Monday, 20 June 2011

Spring Melt Overnight

The weather has been shaping up here nicely and the small river I had my first paddle in has once again rose so I decided to seize the opportunity and go for a quick overnight trip mainly to test my newest additions.

I headed down to the river late in the evening on a friday.  It was a beautiful spring evening, the temperature was warm enough to get by with a light long sleeve shirt and pants.  I launched about 1.5 hours before sunset and spent some time paddling around in the now fast moving "creek".  Usually the water level sits at about 1-2 feet, currently the depth is just over 6 feet!

After my paddling fill I pulled the raft along the bank of the river and packed the gear into a nice grassy clearing that I had camped out at during the winter (video).  By this time the sun had set far enough that pictures would have to wait until morning.  I pulled out my small wood stove to act as my campfire and spent the next hour or so brewing up a cup of hot chocolate and gazing at the thousands upon thousands of stars.

DIY titanium wood stove
Before I turned in for the night I let quite a bit of air out from my raft knowing that it would expand with the morning sun and with a belly full of nice hot chocolate I crawled under my kifaru paratarp, changed my socks over to a thick pair of smart wool socks to keep my feet toasty and threw the quilt over me.  When I turned in there was ice formed over the hull of my raft so I'd suspect the temperature was anywhere from -5C to 0C that night.  This was my first time sleeping with the go-lite 3 season quilt and it preformed decent at this temperature.  There were a few points in the night that I was awoken from cold but nothing a small readjustment wouldn't fix.  I was very surprised on how well the quilt stayed wrapped around my all night there was never a point where I wished it was wider.  It seemed just perfect.

As the sun rose the temperatures quickly climbed back above freezing and by the time I rolled out of bed the little paratarp was turning into quite the greenhouse (even for having once side wide open).  As you can see in the above photos I decided to pitch the tarp with 1 section from my paddle and used a stick for the rear.  Normally the front should be pitched 2-3" higher then I do but it still gives me enough room to sit up and organize my gear.

Home sweet home
Even tho I let approximately 1 or 2 "bag fulls" of air out of the raft during the evening I still needed to bleed a bit more off once I got up.  I'm sure it wasn't nessary to deflate it a bit more the 2nd time but its better to be safe then sorry (the black bottom really soaks up the sun).  I once again pulled out the little titanium stove and boiled up some water for a bowl of oatmeal and a morning drink.

I lay 2 green branches as a base for the small stove before I light it to aid in airflow.  The bottom of the stove is stainless screen which really helps the small fire box burn hot.

While it does take my wood stove a longer time to boil 2 cups of water compared to my brunton all-fuel it also is significantly lighter and requires no additional fuel to be hauled in.  Most of the time keeping to a strict schedule is not required while I am outdoors and I have no problem spending a few extra minutes tending to the fire while I wait...its all part of the relaxing atmosphere.
The absolute most important part of my camping gear I always back with me (even in my every day carry) is my medical kit.  I have tried to build my kit to curtail more towards injuries that are serious.  I do carry small bandages and various ointments but my major concern is being able to stop severe bleeding while I am out in the bush.  While I dont plan on severely injuring myself (who does) its a good thing to be prepared for it.  To patch up any major wounds I carry a large amount of gauze and one emergency bandage.  The bandage is used over seas by NATO forces and many militaries to treat large battle field injuries quickly.  For the light weight penalty it is a great life saving item to add to anyones kit.  The rest of my kit is pictured below which should be self explanatory.

The other 2 items worth their weight in gold is the razor sharp pair of tweezers I carry as well.  They are electronic tweezers used to aid in placement of SOIC components but they work miracles for removing slivers.  I used a small section of silicone fuel line over the tips to keep from being stabbed by the sharp points while I root around my kit...also protects them from being snagged while packed.
The last being my 4sevens AA light.  I've had this light for about 1/2 a year now and I cant say enough good things about it.  It puts out an astonishing 109 lumens off a single AA and can be throttle back to "moonlight" mode where it puts out a mere 0.2 lumens suitable for looking thru your bag at night without destroying your night vision.  I like this light so much I carry it everyday and use it regularly.  The price is a little high but the quality is unreal, I highly suggest 4sevens for anyone looking for a quality rugged all weather light.

