Craig Wisner


On Tenkara Nets.

A slow process, but my first net is finally complete.  I believe this sat in my shop for nearly three years before adding the net.

Tenkara Net

With quite a few years of tenkara fishing in alpine lakes and streams under my belt, I’ve found that the net should probably become an indispensable part of my kit.  The art of landing fish with a tenkara setup is often physically more complicated than in Western fly fishing, namely because the line cannot be shortened and fish must be brought in with the rod and an opposite hand on the line.  In real-world applications, combining factors such as a rocky shore, 7X tippet, an 11′ rod, ~14 feet of line, and balancing on a log with trees and brush behind you, it can be more than awkward to successfully land a large fish.  Needless to say, I’ve lost many good trout at this critical moment.

I typically don’t fish catch and release (a topic perhaps worthy of another post).  While the contemporary justification of a net is very often to cause less harm landing a fish prior to release, my use of net is more selfishly motivated; I don’t want to lose a good meal.  Killing and eating fish aside, I still see it as an obligation not to cause any additional suffering prior to the fish meeting the knife; bouncing fish onto the shore has never been appealing.

This net is Jeffrey pine, known for pliable green branches that oppose each other, very forgiving to shape.  Netting is fine .9oz no-see-um mesh.  The tip is deer antler.  While the Japanese apparently believe the antler provides a bit of “luck” or protection in the water, I’ve found that the smooth, pointed antler allows it to slide in and out of a belt at the small of the back quite easily.  It also adds a pleasant weight as Jeffrey pine is fairly insubstantial.  It’s hard to see in the pictures, but the bend in the handle also aids in the ergonomics of landing a fish; I find this style is easier to dip than the typical straight Western net.

Tenkara USA describes the build process quite well.

I have a few more branches that have been sitting and curing for years; like all things, I suppose the second and third nets will be more refined.

Tenkara Net Drying

UL Desert Backpacking (Gearlist and Photos)

The following will be carried for a 3 day/2night fastpack in the Joshua Tree National Park backcountry.  ~60 miles total, two water caches along the route, a mix of trail and XC.  Base weight: 8.05 lbs.

UL Desert Gearlist - Sheet1

UL Desert Gearlist Sheet 2


I’ve been fishing.

Typical surf rig:

St. Croix Wild River rod, 8’6″ Fast Action, 8-12#. (Favorite rod ever).

Shimano Sedona 4000FB reel w/10# mono. (As about a nice of a reel as I’ll take in the surf and sand).

Carolina rig, 3/4 oz. egg sinker/bead/swivel.  4′, 6# flourocarbon leader.  #4 Owner Mosquito Hook.  Gulp! Sandworms.


DIY Pyramid Inner Tent

I just finished a pyramid inner to fit the MLD Solomid.  It’s a light, very robust little shelter, but the lack of an inner has left me limited in a few applications, namely during heavy rain and bug season.  This inner should help with splash, as well as keep gear contained and my long-sized sleeping bag from rubbing the foot.

Ticks have been getting a little worse around here; this is more comfortable than a bivy and will likely replace cowboy camping in tick-infested areas.  It’ll also make the Solomid a little more comfortable during High Sierra Mosquito season.

As long as you don’t look too closely at my seams…!  As the largest piece of gear I’ve sewn, I’m learning the hard way that long seams and slippery materials are a nightmare; much harder than sewing packs.  The next one would likely be far more well crafted, but it works fine.

Specs/materials:  1.1 silpoly (4000PU) floor, .67 netting body, #3 YKK zipper (all from Ripstop by the Roll).  Cut carbon 400 arrow shafts as corner struts. Total weight: 9.5 oz..  Dimensions are taken roughly from the MLD Pyramid Innernet (Solomid Size).  Total cost: $45.

Solomid, inner, stakes, a small polycryo groundsheet ,and stuffsack weigh in at 28 ounces total.


Local Summer Sleep System.

With daytime temperatures at 100+, clear, washed out skies, and nights at over 70, summer is upon us in Southern California.  I hate it, the days anyway, but it does make packing easy.  For short trips in the local foothills, a simple, hot-weather sleep system is in order.  (Excuse the stock photos, I’m a lazy photographer.)


nanoSea To Summit Nano Mosquito Pyramid Net.  About $50 shipped from anywhere.  2.9 oz., stuffs super tiny, very roomy and airy if you stake it out.  Tie it off to a tree, use branches, or cross a pair of trekking poles.  Combine it with a sized tyvek or polycryo ground sheet (Duck Brand window insulation from the hardware store)  that overlaps the perimeter skirt and you’re covered.  Skip the groundsheet if not worried about crawlers or dirt.  Either way, it’s a sub 6 ounce shelter, including 4 light stakes and some string.


Z Lite Original Pad.  I like closed cell foam pads in hot weather better than softer, inflatable pads.  Because it’s firmer and you don’t sink in, they don’t feel as sweaty.

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Costco Double Black Diamond Packable Down Throw.  $20.  ~16 ounces, 60″x70″.  Packs to nearly the size of a quart container.  Yes, my feet hang out, but it’s summer.

These three items create a small-packing, excellent warm-weather sleep and shelter system for less than $100 and 3 pounds combined.  With a sewing machine you can easily add a drawcord footbox to the down throw for a little more sophistication.


