Loaded Potatoes

loadedpotatoesThis recipe is actually inspired by Andrew Skurka’s Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, but loaded potatoes is a common enough recipe to be posted. So far, it is a camp’s favourite. The bacon and butter seal the deal.

Materials

  • Ziploc snack bags
  • Freezer bags (optional)

Ingredients

  • Instant potato, 85 g
  • Crumbled bacon, shelf stable, 30 g
  • Butter, 30 g

Measure out the potato flakes for the Ziploc bags, then package the crumbled bacon and butter seperately.

Add about 350 — 400 mL of water. If using a cat can stove, add the content of the pouch to the water and by the time the fuel runs out, the meal should be ready. If using gas stove, bring to a boil, then add the potatoes. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes. Add more water if needed for better consistency. The meal will be gruelish, but if one stays hydrated before going to bed, they will stay warmer throughout the night. Add butter and crumbled bacon while the meal is resting.

For the freezer bag or insulated mug style of cooking, boil about 120 to 150 mL of water, add to the container then set aside for 10 to 15 minutes. Add water if needed.

The recipe is very easy and cheap to make, and one begins to wonder why they even bothered with Mountain House brand. Use real bacon which are shelf-stable such as Hormel or Kirkland’s, and not the bacon bits commonly found in bulk stores. Vegans and vegetarians are free to use soy substitutes.

Some recipes will add about 15 g to 35 g of powdered cheese and powdered whole milk for better taste. Others will add chilies as well as salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes or Italian seasonings such as basil and oregano. Experiment and find out which appeals to the taste buds.

By |June 21st, 2015|Tutorials|0 Comments|

First Impression: Sea to Summit Nano Mosquito Pyramid Net – Double

The first line of defense against mosquitoes and black flies was to simply just wear a simple bug net over the head and relying on a tight quilt system to keep out the critters. Except Halla remains skeptical and asks for a mosquito netting. In hindsight, the Locus Gear Khufu Mesh should have been ordered as part of the complete package.


C360_2015-06-05-14-48-37-891
To keep our relationship intact, we were planning on ordering the Sea to Summit Nano Pyramid Net from Valhalla Pure Outfitters. Ordering complete inner mesh with bathtub floor from Japan or America would take too long to arrive. Then Live Out There, based in Calgary, Alberta, happened to have an online special with 25% discount for two days, guaranteeing free shipping and return. The receipt came to a bill of $48.74 CAD or $51.18 after taxes. The package arrived in about two days.

Sea to Summit is an Australian company popular with thru-hikers due to their relative lightweight and availability in outdoors retail. If something tears while on the trail, then it is easy to find a replacement at the next resupply point. As the result, there is a wide assortment of products designed for lightweight backpackers.

Since the products are targeted toward the mainstream, Sea to Summit is not necessarily popular with gram weenie section hikers or weekend hikers who can afford to wait for a shipment from the cottage industry. However, short of homemade, one would be hard-pressed to find a l mosquito net for a tent or tarp.

The Nano is a floorless mosquito protection addition for any pyramid-style tents or tarps. The manufacturer claims a weight of 137 grams and a dimension of 279 cm × 168 cm × 130 cm (LWH) made from 15-denier gray nylon mesh with about 80 holes per cm². The stuff sack is made from Cordura.

Of course, any experienced outdoorsperson would begin measuring out each component:

Items Weight (grams)
Suspension cordage 9
Spreader bar 35
Mesh (with drawcord) 116
Stuff sack 10
Total 170

The elastic drawcord around the bottom was not removed due to the complication of adding it back in, so the component was not weighed.

First off, the manufacturer’s claim is a little off. It is not entirely certain how they came up with 137 g if they meant without the spreader bar (135 g) or the whole package. There should have been a bit more clarification. Otherwise, the weight is true.

C360_2015-06-05-14-59-39-557The mesh itself without the spreader bar or stuff sack is about 125 g, or 116 g without the suspension cord. Since the stuff sack is made from the typical mainstream bombproof material, there is no reason not to substitute it with cuben or a grocery bag. Just look for one with a length of 17 cm and a diameter of 8.5 cm.

The cordage for suspending the pyramid net is excessive, but the product is designed to catch all the customers within its base. After all, the diagram of instruction  does show being able to sleep underneath a tree. Since the cordage is knotted instead of sewn, they are easy to remove.

The reason why the Sea to Summit is lighter than lighter inner mesh for shelters is two-fold: no bathtub floor and no zippers. To enter the shelter, one must crawl underneath.

There is not much to say about the spreader bar other than it is made of aluminum alloy and functions like a quick-snap tent poles which can easily become a projectile weapon. At 35 g, one has to wonder if spending a pretty penny on carbon fibre is worth it.

Ideally, the elastic around the edge is to tighten the net around the sleeping mats for better security. Since two people and a dog will be sharing the shelter, it is dubious this feature will be useful. We will have to see once the Nano actually gets used in the field.

Each corner has a stake-out loop to keep the mesh taut. Two corners are blue and the others red. The side with the red loops has more headroom. One might find they need to use rocks instead of stakes to avoid carrying extra.

Since the material is generously loose, it acts more like a drape than a true pyramid net. This inevitably means one must make modifications at home or address these issues in the field on a day to day basis. If one is creative, then the net will be a perfect solution for most functions as long the shelter is not too low to the ground.

C360_2015-06-06-22-14-22-291 (1)Now, there is a limitation with the product:

  • It’s not treated with Insect Shield (permethrin), which would keep most creepy crawlies at bay. Sea to Summit does offer treated and untreated options. Permethrin has been demonstrated to be toxic, but for some the sanity is worth the trade off.
  • For noseeums, the mesh should be around minimum 155 holes/cm². Some Scots recommending in excess of 380 to 390 holes/cm² for midges. Site selection is key as oftentimes in the West, they are associated with livestock, buffalo or caribou herds, and sandy areas.
  • Since the mesh is 15-denier, and not 75-denier typical of most mosquito nets on the market, the material is much more flimsy. One must take precautions not to let dogs’ nails tear up the net.
  • There is no sewn-in floor, so there will be an inevitable mosquito or two which manages to crawl in. One must make a decision about the weight-to-comfort ratio.

