Thursday, June 11, 2015

Trekking Poles and Why I Use Them

For many many years I resisted the use of trekking poles. I had tried using poles a few times, and they always seemed like more of a nuisance than help. I had tried some cheap trekking poles, which I ended up carrying more than using; I also tried a staff because…well…bushcraft. I ended up leaving it in the woods.

About two years ago however I decided to give them a more serious try. My motivation was to use a set of trekking poles as the tent pole for my GoLite Shangri-La 3 tent. I figured, if they work as a tent pole, even if I don’t actually use them while walking, and simply keep them in the pack for shelter set up and river crossings, then it would be worth it, especially if I could find a lightweight set.

So, I did some research and ended up with an older 2012 model of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork, which I got at a discount.

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They did indeed work well as a center pole for the SL3. What was surprising however was that I started using them a lot while walking as well.

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Even now that I don’t usually use the SL3, and have a free standing tent with its own pole system, I still carry the trekking poles on most trips. There are two differences between my current attempt to use trekking poles and my previous ones where they didn’t work out.

The first reason is that I got good trekking poles. The weight of the poles makes a huge difference in how usable they are. The weight matters not just because you have to carry it in your hands all the time, but more importantly, because a lightweight set of poles can move without effort at your walking pace. Heavy poles require more effort to move, and you either get tired trying to force them to keep up with your pace, or they start to fall behind, which makes for a miserable experience. I find that a combined pole weight of about one pound or under works very well. The poles I have weight 16 oz. There are lighter poles out there, but these have some features that I like.

The second reason is that they make a big difference with my knee pain. Due to some childhood injuries, I have pretty bad knees. On many trips I would be in extreme pain, especially when going down hill. The trekking poles have greatly reduced the stress on my knees. It is not so much an issue of distributing the weight, as my pack is fairly light, but rather it’s an issue of stabilizing my knees. For me, just like with a lot of other people, knee pain while backpacking comes from lack of lateral support on the knee. When walking on rough terrain, the knees do experience a lot of stress from side to side, trying to stabilize the body. That lateral stress can cause severe pain. The trekking poles take away a lot of that stress by serving the role of stabilizers. For me, it has been a big change. There are trips on which I suffered years ago, that I have been able to repeat recently with no problem.

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And of course, you have the usual benefits such as river crossings, walking in deep snow, and weight distribution when carrying a heavy load. They also easily attack to the side of a pack when not needed.

So, that’s why I started using trekking poles and why I have continued to use them. If you haven’t had success with them in the past, but are still interested in using trekking poles, try a light weight pair that can be adjusted to your desired height. It may make a difference for you. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Trip Report: Killing Time 5/23/15 - 5/24/15

So, there was some talk on one of the forums about glamping, which then lead to a discussion about whether people go camping to relax or for other reasons. So this past weekend I figured I would just go out into the woods to relax. I didn’t plan anything; no hunting, no fishing, no specific objective at all. I figured I would just walk about during the day, set up camp, and relax.

To that end, I picked out a relatively easy trip. I was to follow a set of trails up a mountain, and then camp out when I found a good spot somewhere further up. It was about 10 miles round trip. It would give me plenty of free time to kill during the day and relax.

I decided to take Rhea with me, who is in desperate need of a haircut.


















I approached the mountain from the faster, but steeper side. It made for some scrambling up slopes. Luckily Rhea is a pro at climbing up nearly vertical rock. She is not as good as she was a few years back, but she can still climb up 70 degree rock without a problem.




















Around mid day I reached a ridge on top of the mountain. From there it was fairly smooth travel.

































Early afternoon I reached a valley where I intended to camp. My hope was that there would be a few pools of later there, but no such luck. For the rest of the trip I had to ration out the water I had brought, about three litters.

On the plus side, I was in a location with plenty of standing dead pine, and even some birch. It made fire prep very easy even with limited tools. 


















With fire prep done, and camp set up, I took a nap for a few hours. When I woke up, I got the fire going.


















The only thing left to do was to cook up dinner. I carry a small one litter pot without a bail. People often think that you have to suspend a pot over a fire, or put it directly on the coals, but just putting it right next to the fire will get your water boiling in no time.




































As usual, I went to sleep when the sun went down. The mosquitoes were swarming, and I got eaten up pretty badly. For fortunately, the night was relatively cold and they subsided.

The next day we ate breakfast. I was very low on water, so we started on our way out. It took us less that five hours to make it out of the forest, but we did run out of water before that. Unfortunately there was just no water left for me refill. The soil in this are is very rocky, so when the temperatures go up, the water sources dry up. It wasn’t a big issue this time because it was just a relaxing trip, but it can be a headache in some cases.


So, that some relaxing for you. I find that it gets pretty boring. There is only so much sitting around the fire and sleeping that I can do. It’s not bad to just hang out from time to time though.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

Primos Bombshell Turkey Call Review

Now, I usually don’t review hunting products, primarily because I am not good enough at the craft to be able to offer any meaningful perspective, but I’ve been using this product for a bit now, and I think it’s an interesting option so I wanted to bring it to you attention.

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The Primos Bombshell Turkey Call is an interesting concept because it is designed to be used both as a hand held call and a gun mounted call. As a hand held call it can be used by depressing the plunger to make the calls. As a gun mounted call, it can be used by pulling on the string attached to the opposite end of the call.

