Thru-Hiking Bucket List

There are very few places in the world which interest me, and most of them resembles very closely to western Canada, namely: Siberia, Lapland, New Zealand and Patagonia. Indo-China and China also offer note-worthy places with dramatic landscapes. However, there are not a lot of information on long-distance hiking in English outside of North America. As the result, there will be a slanted bias.

However, let us look at some of the trails which captured some attention. There are a few addenda supplemented by my girlfriend, Halla.

20130605_045444_0609trailmap_300Pacific Crest Trail

It can takes as little as two months with the current record standing at 53 days and 6 hours. However, on average, it takes four to six months to complete and it’s generally advised for international hikers to take out a  B-2 visa. It’s also expected planning to take six to eight months. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates about 60% completion rate. At the moment, it’s suggested go from south to north to stay in tune with the changing seasons.

This one in particular stands out since it is on the West Coast and it goes through a number of different ecosystems. Also, it happened to be outside my front door when I was living in Vancouver.

Great_divide_trail_mapGreat Divide Trail

After we went to Yukon in summer of 2014, Halla became interested in this trail system after she discovered a website about a French-Finnish couple, Piia Kortsalo and Julien Schroder, who travels the world and completed the journey over 1350 kilometers in 37 days. The trail is largely considered to be informal or theoretical. However, that does not stop people from attempting it as there is a blog about it and several books published.

Spine Trail

VanIsleMapNov08The trail-system is largely incomplete, and it’s being spear-headed by the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association who took up  Gill Parker’s works. At the moment, it’s proposed to be 700 km long.

It is rumoured the trail won’t be complete and is purely conceptual like the Great Divide Trail. However, it does not stop people from trying to transverse the whole island from Victoria to Cape Scott. It’s not one without history as Phillip Stone published a guide in 1997 which covers 500 km from Port Alberni and Port McNeill. Even William Bolton was recorded to having done it in the 1890s, and recently Peter Bicknell completed walking from one tip to the other in 2002.

VTSelectionMapVoyageur Trail

The Voyageur Trail is one of Canada’s longest hiking trails at 1 100 km. It loosely follows the coast line of the Great Lakes and highlights some of central Canada’s well-known sceneries.

However, since the trail system is still incomplete, it takes some bush-whacking and off-trail navigation skills to complete the trip. Unlike the Spine Trail or the Great Divide, the Voyaguer stands a very good chance of being complete since it is relatively close to the major population centers which consist of half of Canada’s entire population.

Pacific Northwest Trail

pnttrailSam Haraldson’s coverage of the trail is actually one of the reasons why I became interested in lightweight backpacking in 2011. It took him 61 days to complete the whole thing.

The PNT about 1200 miles long. Since the trail is largely incomplete and requires some bush-whacking and using other trail-systems to complete it, there is no official record of the fastest time completed. Some reported having completed within 35 to 50 days.

The PNT is actually a component of one of the fives which make up the Great Western Loop which Andrew Skurka completed 6 875 miles in 208 days.

More information can be found via the official organization of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association.

Nordkalottleden Trail

nord_kungs_padjelanta_mapThe other side of the Atlantic offers many choices including the Via Alpina (2 400 km) and Alpe-Adria Trail (700 km). It should be kept in mind there are no thru-hiking communities in Europe since most of the paths are restricted to one country. With some route-planning, one can have similar experience by piercing the trails together. By doing this, the transverse can be anywhere from 700 km to 4 000 km. For more information, one can check out Christine’s blog who is an accomplished Triple-Crowners with a lot of mileage in Europe.

However, Europe seldom capture my imagination. Two of the reasons being are the volume of people and population density. Most of the long-distance hiking trails carry distractions such as livestock and ski-lifts. On the other hand, there are regions such as Iceland, Scandinavia and the Balkans which are very interesting.

Only a third of one of North America’s shortest popular thru-hike spots, the Nordkalottleden is a 800-km journey through Europe’s largest uninhabited wilderness. To enhance the experience, the Kungsleden (440 km) and Padjelantaleden (150 km) can be conjoined to make the hike even longer.

It also holds the distinction for crossing international borders 15 times.

Camino de Santiago

rutas_caminoThis one is more famous for being a pilgrimage routes than as a wilderness hiking. For European Christians, alongside Rome and Jerusalem, during the Middle Ages, it was one of the most important endeavors one could accomplish in their lifetime.

It is only about  791 km, however it can be interconnected with other significant European networks to enhance the experience. It is not uncommon to include the Pyrenees and the Alps as part of the whole package. Most are able to accomplish this within a month, however the journey could take longer if detours to see the historical sites are important.

Halla is interested in the Camino de Santiago due to the historical significance which led people to take the pilgrimage for centuries. It is also supposed to contain some of the most beautiful sights in Europe as well.

Sendero De Patagonia

landendsThe first thing which comes to people’s minds when South America enter the discussion are imagery invoked by Costa Rica and Brazil. However, the Andes and Argentina are much more similar to Scandinavia, New Zealand, Alaska and western Canada than anything else.

The Patagonia is one of the last truly wild places in the world. It is also one of the most heavily-visited places, other than Alaska, for wilderness hikers as well. Since Spanish is relatively easy to learn and South America remains within the Anglo-American sphere of influence, it is more accessible for budget-travelers than, say, Siberia. As the result, there is lots of information about this region of the planet.

However, attempt at thru-hiking this region varies in distances. So, there is no definitive measurement. Many people are only interested in traveling in national parks or historical areas while others launch themselves into full expeditions lasting two years traveling from the Panama to Cape Horn.

Some choose to walk the entire Andes from Colombia to Ecuador  through Peru. However, others opt for political stability and skip those nations entirely. Attempts to cross Chile and Argentina range from 2 500 km to 3 000 km depending on the path taken.

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Te Araroa Trail

By now, the readers should recognize a pattern. Most of the trails were selected based on their geography. New Zealand is well-known to be stunning for its extreme geography, ruggedness, remoteness and its temperate rainforests. The landscape is perhaps most famous for its displayal in films such as Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Like the Spine Trail, the Te Araroa transverse the whole length of the nation from tip to tip. Some have accomplished the entire network within two months. However, many advised taking 100 to 150 days to complete it.

Icelandic Transverse

There are two way to view the country. One can either go from east to west (450 km), or from north to south (550 km). Circling the island (1 300 km) by hiking around the coast-line with a bicycle is a popular option. However, many hikers prefer to go into the interior for the sight-seeing.

Either way, it usually takes a month or two, depending on the pace, to complete the journey. The compact nature of the island makes it ideal for anyone who want to see the sight without being too far from civilization.

Alexander MacKenzie Heritage Trail

amht

Most of the long-distance hiking trails in Canada suffer from the same issues as the Spine Trail or the Great Divide. Due to low population density and only 30 million people living in the entire country, the terrain are harsh and the trails are not mintained. However, the pristine wilderness is one of the reasons why the Great North holds a lot of appeal.

The AMHT (420 km) hardly constitute as a “proper thru-hike” venture by some purists. It is, however, one of Canada’s national heritage sites and is definitely longer than many of the multi-day trails such as the West Coast Trail (75 km),

Admittedly, it does fall short of the East Coast Trail (540 km), the Bruce Trail (800 km) and the Voyauger Trail (1 100 km). However, the remoteness and ruggedness are two of the reasons why this one made the list. The scenery from Quesnel to Bella Coola is supposed to be one of the most breath-taking sight in the world.

Via Alpina

Via-Alpina-map2This trail is already previously mentioned before as one of the rare examples of European thru-hiking ddestinations

Halla shown great interest in the German Alps. The Via Alpina is the most extensive network throughout all of the nations. It connects about five international trails through 8 countries for a grand total of 5 000 km and 342 sections. Naturally, the Alps is a romantic symbolism of Europe’s natural wonders.

The longest one is the Red Trail which has 161 sections for the length of 2 400 km. It currently holds the title for the longest trail in Europe and crossing international borders 44 times. While it is recommended for hikers to take two seasons to complete it, an endurance hiker can complete it under two months.

Great Himalaya Trail

01_great-himalayan-trail_mapThe Himalayas is home to the world’s most striking photographs and video-footage. The region has attracted adventurers from all over the globe, and India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet serves as a pilgrimage for many new-age hippies and spirituals.

