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Fire From the Gods? Whats in Your Pocket?

Picture yourself, The Middle Pleistocene era walking up to the cave, your fellow hominids are sitting around trying to rub some sticks together to get fire going.  You reach into the medicine bag hanging around your neck.  You grab something, reach down to the fire and push a button and PRESTO, Flames from the gods ignite the fire.  The rest of your tribe gathers around you, making offerings of animal skins and baskets of fruit, and slabs of thick cut meat.  Yes, Life is good.    Fast forward 700,000 years, and you can do the same, but may or may not be given all the offerings.

Yes, this is a review of a simple lighter, and should probably be 3 paragraphs, but where would the fun be in that?   So Today, I had a little more fun in writing a bit of a whopper of a review on such a simple item.   Mostly just out of a sense of fun. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The UST (Ultimate Survival Technologies) Wayfinder Butane Lighter with Compass

MSRP $14.99  Can be commonly found at Walmart for around $9.95.

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In the Package

Most comparable lighters online are in the $7:00 to $19.00 range.  Some similar lighters can be found much lower.  But I can’t judge quality of those in comparison having not used them.  There are some nice high end lighters with certified waterproofing and easier to use controls.  Look at the Delta Stormproof lighter for some of those higher end features in the $35+ range and you’ll see what I mean.

Before we get started, this question must be answered.  “Why a lighter?”.  You’re an outdoorsman, you can make fire with friction if you had to, matches are dirt cheap and easy to carry.  Heck, even a Ferro rod can make fire so easy, why on earth bother with a lighter?

To answer this question, I always start with a classic survival question.  You’re in a dire survival situation, sun is setting, temp is dropping rapidly, you have nothing on you but a ferro rod, a lighter, and the materials for a bow drill.  Which one are you going to light the fire with to save your life?  In a real survival situation, the lighter is the most immediate and effective means.  Could be windy, could be wet or raining and the match or ferro become a little more difficult to use, requiring more effort as your body reaches hypothermia.  You lose dexterity to operate some of these effectively.  (I have had hypothermia up to the point where my mind was starting to say “Lets just go to sleep, you don’t care anymore”.  Drown-proofing in a cold pool in October while in the Army.   I could barely grab a ladder to climb out of the pool, needed help.  Trust me, you lose dexterity in your fingers quickly and not long after that, you just don’t really care anymore).

Sure, out camping, just hanging out in the woods.  Take your time, make a fire with a ferro rod, or take the time to build a bow drill and do some fire by friction practice.    But even sitting around at work or at home, you need to melt some paracord ends?  The lighter is the quick, practical way to do that.   So, it just makes sense to keep a lighter on you.

I know some people are “Technology averse”, and may think technology is bad, and doesn’t belong in the field.  But even many of them still carry a lighter or other technology with them.  Mostly because it’s convenient and quick.  It’s just simply useful, but in the same respect, a lighter IS technology.  Just like a knife is “Technology” over a knapped piece of obsidian tied to a deer antler with some coyote tendons.  Technology isn’t bad, it’s just another tool to be used.  But like any tool, if you depend on it too much, if it breaks on you, your need to have the skills to use alternatives (like a ferro rod or a bow drill).  Dependence is never a good thing.  ANY piece of equipment can break or get lost (Even that $400 custom made specialty knife you love to death could accidentally be lost).  So make sure you have your alternatives, and your skills.   But don’t dismiss a tool because “Egads:  Technology”.  You’d still be carrying a knapped knife and wearing animal skins.  😊

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1 screw to access the inner workings

There are a lot of lighters available for all walks of life.  Some pretty high end super tough lighters on down to the cheap Bic knockoff lighters you can get at 50 cents each.  I used to carry the little Bics because they were cheap and disposable and the small ones ride in your pocket very well.   But they have the problem with the button being pushed while they are in your pocket and then the fuel leaks out and presto, you go to use it and it’s empty.    I’ve had them go empty in my pocket in less than a week and I’ve had them last for a couple months, but it’s a crap shoot.  Not something I feel confident enough in to trust my life to.

So, I have tried a couple of options.   In the Army I carried a Zippo, But soon discovered I didn’t care for them.  They tended to leak and dry out quickly.  And messing with transporting and carrying liquid fuel is a pain.  Sure, they looked cool, and it was fun to pull it out and snap my fingers and pop it open, but after a while I stopped carrying them.  I tried a peanut lighter and a forever match and a larger version, but would hate to try to use one if I was hypothermic, and both still leaked and aren’t as convenient as a thumb operated lighter.   After that I used Bic’s.  Then high pressure butane lighters started getting popular.  I have purchased a couple from gas stations in the $5.99 range on up to the $17.00 Spark Multi-tool butane lighter (Which turned out to be a total piece of junk, don’t ever waste your money on it).    Most just don’t stand up to pocket carry well.

My last butane lasted about 3 months before the cap broke off.  So, I have been in the market a for a replacement, but didn’t want any of the same old versions I see everywhere.  I was at Walmart and I’ve had mixed feelings about UST gear.  Some UST gear is a great value, the Spark Force Ferro’s are great, I LOVE the Polymer resin carabiners, lightweight, nonmetallic, tough enough and work great.  The small tarps are decent, (I don’t care for most of the cutlery as previous evaluations have shown).

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At this angle you can make out the rubber seal

The Wayfinder Lighter from UST was hanging in the camping section at Walmart.  I decided to give it a try.  I didn’t expect much.  Cheap plastic shell, button compass on the side.   But figured, it had to be better than the spark that had failed horribly.    Got it home and opened it up and was surprised.  It’s much more solid than I expected.   I popped the lid open and first impression was “No rubber O ring so not waterproof.    Which turned out to be my mistake. (Hey, I’m human, I make plenty of mistakes).   The lighter housing is chrome and there is a rubber gasket, but it’s so small and so close to the edge it’s lost in the reflection of the metal.

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Easy  flame control as long as you have a strong fingernail or knife

Once I figure out there was a gasket, I had to do some water testing.  This lighter is not billed as waterproof, it doesn’t say waterproof in the specs or on the packaging.  But I did 2 water tests.  I put it in a glass of water (This does not float, they do have some available that do but I don’t care for the more squared designs, I like rounded edges for pocket carry).    I did the first test for 5 minutes.  I was not surprised to see a lot of bubbles coming up.  Figured it was leaking.   But Pulled it out and low and behold, the chamber was dry.   (Turned out the water was going into the tiny chamber where the rocker arm is that houses the cap release, so the water didn’t enter the lighter at all.     After 30 minutes in water, it was still bone dry and worked fine.   There is a screw on the base that allows you to remove the lighter from the housing also.

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Latch Down, push button to release cap

The lighter works well, it does come empty so buy yourself a bottle of butane to fill it.  If you use butane lighters, you probably already have a bottle at home.  😊

The compass, It’s a standard button compass.  It works as well as any button compass.  Much like anything else, it doesn’t need to be there, but why not, doesn’t hurt anything and it’s still a compass and still works.

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With locking latch closed.  It has not come open in my pocket yet.

It has a great latch system.  Easy to operate 1 handed, and the flip up wire lock keeps the cap secured very well.

