Monday, July 9, 2007

Aquamira Filter/Bottle and Chlorine Dioxide Review

This is the second season I have been using Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide drops in combination with the Aquamira water bottle filtration system. This system is very light weight and extremely effective.

The drops basically kill everything in the water. However, it takes 4 hours to kill Crypto. This is one reason I use the filter system in combination. The filter will get rid of Crypto, and many other things including metals, pesticides, etc... It also gets rid of the chlorine from the drops.

The drops also kill viruses, which the filter cannot get rid of. I feel the combination of the drops and filter system is one of the best systems on the market.

There are several reason's I prefer a bottle over using a bag while backpacking. One issue I have is that I never know how much water is left in the bag without taking it out of my pack, which is a pain in the neck. A bottle is much easier to fill than a bag too. I have not come across a decent filter system for use with a bag, other than the larger bulky styles sold at REI.

I am considering getting a Steripen, or MIOX for next season. That is if I can come up with some extra cash. I am leaning more towards the Steripen because it kills everything in just a couple of minutes, whereas the MIOX takes 4 hours to kill Crypto. The Steripen may eliminate the need to carry a filter. However, it will not get rid of pollutants, metals, pesticides, etc... Thus, carrying a filter may still be a good idea.

By the way, I have the 22oz. bottle and the 32oz. bottle. The 32oz. bottle seems to leak around the top. I have to use it more to determine if the top was just on too loose, or it is truly a poor seal. However, I don't have any issues with leaks in the 22oz. bottles.

I like the Aquamira water bottle filter system and the Chlorine Dioxide drops. I highly recommend them for anyone looking for a great water treatment system, which is also light weight.

White Oak Canyon - Shenandoah

I finally had the opportunity to hike White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park this past weekend. Unfortunately, we were only able to hike to the first waterfall because we got on the trail very late. Also, we had two young children with us; ages 3 and 5. The people who attended the hike were: Nick, Z, Brooke and myself.

Overall this was a great hike, and had some beautiful scenery. However, if you are going with younger children, be prepared to carry them, for a little while, on the way back. Z, 3.5 years old, did a great job and hiked 90% of the time on his own. I had to carry him up a few hills as he was getting exhausted. He carried a small backpack with his water.

Brooke fell and cut her knee, so I bandaged it up for her, and she was as good as new. She did not complain at all about being tired, or not having fun. She was smiling during the entire hike. She was asking many questions, and was identifying plants. Z was also doing a great job identifying plants.

We saw several deer, in several different locations, during our hike. The deer in the park do not spook easily, and will walk right up to you; within about 3 feet. Z got a little nervous when a deer approached us. He turned and ran, then came over to me, and latched onto my leg. It was absolutely adorable.

Here is a great informational for the White Oak hike:
White Oak Canyon

Monday, July 2, 2007

2x4 Hammock Stand Stake

The ground seems to cause the stake, which holds the hammock stand up, to act as somewhat of a lever. My mission is to find a way to minimize, or disburse the forces on the stake by creating some sort of top plate, or something.

I am playing around with different types, sizes, and shapes of stakes to see as well.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Speer Hammock Construction Review

I recently made a speer hammock. However, the hammock was for someone else so this review will not comment on the use of the hammock, but on the construction.

This was my first DIY (Do It Yourself) project, which included sewing. I felt this was a great first project because the hammock has minimal sewing. The tarp on the other hand has a bit more sewing, but is still minimal.

The Hammock Camping book does a great job teaching how to make this hammock, and tarp combination. This is a relatively simple project by most standards and the majority of people should not have any difficulty completing this project.

If you have some sewing experience this is still a great project to do.

The most difficult part of this project was sewing the velcro onto the bug net. The bug net tends to stretch and mess up your seams. Someone recommended putting tape on the bug net side while sewing so it cannot stretch. I have not tried this, but several others claim it does work well. I will do this on my next project with netting.

