Saturday, January 21, 2017

Silky Bigboy 360 Folding Saw

Some kind of wood processing tool is handy to have when camping and may be a necessity in a survival situation. Many woodsmen likes axes, hatchets, or large choppers, but a folding saw is a great alternative. Saws often weigh less, are more energy efficient, and safer to use.

For several years I've had a Gerber folding saw which was improved by using a saw set to increase the kerf and reduce drag when cutting. It's pocket sized and very easy to pack.

However, I wanted a longer saw that could still fit in a pack. Everything else being equal, the longer the cutting stroke the more efficient the saw. So, last month I got a Silky Bigboy 360 folding saw with large teeth. With a 360mm (14.1" blade) it's significantly longer than the Gerber. The rubber handle is easily grasped with both hands.

I finally got to try it out today on a branch I had in my firewood pile, and to trim a couple branches from a dogwood in my yard.

The branch from my firewood pile was of an unknown type of wood, possibly elm. It was well seasoned and hard. The Silky chewed through it like a hungry beaver. This took only a few strokes:


Dogwood is very hard and a good test of any blade. Although it required more effort to cut than the elm (?) branch, the Silky went through it very well. I'd like to test it on some softwood but don't have any. Based on Survival Russia's videos, I'd expect it to work damn near like a power tool.

The Gerber cuts on both the push and pull strokes. Silky saws, in contrast, cut only on the pull stroke. This allows the blade to be thinner and more flexible and doesn't really make it less efficient.

The Silky feels more robust than the Gerber. If I was in the market for a smaller folding saw I'd go with a Silky Pocketboy.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Russian Surplus Veshmeshok Pack

For some reason I recently got the hankering to try out a Russian veshmeshok ("kit bag") as a daypack. The veshmeshok is a very basic 30L (~1800 cubic inch) pack made from canvas, first adopted by the Imperial Russian army during the 19th Century. During the Inter-War period the Soviet Army adopted a more modern design, but placed the veshmeshok back into production during WW2, since it is so simple to produce. Production continued into the 90s, but I found one Russian web store which sells a "modern" version made of a Cordura-like nylon in camoflauge.

The veshmeshok is not much more than a canvas sack with a single outside pocket and four web straps that allow you to carry a rolled up greatcoat or bedroll. The top has a drawstring closure, probably made from hemp. But the single most distinguishing feature of the veshmeshok is the suspension, such as it is. There is one continuous shoulder strap which is also used as the closure for the top of the bag. The strap is 1.5" wide and lightly padded. It is attached at the bottom corners of the pack.

Lars of the Survival Russia YouTube channel uses a veshmeshok as his scouting pack and has a good video about it, here, in which he demonstrates how to rig the bag for carrying.  (Check out the rest of his videos, too. They're awesome.)

If you're in the US, veshmeshoks are easily available on eBay from sellers in the former USSR, but they're also available on Amazon Prime, which is the route I went.

My veshmeshok came neatly folded inside a surprisingly small box, complete with Soviet Surplus Smell. The date stamp inside the bag is faded but I think it says 1977. It's in unissued condition. The canvas is thinner than I thought it would be but it should be more than durable enough for my needs.

Because the veshmeshok is basically a 45cm x 67cm sack, you need to be careful loading it so that it doesn't turn into a ball, or you have things poking you in the back. So, the first thing I put in mine when I transferred the contents of my Hill People Gear Tarahumara over to the vesh was my Z-Lite seat pad. I unfolded the Z-Lite and used it as a back pad inside the pack.

Heavier items went in next, including an Esbit cookset and two Nalgene Oasis 1 quart canteens, one in a USGI cup. Then I put in my first aid kit, cordage kit, brew kit, TP with hand sanitizer and a trowel, a pair of gloves, and my BCUSA MEST poncho. Some disposable hand and toe warmers went into the outside pocket, along with a fleece beanie. My puukko got attached to one of the bedroll straps. Weight of the pack thus loaded was about 16 pounds.