Sun Protection and LNT

The convenience of cool temps and cloudy skies is just about over and I find myself reevaluating my sun protection systems.  Sun protection, especially at altitude or in the deserts, has the potential to quickly make or break a trip and should be considered very carefully.  Getting older and taking preventative measures like having suspicious moles and sunspots burnt off by a dermatologist is testament to the importance of being smart in this area.  While I love being relatively unclothed in the outdoors, slathering on sunscreen all day long is increasingly unappealing.  It’s messy, attracts dirt and grime, and soils all of your gear and sleeping bags on extended trips.  In addition, in places like the High Sierra, with small and pristine water sources full of life, I question the ethics of getting into a small pool or stream for a bath when you’ve been slathering yourself in chemical oils all day long.  It just doesn’t feel right; these places are special enough to me that I want have as minimal an impact as possible.

sun pro

Fishing the Upper Kern.  Temps approached 100 many times on this trip.  6 days straight of these conditions, all over 10,000 feet, is not something to mess around with.

My system on last summer’s trip into the Upper Kern with Tom proved to be the best I’ve used for extended full sun exposure to-date.  I don’t believe I used more than a dime-sized drop of sunscreen on the entire trip, just a little for the backs of my hands and my nose.  Both of which are small enough areas they can be washed off well away from water sources.  I believe with slightly more precaution, I could eliminate the use of sunscreen altogether and plan on trying to do so on this year’s upcoming trip into the high country.

Here’s what I’m using so far:


Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat.

My beloved man-bonnet.  Most people hate them based on sight.  In certain conditions they’re too much (bushwhacking, hunting, or anything technical), but for backpacking the high country or deserts it’s proven to be one of the most functional pieces of gear I own.  It allows me to go out without using a drop of sunscreen on my neck, ears, or face, and that’s worth something.  The black under the brim shades the world nicely, especially at 10,000+ feet, and I’ve found it to be far more secure than you’d imagine in wind.  In addition, I think it’s the coolest hat I own; plenty of air flow and it dries quickly.  I know people can’t stand the look of them, but if you’re worried about fashion over practicality in the mountains, I suggest you check your premise.

sahara t

REI Sahara LS

The SPF 50+ seems legit, as I’ve shown absolutely no signs of sun exposure through this shirt, even after weeks at over 10,000 feet and full sun.  It breathes well enough, even at 90+ degrees, doesn’t seem to stink as bad as other synthetics I own, dries quickly, and has a good enough feel against the skin (some synthetics feel too plastic-like and sticky).  This year I plan on slitting some thumb loops into the sleeves so I can pull it down for back of the hand protection, an area I neglected and burned last year.  So far it’s been good enough and durable enough.  While merino wool feels better on the skin, the price and the durability aren’t worth it to me.

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Patagonia Rock Craft Pants

My favorite outdoor pants, period.  A little stretch woven into them so they move well, they dry fast enough, and the cut is good.  I suspect I could find a slightly cooler pant for 80+ degree temps (the Patagonia Gi III pant looks appealing), but these have done well enough so far.  I pair them with a synthetic boxer brief (most of what Target sells seems to do just fine versus more expensive name-brand offerings I’ve tried).  Fast drying, they eliminate chaffing, and briefs are great for swimming when one needs to be modest.

I’m looking into the possibility of palmless sun gloves to take care of the hand issue.  While it may sound like overkill, sunburned hands and fingers have been pretty common- and annoying.

As for eye protection, I typically use my Ray Ban Wayfarers or any other typical UV protection glasses, but plan on getting something darker and more full coverage for this summer, likely the Julbo Tensing (so far as I can tell, some of the most reasonably priced dark mountain glasses).  Time to get more serious; my eyes are pretty sensitive to brightness, I’ve already developed early stages of surfer’s eye, and I would like to avoid cataracts in old age.

While t-shirts, shorts, and the wind on bare skin feel pretty damned good, I ultimately think full coverage is the far more sustainable (and simple) way to go; less sunscreen on me, less sunscreen in pristine water sources, less consumables to pack.  Fashion be damned, practice what will keep you outdoors and healthy into old age.


Ol’ Faithful. (Mora Classic Review)

During a routine sharpening, I realized that my Mora Classic No. 2 is over 8 years old now; I happened to come across the digital receipt in my account from the store it was ordered from.  I’ve gut many fish, built many fires, prepped who knows how many meals with it.  And tonight, after 10 minutes of work with some 500 and 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper, a hardwood block (to back the sandpaper), and an old leather belt as a strop, it’s sharper than when I bought it.  8 years is certainly enough time to get to know a tool (I cannot stand the plethora of “unboxings” on the internet, knives reviewed by collectors that have played with them for 10 minutes.  Dave Chenault speaks well to that here).

This knife holds one of the best values of any piece of gear I own; I believe I paid $14 for it.  It can still be had for the about the same price.  I’ve owned probably half a dozen knives in the 8 years that I’ve had it (when will I learn?), and with the sole exception of my dive knife, every single one of them gets phased out, given away, or forgotten in the bottom of a drawer in favor of the Mora.

This knife has no “tactical” flair, nor is it made from exotic metals or materials that would bring a connoisseur to boasting.  Its features are simple and may not stack up against higher priced knives on paper (stick tang vs. full, a fairly basic sheath, etc.), but I have never found any of these details to reduce its real-world performance.  What it does bring to the table is functionality.  Large enough to slice a loaf of bread or a melon (a point that has always bothered me with sub-3″ blades), robust enough to baton wood or chop small branches, yet still thin and sharp enough for cleaning fish, food prep, and fine cutting.  It feels intuitive like a kitchen knife in the hand but is far more capable.  It’s the only knife I know that fits all of these criteria. Despite being uncoated carbon steel, I’ve never had a rust issue.  I gave it a patina with a vinegar soak when I bought it and I make sure to wipe it after use (if that is too much care to take….).  The scandi-grind makes it a snap for an amateur sharpener like myself to get a razor edge and the fact that it only cost $14 makes it even more useful; I am not scared to lose it or break it.  I’ve grown attached enough to avoid the former, and despite 8 years of use, I haven’t been able to manage the latter.  Keep truckin’ my Swedish friend.


