Tuesday, November 29, 2016

hiking gear - size and weight maters

Three things I like about SOL gear is that it's light, compact, and inexpensive. Generally speaking; one recurring complaint I have about most gear sites is that although they might get the size or weight right. At least there is no way to know what things are until you've actually help them in your hand.

left: This SOL blanket is light and packs small. It could fit in a front or rear pocket nicely.
center: The SOL Sport Utility Blanket is also small and it could fit in a cargo pocket.
right: The Snugpak Stasha is the same size as the others, however, folding is not recommended as it will compromise the fabric and even so it does not fold to the same as the SOL. It's also heavier and more expensive.

left: the SOL emergency bivy can actually be folded to half it's size.
inside-left: the SOL emergency bivy XL
inside-right: SOL thermal bivy
right: 2gosystems bivy - very heavy and huge.

The truth in the matter is more noticeable in the ponchos.

left: SOL poncho with thermal reflection material (embrace the rain but stay warm doing it)
center: sea to summit ultra-sil tarp poncho - expensive and delicate
right: although this is the same bivy as above the 2gosystems-BOB is actually about the same size.

Winter hiking calories and food

Winter hiking is going to be a TECHNICAL pain in the ass with plenty of potential fun. In December I'm planning a 6 mile snow shoe hike and my biggest concern is that a 6 mile hike can become an all day event so it's important to have water, shelter, and food; more than anything else.

First Hike - 6 miles

Optional second hike - ?? miles
 In preparation I'm trying to figure out how many calories I need to bring with me. First and foremost there is a standing caloric need of approx 1200 calories with a winter adjustment of another 400 for a total of 1600. And snow shoeing can be from 420-1000 per hour depending on effort(400 calories at 2 mph on level terrain); plus the effects of elevation.

Food that is considered appropriate contain little to no water. Dehydrated food would be considered perfect but you need heat... therefore not so ideal if you do not have a stove; and I will not have a stove. Here are some food stuffs that I'm looking at.

I placed these two pouches in the freezer and they got very stiff after an hour. The honey almond butter was noticeably harder as there must be some moisture in the honey. The plain peanut butter softened right away. There is about 190 calories per 1oz pack.

I'll add some tabs to my water before I leave for the hike. These electrolytes have 8 calories per tab or about 54 calories. Since there is sodium in this product I'm hoping it lowers the freezing point of the water.

Jerky is going to be a good source of salt and protein calories. Each of these packets are 2oz and only 130 calories. The challenge here is that the honey has a higher moisture content and "fire" is not recommended when hiking in the snow and it may cause additional perspiration. And that'll kill a hiker.

I have additional calories on order and I'll test their freezing point when they arrive.

Each of these is about 100 calories, however, they contain caffeine and that is also undesirable.
My usual snacks are Trader Joes cookies, bulk chocolate broken into little pieces so it melts in my mouth, Ritz crackers which are loaded with butter and salt, small chunks of hard cheese or salami that I’ve cut up beforehand, gorp, brazil nuts, Justin nut butter packets which I squeeze into my mouth, packets of GU, Oreos, beef jerky, and small chunks of dried fruit. Another favorite of mine is Terra Blue chips which you can crush to make more room in your pack.
This quote came from an internet search with some sensible purchases for on the trail eating.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rear review - still too much for a one day hike in big cypress

Back in September I did a short 3 mile hike on the Florida Trail going north from the southern most terminus. The 3 miles took about 3 hours including actual travel time, a few breaks, and some trail maintenance. At the time I was over prepared. I carried too much water, gear, and my pack was just too robust.

In November I did a similar hike but this time heading south from the same starting point. My back was smaller and lighter than the Sept trip but I was still heavy and needed a different core setup.