I tried out the veshmeshok on a short hike yesterday. It was surprisingly comfortable with this load, since it's not much more than a string bag.



Adding a day's rations, another quart of water, and some kind of blanket or shelter would bump this up to around 25 pounds. It wouldn't be so comfortable at that weight, but the Russian Army has never been overly concerned with the comfort of its soldiers.

The short length of the shoulder straps was surprising. I am not a big guy although I have broad shoulders for my 5'4" height. With the shoulder straps set to their longest length they're just long enough for me to wear with a winter coat on. To make it a little more comfortable to carry, I added a loop of paracord at the midpoint of the strap and used that to close the sack, and put the pack into carry mode. I got that idea from this thread on BCUSA.

Additionally, the sternum strap is too short for me to make any use of it. It would need to be at least another 8" longer to be really useful. I may sew on some webbing to lengthen it.

You can fit a surprising amount of gear into a veshmeshok. For example, see this page at Operation Eastwind which shows the loadout for a Soviet reenactor.

The veshmeshok won't replace any of my modern packs but it may see use when I feel like going retro. One project I may try is pairing the veshmeshok with a Roycroft pack frame.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

December 2016 Camping Trip Report

(I wrote this up over a week ago and forgot to post it.)

December 9th and 10th I went deer hunting in Tioga County, PA, just south of the New York State line. Temperatures while we were there topped out at about 32*F/0*C, and dropped down to about 21*F/-6*C at night. There's usually a breeze blowing as well. We slept under a pavilion with two walls built but the ends open, temporarily covered with canvas tarps. At night we had a propane-fired patio heater to take the edge off the cold. In this post I want to offer some observations on how some of our gear worked.

STOVES

Don't trust old equipment, even if it's been tested recently, unless maintenance has been performed on it. My Coleman 425 camp stove made in 1979 was tested the previous weekend but failed on this trip. A seal blew so it wouldn't hold pressure, and leaked fuel.

One of my friends used an MSR Pocket Rocket canister stove with no problems. I keep a folding Esbit stove in my daypack for brewing tea or coffee when out in the field, but it didn't see any use on this trip. I've used it on past trips, however.

The Lixada wood gasifer stove I got in November worked OK for warming water. This is primarily a twig stove that is sold under various brand names on Amazon and eBay. Like all twig stoves it needs constant feeding to keep going. I wanted to try it this weekend with charcoal briquettes, since we always keep two or three bags up at our campsite.

Using briquettes, the Lixada stove was able to get water up to near-boiling but never to a full, rolling boil. This temp was good enough for filling the canteen I put in the bottom of my sleeping bag to keep warm, but not hot enough for oatmeal or coffee. Briquettes would work if you needed to simmer something in a pot or fry something in a pan. They burned for a long time.

I also tried the Lixada stove using fire starters made by filling a cardboard egg carton with oak shavings and paraffin wax. One of these would bring my MSR kettle to a rolling boil in only a few minutes. The main downside to these is that they'll leave your pot covered in so much soot it'll be darker than Spinal Tap's Black Album. These fire starters also burn out in about five minutes.

In one of his "longhouse" videos on YouTube, Evan Hill of Hill People Gear discusses your energy envelope. This pertinent because if you're backpacking, it may actually cost you less in energy to pack in a canister stove and fuel than a twig stove that you have to gather and prepare fuel for.

On future winter trips I'll make sure to have a functional Coleman stove and bring my Kovea Spider as a backup.


KEEPING WARM

SmartWool merino wool base layers are warm, help you manage moisture, and don't itch.

Windproof pants make a huge difference in staying warm. I continue to be pleased with my ORC Industries Level 5 PCU softshell trousers. I've had these for several years and they've been one of my best purchases, always keeping my legs warm and dry in snow, when worn over insulation.

When sleeping on a cot in drafty weather you cannot have too much insulation beneath you. I used a MidwayUSA shooting mat, a blue foam pad, a Thermarest Ridge Rest, and then two military surplus wool blankets folded in half lengthwise on top of my cot. This gave me a firm but warm and comfortable bed.

