Voltaic 3.4 Watt Solar Charger Kit

I’m a solar guy (house generates more electricity than it uses) and have been a fan Voltaic Systems for a while. I’ve had my eye on several of their kits. Back during Hurricane Sandy, they had a special deal: if you sent a kit to their hurricane relief effort, they would give you a second one free. It was just the kick in the pants I needed to pull the trigger. The kit came with an 3.4 Watt panel, a small high capacity USB battery *that will charge an iPhone or iPad Mini or 50% of a big iPad), and a bunch of connectors.

I mounted the panel on the lid of my messenger bag and tucked the battery inside. The panel constantly charges the batter. Now I always have a fully charged spare battery that I never have to think about — the panel keeps it charged 24x7x365. I can go out and about and use the phone without any concern for battery life. And the battery can power or charge anything that uses USB, including LED lights during a storm. I now carry a small lightweight USB light in the bag pocket along with iPhone charging cable.

People ask about the panel all the time. Everyone I explain it to thinks it is extremely cool.

-- Christopher Mirabile  

3.4 Watt Solar Charger Kit
$74 and up, depending on accessories

Available from Amazon



Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips

This is the best introduction to ultralight backpacking there is. Ultralight means you carry less than 25 pounds of gear, food and water for a 10 day trip, and maybe less than 5 pounds for a weekend trip! That’s liberating. If you obsessively reduce the mass of things (or leave them behind) by onefold then you can raise your enjoyment of hiking tenfold.

But most of the stuff in a backpack is carried to overcome a lack of knowledge. So whenever you take away weight you have to replace it with knowledge — knowledge that this book supplies.

This book assumes you are persuaded of this zen-like way. If you need to be persuaded that carry-weight is worth obsessing over, or you want the full course of every option available, and the evidence and reasons for each method, and how to make all the stuff yourself, then you’ll need Ray Jardines’ bible on the subject, the previously reviewed and now updated Beyond Backpacking/Trail Life.

But instead of a bible, this fantastic book by Mike Clelland will give you cartoons. Lot’s of them.

It’s jammed packed with dense, informative, easy to digest, and remarkably helpful advice, hints and instructions on how to accomplish and enjoy walking with very little stuff — and this knowledge is mostly compressed into witty cartoons. I am a big fan of Clelland’s other previously reviewed cartoon guides to snow travel and ordinary backpacking and I really like how amazingly effective his drawings are. Each one is worth thousands of words. It’s fun but not silly. Clelland grapples with the real-world details of, say, not taking a water filter or toilet paper (!!!) and his solutions are born of many seasons of experience. The whole book is authentic and reliable. It will very quickly have you out on the trail carrying a lot less than you once did. Even if you don’t get as extreme as he does, you can move in the right direction by substituting knowledge for stuff. I’ve been going super light for a long time and I learned tons of new tricks on almost every page.

-- KK  

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips
Mike Clelland
2011, 144 pages
$10

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:



Zeppelin Knot

For some reason this amazingly useful knot has been forgotten. Like many knots, it is stronger than a square knot, but it is unique in that it can always be untied easily, even after it has been loaded heavily. In other words, it will not “jam”. It is also easy to tie and easy to verify.

Supposedly it is called the Rosendahl or “Zeppelin” knot because American airship commander Charles Rosendahl insisted on its use in mooring lines. Airships can put tremendous transient loads on those lines, so they needed strong knots that could still be untied in a hurry.

Instructions on how to tie it can be found at Mother Earth News, and also at Wikipedia.

-- Karl Chwe  

Zeppelin Knot
Instructions can be found at Mother Earth News, and Wikipedia



Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook

Let’s get this straight: you will not have your wilderness survival guidebook during a survival emergency. That’s not how emergencies work. A great survival guide book will a) assume you won’t have it with you, and b) will prepare you to survive bookless by preparing you with real details beforehand. Out of the many dozens of survival guidebooks in print today, this is the only one that accomplishes this, and this is the only one that I would recommend. (This is not a Prepper’s guide, but focuses on wildnerness survival.) It can get you thinking about real solutions to real problems. Survival is all about priorities, and I think this book lines them up in the right order. It will still be up to you to rehearse them beforehand — you won’t have this book with you.

-- KK  

Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook: The Portable Guide to Getting Out Alive
Mykel Hawke
2011, 256 pages
$11

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Last Resorts

You can drink urine! The rules for urine drinking are straightforward: drink it as soon after you urinate as possible; the first time you urinate is usually fine to drink; and you can drink the second pass in dire circumstances. After a second pass, chances are that you won’t be urinating again anyway if there is no more fluid going in. There simply won’t be any fluid left to be passed.

