Giorgia Hofer Photography
One of the things that we love the most about the outback is the clear night skies that allow you to see the moon and dramatic star scenes that are not visible from most locations due to light pollution. Many people try to capture the beauty of these sights, but in our opinion, few are as successful as Giorgia Hofer, an Italian photographer that’s a member of the Cortina Astronomical Association.
One of her photos that we really like is “Lunar Curve”, which shows the position and phases of the moon over 28 days. Each individual photo was taken from the same location at the same time of day.
Here’s a video showing some of Giorgia beautiful work; “Starry Nights in the Dolomites”:
If you want to see more of her spectacular nighttime photos, here are direct links to Giorgia’s website:
- Nightscapes: https://www.giorgiahoferphotography.com/nightscapes
- Moon: https://www.giorgiahoferphotography.com/moon
- Astrophotography: https://www.giorgiahoferphotography.com/astrophoto
Knots You Need to Know and Help to Remember How to Tie Them
This week we ran across an interesting article discussing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) new mathematical model which predicts a knot's stability; “A New Mathematical Model Predicts a Knot's Stability”
To examine the issue MIT mathematicians and engineers developed a mathematical model that predicts how stable a knot is based on several key properties, including the number of crossings and the direction in which the rope segments twist as the knot is pulled tight. "Empirical knowledge refined over centuries has crystallized out what the best knots are," said Mathias Kolle, the Rockwell International Career Development Associate Professor at MIT. But what exactly makes one knot more stable than another has not been well-understood, until now. "And now the model shows why."
In comparing the diagrams of knots of various strengths, the researchers were able to identify general "counting rules," or characteristics that determine a knot's stability. Basically, a knot is stronger if it has more strand crossings, as well as more "twist fluctuations" - changes in the direction of rotation from one strand segment to another. For instance, if a fiber segment is rotated to the left at one crossing and rotated to the right at a neighboring crossing as a knot is pulled tight, this creates a twist fluctuation and thus opposing friction, which adds stability to a knot. If, however, the segment is rotated in the same direction at two neighboring crossing, there is no twist fluctuation, and the strand is more likely to rotate and slip, producing a weaker knot. They also found that a knot can be made stronger if it has more "circulations," which they define as a region in a knot where two parallel strands loop against each other in opposite directions, like a circular flow.
If you do any Camping, and to a lesser extent Hiking, then a working knowledge of the most commonly used knots is essential. Based on our years of experience the 10 knots that we think it is critical for you to absolutely know are:
The problem is that there’s actually a lot to remember, especially if a significant amount of time passes between you actually tying these knots. So we use two items to help our memory as needed, and to give us information on other knots too. The first is the Ultimate Survival Technologies (UST’s) “Learn & Live” Knots card which has instructions and illustrations on how to tie 11 commonly used knots. You can see the details on this card, and the other 5 credit card sized cards that we think are valuable to have, on our Hiking/Emergency Supplies page.
The second item that we use to help us with knot knowledge is the “Knots 3D” app. What a great tool this is! The $4.99 standalone app (i.e. no internet required) by Nynix is worth every penny since it shows you in detail how to tie 135 knots.
The app includes the following information on each knot: best uses, other names that the knot is also known as, related knots, “Ashley Book of Knots” (ABOK) number, classification, structure, strength and reliability and a 3D animated video showing the knot being tied. In addition, the app allows you to:
The Knots 3d app’s ability to rotate a knot to see the front, back and everything in-between is indispensable and provides interactivity you can't get from a knot book’s static photographs. You can get the app at the Apple Store, Google Play Store, or Amazon Store.
If you’re looking for other good information on knots used for camping, or survival, here are four good online articles that we recommend you take a look at:
5 Best Survival Knots – Strong Life Saving Knots You Need To Know
Camping Knots: 6 Essential Knots Every Camper Needs to Know
The 7 Most Useful Survival Knots You Need to Know
Essential Knots: How to Tie the 20 Knots You Need to Know
Where the Moose Are and What to Do If you See One on the Trails
Back in March I wrote a blog about the expanding bear population here in New England (“It’s Springtime and That Means the Bears Are Out"). Now, based on the latest Wildlife survey, it’s clear that bears aren’t the only large mammal increasing in population in the area since the number of moose in the area is evidently growing too.
