Friday, March 30, 2012

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System Review

As I have mentioned numerous times before, for many years now I have been using a MSR Miniworks EX as my water filter when in the woods. It is robust, easy to clean in the field, and filters well. However, it has a large downside, which is its weight. With all of the necessary accessories, it tips the scale at over a pound. I’ve been searching for a lighter option, and I think I have finally stumbled onto a good one.

As the title indicates, the solution I found is the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System.


The filter comes in the box you see above. Inside you have the water filter itself, three water bags, listed as being 2L, 1L, and 0.5L respectively. You also get a large syringe, which is intended to be used for back flushing the filter in the event it gets clogged. The filter itself has a screw on drinking pop-up cap, which can be removed if the filter is used by squeezing or as a gravity filter.


There are several ways to use the filter. You can attach it directly to a water bottle or hydration bladder. It has a standard fitting that will screw onto any standard size bottle opening, including a soda bottle and Platypus bags. You can then use the pop-up drinking spout to drink directly from the bottle. If you remove the drinking spout, you will see a hose attachment point, allowing you to use the filter as an inline gravity filter. Lastly, and the way I use it is as a squeeze filter. Simply fill one of the provided bags (or the platypus bag of your choosing) with dirty water, screw on the filter, and applying slight pressure to the bag, squeeze the water into your bottle.

a (15)

In the picture you see the filter being used with the 2L bag. I am applying only very slight pressure. The filter will work well even without any pressure applied.


The Sawyer Water Filter uses a hollow fiber filter, very similar to that used in the MSR Hyperflow Microfilter.

The filter element is not removable, but is rated to one million gallons of water. While I seriously doubt that the filter would last through one million gallons of water, it is stated right on the box, and I certainly do not have the means to test it.

The pore size on the filter is rated as 0.1 microns. In practical terms, this means that it can filter parasites like Cryptosporidium and Giardia, as well as bacteria. This is comparable performance to other backpacking filters such as the MSR Miniworks EX and the Katadyn Hiker Pro. It will not filter viruses as they are too small, but I am not aware of any backpacking filters that do that.

The filter is cleanable. It is the same back flushing process used in other hollow fiber filters. To do this with the Sawyer, you simply place the syringe, full with clean water at the opening where the water usually exits, and you push the water in, in effect back flushing it. 

Sawyer lists the filter as weighing 3 oz. When completely wet, immediately after use, it weighs 3.5 oz. If however you take about 30 seconds to shake it in one direction, you can drive most of the water off, and bring the weight down to 3 oz. That leads me to think that when completely dry (something that is unlikely to happen with a filter without a removable element, the weight might be a slightly under 3 oz.

Component Weight
Filter 3.0 oz
Pop-up Mouthpiece 0.1 oz
Bottle Cap 0.1 oz
Syringe 1.1 oz
2L Bottle/Bag 1.0 oz
1L Bottle/Bag 0.7 oz
0.5L Bottle/Bag 0.5 oz

I remember reading a review a while back, which indicated that the water bags were actually smaller than what was listed in the specification. Sawyer seems to have fixed that, as now each bag is actually slightly larger than what is listed. The 1L bag for example holds as much water as a Nalgele bottle, which is about 1.1L.

The Sawyer Squeeze Filtration System costs about $50.00.

Comparison to Other Filters


In the picture you can see the MSR Miniworks EX (left), the Sawyer Squeeze Filter (middle) and the Aqua Mira Frontier Pro (right).


In terms of size, the Sawyer is much smaller than the MSR Miniworks EX. It is similar size to the Frontier Pro, being a little shorter, but thicker. Obviously both the Sawyer and the Frontier Pro need a separate water bag in order to function, unless you want to drink directly from the water source. That will add some volume, but both will still be much smaller than the MSR Miniworks EX.


For detailed weights of each Sawyer component, see the chart above. For the weight comparison here, I am using each filter with enough components to allow it to fill a water bottle. For the MSR I am using the filter and hose, for the Sawyer I am using the filter (without the cap) and the 1L bag, and for the Frontier Pro I am using the filter (without the hose attachment) and the same 1L bag.

Filter Weight
MSR Miniworks EX 14.8 oz
Sawyer Squeeze Filter 3.7 oz
Aqua Mira Frontier Pro 2.6 oz

It should be noted that as a hollow fiber filter, once you get it wet, it is very hard to get it completely dry. As such, the weight above for the sawyer is probably a bit higher than it would be if the filter was completely dry, but I think it is a more realistic measurement, as you are never likely to have it dry. This is an issue with all hollow fiber filters that do not have a removable element.

Filtering Capacity

In terms of filtering capacity, the competition here is mostly between the MSR Miniworks EX and the Sawyer Squeeze Filter. The MSR has a filter pore size of 0.2 and the Sawyer has a filter pore size of 0.1. Both of them will filter out parasites and bacteria.

The Aqua Mira Frontier Pro on the other hand falls significantly short in this category. I would personally never use it as a filter, and only have it here for comparison purposes. The Frontier Pro has a pore size of 3. That’s right, not 0.3, but 3! This will filter out most parasites and dirt, but will do nothing for smaller contaminants such as bacteria. Seeing how it’s not in the same league as the other two filters, I don’t care much how fast it can filter water.

It should be noted that none of the filters will filter out viruses. For that you need some form of chemical treatment. Viruses are easily killed by just about any chemical method in a very short period of time. Fortunately, viruses are not much of an issue in North America and Europe, so no treatment should be required. If traveling in other countries, a small bottle of chlorine bleach should take care of it.