Gear - this is SUL
  • hammock with straps
  • SOL shelter, blanket, poncho
  • shemog
  • small micro towel
  • first aid kit
  • water kit
  • headlamp
  • compass, whistle, knife
  • bank line
  • change of socks
Next time
  • 2L or 3L camekback
  • more food - I brought enough for lunch and a snack; I should have had enough for 4 meals and what I had was mostly carbs.
  • better boot repair kit or a second pair of shoes or boots
  • immodium (not sure why it's missing from my kit)
What I could have left home
  • 2 dehydrated meals
  • stove and pot
  • clothes except socks
  • bushcraft knife
  • spoon
  • fire kit
  • tarp stakes
UPDATE - shopping for a Cambak - Camelbak's website and Amazon are not helpful at all. I took the gear above and stuffed it into 3 1 gallon Ziplock bags thinking I's be able to get everything inside a 3L pack. I was wrong. 3 gallons is not the same as 3 liters. DUH! Camelbak offers many different sizes.... but this daypack requirement seems more like a base of 12L for gear and probably another 5-10L for food.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

"survival" - you don't know the meaning of the word

I went for a day hike with some friends. It's round trip is about 5 miles but the water level is everything from 6 to 32 inches deep. NO DRY LAND TO BE HAD.

I woke up at 0500 and headed to the ranger station. While I waited for Tom and Bill to arrive I ate, drank water, refilled my bottles and went to the bathroom. We finally got on the trail at 0800(just after sunrise) and you'll see later that we got off the trail at 1715 (just before sunset).

Technically we walked south 2.5 miles and then back; as Tom describes the effort it was like hiking 15 miles. Along the way we had many encounters:
  • big birds and little birds
  • alligator turtle
  • one alligator in our path.... twice (same alligator)
  • 4-5 alligators at Robert's Lake
We also rested and ate lunch at the Kayak Campground, it's unofficial and under water.

  • the soles of my boot came off. We spent 2 hours cumulative repairing them
  • I had finished my water with 200 yards left in the hike
  • I did not eat enough at lunch break
  • my right leg cramped on the trail
  • toes cramped all day long

We exited the trail at sunset. Any longer and we would have been using headlamps. With 1.5 to 2 miles left in the hike (just after the first boot failure) I started to mentally go through my gear for a "survival plan". And there is nothing that any of those "I'm a survivalist" was going to make this a success. Instead it was "Living with a SEAL" that won the day.

But like they say in the movie Frozen.  It was the best day ever. And it was the hardest physical experience of my life.

UPDATE: the hat seemed like a good idea at the time but it practice it was not.

UPDATE:  My android phone tracked my every step:
overview - ranger station to roberts lake

The area around the lake

Friday, November 18, 2016

Day Hike to Robert's Lake in Big Cypress - Gear

Heading out on a day Hike tomorrow to Robert's Lake in Florida's Big Cypress. I've hiked with these guys before and they go SUL because they know exactly what and where they are going. Last time I brought a hammock and rainfly and I never opened them up, The same for other food and supplies. This time we are looking at almost 8 hours on the trail with a stop for lunch.

The gear from right to left.

  • sitting/kneeling pad
  • 9oz hammock with webbing cinch straps
  • head net
  • SOL shelter
  • SOL poncho
  • fire kit - SAK, juke twine, dryr lint
  • cook kit - Stanley with 1 cup, Olicamp ION stove, 4oz canister fuel, fero rod
  • clothes - change of underware, socks, shirt
  • food - poptarts, peanut butter bars, Mac n Cheese, mashed potatoes
  • small folding chair
  • saw (doing some trail maint.)
  • gaiters
  • DIY hydration tube
  • first aid and water kit
  • headlamp, whistle, compass
  • cone hat
  • bandanna
  • schemog
It's under 10 pounds but I think I can lighter. One thing I have not checked on yet is just how deep the water is where we are going. That would help me decide on the right pack. I could also leave the stove behind.

Need a simple e-ticket commerce solution with paypal integration

This is not so much a review or recommendation as it is a rant about how difficult it STILL is to implement a simple and yet modern e-commerce site.


The naive days of the early web are gone yet most users are either sophisticated or uninformed and both need to be properly serviced. I need to build a simple e-commerce solution for what amounts to a e-ticket or event system.


