Tuesday, October 20, 2009



Colder weather is upon us.  Knowing how to keep warm and dry may save your life if you are going to do any camping or hiking this winter.  Here are several tips and tricks I use when dealing with the cold.  They aren't in any kind of order.

  • Fill your water bottle with hot or warm water and put it in the foot of your sleeping bag before you go to sleep.  The water will hold heat for a while and keep you warm for a few hours.

  • Know how to make a fire and use that knowledge in a survival situation!  Don't fall asleep next to a fire though.  You don't want to wake up on fire or worse not wake up at all.

  • Cotton is your enemy!  No matter how cold it is outside you will still sweat.  Cotton clothing will absorb that sweat and you will soon be cold and wet.  Stick to synthetics and wool.  At least when wool gets wet it will stay warm.

  • Eat high energy foods and drink plenty of water.  This may seem like common sense but it's important to keep your body working the way it should.

  • Getting out of your sleeping bag in the morning is hard when it's super cold outside.  Put your clothes for the next day in the bag with you so they're toasty warm.

  • Have a good warm beanie style hat to wear.  I usually sleep in my thick watch cap when it's really cold outside.  You can save a lot of body heat just by putting something on your head.

  • Use a sleeping mat.  It makes a nice buffer between you and the cold cold ground.

  • Dress in layers.  This is the most common advice for cold weather camping.  You can always peel off a layer if you get too hot.  But if you don't have anything extra to put on when you're cold.. you'll stay cold.

  • Don't wear the same clothes that you wore during the day to bed.  Even if they feel dry they are not!  Wear fresh clothes to bed or wear nothing!

  • Make sure your shelter is capable of keeping out most of the wind and cold.  If at all possible put your shelter downwind of a safe object that will help to block wind. (i.e. a boulder)

  • Make sure your sleeping bag is rated for the temperature you are sleeping in!  If you have a 40 degree rated bag DO NOT try to sleep in 0 degree weather.

Camping and hiking in the winter can be very fun and rewarding as long as you use your brain and stay safe.  I hope this helps some people get some ideas on how to stay warm.  Please post any other ideas in the comments!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


MSR MIOX water purifier.

The MIOX water purifer system does a great job at killing waterbourne bacteria and viruses while not tainting the flavour of your water.  If you are using iodine tablets to treat your water on the trail I highly recommend this system as a replacement.  It takes about the same time (aprox. 30 min) to kill all the viruses and bacteria in your drinking water as iodine but again doesn't give it that funky taste.  The MIOX system uses rock salt to create a brine that is then activated by electricity.  I don't know how/why it works, but it does.  MSR has included test strips that show you when your water is safe to drink.  When you run out of rock salt or test strips, more are available at most outdoors retailers that sell backpacking gear, or you can always find more online.  The price is a little steep at 100-140 dollars for the whole setup, but it is a solid investment.  Here is a breakdown of the setup and a step by step of how to use it.
From left to right:
Battery cap (uses two CR123 batteries, included)
Activation button
Cell with cap (cap holds salt)
Salt chamber cap (connected to battery cap with strap)

How to use:
First you'll pull the cap off and reveal the cell.  Fill the area with water (not the cap!!).  It should hold about 1/4 tsp.  Now replace the cap and shake the water into the salt chamber about ten times.  Be careful not to shake it too much or the water will have too much salt content.  Now take the cap off again.  Be sure to hold the purifier upright so you don't spill the water.  Now you're ready for the fun part!  Push the button!  Depending on how many times you push it, it will treat a corresponding volume of water.
1 = 1/2 liter
2 = 1 liter
3 = 2 liters
4 = 4 liters
If you need more than that you'll have to refill the cell.  Now just dump the activated brine solution into your water bottle, wait 20 minutes (after the test strip comes out OK), and you're good to go!  Here are some photos of what the inside looks like and a video of what it looks like when you click the button.

Cell and cap with screen

Rock salt chamber

The only downfall of this system is that it runs on batteries.  Mine has been used for the past year and it just started to flash the low battery light.  Not too bad, but it wouldn't be good if it died on you while you were in the middle of a hike.  I always carry iodine tablets as a backup (plus they work on big cuts and scrapes if you grind them up with a little water).  I'll leave you with this video of the activation process.  Stay tuned for more articles in the near future!

Friday, October 9, 2009


How to make fire starters for family camping.  The last two posts on fire starters have been geared toward survival or emergency fire starting.  In this post I will go over egg carton fire starters.  These are perfect for family camping and a fool proof way to get a fire going.  So first, what you'll need.

