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
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
How Do You Say “Hi”?
We all pass people on the trails as we hike – so this was too funny not to post.
Video by Alex Hommes - Operations Manager for the Silverado Shooting Academy
We’re always learning and looking for new sources of knowledge about both our gear and our techniques for all facets of Hiking, Camping and Shooting. Recently we came across a great video by Alex Hommes, the Operations Manager for the Silverado Shooting Academy (www.SilveradoShootingAcademy.com) in Orange County California about “The Secret to Mastering the Handgun”.
In the 18:57 minute video Alex covers the essential facts about shooting a handgun, and what you need to do to consistently hit what you are aiming at. The core of Alex’s video is that mechanical technique is 10% of the shooting process and that mental discipline is the other 90%. The problem that most people have with the mental part is due to the fact that we all have a natural aversion to holding onto things that explode. This aversion causes many people to lose their sight picture at the exact moment that they reach the trigger breakpoint – causing them to pull their aim off target. Alex calls this “reactive interference”.
This point of view really resonated with us – so we thought that we would share Alex’s video and some of the key points that he makes. The video covers the following topics:
1) What is Handgun Mastery?
2) Why Handgun Shooting is Difficult
2a) Freeze the sight picture
2b) Squeeze the trigger without disrupting the sight picture
2c) Realign the sights on the target
2d) Reset the trigger
3) Neurophysiology 101
4) The "First Shot" Phenomenon
5) Classical Conditioning or "Reactive Interference"
6) The Paradox of the Handgun
7) Urban Legends of Handgun Shooting
8) The Problem with Conventional Training
9) The Zen of the Handgun
10) The Silverado Method
11) The Alternative Method: Habituation
Here are some of the key points from Alex’s video that match our beliefs on what you need to do to enhance your handgun shooting abilities and increase you shooting accuracy.
“The handgun is the most difficult of all firearms to shoot effectively.”
“Don't rely on ‘spray and pray’.“
“Mastering the handgun is about controlling shot placement to the limit of your physical ability.”
“Shot placement is determined by one thing, and only one thing - the direction of the muzzle at the instant the bullet clears it. Your ability to control the shot depends on how well you can stabilize the gun while pulling the trigger.”
“We all have a natural aversion to holding on to things that explode. The lower animal part of our brain doesn't like concussion and tries to move us away from the gun at the same time our higher thinking brain is trying to carry out a new skill. This high brain - low brain conflict is why handguns are difficult to master.”
“A flinch will never mess up a shot because it is a reflex that happens after a loud sound. By the time the sound wave reaches you the bullet is already two feet out of the barrel. Nothing you do at that point will affect the shot.”
“After the first shot we will associate the trigger brake pressure applied by our trigger finger with the concussion of the gun. When we fire the gun again our anxiety level will increase as we increase pressure on the trigger. We will reflexively brace for the shot. Our reactive animal brain will have us take defensive action against the expected explosion right at the trigger breakpoint. These reactions interfere with the skill of handgun shooting. We call this ‘reactive interference’.”
“Reactive interference has nothing to do with good technique. It's the effect of the animal getting into the shooting process. If you can't control the animal your skill won't matter. You won't be able to apply that skill.”
“Conventional handgun training focuses on shooting as a mechanical technique and not a mental discipline. It applies technique to the problem of reactive interference leading to solutions that don't work very well.”
“….……..illusion that bad trigger technique is the major cause of handgun inaccuracy. In reality bad trigger pull will only produce minor variations in shot placement.”
“No technique is going to solve the problem of reactive interference.”
“Mastery of the handgun means eliminating reactive interference; getting the animal out of the shooting process. We can't eliminate our reflexes, but we can suppress them. All of the muscle movements involved with reactive interference are subject to voluntary control.”
“It's important that the closer you get to the trigger break the slower you increase the trigger pressure so that you can stop the trigger pull at the instant you become aware of bracing for the shot.”
