Abi on the Billy Goat

2 Feb

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I took Abi out for a hike for her birthday on Wednesday.  We made it about a mile on the Billy Goat B trail near Carderock before the skies opened up on us and I decided to retreat to the car.  Even though we didn’t go very far she was still pretty pooped and ended up falling asleep on the way home.

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Beer in the backcountry? Pat’s can help…

2 Feb

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I’ll be honest.  I’m a beer guy.  Often after a long hike nothing sounds better.  However, for the average backpacker adding the weight of a six-pack to an already heavy pack just isn’t appealing.  I often laugh with people when I tell them that during my last hike my pack was all of 11 lbs. and about 3 lbs. of that was beer.  However, a new product might have finally made enjoying a cold one in the backcountry an easy (and relatively light) experience.  I stumbled upon the website for Pat’s Backcountry Beverages which is selling their new product, the Carbonator bottle, that allows you to add carbonation and drink mixes to water.  Basically it’s a handheld version of the home soda machines that you see in TV infomercials and your mall’s Brookstone.  But the really cool thing about the product is that the company is presently in the stages of patenting a concentrated beer mix that would allow trekkers to quickly make their own beer while out on the trail.  Presently Pat’s is only offering soda mixes but they anticipate to start their beer mix sales sometime in early 2013.  I’ll definitely be looking out for that moment to come and will update this post when it happens.

Link:

Pat’s Backcountry Beverages

Video

Nickel Creek – The Lighthouse’s Tale

15 Dec

An art student’s video adaptation of Nickel Creek’s “The Lighthouse’s Tale” from their self-titled 2000 debut album.

Abi is a First Ascent fan

15 Dec

Everyone who sees my everyday attire knows I’m a pretty big First Ascent fan.  I think Eddie Bauer really has a good thing going with the line.  Well today I walked into my living room and found out our 7-year old lab Abi is a First Ascent fan as well.

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Gear Review – Sawyer Squeeze

27 Nov

When I started searching for a water treatment system for backpacking my initial choices came down to two specific products: the Steripen Adventurer Opti and the Sawyer Squeeze. Both products had been awarded the Editor’s Choice Award from Backpacker Magazine and I figured I couldn’t go wrong with either.  In the end cost, and to a greater extent reliability, played roles and I ended up purchasing the Sawyer Squeeze.  After several months of using it I’ve come to the realization that it was a great choice for several reasons that I’ll detail below.

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Design – 

The Sawyer Squeeze is a water filter system that incorporates a set of water bags which you fill and then squeeze to produce clean, filtered water.  To use the Squeeze you simply choose one of three bags (0.5L, 1L, and 2L) provided with the system, fill it with dirty water from any stream, spring, etc., and then squeeze the bag which expels the dirty water through the filter and produces clean water.  The filter comes with a drinking spout/push cap on the output end which you can drink directly from or use to direct your flow of clean water into a waiting cup or bottle, but as I’ll address later there are alternative methods that you can use to collect your freshly filtered water.  It’s a well-designed system that provides a thorough filtering of water from nearly any source.  Furthermore, for all those gram counters out there it is remarkably light at weight of about 3 ounces, much lighter than other widely-used pump filters.  Here are the specs on the Squeeze from Sawyer’s website:

  • All Sawyer filters deliver 0.1 absolute micron biological filtration, removing 7 log (99.99999%) of all bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, Vibrio cholerae and Salmonella typhi (which cause Cholera and Typhoid); and 6 log (99.9999%) of all protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
  • Kit Includes:
    3 – Lightweight Durable Collapsible Pouches (0.5 L , 1 L, and 2 L pouch)
    1 – Replaceable Pop Up Drinking Spout
    1 – Sawyer 0.1 Absolute Micron Hollow Fiber Membrane Screw On/Off Water Filter
    1 – Cleaning Syringe
    Cleaning and Maintenance Instructions 