Myth: You will not die or get sick if you drink urine. It is not poisonous. It is actually sterile the moment it leaves your body, and only contact with the air allows for bacteria to grow. This is why you shouldn’t urinate and then store it for later.

*

*

Choose a stick slightly taller than you; if the stick is too short, it may jam into your neck if you fall. It can serve as a measuring device–how deep a river is or could you jump over a chasm? If the stick is strong enough, it might even be used as a small bridge. It can be used as a rafting pole, a crutch, a spear, a reaching tool and a digging tool, etc.

*

Levels of Pain

Altert — If you can hear a person yelling and screaming, he’s okay for the moment. The noise means he’s conscious, breathing, awake and talking. It’s a good sign that his body is stable enough that all systems are still functioning.

*

A good rule of thumb is that green puss is bacterial, yellow is viral. This is useful for determining if you actually need that antibiotic or not when there is a cough, runny nose or phlegm.

*

Otherwise, the best source of water when surviving at sea will come from the atmosphere. If it rains, drink all you can, catch all you can, store all you can. If you have fog, then use all the cloth you can to capture that and squeeze its moisture into a container or your mouth. Try to make a solar still.

*

*

*

Try to concentrate your power-based communications in the first 24 hours, as this is when most search parties will be initiated. Broadcast your signal continuously during this window if you’re able.

Consider delaying your 24-hour broadcast period for a day or two if you have reason to believe it will take folks that long to begin looking for you.

After the initial broadcast period, you’ll need to go into power-conservation mode. This means spacing out the broadcasts and standardizing their length.

Transmit at dawn, dusk, noon, and midnight. Dawn and dusk are when atmospheric changes can help broadcasts travel enormous distances.

*

The Rule of Threes: There are 3 dots and 3 dashes in the 3-letter Morse code for SOS. That’s no accident. The universal distress signal is anything in threes.




Survival Library

Tomorrow, the end of the world won’t happen. Even world economic collapse, or the total failure of the US government won’t happen without preliminary disruptions. Prepping now for that vague doomsday scenario is plain nuts. But regional natural disasters are almost a certainty. Prepping for survival of a large-scale hurricane, tornado, earthquake with a few days backup at home is a good idea. How do you prep? Most die-hard survivalists take the the “stockpile and defend” strategy, constructing doomsteads, which may or may not work in a natural disaster. Usually going with a “mobile and agile” strategy, with a ready “bug-out bag,” is better — but this is mostly a matter of temperament because we don’t have a lot of data of what actually worked in actual past disasters. (If you know of real data examining the value of home preparation please leave a link. Most of the evidence used in the survivalist prep world is Hollywood movies.)

But at the very least you should know what your survivalist options are. There are a zillion “prepper” books each one with more elaborate schemes and crazier than the one before it. Underground bunkers are only the tip. Selling doomsday (vs wilderness) survivalist advice is big cottage industry. I refuse to pay for this nonsense. The Survival Library is an open online archive of self-sufficiency, self-reliance instructions, PDFs, and videos that appear on other sites for free. It is easy to weed through. Some of the information, like welding instruction, or raising rabbits, or how to start a fire with no matches is useful whether or not you believe that the UN is sending black helicopters to take away your machine gun in the basement. The free downloadable PDF of the 500-page LDS (Mormon) Prep Manual is particularly interesting and for most normal people, all the prep literature you’ll ever need.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:




Gift Ideas for the Outdoors Enthusiast

Filson Mackinaw Jacket

Filson jackets are bar none the best wool jackets for the hunter or outdoorsman in the family. Warm when wet, silent in the woods, and classically designed, these jackets are made to be inherited.

$280
Available from Amazon

***

Fiskar’s Pruning Saw

This lightweight pruning saw is great for cutting up small and medium size limbs for the campfire. Coming in at 6″ or 10″, it’s light enough that it won’t slow you down in the backcountry.

$13
Available from Amazon

***

Petzl NAO

This nifty next-generation LED-headlamp provides more usable light when you need it, and will make a perfect gift for anyone who spends a lot of time in the dark. For those on a budget, check out the more affordable Petzl Zipka.

$175
Available from Amazon

***

 

The Best in Tent Camping

Not everybody needs to haul their camping gear into the backwoods to enjoy the outdoors. For those that prefer some creature comforts, these state guides detail the best car-camping sites a region has to offer.

$13
Available from Amazon

***

Snow Peak Starter Kit

Lighten the load of your favorite camper with this 9-oz set featuring a piezo-ignition Gigapower stove, a 700-ml titanium cup, and titanium spork.