The GHT is a proposed 4 500 km project which, once completed, will take the title of both the highest and longest alpine hiking trail. However, it is not a new one as there are modern thru-hikers having completed it in the 1980s and many more throughout history. One of the reasons why most have not completed the trail is largely due to the political strife which  lead to restrictions and closures.

However, the first time the thru-hike was completed in one attempt, it took about 162 days. Later, a record was established at 49 days and 6 hours.

However, the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, the border-conflict involving Kashmir and the Chinese-Tibetan debate render the region subjected to uncertainties.
clubs_map

Appalachian Trail

This one is at the bottom of the list since it is the one most of my friends raved about. It is rather extraordinary popular in popular media. It is entirely possible to travel the whole trail without a map or GPS. As the result, the interest in this region dwindled. The eastern United States suffer from the same issue as Europe. Having a lot of friends who live along the trail provides an incentive to visit this part of the world though.

However, the trail is 2 200 miles long and the record for the fastest unsupported hike is 58 days and 9 hours. On average, it takes six months to complete and an estimate of 20 to 30% actually finish.

 

By |March 20th, 2015|Editorial|0 Comments|

Simple Alcohol Stove

Everyone should know how to fashion a stove out of nothing. In this tutorial, we will demostrate how to get a stove-and-potstand out of a food-can. For a pot 1L or under, find a can which less than 3″ (7.6 cm) wide, ideally 2 ½” (6.4 cm) wide, and 2″ (5 cm) tall or under. For pots over 1L, seek cans which are 3″ or wider.

Learning how to produce an alcohol stove can is a valuable skill as denatured alcohol or high-proof alcohol are found everywhere in the world. Now, an alcohol stove takes 8 to 10 minutes to boil water, which is not as efficient as a canister or white-gas stove, however the supply is much more reliable as not every town carry white-gas, canisters or other fuel sources such as kerosene.

Plus, if one ever lose his or her backpacking in middle of a fire-ban, it’s not a difficult task to get back on track.

For finding fuel to burn, an alcohol stove can burn: methyl hydrate found in hardware stores, home-improvement stores and paint-supply outlets; ethanol fuel for artificial fire-places; drinkable alcohol which is at least 151-proof (75% alcohol), but 190-proof (90%) such as Everclear available at liqour stores burn cleaner: anti-freeze (such as HEET) which can be found at gas-stations, automotive stores and big-box stores such as Wal-Mart or Canadian Superstore, rubbing alcohol (or  isopropanol) found at the pharmacy can be burned if the content is 90% or higher. And there are other places sold under variety of names, but the listed ones are the easiest to find.

For a fuel bottle, ensure it won’t get mistaken as a water-bottle or juice-container. Denatured alcohol is designed to be toxic by nature so people won’t drink them. If one is repurposing a drinking vessel, be sure to label it in a way that no one can miss the danger signs. For this reason, bottles for rubbing alcohol and contact-lenses are best as people seldom drink from white plastic containers.

article-catstovesuppliesTools

  • Puncturing tool (eg. awl, hole-puncher, drill)
  • Pliers (optional)
  • Felt marker (optional)
  • Measuring tape (optional)

Supplies

  • Cat food can, potted meat can or tuna fish can

The main thing to remember with steel and aluminum is steel, when fractured, will be sharp and must be filed down or have the edges coerced and folded safely. Aluminum can also be sharp, but generally do not have to be mended.

Now, aluminum is preferred as they weigh three times less than steel, and conduct heat better due to the thinness of the walls. Some people prefer steel, however, due to the more durable nature of the material.

Many tools can be used from an awl to an electric drill. The only thing to remember is awl produces tiny holes which doesn’t boil water as quickly, but might be the better option for someone who want to simmer. With a drill-bit, wear eye-protection as shrapnel will fly.

For this project, we will use a hole-punch. Not all punch are created equal. For instance, some of the ones available at the dollar-store is only good for punching paper; but one of the same price-tag at an office-supply or craft-store will go through thin metal.

article-catstove1First, we procure a cat-can from the recycling bin, or just simply buy one and feed it to our pets. Then peel off the labels and wash thoroughly. Dish-soap will remove the adhesive.

Before starting, flatten protruding sharp edges with a blunt object. Pliers would make life easier, but not necessary. We would not want to be accidentally slicing ourselves.

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For those who want to simmer to cook their food, one row of holes is sufficient.

To start, we want to punch our first hole ¼” below the rim. Afterward, space the holes about somewhere between ⅛” (3 mm) and  ½” (13 mm) apart until the first row is complete. For the second row, go adjacent to the hole in the first row and lower it by ⅛”. The distances between the centers of the two holes should be approximately ½” apart. Repeat the same step for punching holes for the second row.

One from a previous project. To boil water quickly as possible to rehydrate food, two rows is best.

Now, we seldom need a third row of holes for a cat-can stove. Some, however, who are using awls might have to do this. For a tuna-can, just the first row alone is sufficient.

By puncturing holes in the can, we are essentially turning it into a side-burner where the flame surrounds the pot in the flame. If we wish to burn alcohol inside the can without the vents, then the pot would have to be elevated on a stand to allow the flame to heat the pot more efficiently. So, by creating holes, we are eliminating the need for a stand.

Operating Instruction

article-catcanstovedemo3Using an alcohol stove is simple: just pour in some alcohol and light it and wait 20 to 30 seconds to warm up then place the pot on top. Now, the flame will be invisible, unless it has additives such as the ones found in anti-freeze.

To light it, most people use a Bic; however matches are easier to use and puts one’s hand out of harm’s way.

To increase fuel-efficiency and blockade from wind, add a wind-screen. A windscreen can easily be fashioned out of aluminium foil by cutting a sheet 3″ longer than the circumference of the plot, folding it in half and doubling over the edges by 6 mm.

article-catcanstovedemo2Now, for how it takes to cook will require some home-experimentation. As a general rule of thumb, it takes anywhere between 6 to 10 minutes to boil water. For many hikers who eat prepared meals packaged in zipped lunch bags, usually by the time the fuel is exhausted, the meal is ready to eat. Those who wish to make meals from scratch should consider a canister or white-gas stove.

Now, an alcohol stove will reliably light until about 20°F or -7°C. Swedes and Finns, in the homeland of the Trangia stove and where alcohol stoves are the part of every Army mess-kit, report they are able to get these stoves lit in -25°C or -13°F by using tealights or priming it by warming up the solution. In order to catch flame, the alcohol need to be warm enough to evaporate.

The cat-can stove may not be as light as the soda-can stove, but it does not require a pot-stand and can be reliably made anywhere without too many tools.

By |February 22nd, 2015|Tutorials|0 Comments|

Stepping Up: How to Make a Plyometric Box

Not all of us are blessed to have mountains in our backyards. For many flat-landers, they need to go to the gym to master the stair-climber. However, going to a commercial gym is expensive and the machines themselves are cost-prohibitive. For many, having a garage gym or an outdoor gym saves money in the long run. Do It Yourself projects are even cheaper than buying the equipment.

In this tutorial, we will be building a three-sided plyometric box measuring 20″×24″×30″ for $25-$50. This way the trainee benefits from various heights without sacrificing floor space for extraneous equipment.

Toolsarticle-plyobox1

  • Drill or screwdriver
  • Circular saw
  • Plywood blade (for the circular saw)
  • L-square (optional)
  • Jigsaw or router (optional)
  • Clamps (optional)
  • Pencil

Supplies

  • 4’×8′ sheet of ¾” plywood
  • 2×4 plank board, 4′ long (optional)
  • Wood glue
  • 1 5/8″ to 2″ deck-screw, wood-screws or dry-wall screws

First, draw out the plan to cut the plywood. To keep the waste to a minimum, here is one already prepared.

Digitized based on the drawings of Scott and Derek Wales from "How to Build a(nother) Plyometric Box" by Jerred Moon.

Digitized based on the drawings of Scott and Derek Wales from “How to Build a(nother) Plyometric Box” by Jerred Moon.

