Thursday, December 22, 2011

Update on Recent Events

Hey guys. I know I have been gone from the blog for some time. Thank you to all of those who have emailed me to express concern. I know it is over due, but I wanted to let you know what is going on.

Unfortunately, about a month ago, I ended a long term relationship with my girlfriend. I have been kind of under the weather since then, and have found it hard to motivate myself to generate posts.

I hope to be back soon, hopefully after I have figured out all the logistics of the separation. I know I usually don’t use the blog for personal matters, but I wanted to give you guys an explanation for why I have been gone.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Comparison Between Modern and Early 20th Century Cold Weather Clothing

It is an unfortunate fact that when people set out to prove something they already strongly believe, they knowingly or unknowingly tailor data to reach the desired results. Clearly that is something that each of us has to encounter at some point. Of course, the way to correct for those misconceptions, is to perform well controlled, duplicatable studies, so that the results can be judged by the rest of the scientific community.

Earlier I did a post looking at the clothing choices of some early 20th century cold weather explorers. You can see the post here. In recent years people with agendas of their own have made claims, which in turn have been picked up by other people with their own agendas, and as a result, most scientific data about the clothing that I discussed has been lost amid romanticism, nostalgia and wishful thinking. A clear example is the tests that Graham Hoyland performed in 2006, using George Mallory’s clothing. The “test” concluded that the clothing is very comfortable and warm, along with a number of other overly romanticized musings on the subject, by a person who has the clear goal of establishing that Mallory was in fact the first person to summit Everest. I have seen at least several people who based on Hoyland’s statements (with no further independent research) have concluded that the 1924 clothing is superior to modern cold weather clothing. 

So, I decided to do some research and see if I can find any actual scientific studies, which produced data on the subject rather than subjective evaluations. Interestingly, I found that such tests have actually been performed on both George Mallory’s clothing as well as that of Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen: Benchmarking Functionality of Historical Cold Weather Clothing: Robert F. Scott, Roald Amundsen, George Mallory, by George Havenith, Department of Ergonomics (Human Sciences) Loughborough University. The photographs used in this post are from the study.    

The below picture shows a side by side of Scott’s, Amundsen’s and a modern cold weather suit, used in the test.


Here the same clothing can be seen on the thermal manikins.


Here you can see Mallory’s clothing as used in the test.


The study was performed at Loughborough University and the clothing of Mallory, Scott and Amundsen was compared along several categories and factors to modern cold weather clothing, containing fleece and down insulation. Of the vintage clothing, the warmest possible combination of items was used for the test, with the Amundsen clothing being tested with both the reindeer and seal skin outer layer in the alternative.

Each clothing arrangement was placed on a thermal manikin is a controlled temperature environment. The insulation values were measured in units of clo (1clo=0.155 m2C/W).

The first test looked at insulation without the addition of any other factors such as wind. The graph below shows the results.


The results clearly show that the insulation value of modern clothing is higher than any of the other options. The Amundsen clothing with reindeer shell has the next best insulation, followed by Amundsen’s clothing with the seal skin shell, followed by Scott’s clothing, and in last comes Mallory’s clothing. It has been mentioned by some people that Mallory’s clothing was lighter than modern clothing used on Everest trips. While objectively true, it also provides significantly less insulation.

The second test, or more accurately, calculation, shows the insulation value as compared to the weight of the clothing. In the chart below we can see the insulation value (clo) per kilogram.


Here we can clearly see that for the weight, the modern clothing significantly outperforms the vintage options. The modern clothing provides more than twice the insulation per kg than Scott’s and Amundsen’s clothing, and 1.65 times better insulation per kg than Mallory’s.

The third test looked at how much insulation is retained when the clothing is exposed to wind. The chart below shows the insulation value as a percentage of the static insulation.  


The modern clothing again shows to be the best, closely followed by Amundsen’s clothing with the reindeer shell.

A fourth aspect of the clothing was tested in a study by Dorman LE. Havenith, The Effects of Protective Clothing on Energy Consumption During Different Activities, Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 105(3):463-70.

The study showed that not only weight, but also the bulkiness and layering of clothing contributed to energy consumption. Simply stated, bulky clothing makes it harder for you to move, and makes you use up more energy for the same tasks. The table below shows the increase in metabolic consumption caused by each clothing option looked at above. There is no exact data for Mallory’s clothing, but the study concluded that the layers of silk between the wool would make movement easier, decreasing the metabolic expenditure when compared to that of Scott who used similar wool layering.

Clothing Combination % increase of metabolic rate when sledge pulling % increase of metabolic rate when dog sledding






Modern Clothing



It is again clear that the modern clothing is a lot less cumbersome, and requires less energy expenditure to operate.

The conclusion reached by the above studies is that while Amundsen’s clothing provided better insulation than Scott’s, considering that Scott largely man hauled his sleds to the pole, unlike Amundsen who used dogs, the clothing would have provided adequate insulation. Both Amundsen and Scott would have found their clothing deficient during periods of inactivity, as was in fact noted by Amundsen in his journal. The big problem for Scott would have been the high energy expenditure required by the clothing. 24% increase in energy consumption is significant and would have greatly contributed to the expedition’s unfortunate end. With respect to Mallory, the studies concluded that his clothing would have been adequate down to -30 degrees Celsius. However, if any high wind speeds were encountered (above 40 km/h), or there was any inactivity, the clothing would have been deficient.   

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Early 20th Century Cold Weather Clothing

There has been a good amount of talk in recent years about the value of more traditional equipment, including clothing. Here I have tried to look at some sources and see exactly what clothing was used by early 20th century cold weather explorers. In a later post, I will try to present some comparison data.

