Primitive and modern outdoor skills

Gear Review: Patagonia stand-up shorts


In my pursuit of non-synthetic clothing, it's been surprisingly hard to find really good robust clothes that fit my needs. For years I've bought various types of synthetic shorts, because they last so long, but I finally found shorts that last a long time without being synthetic.

I'm currently wearing my second pair, which are my town shorts. My first pair are starting to look a little long in the tooth but are still what I wear in warm weather the rest of the time. The core of the fabric is still solid, but the pockets and cuffs are ragged and unraveling.

If you read this blog, you know that I expect a lot from my clothes. I beat them up hard, and own very few pieces.

The good:
The bad:
As mentioned, I like them enough that I bought another identical pair. I hope they keep making them so I can keep buying them.

New tarp poles... cutting poles responsibly


If you recall, a while back I rolled the truck in a blizzard in North Dakota. We got a towtruck to come out in the blizzard and roll it over, and pull it out. I was then rushing around trying to get the stuff on the roof-rack (which had been cracked off) stuffed in to the truck in some manor or other in the dark in temperatures well below zero.

Suffice to say that the wooden poles I'd cut a while back didn't make the cut, and were left on the side of the road.

In the west we didn't miss them much, since it doesn't rain much out west we could use lazier pitches that use fewer poles. We're up in Minnesota now and the rain is picking up. Additionally, the forest around here is heavily logged, and thus there's a lot of "dog-hair". So, it seemed a good time to cut some new poles.

By "dog-hair" I mean extremely dense stands of very young trees. When I went to harvest I poked around looking for the densest stands I could find. Here those dense stands are ash. The stand I took these from had trees ~2 feet apart. Such a stand is *too* dense, and will actually be healthier with a little thinning. The trees cannot grow larger without some being removed. Removing the competition early (rather than letting some die) will reduce competition and let those that survive grow faster and healthier... much like thinning carrots in a garden.

I carefully picked trees that were actively crossing others. The trees I cut were within 6 inches of another tree, and in some cases nearly wrapping around them. The rubbing of the trunk on the other tree will tend to sicken both trees, so these are particularly helpful to remove.

Now... a few of you forestry/environmental/basketry types are waiting for me to address the fact that I said "ash"... yes, I said ash.

Currently we have a serious problem in the U.S. with "Emerald Ash Borer", a beetle who's young burrow through the tree and kill it. For more information look here . It's invasive, so the trees have poor defenses and it's wiping out ash across the U.S. Of course the beetle can fly, but it seems they are often introduced to new areas by humans moving wood around, particularly firewood. I just cut ash, so how am I going to avoid this?

2 things. First, all the ash in the area looked very healthy, I do not believe the ash borer is in the area where I cut. Second, I carefully stripped the bark off each pole, additionally checking for any bug damage anywhere along each pole as I did so, and looking at the bark flakes I removed. The article I linked above notes that they stay in the inner-bark region ( phloem , cambium , and outer xylem ), so stripping the bark should get rid of them, or at a minimum show their tracks through the wood, even if one did deep-dive for some reason.

non-synthetic mosquito headnet


As part of my non-synthetic backpacking kit I wanted a non-synthetic bug-headnet. Usually I don't need it (in fact, it's pretty rare)... but the Sierra in the wrong season can get pretty bad, as a couple of my friends I took up there one year can attest. Similarly there are spots on the east coast where it's just not optional.

So, I set about it. My first idea was to find a veil, but failing that I picked up some cheese cloth.

I then stitched across the top with cotton button-thread, and then using the thread like a drawcord I cinched the top up. Next I bound around that top bundle with the thread and tied it off.

Lastly I cut off the extra and sewed down the back to close it up so I could slide it over my hat.

It's not going to work for no-seeums, and I don't think it'll even work for black-flies, but for mosquitos it should do the trick. I'll update this post when I find out!

howto: Waxing cotton 2


A while back I wrote this article on waxing cotton:

I'm not actually using that poncho, I decided it was okay, but a little bit heavy. After doing extensive calculations and agonizing about it I've decided on what I think will be the lightest solution.

