The last installment of my gear guide, just in time for the holidays. Happy hunting!
Part 3: Odds and Ends
Water Purifying- 21st Century-Style
Oh my goodness I have spent a lot of time crouched at the edge of a stream pumping water through a filter. Hours. Maybe even days. Really, a lot of time. I have also drank more than my fair share of iodized water, often only sort of improved by the addition of vitamin C or powdered sports drink and patiently boiled water each evening for use the following day. I have too, foolishly, and not since my youth, drank directly from all kinds of streams. Clean drinking water can be a pain in the butt, regardless of how important it may be. That's just how it is, a chore's a chore.
Unless, like me, you have been out of the loop for a while. I have grown so used to filtering when touring that it never occurred to me to look for an alternative. Apparently, I haven't checked for about 15 years. And twelve years ago, a product called Steripen hit the market. It uses ultra violet light to sterilize water. It's small, lightweight, and incredibly fast and easy. Press the button, stick in water, wait briefly. Amazing. I really wish that this had been around for field work in Mexico.
The irony of a product like this is that there's no real way to prove how well it works other than by the evidence of your own body. So far, so good. But Steripen has a good reputation among long-distance tourers and thru hikers and has been around long enough to prove that it works, its really pretty great. I have heard from some that they can be fragile and need to be packed carefully in a side or top pocket to avoid being broken, but beyond that, its a great alternative to other forms of water purification.
Don't throw out your filter though. Steripens may make the water safe to drink in terms of critters, but it doesn't remove particles like clay and silt. Use your hand filter in deserts and other areas with cloudy water in addition to any chemical treatment.
It has been a long time since I have owned a formal first aid kit. I have pretty much always made-do with plastic bags filled with supplies that I would periodically replace or refill. Whenever I have owned a first aid kit they have been purchased from the local drug store and largely geared towards household bumps, scrapes, and burns, rather than emergency wilderness care. The older I get, the more important that difference becomes. So this year I checked out the options and discovered that weren't actually very many. A lot of what is out there is a little bit of overkill for anyone doing less than a week in the back country. What I was interested in was something that was comprehensive enough for a week of car camping or a short backpacking trip and still small enough to throw into a day pack.
I ended up trying out the ultralight travel kit from Adventure Medical Ultralight and Watertight .5
It's, you know, a first aid kit. And a really good one. That it comes in a bright yellow pouch is a plus, especially if someone besides you is looking for it in your pack. The real cool thing about it is how customizable their kits are in general, there are tons of different versions and it's nice to know that a health professional has gone over the list. You still have to clean it out and refill it every so often, but if you are one of those people walking around with little more than a grubby band aid floating around in your pack, pony up and buy a kit, for peace of mind if nothing else.
The Tent Hammock
By far the coolest thing I have seen by way of new, or at least new to me, gear is the Hennessy Tent Hammock. Hennessy isn't the only company out there making tent hammocks, or camping hammocks in general, but they are doing it better than just about anybody. I had vaguely heard about such things in the past, but it wasn't until a friend and Appalachian Trail thru hiker mentioned to me that she had given up her traditional tent entirely for a tent hammock halfway through the trip that I began to take them seriously.
They are really wicked cool. And hammocks come with a bunch of advantages. You will never again sleep on uneven ground or with tree roots digging into your back, they are warmer in winter, and cooler in summer, lighter than regular tents, and don't come with awkward and heavy poles and stakes and they can be used as comfortable seating. Mostly, they are insanely comfortable, which is pretty much the most important thing.
But. There are a couple of things. First, I had to watch not one but four videos to figure out how to really use the thing, rain fly and all, and I'm pretty sure there are things I'm still not doing properly. And, there is the tree problem. You know, the part where you have to be camping someplace with trees of an appropriate size and distance to one another to make it feasible to pitch your hammock. Not such a big deal really, unless you are in the desert, or maybe grasslands. I haven't had mine for very long, but I am still trying to find the balance between separation distance, tree diameter, and how much cord I have to hang it, it feels like a bit much, but so can setting up any new tent. I am hoping it sets up faster as I get used to it.
They do seem to be every bit as sturdy and water tight as any other kid of tent, even more so when you eliminate ground seep and flooding problems and Hennessy has lots of options for bells and whistles from ultra lite models to full fledged tents with thick insulation pads. Again, pretty much too cool. Check back in another six months to hear how it makes through the winter camping season.
And that's it! Now go update your gear.