Showing posts with label cheap gear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheap gear. Show all posts

October 22, 2020

The Kid Was Tougher than He Looked

Some of the same Scouts, on a five-night trip the next summer.
The other kid's initials were R. A., so I will call him that, in case he ever Google-stalks himself. Later on, his mother would be one of my English teachers at Fort Collins High School. I was 14, and he was younger — 12? 11? 

We were both members of Boy Scout Troop 97 in Fort Collins. Wayne Parsons, the scoutmaster, was on the staff of the Roosevelt National Forest there (as yet unconsolidated with the Arapaho), and he was all about outdoor experiences and outdoor projects. We never did a service project in town, and that was fine with me. (It looks like Troop 97 still tries to be outdoors-focused.)

This event was to be an overnight backpack trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. We would start at the Bear Lake Trailhead, cross the Continental Divide on Flattop Mountain, camp somewhere, and then descend to the little resort town of Grand Lake, on the park's western edge. 

My mother picked up R. A. and drove us to Bear Lake. For some reason, we had been delayed, and when we arrived, the others had already left. 

Crossing the Continental Divide
on Flattop Mountain, 12,000 feet.

"It's OK," we said, not wanting to be quitters. "We'll catch up to them." Satisfied, she drove away. We started walking, up onto the high plateau that Flattop its name, at about 12,000 feet. A line of cairns guided us across this treeless plateau. Overall, it was a fine August day.

But then we came to a junction. To the left was (I think) the North Inlet Trail, which was just under 13 miles to Grand Lake. To the right was another trail (Tonahutu Creek), which was a bit longer, about 14 miles, making the entire trip about 17–18 miles.

We had to make a choice. R. A. looked to me. I guessed that Our Fearless Leader would take the longer trail. I was wrong.

We walked. On and on we walked, dropping steeply from alpine meadow into forest. We stopped for a snack. The sun was sinking. The forest was thick and dark, Troop 97 was nowhere in sight, and we were tired. After a bit more hiking, we agreed that we had to stop.

A view down from Flattop,
before I stopped taking pictures.
We did have sleeping bags, we had food, and the weather was fine. We knew in a general sense where we were. R. A., bless his heart, never said, "You dummy! You took the wrong trail!" but just kept his thoughts to himself.

He was wearing high-top sneakers, which were the recommended hiking gear for youngsters with fast-growing feet. I saw that a blister had popped and bled through the canvas a little. He had never uttered a word about that. I had Bandaids at least.

The next morning we rose early, rolled up our sleeping bags, ate something, and started walking. We did not know where the pickup point was or when pickup was scheduled, and our new fear was that we would be left behind in Grand Lake.

I remember once we saw a sign that said something like "Grand Lake 6.2 mi." We walked and walked and then there was another sign, "Grand Lake 6 mi." (or whatever the whole number was), and we opined that that was a very long two-tenths mile.

Finally we came down through some tourist cabins and out onto a paved street. No sign of other Boy Scouts. I had enough money in my pocket for one celebratory Coca-Cola. We located the end of the trail that we should have come on. Then we waited. And we waited.

Eventually, after maybe two hours, the rest of the Scouts marched out of the woods. They probably had lazed around camp making pancakes or something while we were on our forced march to Grand Lake.

Some of the parents made room in their cars for us. I don't know whether we came back over Trail Ridge Road (US 34) or down US 40 (probably) but somehow we returned to Fort Collins. And it was no big deal. I don't remember anyone fussing over R. A. and me.

All of that might be burned now. Probably is. The East Troublesome Fire looks to be climbing up the same drainage that we walked down. Now that is something to think about.

August 02, 2017

iPhone versus Pentax Point-and-Shoot

M. and I went for a hike today — a mushroom reconnaissance, really — and I got to thinking about pocket cameras.

In this corner, my ten-year-old Pentax Optio E40, 8.1 megapixel sensor, 5x optical zoom plus digital zoom, 6.2–18.2 mm focal length.

In the other corner, my three-year-old iPhone 5s, also about 8 megapixel sensor, and a tiny lens (no optical zoom) coupled to software jiggery-pokery that produces pretty good pictures.

Both have built-in flashes, but today's comparison was outdoor photography.

Like almost everyone who has a smartphone, I carry it most of the time — especially in fire-and-flood season.

The Pentax Optio has a logged a lot of miles in my daypack, hunting vest pocket, etc. How would it hold up head-to-head against the iPhone? Should I still bother with it? With batteries, it's an extra 6.2 oz. (177 grams).

