Archive for the 'Evaluations: Hiking & Camping Gear' Category

Dec 15 2016

Eulogy for an Old Friend: My Orvis Jacket by Tamia Nelson

Article by Tamia NelsonOurs is a consumer economy. If I ever had any doubts on that score, they were put to rest by then New York City Mayor Rudolf (Rudy) Giuliani, in the days immediately following the September 11th attacks, back in 2001. With nearly 3,000 lying dead under the rubble, and a still‑smoldering gap in his city’s skyline, what did Rudy urge his fellow Americans to do? To unsheathe their credit cards and hit the shops, that’s what. His message was clear: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. And though this rallying cry falls a little short of Thomas Paine‘s soaring cadences, if you view it as a prescription for national economic survival in the 21st century, Rudy’s message was probably right on the mark.

But I came of age in another time. In the small farm town where I grew up, people thought that “making do” was part and parcel of what it meant to be a patriot. My grandparents and many of their neighbors had lived through the privations of the Great Depression and the ration‑book stringencies of the Second World War. They didn’t see much point in shopping till they dropped. Their watchwords were “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” This was a very different world than the one we live in today, obviously. Back then, Americans were producers, first and foremost, not consumers. American factories still made most of the things that were for sale in the stores, many families got by with only one car, and traveling to some far‑distant destination by air was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime treat. On school trips, my classmates and I didn’t jet off to Paris. We spent the morning at a local farm.

The country has moved on since those days, of course, and wearing things out is passé. It’s, like, so yesterday. I don’t have to look far to find the evidence. Every spring, the thrift shop racks in the nearby college town fill up with nearly new student castoffs. The faculty contribute their share to this seasonal largesse, too. No one wears the same clothes for two years running, it seems. Well, no. That’s not quite true. Not all of us have moved on to the broad, sunlit uplands of perpetual consumption. Not quite. A few hard cases still place function ahead of fashion and think that frugality is a virtue.

Like me. And there are some items of clothing that I’ll keep wearing till they fall in tatters around my feet. Take my old Orvis waxed‑cotton wading jacket.… Read more…

Published in incomplete and inaccurately portrayed form at on 13 December 2016

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Oct 21 2015

John Wayne Rides Again: Booking a Ticket on the Memory Train

John Wayne and Friends

Size isn’t everything. Sometimes small is beautiful. And small things often play big parts in our lives. My recent column about the legendary “John Wayne” — a very big name that’s attached itself to the minuscule military‑issue P‑38 can opener — pretty much confirms this. The John Wayne has played a large role in lot of readers’ lives, too, and for many it still does. Quite a few of you wrote to me on the subject, in fact. And since you were good enough to give me permission to reprint your letters, I thought it only right and proper to do so — to give Big John a proper send‑off, so to speak.

So here goes, starting with Gary Bayless’ story of the day John Wayne came to his rescue …Read more…

Jul 30 2015

Going to Ground: In Search of the Ideal Groundsheet

Going to Ground

I’ve rolled out my sleeping bag in some pretty unlikely places: scree slopes, abandoned graveyards, the platforms of deserted railway stations, fetid tussocks next to sewerage outflow pipes, in ankle‑deep mud on riverbanks, on the floor of a (supposedly) haunted house… And often there was nothing under my bag but earth or splintered wood. But my days of roughing it are, I hope, behind me. I certainly don’t need to prove anything to myself anymore, and I’ve learned that, far from detracting from my enjoyment when I’m in the backcountry, a modicum of comfort enhances it. Which is why I always tuck a groundsheet under my tent or sleeping bag now. You could say I’ve come to the conclusion that groundsheets are fundamental… Read more…

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

May 26 2015

Dog Tags: ID That’s as Tough as You Are

Whether on two wheels or two feet, I like to stray far from the beaten path — to explore hidden places and follow the gravel lanes that branch off from unsignposted town roads. I track wild creatures through hawthorn thickets and scratchy spruce hells, and I watch them from hastily improvised hides on the shores of lonely ponds. Sometimes these excursions leave me standing in driving rain for hours. At other times, they require that I trudge through seemingly bottomless mires.

In any case, carrying unprotected ID isn’t always practical. Moreover, I don’t fancy dropping my driver’s license and other documents in the ooze at the bottom of a beaver pond. Of course, I could seal my ID in a ziplock bag, but that would only keep the contents dry; it wouldn’t prevent loss. Which explains why I often leave my wallet at home. Still, I don’t like the idea of being anonymous. What if a windfall or crumbling ice cornice were to knock me senseless? What if a distracted driver crashes into me and leaves me sprawled unconscious on the highway? How would any passerby know who I was? And how would they contact my family?

While such eventualities don’t make for happy reading, they can and do happen. Every day. When a dog ran under Farwell’s front wheel some years back, the crash sent him over the bars at 20 mph and left him lying unconscious in the middle of the road. It was some minutes before he came to his senses. Long enough for the dog’s owner to spirit his (uninjured) pet away, in fact — but not, curiously, quite long enough for him to call an ambulance. To make matters worse, when Farwell finally came to, he couldn’t remember who he was, let alone how he’d come to be standing in the middle of a county road next to a broken bike, with a mouthful of shattered teeth and a haze of blood dimming the vision in his only good eye. Luckily, he rallied quickly. He had a cell phone in his ‘bar bag, and — miracle of miracles — he was just inside a coverage area. So his story ended more or less happily. But it could easily have gone the other way.

