Titaniumophilia~~ A Wake-Up Call For Gram-Weenies

(1) Titanium is… The Fairy Queen in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Nope. That was Titania. Dang.

(2) Titanium is… Proof that you’ve spent more money on your cook set (or stove, or boot lace tips) than anyone else in your hiking group (extended family, city, state, province, country, continent).

(3) Titanium is… Proof that you’re trendy, and possibly an idiot, though still a trendy one. Let’s hope you can dress the part.

(4) Titanium is… A metal incorrectly described by absolutely everyone stupid as “amazingly lightweight and strong, and perhaps the way to go if you’re obsessive about ounces.”

(5) No, it isn’t. But what would you expect to read in Backpacker magazine?

 

Titanium is a metal. And titanium is light, compared to uranium, but not compared to steel.

Stoveless and cook-pot-less and fuel-less is the way to go if you’re obsessive about ounces, and can gag down cold suppers night after night.

Aluminum, however, is the way to go if you’re obsessive about ounces and grams and price, and if you like to compare the weight of your tools to the weight of their shadows.

Titanium is only 12% lighter than steel, though it has almost all of steel’s strength, while aluminum is 54% lighter than steel and still has 75% of steel’s strength (Spot the trend here?), which is enough for a cook pot.

Titanium doesn’t ding or dent very easily (because it’s tough, which is nice), and titanium is highly resistant to corrosion (which means that it stays pretty). Since it is tough, it can be rolled thin. The thinner the material, the less there is of it, and so the less the finished product weighs, even if it’s made from heavy materials, which is the real advantage of titanium.

But if you want a cooking pot and you don’t care a lot about exactly how pretty it is, but you do care about how heavy it is, then aluminum is the way to go. You sort of care about how tough a pot is and you probably care a whole lot about how much it costs. You may also kind of care how beat up it’s going to end up being, eventually, or not. Your call, eh?

Titanium as a material is significantly heavier and vastly more expensive than aluminum, but tougher, and those who own titanium items feel smarter because titanium looks new longer. A lot of people who feel that way don’t go backpacking because if they go backpacking they will get their clothes dirty and they will get tired, and what they really above all want is to keep that just-off-the-shelf, crisply-pressed, newly-unwrapped look, while continuing to smell of aftershave. Titanium will help with that.

Titanium is for them. Titanium is for people who don’t ever want to sweat or walk uphill or know that bugs might actually be attracted to them.

 

Thanks [and apologies for the mild reformatz] to // so says eff

For me, the bottom line is that aluminum is simply better for cooking… better and more even heating/conductivity, less scorching and burning, perfectly acceptable weight tradeoff… and way less moolah. It’s a 90%/50% thing.

—-

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“Elevate Your Perspective”~ a Full Sub-$100 Hammock Setup

To look for the Perseids meteor shower, I decided to try out my “cheap” stuff for a hang last night out in my yard nook.
I wanted to make the point to any n00bs to the hammock hanging adventure who might find this post that a full setup doesn’t have to break the bank. I also wanted to be sure that what I might be loaning out to “elevate someone’s perspective” wasn’t a complete POS.

This whole setup comes in at under $100US.

  • generic ENO/GT clone- branded “White Mountain” $20
  • Rolling Fox diamond tarp- 11’x 9′ on the diagonals- $32 [w/ suspension/tieout paracord and steel stakes][Strangely enough, the stakes were not pointed at all.. just flat cut… and HEAVY]
  • TQ and UQ Diy-ed from two CDTs- $40 the pair
  • straps from Harbor Freight- $4
  • [toss in the illuminated yard stake/trek pole- $5 at the Fell-Off-A-Truck Stop and we go to $101]

I’m not going to count the upgrade mods to suspension, stakes etc. since that was from stuff that I was already out of pocket for any way, and wouldn’t be any big whup to the basic experience if it hadn’t been already done.

 

As far as the hammock goes, just about all of these ENO/GT [EaglesNestOutfitters/GrandTrunk] clones will be basically identical. They nearly all come from the same factories in China, and are of the same, non-ripstop parachute fabric. I would suggest that you not get the “double” hammocks unless you are a really big person. My experience is that the extra width [beyond 58″] just means you have a lot of loose cloth flapping in your face.  I personally don’t see any point in paying the brand-name prices for this kind of hammock. Amazon shows prices today ranging from $ 54 95$ 130 33 on ENO Single Nests. That difference buys you most of the rest of the kit described in this post.