Making Do.

A few months ago I snapped the derailleur hanger on my Kona MTB in a near miss crash with another bike on a local singletrack.  We both rounded a blind curve simultaneously, each launching into opposite sides of the trail to avoid a head-on hit.  Somewhere in the mix I snapped my hanger off.  Six miles of coasting and pushing home without a chain.  Yay.

This was the impetus needed for my building my first clunker.  For those not familiar with them, look into some MTB history.  Alan Bonds’ is a good place to start.  An old black beach cruiser sitting in the yard for years got a quick makeover a few weeks ago.  Removal of chain guard, kickstand, reflectors, and swept back cruiser bars.  Installation of some 2.4 knobby tires and an old MTB riser bar.  Done.  I’m a big fan of the beater bike, the clunker, the scraper, the frankenbike, the daily workhorse of the average Jane or Joe.  One must resist geeking out too hard on components when building a clunker; it would defeat the very nature of the beast.

The ensuing riding is the most fun I’ve had on a bike since…?

I attribute most of it to the coaster brake.  “Stopping” is a very relative term when talking about a coaster.  Slowing, sliding, drifting, and flat out panicking are more appropriate adjectives.  Timing one’s pedal rotation in order to be able to brake is a bit tricky (read: fun) on technical stuff.

But with the relative lack of control comes the demand for a sort of flow that was immediately reminiscent of my early days of learning to ride a brakeless fixed gear in city traffic.  Anticipating trouble, picking flowing lines, riding smarter.  It also brings back fond memories of being ten years old and having neighborhood competitions to see who could lay down the longest skid mark on the sidewalk.

I just returned from what was supposed to be a ride to the trailhead for a trail run up the canyon. I locked up the bike, started to jog, and turned back for it after 100 yards, turning the afternoon into a 10 mile MTB ride instead.

Too much fun.

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I hear there’s a local group sponsoring coaster brake only MTB races….

Dive Board

Exiting the water after a one hour shore dive, I’m halfway back in when I hear a boat approaching.  Turning around and treading water, an over 30′ boat comes tearing through the kelp beds that I was spearing in only 10 minutes ago.  That could’ve been bad.

Time for a dive flag and float.  I’m really impressed with the Banks Board, but it’s essentially a $200 boogey board float.  So rigged this up:

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I glued in some threaded PVC for the flag mount, zip tied a cargo net on, and connected my catch bag.  I flipped the leash plug so the rope is on the bottom and connected a clamp to the leash for a kelp clip.  I haven’t been anywhere that I couldn’t use a kelp clip as an anchor so I’m not worried about carrying a weight just yet.  It holds all of my gear for the approach and I’ve rigged a set of backpack straps for climbing/long walks.

I like the added security of having this as a float, especially when going solo.  At least I’ll have a sort of “home base” in the event of cramping, tiring, etc.

And I have a flag so I don’t get run over.


I love military labeling…

I needed a pair of insulated pants for sitting still while hunting, sitting around camp, and sleeping in winter.

I was looking to pick up a pair of Montbell Thermawrap Pants or similar but found these liners at the surplus store for $9. Absolutely worth trying them as a project at that price.

When I was poorer and less fashionably geared up, I hiked the Sierra for many years using an army jacket liner for lightweight upper body insulation. PAired with a base layer and a windshell, it worked great. Now having a Montbell Thermawrap jacket, there’s not much difference save for better sizing and a proper cut with features.

I figured the pants can’t be much different than the Thermawrap version either.

The awkward thing about the liner pants is that they’re very baggy, have no way of tightening in the waist (as they’re meant to button into pants), have a gigantic gaping fly, and are cut short (so as to not be long enough to interfere with boots I assume).

All of these things are easily remedied:
1. Remove button and bar-tack them shut above the fly.
2. Add velcro to the fly. Yeah, there was that ridiculous thread about flies…I like them. Especially during winter when wearing a belt and/or suspenders.
3. Sew in a strip of nylon around the waist to house a drawstring with cordlock (that’s the black band in my photos)
4. Sew in velcro tabs at ankles to cinch them tighter


Finished pants: 11.2 ounces, $9. That’s at least three ounces lighter and almost $100 cheaper than Montbells…

I was considering tapering the legs and taking some fabric out but left them baggy so they can be comfortably worn over or under pants. The ankles are wide enough to get on over boots. I might go back and sew in a giant nylon butt patch for sitting in the event I wear them over my pants (such as stopping and sitting for 30 minutes while hunting).

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Black Diamond BBEE with Inov8 Mesh Pockets

Another simple mod to the BBEE pack.

After my last Joshua Tree CRHT crossing I realized I needed to add some access to food and gels without having to take off the pack and dig around.  I found the Inov8 mesh pockets on sale for $7 each at  They attach with 3 generously sized velcro straps that can be cut to length.  I had to sew some tabs onto the shoulder straps of the BBEE to accommodate them.   Super secure, each pouch has the capacity for 3 bars.



Emergency Running Kit

As training for a new season of endurance events will begin this summer and fall, it was time to take stock of what was in my emergency kit for long events and reconfigure things.  I carry a more extensive first aid kit for backpacking; for running/endurance events I need something that can stay packed and is easily grabbed on the way out the door.  Everything fits in one ziplock freezer bag, which can be transferred from pack to pack, but typically will remain in my Amphipod Airflow Microstretch Waistpack.  This is the most comfortable, bounce free small waistpack I’ve used so far.  My only complaint is that the waistbelt is elastic and seems to be wearing out.  I will likely replace it with a Nathan 5K Runners Pack, which has a webbing belt and appears to be a little more robust.  Total pack, with gear inside, is 6.5 ounces and goes pretty unnoticed on the small of my back.  The only item I neglected to include in these photos is a Suunto A10 baseplate compass (1 oz.).  This kit, in addition to handheld bottles, gels, and a windshirt will go on trail runs up to ~20 miles.  At or beyond that I typically need a pack for more food and water.

