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Friday, September 20, 2013

Backpacking is great fun, if it doesn't break your back,...or your bank.

Backpacking is the best camping. Period. If you’ve never tried it, but like car camping, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors, you’re missing out. There’s just something about being off away from all cars, roads and noise, able to spot wildlife, and enjoying the feeling of being self contained and self-reliant.

But how do you get all that gear you’re used to having when car-camping, along with you on your back? -Answer: You don’t! The fact is that, 90% of that stuff is just not needed, even though you can still be completely comfortable. Here’s what is needed:

A pack, a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a water filter, and some food and incidentals. -All of which can easily fit on your back, and weigh only about 25lbs, making the hike a joy. - - Including 5 lbs of hike-in water! So, you ask, “Isn’t getting all your gear and food down to 20 lbs. expensive, due to having to buy high-end ultra-lightweight gear?” -Answer: Not necessarily! You can purchase all of the following, good, light-weight gear, (with some careful shopping) for under $200! And it is a great investment, even if you only use it every year or two, because it lasts forever and doesn’t take up much room to store. It will probably be the best purchase of recreational equipment you ever make.

Below is a list of specific gear and current links to where to buy as of Sept 2013. If you’re reading this much later, you will have to do some research to find similar items. ‘Keep in mind, you can always spend more and get a little better performing gear, but this is just my list of “How to gear-up for comfortable backpacking for under $200”:

PACKS: I hadn’t shopped for backpack gear for over ten years (or hiked myself, until a friend called and talked me into going again), and so it took some real investigating on some of these categories to find out what was now available. When I last hiked, external frame packs were the most affordable, and best way to carry a lot of weight (>35lbs.) and bulk (>4000cu in.), especially in warm climates, as they had the best ventilation of shoulder pads (even though they weighed over 5lbs empty!). However, now there are many better designed internal-frame packs with clever approaches to ventilation, lower priced, and lightweight (~3lbs empty). And although they are a little smaller (~3000cu in.), I’ve realized that everything you put in them is smaller now, so these work just fine!

Most packs start at $100 and you’ll see many for $400! For example, this is the kind of reviews you’ll see when you search for “best backpack”:  The cheapest one listed is $176! But in my world, $50 is the target price, ...but we still want all those features listed above (3lbs, 3000cu in., and good ventilated back to avoid “swamp back syndrome”). So I looked at REI (yeah, right. nothing under $140!), Sports Chalet, all over the internet, Walmart, Target, a few other places I can’t remember, and then I stopped in at Big 5 Sporting goods, which I never used to like because all they had was cheaper junk than Walmart. But they have changed (I guess because Popular Outdoor went out of business) and they now sell better stuff at quite low prices. And they have, what I consider to be the two best deals on some really nice packs right now:

(45 liters = 2746 cubic inches)

Both of these packs are on sale for $49 in the local stores thru Sept. You can go look at these and try them on, etc. Buying a pack online is hard due to crappy pics/details (especially venting of back pads), however, I’m sure there are some good deals out there. You just never know. For example this looks maybe good:

TENTS: A good tent is one that has a separate rain fly, and MANY windows (or all screen mesh, for walls) in order to ventilate well and not condense water on the inside walls of the tent during rain. A “single-wall” tent might look good, cheap, and very lightweight, but cannot perform well during rain. You will end up with your bag against the tents’ wet walls and it will be a long, cold, night. And a mess to pack out. Unfortunately, a good, dual-wall (“separate rainfly”), lightweight (under 6 lb.) two-person tent usually costs over $150. This blows our budget, and my mind, when you see what goes into these tents. They’re just not that hard to make, but they sure are proud of them, when it comes to pricing them. However, here is one, at a great price ($53):
Also, there is one at Big 5 sporting goods that is also $50 and says on its' box that it's 5.7lbs, but you never know with cheaper, imported, off-brand stuff. It is also on sale thru sept. for $35:
If you can spend a little over $100, (which, you can, even with our $200 budget, because tent costs can be shared) this is the next best deal, and it’s on a consistently offered, from the manufacturer, warranted, well-built, very lightweight (4.1lbs!), two-person, two-door, full-mesh walls with separate rain fly, tent.  (Zye $134 shipped):
and, for a short while, there is a good tent from Eureka that is on sale at $99, getting it down to reasonable range. It’s not as light, only has one door, but it’s a good brand, a nice color, and shipping is free:
ALSO: - ‘keep in mind, a 5 lb. two person tent breaks down into just two, 2.5lb loads for the hike! As well as the cost can be split, depending on the situation.

