Friday, June 14, 2013

MSR Groundhog Tent Stake Review

 A tent stake is a lowly item that just needs to address some very basic issues:

  • Easy to drive into the ground;
  • Stays put when in the ground;
  • Easy to remove from the ground;
  • Light and small enough to be carried;
  • ...yet durable enough to do their job when replacements are not readily available.

With such a basic list of requirements, you'd think that this would be an easy job to fulfill. Well, anyone who has ever set up a tent more than once already knows that this is not necessarily the case.

First, a glance at the commonly available competition:

  • Molded plastic stakes:
    • Lightweight, relatively inexpensive, but bulky and brittle (by far the most common stake that you'll find left behind by litterbug campers before you... In pieces.
  • Stamped steel stakes:
    • Heavy, moderately bulky (when not carefully stacked), relatively robust, but may be bent if the tip strikes a rock or tree root (although easy to bend back and keep in service.)
  • Bent aluminum rod stakes (comes standard with most tents) :
    • Really light and compact, but poor holding power in all but the most benign conditions. Will bend into a pretzel if you so much as look at it funny.

Enter the MSR Groundhog stakes. These have a "Y" shaped cross section, and are made from lightweight aluminum.

This equal-sided "Y" shape, with guy line notches on all three legs, are lightweight, fairly compact, offer better than average holding power, and drive into and come back out of the ground without much fuss.

This non-directional shape is handy in the dark, since you don't have to be sure that the guy line hook is properly oriented when driving it into the ground. While this isn't exactly a difficult task to get right with your eyes closed, once you realize this feature it does become a nice touch.

While they do drive nicely into hard or rocky soil, if it doesn't go in with just moderate tapping of the hammer, hatchet, or rock, don't force it! They will bend or break, which I have done.

Also, if using your foot to push these into the ground, stop pushing when you meet any resistance beyond that of soft soil, otherwise you risk bending them (which I have also done.)

Which is not to say that the Groundhog stakes are not durable; they are. These are just a couple of things to look out for.

Another nice feature is the pull loops, which are made using guy line cordage with a reflective tracer. I actually found this to be extraordinarily helpful in locating a stake still in the ground after dark. Just be sure to retie the knot when you first get them; they're a little loose from the factory. This is just a tip, and not a mark against the stakes. It's easier than tying your hiking boots.

If you can't just pull the stake from the ground with a couple of fingers in the loop, just use another stake through the loop to use as handle. That way you can use your whole hand for more pulling force.

The downside? The price! They are made from extruded aluminum. For those of you who don't know, the extrusion process can be thought of being similar in concept to a pasta maker... only you're squeezing out aluminum instead of pasta dough. This is a decades old technology, and is an inexpensive way of forming thousands of feet of aluminum into your desired shape. The machining cuts to finish the product are very simple, and with aluminum being as relatively a soft a metal means that tooling costs are also low. To top that off, these are being currently made in China. While I do prefer a U.S. made product, I'm not adverse to purchasing overseas goods. It's the cost I'm talking about here.

They -are- overpriced for what they are, and for the low cost of production that they have. That being said, I do still recommend a set of them for your tent. At about $2.50 each, 25 bucks for an average tent will not break the bank... Especially when you consider that you'll get to use them for years to come, and they can be moved from tent to tent.

The bottom line is that MSR's Groundhog tent stakes are a superior product, and with a little care in using them should last indefinitely.

Now go camping!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Optimus Terra Solo Backpacking Cook Set

I've been shopping around for a lightweight, yet affordable, cook set for weekend backpacking. The Optimus Terra Solo seemed to fit the bill, and certainly was the most reasonably priced set out there.
My criteria were simple:
  • Lightweight;
  • Holds 1 to 2 small fuel canisters, plus stove;
  • And costing less than 50 freakin' bucks!