First Aid:  3 gauze pads, 4' Leukotape, assorted BandAids, 10 SteriStrips, pre-cut Leukotape patches, 1 razor blade, 1 safety pin.

First Aid: 3 gauze pads, 4′ Leukotape, assorted BandAids, 10 SteriStrips, pre-cut Leukotape patches, 1 razor blade, 1 safety pin.  10x200MG Ibuprofen, 4x500MG Tylenol

Emergency:  Heatsheets blanket, Bic lighter, Spyderco Ladybug knife, Pulsar LED, whistle, tinder, ClO2 pills

Emergency: Heatsheets blanket, Bic lighter, Spyderco Ladybug knife, Pulsar LED, whistle, tinder, ClO2 pills

Packed in ziplock in Amphipod waistpack.  Total size:  6" x 3" x 1.5"  thick.

Packed in ziplock in Amphipod waistpack. Total size: 6″ x 3″ x 1.5″ thick.

SUL Overnight Kit

With all the talk over at BPL concerning SUL kits, I thought I’d take some pics and post mine up.  I have no weights for anything because, well, I’m finding it tedious now.  I have enough experience with gear to know what’s enough for a given trip, whether I’m going for minimal or luxury.  If a piece of gear needs to come with me and I don’t have an alternative then…well, weight doesn’t matter does it?

This kit is for a quick overnight later today, leaving in the evening and doing most of our hiking at night.  The majority of the hike is on trail with the exception of the final ~2 miles on a summit ridge.  We’ll be hiking in roughly 7 miles and climbing about 3500′ total, sleeping on a ridge at roughly 8000′.  Temps will likely be mid to high 40s.  No rain or weather to speak of in sight.  No maps or navigation tools as this route and the surrounding peaks and canyons are well known.

Carried Clothes: Patagonia Houdini, Montbell Dynamo windpants, Montbell Thermawrap jacket.  Worn clothing will be a synthetic t, running shorts, running shoes, and baseball cap.

Carried Clothes: Patagonia Houdini, Montbell Dynamo windpants, Montbell Thermawrap jacket. Worn clothing will be a synthetic t, running shorts, running shoes, and baseball cap.

Essentials: Bic lighter, lanyard (with a pulsar light, whistle, and firesteel), Spiderco Ladybug knife, Ti spork, tinder, Petzl Tikka.

Essentials: Bic lighter, lanyard (with a pulsar light, whistle, and firesteel), Spiderco Ladybug knife, Ti spork, tinder, Petzl Tikka.

First Aid:  Band aids, gauze pads, pre cut Leuko tape, ClO2 pills, razor blade, two steri strips.  This is a very minimal kit I carry running and and on short trips; no meds, gloves, bigger bandages, neosporin...stuff I'd take on a longer trip.

First Aid: Band aids, gauze pads, pre cut Leuko tape, ClO2 pills, razor blade, two steri strips. This is a very minimal kit I carry running and and on short trips; no meds, gloves, bigger bandages, neosporin…stuff I’d take on a longer trip.

Cooking: .6 liter Evernew pot, cat can stove, windscreen, fuel, stuffsack.

Cooking: .6 liter Evernew pot, cat can stove, windscreen, fuel, stuffsack.

Food/Water:  2L water (this trip is dry), ramen, a sausage to cut up into ramen, coffee, apple, WHISKEY.

Food/Water: 2L water (this trip is dry), ramen, a sausage to cut up into ramen, coffee, apple, WHISKEY.

Pack?Sleeping/Shelter:  Homemade pack, Ridgerest 3/4 pad with Montbell pillow, WM Summerlite bag, TiGoat Ptarmigan bivy.

Pack/Sleeping/Shelter: Homemade pack, Ridgerest 3/4 pad with Montbell pillow, WM Summerlite bag, TiGoat Ptarmigan bivy.

Everything packed.

Everything packed.

Good to go.

Good to go.

Variations to this kit for more serious trips/weather:

*More food could be easily added to this pack.  I have capacity for ~3 days with his kit.  Aqua Mira drops would be added.

*Windshell could be swapped for Driducks raingear for a few ounces more.  Gloves, beanie, and a thermal top/bottomes could be added.

*Maps/navigation gear could be added.

*First aid could be supplemented for a longer trip.

*MLD Solomid could be strapped to top.

However, the addition of all this gear makes it look like any standard UL kit.  To me, the point of SUL is staying minimal and planning the trip accordingly.  This is all I need (or likely even more) for local, fast trips.


A trip report will follow….

Chinese “Tenkara”. You’re either a Comrade or Enemy of the People.

With a little hesitation, I pressed the “Confirm Purchase” button on my Paypal/Ebay account, ordering a Chinese made “Tenkara” style telescoping rod for a grand total of $6.48 including shipping.  I half expected to never actually see this rod, as many items coming direct from Hong Kong fail to materialize during 12 week shipping periods.

I originally wanted to get into tenkara with the minimalist Daiwa Soyokaze, but they were discontinued and upon seeing this rod for the ridiculously low price, I figured I’d have nothing to lose.  I like the aesthetic of the more minimal rods without cork handles, a perfectly streamlined tool for backpacking, literally looking like a stick when collapsed.  Nothing to catch or snag in a pack, rods of this style are the most minimal available.  Add a few flies, some clippers, tippet material, and some small forceps and I’ll be fishing for under 4 ounces.

