Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oh Crap....Again.

When I started this blog I had many ideas running around in my head about what topics I would write about. Over the course of time, many topics addressed were out of obvious necessity while others were more organic and often based on an experience or a new product on the market.

One topic that has received several entries is one that I honestly can say I never anticipated writing about once, let alone multiple times. Yet the topic keeps rearing its ugly head and no doubt someone is going to imply that I may need to seek counseling. That person would probably be right.

Unexpectedly, Rob "Qiwiz" Kelly (, a fellow member, sourced some titanium and was able to shape it into a trowel. Titanium holds a great place in the world of lightweight backpacking and quite honestly is a technology that really needs to be more integrated into this industry.  He offered the trowels to anyone with a couple dollars to spare and I was happy to have one.

The trowel was pretty unfinished, so I used my Dremel tool to smooth everything out, take away the straight edges and angles, and ultimately smooth the edges so it would be a trowel and not a weapon. I also purchased a rubbery dipping compound from my local hardware store which is used to put a grip on handtools as I was concerned about getting a nasty cut in the wilderness from the edges. After a few dips, I had a very nice and non-slippery handle that was plenty easy on the hands. Using a high speed drill, I punched a hole in it and added a reflective piece of Kelty Trip Tease. The trowel itself was the same size and shape of the famous Monbell Handy Scoop.

If you were wondering, the Monbell Handy Scoop weighs 39 grams and mine is 6.6 grams as a blank and 14 grams with the handle and cord. Consequently, a MSR Ground Hog stake weighs 15 grams, so needless to say I'm pretty intrigued with this little shovel. I've used it several times now and quite honestly it is really a great lightweight digging tool. It is plenty sufficient to get the job done and having something a little more substantial to dig cat holes with is a nice luxury.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seirus Softshell Lite Gloves

For the most part, I would describe myself as a poor excuse for a four-season backpacker. The reason I will win no awards for my year-round backpacking activities is because I rarely backpack in the heat of the summer where there is only an abundance of bugs and hotness and not water. I also rarely backpack in winter, although not for lack of interest, as I have not yet quite developed the skills that I feel comfortable with for multi-day trips in sub-freezing temperatures. Something as simple as learning how to avoid freezing water bottles, how to control sweat, layering, etc. are not only topics of practicality, but in the case of extreme cold, I may very well be testing the limits of my safety. So on that front, I'll keep trying and learning.

With that said, I've found a pair of lightweight gloves work very well for me for the seasons I backpack. I have two pairs of gloves that can be pretty much used interchangeably as far as I'm concerned. The first is a pair of SmartWool liners (, $18, 45 grams) and the second is a pair of New Zealand PossumDown liners (, $15.30, 46 grams). Both are a no frills and very lightweight option. They aren't meant for much more than simple warmth in conditions where I won't be getting them wet. By the way, add the Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT Rain Mitt(, $45, 35 grams) and you'll have a downright solid system in a wide range of conditions.

For winter conditions when I need something a little more substantial, I've been experimenting with the Seirus Softshell Lite (, $45, 83g). They are made from Polartec Power Shield which block 98% of wind, which is my biggest gripe with the SmartWool and PossumDown gloves identified above. The Seirus is lined with polyester fleece and is made of 49% polyester, 35% nylon, and 16% spandex which essentially means they are stretchy, comfortable, and highly water and wind resistant. I also like the fact that it has a piece of fabric on the palm which helps with grip and long-term durability.
A couple of thoughts on the information herein. First, note that the Seirus gloves are nearly twice as heavy as the other two I mentioned. They are a far warmer and more durable glove however, and they are still very lightweight. They also do far better with water. Second, of all the gloves I mentioned, really the SmartWool glove is the only one that I'd feel comfortable with handling items off a fire. Synthetics melt - something I can say from experience when I badly burned my finger several years ago while picking up a cup from over a fire which quickly melted my glove causing one of the few times in my life where I needed to give myself backcountry first aid.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Camping with a 3-Year Old

Over the weekend I took my three-year old son camping at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park in central Virginia. At a young age, my parents exposed me to this wonderful place and I have returned several times per year for as long as I can remember. It was only fitting to me that this would be my son's first overnight trip in the park as I wanted to start the tradition early and impress upon him the importance, fun, and beauty that only the outdoors could provide.

Initially I interpreted my own actions to be equal to brain-washing, a practice utilized by most parents in one way or another as they try to shape their children to the people they want them to be. Much like with my favorite NFL team who hasn't been a real contender in nearly two decades and yet my children both wear t-shirts and hats bearing their logo, I wanted my children to love the outdoors as I do. Fortunately, the outdoors has a way of enticing young and old without much effort. The drive up Skyline Drive, known for its expansive vistas into the valley's below, was enough for my son to start remarking how "pretty" the view was or how "cool" it was to see farms far off in the distance. His positive comments continued when we arrived to camp with every passing deer or with general camp activities. By the time he was barefoot, stuffing s'mores in his face, getting memorized by the fire, or tackling me as I tried to sleep in our tent, I was pretty sure he was hooked.

