Return of the Prodigal Spork

18 months ago I lost my sweet SnowPeak titanium Spork.

I broke camp in the middle of the night because of the appalling nature of the coked-up junkies in the next site. They had returned at 1 AM, started a screaming match, and were being abusive to a three-year-old child. I left to go to the police department and turn in a CHINS report.

When it came time to sort my gear out down cellar after I got home, I discovered I must’ve left my spork behind. I knew it had been sitting out on the picnic table, and I pretty much assumed that I had just overlooked it in my hurry to be gone. I wrote it off as “Oh,well…” and eventually got around to ordering another one off of Amazon when they went on sale.

I was really fond of that little sucker. So fond that I actually used it around the house on a daily basis. [I am on my own since my wife passed away, and using the spork for a lot of things made it easier to just stay caught up on my dishes]. That’s why I sprung for a second one.

For under $10, I highly recommend these. They are available from Snow Peak and several other folks in basically identical form factors. You can even get them heat-anodized into various colors. The prongs are just long enough and sharp enough actually hold food, and the”spoon” is decently sized for scooping up liquids. If your broth is really thin, you are probably better slurping it up over the edge of your cup bowl and using the spork to clean up the chunks. And it’s just long enough cannot leave your fingers completely grotty if you were dipping down into a freeze-dry bag. It’s a great choice if you want to hold your carry down to a single eating utensil. With a good knife to cut things up, It’s really all you need.

Anyway, for all those reasons, I was really delighted when I put on my hunting vest recently and found it tucked in a pocket. I hadn’t “lost” it after all.

Army-Navy Finds

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My friend Norton from down in Virginia posted some photos online of he and his son tarping it and cooking some MRE chows out in the growing snowpocalypse that was Storm Jonas. I was very taken with the aluminum mug in one of the photos and pulled this clipping from it.

He told me it was a Russian Army issue that is much heavier gauge material than you would expect from the old-timey Boy Scout ones. I really do like the handle styling.

This is the kind of thing that you can sometimes pick up out at a yard sale or an Army Navy store that will turn out to be substantially better than a lot of things for sale in the camping catalogs. “Mil-Spec” items, regardless of nationality, are really made to take a beating. Finds like these are why am always happy to go cruise around a junk shop.

I have [metaphorically] kicked myself in the behind many times over the years for having passed up a knife/fork/spoon set at an Army Navy store down in New Bedford one time. I think it was all of $4 for a set. Made for the Swedish Army, stainless steel, and only two thirds the length of standard US mess flatware, but with the spoon bowl and fork tines full size. Even my new titanium camping set isn’t as sweet as the memory of that passed up opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to grab up stuff. You can always pass it on to others, or it might turn out to be your favorite gear.

Gear “Hammock”

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I wonked together a smallish gear hammock out of an old zip tent bag to hold some of the camping clutter. I just ran a piece of line through the little gather behind one of the zippers right from end to end, cut off the handles, and hung it from the cinch buckle on my AMOK hammock to the hang tree.
I’m going to get the seamstress here in the village to sew some daisy chains to those strap remnants on the front, and sew an 8″ x 14″ no-see-um netting pocket below the zipper on the backside-inside. [I have a whole el cheapo tent to strip for parts and materials… Three bucks at a yard sale with six different sets of poles… none of which matched the tent].
Next time I hit some place for some Zing-It Dyneema line, I will trade out the cord for a whoopie-sling that will make it adjustable in length. I have plans to buy a $10-DIY bag of large enough fabric samples that should give me some sil-poly to toss a little sewn-on weather “tarp” over the top. While I am in no real rush because my camping season is just about over for 2015, it will be a nice addition come spring.

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It is surprisingly roomy… More so than the photos show. I have an 11 foot Dutchware hammock and suspension, my toilet kit, my rigging/lines bag, as well as the hat and the pillow all stuffed in there. It packs down to the size of a RedBull can.

Tree Table Mk.2 [usable]

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Rummaging in the Room of Requirement behind the Moosenut Falls Development Labs produced a piece of 1/16th” aluminum salvaged from some long forgotten microwave. At 6″ x 11″, already indentation formed, and with a nice lip at the end to prevent anything from slipping off, it proved a decent piece for the next iteration of the tree table.

Five holes added with the drill press, together with five minutes worth of filing, provided a very sturdy, and useful platform. [ I added an extra hole that may have to be enlarged to accommodate the handle of a long titanium spoon]

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20 ounces of water in the cook cup, and a fully fueled Trangia-style alcohol stove caused no appreciable “droop”.

I would still like to find a similar weight piece of aluminum that could be cut to 8″ x 10″… I think I would prefer that the windscreen be able to sit fully on the platform without drafting up from underneath. The added width might also let me use the heavy duty MSR Whisperlite bottle-fuel stove by hanging the pump bottle off the webbing… that thing will boil water in just over two minutes.

