Latest Side-by-Side Comparison from Sport Fitness Advisor
Well today’s the first day of Spring here in North America – so I guess it’s time to get ready to get back outside in the great outdoors; and we all know what that means – Gear Preparation.
To get ready for the Hiking and Camping season everyone has their own routine. What we do is take out all our gear, check it over for usability, clean up anything that needs a little tender care and evaluate what we have against the newest gear available to see if our gear has either “aged out” or if there are new products on the market that are significantly better than what we have. This allows us to make sure that the gear we take with us works when we need it in the outback, and keeps us up to date on the latest items on the market. Checking over all of your gear at the beginning of the season doesn’t’ sound like a lot of fun – but trust us – it’s better to find out now that you need a new piece of gear rather than the day before a trip, or even worse, on the trip.
To compare our gear against what is currently on the market we always head to our local outdoor stores (to see as many items as possible in person) and to the internet to read the great gear reviews that are online. Of course, many items don’t change that much from year to year (we doubt that we’re ever going to replace our Council Tool Woodcraft 24" Pack Axe, Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade, Buck 110 or Army Survival Knife), but we always like to keep current with what’s out there “just in case”.
While we were checking our gear for the 2022 Spring/Summer/Fall season we were contacted by Jillian, an editor from Sport Fitness Advisor about a comprehensive guide that they had just published about the "Best Backpacking Stove".
Since our site focuses on the specific gear selections that work for us, and our specific situation, and provides our evaluation criteria and rationale for selecting our gear, we don’t provide detailed side-by-side comparisons of products. That doesn’t’ mean that we don’t read a lot of the websites that provide side-by-side product comparisons – because we most certainly do – we just find that many of these sites do this better than we would (because of the size of their staff and budget). So our HCS site has direct links to many of the sites that do specialize in detailed gear reviews, just in case you want to see the side-by-side comparisons. Of course, we love it even more when a site that has evaluated the latest gear reaches out to us to let us know about a comparison our readers would be interested in; like Sport Fitness Advisor did.
We really liked the "Best Backpacking Stove" article because it was comprehensive in covering what features you need and why you need them. And, as all of our readers know, we think that providing you the most important evaluation criteria is vital since it allows you to assess if your situation equates to the evaluators when you make your gear selection decision. If it does – fine. If it doesn’t - then you can use the detailed information to make a gear selection that better fits your specific situation.
Here’s what the Sport Fitness Advisor article covers:
For comparison’s sake our evaluation criteria for compact hiking/camping stoves include:
The 10 stoves that Sport Fitness Advisor covers in their article include:
We don’t want to give away their conclusions, so you should go read the "Best Backpacking Stove" article for yourself; it’s worth a few minutes of your time.
In addition to their recent article about the “Best Backpacking Stove” Sport Fitness Advisor has numerous other articles related to Hiking and Camping. You should go take a look.
If you would like to see another expert opinion on what the best backpacking stoves currently on the market are - you should check out Clever Hiker’s latest list of “Best Backpacking Stoves”; he’s always got great insight into the gear you need.
Best Pocket Knife Article from Sport Fitness Advisor
Last week Ray, one of the editors from Sport Fitness Advisor, dropped us a line to comment on some of the information that we have on our HCS website about knives. In his note Ray included a link to an article that they had recently published about Pocket Knives - to include their thoughts on the:
Although we’re not convinced that their pick of the Elk Ridge Personalized knife would be our pick for the best knife (but then that's the beauty of looking at and reviewing gear since it all depends on what you plan on using it for and what your specific selection criteria are), we really liked all the detailed FAQ explanations that they included in their article - especially since one of the things we always try to do is to detail the criteria we use to select our gear - and why we like the gear we eventually purchase.
The Sport Fitness Advisor article includes some great explanations on:
You can read the entire "Best Pocket Knife" article from Sport Fitness Advisor here.
In closing here’s our two cents on the best pocket knife topic. As you can see on our website’s Hiking and Camping pages we have several knives (and other bladed tools) for different jobs - but our favorite pocket knife is our Case Cutlery 135 Case Slimline Trapper. We also love our Buck 110 Auto.
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.
United Cutlery M48 Tactical War Hammer with Vortec Sheath
Over the years we’ve found that Hiking, Camping and Shooting gear comes in 4 categories:
1) Essential Necessities – Gear that you absolutely must have to even consider a Hiking, Camping or Shooting adventure. Gear like a good pair of hiking boots, a quality tent or hearing protection. Without these items you either can’t start your activity, or you risk having a bad outcome during the outing.