The campsite I selected for this outing was one that I am all too familiar with and consider it to be one of the best in the park. It's a deep walk-in site which opens up to a field of oak trees which really no other site offers. The site is as secluded as it could possibly be for a public campground which proved to be worthy of this designation even during the peak season of October which packs the entire park with leaf-peeping tourists.

Oddly enough, it was the site itself that proved to be the most entertaining. At a young 3-years old, my son wasn't about to "hike" in any real sense, so our entertainment needed to come from the area surrounding our tent. I brought a soccer ball, his velcro baseball glove, several kid books, and plenty of food that neither he nor I should eat should we desire to be anything less than a sphere in our old age - yet keeps a 3-year old's interest quite well. Fortunately, entertainment was quite easy to come by without all the stuff I brought from home.

Throughout our time, especially during the night, we were visited by an endless amount of wildlife. I had a point-and-shoot camera with me which did nothing more than capture darkness when the sun was anything but high in the sky, so I have little tangible evidence of the remarkable nature encountered of our trip. Deer were as close as 1 foot to our tent at any given time often doing little more than crunching away on acorns as I had casual conversations with them explaining to them that my son and I were trying to sleep. We had a visiting owl who apparently felt the need to be quite conversational. We had a fox who used the area as his personal racetrack and and endless number of chipmunks who proved to be terribly illusive to my son who otherwise had never seen one before and did his best to capture one to hold it still long enough to have a good look at it. Coupled with a strong variety of birds, leaves of every shape, size, and color, and the comedy routine of me trying to cook kid foods over a fire and grill (lightweight cooking is so much more simple folks), my son didn't lack for entertainment.

Probably one of my personal favorite moments, although disturbing in the middle of the night, was when two small bucks decided to test their antlers against one another. This practice first started next to my tent in the middle of the night and then progressed to no more than 50 feet away once the sun came up.
Funny enough, I was amazed at how un-scared and un-bothered my son was with all the new things around him. He didn't care that he was sleeping outside and actually considered it to be quite fun. He didn't care that animals were making noise all night or that bugs made themselves known every now and then. Simply, he was camping and enjoying himself which was an experience I hope he continues to embrace in the future. I know I will and I look forward to the time when he is able to carry his own backpack, hike for more than a run around the campsite, and participate in the greater wilderness experience.
Regardless of the age of a child, whether wholly dependent on their parents or knee-deep with their own family, I think camping and outdoor experiences can't help but offer unique and memorable experiences that should be sought throughout a lifetime. It is more entertaining than any TV show or movie and fills volumes of dialogue with no verbal communication whatsoever.
Upon returning home, my son filled my wife with stories of what he saw and things we did. Before bedtime, unprompted by anyone, he grabbed several pillows and a couple blankets and organized them in our living room into what he described as his "tent". He then told me he wanted to sleep in our backyard tent at some point this week. Calling him "my little camping buddy" seemed to be plenty fine by him too and he seems to be a little more loving and happy since we returned.
One last thing worth mentioning which I say for young parents in a similar situation - at 2am while snuggled under warm blankets and sandwiched between cheap sleeping bags suitable for a kid, there is a huge difference between "I think I peed my pants" and "I peed my pants". Fortunately for us, it was the former.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lightweight Backpacking Pants

One of the first books I read about lightweight backpacking was Ray Jardine's "Beyond Backpacking". As I slowly started evaluating my own pack contents, oddly enough I was mentally stuck on the fact that Jardine suggested a collared hiking shirt for the principal reason that it looked fairly responsible for trail towns. Having educated myself on the benefits of merino wool, I spent a good amount of time trying to find a collared shirt made of merino wool in a size big enough to fit me. By the time I did, the price alone was enough to scare me off and I still don't own one (I do take donations however).

Along the lines of clothing options and their relevance to both the trail and town, I thought I'd mention a pair of pants that are plenty fine for backpacking, possibly three and even four seasons depending on conditions and preferences, as well as around town. Last year I found a pair of Marmot Scree Pants ( at an end-of-summer sale at a local camping retailer which meant I got it at a great deal. I do love those sales. It is a softshell pant which is both water repellent and breathable. It is a double weave of 90% nylon and 10% elastane. It comes in a variety of colors with several zipping pockets, ankle zippers, etc. They even come in nearly any imaginable size and even a "long" version which is great. With articulated knees coupled with the materials, they are just a great three to four season pant which oddly are hardly noticeable when wearing them.

This pant is very similar to other more expensive options and I'm learning that they really cover a wide variety of both weather conditions and also social conditions as they are a nice fitting, nice looking, and very comfortable pant that really fit in anywhere. They work quite well on the trail and look plenty fine in town and in social settings. Although the "MARMOT" name is a little obnoxious, like many manufacturers who like to use you and I as their personal billboard, I still think it's a great trail and "other" option.

I've seen them anywhere from $40-$90 which really isn't too bad for this kind of active pant and are advertised at 17oz which I presume is for a medium.