Sleeping last night in this White Mountain hammock: I will have to admit that I was hyper aware of the seams from the clone’s 3-piece construction [40″ center strip w/9″ side piecings]. They were more annoying than anything, and were worst up along my shoulder, but certainly weren’t a deal breaker. Once I was down for the count, I slept fine. They made me assume that the clone was narrower than the 58″ full-width fabrics that are standard on the netless hammocks from our “cottage” vendors, but when I measured it this morning for this post it came in at the full 58″. This particular hammock goes 9’8″ fabric end-to-end. This is also shorter than the offerings from the cottage vendors, most of which are available from 10′-12′.

These differences in size and construction, together with the less stretchy, ripstop fabric options the cottage vendors offer, are the prime reason so many folks move on from the hammocks available in the big-box stores.
As a $20 hammock, and for a day-hanger/napper and starting place for hammocking, it is just fine. If it had come in at ENO$$, I’d certainly recommend spending that same $$ on a netless from the Hammock Forum vendors. [My first hammock was a Grand Trunk Double. I spent a few nights in it, got a little education over on hammockforums.net, and sent it back for a refund. That $70 went toward the cost of my AMOK Draumr and I never looked back.]

The 12′ poly straps from Harbor Freight are meant to be cam-cinched with a come-along ratchet for use on pickups and SUV racks. A quick hacksaw job to remove the ratchets and you have decent enough pair of straps. They are not daisy-chain looped, so you do have to learn to tie a larks-head hitch and use a toggle, but they can just be passed through their own end loops at the tree end. Cheap and easy!

 

The Rolling Fox diamond shaped tarp is new to me in the last few days. I wanted something mostly as a dew cover for fair weather hanging, and to use as a sunshade. The diamond cut appealed to me since it would mean I could rig it narrow-wise as well for a deeper shade when in a camp chair during the day. I do have some concern because the ridgeline [in the 11′ orientation] is seamed, and does not appear to have been seam-sealed. I like the tarp well enough that I will take that chance and seal it if I have to. [Besides, this vendor does offer a “lifetime, 100% money-back guarantee!”. I was in touch with him about the ridge, and he gave me his assurance on it.]

This one is what I had on hand and fit the cost limits. There are many other tarps on Amazon and elsewhere that come in at the same relative price point. If you want a square one, or cat-cut sides, go that way. This whole post is just to point out what you CAN get in the hundred dollar range. They are all going to be in a heavier [maybe 50%-70%] fabric, but they will be PU-waterproofed, and will certainly keep you dry. Up your purchase by a few bucks and you can step up to a 10’x 13′ hex-cut from YuEdge. [I thought about that one myself, just to have an extra rain tarp for bad days]. Go another few dollars and you can get a fully catenary cut 12′ x 12′ tarp from Mountainsmith. Most of them will not be made from a ripstop fabric, though some are and some aren’t.

With these low cost, entry-level tarps the one thing to shy away from is selecting one just because they “include” stakes, tie-out lines, and carabiners. These “bonuses” are all going to be cheaper, heavier, and far, far crummier than you are going to want in the long run. [For example, nothing that was included with the Fox tarp really made the grade]. Plus, these items are so easy to upgrade or source yourself that they are simply a waste of your money.  The same thing applies to the hammock suspensions. They are the first thing you are probably going to want to change out. Once you have tried getting the knots out of a swollen rope suspension, you will know what we are talking about. Doing these items on your own isn’t going to add much to your budget, but will give a lot more satisfaction.

 

I am not going into detail* about turning the Costco Down Throws into top and under-quilts. All I will tell you is that the CDTs are much better value than any others I have seen. Nicer material, higher volume/ better quality down, excellent construction, incredible loft for the cost… and possibly most import to a conversion, a full 60″x 70″ size. I don’t care if the brand is Eddie Bauer, BedBath&Beyond or any other reputable one… Accept No Substitutes! You will not get as good a finished project for your $$, time, and efforts. [and the good news is that they are already back in stock at many Costcos for the 2017-18 season]

If you want to save money, you can skip investing in a TQ altogether for a long while. Any sleeping bag will get you through. However, wriggling into and out of a regular or mummy bag once you are in your hammock is a real PITA. Instead, just open the zip to the foot and use it as an open quilt on top. You can even cut off the zipper and do a drawstring footbox with some ribbon loops easily enough.

