Gear Review: The Mini Mojo Load Out Bag…

In addition to being a gear guy, I can also be sort of a Tactical Geek.  I like the heavy ruggedness, versatility and modular nature of much of the gear designed for the military.  So when the guys at TopSpecUS.com reached out and asked if I’d like to review one of their utility bags I was more than happy to take a look.

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo

I’m a sucker for a good bag.  I especially like duffel bags with a lot of versatility in storage and carry options.  The Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo Load Out Bag is that bag.  Don’t let the “mini” part fool you, this is a huge bag.  It’s a smaller, more manageable version of the full sized bag which, in my opinion, is too big to be usable for anything but light gear like clothing.  Once you start packing hard gear into a bag, you want a realistic size and the Mini Mojo is just about right.

Mini Mojo Technical Data:

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo Load Out Bag 15-9684 Features:

  • Available in black, olive drab or coyote brown
  • Measures 25″L x 15 1⁄2″W x 14″H
  • 11 exterior pockets for storage
  • MOLLE / Universal compatible
  • Plenty of “D” rings for attachments
  • Secure double-zip main compartment
  • Double compression straps on both ends of the bag
  • Removable, padded shoulder harness and backpack straps for comfortable traveling
  • Wrap-around carry handle feature

Mini Mojo Field Use:

I initially wanted to try the Mini Mojo as a range bag, but quickly found that it’s just too big for that.  Loaded with a couple of pistols and a pile of ammo the generous 24″ main compartment still had tons of room left, way more room than necessary for a range bag.  I would want an even smaller version of this bag if I were to use it for the range.

If you live in a place where you’ll pack a bunch of extra light gear to head to the range, especially an outdoor range, then this might suit you well.  The bag is certainly rugged enough to carry a ton of ammo as long as you can hoist it yourself.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoOne of the features that I really like about this bag is the removable (and hidden) backpack straps.  This feature alone makes me think this bag would be an excellent 72-Hour Bag (Bail-Out-Bag) to keep around for emergencies.  It has super strong, heavy duty handles and straps to carry a substantial load but with the backpack straps you can manage that load over greater distances in the case of an emergency.  We keep a couple of Bail-Out-Bags around the house and I loaded up the Mini Mojo with the gear we have to see how well it would manage our setup.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoI unloaded our existing duffel bag of supplies into the Mojo Mini including spare clothing, canned goods, cook kit, water, toiletries, first aid kit, flashlight, multitool, etc. and despite being smaller than our original duffel everything fit.  Not only did it fit, but I found I had extra room to stuff in 4 or 5 MREs.  With all the outer pockets I was also able to organize the gear better instead of it all just lumped into one compartment.  And I still had extra room.

Altogether the load weighs close to 50 lbs, considering it’s a Bail-Out-Bag, it’s not really tailored to be lightweight.  I really wanted to see how the backpack straps worked out under some weight so I tossed the loaded bag on my back, adjusted the straps and wandered around with it.  I can’t really say it’s the most comfortable backpack I’ve had on my back.  The straps do cut in and the balance of the load isn’t managed the way it would be in a traditional backpack.  Being as it’s NOT a traditional backpack, but the straps are just a carry option I can overlook this.  I’d much rather carry an awkward load on my back than have to carry it like a traditional duffel.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoThroughout the use and testing of the Mini Mojo I was continuously struck by just how much crap you could stuff into this bag.  Between the huge main compartment and all the outer pockets, it’s hard to fill this thing up.  I couldn’t imagine trying to load up the larger version.  I really like the pocket configuration on the bag and the MOLLE system on one side for adding your own modular components if necessary.

This is the kind of bag you could load heavy and toss around in rough conditions and not have to worry about the bag getting beat up.  It’s tough, rugged and versatile and would be good for any variety of conditions where you’d wanted a pre-loaded bag ready to grab and go.  The backpack straps are especially handy and I really like that they can be stashed away in a hidden compartment on the bottom of the back when not in use.  This is a fantastic option especially if you’ll be traveling with the bag at all.

