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

Feb 23 2013

Aches and Pains? Get the Massage!

Some days I wake up feeling as if I’d spent the night bouncing down a long drop, only to finish up at the bottom just as dawn breaks, battered and bruised but still alive.

I’m sure I’m not alone. The human frame is wonderfully robust, of course. Our muscles have all the resilience of elastic bands, stretching and rebounding countless times without complaint. But sometimes—and here I’m borrowing one of Phil Liggett’s signature lines—the elastic suddenly snaps, often without warning.

The result? Pain. Stiffness. And the unwelcome discovery that formerly simple tasks have now become impossible. In a word, misery. Among canoeists and kayakers, strenuous paddling and killer portages are probably the likeliest culprits, though they’re far from being the only offenders. Heaving heavy boats on and off racks at home or on the road can also leave us in agony, and the rigors of amphibious expeditions can lay all but athletes low, especially if the planned route involves mile after mile of “rough stuff,” towing a heavily loaded bike trailer up unmaintained jeep tracks and fire roads in search of some remote and little-frequented put-in. Occasionally, even a lazy stretch on first awakening can prove our undoing.

Youngsters and young adults usually bounce back fast. But those of us with more miles on the clock aren’t so quick to mend, and old injuries sometimes get a sort of second wind, coming back to plague us long after we thought they’d healed. This happened to me not long ago, when an ancient neck strain flared up. The original damage was done on a rain-slick portage trail, when I stumbled while carrying our 110-pound Old Town XL Tripper. The yoke slipped off my shoulders and the big boat landed squarely on my head, leaving me with a (very) stiff neck and a mighty sore noggin. In a few days, though, I was back to normal. Or so I thought. Then, years later, I lunged to grab a bag of flour that I’d knocked off a high shelf in the kitchen, only to I feel an agonizingly familiar stab of pain in my neck. The sleeping dragon had been roused.

During the following week I lurched around like Richard III, head cocked to one side, muttering curses. Then I did what I should have done immediately—made an appointment with an orthopedist. Happily, he found nothing seriously amiss, but since the pain wasn’t going away, he advised a six-week course of physical therapy. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea, to be honest. In my mind’s eye, physical therapists were muscle-bound sadists with the souls of inquisitors, who practiced their dark arts in cheerless cells filled with instruments of torture. Still, summer was fast approaching, and I was getting anxious to shake off the winter of my discontent. So I figured I’d give the doc’s prescription a try. And I’m mighty glad I did. The Terminator Therapist of my bleak imaginings turned out to be a genial triathlete whose professional skills produced almost immediate improvement. I was soon walking upright again, and by the time my six-week course of treatment had ended, my neck was its old self once more, pain-free and fully mobile. No more Richard III.

My dread of encountering a modern-day inquisitor’s rack was groundless, obviously. Instead, the time-honored, hands-on arts of massage and manual traction were the linchpins of my recovery. This got me thinking about the benefits of massage… Read more…

Getting the Massage

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Oct 11 2012

The Far-Seeing Eye: Focusing on Monoculars

The Long View

The human eye is a wondrous thing, but it has its limitations. Just ask any birdwatcher. There’s a good reason why twitchers are almost always pictured holding binoculars. And it’s not just twitchers. Paddlers, too, frequently find that their Mark I eyeballs need a little help. Here are a few for‑instances: Is that hazy gap in the tree line a blind bay, or is it the outlet you’ve been looking for all morning? Is the clearing that’s just visible on the far shore of the lake a fire scar or the head of the portage trail? And what about that dark mass rising out of the water in the rapids ahead? Is it a boulder? Or a patient, if somewhat peckish, momma grizzly, waiting for a meal to drift her way? You’ll want to know.

In cases like these I reach for my binoculars. To be sure, if I happen to have my camera handy, and if my long telephoto lens is already fitted, I could use that to extend my eyes’ reach, instead. But I don’t often keep my camera around my neck when I’m on the water. And the camera’s little LED display is no match for the crystal‑clear image I get when I look through a good pair of binoculars.

Luckily, I own two very good pairs. The original black finish on my old Bushnell 8 x 36 Audubon binoculars may have worn away in many places, but the optics are as sharp as they ever were. And my little Bushnell 7 x 26 compacts are unequalled when it comes to bringing nearby objects even closer — something I often have to do when I’m trying to identify an elusive warbler in dense cover. I also have a dirt‑cheap pair of Tasco 8 x 21s that long occupied a berth in a PFD pocket. They couldn’t match the performance of either pair of Bushnell binoculars, however, and the Tasco’s individual focus was a perishing nuisance when I was in a hurry. But at least they wouldn’t have set me back much if I happened to go for an unplanned swim. They were also very light and wonderfully compact.

Still, I often found myself wishing for something even lighter and smaller. And the answer had been staring me in the face for quite a while: monoculars… Read more…

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Apr 12 2012

The Brunton 27LU Compass: The Huntsman Rechristened

Spring has long been celebrated as the season of rebirth and renewal, a time when the earth shakes off winter’s threadbare mantle and cloaks itself afresh in new life. But even the diehard romantics among us probably don’t imagine that this annual renaissance extends to the world of consumer products. I certainly don’t. Of course, I’m not what you’d call a material girl. I buy things because they work for me, and then I hang on to them till they wear out. My pack canoe, ash paddle, and “getaway” rucksack have all been with me for a quarter of a century, or near enough, and I don’t see any reason to replace them.

I feel the same way about my little Silva Huntsman compass, which has been keeping me company for almost as long as my pack canoe and paddle. And that explains why, when I went looking for a second Huntsman, I was bitterly disappointed to learn it was no longer available. The fact that its name had now been bestowed on a zombie product — inferior in every way to the original Huntsman, at least in my eyes — only served to add insult to injury. But I couldn’t afford to waste time being sentimental. I needed a small compass that I could slip into the transparent map pocket on my “amphibious” bicycle‘s handlebar bag whenever I felt like heading down the road, folding boat in tow. That compass had to be… Read more…

Going Places

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