Misc Hiking / Backpacking stuff

Cascade Design - Therm-A-Rest, Ridge Rest Sleeping Pads and more

Cascade Designs is a company that owns MSR (which makes stoves, water filters, climbing gear and more), Therm-A-Rest (which makes sleeping pads), Tracks (walking sticks), Platypus (water holders), SealLine (waterproof bags).

I own two SealLine drybags, the SEE 10 and SEE 20. They work fine. The only problem I had was when I found some utensils and put them in the bag. Forks and knives don't do well in drybags. I patched the bag, and it is as waterproof as ever.

I own one or two Tracks walking sticks. They are not ultra-light, but they are much more robust than the ultra-light walking sticks. I have had no problems with them.

I own several Platypus water containers. Two of them from the mid-90's leaked, and I got them replaced. The replacement ones have had no issues.

I have some MSR stoves. I don't use them much, but they work when I do use them. No problems.

I have a Ridge Rest, which is pretty foolproof. It is light, and warm. It doesn't compress much, so I strap it outside my pack when I use it. I have three Therm-A-Rests, a CampRest, a standard one, and an ultralight. The average age of these pads is roughly 20 years. I store them unrolled so the foam stays expanded. I had the ultralight in my garage, and I had a rat problem in the garage. In addition to food, the rats gnawed several square inches of the ultralight pad. I was sad, because it looked unrepairable. I emailed a picture to Cascade Designs and they said it was most likely something they could not repair. I sent it in anyway, explaining it was not defective in any way, but caused by my neglect and rats. They removed the few square inches of eaten material (it was at an edge) and sealed the opening. I was impressed that they could salvage the pad.

Patching a Therm-A-Rest

Well, it turned out the rats damaged my CampRest (a thick Therm-A-Rest). I decided to patch it myself. I had a patch kit that came with the CampRest, when I bought about 20 years ago. I learned a few things. The first is that 20 year old Therm-A-Rest glue that has been opened will solidify (which wasn't a big surprise). The second thing was the adhesive on the 20 year old patches doesn't work so well either. Therm-A-Rest has a new way to do patches. They have some adhesive which needs to be heated in boiling water, and then applied to their patches. I still had plenty of old style patches, so I went out and bought some Loctite Vinyl, Fabric & Plastic flexible adhesive ($3 for 30ml). Using that, along with the old style patches works pretty well. The only problem is keeping the patches from rolling up at the edges. If you put something over the patch to help hold it down (which is tough when the hole is near the edge of a inflated Therm-A-Rest), it will either stick to the patch and glue, or it will melt. It does make applying the patches a bit tricky. The other thing I learned was to use patches that are roughly 15mm bigger in all directions than the hole. For pinholes, a dab of the Loctite glue is all that is needed, which solved 2 of my holes. For the other holes, I cut the roughly 2 inch diameter Therm-A-Rest patch in quarters, and glued them down. If you need to hold the patch down near the edge of the Therm-A-Rest, use some of those black metal paper clips that have a triangular cross section. Works great to hold patches while they are drying. I used two tiny ones to hold the edge down, and a really big one to go over the tiny ones to hold down the rest of the patch. You need to deflate the pad to make it reasonably flat.

The easiest way to find holes is to fully inflate the pad, and then stick it in a bathtub with water. Look for bubbles. If you don't have a bathtub, you will have to listen for the leak, or feel the air leaking out which is much harder. When I found a hole, I would dry the area, and then mark it with a sharpie. Needless to say, there is now a lot of sharpie marks on my pad. I have also learned that surface preparation is very important. If there dirt or old adhesive, the patch won't stick reliably. I have found that rubbing alcohol is good to clean the surface before gluing, but doesn't work to remove old adhesive. Neither does acetone. The only thing I have found that works is gasoline. Be sure to wear your gloves, and use it outdoors. Don't drink it either. I don't accept any responsibility if you get injured as a result of using gasoline. I also use the edge of an X-acto knife to help scrape the old goop off.