The titanium pots out there look very nice, and come in at a low weight, but they're just too cost prohibitive for me right now. They also tend to be part of a much larger cook set than I was shopping for, or are no more than an oversized coffee mug that may (or may not!) include a lid.
The other compact, aluminum, 2-piece sets (GSI, REI) get closer, but come in costing at least $10 more. For that ten bucks, they toss-in something like a telescoping spork---- which I would quickly give to my girlfriend's 6-year old son. He might actually get a kick out of it.
Which brings us to the Optimus Terra Solo. It meets my criteria above, and at a price point of $22-25, depending on catching a sale or not.
While not as light as titanium, with this aluminum combo you're only gaining about 1.6 ounces over something like the Snow Peak 900, which costs $30-plus dollars more.
On my scale the Optimus Terra Solo, with its included mesh stuff sack, weighs-in at 7.6 ounces. (The above mentioned Snow Peak 900 weighs 6 ounces [including stuff sack] according to online specs.)
What you get is a pot that boils enough water for a 2-serving freeze dried meal, with room to spare. In other words, you don't have to fill your pot brimming full to boil enough water!
The top works nicely as a pot lid, and does double duty as a mug or bowl.
The fold out, wire handles have a nice feeling---- and surprisingly effective---- rubberized / silicone coating on them. The coating may rub-off or fail over time, but have been holding up perfectly well so far. If it doesn't, it won't have any impact on the performance of this set.
The handle for the top locks securely in place in the open position. Another detail here is that even though only one rivet attaches the handle bracket to the lid, the bracket's square top edge butts right up against the well rolled rim; even if this rivet loosened-up due to damage, the handle is prevented from swiveling. Nice touch! That said, the rivet does look securely set, and I wouldn't expect any problems.
The pot's wire handles, a bi-fold design, is held in place with three rivets. No doubt it will stay put.
While I haven't done any real sticky cooking in this, the anodized interior, while not technically non-stick like teflon, cleans easily. 
The final detail is stamped graduations on the pot in both U.S. and metric, although the lowest marked level is 8 ounces. It would've been nicer if it included a 4 ounce mark for small meals like instant oatmeal, but this is a minor quibble. Just eye-ball it. Oatmeal ain't rocket science.
If you wanted to carry 2 fuel canisters, they will fit, but there won't be room for anything else. However, my pack stove, the unfortunately discontinued Primus Yellowstone TechnoTrail, does fit nicely in the stuff sack above/outside the cook set, so your kitchen can still stay together.

Speaking of stuff sacks, it may be a good idea to make or find a mini sack to hold the fuel canisters/stove inside of the pot (or at the very least, pack it with a paper towel,) since it may be possible for these things to damage the anodized interior. And you can't use the included sack, since you need it to hold the non-locking cook set together. (I made one from ripstop nylon.) This may not be an issue, but I don't want to find out the hard way. Your mileage may vary.
The upside of using a second bag is that it silences the metal on metal sound from inside of your backpack.
So far I've been very happy with this set. Happy enough to already be eyeballing the larger Terra Weekend set from Optimus for larger outings. The downsides are very minor, and really only included here in the spirit of full disclosure.
For the price it can't be beat... Unless you really gotta have that spork.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Heroes, Living Life, and Licensing Pressure Cookers

Yesterday, Apr. 15, 2013, was the day that two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The blasts have certainly inflicted lifelong injuries on those involved, both the kind that may and may not be actually seen.

For a few others, the cost was their lives.

This was the deplorable act of a cowardice, and I hope that he, she, or they are brought to the swiftest of justice, and harshest of penalties, equally gruesome to the suffering inflicted.

But this blog entry is less about that aspect of what happened yesterday. In the coming days and weeks there will be hundreds of articles from exactly that angle; speaking on what happened, but not addressing it.

I will be likely touching upon a few topics surrounding the bombing, so I ask you to humor me as I flit around the things in my head---- especially since commentaries were never intended to be a part of my blog.

What happened in Boston, with the pressure-cooker bombs, is unfortunately nothing new. But Americans are neither accustomed nor comfortable with the idea of such things happening right here at home. Indeed, finding custom or comfort in such things is something I hope we never achieve.

The problem is that the sheep populace of our country will soon clamor for "Safeguards." And Big Brother, just like following 9/11, will only be too happy to step further in the door.

The problem with Big Brother is that he always ends up abusing his power. More on him later...

So what do I think that we, as a nation, need?

Self accountability. Heroes. Inner strength.

I'm not just talking about the people who ran to the aid of victims, not knowing if another bomb would detonate from inside an innocuous kitchen pressure cooker (though heroes they were, and we need more like them...) We need the kind of heroes that---- even in the face of these uncertainties---- say, "I will not lock the door and draw the blinds; I will continue living, as I choose, and on my own terms!"

Whatever the the big news outlets say, or are cautious not to label it, what happened in Boston was Terrorism.

The true goal of terrorism is not to kill people, although I'm sure that most terrorists would agree it to be a happy side effect of their actions. The true goal of terrorism is terrorizing. Terrorizing the living. Terrorizing people into changing their activities. Terrorizing good people into living in terror.

More cameras on street corners will not change this. Letting the government give Big Brother a longer leash will not change this either. Not cowering in the corner after such an attack will.

Do not fret your time away wondering how you will die. Use your mind to think about how you will live! Make the terrorists exclaim, "Damn it! Now what!?"

Now allow me to switch gears. As you may or may not know, I am a proud supporter of the U.S. Bill of Rights. A hot topic in the country right now is new gun control legislation. (I'm sure you can already see where I'm going with this...)

In light of yesterday's tragedy, how would you feel about new Pressure Cooker Legislation?

Using the same argument that anti-Second Amendment gun control advocates use, if we save just one life, wouldn't it be worth it? Besides, why does anyone need a pressure cooker, anyway?

