Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pre-Filter for the MSR Miniworks EX

There are different commercially available pre-filters on the market for almost every model. However they are such a simple design, that there is no reason not to make one yourself.

Why use a pre-filter? Well, it depends on the quality of the water. If it is a clear water supply, then it is not needed at all. It should be used when your water source contains a lot of sediment and particles. The pre-filter serves to remove some of the larger particles, so they do not clog up your filter. Make no mistake; a pre-filter will allow all sorts of particles to go through. Think about a coffee filter. When you use one in your coffee maker, it removes the grains, but the coffee is not exactly clear drinking water.

Here is how I made mine. I took a small plastic container (it came from a chocolate egg in which there was a small toy). You can use a film canister to do the same thing. In one end make a hole into which to fit the filter hose. Make sure it is a tight fit. On the other end of the container make several holes. Now take the end of the filter tube, and wrap it in coffee filters or whatever material you wish to use. Close it, and you are good to go.



In the field, you can disassemble it, and clean the dirt from the filters, or can just replace them if they get very dirty. When not using the pre-filter, make sure you let it dry well so it does not become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Friday, July 30, 2010

MSR Miniworks EX Water Filter

There are a number of good options on the market today when it comes to cleaning your drinking water in the woods. Here I want to give you a brief overview of the MSR Miniwirks EX filter, and explain why I chose to use it over the other options on the market.

Specifications:
Weight: The MSR Miniworks EX comes in at 14.6 oz.
Filtering Element: The MSR Miniworks EX uses a field cleanable ceramic filter element with a carbon core. The pore size of the filter element is 0.2 microns.
Filtering Speed: The MSR Miniworks EX filters one liter per minute.
Cost: The MSR Miniworks EX retails for $90.00.

The Miniworks EX is a hand operated filter, meaning you will have to pump it. The specifications state that it will pump one liter of water per minute, although I can tell you that the pumping rate is effected to a large degree by the quality of the water.

The filter uses a ceramic filter with a carbon core. The pore size of the filter is 0.2 microns. That makes it effective against protozoans such as giardia and cryptosporidium as well as bacteria. The filter will remove sediment and particles from the water, and the carbon core removes some of the chemicals and taste. Viruses however will not be removed and if they are a concern in your particular area, you should carry an additional chemical treatments like chlorine.

The Miniworks EX is not light. It weighs 14.6 oz. The filter element however is good for up to 2000 liters, and more importantly, can be cleaned in the field. The cleaning process is quite simple. You just unscrew the top of the filter, pull out the ceramic element and depending on how dirty it is, you can either just wipe it down, or use the provided scrubbing pad to scrub off a layer from the top of the filter. Put it back in and you are good to go. The whole process takes about two to five minutes.

So, why do I use this filter. Well, it is mostly because of the area in which I mainly backpack. The terrain in my area is very rocky, and any rain runs off quickly. Most times of the year, water is hard to find. You will not run across many clear flowing streams. As a result, most times I will be pumping water from a puddle or a swamp. The quality of the water tends to be low.

MSR Miniworks EX vs. Chemical Treatment

Because of the low quality of the water, chemical purifiers are out for me. First of all, it is only recently that chemical purifiers have developed to the level where they can kill cryptosporidium. The old standbys chlorine and iodine were not able to do that. Newer solutions like chlorine dioxide, and MIOX can get the job done, but take up to four hours. That is just too slow for me.

The second, and more important reason is that it is crucial for me to remove all the garbage out of the water. I do not want mud or insects or amphibian eggs in my water. Chemical purifies do nothing to address that problem, and filtering through something like a coffee filter does little to remove anything other than the very large particles. Like I’ve said before, purified swamp water still tastes like swamp water.

That leaves out purifiers. Now, why this filter over other filters? The models which I consider competitors and would consider buying are the Katadyn Hiker Pro, the Katadyn Vario, the Pre-Mac Travel Well Trekker, and the MSR HyperFlow filter. I will also consider the Katadyn Pocket, although I do not consider it to be in the same league of products.

MSR Miniworks EX vs. Katadyn Hiker Pro

Weight: The Katadyn Hiker Pro weighs 11.0 oz.
Filtering Element: The Katadyn Hiker Pro uses a glassfiber filter with a carbon core. Pore size of the filter element is 0.3 microns.
Filtering Speed: The Katadyn Hiker Pro filters one liter per minute. Cost: The Katadyn Hiker Pro retails for $80.00.

The reason why I use the MSR Miniworks EX over the Katadyn Hiker Pro is because of the filtering element. I have found that in water which contains fine sediment, filters get clogged in a very short period of time, maybe even after filtering just a litter or two of water. With the glassfiber filter of the Hiker Pro, you would have to replace the filter. The Miniworks EX on the other hand is field cleanable. Even in the worse conditions, the filter can be removed, cleaned, and put back without any tools. Considering that I rarely use clear water sources, the glassfiber filter was a non-starter.

MSR Miniworks EX vs. Katadyn Vario

Weight: The Katadyn Vario weighs 15.0 oz.
Filtering Element: The Katadyn Vario uses a glassfiber filter with a carbon core. Pore size of the filter element is 0.3 microns. The Katadyn Vario also has a ceramic pre-filter which can be put in place if the water source contains a lot of sediment.
Filtering Speed: The Katadyn Vario filters two liters per minute with just the glassfiber element.
Cost: The Katadyn Vario retails for $90.00.

