Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Russell Green River Hunter Knife Review

The Green River knives have been in use by outdoorsmen since the 1800s. They gained popularity because they were affordable, mass produced knives, which got the job done.

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Knife Length: 9 inches (229 mm)
Blade Length: 5 inches (129mm)
Blade Thickness: 3/32 inches (2 mm)
Blade Width: 1 1/4 inches (28 mm) at the widest point
Blade Material: 1095 carbon steel
Blade Hardness: Unknown
Type of Tang: Full
Blade Grind: Full flat grind with a secondary bevel
Handle Material: Wood
Sheath Material: No sheath
Cost: $20.00


The knife is fairly cheap, although there are lower cost knives on the market. It is certainly not the bargain basement price it had in the past, which contributed to its popularity.

When compared to a Mora #1, it is clear to see that it is a larger knife, with the blade being over an inch longer and significantly wider. In thickness however, the two blades are about the same. The handles are the same length, but because the Green River handle is more rectangular, it feels thicker, although I don’t find it as comfortable as that of the Mora. The knife overall has the feel of a kitchen knife, although a bit thicker. Unlike the Mora, the Green River has a secondary bevel. The knife was not sharp when I got it, so I had to spend some time with the sharpening stone before testing.

hjuk (17)

hjuk (31)

The knife performed well when batoning. The blade is fairly thin, so it is not good at separating the wood fibers, but in turn it goes through the wood easily.


Similarly, the knife performed well when truncating. The blade feels thin, and the knife has a tendency to bend, unlike that of the Mora, despite the similar thickness, but it held up very well through all of the tasks.


I was not able to make any good feather sticks with this knife. I am sure the fault lies with me and my lack of practice with this design, but for one reason or another, I was just not able to get a feather stick going.

The knife does not come with a sheath.

Overall the knife is not bad. For a five inch blade, it does what it is supposed to. Keep in mind that the blade is not particularly thick, so it is best suited for cutting tasks, rather than batoning and other heavier work. In those areas it will easily get outperformed by a more robust knife with a five inch blade like the Fallkniven S1. My issue with the knife however is not that it is not adequate, but rather that in my opinion it falls short when compared to the Mora. It costs almost twice as much as a Mora #1 or a Mora #2, but I do not believe it does any more work for that money. In fact, I find the basic Mora knives more comfortable to fold and use, and for some reason they feel more solid. If I had a choice between a Mora #1 and a Green River Hunter knife, I would certainly chose the Mora. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Camp at Norcross Brook, 1886

This photograph was taken by  Joseph John Kirkbride in August 1886.


Note the fawns foot handle axe held by one of the men in the photograph. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 7

Bringing it All Together

So, in the past few posts you have seen me briefly go over some considerations, and in particular gear one might put to good use when making their first steps into the woods.

It is understandable that there will be apprehension, and a fear that you will do something wrong, but ultimately, with some common sense and a bit of practice, a summer overnight trip into the woods should not be a problem.

First, let us look at the total amount of gear we have.

Item Weight Cost
Day Hike Gear 15.8oz $68.00
Backpack 2lb 6oz (38oz) $30.00
Shelter 6lb 3oz (99oz) $188.00
Cooking Kit 11.5oz $17.00
Water Filter 1lb 1oz (17oz) $80.00
Toiletries 2.1oz $4.00
Total 11lb 7.4oz (183.4oz) $387.00

As you can see, our base weight (weight of the pack without food, water and fuel) is under 12lb, certainly a lightweight pack. With a first aid kit, the weight will go to a little over 12lb. We have managed to do it for under $400.00. Of course, as you noticed, it does not include the tools. I have left them as the last addition because they will be different for each person. There are many backpackers who never carry anything more than a knife, and do just fine. In that case, the tool list would not be a consideration, perhaps with the exception of a sharpening stone. On the other hand, the heaviest option that we discussed earlier would add another 4lb 5oz of the kit, bringing it up to 15lb 12.4oz, and the cost up to $477.00 (including the cost of a DC4 sharpening stone).

Remember, that this is not gear with which you will have to huddle by a fire to make it during the night, or have to spend four hours each day constructing a shelter, boiling water, or carving tools. With the above gear any backpacker should be able to spend an extended amount of time in the woods without any issue, and with equipment that does not need an explanation or require improvisation.

Of course, it is not all about the gear. Time in the woods will teach you small tricks that will make your stay much more comfortable. Before you know it, you will start to feel comfortable in the woods. You will no longer jump up during the night at every sound, you will figure out how and where to sit so that your back doesn’t hurt, or what wood to use to make your fire the warmest. There is no way I can cover that information here. That being said, there are a few posts that may be of some use to you. Check out:

Basic Tarp Configurations 
How to Make a Fire: A Beginner’s Guide
Cotton and Vaseline Tinder
Cheap, Lightweight Backpacking Food Part 1 and Part 2
A Beginner’s Guide to Hatchets  

The only tip I will give here, which I consider important, but don’t see too often, is to realize that some of your gear will get wet, while some of it will not. It may seem easy to place a plastic garbage bag inside your backpack and then place your gear inside. That will certainly protect it from rain. However, what happens when you pull out your tarp and it gets rained on? Do you put it back in the bag with all your dry gear? That is why I like to keep key items in separate bags. Stuff sacks are great, but a simple plastic grocery bag will do the trick just fine. Have one for your tarp, your shell layer, your ropes, maybe even your sleeping bag. That will make it a lot easier to pack up after it has been raining for a few hours. For a good low cost option for commercially available dry sacks, try the Outdoor Products Ultimate Dry Sack.

Remember, this is just a starting point. Each person will develop their own style of bushcraft and camping. You may decide to go more in the direction of using your tools to manufacture items you need, or you may decide that ultra light gear is the way for you, or anything in between. Your experiences and preferences will dictate what type of camper you will become, but the important thing is that you get out there and try it.

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 6

Overnight Camping


Overnight camping requires a lot more gear than a day hike. The items I mention here should be considered additional to the ones mentioned earlier for the day hike. If any of you have good gear ideas, please share them with us here. The ones I mention are just those that have come across my path.