BAGS: Sleeping bags are so important. Along with a good tent and pad, a good bag will determine if you end up liking backpacking or not. Knowing that you have a comfortable, dry, warm bed waiting for you makes all the difference in the world at the end of a long day of enjoying the wilderness. The challenge is to have a warm bag that is not too heavy or big when compressed, in order to not ruin the hike in. And out. Finally, nowadays, there are good synthetic (not expensive lightweight goose down) bags available that will keep you warm when it’s 40 degrees out, and that are small (7”diameter x 12”long in its compression bag), lightweight (3lbs.), and as little as $34!   (Big 5 has this bag in stock, ongoing, so you can see and feel it (and zip into it!) on display. For $69. And they are on sale this week for $35. However, there would be tax on that, and the amazon one includes free ship (with Prime)  There are no doubt other good bags with these criteria/specs, but you have to really look hard for them.

PADS: Sleeping pads are essential for a good nite’s sleep. (even on this hike to Reavis where we are almost certain we will be sleeping below pines on nice pine needles) Not only for cushion, but for insulation from the cold of the ground. The basic blue “closed cell foam” pad at any camp store is fine. They weigh about a pound, and cost  <$10. I like the full-length ones that don’t leave my lower legs on the cold tent floor, although many of these are even longer than you need, but you can cut about 8” off of the end, and take it along as a seat pad, in case the rock you find to sit on happens to be a hard one. And 20” wide is fine (remember, that will be your max width as you hike) They come in different thicknesses. From ⅜” to ¾”. (great for naps on the trail, too!)  I used to subscribe to a rule-of-thumb about these pads that said take an additional pad for every decade of age you are over 20. But hexagenarians would have to try to cram 5 of those things in their pack! Of course, you can also get a high-end, ultra-light air matress (I actually just bought one these for my aging, jointpain-ridden body:
...but they are risky, because they can leak, leaving you on the cold hard ground. (I may take a foam pad as well.) note: it’s a good idea to wrap your foam pad in your nylon poncho because the only place for it is across the top of your pack, with the ends sticking out. And they can get ripped up a bit when hiking beside stickery bushes (of course, it is a good way to leave a trail of blue crumbs to find your way back out of the canyon!).  

FILTERS: Water filters are extremely important, even if you are certain your destination features a natural spring. Animals pee right on the source pool of the spring (they have no manners) and you can get Giardia and really regret not using a filter. They are expensive. And heavy. And a pain to use. But this is our health we’re talking about. Normally, filters are expensive, have hoses and pumps like this: and can be very useful when streams are barely running, and the pools are just an inch or two deep. But now there are a few much lower cost filters like this one:  that you just “squeeze” water thru. Which work. But you have to have a deep enough pool of water to fill the bag with. Which usually isn’t a problem. The advantage is low-cost and lightweight.
AGAIN: - A water filter can be shared among several people (although a minimum of 2 in any size group is needed, due to possible mechanical failure), and so the weight load (and perhaps cost) can be shared.

