Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Upcoming Antenna Upgrade

About a year ago I posted pics of the two antennas I have up on my roof. What I’ve found is that the Ultimax 100 that I’m using for HF is pretty directional for Tx when mounted as a sloper, as I currently have it. So, I’ve decided to remount it vertically.

Since the radiating element is a piece of wire, I’ll need a way to support it. This morning I ordered a Jackite 31’ telescoping fiberglass pole from Amazon. Jackite manufactures their telescoping poles for use in flying kites and windsocks, but a lot of amateur radio operators have adopted them for supporting antennas. Mounting the antenna vertically will give me an omnidirectional radiation pattern, and just as importantly, a lower takeoff angle. For my needs I think this will work better for me.

The pole should arrive Saturday. The weather forecast for Sunday looks good so I hope to have it up then.

Assuming it works out as expected I will probably buy a second pole and then another similar antenna for field use.

Updates to follow.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Kovea Spider Canister Stove

I recently posted about an easy to make alcohol stove. Alcohol stoves are great in that they are cheap to make, easy to use, employ a relatively safe fuel, and work pretty well. However, if you need a stove that will boil water more quickly then there are better alternatives. One such type of stove is the canister stove, fueled by disposable canisters filled with liquified gas fuel. A nice overview of the different types of fuels used in these canisters is available at Zen Stoves.

I had some credit in my Amazon account, so I decided to add a Kovea Spider backpacking stove to my toolkit.  Here’s the stove, piezo electric igniter, instruction flier, and carry sack. It weighs less than 6 oz. sans fuel. I chose the Kovea after reading a couple reviews, here and here. Both reviews have some good detail pictures, along with performance data.


A closeup of the stove. The copper tube next to the burner is part of the fuel line. By running it close to the burner, it can be used to gasify liquid fuel before it gets to the burner itself. This is useful in very cold temperatures when you need to run the canister upside to get liquid fuel out.


Butane canister stoves are attached to the fuel canister in one of two ways. The most common is screwing directly to the top of the can. An example of this is the MSR Pocket Rocket. The other method, employed by the Kovea Spider, is a remote connection using a tube.

The direct connect stoves are a bit lighter and more compact. The remote connect stoves give you a lower center of gravity, allow you to place a windscreen tighter around the stove and pot when in use, and some can be used with the canister inverted, which may be necessary in cold weather. For these reasons I chose a remote connect design.

The butane/isobutane/propane canisters are widely available at sporting goods stores, Walmart, etc. I picked a few up at REI while I was waiting for the Kovea to arrive.

Along with the stove, I ordered a windscreen. Since it’s a remote unit and I don’t have to worry about overheating the canister, the I got a 12” tall windscreen by Solo. This screen can be used with canister, alcohol, or wood stoves. There are wire stakes on both ends which allow you to anchor it to the ground. It’s made from aluminum so it’s very light, and packs into a nice carry case.

To test the Kovea Spider I took it out back while the temperature was in the lower 30s F. I used it to boil 12 oz. of water to reconstitute a Mountain House Pro Pak freeze dried spaghetti and meat sauce dinner.

To use the stove, first make sure that the valve is completely closed by turning it clockwise. (The valve handle is the rectangular wire thing.) Then screw it to the canister. Unfold the stove and set it down away from the canister. Turn the stove on by opening the valve, then light the gas.

I first tried to light the stove using the supplied piezo electric igniter. Perhaps I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t get the miniscule spark to light the stove. So, I turned off the gas flow and got a ferrocerium rod out of my bag, then tried again. After a couple strikes the stove lit.


Here’s my test setup, showing how closely you can wrap the windscreen around the stove and pot.


The 1.5 cups of water in my Walmart grease pot took about 3 minutes to come to a rolling boil on the Kovea. Impressive.


To extinguish the stove simply close the valve again. The canisters can be disconnected from the stove and reused until empty.

As for dinner, the Mountain House Pro Pak spaghetti and meat sauce was pretty good. The package was for a 16 oz. serving. After opening it and discarding the dessicant pack, add 1.5 cups (12 oz.) of boiling water, mix it up, and reseal the bag. Wait 8 or 9 minutes, mix it again, and dig in.

Kovea is a Korean company and fairly new to the US market. The reasonably-priced Spider is well made from good materials and as shown above, offers good performance. Because it can be used with the fuel canister inverted, it will be useful to lower temperatures than stove not supporting that mode of operation.  It’s lightweight and compact. In fact, it will nest inside a Walmart grease pot along with a fuel canister. The one item I wasn’t happy with was the piezo igniter, which doesn’t make much of a spark. So, I plan to keep a ferrocerium rod and striker, and/or some matches along with the stove.