While I go on this simple quick overnight trips I can pack very very light.  I usually only use my maxpedition bag and a couple liters of water.   When I am paddling with my smaller packs I am able to place them between my legs and somewhat lock the pack in place with my knees.  I spent the rest of the afternoon making the kilometer or so paddle back to the main highway bridge while the rain clouds slowly made their way closer and closer to me.  Thankfully I made the few kilometer stretch home without any downpours, packed up, and headed back into the busy city to plan the next outing.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Its Been a Long Time...

I am still here!  Summer is finally here and as such I have been spending nearly all my time outdoors playing with all my new toys and very very little time blogging.  I can however say I have been taking many pictures and archiving them for later blog posts.  I cannot bring myself to sit down infront of the computer and edit photos and write post while the weather is beautiful outside.  Over the last month or so I have:

-Taken my kifaru tarp and golite quilt out for a overnight trip.
-Paddled my raft around our raging creek.
-Purchased a new road bike to commute to work on.
-Picked up a GSI coffee press pot.
-Tried out my new travel sized coffee burr grinder.
-Pushed my body thru my polyphasic sleep experiments
-Converted on of my gopro HD's lenses over to a less fisheye version (I had scratched the internal lens and was finally able to find a company that built a screw on glass lens with the proper focal length that would retain the ultra sharp picture).

I will be posting about all these little additions and adventures in the future but for right now my focus is on getting the absolute most from our relatively short summer season.  Hopefully I will have a slower weekend in the near future to post some updates but for now I need to get packing for my weekend biking trip to the mountains!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

First Paddle

Last weekend I had my first paddle with my Yukon-Yak raft from Alpacka rafts.  Out at my folks place in the country we have a small river that twists and winds its way thru farmland for 20-30 kilometers before finally linking up with the much larger North Saskatchewan river. 

Packed down to the river
First thing I must note is how small and easy to carry the alpacka rafts are.  Even with my relatively small maxpedition backpack I am still able to fit the raft, paddles, and all my camping gear for a 2 day outing.  The only real bulky hard to pack bit of gear is the lifevest.  This river is quite small, moves slow and is very shallow but I still feel the need to wear a lifevest.  I'm a strong swimmer and feel very comfortable in the water but most accidents aren't lifevest it is.

During this test outing my parents walked down to the river (with dogs in tow) to help me with some photo taking and filming.  I had practiced inflating the raft a few times at my apartment in the city and find it easy to get the boat inflated in about 3 minutes.  The silnylon inflation bag is pure genius!  It works amazingly well and lets you transfer a massive quantity of air without becoming light headed.

Topping it off 
  Once the bulk of the filling is done it takes about half a dozen breaths to fill the raft up nice and tight.  Everything on this raft feels very solid and of high quality, the inflation valve is also quick to open and close.

"Tempering" the raft
Once I had fully inflated the yak I let the boat sit on the cold water to help cool the air inside (under the watchful eyes of our labs).  Since the water is still very cold this time of year I thought I would need to add quite a bit more air once the temperatures normalized but I only needed about 1-2 breaths before I was ready to paddle off.

Since I dont plan on running any whitewater with this raft I decided to forgo the skirt to save some $$ and weight.  I stepped into the raft, sat down, placed my backpack in between my legs and "schootched" off the shore.  If I was packing more gear I may have to lash the back to the bow of the boat but with my usual 1-2 day loadout I can easily place the back where it sits in the above photo.

The new hull designs of the rafts track quite well for a flat bottom boat.  Under very hard upstream paddling the boat yaws from side to side but still makes good forward speed.  The sawyer paddle is VERY nice to paddle with and quite adjustable.  For most of my paddling I will keep it quite extended and seem to prefer a 15-20 degree difference between the blades.  Much to my amazement very little water gets into the boat during normal paddling.  The hard upstream paddles would sling a few droplets onto my pack but nothing I would worry about.

