Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thoughts on camping with groups and fuel...

Over the years, I have spent a considerable amount of time camping with large groups, starting more years ago than I care to admit with extended family outings with aunts, uncles, and cousins along for the fun, then Boy Scouts, and then co-ed youth groups, college camping clubs, singles camping clubs, and other assorted camping groups...

One thing that has remained fairly constant. In order to efficiently cook, provide hot water, and manageable light, an efficient camping fuel choice had to be made by the powers that be.

While Butane / propane mix fuels are a good match for mid to high elevation,warm temperature  ultralight campers, and 1 lb propane cylinders likewise for heavier camping gear, for light weight, although not ultralight, to heavyweight camping, to maximize the efficiency of camp, particularly in groups, nothing beats liquid fuel camp appliances, particularly at higher elevations.

Depending on your use, I have found a single gallon of Coleman fuel / Ozark Trail Camp Fuel / White Gas gives me the same amount of burn time / meals prepared, nights of light from lanterns as 1.5 20lb cylinders of propane!

What I find shocking is how few new campers chose liquid fuels until they either venture to low elevations or cold temperatures, and discover the non financial drawback to canister fuels.

Gaseous, canister based fuels such as butane / propane mix, or straight propane work off of the pressure differential between the gas inside the canister, and the outside environment. Thus the higher the pressure inside the canister, or lower the pressure outside, the easier it is for fuel to be pushed out of the canister and through the appliance.

Several factors impact this pressure differenential, these include.

  1. Elevation. Air pressure is greater the lower you go (more air above you, weighing down on you, and that gas canister).
  2. Amount of fuel in the gas canister. The less fuel there is, the lower the pressure.
  3. Temperature of the outside air, and the gas canister.
Liquid fuel appliances are subject to these same laws of physics, but have the advantage of being able to be manually pressurized via a pump mechanism. 

While the circumstances of a canister being too cold to pressurize correctly are typically too uncomfortable for human occupation, they can also be a very real risk if humans are present in those conditions. (winter camping / fishing trips on a stormy beach like we often do here in Texas for example).
Given the obvious advantages of liquid fueled appliances, why then does it seem that for the most part, the majority of camp appliances that seem to populate store shelves, particularly mass market discount stores, is proppane fueled? Well for starters, propane appliances are inexpensive by comparison. Typically built for the occasional camper. Propame camping appliances are constructed with typically lighter duty components and housings. Being designed for the occasional camper, propane appliances are somewhat easier to set up and operate, requiring no pumping or priming. Unfortunately many propane appliances make flame control harder than it ought to be resulting in too many burnt pancakes.... Now that you have that bit of knowledge you can.... Go and find your own road less travelled... - Outdoor Dave

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The tax man cometh... Some tips for those that already took care of that burden...

And the tax man taketh away... But that is life. Yes we are busy preparing our 2012 tax filings, which is kind of depressing because, at least here in Coastal Texas, the weather is drop dead gorgeous. Temps are downright perfect to be outside.

If you are wiser than I am, and have already filed your taxes for the previous year, congratulations, especially if where you live has these to die for weather days. Get outside and enjoy them. Even if the weather isn't quite 100% up to par, as long as you have clean dry space, here are a few things you can do to prepare for camping trips during the remainder of the spring and through the summer.

#1. Clean your tent and use this time to re seam seal the tent body and rain fly. I like to set up my tent and use a whisk broom / dustpan to pick up any particulate matter, dirt, sand etc... that I can. I follow that up with a good cleaning with a sponge, and soapy water, followed with a rinse with same said sponge and clean water. Once it is completely clean, let it dry out all the way. Then seam seal the tent body, and rainfly following the seam sealer manufacturers instructions.  So far I have used McNett Seam Grip (LOVE that stuff). Coleman's seam sealer, Coughlans Seam Sealer, Gear Aid Seam Grip, Gear Aid Seam Sure, and Gear Aid Tent Sure (for sealing the seams on the floor). All have given me good results. Kenyon Seam Sealer 3 has been used in the past with mixed results. On a smaller Coleman Sundome 5x7 the Kenyon proved very effective at keeping the seams tightly sealed, and the occupant of the tent dry. On later uses, on a Swiss Gear 10x20 3 room the Kenyon Seam Sealer 3 utterly failed, providing for an interesting night of playing dodge the drips from the roof while trying to sleep.