The combination of a liquid fuel canister stove and dehydrated food is very convenient. It’s a good combination for day hikes, camping, or keeping in your bugout bag.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Swiss Surplus Sweater

As a fan of wool clothing I’ve been on the lookout for a good sweater to add to my wardrobe.  Wool, of course, is great because it still provides some insulation even if it gets wet, and is more fire resistant the synthetics.

I came across Swiss military surplus sweaters on a few sites, most of which had used sweaters. SwissLink had some new ones for $59.99, so I ordered one on November 27th. It arrived on December 5th. Not bad for shipping over a holiday weekend.

The sweater is in perfect, new condition as described on SwissLink’s site. It is a heavy 70% virgin wool / 30% polyester. It’s itchy against bare skin but I don’t plan on wearing it without a shirt underneath.

The collar and cuffs have a ribbed knit pattern. SwissLink describes it as having a quarter-zip, but it’s actually closer to a half-zip, which I like because it makes donning or doffing it easier, and allows for better ventilation.

The workmanship is top notch. There aren’t any loose threads and the plastic zipper operates smoothly. It actually looks nice enough that it wouldn’t appear out of place if you wore it into the office. That said, I bought it for field use.

The sweater I received is marked with the European size 56, which converts to American sizing as a 46 according to this site. SwissLink lists them using American sizing ( M, L, XL, and XXL).

I am 5’6” tall but carry my own survival rations around my waist, so I ordered the XL. It fits well although the sleeves a bit long. I can roll the cuffs over so that’s not a problem and would allow me to pull them down over my hands if I don’t have gloves.

Some measurements from the garment:

  • Height from top of collar to hem: 31”
  • Width at armpits: 26”
  • Sleeve length (along top edge): 26”

Unlike a lot of milsurp this didn’t come with a funky smell. In fact, it smells pretty much like my Land’s End lamb’s wool sweaters.

Hopefully I’ll have enough cool weather to wear it often.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Few Blogs of Note

While cruising the Interwebs I’ve come across a few notewrothy blogs worth perusing by preppers.

  • Mountain Guerilla. This is written by “John Mosby,” a SF veteran. One noteworthy post is Optics Options for the Fighting Rifle.
  • Max Velocity Tactical. This is the website of former British Para, now US citizen. From reading the blog, he appears more oriented towards training regular guys than most trainers, who are oriented more towards the military or LEO side of things. One of the pieces of gear that I’ve written about in the past is the SAS smock. Max has a couple good posts about the smock here and here.
  • Signal Corps. This blog appears to be pretty new. It’s written by a former SF commo guy and the blog has mostly covered radio communications. He’s a big proponent of getting your ham ticket.

Dirt Simple Alcohol Stove

I found this video via a link on BushcraftUSA.

How To Turn A Beer Can Into The Only Camping Stove You'll Ever Need from Tom Allen on Vimeo.

I made one from a soda can a week or two ago and finally had the chance to try it out today.


For lunch I had a Mountain House “Wraps” meal of scrambled eggs, sausage, onions, and hash browns. The bag says it’s for filling your own burritos, but I ate it right out of the bad using an MRE spoon.

The stove worked well using denatured alcohol for the fuel. At first, I had it inside the hobo stove pictured, which I intended to be both a pot stand and windscreen for the stove. I put an ounce or two of alcohol in the soda can stove and after about five minutes, the 1.5 cups of water in the Walmart grease pot was just starting to boil. At that point it ran out of fuel. I waited for the stove to cool down, added more fuel, and lit it. After waiting about 30 seconds for it to begin burning well I put the pot right on top of the stove, as shown in the video. Within a few minutes the water was boiling.

The instructions for the Mountain House food are to add 1.5 cups of boiling water to the pouch, stir, then reseal and let it sit for 8 – 9 minutes. I did so, stirred it some more, then ate it. It was pretty good and not too salty. A little bit of hot sauce would’ve been good, though.

I’m impressed with the stove. Compared with other alcohol stoves made from soda cans it’s much simpler to make. I.e., you don’t need to make a series of holes around the outside. I do need to come up with some sort of lightweight windscreen. I’d like to come up with a kit consisting of the stove, fuel bottle, windscreen, and a box of matches, all fitting inside the Walmart grease pot. It would be a great lightweight cooking kit.