I highly recommend this project for people wanting to learn how to make your own gear, or in need of a good hammock setup.

This is a great way to break into hammock camping and backpacking.

Good Luck, and have fun!!!

MSR Pocket Rocket Review

In my opinion the MSR Pocket Rocket (MPR) is one of the best stoves on the market today. It is extremely light weight, and works unbelievably well. The flames come out like that of a jet engine.

A wind screen is not necessary, nor is it recommended for this stove. A screen can actually end up being dangerous and causing the stove to over heat and explode. However, I have heard of people using them without incident.

The fuel for the MPR is reasonably priced and comes in a variety of sizes. The larger fuel cans are more stable when cooking, but are much heavier. I am not sure how many meals/boils you can get from a small fuel can. I have been able to use one on several multi-day trips without running out of fuel. I do mostly boil-in-a-bag meals.

This stove is great and I highly recommend it for any serious backpacker; especially ultralight backpackers.

Even after using this stove and giving it a great review, I still prefer my home made Penny Stove. Maybe it is because I made it myself.

2x4 Hammock Stand 1st Night Test

I used my new home made 2x4 hammock stand, through the night, for the first time last night. This stand rocks............. I was bouncing and moving around a lot through the night and this thing held up extremely well.

I had an air mattress under the hammock and a backup safety line tied loosely to a tree just in case I came crashing down. This would prevent the stand from crashing into me or the ground.

I decided to use a second stake in my line just for extra support. I will continue to use the two stakes, but not the mattress, or safety line. I now have enough confidence in this stand and the double stake system.

I don't feel the extra stake is 100% necessary. However, I feel more comfortable with it. Especially in the rain.

I plan to carry this stand, and a 2x4, with a notch, on all of my camping trips for now on. The purpose of the 2x4 is in case I need to employ the single pole hammock method. In combination with my new stand, my setup is completely versatile. I should no longer have issues setting up at campsites with cleared spots; so long as there is at least one tree.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Home Made 2x4 Hammock Stand

I built another hammock stand, but with treated 2x4's instead of 2x2 Oak posts. I found a nice 16" hex bolt and used it as my anchor stake. I attached a good size clip and chain link to the bolt. The weight ratings are 2000lbs.

The overall feel of the new stand compared to the previous is about the same. The only difference is that the 2x4's tend to squeak when you first get into the hammock. The total cost of this hammock stand was $20. This solution is probably the most cost effective. However, this is a much stronger solution than the previous.

Home Made Hammock Stand

I made this great hammock stand last night by replicating the Byer Madera Hammock Stand. It works extremely well and is very convenient when you only have one tree, or post. One of the hammock ropes, is tied to a tree, and the other is tied to the hammock stand. You can get a better visual by looking at the photo above.

I used the longest eye bolt I could find for the stake attached to the rope, which is used to hold up the stand. I pulled on the rope to ensure it was secure, and I was not able to pull it out of the ground. If I pull straight up on the stake it will come out relatively easy.

In hindsight I would have just bought the Byer model from REI since it costs just as much to make with the Oak. I was planning on making a second, so I can set my hammock up without trees while at a campground. I will consider buying the second from REI instead of making it.

Someone made the suggestion to build a similar stand using bamboo. However, I have not been able to find any bamboo for this purpose. I will keep looking and if I do I will build it and post photos.

When I actually take this stand and try it at a campground, I think I will use a second stake just to make sure it is I am also going to grind a point on my stake (eye bolt) so it is easier to put in the ground.

I used an auto cargo strap, with a ratchet for tightening the line, which is the line tied to the stake. It works well, but I have to be careful not to over tighten, and brake the ridge line on the hammock.

This same type of stand could probably easily be built with 2x4's for much less money. I think I might try that next and use treated lumber. Hmmm, maybe I will build one today. I think it would be much more cost effective.

