LowePro Fastpack

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I’ve been an amateur photographer for over a decade now, and in recent years my collection of gear has grown a lot. Back in 2008 I was planning a trip to Europe and needed to get a good camera bag that could handle my dSLR, lenses, my laptop and various bits and bobs. Recommendations from friends led me to the Lowepro Fastpack series. They hold a ton of stuff, and have a unique side-loading system for your camera. It allows you to keep the backpack on one shoulder and swing it around to get your camera out without having to put it down.

I bought the 250 model, and fell in love with it. It traveled all over the world with me for the last four years: Europe, Mexico, Burning Man and more. It’s extremely light when unloaded and roomy enough to hold a massive amount of gear when full. The laptop sleeve and camera chamber both have enough padding that my camera, lenses and laptop have survived a few terrifying falls when the bag was knocked off to tables, cars, etc.
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Recently the plastic logo on the shoulder strap came apart, leaving a hole in the shoulder strap. I emailed them asking about it, since their website says they have a lifetime warranty. They asked me to send them a photo of the damage, then shipped me a brand new one without having to send back the old one. Awesome customer service!

List price is $129, but it sells on Amazon for less. I was hesitant to spend that much on a camera bag, but after seeing $5000 worth of gear come out of it unscathed after a nasty fall on to a concrete floor, I am glad I did.

-- Mike Alberghini  

Lowepro Fastpack 250
$75

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by LowePro



Hol-ee Roller

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A friend gave my dog this ball in January, and my dog and I like it so much that I have since started to phase-out other dog toys. It is durable. My dog is a strong chewer, and has destroyed many a lesser toy. It is attractive. Who doesn’t love a geodesic dome? It is light and squishy, bouncing off objects denser balls would damage. It is large. This might not seem important, but my dog has been known to attempt furniture disassembly while attempting to retrieve a ball that has rolled under the sofa. Despite its size, it is easy to pick up. Dogs can chomp on a vertex, and I can hook it with a finger. Touching it is not disgusting. Despite its size, it has little surface area to get slimy. And no tennis ball fuzz.

-- Jonathan Harford  

Hol-ee Roller
$8

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by JW Pets



Air-O-Swiss Travel Ultrasonic Humidifier

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On a recent trip to Berlin in the dead of winter with a toddler with a cough, we found ourselves with a dilemma: buy a humidifier when we arrive and then either sell it after a month or abandon it, or purchase the Air Swiss Travel Humidifier, a little pricey at $50, but a very compact unit. I was against buying something so specific as a travel humidifier, but we were so glad we did.

It’s a little bigger than a Macbook Pro power supply, and twice as thick. It has a clever water reservoir, any .5 liter or smaller water bottle snaps into a fitting, and will supply 6-10 hours of vapor, depending on the setting.

Berlin apartments are as dry as a brush fire, so we also ran it all day in the living room, and even in a large room, it made the air so much more pleasant. Then we ran the Air Swiss all night for the baby, and again it performed perfectly. That’s day and night for 30-days non-stop; it’s built solid.

The only drawback is that there is a rather bright blue light that illuminates the vapor when the unit turns on, which changes to a red light when the water bottle is empty. If you’re a light sensitive sleeper, it might be an issue.

As someone that lives out of hotels a month or two a year, I can’t imagine traveling without it. Even without a cold it just makes the stuffy dry air in a central heated building pleasant.

-- Bernie Bernbaum  

Air-O-Swiss Travel Ultrasonic Humidifier
$50

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Air-O-Swiss



Mountain Bike!: A Manual of Beginning and Advance Technique

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A few weeks ago while rushing down a trail on my bike I wiped-out and broke a rib. I wished I had read this book earlier. Its completely hand-drawn tutorial of mountain bike techniques and skills would have cured my mistake. Each page is hand drawn, full of humor, packed with experience, and conveys memorable lessons. Author Nealy’s hilarious one page cartoons are more effective in teaching crucial things than either text or video. Although it was written — I mean drawn — in 1992 it’s still amazingly valid. The bikes have changed but the skills and challenges are the same. It’s a really great how-to.

-- KK  

Mountain Bike!: A Manual of Beginning to Advanced Technique
William Nealy
1992, 176 pages
$12

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Before you begin a self-training session RELAX, this ain’t Wall Street. You can’t lose riding a mountain bike. If you are working on a technique and you fail two or three times in a row, STOP!! Do something else and try again later. This is called “Training To Failure” (positive progressive training; pushing the envelope). If you push a training session beyond three successive failures you are “Training To Fail” (negative regressive training; more pain than fun). As you become more adept at self-teaching and pushing yourself appropriately you’ll be able to discern where good (beneficial) training ends and bad (regressive) traning begins. [Hint: lack of fun marks the spot.]

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Cone of Movement – The amount of lean a rider can exert on his/her bike is determined by the focus of his/her stance: in a seated position, the cone of movement is focused on the seat [fig. 1] and is relatively small. The greater the obstacle, the larger the cone of movement must be to surmount it. [fig 2.]