You can find the Mini Mojo Load Out Bag for yourself at TopSpecUS.com for about $100.  That’s a pretty fair price when you look at comparable bags on the market.

Easy knots with the LoopAlien…

LoopAlien

A little while back I was contacted by Claire over at Outdoor Trail Gear to take a look at the LoopAlien for creator David Burrell.  David developed these cool lightweight gadgets a while back and I’ve seen them around, but never had the chance to play with them until now.

I am not an Ultralight guy when it comes to hiking and backpacking, but I do like to keep things as light as reasonable.  So lightweight, versatile gadgets like the LoopAlien are interesting to me to see how they fit into my overall kit.  This is especially when the weather permits me to do some hammock camping.  Hammock camping has some unique challenges because most of your setup is suspended (sometimes all of it) and that means a fair amount of rope work, small rope work where knots and adjustments can be challenging.  If you’ve ever tried tying a knot in a 2mm line and then untying it…it’s like trying to untie fishing line.

In my setup I’ve got some Dutchware that I use to fasten line, tie things down and string ridgelines and they’re great but somewhat limiting.  The LoopAlien can do the same thing, with an insignificant weight difference, and much more.  I’ve used them to tighten tie downs, secure loads on the backpack, hang gear, etc.  They’re light enough (at 2.5 g for aluminium and 2.9 g for titanium) that the weight doesn’t even factor in to my overall load.  They’ll work well with the 1.75mm and 2.2mm Dyneema chord but also work easily with paracord.

In a pretty nasty little storm we encountered in Arches National Park, I used the LoopAliens to rig my tent to a tree to reduce the shaking from heavy wind.  In the cold, windy conditions at night the LoopAlien made it easy to secure the improvised tie down line without having to fumble around in the dark and cold with a knot.

I’ve also used it to add secure attachment points in line that’s already tied down.  Pushing a loop of line through the large hole and wrapping it around the outside of one of the smaller holes allows me to secure a tight attachment point for tying off another line or hanging something from a ridgeline.  I’ve only been using these for a little while, but it seems like the potential uses are endless if you work with small line a lot.

David was just successfully funded at his kickstarter for a new LoopAlien design that will prove to be even more versatile that the original.  Check out the design at the kickstarter page to see the new design and info on when they might be available.

LoopAlien from Canny Designs

At only $4 for the Aluminium LoopAlien is pretty affordable to add to any gear set.  The most expensive version (heat anodized Titanium) is $10 and is still not a bad price for something like this if you are going to be using it often.  They’re nice to have around and a set of 3 or 4 of these would be a sweet stocking stuffer for the hammock enthusiast or lightweight backpacker in your family.

Gear Review: Columbia Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket…

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet – I really dig this jacket!

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from ColumbiaThe Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket is one of the pieces Columbia Sportwear sent this season’s OmniTen.  I remember when it first showed up I immediately put it on and liked the weight and fit.  It’s perfect for light use like hiking and running and compacts down to nothing making it easy to stow.  It weighs in at about 7 oz and packs into it’s own chest pocket to about the size of a softball.

It doesn’t rain a whole lot here in Arizona, but when it does it’s pretty serious about it.  I’ve been caught in a few rains now where I’ve been able to use the jacket including a monsoon here in Scottsdale, a storm at the Grand Canyon, a rainy afternoon at Mono Lake in California and a monster thunder storm on top of Mount Graham.  In each, it performed well – kept me dry and comfortable without being stuffy.

The Omni-Wick built into the jacket makes it a breathable jacket.  I put it side-by-side against a lightweight packable rain shell from Sierra Designs and it performed WAY better.  The Sierra Designs jacket didn’t really keep me dry and was a sweat box – maybe I’ll use it when I am trying to cut weight.