“Once you can bring the trigger all the way back without bracing for the shot it's just a matter of being consistent while repeating this until you can do it faster.."
Like most of you we’ve watched way too many online videos. But we really liked this one. So, if you’re interested in improving your handgun shooting abilities, we highly recommend watching the Silverado Shooting Academy’s video on “The Secret to Mastering the Handgun”.
Glacier Point vs Horsetail Fall
This week you might have seen news about the "Firefall" at Yosemite National Park.
Technically this is the natural phenomena caused by the light hitting Horsetail Fall at just the right angle - not the manmade "Firefall" that was conducted at Glacier Point from 1872 until 1968 when people pushed glowing embers over the edge in a steady, controlled manner, resulting in a prolonged glittering cascade.
After the activities at Glacier Point were stopped in 1968 there were no Firefalls seen in Yosemite until February of 1973 when Galen Rowell took a photograph of sun light hitting Horsetail Fall in just the right manner that it caused what appeared to be a natural Firefall. It took a while for the Horsetail Fall Firefall to gain notoriety – but once the internet started publishing the stunning photos - people from all over the world started traveling to Yosemite to see the sight.
But, as we all know, Nature can be fickle, so the Horsetail Fall sight doesn’t always appear; the conditions have to be just right. There has to be enough snowpack for Horsetail Fall to be flowing and the daytime temperatures have to be warm enough to melt the snowpack. If the water is actually flowing over Horsetail Fall then the western sky has to be clear at sunset so that the sun’s rays hit the water as it flows over the falls. Even with perfect conditions the Firefall is only visible for approximately 10 minutes.
Whatever it is - it's stunning.
If you want to read more about both Glacier Point and Horsetail Fall here's a website by James Kaiser with a great write-up on both.
Amazing Artistic Maps of the World’s Rivers and Forests
Like most of you we love nature and the breathtaking views that we routinely see outdoors. So much so that we like to bring those views indoors with paintings and photographs.
Always on the lookout for great nature images, we recently ran across the work of Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs who has made breathtaking maps showing the world’s rivers and forests by artistically colorizing the data from Geographic Information Systems.
Robert's river maps are detailed watershed maps (grouped together by color) showing the flow of all the tributary streams into main rivers, and these rivers flowing out to the sea. Note how large the Mississippi River basin is in the map of the United States.
Robert's forest maps are stunning two color (green and black) relief maps highlighting the density of the forests in the specific geographic region.
If you want some stunning art, you should really checkout Robert Szucs' Grasshopper Geography website where you can purchase his works as paper prints, wall art, desk art or other nicknacks to “decorate your home or office with some unique new maps”:
Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse
Well, yesterday (20 January 2019) here in New England, we had 12 new inches of snow dumped on us between 5:00 PM Saturday and 6:00 PM Sunday, so we thought that we wouldn’t be able to see any of the Lunar Eclipse of the Super Blood Wolf Moon. Luckily, the storm ended and the sky cleared up (mostly) just before the eclipse started.
The lunar eclipse started at 9:39 PM ET when the edge of the Moon began to enter the Earth’s penumbra (the outer section of the shadow). At 10:33 PM. ET, the Moon reached the umbra and the Moon became significantly darker. By 11:41 PM ET the Moon was all the way inside the umbra and the eclipse really started. The edge of the Moon began exiting the umbra at 12:43 AM ET and the eclipse completely ended at 2:48 AM ET.
Although the snow storm had passed there was still a little haze in the air and, with the temperature at 5 degrees (wind chill of -7 degrees), although we could see the eclipse quite well – it was difficult to take any great photos. Here’s the best of what we captured
If you missed the eclipse, and want to see what it looked like without watching a replay of one of the 5 hour livestreams, here’s a great 1:23 minute time lapse video of the whole event from a Skywatcher (Wouter van Bernebeek) in the Netherlands:
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:
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