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

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…

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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.


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jan 06 2015

In Praise of the Headover

Once upon a time, I caught rides to the local community college with a guy named Don, who taught at the college when he wasn’t running the family farm. We passed the time during the 45‑minute drive in the usual way, by talking. Our conversation was the familiar stuff of everyday chat, revolving around the social trinity of weather, family, and sport. Then, one Monday, Don dropped a bombshell. His brother Jim had just had a close brush with death, and Don wanted to talk about it.

Here’s his story: Jim helped out on the farm, and the two brothers had been stowing hay bales in the barn loft. Jim was loading the elevator when the ends of his scarf — it was a bitterly cold day, and he wrapped a scarf around his neck whenever the temperature dropped below freezing — somehow got caught in the machine’s chain drive. In an instant, the scarf turned into a close approximation of a hangman’s noose, choking the life out of Jim. He couldn’t scream. He couldn’t even speak. To make matters worse, he was almost immediately lifted off his feet by the remorseless, clanking elevator. Seconds passed, and Jim’s world slowly faded to black. Meanwhile, Don had no idea what was happening. He was up in the loft, heaving bales into place. But then he came back for the next bale and he saw his brother hanging by the neck in midair. Jim was clawing feebly at his throat, his face already beetroot red. It was a sight Don wouldn’t soon forget.

Luckily, the story had a happy ending. Don jumped down, hit the kill switch, and cut Jim free before it was too late. Needless to say, both brothers learned an important lesson that day about the dangers inherent in wearing loose clothing around machinery. Me? I didn’t need to be reminded. I was a rock and ice climber, and I’d been a downhill skier as a teenager. Flapping garments of any description were an unwanted distraction when I was hanging from an ice screw, halfway up a frozen waterfall, and I’d already seen what happened when a skier’s scarf got caught in the works of an old‑fashioned T‑bar lift. Not for me, thanks! So I kept looking for better ways to keep the warm in and the cold out. And I found it in the simple neck gaiter, which works well for cycling as well as hiking and paddling.…Read more…

It's How You Wear 'em

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