Enhancing Your Backwoods Navigation Skills
When we’re in the outback, especially the deep outback, we like to have all the necessary navigation tools that we can (e.g. trail map, compass, GPS app, etc.,) to make sure that we successfully find our way to where we are going. But, in addition to having these tools, you need to have the knowledge related to how to use them, and the basic knowledge of how to read the signs of the wilderness around you.
So, if you're looking to enhance your backwoods navigation skills, you might want to check out Tristan Gooley's "The Natural Navigator" website. The site gives some great tips on how to use the Sun, moon, stars, sea, plants, animals and weather to help you find your way. The website has lots of great information and write-ups on how to navigate in the wild; it even has tips about how to navigate in a city and in extreme environments.
You can check out “The Natural Navigator” at: https://www.naturalnavigator.com/
If you want to read a brief overview of natural navigation, here’s a good article, written by Sommer Mathis for Atlas Obscura back on 25 July 2017, that provides a good overview – “An Animated Guide to Nature’s Best Wayfinding Secrets”. The article covers five of Tristan’s favorite natural navigation tricks:
You can read the entire Atlas Obscura article here:
If you want to learn even more than is covered in the brief Atlas Obscura article, or what is written on Tristan’s website, you might want to check out one (or more) of the books that Tristan has written to share his knowledge and expound on his point of view:
What’s the Right Saw for You?
After I posted the blog about getting a new Silky Ultra Accel Curved Blade Folding Saw (Large Teeth 240mm, 446-24) for Christmas I received a few questions asking about the pros and cons of different types of saws and how a person should go about choosing a saw. So I thought that I would take a crack at answering those questions in this blog post. Note: We also have a Chainmate CM-24SSP 24-Inch Survival Pocket Chain Saw. You can see the details related to both of these saws on the Camping/Tools page.
Types of Saws Overview
First of all there are three basic types saws to consider when looking for a saw to take with you into the outback (specifically excluding the typical “wood shop” hand saw – which is great for construction at your house – but lousy in the woods):
1) Bow Saws
2) Folding Saws
3) Pocket Chain Saws
Since each of these types of camping saws are significantly different let me touch on their advantages and disadvantages.
Bow Saws – Bow saws are probably the most efficient type of camping saws. A reputable brand’s saw will have a stronger frame, more clearance and longer blades, improving your ability to cut larger logs and green wood. The biggest advantages of bow saws are that they are sturdy and efficient. The biggest disadvantages are that they are heavier, oddly shaped and do not pack very well. To address these disadvantages there are several folding bow saws on the market, but in our opinion these hybrid designs decrease the effectiveness of the saw (mostly due to the reduced clearance space between the saw blade and the frame) and only partially solve the packing issue since you have to reassemble the saw to use it. If I was in a stationary campsite, I would choose a bow saw because of their stability and efficiency – but a bow saw would not be my choice if I’m hiking and camping due to their packing shortfalls. If you want to check out bow saws you might look at the following 8 popular ones:
Folding Saws – Folding saws are our preferred type of saw for camping since they do the best job of balancing cutting efficiency and packability. There are lots of folding saws on the market, but we prefer saws that cut on the “pull stroke” instead of saws that cut on the “push stroke”. In our experience the fatal flaw on most folding saws is the thickness (or thinness) of the blade. On pull stroke saws there is less pressure on the blade when it is cutting since it is being pulled back toward you. Whereas on saws that cut on the push stroke there is maximum pressure on the blade when it is being pushed forward to cut. Often times this causes the saw blade to flex and bend/break if it binds up while cutting. In contrast, if a pull stroke saw binds while cutting it just gets stuck – without bending/breaking the blade. The biggest tradeoff on folding saws is the length of the blade since that dictates what size wood you can cut and how long/heavy the folded saw is. We think that you need a blade that is at least 8 to 9 inches long to be effective. The other critical component of a folding saw is the handle – so make sure that you have one with an ergonomic design that fits your hand (diameter, length and material) and how you saw. Also make sure that the saw has a mechanism that locks the blade into position when it is in use since there are few things more painful than having a saw blade cut into your hand while sawing. If you want to check out folding saws you might look at the following 8 popular ones:
Pocket Chain Saws – Pocket Chain Saws are just what they sound like; a chain similar to that on a gas-powered chain saw that is driven by you pulling back and forth instead of a motor. The critical considerations on a chain saw are the length (since that determines what size wood you can cut) and durability (since the only component is the chain and a cheap one will either quickly wear out or break). If weight is an overwhelming consideration then a pocket chain saw is a good option since it will pack into a small pouch (approximately 3" x 4" x 2"), weighs only 3 to 4 ounces and will get the job done on any reasonable sized log that you want to cut. The biggest shortfall of the pocket chain saw is that it really can only be used for rough sawing of wood; you can’t easily use it for cutting notches or joints. So if you are using it for bushcraft activities it might suffice for the getting the timber – but not for the finer cuts. If you want to check out pocket chain saws you might look at the following 4 popular ones:
Selecting the Right Saw for You
So now that we’ve covered the basic differences between saw types, what factors should you evaluate when looking for a saw to take with you on your outback adventures? Although the evaluation factors differ a little depending the type of saw you prefer, in general we think that you should look at the following: 1) length, 2) strength, 3) weight, 4) number/type of teeth on saw, 5) diameter of log that can be cut, 6) durability, 7) ergonomic design, 8) ease of blade replacement and 9) cost.
