Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ode to Finland!

Backpacking and nearly anything outdoors is a hobby of mine, one which quite literally keeps me sane from otherwise long work weeks and stresses of life that would otherwise likely swallow me whole. Because it is a hobby, it means I have limited time to devote to it. For the time I do have, I strive to use my time wisely.

One of the ways I supplement my interest is through online resources such as blogs or backpacking forums. I'm always very appreciative when I stumble across a site that brings with it clarity of thought, conciseness of language, a sense of humor, and content consisting of original thought. It is this assessment that led me to be a regular lurker to Hiking In Finland ( run by Hendrik Morkel, a self-described entrepreneur of an environmental management consulting company. Aside from his top notch website with the features I already mentioned, he supplements his content with excellent pictures, trip reports, and comments on first-hand gear choices which I personally appreciate. And let's face it, the guy can grow an impressive beard. Hendrik must be on to something considering Forbes magazine rated Finland just behind Norway and Denmark as the "World's Happiest Countries".

Late in 2010, Hendrik was kind enough to offer up a couple of Kupilka cups to his readers. The Kupilka, to my understanding, is a mainstay in the pack of many bearded guys living in Finland. I personally love these kinds of traditions for many reasons. I think the world scoots along at a pace which often leaves many unable to reflect on the past and appreciate the present. Much of life has become disposable and each generation seems to push further and further away from fundamental ethical boundaries and the practices of their ancestors. In some cases this is necessary and welcomed, in others - it's a shame. Aside from the inherent functionality, carrying the Kupilka expresses a nice nostalgic and respectful sentiment while perhaps introspectively acknowledging the simplicity of nature and those that came before us.

Much to the surprise of someone who quite literally has never "won" anything (me), Hendrik informed me that I had won one of the Kupilka cups. Within a few weeks, sure enough it was on my doorstep complete with a Finnish postcard, Swedish hot chocolate, and a peppermint liqueur made in Finland. In as much as I appreciate the generosity to ship something like this across the pond, I more greatly appreciate the sentiment that came with it and the education of the cup, the culture, and the tradition.

So publicly - thanks Hendrik! I used the Kupilka for the first time in a late December snow. Not being a regular snow camper nor one to bring anything other than a single cooking cup, it was quite welcoming to have a secondary cup which enabled me to forgo the use of freezer bags to scoop my meal. About 10pm that night, shortly before bed, I raised the Kupilka in a north easternly direction to pay homage to a good man, with a good blog, in an intriguing country.

Visit Hendrik at Thanks Hendrik.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Little Bit About Not a Lot...

Happy New Year everyone. It's only taken me 6 weeks to find my blog again. I decided I needed a break, so I took one. I'm not sure how 2011 will shape up, but I look forward to blabbing away incessantly on things that may or may not interest you. As always, I appreciate the time you take to check in and give me your input.

2010 was a bizarre year for me as it relates to this blog, specifically the content. It's one of the first years in recent memory which I really didn't feel was a banner year for the lightweight backpacking industry. The Outdoor Shows seemed promising, no doubt just as the one this week will entice, but as a whole there was just little new innovation or product development. On one hand, more manufacturers popped up and competition is always nice. On the other, these new manufacturers seem to all be offering products that are nearly identical to one another. After all, how many different ways can you build a cuben tarp or mid?

I guess the result for me was that I spent less which is probably a good thing overall. If there is one thing I've realized the more knee deep I get into this industry it is how much less and less I need as I gain more experience and knowledge. Having the newest and greatest gear is great, but often unnecessary and not worth the expense. On another level, it is also irresponsible. I believe most backpackers would identify themselves as stewards of the environment. Being an endless consumer of unnecessary gear ultimately challenges this sentiment.

2010 also gave rise to a lot of backpacking blogs which I personally wasn't entirely thrilled with because it seemed so many rehashed the same old mantras and gear which isn't really worth the read or effort it took to write it. Course, that's just my opinion and I'm sure I'm guilty of this too to a certain extent despite my best efforts to primarily focus on new stuff not widely discussed.

Probably like you, from time to time I visit camping stores like REI, EMS, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, etc. just to see what mainstream gear is inhaling money away from the general public. I don't think I ever tire of the sales speech as some inexperienced buyer gets sucked into endless pounds of gear all because some kid with a name tag and smock read too many outdoor magazines and projects the sentiment that the outdoors is a wild place full of wild creatures which poses an eminent threat. That threat, of course, can only be mitigated with pounds of costly indestructible gear. It's not that I don't think there is a place in the industry for this kind of stuff, it's just that I hate to see impressionable minds misled. It took me decades to break the habits taught to me in the Scouts to realize that I didn't need to be in a bullet-proof gerbil ball merely for a stroll through the woods. Granted, to each his own and everyone should bring with them that which they are able to use safely, responsibly, and to suit their own comfort needs, but so often this gets out of hand. Sales seem wholly dependent on scaring the buyer instead of educating them.

