Archive | Survival

Ben’s Backwoods Fire Wicks

I recently had the chance to try Fire Wicks from Ben’s Backwoods and I’m impressed. To give you some context, my impression of them is that they are kind of like an improved version of petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls. Having something that readily turns spark into flame and then extends that flame is vital to any fire kit.

Fire Wicks are sections of lamp wick that are impregnated with wax. The use of lamp wick is the genius part. First, lamp wick is dense with cotton fibers so the can be fluffed to catch a spark and burn for a long, long time. Second, the lamp wick is flat in form which makes Fire Wicks incredibly easy to store in a kit, on a sheath, or anywhere. Lastly, one Fire Wick can be trimmed into multiple pieces to start multiple fires. It can also be kept whole to use like a match when starting a twig stove or reaching into a fire lay. The lamp wick form is very handy.

BensBackwoods.com

Close Encounters of the Moose Kind…

I was charged by a cow moose and her calf yesterday. That’s a first for me and it happened on our family property… well, technically adjacent to our property but still, the charge began on our property.

This is not the moose from yesterday… I didn’t bother taking any pics then.

The northern border of our place is a road that runs West to East, eventually climbing its way into a National Forest. Our driveway enters this road and the forest lands start about 2.5 miles beyond our place. I walk or ruck this road regularly to stay in hiking shape and that is what I was doing yesterday when I meet Mrs. Moose.

My walk started with me turning East out of our driveway. I walked less than 100 yards from the end of the driveway. In this area, the woodline is set back from the road anywhere between 20-40 yards to give space for some power lines. Fortunately, this buffer field is at its widest where the charge happened which gave me time to see it happen.

I was walking East when I noticed rustling and caught movement in my peripheral vision to the South in the woodline (my right). Initially, I noticed a moose calf (already much larger than a very large Whitetail Deer) pop out of the woodline at a run directly toward me. It was coming from ahead and to my right. The calf was out first, possibly trying to get out of the way of the cow (which I didn’t know about yet). I am really not sure why it came out first.

I stopped walking and the woodline had my immediate attention. I realized shortly, based on movement, that a large dark spot I could see but wasn’t fully aware of in the woodline was the cow moose. She was coming out quickly through, not around, some smaller Grand Firs that choke this section of our property. She covered half the ground between my position on the road and the woodline in a flash before stopping. It didn’t really even look like a sprint since she slowed to a stop so easily. The elapsed time from when I saw the calf and realized a cow was following to when she stopped, may have been less than a second.

At this point, I am not moving but she has stopped about 20 yards away and is sort of just staring so I shifted my gaze away from her. I am not sure how much of a difference it makes since supposedly moose have terrible eyesight, but I’ve heard you shouldn’t make eye contact… so I didn’t. I just sort of watched below her slightly so I could still see legs and track movement while I started to back away. At some point, while backing away, I drew my Ruger LCR (not enough gun) from a pocket holster and kept it low along the side of my thigh.

Not enough gun

The cow took probably no more than 1 or 2 more small steps in my general direction at this point. She was mostly standing in place. Then an S10 Blazer drove past seemingly unaware of the moose since they didn’t slow down. When the Blazer zipped past, the cow turned and stepped back toward the woodline with a start which I took as an opportunity to back up a bit faster. I was out of view of the cow a moment after that because of some low brush and smaller trees between us.

It was exciting, to say the least, but there are also some lessons to be learned.

  1. Carry a gun. – In this case, I was woefully under-gunned but at least I had access to one. I didn’t need it but I was glad to have it.
  2. Know the wildlife/threats specific to your area. – I dealt with this moose the way I have rehearsed dealing with a moose. This is something that I have made a point to know about and role-play. We have bears, mountain lions, and moose on our property and wolves nearby. I recommend that you take some time to understand and practice what you would do in an encounter with the dangerous animals in your area.
  3. Carry your phone. – I always carry my phone on my rucks/walks. I was able to immediately let my family know that there was a jumpy cow moose on the property and to stay away from the area. If the situation was a bit different, it could have been handy for getting help.

