backcountry distilled wisdom  return

Knowledge Nuggets

Page 2
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Let Your 4-Legged Friend Carry the Load:

Omar ............ goats can travel anywhere most hikers can. Here's ..... Omar my 250# wether after traversing a steep 13,200 ft pass.

Name: Kurt f Wieck, 01/08/98
Email: packgoat@verinet.com

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Keep Fresh Supplies in Your Vehicle:

Name: Switchback, 01/15/98
Email: Hiker97@aol.com

One thing to add to your checklist. Be sure that your vehicle has some food, drinks, and clean clothes for your return.

It is really nice to look forward to these things when coming out after a big hike. Sometimes I have pushed it to get out, and really enjoyed the big water bottle and snacks waiting in the truck.

Just remember the bears are around and to pack everything well and then cover with a big towel.

Cheers, Switchback. -------------------------------------------------------------

Inexpensive Compression Solution:

Name: Rob Marco, 01/15/98
Email: mmarco@erols.com

I just came up with a (method) for saving space in (my) pack. My 1800 cu in Lowe Klettersack is a tight fit for an overnight trip, so I was looking for ways to cut down on bulk, since weight wasn't a problem. Compression sacks always seemed like a good idea, but usually weighed up to half a pound.

I simply took two lash straps, connected both ends, and slipped both over my stuffed sleeping bag vertically, so they were perpendicular, like wrapping a present. I pulled on the two ends, and it cinched up nicely, cutting about 25% of the bulk of the bag, and only weighing a couple of ounces. This helps if you need precious space in your pack.

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Don't Lose Those Tent Stakes !:

Name: Switchback, 01/17/98
Email: Hiker97@aol.com

Before you go out on your big hike, take a moment to brightly spray paint your tent stakes so you can see them laying on the ground. Most stakes are of a color that blends into the surroundings. A quick spray on the tops of your stakes will prevent you from overlooking them. Another good thing to do is make sure you know the number of stakes you are taking with you. Make a check count each morning before putting them into your pack.

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A First Aid Tip:

Name: Matthew Paramore, 05/27/97
Email: mhp@coastalnet.com

Instead of using Neosporin or another triple antibiotic ointment, have a doctor write you a prescription for bactoban. It's the most powerful antiboitic ointment, can penetrate the skin (all others must enter through an open wound), and only costs about $12. It's good stuff to have just around the house.

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Hot Shower & Baby Wipes !:

Name: Kelly & Craig Turner, 01/23/98
Email: kcturner@bright.net

If you use a "Big Slam" bottle for a water bottle, carry a spare cap with holes drilled in it.  Fill the bottle with warm water for a great hot trail shower!

On short trips, I carry travel packets of baby wipes. They smell like babies but that's better than the alternative, and it only takes two or three to do a whole bath.

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Ultralight Winter Tent Pegs !:

Name: Charles Lindsey, 02/01/98
Email: email@noemail.org

As you know, regular three-season tent pegs don’t work in the snow (& ice). There are numerous techniques for securing tents in the snow - we’ll only talk lightweight, here.

One technique, which will actually reduce your overall tent weight such that it weighs less in the Winter than it does during the other three seasons, is to leave the tent pegs at home and use your ice axe, snow shovel, snow poles, and/or skis for pegs. Also, if you can find long wooden branches, they’ll work fine - you must be able to sink them deep enough to create a very solid anchor for your tent, such that high winds cannot blow you and your tent away, and the tent “peg-loops” must not be able to slip off.

If the reason you’re out there in the first place is to use the skis, poles, or ice axe and shovel, you can take the tent down during the day when you need the "tools" and put it up again when you're done playing. If that doesn't work for you, then here’s another option. This is the “ultralight” technique that I use for Winter tent pegs.

I use small-sized nylon stuff sacks - in terms of volume, about 1 liquid quart. Very lightweight to carry and I can pack a lot of snow into them. That's exactly what I do. One small stuff sack = one tent peg.

I pack each stuff sack full of snow and bury it an appropriate distance from its "target tent loop", about one to three feet deep (depending on snow constitution and weather conditions). I stamp the ground with my feet to firm - believe me you may need an ice axe the next day to retrieve your anchors.