Filter Pore Size Filter Time for 1L
MSR Miniworks EX 0.2 2 min 5 sec
Sawyer Squeeze Filter 0.1 2 min 24 sec
Frontier Pro 3 n/a

For the speed test I used the Sawyer with the 2L bag so I don’t risk running out of water. This however brings me to another point. The above times reflect only the speed of filtering. Just like any filter system which takes water from a bag in order to filter, the Sawyer requires additional time to fill up that bag. If you have a sufficiently deep water source, this should take no more than a few seconds. However, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to fill up the bag using your cup. That can add quite a bit of time.

Therefore, while the filtering rate of the Sawyer is not that much slower than the MSR Miniworks EX, the overall filtering time might be significantly longer based on conditions.


Field maintenance is an important factor for me when choosing a filter. That has always been the big appeal of the MSR Miniworks EX for me. It can be fully disassembled in the field without tools and the filter element can be removed and field cleaned.

The Aqua Mira Frontier Pro is on the other extreme in that it is not field maintainable at all. It does shave a pre-filter which can be changed, but after 50 gallons (as per specifications) you have to get a new filter.

The Sawyer Squeeze Filtration System falls somewhere in between. The filter element is not removable, but you can clean the filter by back flushing it. The only issue I have with that is the size of the syringe required for the job. I don’t exactly want to carry around a syringe the size of the filter just for cleaning purposes.

Sawyer states that their filter requires much less cleaning than a ceramic filter like the MSR Miniworks EX. In fact, they say that it requires about 20 times less cleaning. That means that for every 20 times you have to clean your MSR filter, you only have to clean the Sawyer once. I have no idea how true that is. It may not mean much if the water you are filtering is very dirty.

The Sawyer Squeeze Filter does not come with a pre-filter. I wish it did. It would make me feel much better about using a hollow fiber filter instead of a ceramic one.

One thing to keep in mind when using the filter, if you get dirty water on the outside of the bag, make sure to wipe it down before you start filtering. You don’t want it to drip down into the bottle.

Since it is hard to get the Sawyer filter completely dry, the instructions recommend that for long term storage, you should put a few drops of chlorine bleach in the water bag and squeeze it along with the water through the filter. That will prevent the growth of any bacteria or mold.

As with all filters (that I know if) you have to be careful to prevent freezing during winter. When the filter is wet and the water freezes, it expands and can damage the filter element. This is true for the Sawyer Squeeze Filter as well as for ceramic filters like the MSR Miniworks EX. An insulative cover can help a lot during winter. 


So far the filter has performed very well for me. It is slower than the MSR, but it is not so slow, as to make it a nuisance when out in the woods.

Operation of the filter is very simple. The biggest issue is filling up the water bag, for which I use my cup. I wipe the cup down afterwards, but if that worries you, bring a different scoop.

I have not had any clogging issues so far. It would be interesting to see how long that lasts, and how effective back flushing would be in restoring the flow rate. In my experience (with the MSR Hyperflow), that was the biggest issue.

I keep the filter in a Ziploc bag to prevent any dripping after it has been used.

I have made a few modification to the filter, including a pre-filter and a back flushing mechanism. Together they bring the field weight of the filter to 4 oz. I hope to be able to go over the modifications in a post on Monday.

Overall, while operation and maintenance of the Sawyer is not as smooth and easy as that of the MSR Miniworks EX, the weight saving are significant. I have been able to cut off about a pound from my pack by making the switch. So far, all of the disadvantages have been minor enough to not be an issue, and have certainly been worth it considering the weight savings.

So far, for me, the Sawyer Squeeze Filter is the way to go. We will see how it holds up after some long term testing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

National Geographic’s New Everest Page

Well, the new climbing season is upon us. In honor of the occasion, National Geographic has created a new webpage where they will follow the progress of the current Conrad Anker/Cory Richards team. At the same time, National geographic has provided some great galleries, showing some older photos of climbers. You can see the webpage here.


The photograph above is from the documentary, The Wildest Dream, where Conrad Anker and Leo Holding tested out the gear used by George Mallory and Sandy Irvine on their doomed ascent of Everest in 1924. It is provided in one of the galleries on the page I linked to above.

For those interested, here are some observations made by Anker regarding Mallory’s clothing during the above trip:

What was the highest altitude you wore the authentic 1924 outfits to?

We wore the period clothing to 7,300m (Everest is 8,848m) – it was pretty cold. Initially, in the development stages of the film, it was like, ‘Well we’ll climb right to the summit in it’. But on the mountain it became too challenging to wear it right to the top and we weren’t prepared to risk our lives.

Was it difficult to climb in the hobnail boots?

Yes it was because the hobnails kept falling out. Wearing boot-leather soles on ice was super slick. At one stage, Leo was worried his toes were frozen. It took about an hour to get the circulation going and that was awful. He knew his career would be over if he lost a toe.

How do you think Mallory and Irvine survived so long in this kind of gear?

The fact that they got as high as they did wearing the clothing they did is the most remarkable aspect of their achievement. My theory was, once you get used to the equipment you acclimatize a little to the local temperature. As long as they were moving it was okay, they were able to thermo-regulate, but as soon as they stopped it was too cold. Some of their team did suffer frostbite on their hands and feet.