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Usage and Modifications – 

Since buying the Squeeze I’ve used it for filtering water on several trips that have totaled about a week together.  I’d estimate that I’ve filtered about 30 liters through it, well short of the filter’s million gallon guarantee.  Typically I gathered water from either springs or rapidly flowing streams like the one pictured above.  However, before using the system I should qualify that I made several modifications to the system.  After reading a good deal of reviews on the Squeeze I decided that I didn’t want to rely on the bags included in the system as they have a reputation of failing, something that you don’t want to have happen if you have several days left on the trail.  With this in mind I bought two Evernew 1.5L bottles to serve as a dirty and clean bladder.  Evernew bottles tend to work better with the Squeeze as they mate to the filter more securely than Platypus bottles, which tend to thread unevenly and thus leading to leaks.  By replacing the supplied bags with more durable Evernews I’ve alleviated any trepidation over whether or not my system will fail mid-trip.

By replacing the supplied bags it was necessary to make several more modifications to the system.  While the Squeeze is designed to be used with the push cap on the output end, with some simply ingenuity a better system can be created.  I removed the push cap and purchased a Tornado Tube that I used to mate the male thread of the filter to the male thread of the second Evernew bag I purchased.  The tornado tube is the same scientific school supply that most of you have seen used to mate two 2-liter bottles to create a faux cyclone as a teaching tool.  They’re readily available all over the net and I got mine from Amazon (link included below).  I should clarify that for the bags and filter to mate tightly to the Tornado Tube the tube needs to be shortened be about a quarter inch on each end, a task easily done with a handheld or hack saw.  I also modified the “dirty bag” of the system by adding a loop of shock cord from Zpacks which allows the bags and filter to be hung and used as a gravity-feed system.

By making all of these changes I’ve created a multifaceted water filtering system that has perfectly handled any challenge I’ve thrown at it.  I’ve filtered several liters of water through it quickly, hung it from a tree or shelter hook in a sit-it-and-forget-it manner, and even drank from it directly.  It’s never faltered or even exhibited the slightest issue.  Here’s a picture of every change I’ve made to the Squeeze:

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Recommendations – 

While I have loved the Squeeze to this point I do have several recommendations on improving the functionality of the system.  Obviously several of those are addressed by the modifications I mentioned above.  However, there are two others I would like to add.  One of these is to carry along a pre-filter of some sort that will remove any particulates from the water you are gathering in your dirty bag.  While this isn’t necessarily a worry when gathering water from a quickly moving stream it can become an issue when using a spring as a water source.  I’m not sure how the filter handles particulates or whether they clog it but it’s simply better to alleviate the problem instead of leaving it as a possibility for failure in the future.  Another recommendation I’d give is to always carry along some sort of scoop to pour water into your dirty bag when your gathering water from a shallow source.  The included and/or Evernew bags don’t do a very good job of gathering water from shallow streams and a scoop helps in this process greatly.  I solved this problem by simply cutting the smallest Sawyer bag included in the system in half since I wasn’t going to use it anyways and this worked perfectly on my last trip and shortened the time taken to gather water by nearly half of what it had taken me previously.  These two changes will improve the system and hopefully alleviate the issues mentioned above.

Conclusion –

In the end, I would highly recommend the Sawyer Squeeze for anyone in the market for a water filtration system.  It’s light, functions perfectly, and is one of the most simple to use filters on the market.  The only detractor I can think of to the Squeeze is that it doesn’t filter viruses, but the truth is that viruses aren’t really a worry to anyone backpacking primarily in the United States.  If viruses are a worry any UV-filter system like the Steripens would be my recommendation.  That being said, the Squeeze will meet the need of almost anyone in the backcountry and will do so in a manner that is much less work-intensive than the filter systems of the past.  It will also save you weight and isn’t that always the goal?