I’ll wrap up by pointing something out that I often think about in situations like this. We have active mountain lions on our property… mountain lions that have killed and carried miniature horses and alpacas OUT OF BARNS! We obviously have moose too. We are not unique. There are millions of people living in wild places like this. And a lot of those people are tired of their right to own the firearms they deem appropriate to protect themselves from these animals being questioned by people who live somewhere far away in a place where the wildlife is limited to little critters that eat from dumpsters.

Lester River Bushcraft Adds Charcoal Gray to Boreal Line of Wool Outerwear

Lester River Bushcraft is well known for their high-quality wool outerwear. Known as the Boreal line and made in Duluth, Minnesota, the line consists of two garments – the Boreal Shirt Anorak and the LRB M1951 Field Jacket. Previously these garments were only available in Olive Green but this week, Lester River Bushcraft added a new Charcoal Gray color option.

Wool is naturally flame retardant and antimicrobial. It wicks moisture away from the wear and helps regulate temperature. Both garments are also packed with features beyond the natural qualities of wool. Learn more at: LRBushcraft.com

Review: Simple Theory Gear Pack Stove

I like twig stoves for backpacking and, in spite of trying several, I’ve mostly stuck with the same one for years – long enough to be intimately familiar with everything I dislike about my particular twig stove. Along came Simple Theory Gear with a stove, The Pack Stove, that seemed to address every single issue I was having with my tabbed construction, flat pack style stove. I am going to spoil this review right here in the first paragraph… The Pack Stove isn’t perfect but it is as close to it as I have found. It’s really, really good.

Overview

The Pack Stove is a twig stove (or bio stove) with a cylindrical shape. It’s is made from 304 stainless steel that is significantly thicker than the steel found on most twig stoves. In spite of that thicker steel, it still weighs in at 11.8 ounces which is similar or even less than many steel flat pack or hinged stoves.

The design is the real story here. Instead of packing flat, the Pack Stove is designed to nest. It nests on water bottles with a similar diameter to the standard 32 ounce Nalgene. It only has one loose part, the top grate, which can be stowed on the stove itself.

These are the only two parts of The Pack Stove.

Observations from Use

Background with Twig Stoves – In order to appreciate The Pack Stove, I think you probably need a background with other twig stoves. Most twig stoves on the market are box-shaped and fall into two categories: those that assemble with tabs/slots and those that are hinged.

Both of these types of stoves require assembly in some form. Hinged stoves are easier to work with but are not without their issues thanks to the warping that seems to come standard with any thin metal box that holds a fire. Basically, they all require fiddling, especially when it comes to their grates which are often some sort of cross-member design.

Little to No Fiddle Factor – The fiddle factor for flat-pack style twig stoves is made more annoying by their tendency to warp and the fact that there is no way to disassemble them without leaving your hands looking like you just swept your chimney. Almost any twig stove on the market will work but the fiddle-factor is what is most likely to turn you off.

The Pack Stove does away with almost all fiddle factor. In fact, it is really no more fiddly than something like a canister stove. There are no hinges, tabs, slots, or cross members. You simply take the one-piece grate off the bottom of the stove where it is stowed, attach it to or rest it on the top and start burning. Then, when it is time to put it away, you can quench the entire stove with water or snow without fear of excessive warping and be on your way. The ability to quench the stove without worry is a key feature.

My stove came with a burlap stuff sack but current production stoves will have a new stuff sack.

Little to No Warping – Warping is extremely common in most flat pack twig stoves. To be fair, it is mostly an inconvenience that makes assembly/disassembly a pain but not a real deal-breaker. The Pack Stove, however, seems to be HIGHLY resistant to warping thanks to its thicker steel stock and stong cylinder shape. The only parts I have warped even slightly are the grate retainer tabs on the top and these are designed to be easily fixed using the grate itself as a key to space them. The bottom line is that warping, even if quenched with water or in snow, is not an issue.