Of course one of the most critical items on a saw are the teeth on the blade. The standard way manufacturers measure the teeth on a blade is by the inch - often listed as “teeth per inch” (TPI). In addition to the number of teeth, the size of the teeth is also a factor. Larger teeth (and lower TPI) typically provide faster cutting and are better at cutting softer wood and smaller teeth (higher TPI) are good for cutting harder wood. Blades with 2-8 TPI are good for ripping soft woods with the grain. Medium blades with 10-20 TPI are for crosscutting and moderately hard materials. Fine blades with 20-30 TPI (not really applicable to camp saws) are for very hard materials and/or very precise cuts.
If you want to see more detailed information, and reviews, about saws here are some good articles/websites to checkout:
Silky Ultra Accel Curved Blade Folding Saw, Large Teeth 240mm, 446-24
Like most of you we got some new gear for Christmas. One of the best items was a new Silky Ultra Accel Curved Blade folding saw. Although we normally use wood that either is deadfall, or is easily chopped with our hatchet or pack axe, sometimes we find that we need to saw something. If pack weight is not an overriding consideration the best option is a folding saw. As with all of the Silky curved blade outdoor saws, these are pure Japanese pull stroke saws with Silky's proprietary tooth design. While technically there is some cutting done on the push stroke, it is very minimal. The saw will easily cut through logs up to 6” in diameter, and larger logs if you can either rotate the log or vary your cutting position.
You can find the details about the Silky Ultra Accel Curved Blade Folding Saw on the Camping/Tools page.
"Know Before You Go" (KBYG) Online Avalanche Education Program
Just in time for winter the Utah Avalanche Center has produced a new set of Avalanche safety classes and made them available online.
The free "Know Before You Go" (KBYG) online avalanche education program was specifically made to help people learn about avalanches and the best way to ski, ride and hike in avalanche terrain safely.
There are 5 interactive courses designed to help everyone learn the principles needed to be safer and more confident in the avalanche terrain.
You can find out more at both the “Know Before You Go” and the Utah Avalanche Center websites.
Packing Lighter for Endurance and Speed
These days many people are not just out there backpacking, they’re lightweight, ultra-lightweight and super-ultra-lightweight backpacking so that they can travel further and faster. So what are the definitions of lightweight, ultra-lightweight and super-ultra-lightweight backpacking, and what gear do you need to jettison from your normal load to give it a go?
The short answer is that for lightweight backpacking your “base pack” should weigh less than 20 pounds. Ultra-lightweight requires a base pack weight of less than 10 pounds and super-ultra-lightweight requires a base pack that weighs less than 5 pounds. Note that “base pack weight” refers to the weight of all the items in your backpack, including the backpack, with the exception of your consumables (food, water and fuel). Base pack weight also doesn't include the clothing that you are wearing to hike. Alternatively “skin-out weight” refers to everything in your pack plus your consumables and the clothes that you are wearing. In other words, skin-out weight is what you weigh with your clothes and backpack on - minus the weight of your naked body. But there’s a lot more to Lightweight, Ultra-lightweight and Super-ultra-lightweight backpacking.
Luckily one of our website’s readers found a great article on Angie’s List (thanks Steven and Stephanie - who knew that they had hiking articles on Angie’s List) that summarizes this trend and provides lots of links to other websites to give you all the necessary information to get you started. Since the article nicely aligns with our thoughts on the topic we thought that we would pass it along - "Ultralight Backpacking: Keeping the Packing List Short". You can find the article here:
….and here’s a complete listing of the 21 links that the article references:
1) Start Lightweight Backpacking
2) Ultralight Backpacking Guide (How to Easily Conquer Lightweight Hiking)
3) Working Gear List: The Big Three
4) The Big Three: How to Lighten Your Backpack, Sleeping Bag and Shelter
5) Lightweight Backpacking Step 2: The Big Three
6) Ultralight Makeover
7) How Much Should Your pack Weigh?