Instead I'm using:
  1. A cotton canvas overshirt, which I treated with wax as a raincoat
  2. 3x5 800 threadcount sheet, which I've treated with wax as a groundcloth, and to surround my gear when it's tied to my pack, to keep it dry
  3. 5x8 800 threadcount sheet, untreated, as a shelter while sleeping

The reason this works out well is a little complicated. A poncho needs to be worn while hiking, so it cannot double as the waterproof layer for gear while hiking, as a result I would *also* need fabric for that. Additionally it's so large that it's a waste to use it for a groundcloth, so I'd need to have a treated ground-cloth that I also use to keep my pack dry *anyway*. The poncho is so heavy that compared to an untreated tarp of the same size + a treated canvas raincoat is only a bit heavier. But, the treated canvas raincoat is useful as a windbreaker too, where the poncho is not.

Yeah... this is why it took me a long time to figure it out. I had to actually calculate theoretical weights for a number of different gear combinations to decide in the end.

Anyway, end result is that I've treated yet more fabric, and in the process I've figured out a few more things with respect to treating cotton, including a somewhat simpler/faster process.

In making the new tarps I wanted to try turpentine, as mineral spirits is made from petroleum, while turpentine is made from tree sap. This treatment worked extremely well, penetrating the fabric with wax in just one coat, I applied a second coat for good measure. This is a far cry from the last treatment I used that seemed to work well, and I believe the reason is that terpentine seems to dissolve beeswax better than mineral spirits does. Here's the recipe:

Note that I'm using the linseed oil just to help fight mildew, rather than as a major component to help with flexibility as most recipe's do. So far flexibility hasn't proven to be a major issue though, and the smell takes months to fade, so I keep using less each time I treat something.

This worked so well that I re-coated my jacket as well, hoping to get more waterproofness out of it. I'll report back on how well it actually works in the rain, but initial results are that the wax filled the gaps in the fabric well, and don't appear to be sitting on the surface such as to flake off.

DIY: Alpenstock


Recently I've done a lot of research in to mountaineering gear. First I wanted to figure out what modern gear is out there and what is best for what, and second I wanted to understand historical gear as possibly useful information in building a non-synthetic gearset for some basic mountaineering.

Not long ago I posted . But, this is only half the story, there's also the modern ice-axe.

Now, if you start reading you'll quickly learn that historically people actually carried 2 different tools: an axe, and an alpenstock. The modern ice-axe is actually a conglomeration of those 2 tools in to one. What people used as an axe varied a lot from what I've seen in photos, but basically it was something like a rock-hammer (often a one-handed sledge-hammer with a spike welded to it), or a literal axe.

Alpenstocks though were pretty consistent, It's really just a good strong pole with a metal spike at the bottom.

Alone the alpenstock could be used for normal walking. On steeper hills you'd plunge the spike in to the icy-snow and use it for stability and self-belay like a modern ice-axe. When things get really ice you could use the metal tip on the alpenstock to slowly chip out steps in the ice... it's slow, but it works (particularly before crampons were popular). The axe was carried for more serious mountaineering as it made this last process a lot faster.

Everyone carried an alpenstock in the mountains in Europe, to the point that I've seen historical jokes about people being unwilling to walk around town without them. Fundamentally they are very very similar to the modern collapsable hiking pole (which you also see people with walking down bike-paths today), but tougher and capable of taking significant side-loads (as in a self-belay).

As a result, when Alpenstocks had the ice-axe head added to them combining the two tools in to one for convenience, at first they were still long enough to use as a normal hiking pole. It wasn't until later when people started mostly storing the ice-axe on their pack, and only taking it out for the mountaineering bits that ice-axes got short. Improvements in crampons and the popularity of ice-climbing also helped drive this change.