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From a standing position the cone of movement is huge compared to sitting. This gives the rider an exponentially greater number of options in terms of leans, weight shifts and control.

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On level or down-sloping trails you can keep your pedals and cranks clear of ground clutter by keeping your cranks more or less level and pumping the pedals up and down.
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Ratcheting

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Another excellent reason to hang onto your bike in any fall is a loose bike’s proclivity to become a very gnarly projectile during a wipe-out!
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Kuhn Rikon Pressure Cooker

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This is not your grandmother’s pressure cooker. Modern day versions are safe, easy to lock tight and are far quieter than units of yore. I can’t imagine my kitchen without one. The convenience plus time and energy savings associated with making things ranging from roasts to perfect risotto and even desserts is incredible. On top of that, everything inevitably turns out tastier and more nutritious than it would otherwise.

For the uninitiated, pressure cooking is a method of cooking in a sealed vessel that does not permit air or liquids to escape below a certain pressure. Pressure is created by boiling a liquid, such as water or broth, inside the closed pressure cooker causing the trapped steam to increase the internal pressure and temperature. This causes wet steam (or “saturated steam”) to be forced through the food and results in faster cooking times compared to conventional cooking methods. Once pressure is reached, the heat source can be dialed down significantly to maintain proper pressure for cooking. Pressure is slowly released through an external venting mechanism so that the vessel can be safely opened. A pot roast can be ready in 45-minutes, potatoes are cooked through in 10, broccoli and other vegetables barely take 5-minutes (at pressure) to become tender.

I’ve owned several brands and sizes over the years, but my favorite by far is the 6 qt. stockpot model made by Kuhn-Rikon of Switzerland. This unit, while not cheap, is extremely well-built, whisper silent and has multiple safely mechanisms built-in. Unlike the classic stream-release versions with the loud jiggly knob on top, this design retains most of the moisture, thus minimizing the amount of liquid required to get up and stay pressurized.

There are many less expensive, good quality pressure cooker alternatives out there that will serve you well, but I believe my Kuhn Rikon cooker will last for years of frequent use and look good doing it.

-- R. S. Parikh  

Kuhn Rikon Duromatic 6-L Stockpot Pressure Cooker
$203

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kuhn Rikon



Hilti PX-10 Transpointer

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This tool is under-marketed, over-priced, and difficult to find, but once you’ve used it, you won’t want to be without one. It solves a problem that nothing else on the market solves: making a drilled hole come out at the right place on the other side of a wall, and I mean a wall where getting to the other side requires a hike.

The PX-10 consists of two handheld units: a transmitter and a receiver. You put the transmitter on one side of the wall, then take the receiver to the other side. The receiver has four illuminated arrows that tell you which way to move it; when all four are lit, it’s exactly lined up with the transmitter. There’s even a hole in the center so you can make a pencil mark. It’s also got a readout the tells you the wall thickness.

The manufacturer says the PX-10 works on walls from 5cm to 1.35m (>4 ft) thick, with a positioning accuracy of +/- 2mm per 200mm of wall thickness.

I bought mine in 2008 while working on a historic masonry building. To run a cable, we needed a hole through an exterior wall 14″ thick, starting in an interior closet and exiting in a mortar joint, not in the adjacent brick. To get from one side to the other, you navigated a warren of interior hallways, descended two flights of stairs, and climbed up several levels of scaffolding. A single measurement with the Transpointer showed us where to drill… and the hole came out spot-on!

I’ve also used the PX-10 when installing thru-hull fittings in boats, otherwise a slow, nerve-wracking job (especially near the waterline). It works well for me, even when the hull is thinner than the nominal 5″ minimum range. If you’re working alone, the transmitter is light enough to stick onto a surface with adhesive putty, which comes with it.

I suspect this tool has a broader market than Hilti realizes; their marketing seems focused on contractors doing core-drilling in concrete. The $600 price tag is hard to stomach; I bought mine when it dropped, briefly, to $200. Perhaps they’ll see the light again.

-- Jeff Zurkow  

[The Hilti Transpointer is hard to find, and very expensive. The Magnespot Extended Range Point Finder does a very similar thing, but costs $200. Still, at that price, it's more of a rental tool for most people. The Magnespot works with a high-powered magnet, which is a trick a DIYer can use for thin walls. -- KK]

Hilti PX-10 Transpointer
$600
Available from and manufactured by Hilti

Magnespot XR1000 Extended Range Reference Point Locator
$190
Available from TechToolSupply



Ugly’s Electrical Reference

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For over 20 years I have referred to this little pocket guide for the electrical field.
When I was first starting out it helped prompt with reminders of formulas and the like, as well as shrink and take-ups for pipe bending. It’s a great reference to have in your toolbox when you don’t have a full size codebook with you!

I give these to my new helpers when they start work and make sure they have an updated one as the code changes. It also serves as a great refresher because I’m not out in the field everyday and helps me remember so I prove I can still do it in the field (not just the office).