Backpack-Our growing amount of gear will require a more significant backpack. Unfortunately, most backpacks cost quite a bit of money. I would hold off on buying one until you have finalized your other gear. What you carry will significantly effect what type of pack you want to get. However, we do need something in which to carry our gear on these first few trips. Many people resort to the military surplus ALICE packs. While they do the job, there is a better pack you can find in many stores, including most military surplus stores or simply by doing an online search. It is the Rio Grande 45L Backpack.


It is being currently produced, so it’s not surplus and costs about $30-$40. It can be purchased just about anywhere online. It is made from thick nylon, and has a rubberized coating on the inside. It has straps in the front which can hold your sleeping pad.


This is the pack I have been using for the past five years for my three season camping, and it has served me very well. It tends to ride a bit high on your back. To fix that, relax the shoulder straps so that the pack rests low on your back, and then bring the pack close to your back by tightening up the support straps at the top of the pack.


The pack has two side pockets and one on the top cover. It should be able to hold all of your gear for a three season overnight trip. It does not have a frame, but the back is stiff and well padded, with a comfortable hip belt.


It is one of the most comfortable packs I have ever used, and it has lasted me for years.

Item Weight Cost
Rio Grande 25L Pack 2lb 6oz (38oz) $30.00



Tarp-If you want to save money, I am afraid that a tent is out of the picture. A decent backpackable tent is already in the $100 range. There are some cheaper ones, but they are too heavy for backpacking. The solution is a reasonably priced tarp. I say reasonably priced because there are some you can find in hardware stored for $10. I would stay away from them. While you can do just fine with such a tarp, they are heavy and loud once put up. By the second trip you would have already bought a new tarp, making that $10 a waste. By buying a reasonably priced one of good quality, you can use it for a long time. The lowest cost one I have been able to find is the Equinox (Campmor) 8x10 Nylon Tarp. It will cost you about $40. It is by no means a top of the line tarp, but it will do the job admirably. In the picture above, it is being held together by two rubber bands. You should also bring a regular plastic bag in which to wrap it when it gets wet.

There are also several ways to pitch a tarp that will create a tent-like feeling. If however you insist on a tent, there are decent options in the $100 range. Of course as with most other backpacking gear, you will pay for the low cost with higher weight and bulk. The Kelty Salida 2 is a good choice, which will cost you $160.00 and weigh about 4lb 8oz. Many manufacturers have tent option in that price range with similar weights.

Sleeping Bag-The sleeping bag is one of the most important pieces of equipment that you will carry, as it is your primary shelter. It is the sleeping bag that will keep you warm without the need for a fire, and keep out the wind. All the other shelter components are just there to supplement the sleeping bag. You may have seen people recommend wool blankets as a low cost alternative for a sleeping bag, but that is not a viable option unless the weather is very warm. For the weight, wool blankets provide low amount of insulation. To match the insulation you can achieve with a 3lb synthetic sleeping bag, you will need over 10lb of wool blankets. You will also note that once you get that many wool blankets, they turn out to not be a cheaper option.

Unfortunately, there is no extremely low cost way to get around a sleeping bag if you plan on backpacking with it. There are however lower cost options. To begin with, avoid rectangular sleeping bags. While they are comfortable and often cheap, they do not provide the best insulation. You should look for what is called a mummy style bag, which will fit close to your body and preserve the most heat.


The shape aside, when looking at sleeping bags, you will notice two main types. One type uses synthetic insulation, while the other uses down insulation. Each type has benefits and problems, but the largest benefit we are concerned with here is the cost. Synthetic bags typically have an advantage in this category, especially when looking at top of the line products, but tend to weigh more.  Keep in mind however, that not all down bags are made equal. Down bags are rated by “fill”. A 900 fill down bag is top of the line and will cost accordingly, while a 500 fill down one, while providing the same insulation,  is not nearly as good in terms of weight and compressibility, and as a result can cost quite a bit less. In the end, we can find bags of both designs in the $100 price range, but they will have similar weight and compressibility. Which one will suit you best is up to you and is beyond the scope of this post. I think you will do fine with either one.  

For three season backpacking, I would aim for a 20 degree synthetic or low fill down mummy sleeping bag. That should cover about all of your needs. Keep in mind that some people get colder more easily than others, so if you know you get cold easily, take that into consideration. Some good lower cost designs include the North Face Cat’s Meow, which costs about $150.00 and weight 2lb 10oz, and the Kelty Cosmic Down, which costs $110.00 and weights 2lb 8oz (regular size). If you search a bit online, you can find both in the $100-$120 range. I am no expert on sleeping bag models, so speak to someone at the store for more details.

I know that with many of these items there is a temptation to want to move “up” to the next level in quality. My opinion is that the only place where you will see a significant increase in performance by doing that is with the sleeping bag. So, instead of buying that $30 knife, or the $15 water bottle, or the $65 tarp, take all that money and put it towards a better sleeping bag. It is well worth the investment.  

Sleeping Pad-You may have heard that a sleeping bag does not provide any insulation under your body because the fibers get compressed by the weight of your body. That is only partially true. A sleeping bag provides a good amount of insulation under your body. Even so, you will want some sort of a sleeping pad. This will make the ground more comfortable, and will provide additional insulation from the ground and moisture. There are a number of inflatable pads out there, but if you want the best performance for the money, go with a simple closed cell foam pad. The Thermarest Ridge Rest SOLite is a good example, that will cost you under $20. If you want to look online at Army surplus equipment, the surplus sleeping pads are very good value at about $5. There is a commercially available equivalent-the Blue Foam Pad, which will cost you just under $20.

Rope-In order to set up your tarp, and performs some general tasks around camp, you will need some rope. A good option is paracord. It is very strong, while being fairly thin. You can buy 100ft for about $4 at any outdoor supply store. Keep one long length (at least 50ft) to use as a ridge line for your tarp, and then about six fifteen foot lengths for the sides of the tarp. You should have a few extra lengths as well.

Item Weight Cost
Tarp 1lb 9oz (25oz) $40.00
Sleeping Bag 3lb (48oz) approximation $120.00
Sleeping Pad (Blue Foam Pad) 14oz $20.00
Rope (150ft) 12oz $8.00
Total 6lb 3oz (99oz) $188.00

Cooking Equipment


Pot-When you start staying out overnight, you will want to start cooking some of your food. Here I am talking about things like Ramen noodles and rice. For that you will need a pot. I believe that the best balance between cost, low weight, and performance is achieved by aluminum pots. My favorite one in this category is the  Open Country 2 Qt. Aluminum Pot. It cost $10.