Check out the National Geographic webpage. It has a lot of interesting content.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Conquest of Everest

This is a movie that came out in 1953, shortly after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to successfully reach the summit of Everest. The film utilizes original footage from the expedition to document the ascent.

It is very interesting to watch, not only because it is a snapshot of history, but it also allows us to see a lot of the equipment, clothing, and techniques in use at the time.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bushcraft and Camping Cold Weather Clothing

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the clothing I have been wearing, so I thought I would use this opportunity to go through some of it. In particular, I’ll go over the clothing I was wearing on my 2/18/12 through 2/20/12 trip, since I’ve already described it in a previous post, here. I only call it “cold weather” clothing because I use it during winter in my area. It is certainly not appropriate for all cold weather environments.

I want to once again stress that we are free to chose whatever equipment we want, but we should be honest about the reasons for which we chose it. In that spirit, I want to make it very clear that this is in no way the best clothing out there. I wear what you see in this post because I like the way it looks and I like the way it fits. It performs well enough for the environment in which I camp, but it should in no way be considered the end all and be all of clothing options. On top of that, I picked this clothing because it was very affordable, along with some additional motivations which I will discuss further down.

For an alternative selection of affordable clothing, have a look at this post.

Base Layer

The first part of the base layer is a synthetic (polyester) T-shirt and synthetic underwear. There is nothing special about them. I just picked them up at Target for a few dollars each.

034 (2)

The second part of the base layer is a US Army surplus synthetic base layer shirt. I bought it as a combination with a pair of base layer underpants. Together they cost about $10. I don’t wear the bottoms because I hate having anything close fitting on my legs, but that is an option as the two come together as a package.


You may ask why I don’t wear Merino wool as a base layer. The answer is simple. It is the same reason why I am not wearing a high end synthetic top like the Arcteryx Phase SV - cost. Something like the SmartWool Midweight Funnel will cost about $75. That would cost more than most of my other clothing combined.

Mid Layer

The first part of the mid layer consists of a shirt and a pair of trousers.

The shirt is a Pendleton wool shirt. I got it on sale for $40. This is the most expensive part of my clothing. The largest problem I have with wool is the cost. For example, when not on sale, this shirt goes for more than $80. This is in the range of high end modern gear like the Patagonia R1 or the RAB Exodus. I am wearing a size M in the picture.


The pants are a pair of M51 US Army surplus wool pants. I got them new for $25. I think they are a great value for the money. They are actually a blend of 80% wool and 20% synthetic material, which gives them good durability. The pants you see in the picture are size S.

The second part of the mid layer is a M51 US Army surplus cold weather wool shirt. It is made from the same blend as the pants, and I got it new for $10.


It is a size S, but fits well over the Pendleton shirt. It is somewhat bulky. It is certainly much larger in volume than a modern alternative like the RAB Xenon or the Patagonia Nano Puff, but you can’t beat that price.

A wool sweater will also do well as this layer. I have not been able to find one at good cost, but it should offer better insulation, even though it will not be as wind resistant.

Shell Layer

The M51 shirt is a fairly tight weave, so I don’t need much additional protection from the wind, but I do need rain protection. The jacket I had on this trip was a simple nylon jacket that I bought many years ago. I think it cost me about $30.


This is not an item I wear much. I mostly pull it out when there is rain. If I am wearing clothing like untreated fleece, I wear it more often if there is wind, but most of the time it stays in my bag. Because of that, I will at some point have to get something smaller and lighter. I’m thinking something like the Marmot Super Mica. I also need a pair of rain pants, but again, they would have to be very light and compact, as they are not something I use much of the time.

Other Items

The belt I am wearing is the same one I have had for many years. It is a thin nylon belt with a very small buckle. I like it precisely because it is no minimal. It does not get in the way when you are wearing a backpack with a hip belt, nor do you have to take it off while sleeping. I have found leather belts and other more robust belts to be extremely uncomfortable in both those situations.

On this trip I also wore a thinsulate cap, a fleece scarf and a pair of US Army surplus fingerless wool liner gloves.


The cap is identical to a wool watch cap, but I find it much more comfortable, especially to sleep in.

I wore the same wool socks that I always wear.


I find the above clothing to be sufficient for temperatures down to 20F while stationary. That of course means that when working and moving, I am not wearing all of the clothing (usually just up to the Pendleton shirt). If your trip just involves moving between different heated shelters, then this clothing can be used effectively at much lower temperatures.


Since I don’t use heated shelters however, the clothing has to be good enough to keep me warm when stationary, especially in the evenings. Because of that, if I expect the temperature to get any lower, I add some other items to the above set up.

The first item is a pair of liners for the M51 pants. They are the standard M51 liners for the pants. They are made of 60% wool/40% cotton batting with a synthetic liner. They cost about $10, and button into the M51 pants. The liners provide excellent insulation. I have never encountered temperatures in my area that have been low enough to make me feel cold with the liners. I have gone down to about 0F with them without feeling cold in any way. I am sure they will go even lower. The downside is the weight and bulk. They are very heavy, and hard to pack if you chose to remove them.


For the upper body I add a synthetic fill jacket. It is nothing special. I got it at Target for $50. It is warm, and more importantly, it packs to a fairly small size.


The last addition, and something I wish I had brought on this trip is a pair of wool mittens that go over the liner gloves.