Well, I have had many of my patches fail. I now think that the Loctite Vinyl adhesive isn't the ideal adhesive. It is ok for pinholes, and it will work on patches under ideal conditions; but for me it only worked about 30% of the time. I did some research, and found McNett Seam Grip which I had already used for repairing holes in my packs. It is a urethane based adhesive, which I think superior compared to common vinyl adhesives. It is reasonably priced, and quite versatile for repairing fabric rips. I cleaned my failed patch area, and use the Seam Grip. It is thicker than the Loctite adhesive, and seems to evaporate less. It worked great.

Another problem I had was a rip that was L shaped. The corner of the L rolled backwards, and prevented the patch from lying flat. After some thought, I got some fine nylon thread, and sewed the corner of the L to the rest of the pad. The knot of the thread is a whole lot smaller than the rolled back corner of the L, and it also closed the gap in the rip. I suspect any fine thread would do.

The Fisher Space-Pen

I have several Fisher bullet space pens. When closed, they look sorta like a 4 inch long 'bullet', and the pen tip is concealed. When open, they look like a normal pen. The space pen will write upside down, underwater, and in temperature extremes that would kill a person (-50F to +400F). It will also write on surfaces that a normal pen won't. Very robust. One could easily drive a car over it. The optional clip can come off by accident.

Their triple action pen, with two colors of pens and one mechanical pencil is very nice. The body is metal, but the grip is plastic, which is the weak point of the pen. It is not strong enough for rough handling. $13 on up.

The Pentel Sharp Kerry P1035 Mechanical Pencil

I have found exactly one mechanical pencil robust enough for backcountry use. It is a Pentel plastic pencil. It has an aluminum cap which when closed, covers the tip. This way, no holes are poked in the pack, and the tip isn't destroyed. About $20 (ouch). I have a different Pentel Pencil. It has a retractable tip and an aluminum body. Works fine, except the pocket clip has broken off.

Nalgene 1 liter water bottle

Nalgene makes several types of water bottles. There is one made of polyethylene and one made of polycarbonate. The polyethylene one is a has a milky, clear color, and is somewhat squeezable. The lexan one is much clearer, and is available in several tints, including clear. The lexan one is pretty rigid compared to the polyethylene one. The caps are available with and without the 'Loop-Top', which prevents the cap from getting lost.

I have had two polyethylene bottles fail in the same manner. They develop a series of cracks around the neck area. This really sucks, as the cracks usually aren't obvious until they leak. Therefore, I recommend only the lexan bottles. I tried to return the leaking bottle to REI, but I was told they simply wear out, and only the lexan ones have any kind of guarantee.

Kenyon Klear Tape for repairs

TNF Polar_Top

I bought this tape to repair a rip in a pack I had. The fabric of the pack is called 'spectrum', which is a ripstop nylon fabric with spectra thread reinforcing it. Very little sticks to spectra, as it is ultra high molecular weight polyethylene. I used the patch on the rip, and it worked great. It has not peeled, and has proves to be very durable. I had a rip in another pack, on some silicon-nylon fabric. I called Kenyon, and they were uncertain their tape would stick to the silicon-nylon fabric, as it is quite slippery.

Clear McNett Tenacious Tape for repairs

cilo
extension rip

I had a rip roughly 4.5 inches long on some silicon-nylon. McNett has a patch kit for silicon nylon. I asked them if their patch kit was big enough to handle the rip. They told me no, but to use their Tenacious Tape. I was somewhat skeptical, as I had tried using scotch tape on the inside of the fabric, planning on sealing the outside with seam grip after taping the rip together. The scotch tape didn't stick at all. The Tenacious tape costs roughly $4.50, vs the Kenyon Klear tape which costs $3.00. I decided it was worth a try. The McNett tape is thicker than the Kenyon tape. It stuck quite well to the silicon-nylon fabric. I was quite impressed. It comes in a nice clear plastic tube, making it easy to carry in a pack. It is easier to apply clear tape than the colored nylon fabric tape, as you can see the rip you are trying to fix. See the above picture for to see the tape. The rip is very hard to see now. Highly recommended.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 Digital Camera