The one I haven't tried, is the Texsport aerosol Waterproofing Seam Sealer. I must admit to being somewhat leery of trying this one out. Seam Sealing is such a critical part of making your tent stay dry during a storm that, well sub standard seam sealers can lead to disasterous results. And the quality of Texsport products has in our experience been very much lacking. From tents with poor stitching and skinny poles that dance in a slight breeze, to cookware with handles that break off during use. We have come to have a deep distrust for the Texsport brand name and any product associated with it. I may try it out in field testing on an old Wenzel tent (Purchased new by my family, from Bi Mart in Corvallis Oregon in 1986). I figure it that one leaks at the seams, well it already leaks at the seams so it can't be worse!

Of all the products used in the past, We most strongly recommend the McNett Seam Grip / Gear Aid Seam Grip. I am not 100% sure, but it seems that the Gear Aid Seam Grip is simply the McNett product rebranded, and sold at a slight markup through REI stores.

#2. Liquid Fuel appliances. Test, clean, and prepare for use.
Prior to use, assuming you did it right and stored your liquid fuel appliance without fuel in it, you should prep it for use. On my Coleman stove, and lanterns, I like to take the pump plunger assembly out, and soak the plunger cup in some vegetable oil (Olive oil works best, but that stuff is spendy!). Once the plunger cup is supple again, Wipe it clean and reinstall in the pump. If there is any sign of mantle damage on the lantern, replace those mantles. And do a full inspection. Is everything tight, and clean? If so fill it up and test it. The stove should, once the priming burn is done come right to life and burn with a steady flame. The flame height knob should do what you expect it to, and of course, if you have a 2 or 3 burner stove, the secondary and tertiary burners should light up and operate on demand after the primary burner is going.

#3. The 10 (plus) Essentials. The time to make sure you have your 10 (plus) essentials in proper working order is BEFORE you head out to the hills, rivers, beaches, or bayous. That means making sure you have a windproof / waterproof lighter (or matches) in a waterproof case, and that is stocked up sufficiently (You didn't empty the lighter, or use all the matches last season right?). Make sure your first aid kit is fully stocked for any contingency, and that you know how to use it, and of course, your map and compass. Know how to use them, and before you head out, seal that map! It's a heart sinking feeling having to rely on a map that is too wet to unfold, or once you get it unfolded, is illegible. Map sealer is cheap insurance!

#4. Bedding. Unless you plan on wrapping yourself up in leaves and sleeping on the cold, hard, wet ground, you really need to make sure your bedding is in order. For me that means, even when I am trying for ultralight backpacking I bring along...
- Inflatable air mattress. Not like a big Coleman air bed, but a Therm A Rest or similar mat. I personally use a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core. I love it. Even with my excess, well... me.
- Sleeping bag. Now I live and camp mostly in Texas and the surrounding area, which means hot, humid conditions. So for me, during hot conditions, I tend to bring a fleece sleeping bag (not super easy to find). Mine is an Ozark Trail brand which is long discontinued now. Other manufacturers have them. When that is too hot, I like to use a wicking sleeping bag liner by itself. Helps to keep your temp down while you snooze. Of course for colder temps, I go dig out the big comfy bags. If carry weight is a concern for you, consider looking for a bag with Qualofil, Microlite Extreme, or down filling. A down bag is a great bag to own comfort wise, however they are terribly expensive, and depending on your outlook you may have some ethical issues using goose down. There are some newer synthetics on the market that make even Microlite Extreme seem heavy.  For both the wicking liner, and the ultralight sleeping bag, I look to Slumberjack for my personal sleeping bags. They tend to be a bit roomier in them so that even a large framed gentleman can sleep warm, in comfort in a mummy bag. Quality has always been top notch.