The reason why we are using ½” increments is simple math. The plywood are ¾” thick, and doubled up would be 1 ½”. So what is 28 ½” will become 30″ and 18 ½” will become 20″ in the final project. This will yield the desired 20″×24″×30″ box.

article-plyobox2After the pieces are cut, we should have 8 pieces in total, which one will become scrap and the other seven will be used for the project. Technically, one would only need 5 pieces for the project and for that the measurements of the cuts would have to be adjusted for an open-ended box to give us the desired height. also, the cross brace will give the box some weight-bearing strength. The other thing is that having all four sides will make the box stronger and heavier which would give us more of a workout while lifting and carrying the box.

To avoid making mistakes, make sure to label the edges with a pencil with the measurement. Also, it would be wise to label what each pieces are for. In the project, we will have two end caps (20″×24″), two sides (28 ½”×24″) and two top/bottoms (18 ½”×28″) and one cross brace (11″×28 ½”).

article-plybox3To prevent the wood from splitting, place the screws no less than 2 inches from the edge, and to maintain the structural integrity, place a screw every 4 inches. Some sections will require 3 inches away from the edge to prevent the wood from splitting, and these ones are when the ¾” meets the ½”. It is sufficient in some cases to only place one screw in the center.

article-plybox4It might be helpful to trace where the center of the adjacent plywood is, and anchor the screw with a hammer before drilling them. This will assure the edges are straight and will hold in place while the glue sets.

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Squirt some wood-glue on the edge of the plywood and keep a continuous pressure until reaching the end. Remember, once the two pieces are joined and the glue dried, it will be difficult to separate the two as they can handle up to 3 500 kg of downward pressure.

This is why placing the screws before joining the pieces is crucial as by drilling them in after joining the pieces with glue will ensure a 90° angle. Do not be afraid to use the L-square to double-check the the corners are squared. It is important to keep the edges squared as the final product might rock a bit while jumping on and off if not done correctly.

Once the third piece is joined, then any further progress is self-correcting. One does not have to corner himself whether or not the corners will square to be a perfect 90°.

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At this point, it is a matter of personal preference to finish the four sides or to add the center-brace with the addition of the third side. For a center-brace to be installed, the piece goes in length-wise as it is 11″ by 28 ½”.

article-plybox7Remember to recess the cross-brace by ¾” inside the box as the plywood is of equal thickness. It would be wise to mark where the third-quarter inch is inside the box on both side to ensure the brace is level before closing the box up.

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Don’t forget to mark where the brace is on the connecting pieces as one will have drill screws anchoring the top and sides to the brace. While marking the sides, draw a line down to about 11 ¾” down. It is far too easy to miss the brace if one goes too low.

article-plybox9Once the brace has been screwed in, finish the box with glue and more screws. Remember to make sure there is nothing inside the box before sealing it as it will rattle while being moved around. Once the glue dries, it is not worth one’s time to disassemble the whole project.

Now, we have a psychometric box which is 20″ by 24″ by 30″ which we can practice stepping up and improving our explosive jumps.

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Since the box weighs about 23 to 27 kg, sometimes it is a bit awkward to pick up and carry. Some might find it beneficial to cut holes into the sides as handles. Handholds are best done before the project is in construction. For the purpose of this project, the addition is a mere after-thought.  For this, we need a jigsaw or a router. A router will result in a cleaner cut.

Since some plywood readily splinter more than others, some people will fill in the screws with putty or some kind of filler and put on a coat of paint to halt the deterioration. Ask around the neighbourhood if anyone has a pail of paint they need to dispose of. Paint and fillers are not in short supply, and many garages have them laying around. The decision add some cosmetic is a personal choice.

By |February 12th, 2015|Tutorials|0 Comments|

Blogs Worth Following in 2015

Every so often there are blogs which I come across and sometimes they are followed. Some of the new ones are promising and the old ones have a wealth of information which still takes time to absorb it all in.

This year, rather than focusing on ethics, it is more about gaining experience, taking chances, and getting messy.Most of the blogs have been added to the feed based on their relevance to wilderness-adventures such as hunting and fishing as well as remote travels.

Click on the titles to be directed to their blogs.

  1. Azart Ohoty

    While Finnish Spitz and Karelian Bear Dog remains in the hands of show-fanciers in North America, Eirik Krogstad probably has done more for West Siberian Laika than anyone else in the world. In United States, Vladimir Beregovoy and Alex Schubert ignited the passion for hunting with the breed by writing a few books, wrote a few articles to various magazines, starting up Laika Hunters’ Association of North America for spitz-men and kept an extensive network of people keeping dogs. The mantra of “hunters only sell to hunters” rings very true.

    What Eirik did is different: by writing about his hunting trips, maintaining a YouTube channel and responding to people’s questions on forums in English, no longer the excuse of untranslatable information or lack of hunters’ interest can be used to justify why other exotic breeds are not used for the task they were bred for. These days, we now have more people who are interested in hunting game of all kind and not just limited to squirrels, raccoon and the occasional boar. People like to follow examples, not be told what to do by others. As a hunter, he speaks to other hunters who share commonality and experience from the heart.

    While there is not a lot of information yet and very few updates, considering what he has done for West Siberian Laika for both the international community as well as American hunters, his website is surely a promising gem and will become the Library of Alexandria of hunting spitzes with time . It is strongly recommended to check him out.

  2. Wood Trekker

    Wood Trekker has been around for a few years, many already know who Ross Gilmore is and the blogger has been slowing down as of late.

    I do have friends however who has no experience in the woods and are constantly misled by know-it-alls. While Ross may not has as extensive experience as others, his rational approach by combining woodcraft of the old, modern bushcraft and backpacking to create the modern woodsman is a sound one and is worthwhile considering. These days people get too hung up on what others have done before them, and this writer in particular encourages people to try different things. His focus on using the knowledge inbetween the ears and utilizing what is available in the 21th century is a fresh of breath air for fledgling hunters and wilderness-users.

  3. Andrew Skurka

    For a few years, lightweight backpacking was of interest but often supplemented gear-lists with heavy military-surplus instead of investing into quality. At that time, the ultralight movement was mostly seen as an on-trail experience touting fragile items. There were only a few people willing to break the stereotypes.

    Andrew Skurka has been known for a few years as the super-star of the ultralight hiking community and as a super-athletes in the thru-hiking world. He came to national attention after completing the Great Western Loop and to fame after the Alaska-Yukon Expedition.  After his wilderness hike in the North and his fueled passion to seek more of it which also led him to take up hunting, he is now breaking grounds in busting old myths. In addition to the blog, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide is a worthwhile read for any wilderness backpackers or backcountry hunters.

  4. Bedrock and Paradox

    It is really difficult to find a blog about backcountry-hunting. Many of the existing blogs are dead, or contain very sparse information. If one wishes to find any meaningful information, they would have to mine through Rokslide, Alaska Outdoors Forum and other similar ventures.

    David Chenault brings that to the table, and many of his discourses about ethics, principles, applied and practicals are intriguing to read. He also introduced several controversial concepts like bike-packing or hunting which are sometimes seen as the antithesis of the hiking world.

By |February 1st, 2015|Editorial|0 Comments|

Trekking with Dogs Across the Canadian Arctic

Halla recommended Across Canada with Lars Monsen. The serial has been uploaded to YouTube by AdventureEurope in eighteen parts. Although it is a Norwegian production, the uploader took the liberty of hardcoding English subtitles. She found it intriguing because of the dependence on dogs for transportation, the length of the journey and the vast emptiness of the Canadian North.

Lars Monsen is a Sami-Norwegian born in 1963, and spent two years and seven months in the Arctic with a team of eight dogs travelling from Kaktovik to Goose Bay over 8 252 kilometers which ended in 2002. The NRK, or Norwegian Broadcasting Company in English, later pieced together fragments and aired the series in 2005 as six one-hours long episodes. His most recent adventure is living for a full year in Nordkalotten which was made available by the broadcaster via BitTorrent.

Across Canada is an interesting documentary for many reasons. The biggest take-away for me is the harshness of the tundra and the taiga, and how even though bushcraft or woodsmanship was crucial in keeping his consumption to a minimal, they still had to be balanced by making long treks until taking advantage of the last hour and a half of sunlight to set up camp. Even though he tried his best to make use of his resources, both carried and from the land, frequently he had to break due to the harsh spring thaw, or inability to continue while the lake is or river during the autumn freeze; or because he has to interview the locals to obtain knowledge about the landscape and the terrain.