If you need an extra container, a plastic Ziploc container works very well, and will let you store any left over food.

Stove-After you have been out in the woods for some time, assuming you practice, you will become accustomed to cooing your food on an open fire. Until then though, and even after that as a back up, it is good to have a small stove. There are many options and designs out there, but for three season backpacking, if interested in keeping the cost down, I would go with the Super Cat Alcohol Stove. You can make it out of a cat food can using just a hole punch. The can will cost you $1, and the hole punch $1.50 as Staples. It is a lightweight and easy to use option. Don’t forget to bring a simple windscreen made out of aluminum foil. It will significantly increase the efficiency of your stove.

You will need to carry some denatured alcohol as a fuel. I like the S-L-X Denatured Alcohol, which you can find at any hardware store. You can get a quart of the fuel for $5. To carry it, get a bottle that is around 10oz. I use a small Pepsi bottle which is 10oz (smaller than the regular bottle). The bottle of Pepsi will cost you an extra $1.

Don’t forget to bring a spoon. The is the one object for which I will not give you a price, because I know all of you have a spoon somewhere in the house.

Item Weight Cost
Pot 7.7oz $10.00
Stove (Super Cat) 0.2oz $3.00
Windscreen (aluminum foil) 0.5oz $0
Spoon (regular table spoon) 1.4oz $0
Fuel Bottle 0.7oz $1.00
Bandana 1oz $1.00
Total 11.5oz $15.00 ($17.00 with cost of fuel)

Water Purification-If you are going to stay out for an extended period of time you will have to purify water somehow. It is just impossible to carry sufficient amount to get you through the whole weekend. One way to do it, which is recommended very often by the “complete bushcraft kit for under $100" crowd is to boil your water. While it works, it is simply not a viable option. You can not be expected to stop by the trail and make a fire every time you have to refill your water bottles. I am also not a big fan of drinking hot water in the middle of the summer. If however your style of camping allows for this boiling method, it is a sure way to purify the water.

Another option that is sometimes recommended is small filters like the Aquamira Frontier Pro. The problem with those filters is that they do not filter all that much. In order to remove all parasites and bacteria, you need a filter that filters down to 0.02 microns. The above filter filters down only to 0.2 microns. It will remove some of the larger parasites, but most bacteria like Ecoli will get through. One way to compensate for that is to then use a chemical treatment like the tablets mentioned earlier. This will work well, but consider the cost of your total system. You will need two water bladders, one for dirty water and one for clean ($20 each), the filter itself ($20), and the tablets ($10). You have now spent $70 on the filter system.

There is an option that I prefer, and requires a lot less assembly and general playing around. For that money you can get yourself an actual pump filter like the MSR Miniworks EX ($80), or the Katadyn Hiker Pro ($75). They are both robust, well tested filters that will filter down to 0.02 microns and do it for a long time.


It is money well spent in my opinion, and I would not recommend that anyone go into the woods for an extended period of time without one, especially when just starting out. It is a heavy and expensive option, but it is the one I always go back to. Here is some info on a DIY Prefilter for the MSR Miniworks EX.

There are people who successfully use only water purification tablets for water treatment. However, if you are just starting out, I would recommend that you go with a filter. Using only tablets requires a lot of planning and knowhow, as well as precise timing.

Item Weight Cost
MSR Miniworks EX 17oz (with bag, sponge, and prefilter); 14.6 as advertised $80.00

Toiletries-You should also bring some other miscellaneous items like toilet paper and soap. Do not bring a whole roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap. Smaller amounts in a ziplock bag will do just fine. None of this should cost you more than $2.

Item Weight Cost
Soap 1oz $1.00
Toilet Paper 0.1oz $1.00
Travel Tooth Brush 1oz $2.00
Total 2.1oz $4.00

Tools-When it comes to tools, there is a bit of controversy. Many people insist that they are essential for anyone going into the woods. I personally do not believe that to be the case. Many people spend months in the woods with nothing more than a knife as a tool. With the above equipment, you should have no problems camping without any additional tools. That being said however, they can certainly make the stay more enjoyable, and allow you to take on projects which would otherwise be out of reach. I carry an axe and a saw because I like using them. If I am honest however, I can easily get by without them. Before you start spending any money on axes, saws and more sophisticated knives, make sure you have all the above basics well covered.  

Saw-Here you have to decide what size saw you want. A larger saw will generally cut faster, but will weigh more. A good small option is the Kershaw 2550X, which will cost you about $20. It is a very good folding saw. A good larger saw is the Trail Blazer 24 inch Take Down Buck Saw. You should be able to find it for about $25. If someone is charging you more than that, keep looking. Here is some info on Modifying a Trail Blazer.


Axe-If you plan on carrying an axe, I would strongly recommend that you learn how to work on one first. You should have no problem taking a completely dull and damaged axe and bringing it back to working condition with minimal tools. If you can not do that, I say you can do just fine with a saw and a knife. If however you want an affordable axe, there are two that I would recommend. The first is the Husqvarna Hatchet. It will cost you $40. You will most likely have to sharpen it, but it is a great value for the money. For a larger axe, I would recommend the Council Tool Boy’s axe, which will also cost you $40. You will again have to do some work on the edge, but it is one of my favorite axes currently on the market. Fiskars also offers a good selection of axes which are affordable and ready for work out of the box.   


Sharpening Stone-If you are going to be in the woods for any extended period of time, especially if you have an axe with you, you will need a sharpening stone. I like stones that do not require water or oil to operate. I use the Fallkniven DC4 stone, which is not cheap at about $27. If you look around you can find better values, although I do not know enough about them to say more than that. Make sure your stone has a course and fine side. The fine side should be very fine, as that is how you get that razor edge.

