Camping Chaos

6:00 p.m. on November 29, 2006 (EST)
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Hi All,
this references Bill S and "camping 101", and FAQs about camping, but is more generic:

When I say Chaos I am refering to the mathematical expression: While we may suggest one particular combination of gear that we think works well together as a system, we must also recognise that there are an infinite number of such combinations, some of which will work better than others, but how well any particular set works depends on the user, not the designer.

One of the things I have been struck with after a couple years of intense posting on the Ultra light net, is that every real expert has a different way of doing things based on his or her experience, and everyone likes different gear. Some very experienced people may love one piece of gear while other equally experienced old grey bearded ones may hate that piece of gear or think a particular "set of gear" isn't correct, while it could work perfectly for someone else with the experience to use it.

Also the responses to a mega post I wrote indicated that real experts are pretty much safe regardless of what they carry or leave at home, whereas less experienced persons could carry everything but the kitchen sink and still perish.

The ten essentials. As I have said - I only carry about 5 of them and don't feel any loss. Just having a BIC doesn't insure that you'll have a warming fire. Do I have over forty years of backcountry experience - yes - does that make a difference - you betcha. The point is - everyone will make decisions about what they need to have to feel comfortable. My camping buddy needs a fresh change of clothes for each day - halter tops and other clothes, a bottle of wine per day, her hair brush and whatever she needs to look beautiful, a large towel and her bikini, not to mention all fresh gourmet food. The point being that she "needs" this stuff for her camping style.

As for taking Bill S input at face value - he told me I didn't need spiked boots for orienteering and I slipped and broke my leg at my first and only meet. Now that was a chaotic incident... brings up the whole concept of Judgement, 11 years ago Nov 23 BTW. Of course I'm teasing Bill S, but the fact remains that anybody who sleeps in eddie bauer karakoram bags sort of has an "old" perspective...

Jim S

9:11 p.m. on November 29, 2006 (EST)
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6,010 forum posts

Hey, Jim -
I don't "hate" any piece of gear. In fact, if you re-read my posts, you will see that I mostly say "if it works for you, then use it", along with "try it out to see if it works for you." I do recommend getting a good boot fitter and good pack fitter for the boots and packs to avoid the disasters that always seem to come with ill-fitting gear. And I have noted many times that certain brands of pack and boots fit me perfectly, while other folks (J.S. perhaps?) can't get them to fit at all, and conversely what fits them perfectly may not work for me. So, use what works for you and forget what others say.

And Jimmy, I told you not to try running hurdles at full tilt over fallen redwood trees. You broke your leg trying to leap over a 20 foot diameter one ... well maybe only 5 feet in diameter. If you had had spikes on, you would have just speared yourself and made it worse.

And readers of this thread, I assume you caught the hint - Jim's "10 essentials" include a bikini-clad good-looking young female, even for winter camping.

9:40 a.m. on November 30, 2006 (EST)
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239 forum posts
Re: Camping Chaos and what do we really need???

Well, when you come right down to it, for tens of thousands of years our direct ancestors managed to wander around in the woods and fields, eat, thrive and survive without the need for BIC lighters or Gortex jackets - some of them even apparently managed to cross the ice sheet that connected the Americas to Europe, given recent archaeological evidence in Virginia.
I'd imagine that, even back then, there were disagreements on what was and was not needed - I can picture our ancestors following a migration path, some carrying the bare minimum, others loaded like pack mules (much like what one sees on the AT and other trails today!).
Geezers and ludites (I count myself present in both groups, thank you very much) may stick to our leather boots and external frame packs while those new to the field may rely more on the spending limits of their credit cards and the advice of an EMS associate - but the great equalizer is the trail (or lack of trail) - where we put to use a combination of our experience and gear.
What old farts like myself can do is offset equipment with knowledge (to a degree) whereas new people to backpacking tend to prepare for every emergency by adding technology to thier pile of gear. I susped that, by the time they're old farts that pile will have gone down a bit (or at least they'll lug a crazy-creek lounger instead of their porable PC with some expedition reporting / satalite phone hardware combination).
Perhaps the one thing we should all consider is the ultimate environmental impact of our gear selection. Purchasing gear that'll last you for 20-30 years of hard use is far cheaper in the long run - both in dollars and in the impact to the environment - than buying cheap or "fashionable" gear that'll be replace every few years. We should keep in mind that everything we use came from somewhere and everything we discard ends up somewhere - the less we can use and the less we can discard in the courses of our lives, the less ultimate impact we'll have on the degrading of the environment.

