Category: Gear

Come Home Alive – There’s an App for That

Search and rescue team attends to injured caver

Christopher Van Tilburg talks on Outside Blog about a search and rescue operation that went far better than usual because the stranded hikers had a smartphone. Rescuers were able to get detailed coordinates and guide the hikers to a safe pickup location. Maybe smartphones should be basic equipment?

If you are an adventuresome smartphone user, by all means check out survival apps such as the one from Mammut, a free survival app geared to skiers and snowboarders. BuddyGuard is another offering, one that automatically phones home if you become incapacitated. However, with a price of $120 you’re edging into personal beacon territory.

One thing to consider is how often you will be traveling outside of cellular range. If you’re out of bars, your smartphone might seem a little stupid. WoodsMonkey has some tips on how to use a smartphone as a survival tool even when you’re out of range.

If you want the Search and Rescue to find you when you’re really out in the wild you’ll need something more like the Spot Personal Tracker. This device actually sends your coordinates to a satellite which then communicates to a server and sends an email to prearranged parties. These beacons require a subscription service and they are limited in their ability to send messages. But you can work out a prearranged deal with friends or family to start a search in your last marked location if you fail to check-in.

None of these devices replace good old fashioned common sense but they do promise to shave hours off your own personal 127 Hours ordeal.

Bear-Proof Expedition Quality Kitchen

Kanz Field Kitchen

One of the dreariest chores that goes along with car camping is stashing your cookware and supplies in the bear-proof cupboard at each campsite. You’ll never have to do that again with these expedition-tough purpose-built field kitchens from Kanz Outdoors. Built from marine-grade aluminum with polished birch plywood interiors, Kanz certifies that their rugged boxes are bear-proof. But before shelling out six bills for one of these high grade boxes, you might want to check local regulations regarding bear canisters.

Unfortunately I think the Kanz boxes are a little too pricey for the typical Suburban Frontiersman. But they look well worth the attention of outfitters, trail guides and yurt-dwellers.

Via The Kitchn

I, For One, Welcome Our New Robot Overlords – Mint Vs Roomba


I loved our Roomba until the day it died. Could any other floor cleaner heal the pain?

It turns out the Mint floor cleaner fills the void nicely.

We have laminate flooring throughout the house. And two dogs, one of which blows out his wiry coat every few months. Unless we stay on top of it every day the dust bunnies start to take over.

What I like most about the Mint is it’s simplicity. The thing is an automated dust mop. A Swiffer with two wheels and a brain. The only care it needs is to be plugged in and have it’s pad changed.

The Roomba on the other hand required a five minute grooming routine every morning. Comb the brushes, empty the dust bucket and worst of all, tease out the dog hair that got wrapped around the front axle. This last task took a set of micro pliers to perform.

Some reviews comparing the Mint floor cleaner to the Roomba make a big deal about the Mint’s navigation system. The Mint builds a map of the room as it travels and doesn’t cover the same area twice. The Roomba is much less efficient, heading off in random directions at every turn.

Efficiency, it turns out, doesn’t equal effectiveness. If a clump of dust gets left behind when the Mint makes a turn the little robot won’t be back later to pick it up. The Roomba, as long as it has life and breath in it’s battery, will go back and collect any dust it missed.

The Roomba with it’s whirling brushes and frenetic edge sweeper brush is the more aggressive cleaner by far. But also the loudest. The Mint is whisper-quiet. As long as it doesn’t get stuck you barely know it’s there. And the Mint gets stuck less than the Roomba. The Mint is better at navigating under low sofas and dressers. The Roomba has beefier tires and is better at driving over power cords and coaxial cables.

Neither cleaner is perfect. But both do a good job at keeping the floor in habitable condition. The Roomba is less likely to leave random clumps of dog hair in it’s wake. But for my money the Mint has the upper hand. After all, what’s the point of having a robot housekeeper if you have to start every day by cleaning the robot?

iPhone Logs Your Every Move – Only Not that Well

This week’s big iPhone news was that the device tracks your every move and stores it on your PC when you synch with iTunes.

The discovery of this location tracking freaked out a bunch of people including Al Franken who is demanding an explanation from Apple. Franken is concerned that unauthorized snoops could easily discover a person’s home address, location of a child’s school, doctors office and other confidential information.

This revelation did not trouble me too much. Like David Pogue, I have nothing to hide. But I figured I might as well download the free iPhone tracker application and see what my PC might reveal if I was ever indicted for terrorism.