Evaluation and Other Considerations

First, for those interested, let me give you the weights of each of the items:

ITEM Weights
T-shirt (C9 by Champion) 4.3 oz
Underwear (C9 by Champion) 2.8 oz
Base Layer (Army surplus top) 8.2 oz
Pendleton Wool Shirt 13.8 oz
M1951 Wool Shirt 1 lb 5.5 oz
M1951 Wool Pants 1 lb 12.6 oz
M1951 Pant Liners 1 lb 14.1 oz
Thinsulate Cap 2.3 oz
Fleece Scarf 3.1 oz
Gloves (Army surplus liner gloves) 1.6 oz
Wool Socks 3.4 oz
Belt 3.0 oz
Rain Coat 1 lb 1.1 oz
Wool Mittens 5.6 oz
Jacket (C9 by Champion) 2 lb 11.7 oz

I mentioned earlier that I had some other reasons for choosing this clothing. The reason why I started wearing it is because I used to read on all of the forums that wool is this type of almost magical material that was better than anything else. I figured that I would give it a try and see what all the hype is about. That is why this fall and winter I wore only the above set up. Based on that I have reached a few conclusions.

One of them is that which every reasonable person knows: wool is no magical fabric. Like anything else, it has advantages, and it has flaws.

Some of the advantages are that it provides fairly good insulation, it is breathable, it is flame resistant, and is fairly durable, especially when compared to some of the lighter weight materials. Of course it is not as durable as cordura or cotton. These particular items of clothing also provide good wind protection when compared to basic fleece clothing, eliminating the need for a separate wind shirt.

The disadvantages are that it is heavy, bulky, and it dries very slowly. Many people say that the fact it dries slowly does not matter because the wool will keep you warm when wet, but from my experience, it is absolutely false. If you get wet, you will be cold. There are many other materials on the market like simple fleece, which will keep you just as warm when wet, but will dry out much more quickly.

So, how significant are the disadvantages? Well, they are clearly not bad enough to keep me from wearing the clothing, but they should be a significant consideration for you.

If you are in a wet environment, the ability to dry your clothing will make the difference between being warm and being cold. A fleece heavy set up like the one in the article to which I linked in the beginning of this post will perform somewhat better in a wet environment.

Weight and bulk are also significant factors because this is a layering system designed to allow you to remove clothing. All the items you take off have to be stored somewhere for the remainder of the trip. If they are bulky, you may end up needing a pack twice the volume, just so you can store them. This problem becomes much more pronounced as wool clothing gets thicker. A wool base layer is not significantly bulkier than a synthetic one. However, a wool outer coat may be more than ten times bulkier and heavier than a synthetic fill one.

This bulk issue is why I decided to go with a synthetic shell layer, even in this more “traditional” outfit. You have probably seen many people on forums advocating Ventile, Gaberdine, or some other form of shell layer comprised of tightly woven cotton. If you have ever tried to pack such a coat , you quickly realize that you need a second backpack just to carry it. Considering that this is a shell layer, designed to be removed and stored for most of the trip, this is a huge problem. On top of that of course we have the problem that it is not waterproof, nor was it designed to be waterproof. Remember, this is the exact same material from which Milbank bags are made, and they are designed to filter water. A simple nylon jacket will offer significant advantages in terms of performance, and can be stored in your backpack with ease. I find that the above shirts resist wind well enough to not require a separate dedicated wind shirt, whether it be cotton or anything else. 

I have had some issue with moisture management with this clothing. In particular, when walking through snow or other wet areas, I have gotten the pants wet. Unlike the top layers, it is hard to just remove the top layer of the pants. It is an issue because in my experience, the surest way to be cold at night is to get into the sleeping bag damp or wet. I have been thinking or replacing the liners with a set of fleece pants, which will allow me to remove the outer wool pants when they get wet.

Something else to keep in mind is that not everyone will be comfortable in button down shirts and wool dress pants. I wear similar clothing most other days of the week, so it feels right to me, but most people will probably find it uncomfortable. There are many designs for wool clothing out these days, and you can find something that works for you, but this brings me to the next point:

The only reason why I wear the above outfit is because I was able to find the components for very low cost as they are mostly surplus. If I had to pay market value for new wool items ($100+ per piece of clothing), I would certainly go with the equivalent modern clothing, as it costs about the same and performs better under most conditions in terms of insulation, weight, and compressibility, not to mention rain resistance. 

I consider the above set up similar to the one which I discussed here earlier. While each outfit has advantages and disadvantages, I find that they even out. They are also identical in terms of cost. For cheap clothing, either outfit will work well. You can of course mix and match items based on what you already have at home. Be aware of the limitations of each material and try to compensate for it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Forums and Other General Updates

Some of you may have noticed that I have not been posting on some forums which I used to frequent not too long ago. Because of questions I have been getting about that, I wanted to clear up some of the confusion.

Bushcraft USA-I used to be a fairly active member on the forum. Unfortunately I was banned from the forum a number of months ago. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea, nor was I ever given a reason. Even worse, Bushcraft USA refuses to remove my profile, or indicate that I have been banned despite my numerous requests. This is something they started doing a while back so as not to get too many questions about why people mysteriously get banned. They simply lock out your account without showing that you are banned.

This, as intended has created a lot of confusion. I see that people ask questions in some of my threads there, thinking that I am still a member, but I want to assure you that the reason why I have not answered you, either publically or privately, is that I don’t have the ability to do so. If you have a question, please email me or ask it on the blog.

Blade Forums-Similarly, I used to be fairly active on Blade Forums. Unfortunately, the security settings on my computer where I get most of my access for some reason block the website. I could get around it, but it’s too much work, and just kills the fun for me. It is a great forum, and my recent lack of participation there is simply due to technical difficulties.

