90% / 50% and the Ultralight Down Jacket Revisited

I have had my sewn-thru, Joobox brand, ultralight down jackets through two winters now. Mine are the down shirt/sweater type shown below… perfect to just go over a tee, or then under a shell or fleece as needed.

I have worn mine as a throw-on to go out on the porch at dawn to smoke, as a layer under a heavier jacket and overnight in my hammock for extra warmth in sub-freezing weather, just as a shirt over my trunks after swimming on breezy days at the beach [if you have been to Maine you will understand that this IS NOT odd in the least], as well as just around the house to help keep from turning up the thermostat.


[This is the same jacket as it is currently offered on AliBaba… different branding is all]

The jackets came to mind partly because I am happily wearing one as I write, and partly because there is a “Sale” today on similar jackets from Uniqlo… theirs are down to $59 [from $69].

Over the last two years I have checked out the higher priced versions. Here are the current links [MSRP shown] :

  • Uniqlo – $70 ~no deetz given
  • REI Co-op– $99 ~650 fill/ 10.5 total weight
  • LL Bean – $199 ~850-fill-power goose down/ no weight given
  • Mountain HardWear [Ghost Whisperer] – $325 ~Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™ 800-fill/ no weight given
  • vs the Chinese generics – $16-$29 ~ 2.5 oz. white duck down/ approx 9.7 oz with stuff sack [from AliBaba/ DX Gear/ BangGood and others]

It certainly seems that the higher in price you go, the more buzz-words they toss out. Still, while all these “brand-name” versions do go on sale at 20-30% off fairly regularly, that’s still quite a spread in costs for a very limited feature set or a brand logo.

It should be noted that you can also get heavier versions of the REI and Beans offerings that are more in the full jacket mode, but I like mine in the shirt/sweater styling… living in Maine, I’ve got full-scale puffer coats/jackets/parkas out my wazoo.

As near as I can determine, all of these lightweight jackets are sewn-thru construction [no baffles to add loft depth] and are of the same sweater styling. The biggest variation looks to be the number of channels of down, with the GW the clear winner there… and it looks like the GW tosses in some vertical stitching to minimize down shift from side-to-side. My cheapos have 12 channels counted up the back and not including the collar or shoulder areas. and I have never noticed any down shift at all… a quick shake and everything is fine. 

After two years of very frequent use, I can see no signs of wear on Chinese cheapo… no pulled threads, no down leaks, no channel breaches, etc. I don’t think I could ask for more for the price… especially at only 5%+ of the GW.

90% for <50% Rocks…!



Back in Stock… YUHAN LED Multi-Color Rope Lights

I know THESE rope lights get a lot of hits here on the blog, so, if you’re interested, they are finally back on Amazon at $15.99 these days [Aug 16th, 2018]

5′ long, sturdy, and you get 20 color changing options…. the image is the link>>

I still love mine. I’ll have them up again this weekend out on the lake for hammocking with some friends… they go just about every trip!

I Got Lucky… A Quick Bark River Bravo Vortex Knife Review

Last Sunday morning I entered a “waffle” on a FB group I follow that concerns high-end knives [apparently a “waffle” is what you have to call a raffle over there so as to avoid getting in trouble]. This particular one was for your choice of one of three knives from Bark River that run around $250++ a piece retail.

The waffles that I have seen are actually pretty well-run. Nobody seems to be out to make a big buck, they just want to turn around some knives they’ve got to have money to buy knives that they want. Everyone seems to play pretty fair, everyone seems standup, and everyone seems pretty satisfied. The results are determined by a drawing using randomnumber.org, and done as a live video, so you actually get to see that the game isn’t rigged.

It was really early in the day, like 7:00am… folks on the Coast weren’t even waking up yet… the odds were OK at 1:10, the slots were filling up quickly, some people had just PayPal-ed me for eBay sales, so I took a flyer and PayPal-ed off my money and asked for #5… no particular reason… it just seemed like the one.