Item Weight Cost
Bahco Laplander 6.2oz $20.00
Trailblazer Saw 1lb 5oz (21oz) modified $25.00
Husqvarna Hatchet 2lb 3oz (35oz) $40.00
Council Tool Boy’s Axe 3lb (48oz) $40.00
DC4 Sharpening Stone 2.7oz $25.00

The weight of your tools will depend on your choices. The lowest weight option with the Husqvarna Hatchet and the Bahco Laplander saw weighs 2lb 11.9oz (43.9oz). The heaviest option with the Trailblazer Take Down Buck Saw and the Council Tool Boy’s Axe will weigh 4lb 5oz (69oz). I have included the weight of the DC4 sharpening stone in the calculations, but you should make an effort to find a cheaper stone, even if it is heavier.

As always, don’t forget to bring food. In the next post I will try to link to some information on backpacking food, as well as techniques for using the above gear.  

You may also want to bring an extra t-shirt and an extra pair of socks just in case. Do not go overboard on the extra clothing. You do not need to change your clothes every day. You’ve been camping-people will understand.  

I strongly believe that the above gear is more than adequate for a comfortable three season trip into the woods. I have cut weight and cost where possible, but have attempted to preserve all the items that an average backpacker would expect to have on a weekend trip.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 5

Overnight Camping

General Considerations

Now that you have spend some time hiking the trails, the next step is to plan your first overnight trip.

Picture 18

There are two ways to camp overnight. The first is to use a campsite. Most parks have campsites, which require you to book a space, and they provide facilities like bathrooms, and even things like a kitchen and dry fire wood. The other method is to do backwoods camping. That is what I do, and is the method I will discuss here. What I have in mind is, hiking a trail until you decide you want to make camp, and then going off the trail to find a location you like (subject to the restrictions of the park), and setting up your camp.

The first issue is, what are the overnight camping regulations in the park you have selected? Once again, your best guide here will be your map. While parks generally have websites where the regulations should be posted, many of them are incomplete or outdated. Most of them will direct you to the back of the park map, which will provide the rules and regulations. They can range from not allowing any overnight camping, to requiring that it be done within a certain distance from specific markers, to simply requiring that you be away from any water sources and roads. As a general rule, keep your camp site away from water sources and the trails. Your camp should not be visible from the trial.

The second most important question-where do you go to the bathroom? The simple answer is the same as with the campsite. Stay away from water sources and trails. As far as number 1, the only advise I can give is not to pee directly on a tree or rock. It will splatter on your pants. As far as number 2, dig a small hole in the ground, at least six inches deep (using a sharpened stick), and then burry the waste along with any toilet paper you have used. Some people recommend that you burn the toilet paper because sometimes animals can dig it up before it decomposes. There isn’t much more to it than that. Of course, there are people who pack their “waste” out, but I say I’ll start doing that as soon as the bears do.

Something I consider very important is that if you bring anything into the woods, you should bring it back out with you. Do not leave garbage at your camp site. When you leave, the average person should not be able to tell that anyone has camped there. You are not at war with nature; your camp site should not look like it has gone through a carpet bombing campaign.

If you have built a fire, make sure you put it out with water. It should be cold to the touch before you leave the site. There may be fire restrictions in your area, so make sure to read the rules at the back of the map, as well as any posted signs, usually at the entrance of the park.

The process of selecting a good camp site can take some time to learn, and will be different in each area. Generally, you want to find a flat, leveled piece of ground. The last thing you want is to have your sleeping bag sliding around all night long. Finding such a spot may be easy in your area, or it may require some searching. Also try to find a spot that is sheltered from the wind. A strong wind can drain heat away from you, and generally make the stay more uncomfortable. I have made that mistake before, and now spend a good amount of time looking for a sheltered spot. If possible, try to find a location that is walking distance to a water source. You do not want to be next to the water, not only because it can contaminate the water (and is probably against the park regulations), but also to avoid insects. With time, and a few errors, you will figure out the best type of camping spot for your part of the country.

Other than the above practical considerations, there is a mental component to overnight camping. It is a very natural instinct to want to bring your house into the woods. We crave that sense of security, and want to be able to walk into a mini replica of our house once the sun goes down. The realization that the woods are not going to be the same as your home for me is the defining characteristic of bushcraft. My advise is to try to not think about how to recreate your home in the bush, but rather take the woods on their own terms. Yes, there will be insects, there will be unfamiliar noises, and animals walking around. Yes, you will be exposed to the elements to a large degree. The sooner you come to terms with that reality, the faster you can start to enjoy it.  

After a few trips you will start to figure out what works for you in your area, and the mental component will follow as well. Be willing to adjust, and do not be discouraged by mistakes you’ve made.    

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 4

The Day Hike


Now that we have the clothing covered, there are a few other items you should have with you. Please remember that some of these items will change depending on your environment.

Knife-I strongly believe that a knife is an essential tool. It is possible to get by without one, but I don’t consider it good practice. My favorite is the Mora #2. It is a great knife, and costs only $11. In my opinion it is hard to do better for the money. The smaller Mora #1 and the Mora Companion are equally good and cost about the same. I recommend that you not be tempted by expensive, overly designed knives. While they provide a sense of security by virtue of being over engineered, they will not offer much of an advantage from a practical stand point. Eventually, if after you have been in the woods for some time, you decide that you want a particular design, then so be it, but when starting out, it is hard to beat the simple Mora. Remember, this is a hiking trip. You are not being dropped off in the Amazon jungle from a helicopter. A simple cutting tool is all you need.


Water Bottle-For me, I have found that for a day hike in the North East, I need at least two quarts of water. Make sure to carry sufficient water for the trip. There are many water bottles out there, but if you are keeping cost in mind, I would recommend a simple Gatorade 32oz bottle. A bottle of Gatorade will cost you about $2, and will be strong and hold sufficient water. Two such bottles will give you the two quarts of water for a total cost of $4.


Metal Cup-I have to admit that this is very much a security blanket for me. Even though you can easily get through a day hike without one, I like to know that I have some way to boil water. If you have to spend the night in the woods, being able to heat up water will keep you considerably warmer. A good cheap version is the Open Country 12oz aluminum cup. It is fairly small, but costs only $3, and is very light weight.