Fridtjof Nansen 1884


Fridtjof Nansen is one of the most famous cold weather explorers. He is as famous for his crossing of Greenland as for his failed attempt to reach the North pole, and heroic return home. The equipment of most cold weather explorers following him needs to be looked at within the context of what Nansen had said on the subject. That is why here I want to briefly mention what he had to say about his cold weather clothing. In his book Across Greenland he describes the clothing he took on the trip as follows:

With the exception of two tunics of reindeer skin...and a little coat lined with squirrel skin, which I took but rarely wore, we had no furs, but wore woolen things throughout. Next to our skin we had thin woolen shirts and drawers, then thick, rough jerseys, and then our outer garments, which consisted of a short coat, knickerbockers, and gaiters...In wind, snow, and rain, we generally wore outside our other clothes a light suit of some thin, brown, canvas like stuff. This was reputed completely waterproof, but it turned out to be nothing of the kind. In wind and snow however, it did excellent service.” On his feet Nansen wore what he referred to as Finnesko, or reindeer boots. He described them as satisfactory, but that they do not hold up well when wet.

Sir Earnest Shackleton 1908


This general set up of clothing became the largely “traditional” way of dressing for cold environments for subsequent explorers for the next few decades, although changes and improvements were made. When in 1908 Sir Earnest Shackleton walked to within 112 miles from the South pole his clothing consisted of the same layers of wool, with the exception that instead of a short coat, more wool sweaters were used which provided greater warmth for the weight.


The canvas outer layer was still used, because even though not waterproof, it offered protection from the wind, and nothing better was available at the time.

Scott/Amundsen 1911/1912

Amundsen December_1911

In 1911/1912, two men, Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen raced to the South pole. Amundsen proved to the victor, while Scott died on the return trip from the pole. In 2006 the BBC recreated the race between the two men and their teams, and provided very valuable data in terms of reconstructing their clothing. The lists I am providing here are from that study. Since some of the clothing consists of modern equivalents, I will provide the name of the manufacturer next to the item. 


Robert Falcon Scott


  • Three pairs of long johns and long sleeve tops of different sizes for layering. Each pair was made by Wolsey, Devold Basic, and Aquaduct respectively.
  • One or two cotton/wool shirts.
  • Two woolen sweaters, one with a crew neck (Devold Nansen sweater) and one with a turtle neck (Devold Nordsjosweater)
  • One woolen waistcoat/vest
  • A thin wool jumper
  • Two pairs of trousers, one corduroy and the other woolen. Along with the trousers they had a pair of puttees to wrap around the bottom of the trousers.
  • Burberry jacket and pants. Burberry is the tightly woven canvas material to which Nansen refers above, which was supposed to be waterproof, but was not, something the Scott expedition noted as well.
  • The remaining items include a woolen hat, scarf and balaclava, woolen gloves, woolen mittens, fingerless gloves, and a pair of reindeer mittens. On the feet were several pairs of wool socks and the finnesko, again mentioned by Nansen earlier.

Roald Amundsen


  • Three pairs of long johns and long sleeve tops of different sizes for layering. Each pair was made by Wolsey, Devold Basic, and Aquaduct respectively.
  • One or two cotton/wool shirts.
  • Two woolen sweaters, one with a crew neck (Devold Nansen sweater) and one with a turtle neck (Devold Nordsjosweater)
  • One pair of corduroy trousers
  • Burberry trousers and jacket
  • Reindeer anorak with hood
  • Sealskin anorak with hood
  • Sealskin trousers
  • A pair of puttees to wrap around the trousers. Keep in mind that not all of the outer layers that Amundsen brought were worn at the same time. The Burberry jacket, reindeer anorak, and sealskin anorak were worn interchangeably depending on conditions. In fact, some were not carried during the entire trip.
  • The remaining items are the same as those used by the Scott team, a woolen hat, scarf and balaclava, woolen gloves, woolen mittens, fingerless gloves, and a pair of reindeer mittens. On the feet were several pairs of wool socks and the finnesko.

George Mallory 1924


Moving a decade forward in 1924, George Mallory attempted to reach the summit of Everest. He died in his attempt. His body was later found, and his clothing was reconstructed by the Mountain Heritage Trust. With few exceptions, his clothing remained the same as that of the above men. The largest difference that can be seen, and where technology reveals itself is actually in the sleeping bags that they carried. While Nansen, Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen used reindeer fur sleeping bags, Mallory had a down sleeping bag. 

  • One silk wool vest
  • Two silk shirts
  • Shetland pullover
  • Flannel wool shirt
  • Cotton long johns
  • Two pairs of Shetland long johns
  • Burberry jacket and trousers along with a set of puttees
  • The remaining gear was composed of woolen gloves, hat, and scarf. On the feet he had several pairs of woolen socks and boots (not finnesko).

Experts believe that the silk layers were not used for insulation, but rather to allow easier movement between the different layers of wool.

Sir Edmund Hillary 1953

By the time Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Everest in 1953, the clothing options had significantly changed. While wool was still used for the base layers, much of the outer wear was composed on down insulation and synthetic covering. 



Modern cold weather clothing is comprised almost entirely of synthetic materials, using fleece and down as insulation. Some people still prefer to use wool as a base layer, but thicker woolen items are almost never used.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Survivorman Returns!

As many of you have heard already, Les Stroud has announced that he will once again start filming Survivorman.


It is unclear when the new episodes will premiere, but it appears that he will now attempt to spend ten days in the woods without support unlike the prior seasons where he was out each time for seven days.

As this is one of my favorite shows, I can’t wait for the new season to air.

Friday, December 2, 2011

With an Axe and Knife

This is a compilation of very old videos showing people doing traditional wood work using basic tools. Some of them are quite amazing, and well worth a look.