2) Need to Have Gear – This is gear that is one step up from the minimum necessary gear. Gear that you might get away with not having initially, but that really need to have to be prepared for the Hiking, Camping or Shooting activity. This type of gear includes items like a hiking first aid kit, lightweight trail food, a sleeping pad, slings or paper targets.
3) Nice to Have Gear – This category includes the gear that you invest in as you participate in more Hiking, Camping or Shooting adventures. You really don’t “have to have” this gear, but it makes doing the activity easier or more fun. In this category we would include a camera to take on your hikes, a good saw to take camping with you and a good range bag to keep all your stuff together when you go shooting.
4) Want to Have Gear – Finally there is the category that includes all the gear that you really don’t need – but want so much that you purchase it anyway. Here we include multiple compasses (since there’s always a better one out there on the market somewhere), another knife or other bladed tool (after all who doesn’t need a pocket knife, mid-sized locking blade knife, fixed blade survival knife, machete, hatchet, axe, etc.,), or another firearm that’s a different caliber or design than the ones that you already own.
In our opinion, the problem with being a long time Hiker, Camper and Shooter is that you quickly acquire the “essential necessities” and “need to have” items since they are what really make your adventures possible, practical and fun. Then, over the next several of years, you buy the “nice to have” items since they allow you to do more and make your adventures easier and more comfortable. After that you’re just gilding the lily by purchasing more and more gear that seems novel, better or just cool.
Well, we’ve been Hiking, Camping and Shooting for quite a while, so we are now clearly in Phase 4 – purchasing gear that we “want to have” – but really don’t need. Being in that mode leads to purchases like the United Cutlery M48 Tactical War Hammer with Vortec Sheath; an item that you can have a lot of fun with – but has no real practical value.
The M48 Tactical War Hammer (Item #: UC3069) is a hammer/axe combination with a 7 ¾” black oxide-coated stainless steel head (cast 2Cr13) with a 5-spiked war hammerhead on the face and a piercing spike on the back side. The hammer is 15 ½” in length and weighs 2 ¼ pounds. The hammer has a reinforced nylon handle that includes 30% fiberglass in its construction. The axe head is attached to the handle by three metal bolts. Since the hammer face and the rear spike are so sharp it comes with a Vortec Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR) cover for the entire head. The TPR cover folds in the middle so that you can easily put it on and take it off.
The design allows for comfortable one-handed use even though the hammer feels pretty solid and hefty when you are swinging it. The hammer face has four edge spikes and a thick central pyramid spike that gives it real smashing power. The backside spike is quite sharp and penetrates deeply into wood and everything else that we have used it on. Although it might be useful as a demolition tool, we just use it for fun (poor watermelons, pumpkins and cantaloupes). If you want to see the M48 Tactical War Hammer in action here’s a great video from Adam Celadin, a 4 time World Champion knife thrower, using it to destroy everything in sight.
You can buy the United Cutlery M48 Tactical War Hammer on Amazon.
In addition, if you like tactical bladed weapons, then you might want to check out United Cutlery’s entire M48 line of products at:
A Pocket Guide and Smart Phone App to Help You Identify Animal Tracks
Are you wondering who made all those tracks in the fresh snow? If so here's a great pocket guide to animal tracks. It shows both the track pattern (e.g. how the wildlife walks) and what the front and hind footprints look like. It even has a ruler so that you can measure the prints. It's a lot of great information on a single page.
If you want even more information about animal tracks - here's a link to the iPhone app that we use - "iTrack Wildlife Pro" by Jonah Evans. The app has detailed photos and information for 70 common mammals of North America, to include over 700 high quality track (with precise front and hind track drawings and detailed track, gait, and “similar species” descriptions for every animal), sign and animal photos with detailed captions. It even has 120 detailed skull photos for 41 of the species just in case you run across a skeleton during your adventures. The app also stores the Wikipedia page for each species so that no internet connection is required to obtain even more details about the animals.
The app allows you to search by the following criteria:
The 70 animals currently covered by the app are:
You can learn more about the app, and see more information about tracking, at the “Nature Tracking” website: http://www.naturetracking.com/
If you want to purchase this app you can get it at the Apple App Store or Google Play store. You can download the “iTrack Wildlife Lite“ app for free, the “iTrack Wildlife Basic” app for $4.99 or the “iTrack Wildlife Pro” app for $14.99. The Pro app may seem a little expensive – but if you’re serious about animal tracks you should spring for the extra cash because it's good.
