Archive for November, 2009

How To Stay Warm and Dry in the Outdoors

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

How To Stay Warm and Dry in the Outdoors  (Word Document – Opens in new Window)  This is an update of a guide I prepared several years ago that talks about clothing choices that will help you stay warm (or cool) and dry in the outdoors. 

Selling the Jeep’s OEM Wheels and Tires

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009


If anybody is interested in the Moab wheels and Goodyear Wrangler MT/R tires that came with the Jeep, leave a comment.

Backpacking Gear Packing List and Analysis Spreadsheet

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Backpacking Gear Packing List and Analysis Spreadsheet This is a link to an Excel Spreadsheet that I got from a fellow Assistant Scoutmaster and modified to suit my needs.  It is filled with actual data for a scout going to Philmont.  In the first set of columns, enter in the gear you have and what it weighs (use a postage scale).  In the columns to the right, enter any lower weight alternative gear you are considering for each item.  The sheet will give you a running tally of what your pack and clothing weighs, how much weight you would save through using the alternatives and how much it will cost you to buy the alternatives.  For example, substituting Platypus bottles for Nalgene bottles saves a lot of weight for a relatively modest cost, as does trading a Z-fold Thermarest for a traditional inflatable Thermarest. 

More on the Jeep Power Steering Pump Noise

Monday, November 16th, 2009

I took the Jeep back and had them replace the power steering pump.   Problem solved.  The new pump is silent.  Don’t believe a service writer if he tells you they are all noisy.

How a sleeping bag works (and how to stay warm in one)

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Sleeping bags keep you warm by retaining your own body heat, while passing moisture through the bag to the atmosphere.  Most experts say that the body does not release as much heat during sleep, so the warmth your body gives off between the time you enter the bag and go to sleep has to help keep you warm through the night.  One activity that causes your body to release heat is digesting food.  On a cold night, drinking a cup of hot broth or cocoa can help you warm up your bag and lead to a comfortable night.  While retaining heat is good, sweating is not and is to be avoided at all costs.  Once you become sweaty, you are likely to become cold and miserable.  It is important to recognize when you are building up too much heat and ventilate the bag before sweating starts.  Underwear, and especially cotton underwear, retains moisture and if you get in your sleeping bag wearing the same t-shirt and underwear you wore all day, you are asking for a miserable night.   Smart campers will put on their fresh underwear for the next day as they are getting into their sleeping bag at night.  They will also put their clothes for the next morning inside their sleeping bag so that they can put on warm clothes in the morning rather than clothes that are cold.  (Yes, I know real men don’t carry “fresh” underwear for every day of their trip.  I wore the same clothes all week at Northern Tier too, but if it is really cold, you should swap underwear every day.  Air out the pair you are not wearing to make sure it is dry.  That is what I mean by fresh.  I don’t care if it is clean.)

Sleeping Pads

Monday, November 16th, 2009

A sleeping bag is designed to shield its user from the cold air that surrounds him, not the cold ground below him.  Thus, a proper sleeping pad is not a luxury that provides comfort, it is a necessity to retain warmth.  There are a variety of choices available and just like everything else in backpacking, you have to balance weight, comfort, durability and cost.  Thermarest is a leading brand of sleeping pads.  REI has a house brand and there may be others.  I will discuss the Thermarest pads because I am more familiar with them, but other similar pads may work just as well or better.  If you are focused on keeping your pack weight down, you can shave a pound or two on your pad.  The Z-Lite egg crate style Thermarest is very light.  It may not be as cushy as the inflatable styles, but it clearly wins in the weight category and is less expensive too.  Also lightweight, but costly, is the Pro-Lite line Thermarests.  One way they shave weight is by trimming the dimensions, including the thickness, which impacts comfort.  I use the rectangular green Trail-Lite Thermarest pad.  It is big enough that I am not likely to roll off of it at night, even as I roll from one side to the other and it is nicely padded.  I am willing to accept a bit of extra weight in order to be comfortable.  Another plus of these is that there are accessories that allow them to be used as a chair or even a lounge seat.  My son has a Trail-Lite pad just like mine.  He also has a Z-Lite for occasions when weight is a compelling factor.  He carried that one to Philmont.  I have not studied the other brands and would welcome comments from anybody who has.