I was a little surprised at what I discovered. Using the iPhone Tracker application I can see that my computer does indeed keep a record of trips I’ve made to Stockton, Santa Barbara, Calabasas, Orange and Westwood. But what it does not do is reveal any precise locations. There is no way to pinpoint my home, my work, my child’s school or my doctor.

There were a couple of other surprises as well. The secret hidden iPhone log does not appear to have any record of a trip to San Luis Obispo that we took a few months ago. But it does seem to indicate that I spent some time at the Mendota Airport, though I don’t recall ever having done so and have no clear idea where Mendota is. The log file also has me in a suburb of Las Vegas this past July on a date when I was in a meeting in Camarillo. With my iPhone.

What this tracking data seems to represent is celluar and WiFi nodes that my iPhone has contacted. If you pass through an area your iPhone will log a wide grid of available cell nodes. Somebody looking at my log could tell that I’ve been in the Sacramento area but they can’t tell exactly where. Nodes are activated in Lodi (where I went) but also in Tracy, Brentwood and Manteca (where I didn’t go.) For some reason airports show up in the log with amazing frequency – even if I’ve only come within thirty miles of them.

Yes my iPhone is tracking me. But not in a way that anyone would find useful, except for someone who is looking to improve network connectivity perhaps. I’ve got much more to fear from my Garmin…or Facebook.

Free National Park Guides for Your iPhone/Android (April 24 Deadline)

In honor of National Park Week, Chimani is offering free downloads of their popular National Park smartphone guides. They have a selection of apps for both iPhone and Android. The Android apps, usually $4.99 are discounted to 99ยข but they also have free “Lite” versions.

Kerry Gallivan, founder of Chimani, says that his company’s guides are designed to be essential equipment for travelers:

I like to think of these apps within the tradition of the telescope or astrolable of our adventuring ancestors instruments to help us navigate the natural world (terrain and trails) and provide insight into its workings (the weather, moon phases, tides). All of this information is presented on an intuitive user interface that is visually well designed, includes professionally designed maps, up-to-date and well-researched content, high quality photographs and rock-solid programming.

The apps include detailed maps, driving tours, park schedules and info to assist photographers. They’re definitely worth a look.

Chimani Parks smartphone apps via TUAW

Micoach the App – a Better Way to Run

The problem I have with running is that my brain still belongs to a high school athlete but my body is ancient. Consequently I wind up pushing myself too hard. After three weeks it’s simply too painful to continue.

This changed when I started using the free Adidas Micoach app (pronounced My Coach). The core concept of this app is to give you interval training using four “zones,” Blue, Green, Yellow and Red. The zones are based on pace or heart rate, your choice depending on your equipment.

Micoach starts with an assessment workout that calculates the pace for each of your zones. You choose a workout plan and then work your way through a schedule of 30-some workouts.

I started with “Be Fit,” a beginner’s workout. Micoach would start me in the Blue Zone (15 minute mile) and then coach me when to pick up the pace to the Green Zone (13 minute mile). The user interface is clear, easy to read on the run and easy to use.

So far I’ve kept up with running three times a week for two months now. A personal best. One of the reasons Micoach works for me so far is because the workouts are so easy. No matter how rotten I feel in the morning I get a sense of “OK, I can do that” when I check in with Micoach.

The Adidas branded app keeps track of distance, pace, routes and calories burned. It also has a shoe log that I don’t use, seeing that I run barefoot-ish (Vibram Five Fingers). The interface for the Explore options looks very amateurish, as if it was tacked on as an afterthought which is too bad in such otherwise nice package.

Hold the Phone (Running)

This is just a quickie review of the Adidas Micoach armband for the iPhone 4. This item is generally loathed in reviews but I rather like it compared to a few others I’ve seen or tried.

1. Most people complain that the armband is too small. Yes it’s too small to wear on your bicep. But I find it easier to view on my forearm in any case. The Velcro is extremely grippy.

2. The plastic D-ring is terrible. It recently broke so I replaced it using a beefy plastic ring from an old iPod armband, stitched in place with a sewing awl.

3. The Micoach fabric itself is tough, completely waterproof and encloses the phone entirely. I have no concerns at all about sweat penetration. compare this to the Belkin iPhone 3 case that has open ports for the iPhone speakers. That said, I wouldn’t take the Micoach armband out in a drizzle. The stitching would likely allow water to intrude with constant exposure.