I think this is the best type of stand for the least amount of money that can be built. It is very light weight, durable, and effective. Two stands could be used to accomplish the same result as a self standing stand. Two-by-fours would greatly reduce the price, probably to about $20.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Swiss Army Tinker Review

This is one of the best knives I have ever owned. I still actually have it, but rarely use it now. This was my first real knife that was actually useful to carry on a daily basis. The only complaint I have about this knife is the Phillips screw driver. I don't like how it is on the bottom of the knife, it makes it very difficult to use for practical purposes.

The steel used for this knife is very hard and durable. This is a great knife for someone wants something simple and light weight.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Swiss Army Huntsman Review

This Swiss Army knife is absolutely great! I use this knife primarily for backpacking, camping, and all outdoor activities. However, I used to carry it with me everywhere, but didn't like it much for everyday use because it doesn't have pliers, and I rarely use the saw unless I am camping.

This knife is a good size for me. This is the one item I will allow to have a little extra weight in my pack. I am an ultralight backpacker and really try to limit the weight in my pack as much as possible.

The blade is made out of a very hard steel and does not nick, chip, break, or get flat spots like some of it's competitors. I have cut some pretty tough materials with this blade, including copper wire. This blade is very durable and stays sharp for a very long time.

I have used the saw various times and it is still as sharp as it was the first time I used it. The saw is durable and thick enough so it won't bend when cutting wood. It is great for cutting small branches, or sticks for using as fuel in small wood burning backpacking stoves.

The can opener, and bottle opener work well and are durable enough to withstand a good amount of abuse. The opener's have come in handy several times in the house when I could not find our household can/bottle opener.

The screw drivers are adequate for most tasks and even work well for prying.

The accessory hook seems a bit useless to me, as I have never had a reason to use it. Who knows, maybe someday I will. It seems like it would do a fine job carrying something heavy with a strap that would cut into your hand.

The scissors are great and I use them all the time. I have never had an issue with them. They stay sharp, and can easily be sharpened when necessary. I have used them to cut soda cans and beer cans to make backpacking stoves and they do a great job.

The exterior of the knife is great and very durable. It doesn't scratch that easily, and holds up well against dropping the knife on the ground.

I highly recommend this knife for around the house, backpacking, camping, hiking and just about any other outdoor activity.

Leatherman Juice S2 Multi-tool Review

I do not use this multi-tool for backpacking, or camping. This is my everyday around the house tool.

I have been using my S2 on a daily basis for about a year. I have not had any issues with this multi-tool. It is compact and extremely useful. However, I found it to be a little expensive at $40.

The components on the Swiss Army knives seem to be mad out of harder steel than the S2.

I started with a basic swiss army knife, then moved on to a more complex version. I then decided to upgrade from the swiss knives to the swiss multi-tools and purchased a spirit multi-tool. Unfortunately, at 9.9oz. this multi-tool is too heavy for my belt.

After carrying my Spirit around for several weeks, I decided to try out a smaller lighter weight Leatherman. I have not put it down since. I carry my S2 with me everyday no matter where I am going.

The S2 is of good quality, but I would not say it is the best quality on the market. The exterior easily gets scratched and chipped. I have dropped the S2 several times and each time it received a new mark.

The pliers are great for most purposes, and the wire cutters work well. I use the pliers all the time and don't have any complaints about them. The screw drivers are just the right size for most applications and also work very well. The can opener is a bit annoying and flimsy.

Anytime I want to use the scissors, I have to first open the can-opener because it is it is in the way of the scissors.

The blade stays sharp and does a great job cutting. However, it seems to be softer material than the comparable swiss and nicks easily. I do tend to beat on my multi-tools. This tool can definitely handle some abuse.

I am pleased with the S2, and like it's compact size. I do recommend this multi-tool if you are in the market for one. However, I think my next purchase will be a Swiss with a small pair of pliers.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Garmin GPS60CS Review

I've had my GPS60CS for several years now and am very pleased with it. This thing can take a serious beating too. I had the GPS mounted on my bike and crashed around on a turn going about 20 mph. The gps slammed against the ground, and was completely unharmed. It still works like a champ.