The problem with most commercial versions of this type of software is that it is typically a SAAS (software as a service). And many charge a fee based on the percentage of the cost plus some fixed amount. This can be problematic because there is also a monthly fee and between the two costs it's too expensive to operate.


  • annual registration
    • once a year we ask our members to pay a family fee and register or name the members
  • event registration
    • About once a month we have an event. There is a fee for the dad and the first child. 
    • Each additional child may or may not have a fee associated with it
    • Each member needs to be identified
    • Sometimes we need to know shirt size or some other question
    • dad's need to be reminded to acknowledge terms and conditions, etc
    • dad's need to be reminded that annual registration is required
  • I need reporting for headcount etc so I can verify the dependency requirements.


There are many challenges. Firstly not all features in most eCommerce sites lend themselves to eTickets and vice versa. I've tried a number of compromises and very few are complete or they expect the user to jump too high.


I understand and respect that all these vendors need to make a living. If I had to build this site from scratch it would cost way more than I would like. I know this is open ended but maybe there is something someone else has done that might work? I'm not averse to hosting my own project or code but I'm very conscious of PCI so no personal information should leak; therefore some professionalism is required.


I looked at paypal but I cannot confirm the reporting.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

When a ridgeline isn't

In a previous post I was having trouble with my ridgeline.

After a short period the center started to sag but then I did some lite reading and discovered a few improvements.

  • lay the tarp put
  • set the initial position of the stakes under the tarp (presumably under the corners)
  • loosely secure the tie-outs
  • deploy the ridgeline
  • secure the tarp over the ridgeline
  • and done...
But I still had some sag. 

So I moved the stakes out in order to get some east/west tension. I also tried making the lines more taught. But it still sagged.  Since the last thing I wanted to do was a prusik knot on the ridgeline that's exactly what I did.

I still hated using a rock but one thing was clear. Grommets mean that my solutions might be limited to how the grommets function or the options they give me. In this case the tarp is going to take a beating but I can convert my lean-to into an a-frame fairly easily. And if I had grommets I might not consider that that was an option if the grommets were in fixed positions.

There is still room for improvement. The tension is not equal on all sides.

One other thing to note. The prusik knots would not have been possible if I were not home with a box of cordage. So it would be a good idea to take some extra cord with me wherever I go.

Review: SOL Shelter Kit

The SOL Shelter Kit is a cost effective and almost complete shelter kit.  While the ziplock pouch includes [1] reflective plastic coated Mylar tarp [2] 4x 4" stakes [3] 4x guy lines; by itself and in bare terrain it is only useful as ground tarp. In order to make a proper lean-to or A-Frame you'll need additional gear.

  • at least 25" of cordage for a ridgeline
  • two trees or static objects within reach of the cordage; optionally trekking poles or some branches
  • 4 small pebbles for attaching the included cordage to the tarp
Needed some extra gear to deploy the lean-to

I think the overhang was a little too big but the height was 48".

Not sure what happened. This was just 5 minutes later. The tie-outs survived but the ridgeline fell over. There must be some sweet spot for the ridgeline preventing it from moving north or south. Optionally I could use a prusik knot and tension the tarp on the ridgeline which would extend to the north/south stability. However, after adjusting the ridgeline and poles things are holding.

NOTE: The small 4" C-stakes provided with the SOL are solid. There is something to be said for the torque I was able to get then the folded over portion of the stake was closer to the ground.

The SOL products are pretty robust but like any piece of kit you need to have the confidence that it will work ever time and that it will take an expected amount of punishment. If you depended on this tarp in a *cough* survival circumstance you better have some confidence how long it will last. For example I'd prefer to have gorilla taped reinforced grommets instead of stones as they are not always available and depending on the location the types of stones might have different effects on the tarp. Whereas a grommet would have a consistent effect and only add very minimal cost which I would gladly pay.