On to the test. Both cameras produced JPG images in the 4–6 MB range, about 45 x 34 inches (Pentax) or 45 x 32 inches (iPhone). For the blog, I have reduced all of them to 12 inches in width (no cropping) at 72 dpi.

1. Wildflowers
Monarda (bee balm) / iPhone 5s

Monarda / Pentax Optio E40
I have not adjusted the exposure, which was a little darker on the Pentax. Neither focused perfectly, partly due to the trouble of seeing the camera screen in bright mountain sunlight. (A through-the-lens viewfinder camera is what you really need in this situation.)

2. Long-distance landscape
View across the Wet Mountain Valley / iPhone

View across the Wet Mountain Valley / Pentax

The iPhone did a better job with the values in the clouds than the point-and-shoot Pentax did. Lightening the latter's photo to match the iPhone tended to wash out the definition in the clouds.

3. Maximum zoom
The town of Westcliffe from about seven miles away / iPhone

Westcliffe / Pentax, maximum optical zoom 

Westcliffe / Pentax, maximum optical zoom + digital zoom
The Pentax zooms more, but there is probably a spy satellite that could give a better street view of Westcliffe, Colo., on a sunny day. I wonder what sort of software jiggery-pokery they have.

4. Other considerations

Features: Both shoot videos. The Optio has built-in settings for close-up, landscape, portrait, action, night photography, etc.

Storage: With the right SD card, the Optio can equal the iPhone's storage capacity.

Weight: The iPhone5s is slightly heavier, about 5 grams. But it is a computer that takes photographs, whereas the Optio is only a camera.

Battery: Both suck in different ways. All cell phones run down their batteries too fast, even when asleep, unless you turn off GPS, wireless, etc. The Optio runs down its AA batteries just remembering the time and date, and when you change them, you have to reset those numbers. Figure on a set of batteries a day with active shooting, although you can use rechargeables.

Durability: I keep my iPhone in an OtterBox case, and so far I have not broken it. The Optio is susceptible to dust because of its zoom lens, so normally it rides in a tactical case, which is a plastic sandwich bag. If I dropped it off a cliff or it fell out of the boat, I would not feel so bad, which is a plus.

5. Conclusion

Smartphones are killing the low-end point-and-shoot compact camera market. The Optio and its competitors offer built-in shooting modes, which I like, but smartphone owners can add apps to improve their features. (I like Solocator, which adds altitude, compass bearing, and latitude and longitude to photos.)

My conclusion: I will probably keep using the Optio until it breaks, but I doubt if I will replace it, except possibly with a cheap used one. I will keep my digital SLR for the "serious" photography.

February 16, 2016

Is DWR as Dangerous as Scotchguard for Your Outerwear?

Interstate 5 in southern Oregon, with a sign reading "San Francisco."
When I was a college student — and for a while afterwards — I had this two-layer Egyptian cotton anorak — from REI, as I remember. It was a well-made garment in a sort of burnt-orange color.

I loved it. It was my magic hitch-hiking anorak. But it was cotton — and I lived then in the Pacific Northwest.

It had a waterproof coating, which wore out, so I think that I sprayed it with Scotchguard. Later we learned that Scotchguard was bad stuff to be around. (See comments.)

Now it is 2016, and there is a debate around another waterproofing compound for outdoor gear,  DWR, "Durable Waterproofing Repellent."

In this article at the Section Hiker blog, "Why Does DWR Suck?" Phillip Werner raises questios about both cost and health:
When water soaks into the fabric of a rain jacket, you can just forget about breathability. The system is a complete sham but people keep buying into it, including the need to reapply the DWR coating several times a year. It’s the hidden cost of owning a waterproof/breathable rain jacket: the need to keep buying Nikwax TX-Direct or Gear-Aid Revivex to repair the DWR when it wears out so the (really expensive) breathable fabric part of your jacket can work.
The debate continues in the comments.

Everyone is looking for the magic waterproof-but-light-and-breathable combination. I am glad that I live now in Colorado where rains rarely last all day, and I can put on a poncho (even a heavy old coated-nylon Army poncho) and then put it away again. What would I do if I still lived in Oregon?

July 20, 2014

A Rant about Shoes

I have always owned sneakers, but they become more and more expensive yet don't last any longer.

M. usually blows out a pair of sneakers in a year, "blow out" meaning cracks so large you can see the wearer's feet inside, just by walking vigorously on dirt roads and forest trails. I get maybe two years — that was the case with my last pair of Teva sneakers — because I rotate more pairs of shoes.  (Check the prices: something comparable is $66 on sale.)