We also see he tried to balance lightweight equipment with long-term durability, and at this point of the film-making, the ultralight cottage industry was just budding. It would not be until 2006 before Ryan Jordan, Roman Dial and Jason Geck would attempt to trek up the Wulk River drainage for 20 days unsupported with lightweight gears; and Andrew Skurka tested the limits of his equipment in 2010 during a 7 368-kilometers long trek which occurred over 176 days and two weeks inbetween resupplies in the wilderness of Alaska and Yukon. It is remarkable Lars managed to traverse the entire Canadian Arctic with dogs, skis, canoe and on foot.

As an owner of a breed extracted from aboriginal landrace of dogs, the documentary is also a stark reminder of how harsh and unforgiving the tundra and the taiga are. Two dogs were lost while pursuing caribou, and probably drowned or eaten by wolves; one died during the night for unknown reason, as the night wasn’t cold enough to kill a dog yet the carcass was frozen; one got frostbitten and fell victim to gangrene; one had to be shot since the dog broken its leg in the pack-ice so severely that it couldn’t be properly set; and another died to the jaw of a fellow pack-member. These kind of testaments are a strong reminder of where Siberian dogs came from, and how strongly natural selection shaped them. The unfortunate events also highlight how trivial discussions are about which trial-, sporting- or hunting-dog is superior when faced with the harsh reality of the wilderness. While we are sipping hot cocoa in front of the television or the computer with our precious dogs kenneled up or taking comfort on the sofa, these kind of dogs fall to such fate every day while living alongside the few remaining trappers and aboriginals who still live off the land. There is a saying in Russian “the taiga gives, and the taiga takes”.

Years of planning went into this expedition, and there were many times things went wrong and having them filmed is valuable to the rest of us. Although the footage do not improve our skills or knowledge, they do tell us how difficult the journey is and how much experience makes the difference between life and death.

By |January 4th, 2015|Editorial|3 Comments|

2015 New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Become more fit

    Being fit does not necessary mean being healthy. There are growing evidences being slightly overweight is actually better for one’s health than to be lean. There are many fit people who burn out early, or die a few years sooner than others. Becoming fit, however, means better performance. There is little point in being a gram-weenie if one cannot cover 50 to 60 kilometers per day with a 25 or 45 pounds pack, or cannot haul an elk-carcass out of the bush over 10 to 15 km.

    It is a bit difficult to determine what fitness means. Some people measure by body measurements with tape and body-fat calipers, but they only offer a glimpse in the picture as sometimes it is beneficial to be a bit more chubby, and sometimes to be extra lean depending on the circumstances. Taking measurement of muscles tell us nothing about strength or endurance. Mountain Athlete of Jackson Hole in Wyoming, who trains outdoors athletes in the southern Rockies, defines fitness as: front squat – 1.5× body-weight; dead lift 2.0× body-weight; and bench-press – 1.5× body-weight. If a pace of 4.3 to 6.2 minutes per kilometer on the trail could be maintained with a steady heart-rate, then one would be a very happy man.

    Many in the backpacking community believes in just loading up the pack Marine-style, contrary to the well-known fact many military veterans suffer from life-long disabilities only after a few years of service due to the all the gears on their personnel. So just strapping on an over-loaded pack and running it in the city is not exactly the best idea.

    But most importantly, people tend to forget to build their aerobic base. They focus too much on interval training which helps them with climbs and descends, but not enough emphasis on endurance. Without building a good base, then one quickly finds himself tired or exhausted. Recently, trail-running became one of life’s pleasures.

    Ideally, the best form of exercise is maximizing the backpacking potentials such as going on backpack-hunts, backcountry-fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, mountain-biking, kayaking, canoeing and packrafting. Ideally, it would be nice to dedicate about 10 to 20 hours a week to these kind of activities. The most important thing on our feet as much as possible as each hour of sitting negate 6 to 8 minutes of training.

    Not all of us can accomplish this with our busy lives. So, some of us combine 45-minutes of strength training a day three times a week with marathon training.

  2. Improve marksmanship

    More important than hunting or packing, is the ability to shoot under all conditions. Far too many hunters just attend the shooting range to calibrate their scope alignment, and not enough practice taking ethical shots. For back-country hunters, it is recommended to head to the hills on public lands and practice shooting 4L milk jugs or water jugs over various distances. The jug is about the same size as an elk heart or a moose heart. Additionally, 1 and 2L pop-bottles can be used to evaluate the rifle’s capacity to take a grouse.

  3. Practice bushcraft

    One of the problem with the term “bushcraft” and “survival” is that it means many different things to different people. So, let us frame the situation.
    In this context, it specifically refers to woodcraft practiced by the early 20th century woodsmen such as E.H. Kreps, Horace Kephart, Nessmuk, Bradford Angier, Townsend Whelen, A. E. Järvinen; and to a lesser extent, Mors Kochanski and Calvin Rutstrum, and Richard Graves. It does not refer to the classic camping endorsed by Steve Watts and Dave Wescott; nor some of the survivalist methods popularized by Ray Mears, Les Stroud, Bear Grylls and Cody Lundin. Mears and Stroud have their place in self-rescue, however there are not very many examples of them of them actually going on expeditions.

    In essence, the bushcraft skills discussed would be used to supplement long-distance trips as observed by outdoorsmen such as Lars Monsen. Steven Rinella, Andrew Skurka, Roman Dial and so on. For some reason, bushcraft and backpacking are seen as mutually exclusive, however they were intertwined since their interception and as we see from the progression of various publication throughout the last century of how authors took advantage of the latest gears if they could afford it. For some reason, in the last decade or two, the two became alienated.

    This does not mean historical reenactments should be disregarded, as they are worthwhile pursuits in looking back into the past. In the real world, there is very little room for romanticism and nostalgia; nor is there anything realistic about the doomsday scenarios.

    Integrating woodcraft skills as part of repository adds to knowledge in-beetween the ears and weighs nothing. They become the crux in which an expedition can either succeed or fail.

  4. More “Make Your Own Gear” projects

    When one becomes more experienced, it becomes obvious not everything could be bought or traded. At some point, one would have to make modifications or sometimes make his own equipment. It is not the most cost-effective way, but it is the least frustrating instead of scourging through stores looking for something specific.

    This year, it would be good to learn how to sew and do a little bit of sheet-fabrication.

  5. Write more trip reports

    One of the problems in blogging is the lack of credentials. This especially applies to hiking, woodsmanship as well as hunting. There are many keyboard warriors who brag about their knowledge or intimacy on the subject, but never actually stepped a foot outside their own homes.

    Unfortunately, these days, with hunting dogs particularly, it is easy to stage photographs and pretend the dog is a mighty hunter. Nowadays, more and more hunting clubs and breed clubs are asking for a piece of paper confirming trial results; or video footage when trials cannot be conducted.

    And the same applies to other hobbies as well. It is easy to write about gears, but not put them to the test. Also, it is easy to write about theory and application, but not demonstrate it. It is easy to demonstrate something, but not actually use those skills in real life. The only way to affirm a person’s credibility is with trip reports detailing the successes and failures. Someone who only focus on the former, and not the latter is not one who has potential to grow and mature.

    While it is not necessary to prove one’s worth, the very nature of being published in print or being well-known within a community verify one’s credibility. Nowadays an anonymous can say anything and taken as the literal truth of God.

  6. Participate in winter-trekking

    Winter-trekking is difficult to define as many different people have different opinions of how it should be addressed. It is the time of the year when many otherwise minimalist backpackers begin preferring mountaineereing bivy or free-standing tents; or go the hot-tenting route with a wood-stove. If one pulls a pulk, then the definition of light, fast travel becomes more ambiguous.

    One of the most important thing is to focus on the sleep system which usually consist of an air-mattress, a closed-cell pad and a sleeping bag or quilt. Many who do winter-camping on a frequent basis has about two sleeping bags: one rated for -17°C and a -32°C. Usually, they also have a -1°C or -7°C quilt or bag for the corner-seasons as well. There is no such thing as a “four-season” set-up.

    Getting a good backpack with large volume without external pockets or mesh is also crucial in winter as the gears are not necessarily heavier, but the clothes and the sleeping bag takes up more space. To make a winter-hike successful, it is a good idea to have a camp parka with a layer or two of insulated pants, a wind-shirt, a hard-shell, a fleece and md- or heavy-weight tights. For protection, some mitten, a pair of sunglasses, balaclava  and ski-goggles are taken. There is not really that much more taken on a winter-packing trip except thicker layers.