If you can’t afford to go for a UQ, you can get a really reasonable rest on a closed-cell foam pad. Wally’s has one for $14. That said, after your hammock and tarp, I think most experienced hammockers would tell you to go for a UQ. The pads, even high cost insulated ones like ThermaRest, are notoriously hard to stay on top of in a hammock. None of the cheapo hammocks have double layer fabric pockets that help hold a pad in place, so , if you can, go for a UQ.

* Instuctables on CDT conversions are all over the web.

So, yada-yada complete… what was my “cheap night out” like. I’d have to say it was better than OK. Certainly better than I remember from my ground-dweller days. No rocks, lumps and sticks poking me in the back. No crawling around on damp ground. No crinkly ground sheet. I won’t have any problem loaning this whole setup out for somebody wanting to “elevate their perspective”. If I didn’t have my experience so far, I would probably give it a real thumbs up. Will I keep using my higher quality gear? …Duh!

Now, the hanging was “OK”, but the Perseids had peaked Friday and Saturday nights, so I only saw a couple of tracers. However, it was wickud clear, and the Milky Way was spectacular.
Basically, I was in a hammock…Out under the stars… what’s not to like?

It Ain’t the Ghost Whisperer!

However, at $17.28 including shipping from ShamSuiPo, I, for one, am not going to be arguing. The GW goes for $319.

When I was at a hang this Spring with my friend Iuri, I admired the jacket he had on assuming it to be a Ghost Whisperer… he’s a hip, young, upwardly mobile kind of guy who has the money for that type of thing. He said, “no, China”. So, when we were getting blown around by the lake winds up at the kayak hang recently, and I really wished I had some kind of a lightweight, but warm coat, I thought enviously of Iuri’s. When I got back, I looked ’em up on ALiBaba and ordered one. I don’t think I could’ve been happier even if I had the opportunity to actually try it on. For my needs, and at my kind of the price, it’s perfect… light, comfortable, warm, sufficiently wind-proof. I love the color, too. [much more a darker, blue-black than the photo shows] It’s the perfect thing to toss on just after dawn and before the day warms up, or once the evening shadows creep in and the temps drop.

Now… in fairness to the GW it reputedly has more down, and of a kind that is specially treated for loft and water repellency. But it also is only “stitch-thru” construction. $319 is a whole lot of money for a coat that isn’t even baffle-channeled. True, it is designed for layering, with an “active fit” for “climbing in the alpine, long-haul backpacking trips, and peak-bagging bids, where packing light and moving fast is key to reaching your objective”…. I have tried one on and found the fit restrictive on my less-than-fit, sixty-seven year-old body.

Specs~~ GW vs. “Joobox” branded:

  • 7D x 10D ripstop nylon / Polyester
  • claimed garment weight 7 oz / weighed @9.7 oz w/sack
  • down~ Q.Shield 800 fill-down / 90% white duck [no fill rating… seems like 650/700]
  • fill weight~2.6 oz / 2.5 oz
  • no hood on compared models
  • GW is designed to self-stuff into a pocket / Joobox came with a stuff sack
  • Joobox has two zippered slash hand pockets at the side-seams and two large interior, flat, “bag” pockets / GW~unspecified, but does have an adjustable, drawstring hem that the Joobox lacks

These don’t seem like a lot of differences to account for the $300 price differential. However, I don’t own a Ghost Whisperer jacket so I can’t pretend to do any real, considered, comparison here. There might very well be other differences that I am not aware of. That said, the Joobox jacket is my 90%/50% kind of deal [actually for only 5% in this case].

While it is simply specified to be a generic polyester material, I really like the “hand” to the fabric used on the Joobox. Nice and soft to the touch, easy to slide on the sleeves, soft around the neck and under the chin. Maybe it will prove to wear quickly or something. Due to the very large variations between Chinese and Western size charts, I ordered an XXL… while I have never bought anything in XXL before in my life, this was a perfect fit. [It is what I would expect in a men’s “Large” from someplace like Cabelas or L.L. Bean]. It is also roomy enough not to bind, and to allow for layering.

The Joobox’s one odd feature is that it came with the front zipper reversed… I expect to hold the pull in my right hand, and feed the little tang into it with my left. I am not certain, but I believe that women’s fashions may have the zipper reversed like this. This one was listed under “Men’s Wear”, was most definitely shown on a bearded male model, and is definitely not cut for a woman’s figure… Again, at this price I am not complaining. Oh, and in the stuff sack, it goes down to the size of a 12oz soda. I’ll give the bag a silicon/hydrophobic treatment with Atsko spray and be good to go. I also plan on spraying the entire jacket [exterior] with the Permethrin semi-permanent insect repellent to help keep the lil’ buggers at bay.