As proven yesterday, they not only have the ability to maim and kill people, but have the ability to terrorize an entire nation.

Furthermore, they have been known to burst unexpectedly in the home, causing not only personal injury, but property damage as well.

They should be serial numbered, licensed, sold through licensed dealers, and a national database kept on all pressure cooker owners. And there absolutely should be invasive background checks.

If you fail to do any of the above, you will be arrested, charged with a federal crime, and imprisoned. Because by failing to register your unlicensed pressure cooker, we can only assume that Granny isn't a hobbyist or canning enthusiast, but a terrorist in possession of bomb making materials.

What's that you say? What a ridiculous argument; it's already against the law to make bombs and murder people...? I completely agree. Which is why I am against any new gun control legislation, and further think that much existing legislation needs to be repealed due to its Unconstitutionality.

But get this: Pressure cookers are not protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Please don't be led too far off-track by my (semi) satirical approach. I am not making light of any of the people who were grievously injured or killed... This brings me to my point that we need, as a nation, more self-accountability.

Yesterday's tragedy was not the result of two kitchen appliances. It was the result of sociopath(s). If it wasn't a pressure cooker, it would've been a pipe bomb. If not a pipe bomb, then something else...

The fact is, there are evil people in this world. There always will be. They are not you, and they are not me. But they are out there.

Self-accountability? Don't blame inanimate objects. Don't dispense with vitriol on other people of whom there is no blame. Don't blame the government for not coddling and protecting you from things so completely unforeseen.

Do cry from sorrow. Do support those who have fallen from violence, and those who rush in to help. Do take joy from getting out and living life. Do celebrate your friends, and yourself every day in this life.

Everyone who can do these things truly is a hero. And we need more heroes.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Story of First Aid...

This is a true story of First Aid, and that of being prepared.

When I was 13, I lived with my dad in an apartment complex in a small town on the West Coast. Late in the evening while taking the trash out to the dumpster, halfway across the complex was a man lying on the ground. He only groaned a little when I asked if he was okay. It was a dark and foggy November evening, so I didn't immediately realize that the puddles around him were predominately his blood.

I finished taking the trash to the dumpster (!), and stopped to take a closer look on the return trip. When I knelt down to give him a nudge and ask him again, I realized that his chest was covered in blood. I raised his shirt to find the source: what appeared to be three little puncture wounds, one in the stomach, two in the chest.

My first thought based on the appearance of the puncture wounds was that they were from an icepick. I found out later that these were actually from a kitchen knife.

Having learned basic first aid in the Boy Scouts, I immediately placed each hand on a chest wound to apply pressure, moving them only to check his vital signs (very weak pulse and breathing, unresponsive eye movements, and talking to him only elicited weak groans.)

The first person appear, on a balcony above, was a school buddy of mine. I told him to call for help, but his response was that he had heard fighting in a different apartment a little earlier, that this guy was probably just drunk, and that he'd see me later...

About a minute later, some guy walked hurriedly up saying, "Joe, you okay?!? You're gonna be okay, Joe!"

Worried about shock, and that help probably hadn't been called, I told this guy (hereon referred to as guy #1) to go back to his apartment, call 911, and come right back with two blankets. Off he went.

While guy #1 was gone, another guy (guy #2) comes out, walks up, and says "Is he dead yet? He'll be okay. I'm not running, I just gotta go take care of some stuff... I not running," and goes back to his apartment.

Guy #1 returns with the blankets and a pillow. "Come on, Joe, hang in there man!"

I take the first blanket, double it, and have guy #1 help me move Joe on top of it; I was concerned about him being on the cold ground. As I doubled the second blanket to put on top of him, Joe started gagging. I look up to see that guy #1 had placed the pillow under the top of Joe's head, closing his airway.

I exclaimed, "What are you doing?!?" in a tone only a know-it-all thirteen year old could take, and moved the pillow to under his neck to cock his head back. Breathing restored.

After covering him and resuming pressure on his wounds through the blanket, guy #2 comes back out. "Is he dead yet? I'm not running. I just want you to know I'm not running."

Guy #2 then proceeds to jump in his car, which was parked right there, and drive away.

About 4 minutes later, the first police officer shows up. After taking a moment to shuffle around his clipboard and some papers, he switches off his dashboard light, steps out of the car, and saunters over to us carrying his Maglite.

"Is this guy okay?" the officer asked.

I pull aside the blanket, lift up his shirt, and show the wounds, saying "Help us with the first aid!"

He responds in a shockingly disinterested tone, "Well, the paramedics should be here soon..."


(Disinterestedly) "They should be on there way; the radio just said that they were on their way," and wanders back to sit in his patrol car.

And not a single question. No "What happened," or, "Did you witness anything," or even, "Do you know who this is?" Nothing.