Within a day of ordering I received a shipping confirmation.  A good sign I might actually get this rod.

Only one week later, the rod arrives, shipped from a distributor not in Hong Kong, but in New Jersey.  Not bad.

Rod is 5 sections, 7.8 feet long, 24" collapsed.  Weight is 52 grams.

Rod is 5 sections, 7.8 feet long, 24″ collapsed. Weight is 52 grams.

The cap on the butt is threaded, allowing access to the sections.  Overall finish isn't great, as you can see, but the sections fit together snug and break down easily.

The cap on the butt is threaded, allowing access to the sections. Overall finish isn’t great, as you can see, but the sections fit together snug and break down easily.

The tip plug is pressure fitted and plenty secure.

The tip plug is pressure fitted and plenty secure.

The lilian could be finished better.  I plan on wrapping the rod-end of it with a quick whip finish.  The tip should probably be slightly burnt to prevent fraying.

The lilian could be finished better. I plan on wrapping the rod-end of it with a quick whip finish. The tip should probably be slightly burnt to prevent fraying.

As you can see, the finish isn't great.  The rod has a decent gloss coat, but the blank is pretty textured.

The rod has a decent gloss coat, but the blank is pretty textured.

A hand made line.  I furled three strands of .28mm flouro for a total of .74 and 7' in length.  The next section was two strands of furled .28 for a total of .56 and about 3 feet in lenth. The line was finished with a taperd 7 foot 6X leader, .53 butt diameter.  Total line length: 17'

A hand made line. I furled three strands of .28mm flouro for a total of .74 and 7′ in length. The next section was two strands of furled .28 for a total of .56 and about 3 feet in length.
The line was finished with a tapered 7 foot 6X leader, .53 butt diameter. Total line length: 17′.  EDIT:  A second trip to the casting pools today showed me that an even simpler line works just as well.  Two strands of .3mm furled for a total of .6 and a length of 7 feet connected to a tapered 7′ 6X leader cast very well.  This configuration gives me a reach of roughly 20′ (including rod), well within the range I catch most fish in the Sierra or small local streams.

The tip action is very slow and light.  I have little experience with “tenkara” rods, but plenty fishing western fly rods.  I would put the action on par with a 2-3WT rod.  The rod has no issues casting the above mentioned line.  While I’ve yet to hook a fish, I can tell from a trial at the casting pools that this will work fine for high alpine lakes/streams where range is not necessary and typical fish are under 10″.  The only experimentation I need to do is try a few more hand made lines and see what weight is optimal.

Three more rods are in the mail; one spare and two for my kids.

A grand total of $6.48 to get into “tenkara”.  Time will tell if I find it necessary to upgrade rods, but as an infrequent fisherman, I don’t see the need for anything better.

The true Rod of the People.

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And if you have any guilt about a cheap Chinese rod, read about where all the  $150 tenkara rods are made….

Spyderco Ladybug

17 grams with lanyard.  The knife for when I don’t want to carry a knife; fastpacks, long trail runs, etc.

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Wegener Egg

It’s about time I got some pics of my newest board up…A custom egg by Jon Wegener.

My buddy John recommended him to me after riding a custom Bluegill by Wegener.  I liked the idea of supporting a shaper and surfer over getting a big-name, off the rack board from a shop, especially as the price was going to be the same.  I see this as an artist quite a bit; people forgo buying handmade work on the assumption that it will be far more expensive.  Yet most craftspeople are well aware that they have to be competitive.  If the pricepoint is similar, I don’t see why someone would opt for a factory made board when instead they could have a conversation with a shaper and design a board suited to who they are and where they ride.  I suppose it often comes down to which label you want to advertise; the one everyone sees in Surfer mags vs. something lesser known.

Dimensions: 7′ x 21 1/4″ x 3″ with a 2+1 fin setup.  (FCS sidebites with a 7 1/4″ Dale Dobson fiberglass center fin).  Glassed in 6-6-6 for durability, as I’m not worried about a little extra weight.

I wanted something with volume for small days and easy paddling, but still nimble enough to carve.  I talking with Jon about essentially building the “if you only had one” board for Southern California.  Fast and smooth, so far I love it.  I even have my logo glassed in on the bottom.

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Black Diamond (Super!) BBEE Pack

My favorite small pack of all time just got an upgrade for winter gear.

I added a daisy chain on each side, an ice axe loop, and a tab for the upper shaft of the axe: bar tacked 1/2″ tubular webbing in sexy red.

Now I’ve finally  got a real place to hang crampons or microspikes and an axe on quick quick winter climbs.

Next up is the ultrarunning conversion: a pair of removable water bottle holders for the shoulder straps.

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Some new running gear: Shoes, bottles, headlamp


This season I plan on making the running leap from 50K to 50+ mile trail races and solo runs; I’ve been running (short distance) in the New Balance Minimus Trail, which I love for runs under 10-12 miles or less. For longer, I’ve been using the NB MT101. On my last 50K race, I felt the MT101 came up a bit short- while I like relatively minimal, flat, and lightweight shoes, at 25+ miles of running my feet need something with more substance.

Enter Roclite 295…


I was REALLY excited to see my local running shop is stocking Inov8s now. I mail ordered some Terrocs many years ago, found them too narrow, but otherwise otherwise loved them. I pretty much wrote off Inov8 after that, not wanting to hassle with mail ordering shoes that I could never try on that seemed to always run narrow.

It looks like a found a good fit; don’t know if they changed their platform or if it’s the model. What blows me away about these shoes (and Inov8 in general): for shoes with really hefty lugs and sturdy construction (toe guard, etc.) they still come in light and flexible.

