Friday, October 26, 2012

Kazakh Camp, 1987

You guys know that from time to time I like to share some old pictures with you, so we can see how people used to live and do things. Well, this picture is a more recent one. It was taken in 1987 and it depicts a Kazakh camp.

Kazakhs 1987

I think it is a very good snapshot of a current day nomadic camp, mixing a traditional way of life with some available modern tools.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Charger Review

I was recently sent several electronic devises by Omaha Knife for testing. While the store is my go to place for axes, they have expanded their inventory to include a large amount of backpacking, hunting and bushcraft gear. One of the items sent to me for testing was the Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar charger.


The Goal Zero Nomad 7 is a portable solar charger designed for backpacking and backwoods use. It retails at about $80.00. When closed, the Nomad 7 resembles a small notebook. Its detentions are 9 inches x 6.5 inches x 0.5 inches. On one of the corners there is a small box with a USB port. In that area, the folded pad is 1.5 inches thick. The Full devise weighs 14.9 oz, not counting any cables. Just like a notebook, the Nomad 7 opens to expose the solar panels which are otherwise protected by the casing.


Along the perimeter of the devise, there are loops which can be used to attach the panels to a backpack, or to be positioned on any other mode of transportation you may be using.


On the back of the devise, on the reverse side of one of the solar panels is a mesh pocket which contains the charging port.


The pocket is very handy, as it allows the devise you are charging to be stored securely while it is plugged in to the port. Also, when the charger is opened and the panels face the sun, the pocket ends up under the panel, protecting the devise you are charging from direct sun light. From searching online, I have seen the Nomad 7 with this pocket and charging port located on a flap next to one of the solar panels in several of the pictures I have seen. The one I have and you see in the pictures here appears to be the new model. I have to say, I prefer this design a lot more as it protects the devise from direct sun light, and cuts down on weight.

The Nomad 7 comes with several types of adaptors which fit into the charging port (USB, 12V and others). I didn’t have much use for them, as most electronic devises today come with their own USB compatible charger adapter. In the above picture, I am using the USB cord for my phone to plug directly into the Nomad 7.

As far as performance, I have been very impressed with what can be accomplished with these modestly sized solar panels. In good direct sunlight, the Nomad 7 charges my phone (Droid X) as fast as if it was plugged into an electrical outlet. I get about 10% charge every 10 minutes. This means that the Nomad 7 will fully charge my phone is 1 hour 40 minutes. I should note that I have not actually done that, i.e. charge my phone from fully empty to full using the Nomad 7. I am extrapolating based on the speed of charging I have seen during use. Obviously, performance will decrease if less sunlight is available. I should also point out that I tried using it behind a car window, and it did not appear to work well at all. For some reason the car windscreen does something to the sun’s rays that decreases the charging efficiency.

I have now used the Goal Zero Nomad 7 on several outings, and have each time been pleasantly surprised by the capability it offers in the woods. I’ll be the first to admit that electronics confuse me, but it is very assuring to just plug a devise into it, and see the charge light turn on.

Now, the reality is that I carry virtually no electronics into the woods other than the GPS that I use to record the trips for you guys. As such, I can’t justify caring the Nomad 7 on my trips from a purely practical stand point. My GPS receiver can record for about 24 hours on a set of AA batteries. I can bring a lot of AA batteries before I can justify the extra weight of the Nomad 7.

That being said however, there are certainly applications where this type of devise will be of great use. If you are a hunter, using a canoe or ATV to get to a base camp where a number of electronic devises will be maintained, then the Goal Zero Nomad 7 would be a great tool. Similarly, I think it would be very useful for a bugout bag where you may be contemplating being stranded for an unknown period of time without electricity, but still needing to run several electronic devises. I remember during the power outage in NYC about a decade ago, many of us were stranded in the city without any means to charge cell phones or other devises which we needed for communication. Had the Nomad 7 been in my school bag, it would have been put to very good use.

Now, I’m sure that there are people out there who can talk to you for hours about all the details and technology used here, and what could have been done better or differently. Unfortunately, I know very little about that. The only thing I can tell you is that I plug stuff in and it gets charged, which puts a smile on my face. And, if you decide to purchase the Nomad 7 at Omaha Knife, don’t forget your “woodtrekker” discount code.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Favorite Bushcraft and Camping Blogs

I know I have done posts like this before. I figured it is about time I did another one. Things change over time. Some blogs become more active, while others stop publishing. People’s tastes change, including mine, so what I like tends to fluctuate.