Review: SOL Poncho

The SOL Poncho is a simple poncho without buttons, shock cord or tie-outs. But it is large and made of the same material that makes all of SOL's products so unlike Mylar alone it may rip or puncture but it won't tear endlessly like Mylar alone and it can be repaired with tape or duct tape. It also has the same heat reflective properties of SOL's other products. And it is compact.

The closest Poncho might be the Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil, however, it has all the bells and whistles that the SOL does not and it comes at a price. The Ultra-Sil costs $100 and the SOL under $10 and is less than half the size.

I have never needed a Bug Out Bag (BOB) in my car but if I did then this would be a welcome component.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

SOL Shelter or Heavy Blanket

The SOL Heavy Duty Blanket is included in the SOL Shelter. So the question is do you buy one or the other. And what about the sport utility blanket? Is there a combination that makes sense?

Heavy Duty Blanket
The heavy blanket has a diagonal of 8.6 feet. That's a pretty good tarp length for a hammock setup.

Shelter with Blanket Included
The stakes are only 4 inches in length and given the environment might not really be long enough for anything but they are something. This self contained kit is probably ideal when you don't really plan to stop but it's not critical enough to be an emergency. (because I hate misusing the word "survival")

Sport Utility Blanket
The Sport Utility Blanket is a thick version of the emergency blanket and includes grommets. It's good as a footprint but it's a slightly different size and weight from the blanket. Considered a previous post where I was deploying a lean-to the cordage and stake requirements were odd. 

I think I need to add grommets to the blanket and that would make it competitive.

simple ground tarp setup

As I continue to test my gear and skills here is the ground setup I had in mind:

In the end I was able to reuse some stakes and reduce the number of guy lines.

UPDATE: adding a bugnet to this configuration means that I need 10x 5', 2x 10', and 1x 25' segments of rope to reduce the number of stakes. Then again maybe Shepard hooks would be better.

light weight and cheap reflective tarp.

I started by staking down the footprint to prevent it from blowing away. I spread the tarp over top and re-staked the head section. fabricated the ridgeline and then staked down the footer.

the lines at the footer are nearly 45deg 
The trekking poles are set to approximately 44in although I intended it to be 48in so I could sit upright at the foot.

plenty of room
Most bug nets are shaped like a pyramid assuming the head is below the peak. In this configuration the peak is by the foot but it should work if the netting is taught.

5 minutes of modest wind

Since I had recycled the footprint's stakes for the tarp... just 5 minutes later the footprint was a mess.

at 48 inches
I reset the tarp's ridgeline to 48 inches. At this height the tarp was a little less stable. To correct I moved the trekking poles toward the head and angled the ridgeline stakes further still. I also added small badge clips to the loops on the tarp. And then I added the bugnet.

In conclusion this setup did not take very long but there is a strong argument for deploying the tarp first and the footprint second so it might remain dry or at least less muddy. 48in is a nice height. There are still some on site issues like direction of the rain and if there is rain at all. One could argue against the bug net in winter except that there is some critter protection there too. And as for the rain there is nothing like a mylar blanket. The tarp is meant to keep the direct rainfall off your body and gear.


  • wrong size cordage - needed 25', 6x 3', 6x 10'.
  • although I deployed 10 stakes I could have used 2 more although cordage could have reduced that number
UPDATE: total weight was 1350g

UPDATE: the SOL version of this configuration is 250g lighter and packs considerably smaller.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

better rain poncho

I thought a tarp poncho would be a good idea.