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Lanyard hole and compass

The flame is adjustable via a small turn screw on the bottom around the fill port.  This does require something akin to a knife or strong fingernail to turn.  Depending on the altitude you’re at it may need adjusting.

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30 minute water test was successful. The bubbles are from inside the thumb release, not the lighter itself.

All in all, it’s a decent lighter at a reasonable price.  There are probably better buys out there, higher quality, lower price, so find something you like or that fits you, but for the price, this is a decent little lighter and everyone should have a lighter in their pocket anyway.   Now, I’ve only had it for a week, so only time will tell if it’s tough enough to stand up to my pocket carry.  (I’m going to keep an eye on the rocker pins which I think are its weakest point).  I have high hopes and reasonable expectation. LOL   I’ll come back again in a couple months and let you know how it’s fairing.

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Lid Opens past 90 degrees, easier to get the flame to tight spaces.

Pros:

  • Tough plastic shell (I did more than 20 drop and toss tests with it and it’s still running just fine)
  • Adjustable flame
  • Cap is spring loaded and stays out of the way.
  • Solid latch to keep the lid closed and waterproof
  • Compass, (Why not? LOL)
  • Lanyard hole to add a lanyard if you like. (Could attached it to a pack if you wish.
  • Cap opens past 90 Degrees (many capped butane lighters do not, so they can be tough to get into tight spaces)
  • Bright Orange. (I like bright colors for pocket carry stuff, easier to spot in the grass when you drop it).

Cons:

  • No rubber grip. (This is more of a personal preference, it does have a good texture cutouts, but I like a non-slip rubbery grips)
  • No shock absorber built in like more expensive versions. (Not sure how useful that really is, as I have done dozens of 5 to 8 foot drop tests and a couple of 20 foot “Toss” onto concrete tests and it’s fared well.
  • Flame doesn’t get as high as some other lighters.

 

 

 

 

 

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DIY – Leatherman ALX Sheath

2016-09-30-06-59-58I’ve been wanting to do this project for a while.  After my last factory sheath died a horrible death on my belt.  I decided I wanted to build one myself.  I didn’t like the sheaths that were available in other materials besides leather.  But the leather sheaths I found were either custom, and far too expensive for me (Even though I would LOVE to have some of them) but also, the factory sheath didn’t have the features I wanted.  So I set about and designed one of my own.

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This is what I came up with.  Unfortunately I didn’t document the process, I was just in a hurry to knock it out and get it back on my belt.  I had missed it for quite a few months.

The leather is not as heavy as I would like.  This is about 3oz leather.  A heavier 5 oz would be better.  But this is scrap I had laying around (Did I mention I’m a cheapskate LOL).

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The most important thing I wanted was to be able to carry the bit kit with it.  In my first Leatherman sheath the bit kit rode in the sheath in a similar manner, but was always getting stuck and difficult to pull out.  After that sheath broke, the canvas sheath had a stretch fabric to hold the bit kit and the corners of the bit kit tore it up really fast.

This is hand punched and hand stitched.  The snap was from a kit.  This is just the prototype and it has a tiny bit more play than I intended.  So the next will be a tad bit tighter.  I did wet-form it around the weatherman wrapped in a Ziploc bag to get some definition to the sheath, but it could stand to be a tad bit tighter.

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I didn’t have the bottom cut out as I intended to have it sealed, but once I started stitching I discovered that that would not work.  So I cut a half moon on the bottom and that corrected it.  Due to this modification, the Leatherman can be carried opened up in the pliers configuration.

The stitching is done with a waxed natural hemp cord.  This stuff is very strong for it’s size and has the more natural look than modern threading.  I died the leather with a Sedona Red stain.  Helps protect it and the deep redish color makes it fit in well with bot jeans and my dress clothes for work.

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I also extended the belt loop up  a bit. Both of the old sheaths rode high on the belt and would occasionally poke into my side sitting in chairs or in the car.  This longer loop allows it to dangle down a tad bit more and has a little more flexibility.  Much more comfortable to wear.

I did stamp my initials on it, but did not do it very deep.

I’m going to duplicate this sheath with some heavier leather.  This was just the practice and concept version.

It’s obviously nothing fancy.  None of the refinement you’ll see in leather goods produced by true craftsman.  But it gets the job done and as in life, everything is a learning process. You don’t have to be an expert.  You just have to make the effort.

This is also proof that anyone can do this.  A leather punch, some thread, a sharp knife (I use the Tibo from the previous review for all my leather work) a big needle and some cheap scrap leather and anyone can do it.  I learned a few things building this, and when I do the next one, it will be better, and each time I do something after that, it will be better.  So keep working on your projects, they will improve.  I have no talent when it  comes to crafts like this.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  Pick up some scrap leather and start playing with it.  Make a small bag, or a phone cover or something simply just to get started.  Before you know it, you’ll be making really useful stuff that will last a lifetime.

Hope this inspires you to get out there and build something.

Doc

 

 

 

 

 


Lighting Your Way Today

Considering that roughly one third to one half of every day is in the dark (Depending on where you are and the time of year, and not accounting for storms, eclipses, giant spaceships blocking out the sun, etc.) one of the more critical things we as human beings rely on is light.  That could be candle light, kerosene lantern light, firelight, electric lights or battery powered lights.

I always carry a flashlight on me, in fact, I generally have two or even three depending on time of year and clothing.  If I’m running around in shorts and a T-shirt, I’ll have 1, I have a spare in my spring jacket and when wearing heaver clothing I keep 2 spares (1 spare hand light and a headlamp for hands free use).

3 lights

Lots of light in a small amount of space

Any ole flashlight will do in most situations.  I was lucky enough to see a motorist one night (-28 degrees, middle of winter) trying to change a tire in the dark.  I pulled in and walked up to see if I could help.  He didn’t have a flashlight and could barley see what he was doing and had already spent 20 minutes in the freezing cold feeling around and figuring out how the spare tire release and jack worked in the dark by feel.     Simply pointing a light allowed him to finish in 3 or 4 minutes what would have taken another 10, (And would have turned a 30 minute job into a 7 minute job had he had it to begin with), which in that kind of cold might save a few digits.   Keep a flashlight in your vehicle at all times.  (I recommend you put it in a Ziploc bag with 2 sets of battery’s,  don’t load the batteries in the light or they may corrode and make it useless when you actually need it).  This can be a cheap flashlight.  Most alkaline batteries will last 8 to 10 years so you have plenty of time.

I do recommend going with an LED light over a bulb light.  If you use bulb lights, throw an extra bulb in with them.  However in this day and age LED’s are just as inexpensive now and offer both equal lighting AND longer battery life.  Can’t really go wrong with them.  They also work in temperature ranges higher and lower than bulb lights.  (I’ve burned a couple of mag-light bulbs in sub zero temps back in the old days (yeah, I’m 45 LOL) so the spare is always a must).