The blogs you see here are the ones that I find myself visiting most often. They don’t necessarily have the best content, or the most content, they are just the ones that I read most often these days. All the blogs I have listed on the side bar of my blog I consider worth reading. These are just the ones I follow most closely these days.

American Grouch: I have mentioned this blog before. It focuses on mare traditional bushcraft and hunting skills. It has great content and great photography. The author writes from personal experience and is honest about his choices, whether they be made for practical reasons or otherwise.

hrXXLight: This is a blog focusing on lightweight backpacking. The blog contains some amazing trip reports and gear reviews which are clearly based on actual field use of the items. Few blogs have inspired me to go into the woods lately as much as this one. 

PTC*: This is a backpacking blog from the UK. It is full of great content, and covers a lot of trips as well as gear reviews. You are probably noticing a team here, but the author actually does what he preaches and the reviews and recommendations are based on actual use and different conditions, not just on speculation.

Section Hiker: This is another lightweight backapcking blog. There are a lot of reviews and trip reports. The author does a lot of backcountry travel, which is noticeable in his writings. He also does a fair amount of teaching on the subject.

SKW Bushcraft: This is a wonderful bushcraft and backpacking blog. Unfortunately it is not written in English, so you will have to use Google Translate to translate from Slovak into English. The author is skilled and does not seem to concerned with bushcraft trends.

The Weekend Woodsman: This is a very good bushcraft blog written by an American guy who lives in Finland. His posts are always well though out and solidly based on experience.

Woodsrunner’s Diary: This is a historical recreation and living blog. It focuses on 18th century life and backcountry travel. It contains a great amount of information based on research and personal experience. If you are interested in historical approaches to woodsmanship, you will find a lot of great information there.

Well, that’s it. I have arranged the blogs in alphabetical order. I encourage you to visit all of the blogs I have listed on the side bar of my blog. I find they all contain valuable information.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dick Proenneke Cabin

Richard Proenneke is probably best known to us from the film Alone in the Wilderness. If you have not seen it, I strongly recommend that you do.

In and about 1968, Dick Proenneke built a cabin near Twin Lakes in Alaska. What started out with the goal of seeing if he could live by himself for a year, turned into a way of life for him. He remained at his cabin at Twin Lakes for nearly 30 years. While many of his exploits have been turned into legend due to lack of information (for example, many think he subsisted just by the resources he could gather and hunt, when in fact he was supplied by his brother who flew a small airplane to the lakes), his way of life has inspired many.


I just wanted to share with you the above picture of his cabin. It is still preserved and can be seen by visitors of the area.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Trip Report: Doodletown Ruins and West Mountain Ridge 10/13/12 – 1-/14/12

So, I went for another trip this past weekend. When I was planning it last week, I wanted to come up with something more interesting to report to you guys than the usual outings. I knew that there was an abandoned town somewhere in the Bear Mountain region in Harriman State Park, so I figured it might be fun to plan a trip around it. The goal was to pass through the town on the first day of the trip, then continue up to the top of the Timp Mountain and then from there on to the ridge of West Mountain, which I would then follow out the next day.

I started out early in the day. It was a cold morning. When I left my apartment, the car was covered in frost; when I reached the trail head two hours later, the temperature had only climbed to 36F (2C). In cold weather you should start out being cold because once you start walking, you will warm up quickly. It is still very unpleasant though.

My trip began on what is referred to as the 1777 trail. This trail is the path (as closely as can be ascertained) that the British Army followed through the mountains in 1777 in order to attack Fort Montgomery on the Hudson River.

After some initial confusion created by my outdated map of the area, I found the trail and started following it. The going was easy, stopping only to take the occasional picture.




Soon I reached Doodletown. In 1777 the British army also passed through the town, making use of the town roads before having to continue through the woods. At the time this was a Dutch settlement, so I am not sure what the interaction with the British was like. Here is a map of what Doodletown used to look like:


Doodletown is spread out throughout the valley, the houses being connected by three roads that converge at the church house (the “You Are Here” arrow on the map). I only followed the road going south towards the mountains, the same one followed by the British in 1777.

