Tuesday, October 9, 2012

BLOG 25. Tools You Need and Toys You Don’t! by Cliff Jacobson

BLOG 25.  Tools You Need and Toys You Don’t! By Cliff Jacobson

Anyone can enjoy canoe camping without spending a lot of money. Indeed, the more stuff you bring on a canoe trip, the more stuff you’ll have to portage. But it takes experience to learn what you need and what you don’t. The result is, that many people spend their camping dollars on things that are fun to have but not essential. Top choices include LED lanterns; bulky Gore-tex parkas that are better for mountaineering than canoeing; sleeping bags that are too warm for summer camping; quick-boil stoves that can’t be used for real cooking; folding saws that fit in a fanny pack but won’t cut thick logs, and pricey butane torch lighters.

These things are nice, but not at the expense of what you need to stay warm, dry and in command.  Here, in no particular order are the things I value most on my canoe trips:

1.    A lightweight rain tarp is the first thing that goes up in my camp. It provides a protected place to cook and relax. It’s If it’s raining and the tent has a separate fly, the tent is loosely pitched under the tarp then moved to the proper spot. This procedure keeps the sleeping compartment dry during set-up.
Twin rain tarps in the BWCA. These are from Cooke Custom Sewing

2.    A roomy tent with one or two attached vestibules (for gear storage) and two covered entries.  Why two entries? Open both and the airflow will exhaust the bugs; if a zipper fails on one door, you have the other. Don’t forget a plastic groundcloth for inside the tent.

3.    A full-size folding saw and hand-axe. The Boundary Waters are among the hardest places to make fire on a rainy day, because all the good wood on campsites has been picked over. Saw an arm-thick branch off a dead, downed tree and split it with the hatchet to get at the dry heartwood.  In minutes, you’ll have a cheery flame. Try this procedure with a flimsy triangular aluminum saw and discount store hatchet then switch to a full frame saw and a Gransfors™ axe (any model!) and you’ll say wow! 
An axe, saw, fixed-blade knife and Leatherman tool, covers all

4.    A powerful gasoline stove: You’ll use about 0.1 Liter of fuel (gasoline) per person per day. You can easily check the contents of your fuel bottle to see if you’re on track. With a butane stove you won’t have a clue—and, you’ll have to carry out spent fuel containers. If a butane cartridge springs a leak when it’s disconnected from your stove (it happens!) and empties its contents while you paddle, you won’t know until it’s too late. Butane stoves lose efficiency as the temperature drops;  gasoline stoves don’t! A typical butane canister costs about five dollars and burns for about 45 minutes. A gasoline stove will consume about a dollar’s worth of Coleman fuel in that time. 

5.    If you rely exclusively on instant freeze-dried slop (just add boiling water), an  insulated butane stove (like the “Jet boil”) that heats fast may be right for you. But, if you prefer “real” food, you’ll want a more versatile cooker. 
6.    An insulated trail mattress that inflates and deflates fast, and a lightweight, summer-rated sleeping bag. Tent temperatures typically run about 10 degrees warmer than outside so a 40 degree-rated bag is usually warm enough. If it gets below freezing, put on a knitted hat and long johns. Or maybe just wax your skis and leave your canoe at home.
Get a trail pad that insulates and inflates and deflates quickly.  This one doesn't!

Note:  I’ve always used a down sleeping bag on my canoe trips and I’ve never gotten it wet. If you pack as I suggest in my books, you won’t either. Down bags are lighter, more compact and have a much wider temperature comfort range than synthetics. They don’t smell when used over the long haul and they last decades longer than synthetic bags.  For example, I recently replaced my tired 40 year old Trailwise down sleeping bag—the down was fine, the nylon shell wasn’t.  Down bags are more expensive than synthetics, and worth it!

7.    A good orienteering compass with a built-in declination adjustment. I used to prefer the Silva Ranger; now I’m won over to the Suunto MC-2. The woods are filled with novices who have expensive GPS units and don’t know how to use them.  A good compass, plus navigational knowledge, should be a prized essential. A compass remains the tool of choice for navigating the small lakes in the BWCA.