Strong Burner – All twig stoves are somewhat sensitive to airflow. If you have used one, you’ve noticed the extra smoke that is created when the stove starts to choke a bit. Some stoves will start to choke when the coal/ash bed is too deep. Some start to choke with large diameter pots or pans that cover too much of their upper vents.

The Pack Stove with its numerous side ports, raised and ventilated bottom plate, and an air gap at the top seems to breathe well in all the conditions that I tried. It does especially well at holding a coal bed. It burns remarkably well in spite of the more compact firebox than what I am used to.

Versatility – This stove is versatile. It works well in its intended function, burning twigs, but it is also designed to work well as a windscreen and pot stand for alcohol stoves. To use The Pack Stove with a spirit burner, just turn it upside down and place it over your burner. This shields the burner from wind (though you may need additional shielding on really windy days) and creates nearly perfect head spacing for the jets when used with a Trangia (or similar). This is a nice feature for those who may spend time above treeline or other places where wood can be scarce.

Simple Theory Gear has mentioned the possibility of a titanium version of this stove sometime in the future. If they do manage to bring that to market, I could see people who use alcohol stoves as their primary cooking method carrying The Pack Stove as their pot stand/windscreen just to have the emergency redundancy of being able to use it as a twig stove should they run out of fuel.

The Pack Stove works well as a windscreen and pot stand for Trangia and similar spirit burners/alcohol stoves.

Details – There are a few other details of The Pack Stove that I appreciate. The way the grate stows on the bottom of the stove creates a chamber that can be used to stow fire-starting materials like birch bark for your next burn.

I also appreciate the synergy that this stove has with the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set which I have previously reviewed. They can be nested together and the pot is basically the perfect size for use with this stove. The narrow shape seems to be optimized for this stove, allowing for plenty of air to get to the fire and seeming to have all the heat focused directly into it. This is no accident. While The Pack Stove will work with just about any cook pot you can safely balance on it, the designer is also a fan of the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set.

I can’t say enough about the nesting aspect of The Pack Stove’s design. Flat pack twig stoves are nice in that they, well… pack flat. However, they still have to be stowed somewhere in your pack. In a sense, The Pack Stove takes up ZERO additional space in your pack because it shares a spot that was already occupied by a water bottle.

Not Quite Perfect – The review has been rightly glowing so far but I don’t want to give the idea that The Pack Stove is perfect. There are some things that I would change about it. For instance, I don’t see why the grate has to be “locked” on the top. This is perhaps the only fiddly part of working with the stove and the locking slots are really the only part of the stove that you might wrap. I would like to see simple indexing depressions that the grate could rest in so it could be lifted off easily but wouldn’t slide around.

I also think the feed port could be larger or at least flared toward the top where is more space between ents to allow for easier feeding and the use of larger wood chunks while the pot is in place. It is very workable now but a little more space to feed and position twigs might be nice.

Finally, given that The Pack Stove nests on a water bottle or the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set so well, it would be nice if the included stuff sack was tall enough to accommodate those items in addition to the stove. The included sack is made of burlap and is a bit of a tight fit. I could just leave it at home but I find that it makes a handy place to rest twigs off the snow. Simple Theory Gear does have a new stuff sack that might already address this.

Add a bit of scouring pad to cut down on the metal-on-metal rattle. It’s handy for cleaning and maintenance too.

Pro Tips – If you have never used a twig stove, here are some tips that probably hold true for most stoves but work especially well with The Pack Stove. First, carry pliers or some other way of handling hot items – a multitool works fine. It will make your life a lot easier when you need to handle a hot stove.

Second, carry a bit of scouring pad wedged in between the stove and your nested water bottle or pot. It will reduce the rattling a bit and it can be used to clean up your pot, inside and out. It is also handy for cleaning rust off tools like hatchets and knives in cold or wet weather.