The Vario is a theoretical improvement over the Hiker Pro, but it is just unclear what the advantages over the MSR Miniworks EX are. Its main filter is still a glassfiber one, so I have the same issue as I did with the Hiker Pro. The addition of the ceramic pre-filter is a good one, but then again, the Miniworks EX is an all ceramic filter. The Vario seems to add unnecessary complexity for the gained benefit of faster filtering when the ceramic element is removed. To me the benefit is not worth the sacrifice in durability.

MSR Miniworks EX vs. Pre-Mac Travel Well Trekker

Weight: The Pre-Mac Travel Well Trekker weighs 6.4 oz.
Filtering Element: The Pre-Mac Travel Well Trekker uses a fiber filter with an iodine-resin complex. I was unable to find the pore size of the filtering element, but because the water is passed through the iodine, it functions as a filter-purifier combination, which should serve to kill all bacteria and viruses left in the water after the filtering.
Filtering Speed: The Pre-Mac Travel Well Trekker filters 0.4 liters per minute.
Cost: The Pre-Mac Travel Well Trekker retails for $110.00.

The Pre-Mac is a British made filter which seems to hold a great advantage. That is because it is both a filter and a purifier. It has a fiber filter as well as an iodine core which purifies the water as well as filtering it. This makes it effective against sediment, parasites, bacteria and viruses. Remember that the Miniworks EX does not do anything against viruses. Combined with the low weight of the filter, it should be a no brainer.

The truth is that I specifically did not like the Pre-Mac for this very reason. I do not want a filter-purifier combination. I want my filter to be as simple as possible. In North America, viruses are not much of an issue. Unless you are in some area where you think there is human contamination in the water, disinfecting for viruses is massive overkill. That being said, I carry with me a small bottle of SweetWater chlorine solution. If I think the water is especially suspect, I will add five drops. That will kill any viruses in the water. I like having the option of not putting chemicals in my water unless I feel it is necessary.

The second reason why I prefer the Miniworks EX is the ceramic filter. Again, the fiber filter is not field maintainable. On top of that the Pre-Mac Travel Well Trekker can only filter up to 250 litters before the filter has to be replaced. That is almost ten times lower than any of the above filters. This will significantly increase the running cost, as each replacement filter is around $40.00. Also, while I am not a person who does nuts over the speed of the filter, the Pre-Mac Travel Well Trekker is two and a half times slower than even the slowest of the above filter.

MSR Miniworks EX vs. MSR HyperFlow

Weight: The MSR HyperFlow weighs 7.8 oz.
Filtering Element: The MSR HyperFlow uses a hollow fiber filter element. Pore size of the filter element is 0.2 microns.
Filtering Speed: The MSR HyperFlow filters three liters per minute.
Cost: The MSR HyperFlow retails for $100.00.

While the HyperFlow can pump water three times faster than the Muniworks EX and is much lighter, I did not chose it for the same reason as with most of the other filters-the filter element. Considering the type of water I filter, a fiber filter is not the right choice for me.

The HyperFlow can be field cleaned by reversing the valves and using some clean water to back pump it. I have found this process to be unreliable and time consuming. I have found myself in situations where I have simply not been able to back pump the filter because it has been so clogged. This is not something I want to deal with even if I have a source of clean water with which to back pump. The fact that a filter is light in your backpack does not mean much when it can not filter your water.

MSR Miniworks EX vs. Katadyn Pocket

Weight: The Katadyn Pocket weighs 20.4 oz.
Filtering Element: The Katadyn Pocket uses a ceramic filter element. Pore size of the filter element is 0.2 microns.
Filtering Speed: The Katadyn Pocket filters one liter per minute.
Cost: The Katadyn Pocket retails for $290.00.

The name "Pocket" is perhaps a bit of a misnomer here. The filter weighs significantly more than any of the above filters. It has a filter pore size that is the same as the Miniworks EX, clearly also ceramic. Filtering speed is the same. The big advantage of the Katadyn Pocket is its durability. It has a metal body, and the filter element can last for up to 50,000 liters as compared to 2,000 for the Miniworks EX. Keep in mind however that a replacement filter for the Katadyn Pocket is about $180.00. The main reason why I do not consider this filter to be in the same league as those listed above is the cost. It is about three and a half times the cost of a MSR Miniworks EX. It provides the same benefits as the Miniworks EX (same speed, same pore size, field cleanable), but is built in a more robust manner. At three and a half times the cost however, it can afford to do all of those things.

None of the above filters should be considered "bad". The reason why I mentioned them is because they are respected and widely used by many people around the world. As you can see, most of them have very similar specifications. The reasons for my choice are personal ones. I like durable and robust equipment, and the conditions in my area lead me to prefer a ceramic filter such as the MSR Miniworks EX. Using it is certainly not a walk in the park. If I am using a water source with a high amount of fine sedimentation, I might have to take out the filter and clean it after every few litters pumped, but I can keep it working under even those conditions while other filter would probably fail. After over three years of use, it has not failed me. Pick the filter that is right for your conditions.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Deadfalls and Snares by A. R. Harding

Deadfalls and Snares is a book written and published by A.R. Harding in the early 1900s. It focuses on different trapping techniques using, you guessed it, deadfalls and snares. The author goes through different traps, designed for specific types of animals, and the best ways to both use the traps, and the best time to use them.

