Everyone who knows me, knows how much I love gear and the more modular and customizable, the more attractive it is to me.  I'm going to display my hammock system but it is personalized for me and what will work for you might be totally different and equally acceptable if it works for you.

It consists of components mostly made from the cottage industry because very few mainstream outdoor companies have shown interest in hammocks although camping hammock popularity is on the rise.  My list is an example of  interchangeable modules.

Hammock -   Dutchware Gear  Netless 11' Hexon 2.4
Suspension - Dutchware Gear Cinchbuckle & strap with Dutchclip
Tarp - OES MacCat Deluxe SilPro
Snakeskins - Hennessy Hammock
Hammock Sock - Simply Light Designs Windbreaker 360
Bugnet - ENO Guardian
Underquilt - Jarbridge River 3/4 with Climashield APEX by Arrowhead Equipment
Topquilt - ENO Ignitor with 750 FP down.

Sleeping bags and sleeping pads can work with hammocks but in my experience, they are a poor substitute for the comfort, warmth, and simplicity of using a topquilt and underquilt combination.  A bugnet or hammock sock serves a similar function to that of the inner wall of a double walled tent.  The snakeskins contain  and make the siltarp unfurl and pack up quickly, especially in a wind.

I intend to use my hammock for Autumn and Winter coast camping this year.  If anyone else is getting older and feeling the aches and pains that come with sleeping in the ground, I recommend trying a hammock (Thousands of Mayan Indians can't be wrong!).  I wish I knew more and kept using one eight years ago.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Recommended Read

I do a fair bit of reading, both fiction and non-fiction.  I just finished reading Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston by Ernest Callenbach.  I should have read it years ago.

It was written in the 70's and found a place amongst the green movement and the hearts of young Pacific Northwest Coast romantics of the 80's(and even now), who dream of a new nation called "Cascadia.".   The yearning to form a new country, stretching from Northern California to Alaska (essentially along the North Cascades cordilleran), is spawned from feelings of western alienation in both Canada and the USA, a common Pacific Northwest culture, and a strong regional pride.  I am one of those who found the idea appealing but I am now old enough to realize that it is a nice but unrealistic fantasy.  Now I realize that people enjoy higher standards of living by being part of a collective where they can be more productive through collaboration rather than splitting into smaller divisive self-interest groups...this includes nations. The more inclusive one is, the stronger one becomes.   An example of my viewpoint is where countries such as Greece do much better economically as part of a larger European Union than independently.   This doesn't mean I have lost my regional pride and feeling of unity and comfort while living and traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest...on the contrary, when my favorite soccer team, the Vancouver Whitecaps plays one of our Cascadia Cup rivals (Seattle or Portland), I am happy to wear the colors of our region(blue, white, & green)

Make no mistake, Ecotopia is a fantasy but it is also  a thought provoking novel which does strike a chord with regional pride and our modern eco-friendly values.  I am still not sure if Ernest Callenbach is ridiculing (or not) all  the interesting ideas he brings up in this book because he does tend to portrait them as radical and extreme.  I have chosen not to take offense if he is lampooning the sentiments that I hold dear and still recommend this book as a good read.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Times of Chaos

I haven't done a blog entry in a while because there has been so much happening in my personal life.  I'm still dealing with my Dad's alzheimer's and it looks like he's going to be placed in long term care soon.  This  places a burden on me of dealing with the family home, it's contents, and all sorts of other financial and emotional issues.  Last month I was with him when he turned in his driving license and I was very conflicted with both being proud of him and heartbroken at the same time.

My mom, who is already in a care home, had a small stroke about a month and a half ago.  It was initially missed by the nurses so it could have been much worse!  She has recovered but remains at high risk for another one.

 My inlaws, in Edmonton, are not getting younger and have continuous and ongoing health problems.  We haven't visited them in two years and will go up there this year to see if there is anything we can do to help and just spend some quality time with them.  I wish they lived closer so we could see them more often.

My beloved wife and  my rock, Teresa,  also had some ongoing health issues the past several months including some surgery.  We spent some time irrationally worried about her problem possibly being cancer although it was a low probability.  She has been cleared of that for now so we are much relieved.  I don't know how I would have handled it otherwise which wouldn't have been very helpful for her.  She has always been (sometimes fearfully) more pragmatic than I.

On our employment front, while I have been pretty stable, Teresa has decided to take on a promotion.  It means more responsibility for her so I am both worried and happy for her at the same time.  She has quite the challenge ahead of her being the chief technologist of two labs. It is very hard to supervise large numbers of people who aren't invested in their jobs(as is the case for workers in all professions and fields these days).   There is the possibility of a major strike looming in the future which could effect us financially too.