    Snowshoeing is a horribly insufficient way of travelling in the winter. The designs make sense as they came from the time period when wide, open fields were few and the woods were thick. Now many of the forests have been clear-cut, and roads are making their way into remote regions, cross-country skiing or Nordic skiing makes more sense. In the open forests, Siberian ski-shoes also makes sense as well. Since the weather-type and conditions vary so much, there are countless of different models and makes out there.

    In general, there are about five different types of snowshoes, and an unknown number of variants of skis. Alexander Zubov, a Russian commercial hunter-trapper, has about 12 different pairs of skis for different type of forest, time of the year, weather, snow condition and terrain. A good light pair of skis such as  Goode Carbon series or Northern Lite snowshoes are certainly popular in the lightweight backpacking community. Skis such as Altai, Karhu and Wilmas are popular with northern hunters in Europe. There are so many variables though it is difficult to be decisive.

    Whether the case, it is best to analyze the weather conditions and the preferred mode of transportation to make any headway.

  7. Listen to the locals

    One of the problem with getting advice from the Internet or retail stores is they don’t always prepare a person for the situation. Salespeople are in the game of feeding into the paranoia of the worst-case scenarios, in which majority of the gears are not used by the locals. Likewise, Internet experts only gets a glimpse of the pictures and recommend tactics which are coutner-productive to a good experience within a particular ecosystem or niche. To make a trip fulfilling, it is best to listen to the locals and take their concerns and suggestions into consideration and combine it with one’s own experience and knowledge.

By |January 1st, 2015|Log|0 Comments|

2014 Post-Season Weight Optimization

While lightweight backpackers are not necessarily seeking to reduce the weight as much as possible once they touched an arbitrary goal, a mountain-hunter is always seeking out advantages since it is cheaper to cut grams from gears than it is from optics and guns.  6-8 kg (13.23 to 17.64 lbs) may not mean much to a hiker, but trying to trim back on a 15-20 kg (33 – 44 lbs) base-weight does matter a quite a bit to a backcountry hunter who is hauling quarters out of the bush. Focusing on the objects which remain in the backpack becomes crucial since compromising the durability of clothes is not an option.

So, once in awhile, it is good to take a look at our options and see how weight can be reduced even more. Sometimes the weight reduction are not always for the better, as noted, while other times there is nothing else to do but replace certain tools.

Once all the big items are reduced, there’s nothing else but to start counting grams. The weights shaved are insignificant on their own, but once tallied up then the accumulative effect becomes known.

There is a saying in the backcountry hunting community: “cheaper to buy gears than to buy guns”. So, let us take a look at the individual items from my gear-list (incomplete) and see what can be done to reduce the weight and compare the cost of the combined equipment to the cost of the firearms. Let’s put the mantra to the test.

ZPacks Flat Tarp

uri_7_9_mIt’s quite difficult to go any lighter than a floorless pyramid tent. To go even further, it would require venturing into the realm of flat tarps and square tarps.

5’x8′ and 7’x9′ are popular amongst solo-hikers. These dimensions have been endorsed by experienced woodsmen such as Horace Kephart as early as 1916. 8’x10′ is the smallest dimension which offers full protection for two people without bivy-sacks.  The only way to go even lighter is to use Polycryo which has durability issues. For the time being, cuben fiber is the lightest durable fabric.

ZPacks offer cuben fibre tarps of weight of .51 oz/yd². There are lighter setups of 0.48 and 0.34 in the Make-Your-Own-Gear sector or by request from the manufacturer. Other competitors such as Hyperlite Mountain Gear and Mountain Laurel Design tends to offer 0.74 for bombproof durability. The 7’x9′ comes in at 150 g (5.3 oz) and 8.5×10′ comes in at 190 g (6.7 oz). The unorthodox 5’x9′ weighs 125 g (4.4 oz).

The obvious disadvantages to tarping are: the reduced ability to shed wind, and more conductive heat loss without a bivouac sack. With a bivy-sack, it doesn’t make much sense to tarp in the shoulder-season when a pyramid tent weighs less than the combined set up.

In warm weather, tarping is still lighter than bivying with a tarp-tent; and a lighter option during warm bug-free seasons. It doesn’t hurt to have a few sitting in the closet and change out the shelters in accordance to time of the year and predicted weather.

Weight Saving: 140 g (7’x9′)
Cost: $215 USD

petzl-e-lite-headlamp-3Petzl e+Lite

The e+Lite (27 g) is one of the lightest and most widely available head-lamp on the market. The saving is much more significant than the head-lamp as button-cell battery is lighter than AAA.

Its application is limited to summer-time use as the TACTIKKA Plus would have longer battery life and better visibility. The latter is better suited for winter-hiking.

Weight Shaving: 47 g (1.7 oz)
Cost: $29.99 USD

Komperdell C3 Carbon Compact Power Lock

komperdell_c3_compactWhile I could go even lighter with Gossamer Gear LT4 (238 g / 8.4 oz), they do not fold down or becomes more compact. So, Leki and Komperdell are the most viable manufacturers in this niche of collapsible trekking poles. BackpackingLight used to offer excellent poles, but no longer produce them.

The downside of carbon fiber, even though it is lighter and stronger than aluminum, is its vulnerability to lateral stress. To improve on its structure, some manufacturers use spider-like weaves to give more strength. At home, one can wrap the pole in duct-tape to reduce blows. The best way to prolong the lifespan is to build better trekking techniques.

Weight Shaving: 338 g (11.9 oz)
Cost: $139.99 USD

Kestrel Ti Ultrathin Skeleton EDC

SUL_EDC-001Havalon Piranta is the sharpest skinning knife on the market. On the other hand, the scalpel is prone to breaking. At times, it is nicer to have a fixed-blade.

Alternatively, there is the Ultrathin Ultralighter (9.5 g / 0.34 oz). The Skeleton EDC (13 g / 0.46 oz) seems to be more popular with hunters. The knife will seldom require sharping as titanium-carbide coating lasts 300 times longer than steel, and 5 times longer than ceramic. The sheath itself is around 10 g.

Weight Shaving: 100 g (3.5oz)
Cost: $109.99 USD

MSR Mini-Ground Hog

mini_groundThe stakes weighs 10 g (.35 oz) each for a total of 80 g (2.8 oz). The weight-saving comes from shortening the stakes from 9″ to 6″. 9″ has more holding power than 6″, but the type of terrain such as swamps which warrants longer stakes are limited. For most places, shorter ones suffice.

While it is possible go even lighter with a shepherd’s stake at 5.4 g (0.19 oz) each, the utility is limited by geography since skewers perform best in regions with hard grounds. A heavier Y-stake is much more versatile.

Weight shaving: 33 g (1.2 oz)
Cost: $23.93 USD

ZPack Stake Sack

stakes_sWhile it is not necessary to store tent-stakes in a separate bag, it is handy for organization as it is very easy to lose gears in the field. ZPacks produce tent-stake sacks weighing only 2.5 g (0.09 oz) out of 1.43 oz/yd². The weight is so tiny, the scale barely picks it up.

Weight Shaving: 18.5 g (0.65 oz)
Cost: $5.45 USD

ZPack Medium Stuff Sack

grn_mediumplus_lThere are several stuff-sacks from ZPack. There is the Small (3.5 g / 0.13 oz) for 1.7L, Small Plus (4.8 g / 0.17 oz) for 3L, Slim (5.7 g / 0.2 oz) for 4L, Medium (7g / 0.25 oz) for 5.6L, Medium Plus (8.5 g / 0.3 oz) for 8.5L and Large (11 g / 0.4 oz) for 12.3L of space.

Of course, there are a number of other competitors such as Mountain Laurel Designs and Hyperlite Mountain Design. Some of them are lighter, and some are more durable. This particular one is chosen at random from different brands to see how much can be saved.

Weight Shaving: 59.5 g (2.1 oz)  (Medium Plus)
Cost: $16.95 USD

Mountain Laurel Design Pro Bear Bag System

bearbagcuebn1A bear-bag is pretty much the essential must-have in any backpacking community except in Europe. While there are lighter ones like Ursalite bear bag system (56 g without odor-proof liner), the one chosen for this discussion will be slightly heavier for durability.