There is one feature the designers should had added: reinforcing the center of the apex so a sole trekking pole can be used for the pyramid without resorting the inverted V. Sea to Summit assumes would buy both nets for situational uses which is a wise move since it saves them the production cost of three different configurations.

Given the price and weight, the Nano Pyramid Net is a difficult product to beat. At 116 g for two, or roughly half that for one, it pushes the limitation of how light an aftermarket add-on can be. For better protection, one would be looking at a bug bivy or a complete inner mesh.

C360_2015-06-06-22-03-08-036At the end of the summer, the Sea to Summit Nano will be going with Halla so she could use it for their fantastic trail networks of raised wooden laavu (Finnish trans. “leanto”) which makes it the lightest shelter one can have, other than the Single version for roughly 82 g, or less if the suspension cordage is shortened or removed.

 

By |June 12th, 2015|Gear, Reviews|0 Comments|

Weight Training on the Cheap

Staying in shape for outdoors activities is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Hunters, skiers, kayakers, ultra runners, and backpackers are constantly practicing or training every day to stay prime for the big day. So how can be tiptop for less than $50 or even free? After all, not everyone can drop a half a month paycheque on the King of Strength: the Olympic barbells. So, what’s the magical, inexpensive solution? Simple: construct some sandbags!

Now, those who do manual labour don’t really need these lying around the house as they are usually too tired at the end of the day; but the desk jockeys don’t have that blessing of using their muscles every day carrying odd objects such as logs, steel beams, bales of hay, garbage bags or lifting stones and slabs of concrete. and slugging away with the sledgehammer. The tutorial is really more for all the white-collared folks out there.

diy-sandbag

The project does not require much.

Tools

  • Weight-scale (eg. postal scale, food scale, luggage scale)
  • Groundsheet (optional, eg. polypropylene tarp, window shrink, Tyvek)
  • Bucket (optional)
  • Permanent marker (optional)

Supplies

  • Linen, canvas, polypropylene bags, duffel bags, dry bags, stuff sacks, sea bags, or military surplus deployment bags
  • 3-mil or thicker bags such as compactor bags, construction bags, industrial plastic bags, innertube, feed bags
  • Filler such as sand, rubber mulch, landscaping bark, wood pellet, newspaper pellets, rice, pea gravel, river rock, link chain, manilla rope, cement mix, zircon, lead shots or salt
  • Fasteners such as twine, zip ties or clamps
  • Heavy-duty tape such as duct tape or packing tape (optional)

A sandbag is a very simple concept and a very low cost option. One of the reasons why they are rarely mentioned in fitness magazines is they don’t sell, inexpensive and anyone can make one at home. It far more common to read about this equipment on sport-specific websites.

However, a sandbag is an excellent way of starting a home gym and should be a valuable asset to anyone’s training regime. Some weightlifters might even say all that is required is some sand bag, climbing rope and or gymnastic rings.

So what is a sand bag and what it consists of? Very simple. It has an inner bag with filler and an outer bag. The inner bag prevents leaks to keep the gym tidy, and the outer bag allows for gripping.

First thing, first. Since the project will be messy, it is best to do it outside or lay down a sheet in the garage. If it is being done indoor, then a vacuum cleaner and a broom will be handy.

There are a few factors to consider while selecting filler. One would be your toes. Everyone drops weights sometimes. The denser the material, the more the accident will hurt. So, sand is preferable to chain and gravel or river rocks. On the other hand, the finer the material is, the more abrasive it is. Some prefer pea gravel because they last longer. Others prefer mulch, either cedar or rubber since they can last for years.

The other thing to consider is the more weight required, the more volume the filler takes up. The more volume, the more awkward it is to lift something as the outer bag will have to be more enlonged or wider. 130 kg worth of pellets or mulch is much more awkward to hoist than 130 kg of sand. Likewise, 200 or 300 kg of sand is more awkward than 200 kg of cement mix as the later as sand is very loose and cement or zicron is very compact. The denser the material, the easier it is to keep the weight equally distributed.

On the other hand, one does not get the advantage of sandbag training if there is not enough filler. If the person doesn’t have the upper body strength but still want to take advantage of an unstable center of mass, wood pellets or landscaping bark will fill the volume with relatively low weight. For many backpackers, 36 kg of wood pellet or cedar mulch feels very natural compared to other fillers of the same weight simply because it resembles more closely to the weight of the gears.

In most cases, the sand will do as even power lifters find 130 kg of loose weight difficult to grip. The reason why they can lift or press in excess of 225 kg because plates are fixed, solid and stabilized at both ends of the bar. Shifting weights recruits more stabilizer muscles and thus difficult.

Since we want to replace the function of barbells, in this tutorial, we will be using regular sand. This is the most accessible material anywhere in the world.

Now before grabbing any plastic bag, consider how abrasive sand and rocks are. Grocery bags, garbage bags, and food storage bags would not suffice as they are thin. Most of those items are 1-mil or less in thickness. What we need is about 3-mil or thicker.

Now there are a variety of options for durable inner bags. At  the local hardware store, compactor bags and plastic construction bags are easy to find and are affordable. At the local butcher shop, some of them will freely hand out industrial food-grade plastic bags which are very strong or they will sell them for 25 cents to a dollar a bag depending on the volume. Alternatively, one can go to auto-body shops and workplaces to ask for used innertubes from old tires, and many would be happy to get rid of them for free. At 6-mil, innertubes would be one of the thickest materials one can come across.

Before filling them, decide if one want more shifting weight by allowing more air in the bag, or denser by packing it down. Wrapping the bag in duct tape or packing tape will add more life to the bag as there are less wear and tear on the plastic. If one wants the benefit of shifting weight, then it would be unwise to tape the bags, but one should be aware loose weights have shorter shelf life than packed weight. The reason for this is the more sand shifts around, the more the abrasion erodes the liner.

At this point, one might want a bucket if they only have a food scale or postal scale. Many of them have a limit set at 5 kg or 11 lbs. So, one might have to zero the bucket and add the filler to the sand in increments.

C360_2015-06-05-19-44-29-499

A sample of the collection. The rest of them (not shown) are being used for rucking, get up et al.