One side benefit is that for field use it would be the work of only a few moments to find a curved branch or a forked twig that could be slipped behind the webbing in between the carabiners and that would let you hang a keychain/microlight for illumination if you need to cook after dark.

One more reasonably successful piece of gear to haul along and try-out/demo at the hammock hang in a couple of weeks.

Playing With Fire- “all natural” Flaming Dragon Turds

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My buddy, Ed, and I have been upptacamp a couple times recently to build a deck.  Part of the process was taking down several large pine trees that were going to be in the way of the deck and the view. We took them down three weeks ago on the first visit. When we were up again last week, I realized that one of them had “sweated” a large amount of sap out of the stump.

Pine sap is one of my favorite tinders/kindlings, and, this being the Northwoods of Maine, there was plenty of loose, dry birchbark to be picked up easily. I scraped a bunch of the still liquid sap off and smeared it across the surface of some of the birchbark. I sprinkled it with some of the course sawdust from the chainsaw work, and pressed the two pieces together between a couple of cinderblocks for a few hours. The photo shows the result. I figure to thumbtack it to the railing outside for a few weeks to let it dry and set up completely, and then I should be able to cut it into pieces and add it in to my tinderboxes.

After I took the first photograph, I snipped off a chunk, and touched it off with a single match.IMG_0999

I got a burn time of about a minute and a half, and it left an “ooze” of unburned sap on the slate that would’ve soaked in if there was other tinder. It also burned so hot that it popped a flake of slate off the underside.

I think I have another keeper.

Playing With Fire- The Tinderbox

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I wanted to give you a quick look at some of the things that I have scrounged up in the way of easy, and dependable tinder. For a large tinder-stash I use a repurposed USPS mailing box. Whatever I find just gets added to the large box, and I refill my pocket tin from that as needed.

Clockwise from the top:

  • green jute gardening twine
  • birch bark
  • birdsnest
  • Sisal rope [center]
  • cotton dryer lint-  polyester won’t work
  • wasp nest “paper”
  • pine fatwood pieces

The more I go out in the field, the more my experience has shown me that I can always do without “more”. So I’m constantly trying to reduce the size of my carry. I don’t actually need to have very much tinder along to start several fires successfully. What I need is a container that is easy to pocket, so that I can add to it as I travel and to access it easily when I want to get my fire started.

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The can on the left was an earlier solution, but was too tall to be pocketable.  It was quite watertight and great in my pack, but that was the whole problem, it had to be unpacked. However, one day last fall I picked up an empty snoose can down in the parking lot at the market. [Think Skol smokeless tobacco]. The three-quarter inch height, and super tight fitting lid make it perfect pocket tinderbox.  The only thing that doesn’t fit easily into the snooze can is the flexible pocket coil-saw with the ring handles. That is no big deal, nor great loss, as I discovered that it was not a very practical or useful item. I can work up my small firewood quicker with the camp knife.

Right now in my pocket tinderbox I have some rolled up balls of the cotton dryer lint, some squares of waxed cloth, a half a dozen thick matchsticks of the fatwood, and the little brown balls are tarred shipbuilders oakum [The loose brown fiber at the top of the photo is the tarred oakum.  It is what is used to caulk the seams between boards in wooden ship building. I found a box of it discarded down at the dump on Cape Cod years ago and actually used it when I built my home to caulk loose cracks that otherwise could’ve allowed cold air and insects in. It’s incredibly incredibly versatile material and makes an ideal tinder]. Underneath everything in the can there a few chunks of hardened pine sap. Each of those little balls of tinder provide enough material to fluff up into a pile the size of a golf ball. Also, I try to leave plenty of room in the canister for the addition of anything that I may find along the way as I hike that would make good tinder. And from the great results I have gotten from the “Flaming Dragon Turds”, I will probably toss one of them in there as well.

Over time I have used everything from an Altoid’s tin to a plain old plastic baggy for my tinder collection. The snoose can seems like the best solution I have found so far. An Altoid’s tin can let water in if you don’t put tape around the lid, and that’s inconvenient to peel off every time you want to use something out of it. I have held the snoose tin under standing water and it showed no signs of leaking.

For your own purposes, just look around and find something you already have to use as a tinderbox initially. You can always change it out later. You don’t have to have something made out of brass with a screwtop and a built-in magnifying lens that cost $35. The only important thing is to have your tinderbox WITH you. When you are actually carrying one out on a hike, its very existence down there in your pocket actually makes you look around and be more observant of things that might provide good tinder. Tinder-hunting is just one more item that allows you to become more involved with your wilderness experience.