I find that the pictures do not give a good enough view of how each trap works. The text however is well written, and goes a long way to remedy that ambiguity. This is the type of text that is hard to find these days, but the material covered can be very valuable to the outdoorsman.


As fart as I know the book is in the public domain and can be downloaded herehere, and a number of other places online.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Making Soap in the Bush

We can all appreciate the value of soap, but I have noticed that many manuals which provide instruction of how to make it under primitive conditions (such as the US Army manual), are so basic and simplistic that they not only make it impossible to complete the process correctly, but greatly underestimate the amount of time required for the process.

Because of the time commitment involved (could be several days to make and weeks to cure), making soap is not something easily achieved during a short camping trip, and requires a set up more similar to that of Dick Proenneke (log cabin in the middle of the woods).

There is however, an up side. Most manuals and soap recipes have in mind the production of commercial quality soap. There is a large range between such quality soap, and usable soap. This leaves a lot of room for error, while still allowing for clean dishes.

The basics of soap are water, lye and fat. All of them can be obtained in the bush.

The Fat:

There isn’t much to it when it comes to usable soap. I don’t know of any organic fat that can not be used for this purpose. Compacted animal fat tends to yield the best results, but vegetable fat will get the job done, even if the soap ends up a bit soft.

Assuming you are using animal fat, probably from a kill, it will have to be rendered. To do that, cut up the fat into small pieces, place it in a container, and pour just enough water to cover the fat. Heat up the mixture, until all of the fat melts. While melted, strain it to remove any meat, and let it cool. You will find that the fat will solidify at the top of the container, while the water will be at the bottom. Remove the fat, scrape and throw away any gelatenated material and keep the fat for the next step. Keep in mind that it must be used before going rancid.

The Lye:

Lye can be obtained from water and wood ash. This can be done in several ways.

The traditional way is to take a container (typically made of wood) and make a small hole on the bottom. Do not use an aluminum container, because it will get damaged by the lye. Then take wood ash (This needs to be ash, not char coal. Take just the while stuff) and pack it into the container. Make sure it is compacted. Then boil some water, and pour it into the container. In terms of volume, think one gallon of ash, per one gallon of water. The strength of the lye can always be adjusted. Once you pour the water, you will see a reaction with the ash. Place a container under the hole at the bottom, and wait for all of the water to strain through the ash and into the new container. This part can take hours or even days.

When completed, let the liquid dry in the sun until all the water evaporates, leaving you with solid lye, which should look like salt.

The second method, which I prefer, is to take the ash, and place it in some cloth. Put the cloth with the ash in a container (make sure you have a way to hold it) and pour some hot water into the container until it covers the ashes. Then begin to move the cloth wrapped ashes up and down as you would a tea bag. Keep doing this for an hour or two (I know, not fun, but much faster than waiting a day or two). When finished, remove the ashes, and you should have your lye water. Now you can either let it dry in the sun like with the other method, or you can heat it up over a fire to speed up the process. When the water gets low, let the evaporation finish in the sun so you don’t scorch the lye.

Either way, you should end up with solid lye. Be careful when you handle lye. If it can dissolve a chicken feather (see below), it can also do a number on your skin.

As an alternative, if you do not wish to store the lye for any period of time, you can skip the evaporation step, and just use the lye liquid. Just look below for testing and mixing instructions.

The Mixing:

The measurements I will offer here are just a good rule of thumb. You may have to play with it a bit depending on the ingredient you are using.

For this mixture you will need one (1) cup of water, seven (7) tablespoons of lye, and two (2) cups of melted fat.

Slowly add the water to the lye and mix it well. You can test the strength of the lye to see if it is strong enough to make soap. If it can dissolve a chicken feather, or if an egg can float in the liquid then you are good to go. (Sorry, I don’t know any ways that don’t involve a chicken) If you use the above measurements, it should be good enough. On the other hand, if you just chose to use the lye liquid, without evaporating it to get the solid lye, make sure you test the strength and use one (1) cup of lye liquid and two (2) cups of fat. The results will probably be less exact.

Warm up the mixture (theoretically to about 100F). Do the same with the fat, until it is melted.

Mix the lye water with the melted fat and stir the mixture until it is the consistency of melted chocolate. This can take an hour or more.

Let the mixture stand for a day or two until it solidifies. Remove it from the container and let it cure for about four (4) weeks. The reason for the curing is that otherwise the soap will still contain active lye, and may burn you.

You should now have usable soap. If not (if it separates during the cooling), you can reheat it in a water bath, stir it some more, and let it cool again.

As you can see, while all of the ingredients can be acquired in the wilderness, and the process can be completed without any special tools, it requires a stable living situation, not just a short trip into the woods. Again, the amount of time and work required will depend on the quality of soap you expect.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Backpacking Stoves

Many of us who like using and cooking with an open fire, try to avoid stoves as much as possible. That however, is not always an option as not all areas allow fires year round. For others, turning your pots black from campfire smoke is just not an option, nor is spending the time to make a fire. For those situations, a backpacking stove is highly desirable.

A stove of course can be a large investment, both financially, and from a weight stand point. The decision often requires a lot of thought and involves many factors. I will provide a brief overview of the most practical types of stoves on the market today in an attempt to maybe aid in that decision.

