Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 89

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Handiest place to pitch your tent

Car-top Tent

About 10 years ago I came across a Toyota jeep with European license plates parked by Bowman Lake in the Sierras. It was obviously a world-traveling vehicle. On top of the jeep’s roof was a tent. I could see the owner down swimming in the lake. Fascinated by this approach to sleeping while on the road, I wrote down the name of the manufacturer: Air Camping in Milano, Italy. Some months later I tracked down the company and ordered one. It was expensive, about $2000 including airfreight, but the expense turned out to be worthwhile.

The unit folds up and can be mounted on a truck or car top. Closed it measures about 4 x 4 feet, and about 14″ deep. When you stop for the night, you remove the waterproof cover and unfold it — whereupon the tent pops up. The cantilevered section is supported by a telescoping ladder. There’s a mattress inside, as well as blankets and pillow, so your bed is ready as soon as it’s set up. I’ve spent 100s of nights in it, usually in the desert or on Baja beaches with the opening facing the ocean. Its got mosquito netting, is well made and it’s great to be up there for the view and breeze. It’s comfortable, and the tent does not take up storage space in bed of the vehicle. I don’t believe Air Camping is still in business, but a German company, Autocamp, makes what appears to be a similar product. — Llyod Kahn

Camp coffee grinder

JavaGrind Hand Crank Coffee Mill

The JavaGrind hand-crank coffee mill by GSI Outdoor solved that problem and now has a permanent place in my camp kitchen. It’s a burr grinder which does a better job of grinding coffee to a uniform size than an electric blade grinder, an important feature when using a press to brew. It is hand-cranked so it works in camp as well as in the kitchen, and it’s quiet. It doesn’t wake the rest of the camp (or house) when I brew up at 5:30 am. At 11 ounces it doesn’t add very much to the camping load. And at 20 bucks it’s less than half the price of powered burr grinders. What’s not to like? —Dave Shaw

Burly folding backwoods saw


The Sven Saw is an ideal camping saw. I grew up watching my Dad use one to make short work of the tree limbs I dragged through the woods to the campsite. Now I take mine on every backpacking trip. It makes gathering firewood easier, because you don’t have to search for logs you can break or hack through. Larger logs left by others or downed trees that you’d never be able to hack down or break are fair game. I leave my hatchet at home, because this saw is so efficient and well-designed. I’ve used mine extensively for almost ten years without replacing the blade. It’s also great for pruning tree limbs and taking care of downed wood at home.

The original 21″ saw weighs less than a pound and folds down to 24″ x 1 3/4″ x 5/8″, which slips easily (and safely) along the inside of an internal frame backpack. A 15″ version is now available, which saves even more weight on long treks. — Greg Schneider

Instant outdoor room

Flea Market Canopy

Cheap portable shade from the sun in hot climates, flea market canopies are used by surfers and fishermen in Baja California. I used this 10′ x 12′ “peak unit” from Jenkins for several years on Baja beaches. Framework is 1 1/8″ electrical conduit put together with special fittings and wingnuts. Tarp is attached with ball bungees, fantastic fastening devices. Mine was held down by 4 canvas sacks filled with sand, hanging from the corner posts (rather than stakes). It all folded up and fit in the Yakima Rocket Box on top of my truck. The guys at Jenkins Crafted Canopies were great to deal with; good products, good service. —Lloyd Kahn

Hand-powered chain saw

Pocket Chain Saw

This little saw is excellent, fast cutting, light weight (at 3 oz without the case), and folds up small making it highly portable. It can quickly saw branches and trees up to about 4-6 inches in diameter with its 28 inch long chain.

To use it, wrap the chain around whatever you want to cut and then grab the handles and pull back and forth. This flexibility means that it can take on logs and branches too thick for smaller camp saws. I’ve used it in the back country as well as around the yard.

When one of the metal loops that attaches the saw to the handles came apart at the weld point the company very quickly responded by sending me a new set of loops. It’s an excellent product supported by a conscientious and responsive company. — Jaime Cobb


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