Links:

Video

Punch Brothers – Wayside

26 Nov

Punch Brothers performing Gillian Welch’s “Wayside / Back in Time.”  Sorry everyone for not posting in so long.  I’ll be sure to get some more reviews, videos, etc. up this week.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Carry Me Back to Virginia

23 Oct

Old Crow Medicine Show performing “Carry Me Back to Virginia,” from their July album Carry Me Back, in the historic Ryman Auditorium.  Maybe it’s just me but I’ve never seen anyone hold a bow like Ketch does here.

Gear Review – TecX Inceptra knife

23 Oct

Awhile back I was browsing through my copy of Backpacker magazine and ran into a small review of the TecX Inceptra, a new knife on the market.  I’m somewhat of a knife junkie and added this one to my list of wants and about a month later picked one up for myself.  Here are my initial thoughts on the knife:

TecX Inceptra knife on the Appalachian Trail

Specs:

  • 440 Stainless Drop Point Blade
  • Red Anodized Aluminum Handle
  • Liner Lock
  • Pocket Clip
  • Detachable Hanging Clip
  • Length: 4.5in | 11.43cm
  • Weight: 4.1oz | 116.23g

All spec information was taken from TecX’s website 

Design and Utility:

The Inceptra isn’t your average folding knife.  When I look for a folder I’m usually looking for something that I can use everyday, whether I’m on the trail or just walking around town.  And yes, I’m one of those people who always has a knife on me.  My knife purchases have crossed the board from $150+ purchases to $10 throwaways but above all I’m looking for utility.  Thankfully, the TecX Inceptra falls into this boat and has proven to be incredibly useful.  It’s handle is sturdy in the hand and while the raised grooves on it may look strange and unwieldy they actually provide a textured surface that improves the grip.  The blade was quite sharp out of the box and has sharpened well since I first began using it.  However, the biggest surprise in the knife has been its’ strength.  With knives in this price range (which I’ll address in a bit) you can typically expect some lack of durability.  However, there’s no blade play with the Inceptra and every other feature has proven to be quite strong and stood up to the abuse on the AT that I’ve put it through.  One other point I should mention is that I obviously bought the red, straight edge version of the knife but it also comes in black and blue, with the option for a straight-edge blade or combo edge with a serrated section near the handle.

Price and Availability:

The price point of the Inceptra is what drew me to the knife initially.  Backpacker praised it’s features and when I looked at the price I was expecting something in the $50-$75 range.  So imagine my surprise when I looked and saw that it sold for only $25 retail and could be found online for even less.  I was sold.  After browsing around I ended up purchasing the Inceptra from Amazon but it was also available through several online retailers, including the ever-popular Smoky Mountain Knife Works.

Final thoughts:

I’ve been incredibly pleased with the TecX Inceptra since I bought it in the summer.  It’s relatively low weight has led it to become my go-to knife for backpacking and it hasn’t failed me in any of the typical backcountry tasks, from preparing food to making feather sticks for starting a fire.  Its’ utility has made it incredibly useful and its’ price has made me push it to its’ limits without needing to worry about babying it to avoid messing it up, as the investment is minimal.  I’d highly recommend the knife and will probably be picking up a few more in the near future.

Useful Links:

TecX Inceptra product page on the company’s website

Backpacker Magazine’s review of the knife

Reviews to come

11 Oct

Sorry everyone for not posting in over a week.  We’ve had family up from Kentucky and things have been fairly busy.  In the following week I intend to have reviews up on the following gear:

  • TecX Inceptra knife
  • Sawyer Squeeze water filter with gravity filter modifications
  • Jetboil Flash cooking system
  • Exped Downmat UL 7
  • Exped Air Pillow (Medium)

I’ll also be sure to post some pics from my AT section hike.  If anyone has further questions or ideas for future posts just let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Video

Bela Fleck and Sam Bush – Falani

1 Oct

Bela Fleck and Sam Bush performing at the Transatlantic Sessions in Scotland. Both are former members of New Grass Revival, the band from my last video post.

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