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from Columbia

All in all, a really successful weindbreaker/rain jacket for hiking and running.  I now pack this thing with me every time I go out if there’s even the slightest chance of rain.  The only thing it needs is a good base layer.  When I’ve worn the jacket in colder rains without anything more than a t-shirt it can get cold real quick.  When the rain gets on the jacket, you feel the cold through the thin material.  But a simple base layer to insulate against that direct skin contact makes a huge difference.  Here in AZ, the rain doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cold out so I like not having an overly warm rain jacket with it’s own insulation.

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from Columbia

At $90 retail, I think it’s a good deal.  I hope the jacket holds up over time.  I haven’t really tested it’s durability in tough terrain so I’ll have to update this review later after I’ve abused it more.

OmniTen…

Check out other OmniTen opinions on this jacket…

Eric seemed to like it, “Columbia claims omnishield keeps out ligbt rain… I can tell you from a serious testing that it keeps out heavy rain as well.”

 

Gear Review: Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife…

I consider myself a knife guy.  Not like the guys that have an obsession with collecting every knife out there, but in that I always have one with me and I really appreciate a quality knife.  Over the years I’ve moved from fixed-blade knives to folders and back to fixed-blades.  In the backcountry I definitely appreciate the reliability and sturdiness of a good fixed blade knife.  Others have reviewed knives from Helle and they usually get pretty positive reviews, so in my search for a great outdoor knife for backcountry use I really wanted to get my hands on one to see what the hype was about.  I wasn’t disappointed.

I met with the guys from Sport Hansa at the OR Winter Market in Salt Lake City last January, they are the distributor for Helle Knives in the US.  I talked to them in length about the knives and what makes them special.  I followed up after the show and asked if they’d be willing to send one out for review and they graciously sent me the Helle Eggen…one of Helle’s most popular all around outdoor knives.

Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife - Sport Hansa

First Impressions

Out of the box this is a gorgeous piece of hardware.  The Curly Birch handle is very attractive and fits nicely in the hand in any position.  The blade is a beautifully executed, polished steel and is easily the sharpest knife I’ve ever had without taking it to a stone myself.  At about 4oz it’s a light knife but doesn’t feel flimsy or weak like a lot of lighter knives.  The leather sheath is a really nice addition as well.  It’s well made with some simple yet attractive tooling on it.

I’m no major collector but I’ve had (have) probably 40+ knives in my time and this blew away a lot of the competition straight out of the box.

Specifications:

  • Blade Material: Triple Laminated Stainless Steel
  • Handle Material: Curly Birch
  • Blade Length: 3.9 in
  • Overall Length: 8.3 in
  • Weight: 4.2 oz
  • Knife Style: Fixed Blade
  • Blade Style: Drop Point

 

Field Use

Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife - Sport Hansa

Over time you get used to handling knives.  I admit I underestimated the blade on this knife and cut myself the first time I took into the field.  It was barely a nick, but that blade is so damn sharp it didn’t matter.  I learned to be more aware when handling the Eggen.

I look for a couple distinct things in an outdoor knife.  First, how does the knife handle?  Knives are multipurpose tools and they are never held or used in a single specific way.  It has to be comfortable in many positions, cutting from different angles, in varied conditions.  The Eggen performs well all around.  The handle is shaped well for any grip position and the Curly Birch performs dry or wet.  The blade is the perfect length and wide enough to give you leverage without being so wide as to compromise precision.  I like the drop point blade design and the slight overall curve of the knife.

I also look for durability.  I’ve only had the knife for about six months and had it in the field with me on a little over a dozen trips.  I’ve used it to cut rope, leather, rubber, plastic, wood and food (I’ve even used it to shave).  The edge has held up amazingly well and the handle and blade look brand new.  It will take a lot more time to really judge durability but I’ve had much more expensive knives that have shown wear and tear earlier and faster than the Eggen.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a nice fixed blade outdoor knife you can’t go wrong with the Helle Eggen.  If all Helle Knives are produced as well as this one then I see a few more of these in my future.  I have been extremely happy with the performance and handling of this knife and it’s a beautiful piece of equipment.  All Helle Knives are made in Norway with the same attention to detail and quality they’ve maintained since the Helle brothers started production on their farm 1932.

