BLOG 52. TEN TOP CAMPING INNOVATIONS
By Cliff Jacobson
I’ve camped for more than 60 years. Looking back, here are some of my favorite camping items:
1. DULUTH PACK
Patented in 1892 by Camille Poirier, the "Duluth" pack, as it would come to be known, combined strength, endurance and elegance in a soft, appealing package that was easy to construct and repair.
Picture a canvas pillow case with leather shoulder straps, brass buckles and a long closing flap. Add a tumpline and you have a Duluth pack. Unlike modern packs which must be laid flat in a canoe—their mouths in contact with bilge water--Duluth packs sit upright, out of the wet. They are as comfortable to carry as any modern pack, if you use a tumpline. They are less expensive too—important to the canoeist who may need several packs for a long trip. Space counts on a canoe trip; an empty Duluth pack can be folded and stored inside another pack.
2. NALGENE BOTTLES
I discovered Nalgene® bottles in the mid 1960’s while teaching high school science in Indiana. Most of the chemicals we purchased came in them. When the bottles were empty, I scrubbed them out and zealously saved them for canoeing. They were the most air-and- watertight bottles available at the time, and their thick plastic walls made them virtually indestructible. What really made them special was the thread design of the cap, which absolutely, positively, never leaked. When Nalgene discovered that campers hoarded used bottles they began producing them for the outdoors market. Colors and varied shapes followed. Today, there are lots of competitive containers that work well for canoe tripping, but in my opinion, Nalgene ones are still the best.
3. SILICONE NYLON TENTS AND TARPS
Silicone-coated fabrics are much lighter and stronger than those treated with polyurethane. Rainwater beads rather than pools, and the surface dries almost instantly. A sil-nylon tent will consume less pack space than an identical one treated with polyurethane. Silicone-treated nylon has been around for some time, but because it doesn’t meet North American “fire-retardant” standards, it’s used sparingly on U.S. and Canadian tents. The coating may be used for exterior tent flies but not for inner canopies where people reside. An “approved” fire-retardant, polyurethane-coated nylon tent won’t burn but it will drip hot liquid nylon onto your skin! The resulting burn may be worse than that from an open flame! All the best European tents are built from sil-nylon so the fire-retardant ploy is probably just an attempt to keep ultra-light foreign tents out of North America. Call your government reps and tell them that Americans are being left in the dust!
4. PRIMUS/OPTIMUS GAS STOVES
The Primus stove was invented in 1892 by Swedish machinist Frans Lindqvist. It was basically a blow-torch with a brass plate that evenly distributed the flame. Lindqvist’s invention quickly earned a reputation for reliability and durability. It was used by Roald Amundsen, Admiral Byrd, Mallory, Tensig and virtually every 19th and early 20th century explorer. Primus stoves have been in continuous production for more than a century and in my opinion they are still the best. They feature all metal—stainless steel, brass, aluminum—construction. There are no plastic parts to burn or break. Field maintenance is simple. For example, the aluminum pump consists of just two parts—the shaft and easily replaced pressure cup. For solo trips, I often use my ancient (1952) M71 Primus (photo) which still runs flawlessly. Mostly, I rely on a Primus “Omnifuel” stove, which runs hotter than my ancient Optimus 111B.
Conventional rain gear is waterproof but not breathable—sweat may make you wetter than rain! Gore-tex®, invented in 1976, is both breathable and waterproof and therefore much more comfortable to wear in rain. Most of the best garments, hats and boots feature Gore-tex in their construction.
Early Gore-tex garments leaked when they became soiled, but this problem has long been solved. Today, the major shortcoming is inadequate ventilation—the tiny micro-pores just can’t eliminate perspiration as quickly as uncoated nylon. For this reason, many paddlers rely on a porous nylon shell for wind and a Gore-tex parka for rain. This is a good plan because any garment that’s worn all the time will ultimately develop holes. Some Gore-tex jackets have arm-pit zippers for ventilation, but these work better for hikers than for canoeists who raise their arms when they paddle. Parkas that have fully waterproof (wet-suit style) zippers are best for paddlers.
6. BRASS CANDLE LANTERN
Hang a candle lantern in your tent on a cold, dreary night and watch the flickering shadows dance around your tent. The tiny flame warms your tent—about ten degrees—enough to kill the chill. If you have young eyes, the little flame provides light enough to read a book.
The Stonebridge folding candle lantern, patented in 1900, was the first folding candle lantern that could be easily packed and safely used inside a tent. Originally built from brass, with mica windows, it folded flat (just one-half inch thick!) for storage. But it’s mica windows were fragile and the base leaked wax. The tubular candle lantern, which appeared in the 1950’s, was more rugged and compact; it had sliding glass windows and it didn’t leak wax. Like most modern paddlers, I rely largely on an LED headlamp to illuminate the night. But for warmth and ambience, my candle lantern rules the night.
7. LED HEAD-LAMPS
LED lamps get brighter and less expensive every year. The “bulbs” last almost forever and, when powered by Lithium batteries, they’ll light your camp for several weeks. I threw out my old flashlights years ago!
8. INSULATED FOAM SLEEPING PADS
Thermarest® started the revolution, now there’s lots of competition. NEMO and EXPED insulated models are my current favorites. Why? Because they’re super thick and comfy, even when sleeping on base ball size gravel. And they have optional breathable covers which absorb sweat and add durability.
9. GRANSFORS AXES
These hand-forged Swedish made axes are unoquivocably the best in the world. Hardened to 56C Rockwell, with double-peened lugs, the head can’t come loose. Superb edge geometry encourages split wood to literally fly apart when struck. Expensive and worth it!
The SteriPen (www.steripen.com) is my favorite water-purification device. It is a pen-like product that uses ultraviolet light to purify water. No chemicals are involved so the treated water has no aftertaste. I’ve used it from the Boundary Waters of Minnesota to the Alaskan tundra, and when traveling abroad. It has never let me down. All you need are batteries and you’re good to go!