I also recommend keeping a headlamp in place of a standard hand light for most “Storage” lights, like home, car, pack etc.  (EDC “Every Day Carry” light exceptions we’ll discuss in a minute.   Head lamps have the benefit of keeping both hands free and if it has an adjustable angle bracket, can really keep light exactly where you need it.  i also discovered that as I got older I developed a gag reflex if I hold items in my mouth like a flashlight.  When I was younger I could do it all day.  Now, if I hold something in my mouth like the butt of a light for more than about 10 seconds, I start getting the urge to vomit.  Not sure why this came up on me as I got older, but it is what it is.

EDC lights:  I carry three lights with me most of the time unless it summer and I don’t have a coat or lite jacket (no pun intended. LOL).   Four if you count my FAK/Pack light.

I’ll go over the 4 I carry and why I carry them and their particular features.  Everyone has different needs, so by all means, do the research, find the lights that work best for you and your purposes.   This is just to help you see my own thoughts and if they help you figure out what works, great!

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Olympa RG245

First of all, my pocket light, the one that is on me everywhere all the time.  The one I use the most.  I got lucky on this one, I picked up an Olympia RG245 for about $30.  This light is typically $42 to $55.  Now, everyone knows I like value. I don’t generally go spending $40 or $50 bucks on a piece of gear unless it’s critical.  And when you can buy inexpensive led lights for $8 r $10 that can take some abuse and work well.  It’s hard to justify spending more.   But it’s worth it.

What you get for the extra money are a few features that are very useful.    Good circuitry that allows for even battery usage and extend life of the battery.  A temporary flash mode to let you know when the battery is getting low. (Otherwise it would just suddenly shut off).  Instead of a light that is just turned on or off, you get multiple settings.  There is a high beam good for defense to temporarily blind an adversary or at least interrupt their vision.  Or when you need a lot of light to light up a large area or see a good distance of 245 lumens.  This runs for about 1 hour on a single CR123 battery.  The second mode is a medium mode (just 1 more click of the tail cap button) A little less than half the brightness (about 110 lumens) which is good for most tasks, I spend most of my time in this mode.  The battery will last about 3.5 hours at this light level.  The low power mode is 20 lumens and the battery will last for an amazing 45 hours.  I’ve used this mode a lot when I’m camping and I need to get something out of a bag or light a stove or something.  Doesn’t completely destroy your night vision but offer plenty of light even to read by.

There are also a couple other modes like Strobe and SOS.  Strobe flashes rapidly which can be used for signaling and can improve performance in foggy or smokey conditions.  The SOS mode is useful in case you are hurt or need help.  You can set it down and let it flash for you.  It flashes the light in the universal Morse Code SOS pattern (dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot).

The light is small, easily fits in the palm.  I wouldn’t call it a defensive light like some of the slightly larger lights with raised ridges that can be used as a kubaton.   CR123 batteries are a bit more expensive, but the lifespan and power they produce are well worth it.  It would take a flashlight large enough to hold 2 AA batteries to get the same performance so it helps keep the light small.

I prefer the hooded tail caps like the Olympia because they don’t get turned on in your pocket the way side switch often do.  And they are much faster and easier to deploy than the twist off/on style.   Although even with the hood, I have on occasion turned it on in my pocket and the temperature after a few minutes goes up enough to let me know I did it.  As you can tell by the picture it’s well worn and function quite well.  It’s been dropped many times and that solid state circuitry and LED still work great.

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The second light I keep in an inside pocket of my jacket is a hands free light.  I’ve had a lot of the cheap little 30 and 50 lumen single LED headlamps that cost about $12 bucks and they work, but don’t seem to last very long.  My father in law had given me a pelican headlamp many years ago that lasted me 12 years of horrible abuse and is still going strong so I decided to see what the latest and greatest Pelican because I knew it was tough and would last me.  Not only was I happy with their latest models and features, I was quite surprised by the price.  I only paid $31.99 for the Pelican 2720 headlamp.    This thing has every feature I could hope for and a bunch I wasn’t even aware of.  Since this would be my primary “Work” light.  I was looking for features.  Simplicity is great, particularly in an EDC light, but for the main workhorse, I wanted a bit more and this thing nailed it.

  • Just a quick rundown of features.
  • Low level Red LED night vision that helps preserve night vision
  • Variable light mode from 100 % (200 lumens) for 3.5 hours all the way down to 12 lumens with over 100 hours run time.
  • Output magnification and beam control, can make it wider or narrower as needed.
  • 3 standard AAA batteries, easy availability
  • touch-less on off controls for when your cleaning game or or processing food and don’t want to touch it.
  • SOS beacon (Just like the Olympia).

Yep, this thing does it all.  And at $32.00 it’s tough as nails, waterproof and really just does it all.  The head-strap is outstanding, (I personally prefer the single strap on this model without the center cranial strap but to each his own).

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The backup light as I call it is a slightly larger light that I picked up through an online offer.   I believe it was around $30 or so just for the light but I got the full kit with it for that price.  It’s a Gun Shack G3 (Branded form the Helotex G3) but for the life of me I can’t remember what I paid for it.

This is a unique light because it came with all the connectivity for a weapon light with external switched and end cap, as well as conversion pieces to switch it between a dual CR123 and 3 x AAA so if you can’t find CR123’s where you are, you can sure find AAA’s.  Its a big handful of tough weapons grade aluminum with some serrations or “Skull Crusher” ridges on the front bezel.  It’s 160 lumens is not as “Tactically” strong for defense as the smaller Olympia I carry, but still plenty strong enough to interfere with vision.  (Anything over 120 lumens is considered defensively bright).   The flexibility of this light makes it a good backup light.

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The last light I carry is my pack light.  This is actually a custom light prototype created by the owner of Z.A.S.C.  (Zombie Apocalypse Survival Camp) Guy Cain.  Which I have been involved with since ZASC’s inception.   You can build this or a similar light pretty easily buying the parts online fairly cheap.   We never produced these lights, but may at some time.  It’s starts with a sealed 6 panel led that does 18 lumens (3 lumens per LED) Then that is wired to a 9V battery socket.  I added a flexible wire “bungee” strap that allows me to hang or stand or strap the light wherever I need it.  The best thing about this light is the time it runs.  On a typical 9V batter this light ran for just shy of 500 hours.  Yes, I ran this light continuously on a single 9V for 21 days straight.  If you were to just use it during 8 hours of darkness continuously, it would run for about 2 months, and if you only used it for an hour a night (more typical usage), it could go for nearly a year and a half on a single 9V battery.  This is a great little light.

I hope this info helps you find the ideal lights for your daily treks and shows that you don’t have to break the bank to be the hero when the lights go out.  🙂

Doc

 

 

 

 

 


Spork Showdown!

We’ve all seen them, seems to be a new model every month.  Plastic, metal various shapes and sizes.  So I decided to give a couple of them a go and see what I liked and what I didn’t like.   I actually surprised myself.  One thing we bush-bums or outdoorsman are always trying to find the best bit of gear.  That usually means the smallest, toughest most useful and longest living piece of gear we can find for whatever task we want it to perform.  Nobody wants to haul 40lbs of gear down the trail if they don’t have to.  However, I’m not a minimalist, I won’t trade value for small bits of weight.

I prefer gear to be robust AND a good value.  I wont spend 3 or 4 times as much to shave off negligible bits of weight.    many times the loss of weight has too many trade offs depending on what piece of gear it is.