1.  A paper egg carton (styrofoam doesn't wick properly and just melts)
2.  Molten wax (I covered melting wax in part 1 if you missed it)
3.  Shreded newspaper and/or dryer lint

This is another pretty easy fire starter.  You'll want to put your newspaper or lint inside of the cups in the egg carton (where the eggs were).  I used newspaper for these so I tried to crumble the pieces up a little before putting them in. 

Once you have the newspaper or dryer lint packed in you'll need to pour wax into each of the firestarters.  It doesn't take a lot.  Here is a close up so you can get an idea of how much to use.

Make sure when you are pouring your wax that you have something under the egg carton in case there are any leaks.  I just put it over a cardboard box to catch any wax drippings.  When that is finished let the wax cool and harden.  You are finished!  Cut them all apart and use one or two to start a fire on your next family outing.  These burn for around 6-10 minutes for me usually.  As with the char cloth I will be loading a video of these burning within the next few weeks when I can get out of the city.  ENJOY!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


How to make char cloth to start a fire.

Char cloth is a lot like it sounds.  Charred cloth.  In this edition of fire starters I will teach you how to make char cloth.  Here's what you'll need.

1.  A tin that has a fairly tight lid.
2.  100% cotton cloth that you don't mind burning :)
3.  Fire (yes in this case it takes fire to make fire in the future)

This is a pretty simple process, however it may take a few tries to get perfect char cloth.  First you'll need to prep your tin.  If your tin is completely sealed, you'll need to use a small nail to punch a hole in the center of the lid.  I use a square Altoids tin to make my char cloth.  It already has two small holes where the hinges are, so no extra holes were needed.  Once you have the ventilation done you may want to pre-burn your tin to get all of the paint burned off.  It should look something like this.

Once this is done you'll need to cut up your cotton cloth into pieces that fit flat on the bottom of your tin (or smaller).  If you don't have an old tee shirt that you can part with you can use gun cleaning swatches.  They are the perfect size and are also very cheap.  In a tin this size I try to use fewer than ten thin pieces of cloth.  If you are using a cotton tee shirt about six pieces will do.  It should look something like this.

Now all you have to do is close up the tin and throw it into some hot coals in your fire.  Try to avoid the open flames.  Once it is in the fire a lot of smoke will come out of the hole you made.  Once the smoke stops (a minute or two) then your char cloth is done!  Remove the tin from the coals and let it cool.  When you open it you should see this.

The char cloth should be nice and black.  If it looks brown then put it back in for a minute or two.  After a few tries you'll be making perfect char cloth. 

The idea behind char cloth is that it will catch and hold a spark very easily so you can get your tinder to flame up.  I like to make a tinder nest with frayed twine and lay a piece of char cloth on top like this.

Now all you need to do is throw a spark onto your charcloth and gently blow.  You'll get a fire every time.  I use a Swedish fire steel for this purpose.  There will be a review of the Swedish fire steel after this series.  Below is an image that shows how nicely the char cloth holds a spark.

In the next few weeks (when I can get out of the city and go camping or hiking) I will make a video of char cloth in action and give you a better idea of how to start a fire with it.
Hope you enjoyed this.  More to come.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


How to make fire wick fire starters.
In this post I will be showing you how to make fire wicks.  A fire wick is a piece of cotton yarn or in this case jute twine that is coated in wax. 
If you are in a survival situation, these can be very handy to have around. The main advantage of such a simple thing is that it is waterproof.  You can literally take one of these, dip it in water, and still have it light up. The wax repels water and melts easily enough that you can get a flame in a few seconds.  You'll need just a few things to get started.

1.  cotton or jute yarn/twine/rope
2.  wax
3.  container to melt wax in
4. pliers or hemostats

To get started with your fire wick you'll need to melt the wax in your container.  I'm using a tin cup with beeswax on the stove.  If you do it on the stove, be patient and don't melt the wax too fast or it will burn up and get black spots.  Also, you do not need beeswax.  The fire wick will work with any type of candle wax or even old melted down crayons.

Once you have your wax melted, you need to cut a length of twine.  I've got around 2-3 feet here.  That will be more than enough to make a decent amount of fire wick.

Now go ahead and put the entire length of twine into the molten wax.  It just needs to be covered.  When you have done this, it is ready to be removed.  DO NOT use your fingers.  Use the pliers and pull out the fire wick starting at one end.  Drag the wick over the side of the container to remove excess wax.