On a positive note, these days you can see my posts on another, fairly new forum, Blades and Bushcraft. So far I have found it to be an excellent forum. I am also a member of Bushcraft Finland (look for the international section), which I find to have very interesting and unique content. 

Also on a positive note, Wood Trekker seems to have just hit 200 followers/members. I want to thank all of you who continue to support my blog, and read my posts. I can always count on intelligent and informed feedback from you guys, and those interactions have made the blog writing process greatly more enjoyable. If you ever have any questions or topics you would like me to cover, please let me know, and I’ll do my best. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Axe Books and Books About Axes

Recently I had a comment on a thread asking for some older books dealing with the subject of axes. I decided to put together a short post on the subject instead of trying to cram it into a comment response.


Civil War camp of the 6th N.Y. Artillery at Brandy Station, Virginia, 1864

To begin with, as I have mentioned before, my blog and what I do and write about here is simply a hobby. I am not a historian, nor do I work in a lumber yard. Everything that I write about is based on information I have been able to find from people, books, and a lot of experimentation.

There are a few books that I have come across on the subject of axes that I have found useful, so I’ll share them with you here.

First however, remember that if you are looking for historical data about axes, your primary sources will not be books. I have not been able to find anything on the subject prior to the early 1900s. My sources of information for that earlier period have been photographs, in particular Civil War photographs, and images of old advertisements. You also often have to read between the lines of books unrelated to the topic, to pick up some information about the tools that the author mentioned unknowingly.

In the early 1900s we start to get some literature on the subject of axes. I find that a lot of the literature that follows largely just repeats the information published during that period.

ANCIENT CARPENTERS’ TOOLS, Together With Lumbermen’s, Joiners’, and Cabinet Makers’ Tools in Use in the Eighteenth Century, by Henry C. Mercer – This book was first published in 1929, and to date remains one of the most influential works on the subject. Clearly the book covers a much wider range of tools than axes, but it has some excellent section on the subject, along with some good photography of the tools. Most subsequent books tend to repeat the information provided by Mercer here. Unfortunately I find that further research, with few exceptions tend to be lacking. 

THE AXE MANUAL OF PETER McLAREN America’s Champion Chopper, by Peter McLaren – This book was first published in 1929. Almost certainly the book wasn’t actually written by McLaren himself, but it was published by Plumb when McLaren became a champion using their axes. The book does not discus any history, but instead focuses on technique, use and maintenance. It is an excellent source of information, and you can get it for free here.

WOODSMANSHIP, by Bernard S. Mason – The book was first published in 1945. It also focuses on axe use and maintenance among some other tools. It is a great source of information and can be obtained for free here.   

THE HISTORY OF WOODWORKING TOOLS, by William L. Goodman – This is a book that was published in 1964 and contains quite a bit of independent research, providing very useful information on the early stages of axe development. Goodman also has a series of excellent articles in the Journal of The Institute of Handicraft Teachers

AMERICAN AXES, A Survey of Their Development and Their Makers – The book was first published in 1972. It covers some history about axe development, and also has some information on specific, historically significant, manufacturers. I find the information to be good, although I wish there was more debt to it. I would have loved for this book to have been twice the size it is.

THE AXE BOOK, The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter (Formerly published as Keeping Warm With an Axe), by Dudley Cook – This book was published in 1981, and covers topics of axe maintenance and in particular axe use. When it comes to axe use, it covers the topic with more debt than most other books, and in that respect is quite good. There are some aspect of the book with which I outright disagree, specifically his discussion of handles, but that should not detract from the other excellent parts of this book.

AXE MAKERS OF NORTH AMERICA, A Collection of Axe History and Manufacturers, by Allan Klenman – This book was published in 1990. Its main focus is an encyclopedic description of American axe manufacturers, with a few pages dedicated to some foreign companies. It is not a complete listing, but is an excellent resource.

AN AX TO GRIND, A Practical Ax Manual, by Bernie Weisgerber – This book was published in 1999 by the US Department of Agriculture. It covers a bit of everything, from history to axe use. It is a companion edition to a set of videos with the same name. You can see the videos here, and the book itself here.

YESTERYEARS TOOLS – This is actually a website. I ordinarily wouldn’t include a website in this list, but it is simply an excellent source of information. In a similar fashion to Axe Makers of North America, the website provides information on different axe manufacturers and more importantly, graphics of many of the logos used for their brands. You can see the website here.

Aside from the above books which are at least in part focused on axes, there are many other books where a simple mention of an axe can give us a glimpse into a history that has been lost. Some of my favorite books, which are not on the subject of axes, but can provide some contextual information are:

WOODCRAFT, by Elmer H. Kreps – The book was first published in 1916 and along with being one of my favorite books on the subject of bushcraft, contains some excellent bits of information about axe use and maintenance. It can be obtained for free here.

THE BOOK OF CAMPING AND WOODCRAFT, by Horace Kephart – The first edition of the book was published in 1906 and the second, more extensive edition in 1916. The book is very long and has a short section on axes, but the most useful bits of information about axes can be found scattered throughout the rest of the book. A free copy can be obtained here.