Bottom line…I would trust my life with it.

Testing Columbia’s Omni-Freeze Zero…

Being #OmniTEN has it’s perks.  One of the awesome parts of this experience has been the opportunity to dig a little deeper than usual into a brand’s technology.  Usually, I get to test one or two pieces from a company and give my opinion.  Columbia has sent us a pretty wide sampling of pieces hosting a collection of technologies.  The big focus for us, as Spring/Summer Omniten, has been on the OmniFreeze and Omni-Freeze Zero fabrics that are featured this year.

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero Technology

Omni-Freeze Zero Products I’ve used…

Between the products that I’ve received as part of the OmniTEN welcome package, pieces I’ve asked to test and a couple of pieces I’ve purchased I have quite a collection of Omni-Freeze Zero products.  Here is the list of what I’ve worn:

Omni-Freeze Zero Technology…

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero TechnologyOmni-Freeze ZERO is the culmination of a four-year development effort including Omni-Freeze, the short lived Omni-Freeze Ice and now Omni-Freeze Zero.

The basis of the technology is to use the sweat (moisture) we produce during exercise or in extreme heat to cool the fabric.  Omni-Freeze Zero fabric is embedded with thousands of little blue super-absorbent polymer rings that trap up to 300% more moisture than normal fabric then use that moisture to physically drop the temperature of the fabric for an extended period of time.

Excerpt from Popular Science Magazine about the technology:

“The human body already has a highly efficient cooling system: As perspiration evaporates, it draws heat away from the body. Wicking fabrics facilitate this process by distributing sweat evenly over the fabric, so that it dries more quickly. Despite devising cheats, such as menthol-like chemical coatings added to fabrics, companies have never actually improved upon the body’s natural cooling process. Designers at Columbia Sportswear have now made a fabric that does.

Omni-Freeze ZERO shot with a thermal camera

image taken with a thermal camera that displays, when it was moistened with steam, darker blue areas signify colder temperatures

The wicking polyester base of the Omni-Freeze ZERO T-shirt is embedded with thousands of 0.15-inch hydrophilic polymer rings (a men’s medium has more than 41,000 of them). As the base spreads sweat, the rings absorb moisture and expand into three-dimensional doughnuts. In order to swell, the rings require energy, which they gather as body heat. In tests, the shirt was up to 10 degrees cooler against the wearer’s skin than shirts made from any other material.”

Typically coupled with complementary technologies like Omni-Wick EVAP and Omni-Shade, these new garments are tailor made for adventures in the heat.

Omni-Freeze Zero Performance…

It’s hot in Phoenix, there’s no getting around it.  A clothing product that can cool itself sounds like a desert dweller’s dream.  So when Columbia sent me the first batch of Omni-Freeze Zero stuff I was anxious to try it out.

I decided to do the first test mid-day on the bike with a brisk 20 mile ride in the Trail Dryer Hat and Freeze Degree 1/2 Zip long sleeve shirt.  I didn’t sweat.  This told me two things: I need try harder and the light, breathable fabric with Omni-Wick kept me pretty dry.  Halfway through the ride I poured a little water on the headband of the hat and did feel some cooling, but it wasn’t significant.

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero TechnologyLater, I took the Terminal Zero shirt out for a hike.  It was over 100 degrees and I did 6 hot miles on a rocky, exposed trail to work up a sweat.  I could tell that certain areas where the sweat was accumulating I could sense the cooling in the fabric.  I never really built enough sweat to get larger sections of the shirt to cool so I sprayed some water on my neck, shoulders and arms to give the fabric a little boost.  BAM…there it is.  Initially, there’s the immediate natural cooling effect you would feel in any shirt when you splash it with water, but then the fabric cools down and goes well beyond anything water would do alone.  Even spraying it with warm water, the fabric cools below the temp of the water.