Now there are two approaches. One can use a singular bag with all the weight. Many backcountry hunters, firefighters, and military personnel use 18, 27 or 36 kg, and backpackers use 11.5 kg in their training programs. For the fireman’s carry, 90 kg is sufficient although some will strive for 130 kg to 140 kg. Try not to have a single bag weighing more than 36 kg. Anything more seldom will be used.

For incremental strength training purposes, it might be easier to have adjustable weight. For a complete set of 160 kg, it might be beneficial to have a pair of everything: 2.5 kg, 5 kg, 7 kg, 11 kg, 12 kg, 13.5 kg, 14 kg and 16.5 kg. Others might want twelve sets of 11.5 kg sandbags.

A weight scale is very useful for estimating how heavy the final product will be. It will be your most valuable ally.

Finally, twist the bag and tighten it with a fastener of some sort. Here, zipties are used as they happened to be available freely around the house. Twine or jute will suffice in most circumstances and are easy to find at the local craft store or dollar store. If you are aiming for loose shifting weight, we are done.

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Filling up and twisting the bag.

If one wants a densely-packed bag which doesn’t leak, go ahead and wrap the bags thickly in heavy-duty tape.

And finally, write the bag with a permanent marker so remembering how much each individual bag weigh is not necessary. This is not required.

article-sandbag3

Three layers of duct tape to minimize spillage.

Now, for an outer bag, it can be anything from canvas to duffel bags and dry bags. 60 cm × 90 cm will fulfill most applications. It would be wise to line the outer bag with a large volume garbage inside to keep the fabric clean and free of impregnation in case your weights leak. The landlord will be very grateful if the house is kept clean.

Bags with handles are handy for certain kind of lifts and squats which is why those products are emerging in online fitness stores. Bags without handles are more difficult and excellent for grip training and strengthening the core.

C360_2015-06-05-19-43-54-489

Heavy-duty construction bag as liner to avoid an irate landlord.

Canvas and polypropylene bags found on construction sites are wonderful as one can simply twist them off and tie them instead of having multiple bags of various volumes.

The cost of all this? It depends on availability and location. If one lives near construction sites and beaches, then the project costs nothing. If one lives in a sprawling city in middle of nowhere, then materials should not cost more than $100.

By |June 6th, 2015|Tutorials|0 Comments|

Gear Review: Osprey Ariel 65L

483327_10150999372467088_2057808464_nThis year, I will be retiring the Osprey Ariel 65L after three or four years of use. After finally saved up enough for a Stone Glacier Solo which is lighter by almost a whole kilogram and twice as expensive, it is time to write a long-term review of the previously-used pack.

Now, Osprey Ariel wasn’t an intentional purchase but rather an accidental one. Departed from Finland using a frameless Tracker which was relatively lightweight and got for $5 at a garage sale. The Tracker pack carried the gear, folding soft crate, and a 13 kg dog well. Prior to departing from Canada, the Tracker carried everything.

Except, I ended up half of an expedition tent and other assorted gears which are now long forgotten by now. The Tracker wasn’t able to cope with the additional load. So, we went to Partioaitta in Turku and found an Osprey Ariel 65L on clearance for about 200 Euros in 2012. The Ariel didn’t fit perfectly due to the hip belt, but adding an internal frame carried better than any of the other packs available at the store and was a last-minute purchase.

The Osprey Ariel was awkward for my sharp and bony hips. There was no flesh to grab onto and needed a proper contour full wrap to make full use of the rucksack. This is not the fault of the pack or the manufacturer but simply my anatomy. After all, it is a product designed for women with wider hips and more curve.

For the last three years, the Osprey Ariel did what it was asked of. The times where it failed when I overpacked or underpacked. As long the load was more than 7 kg and less than 25 kg, the backpack served me well.

The backpack itself weighed exactly 2.23 kg on the scale to the last gram. There is an onerous amount of webbings which can be trimmed to lose some weight. Instead, I opted to keep them for the resale value.

There are a numbers of things I did not like about the pack. First, it was overbuilt with pockets and other features initially appealing off the shelf. There are sleeves everywhere which are not always necessary, and strange ribbons all over the place which were only understood after watching YouTube videos. To make full use of the Ariel or Aether, it is high recommended to watch the videos since they are not intuitive.

Over time, those additional features were never used. Water bottle access was difficult and ended up using a hydration system which added more weight. It would be better to use a slanted access for ease. Since the side pockets are awkward, it forces the use of a bladder and hose. None of these perks enhanced the hiking experience.

The sleeve for the bladder should be made optional. Other manufacturers allow the user to add or remove when needed.

Now, the backpack is not a bad design but marketed toward the mainstream to cast a wide enough net as possible. Gutting those features would result in about 1 kg reduction. In fact, it is not uncommon for hikers to modify their packs to suit them. Personally, I would had done the same. Unfortunately, DIY projects reduce the resale values of the packs.

What are the features? Well, there is a load self, a bottom compartment with zippered access, top compartment with zippered access, lid shelf, access side pocket, gear loops, hydration pouch and port, front mesh pocket, and too many webbings to count. Unlike today’s models, mine did not come with hip belt pockets. Most of these, while necessary, were not convenient to use due to where they were located.

Personally, there is no real need to have more than the top access as the other two access ports complicate how the load is carried since gears shift when one tries to access them from the bottom. Others might like the bottom access for storing cooking sets or sleeping bags. The front panel access might be useful for some for storing jackets. The old adage “hike your own hike” plays a factor here.

Not all of these features are useless. The gear loops are necessary for storing trekking poles and ice axes. The hip belt pockets would had been a welcoming addition to store snacks and a camera for quick access. Unfortunately, the company introduced the hip pockets a year or two later.

The bags are made of the following fabrics: 210D nylon dobby, 75D ripstop nylon, and 500D woven nylon. Even though the fabrics are tough and durable for bushwacking, the use of the fabric in the design is fundamentally useless as the excess webbings and pockets cause the pack to snag constantly while bushwacking. For on-trail hiking, there are a number of more suitable fabric which are lighter or thinner and would still last for many years. I suspect the reason why the fabrics are used is due to the manufacturing cost and cheap labour to meet the customers’ demand for high quality at a mid-range price.