Third, fold a few layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil into a square and place your stove on it while you burn. It can help keep the stove level on snow, serve as a catch for ashes and coals, and it will help reflect heat back up into your pot. Foil can also be used to make other handy items like a cup or hot pad in a pinch.

Finally, you can start cooking on these twig stoves pretty much as soon as the fire is going. However, if you want a more maintenance-free, less finicky burn, give the stove a few minutes to build up a coal base before placing your pot on top.

Wrap Up

If you are like me and you already like twig stoves, you probably took one look at The Pack Stove and saw the potential. If you have thought about trying a twig stove, just start here. The bottom line is that it is much easier to live with and use than other stoves. The Pack Stove is one smart twig stove.

SimpleTheoryGear.com

Disclosure: The Pack Stove was provided to me by Simple Theory Gear, free of charge, for the purposes of this review.

Review: Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set

Sometimes, you get what you pay for. Sometimes, you get a lot more than you paid for. The latter is certainly the case with the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set. I’ve owned this cook set for years and I’ve been using it a lot lately with my new Simple Theory Gear Pack Stove which has reminded me of how much I like it.

This cook set has so many thoughtful features that this review could end up being entirely too long so I will try to hit the highlights in outline form.

Price and Availability – The price is impressive at a glance and it only gets more impressive as you read on. This cook set costs $15 and includes the pot with locking handle (locks open and closed to retain the lid), a lid, and two insulated plastic cups that nest inside the pot. Not only that, but you can get it locally at Wal-Mart or online on Amazon (Prime). It doesn’t get much more affordable or available than that.

Form – Initially, I thought I might dislike the tall, narrow shape of the Adventure Camp Cook Set. Wider pots are usually going to perform better than narrower pots for tasks like melting snow for water. However, I’ve come to appreciate the shape and size over time. It is easy to pack. It is the right diameter for use with most nesting cups (the type that will nest on a 32 ounce Nalgene or similar bottle) and its lid can be shared with said nesting cups. It is still wide enough to fit small canister stove fuel canisters inside yet narrow enough to fit in your pack’s water bottle pockets. Basically, the size and shape are just right.

Details – This cook set is packed with thoughtful details. The handle is long enough that it stays well away from the flame which keeps it cool. The handle also locks over the lid which keeps anything you carry in the pot from spilling out which is handy because this will fit in exterior water bottle pockets of many packs.

The pot has useful graduation markings. Even the included 10 ounce cups have an 8 ounce/1 cup marking which any camp cook will find useful!

The lid can be used with any common 95mm/3.75 inch diameter nesting cup or small pot. If you want to save some weight, the lid can be swapped with lighter weight titanium or aluminum lids available for this common size. Heck, you might even have one already. The bottom of the pot tapers so you can nest a cup on it which can make for a great and compact two pot set up.

Stainless Steel and Weight – The pot is made from stainless steel so it isn’t as light as aluminum or titanium. However, it is still relatively lightweight at just under 14 ounces for the whole set. The pot alone weighs just under 8 ounces. Each cup weighs about 3 ounces so removing one or both of those saves significant weight but they are actually really nice cups/bowls. The cups are actually nice enough that I use them at home sometimes and have a hard time not bringing at least one.

8-14 ounces depending on configuration isn’t that heavy especially when you consider how well a steel pot transfers heat and how easy it is to care for in the field compared to other metals. This is the kind of pot that you can put directly on a campfire or twig stove without concern. Just scour it quickly with a Scotch-Brite pad or a wad of dried ferns and move on.

Wrap Up

This pot has the kind of details that you really want in a cook set but, surprisingly, many of these details are lacking in much more expensive pots. It even has some details that are just really unexpected but cool. This would be a great deal at twice the price.

As I mentioned above, you can find these in just about any Wal-Mart outdoor section for $15. If you need an even easier way to add one to your kit, Amazon has them for the same price with Prime shipping (affiliate link): Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set on Amazon

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