There is a tipping point where the fabric saturates enough to activate the cooling of the material.  I decided to see if more water meant more cooling and later put on the Freeze Degree Long Sleeve shirt and jumped in the pool.  It was well over 100 degrees in full sun.  I got out of the pool and sat in the sun with the shirt on.  The shirt didn’t seem to significantly cool until it had dried out a little, then the technology kicked in and I felt a significant sensation of cooling where the shirt was touching my skin.  This cooling effect slowly dissipated as the fabric dried out.

Coupled with complementary technologies like Omni-Shade (50 SPF UV protection) and design features like a vented back panel (in some shirts), the clothing performs well outdoors.  I do feel like I was more comfortable on my warm weather hikes in the Columbia clothing I tested.  Like most technical fabrics, it doesn’t take much use to build up some stink, there’s something about tech fabrics that really amplifies body odor. The Omni-Freeze Zero materials are best used next to the skin so wearing something underneath defeats the purpose.

Room for improvement…

I’ve heard some complaints about Columbia having inconsistent fit and sizing with their garments.  That makes it difficult sometimes to order things online especially when you’re sort of in between sizes like I am.  I don’t think it’s so much that the sizing has been inconsistent as much as they sell different cuts and some styles are more fitted than others.  I found most of the sizing true to convention.

It would be nice to see Columbia develop an Omni-Odor Block technology of some kind.  All of the tech fabrics in athletic wear seem to amplify body odor and these shirts are no different.

Other than that, I like the styling, fit and weight of the garments.  I do wish they made the Terminal Zero in a black or dark gray color but I seem to be in the minority lately about acceptable clothing colors…and I like the blue.  There’s not a lot I would suggest beyond what they’ve done.  I think Columbia does a pretty thorough job in designing clothing that works well in the outdoors.

Bottom Line…

It works.  If you’re like me and you don’t sweat buckets when you’re exercising, you might need to add a little moisture to activate the cooling but the fabric works.  We did get free samples to test as part of OmniTEN, but I felt confident enough in the products after using them to purchase more pieces with my own money AND buy some for my wife.  A little cooling help in Arizona means an extra month or so of enjoying the outdoors before even Omni-Freeze Zero can’t compete with the heat.

 

More from The OMNITEN…

For more Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero talk…check out the reviews from fellow #OmniTEN bloggers Kristie, Eric and Erika.

Kristie:

“I decided to put my long sleeve 1/2 zip top on myself and throw Rainy in my Freeze Degree short sleeve top.  We then took a dip in the water, and it was instant relief and disbelief for me.  I felt unbelievably cool in the water, but once I stepped out of the water (after dunking my Trail Dryer hat in the water), I stayed cool for a couple hours without going back into the water!”

Eric:

coming soon!

Erika:

“Here is the main reason I’m in love with this shirt, it adapts to the temperature of my body, avoiding those too hot, too cold, moments so common in spring. I can put the Omni-Freeze ZERO long-sleeve shirt on and wear it all day comfortably from sun to shade.”

 

Columbia’s #Omniten 2013…

#OmniOutlaw banner

This is the #OmniOutlaw graphic banner I created when the the first #OmniTen were announced.

My deep seated #OmniEnvy began in early 2012 when Columbia Sportswear launched the first #OmniTen campaign. Ten Social Media influencers in the outdoor community were selected to participate in a 6 month experiment with Columbia. Some of them I already followed on Social Media channels, the others I quickly followed so I could watch this new #OmniTen thing unfold. So began my #OmniObsession and the exercise of following, friending, stalking and generally creeping out the original #OmniTen…and so began the #OmniOutlaws.