To find more videos like this one, and other great information, visit Perkle’s Blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Russell Green River Hunter Knife Review

The Green River knives have been in use by outdoorsmen since the 1800s. They gained popularity because they were affordable, mass produced knives, which got the job done.

hjuk (11)

Knife Length: 9 inches (229 mm)
Blade Length: 5 inches (129mm)
Blade Thickness: 3/32 inches (2 mm)
Blade Width: 1 1/4 inches (28 mm) at the widest point
Blade Material: 1095 carbon steel
Blade Hardness: Unknown
Type of Tang: Full
Blade Grind: Full flat grind with a secondary bevel
Handle Material: Wood
Sheath Material: No sheath
Cost: $20.00


The knife is fairly cheap, although there are lower cost knives on the market. It is certainly not the bargain basement price it had in the past, which contributed to its popularity.

When compared to a Mora #1, it is clear to see that it is a larger knife, with the blade being over an inch longer and significantly wider. In thickness however, the two blades are about the same. The handles are the same length, but because the Green River handle is more rectangular, it feels thicker, although I don’t find it as comfortable as that of the Mora. The knife overall has the feel of a kitchen knife, although a bit thicker. Unlike the Mora, the Green River has a secondary bevel. The knife was not sharp when I got it, so I had to spend some time with the sharpening stone before testing.

hjuk (17)

hjuk (31)

The knife performed well when batoning. The blade is fairly thin, so it is not good at separating the wood fibers, but in turn it goes through the wood easily.


Similarly, the knife performed well when truncating. The blade feels thin, and the knife has a tendency to bend, unlike that of the Mora, despite the similar thickness, but it held up very well through all of the tasks.


I was not able to make any good feather sticks with this knife. I am sure the fault lies with me and my lack of practice with this design, but for one reason or another, I was just not able to get a feather stick going.

The knife does not come with a sheath.

Overall the knife is not bad. For a five inch blade, it does what it is supposed to. Keep in mind that the blade is not particularly thick, so it is best suited for cutting tasks, rather than batoning and other heavier work. In those areas it will easily get outperformed by a more robust knife with a five inch blade like the Fallkniven S1. My issue with the knife however is not that it is not adequate, but rather that in my opinion it falls short when compared to the Mora. It costs almost twice as much as a Mora #1 or a Mora #2, but I do not believe it does any more work for that money. In fact, I find the basic Mora knives more comfortable to fold and use, and for some reason they feel more solid. If I had a choice between a Mora #1 and a Green River Hunter knife, I would certainly chose the Mora. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Camp at Norcross Brook, 1886

This photograph was taken by  Joseph John Kirkbride in August 1886.


Note the fawns foot handle axe held by one of the men in the photograph. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 7

Bringing it All Together

So, in the past few posts you have seen me briefly go over some considerations, and in particular gear one might put to good use when making their first steps into the woods.

It is understandable that there will be apprehension, and a fear that you will do something wrong, but ultimately, with some common sense and a bit of practice, a summer overnight trip into the woods should not be a problem.

First, let us look at the total amount of gear we have.

Item Weight Cost
Day Hike Gear 15.8oz $68.00
Backpack 2lb 6oz (38oz) $30.00
Shelter 6lb 3oz (99oz) $188.00
Cooking Kit 11.5oz $17.00
Water Filter 1lb 1oz (17oz) $80.00
Toiletries 2.1oz $4.00
Total 11lb 7.4oz (183.4oz) $387.00

As you can see, our base weight (weight of the pack without food, water and fuel) is under 12lb, certainly a lightweight pack. With a first aid kit, the weight will go to a little over 12lb. We have managed to do it for under $400.00. Of course, as you noticed, it does not include the tools. I have left them as the last addition because they will be different for each person. There are many backpackers who never carry anything more than a knife, and do just fine. In that case, the tool list would not be a consideration, perhaps with the exception of a sharpening stone. On the other hand, the heaviest option that we discussed earlier would add another 4lb 5oz of the kit, bringing it up to 15lb 12.4oz, and the cost up to $477.00 (including the cost of a DC4 sharpening stone).

Remember, that this is not gear with which you will have to huddle by a fire to make it during the night, or have to spend four hours each day constructing a shelter, boiling water, or carving tools. With the above gear any backpacker should be able to spend an extended amount of time in the woods without any issue, and with equipment that does not need an explanation or require improvisation.

Of course, it is not all about the gear. Time in the woods will teach you small tricks that will make your stay much more comfortable. Before you know it, you will start to feel comfortable in the woods. You will no longer jump up during the night at every sound, you will figure out how and where to sit so that your back doesn’t hurt, or what wood to use to make your fire the warmest. There is no way I can cover that information here. That being said, there are a few posts that may be of some use to you. Check out:

Basic Tarp Configurations 
How to Make a Fire: A Beginner’s Guide
Cotton and Vaseline Tinder
Cheap, Lightweight Backpacking Food Part 1 and Part 2
A Beginner’s Guide to Hatchets  

The only tip I will give here, which I consider important, but don’t see too often, is to realize that some of your gear will get wet, while some of it will not. It may seem easy to place a plastic garbage bag inside your backpack and then place your gear inside. That will certainly protect it from rain. However, what happens when you pull out your tarp and it gets rained on? Do you put it back in the bag with all your dry gear? That is why I like to keep key items in separate bags. Stuff sacks are great, but a simple plastic grocery bag will do the trick just fine. Have one for your tarp, your shell layer, your ropes, maybe even your sleeping bag. That will make it a lot easier to pack up after it has been raining for a few hours. For a good low cost option for commercially available dry sacks, try the Outdoor Products Ultimate Dry Sack.

Remember, this is just a starting point. Each person will develop their own style of bushcraft and camping. You may decide to go more in the direction of using your tools to manufacture items you need, or you may decide that ultra light gear is the way for you, or anything in between. Your experiences and preferences will dictate what type of camper you will become, but the important thing is that you get out there and try it.

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 6

Overnight Camping


Overnight camping requires a lot more gear than a day hike. The items I mention here should be considered additional to the ones mentioned earlier for the day hike. If any of you have good gear ideas, please share them with us here. The ones I mention are just those that have come across my path.