It was!…. My pick out of the three just came in the post this morning…


“First Production Run”
Blade Thickness‎: ‎217″
Blade Height‎: ‎1.275″
Blade Length‎: ‎5.5″
Blade Steel‎: ‎A-2 Tool Steel @ 58-60RC
Handle in Kirinite “Bengal Tiger” composite
[see below]
Overall Length: 10.5″
Sheath from GLLW



The Kirinite scales used on the handle sure do give it an unmistakable, “Excuse me, but that’s MY knife” claim-ability. [The description when I went in on the raffle said the handle was “Lava” color. Now, looking over the Kirinite page, I rather think is actually in the “Bengal Tiger”… but I’m not arguing it and it is Kirinite, nonetheless]

I have been curious about the Kirinite material used for the handle scales ever since I first came across a net reference to the product. Check out the link for more info. I was mostly interested in getting some of their “Starlight” and “Glow” stuff to use as tags for my camping gear, but backed off because of the relatively high cost and the fact that it “glows-out” just about as fast as any other product. However, I was very impressed by some of the unique material patterns they have available. Reviews I have seen also make it clear that it is fairly easy to work with using something like a Dremel tool. I really like the one called “Toxic Green”… I could see making some fobs and pull tabs using that layered over a brass core.

Here it is my new prize shown with my other “Barkies”

Adventurer Nekker in Linen Micarta

Fox River II in Desert Ironwood


I thought the Fox was going to end up being my “big knife”… the Vortex makes it look small.

However, the blades are almost the same length.

The Vortex has a slightly more dropping curve to the top of the blade than the rest of the standard Bravos, and I do like the look it gives. Quite different from the full handle-into-blade curve on the Fox River II… But maybe more suited to heavier use.

This particular Vortex is made in the “rampless” style, and I prefer it that way. [You can see the little thump-ramp featured in some of the Bravos offered in the link above. I think the ramp just looks like something that will always catch on something as you unsheathe the knife] My winner here came with a black, non-standard, sheath made by GLLW. This is also fine with me since I am not a particular fan of the clunky sheath Bark River designed and offers for the Bravo line. The GLLW has a well thought-out combination of heavy leather on the back and belt-loop, together with a far more supple top surface topped with the decorative over-stitched panel for strength.

The .217″ blade thickness on the Vortex certainly outweighs the .157″ on my Fox River II, which I had thought was plenty sturdy. It gives the Vortex a massive feel in your hand. Heavy, sturdy, strong… this is not a knife you are going to have bend or break on you in bush-crafting situations like building a shelter, or harvesting fatwood. I’ve seen machetes that weren’t that thick, and I can see why the Bravo lineup is Bark Rivers #1-seller as a bushcraft knife.

The blade thickness tapers back from the point smoothly, leaving a plenty tough tip for pointy-work, and Bark River has eased the top edges of the blade on both sides in a slight relief. Like nearly all the BRK lines, the Vortex has a full tang under the handle scales that segues at the rear into a heavy lanyard detent that is never going to bend if you need/want to bash something with butt. With the jimping for your thumb at the handle transition, this is a very sweet looking knife.



  • The Bravo Vortex has much more of the feel of a tool than my smaller BRKs.
  • With those flaming scales, I’m not gonna have a hard time finding it if it gets dropped.
  • The large handle gives a very good grip.
  • The black GLLW sheath looks quite impressive with the Kirinite scales.


  • The tiger striped/lava flow handle coloring is a bit more flashy that I am in general… one step out toward the “Zombie Blade” thing.
  • The very weight of the whole knife is both pro and con.

Final Thoughts: It was great to win a knife of this quality, and it is surely a nice addition to my choices, but I don’t see it cutting the Fox River out of first place in my heart and hand. The FR just has more of a feeling of finesse when I use it. However, the Vortex will go on the lake kayaking and hang trip though… I’ll give it a good workout up there in actual camp-life.

Heck, maybe I’ll just take all of them together with the project Bowie and have my own, personal “Knife-Off”… one knife each day!

[And lastly…. My thanks to David Schmitt for hosting the “waffle”]




Kindle VOYAGE e-Reader Review

I am an unapologetic Apple fanboy. However, I am not a fan of either Apple’s own iBooksReader nor the Kindle application for phones and tablets. Thus I am also a Kindle e-reader fanboy.