A good water bottle and metal cup combination is the Army surplus canteen and canteen cup. Just like with the clothing, the reason why I have not recommended them here is that they are not commercially available. You can find them in surplus stores for a very wide range of prices. If you find the set for low cost, you may want to consider it. Keep in mind that they are significantly heavier than the above option.  


Fire Starting Materials-The simplest fire starter is a BIC Mini lighter. It is small, light weight, can be operated by just about anyone and costs 3 for $1. I never go out without one. A box of Coghlans Waterproof Matches makes a great backup fire starting method and will cost you $1 for the box. Avoid paper matches, as they fall apart too easily. You have probably heard of Ferrocerium rods, but I must say I am not a big fan. They are certainly fun to use, but in the hands of the casual user are not nearly as effective as a box of matches. They also require special tinder preparation, which you may not be able to do without sufficient practice. A more important thing to carry is the tinder itself. I like cotton balls and Vaseline, stored in an Altoids Smalls tin. You can put the whole thing together for under $5.


Flashlight-If you get stuck in the woods after dark, a small flashlight like the Fenix E01 can be of great help. This particular one has a microchip, which regulates the electricity, giving a very long duration from a single AAA battery. It costs only $11, and is well worth the price.


Map and Compass-Since we started this whole trip by buying a map, make sure you have it with you. Also, spend the money and buy a $3 compass. Just about any liquid filled compass of regular size (not a button compass) will do. There are many models out there that have many features, but unless you are exploring the West, making maps for the government, a simple one will do just fine. I’ve been using a basic Coghlan’s compass that I bought for $3 many years ago. It has served me fine.


Signaling Device-You may also want to consider carrying a small mirror and whistle so you can signal in a case of an emergency. I don’t get too preoccupied with them because you will most likely self rescue before anyone even starts looking for you, but if you are in a secluded area, they may be well worth the $2.


First Aid Kit-I am not going to say much about this because this is an area where cutting costs is probably not the best idea. Bring the kit which makes you feel comfortable. If you require any medication, make sure to bring it. You may want to bring some insect repellant if bugs are an issue for you, or sunscreen if the sun is a problem. If you want to see what I have in my first aid kit, you can take a look here.

Repair Kit-Here I have in mind something simple. Bring a needle with some thread, as well as a small amount of duct tape, and some string. You never know when you will have to repair an article of clothing. It should cost you no more than $2. You can see mine here packed in an Altoids Smalls tin. The string I like to use is dental floss. It is strong and compact. I also carry some artificial sinew for when I need something stronger, but some nylon string will do just fine.


Water Purification Tablets-Presumably, for a day hike, the water you brought with you should be enough. However, if you have to stay in the woods longer, or for some reason run out of water, it is good to have a way of easily purifying it. The most easily portable way (especially when used as an emergency measure) is the Katadyn Micropur Water Purification Tablets. A 30 tablet pack coasts $13, and each tablet purifies about a quart of water. They are one of the few chemicals that will kill all parasites, bacteria and viruses. It can take time to work on the tough ones, but it will work. They weight almost nothing, and there is no reason not to have them with you. Here you can find some information on Water Filtration and Purification in the Wilderness.


And lastly, don’t forget to bring a sandwich and some snacks. You will burn a good amount of energy walking up and down hills.

To carry all of it, for now a simple book bag or shoulder bag will do. I will mention a larger pack later on when discussing overnight gear, which can also serve you well as a day pack. 

Item Weight Cost
Knife (Mora #2) 3.3oz with sheath; 2.4 oz without sheath $11.00
Water Bottle 1.8oz (3.6oz for two) $2.00 ($4 for two)
Metal Cup 1.7oz $3.00
Lighter 0.3oz $1.00
Tinder (in the Altoids tin) 1.1oz $5.00
Matches 0.7oz $1.00
Flashlight (with battery) 0.7oz $11.00
Compass 0.9oz $3.00
Map 1.1oz $12.00
Mirror 0.7oz $1.00
Whistle 0.3oz $1.00
Repair Kit (in Altoids tin) 1.3oz $2.00
Water Purification Pills 0.1oz (for a dozen) $13.00 (for set of 30)
Total 15.8oz $68.00

For the above list I have used the items you see in the pictures. I’ve used two Gatorade bottles, and the Open Country cup. The weights include the containers that you see in the pictures as well as the knife sheath.

For those who are interested, the Army surplus bottle and cup weight: 4.9oz for the bottle and 7.3oz for the cup. The prices can be all over the place.

I have not included my first aid kit above because you have to decide what you want to carry. Mine weighs 9.8oz. I have no idea what it costs because I have put it together over quite some time.

I believe that the above gear should give you a good foundation in terms of what you need for a day hike. I strongly dislike approaches that center around a 3 piece or 10 piece or 20 piece kit, etc. Those are games that people with too much time play. Think about what you need, and bring it with you. I have no idea how many items are listed above, nor do I care to count. I just think that they are good to have when I am out in the woods. With time you will come up with other options that work for you.

I know there is a temptation to bring a lot of other gear in case of an emergency, but don’t let your imagination run away from you. The above gear should get you through any normal emergency. Keep things in perspective, and remember, this is day hike.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 3

The Day Hike


Now that we have the basics of the day hike covered, it’s time to consider what you have to carry with you. Here we have to strike a balance between the things we will actually need for the hike, and what would be considered emergency gear, in the unlikely even that something goes wrong and you have to spend the night in the bush. Try to resist the urge to bring your house with you, just in case.

First, lets consider the most important equipment you have with you, your clothing. Your clothing is what will keep you warm and dry, and in the unlikely event you have to spend the night in the woods before you can get back on the trail, it is what will let you do it without having to worry about shelter or fire. I strongly believe that you should have sufficient clothing on you to let you spend a (moderately cold) night in the woods without any other gear. Always carry enough clothing for the lowest temperature you are likely to encounter in the 24 hour period after you start your hike. Keep in mind that during the night temperatures in the mountains fall a lot more than they do in the city.

Let’s start with some basic issues. You have probably heard that “cotton kills”. What people mean by that is that cotton, once it gets wet, will lose most of its insulation. Remember, that your clothes will get wet not only from external sources like rain, but also from your sweat. That is why it is best to avoid cotton (including jeans), within reason. Synthetic materials and wool are the preferred choices for outdoor clothing.