Attached to each stuff sack is a section of ultralight, ultrastrong, Kelty Triptease Lightline which, after the sack is buried, is protruding out of the ground. Attached to the other end of the section of Lightline, is a “Taut-Tie” slider lock which I thread thru the tent-peg loop, bring back around and attach to the Lightline, then pull very taut.

I may use only three “sack-pegs” -- because all my tents require only three pegs -- or I may use five (I carry five sacks, they don't weigh much - and its good to have them along in case the wind gets nasty so the tent sides can be anchored also).

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The Critical Few !:

Name: Jim Morrison, 02/05/98
Email: raptor99@prodigy.com

If you look in your closet you will find that you wear only 20 percent of your clothing 80 percent of the time. Things just work out like that. You spend most of your social time with only a small percentage of the people you know and like. It is called (by me) the "critical few". Only 20% of the stocks on the market make 80% of the gains in a given year. Twenty percent of the web page visitors make 80 percent of the contributions.

Why is this important? Because the 20% are the critical few that you should be paying attention to. The rest are less important...not a priority. If 20% of my customers contribute to 80% of my gross income then I had better pay attention to them first.

In my lightweight pack list I have 43 items. Ten of those items do make up 80% of the 25 pound total - Pack, S.Bag, Food, Shelter, Cooker, Rain Coat, Wool Sweater, Sleep Pad, Toilet Kit, and Pot&Lid.

So, if I have taken any care at all with the small items, if I need to, want to, or have to, reduce weight, I should look at the Critical Few and consider them carefully. I could (if money grew on trees) lose a full 2 pounds on my sleeping bag alone. But when I replaced my Leatherman Tool with a pocket knife recently, I only saved four ounces. The best example of all is my packs. I have two, 7 and 5 pounds.

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Pre-Soak Meals & Use Pressure-Cookers:

Name: Dan, 02/06/98
Email: DAN.INNAMORATO@hq.doe.gov

ref: ..... section on cooking and carry less fuel.

If you cook oatmeal, rice, dried beans/grains, or powdered soups, most of the cooking time is rehydration. Put these meals in a Tupperware or Nalgene container & cover w/water early in the day (or prev. night for brkfst). By mealtime, the legumes, grains, and/or soups are rehydrated and, thus, the cooking time - and fuel consumption - is greatly reduced. This fuel savings equates to a smaller fuel bottle needed or longer trip on same fuel allotment.

AlpineAire also has precooked grains, beans and pasta which requires much less cooking time.

The fuel saved by greatly decreased cooking times achieved by using a small pressure cooker, can often offset the high weight of these pots.

Foods cooked at 250-F can mean beans & rice in 4min! Also at altitudes above 6000ft, many foods don't cook properly due to lower boiling point of water, and the cooking just goes on and on. A pressure cooker eliminates this problem. I'm still trying to find a small (2-3L) cooker. REI used to sell one, and it's even pictured in the book they publish by Harvey Manning,"Backpacking: One Step at a Time". But now REI sells useless backpacker ESPRESSO makers, but no suitable pressure cooker.

The Yups have conquered common sense. I've searched [www.kuhnrikon.com] and [www.unitedsoftware.com/napl] for the Magefesa brand. Kuhn-Rikon has a Risotta cooker which might do, but still on the large size for bkpkg.

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Do You Carry a Comb ?:

Name: Eric Blievernicht, 02/06/98
Email: ebliever@mail2.theonramp.net

I was combing my hair yesterday when I noticed that with ordinary straight pocket combs you never actually use more than half the comb at one time. So why not cut it in half?

That's exactly what I did, keeping the end with the finer comb tines for my packlist. Every little bit helps!

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Reuse Those Film Canisters:

Name: J. D. Albert, 02/15/98
Email: albertjd@vaix2.net

I saw in your weight-reducing tips that you do not use film cans (for food) because the film leaves a residue.

It is true that there is a nitrate residue in the film cans, but you can be able to reuse them if you follow these steps to remove the residue:

First, air them out. Next, fill them with salty water and leave the water in them for a week or so. Then rinse the cans out and you have reusable film canisters.

I asked a film developer about this issue and he said it was true. He said these steps would work. The salt in the water attracts the nitrates so when you dump out the water you dump out the nitrates.

This process takes a while, but I think it's worth the money.

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A  2 1/2  Ounce Bivy Sack !!!