Have fun - and - be careful out there!

Steve (old fart, ludite, geezer and danged proud of it - it took a lot of living to get to this point in my life!)

8:00 p.m. on November 30, 2006 (EST)
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181 forum posts
Re: Camping Chaos and what do we really need???

To all,

I'm an old fart, but not experienced at all in this sport(hobby, goal, whatever). I try to buy the best (not most expensive) equipment I can, but only proper usage and care will make it last. I can't foresee how long a $300 sleeping bag will last and I can't foresee how long the $75 sleeping bag will last. Newer is not always poorer quality. I will end up using what works, no matter whether it's down, Polarguard, etc. and what fits in my pack. So I can't be looking for old style equipment just because it worked (read - "They don't make them like they used to"). I have faith in some of the new equipment, and the knowledge used to develop it. Hopefully, it was developed with the same "smarts" you are referring to.

Everyone who ventures out has a different idea of what it's going to be like out there. I have hopefully anticipated most of what I need, but probably not got it right. Experience will tell, but only for that particular hike. I'm guessing all of them aren't the same, and demand different packloads for each. I can only evaluate what I used after the hike, not before. Hence - gained experience and knowledge. I hope I can develop a true bare-bones plan, and let ingenuity rule, much like I'm sure most of you all have done. Other than the hike itself, using that ingenuity seems like the most fun part.

So what's my point? I guess it's something like:
I hope I have gotten over the gear questions I had as a fresh new guy, as opposed to an old, experienced question-asker who is still a newby hiker. I sure would like to hear some of the stories you all have about why you carried something along or wish you had taken something because ..., and not have to worry about whether what I take along is worthy of the hike.

I dig the hell out of all of your (everyone's) stories, jokes, and real recommendations, but since the gear that is available is what I have to choose from, I'd like to hear about the "whys" also. Gear reviews here, and elsewhere, only relate to quality or lack of quality. Sometimes, I don't know what they are supposed to do, but see that everyone takes one with them, but why? Should I ask what my loin cloth should be made from, should my spear tip be metal or flint as I cross the glacier?

I really like this thread, and the style and course it is taking. This is not a bashing but a request or suggestion. Sometimes, I'd like to hear the why's of gear also. Maybe I'll pick up some tips on what to pack other than the Big 10, and why. And not feel like everything I buy today is going to fall apart the first time I use it.

Keep up the great stuff. Reading this forum is like reading a really good book. I dream of what it's going to be like once I can get out there.


1:44 p.m. on December 1, 2006 (EST)
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Re: Camping Chaos and what do we really need???

Blackbeard -

"Should I ask what my loin cloth should be made from"

For winter use - ermine or mink is nice - for summer use - hemp - with a loose weave - will breath the best -

"should my spear tip be metal or flint as I cross the glacier?"

If you've got a good local supply of flint - go for it - but bring a couple spare nodules so you can create new tips (they're sharp but rather fragile) - if you're in an area without a good supply - well - metal will bend rather than breaking so it's a better bet - but it won't be as sharp as a good flint tip!

There - done being a prankster or wiseass (or dumbsh*t - you get to decide) -

I understand where you're coming from - I guess most people use what they're comfortable with - that's a lousy answer for a guy who's just starting out.
For the really expensive stuff that has to fit (backpack, boots) read the reviews, go to a good mountain shop (the chains are OK but smaller, local shops tend to have more dedicated outdoors people working in them) and figure on spending an hour or more trying on, adjusting and walking around the shop with a pack - with some weight in it (really good shops will have sandbags that you can load into the packs) - see if it irritates, rubs, shifts, generally pisses you off OR if it's fairly comfortable.
Make sure it's big enough that, when packed, it's not a rigid "egg" that's gonna be miserable to carry. Small packs are fashionable - larger - less full packs tend to be more comfortable (larger packs, designed for heavier loads, tend to have better suspension systems).