For camping where weight isn't so much of a concern. Coleman, and Wenzel sleeping bags both are the stuff dreams are made of, in this case literally. For out of the car camping, or even throwing extra sleeping space onto the floor of the deer shack, I like to have with me.
- Coleman inflatable air mattress, air pump, and patch kit. These things are nice and comfy
- Coleman, or Wenzel (or similar) recreational sleeping bag rated to the lowest temps expected. I typically don't buy bags rated lower than 25 deg, because honestly, if it is that cold, I am going to be wrapped up in long johns and sweats anyway..
- For colder weather I keep an extra sleeping bag, for warmer weather (hot weather) I use the fleece bag / wicking liner mentioned above. The extra sleeping bag for colder weather is to put between the sleeping bag I am in, and the air mattress. Air mattresses do a REALLY good job of conducting heat away from you, so you need the layers of insulation to keep you from becoming a people sickle...

Well now I have gone and given you some tips on a few things to prep to go out and enjoy the great outdoors, so get out there, and find your own road less traveled.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Getting ready to get out and find my own road less travelled.

The environmentalists will freak out with this blog entry. Sorry you feel that way, I can only suggest that you take the energy you would use to berate me for what I am going to say, and work up a crowd sourcing effort to develop a sustainable, zero impact environmentally, drop in replacement for gasoline. Because I am going to talk about four wheel drive pickup trucks here.

And no I am not being mean or anything here. I honestly would LOVE a good, environmentally responsible drop in replacement for gasoline that the average person could afford to use. But that isn't the purpose of this post...

A big part of what has been keeping me an urban prisoner has been the truck. You see we drive our gas sipping old Saturn SL sedan to and fro in town. The pickup truck, having suffered from an intentional design fault that makes critical suspension components (Ball joints) fail at an early age, did just that.  So long story short, I had to fix the truck...

Now I am sure you will agree with me that any time you can save some money, safely, and responsibly, that is a good thing. After being quoted $2,000.00 by my local shops to replace the upper and lower ball joints, and while they were in there, replace the shock absorbers as well, I just about had kittens. That didn't even include the cost of replacement tires or an alignment!

So out came some online shopping, and a trip to www.rockauto.com, I have been using these guys for a while, and have gotten good deals from them in the past, typically 25 - 65% below what the local parts houses sell the same item for, before tax and shipping of course. A quick look at the ball joint selections showed they did indeed have the Moog Problem solver line of suspension components, which fixed the issues of undersized components, and a complete lack of grease service fittings on the stock units. The lowers are sold as just the joint, the uppers as a complete upper control arm assembly. Careful inspection of the entire system shows no problems with the bushings on the lowers.

The shocks I wanted were a huge improvement over stock, and came from www.4wheelonline.com, a company I had done business with in the past, and received a good bargain, but communication through them was sparse, and honestly I am nervous every time I order from them, but so far so good... I got the Rancho Quick Lift Loaded front coilover assemblies that lift the front of the truck 2.5", and then the Rancho RS9000XL for the rear. All four are pressure adjustable allowing me to dial in the ride from soft and supple, to firm and planted. All with the twist of a knob.

Now that the front end is put back together, some fresh brake pads, tires, and front end alignment are in order, and soon, but not soon enough for me, you will start seeing fresh Outdoor Dave videos, and photos!

Paddlers, you in particular will want to keep your eyes peeled for upcoming entries. I will be designing, building and testing a DIY knock down double canoe rack to fit a standard American pickup truck bed (MUST have stake pockets). This will be sized to fit a Ford full size with a 6.5 foot bed, and I will note the critical dimensions that you will need to adjust for your truck! This design will be able to haul 2 ~15' canoes, and paddling accessories while leaving the bed of the truck available to fill with camping gear and supplies.

So keep your eyes peeled, and get out there and find your own, road less traveled.