While bear-proof bags such as Ursack exist, the chances of rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks and mice chewing through the bag is much higher than a bear tearing through a bag.

There are several options available for rodent-proof bags such as FoodSack, Outsask, GrubPack and Ratsack. Man7 users of cuben-fiber bear-bags reported their system are just as efficient of warding off rodents; albeit with slight damages.

Mountain Laurel Design offer one for 76 g (2.7 oz) and ZPack offers another one for 85 g (3.0 oz).

Some argues bear-bagging is not necessary nor effective. Instead, what is being advocated is campaing away from high-traffic areas, using an odor-proof super-duty sealing bag such as LokSak OPSak or LiteTrail NyloPro, sleeping with it or caching it in a hard-to-reach area.

Weight Shaving: 75 g (2.64 oz)
Cost: $55.00 USD

ZPack Cooking Pot Sack

cuben_evernew_lThe choices in after-market stuff-sacks for pots are limited since there are a large variety of pots out there. It is probably easier to make one at home from scratch. For comparison stake, there is one available for Evernew 0.9L which weighs 3.4 g (.12 oz).

Most of the cottage-industry manufacturers online probably will be able to do a custom-made stuff-sack for a service fee of 5-20% extra.

Weight Shaving: 15 g (0.53 oz)
Cost: $10.95 USD

Fire Maple FMS-118

fire-maple-fms-118-gazovaja-gorelka_enlTechnically, the 3-season stove is optimized with a Fancy Feast cat-food can stove, but some data shows otherwise. There is a bit of debate about the weight of fuel versus consumption. Certainly, there are lighter alternatives to the cat-stove for long-distance backpacking once the consumable weights are calculated. Allcohol was ultimately picked for its availability almost everywhere in the world.

For winter-camping down to -20°C, it was recommended to purchase a Kovea Spider (172 g / 6.1 oz). A Chinese company by the name of Fire Maple produces a model called the FMS-118 which is only 146 g (5.2 oz). The downside is the company tends to use more plastic components in their production compared to their competitors, so the performance at low temperature might be affected. The principle is the same, so the performance should be similar.

There’s some uncertainty about the stability of the pot-stand some prefer to go with the Kovea Spider.

Going even lighter would require access to a fabrication shop or paying someone handsomely to fashion one.

Weight shaving: 26 g (0.9 oz)
Cost: $49.99 USD

Mountain Laurel Design 475mL Titanium Mug with Ruta Locura Carbon Fiber Lid

475mlThe default is a 900mL pot which is enough for cooking with in the summer. To reduce weight we can trim it down to 700mL for basic cooking, and down to 500mL if one is only planning on boiling water.

FireLite used to offer the original titanium 475mL mug (47 g) which is an imitation of the trapper’s or cowboy’s mug which were once made of aluminum. Mountain Laureal Design still offer their own version (39 g / 1.3 oz).  Such small volume is sufficient for rehydrating meals.

clids-250x132The lid (6 g / 0.2 oz) will have to be ordered in separately from Ruta Locura which brings the weight of the cooking set to 45 g. While the Foster Can mug is lighter at 20 g with the lid, which can be made at home or ordered from Zelph for $17 USD, the choice of titanium is made because it does not retain heat as long as aluminum.

The downside is taller pots are not as fuel efficient as wider pots. So, the total weight saved on a gear list does not necessary translate to long-term weight-saving once fuel efficiency is calculated. Some of the 500-600 mL wide-bottomed pots come to about 60 to 70 g, which is still 19 to 29 g less than a 900mL pot both without handles. However, taller pots pack more easily.

Weight Shaving: 44 g (1.5 oz)
Cost:
$27.00 USD + $18.00 USD

Gossamer Gear Nightlight

torso-bigTherm-A-Rest are more widely used due to their availability. They are easy to find and easy to replace. The most compact they have is the Z-Lite which once cut down to torso-length weighs 170 g (6 oz). Gossamer Gear sells a similar pad called the Nightlight which is more durable, but not as rigid or stiff. The manufacturer cannot guarantee exact weight, so the specs outline 129  to 139 g (4.55 – 4.90 oz). Once cut down to length, it weighs only about 95 g (3.4 oz).

The  egg-crate pads are not as warm as the RidgeRest. So, that is one thing to consider. The nice thing about them is they fold up more easily and can be used as a rigid frame instead of the burrito-style.

Weight Shaving: 82 g (2.9 oz)
Cost: $24.00

These are not necessary representative of the changes which will be made to the gear-list. Instead it is more about listing possible options to make changes. Not all of these are practical, but a matter of number-crunching.

It is still important to sit down and make these lists so we can think about whether  or not these gears will improve the quality of the hike or the quality of the hunt.

As we can see, spending $726.24 USD is much to trim off 978 g (34.5 oz) is much more affordable than dropping $1 799 USD on a 2.35 kg (5.2 lbs) Benelli Ultralight semi-automatic shotgun in exchange for 2.54 kg (5.6 lbs) 20-gauge Baikal MP18 “Junior” single-shot shotgun; or $2 040 USD for 2.18kg (4.6 lbs) Kimber 84M Mountain Ascent in exchange for a 3 kg (6.8 lbs) Sako L579 Forester.

The downside is some of these gears have limitations, and must be used within those limitations. It is really up to the user if they would spend less  by choosing gears and take greater care with their equipment, or spend three to four times more on a rifle as a long-term solution for all weather and all terrain.

By |December 1st, 2014|Editorial|0 Comments|

Hunting Lessons Learned

After an outing, it is always good to self-reflect. Sometimes the reason why our hunts end in failure is due to having the odds shacked against us. Sometimes the unsuccessful hunts are our own fault. Acknowledging the short-comings strengthen our resolve and allows us to become wiser to pass on knowledge to others.

This year, there doesn’t seem to be as many birds as last year. The number of visible evidences of  elk and moose seem to be more present. Instead of blaming the elements or predators, let us take a look at what fell short this year.

1. Expand the arsenal

Hunting laws have become more complicated over the decades. This is largely due to the changes in zoning, urbanization and wiser wildlife management practices.

As the result, there are archery-only seasons as well as designated areas where only short-range armaments such as primitive weapons, bows, muzzle-loaders and shotguns are allowed. Naturally, hunters must adapt to the changing circumstances to maximize their participation in the ecosystem.

Nowadays this means owning at least a shotgun, a rifle and a bow. It would be more apt to prescribe a sling-shot or a Shepherd’s sling; a waterfowling piece; a bow; an upland shotgun or slug-gun; and a rifle. In some jurisdictions, it may be necessary to own both an upland gun and a slug-gun as well as a center-fire and a rim-fire.  These days, one is looking at owning 3 to 8 different projectiles. Anything more is pursuing specialization.

This year, I have encountered more wildlife in “no firearms” zones than I have encountered out in the backwoods. Last year, it was the opposite. If there was more than just a rifle and a shotgun in the line-up, then the transition in changing the style of the hunt would be smoother.

2. Hike smarter

Ross Gillmore hits it squarely on the head when he defined the concept of the modern woodsmen. What he described is basically the lifestyle led by people in the mountain states where they would go lightweight backpacking one week, then camping out in a canvas tent the next week; or go alpine skiing one day, then elk-hunting the next weekend. It’s not very commonly observed in the East, but it is a part of every-day life in the West.

The modern woodsman borrows elements from bushcraft, woodcraft, mountaineering, rock-climbing, lightweight backpacking, long-distance hiking, canoeing, kayaking and packrafting as one integral package to push the limits and venture in rarely-explored territories. Many people would recognize the movement as “lightweight backpacking” or “ultralight backpackinig”, but those terms should be more accurately described as “smarter backpacking”. Ultimately, the modern woodsman is the byproduct of its environment and its best nurtured in the West where wilderness is boundless and population density is low.