The FZ7 was a breakthrough digital camera, one of the first of the 'super-zoom' cameras. I bought it in 2006. This camera is so old that it accepts SD cards, but not SDHC cards. It is reasonably robust. Once, while sitting on my desk, a large dog decided it was a good toy. Taking the camera in his mouth, he tool it outside to partially bury it. When I found it, with the lens cover off, I feared for the worst. I carefully cleaned the dirt off of it, and took great care to clean the lens. Despite the tooth marks on the camera, it still worked. The only issue was the lens cover needed a lot of attention due to all the dirt in it. There are some tooth marks on it, from being carried outside in my dog's mouth. Well, after about 8000 pictures, the flash failed. Everything else still works. It isn't clear how much it would cost to fix the flash, but technology has moved on.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Digital Camera

I decided to buy the FZ200, Panasonic's best 'super-zoom' camera. It works great, and I have taken a few pictures. The lens is a constant f2.8, which means it is very fast. In other words, you rarely need the flash in low light settings. It also takes pictures quite rapidly. In order not to confuse the file names with the pictures of the FZ7, I decided to see if I could make the camera make different file names. The files are named P[3 digit folder number][4 digit file number]. Reading the manual, it says 'A folder number between 100 and 999 can be assigned.' It isn't clear how this is done. After fiddling around for awhile, I called tech support. They suggested a number of things, none of which worked. They gave me a case number and said someone would contact me within 48 hours. That was in December. I have yet to be contacted by Panasonic. I decided to search the internet. I found Changing the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZx Picture Counter It is quite a clumsy procedure, and I really doubt that it is what Panasonic had in mind based on their manual, but it does work. It would be nice if the manual described some reasonable way of changing file names, and it would also be nice if they every contacted me, as they promised to do.

REI Polycarbonate double wall mug and customer service

mug_1 mug_2

I have been a member of REI for a long time. The first two digits of my REI membership is 01. I went to a REI store this week to get a replacement for a double walled clear polycarbonate REI drinking cup (which is no longer made). It has a large REI logo painted on the side, that is about 2 by 3 inches. It has suffered a fall, and has significant structural cracks. I took it to customer service, and showed it to them. They asked me if I had a receipt (how likely is that?). I said I didn't. They tried to look it up in my purchases, and couldn't find it. They decided I must have bought it 5-10 years ago, and that it had exceeded its useful lifetime. I told them that I was not satisfied, and that an outdoor cup should be more robust. I asked to speak to a manager. They said the same thing. One sales person said that nalgene bottles don't have a lifetime warranty. They used to, but not anymore. He said he dropped his backpack on one and it broke. (Well he is wrong. According to Nalgene all Nalgene products are guaranteed for life). I left quite upset.

I then called the REI company (technically a co-op). I gave them my membership number, and they quickly found the purchase, which was in 2010. I offered to send them a photo of the broken cup. They said they had no way to get pictures, but they believed me. They said they would send me a replacement. I suggested their REI Recycled Camp Mug - 12 fl. oz. It isn't clear, and it isn't double walled, but they stopped making the one that broke. I asked why the store couldn't find my purchase. The company person suggested they may have better search tools than the store.

This shows several problems. First, the store couldn't find my purchase. I cannot imagine why they couldn't when the company could. Second, does it really matter when I purchased it? It was clearly an REI product. I was clearly a REI member. The mug was clearly broken. The only question is, is it reasonable for the mug to break? Clearly you cannot make an indestructible mug. Enough heat will melt even a titanium mug. Enough force, such as a wild elephant will likely break any mug you are likely to carry. However, normal usage involves people standing, and dropping things to the ground. I don't expect a mug made by an outdoor company, designed to be used in the outdoors to break under normal outdoor usage. Also, I don't expect them to lie about other companies lack of warranties, as the sales person lied about the Nalgene warranty.

I have an Avocet watch that has an altimeter and is designed for outdoor usage. When I took it to Fairbanks AK, at -20F or -25F, the watch band nylon clasp broke into many pieces. I called Avocet, and they sent me a new band right away. They did ask that I mail back the broken band parts. They didn't ask me for a receipt. They didn't ask when I bought it. They didn't say that I had abused their watch. When I got home there was a replacement watch band from Avocet waiting for me.

REI has a great reputation. REI has never let me down before. I am dismayed that both the customer service person and the manager were unreasonable. I didn't mention to them that years before I had given two lectures at that particular REI store. I am much less likely to give any more lectures at that store in the future.