Ever put on a shoe and immediately know you found a good one?

Things I love about the Roclite so far:
-Roomy toe box. Too many manufacturers make shoes pointy, not allowing for swelling. I was having this problem at 25+ miles with my MT101s…Pinky toes jamming the toebox pretty bad on the downhills.
-The fact that these are roomy when laced loosely will make for a great all-around backpacking shoe, including some general winter stuff: lightweight, fast drying, big lugs, with room to add an NRS Hydroskin sock and thin wool liner.
-The big lugs are going to be great for mountain running as our weather gets sloppy.
-For how beefy these look, they’re actually light, flexible, and responsive feeling. Actually 2 oz. lighter than Brooks Cacadias with less upper foam/material to stay wet.


Camelbak Podium Chill

A simple piece of gear, but I’m really liking these.  They fit in my Ultimate Direction handheld holsters and the valves are the best I’ve used.  Leak free with a high flow when sucking or squeezing, they can also be fully locked shut (nice for throwing them in my duffel for the track).  I haven’t tried using anything cold in them- really don’t care about the insulated feature so far (it’s not summer).  Would like to get a pair of the non-insulated 24 oz.




Winter is fast approaching, days are getting shorter, and my children lost my old go-to headlamp (Petzl Tikka+2). While the Myo RXP really wasn’t purchased with general backpacking in mind (I don’t use much light for that, sometimes even leave it at home), it’s mainly going to be my trailrunning/fastpacking lamp. I wanted something brighter than the Tikka, consistent (regulated), with good battery life.

Initial impressions:

I got this in the mail recently and have used it on an 8 mile trail run for about 1.5 hours. This lamp can really light it up, no issue whatsoever running technical singletrack, navigating stream crossings, etc. Seems like a good light for my needs so far. Time will tell after I put it through the paces and try using for 12-14 hours straight (should be very soon).

Certainly not a weight weenie headlamp, though for the power, not too bad either; only twice the weight of a Tikka+2. I was most interested in the fact that it boasts a 23 meter minimum setting with ~95 hours of life. As opposed to the Tikka+2, with a 15 meter economy mode. The Tikka +2 boasts 160 hours in economy, and while that’s probably true, I’ve noticed a pretty serious drop off in output over time. The Petzl site claims output is roughly halved at 30 hours…whereas the Myo RXP has regulated output throughout the majority of battery life.  I like the idea of a regulated light; knowing in advance how many hours of a given level I can expect.

The programmable feature is nice; you can adjust the three preset lighting levels to your needs. One small thing that’s always bugged me about other lights is that the default setting scrolls from brightest to lowest. I don’t like turning on a light and immediately blinding myself and friends, especially when it’s got ~140 lumens. The RXP allowed me to set it in reverse; starting at a low level and getting brighter.

The flip-up diffuser lens will be good for camp/chores/work, while the spotlight is good for running. On higher levels, I’m certain it’s bright enough to MTB by (if not going stupid fast on technical stuff).

Should also mention it’s virtually bounce-free…great for running. Rear battery pack is comfortable. Actually feels far more secure than a Zipka does when running.

Also takes standard, rechargeable, and lithium batteries.

I realize much of what I’m reporting here can be found in the Petzl specs on it…Just wanted to share what (so far) appears to be a good light for fast, all night activities.

Lightweight Comfort Gearlist

Based upon the previous post When Ultralight May Not Be Ultrasimple, this is the gearlist that I’ve created including a 2011  MSR Hubba tent as well as an inflatable pad.  I’ll soon post a review of the Hubba as well as my rationale behind choosing it , but so far, I really like this little tent compared to others I’ve used.

The list was created with my upcoming Lost Coast (including the Sinkyone section) yo-yo in mind, thus the bear canister, but not including my surf fishing kit (which has not been finalized).  The list is also based upon 5 days/4 nights of food and would be more than comfortable for 3 seasons in any weather, bug conditions, or locale that I have backpacked in  so far.  Could I make it lighter?  Absolutely.  But that is not the point of a kit like this- it is for long evenings in camp, 20-25 mile days, sleeping comfortably, and taking my time.  Fast trips require a much different, far more spartan list.

My base weight with this list is a little over 12.5 pounds.  But note that without a bear canister, I would only be a touch over 10 lbs…Skirting ultralight while still carrying a freestanding, double-wall tent and an inflatable pad.  As previously expected, these comforts add only 2 pounds to the typical ~8 pound base that I carry.  So what’s two pounds?

Lightweight Comfort Gearlist for 3 Seasons

When Ultralight May Not Be Ultrasimple.

Aside from the ease of carrying an ultralight gear kit, simplicity is often the most cited reason for converting to a lighter load.  After years of experimenting with just about every type of gear system in the backcountry, I find myself possibly coming full circle in some regards.  My current source of philosophical confusion: the quest for shelter.

Note I did not say the “perfect shelter”.  There is none so far as I am concerned.  But I find my attitudes in this category shifting in a different direction.  I’ll follow some new hunches, see where they lead me, test them in the field.

I’ve begun to question what have become the Holy Grail of ultralight shelter systems: the standard tarp/bivy combo or the venerated mid or hex-style floorless shelter.  What would provoke this blasphemy?  In a sense, it’s the quest for a certain simplicity that I’ve yet to really find.  Though it is often repeated or assumed  that the more minimal the shelter, the more simple the experience (I have personally long held this belief), I have to question this assertion.

I should note that I still believe that the best shelter is none at all; simply laying outside under the night sky has become one of my favorite ways to sleeping; ultralight simplicity at its finest: clear weather and a shelter left at home.  Living in Southern California, I can do this a lot.  But for obvious reasons, this can’t be the only option.  So the choices begin; and in the seemingly endless options I think we have begun to confuse light weight with simplicity.  The two are not necessarily equivalent.