Petroleum/White Gas/Kerosine Stoves

These type of stove design has been around for a very long time in one form or another. These stoves use a liquid fuel which is then vaporized by preheating the stove to provide the burner flame. They are easy to refill, in that after a trip you can simply open the fuel container and top it off. The fuel is cheap and easily available, and there are a number of models which can run on multiple fuels. These types of stoves can function at extremely cold temperatures and high altitudes, and they have a very high heat output ratio if you need to melt snow, or cook for a lot of people. That is why some of the variants are used by the US Army as squad level stoves. The down side is that they are fairly heavy, ranging anywhere from 8.5 oz to 15 oz and they can be more difficult to operate, providing only limited flame control. Leading manufacturers of petrol stoves include MSR, Primus, Coleman, and Optimus.

Liquified Gas/Canister Stoves

These stoves use a pressurized gas, stored in a canister. The stove usually screws on top of the canister, although there are models where the canister sits tot he side of the stove. They are the closest thing you will find in operation to your home stove burners. All you have to do is turn the knob, and light it. The flame can be regulated just by adjusting the knob. They are easy to use, and fairly light weight, as low as 5 oz for canister mounted models and 7 oz for remote canister models. The downside is that the canisters can not be refilled at home. Most times you will have to carry an extra canister because you don’t know how much fuel you have left. The canister mounted models can not use a windscreen, which can significantly decrease performance in windy conditions. Additionally, these stoves are not ideal for cold weather as the fuel liquefies and does not light. Leading manufacturers of canister stoves include MSR, Primus, Snow Peak, and Coleman.

Alcohol Stoves

There are several commercially available stoves that work on denatured alcohol (ethanol) or methyl alcohol. Keep in mind, this is not rubbing alcohol, but can be found in hardware stores and gas stations. There are also many home made variations. These stoves are generally very easy to operate. Some models are nothing more than an open container in which you pour the fuel. Because of their simplicity, they are durable and cheap. The downside is that there is very little control over the stoves. With many models the method of turning them off is to wait for the alcohol to burn out. They also have fairly low heat output, which makes them impractical for more substantial cooking. They do not function well in cold weather, facing the same problem as the canister stoves. Leading manufacturers of alcohol stoves include Trangia, Brasslite and Mini Bull Design.

Wood Stoves

Wood stoves are exactly what you would expect. They use wood as a fuel. There are several models on the market. Some of them use a fan to blow air into the stove, while others rely on the design itself to funnel air. The main advantage of these stoves is that you can get the fuel in the wilderness. The down sides are that in many areas where fires are not allowed, wood burning stoves will also be prohibited. They also tend to be bulkier than other stove designs and require good fire lighting techniques to start. Leading models of wood burning stoves are BushBudy and Sierra Stove.

This is just a brief overview of the different stove designs on the market. There are many different variations and nuances, which require a more in debt analysis. Perhaps at a later date I will discuss in more detain each stove type and different models available.

There are also other heating devices such as solid fuel tabs, solar ovens and chemical heaters, and while thay may be sufficient to heat small amounts of water, or warm up your food, they lack the versatility and usefulness of the above models.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to Light and Operate a White Gas Stove

Some of the most popular and widely used backpacking stoves are the what’s called White Gas stoves. They operate on a fuel that closely resembles gasoline, called white gas or the very similar naphtha. They have excellent performance, but can be a challenge to operate, which turns away many people. With a little practice however, anyone can master these stoves. Here I will go through the lighting process for one of them. I will be using the MSR Whisperlite International stove for this demonstration.

The first thing you need to do is connect the stove to the fuel bottle.

Then pump up the fuel bottle to pressurize it. I find that 10-15 pumps is enough. If you find that the pressure is low, you can always pump it up some more while the stove is burning.

Just like with most liquid fuels, it is not the liquid itself that burns, but rather the fumes from the fuel. Since this type of stove uses liquid fuel, the fuel must first vaporize before you can get an efficient burn. That is done by preheating the stove. One way to preheat it is to open the valve of the fuel bottle, and let some of the fuel leak out into the small priming pan at the bottom of the stove. When you light that fuel, it will burn and preheat the whole stove. I am not a big fan of using the stove fuel for preheating because it gives off a lot of smoke and turns the whole stove black. (When the fuel is vaporized, it burn cleanly) What I like to use for the priming is denatured alcohol, the same type used in alcohol stoves. I keep some of it in a small spray bottle. I use the alcohol to fill up the stove’s priming cup.

Light the alcohol, and let it do its job.

At this point, there are two ways to proceed. By the time the alcohol has burnt down, the stove should be preheated. The first way to proceed is to open the fuel valve of the stove while there is still a small flame from the alcohol. That flame will light the exiting white gas, and the stove will be lit. Make sure you do that when most of the alcohol has burnt off so you know that the stove is preheated.


The second way to do it is to let the alcohol burn out, then open the fuel valve, and light the fumes at the top of the stove with a match or lighter.

If you have not pumped up the fuel bottle too much, you should be able to regulate the intensity of the flame by adjusting the fuel knob.

There will be variations between different stoves. Look at the directions to see where the different components are located. Some stoves will have a second valvue closer to the stove to allow for greater control. You will have to open and close it as well. The theory however remains the same with most white gas stoves.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bushcraft and Technology

No matter which definition of bushcraft we use, an underlying current remains the minimalization of technology. There is a drive to acquire traditional skills, which allow a person to make their way in the wilderness without having to rely on manufactured goods. As the saying goes, the more you know, the less you need. The wonderful aspect of learning these wilderness skills is that they allow us to become more self reliant and sufficient, in a way similar to our ancestors. The ability to use technology which can be reproduced in the wilderness if necessary, is a beautiful thing.