RAINGEAR: What do you do when it decides to rain for hours, and you don’t have your tent up yet, or you don’t feel like napping anyway? You feel like hiking, or eating, or just sitting around talking, but that’s no fun when you’re dripping wet. You can bring a full rain suit but they’re heavy and hard to put on/off (and hot, if it’s warm). Or an umbrella, but again, heavy, and you have to hold it, and good luck if it’s windy. The only way to have a good time in the rain is with a GOOD, NYLON poncho. A nylon poncho is entirely different than a PVC poncho. A PVC poncho sticks out stiff along its’ fold lines and lets rain in on you. Unless it’s a hot, sunny day, then it will fall down around you (‘course, who needs it if it’s sunny?). A Nylon poncho always falls down around you comfortably, keeping you out the rain, won’t tear when you hike along brush, and isn’t sticky against your skin. It also weighs about half that of a PVC poncho, and lasts forever, as opposed to a year or two. The only problem is, a nylon poncho costs about 4 times what a PVC poncho costs. But it’s so worth it!
(and you can, and will, use them for way more functions than just backpacking)
...and don’t even try to make do with one of those “emergency” ponchos. They’re called that, because if you try to survive in one of those, you’re likely to end up with an “emergency”! (like hyperthermia)  

STOVES: You can cook on the campfire. If there’s a campfire. And if it’s been burning a while to have generated some red hot coals (pot on flames gets black and sticky). Or you can cook anytime, much faster and cleaner with a stove. Most backpacking foods are freeze-dried meals that just need boiling water. There are tiny propane stoves for backpacking that run off of small fuel tanks:
many “ultra-light” folks just use solid fuel only with no stove and balance the pot on 3 rocks:

or, for the lightest possible stove, you can make an alcohol burning one yourself for free, like this one I made in this video, along with a .3 ounce windscreen/pot stand, and a 5 ounce reflector oven. There are many youtube videos on how to make an alcohol can stove, but I try to show how you can do it in a few minutes, instead of trying to make it an all day project:

AGAIN: Stove weight and costs can also be shared.

Lightweight cooksets can be found that are made just for backpacking that start at around $20, but using non-coated aluminum is bad for you, and the coated ones start to get pricey. I’ve found that most all “cooking” seems to be just pouring boiling water into a freeze-dried pouch, and so, just a good lightweight tea-kettle is really all that’s needed. "Hard anodized" aluminum is similar to "coated", and will help keep from allowing high heat to release aluminum into your water. This is a good example of a $20 (select .9liter which is 32 ounces - just right for two, standard, 2-cup freeze-dried meals from the same water-boil) kettle hat is lightweight and has a wide-lid so you can nest other gear inside when packed:
...Here is another good deal on a "set" of a good kettle, 2 plastic bowls, one with a lid and an insulating neoprene streach band, and a "spork". I've seen this set at REI ($40) and it is really nice:
...or... on the cheap!:

Headlamp-type flashlites are the only way to go for camping (and most all other tasks that need a flashlite), because your hands are free to do the thing that you needed a flashlite to see. (if you’re not doing anything then you probably don’t need a light (to see what you’re not doing). The best headlamp is one that is not too bright (you only need to see what you’re doing, you don’t need to light up the whole campsite), has an even “flood” type light pattern (not “spot”), and has an easy to use switch (not having to rotary thru “hi,med,low” every time you want to turn it on/off). Also, low cost, low weight, and long run time are of course, desired.
...’and the winner is:

Here’s a good pillow/seat thing:
Here's a good way to do a hydration tube water bottle system:

here’s what most people do (that want to spend a lot of money) for “ultra”-lightweight backpacking:


An awful lot of this stuff can be borrowed, hacked together, or done without on a first trial-trip to see if you like backpacking, but I feel that these items are all good buys and good investments and can make backpacking a joy for you, from the very first outing. If you hate it, you can always sell the whole kit on ebay for about what you paid for it! (since it is such good value stuff)(think about, if you saw this whole set of stuff for $200 from someone who said they used it once, it all worked well, but they don’t like the activity, wouldn’t you buy it just for the convenience of it all?)

pack: $50
half a tent $27
bag: $34
pad: $8
half a squeezethru water filter: $15
real poncho: $24
half of solid fuel: $4
half a solid tea kettle: $12
headlamp: $6

total: $180(shipped)  ...and you still have $20 bucks left over to buy freeze-dried food!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain..."