I started off with one of the non-backlit, keyboard models…something like the Kindle 2, I believe. I had to buy a little clip on light in order to read in bed in the evening, or out in my hammock in the woods, but I loved the “electronic ink” reading experience. As long as you were reading outdoors or with a decent light over your shoulder, it was phenomenally better than the overly bright and glaring tablet and phone readers available.

When the Kindle Paperwhite was made available several years later, I upgraded to that and was even more satisfied. It’s not only had a brighter and clearer screen with a higher pixel count, But it introduced a”backlight”… Actually a row four light sources across the bottom edge of the screen that projected up evenly and could be adjusted from barely there to very bright.

Somewhere around 18 months ago, Amazon introduced the Kindle Voyage to their lineup, but it was awfully pricey, coming in at around $200 as opposed to a Paperwhite price of just over $100.

There was actually nothing wrong with the Kindle that I’m currently using, but there IS always that nagging “newtoyaphilia” that all technophiles suffer from. A week ago, Amazon put put them on sale for a slightly reduced price and I was very tempted. However, I thought to check eBay listings and I found one in “like-new” condition going for right around $100. It had the added advantage of being unit that did not come with “Special Offers”… ads by any other name, and another $20 charge to turn off. Anyway, I lurked, I sniped at the last second and I got it.


The seller shipped it that same afternoon and I had it two days later. Thankfully since it was used, it was just as represented. I couldn’t find a single thing wrong with it… Not even a scratch or an uncleaned fingerprint.

So, why would I [or you] want upgrade to something [originally] costing nearly twice as much?  Well, to quote directly from the Amazon site:

  1. PagePress sensors with haptics~ PagePress is a custom-designed force sensor made of carbon and silver, which reacts to a subtle increase of pressure, triggers a page-turn, and provides a haptic response only your thumb can perceive. Because PagePress has no moving parts, the haptics provide you with the most minimal indication that you have pressed the button, to reduce distraction from reading.
  2. Sleek yet durable designs~ Kindle Voyage was designed to come one step closer to a sheet of paper, with a flush-front bezel for a clean, streamlined design. With a magnesium back and a specially-reinforced glass front, Kindle Voyage is both durable and sleek.
  3. An unsurpassed 300 ppi display~ Kindle Voyage features a bright, high resolution and high contrast display. The micro-etched glass display diffuses light to eliminate glare and matches the feel of paper.
  4. Adaptive front light~ In order to more closely resemble reading on real paper, we researched and hand-tuned the optimal brightness setting for every lighting condition. The adaptive front light automatically adjusts the brightness of the display based on your environment, and can even be fine-tuned further to your personal preferences. When reading in the dark, the adaptive front light slowly lowers the display’s brightness over time to match the way the eye responds to darkness.

VS the Paperwhite:

  1. Touchscreen where you “swipe” to turn pages, and touch to “click” features
  2. The screen is inset, and is of some type of poly material with a slight texture
  3. The actual ppi is the same at 300
  4. Only four light sources vs the Voyage’s six.
  5. They both share a feature where they can power-up and resume where you left off reading by opening a magnetic case if you choose to add one.

The Voyage is also a little smaller in all dimensions, and the difference in weight is actually noticeable when you hold it for awhile.

I read a great deal, preferring it to television, so these small changes in the Voyage’s construction and details are noticeable to me, but might not be to everyone. In fact, most reviews that I read when it first came out suggested that unless you break your old e-reader, there was really no reason to upgrade to the Voyage. I would agree with that conclusion overall, but because I spend as much time reading as the average American does in front of the tube, it seemed that the upgrade might be worthwhile on my part.

I really like the difference in ergonomics that are the result of the magnesium case and the flush glass screen. The Voyage simply has a better feeling in my hand. I like the idea that I can use either the new haptic press OR the old faithful swipe to turn the pages. And I especially like the changes in the back light. This was where I had always had my most difficulty with all of the models I’ve had in the Kindle line.