I fully believe in the value of learning how to live and procure resources in the wilderness without the use of modern technology. What bothers me however, is that many people have managed to commercialize this very rejection of commercial goods. Many have become more concerned with looking the part than possessing the knowledge. It is always hilarious to see a person on the trails dressed like a mountain man from the 1800s, who clearly bought all the gear that some "bushcraft" site recommenced. Most of that gear of course, much more expensive and complex to produce than the "modern" technology he is trying to get away from.

When you look at a piece of bushcraft gear, ask yourself, "Is this actually a useful tool, which lets me live in the wilderness in a sustainable way, or is it just designed to look the part?"

A good rule of thumb that I use, is to check whether this "bushcraft" technology can be produced more easily in the wilderness than the modern equivalent. If the answer is "no", then there is no benefit to rejecting the modern equivalent. Of course, there is always personal preference, but we have to be honest about it. Do you just prefer the item because it makes you look more bushcrafty?

For example, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the person who has the skill to make his own leather coat from an animal which he has hunted down and killed. However, if you are standing in a department store, deciding whether to buy that $400 leather coat, or the $40 synthetic equivalent, ask yourself "Is this a better item, worth the price, or is it just something I am buying to look the part?" Be honest, if you are equally unable to produce either item in the wilderness, why are you choosing one over the other? Which one is better from a practical stand point?

End of rant!

Hunting with the Bow and Arrow by Saxton Pope

The book was written by Saxton Pope in the early 1900s. It recounts his experiences with Ishi, the last Yahi tribesman, who was brought to the University of California by Professor T. Watterman. The book is a window into the life of a stone age hunter gatherer society, and the adaptations Ishi makes once brought into contact with modern technology.

The second part of the book focuses exclusively on the testing and performance of different materials for bow making. While interesting to those who wish to practice traditional bow making, it diverges a good amount from the topics covered in the first half of the book.


To the best of my knowledge, the book is in the public domain and a copy can be obtained here, here, and many other location online.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

QuikClot-Emergency Medicine

QuikClot is a fairly new technology that has recently become affordable enough for civilian consumption. It is a hemostatic agent, designed to rapidly cause blood clotting and stop severe bleeding. It was originally tested and used in the current Afghanistan and Iraq wars by the military and has proven to be an enormous improvement over traditional bandages.


The original product was a powder that was poured into the wound. The newest product, including those for civilian consumption come in sponge form. While I am not smart enough to understand the chemical reactions that occur to stop the blood loss, the product is basically used by placing the sponge right on top of the source of bleeding. It quickly causes the blood to clot. It is very effective on exposed, open wounds such as those caused by an axe slamming into your shin. It will even stop direct arterial bleeding.

One thing to keep in mind is that the reaction which allows the clotting is exothermal, meaning it produces heat. While the newer products claim to minimize that effect, you will feel it. This is not a treatment for minor cuts and scrapes. This is a truly life saving device to be used on severe wounds. For the outdoorsman, it can serve to replace large amounts of traditional bandages and even tourniquets.

It is sold by the manufacturer, and can be purchased here: http://www.quikclot.com/catalog.cfm?dest=index Prices vary from $10 to $30 dollars depending on size and type of product. A 25 gram packet comes in a sealed 3 in by 3 in packet.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Water Filtration and Purification in the Wilderness

When the average person pictures "nature" he often imagines a nice clear stream from which one can drink. Most people believe that such water is much cleaner and safer to drink than anything that comes out of the tap in your house. This is not exactly true. While the water may seem clear, it is quite possible that it contains pathogens which can make your stay in the woods regrettable.

While I do not want to exaggerate the likelihood of contracting a pathogen from drinking unpurified water, the importance of cleaning your drinking water can not be understated.

What to remove from the water:

There are a few different things that one should remove from their water supply.

The first thing that you would want to remove is sediment and other particulate matter. There are several reasons to do that. The first is that most people do not enjoy chewing their water. Even if it has been sterilized, the taste of sand and frog’s eggs does not make for the best drink. The second reason is that the particulate matter may provide a hiding place for some pathogens, and make your preferred method of purifying your water ineffective.

The second thing you want to remove from your water is protozoans/parasites. The two main parasites that cause problems in North America are Giardia and Cryptosporidium. The danger is represented by the cysts which once ingested, develop into the parasite. They are relatively large in size, Cryptosperidum ranging from 4 microns to 6 microns, and Giardia from 8 microns to 20 microns. This makes them fairly easy to filter out, but they are very resilient to chemical treatments.

The third thing to remove from your water is bacteria. Some of the more common bacteria are E Coli and Salmonella. They can range in size anywhere from 0.2 microns to 10 microns. They are easy to both filter and kill chemically.

The last thing to be concerned about is viruses. In North America, they are hard to come by in the wilderness, but it is something to keep in mind. The greatest danger of viral infection occurs in areas that have contact with human waste. Viruses are extremely small, and range in size from 0.004 microns to 0.1 microns. Filtration is not a practical method for removing viruses, but chemical treatments are effective.

How to clean the water:

There are several different methods to clean your water, and each has different benefits. The methods most commonly used by the backpacker are Filtration, Purification, Boiling, and UV Light.