Although moose in Massachusetts were nearly hunted into extinction during the Colonial era and 19th century, after hunting was regulated in the early 1900's their population began to rebound. "It was a slow progression from Maine to New Hampshire to Vermont, and then started to show up in Massachusetts in the 1960's and 1970's. But it wasn't really until the late 1990's and early 2000's that we started having moose year-round." - Moose biologist David Stainbrook of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Over the past four years there have been hundreds of moose incidents (to include sightings, injuries and deaths) in Massachusetts. Here’s a map showing where the moose are concentrated and another showing the specific locations where moose have been sighted, or sadly died – mostly due to impacts with cars since moose are taller than deer so headlights don’t normally reflect off of their eyes making them harder to see at night.
Here's a more in depth article on the resurgence of moose in our area:
If you want all the details on the Massachusetts Moose population, and other detailed fish and wildlife statistics, here’s the link to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s 2018 Annual Report.
Since the probability of a sighting is increasing, if you do see a moose while you’re out on a hike, you should know that they're not typically dangerous. But it's still good to give them plenty of space — and definitely keep any dogs hiking with you away from the moose. Although rare, you can tell if a moose will become aggressive by its body language. Here are 7 signs to look for (from Emergency Essentials Blog – “7 Signs You’re Going to be Attacked by a Moose”):
The Appalachian Mountain Club also has some good information in their article titled “Do You Know How to Respond to a Moose Encounter?”
We routinely see deer, coyotes, black bears, foxes, turkeys, fischer cats, beavers, wood chucks and even a few bobcats in our neck of the woods. I guess we’ll have to start being on the lookout for moose too.
A.G. Russell Knives
While we were spending time in Arkansas in October we had a chance to stop by a great knife company that most knife aficionados know about – but that many other people that like hiking, camping and shooting do not; “A.G. Russell Knives”.
A.G. Russell Knives was established in 1964 and runs the oldest mail order knife business, the oldest knife collectors club and the oldest after-market knife business. They make shopmade knives in their headquarters in Rogers, Arkansas and have their own brand of A.G. Russell knives that are produced around the world. Their store also carries all the major knife brands such as Benchmade, CRKT, Kershaw, Buck, Case, SOG and others – and many different blades from handmade knife makers such as Randall Knives, Bob Dozier, Keith Murr, Dietmar Kressler, William Henry, Arno Bernard, and others.
Although they have a store at their shop location, the bulk of their business is done online. Currently they have over 1,500 different knives on their website (https://agrussell.com/).
One of the things that we like about the A.G Russell website is, that in addition to their products, they are big supporters of the “knife community”. In this vein their website also has some great general information that makes it a good source for knife terms and steel formulations. Here’s some high level information on, and links to, their “Knife Encyclopedia” and “Steel Charts”.
Knife Encyclopedia: To assist knife lovers A.G. Russell thought that putting together a set of terms and drawings/photos about knives would be helpful to his customers. So he contacted Walter Gardiner, the President of Schrade Cutlery, who sent him their "Handbook of Knife Knowledge and Terms" along with Schrade’s approval to put it online. A.G. Russell took many of terms from the Schrade handbook and used it to start an online encyclopedia. Here are the links to the encyclopedia, the fixed blade knife types page and the blade shape page:
Knife Encyclopedia: https://agrussell.com/encyclopedia
Fixed Blade Types: https://agrussell.com/encyclopedia/fixed-blade-knife-types
Blade Shapes: https://agrussell.com/encyclopedia/blade-shapes
Steel Chart: Because of the explosion in the types of steel formulations used to make knives, in 1988 A.G. Russell posted a knife steel chart online. They continue to routinely update the chart in an attempt to keep it up to date with the ever expanding number of steel formulations. Here are the links to both the Stainless Steel and Non-Stainless Steel charts:
Stainless Steel Chart: https://agrussell.com/chart
Non-Stainless Steel Chart: https://agrussell.com/chart/non-stainless
While we were in their store we purchased an A. G. Russell “Agents Office” Knife. The lockback folding knife has a tear drop shape handle with a double ground dagger-like blade (it is only sharp on one side) made from 8Cr13MoV with a 57-59 Rc. hardness. The handle is made of Mother of Pearl with Abalone spacers. The liners, bolsters and caps, and lock bar are all stainless steel. The knife has a 3” blade and measures 3 7/8” closed. It weighs ~2.9 ounces. It also has a leather lanyard through the butt and comes with a leather pouch with a pocket clip. It’s a beauty!