  1. 2GoSystems BOB. $30.00
  2. Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil NanoTarp-Poncho. $99.00 - 8.1oz
  3. Sea to Summit Sil Poncho. $??.00 - 5.1oz
  4. Seat to Summit Nylon Poncho. $59 - 13oz
  5. Wealers one size fits all. $12.00 - 40g
  6. SOL Poncho. $11.70 - 3.2oz
  7. misc $13.95 (prices vary) - 9oz
  8. Disney World Poncho. $10 - ?oz
First and foremost the quote of the day:
embrace the rain --me
I've spent a lot of time thinking about ponchos. For a time I was obsessed with poncho-tarps because two in one functionality is what the bushcrafters talk about over and over again. And after all this time it occurs to me that these guys were distracted by butterflies. The breakdown is like this:

  1. a survival kit means that you are insuring against death and that you are in conditions there that is possible and rescue unlikely. In that case a SOL type poncho is best because of it's properties.
  2. Walking around Disney World or Universal studios. They sell ponchos on every corner when it rains. Save the pack weight and buy it when you need it.
  3. going on a weekend hike and you know the weather is going to be good and that rain would be freaky....
  4. going on a long hike or rain is inevitable....
I don't know how durable the SOL Poncho is but if I've got some Gorilla tape I should be able to repair anything. Given the cost and weight I should be able to buy more than one as a backup. The SOL it taped and does not have any cordage. With a little shock cord as a belt you can secure it nicely. The BEST part of the SOL is the reflective material. Given the cost of the Ultra-Sil NanoTarp-Poncho you can buy 8 for the same price.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Dry Bags for ultralight hiking

I agree with the hypothesis that a pack with a single main body is sufficient... for minimalist hiking, generalist hiking, camping, etc... The author of this operating theory makes exceptions for a wet tarp, tent, poncho, towel and other gear. But does not make a recommendation about a traditional pack with lots of pockets, a dry pack with a single chamber or in between.

Since I have been experimenting I have been going down many bad paths.

35L dry pack

regular straps

Many months ago I purchased my first dry pack. That was before I realized or learned that I was going to have to put wet gear in the main compartment. Also, I started to think that the pack was too small at 35L. I was able to get my UL and SUL gear in this pack, but again the all in one was not going to work realistically.

The El Capitan was an interesting pack even though it has a number of flaws. The main compartment is black making it difficult to see anything in the pack. The lattice shockcord on the back does not function well. The sternum strap required a repair from the factory. The side web pockets, while deep, are sticky making water bottles less desirable. The pack itself is kinda heavy so UL hiking will require getting down to SUL gear.

set of 3 arrived with 2 40L bags instead of a 25L.

single strap works for short distances but generally uncomfortable
This YO dry pack was a $20 purchase which they claim is now sold out. It was just a waste of money although I might use it for my kids clothing on our next trip.

This pack has saved me more than once. Every time I tried one of those packs above I find myself falling back to this one. It was pretty good in Seattle for day hikes and basic prepper gear.

Sport sack
I like this Under Armor Sport Sack. The material is light and sturdy. There is the main chamber, front pocket and a small zippered side pocket (for glasses). The straps are padded cord of some kind and I have 3rd party shoulder straps on order. For a sport sack you'd think they would have a sports bottle pocket or something. In the coming week I'm going to reassemble my SUL pack which will likely be made from SOL products.

And so before I close the book on this post... my conclusion is that drybags (-1) and single chamber (+1) but remember a pack liner.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

alcohol stove vs isobut canister stove

Pictured below are my RUCAS alcohol stove and my Olicamp ION canister stove. I started cooking with my RUCAS but quickly frustrated with the flames reaching up the side of my Stanley pot.

It's possible and even probable that my flame size is related to the way I use the stove; resting the pot directly on the stove; or maybe it's the fuel. In the intervening months I abandoned the RUCAS in favor of the canister stove.

But recently I was watching a video prepared by RevHiker and he mentioned that either his pocket rocket or his replacement had a tendency to quirt fuel when disassembling his stove. That got me to thinking about a number of things related to Survival. In recent weeks I have been rejecting "survival" as an offshoot of bushcraft a real thing. My hypothesis remains, not much will happen in 3-4 days on the AT or FT if your food get's eaten by a critter or your stove malfunctions.

Now that I have one spare canister and 3 on the way I find myself concerned about malfunctions. Realistically you never hear anyone complain about serious canister malfunctions. This biggest risk is likely the 4th season and it's effect on the gaskets but since this is Florida and I'm not planning to hike in the winter that should not be a problem.