The town was founded in 1760 as a Dutch mining and logging settlement. It was eventually completely abandoned in the 1960s. The town never reached more than 300 inhabitants. Not much is left these days. While all the areas of buildings are clearly marked, in most places it is only the foundations that are left standing.



Two of the town’s cemeteries are still clearly visible, and in fact parts of them are still visited by relatives.





Following the town road was easy going. Soon I had reached the end of the road and was back on the trails. I did spot a few fruits and berries which seem to be the result of cultivation in those areas.



I would love to know what the above fruit actually is. There were quite a few of them on the ground near the edge of the town.

I continued on the trail heading south toward Timp Mountain. At one point I noticed a few deer run through some bushes near the trail. I started following them from a distance. Eventually I managed to get within 20 feet of one of them, who didn’t seem to care that I was that close. I took some pictures.



From there on the elevation started to increase more rapidly. At one point I decided to get some rest, and found a spot in the woods where I could have a snack-some granola banana bread. I was sweating from the climb, so when I stopped, I had to put both of my fleece layers to stay warm. It is amazing how well ordinary fleece works to keep you warm and to remove moisture. Because the fleece fibers do not absorb any water, the heat from your body just pushes the moisture right through them, leaving both you and the material dry.


By this point the temperature had climber to 42F (6C). Before I shed some layers and started up the mountain again, I looked around and found a woodpecker hole.


Not long after, actually faster than I expected, I reached the top of the mountain, where I stopped again and had lunch.


There were a few vultures circling around the whole time.


From here the plan was to go down into the valley and then climb up to the top of West Mountain where I would set up camp for the night. I was actually able to see my destination on West Mountain from my current location. I have pointed it out with an arrow in the picture below.

Copy of 408

So, I got on with it and headed into the valley. That is when I encountered a serious problem. My left knee started giving out again. It is the same knee that was giving me the problem during my last trip. For some reason it is fine when I am going uphill, but once I start going down, it starts to hurt. It slowed me down significantly, but eventually I managed to make my way down into the valley.

I knew there would be no water once I was on the West Mountain ridge, so I took the opportunity to fill up with water in the valley from some runoff. For this trip I was using a 1.5L Evernew water bladder. The threads fit much better with the Sawyer filter than the Platypus bladder I had on the last trip.


From there I just kept going until I reached the top of West Mountain. From there I could see the top of Timp Mountain from where I had just come.

Copy of 435

I found a suitable location to set up camp and got to work. I brought the GoLite Shangri-La 3 again. While I wasn’t terribly happy with it the last time, I figured I would play around with it some more and see if I could make it serve my purposes. Again, I don’t want to make it sound like it is a bad shelter, I have just been spoiled by first using a tarp for a number of years and then the Shangri-La 5. I’m glad I gave it another shot, because this time I figured out how to set it exactly the way I like. I was very happy with it. The only thing that’s left now is to see how it handles heavy snow load.


When everything was set up, I had some time to relax. In the picture I am sitting in my version of the bush chair. It’s just a piece of plastic for the seat (I carry an insulated piece of closed cell foam in winter), and the backpack as a back rest. You can prop it against a tree or a rock. It is even easier to do with a full pack. Of course, your pack needs to have a frame. Set up time, less than two minutes, without any materials required.


A bit later I cooked some dinner and sat by the fire until the coals died down. I was using mostly oak for the fire, so it gave me good coals that lasted till sunset.


The night was cold, but not colder than expected. Temperatures dropped down into the 30s F, but not below freezing. Together with a hat and a neck gaiter, my clothing and sleeping bag kept me nice and warm.

I got up at dawn. I cooked breakfast using the Kovea Spider stove. I have been waiting for an opportunity to start cold weather testing. Here the stove performed well with an inverted canister, although it has to be monitored because from time to time you can get too much fuel in the line, causing flare-ups. In the picture I am wearing both my fleece layers (Carhartt medium weight top, and a North Face Polartec 200 weight top). On top of that I have my Arcteryx Beta SV rain jacket which here I am using for wind protection. It is Gorte Tex, so it breaths well enough for this purpose. I also have a pair of gloves, a hat and a neck gaiter.