As I mentioned above, some of the best information you will find on the subject is through independent research. Unfortunately too much information just gets repeated without too much thought or support. Don’t take what you read in any book as the final word on the subject. If something doesn't make sense, question it, no matter who wrote it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bushcraft and Camping Gear and Tools

As promised, I finally got around to doing a post on the gear list for the trip I did between 2/18/12 and 2/20/12. Remember that this is just my gear list, and will not be right for everyone, nor will it be right for all weather conditions. You can see the post about the trip here.

Let’s start out with the big three.


Number one in the above picture is my backpack. It is a CFP 90 knockoff that I bought many years ago. It is durable, but heavy and not all that comfortable. I have been waiting to replace it until I have finalized all of my gear, but ten years later, I am still waiting, so I’m not sure when that will happen. I have cut off the side pockets, as the volume was just to high.

Number two in the picture is my shelter, the Go Lite Shangri-La 5 flysheet. It is one of the best purchases I have made in a long time. It provides good protection, but the open floor allows similar versatility to a tarp. I can get in with my shoes on, don’t have to worry about condensation as it does not pool at the bottom of the shelter, and I can cook inside on rainy days. It has performed well for me in all sorts of conditions. You can see it in the snow here.

The third item is my sleeping bag. It is the cold weather bag from an Army surplus MSS. It is a synthetic bag and is rated to –10F, although I have been cold in it in +10F.

Item Number Item Description Weight
1 CFP 90 Replica Backpack 5 lb 2.6 oz
2 Go Lite Shangri-La Tent 2 lb 15.2 oz
3-A MSS Black Sleeping Bag 4 lb 6.2 oz
3-B Seat to Summit Stuff Sack for Bag 4.7 oz

The next items are all components of the sleeping system.


The fourth item is the Thermarest NeoAir All Season sleeping pad. For a long time I stuck to closed cell foam pads because of their durability, but this pad is well worth the extra care. The All Season version provides a R value of 4.9, which is sufficient insulation for most winter camping without the need for additional pads. It also doesn’t use any insulation other than air, which prevents loss of insulation due to moisture.

Item number five is a Kooka Bay Kookalight pillow. I know a lot of people use their clothing for pillows, but I prefer this one. It is very light weight and packs up small. 

The sixth item is just a large trash bag that I have opened up. It’s there not to protect the pad, but rather to make sure the sleeping bag does not touch the ground. The pad is fairly narrow, so the bag can end up hanging over. The trash bag is large enough to prevent that.

Item Number Item Description Weight
4-A Thermarest NeoAir Four Season Pad 1 lb 5.6 oz
4-B NeoAir Repair Kit 0.5 oz
5 Kooka Bay Kookalight Pillow 1.2 oz
6 Plastic Bag 1.8 oz

Here you can see the packed up Shangri-La 5, the sleeping bag in the stuff sack and the packed up NeoAir with the Kookalight pillow and trash packed up inside the stuff sack. The above weight of the NeoAir pad includes the weight of the stuff sack.


This pretty much covers my larger items. All my other gear is shown in the picture below.


Number seven is a stuff sack that contain my extra clothing. Inside I have an extra pair of socks, my hat, scarf and gloves.

Number eight is my rain jacket. I am wearing all of my other clothing at the time of the picture. I will discuss the weight of the clothing in a separate article.

Number nine is two Nalgene bottles with neoprene insulative sleeves. I switched to the Nalgene bottles because the wide mouth is better at preventing total freezing during winter.

Number ten is a three liter Platypus bladder. I use it when I need extra water around camp or if I will be going through an area where I know water will be limited.


Item Number Item Description Weight
9-A Nalgene Bottle x 2 6.2 oz x 2
9-B Neoprene Sleeve 2.0 oz x 2
10 Platypus Bladder (3L) 1.7 oz

Number eleven is the MSR Miniworks EX water filter. It is in an insulative cover to keep it from freezing after use. I also have a repair kit in the cover. This is one of the heavier items of my kit, and for years I have been looking for a lighter method that would still provide the same protection and filtering ability. I think I have found something that I will look into shortly.


Item number Item Description Weight
11-A MSR Miniworks EX 1 lb 0.1 oz
11-B Repair Kit 0.7 oz
11-C Insulative Cover 3.5 oz
  Regular Cover (not used) 0.8 oz

Number twelve is a Kershaw folding saw.

Number thirteen is a older model Husqvarna hatchet. I find that unless I specifically plan on doing any serious woodwork, these two items are sufficient for the wood gathering and processing I tend to do, considering the rest of my gear.

Item Number Item Description Weight
12 Kershaw Folding Saw 6.2 oz
13 Husqvarna Hatchet 1 lb 11.6 oz

Number fourteen is the MSR Whisperlite International and the 22 oz fuel bottle. I have had this stove for many years and I love it. It is fairly heavy, but I have not found a lighter and better stove that will work during four season conditions. I brought more fuel than I needed because I like to have it in case of emergencies.


Item Number Item Description Weight
14-A MSR Whisperlite International 9.7 oz
14-B Stove Pump 2.3 oz
14-C Fuel Bottle 22 oz 7.1 oz
14-D Stuff Sack 0.8 oz
14-E Windscreen 1.4 oz
14-F Repair Kit 1.7 oz
14-G Alcohol Bottle for Priming (full) 2.3 oz

Number fifteen is my first aid kit. The kit contains one Quik Cloth sponge, which is used when there is very serious bleeding. There is a surgical dressing, also for serious bleeding, although not as severe as that for which the Quik Cloth would be used. The middle bag contains a small tin full of pills, a small bottle of Neosporin, several gauze packages, band aids which already contain antibiotic ointment, and some Molefoam. 


