Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Camping Trip Gear Review

When I took my little 2 day getaway a few weeks ago, I took a lot of gear with me. In fact, 74.2 pounds of gear stuffed in my ALICE pack. Some items were standard camping type gear, and others were more of a survival type gear. Some were older,some new, and a few homemade. Though I didn't get to test any real survival skills, my gear got quite a workout cutting forewood, making my shelter, and cooking. A few items were a total sucess, and others, well, didn't do very good at all. Here is my review of the items that I used most frequently:

1-the Samuri Survival Tool from Emergency Essentials. First of all, I wasn't expecting a lot from a $5.00 combination hammer/hatchet/pry tool. I asked for it for Christmas just cause it was 5 bucks and might be something fun to play with. I was a bit disappointed when I first opened the package. The hatchet edge looked like it was sharpened on a bench grinder with a chunk missing from it's wheel, very rough and lots of tool marks. The black paint had runs all through it, almost like it was dipped in a 20 year old bucket of Dutch Boy and left to dry. But hey, what did I expect for 5 bucks anyway? I spent an afternoon filing then stone sharpening the blade so it would actually cut more than warm butter or a bar of soap, and it got a decent edge on it. I made a heavy nylon sheath for it and fit it to my pack to take with me. I tried using it to cut some firewood, but the blade dulled VERY quickly, and it was just too light to do any real cutting. The handle is very small, especially in my ape hands. (seriously..with my fingers fully spread it is 10 1/2" from the tip of my little finger to the tip of my thumb) I had to swing twice as hard as a normal hatchet to compensate for the lack of weight, which brought out another problem. The plastic handle kept sliding off of the frame. NOT a good situation to have when swinging something sharp (or at least as sharp as this thing could be) I ended up putting it away and using a folding saw to cut and a big rock to drive stakes for the tent and shelter. Overall, I can't REALLY say it's a piece of junk. It would work fine for an emergency pack in your vehicle, but not for any extended period of time. Again...what can ya expect for five bucks? lol

2-Strikemaster H-25 firestarter from Emergency Essentials. This little gadget worked flawlessly every time for starting a fire. I never had a problem with spark or with the magnesium starting. The size is just right for fitting in a pack and for the hand.(even mine!) With the magnesium and some small tinder (I used tree bark) it worked every time. With my homemade TP roll/drier lint starters, it took usually just 3-4 strikes to ingnite. This thing was well worth buying, especially at the price of just $9.99.

3-Since I just mentioned homemade TP roll/drier lint firestarters. These worked very well, but were a bit picky. All I did was stuff a TP roll full of drier lint and seal 10 in a zip seal bag, that was it. To start a fire, I removed the lint from the tube and fluffed it up. Without pulling it apart and "fluffing", it was more difficult to light, but after I did, they lit quickly with just a few strikes from the Strikemaster. I tore the TP roll at the corner, unwraveling it from the seam, and started the corner on fire with the now ingited lint. With a small amount of tinder added, ( I used tree bark and/or tiny dry twigs), I had a fire in no time. I will definitly be making more of these. They work great, and though they are a bit bulky, they are extrememly lightweight.

4-Harbor Freight machete. I was unsure about this thing for the $10 price tag, but I've wanted to try one for years and this was a cheap opportunity. I've never had much use for a machete, but I thought what the hell, for ten bucks I'll give it a shot. Rather than use the beltloop on it's sheath, I cut small slits in it and slid MOLLE clips in them to attach to the pack. This actually worked really well. I had it on the furthest front left loops that I could use, which made it east to take out with the pack still on. (putting it back was a whole other story) It came in handy for clearing small brush around my camp area, and for cutting briars when I made a sort-of trail from the woods to my campsite. I can see now why a good machete is a handy tool to have! I know that I need to put a better edge on it though. Not a very sharp edge, but just enough to cut brush and briars. I'll hang onto this one until I see another one thats better quality that I can afford, but I'm in no rush. This one worked just fine. (I would however kill for a Woodsmans Pal lol)

5-ALICE pack-large. This pack was everything I hoped it would be. It had a lot of capacity, and even more when I added variuos pouches to the MOLLE loops on the outside. It carried the total 74.2 pounds of gear I took without a problem and asked for more. It was comfortable to wear with all of that weight, thanks to the heavily padded shoulder straps and wide padded kidney belt.(though my back disagreed a bit) When I got it, it didn't have the waterproof bag that was issued with them, but I managed to pick one up at the local surplus store (Stars & Stripes Flag and Military) for $10, bringing my total investement to $40 for the whole rig. I did pick up some $2 nylon straps from the camping section at Chinamart, so actually adding the 4 straps, it totalled $48. The straps hooked on the bottom of the frame and held my 2 man tent and sleeping bag. I don't see myself buying some expensive name brand pack in the future at all. I don't get out THAT much, and this thing was more than I bargained for at the price. If I somehow kill it, I'll get another one without a thought.

6-My homemade Sterno Stove. I made this little stove on a whim after looking at them in a catalog. I just took an old sqare grater, cut it off at 5", bent over a lip at the top, and pop rivited 2 pieces of stainless steel to make a cook surface. That was it. EASY. But this thing was a tossup. Did it work and heat water or food? yep. Did it take almost an hour to perculate a 4 cup pot? yep. I imagine it worked just as well as a commercial model, afterall they both do the same thing. It DID heat water for my coffee, (I did the perculator test at home on the porch), but it did take an awfully long time. For something small to pack and not have to light a fire, it would work great, especially if you weren't concerned about time. I imagine it may work inside just as well, if not better, since there would be no wind to fight against keeping it cool. I'll take it next time anyway, and just use it for some mid-day coffee so I don't have to light a fire. I'll try digging a small hole to set it in to help retain the heat more than just being in the open air. It's worth a try again for sure.