Name: Ryan Croos, 02/17/98
Email: thepackmule@hotmail.com

I sleep in a sleeping bag and use the space bag as an over bag/bivy instead of a heavy tent. The bag ..... adds about 10 degrees to the sleeping bag rating, and will keep you dry in the rain. Be careful at first, this is a warm surprise.

Flexibility is pretty good. The worst part of it is the krinkling noise when you're readjusting your sleeping position. I've only used this for weekends, 3 to be exact, but I haven't replaced it yet. It's only 2.5oz so I recommend taking it AND a tent and trying it out.

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Milk Carton Bottom for Stove / Food Holder

Name: Coosa Carol Donaldson, 02/21/98
Email: coosa@juno.com

Editor's Note: This is especially interesting for those of us who mainly boil water and add to instant type foods inside heavy duty freezer bags, rather than cook from scratch (and get our pots dirty :-).

I'm using the bottom of a 1/2 gallon milk carton as a baggie holder so I can pour hot water into the baggie and not have to dump my meal into my pot. (My Boy Scout diox stove fits in the carton bottom along with my aluminum foil for my wind shield.)

Dinner is potato flakes, powdered milk (creamora added for flavor), butter buds in one baggie and Just Veggies (or dehydrated if I did that) and roasted soybeans in the other. Set the first in the baggie holder, pour in the hot water, stir, add a mayonnaise packet (if not going ultra-light) stir/fluff and then add contents of second baggie and chow down.

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5 Gram Insulated Cup & Holey Moleskin:

Name: Jimboy2, 03/05/98
Email: Jimboy2@aol.com

My latest super extra ultra supreme light ideas are from last weekend's hike. I used a 5 gram (16 oz. capacity) insulated cup (>0.5 oz.) and I found a way to make mole skin lighter.

The insulated cup was simple, a styrofoam cup. They seem to be making them more durable nowadays. I've been using the same one for my tea around the house for a week! I know they are "cheap" but don't be snobish - just because they are inexpensive doesn't mean it is a bad idea.

The other idea is to cut the holes out of the mole skin before you leave home and throw them (the holes) away. Saving; one gram. If you carried one gram to the summit of mount Rainier it would require 8.4 calories!

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Ultralight/Homemade Solar Shower:

Name: Roger Alsborg, 04/11/98
Email: rcalsborg@earthlink.net

Leave those comercial Solar Showers at home!

Last summer, while on the JMT I found that the large trash bag I used for covering my Pack made a Great Solar Shower.

Using my cooking pot, I poured 4 or 5 quarts of cold river water into a standard 28 gauge Trash Bag, rolled the end over and layed it flat while held shut with a couple of rocks.

Let sit in the sun for 30 minutes. Then using some bio-degradable soap and the same pot poured the HOT water over myself for an unbeatable treat.

Afterwards, turn the bag inside out and it will dry in the sun. -------------------------------------------------------------

Super Ultralight Lantern:

Name: j.r., 04/11/98
Email: Tyler502@mail.ultraweb.net

How about a miniature backpacker's lantern that won't burn your fingers or tent, won't blow out in a storm, weighs a fraction of candle or oil lamps,and will "burn for 30 hours or more on a fuel "cartridge" that is the size of a sugar cube and floats also ?

I took a lighted fishing float bought at K-Mart and replaced the LED lamp with a high brightness lamp bought from Radio Shack, then replaced the watch batteries with a single lithium cell ( eveready 2L76 ) . This lamp has a spring hook that makes it easy to adjust height without removing from limb or tent hook.

The red colour won't attract insects at night and won't blind your night vision.The floats are also available in green and yellow colours.

They make great camp markers if you deside to veture out of camp at night as I do, and light up small tents and bivy sacks , I carry three and make trail markers leading back to camp while observing game and owls at night.

How much does it weigh? How bright?

L.E.D.'s (light emitting diodes ) are rated in mcd's or micro candle power, i.e. 1/1000th of a candle output. The lamp I used was rated at 2000 mcd or 2 candle power.

The red colour has a darker effect than the same output in white light. There are led's that put out up to 6000 mcd or 6 candle power but they won't fit in the lighted fishing float I'm using. Make sure you disassemble the float and remove the old lamp to compare to the replacement lamp your looking for. Use fine piont needle nose pliers. Observe polarity of the LED when installing or it will burn out.