$90

Available from Amazon

 

Have other gift ideas for folks who love the great outdoors? Let us know in the comments!

 



Leatherman Squirt

When saving ounces, this is the lightest multi-tool kit to carry. It’s got your knife, pliers, wire cutter, scissors, file, and two screwdrivers in only 2 ounces (57 g). Some folks use it as a keychain fob; I primarily carry it while backpacking and biking. The current best model is PS4.

-- KK  

Leatherman Squirt PS4
$28

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Leatherman



Nemo Obi Elite 1P

This is a fantastic featherweight self-supporting one-person tent. It is among the lightest tents you can buy. Together with its fly and tent stakes (but minus its compression stuff sack), the Obi Elite 1P weighs only 2 pounds (0.91kg)! Having an ultra-lightweight tent makes a huge difference when you’re on a long hike or bike trip. There are lighter tents that re-use hiking poles for support, or don’t have an outer fly cover, but none that are self-supporting and double-walled like this one. (A double wall really minimizes moisture buildup.) The Obi gives me enough room to sit up inside, so I can change clothes and store some gear and be covered by a fly and withstand a good rain and wind.

I used this everyday for a month on a recent trip. I would giggle each time I set it up because it practically assembled itself. I could set up the tent and fly in less than 3 minutes, and pack it up even faster. The technology of all the best lightweight tents is primarily made by one Korean company which manufactures the precision poles, elastic, hubs, and very clever fasteners called Jake’s Feet which make it so easy to erect and strike. A great tent these days is a precision collapsable machine. Nemo has arranged these parts into a super design. Every detail is well-thought out, from the placement of zippers, interior pockets, color coding of poles. I can not think of much to improve. For instance it has a large side entrance making entry and exit a breeze, whereas many other lightweight solo tents have an narrow end entrance.

The Nemo Obi Elite 1P is expensive; you can get great one-person tents only a few pounds heavier for hundreds of dollars cheaper, such as the previously reviewed Sierra Designs tent. But over decades of hiking I have discovered a direct inverse correlation between the amount weight I carry and my happiness. And like the best tools, it gives me pleasure each time I use it, and with care will last a long time.

Nemo makes a regular, non-Elite 1P version with slightly heavier hi-tech fabric (total weight 2.7 pounds) and a slightly better pole arrangement that is $50 cheaper. I have used this one with satisfaction. In fact, if you can spare the few extra ounces, the Obi 1P is for sale at substantial discount from Amazon, and is the one I would recommend.

-- KK  

Nemo Obi 1P
$314

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nemo



MEC Duffle Bag

The MEC Duffle Bag is simple, inexpensive, light-weight and very well made.

Compared to suitcases and rolling duffels, these bags are light-weight, and useful for flying if you need to transport a lot of “stuff” (particularly if the stuff is only accompanying you in one direction).  The bags collapse, and can be stuffed away when not needed for storage or transport.

I have used the extra large model for a variety of journeys over a couple of years.  There are handles on top and at the ends for easy grabbing, and a removable shoulder strap is included. The carrying handles are serviceable as backpack straps, if needed.  The zippers are solid (YKK), and haven’t caused me any problems.  Heavy duty nylon and webbing is used for the sides and the straps, and though not waterproof, the materials are highly resistant to tears and pulls… and washable.

In Vancouver, Mountain Equipment Co-op is legendary for high quality, inexpensive outdoor and active gear (see Turtle Light, previous Cool Tool) and they have started expanding across Canada.

-- Christopher Walks  

[Note: If there is an American equivalent for this product let us know and we'll update the post. --OH]

MEC Duffle Bag
$25-$40

Available from and manufactured by MEC



LT4 Trekking Pole

Insanely light trekking pole. The lightness (less than 4 oz) means you can twitch it really fast to catch yourself because the pole doesn’t have a lot of inertia to overcome. It means your arm and hand tire far less in a day of swing-and-place. It means when you lash it to your pack, it adds little to your burden.

This pole has proved its durability for me on a range of hikes from casual to intense, in a variety of terrains. Adjusting the length with an untwist and retwist to lock is easy and reliable. Since they’re usually sold by the pair, you have a spare in reserve. (Trekking with two poles feels like skiing without snow for me; awkward and hand-encumbering. I like to be a three-legged creature in the bush, always able to brace for stability, striding like a pilgrim with staff.)

-- Stewart Brand  

LT4 Trekking Pole (adjustable)
$80/pole
Available from Gossamer Gear

LT4S (adjustable, with strap)
$88/pole
Available from Gossamer Gear

LT3C Fixed poles
$110 per pair
Available from Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon Submit to Digg