4. The Micoach armband keeps the iPhone 4 snug and secure. I have a Belkin clear GripVue case on my iPhone and it fits perfectly in the Micoach sports band. A thicker iPhone case would no doubt have problems.

5. The Adidas armband covers the light sensor on the iPhone and this makes the display unreadable in broad daylight. I find that if I uncover the sensor and then slide the phone back in the case it resets the sensor and I can view the display easily.

All in all I’d like to find a better sportsband for the iPhone than the Micoach, but it’s a much better armband than the others that are available at your local stores.

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek Review: Running in My “Bear” Feet

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek

I’ve been running in Vibram Five Fingers off and on for three years now and they are not the miracle shoes that some would have you believe. For one thing, you won’t win any fashion awards. My college-age daughter won’t be seen with my in public when I’m wearing my Five Fingers. And for another thing, they may not cure everything that ails you. When I finish running I still feel like I’ve been run over by a bulldozer. My knees still hurt – just not as much or for as long as when I’m wearing regular running shoes.

The bottom line is that after three years of use my Classics are starting to wear out and I liked them well enough to cash in my REI dividend and upgrade to a pair of KSO Treks. Here are my first impressions.

Fit and Sizing

I followed Vibram’s sizing recommendations and got size 45 – the same size as my Classics, which are a little too snug. To be clear about this, the KSOs run a little large and a 45 in Treks are like a 46 in Classics.

Because the footbed of Five Fingers cup the heel and toes, these shoes won’t “give” with use. For hiking and running it’s probably better to opt for a little loose rather than a little tight if you’re between sizes.

First Run: On the Dusty Road

The KSOs have a thicker sole and this makes a huge difference on the gravelly trails where I do most of my running. There’s still a chunk of ouch! when you step the wrong way on a stone, but it’s far sight better than the thin soles of the Classics.

Keeping Stuff Out

On their “maiden” run the KSOs lived up to their name – the high cut, firm closure and kangaroo leather uppers really did Keep Stuff Out. The Classics, with their “ballet style” cut and stretchy fabric always ingested a certain amount of dirt. Running in the sand was a good way to grind holes in your feet in a hurry.


I have flat feet and at times tape my arches. The way the KSOs strap up they seem to give a decent amount of arch support.

This is a first impression. So far I’ve put the KSOs through a few miles of trail and a game of Night Ultimate Frisbee, and so far so good. These lightweight runners give you the “barefoot” experience without the pain and suffering of actually going barefoot. The quality and workmanship are excellent.

Order them online from REI:

Apparently I Stink at Blogging

Six months ago I signed up for the Agion “Stink at Nothing” challenge – getting a free t-shirt in the mail that I was supposed to put through a series of rigorous BO experiments.

I’ve worn the shirt repeatedly during exercise and expeditions but I’ve failed to put it to anything I’d call a test – despite repeated nudging from the Agion folks.

For one thing I’m olfactorily-challenged and can’t perform the tests myself. My family is averse to putting their collective nose to anything I shove in their faces.

But I like to honor my commitments so here goes. I promise to stink less at blogging (and more at everything else).

Cowboy Cooking with a Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens come in all sizes

Not for the ultralight crowd, though I once ran into some guys who hiked into Tassajara with heavy cast iron cookware, a dutch oven lets you prepare gourmet meals you wouldn’t think possible at the campsite. Casseroles, fresh baked bread — it’s all possible with with a humble cast iron pot and some red hot coals. Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchen can get you started with dutch oven cooking.

Dutch Oven Madness is a blog with recipes including Dutch Oven Orange Rolls. This recipe is similar to one of our favorites, only we put the dough inside a hollowed out orange rind. Before your trip you take a dozen or so oranges, cut off the top third, spoon out the pulp (juice it) and then freeze the remaining rind. The frozen orange-shells keep well in a cooler. Then fill the orange-cups with the dough mixture and bake until brown.

Target has a nice selection of dutch ovens. You want one with a loop handle, and the spiral handle grip is a nice touch. The only thing is, as of this writing, none of Target’s dutch ovens have feet and the lids don’t have a lip so you can’t really pile hot coals on top. The Camp Chef oven available through Sports Authority has the better design for true cowboy cooking.