The first method is to use filtration. Good portable water filters will be able to filter down to 0.2 microns. That makes them effective against protozoans/parasites and bacteria. Such filters will not remove viruses. They are however great at sediment removal. Prices for portable water filters range from $80.00 to $120.00, and they may weigh anywhere from 8 oz to 20 oz. Do not be fooled by straw type filters. Many of them filter only down to 2 microns instead of 0.2 microns. Leading manufacturers of portable filters include MSR, Katadyn and Pre-Mac (combination filter and purifier).

The second method is purification. This entails putting a chemical in the water, which kills the desired elements. There are several widely used purification methods, including Iodine (Potable Aqua), Chlorine (SweetWater), Mixed Oxidants (MIOX) and Chlorine Dioxide (Aquamira, Katadyn). Both Iodine and Chlorine treatments are effective against bacteria and viruses. Neither is effective against protozoans and clearly neither removes particulate matter. Chlorine Dioxide and MIOX are additionally effective against protozoans, but depending on water temperature, may take up to four hours to do so.

The third method is UV light. This includes devices like SteriPen, which use UV light to kill the organisms. This method is theoretically effective against bacteria, viruses and protozoans. The effectiveness however, will depend on the clarity of the water. If there is a lot of suspended particulate matter, the device may not be effective.

The last and most traditional way for cleaning your water is boiling. Tests show that bringing the water to a rolling boil will kill virtually all bacteria, viruses and protozoans. Of course, it will not do anything to remove particulate matter.

It is worth noting that there are methods for removing particulate matter from water other than using one of the above filters. These methods include using a Millbank Bag (a tightly woven material which filters out the sediment) or flocculating agents such as Chlor-Floc and Alum, which make the particles settle to the bottom of the container.

The method you decide to use will in part depend on the conditions in your area. If for example most of your water will be obtained from a swamp, filtration might be something to strongly consider. Keep in mind, purified swamp water is still swamp water and tastes just like you would expect.

How to Build an Igloo

Here is an interesting clip, showing the building of an igloo.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What is Bushcraft?

Bushcraft as a term has been around for a very long time and has been used by outdoorsmen like Les Hiddins, Mors Kochanski, and Ray Mears. In recent years however, due to the popularization of the term by certain television shows, there has been an explosion of different definitions and interpretations of it. Depending on which group of people you listen to, these definitions can be wide ranging, and lead to many misunderstandings.

For me, "bushcraft" is synonymous with "wilderness skills". It is simply a set of skills or "craft" that one can use in the wilderness or "bush". These skills can be used to accomplish any range of things, whether it be survival after being stranded in the woods, or a leisurely fishing trip. These skills or bushcraft, can be used in any of those situations, although depending on the circumstances, certain skills would be more valuable and heavily relied upon than others. For example, on a hunting trip, tracking skills might be more important; in a difficult survival situation, the ability to keep warm by building shelter and making fire would be key; and on a nice weekend trip into the woods, the ability to carve entertaining objects might take priority. These are all wilderness skills, or bushcraft, and a well rounded outdoorsman would have knowledge of all of them, but different set of the skills would be more applicable in different situations.

In recent years, it appears that certain groups of outdoor enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to redefine the term. It has been turned into an activity all of its own. You hear expressions such as "this is not a real bushcraft knife because it is longer than four inches", or "using a ferrocerium rod is the bushcrtaft way to start a fire", or "any knife that does not have a single bevel grind is not worth much in bushcraft". All such statements stem from the fact that those people have redefined bushcraft to mean only a specific subset of wilderness skills, usually concerned more with wood carving and fire starting.

I have no problem with terms being redefined, as long as we are all on the same page. When I use the term, I use it to refer to all wilderness skills. I think it would be quite arrogant of us to say that a tribesman in the Amazon does not use bushcraft because his cutting tool of choice is a large machete rather than a four inch knife, or that the San bushmen do not use bushcraft because they are not accomplished wood carvers and rely on larger knives or that people like Dick Proenneke do not do bushcraft because he uses a folding knife.

Yet another group of people have come to think of bushcraft as some sort of a transcendent activity, which allows people to "thrive" in the bush. Such statements are often based on complete arrogance and ignorance of the wilderness or life therein, and most of them can be traced to specific parts of certain TV shows (mostly taken out of context). I strongly believe that if we do not respect the wilderness, and are not prepared, both with the right tools, and specific local knowledge, "thriving" is the last thing we will be doing even under the most favorable circumstances.

Just like all my other rambling posts, this is just my opinion, and should not be taken as authoritative on any one subject.

Woodcraft and Camping by Nessmuk

Woodcraft and Camping is a book written by George Washington Sears a/k/a Nessmuk and published in the early 1900s. It is a very interesting account of life in the wilderness, and provides much insight for the person trying to enjoy the outdoors. The book is part instructional, and part a recounting of personal experiences. It is a must read for anyone interested in wilderness living.



To the best of my knowledge, the book is public domain, and a copy can be downloaded here, here, and many other locations online.

Finding Water in the African Desert

This video shows some intereting ways in which people find water in the desert.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Best Bushcraft Knife

Oooooh, I know. I’m trying to pick a fight. Not really. I just want to throw my perspective into the mix. For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, this is one of the most controversial, and most argued over topics when it comes to outdoor tools and equipment. Each person has a very strong preference, and fights are not uncommon.