I have taken this gps in all sorts of different weather conditions and used it to navigate in the wilderness. It works well in most situations. However, it has a few issues, which have been corrected in the new version (GPS60CSX). For example, heavy foliage can disrupt the receiver. I personally have not had much of an issue with this.

This gps has excellent street navigation and is easy to follow while driving. It is user friendly and has a lot of great features. For instance, it has a great color display.

I highly recommend the new version of this unit; GPSMAP60CSX.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Penny Stove Review

I have tried many different types of stoves over the years since I have been backpacking and camping. I have tried just about any type of stove I can think of. My preferred stove is the alcohol stove I made out of Heineken beer cans. It is called a Penny Stove.

I have made several other types of stoves from soda cans and have not been as satisfied as I am with the Penny Stove. The Penny Stove can actually be used as a multi-fuel stove by flipping it over, putting a piece of screen in the bottom and using an esbit, or fire starter.

The stove is very efficient and can easily bring 3 cups of water to a boil fairly quickly. It doesn't require a primer bowl to light it, and is extremely light weight. Can stoves are the lightest weight stoves I have seen. They are much lighter weight than the majority of commercial stoves on the market today.

Though I mostly do boil-in-bag meals, I have tested the simmer ring for the Penny Stove. My impression was that it does exactly as the creator of the stove claims. It takes much longer to burn the same amount of fuel with the simmer ring than without. I was able to easily cook a pot of rice. This was regular rice that takes 20 minutes to cook; not minute rice.

The one issue I did have with this stove is that it must be fairly level on the ground to work properly. The penny must also be exactly over the hole in the center of the stove to properly function. However, this is not enough of an issue for me to discard the stove. I love this stove and plan to continue using it on all my trips.

If you are considering making your own stove I highly recommend the Penny Stove. In fact, even if your looking for a stove to buy, I still recommend the Penny Stove. As of this writing, you can purchase them for about $30 on the internet.

Keep in mind there are may myths about alcohol stoves.

Hennessey Ultralight Backpacker Asym Hammock Review

I absolutely love my Hennessey Ultralight Backpacker Asym hammock (HH - Hennessey Hammock). This is my second season using this particular piece of equipment and it is by far the best thing I have ever purchased. I love everything about this hammock too.

First and foremost is the entry system on the HH. This entry system is easy to use and works extremely well. I have never had a single issue with the entry system on this hammock. In conjunction with the bug screen, the entry system does an excellent job keeping out bugs.

On a typical top entry hammock, when the bug net is opened, bugs tend to fly in the hammock and end up getting under the netting. Thus, when you get into the hammock and zip the netting closed, you are trapped in the hammock with the bugs. This can be very frustrating.

The bug net is permanently attached to the HH to ensure bugs do not get into the hammock. This also reduces overall weight of the hammock system because it eliminates the added weight of zippers and such. The bug net does a great job keeping out the tiniest bugs.

The standard tarp (rain fly), which comes with the HH does a great job keeping me dry. I have been in the rain several times and never had an issue with this tarp. The tarp is as small as possible to save as much weight, on the overall system, as possible.

I am 100% satisfied with the weight of this hammock system. Hennessey does a great job keeping this hammock system as light as possible without compromising durability, or features. It is one of the lightest shelter options on the market today. It is by far one of the most comfortable as well.

Comfort is the #1 selling point of this particular hammock. I can easily lay flat on my back because of the asymmetric shape of this hammock. This gives me a greater degree of positions to sleep in, which is very important for me to remain comfortable. The trick to laying flat is to lay diagonally in the hammock.