I was not alone, the #OmniOutlaws grew into a small group of less-than-influential individuals on Twitter. The one thing that brought us together was a fondness for Columbia Gear and an acute case of #OmniEnvy. Columbia makes some great gear and it was fun to watch and interact with Columbia and their #OmniTen as they featured new gear and posted about their adventures. I have had the opportunity to meet and create friendships with most of the original #OmniTen and they are a great group of people.

Then the Winter #OmniTen were chosen. Once Columbia proved that they would be choosing a new set of ten for each season, envy turned to hope. It now looked like there may be a chance in the distant future for an #OmniOutlaw to turn #OmniTen.

Well it happened! Columbia has made my year by inviting me to the 2013 Spring season of #OmniTen! I’m still stalking the #OmniTen, it’s just not as creepy because I’m one of them. It is now time to lower the #OmniOutlaw flag and point my ship toward a new adventure proudly flying the #OmniTen colors.

There’s still a few people that haven’t checked in yet, but if you’d like to join me in following the adventures of the new 2013 #OmniTen I’ve provided links to their Twitter profiles below.  This is an awesome opportunity and I intend to make the most of it.  Columbia has promised it will be amazing!

#omniten invitation box

My #OmniTen invitation box…

Columbia #OmniTen Spring 2013

David (me!)
Adam
Aleya
Anne
Tori
Justin
Eric
Julie

more to follow!

You should also be following Columbia Sportswear on Twitter and the #Omniten hashtag.

Testing out a new chest rig…

A couple weeks ago I went on a short hike in the Superstitions with my camera gear.  For the first time in a long time, I carried my ridiculously heavy tripod out into the field.  Carrying the D300 along with a couple of lenses AND the tripod adds a lot of weight to the pack and can make it awkward to carry.  I also hate carrying the camera in the backpack just because of access issues.  This normally results in me carrying the camera through the entire hike.  I like to have my hands free when hiking, it’s part of the reason I can’t seem to make myself use trekking poles.  So, last week I decided to fix this situation and try some ideas I had.

A quick stop at the REI got me what I needed (some of the stuff I already had) and I was set up to test a new camera rig.

testing the new chest rig

 

I picked up a LowePro Top Loading Camera Case from REI.  I had to find something that would have quick access D-rings at the top corners of the case or it wouldn’t work (I also made sure the case had a rain cover).  I then added a couple of ultra-light carabiners to my GeigerRig RIG1600 at the shoulder straps.  Then, to connect the camera case to the carabiners I used lighweight S-biners.  These gave me a little wiggle room with the location of the case and set the top-load flap at a good height for access.  The S-biners come in a large variety of sizes so you can customize the hang of the chest rig to fit your sizing.

This setup worked great all weekend.  The only problem I had with it is the incessant chirping of the metal on metal as I hiked.  But that was easily resolved with a little duct-tape where the two biners rub together.  After that, it was perfect.  I found the LowePro case on sale and I already had the biners so the whole rig only cost me about $20 to set up.  You can buy camera chest rigs from manufacturers but most run $80 and up.

This worked great for me, fit my camera well, allowed me a hands-free hike with quick access to my camera on the trail.  It is also really fast and easy to take on and off when you need to remove the pack.  Now I just need to figure out an easier way to strap my tripod for quicker access.  The only problem I ran in to with this was not being able to see my feet on technical terrain.  That is easily resolved by merely unclipping one side of the camera case.

Dear Santa…

‘Tis the season for one and all to come out with all manner of gift suggestions for the holidays.  We all browse through the lists and suggestions, looking for ideas and clues for special things for our family and friends.  But there’s so many choices, so many lists…

There are lists for men and lists for boys…
lists for climbers with lots of toys…
lists for paddlers and lists for bikers…
then there’s always lots of lists for hikers…
or a down bag for two and plenty of whiskey
for when you and yours are feeling frisky!
There are watches and phones with GPS gadgets,
knives and axes and short-handled hatchets…
That list there has lots of clothing
for when the snow really gets going.
But none of these lists are all that complete,
and for what I need they can not compete.
My list is different, my needs are unique…
so I’ve created my own, please have a peek…

So here it is, since I won’t presume to tell you what gifts are best this season for you…this is MY Wish List this Christmas.  And maybe you’ll find a few gems in here that might work for someone you know as well.