I’ve been playing around with using ashes to clean my pot, especially now that I am using fattier foods. I think I have got it down pretty well. I just use a lot of ashes to make a paste with which I scrub the pot. It works, but uses up water.

I packed up my gear and started along the West Mountain ridge, heading north towards my starting location. There are numerous great views from the ridge.




It was drizzling a bit, and the temperature was in the 40s F. The weather forecast called for rain all day, so I brought both my rain jacket and rain pants, but it never got worse than a light drizzle. A much more serious problem was my knee again. Even though the ridge sloped down only slightly, my knee was killing me. I knew it would be a huge issue when I started coming down the mountain. So, I stopped for a bit and made myself a walking staff. I quickly decorated it the way we used to do in the old country.


I hobbled along for a while. Eventually I stopped to each lunch, right before doing the final stretch down the mountain.


After that it was a slow climb down to the starting point of my trip. I did manage to get another picture of a vulture from a rock outcrop along the way.


Soon after I was back at the car. The trip was easy and relaxing. Aside from the problems with my knee, there were no major obstacles. I could take my time and experiment around with my gear. Here is the GPS recording of the trip.



Like I said, a fun relaxing trip. I was very happy with some of the new gear items I have been using. The REI Flash 62 pack has been great. It is lightweight, and offers great load distribution for a lightweight pack. It has been able to accommodate all my gear very well without causing any strain on my body. I am also happy with the Shandri-La3. While skeptical at first, it is turning out to be a great shelter. Similarly, I am very happy with my clothing. Last year I was trying out some more traditional wool clothing in similar temperatures, and ended up being quite uncomfortable due to moisture management issues. With the new set up, I was very comfortable all weekend. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Using the Sun to Find the Magnetic Declination in Your Area

Previously I have spoken about finding and using magnetic declination. It is one of the more boring, and dry, yet practically valuable pieces of bushcraft knowledge. You can see the original post here, although I will duplicate the content here as an introduction.

What is magnetic declination:

Magnetic declination is the difference between the place where the needle on your compass points (magnetic North), and the actual or true North direction in a particular area. That’s right, the compass does not always point directly North. Depending on the area of the globe where you are located, the difference can be quite significant. Failing to compensate for that difference can have important implications to navigation.

How do I find out the magnetic declination in my area:

Fortunately, the nice people at the National Geophysical Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) have been kind enough to create a magnetic declination calculator for us. You can go to the website here:, soon to be moved to, punch in either your longitude and latitude, or just your zip code, and you will get the magnetic declination in your area.

What do I do with this number:

Here is the part that throws most people off, just because of the terminology used. Before we start, remember this:

Positive declination is the same as Easterly declination. (10 degrees is the same as 10 E)
Negative declination is the same as Westerly declination. (-10 degrees is the same as 10 W)

Positive or Easterly declination means that the needle of the compass will point to the East (or clockwise) of true North by however many degrees you got from the above calculation. The first diagram shows 10 E or 10 degrees on a compass. Wherever the needle of the compass points, it is 10 degrees East (or clockwise) of true North.

Negative or Westerly declination means that the needle of the compass will point West (or counterclockwise) of true North by however many degrees you got from the above calculation. The second diagram shows 10 W or -10 degrees on a compass. Wherever the needle of the compass points, it is 10 degrees West (or counterclockwise) of true North.

Now that you know this, you can put a mark on your compass, so you know where true North is depending on where the needle of the compass points. Some compasses have a wheel that you can turn, so all the markings are readjusted, or you can simply remember to do the math each time you take a bearing. If the declination is 10 W or –10 in your area, then to get true North, after taking a bearing just add 10 degrees to the number you got. So if your destination is at 260 degrees, then add 10 degrees and the true direction in which you need to travel will be 270 degrees. If the declination is easterly or 10, then just subtract in the same manner.

So, how do you calculate the magnetic declination in a particular area using the sun:

Well, this is a trick I learnt from a member (Wolfy) on Blades and Bushcraft. Ready? Here it is:

Add together the azimuths of the rising and setting sun (or of the setting and rising sun) as observed during the same day (or night) at the same location.   Find the difference between this sum and 360 degrees.  One half of that difference will equal the amount of local declination of the compass needle.