I’ve often wanted to grab one of the CRKT Eatin Tool’s.  I have always been a big fan of CRKT because they are one of the best values in tools out there.  You really get a lot for the money you spend.   I just happened to be stuck at Target and going through their limited bit of outdoors gear and they had a couple of clearance items.  Low and behold the CRKT Eat’n Tools were there and on sale for 2.99 (Normally about $4.00 to $6.00 depending on where you find them).  Figured what the heck, I grabbed one for each of the kids and my wife.  They came in several colors so that everyone could tell them apart.   I was then looking at the CRKT Eat’n tool XL online the next day, My wife had me order her something and I didn’t pay attention and accidentally ordered the one I was looking at.    Was pretty surprised when it showed up.

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The whole gang!

I was then at Walmart the next week and I saw the heavy duty plastic eating sets so I grabbed a bunch for the Boy Scouts.  Figured I’d mark them and give them to each scout as a gift.  They were only $.88 each.   Well I was at Walmart, I also discovered a new spork/knife combo set similar to the CRKT from their “Ozark Trail” line.   Since it was only $3.00 I figured what the heck.  Grabbed a couple of them too.

We’ll start with the plastic set for $.88 Cents.   The good, Full size regular utensils.  Tougher than the cheap plastic disposables.  They have that “Rough” plastic texture that makes them a little more non stick that purely smooth plastic ware and they feel good in the hand.  But while your using them, you just can’t help but feel like they are disposable.   Personally, I think they make a wonderful addition to a car camping group kits or scout patrol boxes.  Not going to break the bank by any means to keep a dozen sets available and nobody gets upset if one breaks.   Being just plastic, I would worry about long term durability and are you going to open your pack after dropping it after a long days hike to find them snapped in half.    Never fear, they are well worth the cost at just $.88 cents.  The other thing going for it is, the spoon is big enough to really eat soups and other liquids!  They are kept on a plastic ring that is very weak.  In a box of goods it will keep them together, but I wouldn’t expect them to hang from it on a cook-set or anything else that gets tossed around for very long.

 

Next up is the CRKT Eat’n Tool  This guy runs from $3.95 to $7.00 depending on where you find them.  I’ve heard from people that it’s too short so I’ve always put off trying it until I could get the XL version.   But finding it so cheap, I figured what the heck.  I also thought it would be too short.  I also thought the wide top of the handle would make it very awkward. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.  You hold the wide handle across the top instead of down the middle like you would a regular spoon.  It seems awkward at first, but after a couple of bites, it’s as natural as using any other spoon.

The “Tools” built into it are kind of a gimmick, sure, if by some chance you ever needed to turn certain sized nuts or open a bottle and all you had on you was your spoon, they could be handy, but to me, they just add extra places for bits of food to get stuck or missed when washing.   Sure the cutouts do keep it even lighter, but as light as it is, the trade-off is negligible.  It is a solid tough eating tool, equal to or surpassing any metal spoon you might normally have.   The length might be an issue if you are eating out of a deep cup, like the Stanley I have here.  But all in all, I was impressed with the little guy.

The biggest downside to me is the “Spork” function.   The tines are not long enough to use as a fork, at best if you have a tough piece of meat, you might be able to stab the spork into it to eat it. It would be most useful for holding down something to cut, like a steak for example.   But realistically, even a perfectly round spoon can hold a tough steak down to cut it with one of my knives.  The spork cuts reduce the amount of liquid the spork will hold when eating soups or other liquid filled meals.  I’d prefer to see the spoon left without the spork cuts.  There is just limited usefulness for them.

The Powder coat was already showing signs of wear after the first meal and my son carried his on his belt with his little mini kit and it chipped off several pieces pretty rapidly.  I don’t think the coating would come off fast enough to be a health issue.  But I would definitely recommend the bead blasted rather than the painted versions just because of the paint.  But even with the paint they are still outstanding.  The paint is a non-stick coating so cleaning them is a breeze.  I can HIGHLY recommend this tool for most everyone, with the caveat that it might be too short to use in a tall or deep cup or can.  Also the mini carabiners are not going to last.  In fact my son broke his within 20 minutes just clipping it on and off his kit.   I’d recommend doing up a different method like a paracord loop double through the hole to a tougher carabiner.

 

So, Now on to the CRKT Eat’n tool XL version.  I figured this guy would be awesome.  All the features of the regular eat’n tool with a full length handle!   Well, I was surprised when I got it.  It is HUGE and extremely heavy.  You could use this thing to dig a fox hole or quite possibly jack up a car.  the extra length is good, but the shortened rounded spoon with spork cuts still has the same issue with liquids as the smaller Eat’n tool.  Because of the full length, its a bit heavy to use it held sideways over the back like the smaller eat’n tool, but the extra wide handle makes it awkward to hold like a regular spoon.

Did I mention this thing is HEAVY DUTY.   It almost feels like eating with an entrenching tool.  I actually tapped one of my teeth with it while eating and it made me feel that accidentally breaking a tooth could be a real possibility with this thing.  But it’s a tank.  The tools on it feel as if you could actually use them to turn nuts and bolts, so if you REALLY are looking for a multi-tool instead of a spoon, this might be the guy to go with.  I would definitely advise anyone interested to get one in your hands and feel it before you buy it.    Otherwise it may just end up being another bit of gear laying the bottom of your pack.  And just as the regular Eat’n tool,  the mini carabiners are not going to last.

 

The last item on my showdown turned out to be a great buy.  While looking for 1 of the non coated Eat’n Tools for myself, I ran across the Ozark Trail Walmart brand set below.  I decided that since it was even cheaper, I’d give it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised.  much lighter than the XL and about the same weight with both knife and spork as the Eat’n tool.  A slightly longer handle made it easier to use as a regular spoon and get into deeper cups, but still short enough to fit inside most small cup kits.  Really about the perfect length for a pack kit.  I wish they sold the spork without the knife.  Would be an even better value.  🙂

It has a black non-stick coating that seems a bit more durable than the powder-coats on the CRKT’s.   Plenty tough enough to last a lifetime.  The knife is ok, but nothing special, it’s serrated, so the edge it will last without sharpening for quite some time, however since since we all carry good quality sharp knives everywhere anyway, for a pack kit, I’d leave the knife at home and just take the spork.   Of course, the spork has the same issue as all the other sporks, just too short to be a fork, and lets the liquids drain too much.  Quite frankly, if they made this version without the spork cuts, I would consider it near perfect.  And at roughly 1/2 to 2/3rds the cost of the other models.  It’s an amazing value.

 

A comparison shot to show the difference in thickness of the various metal sporks.

All in all, any one of these tools will work, but given the choice, I like the Ozark trail Spork and the smaller CRKT Eat’n tool the best.  I will continue using all of them over the next couple months for camping and let you all know how they are after being used for a longer period of time.

Happy eating on the trails!

Doc

 


Sterno Dynamo Mini Camp Stove

I finally broke down and picked up a mini backpacking stove.  I’ve used a Coleman exponent for many, many years.  And it is my absolute favorite, but it does take up some room.  I’ve eyeballed a couple of the mini stoves but just wasn’t sure I’d want to haul the fuel canisters over the white gas.  White gas is so flexible and easy to use, and you can haul quite a bit of fuel in a dedicated fuel bottle the size of your average water bottle.  (Mine is an older Nalgene style that holds about double what the MSR red metal bottles).  So I can cook several meals a day for many many days on that.