Dear Santa, what I want for Christmas…

  1. The Shag Master Hoodie from TADGear.com looks like an awesomely soft and comfy winter jacket.  I’m sucker for soft, fluffy sweaters and jackets…and it usually means lots of hugs from pretty girls my beautiful wife when I’m wearing one. ($200)
  2. Goal Zero Guide 10 solar charger - I’ve been looking at these for a long time and keep talking myself out of buying one…maybe Santa will bring me one so I don’t have to agonize over the decision anymore. ($120)
  3. Kurgo Dog Pack - I have been wanting to get Wiley her own pack for a while now.  This pack from Kurgo is the one I’ve been checking out, it seems to be a pretty universal fit and is a reasonable price. ($30)
  4. Snow Peak Mini Hozuki Lantern - Snow Peak has been coming out with some cool lantern designs.  The Mini Hozuki would be a nice little addition to my hammock setup. ($40)
  5. Snow Peak Titanium Cook Set - This comes highly recommended and everyone loves Snow Peak.  I also have a couple of stoves that will nest nicely inside. ($45)
  6. Jetboil Sol Ti - I love my Jetboil enough that I would really like the smaller solo titanium version for lighter trips. ($150)
  7. Snow Peak Chopping Board and knife - This super cool travel cutting board/knife combo will make camp cooking prep easy!  Not really a backpacking setup, but I am working on putting together a nice camp-kitchen. ($40)
  8. MountainSmith Modular Hauling System (4 piece) – This is good little package for organizing camping/travel gear.  I’ve seen this on a few other “gift suggestion” lists as well. ($100)
  9. GoPro Hero 3 - this is THE HD camera to have it seems…I have to admit that I love the images it produces and it would allow me to start doing more video.  ($400)

I left off the unreasonable items that Santa would have trouble fitting into his sleigh.  What is on YOUR wish list this year?  I want to know what fun little gadgets and goodies you guys are looking for this year…who knows, I might find some inspiration to add to my own wish list!

Merry Chrismahanukwanzakah to all!

Suunto Ambit mapping vs. OpenGPS…

Side by side comparison of the map and stats of the track recorded on the Suunto Ambit and simultaneously tracked using the OpenGPS app on my 4G phone.

Ambit

The data from Movescount.com and the data stored on the watch says 2.38 mile total distance. But when I load the GPX track in to Google Earth (via GoBreadcrumbs.com) the track distance is 2.8 miles.

OpenGPS

The actual stats from OpenGPS show a total distance of 2.9 miles AND you can see in the map below it shows MUCH better accuracy of the route. If you zoom in on the map you can see the THIS track actually follows the trail indicated on the map very closely. The track above from the Ambit does not perform as well.

My biggest problem with this comparison is the Ambit’s distance tracking. I don’t mind a sloppy GPX track, especially if I’m just tracking fitness runs. But the half-mile difference in distance (especially considering the total hike route was less than 3 miles) is troublesome.

Speed Tracking

This is another place where the Ambit advertises superiority. The Suunto speed tracking software us supposed to be super accurate and sensitive to stops and starts. Looking at the speed charts below, I think you can see that the Ambit does perform better when tracking overall speed and variations in speed.

Ambit

OpenGPS

Has anyone else experienced similar issues with the Suunto Ambit? I’d really like to test it against Garmin’s new Fenix if they’d let me.

Lessons about knowing your outdoor gear…

Have you ever made a mistake?  A stupid mistake?  The kind of mistake that makes you kick yourself for doing something you KNEW you shouldn’t have done?  No?  Then stop reading, this isn’t for you.  Piss off.