So, what does that mean? Well, in the same day, align your compass to the North and take a measurement of the number of degrees off of North where the sun raises. Then when the sun sets, take a similar measurement by aligning the compass North and then seeing how many degrees off of North the sun sets. Add the two numbers, subtract 360 from them, and divide the result by two. That should give you the magnetic declination in the particular area.

Here is an example:

Sun rises at magnetic azimuth 65 degrees as taken with your compass.
Sun sets at magnetic azimuth 305 degrees as taken with your compass.
That equals 370 degrees.  Take away the sum of the true azimuths which we know to be 360 degrees.  That gives us us 10 degrees which we divide by 2, giving us the answer of 5 degrees.

If the sum of the taken azimuths is more than 360 degrees (as in the above example) the declination is to the east; if less it is to the west.

I know, I know, all this stuff seems unnecessary and annoying. However, my experience has been that when you are actually in the woods these navigational skills will be much more valuable than carving feather sticks or making spoons.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Nessmuk Trio – An Outdated Concept?

When I first read Woodcraft and Camping by Geargo Washington Sears a/k/a Nessmuk, much like most people who read the book, I was inspired by the beautifully written accounts of his trips and the woodsmanship displayed by the characters in the book. Consequently, that motivated me to look at the author’s approach to the woods, and try to emulate his gear and techniques. The most prevalent set of gear that has been talked about and duplicated by readers of the book is what has come to be known as the Nessmuk trio.


The Nessmuk trio is comprised of his hatchet/axe, a fixed blade knife, and his folding knife. Here is what I have been able to find out about these tools from his writings:

Hatchet: The hatchet used by Sears was a custom made one. The handle appears to be about a foot in length, and it is a double bit hatchet. The weight is not specified, but it is probably similar to that of a Small Forest Axe, about 2 ½ lb total. One edge was kept thin for cutting clean wood, and the other edge was kept thicker for shopping through knots and bones.

Fixed Blade Knife: The description that Sears provides for this knife is “The one shown in the cut is thin in the blade, and handy for skinning, cutting meat, or eating with”. It does not appear anywhere that he actually used this knife for woodwork or general bushcraft. It has the shape of a hunting/skinning knife, and the uses listed by Sears seem to support that. The blade appears to be about five inches long.

Folding Knife: This is a double bladed pocket knife. Judging from other sources, it was common practice to use these folding knives for carving and woodwork.

So, what do I mean by the trio being an outdated concept? It seems like a well thought out tool set. Well, it is indeed a well thought out tool set, and combined with his inspirational writings, many have set out to duplicate the tools, or to provide their own version of the Nessmuk trio. I believe the trio is outdated because while our current tools are superficially similar, their uses and our ideology with respect to their use is very different from that of the tools used by Nessmuk. In effect, many of us try to cram our existing tool sets and tool use practices into the trio concept and succeed only in form rather than function. I know, still kind of vague. Let me try to explain what I mean by looking at the tools more specifically:

The Hatchet: I start with this tool because its use and form is the most similar to that of Nessmuk. We still use the axe to chop and split firewood, much like Nessmuk did. In that respect our needs and use are very similar to that outlined in Nessmuk’s writings. However, me must remember that Nessmuk was about five feet tall. The axe which he had custom made for him was specifically designed to fit him. If we try to duplicate his tools too closely, we would have a hard time making similar use of his axe. That is why many of us who use axes either just get a one hand use hatchet, or an axe that is at least longer. Overall however, this part of the trio translates fairly well to our current tools and understanding of their use. So far, so good.

The Fixed Blade Knife: Here is where the divergence starts to become more prominent. Nessmuk used his fixed blade knife, which resembled a shortened butcher’s knife for skinning and meat preparation. Most of us who carry fixed blade knives not only chose a different form, but have a completely different set of uses for the knife. For most people who do bushcraft, the fixed blade knife has become a wood carving and processing tool. People either favor puukko and woodlore style carving knives, or heavier knives that can cover some splitting tasks as well. Overall, we have moved significantly from the intent behind this part of Nessmuk’s trio, and as a result the shape of our knives has diverged accordingly. While we still carry fixed blade knives, we use them for tasks that Nessmuk never did.