Other than buying fuel, fondling outdoor gear just because it is outdoor gear, or grabbing something for car camping, I really rarely buy things in these stores in as much as I fully support them. Oddly enough, if I did more car camping or camping with my family, I'd probably have no problem spending more at these businesses. To me, despite my lightweight preferences when backpacking, I quite literally have no problem bringing just about anything I can get my hands on when car camping. King Serta Mattress? Sure! Stocked refrigerator? Definitely!

My most recent trip to local camping stores pointed out some things that held my attention for a while, but remained on the shelf after I left. I figured it might peak some of my readers interests, so here you go.

The Buck Smidget Knife ($20/1.3oz/42.5g), is an extremely light, easy to sharpen, full tang knife which comes with a lanyard, key fob, and molded sheath. In the backpacking community, there are "knife people" and everyone else. I fully appreciate the need for a solid knife in the backcountry. In fact, I've been learning about bushcraft lately for no other reason than I like learning about how our ancestors likely increased their comfort level. But truth be told, knives are necessary for survival or perhaps for making kindling for winter stoves. Other than that, they really are nothing more than dead weight for backpackers who are carrying a map, phone, and are probably pretty close to civilization. So in spirit I'd love to carry a nice Rambo knife for that grand "just in case" factor, but 99.9% of the time I've gotten by just fine with a Swiss Army Classic or less. If I'm backpacking in winter with a wood stove, I'll bring a Mora to hack up pieces of wood. Nonetheless, the Smidget may interest some of you. I personally liked the molded sheath and the fact that it could be lashed to a pack. At 8.13", it's a nice overall size. Unfortunately, the handle is rough, jagged, and will no doubt be slippery at the first sign of wetness. If this knife intrigues you, you likely also know about the Baladeo knives which at 22 and 34 grams are both lighter. The Baladeo comes with it a host of problems though. First, it's nearly impossible to sharpen in the field. Second, the blade is exposed when closed, which although not sharp to the outside, just screams "bad idea" to me and would likely get caught on just about everything. Third, if one is going to take the trouble of carrying a more substantial knife, it should be more accessible. The Baladeo doesn't come with a sheath and doesn't appear too lashing-friendly. Fifth, and again playing on the fact that if you decide to bring a knife that it would be better to bring a real knife, I'd rather have a fixed blade. Lastly, the Baladeo is also plenty slippery when wet. By the way, if you want a pretty cool sheath for your Mora, check out Dad of All Trades ( Moving on.

One item I did like to a certain extent was the EMS Packable Pack ($30/9oz) A 70D nylon ripstop 1500 cu/in top loader isn't too shabby for service as a summit pack or to tote stuff around town or use when traveling. Course, if you're a legit lightweight backpacker, you probably already have a pack that isn't breaking your back and you can skip the need to switch to something else just to summit.

And...that concludes my walk down memory lane as it relates to these stores because there really wasn't anything else to tinker with and titanium pots are slowly looking pretty similar. That causes me to reflect on my own personal favorite gear from 2010....

I continue to think Bender with Kookabay ( is just about the best value for a quality and lightweight inflatable sleeping pad. In fact, the product that he has privately brought to market is really quite remarkable with great service and quality workmanship to boot. Folks, this is how it should be done. Still, for some reason my CCF pad makes the trip more often then not as I still count ounces. For nights in a shelter, CCF just doesn't cut it and that's when my Kookabay pad shines.

I also really appreciate the work being done at GooseFeet ( I had been looking for a pair of down socks for several years and refused to get the heavier booties so prevalent in the market. Simply, it was a niche that no one else really offered and it's no surprise that this product is taking off. A warmer product lighter than a sock - yes please.

Although a simple cat food can and some tin foil is a more than acceptable backcountry UL stove, I seem to have a hard time leaving my Trail Designs Sidewinder Titanium Ti-Tri behind ( It's pricey at $79, although not much more so than a lot of other stoves, but I just can't beat the flexibility this three fuels system and outstanding pot stand offers. As I watch people fumble and bumble with their high-dollar stoves or try to scrape up Ramen from a pot stand that blew over from the flutter of a gnats wings, I'm content with my little efficient stove.

So there you go - a little bit about not a lot. I hope everyone is able to get out in 2011. Trust me when I say this - nothing new will happen on Jersey Shore (and it's not like it makes you smarter), movies will be little more than remakes of older versions which were done better, and your work situation won't become any more desireable even with the addition of a young and vivacious intern who doesn't quite follow reasonable social standards associated with the business dress code. Well, maybe that last one isn't truly accurate, but you get the idea. Get out!