Also remember, that the best approach to clothing is to layer the clothing items. It is better to have three thin shirts than one thick shirt. That is because the multiple clothing items create more dead air space, which preserves heat, and it allows you to better regulate your body temperature. If you get too warm, take off one of the shirts. If you get cold, put it back on. You will have to do a lot of regulating, as there is a big difference between how warm you will be while walking, and when you stop to rest. People often carry what is referred to as a base, a mid, and an outer or shell layer.

Keeping all that in mind, let’s look at some clothing items.

Boots-A good pair of boots can make a trip much more enjoyable. That being said however, good booths are expensive, and it is hard to know what type will work for you until you actually do quite a bit of walking in the woods. For example, I have come to like boots with flexible, but thick soles. That is because I carry fairly light loads, which eliminates the need for a stiff sole, but I backpack in very rocky and rough terrain, which requires the thick soles, so I don’t feel every stone. You will figure out what works for you after you spend some time walking with all your gear. I would not spend $150 on shoes before then. A pair of running shoes, or a pair of comfortable work boots will do just fine for now. 

Socks-Some good wool socks will go a long way towards making your hike more comfortable. They do not need to be 100% wool, nor do they need to be any special type of wool. You should be able to get a three pack for about $20. If you go to an Army surplus store, you can find Army issue new ones for much less. 


Base Layer-This layer of clothing is the one directly against your skin. It should be of material that wicks away sweat from your body. Keeping cost in mind, your best bet here is a simple synthetic (polyester) t-shirt. Technically it would be great if you could find synthetic underwear, but I have done fine with regular cotton ones for many years now. A synthetic t-shirt, or one that is a mixture of synthetic and cotton fibers (try to look for something that is more that 50% synthetic) work well, and should cost you no more that $5. Target has a great brand, C9 by Champion, which has great cheap clothing for this purpose.


Mid Layer-First, the pants. Your best value for the money is a pair of cargo pants that is more than 50% synthetic. You can find them in most department stores, and in many military surplus stores (new, not surplus). They should cost you about $20.

For the upper body I like to split it into two clothing items. I may carry one or both of them depending on the time of the year. Here we are again looking at synthetic clothing. The lower mid layer should be something that fits well and is not too bulky like a thin fleece. A long sleeve synthetic shirt will also do well in this role, and in fact would be preferable in hot environments.


For the upper mid layer thicker fleece works great. It will keep you warm, and you can find good fleece clothing for $20 or $30 at any Wal-Mart.


Shell Layer-Keep in mind that fleece does little to stop the wind from cutting through it. A shell layer will stop both the wind, and will protect you from the rain. For this I like a simple nylon jacket. The jacket should have no insulation, as this is provided by the mid layer. A simple nylon jacket should cost less than $30. I bought mine at an Army surplus store, even though it was a commercially made model. C9 by Champion, available at Target, also has some great jackets of this design for under $30. Some people like to carry rain pants as well, but I have managed to go without them so far. A poncho is also a good shell against rain, but the reason why I prefer the jacket is that the jacket can be used as wind protection and to add warmth. A poncho is however, a very good alternative and will cost you about the same.


As you probably noted, all of the clothing I have recommended is synthetic, in some cases mixed with cotton. You may have heard that wool is a good choice for the outdoors, and if used properly, it is. However, new wool clothing can be very expensive. You can find cheaper options in surplus stores, but since my goal here is to recommend low cost commercially available items, wool is out of the picture. If by chance however, you have wool clothing that you would like to use, try to stick to thin shirts/undershirts and sweaters. Avoid thick wool coats. They offer poor insulation for their weight and bulk. A wool sweater combined with a wind proof shell layer will offer you much more warmth for the weight.  

Of course, remember to alter the above basic clothing options to suit your local environment. For example, if you live in an area that is mostly a desert, then a hat with a wide brim and a pair of sun glasses would be a good option to add. Rain gear on the other hand may not be needed.  

Just remember that you do not have to spend a lot of money to be comfortable. Most woodsmen throughout history managed just fine with low cost equipment and whatever clothing they could find. It is tempting to go after the top of the line materials, which offer great performance, but for our purposes, the above clothing will be more than enough. In fact, in the picture below you see me wearing the exact clothing you see in this post in below freezing temperatures, with the addition of a pair of gloves and a scarf.


In time, when you start to figure out what works for you, you can start looking at those more costly items, but they are certainly not necessary, especially for three season backpacking.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 2

The Day Hike

General Considerations

The easiest way to get started is to begin with day long hiking trips. That way you can avoid a lot of the complexity created by sleeping and shelter arrangements, cooking, and water purification. It requires very minimal kit, and can be done whenever you have a free day. Here I will talk about only three season hiking. Going into the woods during winter will require some additional considerations, and will not be discussed here.

There are two ways you can approach such a hike. The first is the one that most people, even seasoned backpackers take, which is to follow trails that have been established through the woods. Most state and federal parks are crisscrossed by such trails, designed for this purpose. They are clearly marked and can be found on maps of the park. Do not be fooled, many of these trails can be very secluded and in some case indistinguishable from their surroundings.

The other way to hike is to do what is sometimes referred to as backwoods hiking. In such a scenario, you are not following the trails, but are rather just going through the woods using a map and compass. For this post I will only consider the former approach-following the trails. When you feel comfortable with it, then you can follow your compass wherever you like. 

So, where to begin? Unless you live in a particularly secluded area of the country, odds are that your most convenient access to the woods will be through state and federal parks. So, how do you find a park, and in particular the trails that you will follow?

There are websites that give reviews and directions for certain trails, but in my experience, the best way to get started is to go to your local backpacking supply store like REI, EMS, Paragon, etc. Go in, and go directly to the “maps” section. There you will find map sets for each park in your area. If you are not sure which one is the closest to you, ask one of the people who work there. If you do not have access to such a store, go to “Google maps”, and look around your area until you see a big patch of green. Note the name of the park, and then do a search for it. On their websites, most parks will sell the same maps that you find in the stores.

Once you get the map packet for the park of your choice, you will notice that there is most likely more than one map. Many larger parks have several maps covering the different areas.