The early units did not have built-in lighting at all, so, it was wonderful to get the real lighting feature in the new Paperwhite when it came out. However, that backlight always had a problem of turning itself off all on its own. I would pick up my unit, open the case, and the magnet activated screen would power up right where I had left off reading… but about 50% of the time that was without any backlight. I even went so far as to have my original Paperwhite exchanged for a new unit in the hopes that the backlight problem would go away… no such luck.

The Voyage initially auto-set the brightness to the same 14-15 range that I had been self-selecting on my own in my standard reading environment. After several days reading I have not had the light drop out even a single time.

As far as screen resolution goes, on the the Kindles, no matter what version, my go-to typeface has been Bookerley set at 5 on the slider… this is comparable to most library books in size. On the new Voyage the factory reset default was only to 4, and I was able to read at that [more like a paperback] resolution with very little extra effort.


This does allow for more screen real estate and less page fiddling. Somehow, the combination of the new glass screen, the better backlighting, and the existing 300ppi resolution, have created a more readable screen.

One feature on the Voyage that I cannot make any confident comment on yet is the battery life. You’ll notice in the second photo above that the battery has already dropped by perhaps 30 to 40%. I think this is because I had only remembered to toggle the “Airplane Mode” just before the photo was taken. Amazon, of course, leaves it turned on at a factory reset… They want you to spend as much time connected and deep in their universe as they possibly can. I am sure that the constant searching for a Wi-Fi signal causes the battery to drop more than it might under just a reading condition.

The conclusion is that I am quite happy with this “upgrade on a whim”. Plus, my newtoyaphilia is damped down temporarily… always a good thing.  Speaking for me personally, somehow the various small changes Amazon has made between the Kindle Paperwhite and the Kindle Voyage makes my reading experience better overall. The eBAY price and the condition of the unit that I received means that it comes in reasonably well on the 90%/50% scale as well.











Four-sided Gordon Diamond Hone Block Review

I ended up with an unwanted credit at the Harbor Freight store the other day… unwanted because they couldn’t/ wouldn’t give me back cash for a return where I had already paid off the credit card charge. Anyway I now had $50 on a card that I was planning on cancelling, so….

I picked up a 4-sided Gordon Diamond Hone Block for $12 of the credit. I figured I could toss this puppy into the knife drawer in the kitchen and reclaim my nicer DMT and Eze-Lap diamonds for my good knives.

The block’s four bonded diamond surfaces are claimed to be 200/300/400 & 600 grit. Since there is no real standard for “grit” claims, and it’s “600 Fine” does seem much rougher than my DMT “medium”… who knows. Any diamond grit surface will wear down with any use at all as the less well “bonded” stuff scrapes off leaving the rest. I’ll find out more as time and usage break it in. Who cares?…. it does what it says, and it is what it is… it’ll be fine for my not so expensive kitchen blades.

[BTW: this “wear in” does not mean that the diamond surface itself is becoming worn out. It only means that the material that stuck up higher and was less well “bonded” into the steel abrades off first leaving the the remaining surface fully usable at the grit grade indicated. I have that info direct from my contact at Eze-Lap… I have no real concern that these steel/diamond bondings will wear down any faster than the more expensive ones]










You can certainly see the difference between the 200 and the 600, as well as that the eyelets that catch the honed off debris are quite adequate. They are actually deeper than on a DMT block. The manufacturer seems to have left just enough space beneath to let the crud wash right out under running water for cleanup. Being a diamond hone, it of course just uses water for lubrication. Both factors make for quick and easy use in a kitchen situation.

To try it out, I gave two carbon steel Old Hickory steak knives a quick tune up on the two higher grit sides… they really didn’t need anything more intensive than that.  Added in a couple of stropping passes on my commercial, restaurant supply house chef’s steel, and I’m perfectly happy with the results. I don’t need to shave with them, just to cut a nice, thin slice of rib-eye.