Out of curiosity I checked the pricing of the Toaks Stove kit. The discount price is nice although they are sold out and they are not offered on Amazon. It's important to note that the same rules still apply. Alcohol stoves do not have an off switch, they can spill and start a fire, and are simply not allowed in some high risk parks.

So like everything else in my pack... it's all about well organized planning.

tarp shelter is harder than it looks

Setting up a stasha looks simple enough:

Snugpak Stasha
But it is harder than it looks and I'm not sure how this person got the fabric to lay so perfectly without any typical hallmarks of tension on the material.

My first attempt looked like this:

First I staked the corners with some expectation of the shelter's width. I tried to use the poles and some tension from the poles but I had nothing but sag in the middle.

So I decided to use the poles as loops. This worked  to give the ridge of the shelter some tension, however the cordage was on the outside of the shelter which would make hanging a bugnet impossible.

Also, you might not be able to tell from this angle but it is going to be impossible to get in the shelter for all but maybe the youngest or smallest child.

I tried leaning the pole to one side. Maybe a few small adults would be able to enter the shelter but this is starting to remind me of a WWII Shelter. Enter on one side and exit the other.

I started looking more closely at the example picture and I noticed a few things. [a] there seemed to be a few more tie-out points than my tarp. [b] at the point where the ridgeline exits the shelter is seems to have about a 15 degree slope toward whatever the cordage is attached to. I imaging it's a tree or some other fixed object. (I also noticed the seam ran perpendicular to the ridgeline.)

So I reconsidered the configuration and got this:

I set my poles to 44in and set them back about 2-4 feet from the shelter.

And I had some success although this looks like 30 degrees and not 15. Which, after a few minutes, the tarp settled and this happened:

Notice the end bunched up.

There is only one way to get a taught ridgeline and that's probably a good anchor. In my case the soil is loose and the coral underneath it is too hard. Yet another one of the lessons learned about erecting non-primitive shelters.

I typically buy my cordage in 100 foot increments and I have a bucket filled with remnants. Right now I'm feeling the fool as this was a new 100 foot spool of cordage that I cut into 3x 25ft lengths and in the picture above the one 25ft segment was perfect for the application. And maybe that's why bushcrafters make the recommendation. They also tend to recommend 4x 10ft segments. In total that is 65ft leaving 35ft for whatever or maybe a bearbag hang although I've read 50ft.

I'm guessing the height at this point. I'm just trying to get an easy lay.

Here is the cinch.

Commentary. I do not like this shelter. Trying to insert the stakes I realized how wet the ground was and the idea of tracking that mud into my sleeping bag was going to be a problem because I wanted to care for my gear so that I was not replacing it every hike.

Now I'll install my sleeping system.

1) tyvek foorprint 2) them-a-rest closed cell mattress 3) SOL 2 person blanket/bivy 4) pyramid mosquito net

Notice I have these badge clips. They were intended to secure the net to my hammock but I realized the would work with the tarp too.

And then I got everything stuffed under the shelter.

I think the answer looks like this:

It was fast to setup and faster to break down... even though I did not complete the task and I could still use some practice... it's just more reliable than the tarp shelter. I think I can make an argument for a hammock but the ground hammock is a waste of time for certain.

UPDATE: I did not want to write a second review or a review of the SeaToSummit Sil poncho but I took my poncho and drapped it over the tarp in order to compare them. On this side I lined them up edge to edge and then walked around the shelter to the other side.

There is about a 6 inch difference in width. This is less than super fantastic because [a] the snugpak shelter is not big enough for an adult human. [b] therefore the tarp/poncho is not either.

The SOL below is just a few inches smaller, offers heat reflection, packs smaller, is $10 cheaper, includes cordage and stakes even though they are Trump sized (small). and is lighter by about 50g.
One thing for certain those stakes need to be secure and that was not possible in my backyard.

another bad day for open source

One of the hallmarks of a good open source project is just how complicated it is to install, configure and maintain. Happily gitlab and the ...