H. S. Trask: Bison leather
and a softer kind of Vibram sole.
What to do? Back to leather? I already had these H. S. Trask "Deer Camp" low boots, bison leather, leather-lined, with replaceable Vibram soles. (They are on their second set of soles.) Not in the catalog anymore, but similar to these.

"Deer Camp"? Maybe if it's a three-story log Adirondack-style log lodge, where someone drives you to the heated deer blind at dawn and leaves you there with a hamper of snacks. Very nice, comfortable, but a little country-gentleman-ish for the usual gritty dog walks and digging out drainage ditches.

Keen: The soles need help.
What about something cheaper? In the Cody, Wyo., Sierra Trading Post store, back in 2011. I found these Keen lace-up shoes. They seemed like the leather equivalent of sneakers. And they have lasted three years.

The uppers are in great shape, but the soles, as you may see, are already being repaired with Shoe Goo. (Great stuff, Shoe Goo.) And these soles are not replaceable. By buying them at Sierra, I paid a lot less than the $110 that these similar shoes are listed for.

Some designer, sitting his or her air-conditioned office, wrapped a sturdy layer of rubber over a softer, less resistant under-sole. With wear, inevitable gaps develop between them,  where grains of sand and small pebbles get stuck. Where the heel strikes, the thin, harder rubber wears away, exposing the softer stuff. Hence liberal use of Shoe Goo to seal them back together and rebuild the heel — because the uppers are still fine.

"Engineered Durability" —
It says so right on them.
Next try, some Cat walking shoes (as in the maker of large yellow machines). Bought these at Sierra Trading Post also, which means they are no longer in the catalog, as Sierra sells lots of close-outs.

These approach the platonic ideal of Sturdy Leather Shoe with Grippy Sole except for two weird designer touches: small elastic inserts in the back, which will probably break before the leather wears out, and this "window" in the heel, in case you wish to observe the inner workings of the sole, in which case you must be the James Hillman of shoes.

Regardless of the label, I think shoe designers mentally envision their shoes in only three environments: city sidewalks, basketball courts — and if they are "walking shoes," manicured graveled trails on which you could push a baby stroller.

I say that because I broke down and bought some sneakers, because they were featured in one of Amazon's 60 percent-off-today-only sales.

Excuse me, these are New Balance "Low Tactical Boots" and they list at more than $100.

But if you wear these sneakers while walking through a meadow in July, you will find that the awns of needle-and-thread grass go through their sides like a 50-caliber bullet through a Toyota Hilux pickup truck. Cheatgrass awns too.

Like most sneakers, they have panels of that mesh-covered foam crap, although there is a bit more of a rubber bumper in front than you usually get.

The soles are aggressive — I tested them on a 90-minute rocky scramble just this morning — but the uppers will probably give out first.

Also tried, some moccasin-style boat shoes (sort of like these but with slitty soles) from the venerable firm of C. & J. Clark, found at a close-out price. Not bad for everyday wear, but too soft-soled for outdoor work like digging garden beds.

So you can buy leather at sneaker prices, if you look around. It lasts longer and it can be repaired, at least some of the time.

December 07, 2013

Winter Camping in the Age of Ignorance

I was skimming this article (and its informed comments) about temperature rating on winter
This looks like my childhood sleeping bag.
sleeping bags
and how many manufacturers (in the writer's opinion) overstate them. In other words, a bag rated to -20° F (-28° C) is really more like a -10° bag for a man — maybe a -5° bag for a woman.

With the temperatures hovering around 0° F. outdoors, I remembered my first serious winter camping trip and sleeping in a Korean War-surplus M1949 "down and feathers" mummy bag.

That was not the worst of it. Compared to the rest of my gear, that was a high-tech sleeping bag.

My Boy Scout troop went to the annual Winter Camporee, held in Rocky Mountain National Park — near Bear Lake, I think. I was about 12 years old.

The troop supplied canvas tents, while we Scouts brought our own personal gear. Maybe if Dad had been around, he could have offered good advice and some of his own stuff — he got me started on camping and backpacking, after all — but at this point, the marriage was dissolving, and he was living elsewhere.

As I recall, I was equipped with cotton long underwear, probably cotton socks, cotton blue jeans, some kind of shirt and sweater (?), a not-great ski parka, knit hat, and mittens. On my feet were oiled leather pull-on boots, "Wellingtons" in the American sense of the word. They leaked.

If you had a down parka back then, you were probably a pro mountaineer, like Jim Whittaker on Mount Everest, or else had the money to pretend to be one.

Under my M1949 sleeping bag was a plastic-covered foam-rubber pad off a patio chaise longue. And maybe a GI poncho.