All in all the alpenstock is really an in-between. It's better than a modern hiking pole for sketchy mountainsides, but it won't let you self-arrest like a modern ice-axe, only self-belay, and it's far slower for chopping steps. I feel like this makes it ideal for things like thru-hiking where it can be a hard call whether to carry an ice-axe at all or not... So I wanted to make one and give it a try.

Here's my first attempt:

Ideally the wood would probably be a touch hard-to-split hard-wood like hickory, but I really wasn't sure how this would work and wanted to just try something and see how it worked in practice. I forget exactly but I believe this is spruce, which is at least better than normal pine.

Step one was to re-inforce the shaft so it wouldn't split. The whole idea of this tool is to stick in to the ice and pull *sideways*, meaning the torque applied by the spike on the stick will be significant. I didn't have any of my favorite linen twine to spare, so I used some simple cotton button thread instead (we'll see how it holds up). I wrapped the shaft carefully, using a standard whipping tie-off (make a loop of thread, wrap around that towards the loop end of the thread, but leaving it sticking out, when you finished stick the end through the loop, pull the other end of the loop still sticking out the other side and tighten).

Then I drilled a hole as deep as I was able using the bits I had on hand. I used a bit notably smaller, trying to guess what would hold the steel well, but not put too much splitting force on wood shaft.

Next I took a 12" spike (a giant nail) and eyeballed how much I wanted to stick out. I decided on ~5", then added that to the depth of my hole by measuring against the drill. I then cut off the sharp end with a hacksaw.

Next I carefully filed the cut side of the spike rounding it so that it would start to slide in to the spike in to the wood shaft. Then, setting the top of the handle on the ground and against a backstop (so it tilted a bit), I hammered the spike in. This took a bit of effort.

I took a file and took off the flat spot I'd created at the tip of the spike. I didn't sharpen it yet, as for now I'm going to use it for normal hiking and not driving it through my foot if I slip would be nice. I may sharpen it a bit more before trying it on more technical terrain.

Lastly, looking at the thread I realized it would get busted up almost immediately as soon as I hit a rock with the side of the pole. So, I figured I'd try and reinforce this a bit. I took some normal elmers glue (basically hide-glue) and rubbed it in to the threads, let it dry, then repeated this 5 or so times, building up a tough layer over the threads that I hope will protect them.

I'm really not sure how well this will work. I don't usually use hiking poles when I just go hiking, I'd rather work on strengthening my knees and sometimes Angie and I decide to run (as we did off of Mt. Shavana recently); so, this will have to wait until our next backpacking trip to get a proper test. I'll update this post of course with the results.

I recently used this on a 20 mile hike to cross a fairly serious and steep snowfield with no crampons in the Grand Tetons.

It worked, but not ideally. I think I'm going to round the base of the wooden shaft a little bit to help it slide in to the snow more easily, as how well it works in softer snow is decided mostly by how deep it will sink in to the snow.

I used 2 techniques depending on the snow. Sometimes I stuck it in on the downhill side for balance directly in line with gravity, allowing 2 steps before stopping to move the alpenstock. At other times I stuck it in perpendicular to the slope on the uphill side. The second felt more secure, as I could swing it in with both arms and sink it deep in to the hillside, but I could only take one step at a time, as two put me too far off balance backwards, as the shaft was in my way. The second is the technique I would use if I was really nervous, and on a really steep incline, but not slipping is often most useful and the first sometimes felt better for that.

Of course, please do not take this as an endorsement of a safety device, you are responsible for your own safety out there, this is just me experimenting and sharing what I've found. If you make one, and dye using it, that's on you. Be careful out there.

I've used it a couple of other times, but I used this again on this trip . A 5 day trip involving some pretty intense snow crossings. The wrapping failed entirely and slowly fell off from wet snow, but the tip held up anyway and got me down safely.

There's no question it would be better to cover the entire tip with metal, but despite that this held up well enough and it's only made of douglass fir. I'm toying with making a new one using a denser wood like oak. I haven't yet decided whether I'll re-wrap the tip or not.