532354_10150999372807088_1459584305_nFor a casual weekend backpacker, who is more interested in camping than hiking, the Osprey Ariel makes all the right clicks, and for many the pack is all they ever need for a lifetime. For a long distance hiker, I would look more toward ULA Catalyst or other similar packs for the same load-bearing ability, price range, volume all with less fat. Those who do more bushwhacking or trail maintenance probably would be seeking out older designs from the 1980s and 1990s when packs used to be individually fitted rather than the one-size-fits-all approach typical of today’s productions. Unfortunately, many of the alternatives to Osprey are not brands which can be bought off the shelf and must be ordered through the Internet or catalogue. The ones which are available on the shelf such as Arc’teryx are oftentimes more expensive.

Perhaps the bias in was unfair since the purchase was not done with serious research and happened to be incidental in an impromptu trip. Not to mention the review is based on a man’s experience of wearing a pack designed for a woman.

Osprey is still a reputable brand and well-liked in the canyoneering, bikepacking, and fastpacking communities. It is important to remember, however, many of the backpacks are designed  to appeal to the people who are halfway between hiking and car camping.

By |June 5th, 2015|Gear, Reviews|0 Comments|

B.C.’s Hunting Course Online

--HUNTERcourse.com   British Columbia Home-British Columbia originally offered the hunting program as an elective course in high school for free. However, hunter recruitment struggled for about two decades after the Liberals government privatized the courses. At least, until the 100 Mile Diet book came out, then being a locavore became trendy; everyone and their grandmother wanted venison.

Alberta has their online courses for a while now through the Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association and it is not very clear why British Columbia with its repeated budget crises and periods of economic depressions have not made the same move. As of April 24, 2015, B.C. Wildlife Federation announced at the annual convention that there would be an online course.

Now, residents of British Columbia over the age of ten years of age can take their CORE program online through HUNTERcourse.com. Just pay the one-time fee of $78.00 CAD plus GST, take the online course, meet a CORE instructor in the local area for the final exam then get the Graduate certificate and Resident Hunting Number.

Now, not having the time to allocate time to drive to the nearest classroom, take the course and passing the exam will no longer be an excuse.

Next stop: applying for tags online.

 

By |June 3rd, 2015|Editorial|0 Comments|

Dog Porridge

10273219_10201956539027134_919297103126746357_oKibbles are preferred because it is more convenient and calorie-dense. For a hiking dog, performance kibbles or pemmican are the densest with the least volume. Some of us, however, don’t have the time to make pemmican nor have dogs that can digest kibbles.

Riley, the Swedish Vallhund, did well with Acana for the first year and a half of his life before Champion Petfoods changed the formula as the result of the gluten-free or grain-free trend. The problem with the changes in ingredients is that he couldn’t digest starches from tubers such as potatoes and yams. Unfortunately, tubers are very common as binders in dog kibbles, and the brands which still use rice or other grains are low quality.

A few books on home cooking were recommended including K9 Kitchen and Optimal Nutrition by Monica Segal who is well-respected. Now, home-made recipes are risky, and many authors don’t know the nutrients dogs need and should be required to know the Association of American Feed Control Officials’s guidelines as well as European Pet Food Industry Federation’s and the National Research Council’s. like the back of their hand. Most recipes out there will lead to long-term deficiencies and owners won’t recognize the symptoms.

The recipe listed here e is a derivation of a popular Finnish recipe of home-made dog food ”Yrjölän puuro” [Finnish: “Yrjölä’s Porridge”] developed during the 1950s by J.A.U Yrjölä, a judge, a former Chairman of Finnish Kennel Club’s Board of Directors and chairman of Suomen Rottweileryhdistys ry.

Adapted from and courtesy of Rovaseudun Pystykorvakerho ry:

Ingredients

  • 1 litre of water
  • 1 ts of salt
  • 1 dL of powdered milk
  • ½ dL short-grain rice (eg. sushi rice, Arborio, or Nordic pudding rice)
  • ½ dl whole pearl barley
  • ½ dL whole millet groats
  • ½ dL whole buckwheat groats (eg. kasha)
  • 300 – 500 g ground pork and beef
  • 2 — 3 carrots, grated

Instructions

  • Grease the baking pan with margarine
  • Add a litre of water to the pan
  • Add salt and powdered milk
  • Add rice, grains, ground meat and grated carrots
  • Mix the ingredients in the pan
  • Place the pan in the oven and bake at 200°C for 1 ½ to 2 hours
  • Cool the porridge and place them aside in containers as single-serving portions
  • Freeze for later

Conversions

  • 1 L is 10 dL, 4.2 US cups or 34 fl. oz
  • 1 dL is 100 mL, 0.42 US cup or 3.4 fl. oz
  • 100 g is 3.5 oz
  • 200°C is 392°F

This recipe is fairly easy to make and is a time-tested one. Yrjölä’s Porridge is one of the most popular home-made recipes for dogs in Nordic countries.

The nutrients for this one has not been calculated yet, but nevertheless fairly easy one to make and can be adjusted.  During hunting season, it might be wise to have very fatty cuts; during the off-season, lean cuts.

Now, it’s traditional in British Columbia and Alberta to make dog food out of bear meat and rice. Unfortunately, in Yukon and Northwest Territories, the act of feeding game meat to dogs is considered as want-and-waste and aboriginals have long criticized this law as a form of imperialism.

But to pull off using bear meat as the staple, it requires calculating the zinc content, which bear is very high in, and compensating for the imbalance. One of these days, I will post a recipe.

By |May 31st, 2015|Tutorials|0 Comments|

First Impression: Stone Glacier Solo

One of the most difficult aspects of designing a hunting backpack is developing a frame which feels comfortable with a 9 to 13 kg load, but also feel comfortable at 36 to 63 kg load carriages. Externals are excellent for heavy loads, and trail maintenance crews often use Kelty and Jansport for transporting chainsaws and other woodworking equipment, however, traditional frames are awkward trekking with a practical three-season kit or running on empty.