I shivered through the night and spent part of the morning standing next to the campfire that was slowly sinking down, down into the snow. (We "cooked" on campfires, as I recall).

I learned some things right away, such as that blue jeans freeze, and since there were no outhouses, just the woods, you can spend hours working up the courage to take a shit in the snow.

On the plus side, I spent a lot of time snowshoeing, and that plus the bright Colorado sunshine warmed me up. The snowshoes kept my inadequate boots up out of the snow as well.

The second evening, the Scout leaders loaded us into their cars and took us to some Park Service building where we watched a natural-history movie. I suspected even at the time that the real reason for the trip was to let us spend a couple of hours inside a heated structure.

I made a few improvements to my bed, survived the second night, and ran in the snowshoe races the next day. And then it was time to head home. I thought that I had had a good time overall, and I proudly sewed the Winter Camporee patch onto my uniform.

November 11, 2012

Blog Stew — Don't be an Ingredient

• Forget zombies — what load for Quetzalcoatalus? Jackson Landers, the "Locovore Hunter," has an answer.

Sportsman's Guide, a source for discounted (sometimes with good reason) outdoor gear and "Cold War dividend" militaria, mostly European, has returned to American ownership.

• Will Colorado's (known) lone wolverine, M56, get any federal help? He has covered immense amounts of territory, that's for sure.

February 02, 2010

Cheap Gear: Swedish Army Parka M90

I was looking for a new cold-weather chore coat. It had to be inexpensive, fairly warm, washable, and not so precious that I would be sad if it were, for instance, torn by a branch, barbed wire, or the buck saw.

Obviously the place to look is the wide, wonderful world of military surplus.

My choice was a new  ex-Swedish army parka with a long list of features, which cost $40. (Used ones cost less.) To Swedes it's the Värmejacka M90.

It's not as warm as my down-filled parka, but at 20° F. I don't even zip it up all the way. And I like that it is long enough to come down past mid-thigh, blocking butt-freezing winds.

Of course it had that military warehouse smell, even after washing, but that will gradually dissipate with wearing and airing.

I don't like hoods except in the coldest weather, and this parka's insulated hood can be rolled and strapped to make a sort of puffy collar.

The Swedish army thinks soldiers don't need inside breast pockets. Oh well.

January 11, 2009

Cheap Gear

M. and I went to Colorado Springs earlier this week and stopped by our favorite department store, the ARC thrift store at 1830 W. Uintah St. It is large, well-organized, and full of cheap gear.

Stuff that did not exist when I was younger ...

A few weeks ago, M.'s winter parka experienced catastrophic zipper failure. At ARC, she picked up a like-new Columbia Omni-Tech parka for $20. (List price about $120.)

This was my day: A Cabela's "chamois cloth" shirt, maybe a discarded Christmas present worn once to please the giver, for $7.

Barely worn athletic shoes, $4, list price $49.95.

I don't normally buy used footwear, ski boots sometimes excepted, unless they are new or like-new and not shaped to the previous owner's foot. But sometimes you find new boots and shoes on the shelf -- shop-worn merchandise donated by retailers?

Like some no-name Chinese snow boots (with extra melamine): too clunky for long walks, but fine for going to the woodpile, short dog walks, or wearing into town on snowy or slushy days. Ten bucks.

Into my head floated the memory of a winter camping trip at Rocky Mountain National Park's Bear Lake with my Boy Scout troop from Fort Collins when I was 13 or so.

I was wearing jeans. And no one said anything, because that was pretty normal back then. (Even the ski patrolers wore jeans, to show that they were too cool to fall down and get them wet.) Of course, my jeans froze stiff from the knees down. The only other option might have been some Army-surplus wool trousers from Jax Surplus, if someone had suggested that.

Long underwear: cotton or some cotton-polyester blend?

Foot gear: well-oiled leather Wellingtons. And I wore them snowshoeing. It's what I had.

Sleeping bag: Army-surplus down-and-feathers bag, probably Korean War vintage, with a short foam rubber pad underneath--and not closed-cell foam, but something taken off a chaise longue, as I recall.

I don't remember what sort of coat I had -- some flimsy parka, most likely.

The second evening, the Scout leaders took us to see some wildlife movies in a heated Park Service building. Even then, I wondered if the main reason for that was the movies or just to get the boys warmed up before crawling into our miserable sleeping bags.

No harm done. We all survived and even enjoyed parts of it.

But I could walk around in the ARC store today and find cheap gear better than what Holubar Mountaineering was selling then (except for their down-filled sleeping bags).