The weight ? Well it's just a guess maybe 1/2 or 1 oz ? I don't know for sure but it's less than my cheap candle lantern 3.5 oz. So light I carry at least two on most trips instead of my old lantern.

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Rain Parka - Roll n'Stuff in Hood:

Name: John Drollette, 04/17/98
Email: tamarag@tiac.net

Stuffing your shell jacket in a stuffsack saves volume, but even those tiny sheer Marmot Thunderlight stuffsacks weight 1.3 oz.

So, with any shell, roll the jacket up from bottom to top, and tuck it into its own hood.

Tighten the hood drawstrings, and voila -- a stuffed jacket without a stuffsack (and its corresponding 1.3 oz).

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Mattress - Fold NOT Roll n' Stuff:

Name: John Drollette, 04/17/98
Email: tamarag@tiac.net

For those colder trips where you carry a Thermarest (or other mattress), skip rolling and (reduce weight by eliminating) the stuffsack. Deflate and flatten as usual. Instead of rolling, fold it in half lengthwise, then fold in half again, so that you have a flat "panel" of thermarest about 21" x 12". Pack this flat against the "framesheet" in your pack (or where the framesheet was before you took it out :-).

I've found this much more space efficient than a big roll, (even the 3/4 Ultralight II rolls to the size of a 1 liter nalgene) and keeps the pad warm against your back so that it inflates more quickly in cold weather.

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Multiple Purpose Plastic Bag:

Name: Pete Farino, 04/17/98
Email: PRMN1989@worldnet.att.net

I've always considered a large plastic bag as one of my essentials because it is so light and has so many uses.

It can be used for

  1. a pack cover
  2. a poncho in the rain (with slight modification)
  3. carrying water,
  4. as a solar still
  5. wrapping a sucking chest wound
  6. hanging water in the sun for a hot shower or bath
  7. wrapping food before hanging it in bear country.

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Scot's "Can't Do Without" Items:

Name: Scot Meyers, 04/28/98
Email: smeyers@uswest.net

One inovation that I have discovered is to save those toothpaste samples that come in the morning paper. They are flat, lightweight, and the foil container is easily carried out of the backcountry after I've used up the toothpaste.

Another item I like to take with me when I go is some strong pain medication. Since my last operation a few years ago, I saved some Oxycodone medication for painful emergencies. I was stung by a fire ant on one of my toes while camping the night before going into Buckskin Gulch on the Utah/Arizona border. The pain kept me awake until I remembered I had brought the pain killer along.

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Avon "Bug Repellent":

Name: Rob Fogg, 05/07/98
Email: robfogg@uswest.net

....... thought you might like to know of an alternative bug repellant.

When i was in the navy with a land based hydrographic survey unit we had to travel to fun spots like malaysia and other bug rich areas in the pacific. Everyone in my unit swore by "Skin So Soft" by Avon. It's not the cheapest way to keep the skeeters at bay but I've found it to be the most effective. It comes in about three sizes ranging from 2oz. to family size.

The plus side of it (beyond its bug-repelling capability) is that you walk around smelling better than the rest of your team. =)

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Jerry's Ultralite Innovations:

Name: Jerry Emerick, 05/22/98
Email: jemerick@freenet.columbus.oh.us

  • COTTON THREAD makes fine lashing for dead sticks, to make a tarp frame. just wrap the joints like a spider web, no knots. Withstood big winds. Easy take down, just cut apart.
  • TIN FOIL oven dishes (at any supermarket) make fine ultralight cookware, single trip use.
  • PILL PACKS: lay out a strip of scotch tape, stand pills on edge, cover with tin foil so the foil sticks to tape on both sides, label. No bottles.
  • TOOTHPASTE STRAWS: Fast food plastic straws hold a week's worth of toothpaste in 4" - fold and tape one end, make a slip ring for the other. You can point the straw to make a floss/pick.
  • HANDIWIPES or JCLOTHS these pink disposable dishcloths make a beachtowel or neckerchief. get the open weave kind, they wring dry.
  • GLOW IN THE DARK flashlight covers. Obvious.