These kind of conditions drive innovations. As the result, there are excellent forums such as BackpackingLight as well as books such as Ultralight Backpacking Tips (2011), Trail Life (1998), The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide (2012) and Smarter Backpacking (2012). Most of these texts are really just updated versions of Camping and Woodcraft (1916), Woodcraft (1919), On Your Own in the Wilderness (1958) and the Complete Walker (1968, 1974, 1984, 2002) serial. Other books such as Lighten Up! (2005), Lightweight Backpacking and Camping (2005) and Lightweight Backpacking 101 (2001) are supplementary as they are showing their age. For folks with reading disabilities, there are video series such as The Clever Hiker and Backcountry College which cover the same principles.

This means upgrading gears and becoming more knowledgeable in wilderness skills, survival and first-aid. By hiking smarter, we can push our boundaries and venture into places no one else has been.

3. Take advice from others who face similar challenges

Last year, I learned how to hunt over a dog from Finnish and Norwegian hunters. It was the first time I owned a treeing dog, and needed some mentorship. Tthe biggest mistake was taking advice on what kind of gears to pack.

To understand why, first an explanation of the conditions required. Many of the mentors and authors who touched upon the subject seldom venture far from their vehicles. Most of them view the forests as their own backyards or playgrounds. For them, the routine is wake up before the sunrise and head out for a few hours and come home. On occasions, they might camp for a night or two.

Even in the remote areas of Lapland, roads are never too far. Consequently, the focus is based on comforts of overnighters rather than planning for extended stays. If help is required, a sauna is never too far away.

The type of hunts I am involved in are often an hour or several hours away from the nearest big town. One Scandinavian hunter called the region I am in “end of the road” and drew analogy with Siberia. Frequently, I had to turn to backcountry hunting communities such as Fishnhunt, Rokslide, Long Range Hunting and Alaskan Outdoors Directory to fine-tune my method and set-up. Some of the product-specific forums such as KUIU, Kifaru and Seek Outside were very helpful, but they had an inherit bias of endorsement.

The challenges Scandinavians and East Europeans face are the same challenges as the hunters of Eastern United States and southern Canada face. Similarly, Australia’s hunting style has a lot in common with southern United States’. So, it shouldn’t be surprising the solutions are remarkably similar. Logically, given the limitations of the infrastructure of the North, the solutions put forward by western sportsmen and New Zealanders also applies. Of course, one can always look to Siberia, but Russian is a difficult language to learn.

Similarly, the advice and lessons learned on this blog is useless for someone who live in a region with cultivated forests and labyrinths of access-roads. So, we must take into careful consideration of who to listen to.

I have learned it is a better use of my time to go out in the evening the day before, stay overnight and take advantage of the mornings. When the woods become silent during mid-day, this is the opportunity to scout for better hunting grounds and begin hunting once again in the evening before setting up camp and tucking for the following day. Repeat the routine for several days.

Earlier this year, I paid for a membership to be involved with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers organization to receive the bimonthly magazines for more advice. There are other organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation who have similar agendas. Western Hunter and Elk Hunter are two privately-owned periodicals which cater to the style of hunt as well. TV shows such as Rinella’s MeatEater are great ways of picking up hints.

4. Block out time for extended outings

The less time one has something dedicated to a particular ambition, the more likely Murphy’s Law applies.  If one is only going out on weekends or single-days hunt, then the chances for bad weather ruining the whole trip increases. This is largely because with more dedicated time, it is easier to ride out the bad days and catch up during the hours with favourable conditions.

Most of us have adult responsibilities to attend to such as advancing our careers, paying off mortgages and bills, maintaining relationships and raising children. If they are not taken care of at home, then the time-blocks for hunting are smaller. If the blocks are shorter or fragmented, the possibility for cancellation increases.

My biggest problem this year is it was filled with single-day outings. On the days I had time to go out, it rained; and on the days where time wasn’t available, it was sunny. Call it crummy luck; but in hindsight, the dedication would be much smoother if I planned on one- to two-weeks excursions.

Also, because the headlights weren’t fixed in time, the advantage of hunting grouses 3 hours after sunrise and 3 hours before sunset was lost since legally by law, one cannot leave the drive-way until a certain brightness in the skies and must head back to town before it’s too dark to drive. In addition to that, there were maintenance to be done such as erecting a shed, redoing the floors and helping relatives move into new places. All of this should had been arranged and taken care of before hunting season began.

5. Winter is coming

While autumn was characterized by washed-out roads which requires at least two-days outings to 2-weeks expeditions to make the most of the bad weather, winter this year was abnormal.

It went from +1 to -23 degrees centigrade overnight without a warning. For the following week, the weather dropped down to -31 and persisted.  None of my winter gears were equipped to handle such drastic overnight change and persistency.

This year, a canister stove was purchased in preparation for winter-camping, but such equipment is useless below -25. A white-gas such as Whisperlite or XGK would be more optimal for these kind of conditions. The downside is they tend to be roarers and more hazardeous to use.

Because of the sudden onset, most of winter clothes are inadequate. Staying warm during the day is not an issue, but it is during rest or stops, one freezes up. A baffled parka and down-filled pants would be useful for camp-duties.

However, it should had been anticipated last year since there was one incident where a day-hunt almost turned into an overnight stay in middle of winter and it would had been useful to have those clothes on hands. It is rather foolish to not order those gears in the spring several month before hunting season began again.

And while the Jarvenbag Extreme is for cold-weather applications, at times, it is a bit too warm and takes up too much space in the pack. An intermediate -17 sleeping bag would be better-suited. At this point, it is not certain if a Wesatern Mountaineering Kodiak or an Enlightened Equipment Revelation with a down-filled hoodie would be ideal.

To accommodate the loft of the sleeping bag, the parka and pants, it would be wise to upgrade to a larger backpack in the range of 50 to 70L. A heavier pack is not required, just more volume.

All of these are just techs. Many woodsmen survived the nights just by learning a few tricks. In this region, learning how to build a gap-fire or rakovalkea could make the difference between a comfortable night or death without the need for shelter or a sleeping bag. Luckily, I live in one of the few places left in North America where building a fire on public land is still allowed.

It still would be ideal to take up the cold-tenting methods due to the Leave No Trace principle. To accomplish this, it does require lavish purchasing.

By |November 30th, 2014|Editorial|1 Comment|

Lightening Up: First Aid, Repair and Toiletry

The first aid and toiletry kit is the easiest one to simplify. It doesn’t cost a lot. So let us take a look at what is done here.

The old list is not very specific. The reason for this is because most of it was grab’n’go and shoved into the pack.

First Aid and Toiletries
First Aid Moleskin, meds, needle, glue, bandaids 203
Disposal Trowel, toilet paper 50
Protection Sunscreen, anti-bister stick 116
Hygiene Soap, toothbrush, toothpaste 109
 Total
478 g
0.478 kg
wpid-c360_2014-11-17-13-15-40-733.jpg

What was accepted as normal.

The first aid kit is actually one acquired from a job fair for people who are working out in the boonies in the oil-fields. Also, the medications are not very specific here as well since it was just a lineup of Benadryl and Costco ibuprofen. Similarly, the sunscreen, anti-blister and hygenics received the same careless thoughts. Also, the trowel was just a generic orange one from Coghlan’s.

The reason why the first-aid wasn’t even more complicated is because it would be unwise to take items which I don’t know how to use or are not very practical in the wilderness. Many of the must-haves on some of the lists are better off being left to field medics or doctors. Tinkering around with with some of the more advanced medical devices can cause irreversible damage.

The other component to wilderness first-aid is to acknowledge which are suitable for substitution. For instance, a splint can be made out of one of the gears and some clothes. With a few modifications, the trekking poles could be transformed into crutches. There are more information on the subject with a simple Google search or simply by purchasing one of the publications which endorse smarter backpacking.

To be honest, this is more of a lesson of learning how to repackage the first-aid and toiletry rather than substituting or purchasing replacements. To see how others simplified their pack, Mike Clelland has two excellent videos on personal care and first aid. For repacking, one can use Zip-Loc bags and purchase containers from laboratory equipment suppliers. If ordering online is problematic, the local pharmacy might be able to order them, or the local university may have them in stock.