Backpack-Our growing amount of gear will require a more significant backpack. Unfortunately, most backpacks cost quite a bit of money. I would hold off on buying one until you have finalized your other gear. What you carry will significantly effect what type of pack you want to get. However, we do need something in which to carry our gear on these first few trips. Many people resort to the military surplus ALICE packs. While they do the job, there is a better pack you can find in many stores, including most military surplus stores or simply by doing an online search. It is the Rio Grande 45L Backpack.


It is being currently produced, so it’s not surplus and costs about $30-$40. It can be purchased just about anywhere online. It is made from thick nylon, and has a rubberized coating on the inside. It has straps in the front which can hold your sleeping pad.


This is the pack I have been using for the past five years for my three season camping, and it has served me very well. It tends to ride a bit high on your back. To fix that, relax the shoulder straps so that the pack rests low on your back, and then bring the pack close to your back by tightening up the support straps at the top of the pack.


The pack has two side pockets and one on the top cover. It should be able to hold all of your gear for a three season overnight trip. It does not have a frame, but the back is stiff and well padded, with a comfortable hip belt.


It is one of the most comfortable packs I have ever used, and it has lasted me for years.

Item Weight Cost
Rio Grande 25L Pack 2lb 6oz (38oz) $30.00



Tarp-If you want to save money, I am afraid that a tent is out of the picture. A decent backpackable tent is already in the $100 range. There are some cheaper ones, but they are too heavy for backpacking. The solution is a reasonably priced tarp. I say reasonably priced because there are some you can find in hardware stored for $10. I would stay away from them. While you can do just fine with such a tarp, they are heavy and loud once put up. By the second trip you would have already bought a new tarp, making that $10 a waste. By buying a reasonably priced one of good quality, you can use it for a long time. The lowest cost one I have been able to find is the Equinox (Campmor) 8x10 Nylon Tarp. It will cost you about $40. It is by no means a top of the line tarp, but it will do the job admirably. In the picture above, it is being held together by two rubber bands. You should also bring a regular plastic bag in which to wrap it when it gets wet.

There are also several ways to pitch a tarp that will create a tent-like feeling. If however you insist on a tent, there are decent options in the $100 range. Of course as with most other backpacking gear, you will pay for the low cost with higher weight and bulk. The Kelty Salida 2 is a good choice, which will cost you $160.00 and weigh about 4lb 8oz. Many manufacturers have tent option in that price range with similar weights.

Sleeping Bag-The sleeping bag is one of the most important pieces of equipment that you will carry, as it is your primary shelter. It is the sleeping bag that will keep you warm without the need for a fire, and keep out the wind. All the other shelter components are just there to supplement the sleeping bag. You may have seen people recommend wool blankets as a low cost alternative for a sleeping bag, but that is not a viable option unless the weather is very warm. For the weight, wool blankets provide low amount of insulation. To match the insulation you can achieve with a 3lb synthetic sleeping bag, you will need over 10lb of wool blankets. You will also note that once you get that many wool blankets, they turn out to not be a cheaper option.

Unfortunately, there is no extremely low cost way to get around a sleeping bag if you plan on backpacking with it. There are however lower cost options. To begin with, avoid rectangular sleeping bags. While they are comfortable and often cheap, they do not provide the best insulation. You should look for what is called a mummy style bag, which will fit close to your body and preserve the most heat.


The shape aside, when looking at sleeping bags, you will notice two main types. One type uses synthetic insulation, while the other uses down insulation. Each type has benefits and problems, but the largest benefit we are concerned with here is the cost. Synthetic bags typically have an advantage in this category, especially when looking at top of the line products, but tend to weigh more.  Keep in mind however, that not all down bags are made equal. Down bags are rated by “fill”. A 900 fill down bag is top of the line and will cost accordingly, while a 500 fill down one, while providing the same insulation,  is not nearly as good in terms of weight and compressibility, and as a result can cost quite a bit less. In the end, we can find bags of both designs in the $100 price range, but they will have similar weight and compressibility. Which one will suit you best is up to you and is beyond the scope of this post. I think you will do fine with either one.  

For three season backpacking, I would aim for a 20 degree synthetic or low fill down mummy sleeping bag. That should cover about all of your needs. Keep in mind that some people get colder more easily than others, so if you know you get cold easily, take that into consideration. Some good lower cost designs include the North Face Cat’s Meow, which costs about $150.00 and weight 2lb 10oz, and the Kelty Cosmic Down, which costs $110.00 and weights 2lb 8oz (regular size). If you search a bit online, you can find both in the $100-$120 range. I am no expert on sleeping bag models, so speak to someone at the store for more details.

I know that with many of these items there is a temptation to want to move “up” to the next level in quality. My opinion is that the only place where you will see a significant increase in performance by doing that is with the sleeping bag. So, instead of buying that $30 knife, or the $15 water bottle, or the $65 tarp, take all that money and put it towards a better sleeping bag. It is well worth the investment.  

Sleeping Pad-You may have heard that a sleeping bag does not provide any insulation under your body because the fibers get compressed by the weight of your body. That is only partially true. A sleeping bag provides a good amount of insulation under your body. Even so, you will want some sort of a sleeping pad. This will make the ground more comfortable, and will provide additional insulation from the ground and moisture. There are a number of inflatable pads out there, but if you want the best performance for the money, go with a simple closed cell foam pad. The Thermarest Ridge Rest SOLite is a good example, that will cost you under $20. If you want to look online at Army surplus equipment, the surplus sleeping pads are very good value at about $5. There is a commercially available equivalent-the Blue Foam Pad, which will cost you just under $20.

Rope-In order to set up your tarp, and performs some general tasks around camp, you will need some rope. A good option is paracord. It is very strong, while being fairly thin. You can buy 100ft for about $4 at any outdoor supply store. Keep one long length (at least 50ft) to use as a ridge line for your tarp, and then about six fifteen foot lengths for the sides of the tarp. You should have a few extra lengths as well.