To complement their main website, A.G. Russell also has an online marketplace that “provides a unique service to knife owners who decide to sell knives they own or knife buyers looking for that special knife that is extremely popular or hard to find.”; The Cutting Edge® (http://www.cuttingedge.com/). For over forty-five years, The Cutting Edge® has been the largest aftermarket for knives of all kinds. Most of these knives are owned by individuals and A.G. Russell sells them on consignment.
As if that wasn’t enough, in 1998 A.G. Russell began Russell's For Men (https://russellsformen.com/) “because we appreciate high quality personal products, but could not find the quality we wanted. Then we realized that a lot of our customers were having similar problems finding items that their grandfathers enjoyed. Fine leather goods, watches, gun accessories, home art, and office items are just a few of the many categories of products we carry.”
In addition to founding the company and designing most of their early knives, A.G. Russell was a recognized leader in the knife making industry. His accomplishments and honors included:
Although A. G. Russell III passed away in 1998, his expertise and designs live on in the current A.G. Russell knives. You really ought to look at their websites; they’ll definitely have something that you’ll want to buy.
UST Hammer Beast Multi-Tool
Like most of the outdoor enthusiasts that we know, we’re always on the lookout for Hiking, Camping and Shooting gear that serves a useful purpose – even if we don’t really need it. Well last week we ran across just such a piece of gear; the UST Hammer Beast Multi-Tool.
Unlike most multi-tools, the UST Hammer Beast is built around a smooth-faced hammer instead of pliers like Leatherman-type tools. The Hammer Beast also has ten other tools to include: pliers, wire cutter, flat head screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, nail puller, file, saw, knife blade, bottle opener and a wrench. The tool has a durable anodized aluminum handle for rust resistance and it’s orange so that you can easily spot it if you drop it in the backcountry. The Hammer Beast measures 5.75 x 1.75 x 0.6 inches and weighs 10.8 ounces.
Here’s a photo that will give you a good look at all of the tools when they are open:
So if you’ve got room in your pack, or travel kit that you take with you when you’re hiking or camping, you ought to check it out. You can purchase the “UST Hammer Beast Multi-Tool” at Amazon.
Lansky QuadSharp Knife Sharpener
Since a sharp knife is critical to so many outdoor activities, we have lots of tools to try to keep our cutting edges as honed as possible. That leads to us having several ways to sharpen our blades – from files and 6,000 grit whetstones to use at home - to small sharpening stones to use in the field (as can be seen on our Camping/Tools page).
We recently added another small tool to our kit; the “Lansky QuadSharp Knife Sharpener” since it’s a compact tool specifically made to maintain your knives at the exact angle you need their edges to be while you’re in the field. The QuadSharp has preset carbide “V” grooves for four sharpening angles to help you sharpen your blade in 3 or 4 strokes:
The QuadSharp also has a sturdy metal body, an 800 grit ceramic benchstone for fine polishing, and can be used on regular, serrated (by sharpening one serration at a time by pulling the ceramic element against the grooved side of the serration) and filet knives. Measuring 4 ½” x 1 ½” x 3/8”, and weighing ~3 ounces, the QuadSharp is a small tool that’s easy to add to your gear and easy to use in the field when you can’t get to a larger sharpening stone.