When you are done, let the wax cool and harden.  Then all you need to do is cut it into lengths that you can use to start fires.  I've cut it into about two inch pieces. 

Now you are ready to start your fire.  These pieces will burn about 3 minutes.  If you need more time to build your fire, then simply cut your wicks longer.  You can use a lighter to get it going or you can fray one end (try to strip some wax) and throw a spark on it.  You can store these in a 35mm film canister or some other container.  They work great in a survival kit due to their size and because they are waterproof. 

Hope you enjoyed this fire wick tutorial.  More ways to start a fire coming soon.

Friday, October 2, 2009


My review of the GSI Nform Dualist.
No backpacker can survive without food.  They require a lightweight, durable way to prepare it that also won't break the bank.  The GSI dualist is a feature rich solution that comes in a small package. 

Weighing in at a total 1lb 4.9oz. (593g.), it is definatly managable.  There are probably lighter cooking systems out there, but you would be hard pressed to find one more feature rich for the same weight.  Let's look at the details.

The pot is made out of an alloy called halulite that is supposed to be just as light as titanium but spreads heat more evenly.  It is hard anodized to provide scratch resistance.  I have used my Vargo titanium sporks on it and havent noticed any scratching as of yet, so apparently it works.  It also has some non-stick qualities, but it is still possible to burn your noodles to the bottom of the pot (they wash out easily enough). The pot holds 1.8 L of water, however I would say that is on the full side.  I would personally rate it at around 1.5 L, which is more than sufficient for boiling water for a friend and myself for most meals.  The handle on the pot unfolds and is actually really sturdy.  Its sturdiness comes in handy when you need to strain liquid through the lid.

On the top of the pot you'll notice a clear plastic lid with strainer holes.  The lid is made of lexan resin that is "virtually unbreakable".  It's definitely some tough stuff.  It also won't hold any odor or flavors from your food.  It has a rubber handle on it that folds up while you're cooking so you dont burn your fingers (it can get warm up there though so use caution!!). 

When you first open up the cookset you'll see something like this.  It has cup/bowls with sippy lids that nest very nicely inside of the pot.  Around the cup part is an insulating wrap that is made of neoprene.  It helps to keep your drinks hot and keep your hands from getting burnt.  The sippy lid is a nice feature too.  It is always a sad night when your warm cider or hot chocolate gets spilled on the ground or all over your clothes.  The inside wall of both bowls is graduated up to 20oz. and the cups up to 500ml.  They both safely hold two cups without much fear of spillage. It's hard to see the graduation in the image but you can see it clearly in person.

Another really handy feature of gsi dualist is the sack that everything fits inside.  Normally I would throw an item like this in the trash and forget about it to save that extra little bit of weight.  I found this one too handy to throw away because it doubles as a sink.  The entire inside and bottom of the stuff sack is rubberized and stands up on its own.  It makes it so much easier to wash your dishes.  I've even used it to carry some bath water on a section hike. 

That pretty much covers it as it comes, but let's not forget about the unused space inside the cups when it's all folded together.  I have been able to fit either a soda can stove or an MSR pocket rocket stove inside with some matches and a corner of a scotch brite sponge to wash your dishes.  If I'm using the soda can stove, I can also fold up my foil windscreen which fits in there too.  The gsi dualist actually comes with a suede leather pouch to hold an ultralight backpacking stove.  The pocket rocket fits nicely.  On top of all of that, you can even fit a fuel canister in it if you change the way you nest everything together.  With an 8oz. canister you can fit the matches and sponge, but the stove doesn't comfortably fit with it.  It will however fit if you use a 4oz. canister.

I really thought that this cookset couldn't get any better.  It even has a backpacker magazine editor's choice award for 2008.  But lo and behold, GSI has found a way to improve on it.  The new dualist system is called Pinnacle rather than Nform and features a BPA free lid and a scratch resistant dupont teflon coating on the inside of the pot.  It also comes with two color coded GSI telescoping foons that match the color coded cup/bowls and somehow manages to stay the same weight as the Nform due to a lighter lid.  It also costs about 20-30 dollars more than the older Nform system.  Look to give around 40-60 dollars for each of the dualist systems.  Not a bad price at all, and much less than titanium.  Hope you enjoyed this review of the GSI dualist.  Feel free to leave comments.  More to come.