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…!

 

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Christmas Swag… for the Elf

My lady, elfLiza, is a native Carolinian with little experience with the cold of the Nawthern Wintahs. The Xmas gnomes brought her a USB handwarmer.  It’s a bit of a mouthful as “Human Creations EnergyFlux Enduro Rechargeable Hand Warmer 7800mAh / USB Portable Charger Power Bank/ Flashlight”, so we’ll just call it the Enduro.

The Enduro is indeed all of those things and does each of them passably well.

The warmer function is accessed with a long press on the power button… a longer press yields the higher warmth level. I don’t find much difference in the hand, and would suggest the lower level to increase the length of heating cycle although the difference is represented as 6.5 hrs vs 7 hrs.
The red light blinks faster to indicate the higher heat.
The blue crescent of lights are the battery indicators.
It’s downside is that the battery takes 6-8 hours to charge up from zip, but you can basically use any USB source that’s handy.

 

 

 

 

The LED flashlight is accessed by a double-click, and turns off the same way. It is a decent enough directional light with sufficient power to get you around a dark campsite or room.

We haven’t had any need to use the Enduro as a USB powerbank, but I trust from the rest of the experience that it will also be perfectly satisfactory.

 

Our use shows that the hand warmer function heats up quite quickly… after 30 seconds you can feel the warmth and it is at “full” heat within only a couple of minutes. As I said, I’m quite satisfied with lower heating level. The elf likes it hotter.

I have used a Zippo branded, lighter fluid hand warmer since I was a kid. The Enduro surpasses the Zippo in heating temp by a fair bit. However, since one of my own most common uses is to tuck the warmer into my scarf, either under my chin, or against the back my neck, I actually prefer a slightly lower heat so that I don’t get scorched. You can very definitely feel the heat of the Enduro building up in a pocket.

[The other thing I like about my trusty old Zippo fuel heater is that I can hold the tip of my cigarette against the catalytic converter and light it.]

It is always nice to find a product that can fulfill several needs in one unit. The Enduro fits the bill.

A last “however” is that the Endoro is certainly another one that fails to meet my 90%-50% criteria even though the pre-Christmas sale price was considerably reduced from the current offering. But anything that keeps the elf up here in New England seems like a pretty good deal to me and the gnomes.

EDIT~ 45 days in use: this has turned out to be very good choice. I was quite content with the old-school fluid lighters until I found out how convenient it is to have a hand warmer that comes up to heat so fast, and turns off just as quick... the poor elf gets only about half the use of it. If she want to use it she has to keep asking me which pocket of which of my coats it’s in today…

Chrismas Swag

Back in the Fall, while I was at the MidAtlantic Hammock Hang down in Pennsylvania, I spent some time tail-gating with several of the “cottage” vendors that I already knew, and had the chance to meet Chad North of North X North.

HIs products are merino wool kerchiefs [shemaghs], neck gaiters, and bandana/handkerchiefs. I had sadly underestimated the chill of the PA mountains in mid-October, and hadn’t brought head/neck gear… just my ball cap. I was really impressed by Chad’s primo product… his 42″x42″ merino shemagh that was keeping him toasty while I shivered.

[I’ll leave it up to you to search up the deets on shemaghs, but they are the headgear that many of our guys stationed over in the AK47-stans have adopted to keep them both warm and cool… you can wear a shemagh many ways.]

Here are Chad’s own YouTubes on wearing his…. >> https://www.northxnorth.co/how-to

My lady, the Reverend elfLiza, rolled her eyes when told her how cool it was… and how costly, but she went to all the effort to track Chad down through our mutual friends. Unfortunately, he was out of stock for my color choice [charcoal]. Despite many setbacks, together Chad and the elf managed to find one at the last second and I found mine under the tree!

This second photo shows the fine detail of the craftsmanship that goes into these.

It is everything that everyone had said. I LOVE it! I have been wearing it around the house to keep the chill off [in Winter, a scarf is in-door wear for Western Maine] and I wore it all day yesterday on an extended trip to Boston with temps in 20°s with winds that made your eyes water. It was great!

When I did a personal post over on my FB page mentioning how good it was, I was impressed at how many of the “heavy-rollers” in my hammocking community chimed it with how much they loved theirs.

This is definitely NOT one for my 90%-50% rule. And they are definitely not your ordinary buff or kerchief. Chad had to source his own fabric [a merino wool, Jersey-type knit] inorder to make these at all. But he does run discounts from time-to-time, and if you grab one I don’t think you will be disappointed. As the link shows, there are a lot of things you can do with one, and the larger dimensions make it a step above the regular cotton shemagh out there. They are fine, but the extra couple of inches make the North X North ones extra special.