Why, do you ask, is this such a big issue. For one, we tend to care deeply about the tools we use, and it only stands to reason that we will defend our choices with great vigor. The other reason however, is that we often talk about this subject in abstract and out of context.

Why do I say that? Well, I believe that we like to talk about knives because they are such a personal tool. Most people will however agree that it is not the king of bushcraft tools. That honor has traditionally gone to the axe in hard wood forests, and the machete in tropical and desert environments.

We have no problem acknowledging that when it comes to jungle terrain. Few people who are familiar with any outdoor activity would even consider taking anything other than a machete as their primary cutting tool when going into a jungle. Perhaps the reason for that is that there are still indigenous populations that actively live this lifestyle and make use of the tools. We have not lost the connection to the way these skills were being practiced when life actually depended on them.

We have however, largely lost that knowledge in Europe and the United States. It is almost impossible to find a person who relies on their axe to make a living in the woods. For most of us it has become a hobby. We have lost the connection to the traditional tool use, and have forgotten the central importance of the axe. If we look however, we can still see examples of it. In large parts of Northern Asia, life depends on the axe, and woodworking skill is essential. If we even go not too far back in history, we will see the same pattern. In his autobiography of 1860, Abraham Lincoln wrote:

Abraham, though very young, was large of his age, and had an ax put into his hands at once; and from that till within his twenty-third year he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument--less, of course, in plowing and harvesting seasons.

For every pioneer, the axe was an indispensable tool. Even these days it is not uncommon to see people who live in the mountains of Eastern Europe going into the woods with an axe and a cheap equivalent of a Swiss Army knife. I remember my grandfather had half a dozen axes, and one pocket knife, which would not pass anyone’s quality standard. The axe was used for all the heavy work. The knife was used to decorate his walking stick.

So what does this have to do with the ideal bushcraft knife? Well, it gives the discussion context. Here is the point-if the most important cutting tool in the woods is the axe or machete, then the knife takes a secondary importance. That allows it to be, well, a knife. It can be a tool selected by the user because of the tasks that it is expected to perform. If you expect to be doing a lot of hunting, then perhaps a skinning knife will be your best choice. If you like to go in the woods and do delicate wood carving, then a knife designed for that purpose would suit the situation best. Going fishing...you get my point.

It can’t be that simple, you say! It’s not. The reason why it gets complicated is that these days we do not use the axe. Few people know how to use it, and even fewer want to carry it around. Instead, we turn to the knife to now accomplish not only the tasks for which we had originally selected it, but also to cover the cutting tasks which would have traditionally fallen on the axe.

This is where the hard choices begin. A knife designed for fine woodwork, for example, will have a hard time performing the wood cutting tasks traditionally covered by an axe. What do we do?

For some the answer is that there is no need to perform any of those cutting tasks. The reason why they left the axe at home was because they do not expect to have to do any heavy woodworking on the particular trip.

For others the answer is to carry a tool that offers a compromise. The tool often takes the shape of a larger knife, which incorporates some of the functions of a machete, and may even be supplemented by a saw. This tool will not perform the work of a job specific knife as well, and it will not do the work of an axe as well, but it does offer some comfort when a large range of tasks needs to be accomplished.

In my opinion, what we need to avoid is getting tunnel vision and forgetting the context. For example, if you had seen that my grandfather was a person who was comfortable in the woods, and had asked him what knife he uses, he would have pulled out a two and a half inch, non locking, folding knife. If that is all that we are focused on, we may reach the conclusion that this is the ideal bushcraft knife. If however we look at the context in which it is being used, we will see that had the axe been left at home, that knife would have been terribly inadequate.

So, just like I promised, I have answered no questions!

Primitive Hunting-The Persistence Hunt

This is a video demonstrating what is perhaps one of the earliest methods of hunting, called the persistence hunt. Here a hunter literally chases down an animal until it is too exhausted to continue running. What we often don’t realize is that human beings are some of the best long distance runners in the animal kingdom.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Carrying a Belt Kit

Many of us tend to carry knives, possibles pouches and other gear on our belts. That way they stay close to us, and the chance of loss is minimized. It also provides for a convenient way to reach items that we commonly use.

A problem however often occurs when we try to use the hip belt of our backpacks. If our possibles pouch is on our belt, then the hip belt, will end up going over the pouch.

There are several ways to get around this problem. One is the simply not use a hip belt. Another is to use a military style pack, which has a “waist belt”, which sits much higher on the body than a hip belt. I am not a big fan of either approach because the hips are a great way to distribute the weight of a pack. It is not a big issue when you are out for a day or two, but if you have enough gear for a week, your shoulders will definitely feel the difference.

The solution I use is to take the items from my belt, and suspend them so they rest a bit below my belt. That way the hip belt of the pack can be used without interfering.

I usually have three items on my belt. The first is my knife. Because of the sheath I use for it, it already hangs below the pack’s hip belt, so I did not have to do anything for it. The other two items are my G.I. canteen and my possibles pouch.

The canteen is suspended using an extension I sewed together from a belt.
It allows me to rmove the canteen by unhooking the ALICE clips, without removing my belt.
It easily clears the pack's hip belt and allows easy access to my canteen.
The possibles puch is similarly suspended using two loops sewed from a nylon strap and clipped to the pouch.
Just like with the canteen, it allows me to remove the pouch by unclipping it, without removing my belt.
It has enough clearance to accomodate an even lower hip belt.
I have been using this system for a number of years, and it has served me well. The location of your hip belt is something you should definitely thik about before spending any money on a pouch or sheath.