Sleeping Bags

Monday, November 16th, 2009

A comfortable sleeping bag will make the difference between a comfortable night in the outdoors and a miserable experience that can turn a scout against camping.  As with virtually all other types of outdoor equipment, choosing a sleeping bag entails tradeoffs on a variety of factors.  These include cost, weight, durability, warmth, bulk, ease of cleaning, performance when wet and others.  There are very light, warm sleeping bags, but these are costly and not as durable as more mainstream bags.  Inexpensive bags are often bulky, heavy and may not keep you warm.  Down bags are light and warm, but they are costly, difficult to clean and worthless if wet.  The discussion below is designed to help you weigh the various factors, apply them to your own situation, then make a good decision. 

For purposes of this discussion, we are assuming you are choosing a bag for use in Troop 641.  We are located in Houston, so we generally do not experience weather much below freezing.  However, a scout in Troop 641 should expect a couple of nights of below freezing weather during his scouting career and should be prepared for it.  We have frequent rain.  Summers are hot and muggy.  Because of the wide extremes of weather, it may not make sense to look for a “year round” bag.  The better practice is to focus on a bag that will provide proper cold weather performance, then simply use a sheet, fleece blanket or sleeping bag liner in warm weather. 

Bag design and size.  Only a mummy type bag is going to adequately hold in body heat in cold weather.  Rectangular bags with open tops are fine for a slumber party, but when it gets cold, you need to be able to hold in all the heat you can.  Mummy type bags can be hard to get used to, especially for the claustrophobic.  Remember that you do not have to close the top unless the weather requires it.  Bigger bags are more comfortable, but have more volume that your body must keep heated and weigh more.  If you opt for a more expensive bag that is going to be a lifetime investment, make sure your scout will not outgrow it. 

Bag fill material.  Down is a wonderful fill material for a sleeping bag.  There is nothing as light, fluffy, warm and compressible as down.  Unfortunately, down is costly, difficult to properly clean and is absolutely worthless when wet.  This means that if you have a down bag, you (and your tentmates), have to be careful and disciplined not to get it wet and dirty.  One of the most common synthetic materials is polarguard  It is not as light, warm or compressible as down, but it retains its loft when wet and is more washable.  Another less common fill material is Thermolite, which claims to provide equal heat retention as other synthetics while requiring less loft.  This means that Thermolite bags can be fitted in a similar size stuff sack as a down bag.  They are also machine washable.  Having watched scouts for many years and having been one myself, I think the best option for a young scout is a synthetic bag.  Younger boys simple do not have the level of appreciation for their gear to take good care of it.  Even a careful boy is likely to share a tent with a boy who has not yet learned the proper respect for the property of others.  The chances that the boys will fail to properly secure their tent against rain or will let a bottle of water (or worse juice) leak in the tent and get their sleeping bag wet are fairly high.   Indeed, it is through these experiences, and the discomfort that arises from them, that young boys grow into young men and learn to be careful and appreciate their gear.  By the time they reach high school, most scouts are much better at caring for their gear.  For an older boy heading to Philmont, I recommend the investment in a down bag if he needs a new bag and you can afford it.  For a new scout, I would stick to a synthetic.  A moderately priced, lightweight and compact bag is the Coleman Exponent with Thermolite filling.  It is rated at 25 degrees.  My son has used one since he became a scout.  He has never complained of being cold, even though we have camped in freezing conditions on several occasions.  Sadly, this bag has been discontinued and is now hard to find.  I found a similar Thermolite bag at Academy and bought one for Northern Tier.  I still have and use my down bag that I got before my second trip to Philmont as a scout 30+ years ago, but decided I did not want a down bag on a canoe trip to a place where it can rain every day.  The new Thermolite bag is very compressible, lightweight and kept me quite toasty on those cool Canadian summer nights.  I will test it in colder conditions this winter, but from what I have seen so far, I think it is a winner.  For more discussion about fill options, here is a page I have found that details the pros and cons of a number of materials:  Seeing all the products they have listed and all the modifications to the old standard products tells me there are a lot of options, not all of which I have seen, so don’t limit yourself to the fill choices I have listed here. 