7-Ozark Trail multi tool. This was something else I picked up on a whim from Chinamart for $10. I love multitools. I have a Leatherman I have carried with me every day since Lisa stuck it in my Easter basket about 9 years ago. I love my Leatherman so much that I didn't want to take a chance on losing it when I went camping, so I got this cheap one to take along. First of all, compared to my Leatherman, this thing is HUGE. That's not good for some, but again for my ape hands, it fit perfect. It has all kinds of tools that fold out of the handle. Frankly all it was missing was the spoon and kitchen sink. I used the tiny woodsaw for cutting off small branches for the wind break and shelter frame quite a bit, and it worked great. Though it is a small blade it's thick and tough.I used the wire cutters inside the plier end to cut the wire fencing I found to make a grill top for over the fire. It cut just fine, though the wire kept slipping into the small hole at the bottom that I assume is for stripping wire insulation. The knife blade had a good edge right out of the box, so I didn't have to sharpen it at all, and it worked well for cutting the paracord and plastic while making the shelter. The pliers have a spring in between that holds them open, and while it's a good design idea, I see the spring either wearing out fast or breaking/falling out. Great idea, bad design. The only real complaint I have about this tool is the knife blade. The tools all fold out from the outside, rather than the inside like a Leatherman, so the blade has nothing to stop it from folding back towards the handle, and my hand. It really needs some sort of lockblade. Other than that, for a $10 tool, it worked well and perforned without a hitch.

8-Mountain House freeze dried chili mac. Yea....ahhh....yummm. I'm pretty new to freeze dried foods. We've been ordering a little at a time, experimenting with them to see if we liked them We ordered a Mountain House assortment pack from Emergency Essentials a few months ago, and everything was a hit. We ate the pack of beef stroganoff for dinner one night, and it was actually really good. So when we were at Chinamart and I got the multitool, I saw that they carried Mountain House and got the pack of chili mac to take with me. I had it for dinner the first night out on my trip because I wanted something fairly fast and easy to make while I worked on the shelter frame and gathered more firewood. I got a good fire going and boiled water, which is all you need to make this stuff right in the pouch. After the water boiled, I guesstimated the (i think it was) 2 cups to add to the pouch, resealed the zip pouch, and let it "cook" for 15 minutes. Thats it, that simple. I sat by the fire with some coffee and ate it right out of the pouch with a spoon. Yep, yummm.

9-While on the subject of freeze dried foods, I may as well review my dinner that I made on Thursday night from all freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients. My main ingredient for the "soup" was TVP, or Textured Vegetable Protien, beef flavored. I took along some home dehydrated mushrooms and onions, along with some brown rice, bullion cubes, and a small bag of dried beans. I set the beans in a pot of water early in the morning to soak, and didn't start my dinner until around 5:30. I put some water over the fire and when it started to boil, I added all the ingredients and covered it to cook for around 20-25 minutes. The beans of course, hadn't soaked anywhere near long enough and ended up being kinda half crunchy-half soft, but the rest was actually really good. I picked the beans out and enjoyed the rest. TVP has a slightly odd texture that takes a bit of getting used to. It's small, soft, and just a slight bit chewy, but a great meat substitute for things like this. I was really happy with the outcome, (other than of course the beans), and plan to make bags of the same ingredients for the next trip, all mixed together and ready to go, almost like the dry soup you see in the stores. I'll make this a camping staple for sure. It was quick and easy to make, lightweight, and took up very little room in the pack.

10-Last but not least, the Coghlans folding camp saw, their model "180 Sierra Saw". I wanted something beyond the small survival hatchet for doing any wood cutting, so I picked this up at the local sporting goods store while looking through their camping section. I liked the size. The handle is wide and thick, again perfect for my ape hands, and the 7" blade was just the right size that I needed. Again with shopping on a very tight budget, it was only $10 so I picked one up and brought it home. I have mixed reviews on this tool. First and foremost, it does cut wood great. It zipped through the saplings I used for the shelter and through some larger pieces of firewood with ease. It did cut like a dream. But...the blade is rather thin and had a tendancy to bend and bind when I was using more force to cut. It straightens back out pretty easily, but the bending was a bit of a PITA. I also don't care for the blade lock on it. Rather than lock and "click" open like a lockblade knife, this has a lever that you have to move into a notch on the bottom of the blade when it's opened, then lock the lever backwards toward the handle to hold the blade open. While the mechanism did work just fine and not pop open, I would prefer a one handed operation type of lock mechanism, just for ease of use and that rare need to open it in a hurry. I'm not sorry I bought it, and will take it with me on future outings, I'm just pointing out a few things I think would need improved. The size and weight are perfect for fitting in a pack so I can overlook the other problems with it for now. Would I buy another one if this one broke? I doubt it, but it does do what it's supposed to do.

And there it is. The long overdue review of some of the gear I took with me on my first camping trip of the season. This post has been sitting for a month now, and quite frankly, I forgot about it. OOOPS. I am planning on many more camping trips this year, but as of now nothing is scheduled since there are too many other things going for me to disappear in the woods for 4-5 days. I'll get out on days when I can and prepare my now permanent campsite little by little for the next trip. I have plans to make a larger fire ring outside of the shelter, dig a privvy, cut more firewood, and improve on the shelter little by little.I'm sure I'll keep things updated here on the progress and log any future trips to share with anyone. For now though, it's yet another 50 degree, rainy, Ohio spring day and I'm heading back to the basement to finish more walking staffs.

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