Internal frames like Osprey Aether are doable with medium-sized game animals like white-tailed deer. Elk, moose, caribou, and bears are entirely different ball-game. It is easy to jump to the other extreme of the spectrum and start ogling over Mystery Ranch and Barney’s with their impressive resumés; upon researching the two top contenders for lightweight hunting backpacks on the market are Stone Glacier and Seek Outside. Alternatively, Kifaru is a time-tested design which spearheaded the market with nearly two decades to their name.

But I wanted to follow more closely with the recommended weight set forward by Townsend Whelen (1877 – 1961) at about 60 ounces or 1.7 kg. Unfortunately, most of the commercially-available packs exceed this baseline.

There are several criteria for a hunting backpack: large enough to swallow everything without needing a pocket; there shouldn’t be any external cord or mesh to avoid being snagged in the deep brush; have more alpine profile; and a load-self for meat carriage. Finding a lightweight backpack to meet these requirements can be difficult.

After corresponding with Kurt Racicot, the KRuX Frame has been designed for all of North America’s big game. For a minimalist, the Solo with a volume of 54 L would do fine for all terrain and weather. He also offers larger bags for those who want to bring more comfort and luxury.

frontWith such excellent customer service, ordering a Solo bag, plus the KRuX frame, 3-piece hip-belt and was in order. Schnee’s, a reputable company in itself, offers them for $574 USD. The order was placed through TRUSTe e-commerce system, and cost of shipping via USPS Priority Canada / Alaska was $48 USD. Taxes paid to Canadian Custom via Canada Post came to be $44.35 CAD; $34. 40 in GST and $9.95 in shipping and handling. Ten days elapsed before the package finally arrived at the doorstep.

The package came with the bag, frame, a buckle kit, receipt, window sticker, customer service notice, a brochure for the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance and a thank you note.

The strong point of the KRuX and Solo is its minimalist design. While companies such as Kifaru, Mystery Ranch, and Eberlestock became more features-heavy over the year, Racicot stayed true to the Alaskan packboard design once highly endorsed by lightweight backpackers at the turn of the 20th century. By committing to keeping things simple as possible, he was able to produce the lightest backpack on the market.

backWhile Stone Glacier does not explicitly says the KRuX is universal, individuals ranging from 5’2″ to 6’7″ reported great success with them. It will be interesting how the backpack fits Halla since she has a very short spine, and the iliac crest rides up quite high despite being an average height female.

Upon inspection, it is easy to see why the KRuX fits a wide range of individuals. The shoulder strap is velcroed onto the frame using industrial strength materials. Someone with a short back can remove the lumbar pad and move the straps down far enough that the padding becomes the lumbar pad.

With the full wrap, the lumbar pad is not always necessary and usually thrown in for people whose backs are conditioned to accept the lumbar pad. Unfortunately, the belt is one size fit all (in theory, the company offers Small, Medium and Large) and those who want a true full wrap system should consider looking at Mystery Ranch NICE or Paradox Evolution.

After a couple of hours of experimenting with a 32 kg load, finding where to lower the straps was easy. The lumbar pad is still a work in progress at the moment but compared to the others tried from different manufacturers, the padding is much more comfortable.

The packboard itself is about 1 kg, and the frame is about 65.5 cm by 27.5 cm. Considering the criticisms from old-time trappers about modern backpacks being heavy and overbuilt, the KRuX is quite an accomplishment.

According to the website, the shoulder straps are rated for 408 lbs or 185 kg per shoulder and has about 155 cm² of contact with the frame. Twelve points are used where webbings bear the weight. Four carbon composite stays with two of them forming an X-shaped cross forms the frame and are encased in X-Pac laminated ripstop fabric. While many people are skeptical about velcro, they are rated for 17 lbs per square inch or 2.2 kg per cm².

There are two sets of load lifter attachments, one on the frame itself, and another one placed on the pack. One set is for ensuring the bag is close to the body, while the other set is for keeping the meat load close. The load should be trussed to the body as possible.

The lumbar pad is removable, and there are pieces of foam inside which can be moved up or down, trimmed or dropped. Now, some complain that the KRuX frame doesn’t make full contact with the shoulder and lower back like Kifaru or Eberlestock but personally found Eberlestock to be too well-padded, and Kifaru to be too features-heavy.

C360_2015-05-23-18-51-01-090Using the KRuX like an Alaskan packboard is entirely feasible by using the minimalist buckle kit. Just simply switch out the auto-locking male buckles on one side and switch them out for the females. Three are provided.

The load shelf tucks in behind the bag against the frame, and there are fasteners to anchor them securely to the frame. Ideally, the meat should behind the bag to maximize load transfer. This design allows for the person to stay centered without falling over.

If one wishes to use the load shelf for carrying gears, there is a potential for another 44 L or more worth of volume. Alternatively, the load shelf can be used as a compression panel for storing and quick access to rain gear.

The main body of the bag is 54 L. The design resembles more closely to mountaineering or skiing backpacks which make it ideal for bushwacking through the dark timber. Many hunting packs these days are too wide and snags on branches too easily. The compression straps dwindle the volume down to almost nothing.11267543_10204047632943175_241560297638603617_o

There is a bit of a debate on how much volume a hunter needs ranging from 30 L to 140 L, but much of is dependent on the type of luxuries they wish to bring: optics, emergency preparedness, use of synthetic versus down, how big of a shelter. The bare minimum for two weeks unsupported winter trip in the harshest climate is probably around 70 L. The largest bag offered, which is the Sky 7200, is 118 L. There are other aftermarket add-ons which can expand the capability beyond these limitations.

The bag materials are made with #92 thread stitching, 500D Condura, X-Pac and 2.5 cm webbings. The bottoms are reinforced with double layers. The zippers are heavy-duty YKK #10, and the buckles are military-grade Duraflex. There are obvious hints places the pack was made in a workshop, oppose to being automated in a factory, and the stitchings are impeccable.

The materials are quiet for synthetic, but not as silent as cotton canvas or velveteen which comes with a huge weight penalty when thickness-strength ratios are compared. With European hunters, there is a huge concern about how much sound certain materials produce and always a constant subject of debates. Considering the backpacks are regularly used by bowhunters pursuing some of the most sensitive big game animals on the planet, the paranoia over the materials is not warranted.