Boots - I like leather, others may like nylon, plastic, hemp - that's personal choice - but the real important things about a pair of backpacking boots are (ranked 1 through 5 in importance) fit, fit, fit, footbed support, ankle support. What I consider to be the greatest boots in the world may feel like torture devices to you - try on as many pairs as you can stand to - at the end of a day is best (your feet will swell over the course of a days walking around and the like) - wearing a good sock combination (another very subjective subject - me? coolmax liner socks, wool "ragg" socks outter) - my wife swears by synthetic outter socks - I can't stand 'em. Don't let ANYONE tell you that a boot that's uncomfortable in the shop will "stretch and adapt" to your foot -that's bull crap - if it doesn't fit in the shop it's never going to fit - period. Put 'em on - walk around - go up stairs, and downstairs - try to scuff your foot forward - if your toes hit the end of the boot, when it's laced, it's the wrong size and you'll end up with a very painful condition.
One pound on your foot may equal five pounds on your back BUT there's nothing worse than having blistered, beat up, bruised feet at the end of a days hiking.

Sleeping bag - down or synthetic - goretex shell or nylon - well - synthetic is great 'cause if it gets wet you'll still stay warm. It also dries out about 100 times faster than down. Down is great 'cause it's light - for a new guy starting out - I'd go synthetic. Keep in mind that when most of us old farts started backpacking there was no real alternative to down. Make sure you FIT in the bag - with it zipped - wearing what you'll sleep in under the coldest conditions you expect to hit AND that you're not so confined that you'll go bloody nuts on a long winter night - if your feet press against the bottom of the bag when you're laying out straight in it - the bag isn't long enough - and you'll have cold feet and be uncomfortable every night you spend in the thing. Ditto if the girth isn't large enough for you.

My dos centavos

1:47 p.m. on December 1, 2006 (EST)
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one more thing

Blackbeard - you won't want to lug this along when you go hiking - but "the complete walker" by colin fletcher is probably the best reading anyone can do about backpacking - colin is a great author (I also recommend "the thousand mile summer" about his walk of the length of California and "the man who walked through time" about his kike down the grand canyon) - his advice and opinions are well thought out and - well - even as an experienced backpacker - I just find that book a heck of a lot of fun to read. The revision doesn't matter - although he did update his equipment and recommendations over the years - but I'll betcha that if you check a copy out of the library - you'll be buying your own in short order.

6:56 p.m. on December 1, 2006 (EST)
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Re: one more thing

Got the latest edition of Hiker already. I find the book a lot like this forum - informative, fun, all of that stuff. But even the latest Hiker is a few years old already, and some of the info there is not up to date.

Thanks for all the info also. It's great to talk about the old days and old equipment, and I think you caught my drift about newby fright when us old farts talk about anything from the good ole days. It just sounds like nothing is worth having that's made in recent years. I can't share tales of hiking, but can go into my guitars and amp, and other things I have some years with.

I would like to restate the request for some stories and info about the odd stuff you carry, why you carry it, and how you use it. I think it would be really interesting to know why you use black plastic bags instead of clear, things like that.

Do I skin my own ermine (if I only knew what one looked like?) or can I get them in stores? I like the sense of humor present in the forum.


7:34 p.m. on December 1, 2006 (EST)
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If I was a newbie buying gear


You can buy nice ermine skins on ebay. I have a book called secrets of alascan skin sewing that goes into - tada - how to sew skins.