Plastic / Nylon Strap Hardware

There is a huge variety of plastic hardware that attaches to straps. Some people call it Nylon, but it is really Polyacetal aka (POM). It is often black, though it can come in a bunch of colors including orange, and glow in the dark. I have bought quite a lot of this stuff. You can get individual pieces from retailers, but that is pretty expensive. The best stuff is made by ITW / Nexus. If they make it, it will work perfectly. Recently I bought a bunch of sternum strap buckles with a built in whistle. It isn't a great whistle, but it isn't bad either. I bought some orange ones and some glow in the dark ones. One minor issue is if you buy a side release buckle, you need to replace both sides. I have yet to find one that interchanges with an existing buckle. I have had good luck with everything I have purchased. Until I bought some 1.5" side release buckles on ebay from the seller plumpy_panda. Though they look fine, one of the five units I purchased come apart under minor tension. I have not measured the tension, but I would guess it is around 5 pounds or less. This makes it useless for waist belts. I tried to get them replaced or my money back, but like a fool, I waited a about 8 months to ask for an exchange. Ebay doesn't have protection against bad items for that long. I really should sent them back right away. In any event, plumpy_panda says there is no problem, and they work file. They are wrong. Clearly there is some kind of quality control issue. I recommend avoiding this seller. Of course if there is a problem, let the seller know right away...I ended up ordering 20 from amazon for about $13, which is a great price. I got the amazon buckles (which shopped from China). The picture showed a single adjustable buckle. The description said it was double adjustable. Single adjustable buckles require a slider (or sweing the webbing closed) to keep the strap from sliding through the buckle. This adds extra hardware. Fortunately, I acted quickly and amazon is great with returns. I got my money back as the item did not match the description. All the buckles I tested worked fine, which is what is expected.

REI Glacier Glasses

About 20 years ago, I tried on a friend's REI glacier glasses. They were very comfortable. I decided to get my prescription eyeglasses made inside REI glacier glasses frames. The frames are black nylon. The part that goes around the ear is curved plastic (also known as cable temples) that instantly adjusts to the shape of the ear. The temples are very comfortable. They also do a great job of keeping the glasses from falling off. The part that touches the nose is a built into the frame and is non-adjustable. It happens to fit my nose very well and very nicely distributes the weight of the glasses. The frames are not as aesthetically appealing as some other frames. The temples have a tendency to break at the hinge. Since just the frames are cheap (20 years ago they were $10, and more recently they went up to $16) it isn't a problem. Then REI stopped selling the frames. Many have asked them to make the frame again, but the demand has gone unheeded. In reading about nylon frames I found that they dry out and get brittle with age. Soaking them in warm water every month is supposed to keep the frames strong. I am down to my last 5 frames. I do have more of the central part (where the glass goes). They even have removable side shields which keep stuff like light, snow, sand, dust, and the like from getting in your eyes.

Bolle Crevasse (8161) Glassier Glasses

Since REI glacier glasses were unobtainable, I decided to find other glacier glasses. The Bolle Crevasse frames are sold by L.L. Bean, and look pretty similar to the REI frames. It turns out they are pretty similar, but there are a few differences. The side shields have a plastic piece rather than a steel wire frame, and they are harder to put on and off of the frames. The temples (the part after the hinge) are hollow, and you can attach two different types of earpieces, either the cable temples (which have a U shape that wraps around your ear), or conventional temples that are roughly J shaped. In addition, the length of the temples are adjustable, because there are several small holes in the part of the temple that is attached to the hinge, and a raised bump on the removable part of the temples. This is really clever, as it will better fit different shaped faces. The cable temples are a bit stiffer than the REI frames, and not quite as comfortable, though they are quite serviceable. I bought 5 pairs of these frames, so I will have a good supply of glacier glass frames.

Julbo Drus Glacier Glasses

Since REI glacier glasses were unobtainable, I decided to find other glacier glasses. I decided to get metal frames in a quest for durability. The Julbo Drus had cable temples, and a one piece nose support, so I bought them. The side shields are also removable. The frames were about $60, which is much more than the REI glacier glasses, but cheaper than most prescription frames. The cable temples have what seems like a metal core and is not nearly as comfortable as the REI glacier glasses, but they are much more comfortable to me than conventional temples. The one piece nose support is designed for someone with a broader nose than mine. I was able to heat it up and bend it a bit which helped. I had to add some nose pads in order to keep the sharp top part from digging into my nose. I called Julbo and told them they should sell several different width nose-pieces. They took it under advisement. There is a black plastic and rubber part in the middle of the frames that isn't the most aesthetically appealing. Other Julbo models have adjustable nose pieces, but none have the support of the REI glacier glasses nose support.