Item Weight Cost
Tarp 1lb 9oz (25oz) $40.00
Sleeping Bag 3lb (48oz) approximation $120.00
Sleeping Pad (Blue Foam Pad) 14oz $20.00
Rope (150ft) 12oz $8.00
Total 6lb 3oz (99oz) $188.00

Cooking Equipment


Pot-When you start staying out overnight, you will want to start cooking some of your food. Here I am talking about things like Ramen noodles and rice. For that you will need a pot. I believe that the best balance between cost, low weight, and performance is achieved by aluminum pots. My favorite one in this category is the  Open Country 2 Qt. Aluminum Pot. It cost $10.

If you need an extra container, a plastic Ziploc container works very well, and will let you store any left over food.

Stove-After you have been out in the woods for some time, assuming you practice, you will become accustomed to cooing your food on an open fire. Until then though, and even after that as a back up, it is good to have a small stove. There are many options and designs out there, but for three season backpacking, if interested in keeping the cost down, I would go with the Super Cat Alcohol Stove. You can make it out of a cat food can using just a hole punch. The can will cost you $1, and the hole punch $1.50 as Staples. It is a lightweight and easy to use option. Don’t forget to bring a simple windscreen made out of aluminum foil. It will significantly increase the efficiency of your stove.

You will need to carry some denatured alcohol as a fuel. I like the S-L-X Denatured Alcohol, which you can find at any hardware store. You can get a quart of the fuel for $5. To carry it, get a bottle that is around 10oz. I use a small Pepsi bottle which is 10oz (smaller than the regular bottle). The bottle of Pepsi will cost you an extra $1.

Don’t forget to bring a spoon. The is the one object for which I will not give you a price, because I know all of you have a spoon somewhere in the house.

Item Weight Cost
Pot 7.7oz $10.00
Stove (Super Cat) 0.2oz $3.00
Windscreen (aluminum foil) 0.5oz $0
Spoon (regular table spoon) 1.4oz $0
Fuel Bottle 0.7oz $1.00
Bandana 1oz $1.00
Total 11.5oz $15.00 ($17.00 with cost of fuel)

Water Purification-If you are going to stay out for an extended period of time you will have to purify water somehow. It is just impossible to carry sufficient amount to get you through the whole weekend. One way to do it, which is recommended very often by the “complete bushcraft kit for under $100" crowd is to boil your water. While it works, it is simply not a viable option. You can not be expected to stop by the trail and make a fire every time you have to refill your water bottles. I am also not a big fan of drinking hot water in the middle of the summer. If however your style of camping allows for this boiling method, it is a sure way to purify the water.

Another option that is sometimes recommended is small filters like the Aquamira Frontier Pro. The problem with those filters is that they do not filter all that much. In order to remove all parasites and bacteria, you need a filter that filters down to 0.02 microns. The above filter filters down only to 0.2 microns. It will remove some of the larger parasites, but most bacteria like Ecoli will get through. One way to compensate for that is to then use a chemical treatment like the tablets mentioned earlier. This will work well, but consider the cost of your total system. You will need two water bladders, one for dirty water and one for clean ($20 each), the filter itself ($20), and the tablets ($10). You have now spent $70 on the filter system.

There is an option that I prefer, and requires a lot less assembly and general playing around. For that money you can get yourself an actual pump filter like the MSR Miniworks EX ($80), or the Katadyn Hiker Pro ($75). They are both robust, well tested filters that will filter down to 0.02 microns and do it for a long time.


It is money well spent in my opinion, and I would not recommend that anyone go into the woods for an extended period of time without one, especially when just starting out. It is a heavy and expensive option, but it is the one I always go back to. Here is some info on a DIY Prefilter for the MSR Miniworks EX.

There are people who successfully use only water purification tablets for water treatment. However, if you are just starting out, I would recommend that you go with a filter. Using only tablets requires a lot of planning and knowhow, as well as precise timing.

Item Weight Cost
MSR Miniworks EX 17oz (with bag, sponge, and prefilter); 14.6 as advertised $80.00

Toiletries-You should also bring some other miscellaneous items like toilet paper and soap. Do not bring a whole roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap. Smaller amounts in a ziplock bag will do just fine. None of this should cost you more than $2.

Item Weight Cost
Soap 1oz $1.00
Toilet Paper 0.1oz $1.00
Travel Tooth Brush 1oz $2.00
Total 2.1oz $4.00

Tools-When it comes to tools, there is a bit of controversy. Many people insist that they are essential for anyone going into the woods. I personally do not believe that to be the case. Many people spend months in the woods with nothing more than a knife as a tool. With the above equipment, you should have no problems camping without any additional tools. That being said however, they can certainly make the stay more enjoyable, and allow you to take on projects which would otherwise be out of reach. I carry an axe and a saw because I like using them. If I am honest however, I can easily get by without them. Before you start spending any money on axes, saws and more sophisticated knives, make sure you have all the above basics well covered.  

Saw-Here you have to decide what size saw you want. A larger saw will generally cut faster, but will weigh more. A good small option is the Kershaw 2550X, which will cost you about $20. It is a very good folding saw. A good larger saw is the Trail Blazer 24 inch Take Down Buck Saw. You should be able to find it for about $25. If someone is charging you more than that, keep looking. Here is some info on Modifying a Trail Blazer.


Axe-If you plan on carrying an axe, I would strongly recommend that you learn how to work on one first. You should have no problem taking a completely dull and damaged axe and bringing it back to working condition with minimal tools. If you can not do that, I say you can do just fine with a saw and a knife. If however you want an affordable axe, there are two that I would recommend. The first is the Husqvarna Hatchet. It will cost you $40. You will most likely have to sharpen it, but it is a great value for the money. For a larger axe, I would recommend the Council Tool Boy’s axe, which will also cost you $40. You will again have to do some work on the edge, but it is one of my favorite axes currently on the market. Fiskars also offers a good selection of axes which are affordable and ready for work out of the box.   