As far as newbie/old fart stuff - us old farts have some wierd things that we carry because they were neat and only available for a short period, like a couple of years, like my twenty year old micro-lith flashlights from Teckna. BUT If my house burned down and I lost all my gear, I'd buy all new modern lighter more high tech of stuff, its just that I have no reason currently as my gear appears to be sort of long lasting. One down jacket has been used hundreds of times and packed hundreds of times and its still a nice jacket and warm and its 550 down and weighs 25 ounces. it cost me $65 at REI
Boy I'd like to be able to just buy all new stuff and if I was a newbie buying gear with what I know, I'd have a lot different gear than I now carry. part of the trouble is that I have LOTS to choose from, like Bill S, its not like we carry all of our amassed camping gear with us on every trip like when we were newbies, that would take an 18 foot truck, so now its which of our gear to take and theres no pressure to take any one piece of gear or one sleeping bag because it was $500 because I have a loft full of expensive down bags and stuff, so I can leave any of it behind and not feel like I wasted my money, so any wwe old farts with lots of gear already own more gear than most will ever try on.
what would I buy? Based on my past purchases
warmlight Down Airmattress
coleman xrteme stome
evernew ti pots
BIC lighters
ti fork and spoon
Aladin insulated cup
ETREX GPS climbers model
2 ounce Gerber folding knife
Bibler El Dorado tent - no footprint
Western Mt sleeping bag model depends on usage and season, probably 2 bags actually.
and of course real backpacking boots - raichle or Lowa
some high tech light rain gear - jacket has built in hood and elastic around
any normal fleec jacket with pit zips - all coats and jackets MUST have aligning pit zips or no-buy, not windproof fleece.
a kelty spectra backpack, a large one at least 5,000 cubic inches.
microfiber "hair" towel
hp camera
PUR hiker water filter
Monte Bell long underwear
trak ski gloves Kombi winter gloves
a pair of down bibs or pants
gater aid pe bottle
Jim S

12:39 p.m. on December 2, 2006 (EST)
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Re: If I was a newbie buying gear

Ummm, Jim, they no longer make a lot of the stuff on your list. I guess you better hope your house doens't burn down!

Steve Blackbeard, why carry *black* plastic garbage bags? Because that's what is most readily available, and because you can't see what's in them (especially when you use them to pack out "human waste" as is required in an increasing number of the venues I go to.

Also, in winter or on high mountains, you can use the black bags to melt the snow for water, saving stove fuel. You open the bag (tear it to get the full surface), find a slope facing more or less toward the sun (look out for trees that will shade the bag as the day goes on), make a bit of a depression in the middle, and spread some snow on the bag. Don't pile it too deeply, though. As the sun gets absorbed by the black plastic, the snow will melt and run down into the depression in the center. On a bright sunny day at altitude, you can collect an amazing amount or water. Air temperature does need to be above about 15F, though, which makes it fine for the Sierra in winter or the Cascades in summer.

9:27 p.m. on December 2, 2006 (EST)
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Re: If I was a newbie buying gear


No one mentioned black plastic bags of course(but me), but I used this as an example of some of the "why"s I'd like to hear about from you experienced guys. I kinda had an idea of the reasons for using the black bags, so used that as a thought provoker to demonstrate what I was talking about. (Duct tape is usually used as the "necessary" commodity, I believe)

Your reply is exactly what makes suggestions interesting and full of smarts, and what noobs like me might want to hear other than just buying something outright.

Thanks from Blackbeard.

2:12 a.m. on December 3, 2006 (EST)
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Re: If I was a newbie buying gear

'course I could have mentioned that CalTrans (Calif Dept of Transportation, the highway folks) uses bright orange bags for the litter pickup crews along the freeways and other state and country highways. They are highly prized for backcountry use, but hard to obtain unless you volunteer for a trash pickup crew. These are useful for emergency signalling!

8:00 a.m. on December 3, 2006 (EST)
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Re: If I was a newbie buying gear

Here in WV, most everyone has blaze orange clothing for hunting. Heck, we even let schools out the first week of deer season in a lot of counties.

Seems to me the state could make a killing if they switched to orange bags for trash pickup. They could sell them to hunters and serve two purposes. 'Course most would just cut open the ones left on the side of the road for pickup, dump the contents over the hill (adding to the cars, tires, washing machines, etc. already there), and wear those.


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