I have compared this hammock to several others on the market:
Clark Jungle Hammock
Claytor Expedition Hammock
Claytor Jungle Hammock
Speer Hammock

When comparing a weight to cost ratio, the HH cannot be beat. It is simply the lightest weight hammock for the least amount of money. However, this does not rule out purchasing any of the other hammocks by any means. They are all great products and have their strong points. For example, the Claytor Jungle Hammock is low cost, durable, comfortable, and comes with a large tarp. It comes in a cool camo pattern too.

Another benefit of the HH is that it has pullouts on the sides. This helps prevent the hammock from hugging my body and gives me room to move around. The inside of the hammock is very roomy. This is a big attraction for me. I like a roomy hammock, and don't like feeling restricted by hammocks, which hug my body.

The ridge line used to hold up the bug net has a loop in each end and has a mesh pocket hanging on it for small items. I find the combination of the loops, and pocket in the hammock are adequate for the amount of stuff I keep in the hammock with me. The loops work well for tying my water bottle up in the hammock as well. I have also been successful tying my bottle to the ridge line with a bandanna.

Overall this hammock is a top choice for me and I highly recommend it. The other HH models are similar and I recommend considering the one that suits your needs best. Simply put, Hennessey Hammocks are great hammocks!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Hennessey Super Shelter Review

This is my second season of using the Hennessey Super Shelter on my Ultralight Backpacker Asym hammock. I purchased it last season because the use of a pad in a Hennessey Hammock doesn't work very well at all. A standard CCF pad has a tendency to move around and get out from under me. Thus, I end up getting chilly.

The Super Shelter is a great concept and works well in warmer weather. I personally would not consider it a 4-season system. The temp could get down to about 55 degrees F and still felt warm enough. When the temperatures drops anymore than that I would start to get a bit chilly.

Another issue I have is the under-pad tends to slide around a little, and moves out from under me. This is an issue for me because I get cold spots and it wakes me up.

The wind tends to cut right through the Super Shelter so on a cold windy night I have to bundle up. On a windy night at 55 degrees F I would be cold. I normally wear long cycling pants, a long sleeve shirt and a cap.

A suggestion has been made to put a space blanket in the Super Shelter to warm things up. However, I have not attempted this because I already have a serious issue with condensation between the hammock bottom and the Super Shelter. Every morning I wake up I have to hang the under-pad out to dry for several hours because it is usually wet.

The shelter tends to pull the sides of the hammock inward reducing the overall width of the inside of the hammock. To me this is a disadvantage because I like the extra room in the hammock and this is one reason I purchased it.

Overall I do like the Hennessey Super Shelter and I would recommend it. However, only for warmer and less windy weather conditions. This really limits the use of this particular piece of equipment and an under-quilt may be a better choice. I recently ordered a Potomac under-quilt and will soon write a review on it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Hammocks for Backpacking

I am well into my second season of using a hammock instead of a tent while backpacking. As far as I am concerned, a hammock is the way to go. Here are two good reasons why I will always choose a hammock over a tent:

1. Comfort - They are 100x more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.
2. Location - You don't need flat ground to get a decent nights rest. You can literally hang on the side of a mountain if you so choose. If you get to a camping spot and it is already taken you can easily find a somewhere else to hang.

I currently own a Hennessey Ultralight Asym Hammock. The Hennessey Hammocks (HH) are specifically designed with an asymmetrical shape so when you lay at a diagonal you are laying flat on your back, side, stomach, or whatever.

HH's come with a nice ridge-line, which is a string traveling from the foot end to the head end of the hammock. This ridge-line can be use for hanging stuff. They have a bug net on the top, and are entered from the bottom. See my photo galleries for pictures of my hammock.

If you are backpacking and for some reason decide to camp on the ground, the HH's can be used as a bivy, or a small single person tent on the ground.

I strongly recommend getting an under-quilt to hook on the bottom of the hammock. Hammocks can get cold if you don't have proper insulation. I also recommend using an over-quilt instead of a sleeping bag. It is much more practical and is lighter.