Item Number Item Description Weight
15 First Aid Kit 6.0 oz

Number sixteen is my miscellaneous items bag.


Item Number Item Description Weight
16-A Plastic Bag Containing:
Bottle of Liquid Soap
Toilet Paper

0.4 oz
1.2 oz
0.4 oz
16-B Compass 0.9 oz
16-C Mirror 0.6 oz
16-D Ferro Rod 0.9 oz
16-E Leatherman Juice 5.3 oz
16-F Gauge 1.3 oz
16-G Auger 0.7 oz
16-H Head Band for Flashlight 0.9 oz
16-I Extra Battery 0.4 oz
16-J Fenix LD10 Flashlight 2.2 oz
16-K DEET 0.8 oz
16-L Rope 5.0 oz
16-M Whistle 0.2 oz

Number seventeen is my Open Country 2qt aluminum pot. It has come to be one of my favorite items. Inside I keep a bandana and a small lighter.

Number eighteen is my plastic cup. It is a Trangia army issue cup. I have started using it instead of my metal cup because it is easier to handle in the cold. It holds about a cup and a half of liquid.

Number nineteen is my food bag. I have discussed it’s contents earlier. The only item worth mentioning is a long handle aluminum Sea to Summit spoon that I keep in there.


Item Number Item Description Weight
17-A Open Country 2 Qt Pot 7.7 oz
17-B BIC Lighter 0.4 oz
17-C Bandana 1.0 oz
18 Trangia Plastic Cup 2.4 oz
19-A Sea to Summit Spoon 0.4 oz

The only other gear I have with me is my pocket kit and my knife.


The pocket kit contains three Altoids Smalls tins. In one of them I have my repair items such as needles, string and duct tape. In the second tin I have some tinder (waxed jute) and waterproof matches, and in the third tin I have some water purification tablets (Chlorine Dioxide) and an assortment of pills. In the kit I also have a DC4 sharpening stone and a mini BIC lighter. The tins add a fair amount of weight, but they keep things well organized.

The knife is a Mora #2 in a leather sheath. I use the leather sheath not because I love leather, but because the regular plastic one simply would not keep the knife in place. 

Item Weight
Pocket Kit 6.7 oz
Knife with Sheath 4.1 oz

The last thing to consider is the consumable items. They are comprised of food, water, and fuel. The food I have discussed in detail earlier. You can see the post here. For water, I am using two quarts, representing two full Nalgene bottles. The fuel is the amount carried in the 22 oz fuel bottle.

Item Weight
Food for Three Days 3 lb 12 oz
Water (2 Qt) 4 lb
Fuel (White Gas) 12.6 oz

Taking all of the above into account, the base weight of my pack was 22 lb 14.4 oz. If I include the weight of my pocket kit and knife, the total weight would be 23 lb 9.2 oz. Together with the food, water and fuel, the total weight of my gear, not counting any clothing was 32 lb 1.8 oz.

There are a few obvious places where weight can be cut.

Shelter-I could certainly cut weight by using a tarp or a bivi instead of the Go Lite Shangri-La 5. However I’ve spent enough winter days and night in the woods to know that I greatly prefer the Shangri-La. The issue is not the nights. Once you are in the sleeping bag, a bivi or tarp does just fine. The problem is the time spent sitting in camp in the evenings. Being exposed to the wind during winter is not any fun. I find that this shelter provides good compromise between an enclosed space and the open feel of a tarp because of the open floor. I can do just about anything I can do under a tarp, but have the added wind protection. I find the extra weight worth it.

Backpack-This is an area where I could certainly cut weight. This is a pack I bought many years ago because it was cheap. Since then I have been waiting to finalize most of my gear (in particular the sleeping bag) before getting a new, lighter pack. Looks like I will have to wait a few more years.

Sleeping Bag-Just like with the backpack, I bought it because it was cheap. There are much lighter weight options available these day, but right now I don’t have the money for one. Other than the backpack, this is the last large item left to be replaced.

Stove-The MSR Whisperlite International is a fairly heavy stove. I have been looking for a lighter weight alternative, but have not been able to find anything significantly better. The problem is that I need a stove that can function down to about 0F. Canister mounted stoves, the ones that provide the most weight savings unfortunately don’t work well under about 20F. I can get a MSR Pocket Rocket that weighs 3 oz, but I don’t want to have to do any tricks to get it to work on a winter morning. Remote canister stoves will work down to about 0F, but the weight saving are not that great. For example, the MSR Windpro is a canister version of the white gas MSR Simmerlite. I could save a few ounces (mostly the weight of the bottle pump), but I don’t think it’s worth an extra $100 and the time to learn a new set up. After all, I’ve had this one for many years.

Filter-Pump operated water filters are heavy. There is no way around it. I have though about switching to chemical treatments, but they just take too long to work, especially during winter. I also still need a way to filter sediment from the water. Recently I found something which might be a lighter weight alternative. I will review it after a few field tests.

There are certainly other places where I could cut off a few ounces, but I think these are the big ones. Anyway, this is what I had with me on the trip.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No More Man vs. Wild

It appears that the Discovery Channel has terminated its contract with Bear Grylls, the star of Man vs. Wild.


According to the network, “Due to a continuing contractual dispute with Bear Grylls, Discovery has terminated all current productions with him."