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There are one external access pocket and various attachments for modular pieces such as ditty bags and aftermarket pockets. On the outside, there are two loops for trekking poles, ice axes or forest axes. On the upper end of the bag, there are two attachment points in the center of the bag on the outside where one can install buckles to attach a lid which would provide an additional 8 L. A true minimalist might take the razor to those features to lose ounces.attachment

The bag itself is easy to deattach from the frame. Just simply lift the bag off of the forks and release all six to twelve buckles. Substitute another one. It would not be difficult to do an MYOG project for an ultralight bag for packrafting or something similar.

Of course, any smart backpacker is interested in dissecting the pack and weighing out each of the components:

Items Weight (grams)
Load Shelf 60
Krux Frame with Hip Belt (M) 1037
Solo 655
Lumbar Pad 76
Minimalist Buckle Kit (optional) 29
Total (without buckle kit) 1828
C360_2015-05-23-20-59-11-771

Demostrating load shelf with 32 kg sand bag.

Ideally, the backpack was made for 32 kg to 61 kg loads. The manufacturer, however, claimed they tested up to 154 kg and not yet been tested to failure. A review on being tested to failure would be interesting, but it’s difficult to see anyone paying a pretty sum of money just to break an expensive product. Most of us only has access to Quikrete or sand, and can be quite difficult to acquire extremely dense materials. For comparison, concrete powder has a density of 1 500 to 1 800 kg/m³ and sand has a density of 1 200 to 1 600 kg/m³. Steel, used in the manufacturer’s tests, has about four to five times the mass. One would need access to plates and welding equipment to verify the claims. For the time being, testing static load will not be possible.

While it is feasible to test the load lifter and shelf to failure by using materials from my stepfather’s workplace, testing the load transfer while hiking up and down the hills is more realistic. Doing 2 000 step ups and an equivalent in lunges would be good way of testing it in one’s backyard. Also, going up and down unstable terrain would be a true feat of how the load stays centered.

Over the new couple of series of posts, we will test the load by doing lunges and step ups at home, on the rolly terrain of the foothills, in the mountains and an actual field test after a hopefully successful hunt. With luck, a female participant might be recruited for feedback.

External frames seldom get attention outside of the wilderness hunting community, largely because most hunters now rely on trucks, quads and horses; and the majority of campers and hikers don’t have the need for extreme load carriage. However, it is nice to see Kifaru broke the ice for innovations with internal-external hybrids which paved the way for smaller companies like Seek Outside and Stone Glacier to blaze trails. Best of all, Stone Glacier is moose-approved.

By |May 29th, 2015|Reviews|0 Comments|

What Is Bushcraft?

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Snowshoes from Cambridge Bay, Yellowknife and Fort Smith 50 to 70 years ago.

In the last two decades, bushcraft became popular with those who have forgotten their roots, particularly in Great Britain and Eastern United States. Much of it is a rejection or frustration with the modern way of life and romanticizing the past.

To many, bushcraft is about survival, firecraft, shelter building, tracking, fishing, hunting, foraging, producing natural cordage, woodsmanship, and wilderness living. If one was to look at modern publications, chat rooms or forums, much is nothing more than adults playing Boy Scouts. Indeed, photographs of attempts amount to nothing more than military-style commando camping.

For an outsider, who goes on some of the forums, there is an unreal obsession with knives and axes along with basic skills taught in alpine skiing, the Scouts Movement, military, search and rescue, wilderness guiding schools or in hunting courses. So, what makes modern bushcraft distinct? Not much.

For those who practice bushcraft on a daily basis such as aboriginals of the Canadian North, the tribes of South American jungles, indigenous peoples of Siberia, the hunter-gatherers and pastoralists of Africa and Middle East, and the shepherds of the Central Asian steppes, wilderness skills are much more than survival but rather a way of life. Bushcraft, in a sense, is an art and using the natural world to provide for our needs.

Indeed, if one goes to Canada, Russia or Sweden, their citizens still produce beautiful works such as skis, snowshoes, canoes, baskets and cabins. To get a better idea of what bushcraft should be, one should access the archives hosted by the National Film Board of Canada or Yle. There are some fantastic videos out there such as “Isien työt” (trans. “The labours of our fathers”) or “Cesar’s Birch Canoe”. Many of the footage are quite old as urbanization took hold, and many seek the comfort of modern life over the harshness of the wilderness.

Too many people read texts about mountain men or the Golden Era of Camping and try to imitate their kits. We don’t ask ourselves if those people are alive today if they would take advantage of technology or modern advancements. If one goes to other parts of the world isolated from urban centers, the people who live in the forest quickly adopt new gears when they can afford them. We forget the ones we idolize so much are constrained by the limitations of what was available of the time.

For this blogger, bushcraft is the things his grandfather did in the Northwest Territories in the 1960s, not what is more akin to Survivorman or military operations. People made things to make their day to day lives easier, not to make it through a difficult night after a camping trip gone sour. But it is quite different to be a Canadian who is only one generation removed from that way of life, oppose to someone who is three or five generations removed and never had tales regaled to them.

By |May 27th, 2015|Editorial|0 Comments|

Coffee in the Backcountry

A good cup of coffee is perhaps one of the most spiritually uplifting experience after a long day hike, hunt or fishing. It can easily turn someone’s soured day into a pleasant evening.
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Brewing coffee is one of those things everyone has a personal preference for and there are many ways of making a cup of Joe. As the result, there are many gadgets on the market devised to suck in the latest consumers. Very seldomly, people discuss the old-fashioned way of making coffee.

Over the years, there were several methods shown. In the past, our family preferred the percolator. My grandfather had one which was beaten to hell and looked like it came from the Fifties. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was an old Coleman or Abercrombie’s; at least back when they used to be more than just fashion. But again, he admired the old sourdoughs and often wanted to imitate their ways.

The most common in recent years, after spending time on the West Coast, was using a dedicated French press. Boil some water, add the grind to the press, pour the boiling water in, wait 5 minutes, serve. The problem with this method is that one has minimum two or three pieces of kitchenware to clean up.