Clean Water Overview

When I was a youth, I would go hiking, and dip my hand into a stream, and drink the water. That works great as long as the water is free of bacteria and viruses. Today, the only water I trust is directly from a spring. You can use chemicals to kill bacteria and viruses. Iodide is generally considered the best chemical. It kills viruses instantly. However, giardia which is really a protozoa takes much more contact with iodine to kill. According to the American Journal of Public Health, Mar 1986 Ongerth et. al. Backcountry Water Treatment to Prevent Giardia if the water is at 10 degrees C, it takes 8 hours to kill 99.9% of the giardia. Heating water to 70 C for 10 minutes will kill all the giardia, as will a good water filter.

If you have to rely on iodine, heat the water up as much as possible, and wait as long as possible before drinking the water. I remember adding iodine to fresh, cold water, and drinking it a minute later. In retrospect, it was quite foolish. Both iodine and filtration work best on clear water. You can use a shirt to filter water of some dirt. Another simple technique is to fill up a bucket, and let it sit for a few minutes. Some dirt will go to the bottom, leaving the water on top cleaner. I recommend discarding the bottom third of the water in general.

First Need Water Filter

My first water filter. I bought it around 1984-6. It uses activated carbon to do the filtering. The pump isn't easy to work and requires lots of effort to hold. It seems to take forever to pump as well. It has an inline prefilter (which predates the prefilter/float combination). It also predated the gravity filtering bag. You stuck the inlet hose in a stream, tried to pump and keep the outlet hose in or directed into a bottle. It seemed to take 3 or 4 hands to use. But it did work. I seem to recall the instructions for backflushing the filter being hard to understand. I also seem to recall reading that the filter was supposed to be thrown out after 2 years, but my instructions are long gone. I have heard that the backflushing procedure has a insignificant effect and exists to make people feel good.

Katadyn Pocket Water Filter

I had always wanted a Katadyn water filter, but they were very expensive. I ended up getting some used, for $50, $100, and $75 if I recall correctly. The Katadyn filters are made in Switzerland, and are built like user-serviceable Swiss watches. This filter has been around for a very long time, and is made of metal and plastic. It is designed to be serviced in third world countries. It uses ceramic impregnated with silver to do the filtering. The silver is supposed to kill viruses, but they can't advertise that in America for some reason. The ceramic filter is easy to clean. Most of the time, it is sufficient to simply wipe it off with a cotton shirt to clean the outside. For really stubborn dirt, they supply a nylon brush to brush the filter. It is rated to last up to 13,000 gallons. You can buy individual parts for the filter, including replacement filters. I used two filters to supply a group of 12 people water for 5 days in the Grand Canyon without incidence. I loaned one to a friend after a natural disaster and he used it to provide water to his family for a week without incident. It does take about 1.5 to 2 minutes to pump a liter of water. It is somewhat difficult to pump and you have to aim the outlet water nozzle into a water container while pumping. All the replacement parts such as O-rings are metric, which is a good thing.

MSR Water Filter

I bought a MSR WaterWorks filter. The main filter for it is activated carbon. I ended up getting the optional ceramic outside/carbon inside filter for it, as it was much more durable. This is now standard and known as the Marathon EX cartridge. The filter is very complex and mostly made out of plastic. It filters water very quickly. I have had it clog up in the field. There are some procedures needed to clean the filters that require clean water and denture cleaning tablets. It is more complex than the Katadyn and harder to maintain. When it is working, it is much faster and easier to use. As it is somewhat complex, there are many things to go wrong. I wouldn't take it out in the field without its instructions. It does have a very nice feature of screwing into a standard nalgene water bottle which makes filtering water much simpler than a Katadyn.