I have never seen a bag at REI that was of poor quality.  If you buy a bag there, it will be more costly, but it probably can be trusted.  When you buy the cheaper bags at other outlets, you need to be careful to ensure that they have good zippers and sound construction.  Avoid the tendency to overbuy.  Don’t think you need a zero degree bag just to be on the safe side if you have no intention of camping in that type of weather.  You will pay more than you need to pay, and your son will carry the excess weight and bulk of this bag everywhere he backpacks.  My recommendation for people whose camping expectations do not extend beyond being in the troop, including Philmont in the summer, is to get a bag rated for temperatures no lower than 20 degrees.  If you find yourself taking a trip where the weather will be colder, you can generally get an additional 10 degrees of temperature rating by using a liner in the bag (and you can use the liner alone in the summer). 

Boy Scout Backpacks, backpack covers and waterproof stuff sacks for clothing

Monday, November 16th, 2009

I normally don’t like to make specific product recommendations, in favor of describing things I like to look for in a product.  Normally, there are quite a few similar choices available, leaving the final choice up to the individual.  In the case of backpacks for scouts, I recommend the Kelty Coyote.  I am not aware of another pack that is as adjustable in its fit so that one pack can accommodate a boy in fifth grade through a young adult.  In other words, it is the only backpack a boy will need in his scouting career.  On top of that, it is durable and compared to many high quality alternatives, economical.  It comes in several sizes, a 4750  or 4900 cubic inch model for men and a 4500 cubic inch women’s model.  My son has the Coyote and it served him well at Philmont and everywhere else he has taken it.  I like the fact that the main compartment is accessible from the top and via a zippered opening on the face of the pack.  It also has a couple of side pockets.  I like to keep gear in the same place every time so that I can find what I need, even if I am in a hurry and it is dark, so I think the pockets are a plus.   

One thing I would get with this pack, or any other pack that has a single main compartment, is a lightweight waterproof stuff sack for clothing.  Remember that the scout should pack almost all gear inside the pack.  While some items, like a sleeping pad, might be securely strapped to the outside, nothing should be dangling from the exterior of a pack.  A waterproof bag allows a scout to easily keep his clothing dry and together.  If a wet tent gets shoved inside the pack on a wet weekend, no problem.  It is also handy to be able to grab the bag and take it in the tent rather than have to dig around in your pack outside on a cold or wet day.  I use my stuff sack of clothes to serve double duty as my pillow.  Here is a hint:  Get one bigger than you think you will need.  Rather than compress everything in a cylinder, let the contents conform to the available space in the pack, which allows greater packing efficiency. 

Since most high adventure tents do not have room for packs inside them (and might have bear attracting smells you would not want to sleep with) a good lightweight rain cover for a pack is always a good idea.  Some covers just cover the back of the pack, leaving the belt and straps exposed.  This is the way it has to be when you are covering a pack while wearing it, but I have never understood why you would leave the parts that are touching your body exposed so that they are soaked when you have the pack off in the campsite.  In the morning, that is what you have to strap around you.  Any ideas?

Scout Personal First Aid Kits

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Although the Troop has comprehensive first aid kits on every trip, every scout should make it a habit to have a small personal first aid kit.  The focus of this kit should not be to handle major trauma, rather it should be designed to solve little personal problems that arise along the way.  That being said, a scout should never keep a medical problem to himself, especially on a high adventure trip, where minor problems like blisters can turn into trip ending major problems if not properly dealt with.  Counsel your scout to always let the adult leader know if he has a problem, even if he is perfectly capable of handling it himself and is doing so.  I do not recommend pre-made kits.  I think the right individual kit for a backpack is a heavy duty one quart zip-lock type bag.  In it, there should be a few band-aids, antiseptic pads (such as providone-iodine pads) some topical antibiotic ointment (like a triple antibiotic), some some hydrocortisone cream, a sheet of moleskin and a few sterile gauze pads.  Of course, adjust this for personal needs and allergies.  Remember that Second Class rank requirement 6B is to prepare a personal first aid kit to take with you on a hike, so your scout can do this for credit at the appropriate time.   For the antiseptics and topical meds, the best way to handle these are in little single use packages.  A big tube weighs too much.