 

Big propz to Chad for a great product that delivers the value.

…………………

Next up [or under the tree] are a pair of Axman Woodcutters Mittens. Mine came from the local feedstore, but they are on Amazon as one of the “Amazon Choice” selections >>

 https://www.amazon.com/KINCO-Cowhide Mittens

I just gave mine a treatment with mink oil to soften them up and add some weather resistance.

I have some great gloves, but mittens seem to keep my fingers warmer if I don’t need dexterity. I can also slip a chemo-handwarmer into large mittens far more easily than into gloves. The leather Kinco uses is quite supple, even untreated. I have other branded gloves using the same type of cowhide that are still giving good service after a good number of years

The Axeman Woodcutter version not only has a nice, soft and warm fleece liner, but the liner is “glove-cut”… there are channels for your fingers to fit into to reduce chafe and absorb sweat. [I don’t know about the other Kinco styles] These are wicked comfy.

It was Chrismahanzuquanzakka, so these were another exception to the 90%-50% rule….

 

 

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.

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:

“NICE OLD WADE & BUTCHER “TEDDY” MODEL, TEDDY ETCHED INTO BLADE, KNIFE SHOWS AGE AND SHARPENING, STACKED LEATHER HANDLE SLIGHTLY DRY, POMMEL CAP SHOWS SLIGHT DINGS, BLADE SHOWS SOME IDIOT PUTTING GRINDER MARKS ON IT.  SHEATH IS CRUDELY HANDMADE WITH A CROSSDRAW BELT LOOP BUT SHEATH IS IN GOOD CONDITION !”

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

 

 

 

 

 

“CAMPTON AX”

I finally received the small axe that I had ordered off AliBaba in the 11/11 sale. As I had already concluded, it was not a Chinese POC [piece-of-crap] It was a Russian POC. After playing with both a Cyrillic keyboard and a Russian to English translator site, I managed to figure out that they had branded the blade “Campton Ax”… do you suppose they were trying for “camping”?

FullSizeRender (15)

I am not even going to go into detail about it until I have messed with the axe some, but after having “bashed” it a bit in my previous post, I wanted to go into some digressive info on just why I had gone ahead and bought one. For now you can check it out in the post from a week ago was about “Chinese Inscrutable Advertising“.

The site description on this axe was a wonderful example of the difficulty in translating/ transliterating between languages, and the misuse and overuse of catchwords. It was described it as “Damask” steel at one point, 440 Stainless at another, and high-carbon steel in a third. I guess the first instance is a misunderstanding of the word Damascus, which is used to describe both a type of  highly-figured and layered steel, and a historic manufacturing process. The other two phrases are frequently used in the descriptions on forums discussing high-quality knives… I guess they just seem catchy. Not accurate, but catchy.

In fact, the little axe I got is 65X13 steel. This is the Russian made equivalent of AUS8… not a bad steel for this use at all. On other sites offering the same axe I had been able to see the branding on the shank, so I was pretty sure what it was actually made of. This elevated it just out of the POC range and made me think it was good for a shot as a “project piece” to see if I could bring it all the way up to worthwhile.

My second reason, and the real basis of this post, is that I have always wanted an “Ulu”.

    

These are two examples. The ulu is the traditional knife of the Inuit peoples of the North American Arctic. Before the white man and his supplies of metal, they had knapped a similar shape in stone, and beaten them out of copper ores. It was their butchery tool for whale blubber and sealife.

    

The ulu is generally made of moderately thick sheet metal with a handle above the blade as you seen in the above photos. They cut smoothly, and are surprisingly maneuverable. I know a guy who regularly dresses out his deer with one.

Newer designs are moving toward a more modern esthetic, upgraded materials, and a truly ergonomic styling. They also are making the blades heavier and profiled more like a traditional hunting knife. Benchmade is producing a version they have named “Nestucca” that retails for $150US.

The beautiful units from Bliss [shown in first photo above] are made to order, and start from $130 depending on handle material. Those kind of prices put them way out of my reach, but the little Russian jobbie is as close to an ulu as the “Nestucca”, and was only about $11 on sale/shipped. That fits with my whole 90% utility for 50% of the price deal.

I’m hoping to end up with a fireside beater for wood prep and an alternative blade for use in the camp kitchen. I’ll let ya’ll know how the progress goes, and what the verdict might be some time soon.