You will also notice that the maps have all the trails marked on them. The letters you see next to each trail such as “Y” or “R” usually indicate the color of the trail- “Yellow”, “Red”, etc.


You will probably also see areas marked as “P”, or “Parking” on the map. The goal then becomes to get to one of those parking areas. Some of them can be large, with information booths, bathrooms, etc, while others are nothing more than a small cleared patch of land next to the road where you can pull over. Use a regular map (Google) to get to the park, and then follow the park roads marked on the map to one of the parking spots. Some parks have a fee for the parking, others do not.

Once you get to a parking spot, look at the map, and see where the closest trail is. Parking spots are usually placed right next to trails. The trails will be marked in some way. Different parks use different methods. Some use paint, other use reflective tape, etc. Once you know how the trail is designated, you will begin to follow it. Pay attention to the markers. They are typically designed so that when you stand at one of the markers, you can see the one behind you and the next one in front of you. Just following what appears to be a trail can get you in trouble, as very often water runoff creates areas that look like trails, but are not. Before you know it, you can no longer see any markers. 


There are a few trail marking conventions of which you should be aware and are followed by many parks. Three markers, arranged in a triangle on the same object (tree, rock) indicate the start of a trail. Similarly, three markers on the same object forming an upside down triangle indicates the end of a trail. Two markers on the same object with the top marker being offset to one direction, indicates that the trail turns in the direction of the top marker.

Trail Markers

The place where you will be catching the trail will not necessarily be the beginning of the trail, and that is perfectly fine. Many of them cover huge distances.

Keeping all this in mind, select the desired trail, and follow it. Make sure you have planned the return trip. If half the day is gone, it is probably time to head back. Very often trails cross each other. Keep that in mind. It is a great way to find out your exact location. Let’s say you are following the Red trail (marked by red dots) and then you see that it is being crossed by the Blue trail (marked by blue dots), look at the map and see where the intersection occurs. Now you know your exact location.

Once you familiarize yourself with the map, following the trails will become second nature to you. In the next few posts I will discuss some of the gear you may want to have with you on these day hikes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 1


There are those among us who were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where we were exposed to camping and the outdoors from an early age, and have had people to guide us, and in some cases drag us along on all of those camping and fishing trips.


I fully understand however, that not everyone has had such early exposure to the outdoors. There are many people who develop an interest in these activities, but have never been in the woods, and have no sources of information other than what they can find online. I remember finding myself in a somewhat similar situation when I arrived to the US. While it was not my first time in the woods, I had no one here who could tell me how things are done in the US, so I had to figure out a lot of it on my own.

I have been getting a lot of emails and questions from just such people who are thinking about starting out in bushcraft or camping, and I decided to write a series of posts targeted at such individuals.


The posts are going to be aimed at a person who has had no camping experience and does not know anyone who can provide them with the needed information. I am thinking of maybe a college student who has been inspired by his favorite survival TV show, or even someone who has been spending way too much time in an office and wants to see if there is more out there.

A quick search online will reveal a fair amount of information along the lines of “bushcraft kit for under $100". Unfortunately, I find that many of those posts are written by people who have forgotten what it is like to be new to camping and bushcraft. It is true that an experienced person would have no problem spending the night in the bush with just a blanket and a tin can, but often we forget that this is targeted at a person who has never been in the woods. It can indeed be a frightening experience and few people would attempt it without what they consider the proper gear.

Even worse, most of those post and videos leave out essential gear. The person often discusses their knife, their axe, their saw and pot in length. At the end of the post we then see a note along the lines of “the above does not include my tent, sleeping bag, stove, etc”. Well, I hate to say it, but those are the important and costly items.

Equally frustrating is the fact that many of those gear lists include things that the person received as a gift, or found at a yard sale, etc. While that is great for that individual person, it makes the kit very hard to replicate by the reader.

So, after getting frustrated at a number of such posts, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and see if I can do better. I will attempt to provide a guide to creating a reasonably priced and complete kit for camping and bushcraft. For this list I will use only commercially available products. I will cut costs wherever possible, but I will try to do so without cutting out items. Along with the gear, I will try to cover some techniques and general information that may be useful to the person who is just starting out.

Keep in mind that whether I intend it or not, this will more or less be a guide to how I do things and my style of camping and bushcraft. It is certainly not the way for everyone, but if my writings resonate with you, this may be of some use. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bushbuddy Ultra Review

The Bushbuddy Ultra was first developed in 2006 as a custom order for Ryan Jordan of BackpackingLight magazine. The stove burns wood as fuel, and combined with its low weight, has real potential to save significant weight on long trips.


First and foremost, this is a wood gas stove. While there are many stoves that use wood as fuel, not all wood burning stoves are wood gas stoves. The Bushbuddy Ultra uses what is amusingly called an inverted downdraft design. The effect is that once the stove is lit, the wood inside is heated to a degree where it releases methane and other combustible gases, which are then ignited in a secondary burn stage. This provides a cleaner, more efficient burn than a simple fire.


Achieving proper wood gasification is not always easy. A few stoves on the market like the cleverly named WoodGas Camp Stove, use electrically powered fans to improve the process by either pulling or pushing air through the stove. The Bushbuddy Ultra however does not.

I have long resisted wood burning stoves of any sort because I never saw the advantage over a simple fire. Sure, it is a little easier to position the pot, and the flame can be maintained smaller, but I just didn’t want to carry a stove just for that, when in most cases I have a fire burning anyway. Well, the reason why I eventually got one was because I switched to using a pyramid shelter (the GoLite Shangri-La 5). It was my hope that I could use a wood gas stove inside the tent as a fireplace of sorts. I had hoped that the more complete combustion of a wood gas stove would make for lower smoke levels. So, I got the Bushbuddy Ultra.

First of all, the customer service was great. This is a very small manufacturer, and he was very responsive, and kept me updated on the manufacture of the stove without me even prompting it. The stove arrived packaged in a wooden box, without any issues or delays.

My first impression was that the stove is very light and very small. Even though I knew the specifications for the stove, I was still surprised. The stove weighs about 5oz (5.07 for mine); has 4.25 inch diameter and is 3.75 inches high. It is made of very thin stainless steel.