Rumors are that Discovery wanted Bear to participate in several projects, but he refused. I am not sure what those projects were. It would be interesting to find out, considering that so far he has been okay with eating spiders and drinking his own urine on the show.

I can’t say I will lose too much sleep over this new development. The show was a fun bit of entertainment, but seriously lacked in educational value.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Old Hickory Paring Knife Review

The Old Hickory Paring Knife is another one of those knives that made the transition from the kitchen or butcher’s shop to the hands of the woodsmen. Here I want to take a closer look and see what it has to offer.


Knife Length:
7 5/8 inches (195 mm)
Blade Length: 4 1/8 inches (105 mm)
Blade Thickness: 1/32 inches (1 mm)
Blade Width: 3/4 inches (19 mm)
Blade Material: 1095 carbon steel
Blade Hardness: Unknown
Type of Tang: Partial
Blade Grind: Flat grind with a secondary bevel
Handle Material: Wood
Sheath Material: No sheath
Cost: $5.00


This is a very low cost knife. It comes in at half the cost of a basic Mora. It is currently produced by Ontario Knife Co. For that type of money it would be a bargain if it offered any kind of decent performance.

When compared to a Mora #1, the blades look very similar in size. In terms of width, they are about the same, and the Old hickory is just slightly longer. In terms of thickness however, the Old Hickory is thinner than the Mora, giving the blade a lot more flex. Of course the grinds are very different, the Mora having a scandinavian grind while the Old Hickory a flat grind with a secondary bevel. The handle of the Old Hickory is significantly smaller than that of the Mora, both in terms of length as well as thickness. The knife came dull, and had to be sharpened before testing.

vb (16)


Batoning the knife was interesting. It is a very thin blade, and it cut into the wood easily. However, because it was so thin, it didn’t separate the fibers much, so it had to be driven almost all the way through the wood.


The thin blade also showed a lot of flex when batoning. This is clearly not an activity at which the knife excels, even though no damage was caused to the blade.


Truncating with the knife was fine. The thin blade penetrated easily, and since it was across the grain, there was no warping or twisting of the blade.


The knife cuts well once sharpened, and can easily make feather sticks. The biggest problem is that it is hard to get good control of the blade because of the small handle.


The knife does not come with a sheath.

Overall, I was not particularly happy with the knife. I certainly like the price, but this knife is certainly much better in the kitchen than in the woods. I find the blade to be a little too flexible, although that is not too much of an issue if you just use the knife for slicing. The biggest problem for me is the handle. To begin with, it is very small. It is hard to get any grip on the knife, and it would certainly be uncomfortable to use for extended periods of time. Additionally, I am not sure how long the connection between the blade and handle will last. The tang goes in about half way into the handle. This usually wouldn’t be a problem, but since the handle is so thin, I don’t know how well it will handle the pressure. I didn’t have any issues with that during testing. I guess for $5 it is hard to complain, but I would certainly spend the extra $5 and get a Mora #1 or #2. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Axe Head Patterns From the Past

There is no question that the available axe pattern choices these days are a shadow of what was available during the mid twentieth century.

Recently I was lucky enough to get my hands on an old American Axe & Tool Company catalog. I decided to go through the axe patterns listed in the catalog and put them here for you guys.

As you know, the American Axe & Tool Company was a collaboration of a number of axe manufacturers, who had hoped to reduce costs by combining resources. The axes reflected are a collection of the designs offered by the different manufacturers. They do not reflect all existing axe types at the time, as there were still independent manufacturers who had their own variations. This should however be a good overview of the available options.

These are the full size poll axes listed in the above catalog. I’ve placed them in alphabetical order.

Baltimore Jersey Pattern

Baltimore Jersey Pattern 

Baltimore Kentucky Pattern

Baltimore Kentucky Pattern

Boat Pattern

Boat Pattern

Booming Pattern

Booming Pattern

Boxing Turpentine Pattern

Boxing Turpentine Pattern

Connecticut Pattern

Connecticut Pattern

Dayton Pattern

Dayton Pattern

Dayton Beveled Pattern

Dayton Pattern Beveled

Delaware Pattern

Delaware Pattern

Dock Pattern

Dock Pattern

Georgia Pattern

Georgia Pattern

Hagan Jersey Pattern

Hagan Jersey Pattern

Hoosier Pattern

Hoosier Pattern

Kentucky Pattern

Kentucky Pattern

Long Island Pattern

Long Island Pattern

Maine Pattern

Maine Pattern

Michigan Pattern

Michigan Pattern

New England Pattern

New England Pattern

North Carolina Pattern

North Carolina Pattern

Ohio Heavy Poll Pattern

Ohio Heavy Poll Pattern

Ohio Pattern

Ohio Pattern

Philadelphia Jersey Pattern

Philadelphia Jersey Pattern

Rafting Pattern

Rafting Pattern

Rockaway Pattern

Rockaway Pattern

Scoring Pattern

Scoring Pattern

Southern Kentucky Beveled Pattern

Souther Kentucky Pattern Beveled

Southern Kentucky Pattern

Southern Kentucky Pattern

Turpentine Pattern

Turpentine Pattern

Virginia Pattern

Virginia Pattern

Wedge Pattern

Wedge Pattern

West Virginia Pattern

West Virginia Pattern

Western Crown Pattern

Western Crown Pattern

Wisconsin Pattern

Wisconsin Pattern

Yankee Pattern

Yankee Pattern

As I said before, there are bound to be other patterns and variations. As you can see, many of them are just minor variations of the same design.