You can purchase the “Lansky QuadSharp Knife Sharpener” at Amazon.
A High Level Overview of the AT
If you live on the East Coast of the United States, and like to hike and camp, you undoubtedly know about the Appalachian Trail (AT) at some level; you may have even hiked a section of it. But since it’s so big how do you really sort out what you want to see? Where to hike or camp to see it? And how to go about planning and taking your trip? We’re lucky enough to live near 6 of the States that the AT traverses (and are within reasonable driving distance of 3 of the other states) so here’s some information that we have complied over the years to help us with our AT adventures.
First off, some background information about the Appalachian Trail. As the world's longest “hiking only” trail, the AT is approximately 2,192 miles (3,527 km) of footpaths along the ridge crests and major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains - from Katahdin (Baxter Peak) in Maine to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia – crossing the boundaries of 14 States as it meanders along the East Coast.
The States that contain some part of the AT are:
Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, today the AT is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers in thirty hiking clubs performing trail maintenance. The AT was designated as the first National Scenic Trail by the National Trails System Act of 1968, covers ~250,000 acres (1,000 km²), sees approximately 3 million visitors each year and would take an average person 165 days to thru-hike (although Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy, a speed hiker, hiked it in 45 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes in 2017 – a feat that we don’t recommend).
If you hike the entire AT you would cover approximately 464,500 feet in vertical elevation as you went up and down along the trail.
To keep people on the trail the AT is marked for daylight travel in both directions using a system of “white blazes”, rectangles of white paint approximately 2 inches wide and 6 inches high on trees and other objects such as posts and rocks. There are ~165,000 white blazes on the trail.
If you’re serious about planning a hike along the AT then here are the primary resources that you might want to consult for maps, hiking/camping information, weather, fees, rules, required gear and all other manner of vital information:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
National Park Service
National Park Foundation
WhiteBlaze.net - a community of Appalachian Trail Enthusiasts
Appalachian Mountain Club
Appalachian Trail Distance Calculator
Appalachian Trail Mileage Chart
If you’re in New England, like we are, another great resource is the Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter’s website – especially the page for their Hiking/Backpacking Committee:
Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter
Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter Hiking/Backpacking Committee
Finally, here’s Backpacker Magazine’s write-up about the Appalachian Trail and the definitive book about the Appalachian trail “Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion – 2019. They both have lots of great information about what to expect and how to go about hiking the AT – especially if you are planning a thru-hike of the entire AT.
Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion - 2019
Mountain Weekly News's list of "The 36 Best Books About the Outdoors"
If you’re looking for some interesting Summer reading (to either take on the trail with you or to just take to the couch with you), here's Mountain Weekly News's list of "The 36 Best Books About the Outdoors".
We liked their list a lot because it has quite a bit of variety - both on topics and geographically - and it's not just the usual list of "How To" books; which, no matter how good, get a little repetitive after reading a few in a row. Here’s the complete list of the books on their list by category.
Adventure Stories (9 books)
Climbing (3 books)
Environment (2 books)
Fitness (3 books)
Hiking and Camping (12 books)
Hunting and Fishing (2 books)
Mountain Biking (2 books)
Survival (3 books)
You can read their summary reviews of each book here:
Hopefully reading a couple of these books will give you even more motivation to get out on the trails and into the backcountry!
“Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning"
Everybody thinks that they know what a drowning person looks like - since we've all seen in on TV and in the movies hundreds of times.
But they’re WRONG! You learn this during lifeguard training – unfortunately most people don't have this training.
To help you identify the differences between Hollywood fantasy and reality here's a great article by Mario Vittone (updated online on “Soundings” on 4 May 2018) that describes the "Instinctive Drowning Response" and what a real drowning person looks like in the water.