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    Jakstrap Flashlight Holder/Maglite:

    Name: ?, 05/20/98
    Email: walkej_at_nycntpo1@smtpgwy.cibc.com

    I use a Jakstrap flashlight holder to make my Mini-Mag more useful, and to avoid having to carry a separate headlamp. It weighs approximately .5 oz., and transforms my flashlight into a headlamp, as well as keeping it handy around twilight. It is simply an adjustable headband, with elastic loops sized to hold a Mini-Maglite (or similar diameter) flashlight at one of three angles.

    As night falls, I just loop it around my neck, where it keeps me from losing my light, and as it becomes darker I put it on, turn it on, and continue reading, cooking, etc.

    The efficiency and lightweight of the Maglite are doubly useful with this handy little addition, and the ability to use the Maglite as a candle makes it a three-in-one tool.

    That last feature was very useful last weekend in the Catskills, where fascinated kamikaze moths kept extinguishing my partner's candle!

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    Zip Stove Quick Start:

    Name: Mark Allen, 06/24/98
    Email: mark-allen@usa.net

    When i carry my Zip stove (only to places that allow fires unfortunately) i also pack a film canister half full of Sterno. I can then dip a few twigs in the canister and toss them into the stove for blazing fast (no pun intended ;) stove lights.

    It's a light package and also serves as my emergency fire starter.

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    Eric the Weatherling:

    Name: jem1, 07/16/98
    Email: jem1@CTC.Net

    *Consider wearing a thin, old-timer style fishing hat with an extended brim in 40+ degree weather. (Tilley makes a very versatile one with side snaps and all).

    -Crushable
    -Adjustable
    -Sleepable
    -Full circle sun protection

    *Attach safety pins to the outside of the hat.
    *Dental floss and personal emergency kit (information, $5 bill)can be kept in the inside of the hat in a micro-size ziplock.
    *Needles fit nicely in the hatband. (No, I've never been stuck, duh!)

    *Carry smaller items in pockets of your jacket. Getting super small items out of your pack doesn't save space and weight by the bunches, but it's sure easier to find stuff in the dark.

    *You be the judge:
    -More stuff sacks/ziplocks, more organization, more weight.
    -Fewer stuff sacks/ziplocks, less organization, less weight. (Works for me.)

    *Finally, for the fashion-conscious, bite the bullet and wear sturdy, impact-resistant glasses instead of flimsy designer series ones that'll crunch instantly if dropped. And forget contact lenses. (I know, Acue-Vue, SmackU-Vue. Get hit in the eye one good time by a decent-size flying varmint, and you'll be wandering off everywhere, foggy eye and all.)

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    Foam Knee/Seat Pad:

    Name: Colleen Burns, Toronto, Canada, 07/16/98
    Email: buddie@idirect.com

    For a seat, try a foam knee pad, the kind made for gardeners. They are made of extremely lightweight foam, they are wide enough and thick enough to cushion your butt nicely and they can be used to make a variety of chores more comfortable.

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    Lightweight Ideas:

    Name: ?, 08/16/98
    Email: RAkel21351@aol.com

    Here are some things that will help all...

    For light weight tent stakes go to the nearest building supply store and buy a pack of ties for a chain link fence, They come 50 for about 2 bucks, they can be reused or thrown away after each trip and are very light weight..

    Instead of a stuff sack for my sleeping back i use a commercial grade trash bag..It is lighter, waterproof ,airtight..so when you compress it your bag stays small.. and has a bout 10 other uses on the trail( hanging the food).

    I also have painted all my waterbottles black.. before cooking i set them in the sun for a hour or so - this saves time and fuel

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    Water Bottle Multi-Use Tip:

    Name: Ben, 08/16/98
    Email: cheers1@erols.com

    When I go winter camping, I fill the water bottles with hot water just before I go to bed. Then I stuff it down my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm and toasty. As long as it's not too hot to make me sweat, it's a great pick-me-up.:)

    I usually try to choose the wide mouth bottles. About an hour or so before I eat, I try to reconstitute my food in the bottle. Rice works well, pasta's out. I try not to take pasta anymore because of the long cooking time.

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    Suggestion for Tree-Campers:

    Name: Bill Clo, 09/05/98
    Email: billclo@hotmail.com

    I have a suggestion for those who backpack in tree-filled areas.

    Use a hammock and poncho, and ditch that tent, or bivy and save plenty of weight.

    I use a hammock that weighs 8.5oz, bug netting and a poncho that weighs 12oz (Campmor). Total weight= 24.5 oz. Attach to two suitable trees (the hardest part is finding 2 that are the correct distance apart, yet big enough to take the weight. Attach the poncho and bug netting assembly above the hammock, and you're set.

