Craig Wisner

Gear

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.)

Shelter:

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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’ Clunkers.net 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.


LINER, COLD WEATHER, TROUSERS, MEN’S, FIELD, NYLON QUILTED

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

Done.

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 MPGEAR.com.  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.

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