-- Jim McLaughlin  

Ugly’s Electrical References
George V. Hart, and Sammy Hart
2010, 198 pages
$18

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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Ugly’s provides useful charts and quick reminders for the working electrical engineer.
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The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide

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My first backpacking trip was a hike to a trail shelter in Shenandoah National Park in the early seventies. My brother and I carried frame-less canvas backpacks with webbing shoulder straps that my dad padded with upholstery foam. I don’t recall the sleeping bags or much else about the gear we used because my brother and I were much more interested in the creek near the shelter.

Dad poured over Colin Fletcher’s new book, The Complete Walker, and so did I. We studied his techniques and emulated them. We wrote away for catalogs and made a few pilgrimages to Vienna Virginia from our home in Fall’s Church to a backpacking and camping gear shop (what was the name of that place?) to buy what we could afford and that wasn’t much.

Forty years later we are inundated with a torrential stream of gear and advice making the “right” choice nearly impossible. Colin Fletcher’s simple gospel has fractured into dogmatic schisms, each with their holy book, magazine or website. Now there are backpackers, lightweight backpackers, ultralight backpackers and many flavors in between. I’ve read many backpacking books, tons of articles and blog posts and have grown tired of their often circular logic, rehashed advice and wondered if advertising dollars skewed their opinions.

Andrew Skurka’s new book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, will change the way we sling a pack on our backs and hoof it into the wild just as Fletcher’s Complete Walker once did. Fletcher’s first books recorded his monumental treks (The Thousand Mile Summer and The Man Who Walked Through Time) and these expeditions resulted in The Complete Walker. Skurka’s stunning 30,000 miles of trekking over the past decade have resulted in The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide. His writing is as focused, practical and essential as his twenty pound pack – there’s nothing in it you don’t need.

My most successful backpacking trips have been those for which I had honest, accurate, and correct answers to three critical questions: 1. What are my objectives? 2. What are the environmental and route conditions that I will likely encounter during my trip, such as temperatures, precipitation, and water availability? and 3. What gear, supplies, and skills will best help me achieve my objectives and keep me safe and comfortable in those conditions?

Skurka’s writing may lack Fletcher’s prosaic warmth but is at least as effective. It’s a great counterpoint to a lot of outdoor how-to books that, in their attempt at warmth, become cloying and unfocused.

The first section of the book asks and answers the questions that many don’t think to ask until they are out on the trail with too much and/or too little gear, blistered feet, and soaking wet with no hope of getting dry; why am I doing this? Skurka uses his first real backpacking experience (a through hike of the Appalachian trail!) to explain what you are getting yourself into. He offers direction and advice that, if heeded, will save readers a great deal of discomfort.

An extensive analysis of the construction, function and use of gear follows. Skurka explains why and how things ought to work in a way that makes choosing gear relatively painless. While he does mention specific models and manufacturers, he goes well beyond the model number. The final section of the book offers gear lists for several different environments.

If you don’t think this sounds like anything new in one way you are right; there isn’t much new information in the guide because you don’t really need new information. When The Complete Walker was published forty plus years ago there were only a handful of books on the subject; now the amount of information out there can bring your trip planning and gear research to a standstill of indecision.

In this age of limitless information I value expert advice and observation presented between the covers a book. Those covers ward off distractions and focus our attention on information that really matters.

The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide is my new go-to resource for backpacking gear information that’s truly useful.

-- Clarke Green  

The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trail
Andrew Skurka
2012, 224 pages
$14

Available from Amazon



Mighty Tuff Compartmented Boxes

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Small “tackle boxes” are well known to all, used far beyond fishing purposes. Also well known is how short their lifespans are, their plastic cracking or even shattering far sooner than we ever hope. Winter is death to these things.

It’s the material, right? Over 20 years ago, I got a small Mighty Tuff box to carry fuses (for telecom work). I’ve still got it, and it’s intact. A little yellower than it was new, but still clear and undamaged. I’ve got a lot more of them now, all kicking along nicely. They’re simple, reliable and do their jobs as expected.

Can’t expect more from a Cool Tool than that.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Flambeau Mighty Tuff Compartment Box
$18

Available from Amazon

More sizes available from Case Club Manufactured by Flambeau



Tapi Drinking Fountain

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I bought this gadget about a month ago. I have it attached to the tap in my bathroom, and I love it! It allows me to turn the bathroom tap into a cool, bubbly drinking fountain with the flick of a finger. To fit it on the tap I had to take the aerator off the end of the faucet, but I find I like the water better (both for washing and drinking) when it hasn’t passed through the aerator.
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I have arthritis and my hands are weak, so instead of pinching the tapi to create the fountain I just fold the end of it over, and this works very well. I think it would be easy for a child to operate. It comes in a variety of colors, and only costs around $6.

-- Lesley Robinson  

Tapi Drinking Fountain
$7

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by DreamFarm