8.    A waterproof GPS. For several decades I found my way around the Canadian north just fine with only a map and compass.  Now I’m spoiled: I love my GPS, but I ALWAYS carry a compass! Warning! It’s essential to understand traditional map and compass navigation before you commit to a GPS.  Those who question the wisdom of this advice WILL, one day, become lost!

9.    A lightweight rain-suit.  Gore-tex is nice but a simple, polyurethane-coated suit is lighter, more compact and less expensive.  Why pay for pockets you won’t use or for zippered closures at the ankles?  Primitive man learned long ago that water doesn’t flow uphill! Leg closures simply restrict ventilation.

10.    A fixed blade knife that’s strong enough to split kindling and long enough to reach to the bottom of the peanut butter jar.  If you have to split kindling into fine slivers to obtain ignition, you’ll want a knife that won’t break or fold in your hand when you hammer on the spine with a piece of wood. The best inexpensive sheath knife I’ve found is the “Mora knife” (Mora kniv) which you can find on line. Choose the carbon steel—not stainless—model!  It comes to you razor sharp (really!) and costs about 12 dollars. It’s not pretty but it is an amazing knife for the price.
Using the sheath knife as a light axe--just pound the blade on through!

11.     A folding stool with a built-in back-rest. This is pure luxury!  Friends will laugh at your extravagance, only to wish they had one once they try it.  I think I’ve tried every folding stool on the planet but my favorite is the one in the Piragis catalog, for which I personally campaigned.
Folding stool: Note attachment to pack at right

In summary, toys are nice but not at the expense of eliminating tools you really need. This said, I sometimes don’t follow my own advice and bring things I shouldn’t. The judgment call comes during the first portage, after which I wish I’d left them at home. But the wonderful thing about canoeing, is that the only one you need to please is yourself.  So best forget this blog and simply do what makes you smile.

Cliff Jacobson


mycanoe44 said...

I agree with Cliff less is usually better. We always try to single portage, so any thing I bring must be ultralight and very packable. The Cooke Custom Sewing ultra light sil nylon tarps have no equal, get the largest one you will never regret it! I am getting older and my bad back has forced me to upgraded to the Exped synmat 9 which I love, and also for the first time start bringing a camp chair. At REI I looked at the one Cliff uses and although comfy, it's too heavy and bulky for me so I went with the Alite Mantis chair. It's extremely lightweight, packable, and much stronger and flexable than it looks. Pretty spendy but I found it online for around $120 including shipping and am very pleased with it.

Cliff Jacobson said...

Thanks, "mycanoe" for the introduction to the Alite Mantis chair. I hadn't heard of it. I like the light weight, though realistically it weighs just one pound less than my current chair and is less convenient. I checked it out on the web but the following features aren't for me:
1.You have to put it together--my current stool rides outside my pack and is ready to go.
2.It has short"pin" legs which can sink into soft ground.
3. I prefer to sit higher when cooking and working.The chair is pretty low and may be problematic on long wet grass.
4.My current chair cost $29; this one's $100+--though worth it if it speaks to you.
Still, it's a neat chair and I appreciate the introduction.
Thank you,

mycanoe44 said...

You are exactly right, it is more of a lounge chair, too low and tilted back for working and cooking but very comfortable. I will have to check yours out again as the price is certainly right! What is the brand and model so I can do a Google search, won't be back to REI for awhile. Thanks Cliff, I always enjoy your articles and look forward to the next one.

Cliff Jacobson said...

Hello, mycanoe:
I'm not sure of the brand but Piragis Northwoods Co. carries it in their catalog (Ely, MN). Actually, the chair is a copy of the one we were issued in the army when I was on the army rifle team. The pouch held our ammo, cleaning gear etc. Only two people at a time could shoot so the rest of the team waited around--hence the chair. I really like it because I can stop along a river bank and set this chair right in the water. The horizontal aluminum legs won't sink in.

Anonymous said...

The chair cliff suggests is awesome. We keep little squares of closed cell foam in them for knee pads and also extra head nets so they are handy when the sun goes down. Strapped on the pack like cliff shows they are easy to get into the canoe if you put that pack in first. One person in our group said they were a pain and a hassle, then proceeded to be one of the first to sit in it. We have taken one for every person on all our trips for years. A huge comfort!