At home, we have a son struggling with some of his academics, although he is very gifted in the trades.  He's in the wrong high school to develop and nurture his interests so it has been hard on him and consequently us too.  My daughter is far away in university and we agonize with her as she struggles with day to day life and school.  She is doing very well but it's our prerogative to worry just the same.

I plan on working on four more knives and I'm waiting for the supplies to come in.  Knife making temporarily takes my mind away from some of the stressful issues I have ongoing.  It is good to have a hobby.

We are hoping to have some time to ourselves to take a few small trips this year.  I'm getting tired of keeping our plans to ourselves in fear that we may be perceived as being selfish or negligent.

...anyway, that is my update for anyone who has been curious.  Stay tuned for some more adventurous or interesting content to come.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Camping: Return to Dead Crow

It was a little over two years since the last time I camped at Dead Crow campsite on Kayostla Beach in Olympic National Park..  Personal health and other issues have kept me benched from other recent trips so it was nice to get back to camping with old friends.  I have been camping there off and on with the same people for over 15 years now.  The rustic trailhead is behind national park and timber company gated roads now so it was a pleasure to discover that we got the nod to enter for free under the condition that we left with some garbage from the beach, surveyed the area for tsunami debris, and kept watch for wreckage of a fishing boat that went down in a storm last week.

The trail is only a mile and a half long but it still kicks my butt!  It was in very good condition with very little mud this year although the tree roots and downed trees across the trail were challenging.

Every year I go on this trip, there are improvements made to the camp.  This year it was hot water.  One of my friends, Bruce, attached a home made copper heat exchanger with some plastic tubing to one of his 5 gallon buckets, now converted into a hot water tank.

We also got to break away from our usual roasted Cornish game hens to cooking a big roast beef on a spit.  It was excellent!

I decided to spend a little time with some bushcraft experimentation and got an Inuit kudlik going using saved bacon fat, some saturated paper towel, and a beach rock.  It burned well for a long time.

We played a few rounds of beach golf, walked, feasted, and told tall tales into the wee hours of each  night.

It was a good time to unwind and relax from the day to day stress.  This is a tradition that I hope to see continue a long time.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Bushcrafting: Making My Woodlore Style Knife

I have been an avid member of various outdoor forums ever since the internet became available to me.  Currently, I am a regular contributor and supporter of BushcraftUSA. I have always been a tinkerer with my outdoor gear and this forum has inspired to be much more.  I admire the custom works of many of the knife makers on BushcraftUSA.  Those who make the Woodlore style knives have had me wanting one of my own. 

This is an original Woodlore knife made for Ray Mears
The prices of these knives are reasonable from the makers  (~$300 to $500 US) but the wait times/lists are long and it could be two years before one can get a custom knife made.  There is also a thriving secondary market of regular resellers who charge or auction off these knives for about double what the makers are asking.  The reselling is a bit of a scam and I find it distasteful.

As I am an impatient sort and not  interested in filling opportunists pockets with cash I don't have, I decided to make my own Woodlore style knife.  I should say that I am actually putting a handle on one, the blade blank can easily be purchased for a small amount of money.  My blade blank comes from the reputable UK  knife maker, Bernie Garland.  It is a traditional Woodlore blade made of hard 01 carbon steel and has a Scandi grind.  The wood scales are bird's eye maple and come from Nova Scotia, the liners are brick red G10, and the mosaic pins and lanyard loop I ordered from a knife supplier online.

It took me about a month to gather all my knife parts and the supplies I would need to put it all together.

Having no experience at all other than the making of of some of my other little bushcrafting projects, I watched how to videos on Youtube and read instructions off various sites on the internet.  Once I got down to work, the process didn't take that long although there were snags along the way.  Having limited power tools, basically a circular orbital hand sander, a cordless drill, and a Dremmel rotary tool, it was a challenge.  What I would give for a drill press, band saw, and a belt sander!  Here are a few pictures taken during the construction.

I often had to improvise like using my palm sander upside down clamped to my workbench.  This project was often physically demanding (I spend five hours just filing and hand sanding the profile of the knife handle).  In the end, it came out better than I thought it would.  I posted my own "how to" instructions thread on  BushcraftingUSA in the hopes that it would inspire others lacking the skill set and tools just like I did.   The knife will soon become my inseparable companion on all my future bushcrafting trips.  Here is the finished product.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Sanrenmu 710, the Poor Man's Sebenza

Normally I am not a big fan of folder knives but I do own a few.  Folders are the most practical for EDC (every day carry).  My Swiss Army Camper model often fulfills this role.