Here’s the link to the Apple Store for iTrack Wildlife Pro:
Here’s the link to the Google Play Store for iTrack Wildlife Pro:
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
“Rex Specs” – What Your Best Friend Might Need on Your Outdoor Adventures
For those of you with dogs - you probably take them on your outdoor adventures with you. That can involve days of hiking/camping in the outback, hours in the water or in your canoe, playing in the snow, hunting in foul weather, climbing above the tree line, or even just hanging their head out of the car window on a long drive through the mountains.
There are probably times that due to the weather conditions you wear goggles. But what about your best friend? Well here's a solution - "Rex Specs"; goggles specifically made for dogs:
Rex Specs were developed because the company’s founders (Jesse & Aiden) dogs needed eye protection. A few years ago, both of their dogs were diagnosed with harmful eye conditions made worse by extended exposure to the sun. They were told by their vet that they either had to limit their dog’s time in the sun or find some sort of dog goggle. After a failed search for a dog goggle that could handle their adventures, they created Rex Specs.
If you have a dog that you adventure with you might want to check out their website:
Slide Fire Bump Fire Stocks
If you’re looking for something that is as close to the “full auto” experience as you can get without having to spend thousands of dollars on a pre-1986 firearm and submitting ATF NFA paperwork, then you might want to look into the bump fire stocks from Slide Fire.
Since the stocks are not considered adjustable stocks or trigger manipulation devices they’ve been legally certified by the ATF. In addition, since their launch in 2010, Slide Fire has not been notified by any individual state that their products conflict with any state laws. You can even download a copy of the BATFE’s approval letter on the Slide Fire website.
To use the Slide Fire stock the operator places their finger on the stock’s trigger rest and pulls the firearm forward so that the trigger collides with the stabilized finger, firing the first round of ammunition in the chamber. The recoil force from the discharging ammunition pushes the firearm rearward so that the trigger separates from the stabilized finger and then the process starts again. The intensity of the forward activation force can be varied by the user on-the-fly to change the firing tempo.
You can check out all the details about the Slide Fire bump fire stocks here:
Klymit Sleeping Pads
These days there are lots of different sleeping pads on the market and they come in all shapes, sizes and materials. The brand that we use happened to be at the Great American Outdoor Show so we talked to them about their latest products.
As you can see from the picture Klymit’s sleeping pads look different from most of the other sleeping pads out there because of their distinctive “V shaped chambers”. The shape of these chambers minimize air movement and their ergonomic design and dynamic side rails cushion and cradle you to keep you on the pad better and increase your comfort while you are sleeping.
We like the fact that Klymit’s products come in a variety of styles to support different needs. Their standard pad is 23” wide – but they also have one that is 30” wide. They even have a pad for two that is 47” wide. Their standard pad is 72” long, but they also have a Junior pad that is 50.4” long. For extra insulation, without adding much additional weight, they have insulated pads that are filled with warm, light Klymalite™ synthetic insulation. To cut the weight in half from the standard ~20 ounces to less than 10 ounces they have skeletal frame pads. So if you are looking for a new sleeping pad you might want to check out what Klymit has on the market.
You can check out all the details about Klymit’s sleeping pads here:
CampMaid Dutch Oven Set
At the Great American Outdoor Show there was all sorts of gear for every type of backcountry camping adventure – to include tent camping, car camping, pop-up trailer camping and RV camping. Although we most often go tent camping, in some National/State Parks you have to pitch your tent close to your car. When you have this situation you can take some heavier items with you since you don’t have to backpack them in.
One of the items that falls into the category of nice to have if you don’t have to carry it very far is a Dutch Oven – especially if you want to eat better food than a freeze-dried pouch can deliver. CampMaid’s outdoor Dutch Oven combo pack allows you to really show off your cooking skills. The Dutch Oven set can function as a griddle, smoker, grill, steamer, pizza oven, frying pan, and baking pot. To make it easy to use the oven has a patented “Grab-and-Hold” design that allows you to safely remove your lid without needing gloves. The “Grab-and-Hold” also secures the lid and coals so that you can easily stir and serve while keeping the lid free from dirt and debris.
You can check out all the details about the CampMaid Dutch Oven 6 piece outdoor combo set here:
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