2016-02-14 12.29.25

Stored in that little plastic box, fits easily in the Stanley Cup

 

However the vast majority of my camping trips are single or double overnights, so it’s a bit of overkill.  So I was looking for something small, and efficient for the quick overnight trips that was a bit lighter.  I’ve been looking at the Primus butane stove at Walmart for $19 for a while and almost grabbed it, but was in a Walmart quite a ways from home and it had the folding Sterno Dynamo for the same price.  Of course that made for a tough decision.

2016-02-14 12.30.07

The whole kit and Caboodle (Still need to figure out what a caboodle is LOL)  Including the mixed Primus 4 season mix fuel canister I used for testing

The whole kit and caboodle (Still need to figure out what a caboodle is LOL)

The Sterno folds up a tad smaller than the Primus, so it fits inside my Stanley Adventure set perfectly with the coffee press parts.  (See this review).  The primary difference between the two was the Primus had a maximum 10,000 BTU output while the Sterno has a maximum of 6,500.  If you run the calculations, they end up using fairly close to the same amount of fuel. However, the higher BTU output does not correlate to an equal speed increase while cooking.   (The nature of thermal transfer through solid and liquid mediums varies).   Thus, even though the Primus can boil water 25% faster, it uses 33% more fuel at peak setting.

The Primus can boil 10 oz of water in 3 minutes and the Sterno boils it in 4.  So there is a very slight drop in fuel usage with the Sterno.  This equates to about a 8% gain in fuel economy with the Sterno Dynamo.  Not a big difference by any means.  Considering the typical run time of a standard sized canister is from 1 to 3 hours.  (Expected 1.5 average), that 8% equates to about 7 minutes per canister.  There are so many variables that in essence, the two could be considered equal.  (I plan to record burn times on canisters for the next year to get a real world average).

2016-02-14 12.28.46

All of the kit is inside the Stanley cup.

 

So I decided to go with the slightly smaller Sterno.  Took it out for a test run today.  Perfect timing as we had a small blizzard blowing through.  Nothing big, just 3 inches of snow and 20 mph winds.  The static air temp was 14 and the windchill was close to zero.  Those who know me, know this is my favorite kind of gear testing weather.  🙂

2016-02-14 12.31.04

The stove is quite small when folded, but much more sturdy than I expected when folded out.  Here you can see the piezoelectric igniter.

So I took a hike up to the camping area in our local park. (Driving was pretty bad so I didn’t want to risk going up the big hills in the van so I hiked from the park entrance).  Here is what I did.  I built a french press out of my Stanley (See the link here).

First thing to notice is the stove unfolds in a rotating manor (That is why it is so sturdy, no “Folding” parts to create weak points.  the entire stove rotates around a central bezel.  Ingenious idea.  The little feet flip out to give it a bit more surface area for holding the pot.

The Piezoelectric igniter works like a charm, doesn’t take much pressure to pinch the switch and presto, flame.  The wire control to turn the valve works perfectly and does not get hot, so you can adjust the flame as needed.    In fact the only complaint I have about the whole thing is the lever doesn’t stay in the folded up position when you go to store it, so it can be a bit of a pain to put back in the box.  Not a big issue at all though.

2016-02-14 12.33.50

I filled the cup with snow and started it melting.  As the snow to water ratio is 10 to 1 on average, I had to add snow a couple times until I had 10 oz of water.  (This did hinder the heat test slightly, as each time I added snow, is cooled the water back off).  I did a boil burn test using water from my canteen separately and used the times from that for the official test.  Melting the snow took about 7 minutes total, so each time i added another scoop of snow it added another minute to the boil time.

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After the first full melt, only 4 oz.  It took 2 more dumps of snow to get 10 oz in the cup.

All in all, it’s an impressive and amazingly small stove that works very well.  It has found it’s way into my day pack with a canister of gas, and I’ll continue to keep the exponent and larger fuel bottle in my primary base-camp pack.   Only time will tell if I end up preferring to carry the mini stove with the bulkier fuel can’s, but for backpacking and short trips, it really does seem like a great way to go.

If you’ve been putting off getting a small camp stove because you’ve looked at the more expensive whisper lights and other high end stoves.  This guy can be had for $19 or less.  (I got it for $14.95 on clearance) it’s a fairly inexpensive way to test the waters.

Enjoy your backpacking and hiking trips and always keep some hot coffee handy with this little guy.

2016-02-14 12.34.15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Firecord Review

Firecord is an innovative little product from the guys over at Live Fire Gear (Also Equip-2-Endure).  I do have to admit I’ve known a member of their staff for a couple of years and they are some great people.  But be warned, I will test this product objectively.

Firecord is a type of paracord cordage with an extra strand (Paracord normally has 7 strands of internal fiber) of flammable fiber.   The paracord is just as strong as normal paracord out of the box.

Initial observations.  There is a very mild smell of accelerant from the cordage.  A bit of mineral oil type smell, but it’s not heavy.  It’s also not greasy at all.  There is no transfer of the accelerant beyond the single “Fire” strand.   This was one of my early concerns.  (You may not want to use this product with hunting gear if you do scent neutralization.  It’s a mild scent to humans but most likely quite strong to animals that defend themselves with a strong sense of smell)

Packageing

Packaging

It handles and feels just like any other paracord but it is a little stiffer but not enough to be any kind of problem.  (It does come in a variety of colors.  Last I checked on Amazon, it came in 12 different colors, both bright and subdued.  (I prefer the bright colors to denote it’s Firecord over the other colors).  So I ordered it in Orange.  Here is where it starts to get interesting.  You can still melt the ends after cutting just like regular paracord.  The accelerant is slow enough to allow you to melt/whip your paracord without igniting.  This works perfectly.  In fact I tried several times to ignite the internal strand and without air, it goes out quickly.  I like this feature.  Allows you to literally treat this cord exactly as any other paracord until you need the firestrand.

7 + fire strand

7 + fire strand

Now one of the points is that you can extract the fire strand and continue to use the paracord, which works well if you are cutting chunk’s less than 10 feet long.  But trying to pull a single strand on longer pieces creates a lot of friction.  But you really don’t need to pull out a 10 foot section to start a fire.  Most of my testing was done with 2 or 3 inch chunks which was more than enough.  So for my own convenience, I just cut off a 3 inch section of cordage.  I usually just pocket the trash.

For most of us who spend as much time in the woods as I do, we always have plenty of fire starting materials on us and most of the time it’s pretty easy to find or make something that will catch a spark.   So this may be a little bit “Gimmicky” to add to the kit, but it’s a pretty slick and easy way to have some very good fire starting material on you at all times.  (And it’s waterproof and essentially a “Tie it off and Forget about it until you need it” product.  Do you need it?  No, but its sure isn’t going to hurt to have it available.  I’d suggest using this for zipper pulls on all your bags and kits.  Each zipper pull would provide enough cordage for 2 or 3 fires.   Or you can make a small keychain with it and keep it on your ferro rod (or even use it as your ferro rod cord).  Then it will always be available to you.