    You do need to modify the poncho with some velcro patches to accomodate the bug netting though.

    With this setup, you have a more comfortable sleep, and all the gear is multi use. (poncho can be used for many things, including rain protection, collecting water in a pinch, emergency raft). Hammock is versatile; sleep in it, emergency fish net, etc.

    I tend to look for gear that is useful in normal backpacking, and less than normal "survival uses" also; you never know when it'd be useful.

    I also rarely use a sleeping bag, instead relying on my clothes and a heavy duty military space blanket to keep me warm. I've used this method down to 40 degrees so far, and it works ok.

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    Insulated Mug Modification:

    Name: Mike Wilson, 09/27/98
    Email: mwatl@mindspring.com

    Cut the bottom of the handle on a plastic insulated mug. Now you can slip it over any strap and let it hang outside your pack. No more tying it on with straps or string.

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    Chopsticks:

    Name: Pablo Mendoza, 12/07/98
    Email: MendozaP@missouri.edu

    When I lived out my backpack for five weeks in Oregon, I used my chopsticks instead of utensils for eating and cooking. Very light and useful.

    It replaced my heavy spoon, fork and spatula for cooking.

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    CD as Signal mirror & Frisbee:

    Name: Allen Nichols (HaMmErHeAd) 11/27/98
    Email: nichols@gwis.com

    Use a CD for a mirror, it's light, free, (AOL mailings) and you can use it for an emergency or hygiene mirror. When in camp you can use it as a frisbee.

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    Goodwill Industries:

    Name: Allen Nichols (HaMmErHeAd) 11/27/98
    Email: nichols@gwis.com

    When you're trying to find the "perfect" solution to you weight-reducing quest you have to stop by the local Goodwill/thrift shop. I've found dozens of cool/cheap deals there: stuff sacks, water bottles, salt and pepper shakers, coffe mugs, etc. Once I found a Columbia jacket there for $5.00! (you bet I bought it!) You can also find "fleece" polyester pants and tops, wool clothes, cheap shoes for using after setting up camp, snow pants etc. I've gone there to find lids for homemade cook sets. Oh, it's a great place to get kids stuff too. Lets' face it; they grow up soooo fast most folks really can't afford to buy them the "hi-tech" gear anyway.

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    Exacto Knife:

    Name: Allen Nichols (HaMmErHeAd) 11/27/98
    Email: nichols@gwis.com

    I switched from using my old Buck knife and sharpener to using an Exacto type utility knife. It's the ones with the 4" blade that can be snapped off and the next tip used. These are razor sharp. You can take and extra blade or two and you'll have enough blade for just about any job. The blade will lock at any position and you can lock it in the closed position when it's stowed in your pack. Cheap and light and razor sharp. Let's face it, 99% or cutting in the backcountry is to cut cord, open packages and maybe widdle off some kindling.

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    Games & Other Fun Stuff:

    Name: Tornado, 12/28/98
    Email: redvine@ix.netcom.com

    I find when looking at gear lists of others and suggested gear lists I find that people almost never include games and fun stuff, except for novels, which aren't really fun and interactive.

    First of all, I carrya clear, flat plastic stuff sack which is designated to go in the tent. It contains my journal/pen, handwarmer, small towel, and toiletries. As far as fun stuff, I carry three "fun" things in this sack:

    1) I carry a deck of cards, which on average weigh 3 ounces but can be lightened by cutting in half. These are worth the weight, because of the endless games that are possible, and there is only a small amount of light needed.

    2) I carry a homemade game that I created from a review of The Himilayan Game by Backpacker Magazine. I made it out of cardboard so it is almost weightless. I have a small piece of cardboard for the board, a shape of a mountain. I then mark lines (about 20) for the spaces and have 4 camps along the way to the summit. I have a plastic bag full of weightless chips dicatating to move 1-9 spaces but I also have reasons for the person to go back spaces or lose a turn by pieces that say lose ice ax or catch tibetan virus. Whoever gets to the summit first, wins. I call it the Everest game. My tentmates seem to like it.

    3) I just got this last fun thing for Christmas. It is a small chess board. It weighs about 3 ounces and has magnetic pieces. It's alot of fun.

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