The above method in Finland is very common on the campsite. However, some boiled water in a kettle, bring it down to a simmer, add the grind, stir it, let the brew settle without letting it roll into another boil then pour it into a hand-carved wooden cup called a kuksa. This is perhaps the most common way of brewing coffee in the backcountry, and it’s one most commonly seen in photographs and paintings. Of course, in the winter, most people just bring a thermos with them and make the coffee in a cabin.

There were a few people who bought coffee in a pouch like Folger’s Singles, and seep it in boiling water, but most of them were transplants from the East Coast. The pouched coffee are the least intensive, but the flavour can be dicey.

But is there a way to eliminate the kettle and the cup?

In the Rockies, we have something called “cowboy coffee”. Some backpackers call it “Turkish coffee”, and it goes by many names in the Arabic and Slavic worlds. Doing it incorrectly would means getting grit in the teeth. Luckily, brewing is one of those skills which can easily be learned at home.

C360_2015-05-07-17-49-54-568So, what is “cowboy coffee”? Well, it’s using nature’s laws to your benefit. Firstly, we know the finer the grind, the more quickly they will become saturated which cuts down on the waiting period from boiling to drinking. We also know that the longer the grind stays in the water, the more likely they will sink and settle at the bottom.

So how can we use these two pieces of facts to our advantage? First, obtain Turkish or espresso grind. Some stores, especially Asian groceries, will sell these fine grinds as “coffee powder”.

Secondly, combine the grind and cold water in the pot. We want it to settle down a little bit, so use the time for setting up stove and priming for allowing the water to saturate. We want the flavour to seep.

Once the stove is warmed up, put the pot over the flames and bring it to just the beginning of a boil.

C360_2015-05-07-17-57-04-957 (1)Don’t let the water boil too long or the ground will scald which will make the coffee bitter. A good rule of thumb is that if it boils longer than a minute, it will be too bitter for most people. A very conservative way of making good coffee is not letting it roll more than 10 or 15 seconds.

Now there is a bunch of tricks into getting the ground to settle faster including adding cold water or tapping the edge. Be patience and let it settle on it own, Doing the above with no experience might ruin the coffee and make it too cold or resulting with too many floaties. Over the years, one will develop a knack for how to do it properly without ruining the coffee.

Set it aside on the ground and remember to protect it from the elements. Sand and moss tend to insulate very well. In the winter, use the jacket or sleeping bag. The ground will settle in about a minute and will be safe to pour into the mugs or cups. Don’t swirl it or shake it.

If one is a soloist, feel free to drink directly from the pot.

C360_2015-05-07-18-05-38-433 (1)Remember the last teaspoon of liquid is going to contain the ground and will be bitter. People who are used to having their coffee with a machine such as Keurig or Tassimo are always unpleasantly surprised by the bitterness of the last drop. Don’t be that guy, be smart and discard the sludge.

Practice at home and prepare to amaze your friends and families. Many people remember the method as cold, bitter and straining it through their teeth. The reason why people have such negative experience is because making a good cup is a skill.

If the coffee is not smooth, try and try again until the fundamentals are grasped. There is nothing better than a well-crafted coffee made.

In the camp, this antiqued method is the quickest way to brew coffee and when everyone else is cold and shivering waiting for theirs to come along using gadgets, it is easy to go from zero to hero.

By |May 24th, 2015|Tutorials|0 Comments|

Finding More About a Breed’s Health

Every so often, people ask “what kind of health problem so-and-so breed has?” without learning how to fish for themselves. Finding information on a breed’s health can be difficult, especially when not all of the information is being published. Dogs are imported and exported constantly, and as such the global population is interconnected.

Breed clubs have fickle politics and, for this reason, various kennel clubs around the world are either seen as conservative or progressive. Nordic kennel clubs, as a general rule of thumb, are considered as the most progressive, whereas English-speaking kennel clubs have a more paleoconservative or libertarian bent. Many of the kennel clubs in Asia are a relatively recent phenomenon with ownership of pedigreed dogs is directly tied with solvency of the middle class; and as the result are just budding. In that region of the world, discussion on health is only just occurring in recent years.

Many in United States and Canada will tell people there are no hereditary diseases or that the diseases have been bred out or that their breeding stock predates known health problems in other countries. This insistence on outdated Victorian eugenics flies in the face of what academics know in conservation genetics, zoology and livestock management. Every species and every subpopulation will he more predisposed toward a certain disease than others. Every organism on this planet carries genes which can cause malfunctions. Just because no one talks about it doesn’t mean those issues do not exist. It is intellectually dishonest to say any population is free from genetic disorders.

Trust, acceptance, and alignment  the role of IT in redirecting a community   Kari Kuutti - Academia.edu (1)

Diagram from The Role of IT in Redirecting a Community (pp. 44) illustrating how the Karelian Bear Dog community in Finland cooperate.

The reason why progressive kennel clubs publish information so everyone can access the information is to increase accountability, empower all the breeders and, most importantly, the puppy buyers. By liberalizing the information, it builds trust within the community and there is more confidence in purchasing a puppy. Also, breeders are better able to collaborate with each others and discover dogs which have not been bred yet for maximizing genetic diversity and reducing the frequencies of diseases.

Ideally, information about everything from trial results, show ribbons to health postings from veterinarians should all be synced into one central database.  Like music, videos and e-books in the Internet era, this kind of information are increasingly becoming social capital owned and shared by everyone.

So how do we sleuth out clues to find out more about our dogs? For starter, many of the databases can be accessed internationally.

If one has a hunting spitz, the main databases to keep at hand are: KoiraNet (Finland), Metsastyspystykorvat Koiratietokanta (Finland), HUNDDATA (Sweden),  EKL Online (Estonia), DogWeb (Norway), “БООР” База данных (Belarus),  БОС (Russia) and ЛАЙКИ и ГОНЧИЕ – БАЗЫ ДАННЫХ (Russia). Some of them are free and others require memberships.  Keep these websites bookmarked.

There are other databases out there, but the fact is most of the hunting with spitzes take place in Nordic countries, the Slavic world, and Central or East Asia and as such the residents of those regions control the majority of the gene pools. Anything which gets imported from those countries will also be transmitted into populations in North America.