We all make mistakes from time to time.  We get complacent, or hurried or distracted and we do things we otherwise wouldn’t do.  Sometimes these mistakes make us laugh at our own folly, but (particularly in the backcountry) mistakes can be very dangerous.

I’ve had my share of mistakes.  One night camping in the mountains around Mount Graham outside Safford I hurriedly tossed the rain fly on my tent in the dark as a storm was starting to move in.  It wasn’t long into a pretty solid downpour that I discovered I had put the fly on upside down.  Turns out those waterproof-breathable fabrics they use for protection only work one way.  I knew that, I just missed it.

Another time, on luckily just a short hike, I had performed a quick check of my small pack, checked the hydration hoses, filled the bladder, packed a snack and shortly thereafter shot out the door to make my hike.  It wasn’t until I arrived at the trailhead and picked up my unusually light pack that I realized I had left the full hydration bladder on the counter, right by the sink, right where I had set it after filling it up.  A stupid mistake because I wasn’t fully paying attention to the process.

There was also the time I loaded my tent for a quick backpacking trip and discovered, a day’s hike in to the middle of nowhere, that I had grabbed the rain fly, not the tent.  Luckily I was able to easily make a bivvy shelter with the fly and it wasn’t a total catastrophe.  I’ve also packed my tent with the wrong set of poles before…that was fun.

This most recent mistake learning experience was a result of simply not paying attention.  I even remember second guessing myself and some little voice telling me, “nah, it’ll be FINE…”

My Snow Peak 450 Insulated mug on the SoloStove cook system - outdoor gear

I had just built a nice little fire in my new SoloStove.  I had received one to test out and was anxious to put it to use.  I prepped my fuel, built a beautiful little top-down fire (as instructed) and had quite nice burn going.  Now I just needed to boil some water, time it, record it and round one of the testing would be in the books.

I’m in the process of moving so I don’t know where half of my stuff is currently.  I could not find a camp pot anywhere with which to boil a little water.  In haste, I grabbed my Snow Peak Titanium mug and filled it with water.  There was a piece of me that hesitated, but I couldn’t put my finger on why and dismissed it.  I set the mug on the stove and watched the flames lick at the titanium.

Now, this is for a review, so I’m taking pictures, recording a little video, talking about the technology of the burn system and why the fire was built top-down…so I’m distracted.  The nagging hesitation was set aside so I could focus on the review.  Then it hits me!

The Snow Peak Titanium 450 Double Wall mug is an insulated mug.  The outer shell of the cup is made up of two walls of titanium with air space in the middle to serve as an insulating layer.  This helps reduce heat transfer through the wall of the cup.  This means it will NOT heat efficiently, it is not a good cooking vessel.  More importantly, and the reason for my sudden anxiety, is that the super-heated air trapped between the two layers of titanium will expand when heated and can cause the weld seam to burst.  Depending on how well the seams hold, this could be a pretty dramatic rupture or simply a small hole to let the air escape.  Once I realized this error I pulled the cup off the heat.

Luckily, my seam held and the only real damage (aside from severe discoloration) is a slightly bulged and rounded bottom on the mug.  Not the end of the world.

In the privacy of my own home, I can simply kick myself for being stupid and potentially ruining an expensive piece of gear.  In the backcountry, we can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes.  This sort of thing is a reminder of how easily, and innocently, mistakes can be made.  It’s a reminder that we really do need to slow down, pay attention and think through our actions…especially in the field.  It’s also a reminder to know your gear.  Know it’s intended uses, it’s limitations, be familiar with the technology and why it works.  The proper gear can save your life, but only if you know how to use it properly and do so with thoughtfulness.

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I’d love to hear about YOUR gear related mistakes.  Comment below if you’ve ever made a mistake with your outdoor gear…it’ll make me feel better about my own stupidity. ;)