>> Good Deal / Highly Recommended <<

YuHan USB LED RGB Rope Light~ 5ft. Review

A couple of years ago I followed the LumiNoodle Kickstarter, which was successful, and which went on to become available as a retail product. Like almost all appealing gadgets these days, it has now been cloned. I picked this “YuHan” branded clone up on Amazon for $15. The identical unit is also available from other distributors. While it does not have the remote control the multicolor LumiNoodle unit has, it comes in at less than 50% of the price.

The RGB, of course, stands for red/green/blue… This is a multi-color unit, and it does have 20 different colored light “models”. Any color can be displayed as either static or dynamic, and including the multicolored cycling, there are 20 different modes of flashing and glowing.

     

Completely waterproof and flexible, the rope light comes packaged in a nice white drawstring bag, and includes three noodle-bead ties to strap it to lines or objects. The three blue slides are also magnetically enabled if you want to slap it on the side of a car. The modes, colors, and cycling are all controlled from the three-button widget on the line itself.

 

There are five levels of illumination for each color in the static modes, and five speeds in each dynamic. At the brightest level, it produces a very large amount of light from the 60 LEDs. Personally, I find the lowest level of the most rewarding.

Nicely, the bag also acts as a diffuser if you want to use it more as a lantern.

 

 

 

 

I paired mine with a five dollar “lipstick” powerbank from FiveBelow° that is rated at 2200 mA. It ran for over three hours last night without dimming.

I figure to try powering it up again each evening until the battery gives out. That should give me a good guestimate of my total burn time, but I don’t expect it will give out in a couple of hours of use each evening on a weekend camping trip… I plan to use it as a ridgeline light inside my hammock bug net.

 

Nearly everyone in my hammock and crowd has some kind of party lights rigged on their hammock. Not only are they kinda fun, but when you have 20 or 30 hammocks hung up in the night woods, it’s difficult to figure out which one is yours after full dark. One friend, who is a former airline pilot, had a landing light strobe hung on his last weekend. I found most of the ultralightweight wire type lights flimsy and too likely to break, and I had no interest in the ones that are shaped like plastic hula dancers or jalapeno peppers, so this it a lot more to my liking.

Fits the 90%/50% criteria, seems sturdy,  as long as the battery life is decent, I’m going to give it a shot the next time we have a group hang.

 

[Edit~ I ended up getting right at 9 1/2 hours of total run-time for the YuHan Light Rope utilising both static and dynamic modes… and this was with only the one full charge on the 2200mA. cheapo battery. That should be plenty for two or three nights camping. I highly recommend this one!]

Whazdis “90%/50%” Buzz On Here…?

Since there are often references to this, and previous explanations are now buried deep in the archive, I wanted to do a quick post, and actually link it to a new “tag”.

I have been living on a very reduced income for quite a long time now. Currently, things are a little bit better, but when I started this blog I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income. As a result, a lot of these posts concerned finding alternatives to higher priced items.

Whether it’s by DIY, $$-store finds, scrounging, substituting, or buying a lower priced version of a  high-end item, there are a lot of ways that you can “make do”.

My guideline throughout my gear posts has always been, “if you can get something that provides 90% of the utility for 50% or less of the cost you got a good deal” … I frequently make reference to this as “the 90%/50%”. *

~A symbol of balance made of stones on a sea cliff~

 

For me at least, figuring out ways to make do is its own reward. Sometimes this could mean doing without, or settling for less. Nearly everybody could throw out about a third of the stuff in their pack and never miss it. Some things are just a luxury that you really want, and you are willing to pay the cost whether it is monetary, weight, bulk, convenience etc. Part of “hiking your own hike” is finding your own balance in that equation.

 

Most of you’re probably aware of the term “gram weenie”. I’m not one; I am a money weenie. My own parents grew up during the American depression of the 1930s. They knew what it was like to do without. Some of this ingrained frugality passed on to me, and it was increased by my severely reduced income. If you want to cut the tags off of your clothing and gear, hack off the handle of your toothbrush, reduce the weight of your tarp a few ounces by purchasing one made of Cuban fiber… great! [for you]. If that’s what you want, and that’s what you can afford, Go for it! In essence, I do exactly the same thing with my expenses. In everything from my utilities to my “spree” spending, I try to trim every corner I possibly can.