Making Cordage

The making of cordage is a good piece of knowledge to posses. Rope is one of the essential tools for building and living in the woods, and the ability to make it is very important. The process itself is not difficult. The part that will consume most of your time is the acquisition of the materials from which you will make the cordage. Each region has plants from which such fibers can be obtained, and there is always animal sinew if you have the time to prepare it. Here I will only discuss the making of the cordage after you have found the fibers. I will be using artificial sinew for the demonstration. So here it goes:

Take a bunch of fibers. Add as many as you need to make it the thickness you want.
Fold the fibers. Do not fold them exactly in half. Leave one side longer than the other. That will become important when you are trying to extend the fibers.
Hold the fibers at the place where you have folded them, as close to the edge as possible.
Take the top strand and twist it away from your body.
While still holding the top strand, grab the bottom strand and twist the two strands together towards your body, moving the top strand over the bottom one, so the bottom strand now becomes the top one.
Now twist the new top strand away from your body, just like before.
Again, while holding the top strand, grab the bottom one, and twist both strands towards your body, making the bottom strand the top one.
Keep repeating the process until you get the length of rope you need.
Another method for doing the same thing, which depending on the fiber may go faster, is to place both strands on a flat surface (usually you thigh).
While holding the location where the finished rope ends with your left hand, roll both strands away from your body.
When you release your left hand, the ropes will twist around each other. Grab the new place where the fineshed rope ends, and repeat.
Eventually, however, your fibers will run out. Take a new set of fibers, and place them along side the fibers that are running out.
Overlap the new fibers with the old ones.
Twist the new and old fibers together, away from your body.
Then continue using the method above, to make more rope.
The longer the area which you have overlapped, the stronger the connection will be. This is why it was important that the fibers not be folded in half. This way you are adding fibers to only one strand at any particular location.
Repeat the process as many times as necessary.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Making of a Fire Piston

This is a video of a man making a fire piston out of a piece of wood, using only basic cutting tools. His skill is amazing, and it goes to show that any tool can be the ideal bushcraft tool, if you know how to use it.

There are two parts to the video, and I have provided the links to the YouTube videos below.

Part 1


Part 2

US Army Modular Sleep System (MSS)

The MSS (Modular Sleep System) is a set of sleeping bags that the US Army has been using for a while. This is the sleeping system that I use, and while there have been many changes to sleeping bags since it’s conception, I have not been able to find a better value.

The MSS is not a single sleeping bag, but rather consists of two sleeping bags, a bivy cover and a stuff sack. When the two sleeping bags and the bivy are arranged in different combinations, the system can cover a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. Each sleeping bag can be used separately or in combination with the bivy, or both bags and the bivy can be fitted together for a claimed temperature rating of -30F. All of the components can snap together to prevent sliding around.

Here are some of the specifications:

Patrol Bag (Green) features:
Temperature rating to +30F.
Reversible double-pull (opens end to end) slider allows top or bottom ventilation
Non-locking slide fastener self repairs if jammed or snagged
Draft flap prevents heat loss
Hood adjusts for heat retention; includes nylon drawcord and barrel lock
Measures 92 x 37 in to 92 x 24 in


Intermediate Cold Weather Bag (Black) features:
Temperature to -10F
Free from cold spots
Insulation does not migrate in the bag
Anatomically designed foot box contains twice the insulation as the bag
Sewn-in, quilted chest collar prevents air drafts up and down through the hood
Hood adjusts for heat retention; includes nylon drawcord and barrel lock
Measures 87 x 35 in to 87 x 23 in

Bivy Cover (Woodland Camo) features:
Made of durably waterproof and windproof 3-layer GORE-TEX fabric and approved by all
departments and agencies of the Department of Defense
Includes snap fastener and slide fastener
Measures 85 in x 28 in x 35 in

Stuff Sack features:
Compressible to one cubic foot
Six 1 in-wide nylon webbing straps adjust by ladderlock buckles
Reinforcement webbing is sewn around the circumference of the bag
Nylon drawcord closure with a barrel lock
Measures 30 in length, 14 in diameter

The big down side to the system is the weight and volume. The MSS weights about 13 lb and compresses to about 2 ft in length by 1 ft diameter. A big contributor to the weight is the fact that these are synthetic sleeping bags. Unlike with down bags, if you want to get into very low temperatures with a synthetic bag, you will pay with weight and volume.

That being said, the majority of both the weight and volume is contained in the black, intermediate cold weather bag. If you leave it at home, and take only the green +30F bag along with the bivy, the two will compress to a size of about 1 ft length by 7 in diameter.

Even so, you may ask why bother with synthetic bags, or any type of system at all. There are two answers. The first is that a synthetic bag will provide much greater insolation if it gets wet or moist than a similar down bag. That is probably a large part of why the US Army uses them-they are hard to mess up. The other reason is the cost. The whole system retails for anywhere from $250.00 to $400.00 (you are paying too much). Go try to find any two sleeping bags, and a bivy for that price.

However, be careful. There are many knock offs on the market. A genuine MSS can be recognized by the NSN #. Each item within the system will have a patch which provides the number along with instructions. Without it, it is not the real deal.

This product is not designed with comfort in mind, but rather brutal practicality. There are no mosquito nets, no head room, and no pockets. What you do have however, is a solid set of sleeping bags, which will keep you warm and dry.