"Evaluations: Hiking & Camping Gear" Archives

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


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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.


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Dec 09 2014

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

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 (they’re not so bad for changing a flat tire, either). I also appreciate the D-ring and snap-link that join the gloves together for times when I stow them inside my pack. Another feature I like are webbing loops sewn into the cuffs. A long lanyard connecting the two gloves and threaded through the sleeves of my jacket insures that I won’t drop one along the trail.

Of course, the Windstoppers alone aren’t enough in really cold temperatures. When the mercury drops below 45 degrees or so, I pull a pair of thick fleece gloves right over them. Then, when I need to free my fingers for fiddly work—using a camera, say, or scrolling through the menus on my GPS—the heavy fleece gloves come off again. But the Windstoppers stay put. And they live up to their name. Provided I do what needs to be done quickly, my fingers remain comfortably warm.

So far, so good. But one of the unhappy consequences of accelerated product development cycles—not to mention manufacturers’ growing tendency to confuse fashion with function—is the short shelf-life of many products. By the time I’ve bought something and used it long enough to form an opinion about it, it disappears from the stores. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that Windstoppers are still available from some sources even though I got my pair six years ago. Now that‘s something to celebrate.

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Oct 04 2010

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

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. The burner will already be operating at maximum efficiency by the time you put the pot on. There’s nothing to pump, no priming or preheating (in above-freezing temperatures, at any rate), and no need to pack a kit of spare parts and a special wrench. Sound ideal? It is. In fact, it’s Ideal. And If you’ve never seen an Ideal in the flesh, here’s a brand new Trangia in all its glory:

Trangia Spirit Burner

What about it? Do you like the idea of cooking your meals on an Ideal? Then here are a few things to keep in mind when using a Trangia:

  • Alcohol flames are invisible in sunlight. What you don’t see can hurt you.
  • Never screw the lid back on a hot burner. The O-ring will melt.
  • Use the simmer ring, not the lid, to snuff out the flame when you’re done cooking.
  • Don’t cook inside a tent or confined space.
  • Carry fuel alcohol in a clearly marked bottle. Methylated spirit is toxic.
  • Never, ever try to refill a hot burner. It may be the Ideal stove, but it’s not foolproof.

I’ve had my Trangia spirit burner only a few weeks, but I’m already mightily impressed. If it continues to perform as well as it has so far, we’re going to be inseparable.

Trangia is Cooking

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