DIY Combo Summerweight Quilts

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I paired up a $20 Cosco down throw with a $21 lightweight Chinese bag made with “imitation silk” insulation and a “waterproof” outer covering. The silver throw fits inside the orange bag to give me a combo sleep system that should take me well down into the 40°s range. Either piece can also be used individually, or in conjunction with one of my other bags to grab a few more degrees.

You can never tell what you’re going to get with the Chinese stuff, but the “imitation silk” seems to be almost the same thing as the products marketed stateside as ClimaShield… a continuous/single filament insulation that comes on a roll, and cuts and sews just like cloth. I am not going to bet on fully waterproof, but the exterior of the orange bag does bead up water enough that it rolls right off. This should be sufficient, since I’m really mostly interested in it keeping the dew off of my down bag when I don’t want to put a tarp up over my hammock.

I used the Infamous Thread Injector to sew a drawstring channel along the full width of the bottom of each bag. About 2 inches on the silver bag, and about five on the orange one.  That way the foot box space on the orange bag is larger and won’t compress the down in the silver foot box. The two drawstrings can just be tied with an overhand knot to hold the footboxes together. [I also cut out the perimeter zipper on the Chinese bag]

The Costco throw came quilted into six-inch squares. I went ahead and pulled out all of the vertical stitching. This allows some of the down that was caught in the original sewing job to add to the loft. You can also now fluff the down toward the center/top of the bag so that more down will be over your body. I added vertical sewn-thru quilting to the orange bag… mostly as a “just in case” to prevent the insulation from tearing and shifting. And having the channels in the two bags at 90° opposition to each other should help keep down any cold spots.

I still have to put on a couple of snaps on each long edge to hold the pair together. Of course, in the way of all things, these are exactly what I forgot to pick up when I was at the Wallyworld down Babylon today. However, last night I just used safety pins, and then took the comboed pair out in the hammock and down into the low 50°s for a couple of hours to watch the stars come out. Worked a charm.

Specs:   38oz  …78″ x 30″  … approx 2 1/2″ loft in the pair. Together, the two pack down to about the size of a gallon of milk.

A little heavier than I would really like, but the CDT only goes 15oz on its own, and I will probably be using it by itself as my go-to TQ for most of my fair weather camping. So, at a cost of under $45, and just a couple of hours work, it’s a combo that seems awfully hard to beat.

[Jus’ sayin’~~ If you have a Costco warehouse near you, and can pick up one of these throws for $19.99,  you’re foolish to pass it up]

All Things Tarp Peg

Enough things have arrived through China Post to go ahead and start a few quick reviews.

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One one of the cheapos-from-China sites had an odd 11-11 sale on November 11th. Just about everything was discounted nearly a third. This made it pretty inviting for me to put together an order for a mixed lot of small camping stuff. My experience has been that the gear that I get almost always passes my 90% of the utility for 50% or less of the price guidelines. This lot certainly seems to qualify.

First up, in the front of the above photo was a package of five “Snow & Sand” stakes… Why five? No clue. It does seem like an odd number.  But was perfectly fine for me, because what I intended to do was to take a hacksaw to one of the snow stakes and make a little cat hole shovel.

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Five minutes work with the blade and a file, a mini’biner and a piece of cord, yielded me exactly what I wanted.   30 grams [or just over 1 oz.], easy to see if dropped, easy to hold, and since the package of five pegs was only just over $5 US, it cost me less than almost any other solution I could’ve found. Together with a pair of mil-spec toilet paper packages, and I’m good to go… a-yuh… pun intended.

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The other pegs are just your standard 7″ Y-stake with a nice annodized coating. They are available in red, black, gold, silver,and can sometimes be found in blue. Most sites give you a random pick, but some allow you to specify a preference. I honestly don’t recall whether I chose or went random, but mine are fine by me in the bright red. Whatever, the price of $.50 apiece for what to all intents and purposes is an MSR Groundhog stake** [and those are usually priced at around $2.00 each] made them a good buy. These claim to made of the same 7001 grade aluminum as the more expensive ones, but since nobody sends their units out for professional metallurgy testing, who knows about either ones claim. All I care about is that at the Chinese price point I can bend quite a few and still have quite a few left… and I could not bend one with bare hands. [** the MSRs are actually 4/10″ longer, but also 6gm heavier each… 19gm vs. 13gm]

The more important part about these pegs is the little plastic dongle shown in the photo above. Earlier in the fall, at one of our NEHHA hammock hangs, my friend Alex showed me this trick. $o.93 cents down at the hardware store got me a T-connector for flexible piping like you use for yard sprinkler systems. I went ahead and put a couple pieces of tape on it for easy visibility, and I will also probably end up putting a piece of cord on it.