Silently floating along
Once I was comfortable with the raft I set out on a 2km float downstream.  From that point I could pack up and make a relatively short hike back home due to the bends in the river.  During my float you could hear the large chunks of ice bump into one another as they passed making a very nice "wind chime" kind of sound.  Floating along with the current silently was nice and relaxing.  The small inflatable seat on the packraft kept me far enough off the water to not notice how cold it was (although the icebergs were constant reminders).

The river is sitting about 2-3 feet above its normal water level which let me float over areas where I would normally have to portage (like the 2 beaver dams I could effortlessly float over).  Its amazing how the photo opportunities change when your sitting on the water moving silently, I'm very much looking forward to some early morning coffee's aboard the raft.

Once I made it to the end of my little adventure I deflated the raft and made the short hike home.  The temperature was sitting at about 5C to 10C with a moderate wind which made fiddling with the silnylon stuff sack a little cold for the fingers but will be a non-issue once the temps climb a little higher.  The next packrafting adventure (while I wait for the lakes ice to melt) will be a longer 2 day paddle along this river...which could possibly be quite a bit more lively that I had planned due to the massive quantity of snow we accumulated this winter!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Kifaru Paratrap

During the winter I realized that while my go-lite SL3 is great in the winter its almost a little too large for my needs.  Next winter I will be experimenting with some smaller tyvek tents like I have posted in the past.  However for the summer I wanted a very light and waterproof shelter to hang over my head.  I very much liked the idea of tarp camping so I set out to find something I liked.

I've always been a fan of Kifaru gear and settled on a paratarp for the warmer seasons.  To keep the cost down I order the tent without the door with the intent to fabricate my own if I feel the need for one.

This tent is the smallest one they sell and I find it quite well sized for me plus gear.  It needs about 5-6 stakes at the min to get a real solid pitch.  In this quick test setup I used 6 DAC aluminum stakes from go-lite and 2 extra sticks to help pin the mid point of the sides down.  If you really wanted to nail this thing down you could go crazy and use all 14 stake loops but its more then solid enough with the 6 or 8 main points...anything more is overkill, but I do very much like the fact that there is more then I need which may be helpful in howling winds.

The tent requires 2 sticks or trekking poles to erect.  When I use this during the summer I will most likely be paddling around with my packraft and dont really plan on bringing along my trekking poles.  This leaves me with the option of either using sticks or, as I have in the above photo, use the 2 lengths from my carbon sawyer paddle.  The two poles are just a little to small to pitch this at its optimum height but that is the beauty of tarp shelters, there is no set it stone size they need to be.
Inside I have laid out my tyvek ground sheet (AMK bivy bag) my new go-lite quilt and tossed my pack with packraft on the side (didn't lay out the sleeping pad for this picture).  As you can see there is still plenty of room inside to sleep quite comfortably.  During nasty rain or wind I might sleep diagonally to move closer to the back of the tent to keep my feet further under the overhang.

The weight breakdowns are as follows:

Kifaru Paratarp - 390g
Sawyer Carbon Poles - 384g

I am super impressed with the weight of the tent and considering I have to carry the paddles regardless I cant complain about their weight either.  Its hard to see from the photos but the tarp does have 2 hypalon sections where the poles rest to keep them from tearing thru during heavy winds.  As expected from kifaru this thing is very light yet extremely strong!  The only compaint I have, or the only negative point I can comment on right now is that the label on the integrated stuff sack seems to have been poorly stitched on...every single other stitch on the entire tent is flawless but the one none essential stitch is less then perfect...must have let the new guy attach all the labels to the stuff sacks ;).

Reviews To Come

Well, these last few weeks have been a whirlwind of projects and shipments!  As promised I plan to run a few initial reviews of the many things I have purchased to ready for the spring/summer/fall camping season.  This last week we were hit with a very late snow storm which pushed some of my plans back a bit but none the less I was able to get out on this beautiful weekend and enjoy the warmer weather.

