Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nano Striker

One of the great things about blogging is the collaborative environment it inherently creates as people openly share their knowledge. Backpacking further brings with it a community which shares an unspoken bond of good naturedness and apathy which I've long appreciated.

In a recent blog I talked about a new flint striker that I wasn't thrilled with and one of our readers (Thanks Basti!) brought to my attention another great video by Jason Klass ( in reference to a product by Exotac known as the Nano Striker.

The Nano Striker is a ferrocerium rod encased in aluminum (or titanium if you have the money). Why is this useful? Well, I carry my flint striker around my neck and the sweat from my chest has degraded it substantially. Rather than have it clanking around outside of my shirt and getting caught on branches, the Nano Stricker is a nearly ideal solution for my needs because it keeps it dry. Course, Jason and his readers figured this out a year ago when he posted his video. SORRY, I missed it!

The Nano Striker is $27 ($75 for titanium) and comes in at 14.5 grams. I like the fact that it comes in multiple colors depending on whether you need it to be obnoxious or not. For example, mine is blaze orange as keeping it highly visible while backpacking is important to me.

The unique aspect of the Nano Striker is that the user essentially unscrews it to gain access to the ferrocerium rod and striker. One end is screwed to the rod side to make the handle longer which overall creates a very nice system. The striker itself is very short, but very sharp and can even be further sharpened if necessary. It claims to last for about 1,000 strikes. The aluminum is aircraft grade and little rubber rings help ensure the contents remain dry. It comes with a lanyard and extra rubber ring in addition to a nice little box and instructions.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lightweight Compass

A compass is one of those pieces of gear that is critically vital in an environment where getting lost is a reality. Talking about compasses could be quite a lengthy and in depth conversation - one which you won't find here as others have covered it far more effectively.

Oddly enough, a compass is only somewhat useful in the areas I hike due to the extensive tree canopy and lack of observable land features. As a result, I have absolutely no need for a high-dollar compass capable of not only telling me direction, but making me breakfast.

With that said though, that doesn't mean I'd ever leave a compass at home. For example, the Appalachian Trail is a north/south trail. A running joke of AT thru-hikers when getting up in the morning is the silly question of "what direction are you heading today" as the choice is painfully obvious. Still many get lost on the AT and surrounding trails, not because the trail isn't well marked, but because side trails often aren't as well marked and trips into the woods quickly help any sign of a trail or direction disappear.

For as well marked as the AT is, I've honestly almost gotten lost several times. These situations have all occurred after a trip into a densely forested area to look for water, a bathroom area, or a stealth area to set up camp. Unless the ground is perfectly level, which it rarely is, I can walk a couple dozen feet into the forest only to turn around and find that the trail is completely gone from my perspective. Trust me when I say not immediately seeing the trail is unsettling.

To ensure I'm not the next SAR rescuee paraded around on a local newspaper, I generally do two things to ensure my direction. First, and something that works well on the AT, I take a quick look at a button compass I carry and ensure I fully appreciate the direction I'm heading. When I get to where I'm going, especially if I'm staying the night, I often arrange some sticks or stones to point me in the direction out. This may be vital if needing to make a quick escape in the middle of the night from any number of potential issues.

Although some may genuinely need a full-scale compass, a button compass is something I have found to be ideal for my needs. It is smaller than a penny, weighs virtually nothing, and is quite accurate. I like the Mini Tracker Survival Buttom Compass from Best Glide Aviation Survival Equipment ( It is a NATO approved liquid-filled compass also endorsed by the Boy Scouts of America. It comes in a 14mm and 20mm size and functions from -20f to 120f and is water resistant to 30 ft. At less than $3, it's one of those pieces of gear which really should never be left home. I carry it regardless even though my Suunto Core watch has a compass built into it, which as I learned about a month after purchasing the watch, the digital compass can be quite wrong.

I always carry a whistle around my neck and I found that adding a button compass to it with some Super Glue makes the compass perfectly available, out of the way, and handy - plenty easy for a quick glance without fumbling through my pack or pocket. On a side note, Super Glue is amazing stuff. Although I usually purchase several button compasses at a time, I recently tried to get one of the compasses off a whistle to relocate it to something else. Bottom line - it wasn't moving, so feel plenty confident in a little glue.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Meet the Exped SynMat 7 UL - Rival to the NeoAir

In July 2010 at an Outdoor Show in Germany, Exped ( revealed a sleeping pad which would easily compete with the famed NeoAir. Personally, I wasn't a big fan of the NeoAir for many reasons, but it does have a following. More correctly, people either love it or hate it and one could probably read between the lines a bit when it was announced that Thermarest was redesigning the NeoAir for the coming future.