Sharpening Stone-If you are going to be in the woods for any extended period of time, especially if you have an axe with you, you will need a sharpening stone. I like stones that do not require water or oil to operate. I use the Fallkniven DC4 stone, which is not cheap at about $27. If you look around you can find better values, although I do not know enough about them to say more than that. Make sure your stone has a course and fine side. The fine side should be very fine, as that is how you get that razor edge.

Item Weight Cost
Bahco Laplander 6.2oz $20.00
Trailblazer Saw 1lb 5oz (21oz) modified $25.00
Husqvarna Hatchet 2lb 3oz (35oz) $40.00
Council Tool Boy’s Axe 3lb (48oz) $40.00
DC4 Sharpening Stone 2.7oz $25.00

The weight of your tools will depend on your choices. The lowest weight option with the Husqvarna Hatchet and the Bahco Laplander saw weighs 2lb 11.9oz (43.9oz). The heaviest option with the Trailblazer Take Down Buck Saw and the Council Tool Boy’s Axe will weigh 4lb 5oz (69oz). I have included the weight of the DC4 sharpening stone in the calculations, but you should make an effort to find a cheaper stone, even if it is heavier.

As always, don’t forget to bring food. In the next post I will try to link to some information on backpacking food, as well as techniques for using the above gear.  

You may also want to bring an extra t-shirt and an extra pair of socks just in case. Do not go overboard on the extra clothing. You do not need to change your clothes every day. You’ve been camping-people will understand.  

I strongly believe that the above gear is more than adequate for a comfortable three season trip into the woods. I have cut weight and cost where possible, but have attempted to preserve all the items that an average backpacker would expect to have on a weekend trip.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 5

Overnight Camping

General Considerations

Now that you have spend some time hiking the trails, the next step is to plan your first overnight trip.

Picture 18

There are two ways to camp overnight. The first is to use a campsite. Most parks have campsites, which require you to book a space, and they provide facilities like bathrooms, and even things like a kitchen and dry fire wood. The other method is to do backwoods camping. That is what I do, and is the method I will discuss here. What I have in mind is, hiking a trail until you decide you want to make camp, and then going off the trail to find a location you like (subject to the restrictions of the park), and setting up your camp.

The first issue is, what are the overnight camping regulations in the park you have selected? Once again, your best guide here will be your map. While parks generally have websites where the regulations should be posted, many of them are incomplete or outdated. Most of them will direct you to the back of the park map, which will provide the rules and regulations. They can range from not allowing any overnight camping, to requiring that it be done within a certain distance from specific markers, to simply requiring that you be away from any water sources and roads. As a general rule, keep your camp site away from water sources and the trails. Your camp should not be visible from the trial.

The second most important question-where do you go to the bathroom? The simple answer is the same as with the campsite. Stay away from water sources and trails. As far as number 1, the only advise I can give is not to pee directly on a tree or rock. It will splatter on your pants. As far as number 2, dig a small hole in the ground, at least six inches deep (using a sharpened stick), and then burry the waste along with any toilet paper you have used. Some people recommend that you burn the toilet paper because sometimes animals can dig it up before it decomposes. There isn’t much more to it than that. Of course, there are people who pack their “waste” out, but I say I’ll start doing that as soon as the bears do.

Something I consider very important is that if you bring anything into the woods, you should bring it back out with you. Do not leave garbage at your camp site. When you leave, the average person should not be able to tell that anyone has camped there. You are not at war with nature; your camp site should not look like it has gone through a carpet bombing campaign.

If you have built a fire, make sure you put it out with water. It should be cold to the touch before you leave the site. There may be fire restrictions in your area, so make sure to read the rules at the back of the map, as well as any posted signs, usually at the entrance of the park.

The process of selecting a good camp site can take some time to learn, and will be different in each area. Generally, you want to find a flat, leveled piece of ground. The last thing you want is to have your sleeping bag sliding around all night long. Finding such a spot may be easy in your area, or it may require some searching. Also try to find a spot that is sheltered from the wind. A strong wind can drain heat away from you, and generally make the stay more uncomfortable. I have made that mistake before, and now spend a good amount of time looking for a sheltered spot. If possible, try to find a location that is walking distance to a water source. You do not want to be next to the water, not only because it can contaminate the water (and is probably against the park regulations), but also to avoid insects. With time, and a few errors, you will figure out the best type of camping spot for your part of the country.

Other than the above practical considerations, there is a mental component to overnight camping. It is a very natural instinct to want to bring your house into the woods. We crave that sense of security, and want to be able to walk into a mini replica of our house once the sun goes down. The realization that the woods are not going to be the same as your home for me is the defining characteristic of bushcraft. My advise is to try to not think about how to recreate your home in the bush, but rather take the woods on their own terms. Yes, there will be insects, there will be unfamiliar noises, and animals walking around. Yes, you will be exposed to the elements to a large degree. The sooner you come to terms with that reality, the faster you can start to enjoy it.  

After a few trips you will start to figure out what works for you in your area, and the mental component will follow as well. Be willing to adjust, and do not be discouraged by mistakes you’ve made.    

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 4

The Day Hike


Now that we have the clothing covered, there are a few other items you should have with you. Please remember that some of these items will change depending on your environment.

Knife-I strongly believe that a knife is an essential tool. It is possible to get by without one, but I don’t consider it good practice. My favorite is the Mora #2. It is a great knife, and costs only $11. In my opinion it is hard to do better for the money. The smaller Mora #1 and the Mora Companion are equally good and cost about the same. I recommend that you not be tempted by expensive, overly designed knives. While they provide a sense of security by virtue of being over engineered, they will not offer much of an advantage from a practical stand point. Eventually, if after you have been in the woods for some time, you decide that you want a particular design, then so be it, but when starting out, it is hard to beat the simple Mora. Remember, this is a hiking trip. You are not being dropped off in the Amazon jungle from a helicopter. A simple cutting tool is all you need.