Strand extended (Can be pulled and cut)

Strand extended (Can be pulled and cut)

Never hurts to have that little extra with you.  And since I have zipper pulls on all my bag zippers (If you’ve ever reached hypothermia, you will understand the importance Zipper pulls provide).  So without taking up any extra space or even having to remember where in my kit I’ve dropped my Firecord, it’s always available.

Scraped and prepped

Scraped and prepped

All in all it’s a pretty good piece of kit.  Think of it as insurance.  You may never need it, but that one time you really do need it, it will be right there.

Now let’s look at usage and performance.

Catches the first spark

Catches the first spark

First thing is, it doesn’t light well on its own straight out of the cord, unless you use a match or lighter (in which case you probably wouldn’t be using it).  But if it’s very rainy and windy and you need fire and do have a lighter or match, it will work well as a base tinder.   A 2 inch strand burned solid for 25 or 30 seconds on most of my tests.  (Some longer but I prefer to report on the minimums).

For best usage, with a ferro rod or if using something like a bow drill or fire plow to provide a coal, you need to “Fuzz” the cord up.  A fingernail will do an ok job, but a sharp knife will fuzz it up really well. Practice a little because it is very weak and will tear up if you apply too much pressure.  There is a waxy substance on the cord which will flake as you scrape.  The more fuzz, the faster it will take a spark, but also the faster it will burn.    What I discovered works best is to take about a 3 inch section.  Fuzz about 1 inch of the end, then curl the other 2 inches under it.  This provide nearly a full minute of burn time.

All in all, for the price, it’s a worthwhile investment.  A single 25 foot strand runs about $12.50 and will probably be all you’ll need for years.


Revisiting Handguns: Self Defense, great articles.

A buddy of mine posted this excellent article from the Lucky Gunner Blog.   I wanted to share it and interject a few of my own thoughts.

Lucky Gunner Article

All of the points in this article are great.  And getting views from a panel of professional experienced shooters helps to keep us off the single train of thought wagon.   One thing they didn’t address was the caliber myths.   It seams like every self defense discussion always seems to devolve to a caliber war.  Comes down to the fanboys of 1 particular caliber or other vs each other.   Don’t get hung up on Caliber!  What it really should be is Train, Train, Train.  Accurate hits on target with small caliber rounds are still far superior to not having anything in the first place and good hits with small calibers are better than poor hits or misses with the big boys. (yes, that tiny bit of difference between a 38, 9mm, .40 or .45 is a tiny percentage of the overall picture.

Think of pistol caliber like race cars. You have 3 race cars. one goes 181 MPH, one goes 185 MPH and one goes 189 MPH. But your not a NASCAR professional race-car driver with years of real racing experience. You can get behind the wheel of any of these 3 cars and get decent track times.  However, It’s unlikely you can push the faster cars enough to beat a real race driver driving the slower car. The minor differences between rounds can’t compensate for the user.   The terminal performance of pistol rounds is so similar (And so far inferior to shotgun or rifle round performance) as to be negligible.  You have to hit your target, hit it fast and accurately in the correct place to have the best chance at stopping an attacker.

First 5 Rounds, 10 yards

First 5 Rounds, 10 yards

I spent my formative years (17 to 23) on the 1911 platform putting more than 10,000 rounds of .45 downrange (And I was also guilty of the idea that the bigger bullet was better attitude), I was in the Army when we transitioned to the M9 from the 1911 and hated it for years strictly out of a fanboy .45 attitude.   Thankfully I’ve matured a bit over the years.   But now that I’ve put thousands of 9mm rounds down range also on varous platforms.  I have changed my mind.  Even my Springfield SubCompact -XD 9mm outperforms the 1911’s I’ve shot in my life and my full size 9mm duty pistol (An old Ruger P85 Mark II) is spectacularly accurate and fast as lightning.

There is a reason most professionals have swung over to the 9mm side from the larger calibers for self defense and training.  Generally less recoil, (Although this is more dependent on the weight/design of the pistol).  Less recoil means faster follow up shots, more accurate follow up shots (Less post shot deflection means less site realignment) and probably most importantly is training.  Training is the single most important factor in preparing yourself to use a sidearm in self defense.  More training equates to better real world performance.  So if you can buy 1/3 to 1/4 more rounds of 9mm than .40, you can shoot 30% more and train 30% more.  You have many gains over the tiny ballistic difference between calibers.

Tactical life also did a great article with a panel of 14 professional, experienced shooters/trainers giving their opinions. It was quite eye opening to see what direction the majority of them rolled

Tactical Life Article

So really, it comes down to training and finding the gun/caliber combination that allows you to be as quick and accurate as possible.  Don’t jump on the big boys based on that small ballistic difference.  You can’t miss fast enough with a .357, or 44 mag, or .45 to make up for the small ballistic difference.   Therefore the more you train, the more experience you get and the more proficient you become. Don’t focus on caliber, Stopping power itself is generally a myth with handguns. (Major cavitation effects just don’t occur through clothing at the velocities/bullet weights of handgun rounds).

I have a matrix that at least in my own opinion holds pretty true.  The two most important factors in defensive shooting are Accuracy (Bullets on target) and Speed (both deploying the sidearm as efficiently and effectively as possible and the speed of follow up shots until the aggressor is stopped).  To throw caliber in looks like this.  50% is Accuracy, 48% is speed (Can’ miss fast enough to stop someone so it falls below accuracy), and 2% is ballistics of the caliber round (With tiny differentials on the barrel length etc that can cause small changes in performance of the caliber rounds being used).

Get out there and practice, practice a lot, practice realistically, get training from many different sources to broaden your understanding which will help you train the best for you. (Everyone is different) and be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared.   Wish everyone good luck and a safe life, but if something happens, I wish you quick hands and spot on accuracy.

Stay safe everyone.  Situational awareness is key, avoiding a situation is a lot safer than dealing with the situation.

Doc


First Kydex Project: P-38 Sheath

If you’ve ever been in the Service, or are a prepper/survivalist, you’ve not only heard of a P-38, but you’ve probably carried them.  I saw my first p-38 as a young kid, my grandfather had one.  I saw him use it a time or two camping when we were very young.  I don’t know what happened to it.  I used my first P-38 as a 17 year old kid at Basic Training.  And have carried one on my keychain since I snagged my first one in Germany a year or two later.

The one problem with a well-used, older p-38 is the swing-gate can start getting loose and opens in the pocket.  This causes holes in the pockets (And occasionally holes in your leg).  I have tried many of the little tricks, wrapping a rubber band around it (never seemed to stay long and rubber bands seem to dissolve in the pocket), duct tape (Pain in the ass, to take off or put back on etc.).

Slight twist to enter, very secure.

Slight twist to enter, very secure.

I tried making a leather sheath for it, but it was just too bulky at the stitches, etc. (And I’m NOT a skilled leatherworker so aesthetically it was horrible LOL) and it kept sliding off.  Just didn’t have a good way of locking it onto the p-38.    The best thing I found so far was a piece of small tire inner tube (I don’t have a clue what tire it came out of)  That wrapped around pretty well, but rubber is hard to get out of your pocket sometimes and it eventually cracked and split and broke off.