For me it offered an interesting option because it allows you to call while holding the shotgun with both hands and aiming. The movement required to operate the call when attached to the shotgun is minimal. As such, it eliminates the need for a mouth call. You don’t have to put down your box or slate call, pick up the shotgun, and then transition to the mouth call. You can do it all in one.

The call attaches to the barrel of a shotgun with a Velcro strap.

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Once attached, you can use one finger of the hand on the forward grip to pull on the string on the back of the call. With it you can do the whole range of calls.

Before using it or buying one, there are two things you should do. The first is to make sure that it fits your shotgun in a way that will allow easy use. It fits perfectly on mine. I don’t have to alter my grip in any way in order to be able to use the call. With some shotguns, that may not be the case however. The second is to tune the call. Mine sounded horrible out of the box. However, by turning one of the green plunger supports when the plunger is depressed, you can tune the pitch of the call until you get the sound you want. While I still prefer the sound I can get out of my box call, this one can get pretty close. I have been equally unsuccessful with either.

The Primos Bombshell is relatively compact and can be locked for transport. It is slightly shorter and wider than a box call. It weighs 3.3 oz on my scale and retails for about $20.

I find that I get much better sound by pulling on the string then by working the plunger. That is fine with me because I always have it attached to the shotgun. For me that is the main benefit of the call. Operating the call while having the shotgun in position really cuts down on movement.

Online reviews of the product have been very mixed. Some people love it, others think it is horrible. I think some of the complaint result from simply not taking the time to learn how to operate the call and tune it properly. Other complaints about build quality are more legitimate. It is indeed made of plastic and attaches with Velcro. It’s in no way a work of art. That being said, there is no real reason why it should fail you if used properly. I haven’t had any issues with it so far. 

That’s all I can say about it. I’ve used it for some time now and get get it to sound almost as good as my box call and can use it without having to put down the shotgun or transition to a mouth call. Since I don’t do that much calling, I can’t tell you much more than that. It’s an interesting option, and it may be worth a look.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Not All Tinder Fungus Is The Same

You guys may remember that a few weeks back I did a post where I referenced a show where one type of fungus was shown, but another type actually used for the fire lighting. Well, I was out and about and figured I would pick up two of the most often confused fungi and give you a quick comparison.

To be specific, here I am talking about tinder fungus that can be ignited with flint and steel. Please keep in mind that flint and steel is not the same as a ferrocerium rod, which is a modern invention.

Let me start out by saying that if you look hard enough, you will find someone who with enough effort and luck has managed to ignite just about anything. While I don’t want to discredit such achievements, they are not particularly realistic when in the woods. Here I will discuss tinder that will actually easily and repeatedly catch a spark from flint and steel.

The two fungi that immediately pop into the picture when discussing flint and steel fire lighting are Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) and Horseshoe Fungus (Fomes fomentarius). The two often get confused when talk of tinder fungus begins. While both can serve in that role, only one can be used without any preparation.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Chaga is most often found on birch trees, but can grow on other trees as well. The fungus has an outer appearance like burnt wood or coal, and actually grows into the tree as well as on the outside.

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When broken off, it reveals an orange interior that looks like cork.

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It is this inner material that is capable of catching a spark from a flint and steel. It does not require any preparation other than drying and getting the pieces into appropriate shape.

Horseshoe Fungus (Fomes fomentarius)

Horseshoe fungus, sometimes also referred to as horse’s hoof fungus, grows on a variety of trees. While the main body of the fungus is on the outside of the tree, it actually penetrates the bark of the tree causing damage to it. The fungus can very in color from almost white to almost black. In my experience it is a lot more common than Chaga. 

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This fungus can also be used to catch a spark from a flint and steel, but it requires extensive preparation.

While the fungi look very similar on the inside and it may seems like they would be equally capable of catching a spark, they are not.

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Unlike Chaga, the large inner area of the Horseshoe Fungus is not actually the area which is used for tinder. The part of the fungus that is useful is a thin layer between the outer shell and the inner part of the fungus. In the picture below it shows as a lighter yellow band running along the outer shell. 

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Once the area is removed from the fungus, it is traditionally prepared by pounding it into this layers and then boiling it in lye for about 12 hours or soaking it in the solution for several days. Then the material is dried. Only then is it ready for use. Once prepared it is referred to as Amadou. The preparation process is much more extensive than with Chaga.  

Now, all that being said, I have seen people light the removed tinder area from Horseshoe Fungus just after drying it. I’ve only seen it done with certain species that have a particularly thick area of this material. However, I stick to the traditional preparations for each fungus because when out in the woods you need to have tinder that works every time without fail.

All of the above aside, I want to dispel the perception which seems to exist that you can just go into the woods, grab some fungus from a tree and light it with your knife and a piece of flint rock. That is a recipe for failure.

Please remember that fungi are living organisms. As living organisms they actively process water and circulate it through the body of the fungus. Even though some fungi may look like dried pieces of wood, in reality they are full of water. Trying to light a freshly removed piece of fungus will likely result in failure. No matter which fungus you try to use, you will have to spend at least a day drying it out in good sunlight.

Lastly, I have only mentioned the two tinder fungi that come up most often in the northeastern United States where I roam about. There are many other examples from other parts of the country and the world with which I don’t have too much first hand experience. Use the resources that are available to you in your area. Having Chaga shipped you you from another part of the world so you can use it as tinder in some ways misses the point. There are certainly fine local examples of tinder that can be learned.