'you need to watch at least the first half of this (the second half is extremely important too). If you don't have time to watch the whole first half, at least watch the first half of the first half. If you don't have time,...make time. Then discuss, forward, and post this repeatedly until something begins to be done about it. America and democracy were too cool of an idea(s) to just be given up on:

here's an idea, let's turn off the "spoon-fed" "infotainment", walk outside, and scream "I'm mad as hell, and I don't know why we should take it any longer?" Let's look to Brazil for inspiration, and really work at getting our country back from the rich who have bought it recently. Let's reverse Citizens United. Let's tax the rich again. Let's break up the banks and corps that are too big to fail or jail. Let's raise minimum wage back to where it was. Let's re-restore voting rights. Let's boycott Koch Industries, Walmart, McDonalds, and others until they play fair. Let's invest in education, re-build our bridges, build high-speed rail, and pursue sustainable energy. Drive electric cars, charged by solar on our roof tops, until they get the message: "we're not gonna take it anymore!!"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

CES Update! -- 3D TV is dead!"

CES Update!   --"3D TV is dead!" (which, if you remember, I predicted a few years ago in my January 2011 CES Summary)

"3D TV. (boring! Imho) If 3D TV doesn’t become the biggest thing in consumer electronics (and I don’t think it will), all those exhibitors are going to look pretty silly in a few years having spent so much time and money on this dumb-looking fad."

It's still a fun little diversion and enhancement for a movie night (if you have all the equipment) on an occasional action or animated movie, but for the most part, the following sites agreed with me that it's just not good looking enough yet (and maybe never will be!)

(related:  in that same CES Summary, I predicted that people would soon be using their smartphones more than their computers, to get email, social networking, news, and even shopping. And I just heard a report the other night that said that day has come, as well)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Do you like the Tesla Model S? Would you like one for half the price?

Everyone I know of that has seen and heard about the Tesla Model S says “I love this beautiful car!” And you think “gee, they really came up with a gorgeous body design to affect every single person that way”. But I think it’s not quite that simple. There are many gorgeous body designs on cars. In fact, many feel that the Hyundai Elantra has about the prettiest lines and coolest body of all. –And it’s just a $20k car! There’s clearly something else going on here. They see the Model S, and yes, it’s very nice to look at. But I think this is a case of “beauty” being more than skin deep. We see the car, and know that it is an electric, but without the range limitation. And that is truly beautiful and attractive to all of us. Powerful, clean, quiet, and simple. No smelly gas and oil that represent what has really gone wrong with our world. That’s what we truly see when we look at Tesla. A positive future. A world with less pollution, less wars, and less control over our lives from the oil cartel that extorts billions from us while destroying our planet. To be free again. That will be beautiful.

If you would like to buy a Tesla Model S, for half the price that is sells for now, then buy a Nissan Leaf! (or any other affordable EV) “How would that work?” you ask. Well, Tesla’s are expensive, because they have a lot of batteries (which give them the 300 miles of range). So far, these good lightweight batteries are expensive, because the industry is still in its infancy. But as we buy more EV’s, and create more research and development, the prices will go down. Dramatically. You see, society works a certain way, where those in power get to decide all the big issues. And all of their decisions are based on them wanting to stay in power. Despite any logic or science or facts that point to other answers that would clearly benefit the largest percentage of people, but could jeopardize the power-control of the current leaders. -Who make the decisions. -'See the problem?  For example, if you take an issue like the climate crisis, -you know, that pesky problem just down the road, where the ice caps melt, the oceans rise wiping out most coastal cities, thousands of food species die off, and air and water quality failure begins? (which may be the all-time biggest problem we have, but is way down the list of what people talk and worry about the most), if you try and determine who runs the world, and could decide what to do about this, well, just follow the money. (It's not the Politicians, you know. They just do what they're told by the corporations) It's the Oil Cartel first, then the banks, then the insurance industry, then big Pharma, Coal, Natural Gas, Biotech industry like Monsanto, Military manufacturers, etc., on down the list. 