After taking the stove out of the box, I had two immediate concern. The first was that its walls are too thin and will get damaged inside my pack, a problem easily fixed by putting the stove inside your cooking pot. The pot support of the stove actually comes off, and when flipped over fits inside the stove. This makes for a very compact stove that can fit in most cooking pots.


My second worry was that it would not make for a very good wood gas stove. Gasification typically requires a deep chamber where pyrolysis occurs. The chamber of the Bushbuddy Ultra is no more than two inches deep. Somewhat skeptical, I went out to test the stove. To my great surprise, the stove worked great. It is superbly engineered, and despite its small volume gasifies very well.

To operate the stove, gather some small pieces of wood. Just like with a regular fire, the type of wood you use will make a big difference. Good solid pieces of hard wood will burn longer and produce more heat, while woods like pine and birch will light quickly, but will not give you long burn times. I like to use split wood, as it gives the best density.


What I like to do is take some larger pieces of wood and place them inside the combustion chamber.


Then on top of them, I place the smaller pieces that I am actually going to light, much like you would on an upside down fire.


Light the fire and let the amber work its way down to the larger wood.


Once the stove is heated up, the gasification will begin, providing for a fairly clean burn. At this point you can start adding larger pieces of wood. When the stove is in this stage, even damp wood will burn without a problem.


Place the pot on top, and start cooking. There is an opening in the pot support, so you can add pieces of wood to the flame without removing the pot. Boil times depend largely on the conditions and the type of wood you are using. Do not expect to cook in any specific mount of time. Circumstances will dictate how fast your food is cooked.


So, what’s the final verdict? The stove is very light and small. Carrying it is not an issue at all, and it weights about a third of a white gas stove. Using wood as a fuel source will save weight. The stove gasifies very well, especially for such a compact design, and is clearly very well built. Customer service is great. As far as the stove is concerned, I have no complaints, other than the $115.00 price tag, but I can understand it, seeing how much care went into making the stove.

I do however have a problem with the stove. The problem is not with this particular stove, but rather with wood burning stoves in general. I just didn’t see the point. Generally, when I am out, there are two ways in which I cook my food. The first is that when I have set up camp, and have time, I will build a fire and cook my food on it. The second way is when I am in a hurry, or want to quickly stop off the trail to cook something for lunch. In that case I want a stove that I can light quickly and have my food ready within minutes of stopping. For me, the Bushbuddy Ultra does not fit well into either of those scenarios.

Getting a fire going with the Bushbuddy Ultra is as time consuming as starting a small fire. You still have to gather the wood, and properly kindle the fire. This may take a few minutes, or much, much longer depending on the conditions. For example, two weeks ago I was out in a snow storm. If I was to use the Bushbuddy Ultra, I would have had to find wood from under the snow, split it to get to dry wood, and then try to light the stove with the damp wood. It would have taken close to half an hour. Even in less extreme conditions, if the wood is wet, starting the stove can be a time consuming process. If I was going to take that time, I might as well build a fire.

Also unfortunate is the fact that while the Bushbuddy Ultra provides for more complete combustion that a fire, it is still not clean enough to use inside my shelter. There are times when the flame is very clean, but then there are other times when there is plenty of smoke and sooth.

I guess the conclusion is that this is a beautiful, well built stove that does not suit my personal needs. If your style of camping can use a small wood gas stove, then this one is hard to beat. On top of that, it is incredibly fun to use. There is something infinitely entertaining about trying to start a tiny fire in a tiny stove. Just make sure your fire starting skills are up to par, and that you have appropriate fire starting materials for your area. 

If you would like to give wood gas stoves a try without the high cost, you can try to make one yourself. For instructions, look here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Axe Head Geometry-Phantom Bevels and Tapered Cheeks

In this video I try to present a theory which aims to explain the origins of both phantom bevels and tapered or convexed cheeks, and why they have so drastically decreased in popularity.

The theory, as explained in more detail in the video goes as follows:

Sometime around the 1750s in North America, the axe goes through some evolutionary changes, giving us what is commonly known as the American Felling Axe. Here you can see an example that dates to approximately the 1850s. In almost all respects, it resembles a modern felling axe. The only difference is that if we look closely, we will see that the cheeks are linear. They form a straight line between the bit and the area surrounding the eye. This creates a large area where the cheek can stick to the wood being chopped.



In 1889 W.C. Kelly patented the “Perfect” model of axes that you can see here. It is identical to the above 1850s model in that if we look at the part of the head that has not been cut away by the phantom bevels, it still forms a straight line between the bit and the area surrounding the eye. Because of that, I believe that the removal of metal, either by phantom bevels or by tapering/thinning out the edges of the cheeks, will increase performance and reduce binding.



Continuing to look at Kelly Perfect axes, here we have an example from sometime between 1905 and 1930. As you can see, the phantom bevels have significantly decreased in significance. I believe that the reason for that is that during this time there was another evolution in axe design. Manufacturers started creating concave cheeks. Metal was removed from the surface of the whole cheek. In that way, the cheek no longer forms a straight line between the bit and the area surrounding the eye. Instead it is indented. The result of this indentation is that the wood can pass by the cheek without making contact. It is my theory that this one development made the removal of metal through phantom bevels and tapering of the cheeks largely obsolete.



Here we can see the same thing, even more pronounced, on a more modern variation of the Kelly Perfect design. This is a True Temper Kelly Perfect which dates to sometimes after 1949. Even though it features both the phantom bevels and tapered cheeks, it very significantly features the concave cheeks that we see above. As such, the other features seem more decorative, and pale in significance to their prominence in the earlier 19th century models.



Here you can see an original 19th century W.C. Kelly Perfect Dayton pattern axe next to a late 20th century True Temper Kelly Perfect Dayton pattern axe. 



Here we have a modern Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe. It has neither the phantom bevels, nor the tapered cheeks, but the concavity of the cheeks is still present.



This is just my theory, but I believe that the introduction of the concave cheeks in the early 20th century eliminated the need for phantom bevels or any other metal removal methods. The phantom bevels and tapered cheeks predate this development in axe head geometry, and as such have survived only as decorative features after its introduction, even though originally they served a very real purpose on the old axe head designs. I think that is why we do not see any performance difference when comparing axes that have those features with ones that do not.