The old trick of putting a hot water bottle in the bottom of your sleeping bag works. I filled a Nalgene Oasis canteen with hot water, wrapped it in a shemagh, and put it in the footbox of my sleeping bag. It warmed the bag up nicely. It was still lukewarm in the morning. Being already warm, it boiled faster when it came time for breakfast, too.

Two or three disposable hand warmers activated and tossed into you bag before bed also help. I had a package of these coming up on their expiration date so I wanted to use them up, and this was a good way to do so.

The disposable hand warmers and toe warmers came in very handy while sitting out on my deer stand. If you're moving around in the temps we experienced keeping your hands and feet warm isn't a problem but once you're sitting still, you need either more insulation or an external heat source. The disposables worked well for me.

Some guys like to use an empty Gatorade or Nalgene bottle to pee in so that they don't have to get out of their bag in the middle of the night. Frankly, I don't think I could do that without pissing all over my sleeping bag, but YMMV.

The Hill People Gear Mountain Serape is an awesome piece of gear. I used it two ways last weekend. First, after being out for a few hours hunting, I used it in greatcoat mode over my Arc'Teryx LEAF Atom SV hoodie while hanging out back at camp before bed. It allowed me to shed the hooded sweatshirt I'd been wearing under the Atom SV, and also my ORC PCU Level 5 softshell trousers. As a greatcoat, the Mountain Serape provided a warm layer of insulation and blocked the wind when out around the campfire, and inside our drafty shelter.

If I hunted out west where you can do so without wearing blaze orange, I'd pack a Mountain Serape with me to my stand and put it on while glassing/waiting for game. Not only is it warm but it also helps to break up your outline, so you don't look like a human. If HPG made one in blaze orange or blaze camo, I'd order one for sure.

Later, I used the Mountain Serape in sleeping bag mode as an overbag around the footbox of my sleeping bag.

A Snugpak poncho liner may be a viable, less expensive alternative to the HPG Mountain Serape if you're on a budget, especially if you added snaps or bungies to hold it closed around yourself.

For use around a campfire something made from natural fibers would be better than the nylon shell of the Mountain Serape or Snugpak poncho liner. E.g., a wool blanket poncho or a South American alpaca poncho. OTH, they probably aren't as windproof as the modern insulated ponchos.

If you're car camping, having a vacuum flask of hot tea or coffee filled ahead of time is a great morale booster. It's really nice being able to immediately pour yourself a hot cup of tea when you come in from the cold, instead of having to wait for it to brew.

Canteen Cup Accessories

Many hikers and preppers like the old USGI canteen cup for use as a cooking vessel. I've had this old, L-handle style cup since the '80s, and it's seen a lot of use. It's so black on the outside I should call it "Ol' Crusty."

Sentiment aside, canteen cups have two drawbacks which can be remedied with products now on the market.

Nothing like hot chocolate from your canteen cup.


First is a lid. The US military never issued one. If you're heating something by putting your canteen cup in a campfire you don't really care too much about minimizing fuel consumption, but it's nice to reduce heating time and keep debris out of your meal. Previously I've used a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil but this needs to be periodically replaced, and it's prone to blowing away. Heavy Cover, Inc. sells a nice stainless steel boil lid, shown in the above pic. HC also sells one for the Crusader cup.

I've used the Heavy Cover lid a couple times now and it definitely reduces the time to boil water for a hot drink by a few minutes. If I have any criticism is that it's heavy. It could be made from a thinner gauge of stainless steel to reduce weight. Or better yet, make it from aluminum or titanium. E.g., Four Dog Stoves sells Ti lids for a variety of pot/cups, for $4 less than the HC stainless steel lid.