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You just shove it over the top of your tarp stake as a handle, and use it to push the peg into the ground with a little wiggle to avoid rocks or roots. When you want to pull the peg out, you simply slip the vertical through the loop and give it a tug. Easy-peasy. The best part is since you are not using a rock or your foot to force the stake into the ground, you have almost completely removed the possibility of damaging it.

I am relatively happy with these purchases. I now have some redundancy in terms of pegs for my multiple setups, so that I don’t have to go pirating for some each time I want to use a different tarp. I also believe that the orange cord on the Y-pegs is going to turn out to be reflective, which is a nice little gimme when you’re stumbling around in the dark. The cat-hole shovel turned out so well that I may just vandalize the rest of the snow stakes to make some more as giveaways for my friends… gawd knows I’ve got tons of the MRE toilet paper packets down cellar to go with them. Since they are in that bright, anodized red color, they might make a really great stocking stuffer for the holiday season…

“Tree Table” Prototype

I have seen several versions of this, both as owner built, and for sale items.

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In short, the idea is to have a little “table” that gets strapped to a tree trunk and allows you to use your cat food can stove up off of the ground. This proof-of-concept is a little narrow at only 6 inches, but I’m figuring that in a final size of about 8″w x 10″l, in aluminum stock and with a 4′ pull-thru tensioning strap and buckle, it ought to be good to go.

I am also wondering if a version could be made using standard carabiners.  This doesn’t have to support significant weight.

More dollar store stuff taking the place of expensive materials…

The Nasty Bid-niz Bucket [or a portable cathole for the woods]

It’s one thing to “surrender” to the call of nature. It’s another to leave leave those white flags scattered around the wild.

I have done things similar to this before, but not with such refinement and versatility. Not much for a backpacking journey, but a great idea for your SHTF prep or canoe camping. And not a bad idea to just have in the bottom of the bathroom closet in case the well/pump/power fails, or the sewer line breaks…

[EDIT: one of our readers pointed out a safety issue that I had not considered, and that was not mentioned in the video…       You need to be certain that the bucket to be used is sound. Apparently white buckets, like those for drywall compound, will deteriorate under sunlight/UV more readily than the darker colors. This could cause them to fracture under the weight of your tuckus. You might want to stay away from those older buckets that’ve been out in the shed for a couple years. It is not as though 5 gallon buckets are difficult to find. I am using a green bucket that originally contained deli pickles that they gave me down at the variety. It seems to be made of a heavier weight material than the white buckets I use for mulch. Better safe than sorry.]

Playing With Fire… Store-bought Stuff

In my first “Playing With Fire” post I covered char cloth, the perfect material to catch a spark. Tinder comes next.

One of the simplest, handiest items you can add to your fire kit is a plain old pencil sharpener.

For me, it was a simple matter of rooting through a few of the junk drawers around the house. I knew I had a couple of the large, cylindrical ones for sharpening carpenters pencils down cellar in my toolboxes. I also found two or three plastic ones left over from my daughter’s childhood, and several that had apparently come free with my wife’s eyeliners and lip pencils that were up in the bathroom drawer. I found also two “high quality” ones left over from way back in architecture school. One in beechwood, and one in aluminum. I suspect I will find homes for a number of them in my emergency kits, but the one shown below is the aluminum one for my drafting set. I like it because it has the secondary advantage of two sizes of openings.

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Making a fire is a very simple, incremental matter of coaxing your heat source from a glowing ember to an ever larger flame. The secret to this process is in staggering your tinder in a similarly incremental way. The fine shavings achieved from a pencil sharpener are an ideal early-stage. From them you can easily move on to wood peelings, then to ever larger splinters, and finally to twigs and smallwood until the flame can reach a point where it is strong enough to ignite your actual kindling pieces.