8) A Weekend Backpacking Checklist for First-Timers
9) Lightweight Backpacking: The Big Three
10) How to Pick Your Big Three
11) Water for Hiking
13) How to Cut Water Weight: A Backpacker's Guide to Hydration
14) Ultralight Backpacking: 10 Tips for Shaving Weight Without Sacrificing Comfort
15) Tips for Lightening Your Backpacking Load
16) How to Calculate Backpack Weight with LighterPack
17) Organize Your Backpacking Trip
18) How to Pack and Organize a Backpack for a Euro Trip
19) Long-Distance Hiking: Lessons from the Appalachian Trail
20) Pack Like a Pro: Ultralight Backpacking with Scott Robertson
21) Making the Switch to Ultralight Backpacking
If you read the article you’ll see that many of the embedded links talk about the need to first sort out your backpack, shelter and sleeping bag/system (the “big three”) since they are the absolute required gear and weigh the most. After that, assuming that you still have remaining weight allowance, you need to add water, food, fuel, cooking/eating utensils, first aid kit, etc.
So, if you’re interested in challenging yourself with a Lightweight, Ultra-lightweight or Super-ultra-lightweight backpacking adventure, look over all this great information and get out there…….
Seirus Innovation 1171 Mens Xtreme Waterproof All Weather Form Fit Glove with Soundtouch Touch Screen Technology
If you’re outdoors, and the weather is both cold and wet, one invaluable piece of gear that you need is a good pair of waterproof gloves – especially here in New England. The only problem is that many waterproof gloves don’t breathe, don’t allow you to have good dexterity and aren’t sturdy enough for actually doing real work - like chopping wood.
Recently we’ve spent a fair amount of time looking for a good pair of waterproof gloves and finally found a pair that we liked; the Seirus Innovation 1171 Mens Xtreme Waterproof gloves. We like the fact that they provide a tight fit and have a tall wrist cuff that keeps out the cold air and snow – while allowing us the dexterity to use tools in the cold.
You can find the details about the Seirus Mens Xtreme Waterproof gloves on the Camping/Tools page.
Another Good Source for Gear Reviews, Gear Checklists and Outdoor Knowledge
These days there’s lots of information related to Hiking, Camping and Shooting gear on the internet – some of it good and detailed - and some of it superficial and just plain wrong. Since we like to help our readers save time by focusing on information from good online resources (instead of wasting your time surfing all over and filtering out bad resources) we list the best sites that we find on our website under the heading of “Other Helpful Information Sources”.
Because the content on the internet is constantly changing, we also update our references when we find new ones that we like. Recently the folks at MyOpenCountry.com found our website online and reached out to us to us since we both love the Outdoors and share a common point of view. We hadn’t seen their site before so we looked it over and really liked the information that they were putting online.
We especially liked that they had a specific sections for “Hiking & Camping Gear”, “Hiking & Camping Tips & Guides" and “Trip Inspiration” – much like the content on our site.
In addition to all of their other content, the folks at My Open Country just published a great detailed article with their point of view on the gear you need for Hiking titled "What to Carry: 3 Season Hiking Gear Checklist”; they even included a downloadable checklist to make things easier for you.
Their article starts with some "Quick Tips: Do's & Don’ts" and then the covers the areas listed below in more detail:
So, if you’re searching for another great outdoor information source, you might want to take a look at, and bookmark, MyOpenCountry.com.
If you want to see our latest gear checklists you can download PDF versions of them here:
Disaster Preparedness Gear
When Will the Trees Get Their Peak Fall Colors in Your Neck of the Woods?
Since Fall is now officially here - it's time to start looking at all the beautiful Autumn colors. Luckily there’s a great online resource that you can use to see when the tree colors should peak anywhere in the US on a “Fall Foliage Prediction Map”.
Here’s what they are predicting for the upcoming week:
And it looks like they are predicting the week of 15 October will be the peak for “leaf-peeping” here in New England:
If you want to see what the predictions are for your part of the country, or a part of the country that you plan to visit to see the beautiful fall colors, then you can check it out the on the following website:
How to Never Have a Serious Poison Ivy Rash Again
Well, now that Summer is in full swing, all the plants are growing like crazy here in New England; even the poison ivy (and it's cousins poison oak and poison sumac). So if you want to enjoy hiking and camping in the woods, but avoid getting a serious poison ivy rash what should you do?
The first thing that you need to know is that you don't get poison ivy rash from contacting a poison ivy plant - you get it because you didn't wash off the Urushiol oil that comes from contacting the plant or another object that contacted the plant.
Urushiol oil in poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac is what produces a severe skin rash. Timely removal of the urushiol oil will prevent poison ivy skin reaction. Clean your skin within 2 to 8 hours of contact. When doing this, the most important thing is not the type of soap that you use - but that you use a wash cloth to apply vigorous friction to make sure that you get all the sticky urushiol oil off of your skin. To make sure that you do this it's a good idea to soap up and wash off 3 times.
Here's a great video from retired biomedical scientist Jim Brauker that clearly demonstrates the poison ivy problem and solution.
Bought New Buck 110 Auto
Many times in the outback we find that we need to cut something - but have our hands full because they are holding other items – normally the items that we are trying to cut. In situations like this you need a knife that has the ability to flip open or open automatically. Because of this, although we have several other knives in our gear, we recently purchased a Buck 110 Auto.
You can find the details about the Buck 110 Auto on the Camping/Tools page.
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