Second is something to prevent burning your lips on the hot rim of the cup. Snow Peak Hotlips happen to snap right onto the USGI cup like they were made for it.  The yellow thing on the rim of my cup above is one. This is a major usability improvement when making coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Lixada Wood Gas Stove

The other day I ordered a Lixada wood gas stove using an Amazon gift card. This stove is sold under a number of different brand names on Amazon and eBay, generally for a bit under $20. The stove is made from stainless steel and has the following components, which nest together:


  • Base with air holes.
  • Double-walled combustion chamber with holes on the inside near the top.
  • A bottom part to hold the fuel off the ground. It also has air holes in it.
  • A pot stand with folding arms.
  • A bowl which can be placed in the combustion chamber to burn liquid or gelled alcohol fuel. If inverted it can be a platform for hexamine or trioxane tablets.
Along with the stove itself a nylon mesh bag was included for storage and transport.

Since I had some time this afternoon I decided to give it a try, using some sticks from my yard. The stove did not come with any instructions but I'd read up on them online. Supposedly, they work best with the combustion chamber filled with sticks oriented vertically, burning top-down.

I used a piece of dryer lint/paraffin wax fire starter to get it going.


After a few minutes the wood gas that's released by the burning wood gets flowing through the sidewall, comes out the interior holes and ignites.


Shortly after it got going I put my Olicamp Space Saver Cup with home made lid on top. I had 12 oz. of water in the cup to make some tea.


A couple things caused my boil time to be overly long (i.e., damn near a half hour):

  • It was windy, which caused a lot of heat loss via convection. The next time I use the stove I'll use a wind screen.
  • Some of my wood was damp. Also, I waited too long to refill the stove when the fuel burned down, which made it take longer to ignite. I should have fed it small pieces of wood before the flames died out.
As long as I kept it fed so that the wood gas was being burned it was pretty much smoke free. If I let it die down and then added fuel, it was smokey.

The idea of a stove for which you can forage fuel is very attractive for camping, hiking, and bugouts. I need to play around with it a bit more to get the knack of minimizing cook times. In particular, one fuel I want to try is charcoal briquettes, which we keep up at my friend's place where we camp a few times each year. Another fuel which other owners have reported works well are wood pellets, as used in pellet stoves.

I'm planning to follow this up with a video, once I get the raw footage edited.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Revised Olicamp Lid

I wasn't satisfied with using a screw and nut to secure the handle to the DIY lid I made for my hard anodized Olicamp cup, so I ordered a Tandy Leather rivet kit earlier this week. It was delivered today. The lid now looks like this:





The stud part of the rivet was longer than I needed, so I trimmed it with dykes before setting the head.

The rivet should be more secure in the long term than the screw and nut, and easier to clean if food gets on it.

I can see the rivet kit coming in handy for future projects.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Olicamp Hard Anodized Cup and DIY Lid

The other day I ordered an Olicamp hard anodized aluminum Space Saver cup from Amazon using some points. It arrived today and I think it'll be a good piece of gear. It's lightweight and has graduations so that you can use it for measuring water.

One thing it lacks, however, is a lid, which means that if you use it as a pot to cook or boil water in, it'll take longer and use more fuel. I've used expedient lids made from aluminum foil in the past with my GSI stainless cups and USGI canteen cup. I wanted something better for this cup.

My first try was made from aluminum flashing. I traced the lip of the cup on a piece of scrap wood to create a form, and cut a piece of flashing a bit larger around than the cup. I then secured the flashing to the form and pressed it around.

It looked like ass.

In search of a better solution I ran across this video by IA Woodsman, in which he made a lid for a stainless GSI cup from the bottom of a 12 oz. coffee can. I had an empty can so I went back out to my shop and made a similar lid.


The lip of the aluminum Olicamp cup is a little larger in diameter than the stainless GSI cups, so I cut eight small slits around the edge of the lid so I could spread it out to better fit on the cup. Instead of IA Woodsman's copper D-ring, I used a stainless steel split ring from my scrap box. Click on the picture to see the full sized version which shows how it can be set so that it doesn't flop over.

The ring is secured using a similar tab to IA Woodsman's. However, I used a stainless screw and nut instead of a rivet.

I'll probably carry the cup nested over the bottom of a 32 oz. Nalgene or 40 oz. Kleen Kanteen bottle, with the lid in the bottom of the pouch.