SweetWater Guardian Water Filter

The SweetWater Guardian is a nice compromise. It is fairly cheap, has a nice pump handle, is field cleanable and works quite well. Their inlet filter is much better than the MSR and I replaced my MSR inlet filter with the SweetWater version. The inlet filter feeds from the top, so it is less likely to pick up bottom debris. It is not as field cleanable as the MSR though. MSR bought SweetWater.

Gravity based Ceramic Water Filter

I bought a gravity based ceramic water filter. It it a big stainless steel pot with a top. On the bottom, there are three ceramic filters. By filling up the pot, water pressure pushes water slowly through the three ceramic filters, producing clean water. It filters several gallons a day, depending on how full you keep the pot. I bought it in case of urban disaster.

There is a much cheaper ceramic water filter now available. It is the Just Water Ceramic Drip-Filter It filters 1 gallon an hour with gravity feed, and up to 300 gallons per hour with pressure. You can buy it here. Everything except the bucket is $22.50. It is designed for third world use, though it would also work great in case of urban disaster.

Stephenson Warmlite quality control introduction

Jack has some unusual ideas about quality control and customer service. Here are some letters between him and me, that should be read before anyone considers buying his products.

I have had a few conversations with Jack Stephenson, owner of Warmlite. He seems to feel that his equipment is flawless, and that I am an idiot. So I decided to list all the problems that I have had with his gear.

Warmlite Tents

I have 2 of his tents. See here for a full review. The first one had a pocket that failed. I repaired it. The second one had the pole sleeve fail the first time I used it in the field. I sent it back for repair, and they said that looked like I abused it, because there were abrasion marks. Now, the tent cost me $565, so you might imagine that I would try not to abuse it. I didn't really examine the area of failure carefully before it failed, so I suppose it is possible that it was scraped for a minute or so, before it failed. I do know I was setting it up for the first time outside.

As for the pocket failure, it is the first time I have had a tent pocket fail. I have had 9 tents over a 16 year period, and I have loaned many of my tents to others. The only other problems I have had with tents are some slightly bent poles, and one broken pole on my Sierra Design Super-Bivy. So 9 tents, 3 failures, 2 of which are on my 2 Stephenson tents. Do the math.

Warmlite Socks

I also bought a pair of vapor-barrier socks. Vapor barrier socks are a very good thing indeed, and I highly recommend using some kind of vapor barrier socks when its cold (like when I spent 2 weeks in Fairbanks, Alaska with an average temperature of -20F).

The first pair I bought delaminated the first time I used them. They are made of a proprietary material, which seems to be a film laminated on both sides to some nylon like mesh. I was told that it was only a cosmetic problem, and the vapor barrier would still be fine. Nonetheless, they replaced them. As I recall, the second pair went 2 wearings before failing the same way. They sent me a third pair, and said to be sure to wear liner socks inside the VBL socks. This pair has worked fine.

I also have a vapor barrier shirt. It is very handy, since it is very thin, light, and keeps me quite warm. I used it during my Alaska trip with great success. There is a piece of Velcro used as a cuff for the end of the sleeve. It broke, and I had to sew it back on.

Warmlite Sleeping Bag

See here for a full review. My sleeping bag has had a few problems. When it first arrived, it was not completely sewn together. There was one area that was held together by a sewing pin. I sent it back, and they finished sewing it together.

Next, the Velcro used to hold the top of the down collar to the bottom of the down broke. I sent it back, and they fixed it again.

After speaking with Jack, I sent the bag in to be repaired for this problem around 1995. The bag was returned unrepaired. Now that the company is on the Internet, I decided to try again. I have been exchanging email with Jack, and he seems to misunderstand at least half of what I am saying, and calls me an idiot. See here for all the details. He maintains that I have abused the bag, and he will patch it up, without really repairing the failed Vap-R-Soft fabric, charging me money, and making my bag heavier. Now I'm not rich, and the bag cost me $685. Some people that know me think that I am in fact overprotective of my gear. For example, I don't like my tents to be out in the sun, because it weakens them. I have gone out of my way to treat my expensive gear very carefully (except for my McHale pack which is built like a brick outhouse). Perhaps I will include the letters that Jack and I have exchanged, but he won't admit the possibility that the bag may have been defective.

If you have comments or suggestions, Email me at turbo-www@weasel.com

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