Bucket o’ Links #1: Cool Gear

Here are a few links I’ve collected over the years, but an never going to get around to blogging. Enjoy, there are plenty more where these came from:

Bacon Wallet: Looks like bacon, won’t attract dogs. The Goat

Do-It-Yourself Gear
Backpack Stove: Use a Pepsi can (these work great!) Lifehacker
Messenger Bag: Make your own from plastic bags. Get Outdoors Blog
Bedroom Bouldering Wall: Make your own cave. Get Outdoors Blog
Pen: Make your own Mont Blanc quality pen in 2 minutes. BoingBoing
Pincushion: Looks like an eyeball. BoingBoing
Stain Remover: Make your own. Seven recipes. Dumb Little Man

Bologna Bubble Gum (Discontinued): Blow your lunch. BoingBoing

decTop: $100 personal computer.Lifehacker

Outdoors Stuff
Atwood Mini-Tools: Multi-functional works of art. Cool Tools
Bivanorak: Think “Snuggie for the outdoorsman.” Cool Tools
Credit Card Survival Tool: A toolbox that fits in your wallet. Lifehacker
CRKT Zilla Tool: Multitool with an attitude. The Goat
Dry Bag: With straps. The Goat
Field Tweezers: Tiny, flat pack, key-ring friendly. Cool Tools
Knot Tying Tool: You’re not a Boy Scout. You still need knots. Get Outdoors Blog
Pelican Micro Case: Waterproof, possibly hippo-proof protection for small electronics. Lifehacker
Tarptents: Lighter than many pack tents. Better cover than a tarp. Cool Tools
Tick Remover: Does what it says. Cool Tools
Sardine Can Survival Kit: Decent kit, great concept, fun gift. BoingBoing

Magic Wheel: Unicycle for sissies. Get Outdoors Blog
MaxiMog: All-terrain vehicle. Honestly. The Piton

How to Keep a Firm Footing in Icy Weather


There’s nothing worse than going for a morning stroll only to find yourself with the “rubber side up” as they say. Black ice, slippery sidewalks and refrozen snow can be a game-changer for people (like myself) in a certain demographic. I don’t make it to the snow very often, and when I do I’m usually at a conference grounds…which means plenty of opportunity to slip up and fall hard.

Here are some great ways to keep your footing in slippery situations:

Yaktrax (pictured above): These things are great on refrozen snow and slippery pavement. I’ve worn the same pair for four seasons now. Two caveats: take them off indoors, they are very slippery on tile floors. They tend to slip off your feet when walking through drifted snow, but a shoelace “leash” is a low-cost remedy.

Yaktrax Pro

Yaktrax Pro: Mostly the same as regular Yaktrax but with a heavy duty instep strap to keep them on your feet.


Stabilicers: These nonslip soles attach to your boots (see thumbnail above) and come recommended to me by a meter-reader who wore these through a number of seasons and praised them for their traction and durability. Rugged construction with replaceable spikes.

Kathoola MICROspikes

Kathoola MICROspikes: One step below full crampons, Katahoola MICROspikes are the hands-down choice of hikers and trail-runners. The chunky spikes hold well on the trail, but might pose a hazard on smooth concrete. They will also take a bite out of wood steps and decks.

Socks That Last Forever

Vermont Darn Tough Sock

Usually I don’t like to use the words “darn” and “socks” together in a sentence, but “Darn Tough” is how Ric Cabot describes the socks his family has been making for over 30 years. Outside Blog has just endorsed Darn Tough in their Gear Army section. I like the fact that these socks are made in Vermont, and will be adding them to my gear list.

When you shell out $14 for a pair of socks you hope that they will last the better part of a season. Over the years I’ve picked up a number of high-end socks and I haven’t been disappointed. Smartwool socks are velvety-soft and have lasted me through a good year of regular use. Hot, dry, wet, cold they’ve handled it all.

Wigwam socks are the best. They are a little scratchier than Smartwool but they feel more indestructable. I’ve had my Wigwams for about two years now, and wear them daily. They still fit great. Made in Sheboygan where the median family income is $47,000 (compared to $72,000 for the Southern California area where I live), which also gives me an incentive to pay a little extra over the tube socks which don’t last or perform nearly as well.

Super Tip! Prevent Lost Socks!

If you’re going to shell out a lot of bread for socks, use these clips. They’ve made my life infinitely easier. Unfortunately the Sock Cop web page is down…has the business expired? Too bad for humanity if that’s the case. These clips are ideal for keeping pairs of bulky wool socks together through wash and dry. My only beef is that they are a little tough to pinch open and sometimes break. An alternative is the Sock Pro – if you’ve tried these, please let me know how well they work in the comments section below.