A simple case in point: Using a tarp/bivy combo in the High Sierra during a week of severe rain and ice storms.  This was the same week in which the trout hatchery was wiped out and half of Independence and Lone Pine were flooded.   But there I was, unsuspecting of what lay ahead, proud of my 14 ounce shelter combo, striding boldly forth into the wilderness on the other side of a 12,500 foot pass.  And then the rain started.  And then the sleet started.  And 25 miles later, I was soaked, cold, tired, and it was time to camp and eat.  I followed all the basics tenets of tarp camping, as it was not my first time; I sought out a wind protected site in the trees (thus minimizing horizontally driven rain and spray), found high ground to minimize runoff exposure, and pitched the tarp as low as possible.  I guyed out everything securely, re-tensioned the tarp a few times, and crawled under…to be faced with the grim question of how, exactly, I was going to cook and eat dinner while pinned under a tarp pitched two feet off the ground.  Even though the rain was being directed straight downward by the trees above, it was falling so hard I was catching a ton of spray regardless.  It simply couldn’t have been pitched higher.  So I skipped hot dinner and ate cold food…Laying on my back in a bivy.  In the pouring rain.  At 7Pm.  I lay there in my coffin for at least three hours before being able to sleep; slowly I watched my bivy getting wetter and wetter.  I woke to more rain, a soaked bivy, a sleeping bag that was wetting out due to either condensation, rain, or both, and packed as quickly as possible.  At this point, walking in the cold rain all day was far more preferable to laying in that wet coffin any longer.

In retrospect I can wax philosophical about being part of my environment, about being more connected because of the experience, about what the rain taught me about comfort and being a Stoic.  But on another level, it was just stupid and uncomfortable, and had I not been able to bail out after two more days of solid rain, it could’ve gotten dangerous.  With a traditional tent I likely could’ve been sitting around, keeping my bag dry, comfortably reading, cooking a hot dinner in the vestibule, and enjoying the sound of rain as I fell asleep.

What, exactly, did I gain by saving the additional ~2 pounds a full-coverage, double-walled shelter would’ve cost me?  I certainly did not gain simplicity.  Simplicity in this case would’ve been setting up a shelter in a few minutes, climbing in, and relaxing.  Simplicity was nowhere to be found in the ~2 pounds I saved.

While not as bad, I’ve had some similar negative experiences in floorless mids/hexes that have caused me to question these systems as well; namely, issues with staking in soft soil or having to pitch in rain-soaked, muddy areas and try to stay confined to my small square of plastic groundsheet to stay clean and dry.  The other issue is bugs.  So while these shelters are fully storm-worthy (when staked well), they tend to leave me with a lot of questions and other required gear.  To carry or not carry an inner bug net?  Which one?  Do I want to carry trekking poles or a dedicated pole?  These are hardly insurmountable issues; I’ve dealt with them successfully for a long time.  However, I crave being back to the point of simplicity that I have one solo shelter and it’s the only thing I have to grab.

Coming full circle, the double-walled, freestanding tent seems to fit this bill rather well.  If a comfortable one can be had for 3lbs. or less, I think the additional 1-2.5 pounds is well worth the ease of use and versatility.  Not to mention the simplicity of only having one shelter, always used in the same configuration, that is comfortable and functional for all but epic conditions.

I think I’ve found it and it’s currently in the mail; time and field experience will tell if going back to a more traditional (and slightly heavier)  shelter brings back a different sort of simplicity.

And what the hell?  I’ve yet to detect any discernible difference between an 8 pound pack vs. a 10 pound pack.

Could ultralight be making us soft?  An entirely different conversation….

New Balance Minimus

Uncle Sam decided to give me a little tax money back so I was able to go purchase a couple pairs of shoes I’ve had my eyes on for some time; the New Balance Minimus Trail and Minimus Road.

I’m really pleased with both pairs so far, I think New Balance really nailed it for me with these shoes.

New Balance Minumus: Road (front) and Trail.

Minimus Trail:

I ran 4 miles of trail in them today, doing at least 8 stream crossings in the process, without wearing socks.  These seem very well suited to sockless running, I’ve yet to detect any hot spots (I’ve had problems with my MT101s cutting/blistering me on long, wet and sandy runs without socks).

I think they have just enough stiffness, tread, pretty low heal-toe drop, and a nice snug, sock-like fit.  They drain well also.  I’m faster in these than my VFF Sprints; just enough sharp/rock protection while still maintaining good trail feel.  I think I could push these into pretty long run territory, maybe 15 miles or so.  They’re a nice step in between barefoot and my MT101s for more protection/distance.

Minimus Road:

I’ve been doing track workouts and was in need of a new general road shoe as well.  The Minimus Road immediately felt great.  Again, very minimal seams and edges, likely a great shoes for no socks.  The heel cup is slightly stiff, but the structure is foam and flexes well- I don’t foresee rubbing issues.  Great fit and feel in these shoes as well- they really dissappear on the foot.  I’ve yet to run in these, will post after some mileage.


Looking forward to putting the two to good use; I plan on registering for the Bishop High Sierra 50K in the coming days, the race being on May 21st.  9 weeks to get ready.


Out for my first lycra-clad ride in months.  Overall, a great ride, about 13 miles all in big gears, some great twisting downhill.

About a mile from home I round a corner fast, downshift, and begin hammering uphill.  KERCHUUUNKK!

I throw my chain up front, somehow causing it to bind in the rear as well.  My rear wheel is screeching to a halt, locked up with smoking rubber.  I fishtail, get it under control, and pull over.