So, I decided to give Kydex a try.  Not being much of an artisan, I didn’t expect much.  But Kydex turns out to be incredibly easy to manipulate.  On this small project, I didn’t bother with the oven or

Finished Sheath

Finished Sheath

a heat gun, just used a high pressure butane lighter, my fingers and my Leatherman Multi-tool pliers.

I figured I’d mess up so I cut the piece a bit larger than I needed and figured I’d cut off the excess.  Turned out I hadn’t accounted well for the bulk used in the turns, so it was almost perfect.  I only had to cut a tiny 1/8 piece off the end.

Gave it a little heat and then folded it over, took about 10 seconds to harden up to lock in the curve.  Then I put the P-38 in to find the next bend line.  The fit was almost perfect to start with.  I then trimmed off the 1/8 excess, heated up the next joint and folded it over.  Pinched this together in my fingers and in another 10 or 15 seconds it was finished hardening.

Base after being pinched closed.

Base after being pinched closed.

To keep the p-38 from pushing out the bottom, I heated it and pinched it with the pliers.  That worked but I didn’t like the results, so I heated it back up and pinched a little higher with a tad bit of lift.  This sealed the bottom better.

The opening.  Perfect fit.

The opening. Perfect fit.

Once I had the P-38 in the sheath, I warmed it up a bit and just put a tiny bit of pressure over the center.  This made a nice firm lock.  The neat thing is, due to the design, if you twist slightly as you place the P-38 back in the sheath, it opens the sheath so you don’t need to force it past the detent.

Simple project, didn’t take 10 minutes for the first one. Only took 5 minutes to make the second for my oldest boy.

My boy wanted one too.  The 2nd came out just as good.

My boy wanted one too. The 2nd came out just as good.

Just need to hook up my sander to really clean up edges a bit more.

Can’t wait to start my next projects!


Buck Packlite Review

Even after that much abuse, still lookin good.

Even after that much abuse, still lookin good.

My son picked this knife up for himself a while back for about $22.  He really liked it and I used it a little and although I’m not a big fan of scale-less knives, this handle is fairly decent and works well with a set of gloves on.  (Extended use without gloves may cause some hot spots).

I was going through Walmart one day about a year ago and the last one they had was on clearance for $17, but they gave me a big discount because it was the display model.  I ended up only paying (if memory serves me, but that’s no guarantee) about $12.95 for it.

I used it a couple times, made some fuzz sticks and it was good, but as par for the course, I’m just not a fan of knives that don’t have scales.  Any hard use will cause hot spots in the hand where the sharp metal corners touch the skin.   It had a great edge and held it well, so I made it my backup knife, stuck it in my outdoor kit (Saddlebags setup coming soon).  Where it’s sat for almost a year without getting used.  (I’m kind of addicted to my Tops HOG so it gets all my love).

Well my work participates in the United Way “Day of Caring” annual volunteer event.  This year we were tasked with planting 51 replacement trees for trees that were destroyed last year in a big storm.   My team of 3 people did 15 trees in 2 hours, and I swear it was because of this knife.  The tree root balls were covered in tough wet burlap and tied with some heavy ¼ inch twine cordage.

In the pocket carry.  This works well because of the plastic liner in the sheath.

In the pocket carry. This works well because of the plastic liner in the sheath.

The fellow we were working for had brought a box knife.  The blade was new and was dull before he got ½ way through cutting the 1st burlap sack off the first root ball.  (About 24 inches of cutting).  I wasn’t about to use my hog to cut into the dirt, so I dug the old Packlite out (which is extremely sharp, I keep all my knives very, very sharp and ready to go).  Is went through the ¼ inch rope like butter.  I then plunged it into the root ball and proceeded to cut. (It was just easier than trying to slide the knife around the ball in the pit which didn’t work well).   I touched it up with a rod after the 6th, and 12th bag I cut off and it easily cut every one and all the cordage.   It held an edge great and even cutting into burlap wrapped around dirt, it didn’t do any damage to the blade.  I washed it off, touched it up again and it’s back to shaving sharp.  This knife is tough.  Performed far better than expected for an inexpensive $20 knife.

I was never a big fan of recurved blades because they can be a little tougher to sharpen.  Nothing practice and learning the individual curves of the knife can’t fix.  But the more knives I use with recurves, the more I like them.  Now, I just need to come up with some scales for it.

Plastic Liner

Plastic Liner

The sheath I have mixed feelings about.  The belt loop is crap, little 5/8 inch piece of thin strap.  My boys broke off after 3 or 4 times wearing it.  The sheath is formed around a plastic insert that holds the knife well.  Since I don’t trust the belt loop strap, I just stuffed the whole knife in my pocket and drew/inserted it from the sheath there.  That worked quite well.

Very thin weak poorly designed belt loop

Very thin weak poorly designed belt loop

All in all, for a knife this inexpensive, I was truly amazed at what it handled.  I’m going to work on a new sheath for this one and it may become my primary “Tear it up” knife for when I need to go all primitive Pete with a knife and don’t want to tear up my good knives.    If you’re looking for a cheap (Almost disposable at that price) knife that will not let you down, this Buck fits the bill.

Solid Sheath, good quality all around except the belt loop.  Good locking snap to secure the knife

Solid Sheath, good quality all around except the belt loop. Good locking snap to secure the knife


DIY Tarp Camping

I’ve spent a lot of time camping over the years, starting out tenting it with my parents as kids, with my friends when we were younger, then 8 years starting when I was 17 (Yeah, had to get parents’ permission to join LOL) 4 active Army, 4 National Guard) in mostly canvas, with 6 to 9 month of the year in the field.  I did a little hammock setup with a cover about a half dozen times back in 93 to 95 or so, but me and hammocks just don’t get along, I’m a belly sleeper, never could sleep a whole night in one.

Basic Configuration.  4 poles 6 stakes  (Can add two more guys to the front poles if really windy).

Basic Configuration. 4 poles 6 stakes (Can add two more guys to the front poles if really windy).

My first tarp camping experience was a week in Italy at Camp Darby.  I didn’t want to spend 7 bucks a day renting a tent when I could rent a tarp for $1 a day.  So my buddy and I grabbed this huge 12 x 18 tarp and made a makeshift tent out of it.  We got lucky it never rained or stormed as the setup was really flimsy, but it worked perfectly.  See the pic.  The front and back were both open to allow the air through.  But the makeshift poles (Stick with a shirt on top so it wouldn’t poke a hole in the tarp) kept falling down.

My first ever Tarp setup.  Circa 1991 or so.  Not pretty but the money I saved on a tent bought me lots of beer.

My first ever Tarp setup. Circa 1991 or so. Not pretty but the money I saved on a tent bought me lots of beer.

After getting out of the Army I had mostly tent camped (Heck even had my first son out camping when he was only 4 months old LOL).  I have tossed out on the ground many times over the years next to a fire and watched the stars, then crawled into a tent if it rained, but about 6 years ago I decide to do some tarp camping and try to come up with something that worked better for me.    I wanted to be able to enjoy the night without a cover, but have it available if I needed to get under cover for the weather but keep it as simple as possible.