Not all of the databases will have health information on dogs, but they are a starting point in learning more about certain lineages. Most of them will have trial results.

Some of them, like HUNDDATA or KoiraNet, will incorporate health information. Official test results mandated by the clubs such as eyes, joints and heart are updated automatically. However, currently, both databases don’t include information other than the ones mandated by the kennel clubs and breed clubs, and any further potential health problems are given voluntarily by the individual breeders. As such, the databases shouldn’t be seen as a panacea to open source.

Recently, a few breed clubs are taking the initiative and publishing all the information they have on hand. At the moment, there is a movement for veterinarians to be able to update the databases without the approval of the breeder or owner. With strict privacy laws, this dream might never come true. On the other hand, information and data are increasingly becoming considered as common properties.

To paint a bigger picture of a breed’s health, we first must understand kennel clubs in different countries and their regulations and policies, In recent years, both the Kennel Club of United Kingdom and American Kennel Club are trying to bring in reforms in response to animal welfare concerns which emerged in the last 30 years. The changes have been slow, and they still have a long way to go.

But if we are looking at hunting spitzes, it behooves a dog-owner to know that in Finland and Sweden every breed club is mandated to release a breeding strategy plan and update it every few years. In Finland, this important document is known as ” jalostuksen tavoiteohjelma” or JTO. In Sweden, it is known as “Rasspecifik Avelsstrategi” or RAS.

Some of the breed clubs even go the extra mile of developing recommendations for safeguarding a breed against known diseases. In Finland, this is known as “perinnöllisten vikojen ja sairauksien vastustamisohjelma” or PEVISA. Under PEVISA, health-checks must be carried out or the litter may not enter the registrar.

All of this sounds great, but we must be cautious as not all breed clubs will keep the information up to date. Sometimes there are naturalistic beliefs in which if a dog is hunted hard, they should not have health problems which are true to a certain extent. Other times, people are worried about the reputation of the breed and perceives any reported problems as slander or libel which draws negative attention. So, we need to evaluate each breed club in each individual countries by their merits, rather than stereotyping people as a whole.

So, we don’t speak or write Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish or Russian. Many of us in the Anglophone world has limited access to information, either deliberately, unintentionally or due to lack of funding. How do we find out more? We can use Google’s advanced search engine to our advantage.

There are other translation services available such as Bing, but they are not as reliable as Google’s. Keep in mind, the more complex a language is or the further away from Anglo-Germanic roots, the more confusing the results will be. They are a work in progress. So, take anything and everything with a grain of salt.

Now, if one is contacting a foreign kennel about acquiring a dog, it is generally not a good idea to use a machine translator as the message will be lost. It is best to write the e-mail or letter in English. Chances are the kennel owner knows English or has a relative who speak or read English. While a friend or a family member may be able to assist in translating, the quality cannot be verified. When in doubt, hire a professional translator.

For our purposes, it is important to remember the translation will be rough. Personally, interpreting is not a huge barrier since I grew up in a community which doesn’t have a rock-solid first language, nor second language and as the result there are strange blends or pidgin forms and many times the written forms are quite similar to Google’s strange outputs. Someone who is not exposed to that behaviour on a daily basis may have a hard time comprehending the outcome.

It is possible to find these documents by navigating the websites, but it is much quicker if we let search engines do it for us.

First, type in site: followed by the URL of the website we wish to search and the search term which will help us narrow down the query. Doing this will save us the trouble of fumbling around a website in a language we don’t understand or trying to comprehend how the webmaster structured the hierarchy.

Most of the time, the document will be on the breed club’s websites. In some countries, the document will be on the kennel club’s website.

site www.kennelliitto.fi  jto Länsisiperianlaika - Google Search

site http   www.skk.se  rasspecifik avelsstrategi norrbottenspets - Google Search

site www.spj.fi  pevisa - Google Search (1)

site www.spj.fi  jto - Google Search (2)

site http   www.laikajarjesto.fi  jalostuksen tavoiteohjelma - Google Search

site http   www.jamthundklubben.nu  ras - Google Search (1)

 

Usually, the document will be as a PDF, however, DOC, RTF, and PPT are not unusual Sometimes XLS and other formats are added as supplementary materials.. These documents can be opened with Microsoft Office, OpenOffice or Google Drive. The two latter are free to everyone.

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Now for translating the document, we have two choices: we can request Google to translate the actual document itself, or we can copy and paste sections. Results can be a little iffy at time when documents longer than 5 pages are translated, so it is best to just copy the Table of Contents then find the specific pages we are looking for, then head right to the section which we want to view.

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How to translate a PDF.

 

In this case, we want page 25 to 38. The other sections are interesting, but for the purpose of this tutorial, we want to find more specifically about health and breeding strategies. From this point on, copy and paste the relevant sections.

Remember to keep the snippets short for best results. The longer the chunk, the more goofy the output becomes.

Google Translate

Copying and pasting.

In many instances, these documents are really well-done and they are sometimes done with collaboration with geneticists, zoologists, insurance companies and veterinarians for all-encompassed information.

Finding more about health issues will allow us to ask breeders more questions and empower us as puppy-buyers to establish a benchmark of what an ethical breeder should do.

Don’t be surprised if information is lacking for some breed as oftentimes the Old Guards view any as health problems as bad publicity. This attitude does not exist everywhere and varies from breed club to breed club.

If absence of information is the case, oftentimes the only thing one can do is wait until animal welfare laws are improved to the point where individual breeders are forced to take responsibility, or for another generation of younger, more open-minded breeders to come along. In which case, the puppy-buyer has already done everything within her or his power.

The worst case scenario is that one might have to purchase health information from insurance companies. Studies which compare pedigreed breeds or mixed breeds often purchase information from these companies. Agria, a pet insurance company in northern Europe, offers packages which include entire breeds which one can purchase and analyze on their own time for a cost.

By publishing all the information publicly, we assume that the breeders and the clubs they belong to are being honest and we trust them not to be in denial. We feel they are doing everything they can to build a better future for their dogs’ offspring. As dog owners, we trust the breeders more as everything is out in the open and can make better-informed decisions about their lives.

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By |May 16th, 2015|Tutorials|0 Comments|