Water Bottle-For me, I have found that for a day hike in the North East, I need at least two quarts of water. Make sure to carry sufficient water for the trip. There are many water bottles out there, but if you are keeping cost in mind, I would recommend a simple Gatorade 32oz bottle. A bottle of Gatorade will cost you about $2, and will be strong and hold sufficient water. Two such bottles will give you the two quarts of water for a total cost of $4.


Metal Cup-I have to admit that this is very much a security blanket for me. Even though you can easily get through a day hike without one, I like to know that I have some way to boil water. If you have to spend the night in the woods, being able to heat up water will keep you considerably warmer. A good cheap version is the Open Country 12oz aluminum cup. It is fairly small, but costs only $3, and is very light weight.

A good water bottle and metal cup combination is the Army surplus canteen and canteen cup. Just like with the clothing, the reason why I have not recommended them here is that they are not commercially available. You can find them in surplus stores for a very wide range of prices. If you find the set for low cost, you may want to consider it. Keep in mind that they are significantly heavier than the above option.  


Fire Starting Materials-The simplest fire starter is a BIC Mini lighter. It is small, light weight, can be operated by just about anyone and costs 3 for $1. I never go out without one. A box of Coghlans Waterproof Matches makes a great backup fire starting method and will cost you $1 for the box. Avoid paper matches, as they fall apart too easily. You have probably heard of Ferrocerium rods, but I must say I am not a big fan. They are certainly fun to use, but in the hands of the casual user are not nearly as effective as a box of matches. They also require special tinder preparation, which you may not be able to do without sufficient practice. A more important thing to carry is the tinder itself. I like cotton balls and Vaseline, stored in an Altoids Smalls tin. You can put the whole thing together for under $5.


Flashlight-If you get stuck in the woods after dark, a small flashlight like the Fenix E01 can be of great help. This particular one has a microchip, which regulates the electricity, giving a very long duration from a single AAA battery. It costs only $11, and is well worth the price.


Map and Compass-Since we started this whole trip by buying a map, make sure you have it with you. Also, spend the money and buy a $3 compass. Just about any liquid filled compass of regular size (not a button compass) will do. There are many models out there that have many features, but unless you are exploring the West, making maps for the government, a simple one will do just fine. I’ve been using a basic Coghlan’s compass that I bought for $3 many years ago. It has served me fine.


Signaling Device-You may also want to consider carrying a small mirror and whistle so you can signal in a case of an emergency. I don’t get too preoccupied with them because you will most likely self rescue before anyone even starts looking for you, but if you are in a secluded area, they may be well worth the $2.


First Aid Kit-I am not going to say much about this because this is an area where cutting costs is probably not the best idea. Bring the kit which makes you feel comfortable. If you require any medication, make sure to bring it. You may want to bring some insect repellant if bugs are an issue for you, or sunscreen if the sun is a problem. If you want to see what I have in my first aid kit, you can take a look here.

Repair Kit-Here I have in mind something simple. Bring a needle with some thread, as well as a small amount of duct tape, and some string. You never know when you will have to repair an article of clothing. It should cost you no more than $2. You can see mine here packed in an Altoids Smalls tin. The string I like to use is dental floss. It is strong and compact. I also carry some artificial sinew for when I need something stronger, but some nylon string will do just fine.


Water Purification Tablets-Presumably, for a day hike, the water you brought with you should be enough. However, if you have to stay in the woods longer, or for some reason run out of water, it is good to have a way of easily purifying it. The most easily portable way (especially when used as an emergency measure) is the Katadyn Micropur Water Purification Tablets. A 30 tablet pack coasts $13, and each tablet purifies about a quart of water. They are one of the few chemicals that will kill all parasites, bacteria and viruses. It can take time to work on the tough ones, but it will work. They weight almost nothing, and there is no reason not to have them with you. Here you can find some information on Water Filtration and Purification in the Wilderness.


And lastly, don’t forget to bring a sandwich and some snacks. You will burn a good amount of energy walking up and down hills.

To carry all of it, for now a simple book bag or shoulder bag will do. I will mention a larger pack later on when discussing overnight gear, which can also serve you well as a day pack. 

Item Weight Cost
Knife (Mora #2) 3.3oz with sheath; 2.4 oz without sheath $11.00
Water Bottle 1.8oz (3.6oz for two) $2.00 ($4 for two)
Metal Cup 1.7oz $3.00
Lighter 0.3oz $1.00
Tinder (in the Altoids tin) 1.1oz $5.00
Matches 0.7oz $1.00
Flashlight (with battery) 0.7oz $11.00
Compass 0.9oz $3.00
Map 1.1oz $12.00
Mirror 0.7oz $1.00
Whistle 0.3oz $1.00
Repair Kit (in Altoids tin) 1.3oz $2.00
Water Purification Pills 0.1oz (for a dozen) $13.00 (for set of 30)
Total 15.8oz $68.00

For the above list I have used the items you see in the pictures. I’ve used two Gatorade bottles, and the Open Country cup. The weights include the containers that you see in the pictures as well as the knife sheath.

For those who are interested, the Army surplus bottle and cup weight: 4.9oz for the bottle and 7.3oz for the cup. The prices can be all over the place.

I have not included my first aid kit above because you have to decide what you want to carry. Mine weighs 9.8oz. I have no idea what it costs because I have put it together over quite some time.

I believe that the above gear should give you a good foundation in terms of what you need for a day hike. I strongly dislike approaches that center around a 3 piece or 10 piece or 20 piece kit, etc. Those are games that people with too much time play. Think about what you need, and bring it with you. I have no idea how many items are listed above, nor do I care to count. I just think that they are good to have when I am out in the woods. With time you will come up with other options that work for you.