The first couple tarp setups I used I didn’t care for.  Just too claustrophobic and were too much like tents, took too much effort to get back into and out of it if it rained.

For hot weather to increase air flow front to back, I add a small post to the rear.

For hot weather to increase air flow front to back, I add a small post to the rear.

So I settled on the classic lean-to style.  Then it was just a roll in, roll out.  Best of both worlds.  Over the years I tweaked the lean-to.  I salvaged 4 aluminum poles form an old tent set that are just about the right high. (I’d like them about 6 inches taller but they work well).   If I need to save weight, I can just cut sticks in the field.

I used 2 trekking poles for this configuration.  This is my typical lightweight version.

I used 2 trekking poles for this configuration. This is my typical lightweight version.

I use a 4 pole lean too, to give myself a little more “Working” room.  The long slope in the back is perfect for storing gear and this 10 x 10 tarp gives plenty of room.   My 8 year old has been sleeping under this thing with me since he was 2 also, he’ll cry and get upset if you try to make him sleep in a tent most of the time.  (He does have his own tent, but only used it twice.)

Left side down to give better wind rain protection.

Left side down to give better wind rain protection.

Both sides down to give a more cave/tent like protection. (Note, you could hang another tarp off the two front poles and seal the whole thing up pretty well.)

Both sides down to give a more cave/tent like protection. (Note, you could hang another tarp off the two front poles and seal the whole thing up pretty well.)

One of the tweaks I like about this tarp setup is, if the weather does get really heavy or the wind switches directions, it can push rain right in under the tarp.  (This has happened 4 or 5 times in the last 6 years).  If it’s heavy enough, I can just pull the 2 side poles from one end and move one of them to the middle, then push the corner steak into the ground and presto, a full wall from one side.  I can also do the same on the other side and have a nearly enclosed lean-to.  I do have to admit I’m lazy and have only folded the side down once.  Mostly because I’ve worked out a ground cover “Burrito Roll” that works so well I don’t have to reconfigure the tarp, even in some spectacularly nasty weather.

On the ground cover, fold the corner of the base in.  This allows overlap of the upper cover to prevent funneling water into your gear.

On the ground cover, fold the corner of the base in. This allows overlap of the upper cover to prevent funneling water into your gear.

There are a couple of little tricks to this setup.  First.  You need to fold the inside corners of the ground cover tarp in (Up or under, doesn’t really matter).  What this does is prevent under-lap of the burrito role tarp.  If you pull the tarp over you during the rain, if there is under-lap, it will funnel water into the burrito.   I don’t normally stake the far corner down unless the wind is blowing in from the foot area.  If it is, then I just sit up and put a stake in the far corner.  (I’ve never had to do it, but if it blows hard enough directly at the foot, I have a couple extra grommets I can put extra stakes in to really seal the foot down.  By the time a cyclone force winds are pushing rain up that, it’s time to seek out a cave anyway LOL.

I accordion fold the leading edge, this keeps it dry and when the rain starts blowin, it is easy to pull over me.

I accordion fold the leading edge, this keeps it dry and when the rain starts blowin, it is easy to pull over me.

I also have a “Boat Bag” I picked up brand spankin new at Goodwill for $3.88 a couple years ago. (One of the best buys of my life).    It’s my favorite camping bag, even more so than my backpacks.  I mostly use it when car camping, but even for short hikes under full gear, I can sling it and carry it if I need to.  But this bag acts like a barrier at the head of the burrito roll.  Then I can throw the top of the burrito roll over the bag and tuck it under to create a perfect water tight seal from the top.  Thus leaving the entire side facing the back of the lean-to open to breath.  I’ve been through 1 particularly nasty windy storm (not including the one I dropped the side for) but it lasted no more than an hour) and I stayed perfectly dry.

Yes poly is a bit noisier than other materials.  (I still love canvas. My absolute favorite sound in the world is the rain on canvas) Polly is 100% water proof and can be used for things like a water basin to hold water, it can even be used to make

When I'm not at the camp site, I can cover all my gear and stake the burrito down.  I know it will all be dry when I return later.

When I’m not at the camp site, I can cover all my gear and stake the burrito down. I know it will all be dry when I return later.

a boat so it has some really great side functions.   For me, the poly works wonders.  Properly tensioned it can take quite a bit of abuse.  I’ve taken good care of my cover tarp and its lasted 6 years, through a roughly estimated 200 days of camping including 4 or 5 good storms.  It is wearing out though, I’ve lost 3 grommet holes and it’s faded to a color of nearly robin egg blue from the original dark blue, but it’s still going.   I am going to retire it and replace it for this year’s Scout Summer camp in 2 months.   Not bad for an $8 tarp.

I've lost 3 grommets in 6 years so I'll be retiring it soon.

I’ve lost 3 grommets in 6 years so I’ll be retiring it soon.

My two older boys have been tarp camping about as long as I have now, and they still like the simplicity of the single pole design, but my oldest boy just tosses out on the ground his military sleep system most of the time.  Gortex cover keeps him dry.

It's getting a little thin from use and UV damage.

It’s getting a little thin from use and UV damage.

If you want an inexpensive way to test the waters of tarp camping, you can’t go wrong with a poly tarp.  $8 per tarp, $3 for a set of stakes, and a $3 roll of cordage and you’re in.  Hope you enjoy your experimenting as much as I have.  But above all else, get out there and camp and have fun.

Here are a bunch of pics from other styles we’ve used and the styles my boys still use over the years.

The quick and easy single pole.  This works very well in heavy weather.  Both boys have slept through storms in this configuration

The quick and easy single pole. This works very well in heavy weather. Both boys have slept through storms in this configuration

My oldest boy and one of his setups.  This was great util it stormed,  the rain shifted and came straight under the opening.

My oldest boy and one of his setups. This was great util it stormed, the rain shifted and came straight under the opening.

This was at -19.  I hung a sweater over the top end to help seal it up.  Got a good night sleep.

This was at -19. I hung a sweater over the top end to help seal it up. Got a good night sleep.

Scout camp a couple years ago.  The tent was just to store gear and change clothes.  All the scouts slept under tarps.

Scout camp a couple years ago. The tent was just to store gear and change clothes. All the scouts slept under tarps.

Middle boy used this pole-less configuration.  Worked great.  The ground cloth was pulled under when he was done setting up.

Middle boy used this pole-less configuration. Worked great. The ground cloth was pulled under when he was done setting up.

This is why I like this configuration.  My youngest boy and I can watch the starts, and if it rains.  I just climb under the lean-too and pull the whole kit under, kid and all. LOL

This is why I like this configuration. My youngest boy and I can watch the stars, and if it rains. I just climb under the lean-to and pull the whole kit under, kid and all. LOL

You can see the burrito roll.  When I'm not at camp this keeps the gear dry.  (There was no rain so I didn't pin the ends down.  Middle boy did a tie off to a tree again.

You can see the burrito roll. When I’m not at camp this keeps the gear dry. (There was no rain so I didn’t pin the ends down. Middle boy did a tie off to a tree again.