So, if Co2 "greenhouse" gasses are the big problem, and if eliminating tail-pipe emissions are a large part of that, (animals and mammals, like us humans, and the billions of cows we raise, which are not needed, are also a huge source of Co2, but it's harder to say "kill off people and animals!" than it is to say "stop burning carbon!") then we are screwed, because we can't agree to reduce the burning of fuels, when the fuel industry runs the world, and wants MORE burning of fuels, not LESS.  !    ? ----HOWEVER, something CAN be done, due to technological advances, that would circumvent the usual process of asking the powers that be to do what's right, and then waiting and hoping they will. The thing that we can do to help save our species, which will basically be seen by those in charge as anarchy, rebellion, and mutiny, is buy an electric car. -That's all. That's all we have to do. And, it's all we can do, that will make a big enough impact. It will reduce Co2 emissions more than any other single action an individual can take. And if enough of us do it, it will reduce greenhouse gasses by enough to curb global climate change.

Ev's are easy. Our custom license plate on ours is: "EVSREZ". They drive wonderfully fast and smooth and quiet. And you never have to stop for gas, and pay the $50 or so every week. You also don't change the oil, get emissions tests, do tune-ups, or anything, really, because there are over 300 less moving parts than a gas car. And, they are cheaper than gas cars, because they pay you back for their purchase price in 5 yrs. 
The limited range isthe ONLY issue they have, and that's simply a matter of a little planning and realizing they are not a direct replacement for our gas cars, they are different, and while 99 out of a hundred things are better, range is worse, but totally manageable and useable. Especially for two-car families. And of course, will get way better as we buy and use and develop improvements, and in a few years won't even be an issue anymore. EV's are the way to save money, save the climate, stop wars, and buck the system and change the way it is now, where the oil corporations call all the shots. Unfortunately, it's not that easy to get people to do it. 

The reason it's not easy, is that the mighty Global Oil Cartel thinks it would put them out of business (it wouldn't though) and so they're deathly afraid of the electric car, and are spending millions and millions of dollars (pocket change for them) to create a buzz that says "EV's are un-cool, silly, un-american, un-reliable, will leave you stuck on the side of the road, waiting for a tow, with people laughing at you, and will cost you more than a regular car if you try to own one." (ALL of which is not true) They are paying news outlets like Fox "news" to belittle and make fun of EV's at every chance they get. And have been for decades, ever since the new technologies started to finally make it possible for a powerful, reliable electric car. EV's aren't new. In fact the first cars were electric. They never went far or fast, but were reliable and easy to use. So much so in fact, that Henry Ford bought one for his wife. Well now with computer controls and lithium batteries they also go fast and fairly far. Our Leaf can go 100 miles on a charge. And the Tesla's can go 300! 

EV's can run on Solar energy, Nuclear, Wind, Hydroelectric dams, Thermal energy, and new, energy sources in development like Algae. They can even run on fossil-fuel-based power plants and still help reduce the use of fossil fuels because they are over 2 times more efficient than even a Prius! The biggest and easiest way to make a real statement and difference in the way we run the world, and who has enough power to make all the decisions on what to do to sustain human life on planet earth, is to power your car with a few solar panels. For less than $5000 you can get a complete PV system that will charge and power your EV fully, -for free, - for life! And you can lease a Leaf for just $199/mo. - And, you can get one today!, because they're in-stock at the dealer, …because they're not selling like they hoped, …-because there's a multi-million dollar conspiracy "buzz" in the media telling people not to want one! So, if you know anyone thinking about a new car, be sure to suggest they consider an EV. It's the solution to several problems, including the BIG one that is starting to show it's ugly face. And then in a few years, we’ll have Model S’s and other gorgeous EV’s available at very affordable prices!