The Exped SynMat 7 UL in an insulated sleeping mat which weighs just 16.57 ounces (470 grams) for a rectangular 72.04"x 19.68" (183x50cm) and an intriguing R-value of 3.5. Insulation is synthetic which is laminated to the top and bottom of the inner walls. This makes it significantly warmer than the NeoAir which is claimed to retain an R-value of 2.5 for nearly the same size and weight of 14 ounces.

Like the NeoAir, the Exped SynMat 7 UL packs down to the size of a half-liter water bottle and comes with a unique "flat-valve" system which enables the inflation and deflation valves to be separated and thereby is claimed to be easier to operate.

If you aren't a fan of lighter and cheaper (but more bulky) closed cell foam pads, and the NeoAir isn't in your gear closest for one reason or another, the Swiss Exped SynMat 7 UL might just be an answer for you...when they are put on the market. So when it that? Well, in north America it won't be until March. At that time, two sizes will be available (Small 64"x21" and Medium 72"x21"). There is discussion on a larger size which is believed to be 78"x20".

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Swedish FireSteel 2.0 & Whistles

If you backpack, there is a good chance you carry something to make a fire. If you are responsible, you likely have some redundancy being that the ability to make fire may be the difference between life or death, or more likely, a tasty marshmallow or warm meal. Redundancy in fire tools usually includes matches, a lighter, fire plug, or some kind of flint.

Like many backpackers, I generally carry a necklace with a few things on it. Whether as a last ditch effort for safety or peace of mind if I ever get separated from my backpack, it's something I always have. On it is a flint striker, whistle, and microlight. On the whistle, I glued a button compass which has probably been more useful then anything else when I need a quick direction reference. I've gone back and forth with whether to include my Swiss Army Knife mini as it is a bit cumbersome to have all this stuff around my neck even though I find it to be very useful and far more available if not otherwise stuffed in a pocket or sack.

About a month ago I was studying my necklace for wear and noticed that my flint was pretty worn both from use and likely from my body sweat. I also noticed the molded handle was cracked. As I tinkered with it to see how bad it was cracked, it came completely apart. I think it's fair to say that holding more on the flint than the handle in the future will probably be a smart choice.

With that, I needed a new flint and decided to look for another Swedish FireSteel to replace the one that I had just broken. To my surprise, there was a new FireSteel on the market listed as a "2.0". It was a little bulkier than my previous FireSteel. The striker was shorter in length, but was incorporated into a whistle. The molded grips on both were much thicker than previous versions, possibly because others had the same problem I did.

The whistle I carry is an ACR because it was dubbed one of the loudest pealess whistles by the Coast Guard. Oddly enough, and having used it several times to get the attention of friends or scare off an unfriendly bear, I really don't find it to be that loud. In fact, the pitch itself is more annoying than anything and the sound really doesn't travel that well. I do like the fact that it doesn't require a ton of effort to blow, as it seems air seems to be better controlled. For many years before college, I refereed youth basketball. Any time I blow my ACR, I wish I had my old referee whistle which was easily capable of deafening anyone within the building. With a pea though, it is susceptible to freezing, so I leave it at home. I think the whistle most similar to my old referee whistle is the Fox 40 as it seems to have a rolling sound, although it exhausts air pretty quickly. Comparing the ACR whistle to the new FireSteel 2.0, they really aren't that similar as the FireSteel 2.0 sounds doesn't really generate a loud enough sound to be useful. The ACR is a little easier to blow because of the way the FireSteel 2.0 tried to incorporate it into a handle with a lanyard punch right next to the whistle part which gets in the way a bit.

Regardless, it's always nice to carry gear which is multifunction and the FireSteel 2.0 ( may be perfect for your needs. As for me, I'll stick with the better whistle (either ACR or Fox 40 depending on my whim) and I'm debating on whether to carry the more robust flint stick.
UPDATE: One of our fine readers suggested the Exotac Nano Fire Starter ( which is a lightweight and waterproof solution to fire rods otherwise damaged by sweat and moisture. I've got one on the way. They are a little more expensive, but it's nice to still be able to carry it around my neck and know that it isn't going to get damaged.