SPOILER ALERT: A drowning person does not flail their arms and scream “Help Me!” at the top of their lungs since they are too busy trying to breathe, avoiding getting water in their mouth and can’t really control their arm motions since they instinctively feel compelled to place them flat on the water to try to press themselves out of the water.
With Summer quickly approaching you might want to read Mario Vittone’s great article so that you're a little better prepared when you hit the water. Here’s the URL:
Preparing for Hiking and Camping as Winter Ends
The last remnants of snow are finally melting here in our part of New England – so it’s time to get serious about preparing for our Spring, Summer and Fall Hiking and Camping adventures. Given that we did some casual Winter hiking, in both the snow (to see the beauty of Nature after the big snowfalls) and on days when the trails were mostly clear between snowfalls, we’re not totally out of shape – but we’re also probably not ready to hike the most challenging parts of Mount Washington. So what’s our plan?
Like most of you, we’re not professional hikers and consequently don’t have days of spare time each week to dedicate to training for our Hiking or Camping trips. So we try to train as efficiently as we can in the time that our schedules allow. And that training isn’t just for leg endurance – it also has to include strength and balance. So here’s what we do:
1) We start walking outside as soon as the snow melts and the local sidewalks and trails clear. It’s never too early to start Spring training – we just prefer to do it when there’s no snow on the ground since we find that it’s more efficient and we’re more motivated since we can watch Spring arrive as we walk. Try to take walks and short hikes at least three times a week.
2) Any walking is better than no walking. So we walk whenever we can – and we take the stairs where ever possible. After all, we’ve all seen those rocky uphill trails that look just like stairs – and leg-based cardio is a critical part of your training.
3) Since you’ll probably have a variety of different adventures during the upcoming months, it pays to give yourself up to a month to initially train. That way you can cover all your bases and be in reasonable shape (e.g. leg strength, arm strength, core strength, endurance, etc.,) before you hit the trails for the first time.
4) Since two of the most common hiking injuries are ankle sprains and rolling an ankle we try to make sure that we don’t just walk on flat terrain – especially since that’s not what you will find on your “real” hikes. We like to mix up our training terrain walks so that some of them are on flat ground, some hilly, some rocky, some uphill and some downhill. The better you can replicate the type of terrain that you will ultimately be hiking on during your training walks – the more prepared your body will be for what’s to come.
5) As with number #4, you need to walk in different weather conditions too – since that’s going to be the reality of your real adventures. Although this isn’t always the most exciting proposition, think of it as a great way to test out your gear. Are your boots waterproof enough? Does your jacket breathe when it gets wet? Do you need more or less layers of clothes? Do you need different socks for different weather conditions? Finding these things out on a short walk close to home is a lot better than dealing with them in the outback.
6) Wear the same boots that you plan on wearing on your Hiking adventures. This serves two purposes a) it makes sure that your boots are broken in and adapted to your feet, and b) it gets your legs used to the weight of the boots. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people complain on the trails that their boots feel so heavy only to find out that’s because they did all their training in lightweight running shoes.
7) In addition to walking you should probably plan on doing some crunches to build your core strength, some push-ups to build your upper body/arm strength, some step-ups to build up your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings, and any other exercises that you think are applicable to the type of adventures you are planning (i.e. training for rock climbing requires different exercises than kayaking).
8) And finally, you should train with your backpack. Yes this might look a little odd when you are walking around your neighborhood, but trust us – you need to do this since the last thing you want to do is put on a 40 pound backpack for the first time when you hit the trail for that 3-day camping trip. Hint: A fully loaded backpack should probably not weigh more than 20% of your body weight.
As always, there are lots of great articles out there on the internet that will give you all sorts of ideas about how to get ready for Hiking and Camping season. Here are six that we found interesting:
1) How to Get in Shape and Train for Hiking
2) Training for Hiking
3) Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking and Hiking
4) How to Train for Hiking
5) Ultimate Hiking Workout: 6 Best Training Exercises for Hiking
6) How to Prepare for Your Trekking Adventure: Our 10-Step Training Guide
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