Category Archives: Evaluations: Hiking & Camping Gear

Evaluations of hiking and camping-related gear.

The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System: Small Is Beautiful by Tamia Nelson

Quenching your thirst is surprisingly difficult, whether you’re cycling through rural country or trekking in the backcountry. You just can’t assume that wild water is safe to drink. Which explains why clever people have devised many ways to disinfect questionable water. Tamia has weighed her options for how to treat wild water, and the winner is… the Sawyer Mini.

Whether I’m heading out on a long bike ride along back roads with no services, paddling a lonely stream, or bushwhacking into a favorite beauty spot, I have one nagging worry: drinking water.

The Adirondacks, my backyard, is a well-watered place, but trekking is thirsty work, and there’s really no way for me to know if wild water is drinkable. The only valid rule of thumb was articulated many years ago by veteran desert walker Colin Fletcher: “If in doubt, doubt.”

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find a dented tin cup upturned on a stick alongside a stream or spring hole. And I drank my fill at such informal watering spots many times … Continue reading »

Dog Tags: ID That’s as Tough as You Are by Tamia Nelson

If you like to wander off the beaten track, your ID should be as rugged as the rest of your gear, and dog tags certainly fill the bill.

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 … Continue reading »

A Little Snip of a Thing: Dritz Folding Scissors by Tamia Nelson

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 … Continue reading »

Manzella Silkweight Windstopper Gloves: My First Line of Defense Against Cold Hands by Tamia Nelson

My first line of defense against cold hands is a surprisingly effective and durable pair of lightweight windproof gloves.

I like to keep active through the winter. If I didn’t, I’d emerge in the spring ready for the beach—and I’d be the beach ball. So I motivate myself to get out even in rotten weather by making every trip a photo safari, whether I go forth on two wheels or on two feet. But baby, it’s cold out there! So I keep the cold at arm’s length by bundling up in layers of wool and synthetic (not cotton). My hands are a trouble spot. They get cold. Very cold. So to keep my hands warm on winter photo safari, I follow the same principle as when outfitting my body. I layer. And my first line of defense are Manzella Silkweight Windstopper gloves:

Keeping Cold At Bay

They have textured palms and fingers, a soft fleecy interior, reflective accents, and they fit my hands perfectly. Unlike thick gloves or mittens, Windstoppers allow me to work the camera controls without impediment … Continue reading »

The Perfect Cooker for Cyclotouring? A Brief Look at the Trangia Spirit Burner by Tamia Nelson

Ever wondered what the Platonic Ideal of The Stove looks like? Then check out the Trangia Spirit Burners. It’s simple, cheap, and light. And it may just be the best stove for cyclotourists.

I like to cook. In fact, I’ve been known to spend all day preparing a meal. But that’s at home. On a bike tour I subscribe to the KISS principle. I embrace minimalism, and the last thing I want to do is struggle with a fussy camp stove. Give me simplicity, especially if it’s combined with light weight and small size. That’s why I’ve turned my back on my old standbys, the Optimus 111b, the Coleman Peak 1, and the venerable Svea 123. Their replacement? The Trangia Spirit Burner. It appears to be the Platonic Ideal of The Stove, the essence of “stoveness” with none of the extraneous trappings. Just glug in around three fluid ounces of fuel alcohol (known as “methylated spirit” in countries that take the trouble to demand strict labeling), shelter the burner from the wind, strike a match, and light up. … Continue reading »

The Evolution of Outdoor Gear A Trip Down Memory Lane—And More, Besides by Tamia Nelson

When I was teenager, just starting out climbing and canoeing, I made sure I got on every outfitter’s mailing list. Before long I had a big box full of catalogs, and I’d often thumb through them, making comparisons and drawing up ever-changing wish lists. Over the years a growing library of catalogs followed me around from place to place. I simply couldn’t bring myself to discard them. Each time I was on the brink of tossing any in the trash, I hesitated, then got cold feet. But a house fire finally made the decision for me, and that was that.

My catalog library was probably the least important of my losses. So I soon forgot about it. Until one day, not long a ago, when I got an e-mail from Chuck Davis. Chuck suggested that I might want to take a look at a website called Charting the Evolution of Outdoor Gear. I did. And what a trip down memory lane it proved to be! The site’s “Brands” index is loaded … Continue reading »

Walking On Wide Feet: Redfeather Eagle V-Tail Snowshoes by Tamia Nelson

For several winters running, snow conditions here in the northern Adirondacks were so appalling that snowshoeing and cross-country skiing were either unappealing or impossible. Hiking wasn’t much better. Intermittent thaws and freezing rain left the landscape sheathed in ice, and trails were impassible for anyone not wearing crampons and carrying an ice ax. There was an upside, however. The roads were rideable several days each week, so I was able to cycle to town. And on the days when I couldn’t, there was always the nowhere bike or the rowing machine.

But this winter has been different. While we’ve had frequent thaws, there isn’t as much ice, and now the snow is starting to fall in earnest. It’s time to take out the snowshoes!

Except… After two successive snowless winters, I’d sold my snowshoes. But Campmor had a reasonably priced (USD110) pair of tubular-framed decked ‘shoes in its catalog, so I placed my order, and in less than a week I was inspecting my new pair of Redfeather Eagle V-Tail 30 snowshoes. Here they are:… Continue reading »