Another minute or two later (it felt like 10), a fire truck arrives with the first EMT's, and I get shuffled out of the way. Almost immediately after that, an ambulance arrives.

Since, even with some persistence, I can't get the attention of either the police or the EMT's, I head back to my dad's apartment and tell him the story. Concerned for my safety, he told me not to tell anyone my involvement, just in case the perpetrator (guy #2) try to "Track me down."

The following day, I absolutely insisted that we call the police so I could give a statement; if I could help make an I.D., or fill in any detail, I wanted to help.

That afternoon, Inspector Jones comes by for my statement, and has me match some Polaroid photographs with who was who in my story. He then let me know that the wounds I described as looking like they were from an ice-pick were actually from a kitchen knife, that Joe didn't make it since one of the wounds pierced both his heart and a lung, and that the suspect had already been arrested early that morning.

(Dad told me afterwards that he was proud that I insisted on calling the police and wanting to help...)

I learned some very, very important life lessons that night.
  1. Other people that you encounter during an emergency probably won't be equipped emotionally or knowledge-wise to help. They may not even care.
  2. A badge and uniform doesn't mean that the calvary has arrived. They may not even care, either. A person's actions are what counts.
  3. You may be the only one who can act and help during an emergency. While other people are busy exclaiming "Oh my god!" or saying, "Whatever... See ya'," you'll quickly find yourself alone as the only one with a level head getting things done. (See #1 above.)
One of the things that I still do today, some 28 years later, is carry a good First Aid Kit (or "FAK"). In fact, I have several. In addition to the usual Level 1 FIrst Aid Kits (I have about 4, depending upon which bag I am carrying that day), I also have a Level 2 FAK, a pocket sized FAK, and a little teeny boo-boo kit in the seat pack of my bicycle.

Now a first aid kit---- even a really good one---- wouldn't have saved Joe's life that night (I have it on good authority that even an emergency room wouldn't have; only if he'd made it to an actual Trauma Center within 30 minutes of sustaining his wounds would he have made it.) But a good First Aid Kit coupled with some knowledge of how to use it could indeed be the difference between living and dying.

While I wasn't equipped with a FAK during my fateful 40 yard walk to the dumpster, as the first responder I wasn't exactly caught flat-footed either.

I was mentally prepared.

The mental preparation was having the knowledge of what to do when faced with a person who had sustained serious trauma. I carried in my head the basic knowledge of what to do.

So even without a First Aid Kit to employ, I was still able to take positive action. And if one of those stab wounds was a mere inch or 2 to the side, the outcome of my efforts could well have been very different indeed.

Stay safe out there, folks. And be prepared; that First Aid Kit could very well be used to treat you.


Have a story of your own? I'd love to hear about it. Just contact me through my blog.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

where to Begin?

Always been someone with plenty to say, but rarely bother to say it... mainly because people are usually too busy yakking about completely inane things, and are far too wrapped-up in their own little closed minds to listen anyway. I had a photography blog going for a while, but Apple's blog service, quite frankly, sucked.

So where to begin?

Maybe a little introduction, maybe a sneak peak about what I have in mind for future posts... Yes, let's start there.

Well, if you're inquisitive enough to have taken a look at the "About Me" section, you'd know that I'm beige with a surgically implanted hamhock. No, seriously! As in I have little piggy parts holding my hoof in place... as in I have bacon bits... as in I'm no longer Kosher.

Long story short, I had to have my achilles tendon surgically repaired after rupturing it standing next to a motorcycle (yes, standing next to it.) The damage was so bad that a porcine tissue graft was required to effect the repair.

How bad? The head of the podiatry department later said that the damage she saw during the surgery was the worst she'd seen in her entire career. Gold star for me.

Little bit longer story, since you're probably wondering how someone could do so much damage to their ankle standing next to a motorcycle.

At the time, I was working at a motorcycle repair and tuning shop. On this particular day, the customer couldn't afford to replace the dead starter motor, so he just wanted to pick it up and use the kickstarter to start his bike.

So, the boss asked me to go and kickstart the bike, a KTM 620 Duke, to be sure that it starts okay when the customer arrives.

No problem; I kickstart bikes all the time.

But this time, the bike decided to kick-back. Hard. A high compression single-cylinder engine with no compression release.

The next thing I know, I'm proned-out on the ground, trying hard not to punch the cement with my fist because of all the adrenaline running through my veins. Ow.

The damage? A ruptured achilles tendon, and an ankle broken in two places. Not to mention the internal bruising, minor (relatively) tissue tears, and bone marrow leakage. I already said "Ow," didn't I?

So that's the back-story of why Hamhock.

Now, what do I have in mind for future posts? Some about prepping, some on first aid supplies and philosophies, thoughts and reviews on outdoor gear, notes on getting strength back into my ankle, and the adventures and activities used to get there.

Stay tuned!

- Hamhock