So I like to carry something that identifies me and gives any first responder enough information to guide my immediate treatment. But how best to carry it? That’s the question. At first, I considered an identity bracelet, but I don’t like wearing anything on my wrist besides a watch. Many runners and cyclists buy Road ID tags and strap them around their ankles, but my aversion to bracelets extends to all my extremities. Moreover, paying USD20 (or more) for what amounts to a tag on a strap didn’t really appeal. Then I hit on something that should have been obvious from the outset: the dog tag. It was, after all, the original all-but-indestructible ID.

The rest was easy. A Web search quickly led me to DogTagsOnline, a business which — surprise! — does nothing but make custom dog tags. Ten bucks got me a pair of the sturdy metal lozenges, two breakaway chains (one long and one short), and a couple of rubber silencers. Standard shipping had the whole package on my doorstep in four days. I now wear one tag around my neck whenever I venture out. The other gets clipped to my ‘bar bag or key ring. Peace of mind seldom comes so cheap.

Tabula Rasa


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

May 14 2015

The Things We Carry: The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System

Meet the Mini

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I’m hoping to go home again this fall — largely by water. It’s a journey of some 200 miles across the Adirondack mountains, and I’ll want to get back (another 200 miles) before the snow starts flying in earnest, so I’ll be traveling light: pack canoe, rucksack, and as little else as is compatible with comfort and safety. It won’t all be paddling, either. I can count on doing a fair bit of wading, with a little lining and tracking thrown in for good measure. And then there are the portages, some of which will require that I bushwhack over heights of land. I may even have to do some light bouldering. The upshot? Every ounce counts. But at least the biting flies will have retired for the year — or so I hope.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a wilderness trek, and the country I’ll be traversing certainly isn’t the sort described in the rather purple prose of the Wilderness Act. There’s probably no place in New York whose “community of life” could be said to be “untrammeled by man.” In truth, there’s no such place on earth. We’ve left our pug marks (and our garbage) everywhere. Nor will I be journeying through a landscape where “man … is a visitor who does not remain.” Every banker, movie star, and plastic surgeon east of the Mississippi now owns a gated enclave in the Adirondack Park. (Yes, I’m exaggerating. But not by much.)

All of which being said, there’s a lot of wildness — that’s wildness, not wilderness — left in those odd corners of New York that are too boggy (or too buggy) to interest the developers. The taxpayers own a good bit of property, too, much of it enjoying at least some degree of protection under the “forever wild” clause of the state constitution. To be sure, this protection is steadily being nibbled away. But much of the Adirondacks is still blessedly free of both strip malls and rustic McMansions. And it’s my country. I’ve been knocking about in its hills and on its waters since I was a girl.

So I’m looking forward to going home again and revisiting some of my old haunts. I have one nagging worry, however: drinking water. Yes, the Adirondacks is a well‑watered place, but paddling is thirsty work, and there’s really no way for me to know if the water under my keel is drinkable. The only valid rule of thumb was articulated many years ago by veteran desert walker Colin Fletcher: “If in doubt, doubt.” Of course, back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find a dented tin cup upturned on a stick alongside most streams and spring holes. And I drank my fill at such informal watering spots many times without any qualms. But times change. Nowadays there’s likely to be a 100‑unit second‑home development just a mile upstream. Or maybe the last person to pass by decided the spring hole was the perfect place to do her laundry, including her baby’s dirty diapers. Or the trail might be popular with local dog‑walkers, all of whom think pooper‑scoopers are just for city folk.

Which is probably why you don’t see many tin cups by streams these days — and why I’m left with only Fletcher’s Law to guide me: If in doubt, doubt. And then? I treat the water… Read more…

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Feb 03 2015

A Little Snip of a Thing: Dritz Folding Scissors

There was a time when scissors were the height of hi-tech. But that was a long while ago. Still, when you need a pair of scissors, no other tool will answer. I always have a sharp knife in my trekking kit, of course. But a knife isn’t the tool of choice for trimming your nails or cutting away that lock of hair that’s always getting in your eyes or snipping off a thread from an unraveling seam. Unfortunately, though, scissors are a nuisance to pack. Their sharp points drill right through most fabrics, and who wants holes in a pannier? Nobody I know.

Which is why I was delighted to discover Dritz folding scissors. Similar little snips were once found on every outfitter’s shelves, but they’re much harder to come by these days. I bought mine from Amazon. They’re not full-sized, but they’re big enough to do most of the jobs that need doing in camp or on the road. I even find myself using them around the house. And they’re wonderfully self-contained, with no sharp bits to poke holes in pocket or pannier. Plus they weigh almost nothing and take up next to no space. And the cost? Five bucks.

What’s not to like? But maybe you’ve never seen a pair of folding scissors. If so, here’s how they look:

Know How to Unfold 'em

Photo A shows them folded, with a nickel for scale. (If you’re unfamiliar with US coinage, the nickel is the five-cent piece. It’s about three-quarters of an inch in diameter.) They open as shown in photo B, while photo C gives you a top-down view, showing how the handles are slotted to sheath the blades and points when folded. And photo D? It displays the scissors fully deployed. Are they sharp? They are. Do they work as scissors should? You bet! And that’s why they’ll always find a place on my packing list.


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Older Articles »