Unpacked and ready to play

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wood Cook Stove

I had planned to do a couple video reviews of some equipment I use but the weather refused to cooperate with me (howling wind and blowing snow).  The reviews will come but for this update a simple picture log will have to suffice.

I very much like the idea of cooking on a wood stove, especially in the summer where melting snow isnt as much of a priority.  I was torn between a Vargo Hex or a Bushbuddy but considering I had some Ti sheet stock left over from a damper I built for my wood tent stove I decided to try and build something similar.

I use the GSI minimalist for my cooking and I wanted the stove to fit inside the pot, and still hold all my other cooking gear (spoon, pot supports, fire starter, pot holder).  Here you can see the pot packed with the stove and cooking implements.

I did not take into account the rounded bottom of the pot and as such the stove body prevents the lid from snapping on securely.  I was going to simply shorten the stove slightly but plan on building a stuff sack for it anyways to keep my pack clean so I'll leave it for now.

I always have my firesteel with my pack but I also like to keep a small vial of matches and strikers (orange waterproof case).

Here is the stove assembled and ready for wood.  There is a #8 stainless steel mesh suspended between the bottom vent holes and the upper vent holes...probably not needed but keeps you from marking the ground and lets the fire breath better.  The two upper rods are aluminum and rest in small cut outs, they let the pot sit much more stable and allow for greater airflow.  The large cutout was added after the first burn to help vent smoke faster...without the cutout the fire had a tendency to snuff itself out when a pot was placed ontop.  If you place the opening facing the wind you can easily add wood to the fire without removing the pot and without getting smoke in your face, always a nice feature.

Due to its single wall construction your not going to get the wood gas burning effect like you would with a bush buddy...but this was also free and I cant complain about free.  During the winter this stove will take about 12min to bring a full pot of snow to a boil (which equates to just under a cup of water).  I have yet to test it in the summer with room temperature water but I would expect ~10 - 15min for a rolling boil under moderate wind.

The total weight of this setup (minus the match case) comes in at 266g.  I really enjoy this setup as it seems to work very well and is quite inexpensive to setup ($2 in Ti sheet stock from my local metal dealer and the GSI minimalist was around $20 CAN).

If your looking to make your own wood burning stove, there is a great thread over here about using an ikea cutlery caddy.  Works quite well with an MSR Titian kettle or other similar sized pot.

I am expecting my GoLite quilt sometime this week along with some smartwool socks.  I do plan to do an initial 'unboxing' review just to post my first impressions and should be able to follow up later in the year with a full on field tested review (the quilt will be my spring/summer/fall sleeping system).

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Update So Far

As of late I have been added a blog post every night and sometime multiple posts.  I have quite a few photographs that have been take of past projects and wish to try and develop a timeline of when I was doing certain things.  I plan to keep updating this blog on a near daily bases even once I cover all my stock piled material...I also plan on keeping each post filled with photos/videos.

Fuzzy legged dawn deer
A few weeks ago I had to make my way back into the city quite early so I decided to take the opportunity to go for a short hike up a large hill and watch the sunrise before making my commute back into town (I work and live in the city but spend most weekends in the country).  This is a photo of a family of 7 deer.  I watched them walk a few minutes before quietly pulling out my camera, once they knew I wanted a picture they increased their speed into the bushes.  A combination of low ISO and the fact that deer move made for a little ghosting here and there.
After watching the deer disappear into the trees I stepped into my snowshoes and made the short trek up the hill to watch the sunrise.

From atop this hill I was able to see the original 7 deer walking across another field followed by another group of 3 more.  Inbetween the 2 groups there were also 3 coyotes that seemed to be taking advantage of the trail the deer were creating (they didn't seem to interested in the deer at this time, quite well fed by the looks of it).
This is also about the mid way point of a frozen creek that I plan on packrafting come summer.  Usually the water level is very low but due to the large volume of snow we accumulated this year the spring melt should turn the little creek into a faster moving river which should make for a nice ~20km trip.

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