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The ultimate patriotic statement

We are a very patriotic nation. Most nations are. It’s natural to be proud of where we live, even if we recognize some things could be better. Even people in war-torn, dictator-lead, impoverished nations are patriotic, and they have it way worse than we do. But here in the states we do wave our flag every chance we get. Just look at your Facebook friends’ posts, and you’ll see, at least once a day, someone posting a meme about something like “support our troops”, or “American ingenuity”.

But what are we doing, on a real, actionable basis, to noticeably improve our way of life and better our nation in a real and permanent way? What can we do? In many ways we are too busy just working and caring for our families to be able to do anything that would make any huge difference in our society’s quality of life. Aren’t we?

But what if we could, without much work at all, make a small change in our individual lives, that would contribute greatly to the well being of our nation, and significantly improve the lifestyle of everyone of our fellow citizens? Could it be one of the best ways to “wave our flag”? Would we do it? Would you do it? 

Every year we Americans give trillions of our hard earned dollars away to foreign countries, in many cases, countries that don’t even like us, - and that laugh as they use those funds to buy up our American assets like real estate and media companies out from under us. Of course, I’m talking about oil. What else is that big and powerful and costly and breeds that much competition from country to country?

Every American citizen who drives a car gives over $100,000.00 over their lifetime away to people who are trying to destroy our nation. “Fueling” their efforts, quite literally, and then wondering why we can’t get ahead as the peace-loving, democracy-promoting, force we think of ourselves as.

In addition to having to buy their oil, we also need to maintain an almost unfathomly-immense military presence around the world, to protect our interests, and keep that oil flowing. What does that cost us? In dollars, and in the lives of our soldiers? We are 5% of the world’s population, and yet we use 25% of the world’s oil. How long do we think that can continue? How patriotic is it of us to succumb to the will of our enemies, every time we pull up to the gas pump?

Of course, I’m going talk about electric cars. Anyone who knows me knows I’m always talking about electric cars. If not for their obvious solution to the climate crises, which helps the whole planet, then about the huge health benefits of reduced pollution right here where we live, - which again, is another patriotic issue! If I’m not talking about the smooth quiet ride and the high-torque fun performance, then I’m usually explaining to everyone about how they are the only cars that pay you back for their purchase price in just 5 years (and go on to save you $10,000.00/yr. over the cost of a gas car.
First of all, we only need to reduce our oil use by about a third to be able to live off of the amount of oil we extract and refine right here in the U.S.  So, all we have to do, (for the short-term, until we start to run out of oil –since oil is finite, it took millions of yrs. to make it, and we’re burning thru it quite fast) is just replace a third of our driving with electric driving. Electricity can be totally renewable as easily as putting a few solar panels on your roof to off-set the total cost of charging the car each day. The oil companies can (and will) simply diversify and get into the solar-makin’ business, and everybody’s still happy!

Pure electrics’ currently only go a hundred miles, so not everyone can utilize them yet. But remember, we only need to replace A THIRD of our miles driven, so, for example, the most likely first customers are two-car households, where there can easily be an electric and a gas car. The electric gets used the most (up to it’s max range/day), say, for the person that commutes the farthest, set amount, - like 30-40 miles each way. And the gas car is used by the person that has sporadic, unknown range requirements, and some days’ needs to drive over 100 miles.

“Plug-in Hybrid” cars could solve our national security needs all by themselves! Nationally, we only drive an average of 30 miles/day. And plug-in hybrids’ travel their first 10-40 miles (depending on the model) each day on clean, “home grown” electricity! So if we all drove those, and replaced a third of our oil miles with electric miles,… we’d be domestically sustainable already!

But if you’re a patriotic American, like I am, and want our country to succeed in so many ways by simply getting our oil use down to a sustainable, domestically produced level, then please consider how surprisingly easily you could adapt to some electric transportation.

So please, for the sake of our country as a whole, and to help you save thousands of dollars/yr., consider making the ultimate patriotic statement, and reduce your oil use by a third, right now, and start driving electrically. It’s easier than you think. If you have any questions about it, please let me know.