 Lately I have been reading about a prolonged controversy regarding Chinese knock-offs/counterfeits of a well loved Chris Reeve USA made knife, the Sebenza 21. 
Chris Reeve Sebenza 21
This is not a new issue as it is well known that the Chinese government does not enforce flagrant violations of international patents, copyrights, and trademarks on a variety of counterfeit products being produced in China.  It is my belief that a knife produced with or without a counterfeit maker's mark with the intention of deceiving customers is both illegal and immoral.  This is where I draw the line, however, there are many people who feel that copying any knife design is blatantly wrong.  The lack of a clear definition of what is right or what is wrong, is what generates all the heated discussions on this subject.

 In the bushcrafting community, it is accepted practice for custom knife makers to copy the basic design of the much beloved Woodlore knife, designed by Ray Mears and Alan Woods.  There are dozens of clones of this knife made by reputable knife makers and I will be making my own this winter.  None of these custom knife makers produce their own versions with the intention of fooling potential customers that their knives can be passed off as the original Woodlore.  There is almost an infinite variety in materials being used to produce theses knives including the knife steel itself.  The collectors of folders see this differently...the design is sacred and should not be copied!

I always had the impression that most manufactured  knives from China were of poor quality.  I acknowledge that I was ignorant and wrong.  Sanrenmu(SRM) is one  Chinese company that produces extremely good quality knives.  In fact, Sanrenmu manufactures knives for popular US based knife making companies like Buck, Spyderco, and CKRT.  Sanrenmu also produces its own line of knives for both domestic and export markets.  The knife which has sparked so much debate about copying, is the SRM model 710 because its basic design resembles the Chris Reeve Sebenza 21, hence the nickname "the poor man's Sebenza".

Sebenza 21 on top, Sanrenmu 710  bottom
At this point I would like to add that the Sebenza 21 costs approximately $400 US and uses a titanium frame while the SRM 710 costs under $20 and is made from a good quality stainless steel.  While there are other Chinese counterfeiters out there using the same materials and maker's mark as Chris Reeve, SRM puts it's own trademark on the 710 and has made no attempt to pass it off as one of Chris Reeve's knives.  Both of these knives are framelocks with handles made to fit the width of a hand comfortably.  Consequently there is very little room for a different looking handle and this is also demonstrated in other company's framelock knives such as the CRKT Drifter.  My personal opinion is that the SRM 710 was probably inspired by the Sebenza's basic design and that's it.  I see this knife no differently than the bushcrafter sees a Woodlore clone.

Intrigued by all the furor over the SRM 710, I ordered one.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. Both the blade and handle are made from a 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. The blade (a hollow grind, 2.67 inch long) came super sharp, swings smoothly, and locks solidly into place with no lateral movement.  The handle is comfortable and the whole knife ,at 3.25 oz,  feels substantial but not too heavy and is well balanced.

You may legitimately ask me if the purchase of this SRM 710 has kept me from needing or wanting to buy a Chris Reeve Sebenza 21 because it is considerably cheaper and my answer is an unequivocal no, quite the opposite.  The quality of the SRM is so nice, it makes me really want to try a Sebenza.  However, if you are on a budget and will never be able to afford a Sebenza 21, I highly recommend the SRM 710.  What ever you decide, please don't buy a knock off Sebenza 21 as it is not only supports unethical counterfeiters but they are of poor quality and  literally dangerous.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Bushcrafting: Making a Firesteel Handle

I have a Finnish puukko (a small Sami/Laplander knife) which is amongst one of my favorites.  It is made from deer antler, birch, leather, and has a hand forged carbon steel blade which is very very sharp.  I have always wanted to make a firesteel handle to match one of my knives and this knife seemed to be a perfect match.  It looked like it would be a pretty uncomplicated job and it was!

I had deer antler left over from other projects so all I had to do was scrounge up some birch from a nearby woods and find a little leather.

I cut and trimmed everything and then into the vice with a some glue.

A little shaping with a rotary tool and some hand sanding and it all came together.  I wanted to keep it a little asymmetric because it was the best way to leave a little character in the antler and it gives the whole firesteel a rustic and natural look.

Lastly, I finshed it with a little mineral oil and a glossy wood finish and I installed the firerod.  I went with a misch metal rod rather than a harder ferro-rod because I prefer seeing the shower of sparks that a misch metal is known for.  I should be able to generate all the sparks I need by rubbing it on the spine of my carbon steel blade.  Here is the finished result.

Crafting this little firesteel has convinced me to attempt an even more ambitious project.  Stay tuned to see me create Woodlore bushcrafting knife.