My next test was to go thru all four sides on a much larger 12″ Sabatier INOX Chef’s knife. I have had that one for years, and have had thoughts about not even including it in the stuff for the move South because the edge never seems to stay up to par… I have to whet it nearly every time I take it out, so, I don’t take it out. Now, I think I’ll leave it in the to go pile. The edge came back to waaayyy sharp very quickly.

My final test will be to take this new block Upptacamp and see what it can do the pitiful losers in the knife drawer there… it’s a knife homeless shelter. Talk about orphans… those wretches could stage “Oliver”. [Anyway, I’ll try to remember to post an update after the next trip up.]


The four-sided hone block fits down nice and deep in the included rest, but the thumb cutouts mean it slips out easily to swap surfaces.

There are even a pair of rubber grippy strips underneath to prevent it from moving around. The endcaps also have EZ-reference markings indicating the grit strengths that you can see over the base edge.

Best of all for me was that the block in it’s base was the perfect height to just fit down in my knife drawer without catching!

So far, and all and all, this seems a good deal at the price if you want something handy to keep you cutting in the kitchen.


Interestingly enough, the Harbor Freight price is several dollars cheaper than the same block [under different names] over on Amazon. So, obviously this is a Chinese made jobbie that gets rebranded over here. However, it seems to make the 90%/50% grade, given that a set of three graded diamond mini-paddle hones from DMT will run you $23+, I think it was money well spent.


I working my way through the accumulated hoardings of generations of ancestors here at the château and trying to move toward my goal of relocating to North Carolina. I’ve been selling a bunch of tools online, on Craigslist, etc. My hammocking friend Chris, who is a professional woodworker and furniture builder, wanted a couple of things, so I took them over to his shop on my way out last weekend. >> Wild Cherry Woodworks <<

He was nice enough to run my 150-year-old, solid chestnut cutting board through his planer while I hung around. He only took about a 16th of an inch of greasy, salmonella soaked wood off the surface, but the result was marvelous.

Back when I first pulled this old board out of my parents basement back in the early 1970s, it hadn’t been used in decades. It was filthy black, and had mold and other unknown “gradue” covering the surface. The custodians at my university’s woodworking shop ran it through their huge shop planer at that point and got a clean surface on each side and the long edges. They were the ones that informed me that what I had was solid chestnut. Another friend ran it through a planer back in the 1990s, and again gave me two new work surfaces.

This time I just asked Chris to do one side for me. I brought it home and spent a couple minutes with my old Porter Cable “bottle” sander to give it a final smoothing. Chris gave me a jar of an incredible beeswax and mineral oil finish that he makes up himself. I brought the oven up to heat and put the board in long enough to warm, and then smoothed in a bunch of the goo. This is the result. ……I kind of suspect that, like so many other things, by the time this needs attention again it will be somebody else’s problem.

For my part, I’m going to go slice up the last of a pot roast to try it out, and make a sandwich for lunch.

The Project Knife~ bonus

I almost took a “flyer”on this second “project” knife a week or so ago. Fortunately, it went for a price above my pay-grade, finally selling for $44US plus $7.99 s/h… fair, but not for me right now.

Described on eBay offering as:


Wade & Butcher are well known British cutlery makers in Sheffield, and most Sheffield is pretty nice steel… carbon and well formulated. Most interesting about this though is that the “TEDDY” is supposedly the first widely offered “stainless” steel hunting knife made.

The grip seems a bit bulbous to my taste, but I really loved the brass spaced catalin decorative disks at each end, and the single tang blade guard.

The fool and his grinder marks I can deal with, but what put me off making any bid was that I could see that the blade was rather heavily worn in right there before the ricasso [the squared off chunk between the edge and the guard… zoom the photo and you can really see it]. That was going to mean substantial regrinding forward on toward the point to flatten the bottom edge.

Still and all…. that’s a really nice looking knife, I will probably keep my eye on eBay in case another one comes along.

EDIT~ for a second “Bonus

Just to show that you can pick up a “good enough” used knife in reasonable condition for a reasonable price…. I passed on this KA-BAR USA 11″ Stacked Leather Bowie Knife with Leather Sheath as well, but it went for only $35US [shipped] over on eBay the other night… Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 9.43.26 AM