So let us see what has changed:

First aid, repair and toiletry
Eyecare Lens cleaner, wipe
Toothbrush Oral B toothbrush (halved) 6
Soap EarthSafe biodegradable hand and body soap (repackaged – 15mL) 14
Sanitizer Purell alcohol-based (repackaged – 15mL) 16
Toothpaste home-made toothpaste dots in baking soda 8
Lip Balm Blistex Ultra Protection 10
Floss Johnson and Johnson dental floss 8
Medications Ibuprofen, acetamiophen, antihistamine, aspirin 25
Wound care Adhesive bandages, stri-strips, exmaination gloves, gauze 5cm x 3.7m, gauze pads 10.1 x 10.1cm (x2) 37
Foot care Generic athletic tape, leukotape, moleskin, Lanacome, Burt’s Bee 60
Repair Nylon rip-stop tape, superglue, silicone glue, duct tape, needle/thread 56
Multitools Victorinox Swiss Army Classic penknife  23
 Total
263 g
0.263 kg
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Neatly packed up.

The only thing which can really be added to the list are prescriptions or must-haves such as Epi-Pen, insulin, contraceptives or seizure medications. These are very specific and most people do not need to carry them and only people with health complications should carry them.

Also, during hunting season, it might be wise to carry a clotting agent for accidental bullet wounds. It should be in a form of a gauze and not as a powder since the latter is quite controversial in its use. Likewise, 3mL to 6mL of DEET should be good enough for mosquito-season.

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The toiletry essentials.

As we can see, there are also other items added to the list. Proper footcare is a must to have healthy feet. The last thing anyone wants is to be evacuated for having trench-foot. Also, we see that there is much more careful consideration which first aid items are essential to carry. Additionally, there is much more thought put into how much toothpaste, soap and other hygienic items to take rather than just throwing everything into the pack.

With a bit more experience of how to use tent-stakes or other means of digging a cat-hole, it is not necessary to pack a trowel. In some cases, it might still be wise to carry toilet-paper if natural alternatives are not available.

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Repair kit.

Of course, not everyone wears glasses, so the weight might actually be closer to 240 g. Also, as we can see, adding the repair kit and multitools actually added more to weight to the list. So, compared to the original, the first aid and toiletry is actually closer to 184 g.

The reason why the multitools is added to the kit is because of the realization there is no need to carry a dedicated knife (listed elsewhere) except for hunting purposes. Making this decision allow me to leave the heavier knife behind and remove it from the list. If precision is required, then a razor blade (2 g) can be added or replace the penknife.

So, let’s make some observation: Hydropel used to be the staple of the backpacking community. The product is no longer being made. As the result, the community left to scramble for other solutions. Some have gone back to using petroleum jelly (eg. Vaseline), while others resorted to beeswax, climber’s salves and foot powders. The choices are not so much recommended, but based on what was available locally.

Similarly, Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile is very common in the States as either hand-soap or as tooth-paste, but not as readily available in Canada. Luckily, Mountain Sky is easier to find. The issue is trying to find an eco-friendly scent which bears are not attracted to.

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First aid kit.

The list should be good for about two weeks or so. If I need more, a care package could be sent to a resupply point at a post office which could be sent a few weeks before arrival ready for pick-up. In a pinch, these items can easily be repackaged at the local pharmacy and the excess can be given to other backpackers, the elderly, the working poor or even the homeless who need them more.

Nevertheless, we see a weight reduction of 61% if we compare the two lists directly with each others, which exclude eye-care, repair kit and multitools.  With everything else, it’s a weight saving of 55%. While the shaving is not significant, grams add up to ounces, ounces adds up to pounds and pounds add up to kilograms. It’s the accumulative weight of the whole pack which makes the difference and saving off a few grams here and here can translate to something much larger.

Also, by trimming weight, naturally, there is space-reduction. Less space, the smaller pack is required and smaller backpack means less weight. Since the previous post, we see a weight reduction from 16.52 kg to 16.3 kg or 36.41 lbs to 35.95 lbs. It may not seems like much now, but as the weight dwindles, the significance of that hundred grams or two will pay off.

By |November 17th, 2014|Editorial|0 Comments|

Ice-Free Water (Without the Electricity)

The husbandry of keeping a dog outside is important because anyone with a properly-bred working or hunting dog soon learns their canine companions suffer mentally from cooped up inside all day. Many pet-bred or conformation-bred dogs do not exhibit these tendencies.

Mine gets two or three walks a day, a good two to three hours run every other day and goes biking, sledding and jogging, and yet he chooses to be outside. Even as a puppy he still preferred to be outside even in near -40 in Finland, despite having an open entry to the house. This is not cruel, as contrary to the popular meme, and Scandinavia has stringent animal welfare laws which dictate a dog should have access to warm shelter, preferably a heated one, all year around. He doesn’t like the dark, and comes inside at night.

Over the past few months, I have been pondering an alternative to plastic water-heater bowls for horses and dogs in preparation for the impeding winter. There is no practical sense to pour a hundred dollar into a plastic piece which would crack during 6 to 8 months of cold. Also, running a cable in extreme temperatures is not very smart choice when the wires might fracture and becomes a fire-hazard. The device should not run on electricity.

The Fan Hitch features an interesting Make Your Own Gear article Ice ‘Fishing’ by Mark Hamilton where he provides a solution to ensuring the dogs have a steady supply of fresh water in cold weather without running a heater. He suggested nesting a 8.5 L (9 qt) bucket inside a 10.4 L (11 qt).

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Diagram of double-walled vacuum flask (Public Domain: R. Burger, 1908)

The concept is simple: think of a thermo. The thermo acts an effective insulator for liquids because it’s a vacuum where dead space becomes a buffer against the cold. Anyone who still remember their high-school science lessons would remember air is a very good insulator which does not transfer heat very well.

Secondly, since water is a heat sink, the larger the volume, the slower it freezes.

For air to become an effective insulator, however, the gap must be an inch or less. Any wider, and it cannot retain heat. Keeping this in mind, a 12 L (10.5 qt) and a 9 L (8 qt) galvanized pails were picked up a farm-supply store.  Hardware stores and automotive shops might carry buckets as well. Nowadays, galvanized steel is becoming harder to find as they are being substituted with cheaper and lighter plastic.

Remember to wear goggles before proceeding any further. Getting shrapnel in the eyes is not a fun ordeal. Unsafe practice causes permanent blindness.

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Drilled holes in the bucket-holder allow the water to drain before pooling and freezing which would make it difficult to retrieve the water-bucket for refill.

Drill holes into the bottom of the larger bucket to allow over-spilled water to drain before it freezes. Use electrical tape about half an inch wide or a centimeter wide in the targeted areas to act as a guide while drilling. Exert some pressure to push the drill-bit through the metal. Finally, remember to smooth out the sharp edges by lightly buffing the holes with a larger drill-bit. This freshly-drilled bucket will becomes the holder.

article-icebucet3The larger bucket is clipped to the wires of the kennel-run, while the smaller one fits inside the other to create dead air space to retard the ice-formation of the water. In this photo, a length of all-round strapping and the handle for the bucket-holder were cannibalized to anchor the device to the fencing. No matter what sizes chosen, the rim of the smaller bucket should fit snugly inside the larger one. While the gap between the buckets will not be as effective as a vacuum bottle, they will prolong the period the water remains ice-free.

article-icebucket4Wait! It is not quite over yet. While the seal would allow the water to spend much of the better day unfrozen and overnight as well, it is still required for the humans to go out and top off with 2 litres (2.1 quarts) of boiling water twice a day. Half a litre or half a quart of super-heated water is enough to thaw out a bucket completely frozen, however usually dogs, especially in a dry climate, drink about 1 to 3 litres in a day. When the ice defrosts, take a skimmer to remove the floating chunks before it cools the remaining water and freezes the surface. Disrupting the surface-tension will extend the thaw much longer.

article-icebucket5An oil-food skimmer can be found at any kitchen-supply store or in the same section where deep-fryers can be found in hardware stores, wholesale suppliers and department stores. What is warranted is a one with a large head and a long handle with medium-sized mesh with a face 6″ to 8″ (15 to 20 cm) diameter head and handle of 12″ to 36″ (30.5 to 90 cm) in length.

If one lives in the north where deep-fryer is not part of mainstream culture, then an ice scoop can be used. These can be found cheaply in many stores which sell fishing supplies during the winter.

With time, most dogs learn how to break the ice with their feet. In extremely cold weather, it might be necessary to do complete water changes in the mornings and early evenings instead of topping off. It is advised to have at least two water-buckets on standby.

 

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By |November 17th, 2014|Tutorials|0 Comments|