The Folding Knife: Similarly, this knife has also gone through a transformation that is now completely unconnected to the original Nessmuk trio. Most of us have a long time ago moved to a fixed blade knife for our wood working tasks. Our folding knives have transitioned into Swiss Army Knives and most often multitools. They no longer perform any of the tasks anticipated by Nessmuk.

The Saw: Aaahh…yeah! How does that fit into the trio? Clearly it doesn’t. Usually when we see a “look at my Nessmuk trio” post, the saw that the person uses (probably more than the other tools listed) gets left out of the picture somehow. The truth is that for the average user this tool probably performs more tasks than the axe they carry.

While the Nessmuk trio resembles the tools that most of us currently use, I believe there have emerged significant differences in design and function of the tools, and I think it is for a good reason. That has been so much so, that the Nessmuk trio has lost it’s practical relevance to our tool use. Some of the tools remind us of what we use these days, but the way we use them, and even the number and design of the tools has significantly changed.

Of course, we feel the need to validate our choices by connecting them to the past and more importantly to well known people from the past. We try very hard to cram our tool choices into the above trio, performing all sorts of mental gymnastics to try to explain how they fit in. Eventually of course, we forget about the use Nessmuk intended for each item, or the items that we conveniently forget to mention in order to fit our tools into the trio, all in an attempt to create this connection to the past, no matter how tortured. Eventually we only succeed in making a very superficial connection.

I believe the Nessmuk trio has lost its relevance to our current tools and their use. The trio has become outdated. Many of us indeed have an axe and two knives, along with several other tools, but our ideology behind how those tools should be used, and what tasks each tool should accomplish have significantly shifted over the years. I also personally believe that these changes are a good thing. I believe they are the result of a greater international knowledge base, as well as changes in the way we approach our natural world.

So, how is the Nessmuk trio applicable to me, either in the design of the tools, or their use? Well, it’s not. Yes, I have a hatchet and two knives, but I use them in very different ways, for different purposes, and I use them in addition to other tools which have now taken over many of the tasks originally performed by the trio. Can I show you a picture of an axe and two knives? Certainly; but they would not be a Nessmuk trio, nor would I want it to be. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Garant Grizzly Pro Series Axe (CHS17526) Modifications; Guest Post by OutdoorEnvy

Some time ago I did a review of a Garant Grizzly Pro Series Axe that a friend of mine from Canada had managed to acquire and ship to me, as they are not available in the US. When I was finished with the review, I gave it to a friend of mine and fellow outdoor blogger, OutdoorEnvy. He did some modifications to the axe, and I wanted to share his post with you.

I was gifted an axe by a friend of mine, Ross aka Wood Trekker, a little while back.  The axe was the Garant Grizzly Pro Series which he did a review on. Ross's results of the Grizzly Pro Series Axe (follow the link for Ross's review) were pretty good despite the look and feel the axe originally had.  The head was very good and even kept up with a Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest axe.  So the axe just needed a little touching up and I felt it would be quite the user.  So let's get to it.  Here's the axe as it arrived:


I was initially going to replace the handle but soon realized it had a pretty large eye for a 1.75lb head.  The eye was the same size as my 3.5lb Dunlap axe.  So I decided to see if I could make the handle fit my needs.  First thing I did was sand off the paint and lacquer from handle.  Next I took most of the paint off the head.



Now the two inches at the end of the handle were about as worthless as I've ever seen.  So I trimmed it down to a nice straightline end that fits the hand nice without the extra inches sticking out.  Total length is now 23 inches.  This will now pack better as well as looks better in my opinion.  I put on a few coats of boiled linseed oil and it's more the bushaxe we all like to carry.



The way it came it was hafted with only a wooden wedge.  I decided to add a metal wedge for added security.  The initial wood wedge must have been sealed pretty well as the there was a small gap in the eye I was sure would fill in after the metal wedge.  But it didn't.  So either way now it should hold up very well.


The grain was okay.  Not bad but not great, but good enough for an axe this size.


Well all it needed now was a sheath.  So here you have it finished and ready to go.



Well this wasn't hard by any means but it is an improvement for the use I have in mind for it.

Thanks for looking