Also in the above photo- in any real emergency situation the absolute priority is in starting the fire.  I am not such a “gram-weenie” that I begrudge carrying a tiny bit of extra weight if it will facilitate that same quick and efficient fire building. So, another thing that it is in all my emergency kits and my little firebox are “magic” candles. We all know these from birthday parties… they don’t blow out. This is very handy out in the woods, out in the breeze. Additionally, as they melt, the wax will coat your other tinder and smallwood, and further encourage the flame. One or two of these magic candles tucked in your kit alongside your waterproof storm matches take up almost no room, but give you just one more certainty of achieving fire.

Playing With Fire

I have been messing around a little bit with my fire-making kit, experimenting with different kinds of tinder. Eons ago, back in Boy Scouts, I was taught to make a fire with flint and steel. While I’m almost never without a butane lighter in my pocket, it’s a good skill to practice. However, it requires more attention to the initial tinder, for catching a good sound spark, than using matches or a lighter. I don’t think anything beats char-cloth for catching a spark, and blowing up into a good, hot ember-glow quickly.

Just search “char-cloth” and you can find any number of great instructables and all the details you might want to know. All you really need is a metal container with a tight fitting lid that you poke a small hole into, some cotton or linen cloth scraps, and a good hot fire. The process is called “pyrolysis“… that’s what happens to organic material exposed to high heat in the absence of oxygen. Essentially, what you are making is simply cloth charcoal.

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I made my batch using blue jean scraps cut into postage stamp size pieces. I put them in an old spice tin, and dropped it on a gas grill turned all the way up. All you do is wait for smoke to stop coming out of the little hole you poked in the lid. When it stops, the pyrolysis is complete. I used a pair of tongs to rotate the can three or four times and the whole process probably took about 30 minutes. In the photo on the left you can see that the finished chunks still show the weave of the material, and they still maintain a relative amount of fabric flexibility. They are not exactly fall-apart-fragile, but they are “handle with care”. I’m glad I used the blue-jean material, because I suspect that it is a little sturdier than other stuff might be. On the right is the ignited material… lit from just the one spark off my Exotac style ferro-rod. This was outside, and the single, stamp-sized piece “embered” right away and burned in the breeze for over a minute and a half. In my book, that’s plenty of time to add some light tender, blow up a flame, and get some twigs alight.

The process is so simple, that I plan on just keeping the little canister with 15-20 pieces of cut up cloth already in it out by the grill. Whenever I light up to cook out, I can just toss the can on and get double duty from the grill.

I tried out a couple of the other pieces of char cloth using other methods to cause an ember. It worked just as well with a spark thrown from the wheel of an old, “dud” Bic lighter. I was also able to get ignition using one of the credit card sized, plastic Fresnel lenses as a magnifier to focus the sun.

If you haven’t yet tried making a fire without matches, I would encourage you to do so. That first glimpse of flame, and curl of smoke give you a wonderful sense of satisfaction and capability.

Tarp Tent Success!

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A product that does what it says!

ATSKO Silicon Water-Guard Sealant

I found mine over at Wally World for under six dollars. A quick bit of Internet research on the hammock and tent backpacking forums had persuaded me that plain old ScotchGuard was basically useless in this situation, but there seemed to be a lot of people who were recommending this ATSKO product.

I gave the old tarp a brief cycle through the washing machine with some gentle, “non-detergent” detergent, let it dry completely strung up out in the sun, and gave it a thorough treatment that used up one full can on a 9′ x 11′ tarp. The instructions include the idea that you need to shake the can up regularly while you spray. I found that a steady circular motion not only gave me very efficient coverage but also kept the little ball bearings rolling around almost constantly. There was almost no fluid left in the can when the propellant was exhausted. Just like they claim. The fluid went on smoothly to penetrate the nylon taffeta fabric very evenly, and it was also easy to determine how evenly the spray was covering the surface without any signs of soaking or drips. I didn’t have any doubt that I had followed the instructions and gotten the results that were indicated. This was yesterday morning, and this morning the heavy dew-fall had beaded up almost microscopically on the whole surface. A couple of quick flip/shakes and the whole tarp shed all the moisture. … You can’t ask much more than that.

Six dollars to renovate a 40-year-old tarp seems like a fairly good deal. Back in the 1970s PU treated nylon had just started to be used, and this was a pretty expensive tarp back then, so I’m grateful I was able to bring it back to full usefulness. We will string it up this weekend for a little shelter up by the river, and I’ll let you know whether it works out as well as it seems to.