I have the handicapping “luxury” of being 67 years old. I am not going to do a PCT through hike. When I go out, I’m either camping out of the back of my SUV, hiking a limited way into the woods to hang up my hammock, or heading off in my canoe or kayak down a lake. That means I don’t have to worry about that couple of extra pounds. I do worry about having enough money left over to pay for the travel expenses and to provide myself with a few luxuries and comforts to make my time as enjoyable as it can be. Do I have a 27 ounce backpack to carry my gear…? DUH!… but I bought a discontinued model when it went on closeout. This is what 90%/50% does for me.

I buy some of my stuff out of Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong’s Kowloon section. I can find items that are for all intents and purposes identical to those sold by the Cabela’s, Walmarts, LL Beans, and all the other stateside gear outlets…. They just won’t have that branding tag. I might have to wait two weeks or a month for delivery but they mostly come with free shipping included, and at far lower prices. I have almost never been disappointed in the quality. The same thing goes for dollar store finds. I can find sturdy, non-loadbearing, Aluminum carabiners priced at $.69 over at my Fell-Off-A-TruckStop. They are every bit as good for their uses as anything else on the market. I don’t need some fancy, twist lock carabiner to put on the end of a rope and hook up my Bear bag… Why, you know… I could just tie the line right through the handles on that plastic bag the stuff I grabbed at the grocery market came in. It would work just as well.

Like I said, my 90%/50% criteria works fine for me…. Now you know what I’m mean by it.

 

[ * Just recently I violated my own guidelines by buying a pretty darn expensive 30° top quilt (when it comes, I’ll do a review and explain why I made the exception). I’ve violated those guidelines previously when I bought my AMOK Draumr hammock. In both these cases however, I waited until the items went on sale. But I have also consistently saved money on other things that have made these splurges rationalize-able/ justifiable in my own mind.]

Laguiole “Picnic” Knife

Last fall I got a wild hair and finally bought a Laguiole style knife. I say “style” because these are one of the most heavily cloned knives out there. “Laguiole is like “Kleenex”… It has passed into common usage for any similar sized, folding pocket knife with a similar sweeping blade. I was under no illusions when I ordered this that it was an actual, handcrafted knife from the village of Laguiole, France, or even the adjoining town of Thiers. For one thing, the Shepherds Cross detail on the handle is upside down, and the rivets are not perfectly aligned. While it actually did ship from France, it is certainly a generic version. And, quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with that.

Here’s a quick link to the Wikipedia entry, and it contains other links at the bottom if you want even more information>>  The Laguiole knife

I have quite a number of what I consider to be decent knives suitable for a variety of purposes, but I lack the money to do any serious collecting of fine blades. This is where my 90%/50% criteria is often used.

The classic Laguiole pocketknife was what you took along to cut up your  fruit and cheese, your baguette and sausage on a picnic in the French countryside. If you had one of the units with the corkscrew, you could open your bottle of cheap vin ordinaire.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 8.19.33 PM

One of the hallmarks of Lagouile knives is the semi three-dimensional bee on the spine of the knife over the ferrule. A second is the engraving along the spine. [the photo at the left is clipped off the Internet, but shows both of these features] Even on the non-handcrafted knifes, the the finer the detailing of these, the better chance of the entire knife being higher-quality. These were two items that I looked for when I started shopping around and comparing the offerings. I was lucky, and the knife I purchased was even more finely detailed than the one shown.

 For my purposes, that is quite enough. This one comes branded “Laguiole L’ Eclair”. It is reportedly made in China of an unknown quality of stainless steel, but takes a very fine, sharp edge with minimum effort. Certainly fine enough for preparing food, and use as a “picnic” knife. The blade opens with a satisfying “snick”, but this is not a locking style knife. However, it does take a firm push up against the back of the blade to disengage the back spring.

The slim blade makes it ideal for slicing. This is why I chose to add one to my camping cutlery. I have big, heavy knives; I have pocket knives and pocket tools. I can dress out a deer carcass, hack up some kindling, and take care of most ordinary camp chores. But none of them have the long, thin blade to finely slice an onion, or to make it a real pleasure to deal with that plate-sized, porterhouse steak that just came off the flaming hardwood coals of your open fire and render it into thin, juicy morsels. The Laguiole does.

It it is also the perfect size to go with my titanium dining set, and carries around perfectly in their mesh bag. Together with the SnowPeak spork, I’m covered. I can prepare and consume in perfect grace, dignity, and high style… while out “roughing it”.

I like using “nice” stuff. That’s how I roll.