I know there is a temptation to bring a lot of other gear in case of an emergency, but don’t let your imagination run away from you. The above gear should get you through any normal emergency. Keep things in perspective, and remember, this is day hike.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 3

The Day Hike


Now that we have the basics of the day hike covered, it’s time to consider what you have to carry with you. Here we have to strike a balance between the things we will actually need for the hike, and what would be considered emergency gear, in the unlikely even that something goes wrong and you have to spend the night in the bush. Try to resist the urge to bring your house with you, just in case.

First, lets consider the most important equipment you have with you, your clothing. Your clothing is what will keep you warm and dry, and in the unlikely event you have to spend the night in the woods before you can get back on the trail, it is what will let you do it without having to worry about shelter or fire. I strongly believe that you should have sufficient clothing on you to let you spend a (moderately cold) night in the woods without any other gear. Always carry enough clothing for the lowest temperature you are likely to encounter in the 24 hour period after you start your hike. Keep in mind that during the night temperatures in the mountains fall a lot more than they do in the city.

Let’s start with some basic issues. You have probably heard that “cotton kills”. What people mean by that is that cotton, once it gets wet, will lose most of its insulation. Remember, that your clothes will get wet not only from external sources like rain, but also from your sweat. That is why it is best to avoid cotton (including jeans), within reason. Synthetic materials and wool are the preferred choices for outdoor clothing.

Also remember, that the best approach to clothing is to layer the clothing items. It is better to have three thin shirts than one thick shirt. That is because the multiple clothing items create more dead air space, which preserves heat, and it allows you to better regulate your body temperature. If you get too warm, take off one of the shirts. If you get cold, put it back on. You will have to do a lot of regulating, as there is a big difference between how warm you will be while walking, and when you stop to rest. People often carry what is referred to as a base, a mid, and an outer or shell layer.

Keeping all that in mind, let’s look at some clothing items.

Boots-A good pair of boots can make a trip much more enjoyable. That being said however, good booths are expensive, and it is hard to know what type will work for you until you actually do quite a bit of walking in the woods. For example, I have come to like boots with flexible, but thick soles. That is because I carry fairly light loads, which eliminates the need for a stiff sole, but I backpack in very rocky and rough terrain, which requires the thick soles, so I don’t feel every stone. You will figure out what works for you after you spend some time walking with all your gear. I would not spend $150 on shoes before then. A pair of running shoes, or a pair of comfortable work boots will do just fine for now. 

Socks-Some good wool socks will go a long way towards making your hike more comfortable. They do not need to be 100% wool, nor do they need to be any special type of wool. You should be able to get a three pack for about $20. If you go to an Army surplus store, you can find Army issue new ones for much less. 


Base Layer-This layer of clothing is the one directly against your skin. It should be of material that wicks away sweat from your body. Keeping cost in mind, your best bet here is a simple synthetic (polyester) t-shirt. Technically it would be great if you could find synthetic underwear, but I have done fine with regular cotton ones for many years now. A synthetic t-shirt, or one that is a mixture of synthetic and cotton fibers (try to look for something that is more that 50% synthetic) work well, and should cost you no more that $5. Target has a great brand, C9 by Champion, which has great cheap clothing for this purpose.


Mid Layer-First, the pants. Your best value for the money is a pair of cargo pants that is more than 50% synthetic. You can find them in most department stores, and in many military surplus stores (new, not surplus). They should cost you about $20.

For the upper body I like to split it into two clothing items. I may carry one or both of them depending on the time of the year. Here we are again looking at synthetic clothing. The lower mid layer should be something that fits well and is not too bulky like a thin fleece. A long sleeve synthetic shirt will also do well in this role, and in fact would be preferable in hot environments.


For the upper mid layer thicker fleece works great. It will keep you warm, and you can find good fleece clothing for $20 or $30 at any Wal-Mart.


Shell Layer-Keep in mind that fleece does little to stop the wind from cutting through it. A shell layer will stop both the wind, and will protect you from the rain. For this I like a simple nylon jacket. The jacket should have no insulation, as this is provided by the mid layer. A simple nylon jacket should cost less than $30. I bought mine at an Army surplus store, even though it was a commercially made model. C9 by Champion, available at Target, also has some great jackets of this design for under $30. Some people like to carry rain pants as well, but I have managed to go without them so far. A poncho is also a good shell against rain, but the reason why I prefer the jacket is that the jacket can be used as wind protection and to add warmth. A poncho is however, a very good alternative and will cost you about the same.


As you probably noted, all of the clothing I have recommended is synthetic, in some cases mixed with cotton. You may have heard that wool is a good choice for the outdoors, and if used properly, it is. However, new wool clothing can be very expensive. You can find cheaper options in surplus stores, but since my goal here is to recommend low cost commercially available items, wool is out of the picture. If by chance however, you have wool clothing that you would like to use, try to stick to thin shirts/undershirts and sweaters. Avoid thick wool coats. They offer poor insulation for their weight and bulk. A wool sweater combined with a wind proof shell layer will offer you much more warmth for the weight.  

Of course, remember to alter the above basic clothing options to suit your local environment. For example, if you live in an area that is mostly a desert, then a hat with a wide brim and a pair of sun glasses would be a good option to add. Rain gear on the other hand may not be needed.  

Just remember that you do not have to spend a lot of money to be comfortable. Most woodsmen throughout history managed just fine with low cost equipment and whatever clothing they could find. It is tempting to go after the top of the line materials, which offer great performance, but for our purposes, the above clothing will be more than enough. In fact, in the picture below you see me wearing the exact clothing you see in this post in below freezing temperatures, with the addition of a pair of gloves and a scarf.


In time, when you start to figure out what works for you, you can start looking at those more costly items, but they are certainly not necessary, especially for three season backpacking.