You know you’re walking home when….



Nothing makes a man feel more vulnerable than walking through the bad part of town barefoot (why wreck my cleats?), wearing spandex, and carrying a bike.

The derailleur was sucked into my spoke, completely twisting the hanger, breaking a pulley,  and bending the derailleur.  It also pulled the wheel out of the dropouts.   I was worried that it bent my frame, but after removing the hanger and derailleur and remounting my wheel, everything looks straight.

Oh well….looks like I’ll have to go buy some Dura-Ace and a hanger tonight….

Touring Bike Build

It’s been a while since I’ve built a bike for myself but a recent acquisition has me tinkering in the workshop once again.  I’ve always had a passion for restoring bikes, bringing old, semi-functional creatures back to life.  It’s amazing how many bikes are in this world, rusting on the sides of houses, accumulating dust in garages, stolen and re-stolen to be left abandoned somewhere in the city.  I marvel at how often a bike can look destroyed, but once one scrapes past the dirt and rust, you find a beautiful machine that has probably never seen 1000 miles despite being 15 years old.

I’ve built many new bikes as well, but the process doesn’t have the same appeal as reviving a dead one.  While I’ve done it, geeking out on components and dropping big wads of money are not how I care to do things anymore.  It’s a never ending process of consumerism, name brand envy, and expense that really has no place in my life at this time.

I’ve been fortunate to be the sponsor and head mechanic of the cycling club at my high school, a walk-in student-run bike shop devoted to helping students/community members repair bikes for free, promote cycling, and organize rides.  I’ve always been disgusted by the thought that a shop charges a teenager/kid $30 to true a wheel when I can lend them a truing stand and teach them to do it themselves in 10 minutes.  I’ve built and repaired countless bikes and wheels for students and faculty and have developed a passion for the functional, daily beater-bikes of the world.  Not bikes with logos and expensive parts, but bikes with big rear racks and front baskets, worn-out grips, and tape holding reflectors on.  Bikes with kickstands and locks that are wound around the frame and have never come off.  Bikes that get used in simple ways by people that do not worship them or the labels on their parts.

So I’m excited about the most recent addition to my stable, what will be my third bike- I already own a road bike and a mountain bike.  It’s a Nishiki Manitoba mountain bike, probably early to mid-nineties.  It’s all Cro-Mo, made in the USA,  with entry-level Shimano parts and happens to fit me rather well.  Best of all, it was free.

So the process begins as it always has, with a full strip-down, cleaning, and daydreams of how I’m going to make it mine.  I’m looking to build a no-frills, functional bike and spend little or no money doing it.  I want an on-road/off-road touring rig, a bike built to do everything, the sort of bike a Cormac McCarthy character would be completely stoked to find in The Road. The type of bike you’d want to have when civilization collapses and bands of roving cannibals appear…when you find yourself having to ride 200 miles of broken freeway to escape the city or 10 miles into the mountains to haul back fresh water.  A bike that can jump curbs but is comfortable for distance.  A bike that I can comfortably leave outside a Los Angeles liquor store without it screaming “Free Money!”.

Guidelines for this build:

  • NO geeking out on components!
  • Spending as little money as possible.
  • Simple, functional, practical, multi-use.  Beer run or double-century capable.
  • Aesthetics go out the window- no paint jobs, matching parts, or other fashion nonsense.
  • Reuse as many spare/free parts as I can find

I’ve got a good plan in my head and will post pictures as it nears completion.

Here’s what I’m staring with.

Cheers!  To everyday bikes used by everyday people!

Po’ Boy Small Game Point

As nobody local stocks Judo Points and I wanted to hunt for jackrabbit this weekend, I’m left to my own devices.  Through a little research I’ve found many different ideas for homemade small game points; washers behind field points, drywall T-nuts with screws and rubber washers, modified .357 and .38 shells, and best of all, bottle caps.   Given an ample supply on hand, the bottle caps are the obvious choice.  Today it happened to be Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  The green will go splendidly with the green vanes and nocks on my Easton Carbon Storm arrows.  Such things are very important considerations.

I dub it the Po’ Boy.  While I’m hardly the inventor, show me a copyright.  For greater authenticity in the future, I’ll use Coors Light caps.

Simple job:  find an unbent bottle cap and clamp it centered in the drill press.  Using a 7/32″ bit, drill a centered hole.  De-bur it and place it behind a field point, screw it down tight, and you’re done.  I was initially concerned with which direction to face the edges of the cap, whether to place it cupped forward or backwards.  I’ve seen this technique referenced online, but never any pictures or details about which way the cap goes on.  I figure that if the edge is facing back, the cap is more prone to bend, possibly causing the edge to cut the arrow shaft.  By placing the edge forward, I also assume I’ll get better stopping power and cutting action.

I tested a few at 20 yards, shooting a 4″x4″ paper on a bale.  My bow is shooting at 65 pounds.  Surprisingly, I found no real difference in accuracy at this range.  Even more surprisingly, they seem to work really well.  I thought at this draw weight the arrow would obliterate the cap, likely ripping it in half; instead it stayed firmly attached and I got only 2″ of penetration into the bale.  These hit really hard.  By comparison, with a field point only, I’m getting at least 24″ of penetration on the same bale.  It looks like these will work well for small game as well as for keeping misses from getting buried too badly in the earth.

Unused cap with field point.

Bottle cap on a cheaper carbon practice arrow after one shot. No damage to arrow whatsoever.

Unlike Judo Points, these are obviously a one-shot system- which is fine, given the ease/cost of making them.  Having a few arrows outfitted and a few spare caps in the pocket would be fine for a morning hunt.

I’ll post further results after getting out in the field.